PART ONE: THE CELL MEMBRANE
Take a look at the full stop at the end of this sentence.
That’s about the size of the largest human cell – which is a female egg. By contrast, the smallest cell is a sperm cell which is about 60 times smaller.
You have about 200 different types of cell and, according to most estimates, about 75 trillion cells in your body.
At any given moment, each cell is doing thousands of jobs, like creating and using energy, manufacturing proteins, building skin or bone, pumping out hormones or making antibodies.
So if someone asks “Are you busy?” the answer is always ‘yes’!
Because cells are the building blocks of your tissues and organs and because they are constantly renewing themselves, your health depends on providing those cells with the nutrients and environment they need to regenerate healthily and operate efficiently.
If not, the result is diminished physical wellbeing and age-related disease.
Vital importance of the cell membrane
Encasing each cell is a membrane. It’s made up of protein and fatty acids, including cholesterol. These lipids (fats) give the membrane its essential flexibility and structural stability.
But if your diet has insufficient high quality fatty acids in it, the membrane has to use low quality fats and it becomes stiffer, less permeable and less able to allow essential nutrients in or wastes and essential substances out.
That’s one reason why poor quality transfats, saturated fats and too many Omega 6 oils like palm oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, are bad for you. The body is forced to use them to build cell membranes resulting in sub-standard membranes.
And that’s also one reason why Omega 3 fish oils are good for you – they help build healthy, flexible cell membranes. This is especially important as some 40% of brain cell lipids (fats) are made up of Omega 3 oils as are over 50% of the eye’s photoreceptors.
In addition Omega 3 is a powerful anti-inflammatory – and inflammation is known to be a driver of dementia as well as heart disease and stroke as well as causing an environment that helps enable cancer to spread.
Protecting mitochondria and DNA
The cell membrane has another function – to protect the mitochondria and DNA inside the cell from damage.
Signalling cell boundaries
But the membrane also needs to do something else that is vital. Cells need to sense each other’s boundaries. They do that by what is called ‘cell signalling’. When they cannot signal their boundaries, the result can be uncontrolled growth – cancer.
Researchers have found that the nutrients choline, inositol and in particular, vitamin D and the carotenoids lycopene and lutein are important in the process of normal cell signalling – and, by extension, in cutting the risk of cancer.
Pub Med, the on-line publishing arm of the American National Institutes of Health, confirms that carotenoids “can be useful in the prevention of cancer and other degenerative diseases”.
Choline is found in high amounts in the yolk of eggs. Many foods contain inositol, including, grains, beans and citrus fruits, but your body can make it – which is why it is not necessary in a supplement.
Lycopene is found in the red pigment in tomatoes – and lycopene is made more bio-available when it is cooked or processed. Cooking with olive oil is especially beneficial.
Protecting the cell membrance from oxidation
Because cell membranes have a high fat content they are very vulnerable to oxidation – free radical damage. Free radical damage occurs when fats react with oxygen – and we can actually see the process when a fat like lard becomes rancid. The illustration right represents how free radicals can attack and damage a cell.
The illustration left shows how these anti-oxidants nutrients can help create an anti-oxidant ‘shield’ to protect a cell by absorbing or ‘quenching’ free radicals. The illustration right is a magnified view of a free radical being neutralised.
Nutrients that can provide this anti-oxidant protection include molecules in vitamin E called tocopherols, beta carotene, vitamin C and a class of nutrients in fruits and vegetables called polyphenols.
All this explains why virtually all health researchers recommend several portions of oily fish a week and daily fruits and vegetables. Indeed the American Cancer Society now recommends 9 portions of fruits and vegetables a day!
It is also the background to our conclusion that supplementation is an important health defence for the over 50s – because 9 portions is a stretch for most people.
And that any comprehensive supplement must include more than vitamins and minerals, adding Omega 3, vitamin D3, lycopene, lutein, tocopherols and polyphenols – flavonoids like grapeseed extract, curcumin and green tea extract.
SEE PART TWO OF HOW TO BUILD HEALTHIER CELLS NEXT WEEK
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