He had none of the sins of indulgence to begin with. Lalit Kapoor was a conscious athlete and sportsperson and as a table tennis champion at IIT Kanpur, he would be on a regulated and body-building diet plan. He continued with his discipline even when he went to the US and was one of the first-movers of the tech boom, setting up companies specializing in IT services. So when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1981, it not only came as a shock but a brutal reality check.
“Though I recovered after radiation and chemo therapies, my immunity was compromised. And by the time I retired in 2005, I had developed hypertension, gout, diabetes, hypothyroidism, osteoarthritis, obesity, sleep apnea and had two surgeries. By 2012, I started looking for alternative lifestyles so that I could manage my conditions and feel better,” says Kapoor, who by then had interacted with teachers at Chinmaya Mission and found how one of them had steel cut and not rolled oats for breakfast. The documentary “Forks over Knives” convinced him to give up processed food altogether and incorporating these two changes helped him drop the kilos and swing back to his normal body weight. He bought a vegetable juicer, turned to plant foods, especially leafy greens, gave up animal protein and dairy. He devoted days and months to researching the work of Nobel Prize winners, attended online workshops by Johns Hopkins and other med school experts to understand the science of food and how the body can stay healthy in sync with Nature. He internalised each of those findings in the way he lived and ate. “Slowly and steadily, my hypertension came down, my sugar levels stayed under, and my chronic aches and pains were gone,” says Kapoor, who has now turned a diet and lifestyle coach on reversing chronic illnesses.
He began sharing his experiences, grounding them in logic, with his alumni groups on messaging platforms. Some of them started practising his regime and reported success. “The numbers grew and soon I began doing these educative workshops on understanding what your body needs, what it doesn’t and how most of our chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes are brought on by poor diet and lifestyle choices. Amend them and like me, you too would not need to be dependent on medicines. You can actually wean yourself away from them,” says the former entrepreneur.
Kapoor chanced upon a study conducted by Dr C Gopalan and Dr Madhavan Nair of the National Institute of Nutrition, called “The effect of dietary protein on carcinogenesis of aflatoxin.” Aflatoxin is a carcinogen that lab rats were exposed to in the study. They were then divided into two groups — one was fed five per cent casein while the other was fed 20 per cent. At the end of the study, rats fed 20 per cent casein had many cancerous growths and tumors. But those on five per cent casein either did not have any cancerous growth or had milder ones. However, nutritional biochemist Dr Colin Campbell referenced this study and found that plant-based protein could work to make up for extreme deficiencies and still lower the chances of disease occurrence. “The protein in mother’s milk (1.1–1.2 g/100 mL) is enough for a new-born child. In fact, we do not need as much milk when we grow up. Yet we have loaded up on animal protein as we progressed in life and have almost doubled our milk consumption over the last 50 years or so,” says Kapoor. Humans, he says, have evolved to be standing and walking for 12 to 14 hours. And plant whole foods can make you energetic enough at any age. Get rid of refined sugar and oil and junk processed food and supplements.
Kapoor fell back on the tradition of Ekadashi to fast every two weeks to detoxify his body through fasting. “Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2016 for his research on how cells can recycle and renew their content through a process called autophagy when the body is in a fasting state for 20 to 22 hours. This helps slow down the ageing process and has a positive impact on cell renewal. During this time, the cells break down proteins and other cell components and use them for energy. They even destroy viruses and bacteria and get rid of waste,” says he. “In fact, that’s the reason why Navratri happens twice a year to put us through a much-needed fasting process and a flushout through fluids,” he adds. This, he says, is borne out by a 2018 Nobel Prize-winning research which says that keeping a prolonged fast of nine to ten days, especially one low in protein, helps the body acquire immunity to major diseases like cancer.
When we sleep outdoors, the pre-dawn sky has a blue light that hits the melanopsin protein cells connected to the hypothalamus, which is connected to the pituitary gland, the master gland of our body. The hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland which activates the cortisol hormone to be released. “It is the ‘wake up and go’ stimulant hormone. High cortisol also means high sugar. Sugar is actually at the lowest level eight hours after dinner or your last meal. You can say it starts increasing at 5 am. So, this concept of fasting glucose is fundamentally flawed because your sugar levels go up with your waking up hormones. That’s why you need to rise with the sun and get more physical and active in the early part of the day. In a heavily draped room, you miss the blue light. That’s why you need tea or a caffeine shot to feel fresh,” says Kapoor. At 7 pm, the body reduces cortisol levels, releases melatonin and makes you want to go to sleep. “That’s why when this circadian rhythm gets disrupted, the body and hormones get confused. If you have dinner at 9 pm or work out at a gym after 10 pm, then the cortisol has to reactivate itself while the melatonin doesn’t know if it has to wind down. With continuous suppression, its levels get depleted,” says Kapoor. In fact, the 2017 Nobel Prize for Medicine winners Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young had shown how a gene that encodes protein accumulates in the cell during the night and is then degraded during the day. They showed how biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of all multicellular organisms, including humans. “Every cell in the body has a clock of its own, its nucleus releases a ‘per’ protein into the cytoplasm. Now the cytoplasm makes ‘tim’, another protein, This ‘tim’ picks up a ‘per’ and goes back to the nucleus. And this sets the biological clock,” says Kapoor.
Why do we need deep sleep? Our blood brain vessels are designed in concentric circles. So the lymphatic fluid is released from one blood vessel and carrier cells transport the metabolic waste into other blood vessels for flushing. If this metabolic waste or Beta-amyloids remain unflushed, they become bigger and cause dementia. “In fact, Dr Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute found out that diseases simply vanished in a trial group which ate, slept early and woke up early. This was done without changing the diet. Changing the sleep timing can thus have a long-term healing effect on your health,” says Kapoor.
Kapoor has simple tricks and tips.
1) “You should leave a curtain open, come out on your terrace and look at the rising sun. Move your eye around the sun in a 30 degree angle, clockwise and anti-clockwise for at least three times, then repeat with a 45 degree and then 60 degree angles, gradually spanning as far as your eyes can go. There is a text in the Upanishad on this. The custom of going to the river and offering flowers or the Cobra pose in Suryanamaskar are intended to make you look up at the sky.
2) Do not eat for two hours after sunrise and finish your last meal of the day by sunset or just before it gets completely dark. Working late hours in the office doesn’t mean that you have to compromise on food.
3) Do not work out in the evening, it is best done in the morning.
4) Use a blue light filter on all your devices, including laptops, cellphones, TV. Use filters for both home and street lighting.
5) Get a minimum of eight hours of sleep, avoid waking up to an alarm and make up for sleep deficits within the week.
And once all your body functions in balance, you will be happy and calm in your mind.
(Lalit M Kapoor will be conducting a session at IIT Bombay between 2 and 6 pm on October 1 at LH101. Participation is free)