Diet and lifestyle
Diet and lifestyle choices
Why you need flavanols
If you are reading this you are probably at risk of contracting one or more of the so called “western diet and lifestyle diseases” at some point in your life. This is true no matter where you live. The pervasive spread of western food and lifestyle into developing nations is increasing susceptibility to these diseases across the globe. This is no longer an exclusively “western” phenomenon.
Human beings have fairly specific needs when it comes to physical activity, sleep, sun exposure and diet. All living organisms do. These needs are genetically determined. Our genome is comprised of genes selected during the Paleolithic era which ended 11 000 years ago. It started over 2 million years ago.
Huge changes in diet and lifestyle occurred after the industrial revolution in western societies. These are too recent in evolutionary terms for the human genome to have even begun to adapt. There simply has not been enough time for the genetic adaptation which would allow us to thrive on a western diet and lifestyle.
The most common diseases measured by mortality in western societies are stroke, heart failure, diabetes and cancer. Countries with a western diet and lifestyle have a very high incidence of these diseases. Countries where the inhabitants lead more traditional lifestyles have very low incidence of these diseases. The correlation between western diet and lifestyle and these diseases is indisputable.
Because we are not genetically equipped to deal with these diseases we have had to find alternative solutions. These are treatment rather than prevention oriented. Drugs and surgery are fairly effective but are no guarantee of cure.
The lifestyle changes needed to prevent these diseases are also well known. Here is a short list of the basics:
- Complete change in diet
- 8 hours sleep per day
- An hour a day of reasonably strenuous exercise
- Stress management
- Controlled exposure to sunlight
- Avoid tobacco exposure
- Reduced exposure to pollutants
Most of these steps could be implemented with a certain amount of discipline. Others are more problematical considering busy and high demand work environments. Avoiding pollution could involve moving out of the city. Controlled exposure to sunlight might even involve moving state or country. Sourcing the correct ingredients for your diet could well be difficult.
Nonetheless, if you have the willpower and the desire you can reduce your chances of contracting any of these diseases very significantly. Or you could go with the 99% of us who do nothing and just hope we get away with it. It’s a choice.
But is it? Is there no middle ground here?
The middle ground
For a start, you could look at the list above and pull out some of the requirements that you can achieve without too much disruption in your life.
You could commit to three meals a week that comply with the diet rules.
You could find a running partner and set aside one evening a week for a three mile run.
You could certainly go to bed earlier.
You could set yourself a schedule of achievable goals that you can achieve without too much effort or disruption in your daily routine. Co-opt other members of your family to join you or at least police the commitments you have made.
So what’s next?
So let’s assume you have made some of the lifestyle changes described above (or even if you have not) is there something else can you do?
There is something else you can do to protect yourself against the diseases of our western lifestyle. It is not a catch all or a “vaccination” against these diseases. It is a dietary intervention which has been proven to provide remarkable health benefits.
Cocoa flavanols are an extract from the raw cacao bean. Flavanols are also found in many other plants but in cacao beans they are exceptionally concentrated. Epicatechin, one of the most valuable flavanols, is found in significant quantities in cacao beans.
The strong antioxidant properties of flavanols have been known about for some time. More importantly they have a remarkable ability to significantly improve blood flow.
Cocoa flavanols first came to prominence when Professor Norman Hollenberg of the Harvard Medical School conducted a study on the Kuna Indians living in the San Blas islands off the Pacific coast of Panama. Hollenberg was investigating hypertension (high blood pressure) and had heard the Kuna had a remarkable immunity to rising blood pressure as they aged. He suspected a genetic component. This turned out not to be the case. Overwhelming evidence pointed to the amount of minimally processed cocoa (and hence flavanols) they consumed. They harvested and prepared the cocoa themselves. See Cocoa and the Kuna
Very few of the Kuna die from the big four western diseases. Neither do they suffer from dementia or other mental impairment to any extent in old age.
The mechanism by which this is achieved is thought to be sustained nitric oxide synthesis activation. In layman’s terms this means the relaxation of blood vessel walls which permits improved blood flow. Flavanols also inhibit blood clotting by restricting platelet activity as well as mop up cholesterol. They are powerful antioxidants and target free radicals. They also chelate (combine with redox active metal ions to help expel them).
In short cocoa flavanols are the ultimate overhaul and maintenance agents for your circulatory system. Not only do they perform these functions but they have demonstrated a capacity to improve neuronal connections in an area of the brain (dentate gyrus) responsible for memory. See memory loss and cocoa flavanols
So do you need flavanols?
To be blunt, not many of us have the willpower or the time to materially alter our diet and lifestyle in ways which could protect us from the big diseases of a western diet and lifestyle. So, consider these factors
- Impaired circulation caused by western diet and lifestyle certainly plays a large part in the onset and development of these diseases
- Cocoa flavanols are proven to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow
- Cocoa flavanols have proven heart health benefits. See cocoa flavanols are good for the heart.
- The Kuna Indians who probably are high consumers of cocoa flavanols have very low incidence of the big western lifestyle diseases
- Cocoa flavanols have valuable antioxidant properties
If you are over 35 years old, lead a western lifestyle and eat a western diet then yes, you should be taking cocoa flavanols. Ideally combine this with some diet and lifestyle changes.