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Food is medicine, including dark chocolate!

Caroline Kavanagh | Oct 11, 2019

From the moment we take our first breath to the day we take our last, our bodies are working hard to defend our health. If we look to scientific research today around food, we can discover how what we eat can enhance our bodies ability to protect and regenerate itself. Our grocery store can become our drugstore if we look to the scientific research. Food as medicine is not a new concept. Indigenous people from around the world have looked at food as a precious substance, a source of renewal and a health-keeping scorecard. Not only to just survive but to do good for the self.

All of the defense systems in our bodies are our personal "security systems." These special forces work around the clock, constantly patrolling, making sure everything is functioning smoothly so that we are safe inside. Let's take a quick look back to before you were born to find some evidence. STEM CELLS Stem cells are really simple ;) We are made up of them and they help us regenerate. When your Mom and Dad got together and created you in the womb – you were a stem cell. Egg and sperm got together, divided and became a stem cell factory. After we were born a few of those stem cells stuck around.... about 700 thousand of them :) They are still hanging out in our body in various places, in the lining of our intestines, under our skin, but most of them huddle around in our bone marrow. They help us regenerate. In grade school we learned that salamanders and starfish can regenerate but that people cannot. Right? Wrong! Well... we can't grow a new leg but we are regenerating everyday. We know we are constantly hitting the refresh button because our hair falls out and grows back, we clip our nails and they grow back, we scrape our skin and it grows back. If part of our liver is removed it will grow back! Stem cells quietly regenerate most of our organs “behind the scenes” as we age. The process happens at its own pace and is different for each organ: • Small intestine regenerates every two to four days. • Immune cells, every seven days • Lungs and stomach, every eight days. • Skin, every two weeks. • Red blood cells, every four months. • Fat cells, every eight years. • Skeleton, every ten years. The pace of regeneration also changes with age. When you are twenty-five years old, about one percent of cells in your heart are renewed annually. By the time you are seventy-five, only 0.45 percent of heart cells are renewed each year. Stem cells repair, replace, and regenerate dead and worn out cells. Like soldiers in the body, they gather intelligence and execute missions to keep organs in optimal shape. Whenever you suffer an injury or develop a disease, your stem cells spring into action to create new tissues that heal or help the body overcome the condition. This is your regenerative health defense system. LATEST RESEARCH The latest research is showing that stem cells are powerfully influenced by diet. Whether you are an athlete building muscle, or someone fighting aging, the right foods can help boost the number and performance of your stem cells and their ability to regenerate your body. You can eat to protect your heart, keep your mind sharp (brain regeneration), heal your wounds, and keep your body in youthful shape. Then why is it that if we are constantly regenerating that some of us are not a picture of health? Well, excesses of anything can be harmful and destroy stem cells. A few examples are high stress, high doses of alcohol, and high blood sugar. The biotech industries are busy developing stem cell therapies and currently those folks who can afford to have stem cell injections are able to reap the benefits of stem cell boosting. What is more exciting though is the research on food. Every single one of us can enhance our stem cells in a more affordable and enjoyable way. At the dinner table! I'm not talking about one magic food but various foods combined. Coupling foods and a way of eating that can promote and produce long-term health and fitness.

As I just stated.... there is no ONE super food but a plethora of foodstuff that we can consume that fosters numerous health benefits. Let's look at one example that just about everyone can agree is a "surprise" health food that can go on your grocery list today :) Dark chocolate! It might seem counterintuitive that eating dark chocolate (73% cacao and above) could lower the risks of having coronary artery disease but chocolate is a stem cell recruiting food. Cocoa powder contains bioactives called flavanols. Epidemiologists have long established a connection between the consumption of foods with flavanols and lower incidence of death from cardiovascular disease. At the University of California, San Francisco, researchers explored whether a chocolate drink made with cocoa containing high levels of flavanols could influence stem cells and blood vessel health. They recruited sixteen patients with known coronary artery disease and divided them into two groups. One group received the low flavanol content drink and the other group was given the high flavanol mixture (42 times more flavanol). Both groups drank the hot chocolate twice a day for thirty days. At the end of the study, the researchers compared blood work from before and after the experiment. Amazingly, participants who drank the high-flavanol drink had twice as many stem cells in their circulation compared to the people who drank the low-flavanol mixture. The researchers wanted to see if there was any improvement in blood flow. The high-flavanol group’s results in this test were two times better than at the beginning, demonstrating a functional benefit of the dark chocolate to circulation. In fact, the beneficial effect on stem cell levels was reported by the researchers to be comparable to that seen from taking statins, common cholesterol-lowering drugs also known to improve stem cell levels. WOW! Evidence-based science on the benefits of dark chocolate. Every plant based food has some kind of bioactive property and research studies are ongoing in every part of the world as evidence. These public health studies include hundreds of thousands of patients being studied and tracked all the time. The same kind of mindset used to study drugs is used today to study food and doses. A few foods that are of interest to me are those high in zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is a bioactive known as a carotenoid. It is a pigment that gives corn and saffron their yellow-orange color and also common in leafy green vegetables, like kale, mustard greens, spinach, watercress, collard greens, Swiss chard, and fiddleheads. Studies have shown that consuming zeaxanthin can help to protect the eye against the blinding condition age-related macular degeneration. This one hits home for me as macular degeneration is one gene that runs in my family. Food is not a substitute for medical treatment but rather a part of our daily routine that doesn't require a prescription. No whole food is universally good or bad. The impact of food on each person is unique depending upon a number of factors, including their genetic makeup. I teach folks the principles of Metabolic Efficiency Training (MET - nutrition) which is the simple practice of putting a meal together to balance blood sugar. Remember that word, "balance." Our bodies are constantly working to keep us in balance. What we eat and how those foods combined keep us satiated, energized and regenerating... ultimately crowding out the bad with the good. Maybe someday... sooner rather than later, science will evolve and we will discover how to regrow a leg or two :)

- Ron Milo and Rob Phillips, “How Quickly Do Different Cells in the Body Replace Themsleves?” - Cell Biology by the Numbers, “Lifespan of a Red Blood Cell,” Bionumbers - C. Heiss et al., “Improvement of Endothelial Function with Dietary Flavanols Is Associated with Mobilization of Circulating Angiogenic Cells in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease,” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 56, no. 3 (2010): 218–224. - Li, William W. " Eat to Beat Disease"

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