[Your History Is NOT Your Destiny
Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food.
Kathy has had type 2 diabetes for years and has taken medication to help keep it under control. Although she knew she should stay away from foods containing sugar and simple carbohydrates, she found it difficult to resist her cravings. And, although she also knew losing weight would benefit her health, shedding pounds had always been a struggle.
I MET KATHY AT SADDLEBACK Church in southern California, where my husband and I attend services. The church is led by Pastor Rick Warren, who has inspired millions of followers through his ministry and his bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life. In 2011, he had challenged thousands of parishioners to lose weight and improve their health with a program called the Daniel Plan. Dr. Mehmet Oz; Dr. Mark Hyman; and my husband, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, helped motivate 15,000 people to lose more than 125 tons of weight. I also was deeply involved in the Daniel Plan, teaching nutrition based on the Omni Diet principles, creating instructional videos, and supplying recipes and motivational tips.
One Sunday morning, an attractive, middle-aged woman — Kathy — introduced herself to me.
"Hi, I'm Tana," I responded.
"Oh, I know who you are," she said with a big smile. "I've watched your videos on the Daniel Plan Web site. I've made many of your recipes and have followed your tips."
"So, how are you doing?" I asked.
Kathy's smile grew even wider. "I started following the Daniel Plan about ten weeks ago. I had been reluctant to try it because I thought it would be hard. But it's really pretty easy. And I've lost sixteen pounds."
"Congratulations! That's great!" I said. "You must feel wonderful about your weight loss!"
"I do, but that's not what I'm most excited about."
By this time, Kathy was absolutely beaming.
"Once I started the plan," Kathy explained, "I lost all my cravings for sugar within a matter of days! I started eating a much healthier diet, and I no longer had an interest in eating cake, cookies, and all of the other sugary junk that I used to love. My blood sugar began dropping immediately."
"Congratulations! That's fantastic!" I said. Kathy's story reminded me of so many other people I know whose blood sugar and insulin levels had fallen dramatically once they cut out sugar and simple carbohydrate–filled foods, such as bread, muffins, rice, pasta, and anything made with flour.
"There's more to the story," Kathy continued. "This is the best part of all. When I went for a diabetes checkup last week, my doctor told me I no longer have to take diabetes medication. For the first time in years, I'm off my meds! I can't believe it's that simple after only ten weeks!" Seeing the joy on Kathy's face brought tears to my eyes because I know how significant this type of change is in people's lives. She eliminated her need for a very strong daily medication by doing one thing: eating in a new way.
Simply by swapping life-threatening foods for life-supporting foods, Kathy learned to break free from a disease that plagues more than 25 million Americans and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. And she did it in only ten weeks! Imagine how much more good health there is in Kathy's future if she continues her new way of eating!
It sounds unbelievable, but it's true. For Kathy and many other people who suffer from chronic illness — such as diabetes, irritable bowel disease, fibromyalgia, rosacea, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, heart disease, depression, and many others — food can be more powerful than medicine.
WITNESS THE POWER OF FOOD
I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST PHARMACEUTICAL drugs — when used appropriately, they play a crucial role in good health. They have the power to save lives. They saved my life! Let me be clear: I am not telling you to stop filling your prescriptions! Nor should you feel bad or guilty if you do take medications — I happily take my medication and thank God for it because it helps keep me healthy. The Omni Diet is not an anti-medication program. It's an optimal-health program.
What I do have a problem with is the indiscriminate use of powerful medication alone to manage potentially lethal chronic illnesses without proper education about the incredible influence of simple lifestyle modification. A pill may seem like a quick fix, but in my experience managing a chronic illness is almost never that easy. I've worked with thousands of people who have been frustrated to find that their prescriptions are rarely the ticket off the roller-coaster ride of illness, medication, side effects, flare-ups, and really bad days that result from poor health. Medication doesn't give your body everything it needs for health or quality of life. You can think you are doing everything right by following doctor's orders and still feel incredibly sick.
Food can be as healing as a medication. Or, it can be as toxic as a poison. The trick is to harness its amazing power rather than be destroyed by it. By choosing the right foods you, like Kathy, can break some of the bonds of chronic disease. You can positively change the action of your immune system, hormones, genes, and blood sugar. You can help slash your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and many other diseases. In many cases, food, along with lifestyle modification, can be as effective as — or even more effective than — pharmaceutical medications. And great, healthy foods don't have all those frightening side effects that you hear so rapidly described at the tail end of pharmaceutical television commercials.
Mother Nature has packed countless powerful benefits into food. It is truly nature's medicine! With the incredible changes you are likely to see with the Omni Diet, you (and your doctor) may discover that you don't need as much medication as you once did. Or you may no longer even need it at all. Even if you do continue to require medication for chronic illnesses, the changes you make as part of the Omni Diet will work with your medication and ultimately boost your energy, vitality, and overall health.
How is it that food — food that may be sitting in your refrigerator at this very moment — can have such a monumental impact on your health, both for better and for worse? What gives food its power? This chapter explains it all. In the pages that follow, I'll tell you about some of the ways that food works as medicine in your body. I'll also explain how the foods I recommend in the Omni Diet will support your health and well-being as you set out to change your health and your life.
COOL THE FIRE OF INFLAMMATION
INFLAMMATION IS YOUR BODY'S WAY of coping with injury or "insult." It is a vital biological response that your body must be able to elicit in the right balance, at the right time. You would never want to eliminate your body's ability to create inflammation, or you wouldn't heal appropriately. But stay with me for a minute.
When you're injured or develop an infection, the many functions of your immune system — both innate (what you're born with) and adaptive (what you acquire during your lifetime from exposure to infection-causing microbes, viruses, and vaccines) — jump into action and set off an acute inflammatory reaction. A cascade of cellular and chemical events occurs: Blood vessels dilate, blood flow to the affected area increases, and pro-inflammatory immune cells and proteins rush to the scene. Nearby tissue becomes swollen, warm, and red as the immune system "inflames" the area and fights to destroy bacteria, eliminate toxins, and clear the way for the healing process to begin.
But injury and infection aren't the only things that trigger inflammation. Environmental toxins, hormone imbalances, emotional stress, excess body fat — especially belly fat — and blood sugar, along with certain kinds of foods, also cause inflammation. This kind of inflammation, even though it's low-level, is not helpful, because it is chronic — that is, it stays turned on indefinitely, rather than just being called into action occasionally when an injury or infection occurs.
Over time, chronic, out-of-control inflammation damages your body, rather than healing it. Eventually it can cause or contribute to a range of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and high blood pressure.
Doctors prescribe anti-inflammatory medications for people with high levels of systemic inflammation. But for many people, the best prescription is a change in diet (the root of the cause), rather than one new medication after another. Relying on multiple medicines to heal a condition that is being caused by, among other things, excessive consumption of inflammation-inducing foods is like putting a Band-Aid over a gunshot wound. It won't help for long. And drugs are not without side effects! Taking pro-inflammatory foods out of the diet and eating more anti-inflammatory foods is a much smarter, healthier approach.
The standard American diet is filled with pro-inflammatory foods. Fast food, sugar, simple carbohydrates, dairy products, trans fats, some animal-derived saturated fats, excess omega-6 fatty acids, and foods that are processed, engineered, or refined promote chronic inflammation. When you eat them, you're actually injuring your body; in its effort to "heal" from dietary injuries, your body revs up its inflammatory response.
Fortunately, there are many foods that reduce inflammation, including fresh vegetables and fruit, fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, seeds, and certain herbs and spices. They contain compounds that turn down inflammation and lower the strain that it puts on your cells. These and other anti-inflammatory foods are found in abundance in the Omni Diet.
CONTROL YOUR GENES
I OFTEN HEAR PEOPLE AND health-care providers talk about genes like they are an inescapable evil dictatorship controlling our lives; they believe there's nothing you can do about your health because it was determined by your genes. Or, since your mother and grandmother died of a stroke, you will also. Or, poor thing, you're destined to be obese just like the rest of your family. I used to believe these falsehoods, too.
But your genes are not there to ruin your life, or execute the sentence when your time comes. They actually can respond to the choices you make every day. You don't have to sit back and accept the diseases that plague your family. You can fight for your health and actually change the way your genes behave.
Your genetic history is not necessarily your destiny.
Let me explain. When you're born, you inherit all of your genes from your parents. Genes are preprogrammed with information that defines what the body has to work with.
Some genetic traits are inescapable — there's nothing you can do to turn your brown eyes blue, short of wearing colored contacts. With eye color, your genes determine your destiny. The same is true with some kinds of conditions, such as Down's syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia.
But many genetic factors are not absolute. Some genes predispose you to certain health conditions, but external factors can influence whether these genes are expressed in a way that triggers disease. In other words, genetics loads the gun but your environment determines whether or not the trigger gets pulled!
One of those external factors is the nutrients you consume in food and supplements. I'm repeatedly astonished by the simplicity of nature in action. Certain nutrients have the power to influence how a gene is expressed. In other words, if you carry genes that predispose you to, say, type 2 diabetes, the nutrients you consume can help determine whether or not those diabetes genes "turn on" — and if and to what extent you'll actually develop the disease.
Epigenetics is the study of how outside factors affect your genes. Your genome carries all the DNA and instructions for making all the proteins in your body. The epigenome consists of all the chemical compounds (from foods, plants, and environmental influences) that tell your genes when to turn on and how to behave. Researchers have associated changes in the epigenome (the environment your genes are exposed to) to certain types of cancer, autoimmune disorders, mental illnesses, and diabetes. The exciting thing about the field of epigenetics is the understanding that altering the environment that influences your DNA can alter your health forever. But there is a responsibility that comes with this knowledge. Many of the chemical exposures that influence the activation or repression of genes occur years before a child is conceived. In other words, the choices you make throughout your life can leave a legacy of health or disease for your offspring for generations to come.
The study of how nutrients impact gene expression is known as nutrigenomics. Every day scientists are learning more and more about food's power over genes. A lot of research is being conducted in this exciting new area; we already have plenty of evidence that our diet alters our genetic expression, and that our genes don't have absolute control over our destiny.
Your weight, the food you eat, how much you exercise, sleep patterns, stress management, dietary supplements, environmental toxins, and whether you smoke cigarettes, abuse drugs, or consume alcohol in excess are believed to play a big part in whether certain genes are expressed, or turned on. Did you happen to notice how many of those factors are in your control?
We're born with our genes, but that doesn't mean we can't control them — in fact, we have more control than we realize!
This information is wildly empowering. In the case of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some kinds of cancer, just having them in your family doesn't mean you're destined to develop them. Your lifestyle choices are a prime determinant in whether or not these kinds of family diseases "turn on" in you. You can actually affect how your genes are expressed on a daily basis.
The food we eat and the lifestyle choices we make impact directly on how our genes function. In fact, the interaction between environmental influences and the chemical compounds that make up your epigenome is constant and ongoing, and it contributes to whether your genes are expressed in a pattern of health or a pattern of dysfunction.
The Omni Diet is built around the foods and lifestyle choices that give you the maximum possible power to influence your genes in a healthy way. Vegetables, fruits, spices, herbs, nuts, and seeds are among the most powerful foods on the planet when it comes to expressing your genes. So, too, are biologically active compounds such as theaflavins and catechins from tea, curcumin from turmeric, and resveratrol from grapes. There are many other important micronutrients that we will discuss in the pages of this book.
I can't talk about the topic of changing your genetic destiny without telling you about Corey, who participated in one of my Omni Diet classes. After his father had bypass surgery, Corey took his destiny firmly into his own hands and vowed to make changes so he wouldn't go down the same path his father had. Even though he had inherited his genetics from his father, he realized that he could do a lot to be proactive. "Diabetes and heart disease run in my family, and I have been addicted to fatty foods and sweets my whole life," Corey told me. "Now that I have two boys of my own, I am motivated to eat right and be a good example to them."
Corey changed his diet, eliminating all sweetened drinks and juices. He also started to exercise regularly, playing basketball twice a week and walking briskly two days a week. On the weekends, he and his sons go for long-distance bike rides and play soccer, kickball, and baseball in the park.