Doctor’s Tip: Top killers and your body’s 5 defense systems
This is the last column in a series based on Dr. William Li’s book “Eat to Beat Disease, The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.” The book describes the body’s 5 defense systems: (1) immunity (which can be important in fighting infectious diseases and cancer, but which can run amuck in autoimmune conditions); (2) angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels that can be beneficial in diseases such as heart disease and harmful in conditions such as cancer); (3) regeneration through stem cells; (4) the gut microbiome; (9) and DNA protection. Today’s column is about is how these five defense systems relate to the top killers.
Let’s start out with a disease that’s on everyone’s mind these days. Dr. Li’s book came out in 2019, before we were aware of COVID-19, which for 2020 will be one of the major causes of death in this country. An optimal immune system fights off infectious diseases (and cancer). Regular intake of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds enhances immunity — plant foods with intense flavor and/or intense color are particularly beneficial. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that severe COVID lung disease — which is what usually causes COVID deaths — appears to be caused at least in part by an uncontrolled immune-mediated inflammatory response, which probably has nothing to do with diet.
Another point to consider is that the majority of people who die from COVID-19 have underlying lifestyle-related conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, all of which can be prevented and reversed with optimal lifestyle.
Heart attacks and strokes are the main cause of death in populations on a Western diet. According to Dr. Li, to prevent these conditions, it’s important to eat foods that stimulate angiogenesis; that recruit stem cells that enhance angiogenesis; that lower inflammation; and that encourage a healthy gut microbiome.
This is the second most common cause of death in countries on a Western diet. To prevent cancer, eat foods with antiangiogenic activity that cuts off the blood supply to cancer cells; foods that destroy cancerous stem cells; foods that activate the immune system so that cancer cells are killed off when they first appear; foods that promote a healthy microbiome that assists in cancer prevention and control; and foods that protect DNA and that repair damaged DNA.
Diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent in the U.S. and worldwide, as people become heavier. To prevent and reverse diabetes eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds — and according to Dr. Li possibly fish (although other experts would argue with the latter). In particular, eat foods that stimulate angiogenesis since diabetics have slower growth of new blood vessels. Eat foods that prevent abnormal angiogenesis that results in diabetic eye disease. Diabetics have fewer and less active stem cells, so eat foods that enhance stem cells. Diabetics have a disease-promoting gut microbiome, so eat foods that promote a healthy microbiome. Diabetes causes inflammation, so eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Diabetics have an impaired immune system, so diabetics should eat foods that are immune-enhancing. Diabetics have more DNA damage, so they should eat foods that support DNA protection and repair.
Eat antiangiogenic foods that “starve fat.” The gut microbiome can promote obesity or thinness, so eat foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome. Obesity causes inflammation, so eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Obesity harms immunity, so eat an immune-enhancing diet.
Eat foods that calm the immune system, reduce inflammation, and restore healthy gut bacteria. Use fasting to “reboot the immune system.” Chronic inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis results in undesirable blood vessel formation, so eat food with antiangiogenic activity.
DISEASES OF AGING
Foods that stimulate angiogenesis, reduce inflammation, activate stem cells, and improve the microbiome help prevent cognitive decline and other neurodegenerative disorders. Green vegetables and fish can prevent macular degeneration, the main cause of blindness in the elderly.
Dr. Li has a list of specific foods that have been shown to support each of the body’s 5 defense systems. Common to all five, are unrefined plant foods — vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Read his book or go to http://www.drwilliam.li.com to learn more.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He gives a free presentation at 7 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718); and conducts a shop-with-a-doc session at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month at Carbondale City Market.
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