Tagged with "healthy"
7 benefits of regular physical activity Tags: benefits regular physical activity health mental wellness healthy hearts word life production feature weekly

You know exercise is good for you, but do you know how good? From boosting your mood to improving your sex life, find out how exercise can improve your life.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Want to feel better, have more energy and perhaps even live longer? Look no further than exercise. The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. And the benefits of exercise are yours for the taking, regardless of your age, sex or physical ability. Need more convincing to exercise? Check out these seven ways exercise can improve your life.

No. 1: Exercise controls weight

Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. You don't need to set aside large chunks of time for exercise to reap weight-loss benefits. If you can't do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day in simple ways — by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or revving up your household chores.

No. 2: Exercise combats health conditions and diseases

Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent high blood pressure? No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.

No. 3: Exercise improves mood

 

Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.

No. 4: Exercise boosts energy

Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Rich and Healthy Foods for a Traditional Soul Food Dinner Tags: healthy food soul traditional southern dinner health mental wellness word life production feature blog

Let your mind wander to your favorite soul foods. Chicken and waffles. Barbecued ribs. Macaroni and cheese. Catfish, chicken livers, sweet potato pie.

Soul food is an ethnic cuisine that's part of our American Southern food tradition, brought to the United States through the slave trade and passed down through generations of African-American families. Its heart is in the food traditions of Africa, the Caribbean and South America.

The term "soul food" may not have originated until the civil rights movement of the1960s, but some foods on soul food menus have roots that go back hundreds of years -- or at least their inspiration does. You'll find a traditional soul food menu offers everything from oxtail soup, chitterlings (also called chitlins) and boiled pigs feet to collard greens and ham hocks, black-eyed peas, corn bread and cracklin' bread. Swallow it down with some sweet tea and finish it off with a slice of chess pie.

While this style of food varies from region to region, with shrimp and seafood making appearances in recipes in coastal areas, the common thread in soul food is that these dishes were created with what was around and available, usually offal and other leftover and unwanted animal parts (for example, chitterlings are a pig's small intestine that's been cleaned, soaked and boiled or fried) and weeds (for example, beet greens). Soul foods are often fried or slow cooked, prepared those ways to help tenderize otherwise difficult-to-work-with ingredients. Sauces, sides and main dishes are often flush with salt and sugar as a way to boost flavors.

Soul food traditions and recipes have been passed along in African-American families in the U.S. since the time of slavery, through stories, experience and sometimes recipe cards, but cooking family recipes and eating soul food doesn't have to mean sacrificing your health. What does health have to do with it? A lot -- every time you enjoy a deep-fried turkey wing you're increasing your odds of developing some serious and chronic health problems. Let's figure out what those health risks are, next, and then how to enjoy a rich but healthy soul food meal instead.

The foods we associate with traditional soul food spreads are also usually associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. Many dishes are cooked with lard or other saturated fats, but despite this, soul food doesn't have to be unhealthy food.

Today, soul food is comfort food to many Americans -- it's the food we grew up with in our homes. And much like other types of comfort foods, many of our favorites are not the best for health. Unfortunately, African-Americans are more likely to be unhealthy and suffer premature death than Caucasian Americans.

African-Americans are also more likely to develop diabetes -- a chronic disease that raises your risk of nerve damage, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke as well as your risk of losing your eyesight or losing a limb. Almost 15 percent (3.7 million) of African-Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a higher incidence than for whites or Hispanics living in the U.S. [source: CDC, American Diabetes Association]. The African- American community also has higher rates of hypertension and obesity.

One way to approach a soul food supper more healthfully while still serving traditional soul foods is with the Oldways African Heritage Diet. The African Heritage Diet is a way of eating based on those comforting soul foods we all love, but with a focus on the healthier side of soul food eating. The African Heritage Diet Pyramid is put together by not only health and nutrition experts but also by culinary historians -- culinary tradition is important here, tradition that comes from not only the American Deep South but from Africa, South America and the Caribbean as well -- traditions from times before the African diaspora and the slave trade that began in the 15th century.

The African Heritage Diet food pyramid includes what you might expect in a food pyramid: meats, beans, vegetables and fruits. But the bottom layer of this food pyramid is reserved for greens -- dark, leafy greens including beet, chard, collard, dandelion and mustard greens. Kale, spinach and watercress are all also commonly found in the African Heritage Diet. Greens are eaten with every meal. Above greens on the pyramid you'll find vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, beans, peas, tubers and whole grains -- the foods that dishes in the heritage diet are built around. This level includes whole foods and grains such as eggplant, papaya, peanuts, yams, millet, sorghum and teff -- a cereal grass native to Ethiopia. Fresh herbs, spices, hot sauces and marinades, fish and seafood, healthy oils, eggs, other meats and dairy get more limited as the pyramid tip narrows, with sweets at the top as an occasional treat. This isn't a plant-based diet, but the emphasis is on healthy preparations of animal products.

What you won't find in the African Heritage Diet is fried chicken. This diet is about healthy eating, which includes baking chicken, but does not include those unhealthy frying fats. You'll eat shrimp gumbo and okra with peanuts, though, as well as collard greens and one-pot meals from your slow cooker.

If you just want to clean up a few of your own recipes, we have a few places to begin. Many of the ingredients common to soul food dishes are not unhealthy foods. For example, peanuts are a good source of B vitamins and protein. Teff, millet and brown rice are all good-for-you whole grains. But it's what we do to these foods before we eat them that doesn't do us any good.

Let's talk about fats. Instead of cooking foods in lard and other shortening or saturated fats (including butter) lighten them up by substituting a healthier type of fat such as canola, olive or sesame oil. Collards and kale are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants but become unhealthy when cooked in fatback -- use chicken or vegetable stock instead, and substitute smoked turkey to give your greens a smoky note. Have a heavy hand with herbs but only a pinch when it comes to salt. This soul food is about keeping the comfort of a Sunday supper as well as your health.

Source: Discovery Fit & Health

Eat Colorful Foods for Better Health Tags: healthy colorful foods exos better health word life production mental wellness blog

Eat a rainbow of colors often,” Core Performance founder Mark Verstegen is fond of saying—and with good reason. Eating a variety of colorful food provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to nourish your body that can’t be replicated in a supplement.

Different colored foods play different roles in the body. Aim for at least three colors at every meal and two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables over the course of the day.

“Every meal should include colorful fruits and vegetables because of their fiber and nutrient densities,” says Verstegen. “Proteins and carbs will most likely be brown, beige, or white. Add veggies like red and green peppers, carrots, and green beans to get your color quotient up.”

Colorful Foods by the Numbers

500

Eating three colors each night at dinner will add up to over 500 servings of vegetables over 6 months.

Red Foods

Packed with phytochemicals like lycopene and anthocyanins, red foods help increase heart and circulatory health, improve memory, support urinary tract health, and decrease the risk of certain types of cancers. Try these red foods:

Cherries – This delicious fruit is high in antioxidants that have been shown to protect against heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. A rich source of antioxidants, tart cherries also help reduce inflammation in the body and relieve pain from gout and arthritis.

Cranberries – High in antioxidants and proanthocyanidins, cranberries have been shown to prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract wall and reduce inflammation in the body.

Red bell peppers – Bell peppers are low in calories and fat and high in vitamin C and fiber. Eating bell peppers has been linked to increased immunity, improved digestion, lower cholesterol, and a decreased risk of colon cancer.

Tomatoes – High in the antioxidant lycopene, tomatoes have been shown to help reduce damage to our cells and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Beets – This low calorie veggie is high in fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K. Beets have been shown to optimize digestive health, decrease inflammation, and help fight heart disease.

Other Red Foods

Other delicious red foods include strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, pink grapefruit, pomegranate, red kidney beans, red apples, red grapes, red pears, radishes, radicchio, red onions, red potatoes, and rhubarb.

Orange Foods

Orange foods are high in antioxidants such as vitamin C, carotenoids, and bioflavonoids. Eating orange foods has been linked to skin and eye health, increased immunity, decreased risk of cancer, and a healthy heart. A few of our favorite orange foods include:

Carrots – Carrots are high in vitamin A, which helps maintain the integrity of the skin, and beta carotene, which has been associated with boosting the immune system and potentially reducing the chances of skin cancer.

Oranges – This fruit is high in vitamin A and C, which has been linked to increased immunity, heart health, and healthier skin. Also high in magnesium and fiber, oranges can help strengthen bones and improve digestion.

Sweet potatoes – Often touted as one of the healthiest veggies we can eat, sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamins A and C, iron, and antioxidants. Eating sweet potatoes has been shown to promote healthy skin, increased immunity, and a decreased risk of cancer.

Peaches – High in vitamin A, C, E, K, and fiber, peaches have been shown to help prevent cellular damage, promote healthier digestion, reduce inflammation in the body, and help reduce your risk of cancer.

Other Orange Foods

A few other orange foods to try include apricots, cantaloupe, Cape gooseberries, golden kiwifruit, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, persimmons, tangerines, butternut squash, and rutabagas.

Yellow Foods

Pineapple, yellow peppers, corn, star fruit, and other yellow foods contain nutrients that promote good digestion and optimal brain function. High in alpha- and beta-carotenes, yellow foods have also been linked to increased immunity, a decreased risk of some cancers, and healthy eyes and skin. Grab these yellow foods on your next shopping trip:

Pineapple – Cholesterol and fat-free, pineapple is high in bromelain, an enzyme that helps regulate and neutralize body fluids and aids in digestion. Its high vitamin C content has also been linked to decrease in heart disease, cancer, cataracts, and stroke.

Yellow peppers – High in vitamin C and A, yellow peppers have been linked to increased immune system and healthy skin. Yellow peppers are also high in carotenoids, which help protect from heart disease.

Star fruit – Caramobla, or more commonly known as start fruit, is high in high in vitamin C and calcium. This fruit has been linked to increased immunity, bone health, and muscle contractions.

Other Yellow Foods

Try some of the other delicious yellow foods like yellow apples, yellow figs, grapefruit, golden kiwifruit, lemon, yellow pears, yellow watermelon, yellow beets, yellow tomatoes, and yellow winter squash.

Green Foods

Green fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of potent phytochemicals such as lutein and indoles. Benefits include a lower risk of some cancers, improved eye health, rejuvenated musculature and bone, and strong teeth. Stock up on these healthy green foods:

Broccoli – High in calcium and iron, this veggie has been linked to stronger teeth, bones, and muscles, and a decreased risk of cancer.

Spinach – This leafy green is high in antioxidants and vitamin K, which helps strength bones.

Kiwi – Kiwi is high in folate, vitamin E, and glutathione, which all help decrease the risk of heart disease and promote optimal overall health.

Other Green Foods

Other healthy green foods include avocados, green apples, green grapes, honeydew, limes, pears, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, broccoflower, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, green beans, green cabbage, celery, chayote squash, cucumbers, endives, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, green onions, green peppers, peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas, watercress, and zucchini.

Blue/Purple Foods

These colorful foods get their bright hue from anthocyanins, which have been linked with antioxidants and anti-aging properties in the body. Blue and purple foods help promote bone health, and have been shown to lower the risk of some cancers, improve memory, and increase urinary-tract health. The main benefit of blue and purple foods is increased circulation and microcirculation. A few of our favorite blue/purple foods are:

Blueberries – Blueberries are high in fiber (2.4 g per 2/3 cup), vitamin E and C, and antioxidants. Eating blueberries has been linked to improved cholesterol, increased urinary-tract health, and a boost in brain activity.

Blackberries – These nutrient-packed berries are high in fiber, vitamin K (promotes calcium absorption and bone health), and high in antioxidants that improve overall health. Research has also linked blackberries to increased immunity, improved heart health, lower cholesterol, and decreased cancer risk.

Plums – Plums are high in vitamin B, which helps metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. High in vitamin K, plums also help promote bone health.

Eggplant – In addition to being high in fiber (8 percent of your daily needs), eggplant is also high in vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorus which promote strong bones and teeth.

Other Blue/Purple Foods

Other blue and purple foods to try are black currants, dried plums, elderberries, purple figs, purple grapes, raisins, purple asparagus, purple cabbage, purple carrots, black salsify, purple-fleshed potatoes, and purple Belgin endive.

White Foods

While many white foods are refined, like white bread and white rice, there are a lot of white foods that are packed with nutrients. White fruits and veggies have been linked to lower cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, and a lower risk of heart disease. The key benefit of white foods is increased immunity. Eating white foods helps enhance the immune system, the lymph systems, and aids in cellular recovery. Here are a few of our go-to white foods and their specific benefits:

Garlic – In the same family as chives and onions, this powerful, potent food has been linked to heart health and decreased cancer risk. Garlic also has anti-microbial compounds.

Onions – In addition to having powerful sulfur-bearing compounds that work as anti-microbial agents (similar to garlic), onions have also been shown to help lower blood sugar levels and improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Onions are also high in the flavonoid quercetin, which has been linked to cell protection and slower tumor growth.

Cauliflower – High in powerful antioxidants such as manganese and vitamin C. One cup of cauliflower has 52 mg of vitamin C, compared to 64 mg in a medium orange. This healthy food has also been linked to increased immunity.

Other White Foods

A few other healthy white foods include ginger, turnips, and jicama, white corn, turnips, shallots, white potatoes, parsnips, mushrooms, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichoke, white peaches, and white nectarines.

Source: Exos/The Nutrition Team

How to boost your immune system Tags: healthy cell activity build immune system health mental wellness word life production feature blog

Excerpted from The Truth About Your Immune System, a Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publications

What can you do?

On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and make your immune system stronger? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?

The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.

But that doesn’t mean the effects of lifestyle on the immune system aren’t intriguing and shouldn’t be studied. Quite a number of researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, herbal supplements, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. Although interesting results are emerging, thus far they can only be considered preliminary. That’s because researchers are still trying to understand how the immune system works and how to interpret measurements of immune function. The following sections summarize some of the most active areas of research into these topics. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.

Immunity in action

Immunity in action. A healthy immune system can defeat invading pathogens as shown above, where two bacteria that cause gonorrhea are no match for the large phagocyte, called a neutrophil, that engulfs and kills them (see arrows).

Photos courtesy of Michael N. Starnbach, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Adopt healthy-living strategies

Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

Don’t smoke.

Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.

Exercise regularly.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Control your blood pressure.

If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

Get adequate sleep.

Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.

Get regular medical screening tests for people in your age group and risk category.

Be skeptical

Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically. In fact, boosting the number of cells in your body — immune cells or others — is not necessarily a good thing. For example, athletes who engage in “blood doping” — pumping blood into their systems to boost their number of blood cells and enhance their performance — run the risk of strokes.

Attempting to boost the cells of the immune system is especially complicated because there are so many different kinds of cells in the immune system that respond to so many different microbes in so many ways. Which cells should you boost, and to what number? So far, scientists do not know the answer. What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells. Certainly it produces many more lymphocytes than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis — some before they see any action, some after the battle is won. No one knows how many cells or what kinds of cells the immune system needs to function at its optimum level.

Scientists do know more about the low end of the scale. When the number of T cells in an HIV/AIDS patient drops below a certain level, the patient gets sick because the immune system doesn’t have enough T cells to fight off infection. So there is a bottom number below which the immune system can’t do its job. But how many T cells is comfortably enough, and beyond that point, is more better? We don’t know.

Many researchers are trying to explore the effects of a variety of factors — from foods and herbal supplements to exercise and stress — on immunity. Some take measures of certain blood components like lymphocytes or cytokines. But thus far, no one really knows what these measurements mean in terms of your body’s ability to fight disease. They provide a way of detecting whether something is going on, but science isn’t yet sufficiently advanced to understand how this translates into success in warding off disease.

A different scientific approach looks at the effect of certain lifestyle modifications on the incidence of disease. If a study shows significantly less disease, researchers consider whether the immune system is being strengthened in some way. Based on these studies, there is now evidence that even though we may not be able to prove a direct link between a certain lifestyle and an improved immune response, we can at least show that some links are likely.

Age and immunity

Earlier in this report (see “Cancer: Missed cues”), we noted that one active area of research is how the immune system functions as the body ages. Researchers believe that the aging process somehow leads to a reduction of immune response capability, which in turn contributes to more infections, more inflammatory diseases, and more cancer. As life expectancy in developed countries has increased, so too has the incidence of age-related conditions. Happily, investigation into the aging process can benefit us all — no matter what our age.

While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are far more likely to contract infectious diseases. Respiratory infections, influenza, and particularly pneumonia are a leading cause of death in people over 65 worldwide. No one knows for sure why this happens, but some scientists observe that this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells, possibly from the thymus atrophying with age and producing fewer T cells to fight off infection. Thymus function declines beginning at age 1; whether this decrease in thymus function explains the drop in T cells or whether other changes play a role is not fully understood. Others are interested in whether the bone marrow becomes less efficient at producing the stem cells that give rise to the cells of the immune system.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas are looking at another aspect of why the immune system seems to weaken with age. They studied cell death in mice. They conducted an experiment to compare the lifespan of memory T lymphocytes in older mice with those of younger mice and found that the lymphocytes in older mice die sooner. This suggests that as the lymphocytes die off, the elderly immune system loses its memory for the microbes it is intended to fight and fails to recognize the microbes when they reappear. The body thus becomes less able to mount a vigorous immune response.

A reduction in immune response to infections has been demonstrated by older people’s response to vaccines. For example, studies of influenza vaccines have shown that for people over age 65, vaccine effectiveness was 23%, whereas for healthy children (over age 2), it was 38%. But despite the reduction in efficacy, vaccinations for influenza and S. pneumoniae have significantly lowered the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared with nonvaccination.

Yet other researchers are looking at the connection between nutrition and immunity in the elderly. A form of malnutrition that is surprisingly common even in affluent countries is known as “micronutrient malnutrition.” Micronutrient malnutrition, in which a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals that are obtained from or supplemented by diet, can be common in the elderly. Older people tend to eat less and often have less variety in their diets. One important question is whether dietary supplements may help older people maintain a healthier immune system. Older people should discuss this question with a physician who is well versed in geriatric nutrition, because while some dietary supplementation may be beneficial for older people, even small changes can have serious repercussions in this age group.

What about diet?

Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. Scientists have long recognized that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Whether the increased rate of disease is caused by malnutrition’s effect on the immune system, however, is not certain. There are still relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans, and even fewer studies that tie the effects of nutrition directly to the development (versus the treatment) of diseases.

There are studies of the effects of nutritional changes on the immune systems of animals, but again there are few studies that address the development of diseases in animals as a result of changes in immunity. For example, one group of investigators has found that in mice, diets deficient in protein reduce both the numbers and function of T cells and macrophages and also reduce the production of immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibody.

There is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies — for example, deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in animals, as measured in the test tube. However, the impact of these immune system changes on the health of animals is less clear, and the effect of similar deficiencies on the human immune response has yet to be assessed. But the research at this stage is promising, at least for some of the micronutrients.

So what can you do? If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs — maybe you don’t like vegetables or you choose white bread over whole grains — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement brings health benefits of many types, beyond any possibly beneficial effects on the immune system. Taking megadoses of a single vitamin does not. More is not necessarily better. Researchers are investigating the immune boosting potential of a number of different nutrients.

Selenium. Some studies have suggested that people with low selenium levels are at greater risk of bladder, breast, colon, rectum, lung, and prostate cancers. A large-scale, multiyear study is currently in progress to look at the effects of combining selenium and vitamin E on prostate cancer prevention.

Vitamin A. Experts have long known that vitamin A plays a role in infection and maintaining mucosal surfaces by influencing certain subcategories of T cells and B cells and cytokines. Vitamin A deficiency is associated with impaired immunity and increased risk of infectious disease. On the other hand, according to one study, supplementation in the absence of a deficiency didn’t enhance or suppress T cell immunity in a group of healthy seniors.

Vitamin B2. There is some evidence that vitamin B2 enhances resistance to bacterial infections in mice, but what that means in terms of enhancing immune response is unclear.

Vitamin B6. Several studies have suggested that a vitamin B6 deficiency can depress aspects of the immune response, such as lymphocytes’ ability to mature and spin off into various types of T and B cells. Supplementing with moderate doses to address the deficiency restores immune function, but megadoses don’t produce additional benefits. And B6 may promote the growth of tumors.

Vitamin C. The jury is still out on vitamin C and the immune system. Many studies have looked at vitamin C in general; unfortunately, many of them were not well designed. Vitamin C may work in concert with other micronutrients rather than providing benefits alone.

Vitamin D. For many years doctors have known that people afflicted with tuberculosis responded well to sunlight. An explanation may now be at hand. Researchers have found that vitamin D, which is produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight, signals an antimicrobial response to the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Whether vitamin D has similar ability to fight off other diseases and whether taking vitamin D in supplement form is beneficial are questions that need to be resolved with further study.

Vitamin E. A study involving healthy subjects over age 65 has shown that increasing the daily dose of vitamin E from the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 30 mg to 200 mg increased antibody responses to hepatitis B and tetanus after vaccination. But these increased responses didn’t happen following administration of diphtheria and pneumococcal vaccines.

Zinc. Zinc is a trace element essential for cells of the immune system, and zinc deficiency affects the ability of T cells and other immune cells to function as they should. Caution: While it’s important to have sufficient zinc in your diet (15–25 mg per day), too much zinc can inhibit the function of the immune system.

Herbs and other supplements

Walk into a store, and you will find bottles of pills and herbal preparations that claim to “support immunity” or otherwise boost the health of your immune system. Although some preparations have been found to alter some components of immune function, thus far there is no evidence that they actually bolster immunity to the point where you are better protected against infection and disease. Demonstrating whether an herb — or any substance, for that matter — can enhance immunity is, as yet, a highly complicated matter. Scientists don’t know, for example, whether an herb that seems to raise the levels of antibodies in the blood is actually doing anything beneficial for overall immunity.

But that doesn’t mean we should discount the benefits of all herbal preparations. Everyone’s immune system is unique. Each person’s physiology responds to active substances differently. So if your grandmother says she’s been using an herbal preparation for years that protects her from illness, who’s to say that it doesn’t? The problem arises when scientists try to study such a preparation among large numbers of people. The fact that it works for one person won’t show up in the research data if it’s not doing the same for a larger group.

Scientists have looked at a number of herbs and vitamins in terms of their potential to influence the immune system in some way. Much of this research has focused on the elderly, children, or people with compromised immune systems, such as AIDS patients. And many of the studies have had design flaws, which means further studies are needed to confirm or disprove the results. Consequently, these findings should not be considered universally applicable.

Some of the supplements that have drawn attention from researchers are these:

Aloe vera. For now, there’s no evidence that aloe vera can modulate immune response. Because many different formulations and compounds have been used in studies, comparing the results is difficult. However, there is some evidence that topical aloe vera is helpful for minor burns, wounds, or frostbite, and also for skin inflammations when combined with hydrocortisone. Studies have found aloe vera is not the best option for treating breast tissue after radiation therapy.

Astragalus membranes. The astragalus product, which is derived from the root of the plant, is marketed as an immune-system stimulant, but the quality of the studies demonstrating the immune-stimulating properties of astragalus are poor. Furthermore, it may be dangerous.

Echinacea. An ocean of ink has been spilled extolling echinacea as an “immune stimulant,” usually in terms of its purported ability to prevent or limit the severity of colds. Most experts don’t recommend taking echinacea on a long-term basis to prevent colds. A group of physicians from Harvard Medical School notes that studies looking at the cold prevention capabilities of echinacea have not been well designed, and other claims regarding echinacea are as yet not proven. Echinacea can also cause potentially serious side effects. People with ragweed allergies are more likely to have a reaction to echinacea, and there have been cases of anaphylactic shock. Injected echinacea in particular has caused severe reactions. A well-designed study by pediatricians at the University of Washington in Seattle found echinacea didn’t help with the duration and severity of cold symptoms in a group of children. A large 2005 study of 437 volunteers also found that echinacea didn’t affect the rate of cold infections or the progress and severity of a cold.

Garlic. Garlic may have some infection-fighting capability. In laboratory tests, researchers have seen garlic work against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Although this is promising, there haven’t been enough well-designed human studies conducted to know whether this translates into human benefits. One 2006 study that looked at rates for certain cancers and garlic and onion consumption in southern European populations found an association between the frequency of use of garlic and onions and a lower risk of some common cancers. Until more is known, however, it’s too early to recommend garlic as a way of treating or preventing infections or controlling cancer.

Ginseng. It’s not clear how the root of the ginseng plant works, but claims on behalf of Asian ginseng are many, including its ability to stimulate immune function. Despite the claims of a number of mainly small studies, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) considers there have been insufficient large studies of a high enough quality to support the claims. NCCAM is currently supporting research to understand Asian ginseng more fully.

Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root). Licorice root is used in Chinese medicine to treat a variety of illnesses. Most studies of licorice root have been done in combination with other herbs, so it’s not possible to verify whether any effects were attributable to licorice root per se. Because of the potential side effects of taking licorice and how little is known about its benefits — if any — for stimulating immune function, this is an herb to avoid.

Probiotics. There are hundreds of different species of bacteria in your digestive tract, which do a bang-up job helping you digest your food. Now researchers, including some at Harvard Medical School, are finding evidence of a relationship between such “good” bacteria and the immune system. For instance, it is now known that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of certain T cells. Precisely how the bacteria interact with the immune system components isn’t known. As more and more intriguing evidence comes in to support the link that intestinal bacteria bolster the immune system, it’s tempting to think that more good bacteria would be better. At least, this is what many marketers would like you to believe as they tout their probiotic products.

Probiotics are good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, that can safely dwell in your digestive tract. You’ll now find probiotics listed on the labels of dairy products, drinks, cereals, energy bars, and other foods. Ingredients touted as “prebiotics,” which claim to be nutrients that feed the good bacteria, are also cropping up in commercially marketed foods. Unfortunately, the direct connection between taking these products and improving immune function has not yet been made. Nor has science shown whether taking probiotics will replenish the good bacteria that get knocked out together with “bad” bacteria when you take antibiotics.

Another caution is that the quality of probiotic products is not consistent. Some contain what they say they do; some do not. In a 2006 report, the American Academy of Microbiology said that “at present, the quality of probiotics available to consumers in food products around the world is unreliable.” In the same vein, the FDA monitors food packages to make sure they don’t carry labels that claim the products can cure diseases unless the companies have scientific evidence to support the claims. Does this mean taking probiotics is useless? No. It means the jury is still out on the expansive health claims. In the meantime, if you choose to take a probiotic in moderation, it probably won’t hurt, and the scientific evidence may ultimately show some benefit.

The stress connection

Modern medicine, which once treated the connection between emotions and physical health with skepticism, has come to appreciate the closely linked relationship of mind and body. A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. But although the relationship between stress and immune function is being studied by a number of different types of scientists, so far it is not a major area of research for immunologists.

Studying the relationship between stress and the immune system presents difficult challenges. For one thing, stress is difficult to define. What may appear to be a stressful situation for one person is not for another. When people are exposed to situations they regard as stressful, it is difficult for them to measure how much stress they feel, and difficult for the scientist to know if a person’s subjective impression of the amount of stress is accurate. The scientist can only measure things that may reflect stress, such as the number of times the heart beats each minute, but such measures also may reflect other factors.

Most scientists studying the relationship of stress and immune function, however, do not study a sudden, short-lived stressor; rather, they try to study more constant and frequent stressors known as chronic stress, such as that caused by relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, or sustained challenges to perform well at one’s work. Some scientists are investigating whether ongoing stress takes a toll on the immune system.

But it is hard to perform what scientists call “controlled experiments” in human beings. In a controlled experiment, the scientist can change one and only one factor, such as the amount of a particular chemical, and then measure the effect of that change on some other measurable phenomenon, such as the amount of antibodies produced by a particular type of immune system cell when it is exposed to the chemical. In a living animal, and especially in a human being, that kind of control is just not possible, since there are so many other things happening to the animal or person at the time that measurements are being taken.

Despite these inevitable difficulties in measuring the relationship of stress to immunity, scientists who repeat the same experiment many times with many different animals or human beings, and who get the same result most of the time, hope that they can draw reasonable conclusions.

Some researchers place animals into stressful situations, such as being trapped in a small space or being placed near an aggressive animal. Different functions of their immune systems, and their health, are then measured under such stressful conditions. On the basis of such experiments, some published studies have made the following claims:

Experimentally created “stressful” situations delayed the production of antibodies in mice infected with influenza virus and suppressed the activity of T cells in animals inoculated with herpes simplex virus.

Social stress can be even more damaging than physical stress. For example, some mice were put into a cage with a highly aggressive mouse two hours a day for six days and repeatedly threatened, but not injured, by the aggressive mouse — a “social stress.” Other mice were kept in tiny cages without food and water for long periods — a “physical stress.” Both groups of mice were exposed to a bacterial toxin, and the socially stressed animals were twice as likely to die.

Isolation can also suppress immune function. Infant monkeys separated from their mothers, especially if they are caged alone rather than in groups, generate fewer lymphocytes in response to antigens and fewer antibodies in response to viruses.

Many researchers report that stressful situations can reduce various aspects of the cellular immune response. A research team from Ohio State University that has long worked in this field suggests that psychological stress affects the immune system by disrupting communication between the nervous system, the endocrine (hormonal) system, and the immune system. These three systems “talk” to one another using natural chemical messages, and must work in close coordination to be effective. The Ohio State research team speculates that long-term stress releases a long-term trickle of stress hormones — mainly glucocorticoids. These hormones affect the thymus, where lymphocytes are produced, and inhibit the production of cytokines and interleukins, which stimulate and coordinate white blood cell activity. This team and others have reported the following results:

Elderly people caring for relatives with Alzheimer’s disease have higher than average levels of cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and, perhaps because of the higher levels of cortisol, make fewer antibodies in response to influenza vaccine.

Some measures of T cell activity have been found to be lower in depressed patients compared with nondepressed patients, and in men who are separated or divorced compared with men who are married.

In a year-long study of people caring for husbands or wives with Alzheimer’s disease, changes in T cell function were greatest in those who had the fewest friends and least outside help.

Four months after the passage of Hurricane Andrew in Florida, people in the most heavily damaged neighborhoods showed reduced activity in several immune system measurements. Similar results were found in a study of hospital employees after an earthquake in Los Angeles.

In all of these studies, however, there was no proof that the immune system changes measured had any clear adverse effects on health in these individuals.

Does being cold make you sick?

Almost every mother has said it: “Wear a jacket or you’ll catch a cold!” Is she right? So far, researchers who are studying this question think that normal exposure to moderate cold doesn’t increase your susceptibility to infection. Most health experts agree that the reason winter is “cold and flu season” is not that people are cold, but that they spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs.

But researchers remain interested in this question in different populations. Some experiments with mice suggest that cold exposure might reduce the ability to cope with infection. But what about humans? Scientists have dunked people in cold water and made others sit nude in subfreezing temperatures. They’ve studied people who lived in Antarctica and those on expeditions in the Canadian Rockies. The results have been mixed. For example, researchers documented an increase in upper respiratory infections in competitive cross-country skiers who exercise vigorously in the cold, but whether these infections are due to the cold or other factors — such as the intense exercise or the dryness of the air — is not known. They’ve found that exposure to cold does increase levels of some cytokines, the proteins and hormones that act as messengers in the immune system, but how this affects health isn’t clear.

A group of Canadian researchers that has reviewed hundreds of medical studies on the subject and conducted some of its own research concludes that there’s no need to worry about moderate cold exposure — it has no detrimental effect on the human immune system. Should you bundle up when it’s cold outside? The answer is “yes” if you’re uncomfortable, or if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period where such problems as frostbite and hypothermia are a risk. But don’t worry about immunity.

Exercise: Good or bad for immunity?

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help maintain a healthy immune system? Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.

Some scientists are trying to take the next step to determine whether exercise directly affects a person’s susceptibility to infection. For example, some researchers are looking at whether extreme amounts of intensive exercise can cause athletes to get sick more often or somehow impairs their immune function. To do this sort of research, exercise scientists typically ask athletes to exercise intensively; the scientists test their blood and urine before and after the exercise to detect any changes in immune system components such as cytokines, white blood cells, and certain antibodies. While some changes have been recorded, immunologists do not yet know what these changes mean in terms of human immune response. No one yet knows, for example, whether an increase in cytokines is helpful or has any true effect on immune response. Similarly, no one knows whether a general increase in white cell count is a good thing or a bad thing.

But these subjects are elite athletes undergoing intense physical exertion. What about moderate exercise for average people? Does it help keep the immune system healthy? For now, even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established, it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be a beneficial arrow in the quiver of healthy living, a potentially important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with the rest of your body.

One approach that could help researchers get more complete answers about whether lifestyle factors such as exercise help improve immunity takes advantage of the sequencing of the human genome. This opportunity for research based on updated biomedical technology can be employed to give a more complete answer to this and similar questions about the immune system. For example, microarrays or “gene chips” based on the human genome allow scientists to look simultaneously at how thousands of gene sequences are turned on or off in response to specific physiological conditions — for example, blood cells from athletes before and after exercise. Researchers hope to use these tools to analyze patterns in order to better understand how the many pathways involved act at once.

Source: Harvard Health Publications

Cook up some holiday cheer - Healthy Desserts Tags: healthy desserts christmas kids health mental wellness word life production feature blog

Cookies, popcorn, and other kid-friendly holiday treats are often loaded with fat and sugar. Ditch the store-bought varieties and make these simple recipes with your young foodie. Make a treat together as a fun holiday activity, while taking the time to teach him or her about nutrition and cooking.

Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies

Simple substitutions cut out fat and sugar without compromising flavor or fun. These Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies keep saturated fat and cholesterol low, while adding a punch of fiber.

Low-Cal Sugar Cookies

These low-cal sugar cookies are quick, easy to make, and guilt free; one will only set you back 69 calories.

Flavor your own popcorn

Cut out fat by flavoring your own popcorn using canola oil instead of butter; maple kettle corn and cinnamon-sugar are both perfect winter flavor combinations.

White Peppermint Snowballs

These White Peppermint Snowballs are easy to make with your favorite brand of packaged sugar-cookie dough, or dough you create yourself. Adding in some crushed peppermint candies makes them extra festive, and the minty smell may actually help you eat less.

White Chocolate Holiday Bark

Kids will love this White Chocolate Holiday Bark. This one isn’t necessarily low in calories, but it is low in cholesterol and sodium. This treat is also packed with heart-healthy dried cranberries and antioxidant-rich almonds.

Cranberry-Honey Spice Pinwheel Cookies

These cookies boast a bright, zesty filling and spicy aroma. They make a large batch and are extremely convenient, since you can make the logs of cookie dough ahead, then pull them out of the freezer and slice and bake as many cookies as you need.

Raspberry-Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

These cookies taste decadent, yet are made with ingredients that have healthful benefits: oats, almonds, fruit, and chocolate. The thumbprints are versatile as well — use a different type of filling or other extracts to create a completely different cookie.

Chocolate Coconut Meringues

These chocolate, coconut, and almond meringue cookies are so light and airy, they are a perfect little treat that's not too heavy.

Outrageous Macaroons

These luxurious macaroons studded with pistachios and dried cranberries hail from recipe developer Katie Webster. Although you can concoct them with either sweetened or unsweetened coconut, we find that the unsweetened packs a more coconutty wallop. For a variation, substitute chopped crystallized ginger and mini chocolate chips for the pistachios and cranberries.

Almond Cherry Bites

Dried cherries, ground almonds, and a drizzle of chocolate make these cookies festive for the holidays.

Dark Chocolate Florentines

Master of Fine Arts student Allyson Lea Smith consulted with her mother and baked at least six variations to create this healthier version of an oat-chocolate sandwich cookie.

Fig 'n' Flax Thumbprint Cookies

We love how the ground flax adds a nutty flavor and the brown sugar caramelizes on the outside of these thumbprint cookies. Fig preserves make this cookie special; other fruit preserves could be used as well.

Orange Spice Molasses Cookies

These spiced molasses cookies have applesauce to help keep them moist and whole-wheat flour and oats to incorporate whole grains.

One Nutty Date

Financial adviser Linda Croley was inspired by childhood memories of a family treat when she created these peanut butter-date cookies. "I get a great feeling when I bite into these cookies and think of my family who are around me today and those whose memories I'll always cherish," says Croley. Once you try them, you may never make an ordinary peanut butter cookie again.

Ida's Mandelbrot

This tender-crisp, walnut-studded cookie (traditionally made with almonds, or mandel in Yiddish) was adapted from a 1950s family recipe.

Double Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chewies

These soft chocolate cookies have a big peanut flavor since they use both peanut butter and peanut butter chips.

Double Nut and Date Tassies

These two-bite pecan tart cookies satisfy the sweet tooth with far less guilt than pecan pie.

Pineapple Coconut Bites

A retired writing professor and mother of two daughters, Jessie Grearson got inspiration for these mini tart "cookies" from a pineapple-coconut bar that her mother used to make. Her version successfully uses whole-wheat pastry flour and less butter and sugar.

Source: Delish and  Health

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