“You are what you eat” is an old expression your grandmother’s grandmother probably used, but it’s not actually correct technically speaking. Putting on my nerd hat to be a stickler for the details, it’s more accurate to say “you are what you absorb.” Grandma’s sage advice does a good job of illustrating that what we ingest is obviously essential to our health, but what we ingest that actually gets absorbed and utilized by the body is the crux of the issue truth be told.
The piles of studies that have been growing in recent years showing all manner of potential benefits of various nutrients has been very encouraging. We are experiencing an exciting time in nutritional science where new compounds are being discovered – and tested for their potential benefits – almost daily. Compounds that may help prevent cancer, improve immunity, improve weight loss, improve brain function, or improve athletic performance, to name just the tip of the iceberg of where science is currently looking to isolate and test various nutrients for their bio active properties.
How the process works:
Once a compound is discovered, it tends to get isolated, and then tested in either animal models and or in vitro (test tube) to test what positive or negative properties may exist as well as elucidate how they work. That is, understand not just what system they may impact (such as increase an animal’s ability to resist cancer causing chemicals for example) but also examine the isolated compounds’ “mechanism of action” which shows how it achieves the effect. How does that work? Let’s say some spice has been used for generations to reduce infections or improve immunity. Scientists might then feed, or inject, large amounts to lab animals (e.g., mice, rats, rabbits, etc.) and see if it does indeed have activity; perhaps testing how that spice reduces the size of tumors when the mice are exposed to known carcinogens, or bacteria known to cause infections and so forth. If that spice shows biological activity, scientists will often look deeper into that spice to see which specific constituent(s) in the spice are having the “active” compounds, and once found, will concentrate and isolate that active compound and further tests on animals, or humans, or in vitro (test tube) will continue. Foods and spices for example, are highly complex and can have hundreds or even thousands of biologically active compounds in them.