by Stephanie Jaworowski, MSACN
Chronic diseases are on the rise, causing more and more deaths among Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are the leading causes of death for Americans. But what if we told you there is a way to prevent all of these conditions? You may be thinking, “But I have a family history of cancer, so I am doomed to have it too.”
WRONG! Just because we have a genetic predisposition toward a certain disease, does not mean we will suffer from the same illness as that of our family members. In fact, by ensuring that we live a healthy lifestyle and provide our body with proper nutrition, we can prevent certain genes from turning on. Genetic changes are not only influenced during fetal development, but are influenced throughout a person’s lifetime through dietary and environmental factors. Each individual obtains their own subscript of genes from their parents. However, it does not mean that this is a life sentence. We have the ability to rewrite our story and live the life we want, not the one we were given. If caught early, genes have the ability to be reversed through therapeutic intervention—not only for an individual but for their future children as well.
The Standard American Diet (SAD)—one high in meat, dairy, fat, sugar and refined, processed junk foods—has become our new normal. Unfortunately, this is the exact type of diet that can initiate a cascade of inflammation, leading to altered gene expression and chronic disease. Inflammatory foods include gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, trans and saturated fat, processed foods, artificial sweeteners and additives, and fried foods. The more we consume these foods, the more our genetics are altered, leading to chronic disease.
Inflammation has become one of our biggest issues. In fact, obesity, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes are all states of chronic inflammation. When our body is inflamed, we produce inflammatory markers that can alter human function, including how our body breaks down fat, stores glucose, and how easily things are passed into and out of our cells. When these processes are altered, normal biochemical signals are influenced and begin to perform abnormal reactions. When we are in a state of chronic inflammation, these reactions occur day after day, having a lasting effect on our body. An increase in the production of inflammatory markers will cause immune inflammatory diseases, and this inflammation over time will turn into illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and other autoimmune diseases. So, what does this mean? A prolonged inflammatory state can be a cause of age-related chronic conditions.
Now that we know inflammation can lead to chronic diseases, it is important to decrease this inflammation through diet and proper lifestyle. As mentioned earlier, SAD is rich in processed and inflammatory foods. An anti-inflammatory diet—one mimicking a Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil, plant-based foods, legumes, fresh herbs and fish, and limited in red meat—will provide our body with a tremendous amount of vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids (the good, anti-inflammatory fat). This type of diet will have the opposite effect of SAD, and will keep our body in a healthy, non-inflamed state. Regular physical activity is also key in reducing inflammation. Exercise has been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory markers, as well as assist in the control of blood sugar and fat levels. So, take control: eat well, exercise and rewrite your story!
Stephanie Jaworowski, MSACN, is a clinical nutritionist at the Integrative Healing Center (located at 560 Northern Blvd., Ste. 109, in Great Neck). For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 516-676-0200 or visit GetIntegrativeHealth.com.