Forget the genes – take control!

The scientific view of what determines a life span or how a person ages has swung back and forth. A few decades ago it was all about what we eat and environmental issues. Then the view switched to genes, the idea that you either inherit the right combination of genes that will let you eat fatty steaks and smoke a pack a day and live to be 100 or you do not.

In more cases than not when a patient consults a health practitioner with some or other health issue he will mention an ancestor or two who suffered from this same complaint and so he pronounces: “I have inherited this disease”. And this is how it has been for a long time now. By keeping us focussed on the all-importance of genes themselves, the message conveyed to us is one of a basically predetermined helplessness, except through the possibilities afforded us by conventional medicines and modern medical technology. 

Well you’ll be glad to know that this is all poppycock! It is now believed there is no drug that can regulate genetic expression better or more powerfully than your diet can. Enter the field of Nutrigenomics – the study of how different foods and their constituents can interact with specific genes to increase or lessen the risk of common chronic diseases. It is believed we “actually control anywhere from 80 to 97% of our own genetic expression with respect to potential disease processes and even longevity.

Genes are turned on and off by regulatory genes and regulatory genes are controlled mainly by nutrients. So it is not the genes themselves that predispose us to disease or determine how long we will live but rather those things within our diet and environment that can act upon our genes. Although environmental chemical exposure certainly plays a role, foods fundamentally serve as our basic genetic instruction and guidance information.  The lesson we learn from this: Nutrients can in fact modify human physiology which means to a great extent we are in control of our destiny. The genes you inherited are no longer your life sentence.

This goes along with what I’ve been saying for years to those who blame their lousy inherited genes:  “With all due respect it is more likely to be the kinds of food and the methods of cooking that have been passed down from generation to generation”.

So forget the past, watch what you put into your body and indulge in moderate exercise, so that you don’t give your “lousy inherited genes” the opportunity to express themselves. Resolve to, from now on, see them simply as genetic “tendencies” not genetic certainties. Be the one telling your genes how long you will live – not the other way round. It is never too late to take control of your destiny.

BROCCOLI – A POWERHOUSE OF HEALTH

fresh broccoli
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Have you had your broccoli today? If not, then you have missed out on a healthy dose of a long list of nutrients such as vitamins C, K, A, B and D, folate, manganese, calcium, magnesium and fibre.  Although the health benefits of all the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale are well documented, it is broccoli that is receiving the most attention in research circles these days. It is now undisputed that broccoli contains anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and pro-detoxification components making it a unique food in terms of cancer prevention.

Antioxidants and anticancer agents are continually being isolated from broccoli and its sprouts, making it the most researched vegetable in the past 20 years. The antioxidant benefits of broccoli can be attributed mainly to the high vitamin C content enhanced by significant amounts of flavonoids and carotenoids. The anti-inflammatory components are its omega-3 content in the form of alpha linolenic acid and a flavonol called kaempferol.

Fights cancer

The ability of broccoli to enhance detoxification in our bodies thus ridding us of harmful substances that threaten our cells is due to a family of potent phytochemicals called isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from the glucosinolates in broccoli. Two of these ITCs, namely sulforaphane and Indole-3-Carbinol, also called I3C, are at the centre of most of the research being done pointing towards broccoli or broccoli sprouts being protective against most cancers in humans. Researchers believe that ITCs in broccoli spark hundreds of genetic changes, activating some genes that fight cancer and switching off others that fuel tumours.

In men

man eating broccoli

A research group at the Institute of Food Research led by Professor Richard Mithen has provided an explanation of how eating broccoli might reduce prostate cancer risk. For the study1, men who were at risk of developing prostate cancer ate either 400g of broccoli or 400g of peas per week in addition to their normal diet over 12 months. Tissue samples were taken from their prostate gland before the start of the trial and after 6 and 12 months, and the expression of every gene measured using Affymetrix microarray technology. It was found that there were more changes in gene expression in men who were on the broccoli-rich diet than on the pea diet, and these changes may be associated with the reduction in the risk of developing cancer, that has been reported in epidemiological studies. 400g a week equates to a very manageable 10 spears of broccoli. More benefit and protection could be derived in men by eating two cups of broccoli a day.

And in women

There’s good news for women too: In research conducted at the University of Michigan, sulforaphane was demonstrated to target cancer stem cells in cell cultures and in mice. Cancer stem cells, which are not destroyed by chemotherapy, are believed to be the reason breast cancer can recur, grow and spread. Researchers injected varying concentrations of sulforaphane derived from broccoli extract into mice implanted with breast tumours. This resulted in a substantial reduction in cancer stem cells in these  tumours.  Additionally, cancer cells derived from animals that received sulforaphane that were reimplanted into other mice failed to form tumours. Tests in cultured human breast cancer cells showed a similar reduction in cancer stem cells. This shows the potential of sulforaphane to prevent or treat cancer by targeting the critical cancer stem cells.2

Research using broccoli extracts against cervical cancer has been extremely promising as well. In one double-blind placebo controlled trial using a daily dose of I3C, one-half of women with biopsy-proven early stage cervical cancer had complete regression of their cancer where none in the control group did3. In addition, a study done on mice suggests that adding the chemo protective agents to the maternal diet during pregnancy and nursing may just reduce the incidence of cancers in their offspring 4.

Helps ulcers

But warding off cancer is not all that broccoli is good for. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found that eating just a few ounces of broccoli each day may significantly reduce a person’s risk of stomach ulcers. The risk of stomach ulcers as well as stomach cancer is significantly increased by the presence of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which causes chronic inflammation of the stomach lining. A reliable marker of infection is a chemical called HpSA found in the stool. In this study5, 50 people in Japan were assigned to eat either 2.5 ounces of broccoli sprouts or 2.5 ounces of alfalfa sprouts each day for two months. Alfalfa is not a cruciferous vegetable and contains no sulforaphane. Consumption of alfalfa sprouts had no effect on HpSA levels; however among those who ate broccoli sprouts, HpSA levels decreased 40 percent by the end of the experiment. Participants were then told to stop eating broccoli sprouts. After another two months, HpSA levels had returned to pre-study levels. This implies we need to eat broccoli and keep on eating it! The researchers also found that inflammation levels of the stomach were reduced in those eating broccoli and hence broccoli raw and cooked can be included in the diet of ulcer and gastritis sufferers to prevent inflammation of the stomach lining progressing into serious illness.

Although much of the research has been done using extracts from broccoli sprouts, normal broccoli also contains these protective phytochemicals, just in lesser quantities, so you need to eat more of it.

The best ways to eat broccoli:

cooked broccoli

If you have only experienced overcooked, soggy, khaki-green broccoli then this is probably not your favourite vegetable. However your whole perception of this natural wonder may change with a better method of preparation. Start with fresh broccoli and wash it well to remove traces of pesticides. Steam the spears in unsalted water for just 3-4 minutes so that they’re bright green and still crisp. Shake the water out of each spear. Eat plain or sprinkle with a little olive oil and lemon juice.  Then there are also all delicious broccoli soups one could make. See recipe below.  Of course juiced and raw broccoli (shredded in a coleslaw is good) would ensure that none of the nutrients are lost but be sure to chew raw broccoli very well to derive all the benefits.

So have you had your broccoli today?

Broccoli and Blue Cheese Soup

Serves 4-6

broccoli  and blue cheese soup

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
2 heads Broccoli, trimmed and cut into florets
4 cups Vegetable or Chicken stock
½ cup Cream
50g Blue Cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg
25g Blue Cheese, extra

Method:
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until golden.
Add the broccoli and stock to the pan. Cover and bring the soup to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender.
Pour the soup into your blender and whizz until it is smooth. Stir in the cream and blue cheese. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.Ladle the soup into bowls, crumble over the extra blue cheese and sprinkle grated nutmeg. 

References:

  1. Traka M, Gasper AV, Melchini A, Bacon JR, Needs PW, et al. Broccoli Consumption Interacts with GSTM1 to Perturb Oncogenic Signalling Pathways in the Prostate. PLoS One, 3(7): e2568 DOI:
  2. Li Y, Zhang T, et al. Sulforaphane, a dietary component of broccoli/broccoli sprouts, inhibits breast cancer stem cells. Clin Cancer Res. 2010 May 1;16(9):2580-90. Epub 2010 Apr 13.
  3. Bell MC, Crowley-Nowick P, et al  Placebo-Controlled Trial of Indole-3-Carbinol in the Treatment of CIN. Gynecologic Oncology Volume 78, Issue 2, August 2000, Pages 123–129
  4. Yu Z, Mahadevan B, et al. Indole-3-carbinol in the maternal diet provides chemoprotection for the fetus against transplacental carcinogenesis by the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon dibenzo[a,l]pyrene. Carcinogenesis. 2006 Oct;27(10):2116-23. Epub 2006 May 16.
  5. Yanaka A, Fahey JW, et al. Dietary Sulforaphane-Rich Broccoli Sprouts Reduce Colonization and Attenuate Gastritis in Helicobacter pylori-Infected Mice and Humans. Cancer Prevention Research, 2009; 2 (4): 353

Kefir – complete health in a glass

If you grew up on a farm, you will be familiar with “amasi” or sour milk and its health benefits, especially its probiotic (beneficial bacteria) content. But hold onto your hat, because this new kid on the block is sour milk with a difference. Called kefir (pronounced kuh-feer) , its benefits far outweigh any other probiotic foods such as amasi or yoghurt.

Kefir grains after straining
Kefir grains

The word “kefir” is derived from the Turkish word “keif”, which literally translates to the “good feeling” one has after drinking it. (No it is not alcoholic). Kefir originated thousands of years ago amongst the tribes of the Caucasus Mountains of the former USSR and for centuries traditional cultures have attributed healing powers to this beverage but it is only recently that much scientific research has determined its true benefits.

What is Kefir?

Kefir is the fermented milk beverage that results from the fermentation activity of bacteria and yeast that make up the “grains” used to culture the milk (not actual grains, but a grain-like matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars that feed the microbes in the milk). If you have made amasi you will know how to make kefir.

Straining kefir

It can be made from the milk of any ruminant animal – cow, goat, or sheep. Simply add milk to the grains (raw is ideal however pasteurised also fine), strain after 1-3 days, and repeat the process. Kefir, the beverage, is slightly sour and becomes more so the longer you leave it.

Once you have kefir grains you have them for life and when they multiply you can share with friends.

What are the health benefits?

  • Besides containing highly beneficial bacteria and yeasts, kefir is a rich source of many different vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids that promote healing and repair, as well as general health maintenance.
  • By providing the gut with many types of beneficial microbiota, kefir helps in preventing diarrhea or reducing its duration. This includes conditions like infant’s diarrhea, colitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease and gastroenteritis. Kefir consumption can also alleviate chronic constipation and re-establish intestinal microflora after a course of antibiotics. It has also shown efficacy against Helicobacter pylori associated with peptic ulcers, gastritis, and gastric cancer.
  • Kefir is a great source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin K2, hence highly beneficial to bone health.
  • Kefir consumption has been found to be effective in reducing the symptoms of food allergies, because it has the ability to reduce intestinal permeation of food antigens, whilst suppressing IgE and IgG1 responses. Even those with lactose intolerance may find they can drink kefir as the lactic acid bacteria improve lactose digestion as well as increase immune function.
  • Research has also demonstrated that kefir may have an anti-tumour effect, inhibiting tumour growth, and suggesting that it may play a role in cancer prevention.
  • Studies have also concluded that kefir could play a role in the prevention of certain heart diseases due to its anti-inflammatory properties. A lowering of the systolic and the diastolic blood pressures as well as of heart rate have been recorded in hypertensive patients. A significant lowering effect on levels of LDL cholesterol have also been recorded.
  • It is a good source of most B vitamins including biotin.
  • It also contains the amino acid tryptophan, making it is a great beverage to drink just before bedtime to induce a restful sleep.
  • When applied topically, kefir is an effective antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent for improved wound healing.
Use kefir in smoothies

Kefir can greatly contribute to your overall health and well-being and I highly recommend including this nutritious superfood in your diet.  

Because kefir has become so popular of late it should not be too difficult to find someone who is able to share a few starter grains with you. Then culture your own kefir and drink it by the glass, use it in the place of yoghurt in your smoothies or to make sourdough bread or as a substitute for buttermilk in baking.

The LCHF Diet – are there risks?

 

Although I am in favour of the LCHF Diet, that also goes by the names Banting, Paleo and Ketogenic Diets, and see it as a fundamentally healthy way of eating that mirrors the diet we evolved to eat and is in accordance with our innate physiology, I do harbour some reservations. This diet (which I prefer to refer to as an eating plan) in the hands of followers who have scant knowledge of nutritional needs of the body or harm that can be done by toxic chemicals, can become risky. Balancing proteins and fats with fresh fruit and vegetables and sourcing organic and grass-fed produce are fundamental to the success of this LCHF plan. I see people losing unwanted kilograms but at what cost?

Acid-alkaline balance goes

Eating only protein and fat and totally avoiding vegetables – any man’s dream!  I hear of people eating just eggs, bacon and more bacon for breakfast. Some may even have a 400g steak for breakfast – nothing else! So what’s the problem with this? A huge one: No acid-alkaline balance. Vegetables and fruits are alkaline-forming and meat, dairy and fats are acid-forming. You need a balance or else disease will prevail. Cancer thrives in an acidic environment. High protein diets can lead to acidosis setting the stage for osteoporosis, hormonal imbalances and gut dysbiosis and can potentially lead to kidney stones, arthritis and gout.

Nutrient deficiencies

If you’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables you’re missing out on many essential nutrients and anti-oxidants. Without them you are putting yourself at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as oxidised or rancid cholesterol which can result in arterial plaque and inflammation. By not following the LCHF diet correctly you are losing out on potential good health and vitality.

Exposure to more toxins

Processed meats such as bacon are known to be potentially carcinogenic (cancer-forming) due to the nitrosamines formed during frying. Even non-processed meats, if from commercial sources and not from grass-fed animals, are full of toxins such as xenoestogens, antibiotics and growth hormones.  Remember too that toxins are stored mainly in fat cells so the more fat you are eating from feedlot animals, and not those reared on grass, the more toxins you are taking in.

Not all cheeses are good

Then there’s the matter of “eat all the cheese you want” claim that is bandied about by some followers who have lost the plot. There are good cheeses and bad and the bad ones from feedlot animals are just as high in the toxins mentioned for meat. Processed cheese is also high in sodium and eating too much of it can result in magnesium and potassium imbalances, never mind that cheese is also highly mucous-forming and constipating!

Vitamin B deficiency

Finally, this diet is also devoid of all grains so if you’re not eating organ meats, nuts and seeds then watch out for vitamin B deficiencies including biotin. If hair-loss occurs or your stress levels rise, a vitamin B supplement would be advisable. Also have your homocysteine levels checked. High levels can cause hardening of the arteries and to reduce these levels you need most of the B vitamins which are abundant in whole grains, which you are no longer eating!

LCHF not working so well for you?

Perhaps you are one of the unlucky ones for whom this eating plan does not result in weight-loss but rather makes you feel unwell. There is a very probable reason for this: As mentioned before, toxins are stored in fat cells, hence overweight people tend to carry more toxins because there is more “space” so to say. Fat is much more difficult to move in a toxic body so it is essential to start your weight-loss program with a detoxification program  that includes a digestive tract and lymphatic system cleanse and liver support. Continue with this throughout your weight-loss program so that the toxins move out and don’t get stuck.

LCHF no longer working so well for you?healthy

Perhaps you found that you were but are no longer losing weight on this diet? Could it be that you are eating too much protein?  Most people don’t realise that a significant percentage of excess protein will ultimately be converted to sugar and stored as fat.  You simply have to stick to the rules: protein portions should be no bigger than the area and thickness of the palm of you hand, minus fingers. And you simply have to include 5-7 cups of fresh vegetables and fruits daily to benefit from this type of eating plan. Without the fibre provided by these foods a clogged digestive system will be the order of the day. These foods are also your anti-oxidants, neutralising free radicals, keeping you healthy and slowing down ageing.

On the positive side

My intention is not to throw cold water on an eating plan that is working for you, all I ask is that you do not compromise your health for the sake of weight-loss. If followed correctly the LCHF diet can be very beneficial for most people as an every day eating plan.

The best news is that two positives have come out of everyone “banting” these days: the harmful refined carbs like sugar and flour are out and secondly, the no-fat and low-fat myths have been busted! Cheers to that!

For supplement advice you are welcome to email lynne@orchardsnutrition.co.za

 

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