Seven Strategies for a Vital Winter

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD).

It is already that time of year again; the dreaded cold and flu season. And I have a strange confession to make: I sometimes look forward to it! I say with some sarcasm that I look for which new ‘super virus’ will be identified by the media, with facts regarding its severity skewed. It’s often difficult for those in health care viewing medical matters in the general media. A calm and considered approach to health and infection outbreaks is what happens in our profession, not mass hysteria!

Humor aside, the reason I look forward to flu season is the food and lifestyle changes. Winter woes provide the perfect excuse to look after ourselves after months of over-indulgence and pushing ourselves.

As scientists, we learn that certain microorganisms are definitely stronger than others. In medical speak, we call this ‘virulence’. It is a fact that certain infectious microbes are more virulent than others. This is why even the healthiest individuals can still contract a severe case of influenza. Additionally, most signs and symptoms of winter infections simply represent your immune response; pain, swelling and erythema (redness) of affected tissues all signify an attempt by those cells and tissues to remove the problem.

What scientists really don’t communicate well is that our body and the condition of our cells play a major part in who will get sick,  who will not and who will recover quickly and more completely. We have plenty of time to build our immunity before the flu season hits, but for those of us in Australia, we are already here. Some of you may not be ready, or may have already been quite unwell.

Here are seven of the strongest anti-infection practices that will have you feeling energised and strong while others sneeze and cough their way to the pharmacy.

  1. Eat protein every day. Excellent sources are eggs, lean red and white meats, seafood, dairy and tree nuts. Vegetarians and vegans must be vigilant with protein combining, rather than simply scraping animal based foods off their plates. Protein is essential for haematopoiesis in bone marrow, which builds both red and white blood cells (all are involved in immunity) . Protein is required to build lean body tissue. Those of us with good lean body tissue composition are more resilient against infections. Structurally, antibodies are proteins; we must eat protein to build protein.
  1. Eat fats every day. Fats receive much attention that is based on poor science, and not at all on their biochemistry. Natural fats are composed of nutrients called fatty acids. Some fatty acids are saturated fatty acids (SFA’s)  which have strong, natural antibiotic chemical properties. Coconut oil is one of the best, as it is high in SFA’s. Olive, macadamia and avocado oils are also fantastic, they contain some SFA’s. Speak to a qualified Naturopath/Nutritionist about supplementing with a good quality Cod Liver Oil over the winter months. Cod Liver Oil is not used for it’s fatty acid content, but rather its content of the fat soluble vitamins A and D. Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system (if your immune system was an orchestra, think of vitamin D as a ‘conductor’). Vitamin A is essential for the formation of healthy mucous membranes; most people simply do not consume enough in their diet. Mucous membranes are located in your eyes, respiratory, gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts. Their entire purpose it to help prevent and manage debris and infection.
  1. Eat serve of green vegetables every day. Think spinach, bok choy, brussels sprouts, celery leaves, peas, all forms of cress, fresh green herbs, asparagus and broccoli. You can sauté greens lightly in coconut oil, butter or olive oil, adding fresh herbs. Eating them is potentially better than juicing, as the chewing action will maximise the digestion and absorption of nutrients (especially for those who are a little frail, elderly, or have poor digestion).
  1. Excess Sugar is a chemical insult to your immunity. Some experiments show that excess sugar consumption (as glucose) suppresses immune functions for 30 minutes to 6 hours after ingestion. Many of us continually eat sugar laden foods while fighting an infection, thus it’s no surprise people don’t recover and require more time away from work, school and activities they want or need to do. Additionally, glucose (a simple sugar) competes with vitamin C; they have extremely similar molecular structures. For strong immunity and  an abundance of energy, cut the junk and sugary foods. A little sugar is OK and essential to provide some substrate to help make ATP (energy) to fight infection, but obtain your sugars from fruits, vegetables or good quality dairy if you tolerate this.
  1. Colds, flu’s and infections are notorious for emerging during a stressful time or immediately after the stressful time has subsided. Most people are not aware that stress is not just psychological: it may be physical (e.g., over-exercising or highly physical occupations with little time for breaks) or nutritional (under-eating, overeating and broad spectrum micronutrient deficiencies). Learning what triggers stress for you will contribute to improving your immunity and vitality for the short and long term. The body’s physical response to stress also consumes precious cached vitamin C to try and keep us going- at the expense of our immune system.
  1. Adequate sleep. Many of us don’t respect how important this is, only taking advantage of sleep’s health restoring properties when we are forced into bed with symptoms. Address and rectify anything preventing you from having regular, sound sleep. Parents of babies and young children; I empathise with you completely. If you can, take turns with a partner, friend or family member to allow you a full night in bed every so often.
  1. Hydration. Water, broths and un-caffeinated herbal teas are wonderful for re-hydrating a crenated (shrivelled), water depleted cellular microstructure. Dehydrated cells, tissues and membranes are magnets for infectious micro-organisms. We must keep our cells moist with water if we want them to be resilient to infections.

I will also add as a footnote: efficiently washing your hands is still the single best way to prevent the spread of infection. I am dumbfounded as to why this is not practiced by people more often. Wash your hands!

No matter what flu or infections emerge this winter, they key is to build your immune system early, but you can still start today. A vital winter is yours and entirely possible with the right care and attention.

© 2016. Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, ND. Lecturer | Medical Scientist | Naturopath. May be reproduced with the authors permission and author credit. info@annaliescorse.com.au

 

The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD)

Breathing for health would already come as no surprise to you. Failure to breathe is incompatible with sustaining life. It’s one of the major vital signs monitored in emergency rooms and examined by paramedics to ascertain ones level of consciousness and determine imminent danger to life. In not so life-threatening circumstances, we recognize breathing as one of the quickest and simplest ways to quell excess stress, guide us through anxiety and stem the physical and emotional discomfort of a panic attack. Taking a deep breath helps millions of people everyday, whether they are addressing the world at a press conference, quarrelling with a friend, birthing a baby or attending an important meeting.

The benefits of deep breathing don’t have to be set-aside for times in life where a good deep breath helps you rise to a stressful challenge. Deep breathing has far reaching benefits on many organ systems. Lets consider which aspects of your health will benefit most from deep breathing and how to easily incorporate this practice into daily life.

Respiration (breathing) does not simply mean filling your lungs with air. The main goal of respiration is to deliver oxygen (O2) to every cell and tissue of your body, whilst also removing carbon dioxide (CO2). In order to achieve this, respiration takes place over four key phases:

  1. Pulmonary ventilation. This is simply the inhalation and exhalation of air from the outside environment to inside our body. Air must reach the smallest structures of our lungs, tiny sac-like structures known as alveoli.

Deep breathing facilitates the delivery of sufficient air and O2 to the alveoli, whilst also expelling sufficient amounts of CO2 upon exhalation.

  1. Diffusion of O2 and CO2 between the alveoli and blood, which are in direct contact with each other in the lungs.

Deep breathing helps to deliver sufficient O2 to blood, where it combines with haemoglobin, a protein in our red blood cells. Deep breathing during exhalation helps rid the body of CO2 (a waste product of cellular respiration) via the alveoli.

  1. Transport of O2 and CO2 in blood and body fluids into and out of cells.

Delivery of sufficient O2 to cells via deep breathing is essential for thousands of chemical reactions, most notably metabolism and the production of energy as ATP.

  1. Other facets of respiration, including the regulation of pH (acidity/alkalinity) in your body.

The oxygenation of haemoglobin via deep breathing is one of the most vital buffering systems of the human body. Sufficient oxygenation of haemoglobin is required to prevent dangerous shifts in blood pH (acidity/alkalinity) levels.

Deep breathing is necessary during intense physical activity in order to deliver oxygen to hard working muscles. It is also a renowned stress reliever. The practice of deep breathing is so inextricably linked to health that it forms the foundation of many health and healing modalities including yoga, meditation, and pilates. It is known by many names in these practices, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration. The ability of deep respiration to focus the mind and stem anxiety makes it an important practice in the martial arts, from gentle tai chi and qi gong through to combative tae kwon do and jujitsu.

Systems that will benefit most

  • Nervous system. A good, deep breath will help to stimulate the parasympathetic division of your autonomic nervous system. This is the section of the nervous system predominant during rest activities. Deep breathing relaxes the nervous system. Considering that modern life is full of stress, deep breathing is probably the most portable stress reliever we have.
  • While the liver receives most of the glory regarding detoxification (followed closely by the kidneys, bowel, lymphatics and skin), respiration is responsible for ridding the body of the gaseous waste products of human metabolism. CO2 is the major waste product here, but other minor gaseous wastes are also expelled on exhalation.
  • Pain relief. Any woman has been through labour, or any person who has suffered the pain of injury and trauma will be able to relate to the power of breathing as a form of analgesia. This requires effort, as our natural instinct when in pain is to hold our breath. If initiated, deep breathing through pain is known to increase endorphin levels, which are natural pain killers.
  • Lymphatic system. Our lymphatic system is a network of vessels that carry lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Unlike blood vessels, lymphatic vessels are not powered by the heart, thus requiring other ‘pumps’ to move lymphatic fluid around. One of these pumps is good respiration, facilitated by deep breathing. The lymphatics are involved in detoxification.
  • Energy production. It stands to reason that the higher the oxygen content of your blood, the better your energy levels will be
  • Digestive system. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing encourages blood flow to abdominal organs, including those of the digestive tract. This can help to facilitate peristalsis (muscular movements of the digestive tract). Additionally, a calm nervous system is required for efficient digestion. By supporting your nervous system with deep breathing, you also facilitate healthy digestion.

Practical tips for better breathing.

Due to our busy lives, we often do not breath properly and in a very shallow manner. Here are some practical tips to help you reconnect with the feeling of deep breathing:

  1. Sit up straight and walk tall. Improved posture automatically helps fill your lungs with more air when you breathe.
  2. Allocate some time each day for deep breathing: at your desk, in the shower or in bed at the beginning and end of the day. 5 to 10 minutes is all it takes to help make this a habit.
  3. Feel your body move when you breathe… is anything moving? Deep breathing is rather active and uses multiple muscle groups. Focus on pushing your abdominal area in and out to enhance deep breathing, as opposed to the rise and fall of your shoulders (this indicated shallow breathing).
  4. Consider looking in to the practice of Buteyko breathing. 

References

  1. Guyton, A. and Hall, J. (2000). Textbook of Medical Physiology (Tenth Edition). W. B. Saunders Company. Harcourt Health Sciences. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  2. Harvard Medical School. The family Health Guide (2015). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Health Publications. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
  3. Moseley, A. et al. (2005). The effect of gentle arm exercise and deep breathing on secondary arm lymphedema. Lymphology. 38: 136-145.
  4. Westerdahl, E. et al. (2005). Deep-Breathing Exercises Reduce Atelectasis and Improve Pulmonary Function After Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery. Chest. 128 (5): 3482-3488.

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation www.mindd.org

Image Source: bbc.co.uk

 

Metabolic Disorders: Part I

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD).

 

Question anyone on the concept of metabolism, and you will surely receive responses supporting that everyone knows about it. Young children learn of its existence at school; science students worldwide study the intricate metabolic reactions of living cells and the general public speaks this technical term during social banter around food and weight. However, metabolism is a facet of human health involving far more than the breakdown of food or the production of energy. Metabolism, and the biomedical understanding of metabolic disorders is one of the five pillars of health supporting the philosophy behind the MINDD Foundation. Over a series of articles, these five pillars will be presented and discussed to help you understand the importance of each for human health, including the biomedical, nutritional and lifestyle measures to improve your own health, your family’s health and safeguarding the health of generations to come.

 

Research and education into the role of Metabolic disorders in Pediatric health is fundamental to the work of the MINDD Foundation. This two part article serves to explain the importance of metabolism to our overall state of health, list the conditions associated with errors in metabolism (including the cause of such errors) and what can be done to prevent the potentially devastating consequences of errors of metabolism.

 

Definition of Metabolism

 

Metabolism occurs at the cellular and even subcellular level within tiny structures known as organelles. It is usually defined and interpreted in biochemical terms, where all reactions of the metabolic system are considered together.  In the most simplistic definition, metabolism is defined as the sum total of all chemical reactions in the body. Metabolism is comprised of:

 

  • Anabolism: chemical reactions where substances are synthesized or ‘built up’. For example: the synthesis of hormones, new tissue and antibodies, to name a few.

 

  • Catabolism: chemical reactions where substances are degraded or ‘broken down’. For example: the breakdown of food for energy production and the generation of metabolic waste products such as ketones, urea and lactate to name a few.

 

Therefore, every single chemical reaction in your body is part of your metabolism. Every useful chemical substance your body makes for you, and every waste product generated is part of your metabolism. These metabolic reactions differ depending on which organ of the body you are looking at. For example, the reactions of thyroid metabolism are completely different from reactions in skeletal muscle; every tissue and organ has a completely different role to play and their metabolic chemical reactions reflect this. Your metabolism represents far more than just weight loss and weight gain.

 

Errors in Metabolism +Causes

 

Inborn errors of metabolism are a very large group of rare and congenital disorders of metabolism, where babies are born with a genetic defect involving a specific aspect of their metabolism. These conditions are usually inherited. Most are due to single genetic mutations, where the faulty gene leads to the production of a faulty enzyme. The faulty enzyme produced is unable to catalyze its specific chemical reaction in the body (each enzyme in the human body is highly precise and usually only facilitates one specific chemical reaction). The resulting problems are incredibly varied, depending on the gene and enzyme product involved. Some conditions can be managed well, while others can be lethal errors. Depending on the actual condition inherited, symptoms can range from acute and late-onset acute, through to progressive, generalized and permanent symptoms.

 

List of Conditions

 

There are hundreds of inherited metabolic disorders, and most are exceedingly rare. As a whole, metabolic disorders usually involve a gene/enzyme product involved in:

 

  • Carbohydrate metabolism: these are usually detected in infancy and cover a vast range of conditions where specific aspects of carbohydrate metabolism are impaired. Energy production in vital organs can be severely compromised. Depending on the exact problem, these conditions are often supported by dietary interventions. Some better-known examples in this category are galactosaemia, lactose intolerance and glycogen storage diseases.
  • Amino acid metabolism: these metabolic conditions involve either the synthesis of vital amino acids, or impairment of amino acid degradation. These are so many diseases in this category, however Phenylketonuria (PKU), Homocysteinuria and Maple Syrup Urine disease are some well-known examples. If a vital amino acid is not synthesized, it is unavailable for its many roles within the body. If an amino acid is not degraded properly, it can build up, causing damage to specific tissues and organs. Dietary interventions are often used to abate the effects of these diseases.
  • Organic acid metabolism: these involve the branched chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine and valine). If a specific amino acid cannot be broken down, its build-up can lead to academia (dangerously low blood pH) and vital organ damage. Specific dietary interventions are required, and these often commence in infancy.
  • Fatty acid metabolism: many enzymes are required to break down fatty acids for energy; a problem with any one of these enzymes is known as an inborn error of lipid (fat) metabolism. Some involve carnitine (which helps transport fatty acids to your mitochondria for energy production), while others prevent correct lipid storage. Yet another vast category.
  • Mitochondrial metabolism: these have a huge array of presentations, but ultimately involve impairment of mitochondrial function and ultimately the production of energy as a whole.
  • Porphyrin metabolism: porhyrin rings are specific chemical structures found in vital substances such as haeme (predominantly found in red blood cells) and cytochromes (found in mitochondria for energy production and also in hepatic tissue for detoxification). When not synthesized or degraded properly, they are classified as metabolic diseases known as Porphyrias. It is believed that Pyrrole Disorder may belong to this category.
  • Purine and pyrimidine metabolism: purines and pyrimidine’s are essential chemicals produced by the body and contribute to the structure of DNA, RNA and energy molecules such as ATP to name just a few. Defective enzymes governing purine and pyrimidine metabolism affect the normal sequences of human DNA, meaning harmful mutations are common in this group of metabolic diseases.
  • Peroxisomal metabolism: peroxisomes are organelles involved in breaking down very long chain fatty acids for energy.
  • Steroid metabolism: human steroid hormones include oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and aldosterone. All steroid hormones are derived from cholesterol. Each condition varies, depending on the exact enzyme and hormone involved. Disorders of secondary sexual characteristics, ambiguous genitalia and adrenal insufficiency all come under this category.
  • Lysosomal storage diseases. Lysosomes are organelles, and can be described as the recycling centre of the cell. Unwanted substances can be converted into useful substances for a cell by lysosomes. Metabolic disorders involving lysosomes result in the accumulation of cellular waste, leading to cellular and organ damage.

 

Due to the overwhelming number of metabolic disorders, diagnosis in a clinical setting can be difficult. The range of signs and symptoms that could possibly present is enormous. In general, infants and children who present with the following signs/symptoms may be investigated for a congenital metabolic disease, depending on their entire clinical picture and medical case history:

 

  • Failure to thrive
  • Growth failure
  • Developmental delay
  • Delayed or precocious puberty
  • Ambiguous genitalia
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac issues: cardiac failure, myocardial infarction and both high and low blood pressure
  • Skin: abnormal pigmentation, lack of pigmentation, excess body hair growth
  • Some childhood cancers
  • Hematological issues: low platelets, low red cell count, splenomegaly and lymphadenopathy
  • Diabetes
  • Musculoskeletal pain, weakness and cramping
  • Congenital malformations, especially involving facial features

 

In part 2 of this article: treatment and prevention, and where to seek help for metabolic disorders.

 

References

 

  1. Fernandes, John; Saudubray, Jean-Marie; Berghe, Georges van den (2013-03-14). Inborn Metabolic Diseases: Diagnosis and Treatment. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 4. ISBN9783662031476
  2. Jorde, et al. 2006. Carbohydrate metabolism. Medical Genetics. 3rd edition. Chapter 7. Biochemical genetics: Disorders of metabolism. pp139-142
  3. Ogier de Baulny H, Saudubray JM (2002). “Branched-chain organic acidurias”. Semin Neonatol. 7 (1): 65–74.
  4. Rosemeyer, Helmut (March 2004). “The Chemodiversity of Purine as a Constituent of Natural Products”. Chemistry & Biodiversity 1 (3): 361–401.
  5. Mark A. Sperling (25 April 2008). Pediatric Endocrinology E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 35.
  6. Vernon, H. (2015). Inborn Errors of Metabolism. Advances in Diagnosis and Therapy. JAMA Pediatrics. 169(8): 778-782