Having Too Much Salt Is Hurting Your Immune System

Reaching for the salt shaker often isn’t just bad for your blood pressure and heart, but also hurts your immune system, according to a recent study conducted at the University of Bonn and published in the journal – Science Translational Medicine.

  • WHO recommends that adults should consume a maximum of one level teaspoon or 5 grams of salt in a day.
  • In reality, however, we exceed this limit considerably, with men on average consuming 10 grams and women taking more than 8 grams of salt a day.

This excessive salt intake doesn’t just increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, but according to this study, it also weakens the immune system.

This comes in contrast to a few previous studies that suggested that salt has an immune-enhancing effect in infections involving skin parasites. Katarzyna Jobin, lead author of the study explains that the body uses skin like a salt reservoir while keeping the concentration of salt in the blood and the organs largely constant. This explains why additional salt intake helps in the case of some skin diseases.

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Any additional salt that we consume with food, is filtered out by the kidneys and excreted as urine. This is when salt begins harming the immune system.

Here’s how.

Our kidneys have a sensor that activates the salt excretion. Other than helping the kidneys excrete excess salt, this sensor also causes accumulation of glucocorticoids in the body. The accumulated glucocorticoids, in turn, inhibit the function of granulocytes –  immune cells in the blood that help fight bacteria – leaving us exposed to severe bacterial infections.

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Volunteers in this study consumed 6 grams of salt, in addition to their daily intake, which is roughly the salt in 2 burgers and 2 portions of French fries.

A week later, when their blood was examined for immune cells, the researchers found that they showed an increase in glucocorticoid levels and their immune cells coped much worse with bacteria that they did before the salt consumption.

The key take-away from this amid the current climate? Put that salt shaker away during meals, avoid processed foods and foods with a high salt content, and help your immune system do its job.

References

Katarzyna Jobin, Natascha E. Stumpf, Sebastian Schwab, Melanie Eichler, Patrick Neubert, Manfred Rauh, Marek Adamowski, Olena Babyak, Daniel Hinze, Sugirthan Sivalingam, Christina K. Weisheit, Katharina Hochheiser, Susanne Schmidt, Mirjam Meissner, Natalio Garbi, Zeinab Abdullah, Ulrich Wenzel, Michael Hölzel, Jonathan Jantsch and Christian Kurts, A high-salt diet compromises antibacterial neutrophil responses through hormonal perturbation, Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aay3850

Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little? You Might Be Hurting Your Heart

Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, the number of hours you clock in bed every night is very important for your heart health, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

While sleeping too little is known to be bad for your health, turns out that sleeping too much might be harmful as well.

Optimal amount of sleep – less arterial plaque

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The study involved close to 2000 participants, aged between 40 to 98 years, and included healthy people as well as those with a known history of cardiovascular risks. Apart from measuring the thickness of their arterial walls, using ultrasound imaging Dr. Oikonomou, the lead author of the study, along with his team also tracked the number of hours they slept for and divided them into groups as per their sleep duration.

Here’s what they found:

  • Participants in the longer and shorter sleep duration groups showed greater plaque buildup in the artery walls.
  • Those who slept for 7-8 hours a night showed significantly less stiffness in their arteries.

Both the findings highlight that getting the right amount of sleep can prevent the onset of premature heart disease and act as what Dr. Oikonomou calls a ‘Cardioprotective factor’, like diet and exercise.

So, how much sleep do you optimally need?

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The number of hours of sleep you need might actually depend on the way your metabolism is wired.

While most studies recommend getting 6-8 hours of sleep a night, it’s important to understand that the sweet spot might lie between 6-8 hours for most people, but not necessarily for all people. We are all unique and so is our body’s sleep requirement. Not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep; some can do well with 6.5, while others may need 9.

The key insight from this study is that if you are sleeping a lot less, or a lot more than the optimum amount of sleep you need, your heart is not going to like it.

Think about when you were younger and at the peak of your health. How many hours of sleep did you need then? That’s a good baseline to start with. If you are healthy and well, it is quite likely that your optimal number of hours will be pretty close to your baseline.

Not quite sure how it used to be when you were younger? No worries, you can figure it out now as well. Just observe how many hours of sleep you need to wake up feeling alert, and refreshed the next morning. That’s your magic number.

Never waking up feeling rested and refreshed? Here is a detailed article with practical tips on how to sleep better.

References

Oikonomou, Evangelos, et al. “The U Shape Pattern of Sleep Duration With Carotid Atherosclerosis. Insights From the Corinthia Study.” Circulation 140.Suppl_1 (2019): A15781-A15781.

Walk More Than 4000 Steps Per Day To Live Longer

We all know that physical activity is crucial to our well-being. And plenty of research has shown that people who are active not only have lower rates of heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, but also live longer than people who have a sedentary lifestyle.

Here’s some great news for those of us who aren’t too keen on strenuous workouts.  Exercise doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Something as simple as even walking, can help us live longer. Every extra step we take per day, counts!

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In a recent study published in JAMA network, Dr. Saint-Maurice and his colleagues set out to determine the relationship between step count and mortality.

The study was conducted on a large sample (close to 5000) of men and women aged at least 40 years. Here’s what it found:

  1. Greater the number of daily steps (beyond at least 4000 steps per day), lower was the risk of mortality.
  2. The intensity of steps taken, by itself, didn’t make any significant difference to mortality risk.

Here are some numbers at a glance. Compared with taking less than 4000 steps per day,

  • taking 8000 steps per day cut the mortality risk by half, and
  • taking 12000 steps per day cut the mortality risk by two-thirds

Makes one wonder as to why the mortality rate shows a significant reduction after a minimum of 4000 steps? Well, here’s why.

We do know that, on an average, we all take 3000 to 4000 steps on a regular day (which does not involve any kind of specific exercise). So, if you were to put two and two together, every step that you take beyond your routine daily step count is going to help you live longer.

PhotobyDanielRechefromPexels (2)
Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

So, whether you do it on the sidewalk, while on a hike, walking your pet, or on the treadmill (considering the current climate), an hour’s daily walk or stroll is definitely a good way to add some more years to your life.

References

Saint-Maurice PF, Troiano RP, Bassett DR, et al. Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA. 2020;323(12):1151–1160. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1382

 

Our Immune System Can Fight Off COVID. Just Like The Flu.

More than 80% of the people who contract the COVID-19 virus experience only mild-to-moderate symptoms and are able to recover within days. And there’s now a new study in the journal of Nature Medicine, that shows how.

In this study, the researchers from the University of Melbourne have been able to understand that even though COVID-19 is caused by a new virus – a healthy and robust immune system mounts a strong defense, similar to one observed against influenza, leading to clinical recovery.

How The Immune System Responds To COVID-19

woman-lying-on-bed-while-blowing-her-nose-3807629Photo by Andrea Piacquadio From Pexels

The study involved one of the first hospital patients in Australia, an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s, who had traveled to Melbourne from Wuhan and presented with lethargy,  sore throat,  dry cough, a fever and shortness of breath, 4 days after the initial onset of her symptoms.

Researchers had her blood samples collected on days 7, 8, 9, and 20 following symptom onset and found that at days 7-9, there was a surge in Immunoglobulin G and Immunoglobulin M – two of the most common antibody types, rushing to fight the virus. They also saw that a huge number of helper T cells, Killer T cells and B cells, all-important immune cells were also active in the patient’s blood, leading them to the conclusion that the patient’s body was deploying its many weapons against the new virus.

Noticing a surge in the immune cells three days after she was admitted, a typical sign of recovery in the seasonal influenza infection, the researchers predicted that the patient would recover in three days. And she did.

The patient was able to leave the hospital on day 11 after the symptom onset, into self-isolation, and was symptom-free by day 13.

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All we can do during these stressful times, is to sit tight and let our immune system do its job (and support it).

And it sure does look like it’s one hell of a fighter.

References

Thevarajan, I., Nguyen, T.H.O., Koutsakos, M. et al. Breadth of concomitant immune responses prior to patient recovery: a case report of non-severe COVID-19. Nat Med (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0819-2

30 Minutes Of Music A Day Is Very Good For Your Heart

If you love listening to your favorite music, here’s another good reason to make it a part of your daily routine.

A recent study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session, revealed that listening to 30 minutes of music a day may help counteract the strain put on the heart by the body’s sympathetic nervous system, the driver of our fight-or-flight response during a stressful event.

The Study And Its Findings

PhotobyAndreaPiacquadiofromPexels (3)Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The study included 350 participants who had suffered a heart attack and experienced anxiety and chest pain that usually follows. Apart from standard medications, half of these participants were also asked to listen to music that they found soothing, for 30-minute sessions every day.

The results of this study suggested that the patients who had listened to music every day, had significantly lower levels of anxiety, pain-sensation and distress.

Over the course of the study, which lasted 7 years, they also showed significantly lower rates of other heart conditions, which included 18% fewer cases of heart failure, 23% fewer subsequent heart attacks, 20% lower rate of needing a bypass surgery and 16% lower cardiac death rate.

How Does Music Affect The Heart?

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Photo by Marcelo Chagas from Pexels

When a person faces a stressful situation, the body’s sympathetic nervous system kickstarts the fight-or-flight response, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Every such stressful episode puts added strain on the cardiovascular system. Unrelieved anxiety can result in an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity and which in turn can increase the cardiac workload.

This is where regular sessions of listening to music come in – reducing anxiety and interrupting this cascade of events.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Even Ayurveda recommends incorporating calming, passive activities like listening to music to slow the body down and prepare it for a restful night.

It might be a good idea then, to rejig your evenings to include dim lights and your favorite music – and listen on, to your heart’s content!

References:

American College of Cardiology. (2020, March 18). Music as medicine? 30 minutes a day shows benefits after heart attack: Daily music sessions found to reduce anxiety, pain and subsequent heart problems. American College of Cardiology. Retrieved April 5, 2020 from https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2020/03/18/09/02/music-as-medicine-30-minutes-a-day-shows-benefits-after-heart-attack

9 Ayurvedic Super Herbs To Boost Your Immune System

When we are at the peak of our health, our body is able to manage and orchestrate everything on its own. But age takes its relentless toll, and thanks to our stressful lifestyles and imbalanced diets, we are all aging faster than we should.

Our immune system ages too. It can do with some daily support.

Your immune system is your body’s department of defense. It prevents and deals with foreign invasion (read disease-causing microbes or pathogens) and quashes guerrilla forces (read free radicals) inside.

For the first, it utilizes an army of specialized immune cells and for the second, it relies on a special unit of chemicals known as antioxidants.

So, to keep your immunity up, you need to make sure you keep the number of the immune cells consistently high, and add to your antioxidant stores.

Here are 9 super-herbs that are highy recommended in Ayurvedic practice for their immunity-boosting and anti-inflammatory benefits.

  1. Indian Tinospora (Guduchi)
  2. Holy Basil
  3. Licorice
  4. Kantakari
  5. Andrographis (Bhunimba)
  6. Turmeric
  7. Amla
  8. Indian Kudzu (Vidari)
  9. Boerhavia (Punarnava)

And guess what, with the tools that modern science is equipped with, we are now discovering the details of how exactly the herbs work their little magic inside our bodies.

Indian Tinospora (Guduchi)

Indian tinospora (Tinospora cordifolia) is a powerful immunity booster. Polysachharides in it activate immune agents like macrophages and help release signaling molecules like cytokines. The herb could also tone down allergic reactions by putting a lid on the production of histamine.

Guduchi

Like an at-war army on the lookout for new recruits, your immune system would never say no to help from Indian tinospora. Its polysaccharides weave themselves into your body’s defense tactics, heading straight to the front line to fight off disease-causing invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and anything foreign).

  • G1-4A, one such polysaccharide, binds itself to front-line immunity troopers called macrophages, activating them. The macrophages are then better able to “eat” invaders, cleaning up your system more efficiently.

Activated macrophages then send chemical signals (IL-1) to other immune cells called dendritic cells and further amplify the immune response.

  • Also stepping in, (1,4)-α-D-glucan, another polysaccharide, activates white blood cells, encouraging them to release chemical messengers called cytokines. Cytokines create SOS signals to call in immune cells from other parts of the body.

The polysaccharides may even help shuttle Indian tinospora’s alkaloids and glycosides to different parts of the body so that they can do even more good.

It doesn’t matter how healthy you are; when you’re exposed to something that is not in tune with your body’s own sensibilities, like an allergen, an allergic reaction is set off by immune cells called mast cells. Mast cells secrete a chemical called histamine that then triggers allergic symptoms.

  • Indian tinospora can help put a lid on histamine production by stabilizing mast cells. This is a blessing if you’re particularly susceptible to allergies and develop coughs, fits of sneezing, or a runny nose a little too often.

Basically, your body’s got all it needs to mount up a strong defense. Herbs like Indian tinospora simply help tighten the links between them.

Holy Basil

Stress dampens immunity, but holy basil flavonoids counter by increasing the number of immune agents like natural killer cells, neutrophils, and T helper cells.

Holy-basil

The immune system can always use a hand to fight off invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and the like). The helping hand could be extended by flavonoid-rich foods – usually, the colorful fruits and veggies – and herbs. Holy basil is one such. It’s especially good for fighting viral infections.

  • Levels up fighter cells: The flavonoids fortify the immune system’s first line of defense by increasing the number of fighter cells called natural killer cells and neutrophils. They also increase the T helper cell population, evoking a more specialized attack.
  • Increases immune system conversation: Once the T helper cells are triggered by the flavonoids, they send SOS signals via the chemicals IFN-γ and IL-4 to call in other immune cells.

Licorice

Phytochemicals in licorice suppress or inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals, de-sensitize pain receptors, and capture free radicals.

Licorice-01

Licorice suppresses or inhibits the production of the following key players of inflammation:

  • TNF-α: TNF-α is a chemical involved in systemic inflammation, which is inflammation all over the body like a fever.
  • MMPs: MMPs are molecules involved in tissue destruction, leading to swelling.
  • PGE2: PGE2 helps sensitize pain receptors and induces a fever.
  • Free radicals: Free radicals are “shot” at disease-causing agents to get rid of them but may begin to cause harm to the body’s own cells if not controlled.

Kantakari (Solanum Virginianum)

Kantakari has specific benefits for your body’s immune system dealing with respiratory function. It activates virus-neutralizing immune cells, and  simultaneously suppresses key inflammatory signaling molecules in your respiratory tract and lungs.

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Kantakari helps your airways relax, which allows you to breathe with greater ease, especially when you have a cold or flu. The herb’s approach is threefold:

  • Fewer inflammatory signals: Kantakari targets certain immune cells to suppress the production of key inflammatory signaling molecules – the same molecules that cause swelling and discomfort. The antibody IgE produced by plasma cells takes a hit along with TNF-α produced by macrophages and monocytes.
  • Contained inflammatory signals: Another target is histamine in lung tissue. Histamine is necessary for inflammatory molecules to access the bloodstream. Its inhibition means less inflammation.
  • No viruses: Kantakari also takes care of viruses that may be interfering with your breathing. It does this by activating certain immune cells – those that can “eat” viruses (macrophages and neutrophils) and those that can cause virus-infected cells to kill themselves (natural killer cells). The chemical behind the scenes here is IFN-γ, produced by T cells. In the presence of kantakari, there’s more IFN-γ to go around.

Andrographis (Bhunimba)

The “king of the bitters,” andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) contains diterpenoid lactones and flavonoids that assist your immune system in fighting invading microbes. The herb helps produce more white blood cells and antibodies. It also activates more macrophages which literally gobble up the invaders. At the same time, it checks the immune system from going overboard and triggering inflammation.

Bhunimba

Not only does andrographis encourage your body’s front-line troopers to perform better but also weaves itself into more specialized defense tactics. Here’s what it orchestrates:

  • Stimulates the production of antibodies: Antibodies are custom-made traps for invaders like bacteria and viruses.
  • Increases macrophage activity: Macrophages are immune system frontline troopers that “eat” invaders.
  • Multiplies WBCs: White blood cells (WBCs) are nothing but the universe of immune cells running the whole show.
  • Increases immune system crosstalk: Chemical messengers like IL-2 send SOS signals to call in other immune cells. Andrographis increases the production of IL-2.

It also helps keep inflammation in check by modulating the immune system. Here’s what it does.

  • Stops immune cells in their tracks: Immune cells stick and unstick to the insides of blood vessels to crawl their way around the body. Molecules called ICAM-1 on blood vessels and Mac-1 on immune cells stick to each other to bring about this effect. Andrographis reduces these molecular glues.
  • Suppresses pro-inflammatory mediators: A host of different molecules are involved in causing inflammation. Andrographis targets and inhibits a few of these key players – including i-NOS, COX-2, and NF-κB.

Turmeric

Turmeric strengthens your immunity by attacking bacteria and increasing the production of an immune molecule called CAMP. But at the same time, it also controls the resulting inflammation by inhibiting the function of certain enzymes and signaling molecules.

Turmeric

Curcuminoids destabilize bacterial membranes.

Curcuminoids don’t mix well with water. Neither do the external membranes of certain bacteria. Being similar in nature, curcuminoids form connections with the bacterial membrane. These are strong enough to undo original connections in the bacterial membranes. It’s like destroying the enemy’s boundary wall, exposing the enemy to be killed.

Curcuminoids inactivate bacterial enzymes.

Curcuminoids also inactivate key enzymes that bacteria use to spread their infection – practically destroying the enemy’s weapons.

Turmeric also helps your immune cells work better. Curcumin increases the production of CAMP.

Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP) is a host defense molecule shot at microbes by your skin and your innate immune cells. This “bullet” destabilizes the membranes of microbes, while also calling other immune cells to fight at the site of infection.

Besides curcuminoids, other compounds in turmeric like polysaccharides are also capable of helping charge up your immunity. They make sure that front-line troopers called macrophages are alert and chemical alarms are raised when something doesn’t feel right.

Amla

Amla modulates your immune response, on the one hand, activating immune cells and reducing immune cell death, and on the other, reining in inflammation.

Amla

Boosts Immunity:

  • Amla activates different types of immune cells: those that work at a more superficial level (like macrophages and NK cells) as well as those that are more targeted in their approach (like B cells and T cells).
  • It also reduces immune cell death that tends to become commonplace in the presence of disease-causing agents like bacteria and viruses.

Limits Inflammation:

  • The fruit decreases the production of pro-inflammatory signaling chemicals called chemokines and cytokines.
  • It prevents the infiltration of immune cells to the site of infection or injury.
  • It also promotes the generation of immunoprotective cytokines to accelerate the body’s repair process.

Indian Kudzu (Vidari)

Indian Kudzu enhances the efficiency of immune agents like macrophages, T cells, natural killer cells, and specific antibodies but without allowing the resulting inflammation to become rampant.

Vidari-01

Immunity is a complex dance between different cells of the immune system – the front-liners (macrophages), the cavalry (T cells), and the archers (B cells).

It so happens that Indian kudzu’s flavonoids make contact with all three wings, increasing your resistance to illness in the long run. In scientific parlance, we can say that Indian kudzu:

  • Improves macrophage phagocytic activity, which means it makes macrophages more proactive in “eating” disease-causing agents (like bacteria)
  • Increases the activities of cytotoxic T cells and NK cells, which are particularly useful in controlling viral infections
  • Increases IgG and IgA antibodies, which are like customized bullets created by B cells and directed at disease-causing agents

Even though Indian kudzu strengthens your immunity, it understands when to apply the brakes and keep inflammation in check. Its flavonoids suppress various players in the inflammatory circuit. These include NF-kB, TNFα, IL-1b, IL-6, and COX-2.

Boerhavia (Punarnava)

Immunity is a tricky business, but Boerhavia diffusa can run it right. In the face of a threat, it boosts several types of immune cells like macrophages and antibodies and lowers cortisol which can dampen the immune response. But at other times, when a high-strung immunity does more harm than good, it puts a lid on the production of certain immune cells and blocks pro-inflammatory signals. 

Punarnava-01

The creeping herb bolsters different divisions of the immune system’s army: the front-liners (macrophages, especially those in the kidney, lymph nodes, bone marrow, and spleen), artillery (antibody-producing B cells), cavalry (cytotoxic T cells), and infantry (cytokines). The result? A stronger immunity.

It also steps in when you are stressed. More stress means more of the stress hormone cortisol and by consequence, a weaker immune system. Rings a bell? You have often been told not to stress too much or you’ll fall ill.

  • Boerhavia somehow puts a lid on how much cortisol is produced and in doing so, helps your immunity do its thing freely.

Syringaresinol mono-β-D-glucoside (root), punarnavine (root), and quercetin are the chemicals of the hour here.

Remember when we said that the immune system needs to pull back at times? It doesn’t always need to be on high alert. In fact, it shouldn’t because it can turn against your body’s own cells. Boerhavia understands the need to balance this behavior.

  • When required, it hits the brakes on the activation and multiplication of the immune system’s T cells and natural killer cells. The compound eupalitin-3-O-β-D-galactopyranoside takes care of this, while boeravinone K inhibits the COX enzymes. COX enzymes are all about heightening the immune response through inflammation. Liriodendrin, quercetin, and kaempferol from the roots and leaves are other anti-inflammatory compounds.

This opposition to inflammation possibly explains the herb’s traditional use in reducing pain and swelling.

Where to get these herbs?

Holy basil and turmeric might already be in your kitchen. If not, it’s fairly easy to get them, fresh and whole, from your local supermarket. Crush some holy basil leaves into your salads, and add a pinch of powdered turmeric to your food while cooking.

The other herbs are a bit more specialized – and not palate-friendly enough for you to add them to your food. It would be easiest to get them in supplement form.

Remember, curcumin does not turmeric make. Always choose supplements that use the entire herb, not just an isolated “active” element of the herb.

All our 1Balance supplements have some of the above herbs in them. Of course, which ones will be in your supplement – will depend on your unique health and metabolic profile.

To figure out which of these herbs (and which other herbs) are part of your personalized supplement, take this free quiz.

Break A Sweat. Before You Break Your Fast.

There’s a good reason now, for you to hold off on your breakfast until after your workout.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, ‘when’ you exercise could be as important as the exercise itself.

Photo by William Choquette from Pexels

The study aimed to understand the long-term and short-term effects of eating after exercise versus eating before it, on the body’s fat-burning capacity and insulin response.

The results suggested that exercising before you have breakfast burns twice as much fat as compared to exercising after breakfast. What’s more, a change in the timing of when you eat in relation to when you exercise, brings about profound positive changes to your overall health.

Let’s understand why this happens.

Why Exercising Before Breakfast Is Good

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio From Pexels

When you exercise before breakfast,

  1. The body burns more fat. That’s because when we fast overnight, the insulin levels in the body are lower during exercise, and this allows the body to use up more fat.
  2. The body is able control blood sugar levels better. This means that exercising in the overnight-fasting state can increase the health benefits of exercise, with no change in the intensity, duration or perceived effort in the exercise.

But it’s important to keep in mind that while this does dramatically improve overall health, it does not have any effect on weight loss.

The Ideal Morning Routine Then?

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  1. Have a glass of lemon water, first thing in the morning. Why?
  2. Exercise.
  3. Tuck into a healthy breakfast.

References

  1. Robert M Edinburgh, Helen E Bradley, Nurul-Fadhilah Abdullah, Scott L Robinson, Oliver J Chrzanowski-Smith, Jean-Philippe Walhin, Sophie Joanisse, Konstantinos N Manolopoulos, Andrew Philp, Aaron Hengist, Adrian Chabowski, Frances M Brodsky, Francoise Koumanov, James A Betts, Dylan Thompson, Gareth A Wallis, Javier T Gonzalez, Lipid Metabolism Links Nutrient-Exercise Timing to Insulin Sensitivity in Men Classified as Overweight or Obese, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 105, Issue 3, March 2020, dgz104, https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgz104

9 kitchen herbs and spices to boost your immune system

Your immune system is your body’s department of defense. It prevents and deals with foreign invasion (read disease-causing microbes or pathogens) and quashes guerrilla forces (read free radicals) inside.

For the first, it utilizes an army of specialized immune cells and for the second, it relies on a special unit of chemicals known as antioxidants.

So to strengthen your immunity, you need to make sure you keep the number of the immune cells consistently high, and add to your antioxidant stores.

Here are a few herbs and spices that can offer excellent support to your immune system, and might already be in your kitchen cabinet. Try using them more generously, going forward.

Turmeric

Turmeric strengthens your immunity by attacking bacteria and increasing the production of an immune molecule called CAMP. But at the same time, it also controls the resulting inflammation by inhibiting the function of certain enzymes and signaling molecules.

turmeric

  • Curcuminoids destabilize bacterial membranes: Curcuminoids don’t mix well with water. Neither do the external membranes of certain bacteria. Being similar in nature, curcuminoids form connections with the bacterial membrane. These are strong enough to undo original connections in the bacterial membranes. It’s like destroying the enemy’s boundary wall, exposing the enemy to be killed.
  • Curcuminoids inactivate bacterial enzymes: Curcuminoids also inactivate key enzymes that bacteria use to spread their infection – practically destroying the enemy’s weapons.

Turmeric can also help your immune cells work better:

  • Curcumin increases the production of CAMP: Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP) is a host defense molecule shot at microbes by your skin and your innate immune cells. This “bullet” destabilizes the membranes of microbes, while also calling other immune cells to fight at the site of infection.

Besides curcuminoids, other compounds in turmeric like polysaccharides are also capable of helping charge up your immunity. They make sure that front-line troopers called macrophages are alert and chemical alarms are raised when something doesn’t feel right.

Cloves

Cloves enhance immunity against threats circulating in the blood but also check the immune response before it triggers uncontrolled inflammation.

 

Whole cloves

Your immune system basically has two attack strategies:

  • one that involves antibodies, cellular bullets directly shot at the threat circulating in the blood (humoral immunity),
  • and one that attacks the threat with protein ammo while it is trapped inside your body’s cell (cell-mediated immunity). It so happens that this protein ammo (cytokines) also serves as SOS signals to alert and call in more immune system troops from other parts of the body.

Cloves enhance humoral immunity, so you have the threat being tackled. But they also inhibit cytokine production (IL-1 and IL-6) so that the entire attack doesn’t escalate out of control too quickly.

Clove’s eugenol and eugenyl acetate are the workhorses here.

Ginger

True to its fame as an anti-inflammatory, ginger blocks certain genes from producing enzymes that play a major part in the inflammatory pathway and inhibits other enzymes that help produce free radicals.

Ginger

  • Ginger offers antioxidants that are useful in rounding up different types of free radicals (like reactive oxygen species or ROS and peroxides).
  • 6 Dehydroshogaol, 6-shogaol and 1-dehydro-6-gingerdione in ginger stop the synthesis of nitric oxide, another free radical.
  • Ginger inhibits an enzyme called xanthine oxidase, involved in the generation of reactive oxygen species – a highly reactive free radical.

Inflammation happens in a series of steps, involving a number of mediators. These mediator molecules pass on the instruction for inflammation to other molecules, and the chain continues. Two such mediator molecules are prostaglandin and leukotriene, produced by two enzymes called cyclooxygenase (COX) and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX), respectively.

  • Gingerol and shogaol help prevent genes from producing COX1 ( 8-gingerol, 8-shogaol, and 8-paradol are the most effective) and COX2 (10-gingerol) enzymes. They also directly inhibit the action of COX enzymes so that prostaglandins are not produced.
  • They inhibit LOX from producing leukotriene.
  • They prevent the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines (a special group of proteins) like IL-1, TNF-α, and IL-8.

Cinnamon

Phytochemicals in cinnamon reduce or inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals, proteins and enzymes produced by the body.

cinnamon

Chemicals in cinnamon can step in at several stages of the chain of events involved in an inflammation and stop it in its tracks.

  • When your body is already facing inflammation, a chemical called nitric oxide can make it linger. Slowing down or inhibiting the production of nitric oxide is therefore one of the ways to curb inflammation. That’s what a cinnamaldehyde called 2`-hydroxycinnamaldehyde (HCA) does. It inhibits the production of nitric oxide by inhibiting a protein complex called NF-κB.
  • Several other polyphenols like procyanidins, catechin, epicatechin, and ellagic acid can also inhibit another protein called TNF-α, which gives the green signal for inflammation.
  • Eugenol in cinnamon inhibits an enzyme called 5-lipoxygenase, which helps produce another inflammatory chemical called leukotriene. Other pro-inflammatory enzymes inhibited by cinnamon include iNOS and COX-2.

Nutmeg

Phytochemicals in nutmeg help restrict immune system crosstalk, suppress inflammatory pathways, and control pain perception.

nutmeg

Nutmeg can help your body achieve the essential balance between the benefits of immune function and the negative effects of inflammation, thanks to its compounds myristicin, myrislignan, and quercetin.

  • Restricts immune system crosstalk by inhibiting chemical messengers called cytokines.
  • Suppresses inflammatory pathways by inhibiting the production of COX-2, a key enzyme involved in the early stages of inflammation.
  • Controls pain perception by inhibiting substance P, a key nerve signaling chemical that modulates whether you feel pain and how much if you do.

Cardamom

Phytochemicals in cardamom helps restrict immune system crosstalk, suppress inflammatory pathways and capture free radicals.

cardamom

Cardamom can give you an extra supply of antioxidants to stop the free radicals on their tracks. The antioxidants mostly belong to the polyphenol, flavonoid, and terpenoid groups of compounds present in the volatile oils.

Cardamom can minimize the chemical crosstalk of the immune system and, hence, reducing inflammation. In scientific parlance, we can say it

  • Suppresses cytokine release by T helper cells
  • Down-regulates cytokines such as COX-2, IL-6, and TNF-α
  • Reduces nitric oxide production by macrophages, possibly by inhibiting the enzyme i-NOS

Holy Basil

Stress dampens immunity, but holy basil flavonoids counter by increasing the number of immune agents like natural killer cells, neutrophils, and T helper cells.

Tulsi-leaves

The immune system can always use a hand to fight off invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and the like). The helping hand could be extended by flavonoid-rich foods – usually, the colorful fruits and veggies – and herbs. Holy basil is one such. It’s especially good for fighting viral infections.

  • Levels up fighter cells: The flavonoids fortify the immune system’s first line of defense by increasing the number of fighter cells called natural killer cells and neutrophils. They also increase the T helper cell population, evoking a more specialized attack.
  • Increases immune system conversation: Once the T helper cells are triggered by the flavonoids, they send SOS signals via the chemicals IFN-γ and IL-4 to call in other immune cells.

Licorice

Phytochemicals in licorice suppress or inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals, de-sensitize pain receptors, and capture free radicals.

Licorice

Licorice suppresses or inhibits the production of the following key players of inflammation:

  • TNF-α: TNF-α is a chemical involved in systemic inflammation, which is inflammation all over the body like a fever.
  • MMPs: MMPs are molecules involved in tissue destruction, leading to swelling.
  • PGE2: PGE2 helps sensitize pain receptors and induces a fever.
  • Free radicals: Free radicals are “shot” at disease-causing agents to get rid of them but may begin to cause harm to the body’s own cells if not controlled.

Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng)

Eleuthero’s phytochemicals increase the production of antibodies and power down pro-inflammatory enzymes.

siberian-ginseng

Eleuthero masterfully modulates the immune system, fueling it when required and pushing back when necessary. Here’s how:

  • Increases antibody production: Immune cells shoot antibodies at anything they recognize as a threat, like bacteria and viruses. Your immune system has an advanced system in place to release them when required. Eleuthero could provide backup.
  • Limits inflammation: The herb targets COX-2 enzymes and makes them power down. In case you’re wondering, these enzymes are the reason why you have pain, fever, and inflammation. While this is absolutely necessary for the immune system to keep you well and healthy, they must be kept in check so that your own cells are not harmed in the bargain.

Don’t Just Sit. Practice ‘Active Sitting’ And Stay Healthy

Weekends for many of us involve just chilling out, watching our favorite shows and a good amount of – plain old sitting. During weekdays we work our behinds off, doing countless things – most of which also involve sitting. And plenty of credible research has it that sitting too much, whether at home or at work, increases the risk of heart attacks and diabetes.
Curiously enough though, there are some people around the world who do the same amount of ‘sitting around’ and as it turns out, they are a picture of good health. If that has left you wondering why, read on.

What Are These People Doing Differently?

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A fascinating study published in the journal PNAS, revealed that the hunter-gatherers in many African tribes, were healthier despite spending as much time ‘sitting’, as us. The difference lies in how they sit. Instead of sitting like us, they squat in their rest periods – legs folded and bum held off the ground. Sitting in this posture takes away the health risks that come with sitting too much, keeping these hunter-gatherers healthy.

The Science Behind ‘Active Sitting’

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Science has long established that not enough exercise is not healthy. And much of the sugar that we get from food is used up by the large muscles of our legs, when we are active and this helps regulate our overall health. When we spend too much time sitting, these muscles are largely inactive which leaves the sugar in our blood for long periods, allowing it to cause damage.

Many offices the world over, are now trying to get their workforce to sit less, incorporating newer concepts like standing desks. And it looks like we can definitely learn a thing or two from tribes like Hazda, who live off the land and have stayed in the pink, for generations.

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These people, who spend large parts of their day sitting around doing nothing, are hardly ever obese, have near-perfect body-fat levels, and show an absence of Type-2 diabetes or heart ailments. In fact, many of them spend even more time sitting, than us.
To understand this better, David Raichlen, a human evolution researcher from the University of Southern California, along with his team spent considerable time with the Hazda. Their study revealed that these hunter-gatherers spent 30% of their inactive time squatting or kneeling, two postures that use a surprisingly large amount of muscle activity, leading to more efficient glucose metabolism.

And not surprisingly, even Yoga recommends active-sitting poses like Vajrasana (the Thunderbolt pose) or Padmasana (the Lotus pose), for heart-health and many other profound health benefits.

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So, now we have a very good reason to just ‘sit around’ (the right way though) and stay healthy all the same!

Not Happy With Social Distancing? Let’s Try ‘Distant Socializing’ Instead

As millions across the globe find themselves grappling with ‘Social Distancing’ and the huge levels of loneliness and boredom that seem to be going viral as fast as the contagion itself, the folk at Stanford University suggest that we restrict ‘Social Distancing’ to mean just ‘Physical Distancing’ and urge everyone to practice ‘Distant Socializing’.
And in the current world climate, this might just be what the doctor ordered. Let’s take a closer look.

Why Is Socializing So Crucial For Us?

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Human beings have an ingrained need for connection with one another. And this need becomes even more pronounced during difficult times, when people feel a strong urge to seek comfort and to comfort others, by interacting. In fact, support from loved ones has been scientifically established to soften our response to stress, and chronic loneliness is known to manifest as sleeplessness, depression and even immunity-related and cardiovascular illnesses. The damage it can cause has even been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Which makes it imperative for us to address the widespread loneliness that Social Distancing measures might result in, to avoid a different kind of health crisis following the current one involving the contagion.

And the first step towards it can be understanding that ‘Physical Distancing’ which involves staying connected while being apart, is what the world needs right now and ‘Social Distancing’ might not be the right term for it.

How Do We Stay Together While Being Apart?

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Technology – that has long been held responsible for breaking down relationships and tearing society apart, might now be the solution to the social isolation that this pandemic is causing.

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Apps like FaceTime and Zoom, that have been used for meetings and online teaching, can be used as platforms for informal digital get-togethers and meetups. While you might be inclined to dismiss the idea at first, thinking about what makes an in-person meeting so much fun, and trying to replicate it in an online setup can help.

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It’s important to understand that even when we do meet in person, our expectation is not for every minute to be scintillating or fun. It’s the entire experience of getting together, interacting, goofing-off, and the in-between-moments that give us a sense of connection with others. If you are used to having fun coffee breaks with colleagues at work, for instance, you can create a Zoom channel and join your colleagues with a steaming mug of coffee next to you and try to recreate the same feeling, while all of you do nothing together. You can extend this to cooking together with your mum on Facetime, sipping your favorite wine with a friend, or holding playdates where you have kids doing the same thing together, like drawing the same picture for instance, from the safety of their homes.

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What is especially important at this time is to empower the elderly, the ones most impacted by social distancing and least familiar with technology, to use these tools and help them stay connected with their loved ones during this crisis. Many of them may need patient hand-holding as they start getting used to using this new interface.

There’s Also A Brighter Side

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While most media sources have us believing that disasters bring out the selfish and violent sides of people, it’s far from the more common truth, and this realization is necessary at a time like this.

What they forget focusing on – are countless situations where after disasters, the boundaries of class or race vanish and people get together to save lives, shelter and help absolute strangers and line up for hours to donate blood. The last few months have seen scores of such scenes that you can find if you try and look up #COVIDkindness. In fact, even the act of countries choosing physical isolation, including those who are deemed low-risk, is an act of kindness and solidarity in itself, screaming wordlessly that we are in this together.

How Can We Get Through This?

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If two words could sum it all up, they would be – let go. Lower your expectations from life for the time being. Work will not be able to continue at the same pace as it did earlier. And ambitions will need to be put on hold for now. Let’s just find joy in the little things that life is offering us, and hang on in there, together.

References

https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/19/try-distant-socializing-instead/