Should You Build a Personalized Psoriasis Diet Plan?

While doctors have yet to identify a clear connection between diet and psoriasis symptoms, many people with the condition find that consuming certain foods increases or decreases flare-ups. Learn more about how making better dietary choices can result in psoriasis relief with the psoriasis diet.

Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune skin disease, develops when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells, resulting in a faster rate of cell production. Because the body can’t get shed the excess skin cells quickly enough, they build up, resulting in patches of swollen, red skin. Most common in people between the ages of 15 and 35, psoriasis can be an unpleasant and inconvenient condition. While researchers have yet to find concrete scientific evidence in favor of one specific psoriasis diet, Dr. Paul Yamauchi of the Dermatology Institute and Skin Care Center in Santa Monica, California believes that it can be valuable for individuals with psoriasis to explore whether consuming certain foods increases or decreases flare-ups. Learn more about how making better dietary choices can be part of an overall psoriasis treatment plan.

Building a Personalized Psoriasis Diet Plan

Treating psoriasis can be a challenge. Different medications work for different patients, and sometimes, patients stop responding to previously effective treatments. Many find that complementary therapies and lifestyle changes are an important part of a comprehensive approach to minimizing psoriasis symptoms. Though studies have not shown a clear, consistent connection between diet and symptoms of psoriasis, strong anecdotal reports indicate that the foods someone eats—or doesn’t eat—influence the frequency and severity of their psoriasis outbreaks.

What Scientific Evidence Shows About Psoriasis and Diet

Perhaps the most compelling data on the link between psoriasis and diet comes from a 2017 dietary behavioral study published in Dermatology Therapies. The goal of the study was to examine how dietary habits and interventions adopted by psoriasis patients impacted their skin. To do so, the authors administered a 61-question survey to members of the National Psoriasis Foundation. They received 1,206 responses.

Based on those responses, these foods commonly trigger psoriasis flare-ups:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Sugar
  • Tomatoes
  • Alcohol

A smaller, but still significant, number of respondents mentioned that eggs, meat, processed foods, and spicy foods caused their psoriasis symptoms to intensify.

In terms of dietary approaches that help minimize symptoms, several options appeared frequently:

  • Gluten free
  • Low carbohydrate, high protein
  • Mediterranean
  • Vegetarian

Respondents also mentioned some specific food groups that they found helped to improve their psoriasis symptoms, including:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish

Furthermore, the survey showed that 69% percent of respondents who adopted a psoriasis diet plan experienced weight loss, which scientific evidence shows can be a key part of relieving symptoms of psoriasis for overweight patients.

Learn more about how making better dietary choices can result in psoriasis relief with the psoriasis diet.

6 Foods Known to Trigger Psoriasis Flare-Ups

Removing certain foods and beverages from your diet can have a positive effect on psoriasis symptoms. Because psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, many of the dietary changes that can help you avoid flare-ups fall under the the general guidelines for an anti-inflammatory diet.

Individual bodies have varying responses to different types of food, so the best way to determine which foods trigger psoriasis flare-ups will be to experiment with eliminating one food group at a time and see how that impacts your symptoms. Here are six foods you may want to avoid.

1. Dairy

As mentioned above, psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, and research has found that dairy products—including milk and egg yolks—can increase inflammation levels in the body. Plus, anecdotal reports indicate that cutting back on dairy consumption can reduce symptoms of psoriasis.

If you do choose to include dairy in your diet, registered dietician Heather Mangieri, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommends fat-free, 1% fat, or low-fat milk, cheese, and other dairy products.

2. Gluten

According to a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, psoriasis patients have higher levels of antibodies linked to gluten sensitivity.

Gluten, a type of protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, hangs out in breads and pasta as well as other less-expected products such as processed meats and sauces. Following a gluten-free diet requires careful label reading, though as its popularity has increased in recent years, it’s become easier to find designated gluten-free products.

Keep in mind, too, that eliminating gluten doesn’t have to mean giving up baked goods and other foods that contain flour. You’ll simply have to seek out those made with alternative flours.

3. Sugar

Excess sugar consumption not only promotes inflammation, but is also a major factor behind weight gain. Individuals with psoriasis should exercise extra caution when it comes to weight gain, which can worsen symptoms of their skin condition. Plus, psoriasis raises your risk of heart disease, making it important to steer clear of other additional risk factors such as being overweight.

As with avoiding gluten, staying away from added sugar will mean paying close attention to the labels of any packaged foods you eat.

4. Tomatoes

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, which some individuals find trigger psoriasis outbreaks. Other members of the nightshade family include white potatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

Though researchers have not found a clear explanation for why tomatoes or other nightshade vegetables would worsen symptoms of psoriasis, it may be beneficial to try eliminating them one by one and noting the effect (if any) on your skin.

5. Red Meat

Studies show that red meat, like dairy, can elevate inflammation levels. This, in turn, can have a deleterious effect on psoriasis symptoms, and some individuals with psoriasis report that cutting out or cutting back on red meat improves their condition.

Additionally, fatty red meats can make you more likely to develop heart disease, and since individuals with psoriasis already have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, it’s vital to make heart-healthy choices a priority.

If you’re not ready to commit to a vegetarian diet, choose lean protein options like white-meat chicken and turkey. And if you do occasionally eat red meat, opt for less fatty cuts like flank steak or sirloin.

6. Alcohol

One of the most common psoriasis triggers, alcohol can both increase inflammation and interfere with psoriasis medications.

Some studies have found a connection between alcohol and psoriasis flare-ups. It appears that alcohol dilates the blood vessels, allowing white blood cells called T cells and other compounds found in the blood greater access to the skin, which heightens the inflammatory response that underlies psoriasis outbreaks. Alcohol also causes dehydration. Both these effects can cause psoriasis symptoms to worsen.

As if that’s not reason enough to exercise great caution when it comes to alcohol, drinking can also lessen the efficacy of psoriasis medications. It can even be dangerous to combine with certain drugs, including methotrexate.

If you’re struggling to control symptoms of psoriasis, you should certainly consider decreasing your alcohol consumption or ceasing to consume it altogether.

6 Foods That Can Help Control Symptoms of Psoriasis

Just as certain foods can contribute to psoriasis flare-ups, others may help control psoriasis symptoms. Studies have shown that specific nutrients can be beneficial for individuals with psoriasis, including antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium. An increased intake of the following foods can reportedly led to fewer flare-ups for psoriasis patients.

1. Fruits

Fruits loaded with vitamin A have been shown to improve the overall health of your skin, which has clear benefits for individuals with psoriasis. Some especially rich sources of vitamin A include:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Mango
  • Watermelon

Other fruits with notable healthful properties relevant to the treatment of psoriasis include blueberries, which contain tons of vitamin C along with manganese and fiber, and strawberries and figs, which have impressive anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Vegetables

As with the preceding category, many of the benefits here come from the anti-inflammatory effects of vegetables such as:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli

Since all types of psoriasis involve inflammation, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce symptoms.

Boosting your intake of vitamin D can also be a key part of psoriasis treatment. In fact, during the 1930s, doctors prescribed high oral doses of vitamin D, though that approach has fallen out of favor due to the accompanying side effects. A better option is to focus on vitamin D-rich foods, like dark, leafy greens and mushrooms.

3. Fish

It’s a well-known fact that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid found in some kinds of fish, can lower inflammation. Plus, according to the American Heart Association, eating fatty fish at least 2 times per week can lower your risk of heart disease.

Some good options include:

  • Albacore tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Lake trout

Given those dual benefits, individuals with psoriasis should aim to eat at least two servings of omega-3 fatty acid-laden fish weekly.

4. Seeds, Nuts, and Other Plant-Based Fat Sources

If you prefer to stick to a plant-based diet, it’s still possible to provide your body with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.

Flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are remarkably good sources of these essential fatty acids, as are walnuts. Just 1/4 of a cup of walnuts can provide more than 100% of your recommended daily allowance for omega-3s.

Other heart-healthy options for plant-based fats include olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.

5. Legumes

Eating high-fiber foods, like legumes, has been linked with lower inflammation levels and better regulation of blood sugar. Since legumes also contain antioxidants, they’re an extra-desirable source of fiber for psoriasis patients.

According to a 2015 study, adopting a diet that prioritizes the consumption of legumes can lower markers of inflammation such as CRP levels as well as decrease PASI scores (a measure of the severity of psoriasis).

6. Herbs and Spices

Some psoriasis patients find that specific herbs and spices can reduce symptoms of the skin condition. Some herbs have a long history of use as anti-inflammatory aids and immune system boosters, such as:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Evening primrose
  • Milk thistle

While some items on that list can be incorporated into your cooking, others are best taken in the form of herbal supplements. In order to take a medically significant amount, supplements may be the best option no matter what.

If you’re working around dietary restrictions, or simply need more support when it comes to managing your psoriasis symptoms, you may wish to try dietary supplements that contain nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties and other helpful effects, such as:

  • Fish oil
  • Turmeric capsules
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Milk thistle capsules
  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E

Because some studies have shown that psoriasis patients who are overweight or obese suffer more flare-ups, it’s common for health care professionals to recommend taking steps to reach or maintain an optimal weight for your body.

When it comes to weight loss, as well as minimizing the physical and mental toll of psoriasis, it can be tempting to try a fad or extreme diet. However, doing so can rob your body of the nutrients necessary for healthy living. If you decide to make major alterations to your diet, you may wish to consult with a doctor or an expert in nutrition to ensure that you won’t be causing harm while trying to heal yourself.

What Is Psoriasis? Learn About Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Understanding what leads to psoriasis outbreaks, as well as the most effective ways to alleviate symptoms, can minimize the effect this condition can have on a person’s physical well-being and overall quality of life.

Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease, affects up to 2.2% of Americans. Still, many people know next to nothing about this debilitating illness. So, what is psoriasis, anyway?

Psoriasis accelerates the life cycle of skin cells, causing a rapid buildup that results in scaling on the skin’s surface. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 7.5 million people living in the United States, mostly between the ages of 15 and 30, must deal with this potentially uncomfortable and stigmatized condition.

Understanding what factors can lead to psoriasis outbreaks, as well as the most effective ways to alleviate symptoms, can minimize the effect this condition can have on a person’s physical well-being, self-esteem, and overall quality of life.

What Is Psoriasis?

Before delving into the specifics of psoriasis causes, symptoms, and treatments, it’s important to understand the biological mechanisms that drive this skin condition.

Psoriasis, in essence, results in a sped-up production of skin cells. Under normal circumstances, the body generates skin cells within the deepest layers of the skin. Those skin cells then slowly rise to the surface of the skin, and just as slowly, they fall away to reveal new skin cells. Typically, it takes a skin cell about one month to progress through this life cycle.

For people with psoriasis, the production process of skin cells happens much, much faster. New skin cells rise to the surface in just a few days. The pace of skin cell shedding does not match the pace of production, resulting in a buildup of skin cells that form psoriatic scales.

Psoriatic scales develop in thick, red patches. Often, the area surrounding psoriatic scales also becomes red and inflamed. Sometimes, the patches will crack and bleed. Understandably, it’s not uncommon for patients with psoriasis to experience itching and pain as a result of the condition. In some cases, however, the psoriatic scales cause little physical discomfort and the primary goal of treatment is to resolve the emotional distress associated with psoriasis flares.

Although the red skin and scaling associated with psoriasis tends to develop at the joints, such as the elbows and knees, they can be found on any part of the body, including:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Lower back
  • Neck
  • Scalp
  • Face

While it’s less common, certain types of psoriasis can affect the mouth, genitals, and even the nails.

Differentiating Between the 5 Types of Psoriasis

While all forms of psoriasis result from the overproduction of skin cells, the symptoms of psoriasis vary from type to type in terms of severity, location of psoriatic outbreaks, and more. Some types of psoriasis cause mild patches while others lead to severe lesions that cover more than 5% of the total surface of the skin. It’s also possible to have more than one form of psoriasis, and getting a correct diagnosis is a key part of finding the best treatment options for your condition.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can cause red patches and scales

1. Plaque Psoriasis

The most common type of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis typically causes dry skin and raised red lesions, often covered with scaly plaques that can be painful or itchy. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 80% of individuals with psoriasis have this type. Typically, plaque psoriasis affects the elbows, knees, and scalp, however, the plaques can occur anywhere on the body.

2. Guttate Psoriasis

Most common in children and young adults, guttate psoriasis often develops after the patient has suffered a bacterial infection. Guttate psoriasis typically presents as small, pink spots shaped like water drops. Though the spots tend not to be thick or raised, during a flare-up, hundreds of small lesions form. The arms, legs, and torso are the primary sites where lesions appear, followed by the face, ears, and scalp. Experts estimate that 10% of all people with psoriasis have this form.

3. Pustular Psoriasis

The opposite of guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis is most common in adults. This form of psoriasis presents as white pustules combined with swathes of inflamed red skin. The symptoms of pustular psoriasis tend to be cyclical: first the skin turns red, then small, pus-filled blisters appear, and finally, scales form. In most cases, pustular psoriasis develops on smaller areas of the body, like the hands and feet.

There are three forms of pustular psoriasis: von Zumbusch pustular psoriasis, characterized by its abrupt appearance and sometimes accompanied by fever, chills, and dehydration; palmoplantar pustulosis, which develops on the soles of the feet and on the hands; and acropustolosis, the rarest form and one in which outbreaks are limited to the ends of the fingers and toes.

5. Inverse Psoriasis

This type of psoriasis presents as patches of smooth, shiny, inflamed red skin in the armpits, beneath the breasts, in the skinfolds around the groin, and other areas where skin-on-skin friction occurs. Because inverse psoriasis flare-ups occur selectively in areas of the body prone to sweating and rubbing, it can be particularly uncomfortable. It can also be especially challenging to treat.

5. Erythrodermic Psoriasis

This very rare and severe psoriasis type often covers large portions of the body at the same time. Flare-ups cause skin to appear almost burned. The large, sheet-like lesions tend to be incredibly itchy and painful, and to slough off in large sections. A flare-up can lead to swelling, infections, increased heart rate, and fever. This type of psoriasis can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. In some instances, hospitalization may be necessary.

As mentioned in the preceding section, psoriasis sometimes affects the nails rather than (or in addition to) the skin. Nail psoriasis can appear on the fingernails and toenails and can result in symptoms ranging from minor discoloration to abnormal growth, pitting, nail separation, and even crumbling.

Understanding the Cause of Psoriasis

Doctors don’t know exactly why certain individuals develop psoriasis, but years of research have shown that there are two primary psoriasis causes: genetics and the immune system.

Individuals with a family history of the disease are more likely to develop psoriasis, especially if a parent suffers from the condition. People who are overweight also have an elevated risk for psoriasis and plaques that develop in skin folds.

Studies have shown that roughly 10% of the population inherits at least 1 of 25 or more genetic mutations that can cause you to develop psoriasis. However, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, only 2% to 3% of the population actually develops the disease. This has led experts to conclude psoriasis only develops when a certain combination of genes become activated after exposure to a psoriasis trigger.

Common psoriasis triggers include:

Psoriasis kicks T cell-production into overdrive, eventually causing inflammation and faster-than-usual growth of skin cells, leading to psoriasis symptoms.

When someone with a genetic predisposition to psoriasis gets exposed to a trigger, the immune system responds by producing T cells, a kind of white blood cell that defends the body against infections and diseases. In patients with psoriasis, the T-cell production goes haywire and attacks healthy skin cells rather than simply targeting foreign invaders. The body responds to this attack by generating more skin cells, as well as T cells and white blood cells. The end result is skin redness, dilated blood vessels, and lesions.

10 Common Psoriasis Symptoms

Psoriasis symptoms vary from one person to the next, depending on both the type and whether it’s mild, moderate, or severe psoriasis. Most psoriasis sufferers cycle through flare-ups, in which signs of the condition are worse, as well as remission periods, in which symptoms subside.

Some of the most common symptoms of psoriasis include:

  1. Raised, inflamed red patches of skin
  2. Thick, silvery, scaly plaques
  3. Soreness around patches
  4. Cracked or dry skin
  5. Skin itching, burning, or discomfort
  6. White pustules
  7. Shiny, smooth, red lesions
  8. Numerous small, teardrop-shaped red spots
  9. Thickened, pitted, or discolored nails
  10. Swollen and stiff joints

Depending on the type, or types, of psoriasis a person has, they may experience all these symptoms, or only a few. While some patients experience relatively mild psoriasis with just a few patches of redness, others have a more serious form of the disease that regularly interferes with quality of life. Even those with severe psoriasis may experience periods of remission in which symptoms of psoriasis disappear altogether. This doesn’t mean that their psoriasis has been cured, however, and it’s still important to avoid potential triggers.

An Overview of 8 Effective Psoriasis Treatments

Treating psoriasis is a challenge, as not all patients respond to the same medications. It’s not uncommon for psoriasis sufferers to try multiple treatments before they find one that’s effective.

At this time, it is not possible to cure psoriasis, though researchers are making strides in terms of uncovering what triggers psoriasis lesions on a cellular level and how to modulate the immune system’s response to prevent flare-ups.

The current goals of psoriasis treatments are to reduce inflammation and scaling, slow the production of skin cells, and clear away plaques from the surface of the skin. With the right medication, therapy, or combination of medications and therapies, it’s possible to dramatically reduce symptoms, and in some cases, to completely eliminate them.

Psoriasis treatment options typically fall into two categories: topical treatments and systemic medications. The outliers are light therapy and alternative and complementary therapies. Here’s a brief overview of how 8 treatment options alleviate psoriasis symptoms and reduce flare-ups.

  1. Salicylic acid: A peeling agent, salicylic acid works by causing a shedding of the outer layer of skin. This over-the-counter topical treatment, one of the first-line options for mild to moderate psoriasis, is available in ointments, liquids, gels, and even shampoos. A downside is that it can result in mild skin irritation.
  2. Coal tar: Another over-the-counter, first-line topical treatment option, coal tar can be used to alleviate the itching and discomfort associated with psoriasis. Coal tar also helps the skin shed dead cells.
  3. Steroid creams: One of the principle psoriasis treatments, topical corticosterioids can reduce itching and inflammation while blocking excess cell production.
  4. Nonsteroidal topical treatments: Doctors may prescribe cacipotriene, a form of vitamin D, and tazarotene, a retinoid, to address persistent psoriasis that does not respond to other topical treatments. In some cases, they may also recommend anthralin cream, one of the original psoriasis treatments.
  5. Light therapy: By exposing the skin to ultraviolet light, it may be possible to kill the immune cells that contribute to the development of psoriasis outbreaks. The treatment can use UVB rays, a combination of UVA and UVB rays, or UVA rays in combination with an oral or topical medication called psoralen (PUVA). Also called phototherapy, this treatment must be administered by a doctor, in a psoriasis clinic, or with a specialized phototherapy unit, which can make it cost-prohibitive.
  6. Systemic medications: For individuals with psoriasis that fails to respond to topical treatments or light therapy, or those with moderate to severe psoriasis, doctors may opt to use systemics, prescription drugs that can be taken orally or by injection. These drugs affect the entire body and can come with intense side effects. Doctors usually prescribe them for short-term use. Popular drugs in this category include: cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant that slows skin cell growth), acitretin (an oral retinoid that slows the rate of skin cell growth and shedding), and methotrexate (developed to treat cancer and able to slow the growth of skin cells).
  7. Biologic drugs: Administered by injection or IV infusion, biologics contain human or animal proteins and work by blocking immune cells implicated in the development of psoriasis. At this time, all three types of biologics used to treat psoriasis shut down immune system chemical messengers called cytokines that promote inflammation. The cytokines they block are tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin 12 (IL-12), interleukin 23(IL-23), and interleukin 17-A (IL-17A).
  8. Complementary therapies: Evidence indicates that modalities such as acupuncture, massage, and Reiki can help relieve symptoms of psoriasis such as pain, as well as control environmental factors like stress that are known to trigger psoriasis flare-ups. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi also fall into this category.

Some patients see results by treating psoriasis naturally. Herbal remedies for this skin disease include apple cider vinegar, turmeric, tea tree oil, and aloe vera, among others.

Psoriasis symptoms can also be eased with a psoriasis diet. Find out what foods you can and can’t eat on the psoriasis diet in this article.

In many cases, particularly for individuals with moderate to severe psoriasis, the best results will come from a combination of treatments. Once a person finds an effective treatment regimen, they may be able to use it for life. In some cases, symptoms may stop responding to a previously effective option. It can be highly beneficial to find a trusted health care provider with experience in treating psoriasis to work with you to create a long-term plan for managing your psoriasis.

 

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can cause red patches and scales

Should You Be Worried About Mercury Poisoning from Fish?

Should you be worried about mercury poisoning from fish? If you have been cutting fish out of your diet because you are scared of mercury poisoning, the latest research might make you change your mind.

The most common type of mercury poisoning comes from eating fish, so it is no wonder that many people in the United States do not eat the recommended amount of fish and seafood because they are worried about mercury in fish. High levels of mercury can have a devastating effect on the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.

The American Heart Association and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating fish at least twice weekly and at least 8 ounces total—but only 1 in 10 Americans follow these guidelines. The average person eats 3.5 ounces of fish per week, and the number drops to an average of 2 ounces during pregnancy.

Feeling worried is natural when you read about high levels of mercury in fish, but you do not want to miss out on the health benefits of eating fish and seafood. They are great sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. So, should you be worried about mercury poisoning from fish?

The Latest Research on Mercury Poisoning from Fish

If you have been cutting fish out of your diet because you are scared of mercury poisoning, the latest research might make you change your mind.

Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in the air. Unfortunately, human industrial activity, such as electricity produced by coal and the incineration of waste, releases elemental mercury, thereby raising the levels of mercury in the air.

From the air, mercury gets into oceans, rivers, and lakes, where some microorganisms transform it into methylmercury—this is how mercury ends up in fish and shellfish. The highest concentrations of methylmercury are generally found in large predators because they are at the top of the food chain and have a longer life. Fish also contains another element, selenium, which might hold the key to protecting the brain from mercury.

Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that plays a key role in brain health. According to Nicholas Ralston, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center, the confusion about mercury and seafood comes from conflicting results from large studies on the effects of mercury on childhood brain development. A study from the Faroe Islands and another study from New Zealand found low incidences of harm from mercury exposure from seafood. Ralston spoke at the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Boston in October 2016 and said that when researchers investigated further, they found the selenium link. Selenium acts as a mercury magnet—it attracts toxic substances and reduces their damage.

Fish does not just contain mercury—it is also a great source of selenium. Flounder, tuna, and wild Pacific salmon (including Chinook, Sockeye, and Coho) have much more selenium than they do mercury. Tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, and shark, instead, have more mercury and less selenium. You’ll want to consume fish sources that are not processed to make sure you get more selenium than mercury.

Check this chart to see the levels of selenium vs. mercury in ocean fish.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women eat 8 to 12 ounces of lower mercury fish per week to foster fetal growth and child development, as well as the mother’s health.

Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning

The first signs of mercury poisoning include:

  • Anxiety and edginess
  • Mood disturbances and depression
  • Numbness
  • Memory lags
  • Tremors

As the amount of mercury in the body goes up, additional symptoms emerge, such as:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Metal taste in the mouth
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of feeling in the hands, face, or other areas
  • Changes in vision, hearing, or speech
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to walk or stand up straight

Which Fish Have the Most Mercury?

Large fish contain more mercury because they usually live longer and have more time to absorb higher levels of mercury in their bodies. The EPA recommends that you check local advisories to know the mercury content of fish in your area.

The list below shows general mercury levels of many common types of fish and how much of each type to eat, according to the National Resource Defense Council. You can also check the FDA list. The EPA, NRDC, and FDA might show slightly different results for the specific type of fish.

Low Mercury Fish

Eat two to three servings a week of the following fish. Experts advise pregnant and small children eat no more than 12 ounces or two servings.

Anchovies Whitefish Trout Haddock
Catfish Crab Croaker Hake
Clams Crawfish Flounder Herring
Scallop Shrimp Sole Squid
Mullet Salmon Oyster Sardine
Tilapia Whitefish Pollock

Fish with Modest Levels of Mercury

Eat six servings or fewer per month. We recommend that pregnant women and small children do not eat these, as high levels of mercury can damage an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.

Bass Halibut
Skate Lobster
Cod Monkfish
Carp Snapper
Perch (freshwater) Mahi Mahi
Buffalo fish

High Mercury Fish

Eat three servings or less per month. We recommend that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and small children do not eat these.

  • Bluefish
  • Grouper
  • Sea Bass
  • Mackerel
  • Croaker
  • Sablefish
  • Perch (ocean)
  • Tuna (canned albacore, yellowfin)

Fish with the Highest Mercury

The FDA recommends that you avoid:

  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna (bigeye, ahi)
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Orange roughy

How Much Mercury Is Too Much?

Scientists do not know the specific level of mercury that leads to harmful effects. Swedish biologists discovered that a small portion of the population carries a genetic mutation that makes their cells absorb mercury much longer, and it’s postulated that those people may be at higher risk.

The EPA recommends consuming a daily maximum of 0.1 micrograms of mercury for each kilogram of your body weight. That means a 176-pound adult (the national average) should eat no more than 8 micrograms of mercury each day. In practical terms, it depends on the mercury concentration you eat, but to give you an idea, the average adult could eat 13 ounces of fresh salmon per day without risks. Just 0.14 ounces of swordfish, instead, would put you over the limit.

Keep in mind that calculations made by the FDA, EPA, and NRDC are constantly under revision because mercury concentrations are rapidly changing. The amount of fish you’ll be able to consume while staying within the limits will decrease over time.

The damage from mercury toxicity is often permanent. Call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 if you think you or a loved one might have mercury poisoning.

The most common type of mercury poisoning comes from eating fish

What Is Uveitis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

What is uveitis? A form of eye inflammation, uveitis is a condition that affects the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall. Occurring in one or both eyes, uveitis can spread to other parts of the eye, including the cornea, retina, and optic nerve, and lead to blurred vision and other unpleasant symptoms.

What is uveitis?

A form of eye inflammation, uveitis is a condition that affects the uvea, which is the middle layer of tissue in the eyewall. The uvea is made up of the iris, the ciliary body, and the choroid, and contains a vast matrix of blood vessels that support the health of the eye. Uveitis can damage vital eye tissue, leading to permanent vision loss.

Occurring in one or both eyes, inflammation of the uvea can spread from the middle layer of the eye to other parts of the eye, including the cornea, retina, and optic nerve, and lead to blurred vision and other unpleasant symptoms. While not typically serious, left untreated uveitis can result in permanent loss of vision. For this reason, all eye disorders should be evaluated promptly by an ophthalmologist. By understanding the symptoms and causes of this condition, you can determine if and when to seek treatment in order to protect your eye health for the long term.

Types of Uveitis (Plus Symptoms)

Named because it often affects a part of the eye called the uvea, uveitis causes a number of symptoms that can affect patients’ vision and overall health. Signs of uveitis in one or both eyes include:

  • Eye redness
  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Floaters or dark spots in the field of vision
  • General vision issues and concerns

While some symptoms of uveitis come on suddenly, others develop gradually and worsen with time. The symptoms of the condition also vary based on the type of uveitis.

The most common form of uveitis, acute anterior uveitis accounts for swelling toward the front of the eye and can cause eye pain, vision blurring, small pupils, and light sensitivity. With intermediate uveitis, floaters or blurred vision are common signs. In cases of posterior uveitis in which inflammation and swelling occur in the back of the eye, vision loss may occur. Most common in young men, pars planitis is a type of uveitis that affects the narrowed area (pars plana) between the iris and choroid. The condition can be linked to multiple sclerosis in patients older than 25.

While some patients suffer from an acute case of uveitis, others develop a chronic form of the condition that can recur many times over the years.

Uveitis Causes

There’s no one cause of uveitis. A term for a group of inflammatory diseases that affect eye tissue, uveitis can occur as a result of an underlying eye problem or in conjunction with an inflammatory condition such as an autoimmune disorder. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis cause the immune system to launch an attack against healthy tissue. The issue can strike patients of any age, but it is most common in adults between 20 and 60.

While doctors are unable to determine the cause of uveitis in about 50% of cases, the condition may stem from any of the following:

  • Undergoing eye surgery or suffering an eye injury
  • Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, such as sarcoidosis
  • Suffering an inflammatory disorder, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Contracting an infection like cat-scratch disease, herpes zoster, or syphilis
  • Developing certain cancers that affect the eye, such as lymphoma
  • Smoking cigarettes

With treatment, healthy uveitis patients have an excellent prognosis. However, if the condition is not addressed quickly, it can lead to complications such as glaucoma, cataracts, damage to the optic nerve, and retinal detachment. In rare cases, patients may suffer permanent vision loss. For this reason, it’s important that you seek immediate care if you think you may be suffering from uveitis.

Methods for Uveitis Treatment

The goal of uveitis treatment is to resolve inflammation while alleviating pain. If tissue damage has occurred, doctors will also strive to prevent further damage and restore lost vision. The medication that’s prescribed depends in large part on the patient’s specific symptoms. Some of the most commonly recommended uveitis treatments include corticosteroid eye drops, injections in or around the eye, and immunosuppressive drugs. The latter treatment is often used when the disease occurs in both eyes.

While steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are typically effective in treating uveitis, long-term steroid use comes with significant side effects. In rare cases, patients may suffer stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Weight gain and fluid retention are also common. In most cases, doctors don’t recommend taking steroids for uveitis for longer than 3 months.

Additionally, your ophthalmologist may recommend immunosuppressive agents such as methotrexate, mycophenolate, azathioprine, and cyclosporine.

In more serious cases of uveitis, your doctor may recommend surgical intervention. The goal of treatment is to temporarily replace the gel-like vitreous humor (the tissue that fills the eyeball behind the lens) with air or gas and install a device that will slowly release corticosteroids over time. The vitreous will replace itself. Typically, this method is recommended only for patients with severe uveitis or those whose condition is caused by certain infections.

It’s not uncommon to experience pain or discomfort while being treated for uveitis. Wearing dark glasses and taking OTC painkillers can help you feel better. Ask your doctor about additional options for alleviating symptoms.

Among working adults, uveitis is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S and the world. Regular visits to an eye doctor are among the best ways to protect your vision and your health in the coming years.

Uveitis is a form an eye inflammation, a condition that affects the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall.

Syphilis: Causes, Symptoms, Cure

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Syphilis has been a health concern since as early as the 15th and 16th centuries. Symptoms of syphilis usually appear around three weeks after the infection has been contracted.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Syphilis has existed for thousands of years and has been a health concern since as early as the 15th and 16th centuries.

According to the Journal of Medicine and Life, the name syphilis comes from a fictional character of the same name in the 16th century. The character named Syphilus was created by Italian poet and physician Girolamo Fracastoro in 1530. In one of his written works, Fracastoro told the story of Syphilus, a shepherd who angered the gods of Greek mythology, specifically the god Apollo, by refusing to worship him. Apollo sought revenge by cursing the people with a horrible disease which he named syphilis, after the shepherd. As a sexual, bacterial infection began to plague the people in reality, the infection was called syphilis after the curse in the story, and the name stuck.

While the origin story of the name syphilis might be amusing, syphilis is a serious sexually transmitted infection and should be treated as soon as possible to avoid dangerous health complications.

Syphilis is fairly common in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)reported over 101,567 new cases of syphilis in 2017. Of those, over 30,644 were diagnosed in the primary and secondary stages of syphilis, when the infection is most likely to be transmitted. The CDC also noted that the majority of primary and secondary syphilis cases occurred in men who have sex with other men.

Syphilis Causes

Syphilis infections are caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. Syphilis causes sores called chancre sores to appear around the genitals, in the rectum, and in or around the mouth of those who are infected.

Syphilis is transmitted when an uninfected person comes in contact with a chancre sore while having intimate contact with an infected person. Syphilis is most often spread during its first stage because the symptoms sometimes go unnoticed or are mistaken for another condition. Syphilis bacteria cannot exist on surfaces and objects such as toilet seats and towels, so there is no need to worry about contracting syphilis through casual contact.

Syphilis Symptoms

Symptoms of syphilis usually appear around three weeks after the infection has been contracted. However, this varies from person to person. In some cases, symptoms have shown as early as 10 days and as late as 90 days after contracting the infection.

There are four stages of a syphilis infection. Each stage presents with its own set of symptoms. The four stages of syphilis include primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary, or late stage.

Primary Syphilis

The appearance of a chancre sore is usually the first sign of a syphilis infection. How quickly after infection the syphilis sore appears will vary from person to person. It will form at the site of infection, so around the genitals, anus, or mouth, depending on how the infection was contracted, and usually looks like a raised, painless sore. During the primary stage, chancre sores may also appear inside the vagina, anus, or lips of the mouth, making them difficult to see and sometimes causing the first signs of a syphilis infection to go undetected. A chancre sore appears as a single sore, not as a cluster of sores as in other sexually transmitted infections such as herpes blisters or HPV warts. The chancre sore will usually last around three to six weeks and goes away without treatment. Even though the chancre sore goes away, the syphilis infection is still present and can be spread to others.

Secondary Syphilis

Common signs of the second stage of syphilis can appear as early as 17 days after infection or as late as 6 months. The secondary stage of syphilis is marked by specific symptoms that may include:

  • A reddish-brown rash on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet
  • Rashes on other parts of the body including the head, torso, and neck
  • Moist and raised warts in the genital area and around the anus
  • Flat, round, grayish-white sores on the mouth, throat, or cervix
  • Patchy hair loss on the head or other parts of the body
  • A general feeling of malaise, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and sore throat

Latent Syphilis

In latent stage syphilis, no symptoms of the infection are present. Latent stage usually occurs 2 to 30 or more years after the infection is contracted. During the first 2 years of the latent stage, a recurrence of secondary stage syphilis symptoms is common.

Tertiary Syphilis

Tertiary stage syphilis may occur anywhere from 2 years to 30 plus years after the infection has occurred. Symptoms of late stage syphilis may include:

  • The development of small tumors called gummas on the skin, bones, liver, or other organs
  • Complications with the heart and blood vessels
  • Nervous system disorders, including blindness, insanity, and paralysis

Diagnosing Syphilis

Your health care provider will administer a series of blood tests to screen for syphilis. The rapid plasma reagin (RPR) and venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) tests are two types of blood tests that check for syphilis antibodies. If antibodies are shown, your doctor will order more tests to confirm a syphilis diagnosis. These follow-up tests will look for antibodies or for actual syphilis bacteria.

Syphilis Cure

Since syphilis is a bacterial infection, it responds to antibiotics. It is typically treated with penicillin; however, in the case of a penicillin allergy, a different antibiotic may be prescribed. In most cases, the antibiotic treatment clears the infection from the body. The American Sexual Health Association recommends taking the following steps to ensure the full effects of the treatment are reached:

  • Take medication as directed, including completing the entire course of medication.
  • Tell any sexual partners about your infection so they may be tested as well.
  • Refrain from sexual contact until you and any partners have been treated and cured.
  • If being treated for primary or secondary syphilis, get re-tested 6 months after treatment is completed and then again in 1 year.
  • If being treated for latent syphilis, get re-tested at 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months post-treatment.
  • If you have HIV, you should get re-tested for syphilis every 3 months for 2 years.

Syphilis and Pregnancy

Congenital syphilis can be transmitted through the placenta from mother to child. According to the CDC, syphilis can create complications during pregnancy, though the severity depends on how long the mother has had the infection. An active, untreated syphilis infection during pregnancy increases the chances of a stillbirth or the baby dying shortly after birth. Syphilis can also be transmitted from a woman to her baby during pregnancy. If this occurs, the baby will need immediate treatment to avoid serious complications including seizures, developmental delays, and death.

The good news is that pregnant women who test positive for syphilis can usually be treated with penicillin to prevent spreading the infection to the unborn baby. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and there is any chance you may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease such as syphilis, talk with your doctor about the proper tests and possible treatments to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Chlamydia: Causes, Signs and Treatment of This Common STI

Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, second only to HPV. It is easily spread since many people who contract the infection show no symptoms. If left untreated, chlamydia may lead to serious health concerns.

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through sexual contact, mainly vaginal and anal sex. An extremely common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, second only to HPV, chlamydia is easily spread since many people who contract the infection show no symptoms, such as abnormal vaginal discharge. Unsuspecting, they continue to have sex, spreading the bacteria to others. Chlamydia is treatable and responds to antibiotics, but if left untreated, a chlamydia infection may lead to serious health concerns.

Chlamydia Causes

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacteria named chlamydia trachomatis. This bacteria enters the body through soft, moist tissues including the:

  • Urethra
  • Vagina
  • Cervix
  • Endometrium
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Anus and rectum
  • Lining of eyelids
  • Throat (not common)

The infection spreads through sexual contact with an infected partner. It is usually transmitted through vaginal and anal sex. While it can be passed through oral sex, this is less common.

Risk factors for chlamydia include:

  • Young women under 25 who are sexually active
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Not using a condom
  • A history of STIs

Chlamydia Symptoms

Many women with chlamydia do not have symptoms and, according to the American Sexual Health Association, about 50% of men do not experience any symptoms of chlamydia. When signs of chlamydia are present, they usually begin about one to three weeks post infection. Symptoms of chlamydia may manifest differently in men and women. Common symptoms that both men and women may experience include:

  • Inflamed rectum
  • Inflamed urethra
  • Inflamed eyelid (conjunctivitis)

When women do experience symptoms, they often include:

  • Vaginal discharge with an odor
  • Burning during urination
  • Lower back pain
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Painful intercourse
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Nausea
  • Fever

When men experience symptoms of chlamydia, they often include:

  • Discharge from the penis that may appear as pus, watery or milky
  • Burning or pain during urination
  • Pain or swelling of the testicles

The symptoms of chlamydia are very similar to the symptoms of other sexually transmitted infections, specifically gonorrhea. If any unusual symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor for a full STI screening to ensure the infection is diagnosed correctly and treated in a timely manner.

Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, second only to HPV.

Chlamydia Complications

If you are sexually active, it is important to get routine screening for STIs like chlamydia. Since chlamydia often has no symptoms, many people assume they are okay when in fact they have contracted the infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chlamydia can lead to serious health problems for men and women if left untreated.

Complications for women with untreated chlamydia may include:

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), an infection of the reproductive organs that causes pelvic pain and fever
  • Infertility
  • Fallopian tube infection
  • Permanent damage to the reproductive system, including the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues
  • Reactive arthritis, affecting joints, eyes, and urethra

Additional complications for men with untreated chlamydia may include:

  • Nongonococcal urethritis (NGU), an infection of the urethra
  • Epididymitis, infection of the coiled tube next to each testicle

Chlamydia and Pregnancy

Pregnant women can pass chlamydia to their baby during childbirth, which can cause complications such as an eye infection or pneumonia in the newborn. If you are pregnant with an untreated chlamydia infection, you run the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy or premature delivery. For the reason, the CDC recommends getting tested for chlamydia on your first prenatal visit.

Diagnosing Chlamydia

Chlamydia is easily diagnosed with a urine test or swab sample taken during a routine Pap exam. Your gynecologist will take a swab of the vaginal discharge from your cervix for culture or antigen testing. Collecting a swab sample from men involves inserting a slim swab into the end of the penis or in some cases swabbing the anus.

How to Treat Chlamydia

Fortunately, chlamydia is easily treatable with antibiotics. It is important to follow all the instructions given by your health care provider to ensure that the infection is fully cleared from the body. Antibiotics are typically given as a one-time dose or a 5-10 day prescription.

The American Sexual Health Association recommends taking the following steps to ensure the infection gets fully treated:

  • Finish all medications, taking them as directed.
  • Tell your sexual partners about your infection so they may also be tested and treated.
  • Do not have sex again until you and your partners have all been treated.
  • If symptoms persist post-treatment, get tested again.
  • Women should get re-tested 3 to 4 months post-treatment due to a high rate of reinfection.
  • To avoid contracting chlamydia, use latex condoms.
  • Don’t douche! Doing so reduces the good bacteria in your vagina, leaving you vulnerable to infection.

Take the Burn out of Burning Mouth Syndrome

Are you experiencing a burning sensation in your mouth? Think you may have burning mouth syndrome? Let’s dig deeper into this uncommon condition and answer your questions about the causes, symptoms, and remedies for burning mouth syndrome.

Are you experiencing a burning sensation in your mouth? Think you may have burning mouth syndrome? Let’s dig deeper into this uncommon condition and answer your questions about the causes, symptoms, and remedies for burning mouth syndrome.

What Is Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Burning mouth syndrome, or BMS, is considered a chronic condition in which symptoms felt in the mouth come and go. The most common symptom is a burning sensation in the mouth.

The American Academy of Oral Medicine reports that burning mouth syndrome affects less than 2% of the population. Women are at a higher risk of developing burning mouth syndrome. The AAOM states that women are up to 7 times more likely than men to be diagnosed with the condition. The increased risk applies specifically to postmenopausal women and women over age 50.

Burning Mouth Syndrome Causes

There are multiple causes of burning mouth syndrome, and causes may be considered primary or secondary.

Primary Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is considered primary when symptoms cannot be attributed to any underlying health problems. This means that no health issues can be identified via physical exam or laboratory testing. Malfunctioning taste and sensory nerves of the peripheral or central nervous system are emerging as possible causes of primary burning mouth syndrome according to some studies.

Secondary Burning Mouth Syndrome

Secondary BMS is attributed to an established health issue, oral conditions or otherwise. Underlying causes of burning mouth syndrome may include:

  • Dry mouth (due to Sjogren’s syndrome, certain medications, or radiation therapy)
  • Infections of the mouth
  • Oral lichen planus (an inflammatory condition of the mouth)
  • Geographic tongue (a condition marked by smooth, red patches on the tongue)
  • Dentures (which can cause allergic reactions)
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Acid reflux
  • Medications including high blood pressure medications
  • Grinding the teeth
  • Tongue thrusting
  • Acidic drinks
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional stress
  • Nutritional deficiencies
    • Iron
    • Zinc
    • Folate (vitamin B-9)
    • Thiamin (vitamin B-1)
    • Riboflavin (vitamin B-2)
    • Pyridoxine (vitamin B-6)
    • Cobalamin (vitamin B-12)

Diagnosing Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome may be diagnosed and treated by a primary care physician or a dentist. He or she may run a series of tests, such as blood work, an oral exam, and allergy tests. There is no diagnostic test for burning mouth syndrome. The common approach to diagnosis is to first rule out other conditions that may be responsible for the symptoms. A diagnosis of burning mouth syndrome is usually made once all other possibilities have been eliminated.

Common tests used to check for health conditions that may be causing BMS symptoms include:

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC): this test checks various cell counts, including white blood cells and red blood cells, and can be used to rule out conditions such as anemia, infections, and a vitamin deficiency.
  • Additional blood tests: a blood sugar level test may be given to rule out diabetes as well as a blood test to check specific vitamin levels.
  • Allergy tests: allergy tests can help rule out allergies to food or other substances, such as substances which may be found in dentures.
  • Oral tissue sample: an oral swab may be performed to check for infections including oral thrush, a fungal infection.

Burning Mouth Syndrome Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome may be consistent or sporadic. Patients may feel symptoms every day or symptoms may come and go. Additionally, symptoms may worsen or fluctuate throughout the day.

Common symptoms of burning mouth syndrome include:

  • A burning sensation that may affect the tongue, lips, gums, palate, throat, or entire mouth
  • Dry mouth and extreme thirst
  • Changes in taste including a bitter or metallic taste
  • Loss of taste
  • A crawling sensation in the mouth

Although symptoms can manifest sporadically, a 2015 study published in The Journal of Indian Prosthodontic Society indicated that symptoms may never disappear entirely. Those who suffer from burning mouth syndrome should work closely with their physician or dentist to develop a treatment plan that will improve their quality of life when symptoms occur.

Burning Mouth Syndrome Remedies

If a patient’s burning mouth syndrome is secondary, meaning it is the result of an underlying health issue, then the patient may find relief by treating the leading health issue. Patients who have been diagnosed with secondary burning mouth syndrome should work with their physician or dentist to treat any underlying conditions and see if the burning mouth syndrome symptoms improve.

If a patient has been diagnosed with primary burning mouth syndrome, then his or her doctor or dentist may try various treatments to relieve the symptoms. These may include:

  • Oral rinses
  • Pain relievers
  • Antidepressants

Burning Mouth Syndrome Home Remedies

In addition to prescribed treatments, patients may consider trying home remedies or altering their lifestyle choices to alleviate their chronic pain and other symptoms. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggests the following home remedies for burning mouth syndrome:

  • Slowly drink or sip a cold beverage
  • Suck on ice chips
  • Chew gum
  • Avoid the following:
    • Tobacco products
    • Minty mouth rinses
    • Hot and spicy foods
    • Alcoholic beverages and alcohol containing mouthwashes
    • Acidic foods and beverages

Allergic to Peanuts? Learn About Peanut Allergy Symptoms and Treatment

While some peanut allergy reactions are mild, involving only stomach cramps, others can lead to airway constriction, throat swelling, anaphylaxis, and even death. Because of the severity of peanut allergy symptoms, if you are allergic to peanuts do not hesitate to see a doctor about treatment options.

Allergic to peanuts? A common food allergy, peanut allergies are unfortunately on the rise in this country. In fact, this food allergy now impacts nearly 2.5% of all children in the United States, though about 20% go on to outgrow their allergies. And while some peanut allergy reactions are mild, involving only stomach cramps, others can lead to airway constriction, throat swelling, anaphylaxis, and even death. Because of the severity of peanut allergy symptoms, adults and children who experience even mild reactions should not hesitate to see a doctor about treatment options.

What Causes a Peanut Allergy?

The immune system is incredibly efficient at warding off foreign viruses and bacteria that would otherwise sabotage our health. But sometimes, the immune system gets confused. In the case of a peanut allergy, the immune system views peanut proteins as a threat. To keep you safe from harm, your immune system releases chemicals into your bloodstream that cause an allergic reaction to peanuts.

Peanut products such as peanut butter, peanut flour, and peanut oil can all trigger an allergic reaction due to direct contact with peanuts. But cross-contamination, such as food processed in a facility that also manufactures peanuts, can likewise instigate an allergic reaction. Even breathing in dust or aerosols that contain peanuts can cause a flare-up. While skin contact with peanuts is unlikely to cause a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis, it can escalate if you then rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth.

What a Peanut Allergy Reaction Entails

The degree of your allergic reaction to peanuts will impact the severity of your response. For some, small amounts of peanuts can trigger a severe allergic reaction, while others will experience milder symptoms. However, it’s important to note that 90% of peanut allergy reactions happen within 20 minutes of being exposed. To that end, it’s important to seek immediate treatment if you think you may have consumed or touched peanuts or inhaled their dust.

Additionally, peanut allergies are one of the most frequent causes of food-induced anaphylaxis, which is a serious condition that can lead to loss of life. Be aware of the following anaphylaxis signs and symptoms to protect your long-term health:

  • Airway narrowing
  • Swelling of the throat that interferes with breathing
  • Drop in blood pressure as the body goes into “shock”
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness

Understanding what to expect from a peanut allergy reaction is key to protecting yourself and your loved ones.

Know Your Peanut Allergy Symptoms

Wondering if you or your child might be suffering from peanut allergies? People who are allergic to peanuts might experience the following:

  • Runny nose
  • Hives, skin redness, or swelling
  • Itching or tingling sensation in or around the mouth and throat
  • Stomach discomfort and problems, including nausea, vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

Identifying peanut allergy symptoms is the first step toward protecting your long-term health and wellness.

Testing for Food Allergies

Allergy testing starts with self-reporting, and many health care providers recommend keeping a food diary to track your symptoms and reactions to foods. If your reactions are mild, an elimination diet might be the first step to a food allergy diagnosis. First, cut out any foods you suspect might be causing your body to react. Wait at least a week—some elimination diets such as the Whole30 require 30 days before allowing for the introduction of peanuts back into your diet. As you add foods back in, see which ones trigger a reaction.

Your doctor might also perform a skin test, which is a simple prick of a needle that contains a small amount of peanut or another suspected food allergen. Skin reactions signal a peanut allergy. Blood tests can also check to see if your immune system is activated by peanuts.

Peanut Allergy Treatment

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for peanut allergies. However, scientists are increasingly studying oral desensitization treatments in which children with allergies are given small amounts of the substance in question in order to build up immunity. Exposure may be particularly valuable in babies between 4 and 11 months of age. As of yet, the FDA has not approved this therapy for widespread use. For best results, check with your doctor about whether desensitization treatments may be appropriate for you or your child.

Individuals with peanut allergies should take care to avoid eating peanuts and products containing peanuts. A peanut is actually not a tree nut at all, but a legume just like soybeans, peas, and lentils. Being allergic to peanuts doesn’t increase your risk of being allergic to other legumes (only 5% of children with a peanut allergy are also sensitive to legumes), but it does increase your likelihood of having a tree nut allergy by 25% to 40%.

Because these foods are common ones in American society, it’s important to carry an epinephrine auto-injector to use in case of exposure. Also known as an EpiPen or Twinject, this device involves a syringe and needle containing a single dose of medicine designed to prevent anaphylaxis.

Follow these auto-injector best practices to avoid serious complications related to your peanut allergy:

  • Always keep your EpiPen on your person (for example in a purse or backpack) and store an extra one in your car.
  • Remember to replace your EpiPen before it expires.
  • Ask your doctor to show you how to use the pen correctly.
  • When in doubt, use the pen if you think you may have come into contact with peanuts.

Parents should ensure that their children have EpiPens in their schools and during extracurricular activities.

peanut allergies are one of the most frequent causes of food-induced anaphylaxis, which is a serious condition that can lead to loss of life.

Proteins vs. Free Amino Acids: Which Is Easiest for Your Body to Digest and Absorb?

Here is a brief description of how the proteins you eat are broken down into the amino acids that will be delivered through the bloodstream to all the tissues and organs in the body. We’ll also cover the speed at which free amino acids can be digested and absorbed, compared to the rates of protein digestion.

Protein—and the essential amino acids it contains—serves as one of the most vital fuel sources for the human body. Protein takes on a special importance for anyone engaged in physical activity—and in particular, endurance sports. Research indicates that using protein as a fuel source can significantly increase the time it takes to reach exhaustion as well as reduce post-exercise muscle damage. However, diverting energy to metabolize protein can adversely impact athletic performance and come with unpleasant gastrointestinal effects. This leads many to wonder whether free amino acids might be a preferable fuel alternative.

In order to evaluate the relative merits and disadvantages of free amino acids and dietary proteins, you must understand the composition of both protein and amino acids, as well as how the body processes them after ingestion. In this article, we’ll first define relevant terms related to protein and amino acids, then give a brief description of the digestive processes that transform the proteins you eat into the amino acids that will be delivered through the bloodstream to all the tissues and organs in the body, and finally, we’ll cover the speed at which free amino acids can be digested and absorbed compared to the rates of protein digestion.

Understanding the Importance of Amino Acids

In scientific terms, amino acids can be defined as organic compounds containing a basic amino group (-NH2) and carboxyl group(-COOH) in combination with a side chain (R group) that varies depending on the amino acid. Researchers have identified approximately 500 naturally occurring amino acids, 20 of which can be found in the human genetic code.

In the form of proteins, amino acids form the second-largest component of human muscles and other tissues (the first is water). That’s why you’ll often see amino acids referred to as the building blocks of protein.

Amino acids play crucial roles in protein synthesis, gene expression, and the creation and function of neurotransmitters. For example, two amino acids—glutamate (standard glutamic acid) and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)—are the primary excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.

Several amino acids also carry out integral roles as metabolic intermediates. For instance, arginine (sometimes abbreviated to “arg”), citrulline, and ornithine all contribute to the urea cycle, the body’s primary mechanism for the removal of nitrogenous waste.

The Basics of Essential, Nonessential, and Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

Experts classify amino acids into numerous amino groups. The 20 amino acids coded into human DNA are known as the proteinogenic amino acids, standard amino acids, or common amino acids. The standard amino acids can be subdivided into three smaller amino groups:

  1. Essential amino acids
  2. Nonessential amino acids
  3. Conditionally essential amino acids

Nine of the standard amino acids have been determined to be “essential” because the human body cannot produce them, meaning it’s essential that you take in an adequate supply from the food you eat or from dietary supplements.

The 11 nonessential amino acids unquestionably make significant contributions to your health and well-being. They’re just as important as the essential amino acids, but because they can be generated by the human body, they’re not categorized as essential.

That said, seven of the nonessential amino acids exist in their own subgroup: the conditionally essential amino acids. While your body can produce these amino acids, under certain conditions, it becomes essential that you augment that supply.

What About Branched-Chain Amino Acids?

If you pay any attention to the world of sports nutrition, you’ve likely encountered the term branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs) before. Three essential amino acids, leucine (sometimes shortened to “leu” in scientific articles), isoleucine (or “ile”), and valine, share a characteristic branched structure.

One of the three, leucine, receives the lion’s share of the attention in the discussion about branched-chain amino acids—and for good reason. Leucine is the most abundant essential amino acid found in muscle protein, and it also serves as a regulator for protein biosynthesis.

Because metabolism of the three branched-chain amino acids is interconnected, the greatest benefits occur when all three are ingested as part of a balanced amino acid supplement. Studies show that supplementing with branched-chain amino acids can increase lean muscle mass, decrease mental fatigue, and more. It even appears that branched-chain amino acids can delay the progression of liver diseases.

Key Facts About Amino Acid Metabolism

Each of the 20 standard amino acids gets synthesized by a different metabolic pathway. The complexity of that pathway reflects the chemical makeup of the amino acid being formed. The metabolic pathway for the synthesis of an amino acid differs from the pathway by which it is catabolized, or broken down.

Some amino acids are glucogenic, meaning the body converts them into glucose, while others are ketogenic, which means the body converts them into fat.

When you consume dietary protein, the primary site for amino acid metabolism is the liver, though some specific amino acids get broken down in the kidneys or muscle tissue.

Protein molecules, in scientific terms, are polypeptide chains composed of multiple amino acids joined by peptide bonds. The number of amino acids linked together to form the polypeptide chain for a protein varies dramatically from a few dozen at the low end all the way up to the thousands. Within the polypeptide chain, each protein contains different ratios of the 20 standard amino acids.

Eating high-quality proteins is undoubtedly a healthy and effective way to deliver essential amino acids to your body. When we describe a protein source such as meat, fish, eggs, and some dairy products, vegetables, and legumes as high quality, that means it contains a good balance of amino acids with a desirable ratio of essential to nonessential amino acids.

Even the most high-quality protein sources, however, may not be ideal in terms of digestibility, absorbability, and bioavailability, all of which determine whether amino acids will be available when your body needs them most.

An Overview of the Digestive Process

The gastrointestinal tract, or gut, refers to the entire system involved in the digestion of food. It is basically a tube that starts from the mouth, extends down through the pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and intestines, and ends at the rectum and anus.

The small intestine has three sections: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. Each section has its own distinct purpose and the selective absorption of various nutrients is divided among the three.

The first part of the small intestine, the duodenum, serves as the the mixing site for many different enzymes from the stomach, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The duodenum is located between the stomach and the jejunum, the middle part of the small intestine.

The second part of the small intestine, the jejunum, is the primary site for nutrient absorption, as it is lined with enterocytes. These specialized cells are optimized for the absorption of small nutrient particles previously digested by enzymes in the duodenum.

The final and longest segment of the intestine is the ileum, where bile acids and vitamin B12 get absorbed, as well as leftover products of digestion that were not absorbed by the jejunum.

The juncture at the end of the ileum—the terminal ileum—begins the large intestine, which consists of the cecum, colon, rectum, and anus. These structures comprise the last part of the gastrointestinal tract where water is absorbed and the remaining waste material is stored as feces before being removed by defecation from the colon and the rectum.

Protein and Free Amino Acids Digestion and Absorption: Which Wins the Race?

Breaking Down Dietary Proteins

Like all foods, dietary protein must be digested and broken down to its smallest components in order to be absorbed from the gut and distributed throughout the body.

Protein and Free Amino Acids Digestion and Absorption: Which Wins the Race?

The First Phase: The Mouth, Pharynx, and Esophagus

Our body use numerous processes to break down proteins and access the nutrients they contain. The first step in that process? Chewing, a mechanical means of separating food into smaller, more digestible parts. While we chew, compounds in our saliva soften the food and begin the chemical breakdown of macronutrients.

Next, muscles in the esophagus assist in the process of swallowing food on its way to the stomach.

The Second Phase: The Stomach

Once in the stomach, the food is exposed to more chemicals and enzymes that further break it down to simpler nutrients and nutritional components. This process results in a mixture of partially digested food and water called chyme.

For our purposes, one of the enzymes food encounters in the stomach deserves to be highlighted: pepsin, the active protein-digesting enzyme of the stomach. Pepsin acts on protein molecules by breaking the peptide bonds that hold the molecules together.

Muscles that surround the lining of the stomach help to mix the food in with digestive enzymes, and a specialized sphincter (ring of muscle) controls the rate at which the chyme is introduced to the small intestine. There is also a sphincter at the top of the stomach, called the pyloric valve, that prevents food from going back up into the esophagus.

The Third Phase: The Small Intestine

Bile from the gallbladder and pancreatic juices from the pancreas are introduced to chyme in the duodenum. Digestion of protein is completed in the small intestine by the pancreatic enzymes trypsin, chymotrypsin, and carboxypeptidase. This mixture is passed onto the jejunum.

The small intestine mucosa can only transport single amino acids or short polymers of two to three amino acids known as dipeptides and tripeptides. Because the inner lining of the small intestine is quite thin, nutrients can readily pass through it into the bloodstream. The wall of this portion of the intestine is made up of folds, each of which has many tiny finger-like projections known as villi on its surface. Furthermore, the epithelial cells that line these villi possess even more microvilli, resulting in an extremely large surface area for the absorption of nutrients from food. The villi contain large numbers of capillaries that take the amino acids and glucose produced by digestion to the hepatic portal vein and the liver.

The Fourth Phase: The Large Intestine

Layers of circular and longitudinal smooth muscle enable chyme to be pushed along the ileum by waves of muscle contractions. Gut motility is the term given to the stretching and contractions of the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, and peristalsis is the term for the synchronized contraction of these muscles.

The semi-solid chyme that reaches the large intestine is comprised of fiber and non-digestible components of food. There are no villi in the large intestine, but there are bacteria that help in the final stages of digestion. Muscular contraction is a very important component of digestion throughout the small and large intestines, as it is necessary to move the chyme (and ultimately feces) through the body towards the rectum.

What Happens to Amino Acids During Protein Digestion?

Your body transports the free amino acid pool created during protein digestion, along with remaining dipeptides and tripeptides, using a process called secondary active transport. Active, in this case, means that the process requires energy, and the difference between primary and secondary active transport is the source of energy.

In primary active transport, energy is derived directly from the breakdown of ATP. The energy that fuels secondary active transport, however, comes from coupling the transport of ions along with the amino acid.

The key moment for amino acid absorption during protein digestion occurs in the jejunum. At this point, any remaining dipeptides and tripeptides are cleaved to form individual amino acids inside the enterocytes, the specialized cells that absorb small nutrient particles. Individual amino acids are then passively transported past the permeable lining of the small intestine and into the bloodstream.

The Pros and Cons of Free Amino Acids and Dietary Proteins

As we’ve discussed, intact proteins must be broken down to individual amino acids in order to be absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. Therefore, a primary difference between consuming free amino acids versus dietary proteins relates to matters of digestion.

A solution of free amino acids will be absorbed very rapidly and appear in the bloodstream within minutes, reaching peak concentrations between 30 and 40 minutes.

Dietary proteins vary quite a bit in the rate of amino acid delivery because of the other nutrients food contains; for example, fat molecules affect the digestion rate. On average, dietary proteins will release amino acids into the blood within an hour of eating, and amino acid concentrations will continue to rise up to 4 hours after a meal.

Both these patterns of digestion and absorption have their own distinct benefits. The amino acids contained in dietary proteins release more slowly into the bloodstream but result in higher concentrations of amino acids for longer periods of time. Solutions of free amino acids enter the bloodstream almost immediately, but concentrations drop more quickly. Neither is universally preferable.

Protein and Free Amino Acids Digestion and Absorption: Which Wins the Race?

Therefore, the best approach is to decide on a case-by-case basis whether dietary protein or free amino acids will best meet your needs. And in a long-term sense, you will see the greatest benefits from including both high-quality dietary proteins and balanced mixtures of essential amino acid supplements in your dietary regimen.

The Relationship Between Energy and Amino Acids

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. Likewise, when people are asked to identify a benefit from a nutritional supplement, “improved energy” is often the first thing they report. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Almost everyone, even the most energetic among us, desires more energy. So it’s no accident that energy drinks have become so popular. However, the concept of energy is somewhat vague. What does having energy really mean?

To understand the relationship between energy and amino acids, we must first distinguish between physical and mental energy. These two types of energy are clearly related, but distinct. By considering physical and mental energy separately, we can better understand the physiologic basis for each.

Energy and Amino Acids: What Fuels Our Bodies?

Physical energy requires not just fuel for our bodies but also all the necessary vitamins and cofactors—the inorganic substances needed for certain enzymes to carry out their functions—required to convert food to an energy form our cells can utilize.

Assuming all vitamins and cofactors are available, the energy necessary for physiologic functions is derived from combining carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and (in some cases) alcohol with oxygen in a process known as oxidation. These energy substrates—molecules acted on by an enzyme—can thus be considered the “fuel” of the body.

The major form of chemical energy in the body is a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Energy is released when ATP is broken down to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate.

ATP is regenerated by the metabolism of the macronutrient (food required in large amounts for optimum nutrition) energy substrates mentioned above as well as by the oxidation of amino acids.

Chemical Energy and Mitochondria

The energy needed to perform physical functions such as exercise comes from the chemical energy stored in ATP. ATP is the universal fuel used by all cells.

In general, food is digested and absorbed as its basic components (glucose and other simple sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids), which are then used for structural needs, stored away, or oxidized for energy.

The oxidation of nutrients into chemical energy involves complex biochemical pathways. The Krebs cycle, named for its discoverer, Sir Hans Adolf Krebs—and also known as the citric acid or tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle—involves a series of chemical reactions in which carbon structures derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are metabolized, with the production of ATP as a byproduct.

The TCA cycle operates inside mitochondria, which are specialized organelles within cells that are responsible for “digesting” nutrients and turning them into energy.

The energy and amino acid relationship.

Oxidation of Amino Acids for ATP Production

The majority of physical energy comes from the oxidation of fats and carbohydrates. However, every amino acid in the body can potentially be oxidized to produce ATP.

The amount of oxidation undergone by the essential amino acids (or EAAs)—the nine dietary amino acids that can’t be produced in the body and must be obtained from food—determines how much of each essential amino acid you need in a day.

The amount of protein synthesized by the body will decrease if a steady supply of EAAs is not maintained, leading to conditions such as muscle loss and impaired immune function. Therefore, any EAA that is oxidized must be replaced through the diet.

The oxidation of EAAs is important physiologically even though only a minimal amount of total energy production is derived from this process. For example, at rest, less than 10% of energy production comes from the oxidation of amino acids.

Exercise greatly increases the requirements for ATP, and part of that ATP comes from amino acid oxidation. This is one reason why the consumption of a number of whole foods and supplements, including whey protein, is recommended in the field of sports nutrition both pre-workout and post. However, amino acid oxidation does not increase uniformly during exercise.

Among the EAAs, there is a selective increase in the oxidation of leucine. However, even with the increase seen during exercise, leucine oxidation provides only about 3% to 4% of energy for ATP production. Yet leucine plays a crucial role in regulating protein synthesis and other metabolic processes, so extra leucine needs to be consumed after exercise to replace what was oxidized.

While amino acids, particularly EAAs, do not play a major role in overall energy production, there are a number of aspects of amino acid oxidation that are important for the body’s metabolic regulation. To understand the critical nature of EAA oxidation is to appreciate that the body regulates the availability of all EAAs at a relatively constant level.

Consuming a high-protein meal causes EAA availability to increase. This increased concentration of EAAs stimulates their oxidation and minimizes changes in EAA availability. By contrast, if you do not consume enough EAAs through your diet, metabolic adaptations occur that reduce the rate of EAA oxidation.

The oxidation of specific amino acids is important for the body. For example, the availability of certain amino acids depends on the oxidation of other amino acids.

Take tyrosine, for example. This amino acid is produced in the liver from the oxidation of the EAA phenylalanine. Maintaining an adequate amount of tyrosine in the blood is critical, as tyrosine is a precursor of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

Specific tissues and organs also have metabolic preferences for certain amino acids. Most prominently, glutamine (a nonessential amino acid) is a preferred substrate for the gut.

Amino Acids Augment Mitochondria

Only recently have we begun to appreciate the difference in energy levels the number of available mitochondria and their ability to operate at full capacity can make. Both amino acid supplementation and exercise are known to increase numbers of mitochondria and enhance their function.

By contrast, alcohol or drug use has been shown to induce mitochondrial defects by increasing oxidative stress and damaging mitochondrial genetic material—deoxynucleic acid, or DNA. When alcohol damages mitochondrial DNA, it impairs mitochondrial function, which further increases oxidative cell stress, leading to a vicious cycle of accumulating cell damage and decreased energy production over time.

Mental Energy: What Balances Our Brains?

Energy drinks typically contain caffeine (with a range of 6 to 242 mg of caffeine, according to Consumer Reports) and perhaps some B vitamins.

Whether used to help one wake up first thing in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up, these beverages clearly aid in sharpening concentration and increasing the body’s overall feeling of energy.

Surprisingly, when it comes to maintaining mental energy and focus, amino acids play as important a role as caffeine. In contrast to caffeine, however, amino acids impact mental energy by modulating neurotransmitters within the brain.

Many of the brain’s neurotransmitters are produced through the conversion of amino acids as they pass through the blood-brain barrier. In addition, two amino acids—glutamate and aspartate—are themselves considered neurotransmitters.

The interaction of neurotransmitters in the brain determines many aspects of behavior. To simplify a very complex system, the key determinant of mental energy is the balance between the neurotransmitters dopamine (excitatory) and serotonin (inhibitory).

The amounts of dopamine and serotonin in the brain are dependent on the availability of the precursors for their productionTyrosine is the amino acid precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan is the amino acid precursor of serotonin.

Tyrosine is also derived from the oxidation of phenylalanine. However, neither phenylalanine nor tryptophan is made in the body, as both are EAAs.

Increasing the amount of phenylalanine consumed in the diet will, via conversion to tyrosine, increase mental energy by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Conversely, increasing tryptophan consumption, such as through the use of the dietary supplement L-tryptophan, will induce a feeling of sleepiness or lack of energy by promoting serotonin production.

Amino Acid Balance and Mental and Physical Energy

Amino acids help support both physical and mental energy via a wide range of actions. While supplementation with individual amino acids may produce particular reactions, disrupting the body’s balance by consuming a single or small combination of amino acids may be counterproductive when it comes to other functions.

An amino acid supplement containing relatively high levels of phenylalanine (tyrosine is nearly insoluble and difficult to add to a dietary supplement) and low levels of tryptophan can provide mental sharpness and focus. However, an isolated increase in phenylalanine can also induce Parkinson-like symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Likewise, consumption of leucine can counter the accelerated rate of oxidation that occurs during exercise, but the use of leucine in isolation will activate the oxidation of valine and isoleucine, thereby limiting muscle protein synthesis.

Consequently, to replace the oxidized leucine and enhance post-workout muscle recovery, it is necessary to provide all three of the branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Finally, all EAAs must be available in sufficient quantities to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the metabolic basis for increased muscle growth, strength, and function.

Hence, the gold standard approach for the maintenance of both mental and physical energy involves choosing a free-form amino acid formulation that takes into account not only the direct actions of the component amino acids but also the importance of maintaining a relative balance of EAAs to sustain maximal benefit.