Vitamin E could play a major role in prolonging life, according to a report in the Harvard Health Letter, the official publication of the Harvard Medical School.
The publication reports on a dozen or so studies of centenarians, including one being carried out at Harvard, but focuses primarily on the results from a study in Italy which emphasises vitamin E's role as an antioxidant.
According to the Harvard report, the Italian researchers found exceptionally high levels of vitamin E in the blood of healthy centenarians when compared to healthy young adults.
"Vitamin-rich blood may both strengthen the immune system of these centenarians and defend them against damage done by oxygen free radicals," the researchers were reported as saying.However, the Health Letter highlighted the fact that the Italian study had not addressed how the higher levels of vitamin E occurred.
The Harvard study is called the New England Centenarian Study, and started with only 46 people aged l00 and over in the Boston area. It is now being expanded to include centenarians from throughout the US.
The medical school newsletter also commented on data from studies in Okinawa, Japan, where the average life expectancy is the highest in the world at 81.2 years. It also looked at additional studies in Italy, Sweden and Denmark.
"For the most part, results from these studies belie the myth that the oldest old are doddering and dependent," the Harvard Health Letter said. "In fact, one of the rewards of living a long life is that, for the most part, the 'extra' years are healthy years."