Listening in

Understanding messages from the biological chat room

Don Jump, director of the college’s Bionutrition Laboratory, with Dr. Moises Toress-Gonzales

There’s an important conversation going on inside your body. Molecules are talking to cells. Your brain is chatting with your liver. Your liver is telling your pancreas how to act. Hormones and nutrients are directing cells to change. And your genes are tossing in their two cents’ worth too.

Nutrition and exercise science professor Don Jump has been listening in on these biological chat rooms for more than two decades, conducting research on fat and liver function. “The idea is that as you change the type and quantity of fat you ingest, your liver will respond by changing its metabolism,” he explains. “In some cases, these changes are not beneficial. For example, an excess of saturated and trans fat in our diet will contribute to the onset of certain chronic diseases, like diabetes and atherosclerosis.”

We would do well to consider the balance of fat and nutrients in our diet. Too much fat can result in its accumulation in cells, leading to tissue damage. Ingesting excess fat on a regular basis can promote fatty liver (hepatosteatosis), which sets the stage for fibrosis and cirrhosis. “Excess fat in our diet, a sedentary lifestyle, age, and genetic predisposition can push the body toward non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM), the most common form of diabetes in the U.S. NIDDM is characterized by hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, two risk factors for atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease, which is an inflammatory response to damage in the lining of arteries. “Coronary artery disease and strokes account for 35 to 50 percent of all deaths. The bad news is that certain diets, those high in saturated and trans fat, can accelerate the onset and progression of atherosclerosis and diabetes. The good news is that diet and other interventions can slow these processes and prolong a healthy life.”

Don offers these important steps for assuring your good health:

1. Begin monitoring your blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) early in life. If they are high, consult with your physician. Consider modifying your diet.
2. Know your genetic background. Study the health of your family tree and find out if you have a predisposition to cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, or Alzheimer’s.
3. Balance the type of fat you eat. Limit saturated “bad” fats (meat, dairy, egg yolks); keep saturated fats below 7 percent of total calories per day. Eliminate trans fats from the diet. Select “good” fats, such as monounsaturated fat (olive oil, nuts, avocados) and the omega 6s and 3s in polyunsaturated fat (fish, whole grains, peanuts), for your dietary intake.
4. Exercise regularly. Find the balance of calorie intake and expenditure to maintain a healthy weight.
5. Visit your physician annually. Consider her/him a partner in your body’s conversation.

Visit these websites to learn about healthy nutrition and exercise: