How to Reduce the Risk of Nutritional Diseases

Published August 1, 2005

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of diseases related to poor nutrition. Rates of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and obesity are all rising rapidly. No changes to public policy are likely to control or reduce spending on medical care so long as this epidemic continues.

In this column, public health scientists Alice and Fred Ottoboni describe simple dietary and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce the risk of modern nutritional diseases and, at the same time, improve one’s health and sense of well-being. These suggestions are taken from the Ottobonis’ 2002 book, The Modern Nutritional Diseases and How to Prevent Them (Vincente Books Inc., [email protected], ISBN 0-915241-03-X) and appear here with the authors’ permission.

Review Nutritional Supplements

Make a list in your diary of the amounts of each vitamin, mineral, other nutritional supplement, and herb you are regularly taking. This will document your current status, enable you to evaluate your current intakes, and determine where they may be lacking or even possibly in excess.

Michael A. Murray’s Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements and James A. Duke’s The Green Pharmacy are excellent sources of information about nutritional supplements and commonly used herbs, respectively.

Supplement Your Diet

At a minimum, take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement. If you are taking prescription drugs, talk to your physician before taking any other supplements or herbs.

After medical consultation and/or review of your current program, consider taking the following supplements in addition to a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement. The following are especially important for people past middle age:

Vitamin C: Consider taking 1,000-2,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily. Take it in divided doses, preferably as ascorbic acid crystals dissolved in a glass of water. One quarter of a teaspoon of crystals equals approximately 1,000 milligrams.

B Vitamins: Consider a daily B-complex supplement that contains at least 10 milligrams of B6, 400 micrograms of B12, and 400 micrograms of folic acid. If you cannot find a combination product, take them as individual supplements. The combination will help protect against cardiovascular damage caused by excessive blood homocysteine levels, as described by Kilmer McCully in The Heart Revolution. Individuals worried about cardiovascular damage and high cholesterol levels should also read Uffe Ravnskov’s The Cholesterol Myths and Barry Sears’ Enter the Zone on the impact of diet on cholesterol levels.

Calcium/Magnesium: For bone health, drink at least a quart of whole or 2 percent milk (not skim) a day. A quart provides about 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 130 milligrams of magnesium.

Because dietary magnesium should be about half to three-quarters that of calcium (for good heart health and function), take a supplement of 500-600 milligrams of magnesium for each quart of milk you drink. If for any reason you do not drink milk, take daily supplements containing about 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 to 750 milligrams of magnesium.

Sulfur/Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): Organic sulfur in the average diet is provided only by the two sulfur amino acids in protein, cysteine and methionine. Low-protein diets are deficient or, at best, only marginal in organic sulfur. Take 750-1,000 milligrams of methylsulfonyl methane (MSM) a day. The only sulfur the body can use to make skin, hair, connective tissue, hormones, enzymes, and helper biochemicals of all sorts is organic sulfur. The great importance of sulfur is described by Stanley W. Jacobs in The Miracle of MSM: The Natural Solution for Pain.

Selenium: Be cautious in supplementing with selenium. The margin of safety between the amount that is essential and the amount that is toxic is very narrow. Check the label of any vitamin and mineral supplements you are taking to make sure you are getting at least 50 micrograms and no more than 100 micrograms a day.

Bilberry: This is an herb that supplies valuable anthocyanosides that are important for the integrity of blood vessels, especially those in the retina of the eye. The same or similar anthocyanosides are found in blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries.

Rather than taking a daily herbal preparation, consider an ice-cream-like dish that contains blueberries. The recipe is: 1/4 to 1/2 cup of plain full-fat or plain low-fat yogurt, 1 heaping teaspoon lecithin granules, 1 teaspoon flax oil, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup frozen blueberries. Mix ingredients together well, and eat before the blueberries thaw completely. This is a delicious, healthful dessert for any meal.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Take 30-100 milligrams of alpha-lipoic acid a day. Alpha-lipoic acid is an important antioxidant and coenzyme that participates in many biochemical reactions. Although the body can make alpha-lipoic acid, its biosynthesis declines with age while the need for it increases.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ): Take a daily supplement of 30-100 milligrams of CoQ. CoQ is of vital importance in the utilization of oxygen by all cells and tissues of the body. The heart, with the greatest oxygen demand of any tissue, needs a good supply of CoQ. The aging process increases the need for CoQ but reduces the ability of the body to synthesize it.

Perhaps more important, many drugs, including the commonly prescribed statins for high cholesterol, produce deficiencies of CoQ. A deficiency of CoQ leads to heart disease, including congestive heart failure, caused by a weakened heart muscle.

Lecithin: Lecithin, which should be classed as a food, is an inexpensive yet very important nutritional source of phospholipids. A heaping teaspoon a day mixed in with any food provides a good supply of phosphatidyl groups. Lecithin is an excellent emulsifier that can be used in soups and stews to blend together the oil and water phases. The blueberry dessert mentioned above is a good way to take lecithin.

Trimethylglycine (TMG): TMG is widely distributed in plants and animals, albeit in small amounts. In nutrition it supplies methyl groups (one-carbon units) that are required for a number of important biochemical processes. Therefore, an occasional or even daily supplement of 500 milligrams is appropriate for a reasonable supply of methyl groups.