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Are you often conflicted between raising children in a city versus a quieter place? Children raised in a rural environment, surrounded by animals and bacteria, grow up to have more stress-resilient immune systems and may be at lower risk of mental illness than pet-free city dwellers, according to a study. The study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) adds to mounting evidence supporting the “hygiene hypothesis,” which posits that overly sterile environments can breed health problems.

The researchers from the University of Ulm in Germany and the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder in the US also suggest that raising kids around pets might be good for mental health, for reasons people might not expect. “It has already been very well documented that exposure to pets and rural environments during development is beneficial in terms of reducing risk of asthma and allergies later in life,” said Christopher Lowry, a professor at CU Boulder.

“This study moves the conversation forward by showing for the first time in humans that these same exposures are likely to be important for mental health,” said Lowry. The scientists recruited 40 healthy German men between 20 and 40 years old. Half had grown up on a farm with farm animals. Half had grown up in a large city without pets.

On test day, all were asked to give a speech in front of a group of stone-faced observers and then asked to solve a difficult math problem while being timed. Blood and saliva were taken five minutes before and five, 15, 60, 90 and 120 minutes after the test.

Those who grew up in cities had significantly higher levels of immune system components called peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) after the stressful experience. They also showed prolonged elevation of the inflammatory compound interleukin 6 and muted activation of the anti-inflammatory compound interleukin 10.

“People who grew up in an urban environment had a much-exaggerated induction of the inflammatory immune response to the stressor, and it persisted throughout the two-hour period,” Lowry said. Surprisingly, while their bodies launched a hair-trigger response to the stress, the city kids reported feeling less stressed than their rural counterparts did.

“This exaggerated inflammatory response is like a sleeping giant that they are completely unaware of,” Lowry said. Previous studies have shown that those with an exaggerated inflammatory response are more likely to develop depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) later in life.

Research has also shown that our immunoregulatory response to stress develops in early life and is shaped largely by our microbial environment.

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Immunity is our body’s intelligent way of fighting a toxin which could either be bacteria, virus, fungal, parasite, any foreign matter or even a heavy metal. A strong immunity not only safeguards us from colds and coughs but also keeps us away from diseases like hepatitis, lung infection, kidney infection, bowel infection, autoimmune conditions.
All of us are surrounded with pathogens. We live, drink, eat and breathe pathogens without our knowledge. But not everyone falls sick. The ones with a strong immune system cope better. Thus a strong immunity is really the first and last line of defence of all that ails us. While a blood report can reveal a lot about low immunity, our body also tries to give certain symptoms and biofeedbacks.

Here are some:

Frequent infections/ allergies
If you find yourself falling sick more often than others, complain of recurrent cold, sniffles (which may be allergy driven like pollen allergy), persistent cough, sore throat, skin rashes, then it’s highly likely that your immune system is compromised. A positive Candida test, frequent UTI, diarrhoea, inflamed gums, mouth sores, swollen lymphnodes could also reveal low immunity.

Many people fall sick with the slightest change in the weather. This could be due to low body temperature. A normal oral body temperature that supports strong immune system should not read below 36.3°C, because common cold viruses like Rhinovirus are more likely to thrive at temperatures like 33 degrees. Regular exercise is a great way to boost body temperature and defence mechanism. Even warming spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon, clove work brilliantly.

Lacking fever
A cardinal sign of low immune system is its inability to create fever when needed. Fever is our body’s way of fighting a disease, but most of us try medications to suppress the fever and not allowing it to work for us. If you haven’t experienced a fever for many years despite infections, then it’s a good sign of low immunity.

Poor gut health
Around 80% of our immunity lies in our gut. Chronic constipation, indigestion, acidity, bloating, flatulence, are signs of a poor gut health, which speak volumes about our immunity. Bad gut health also means an imbalance between good and bad gut bacteria. Hence probiotics make an important part of any healthy diet.

Low Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is a precursor to immunity and a majority of us are deficient in it. If your vitamin D reads low on the blood report, you must make every effort to boost its levels to the highest, within the range. Apart from this, signs like constant fatigue, tiredness, lethargy, injuries that take longer to heal, insomnia, depression and even dark circles under the eyes all point towards low immunity.

Too much mucous production can lower immunity. Avoiding excessive sugar, salt, processed foods and dairy can help.
- Luke Coutinho
Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine – Holistic Nutrition

Older people who indulge in physical activity should increase their amount of water intake, to reap the full cognitive benefits of exercise, researchers suggest.

Dehydration has been shown to impair exercise performance and brain function in young people, but less is known about its impact on older populations.

The findings showed that hydration boosts performance on test of executive function that includes the skills needed to plan, focus, remember and multitask following exercise.

Exercise has been shown to improve intellectual health, including executive function.

“Middle-age and older adults often display a blunted thirst perception, which places them at risk for dehydration and subsequently may reduce the cognitive health-related benefits of exercise,” said researchers including Brandon Yates, of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, US.

The study, presented at the American Physiological Society (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2018 in San Diego, explored the association between hydration status before exercising and exercise-enhanced cognition in older adults.

The team recruited recreational cyclists (average age 55) who participated in a large cycling event on a warm day (78-86 degrees F).

The cyclists performed a “trail-making” executive function test–quickly and accurately connecting numbered dots using paper and pencil — before and after the event.

The team tested the volunteers’ urine before they exercised and divided them into two groups — normal hydration and dehydrated — based on their hydration status.

The normal hydration group showed noticeable improvement in the completion time of the trail-making test after cycling when compared to their pre-cycling test.

The dehydration group also completed their post-cycling test more quickly, but the time reduction was not significant.

“This suggests that older adults should adopt adequate drinking behaviours to reduce cognitive fatigue and potentially enhance the cognitive benefits of regular exercise participation,” the researchers said.

Consuming dark chocolate can reduce stress and inflammation, as well as improve memory, immunity and mood, results from experimental trials have shown.

This is due to the high concentration of cacao — a major source of flavonoids.

The flavonoids found in cacao are extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, with known mechanisms beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health, the researchers said.

“For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content — the more sugar, the happier we are,” said lead investigator Lee S. Berk, from Loma Linda University in California, US.

“This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings,” Berk added.

Further, dark chocolate was also found to affect human gene expression. It regulates cellular immune response, neural signalling, and sensory perception.

Cacao consumption up-regulates multiple intracellular signalling pathways involved in T-cell activation, cellular immune response and genes involved in neural signalling and sensory perception — the latter potentially associated with the phenomena of brain hyperplasticity.

“These studies show us that higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects,” Berk noted.

The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 meeting in San Diego, US.

For the trial, the team for the first time examined the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time.

The team assessed the electroencephalography (EEG) response to consuming 48 g of dark chocolate (70 per cent cacao) after an acute period of time (30 minutes) and after a chronic period of time (120 minutes), on modulating brain frequencies 0-40Hz, specifically beneficial gamma frequency (25-40Hz).

Berk said the studies require further investigation, specifically to determine the significance of these effects for immune cells and the brain in larger study populations.

If you thought hitting the gym only builds your physical strength, think again. A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that stronger people perform better in brain functioning tests.

Muscular strength, measured by hand grip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are, said the study published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

“Our study confirms that people who are stronger do indeed tend to have better functioning brains,” said study co-author Joseph Firth from NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, Australia.

Using data from the 475,397 participants from all around Britain, the new study showed that on average, stronger people performed better in brain functioning tests that included reaction speed, logical problem solving, and multiple different tests of memory.

The study, which used UK Biobank data, showed the relationships were consistently strong in both people aged under 55 and those aged over 55. Previous studies had only shown this applies in elderly people.

The findings also showed that maximal handgrip was strongly correlated with both visual memory and reaction time in over one thousand people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

“We can see there is a clear connection between muscular strength and brain health,” Firth, who is also an honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester in Britain, said.

“But really, what we need now, are more studies to test if we can actually make our brains healthier by doing things which make our muscles stronger — such as weight training,” he added.

Previous research by the group has already found that aerobic exercise can improve brain health.

“These sorts of novel interventions, such as weight training, could be particularly beneficial for people with mental health conditions,” Firth said.

“Our research has shown that the connections between muscular strength and brain functioning also exist in people experiencing schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder — all of which can interfere with regular brain functioning,” he added.

“This raises the strong possibility that weight training exercises could actually improve both the physical and mental functioning of people with these conditions,” he said.

Dr. Rohit Kamate
Dr. Rohit Kamate
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Dr. Sachin Sutar
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Dr. Chandrakant Raut
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Dr. Rahul Sudhakar
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Dr. Swapnil Dhamale
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