Degenerative Diseases I - Putting the problem in perspective
Daniel Crisafi ND, MH, PhD
A degenerative disease is one in which the body, or certain body parts, degenerate or deteriorate more quickly than anticipated.
This type of disease "ages" the body prematurely.
What is alarming is the high prevalence of degenerative diseases and disorders in industrialized countries, with their highest concentration being in North America.
The most common degenerative diseases include:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus
- Crohn's disease
- Hashimoto's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Cardiovascular diseases
Just to name a few.
In this article, I will focus on the general factors related to degeneration, as well as on cancer.
Degeneration is primarily linked to the balance between catabolism (destruction of body tissue and cells) and anabolism (rebuilding of body tissue).
The balance of these two functions, destruction and rebuilding, maintains the status quo. When there is less catabolism than anabolism (e.g. in children), growth occurs. However, when there is more destruction (catabolism) than rebuilding (anabolism), aging, or degeneration, occurs.
A degenerative disease or disorder is a situation in which there is more destruction than rebuilding, or there is an overproduction of uncontrolled cells, which harm normal (controlled) cells, as is the case with cancer.
There are numerous causes for degeneration. The major causes are the following:
Nutritional deficiencies (insufficient "reparative" elements)
The body can only repair itself if it has the materials to do so. Unfortunately, studies increasingly suggest that our "normal" diet is insufficient to enable our reparative functions to properly compensate for tissue destruction.
Nutritional deficiencies occur in three ways: Our diet is not optimal; the quality or our food is not as high as we believe; or we eat food that "steals" nutrients from our bodies.
The definition of an optimal diet is quite hazy. For example, if we follow Health Canada's Recommended Dietary Allowance, our diet is likely considered "standard." The problem is that the standard isn't very high. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, the average person has a 7.5 in 10 chance of dying prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
In addition, even the best foods available to us today do not contain the levels of nutrition that we would expect. For example, a recent study revealed that we would have to eat eight oranges today to get the same nutritional value of just one orange eaten by our grandparents!
Many food substances rob our bodies of vitamins and minerals, which means we must increase our intake. Coffee, refined sugar and flour, additives and most medications deprive our bodies of nutrients.
The North American diet is the most deficient in the following nutrients:
- Fatty acids (omega-3, 6 and 9)
- Major and trace minerals (in particular, chromium, magnesium, selenium and zinc)
- Vitamins (especially B-complex vitamins and vitamin C)
DNA or RNA damage
Many substances can abnormally damage the body's cells, and even their nucleic acids. Damage to nucleic acids can slow down a cell's ability to repair itself, change its genetic profile (which can cause autoimmune diseases) or damage a cell's reproductive control mechanism (i.e. cancer).
There are two categories of substances that play a major role in this process.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that are either produced by the body or released through the absorption of chemical substances. Prestigious journals such as the American Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the Journal of the American Medical Association have stressed the role of free radicals in the development of Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Xenobiotics are foreign chemical substances that abound in our chemically processed foods, in air and water pollution, and in various substances absorbed by our respiratory, digestive and genitourinary systems, as well as by our skin. The journal Neurology has linked xenobiotics to Alzheimer's disease and autoimmune diseases, while Basics of Allergy has linked them to the increase in allergies.
All of these substances cause increased organ and tissue damage, which leads to either premature deterioration or to an overgrowth to compensate for the damage, i.e. cancer.
Lack of stimulus
"Use it or lose it," as the saying goes. Just as the overuse of tissue can cause degeneration, a lack of use can be a cause as well. In fact, studies show that various parts of the body can degenerate more quickly if they are not sufficiently used. Therefore, reduced intellectual and physical activity is a key factor in premature degeneration.
Genetics clearly play a role in premature aging. Unfortunately, we sometimes seem to believe that our fate lies in our genes, which is not the case. Even the prestigious American National Cancer Institute has admitted that genetics represent at most 15% to 20% of cancer's causal factors, which means that most of the factors are non-genetic. Moreover, if diseases were exclusively genetic, we would be born with them, as we’re born with our genes. If a disease develops over time, it means that other factors are involved. What is genetic, however, is that we’re all born with weaknesses, making certain organs or systems more prone to certain diseases. Our biological heritage can therefore guide us and indicate which body systems should be treated more carefully. For example, those with a high incidence of cardiovascular disease in their family should be more vigilant about aspects of their diet that could affect the cardiovascular system.