Superfruits for healthy immunity

Immune health has garnered a lot of attention lately. Whereas a healthy immune system rarely makes itself felt, one that isn’t functioning optimally can produce a range of signs, from frequent colds and infections to low energy to digestive issues. There’s no better time to do something about it than right now.

The foundation of healthy immunity is an overall healthy lifestyle. We’re talking about a nutritious, balanced diet, adequate sleep and exercise, staying happy and positive, and not smoking or excessively drinking. Thanks to modern science, it’s possible to get the benefits of many immune-boosting foods in supplement form too. Some superfoods contain special phytonutrients known to enhance immunity in powerful but balanced ways, including antioxidation, immune cell stimulation, regulation of inflammation, and antibacterial and antiviral activity.

Two examples of superfruits with research-backed immune health benefits are black elderberries and sea buckthorn berries.

Black elderberries: potent respiratory health support

The black elderberry is the fruit of the European black elder tree (Sambucus nigra). These dark purple berries have long been used as a food and a folk remedy in North America and Europe. Elderberries are generally consumed after cooking because of the presence of toxic cyanogenic glycosides in the raw berries. Besides cooked preparations, elderberry extracts provide a safe, concentrated source of elderberry.

Black elderberries are rich in vitamin C, phenolic acids and flavonoid antioxidants, including flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin) and anthocyanins (cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside).

Although they have numerous other health benefits, elderberry’s bioactives are most valued for their well-documented ability to boost the immune response and respiratory health:

  • Elderberry extract stimulates immune cells to produce cytokines, or chemical messengers, that conduct the inflammatory response.
  • Elderberry flavonoids can bind to the surface protein (hemagglutinin) of the influenza virus and inhibit the ability of the virus to attach to and enter cells.
  • An elderberry anthocyanin can block an influenza enzyme (neuraminidase) involved in virus release and infection.
  • An elderberry extract inhibited the growth of three pathogenic human respiratory bacteria and two strains of influenza virus in cell culture.
  • In clinical studies, supplementing with elderberry extracts reduced the length of influenza and the severity of flu symptoms.
  • Among a group of air travelers, some of whom caught colds, those taking an elderberry extract experienced a shorter duration of illness and less severe symptoms.

Sea buckthorn berries: an antioxidant and nutritional powerhouse

The sea buckthorn shrub, also known as sandthorn or seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides), is native to parts of Asia and Europe. The yellow-to-orange sea buckthorn berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for respiratory, digestive and skin conditions. Legend has it that the sick, exhausted troops of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan were reinvigorated after consuming wild sea buckthorn berries

What’s so unique about these berries?

  • They’re exceptionally nutritious, providing omega-3, 6, 7 and 9 fatty acids, beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and K, phenolic acids and flavonoid antioxidants, especially proanthocyanidins (OPCs) of the prodelphinidin type.
  • A patented extract of organic Tibetan sea buckthorn berries (Cyanthox™) has a whopping eight times the antioxidant activity as grape seed extract based on the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) assay.
  • In a clinical study, sea buckthorn berry consumption significantly reduced serum concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of systemic inflammation.

Given the susceptibility of the immune system to free radical damage and the role of inflammation in respiratory tract symptoms, sea buckthorn berries can benefit both aspects of health by serving as a free radical neutralizer and inflammation modulator.

 

During times of seasonal threats, several simple strategies can go a long way toward protecting wellness. Get the annual flu shot. Practice social distancing. Wear a mask or face covering in indoor public spaces. Wash your hands frequently. And try a high-quality natural supplement to strengthen the body’s internal defenses. Taking care of ourselves in these ways also helps protect the health of others around us: now that’s a win-win we can all appreciate.

Supplements that fight aging


As people worldwide are living longer, how to age well is more important than ever.

Aging occurs mainly because our cells and tissues accumulate unrepaired damage over time, as well as become less able to regenerative themselves. Sources of this damage include free radical production and chronic inflammation. These age-related changes can cause more than just wrinkles and gray hair; they can also contribute to serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer and dementia.

But there’s a lot we can do to toward looking and feeling more youthful longer. Dietary and lifestyle choices, stress management and environmental exposure control can all help, as can certain nutritional supplements. Some of these science-backed supplements are highlighted below.

Vitamin E

This fat-soluble vitamin is the most important antioxidant for the lipid membranes of cells. Vitamin E protects these lipid structures by acting as a powerful free radical scavenger. As such, vitamin E helps maintain healthy nerves, heart, arteries, retinas and skin and deter neurodegenerative conditions, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and age-related macular degeneration.

Vitamin E is found in wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds and crude palm oil. The ideal supplement contains all forms of vitamin E, including both tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fats DHA and EPA have anti-inflammatory and other vital functions in the body. In fact, they’re a key part of the structure of cell membranes. DHA and EPA can lower the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and metabolic syndrome. They can also enhance mood and promote healthy eyes, skin, joints.

DHA and EPA-are found in salmon, mackerel and sardines. Fish oil and krill oil are the most common supplement types, but vegan-friendly, algae-derived EPA and DHA are also available.

Vitamin C

Fight free radicals, aging and stress with this popular vitamin. Vitamin C acts as a water-soluble antioxidant and is required for making collagen, making it essential for the health of the cardiovascular system, cartilage, bones, skin and eyes. Vitamin C can also boost the immune system and limit the release of cortisol, thus helping to reduce damage from physical and mental stress.

Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetable, including oranges, kiwifruit, bell peppers and broccoli. Ascorbic acid is the simplest supplement form, but buffered, nonacidic vitamin C such as mineral ascorbates may be easier on sensitive digestive systems.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

The mitochondria are where energy—and abundant free radicals—are produced in the cell. CoQ10 functions not only in energy production in the mitochondria, but also as a fat-soluble free-radical scavenger against oxidative damage. This makes CoQ10 a useful anti-aging addition for the protection of the heart, brain and muscles.

CoQ10 is mostly found in organ meats and muscle meats such as beef and chicken. As a supplement, the ubiquinol form is preferred over ubiquinone for absorption and activity reasons.

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Being cells’ powerhouses, mitochondria deserve extra support in the fight against aging. PQQ can stimulate the formation of new mitochondria as well as enhance their efficiency. Recent evidence has revealed PQQ’s potential benefits for inflammation, energy production and cognitive function.

PQQ is present in fermented soybeans, kiwifruit, green peppers and parsley. As a supplement, PQQ is commonly taken together with CoQ10 for an amplified effect.

Vitamin K2

The aging body needs more vitamin K2 for good reasons. First, K2 activates a protein involved in depositing calcium into bone and building bone density. Second, K2 inhibits the accumulation of calcium in the walls of blood vessels. That’s why this fat-soluble vitamin can help prevent osteoporosis and artery stiffening at the same time.

Vitamin K2 is found in fermented soybeans (natto) and in eggs yolks and dairy products from pasture-raised animals. The main supplement forms of K2 are menaquinone-4 (MK-4) and menaquinone-7 (MK-7).

Carotenoids

These yellowish to reddish pigments are fat-soluble antioxidants with protective effects on eye and skin health. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the most important carotenoids for the eyes. They filter out harmful blue light in the retina to help maintain sharp central vision, which is damaged in macular degeneration.

Among other anti-aging carotenoids, lycopene can reduce the risk of certain cancers, whereas astaxanthin has been shown to improve eye strain. Both can also reduce skin damage by blocking UV radiation and neutralizing free radicals.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are mainly found in leafy green vegetables, whereas lycopene is most abundant in tomato products. Astaxanthin is present in salmon, krill and algae. The ideal supplement would provide all of these carotenoids.

Flavonoids

The flavonoid group of plant antioxidants, with the power to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, is known to have an array of anti-aging benefits. Flavonoids can promote heart health and blood vessel function, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, improve fat and sugar metabolism, protect against age-related cognitive decline and help maintain more youthful skin.

Flavonoids are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, and many supplement choices are available. Examples include green tea extract containing EGCG, grape seed extract rich in oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), cocoa flavanols, apple polyphenols, blueberry extract, pine bark extract and quercetin.

By making healthful choices, it’s possible to slow the pace of aging, help your cells and tissues resist damage and thrive, and vastly improve your chances of enjoying a long, vibrant life.

Leg cramps: causes and remedies


Have you ever been awakened or stopped in your tracks by a calf muscle painfully seizing up? Leg cramps can happen to anyone and strike at any time. They range from a brief nuisance to a serious health concern. Although some leg cramps still defy explanation, we now know many of the possible causes and what we can do about them.

Muscle cramps are involuntary, sudden and forceful muscle contractions. They’re muscle spasms that come with that dreaded sharp pain and tightness. Severe cramps can contract a muscle so hard that they cause damage to the muscle. The vast majority of muscle cramps take place in the hamstrings, quadriceps or calves.

The following are among the most common causes of leg cramps.

Dehydration

Working outdoors on a hot summer day or a long, strenuous workout session puts one at increased risk of dehydration. Reduced body fluid levels are believed to change the environment in which the nerve cells function, causing them to fire abnormally and thus triggering muscle cramps.

Electrolyte imbalances

The same conditions that lead to dehydration can also impact electrolyte levels. Being low or imbalanced in electrolytes is a key factor in leg cramps. The top electrolytes lost in sweat are sodium, chloride and potassium.

Calcium or magnesium deficiency

Two additional electrolytes, calcium and magnesium, regulate nerve excitation and muscle contraction. When levels of these minerals drop, the nerve endings and their associated muscles can become hyperexcitable and more prone to cramping. The deficiency is especially common in pregnant women and the elderly.

Muscle fatigue

The more tired a muscle, the more it tends to get biochemically imbalanced and spontaneously contract. That’s why cramps are a more frequent problem in situations of high muscle fatigue—starting a new athletic activity, increasing the volume or intensity of exercise, and toward the end of a long workout.

Prolonged sitting or standing

When leg muscles are held in a fixed position such as sitting or standing, the blood circulation becomes hindered over time. An inadequate blood supply makes the muscles more likely to cramp.

Certain medical conditions

Vomiting and diarrhea can quickly upset the body’s fluid balance and cause cramping. Leg cramps can also be related to other medical conditions including a compressed nerve, diabetic neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, peripheral artery disease and cystic fibrosis.

Certain medications

Muscle cramps are a possible side effect of some medications. Examples include diuretics prescribed for high blood pressure, statins for high cholesterol, osteoporosis drugs such as raloxifene, and asthma medications such as albuterol.

Given these known leg cramp triggers, the following measures have proved helpful in cramp prevention or care.

Stretch the muscles.

Stretching is a good way to prevent leg cramps, especially when carried out before and after exercising, before bedtime and during prolonged standing or sitting. Gentle stretching can also help relax cramping muscles to achieve faster relief.

Rest as appropriate.

Minimize muscle fatigue–related cramping by taking breaks from strenuous physical activity and avoiding overtraining and overexertion.

Stay hydrated.

Drink plenty of water before and after physical activity, and during activity as needed. This is especially important when exercising or working in a hot environment.

Up electrolyte intake.

In cases of heavy sweating, replenish the lost electrolytes along with water to more effectively restore the body’s fluid balance. For example, extra sodium can be obtained from salty beverages and foods.

Consider vitamin and mineral supplements.

There’s some evidence that supplementing with vitamin B complex, magnesium and calcium can reduce leg cramps, especially in pregnant women.

Try home or professional therapies.

Acupuncture and physical therapy, such as massage, heat and cold treatment and neuromuscular electrical stimulation, may help calm muscle spasms and pain.

Talk to your doctor.

Consult a physician if the leg cramps are severe, frequent or accompanied by redness, swelling or muscle weakness. There may be an underlying medical issue that needs prompt attention.

By following a few simple tips, you just might be able to keep leg cramps out of your life, or at least keep them to a minimum.

Foods that curb appetite


Imagine trying to tackle weight management goals with a healthy diet plus exercise. Except you get hungry frequently and don’t feel truly full after eating. All the daily stresses and tempting sweets only make the situation worse. Sound familiar? Fortunately, there are foods that can make it easier to rein in appetite and cut down on overall calorie intake.

Beans and lentils

Skip the refined carbohydrates, and go for some starchy legumes instead. Beans and lentils satisfy the appetite better because they’re packed with protein and fiber. The soluble fiber, in particular, can form a thick gel-like substance with water and slow the passage of food through the digestive tract. This helps both enhance and prolong fullness.

Green leafy vegetables

The benefits of leafy greens go beyond powerful nutrition. The photosynthetic membranes of green leaves, known as thylakoids, have been shown to influence hormones that regulate hunger and satiety. The result is decreased appetite and fewer fat and sugar cravings. Besides loading up on fresh spinach, kale and collard greens, thylakoid-rich spinach extracts are also available as supplements.

Nuts and seeds

When consumed in moderation, nuts and seeds can aid appetite control. They contain a uniquely satisfying mix of healthy fats, protein and fiber. Their high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) appears to curb overeating through effects on hunger and satiety hormones. The delicious choices include almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios and sunflower seeds.

Protein

Of the three macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates and fats—protein is the most fullness inducing. It also takes the most calories to digest and metabolize and helps build lean muscle, which benefits overall weight management. Increase protein intake by adding more eggs, cheese, fish, chicken, beef, beans or nuts to your diet. Supplement with protein shakes if needed. Worth mentioning are the fast-absorbing whey protein, which can quickly trigger feelings of fullness, and the slow-digesting casein protein, useful for maintaining fullness for longer time periods.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar helps reduce appetite in a few different ways. The main active substance, acetic acid, slows the rate at which foods leaves the stomach after consuming a high-carb meal. It also diminishes the impact of such a meal on blood sugar and insulin levels and the ensuing feelings of hunger. Moreover, acetic acid in the gut may send appetite-suppressing signals to the brain.

Konjac root

The root of the konjac plant is rich in glucomannan, a soluble fiber that absorbs up to 50 times its weight in water. This volume expansion produces a temporary sensation of fullness in the stomach, allowing one to eat less in the meal that follows. Konjac root can be consumed as prepared foods known as konnyaku (Japanese yam cake) and shirataki noodles, as well as glucomannan supplements.

Garcinia cambogia fruit

Also called malabar tamarind, this tropical fruit has a well-recognized appetite-suppressing effect. The active substance, hydroxycitric acid (HCA), works by increasing the levels of the appetite and mood regulating brain chemical serotonin, and makes it harder for the body to store fat. Garcinia cambogia is available as a dried fruit rind and also in supplement form.

Saffron

Prepared from meticulously harvested stigmas of its flowers, saffron is more than an expensive exotic spice. Extracts of saffron can enhance the balance of brain chemicals including serotonin and dopamine, and help lift mood, lower appetite and reduce food cravings. So for more flavorful meals and a happier relationship with food, try saffron in recipes or as supplements.

In short, natural appetite controllers can be useful in facilitating your health goals while giving you a greater sense of satisfaction from every meal, every day.