Monthly Archives: July 2013

A for Eyes

A for eyesVitamin A (VA) is a group of compounds that are fat soluble in nature. They play an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division and cell differentiation (in which a cell is assigned its role and it becomes part of brain or muscles or lungs).

There are two categories of VA, depending on its food source. VA found in animal foods is called preformed Vitamin A. It is absorbed in the form of retinol, one of the most usable forms of VA. Sources include liver, whole milk and its products, cod live oil, kidney, egg, fish, meat and some fortified food products. VA that is found in colorful fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange and dark greem leafy ones like carrot, papaya, tomato, capsicum, mango, apricot, spinach, fenugreek,etc.) is called provitamin A. Provitamin A can be converted to retinol in the body. Most common and most efficiently converted to retinol is beta-carotene. 90% of retinoids can be absorbed onlyl 3% of carotenoids can be absorbed by the body. Few other carotenoids like lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin do not have VA activity but have other health promoting properties.

Vitamin A functions and health benefits

Vitamin A is one of the most versatile vitamins, with roles in such diverse functions as vision, immune defenses, maintenance of body linings and skin, bone and body growth, normal cell development and reproduction. Thus VA may collectively be important in protecting against conditions related to aging, air pollution, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, diabetes mellitus and infection. Let us discuss a few at length.

Vision – The most important role of this vitamin for eyesight. Retinol is required to start the chemical process that signals the brain that light is striking the eye, which allows the eye to adjust from bright to dim light.

Immune system – VA boosts the immune system by stimulating white blood cell function and increasing the activity of antibodies (the germ fighters in our bodies).

As an Antioxidant: Beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene act as antioxidants which destroy free radicals. Free radicals are believed to be associated with many of the degenerative changes seen with aging, and may contribute to development of cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

Epithelial cell – VA maintains the health of epithelial cells that line internal and external surfaces of lungs, intestines, stomach, vagina, urinary tract, bladder, eyes and skin. These cells act as important barriers to bacteria. Many epithelial cells produce mucus which is necessary to lubricate body surfaces and protect against invading micro-organisms.

Pregnancy – VA is particularly essential for pregnant women because it helps with post delivery tissue repair, as well as maintaining normal vision and helping fight off infections. A lack during pregnancy can cause night blindness in the mother, problems with the placenta and low birth weight of newborns.

In our bodies, 90% of Vitamin A is stored in the liver.

Vitamin A can be lost from foods during preparation, cooking or storage. To retain VA: increase intake of raw fruits and vegetables, keep vegetables and fruits covered, cook vegetables or meat by pan roasting, baking or grilling instead of frying. Overcooking destroys this vitamin.

Absorbtion of Vitamin A is hindered if there is not enough dietary fat. Inadequate intake of protein or presence of tannins also hinders absorption.

Recommended Vitamin A intake: A daily intake of 400 µg (microgram) of retinol for children 7 and 600 µg thereafter. (Nutritive value of Indian foods, 2004)

Deficiency of Vitamin A:  leads to delayed dark adaptation (increase in time taken by eyes to adjust when you come from a brightly lit to dimly lighted area), night blindness or poor visionin dark and in extreme cases it leads to complete blindness with complete eye tissue getting converted into a scar. Apart from affecting eyes it also leads to drying of skin and increased susceptibility to respiratory and urinary tract infections

At risk population for Vitamin A deficiency:

  • Children: toddlers and preschool age children, children living below the poverty line, children with inadequate health care or immunizations, children with diseases of the pancreas, liver, or intestines or with inadequate fat digestion or absorption.
  • Those suffering with chronic diarrhoea. A deficiency can occur when VA is lost through chronic diarrhea.
  • Disorders: celiac disease, liver disorders, gall bladder disorders
  • Excess alcohol intake depletes VA stores. It is thus very important for people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol to include good sources of VA in their diets.
  • Vegetarians who do not consume eggs and dairy foods. They should include a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables in their daily diet and regularly choose dark green leafy vegetables and orange and yellow fruits to consume recommended amounts of VA.

Toxicity of Vitamin A or Hypervitaminosis A: refers to high storage levels of VA in the body that can lead to toxic symptoms. There are four major adverse effects of hypervitaminosis A: birth defects, liver abnormalities, reduced bone mineral density that may result in osteoporosis and central nervous system disorders. Symptoms include tiredness, discomfort, upset stomach, decreased appetite, vomiting, slow growth, headache, drying and cracking of lips and skin, hair loss, and yellowing of the skin.

Toxicity can occur when large amounts of liver is regularly consumed or by taking excess amounts of Vitamin A as supplements.

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Working Towards a Healthy You

Much of our waking hours are spent at our offices, bound to our desks. With our schedules being as hectic as they are, healthy eating at work is often not a priority. However, eating healthy foods at work and keeping yourself hydrated goes a long way in keeping up with your health as well your productivity at work.

In order to perform at your best and to avoid the drained out feeling, it is important to eat meals which are low in sugar, high in fiber and fluids.  Skipping meals is the worst thing that you can do to your body; be it breakfast or lunch. If missing breakfast has become a routine just to reach on time; you can at least do this to keep up with your health. Prepare breakfast the night before so it is ready to carry as you rush to work. A whole grain sandwich, a chapatti wrap, fruit curd or porridge can be carried to work without hassles.

Desk Diners

Are you one of those who think that by working while eating you can finish your work a little earlier; are you a desktop diner? The latest debate that is ongoing about health of employees is about the dining habits. Roughly 70% of Britons and 67% of Americans eat lunch at their desks.

Now you will think what is the harm in eating at your desk? No harm if the desk is sanitized regularly. The leftovers that fell on the table while eating are the breeding grounds for bacteria. At the University of Arizona, a 2007 study found that the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. Scared… I bet you are. But there are few solutions to this problem:

  • Be extra cautious in getting your desk cleaned if you eat anything or everything at the desk.
  • Use place mat which acts as a barrier between lunch and desk.
  • Sanitize your hands after touching your desk and before eating.

Sanitation is not the only reason why you should not eat at your desk. Taking the time to have lunch away from your seat makes you a more productive, happier worker as you let your brain rest during the lunch break. Eating at your desk also prevents you from getting up and moving about.

Exercising while at work

According to lots of studies conducted worldwide; people who are sedentary (sitting still for about 4 hours together) are almost twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as are people who exercise regularly. Does this sound like a warning bell? There are numerous ways by which you can work and work-out together.

  • Flex your leg and arm muscles every hour. This will also be helpful in preventing spondylitis related aches and pains.
  • Walk whenever you can: to the water cooler, to the pantry, to the Xerox machine.
  • Start climbing stairs to reach your desk. For those on the 7th floor (read higher floors), start with 2 floors and gradually increase.

Work is important but so is health. If you are not healthy you will never be able to give your 100% to work. Start answering the demands of health to answer the questions at work.