Phytochemicals are Information

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’ve no doubt heard the quotation from Hippocrates, “food is medicine”.

Yes, food is medicine, but it’s also information. The concept of “food is information” comes from the famous professor of biochemistry, Dr Jeffrey Bland, who is considered by many to be the father of Functional Medicine. It’s this information and the positive influences it can have on your immune system that I want to explore and share with you today.

Put very simply, food sends information signals to your genes. Your cells are continually interacting with the food molecules that come into your body. Certain foods cause a beneficial effect, some are neutral, while others are negative.

So why do you care? I assume, because you want a healthy immune system right now. You want to know what you can do to create more resilience in your immune system.

To that end, I want to introduce you to the information passed onto your genes from phytochemicals. “Phyto” means “plant”, so “phytochemicals” means, “plant chemicals”. Some people call them phytonutrients, just to emphasise their importance. Plants make these chemicals to protect themselves from infection and damage. You could liken them to natural pesticides.

By consuming phytochemicals in our diet, science has shown they have beneficial effects on our health. They act as antioxidants, influence our immune cells and are anti-inflammatory. For example, the phytochemical in black pepper, Peperine, increases white blood cell count and antibody production. Curcumin in turmeric is anti-inflammatory. Allicin is the phytochemical in garlic that gives it its characteristic odour, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Lycopene is the phytochemical in tomatoes (which by the way, is enhanced by cooking the tomatoes) that gives them their red colour, are particularly important for immune health. Research suggests that the phytochemicals in green vegetables ensure that white blood cells in the gut’s intestinal lining work properly. So please enjoy your rocket, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, Pak Choi, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and watercress.

Just be aware that there are many different phytochemical groups and many different chemical compounds within those groups, which can make this whole topic quite confusing. Here are some phytochemical groups that are known to benefit the immune system specifically:

  • Curcumin – Turmeric root and powder
  • Catechins – Green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, berries, cocoa
  • Carotenoids – Sweet potato, bell pepper, carrots, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables
  • Quercetin – Onions, apples, berries, broccoli, citrus,
  • Resveratrol – Grapes, berries, nuts, peanuts

Phytochemicals give plants their deep colours, so as a general rule of thumb, choose the ones with the deepest colour, like blueberries, cranberries, beetroot, sweet potato and ripe tomatoes. Choose every colour of the rainbow, purple, red, orange, yellow, green, tan and white and put two, three or more foods of each colour in your shopping trolley. When you consume these foods you’ll be feeding your beneficial gut bacteria with lots of natural fibre and in turn those bacteria help you extract the phytochemicals from the foods. Nature is so clever!

You’ll be pleased to hear that phytochemicals are anti-ageing too. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found a link between high polyphenol (a phytochemical group) consumption and a 30 percent decrease in mortality in elderly adults.

You’re no doubt thinking, that’s great, but how do I make this work for me? Well firstly you choose the rainbow of coloured fruits and vegetables when you go shopping; secondly you can have my immune-supporting recipe book here and thirdly, if you want personalised menu plans and recipes please contact me at dawn@newdawnhealth.co.uk

To your best health,

Dawn 🙂

References

Brindha, P., 2016. Role of phytochemicals as immunomodulatory agents: A review. International Journal of Green Pharmacy (IJGP)10(1).

Ding, S., Jiang, H. and Fang, J., 2018. Regulation of immune function by polyphenols. Journal of immunology research2018.https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jir/2018/1264074/

Li, Y., Innocentin, S., Withers, D.R., Roberts, N.A., Gallagher, A.R., Grigorieva, E.F., Wilhelm, C. and Veldhoen, M., 2011. Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation. Cell147(3), pp.629-640.

Ying Li, Silvia Innocentin, David R. Withers, Natalie A. Roberts, Alec R. Gallagher, Elena F.

Zamora-Ros, R., Rabassa, M., Cherubini, A., Urpí-Sardà, M., Bandinelli, S., Ferrucci, L. and Andres-Lacueva, C., 2013. High concentrations of a urinary biomarker of polyphenol intake are associated with decreased mortality in older adults. The Journal of nutrition143(9), pp.1445-1450.

What are you studying now, Dawn?

As I keep being asked this question, I thought I might say a little about what I am studying.

Officially, I’m studying for my third degree. This time around it’s in “Nutritional Therapy”, which to most of us means “Nutrition”. I will (if I can keep going) get a diploma in 3 years and a degree in 4 years from now. However, despite it’s name, our course is thoroughly founded on the principles of Functional Medicine (FM), which is what I want to explain.

The Institute of Functional Medicine was founded in America where a growing group of doctors are practising a “new” paradigm of medicine. It began way back in 1949 by a double nobel prize winning physician called Linus Pauling. The new paradigm is the belief that it isn’t our genes themselves that cause our health or otherwise, but how those genes are “expressed”. “Gene expression” means how our genes interact with our environment to cause or suppress disease. Dr Pauling firmly believed that one day, we would be able to manipulate or modify the expression of our genes to prevent disease.

Today, functional medicine is a system of medicine which seeks to prevent chronic diseases, those diseases we are so familiar with like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. FM seeks to find the cause of our symptoms because it is believed that  symptoms are the body’s attempt at correcting itself… they should not necessarily be suppressed without understanding what purpose they serve. FM practitioners don’t necessarily group all the symptoms together, give it a name or diagnosis and then prescribe drugs to suppress the symptoms.  Rather, they search for the causes of the symptoms, i.e. which body systems are suffering and how your genes are being affected by your environment. What are you doing to your body that is causing it not to work properly?  Once those processes have been identified, the treatment is to provide the body with what it needs to correct itself and remove any factors that are stopping the body from recovering. Each person is a new case and different to the last, even though the conventional medical diagnosis may be the same. The reason for this is that each person has his or her own unique biochemical makeup which must be treated individually.

FM is about giving the patient treatment choices to help themselves to achieve better health. FM practitioners believe that the body’s systems are a web of connections and to uncover the real causes, one must understand these complicated connections that span across gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, immunological and neurological systems. FM practitioners are therefore not specialists in cardiology, urology, neurology, focusing on just one body part or system as in conventional medicine.

FM works particularly well for preventing and treating chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, rather than treating sudden illness or trauma where conventional medicine excels. Disease is not seen as a separate entity which exists alone. Instead, health and disease are seen as points on a continuum between optimal wellness and ill-health. I particularly like this because it has always perplexed and frustrated me that conventional medicine says that you either have arteriosclerosis or you don’t…but surely, the build up of plaques on the inside of your artery walls is a gradual process, occurring slowly and often imperceptibly over decades, eventually reaching a point which requires treatment…either drugs or life saving surgery to open the blockage. Surely, it is better to catch small problems early rather then wait for them to be big problems later on?

I believe that prevention is better then cure and I very much hope that my efforts, in due course, will afford me the privilege of helping people help themselves, sooner rather than later!