In January 2022, a story and video clip were posted on The Mayo Clinic Minute, a webpage produced by the clinic that, according to their description, “gives general health and wellness tips as well as the latest in medical research news.”
The story is titled “Relationship between food, disease stronger than you may think,” and features Dr Stephen Kopecky, a preventative cardiologist with the clinic. I quote:
“Nutrition is now the No. 1 cause of early death and early disease in our country and the world…About 57% of the calories we consume every day in this country are ultra-processed…It bothers our tissues. It bothers our heart. It bothers our arteries, our brains, our pancreas, our liver and our lungs. And that leads to disease.”
I was thrilled! It’s rare I hear any practitioner within the broken medical system talk about nutrition, let alone the profoundly negative impact it is having on the health of the country and world.
But then he said this:
“It's been shown if you take one bite of say a processed meat or ultra-processed food, replace that with some unprocessed food or a healthier choice ? you know vegetables and black beans ? after a year or two, that will actually lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.”
Total buzz kill. Dr. Kopecky shared some startling facts that many people may have been seeing for the first time. The opportunity to communicate real information about nutrition, along with meaningful advice, was lost.
These facts should inspire change, but somewhere in the machinery of the broken medical system, the message is getting lost. Future practitioners still graduate from top medical schools with little, if any, knowledge of how to apply nutrition to disease prevention.
This is a primary reason why I began the Institute of Nutritional Endocrinology and developed a curriculum that focuses on science-based, proven methods, rooted in nutrition that support optimal health and healing. It fills a void left by most academic institutions and provides healthcare practitioners with the kind of information they need to bring hope to long suffering clients who have been falsely told nothing can be done about their chronic health conditions, often brought on by poor diet and lifestyle.
The study of nutrigenomics and epigenetics is proving what preventative nutrition advocates have known for over 5000 years: food is medicine.
Although my hope is for people to live in such a way that their diet prevents disease, most seek my help after suffering with conditions that began long before our first meeting. When they begin to experience the reality of nutrition restoring balance, it’s a joyful revelation!
How Food Becomes Medicine
I am not an advocate of any one diet. Each person is unique and it only makes sense that determining the food that will serve the individual best is a process of trial and error. Many clients need to start with an elimination diet in order to begin piecing that puzzle together. But there are a few diets that most people will benefit from, especially if they are currently following the standard American diet (SAD).
One of the biggest to hit mainstream media was The Mediterranean Diet. In the 1950’s it was noticed heart disease was not as common in Mediterranean countries. Science took note and so began a quest to discover why, which continues to this day. Although I don’t agree with an excessive use of olive oil, there is little doubt something about the diet is protective.
It’s all about epigenetics.
In general, the low animal protein content and low glycemic index of the diet directly modulates the mTOR pathway in a favorable way which affects the level of insulin-like growth factor 1(IGF1). This ultimately leads to the transcription of genes that are associated with longevity while inhibiting the activity of genes associated with disease.
Additionally, research has shown bioactive food components influence DNA repair, hormonal regulation, cell cycle, cancer metabolism, apoptosis (programmed cell death), and differentiation, the process by which cells mature and perform a function.
There are certain beneficial phytonutrients prevalent in The Mediterranean Diet that most people have heard of. It’s known what they do, but how they do it epigenetically isn’t commonly discussed. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.
Curcuma longa – turmeric
Curcuminoids are a polyphenolic compound found to be anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-lipidemic. It inactivates key genes associated with neurodegenerative diseases and cancer by changing DNA methylation, histone modifications or microRNA expression patterns.
Associated genes: TSG, BRCA1, BRCA2
Found in: grapes, apples, blueberries, plums
A polyphenol found to be anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It is a phytoalexin naturally produced by plants to defend against pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. It modulates DNA methylation in genes involved in cancer development and restores balance to the methylation state of key tumor suppressor and oncogenic genes.
Associated genes: BCL2, BCL-XL, TP53
Found in tomatoes, watermelon, apricots, papaya, pink grapefruit, grapes.
A carotenoid with antioxidant properties. Reduces the risk of prostate cancer by modulating the expression of genes associated with inflammation, apoptosis, and cancer progression. Carotenoids, along with their metabolites, improve communication between cells which is deficient in many tumors. When restored it reduces cell proliferation.
Associated genes: AKT2, IL1A, HCK
Found in pomegranate peel, goji berries, walnuts.
A phenolic compound found to be anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating. Acts on pathways that modulate histones which changes chromatin structure. Its epigenetic activity inhibits the proliferation and spread of cancer cells and limits the blood supply to tumors.
Associated genes: CCL2, MAPK, VEG/VEGFR2
Found in different concentrations in chili peppers, it’s the chemical compound that gives peppers their heat. It’s capable of multiple pharmacological and physiological effects such as pain relief and weight loss. It facilitates apoptosis and acts on a series of pathways which down regulates genes associated with the development and growth of certain cancers by inhibiting the blood supply to tumors.
Associated genes: NADH, NF-kB, VEGF
One of the most beneficial aspects of the Mediterranean diet, often left out of the conversation, is the fact it represents a way of life, not just a diet. I think of it as regular walks to the market where fresh ingredients are purchased for home-cooked meals. What little meat is eaten doesn’t typically come from factory farms and most seafood is directly sourced. People tend to be more connected to friends and family.
Possibly the greatest takeaway is the idea that the Mediterranean diet represents a lifestyle that supports optimal health on a daily basis. We can all benefit from that.
A final thought.
On the Mayo Clinic news page, alongside the aforementioned story with Dr. Kopecky, was a column designated “Featured News.” It contained links to other articles and one caught my attention. It was titled “How to keep kids with food allergies safe during Halloween.”
Do you see the irony?
As critical as it is to ensure children with food allergies are not exposed to an allergen, it’s equally important to point out we expose children to a similar danger every Halloween when they consume an enormous quantity of sugar.
Not only are they exposed, the exposure is celebrated.
It’s easier to ignore because the inflammation is on the inside and the disease-causing damage won’t show up until they are older, especially if they become addicted like so many do.
If we protected our children from sugar to the same degree we protect them from allergens, what a difference it would make to their future.
Most people who join my Empowered Self-Care Lab or become students in my Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training (NEPT) program are acutely aware of the sugar plague we battle in our culture. In fact, many are dealing with the consequences.
There is a reason I remain hopeful, as well as determined. I can see my NEPT graduates, as well as clients who are recovering their health, bringing the change so desperately needed to the broken healthcare system.
Yes, at times it feels like “one bite at a time,” but I know it’s possible. I see miracles every day.