My colleagues and I in clinical medicine spend the vast majority of our time in operating rooms, emergency departments and outpatient offices largely cleaning up the wreckage of the “Standard American Diet.” Whether they choose to recognize it or not, the medical practice of every physician across the medical specialties – from internists to surgeons, from pediatricians to radiologists, from gastroenterologists to dermatologists, rheumatologists to public health and preventive medicine specialists – is largely focused upon repairing the damage resulting from what our patients are eating.
The time has come – for physicians and patients alike – to recognize that our food is chemically “alive.” The nutrients – or contaminants – from every meal and snack flow through our cells within minutes of eating, playing our un-coiled DNA like a piano, turn- ing on some genes and turning off others – inducing the production of some enzymes and inhibiting the production of others that determine who we are and how well we function. This means that every bite does matter. Food affects our functioning on the most fundamental levels, moment to moment, year in and year out – from determining our skin’s oil production to turning cancer-promoting genes on or off.
Eating a fast-food hamburger predictably sends a witch’s brew of denatured muscle proteins, saturated fats, pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid, endotoxin, and sialic acid Neu5Gc, growth-promoting hormones, along with antibiotics and bio-concentrated pesticide residues though the bloodstream. This toxic mixture is bathing every cell in the body within minutes of swallowing the meal and can promote cellular reactions that lead to inflammatory diseases in artery walls, inhibit the function of insulin recep- tors and promote the growth of several kinds of cancers.
The polluted river of pizzas, chili dogs and their ilk, flowing through one’s tissues creates a far different symphony of cellular reactions than an antioxidant-rich meal of a colorful fresh salad, hearty lentil stew, steamed green and yellow vegetables and fresh fruit for dessert. The phytonutrients in these foods generally promote healing and stability of tissues, and, thus, play a key role in the prevention and reversal of most of our common degenerative diseases.
We can look at any organelle in the cell such as the mitochondria, ribosomes, Golgi bodies or endoplasmic reticulum and see how flooding them with arachidonic acid, and other substances from animal-based foods might adversely affect its struc- ture and function. The interaction between our food and the genes on our chromosomes that determines the function of our cells is called nutrigenomics. Understanding that relationship gives us tremendous power to stop using foods to create disease states in our body and to start using each meal to foster deep and true healing.
The influence diet has on the cellular level is even more apparent when we look at the telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes, the tightly wound coils of our DNA that contain all our genetic information that let’s our cells function normally. Telomeres are special regions on the ends of the chromosomes that keep the chromosomes healthy and protect them from damage. Long, healthy telomeres are directly correlated with long, healthy lives; conversely, the shorter the telomere length, the shorter the lifespan.1 As we get older and subject ourselves to the chemical barrage of modern life, we can see under the electron microscope how eating a diet filled with free radicals and oxidizing agents damages our telomeres. When we eat food that abuses our chromosomes, the damage is akin to going outside in the snow without a jacket. The telomeres become damaged and shortened, and expose the DNA within the chromosomes to genetic injury that can affect every aspect of cellular function – and echo down the generations through every subsequent cell division. Conversely, we can see evidence under the same electron microscope of injured, shortened telomeres visibly healing and becoming longer as plant-based nutrients exert their restorative effects.
All this has profound implications for all practicing physicians, like dermatologists, most of who apparently still do not believe that their patient’s diet affects the health of their skin, especially in cases of acne. There are now numerous studies showing how cow’s milk products, with their powerful concoction of growth factors such as estrogens and IGF-1 can launch a cascade of reactions that can play a direct role in acne eruptions.
Of course, our diet alters everything in the skin, from blood flow that determines wound healing, to the lubricating quality of skin oils, to the populations of bacteria living down in the hair follicles. Since most skin conditions have a strong component of inflammation – which can be promoted by many factors in animal-based foods – dramatic improvements in skin conditions such as acne4, atopic dermatitis5, and psoriasis6 are predictably observed when the diet becomes one based upon whole, plant-based foods.
We find ourselves in a seminal time for medicine and public health as we recognize each individual’s power to largely determine the course of their health – and, thus, their lives – though their food choices. As physicians, nutritionists, and scientists, we must stop hiding behind the linguistic barrier of “Etiology Unknown” when it comes to most of health challenges in the Western world. As we grow ever more ravenous for a meat-heavy, fast-food diet, waistlines expand, children become obese, and the costs for diabetes and stroke care alone threaten to bankrupt our nation, we must stop overlook- ing the obvious. “It’s the food!” Physicians, government policy makers, food producers – and all of us – need to grasp that the molecules that we choose to flush through our cells on a daily basis hold the key to preventing and overcoming disease and to creat- ing abundant health and optimal function. Such a powerful tool, and it is available to everyone. “Let food be your medicine,” indeed. As the title of this book so aptly states, the time has come for scientists and physicians who want to effectively treat the cause of diseases – not just to deal with symptoms – to rethink food.
Reprinted by permission from RETHINK FOOD: 100+ Doctors Can’t By Wrong by Shushana Castle and Amy-Lee Goodman. Two Skirts Productions, LLC
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