What is chronic inflammation? And why is it giving me acne? Or wrinkles?

It’s skincare’s latest buzzword: Chronic inflammation. Everyone from dermatologists and endocrinologists to physical trainers and nutritionists are reaching out for this term to explain (and treat) skin problems like chronic acne, eczema, wrinkles, fine lines, dullness and sagging. And that’s not all: ‘chronic inflammation’ is also a key reason behind deep rooted diseases such as diabetes, auto-immune disorders, heart trouble and even Alzheimer’s.

But what is chronic inflammation? And is it really as bad as we are led to believe by a slew of specialists and celebrity lifestyle pros?

What is inflammation?

At the most basic level, inflammation is our body’s response to any foreign organism or injury. For instance, suppose you are stung by a wasp. This punctures the skin and also releases a flood of foreign chemicals inside our body. When this happens, our body calls upon certain types of blood cells and natural chemicals to isolate and destroy the invaders. Consequently, the area around the bite gets swollen. Once the attack has been negated and skin is healed, the swelling subsides.

This swelling and the process which brings it about is inflammation – of the good kind.

Sometimes, this process is not visible to the naked eye. Like when our body is dealing with an internal problem such as food poisoning or a cold. That’s when we have internal inflammation, which works to isolate and heal the organs inside our body.

Again, this is good inflammation. In fact, it’s necessary inflammation, without which our body would not be able to get rid of bacteria or virus and heal itself.

When does inflammation become ‘bad’?

Sometimes, our body makes a mistake and starts treating its own organs as if they are foreign invaders. This kind of inflammation exists even when there is no wound or infection that needs healing. It starts creating a swelling under the skin or around our vital organs – such as the heart or liver – putting extra pressure on them (think of it as an extra layer of fat or mucus that’s squeezing the organs), while simultaneously blocking optimal supply of nutrients.

This is known as internal chronic inflammation and unlike external inflammation, it is trickier to spot and treat. In fact, you may live with chronic inflammation for several years and not realise it at all.

inflammation2What happens when you have chronic inflammation?

A lot! Skin-wise, chronic inflammation invariably starts piling on the acne, sallowness, puffiness, lack of radiance, loss of smoothness, fine lines, dark circles, wrinkles and sagging. If left untreated, it manifests in more chronic skin problems such as dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and rosacea.

And that’s not all: chronic inflammation is also a known factor in diabetes, heart disease, dementia, inflammatory bowel conditions, arthritis, cancer, stroke, asthma and a whole lot of other ailments.

Do I have chronic inflammation?

Internal inflammation is difficult to spot and tricky to treat. However, if you lead a busy lifestyle, live in a city or indulge in bouts of junk food, you’re at risk and prone to chronic inflammation. And as with anything, prevention is better than cure.

So, how do I tackle chronic inflammation?

Luckily, it is possible to keep inflammation in check with small lifestyle changes – whether for your looks or your health.

inflammation 3Slim down: When you are overweight, the body pumps out more of the chemicals that cause inflammation. Belly fat is particularly dangerous – it is estimated that up to 40% of the fat cells in our bellies are producing inflammatory chemicals. Lose the excess weight NOW!

Exercise regularly: Any physical exercise releases chemicals that decrease both pain and inflammation. So, get moving!

Eat better: When you eat refined sugars or starches, there is a rapid rise in blood sugar. This, in turn, causes insulin levels to rise. And when insulin levels are high, it kicks up an inflammatory response. If this happens often, the body enters a state of chronic inflammation. The solution? Switch to an anti-inflammatory diet. This would include lots of leafy greens, fruits and spices for the antioxidants; essential, monounsaturated fats, like those found in nuts and olive oil; and high alkaline content foods such as avocados, leafy greens, soya beans, radish and broccoli.

Get a health checkup: Untreated infections, like bronchitis or tooth decay, can create chronic inflammation.

Manage your stress: Stress increases cortisol levels, which regulate the body’s anti-inflammatory response. While stress is an inevitable part of urban living, we can still minimise its effects by getting adequate sleep, exercising, meditating and getting professional counselling.

Quit smoking: Smoking causes diseases such as bronchitis, which lead to long term inflammation. Another reason to quit!

Put on the SPF: When UV rays penetrate our skin cells, they sets off inflammatory reactions. In fact, sunburn itself is an inflammatory reaction. One of the best ways to prevent this kind of inflammation is to use sunscreen every day.

Are you suffering from signs of chronic inflammation? How do you deal with it?

Why Moroccan mint tea is your skin’s secret weapon!

It rarely gets hotter than summer in Morocco, where average temperatures cross the 40°C (104°F) mark with scorching regularity. Add in the dry, dusty desert winds and you have an oven of a country, where even the air conditioners struggle against the forces of nature. So how is it that you see people sitting and sipping HOT tea everywhere in Morocco, all through the day? Surely, no mere mortal could be that immune to the heat – even with some sizzling genetics thrown into the mix?

They are definitely not immune. It’s actually the tea itself that bolsters their body against the heat, packed as it is with lashings of mint.

Mint, you see, is something of a wonder herb. Not only is it superb at cooling down the body (menthol, a chemical in mint, binds with our body’s cold-sensitive receptors to trick our brain into actually feeling a cold sensation) and raising its defences against the heat, these green sprigs also act as a powerful antioxidant, soothe an upset stomach, relieve heartburn, boost mental performance, promote focus, loosen congestion, break up coughs, chase away bad breath, inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungus, help with nasal allergies, cleanse the blood and clear up skin disorders (like acne). Whew!

Add in all the already-established benefits of green tea and you have a potent blend that’s not only unusually cooling but also packed with enough health and beauty benefits to have me chasing up the best Moroccan mint tea recipe that can be recreated outside of Morocco.

Fortunately, it’s a pretty simple task. All you need is a handful of mint leaves (fresh spearmint works best but any garden variety will do the job), some green tea (again, gunpowder green tea holds up best against the assertive flavours of mint but any green tea will work) and the sweetener of your choice. All set? Here’s how you go about making the best Moroccan mint tea for your health, beauty and body temperature!

Moroccan mint tea: Ingredients

2 tbsp loose green tea (or 3 green tea bags)
3/4 cup mint leaves
sugar to taste (traditionally it’s sugar but you can use Stevia or honey)
6 cups water
 

Moroccan mint tea: How-to

1. Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add the mint and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

2. Return the water to a boil, turn heat to lowest setting, then add the tea and sweetener (I normally use 2 teaspoons of brown sugar). Allow everything to lightly simmer for no more than 3 minutes as green tea becomes bitter when steeped too long.

3. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the biggest leaves and check the sweetness – simply stir in more sweetener, if needed.

4. Serve into tall and narrow glasses (or short shot glasses) and garnish with a sprig of mint – then sip, repeat and chill out. If hot tea is not your thing, make iced Moroccan mint tea by refrigerating until cold or pouring cooled tea over ice.

PS: If you are feeling exceptionally Moroccan, pour the tea from as high as you can manage (I am currently topping 12 inches after a week’s practise!). This creates the characteristically frothy top you will spot in authentic Moroccan mint tea. It also aerates the tea, creating a richer palate.

Ever since I discovered Moroccan mint tea last month, there is always a huge pitcher in my fridge and you will find me sipping on its icy coolness every couple of hours. And this minted-and-sweetened brew has made me feel so good, it’s unbelievable. No stomach upsets for one thing and even my annual summer-heat-induced acne is staying at bay. Plus, it tastes delicious. Try it once – and tell me whether you fell in love with the refreshing mintiness as well!

Have you ever tried Moroccan mint tea?

Turmeric latte: Drinking to your health (with recipes that taste AWESOME!)

As a kid, I spent several sick days hiding under large pieces of furniture to escape the turmeric milk self-prescribed by mom in place of antibiotics. As a somewhat-adult (mom still doesn’t agree with the adult bit!), I am voluntarily downing mugfuls of turmeric milk (called turmeric latte by the trendiest amongst us!) to ward off a sticky virus that’s standing between me and a looming deadline that brooks no negotiation.

And it seems to be working. Turns out mom was right. Even modern medicine agrees that the turmeric-based-drink is one of the most healing beverages EVER. After all, turmeric is antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Result: it defeats germs and calms down colds, coughs, sore throats, fevers, toothaches, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, menstrual cramps, muscular pain and a whole big bucket list of ailments. It also heats up the body, providing quick relief from lung congestion and sinuses.

turmeric latteThen there are all the ways it heals the digestive system: this spice is an excellent blood purifier, it boosts circulation, cleanses the lymphatic system and strains away impurities from the liver. Which makes it perfect for indigestion, diarrhoea, stomach ulcers and colitis.

Added bonus: Turmeric milk helps in the breakdown of dietary fats, thereby keeping weight in check.

And if even all this doesn’t make you rest easy at night, warm turmeric milk produces tryptophan, an amino acid that induces peaceful and blissful sleep.

Add in the strong antimicrobial properties of honey; the healing powers of ginger; and the extraordinarily healthy fats and vitamins present in ghee and you have the ultimate dose of wholesome healing in a cup. Little surprise then that the ubiquitously named turmeric latte is all the rage from San Fransisco to Oxford. In its latest report, Google reveals that searches for turmeric increased by 56% from November 2015 to January 2016. Even Starbucks has jumped on the bandwagon.

Time to hit the kitchen?

A photo posted by The Nutmylk Co. (@nutmylk_co) on

The original turmeric latte

You will need

2 cups whole milk
1-inch knob of fresh turmeric, peeled and finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons turmeric powder)
1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 tablespoon honey
 

How-to

  1. Mix together the turmeric, ginger and ghee; blend briskly till you have a fine paste
  2. Pour the milk into a saucepan and spoon in the paste
  3. Heat the milk till just below boiling point (little bubbles will begin to appear on the sides of the saucepan)
  4. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan, allowing the turmeric and ginger to steep about 3 minutes
  5. Strain the turmeric milk; stir in the honey and continue stirring until it dissolves
  6. Serve warm

The non-dairy turmeric latte

You will need

2 cups almond milk or coconut milk 
1-inch knob of fresh turmeric, peeled and finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons turmeric powder)
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons ghee* (optional)
1 stick of cinnamon (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom (optional)
 

How-to

  1. Combine the turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, honey, ghee, cinnamon and cardamom; pour into a deep mug or bowl and keep aside
  2. Heat the almond or coconut milk till just below boiling point (little bubbles will begin to appear on the sides of the saucepan)
  3. Add a teaspoon of the hot milk to the mug and mix everything till you get a smooth paste
  4. Add the rest of the milk and mix well; allow to steep for 3 minutes
  5. Strain the concoction; serve immediately

* Though ghee is made from milk and is therefore technically a dairy product, it contains only trace amounts of casein (a milk protein) and lactose (milk sugar), which are the prime causes of dairy intolerance.

Ever had turmeric milk? Or turmeric latte? Liked it?

Beauty recipes: Gwyneth Paltrow’s ultimate smoothie recipe, which costs… HOW MUCH?

Gwyneth Paltrow… she of the ‘conscious uncoupling’ and vaginal douching fame. I met her in New York at the BlogHer conference and was taken aback at how chilled she really is as a person. No, she doesn’t frown when you put a slab of chocolate cake on your plate. And neither will she snatch that glass of full-sugar Coke out of your hands and give you a whack on the head simultaneously. You live your life, she will live hers… and both can co-exist across the table.

What she will do is try and create recipes that will make living healthier a little bit easier for us mere mortals. And tell you stories about her father that will make sure not a single eye in the room remains tear-free (watch out for the video at the end of this post).

Then, right as you are just about already falling in love with her chilled out, humorous, slightly whacky charm, she will put out a set of beauty products so pure that you may be tempted to eat them. If you want to eat a combo of sweet iris and linseed extract. I don’t. Let them stay on my face, thank you so much. But bottomline: She will lead by example and draw you into living cleaner and healthier, which one has to admit, is not necessarily a bad thing. Right?

gwyneth smoothieAnd just when all that has happened, and you are irrevocably in love with the human phenomenon called Gwyneth Paltrow, comes a DIY smoothie recipe that costs… wait for it… US$230 at first glance.

But then look a little further and you’ll realise that’s not really true. So many of the ingredients can easily be made at home for a couple of dollars (like almond milk and almond butter), while other are pantry staples (think coconut oil and sea salt). Yet others, such as ashwagandha, are easy to find for cheap in Indian shops. That leaves us with things like vanilla mushroom protein powder, cordyceps and moon dust, which cost about US$40 each but shall last you through several months. Because you only need a pinch or a small spoon’s worth.

So, it’s not really US$230 for ONE smoothie. Not even close. Actually, it will cost you about US$8 each (Vanity Fair has done a pretty good breakdown here). Which is not cheap but it’s not roughly the same as drinking a lawn mower’s monthly salary in the green goopiness of one glass. In fact, it’s much less than what you would pay for a drink at Jamba Juice. Or most other green juices and smoothies at most other places.

Really, it’s like buying a television set for US$1500 and then claiming you spend US$1500 on entertainment every single day that you watch the television. Nope. It just does not compute.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s morning smoothie

Ingredients
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 teaspoon coconut oil
2 tablespoons vanilla mushroom protein powder
1 teaspoon maca
1 teaspoon ashwagandha
1 teaspoon ho shou wu
1 teaspoon cordyceps
1 teaspoon moon dust of choice: Action Dust to soothe overworked muscles, Beauty Dust for a glowy complexion and healthy hair, Brain Dust to combat mental fogginess, Goodnight Dust when sleep has been evasive, Sex Dust, for, you know, and Spirit Dust to get that extrasensory perception going
pinch Himalayan sea salt
pinch vanilla powder (optional)

Method
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blitz to blend

What do you think of Gwyneth Paltrow’s ultimate smoothie?