Without question, genetics play an important role in our health and longevity. But when it comes to longevity, genetics may not affect us as much as many folks think. Research says that for most of the leading causes of death, our genes often account for only 10-20% of risk at most. (1)
What’s more powerful than our genetics for longevity?
Diet and lifestyle. Researchers discovered this with twins.
From: Dr. Michael Greger
“Research has shown us that identical twins separated at birth will get different diseases based on how they live their lives. A recent American Heart Association-funded study compared the lifestyles and arteries of nearly five hundred twins. It found that diet and lifestyle factors clearly trumped genes.”
Diet and lifestyle can trump genes. That’s very encouraging news for longevity seekers as foods can help to prevent and reverse many diseases. Research shows that food is preventive medicine as most deaths in the US are preventable, and they are related to what we eat (2).
So just because we inherit certain genes doesn’t mean our fate is a done deal for disease. Nutrition and lifestyle can overpower genes. And in this post, you’ll learn about thirteen powerful foods, some proven to affect our genes beneficially to support longevity.
But first, please be kind to your doctor when it comes to nutrition.
What’s Up Doc?
Many of my clients have told me how frustrating it is trying to get nutrition advice from their doctors. They wait over an hour just to see their doctors for only a few minutes. This leaves little time to talk about nutrition strategies for health.
(On Inspired Living Archive: For a free real food therapy guide, click here).
It’s an unfortunate fact that most doctors don’t learn much about nutrition in med school and barely have time for patients these days.
According to the most recent national survey, only a quarter of medical schools offer a single course in nutrition, down from 37 percent thirty years ago. (3)
Most docs don’t typically know much about diet. And, even if they do, they rarely take a minute to talk about it with patients.
A study of thousands of patient visits found that the average length of time primary-care doctors spend talking about nutrition is about ten seconds. (4)
I am not putting down doctors here. I am simply sharing what the research shows so that you can manage your expectations with nutrition advice from doctors. I like doctors. Several of them are clients. But, I don’t ask them for nutrition advice. Instead, in addition to what I learned in graduate school, I do continuous research to learn more. Ironically, I found one doctor who loves nutrition research, Dr. Michael Greger.
Dr. Greger’s got one of the best internet sources I’d recommend for nutrition info. It’s called NutritionFacts.org. It’s a nonprofit, science-based public service. In addition to NutritionFacts.org, I recently came across many new science-based nutrition insights for longevity in Dr. G’s new best seller. I’ll summarize some of the new discoveries in this post.
Here we go…
Help Your Heart with Brazil Nuts
Coronary heart disease (CHD) takes about 375,000 American lives per year. This disease takes more lives than any other.
How can we reduce our risk for CHD? Research suggests brazil nuts are a nice option. These nuts may improve LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.
Here’s Dr. Greger…
“Amazingly, compared to the control group who ate no nuts at all, just a single serving of four Brazil nuts almost immediately improved cholesterol levels. LDL – the “bad” – cholesterol levels were staggering twenty points lower just nine hours after eating the Brazil nuts. Even drugs don’t work nearly that fast.”
Brazil nuts may help our cholesterol. Consider adding them to your shopping list (if you’re not allergic).
Up next, our green buddy broccoli.
Protect Your Lungs with Broccoli
About 296,000 American lives end each year with lung diseases, such as lung cancer, COPD and asthma. When people hear lung disease, they often think of smoking. This makes sense as research shows it damages our cellular DNA and increases the chance for cancer cells to develop (5).
How can we protect our lung DNA from smoke damage?
Here’s Dr. Greger again…
“Even when DNA was extracted from the subjects’ bodies and exposed to a know DNA-damaging chemical, the genetic material from the broccoli eaters showed significantly less damage, suggesting that eating vegetables like broccoli may make you more resilient at a subcellular level.”
Broccoli seems to do damage control to preserve our DNA. When our DNA is protected, it’s less vulnerable to cancer. Put broccoli on your list. Now let’s find out what’s good for our brains.
Boost Your Brain with Beans, Berries and Cinnamon
Brains diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer’s account for roughly 214,000 American lives annually. To cut the risk for stroke, think fiber foods.
One study showed that increasing fiber by about seven grams per day may be associated with a seven percent risk reduction for stroke.(6)
How easy is it to get seven grams of fiber? Try a handful of berries (blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries) or a serving of baked beans.
Fiber helps the brain. Fiber can join forces with other antioxidant-rich foods for even more brain protection.
Here’s Dr. Greger again…
“Antioxidant-rich diets appear to protect against stroke by preventing the circulation of oxidized fats in the bloodstream that can damage the sensitive walls of small blood vessels in the brain. They can also help decrease artery stiffness, prevent blood clots from forming, and lower blood pressure and inflammation…High antioxidant fruits and vegetables, such as berries and greens, have been found to douse systemic inflammation significantly better than the same number of serving of more common low antioxidant fruits and veggies, such as bananas and lettuce.”
So a high fiber cereal with berries seems to be a great way to help the brain. And we can spice it on top with cinnamon for more antioxidant power.
“By adding just a half teaspoon of cinnamon, you could bring the antioxidant power of your meal from 20 to 120 units.”
OK, we’re thinking more about beans, berries and cinnamon. And if we consume them, we may be thinking better – they help our brains. Now let’s try to digest some more good nutrition info.
Digest Blackberries and Strawberries
106,000 deaths are attributed to digestive cancers (colorectal, pancreatic, esophageal).
Any idea what fruits may work best to address digestive cancers?
Research provides the answer. In a study that measured the suppression of cancer cell growth, eleven common fruits were tested by dripping their extracts on cancer cells growing in a Petri dish.
Which fruits came out on top?
“Berries came out on top. Organically grown berries in particular my suppress cancer cell growth better than those grown conventionally.”
When it comes to berries, think black raspberries. These may help with polyps.
“After nine months of daily treatment with black raspberries, the polyp (rectal polyps) burden of fourteen patients with familial adenomatous polyposis was cut in half.”
The study was a bit odd as the berries were administered like suppositories. I’m not going to recommend you shove some black raspberries in your you know what. But, (no pun intended) if you’re concerned about your digestive system, blackberries seem grocery-list worthy.
While you’re getting blackberries, pick up some strawberries too.
Here’s Dr. G again…
“Researchers decided to put berries to the test. In a randomized clinical trial of powdered strawberries in patients with precancerous lesions in their esophagus, subjects ate one to two ounces of freeze-dried strawberries every day for six months – that’s the daily equivalent of about a pound of fresh strawberries.
All of the study participants started out with either mild or moderate precancerous disease, but amazingly, the progression of the disease was reversed in about 80 percent of the patients in the high-dose strawberry group. Most of these precancerous lesions either regressed from moderate to mild or disappeared entirely. Half of those on the high-dose strawberry treatment walked away disease-free.”
Wow. Who knew strawberries were so powerful? If you haven’t shared this article with a friend yet, please do. Infect them with the good news about strawberries.
Speaking of infecting…
Fight Infections with Immune Boosting Mushrooms & Probiotics
Infections (respiratory and blood) take about 75,000 lives each year in the US. One food that may help fight infections is mushrooms. They help by increasing our immune systems, particularly in our saliva where digestion begins.
Here’s Dr. Greger talking mushroom science…
“Researchers in Australia split people into two groups. One group ate its regular diet, while the other ate its regular diet plus a cup of cooked white button mushrooms everyday. After just a week, the mushroom eaters showed a 50 percent in the IgA levels in their saliva. These antibody levels remained elevated for about a week before dropping. So for sustained benefits, try to make mushrooms a steady part of your diet.”
Mushrooms seem to boost our immune systems to prevent infections; as do probiotics.
One study showed that people who take probiotic supplements may indeed have significantly fewer colds, fewer sick days, and fewer overall symptoms. (7)
While supplements may not be for everybody, studies like this show how they can support a health program.
(On Inspired Living Archive: To see a research-based reference guide to find safe and effective probiotics, click here.)
OK, so we’ve got mushrooms on our list and maybe considered a probiotic supplement. We’re revving up our immune system to fight infections.
Next, let’s look at foods to consider when addressing diabetes.
Make Room for Legumes to Counter Diabetes
76,000 Americans are taken out by diabetes per year. In short, diabetes is described as a disease where the sugar in the blood circulates at a high level on a consistent basis. This chronically elevated level of blood sugar stresses the kidneys and blood vessels in the body. The result can be blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and nerve damage, known as neuropathy.
Based on the research, it seems like legumes (lentils, chickpeas, split peas and navy beans) work well to counter diabetes.
Dr. Greger, what’d you find in your research?
“Eating legumes was shown to be just as effective at slimming waistlines and improving blood sugar control as calorie cutting. The legume group also gained additional benefits in the form of improved cholesterol and insulin regulation.”
Good to know. Legumes are great for keeping our blood sugar under control. They have a low glycemic index, which is the scientific basis to many weight management plans.
(On Inspired Living Archive: To learn more about the scientific secret for weight management click here.)
Lastly, let’s take it down a notch to lower blood pressure.
Tea Up, Blood Pressure Down – Hibiscus-style
Hypertension (high blood pressure) takes out about 65,000 American lives per year. According to research from the Real Food Therapy Guide, celery is a great food to support blood pressure lowering. Dr. Greger says Hibiscus tea is too.
Here’s Dr. Greger…
“Tested head-to-head against a leading blood pressure drug, two cups of strong hibiscus tea every morning (using a total of five tea bags) was as effective in lowering subjects’ blood pressure as a starting dose of the drug Captopril taken twice daily. However, there are differences: Captoprilo can have side effects, most commonly rash, cough and taste impairment, and it can even, though extremely rarely, cause fatal swelling of the throat. No side effects were reported for the hibiscus tea, though it isn’t called sour tea for nothing.”
Tea up hibiscus-style to bring blood pressure down!
Let’s wrap this longevity grocery list up.
- Help Your Heart with Brazil Nuts – Four were shown to lower bad cholesterol.
- Protect Your Lungs with Broccoli – May protect lung DNA from smoke damage.
- Boost Your Brain with Beans, Berries and Cinnamon – Bean fiber may reduce stroke risk; berries and cinnamon have antioxidant power to protect brain vessels and more.
- Digest Blackberries and Strawberries – Both may protect the body from digestive cancers.
- Fight Infections with Immune Boosting Mushrooms & Probiotics – Mushrooms may boost the immune system while probiotic users have less sick days and colds.
- Make Room for Legumes to Counter Diabetes – Lentils, chickpeas, split peas and navy beans support shrinking waistlines and blood sugar control.
- Tea Up, Blood Pressure Down – Hibiscus-style – Hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure better than medication.
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Referenced Books and Recommended Reads
(1) Willett WC. Balancing life-style and genomics research for disease prevention. Science. 2002; 296 (5568): 695-8.
(2) Lenders C, Gorman K, Milch H, et al. A novel nutrition medicine education model: the Boston University experience. Adv Nutr. 2013; 4(1):1-7.
(3) Kris-Etherton PM, Akabas SR, Bales CW, et al. The need to advance nutrition education in the training of health care professionals and recommended research to evaluate implementation and effectiveness. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014; 99 (5 Suppl):1153S-66S.
(4) Stange KC, Zyzanski SJ, Jaen CR, et al. Illuminating the “black box.” A description of 4454 patient visits to 138 family physicians. J Fam Pract. 1998;46(5):377-89.
(5) US Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What it Means to You. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010.
(6) Threapleton DE, Greenwood DC, Evans CE, et al. Dietary fiber intake and risk of first stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Stroke. 2013; 44(5):1360-8.
(7) Berggren A, Lazou Ahrhiang BL, Wang LH, Liao G. Randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled study using new probiotic lactobacilli for strengthening the body immune defence against vial infections. Eur J Nutr. 2011; 50 (3): 203-10.