Fighting Inflammation with the Zone Diet


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Diet is something that everybody talks about and upon which almost everyone has an opinion. The following article is based on the work of Dr. Barry Sears, who published The Anti-Inflammation Zone in 2005. He calls his diet, simply, “The Zone”.

Dr. Sears believes that the aging process is an ever increasing inflammatory attack on the cells, tissues, and organs of the body maintained by aberrances in diet. Thus, “Inflammation” is anything that ends in “-itis”. For example, arthritis. Also included in this category are obesity, Type II Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and asthma. Diet can lead to changes in the endocrine systems of the body; these are the systems that produce the hormones that determine many of the characteristics of the body. Therefore, they can affect the the production of compounds that are considered “inflammatory” in nature.

In order to understand the connection, it is helpful to review some basic physiology. Your intake of carbohydrates, including sugar, but also pastas, flour products and fruits, determines the level of insulin that the pancreas releases. Foods that are immediately converted to glucose, a simple sugar, and can create a massive release of insulin followed by a rapid decline as a result. This is the “bottom” after eating a high sugar meal (usually breakfast cereals) that results in a craving of sweets and a repeat of the cycle.

Proteins effect the formation of glucagon, which is an energy molecule that works in concert with insulin. Insulin drives blood glucose into cells of your liver and glucagon releases this stored glucose when your body, primarily your brain, needs it. The brain relies on glucose to keep itself going. In fact, it uses 70% of your blood glucose, although it accounts for only about 3% of your total body weight.

A healthy diet, then, is a balance of these two hormones – insulin and glucagon. Fats get broken down into several different molecules. However, when your body is at rest, more than 70% of your energy comes from fat, with the brain getting its required supply of glucose as well. The balance between insulin and fat is also thrown off by a high sugar diet as insulin blocks the release of fat that your body stores to use later. So, how does this relate to diet? There are essentially four types of diet:

First of all, there is the Atkin’s diet. This holds that carbohydrates have to be nearly, if not completely, eliminated from the diet. However, keep in mind that the brain needs a certain amount of carbohydrates that will form glucose.

Second, there is Dr. Sears’ diet, “The Zone”, which has moderate amounts of carbohydrates.

Third, there is also a high carbohydrate diet such as the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Pyramid.

Lastly, there is a very high carbohydrate diet, which is the typical American diet. Both extremes affect the molecules that promote the production of inflammatory compounds, which, as mentioned above, can result in a variety of diseases. Hence Dr. Sears’ calls these “inflammatory” diets, and his Zone Diet, an “anti-inflammatory diet”.

In short, following the Zone diet balances what your body needs without going overboard and producing inflammatory compounds that can, over the course of time, result in chronic inflammatory conditions. Most noteworthy, in April 2007, the Harvard Medical School Diabetes Center announced their new dietary recommendations for Diabetes that closely matched Dr. Sears’ diet.

So, what is the diet and how do you follow it? It is rather simple. According to Dr. Sears, begin by dividing your plate into 3 equal sections: on 1/3 of the plate put low fat protein (how much – the amount that you could hold in your hand, range fed beef or chicken), fill the remaining 2/3 with fruits and vegetables; lastly, add a touch of olive oil to the protein.

In addition, Dr. Sears’ warns us to be judicious with fish, because are a number of fish that have their bodies contaminated with PCB, pesticides, and mercury. The Zone Diet also benefits by using a highly refined fish oil product that contains primarily omega-3 acids. You can look at the ingredients on the jar. There are two types of omega acids popular in fish oil supplements: omega-6 and omega-3; you want the omega-3’s.

If you think a moment about this diet, it is the diet that mankind evolved with; we are in the 21st century but our digestive system is still in the Neolithic stage. Human social evolution has resulted in a diet that is pretty much near the end of the spectrum compared to the Zone Diet.

Now, remember the connection with inflammation – the Zone Diet is the best defense against what Dr Sears calls “silent inflammation” the low level of constant inflammatory molecules that slowly take their toll on the body and are, in large part, contributory to the chronic diseases of aging resulting from dietary extremes. Reducing the amount of “silent inflammation” by the “Zone Diet” is one of the best defenses against aging and the diseases of aging.

Finally, the word “diet” takes its origin from the Greek root which means “way of life”. Over two thousand years ago Hippocrates said “Let food be your medicine, and let medicine be your food”. In conclusion, history repeats itself. by Mark Scheutzow, M.D., PhD.

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