Caruso Clinic

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What do Heart Disease, Breast Cancer and Diabetes Have in Common?

What Do Heart Disease, Breast Cancer, Diabetes and Depression have in Common?

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     Heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes and depression are four of the top ten health concerns that Canadians have. These diseases are on the rise in our female population, especially heart disease, diabetes and depression. All of these diseases have a commonalities. They can all be linked to certain nutritional or lifestyle factors and inflammation. We all have a genetic or hereditary component that may predispose us to certain diseases, but like a ship with sails, one can change the direction of disease's expression negatively or positively with lifestyle and dietary intervention.

     Scientists have known for centuries that genotype is related to genes and considered the hereditary component of disease. Phenotype is related to gene expression based on environmental influences. Phenotype controls whether that gene will be expressed or not. Some drug companies have lead us to believe that there is little we can do but take prescription drugs. As one may be aware of by watching American drug commercials, once you take one drug, you need another one to counter the many side effects they cause. One should weigh the pros and cons of any medication. Be aware that living a prudent and preventative lifestyle may reduce one's need for medication in the first place. Diet and lifestyle is key for good health and can actually reduce one's risk disease whether hereditary or not.    

     Let us take a look at how and why our modern society is creating a good environment for diabetes, depression, heart disease and breast cancer to flourish:

     Activity levels have dropped considerably due to modern conveniences. In years gone by people grew their own vegetables, housework and lawn maintenance were more physically taxing. Recent studies show that only 15% of Canadians get 150 minutes of exercise per week, that is a measly 20 minutes per day. Yet when surveyed 50% of Canadians actually said they were moderately active which is three hours of exercise classes per week. Exercise has been found to benefit depression, heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.

     Studies have shown that exercise is actually equivalent to taking anti-depressants in those suffering from depression. Studies found exercise was as effective as a SSRI or the anti-depressant drug  zoloft. Another study in 2005 found just 35 minutes of brisk walking had a significant impact on mood in mild and moderate depression. If you read the side effects caused by anti depressants, it is worthwhile considering joining an aerobics class, running or cycling a few days a week instead. Some of the side effects include dry mouth, nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desire, insomnia and constipation. Is it normal for a human being with two legs to sit all day? You see caged animals at the zoo become depressed when they are not exercised enough and have environmental stimulation.

     In women with breast cancer studies have shown that the mortality rate dropped a whopping 35% in those who were physically active. According to the Susan Komen foundation, women who exercise are leaner with less body fat, have lower estrogen levels, better immune systems and in turn less hormonal breast cancer incidence.

     Exercise actually lowers blood sugar levels which is a benefit to both breast cancer sufferers (because it can be linked to diabetes) and to diabetics. We all know that cardiovascular disease is helped by doing aerobic activity to strengthen the heart. Add in weight bearing activities a few times a week help to prevent osteoporosis and increase muscle mass as well. As one can see, making a choice to be accountable and active provides us with multiple benefits into old age.

     Obesity rates have risen in Canada. 18% of Canadian women are obese and have a body mass index of greater than 30. Almost half of all Canadians fall into the overweight and obese category. More men than women seem to fall into this category, however, Canadian women weigh more with each decade that passes. Breast cancer, depression, heart disease and diabetes are all linked to being overweight. Putting on weight in the form of fat, especially around the midsection, is linked to certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes. In the clinic we don't use the BMI (body mass index) as a marker for health and weight, because it doesn't take into account the weight of someone's body frame and muscles. We use a body impedance analysis to check one's body fat percentage and their hip to waist ratio. We use this information to address people's unique metabolism and how we can best help them to achieve a healthy body composition.


     Stress levels have been linked to all four diseases. High cortisol from stress is linked to an increase in belly fat, poor sleep and carbohydrate cravings. Lower levels of cortisol may signify a condition called adrenal fatigue. Flatter levels of cortisol measured throughout the day seem to have an impact on breast cancer survival rates. The lower the cortisol levels the poorer the survival rates. Alternatively too high a level of the stress hormone, cortisol, is also be linked to heart attacks and stroke. Studies have shown those with the highest levels of cortisol are five times more likely to die of a heart attack. Diabetes too can be influenced by cortisol because cortisol's main function is to thwart the effect of insulin, which means it renders the cells insulin resistant. The body remains in a general insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in the blood remain high, the cells cannot get the sugar they need, and the cycle continues. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can impact those with depression and anxiety. It is wise to seek help or modify your lifestyle using meditation, yoga, tai chi or exercise to reduce stress levels. If you still have trouble with stress, contact the clinic for a supplement that may address your unique needs. Have a look at our online questionnaire for stress.

     Nutrition is a huge topic and largely individual. In our clinic we screen people for nutritional deficiencies and address them through diet or supplementation. Some common deficiencies found in all four of these diseases are as follows:

     Omega 3 fatty acids are low due to unique biochemical needs or lack of dietary intake. Dietary sources of omega 3s are salmon, arctic char, trout, calamari, flaxseed and mackerel. Often times supplementation is required because people don't eat fish as often due to scarcity, cost and contamination from heavy metals in our water supply. Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid, that every cell in the body requires. They help to form the fat layer that protect each cell and helps them communicate. Those who are on very low fat diets may actually fall prey to infectious diseases and cancer. EPA is a component of fish oil that is both anti-inflammatory and beneficial for the heart. DHA is another component of omega 3s that is good brain food and help those with depression. Those with diabetes may be low in omega 3s because they tend to have more inflammation due to blood sugar fluctuations.

     A high glycemic diet, which is a diet that is high in foods that flip into a sugar quickly in the bloodstream, are linked to all four diseases. Diabetics are recommended to reduce their sugar and carbohydrate intake to keep their blood sugar stable. High glycemic diets tend to increase belly fat, weight and in turn the risk of diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and depression. Depression symptoms may be triggered by blood sugar instability. If a person eats a lot of high glycemic foods such as white bread, rice, flour and sugar, their blood sugar rises higher than if one ate a lower glycemic food like a lean protein (eggs, fish, chicken, turkey) or a healthy fat (nuts, avocado, olive or coconut oil). What comes up must come down. Often high glycemic foods cause the blood sugar to rise and then drop farther than normal. Since our brain requires a steady supply of glucose, we can become irritable, moody, depressed or fatigued when our blood sugar is up and down.(Keep in mind you don't need to eat sugar to keep your glucose stores in your brain high. Your liver makes glycogen from regular food you eat.)

     A high intake of oxidized plant oils, hydrogenated and/or trans fat can be detrimental. One may cook with them or be eating them inadvertently in packaged goods. Trans fats (and alcohol consumption) actually deplete the brain of DHA which is found in omega 3 and helpful for those with depression, ADHD and other neurological conditions. Unhealthy fats are actually pro-inflammatory which can impact those with diabetes and heart disease negatively. Inflammation causes pain as well as damage to blood vessels, nerves, eyes, heart and joints. Trans fats have been linked to cancer, especially colon cancer in women with high estrogen levels. One may assume this research may apply to any hormonal cancer such as ovarian, uterine or breast. For a list of healthy cooking oils, see eating rules.

     Society has got into the convenience of fast packaged foods and all in one shakes. Some shakes are healthy but most of them are no more than astronaut food. Many people do not eat enough sources of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh local produce has the most amount of nutrients because they don't lose nutrients in shipping. They contain many beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants for good health. Studies showed that each serving of fruits and vegetables one ate per day, improved one's chance of not getting heart disease by a whopping four percent. Your Mom called, get eating your veg now!

     A study of older adults with lower intakes of mother nature's bounty had lower levels of antioxidants from their food intake and a higher incidence of depression. Studies found that women with a higher body mass index who ate more green leafy and dark yellow vegetables had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. Those women who were leaner with a higher vegetable intake had less incidence of diabetes as well. Those women who were overweight did not benefit from starchy vegetable intake at all (such as white potato or corn). Another study found that green leafy veggies alone were best to prevent diabetes. Studies also found that premenopausal breast cancer risk was significantly less in those who consumed the most fruits and vegetables. Another study that looked at a number of sources of data found an inverse relationship between a high intake of cruciferous vegetable consumption, (cruciferous vegetables are cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens and arugula) and breast cancer. So the more of these types of veggies you eat, the less incidence of breast cancer.

     What do all these factors have in common? Low levels of plant foods, unhealthy fats, stress, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increases inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been thought to trigger cardiovascular damage, brain inflammation in depression, wild inflammatory cells in breast cancer and uncontrolled sugar causes inflammation in diabetes that may lead to further complications such as heart disease, cancer and neuropathy. Our body works like an orchestra, with each cord we play a different result may ensue. This is why we need to reign in environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle so we and our family can live healthy into our golden years. There are so many unique aspects to health for the individual, thus it is a good idea to be screened to determine your unique barriers to health.