Micronutrient Deficiencies Compound Health Problems As We Age

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There remains intransigence, a stubborn denial despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary that people are capable of consuming all that they need in terms of micro nutrients from the ‘balanced diet’. So determined are the nutritional ‘flat earthers’ that this tenet should be enshrined in stone, they have ensured that any claim that this is not true may not be permitted in web sites or informational sites, that may in turn recommend food supplementation. This arbitray use of advertising practices, -The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) and ASA adjudication. The relevant code is:

Marketers must not state or imply that a balanced or varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients in general. Individuals should not be encouraged to swap a healthy diet for supplementation, and without well-established proof, no marketing communication may suggest that a widespread vitamin or mineral deficiency exists.

Yet study after study demonstrates that people do not eat a range of foods that meet their very basic needs in micro nutrients, and that people with unique genetic abnormalities, poor food selection, increased metabolic demand and aging require levels of micro nutrients above the RDA to sustain homeostasis and optimise their health.[i],[ii]

The UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline results from years 1 and 2 (combined) of the rolling Programme, 2008/9 – 2009/10.

Revealed that 19-64 year old adults consumed on average just 4.2 portions of fruit and veg per day, with older adults – over 65s managing 4.4 portions, compared to the Department of Health’s five a day recommendation. As a result approximately 30% of adults and 37% of older adults actually met the DOH recommendations.

Children’s data was less inspiring, boys aged between 11-18 consumed 3.1 portions, meaning only 13% actually ate 5 or more per day, and young females fared less well again, averaging 2.7 portions per day with just 13% meeting the 5 a day recommendation.[iii]

Suboptimal intakes and deficiencies of micro nutrients such as vitamins A and D, the B vitamins folate and riboflavin, and the mineral iron are common, and in many cases the likelihood is that nutritional problems relate to multiple nutrient deficiencies and suboptimal intakes.

Prof Bruce Ames and his colleague Joyce McCann have been exploring and evolving the triage theory of micro nutrient utilisation through publishing their work in the FASEB journal. So substantive have their finding being that the journal’s editor stated:

This paper should settle any debate about the importance of taking a good, complete, multivitamin every day.” – Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief FASEB Journal

In ‘developed’ countries we see few people who have diseases that are associated with severe vitamin & mineral deficiencies, such as rickets – and tend to minimise the importance of modest deficiencies because links to health problems have not been as obvious.[iv]

But continuing research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California is making flip dismissals of daily RDAs hard to support – vitamin by vitamin.[v],[vi]

Researchers Joyce McCann, PhD, and Bruce Ames, PhD, have been working for years to put facts behind their ‘triage theory’ of nutrition.

The principle is that “modest deficiency of any vitamin or mineral could increase age-related diseases.” That is, the body will protect “vitamin or mineral-dependent proteins required for short-term survival and/or reproduction (i.e., ‘essential’) … over other ‘nonessential’ vitamin or mineral-dependent proteins needed only for long-term health.” But the result of the short-term survival strategy will be long-term “accumulation of insidious damage, increasing disease risk.”

In 2009 Drs. McCann and Ames reported on an analysis that strongly linked the triage impact of modest vitamin K deficiency to increased incidence of diseases ‘of aging’ like cancer, heart disease, dementia, and the pace of aging itself.

And their new study, published in the June issue of FASEB Journal (“Adaptive dysfunction of selenoproteins from the perspective of triage theory: Why modest selenium deficiency may increase risk of diseases of aging”) makes the same case for avoiding modest selenium deficiency.

This selenium study, like the vitamin K study, connects the nonessential proteins which the body sacrifices as a result of moderate deficiency with the accumulated damage associated with age-related diseases.

The Grueling Details

As in the vitamin K research, the researchers reached their conclusions by compiling and assessing several general types of scientific evidence.

• They tested whether selenium-dependent proteins that are essential from an evolutionary perspective are more resistant to selenium deficiency than those that are less essential.

• They discovered a highly sophisticated array of mechanisms at cellular and tissue levels that, when selenium is limited, protect essential selenium-dependent proteins at the expense of those that are nonessential.

• They also found that mutations in selenium-dependent proteins that are lost on modest selenium deficiency result in characteristics shared by age-related diseases including cancer, heart disease, and loss of immune or brain function.

Such mechanistic linkages underscore opportunities for prevention and treatment.

As this report shows, taking a multivitamin that contains selenium is a good way to prevent deficiencies that, over time, can cause harm in ways that we are just beginning to understand, says FASEB Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerald Weissmann, MD.


[i] McCann JC, Ames BN. Adaptive dysfunction of selenoproteins from the perspective of the triage theory: why modest selenium deficiency may increase risk of diseases of aging. FASEB J. 2011 Jun;25(6):1793-814. Epub 2011 Mar 14. Review. View Abstract

[ii] Ames BN. Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006;103:17589–94. View Abstract

[iii] National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline results from Years 1 and 2 (combined) of the Rolling Programme, 2008/9 – 2009/10  View Summary

[iv] McCann JC, Ames BN. Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging? Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Oct;90(4):889-907. Epub 2009 Aug 19. Review. View Full Paper

[v] Ames BN. Prevention of mutation, cancer, and other age-associated diseases by optimizing micronutrient intake. J Nucleic Acids. 2010 Sep 22;2010. pii: 725071. View Full Paper

[vi] Ames BN. Optimal micronutrients delay mitochondrial decay and age-associated diseases. Mech Ageing Dev. 2010 Jul-Aug;131(7-8):473-9. Epub 2010 Apr 24. Review. View Abstract

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