I’ve been reading a fascinating little book recently – The Nordic Guide to Living 10 years Longer*. Originally in Swedish, happily for me it has been translated and published in the UK. There’s scant reference to the Nordic way of life (‘Nordic’ is I suspect a marketing gimmick as its title in Sweden was ’10 Tips’) and most of what’s written is now widely known. Nevertheless there were two aspects that particularly interested me:
- The impact of inflammation on our general health; and
- The link between gum health and vascular health
I’ve written about inflammation before. Most recently in January when commenting on The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore. That book is all about the ‘breakthrough’ new science on the link between depression and inflammation of the body and brain. Interesting then that the key message in Nordic is also that the big threat to our health is inflammation.
Inflammation can occur in various ways but the main cause according to Nordic's author Dr Bertil Marklund is free radicals. Free radicals are electrically charged substances that romp round our bodies damaging our immune system, blood vessels and organs. Inflammation is the result. And many of our most common diseases have inflammation at their root. Essentially Marklund's recommendations are:
- Don’t do the things that cause free radicals to populate in your body in the first place. Key here is eating wrongly, drinking wrongly, smoking.
- Neutralise free radicals that are already roaming by increasing the antioxidants in your body – apparently after the age of 25 we have to rely on positive food choices for antioxidants.
- Reduce existing inflammation and repair existing damage – through exercise, sleep, correct breathing, mental relaxation.
It happens to be neat timing that the inflammation/health link was corroborated last week by the publication of a research paper into the relationship between heart disease and depression.
It has been known for decades that people with heart disease are more likely to suffer from depression, but the biological link was not understood. This study suggests that inflammation is an underlying link. Dr Khandaker, who led the study, said ‘It is possible that heart disease and depression share common underlying biological mechanism, which manifest as two different conditions in two different organs – the cardiovascular system and the brain".
On the back of the study a trial has been set up using an anti-inflammatory drug (tocilizumab) to treat people with depression to see if it can help improve mood and cognitive function.
Gum health and vascular health
Staying with the inflammation theme, did you know that the health of your gums is representative of the health of your heart? Again the link has apparently been known for years. Our gums are very vascular (full of blood vessels) and our mouths are full of bacteria. With gum disease, up to 100 million bacteria can live on a single tooth. So if you disrupt the gum layer even a small amount, bacteria in your mouth are going to get into your blood stream and upset your body’s defence system, causing inflammation, and potentially all sorts of problems including heart disease. The British Heart Foundation have a neat oral-health explanatory video and other information on their website.
So I have found Nordic a very interesting read indeed and full of nifty soundbites. I particularly like this one: “Exercise is a perishable item, it can’t be stored in the body but has to be repeated on a regular basis.” It leads nicely to question 'How many times have you been out Nordic walking this week'?
*Written by Dr Bertil Marklund, a doctor and researcher at Gothenburg University