January 15, 2007
Without sufficient vitamins and minerals, old age comes too early. This is because the organism ignores the future when resources are limited. If it needs to, it does what is best for the present.
Keep an eye on Bruce Ames, the American biochemist and professor from Berkeley University. He is the man behind the worldwide renown Ames test, a quick method of establishing whether or not substances in food and the environment are cancerous, which is to say whether or not they cause mutation. He is also the author of uncountable numbers of scientific articles and has proposed some very important hypothesises in the field of nutrition. In 1999 President Clinton handed him the “American Nobel prise,” the National Medal of Science, for his contributions. At an age of 78, Ames is still extremely active.
Ames is among those who insist that there is, in uncountable ways, relationships between shortages of vitamins and minerals and cancer, mutations, and aging. But earlier than others, he also sought to explain these relationships bio chemically. It is highly important that we turn to long term studies involving thousands of people for these biomechanical mechanisms to be tested. When Ames invented his mutation test, he simplified detection of cancerous substances with one blow. Long term animal studies became unnecessary. Now he also wants to make long term human studies unnecessary in the study of nutritional deprivation.
The relationship between nutritional deprivation and cancer has been documented with extensive references in last November’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. For example, mutations, cancer, and early aging are seen early in association with magnesium deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is believed to be the reason for 29% of all cancer in men. There is a relationship between deficiency of n-3 fatty acids from fish oil and malignant melanoma (skin caner), between selenium deficiency and cancer, and between potassium deficiency and heart disease. Lack of the B vitamin folic acid, vitamin B12, thiamine, and niacin also are associated with mutations and cancer. Even iron deficiency leads to mutations.
If all of this, and more, is an expression of a causal relationship, then nutrient deficiency should naturally be combated. Deficiency is, as we all know, extremely widespread. We receive large amounts of carbohydrates and fats, but few vitamins and minerals. One in every two Americans receive less magnesium than recommended, 90% receive too little vitamin E, 30% receive too little vitamin C, and so on… and so on.
Mutations can wait
If these many nutrient deficiencies are really the reasons for cancer, aging, and mutation, than what is the explanation? According to Ames, cells, and therefore the organs that they compose, prioritise when they temporarily or permanently lack something. A cell which as a result of a deficiency cannot accomplish all of its tasks, choose, for example, to prioritise the production of energy over the reparation of mutations. Correspondingly, scarce resources cause the organism to prioritise the production of red blood cells over the production of white blood cells, which is to say over immune system maintenance. The principle behind this is the same as when blood is directed to vital organs, such as the heart and lung, after blood loss. The organism must survive now, even though the price is weakening in the long term.
Prioritising is nonetheless only one reason for mutation and aging. A more direct connection is that nutrient deficiencies cause problems for the cells’ energy factories, the mitochondria. They are weakened by vitamin B (biotin) deficiency, pantoic acid deficiency, riboflavin deficiency, B6 deficiency, among others. Without these nutrients, the mitochondria cannot produce the enzymes necessary for energy production. Without energy nothing works in the cell, including the defence against mutation
Ames and others are now trying to find out how much nutrients we need to hold the number of mutations to a minimum and to keep the our mitochondria intact. This is not easy, but it is easier than undertaking expensive, and in many ways, uncertain, decade(s) long population studies. Also, who would finance such expensive studies?
In recent years we have seen a number of studies of supplementary vitamins E and C, selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamin A. Many of these were poorly done, more have been misinterpreted, and some have been proven. Few have become wiser. Is this the way forward? Or has Ames again shown a better shortcut?
While we wait for better knowledge, we should, according to Ames, take reasonable supplements of vitamins and minerals. Everything points towards that this is wise. And there are no risks.
By: Niels Hertz, MD
Ames B. Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. PNAS 2006; 103:17589-94.