The importance of nutrition has a lifecycle as long as human existence. It affects all ages and all the world's population.
The importance of nutrition has a lifecycle as long as human existence. It affects all ages and all the world's populations. Humanity also shares the threat of malnutrition, which is definitely not confined as it is so often presumed to Third World countries.
Good nutrition starts before birth, since deficiencies in a mother's diet can pass to the child in the form of serious birth defects such as blindness (lack of vitamin A) and developmental defects (lack of vitamin B). After birth, the first serious cause of malnutrition is formula feeding. Human breast milk is perfectly balanced to meet the nutritional needs of infants.
Proper nutrition is most important during children's early growth years, during pregnancy and old age. Elderly people are at increased risk for under-nutrition as they are more prone to wear dentures, which makes it more difficult to eat raw foods; they often live alone and are more likely to be depressed and poor. Consequently, they often eat an overly processed diet much higher in fats and sugar.
Canadian First Nations peoples, Australian aborigines and other traditional societies have suffered terribly from a decline in nutrition since colonization. Their displacement by cash-crop agriculture and industrialization has reduced their traditional hunting and fishing areas or forced them into subsistence farming on marginal land.
Canadian First Nations have additional challenges because many plants and animals they depend on have been vastly decreased, contaminated by industrial or agricultural pollution or made inaccessible by settlement in reserves. Consumption of essential fatty acids in fish and marine mammals helps protect many natives against heart disease, but this food source increasingly contains toxins such as methyl mercury, organochlorines and fluorides. Waterfowl are often contaminated by lead that accumulates in lake sediments from ammunition or pollution.
High levels of diabetes plague First Nations peoples on reserves due to lack of breast feeding, poor diet and obesity, compounded by a sedentary lifestyle.
Nutrition and the World's Poor
The world's urban poor are often those displaced from traditional societies who now scrape by on the fringes of large cities. They have been separated from their traditional foods and knowledge and do not have the resources or education to manage a new urban environment.
Whole-food interventions can make a substantial difference. In Sudan, children's consumption of tomatoes, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, has significantly reduced mortality. In Vietnam, consumption of the local fruit momordica has resulted in higher serum levels of vitamin A and hemoglobin.
Simple interventions can make a big difference. A study among urban poor near Durban, South Africa, found that small garden plots improved beta-carotene intake in all children, even those not included in the study, because excess production of fruits and vegetables quickly made its way into local markets.
Solutions are not so easy for war refugees without access to enough fresh food and where foreign aid provides only calories and basic food groups, not many micronutrients.
Nutrition and the Rich
Wealthier societies have a lower overall mortality rate than the poor, but have substantial and increasing mortality rates from diseases of over consumption or bad diet. For the last 100 to 150 years, agriculture has produced a trend toward a less varied diet and less active lifestyle, which can lead to malnutrition and famine when the staple crop fails. Anthropologists have found evidence of better tooth health and less anemia in China 7,000 years ago than 4,000 years ago, blamed on the transition to "softer, more processed food."
Many people gravitate toward a diet high in fat, sugar and salt when they have the resources and do not know its consequences. People in wealthy countries are also more likely to formula-feed their children and consume highly processed foods. Processing significantly reduces the levels of vitamins and other organic nutrients in food because of exposure to heat and oxygen, gradual degradation during storage and removal of the most nutritious parts of foods such as the outer layer of fruits, vegetables and grains. People usually avoid the less desirable parts of foods, such as the organs of animals, which might contain the highest levels of key nutrients. Some fish, for example, contain high levels of vitamin A in the eyes and entrails and calcium in the bones.
Obesity, often a consequence of a diet containing too much sugar and fats, is associated with the onset of diabetes and with all-cause mortality. Obesity is still increasing in men and women, children and adults in Canada and elsewhere.
Another risk factor for the rich is the far greater consumption of pharmaceutical drugs. Antibiotics damage the intestinal flora and interfere with the proper digestion of food, as well as with the production of vitamin K by these bacteria. Other medications interfere with the metabolism of vitamins and nutrients. Extreme medications, such as cancer and AIDS chemotherapy, are deliberately cytotoxic (cell killing) and cause the same symptoms as severe under-nutrition, such as anemia and wasting, by killing intestinal bacteria as well as cells and mitochondria in the body.
Germs and Genes More Fun than Good Food
Most doctors and scientists prefer to blame genes and germs, whether bacteria, fungi, viruses or prions, as the most popular cause of illness not poor nutrition. In the past, doctors were still looking for infectious causes for pellagra, a disease of gastric and skin problems, and scurvy in the early 1900s long after it was well known that deficiencies in vitamin B (niacin, tryptophan) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) caused these illnesses.
Mad cow disease and related spongiform encephalopathies might be examples of modern science's preference for infectious theories. The infectious prion theory is unproven, yet receives most of the world's attention. Mark Purdey, with support from some scientists and published research, has discovered that the diseases are found exclusively in areas with abnormally high levels of manganese and low copper levels (possibly exacerbated by the use of organophosphate pesticides). If this theory is true, simple and cheap diet modifications are potential preventives, supplemented by chelation to reduce manganese levels in current sufferers.
AIDS in Africa: Malnutrition?
A nutritional basis for AIDS seems a ridiculous idea since most people endorse the infectious theory. However, poor countries define AIDS and malnutrition the same way. The World Health Organization's Bangui definition does not require an HIV test and is used to diagnose AIDS on the basis of two of three major signs (weight loss, diarrhea and fever) and one minor sign (e.g. ,persistent cough). Indeed, according to biophysicist Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and colleagues: "The signs and symptoms considered to signify death from AIDS in the Bangui definition are signs and symptoms of [tuberculosis], malaria, gastrointestinal, parasitic infections and malnutrition."
The horrifying consequence of cloaking Third World malnutrition in the mantle of AIDS ignores root causes, while HIV interventions significantly exacerbate malnutrition. Women diagnosed with AIDS or who test positive for HIV are routinely told not to breast feed their children, even though there is no evidence that this leads to better health outcomes. AIDS drugs, very similar to cancer chemotherapy in their mode of action and side-effects, compound the effects of malnutrition, leading to severe anemia and wasting even in previously healthy and well-fed people.
Supplements or Whole Foods?
The agro-chemical food giants have a vested interest to provide chemically produced supplements and genetically engineered crops it boosts sales opportunities. Therefore, to solve nutritional problems and move to more natural, less processed food would reduce profits. Taken to extremes, healthy eating could dramatically reduce the size of processed food companies and their demand for high agricultural yields over high quality.
Most Canadians can avoid malnutrition by eating a wide variety of foods, fresh fruits and vegetables and not junk food. They can choose organic foods to bypass the hazards of pesticides, genetic engineering and chemical fertilizers. In contrast, the world's poor need access to adequate quantities of local fresh fruits and vegetables. Everyone, rich or poor, will benefit from the elimination of toxic chemicals in the world's food supply. Ultimately, knowledge is health when it comes to nutrition.