Amino Acids for Hair Loss

If you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing visible thinning of your hair, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense.

We lose anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hair a day, so there’s no need to be alarmed by clumps of hair in the shower drain or loose hairs on the carpet. But if you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing hair thinning, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense. After all, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is needed to grow tissue cells, including the cells that make up your hair.

Lysine and Iron for Hair Loss

Iron deficiency is the number one nutritional deficiency in the world. If your hair loss is caused by a lack of iron, there’s a chance that you may also be low in the essential amino acid lysine. Studies link hair loss to low levels of both iron and lysine. A 2002 study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology showed that when female participants supplemented with iron and lysine, hair loss decreased, but when subjects supplemented with just iron, hair loss stayed the same. Researchers note that patience is required, as the benefits of iron and lysine supplementation for hair loss may take a few months to be noticeable.

Lysine is one of nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. In addition to supporting the body’s uptake of iron, it also plays a role in zinc uptake. Low levels of zinc have been linked to pattern baldness, which accounts for 95% of hair loss in men and affects 45% of women. Lysine also helps to build collagen, a protein component of hair.

Complete proteins such as red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, cheese, cod, sardines, soybeans, nuts, legumes, and brewer’s yeast are rich in lysine. If you’re on a low-protein or vegan diet you may be at risk for not just iron and lysine deficiency, but a possible protein deficiency overall. Being deficient in even just one amino acid could accelerate hair loss. If you think you might be protein deficient, start by following the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein: 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.

Amino Acids for Healthy Hair Growth

Healthy hair depends on two amino-acid-built proteins: keratin and collagen.

Ninety percent of every strand of hair on your head is made of a tough, fibrous protein called keratin. Keratin is formed from long chains of amino acids that allow your hair to bend, twist, and turn without breaking, lending strength and elasticity to hair.

Collagen is another building block of hair. A 2016 study from Japanese researchers linked hair loss to decreased collagen near hair follicle stem cells beneath the scalp. Eating protein-rich foods and taking essential amino acid supplements can support the health of your hair by helping your body produce more keratin and collagen.

The 4 amino acids that help boost keratin hair growth are:

  • Cysteine
  • Lysine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine

The 4 amino acids that help increase collagen production are:

  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Glycine
  • Proline

But amino acids don’t stop there. They also help form red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients to hair cells. Healthy hair depends on these nutrients.

We’ve already seen how lysine can help protect against hair loss, but let’s take a look at other key amino acids for hair loss in more detail.

Arginine

Beyond producing keratin for healthy hair, arginine (or L-arginine) can help put a stop to hair loss in several ways. It’s an excellent immune enhancer, and as such provides a shield against disease-related hair loss.

Arginine is best known for boosting nitric oxide levels in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that relaxes blood vessels and opens up the potassium channels of cells, thereby improving blood flow throughout the body. By increasing nitric oxide, arginine supports optimal circulation and reinforces blood supply to the hair root, which helps boost hair growth.

Arginine has also demonstrated effectiveness as a topical agent that can help protect hair from bleaching and coloring treatments. When researchers replaced part of the ammonia in a coloring agent with arginine, hair did not sustain as much damage.

Arginine is not an essential amino acid, which means the body can make it on its own, but during times of stress or injury, arginine may become a conditionally essential amino acid (not enough arginine is being produced to meet all demands and dietary support may be called for). Arginine is abundant in dairy, fish, poultry, beef, sesame seeds, chickpeas, oatmeal, soybeans, granola, pumpkin seed, sunflower seeds, and nuts.

Cysteine

Cysteine is a nonessential amino acid that makes up a quarter of keratin. Several studies indicate that cysteine supplementation can help decrease hair loss in men and women with androgenic alopecia (pattern baldness/hair loss).

Cysteine also helps produce a very potent antioxidant called glutathione, which can help protect hair follicles from oxidative stress. Topical cysteine is considered a safe treatment for straightening hair.

To ensure adequate cysteine intake, eat dairy, pork, poultry, legumes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and grains. Taking a supplement of L-cysteine or N-acetyl cysteine can induce vomiting and other symptoms of gastric distress. Cysteine is produced from the essential amino acid methionine, and adequate methionine intake generally ensures a sufficient amount of cysteine.

Methionine

Methionine is an important amino acid necessary for the production of keratin and procollagen—the precursor of collagen. It lends structure and strength to your hair and helps to prevent hair loss by building a sulfurous network of chains.

Researchers presented the results of a study examining the efficacy of methionine as a hair loss treatment at a dermatological congress in Florence in 2006. Scientists divided 30 people into two groups. The control group took a placebo and the variable group supplemented with an amino acid preparation containing methionine and vitamin B complex. After 6 months, those supplementing with methionine had 10% more hair regrowth than participants taking the placebo. Other studies show that methionine may help slow hair thinning and greying.

Unlike arginine and cysteine, methionine is an essential amino acid that you must get from the foods you eat and the amino acid supplements you take. Methionine amino acid-rich foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Seeds
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Nuts, especially Brazil nuts

Glycine and Proline

Glycine impacts hair health because it’s central to collagen production, as is proline, which also plays a key role in cartilage production. Both are nonessential amino acids that you can find in fish, meat, dairy products, soybeans, spinach, cabbage, beans, kale, banana, kiwi, legumes, broccoli, spinach, and soybeans.

Tyrosine

In addition to thinning hair and hair loss, the color of hair might also take a hit due to stress or adrenal, thyroid, or pituitary gland dysfunction. This is where the amino acid tyrosine can come to our aid.

Tyrosine helps form melanin, which imparts color to our skin and hair. By keeping tyrosine levels adequate in the body, we can help stabilize the body’s production of melanin. Food sources of melanin include pumpkin seed, lima beans, dairy and soy products, almonds, and fish.

Important Hair-Loss Nutrients

Healthy hair depends on a nutritive diet full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition to amino acids for hair loss, the following nutrients help keep hair in lustrous condition.

  • Vitamin A supports sebum production to keep hair follicles lubricated.
  • Vitamin C is a key nutrient in collagen synthesis for strong hair.
  • Iron, silica, and zinc encourage new hair growth and protect against hair loss.
  • Vitamins E, B5, B6, B12, and folic acid improve blood circulation for better nutrient delivery to hair follicles.
  • Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 contribute to hair health by promoting circulation and cell growth.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients or an amino acid, hair is likely to feel dry and brittle and a supplement program may be in order. However, it’s important not to take hair loss supplements that target a specific nutrient if you are not deficient in that nutrient, as too much of a vitamin, such as too much vitamin A or C, can actually cause hair loss. A complete and balanced essential amino acid supplement, however, does not carry that same risk.

If you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing visible thinning of your hair, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense.

Osteopenia Treatment: Let’s Exercise Those Bones!

Roughly 33 million people over age 50 in the United States have low bone density of the hip. About 4 in 10 Caucasian females, as well as a growing number of Asian and Hispanic women, in the U.S. will suffer a bone fracture from age 50 for the remainder of their lives. Each year, approximately 1.5 million people fall victim to bone fractures due to low bone density.

These are some of the startling statistics that illustrate the severity of bone disease, and health experts predict the problem will get worse. As more people are living longer, it is estimated that by 2020 one in two Americans over 50 will be at risk of developing osteoporosis of the hip, and a larger percentage of the aging population will likely develop low bone mass density (BMD) in other skeletal areas.

What Is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia measures as a lower bone density than is normal, but it is not a disease. It is the precursor to the bone disease osteoporosis, which signals a progression of bone weakness that may result in severe bone fractures. It is important to note that not everyone who has osteopenia will develop osteoporosis. Partaking in proper exercise and eating a sound diet are just a few steps you can take to keep bones healthy and prevent lower bone density before it progresses.

Osteopenia Causes

The amount of bone mineral in the bones determines bone mineral density. The lower your bone mineral density, the higher your risk of suffering bone fractures while engaging in normal daily activities.

A bone mineral density T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 defines osteopenia. For the average person, bone density usually peaks from ages 30 to 35. Not everyone is affected by the potential for bone loss in the same way, however. The rate at which you begin losing bone mass as you age depends on several natural factors in addition to other variables.

Caucasian and Asian females tend to lose more bone mass as they age than other groups, but all aging adults are at risk. Both males over age 50 with lower testosterone levels and postmenopausal women over age 50 with lower estrogen levels are at high risk for developing osteopenia. It is estimated that 35% of postmenopausal women develop osteoporosis.

Broken bones are the primary manifestation of osteoporosis bone disease among the elderly. Common bones that break are of the spine vertebrae, hip, and forearm. Bones may become so weakened to the point where they may break even without minor stress.  

Depending on how strong your bones are early in life, you may not develop osteopenia at all or you may lose bone mass earlier and at a faster rate than you can build new bone. The denser your bones are at youth, the less likely you will develop osteopenia. Circumstances, like heavy alcohol consumption, current or prior illness, or use of certain anticonvulsant medications like phenytoin, can increase the risk for osteopenia.

While age, gender, and ethnicity are prime causal variables to consider, here are some other osteopenia risk factors:

Lifestyle causes for osteopenia:
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet and vitamin deficiencies (e.g., vitamin D, vitamin K, and calcium)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Poor exposure to sunlight
Compromising conditions that aggravate osteopenia:
  • Prior cancer treatments (e.g., chemotherapy or radiation)
  • A family history of bone disorders, such as osteoporosis, Paget’s disease, or osteomalacia
  • Removal of ovaries
  • Early menopause
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Kidney disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Thyroid disorders (e.g., hyperthyroidism)
  • Cushing syndrome
  • History of eating disorders (e.g., anorexia or bulimia)

Osteopenia Treatment

Since there are no symptoms for or pain due to low bone mass per se, it is a good idea to seek medical attention for proper osteopenia diagnosis, especially if one or more risk factors applies to you. A recurrence of minor bone fractures or clean bone breaks from minor stress are indicators that you should consider taking a bone density test, which is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry that computes bone mass levels at the hip bone region.

Treating osteopenia so that it does not progress is crucial and entails a high level of consistency. Ignoring this condition may engender fairly unpleasant consequences, including an inability to participate in normal activities, severe bone fractures, chronic pain, or disfigurement from compacted bones, such as a spine vertebrae collapse that leads to hunchback. You can prevent accelerated bone loss by making healthy lifestyle choices. Many at-risk individuals suffer worsening bone loss due to neglect, so it is important to be consistent with your bone loss prevention plan and follow the osteopenia treatment options below.

Exercise

A 2018 report published in the Journal Physical Activity and Health confirms that adults engaged in sports early in life have higher bone density than nonactive adults. This is especially true for women. But simply engaging in physical activity is not enough for osteopenia sufferers. At-risk individuals may experience bone injuries from vigorous activities and learn of their low bone mass status as a result.

Taking on the correct exercises at the appropriate intensity levels is very important. Osteopenia exercises should be weight-bearing with light-to-moderate intensity. These include training with resistance bands, tennis, running, walking, tai chi, climbing stairs, dancing, and yoga. If you have low bone density, be especially cautious of spine and hip movements. Always consult your doctor before taking on a new exercise regimen.

Osteopenia weight-bearing exercises:
  • Resistance bands
  • Tennis
  • Running
  • Walking
  • Tai Chi
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Yoga

Diet

An effective osteopenia diet should address vitamin deficiencies that induce bone loss.

Bone-nurturing essential vitamins and minerals include iron, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. Meat, seafood, spinach, and beans are good sources of iron. Leafy-green vegetables, including kale, collard greens, and mustard greens, are a go-to source for vitamin K. Vitamin C is abundant in pineapples, mangoes, papaya, and berries—like strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

Consume dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese for calcium. The dark leafy-green vegetables spinach and kale offer a considerable amount of calcium as well. Almonds, dark chocolate, whole grains, and artichokes supply magnesium for healthy bones. Consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements if you are concerned that your dietary intake of these nutrients is not sufficient.

Wheat-based foods tend to contain generous amounts of bone beneficial vitamins, like iron and magnesium. However, those at risk for osteopenia who suffer celiac disease—a gluten allergy that damages the small intestine—should avoid gluten whenever possible. A 2017 study published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics highlights a strong correlation between gluten consumption and low bone mineral density in children newly diagnosed and already diagnosed with celiac disease.

Essential bone nutrients:
  • Iron
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium

Sunlight

Your body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. Vitamin D regulates calcium function and sustains adequate phosphorus levels in the body—two functions that are crucial for maintaining strong bones. Aim to get at least 15 to 20 minutes of direct sun exposure on your bare skin daily.

Pharmaceuticals

Speak with your health practitioner about treatment options for osteopenia. If you have osteopenia or have a family history of low bone mass, certain medications may help protect bones and prevent bone loss. Medications, such as Fosamax, Reclast, and Boniva, are often prescribed to prevent bone fractures and increase bone mass.

Oxidative Stress and Bone Loss

The journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management published a recent 2018 study that implicates oxidative stress as a “fundamental mechanism in the decline of bone mass.” Oxidation occurs as a result of metabolic activity in the body. The reactive oxygen that the body produces causes damage to cells, mitochondria, and DNA. Chronic stress levels, a poor diet, cigarette smoking, and pollution are just a few things that aggravate oxidative stress.

Adhere to a sound diet full of antioxidants (e.g., vitamin C and vitamin E) and void of processed foods, sugars, toxins, and preservatives. The body produces the powerful antioxidant glutathione which is comprised of the amino acids glycine, glutamate, and cysteine. Consuming tomatoes, peaches, spinach, and walnuts promotes glutathione synthesis in the body.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude for Greater Longevity

You want longevity.

A life of vigor and exuberance.

We can relate (because really, who wouldn’t want these things?).

The problem is that these impressive ideals often times get sacrificed to reality by becoming lamentably out of reach.

But what if there was a longevity silver bullet? What if living a longer, more supple life could be (partially) achieved through developing a positive attitude?

Well, evidence suggests that this may actually be the case.

Here’s more on how cultivating a positive attitude fuels longevity.

Attitude Is Everything

You already have the power to put your bad experiences on ice. If bad things are destined to happen—it’s just a natural part of the human experience—attitude really is everything.

It’s your positive attitude (or lack of one) that determines whether the negativity from your bad experiences snowballs into something worse or gets cooly contained instead.

So choose to be cool.

Consider the concept of locus of control.

The phrase ties into a psychological social learning theory that refers to the extent to which individuals perceive having control over their lives and environment. A study in the Review of European Studies (a double-blind peer-reviewed journal) measured the impact of locus of control on the level of subjective well-being of respondents. Researchers concluded that a statistically significant relationship existed between an individual’s locus of control expectancy and their level of happiness.

In other words, those respondents who recognized their power over events (while still allowing that chance plays a role, too, in order to avoid becoming too overwhelmed by the burden of personal choice) reported relatively higher levels of contentment with their lives than did respondents who believed they had lower locusts of control.

The takeaway is simple: by choosing to believe that you have a high locus of control, you benefit.

Recognizing that you have ultimate control over your attitude and outlook doesn’t just help you feel better overall. By consistently practicing positivity, you may be able to live a longer life.  

The Science of Longevity

Centenarian studies show that people who live the longest also tend to have positive, happy takes on life. Consider data discovered by United Healthcare (UHC) compiled from an annual survey of 100 centenarians called 100@100.

In 2015 it found that among its respondents:

  • 61% viewed themselves as “very positive” people.
  • 84% found laughing and having a (good) sense of humor to be very easy.
  • Centenarians ranked having a positive attitude as more critical to their overall good health than eating healthy and regular exercise (positive attitude got 25% of the vote while eating healthy and regular exercise got 21% and 10%, respectively).

Furthermore, almost half of respondents said that maintaining a positive attitude got easier as they aged (ah, the power of habit).

So how do you stay positive, especially in a world that seems to be getting increasingly complicated? While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some practical steps you can take in order to develop and maintain a more upbeat personality.

Developing a Positive Attitude

Developing into a more positive person doesn’t have to be an exercise in futility.

Like most other things in life, all it takes is a little commitment and old-fashioned hard work (think weekly gym visits, organic food runs, and getting through those extended periods of time where your difficult mother-in-law is a houseguest).

In this same proactive spirit, here are some practical steps you can take to develop (and sustain) a more positive outlook.

Practical Steps

While life extension may be your ultimate goal, when it comes to achieving it (just like taking that initial journey into faith), you don’t have to actually see the entire staircase.

So there’s no need to get overwhelmed. Just take a few first small steps.

Here’s how to put one foot in front of the other:

  1. Drop Dead Weight. It’s difficult to be positive when external factors are weighing you down. So dump them! Rid yourself of toxic energy (and people), in order to give yourself a real shot at lasting happiness. Seriously, just drop the dead weight. With a good conscience.
  2. Me-Centered Living. The first point above becomes easier to stomach when you connect it to a me-centered philosophy of living. Far from selfish, it’s an ethos that puts you, your inner circle, and most pressing concerns first and foremost, while bypassing the compulsion to devote energy to things that fall outside this scope.
  3. Affirmations. Affirmations can be a useful tool for practicing positivity. Affirmations are a word-based system of attitude re-programming that can be practiced daily in order to help improve your outlook. What makes this approach so effective is its overall simplicity and lack of pretentiousness. As you say your affirmations in front of an audience of one, there’s no need to dress them up. Just focus on what you’re most grateful for and repeat these aloud (as many times as you’d like).
  4. Get a Hobby. Hobbies provide you with a renewable source of excitement, and those who develop theirs receive an extra shot of it each day. Hobbies are me-centered living in its purest form—so if you have the means—why not incorporate one or more of them into your daily routine? Upon doing so, you’re likely to see how nicely the concept of “routine” melts away.
  5. Have Fun! Enough said, but let’s say it a few more times to make sure it sinks in: Have fun! Have fun! (And Have Fun).
  6. A Foundation of Faith. We don’t mean to convert you to any particular religion with this sixth point; but we do love the idea of keeping the faith. Whether you choose to pin your hopes on Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or even more abstract concepts like karma, faith can keep you less anxious and more joyful. Faith gives hope a foundation to rest on. So never stop exploring your spiritual side, even if, for you, that’s a walk in nature.
  7. Get a Pet. Few things keep you more present-focused and positive than owning a pet. In fact, there’s data to prove it. In a study of pet owners and non-pet owners conducted by the American Psychological Association, the pet owners fared better, in terms of (measurable) well-being outcomes. Lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio puts it succinctly: “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and less preoccupied than non-owners.”

Positivity Is Contagious, So Get Others to Catch the Bug!

Let’s assume that you’re able to win the war against negativity; furthermore, that you’ve retired the notion that you have little or no control over your life.

You rule!

However, remember that, as you age, your peer group will either minimize or increase the positive vibes you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. So get them to join the party. After all, the true measure of a person’s positivity may very well lie in how successful they are in getting others to absorb their good vibes. By encouraging your peers to buy into the notion that they, too, have a high locus of self-control (while also underscoring the benefits of a positive outlook) you’ll make a cocktail party of the aging process.

Proven Health Benefits of Caffeine and Coffee

Perhaps the most surprising newly recognized “health food” on the block is your morning cup of coffee. Coffee (and the caffeine it provides) is enjoying a reversal from being seen as one of the bad guys in the diet and has even received an endorsement in the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Here’s a snippet of praise: “No previous DGACs have reported on coffee/caffeine consumption and health. Currently, strong evidence shows that consumption of coffee within the moderate range (3 to 5 cups per day or up to 400 mg/d caffeine) is not associated with increased long-term health risks among healthy individuals. In fact, consistent evidence indicates that coffee consumption is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in healthy adults. Moreover, moderate evidence shows a protective association between coffee/caffeine intake and risk of Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern, along with other healthful behaviors.”

Coffee and Liver Protection

Coffee also shows a strong protective effect on the liver.

Besides being the major blood-cleansing organ, the liver stores energy, fat-soluble vitamins, and other nutrients, and produces many proteins and bile. One of the simplest liver function tests is to measure levels of certain liver enzymes that appear in the blood. A damaged liver leaks these enzymes, resulting in elevated levels in the blood. Epidemiological surveys have found that regular coffee consumers have substantially lower levels of these enzymes, indicating an overall protective effect on liver health and function. Drinking coffee may also decrease the risk of liver cancer, and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and esophagus, most likely due to antioxidant properties. Because coffee is so widely consumed, it is one of the top dietary sources of antioxidants around the world, including the United States.

A thorough review of the scientific literature on caffeine and liver health showed that caffeine ingested daily as coffee was associated with improved levels of liver enzymes in individuals at risk for liver disease. A decreased risk of progression to cirrhosis and a lower mortality rate in cirrhosis patients was observed in patients who regularly drank coffee. Moreover, coffee consumption decreased the severity of fatty liver in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Many of the observations have been made in people with some degree of fatty liver or liver disease but coffee is also protective against the development of fatty liver because it helps to control the processing of glucose and fat in the liver, thereby preventing the buildup of fatty acids. Caffeine may be acting in this role along with other chemical compounds like polyphenols (naturally occurring micronutrients in plants) that are found in coffee. Based on the research, consuming up to 3 cups a day of coffee can reduce your risk of liver disease through a number of actions:

  •   Improving abnormal liver blood tests
  •   Preventing fatty liver disease by reducing insulin resistance
  •   Enhancing response to treatment for chronic hepatitis C
  •   Reducing the risk of cirrhosis due to alcohol or viral hepatitis
  •   Reducing the risk of liver cancer

Coffee and Parkinson’s Disease Prevention

Epidemiological studies have shown that higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease. Based on these observations, further studies were done to test how well caffeine could improve motor control in Parkinson’s patients.

Caffeine is a psychomotor stimulant that acts on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems by temporarily decreasing tiredness and increasing alertness. The researchers noted that sleepiness is commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease and wanted to see how caffeine could impact sleepiness. They also looked at the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as slowness of movement, muscle stiffness, shaking, and loss of balance. The people who received caffeine supplements had no adverse effects on sleepiness and showed improved motor symptoms due in part to quicker speed of movement and a reduction in overall muscle stiffness.

Caffeine vs. Brewed Coffee

It is important to distinguish between caffeine and coffee because brewed coffee is a complex beverage that is a source of vitamins, minerals, alkaloids, and phenolic compounds. Some of the health benefits attributed to coffee consumption may be due to bioactive ingredients other than caffeine. Caffeine and related alkaloids like theobromine (found in cocoa and dark chocolate) do specifically exert antioxidant activity and are in part responsible for the health benefits of coffee consumption.

Coffee itself is beneficial in terms of diminishing inflammatory markers, which may explain the diverse list of benefits observed with coffee/caffeine intake. Caffeine is the most commonly recognized active ingredient in coffee but there are many nutraceutical properties of the bean. Certain components of coffee are potent antioxidants, for example. Chemical constituents in coffee are also anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic, and chemoprotective (protective against liver cancer).

Side Effects of Coffee

Before you get too excited and start preparing for coffee to officially become the 6th Food Group, keep in mind that there can be adverse effects of caffeine/coffee consumption. Caffeine is an addictive substance since we develop tolerance to some of its effects and consequently suffer withdrawal symptoms with abstinence. Individuals vary in the degree to which they experience insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, or stomach or gastrointestinal upset after drinking coffee.

There is a great deal of confusing literature on caffeine, estrogen, and fibroids. Some epidemiological studies report associations between coffee/caffeine intake and risk of uterine or breast fibroids. It’s been proposed that increased estrogen levels caused by coffee intake lead to increased fibroid formation or worsening of symptoms. The relationship between caffeine, estrogen, and fibroids is not straightforward since age, ethnicity, and other factors influence the response.  

Bottom line, a very thorough review of the scientific literature was undertaken to develop a recommendation concerning the safety of coffee and caffeine in the diet. The preponderance of the evidence reviewed showed a number of benefits associated with greater coffee/caffeine consumption. Each individual can find the optimal amount of caffeine to enjoy the benefits and avoid any negative effects.  

How Can I Boost My Immune System? Amino Acids and Immune Function

Proper nutrition is a must for a strong immune system. Immune-boosting vitamins like zinc, copper, B vitamins, and iron are some of the key micronutrients that help keep immune function running at full strength. In fact, many multivitamins are marketed as “immune system boosters.”

The most important nutrient for optimal immune function, however, may be protein. Studies of malnourished children in developing countries demonstrated the strong link between protein intake and immunocompetence, or the ability to fight off infection and disease. Most components of the immune system defense arsenal are proteins, so it makes sense that the building blocks for these proteins, amino acids, must be in plentiful supply.

The Relationship Between Dietary Protein and Immune System Health

The immune system is made up of specialized cells and proteins. Some of these specialized cells include white blood cells such as lymphocytes (B cells and T cells) and phagocytes. Phagocytes such as macrophages and lysosomes are types of cells that engulf and absorb bacteria and other small cells and particles.

The Complement System is a part of the immune system made up of a group of proteins found in the blood that are critical in the defense against infection. Producing these specialized cells and proteins requires an abundant supply of amino acids, some of which must come from the diet. When the immune system can’t keep up with the production of these molecules, we become vulnerable to many health problems and diseases.

While very few people in the United States are “protein-malnourished,” many people may not be consuming enough high-quality proteins to obtain the amount of essential amino acids needed for optimal nutrition.

Dietary protein is broken down to provide amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body and therefore must be obtained from the diet. Nonessential amino acids can be synthesized in the body. However, under conditions of stress when the immune system is challenged, the body cannot keep up with the demand for certain amino acids so they are considered conditionally essential in that dietary sources are required to meet the demand.

How Amino Acids Can Improve Immune Function

Like all other cells, the cells that make up the immune system require energy. In fact, you might call immune system cells “energy hogs” because when they are in demand (challenged by a pathogen or disease), they require lots of energy in a hurry.

Mitochondria are the “engines” of cells and produce the energy needed to support all cellular functions. Balanced mixtures of essential amino acids have been shown to increase mitochondrial number and function. Studies show that when essential amino acids are consumed, they stimulate the production of mitochondrial proteins (a process called mitochondrial protein synthesis) including the production of enzymes, chemicals that help in immune system functions. Amino acids help improve mitochondrial function by increasing the available number of enzymes involved in energy production.

If essential amino acids are in short supply, the number of mitochondria and their ability to work at full capacity is compromised. This “energy shortage” limits the ability of the immune system to keep producing all the cells needed to fight off the threat presented by pathogens and disease.

Beyond serving as the fuel source to build up and support the defense system arsenal, mitochondria also get directly involved in killing off infected cells and helping to coordinate signals and messages sent out by the immune system. Nutrients that support mitochondria, therefore, help to improve immune function.

Glutamine and Immune Function

The amino acid glutamine plays a significant central role in maintaining immune function. Glutamine helps to create and mobilize white blood cells and aids in phagocytosis (the ingestion of bacteria or foreign material by specialized immune cells). These processes are influenced by glutamine availability and may run inefficiently if glutamine levels are low.

Immune system cells use glutamine at a high rate, particularly in stressful situations like sepsis, injury, burns, surgery, and endurance exercise. In each of these conditions, the immune system is often suppressed. Supplemental glutamine has been shown to be beneficial in maintaining immune function in these circumstances.

Arginine and Immune Function

Arginine is also important for white blood cell proliferation and functionality. These cells need certain structures on their surface in order to recognize diseased or damaged cells, and arginine is involved in the formation of the molecules that serve this purpose.  

Arginine is also involved in wound repair and is a precursor of nitric oxide. (A precursor is a substance from which another is formed.) Nitric oxide (NO) plays an important role in regulating the dilation of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure by making it easier for blood to flow. Increased blood flow to an injured area of the body is important because it helps to deliver immune cells along with extra oxygen and nutrients needed to repair the damage.

NO is also important in the activation of inflammation as part of the immune response. Macrophages and a number of other immune system cells can actually make NO, which they then use to neutralize infectious organisms.

The availability of arginine or citrulline may increase levels of NO metabolites. The amino acid citrulline helps elevate arginine levels inside the cell (another example of a precursor), thereby boosting NO.

Glutathione and Immune Function

Glutathione is an antioxidant that is produced in your body. Antioxidants work by donating electrons to free radicals, which neutralizes them before they can cause harm. In addition to its antioxidant properties, glutathione is an important anti-inflammatory and toxin “mop.” It is present in all cells and is believed to help prevent cancer.

Located in the mitochondria of the cell, glutathione is responsible for getting rid of the free radicals that occur naturally from energy-producing reactions in the cell. It prevents damage to important cellular components caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) including free radicals, peroxides, lipid peroxides, and heavy metals.

In the liver, glutathione binds to and neutralizes toxins by converting them to compounds which can be safely excreted from the body. Glutathione is recycled to some extent, but when free radicals, inflammation, and toxin levels are high, available glutathione levels decrease.

There are nutritional strategies to overcome this deficit but what would seem to be the most obvious, a glutathione supplement, is not the most efficient or effective. The reason is that glutathione is a small protein (called a peptide) made up of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. If taken orally, the stomach does what it does to proteins, which is to digest it down to its component amino acids such that glutathione itself is not absorbed intact.

Increasing blood levels of the three component amino acids is a starting point to encourage glutathione synthesis. Glycine and glutamate are nonessential amino acids and usually present in good supply. Cysteine is considered semi-essential because it can be produced in the body, but it needs methionine, an essential amino acid, as a starting point. Boosting cysteine in the cell is not an easy task. High doses of supplemental cysteine or its precursor methionine can be toxic or result in homocysteinemia, which is related to early development of heart and blood vessel disease.

Because of its unique chemical structure, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) can effectively increase cysteine levels in the cell. NAC is used for treating asthma and in the emergency room to reverse acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning. However, NAC is a medicine and therefore presents the potential for side effects including nasal irritation, vomiting, and development of a rash among other problems.

Glutathione and its constituent amino acids are naturally present in many foods, in particular cruciferous vegetables and the alliums and meat and dairy products. Whey protein is particularly rich in cysteine and overall is a very good source of all essential amino acids. These dietary sources at a minimum provide the building blocks for glutathione synthesis.

A balanced essential amino acid supplement containing methionine is an effective approach for improving immune function and glutathione levels since the methionine can be converted to cysteine in the cell, ensuring that intracellular concentrations of cysteine are plentiful.

Glutathione can be replenished more successfully when other vitamins for immune system health, such as vitamins C and E, are available in good supply, as well as folate, B vitamins, and zinc, all of which act as cofactors in the synthesis of glutathione.

A strong immune system is the key to staying healthy, and the key to a strong immune system is proper nutrition with nutrient-dense foods and high-quality proteins and amino acids. So, to answer your question—how can I boost my immune system—eat up!

Types of Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Testing and Treatment

Arthritis is a condition in which joints in the body swell and become painful. The condition sometimes becomes debilitating.

While arthritis often comes with age (as is the case with osteoarthritis), sometimes it can be caused by an autoimmune disorder or other disease-causing pathogens inside the body. Rheumatoid arthritis, for example, is the result of immune system dysfunction. It can attack a person early in life.

What is the immune system doing to cause arthritis? The immune system begins to produce antibodies to fight off what it perceives as disease. In doing so, it attacks the rubbery cushion around a person’s joints. This cushion is known as cartilage.

In more common types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis, cartilage simply becomes worn out due to normal wear and tear and aging.

In some cases, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis both can be present in the same joint. Athletes who have sustained injuries often deal with multiple forms of arthritis. Infection from an injury can complicate arthritis.

Just the thought of bone-on-bone can be painful to many. Bone-on-bone causes joints to swell and even become deformed. Often, people with arthritis lose mobility and suffer from greatly diminished quality of life. Sometimes surgery becomes necessary.

But there are ways to manage arthritis once you understand the different types of arthritis.

Types of Arthritis: Cause, Symptoms, Testing and Treatment

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects almost 30 million Americans. It is the most common form of arthritis, occurring naturally in people as they age. Certain jobs also may result in people developing osteoarthritis in certain joints.

Osteoarthritis is the result of cartilage deteriorating through wear and tear. A world-class runner may develop osteoarthritis in the knees, for example. Any job or activity that involves doing the same thing over and over can result in wear and tear on cartilage that protects a specific joint or joints.

Testing and Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Pain and swelling in the joints make arthritis pretty easy to spot. Doctors can confirm a diagnosis with X-rays or, in rare circumstances, MRI scans.

Besides taking NSAIDS (aspirin) and ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory pain reliever), many people living active lives with arthritis use nutritional supplements. Glucosamine and chondroitin are especially popular (these are compounds that make up bone cartilage). Doctors and clinical studies disagree though on whether these compounds actually work. They have been determined safe and well tolerated.

A large, multi-site study called GAIT in June 2010 showed that people taking glucosamine and chondroitin alone, or in combination with prescription medication, fared about the same as those taking prescription medication alone. However, in the same study, people with knee pain specifically tended to fare a bit better on glucosamine and chondroitin than those without.

Fish oil supplements are a popular choice for people suffering from osteoarthritis. A 2010 meta-analysis “found that fish oil significantly decreased joint tenderness and stiffness in (rheumatoid arthritis) patients and reduced or eliminated NSAID use,” according to The Arthritis Foundation. “Preliminary studies indicate it may have a similar effect on osteoarthritis.”

Over-the-counter topicals and creams also provide fast and easy pain relief.

Inflammatory Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are the most common types of arthritis caused by inflammation. In addition to autoimmune disorders and genetics playing a role, researchers believe “infectious agents, stress, cigarette smoke and hormones” may also contribute to symptoms.

Other types of inflammatory arthritis include juvenile arthritis and spondylarthropathies. All are discussed in more detail below.

The Arthritis Foundation stresses the importance of self-care for people who live with types of inflammatory arthritis.

“Self-management involves understanding and following the treatment prescribed by doctors and other healthcare providers,” the foundation explains on its website. “But it also involves making lifestyle choices and addressing both the physical and emotional effects of having a rheumatic disease like inflammatory arthritis. Self-management encompasses the choices made each day to live well and stay healthy.”

These choices may include the foods you eat, where you live and how much you exercise, and other best practices for wellness while living with a chronic condition.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, like some other forms of arthritis, tends to target a specific gender. Three-fourths of the 1.3 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis are women.

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis caused by autoimmune disorders affect young people. Rheumatoid arthritis can begin at any age, but often women are around 40 at the onset.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating when not properly managed. This is the type of arthritis known for causing “stiff joints” in the morning. Some people have a very difficult time getting moving each day.

Rheumatoid arthritis tends to target multiple joints. Morning stiffness doesn’t go away after half an hour or so. Weight loss, fever, fatigue, and weakness also are symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists still don’t know why the immune system attacks healthy cartilage in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The damaging antibodies can cause long-term damage, but treatments have come a long way.

Rheumatoid arthritis actually can be coaxed into “remission,” according to the American College of Rheumatology. “No single treatment works for all patients. Many people with RA must change their treatment at least once during their lifetime.”

Damage caused by arthritis is irreversible, and there is no cure, so it’s important to catch chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis early.

Testing and Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Doctors can check you for rheumatoid arthritis by taking blood tests. They look for anemia, a “rheumatoid factor” or antibody, protein, or other biomarker (clues in your blood that show you have the disease). Sometimes X-rays do not catch early rheumatoid arthritis.

Expensive treatments known as “biologics” have been created to treat debilitating forms of arthritis not caused by normal wear and tear. These revolutionary new medications actually are proteins that are made from genes. This genetic material convinces the immune system to leave your healthy cartilage alone and to stop creating painful and damaging inflammation.

A class of drugs known as DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) also can be used. These are given by pill or by injection into a muscle. These drugs reduce pain and help prevent joint damage.

For people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, it is important to understand signs of a flare-up. Over time, patients learn what foods or activities aggravate their disease and cause a flare-up.

Choosing which foods you eat carefully when living with a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis is important. Making healthy lifestyle choices, keeping stress to a minimum, and getting plenty of sleep also is important.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is characterized by painful swelling of the joints in the hands and feet. It often follows an outbreak of psoriasis, a skin condition.

Until the beginning of the new millennium, few therapies existed for people suffering from psoriatic arthritis. That has changed with the development of biologics.

Testing and Treatment for Psoriatic Arthritis

“Early diagnosis is important, since people who present late do not fare as well,” Italian researchers wrote in the journal F1000 Research. “There are a number of clinical, laboratory, and ultrasound features that can help identify patients destined to develop (psoriatic arthritis), and several screening tools have been developed.

“It is recognized that genetic and epigenetic factors, as well as T cells and cytokines, play a role in the pathogenesis of (psoriatic arthritis), and several targets have been identified for therapeutic interventions.”

It also is important to keep conditions that can exacerbate psoriatic arthritis at bay. These conditions include obesity, diabetes, depression, osteoporosis and many others. These comorbid conditions often can be managed effectively with diet and exercise.

“The expectation is that, in the future, (psoriatic arthritis) patients will be treated early and more aggressively and that there will not be significant progression of joint damage,” the researchers reported.

Spondylarthropathies

Think of spondyloarthritis as “spider arthritis.” It may be a fitting reminder because like a spider, spondyloarthritis is a bit menacing. It also has many ways of attacking the body.

You can also associate spiders and spondyloarthritis with boys, if you embrace that stereotype. This rare form of arthritis usually affects young men and boys in their teens and twenties.

The geographic distribution of ankylosing spondylitis is distinct. You find it most often in Alaska, but also among Native Americans in the western United States.

Spondyloarthritis comes in different forms, or spondylorarthopathies. The most common is ankylosing spondyloarthritis. This type is hereditary, and researchers have begun to map which genes are involved. HLA-B27 is one.

Many people who suffer from spondyloarthritis report low back pain. Some have problems with hands or feet.

A particularly brutal form of spondyloarthritis results in deformities. Bones are chiseled away, making movement of the shoulders and hips difficult.

Ankylosing spondyloarthritis often results in the need for spinal fusion surgery.

Another form of spondyloarthritis, enteropathic, is associated with autoimmune diseases of the bowel.

Testing and Treatment for Spondyloarthritis

Tests exist to find known genes causing spondyloarthritis. However, presence of a gene does not mean a person will develop the disease.

X-rays and other tests can be used to determine if there are changes in the spine. MRI also can be used to pick up more subtle nuances that could result in earlier detection.

Like other forms of arthritis caused by autoimmune disease, biologics often are used to treat spondyloarthritis when over-the-counter pain relievers don’t do the trick.

Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis simply refers to arthritis in children. Children usually have arthritis because of autoimmune disorders.

It is important especially in children to remain active to stave off joint pain and inflammation. Children also need to be encouraged to stay active, so they can maintain lives that are as normal as possible.

Testing and Treatment for Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis can be confirmed by blood tests and imaging scans. Treatments include the same medications as those available to adults, including DMARDs, biologics, NSAIDs, and corticosteroids.

How Essential Amino Acids Can Prevent Muscle Loss During Bed Rest

Bed rest causes muscle loss, reduced leg strength, and decreased muscle fiber function. Bed rest also induces a variety of metabolic problems, including insulin resistance and increased fat within muscle cells. Learn how essential amino acids can help prevent muscle loss during bed rest.

If you are feeling sick, one of the first things you usually do to take care of yourself is go to bed. With more serious conditions, bed rest is almost inevitable.

In an intensive care unit, virtually all patients are in bed. It is common to enforce bed rest for elderly patients in the hospital because of the risk of falls. Orthopedic surgery may not require bed rest, but usually a serious orthopedic problem is associated with inactivity, both before surgery and during recovery. What many people do not realize is that the effects of inactivity itself, and consequent muscle loss, can compound the problems caused by the pathological condition they are suffering from.

The Effects of Inactivity: It All Starts in Space

Our understanding of the effects of inactivity on muscle mass and function initially stem from the space program. Even though astronauts may be quite busy in space, the absence of gravity in effect creates a condition of inactivity. This is because on earth our actions are working against gravity, but the resistance caused by gravity is missing in the gravity-free environment of space. This results in a rapid loss of muscle mass and strength during space flight.

Astronauts returning from the early space flights had lost so much muscle function that it was not unusual for them to have difficulty walking. There was concern that the loss of muscle mass and strength would limit the ability to perform more prolonged flights in space. Consequently, NASA began sponsoring a series of studies to identify the reasons for the loss of muscle mass and strength in space flight, and the most effective countermeasures.

It was not practical for researchers on earth to study the effects of weightlessness, so a model was needed. Complete bed rest causes the same kind of muscle loss and strength declines as astronauts experienced in space. The NASA program, therefore, focused on bed rest. The results of those studies have not only identified effective countermeasures in space flight but have also given us insights into the broader issue of the effects of bed rest, per se, in clinical settings.

Bed Rest and Muscle Loss

Due to a reduced rate of muscle protein synthesis, bed rest causes a loss of lean body mass, leg strength, and decreased muscle fiber function. Bed rest also induces a variety of metabolic problems, including insulin resistance and increased fat within muscle cells.     

If you know about the changes in muscle mass and function that occur with aging, the responses to bed rest will sound familiar. Bed rest can be looked at as accelerated aging—all of the same aspects of deterioration of physical function that we see with aging also occur with bed rest, but at an even faster pace.

Bed rest in older individuals is particularly problematic. Older individuals lost as much muscle mass and function in just 10 days of bed rest as younger individuals lost in 30 days, as evidenced by a study my research team and I conducted. This study was published in JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

Bed Rest and Stress

People usually have a good reason for taking to complete bed rest. In most cases there is a stressful condition layered on the effects of bed rest. The combined effect of stress and bed rest has been examined experimentally by infusing the stress hormone cortisol throughout bed rest. While stressful clinical conditions induce many responses, an increase in cortisol is common to virtually all clinical conditions. The infusion of cortisol triples the rate of muscle loss during bed rest. There is an interactive effect between bed rest and stress, such that bed rest amplifies the catabolic response to stress.

How to Prevent Muscle Loss During Bed Rest

The most obvious countermeasure for inactivity is to be active. This is why patients are encouraged to get active as soon as possible after surgery or serious illness. However, in most cases bed rest is not a choice, but goes along with the clinical condition. It is, therefore, necessary to look at dietary options that will amplify the beneficial effects of activity, but that will also work in the absence of activity.

The requirement for dietary protein to curtail muscle loss during bed rest is significantly greater than when activity level is normal. However, adding sufficient protein to the diet to eliminate muscle loss due to inactivity is usually impractical.

In space flight, an increase in the protein content of the diet is limited by constraints on weight and food preparation. In bed-rest-restricted patients, a loss of appetite usually accompanies the catabolic response to the clinical condition. Consequently, we need to focus on a nutritional approach that provides greater benefit per gram consumed than dietary protein does.

Essential Amino Acids and Muscle Loss During Bed Rest

Essential amino acids (EAAs) are the dietary amino acids that are not produced in the body but are needed for the synthesis of all proteins in the body, including muscle protein. EAAs constitute about 30-45% of dietary proteins and are the “active components” of the protein.

Consuming EAAs stimulates muscle protein synthesis. When taken daily throughout bed rest, EAAs lessen the loss of muscle protein mass and physical strength. We discovered that the improvement in muscle strength with EAAs is in part due to an improvement in the functional capacity of the individual muscle fibers. Strikingly, the deterioration in physical function as a result of 10 days of bed rest in older individuals was completely reversed with EAA supplementation.

EAA supplementation offers a compact delivery system of the most potent stimuli of muscle protein synthesis. When taken in conjunction with exercise the effects of EAAs are amplified, but when inactivity is dictated by a clinical condition EAA supplementation still is an effective approach to minimizing the loss in muscle mass and function that would otherwise occur.

Dysthymia: Understanding Persistent Mild Depression and Seeking Treatment

Curious about dysthymia, or persistent mild depression? Dysthymia, which is less severe than major depression, entails long-term, chronic symptoms. These symptoms do not disable a person, but keep him or her from functioning well or from feeling good.

Depressive disorders, illnesses that involve the body, mood, and thoughts, affect the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. Without treatment, symptoms may last for weeks, months, or years, but most people can benefit from appropriate treatment.

Depressive disorders come in different forms. Dysthymia, which is less severe than major depression, entails long-term, chronic symptoms. These symptoms do not disable a person, but keep him or her from functioning well or from feeling good.

There is a significant impact of dysthymia on the people who have it, their families, and society. People with this form of mild depression are twice as likely to develop dementia. They may be unproductive and unable to care for themselves or others.

Dysthymia Explained

Dysthymia, which occurs by itself or in conjunction with other mood or psychiatric disorders, puts people at higher risk for anxiety and substance use disorders than major depression. More than half of people who suffer from dysthymia experience at least one episode of major depression. This condition is called double depression. In each year in the U.S., dysthymia is projected to affect 0.5% of people. As in major depression, dysthymia occurs twice as often in women as in men.

Other researchers say that dysthymia affects 3% to 6% of the population and as many as one-third of people who receive outpatient mental-health services in the United States. While older individuals are less likely to develop major depression than younger people, senior citizens appear to be more at risk for developing less severe but chronic dysthymia. Unlike the prevalence of major depression in ethnic groups in the United States, dysthymia is more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians and some Hispanic-Americans in most age groups. In the elderly, older, non-Hispanic Caucasians are thought to experience dysthymia and other depressive disorders more frequently than African-American and Asian people but with equal frequency to older Latino people. Dysthymia usually occurs along with other disorders, most often with major depression, anxiety, personality, or somatic symptom and related disorders, and alcohol or other drug abuse.

While dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD), low-grade depression, or persistent mild depression, is less severe than major depression, it is more chronic. PDD, which has many symptoms in common with other kinds of clinical depression, is a less severe but more enduring form of major depression. Usually experienced for two years or more, PDD is identified by a depressed mood that is felt most of the time.

Dysthymia Symptoms

The primary symptom of dysthymia is “low, dark, or sad mood that occurs for most of the day, for more days than not, for at least two years,” according to Psychology Today. Children and adolescents suffering from dysthymia might be more irritable than depressed. Other symptoms may include insomnia or excessive sleep, low energy or fatigue, low self-esteem, poor appetite or overeating, poor concentration or indecisiveness, and feelings of hopelessness.

PDD usually does not include the severe symptoms of major depression, such as anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), psychomotor symptoms (particularly lethargy or agitation), and thoughts of death or suicide. Symptoms, which are not a direct result of a general medical condition or substance usage, often result in impaired functioning in work, social, or personal situations.

Dysthymia is often characterized by fatigue, low energy, low self-esteem, and changes in appetite or sleep. Despite potential brief periods of normal mood, symptoms last at least two years at a time in adults and more than one year at a time in children and adolescents.

To meet criteria for the diagnosis of PDD, a person must experience depression, which can manifest itself as a loss of interest or general discontent (irritability or excessive anger in children and adolescents) most of every day, more days than not for at least two years in a row in adults, and one year for children and teens. Someone with PDD will not experience more than a two-month symptom-free period during the illness and must experience at least two of the following:

  • Loss of appetite or excessive hunger
  • Insomnia or excess sleepiness
  • Fatigue or other physical symptoms
  • Slowness in activity and thought
  • Low self-esteem/feelings of inadequacy
  • Lack of concentration or making decisions
  • Hopelessness

A person with PDD can also have major depression, but does not suffer from cyclothymia, never has the mania or hypomania of bipolar disorder, and does not have symptoms that are better explained by another mental-health problem, the effects of a medication, drug of abuse, or medical condition.

Dysthymia is a mild but long-lasting type of depression that makes a person feel inadequate and hopeless. The condition affects productivity in work or school, enjoyment of life’s normal and special activities, and the ability to have relationships. People with dysthymia are usually chronic complainers who seem to find negatives in every situation.

 

Curious about dysthymia, or persistent mild depression? Dysthymia, which is less severe than major depression, entails long-term, chronic symptoms. These symptoms do not disable a person, but keep him or her from functioning well or from feeling good.

Causes of Persistent Mild Depression

Persistent mild depression seems to be the result of a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors, along with chronic stress and trauma. Stress can influence a person’s ability to regulate mood and minimize the effect of mild sadness. Social situations, such as isolation and lack of social support, add to the development of PDD. Lack of social support is a major concern, because depression often makes people who could provide support uncomfortable, increasing isolation and exacerbating symptoms. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation can trigger PDD. Additional episodes can occur even without an apparent reason. In the case of older people, PDD might be triggered by illness, cognitive decline, bereavement, and physical disability.

Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain that are a function of an imbalance in neurotransmitters, chemicals that brain cells use to communicate. While brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), show that the brains of people with depression look different from those of people without depression, they do not explain why the depression has occurred.

Different segments of the brain of people with dysthymia respond differently to negative emotions such as fear and sadness, and to physical sensations, as compared with the brains of people without the disorder. People who develop PDD usually have a family member who also has PDD, major depression, or a personality disorder. Major stress during childhood or adulthood—neglect, abuse, or community violence without support—can trigger PDD.

Dysthymia Treatment

People with PDD can attempt to make lifestyle changes and use home/natural remedies for relieving or coping with the condition. Lifestyle changes may include getting adequate sleep, creating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, developing small goals, limiting alcohol consumption, and refraining from abusing other drugs. Homeopathic remedies include St. John’s wort and SAM-e, but people who have PDD should consult a physician before taking them.

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, dysthymia treatment might include medicine, therapy, or both. Many medicines are used to treat depression. It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for antidepressants to have appropriate impact on patients. They need to keep taking the medications, consult the healthcare provider before stopping, and consider adding or switching medicines on the advice or a physician.

The most prevalent medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), or one of the newer dual-action antidepressants like venlafaxine (Effexor). There are also tricyclic antidepressants like imipramine (Tofranil). Some antidepressant drugs have side effects. SSRIs can cause stomach upset, mild insomnia, and reduced sex drive in some patients.

Cognitive behavioral or interpersonal therapy may help people to change distorted views of themselves and their environment. Such therapy can help to improve relationship skills and identify and manage stressors.

Curious if you or someone you love has dysthymia? If you answer “yes” to several questions on this dysthymia test, you may want to consider seeking treatment.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Appendicitis

It is important to be able to recognize appendicitis symptoms and identify the early signs right away so you know to seek medical attention. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes appendicitis and the initial warnings to look out for when the illness strikes.

When severe pain strikes, it’s often difficult to pinpoint where it is coming from, what is the cause, and if you need to call your doctor. In the case of appendicitis, the sooner you get help, the better. You want to avoid the condition from snowballing into a life-threatening situation. That’s why it is important to be able to recognize appendicitis symptoms and identify the early signs right away so you know to seek medical attention. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes appendicitis and the initial warnings to look out for when the illness attacks.

What Is Your Appendix?

Your appendix is a located in your lower abdomen in the front part of your colon called the cecum. It’s a sac of tissue that resembles a worm, and while its exact purpose has been a bit of a question mark for many years, several doctors believe it aids your immune system by storing good bacteria for proper digestion. It also may give your digestive system a reboot after illnesses that involve nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Thankfully, we can survive without our appendix, so if it does become infected, it can be removed without any life-threatening consequences.

What Is Appendicitis?

Inflammation of the appendix is referred to as appendicitis. This inflammation causes a decrease in blood flow, an increase in pressure, and provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Because of the danger of the appendix rupturing, it is vital you get to the hospital as quickly as possible when appendicitis strikes. If your appendix bursts, infectious material can spread into your abdomen, creating a life-threatening situation called peritonitis in a very short period of time.

Appendicitis does not favor one age over another, but it is most often seen in people in their teens and twenties. In this country, it is the most common reason for an ER visit for abdominal pain, with over 5% of the population experiencing appendicitis at some point.

What Causes Appendicitis?

When your appendix becomes inflamed from an infection it is often due to bacteria, a blockage caused by feces or foreign matter, ulcers, or a parasite. The walls of the appendix are then invaded by bacteria, which can multiply quickly, causing the tissues to become inflamed and the infection to spread. If you do not seek medical assistance immediately, the appendix may fill with pus and burst, leaking the toxic material into your abdomen and surrounding areas.

What Are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?

Signs of appendicitis typically appear quickly and you will know to get to a doctor within 24 hours of the first symptoms. The first indication that your appendix is inflamed is severe and sudden pain in your abdomen around your belly button. As hours go by, the pain intensifies and does not subside. You may notice that simple movements, such as walking, laying down, and breathing, become extremely uncomfortable.

Other common signs of appendicitis include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent bloating
  • Severe abdomen, rectum, or back pain
  • Pain when urinating
  • Intense cramping
  • Diarrhea with gas or constipation

The first red flag may just be uncomfortable gas, but if you notice the pain begins to become more intense with no relief and other symptoms arise, get to a doctor immediately. Be sure not to drink or eat anything, apply heat, or use any over-the-counter medications like pain medicine or antacids, since doing so could raise your risk of rupturing an infected appendix.

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and perform a thorough physical exam to make sure you are not experiencing another condition, since symptoms can be similar to those of urinary tract infections, gallbladder issues, Crohn’s disease, or a blockage of the intestines.

How Is Appendicitis Diagnosed?

Appendicitis is diagnosed from exam results and your current symptoms. Blood tests may be ordered to look for an infection—an increased white blood cell count can indicate your body’s reaction to bacteria. An X-ray and CT scan will likely be performed on your pelvis and abdomen to get a closer look at potential inflammation, blockages, or other issues. An ultrasound can also be used, especially if it is a child experiencing stomach pain.

How Is Appendicitis Treated?

Identifying appendicitis as early as possible and receiving treatment is essential for preventing further complications. In mild cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. As the infection clears, the inflammation in the appendix and any additional symptoms should begin to disappear. In most situations where the appendix hasn’t burst, however, surgery is the more frequent method of treating appendicitis. Called an appendectomy, this surgical procedure removes the appendix through an incision in the belly button. Most people recover from surgery within a few weeks and can return to school, work, and normal activities.

If your appendix ruptures, surgery is more complicated, requiring an invasive method to clear the abdomen and surrounding tissues of any infection that may have spread. In both cases of appendicitis, antibiotics are given prior to surgery and for a period of time afterwards.

If you notice any signs of appendicitis or suspect there may be an issue, get to a hospital as soon as possible for necessary medical attention and treatment. Being prompt can reduce the risk of a rupture and prevent the situation from becoming much worse.

Signs of Early Heart Disease

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart disease kills about 610,000 people in the United States every year. Signs of early heart disease include fatigue and shortness of breath—everyday activities can become challenging.

Your heart delivers oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body’s cells—when this vital organ is not pumping as well as it should be, heart failure occurs.

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. There are two types of heart failure. In systolic heart failure the heart muscle is weakened so that it cannot pump out all the blood that has filled the heart in the interval after the last heart beat. In heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, the muscles of the heart can contract adequately, but they don’t relax fully after each beat. This limits the amount of blood that can fill the heart before the next beat.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease kills about 610,000 people in the United States every year. Signs of early heart disease include fatigue and shortness of breath—everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs can become challenging.

Your heart tries to react to the failure in different ways using temporary measures to mask the problem. It stretches to contract and pump more blood, develops stronger, thicker heart muscle, and pumps faster. The body also tries to compensate by narrowing the blood vessels to keep blood pressure up and divert the blood away from “less important” organs and towards the heart and brain. Eventually, these temporary measures fail because the body cannot keep up. These mechanisms help explain why some people may not be aware of their condition for many years.

Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease symptoms depend on the type of heart disease, and they might be different for men and women. The Heart Failure Society of America developed a handy tool that goes by the acronym FACES to help people detect heart disease.

F = Fatigue. When the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, the person will often get tired and drained.

A = Activity limitation. A person with heart failure struggles to perform normal activities such as walking or climbing stairs because shortness of breath occurs.

C = Congestion. Fluid accumulated in the lungs can cause coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulty.

E = Edema. When the heart does not pump with enough force, fluid accumulates in the ankles, legs, thighs, and abdomen—excess fluid can also cause rapid weight gain.

S = Shortness of breath. The fluid accumulated in the lungs makes it more difficult for carbon dioxide to be exchanged for fresh oxygen. This causes shortness of breath.

Other symptoms include chest pain, chest tightness, numbness, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back.

It is important to mention that, by themselves, these symptoms do not confirm a diagnosis of heart failure, but you should watch for signs of cardiovascular distress and discuss concerns with your doctor if you experience any of the conditions mentioned above. Additional symptoms might occur depending on the specific heart disease.

Congestive Heart Disease

Congestive heart disease, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), is a chronic condition that affects the pumping force of your heart muscles. Congestive heart disease is a type of heart failure—it refers to the stage in which fluid accumulates around the heart and affects its pumping power.

You have four heart chambers: the right atrium, the right ventricle, the left atrium, and the left ventricle. The ventricles pump blood to your body’s organs, while the atria receive blood circulating back from your body. Congestive heart disease develops when your ventricles cannot pump enough blood to cover the volume of your body. Left-sided congestive heart failure is the most common type; it occurs when your left ventricle cannot properly pump blood to your body. As the disease progresses, fluid accumulates in your lungs making breathing difficult.

There are two kinds of left-sided heart failure:

Systolic heart failure: This disease occurs when the left ventricle fails to contract normally, reducing the power of the heart, which cannot push blood into circulation.

Diastolic heart failure: This disease happens when the muscle in the left ventricle becomes stiff because it can no longer relax. The result is that the heart cannot fill with blood between beats.

Right-sided heart failure, instead, occurs when the right ventricle struggles to pump blood to your lungs. Blood accumulates in your blood vessels, causing fluid retention in your lower extremities, abdomen, and other vital organs. It is possible to have left-sided and right-sided heart disease at the same time. When this happens, usually, the failure starts in the left side and expands to the right when the disease is left untreated. Congestive heart failure may result from other health conditions including:

  • Hypertension: When your blood pressure is higher than normal, congestive heart disease might occur. One of the causes of hypertension is the narrowing of your arteries, which makes it hard for your blood to go through them.
  • Coronary artery diseaseCoronaries are the small arteries that supply blood to the heart. Cholesterol and other types of fatty substances can block the coronary arteries, causing the arteries to become narrow. This can result in a restriction of your blood flow and can damage your arteries.
  • Valve conditions: Heart valves regulate blood flow through your heart by opening and closing to allow the passage of the blood through the chambers. If valves do not open and close properly, ventricles have to work harder to pump blood.
  • Other conditions: Heart-related diseases can lead to congestive heart failure, but there are other unrelated conditions that may increase your risk. These include diabetes, thyroid disease, and obesity. Severe infections and allergies may also contribute to congestive heart failure.