In order to understand the benefits of food for health, we need a new definition of health. To most people, health is the absence of disease. But it is much more than that. In fact, the definition of health needs a major upgrade. Our health is an active state, protected by a series of remarkable defense systems in the body that are firing on all cylinders, from birth to our last day alive, keeping our cells and organs functioning smoothly. These health defense systems are hardwired in our body to protect us. Some are so powerful they can even reverse diseases like cancer. And while they function as separate systems of defense, they also support and interact with one another. These defense systems are the common denominators of health. Each of the systems is influenced by diet. When you know what to eat to support each health defense, you know how to use your diet to maintain health and beat disease.
When I teach other doctors and students about diet and health, I use the analogy that the body is like a medieval fortress, protected not only by its stone walls, but by a host of other clever built-in defenses. Think of your health defense systems as the hidden defenses of the body fortress. These defenses heal the body from within, so it is now possible to systematically examine how to shore up your health. The five defense systems are angiogenesis, regeneration, microbiome, DNA protection, and immunity. Here is what they can do:
Angiogenesis: The process by which these blood vessels are formed. Foods like soy, green tea, tomatoes, choke berries, parsley, lavender, nutmeg, cacao, matcha, turmeric and citrus can influence the angiogenesis defense system.
Regeneration: Powered by more than 750,000 stem cells distributed throughout our bone marrow, lungs, liver, and almost all of our organs, our body maintain, repair, and regenerate throughout our lives. Some foods like dark chocolate, black tea, and can mobilize them and help us regenerate. Other foods, like purple potatoes, can kill deadly stem cells that spark cancer growth.
Microbiome: Almost 40 trillion bacteria inhabit our bodies that control our immune system, influence angiogenesis, and even help produce hormones that influence our brain and social function. We can boost our microbiome by eating foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir, yogurt and Natto. Cranberry juice and pomegranate juice increase Akermansia production.
DNA Protection: Our DNA is our genetic blueprint, but it is also designed to be a defense system. It has surprising repair mechanisms that protect us against damage caused by solar radiation, household chemicals, stress, compromised sleep, and poor diet, among other insults. Not only can certain foods prompt DNA to fix itself, but some foods turn on helpful genes and turn off harmful ones, while other foods lengthen our telomeres, which protect DNA and slow aging.
Foods that Turn on Good Genes & Turn off Bad Genes:
Sulforaphane in Brocoli Sprouts
Naragenin in Grapefruit & Tomato
Lignans in Beans & Flax
Anthocyanin in Black Soy & Blueberries
Nobiletin in Citrus Zest
Dha in Seaweed
Curcumin in Turmeric
Genistein in Soy Products
EGCG in Matcha Tea
Flavonoids in Cherries
Isoflavones in Soy
Caffeic Acid in Thyme
Betalains in Beetroot
Spermidine in Natto
In cancer, the cancer cells can use proteins called PARP1 to repair dan damage in order to proliferate and induce tumorigenesis. Inhibiting PARP1 and therefore inhibiting cancer cell repair can induce cell apoptosis which is cell death. Quercetin which is a compound found in high amounts in onions is a powerful PARP1 inhibitor.
Immunity: Our immune system defends our health in sophisticated ways that are much more complicated than we previously thought. It is influenced by our gut, and it can be manipulated to successfully attack and wipe out cancer, even in the elderly. Recent discoveries have completely changed our understanding of the immune system. Foods like blackberries, walnuts, and pomegranate can activate the immune system, while other foods can dampen its activities and help reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
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There is no “silver bullet” for any one disease or for overall health and longevity. No single factor in our life is going to prevent sickness. But my research shows we have something even better. There is a way to boost our own defense systems, so the body will heal itself. These revelations tell us that we have radically underestimated our power to transform and restore our own health. If your goal is to extend the number of healthy years you have ahead, your food choices can tip the odds in your favor. By boosting your defense systems, you’ll have a better shot at beating back disease and extending not just the length but also the quality of your life.
We live in a time of enormous and exciting scientific progress, so good health should be within reach of most everyone. And yet millions suffer and die from avoidable chronic illnesses, even as more high-tech treatments are invented. The crushing cost of medical care continues to rise, creating a precarious situation where the entire system of modern medicine is on the brink of collapse. The only way to comprehensively bring down the cost of health care is to decrease the number of people who are sick. We each need to do our part, and the best way to make the world a healthier place is to start with the choices you make for yourself and the people you care about. Let go of the idea that health is the absence of disease and start eating to beat disease every day. Bonne santé, and bon appétit. Excerpted from EAT TO BEAT DISEASE: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. Copyright © 2019 by William W. Li, MD.