Balance, that’s the secret. Moderate extremism. The best of both worlds.
— Edward Abbey
It’s a word that’s thrown around by every man and his dog nowadays, and something everyone seems to be striving for.
A well-balanced diet.
A good work-life balance.
The balance between food and exercise.
But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why we’re all seeking that balance?
Sure, for things like work-life balance it seems like common sense – you don’t want to spend all your time with your mind in the office, and not with your friends and family, or doing things you love.
But when it comes to your diet, have you ever had a moment to think of what’s behind the importance of getting this balance right?
I wanted to write my first proper post on this subject, and introduce the idea of synergy.
What is synergy and why do I care?
Oxford Dictionaries define synergy as the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
In other words, 1+1=2.
It is thanks to the huge number of synergistic relationships between the enormous amounts of substances in our bodies that we are alive. Without these substances doing their synergistic-y things, sickness and disease take their chance to do their sickness-y and disease-y things instead.
For me, understanding synergy was something that first made nutrition and health click in my head. Envisioning that balance, and realising why you need such a varied diet is (in my opinion), step one to achieving real health.
Here’s some nitty gritty…
There are more than 50 known essential nutrients, and our body can make none of these nutrients. We have to take them in ourselves, in our food.
Each of these nutrients interact with other nutrients in the body. They work together in a synergistic relationship to ensure the body… Well, works.
Some nutrients simply don’t work without their synergistic “friends”. Take vitamin B6, for example. The body can’t do anything with it until it’s converted into something else, that’s rather intimidatingly named pyridoxal-5-phosphate. It can’t be converted into this without a certain enzyme. And this enzyme can’t do anything without zinc and magnesium (it’s zinc- and magnesium-dependent).
…Why am I going on about this?
Vitamin B6 is given to some women to relieve pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). However, if these women are zinc or magnesium deficient, the B6 supplement won’t work. Studies have shown that giving women a combination of zinc, magnesium and B6, works significantly better.
In other words, 1+1+1 = 3.
Some nutrients need others to work with in order to produce an effect that’s observable.
For example, giving children individual vitamins and minerals has little to no effect in increasing their IQ scores. A combination of all vitamins and minerals, however, has consistently shown a four- to five-point increase in these scores.
Similar combinations of vitamins and minerals have resulted in huge reductions in aggression in prison inmates in just two weeks.
In other words, 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+… you get the picture.
Other nutrients may show some effect on their own, but these results just don’t compare to the results of working with others.
There’s a 2002 study looking at lowering homocysteine levels that shows this perfectly.
Homocysteine is a toxin found in the blood. It acts as a predictor of disease risk for tons of issues, such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, even depression. High levels of homocysteine in pregnant women can be an indicator of miscarriage, and the risk of birth defects.
To lower homocysteine, you need an optimal intake of our good old friend B6, B12, and folic acid (this is why folic acid should be taken at pregnancy), plus a few others.
Patients with kidney disease were divided into four groups – one was given just folic acid, another given B12, another given folic acid and B12, and another given B12, folic acid, and B6.
The results showed the more nutrients provided, the greater the reduction in homocysteine. This conclusion rang true to a whopping 59.9% reduction when administered B12, folic acid, and B6.
Achieving the right synergistic balance of all the nutrients offered more than 4 times the effect than just folic acid alone – which is the medically prescribed convention!
This is the power of synergy.
So, to round up…
Your health relies hugely on getting these balances correct.
These balances ensure your body functions right. Understanding synergy, or even just being aware that these balances exist, means you have the opportunity and the ability to improve how your body functions.
To become better than you already are.
Giving your body just the right amount of nutrients to function is one thing, but I now believe that’s just the first step. You can give yourself so much more just by just doing a few simple things each day.
Once you understand the importance of achieving these balances, being truly healthy is almost easy.
What are some things you can do?
- Eat a varied diet. Choosing from a wide range of different kinds of foods means you’ll have access to a wider range of different nutrients that your “normal” diet doesn’t give you.
- Why not try… whenever you go to the supermarket, look around for a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried or seen before (or something you haven’t had in ages). This is a great way to introduce variety, and it makes your weekly shop way more exciting. My most recent new discovery was a granadilla, a variety of passion fruit… I now buy one a week!
- Become an artist and get as many different colours as you can in your meals. Leafy greens, vibrant reds, neutral beige, even a pop of purple.
- You can’t beat unrefined, unprocessed foods. They contain hundreds of health-promoting substances, just as nature made them. The more you mess with your foods (and this includes cooking them!), the more you take away from them in terms of their nutrition. So, the less processed your foods, the better they’ll be.
- Unleash your inner chef by preparing your own food. Rather than buying sauces, snacks, or meals that are already prepared for you, buy the ingredients fresh and see what you can create! This way you’ll avoid all those preservatives and unknown ingredients that don’t offer any benefit to your health.
- Why don’t you… take a look at the labels of the food you buy next time you’re on a shop. If you don’t recognise or understand something written on it, put it back! See if you can do it for an entire shop.
- If you want to take supplements such as vitamin or mineral tablets, don’t go for individual nutrients without also taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement alongside that.
Until next time!
the active grazer x
Koyama K, et al “Efficacy of methylcobalamin on lowering total homocysteine plasma concentrations in haemodialysis patients receiving high-dose folic acid supplementation” Nephrol Dial Transplant vol 17(5) pp. 916-22 (2002)
Schoenthaler SJ, et al “Controlled trial of vitamin-mineral supplenetation: effects on intelligence and performance*” Personality and Individual Differences vol 12(4) pp. 351-69 (1991)
Gesch B, “The SCASO Project” The International Journal of Biosocial Medical Research vol 12(1) pp. 41-68 (1990)
“The Optimum Nutrition Bible” – Patrick Holford