Category Archives for "Health and Fitness"


Staying productive in the time of Coronavirus

I hope you are all doing well and staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Just a few months ago, who would have thought we’d be hunkered down fearing a microscopic organism with the potential to burrow into our lungs. I live in a region under lockdown so I’m staying at home, at most going to the grocery store. It’s only been a week of this and I already feel like a hibernating sloth. I don’t know what I’ll feel like by the end.

Home officeAlthough these are unprecedented times, it’s important to keep some sense of normalcy and structure in daily life to be in optimal shape when regular life returns. For anyone not infected, the worse that can happen is to lose all drive, sense of urgency, and daily discipline at this time in waiting. All the positive habits we’ve practiced over time like punctuality, self-regulation and routine exercise are at risk of eroding. I for one am going to do my best to stay positive, structured, and healthy so I can fully step back into the game once the pandemic eases.

I’ve done some research on what doctors, psychologists, and trainers recommend and combined them with my own learnings. Here are my key takeaways for how we can stay our best during the pandemic:

  1. Stay calm. People get anxious when they feel out of control. Learn and practice relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation, slow and deep breathing, and muscle relaxation. There are also many online wellness classes that will provide interaction and guide people through these exercises if needed. If practiced regularly, these techniques will help you feel calm and more in control.
  2. If you are working from home, put boundaries in place. Although remote working appears to be a dream come true at first (being able to do laundry and cook in between meetings seems uber-efficient), the downside will eventually set in. There’s a temptation to work into the evening because work is accessible, and you want to display productivity. Family or roommates may interrupt your work when you are trying to focus. Blurred lines between home and work life can create more stress.

    One way to deal with this is to create a physical space that is work-only where you won’t be interrupted with personal requests. Having a separate space will allow you to get into the right headspace to dedicate to work so you don’t get overwhelmed between personal and work tasks. Have a talk with your family or roommates about setting and adhering to these boundaries. You may also find that it helps them to know what to expect.
  3. Keep socializing and stay in communication with people in your life. Keep attending all meetings through phone and video calls, respond to emails, and make social phone calls. Remember, you can still go on walks, runs, bike rides with others as long as you stay 6 feet or more apart. Socialization will make you feel more tied into the community, and prevent feelings of loneliness and depression.
  4. Keep regular eating times. Grazing on snacks is easy when one is home all day. Fasting is still important to reset insulin levels in between meals and control appetite.  Eat at regular intervals and keep healthy foods around.  The good part of being home is that you have more time to cook and control the ingredients in what you eat. It’s actually a good time to reset your diet to more healthful foods and even lose weight. It will also help your mental health to stay in control.
  5. Maintain good sleep. It’s easy to relax and go off our timetable, but interfering with our circadian rhythms affects our sleep quality, metabolism, mood, and hormone levels. Stay on schedule to be ready to pop back into your regular routine once everything returns to normal.
  6. For those who live alone, this period is very isolating. Keep yourself occupied with projects you always wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Which books did you want to read, art projects or home improvement tasks did you want to do? Staying busy will keep your mind occupied and prevent anxiety and loneliness.

If you are feeling down and having trouble getting through this pandemic, consider these steps and how you can make them work for you. Keep a log of how you feel at different times and apply any of the above to see if it alleviates the problem. If we learned anything from the 2009 recession, all of this is temporary and the world will return to normal. Stay safe and well.

Best to you all.

Sylvia Tara

Probiotic berries

Probiotics: The year in review

It’s that time of year to start looking back and wrapping up the news — good or bad — in our favorite research areas.

What happened in the world of Probiotics in 2017?

Perhaps our favorite development comes from the National University of Singapore (NUS). As reported in Science Daily, the NUS has developed a specialty beer that incorporates the probiotic strain Lactobacillus paracasei L26. This friendly organism helps regulate the immune system and has the ability to neutralise toxins and viruses.

We can imagine the marketing — “Tastes Great!” “Less Toxins.” Okay, you have to be a certain age to remember the iconic “Tastes Great – Less Filling” Miller Lite ads. (In all fairness to us, they did bring back the tagline as recently as 2008 )

Creating the beer wasn’t as easy as you might think. Acids in beer kill off bacteria, so the brew process needed tweaking and trial and error with different strains of bacteria robust enough to survive. As of August, the student entreprenuers did not have a commercial agreement, but we’ve heard that a Japanese beverage company was interested.

Next up: allergies.

As any sufferer knows well, seasonal allergies disturb your sleep, lower productivity at work, home, and school, cause stress and embarrassment. In summary, they make life miserable.

And current allergy medications have fun side effectslike dry mouth and drowsiness. Yay!

Probiotic BerriesIn March we learned of research at the University of Florida that showed promise in relieving the symptoms of hay fever. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel, randomized clinical trial, showed that a combination probiotic improved “rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life during allergy season for healthy individuals with self-reported seasonal allergies.”

Translation: allergy sufferers felt better!  Something to try out next spring.

Guts, brains, and IBS depression.

A study released in May added to the data on the microbiota-gut-brain axis, providing evidence that bacteria affect behavior.

Say the researchers, “This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS.”

How does it work to reduce depression? Researches used fMRI to asses brain activation patterns, and measured fecal microbiota, urine metabolome profiles, serum markers of inflammation, neurotransmitters, and neurotrophin levels. The probiotic reduced responses to negative emotional stimuli in multiple brain areas, including amygdala and fronto-limbic regions. The improvements were associated with changes in brain activation patterns that indicate that this probiotic reduces limbic reactivity.

That is, the priobiotic not only improve the gut, but directly improve negative brain symptoms.

High blood pressure.

An MIT study showed how a strain of intestinal bacteria can stop a high-salt diet from inducing inflammatory response linked to hypertension.

Before we get into it, this is not a license to eat fast foods and take a probiotic antidote!

Rather, if you have been enjoying a too high-salt diet then in addition to changing it, you could add the right probiotics to further protect yourself from the effects.

Yogurt and berriesSo what’s going on? Well, a high-salt diet shrinks the population of a certain type of beneficial bacteria. As a result, pro-inflammatory immune cells grow in number. These immune cells have been linked with high blood pressure, although the exact mechanism of how they contribute to hypertension is not yet known. In the study, the probiotic Lactobacillus murinus lowered the immune cell populations and hypertension was reduced.

Again, the obvious conclusion here is to avoid a sustained high salt diet. But this study and others like it reinforce the important links between diet, gut microbiome, and disease.

Age and microbiota.

At least two studies looked at changes in gut microbiota and how this relates to aging.

In one study, the researches transplanted the microbiota from the guts of old mice into young mice, causing inflammatory responses in the young mice. Inflammatory response are linked to age-related conditions such as stroke, dementia and cardiovascular disease.

Why aging tends to lead to negative imbalence in “good” and “bad” bacteria is not fully known. But the study suggests such imbalance may be on the cause side rather than the effect side of some of the inflammatory conditions that lead to age-related diseases.

Another study of “ridiculously healthy” elderly subjects confirmed that they have the same gut microbiome as healthy 30-year olds. Researchers could not identify whether this is cause or effect — do healthy elderly have good microbiomes or do good microbiomes keep people healthy into old age — but it does show that microbiome could at least be a marker for predicting health into old age or even lead to treatments for age-related conditions.

Too much of a good thing?

Before you pile on the probiotics to your already healthy diet, make sure you’re not overdoing it.

A study at the University of New South Wales exploring the link between gut health and brain function had one surprising result. For the subjects (aka rats) put on a poor diet, the diet caused memory and other brain issues. And, the good news, the probiotics helped stop the losses. That’s the good news.

But — there’s always a but — rats in the “healthy-diet” group not only saw little additional benefit to added priobitocs, the supplements may have led to some memory impairment.

What this shows is how it is important not to overdo any good thing. And that it is critical, though difficult, to determine which beneficial microbes are absent before treating with probiotic supplements on top of a healthy diet. As always, much of the research our microbiomes is directed at teasing out cause and correlation: when can we prevent and heal and when can we merely predict and otherwise act. Do changes in the biome predict disease or prevent disease?

As always, you should test and measure — if you supplement and feel worse, reduce or stop. This requires good record keeping and journaling to track what foods and supplements are working. And, as always, check with your health care provider before making any changes to diet or supplementation.