Evolution is all about adaptation – to the environment, to circumstances, to stress and even (or especially) to food. In this context of adaptation, it’s truly amazing how “inventive” the human body has become in finding novel (and perhaps heretofore uncontemplated) ways to repair damage we do to ourselves through our diets and other lifestyle indiscretions. And most of these changes are less than a few hundred years old, which makes the adaptations even more remarkable.
Let’s use cholesterol as an example. Cholesterol is actually very beneficial. Among other duties, it’s a necessary component of every cell membrane and it’s involved in hormone production. The body makes about 1400 mg a day just to keep up!
Now let’s take a stressful lifestyle (show of hands, please), add in a bad diet and lack of exercise and we get an inflammatory process in the arteries that causes lesions. This inflammation problem is completely unrelated to amounts or types of cholesterol.
Nevertheless, the ever-inventive human body adapts to this inflammation sequence by using cholesterol as a band-aid to cover up the lesions until healing can take place – which, of course, almost never happens since the silly human continues to live the same pro-inflammatory lifestyle. Eventually, the cholesterol band-aids harden (sclerosis), narrow the arteries and sometimes break off causing a heart attack.
Of course, we blame the cholesterol for all this and embark on a national campaign to rid the body of this important substance instead of focusing on the foods (and other stresses) that promote inflammation in the first place!
Now let’s consider fat. For years we believed fat was nothing more than nature’s way of storing extra calories for some future famine. That would be a handy little adaptation in and of itself if that’s all it were. But when you do the math, you see that it doesn’t require a lot of fat to survive or even migrate for long periods. A 165-pound person with only 13% body fat has 21.45 pounds of fat. Being generous and assuming that you need a minimum 3% just to carry on basic survival functions, that leaves 10% or 16.5 pounds of fat to live off. At 3500 calories per pound of fat and 100 calories per mile walking, you’d theoretically have enough fat to survive weeks and migrate several hundred miles.
So maybe fat has another purpose, and this is where my friend Art De Vany’s description of fat as a toxic waste site (my words) comes in. Modern humans have so thoroughly altered foods to focus on simple carbohydrates (sugars) that we now consume hundreds of excess grams of it every day.
As Art has explained, the body recognizes excess sugar (glucose) as a toxic load – and remember, it doesn’t take a whole lot of it to be excessive – and the body starts the adaptive process of secreting insulin to take sugar out of the bloodstream and deposit it into the muscles.
Two problems arise immediately:
First, there’s not a lot of room in those muscles. Ask any athlete who’s ever tried to carbo-load for an event. Secondly, most people aren’t athletes and have lost significant utility of their muscle through atrophy, further diminishing storage. Furthermore, they don’t burn off the already-stored glycogen because they don’t exercise.
But here’s where the body has become so elegantly adaptive once again. It creates little storage facilities in the form of additional fat cells. Not because it’s trying to store calories for some future famine, as modern medicine might have you believe, but because it’s trying to find novel and effective ways to rid the body of this very toxic glucose excess.
And it’s a pretty good solution. Insulin allows glucose access to these fat cells which grow larger and more numerous over time. Problem is, it’s always one step behind, so the fat cells fill up just as the muscle filled up, leaving excess glucose in the bloodstream after the next high carb or high calorie meal until more fat cells can be made.
And so the spiral continues as 40 million Americans are headed towards type 2 diabetes.
Every Monday, I’ll be giving all of you a little health challenge. Sometimes the challenge will be fitness-related, sometimes it will be a diet challenge, and sometimes it will be a challenge to your current way of doing things. It’s something we can all do together. Great health starts with individual steps of accomplishment, so I really encourage you to get into the habit of taking the challenge each week. They will accumulate, and you’ll get results.
Now, for your challenge:
This week, we’re putting all attitudes in check (including ours). Make a concerted effort to think positive all week long. When a negative thought crosses your mind – whether it’s sabotaging your own hopes or finding fault with others – make a conscious point of letting it go, every time. Negative thinking isn’t healthy and it isn’t productive. Most of the time, it’s not even necessary. This week, don’t hold yourself, or others, back. Invest yourself in being positive. Be bold!
Don’t let the spinach scare stop you from getting copious greens in your diet. I recommend trying out chard in replacement of spinach, regardless of the current health scare.
Chard is actually a member of the spinach family, but it is more substantial and greater in nutritional value than regular spinach. I’m always amazed at how inexpensive chard is, too – even the organic variety. For recipes, you’ll find chard’s texture is better than spinach, too – it doesn’t get stringy or mushy.
Chard packs a lot of nutritional density for bone health, so it’s appropriate given our osteoporosis discussion. Chop it up, throw it in any sauces, risottos or stir fries, and enjoy high levels of vitamin K, A, C, iron, calcium, potassium, manganese and magnesium. Chard is also the most fibrous leaf you can eat. Try it out this weekend.
Sara here. Osteoporosis has been in the news again, and I want to share some important missing information with you. (If you want the nitty-gritty osseous-related research, please shoot me a line on the Forum.) In brief, though, here’s what every woman, and especially all the moms out there, must know:
Osteoporosis is not going to be prevented, treated or cured with three glasses of milk a day or yogurt every morning. Never was, never will be.
A few things the dairy people don’t want you to think about:
1) Dairy is not a common food in much of the world,
2) Osteoporosis is not a common disease – often, it’s not even heard of – in much of the world. However, osteoporosis is most common in Europe and in the United States, where dairy intake is exceptionally high. Strange? Sure, because there are other factors you need to know about. Osteoporosis is not simply a matter of calcium depletion.
Osteoporosis is caused by many factors, but here are the four key ones:
1) Vitamin and mineral deficiency. Although the western world has incredible abundance and access, centralized mass production of food leaves a lot to be desired in the nutritional department. And our calcium emphasis is skewed. Though calcium is important, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin D, and countless other vitamins and minerals are crucial to bone health. In fact, recent studies show that magnesium may actually be more important to bone health than calcium is. Not saying calcium isn’t important. It is. It’s vital. It’s just not the only thing you need. I hate to beat a dead llama, but take a multi-vitamin, ladies!
2) Soda consumption. (Even diet soda.) The worst, and I mean worst thing you can do to your bones is to drink death-by-can. There are lots of studies that prove this, but a recent long-term study published in the much-respected American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consume just one soda daily have 5 to 7 percent less bone material than women who limit fizzy stuff to just once a month.
3) Lack of fruits and vegetables. Most Americans eat only 1-3 servings of produce daily. Blech! No wonder we’re all so chunkity chunk. A recent study from the British Journal of Nutrition found that postmenopausal women who ate adequate vegetable matter (at least 5 servings) in their daily diets were between 200 and 400% better in terms of bone mineral density loss. (Now, here’s a handy time to talk about studies and statistics. This doesn’t mean that these bone-hardy women have bones that weigh 2 to 4 times as much as other women. What it means is relative loss compared to veggie-avoiding women. So, that might mean a few ounces on up to a few pounds – scientists generally break things up into quartiles so they can examine a range of factors. Fascinating, I know!)
In other words, vegetables will not make you gain 300 pounds, and they will also not give you the bones of Hercules. But they’re still good for your bones.
Here was Mark’s take: the study was cross-sectional (good), population-based (fine in this case), long-term (good), used statistical regression analysis (sounds fancy but just standard) and was questionnaire-based (a little annoying, but still useful).
4) Lastly, but definitely not least, osteoporosis is caused by a lack of weight-bearing activity. This means resistance. This means weights. And there is no need to worry – weight-bearing activity will not make you look like a protein-shake spokeswoman. A lot of women are surprised to learn that “weight-bearing” activity can be going for a walk – ‘cuz you are bearing your own weight! Using ankle weights is great, as well. Purchase some dumbbells in the 2-10 pound range (depending on your fitness level) and learn to do 4 or 5 difference moves, 3 sets each, 8-10 repetitions per set. 2 or 3 times a week is plenty to keep your bones strong. Ask me for some moves. I’m happy to help out.
Technorati Tags: Sara Ost, osteoporosis, osseous, women’s health, deficiency, vitamins, minerals, calcium, weight training, Viactiv, calcium supplement, British Journal of Nutrition, bone density, dairy, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
MY 12-YEAR-OLD MANAGES TO DO IT, AND HE’S PROBABLY TAUGHT THE DOG
A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times just goes to show how much room for improvement there is in the medical business…that is, the medical establishment. (Sometimes I have to remind myself.) The gist of the article is that doctors are among the most resistant to using email. Teachers, professors, lawyers – even car mechanics are more likely to use email as a way to improve and increase communication with their students, clients and customers. Yet when it comes to giving patients a helping hand by opening up the lines of communication, the medical establishment is exceptionally hesitant. Evidently, this “new” email technology is so advanced, you’ll just have to be (pun alert)…patient.
One of the Bees put it bluntly: “What is it with the medical industry’s refusal to join the world we all actually live in?”
Now, I understand that hospitals might be worried about their practitioners being inundated or wasting precious time. Like teachers, cops and nurses, docs have plenty of paperwork to do already. Here’s the obvious challenge: doesn’t that signify a need for innovation, not resistance?
Frankly, I was surprised when my G.P. volunteered his personal email address. (He’s one of the scant 25% of doctors who use email with patients.) I’ve challenged him on some things, sent him some studies, and he’s gained insights. Likewise, I’ve learned really valuable “insider” information about drugs, medical history, and what doctors really think about their patients.
Hospital and HMO executives say that the “danger” of email is that it could become very time-intensive and run the risk of burdening doctors with administrative questions instead of health questions. There’s also the issue of liability. And of being a grown-up.
But the Times article found that, generally at least, doctors are open to email. Here’s the real deal: It’s not the doctors who have a problem with it – it’s the executives. These are big boys and girls, and when they cop to pathetic excuses like “these things are just very new” – I’m actually embarrassed for them. Very new? Yes, just like cell phones and CDs.
Wouldn’t email be a great way to make the patient and doctor invest more in each other? I’m sure some whiz 20-year-old out there could even come up with some cool community interface not unlike what we’re doing here.
Of course, that would require taking some responsibility.
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