What I'm Reading
I really enjoyed reading Dr. Kara Fitzgerald’s book, Younger You: Reduce Your Bio Age and Live Longer, Better. Dr. Fitzgerald’s premise is that Americans live longer now, but with an average of 16 years of reduced quality of life due to illness. That’s a long time to feel bad and be on a stack of medications! Her research shows how specific foods and behaviors that support healthy gene expression will slow down cellular aging and make our cells healthier (“younger”). Those healthier cells are what allow us to avoid many diseases associated with aging, from heart disease and diabetes to cancer and all types of dementia. As a mental health nutritionist, I can tell you that eating the recommended yummy foods and adopting the very accessible behaviors also improve and stabilize mood, focus, memory, and cognition.
Dr. Fitzgerald breaks down the importance of certain teensy molecules, called methyl groups. One of the methyl groups’ many jobs is to attach to genes and turn them off or on. The process is called methylation. Methyl groups are supposed to attach to certain genes and other molecules, and when they do it right they can reduce the likelihood of disease. When there are too many of them or they attach to the wrong spots, they can increase disease risk.
This part really caught my attention. Dr. Fitzgerald points to a lot of research that shows increased cancer risk (especially colon cancer) from long term folate (or folic acid) supplementation, even at low doses (400 mcg). In this case, the folate supplement is bringing in too many methyl groups, and they are attaching in the wrong places.
Folate (aka vitamin B9) exists naturally in leafy green vegetables, beans & legumes, eggs, and other foods. Once we eat them, methyl groups hitch a ride on folate as they begin a hot-potato-like transfer from molecule to molecule, supporting important processes inside cells - like gene expression. Naturally occurring folate from food assures the methylation process works like it’s supposed to, and we become healthier. It’s when folate/folic acid is given in supplements over a long time that the research shows increased disease risk.
In my work with clients, I have seen many doctors prescribe long term high doses of L-methylfolate. That’s a supplement that already has methyl groups attached to the folate. They prescribe it to treat depression, especially if there is an MTHFR gene variation (IYKYK). Frankly, this really worries me. I certainly recommend supplements with folate or methylfolate as part of medical nutrition therapy when there is a clear need for it. However, the research shows that we can improve nutrient and methylation status more effectively for the long haul using food and lifestyle choices.
Our health depends on it.
Food for Thought...
Earth, soil, sunlight, rain - right there in your very cells.
You’ve always heard, “you are what you eat!” Well, it’s more true than you even know. Our food quite literally becomes the building blocks of our very cells and the tools that make our bodies run. The body is a web of actions; every action has an impact on dozens of others. So here’s where it all begins, and what makes our food choices so compelling to me:
We can ward off disease when we eat colorful plants
The plants and animals we eat grow out of sunshine, soil, and rain. Literally, sunlight interacts with chemicals in plants to create the color they become - the full spectrum of light: red strawberries, orange oranges, yellow squash, green broccoli, blueberries, and purple eggplants. It’s even true for brown rice and nuts/seeds, white cauliflower, all the beans and legumes, and even the plants we use to make oils, like olive trees. They soak up rain as it saturates the soil that holds them. They carry nutrients from the soil into their stems, leaves, and fruit. The plants fight off bugs, bacteria, and viruses by producing their own immune chemicals, made possible by what they get from the sun, rain, and soil. Our immune systems become stronger when we eat what makes them stay healthy.
When we eat living foods, we nourish and protect our living bodies
Even wilder, we consume teensy microorganisms along with these foods, and they make a home inside us. The collection of tiny life forms is called a “microbiome,” and what lives in our microbiome is highly defined by what we eat. Surprisingly, most of these bugs want to keep us healthy! A healthy home is a happy home! Plant-based foods rich in fiber (which feed good bacteria) and probiotic bacteria (health-promoting bacteria found in fermented foods, like kombucha and sauerkraut) support the living microbiome gardens throughout our bodies, especially in our guts. Healthy microbiomes make for healthy digestion, immune systems, organs, mood, brain, and so much more.
Food as source
Our food’s source of life is soil, sun, and rain, and our wellspring of life is our food. What we consume to a large extent dictates how our bodies function. How our bodies function dictates the state of our mental and physical health. Our food choices can make us well, all because of the earth, soil, sunlight, rain - right there in your very cells.
Tip of the Month
I’ve been thinking about one of my earliest clients, Jason. Trying to swallow pills usually made him choke, and he hated them. Did you know that 40% of Americans have trouble swallowing pills? I used to teach people how to float a supplement pill down the throat on water, but today’s tip is so much easier and better! So, Jason S, this is for you!
How to Swallow a Pill
Place the pill on your tongue and fill your mouth about ⅔-¾ with water.
Turn your head toward your shoulder as far as will go comfortably (either direction).
Swallow the water and the pill.
I am Mary Virginia Coffman (I go by “Mary Virginia”), a clinical nutritionist who focuses on mental health, digestive health, metabolic health, and nervous system regulation. My unique combination of clinical interventions, education, and coaching will help you feel well in body, mind, and spirit.