Diet for your health
Every second of every day, your body is sending and receiving messages-- it's what enables your body to process information and function, in every sense of the word. There are various types of messages, like those that enable you to process pain, movement, and hunger, and like those that tell your blood vessels to constrict or dilate as part of your fight or flight response.
But, how do all the messages get to where they need to go? Just how does the food you eat, and all the magic it contains, locate the right receptors to act upon? How does the body clear waste?
It's our transportation systems-- our circulatory system (all the blood vessels) as well as our lymphatic system, a parallel set of vessels that get rid of all the metabolic waste from your tissues, and return it to the heart to be cleansed by the liver and kidneys.
The leading killer in the world today is cardiovascular disease, which is mainly caused by insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and/or type 2 diabetes. Clogged arteries cause heart attacks, strokes, amputations in diabetics, and even dementia. Contrary to popular understanding, this is not a plumbing issue that can be repaired by a bypass or rotor router treatments such as angioplasty or stents. It's not cholesterol that's the problem. It is triggered when inflammation and hormone changes transform our cholesterol into delicate plaques that coat our arteries.
What creates inflammation and hormonal chaos? Our diet. While environmental toxins, stress, our microbiome, and genetics all contribute, our diet is the most significant driver of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that a considerable portion of all heart disease can be prevented by adjustments in diet.
Our body contains about 100,000 miles of blood vessels, enough to go around the earth about 2.5 times. However these vessels are not just inert tubes that carry blood, they are also immune and hormonal organs and need the right support to operate optimally. The lining of your vessels is called the endothelium. When it is dysfunctional, it gets stiff and can lead to high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. What drives this dysfunction? You guessed it. Our current industrial, processed, high starch, sugar, and refined fat inflammatory diet, which is low in protective medicinal foods.
Studies show that even a single fast-food meal harms blood vessels. However, much of the negative effects can be offset by consuming phytonutrients and antioxidants, found in colorful, nutrient-dense plant foods. It might very well be that lack of medicinal phytochemicals and antioxidants is an important driver of heart disease (as well as many other diseases).
Consuming a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet, rich in phytonutrients, helps prevent the damage in the first place.
Remarkably, studies show that the harmful effects of eating meat are counteracted when consumed along with lots of spices and phytonutrients. (Want to know more about the science on eating meat? Check out this podcast.).
Consuming foods that increase nitric oxide, NO, are also important foods for vascular health. Nitric Oxide is a molecule that helps promote blood flow, adequate circulation, and also healthy blood pressure. The amino acid arginine is the precursor for NO and the best food sources are pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, turkey breast, soybeans, and seaweed.
Healthy fats, like the omega-3s in wild fish, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil are also essential for supporting your transportation systems. Omega-3 fats help boost endothelial function, blood vessel health, and also prevent clotting. Avocados and olive oil are very rich in polyphenols, which improve endothelial function and reduce blood vessel inflammation.
A major feature of heart disease is high blood pressure-- it can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, and kidney failure. But what leads to high blood pressure? Genetics and toxins contribute, but the most significant factor is insulin resistance.
It ought to be no surprise to hear that the greatest factor resulting in insulin resistance is what you put at the end of your fork three times every day. Eating too much starch and sugar, processed food, and refined carbohydrates can result in blood sugar spikes. Over time, this can lead to your body tuning out the effects of insulin, resulting in insulin spikes. When this happens, your body goes into fat-storage hyperdrive.
Excess fat is inflammatory and can contribute to high blood pressure along with almost all other symptoms of heart disease. To make matters worse, if you are like about 40 percent of Americans you are also magnesium deficient. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels. Stress, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar all deplete magnesium. Where do we receive magnesium? In nuts, seeds, beans, and greens. What you eat and what you do not eat regulates the health of your cardiovascular system.
In order to keep your heart healthy and strong, it is essential to have a strong and supported circulatory system as well as a proficient waste-removal system. Your lymphatic system is responsible for removing internal waste and toxins. I think it is obvious that you don't want a build-up of waste and toxins in your blood or near your organs, so doing everything you can to support your lymphatic system is crucial.
Our lymphatic system absorbs fats from our gut and transports them into our general circulation, bringing white blood cells to and from lymph nodes to help us fight infection. A high intake of processed foods, low levels of nutrients, and also a lack of exercise can contribute to a sluggish lymphatic flow, which can cause arthritis, headaches, digestive and skin problems, excess weight, and fatigue.
The heart pumps the blood around our blood vessels, however your lymphatic vessels need your movement, muscle activity, and breathing to pump the waste fluid back into your heart. There are lots of ways to boost lymphatic flow including physical activity, lymphatic massage, hot and cold showers, steam and saunas followed by cold dips, dry brushing, a lot of hydration, and deep breathing. What you eat matters too.
Foods that have a tendency to impair lymphatic function are the usual culprits-- processed foods, dairy, sugar, sweeteners, and too much salt. Foods that improve lymphatic function include green leafy vegetables, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, avocados, garlic, nuts, seaweed, citrus fruits, and cranberries. Phytochemically-rich herbs can also help-- echinacea, astragalus, cilantro, and parsley are lymphatic superstars.
As with each of our biological systems, the major regulator is food. Bad foods cause imbalance, dysfunction, and disease and good foods optimize.
Linette Williamson MD is a Functional Medicine and Integrative Medical Doctor, who specializes in helping her patients identify lifestyle factors that affect their everyday medical issues. Dr. Williamson uses cutting edge testing to find imbalances that are related to your health problems. She will spend time with you to find out what specific issues you have and help you develop a specific plan that is unique to you.