Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
The idea of 'balance' gets repeated from time to time, in varying circumstances and with different meanings encapsulated within.It is important to strike a balance between different aspects of life, like studies and play, professional life and personal life, human development and environmental sustainability etc. In addition to these, to strengthen immunity and to improve one’s well being, there are other things that need to be balanced in human body.
Balance, by definition, means having the right amount of anything which leads to harmony or peace. Often, at various stages in life, one encounters situations where it is important to maintain balance among different priorities, which we fix during our day to day activities.
Human Development vs Environmental Sustainability
Environment plays an important role in the overall development of a person and to keep good environment one needs to keep a balance between human activities and nature for a sustainable future. Over the past 50 years we have witnessed a significant development in the fields of science and technology. However, there is a rise in the environmental degradation due to activities like deforestation, excessive fishing, mining leading to severe consequences such as global warming, loss of biodiversity. Unchecked human activities also increase the risk of newer zoonosis (infectious disease that is caused by the jump of the pathogen from animals to humans) like Covid-19. If not addressed, these problems will reduce the benefits that the future generations may reap from nature.
Gut Microbiota vs Immune System
While the above examples are quite apparent, there are others that need our attention like the balance of our gut microbiota, which influences the balance of immune system. Human body provides a favourable habitat for growth of a number of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses etc.). The large and mixed collection of these microbes called as microflora or microbiota is acquired by an individual from his environment. These microbes tend to harbour inner surfaces of respiratory, digestive, urinary and genital tracts and are generally protective. Majority of the microorganisms live in our large intestines which are called as gut microbiota. There are about 500 different species of bacteria in a person’s gut which varies from individual to individual. Though relatively stable, it fluctuates with age, change in diet, health, hygiene and usage of drugs. To be healthy we need to have a diverse and balanced gut microbiota. Microbial imbalances in the gut called as dysbiosis can cause immune dysregulation leading to autoimmune diseases, intestinal disorders, allergies, skin diseases and even cancer.
Our diet supplies most of the nutrients needed by the gut microbes. Therefore healthy interaction between immune system and the microbiota can be obtained by consuming a healthy, balanced diet. A diet which includes prebiotics (foods which help in growth of healthy microbes in gut) like oats, barley, honey, banana, tomato, onion, garlic etc. and probiotics (foods which contain live bacteria, which produce health benefits when consumed) like yogurt, milk, buttermilk etc. contributes to the development of healthy microbiota that prevents disease development. Other ways of promoting healthy gut are having good sleep, drinking plenty of water and lowering stress by meditation and yoga etc. Prebiotics and probiotics are microbiota regulating tools which improve the health of the host1 and currently a lot of research is happening in this field with an aim to explore new strains of probiotics and exploit them to improve human health.
Profession vs Family life
Once an individual steps into a job and family life, it becomes very important to have a balance between the two i.e. balancing profession and family life. Though career helps in attaining a sense of satisfaction, status in society and a purpose to life, it alone cannot fulfill a person and often makes one lonely. It is the family which provides love and support needed for one’s existence. The ultimate goal of every one is to live happily and peacefully. This is possible by spending quality time with family members and not allowing work to creep in one’s personal life.
Studies vs Sports
A student should have the art of balancing studies and sports as both are equally important. Education provides knowledge which can be useful throughout the life similarly sports is also important as it helps in relaxation, recharging and overall development of the individual. As the old saying goes ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.’
Oxidants vs Antioxidants
Similarly there should be a balance between free radicals or oxidants and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals are atoms or molecules that are highly unstable and react with other cellular structures due to their unpaired electrons. They are constantly generated in small amounts as by-products of cellular metabolism. At moderate or low levels, they have beneficial effects and involve in various physiological functions, such as in immune function.
Excess amounts of free radicals can be generated in humans due to stress, household chemicals, environmental stressors like UV radiation, microbes, allergens, cigarette smoke, physical stressors like intense exercise, use of certain drugs etc. At higher concentration these oxidants can not only damage the integrity of various biomolecules including DNA, proteins and lipids but also participate in damage caused by microbial infections, tumour progression and activate cell death.
Antioxidants are compounds which neutralize the free radicals by donating an electron. The body cells produce many of these by expressing genes encoding antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase etc.) and endogenous antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione etc.) to counteract the extra oxidants. This complex antioxidant grid counters the damaging effects of free radicals on important biomolecules and eventually body tissues.
An imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants due to accumulation of free radicals results in oxidative stress. Oxidative stress may ultimately lead to impaired immunity, DNA damage which can cause mutations, and the development of several diseases like diabetes, cancer, neurological diseases etc. It is important to maintain the balance between oxidants and antioxidants in the body for good health. However, the free radicals or oxidants usually outnumber the antioxidants naturally produced in the body. Therefore, it is important to have a continuous supply of antioxidants from an external source to maintain this balance. The potential role of nutritional antioxidants in reducing the damage induced by oxidative stress is also emphasized by Liu et al (2018).
Antioxidants also called free radical scavengers are naturally occurring in certain fruits and vegetables like beta-carotene in carrots and lycopene in tomatoes. Other dietary sources include tea (catechin), chocolate (flavanol), nuts, grains, spices etc. These exogenous antioxidants are vital for maintaining a healthy living. Contrary to the single antioxidant supplements, fruits and vegetables have antioxidants along with many other substances like fiber, minerals, vitamins which work together collectively to prevent diseases. It is also necessary to include seasonal food in the diet to fulfil the body’s requirement of antioxidants. A diet rich in antioxidants may help in anti-aging, countering diseases, promoting immunity, preventing DNA damage, keeping one’s brain active and gut healthy, all of these help in improving the quality and length of life.
Balancing is an art which varies from person to person. It is the choice of an individual to decide a better suited strategy based on one’s values, priorities, existing commitments etc. Making the right choices ensure the well-being of the individual. To reiterate, inclusion of antioxidant rich food like fruits, grains, vegetables, cumin, ginger, garlic, clove, turmeric and cinnamon etc. in one’s regular diet is always good for health all stages of life including the present pandemic situation.
‘Any Error in this Manuscript is silent testimony of the fact that it was human effort’
Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
Senior Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology
Govt. Postgraduate College Bhaderwah
E-mail: [email protected]