My anti-aging firewalls treatise characterizes 14 major theories of aging and 6 additional “candidate” theories of aging. Up until yesterday and I thought I had come to the end of the line with respect to new aging theories. However my blog reader jeg3 identified a publication that changed my mind in a comment posted on December 3. So I will soon be adding a seventh candidate theory of aging to my treatise. The publication was published in 2008 but somehow escaped by attention until now: Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. It is by Bruce N. Ames, a giant in the field of anti-aging science.
The new theory is based on two well-documented observations. The first observation is that most of us do not consume adequate quantities of a number of important micronutrients, these including minerals like zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, calcium, potassium and selenium and vitamins like D, B12, folic acid, pyridoxine, pantothenate, riboflavin, and biotin. The second observation is that evolution built our bodies so as always to opt for short-term survival over long-term wellbeing whenever there a need to choose between the two. A familiar example is the “fight or flight” response in case of an emergency. A flood of cortisol is released that speeds up our responses and facilitates us to react quickly. The price is a weakening of our immune response and a shortening of our telomeres(ref), events that tend to be life-shortening. Thus, evolution seems to reason that it is better to live a bit less-longer at the end of our lives than to risk being eaten by a tiger or being killed in an auto crash while younger.
The Micronutrient triage theory of aging essentially says that the body is very intelligent in its allocation of micronutrients, allocating them according to triage priorities favoring short-term functionality over long-term health. The topmost priorities are for minute-to-minute and day-to-day body functioning, immediate energy metabolism, keeping up circulation and blood pressure, maintaining digestion and things like that. The lowest priorities are those that make for longevity: keeping up a strong antioxidant response, DNA damage repair, minimization of glycation and excess inflammation, prevention of senescence, preservation of telomere lengths, and matters like those. When not enough of a micronutrient is available to handle the low-priority needs, those needs are left unmet. The consequences may be completely unnoticed in day-to-day experience but are likely to show up late in life as cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and the other maladies that kill older people.
Ames summarizes his theory this way “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.”
Supporting the theory is the fact that deficiencies in a large number of micronutrients seem to produce the same kinds of DNA damage produced by radiation. “Approximately 40 micronutrients are required in the human diet. Deficiency of vitamins B12, folic acid, B6, niacin, C, or E, or iron, or zinc, appears to mimic radiation in damaging DNA by causing single- and double-strand breaks, oxidative lesions, or both(ref).’
Ames cites a formidable collection of research studies to support his theory and builds a strong case for it. Ames, you may recall, has long been a key researcher in the areas of mitochondrial functioning, DNA damage and the roles of micronutrients(ref). He was also the lead researcher involved in the discovery of the impact on mitochondrial health of the Acetyl-l-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid combination back 7 years ago(ref), a supplement combination suggested in my anti-aging firewalls . If you have never been in Ames’ presence you can get a sense of the man and what he about by viewing his online lecture Understanding Aging.
A problem of course is that micronutrient needs can vary by age, individual, and individual circumstances, and further studies are needed to nail these down. “The elderly may need more or less of certain vitamins and metabolites compared with younger people, but this issue has not been thoroughly examined(ref).” The situation is further complicated in that, for many micronutrients like iron, DNA damage can be produced by either too much or too-little of then. In general in our society, however, most of us get too little of several critical micronutrients rather than too much.
Ames points out that seven micronutrients (pyridoxine, pantothenate, zinc, riboflavin, iron, copper, and biotin) are particularly important because they are required for heme synthesis in mitochondria. “It is likely that a deficiency in any of these seven will cause a deficit of heme and therefore of complex IV, of which heme-a is an essential component — The normal complement of complex IV keeps oxidants to a minimum; deficits of complex IV result in oxidant leakage, DNA damage, accelerated mitochondrial decay, and cellular aging(ref). “
In the publication, Ames strongly advocates micronutrient dietary supplementation. “Evidence is accumulating that a MVM (multivitamin-mineral) supplement, or smaller combinations of vitamins and minerals, also improve long-term health, reducing heart disease, cancer, and cataracts and improving immune function for those who consume inadequate diets.”
The good news for followers of my anti-aging firewalls is that that almost all the micronutrients mentioned in the Ames publication are included in ample quantities in the regimen: vitamins B-6, C, D, B-12, A, pyridoxine, riboflavin, pantothenate, folic acid, biotin, zinc, calcium, magnesium, copper, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, tocopherol, and lycopene. The main micronutrient discussed by Ames but missing from the regimen is iron. I have not included iron in my supplement regimen because it is included in many foods I normally eat (see this listing) and because it creates damage when in excess. Also, vitamin C, which I take in generous quantities, facilitates iron absorption. My regimen contains a B-complex tablet, and I depend on this for riboflavin and biotin. And there are many additional micronutrients in the regimen that are not mentioned in the Ames paper like Vitamin K and a number of powerfully-acting phytochemicals.
I will include the The micronutrient triage theory of aging as the 7th candidate theory of aging in the next update of my treatise.