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Every Month: a Review of Major Teaching Points

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A Power Program for Student Review

Course Coverage 2015

  • Jan Fit To Last
  • Feb Visceral Obesity
  • Mar Modern Malnutrition
  • April Metabolic Syndrome
  • May Prevalent Predicaments
  • June Sugar Diabetes
  • July Diabetes Complications
  • Aug Cholesterol, Atheroma
  • Sept Aging Brain & Body
  • Oct Cancer Considerations
  • Nov Feeling Liverish
  • Dec Energetic Longevity
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A few decades ago, when the Basic Four was a guide to healthful eating, and an apple a day kept the doctor away, nutrition concerns focused on avoiding deficiencies and eating enough. Oh, how the game has changed! Food has gone beyond to quick and easy; hot and juicy; fats and oils; carbs and calories. We’re even beyond vitamins and minerals, and now deeply into local, organic, pre and probiotic.

Back in the day, when we walked to work at a job lasting 10-12 hours daily for 6 days a week, domestic chores in the home were physical and never ending. A glance at old photographs of crowds out celebrating a century ago reveals the extent of change in the US body size since. How thin we were then compared to today! Yet we are the same creatures, discovering in the past few decades how lethal are the penalties of abundance. Too often they mean heart attacks, strokes or cancer. While along the way we carry high blood pressures, cholesterols and sugars. The market economy, with its focus on bounty, convenience and affordability, has made us collectively sick.

The course, over the past month, offered a modern perspective on some health risks from food. This review provides another opportunity to leave the passenger seat and get up into the driver’s seat…to leave the stands and get out on the playing field. Science continues to strongly underpin a number of ways that high technology has corrupted some of the nutritive benefits of food…that many gut bacteria are good for us…and that food sensitivities can lead to much ill health.

Classic food allergies can be life-threatening. Food proteins get through the normal gut barrier and provoke its immune system into a response, so that later exposure to the food provokes (in the patient, and usually a child) itching hives, wheezing asthma or a collapse from anaphylaxis. The most common offenders are nuts and dairies, but almost any food protein can provoke the alarming or simply bothersome, allergic response.

Less dramatic expressions of intolerance are called food sensitivities, and the usual offenders are wheat, dairy products and corn. Gluten is a common food allergen, a natural protein in wheat that allows dough to rise nicely, and is beloved by pastry and pizza makers. Growers have obliged them over time, by selecting wheat strains with high gluten yields. A very small number of people are extremely sensitivity to gluten, suffering from an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. Less dramatically, perhaps 1 in 25 ‘normal’ individuals feel unwell after eating today’s gluten-rich bread. Their numbers and sensitivities have prompted the development of all those gluten-free items on todays’ grocery shelves.

Genetically modified food is not Frankenfood. It was responsible for the Green Revolution of the last century and continues to keep millions of people from starving to death. We have been eating GM food for decades to our benefit. But new developments in gene splicing have become so powerful that they will require close public oversight. Take pest control for example, neonicotinamides (AKA neonics), pesticides that protect planted seeds from insect destruction, also tend to kill the very beneficial pollinating bee. We must tread carefully in this brave new agricultural world.

Modern science has also acquainted us with microbiomes, how we live our lives intimately with three regional populations of micro-organisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi). One is a modest collection of transient passengers on the skin. Another inhabits most normal airways, while a third population is a universe of riders competing for a living in our digestive tracts, mostly the colon. More organisms live in the normal gut than there are cells in its entire surrounding body. They thrive or fail on the food we eat and the way we live, and we must learn how to make them our allies… which may seem counter-intuitive. It represents a shift from conventional wisdom that treats bacteria as enemies. Prebiotics and probiotics are attempts to cultivate a beneficial relationship with these ancient and mostly beneficial easy riders.

We evolved on a dirty diet of roots and shoots, fruits and nuts, grains and vegetables, meat and fish. This makes it the most sensible starting point for any reconfiguring of one’s daily fare… not with bottled food fractions or nutrient isolates. New scientific findings are breathlessly shared these days by journalists, but the work of science is always provisional, and is rarely a finished business. There is always a need for confirmation, for deeper delving and inevitably, for a shift in emphasis from earlier conclusions. That’s the scientific way, and it has worked well for us.

Environmentalists have made us all aware of food chains, how bigger creatures eat smaller ones for the ‘goods’ they need, while often gulping up an assortment of ‘bads.’ This principle applies to modern food processing. High technology continues to deliver many benefits, along with a few unusual and unintended molecules for us to incorporate with unknown consequences into our tissues.

Life is a restless process yet it craves the steady state. Changes that occur in our bodies from minute to minute, while part of being alive, continuously threaten the steady state. Eating, for example, repeatedly threatens the steady state with a flood of new molecules to be sorted and assigned. The steady-state health threat in our time has been abundant cheap and tasty food… delicious items that are heavily sugared, salted or fatted. A simple Modern Malnutrition rule of thumb is to begin eating lower on the food chain. Think antique foods Grandma would recognize: less processed, less packaged for long shelf lives.