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Functional Medicine Explained

Lifestyle Changes and Disease.

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The science behind lifestyle changes.

The number of research studies that link beneficial health effects and lifestyle changes is high, and they can’t be wrong. The analyzed lifestyle changes are varied. Some studies focus on mindfulness or nutrition and exercise, and some of these studies merge lifestyle changes and measure the contribution to different health goals and reverse disease. Conversely, most studies conclude that lifestyle modifications should accompany medical intervention targeted to treat disease to enhance results and obtain sustainable changes.

Lifestyle factors:
  • Smoking cessation.
  • Dietary changes.
  • Physical activity or exercise.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Mental engagement.

In Functional Medicine, we focus on finding the root cause of the symptoms or conditions to alleviate our patient’s needs or attain a certain health goal. Therefore, it is vital to ensure a treatment that involves the right lifestyle changes. Studies have recently shown an important link between decreased inflammatory markers, improved cognitive health, weight loss, and different lifestyle changes.

Physical activity and diet

A review article that studied the effects of modifiable lifestyle factors in older patients showed improvements in neuroplasticity and cognitive health. Particularly, physical activity was related to an improvement in memory and learning, reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Also, these benefits were accompanied by increased processing speed, attention, and activity execution. Indeed, the marked relationship between brain structure and physical activity relies on the tissue density of the cerebral cortices, hippocampal volume. Nevertheless, physical activity benefits extend to neurotrophic signaling, neurogenesis, reduction of inflammation, and antioxidant defense mechanisms.

Also, Diet and healthy lifestyle practices have been found beneficial for neuroplasticity. Indeed, some of these findings have to do with the fact that brain function requires 20% of the total energy derived from the nutrients, eliciting that an energy sufficient diet is needed to preserve neural function. Nevertheless, the combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods are the drivers that lead to better cognitive health and improvement of neuroplasticity in older patients.

Curcumin: This is a diarylheptanoid produced by the plant turmeric, found in the curry spice and produces yellow pigments. Conversely, curcumin has been known for its anti-inflammatory properties, preventive effects on oxidative damage, and amyloid build-up reduction. Recently, studies have shown that its action relies on donating H-atoms and transfer electrons that translate to the restoration of homeostasis mechanisms and improvement in neurogenesis. On the other hand, it decreases amyloid build-up, improved hippocampal synapses, reduced IL-6 levels and TNF-a, referencing curcumin as an essential aid for chronic inflammation.

Cathechin polyphenols:  These bioactive compounds are found in teas and have shown antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Among the most studied catechin is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG has been linked to neuroprotective properties, decreased amyloid-beta pathology, facilitation of glutamate release, and reduced ROS in the hippocampus.

Resveratrol:  A widely known ROS scavenger found in grapes, wine, and peanuts and linked to brain health through its anti-amyloid properties. Besides, recent studies have associated resveratrol functions with the modulation of nuclear factor-KB pathways and DNA stability.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids involved in neuronal physiology. Omega-3 fatty acids maintain the structural balance of cell membranes and mediate synapses and involve brain glucose metabolism and oxidative stress. Nevertheless, studies have shown that reduced intakes of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to reductions in neuronal size and dementia. On the other hand, the supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids improves cognitive function, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by improving gray matter volume.

Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: A caloric restriction of 20-40% conveys health benefits and contributes to cognitive function. Indeed, reduced energy intake has been linked with DNA cellular repair, reduced oxidative stress, and improved glucose utilization. Also, the neuroprotective effect of fasting relies on BDNF, TrkB, and NR2B expression.

Smoking cessation, weight loss, and physical activity

Conversely, the progression of low-grade inflammation and its relationship with the increased risk of developing a chronic disease has been studied in the setting of lifestyle changes. In a recent study, Klosster and colleagues combined smoking cessation, alcohol moderation, weight loss and increase of physical activity and the effects on levels of C- reactive protein (CRP) on patients with CDV.

Indeed, the researchers wanted to widen the overall utilization and combination of various lifestyle improvements and its effect on different pro-inflammatory pathways. Furthermore, their study found that the patient who reported the most lifestyle changes and improvements was the ones with a lower CRP concentration and reduced low-grade inflammation.

Modification practices to reduce disease:

One of the main changes that need to be made in reducing sodium dietary intake, consuming a healthy diet, and exercising. Watch this video to learn more.

In conclusion, it is important to note that lifestyle changes produce a quality of life improvement by lowering systemic inflammation and they are sustainable. In addition, the improvements found in the studies are made with an attainable approach. In addition, the conclusions of these studies show that the beneficial effects are dose-dependent on lifestyle modification. Therefore, intervention with lifestyle changes is an essential part of disease treatment and prevention. Some ways to start living a healthier lifestyle may include:

  • Start slow: if you have never been physically active, try walking for 10 minutes every day.
  • Try something that you like: I get it, there might be a reason you are not working out. If you are a woman, try buying a workout outfit or running sneakers. That might do the trick, getting excited to try on something new.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you have an injury or a previous surgery that affects your movement.
  • Instead of eating less, focus on eating more vegetables, adding whole grains, and healthy fats. Once you start with this, start cutting off sugary beverages and drink water instead. Order the side salad, instead of the fries. In addition, visit a nutritionist if you need extra help.
  • We mentioned anti-inflammatory foods, as well as antioxidants that can be easily added to your diet. Try different ways to include these in your daily intake and enjoy their benefits.
  • Stop smoking, please. As additional information, people who are recently engaged in physical activity tend to lower their smoking habits.

-Ana Paola Rodríguez Arciniega. Master in Clinical nutrition

Balter, Leonie JT, et al. “Inflammation Mediates Body Weight and Ageing Effects on Psychomotor Slowing.” Scientific Reports 9.1 (2019): 1-13.

van’t Klooster, C. C., et al. “The relation between healthy lifestyle changes and decrease in systemic inflammation in patients with stable cardiovascular disease.” Atherosclerosis 301 (2020): 37-43.

Phillips, Cristy. “Lifestyle modulators of neuroplasticity: how physical activity, mental engagement, and diet promote cognitive health during aging.” Neural plasticity, (2017).

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