According to a recent study, obesity increases the risk of dying of Covid-19 by nearly 50%. Governments around the world are now hoping to encourage their citizens to lose weight. But with so much complex and often contradictory diet advice, as well as endless food fads, it can be hard to know what healthy eating actually looks like.
How many pieces of fruit and vegetables should you eat a day? Will cutting out carbs help you lose weight? Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Speaking to Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London about his new book Spoon-Fed, Madeleine Finlay asks why we’re still getting food science wrong, and explores the current scientific evidence on snacking, supplements and calorie labels.
Tim Spector is a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Director of the TwinsUK Registry at Kings College, London and has recently been elected to the prestigious Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He trained originally in rheumatology and epidemiology. In 1992 he moved into genetic epidemiology and founded the UK Twins Registry, of 13,000 twins, which is the richest collection of genotypic and phenotypic information worldwide. He is past President of the International Society of Twin Studies, directs the European Twin Registry Consortium (Discotwin) and collaborates with over 120 centres worldwide. He has demonstrated the genetic basis of a wide range of common complex traits, many previously thought to be mainly due to ageing and environment. Through genetic association studies (GWAS), his group have found over 500 novel gene loci in over 50 disease areas. He has published over 800 research articles and is ranked as being in the top 1% of the world’s most cited scientists by Thomson-Reuters. He held a prestigious European Research Council senior investigator award in epigenetics and is a NIHR Senior Investigator. His current work focuses on omics and the microbiome and directs the crowdfunded British Gut microbiome project. Together with an international team of leading scientists including researchers from King’s College London, Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts University, Stanford University and nutritional science company ZOE he is conducting the largest scientific nutrition research project, showing that individual responses to the same foods are unique, even between identical twins. You can find more on https://joinzoe.com/ He is a prolific writer with several popular science books and a regular blog, focusing on genetics, epigenetics and most recently microbiome and diet (The Diet Myth). He is in demand as a public speaker and features regularly in the media.
DYSPHAGIA covers a wide range of troubles, symptoms and diseases, as indicated from the excellent Infographic posted August 21, 2020. I have already discussed GERD, or trouble with the food coming back up after being swallowed.
This post will be on “choking”, or getting the food into the Airway instead of the Esophagus, or swallowing tube. In the future, I will develop a post in “swallowing difficulties”, or trouble getting the food to pass easily and freely down the esophagus into the stomach.
CHEWING the food properly is rare in our rushed, fast-food society, but it is very important, the first part of the digestion process. Mastication breaks the food into smaller particles that are easier to digest, and also EASIER TO SWALLOW. Saliva flows as you chew, and contains Ptyalin, an enzyme which breaks down starch into absorbable sugars.
Chewing also SLOWS down the rate of eating, improves enjoyment, and allows more time for the stomach to send Satiety signals to the brain. This leads to less overeating and weight gain. In children, chewing is said to aid in jaw development and to reduce dental crowding and need for Orthodontia.
Some people have trouble in Initiating the swallowing process. This can be caused by neurological problems like Parkinson’s Disease. It can also be Psychological, a reflection of fear of discomfort on swallowing.
I have the opposite problem, a tendency to swallow too eagerly and rapidly, causing me to choke on liquids, sometimes even on water. I went to an ENT specializing in swallowing problems. He checked the sensitivity of my throat to touch, and found it normal.
Apparently LESSENED sensitivity is the main concern, which would
lead to Aspiration of food. The only guidance he gave me was to eat and drink more slowly. I find that I am most likely to choke when I drink wine, or a tasty beverage which I tend to “slurp” so as to fan the aroma out broadly in my mouth. I am having a hard time breaking myself of that habit.
Sometimes I find that residual amounts of food builds up in the back of my throat, probably by my epiglottis. I worry about nuts especially. If I don’t drink some water to flush it away, I am likely to choke on it. I guess that is the reason people are told to offer some water to a person who is choking.
I seem to be choking more as I get older, which is reasonable. Swallowing requires an amazingly intricate coordination and motion in the throat area, especially in getting the epiglottis, the little door that closes off the windpipe, to close properly.
My other dexterities are fading, why should swallowing be an exception? Pill swallowing is getting more frequent and more problematic at the same time.
Tablets are worse than capsules, maybe because they are not as slick. There is one size in particular that tends to get stuck in the back of my throat just above the uvula. I sometimes have to cough a lot and choke the offending object back up. One more reason to constantly try to cut down the number of pills.
There is one good thing about this problem, however. I now take the pills separately with a big swallow of water, improving my Hydration.
I have been having Heartburn for more than 40 years. The cause of Heartburn is leakage of acid from the stomach, where tissues have evolved to tolerate the highly acidic conditions, into the esophagus, where they haven’t.
The young body has an efficient, functional gate, or sphincter, keeping the food, once swallowed into the stomach, from coming back up. As you eat, you chew your food well to aid digestion. Your taste buds, sensing chemicals in the delicious food, activate saliva.
The salivary enzymes start the digestion of the carbohydrates in the food. If you eat slowly enough, you may be able to appreciate the digestion of tasteless starch, like in bread, into sweet sugar, right in your mouth.
You then swallow the food, which slips past another gate, called the epiglottis, diverting the bolus of food past your windpipe. This gate sometimes does not shut tight, and you choke on the food or drink. The food is then conducted into the highly acidic environment of the stomach.
The stomach evolved to be an acidic, “fiery pit”, inhospitable to any bacteria that came in with the food, thus protecting the stomach from infection. In the old days, there were a lot of bacteria, and the acidity of the stomach was useful, and evolutionarily conserved.
These days, the “fiery pit” tends to be a problem. As you get older, the gate that keeps food in the stomach gets more floppy and relaxed, and allows food to come back up into the esophagus, and sometimes, most often at night when you would rather be sleeping, all the way up to your throat, and is inhaled into your windpipe and lungs in what is called “gastroesophageal reflux”, or GERD.
Even if the food, and acid, doesn’t make it all the way up, and stops at the esophagus, which has not evolved to tolerate acid, you will have “heart burn”. Of course it is not the heart that is burning, but the esophagus, which runs right past the back of the heart as it goes all the way from the throat to the stomach.
When I first developed Heartburn, all that was available was the flavored chalk, Calcium Carbonate, sold as Tums. It works right away, and is a source of Calcium, but can cause trouble, like kidney stones, if you take too much. The relief didn’t last long enough for me, and I had to take more in the middle of the night.
My next medicine was Xantac, a medication that blocks histamine from stimulating acid production in the stomach. The H2 blockers have recently been recalled because of NDMA contamination. I sometimes used H2 blockers like Xantac when my patients would get a bad allergic reaction. In such cases BOTH an H1 blocker like Benadryl, and an H2 blocker are called for.
Zantac was not strong enough for me, and I soon graduated to Prilosec,which directly blocks the secretion of acid in the stomach.
Prilosec was then very expensive, but now is available as the inexpensive GENERIC Medication, Omeprazole. It seems that no medication is without side effects.
Omeprazole, by reducing stomach acid, makes stomach and GI infections more likely, and interferes with the absorption of B12, and Calcium.
If you have had a lot of heartburn over a long period of time, you should check with a Gastroenterologist, who may scope you to rule out Barritt’s esophagus, which can lead to Cancer.
It is interesting that the antacid Tums in excess can cause too MUCH Calcium in the body, and can cause kidney stones and other kidney problems like MAS, and Omeprazole, by interfering with absorption can cause too LITTLE absorption of Calcium, leading to OSTEOPOROSIS.
The best rule is to take as low a dose of ANY medication as possible, preferably none, to understand the possible side effects, and compensate for them if you can.