The Roots of Poor Health and Early Aging
This is the first in a series of articles on the root problems of most of our chronic illness – diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue, Parkinson’s disease and early aging. Over the next few months, I will share with you how oxidative stress, inflammation, hormone imbalance, and toxins cause chronic illness and what you can do to prevent early aging and chronic illness.
When we mix oxygen with food, we get energy. As our body transforms oxygen and food into energy we make “free radicals”. Free radicals include compounds like peroxides and are like little tornadoes that spin off more little tornadoes. These free radical tornadoes go around damaging our cells. Free radicals damage the protein and fats in cell membranes, the mitochondria which are the energy factories in the cells and sometimes even the DNA, the basic genetic component of our cells, leading to cancer. It is estimated that the average human cell sustains 10,000 “hits” per day with free radicals. When cells are damaged by free radicals, the body reacts with inflammation. Chronic inflammation itself can lead to more cell damage. So you have the triple whammy of free radicals leading to cell damage, inflammation and cell death.
To stay healthy, the body must maintain a healthy balance between formation of free radicals and destruction of free radicals. How does the body do this? It tries to keep the free radicals within the cells and breaks the free radicals down. It uses antioxidants like vitamin C and E to destroy the free radicals and uses natural repair mechanisms to repair damaged cells.
How can we support our body against the consequences of oxidative stress? First try to avoid toxins like cigarette smoke, pesticides, solvents, ozone and other chemicals that increase free radical production. Second, we must have adequate dietary intake and absorption of antioxidant nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. This means eat more plants especially so that your plate has a variety of colors at every meal. Americans poor intake of fruits and vegetables means that most Americans do not have enough antioxidants to protect them from the damaging effects of free radicals.
How do you know if your body suffers from oxidative stress? We can actually measure how much oxidative stress the body is under with special lab tests including glutathione, serum lipid peroxides, 8OhdG and enzymes that increase with oxidative stress. The best defense against oxidative stress is to listen to what your mother always told you – eat your fruits and vegetables. This means at least 5 servings a day and 10 or 12 servings are better for maximum health.
Next month, we will learn more about how inflammation causes chronic disease. Hopefully, 2012 will be a year to attain better health by understanding how your body works. So eat a rainbow of fruits and your veggies and fight off those free radicals.