* This is a contributed article. The IBTimes news staff was not involved in the creation of this article and this content does not necessarily represent the views of IBTimes. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Here are our T&C. For licensing please click here.

Vitamin supplements are being used by the majority of older Americans as a protective shield against old age. However, this defense is ineffective, as it fails to offer a penetrative response against the root causes of aging. Instead, we must focus on targeted solutions to aging, such as those that act as senolytics and micro antioxidants that reduce cell stress. In order to achieve this, both education and funding in these areas must be boosted.

By 2050, the number of people aged 65 or older will double. Whether this period of life is looming on the horizon for us or our loved ones, or whether it has already begun, there is a growing interest in taking steps to improve our health during these twilight years. Many have decided that vitamins are the best pathway to a healthspan that extends long into old age. Half of American adults take a regular multivitamin or supplement, including 70% of those aged 65 and over. The cost of these soar above $12 billion each year.

Protecting our health is a worthy - if not the most worthy - use of our funds, and if vitamins were offering us the support that many of us assume they do, then this would be money well spent. Unfortunately, while some of these supplements can be helpful, on the whole, these are not the most effective options available to us.

Most vitamins are not engineered to efficiently enter cells, which in turn hampers their bioavailability. This means that the key health-giving qualities of supplements are often obstructed from ever getting where they need to go, and end up having a mere surface-level impact.

Some take the approach of simply throwing as many supplements against the problem and seeing what sticks. But when it comes to our health, quantity is never a good substitute for quality. You may take a 200mg supplement, but if your stomach acid eats away at a significant portion of it, then there is only a minimal amount remaining that is able to enter the bloodstream.

Unfortunately, there are a variety of studies that showcase the limited effects of vitamin supplements. Some have even underlined that certain multivitamins and supplements can have an adverse impact on people's health. Despite observational studies linking a high intake of antioxidant vitamins and dietary supplements with improved health, subsequent controlled trials found that there were no beneficial effects in the prevention of conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.

Furthermore, an analysis of 450,000 people found that multivitamins did not reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer. One long-term study on men discovered that multivitamins failed to have an impact on key elements of mental decline, such as slowed-down thinking and memory loss.

This is not to say that all vitamins should be dismissed out of hand. Naturally arising antioxidants in foods such as blueberries, dark chocolate and kale, for instance, are undoubtedly crucial for us as part of a balanced diet. The problems arise when we use regular multivitamins and supplements as replacements for parts of our diet, and as silver bullets for reducing aging-related problems.

Imagine you're driving along the highway, and the engine starts to splutter. If it's a diesel tank, then no amount of petrol will help to kick the car back into action - and this would ultimately do more harm than good. Similarly, with our cells, it's not about the dose, it's about the ability of that dose to enter and connect with the right parts of the cells.

Mito Q
Photo credit: MitoQ

Taking vitamins should be viewed in a similar light to exercising, eating well and getting a good amount of sleep. They are all collective, holistic means of supporting health and potentially slowing down the aging process. Yet, the sad truth is that no matter how many multivitamins we scoff down and how often we drag ourselves to the gym, these methods are unable to fundamentally alter the genetic roadmap we were handed when we were born.

However, there are solutions being explored. Instead of relying on these untargeted approaches, we must elevate the pursuit of scientists that are developing a new, clever class of small molecules – such as targeted antioxidants and senolytics - that can access previously inaccessible parts of the cell. These molecules are radically transforming the way we see the aging process.

Specialized molecules such as these can penetrate mitochondria walls, and in the process can help to reduce - or even reverse - oxidative stress and protect cells against the hallmarks of aging. Remember that mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells, and are responsible for the energy that cells need to function, as well as cell-to-cell communication that controls everything from hormone signaling to cell damage and efficiency. Senolytics are small molecules that are selective in the way they clean our senescent cells, which are often termed 'zombie cells' due to the way they shut down and stop dividing, getting in the way of other processes.

Senolytics and specialized, targeted antioxidant molecules have been shown to have an array of hugely positive effects on the health of people's cardiovascular system, metabolism, immune system, reproductive wellbeing, eyes and cognitive function. These are revolutionary effects that occur at a cellular level, rather than the small, surface-level changes that are linked to regular multivitamins.

We are in need of a concerted effort to open people's eyes to the limitations of regular supplements, and the transformative impact that these more targeted treatments can have. This must involve bolstering education surrounding cell health and its role in the aging process. The health industry needs to prioritize funding that focuses on a proactive rather than reactive approach to healthcare.

The global population is getting older, and we cannot avoid this. As we look to the future, significant lifespan-extension treatments may be barely visible in the distance. But means of healthspan-extension are already under our noses. It is time to reframe the health conversation towards solutions backed by proof and effectiveness.

Dr. Brendon Woodhead is Head of Research and Development at MitoQ, a New Zealand-based cell health company that has created the world's first mitochondrial-targeted antioxidant molecule.