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.

 

 

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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.

 

Post #51 – How to optimize your immune system? – Part I

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The term immune system is talked about a lot these days in various contexts. On one end of the spectrum people talk about “building” one’s immune system to ward off or overcome diseases. On the other hand, you may have heard conversation about where the disease itself is the result of some “immune disorder”.

Many years ago, when I used to visit my primary physician to deal with my seasonal allergies (which I was able to successfully cure, as I described in another blog post), I would often ask him, what was underlying cause of my allergies and he would say, “It is something to do with immune system.  We don’t understand much about immune system yet.”

Later after doing my own research, I figured out that actually we do know a lot about the immune system and there is a lot we can do about it too. And, that knowledge gave me the impetus to take actions to cure my seasonal allergies. See my post So, did I tell you the story about my allergies?

In this post, I would like to delve into what exactly is immune system and what we can do so it is really a friend and not our foe.

What is Immune System?

Here is a quick summary of some key terms from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH website.

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from infection. The overall function of the immune system is to prevent or limit infection.

Immune system is comprised of multiple organs, cells and response types that include:

Immune System

Skin: The skin is usually the first line of defense against microbes. Skin cells produce and secrete important antimicrobial proteins, and immune cells can be found in specific layers of skin.

Bone marrow: The bone marrow contains stems cells that can develop into a variety of cell types. The stem cells in the bone marrow create two types of immune cells: innate immune cells and adaptive immune cells.

Innate immune cells —neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, mast cells, monocytes, dendritic cells, and macrophages— are important first-line responders to infection.

Adaptive immune cells—B cells and T cells—that are responsible for mounting responses to specific microbes based on previous encounters since they retain immunological memory.

Natural killer (NK) cells share features of both innate and adaptive immune cells, as they provide immediate defenses like innate cells but also may be retained as memory cells like adaptive cells.

Lymphocytes – B, T, and NK cells also are called lymphocytes.

Bloodstream: Immune cells constantly circulate throughout the bloodstream, patrolling for problems. When blood tests are used to monitor white blood cells, another term for immune cells, a snapshot of the immune system is taken. If a cell type is either scarce or overabundant in the bloodstream, this may reflect a problem.

Thymus: T cells mature in the thymus, a small organ located in the upper chest.

Lymphatic system: The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and tissues composed of lymph, an extracellular fluid, and lymphoid organs, such as lymph nodes. The lymphatic system is a conduit for travel and communication between tissues and the bloodstream. Immune cells are carried through the lymphatic system and converge in lymph nodes, which are found throughout the body.

Lymph nodes are a communication hub where immune cells sample information brought in from the body. For instance, if adaptive immune cells in the lymph node recognize pieces of a microbe brought in from a distant area, they will activate, replicate, and leave the lymph node to circulate and address the pathogen. Thus, doctors may check patients for swollen lymph nodes, which may indicate an active immune response.

Spleen: The spleen is an organ located behind the stomach. Spleen is important for processing information from the bloodstream. Immune cells are enriched in specific areas of the spleen, and upon recognizing blood-borne pathogens, they will activate and respond accordingly.

Mucosal tissue: Mucosal surfaces are prime entry points for pathogens, and specialized immune hubs are strategically located in mucosal tissues like the respiratory tract and gut.

How does immune systems defenses work?

An immune response is generally divided into innate and adaptive immunity.

Immune Types of Response

Innate immunity occurs immediately, when circulating innate cells recognize a problem by expressing genetically coded receptors. Collectively, these receptors can broadly recognize viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even non-infectious problems. However, they cannot distinguish between specific strains of bacteria or viruses. Their key feature is quick and broad.

Adaptive immunity occurs later, as it relies on the coordination and expansion of specific adaptive immune cells. If a B or T cell has a receptor that recognizes an antigen from a pathogen and also receives cues from innate cells that something is wrong, the B or T cell will activate, divide, and disperse to address the problem. B cells make antibodies, which neutralize pathogens, rendering them harmless. T cells carry out multiple functions, including killing infected cells and activating or recruiting other immune cells.

Vaccination, or immunization, is a way to train your immune system against a specific pathogen. Vaccination achieves immune memory without an actual infection, so the body is prepared when the virus or bacterium enters. Saving time is important to prevent a pathogen from establishing itself and infecting more cells in the body.

When immune system is not working as intended?

When the immune system is working well through all the parts and pieces we discussed above, it is a thing of beauty. As a pathogen enters the body, body’s defenses are activated through the appropriate part of the immune system.  The pathogen is recognized and immediately zapped.

When immune system is not working properly there could be different types of issues.

Immune Deficiencies

Temporary Immune Deficiencies: Temporary immune deficiency can be caused by a variety of sources that weaken the immune system. Common infections, including influenza and mononucleosis, can suppress the immune system.

When immune cells are the target of infection, severe immune suppression can occur. For example, HIV specifically infects T cells, and their elimination allows for secondary infections by other pathogens.

Patients receiving chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, or immunosuppressive drugs experience weakened immune systems until immune cell levels are restored. Pregnancy also suppresses the maternal immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections by common microbes.

Allergy

Allergies are a form of hypersensitivity reaction, typically in response to harmless environmental allergens like pollen or food. Hypersensitivity reactions can be caused by antibodies, IgE or IgG, which are produced by B cells in response to an allergen. Overproduction of these antibodies activates immune cells like basophils and mast cells, which respond by releasing inflammatory chemicals like histamine. And that is why people take antihistamine to stop allergic reactions such as sneezing.

Allergic reactions can also be caused by T cells, which may either directly cause damage themselves or activate macrophages and eosinophils that damage host cells.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases occur when adaptive immune cells that recognize host cells persist unchecked. Autoimmunity is either organ-specific or systemic, meaning it affects the whole body. Autoimmune diseases have a strong genetic component, and with advances in gene sequencing tools, researchers have a better understanding of what may contribute to specific diseases.

Cancer

Some forms of cancer are directly caused by the uncontrolled growth of immune cells. Leukemia is cancer caused by white blood cells. Lymphoma is cancer caused by lymphocytes, i.e., adaptive B or T cells. Myeloma is cancer caused by plasma cells, i.e.,  mature B cells. Unrestricted growth of any of these cell types causes cancer.

In addition, an emerging concept is that cancer progression may partially result from the ability of cancer cells to avoid immune detection.

So, what can we do optimize our immune system?

Things that are in our controls 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.

In the next post, we will talk of specifics of nutrition, exercise and lifestyle that can enhance immune system and also prevent it from attacking itself or the body.

In the meantime, 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 #50 – How to optimize your health by maximizing your telomeres?

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What in the world is Telomeres? – you say

Well, if you have not heard of the word Telomeres, I will explain it here, since it is likely that you will be hearing about it more and more.  Especially, if you are interested in optimal health, living long and living health.

So, first here are some useful terms.

What is Telomere?

Telomeres are disposable buffers at the ends of chromosomes which are truncated during cell division. Their presence protects the genes before them on the chromosome from being truncated. During the process of each cell division, the telomere ends become shorter.

Hayflick Limit

An American scientist Leonard Hayflick established limits to cell replication what is now called Haflick Limit. The Hayflick limit is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops. Empirical evidence shows that the telomeres associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length.

Most cells will divide between 50 to 70 times before they cannot divide any more.

Role of Telomeres in Cellular Aging

As Hayflick first demonstrated, human cells have an inborn “counting mechanism” that tells them when to senesce, or stop dividing: Each time a cell replicates, the ends of each chromosome, i.e., telomeres, get shorter, and once the telomeres get too short, they trigger a “senescence program” that arrests the cell’s growth.

In short, telomeres represent body’s clock that determines our life-span and our health span.

Telomerase to the Rescue!

Telomerase is an enzyme that adds length back to the end of telomeres.  In a simple leap of logic, you can quickly figure that telomerase enzyme is an antidote to shortening of the telomeres.

As you can also guess things are probably not that simple.  They never are when it comes to human biology. But for this brief blog post, I will keep it simple.

So, with this premise of telomeres determining when cells say “uncle”.  And, Telomerase offering an antidote, race is on for researchers and entrepreneurs on many fronts.  Numerous questions are being asked and some have even been answered:

  • How do you measure telomeres inexpensively?
  • Do telomeres really correlate with one’s biological age?
  • Does telomere length account for life styles that have been known to determine one’s health span and lifespan?
  • What factors stimulate telomerase activity? Can we measure that?
  • What about the role of telomerase in cancer, where cell replication goes on without any limit?
  • And, so on and so on..

Some hard answers have emerged, well-rooted in hard science.  On the other hand, other answers are preliminary and people are making wild leaps of logic to get to the market first with commercial products and services.

Measuring Telomeres

Several companies now offer services to measure telomeres. For example, Titanovo, Inc., SpectraCell Laboratories, Telome Health, Inc.,  Telome Home.  Basically, you send them blood or swab and they will  send you your telomere measurements.

My experience

I recently got my telomeres measured by Titanovo, Inc.

I signed up online. They sent me a kit.  I swabbed inside of my cheeks and mailed it back.  I also filled in a lifestyle survey on their website they use to correlate the results with lifestyle.

Few weeks later, they posted my results on their website.  The following pictures represent result I received.  (You can click on these to enlarge and make them readable)

Titanovo profile 3-2016_Page_1

Titanovo profile 3-2016_Page_2

What do my results mean?

Here is my take away.  My relative telomere length is 0.62, which if you interpolate on one of the charts that means my telomere corresponds to a 48 year old male. 13 year younger biologically sound pretty good to me!

I reported my diet as vegetarian.  If I were to change my diet to vegan, according to the last chart, my telomere length could be 0.67. That represents an additional opportunity for 8% advantage in terms of biological age.  8% increase in lifestyle is pretty significant to me.

Since I just started experimenting with a vegan diet about 3 week ago, I will be interested in retesting the telomere length in a year to see if the results correspond to what Titanovo is forecasting.

Titanovo sells bundles of multiple kits, so people can play with their lifestyles choices and then see the impact, in say 3 months at a time.

Bottom Line

  • This area of telomere and measuring impact of lifestyle choices through measuring telomere is quite exciting.
  • A lot of research is going on in both gaining fundamental understanding as well designing interventions that could potentially defeat body’s lifespan clock.
  • Sound like pretty cool stuff to me, if this works as advertised.
  • I bet we will be hearing a lot about this topic, so stay tuned.

What is your perspective of this topic?

I would love to hear and learn from you.

Please click on the “Comments” link to share you thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

Post #49 – What is the role of massage therapy in Optimal Health?

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After so many years, my wife and I finally surrendered to the suggestions of our trainer and started getting massages at least once a month. He had been telling us how massage can be great for recovering from the stresses left over from hard workouts.  And, about six months ago, we decided to give it a shot and get massages on a regular basis.

So, I thought I will take some time to do some research into the role of massage therapy and share the research and our own experience in this blog post.

man_massage_table

What Is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy dates back thousands of years. References to massage appear in ancient writings from China, Japan, India, and Egypt.

According to National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) of the National Institute of Health (NIH) the term “massage therapy” includes many techniques and the type of massage given usually depends on specific need, physical condition and the expertise of the massage therapist.

In general, massage therapists work on muscle and other soft tissue to help you feel better.  The following massages you hear most about in the US:

In Swedish massage, the therapist uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping.

Deep (tissue)massage technique uses slower, more-forceful strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly to help with muscle damage from injuries.

Sports massage combines techniques of Swedish massage and deep tissue massage to release chronic muscle tension. It is adapted to the needs of athletes.

Myofascial trigger point therapy focuses on trigger points—areas that are painful when pressed and are associated with pain elsewhere in the body. Examples of these are:

  • Accupressure – where therapist applies strong physical pressure on specific point on the body.
  • Reflexology – Similar to acupressure where pressure is applied to certain points on hands and feet.

But there are other massages that are not quite as common and are based on Indian medicine, Ayuerveda:

Marma-point Massage – where a therapist applies very gentle touch to some or all of the 107 different marma-points in the body to correct any imbalances in the body

Shirodhara – where warm oil is poured to the forehead

Abhyanga – oil massage is done by two people with synchronized movements

Massage therapy is sometimes done using essential oils as a form of aromatherapy.

Benefits of Massage

A lot of the scientific research on massage therapy is preliminary or conflicting, but much of the evidence points toward beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with a number of different conditions. Much of the evidence suggests that these effects are short term and that people need to keep getting massages for the benefits to continue.

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint pain

According to Arthritis Foundation  regular massage of muscles and joints, whether by a licensed therapist at a spa or by self-massage at home, can lead to a significant reduction in pain for people with arthritis, according to Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who’s conducted a number of studies on the benefits of massage, including on people with arthritis. In Field’s research and other recent studies on the effects of massage for arthritis symptoms, regular use of the simple therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, hand grip strength and overall function of the joints.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine by Dr. Mark A. Tarnoplsky et al found that a short, 10-minute Swedish-style massage session can reduce inflammation, which can help your muscles recover after a hard workout.

And, then of course, there are studies that attribute the benefits of massage just to receiving a dose of human touch that offers all sorts of healthy responses from lowering blood pressures, depression, improving immunity to oxytocin release for increased bonding response.

 What are the risks of Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy appears to have few risks when performed by a trained practitioner. However, massage therapists should take some precautions in people with certain health conditions. NCCIH recommend that:

  • In some cases, pregnant women should avoid massage therapy. Talk with your health care provider before getting a massage if you are pregnant.
  • People with some conditions such as bleeding disorders or low blood platelet counts should avoid having forceful and deep tissue massage. People who take anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners) also should avoid them. Massage should not be done in any potentially weak area of the skin, such as wounds.
  • Deep or intense pressure should not be used over an area where the patient has a tumor or cancer, unless approved by the patient’s health care provider.

Our Experience

Over the years, my wife and I have received massages during vacations etc.  We received several different Ayurvedic massages at the Ayurrvedic Institute in Albuquerque NM every day for a week of an intense detox and cleanse program called Panchakarma.  I have also received locally in Maryland Marma-Point massages.  And, now for the last six month, we are receiving massages once a month.

I described my experience of relieving migraine using acupressure in another blog post.

Massages that we receive from the same person every month are very therapeutic in that the therapist is getting to know our body. She is able to adjust her technique based on what our body needs. I am able to tell her any specific issue I may have. Usually these tend to be some stiff muscles that she could pay attention to.  During and after the massage, she is the one who tells me where the stiff muscles are.

Areas around my shoulders and neck are where I seem to burry my stresses and are getting more and more limber as a result of the massages.  I can definitely feel the result of my relaxed muscles in my yoga practice.

I have found Ayuervedic massages to be totally blissful. It blows me away how such gentle touches at the Marma-points or pouring of oil on third-eye can totally transport my body into a meditative state.

Bottom Line

Regular massage therapy definitely is valuable in creating and maintaining Optimal Health.  Repeating from the NCCIH website:

  • A lot of research on the effects of massage therapy has been carried out.
  • While often preliminary or conflicting, there is scientific evidence that massage may help with back pain and may improve quality of life for people with depression, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Massage therapy appears to have few risks if it is used appropriately and provided by a trained massage professional.

What do you think?

What are your experiences and knowledge of massages therapy?  

Please share your thought by clicking on “Leave A Comment” link.

I would love to learn and share with others what I learn from you?