Degenerative diseases can affect both tissues and organs over time causing cells to deteriorate. This can be as a result of genetics, normal body wear and tear or lifestyle choices such as eating habits or exercise. Degenerative diseases can affect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), bones, organs, blood vessels or heart and can affect breathing, balance, movement, talking and brain and heart function.
Cardiovascular Degenerative Disease
We’ve talked about heart disease in a previous article. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to any condition which affects the heart or blood vessels and is usually caused by the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries.
Heart disease is a mayor killer. It affects one in seven men and one in eleven women causing around 70,000 deaths in the UK each year die from coronary heart disease. In the US this number is even higher with 801,000 deaths in the US (approx. 1 of every 3 deaths). Left untreated heart disease can lead to a variety of health conditions or death from a heart attack, a stroke, an aneurysm (widening of the blood vessel) to a blockage of the vessels in the legs (peripheral artery disease) and cardiac arrest (where your heart stops beating).
Heart disease symptoms vary and can include chest pain, pain or numbness in the arm or leg, pains that may also be associated with indigestion or trouble breathing. It may also result in dizziness, fainting or feeling light headed.
Major heart diseases include:
Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease is the most common of the cardiovascular diseases. It occurs when the coronary arteries that carry the blood and oxygen to the heart become narrowed due to the build-up of fatty plaques reducing the flow of blood to the heart putting an increased strain on the heart as it has to work harder to pump blood around the body. This may even lead to full blocking of the arteries, leading to heart attack (where the blood flow to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked), heart failure (where the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly) or angina (chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart muscle).
High Blood Pressure or Hypertension
High blood pressure or hypertension can go unnoticed in many people as it very often doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms. However, if it’s not discovered, or if it’s left untreated, it can lead to a serious risk of heart attacks or strokes.
When your blood pressure is too high, it puts additional strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. Long term high blood pressure can lead to a variety of serious and potentially life-threatening health issues including heart attacks, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and aneurysm. Reducing your high blood pressure can help lower your risk.
Heart Attack or Myocardial Infarction
A heart attack or myocardial infarction occurs when the blood flow decreases or stops, usually caused by a blood clot, to a part of the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle. The most common symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling weak or light headed.
Nervous System Degenerative Disease or Neurodegenerative Disease
Neurodegenerative diseases covers a range of conditions which primarily affect the neurons in the human brain and spinal cord. When neurons become damaged or die they cannot be replaced by the body so the nervous system paths to the brain become disrupted.
Degenerative nerve diseases can affect many of the body’s functions including movement, balance, talking, breathing, and brain or heart function. More than 45 million people worldwide are affected by a variety of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease, which results in progressive brain cell death over time. The total brain size shrinks and the brain tissue has progressively loses nerve cells and connections. Symptoms develop gradually and become more severe over a number of years affecting multiple brain functions. The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is usually minor memory problems.
There are 850,000 Alzheimer’s sufferers in the UK with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025 and 2 million by 2051. One person will develop Alzheimer’s every three minutes. In the US one in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition which progresses slowly caused by a loss of nerve cells in the midbrain leading to a reduction of the levels of dopamine, which is responsible for transmitting messages to the parts of the brain that play an important role in movement. Common symptoms of the disease include tremors in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; slowness of movement, difficulties with balance, speech and coordination and stiff muscles. Symptoms worsen over time.
There are over 10 million people worldwide living with Parkinson’s disease according to the Parkinson’s disease Foundation.
Huntington’s disease originally called Huntington’s chorea (“chorea” is the Greek word for dancing) is an inherited degenerative disorder that damages certain nerve cells in the brain. The damage to the brain progresses over time and can affect movement and cognition (perception, awareness, thinking and judgement). Early signs features include uncontrollable movements of the face, and jerky movements of the limbs and body. Behavioural changes include personality changes, irritability and altered behaviour (mood swings, periods of anger, aggression, depression, apathy, excitement and antisocial behaviour), difficulty concentrating on more than one task and handling complex situations.
Up to 1 in 10,000 people in Europe and the US are affected by Huntington’s disease, with men and women equally likely to inherit the disease.
Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis is a joint disease involving the cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone affecting the knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers and feet. It is characterised by the breakdown of the cartilage, causing pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. As it worsens, the bone may break down and growths called ‘spurs’ develop. Inflammation occurs in the joint lining (called the synovium). In the final stages, the cartilage wears away and the bone rubs against bone leading to more joint damage and pain.
According to Arthritis Research UK 8.75 million people in the UK have sought treatment for osteoarthritis. In the US osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder.
Macular degeneration or age related macular degeneration results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina.
UK prevalence of late stage age-related macular degeneration is 2.4% of the adult population (513,000 cases) and that this figure is set to rise by one-third over the next decade, totalling nearly 700,000 cases by 2020. As many as 11 million people in the United States have some form of age-related macular degeneration.
Cause of Degenerative Disease
The cause of many degenerative diseases is unknown however there is research which goes some way to show that free radicals play a toxic role in the body. In the International Journal of Biomedical Science researchers looked at “Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health” which states: “When an overload of free radicals cannot gradually be destroyed, their accumulation in the body generates a phenomenon called oxidative stress. This process plays a major part in the development of chronic and degenerative illness such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, aging, cataract, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
The human body has several mechanisms to counteract oxidative stress by producing antioxidants, which are either naturally produced in situ, or externally supplied through foods and/or supplements.”
It concluded “The implication of oxidative stress in the etiology of several chronic and degenerative diseases suggests that antioxidant therapy represents a promising avenue for treatment. In the future, a therapeutic strategy to increase the antioxidant capacity of cells may be used to fortify the long term effective treatment. ”
The British Heart Foundation state that “antioxidants (natural chemicals that are thought to protect against harmful substances called free radicals), and diets rich in foods that contain these, like fruits and vegetables, are associated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD).”
The Macular Society are quoted as saying [antioxidants] “vitamins A, C and E… are thought to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye. They are found in many fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, tomatoes and in green leafy vegetables. They can also be found in nuts, seeds, dairy products and other food types.”
The Your Sight Matters website has published an article called “More Matters” When it Comes to Fruits and Vegetables!” which highlights that “For optimum eye health, more fruits and vegetables matter because fresh produce is full of vitamins and minerals called antioxidants that keep cells and tissues healthy. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals that can harm cells and cause degenerative diseases.”
Oregan State University Micronutrient Information Center have reviewed how fruit and vegetables can impact diet and influence various degenerative diseases.
I believe antioxidants can neutralize free radicals that can harm cells and cause degenerative diseases. Antioxidants can be found in fruit and vegetables (along with other foods). To find out my recommendations download my ebook.