Two apples a day to help beat cancer and a dash of oyster sauce to ward off disease: Harvard scientist Dr WILLIAM LI shares the ultimate guide to using your daily diet as medicine
- Dr William Li studied body’s five key defence systems including gut bacteria
- He has researched specific compounds in certain foods that support them
- For example oysters can protect DNA against damage that causes Alzheimer’s
- Dr Li’s study is so sophisticated can recommend specific ‘doses’ of certain foods
We all know blueberries are packed with health-giving nutrients, and cabbages sit beside broccoli at the top of the vegetable vitality stakes, but who knew a generous helping of oyster sauce could also help to protect you against disease?
All this week in the Daily Mail, we are serialising a ground-breaking new book by Harvard doctor and scientist, Dr William Li.
His lifelong work is centred on the study of the body’s five key defence systems — immunity, stem cells, gut bacteria, blood vessels and DNA protection — and research identifying specific compounds in certain foods that support them.
Oysters, for instance, have been shown to contain natural compounds that support the body’s disease-fighting mechanisms, protecting your DNA against the kind of damage that causes Alzheimer’s, cancer and depression.
Harvard scientist Dr William Li has researched specific compounds in certain foods that support the bodies five key defence systems and recommend specific ‘doses’ of foods to help combat conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (some combinations pictured)
Better still, those beneficial ‘bioactives’ become super concentrated when boiled down into oyster sauce.
With insight like this, Dr Li believes you can achieve optimal health, and give your body the best possible chance to fight to keep you well, by eating foods to support each defence system every day.
Today Dr Li shows how the study of food compounds has become so sophisticated we can now recommend specific ‘doses’ of certain foods, confident that the amount contains exactly what your body’s defence systems need to fight any given disease.
In yesterday’s pullout, we explained the important role of your blood vessels (a system called angiogenesis). Today, the focus is on DNA and its incredible ability to protect you from disease.
A top Harvard doctor reveals which foods you should eat to stress proof your body
Most of us think DNA is our genetic blueprint, but it is also one of the key systems which helps to defend us against illness.
In fact, it controls repair mechanisms that protect us against the ageing process and damage caused by sunlight, household chemicals, stress, poor sleep and a bad diet.
When this system isn’t working effectively, you are at increased risk of the full spectrum of cancers, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Your DNA is made up of all the genes you inherited from your parents.
WHAT ELSE DAMAGES DNA?
Sunshine: Research has shown harmful UV rays from the sun, which penetrate our skin, are capable of producing 100,000 lesions in our DNA every hour if we’re unshielded.
Radon: Radiation that emanates from the ground is the top cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Smoking: There are an estimated 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, many of which cause inflammation, and 70 have been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
The bad news is that secondhand smoke is equally harmful to the DNA of friends, family, co-workers and even pets.
Solvents: Gases from carpets, new cars and chemicals in ordinary household products such as nail varnish remover, shampoo and paint can damage your DNA.
It forms your body’s ‘source code’, which every aspect of your health depends upon in order to keep you alive and able to function normally.
However, DNA is quite fragile, and is the target of vicious attacks throughout your life.
Pollution, industrial toxins, ultraviolet radiation and emotional stress cause damage to our genetic code, as does inflammation and infection. These all contribute to more than 10,000 damaging events every single day.
When DNA is impaired, genes can malfunction. Some consequences, such as ageing, wrinkled skin, can be seen. Other effects can be insidious and invisible, causing cancer or harm to the brain, heart, lungs and other organs.
Almost every type of cancer can be pinned down to DNA damage. The best example is skin cancer triggered by DNA damage in the skin, caused by UV rays from the sun.
Other cancers can be provoked by repeated damage to the DNA in specific cells, including cancers of the lung, bladder, oesophagus, stomach and colon.
Precancerous lesions (such as polyps in the bowel and changes in breast or cervical tissue) are invariably filled with cells that contain DNA in need of repair.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can also harm DNA in healthy cells, which could even lead to secondary cancers.
Some medical imaging procedures, from X-rays to CAT and PET scans, deliver radiation that can traumatise normal DNA, too.
Autoimmune diseases, such as coeliac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s, can also lead to DNA damage in the organs affected by an overactive immune system.
Some conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, major depression, atherosclerosis, and autoimmune diseases, can be passed down through generations, making some people more vulnerable to DNA damage than others.
Luckily, your DNA is hardwired to protect itself against the consequences of this damage, but, as I explain on the back page of this pullout, certain foods can help.
Two apples a day to help beat cancer … just one food ‘prescription’ to fight disease
Bioactives — naturally occurring compounds in certain foods — are able to act like medicines, as they influence our cells and the biological systems in our body in ways that resemble drugs.
And just as scientists are able to isolate the biochemical constituents of various drugs and analyse their impact on the way our bodies fight disease, we can now pick apart specific plant compounds in various foods, and use rigorous scientific methods to measure their drug-like effects on your cells.
Dr Li said a ‘food dose’ is the amount of any food or drink that has been shown to be associated with, or lead to, a specific health outcome (file picture)
This means, for the first time, it is possible to record the specific ‘doses’ of certain foods needed to achieve a measurable effect.
Quite simply, a ‘food dose’ is the amount of any food or drink that has been shown to be associated with, or lead to, a specific health outcome.
This dose can be relevant to disease prevention or treatment, long-term management of a condition, or suppression to keep the disease from returning.
My team has been able to make a head-to-head comparison of the potency of different foods versus drugs, in relation to one of the body’s key health defence mechanisms — angiogenesis (the creation of new blood vessels).
HOW FOOD ‘DOSES’ WERE DISCOVERED
Here’s how we determine the food doses on this page:
- We start with quantities of a food identified through clinical studies, or research of real-life dietary patterns from large populations, and analyse their health effects.
- We see if the benefits found to be associated with the food match what we know about the ‘bioactive’ constituents of the food across the five health defence systems. This helps us to be sure they act to maintain health and repel disease.
- We translate how much food was consumed, and how often, into doses.
- We analyse the bioactives and look for their effects in studies that are used for pharmaceutical research. The activities of these substances are then translated back to their amounts in food, to determine if the dose of the food required would be realistic to consume.
For example, we examined four cancer-fighting drugs and seven other common medications (such as anti-inflammatory drugs, statins, a blood pressure medication, and an antibiotic) against 16 dietary factors from foods associated with lowering the risk of various cancers.
Remarkably, we found that 15 of the dietary factors were more potent than one of the cancer drugs.
Most of the foods held their own ground, or were more potent than the other common medications.
Statisticians and nutrition scientists might tell you this type of research does not nail cause and effect the way a drug study using mice or a clinical trial would.
But the associations that emerge can be very informative, especially when hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people are involved.
A mountain of research has revealed how specific foods can influence health and disease.
The science is continually evolving, but some extraordinary clinical and epidemiological findings give us new perspectives about not just the types, but also the quantities, of food that we should eat, as well as how often we should eat them.
Our results must surely force even the most hard-boiled cynic to pause and marvel at the potency of what Mother Nature has laced into her food.
I’ve found the concept of food doses to be especially impactful for patients battling cancer. For example, studies in people with colon cancer have shown eating two servings of nuts (14 walnuts) per week is associated with a 42 per cent lower risk of the disease returning. That statistic results in a no-brainer recommendation for a low-cost lifestyle change.
For breast cancer, robust studies show consuming 10g of soya protein (equivalent to 235ml of soya milk) per day is associated with a 29 per cent decrease in the risk of death from the disease. You can’t ignore this kind of information once you witness the evidence.
And it is helpful for guiding your diet choices if you are trying to prevent a disease such as cancer.
NOTE: Foods are so powerful that they can interact with drugs, so if you are currently battling a disease, consult your doctor before changing how you eat.
FROM BROCCOLI TO OYSTERS – HOW YOU CAN PROTECT YOUR DNA
Pollution, industrial toxins, emotional stress and ultraviolet radiation all cause damage to our genetic code.
When DNA is harmed, as we have seen, genes can malfunction. This can cause physical signs such as wrinkles, or damage to organs such as the brain, heart and lungs. It has also been linked to cancer.
Yet certain food and drink can help protect DNA against these assaults.
Dr Li, pictured, said red and pink fruit, oranges, broccoli and sea food have all been proven to have benefits
When we read about diet and health, one term frequently encountered is antioxidants. These are touted as natural substances found in ‘superfoods’ that can neutralise free radicals and provide a range of benefits, from fighting cancer to anti-ageing. This general wisdom is correct.
Free radicals are highly reactive compounds produced by the chemical reactions taking place in the body. Our body attempts to reduce levels of free radicals using antioxidants made by our cells.
If free radicals overwhelm natural antioxidants, they can cause a condition in cells called oxidative stress, which can injure our DNA.
Many foods contain bioactive chemicals with antioxidant properties. Most nutrition textbooks describe the importance of micronutrients as the building blocks for normal DNA.
These include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, found in spinach, carrots, red peppers, lentils, haricot beans and mushrooms, as well as eggs, cod liver oil, sardines and mackerel.
Minerals such as magnesium, found in almonds, oatmeal and bananas, or zinc, found in oysters, crab and lobster, all make a useful contribution to the upkeep of DNA repair mechanisms, too.
The Mediterranean diet — characterised by fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil and fish — is made up of foods known to be high in antioxidants and to have anti-inflammatory and DNA-repairing qualities.
WELLNESS JOURNAL TIP
Wellness Journal Tip from Drs Chris & Xand van Tulleken
Ditch processed snacks; if you must snack, choose dried fruit and raw nuts (in small amounts).
Foods containing antioxidants might be able to neutralise harmful oxidising chemicals in the bloodstream, but that can only defend DNA from damage — and that’s only one part of protecting your genetic code.
If you smoke, are exposed to environmental toxins, or have a chronic inflammatory condition, the antioxidants in your food might have limited success.
However, studies show some foods can speed up the repair of broken DNA after the damage has taken place. Carrots, kiwi and hake, for instance, contain compounds that can help repair DNA by activating cellular ‘machinery’ to mend problems.
Other foods, including soya, turmeric and coffee, can activate protective genes while blunting the effects of harmful ones.
There are also foods that have been shown to influence DNA to your advantage. Knowing this makes it possible to use dietary choices to protect, repair and course-correct your DNA to defend your health.
Here are some DNA-boosting foods with proven benefits…
Red and pink fruit
It’s worth having a shot of tomato, watermelon, pink grapefruit or guava juice before going out into the sun.
The lycopene they contain has been shown to help defend you against damage caused by the sun’s UV rays.
Studies show that it cannot repair DNA after damage, but it has a protective effect before exposure. It could also protect you from X-ray radiation.
Lycopene also offers protection against DNA damage caused by the bacterium H.pylori, which lives in the stomach and can cause gastritis, stomach ulcers and even stomach cancer.
Oranges are well known for their high vitamin C content, but research shows they contain active compounds that can improve the blood’s ability to protect DNA, too.
Although the study used 415ml juice, you will always derive more benefit if you eat the whole fruit.
Red and dark-coloured berries contain many active compounds (bioactives) with antioxidant effects that help protect DNA.
Broccoli, like other cruciferous veg, contains sulforaphane which has been shown to reduce the genetic activity of certain cancer cells (file picture)
Researchers in Italy and Denmark found that bioactives in broccoli (240g eaten each day for ten days) protected smokers from DNA damage.
The beneficial effect stopped as soon as they took broccoli out of their diets.
Like other cruciferous veg (pak choi, kale and cabbage) it contains sulforaphane. This has been shown to reduce the genetic activity of certain cancer cells, as well as increase that of tumour-suppressor genes that activate a defence against cancer.
Oysters and oyster sauce
Oysters are a great source of the amino acid taurine, which protects DNA against free radical damage. It also contains the amino acid cysteine and peptides that create a powerful antioxidant called glutathione.
Oyster sauce is an especially potent DNA protector, as oysters are boiled down to create an extract containing concentrated bioactives. Add oyster sauce for flavour and DNA protection when you make a stir-fry.
Seafood has antioxidant effects that counter the devastation of DNA (file picture)
Seafood has antioxidant effects that counter the devastation of DNA that is caused by free radicals, which, if left unchecked, might otherwise go on to be cancerous.
Salmon is a good source, but hake tops the list.
This is closely followed by cockles and clams, fresh tuna and kingfish.
Studies show a high intake of marine omega-3s (100g per day) is associated with a 46 per cent reduced risk of aggressive colon cancers.
The main bioactive in turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to increase the activity of tumour-suppressor genes, particularly those linked with colon cancer and leukaemia.
Curcumin also protects the health of your blood vessels, and studies show it can trigger DNA changes that cause brain cancer cells to die.
Rosemary, basil, marjoram, sage, thyme and peppermint contain rosmarinic acid, which, scientists have found, can prevent the blocking of tumour-suppressor genes in human breast cancer cells.
… AND THE FOODS TO AVOID
High-fat diets have been shown to cause changes to DNA that impair the liver’s ability to regenerate. Since the liver is key to detoxifying the blood, this can lead to a build-up of toxins and contribute to inflammation.
Meat processing can generate chemicals called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which provoke inflammation, causing oxidative stress in cells and damage to your DNA.
Studies also show that the preservatives and high salt content found in ham, bacon, burgers and sausages can accelerate the ageing process, too.
Unprocessed red meat — in moderation — contains useful compounds such as vitamin B and iron, but it also has unhealthy saturated fats, associated with an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
It also contains a compound your gut bacteria metabolises to generate a chemical called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). This is linked to the development of obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal cancers, and heart disease.
One can of sugary or artificially sweetened fizzy drink a day is enough to considerably accelerate the ageing process — almost as much as smoking cigarettes.
Extracted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Eat To Beat Disease: The Body’s Five Defence Systems And The Foods That Could Save Your Life by Dr William Li, published by Vermilion in paperback at £16.99.
To order a copy for £13.60 (offer valid to 23/9/19; P&P free on orders over £15), call 0844 571 0640.
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