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How healthy choices pay off.

My grandma and grandpa lived to be 91 and 89 respectively. While Grandma's good health and longevity may have been, in part, due to her genes, Grandpa was not so lucky in that regard and carried both a family history of and personal propensity toward autoimmune diseases. Before they married, Grandpa, 18, was already seeing a doctor for gastrointestinal problems.

After they married, one of the first things to change was Grandpa's diet. Grandma grew up on a farm and cooked everything from scratch using fresh produce and a cabinet full of spices. Grandma made cooked oatmeal for breakfast, soup and pie, mostly fruit pies, for lunch, and then a larger meal for supper, but other than Grandma's pies, I never saw them eat dessert.

We now know the oatmeal lowers cholesterol and the combination of vegetables in the soup and fruit in the pie is just about a perfect meal as far as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants go.

Brenda is 52 and a mother of three grown children, but you'd never know it to look at her. A little envious of the great shape she was in, I asked her what she did to look that way. I expected her to tell me about some ridiculously unhealthy fad diet or the newest exercise craze. Instead, she told me she had a common-sense regime: a healthy diet, spices, supplements, and exercise. It sounded like she was doing a lot of the things my grandparents' generation had done, but while to their generation it was just common sense, Brenda had done her homework.

She had watched her parents develop age-related health problems and became convinced that didn't have to happen to her and her family. Researchers know from gene and twin studies even when patients inherit the genes for a disease, there are other variables that can either trigger or protect from that disease.

Like my grandparents, Brenda avoids excess sugar; uses spices (like the cinnamon stick she adds to her morning coffee to prevent inflammation and the oregano essential oil she uses every day to ward off infection); and plants an organic garden. In addition, Brenda's family eats a low-fat diet.

She and Grandpa also got plenty of exercise. For Brenda, living in Canada, her exercise regime is dependent on the weather. During the months of heavy snow, that keep exercise indoors, she alternates between a stairclimber, weights, and yoga. When she can get outside, she walks or uses a paddle board. Gardening is also a good source of exercise. Even into his 80s, my Grandpa worked in his garden every day throughout the summer.

After my grandparents married, my grandpa never suffered from gastrointestinal problems again and didn't develop the Addison's, he had a genetic predisposition toward, until well into old age.

In my twenties, I thought I was eating really healthy by avoiding sugary and deep fried foods, resisting the French fries when I ordered my cheeseburger. I considered myself sort of a"health nut," like the slogan on a T-shirt I wore regularly, so I was surprised when I developed health problems despite my efforts. I hadn't yet realized how much further I had to go if I expected lifestyle changes to protect or improve my health.

Like myself, some people may have thought they were already making sufficiently healthy choices while others may have doubted what those healthy choices could do. While healthy lifestyle changes may not be enough to make patients completely well again, they may be part of the solution for many diseases and not making them will certainly continue to contribute to poor health.

How These Choices Influence Health

Many of the benefits derived from healthy choices are due to their ability to reduce inflammatory immune cells and/or reduce reactive oxygen species (ROS) that lead to oxidative stress, two key players underlying many diseases (autoimmune, cardiovascular, and even depression). (1-5)

"Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor in many age-related diseases." (1) Even,"[d]epression and anxiety have been suggested to be associated with systemic inflammation upregulation," and one team's findings along with those of others "could suggest that antidepressants may owe at least some of their therapeutic effectiveness to their anti-inflammatory properties." (4,5)


A high fat diet may increase both inflammation and oxidative stress while a diet rich in good fats may decrease them. (6,7) "Lipid disturbance induced by high-fat diet is a worldwide problem, and it can induce inflammation and oxidative stress in vivo." (6)

A high fat diet has been associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, among them breast and colorectal cancer (CRC). (8,9) "Rising CRC incidence trends are mainly regarded as a part of the rapid 'Westernization' of life-style...," which includes a high-calorie/high-fat/low-fiber diet, excessive weight gain, and lack of exercise. (9)

* Good fats may help diseases from dry eye disease to multiple sclerosis. (10,11) In one study, good fats along with vitamins A and isoforms of vitamin E (a-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol)," significantly reduced" the relapse rate and risk of progression of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. (11)

* Cruciferous vegetables have antibiotic, antifungal, and anti-cancer effects. (12) A compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables inhibited 23 out of 28 bacteria and fungi it was tested on. (12)


* Cinnamon: "Sri Lankan cinnamon (C. zeylanicum) was one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods out of 115 foods tested." (1) Cinnamon also has antibiotic properties. (13)

* Curcumin (found in turmeric) may reduce inflammatory immune cells. (14,15) In an animal model of atherosclerosis, it "alleviated the effects of a high fat diet" on atherosclerosis and fatty liver development in part by reducing inflammatory immune cells and reducing uptake of oxidized low density lipoprotein (oxLDL). (15)

* Oregano and thyme also have antibiotic properties. (13)

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamin or mineral deficiencies have been found in many conditions, and after the deficiencies were corrected, there was often some improvement in health. Vitamins and minerals can help inhibit oxidative stress and inflammatory immune cells. They are needed as cofactors for enzymes, and the enzymes are needed for a wide range of biological processes from mitochondrial function to breaking down histamine and chemicals.

* B vitamins: Vitamin B6 is needed for diamine oxidase activity, an enzyme which breaks down histamine. (16)

* B12 and folic acid were beneficial in some CFS patients, especially those who were on thyroid hormones, who did not have fibromyalgia, and who were not using analgesics. (17) In another CFS cohort, a multivitamin-mineral supplement seemed to improve fatigue and some of the other symptoms. (18)

* Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency may play a role in the development of respiratory tract infections(RTI), musculoskeletal pain, insulin resistance, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. (19-22)

Lab animals on vitamin D-deficient diets developed "deep muscle hypersensitivity" and "balance deficits." (20) "Up to 93% of those (patients) reporting nonspecific musculoskeletal pain are deficient in vitamin D...." (20)

* Magnesium: In fibromyalgia, magnesium was "significantly decreased," and this was associated with fatigue. (23)

* Selenium (Se) and Zinc (Zn) have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. (6,24) One or both of these minerals may be beneficial in asthma, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. (24-28)

In a zinc-deficient animal model of asthma, there were increased inflammatory immune cells in broncho-alveolar lavage fluid (BALF), which zinc supplementation reduced. (25) In asthma, zinc "may be an important anti-inflammatory mediator of airway inflammation." (25)

In a study of children, Se and Zn levels inversely correlated with asthma prevalence, lower levels of selenium with a higher prevalence of asthma, and higher levels of Se and Zn with a fivefold decreased prevalence ratio of asthma. (26)

In a study of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), another inflammatory condition, selenium was reduced in all patients and "very reduced" in patients with "active, disabling disease of long duration." (27) A "significant correlation" was found between low levels and some disease parameters. (27) In an animal model of arthritis, a diet enriched with selenium decreased inflammatory immune cells and other markers of disease. (24)

In a fibromyalgia cohort, zinc was "significantly decreased," and this was associated with the number of tender points. (23) Another study found, "Fibromyalgia patients showed a significantly lower level of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese ..." in hair. (28)

Zinc may also protect against a high fat diet. (6) In lab animals fed a high fat diet, zinc reduced inflammatory immune cells, increased high density lipoprotein (HDL) and good cholesterol, reduced triglycerides, and protected the liver. (6)


Once ill, it is easy to become deconditioned and that can have detrimental effects when trying to regain or even sustain remaining health. "Physical activity may improve chronic inflammation, which is a primary pathophysiological mechanism for numerous chronic disorders, especially among minority populations." (29) For some people, with exercise-limiting conditions, exercise may need to be something as simple as yoga, but at least it is a start.

Yoga is good for relaxing tight muscles, a finding in some patients with fibromyalgia. (30) Although more studies are needed, most studies done on the effects of yoga and other movement therapies in fibromyalgia, report medium-to-high reductions in pain. (31)

Keep in Mind

The golden rule of medicine is balance, everything in moderation. Even some natural things can have side effects, especially in large quantities. Olive and avocado contain good oils but may cause problems in some patients with latex allergies. (32,33) Selenium may increase risk of diabetes in those genetically predisposed. (34) Cinnamon is antiinflammatory, but the e-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxycinnamaldehyde in cinnamon may cause problems in patients hypersensitive to aldehydes or in people with a poor diet.

One study found the beneficial effects of cinnamon "were blunted or even reversed under the high-fat/high-fructose diet. CN supplementation could be... deleterious under the unbalanced diet encountered in Western societies." (35)


(1.) Gunawardena D, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of cinnamon (C. zeylanicum and C. cassia) extracts - identification of E-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxy cinnamaldehyde as the most potent bioactive compounds. Food Funct. 2015;6(3):910-9.

(2.) Oyinloye BE, et al. Reactive oxygen species, apoptosis, antimicrobial peptides and human inflammatory diseases. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2015;8(2):151-75.

(3.) Svenungsson E, et al. TNF-alpha: a link between hypertriglyceridaemia and inflammation in SLE patients with cardiovascular disease. Lupus. 2003;12(6):454-61.

(4.) Duivis HE et al. Differential association of somatic and cognitive symptoms of depression and anxiety with inflammation: findings from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(9):1573-8S.

(5.) Tynan RJ, et al. A comparative examination of the antiinflammatory effects of SSRI and SNRI antidepressants on microglia. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2012;26:S34-35.

(6.) Xu C, et al. Zinc regulates lipid metabolism and MMPs expression in lipid disturbance rabbits. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2015.

(7.) Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al. Omega-3fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2013;28:16-24.

(8.) Zhao Y, et al. Pubertal high fat diet: effects on mammary cancer development. Breast Cancer Res. 2013;15(5):R100.

(9.) Pietrzyk L, et ai. Obesity and obese-related chronic low-grade inflammation in promotion of colorectal cancer development. Asia Pac J Cancer Prev. 2015;16(10):4161-8.

(10.) Jalbert I. Diet, nutraceuticals and the tear film. Exp Eye Res. 2013:117:138-46.

(11.) Pantzaris MC, et al. A novel oral nutraceutical formula of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with vitamins (PLP10) in relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled proof-of-concert clinical trial. BMJ Open. 2013;3(4): e002170.

(12.) Johansson NL, et al. Growth inhibition of a spectrum of bacterial and fungal pathogens by sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate product found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. Planta Med. 2008;74(7):747-50.

(13.) Friedman M, et al. Antibacterial activities of naturally occurring compounds against antibiotic-resistant Bacillus cereus vegatative cells and spores, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. J Food Prot. 2004;67(8):1774-8.

(14.) Antoine F, et al. Curcumin inhibits agent-induced human neutrophil functions in vitro and lipopolysaccharide-induced neutrophilic infiltration in vivo. Int Immunopharmacol. 2013;17(4):1101-7.

(15.) Hasan ST, et al. Curcumin modulation of high fat diet-induced atherosclerosis and steatohepatosis in LDL receptor deficient mice. Atherosclerosis. 2014;232(1):40-51.

(16.) Jarisch R, Wantke F. Wine and headache. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 1996;110:7-12.

(17.) Regland B, et al. Response to vitamin B12 and folic acid in myalgic encephalomyelitis and fibromyalgia. PLoS One. 2015;10(4):e0124648.

(18.) Maric D, et al. Multivitamin mineral supplementation in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Med Sci Monit. 2014;20:47-53.

(19.) Gunville CF, et al. The role of vitamin D in prevention and treatment of infection. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2013;12(4):239-45.

(20.) Tague SE, et al. Vitamin D deficiency promotes skeletal muscle hypersensitivity and sensory hyperinnervation. J Neurosci. 2011;31(39):13728-38.

(21.) Tao MF, et al. Association of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D with insulin resistance and B-cell function in a healthy Chinese female population. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2013;34(8):1070-4.

(22.) Hao YP, et al. Serum vitamin D is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in Chinese males with normal weight and liver enzymes. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2014;35(9):1150-6.

(23.) Sendur OF, et al. The relationship between serum trace element levels and clinical parameters in patients with fibromyalgia. Rheumatol Int. 2008;28(11):1117-21.

(24.) Vieira AT, et al. Treatment with Selemax, a selenium-enriched yeast, amelioates experimental arthritis in rats and mice. Br J Nutr. 2012;108(10):1829-38.

(25.) Lu H, et al. Zinc suppressed airway inflammation in asthmatic rats: effects of zinc on generation of eotaxin, MCP-1, IL-8, IL-4, and IFN-y. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2012;150(1-3):314-21.

(26.) Carneiro MF, et al. Low concentrations of selenium and zinc in nails are associated with childhood asthma. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2011;144(l-3):244-52.

(27.) Tarp U, et al. Low selenium level in severe rheumatoid arthritis. Scand J Rheumatol. 1985;14(2):97-101.

(28.) Kim Y-S, et al. Women with fibromyalgia have lower levels of calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese in hair mineral analysis. J Korean Med Sci. 2011;26(10):12S3-57.

(29.) Adams SA, et al. The association of C-reactive protein and physical activity among a church-based population of African Americans. Prev Med. 2015 pii: S0091-7435(15)00169-3.

(30.) Elert J, et al. Chronic pain and difficulty in relaxing postural muscles in patients with fibromyalgia and chronic whiplash associated disorders. J Rheumatol. 2001;28(6):1361-8.

(31.) Mist SD, et al. Complementary and alternative exercise for fibromyalgia: a meta-analysis. J Pain Res. 2013;6:247-60.

(32.) Palomares O, et al. 1,3-beta-glucanases as candidates in latex-pollen-vegetable food cross-reactivity. Clin Exp Allergy. 2005;35(3):345-51.

(33.) Beezhold DH, et al. Latex allergy can induce clinical reactions to specific foods. Clin Exp Allergy. 1996;26(4):416-22.

(34.) Rayman MP, Stranges S. Epidemiology of selenium and type 2 diabetes: can we make sense of it? Free Radic Biol Med. 2013;65:1557-64.

(35.) Marissai-Arvy N, et at. Effect of a high-fat-high-fructose diet, stress and cinnamon on central expression of genes related to immune system, hypthalamic-pituitary-adrenalcortical axis function and cerebralplacicity in rats. Br J Nutri. 2014;111(7):1190-201.

by Laurie Dennison Busby, BEd

copyright 2015


Laurie Busby received a BEd from the University of Missouri. At age 30, she developed chronic fatigue syndrome and the hypersensitivities that sometimes accompany it. Shortly thereafter, her aunt, a nurse anesthetist, handed her a huge medical dictionary and some studies, insisting that Laurie learn how to read them because she had something with no answers. Since that time, Laurie has asked for several tests that have given her incredible clues about her illness, conducted a family medical health survey among patients, testified before the CFS Advisory Committee to the US Department of Health and Human Services, and started a chronic illness blog,, in an attempt to share what she has learned.
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Author:Busby, Laurie Dennison
Publication:Townsend Letter
Date:Jul 1, 2017
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