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?

What does your tongue say about your health? Prepare to be seriously surprised

Recently, my mother has been going to a Chinese acupuncturist and the first thing he does is make her stick out her tongue. Even though the problem is a slipped disc in her back, the treatment always begins with a visual examination of the tongue.

And that’s a trend I am increasingly seeing with most doctors, whether traditional or given to more modern medicinal practises. The reason? Your tongue gives out more clues about your health than one might ever imagine.

For example, a white coating on the tongue could tell the doctor to address your digestion, while one with a purple tinge could point towards circulation problems. Reading the tongue has always been a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, much like face mapping, and it’s now getting a standing ovation by modern science as well.

What’s the perfect tongue, then? One that’s uniformly pink, moist, plump and has a very thin white coating. It shouldn’t quiver when you stick it out and there should be no cracks, grooves or indentations.

Is that you? Congratulations, you seem in good health.

If not, stick out your tongue, look in the mirror and learn to read what your body is trying to tell you**.

Super smooth tongue

If you think having a smooth, moist tongue puts you in the clear, think again. According to Chinese medicine, an overtly smooth tongue could signify water retention, mucus buildup or reduced immunity.

Thick white coating on the tongue

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, a thick white coating indicates ‘stagnation’ or a ‘cold’ zheng. This leads to sluggish digestion, mucus buildup, candida, tendency towards back problems, lack of beneficial bacteria or excess fat in your diet.

Pale tongue

This could indicate poor circulation, mucus and fat accumulation or anaemia. You may feel low on energy and exhausted.

Red bumps on the tongue

Expect digestion problems, insomnia and symptoms of a stressful lifestyle.

Shades of red and yellow on the tongue

According to traditional Chinese medical practitioners, these are signs of a “hot” zheng, which may be manifested as an infection or inflammation in the body, especially the liver, gall bladder or intestines. It may also indicate high blood pressure, anaemia or another blood problem, and may be a sign that you need to cut down on excessive dairy products, eggs, meat, sugar, alcohol and spices.

Purple tongue

If your tongue is tinged purple, check for sluggish blood flow, high cholesterol and other circulation problems. It may also be a warning to cut down on sugar, alcohol and an intolerance to certain medications.

Green tongue

This may be the sign of a progressive infection in the body.

White or red spot on the tip of the tongue

While a white bump on the tip of your tongue may point to kidney problems, a red one could be the sign of emotional stress or allergies.

Cracked tongue

A cracked tongue could be a sign of dehydration or nutritional deficiencies (particularly vitamin B and C). A crack that runs down the centre of the tongue may speak of a bad stomach or indigestion.

Tooth indentations on the tongue

If your teeth leave indentations on the tongue, it could be because of low immunity, exhaustion, fluid retention, nutritional deficiency, digestive problems or the spleen.

Sore tongue

Check your nutritional levels as this may indicate a deficiency, particularly B6, B12 and iron. If you are getting a burning sensation on your tongue, it may be because of an upset stomach.

Wobbly tongue

A tongue that doesn’t stay still could be a sign of chronic exhaustion.

** Do remember that, as with all medical issues, you should see your doctor for a proper prognosis. This is just a general guide to head you off in the right investigative direction – just because you have a white bump on your tongue doesn’t always mean you have a bad liver!

The (many) beauty benefits of lavender: Ultra-easy DIY recipes included!

To me, nothing says summer more than lavender. Just its fragrance is enough to evoke the memories of balmy countryside days, soft purple bushes shimmering against a blue sky, emerald green grass glowing with refreshing dew drops, rolling fields stretching towards the mountains… all of childhood rolled into one pretty package.

But lavender is much more than just a pretty flower. It is also one of the most powerful remedies in the plant world, offering relief for problems as varied as sunburns, acne and dandruff, because of which the ancient Egyptians and Romans treasured the oil extracted from its leaves and flowers.

This amazing spectrum of healing powers is due to lavender’s complex chemical makeup, which is chockfull of antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory goodness. Even a mere whiff of its fragrance has potent aromatherapy benefits. And this is no subtle, old lady fragrance – it’s a heady scent that rivals bottled perfume.

Through various trips to Grasse and Kashmir, I have reaped the recipes of some gorgeous face masks, scrubs and body butters that help you harness all the beauty and wellness of lavender in its purest form.

Rejuvenating lavender toner

How to: Take a handful of fresh lavender and 100 ml water. Boil the water and then pour in the lavender buds, making sure they are completely submerged. Cover the bowl and leave the brew to steep for a few hours. Then drain the mixture, pour the water into a clean glass bottle and store in the refrigerator. After washing your face in the morning, spray a little bit of the lavender water on a cotton pad and gently wipe your face to instantly refresh the skin.

The science: Lavender boosts circulation, thereby increasing blood flow and ensuring that the skin cells receive adequate nutrition and oxygen. This keeps the cells healthy and boosts their turnover.

Anti-acne lavender remedy

How to: Dab lavender oil onto acne blemishes or skin infections with a cotton swab.

The science: Essential lavender oil is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. These properties allow it to both attack the bacteria causing acne infections and reduce the swelling and redness.

Lavender sunburn soother

How to: Add a few drops of lavender oil to a bowl of cool water. Make a compress and apply it to the sunburn.

The science: Lavender oil is a natural anti-inflammatory, so it helps reduce itching, swelling and redness.

Lavender burn cure

How to: Pour a few drops of lavender oil onto cotton and apply to burns for healing sans scars.

The science: Lavender oil’s burn-healing superpowers are responsible for the birth of modern aromatherapy. In 1928 a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, burned his hand. He accidentally applied lavender oil to it and noticed the burn healed much faster than expected. David then discovered that lavender stimulates new skin cell formation. This reduces scarring and helps burns heal quicker. It also works as a pain reliever, while the antiseptic action helps reduce infection.

Lavender detox sugar scrub

How to: Whisk together ¼ cup each of white and brown sugar, then stir in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Add 1 teaspoon dried lavender, gently crushing the buds between your fingers. Stir in 1 teaspoon almond or jojoba oil and then add 1 tablespoon honey, mixing until everything is evenly combined and you have a thick paste. Transfer the scrub to a glass jar and store in refrigerator.

The science: Lavender contains powerful antioxidants, which counter the effects of environmental pollution on the skin. Plus, it also helps dispel stress and nerves, both of which make skin appear coarse and lifeless.

Purifying lavender face mask

How to: Add 3-5 drops of pure lavender oil to 1 tablespoon of organic yogurt and apply to your face (avoiding eye area) for 10-15 minutes; rinse with warm water.

The science: Lavender keeps acne-causing bacteria in check, while increasing cellular rejuvenation. This means you will have fewer acne breakouts and infections if you follow this recipe once a week.

Lavender wrinkle buster

How to: Beat an egg white and add 3 drops of lavender oil. Apply to your face for 20 minutes, then rinse well with warm water.

The science: Lavender eases tension, stress and inflammation – all of which are the major contributors to skin aging. Plus, it boosts the circulatory system, thereby increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to skin cells. In fact, one study found that women who have undergone Botox injections recover better after applications with diluted lavender oil.

Lavender mineral bath salts

How to: Mix 1 cup sea salt, 1 cup Epsom salts, 1⁄2 cup baking soda, 1⁄4 cup dried lavender flowers and 5-6 drops lavender essential oil; stir well. Spoon into a clean container with a tight fitting lid. Add 1 cup to your bath as you fill the tub; soak for 15-20 minutes.

The science: Mineral baths and bath salts are perfect for relaxing sore muscles and rejuvenating the body. Lavender, in the meantime, is astringent and cleanses the skin.

Lavender body scrub

How to: Place 1 cup dried lavender flowers, 2 cups whole oatmeal and ½ cup baking soda in a food processor or blender. Grind until you have a smooth, fine powder with the consistency of whole grain flour. Store in a dry, clean container. To use, pour 1/2 cup in your bath as you fill the tub.

The science: Lavender is a relaxant, while oatmeal and baking soda are soothing to dry, sensitive skin.

Lavender body butter

How to: Combine 1⁄4 cup cocoa butter, 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, 1tablespoon coconut oil, 1 tablespoon flax seed oil, 2 tablespoons grated beeswax and 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil; gently heat until melted (in the microwave or on the stove top on low heat). Stir well and add the lavender essential oil, pour into a clean container and allow to cool completely. To use, massage into your skin, especially rough spots such as elbows, heels and knees.

The science: This rich body butter works as a potent salve to heal dry areas, soothe the skin and make it glow-y.

Lavender hair mask

How to: Crush ½ cup lavender florets; add ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar and stir well. Then stir in 1 cup applesauce and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Apply a thick layer of this paste to dry hair, pre-shampoo. Wrap your head with plastic film and cover with a towel. Relax for 8-10 minutes. Rinse well and shampoo as usual.

The science: Lavender has a gentle clarifying action on the scalp, while also helping to normalize sebum (oil) production and restoring a healthy bounce to hair.

Lavender dandruff destroyer

How to: Wet hair with warm water and towel dry. Mix 15 drops of lavender essential oil in 2 tablespoons olive or almond oil. Microwave for about 10 seconds or until it feels warm. Massage the oil into your scalp, pop on a shower cap, let set for an hour, then shampoo out.

The science: Lavender oil rejuvenates the follicles, thereby encouraging hair growth. It also kills lice and dandruff; regular use can improve your hair texture.

Lavender relaxing remedy

How to: Put a handful of dried lavender in a vase on your nightstand – or use a diffuser with lavender oil.

The science: Breathing in the smell of lavender lowers heart rate and blood pressure, putting you in a relaxed state.

Lavender sleep spray

How to: Combine ½ cup distilled water, 1 teaspoon witch hazel and 5-6 drops lavender essential oil; pour into a clean spray bottle. Spritz onto clean skin or fresh linens before going to sleep. Lavender tea can also be helpful.

The science: The scent of lavender increases alpha waves in the area of the brain responsible for relaxation. Besides this, it also shortens the length of time taken to fall asleep and helps ease you into deep, REM sleep faster.

Lavender bloat buster

How to: Sprinkle dried culinary-grade lavender on Greek yogurt.

The science: Bloating and poor digestion are usually the consequence of “bad” bacteria. The polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in lavender help reduce these bad bacteria, while increasing digestive capability and allowing food to pass through easily.

Ever used lavender in a beauty remedy? What’s YOUR secret lavender recipe?