Health Is Wealth
Your body is designed to thrive with certain levels of stress, but, like food and almost anything else, too little and too much are harmful. The cumulative burden of chronic stress (your daily habits) and life events on your body is called your allostatic load. Contributors to your allostatic load are your relationships, what you think, say, do, eat, drink, breathe, and, the part too often neglected, what you put on your skin. You have a threshold at which allostatic overload tips you into a state of disease. Therefore, relieving the allostatic load on your body is key to good health. And good health is wealth.
What you regularly put in and on your body, for example, food and cosmetics, can support or stress you out. Food is broadly defined as any substance that animals and plants absorb and use to grow and maintain life. Cosmetics are defined by the FDA as, “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance”.
Whole foods provide your body with the components (nutrients) it needs to grow and repair itself, in the forms and concentrations your body easily recognizes. Traditionally, our only choices for food were those that Mother Nature provided and we then minimally processed before eating, whole foods such as meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, etc. Modern agriculture and food science have changed and expanded our food choices. We now have foods, and are developing more foods, that look like and are still called meat, eggs, cheese, and milk, but are made from raw materials that do not provide your body with the same quality and quantity of nutrients your body needs to thrive. The nutritional value of a burger patty is very different, depending on whether the patty is made with grass-fed beef, grain-fed beef, black beans and/or vegetables, or a slew of isolated, synthetic nutrients and chemicals. And the effects on your allostatic load and health are very different, too.
To compensate for the loss of nutrients in processed food, synthetic nutrients are added back, in structurally different forms and higher concentrations than found in nature. My dissertation research at UC Davis focused on the metabolic and epigenetic effects of folic acid and folate on breast cancer progression. Folic acid is the synthetic, chemically modified version of folate, a B vitamin that is not shelf-stable outside of the supporting matrix of the whole foods in which it is found. Folate is easily recognized and used by your body. Folic acid is put into foods at concentrations 2-3 times what is recommended and requires extra steps to convert to folate. This costs your body energy, uses up other nutrients, and perturbs your metabolism, all of which increase your allostatic load.
The easiest way to reduce your allostatic load is to consciously select nutrient dense products to put in and on your body. In essence, you are a walking cylinder with ecosystems of bacteria, fungi, and viruses (microbiota) growing on you that communicate with your cells and influence your health. Your skin, the lining of your gut and airways, and the openings into your body, your nasal passages, mouth, ears, eyes, genitalia, anus, and lungs are lined with epithelial cells that join together like tiles and form a barrier to protect your insides from the outside. Epithelial layers form selective barriers that allow substances of a certain size and shape into your body. Historically, most of the substances we were exposed to either killed us, harmed us, or improved our health. However, science, technology, and industrialization have changed that. Now we are exposed to substances that are pseudo-natural, modified just enough to get into our bodies easily and to burden us by increasing our allostatic load enough to cause chronic disease, but probably not enough to kill us. Moreover, modern day practices, like washing your face with soap every day, were instituted to make money off you rather than improve your health, and they may impair your barrier function and expose you to chemicals and poisons that increase your allostatic load. Dysfunctional epithelial layers are leaky barriers (“leaky gut” and “leaky skin”) and they allow in stuff that should stay out of your body, triggering chronic low-grade systemic inflammation, adding to your allostatic load.
Synthetic forms of nutrients like retinol and niacinamide and chemicals like artificial sweeteners and food coloring found in your food and skincare increase your allostatic load. Your body must figure out how to break down, use, store, or get rid of these chemicals. With frequent exposure, these chemicals disrupt your metabolism and poison your system, causing allostatic overload and disease. And, because most manufacturers put 2-3 times as much of a synthetic nutrient into a product than is found in nature, most of the synthetic nutrients act as drugs in your system, changing the structure and function of your body. So, while they’re marketed as healthy and good for you, they may just be FDA-unapproved drugs.
What to do: ignore the hype, choose products made from whole foods, read the ingredient list, and figure out your cost per unit. By law, the components that make up the product must be listed in “descending order of predominance”. Therefore, if two similar products of similar size claim to be made with aloe vera juice, and one lists aloe vera juice as the first ingredient, while the second lists aloe vera juice towards the end of the ingredient list, you probably get much better value by choosing the first product, because it contains more aloe vera juice/unit than the second. When comparing several ingredients across two products, choose the product that is most nutrient dense and gives you the most value for your money. Yes, you pay more upfront for actual natural nutrient density, but you save your health and quality of life in the long run.
Health is wealth. Invest wisely.
A version of this blog post is published in my local newspaper, the Davis Enterprise. There is no paywall to view my articles in the Davis Enterprise. Simply click the X in the red circle to read my article.