With the rise of many diseases such as diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases, healthcare has reached saturation point where hospitals and those in the medical field are no longer able to cope with the workload (1). GP clinics are filled with leaflets and videos encouraging us to take some responsibility for our health to prevent disease and the media is constantly giving news on health but with so much information, it can be difficult to know how to start. By understanding how our body works, we can have a better idea what we can do. Here we share some ideas to help you start your journey to empower your health.
Our bodies are so complex that it’s usually not just one or two factors that lead to a health condition. It can be a myriad of causes over a number of years that can result in symptoms. With the age of information and technology we have more knowledge about health at our fingertips. However, it is vital that information comes from valid sources such as primary research papers or established groups such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or The National Institute of Healthcare and Excellence in addition to professional guidance and recommendations.
The food we eat is broken down to smaller pieces as it travels through to our gut which is about 7 metres long and is where most of our food is digested and absorbed into our blood stream so that the nutrients from foods can feed all of our cells and keep our body systems healthy such as our immune system or cardiovascular system.
There are an estimated 37 trillion cells in the body (2). To function effectively they require a variety of different nutrients depending on which type of cells they are. Cell types include nerve, muscle, skin, eye, hair, tongue, saliva, gut, kidney, adrenal, immune cells, the list is endless and are all part of who you are. You need just the right nutrients to make say, your eye cells function optimally so you see well. Despite what our bodies are subjected to, it is extremely good at adapting and keeping all the body systems in balance, however, sometimes one or many of these systems can become unbalanced and can lead to health issues.
Each cell has a set life span ranging from days to months depending on what type of cell it is. Throughout its lifetime it may experience stress from pollutants, infections, physical trauma, psychological stress and inadequate diet to name a few. The memory of these experiences passes on to the next cell resulting in general life wear and tear over the years.
There are 1000s of studies on diet and lifestyle factors that can impact our health, however, here we will take a look at just one of our every day food choices that may impact health. The WHO report that there are over 1000 pesticides used globally for food and that each pesticide has a degree of toxicity (3). A review of several studies on pesticides and health effects concluded that there was significant evidence to show that pesticides may have dermatologic, neurologic, reproductive and genotoxic effects (4). With ample studies to support the potential adverse effects of pesticides and the potential benefits of organic food consumption, The Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2018 reveal that the UK has now the highest level of sales of organic produce in 6 years and is continuing to grow (5).
There are many ways to make a start but one easy way when you do your weekly grocery shopping.
“The dirty dozen and the clean fifteen” is a well-known list of fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticide residues (6), however, this list was based on US studies compiled by the Environmental Working Group. The Pesticide Action Network published a report in 2013 giving a list of 12 worst and best foods with pesticide residue levels that can be bought in the UK (7).
Choose a variety of vegetables to provide your body with a variety of nutrients to help all the different biochemical reactions and tissues in the body.
Choose organic when you can especially if eating raw fruits and vegetables.
Check your local businesses to see if they provide delivered seasonal organic vegetables to make shopping easier.
Check out the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy to find your local nutritional therapist to help you with an personalised recommendations for your health (7).
We’ve all heard how stress is bad for your health but some of us don’t even know we are stressed. How stressed you feel can be different to how much your body is able to deal with stress. We’ve created an efficient and technologically advanced society that is packed with plans, ideas, thoughts and experiences, so that resting with nothing to do or think about is almost awkward or feels unnatural.
Try this stress test designed by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Your body can adapt incredibly well to our fast pace life in order to face that important interview, make sure the job is done, catch the train, deal with the accident, worry about a loved one or whatever it is that takes you out of your comfortable zone. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and was originally designed by nature to help man either fight or run away from danger.
To face these daily stressors in life you need energy, which can come from food. Once faced with danger, the body slows down any body systems that aren’t needed for surviving so that all energy is focused on dealing with the stress. This means that you could slow down your digestive system or your immune system or other functions in the body but not your heart pumping of course because you can almost hear that going when you’re stressed! Your ability to deal with stress is only meant for a short time so when you are continuously stressed then your body may not function optimally. For example, you may not get adequate nutrients because your digestion is not working optimally or your immune system might not be as resistant to colds as it normally is. Long term stress can eventually lead to other health conditions for example studies have also shown that there may be a link between stress and the level of pain felt (1), however, this and many health conditions can depend on many other diet and lifestyle factors.
Can stress ever be perceived as healthy? Perhaps a little stress can push us to our full potential? A study concluded that there was a difference between perceiving stress as a positive or negative process and those who perceived it as negative had a higher health risk (6). So, could it be that choosing to react to certain stressful situations in a positive way may contribute to a healthier life? Why not try and see?