Tag: Guys and Good Health

Back to the gut!

Once again, an article from The Conversation.

I make no apologies for republishing this further article about the health of one’s gut. Apart from the relevance at this time in terms of defeating Covid-19 the health of one’s digestive system is key and, essentially, the digestive system is the gut.

Read it and if you need to adjust your diet, DO IT!

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A healthy microbiome builds a strong immune system that could help defeat COVID-19

By

Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems, University of Massachusetts Medical School

The microbes living in the gut are key to good health. Dr_Microbe/iStock/Getty Images Plus Ana Maldonado-Contreras, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Takeaways

  • Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
  • Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
  • New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.

You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

In the past two decades scientists have learned our bodies are home to more bacterial cells than human ones. This community of bacteria that lives in and on us – called the microbiome – resembles a company, with each microbe species performing specialized jobs but all working to keep us healthy. In the gut, the bacteria balance the immune response against pathogens. These bacteria ensure the immune response is effective but not so violent that it causes collateral damage to the host.

Bacteria in our guts can elicit an effective immune response against viruses that not only infect the gut, such as norovirus and rotavirus, but also those infecting the lungs, such as the flu virus. The beneficial gut microbes do this by ordering specialized immune cells to produce potent antiviral proteins that ultimately eliminate viral infections. And the body of a person lacking these beneficial gut bacteria won’t have as strong an immune response to invading viruses. As a result, infections might go unchecked, taking a toll on health.

I am a microbiologist fascinated by the ways bacteria shape human health. An important focus of my research is figuring out how the beneficial bacteria populating our guts combat disease and infection. My most recent work focuses on the link between a particular microbe and the severity of COVID-19 in patients. My ultimate goal is to figure out out how to enhance the gut microbiome with diet to evoke a strong immune response – for not just SARS-CoV-2 but all pathogens.

Good bacteria help the immune system ward off harmful microbes. chombosan/iStock/Getty Images Plus

How do resident bacteria keep you healthy?

Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.

Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for combating viral infection and modulating the immune response.

In another study, mice were fed Lactobacillus bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The Lactobacillus-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with Lactobacillus protects against different subtypes of influenza virus and human respiratory syncytial virus – the major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children.

Fermented foods like kimchi, red beets, apple cider vinegar, coconut milk yogurt, cucumber pickles and sauerkraut can help provide beneficial bacteria. marekuliasz/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Chronic disease and microbes

Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.

In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate immune cells that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in babies delivered by cesarean section, individuals consuming a poor diet and the elderly.

In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.

Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.

Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, my lab studies show how diet can be used as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.

A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? Old age and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19 compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also in Britain.

Minority communities continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Discovering microbes that predict COVID-19 severity

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a fatal overreaction of the immune response called a cytokine storm that causes an uncontrolled flood of immune cells into the lungs. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the severe lung injury and multiorgan failures that lead to death.

Several studies described in one recent review have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.

To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.

We demonstrated, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient’s clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called Enterococcus faecalis– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, Enterococcus faecalis has been associated with chronic inflammation.

Enterococcus faecalis collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an E. faecalis test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.

But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells called T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance.

Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the proper activation of those T-regulatory cells. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.

As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Ana Maldonado-Contreras, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems, University of Massachusetts Medical School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Please note that obesity is regarded as a chronic illness.

Let me reprint a paragraph from the article:

In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.

This is not funny. Good eating, typically the Mediterranean diet, is not difficult.

Link up to the excellent blog site One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100. Tony is a master at communicating good common sense!

If you are a regular red-meat eater then give yourself a break for two or three days; what have you got to lose!

And if you are the ‘wrong’ side of, say, 50 then having a faulty microbiome will be having an increasingly negative effect on you.

Remember:

Diet and Exercise are crucial!

Now here’s a sight!

Walking improves vision!

Dogs are the masters of being on four legs. And, presumably, their sight benefits from being so active.

I have been following Tony who writes the blog One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Past 100 for some time. Here is what he says about himself.

I’m Tony
I have been interested in eating healthy for more than 35 years. Unfortunately,  my actions haven’t always matched my aims. As Mae West said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

I drifted too, for a long time, but after writing posts for this blog for nearly 10 years, I have gotten good at it. I used the Lose It! App for a while (iPhone, iPad, Touch) a calorie counter that also breaks down nutrients and gives you a daily weight chart to demonstrate your progress. It’s not the only tool like this around, but it’s a good one. I think you are better off using a tool than not using one, especially if you are just embarking on a weight loss program.

Using that tool and practicing some self discipline I now have complete confidence in my ability to maintain a healthy body weight. I still need to work on the lean muscle mass thing, though. I love riding my bicycle and have no problem logging lots of miles and putting calories into the bank to free up my eating. I average around 100 miles a week.  That covers a multitude of sins at the table. Biking is a wonderful cardio workout. Few people realize, however, it is also very stimulating for the brain. It’s a lot more fun than working with weights, but ya gotta do that, too. I write about the benefits of cardio exercise on the brain often in this blog as it is usually misunderstood and/or completely overlooked in most fitness writing. I had an aunt who died of Alzheimer’s, my mother who suffered from dementia in her final years, and my grandfather on my father’s side also had cognitive problems in his later years, so I am dead serious about protecting myself from mental decline. Check out my Page – Important facts about your brain – and exercise to read more about it.

I retired 19 years ago. I spent 20 years as a Reuters Correspondent and Editor after starting my career in men’s magazines. I taught journalism at Medill for a while and then wrote in the investment department of a major U.S. philanthropy where I spent my last few years managing $900 million in bond investments.

Now that I am retired, I have complete control over what I eat. My heart goes out to you folks who go to work every day. It is much harder to control your caloric intake. There are business lunches and dinners to attend, late days at the office, working through lunch as well as traveling. I think if I were still working I would seriously consider bringing lunch from home a day or two each week to keep a handle on my intake. With a fridge and microwave where you work, you are good to go.

When I started writing for this blog in March of 2010 I weighed 165 pounds, the lowest I had been in 15 years. I thought I had arrived at fitness and health. Now, in 2019, I weigh 155 pounds. That’s right, I have melted off a further 10 pounds from my best weight in years. My resting heart rate is under 50 beats per minute (bpm), a result of my cycling, but significantly under the ‘normal’ of 65 to 90 bpm for a guy in his upper 70’s. I have less than 16 percent body fat and a 31 inch waist (the first time since high school). I have reached this state of fitness and health following the ideas and techniques I write about in this blog. You can, too

When the blog started, I was talking the talk, over nine years later I am walking the walk. You can do the same. I am just a regular guy. If I can do it you can, too. Check out my page  How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off for a start. Lots of excellent, practical principles there that I have learned and now apply to my daily life.

Just over 20 years ago my weight got out of control and I ballooned over 220 pounds. I took off 50 pounds in a year, but that only got me down to the mid-170’s. You can read How I lost 50 pounds in 52 weeks if you want chapter and verse.

When I retired, I started taking courses from The Great Courses. They include “Nutrition Made Clear” by Professor Roberta Anding. She has an MS in Nutrition and is a registered Dietitian and a certified specialist in sports dietetics. Another superb course is “Lifelong Health: Achieving Optimum Well-Being at any Age” by Doctor Anthony Goodman. He also teaches “The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness.” By now, in 2019, I have probably taken more than a dozen courses on mental and physical health and wellness as well as  healthy aging.

I have about 40 games of backgammon going on the web. I was born January 26, 1940. I am an Aquarius and a senior citizen. At 79 years of age, I am healthier by far than I was over 20 years ago when I was in the work force and a relatively young man in my 50’s.

As a senior who presently is winning the war of the waistline,  I am also grappling with the experience of aging. As part of this blog’s focus on good health I look seriously into aging and what can be done about it. I know there is no fountain of youth, but there are techniques for aging gracefully and, more importantly, retaining one’s mental powers. I promise to share with you everything I can find out about it.

The masthead photo is a shot of me taken 40 years ago by a girlfriend when we were bike riding by the lakefront in Chicago. I had a lot more hair then.

Tony

Now Tony recently published a post that I found so interesting.

It’s all about improving one’s vision.

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Walking improves vision – Study.

By Tony, November 25th, 2019

As a big fan of walking I was thrilled to learn of this further benefit to the Cinderella of the exercise world. Walking leads to an increase of peripheral visual input, according to a study from the University of Wurzburg.

How do we perceive our environment? What is the influence of sensory stimuli on the peripheral nervous system and what on the brain? Science has an interest in this question for many reasons. In the long term, insights from this research could contribute to a better understanding of diseases such as ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.

The topography of the EEG response (l) and its localization in the brain (r) show visual sensory processing during the walking conditions slow and normal – green and red, and standing – black. The image is credited to Barbara Händel.

Perception and the underlying neuronal activities are usually measured while subjects are sitting or lying, for example while doing magnetic resonance imaging. As a rule, the head is fixed and people are encouraged not to blink. The measurements therefore take place under well-controlled but rather unnatural conditions.

Shift of visual preference

When processing visual stimuli, however, it makes a difference whether the person is sitting or moving: When walking around, the peripheral part of the visual field shows enhanced processing compared to the central part. This can be proven both by the behaviorally measured perception of the test persons and by their brain response.

This shift in visual preference makes sense. “It is above all the peripheral visual input that provides information about the direction and speed of our movement and thus plays an important role for navigation,” says Dr. Barbara Händel. The neuroscientist from Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, and her colleague Dr. Liyu Cao have published their findings in PLOS Biology

“It was known from animals that increased body movements lead to an increased firing rate in visual areas of the brain,” says Dr. Händel. So far, there are only a few behavioural experiments available for humans that investigate the influence of movement on sensory brain areas. However, there is evidence that cognitive processes are linked to the behavioural state. “For example, some studies show that people learn better when they move,” says the JMU researcher. However, the underlying neuronal mechanisms have not yet been tested in detail.

Mobile EEG, sensors and video glasses

It is precisely such gaps in knowledge that Barbara Händel wants to close with her work. In order to explore the link between movement and perception, sophisticated technical equipment is necessary. While the test subjects walk around, they wear electrode caps and a small amplifier that records their brain waves. The EEG data are sent wirelessly to a laptop, which the subjects carry in a backpack. Motion sensors, video glasses, and a mobile device for recording eye movements complete the setting.

Quite an effort. “But we have to take this step if we want to understand human perceptual strategies during natural behavior,” says Dr. Händel. Research into perception during movement is still in its infancy. It is now up to science to ask clever questions and find out which of them can be answered with mobile technical equipment.

Many exciting research questions

Next, the JMU scientist wants to further investigate the effect of altered perception during movement. Does it only occur for visual input or possibly also in other sensory areas? Does it, in addition to navigation, perhaps also play a role in other cognitive processes such as memory and creativity?

All this is possible: experiments with rats have shown that these animals learn better, when they are in motion. And the idea that walking increases creativity has existed since ancient times. “For example, the Peripatetics, a philosophical school around Aristotle, usually were discussing while walking, from which their name derives,” says Barbara Händel.

There is also a connection between creativity and eye movements: “It is known that people blink more often the more creatively they solve a task. And we found that people also blink more often when they walk around compared to being at rest.” Obviously, there are many connections between the movements of the body, the eyes and the mental performance. Their research could reveal many more interesting aspects.

To read further on the benefits of walking, check out my Page – Why you should walk more.

Tony

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I find this a very valuable article.

It shows that the benefits of walking are much more than the pure exercise.

I wonder if it applies to bike riding?

Finally, here’s wishing every one of you a Happy and Peaceful Thanksgiving Day!