A serving of prevention
New research highlights the critical connection between diet and health.
BY DONALD L . HAYES, DC
IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT THE BEST PUBLISHED RESEARCH ON HEALTH, wellness, prevention, and lifestyle education comes from outside the U.S.
And conversely, you might be so used to seeing studies on how drugs work, paid for by pharmaceutical companies, that you don’t expect anything else.
In this case, research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health by authors at the University College London brings to light some valuable news on how to lower your risk of death from all causes.
The study officially reveals over- whelming support for what your mother and grandmother urged you to do all along—eat your fruits and vegetables. The study concludes that “a robust inverse association exists between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality, with benefits seen in up to seven plus portions daily.”
Translation: eating seven or more portions of fruits and vegetables per day reduces your risk of death at any point in your life by 42 percent. This is the first study on the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables to quantify health benefits per portion.
Revising the rules
The British government, which paid for the study, currently recommends eating five portions of these important food groups daily. But in light of the new findings, it has been suggested that it may be time to review national dietary recommendations and update the five-a-day consumption message to 10-a-day.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to good health for some time, but many of the studies on which this association is based have been carried out on people who are already likely to be health conscious. And although plenty of fruits and vegetables in the diet are recommended to boost cardiovascular health, the evidence for their impact on warding off cancer has been less clear.
The authors therefore analyzed data from more than 65,000 randomly selected adults aged at least 35, derived from annual national health surveys for England between 2001 and 2008, and tracked recorded deaths from among the sample for an average of 7.5 years. The analysis revealed that eating fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of death overall, and specifically deaths from heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The higher the intake of fruits and vegetables, the greater the protective effects seem to be.
Even among study participants who perceived their own diet as “very healthy,” over 50 percent ate fewer than five portions of the target foods a day. “This is not surprising given the perception in England that fruit and vegetables are more expensive than unhealthy foods,” the authors say. “With increasing evidence of their health benefits, policymakers may need to consider broader initiatives to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. In order to have an impact on those who are more socioeconomically disad- vantaged, this should move beyond health education, for example, through fiscal policies.”
Connecting the dots
Although the evidence is clear, the relationship between this advanced nutritional understanding and its application in your practice might not be. But in many ways, the treatment of musculoskeletal pain intertwines with diet and lifestyle.
The two biggest threats to preventing and ending chronic back pain are inflammation and free radicals. Relentless stress, a toxic environment within the body and the outside world, an intake of nutrient-depleted foods, and a lack of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are all factors directly affecting the body’s ability to repair, detoxify, and rejuvenate.
The first big problem—inflam- mation—is part of the body’s natural defense against injury, but there are times when the appropriate immune response to subdue the inflammation is disrupted, resulting in a state of chronic inflammation. This is revealed by a host of inflammatory changes that you can noninvasively measure.
The best available evidence suggests that the presence of chronic inflammation contributes to musculoskeletal pain expression. When chronic inflammation becomes superimposed over areas of sprain, strain, or previous injuries, it reduces tissue healing and leads to ongoing pain. In other words, you may have done all you can for a patient using chiropractic and vitamin therapy, but he or she still has pain simply due to not eating enough fruits and vegetables to maintain the body’s antioxidant reserves. Therefore, the overwhelming load of free radicals remain unquenched.
Free radicals are the other great threat, causing a condition known as oxidation or oxidative stress. In the outside world oxidation is observed as rust, and a similar process occurs within the body. Bruce Ames, PhD, of the University of California at Berkley, says free radicals cause extensive damage to cells and DNA and are major contributors to aging and degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and immune system decline.
Oxidative stress and inflammation are intimately connected, each fueling the other. A vicious cycle is created: free radical damage leads to inflammation and inflammation causes free radical damage. The key to recovering and preserving health requires both the reduction of inflammation and the quenching of excess free radicals.
A dual solution
Although many wellness plans are available, the most effective way to protect against both inflammation and free radical damage is to encourage patients to change their lifestyle and start eating 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each and every day for the rest of their life. But, because that’s unlikely to occur, the next best option involves a basic nutrition schedule.
Recommend a dual solution that includes a comprehensive antioxidant protection supplement in the daytime and an all-inclusive, anti-inflammatory support supplement at night. In addition, provide the patient with therapeutic lifestyle education material, including what current research shows about nutrition and diet. This approach can help improve the body’s natural immune defenses and make health maintenance a whole lot easier.