Micronutrient Triage Theory

October 30, 2009

What could be a major key to understanding how we progressively acquire  disease, endure chronic conditions and face decline as we age is laboring in obscurity. For my money, it is as cogent an explanation as any I’ve heard for the broad spectrum of ailments, conditions, diseases (pick your terminology) that seem to creep up on us, seemingly out of nowhere, as we age.

Dr. Bruce N. Ames The triage hypothesis posits that the risk of degenerative diseases associated with aging, including cancer, cognitive decline, and immune dysfunction, can be decreased by ensuring adequate intake of micronutrients: the 40 essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. The hypothesis was first put forth by Dr. Bruce Ames, a Biochemistry  professor at University of California at Berkeley. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s one of the most prolific (and some would say controversial) scientists around. Here’s an hour interview that gives you a pretty good sense of his views.

Perhaps a post on another day would muse about his views regarding pesticide residue in food and the affect of exposure to environmental toxins. This day, though, we’ll let him speak for himself regarding his micronutrient triage hypothesis (from the seminal article):

I propose DNA damage and late onset disease are consequences of a triage allocation response to micronutrient scarcity. Episodic shortages of micronutrients were common during evolution. Natural selection favors short-term survival at the expense of long-term health. I hypothesize that short-term survival was achieved by allocating scarce micronutrients by triage, in part through an adjustment of the binding affinity of proteins for required micronutrients. If this hypothesis is correct, micronutrient deficiencies that trigger the triage response would accelerate cancer, aging, and neural decay but would leave critical metabolic functions, such as ATP production, intact. Evidence that micronutrient malnutrition increases late onset diseases, such as cancer, is discussed. A multivitamin-mineral supplement is one low-cost way to ensure intake of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of micronutrients throughout life.

If this theory pans out, we could see enormous implications on our ability to proactively ensure the optimal set of micronutrients to stave off the scourges of aging. Dr. Ames, in fact, recently published an article homing in on the effects of Vitamin K insufficiency that appears to support the hypothesis.

You’ve got to be in it for the long haul on this one as it will likely take years to build up enough evidence to become mainstream. But, in the meantime, why not fill up you body’s tank of necessary micronutrients with the right diet and appropriate supplementation.

You have very little to lose (a few dollars) and potentially a whole lot to gain.


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