by Alexander Green
If modern science offered a pill that could reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, serious infections, dementia and even cancer by up to 88% - with no negative side effects - would you take it?
Most people would answer with an unequivocal "Yes!" After all, who wouldn't want to live a longer, happier, healthier life?
There is no such pill, of course. But there is a simple, straightforward and, quite frankly, better way to achieve the kind of "super immunity" I just described, one that allows you to achieve optimal health and maximum disease resistance. It does, however, have a serious side effect I'll describe in a moment.
What is this revolutionary life protector and extender I'm referring to? It's the food you eat. Or, more to the point, the food you should be eating but probably aren't, at least not in sufficient quantities.
I say this because most Americans are unaware of the ground-shaking advances made in nutritional science over the last decade. There is now overwhelming evidence that eating the right combination of foods can double or even triple the protective power of your immune system. This dramatically lowers your risk of getting everything from a cold or flu to serious infections to cancer.
Please be skeptical. I know I was until last May when, while visiting a friend in Austin, I had the opportunity to meet (and cross tennis racquets with) Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a nutritional scientist, researcher, and board-certified family physician who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutrition.
What he shared with me - and spells out in detail in his book Eat to Live - astonished me. And I'm hardly alone. Dr. Fuhrman has shown thousands of patients - and millions of viewers of his top-rated PBS specials - how to protect and repair their health with great tasting, natural foods.
In recent years, the evidence has grown that the noncaloric micronutrients in our food are vital to providing disease resistance and greater longevity. Scientists have discovered hundreds of phytochemicals - micronutrients found in plants - that evolved to help plants ward off disease in the wild. Our species survived by consuming large quantities of these plants. In short, our chemistry is dependent on their chemistry. Yet only in the last decade have scientists begun to understand how plants protect our health by boosting our immune systems.
Dr. Fuhrman calls phytochemicals "the most important discovery in human nutrition in the last fifty years." Among other benefits, they protect your cells from damage by toxins, help repair DNA, control the production of free radicals, and deactivate cancer-causing agents.
Understand that the U.S. death rate from infectious diseases is double what it was in 1980, killing up to 170,000 people annually. In addition, the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with an invasive cancer is now 44% for men and 37% for women. One in four deaths in the U.S. is due to this deadly disease.
The rise in cancer incidence correlates almost perfectly with a major change in how we eat. Today's Western diet is so rich in processed foods and animal products - and so low in essential fruits and vegetables - that almost all Americans are deficient in plant-derived phytochemicals. Studies show that most of us consume less than 10 percent of our calories from the most nutritious foods: fruits, vegetables, beans, and seeds. Yet even this figure is misleading, because if you remove white potato products - including French fries and chips - vegetables make up less than 5% of our diet.
Instead of eating healthy, natural foods, Americans are gorging on processed foods: white bread, bagels, donuts, cold cereals, chips, pretzels, pasta, cookies, breakfast bars and soft drinks. Yet a diet deficient in phytochemicals weakens your immune system.
The ramifications are sobering. Between 1935 and 2005, as the consumption of processed and fast foods expanded here and abroad, cancer rates rose every single year. The number of people suffering from immune system disorders, allergies and autoimmune diseases is also rising. Diabetes has become epidemic. And, according to the latest issue of the journal Neurology, not only are strokes now the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. but patients are getting steadily younger. In fact, men and women between 20 and 54 now make up 19% of all stroke patients.
But there is good news too. Here are just a few of the latest discoveries in nutritional science:
A review of more than 200 epidemiological studies shows that eating raw green vegetables has a consistent and powerful association with reduction of stomach, pancreas, colon and breast cancer. (As one researcher put it, "You want to know the real secret to superior health? Big-ass salads.")
People with the highest amounts of lycopene in their blood - which is an antioxidant found in tomatoes - are 55% less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.
Twenty-eight servings of vegetables per week decreases prostate cancer risk by 33%. But just three servings of cruciferous vegetables each week - kale, collards, broccoli or Brussels sprouts - decreases prostate cancer risk by 41%.
One or more servings of cabbage per week reduces the occurrence of pancreatic cancer by 38%.
White, cremini, portobello, oyster, maitake, and reishi mushrooms prevent DNA damage, slow cancer cell growth and prevent tumors from acquiring a blood supply. Frequent consumption of mushrooms can decrease the incidence of breast cancer up to 70%.
People who eat a half-cup of chopped onions a day may not have the freshest breath. But studies show they have a 56% reduction in colon cancer, a 73% reduction in ovarian cancer, a 71% reduction in prostate cancer, a 50% reduction in stomach cancer and an 88% reduction in esophageal cancer.
Multiple controlled studies show that pomegranates inhibit breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and leukemia. They also naturally lower your blood pressure, help reverse atherosclerosis, and improve heart health.
Many types of berries are rich in antioxidants, but elderberries also enhance the body's defense against viral infections, particularly influenza.
Nuts and seeds are high in fat and calories but have been demonstrated in hundreds of medical studies to dramatically extend life and protect against disease. Indeed, as nut consumption increases, death from all causes decreases while overall lifespan increases.
It is hardly breaking news that fruits and vegetables are good for you. But Dr. Fuhrman is not just recommending that you eat more of them. To achieve maximum immunity and longevity, he suggests you make fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts your primary diet. Other foods - such as whole grains, eggs, meat, fish, and fat-free dairy - should make up less than 20% of your caloric intake.
Dr. Fuhrman isn't just reviewing the latest studies. His experience treating over ten thousand patients using micronutrient-rich diets has demonstrated extraordinary therapeutic results over a wide range of serious health conditions. In his excellent new book Super Immunity, he writes, "Adding mushrooms to the diet lowers cancer rates, adding onions to the diet lowers cancer rates, adding greens to the diet lowers cancer rates, and adding blackberries to the diet lowers cancer rates. However, my argument and recommendations are for people not just to eat these foods, but to eat these foods in significant amounts and simultaneously."
He says each day you should have:
At least one large salad.
At least a half-cup serving of beans (perhaps in a soup, salad or other dish).
At least three fresh fruits, especially berries, pomegranate seeds, cherries, plums and oranges.
At least one ounce of raw nuts and seeds.
At least one large (double-size) serving of green vegetables, raw or steamed.
Supplements, he argues, are no substitute for a healthy diet. In fact, to the extent that they give takers the confidence to eat in a less wholesome way, they are hurtful, not helpful.
I've been following Dr. Fuhrman's regimen myself over the last five months (with a few tumbles off the wagon) and - while it was a bit of a struggle at first - I feel better today than ever. I'm also 20 pounds lighter. This is the "serious" side effect I referred to earlier. Folks on a nutritarian diet have a tendency to reach their ideal weight fairly quickly.
It is widely recognized that most dieters fail to keep off the pounds they lose. However, there are good reasons to believe Dr. Fuhrman's approach is not only more effective but longer lasting. After all, this is not about being able to fit into your old pants or a new dress for a high-school reunion. It's about becoming as healthy and disease-resistant as possible. When your food choices are driven not by vanity but rather a sincere desire to reach optimal health, the changes you make are more likely to become permanent - a new lifestyle instead of a passing fad.
Dr. Fuhrman's approach is not alternative medicine. It's progressive science. It's about harnessing the power of superior nutrition to preserve, protect and extend your life.
Isn't it good to know that one of the best things you can do to improve your health is under your own control and that it doesn't require you to visit another doctor, undergo more diagnostic tests, receive another shot or take a new handful of pills?
Science is telling us that a natural diet rich in micronutrients and antioxidants is a key to repairing immune system defects that may lead to disease.
This information isn't just new. It's transformational.