Post #61 – How much sleep do we need for optimal health?

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In Post #59, I talked about the lifestyle choices that are important to maximizing health and lifespan:
1. Benchmarking Health
2. Nutrition
3. Exercise
4. Maintaining Musco-skelatal Integrity
5. Maintaining Mind-body Connection
6. Enhancing and Maintaining Brain
7. Stress Management
8. Adequate Sleep
9. Social Engagement
10. Purposeful Living
11. Making full-use of all modalities of medical care
12. Make use of Genetics Science

These were of course not in any particular order. For example, Adequate Sleep would rate much higher in priority, probably towards the top. After all, most of us cannot even function if deprived of sleep over even a few days.

I recently read the book, Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker, Ph.D. He is a professor at University of California Berkeley and has dedicated his career to research in sleep. This is a pretty definitive book on sleep and covers the topic from almost all angles.

Why we sleep cover

I have been generally aware that 7 to 9 hours of sleep is considered a must for optimal health. And, since I learned that I do make the effort to catch that much sleep and when I don’t I would make effort to catch up on that sleep during the weekends.

However, reading this book has been seriously eye opener for me. As a result, I am taking sleep as a lifestyle choice for living for optimal health now much more seriously than I used to.

Sleep Myths – Busted

Here are some myths about sleep that the research cited in the book has busted for me.

1. I can live quite well with 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep. Dr. Mathews is very definitive on research that the range of sleep for optimal health for healthy adults is between 7 to 9 hours. Of course, children have different needs for sleep and so do sick people to allow their body to recover.

He also makes distinction between “opportunity to sleep”, e.g., how long I kept my head on the pillow, and actual sleep. So, if I was “in bed” for 7 hours, it took me half an hour to fall sleep, I got up twice to go to the bathroom and each time it took me half hour to fall back to sleep, then I slept for 5.5 hour. There is some research that more than 9 hour sleep is not optimal, but that research is still controversial.

One test for adequate sleep is that if during the day you close your eyes and see yourself falling asleep, then you are not getting enough sleep.

2. Early morning sleep is more important that the late-night sleep. There are two broad categories of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement or REM happens when we are in deep dream state. In early sleep cycles, which generally happen before and shortly after mid night, most of the sleep is not REM or NREM. In early morning hours, sleep is mostly REM. Each REM and NREM have their very distinct function for brain and our physiology and we need both. The following figure from scielo.br illustrates how amount of REM sleep increases as the sleep progresses and NREM shown here as Stages 1 through 4 decreases.

Sleep Cycle 2

In NREM sleep, for example, our brain takes information stored in short-term memory and shuffles it over to the long-term memory regions of the brain. In REM sleep then our brain builds interconnection with pre-existing long-term elements. If we miss NREM sleep, short-term memory buffers get over-written. If we miss REM sleep, we don’t get a chance to develop ways to access and use the information on the long term.

3. If I don’t sleep enough during the week day, I can always catch up during the weekend. From the REM and NREM sleep discussion above, you can probably quickly extrapolate that if we short change sleep, certain functions are not optimal on a daily basis. Information once lost, probably is lost forever – unless of course you relearn it.

Sleep is driven by two cycles: Circadian clock and a hormone Adenosine, see the picture below (from hackyourgut.com). Circadian clock drives our urge to awake while adenosine drives our urge to sleep.  Adenosine only goes up after we wake up until we clear it again during sleep. More adenosine in our body the more is our urge to fall asleep.  Our body’s energy level changes with change in circadian rhythm. When energy is increasing, we have the urge to wake up.

Two-process-model-sleep-circadian-homestatic-sleep-drive

When we skip sleep, it feels that we have energy to keep going based on our circadian clock. But we may still have the urge to sleep because adenosine is still high. So, when we sleep extra during the weekend, we are clearing up any residual adenosine which clears the urge to sleep. So, we feel like we have caught up on sleep. But remember, we did not really catch up on the mental benefits of sleep for memory capture and reorganization. And, that is the missed opportunity, when we try to catch up on sleep during the weekends.

4. Alcohol and sleeping pills can make you sleep better. Alcohol makes you sleepy, so clearly it must make you sleep better. Right. Wrong. Both alcohol and sleeping pills have similar effect on the brain. They are sedatives and make you drowsy by shutting down you neo-cortex, i.e., thinking brain, activities. When monitored, your brain does not have the same physiology as if you were sleeping in either REM or NREM sleep. Hence, you find that people who take sleeping pills or night caps as sleep aids, are often groggy, lacking motor skills, lethargic, and forgetful during the next day.

5. If I am short of sleep, I will know so I can correct it. And, that is the same thing someone who is drunk would say, ”I am not drunk. I don’t feel drunk.” We just discussed above the effect of alcohol on the thinking brain, which is also the decision-making brain. Lack of sleep has exactly the same effect as being drunk. And, that is one of the reason, lack of sleep leads to car accidents.

In fact, did you know, lack of sleep causes more accidents than drunk driving. If you have slept only 4 hours or less the previous 24 hours, your chance of car crash increase by a factor of 10.

And, if you are short of sleep, it is the micro sleeps that make driving fatal. if you are sleep deprived, brain just shuts down for a second or two. And, a second or two while going at 60 miles an hour is sufficient to cause serious crashes.

6. Coffee, slapping myself, or loud music can keep me going: Turns out that research shows none of these are effective at preventing micro sleeps. The only thing that is found effective is, you pull over, stop and take a nap.

7. Caffeine is not a problem, if don’t ingest caffeinated drinks at dinner time. Half-life of caffeine is 8 hours. So, it can take up to 16 hours to purge effect of just a cup of coffee from the body. So, any caffeinated drink after lunch can probably disrupt the sleep and should be avoided to obtain highest quality of sleep.

8. Melatonin will help me sleep better. Actually this is yes and no depends upon the nuance. Melatonin does not improve the quality of sleep. It does, however, tell your brain and body when it is time to go to sleep and to start to get ready. Generally, it is released as the darkness sets in.

In our modern worlds, where darkness hardly sets in or if our body clock is messed up due to jetlag from travel, it may be helpful to have melatonin supplement to tell the body that it is time for bed. Dimming lights and shutting down screens (TV, smart phones iPads, laptops) as the bed time appraoches is an excellent way of getting your body to start producing its own melatonin.

If you do take mealtonin supplements, just be warned that melatonin pills available over the counter have great variability in the melatonin content when you compare actual vs. printed on the label. In one test, FDA found -89% to +473% variability. I recently learned that a great source of melatonin is raw pistachio. Just a few kernels of pistachio release enough melatonin that is in most pills. Check out this link from NutritionFacts.Org.

Sleep Hygiene – Best Method to Improve Quality of Sleep

Instead of taking any sleeping pills, Dr. Walker recommends the same sleep protocol that NIH recommend, see NIH published Your Guide to Healthy Sleep,
1. Stick to a sleep schedule.
2. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day.
3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.
6. If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep.
7. Don’t take naps after 3 p.m
8. Relax before bed.
9. Take a hot bath before bed.
10. Have a good sleeping environment.
11. Have the right sunlight exposure.
12. Don’t lie in bed awake.
13. See a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping

Summary
Sleep is way at the top of lifestyle choices for optimal health. Statistics show again and again that most of us do not get enough sleep.

Dr. Mathew Walker’s book Why We Sleep is a great book if you want to learn about latest on every aspect of sleep. NIH published Your Guide to Healthy Sleep is also a great resource that summarizes healthful practices.

In this post, I covered several myths on sleep
1. I can live quite well with 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep
2. Early morning sleep is more important that the late-night sleep
3. If I don’t sleep enough during the week day, I can always catch up on the weekend
4. Alcohol and sleeping pills can make you sleep better
5. If I am short of sleep, I will know so I can correct it
6. Coffee, slapping myself, or loud music can keep me going
7. Caffeine is not a problem, if don’t ingest caffeinated drinks at dinner time
8. Melatonin will help me sleep better

If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, check out the 13 step Sleep Hygiene protocols that I summarized above. Dr. Walker and NIH recommend this method of improving your sleep quality and is proven to work better than sleeping pills.

NIH published Your Guide to Healthy Sleep and Dr. Walker’s book have more details on this method of improving sleep quality.

What do you think?

Have you learnt something about sleep, that you can share?

I would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

Post #60 – 10 Books on Health and Wellness I Read Over the Last Year

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I thought I would share titles, quick summary and my takeaways of the books I recently read on the subject of health and wellness. May be one or more might intrigue you or inspire you for you to explore further. Or, even adopt some practices recommended in these books to improve you health and wellness.

How Not to Die Cook Book As I mentioned in my previous post #58, I consider Michael Greger’s website http://www.NutiritionFacts.com as the go-to site for all information related to nutrition. This cookbook is a good companion book to the website and his earlier best-selling book How Not To Die. Recipes are practical way of adapting to the latest in nutrition science. I have tried few recipes. They are very good.

The End of Heart Disease In my blog post #9 – When it comes to health, vitality and aging what is really possible?, I had discussed the book, Prevent and Reverse Hearth Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. M.D. In this book, Dr. Fuhrman’s has updated research on preventing and reversing heart disease. Case studies are mind blowing. He not only gives research but actually prescription on what you should actually eat and even very specific meal plans.  Dr. Furhman promises his patients to let him decide what they eat for six weeks and then based on the result they can then decide what to eat. Most of them become converts to his prescription of nutrition after seeing the results.

Super ImmunityI did a series for posts #51-#54 on How to Optimize Your Immune System. In this book, Dr. Fuhrman offers a lot more research and very practical ways to build immunity so your body can fight whatever comes its way – not only flues and colds, but also other infections and even cancer. Cancer after-all is just DNA mutation that body fights all day long. Only when our immune system is NOT capable of handling the mutated DNA, it starts to take over the organs unchecked. Again, the book includes nutrition meal plans, recipes to put into practice his philosophy – not just eat food that is packed with desired micro-nutrients, but eat a lot of it.

The Telomere Effect In blog post #50, I discussed how to optimize your health by maximizing your telomeres. Elizabeth Blackburh received Nobel Prize for her research in telomeres. Telomeres are the end-caps at the ends of our DNA strands like little plastic wraps at the end of shoe laces. If the little plastic wraps are damaged shoe laces become useless, so is the case with the DNA. The length of telomeres correlate with the remaining lifespan. Dr. Blackburn shares the latest research in lay-person language and shares the different methods by which we can increase the length of our telomeres. Reading this book, it should not come as surprise to you that the  lifestyle choices I discussed in my Post #59, all help increase the lengths of your telomeres.

The Science of ExerciseTime did a fantastic job in summarizing the latest in science of exercise in this special Time Magazine publication. If you needed any further evidence how exercise impacts health and lifespan, I believe this publication will deliver, without having to read some big tome. The issue spans many diverse topics: cardio vs. weights, high intensity interval training, running, swimming, yoga and other exercise modalities.

The Science of Being and Art of LivingIn my blog post #17 – Is meditation an effective antidote to stress, I talk about Transcendental Meditation or TM as a very effective and well-researched means for combating stress. Science of Being and Art of Living is book compiled based on lectures by Maharishi Mahesh, who introduced TM to the West. He also founded the TM movement that has established TM Centers pretty much in all major cities throughout the world. While first part of the book serves as evidence and motivation for TM, the later parts are more for the practitioners and advanced students of TM and Yoga.

Heart Health KitA few months ago, I got a chance to meet and attend a work shop by Dr. Levy, who has spent all his life building bridges between Western medicine and Eastern philosophies of yoga and meditation. Dr. Levy talks about how to prevent and reverse heart diseases by tackling the most insidious of the issues that impact heart health, i.e., Stress. This manual is accompanied by CDs on which you will find and can actually use his hypnosis techniques for relieving stress and anxiety.

The Happiness SutraIn this more recent publication, The Happiness Sutra, Dr. Levy further delves into the four different types of stresses humans face and how best to deal with all four types of stresses. This book also has a CD that you can listen to to get the benefit of Dr. Levy’s hypnosis methods for relieving stress.

Mind over Medicine Lissa Rankin, M.D.’s  book Mind Over Medicine is a great case study of extreme stress brought on modern living and by our current medical system. Dr. Rankin, a practicing OB GYN, quit her practice of medicine  because of the numerous health and personal issues brought on by stress from her profession. She eventually found ways to heal herself and then learned to apply her new found knowledge to become a true healer,  without becoming slave to the medical system.

 

Have you read books on health and wellness that you would like to share?

I would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

 

 

 

 

Post #59 – What are our lifestyle choices for maximizing health and lifespan?

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Lifestyle Choices for Maximizing Health and Lifespan

Unless you have been living under a rock on an isolated island, I am sure you have heard that lifestyle choices have big impact on the both your health and how long you live.

Living longer means not dying sooner.  And, to not die sooner, you must take actions that eliminate the various ways one dies.

Living healthy, means taking actions to prevent all the ways one loses their abilities to enjoy day-to-day activities of life. Or, at least postpone the time as far into the future as possible before developing disabilities.

In both case, i.e., living longer and living healthy, lifestyle choices play crucial roles. But what are these life choices, besides the ones you hear all the time:  Eat Better and Exercise.

When I started to systematically pursue this topic of living optimal lifespan possible (my goal being 120 years), with optimal health span (my goal being no disabilities), I started enumerating all areas of life in which one can take some action to make this impact.

Of course, not everything is in our control. We did not come to this earth with guarantees. Unforeseen, random event, or events that are not in our control can ruin all our goals and plans. But the objective is to not let the possibility of events not in our control prevent us from taking actions that are indeed in our control.

So, here are all 12 dimensions of lifestyle that I have discovered so far that impact health span and life span. Each subject is a very extensive topic by itself.  I just very briefly summarize my personal take on these and may be an example of how I am attempting to address them in my lifestyle and where you can read about further in these blog posts.

1. Benchmarking Health: Knowing where you are is where I believe it has to all start. You go to doctor’s office and they take your physical measurements (height, weight), you vitals (pulse, blood pressure), order some measurements from the lab and then compare those with what should be “normal” for you. In Post #7 – Can biomarkers help in the quest for vitality and longevity?, I discuss the various measurements you can use as biomarkers for health. These days I measure:

Daily: Weight, waist, fat near navel and thigh, BP, SPO2, pulse, my over-all subjective state of my physical, emotional and mental health

Weekly: pH, Nitric Oxide, fasting glucose

Quarterly: Bloodwork through my primary physician – CBC (complete blood count), typical chemistry panel, Lipids (Cholesterol total, HDL, LDL, VLDL, Triglysrides), TSH, T3, T4 (Thyroid hormones), Male Hormones (Total and Free Testosterone, Estrogen, LH, FSH), Hydroxy-D, fasting glucose, A1c, PSA (for prostrate tumor screening), CRP, (for inflammation), Homocysteine (for heart condition)

Annually or Biennially: Telomere Measurements (DNA strands that dictate how long cells live), X-Rays of joints if I suspect arthritis etc., Ultrasound Study of Carotid and Aorta arteries, MRI’s to detect any tumors, eye-exam, hearing test, EKG.

Every 5 years: Colonoscopy, Stress-test.    

2.  Nutrition – That is everything that crosses our lips, what we eat or drink. I discussed the topic of nutrition in a series of eight blog posts on this subject of Optimal Nutrition, Posts #22 through #29.  additionally, Post #15, #31 and #32 discuss the topic of how and when to complement the nutrition with supplements.

 3. Exercise – Exercise is indispensable for building and maintaining muscle strength, flexibility, balance, endurance. There is also abundant proof that it helps with the metabolism, overall health and health of specific organs. I discussed this topic of exercise in blog post #30 – How much and what type of exercise do you need for optimal health?

 4. Maintaining Musco-skelatal Integrity: Pains in the back, knees, hips, shoulder, wrists and other various joints creep up. We may think that these pains just come out of nowhere. After all, we often notice that “yesterday it did not hurt and today it hurts”. So, it got be a random event. Right?

Reality is that unless there was a trauma caused by an accident, most of these are the result of repetitive movement in un-aligned joints. The underlying cause could be neglect of the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding joints or prolonged asymmetrical movements, e.g., always carrying a bag on the same shoulder, or playing games such tennis or golf that inherently require asymmetrical movement.

Yoga, myofascial massages, Rolfing, rolling with foam rollers, visiting a chiropractor for body alignment, weight bearing exercises for join strengths, e-cise routines designed by Pete Egoscue are methods I have learned for maintaining musco-skeletal integrity.  I discuss some of these in Post #30 – How much and what type of exercise do you need for optimal health? And Post #49 – What is the role of massage therapy in Optimal Health? Also, I discuss how you can use foam rolling for body alignment in Post #39 – Ever heard of foam rolling.

 5. Maintaining Mind-body Connection: Our mind and body are inherently connected. Maintaining the connection between the two is essential for optimal health. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, are some ways to develop and maintain mind-body connection.  I have very limited experience with Tai Chi and Qigong. I do, however, perform Yoga as part of my lifestyle.  In Post #11 – My first year of experience with Bikram Yoga, Post #12 – My second year of experience with Bikram Yoga, I describe how I incorporated Bikram Yoga into my lifestyle.

 6. Enhancing and Maintaining Brain: If we lose vitality of the brain, the quality of life suffers dramatically. Alzheimer and other forms of Dementia can often be very painful way of living. Evidence is mounting that for optimal brain health, we must keep the brain stimulated with right activities. All my life, I have been very focused on left brain type of activities. As I was turning 60, I decided to do something about it and started taking piano lessons to stimulate my right brain and prevent any premature aging of the brain. I discuss the activities for maintaining optimal health in Post #57 – Optimal Mental Health – what is it and how to achieve it?

 7. Stress Management: Stress is a root cause of many diseases. We have all experienced how stress can bring about disturbances in the digestive systems, back pain, high blood pressures, even heart attacks and strokes. Yoga and Meditation are two of the ways to manage stress. Perspective management is another powerful method. I got initiated in Transcendental Meditation over 30 years ago and I have been doing TM ever since with good benefits. I tackle the subject in Post #16 – What is stress really and why is it bad for longevity and health and Post #17 – Is meditation an effective antidote to stress.

8. Adequate Sleep: There is more and more evidence every day that inadequate sleep can cause all sorts of ailments. 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep is considered optimal. All my life, I thought the object of the game was to get away with as little a sleep as possible. Sleeping more than 6 hours every night is still a challenge for me. Although I am working on it to extend sleeping hours during the week and may be do some catch up sleeping during the weekends. Maybe I will tackle this topic in a future post.

 9. Social Engagement: World-wide Study of Blue Zones, i.e., geographical areas where longest living people are clustered, showed a very surprising factor that contributed to long healthy life of people living there. Researchers found that people in Blue Zones are socially very engaged. Centenarians in these areas are engaged with tight knit groups of friends and family. So, the conclusion is that social engagement is an important factor in living longer and healthier.

 10. Purposeful Living: It is well known that death rates spike after the holidays and after major life events. Researchers deduce from studies of such phenomena that people live only as long as they find life meaningful.

Of course, it is needs an ongoing effort to figure out what one can derive meaning from. One may find meaning in raising kids or grand kids, contributions to society, being the best spouse one can be or from “slaying some dragon”. Some people find meaning in their faith and service to God. Others find meaning in being of service to mankind. Yet others can find meaning in their job or career.

Viktor Frankel explores this topic beautifully in his book: Man’s Search for Meaning.

11. Make Full-use of All Modalities of Medical Care: Modern medicine has developed amazing and miraculous treatments. By making use of the modern medicine one can live much healthier and much longer..  In general, the earlier you are able to catch a disease and the sooner you start treatment, better your chances of a cure or at least minimum damage. Mantra for modern medicine is “early detection, early cure”

 Alternative schools of medicine, such as Ayurvedic, Homeopathy, Aquapuncture, Naturopathy, offer valid means for preventative care and whole-person healing.  Leveraging these modalities of medical care as appropriate can offer means for optimal healing and living. Here the rule is the age old wisdom: An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

I was even able to eliminate my severe seasonal allergies by working with doctors for Naturopathy and totally change the vector of my health as I discuss in Post #8 – So, did I you tell you the story of my allergies. Also strengthening your immune system can have major consequences on how your body deals with diseases as I discuss in a series of Posts #51 – 54 – How to Optimize Your Immune System – Part I through Part IV

12. Make use of Genetics Science: There is of course the truth of genetics. Genes do play a role in how long we will live and what diseases we may have the tendencies to develop. Over the last few years, however, scientists are finding that inherited genes don’t determine your destiny, it is the lifestyle that can either turn those genes on or off. This is the exciting field of epigenetics.

 Studies from the filed of epigenetics do  give us opportunites to leverage genes.  Through genome mapping, we can find out what might be our tendencies and to what aspects of our life, therefore, we should pay particular attention. Over the last few years, I have gotten my telomeres measured – these are tips at the ends of genes that are considered to act like our lifespan clocks.  I discussed this in Post #50 – How to optimize your health by maximizing your telomeres. More recently, I have sent for genetic testing to be able to receive personalized genetics bases lifestyle coaching. I will share results of that experiences in a future post.

The percent of role of genes that we cannot do anything about is constantly shrinking all the time. Now it is believed that only between 5% to 15% of lifespan and health span is determined by genes that we have no control over.

Bottomline:

In summary, researchers have shown again and again that health span and life span depend upon one’s lifestyle choices. A holistic look at lifestyle choices means many different and distinct areas of life.

I shared my take on these dimension of lifestyle and some of my experience. Also, gave references to where you can find more information, whenever, I have already discussed that topic in more detail in my blog posts.

  1. Benchmarking Health
  2. Nutrition
  3. Exercise
  4. Maintaining Musco-skelatal Integrity
  5. Maintaining Mind-body Connection
  6. Enhancing and Maintaining Brain
  7. Stress Management
  8. Adequate Sleep
  9. Social Engagement
  10. Purposeful Living
  11. Making full-use of all modalities of medical care
  12. Make use of Genetics Science

What do you think?

Do you think there is another dimension of lifestyle that I did not care is also important?

I would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input. 

 

Post #58 – One Stop Shop to Find Information About Optimal Nutrition

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It has been a few months since I last wrote a blog post. It seemed like I ran out of material to write about.

As you know, the purpose of these posts is to share only information 1) that is based on research and is not a merely hearsay, 2) that I have personal experience with, and 3) that I feel contribute towards a goal of living the longest with optimal health.

For a while I had plenty of such information that fit the scope of this blog. And, then I hit the wall.

About a year and a half ago, I found a source that has troves of nutritional information for optimal health. This information is available in videos and text form – all for FREE.

Using this information, I have been further optimizing my own lifestyle. And, it has already showing further improvements in my bio-markers.

The source is:  www.NutritionFacts.org  

This site is a labor of love for Michael Greger M.D. FACLM.  He seems to be on a personal crusade to share this knowledge and information. He and his staff of volunteers comb through over 20,000 research papers on nutritional studies published every year. They summarize this information in few minutes long byte-sized chunks and even as annual summaries, which last about an hour.

You can even subscribe to their site and you will receive a tip every day in your email.  I actually look forward to these emails. That way I can learn over time and don’t take in more than I can digest.

I got introduced to Dr. Greger’s work by reading his book: How Not to Die.

Gregor book

Some startling things I learned from this site:

  1. How you can reverse your diabetes by changing what you eat.
  2. How you can shrink you prostrates by adding certain fruits to your diet.
  3. How you can reduce blood pressure with certain plant based foods.

And, for every claim, he gives his rationale based on specific research studies and papers that you can further read up yourself, if you wish.

MY LIFE STYLE CHANGES

Here are some things I have already incorporated in my lifestyle, as a result of the research information I learned from Dr. Greger:

  1. I am now working on replacing, whenever possible, to get as many micro-nutrients as possible using whole foods rather than supplements.
  2. I started adding one tablespoon of freshly ground Flax Seeds and a quarter teaspoon of Turmeric in my shakes every morning. As you will see from the research, flax seeds and turmeric are effective for a whole bunch of issues, e.g., blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation.
  3. I started adding one table spoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in my salads at lunch to lower my blood sugar resulting from food at lunch, which tends to be my heaviest meal.
  4. I have been eating 2 to 4 pieces of Brazil Nuts as snack every night to further lower my LDL Cholesterol.
  5. I am now more conscious of making sure that I add Cruciferous Vegetables in my salads to boost my anti-oxidants.
  6. I have started sprinkling pomegranates seeds on my oat meal for my prostrate health.

RESULTS SO FAR

I have been quite pleased with the results of these changes so far. Here are a few:

  1. My most recent blood-work on 7/7/2017 shows, an Hemoglobin A1C of 5.4%! It was 5.5% three months ago.  My A1C was stuck at or above 5.8% for the last three years, ever since I have been measuring it.  Ever since then, I have been working on getting it out of the pre-diabetes range, considered to be over 5.6%.
  2. All my inflammation markers, CRP, Homocysteine, WBC are all trending down.
  3. LDL and Triglycerides are 86 and 57 in the latest blood-work – without any meds. These are on the low end of where they ever been.
  4. My blood pressure measured on my last doctor’s visit was 108/70! As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have working on reducing my BP.

Bottom Line:

I highly recommend that you checkout www.NutrtionFacts.org.  An evidence-based nutrition advice that is labor of love of Dr. Michael Greger. You can search for a specific topic, browse the site in general for useful information and/or subscribe to the daily email.

This site has become a go-to site for me for all things nutritional for Optimal Health. I have found the information is research-based, concise, well-presented and at-times with profound implications.

Most of the time, information is very actionable.

 

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

 

 

Post #57 – Optimal Mental Health – what is it and how to achieve it?

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Throughout life, mental health influences how we make decisions, manage stress and interact with others. Similar to physical health, mental health is important for optimal development at every stage of life.

However, before we get deeper into the subject of Optimal Mental Health, it is probably useful to first figure out what is Mental Health. Sometimes, such common terms can be slippery to nail down.  And, that exactly seems to be the case with this term Mental Health.

Mental Health

According to U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), Mental Health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Mental Illness

A related term Mental Illness, on the other hand, is defined as collectively all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.

Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease, i.e., heart attack. The seriousness of mental health issues was clearly raised in a very comprehensive report, almost 500-page report: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.

Mental Health Indicators

In the health care and public health arena, more emphasis and resources have been devoted to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness than mental health. Little has been done to protect the mental health of those free of mental illness. Researchers suggest that there are indicators of mental health, representing three domains:

  • Emotional well-being – such as perceived life satisfaction, happiness, cheerfulness, peacefulness.
  • Psychological well-being – such as self-acceptance, personal growth including openness to new experiences, optimism, hopefulness, purpose in life, control of one’s environment, spirituality, self-direction, and positive relationships, and
  • Social well-being – social acceptance, beliefs in the potential of people and society as a whole, personal self-worth and usefulness to society, sense of community.

One way to look at mental health and mental illness is that these are points along a continuum and neither state exists in pure isolation from the other.

Mind and Body are Inseparable

In another but related context, everyday language tends to encourage a misperception that “mental health” or “mental illness” is unrelated to “physical health” or “physical illness.” In fact, mental health and physical health are inseparable.

Although “mind” is a broad term that has had many different meanings over the centuries, these days it refers to the totality of mental functions related to thinking, mood, and purposive behavior. The mind is generally seen as deriving from activities within the brain but displaying emergent properties, such as consciousness.

One reason the people continue to this day to emphasize the difference between mental and physical health is embedded in language. Common parlance continues to use the term “physical” to distinguish some forms of health and illness from “mental” health and illness. People continue to see mental and physical as separate functions when, in fact, mental functions (e.g., memory) are physical as well.

Mental functions are carried out by the brain. Likewise, mental disorders are reflected in physical changes in the brain. Physical changes in the brain often trigger physical changes in other parts of the body too. The racing heart, dry mouth, and sweaty palms that accompany a terrifying nightmare are orchestrated by the brain. A nightmare is a mental state associated with alterations of brain chemistry that, in turn, provoke unmistakable changes elsewhere in the body.

A more appropriate and neutral distinction is between “mental” and “somatic” health. Somatic is a medical term that derives from the Greek word soma for the body. Mental health refers to the successful performance of mental functions in terms of thought, mood, and behavior. Mental disorders are those health conditions in which alterations in mental functions are paramount.

Somatic conditions are those in which alterations in non-mental functions predominate. While the brain carries out all mental functions, it also carries out some somatic functions, such as movement, touch, and balance. That is why not all brain diseases are mental disorders. For example, a stroke causes a lesion in the brain that may produce disturbances of movement, such as paralysis of limbs. When such symptoms predominate in a patient, the stroke is considered a somatic condition. But when a stroke mainly produces alterations of thought, mood, or behavior, it is considered a mental condition (e.g., dementia).

The point is that a brain disease can be seen as a mental disorder or a somatic disorder depending on the functions it perturbs.

Fixing the body can fix the mind and fixing mind can fix the body

There is plenty of evidence showing that mental disorders, especially depressive disorders could be caused by many chronic “physical” diseases including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity.  At the same time, many risk behaviors that give rise to chronic diseases are physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep whose underlying cause is mental health.

Then Why the Stigma to Mental Health Issues

Stigmatization of people with mental disorders has persisted throughout history. It is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger, and/or avoidance. Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders. It deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society.

Explanations for stigma stem, in part, from the misguided split between mind and body first proposed by Descartes. Another source of stigma lies in the 19th century separation of the mental health treatment system in the United States from the mainstream of health. These historical influences exert an often immediate influence on perceptions and behaviors in the modem world.

So, what is Optimal Mental Health?

Just as in the case of Optimal Physical Health, absence of disease, or in the case mental health, absent of mental illness does not seem to be quite adequate to define Optimal Mental Health.  Given that mental illness and mental health is a continuum, it begs some sort of scale to measure one’s mental health.

Here is one scale to calibrate your mental health during a specific time frame:emotional-scale-2

With this scale, if I  yesterday  I was feeling bored that would be a score of -1 for yesterday. Today I am feeling confident, that would be a  score of +2. Etc. For a while, using this scale, I used to keep a journal of my daily emotional state. 

This scale can be a good way to measure impact of any lifestyle changes on your mental or emotional health. For example, if you just added daily walk or daily meditation to your lifestyle, or started taking certain supplements, you could track impact this way.

 

Well-Being as Measure of Mental Health

Another way to measure and monitor is in terms of a more holistic term called Well-Being. Researchers from different disciplines have examined different aspects of well-being:

  • Physical well-being.
  • Economic well-being.
  • Social well-being.
  • Development and activity.
  • Emotional well-being.
  • Psychological well-being.
  • Life satisfaction.
  • Domain specific satisfaction.
  • Engaging activities and work.

A website, you can use to quantify your personal Well-Being and benchmark it against others is: http://www.nationalaccountsofwellbeing.org/engage/. After answering, 50 questions (it only takes 10-15 mintues) you can receive a plot like the following and an overall Well-Being score. You can then compare you score with others. or how it progresses. More importantly, you can explore area of opportunities where you would like to grow and focus your attention for improving your well-being.

about-your-profile-results-_-your-results-_-explore-_-national-accounts-of-well-being

Jack Kornfield on Optimal Health

Jack Kornfield, a bestselling American author, yoga-mediation teacher and Buddhist monk has an interesting definition of Optimal Mental Health.  On his website he has the following description:

We have within us an extraordinary capacity for love, for joy, and unshakable freedom.  Buddhist psychology describes this as optimal mental health. I have seen this optimal wellbeing in many of my teachers. Ajahn Jumnian describes his mind as completely steady, silent and free throughout both his waking and sleeping hours.  He says, “I haven’t experienced a single moment of frustration or anger for over twenty years.” I’ve also observed that he sleeps only one or two hours a night. Ajahn Jumnian describes his inner life quite simply, “When I am alone, my mind rests in pure awareness. I am simply at peace.  Then whenever I encounter people and experiences, the awareness automatically fills with loving-kindness or compassion. This is the natural expression of pure awareness.”  Those around Ajahn Jumnian feel his free spirit and unshakable joy.

Now that is taking Optimal Health to whole different level!

Bottom Line:

We laid the foundation of some fundamentals on how to define and measure optimal mental health. In the next blog post, we will get down to methods for achieving Optimal Mental Health.

A quick summary of what we covered here:

Throughout life, mental health influences how we make decisions, manage stress and interact with others.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health includes:

  • Emotional well-being
  • Psychological well-being, and
  • Social well-being

Mind and body are NOT separate.  Each influences and controls the health of the other.  It is a historical quirk in the evolution of medicine that we treat the two separately.  This separation has also led to much stigma to the mental health issues and separation of medicine applied to mind vs. the body.

We could calibrate mental health by using some scale like the one presented in this post to measure mental health as emotional health and track impact of introducing changes in lifestyle.

Ideally, to understand Optimal Health, we need to track total Well-being. You may want to use the nef website to calibrate your total Well-being and explore opportunities for improvement.

Long term meditators and Buddhist Monks define and are able to demonstrate Optimal Mental Health as a state of pure awareness that is full of compassion and love, and is above the daily swings of emotions.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

 

 

Post # 56 – What is Optimal Blood Pressure and How to Achieve it?

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First, a quick story and my own experience over the last six months.

For a number of years, I have had my blood pressure in tens (between 110 and 119) for Systolic and in the seventy’s for the Diastolic.  So, my typical BP measurement might be 112/74.

For the last couple of years, however, every time I visited a doctor or clinic, I noticed that it was in the high twenty’s or low thirty’s for Systolic (125 to 135 range) and low eighty’s for the Diastolic pressure. For example, I might see my as BP 128/82. Doctors always called it out as “normal” and I ignored it assuming that those were spurious readings.

About six months ago, I decided to get a BP monitor and started measuring my blood pressure frequently – like every day and even multiple times during a day.  I noticed that the higher readings I had seen during the last couple of years were actually true. I wanted to know if it was inevitable that my BP would be creeping up as I get older.  Or, could I do something about it?

And, so I decided to take a deeper dive into this topic of BP.

First, I asked my wellness doc if he had any ideas. He told me that it was nothing to worry about. When I insisted on understanding why my BP not stay in the tens for Systolic and seventy’s for diastolic, he told me that I was already eating a pretty clean vegetarian diet.  He suggested I could experiment with vegan diet and also suggested a couple of books to read.

Well after about six months of eating vegan (only plant based whole food, no eggs, no dairy, no meat) and daily monitoring my BP, it looks like my BP is nicely settling in the tens range for systolic and in the seventy’s range for diastolic and times even lower.

And, here is a quick synopsis of what I learned along the way about what is optimal BP and how to achieve it. You might find surprising some of  what I learned and am sharing here.

What is Optimal BP?

We have all heard that BP is the “silent killer”. That uncontrolled high BP can injure or kill you. According to American Heart Association website, possible health consequence can happen over time, if left untreated include:

  • Coronoary Heart Disease or CHD, i.e., damage to the heart and coronary arteries, including heart attack, heart disease, congestive heart failure, aortic dissection and atherosclerosis (fatty buildups in the arteries that cause them to harden)
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage
  • Vision loss
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Memory loss
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Angina
  • Peripheral artery disease

I am sure you have also heard that BP less than 120/80 is considered “normal”.  120 – 139 for systolic or 80 to 89 for diastolic is considered pre-hypertension.  And, anything above those numbers is considered hypertension and your doc will say that you must do something to bring it in the lower ranges. NIH National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website publishes this guidance:

Stages of High Blood Pressure in Adults

Stages Systolic
(top number)
Diastolic
(bottom number)
Prehypertension 120–139 OR 80–89
High blood pressure Stage 1 140–159 OR 90–99
High blood pressure Stage 2 160 or higher OR 100 or higher

Well, where do these numbers come from?

As you may already know, if you have been reading these blog posts, that I am always suspect of the word “normal”.  I prefer talking about “optimal”.

 Updated Research on BP

In BMJ 2009, M R Law et al, published a very extensive meta-analysis study of 143 previously completed clinical trials on the use of BP lowering drugs. A meta-analysis study is a study of already published studies to assemble an overall conclusion. A key conclusion of this meta-analysis study was:

“The relative risk estimates of CHD events and stroke in the blood pressure difference trials were similar across all levels of blood pressure before treatment down to 110 mm Hg systolic and 70 mm Hg diastolic, below which there were too few data.”

Basically, from all previous studies they analyzed that the risk of all coronary heart disease and stoke continued to decrease as the BP were lowered to 110/70.  They could not tell if the trend would continue below 110/70, since there was not enough data available for cases below 110/70.

So, 110/70 is definitely better than 120/80 in reducing the risk of CHD and strokes.  Is 105/65 or other lower numbers better than 110/70, they could not prove it due to insufficient data.

Here is another conclusion:

“This, the largest meta-analysis of randomised trials of blood pressure reduction to date, shows that lowering systolic blood pressure by 10 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg using any of the main classes of blood pressure lowering drugs, reduces CHD events (fatal and non-fatal) by about a quarter and stroke by about a third, regardless of the presence or absence of vascular disease and of blood pressure before treatment, with no increase in non-vascular mortality. Heart failure is also reduced by about a quarter. Proportional disease reduction for a given blood pressure reduction independent of pretreatment blood pressure.”

Translated it means the risk of CHD and strokes decreases at the same rate no matter what the starting point is. So, when you lower your systolic BP from 140 to 130, or 130 to 120 or from 120 to 110, you decrease you risk by the same amount, of CHD by 25% and strokes by 33%.

The following example from the research paper illustrate this calculations.

“At age 60-69, the relative risk of stroke is 0.43 (57% decrease) for a 20 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure. For a blood pressure decrease twice as great (40 mm Hg), the relative risk of 0.43 effectively applies twice (0.43×0.43, or 0.432), which is 0.18 (an 82% decrease).”

That is quite amazing, isn’t it?

Do you have to take meds to lower your blood pressure?

Short answer is: of course, not.

Michael Gregor, M.D. in his book, “How not to Die”, Chapter 7: How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure, very succinctly lays out who the villains and heroes are in the epic story of BP.

Gregor book

Villains are Sodium and all the foods that sneak sodium in the form of salt into our diet. Mechanism seems simple enough. Sodium causes water retention and body raises blood pressure to try to expel the excess retained water from the body.

There is a plethora of research that shows that if you lower your sodium intake to less than 500 mg a day, you can achieve a 110/70 BP.

Heroes are anti-oxidant, potassium and nitrate rich foods that provide antidote to sodium and the damage it does to the cardiovascular system. Adding the following foods to your diet will further lower or make it easier to bring it in the right range:

  • Rhubarb
  • Leafy green vegetables;, arugula, cilantro, butter leaf lettuce, Mesclun greens, beet greens, basil, oak leaf lettuce Swiss chard
  • Beets
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Whole Grains
  • Hibiscus Tea

Does the BP have to go up as we age?

Short answer is: NO.

Yes, the phenomenon of BP going up with age is what has been observed in “normal” situations. However, citing lots of existing research, Dr. Gregor demonstrates that the idea that BP has to go up as we age is a myth. With proper food intakes we can have a healthy BP for life.

Bottom line

There is extensive research available to establish that high Blood Pressure is indeed the silent killer it is made out to be. Consequences of high BP if left unchecked for extended period of time can cause many health issues beyond coronary heart disease and strokes.

120/80 may be considered “normal”, but is not actually optimal. Clear evidence exists that by lowering BP to 110/70, you can further reduce risks of CHD and stroke.  Further, benefits of lowering BP to less than 120/80 are significant.  There is not enough evidence at this time that numbers lower numbers than 110/70  further reduce the risks.

Meds are not the only means to lower BP. You can use lifestyle changes to lower BP to 110/70 or lower.

 Reducing sodium intake dramatically, lower than 500 mg per day, can lower the BP to 110/70.

Anti-oxidant, potassium and nitrate rich foods provide antidote to sodium and the damage it does to the cardiovascular system. Adding the following foods to your diet will further lower or make it easier to bring it in the right range:

  1. Rhubarb
  2. Leafy green vegetables;, arugula, cilantro, butter leaf lettuce, Mesclun greens, beet greens, basil, oak leaf lettuce Swiss chard
  3. Beets
  4. Ground flaxseed
  5. Whole Grains
  6. Hibiscus Tea

AHA’s website offers a neat little tool for you to see how much BP you can expect to lower with different recommended lifestyle changes.

 

So there you have it, results of my experience and deep dive into this topic so far!

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

 

Post #55 – Gravity-Based Life Style for Optimal Health

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On Father’s Day this year, my wife gave me an Apple Watch as a gift. And, as you can probably guess, I went straight to the fitness apps.

Apple watch allows you to continuously measure heart rate, daily steps walked, and the distance walked.  You can also set it to remind you to stand up, as I often as you tell it to and it keeps track of how many times you actually did stand up. And, it gives you at-a-boys for hitting and moving toward your goals. So, I starting using all these features right away.

But soon after I was wondering: What does the research say about the benefits of daily activities such as standing, walking etc.? Is their science behind this or is it just a gimmick?

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals

My first step was to carefully read the book we had already in the house: Sitting Kills, Moving Heals by Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division.  She spent her whole life working at NASA studying the ill effects on astronauts of space travel and living in space in zero gravity. More importantly, she studied how to minimize these ill effects and how to rehabilitate astronauts when they return to earth’s gravity.

Sitting Kills

And, even more importantly, Vernikos and other scientists also made the key connection that sitting on earth is the same as living in zero gravity. Having made that connection, they found that much of the research for space living becomes relevant to those of us who are earth bound.

According to Vernikos, when astronauts spend time in space, here are the kinds of health issues they develop:

  • Blood volume reduced
  • Body weight and mass decreases
  • Increased calcium excretion
  • Increased risk of kidney stones
  • Heart shrinks – cardiac output decreased
  • Heart muscle wall becomes thinner
  • Red blood cells reduced.
  • Stamina/aerobic capacity reduced
  • Lowered growth hormone response to exercise
  • Muscle atrophy; loss of muscle mass
  • Muscle strength reduced; size of fiber decreased
  • Fat moves in to replace muscle mass
  • Muscle sensitivity to insulin reduced
  • Muscle less able to take up sugar
  • Sense of taste and hearing dulled
  • Biological rhythm disturbed
  • Calcium lost from bone
  • Bone mass and density decreased
  • Increased risk of bladder infection
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Testosterone reduced

The list sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it?  After reading this list, you wonder why would anyone want to go live in space.

But these are the same effects that you see as people age on earth.

And, here is the kicker: Space research shows that these conditions induced through Gravity Deprivation Syndrome (GDS) are reversible once you get astronauts re-introduced to gravity.  It often takes almost one day of re-conditioning with gravity for each day spent in space to fully recover.

What about earth-bound people like you and I? We experience GDS is through sedentary life style. Through sitting and bed rest, we experience zero gravity like condition.

GDS starts as early as age 20.   Using bone density loss as a measure of GDS, earth-bound people experience a bone loss at the rate of about 10% per decade. No wonder, by 70’s and 80’s most people have serious osteoporosis conditions with frail bones.

These sedantary lifestyle induced GDS is the reason we are now hearing catch phrases like: Sitting Kills; Sitting is the new Smoking, etc.

How to Overcome Gravity Deprivation Syndrome (GDS)

Through studies and experimentation, researchers have found that to counter the effects of GDS, standing up often is what matters, not how long you remain standing.

Every time you stand up, the body initiates a shift in fluids, volume, hormones and causes muscle contraction to occur, and almost every nerve in the body is stimulated. If you stand up 16 times a day for two minutes, the body would read that as 16 stimuli, whereas if you stood once and remained standing for 32 minutes, it would see that as one stimulus.

Gym Workouts are No Substitute

Another surprising result: Gym workouts of 30 to 60 minute even daily may not be total replacement for activities required to counter GDS. To counter GDS, one needs to exercise stabilizer muscles that include tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Most folks focus on mobilizer muscles that include thighs, biceps, hamstrings, triceps, chest muscles, abs etc.

James Levine an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, coined the term Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is defined as the small, brief, yet frequent muscular movements one makes throughout the day, of which changing position is the most effective. Here are some examples of NEAT movements, other than standing up:

  • Bending over to pick up something
  • Squatting
  • Stretching upward to take something off a shelf
  • Getting dressed and undressed
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Stirring a pot
  • Crossing and uncrossing your legs
  • Waving one’s hands while talking
  • Fidgeting

So, more such activities we do, the more effects of GDS we overcome, even though we do not break a sweat.

Bottom Line

 Extrapolating extensive research conducted for space travels, shows that Gravity Deprivation Syndrome (GDS) has serious consequences to our health.  These symptoms of detrimental health due to GDS are often associated with aging, but actually are due to decreased activity as people grow old. Achieving and maintaining optimal health requires strategies to maximize activities to counter the effects of GDS.

The following is a list of some very effective actions to counter GDS:

  • Stand up sit Down
  • Stand tall
  • Stretch at your desk
  • Walk tall
  • Take the stairs instead of elevator
  • Practice balancing when you put on and take off your pants, shoes and socks
  • Use a broom
  • Play on swings; use rocking chairs
  • Dance
  • Play catch; throw Frisbee
  • Do yoga

Remember that exercise is not for gym any more.  So, as often as possible, inconvenience yourself by:

  • Parking far away from the destination,
  • Taking stairs instead of elevators,
  • Stepping up on escalators,
  • Walking instead of taking people movers,
  • Getting up frequently to reach for things, and
  • Carrying your brief case instead of rolling.

All these action help in keeping your stabilizer muscles in top shape for optimal health.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

Post #54 – How to Optimize Your Immune System? – Part IV – by Destressing

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Post #54 – How to Optimize Your Immune System? –  Part IV – by Destressing

In Post #51, I discussed some basic terminology of the immune systems, how immune system works, and what kinds of issues happen when it does not work.

Things that are in our control to enhance our immunity and also so the immune system does not go haywire are the ones that you have heard about gazillions of time by now and are probably tired of hearing about: Nutrition, Exercise and Lifestyle.

In Posts #52 and #53, we discussed how to boost your immune system with nutrition and exercise.   In this final post of this series, let’s focus on the last item Lifestyle. Specifically, we will explore what role stress plays in diminishing our immune system and what we can do about it.

Pathways between Stress and the Immune System

We have all heard or intuitively know that when you are stressed you are more susceptible to illness because your immune system is not fully functioning.  But how does that really happen?

A meta-analysis report by Suzanne Segerstrom and Gregory Miller pulls together results from 300 different studies and does a beautiful job of explaining our understanding of this biological connection between mental stress and components of our immune system. The following explanation is based on their paper.

There are three different ways stress in the mind “get inside the body” to affect the immune response:

First, sympathetic fibers descend from the brain into both primary (bone marrow and thymus) and secondary (spleen and lymph nodes) lymphoid tissues. These fibers can release a wide variety of substances that influence immune responses by binding to receptors on white blood cells.

Second, the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal, sympathetic, medullary, ovarian glands respond to stress and secrete the adrenal hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol; the pituitary hormones prolactin and growth hormone; and the brain peptides melatonin, β-endorphin, and enkephalin. These substances bind to specific receptors on white blood cells and have diverse regulatory effects on their distribution and function.

Third, people’s efforts to manage the demands of stressful experience sometimes lead them to engage in behaviors—such as alcohol use or changes in sleeping patterns—that also could modify immune system processes. Thus, behavior represents a potentially important pathway linking stress with the immune system.

Is Stress always bad?

The results of various studies have demonstrated that stressors with the fight-or-flight situations faced by humans’ evolutionary ancestors elicited potentially beneficial changes in the immune system. The more a stressor deviated from those parameters by becoming more chronic, however, the more components of the immune system were affected in a potentially detrimental way.

So, in other words, the way our ancestors’ bodies reacted to an encounter with a saber-tooth tiger was good for our immune system.  Stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we so often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies.  So, the effect on our immune systems is very negative when we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions.

Deep Rest for reversing impact of stress on our immune systems

Deepak Chopra, MD and David Simon, MD in their book Grow YoungDeepak Chopra Grow Youngerer, Live Longer: Ten Steps to Reverse Aging, beautifully describe the two antidotes to stress: Restful Awareness and Restful Sleep.

Restful Awareness is a natural mind/body response, as natural as the stress response. The most direct way to experience restful awareness is through meditation. During meditation, breathing slows, blood pressure decreases and stress hormones level off.

In this state while all the metabolic processes slow down, brain stays fully alert and awake. In his book Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation, Transcendence BookNorman Rosenthal, MD describes in great details this fourth state of consciousness many others call Restful Awareness.  He also lays out in great deal the research that backs up beneficial effects of Transcendental Meditation.

There are of course other types of meditations and techniques through which you can manage stress. A lot of work has been done and ongoing in the Mindful-based Stress Reduction techniques.  These studies describe how performing mindful meditation and living in mindful way reduce conditioned fight-flight response and allows one to make more conscious choices. Such conscious or mindful living thus overrides the biological processes that damage our immune system.

Restful Sleep is equally important in managing stress for optimal immune function. Restful Sleep of minimum six to eight hours is necessary. More recent studies have called out 7.5 hours of daily restful sleep as the optimal.

Restful sleep means that your drift off easily once you turn off the light and sleep soundly through the night. If you have to get up to go to the bathroom during the night, you are able to easily get back to sleep. You will know you have restful sleep if upon awakening you feel energetic, alert and vibrant.  If you feel tired and unenthusiastic when you wake up in the morning, you have not had a night of restful sleep.

To get the best sleep usually requires that you develop a regular routine transitioning from activity to sleep. Chopra and Simon describe very good routines that allow you to transition from the daily activity to deep sleep.

Bottom Line

To optimize immune systems, stress management can play a critical role. In the 30 years since work in the field of psychoneuroimmunology began, studies have convincingly established that stressful experiences alter features of the immune response as well as make one vulnerable to adverse medical outcomes.

Practicing Restful Awareness through Transcendental Meditation, Mindful Meditation, Mindful living or other technique are critical to minimizing stress. The benefits of these techniques are now well established.

Daily Restful Sleep is also required to manage stress.  Practicing daily routines to help transition from daily activity to restful sleep is the best method to achieving daily restful sleep.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

 

Post #53 – How to Optimize Your Immune System? –  Part III  – with Exercise

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In Post #51, I discussed some basic terminology of the immune systems, how immune system works, and what kinds of issues happen when it does not work.

Things that are in our control to enhance our immunity and also so the immune system does not go haywire are the ones that you have heard about gazillions of time by now and are probably tired of hearing about: Nutrition, Exercise and Lifestyle.

In Post #52, we discussed how to boost your immune system with nutrition.   In this post, let’s focus on how and what type of Exercise can boost the immune system.

Impact of exercise on Immune systems

Quite a bit of research is available on how exercise impacts the immune system, although most of it is about impact of exercise on colds and flu. Based on the available research, here are some theories why exercise helps improve the immunity:

  • Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other airborne illness.
  • Exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells (the body’s immune system cells that fight disease). These antibodies or white blood cells circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before.
  • The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection more effectively. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.

Getting a little deeper into the subject, here are some findings from some specific studies:

  1. Exercise can provoke moderate acute elevations in IL-6 exerting anti-inflammatory effects
  2. Exercise increases numbers of Neutrophils, T and B lymphocytes, and NK cells – all key components of the immune system
  3. Exercise improves antigen specific T cell function for better protection from infectious agents and greater immunosurveillance
  4. Exercise enhances a variety of macrophage biology and capacities
  5. Exercise improves gut microbiota,  i.e., the bacteria collection in the gut

But how much exercise should you do?

We have all heard that exercise is good for you.  And, as this blog post is emphasizing, among other things, exercise also enhances the immune system. But how much exercise?

In this study, the researchers examined three groups of people: elite athletes, recreational athletes, and sedentary controls. Their results were kind of interesting:

  • The elite athletes had the most upper respiratory issues (66% got sick).
  • The couch potatoes were next (45% got sick).
  • The recreational athletes were the healthiest (22% got sick).

All kinds of other research has found the same thing, so exercise scientists tend to use a J-shaped curve to model the immune effects of exercise. It looks like this:

immunity vs exercise

So one thing is clear, moderate exercise is significantly better for you than no exercise at all. If you are sedentary, it does not seem to take much to get the benefits of improved immune system. For example, daily walking for one hour at a 60 to 65% maximum heart rate (computed as 220-your age) gets you near the optimal range in the above chart.

From the chart, it is clear that there is a point where the benefit of training stops and the negative effect of over-training on the immune system sets in. This literature review article, goes into much more specifics on the kind of exercise that produces the immune-suppressant, i.e., harmful, response:

  • Relatively long workouts (1.5 hours or more), especially without refueling during the workout.
  • A reasonably high intensity, but not excessively difficult (since you have to be able to keep it up for a while).
  • An inadequate recovery period between workouts.

Basically, the kind of grueling training elite athletes often go through preparing for a competition, such as running a marathon.

This article puts it slightly differently:

No activity is worse than some, while too much may be worse than none at all. The ideal lies somewhere in between – though not necessarily in the middle, but rather smack dab in the “just enough” section. Can “just enough” be quantified? Perhaps it could be quantified using a battery of round-the-clock tests and measurements of anabolic and catabolic hormones, various serum concentrations, lactate build-up, cortisol, testosterone ratios, etc., but that would be expensive, unwieldy, and completely individualized. If you want to avoid over-training, there are some grand, overarching principles to follow, but you’ll also want to pay attention to certain personal, entirely subjective cues.

That’s what my trainer and yoga teachers call “listening to your body”. There are days, when I am feeling physically ragged since I may not have slept well, or I may be catching a virus, or am feeling physically exhausted or whatever.   In such situations, I need to carefully “listen to my body” and either take it easier than usual or just totally skip the session.

Bottom Line

To optimize immune systems, exercise plays a critical role. It only takes a moderate amount of exercise to get the optimal benefit of exercise for improving immune system. For example any of these activities or some combination of these done daily would optimize the immune systems:

  1. walking for 1 hour at a pace of 60-65% of maximum heart rate of approximately 220 minus your age,
  2. An hour long yoga routine,
  3. A strength training session with body weight or light weights could do the trick

On the other hand, extended periods of over-training can compromise and may lead to sub-optimal immune system. It is more difficult to define over-training with objective measures and may depend upon many individual factors.  It is best to listen to your body and develop a subjective feel for what level of exercise may be “just right” for you for optimal immune system.

 

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.

 

Post #52 – How to Optimize Your Immune System? –  Part II  – With Nutrition

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In Post #51, I discussed some basic terminology of the immune systems, how immune system works, and what kinds of issues happen when it does not work. In this post the focus is what we can do to keep our immune system healthy and working as designed.

So, what can we do to optimize our immune system?

Things that are in our control to enhance our immunity and make sure that the immune system does not go haywire are the ones that you have heard about gazillions of time by now and are probably tired of hearing about: Nutrition, Exercise and Lifestyle.

Each one is a topic in itself.  In this post, let’s tackle nutrition.

Immune systems and nutrition

As Prof. Chris D’Adamo, Director of Research at Center of Integrative Medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine, recently gave a talk summarizing research on different foods are known to have immunity enhancing properties. Lot of the content that follows is from his talk.

Mushrooms –  Over 5,000 different types of mushrooms exist in nature many of which are used in traditional medical systems.

In Shitake mushrooms Polysaccharides alpha-Glucans enhance immune system by enhancing the macrophage activity. Shitake mushrooms have been shown in research to have antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral effects. They have also been shown to offer defense against influenza virus and useful in cancer therapy.

Maitake mushrooms enhance immune activity.  While White Button mushrooms have been shown to regulate immune activity, both up and down as needed and useful against breast and prostate cancersSo, eating a variety of mushrooms can enhance and regulate the immune system. 

Cooking mushrooms is better since many contain hyrozines, a carcinogen that is deactivated by heat.

As a practical tip, just wipe mushrooms clean and not  wash in water  since mushrooms are porous and soaking may make them soggy.

If you are not the mushroom eating type, mushroom extracts are as also available that blend different varieties of mushrooms. Here are some:

Mushroom extract

Allium Vegetables –  Garlic, Onions, scallions, shallots, chives, leeks,etc.

The Allium genus includes approximately 500 species that include garlic, onion, leeks, chives, scallions which are used all over the world in different delicacies. Some allium vegetables have been employed for millenia in the traditional medical practice to treat cardiovascular diseases.  These vegetables have been shown to have applications as antimicrobial, antithrombotic, antitumor, hypolipidaemic, antiarthritic and hypoglycemic agents.

In recent years, extensive research has focused on the anticarcinogenic potential of allium vegetables and their constituents, viz., allylsulfides and flavonoids (particularly quercetin which is present abundantly in onion). Epidemiological studies have shown that higher intake of allium products is associated with reduced risk of several types of cancers. These epidemiological findings are well correlated with laboratory investigations. Organosulfur compounds present in Allium vegetables, are considered to be responsible for the beneficial effects of these herbs.

To maximize health benefits of garlic crushing or chopping garlic bulb is important since it converts sulfur compound alliin to more bioactive allicin. It is also important to leave crushed/chopped garlic for serveral minutes before cooking for enhanced activity of allinase enzymes.

And, to maximize health benefits of onions, don’t overpeel.  Flavonoid content is highest in the outermost layers.

Probiotics or Fermented Foods

Bacteria in the gut, aka Gut Biota, continues to be one of the most exciting topic in health and wellness research. Gut biota and therefore probiotics play a huge role in immunity. Some believe as much as 50% of the immunity is in the gut.  Probiotics are defined as any live microorganisms that confer health benefits.

Foods fermented with “probiotic” bacteria or yeast are therefore very important to any diet to enhance immunity.  In traditional diets, common fermented foods are:

  • Miso and natto – fermented beans/grains usually soy
  • Kimchi – fermetend cabbage, radhishes, etc.
  • Kambuch – fermented tea
  • Yogurt, lassi, kefir – fermented dairy
  • Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage
  • Ogi – fermented grains

If not chosen carefully, any of these foods can be used in a way that turns them into junk food.  For example, in the US, we have taken healthful yogurt and turned it into a junk food by adding sugar and other additives.  To figure out what yogurt to buy, check out website  http://cornucopia.org/yogurt-scorecard/.   Out of 130 yogurts, the site lists Activa, Yoplait and Dannon as numbers 124, 126, and 129.

 Sugar in yoplait

If you choose to add a probiotic as a supplement, you may also need to do some research.  You will need to look into what genus, species and strains of bacteria a product contains. It is important that the supplement is shipped on ice, since probiotics diet if exposed to high temperatures. Following brands do ship their products on ice:

Probiotics

Other Supplements for Enhancing Immunity

Zinc is essential to immune function.  There is over 30 years of research that shows that Zinc reduces duration, severity and incidence of common cold.  You do need to take zinc within 24 hours of symptom onset for best effect.

Vitamin C is also essential for immune function.  Research has shown that vitamin c prevents common cold and reduces duration of cold symptoms among people who exercise regularly.

Elderberry is a dark-colored berry high in anthcyannis. It is shown to relieve flu symptoms and inhibit bronchitis virus replication.

Oregano oil has very strong antimicrobial properties.  It has very strong taste and can burn in contact with skin. So, it is taken in capsules or a few drops in water. Also, being antimicrobial it is not useful to take it at the same time you are taking probiotic or eating fermented foods.

An acute prevention/treatment plan for a cold or flu

With all this knowledge, Prof D’Adamo shared how he attacks with nutrition cold or flu if he sees it coming. As soon as possible after exposure or symptoms begin…

  • 1 gram of vitamin C every 1-2 hours
  • 1 full dropper oregano oil in water in morning (with food)
  • 2 Sambucol/Sambucus tablets morning & night (with food)
  • 50 mg zinc tablet morning & night (with food)
  • 2 mushroom extract capsules (New Chapter/Stamets morning & night
  • 100 billion CFU probiotics (Natren) with yogurt before bed
  • Drink water throughout day!!!

He is a pretty big guy.  So smaller people might need less, bigger people may need more or bigger doses.

Bottom Line

To optimize immune systems, the following should be part of diet or as supplements:

  • Variety of mushrooms
  • Allium vegetables – used properly
  • Fermented foods or probiotics

It is useful to have a personal plan and kit ready for attacking common colds and flu by boosting your immune system, as soon as you see it coming.  Research shows that you can prevent and reduce severity and/or duration. Zinc, Vitamin C, elderberry extract, probiotics, mushroom extract, oregano oil and plenty of water are past folklore and are now part of evidence-based medicine.

 

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Would love to hear from you and learn from you.

Please click on Comment to leave your comments or question so others can benefit from your input.