Triage Theory: How Micronutrients Slow Aging

 4 min read

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After over 2 decades of research into the field of nutrition, Dr Bruce Ames had an epiphany. 

He asked a simple question…

Why does a lack of micronutrients cause poor aging?

Before we answer that question, I think we should look at whether not getting enough micronutrients causes poor aging.

I mean just thinking about it out loud, it makes sense that not giving our body what it needs will cause problems.

Let's look at some science

According to Dr Ames, the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) decays over time due to not getting enough micronutrients.

As the mitochondria decays it’ll make less ATP, and the cell will slowly die.

Dr. Bruce Ames in his 2006 paper, where he proposed the Triage Theory, talks about how old rats create more oxidative by-products (waste material) and decreased function.

But when you feed acetyl carnitine (ACL) and lipoic acid (LA) to old rats, they get most of their mitochondrial function back.

This is because ACL is used to transport fat and LA is a supercharged antioxidant. 

So, it’s clear that when old rats get enough micronutrients, their mitochondrial function goes back to the level when they were young.

Now, let’s look at some research on humans:

  • Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency has been associated with colon and other cancers, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. 
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency accounts for 29% of cancer deaths in men and has been strongly associated with colon, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
  • Calcium: Calcium deficiency has been associated with chromosome breaks and diabetes.
  • Potassium: Potassium in table salt in elderly men was associated with a 40% decrease in cardiovascular disease compared with normal table salt in a randomized controlled trial (RCT).
  • Omega-3: Omega-3 deficiency is associated with melanoma and other cancers as well as cognitive dysfunction. 
  • Vitamin B12: B12 deficiency is associated with cognitive dysfunction, multiple sclerosis and induces chromosome breaks. The cognitive dysfunction from B12 deficiency improved with supplementation within the first year. 
  • Folate: Folate deficiency also causes chromosome breaks and is associated with several human cancers.

Triage Theory: When the body is deficient in vitamins and minerals, it uses these vitamins/minerals for short term survival while giving up on long term health.

According to Dr Ames, the reason that all of these micronutrient deficiencies cause all sorts of cancer is because of the Triage Theory.

He explains that natural selection prioritizes short term survival over long term health. For example, enzymes that help with ATP production (in the mitochondria) would be preferred over enzymes that help repair DNA damage.

And this makes sense.

What’s the point of repairing DNA damage — which causes problems in the long run — when you might die from not having energy tomorrow?

It’s like choosing between eating food and paying off your mortgage.

Sure, your house might get seized but at least you’re alive.

But there was only one problem with this theory… it wasn’t proven.

So, it was time to prove this theory.

In 2009, Dr McCann, a colleague of Dr Ames, came up with a brilliant idea.

The problem with proving the Triage Theory is that each micronutrient serves hundreds of functions in the body. So, she said, “let’s only look at the ones that don’t have a lot of functions.”

And they picked out Vitamin K because it only had one major function.Vitamin K is used as a cofactor for gamma-glutamyl carboxylase, which is used for 16 different proteins.

Now, they just had to check which vitamin K dependent proteins are lethal and non-lethal. They did this with mouse knockouts. In mouse knockouts, you remove (knockout) certain genes to see what would happen to the mice without those genes.

And you won’t believe what they found.

The proteins were neatly separated into lethal and nonlethal knockouts. And just as the hypothesis predicted, short term survival proteins (lethal knockouts) were processed in the liver and long term survival proteins (non-lethal knockouts) in the extrahepatic tissue. 

Extrahepatic tissue: A scientific way of saying tissue not from the liver.

As vitamin K is processed in the liver first. It means that short term survival proteins got access to vitamin K before the long term survival proteins.

So, an acute deficiency of vitamin K would reduce long term health.

And that’s how Dr Ames proved that the Triage Theory is true and has real world implications.

This theory is the exact reason why we believe that our Essential Shake will help everyone cover their micronutrient needs. We put in 18g of plant based protein and 27 vitamins and minerals to make sure you get everything you need.

Get the Essentials Shake and actually have fun using Chronometer.


Bruce Ames, Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage (2006)

Bruce Ames, Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging? (2009)

Bruce Ames, A DIET FOR HEALTH AND LONGEVITY (2010) Presentation

Disclaimer: The LYFE Fuel blog is for informational purposes only. The information does not serve as a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment. We kindly ask you not to ignore professional medical advice because of any information you’ve read on If you have any concerns about your health, please consult a physician or appropriate health care expert.