Go back one hundred years and these diseases were largely non-existent in most countries in the world. Now, they represent a global epidemic of disease that is not only causing terrible suffering but also crippling our health care services and economies.
The attributable risk for these diseases averages more than 80% environment and 20% hereditary, however ‘hereditary’ does not mean only genes. Studies of identical twins have a hard time teasing out the inherited behavioural traits that lead, for example, to similar diet and exercise habits. Only one in a hundred cases of Alzheimer’s is attributed to inherited genes.
I have long thought the primary cause of these diseases is a) ignorance and b) addiction. If we knew what to do to prevent these diseases we would not get them but, by the time we start to know, we are already addicted to sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine etc. The real tragedy is that children still are not taught the fundamentals about health and how their body works to encourage awareness at an early age. As a consequence the average ignorant teenager is guzzling sugar-laden fizzy drinks, smoking despite vast taxes, drinking and eating junk food.
Back in December yet another study showed that type-2 diabetes, which accounts for over 90% of diabetes, is reversible with a low calorie diet (read my blog). The key is a low GL diet, which cuts the need for insulin production. In 2016 the ground-breaking work of Professor David Smith and colleagues at Oxford University showed that dementia could be prevented, and to an extent reversed, in those with high homocysteine levels (the majority of older people) with B vitamins and sufficient omega-3 fats in the early stages of the disease. Then there are the consistent studies showing high vegetable and fruit intake, and high intake of specific antioxidants such as vitamin C, quite dramatically cuts risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and several cancers.
In this paragraph I have introduced four of the five simple steps that account for the majority of risk for these diseases:
Eat a low GL (glycemic load) diet, free from sugar
- Ensure sufficient omega-3
- Up your intake of B vitamins
- Increase your intake of antioxidants, including vitamin C
You probably know these simple truths but are you putting them into practice? If your waistline is increasing the answer is no. If you neither know your homocysteine level nor take supplements on a daily basis, you are not disease-proofing your life.
B Vitamins – are you getting enough?
Two out of five people in the UK over 60 have insufficient B12 levels to prevent accelerated brain shrinkage. The key is keeping your homocysteine levels below 10mcmol/l. This can be tested with a home-test kit. It is a medical tragedy that UK GPs still know so little, and rarely request homocysteine testing in patients despite being able to do so. A European study last year found that a quarter (27%) of those over 65 had insufficient B12 in their blood.
The key B vitamins that offer disease protection are B12, folate and B6. A good daily intake of B12 is 10mcg, which is what I supplement daily, but even this is not enough if you are older since poor absorption of vitamin B12, largely due to insufficient stomach acid production, is an extremely common phenomenon. How do you know? Test your homocysteine. If it is below 10mcmol/l you have functional level of B12 since homocysteine measures methylation, and it is a breakdown in methylation that drives, not only Alzheimer’s, but also most cancers, insulin production and arterial disease. Those with raised homocysteine often have to supplement 500mcg. The other ‘red rag’ for B12 risk is use of proton-pump inhibitor (PPIs) antacids – with names ending with ‘azole’. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016 reported a 44% increased risk of developing dementia in older people taking these PPI drugs compared to those not. Another group at risk of insufficient B12 are those following a vegan diet who do not supplement vitamin B12. The only known sources of B12 in the vegetable kingdom is laver seaweed (such as nori) and shiitake mushrooms. You have to eat 100 grams of shiitake to get 1 mcg of B12. The best is laver seaweed, as in laver bread, a staple food along the coast of Wales, providing about 5mcg per 100grams. Fermented foods may also contain B12 due to their bacterial content.
Eleven studies have now examined the preventive effect of folate supplementation on stroke risk in those with cardiovascular disease. Combining these studies supplementing folate clearly works, reducing stroke risk by up to 22%, especially if homocysteine level also reduces with supplementation. I aim for 400mcg of supplemental folate plus plenty from fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, which are the best food sources.
Eat a low glycemic load (GL) diet
For those new to my low GL diet, there are two ways to keep your blood sugar level lower, or more even, which means less need to produce insulin, the hormone that drives excess sugar out of the blood into cells as needed or storage as fat. High insulin levels are a consistent risk factor for many cancers, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. ......
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