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How to Boost Your Immune System

In our current environment of the coronavirus, we are told to stay healthy and take precautions such as hand washing, avoiding large crowds, cleaning surfaces, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, etc. No one seems to mention that  every second of every day the body is working to protect us from armies of hostile bacteria, fungi and viruses that swarm on our skin; yet we usually remain amazingly healthy most of the time.

The body has evolved to approach these foes – if you’re  not with us – you’re against us! So the components of the immune system work together to destroy any foreign invader. To implement that stance, it relies on two built-in defense systems, the innate defense system and the adaptive defense system that act both independently and cooperatively. However, it is extremely important to support this system with a healthy lifestyle for optimum functioning and its ability to keep us well. 

Innate defenses include:

Surface barriers (skin, mucous membranes)

Internal defenses (phagocytes, natural killer cells, inflammation, antimicrobial proteins, fever

Adaptive defenses include:

Humoral immunity (B cells, plasma cells, antibodies, memory cells)

Cellular immunity (Helper T cells, cytotoxic T-cells, memory cells)

These two systems are deeply intertwined and when operating effectively, they protect us from most infectious microorganisms, cancer cells, and (unfortunately) organ transplants and grafts.

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COVID-19: A Perspective

The following article puts the disease risks from the coronavirus into play and compares it to other diseases and their health risks (heart disease, diabetes, influenza, e.g.).

Please keep in mind that a lot of numbers are quoted in the article and of course this changes almost every day. Dr. Katz states that he is writing on 2/28/20, and of course numbers of cases and deaths change constantly since then and will continue to do so.

However, the points are well stated. We should learn by now that headlines from the media tell us little and often are exaggerated to get our attention.

Despite the seriousness of infectious diseases, we often miss the total picture of a “sick” society – the ongoing epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other more subtle health risks as a result of a poor diet , that affects us day after day and year after year.

Hopefully, this too shall pass (as most viral epidemics do) so we can restore our sanity and return to solving the ongoing problems of chronic disease.

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Eat Less for a Longer Life?

Calorie restriction has been shown to extend lifespan in many animal species. Even though the following article is an animal (rat) study, it is very interesting since it goes further than most studies by examining the effects on the body cells themselves of a calorie restricted diet versus a control group with no calorie restriction.

Some people find this easier to do with the practice of intermittent fasting (or time-restricted) eating patterns. It is suggested that you consult your physician with any restrictive diet (e.g., Keto) since it is imperative we still get all the proper nutrients we need for optimum health.

An alternative could be is to consult a certified nutritionist or health coach.  Be careful who you might choose for nutrition information. Unfortunately, some practitioners in the nutrition community offer services that are highly questionable and appear to be outside the legitimate scope of evidence-based nutrition.  Even advanced degrees can be purchased from what used to be called “diploma mills”.  There are a lot of crazy schemes (mostly for weight loss) on the internet – question and check on the  credentials of any person who call themselves a “nutritionist.”  Also if a plan or a supplement sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stephen Barrett, MD, a long-time crusader against nutrition and health fraud, recommends steering clear of:

  • Anyone who suggests  that large doses of vitamins are effective against a large number of diseases and conditions. That is simply untrue. On the contrary, mega doses can sometimes be harmful.
  • Anyone who suggests hair analysis is a basis for determining the body’s nutritional state and then recommending large numbers of dietary supplements are not reliable for this purpose.
  • Anyone who claims that a wide variety of symptoms and diseases are caused by “hidden food allergies”. There are legitimate food intolerances that are different from true allergies.
  • Anyone who uses a computer-scored “nutrient deficiency test” as the basis of prescribing dietary supplements. There are more valid ways of assessing diets.
  • All practitioners – licensed or not – who sells vitamins and minerals in their offices. Evidence-based nutritionists  do not sell supplements.
  • Practitioners who seem to favor a certain food brand or supplement. There is a lot of research that is supportive of the food industry and research on that particular brand is often biased.

Source: Quack Watch, Where  to Get Professional Nutrition Advice, Stephen Barrett, MD.

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Make 2020 A “No Dieting” Year

Research has shown us that simply the process of dieting can make us fatter. Year after year a tremendous number of people attempt to diet.  However, long-term studies of of those who diet consistently find they are more likely to end up gaining weight in the next few years than people who don’t diet.

Restrictive diets can lead to cravings, binge-eating, depression, and other eating disorders. The body has a range of weights referred to as a set-point at which it prefers to maintain in terms of body weight. When this set point is challenged by chronic dieting, you trigger the body’s natural hormonal and nervous systems mechanisms  to protect your body from perceived starvation. One of these is to lower your metabolic rate and thus conserve energy so you burn fewer calories.  The following article offers some sensible tips to avoid strict dieting and still be able to manage your weight loss or maintenance.

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Processed Food: Are We Addicted?

The following post may explain in part the possibility of food addiction, a highly controversial topic especially when it comes to processed foods.

Perhaps it is best explained by this excerpt from Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

” The blood gets especially besieged when processed food is ingested, flooding the system with its heavy loads of salt, sugar, and fat…, there, narcotics and food…act much alike. Once ingested, they race along the same pathways, using the same neurological circuity to reach the brain’s pleasure zones, those areas that reward us with enjoyable feelings for doing the right thing by our bodies. Or, as the case may be, for doing what the brain has been led to believe is the right thing.”

The following link provides us with a video (suggested (13 min.) and the text of a recent TED talk. Interesting analysis.

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Fiber: The Basis of a Plant-based Diet?

 

Such an important nutrient, but never the talk of the town. Actually it gets little attention on the large scale of “most talked about nutrition issues list”.  What is low in calories, prevents constipation, may lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and is generally underconsumed by people on the Standard American Diet (SAD)?  The answer? Fiber!!

Total fiber intake in U.S. children and adults is about 15 grams a day. When teaching nutrition, most students in my classes after diet analyses, were lucky if they went over 9 grams a day. The recommendation is 28 grams a day for women and 35 grams a day for men.

It was thought that fiber contributed little caloric value since it is not broken down by human digestive enzymes. Recent studies suggest that bacteria in the colon are able to break down many types of fibers to some extent (2 calories/gram). They excrete fatty acids as a waste product and then used as an energy source by the colon and the rest of the body. When you think about it, fiber may be responsible to a great extent for the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

There are two major classifications of dietary fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers slow down glucose absorption and reduces fat and cholesterol absorption. They are found in oats, barley, fruit pulp, dried beans and psyllium.  They are fibers that are not fibrous.

Insoluble fibers are particularly beneficial for preventing constipation. They are found more in wheat bran,  legumes, seeds, and the skin on fruits and vegetables.

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What Do Microbiologists Eat? Or Not Eat?

During my teaching days, I taught a course in infectious disease for several years. As part of our lab sessions, we  did some sampling to test  some common areas in the cafeteria as well as some local food samples from a few local restaurants (salads) and other produce from the supermarket.

As a result in our lab, we found E.coli growing in the ice tea spouts in the cafeteria and growing in the alfalfa sprouts at the local supermarket. The presence of these types of bacteria suggest  fecal contamination – need I say more?  Raw sprout contamination is not new. Raw sprouts are not recommended for pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, or the  elderly. Keep in mind that the species of E. coli can range from “friendly bacteria” to dangerous pathogens (E. coli 157:H7.)

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