In the final chapter of this section we’ll look at the influence of food on individual diseases.
Thousands of studies were done to evaluate the anticancer potential of plant foods. Those studies indicate that the following foods contain phytochemicals which, either trigger the expression of genes that shut down cancer cells or put oncogenes (genes that promote the development of cancer cells) to sleep. Foods with the highest anti-cancer activity include garlic, soybeans, cabbage, ginger, licorice and the unibelliferous vegetables (including carrots, celery, cilantro, parsley and parsnips.)
The belief alone that cholesterol is the root cause of cardiovascular disease has been superseded by a deeper understanding of the complex processes that result in high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes. Research has revealed that chronic inflammation is highly correlated with an increased risk of heart disease. Elevated blood levels of markers of inflammation such as homocysteine are now well recognized as cardiovascular risk factors as, or even more important than, cholesterol. Chronic low inflammation may be due to infection with an unfriendly organism, such as Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes ulcers, or can be caused by eating a diet that sends unfriendly messages to our genes.
A diet high in processed, refined foods, saturated and trans fats, puts the part of our immune system found within our digestive tract – the gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT – into a state of alarm. These foods deliver messages that tell the GALT to call out the troops. Gene expression alters in the cells composing the GALT to ramp up production of inflammatory molecules called cytokines, which are sent out to prime the entire body to be ready to eliminate enemy agents.
An immune system on continuous red alert can over-react, wiping out normal tissue that its soldiers mistakenly perceive as the enemy. Such friendly-fire casualties can lead to damage, not only to cholesterol and blood vessel walls, but to joints as well.
So, what can we eat to lower inflammation? Are there foods that can deliver messages which help shut down Helicobacter pylori? Lower levels of homocysteine? Tell our blood levels to relax? Signal the GALT that it is okay to step down, kick back and take a break? Absolutely! Next week we will follow up with some of these foods and what they do.