Shoring up your health


  • Health
  • Sunday, 16 Feb 2003

By LAI CHOON MEI

NUTRITION is important for all life stages; from childhood through late adulthood. However, as you age, your nutritional needs change. This is especially true if you are on medications or at risk of nutrition-related diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes that may affect appetite and requirements for vitamins and minerals.  

Good nutrition is life’s best insurance to maintain good health. But in today’s world, it is hard to convince people that eating a well-balanced meal does the trick. Let’s face it, the food we eat no longer contains the nutrients that they are supposed to deliver due to over-cooking, over-storage and freezing. Regularly dinning out and poor eating and lifestyle habits further impede the proper intake of nutrients. This is where supplementation plays a vital role in replenishing a broad range of important nutrients that is depleted or missing from our diet.  

But with so many supplements in the market, how do you choose? We cannot be consuming supplements blindly without gaining an understanding of what our body actually needs.  

Poor immune system  

If you are prone to frequent allergies, coughs and colds, it is a signal that your immune system is being compromised. 

It is important to realise that a supercharged immune system is the basis of good health. Without it, the body is unable to combat foreign invaders as nature intended. By supplementing your diet with vital nutrients, you can help your immune system to grind the infection to a halt.  

A balanced and varied diet is the best insurance to good health.

Beta-glucan, vitamins A, C, E and the mineral zinc are some of the most common nutrients for immune boosting. Beta 1, 3/1, 6 glucan, derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), is capable of activating white blood cells known as macrophages that are able to identify, kill and dispose of any foreign invaders that trespass the body’s first line of defense. Vitamins A, C, E and the mineral zinc are required by the thymus gland to produce white blood cells. This combination of nutrients is an excellent way of helping the immune system to protect and build a stronger and healthier body. 

Stress 

In modern living, stress seems like an everyday event. It comes naturally when we are plagued with illness, overloaded with work, bothered by relationship problems, depressed or simply suffering with pre-menopausal syndrome if you are a woman. To help us cope in times of stress, our adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and other stress hormones to produce additional energy from our body’s reserves. However, the adrenal gland can become exhausted as a consequence of constant stress. When adrenal glands are overworked, our body just do not respond to life the same way. We get sluggish and seem to be tired all the time. We may also develop other health problems such as digestive disorders, high blood pressure or even mental confusion. Simply put, physical, chemical and emotional stress can be detrimental to health in the long run. 

When confronted with stress, the body will react in a “fight or flight” response and this increases the body’s requirements for vitamins B and C. If stress is a way of life for you, getting an adequate amount of these nutrients is essential for the body to recover to its healthy state. 

The age factor 

It is a known fact that no matter how strong you were in your younger days, your bodily functions will tend to slow down as you age. Nevertheless, this should not stop us from staying well in this new chapter of life.  

Osteoporosis is one of the major problems in old age whereby bone density reduces, leading to the risk of fractures. Women are at greater risk because their bone loss accelerates after menopause. Adequate calcium intake and physical activity are important in increasing bone density and restoring bone mineral. Vitamin D obtained from the effect of sunlight is crucial in enhancing calcium absorption within the body. While ensuring adequate vitamin D supply from the sunshine in the early morning, one should also increase daily intake of calcium through dairy products, milk, cheese or yogurt in low fat varieties. The supplement combining calcium citrate and magnesium is also helpful in supporting bone density.  

Another age-related health concern afflicting more than 50% of men aged 45 and above is prostate enlargement. The primary cause of prostate enlargement is a change in hormonal levels. After puberty, testosterone levels begin to drop while other hormones such as prolactin, estradiol, follicle-stimulating hormones and luteinizing hormones start to increase. These hormones encourage the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the prostate . It is these excessive amounts of DHT that cause the prostate cells to multiply at abnormally high rates, thus resulting in the enlargement of the prostate. 

Symptoms of prostate enlargement include the need to pass urine frequently in the middle of the night as well as complaints of difficulty in starting and/or stopping urination, a sensation of incomplete emptying of the bladder and weak flow of urine. flow. Besides herbal supplementation such as saw palmetto and pumpkin seeds, adequate zinc intake is also paramount. to an effective treatment plan for prostate problems. Men with prostate enlargement are advised to take 15mg elemental zinc twice daily coupled with regular intake of foods rich in zinc, such as cashew nuts, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds. 

Other degenerative diseases such as high blood pressure, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts and heart disease, which are linked to ageing, can also be prevented and managed through supplementation of a combination of beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and mineral zinc. 

Unhealthy lifestyles 

An overindulgence in fast foods and hawker foods, frequent alcohol consumption and smoking rob us of vital nutrients. As a result, taking a multivitamin and mineral to complement our daily diet is necessary. Not only that, a multivitamin and mineral supplement is also recommended for individuals who are picky with food, not eating enough from a wide range of different food groups or lacking in sleep or rest. 

So, start living healthily by eating right and choosing the right supplement for your nutritional needs. With the right help, you can look forward to a rewarding life without the threat of debilitating health problems. 

  • Lai Choon Mei has a BSc in Food Science and Technology. This article is contributed by a panel of herbal medicine and natural healthcare practitioners. For more information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my  

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