The Top 10 Health Breakthroughs of 2008
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
This year marks a major turning point in the theory of wellness and the prevention of disease. The drug-based paradigm of Western medicine is crumbling under the weight of its own massive fraud. New technology is proving how nutrients interact at the fundamental gene level to promote health and prevent disease. The discoveries are occurring at a breakneck pace – these are exciting times.
In the face of an obesity epidemic and the early onset of the diseases of aging in even young Americans, there shines a bright ray of hope. It is there for anyone who chooses to inform themselves and then take effective actions to better themselves. The aging clock can be slowed – and in many cases reversed. It is the dawn of a new era.
The following is a list of the Top 10 health breakthroughs of 2008. I know there are many other possible candidates for this Top 10 list. This is my version of the highlights that made 2008 special.
#10 – The Mayo Clinic Places One Foot in the Door of the Real World
Miracles never cease and it appears that the Mayo Clinic is trying to enter the 21st century with at least a finger on the nutritional pulse of reality. In May they put out a press release stating that “Thousands of research studies have documented how the oils known as omega-3 fatty acids can benefit the cardiovascular system, particularly among people diagnosed with coronary artery disease…The most compelling evidence for the cardiovascular benefit provided by omega-3 fatty acids comes from three large controlled trials of 32,000 participants randomized to receive omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing DHA and EPA….These trials showed reductions in cardiovascular events of 19 percent to 45 percent. Overall, these findings suggest that intake of omega-3 fatty acids, whether from dietary sources or fish oil supplements, should be increased, especially in those with or at risk for coronary artery disease.”
The breakthrough is not that fish oils prevent and treat heart disease; we’ve known that for years. The breakthrough is that the vitamin-and-alternative-health-hating Mayo Clinic is telling the world to take fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease. That signifies the initial stages of a paradigm shift of magnitude.
#9 – Bone Health Is One Key to Longevity
Bones can no longer be thought of only in terms of fracture risk and osteoporosis. Bones are constantly giving birth to new cells and these cells play vital roles in metabolism and immunity. For example, when bone cells get inflamed not only does this promote excess bone loss it directly causes fat cells to multiply in white adipose tissue – which clearly explains why women gain weight after menopause as well as the key to stopping the problem.
The highlight study of the year was a detailed gene analysis performed on one of the world’s healthiest older men (he was 113 at the time, recently passing away at 114). Researchers expected to find genetic advantages enabling him to live a long life. Much to their surprise, he didn’t have any “better genes” at all – he had better bones! And the reason he had better bones was because he ate a diet containing fresh fruit and vegetables (bone anti-inflammatory nutrients) and stayed very active (stimulating bone health).
Needless to say, the disastrous bone drugs were not part of his plan.
#8 – Grape Seed Extracts Stop Alzheimer’s Plaque
This year’s research showed that “normal” brain aging is quite an abnormal process; with the loss of mental capability, intelligence, and memory directly relating to how many plaque-like brain tangles occur. At the far end of the spectrum is Alzheimer’s disease – a problem with brain plaque overwhelming healthy brain function. However, there are a thousand shades of grey on the way to this problem, and each step in the wrong direction is marked by ever-increasing levels of brain plaque.
Red grape seed extracts showed that they could stop brain plaque from forming. The new research showed that brain cells must first be punched in the nose by some form of stress, get inflamed, and then begin to express certain genes that promote plaque formation. Red grape seed extracts simply stop this process from occurring. Not only that, they are powerful protection for the lining of your arteries – helping to stop plaque formation there as well.
#7 – Vitamin D for Anything and Everything
A major question during 2008 was: “Is there anything that vitamin D does not help?” Vitamin D’s role in bone metabolism is well known. Its role as a hormone is less well known but very important. As a bewildering array of breaking science now shows, vitamin D is a gene-regulating super nutrient. It is vital for efficient immune function, prevention of autoimmune problems, healthy metabolism, proper thyroid function, prevention of type I and type II diabetes, prevention of heart disease, cancer prevention, and improved nervous system health and mood.
The sunshine vitamin is indeed a wonder nutrient. The American Cancer Society sits around with major mud on its face, doing everything in its power to prevent people from getting vitamin D – a problem made worse in the winter months when none is available for most of the U.S. And as usual, our bumbling government won’t let all Americans know that they need 1200 IU to 2000 IU of vitamin D per day, especially in the winter, to help prevent major health problems.
#6 – Resveratrol Turns Back the Clock
An explosion in resveratrol science hit the front pages of the news around the world, as Big Pharma spent millions trying to make resveratrol drugs. The Big Pharma spending is interesting for several reasons:
Resveratrol activates a gene called SIRT1, which has a profound disease prevention and anti-aging effect. SIRT1 is normally activated by calorie restriction in times of famine. However, in today’s world of excess food consumption it will be a major tool to prevent and treat the coming obesity epidemic and all its health complications.
It is already clear that the supplement works best when you are on a good diet, as too much food simply turns off SIRT1. Its value during a diet is that it helps your muscles work better on fewer calories so that you can actually loose weight while feeling great.
Even if you aren’t overweight, the other main point is that resveratrol will help you live longer – a fact born out by the lifespan in various regions of France that have the highest content of resveratrol in their red wine.
#5 – The Digestive Genome Marks the New Frontier of Health
The mapping of the human genome was a monumental accomplishment that has yielded unexpected information. As scientists began to unravel the mysteries of how the human genome is controlled, they quickly found that many of the signals controlling health were coming from the foreign contents within your digestive tract. Like the space race to the moon, the new health frontier is now the genomes of the trillions of foreign cells that comprise your digestive tract.
A treasure trove of information has already been uncovered. Many of these foreign cells are vital to health and have both a friendly and unfriendly role depending on which of their genes are turned on. A case in point is H.pylori and Candida albicans, both of which are considered unfriendly and both of which are normal inhabitants of your digestive tract and need to be in a friendly condition for optimal digestive health and the prevention of digestive disease. In fact, your personal “foreign cell signature” directly influences your own immune tissue to form along the lining of your digestive tract. It also plays a large role in how much inflammation you experience elsewhere in your body – including your joints and back. Friendly flora is vital to maintaining a state of balance that promotes health.
Decades of damage from the overuse of antibiotics, high sugar diets, junk food, chemicals in the diet, pesticides in the diet, genetically modified toxic food, and excess alcohol can finally be seen for the disease-producers they really are. It will be a long time before your doctor gives you any meaningful advice on this subject, since their profession has helped create an epidemic of poor digestive health that in the light of this emerging science is proving to be a major contributing factor to multiple diseases – not just digestive-related problems.
#4 – The Changing World of Fat, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease
Those basing health decisions on cholesterol numbers and concepts of good and bad cholesterol have been left in the Stone-Age dust. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, can have its proteins oxidized and easily become “bad” just like LDL. Cholesterol itself turns out to be a vital player in the structure of nerve receptors, and its levels are reduced when taking medication to lower numbers of LDL. Cholesterol fitness, like muscle fitness, is the new concept of cholesterol health that supports true cardiovascular health.
A huge breakthrough occurred this year when it was demonstrated for the first time that fat accumulating around the outside of arteries was the key signal of impending cardiovascular disease. This fat, which builds up in direct proportion to your waistline expanding, was previously thought to be part of the structure of arteries and not play a functional role. New scientific tools have shown that it accumulates in excess, recruits inflammatory immune cells to live in its newly expanded neighborhood, and they generate inflammation into the arteries that knocks out friendly nitric oxide causing blood pressure to rise and simultaneously generates massive free radical damage that injures LDL and HDL cholesterol and sets the plaquing process in motion.
This is made worse if blood levels of triglycerides stay high during the day – which is caused by eating meals that are too large, snacking between meals, and not exercising.
#3 – How Much BDNF is In Your Bank Account?
Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) may well be the molecule of the year. BDNF is key to keeping your nerve cells alive and stimulating the growth of new nerve cells. Since your nerve cells are important for regulating everything else, keeping them in top working condition not only means that your mind will stay sharp it means you are likely to live longer and healthier.
This year scientists proved the immense value of having adequate BDNF for virtually any issue of nerve and brain related health. If your supplies run low then you cannot tolerate stress properly, you are more likely to be or become depressed, your brain is prone to excess inflammation, and you are set on a path of decline. Conversely, having adequate BDNF helps you keep up with the demands in your life. It means that you have the potential to keep your mind and nerves in good working condition.
For example, when you have adequate BDNF then old memories don’t bother you or come back to haunt you at the most inopportune times. Having adequate BDNF may be a key, along with being a good person, to maintaining healthy relationships.
This year scientists demonstrated that fish oil, blueberries, curcumin, and pantethine all help boost the production of BDNF.
#2 – Run for Your Life
Running is now proven to be the single activity with the most bang for the longevity buck. Early in the year papers emphasized the importance of running in human evolution. It was also found that running is the best exercise to boost levels of BDNF. It was proven that running can rejuvenate your heart and even brisk walking can effectively lower your blood pressure.
The highlight of the year was the result of a 20-year study on running over the age of 50. It found that those who ran cut their risk of premature death in half! No drug can do that.
It also found that runners had less cardiovascular disease, fewer cancer deaths, less cognitive decline, and better immunity – and their joints were in good condition.
#1 – Thyroid Health is for Everyone
A startling array of thyroid-related studies have shown that even a slightly off thyroid sends you down a path of poor health. While thyroid issues are often associated with obesity, thyroid problems affect normal weight and underweight people as well. One of the important points to grasp about the emerging science is that these are not thyroid problems that can be treated with medication – as there is usually adequate thyroid hormone. This information is about thyroid stressors such as common pollution like PCBs, perchlorate in the food supply, excess food consumption, and general emotional stress – to name of few.
This year scientific studies showed a sluggish thyroid system was directly related to increased mortality, fatal heart disease, disturbed heart rhythms, elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, lack of coordination, risk of breast cancer, mood problems, glaucoma, and Alzheimer’s risk.
You may wonder why so many issues can be associated with a type of thyroid problem that doctors don’t even see as a problem. The answer is that your thyroid system sets the metabolic pace of your body, like the drummer in a band sets the tempo. If that tempo is too sluggish then everything else works less well, which means wear and tear accumulates at a faster rate.
You can fix sluggish thyroid problems by eating a cleaner diet, regular exercise, and using nutrients that facilitate healthy thyroid function – especially by enhancing the conversion of T4 to T3 and by providing adequate thyroid-related antioxidants.
The take home message from this year’s thyroid news is that you should do everything possible to keep your entire thyroid system working at an optimal level of health. There is no comfort to be found in being “good for your age.” The only thing that really matters is optimal function – which is the foundation for your future health.
The era of true anti-aging nutrition is upon us. There are no quick fixes – but there is a path to follow that is now backed by considerable science. Hop on – enjoy quality of health – for a very long time.
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