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Reducing Your Risk of Early Death

by Sarah Cimperman, ND

The leading causes of death in the United States, by far, are heart disease and cancer. Women and men alike die more often from these two chronic illnesses than from all other causes combined. It’s not a coincidence, given that cardiovascular disease and cancer have some of the same underlying factors. The most significant may be inflammation and environmental toxicity.

Inside blood vessels, inflammation can trigger the formation of plaque and initiate atherosclerosis. As the disease progresses, blood vessels become thicker and more rigid, which reduces blood flow and prevents the expansion and contraction of arteries necessary to regulate the pressure inside. Inflammation also makes cells sticky, which makes the formation of blood clots more likely. Clots can stop circulation completely and when blood can’t flow to the heart, a heart attack happens. When blood flow is blocked in the brain, a stroke occurs.

Inflammation also affects growth and development. Inflammatory mediators stimulate cell division to replace damaged cells and inhibit cell death until tissues have time to rebuild. Inflammatory mediators also trigger the production of new blood vessels to increase circulation to affected areas, remove waste products, and deliver nutrients necessary for tissue repair. In normal cells, this promotes healing, but in abnormal cells, it promotes tumor growth and the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Chemicals in the environment also promote the development of cardio-vascular disease and cancer. Toxins promote inflammation, damage cells, disrupt hormones in the body, and turn genes on and off. While they can’t change our genetic code, toxins can change how our genes are expressed, and these epigenetic changes can be passed on to future generations. Some toxins are also carcinogenic. The President’s Cancer Panel reported in May 2010 that "the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated."

Besides inflammation and enviro-nmental toxicity, cardiovascular disease and cancer have something else in common: In many ways, they are preventable. We may inherit predis-positions toward these conditions, but whether or not they manifest depends largely on our environment, diet, and lifestyle. Fortunately, there are things we can do every day to fight inflammation, minimize exposure to environmental toxins, and reduce our risk of an early death from heart disease and cancer. Here are seven ways to get started.

#1 Lower your blood sugar.

High levels of blood sugar seen in prediabetes and type two diabetes can increase inflammation, prompt the body to store environmental toxins, and promote the development of cardio-vascular disease and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults and nearly one in four adolescents have prediabetes, and an estimated seven million cases of prediabetes remain undiagnosed. If your fasting blood glucose level is above 87 milliliters per deciliter, it’s time to make some changes. Studies show that when it comes to lowering high blood sugar, diet and lifestyle changes are more effective than medication.

#2 Stop smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.

Smoking causes inflammation and pollutes the body with toxins. And it’s one of the most common causes of heart disease and lung cancer. Research studies show that inhaling second hand smoke is also deadly and that quitting smoking at any age, regardless of how long you’ve been smoking, can have dramatic effects on life expectancy. A study from the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto found that people who quit smoking between the ages of 25 and 34 gained back all ten years of life expectancy they would have lost if they had continued to smoke. Those who quit between the ages of 35 and 44 gained back nine years, those who quit between 45 and 54 gained back six years, and people who quit by age 60 gained four years back.

#3 Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

Avoid foods that increase inflammation like sweets, starches, processed foods, and fake or damaged fats. Instead eat foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory fats like avocado, olives, coconut, raw nuts and seeds, non-toxic fish and seafood, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed meats, and cold-pressed oils. Green vegetables enhance the body’s ability to eliminate environmental toxins, so make them half of every meal, and be sure to include concentrated sources of protein because our bodies can’t eliminate toxins without it.

#4 Spice up your life.

Season your food with herbs and spices that fight inflammation and promote detoxification. These include cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, garlic, onions, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, parsley, cilantro, and citrus zest.

#5 Exercise regularly.

Exercise has anti-inflammatory effects on the body and it helps us eliminate toxins. Healthy adults need about three hours of exercise each week and unhealthy adults may need more. Physical activity should be a combination of aerobic, strengthening, and stretching exercises. If you don’t exercise already, or if you want to step up your routine, get permission from your doctor first.

#6 Manage Stress.

High levels of stress hormones like cortisol promote inflammation and compromise the body’s ability to detoxify. If you’re feeling stressed, learn techniques to manage it more effectively like relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or self-hypnosis.

#7 Detox once or twice a year.

Babies are born with up to 232 chemicals from the environment already inside their bodies and studies have found almost 500 different chemicals in people of all ages. Done correctly, detoxification removes toxins, reduces inflammation, and helps prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, among other conditions like prediabetes, type two diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

References are available upon request.

Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City and author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings (www.prediabetesdetox.com). Follow Dr. Cimperman on Facebook, Twitter and her blogs, A Different Kind of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet. Find her at www.drsarahcimperman.com .

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