Optimizing Health & Longevity
Health and wellness are very important attributes for all of us! Yet, sadly, health and wellness are missing in the lives of many people in the United States. A major cause of this is the standard American diet (SAD). In fact, this diet coupled to chronic stress, sedentary lifestyle and environmental toxins is responsible for 78% of all healthcare costs according to a 2009 article in Perspectives on Healthcare Reform. Interestingly, there are 5 locations in the world where people commonly live to be 100 years old or more.
These are called the Blue Zone cultures and are located in Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan and Ikaria, Greece. The people of these cultures have 4 common attributes, they get up in the morning with purpose and love their lives; have strong connections with family and friends, exercise is part of their daily routines and FOOD. Their excellent diet is very relevant here because it contains virtually no processed food, but rather is comprised of real food. Real food provides all the nutrients needed to be healthy and live a long, enjoyable life. Remarkably they are not only the longest-lived people on the planet they also have fewer heart attacks, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Now let’s look at the flip side of this – the SAD. This pie chart shows us that 63% of the SAD is processed foods which is the major driver of the problem with this diet. Processed foods are not only missing many of the components of real food, but contain very high amounts of sugar, preservatives, dyes and countless other dangerous additives that contribute to its toxicity to humans. The mere 8% of fruits and vegetables consumed represents the other huge problem with the SAD because fruits and vegetable are the only source of phytonutrients, one of the 3 major components of food. Which are the macronutrients, micronutrients and phytonutrients which are all critically essential to our health and wellness.
Macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, the food constituents that supply the building blocks for our cells, tissues and organs and very importantly our energy sources as well. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals contained in food. These, too, are a critical component of our food. When our diet does not have sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals, disease can occur because many of them are cofactors for reactions that occur in our metabolism. What exactly is a vitamin anyway? A spot-on definition was authored by Dr. Henry Borsook back in 1941 in his book Vitamins What They Are and How They Can Benefit You: “Vitamins have two characteristics which set them apart from the other substances the body uses. The first the very small amount of them which is necessary to preserve health. The second characteristic of vitamins is the inability of the body to make them.” So that means we must get them from food or supplements. Supplements are great, particularly if your diet is not! Be careful in choosing your supplements, they are definitely not created equal and this is why!
In 1937, Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgi won a Nobel prize in physiology for his important work around the discovery of Vitamin C. He had discovered Vitamin C in 1929 and in the interim 8 years he had isolated lots of other substances from food and learned that many, many of them had powerful activities. So, in his Nobel Prize lecture he told an anecdote about a colleague with a bleeding disorder often seen in scurvy who had asked Albert to send him some of the isolated Vitamin C. At the time he didn’t have enough of the isolate so instead told the Nobel prize audience: “I sent him paprikas and my colleague was cured. But later we tried in vain to obtain the same therapeutic effect with pure vitamin C.” The reason the pure Vitamin C, which is ascorbic acid, did not work is because it is an isolate of food. It is missing phytonutrients, the very important 3rd component of food. Phytonutrients come in lots of categories. There are carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, sulphorophanes, anthocyanins, curcuminoids and many more. Although, unlike micronutrients, they are not critical to life, when these nutrients are missing from your diet, there is a much slower effect on health and it’s a profoundly negative one!
In the micronutrient category, there are less than 30 vitamins and minerals essential for life, the numbers are very different in the phytonutrient category. For example, an orange has over 5000 phytonutrients, while the tomato has twice as many with 10,000! Thus far over 25,000 phytonutrients have been identified in food & herbs. Dr. James Duke is a very well-known ethnobotanist, who is responsible for a lot of the work that’s been done in identifying many of these phytonutrients. He’s created huge phytochemical and ethnobotanical data bases that can be accessed at: https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov>phytochem>search>list. There is quite a lot known about phytonutrients.
There are a couple of scientific papers that hammer home the importance of the phytonutrients as a food component. The first is a study published in the journal Nature, one of the most prestigious journals in medical academia, called “The Antioxidant Activity of Fresh Apples. The study examined the antioxidant potential of 3 substances: (1) apple with the skin on, (2) apple without the skin and (3) ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C) alone, they did this by adding the 3 substances and measuring how many free radicals were neutralized. For readers who have never heard of of free radicals, these are molecules that damage your cells and many of the molecules your cells are made of, antioxidants neutralize free radicals rendering them harmless.
First we’ll need a generic body cell, so we can see what happens to it, when a free radical comes along. This cartoon is an extremely simplified cell that shows the cell membrane, the nucleus with its membrane and chromosomes where your DNA lives and proteins which are included because of the very important roles they play in our bodies. Free radicals form in our bodies when a molecule reacts with oxygen, free radicals are literally the bad guys in our bodies, behaving like sparks zipping around, spinning out of control creating havoc, damaging the membranes of our cells, our proteins and DNA among other things. This can occur within cells or in the extracellular space.
Oxidation occurs when oxygen takes one of the molecule’s electrons – the result is a free radical, a molecule with unpaired electrons. The cartoon depicts the molecule becoming a free radical, which then damages proteins in the cell. The antioxidant donates an electron to the free radical, returning it to a harmless molecule. There are many different kinds of free radicals and they are the seeds that spawn disease and aging. The very good news is that free radicals can be disarmed by antioxidants, but ONLY IF we eat a diet rich in the foods that have them! Antioxidants disarm the free radicals by donating one of their many electrons, thus returning the molecule that lost an electron to it’s original state with paired electrons, this is called neutralization.
There are many causes of oxidation, it’s pretty complex, but some of the root causes of oxidation are: smoking, digestion, stress, pollution, toxins, illness, too much or too little exercise, illness, inflammation, alcohol, DIET and specifically the SAD. Lots of things we all experience. So, back to the apple experiment, recall there were 3 tubes of identical free radical solutions that these three substances were added to. Here are the results: (1) the apple with the skin on had an antioxidant potential of 83.3, when they took the skin off, that number plummeted to 47.06, well of course it did because we lost all the phytonutrients contained in the skin, but look what happens when you’re missing ALL the phytonutrients in an apple except for Vit C, this very important vitamin’s antioxidant potential is only 0.32! When you crunch these numbers it shows that 5.7 mg of vitamin C within the whole food matrix of an apple had an antioxidant potential equal to 1500 mg of Vitamin C isolate! The scientists concluded that other substances in the apples are contributing to the antioxidant potential seen with the apple, and these other substances are the phytonutrients, something to consider when buying Vitamin C or any other vitamin delivered in an isolate form.
The second study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The paper describes this elegant experiment in a human clinical trial that compared different delivery methods of 150 mg of Vitamin C. A single group of participants on 3 consecutive days drank 3 different drinks. On the first day they had 150 mg of ascorbic acid (isolate) in water; on day 2 they drank orange juice which contained 150 mg of naturally occurring ascorbic acid; then on day 3 they had a sugar and water mixture which was the control. The goal of the experiment was to measure the antioxidant potential/activity of Vitamin C in participants via blood sampling, but they also wanted to measure absorption to see if there were any differences between the isolate and the naturally occurring Vitamin C.
This was accomplished by drawing blood hours after the drinks each day and measuring how much ascorbic acid was in the bloodstream. The results showed that there were no differences at all in absorption. But here’s what made this an elegant experiment: next they poured hydrogen peroxide into the blood. They did this because hydrogen peroxide generates a multitude of free radicals and of course we just saw that free radicals damage cells, their membranes, proteins, RNA and DNA. Next the scientists isolated the DNA of the white blood cells, then determined if both forms of Vitamin C protected the DNA from the damaging effects of the free radicals generated when hydrogen peroxide was poured into the blood. And as you might have guessed, only samples from the day 2 drink (orange juice) were able to protect cells against the damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide. The researchers concluded “…that the food compounds…account for the protective effects observed and act synergistically with Ascorbic Acid to confer the protective benefit.” The lead author went on to say: “Vitamin C alone is missing the wide array of phytonutrients found in an orange, such as citrus flavonoids, anthocyanins and numerous polyphenols”, “It appears that vitamin C is not the only chemical responsible for antioxidant protection; there is something more at work here.” Well of course there is, the very important 3rd component of food, the phytonutrients also known as phytochemicals.
Fresh whole food contains over 25,000 phytonutrients, providing amazing benefits that improve our health and wellness. One of the most relevant steps you can take with your diet is to minimize fast food, food that is processed and maximize the amount of fresh whole and when possible organic fruits and vegetables.
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