How do you avoid a “nutritional catastrophe?”

By Dr. Allan Spreen on 04/10/2011

Are we wired to sabotage our long-term health?


That’s what legendary biochemist Bruce Ames PhD might say if you asked him. You see, Dr. Ames believes that your body needs certain nutrients each and every day. When you don’t get enough of these nutrients, Dr. Ames says, your body goes into “triage” mode.

Triage comes from the French word trier which means to separate or sort. The word came into the English language to describe how military doctors sorted their patients. They tended to the most urgent cases first. Today, hospitals use triage to prioritize patients in the ER.

Dr. Ames thinks your body does the exact same thing during a nutritional drought. He says when your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it must make up for the shortfall somehow. To do so, it transfers nutrients from less critical areas of your body to prevent a flat-out catastrophe elsewhere.

For example, your body may steal nutrients from your skin and send them to your liver. This protects you from falling over today from liver failure.

Dr. Ames thinks we developed this defense mechanism during evolution to survive a famine or drought. It’s your body’s way of protecting you from today’s nutritional shortfalls. But does it sabotage your long-term health? Dr. Ames thinks so, especially when it comes to selenium.

Selenium is a micronutrient that helps fuel your immune system. Even small deficits of this mineral may have an effect on long-term health.

How does selenium help fuel your immune system?

In your body, selenium teams up with proteins to make selenoproteins. It’s a long word for sure, but their job is pretty simple…

According to the National Institutes of Health, the antioxidant enzymes in selenoproteins may help prevent cell damage from free radicals.

The evidence for selenium is so compelling, that after reviewing the studies even the FDA came out and said…

“Selenium may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Some scientific evidence suggests that consumption of selenium may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. However, FDA has determined that this evidence is limited and not conclusive.”

The problem is…

Our food supply isn’t what it used to be. Our parents and grandparents may have been able to get the selenium they needed in their regular diets, but nowadays the soil just doesn’t have enough nutrient content and that means supplementing with selenium is the best option.

To make matters worse, Dr. Ames theorizes, our bodies go into “triage” mode when we don’t take in enough selenium.

Why it’s never good to rob Peter to pay Paul

Recently, Dr. Ames and his colleagues analyzed 12 selenoproteins found in human blood samples. They classified five of these proteins as “essential” to the body. The other seven they called “non-essential.”

The researchers limited selenium intake, then took blood samples to see what would happen. Sure enough, the body went into triage mode.

During this nutritional “drought,” the number of essential selenoproteins remained sable. But the non-essential selenoproteins took a nosedive. These results support what Dr. Ames describes in his triage theory. The body compensates when given limited resources.

While further research is needed to support a direct link between lower selenium intake and reduced levels of selenoproteins, the science is certainly compelling. Dr. Ames says when your body must make a choice, it will always choose to survive the next 24 hours. But as a result, your long-term could health suffer. In this case, the body stopped making non-essential selenoproteins.

But here’s the thing…

Even non-essential selenoproteins are essential to your long-term health!

Take for example the non-essential selenoprotein Gpx3. It may protect against DNA damage. And what about Gpx1? Experts link that non-essential protein to heart health.

Make sure you choose the right kind of selenium

Needless to say, Dr. Ames’ triage theory may have some big-time implications for overall health. Failing to get enough essential nutrients might not affect critical functions, but it probably speeds up the aging process. In light of this, Dr. Ames recommends upping the Recommended Daily Allowance to 75 micrograms of selenium per day. The current RDA is 55 mcg per day.

So here’s the bottom line for you…

Take steps to ensure you get the selenium your body needs by taking a high-quality selenium supplement.

But be warned: not all forms of selenium are created equal. The market is flooded with cheap and worthless forms of selenium. These are usually inorganic forms like selenite. Don’t waste your time!

Look instead for a supplement that contains the most potent form of selenium…called selenomethionine.

Studies show that your body absorbs about 90 percent of ingested selenomethionine. In contrast, your body only absorbs around 50 percent of selenite. (Cheap supplements use selenite and pass it off as the good stuff…but your body can tell the difference!)

About the author


Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.


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