Mind The Gap…why keeping your nutrition on track is the key to longevity
By Dr Nick Gillitt
The body is always adapting to its environment. It’s a complete use it or lose it proposition, inactivity, such as sitting on the couch all day, leads to your body losing metabolically “expensive” tissue like muscle , in favor of ‘cheaper’ fuel storage alternatives, like fat. Your body is literally continually assessing its needs in order to ensure survival in the short term, and as we have discovered at the expense of thriving for the long term.
This process is called “Triage”, and it is a process the body applies constantly when determining how to manage scarce nutrient resources.
Triage on the battlefield is an awful but necessary way to prioritize medical treatment to those who can most benefit from it. Which means that people who would likely survive anyway, and combatants that are most likely to die, are denied access to medical treatment in favor of those who will most likely survive if they receive treatment but couldn’t survive without it.
Triage effectively favors short term survival as a determinant for treatment.
Dr. Bruce Ames was the first nutrition biochemist to posit triage theory in terms of the nutrients themselves. He proposes that the body has developed a rationing response when exposed to shortages of essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) throughout the process of evolution. When vitamins or minerals are scarce such as in times of famine that scarce micronutrient is prioritized for use with proteins essential for short-term survival. Proteins needed for long-term health, including those that protect DNA, lose out, function less effectively, if at all and this lack of metabolic activity here contributes to the body succumbing to the diseases of aging.
Unfortunately, nutrient scarcity is not rare! In fact, nutrient scarcity is prevalent throughout the world, and certainly here in the US, where so many of the calories we consume are empty of nutrition.
In a study in 2016 * (citation below) the following describes the percent population of the United States who are below the EAR (Estimated Average Requirement), including food fortification and supplements: vitamin D, 70%; vitamin E, 60%; magnesium, 45%; calcium, 38%; vitamin K, 35%; vitamin A, 34%; vitamin C, 25%; zinc, 8%; vitamin B6, 8%; folate, 8% (7).
Intakes of essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, commonly found in fish, are also remarkably low in the United States population. A varied and balanced diet based on whole foods could provide enough vitamins and minerals to avoid nutrient scarcity and propel you toward a longer healthier life. Diets consisting of calorie laden refined foods and sugar is deficient in nutrients and quickly leads to an unhealthy and almost certainly shorter life.
The body is amazing, but it is also eminently practical. It ruthlessly and pragmatically prioritizes nutrient use to those processes that are critical to life or reproduction in the nearest of near terms such the role of vitamin K in blood clotting. If your blood does not clot properly you will die very quickly.
However, just like in battlefield triage the unintended consequence of this prioritization are that metabolic processes that are not immediately critical to life, e.g., DNA repair, end up being shorted on the vitamins or minerals they need to work properly.
Nutrient scarcity be it from poor diets or famine exacerbates this nutrient gap and as long as the gap exists little by little, day after day damage can begin to accumulate. We live to fight another day if you like, but at the expense of potentially living healthily for many days, years later down the line.
Being in a situation of prolonged nutrient scarcity (the gap) can have very real negative long-term health consequences as without such processes working optimally an insidious and persistent acceleration of damage will undoubtedly occur leading to an increase in the likelihood of developing all the types of diseases associated with aging.
The good news is you can transfer yourself from a period of nutrient scarcity into a period of adequate nutrient presence by improving your diet, but you have to be diligent and persistent.
The best health your DNA will allow you is a gift, but not a given. It’s something you can claim by eating a diet rich in naturally occurring macro and micro-nutrients and phyto-chemicals and by supplementing where valuable daily.
About the author.
Nick Gillitt PHD is currently the Chief Scientific Officer at the David H Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) based in Kannapolis, North Carolina and a former Vice President of Dole Food Company where he was also Director of the Dole Nutrition Institute.