Monday, July 21, 2008

Recommended Reading: Diet Can Alter Your DNA

Without trying (or rather, without paying attention), I gain weight. I've been thinking about what I could do to eat less and move more. It has to be pretty compelling to pull me away from work and other responsibilities, though I realize there should be nothing more compelling than my own health.

Serendipitously, then, I was assigned to work on the upcoming book Osteoporosis: Preventing and Healing Without Drugs by Peter Bales, M.D. (Prometheus: Sept 2008). The basic premise of the book is that nutrition is a more effective long-term approach to treating and healing osteoporosis than drug therapy. The author, an orthopedic surgeon in California, says early in the book that his medical school training didn't include enough information on nutrition. (It's a statement you've probably read and heard before.)

One of the major causes of now-epidemic osteoporosis is obesity. The heavier you get, the more pressure is put on the cartilage. But it's at least a double-whammy, because the obese person with a poor diet also has silent "suicide cells" at work that actually destroy cartilage.

Bales divulges a lot more information about nutrition and overall health, which is why I'm recommending this book to anyone who is interested in health. Check this out:
  • Not Brushing and Flossing Can Lead to Heart Disease. Remember that old saying that dental health is an indicator of overall health? Apparently, it's true. Bales says on p. 44 that people with chronic periodontal disease have inflamed gums. The bacteria that causes gum inflammation is circulated through the bloodstream and causes inflammation in other parts of the body and is linked to the development of heart disease.

  • Bad Diet = Physical Self-Destruction. An unhealthy diet leads to oxidation--or "rusting"--in our cells, causing them to malfunction and resulting in acidic pH in our bodies. Acid breaks down whatever it's exposed to. When cartilage cells are exposed to increased oxidative stress, they become dysfunctional and overproduce cartilage-degrading enzymes and free radicals. Bales calls these "suicide cells" on p. 49, because they actually attack healthy cells.

  • Why Diet Books Say "It's Not Your Fault." Leptin is a hormone that is secreted through the hypothalamus that tells us to stop eating when we're satisfied. But as we gain weight and become obese, leptin resistance results and the hypothalamus does not respond appropriately. "As a result," Bales writes on p. 108, "we continue to eat even when our body does not need the excess calories." So, in addition to whatever psychological issues are making you eat, your body is sort of going along for the ride too. Women naturally have higher leptin levels than men. (But, does that make us "fault free"? You decide . . .)

  • Overeating Can Stress You Out. Overweight and obese people have increased levels of insulin and sugar in their blood and are likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. The increased insulin and sugar cause inflammation throughout the body and a higher production of cortisol, a stress hormone secreted during "fight or flight." More cortisol in the body means your body is in a state of constant stress, and that can lead to what Bales calls adrenal burnout on p. 113, which means your body's horomone levels are all imbalanced.

  • High Cooking Temps Affect Aging. According to Bales's footnoted information on p. 122, broiling meat at 437 degrees F (225 Celsius) or higher, or frying at 350 degrees F (177 Celsius) or higher increases the oxidation and "sugar-coating" of foods, increasing inflammation in your body and accelerating the aging process.

  • Bad Diet Can Lead to Changes in DNA. This is headline news to me, but on pp. 126 and 142 Bales says that research shows that poor nutrition and environmental toxins causes our DNA to malfunction, and that malfunctioning is "passed on to our children." As the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, this point has HUGE implications.

So what is there to do? Well, you'll have to buy the book (preorder it at Amazon or B&N), but one of Bales's suggestions for rescuing your body--and possibly your children--from genetic malfunctioning includes avoiding processed starches like pasta and white bread.

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