The Triage Theory of Aging

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Sound boring? It’s not. Keep reading and learn how you can avoid or delay the diseases of aging, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimers.

In 2006 Dr. Bruce Ames, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UC Berkeley, and senior scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Director of the Nutrition and Metabolism Center, published a paper proposing that when a cell runs out of essential nutrients, they are triaged, or rationed to function only for short term survival, like breathing and eating at the expense of proteins needed for long term survival, like immunity, cellular and DNA repair and heart function. An example Dr. Ames gives is a modest iron deficiency, very common throughout the world. Iron will be triaged to very basic needs for iron in the liver to help keep oxygen in red blood cells. However, iron-dependent proteins needed to repair DNA go unactivated, resulting in cancer in about 20 years from unrepaired DNA.

Dr. Ames went on to prove his theory with papers on Vitamin K and selenium, showing that even mild deficits of these essential nutrients were rationed to short term survival. For vitamin K, for example, short term survival relegated the K to maintain blood coagulation. Lab mice with vitamin K shortages progressed to osteoporosis, atherosclerosis and cancer.

Dr. Ames listed forty or so essential vitamins and minerals, several are known to be commonly deficient in this country, such as magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin K2, iron, selenium, DHA, EPA, and B vitamins such as folate and B12. Deficiencies of these micronutrients inevitably lead to chromosome damage, which speeds aging and lead to cancer.

Ames also noted that in the case of deficiencies, when 10-100 times the RDA of a nutrient was provided, that some of the damage caused by deficiencies could be repaired. For example, high doses of B vitamins produce many co-enzymes needed for more than short term needs. Take, for example, vitamin D. Blood levels are measured in ng/ml. Levels of vitamin D ranging below 20 ng/ml will maintain blood calcium levels. Levels that provide protection against heart disease and cancer are not achieved until levels reach 40-50 ng/ml which take about 5,000 IU daily. For most essential vitamins and minerals, the RDA — Recommended Daily Allowance, is barely enough to maintain short term survival, not enough to address long term survival needs.

Dr. Ames envisions in the medicine of the future, we will stick our fingers into device that instantly evaluates our micronutrient levels. In the same way most people know their cholesterol number, we will know our “omega three number,” or our “magnesium number.” This device of the future will indicate to us, “eat these foods, or take this amount of supplement” to bring your omega 3 or magnesium numbers into sufficiency.

Degenerative diseases are common in our population, affecting us at younger and younger ages. “Adult onset” diabetes now is fairly common by early teens. We virtually have epidemics of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimers and cancer. Our system of medicine is powerless to prevent these.

According to Dr. Ames, all these diseases are preventable, and even treatable, by maintaining an adequate supply of micronutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies are insidious, often producing no symptoms until the onset of disease. Every biochemical process in our body is nutrient dependent. We have to get these in our diet or supplement them to maintain health and to activate our “longevity proteins” as Dr. Ames describes. This isn’t just about living longer but to be more healthy as you age.

Studies on mitochondria — the “furnace” inside our cells show that optimizing micronutrient intake resulted in less DNA damage with less cancer and other degenerative diseases of aging. This research focused on supplementing with lipoic acid and acetyl L carnitine to slow mitochondrial aging.

Dr. Ames summarized 144 research articles on the subject of micronutrient deficiencies as a primary cause of aging: Folate deficiency (folate is vitamin B9) causes chromosomal breaks, increased rates of cancer, cell death and decreased DNA repair. Vitamin B12 deficiency causes similar chromosome breaks.

Magnesium — Approximately 60-80% of our population is deficient. Moderate magnesium deficiency is associated with colorectal and other cancers, hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. In a study of 4,035 men followed for 18 years, those in the highest quartile of magnesium levels compared with the lowest had a 40% decrease in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease, and a 50% decrease in cancer deaths. Keep in mind that magnesium was stripped from our agricultural soils decades ago, It is very difficult to be magnesium sufficient through diet alone.

Vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with colorectal cancer, lung cancer and gastric cancer. Low levels are also associated with depression and stroke. B6 deficiencies are common among those who don’t supplement.

Moderate deficiencies of calcium, niacin, vitamins A, C or E are associated with chromosome damage.

Deficiencies in selenium, copper, choline, pantothenic or riboflavin (these last three are B vitamins) are associated with chromosomal breaks. Many of these and other micronutrient deficiencies are associated with cancer.

Dr. Ames reviewed about 50 human genetic diseases due to defective enzymes, which were improved by giving high doses of the vitamin needed to make the enzyme function. Many of the B vitamins given at doses 10-100 times the RDA, can raise enzyme activity levels by ten times or more.

For every essential nutrient tested to date, even moderate, temporary deficiencies cause aging by a number of mechanisms, such as chromosome breaks and mutation, decreased function of mitochondria and oxidative damage. Every nutrient tested to date is triaged to short term survival.

No longer a theory, this triage effect on aging is now a fact. Widespread deficiencies of these 40 or so nutrients are extremely common. It is also true that as a population, we are suffering from an epidemic of chronic, degenerative diseases. Dr. Ames’ research provides an understanding as to a number of potential causes of this epidemic and even more importantly ways to help decrease them. His research presents evidence in favor of taking a comprehensive multinutrient on a daily basis.