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Protect Yourself: Diet and Nutrition...and Super-Nutrition

Through the early 1990s, an intense debate took place in scientific circles over whether some nutrients, such as Vitamins C & E, calcium, coenzyme Q10 and Zinc -- taken at levels well above the federal government's recommended daily allowance (RDA) -- provide benefits beyond their traditionally defined "essential functions."

The use of foods for medical purposes dates back many centuries. But advocates of super-nutrition base their position on modern science -- specifically, anecdotal evidence that certain nutrients, taken in huge doses, can reverse things like early-stage cancer tumors.

Scientists argue that cancer is not an on-off switch. It's more like a gradual deterioration with built-in stops. These stops are biological mechanisms: DNA repairs, cell-to-cell communications and other mechanisms in the body that check the spread of cancer.

The super-nutrition theory holds that you can "feed" these stops so that the body can participate more effectively in the recovery and illness protection process.

Nutrition and exercise ought to be protective factors. Unfortunately, for most, they are not. On any given day, only 18 percent of Americans eat cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli, radishes, watercress and brussels sprouts) and only 16 percent eat whole grains. The rest of us are eating junk food.

The relationship between nutrition and immune function has been recognized for many years. Malnutrition can impair the human body's defense mechanisms, decreasing resistance to infection.

While the immune function has been associated with AIDS research, it also plays an important role in the health status of people, including the elderly, who have high incidences of infectious disease.

The changes that occur with aging are partly due to changes in nutritional status. By manipulating the diet appropriately, you may able to reverse or delay these changes.

For example, vitamin E is one of the few nutrients that has been shown to enhance immune functions and blood flow when taken in doses above the RDA. Vitamin E may help prevent coronary heart disease; as an antioxidant, it also prevents the oxidation of LDL (lowdensity lipoprotein) cholesterol and the formation of blood clots.

Tests done on animals receiving various doses of vitamin E have indicated increased resistance to infectious diseases. So, vitamin E may help reduce the risk of infectious disease in the elderly -- and anyone else for that matter -- when taken in high doses.

Dieting does the most good by what it prevents. Being overweight increases your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular problems and several kinds of cancer. So, it's good not to be overweight.

So, losing weight and lowering your cholesterol will not make you healthy. These things will simply make you less unhealthy.

As we mentioned in the previous chapter, risk is relative. Being lean and in-shape doesn't make you healthy per se, but it makes you healthier as compared to if you were overweight and lethargic.

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