Under Attack

When we read the recent news, we think of our greatest threat as being from terrorism, North Korea, Iran, or the economy. Although these issues can and do affect us, the greatest threat to our well-being and longevity comes from within and from what we do or are in contact with every day.

Probably the most influential factor for our health comes from our diet. It has been shown many times over in history, animal studies, and human studies and trials that this is true. You have heard of the Paleolithic Diet, which includes meats, greens, fruits, nuts, raw vegetables, and unprocessed grains. In many archeological studies, it has been shown that on this type of diet (before circa 9000 A.D.) humans did not have heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, or other diseases of civilized cultures. It has also been shown that when inland groups (on native diets) moved to coastal towns or villages, diabetes, heart problems, dental caries, and dental arch deformities, arthritis, and other diseases appeared in the second and third generation of migrants. Exposure to low nutrient canned goods, sugar and its equivalent white flour, processed oils (hydrogenated), and relative lack of fresh veggies and fruits with their vitamins and minerals gave open access to the oxidative stress that ages us and causes a multitude of diseases.

The main culprits are sugars and foods with a high glycemic index. As we’ve noted in past articles, a food product with a high glycemic index causes problems with elevation of blood sugar, elevated insulin levels, high arachidonic acid levels, increased inflammatory body hormones (eicosanoids), and the body malfunctions which accompany this process. For example, inflammation in the body increases the risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, joint disease, Type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other problems including poor immune function. Combine this scenario with obesity which comes from overeating, excess high glycemic foods, excess bad fats, and lack of physical activity and you have a perfect recipe for medical problems. Consider that mostly because of dietary problems in this country, we have 29 million diabetics and pre-diabetics, both of which have a high association with cardiovascular disease and which is predicted to eventually “break the bank” of this country’s existing health care budget and Medicare.

With increased sugar and excess protein intake in the presence of insulin and inflammatory hormones, a process called glycosylation (Maillard reaction) takes place, combining the protein and glucose into a molecular complex which becomes toxic and causes cross-linking of flexible-elastic collagen, giving stiff muscles, joint deterioration, inelastic heart muscle, stiff and tight blood vessels (hypertension), and other problems. Almost all body functions are affected by this process which produces glycotoxins called AGEs, or Advanced Glycation End Products. These AGEs compounds also come into our body from external sources such as baked goods, fried meats, French fries, grilled meats, and processed cheeses. You can go online and search AGEs and find a table showing what quantity of these would be in the most common foods.

In addition to AGEs, we are constantly bombarded internally by oxidative stress, which is caused by the free radicals produced by exposure to ultraviolet light, external toxins, excess food intake, and other causes. Free radicals damage the DNA in our cells, exacerbate disease processes, and add to the generation of health concerns in our bodies. We should include high levels of antioxidant foods in our diet to try to neutralize these free radicals and avoid damage from them. If you search online for ORAC values of foods, you will find tables listing many foods and noting the level of antioxidants in them, and this will encourage you to eat more of the better foods. ORAC is the abbreviation for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity and is a measure of the neutralizing power of foods against free radicals.

Other external and internal forces which act against us include microwaves, food additives, acidic diets, viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxic foods, hydrogenated and trans fats, and inadequate knowledge of how to deal with all of these negative forces.

In summary, we eat too much, drink too many sodas, eat processed foods, eat low-nutrient foods, take in too much sugar, flour, high fructose corn syrup, and have too much exposure to food additives and toxins. Life is a daily and ongoing battle to promote positive forces and deter damage from the negative ones. Staying aware of all these facts and constantly inquiring about how to deal with them will keep you ahead of the aging curve. The next meal that you have marks the beginning of the rest of your life and is an opportunity to utilize newfound information for a healthier and longer time.

James H. Carraway, M.D.

Dr. James Carraway is a full-time academic and practicing clinical plastic surgeon.  He is Director of the Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Center of EVMS, is board certified in surgery and plastic surgery, and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.  Dr. Carraway has been teaching and practicing for 30+ years and has been director and chairman of residency training programs and fellowship programs in plastic surgery.
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