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There are many choices for you in the tea aisle. I like to ask people, “How many different tea plants do you think exist?” Most people give me a pretty big number. But all tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant.
Any drinks that don’t come from that bushy plant are a tisane or herbal “tea” such as chamomile, mint, rooibos and others. It’s not tea. But let’s not be too snobby about it. Tisanes have their own value.
I drink coffee most mornings and switch over to lower caffeine teas after midday, and then to herbals in the evening.
White, Green, Oolong, Yellow, Black and Pu-erh teas all come from the varieties and cultivars of the camellia sinensis plant. The type and style of tea and its flavor comes from where it is grown (soil, climate) and how it is processed.
Tea has a caffeine in varying amounts depending on that processing. You would think that if a cup of tea could do something to your brain, a cup of strong coffee could do more. But it’s not the caffeine.
Tea contains L-theanine which is an amino acid that promotes mental acuity. That L-theanine along with caffeine creates a sense of “mindful awareness.”
Can we get L-theanine from other sources? It turns out there are very few: a single species of mushroom, and guayusa (a holly species that is sometimes used as a tisane).
Researchers have found that shade-grown teas like the Japanese green tea Gyokuro have higher concentrations of L-theanine because the amino acid is not converted into polyphenols as much as tea leaves that are exposed to full sun.
It is no surprise that monks have been drinking tea for thousands of years. They may not have known that it promoted awareness and alertness, but they probably learned that it helped them get through long periods of meditation.
The caffeine and L-theanine combo is a brain hack that is unique to a drink of tea.
What the L-theanine amino acid does is increase alpha brain wave activity. That promotes relaxation and caffeine is a stimulant. It is an interesting combination. The effects of caffeine are moderated by L-theanine.
Studies have also shown that there are added benefits to tea: increased creativity, increased performance under stress, improved learning and concentration, decreased anxiety, improved ability to multi-task and reduced task-induced fatigue.
That is a lot to get from a cup of tea.
Did you know that you have a chronotype? Did you know that there was such a thing as a chronotype? This weekend I’m thinking, like many of you, about the new year. I’m not making any new resolutions because I have plenty of past ones that were never resolved to keep me busy for a lifetime.
But today I am considering that part of my problem might be not knowing the best time to do things. I mean from the best time to have my coffee, to the best time to go for my exercise walk, to the best time to have sex. The answers vary according to your body’s chronotype.
You can find lots of self-help advice out there about WHAT to do and HOW to do it, but not much about WHEN to do it.
The when part has to do with your biology, hormones and the circadian rhythms of your body clock.
In the book, The Power of When by Michael Breus, you can “Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More.”
I’m not sure you can confirm all those times so easily, but it is certainly interesting to take his quick online quiz and see what chronotype you are supposed to be.
Are you a Bear, Lion, Dolphin or Wolf? Once you know, you can do some lifehacking on when to do different activities. I came out as a Dolphin.
Your chronotype is your biological clock. It is when your body naturally wants to do things like sleep, eat, exercise and work. Most of us fight our body’s internal clock because we follow the unnatural clocks and schedules that tell us it’s time for breakfast, time to go to work, time to get to sleep.
Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24-hour timekeeper. It regulates not only sleep but also body temperature, hormone levels, blood flow, and gut bacteria. It also ebbs and flows, so certain tasks done at certain hours will yield better results.
I have a habit of taking my prescription drugs in the morning, but it may be better to do it before I go to sleep. I don’t take any cholesterol drugs but they work better before bed because that’s when the liver also starts breaking down cholesterol, and the drugs can work in tandem with the body. It seems that blood pressure pills may have more impact at night because some people with hypertension don’t experience a natural dip in blood pressure when they sleep.
Your chronotype can shift as you age. No chronotype is “better” than any other and some things are shared across types. For example, when it comes to romance, for all chronotypes, 11 am to 2 pm is when bonding hormones are at their lowest. Forget that lunch date. Go for the dinner hours.
According to a study Breus cites, most people have sex between 11 pm and 1 am and that is the worst possible time. Late at night, levels of sleep-inducing melatonin rise and testosterone is at its lowest. When you wake up, testosterone levels are at their peak. Breus says, “I’d love for everyone to make a point of having Saturday-morning sex.” Set a reminder for next weekend.
Some of his advice I have heard before. For a long time I had heard that because we are more insulin-resistant after 3 pm,we don’t efficiently convert sugar to energy, and instead store it as fat. So, you should eat your big meal earlier as often as you can. Of course, that doesn’t fit in well with most working folks.
Of the four chronotypes (Dolphin, Lion, Bear, and Wolf), most people fit into the “Bear” category.
I haven’t tested the chronotypes theories out yet (New Year?) but you can take a start by taking Breus’s quick chronotype quiz to find out which one you are.
For Dolphin me I’m going to think about whether or not:
- My most creative time of day is between 10:00am and noon.
- My 4 key personality traits are: cautiousness, introversion, neuroticism, intelligence
- and my 4 key behaviors are: avoiding risky situations, striving for perfection, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, fixating on details.
- I already know that my “Sleep/Alertness Pattern” is that I usually wake up feeling unrefreshed (sleep apnea too) and I get an energy boost late in the evening.
- I’m supposed to be most productive: in spurts throughout the day.
- I agree that when it comes to naps, I try to catch up on sleep but can’t quite make it happen.
- My fellow dolphins are unihemispheric sleepers – one half of the brain shuts down while the other half stays alert. Not a bad thing if you want to prevent drowning and being eaten by predators, but a drag for those of us who are land dwellers in houses. Dolphins lie awake thinking about mistakes they’ve made. Sometimes we don’t know whether or not we actually slept at all.
I like those watery dolphins, but I’m not thrilled about being one. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Mirror scratching is not about making scratches on a mirror (and not DIY on how to remove them). It is about one of those odd mind-body phenomenon.
You have an itch, so you scratch it. Except sometimes scratching is not a good thing to do (poison ivy, scabs, eczema) because it makes things worse.
There was a study done to test “whether central mechanisms of scratching-induced itch attenuation can be activated by scratching the limb contralateral to the itching limb when the participant is made to visually perceive the non-itching limb as the itching limb by means of mirror images.” In simpler English, try scratching your left elbow if the right elbow itches.
Crazy, right? But it worked! By scratching the non-itching place it seems to have activated a “mirror condition” so that the non-itching place was visually perceived as the itching place.
We have in our brains what are referred to as mirror neurons but this isn’t about that. This particular experiment used a real mirror placed between the participant’s forearms “to create the visual illusion that the participant’s itching (right) forearm was being scratched while in fact the non-itching forearm was scratched”
The mind not only plays trick on us, but we can trick the mind.
All the gardeners I know, including myself, feel better when we are working in the garden. Some people say it is a meditative experience – a way to separate yourself from the troubles of the everyday.
I love getting my hands into the soil. I rarely wear gloves because I like the feel of the soil.
Recent research has given some scientific basis for that good feeling we get in working the soil. Contained in soil is Mycobacterium vaccae, a nonpathogenic species of bacteria. It occurs naturally. Researchers have been studying how killed Mycobacterium vaccae vaccine might be used as immunotherapy for allergic asthma, cancer, leprosy, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, tuberculosis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis – and depression.
That last area of research is what brings me to happy soil. It has recently been hypothesized that exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae may result in an antidepressant effect, because it stimulates the generation of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. There may be some natural Prozac in that dirt.
Lack of serotonin is linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. Many antidepressant drugs are ones that trigger the production of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
Now, don’t go out in the backyard and start eating dirt. Working the soil means we make contact with the microbes through the skin and also by breathing some in as we stir up the soil.
The research shows that these microbes cause cytokine levels to rise and that results in the production of higher levels of serotonin. In the studies, the bacterium was tested both by injection and ingestion – but that was on rats. The natural antidepressant effect can be felt for up to 3 weeks.
Maybe those pigs and other animals rolling in the dirt were doing more than keeping cool and keeping off insects.
For your health, you may want to do some “forest bathing.” The term means soaking in the forest atmosphere. It originated nearly 35 years ago in Japan, where it’s known as “shinrin-yoku,” and it’s now catching on in the United States.
As a lover of the beach and ocean, and with 130 miles of Jersey coastline nearby, I have a lifetime of sun and ocean bathing. The way the smell of salt air, feet in the sand and the sound of waves create inner peace, is what is claimed for forest bathing.
Breathe in the pine trees, listen to the birds and water flowing over stones, see the patterns of green or autumn’s palette and how the sunlight changes the scene, feel the textures of trees and plants. Walk barefoot. No nudity or bathing suits required.
Shinrin-yoku practitioners do it for relaxation and rejuvenation. It soothes the mind, but can have real benefits, such as lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.
Back in the 1980s, Japanese researchers theorized that substances called phytoncides (antimicrobial organic compounds given off by plants) produced the health benefits and relaxation.
You don’t need to be a scientist to know the benefits of time spent in a forest, but researchers do believe that humans are “hard-wired” to need nature in their lives.
One study found that the average concentration of cortisol, a stress hormone found in saliva, was 13.4 percent lower in people who were in a forest setting for just 20 minutes compared to people in urban settings.
Li Qing of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, conducted experiments to find out if spending time in nature increases the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system that fights cancer. The study found that NK activity was significantly boosted in two groups that spent time in forests.
You don’t need to take a strenuous hike to practice shinrin-yoku. The practice may not burn lots of calories, so don’t do it as “exercise” alone.
I went for a cool, slightly wet walk today in my local woods. It’s hardly a “forest” but it has birds, wildlife, a small brook and I can go deep enough to not hear the cars and people who surround it. I bathed. I was literally a little wet. I felt better.
More simple advice on getting through the week. Less than 2 minutes to watch. Pick one thing to try.
Take a deep breath. Click play. Give yourself a 2-minute break.
This is Doctor Mike Evans with one of his white board “lectures.”