Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Building Immunity............... Kitchen Secrets

     Building immunity is an ongoing process. If you get lax about it, it tells on your health. This series attempts to give you a holistic, comprehensive picture of what you can do on a daily basis. Notice that most of the points given here are similar to the advice given to build general health as well!

Eating for Immune Fitness:

  • Use Indian spices and herbs in your cooking daily – especially garlic, turmeric, cumin (jeera), fennel (saunf) and ginger. Coriander and curry leaves work well too. Use all these in kashayas too if you feel an infection coming on.
  • Eat nuts and seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, watermelon seeds, almonds and walnuts which contain Selenium, Zinc and a host of other micronutrients.
  • Plenty of fruits with pectin, a soluble fibre that enhances resistance – apples, pears, guavas, grapes, berries, strawberries, papayas and citrus fruit. All fruits naturally contain antioxidants as well.
  • Include fermented foods like curd, dosas and idlis, organic tofu, etc since they help enable the gut bacteria to protect you better.
  • Avoid foods high in sugars as these suppress the immune system. Use only 2- 3 tsp of sugar/honey/jaggery per day.
  • Use less oil and only organic, cold-pressed ones at that – mustard / sesame / safflower / groundnut oils 
  • Skip the processed and junk foods which provide only empty calories – choose nutrient dense foods instead.
  • Use whole grains instead of refined ones – this goes for legumes and pulses too (consume with skin). These provide fibre and a host of micronutrients required for immunity.

     Popping antibiotics at the hint of a cold or cough is dangerous because all drugs have side effects and these especially can suppress your immune system’s natural abilities over time. From the earliest recorded history (including the Vedas and Puranas), food has been prescribed as both medicine and preventive.  Explore your kitchen’s potential in protecting and healing your family.

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 6, 2012.

Building Immunity............Healthy Lifestyle Choices

     Herbert Spencer coined the phrase ‘Survival of the Fittest’ describing Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. If we are not ‘Fit’, then we are susceptible to infections, autoimmune disorders or even chronic disorders, all of which impact our longevity and health – plain and simple. Transforming our ‘Fitness’ is critical to build immunity. The first half of being ‘fit’ comes from making the right lifestyle choices.

Lifestyle modifications that really work for year-round immune health:
  • Get enough sleep – lack of sleep causes stress which in turn leads to lowered resistance.
  • Reduce unnecessary exposure to pollution (wear a surgical mask or simply use a cloth while driving), chemicals (including household cleaning agents) - use gloves while cleaning. Explore natural, non-toxic D-I-Y options.
  • Exercise regularly – 30 minutes to one hour, 4 to 5 times a week. Intensive training for more than 2 hours a day, however, makes you more vulnerable to infection.
  • Get enough sun – at least 20 minutes sun exposure per day till your skin acquires a pinkish hue is required for our body to produce Vitamin D.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption and kick the smoking habit.
  • Lose weight if you need to – maintain your ideal body weight and lead an active lifestyle.
  • Meditate, practice Pranayama, pursue a hobby or passion - in other words, lower stress to boost your immunity.
               Having said all this, you will suffer from infections whether you have a strong immune system or not, although much less frequently. The advantage is the recovery time. Watch your body bounce back to normal in a remarkably short time with lesser discomfort and intensity of symptoms. 

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', October 6, 2012.

Building Immunity.............The Small Things Matter

     Building immunity should start early. Breastfeeding for the first 6 months to a year of life is the surest way to ensure your child is protected even from common allergies. Allow children to be exposed in a safe way to bacteria so that they develop immunity from a young age. Don’t sacrifice basic hygiene but let your kids play outside or in sand / soil- encourage them to explore nature and the outdoors. 

     This way, they are exposed to a bacterial environment which challenges their immune system, necessitating a response. The body thus learns to defend itself and is alert and ready to protect itself in the future. Don’t use antibiotics for small illnesses even if your paediatrician prescribes them – unnecessary use of these medicines leads to bacteria mutating into new resistant strains making it tougher for the body to fight them. Avoid antibacterial soaps for the same reason.

     Interestingly, there is a link between emotional wellness and immunity. This is especially true for children. Kids’ immunity is susceptible to stress. Those being raised in a loving environment have higher levels of self-esteem and well being so they fall sick less often. Research shows that, people who hold on to anger and resentment tend to fall sick frequently. The same goes for single people, individuals without a strong social network and people who are going through depression.

     Why this connection? The simple reason is all the warm fuzzy stuff is good for your immunity too. Being married or in a loving relationship, being a parent, being part of a close-knit community, experiencing the love and support of your family helps your health. Hope this gives you incentive to address and resolve sources of stress and create the all important work – life balance! 

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', September 29, 2012.

Building Immunity..........Introduction

I wrote a 4 part series on this subject for Life in Adyar.......

     Imagine having your own personal army, responsible for your safety and survival, ready at a moment’s notice....did you think of a team of bodyguards? Well, this system is literally guarding your body. It is called your Immune System and your health and ability to fight infections, toxins, poisons and even cancerous cells depends on it.

     There is a lot of new research taking place on the subject of immunity especially on what enhances and suppresses it. This is a hot topic in the light of new, virulent types of infections like swine flu and the hanta virus. Ordinary, existing bacteria and viruses are mutating into new strains which are resistant to our traditional drugs. This phenomenon is mainly due to the widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics to treat even virus infections like cold and influenza (against which they are completely ineffective). In this scenario, the best option that you have is to keep your immune system working optimally.

     While your skin, saliva, mucosal lining of nasal passages and digestive system, stomach acid, tears, etc. are the first barriers to any foreign body, this Natural Immunity also consists of antibodies and protective cells that are already present in your body from the time of birth. Inflammation is also an example of this – a slight swelling when a mosquito bites or at a cut in skin actually protects you from bacteria at the site.

     A secondary line of defence called Acquired Immunity consists of more complex cells and systems to fight foreign bodies or ‘antigens’ as they are called. This type of immunity ‘learns’ from previous attacks and infections and enables the body to protect itself from future assaults and is associated with our Lymphatic System. A well known example is having chicken pox as a child and then being protected from developing it again throughout life. Vaccines work on the same principle but not at 100% effectiveness.

    During the rains, the risk of developing infections is at the highest because the water we drink might be contaminated. During this season, avoid eating out frequently and especially from roadside vendors to prevent infections like typhoid, gastroenteritis and cholera. Urinary tract and fungal infections of the feet are common. Keep your feet dry and change socks frequently. For urinary tract infections barley water is the way to go (beer doesn’t help). Stagnant water leads to mosquitoes breeding – dengue and malaria incidence is higher during this season. Ask civic authorities to clear any standing water in your area.

     It is critical to maintain a dry, hygienic environment at home to prevent being affected. Focus on kitchen hygiene and cleaning of fresh food stuffs before preparation. Wash hands with ordinary soap regularly. Don’t play too much in the rain – jumping in puddles is definitely not recommended. Stay out of the pool as far as possible since it is water-borne infections that are predominant.

    The monsoon doesn't have to be a time of caution, keep the above practices in place and if you get wet occasionally, don’t worry too much about coming down with an infection. Watch out for the next in the series – The Small Things Matter.   

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', September 22, 2012.