Micronutrient Triage Theory: Dr. Bruce Ames on Why You Should Take Supplements
Carcinogens in hair dye & pajamas, Dr. Bruce Ames on micronutrients for healthy aging, Which vitamin supplements to take
Welcome to Live Longer World - your go-to place for easily digestible writing on longevity science, with a focus on lifestyle actions you can be taking right now to live longer, healthier lives. If you are new, you can subscribe here.
If you are looking for quick health & longevity tips, follow me on social media.
Find out why supplements are incredibly important and how deficiencies in certain nutrients come back to bite you in the future.
Want to know which supplements to take? Pair this post with My Supplements for Longevity & Biohacking.
Molly: Doug, I have a new superhero!
Doug: Have I been replaced?
Molly: Hmm..were you ever my superhero?
Doug: Why can’t you flatter me once in a while, Moll? Okay, so should I care to know about your superhero?
Molly: 200% you should! He’s such a legend. He’s Dr. Bruce Ames, a biochemist. He’s 92 and still continuing to work on advancing science. Isn’t that incredible?
Doug: 92 and still working on scientific advancement?! That is remarkable and heroic. Dr. Bruce Ames..his name sounds familiar. What is his work known for?
Molly: You may have heard of the Ames Carcinogenicity test, which he invented. It is used to detect the mutagenic1 potential of chemical compounds. The Ames test was used to screen carcinogens (agent with the capacity to cause cancer in humans) in commercial products such as hair dye and children's pajamas! Can you believe how a lot of these companies got away with adding carcinogens to hair dye? Bruce Ames rallied to get them removed from these products and now cancer risk for millions of people has decreased because of him. In fact, studies show that there is no association between bladder cancer and hair dye since the 1980s after Dr. Ames campaigned to get the carcinogens removed. Prior to the 1980s, there was a 20% increased risk of bladder cancer and lymphoma for those that used hair dye.
Doug: That is a heroic feat!
Molly: He didn’t stop there. While working on another experiment, he accidentally discovered the importance of micronutrients2 in preventing malnutrition, diseases and accelerated aging. Quoting him: “Folic acid deficiency does the same thing as radiation! Everyone is worried about Fukushima and radiation coming from Japan, which is incredibly tiny amounts, meanwhile they are eating these bad diets that do the same thing.”
Doug: Hold up! Are you serious? A folic acid deficiency can have the same detrimental effect as nuclear radiation?!
Molly: Yeah, isn’t that crazy?! So anyway, he realized that nutrition is an important field that may be getting neglected from a scientific research perspective and decided to plunge into it. As he continued to do work in this field, he came up with the micronutrient triage theory.
Doug: Ha, what is the micronutrient triage theory?
Molly: Essentially, his theory states that when nutrient intake is insufficient, the body has a rationing mechanism and favors proteins needed for immediate survival at the expense of protection against future damage. In his words: “If we don’t have enough of a vitamin or mineral, nature rations out the ones that are present and puts it into the proteins that are absolutely essential for survival.” (at the expense of other proteins that are not needed for survival in the short-term but play a major role in the aging process long-term). Let’s take an example. If you are deficient in say magnesium, the little magnesium you have will be rationed to the proteins needed for survival. This means that the other DNA repair enzymes3 that are not needed for survival in the short-term but play an important role in repairing the DNA in the long term will not receive adequate Magnesium and hence will not be able to perform their functions. And this will result in you accumulating DNA damage over time which will accelerate your aging and perhaps lead to cancer and other diseases.
Doug: Holy cow, this is so interesting! This is a classic case of trading long-term benefits for short-term benefits. It reminds me of a Wait But Why post, which discusses the Eisenhower Matrix - it’s easy to lose sight of the work that is important but not urgent while we constantly focus on what’s urgent.
Molly: Yes, that's a great analogy and I love Tim Urban’s work! When there is a deficiency in micronutrients, our proteins use the resources to prioritize the urgent work at the expense of the important, but not urgent work. Basically, as Dr. Ames himself put it: “Nature is trading long-term health for short-term health and it wants short-term survival”
Doug: This is blowing my mind. It sounds like micronutrients are extremely important to live a long healthy life. There is so much focus on calculating the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats), but no talk of micronutrients!
Molly: Yes, it’s rather sad and I hope to generate more attention to the micronutrients we are ingesting. Don’t get me wrong, macros are important but micronutrients are likely more important for healthy aging. In fact, now I’ve started viewing the food I eat in terms of what micronutrients I am ingesting too, in addition to looking at the macros.
Doug: And do you supplement with vitamins too?
Doug: Thanks, Molly! I can’t wait to learn more about it so I can optimize my diet and supplements for micronutrients. I’d like long-term healthy just like Dr. Bruce Ames! He is 92 and still working and using his brain - clearly he must be doing something right!
Molly: He’s a great example of someone who is 90+ and able to function well instead of being crippled and battling diseases. I’d only dare to guess that his healthy aging might be a function of his own micronutrient triage theory ;)
Mutagen is a physical or chemical agent that can cause permanent changes in the DNA and can also be carcinogenic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals needed by the body. Their impact on the body’s health is critical and the deficiency in any of them can cause severe and even life-threatening conditions. They perform a range of functions, including enabling the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances needed for normal growth and development. Some vitamins are: Choline, Vitamin A, B, C, D, K. Minerals: Selenium, Zinc, Copper, Magnesium, Potassium. Read more here.
Every DNA repair enzyme has magnesium in it!