DIET AND YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

Eating certain foods may weaken or help boost the immune system.

In general, try to avoid diets that are low in fiber and high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed foods. These foods may suppress immune function.

On the other hand, eating foods that contain zinc, citrus fruits, garlic, ginger, and cruciferous vegetables may contribute to healthy immune function.

These foods have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help keep a person healthy and reduce disease risk.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain a person’s immune system so that it can fight disease while reducing chronic inflammation.

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Why We Have Large Brains?

Key Points:

● New research paints a picture in which the population of large mammals declined resulting in an increase in human brain size.

● Evolution, the theory argues, favored large brain humans who could successfully hunt smaller, faster animals for food.

● Brain size has grown significantly over the past 2 million years, but there is controversy over why this is the case. Some say the increase was the result of many small environmental changes over time. Others argue there might have been one major change, like this one.

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In the News: Calorie restriction

Caloric restriction protects against liver disease, animal studies suggests. Liver Cancer. 2020 Sep;9(5):529-548.

Consuming fewer calories has a protective effect against developing hepatocellular carcinoma ( primary liver cancer)  associated with hepatitis C virus infection, and non alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to a rodent study published in the Journal liver cancer.

Editor’s Note:  Recently, worldwide increases in obesity and metabolic syndrome have raised the prevalence of primary liver cancer derived from non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), Indicating a close relationship between overnutrition and liver tumorigenesis, the authors stated.

The study used mice with the liver cancer core gene that spontaneously developed fatty liver and tumors. For 15 months, the animals were given either a control diet that allowed them to eat as much as they liked, or a diet that contains 30% fewer calories than the controls.

At the end of 15 months, animals that received calorie restricted diets had fewer and smaller liver tumors, less liver oxidative stress, lower inflammation, downregulation of pro- cancer mediators, increased autophagy(cell self degradation), as well as other improvements, compared to the control group.

In the News: Lower Alzheimers’ Risk with Flavonols

What are Phytochemicals?

Phyto chemicals are biologically active substances in plants that have positive effects on health They are also called phyto- nutrients. They perform a variety of functions including these roles:

  •  Antioxidants
  •  Inhibitors of inflammation
  •  Preventers of infectious disease

Flavonols act as antioxidants in the body and the good news about flavanols has made chocolate a health food. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate is a rich source of flavonols.. Regular intake of flavonols such as a daily consumption of a cup of hot chocolate made with cocoa powder is related to improved blood flow, reduced blood pressure, and decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. Flavonols are also found in good amounts in foods such as berries, wine, and tea.

Lower Alzheimer’s Risk Linked to Greater Flavonol Intake. Neurology, 2020 Apr 21:94(16):e1749-e1756.

An article in the Journal Neurology reported an association between consuming more compounds known as flavanols, and a  lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Flavanols are found in many fruits and vegetables as well as in tea and chocolate.

The study included 921 participants with an average age of 81. The subjects the subjects did not have Alzheimer’s disease at the beginning of the study. Questionnaires that were completed at enrollment and then annually during a six year average follow-up period, provided data on dietary intake that was analyzed for flavonol content. Participants were also evaluated yearly for the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of follow up , 220 individuals developed the disease. Participants were then divided into five groups, according to their level of flavonol intake. Among those whose intake was highest, at an average of 15.3 milligrams per day, 15% developed Alzheimer’s disease , compared to 30% whose intake was lowest, at approximately 5.3 milligram per day.

The authors stated that “eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more tea could be a fairly inexpensive and easy way for people to help stave off Alzheimer’s dementia.”

Healthy Lifestyles and Longevity

According to David Sinclair, PhD in his recent book, Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To, “Aging is a disease and that disease is treatable.” What if you could have some control over how many years you can live and live that life with reasonable health?

There is now a fascinating new surge in aging research and a lot of attention paid to the contribution of healthy lifestyles. According to Dr. Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, the key is “activating newly discovered genes, the descendants of an ancient survival circuit that is both the cause of aging and the key to reversing it.” Sounds a little mystical? It makes a lot of sense (after reading the book). New ideas can change the way we think about aging and what we can do about it. Anyone who ages must read about these new concepts.

Spoiler Alert: From the article and study: Researchers estimated participants who didn’t follow any of the habits had a life expectancy at age 50 of 29 years for women and 25.5 years for men. Yet for those who did adopt these guidelines, after age 50 women could expect to live another 43.1 years, compared to 37.6 years on average for men. Ben Renner, Harvard Study: Adopting These 5 Healthy Habits can Add Decade To Your Life. Study Finds, June 16, 2018,

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Intermittent Fasting: An Introduction

Intermittent fasting is also known as time-restricted eating, helps regulate the expression and activity of proteins and other cellular functions known to influence health and aging. In other words, it’s not so much of what you eat, but when you eat. The simple act of limiting food intake increases lifespan and reduces age-associated disorders such as diabetes and heart disease. This action may also boost our resistance to other diseases and ultimately help extend lifespan.

Sources:

Rafel de Cabo, PhD and Mark P. Mattson, PhD. Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine, December 26, 2019.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. Life Extension, February 2021

Diana Licalzi, MS, RD. How Intermittent Fasting Impacts Longevity: A Summary of the Research. October 23, 2020

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Breast Cancer, Obesity and Time-restricted Eating

There is a great need for research on the effects of diet and cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in United States. As with cardiovascular disease, there is evidence that the risk of cancer can be reduced with changes in diet and activity patterns. Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer in women worldwide as there are new cases of invasive breast cancer that occur among women annually; a percentage of them will die from the disease. Obesity has been estimated to be associated with 13 different types of cancer.

Time restricted eating or intermittent fasting has been shown to have health benefits in addition to weight loss. This study attempts to measure the effects of intermittent fasting without calorie restriction on aspects of breast tumor formation in mice.

Note: Since this was an animal study, different metabolic effects can be found in humans. While most people can practice many fasting styles safely, extreme types of any type of fasting, can lead to inadequate intake of nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Therefore, people should approach any style of fasting with caution. If you have diabetes, you should consult with your physician before attempting any type of fasting program. (SJF).

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Chronic Inflammation: Understanding the “Cytokine Storm”

The leading causes of death among Americans are slow developing, lifestyle-related chronic diseases. This includes diabetes, heart disease,  stroke, cancer, hypertension or high cholesterol levels. Diet can often be (but not always) the underlying condition reflected as obesity.  Obesity is now considered to be a major risk factor for complications of COVID-19 infections.

A previous post  explains the role of diet in this occurrence. The post was written before the  co-morbidities   (underlying conditions) were associated with inflammation and severe COVID infections. The following well written article was initially published in The Conversation and succinctly explains how the role of inflammation can contribute to severe COVID and death often described as the “cytokine storm”.

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Is DNA Your Destiny?

Thinking of getting one of those DNA testing kits?  Aside from the Ancestry tests, the tests for your future health risks may be questionable and at this point you may want to save your money. Here is why.

A new outlook on genetics is called epigenetics  and involves the concept of environmental factors (including diet) affecting how genes are expressed or inhibited. Thanks to this relatively new science, we now know that experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being. Many of the risks for chronic diseases – including obesity, diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia can be traced back to your biological roots and the experiences your parent and even grandpaents had. Similarly, the food you eat may affect your children and grandchildren.

Is Your DNA Your Destiny?

Gene Expression: the process by which a cell converts the genetic code into RNA and protein

Epigenetics: the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the DNA sequence itself

DNA Methylation: A chemical reaction that occurs in a cell when a methyl group attaches to DNA, changing the expression of the gene to which it is attached.

Methyl Group: A type of molecular structure that occurs in many compounds, CH3, for example.

Methyl Donor: Nutrients, like folate and vitamin B12 that when metabolized can donate methyl groups during the process.

To fully illustrate the epigenetic process, one must tell the story of the agouti gene.

The Result of Methylation

Methylation Effects in the DNA

Both these mice have the gene called the agouti gene that tends to produce fat, yellow pups, so we want to silence the expression of the gene if possible. There is a way.  The mom of the brown mouse was fed B vitamins which silenced the gene. This produced brown pups with normal appetites resulting in a thin, healthy mouse.

Without altering the genomic structure, agouti moms were then able to produce healthy brown pups of normal weight and less prone to diseases. Even more surprising, when the offspring become mothers themselves, their babies can also be healthy, even without further vitamin supplementation. The yellow variant had been silenced, and that muted effect was inherited by the offspring. 

How did this occur?  Some nutrients silence genes by providing methylation (adding a methyl group (CH3); others activate genes by inhibiting methylation. It’s like throwing a wrench into the DNA to stop the expression of a gene or removing the wrench to allow the expression of the gene. The B vitamins acted as methyl donors that caused methyl groups to attach more frequently to the agouti gene in utero, inhibiting its expression. (See the black dots in the diagram above).   Silence or inhibiting depends on what the gene does: e.g., silencing a gene that stimulates cancer growth is beneficial; silencing a gene that suppresses cancer growth would be harmful.

In any case, your lifestyle choices may play a role in your future health status.

It must be remembered that with any new concept, doubts and skepticism will occur. It must be recognized that we are not mice or lab rats, but the same effect has been shown by studying human interactions and is needed for more research to examine this interesting hypothesis. The   implications are enormous in that we may be able to improve our health status by choosing healthy habits and lifestyles such as diet, exercise, stopping smoking, for example.

“The packaging of the gene may be as important as, or even more important than, the gene itself, and these epigenetic changes are predominantly influenced by environmental factors.” The Cancer Code, A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery Dr. Jason Fung, 2020.

The Pandemic and the Mind

The pandemic is making us depressed and anxious – can healthy food provide relief?

To the average person, it may seem eminently reasonable to assume that food affects our brains along with the rest of our bodies. But only within the past decade or so have researchers begun to establish the crucial link between diet and the mind.

The U.K. Mental Health Foundation reports that food plays an important role not only in depression but in schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease as well.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, including our eating habits. Comfort food was made for times like these, and it seems the healthy food trend that took root in recent years is reversing, at least for the time being. Shopping habits have shifted in favor of old processed favorites like frozen pizza, toaster waffles and canned spaghetti. These are convenience foods with long shelf lives that are designed to deliver pleasure. The typical American diet is often loaded with processed foods, pizza, fast food, white flour and sugary sodas.

Money is tight in many households, and busy parents are putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table instead of home cooking and using whole food. Open a box and there is dinner.  Besides, convenience foods are engineered  by the food industry to taste good and make us feel good at least in the short term.

But wait – there’s more. That’s because a growing body of research is showing that our food choices don’t just affect our waistlines. What we eat also may affect our mood and behavior. In other words, there may be something in the food we’re eating (or not eating) that’s influencing our state of mind.

The emerging field of nutritional psychology contends that modern western diets have contributed to increased rates of mental illness, particularly depression. Diets that follow a Mediterranean pattern of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish and olive oil, have been linked to lower rates of depression. A diet change of just a few weeks has been found to lift moods. In a 2010 study, women who ate diets high in vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains were less likely to suffer from depression.

As a third of all Americans are reporting that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health, we might now need nutritious foods more than ever. One way to start is to simply cut down on “junk” foods and look for simple ways to prepare whole nutritious foods.

Source: Discover Magazine, September/October, 2020

Dietary Patterns

What are these dietary patterns that often claim successes over another pattern? This comparison offers a brief description of each pattern as well as the rationale for the claims.

 

Dietary Pattern Primary Characteristics Rationale
Low Carbohydrate Restriction of total carbohydrate to less than 45% caloriesHigh protein or either animal or plant origin Has recent and widespread interest. Can include a popular variation called the ketogenic diet (highly restrictive)
Low Fat (Vegetarian and traditional Asian) Restriction of total fat or 20% of daily calories. Some can include dairy and eggs, limited meat such as chicken and seafood Long-standing use, extensive research backup. Popularity is weak due to limited appeal; lack of taste
Low glycemic (blood sugar) Limits the glycemic load of certain vegetables and many if not all fruits. Relevant to diabetes and pertains to carbohydrate quality as to effects on blood glucose in the body.
Mediterranean Emphasis on olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans, limited meat, moderate wine included Mimics the traditional diets of Mediterranean countries. Associated with extensive research that emphasizes “healthy” fats

 

 

 

Mixed Balanced

Includes both plant and animal foods that conform to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, DASH and Diabetes Prevention diets Long-standing, widespread use. Associated with extensive research and intervention trials to address chronic diseases.
Paleolithic Focus on diet of our Stone Age ancestors. Avoiding processed foods with emphasis on fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats.Dairy and grains are excluded. Native human diet emphasis with substantial research. Emphasis on lean proteins.
Vegan Often exclude all animal products, including dairy and eggs. If ill-conceived, can include plant-based junk food leading to nutrient deficiencies. Relevant to ethics, animal welfare issues, environmental sustainability