Bodyweight Workouts

Over 90% of the new year resolutions involve getting fitter or getting back in shape as one of the goals. OK, I just made up that statistic, but then I guess the numbers are not very far from the truth. One of the primary reason why most people fail to keep up with this resolution is the lack of time. Well it essentially boils down to how much you prioritize health and fitness over other things – but eventually it all comes down to time.

As some of you are already aware, I was in process of setting up an online community of folks interested in performing body weight exercises. The idea here is that we setup exercises twice a week. Simple exercises that work the whole body out. Each of these exercises will have three different levels – Level 1 for basic and Level 3 for advanced. Once you are a part of the community, you can choose your level for each exercise and perform the exercise at your own time and in your own space. At the end of it, all you do is post a comment with the Level attempted and the time it took. Possibly also some details that might help motivate others or help you measure your own progress. No thinking about what to workout. No driving to the gym. Just get in and do the workout posted.

Most exercises are fairly basic and do not need a lot of equipment except for a pull-ups bar or a set of gymnastic rings or a box or a stool for jumps. I will put some links on the community page to where you can get some of these items at a fairly good price. A lot of these workouts are also inspired / adapted / borrowed from the conditioning part of well established regimens such as CrossFit and Calisthenics. So we know they work!

So there we go – no equipment, quick exercises, only twice a week and a community of right minded people to help you be on track. Hopefully, this helps you keep on track with the fitness resolution this year.

To join this group, all you have to do is go ahead and like the Bodyweight WODs Facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/bodyweightWOD

This will ensure that you get the latest exercises for the week on your wall as and when they are posted. I already have the exercise for this week posted there. Try it out and let the community know that you are up for a challenge this year!

Slow the aging – AMP(K) up your excercise

Earlier this week, I read about a gene that biologists have identified; a gene that slows down the aging process. The news about this research was reported in ScienceDaily and it references the actual research that was published on cell.com. Basically, the expression of the APMK gene helps the body figure out how the energy within the cells needs to be used. The activation of AMPK determines the cell autophagy – which basically means how the cells will die and how will they be recycled within the body. The discovery goes a long way to assist in arresting or even reversing the progression of the diseases. The article in ScienceDaily however does not call out any specific measure that you can take up right now to activate the AMPK expression for yourself.

That’s where I wanted to start with this article. The AMPK gene has been studied a bit in the recent past specifically for type II Diabetes. There are a few mechanisms for activating AMPK that have been studied and can be used today to get the age defying benefits –

1) Exercise – Its probably not very surprising, but exercise – especially high intensity interval training is very helpful in boosting the AMPK. This study measured the impact on APMK for moderate to high intensity swimming. So the age old belief of exercising for health and longevity does have some meat after all.

2) Thermogenesis – Another study has seen the impact of thermogenesis on AMPK and found it to be very helpful there. Thermogenesis refers to helping the body generate heat. this can be provided by external factors such as the extra long sauna sessions.

How about combining high intensity exercise along with thermogenesis (probably on rest days)? From the way I see it, that might be the best combo to fight aging.

Are you Movement disabled?

Disabled is a very strong word in our culture today. It usually connotes a crutch or a wheelchair in our minds when we use this word. But to think about it – does the disability of movement just always have to be that intense? In my opinion, the in ability of our body to perform some basic movements should ALWAYS count towards disability. Why? The rationale is simple. We never lose our basic movement abilities unless the body is already on a downward spiral – most of the times metabolically. Sometimes atrophy or other similar issues arising due to the fact that the specific muscles of the body required to perform that movement are simply not being used. In some other cases, it is also caused by misalignment of the body in certain parts due to excessive or inappropriate over a period of time. For instance, excessive sitting on the chair literally makes the pelvic muscles lazy enough that they cannot respond appropriately to stretches or quick reactive foot movements – thus resulting in injuries. Do you know that when walking barefoot on an uneven surface, the muscles in the foot are actually sending out signals to your entire feet to make appropriate alignment of the ankles, knees, hips and back based on the surface that you are walking on? Try going barefoot on the edge of the sidewalk or on a rocky surface and you will know exactly what I mean – the whole body compensates for the adjustments that the foot suggests based on the surface. As a matter of fact, when the foot muscles don’t get used, we lose that signaling ability and are no longer able to scout the uneven surfaces without an elevated risk of injury.

So how do you know if you are movement disabled? Now mind you that as radical as this seems, this is my own personal opinion. So you know where to target the flak of denial. The way I see it, everyone should be able to do at least the two basic movements – squats and overhead hangs. If any of these movements are missing from your range of motion, that to me is a straight out disability. These movements are some of the basic movements for the body and literally represent the health of the movement ability.

Squats not just help determine if you are able to lift your own weight on your legs. But more importantly, they help understand how your body is managing the center of gravity and if your feet muscles are active enough to balance out the various forces that the upper body is putting on them as you squat down and get up. The motion of a clean squat also requires a full range of motion in the knees, thus ensuring that the knees are in the best health. A full squat that makes sure the knees never go forward than the feet also ensure a significant range of motion for the ankles at least in one plane. The hips and glutes get involved in a full squat. For anyone sitting long hours, it is very easy to completely deactivate the glutes muscles and lose the ability to do a clean squat without the knees sticking out forward. A straight back during the squat also tests out the strength of the lower back and gives you a good indication of how far you are from starting to generate any back pain or degenerative back diseases. In a nutshell, the squats test out the flexibility and agility of almost the entire lower body.

Overhead hangs (or dead hang as it is referred a lot of times) provide a similar test for the upper body mobility. The just fact that you are able to raise the hands in a straight plane above the head demonstrates a good shoulder mobility. The process of a hang (similar to what you would do when starting a pull-ups or chin-ups) engages the set of muscles right from the fingers, wrists, forearms to the shoulders. The ability to hold a hang for more than 10 seconds also demonstrates a degree of strength in the entire set of muscles to be able to hold your own body weight. In most cases if not all, this is also a good test to determine not just the arm strength but also the strength versus body weight ratio.

These two tests – although amazingly basic give a great measure of the body’s ability to handle itself. As you can see, these movements are not just restricted to athletes or sportsmen or physically active individuals. These are really the ways the body has been originally designed to work – right till the grave. If you are not able to do this movement – its an alarm that something is really off the track. It can be a metabolic spiral that causes weight gain and muscle loss, or it can be just an abuse of muscles due to wearing high heels or even just excessive sitting on a desk job. In any case, the inability to do these movements should be considered a RED alert and appropriate steps taken to get the mobility back.

Use the body the way it was designed to be. Move!

What makes Olga run?

Somewhere hidden beneath the glamorous world of sports is the not so glamorous track and field for older athletes. On these tracks you would see people who are in their 70s, 80s or possibly even 90s. Olga Kotelko was one such competitor of this sport. Last week, Olga passed away at her home in Canada at the age of 95 – still competing on the track.

An interesting thing about Olga is that she actually started with sports after she was 77 years and retired from a regular school teacher job. Not just that, after starting track and field events, she broke over 26 world records and won over 500 medals across the world. Now that is something to really think about. Its never too late to start something and excel at it. Be it intense physical activities.

When she was alive, the Canadian author Bruce Grierson explored this fantastic career with help of several researchers to understand what made Olga perform so amazingly well at such a later point in her life. Perhaps, in there might lie a key to what might enable all of us to explore our inner passion in the golden years?

I am starting to read his book “What makes Olga Run“.  Hoping it might help me instill some qualities that can help haul a little bit longer? Do get a copy and go through it. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

The sunscreen dilemma

Here in the northeast, we look forward to the sunny months. The few months on the beach are really looked forward to throughout the year. With that come out the umbrellas, beach chairs, the sand toys and the sunscreens. As you might’ve seen from some of my previous posts already, I am very wary of applying anything on the skin, especially when I flip the container to find that the label contains several ingredients that I not just don’t know, but can’t even pronounce. The skin absorbs a lot more than what we eat. Anything applied on the skin gets absorbed instantly in the bloodstream. No wonder the nicotine patches work as a medication. Even interesting part of this interaction is that what gets absorbed by the skin goes directly to the blood stream. Which is also why the melatonin patches are used to put people to sleep.  if you went through my earlier post about the Leaky gut, you would know that the mouth, stomach, intestines and almost every organ in that whole pipe take a lot of effort to make things ready for being introduced to our bloodstream. But something put on the skin gets a direct access to be assimilated within the bloodstream. So now you realize why I am so wary of applying anything on the skin – more than the food we eat. As a general practice, if I cannot eat it, I would think twice before putting it on my skin.

Recently, my kids school gave me a form for approving usage of sunscreen for my child. That’s basically what got me thinking. What are the key reasons why we use screen today? In my opinion, its the sun burns and subsequently preventing the likelihood of skin cancer. Some people also use it thinking that it might help reduce the wrinkles and early aging of the skin due to sun exposure.

The Skin cancer rates have been ever climbing in last few decades. Is that to say that people 50 years ago were not going out in the sun? There might be an alternate argument that we get to know more about these things due to the Internet.  In the good old days, people might be suffering from skin cancer but could not reach out for help or probably even if they did, those numbers did not aggregate on the reporting to become big. Quite possible. But seems disconnect when we look for instance at Australia that have the highest rate of skin cancers today. The Australian government expect that two thirds of their population will face skin cancer before 70 years of age. Now 75% population almost seems like an epidemic level to me. But these numbers are derived from an article in Medical Journal of Australia. The same article compares the skin cancer rates in 1985 and finds a substantial increase. so does not seem to me like this is a problem of information propagation. Moreover, this climb is seen despite the increasing use of sun screens.

So what changed between then and now? I guess a lot has changed for a lifestyle for sure. There has also been a significant change in the environment with the diminishing ozone cover. Then again, people have been flying more often to exotic tropical destinations and having a great deal more sun & UV exposure than they would’ve usually had in their own latitudes. Definitely a whole bunch of variables added in there.

What does the science have to say here?

OK, so what does it really mean to me on a day to day basis?

From a lot of what we saw above, fats – especially the Omega3 fatty acids have been seen to be immensely helpful in preventing (or sometimes even reversing) the damaging effects that the beach sun would have on your body. With the advent of vegetable oils and margarine, our diets todays are substantially high in Omega6 fatty acids skewing up the delicate balance required between the Omega3 & Omega6. So get some real grass fed butter (for its alpha-linolenic acid content), if you can tolerate, always get full fat grass fed dairy. Get an extra serving of guacamole for the saturated fats in the avocado and use coconut oil where possible.

The saturated fats are also a precursor to Vitamin D. But vitamin D does much more than just protect from the sun. So get your Vitamin D levels tested and supplement your body accordingly to bring them at a good healthy level. Statistical studies indicate that most of the people in the US are deficient in Vitamin D and need to supplement for healthy levels.

Lastly, astaxanthin is a super potent anti-oxidant found in foods such as algae and red fish such as salmons, trout and shrimps. Where else is a perfect setting to savor a yummy fish than at the beach side shack overlooking the ocean?

For my kid this year, I would also be using coconut oil on her skin to get her the extra layer of saturated fats needed to not just negate the effects of the UV, but also to build up her Vitamin D reserves.

And now the beach awaits !

Enjoy the sunshine.

 

 

Pollens – What about it?

Yay ! Spring is here…. well, just as I say that, i figure its not a great news for many around. My wife had some severe pollen allergies last year. Twice during the season, we ended up in at the Urgent Care centers. She once returned back with an assisted breathing session with some anti-histamine and the next time it was a straight-shot 10 day anti-biotic course. I still don’t understand the anti-biotic part though. Anyways.

Looking more into this, the seasonal allergies which we very commonly refer to as the pollen allergies (since pollen are probably the most common), are referred to as “allergic rhinitis” in the medical lingo. It basically refers to inflammation of nasal pathways and the repercussions are familiar to a lot of us. Swollen eyes, headaches, wheezing, runny nose – that’s just to start with. In cases where it is induced by grass pollen, this is also known as “hay fever”. This article by National Library of Medicine provides a good overview of how this condition occurs.

Common treatments for the allergic rhinitis often include anti-histamines & corticosteroids.histamine drugs work towards controlling symptoms sneezing, itching and watery eyes. The corticosteroids also include controlling the symptoms for nasal congestion.

The allergic rhinitis is basically an immune attack towards specific body cells that contain a chemical called histamine. The immune reactions from pollens or similar allergens cause certain types of cells to degenerate and release histamine. Histamine is a bio-chemical that is part of the certain types of cells in the body. Once released, the histamine interacts with the histamine receptors causing the symptoms. The anti-histamine drugs bind to the histamine receptors and hence prevent the actual histamine molecules from binding to these receptors thus preventing an outbreak of the symptoms.

The corticosteroids are topical steroid medications that work by manipulating the responses of adrenaline glands for anti-inflammatory effect. In essence, it works by skewing the underlying hormonal balance for masking the symptoms of the allergic reaction. The impact on the hormonal profile is also the reason why corticosteroids need some time to be effective.

In any case, both these common methods, do not effectively “treat” the condition. Both of them manage it well. In essence, masking the condition.

Given that the symptoms are a cascade effect from an immune reaction, it probably tells me that managing a healthy immune system that is not already stressed by other immune attacks might be an effective way of managing the allergic conditions. Today, for most of the people around, one of the biggest contributor to the immune stress is the food sensitivities. Do note that the food sensitivities and intolerances promote a similar Immunoglobulin E response which is observed in pollen allergies. Hence, the underlying immune mechanism for food sensitivities is similar to pollen allergies as well.

Imagine an army in a host country battling with its enemy to maintain its boundaries on the map, just got hit by another army that happens to be a very close ally of the very enemy that it is fighting against. Both of them have similar attack patterns and both are only use air attacks. So even when the host country has a good army and navy, those forces are really useless. What do you expect to happen? Of course, the host army has to start retreating, and allow some infiltration now since it is overwhelmed. That’s exactly what is happening to your immune system when the pollen allergies strike on the body already struggling with food sensitivities on a daily basis. We talked about the leaky gut a few days ago and how it launches the attack on immune system due to food sensitivities. The leaky gut is what needs to be fixed here in order to give the body a respite from the constant immune attacks. This should give a good enough breather to deploy the same forces towards managing pollen allergies.

Unfortunately fixing a leaky gut is not as simple as taking a quick allergy pill. it takes several months of identifying the cause and fixing the food and stress responses. Which is probably why most of the people take medications as a quick fix.

However, for some immediate natural ways to manage pollen allergies, here are some thoughts –

– A study in Spain in 2007 found that high consumption of vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber, green beans, zucchini) leads to a beneficial effect on wheezing. It also find fish intake to be inversely related to wheezing.

–   Another study based on patients in Crete (Europe) found that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables (grapes, oranges, apples, and fresh tomatoes) was found to be protective against wheezing and rhinitis. A high consumption of nuts is inversely associated. Margarine significantly increases the chances of having wheezing and rhinitis. This study also found a high adherence to Mediterranean diet to be beneficial for these conditions.  

– Another study in Japan also found inverse association between fish consumption and rhinitis.

– A study in Switzerland has found that farm milk offers significant protection against asthma and allergies.

– Nasal irrigation with Neti pot is good for flushing out blocked nasal passages and is very effective with immediate symptoms. 

– A review paper published in 2014 in Journal of American College of Nutrition discusses the prevalence of gluten sensitivity in a significant number of population. Gluten is one of the most common known stressors of the immune system in form of food sensitivity. Hence, eliminating gluten from diet should significantly reduce the load on the immune system and free it to fight against the allergens.

– A 2013 review paper published in Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry suggests that Vitamin C plays a significant role in reducing allergic reactions and protecting the immune system.

Sugar is a known immune system suppressant and avoiding it will immensely help the body fight off allergic reactions. Beware though even some of the touted “healthy foods” such as breakfast cereals have boatloads of sugar. Definitely recommend flipping the pack over to check the actual ingredients.

– Lastly, there are several known natural anti-histamines foods that can help provide similar benefits as anti-histamine medicines. Garlic and Onions stand on top of the list as natural anti-histamines.

As always, I would recommend that you don’t take this as a medical advice, but go through the above links to understand this better and help yourself. All in all, it seems very much possible to ditch the OTC medications in favor of food changes that can significantly benefit allergies.

Hope you have a med-free allergy season.

 

The Calorie Equation

If you ask someone what the best way to reduce the weight is – obviously eat less calories. Seems like a no brainer right? Spend the same number of calories, eat lower calories and that might seem to be the best way to lose weight. A lot of times I wonder how we came to such a simplistic and grossly inaccurate approach to consuming food? Seems to me that this is a direct byproduct of carbohydrate rich diets that all of us are so intimately familiar with.
I guess everybody knows the famous macronutrients – the carbs, the proteins and fats. The science textbooks in the school taught us that carbs give us energy, proteins build muscles and then nobody knows why fat is needed – since there was so less emphasis during the school years in any of the textbooks. So fat probably seems to be the bad guy – everyone like energy & muscles but nobody likes fat on the body. We also know that Carbs burn the easiest – more so the “simple carbs” – they convert to glucose the fastest in our body and give us immediate energy. Proteins burn slower, they have a longer process to get converted to glucose (and energy) and fats burn the slowest.
Given that the diets we are familiar with are composed mainly of carbs (sometimes more than 70% carbs), its no surprise that we feel immediate energy when we consume food and also feel exceptionally low when we go without food for sometime. No wonder calories get equated to energy – most of them anyways convert directly to energy for us.
But what happens under the covers? Let’s look at some basics which I think most of the people with blood sugar problems are already familiar with. When any food converts to glucose, be it carbs, or proteins and whatever else we eat, the glucose hits the bloodstream. Glucose is the basic energy needed by every cells in the body. we need it in the bloodstream in certain quantity. But in larger quantities, it is lethal. Hence, the Pancreas (one of the organs) produces a hormone called “Insulin”. The Insulin takes the body away from using fat for energy and starts to use the glucose in the blood stream for energy. The problem is that Insulin also tells the body to store the excess glucose in the blood stream around the belly as the belly fat. So now you know, the fat that you see is not the fat that you eat. Every function in the body is designed with one thing in mind – survival. The mechanism for storing fat is also a survival mechanism so that the body does not get a lethal dose of glucose in the blood stream. So when you start accumulating unwanted fat, its the body struggling hard to keep you alive because you are not doing something right with your food or lifestyle.

When you shed calories from the food being consumed,  the body also realizes that it has lot less to burn than it is used to. As a result, the same survival mechanism will kick in and slow down all the metabolism. In other words, it slows down all the processes in the body – thus consuming lesser energy than what they usually would have. All the important organ such as brain, heart, kidneys etc are prioritized for energy consumption. The other “less important” features such as building muscles, maintaining the reproductive system take a step back because there isn’t enough energy.

With a combination of the two Survival tactics that the body implements, you can very quickly see that restricting calories will not just slow down the metabolism but if the diet is still high in carbohydrates or sugars, the excess glucose in the blood stream will still cause insulin surges that build the visceral body fat.

In essence lowering the calories will have a temporary effect until the body re-aligns its energy consumption mechanism and slows down the metabolism. Once the body starts doing that, the visceral fat will almost always return in the same places.

Throw in some exercise with the low calorie diet, and now the secondary systems such as reproduction and muscle building take even a further back step. The body does not get enough energy from the diet. So after burning some visceral fat for energy, it starts aiming towards the muscles. The muscles enter a catabolic state and the body literally starts eating the muscles to generate the energy it needs.

The human body  has a lot of compensating and gate checking mechanisms which get triggered when a diet or lifestyle pattern change occurs. Which is why the equation cannot be simplified as a calorie In = Calorie out for fat loss.

Moreover, the rate at which the body converts food to usable energy is also dependent on every individual’s metabolism and a status of multiple hormones. So its really not a one size fits all.

Lastly, when eating fresh foods, which are supposedly the best for you, how do you even count the calories? A carrot picked fresh from the farm will have a lot different absorption in the body than a same sized carrot that travels thousand miles to the grocery store. An egg cooked in oil will have a completely different fat profile and hence the calories than the same egg boiled. The calories from oils depend on the freshness and sources as well. In short, its highly improbable to get a good calorie count without being off by a couple of hundred calories everyday. Considering an average of 2000 calorie food intake, this means that we can very easily be off by 10-25%. Is it even worth all the trouble with that much chance of error?

The discussion now needs to be driven from just calories to the nutritional value of the food. Focusing on the macro nutrient proportions to manage the blood sugar levels and hence the visceral fat accumulations. Focusing on the nutrient density of the food to ensure that we get enough “micro” nutrients such as the calcium, magnesium, zinc and several others. The mindset of calories needs to be out. Zero calories need to be out.

Let us start focusing on what a healthy body needs and give a plenty of that stuff. Let us focus on healing the body with the right foods.

Let’s stop converting the body processes into a third grader mathematical equations. if it was that simple, we might’ve never had an obesity epidemic.

Food Allergies – something to ponder on.

Last night I came across a very concerning paper regarding food allergies. Although almost a decade old (2004), this paper discusses the prevalence of food allergies over period of 5 years till 2004. According to the study, in 2004, it was observed that the number of kids with peanut allergy was doubled in just 5 years.

Right after this review was published, St. Mary’s Hospital in UK referred to it in an article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Allergy. This article titled “New developments in  food allergy : Old questions remain“, discusses various reasons pointing to exposure of peanuts from topical creams for rashes and eczema etc. It also asks questions if topical exposure to peanut through hands of someone who touched or ate peanuts might impact the allergies (even if the hands were washed with water only).

My question on both of these articles is really two fold. What changed in those 5 years to have the allergy rates increase by 100%? The data on this is very inconclusive. Even considering the topical exposure (limited exposure over the skin), do we seem to suggest that the personal care product or topical cream manufacturers have started using peanut oil in just last 5 years before this study? Does not seem right to me. Moreover, if that was considered to be the case, the peanut allergy rates haven’t seen to be dropping after this article as well. One could’ve guessed that if that was the trigger point for 100% increase, the manufacturers would’ve forced to move out of using the peanut oil. But nut allergy to date remains one of the biggest detected allergy in the US.

The second question is, when we question the exposure to peanut proteins even through washed hands, we are really looking for a farce root cause. It seems unlikely to me that such exposure to peanut proteins is new. We probably had similar or even more instances of people eating peanuts in presence of infants several decades ago than now. Then why is it that the peanut allergy now impacts over 4% of the new born population and it did not impact so many people earlier?

As you can guess where I am heading with this, there are much more things at play here which are probably not being looked at from a holistic perspective. Every thing unnatural being introduced to the expecting mother, the fetus and the baby need to be questioned. Did the doctors change prescription for pre-natal vitamins? Did we probably see a similar move from breast milk to formula milk during this time? Did the formula milk makers change some formula that might’ve caused such an increase? Or did the overall immunity go down for the entire generation? There are multiple questions that remain unanswered here.

After reading this, I just visited the Gerber website to see what’s in the  infant formula milk. The ingredients list requires no less than a chemical major to understand. Interestingly it is also laced with Maltodextrin which is really a highly processed, cheap sugar substitute. But then again, the body converts it to sugar more readily than the regular glucose which is why athletes use it for instant energy. The elevated levels of blood sugar that Maltodextrin causes is already known to cause high inflammation & an impact on the overall immunity. An 8oz of Pediasure which is probably pushed as a single meal deal also contains over 18gms of sugar that comes mainly from Sugar and Maltodextrin .

Is it time that we re-think what we feed our babies & expectant moms?

The Leaky Gut?

Over an year ago, I was introduced to a mind-twisting concept to auto-immune disorders. The Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology journal published an article in Feb 2012 that was titled “Leaky gut and Auto-immune diseases“. The more I explored the leaky gut syndrome, it started becoming clear to me the link between various degenerative diseases of the lifestyle and the lifestyle itself. Interestingly, when we talk to the doctors, most of them refer to these diseases as lifestyle diseases but cannot pin point exactly “what lifestyle changes” cause these or can avert such diseases. With that, I am referring to all the auto-immune diseases such as thyroid conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and over 80 other conditions that have been categorized as auto-immune. Most of the doctors as well as the government health websites also state that the cause of auto-immune disorders is not known, whereas all this time, it is staring in the face with loads of medical research to back it up.

The concept is a bit different from the conventional model of medicine where we try to disassociate all the body parts and look at them in isolation. Which is probably why it took me several months to wrap my head around this concept and understand how exactly it impacts the individual diseases. I am going to make the best effort here to simplify the workings.

The human body has various barrier mechanisms that help protect our internal organs from external invaders. So what are some of the common barriers you may ask? The obvious ones – Skin. A bit less obvious – Lungs that act as a barrier for external air and does not let it directly interact with the organs and blood till its purified and deemed safe for use. The other less commonly thought of barrier is the small intestine, which we’ve been referring to as the gut. If you really think about this, the entire passage of food – starting from the mouth right till the anus, is actually just a long tube. Everything that happens in that tube is “outside” of the body.  Its this tube that processes food and makes it ready for your body to absorb. The food that is ready to be absorbed is pushed outside of this tube on its way out. Whatever cannot be processed falls out the next morning.

The small intestine has a mucosal lining that absorbs the digested food molecules. Imagine the lining of the small intestine as a sieve – albeit a very fine sieve that only allows extremely finely  digested particles. Infact, in the ideal scenario, the only things that would be able to pass this sieve are completely digested molecules that are small enough to be immediately assimilated into the blood stream.

But then as we know, none of our bodies are in the “ideal” condition today. Frequent stress, chemicals in the food supply, lack of sleep, parasite infections and similar stressors take a toll on this intestinal sieve starting to break it apart. So in effect, instead of a fine mesh, the intestine starts experiencing bigger “holes” or tears in the mesh that allows bigger molecules (not completely digested) in the bloodstream. This leakiness of the gut is also known as “intestinal permeability” in the  medical lingo.

Once the undigested particles start escaping in the blood stream, that’s where the immune system kicks-in. It now sees the bigger undigested molecules as invaders since they are not supposed to be there in the blood stream. The immune system starts to generate anti-bodies to kick these molecules out of the blood-stream. At this point, by freak of nature or with a explained process called “molecular mimicry”, some of the undigested molecules have similar chemical signatures as some of the tissues in the body. Once the anti-bodies for the specific chemical signature are generated, their sole objective is to kill everything that matches that specific chemical signature. In a normal circumstance, this behavior is useful when the body uses it for fighting with virus invasions. However, due to this behavior and the “virtue” of the molecular mimicry, the body now starts attacking its own tissue. For instance, it will start attacking the thyroid hormone to cause hypothyroidism. Or it will start attacking the joints to trigger a rheumatoid arthritis. Again, in usual circumstances, the body has a regulatory mechanism built-in to control such auto-immune attacks (called regulatory T-cells) . However, certain polymorphisms (or mutations) in the genes can cause this regulatory mechanism to not work as expected against some tissues. For someone who has auto-immune thyroid disorders, their immune system is not regulating the auto-immune attack on thyroid. The regulatory t-cells think of that attack as normal due to the genetic mutation.

Some of the very recent studies are discussing if this genetic mutation is actually “epi-genetic“. Epigenetics is basically part of the gene expression that can be changed or influenced by lifestyle factors during the lifespan of a person. Contrary to the belief that the genetics are cast in stone at birth, the field of epigenetics is actually showing us that the gene expressions can change throughout your lifetime based on your lifestyle choices and events.

This is a very high level view of how the auto-immune diseases trigger. There are obviously much deeper mechanisms playing hand here which I have not discussed here. But my hope is that will provide at least a basic understanding of auto-immunity mechanisms without overwhelming. This mechanism is also the basic underlying mechanism for almost all the auto-immune diseases. So it would not be very wrong for us to say that the gut is the birth-place of all (or most of the) lifestyle diseases today.

If this information interests your geeky mind, you might want to use the below articles for your night time reading –

Molecular Mimicry: Its Evolution from Concept to mechanism as a cause of Autoimmune diseases

Leaky gut in Type 1 Diabetes

–  Intestinal Permeability: An Overview – Do note however that this article is over 20 years old now. Although its good to understand the concepts, some of the inconclusive points that it talks about are proven with a lot of modern research.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, auto-immune diseases affect over 23.5 million Americans and are a leading cause of death and disability. The numbers in most of the other countries are almost the same.

Do you know someone with any auto-immune conditions? ( such as Type 1 Diabetes, Thyroid disorders, multiple sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, etc.)  Send this information over to them. This might just be the information they need to get towards a better life.

 

The Gut Feeling

The gut feel, is often times used to describe the intuition or the instinctive feeling. Often times regarded higher than the logical thinking that the brain does. Why might it be so? Did someone just come up with that word or might there be some wisdom to associating this feeling with the gut & not something else like the heart or the liver?
Interestingly, some of the cutting edge research now seems to suggest that the gut does much more than just growling when we are hungry and digesting food when we eat it.

Within the walls of our intestine lies a huge colony of bacteria. Their numbers actually outnumber our own cells almost 10 times. In other words, if the human body comprises of x number of cells, there are over 10x bacteria in the gut. As is anybody’s guess, these bacteria are helping us digest food. But then that’s definitely not the only thing that they are doing.

The Frontiers of Hormone Research published an article in April 2014 titled “How Gut and Brain control metabolism“. One of the chapters within that titled “Metabolic Interplay between Gut Bacteria and their Hosts” discusses how the composition of gut bacteria can be directly linked to metabolic disorders such as obesity and liver diseases.

Another very recent study conducted published in Iran in Feb 2014 discusses how the gut is intimately involved in thyroid hormone metabolism.  Thyroid hormone as many of you might be aware is one of the key hormones that is responsible for regulating the metabolism of the body. The BMI / BMR numbers that the gym instructor talks about, are actually being driven by this hormone within the body. Infact, the bacteria in the intestine also play a key role in making this hormone available to the individual cells within the body.

Oh wait  … there is more. Did you know that the gut is directly linked to the brain with the vagus nerve? Infact, it is one of the few important organs that have a direct relationship with the brain. A June 2013 study by UCLA, California suggests that consuming fermented milk products have an impact on the emotional behavior in the brain in just 4 weeks.

In summary, the gut does much more than just digesting the food. A healthy gut is a fundamental requirement for a good hormonal balance and a healthy body. Everything that we consume for dinner, lunch or snacks has a significant impact on not just the gut but also the way the colonies of bacteria shape up within that. Which is why I think food is of paramount importance when it comes to maintaining not just good but great health.

Enough said, anybody for a Big Mac and soda now?