is Body Language?
more comprehensive background.
The trouble we face today with
regard our main health problems are largely due to ignoring the
requirements of our bodies for healthy living and take no notice of the
signs our bodies are trying to tell us. We have called these signs Body
We are familiar with the messages
from the media about the health problems of our society with coronary
heart disease, cancer and obesity. However, we fail to grasp the fact
that our way of life is entirely different to the life led by our
forebears, some thousands of years ago, when our bodies and
physiological needs were evolving.
They lived in harsh conditions,
where food was relatively scarce and had to be obtained by hard work.
Our prehistoric beginnings were in cold, often hostile environments
struggling to survive. The problem we have with our health today stems
largely from our warm cosy environment, where food is plentiful and we
no longer have to expend large amounts of energy to survive.
Essentially, we have become lazy.
The human body is genetically
very robust, fighting against a series of insults, to maintain normal
function. This is called homoeostasis, defined as “The ability of an
organism to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological
processes”. This means that the organs and systems within the body
will alter and compensate if it witnesses adverse conditions. But then
there are limits to this compensation, when the assault is too severe,
the body simply begins to degenerate and illness sets in.
One example, and one that we are hearing more and more of, is obesity.
Simply this is when the energy input from food outweighs the energy
expended. Then this occurs over an extended period the body starts to
store the excess energy in its stores of fat. Thinking back to the time
of our ancestors a great deal of energy had to be expended, searching
for sources of protein, either as live animals or carcasses of dead
animals or else cultivating the soil with poor tools. The situation
today is that the vast majority of us have enough money to buy more food
than we need. Unfortunately, much of the food we buy is processed,
packaged for long shelf-life, with additives to preserve it longer.
We evolved such that when a
plentiful food source became available then the body would over indulge
to make stores for when times were less favourable. Now, we have no time
of scarcity so the tendency now is to over indulge all the time.
Unfortunately, the foods that are plentiful are those which are high in
animal fats, those which appeal to our instincts and tastes – the
‘fast food revolution’. Consequently, many people are consuming
large amounts of food material that the body is not designed to cope
with. Evidence is abundant which tells us that too much meat,
particularly red meat and animal fats are factors in the cause of cancer
We as human beings should be able
to know our basic food requirements and change our intake if the balance
becomes unsettled. The sign of increasing body weight is a warning that
there is too much food consumption and too little energy expenditure.
The balance needs to redressed.
The body’s requirements for
energy changes with age. Children and young adults have a higher energy
requirement, because, generally they are more active and their bodies
are still growing requiring energy. As the person ages these processes
slow down and the requirements are less, but the food intake, in middle
age, does not decline accordingly. Hence the increase in weight in
middle aged people.
This is the reason that fitness
and work outs have been advocated. But how many gym subscriptions go
unused? Many! Energy expenditure should ideally be slow and rhythmical
so as not to put too much strain on aging joints. Walking, as encouraged
by numerous campaigns, is the ideal solution.
One of the major sources of
energy expenditure no longer required to the same extent as before is
keeping the body warm. Most of us live, work and travel in warm
centrally-heated houses, offices and cars. Consequently, one of the main
reasons for fat stores accumulated for winter, are no longer needed to
the same extent. Hence another source of excess energy intake.
OSTEOARTHRITIS AND INFLAMMATORY
The reasons leading to the diseases of modern living are many and varied
and can not all be covered in this summary. So we will turn our
attention to one of the scourges of modern living, particularly for the
elderly is osteoarthritis. Much of this again can be attributed to the
unhealthy diet. Animal fats in the diet are broken down into their basic
constituents, to fatty acids. These play a role in causing pain.
The joints of our bodies are
prone to wear and tear – too much football, bad posture causing back
pain. This wear and tear is recognised by the body. It sees it as one of
the first signs of degeneration. Trauma or damage to any aspect of the
human body is seen as requiring attention or repair. The part of the
system responsible for this repair programme is the blood, specifically
the white cells in the blood system. They accumulate around any site of
injury, whether it be a cut or foreign body in the skin, to damaged
ligaments. The cells gather, rather like a motorway repair team, setting
up all the paraphernalia needed for the job in hand, and like a road
repair the immune response can often be painful. The cells release
chemicals to help destroy the cause of the insult, as if it was a
foreign body. These chemicals will recruit more white cells to help, but
also cause pain and discomfort. This is another sign from the body that
not all is well and movement is afoot to sort it out. Unfortunately many
of the chemicals released by the white cells and their helpers a derived
from fatty acids. The chemicals made from animal or saturated fats have
more painful effects than fats from unsaturated sources. This is the
reason that oils derived from non-mammalian sources such as fish oils
and vegetable oils are less damaging and friendlier that animal fats.
This is the hypothesis that fish oils protect against arthritis and
Fatty acids are also important in
the functioning of the brain. Fats from mammalian sources are thought to
contribute to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and
ANTIOXIDANTS AND FREE RADICALS
Another aspect of inflammatory diseases which has been talked about a
lot is chemicals released by the white cells called free radicals, or
oxidants. These are very complex chemicals, in that they have large
amounts of potentially destructive energy but are very short lived.
These have been incorporated by the white cells as a major part of their
armoury to defend the body against invading or foreign elements. Free
radicals can help kill bacteria and viruses and destroy other unwanted
material. Because of their destructive nature, if misdirected, something
like “friendly fire” they can also destroy the cells, materials and
ultimately the body, which they are trying to protect. To counter act
these free radicals the body has evolved a very elaborate system of
anti-oxidants. These are often taken in with the diet and consist of a
range of substances like vitamins A, C and E. Selenium, uric acid,
lycopenes, and carotenoids. These substances have become the by-words in
many diet and nutritional advice columns – and rightly so. Without
them the free radicals and similar substances would soon overwhelm many
of our systems. Degenerative disease is the consequence, and early
symptoms are signs of vitamin or antioxidant deficiency.
Some antioxidants like vitamin C
are water soluble and need to be consumed in the diet every day. Some
like vitamin A are fat soluble and are stored in the bodily tissues.
When external free radicals, like UV light, cause damage to the body the
arsenal of antioxidants is mobilised. When the sources of free radicals
are internal, like inflammatory cells, the same applies. As long as the
assault is not too severe, or too long, then the damaging free radicals
are neutralised and damage is avoided. If however the assault is too
great and antioxidant supply inadequate or depleted then damage occurs,
often to the most delicate parts of the cells. One of the major sites of
damage in the cells by free radicals is the DNA. And once the DNA is
damaged then there is the real chance of serious consequences –
Cancer is caused when the DNA of
cells is damaged and it can no longer control the cell properly. Most
likely these damaged cells will be recognised by the all powerful immune
system, but if the damaged cells are too numerous or the immune system
is compromised for some reason the cancer cells will survive and
proliferate. Depending on which organ the cancer is growing will largely
influence the outcome. In some organs, like the bowel or bone, the
cancer grows slowly and if detected in time can often be removed
successfully. If the cancer is in ‘softer’ tissues, like the liver
or lung, the chances of removal or treatment are significantly depleted.
This is the reason that fresh
fruit and vegetables, the natural sources of antioxidants and other
cancer fighting chemicals, are so important. The advice to consume 5
pieces of fruit and vegetables come from research into free radicals and
antioxidants and is an important course of action.
Although sources of free radicals
are all around us, sunlight, pollution, pesticides one of the highest
sources of free radicals are consumed by one quarter of the population
– cigarette smoke. Experiments have calculated that in each puff of a
burning cigarette there are 6,000,000,000 free radicals. That needs a
massive amount of antioxidants to prevent damage, and considering it is
cigarette smokers who have the poorest fruit intake, it is no wonder
that smokers suffer so much illness. Not only do they suffer a greater
risk of damage, particularly to the soft tissues of the lung, but the
tobacco smoke and its 4000 different chemicals severely damages the
immune system. This is why smokers have more illness, irrespective of
cancer, than non-smokers. The destruction of the immune system will also
damage the chances of DNA-damaged cells from being eradicated.
FIBRE AND BOWEL DISEASE
Another consequence of our modern diet, which is well documented, is the
lack of fibre. The human digestive tract has evolved to an omnivorous
diet of fruit, vegetables and some meat and fish. Previously, fruit and
vegetables grown and collected, and primitive food production would
produce a diet high in fibre. Modern food processing has removed much of
that fibre. How many of us now each processed manufactured bread, where
much of the fibre has been removed by the processing of flour? This is a
major factor in the cause of one the major diseases today – colon
The layperson’s understanding
of the working of the human digestive system is poor. This is largely
due to the embarrassment factor; we do not like to discuss the workings
of our bowels! But if we knew a little more, many of the diseases which
affect our society could be avoided. Essentially, the digestive tract
starts in the mouth where the teeth crush and liquefy the food. The
stomach with its acidic environment and enzymes starts to digest the
food and break it down into its constituent parts. The slurry from the
stomach then goes into the small bowel where the nutritional elements
are absorbed. The small bowel is extremely long and has a very large
surface area to allow this to occur. Once this is done the remaining
material passes into the colon – for what. Well the main function of
the large bowel or colon is to absorb water and salts, this maintaining
the liquid and salt balance of the body. The function of the colon is
enhanced by a massive colony of different bacteria which help breakdown
the remaining material that is left in the contents. Once these
different basic functions have been performed the colonic contents are
expelled as faeces. These are largely bacteria and indigestible
material, including fibre. The role of fibre is to provide a matrix for
the bacteria to work, to trap the resultant gases and to allow the bulk
to propel the contents along the colon. If there is insufficient fibre
there is not enough material for the colonic muscles to work against,
the contents stay in the colon too long and excessive water and salts
are removed producing a hard mass which is hard to push against and
expel. The result of which is constipation or impacted faeces, often
accompanied by uncomfortable haemorrhoids. But worst of all, harmful
substances that are in the colonic contents instead of being removed
rapidly and regularly, causing little or no harm, they linger and attack
the lining of the colon causing colon cancer. So, to recognise a healthy
bowel function is to ward off bowel cancer.
But what are the signs of a high
fibre diet? Stools. There are many native peoples in Africa who still
have a high fibre diet. Their stools are very different to ours.
Investigation of these differences has pointed to properties of the
stool that should be desirable. They should be frequent in passing,
large in mass and float on the water of the toilet. This is because the
fibre traps the waste material and the gaseous material, with the right
amount of fluid. This is a simple sign that should ward off many of the
digestive problems of our modern society.
Another difference between the modern and ancient diets is the soil in
which it is grown. At the beginning of agriculture the cultivators
regularly moved from one growing area to another, because they found the
plants grew better. When permanent farms were established they found
that rotating crops and adding animal waste improved productivity.
However, with modern farming techniques the soil is supplemented, not
with organic matter, but inorganic NKP fertilisers, which contain only
nitrogen (N), potassium (K) and phosphorus (P), sometimes iron (Fe) is
also present. This does not add the other essential elements required
for health plant, and animal growth. Consequently, we have increasingly
severe mineral depletion of soil. This means that fruit and vegetables
have a lower mineral content than they did just 50 years ago. So even if
we consume a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables we might still be
deficient in a number of minerals.
Insufficient intake of many
mineral and vitamin have their signs of nutritional deficiencies, and
are part of body language. For example zinc deficiency will show itself
as white flecks in the nails, while magnesium deficiency produces soft
or brittle nails. Iodine deficiency will cause a reduction in thyroid
hormone production, which will cause the neck to swell, referred to as
“Derbyshire neck” when the deficiency was more common before
supplementation. These are just a few examples of symptoms or signs of