Nutrition, and the common diseases of aging.
As past post-graduate faculty member in anti-aging medicine at New York Chiropractic College, I am often asked, “What is the most proven and recommended nutritional advice related to the common diseases of aging?” My answer remains constant: “Persons who daily consume 7 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables of all the colours have significantly fewer of all the common diseases of aging.”
Specifically, such a diet lowers the possibilities of developing senile dementia, otosclerosis, cataract, macular degeneration, stroke, heart disease, peripheral artery disease, cancer, emphysema, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.(1,2,3)
What are the nutrients abundant in fruits and vegetables that are not in meat, milk, refined grains and fortified convenience foods and are most likely responsible for many of these benefits? The answer is the phytonutrients.
WHAT ARE PHYTONUTRIENTS?
Phytonutrient has come to refer to certain bio-active plant chemicals that humans eat that appear to have significant positive effects on human metabolism.(4) Most phytonutrients are not essential for life, but increasingly they appear to be essential for optimal health and longevity. They therefore may properly be classified as micronutrients, along with vitamins and minerals. The technical classifications of the major groups of phytonutrients found in our diets includes terpenes, amines, organosulfurs, phenols, polysaccharides, and organic acids.(5)
One food can contain several classifications of phytonutrients. For example, an orange contains terpenes (carotenoids and limonoids) as well as phenols (bioflavonoids).
WHAT DO PHYTONUTRIENTS DO?
Research shows individual phytonutrients can:
• facilitate cell-to-cell communication(6)
• modify cellular receptor uptake of hormones(7)
• convert to vitamin A(8)
• repair DNA damage from toxic exposure(9)
• detoxify carcinogens through the activation of the cytochrome P450 and Phase II liver enzyme systems(10)
• serve as antioxidants to help prevent various forms of cancer(11)
• cause apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells(12)
• enhance immune response(13)
• help prevent cardiovascular disease(14)
• help prevent osteoporosis(15)
• help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts(16)
HOW TO MAXIMIZE PHYTONUTRITION?
In the recent edition of a popular men’s health magazine, a PhD nutritionist was asked, “Do people need supplements?” The familiar reply was, “Not if they eat a balanced diet and are in good health.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in its January 2005 dietary guidelines, now recommends a wide variety of seven servings of fruits and vegetables daily for the average woman and nine a day for the average man. Recommendations go as high as 13 servings as calorie requirements increase for those larger and more active than average.(17) The National Cancer Institute in the U.S. admits that the “five-a-day” gospel was just the bare minimum.(18) Nonetheless, it is routinely reported that only one in five adults follow this advice and even fewer children do. (Some reports say two in five adults attain the minimum, but that was before the potato was moved from being regarded as a vegetable to a grain, so french fries are no longer counted!)(19)
The evidence gathered from 1994-2004 through the USDA’s Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals concludes, “A significant gap in the variety of fruit and vegetable intake was also found, which does not allow for an optimal or even near-optimal intake of antioxidant (and other) nutrients needed to protect against … ‘killer’ diseases.”(20).
As to the new 2005 USDA guidelines, it has recently been reported that only three per cent of males report consuming the now recommended nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. In fact, men on average eat only four servings a day. Yet only 25 per cent of men believe they need to eat more!(21) The Products for Better Health “State of the Plate Report” found, “No other food commodity (fruits and vegetables) – especially one with such importance to disease prevention – has a gap this large between recommended and actual intake.”(22)
The take-home message is to support your patients in eating an abundant and wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily. And if they don’t – and most won’t – then you might consider recommending phytonutrient supplementation to help “phyte” aging.•
Editor’s Note: With all references and contact information, this article also appears online at www.cndoctor.ca.
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