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The “Triage Theory” of Nutrition: Why Nutrient Deficiencies are Making You Older

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By Kelley Herring

It is often said two things are inevitable in life…

Death… and taxes.

But there is one more inevitable consequence of life you can add to the list… aging.

Every day of your life you wake up one day older. And for most of your life, you don’t think much of it. When we are young and invincible, we act as if we’ll never die or grow old. But one day, you look in the mirror and see that lone gray hair… or wrinkles beginning to form where you laugh or squint in the sun… or a little less hair on your head and a little more on your back (I’m talking to the men here).

And while we all know aging is inevitable…

We spend tens of billions of dollars every year to slow down the process. We buy supplements and healthy food… we spend money on cosmetic procedures… we shield our face from the sun… we exercise… hydrate… and do our best to optimize sleep.

And we all have different reasons why “anti-aging” is important to us…

For some people, vanity is the driving motivation. We hate looking in the mirror and seeing the vibrancy of our youth vanishing slowly, day by day. Others want to be around for our loved ones – to see our children grow up and to play with our grandkids. Or we want to maintain our strength, energy and brainpower to accomplish what we set out to do in life. And some of us are fearful of death and disability… our goal is to live a long and vibrant life, free of disease, disability and discomfort.

Whatever your driving motivations are, I’m sure you’re already taking important steps to slow down the aging process. And today, I’d like to share new research that goes beyond the simple behaviors of not smoking, limiting alcohol and sugar, exercising regularly and avoiding inflammatory fats.

A growing body of research suggests there is something just as important that many of us don’t think much about…

Your nutrient status!

In today’s article, you will discover the new theory which states that your body can choose whether to focus on immediate survival versus long-term health. You will also learn why forcing your body to choose “survival” leads to accelerated aging.

We also cover the controversial new research that classifies aging as a “preventable disease” – and why nutrition is so critical to slow down aging. PLUS: the top ancestral superfoods you need to preserve your youth and maintain your strength, energy, and brainpower!

probiotics, pasture scene with nutrients

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These are the building blocks of life. They provide energy for growth and the fuel that your muscles need to move and your brain needs to think. Macronutrients also provide the substrates for your immune system, production of hormones and the repair of tissues all over your body. These compounds are needed in large amounts.

Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. And while these compounds are only needed in small quantities, this does not make them any less important!

In fact, while the focus on macronutrients has become mainstream, our collective attention to dietary micronutrients is sorely lacking. And that is quite concerning. Because most of us are overfed (too many calories), while we are simultaneously severely undernourished (too few nutrients).

In fact, according to recent research:1,2,3,4,5

  • 94% don’t get enough vitamin D
  • 93% don’t get enough magnesium
  • 92% don’t get enough choline
  • 89% don’t get enough vitamin E
  • 67% don’t get enough vitamin K
  • 100% don’t get enough potassium

And please keep in mind – these deficiencies are based on the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) established by public health agencies in government. The RDA for most nutrients is the bare minimum required to prevent diseases like rickets, scurvy, beriberi, and pellagra. These are not the amounts you need for optimal health!

What’s more, these statistics also underestimate the problem. They do not consider personal factors like nutrient absorption or health issues that can increase an individual’s unique need for certain nutrients.

Research shows we need 40 specific micronutrients to function optimally. When we don’t get these nutrients – in biochemically sufficient amounts – our lifespan shortens, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Dr. Bruce Ames.6

Triage Theory: How Nutrient Depletion Leads to An Early Death

Dr. Bruce Ames is a respected biochemist and geneticist. His research has profoundly impacted our understanding of the relationship between nutrition and disease. Over the course of his long career, Ames has held positions at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including Caltech, the NIH, and UC Berkeley.

And his groundbreaking work on the Ames Test, a method for identifying potential mutagens and carcinogens, has made him one of the most influential figures in the field of toxicology.

Recently, he released his groundbreaking Triage Theory – an explanation of how nutrient deficiencies promote aging and reduce longevity.

Dr. Ames postulates that proteins and enzymes in the body are classified into two classes, according to their importance to our immediate survival and reproduction versus long-term health. These two classes are defined as:

  • Survival and
  • Longevity

Both types of proteins and enzymes play a critical role in maintaining our immediate and long-term health. However, according to the Triage Theory, a deficiency in even a single nutrient can trigger a built-in mechanism that prioritizes survival at the expense of your long-term health and lifespan.

That means physical aging will accelerate and chronic disease risk will increase.

And this ties into new controversial research that classifies aging as a “preventable disease”.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a British gerontologist and researcher, argues that the body accumulates damage over time. This leads to the decline and eventual failure of organs and systems. According to his theory, aging is a result of accumulated damage to the body’s seven major systems, including nuclear mutations, mitochondrial mutations, and cellular senescence, among others.7

And one of the key ways this age-promoting damage is created is via nutrient deficiencies!

Take a look at the body’s long-term responses to two common nutrient deficiencies…

  • Zinc

This mineral is involved in numerous biological processes, including immune function, protein synthesis, and wound healing. Zinc deficiency is linked to impaired immune function, increased infections, delayed wound healing and impaired growth and development in children.

When zinc intake is limited, the body prioritizes zinc for immediate survival (such as immune function), while long-term health needs (like growth and development) suffer.8,9,10

  • Vitamin D

This compound (technically a prohormone and not a vitamin) plays a critical role in bone health by regulating calcium absorption and metabolism. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a range of bone-related disorders, including rickets, osteoporosis (brittle bones) and osteomalacia (soft bones). Vitamin D is also essential for immune function, cancer prevention, and cardiovascular health.

When vitamin D production and consumption are deficient, the body prioritizes short-term survival needs related to bone health, while sacrificing the long-term benefits of vitamin D for chronic disease prevention.11,12,13

As you can see, when there’s a shortage of a particular nutrient, the body prioritizes short-term survival. The immediate need is to stay alive and pass on our genes. However, this comes at the expense of our longevity and accelerates the aging process.

And while mild nutrient deficiencies may not cause overt clinical symptoms – for example, white spots on your nails due to zinc deficiency or hair loss from biotin deficiency – they still contribute significantly to aging and disease over time.

This is why optimizing your nutrient status is imperative if you want to live a long, healthy life!

ancestral diet

Stall Aging with Nutrient-Dense Ancestral Nutrition

So, you might be wondering…

How do you know if you’re falling short on nutrients?

Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell. And testing for nutrient status is often expensive and complicated.

Here are three primary steps to optimize your nutrient status:

1. Consume a Nutrient-Dense Diet:

Focus on the top ancestral superfoods! I’ve written many times about the importance of liver in an anti-aging diet, specifically thanks to its abundance of DNA-protecting choline. Bone broth is also an anti-aging elixir, rich in youth-promoting collagen that gives cushion to joints and bounce to skin. Grass-fed beef, bison and pork provide high-quality protein and zinc for muscle and bone support. Wild seafood offers brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids for healthy cognition. Bone marrow, thymus and other organ meats offer immune-boosting compounds like glycosaminoglycans. Wild fish roe and farm-fresh eggs with their orange-hued yolks offer carotenoids that protect your vision! Wild blueberries (and other organic berries), dark chocolate, winter squash and organic leafy greens are the nutrient-dense chart-toppers in the plant kingdom… along with herbs (especially oregano), spices (cinnamon, clove) and alliums (onions, garlic).

And as the old adage says “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” So be sure to create a meal plan with your favorite nutrient-dense meals to prevent getting derailed and choosing less nutritious options. Make every meal count!

2. Boost Enzymes + HCL to Maximize Absorption:

To get the benefits from your food, you must be absorbing nutrients! A compromised gut lining, low enzymes and hydrochloric acid can impede your body’s ability to take in nutrients. Consider supplementing at meals to boost nutrient absorption.

3. Cook to Optimize Nutrients:

How you prepare your food impacts the nutrients that are retained after cooking and their bioavailability (how easy those nutrients are for your body to digest). Some methods drain away the nutrients, while others can destroy them (I’m talking to you, Microwave!). Certain cooking methods can also make your food more difficult to digest. Sous vide is an ideal preparation for nutrient retention as it is low temperature. Pressure cooking is also an excellent choice that preserves nutrients, while increasing your body’s ability to use them. Steaming veggies helps retain water soluble nutrients, like vitamin C.

And please stay tuned for Part II or this article, where you will learn about the:

  • Specific anti-aging nutrients you need to optimize to slow aging
  • Best food sources (and preparation methods!) to optimize nutrition
  • Three longevity proteins and how to balance them with cyclical feasting and fasting
  • Plus, how to plan and track “multivitamin meals” to maximize your nutrition.

Read more of Kelley Herring’s Health and Nutrition articles on our Discover Blog.

kelley herring

Kelley Herring

Love comfort foods, but not the carbs? Check out Kelley’s FREE new book – Carb Lover’s Keto – with 100 recipes for all of your favorite comfort foods. From Chicken Parmigiana and Coconut Shrimp to Buffalo Wings and Pizza. Discover how you can indulge – 100% guilt free!

1 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. (2012). Usual dietary intakes: food intakes, US population, 2007-10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

2 Cashman, K. D., Dowling, K. G., Škrabáková, Z., Gonzalez-Gross, M., Valtueña, J., De Henauw, S., … & Kiely, M. (2016). Vitamin D deficiency in Europe: pandemic? The American journal of clinical nutrition, 103(4), 1033-1044. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.120873

3 Rosanoff, A., Weaver, C. M., & Rude, R. K. (2012). Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated? Nutrition Reviews, 70(3), 153-164. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00465.x

4 Wallace, T. C., Fulgoni III, V. L., & McBurney, M. (2016). Multivitamin/mineral supplement contribution to micronutrient intakes in the United States, 2007-2010. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 35(5), 369-378. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2015.1134239

5 Booth, S. L., Tucker, K. L., Chen, H., Hannan, M. T., Gagnon, D. R., Cupples, L. A., … & Kiel, D. P. (2000). Dietary vitamin K intakes are associated with hip fracture but not with bone mineral density in elderly men and women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 71(5), 1201-1208. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.5.1201

6 Ames BN. Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 23;115(43):10836-10844. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1809045115. Epub 2018 Oct 15. PMID: 30322941; PMCID: PMC6205492.

7 López-Otín, C., Blasco, M. A., Partridge, L., Serrano, M., & Kroemer, G. (2013). The hallmarks of aging. Cell, 153(6), 1194-1217.

8 King, J. C., Brown, K. H., Gibson, R. S., Krebs, N. F., Lowe, N. M., Siekmann, J. H., … & Raiten, D. J. (2016). Biomarkers of nutrition for development (BOND)—zinc review. The Journal of nutrition, 146(4), 858S-885S. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.220079

9 Wessells, K. R., & Brown, K. H. (2012). Estimating the global prevalence of zinc deficiency: results based on zinc availability in national food supplies and the prevalence of stunting. PloS one, 7(11), e50568. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050568

10 Prasad, A. S. (2013). Discovery of human zinc deficiency: its impact on human health and disease. Advances in nutrition, 4(2), 176-190. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003210

11 Holick, M. F. (2007). Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(3), 266-281.

12 Garland, C. F., Gorham, E. D., Mohr, S. B., Garland, F. C. (2009). Vitamin D for cancer prevention: Global perspective. Annals of Epidemiology, 19(7), 468-483.

13 Bikle, D. (2014). Vitamin D metabolism, mechanism of action, and clinical applications. Chemistry & Biology, 21(3), 319-329.