Monday, October 6, 2008

Food as medicine: Health versus Disease

Life is a balance between processes that lead to properly organized form and function in the various tissues of the body, and factors that initiate disease and death. This balance also exists at the level of single cells. Plants use sunlight and chloroplasts to convert sunlight into energy to drive the life functions of plants. Animals, on the other hand, must use adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) to drive chemical reactions necessary for life.

In the absence of oxygen the cell can convert one glucose molecule into two ATP molecules. However in the presence of mitochondria and the Krebs cycle, four ATP molecules can be generated from one glucose molecule. With the electron chain within the mitochondrial membranes a total of 38 ATPs can be generated from one glucose molecule. However that requires an abundant supply of riboflavin and niacinamide, both of which are B vitamins. In addition, the mitochondria need an abundant supply of ubiquinone or co-enzyme Q.
Like all manufacturing processes, there is some trash is generated as the ATP is created. The mitochondria are as efficient as our energy star appliances in our home, but three percent of the energy contained within glucose does not make ATP. Instead a few free radicals are generated. These must be quickly neutralized before they begin to oxidize the mitochondrial DNA or to diffuse into the cytoplasm or nucleus and begin damaging cellular DNA. It is important for cells to have a ready supply of intracellular anti-oxidants. It is the colored vegetables and fruits that have the most anti-oxidants.
Our Health= Micronutrients consumed – empty calories consumed.
Which one of those most closely describes your diet, or your children’s diet?
Chronic Disease= Few micronutrients (vegetables + fruits)- empty calories (French fries, potatoes, white bread, candy, soda, pastries etc.)
Optimal mental and physical healthy= Many fruits + vegetables, some fish, occasional organ meats – no empty calories.
The more micronutrients in your diet – the minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium, vitamins both known and not yet discovered, and the antioxidants to help your cells get rid of the trash- the more easily it is for the cell to do all the things the DNA wants it to do.
I am in internal medicine- occasionally I give an antibiotic that cures someone of their infection. Mostly I give medicines that control symptoms- such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood sugar control, or lowering cholesterol. If someone wants to have optimal health- then they must provide their cells with as many micronutrients as possible.
Genes turn on and off according to our diets. That means if we eat diets poor in micronutrients- genes turn on which accelerate the degeneration of our bodies- worsening of diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity for example. If we eat diets rich in micronutrients – genes turn on that often lead to regression of disease.
Bottom line= optimal health requires optimal nutrition.
Physicians mostly can only control symptoms. For your mitochondria, your cells and your body’s to work most effectively – eat more micronutrients.
Diet recommendations: Each day maximize your micronutrients-
9 cups of vegetables and fruits
3 cups should be dark green or from the cabbage family,3 cups should be deeply colored, for example red, orange, or blue, and 3 cups of your choice
Organ meats once a week
Fish or seafood three times a week
When you eat –
Have 3 cups of vegetables and fruit first, then your protein source, then whatever else it is that you want to eat. Remember –unless your are doing physical activity – your body was designed to maintain itself without any grains/ starchy potatoes. If you are physically active – then additional carbohydrates make sense. If you have any chronic disease – any calorie you eat that is not packed with micronutrients is a calorie that took you farther away from your goal of optimal health.
Activity – difficult to sustain if it is not part of your daily life. People who are most successful are those who have incorporated more walking, physicality into the their routines either before or during work hours. Moving (walking or jogging) one’s body 3 miles a day is optimal.
Sustaining the effort – people who lose weight and keep eating 9 or more cups of vegetables and fruit, and walked or jogged 20 miles in a week are the most successful at maintaining weight loss.
Supplements – Food is the best. Do not think can supplements replace the micronutrients from 9 cups of vegetables and fruits. If you cannot eat fish however –take fish oil or flax oil. If you cannot eat organ meats take coenzyme Q10. If you have chronic disease – improving the health and nutrition for your mitochondria is an excellent place to start.

Terry Wahls, MD


jmwad3 said...

Can you talk more about the genes turning off and on and how that works? I think that stress events also turn genes off and on but it almost sounds like you are thinking only food does, although I know that is probably not true?
Also, if a gene has turned on to start a disease process such as MS, then are you saying that we can stop it, reverse it by changing what we eat?

Terry Wahls, MD said...

Our genes respond to our environment - which includes the food we eat or the toxins in our water and food supply. If we are not eating all of the necessary micronutrients - maladaptive genes turn on, leading to damage. It is in fact possible to turn those damaging genes back off if the individual corrects the dietary deficiencies. Other toxins such as pesticides can turn on harmful genes too.
There is evidence that changing the diet by increasing the omega 3 fatty acid intake (by using fish oil) has corrected crooked teeth due slower growth of the upper jaw. In fact the epidemic of crooked teeth and need for orthodontia is a reflection of inadequate omega 3 fatty acid intake and turning on the gene which stunts mid-face growth.
The result is crooked teeth and the need for thousands of dollars of orthodontia.
It certainly is possible to slow and reverse the damage in MS.
Check out my web site for more details about the lectures and presentations I have given on these issues.