What You Should Know About Serotonin Syndrome

When it comes to serotonin, too much of a good thing can be quite dangerous. Serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters in your brain, playing crucial roles in the proper functioning of nerve and brain cells as well as influencing your mood. When too much serotonin accumulates in your system, a condition called serotonin syndrome sets in. And if you don’t receive a rapid diagnosis and treatment, serotonin syndrome can kill you.

What Is Serotonin Syndrome?

Serotonin, a chemical produced by your nerve cells, is a key signal transmitter. It helps regulate bodily functions including:

  • Digestion
  • Blood flow
  • Body temperature
  • Breathing

Serotonin is created from the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot produce it on its own and you must get an adequate intake from your diet or by adding supplements. Tryptophan is found in foods like nuts, cheese, and red meat. If you develop a tryptophan deficiency, your serotonin levels drop, resulting in mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

Because it’s important not to let your serotonin levels get too low, there are a number of prescription medications designed to raise your serotonin levels. In some cases, taking a combination of prescription medications—for example, one that treats depression and one that relieves migraine headaches—can cause excessively high levels of serotonin. That condition is known as serotonin syndrome.

Serotonin syndrome typically occurs after starting a new medication that influences your serotonin levels. It can also arise if you increase the dosage of a medication. Depending on how high your serotonin levels rise, serotonin syndrome symptoms range from almost unnoticeable to quite severe. Symptoms can affect your brain, muscles, and other body parts. In the absence of prompt medical attention, serotonin syndrome can be fatal.

What Causes Serotonin Syndrome?

As we discussed, serotonin syndrome occurs when you combine two or more medications that increase your serotonin levels. Those medications may be ones prescribed to you by your doctor, or nutritional supplements, or even certain illicit drugs.

A number of antidepressants and migraine medications affect your serotonin levels. Some kinds of antibiotics, treatments for nausea and pain, and antivirals used to treat HIV and AIDS can also cause your serotonin levels to rise.

Here are five categories of drugs and supplements that have been linked to serotonin syndrome.

What you should know about serotonin syndrome.

1. Antidepressants

Because depression is so strongly connected to your serotonin levels, practically every antidepressant on the market has some effect on serotonin. Some antidepressants associated with serotonin syndrome include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Many of the best-known antidepressant medications, such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa, fall into this class of drugs.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Similar to SSRIs, but also affecting a second neurotransmitter (norepinephrine), some popular options from this category are Effexor, Cymbalta, and Pristiq.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): This older class of antidepressants has largely been phased out, but drugs like Nardil and Marplan are still used under certain circumstances.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): Another less-common class of drugs, TCAs used in the United States includes Elavil, Norpramin, and Sinequan.

2. Migraine Medications

One specific type of migraine medication, those in the triptan drug class, can also cause serotonin syndrome. Triptan migraine medications include:

  • Almotriptan: Sold under the brand name Axert.
  • Naratriptan: Sold under the brand name Amerge.
  • Sumatriptan: Sold under the brand name Imitrex.

These are typically the first medications doctors will prescribe for patients with moderate to severe migraines. Although they present a risk for serotonin syndrome on their own, much more caution is required when used in combination with antidepressants or opioids.

3. Illicit Drugs

A number of controlled substances have also been shown to lead to serotonin syndrome. Those drugs include:

  • LSD: At high doses, this psychedelic—famous for the way it alters your visual and auditory perception, as well as thought patterns—can be quite dangerous.
  • Magic mushrooms: In addition to serotonin syndrome, high doses of this hallucinogen have been linked to derealization (feeling that the world around you isn’t real), extended trips, and risky behavior.
  • MDMA: The active ingredient in ecstasy and molly, this drug can permanently change the way your serotonin receptors work.
  • Cocaine: Typically, this drug won’t cause serotonin syndrome on its own, but case reports indicate that it can when combined with antidepressants or other drugs that affect serotonin levels.
  • Amphetamines: Both legal and illegal amphetamines, such as Adderall, speed, and crystal methamphetamine, can produce serotonin syndrome when paired with other substances that also increase serotonin levels.

4. Herbal Supplements

Some herbal supplements used to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety can contribute to serotonin syndrome. Those supplements include:

  • St. John’s wort
  • Ginseng
  • Turmeric
  • Nutmeg

While none of these have been found to produce serotonin syndrome on their own, they can when combined with other serotonin-raising substances.

5. Cold and Cough Medications

A few cold and cough medications that include dextromethorphan, an amphetamine, as an ingredient, have also been associated with serotonin syndrome. Those medications include:

  • Robitussin DM
  • Delsym
  • NyQuil
  • Dimetapp

As with the herbal supplements listed above, it would be highly unusual for anyone to take a high enough dose of these cough and cold medications to result in serotonin syndrome. When combined with an antidepressant, however, it’s quite possible.

15 Symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome, from Mild to Severe

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome typically set in within a few hours. Sometimes, it takes only minutes. Some more mild warning signs to watch for are:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea

If serotonin levels are allowed to rise unchecked, you may also experience:

  • Muscle spasms and rigidity
  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Hallucinations
  • Over-responsive reflexes
  • Dilated pupils

In severe cases, the following may occur:

  • Seizures
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma

What you should know about serotonin syndrome.

Natural Ways to Balance Your Serotonin Levels

Since the amino acid tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, many researchers are interested in how tryptophan and other amino acids can be used to balance serotonin levels.

The way neurotransmitters like serotonin operate is intricate and interconnected. That’s why changes to the levels of one neurotransmitter can have such far-reaching effects. Rather than focusing exclusively on your serotonin levels, it can be more beneficial to concentrate on optimizing and balancing the levels of all your neurotransmitters by feeding your brain with a consistent supply of vital nutrients.

According to the work of a team of researchers at the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, the foods you eat can affect your neurotransmitter levels—and consequently, your mood and overall health—in a variety of ways. One of the most influential connections, they found, was the one between amino acids and mood disorders.

The human body uses three amino acids, tryptophan (as we’ve discussed), phenylalanine, and tyrosine, to generate three major neurotransmitters: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. As the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation team explained, deficiencies in those three neurotransmitters are known to increase your likelihood of developing depression and anxiety.

For some people, simply eating a diet loaded with foods rich in amino acids will be enough to keep your neurotransmitter levels balanced and healthy. For others, it can be beneficial to use supplements to give those levels a boost.

Rather than taking single amino supplements to try to influence one particular neurotransmitter, however, you should look for a high-quality essential amino acid supplement. Like neurotransmitters, amino acids work together in complex ways. When you offer your body an ideal amount of all of them, you set yourself up for the greatest health rewards.

Vaginal Yeast Infection Symptoms Plus Conventional Treatments, Natural Remedies and Prevention Tips

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaginal yeast infections are caused by the fungus Candida. Candida typically co-exists on, and in, the human body without causing a problem but in some cases it multiplies, leading to Candida overgrowth or a fungal infection. When a fungal infection occurs inside the vagina, it is medically referred to as vaginal candidiasis.

What Is Candida?

Candida is the overall genus of yeasts (or fungi) that cause fungal infections called candidiasis. According to the CDC, there are more than 20 species of Candida that can cause infections in humans. The most common is Candida albicans.

Vaginal Yeast Infection Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a yeast infection in a woman? If you’ve never experienced a vaginal yeast infection before, check your symptoms with those listed below, and see your doctor for an examination. Common vaginal yeast infection symptoms include:

  • Vaginal itch
  • Vaginal soreness
  • Thick vaginal discharge, similar in consistency to cottage cheese
  • Burning sensation around the vaginal opening, irritated by urine
  • Redness in or around the vagina
  • Pain or discomfort during sexual contact
  • Symptoms that tend to worsen the longer you have a yeast infection

Vaginal Yeast Infection Causes

How did I get a yeast infection? Generally speaking, vaginal yeast infections are caused when the healthy bacteria in your vagina is overcome by Candidas albicans or another Candidas species, causing an imbalance. The following conditions are associated with an increased risk of developing vaginal yeast infections:

  • Pregnancy
  • Impaired immune system
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Chemotherapy
  • Use of immunosuppressant drugs
  • Steroid use and abuse
  • Antibiotic use
  • Increased estrogen levels due to hormones and medications
  • Hormonal contraceptives including birth control pills
  • Diabetes
  • Sexual activity
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Hot, humid weather

Do you get recurrent vaginal yeast infections?

Conventional Treatments for Vaginal Yeast Infections

Can a yeast infection go away on its own? Typically, no. Vaginal yeast infections likely will require some sort of intervention in the form of an over-the-counter medication or a prescription.

How long does a yeast infection last? It really depends on the severity of infection, how you treat it, and how quickly you treat it.

If you have an underlying condition that is making you more susceptible to fungal infections including thrush, vaginal yeast infections, and cutaneous candidiasis, the infections can be difficult to cure, and infections may recur frequently. The first time you experience vaginal yeast infection symptoms, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and to rule out a sexually transmitted disease, bacterial vaginosis, and allergies before self-medicating with an over-the-counter (OTC) vaginal yeast infection medication.

Most vaginal yeast infections respond well to OTC yeast infection medications when directions on the packaging are followed precisely and when a yeast infection is treated promptly. There are scores of yeast infection creams and suppositories available including:

  • Butoconazole (Femstat): An OTC antifungal vaginal yeast infection cream that reduces itching, burning, and discharge by stopping the growth of the fungus.
  • Clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin): An OTC antifungal cream inserted into the vagina for 3 to 7 days, and it is applied topically around the vagina twice a day for 7 days to kill the fungus.
  • Miconazole (Monistat and Vagistat-1): An OTC medication available in a vaginal cream or an oral tablet. If symptoms do not improve within a week, consult your doctor.

For more severe infections or if you want to know how to get rid of a yeast infection in 24 hours, you will need to talk to your doctor about the powerful antifungal drug available by prescription only—Fluconazole.

Fluconazole (Diflucan) is an oral yeast infection pill typically prescribed in a single dose for serious or recurrent vaginal yeast infections, thrush, candida esophagitis, candida infections in the digestive tract, and cryptococcal meningitis. Fluconazole is also prescribed to patients receiving radiation treatment for cancer and to bone marrow transplant recipients. This antifungal medicine interacts with many medications. Be sure to speak to your doctor about all prescription and OTC medications as well as any supplements you take before using Fluconazole or Diflucan.

Natural Remedies for Vaginal Yeast Infections

Some complementary health professionals encourage a “candida cleanse“ that eliminates foods with yeast, refined sugar, white flour, and cheese to cure a yeast infection at home. But, Brent A. Mauer, M.D. from the Mayo Clinic states that there is little scientific evidence and no clinical trials to support a candida cleanse. Dr. Mauer does note, however, that removing processed foods from your diet may improve how you feel.

With that said, there are natural home remedies you can employ to help you manage symptoms, balance bacteria, and boost your immune system.

Do you get recurrent vaginal yeast infections?

1. Eat Probiotic-Rich Foods and Take a Probiotic Supplement

Yeast infections, including vaginal yeast infections, are caused when the friendly bacteria is overwhelmed by harmful fungus. Probiotics can help to restore order and balance to your system. Kefir, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are all great options for increasing the healthy bacteria in your body.

2. Boost Your Immune System with Vitamins

The top way to naturally boost your immune system is through raising levels of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in your body. Of course, vitamin C is the first vitamin that comes to mind to aid the immune system, but other nutrients play just as important a role in immune system health.

Zinc, for example, fights free radicals and may fight infections while decreasing oxidative stress in the body. A vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of developing infections and increasing vitamin D levels through food and sunshine may strengthen the immune system.

But one of the real stars for immune system health are amino acids. Researchers from Canada have identified that the health of the intestine and the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, are vital to the immune system and that amino acids are essential for optimizing immune function. The authors of the study identify glutamine, glutamate, and arginine as primary amino acids for immune system health and say that methionine, cysteine, and threonine may provide support as well.

3. Avoid Food Allergens

When your body is under attack from a virus, bacteria, or fungus, it is essential to remove foods from your diet that further weaken your overall health. Food intolerances and allergies cause the immune system to react; with a vaginal yeast infection, you need your immune system focused on the infectious invader, not a food.

4. Add Coconut Oil to Your Diet and Apply It to Your Skin!

Coconut oil contains powerful antimicrobial properties, and researchers have found that coconut oil fights several strains of candida, in some cases as well as fluconazole does. A laboratory study published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods showed that Candida albicans was the most susceptible yeast species to coconut oil in the trial.

Adding coconut oil to your diet is easy—swap out butter and other oils for coconut oil, and aim for at least 1 tablespoon a day. You can also apply coconut oil around your vagina to fight the fungus externally. But please don’t fall prey to bad advice online—never put coconut oil on a tampon and insert it into your vagina—that is just a bad idea!

How to Prevent Vaginal Yeast Infections

Most vaginal yeast infections are preventable when they aren’t part of a more systemic imbalance in your body. Here are the best ways to prevent common vaginal yeast infections.

1. Keep Skin Clean and Dry

Fungus thrives in areas that are warm and damp, including skin folds, between the legs, and the vagina. After a shower or workout, be sure to dry yourself completely. If you live in an area with high humidity, consider standing in front of a fan or using your hair dryer on its coolest setting to speed drying.

2. Wear Clothing That Breathes and Wicks Away Moisture

Pantyhose, tight underwear and pants, and clothes that trap moisture against your body can cause fungus to thrive! When you must wear tight clothes or clothes made from polyester or other non-breathable fabrics, change out of them as soon as possible to keep fungus from growing.

3. Manage Blood Sugar Levels

If you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, do your best to avoid dramatic spikes and falls in your blood sugar. A low-glycemic diet may help to keep your blood glucose levels steady and limit the sugar the fungus in your system needs to thrive. When you have a vaginal yeast infection, aim for eating low GI foods primarily, and add a few medium GI foods from time to time. The key is to eliminate high GI foods including potatoes, white flour, white rice, and refined sugars.

4. Change Sanitary Pads and Tampons Frequently

During your menstrual cycle, when you are more susceptible to a yeast infection due to hormonal fluctuations, it is important to change tampons and sanitary pads frequently. Do your best to stay as clean and dry as possible, using gentle soaps and cleansers that won’t disrupt the friendly bacteria in your vagina.

5. Don’t Douche

Douches are not the solution to fight a vaginal infection! In fact, they often target the healthy bacteria that manages your vagina’s overall health and keeps fungus or harmful bacteria from taking up residence in your vagina.

6. Wipe from Front to Back After a Bowel Movement

Wiping from front to back after a bowel movement is perhaps one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against a vaginal yeast infection. Fungus and bacteria live in the bowel, and they can spread to the vagina if you aren’t careful.

Where Else Can Yeast Infections Strike?

Yeast infections aren’t limited to just the vagina—in fact, yeast infections can occur virtually anywhere in the body. According to Harvard Medical School, yeast infections or candidiasis can affect the following body parts.

Mouth

A yeast infection of the mouth and throat is called thrush. Signs of thrush include irritation and white patches around the lips, inside the cheeks, on the tongue, and the palate. Generally, thrush is not painful, but if the infection worsens it may cause areas of the mouth to become red and inflamed.

Esophagus

When a yeast infection spreads from the mouth to the esophagus, it is called Esophagitis candida. Esophagitis can make it difficult or painful to swallow, and it may even cause chest pain or pain behind the sternum.

Skin

Skin yeast infections are called cutaneous candidiasis. Cutaneous candidiasis can occur under breasts, between the legs and toes, in folds of skin, and as diaper rash. The symptoms of skin yeast infections include a foul odor and skin that is tender to the touch, itchy, red, moist, and possibly weepy. Athlete’s foot, jock itch, candidiasis of the nails, and diaper rash fall into this category.

Bloodstream

When a fungal infection invades the bloodstream it is called deep candidiasis, invasive candidiasis, or systemic candidiasis. Deep candidiasis is a severe infection that may require hospitalization for intravenous delivery of antifungal medications. Fungi can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart, brain, eyes, and bones. The fungus enters the body through surgical wounds, catheters, ventilation tubes, or tracheostomy sites. The symptoms of this severe fungal infection include unexplained fever, shock, and multiple organ failure.

Do you get recurrent vaginal yeast infections?

Vaginal Yeast Infection Precautions

What will happen if a yeast infection is left untreated? The infection will likely worsen, and if you scratch your skin, other infections may develop due to bacteria or even sexually transmitted diseases.

Consult with your doctor if you experience recurrent yeast infections to determine if hormone imbalances, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, or medications may be making you more prone to yeast infections.

Yeast infections aren’t considered an STD because you can get infected without having sex—but the fungus can be transmitted during sexual contact according to the Office on Women’s Health. If you have a vaginal yeast infection or thrush, it is essential to practice safe sex and use condoms and dental dams to prevent spreading the yeast infection to your partner.

Are You Undermining Your Health by Eating These 7 Foods That Cause Inflammation?

The foods you eat can seriously impact inflammation levels in your body. Some foods help to quell out-of-control inflammation while others fan the flames. In this article, we’ll discuss how to reduce inflammation in the body, the health risks of inflammation, and seven foods that cause inflammation.

How Do You Reduce Inflammation in Your Body?

In the short term, inflammation can be your body’s way of protecting itself from injury or sickness. When your immune system recognizes anything foreign—which ranges from plant pollen to invading microbes—it often uses inflammation to fight back against what registers as a threat. This type of inflammation can actually be healing.

But when inflammation lingers, either after the threat has been resolved or when the threat was a false alarm to begin with, it can be quite damaging. Sustained, chronic inflammation is the opposite of healing. Studies have linked chronic inflammation to arthritis, heart disease, depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and more.

When it comes to how you reduce inflammation in your body, your diet is one of the most powerful tools you have. “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet loaded with beneficial compounds—including amino acids—can be a wonderful way to lower inflammation in your body. Both nonessential amino acids and essential amino acids fight inflammation in a variety of ways.

While amino-acid rich foods decrease inflammation, other foods accelerate it. Avoiding those inflammatory foods is just as important as adding healthful options to your diet.

The Health Risks of Inflammatory Foods

A wealth of research has made it clear that eating certain foods can cause inflammation levels in the body to spike. When looking over a list of inflammatory foods, you’ll soon realize that practically most of the items on that list are known health saboteurs, like soda and processed meats.

Beware of these 7 foods that cause inflammation.

“Some of the foods that have been associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease are also associated with excess inflammation,” Dr. Hu said. “It’s not surprising, since inflammation is an important underlying mechanism for the development of these diseases.”

Many unhealthy, inflammatory foods have been linked to weight gain, which can also increase inflammation in your body. When researchers factor out that weight gain, however, the link between the foods and higher levels of inflammation remains.

According to Hu, that indicates certain components of the foods have independent effects on inflammation separate from their tendency to lead to weight gain.

7 Foods That Cause Inflammation

Each entry on this inflammatory foods list has been linked to adverse health effects by thorough, high-quality research. For some, it’s safe to consume moderate amounts, but easy to overindulge and get yourself into trouble. For others. It’s best to stay away altogether.

Beware of these 7 foods that cause inflammation.

1. Sugar

The two main types of added sugar in the Western diet are table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Both these added sugars can increase inflammation, which subsequently increases your risk of a number of adverse health conditions.

According to a study published in Food & Function, eating a diet that contains high concentrations of fructose or sucrose, the two main components of sugar, can dramatically increase inflammation. The researchers found that it also adversely affected carbohydrate metabolism and antioxidant levels.

Another study investigated whether increased inflammation was the driving factor behind the established link between excessive sugar intake and breast cancer. The researchers found that: “sucrose intake in mice comparable with levels of Western diets led to increased tumor growth and metastasis.” They determined that effect had to do with inflammation-related changes to enzyme signalling.

And it appears that you can’t use healthy foods to undo the damage caused by unhealthy ones. In fact, the reverse may be true. A study published in PLoS One found that a high-sugar diet actually cancelled out the anti-inflammatory impact of omega-3 fatty acids!

2. Artificial Trans Fats

Created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats, which are liquid, in order to give them more stability, artificial trans fats are just plain bad for you.

Often appearing on ingredient lists as “partially hydrogenated” oils, these unhealthy fats with a long shelf life can be found in margarine as well as numerous other processed foods. A number of large, high-quality studies have shown that artificial trans fats cause inflammation.

Findings published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that artificial trans fat intake raises markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP). Participants who ate the most trans fats had 78% higher levels of CRP than other participants. The researchers carefully controlled for other factors related to inflammation, such as age, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking status, alcohol consumption, postmenopausal hormone therapy, and intake of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fatty acids.

Other studies confirm this link. A randomized, cross-over study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that increasing your intake of trans fats raised inflammation levels. And a randomized trial that focused specifically on how trans fats affect women’s health found that consuming artificial trans fats activates the tumor necrosis factor system, a known driver of inflammation.

3. Fried Foods

Surely it comes as no surprise that fried foods aren’t good for you. What you might not realize, however, is just how far-reaching the adverse health effects of eating French fries and other deep-fried foods can be.

“Research has shown that individuals who eat a diet high in deep-fried foods show a higher prevalence of inflammatory markers,” said Dr. Obianuju Helen Okoye, a public health physician and healthcare consultant based in St. Louis, MO.

A 2017 study that analyzed data from 5,083 participants found that eating fried foods was one of the dietary choices that led to chronic, low-grade inflammation. And that inflammation, in turn, increased the likelihood that participants would develop cognitive decline.

4. Refined Carbohydrates

Not all carbs are problematic, but refined carbohydrates definitely promote inflammation. One reason for that is most of their fiber has been removed. The fiber in unrefined, complex carbohydrate-dense foods promotes fullness, improves blood sugar control, and nourishes the helpful bacteria in your gut. Eating simple, refined carbohydrates on the other hand can, research shows, increase inflammation and spur insulin resistance.

A study that followed 1,490 women and 1,245 men for 13 years looked at how carbohydrate consumption influenced their chances of developing diseases linked to inflammation. Participants who reported the highest intake of refined carbohydrates and other high glycemic index (GI) foods were 2.9 times more likely to die of an inflammatory disease compared to those with the lowest intake.

5. Soda

Research indicates that even indulging in a soda on occasion can damage your health. Given that research has shown soda can increase your risk of chronic inflammatory diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, a team of scientists set out to track how soda intake affects your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), another condition caused by underlying inflammation.

After analyzing data from 186,900 participants who had tracked their soda consumption over several decades, the team found that consuming less than a single serving of soda daily increased their risk of developing RA by 63% compared to those who did not drink soda or who drank less than a serving a month.

6. Processed Meat

Studies have shown that eating processed meat makes you more likely to develop a whole host of diseases linked to inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, stomach cancer, and colon cancer.

Popular types of processed meat such as sausage, bacon, ham, and beef jerky contain high levels of a type of compound called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. Research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and elsewhere shows that AGEs, which form when meats and certain other foods that are high in fat and protein are cooked at high temperatures, can significantly increase inflammation and oxidative stress.

So far, the evidence linking processed meat intake and the development of colon cancer is the strongest. According to findings published in 2016, both epidemiological and experimental studies provide “overwhelming support” for the hypothesis that diets high in processed meats elevate your risk for colon cancer. And a primary reason for that, the authors note, is because eating processed meats leads to a higher inflammatory response.

7. Alcohol

Drinking the occasional glass of wine is unlikely to cause health problems, and may even provide some health benefits. But when the amount of alcohol you drink increases, the benefits disappear and negative effects begin to accumulate.

A study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, the official journal of the Medical Council on Alcohol, clearly showed that individuals who drank more than 30 grams of alcohol daily had the highest blood levels of CRP, an inflammatory marker.

A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, so that means both men and women should avoid consuming more than three drinks per day.

How Can I Increase My Concentration and Focus?

Do you find yourself constantly distracted and less productive than you would like to be? Maybe you have recently taken a memory test that left you asking “how can I increase my concentration and focus?”

In today’s hectic, 24×7 technology-driven world, it is easy to become distracted by the constant interruptions. There is conflicting research concerning concentration exercises and tests and whether or not they work. Fortunately, there are proven ways you can increase your concentration and boost focus through a combination of nutrition, complementary health practices, and some simple (and not so simple) lifestyle changes.

How Can I Increase My Concentration and Focus with Nutrition?

The foods we eat and the supplements we take directly improve or degrade our brain power. To improve concentration, focus, and memory, consider incorporating one or more of the following nutritional suggestions.

1. Amino Acids

According to Harris R. Lieberman of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, the amino acid tryptophan is “essential for optimal brain function and cognitive performance.” Mr. Lieberman states that reduced levels of tryptophan increase aggression and depression and induce drowsiness. In the book he authored, The Role of Protein and Amino Acids in Sustaining and Enhancing Performance, he also makes a note of the role that tyrosine plays in the brain.

Mr. Lieberman explains that while tryptophan is more critical generally for brain function, tyrosine is more essential for cognition when the body is under stress. He hypothesizes that when humans are under physical pressure or psychological stress, or are in extreme environments, the brain needs more amino acids for proper functioning.

However, it’s not as simple as taking a tryptophan or tyrosine supplement to increase concentration and focus. These amino acids must be optimally balanced, and increasing levels of one can decrease levels of the other, leading to more brain fog and lack of focus. For this reason, it is best to supplement with a balanced concentration of all the essential amino acids formulated at optimal doses.

To learn more about how amino acids can boost brain power, and how to best supplement, check out this article here.

2. Low-Glycemic Diet

When we eat foods that cause wild swings in blood glucose levels, the human body experiences bursts of energy and focus followed by fatigue and poor concentration. In order to keep blood glucose levels steady, focus on consuming low-glycemic foods like whole grains, sweet potatoes, legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and protein. Protein should be consumed with every snack and meal to improve focus and concentration.

3. Drink a Cup of Tea or Coffee

Caffeine improves concentration and enhances memory, and it’s considered a relatively safe stimulant. The healthiest sources of caffeine are green tea, matcha, black tea, and coffee. Avoid commercially processed energy drinks and fancy coffee drinks with sugar (and sugar substitutes!) that will cause your blood sugar to rise and fall. And remember, caffeine is a stimulant that can make you jittery and unable to concentrate and sit still if you consume too much.

4. Eat a Healthy, Protein-Rich Breakfast

On days when you need your brain to be in top form, eat a hearty and healthy breakfast. Eat high-quality protein like eggs with high-fiber whole grains, some dairy, fresh fruit, and healthy fats every morning to start your day off right. Avocado whole-grain toast and a poached egg anyone?

5. Eat More Wild-Caught Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids feed the brain and are key for focus and concentration. According to a small clinical trial published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Clinical Practice of Neurology, eating fish rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids slows cognitive decline. Additionally, essential omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, is necessary for maintaining normal function of the brain according to a systematic review published in the journal Nutrition.

6. Enjoy Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate, or even better, cacao, can boost mental focus because of its high antioxidant powers, caffeine content, and healthy fats. Epicatechin, a flavanol found in dark chocolate, was shown to enhance memory formation in a trial with snails. Additional animal trials have provided similar results showing that dark chocolate protects the brain and improves cognitive function.

7. Eat Blueberries

The phytochemicals in blueberries have been shown to protect against free-radical damage that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. And a recent study published in the journal Applied Physiological Nutrition Metabolism has found that supplementation with blueberry concentrates improves brain circulation and activates areas of the brain associated with cognitive function.

How Can I Increase My Concentration and Focus with Complementary Therapies?

In addition to diet, the following complementary practices and therapies have been proven to boost concentration and focus.

1. Meditation and Mindfulness Practices

According to William Klemm, Ph.D., a senior professor for Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, meditation teaches your brain how to focus, contributes to peace of mind, and even lowers blood pressure. Regular meditation practice can significantly increase attention span by strengthening your ability to sustain focus while battling monkey mind. Monkey mind is the concept of tempting intruding thoughts that take your focus off the task at hand.

Another study published in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps has found that mindfulness practice promotes resilience and mental fitness in the UK Armed Forces. The researchers note that mindfulness increases specific cognitive markers, including sustained attention and cognition while under stress.

2. Acupuncture

According to a randomized, single-blind study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studiesacupuncture improves memory and reduces anxiety during testing. The study group that received acupuncture scored 9.5% higher than the control group, and the acupuncture group committed 36% fewer math errors on exams.

3. Yoga

A recent study from researchers from the Department of Psychology at Texas State University has found that six sessions of yoga improved working memory. The research shows that regular yoga practice may enhance cognition. The researchers urge further randomized controlled trials to fully evaluate the effectiveness of yoga as a way to improve cognition and focus.

4. Biofeedback

Biofeedback is a process that uses instruments to help individuals gain greater psychological awareness. And now researchers have shown that biofeedback training can significantly improve concentration in individuals with ADHD and substantially improve neuropsychological parameters.

Does your mind wander while on task?

How Can I Increase My Concentration and Focus with Lifestyle?

In addition to addressing nutrition and trying complementary practices, you can improve concentration and focus by changing certain habits and incorporating new methods in your life.

1. Remove Distractions

One of the top ways to improve concentration is to disconnect from technology while you are working or studying. Turn off social media alerts, log out of your email, silence your phone, and keep music at a low volume. If you find that your mind wanders because of a loud environment that you can’t control, wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones if necessary. One study has found that “infomania,” or the distraction of technology products, causes a 10-point drop in IQ, more than twice the drop caused by smoking marijuana!

2. Keep a Running List

Did you know that each time your mind wanders, it can take 20 to 25 minutes to re-engage with your previous activity? It is natural to have tasks, ideas, and concerns pop into your mind while you are trying to focus—the key is the way you manage these mental distractions. One of the best ways is to keep a running task list on your desk. Quickly note items that need further attention when you have completed your project.

3. Take Regular Breaks

Powering through a task is not always the best way to maintain focus and concentration. In fact, many people find that concentrating for 45 minutes and then taking a 10-minute break can actually improve your attention when you return to work. During the 10-minute break, listen to music, run or walk in place, grab a cup of coffee, stretch, and give your eyes a chance to refocus—but don’t make business calls, go over your to-do list, or answer emails. Use the 10 minutes as a real break.

4. Physical Exercise

According to a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, students who engage in moderate physical exercise before a test performed better than students who don’t exercise. Regular exercise helps our brains learn to ignore distractions—but researchers aren’t quite sure why.

As an added bonus, if you love to run, run in organized races whenever you can! According to a new report in The Journal of Positive Psychology, recreational runners that participate in organized competitions experience more positive emotions, have higher self-esteem and confidence, are more satisfied with life, and feel their lives have more meaning than recreational runners that don’t run in organized races. Researchers note that running in a race provides a psychological reward that carries through after the races and may impact brain power.

5. Doodle

Do you doodle? If so, you are boosting your concentration—at least according to an article in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. In a small study, half of the participants were assigned doodling while listening to a telephone call and the other half didn’t doodle during the same telephone call. The result? The doodling group recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test than the group that didn’t doodle.

6. Work at a Treadmill Desk

We’ve all heard that “sitting is the new smoking” and that we should move more. And now a study from neuroscientists in Canada suggests that working or studying at a treadmill desk actually increases concentration and memory. The researchers of this small study focused on students walking at a rate of 1.4 miles per hour (2.25 kilometers per hour) for 40 minutes. After they got off the treadmill, they were tested for comprehension of the information they’d read during the 40 minutes. The treadmill group showed superior memory performance, scoring an astounding 34.9% higher than those who studied at a traditional desk.

7. Stop Multitasking

Multitasking is the arch-enemy of concentration. It can interfere with your ability to learn and remember relevant information. Research has identified a particularly shocking danger—multitasking is associated with smaller gray-matter density. Other scientific studies have shown that multitasking adversely affects working memory and long-term memory and inhibits learning in a classroom environment.

Time management experts estimate that multitasking can decrease productivity by as much as 40%. You may think you are accomplishing more—but you aren’t! During times you need heightened concentration and focus, turn off distractions, stay present in the moment, and complete the task you are working on before moving forward.

Is Herpes Curable? Plus Answers to 3 Other Common Questions About Herpes

It’s hardly surprising that many people want to know: “Is herpes curable?”

Herpes, a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, is quite common. Approximately one out of every eight people between the ages of 14 and 49 living in the United States has herpes, according to the American Sexual Health Association. It’s also quite common for people with herpes to be unaware that they’re infected—studies estimate that nearly 90% of individuals with herpes do not know they have it. In addition to unpleasant physical symptoms, a herpes diagnosis comes with a high degree of stigma that can affect a person’s romantic life, social life, and mental health.

In this article, we’ll answer four common questions about herpes:

  • What is herpes?
  • How do you get herpes?
  • Is herpes curable?
  • How can you prevent herpes?

1. What Is Herpes?

Two types of viruses cause herpes: the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

In most cases, oral herpes is caused by HSV-1, which can result in cold sores, fever blisters, and other manifestations of herpes on the lips or around the mouth. About 50% of teenagers and adults living in the United States carry the HSV-1 virus. The majority of those people, however, show no symptoms. Typically, HSV-1 is transmitted during childhood or young adulthood through non-sexual contact with saliva.

HSV-1 can cause sores on other mucosal surfaces, however. Having oral sex can spread HSV-1 from the mouth to the genitals, and increasing numbers of genital herpes cases have now been shown to result from HSV-1.

Statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us that approximately 15.5% of people in the U.S. between 14 and 49 have HSV-2. Most people with herpes won’t experience any symptoms of the infection for months or even years after they become infected. If they do notice symptoms during the initial period, they will typically appear between 2 and 12 days after exposure.

2. How Do You Get Herpes?

Most people who get genital herpes do so by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a person who already has this STI. You can catch the infection through contact with:

  • A herpes sore
  • Saliva, if your sexual partner has an oral herpes infection
  • Genital secretions, if your partner has a genital herpes infection
  • Lips and the skin around the mouth for oral herpes infections
  • Genitals and skin around the genitals for genital herpes infections
  • Sex toys that have not been cleaned and disinfected

If HSV-1 or HSV-2 are present on someone’s skin, it can easily be transmitted to someone else via the moist skin that lines the mouth, genitals, and anus. While this is less common, it can be spread through other areas of the skin, including the eyes. If a woman with genital herpes has active sores while giving birth, it is possible for the infection to be passed to the baby.

Herpes is most contagious just before a blister appears, while the blister is visible, and during the healing period. Even if your sex partner has no visible sores at the time, it’s possible (though less likely) for them to pass the infection to you. It’s also possible for a sexual partner to unwittingly infect you if they themselves are unaware of their status.

It is not possible to catch herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools. You also can’t get herpes by touching an object, worksurface, silverware, washbasin, soap, or towel that has been touched by a person with the infection.

Is herpes curable? Get the facts.

3. Is Herpes Curable?

While there is no herpes cure, it can be managed with medication. There are a variety of treatment options for herpes, including both home remedies and prescription medication.

Home Remedies for Herpes

Home remedies for herpes focus on alleviating the discomfort associated with outbreaks. Popular natural treatments for herpes include:

  • Taking painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Using amino acid supplements like lysine and arginine
  • Essential oils like lemon balm
  • Warm sitz baths
  • Applying petroleum jelly to the affected area
  • Avoiding wearing tight clothing that covers the affected area
  • Washing hands thoroughly, especially after touching the affected area
  • Refraining from sexual activity until the symptoms have cleared up
  • Applying pain-relieving creams or lotions like lidocaine
  • Applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the affected area

Common Medications Used to Treat Herpes

While no drug can cure herpes, antiviral medication such as acyclovir can prevent the virus from multiplying. Taking an antiviral medication can help outbreaks clear up faster as well as help decrease the severity of symptoms.

For people who have less than six recurrent outbreaks of herpes per year, doctors typically use episodic treatment to manage symptoms. This means that each time a person has an outbreak, their doctor will prescribe a five-day course of antivirals.

If a person has more than six recurrent outbreaks of herpes per year, then the doctor may suggest suppressive treatment. This involves taking a daily antiviral treatment indefinitely with the goal of preventing future outbreaks. Suppressive treatment also substantially decreases the likelihood of passing herpes to a partner, but there is still a risk.

For more information on available treatment options, consult your healthcare provider. It can also be helpful to speak with a provider or counselor, or consult online resources, for guidance on how to talk to sexual partners about STIs.

Is herpes curable? Get the facts.

4. How Can You Prevent Herpes?

The only completely effective way to prevent herpes is to abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex. There are steps you can take, however, to decrease the risk of herpes infection associated with sexual activity.

The safest sexual activity occurs within long-term, mutually monogamous relationships in which both partners have been tested for STIs and have negative results.

Using latex condoms correctly every time you have sex can also substantially decrease your risk, though it’s important to note that not all herpes sores occur in areas covered by a condom. It’s also possible for herpes to be transmitted from areas of skin that do not have visible herpes sores.

If you have herpes, or your sexual partner has herpes, there are steps you can take to lower the chances of the infection being transmitted.

Abstaining from sexual contact—genital, anal, oral, and skin-to-skin—when symptoms are present is a good first step. And as we mentioned earlier, taking daily antiviral medications also makes it less likely that you will pass herpes to a partner.

If you have herpes, it can also be beneficial to track factors that seem to make you more prone to outbreaks, such as stress, fatigue, illness, friction against your skin, or sunbathing. Identifying your triggers can help to lower the number of outbreaks you experience.

Is herpes curable? Get the facts.

How Do You Get Rid of a Cyst?

The Internet is filled with videos and pictures of people (and doctors!) popping cysts or even lancing the skin to pull out a cyst. Let’s be clear—do not pop, squeeze or lance a cyst—this is not safe. So how do you get rid of a cyst safely?

What Is a Cyst?

Before we can get rid of a cyst, it is essential to understand what a cyst is and what causes it. Generally speaking, cysts are pockets of tissue that lie below the skin and contain a combination of air, fluid, and other substances. As the pocket fills with material, a cyst can grow quite large and become a bump above the skin.

As cysts grow they can cause pain below the skin’s surface. The internal pressure makes cysts painful to the touch. Pain is typically a sign of an infected cyst that needs treatment. In some cases, a cyst may need to be removed and a round of antibiotics prescribed.

What causes cysts? It depends on the type of the cyst. Some cysts can be caused by a buildup of keratin under the skin or ingrown hairs, while other types of cysts are caused by fluctuations in hormones or inflammation.

Is a cyst dangerous? It depends. The majority of cysts are benign, or noncancerous, but cancer is a concern for some types of cysts.

If you are tempted to squeeze a cyst—stop!

5 Types of Cysts

There are literally hundreds of types of cysts, lumps, bumps, and boils. Here are the five most common types of cysts.

1. Sebaceous Cyst

A sebaceous cyst forms in the sebaceous glands in the skin where hair follicles live. Sebaceous cysts often appear on the torso, neck, and face—but they can appear virtually anywhere. This type of cyst is caused by blocked sebaceous glands. Sebaceous cysts are very slow growing and noncancerous.

2. Epidermoid Cyst

Epidermoid cysts are small noncancerous cysts that occur around a hair follicle. Typically, this type of cyst is caused by localized trauma, but in rare cases, Gardner’s syndrome can cause an epidermoid cyst. Epidermoid cysts occur most commonly on the genitals, back, neck, face, and head, and they can become painful when infected.

3. Ganglion Cyst

Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled pockets of tissue that occur in the tendons or joints of the feet, ankles, fingers, wrists, or hands. The fluid can develop because of injury or trauma. Ganglion cysts are incredibly common and benign, and they occur more often in women than in men.

4. Ovarian Cyst

Fluid-filled sacs that develop on the ovaries are called ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts can develop when an egg isn’t released during the normal monthly cycle. In some cases, ovarian cysts may cause pain. If you experience a sudden sharp pain in the pelvic region, or feel feverish or dizzy, an ovarian cyst may have ruptured. After menopause, ovarian cysts are linked to a greater risk of ovarian cancer.

5. Breast Cyst

The vast majority of breast cysts and lumps are noncancerous. However, the moment you detect any changes in your breast tissue make an appointment with your doctor. Benign breast cysts can cause tenderness and pain. They can be caused by changes in hormones and are most common in women before menopause according to the Mayo Clinic.

How Do You Get Rid of a Cyst?

Don’t trust the Internet as an authority on how to get rid of a cyst at home. Can you squeeze out a cyst? Not safely. Again, it is never safe to squeeze or lance a cyst—even cystic acne. Squeezing acne can cause infection and scarring. For the other types of cysts, it is critical to see your doctor to check any new or painful lumps and bumps you have.

Skin Cyst Removal

Skin cysts, including sebaceous cysts and epidermoid cysts, can be removed easily in your physician’s office. In addition to the liquid inside of the pocket or capsule, the capsule will need to be removed. That is why squeezing a cyst won’t get rid of it for good—with the capsule still in place, it will likely refill and possibly grow larger.

Ganglion Cyst Removal

If you are looking for a ganglion cyst home treatment, the best course of action is to relax and immobilize the joint, apply a warm compress, and take over-the-counter pain medications. Ganglion cysts can be surgically removed by a doctor if pain persists; however, most ganglion cysts go away on their own.

Ovarian Cyst Removal

According to the Cleveland Clinic, ovarian cysts typically go away without treatment. But in some cases, surgical removal may be required. If you have a small ovarian cyst, your doctor may do a laparoscopic procedure whereby a small incision is made in the abdomen and the cyst is removed. For larger cysts or when cancer is suspected a laparotomy may be performed so that the doctor can remove the cyst and ovaries, if necessary.

Breast Cyst Removal

For breast cysts, there isn’t a home remedy. Simple cysts aren’t associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, but when lumps and bumps in your breast occur talk to your doctor immediately. Imaging tests may be ordered, and in some cases a biopsy performed to rule out breast cancer.

Why You Should Always Take These 10 Stomach Ulcer Symptoms Seriously

If you have chronic stomach pain, the cause may be stomach ulcers. The good news is, stomach ulcers are highly treatable. But it’s extremely important that you seek treatment without delay. When left untreated, stomach ulcers can cause serious, even lethal, health problems. There are many misconceptions about what causes stomach ulcers and the different types of ulcers. In this article, we’ll give you a clear breakdown of what a stomach ulcer is, 10 stomach ulcer symptoms to look out for, the available stomach ulcer treatment options once your diagnosis has been confirmed, as well as how to lower your risk of developing ulcers.

What Is a Stomach Ulcer?

The term stomach ulcer refers to painful open sores that develop in the lining of the stomach. In order for stomach ulcers, a sub-type of peptic ulcers, to grow, something must happen to thin out the typically thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach lining from caustic digestive juices.

While people used to believe that excess stress and an overabundance of stomach acid caused ulcers, we now know that the real causes of stomach ulcers are almost always a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection or the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

There are a number of effective treatments for stomach ulcers, as well as methods for reducing your susceptibility. When left untreated, however, they can become quite severe. If a stomach ulcer evolves into a bleeding ulcer, it can become life-threatening and require hospitalization. So, if you think you may have an ulcer, you should seek treatment promptly!

Watch for These 10 Stomach Ulcer Symptoms

10 stomach ulcer symptoms to take seriously.

The severity of the ulcer determines the severity of your stomach ulcer symptoms. A common early stomach ulcer symptom is a burning sensation in your abdomen between your chest and belly button. Stomach ulcer pain often increases when your stomach is empty. The length of time the pain is present can vary from a few minutes to several hours.

Other common signs of a stomach ulcer include:

  • Bloating
  • Reluctance to eat due to stomach pain
  • A feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount of food
  • Frequent burping
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Decreased pain after eating, drinking, or taking antacids
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Weight loss

If you’re regularly experiencing symptoms of a stomach ulcer, you should talk to a doctor. Even if your symptoms are currently quite mild, ulcers get worse when left untreated and became the most dangerous type of ulcer, a bleeding ulcer.

It’s possible for an ulcer to bleed so slowly, you may miss the symptoms. The first indications of a slow-bleeding ulcer may appear when you develop anemia, at which point you may see signs like excessive fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and pale skin.

When a stomach ulcer is bleeding heavily, you’ll see changes in stool: it may be black and sticky, or you may see dark red blood in the stool. Immediately consult a doctor if you’re experiencing those type of stool changes. Another symptom that indicates you should seek immediate medical attention is bloody vomit with a consistency like coffee grounds. Remember, rapid-bleeding ulcers can be fatal. It’s vital that you take these symptoms seriously and get urgent medical help.

Determining Which Stomach Ulcer Treatment Is Right for You

The right treatment for your stomach ulcer will depend on its underlying cause. If you seek treatment before your ulcer becomes too severe, all you’ll need is a prescription from your doctor. If your ulcer has begun to bleed, however, you will probably need to be hospitalized so you can receive intensive treatment. In certain instances, a blood transfusion may be required. And in rare cases, you may need surgery to fully treat your stomach ulcer.

10 stomach ulcer symptoms to take seriously.

Outpatient Treatment Options for Stomach Ulcers

If your stomach ulcer was caused by an H. pylori infection, your doctor will use a combination of antibiotics and a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat it. Antibiotics resolve the infection while PPIs inhibit the production of irritating stomach acid.

It’s much less common for ulcers to develop without the presence of H. pylori, but it can happen when high doses of NSAIDs are used for long periods of time, for example, to treat chronic pain caused by arthritis or other inflammatory conditions. In those cases, you won’t need antibiotics, though it’s quite likely you will be prescribed a PPI.

Some additional treatments your doctor may suggest for treating ulcers caused by H. pylori as well as those caused by long-term, high-dose NSAID use include:

  • H2 receptor blockers, another type of drug that blocks stomach acid production
  • Discontinuation of all NSAID pain relievers
  • Endoscopy, a nonsurgical procedure used to examine your intestines, to ensure the ulcer has healed
  • Probiotics, to assist with the eradication of H. pylori and rebalance your gut flora
  • Bismuth salts, which soothe inflammation and help eradicate harmful bacteria

Once you begin a course of treatment, your stomach ulcer symptoms should subside quickly. That doesn’t mean you should discontinue treatment though! Be sure to finish the full course of all medications your doctor prescribed, especially antibiotics.

In-Patient Treatment Options for Stomach Ulcers

If you have a severely bleeding ulcer or a complicated ulcer, you may need more intensive treatment. An endoscopy may be used to identify the cause of the bleeding, and endoscopic or x-ray guided treatment may be used to stop the bleeding.

The medications mentioned above may be given intravenously (through an IV) so they take effect more quickly. You may also need a blood transfusion.

In rare cases, surgery may be required. Characteristics of ulcers that might require surgical intervention include:

  • Continuing to reoccur
  • Failure to heal
  • Bleeding that does not respond to other treatments
  • Tearing through the stomach wall
  • Preventing the movement of food into the small intestine

Several different surgical approaches can be used, including removing the entire ulcer, patching the site of the ulcer with tissue from another part of the intestine, tying off the bleeding artery, and cutting off nerve supply to the stomach in order to reduce the production of stomach acid.

How to Lower Your Risk of Developing Ulcers

Once you’ve had a stomach ulcer, and successfully treated it, you’ll probably be very committed to doing whatever you can to avoid developing another one. People used to think that eating certain foods—in particular, spicy or sour foods—could cause or irritate ulcers. Some people do find that eating certain foods increases the discomfort associated with ulcers, but there’s no evidence that your diet causes ulcers. When it comes to prevention, the Gastrointestinal Society reports that medical professionals now put the emphasis on eating a high-fiber diet loaded with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

10 stomach ulcer symptoms to take seriously.

Some foods also contain compounds that can help flush H. pylori bacteria from your system and boost your populations of healthy gut bacteria. Adding the following foods to your diet will maximize the health of your digestive system:

  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts
  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Probiotic-rich foods including kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha
  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Olive oil
  • Honey

There’s also strong evidence that increasing your intake of an amino acid called glutamine can help to treat and prevent stomach ulcers.

Scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led a study which demonstrated that glutamine can help neutralize gastric damage caused by H. pylori. Glutamine’s effect stems, at least in part, from its ability to decrease inflammation.

Food sources of glutamine include fish, chicken, eggs, spinach, and cabbage.

Understanding the Thyroid and Tips for Improving Thyroid Health

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits just below the voice box. The thyroid’s responsibility is to extract iodine from the foods we eat and convert it to thyroid hormones. It does this by combining iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make the two primary thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

Thyroid hormones are commonly believed to influence weight—and that is true, but thyroid hormones are required throughout the body, in virtually every cell, to regulate metabolism. When the thyroid gland stops operating correctly, the symptoms are life-altering.

There are three primary thyroid diseases.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is the term used when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough T(4) and/or T(3) for proper metabolism functioning.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is the term used when the thyroid gland produces too many thyroid hormones.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer typically doesn’t cause symptoms or overt signs early in the disease. As it grows, it can cause changes in your voice, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes, and a lump in your neck.

A special note about thyroid nodules: Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths of thyroid cells that lump together in the thyroid gland. According to the American Thyroid Association, the vast majority of nodules are noncancerous, but a small proportion contain thyroid cancer cells. If you are concerned about changes in your neck or throat, make an appointment with your physician to be evaluated.

6 Ways to Boost Thyroid Gland Health

The health of the thyroid gland is imperative for overall wellness. If your body produces too much thyroid hormone, you are at risk for brittle bones, heart problems, eye problems, and thyrotoxic crisis.

If your thyroid doesn’t provide enough thyroid hormone, it can cause underactive thyroid symptoms including goiters, heart problems, depression, anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, infertility, and birth defects. If thyroid disease runs in your family, take special care of your thyroid now!

1. Amino Acid Supplements

L-carnitine alleviates fatigue in individuals with hypothyroidism, especially those who have had a thyroidectomy following thyroid cancer, according to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in the Endocrine Journal.

The amino acid L-tyrosine works with iodine to make thyroid hormone according to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Penn State Hershey. However, if you are taking thyroid hormone medication or have high blood pressure, do not take an L-tyrosine supplement without speaking to your doctor.

It’s also important to take a supplement with an ideal proportion of all the essential amino acids so as not to disrupt the concentration of amino acids in the bloodstream. Doing so can impair protein synthesis and alter brain chemistry, thereby affecting moods.

2. Manage Stress

Chronic or unmanaged stress takes a toll on your spirit, your adrenal glands, and your thyroid function. Learn to manage stress by employing deep breathing techniques, practicing yoga, meditating, and journaling.

3. Exercise Regularly

An underactive thyroid and an overactive thyroid can zap your energy, increase stress, and cause insomnia. It is essential to exercise regularly—even if it is just taking a 30-minute walk or enjoying a dance class. Do your best to build up to a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise to boost mood and improve your overall health.

4. Get Some Sunshine!

Vitamin D deficiency is considered a global health problem. Vitamin D is essential for proper absorption of calcium, regulating mood, and protecting against heart disease. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to certain types of cancers, such as colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.

And according to a report published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, individuals with thyroid disease have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than do individuals with normal thyroid function. Eat more vitamin D rich foods, take a vitamin D3 supplement daily, and aim for getting at least 20 minutes of sunshine a day.

5. Fight Inflammation

Avoid foods that you are allergic to and those that you are sensitive to. When we eat foods that cause a reaction in our bodies, we are increasing inflammation in the body. The Cleveland Clinic recommends consuming fresh colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fats while limiting red meat, refined starches, and unhealthy fats to limit inflammation in the body.

6. Fill Your Plate With Antioxidant-rich Foods

Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for people with hypothyroidism. In a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers have identified an imbalance between free radicals and defending antioxidant bodies in people with thyroid disease.

4 Foods to Avoid If You Have Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t make enough essential thyroid hormone to keep your metabolism revving properly. If you have hypothyroidism symptoms, try removing the following food groups from your diet to see if symptoms improve.

1. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables can cause goiters to develop in some people. They have a chemical compound that may prevent your thyroid gland from getting enough iodine.

2. Soy

Soy and soy products may prevent the thyroid gland from producing hormones, and soy interferes with thyroid medications.

3. Organ Meats

The fatty acid, lipoic acid, found in organ meats interferes with thyroid medicine absorption, and too much may cause the thyroid gland not to produce ample hormones.

4. Gluten

If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, eating gluten may increase your risk for autoimmune thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease.

5 Foods That May Help Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency. The following food groups are associated with supporting individuals with an underactive thyroid.

1. Iodine-Rich Foods

Iodine deficiencies are more prevalent than many people realize. And certain groups, including pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, and individuals who don’t use iodized salt, are at a heightened risk for an iodine deficiency.

The best food sources of iodine are fish, shellfish, seaweed, and algae. These foods may help support healthy thyroid function in those with an underactive thyroid gland.

Is your thyroid operating optimally?

2. Leafy Greens

Many people with hypothyroidism have a magnesium deficiency. Eating a couple of servings of magnesium every day may help relieve muscle cramps and fatigue associated with an underactive thyroid.

3. Selenium-Rich Foods and Iron-Rich Foods

Anemia is a common deficiency in individuals with thyroid disease. Cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and Brazil nuts are loaded with iron and may help to improve thyroid function.

Brazil nuts specifically should be high on the list for those with hypothyroidism, as they also contain a healthy dose of selenium. According to a review in the journal Clinical Endocrinology, selenium may stave off long-term damage to the thyroid gland in individuals with thyroid disease.

4. Dairy

If you have an iodine deficiency, a couple of servings of yogurt or milk a day may help improve your thyroid function. One cup of plain yogurt can provide up to half of the recommended daily amount of iodine in your diet. Be sure to read labels carefully, as the amount of iodine varies greatly depending on the brand of yogurt or milk you select.

5. Zinc-Rich Foods

zinc deficiency is directly associated with hypothyroidism according to a report published in the International Journal of Trichology. Add more zinc-rich foods to your diet, like beef, poultry, and cocoa powder, especially if you have hypothyroidism and are experiencing hair loss.

4 Foods to Avoid If You Have Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are polar opposites—so some of the foods that appear on the “avoid” list on hypothyroidism will appear on the “enjoy” list for hyperthyroidism. Talk to your physician about any specific questions you may have.

1. Iodine-Rich Foods

The American Thyroid Association recommends a low iodine diet for individuals with an overactive thyroid. Iodine in your diet may adversely affect radioactive iodine therapy and may exacerbate production of the thyroid hormone.

Is your thyroid operating optimally?

2. Nitrate-Rich Foods

Nitrates can cause too much iodine to be absorbed by the body, which can lead to hyperthyroidism and an enlarged thyroid. Nitrates are commonly found in deli meats and certain processed foods, but they also occur naturally in foods like beets, spinach, leeks, fennel, and others.

3. Soy

Soy acts as a hormone in the body and may interfere with conventional thyroid disease medications.

4. Gluten

If you have Celiac disease, avoiding gluten may help prevent inflammation of the thyroid gland and gastrointestinal tract.

6 Foods That May Help Hyperthyroidism

The following foods may improve hyperthyroidism symptoms and improve the overall health of the thyroid gland.

1. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are recognized for their ability to impede thyroid function. This is why they are on the “avoid” list for those with an underactive thyroid gland and on the “enjoy” list for those with an overactive thyroid gland.

2. Iron-Rich Foods

Iron is an essential mineral that supports the transportation of oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Anemia or low levels of iron are linked to hyperthyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis according to a report published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association. Avoid iron-rich foods within two hours of taking any thyroid medications to prevent poor absorption of the medication.

3. Selenium-Rich Foods

As cited above, research shows that selenium may protect against long-term damage to the thyroid gland for individuals with thyroid disease—either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

4. Calcium-Rich Foods and Vitamin D

Two of the side effects of hyperthyroidism are brittle bones and depleted bone mass. If you have an overactive thyroid gland, it is imperative you add a variety of calcium-rich foods to your diet.

Is your thyroid operating optimally?

5. Low-Iodine Foods

Iodine can spur thyroid hormone production and interfere with hyperthyroid medications. Focus on low-iodine foods like egg whites, nut butter, potatoes, honey, fresh fruit, and maple syrup, and use sea salt or Himalayan salt instead of iodized salt.

6. Zinc-Rich Foods

A deficiency in the mineral zinc is associated with poor thyroid function. Zinc is essential for keeping the immune system functioning properly, and it helps the body use food for energy.

Is your thyroid operating optimally?

What Is Potassium and Why Do We Need It? Plus, 15 Foods High in Potassium

Can you answer these two questions: what is potassium and why do we need it? We didn’t think so. Chances are, you, like many other people, tragically underestimate the importance of potassium. When dissolved in water, this mineral becomes highly reactive and produces positively charged ions. Because of its special ability to conduct electricity, which makes it necessary for a number of bodily functions, potassium is classified as one of the five essential electrolytes.

Studies have linked an increased intake of foods high in potassium to a variety of impressive health benefits. We’ll cover what potassium is, why we need potassium, how potassium functions in the body, and common signs of a potassium deficiency. Plus we’ll share a list of 15 potassium-rich foods.

What Is Potassium and Why Do We Need It?

Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Testing shows that the vast majority of the potassium in your body—about 98%—can be found in your cells. Your muscle cells claim 80% of those potassium stores, while the remaining 20% gets divvied up between your bones, liver, and red blood cells.

Potassium functions as an electrolyte inside your body. Once it’s dissolved in water or another fluid, it disintegrates into positive ions that transmit electrical signals. Your body uses those signals to control a number of important processes.

Potassium is responsible for three primary functions: balancing fluid levels, transmitting nerve signals, and regulating muscle contractions. When potassium levels drop too low, or soar too high, the results can be quite serious.

Learn what potassium is and why we need it.

Key Potassium Function #1: Balancing Fluid Levels

Water accounts for approximately 60% of our body weight as adults. Water exists both inside and outside our cells: the 40% that’s inside our cells is called intracellular fluid (ICF) and the 60% that’s outside our cells in places like the blood, spinal fluid, and space between cells is called extracellular fluid (ECF).

Electrolytes—sodium and potassium in particular—strongly affect the amount of water in both your ICF and ECF. Potassium is the main electrolyte found in your ICF and it determines how much water exists inside your cells at any given time. Sodium plays the same role when it comes to your ECF.

When everything is going right, there’s an equal concentration of electrolytes and stable amounts of water both inside and outside your cells. The technical term for the ratio between electrolytes and fluid is osmolality. The goal is to maintain equal osmolality between your ICF and ECF.

When osmolality becomes unequal, water from the side with fewer electrolytes shifts to the side with more in order to balance out electrolyte levels. As water moves into or out of your cells, it may cause those cells to swell or shrink. In some cases, your cells may even burst.

Regulating fluid balance is a central health concern. Changes in cell volume like we discussed above can have an especially damaging effect on brain cells. When ECF volume drops, it can adversely affect blood flow to organs, including your heart.

Eating a potassium-rich diet, in addition to ensuring you drink enough water to stay properly hydrated, is a crucial part of maintaining balanced fluid levels.

Key Potassium Function #2: Transmitting Nerve Signals

Your nervous system handles communication between your brain and your body. That communication gets transmitted in the form of nerve signals that regulate muscle contractions, heart rhythm, reflexes, and numerous other functions.

Potassium plays a starring role in the nerve signal transmission process. When potassium enters a nerve cell, it begins a sodium-potassium exchange that generates the electrical charge required to transmit a signal. And when it exits a nerve cell, it repolarizes it, allowing the nerve signal to be processed.

The range for healthy blood levels of potassium falls between 3.6 and 5.0 mmol/L. If the level of potassium in your blood falls by as little as 1%, it can set off a serious imbalance. This, in turn, can disrupt the transmission of nerve signals throughout your body.

In order to maintain healthy nervous system function, it’s important to meet your body’s minimum recommended dietary allowance for potassium.

Key Potassium Function #3: Regulating Muscle Contractions

As we touched on above, muscle contractions are one of the functions nerve signals control. Altered potassium levels negatively impact nerve signaling, which throws off muscle contractions, including your heartbeat.

Hypokalemia occurs when potassium levels fall too low. Hyperkalemia arises when they rise too high. Both can be dangerous.

The major danger associated with changes to potassium levels is alterations to your heart rhythm. Low levels of potassium can cause arrhythmias, irregular heart beats that can require medical treatment and even surgery. High levels of potassium can cause the heart to weaken and over-dilate, which can also lead to arrhythmias. When your heart fails to beat properly, it also fails to circulate blood to your brains, muscles, and other organs.

According to an article published in Experimental and Clinical Cardiology, “Hypokalemia is associated with increased risk of arrhythmia in patients with cardiovascular disease, as well as increased all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality and heart failure mortality by up to 10-fold.” In other words, if you have underlying heart problems, low potassium levels make it 10 times more likely those problems will be fatal.

Hyperkalemia is also strongly associated with a higher risk of death for patients with heart disease as well as those with kidney disease, according to a 2017 study.

Learn what potassium is and why we need it.

Hopefully by now you have a sense of just how important it is to maintain your body’s potassium levels.

However, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that fewer than 2% of adults living in the United States meet the dietary guidelines for potassium intake. While that’s certainly not ideal, it’s unlikely to cause a potassium deficiency.

In most causes, potassium deficiencies arise when the body rapidly loses a large amount of potassium. Typical causes include prolonged vomiting, prolonged diarrhea, or other health conditions or situations that result in the loss of a large volume of fluids.

As the NHANES data may have tipped you off, it’s quite unusual for someone to get too much potassium. There’s no compelling evidence to show that it’s possible to get too much potassium from dietary sources alone, though you could do so by taking an excessive amount of potassium supplements. There have been instances of people taking a larger dose of potassium than their kidneys can process, with sometimes fatal consequences.

Research shows that in most cases, excessively high blood levels of potassium occur when the body struggles to flush the mineral from the body through the urine. Because of this, dangerously high potassium is most likely to affect individuals with impaired kidney function. Certain populations have an increased risk of developing hyperkalemia (concerningly high potassium levels), including:

15 Potassium-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

Luckily, when it comes to finding potassium in food, you have plenty of options beyond the most famous one: bananas. In fact, bananas aren’t even the most potassium-dense food on our list! Many legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and types of fish contain high levels of potassium.

How much potassium should you be aiming for daily? The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommends that adults shoot for a minimum daily intake of at least 3,510 milligrams of potassium from food daily.

Based on information provided by SELF Nutrition Data, we’ve listed the amount of potassium provided by a 100-gram serving of 15 potassium-rich foods. For some foods, we’ve also specified preparation method, since that alters potassium content.

Learn what potassium is and why we need it.

In almost all cases, it’s far better to get your potassium from whole food sources than from over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. As we mentioned above, it is possible to overdose on potassium supplements. Because of that, regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limit potassium supplements to less than 100 milligrams. Which, as you can see, is less than half the amount you’d get from a single serving of the foods listed above.

For individuals with true potassium deficiencies, though, doctors can prescribe high-dose supplements. Never take that type of medication unless it’s been prescribed to you and always follow your doctor’s instructions.

What Is Trypophobia? Is It a Real Phobia or a Faux-Phobia?

If you’ve ever experienced intense disgust or horror at the sight of small clustered holes, you may have trypophobia. So what is trypophobia? It is the fear of small holes or clusters of dots or bumps. Often, the offending image is something that occurs in nature, like a lotus flower seed pod or a honeycomb.

So why is trypophobia trending? And more importantly—why is anyone afraid of holes?

What Is Trypophobia?

According to Psychology Today, the trypophobia definition is the irrational fear of holes—but they explain it isn’t the fear of large gaping holes, but very small holes you often see in nature. If you are getting shivers, nausea, or the heebie-jeebies just thinking of small holes, you may have this phobia.

Phobias, by their very definitions, are persistent, excessive, unrealistic, or irrational according to Harvard Medical School. The problem with phobias, regardless if it is a fear of clowns (coulrophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia), or leaving the house (agoraphobia), is that the reaction to the fear can disrupt your life.

Trypophobia is one of the newer phobias and has only recently been recognized by science in the last few years. In fact, there really isn’t much research on trypophobia before a 2015 study conducted by psychologists at the University of Essex. In this small study of 200 people, the researchers found 15% of participants felt uncomfortable or repulsed when shown a photo of a lotus flower seed head.

The researchers note that the higher the contrast in color of the holes, the more aversion participants felt to the photos presented. But again, trypophobia is not the fear of a single hole, but of clusters of holes (or bumps) like in honeycombs or pomegranates.

To determine the level of the phobia, the psychologists developed a trypophobia test for participants to self-report the severity of their physical and emotional response to photos of honeycombs and lotus seed heads.

The participants in the study were asked to rate their reaction to the photos on a scale of 1 (no response) to 5 (extreme response) in these 17 trypophobia symptoms:

  1. Feel skin crawl
  2. Feel aversion, disgust, or repulsion
  3. Be uncomfortable or uneasy
  4. Shiver
  5. Freak out
  6. Feel itchy
  7. Get chills
  8. Have goosebumps
  9. Be nervous (heart pounding, butterflies in the stomach, sweating, etc.)
  10. Feel anxious, full of dread, or fearful
  11. Feel sick or nauseous
  12. Feel as if you are going crazy
  13. Feel like panicking or screaming
  14. Have an urge to destroy the holes
  15. Have trouble breathing
  16. Feel like crying
  17. Vomiting

Do photos of small holes freak you out?

Do photos of small holes freak you out?

What Causes Phobias?

Psychologists recognize that there is no single cause for a phobia. However, there are known risk factors and personality traits that may increase the risk of developing a specific phobia disorder according to Psychology Today including:

  • A parent or a sibling with a particular phobia
  • Experiencing frequent negative thoughts or worries
  • A tendency to avoid the unknown
  • The loss of a parent
  • Having overprotective parents
  • Being a victim of sexual abuse or physical violence
  • Experiencing a traumatic event related to the fear
  • Having an underlying mental health condition like anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder

Phobia Treatments

There is no recognized cure for phobias in general or a trypophobia cure—regardless of what social media says. But specific therapies, medications, and alternative treatments may help to reduce anxiety and help you live a normal life. Some of the recognized therapeutic treatments for phobias include:

If you have a persistent and intense fear of holes, snakes, dentists, small spaces, or dogs and it triggers a physical response, talk to your doctor or counselor—especially if the fear is interfering with the quality of your life. Just because science defines phobias as “irrational,” it doesn’t mean that your response to a fear isn’t real—it is.

Anyone with a phobia understands the symptoms when they are triggered by their fear. The physical manifestations are real—excessive sweating, nausea or vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and dizziness can impact your life. There is no reason to live a slave to your fear. Talk to a psychologist to guide you through creating a plan to reduce your emotional and physical response to your fear.