Ten Recommendations For Human Cellular Health
[Disclaimer: Health is personal, so find out what works for you, and how you are made up, and never hesitate to seek the adviser of experts in the medical sector, and in the many and various disciplines serving general human well-being]
Why not approach human health by thinking about what’s happening in the body at the microscopic level?
Science shows us over and over that the microworld we can’t see with the naked eye is really driving what’s happening to our bodies, with their organs and their complex systems, like the nervous system, blood circulation system, immune system and respiratory system.
Small is Powerful
The things that are truly miniscule inside us are the most powerful, such as DNA, cells, genes, mitochondria (see section Mighty Mitochondria below) and bacteria. It seems to be true that we can only be as healthy as our cells, cellular processes and our overall human microbiome.
The National Library of Medicine describes the microbiome as made up of between 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells in each person, primarily consisting of bacteria in the gut; these cells, in turn, contain genes (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/). The so-named good bacteria in the gut help our bodies digest food, fight bad bacteria, support our immunity and control inflammation, among other vital functions (it’s thought that our mitochondria were themselves once bacteria which over spans of time became integrated into our cells).
We can look after our good bacteria, mostly to be found in the alimentary canal, by limiting the intake of antibiotics to when they’re really needed for fighting a severe infection. When taking antibiotics, use probiotics and related supplements to keep your human biome in balance.
Science has always broken down each phenomenon into its smallest, indivisible unit. Think of how important the study of molecules and atoms has been to chemistry and to physics. Think of how all matter in the entire universe is made up of the elements in the famous Periodic Table.
The basic unit of organic life is the cell, as it is the simplest form of life. Some estimates say there are 15 trillion cells in us; other estimates are much higher than that. To give you an idea of how small these human cells are: about 10,000 would fit onto the head of a pin. Not only that, but each human cell has an estimated 100 trillion atoms in it. Try multiplying 15 trillion cells by 100 trillion! That’s a staggering number of atoms in us.
Crucially, cells are self-renewing, especially when they’re fed with enough nutrition and oxygen to produce energy. This self-renewal process occurs at an astounding rate. About 1 million cells die every second in us; but don’t worry… because old cells are continuously recycled to make new cells. About 1.2 kg of cells are dying and being recycled every day in us. The body replaces itself with a largely new set of cells every 7 years!
Cells are truly exceptional forms of life within us. Let’s talk a little about them before outlining our ten recommendations for maintaining cellular health. Bear in mind that the brain, our most important organ, is also made up of cells, which we call neurons.
In thinking about health, we really need to start deep inside at the level of human cells and then work our way upwards and outwards to the functioning of the whole body.
Cells are about 70% water by weight. They are highly productive – real busy bees. Each cell is like a miniature factory performing millions of chemical reactions each second. Remember that this productivity requires lots of energy, so we should take very good care of our bodies, or we may quickly get run down and accelerate the ageing process. Fortunately for all of us, cells are highly skilled at extracting energy and getting rid of waste products.
Cells are not dumb, they are smart – they have their own “software” called DNA – the set of instructions inside our cells telling them what they need to do.
They are also animated by the oxygen flowing through our bodies. Oxygen from our breath is transported to virtually every one of the trillions of cells we have, where it is used to burn glucose for energy.
We can think of our cells as full of energy, oxygen and super-smart information!
Got to love your cells, man!
Inside most of our cells are the mighty mitochondria. There are roughly 300-400 of them per cell. About 10% of our body weight is made up of trillions upon trillions of mitochondria. They greatly enhance cellular processes within us.
Just like cells, mitochondria are constantly recycled, with new ones being made all the time from old ones. It’s the mitochondria which govern apoptosis, which is a fancy term for cell suicide – the cells know when to die so that they can be recycled and made new. It’s very cool that our bodies are naturally self-renewing.
What happens at this level of the body is that electrons and protons are stripped from food particles and react with oxygen to produce energy. Mitochondria are the only places in the cell where oxygen is combined with food molecules to keep the cells filled up with energy. Energy is needed for bodily functions, for signalling in the nervous system, for repair and for overall cellular health.
All our cells power us up and keep all our functions of life going! Some writers speak of the power of a bolt of lightning inside us. As Jim Carrey once said in the movie, The Mask: “somebody stop me!”
And just think how much energy major organs like the brain and heart need every day, not to mention all the other organs, internal systems, muscles and skin. This renewal process is known as mitochondria biogenesis. These little engines we call the mitochondria are great at repairing – for example, mitochondrial DNA can make between 5-10 copies of itself.
We need to try to live our lives in a way which helps our bodies self-renew. We can do this by giving them enough nutrition and oxygen, while making our metabolism as smooth as possible, that is, by not consuming substances harmful to our brains or our bodies and by not over-consuming. It’s abundantly clear that our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that they are designed to be beautifully self-renewing. All we need to do is to let nature be nature by making it easier for self-renewal to take place from the cellular level upwards.
We must boost the energy production processes in our bodies by giving them the nutrition and oxygen our cells need. If energy production in the central nervous system and brain is impaired, for example, it can result in mental health problems.
We are Trillions
In sum, the trillions of cells in us are so microscopic that roughly 10,000 would fit onto a pinhead and yet they have their own smart software (DNA), have their own reliable batteries (mitochondria) and are able to perform millions of chemical reactions every second. This all amazes me so much that I can only think of the scripture from the psalm of King David: “I will give thanks to you, because I am awesomely and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 (New American Standard Bible)
Now, with this picture in mind of just how awesome our human cells really are, let’s move on to ten ways to promote and maintain the health of our cells.
Ten Recommendations For Your Cellular Health
- Consume each day only the amount you need and no more. In other words, avoid over-consumption. So far, the most reliable and best-known way of slowing down the ageing process is calorie restriction. Excessive daily calorie consumption can lead, over time, to mild cognitive impairment and other forms of declining health and well-being. The issue of only consuming what is needed is about discipline when feeding your body. All your cells need nutrition but the more your body must digest, quantity-wise and quality-wise, the more energy it uses up in that “heavy-lifting” process, leaving less energy for repair and renewal of the cells. Think of digestion as a work out.
- Nurture neuroplasticity – the brain’s power to adapt to the ceaseless changes of life. Keep your brain very active by giving it daily exercise, whether through reading, study, thinking, solving puzzles, watching challenging, or imaginative, movies or even just concentrating on a daily task or job.
- Embrace the outdoors where possible. Being in nature is good for the fresh air (think of the oxygen needed for energy production inside cells). Witnessing the beauty of creation is good for the mind and the spirit. In addition, sunlight is excellent for producing Vitamin D in your body (with the caveat that you should protect your skin, especially in the mid-day sun). There’s an old saying I wholeheartedly believe in which goes something like this: “between 11 and 3, sit in the shade of a tree”. It’s another incredible capacity of our bodies that we can get “free” Vitamin D from sunlight on our skins, which, in turn, helps build up our immune systems. (The covid pandemic reminded us of the importance of building up our immunity.)
- Follow a low sugar, or a zero-sugar, kind of diet. I avoid sugar whenever possible, as the over-consumption of sugar seems to play a major role in diseases like diabetes. In addition, some forms of dementia are now thought to be connected to dietary excess, with processed sugar identified as the major culprit. The more we cut down on empty calories, the better for our bodily and mental health. (It’s very difficult to cut down on, or give up, sugar, because sugar is reputed to be more addictive than cocaine; for me, it took about 8 weeks to break my sugar addiction. The use of “sugar substitutes”, such as fruit berries – including blackberries, blueberries and strawberries – yoghurt and honey, proved to be a vital support in this 8 week “de-sugaring” of my diet.)
- Maintain a good balance of macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients in your diet. All cellular processes require the metabolism of micronutrients, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins, for energy, for ongoing repair of cells, and even for mood. For example, some experts have estimated that as many as 70% of people in the developed world may be deficient in magnesium.
- Build exercise into your daily and weekly life. Motion is medicine! Some writers have nicknamed motion as Vitamin M. It’s an excellent way to regenerate mitochondria. It can help with brain health, too, by stimulating the growth of brain neurons. Exercise is also known to help with insulin balance because it can burn up the glucose. It therefore serves to enhance both quality and length of life. Birds and bats typically have virtually disease-free lives and generally die of old age, rather than from disease, due to their life of gliding and regularly staying in an easy motion through the air. These amazing creatures know how to keep fit and to stay on an even keel.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF) is when we decide to skip breakfast on a given day and hold out from eating until later in the morning (whether 10 am, 11 am or 12 noon, depending on what time you got up that morning) before having “brunch”. This will promote the repair of your cells and your body’s self-renewal process because it can use the energy for renewal which you save while postponing the “gym workout” of an energy-intensive digestion process.
- Try to get sufficient sleep, as sleep gives you a “brain cleansing” experience; this is vital for on-going cell repair and removal of toxins.
- Try to manage stress levels because stress may elevate your blood sugar levels over time and can also increase blood pressure. Build relaxation into your days, weeks, months and into your year. This is when you can de-stress and rest. We know from Genesis that the Israelites ended each week with a day of rest. Every seventh year was also a sabbath year to rest the land and cancel all debts so that there was a fresh start, from that point, for the whole land and for its people. Use mental tools that work for you, whether meditating, praying, enjoying quiet time or even indulging in the odd power nap.
- Recreation is as vital as relaxation. To me, recreation goes beyond resting and de-stressing because it leads to use of the imagination to “recreate” or re-imagineer, your life. In recreational activities, whether playing chess or board games, enjoying arts and crafts, playing sport, dancing, listening to music, going to theatre, etc, we escape our daily responsibilities and experience enjoyment, happiness and fun in a self-enriching manner. That for me is recreation – it’s creative, it’s imaginative, it’s stimulating and it’s upbuilding for the mind and spirit.