Our Personal Ecosystem

Our Personal Ecosystems Age as We Do

Did you know that your body is actually a living ecosystem that support trillions of lives! That’s right. Each of us host trillions of microbes inside as well as on the surface of our body that not only live off us, but also contribute to our well- being. What’s more, our personal ecosystem or microbiome is unique to us very much like our fingerprints.

The study of the human microbiome is gaining huge momentum. Researchers are particularly interested in the microbes within the gut or stomach. These little organisms that live in the lining of our stomachs and intestinal tract have a very important job to do in keeping us healthy, as they are essential to digestion.  Research shows that they:

  • Produce vitamins K, B7 (biotin), and B12
  • Help regulate appetite
  • Help control inflammation
  • Help control cholesterol
  • Stimulate the immune system
  • Are involved in production of 90% of your serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter

An imbalance in the mix of bacteria living in the intestinal tract or a shortfall of certain microbes has been linked to obesity, depression, and chronic diseases, from heart disease to diabetes.

Studies show that the ecosystem we support ages as we do!

By the time you were three years old, your digestive tract, especially your colon, was home to a community of diverse bacteria. Some of those microbes got there from your mother as you passed through her birth canal. If you were breastfed, you accumulated even more. And you picked up some bugs from your environment as you played with other kids, petted the cat and made mud pies in the dirt. Research has shown that keeping clean is important. However, keeping your environment overly sanitized might actually work against you.

As a healthy adult, the bacterial ecosystem that is unique to you is well established and fairly stable. However, those bugs can take a beating when you take antibiotics to treat an infection or eat a high-sugar, low-fiber diet of processed foods. The chemicals in the packaged food we eat, is harmful to us and the microbes in our gut.

By the time your hair turns gray and your joints begin to stiffen, your microbiome has changed considerably. In your senior years, your microbiome bears little resemblance to the one of your youth.

Although researchers haven’t pinpointed exactly how aging changes your intestinal flora, they do know that certain factors can be damaging:

  • Your intestinal tract has its own nervous system with as many nerve cells as your spinal cord. It’s not clear how the gut and the bacteria within it interact with the brain, but scientists know that chronic stress disrupts neural communication. Experts suspect an unhealthy mix of gut bacteria could also contribute to depression.
  • A high-fat, high-sugar diet that is low in natural fiber does not support bacteria in the colon. These bacteria need fiber (got from fruit and vegetables) to create inflammation-fighting fatty acids. A poor dietary mix causes many of these bacteria to be depleted and is the reason for many of the diseases of aging.
  • A diverse mix of healthy bacteria requires a diverse diet. We tend to buy and eat the few standard fruit and vegetables available at supermarkets which reduce the number of types of bacteria present in our digestion system.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions that often occur in seniors such as diverticulitis, decreased saliva production, and tooth loss which also impact gut bacteria.

How do we keep our ecosystem or microbiome healthy as we age?

Here’s what you can do to boost the number and type of healthy bacteria in your tummy:

  • Eat different types of foods that are low in fat and sugar, and high in fiber diet. Eat as many season fruit and vegetables as you can and if possible eat home grown or organic produce.
  • Make small portions of fermented foods part of your daily diet. These foods help replenish your gut bacteria. These include curd, yogurt, cheese, pickles and acharus.
  • Practice stress relief — whatever technique is comfortable for you. Try meditation, or listening to soft, instrumental music.
  • Exercise daily. It not only helps relieve stress but also contributes to a robust population of gut bacteria.
  • Brush and floss regularly. Keeping your gums healthy and holding on to your teeth as you age allows you to eat a chewy and diverse, fiber-rich diet.
  • Don’t take antibiotics unnecessarily. And, if you do, replenish your gut bacteria with fermented foods and possibly a probiotic supplement. Clinical trials show that taking a probiotic with the antibiotic reduces the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

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Art of grandparenting

Parenting In Partnership With Grandparents

Now I have fabulous a system in place. Every Saturday my kids spend the night with their grandparents. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. My little fellows brighten up the weekend for my parents. The kids love it because they get totally pampered. And for my husband and me, we get that much needed downtime at the end of the week. I find grandparents bring certain roundedness to a child’s upbringing by filling in the gaps. They provide love and solace, and act as a cushion against many of the usual stresses that children have to deal with while growing up. And yet often parents and grandparents face huge conflicts while balancing out their roles in a child’s upbringing. The trick is in appreciating the value of each other’s participation in a child’s life and establishing clear boundaries for both parties.

Working through the pitfalls

Communication is pivotal to the relationship between parents and grandparents. Here are few pointers for grandparents to ensure harmony in their relationships with their children and grandchildren

  • Respect  parental rules – Grandparents  have to respect the parenting decisions made by their children. Even if it will bring a smile on the little one’s face, do not break parental rules like sleep-time routines, TV time and the amount of candy a child is allowed to eat. These rules are enforced for the benefit of children and when grandparents say it’s OK to break them, it’s difficult to discipline kids.
  • Don’t buy your grandkids’ affection – It’s tempting for grandparents to shower their grandchildren with gifts, but check with the child’s parents before you buy more toys. Maybe you can substitute some of your gift giving with activities, and do something with your grandchild that you both will love.
  • Do not play favorites – Some grandparents indulge one grandchild more than the others. Sometimes this happens rather unwittingly. Children are very sensitive and can be hurt by this and grandparents have to be very conscious that all their grandchildren feel equally loved.

Parents too have to make an extra effort in nurturing the relationship between grandparents and their children. Make sure there is regular one-on-one time spent with grandparents. Facilitate activities kids can do with their grandparents like visits to the park or a movie. If the families are living far apart, then a regular call, web chat or email will keep grandparents connected with the lives of kids. Keep them posted on milestones, such as birthdays, awards won and many more. Share information about children’s friends, interests and hobbies. One of the greatest challenges of growing older is the sense of not being able to keep up and we have to sensitive to this need of our elders.

Physical limitations of the older generation are another key issue. Sometimes older people cannot cope with too much activity and get distressed. In these instances limiting the amount of time spent with grandchildren or having someone to help during visits would be advisable. Of course these should be decided upon together with the grandparents and with their approval.

While grandparents need to accept that their children may have a different philosophy for bringing up the little ones. There is a lot to be gained from their experience. Giving grandparents an ear, and carefully considering their advice will make them feel relevant in a child’s upbringing. Of course you have to be able to make grandparents understand that the final decision is yours.

Another reason for a breakdown in relationships is the competitiveness for a child’s attention and love. In these instances both parents and grandparents need to realize that both relationships have a very different dimension to it, and both are very important for the emotional wellbeing of a child. Children have a huge capacity to love and to seek love, and both parents and grandparents will find a special place in the little ones’ hearts.

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