When it comes to resilience, many experts are blind to the role of nutrition. In June of 2012, the World Science Festival in New York City hosted a program called “How We Bounce Back: The New Science of Human Resilience.” Experts in the fields of psychiatry, clinical and social psychology, and Buddhism spoke of the genetic, environmental, psychological and cultural bases for coping with trauma, such as injury, death, natural disaster, and war. The emphasis was on education, preparedness, exercise, compassion and meditation to help people deal with difficulties. Surprisingly, not a single word was spoken about nutrition.
Perhaps nutrition is taken for granted, beyond eating a well-balanced diet, or maybe they forgot to invite a nutritionist. Frankly, it was no small omission, since nutrition is at the very foundation of resilience. It starts at the molecular level, where cells are protected from trauma by a host of antioxidants, fats, proteins and fibers that come from wholesome food and dietary supplementation.
All living cells are buffered from stress by the glutathione antioxidant system, which detoxifies heavy metals and neutralizes free radicals. When this system becomes exhausted – from infection, radiation, emotional /physical stress, toxins, drugs, vaccines, pesticides or plastics – cells become vulnerable to mutation or destruction. Overwhelming the defenses leads to many disease states, including autism, diabetes, heart disease, fatigue, cognitive/neurological disorders, kidney failure and cancer. Resistance to oxidative stress relies largely on our antioxidant defenses, to stay strong in the face of disaster.
Nutrients for Resilience
A wealth of nutrients helps build a strong molecular defense system. Glutathione is composed of amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. Besides adequate protein, glutathione production requires selenium, magnesium and vitamin D, which many people are lacking. These should be the first line of treatment for trauma.
For example, when mercury is ingested, the body’s first defense is a centipede-like protein called metallothionein, which dangles zinc atoms from its many legs. Mercury displaces zinc and is excreted before doing harm. The freed zinc activates proteins for immunity and tissue repair. Most Americans, especially vegetarians, are zinc deficient, and cannot make adequate metallothionein.
The antioxidant vitamins C and E work with glutathione to protect various tissues. Alpha-lipoic acid and CoQ10 are specialized antioxidants that protect tissues and enhance energy production. The carotenoid antioxidants help protect fats from going rancid. Lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids protect omega-3 fatty acids, to promote clear vision and healthy cognition. Carotenoids and other antioxidants help the skin resist aging and the arteries resist stiffening. Carotenoids confer a variety of positive health outcomes, yet over 95 percent Americans fall short on the carotenoid health index. The resilience of the arteries, brain, skin and eyes depend on them.
Trillions of bacteria lining our intestines contribute significantly to human resilience. They help detoxify food and its metabolites, prevent infection, provide nutrients, and prime the immune system. They make the gut resilient. An argosy of fermented foods and prebiotics/probiotics can help improve health and wellness, and research in this area is booming.
Resistance to depression, heart disease and dementia depends in part on methylation reactions carried out by the B complex vitamins. Taming inflammation starts with antioxidants, vitamin D3 and omega-3 intake. Strong bones depend on calcium, magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin K2, and other dietary factors. Resiliency relies on strong, healthy minds and bodies.
Though not all nutrients have been discussed, hopefully the picture is clear. Resilience is a state of mind more readily manifested in healthy, alert and energetic beings. Procuring the right nutrients and avoiding a toxic lifestyle are the best means to strengthen resilience to withstand the inevitable difficulties of life.
About the author:
Dr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease research scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.