Over our past year's search for the best health regimes, the work of two people has particularly stood out. William Wolcott, the world's leading authority on metabolic typing (The Metabolic Typing Diet, Doubleday, 2000), and former director of cancer pioneer Dr William Kelley's International Health Institute, followed in Kelley's footsteps to revolutionise how we view diet and the treatment of illness. His programme assumes there is no one-size-fits-all approach to good nutrition and healing illness. He began in 1978 when, after following a Kelley diet specifically tailored for him, his long-term and debilitating allergies disappeared.
Working with Kelley, Wolcott discovered that, when they ignored the specific clinical problems or diagnoses, and concentrated on customising a person's diet based on their metabolic individuality, many people with serious illnesses - including cancer - regained their health. Indeed, both the European and American branches of the alternative cancer charity People Against Cancer claim that metabolically tailored diets are the one regime making the largest impact on cancer.
The theory is complicated, and determining your metabolic type is best carried out by a trained practitioner (see below). However, included here is a simple checklist and list of foods to start you off.
The other programme on my New Year's health resolution list is devised by Los Angeles holistic health and corrective-exercise specialist Paul Chek, a Wolcott-trained practitioner who has devised a number of programmes for digestion, eating and movement to maximise health.
What follows is a blend of their best tips for feeling good in 2005.
Customise your diet based on biochemical individuality
In the early-20th century, the brilliant scientist Weston Price travelled all over the world, seeking indigenous populations to study their diet and health. Among his remarkable discoveries, he found that:
* the diets of all indigenous peoples were tremendously varied (depending on geography, climate and naturally available foodstuffs)
* those indigenous people who followed their ancestral diets were particularly robust and healthy
* those who moved away or for other reasons strayed from their ancestral diet developed degenerative conditions.
Developing these ideas further, Dr Kelley realised that no one diet can be universally right for everyone, and that the only healthy diet is one that meets an individual's own genetically based requirements. In the late 1970s, Dr Kelley began to use the autonomic nervous system to categorise people into metabolic types, each with its own comprehensive nutritional protocol - from vegetarian to meat-centred, and everything in between. He also included various vitamin and mineral combinations, all designed to address different degrees of metabolic imbalance (Kelley WD. One Answer to Cancer. Kelley Foundation, 1969; The Metabolic Types. Kelley Foundation, 1976).
According to his theory, refined and expanded by Wolcott, all chronic diseases involve an imbalance in one or more of the fundamental homoeostatic control mechanisms, which regulate all of the biochemical reactions taking place in the body at any given moment.
Your master switch
The nervous system has two divisions: the cerebrospinal, and autonomic.
The autonomic nervous system, or 'master regulator of metabolism', controls all involuntary activities of the body - those functions that are not under your conscious control. These include your heart rate, digestion, respiration, tissue repair, cellular activity, body-temperature regulation, immune activity and countless other functions.
The autonomic nervous system also has two distinct branches: the sympathetic, and parasympathetic. Each branch regulates a different set of metabolic activities. Some organs, glands and systems are controlled by the sympathetic system, while others are controlled by the parasympathetic branch.
Each system 'turns on', or 'innervates', various bodily functions, while its opposite has the task of 'turning off'', or 'inhibiting', those functions. This dualistic 'push-pull' phenomenon enables the two autonomic branches to work together in synchrony to regulate all involuntary metabolic processes in the body. For example, the sympathetic system speeds up heart rate while the parasympathetic slows it down. The roles may also be reversed. The parasympathetic system, for example, turns on digestion, including secretion of hydrochloric acid, contractions of the stomach and related functions (Wolcott WL. Metabolic Technology 1, International Health Institute, 1983).
Most of us are neurologically influenced more strongly by either the sympathetic or parasympathetic system. We also vary in the degree to which we are influenced by each system. As a result of these inherited differences, each of us has different diet-related physical, behavioural and psychological characteristics, depending on whether we are 'sympathetic-dominant' or 'parasympathetic-dominant'.
Kelley, as well as nutritional pioneers like Dr Frances Pottenger, realised that good health demands a balance between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system.
Wolcott then discovered that, besides being genetically predisposed to a greater or lesser influence of these autonomic branches, we are also genetically predisposed to greater or lesser rates of oxidation - the rate at which nutrients are converted to energy in the cells. These inherited and environmentally influenced differences help to define our biochemical individuality and metabolic type.
In total, Wolcott found that nine homoeostatic factors make up a metabolic type:
* oxidative system (for energy conversion within cells)
* autonomic nervous system (the master metabolic switch in the body)
* catabolic-anabolic balance ('burning up' of oxygen within cells)
* endocrine type (influences food selection with relevance for weight control)
* six kinds of acid-alkaline (pH) balances
* prostaglandin balance (regulates inflammatory and immune responses)
* constitutional type (elements of foods linked to metabolism)
* electrolyte balances (regulate circulation and osmotic pressure)
* blood type (the basis of certain blood-type-specific food reactions).
All of these determine both your tendency towards acidity or alkalinity, and how you metabolise nutrients, producing either acid or alkaline results. So, a sympathetic predisposition, or fast oxidation (speedy conversion of carbohydrates to energy), will tend towards acidity, whereas a parasympathetic predisposition, or a slow rate of oxidation, will tend towards alkaline shifts.
Nutrients are crucial for keeping the autonomic system in balance. Some nutrients stimulate or strengthen the sympathetic branch while having the opposite effect on the parasympathetic branch - or vice versa. A nutrient can have an acidifying influence on one homoeostatic control factor, but an alkalising effect on another.
Wolcott also discovered the 'Dominance Factor', that one or another of the homoeostatic control factors will dominate, and whichever branch of the autonomic system has the stronger impact will determine the influence of specific nutrients, or the impact of oxidation. The dominating system determines how nutrients behave in that person - whether they acidify or alkalinise.
In other words, it is not the food or nutrient itself that determines acid or alkaline effects, but the dominant system - or Dominance Factor - influenced by that food or nutrient that ultimately determines the acid-alkaline result and other reactions to nutrients.
What it all boils down to is that your metabolic type is influenced by the ratio and type of macronutrients - proteins, fats and carbohydrates - you consume every day.
Protein types tend to burn through carbohydrates quickly and, so, need more protein and fat to balance energy production. They also have a higher requirement for purines, amino acids prevalent in dark meats such as chicken legs and thighs, red meat, fish roe, sardines and anchovies, and a greater appetite for salt. The ideal food ratio for protein types is 40 per cent protein, 30 per cent carbohydrate and 30 per cent fats.
Carbohydrate types, on the other hand, don't efficiently metabolise a high intake of fats and proteins. Carbo types must eat proportionately larger amounts of carbohydrates to utilise fats and proteins. They also fare best on light meats like chicken breast, and leaner cuts of meat and fish, together with high-quality organic carbohydrates. Carbohydrate types should eat more (60-70 per cent) carbohydrates than protein (20-25 per cent) and 10-15 per cent fats.
Mixed types tend to require 45 per cent carbohydrates and 35 per cent protein, with 20 per cent fats. It is critical that mixed types consume protein-type and carbohydrate-type foods at every meal (see above). You may need to experiment with fat-to-protein ratios to fine-tune your meals to obtain the exact ratio that makes you feel better.
If you eat too many carbohydrates and experience symptoms (see box, page 2), try one of the following:
* Eat fats and protein
* Drink water
If you eat too much fat or protein, then immediately:
* Eat carbohydrates (and these should be high-glycaemic-index ones if possible, such as vegetables that grow below the ground or grains)
* Consume freshly squeezed juice or fresh fruit
* Take digestive enzymes, including protease and lipase.
Your top six health resolutions
Besides finding your biochemical profile, adopting the following health resolutions from Paul Chek (www.chekinstitute.com) will virtually guarantee improvements to your health and wellbeing in 2005.
* Resolve this year to avoid food not certified as organic. Organically reared crops and animals not only have far fewer harmful chemicals, but also far more nutrients. In addition to better-quality primary nutrients (water, fibre, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals), organic foods contain far more of the 5000-10,000 secondary nutrients found in plants, shown in 57 studies to have beneficial effects (Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health Report. British Soil Association, 2001).
Organic foods also have high levels of antioxidant phenolic compounds. These are 10 times more efficient at mopping up cancer-causing free radicals in the body than ordinary antioxidants like vitamins C and E (Clarke A et al. Living Organic. Naperville, IL: Source Books, 2001).
* Never eat processed foods. Even if you read labels, it's impossible to know what you're eating with processed foods. The US and UK regulatory authorities don't require any food additive 'generally regarded as safe' (GRAS) to be listed on the label. As Cornell University professor Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) puts it: "A natural flavour is a flavour that's been derived with an out-of-date technology." The average person in the US and UK eats roughly his own body weight in food additives every year. Of that amount, as much as 15 lb (7 kg) or more will be flavouring agents, preservatives and dyes, hundreds of which are on the US Food and Drug Administration's GRAS list.
With the GRAS, it's a case of innocent until proven guilty. Food manufacturers are allowed to offer up their own evidence to claim GRAS status for their additives. A GRAS is only banned when the FDA can no longer ignore accumulating reports of damaging effects.
A typical fast-food strawberry shake contains 45 such chemicals and ingredients. If you like Neapolitan ice cream, you'd need a small booklet and a short course in chemistry to even begin to understand what you're eating.
* Resolve to eat only grassfed meats. Cows, sheep, buffalo and many other animals are designed to eat grass. Yet, most commercially raised cows are fed on grains (wheat and corn). This speeds up the entire maturation and plumping process (to 15 months, instead of the usual four or five years). A newspaper expos'e, in which a reporter bought a steer and followed it from birth to death, offered sickening evidence of how calves that are quickly weaned from their mothers, and forced onto a diet of corn and grain, need antibiotics and become so ill that they nearly die (New York Times, 31 March 2002).
To be certified as organic in the US by the Department of Agriculture, animals must not be given antibiotics, growth hormones or non-organic feed. This also applies to the UK. However, many such animals are still fed on grains, a less-than-ideal diet for its constitution. Indeed, if you are gluten-intolerant, you may not feel well consuming meats and poultry from grainfed sources. Your best option is to obtain organic grassfed meats. Non-organic free-range, but grassfed, is the second-best option.
* Resolve to eat only free-range organic eggs. The egg of a chicken that lives a natural life has an optimal omega-3:omega-6 essential fatty acid (EFA) ratio of 1:1-1:4. In contrast, the EFA ratio of a typical commercially raised chicken egg can be as high as 1:16-1:30.
* Resolve to eat fish with caution. The billions of pounds of sewage and industrial waste dumped into the oceans by industrialised nations every day have largely destroyed our waterways, making fish unsafe to eat. In 1991, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that the cancer risk of the average seafood consumer may be as high as 75 times greater than the acceptable guidelines (Epstein S, Steinman D. The Safe Shopper's Bible. New York: Macmillan, 1995).
As the oceans become 'fished out' and toxic, so we've seen a recent boom in fish farms. As with cattle, these fish are inappropriately fed grains and soya as well as a wide range of drugs. As a result, farm-raised fish are likely to contain residues of a wide variety of antibiotics and other drugs. Also, as with intensively farmed chickens, the omega 3-to-omega-6 EFA ratio is drastically altered in fish that have been farmed.
You also run a significant risk of eating fish high in industrial chemicals. Many of these farmed fish have been found to have methylmercury levels so high that eating them more than once a week is considered dangerous by many health experts. Indeed, one study found that mercury-contaminated fish nullified the protective effect of the omega-3 EFAs in fish, causing an increase in heart disease (N Engl J Med, 2002; 347: 1735-6).
Rotating your sources of protein (so that you don't eat the same thing for at least four days) will minimise the chances of overexposing yourself to any given pesticide, antibiotic or chemical residue. Be especially careful of swordfish, shark, tuna, tilefish (golden snapper), king mackerel and other deepwater fish, particularly the bigger ones, as these accumulate more mercury than do smaller fish with shorter lifespans.
When cooking fish, particularly the larger ones, grill them to allow the juices to drip out - which helps pesticide residues to escape. Whenever possible, trim off the fat. Avoid freshwater fish unless it comes from high mountain lakes and streams that are far away from commercial enterprises.
* Resolve to avoid dairy if it's not organic and unprocessed. Pasteurisation typically involves heating milk for 30 seconds at 63 degrees C, which kills all the important enzymes as well as damaging/destroying vitamins and amino acids. Raw milk contains lactic acid-producing bacteria that protect against pathogens. Those sensitive to dairy can often tolerate raw milk and milk products because the enzymes that aid milk digestion are left intact.
Homogenisation, a process of passing milk through a fine filter, makes the fat globules smaller by a factor of 10 or more. This allows proteins to bypass digestion in the stomach, which may lead to incomplete protein digestion and allergies.
Processed milk can also contain recombinant bovine growth hormone, a genetically modified growth hormone, that can increase levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) in the human body by up to nine times. High IGF levels are associated with a variety of cancers (Int J Cancer, 1994; 57: 491-77; Jpn J Cancer, 1994; 85: 46-52).
William Wolcott and Paul Chek