The Nutrition-Health Connection

“Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” Edward Stanley, British Prime Minister from 1866 to 1868.   

Is nutrition directly correlated with overall health? This centuries-old question has been asked by patients and medical professionals worldwide. While skeptics have criticized fad diets and conspiracy theories on the subject, data, personal stories, and scientific evidence have, over the years, shown an interesting correlation between what we put in our bodies and how we feel.    

Below are three health conditions Americans face every day; conditions in which nutrition plays a surprising and alarming role.  

Cancer  

According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly two million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and over 600,000 died from the disease. While there is no evidence to show that nutrition can cure cancer, data does show that regular consumption of certain foods can raise cancer risks in some individuals.   

According to the World Health Organization, processed meat such as deli meats, cured bacon, and hot dogs are classified as Group 1 carcinogens meaning they create a cancer risk similar to cigarette smoking. Additionally, red meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.) was described as a Class 2A carcinogen, which the WHO describes as “probably carcinogenic.” This data was formed following the evaluation of over 800 studies by scientists worldwide.  

 “Conclusions were primarily based on the evidence for colorectal cancer. Data also showed positive associations between processed meat consumption and pancreatic and prostate cancer,” read an article from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.   

Additionally, research shows that men who regularly consume a  “Western Diet red and processed meats, refined grains, and dairy not only have an increased risk of prostate cancer, but that those with prostate cancer have an increased mortality rate post-diagnosis.   

In addition to meat, a recent study showed a direct link between dairy and breast cancer. Over 50,000 North American women participated in the study, which found that the consumption of cow’s milk raised the breast cancer risk in women by between 22% and 50%. However, conflicting data on the subject has been commonplace for decades so the jury is still out on whether these findings should involve recommendations for breast cancer prevention.   

Alzheimer’s Disease   

Over six million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s a number that has risen by 16% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, the Alzheimer’s Association provided new data showing that COVID-19 can not only cause long-term cognitive degeneration, but that the virus can also accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s.   

In 2011, Oregon State University conducted an Alzheimer’s study in an attempt to discover a link between the disease and nutrition. Since the study began, new research methods, such as nutrient “biomarkers,” have aided in the discovery of groundbreaking data that provides some hope for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.   

“We do know that deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, particularly B6, B9, and B12 vitamins and vitamin D can exacerbate age-related decline in cognitive function,” said Kathy Magnusson, OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) cognition expert and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.   

In July, Dr. Magnusson hosted an LPI webinar, titled, “Why You and Your Dog Can’t Find Your Keys: This is Your Brain on Aging,” which explores cognitive function in older adults. In the video, Dr. Magnusson explained that, although specific diets cannot currently be recommended, the National Institute on Aging does suggest the “My Plate” diet for older adults, which consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, white meat, and occasional dairy. In addition, the Mediterranean diet, which is largely similar to the My Plate diet, shows promise.   

“They are currently doing the double-blinded controlled studies with that [Mediterranean diet],” said Magnusson.    

She added that polyphenols and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in foods such as fish, dark chocolate, and berries, have been shown to improve brain activity and decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s.   

“There are a lot of dietary factors, such as long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B6 and 12, that show enhancement in cognitive function in animal and human studies, but nothing has sufficient evidence from multiple well-controlled clinical trials to rise to the level of being recommended by the National Institute on Aging or the neuroscientists at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Association,” Magnusson said.   

Magnusson also noted that it is imperative that you consult with your doctor before opting to take any vitamin supplements, as they could interact with other medications.   

Multiple Sclerosis   

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that can carry a lethal prognosis; it’s a neurological condition that causes damage to the brain and spinal cord. As a result, MS patients often suffer from symptoms such as mobility issues, numbness in extremities, and cognitive dysfunction.   

According to the National MS Society, nearly one million Americans are currently fighting this disease, with twice as many cases in the northern states than in the southern. Additionally, Canada currently has the highest number of MS cases, with a rate of 291 per 100,000 people.  Researchers believe that, because of this pattern, certain environmental factors such as vitamin D levels play a role in MS prevention and care. According to Mayo Clinic, recent studies have shown that MS patients who take vitamin D supplements may experience some relief in symptoms and slowing disease progression.  

Evidence also suggests that diet plays a significant role in the treatment of MS. In 2017, MS patient Mathew Embry created a documentary entitled “Living Proof,” which is currently available on Amazon Prime, revealing his 20-year journey with MS and his secrets to living relapse-free without prescription medications.  

Immediately following his 1995 diagnosis, Embry’s father, researcher Dr. Ashton Embry, created the “Best Bet for MS Diet,” which Embry began six weeks post-diagnosis. The diet calls for the total elimination of dairy, gluten, legumes, foods that are high in sugar, and foods that you are allergic or sensitive to. Foods with saturated and polyunsaturated fats, non-gluten grains, and alcohol are to be limited. Foods that should be consumed in high quantities are low animal fat protein, fruits (particularly berries), and vegetables.   

Embry adds that supplements are also a major part of his dietary regime, recommending vitamin D3, Omega3 essential fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, probiotics, and others. Like Magnusson, Embry encourages patients to seek medical advice before starting any new supplements.   

Similar to Embry, MS patient and Professor George Jelinek, MD, has found alternative diet and lifestyle treatments for his disease. Jelinek authored the book, Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis: The Evidence-Based 7-Step Recovery Program, in which he outlines his research-based treatment plan. Jelinek’s regime includes a strict diet like Embry’s, although Jelinek’s eliminates the consumption of meat altogether, and allows grains and legumes. Jelinek was diagnosed with MS in 1999 and has since lived relapse-free with his strict diet and lifestyle.   

Both Jelinek and Embry have helped thousands of MS patients achieve the same results.   

Overall Wellness   

In addition to these conditions, nutrition has been considered an important factor in many areas of health. Corvallis Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, Samantha Evans, said that nutrients such as fish oil, Omega2, and turmeric have been helpful with many of her patients of various conditions. Additionally, she said that Brazil nuts, which are high in selenium, could aid in thyroid function.   

When asked if she recommends a certain diet overall, Evans noted that, while everyone is an individual and one diet does not fit all, certain elimination diets have been shown to be helpful in her patients. Furthermore, she added that she does not recommend diets such as the “Whole 30” due to egg allowance eggs are listed as one of the “14 food allergens” as well as a common food intolerance.  

Finally, obesity affects nearly half of the U.S. population and is rising steadily. Obesity not only affects patients’ quality of life but also can lead to fatal conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, obese individuals who contract COVID-19 have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms. Maintaining a healthy diet greatly reduces the risk of obesity and its related health conditions.   

By: Rebekah Harcrow