When working optimally, blood vessels grow in the right place at the right time — not too many, not too few — to keep us healthy. But when the system fails, illness and disease can swiftly set in.
The process our body uses to grow new blood vessels is called angiogenesis. This process is much more sophisticated and significant than merely a means of transporting blood from A to B; it is a complex system that works to repair and regenerate blood vessels.
Faulty angiogenesis — either excessive or insufficient blood vessel growth — is a common factor in many cancers, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. It can take part responsibility for uncontrolled endometriosis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. And it plays a part in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the over-65s, alopecia, obesity and erectile dysfunction.
Even beer and cheese can help to keep your heart healthy and keep blood vessels growing at the right time in the right place, claims Harvard Expert Dr Li. (Stock image)
When working optimally, blood vessels grow in the right place at the right time to keep us healthy. But, when the system fails, illness and disease can swiftly set in. (stock image)
I have been part of the discovery that abnormal angiogenesis is involved in the formation of Alzheimer’s. We now know that blood vessels in Alzheimer’s-affected brains do not improve blood flow but release toxins that kill brain cells. That’s why it’s so important to try to keep this particular defence system happy and include items in your diet such as soya, green tea, coffee, tomatoes, red wine, beer and even hard cheese, which we now know contain important compounds to support it.
When this defence system is healthy and strong, it can support the growth of the new blood vessels that keep your heart and brain healthy (repairing damage and bypassing any blockages). It also generates microscopic new capillaries to send the extra nutrients wherever they are needed in the body (to repair wounds, for instance).
If angiogenesis is struggling, new blood vessels don’t grow. This is the failing mechanism behind heart problems, baldness (hair follicles require new blood vessels for their nutrition) and circulatory conditions such as erectile dysfunction.
However, that process can also work in reverse. We are beginning to understand that certain diseases progress and accelerate by hijacking angiogenesis.
Many cancers will try to hoodwink the angiogenesis process into providing blood vessels to feed their tumours. It’s the same with the fatty plaque that can build up in major blood vessels, leading to heart disease. We now know this plaque cunningly calls for a supply of rogue blood vessels to feed its growth. With AMD, doctors now know that unwanted angiogenesis can cause the formation of abnormal tangles of blood vessels which can permanently destroy vision.
THREE FOODS FOR STRONGER BLOOD VESSELS
The natural plant phyto-oestrogens in soya act as anti-oestrogens in humans, interfering with the ability of oestrogen to fuel certain cancers. To reduce your risk of breast cancer eat 10g of soya protein a day (equivalent to a cup of soya milk) such as edamame beans, soy sauce, tofu, and miso.
Studies also show soya can suppress breast cancer by activating a tumour suppressor gene. These findings have implications for women with a BRCA gene mutation, which increases their risk of breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.
The natural plant phyto-oestrogens in soya beans act as an anti-oestrogen in humans, interferring with the hormones ability to fuel certain cancers
Among meats, chicken is one of the healthier choices. We may think of breast meat as the best part because white meat has less fat, but dark meat offers unique health benefits, especially if you trim the fat.
Research has revealed that thighs and drumsticks contain vitamin K2, which has anti-angiogenic properties. Studies show it can inhibit unwanted angiogenesis and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Chicken is one of the healthier choices among meats, writes Dr William Li. Dark meat offers particular health benefits, says the doctor, especially if you trim the fat
All tomatoes are packed with nutrients, but much of the goodness is in the skin, so size-for-size, cherry tomatoes are a good choice. The main compound in tomatoes is lycopene, which has been shown to potently inhibit rogue angiogenesis that plays a critical role in the growth of cancer.
Cooking releases more lycopene from tomato cells, which increases its concentration.
Tomatoes are packed with nutrients, but much of the goodness is in their skin. Lycopene, within the tomatoes, has been shown to potentially inhibit rogue blood vessel growth that can lead to cancer
In both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, inflammation in the joints leads to the formation of rogue new blood vessels that release destructive enzymes. These destroy your cartilage and cause crippling joint pain.
When angiogenesis is working optimally, your body recognises the difference between ‘good’ blood vessels and ‘bad’, stepping in to cut off the rogue blood vessels. That is why foods that support this system are so vital.
Certain foods (grains, seeds, capers, onions, chillies, plums and apples) contain compounds that support the body’s ability to form ‘good’ blood vessels, and other foods (almonds, anchovies, cherry tomatoes, salmon, blueberries) contain compounds that destroy the ‘bad’ blood vessels that might be feeding tumours or blood plaques.
There has been much research into angiogenetic drugs to boost the formation of blood vessels, but there is always a risk that supporting ‘good’ blood vessels might also inadvertently support the ‘bad’ ones too.
But the good news is the natural compounds in food appear to be much more sophisticated. Unlike drug intervention, they will not overstimulate the rogue angiogenesis or shrink the helpful blood vessels.
Food works in harmony with the body — a food that starves a cancer won’t starve the heart of its necessary blood supply and angiogenesis-stimulating foods don’t appear to cause rogue blood vessels to overgrow.
Yes, you really can eat to starve cancer, grow vessels to feed your heart and stave off other deadly diseases to live a longer, healthier life.
IS YOUR HEALTH AT RISK? TAKE OUR QUIZ
Take our exclusive quiz and tally your total score (0-15) to learn about your chronic disease risk. If you score high, it’s time to swing into action and start eating to beat disease.
Question 1: How old are you?
- under 40 = 0
- 40 and over = 1
Question 2: Do you have a chronic disease?
Question 3: Is there a history of chronic disease in your family?
Question 4: Have you had toxic exposures (e.g pollution) at home or work?
Question 5: Have you ever smoked?
Question 6: Do you consume more than two alcoholic drinks a day?
Question 7: How would you describe your diet?
- Western diet = 2
- Mediterranean = 1
- Asian = 1
- Vegan/vegetarian = 0
Question 8: How active are you?
- Couch potato = 3
- Not active = 2
- Walk regularly = 1
- Work out regularly = 0
Question 9: Do you own a pet?
Question 10: Were you breastfed?
Question 11: Rate your stress level
- Stressed out = 1
- Low or not stress = 0
Question 12: Have you had repeated sunburn?
Now add up the total to discover your risk of chronic diseases.
11-15: High risk. You need to act to reduce your risk urgently.
6-10: Medium risk. Now is your chance to potentially lower your personal risk for disease.
0-5: Lower risk. Congrats, keep up the good work.