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Don't wait for disease. Strengthen your immune system now.
Prevention is always better than waiting .
- The focus on stopping the immediate spread of the coronavirus should remind us about the importance of always maintaining a healthy immune system.
- The most at-risk population are those with immunodeficiencies and respiratory problems.
- Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and not smoking keep your immune system strong.
Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet.
Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet.
Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet.
You might have seen these instructions here or there (or everywhere) lately. They're certainly important at this moment in time. Immediate actions must be taken; your best protection is prevention.
But there's a larger issue at play. Humans are reactionary animals. Americans seem particularly primed to react rather than foresee. We tend to respond only when necessary. As we're finding out, kicking the can down the road in regards to our health is not the wisest decision.
There is plenty of discussion about the dangers of COVID-19 on people with immunodeficiencies. The conversation also needs to focus on maintaining a healthy immune system so that when disasters strike, you're as prepared as possible to withstand the ravages of disease.
Your entire body is effectively your immune system. Specifically, the parts that play a role include your lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, appendix, adenoid, thymus, and Peyer's patches (gut-associated lymphoid tissue). While geographically widespread, this team unites for a single purpose: to protect you against disease.
As you age, your immune system weakens. This is why cancers are more prevalent in older populations and infections that you shrugged off earlier in life can end up taking your life. Recovery periods from seemingly minor insults are extended. As it stands, respiratory infections, pneumonia, and influenza are among the top causes of death in seniors over age 65 around the world. This makes COVID-19 especially dangerous to older populations.
Maintaining a healthy immune system should be important to all of us at every age. At some point, you and I and everyone will experience the final insult that leads to death. Living a healthy lifestyle means you are not only increasing your chances for living longer, but you'll also live better at every step. Below are eight methods for keeping your immune system strong.
3 Immunity Boosters You Should Know About
You've heard it a million times, but let's repeat it again: regular movement is one of the most important factors for keeping your immune system in top shape. Exercise alleviates mental health issues, helps lift depression, and reduces the effects of anxiety disorder—all cognitive issues that add stress to our lives, and chronic stress destroys immune systems.
On the physical side, humans were born to move. Denying yourself this birthright proves detrimental to fighting disease. Load your body, engage in cardiovascular activity, stretch—just get moving. The most important aspect of exercise on your immune system appears to be increased circulation, so even regular walking is a boon. Ideally, you push your heart rate up regularly and load your body at least three times per week.
Eat well, especially fruits and vegetables
While movement is essential, nothing affects your immune system more than your diet. Those who live in poverty or are malnourished (or both) are more susceptible to infectious diseases than other populations. Regardless of economic status, your risk for immunodeficiencies increases if your diet is high in sugars and carbohydrates.
Those lacking vitamins such as zinc, iron, folic acid, copper, selenium, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E might also experience immune problems. The answer is simple: eat a lot of plants and fruits and lower your intake of processed and sugary foods. Make sure dessert is what it was intended to be: an occasional treat. Stop eating dessert for breakfast.
Watch your weight
In December, it was reported that half of Americans will be obese in 10 years if interventions are not put into place. Even more alarmingly, a quarter of Americans will be severely obese—over 100 pounds overweight. An animal that, for 350,000 years, has survived thanks to nutritional scarcity has fallen victim to caloric excess. The negative health effects of obesity cannot be overstated. Trouble fighting disease is only one of the many consequences of not maintaining a healthy body weight.
Anxiety levels are skyrocketing. Most people have not been infected by this coronavirus nor will fall seriously ill due to it, yet fear and panic are overriding our calmer instincts. Added stress increases the likelihood you'll experience more dire effects if you are infected; chronic stress is more detrimental to overall health than the occasional stressor.
Numerous anxiety reduction techniques exist—parasympathetic breathing techniques, meditation, listening to music, conversing with friends, and many others. We need a mass cognitive reframing right now. Though the worst is probably ahead of us, this epidemic too will pass. Keeping this in mind is important as you navigate this new terrain.
Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup With Lemon.
Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Drink in moderation
Alcohol stunts the immune response. While a little bit might prove relaxing, moderation is key. Drinking daily or getting drunk to distract yourself from the virus (or anything else) increases the likelihood that your body will be incapable of fighting off the disease if you become infected. Be smart about your drinking and try not to use it as a coping mechanism.
Sleep deprivation reduces your body's ability to produce essential proteins that keep your body healthy. Still, the National Sleep Foundation estimates that 47 million Americans don't get enough shuteye. It is estimated that 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. Chronic lack of sleep leads to both mental and physical health problems, including a compromised immune system. In fact, the number one remedy for most illnesses is sleep (along with hydration). Basic, of course, but basics are essential.
The best way to not get sick is to avoid situations in which you can get sick. Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet. This is always good advice, but critical now.
Throw out the cigarettes
Cigarette smokers are especially susceptible to COVID-19 given that it's a respiratory disease. We've known about the deadly consequences of smoking for a century, even though it took public health officials some time to catch on. In the long run, nothing good comes from it. Don't wait for another epidemic to kick this habit.
- The immune system and mental health - Big Think ›
- Chronic fatigue might be caused by overactive immune system ... ›
A cave in France contains man’s earliest-known structures that had to be built by Neanderthals who were believed to be incapable of such things.
In a French cave deep underground, scientists have discovered what appear to be 176,000-year-old man-made structures. That's 150,000 years earlier than any that have been discovered anywhere before. And they could only have been built by Neanderthals, people who were never before considered capable of such a thing.
This is going to force a major shift in the way we see these early hominids. Researchers had thought that Neanderthals were profoundly primitive, and just barely human. This cave in France's Aveyron Valley changes all that: It's suddenly obvious that Neanderthals were not quite so unlike us.
According to The Atlantic, Bruniquel Cave was first explored in 1990 by Bruno Kowalsczewski, who was 15 at the time. He'd spent three years digging away at rubble covering a space through which his father felt air moving.
Some members of a local caving club managed to squeeze through the narrow, 30-meter long tunnel Kowalsczewski had dug to arrive in a passageway. They followed it past pools of water and old animal bones for over 330 meters before coming into a large chamber and a scene they had no reason to expect: Stalagmites that someone had broken into hundreds of small pieces, most of which were arranged into two rings—one roughly 6 meters across, and one 2 meters wide—with the remaining pieces stacked into one of four piles or leaning against the rings. There were also indications of fires and burnt bones.
Image source: Etienne FABRE - SSAC
A professional archeologist, Francois Rouzaud, determined with carbon dating that a burnt bear bone found in the chamber was 47,600 years old, which made the stalagmite structures older than any known cave painting. It also put the cave squarely within the age of the Neanderthals since they were the only humans in France that early. No one had suspected them of being capable of constructing complex forms or doing anything that far underground.
After Rouzard suddenly died in 1999, exploration at the cave stopped until life-long caver Sophie Verheyden, vacationing in the area, heard about it and decided to try and uranium-date the stalagmites inside.
The team she assembled eventually determined that the stalagmites had been broken up by people 176,000 years ago, way farther back even than Rouzard had supposed.
There weren't any signs that Neanderthals lived in the cave, so it's a mystery what they were up to down there. Verheyden thinks it's unlikely that a solitary artist created the tableaux, and so an organized group of skilled workers must've been involved. And “When you see such a structure so far into the cave, you think of something cultural or religious, but that's not proven," Verheyden told The Atlantic.
Whatever they built, the Bruniquel Cave reveals some big surprises about Neanderthals: They had fire, they built things, and likely used tools. Add this to recent discoveries that suggest they buried their dead, made art, and maybe even had language, and these mysterious proto-humans start looking a lot more familiar. A lot more like homo sapiens, and a lot more like distant cousins lost to history.
A recent study used fMRI to compare the brains of psychopathic criminals with a group of 100 well-functioning individuals, finding striking similarities.
- The study used psychological inventories to assess a group of violent criminals and healthy volunteers for psychopathy, and then examined how their brains responded to watching violent movie scenes.
- The fMRI results showed that the brains of healthy subjects who scored high in psychopathic traits reacted similarly as the psychopathic criminal group. Both of these groups also showed atrophy in brain regions involved in regulating emotion.
- The study adds complexity to common conceptions of what differentiates a psychopath from a "healthy" individual.
When considering what precisely makes someone a psychopath, the lines can be blurry.
Psychological research has shown that many people in society have some degree of malevolent personality traits, such as those described by the "dark triad": narcissism (entitled self-importance), Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and deceit), and psychopathy (callousness and cynicism). But while people who score high in these traits are more likely to end up in prison, most of them are well functioning and don't engage in extreme antisocial behaviors.
Now, a new study published in Cerebral Cortex found that the brains of psychopathic criminals are structurally and functionally similar to many well-functioning, non-criminal individuals with psychopathic traits. The results suggest that psychopathy isn't a binary classification, but rather a "constellation" of personality traits that "vary in the non-incarcerated population with normal range of social functioning."
Assessing your inner psychopath
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brains of violent psychopathic criminals to those of healthy volunteers. All participants were assessed for psychopathy through commonly used inventories: the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale.
Experimental design and sample stimuli. The subjects viewed a compilation of 137 movie clips with variable violent and nonviolent content.Nummenmaa et al.
Both groups watched a 26-minute-long medley of movie scenes that were selected to portray a "large variability of social and emotional content." Some scenes depicted intense violence. As participants watched the medley, fMRI recorded how various regions of their brains responded to the content.
The goal was to see whether the brains of psychopathic criminals looked and reacted similarly to the brains of healthy subjects who scored high in psychopathic traits. The results showed similar reactions: When both groups viewed violent scenes, the fMRI revealed strong reactions in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula, brain regions associated with regulating emotion.
These similarities manifested as a positive association: The more psychopathic traits a healthy subject displayed, the more their brains responded like the criminal group. What's more, the fMRI revealed a similar association between psychopathic traits and brain structure, with those scoring high in psychopathy showing lower gray matter density in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula.
There were some key differences between the groups, however. The researchers noted that the structural abnormalities in the healthy sample were mainly associated with primary psychopathic traits, which are: inclination to lie, lack of remorse, and callousness. Meanwhile, the functional responses of the healthy subjects were associated with secondary psychopathic traits: impulsivity, short temper, and low tolerance for frustration.
Overall, the study further illuminates some of the biological drivers of psychopathy, and it adds nuance to common conceptions of the differences between psychopathy and being "healthy."
Why do some psychopaths become criminals?
The million-dollar question remains unanswered: Why do some psychopaths end up in prison, while others (or, people who score high in psychopathic traits) lead well-functioning lives? The researchers couldn't give a definitive answer, but they did note that psychopathic criminals had lower connectivity within "key nodes of the social and emotional brain networks, including amygdala, insula, thalamus, and frontal pole."
"Thus, even though there are parallels in the regional responsiveness of the brain's affective circuit in the convicted psychopaths and well-functioning subjects with psychopathic traits, it is likely that the disrupted functional connectivity of this network is specific to criminal psychopathy."
Counterintuitively, directly combating misinformation online can spread it further. A different approach is needed.
- Like the coronavirus, engaging with misinformation can inadvertently cause it to spread.
- Social media has a business model based on getting users to spend increasing amounts of time on their platforms, which is why they are hesitant to remove engaging content.
- The best way to fight online misinformation is to drown it out with the truth.
A year ago, the Center for Countering Digital Hate warned of the parallel pandemics — the biological contagion of COVID-19 and the social contagion of misinformation, aiding the spread of the disease. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, anti-vaccine accounts have gained 10 million new social media followers, while we have witnessed arson attacks against 5G masts, hospital staff abused for treating COVID patients, and conspiracists addressing crowds of thousands.
Many have refused to follow guidance issued to control the spread of the virus, motivated by beliefs in falsehoods about its origins and effects. The reluctance we see in some to get the COVID vaccine is greater amongst those who rely on social media rather than traditional media for their information. In a pandemic, lies cost lives, and it has felt like a new conspiracy theory has sprung up online every day.
How we, as social media users, behave in response to misinformation can either enable or prevent it from being seen and believed by more people.
The rules are different online
Credit: Pool via Getty Images
If a colleague mentions in the office that Bill Gates planned the pandemic, or a friend at dinner tells the table that the COVID vaccine could make them infertile, the right thing to do is often to challenge their claims. We don't want anyone to be left believing these falsehoods.
But digital is different. The rules of physics online are not the same as they are in the offline world. We need new solutions for the problems we face online.
Now, imagine that in order to reply to your friend, you must first hand him a megaphone so that everyone within a five-block radius can hear what he has to say. It would do more damage than good, but this is essentially what we do when we engage with misinformation online.
Think about misinformation as being like the coronavirus — when we engage with it, we help to spread it to everyone else with whom we come into contact. If a public figure with a large following responds to a post containing misinformation, they ensure the post is seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with one click. Social media algorithms also push content into more users' newsfeeds if it appears to be engaging, so lots of interactions from users with relatively small followings can still have unintended negative consequences.
The trend of people celebrating and posting photos of themselves or loved ones receiving the vaccine has been far more effective than any attempt to disprove a baseless claim about Bill Gates or 5G mobile technology.
Additionally, whereas we know our friend from the office or dinner, most of the misinformation we see online will come from strangers. They often will be from one of two groups — true believers, whose minds are made up, and professional propagandists, who profit from building large audiences online and selling them products (including false cures). Both of these groups use trolling tactics, that is, seeking to trigger people to respond in anger, thus helping them reach new audiences and thereby gaming the algorithm.
On the day the COVID vaccine was approved in the UK, anti-vaccine activists were able to provoke pro-vaccine voices into posting about thalidomide, exposing new audiences to a reason to distrust the medical establishment. Those who spread misinformation understand the rules of the game online; it's time those of us on the side of enlightenment values of truth and science did too.
How to fight online misinformation
Of course, it is much easier for social media companies to take on this issue than for us citizens. Research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch last month found that 65% of anti-vaccine content on social media is linked to just twelve individuals and their organizations. Were the platforms to simply remove the accounts of these superspreaders, it would do a huge amount to reduce harmful misinformation.
The problem is that social media platforms are resistant to do so. These businesses have been built by constantly increasing the amount of time users spend on their platforms. Getting rid of the creators of engaging content that has millions of people hooked is antithetical to the business model. It will require intervention from governments to force tech companies to finally protect their users and society as a whole.
So, what can the rest of us do, while we await state regulation?
Instead of engaging, we should be outweighing the bad with the good. Every time you see a piece of harmful misinformation, share advice or information from a trusted source, like the WHO or BBC, on the same subject. The trend of people celebrating and posting photos of themselves or loved ones receiving the vaccine has been far more effective than any attempt to disprove a baseless claim about Bill Gates or 5G mobile technology. In the attention economy that governs tech platforms, drowning out is a better strategy than rebuttal.
Imran Ahmed is CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.