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Triage Theory of Micronutrients

Micronutrient deficiency is a risk factor for cancer, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, and other chronic health problems.  

When there is a deficiency, nutrients are allocated for short-term survival. Long term needs of the body go unmet, creating risk for diseases like cancer.  

Chronic deficiency leads to subtle metabolic damage over time, which can result in diseases of aging.

Adequate vitamins and nutrients are necessary for immediate health, and they are necessary for long-term health.  

The human diet requires both macronutrients, which are the main sources of calories, as well as micronutrients. Micronutrients are the essential minerals, vitamins, and other biochemicals that are required for virtually all metabolic and developmental processes (Ames, 2006).  

The Triage Theory posits that when there is a micronutrient deficiency, the functions required for short-term survival take precedence.  When a chronic shortage of nutrients exists, subtle, insidious metabolic damage occurs, with the repercussions impacting future health.

Dawn’s favorite analogy is about cake. When it’s made correctly, it tastes amazing.   If you don’t have all the ingredients to bake a perfect cake, then guess what? You’re going to get a bland, flat, or lumpy cake which doesn’t measure up. Is your body missing some key ingredients and not able to make the best recipes?

What can you do?  Getting your nutrient levels back up to optimal is worth the effort. Once your body had adequate amounts, it is very good at recycling them over and over again. But when it is short of something, your long term health may suffer.

Want to dive down a rabbit hole? Pat Theut has a wealth of knowledge about this and more on his website.

Ames, B.N.  Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scare micronutrients by triage.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.  2006 Nov 21;103(47):17589-94. 

Inadequate dietary intake of vitamins and minerals are widespread, likely due to excessive consumption of energy-rich, micronutrient-poor, refined food.  Inadequate intakes may result in chronic metabolic disruption, including mitochondrial decay.  Deficiencies in many micronutrients cause DNA damage, such as chromosome breaks.  Some of these deficiencies also cause mitochondrial decay with cellular aging and are associated with late onset diseases such as cancer. The authors propose that 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. Hypothesize that short-term survival was achieved by allocating scarce micronutrients by triage.  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.  There is evidence that micronutrient malnutrition increases late onset diseases, such as cancer.  Taking vitamin supplements is a low cost way to ensure adequate intake of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of micronutrients throughout life.


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