All about inflammation and anti-inflammatory lifestyle (Part 1)

inflammation

Over the course of evolution, our bodies developed some fantastically complex and truly amazing defense mechanisms.  Jointly, they keep us safe and alive, protecting us from foreign bacterial and viral invasions, ensuring tissue regeneration and healing, cleaning up cellular metabolic debris and deactivating and destroying malfunctioning cells to limit the damage that they can inflict on surrounding tissues.

Many times, however, the same processes that are supposed to protect our bodies from harm cause greater harm when allowed to progress unchecked.  For instance, cholesterol patches originally deployed to limit the damage from vascular lesions may lead to dangerous plaque formations that elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.  Free radicals, the generation of which is a part of normal ATP production in mitochondria wreak havoc in large amounts – to a point of causing DNA damage. Our immune system, designed to combat foreign microbes and irritants and keep us safe, can go out of control and cause a whole range of dysfunctions – from benign allergies to serious auto-immune disorders like lupus or arthritis, when it loses the ability to differentiate between foreign invaders and host tissues.

This article will discuss yet another biological process that is a part of your innate immune system and is intended to protect you from harm, but often gets out of control and creates the opposite effect.

We are, of course, talking about inflammation.

You probably hear about it quite often – most likely in the negative context.  From doctors prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs, many popular websites talking about anti-inflammatory foods and diets, etc. – but just as in many other cases, most of these measures are trying to fight the symptom, rather than the root cause.

What exactly is inflammation and should you really fear it or fight it?  What causes it and what effects does it have on your body?  What should you do to control it and how can you minimize any negative effects?

Continue reading to find out!

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6 big myths and misconceptions in healthy eating

healthy eating myths debunked

When it comes to healthy eating, there are many myths and misconceptions that just won’t die.  Some of them may be silly, while some others may be dangerous, because following them may lead to the results opposite to what you would expect (to the detriment of your health).

The funny thing is that most people who propagate them by trying to “educate” their friends have no idea why they need to follow these “guidelines” – they were just told to, at some point, by another friend, a popular magazine or even doctors, who got stuck in the last century and didn’t care to update their knowledge with the latest research.

Are any of these myths worth believing in?  See for yourself!

Myth # 1: Low-fat food

For many years, caught in the semantics and mislead by mass media (and even some very authoritative sources), people have been equating dietary fat (the fat you eat) to body fat (the fat you store).  The solution, in the age of prevailing heart disease and stroke and total cholesterol hysteria, seemed simple – remove fat from your food and you will be forever lean and healthy.

As it turns out – that’s not quite the case.  In fact, the effect is often the opposite – if you get overzealous, you risk developing quite a few health problems.

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Weight training for kids – best workout or a way to stunt growth?

weight training for kids

We have previously seen how unsubstantiated fears kept most women away from weights for many decades because someone, somewhere took a liberty of defining women as overly fragile, helpless beings that were unable (and unwilling) to ever lift more than the weight of their purses.  (Of course, producers of 0.5lb barbells missed the fact that just to be prepared for the challenges of everyday life, women would need to lift, push, squat and carry much higher weights – like their own babies).

In any case, hopefully, you realize by now that when we compare males and females – there are more similarities than differences in metabolic pathways, muscular function and useful methods to achieve athletic and health goals.  So this limiting belief does females a great disservice.

But a similar ill advice and unsubstantiated fears are now defining our attitudes towards weight training for kids.  Most parents still have many reservations when it comes to weight training for kids – because they have heard, at some point, that lifting weights stunts growth (and that lifting free weights causes injuries, generally speaking).

How much of it is true?  Does weight lifting stunt grown in children, as many people believe?  Are there benefits of weight training as a part of structured exercise early in life? And, if you are a parent – what should you know about your child’s training protocols?

Let’s try to take a closer look.

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Tired of being tired? Here is how to avoid fatigue and boost your energy

feeling tired

A lot of people these days complain about feeling tired all the time.

It’s true that the pace of life seems to be picking up with each day – most people have to deal with multiple distractions, tasks and problems – which often takes significant effort and results in the lack of energy.  We are all busy – so busy, in fact, that most of us admit to getting less sleep than we need.  Quickly eating on the go (because who wants to waste time on a formal sit-down meal in a relaxing environment, when you have so many tasks to complete, right?) makes stellar dietary choices difficult – and results in consumption of loads of junk that makes us fat, slow, sleepy, tired and dissatisfied with everything.

Many food and drink producers seem to be offering a helping hand in fighting this lack of energy.  From seemingly benign coffee, tightly intertwined into many cultures, to “energy drinks” (that contain a wide variety of compounds and make an even wider variety of claims to “give you wings” – or at least keep you alert and focused) – there appears to be plenty of solutions.

But before you attempt to artificially boost your energy (and, if you overdo it – give yourself heart palpitations, anxiety and sleep problems in the process) – perhaps it makes sense to try to understand why you have a lack of energy in the first place.  If you are feeling sleepy and sluggish during the day, if you were rather left alone, if you drag yourself everywhere you need to go, if you cannot concentrate on the task on hand and if your solution to this is upping your caffeine intake – this article is for you.

Let’s look at how you can better manage your mental and physical energy and always be full of life and ready to go!

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Heart Health: Part III – regeneration, genetics and supplements

heart health

Wear and tear, cell regeneration and impact on heart health

Most people pretty much accept the inevitable decline in heart health as they age, believing that the heart (just as the rest of the body) wears out with time.  It is almost expected that your heart, as you get older, will start changing for the worse – the cardiac muscle is expected to thicken (and weaken at the same time), arteries – to stiffen and overall cell regeneration process – to slow down.  The implied lack of exercise at an older age makes these processes accelerate even further.

This grim picture, however, doesn’t have to be your reality.

It is true that myocardium cells may not possess the same remarkable regenerative capacity as liver cells, for instance (although they do, of course, regenerate following normal cell death), but as long as you can prevent current cells from dying too quickly – you can extend the lifespan of the whole heart.  The rules we discussed in relation to overall aging prevention apply equally when trying to prevent premature aging of the heart.

As with most organs, aging of the heart means the loss of ability of myocardium cells to divide and replicate (at least, at a rate that surpasses the rate of normal cell death).   And the factors that drive this are the same as what we have previously discussed – excessive free radical damage, inflammation and muscle atrophy.  If you prevent these generally (by making slight adjustments to your lifestyle and diet) – you will keep your heart young, strong and healthy.

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Heart health: Part II – Heart rate, variability and food

checking for heart rate

Resting heart rate – slower is better

As your heart gets more efficient and stronger – it can pump more blood with each stroke (and, potentially, require less energy to do that).  Eventually, what this leads to is slower resting heart rate.  Remember, the heart rate is a product of the demand for oxygenated blood and your heart’s ability to satisfy that demand.  As this ability improves, the heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

This is precisely where the benefit of exercise comes in.  Exercise not only strengthens the heart itself and makes it more efficient in accessing oxygen in the blood (by growing more mitochondria) – but it also triggers the growth of new mitochondria (as well as improvement in oxidative capacity of existing mitochondria) at the periphery (i.e. – within the target tissue).  All of that means that tissues in need of oxygen could now use less of it to satisfy the same demand for energy – which means your heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

What benefits does slower heart rate have?  There may be a couple:

  • Slower heart rate means a bigger “buffer” between current and maximum heart rate to keep up with more demanding situations when the heart needs to beat faster. Remember – the maximum rate is a finite number for everyone – your heart can’t just beat faster and faster in response to the demand – because the heart itself needs oxygen from blood to perform the work. Faster heart rate means higher energy demand for the heart muscle itself – and at some point, the ability to fuel this process by oxygen delivered by the blood will be limited by the supply of that freshly oxygenated blood and the speed at which it is utilized within the aerobic metabolism pathways.  No available energy at any given moment means no ability to contract.  So a slower heart rate potentially means more energy-efficient heart and a higher capacity to increase that rate to address spontaneous demands for blood delivery;
  • As we have already mentioned, muscle contraction requires energy – which comes from oxidation of fat, glucose or ketone bodies. Cellular energy metabolism – while being absolutely essential for life – also generates several chemical and electrical by-products that, in large amounts, can be harmful.  For instance – we have already discussed positive hydrogen ions (H+) generated by muscle contraction that raise the acidity of the cell.  Also, cellular metabolism generates reactive oxygen species that are known to inflict damage to cell’s DNA and cause various disorders.  It follows, then, that less energy required for resting heart rate means less of such by-products – which, by the way, may contribute to the wear and tear and, as a result – the longevity of the heart itself.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that animals with generally slower heart rates live longer?

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Heart health: Part I – Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Health

heart disease prevention

What you need to know about heart disease, rate variability, effect of exercise, nutrition and more

What is the most dreaded disease of the modern world?  Most people would probably say: cancer.  Yet, cancer is by far not the most prevalent cause of death.  That place is actually firmly occupied by ischemic heart disease, according to statistics published by World Health Organization (WHO).

So it makes sense to try to do what you can to prevent being a part of this statistic.  The article below explores a few potential causes of heart disease, discusses risk factors (including some of those that are not well known) and preventive measures (including some unconventional but very effective ones).

What makes your heart beat

On average, your heart pumps about 7,200 liters of blood per day.  In an average lifetime, that equals about 2,628,000 liters (700,000 gallons) or about 2.5 billion contractions.  That’s a massive amount of work!

As with any muscle, to maintain the strength and pace of these contractions, two variables must be present – the constant availability of fuel and proper functioning metabolism that utilizes this fuel to produce electric energy required to contract the muscle.

The heart is generally considered as a substrate omnivore with the capacity to oxidize fatty acids, carbohydrates, ketone bodies, lactate and even amino acids, the preferred substrate being fatty acids.

That said – energy deficit is a key contributor to heart failure.  During high intensity exercise, for instance, the heart uses up to 90% of its oxidative capacity – so it has no excess capacity of energy generation over energy utilization.

Under these circumstances, it is very important that whatever oxidative capacity your heart does have for supplying energy to cover the immediate needs is utilized to the maximum – and that such capacity is increased to provide some buffer for more strenuous activities, should those take place.  Ninety percent of the heart’s energy requirement is met by mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, which is finely tuned to energy need on a “pay as you go” basis.  In fact, mitochondria (power plants of the cell) occupy more than 30% of the cardiac muscle cells’ volume.

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Is red meat bad for you? (Part I – gathering the facts)

Red meat slices

What you might miss in studies that claim red meat causes cancer

A lot of people who are attempting to eat healthy are searching for an answer to a question that seems to bother vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike – is red meat bad for you?

At first glance it seems to be a no-brainer.  You will find quite a few studies and experiments proving that red meat causes all sorts of bad things – high blood cholesterol, cancer (specifically colon, prostate and breast cancer), high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and more.

So many studies can’t be wrong, can they?  Should you be worried?

Well, as with many things, it’s the little details and subtleties of the research behind these grand statements that make all the difference.  Most people do not care (or do not bother to verify) whether conclusions made by research were based on relationships that are causative (when a disease is a direct result of one specific and tightly controlled variable) or associative (where disease isn’t necessarily caused by a specific variable, but is merely  associated with it – with no regard given to other important co-variables).

Most people do not read into the details of such research papers.  Ask them a question “why is red meat bad?” and, most of the time, you will hear some mumbling without any specific reference to studies, reports or conclusions.  They will cite some vague reports that eating meat causes cancer, point to some poorly designed study republished by tabloids that links meat consumption and health decline and even refer to their doctor, who also “recommends limiting the intake of red meat” (and, probably, as ironic as it is – doesn’t mind recommending some “whole grains”, instead).  Or, they will pull out their biggest gun and refer to “The China study”, which, on the surface, seems to have delivered a significant blow to the “omnivore human” theory and converted many thousands of scared adults into vegetarianism.

Except – those little details hidden behind smoke screens and marketing messages matter a lot.  In fact, they are the details that can make or break the whole case – and understanding them and using them to arrive at your own conclusions may prevent you from fatal errors that have a profound impact on your health.

Is meat bad for you?  You can make your own call in the end after looking at all the facts below.  Without diving too deep into any religious restrictions or ethical dilemmas (we have briefly discussed these in a previous article on veganism, let’s just see why some people believe meat is bad for you is and whether the data they are using holds up to scrutiny.

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Why deep-fried food is such a bad food (even in moderate amounts)

deep-fried food

There is really no shortage of bad food out there – probably around 80% of what you can buy at grocery stores or restaurants is harmful to you in some way.  Some items merely require caution – and very close attention to their source and quality.  Some others, however, fall into the “really bad foods” category – no matter where or how you get them.

One common type of such really bad food has more to do with the cooking method used, rather than the ingredients – because if you use this cooking method, you can easily destroy even the healthiest product and turn it into poison.

The cooking method we are talking about is deep-frying.  It is used extensively by restaurants and also, to a large extent – by home cooks, with a wide variety of home-use deep-fryers available on the market.

While the chefs (and sometimes even the scientists who are behind the modernist cuisine movement) have been focusing primarily on perfecting sensory characteristics of deep-fried food (such as French fries) – perfect crisp, creamy center, even color – the health impact of those deep-fried foods has not been in the center of attention much.  And when it has – the focus was on all the wrong things – and changes introduced as a result had the opposite effect.

For instance, until 1990s, fast food restaurants (think McDonald’s) used to deep-fry their French fries in beef tallow.  But as a result of fear-mongering around saturated fat and cholesterol it was replaced by a mixture of plant-based and chemically-extracted oils.

Since then, the matter has only gotten worse.  These days, with the variety of techniques and equipment, people can (and do) deep fry anything – which typically happens in the same plant oil medium.  Most ethnic cuisines (or at least what is represented as such in the Western world) have some staple deep-fried foods to brag about – Indian samosas, Spanish churros, Chinese spring rolls, Middle Eastern falafel, Japanese tempura or the all-American French fries and onion rings are just a few examples.  But there is really no limit to what else you can deep-fry – anything goes and the choices range from jelly beans, Mars bars and Oreos to silkworms and even such oddities as Coca Cola or ice cream.

It is understandable why deep-fried food is hard to resist – this cooking technique definitely creates something very appealing for the human palate.  Food that is crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and infused with flavors originating from the Maillard reaction and caramelization of sugars awakens cravings that seem to be hardwired into our brains.

“Tasty”, however, doesn’t always mean “healthy”.  In fact, deep-fried foods are probably the pinnacle of “unhealthy”.  Deep-fried food is the worst foods to eat in a restaurant, period – and a lot of the reasons behind this statement might sound new to you, until you read them below.

What makes deep-fried food such a bad food?  There is no shortage of arguments – let’s look at a few.

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How to live longer, slow down aging and feel awesome

Slow down agina

I often look at pictures of some people I grew up or went to school with and get scared.

Because, looking at me from the screen, are weathered, aged, overweight and tired individuals who look way beyond their biological age – and I know it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s true that none of us is getting younger with time.  Whether you like it or not – aging is an inevitable and natural biological process that affects every single living creature.  And although there seems to be some break-through in the field of anti-aging technologies – at this point you cannot reverse aging or stop aging completely.

What you can control, however, is how quickly you age and the quality of life you enjoy as you get older.  You can absolutely extend the span of your younger years and continue to look, feel and perform your best way beyond your 50s and 60s.  You can absolutely extend your life expectancy by eliminating bad habits and introducing good ones.  And the best part is – It’s not that complicated.

If you ask yourself what aging is – you will probably narrow this generic term down to a few indicators – wrinkles, forgetfulness, grey hair, limited mobility and a plethora of diseases.  But all of those are just visual and/or subjective manifestations and symptoms – not the root cause.

Nobody dies of just “old age”.  The majority succumb to disease “common” for and associated with old age – because their weakened bodies lose the ability to fight it off.

Your genetic potential probably allows you to live up to 120 and even beyond (the oldest documented age is 123).  But the average life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization does not exceed 73, with the highest being around 83 (generally, women live longer than men) – and in some countries life expectancy currently much less.

Why such a huge discrepancy?  Because the way you age – and your life expectancy – has little to do with your genetic potential and a lot to do with epigenetic external factors, as most recent studies confirm.  Your bad (or good) habits, diet, environment, activity and stress directly affect which genes get expressed or supressed – so, over the course of your life, cell-activity regulators get added to or removed from genes, dialing their activities up or down. As these changes accumulate, our muscles weaken, our minds slow down and we become more vulnerable to diseases.

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