Dr. Rex Mahnensmith is an internist practicing in Waterbury, Connecticut. Dr. Mahnensmith specializes in Geriatrics, Internal Medicine, Nephrology, and Diabetes.
Our daily food and beverage intake may be a matter of deep thought and careful selection. Or, our daily food and beverage intake may be a matter simply of convenience, routine, habit, and taste. What has become clear from many years of impressive scientific research is that daily nutrient flows impact our internal health and wellness immensely. What we eat can have a subtle negative impact or a huge negative impact. What we do not eat also can have negative consequences on our tissue integrities and cellular health and functions. Thus, being thoughtful, careful, informed, selective, balanced, regulated, and even "scientific" with our daily food and beverage choices is essential for best health.
The human body is an amazing and spectacular being. Human life, like most animal life, begins when two "germ cells" unite within a unique, nurturing micro-environment. These two cells become "one", then "two", then "four", and this very vulnerable and fragile "being" keeps growing and growing by cell divisions and cell differentiations. In a matter of weeks, this "embryo" has recognizable features: one end is taking the form of a "head." One surface is taking the long ridge form of a "spine." The "torso" begins to "sprout" buds of "limbs," which eventually grow and differentiate further into "arms with hands" and "legs with feet." Internally, "tissues" and "organs" form. Brain tissue differentiates. Heart muscle with chambers develops. Lung tissues differentiate and grow. Kidneys form in an amazing differentiation process. The liver and pancreas sprout and differentiate and the intestine takes from from specialized tissues and then differentiates into colon, small intestine, and stomach. Tissue cells specialize through amazing genetically-driven morphologic and functional steps.
When born 8-9 months later, the human being-body is truly awesome and amazingly complex. Most often the human being-body is practically perfect. Now a deep question to ponder is this: how did these cells and tissues and organs grow into specialized body parts that cooperate and sustain life? Nutrients were essential. Oxygen was essential. Chemical balance was essential. And of course, sequential gene activities were essential, all supported and enabled by nutrients and oxygen and chemical balance. And, an absolutely essential aspect of the human embryogenesis was a consistent, unchanging micro-environment with consistent, selected nutrient supplies through the mother's blood stream, uterus, and the uterine-placental interfaces, which serve to "assure consistency."
After birth, though, this human enters an environment that changes from minute to minute, featuring wide nutrient variations with periods of scarcity, periods of excess, and major variations in quality. This human thus becomes threatened, and his/her body changes. Tissue natures change. Organs may become laden with glycogen and/or fat. Muscles may thin and atrophy. Bones become brittle. The brain tissues lose synaptic connections. Lung alveoli collapse. Kidneys may scar. Gastrointestinal endothelial lining cells change, become inflamed, become thinner, lose mucus protection, and mucosal integrity breaks down. Then repair cells take over with the threat of altered cell natures, becoming dysplastic and neoplastic.
One might challenge this thesis presented above because most humans seem to live without disease or disability from day to day. However, the changes are subtle, slowly evolving, sometimes repaired by natural processes, and sometimes compensated by residual organ capacities. For example, we can lose over 30% of kidney tissue to scarring and not know it by blood testing or by any change in how we feel. We can lose 30% of liver function and not know it by blood tests or change in symptoms. Each of our organs has residual functional capacities that seem to be present for the purpose of "backing up" the organ's functional purposes.
Yet, change in all tissues happens day by day. How? We know more and more. Oxidation is one major process that begets tissue changes. Oxidation is harmful and oxidation is an internal process that persists minute after minute. Our bodies must have anti-oxidants and must have anti-oxidant re-supply continuously.
Cells die each day. And are replaced by new cells. Cell death seems to be a natural and "programmed" event. Cell replenishment is natural. But, more rapid cell deaths are a problem for us. Oxidation speeds cell death. Anti-oxidant actions slow cell deaths.
One major factor in the oxidation-anti-oxidation balance is glucose. Glucose! one might exclaim.
Yes, glucose. Glucose is our primary cell energy source. Glucose is a simple molecule present in virtually all plants and animals that might be consumed as "food." In nature glucose exists as a simple molecule and exists as a structural component of larger chain molecules, such as cellulose and starches. Glucose is one component also of sucrose. Fructose is the other. Cellulose, starch, and sucrose cannot be absorbed across our intestinal walls into our blood stream. These complex molecules must be "digested" first into simple monosaccharide components. Glucose is absorbable. Fructose is absorbable. Once absorbed both circulate, but fructose cannot serve as a cell fuel. Fructose settles in the liver where it becomes a component of "fatty acids" and "glycogen." Glucose however will circulate. The issue here is that a glucose molecule cannot circulate in our blood stream for much longer than about 90-120 minutes before it undergoes a molecular fracture and then becomes an oxidizing agent. The glucose molecule that is not taken into tissues fairly promptly to serve as "energy" inside the tissue cell and thus circulates and circulates becomes a true hazard to blood vessel walls and circulating proteins. When fractured, the glucose molecule changes into an "aldehyde" molecule which is highly reactive. This changed molecule will react in what is termed a "glycation" reaction. The "glucose-now-aldehyde" will adhere to proteins and cell walls and change their nature and structure. This is harmful.
Of concern? Yes. Glycated hemoglobin is measured routinely in routine screening blood tests. Glycated hemoglobin values are above normal in more than 50% of adults in the United States. Individuals with elevated glycated hemoglobin values are either "Pre-Diabetic" or overtly "Diabetic."
Now, how compelling is it that we exercise discipline and self-control regarding our nutrient intake day by day? Well, we do have internal processes which repair and renew our cells and tissues daily. However, daily insults from poor food and beverage choices do accumulate. We do experience the "truth" and the "consequences" of "unhealthy" and "threatening" food choices.
Carbohydrates vary immensely in nature. We must be selective. Protein sources also vary and data inform us that some choices are healthy and some not healthy. Quantity matters for both. And fat sources vary immensely also. Saturated fats are much less healthy and unsaturated fats, and there is a lot to discuss. What we eat does impact cell and tissue health. What we don't eat impacts cell and tissue health also.
In subsequent articles, I will delve deeply and broadly into these topics. Thank you.