Has your stress response been unknowingly elevated without your being aware this year? Being aware of subtle changes can be a precursor to realising your symptoms before they turn into anything more sinister. We’ve had alot to cope with the fear factor being thrust upon us at a moment’s notice and not knowing how to adapt to life under covid rules. None of us had the skills to deal with a pandemic and I do believe that we have all been affected psychologically and emotionally in ways we are only just beginning to understand and come to terms with.
It’s not news that our diet, exercise and a positive mind set are key to combat the inflammatory response. It is also beginning to be better known that new experiences are extremely helpful to combatting stress, whether it’s a new walking route or trying out a new sport or form of movement or meeting new people.
I found these tips on sugar, sleep and new experiences quite helpful from this recent week long article on our immunity. I hope you do too!
The anti-inflammatory plan to tackle midlife malaise. How can we lower the risk of diseases which make us vulnerable?
By Maria Borelius,
SCIENCE JOURNALIST AND BIOLOGIST
Could certain foods, movements and even emotions support your chances for a better outcome in this pandemic and possibly a next one too? It is evident that no one becomes infected because of inflammation, but diseases linked to inflammation such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease seem to hinder our capacity to defend ourselves, as the immune system is off balance.
Professor Inger Bjorck and a team at the Anti-Diabetic Centre at Lund University in Sweden were studying if there were certain foods that could actually lower the risk of disease and metabolic syndrome, the triple whammy that includes obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. They scanned through years of research and created an anti-inflammatory diet for a group of 44 people during four weeks. The results were staggering; bad cholesterol was down 33 per cent, blood lipids were down by 14 per cent and blood pressure down eight per cent. There was also an increase in cognitive ability, with an increase in memory.
A longitudinal study of 70,000 people in Sweden over 16 years was published in 2018, where the principal investigator, Professor Alicja Wolk of Karolinska Institute, Sweden, concluded that an intake of anti-inflammatory foods was related to increased longevity. An anti-inflammatory lifestyle will improve your overall health, and help you find your best weight. It includes diet, exercise, emotional life and stress-busting techniques.
Over the next five days, we’ll be publishing five key elements of the anti-inflammatory plan.
Day one: Boost your intake of anti-inflammatory foods
* Eat food as close to nature as possible. Boost polyphenol-rich green veggies and berries, as they are rich in fibres and polyphenols which will promote a healthy gut microbiome.
* Increase your intake of omega-3 fats, which you find in oily fish, nuts and seeds.
- Add more probiotic-rich foods, such as yoghurt, miso soup,
Kombucha and sauerkraut to boost your microbiota.
- A glass or two of red wine during weekends is fine, as this contains powerful polyphenols. Look for Pinot Noir or Merlot wines with a higher resveratrol content.
The immune system has co-developed with humanity for millions of years, as a valuable ally. It repairs infections and trauma by inflammatory processes. But there is good and bad inflammation.
Good inflammation is the response to pathogens or trauma. An acute cascade of molecules will create the typical five signals of inflammation; red, swollen, hot, achy and hard to move. Think about that sprained ankle, and how it feels. This acute inflammation is our ally. It repairs and heals, has a beginning and an end.
However, the bad inflammation is a low degree version with no clear ending. This is inflammation gone berserk, induced by the wrong foods, sitting still for long periods, stressful lifestyles and toxins. The body will react by trying to protect itself, and use its long honed strategy; inflammation. But now the initial phase of the inflammation just lingers on a low level which will “speak” to the whole body. Early signs are tiredness, a bloated tummy, feeling blue, joint ache, blotchy skin, weight increasing.
Day two: Decrease your sugar intake
To decrease inflammation, eat less sugary food, as it spikes NF-kB activity and sets off genes that promote inflammation. However, all lifestyle change has to allow for a bit of flexibility to be sustainable. So allow for weekly treats, joy and celebration to make a healthy life workable.
* Stabilise blood sugars levels in general having more good sourced protein and good fats, such as nuts and fish.
* Eat fruit with nuts or yogurt. Or the French way, add vinegar to your salads, to lower the glycemic index of the meal.
- Snack on full-fat natural yoghurt with chia seeds, fruits with nuts or a few hard-boiled eggs with cocktail tomatoes.
Science has started to unravel inflammation as a catalyst for manifest diseases. One way to help ease chronic inflammation is to try intermittent fasting. Short burst of fasting supports the gut microbiota, as it repairs itself, promoting beneficial bacteria that lowers inflammation.
Professor Satchin Panda at the Salk Institute, California, showed me his research whereby intermittent fasting will lower inflammation and weight long term. Food window regulation turns out to be one of the best anti-obesity strategies around.
Obese children and adults are both shown to have high levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, produced by the liver as a reaction, and interleukin-6, an early warning of the inflammatory cascade. The link is so strong that some doctors even call obesity “an inflammatory disease”. Obesity affects our immune system and changes it, because fat is not a dormant tissue, but highly active immunologically, especially around the abdomen.
But there is good news. We can work directly to lower the risk of inflammation and diseases which in themselves are clearly linked to worse outcomes.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you eat all of your meals within a set time period rather than grazing throughout the day.
The key is to find a routine that works for your lifestyle, be is Mosley’s 5:2, which involves eating normally for five days of the week and restricting your calorie intake to 500–600 for two days of the week, or 16:8, which involves eating all your meals in an eight-hour window. For example, you could eat between 12pm and 8pm and fast for the other 16 hours.
Exercise lowers inflammation. We know that being sedentary increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Throughout the Covid pandemic, obesity has been associated with far worse outcomes: The World Obesity Federation published a study in March, examining almost 100 countries, estimating that 88 per cent of all deaths occurred in countries with high levels of obesity.
At the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Rachel Batterham has pointed out that three out of four critically ill Covid patients were overweight or obese. And the risk for a bad Covid outcome rises by 50 per cent when a person is overweight (with a BMI over 25). Further risk factors for severe Covid are type 2 diabetes and cardiac disease, which are also clearly linked to low-degree inflammation.
Professor Bente Klarlund Pedersen at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark, showed me how she discovered the myokines, where our muscles speak to our immune system. Each bout of exercise sets off myokines from the muscles, which induce a signal to lower inflammation. A study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise has anti-inflammatory effects.
A combination of aerobic and muscular exercises is best. This could be a 20 to 30-minute gym session with cardio and muscle training, or simply taking a brisk walk with some push-ups – the key is to raise your heart rate to the point where you feel out of breath. If you want to be precise, you should aim to get your heart rate within 50 to 70 per cent of your maximum, which can be calculated by deducting your age from 220. For example, if you are 50, your maximum heart rate would be 170, so you should work at between 50 to 70 per cent of this number. Go for it, try to exercise most days, but give yourself a rest day a week. In addition, build short bursts of movement into your daily routine. Take regular two-minute movement breaks by taking the stairs instead of the lift, doing 10 squats or walking around the block.
To my surprise, when researching the anti-inflammatory lifestyle I discovered how Dr Jennifer Stellar and her team at Toronto University, Canada, were proving that our emotions can lower inflammation and help protect the body from chronic disease.
When we experience strong positive emotions, and especially the feeling of awe, when we encounter something large, holy or wonderful in nature or music, it affects our immune system in a positive way by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Additionally, psychological stress is a significant contributing risk factor in up to 90 per cent of all chronic diseases, so finding stillness and relaxation is key. Sleep lowers inflammation. So does regular meditation and yoga as it works on NF-kB activity, downregulating the gene expression of inflammation.
In the Blue Zones in Okinawa and Loma Linda, US, people live exceptionally long lives, proving how longevity, lifestyle and inflammation-busting techniques are connected.
Seek out nature, music, art, literature, drama and spiritual experiences that widen your heart. Linger in the feeling. This will lower inflammation. So will charitable actions and watching sports, as long as you go to the arena and cheer your team on with your mates, Corona regulations permitting.
An anti-inflammatory day could include a short meditation, a brisk walk with stunning music in your earphones and using a gratitude journal to give thanks for at least three things during the day.