Doctor’s Tip: Your body’s five defense systems — angiogenesis
This is the second column in a series taken from “Eat to Beat Disease, The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself,” by William Li, M.D. — a practicing physician who is also on the cutting edge of medical and nutritional research. Dr. Li discusses what he calls the body’s five defense systems: immunity, angiogenesis, regeneration through stem cells, the microbiome, and DNA protection. The first column in the series was about immunity.
Angiogenesis refers to the formation of new blood vessels, which in some cases is good and in other cases bad. An example of good angiogenesis is the following: At the 2019 International Conference on Plant-Based Nutrition in September, an orthopedist who specializes in shoulder problems gave an interesting talk. Late in his career he found out about the healing power of healthy food and starting using it in his practice. He presented data showing that new blood vessel formation driven by healthy eating can prevent and reverse many age-related degenerative shoulder conditions and help with postoperative healing. The same applies to lumbar discs, which don’t contain blood vessels but depend on blood vessels in surrounding tissues that can be enhanced by angiogenesis. Following are additional examples of “good” angiogenesis:
• The vascular lining of the uterus — the endometrium — regrows after menstruation, so that it can potentially support a fertilized egg. Around eight days after implantation, a new vascular organ — the placenta — forms to supply blood to the growing fetus.
• If you scrape your knee and pull the scab off a few days later, you see red, glistening tissue made up of thousands of new blood vessels.
• If you develop atherosclerotic blockages in your coronary arteries, angiogenesis results in new “collateral” blood vessels.
• If you start a strength training program, angiogenesis supplies blood and oxygen to the new muscle you develop.
Certain factors — such as smoking, diabetes, advanced age and unhealthy diet — can compromise your body’s ability to form new blood vessels. Following are two examples of problems that can result:
• Diabetes adversely affects angiogenesis, which can result in neuropathy — chronic pain and/or numbness in the legs and feet. Nerves have their own mini-circulatory system called the vasa nervorum, and damage to these blood vessels from diabetes results in nerve damage.
• Chronic, non-healing wounds are also common in diabetics, due to sub-par angiogenesis.
In some cases, angiogenesis can cause problems; following are some examples of “bad” angiogenesis:
• Essentially all of us eventually develop small, microscopic cancers in our body, which don’t grow because they don’t have a blood supply. Abnormal angiogenesis allows these tumors to grow and eventually metastasize. Biotech companies have developed “angiogenesis inhibitors” to treat advanced cancers.
• Joint inflammation in rheumatoid and osteoarthritis causes formation of abnormal new blood vessels that release enzymes that destroy cartilage.
• In our brain, formation of abnormal blood vessels that release neurotoxins that kill brain cells contributes to Alzheimer’s.
• Excessive growth of abnormal blood vessels in the eyes contributes to macular degeneration and diabetes retinopathy, both of which can lead to blindness.
So angiogenesis is an important body defense mechanism. We have sophisticated feedback mechanisms that assure we have just the right amount of angiogenesis — not too much and not too little, or as Dr. Li puts it “just the right balance and mix of blood vessels.” Dr. Li is head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, and his research has shown that various foods have powerful influence over angiogenesis. Examples of foods that prevent bad angiogenesis are soy, apples, black beans, blackberries, bok choy, green tea, kale, pecans and raspberries. Examples of foods that stimulate good angiogenesis are black plums, blueberries, chia seeds, flaxseed, rosemary and sunflower seeds.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718).
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