What Is Percussive Massage Therapy and Who Does It Help?

Percussive massage therapy: used by world-class athletes and trainers, and available for personal use. What is a percussion massage and who would it benefit the most? Find out here.

The percussion massager: it’s a machine that looks not unlike a nail gun, and it’s used to rapidly pummel soft tissue. What is percussive massage therapy good for treating and who needs it the most? We have these answers and more, including the top three percussive massagers on the market.

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy?

Percussive massage guns are designed to penetrate deep into your soft tissues using rapid, concentrated blows. This massage technique promotes localized tissue repair, aids in pain relief, and essentially forces relaxation into tight or damaged muscles. Also known as vibration therapy, these power massagers are used in sports medicine and by chiropractors to treat sore muscle tissue, encourage blow flow, deter lactic acid buildup, and support muscle recovery.

Who Needs a Percussion Massage?

Most people will experience some benefit from a percussive massage, assuming they’re strong enough to absorb the force of the massage head. Beyond that, those who work out vigorously and those who are training for a sporting event or are amateur or professional athletes will find a percussive massage tool helpful for relieving soft tissue pain, improving range of motion, and preventing delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, it’s even beneficial for those who are recovering from surgery.

Percussive Massage Therapy and Muscle Stimulation Benefits

Percussive massage devices are handheld motors with power dense foam balls that move back and forth between 30 and 40 times per second. These machines can help cut down on muscle pain in the following ways.

1. Warm-Up and Improved Athletic Performance

A percussive massager can help stimulate blood flow and improve blood circulation to your muscles before and after exercise or sport, helping you prevent injuries and reduce potential muscle soreness much the same way a stretch and warmup can.

These machines are used by world-class trainers to help condition professional athletes, sometimes even between breaks at events like the NBA Finals. Massagers can treat and even prevent cramping and fatigue, help stretch out the connective tissues, and improve muscle strength and recovery time.

2. Pain Relief and Muscle Rehab

Percussion massages help relieve muscle soreness so you feel less pain without having to resort to drugs. This is applicable when it comes to the small-scale healing after an intense workout and to the rehabilitation of your muscles after suffering serious injury or undergoing surgery.

Percussive massages not only speed the recovery process by stimulating robust circulation to the area, but also cause contractions in the muscle that help strengthen it, which is incredibly helpful for those who cannot take part in physical therapy and are at high risk of muscle atrophy.

3. Medical Aid

Above and beyond the benefits to your muscles, percussive therapy can also be used after surgery to help increase your lymphatic circulation and break down internal scar tissue. This helps speed up a patient’s recovery time by elongating muscle fibers, reducing muscle spasms, and preventing stiffness in their joints.

4. Post-Surgery Cosmetic Benefits

Just as percussive massage helps break down internal scar tissue, it can also help with breaking up externally visible scar tissue. Moreover, percussive massage therapy helps accelerate healing by reducing inflammation and increasing the circulation that helps prevent swelling.

5. Relaxation and Stress Relief

Along with all the physical benefits that come from percussive massage therapy, there are also benefits for mental health and emotional well-being. By improving oxygen’s circulation throughout the body and unkinking your muscles, percussion massages help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and stimulate the lymphatic functions that are part of your immune system and detox operations.

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy?

The Top Handheld Percussive Massagers

If you’re interested in owning your own percussive massager, here are some of the top sellers along with their key features.

1. TheraGun G2PRO

This professional-grade, battery-operated massager has an adjustable head for flexibility, offers 2,400 percussions per minute, and is strong enough to provide you with a deep-tissue massage. Downsides, however, include only one speed and a 20-minute max battery life, though it does come with two batteries in a carrying case that you can switch back and forth. The G3PRO model has 50% less noise than the G2PRO.

2. TimTam

The TimTam massage therapy device has a 90-degree articulating head for reaching different tissues of the body, a variety of head shapes, and offers 2,000 percussions per minute. The major downside is that it’s quite loud.

3. Hyperice Hypervolt

The laser-gun-looking Hypervolt, much like a foam roller, can be used for both stimulation and recovery. With three speed settings and four head attachments (ball, fork, flathead, and bullet), it has 3 hours of battery life, is quieter than the majority of massagers, and provides 3,200 percussions per minute. The only downside outside of its high cost is its non-adjustable head.

A Final Note of Caution

If you’re looking to use a percussive massager personally and outside of the guidance of a doctor or physiotherapist, there are some cautions to be aware of. Percussion therapy massagers are not recommended for use if you have any lumbar injuries, are pregnant, have any cardiovascular issues, are diabetic, or on blood-thinning medications. Just to be safe, ask your doctor or a trusted health care professional if you are fit enough for percussive massage.

Amino Acids for Brain Repair and Cognitive Function

Amino acids are the precursors to neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, vital for mood and mental health. Even more important, the branched-chain amino acids may be able to help heal the brain after traumatic injury. Find out how amino acids impact brain repair and health.

The neurotransmitters in our brains are responsible for our energy levels, our memories, our moods, our learning abilities, and more. If these neurotransmitters are out of balance, our brains can’t function and our well-being is compromised. A disorder of serotonin levels can lead to anxiety and depression, an insufficiency of dopamine can lead to feelings of sloth and anger, and without GABA to help calm us down, we’re susceptible to panic attacks and stress. Amino acids both act as neurotransmitters and help stabilize levels of neurotransmitters, making them a key nutritional therapy for brain and mental health. Researchers are also applying amino acid therapy to traumatic brain injury. Truly, amino acids play a crucial role in our brain functions and more, and this article details how dietary amino acids for brain repair can help balance our minds.

How Brain Chemistry Works

Our brain cells communicate through a web of synapses. Each nerve cell has pre- and post-synaptic receivers that can communicate with the other cells using chemical signal molecules. Those molecules are our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters travel through the tiny gaps between cells like untethered astronauts floating from ship to ship in space.

When enough neurotransmitters attach to one cell, that cell relays the signal to the next cell, creating a chain reaction of communication. Once the neurotransmitters have delivered their message, other enzymes come in to clean them up so the nerve cell isn’t permanently activated. The neurotransmitters are either destroyed or reabsorbed, which is known as reuptake.

Balance is key to avoid brain and mood disorders. For example, SSRIs are serotonin reuptake inhibitors designed to interfere with excessive serotonin uptake, increasing its signal strength so that happiness is felt more acutely and depression is subdued.

Any impairment in this process, whether due to imbalance or injury, can interrupt the entire nervous system. Amino acids play a vital role in the neurotransmitter dance. Let’s find out how.

How Brain Chemistry Works

Amino Acids for Brain Repair

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in the body, making them crucial for creating and repairing muscle fiber. But they also work to synthesize the hormones we need for communication throughout the body, and they are the precursors to our most important neurotransmitters.

The aromatic amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine are the precursors for the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (a hormone that functions as a neurotransmitter and works to regulate blood pressure). The branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine have data indicating that they can help rebuild the brain after traumatic injury. Here’s how each of these amino acids helps to support cognitive function and brain activity.

The Aromatic Amino Acids and GABA

Tyrosine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and GABA are crucial amino acids that may just help enhance neurochemical repairs and cognitive performance. Without the proper balance of aromatic amino acids, you may experience too low or too high levels of the following neurotransmitters.

1. Dopamine

Low levels of dopamine are associated with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that interrupts balance, movement, muscle control, and other important bodily functions. Too high levels of dopamine have been linked to schizophrenia.

Disruption of your dopamine levels can manifest as a lack of motivation, unexplained feelings of dread or hopelessness, isolating behavior, and apathy towards family and friends. Without the proper balance of amino acids, your dopamine levels may be out of order.

2. Serotonin

Known as the “happy hormone,” serotonin is closely linked to mood and emotion, and insufficient levels can be behind feelings of social anxiety and depression. Serotonin helps shape our perceptions of reality, so much so that most psychedelic drugs that alter those perceptions operate on serotonin pathways in the brain.

Without enough serotonin, people feel unhappy, restless, and can no longer enjoy things they once did. These feelings can be life-threatening, especially in teenagers, young adults, and those going through major life changes.

3. Norepinephrine

Low levels of norepinephrine are linked to depression, ADHD, and low blood pressure. In health care instances, norepinephrine is sometimes prescribed specifically to help treat low blood pressure, but as both a stress hormone and neurotransmitter, norepinephrine plays a large role in cognitive function.

4. GABA

Gamma-amino butyric acid, abbreviated GABA, operates as a balance against norepinephrine, calming the nervous system when it’s time to rest or sleep. Without sufficient GABA, people experience panic disorders and symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, restless thoughts, and excessive worry.

Human studies show GABA treatment can help regulate anxiety, bringing balance back to an imbalanced brain. GABA can be consumed as a supplement and also synthesized within the body from the branched-chain amino acids.

The Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The balance of chemicals in an otherwise healthy brain is important enough, but our nine essential amino acids (of which the branched-chain amino acids are three) can also bring beneficial effects in instances of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and cognitive impairment.

Penn Medicine News states, “Neurology researchers have shown that feeding amino acids to brain-injured animals restores their cognitive abilities and may set the stage for the first effective treatment for cognitive impairments suffered by people with traumatic brain injuries.”

What is beginning as clinical trials based on animal models of brain injury may some day help human patients with brain damage from TBIs restore their quality of life just by ingesting the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Many athletes and bodybuilders take BCAAs as part of their supplement regimen for protein synthesis and muscle building, but for those athletes who perform sports that involve potential head injuries, these branched-chain amino acids may come to be so much more valuable in the area of brain repair.

How to Avoid Brain Imbalance

You can’t predict or prevent a brain injury (outside of wearing a helmet when it’s appropriate), but you can help prevent chemical imbalances by taking care of your gut.

The essential amino acids are so-called because we must consume them from outside sources like our food or targeted amino acid supplements. By eating amino acid foods like meat and plant protein sources, we gain the amino acids we need, and not only do we absorb our aminos in the gut, but we also synthesize our neurotransmitters there too. Up to 90% of serotonin is made in the gut, so if your gut health is poor, your gut microbes imbalanced, or you have a malabsorption disorder like Crohn’s disease, you may be experiencing disturbances to your brain health.

Other than maintaining digestive health, ensuring that you consume a proper balance of all nine essential amino acids is imperative. In fact, our amino acids are so important to so many functions in the body that the experts here at AminoCo have designed scientifically balanced amino acid formulas targeted to help build muscle and enhance liver health, brain health, and more.

Amino Acids: Food for Thought

Amino acid neurotransmitters for proper brain functioning are essential, and new research shows that they may even help restore function after a traumatic brain injury. Stay tuned as science reveals more and more amazing applications for amino acids every day, for brain health and beyond.

What Does Science Tell Us About Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder?

Nutrients necessary for the production of neurotransmitters—namely, amino acids—can help treat bipolar disorder and facilitate mental health and wellness. In fact, some individuals find that eating a diet high in amino-acid-loaded foods suffices as a treatment for bipolar disorder, major depression, and other mental illnesses. Others achieve more success by combining nutritional therapy with conventional medications like prescription mood stabilizers.

Mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, account for 4 out of the top 10 causes of medical disability in the United States, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Typically, treatment for these conditions centers on the use of antidepressants, antianxiolytics, and other prescription drugs. While these medications can bring immense relief for some patients, others find they do not fully alleviate their symptoms, or worse, that they cause severe, intolerable side effects. This can result in high rates of noncompliance with pharmaceutical-reliant treatment plans. The risk of both suicide and institutionalization are much higher in patients whose bipolar disorder cannot be successfully treated with prescription medications, making it a high priority to identify effective alternative treatments, such as amino acids for bipolar disorder.

Researchers have found that amino acid supplements can be a valuable nutritional treatment for bipolar disorder, as well as other mental disorders, because the body converts them to neurotransmitters which can produce beneficial changes to brain chemistry.

Before examining the use of amino acids for bipolar disorder specifically, we’ll cover some basic facts about amino acids and their connection to mental health.

What Are Amino Acids?

In the simplest technical terms, amino acids are organic compounds formed from an amino group (-NH2) and a carboxyl group (-COOH). Amino acids link together to form proteins, earning them the moniker “the building blocks for all life.”

Perhaps the most crucial distinction to understand in relation to the different types of amino acids found in the human body is the one between essential and nonessential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be independently synthesized by the body, meaning it’s essential that you get an adequate supply from your diet or from dietary supplements. Nonessential amino acids are every bit as essential to your health, however, the liver can manufacture them, meaning you don’t need to think too much about your intake of these amino acids.

Our bodies use amino acids to build the proteins necessary for developing and maintaining our bones, muscles, organs, skin, and hair. Amino acids also actively regulate our nervous systems.

How Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder Work

The Link Between Amino Acids and Mental Health

The body uses several amino acids either as precursors for neurotransmitters or simply as neurotransmitters, and levels of those amino acids can have a significant, and beneficial, impact on mental health.

If you’d like to gain a more nuanced understanding of the role of neurotransmitters, this article could serve as an excellent entry point. For the moment, however, the key aspect to grasp about neurotransmitters is that they’re the chemical messengers your brain uses to communicate. Studies have shown that increases or decreases to the levels of specific neurotransmitters can cause symptoms of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and others.

Given the immense importance of the brain, the body has evolved a multi-layered defense system to safeguard it. One component of that system is the blood-brain barrier, a highly sensitive, semi-permeable membrane that envelops the brain and controls which substances are allowed to pass from the bloodstream into the brain.

Trials done with animal subjects indicate that the use of a substantial dose of an amino acid that either acts as a precursor for a neurotransmitter or as a neurotransmitter results in increased levels of the corresponding neurotransmitter in the brain. This suggests amino acids have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly influence brain chemistry.

It’s important to note—and we’ll return to this idea later—that while an increased intake of specific amino acids correlates to higher levels of specific neurotransmitters, supplementing with a single amino acid will likely not generate the results you hope for. That’s because amino acids work synergistically, so your body must have a balanced supply of all 9 essential amino acids in order to fully utilize any of them, or of the 11 nonessential amino acids.

Prior to our analysis of findings to date on the use of amino acids for bipolar disorder, we want to ensure we’re all working from a shared definition of bipolar disorder.

Defining Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar affective disorder, commonly abbreviated to bipolar disorder, was historically referred as manic depression. It’s still sometimes referred to as bipolar depression. This psychiatric disorder is characterized by pronounced, sometimes intense, changes to mood, energy level, and ability to carry out daily tasks. Some patients experience frequent shifts from highs—acute mania—to lows—severe depression, while others may linger on one or the other end of the mood spectrum for longer periods of time.

Data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shows that around 4.4% of adults in the United States will experience bipolar disorder at one time or another over the course of his or her lifetime. Experts have found that individuals with bipolar disorder typically have biochemical abnormalities in their brains, including:

  • Hypersensitivity to acetylcholine
  • Elevated levels of vanadium
  • Anemia
  • Vitamin D deficiencies
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies
  • Taurine deficiencies

Scientists have found that the hypersensitivity to acetylcholine can cause both depression and mania, while high vanadium levels have been linked to mania, depression, and melancholy. According to a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, correcting underlying nutrient deficiencies can decrease manic symptoms and balance out mood swings.

How Amino Acids Influence Neurotransmitter Levels

Three amino acids have been clearly shown to contribute to the progression of bipolar disorder:

  • Tyrosine
  • Tryptophan
  • Taurine

Tyrosine acts as a precursor to dopamine while tryptophan serves as the precursor for serotonin. Low levels of either of those key neurotransmitters have been shown to contribute to a depressed mood as well as a lower aggression threshold.

A deficiency of taurine, an amino acid that acts directly on the brain, producing a calming effect, has also been linked to symptoms of bipolar disorder. Low taurine levels seem to increase the number of manic episodes experienced by a person with bipolar disorder.

Key Findings on Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder

While the idea of using amino acids to treat bipolar disorder might sound wholly a part of the realm of natural, alternative, complementary medicine, the truth is, the benefits of the conventional prescription drugs used to treat bipolar disorder may stem from their effect on amino acid neurotransmitters.

According to a study published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, two common prescription drugs used to treat bipolar disorder—lithium and valproate—both cause changes to amino acid neurotransmitter concentrations in the brain that may be connected to their mechanisms of action.

In an article written for Psychology Today, Dr. James Lake, an expert in integrative mental health care, examined the use of amino acids to alleviate mood swings, manic episodes, and other symptoms of bipolar disorder. Dr. Lake highlights the benefits of one particular amino acid, L-tryptophan, which studies have shown to be highly promising. According to Lake, taking between 2 and 3 grams of L-tryptophan up to 3 times daily can relieve anxiety linked to manic episodes in bipolar patients.

Research to date has focused primarily on the addition of L-tryptophan to bipolar depression treatment plans involving the use of conventional mood stabilizers such as lithium and valproic acid. In addition to relieving anxiety, findings indicate a particularly beneficial effect on insomnia and sleep quality. Taking 2 grams of L-tryptophan at bedtime decreased agitation for manic patients, allowing for better sleep. No concerning adverse effects have been reported in connection with that protocol. For bipolar patients experiencing severe insomnia, doses as high as 15 grams may be required—however, such a high dose should only be used with close supervision by a psychiatrist, Lake states.

Other amino-acid related supplement studies show 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has promise for the treatment of bipolar disorder. The body produces 5-HTP from tryptophan. 5-HTP acts as a precursor to the production of the always important neurotransmitter serotonin as well as melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. Researchers have found that, thanks to its ability to raise serotonin levels, 5-HTP can alleviate psychological and even physical manifestations of mental illness, such as:

It’s important to speak with a trusted medical expert prior to taking 5-HTP supplements, as their interaction with certain prescription drugs as well as other supplements used to treat bipolar disorder may result in adverse effects.

Methionine, a sulfur-containing essential amino acid, has also been shown to have benefits for the treatment of bipolar disorder. When ingested, it combines with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to generate S-adenosyl methionine (SAM-e), which has been investigated for its potential benefits relating to the treatment of depression, which is a component of bipolar disease. Per a randomized, double-blind clinical trial published in the Journal of Clinical PsychiatrySAM-e can alleviate depression as well as the popular antidepressant escitalopram (sold under the brand name Lexapro).

It’s important to keep in mind that the actions of a single amino acid are intimately interlinked with the actions of all amino acids. For this reason, supplementing with a single amino acid may not be the best way to access the benefits you desire. For instance, as a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology touches on, the large neutral amino acids, a group that contains tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, all compete against one another for the use of the same blood–brain barrier transporter. Because of this, taking supplemental tryptophan can decrease concentrations of tyrosine, which in turn impacts the synthesis of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the presentation of symptoms of bipolar disorder as well as the treatment of bipolar disorder.

While the amino acids mentioned here, as well as in the preceding section, have the most pronounced impact on symptoms of bipolar disorder, experts in the field of amino acid research have found that the use of a high-quality essential amino acid blend produces far more desirable results than the use of a single amino acid supplement.

Conclusion

It’s become inarguably clear that ensuring a consistent intake of the nutrients necessary for the production of neurotransmitters facilitates mental health and wellness. In fact, some individuals find that eating a diet high in amino-acid-loaded foods suffices as a treatment for bipolar disorder, major depression, and other mental illnesses. Others achieve more success combining nutritional therapy with conventional medications like prescription mood stabilizers.

Scientists have been interested in the role of nutritional therapies like the use of amino acid supplements for bipolar disorder since the 1970s. Unfortunately, securing funding for such research has proved to be an enduring challenge, as the pharmaceutical companies that often underwrite clinical trials see no appeal in treatment options they can’t patent and own. This has led to the dominance of synthetic drugs, despite their known risk factors, such as sometimes intolerable side effects.

Unfortunately, this resistance has carried over to mainstream clinicians, who tend to know less about nutritional treatment options for bipolar disorder, and therefore are far less likely to prescribe them. Some also feel hesitant about recommending treatments that aren’t governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This can prevent individuals from accessing nutritional therapies that may be significantly more efficacious for their personal neurochemistry than more readily available prescription drugs.

Hopefully, as more patients become independently aware of the possibilities offered by nutritional supplements, health care providers will respond by becoming better versed in how to incorporate those modalities into an overall mental health treatment plan. Already, there’s been an uptick in the number of studies investigating natural and holistic treatment options for bipolar disorder and other conditions, which should help clinicians increase their knowledge base and comfort level with the potentialities of this realm.

In the meantime, outside research as well as the seeking out of medical experts who have already integrated such options into their practice may be exceptionally valuable for individuals with bipolar disorder who have yet to find a satisfactory treatment option.

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

What are the top 10 nutrients and vitamins for post-workout muscle recovery? Which foods contain them naturally, and who should supplement where? This article answers all your questions about vitamins for muscle recovery.

If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll have to master the balancing act between muscle protein breakdown and buildup, and that requires leaving time and space for muscle recovery. Vigorous exercise causes microtears and normal muscle damage that is then repaired by the body. This process makes your muscles stronger and tells your body that more muscle is needed. You can support muscle function and reduce the time spent with sore muscles during this post-workout window, so long as you have the proper nutrient support for rebuilding. So what are the best nutrients and vitamins for muscle recovery? We have the top 10 contenders.

How Muscles Are Built

Muscle recovery is an intrinsic part of building new muscle. It doesn’t just start in the gym either: it has one foot planted firmly in your kitchen. Your body needs proper nutrition and hydration to perform well at the gym, and then it needs the same again to clear out the cellular debris caused by workouts and build anew.

The average American diet is made up of more than 70% processed food, but even an extremely healthy diet may fall short if you’re pushing yourself to bulk up. Likewise, a general multivitamin may not do the trick either: if you’re working up to your body’s limit and striving to reach past it, you need more than average support. The CDC estimates that the general population has iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B6 deficiencies, and these deficiencies are more keenly felt by those who work their bodies to the max.

Outside of the whole grains, dietary fats, and protein you get from your food, what else is needed to promote strength and achieve lean muscle growth?

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

Sports nutrition prioritizes high amounts of protein in the diet for those seeking to build strength and muscle mass. That is because protein contains the building blocks of muscle, the essential amino acids needed to synthesize all new muscle. What other nutrients do you need to consume to get the most out of your workout in the recovery window? Here are the top vitamins for muscle recovery.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role in protein synthesis, and so, along with being important for eye health and serving as an antioxidant against the damage of free radicals, it’s also a key vitamin for muscle growth. Vitamin A contributes to workout strength thanks to its role in the creation of glycogen, the stored form of glucose energy (from sugar) that provides you the rapid strength needed for more reps, for sports like sprinting, and most certainly for weightlifting. Vitamin A is essential for bone health too, which walks hand-in-hand with muscle strength, but due to factors like diets low in fats, alcohol use and abuse, and diabetes, many people are deficient in vitamin A.

To get more natural vitamin A from your diet, look towards carrots, fatty fish like salmon, and eggs.

2. Vitamin B3

Vitamin B3 (which also goes by the name niacin) supports muscle-building efforts by cleaning up your cholesterol ratio (promoting “good” HDL numbers while reducing “bad” LDL levels) and supporting the production of necessary hormones.

Vitamin B3 can be had by consuming animal foods like meat, fish, and eggs, and by eating plant foods like seeds and bananas.

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, another B-complex vitamin, targets circulation and heart health by boosting red blood cell production and maintaining the necessary level of nitric oxide in the blood, which relaxes our blood vessels and allows our blood to flow freely.

Found naturally in foods like fatty fish, bananas, and chickpeas, vitamin B6 is also well represented in vitamins and supplements, so you may just find a hefty dose in your multivitamin of choice.

4. Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9, otherwise known as folate or folic acid (the synthetic version of folate), is important in human development from the womb to the tomb. It’s important as a prenatal vitamin for pregnant women, and it remains important throughout our lives for energy production, muscle tissue repair, and new muscle cell creation.

Vitamin B9 is found in foods like spinach and avocado, a healthy fat. It’s widely prevalent in multivitamin formulas and protein powders made for workout recovery, muscle repair, and more.

5. Vitamin B12

The last of the impressive family of B vitamins on this list, vitamin B12 works closely with folate for muscle repair and is essential for producing the red blood cells needed to deliver oxygen to our muscles.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods like meat, dairy, poultry, and fish, and vegans and vegetarians may suffer from a B12 deficiency due to their reliance on plant-based foods. For those who don’t eat meat, soy products, nut milks, and fortified cereals have some vitamin B12, and supplementation with B12 is often recommended to shore up any gaps.

6. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is well known as the cold- and flu-battling antioxidant, but did you know it helps with muscle recovery too? Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin C both supports your immune system and reduces the lactic acid buildup in your muscles after a workout (the main culprit for muscle soreness). Vitamin C also boosts collagen production, which is needed for skin and connective tissue health and repair.

Food sources of vitamin C don’t stop at citrus fruits like oranges. You can also find high levels of vitamin C in leafy greens like kale, which is known as a superfood thanks to its abundance of vital nutrients.

7. Vitamin D

We can synthesize vitamin D from the sunshine we soak up through our skin, but vitamin D deficiency is nevertheless all too common, in part due to lifestyle necessities like working inside, but also due to circumstances outside of our control, like the melanin content of our skin, or even where we live. There are fewer hours of sunlight during the winter months, and those living in more northern locales may deal with a lack of sufficient vitamin D-rich sun throughout the year.

Vitamin D is critical for helping us absorb calcium, making it important for bone strength and dozens of other processes like insulin reaction, mood balance, and muscle protein synthesis.

Vitamin D foods include fatty fish, dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, beef liver, soy milk, and mushrooms if they’re left to soak up sunlight before you consume them. To optimize the effectiveness of vitamin D, make sure you also get enough vitamin K (found in dark, leafy green vegetables). If your vitamin D levels are low, sun exposure, as well as supplementation, is recommended.

8. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is known for encouraging skin tightening and suppleness, slowing down signs of aging, and helping to guard against free radical damage. Working out and vigorous physical activity creates oxidative stress in our bodies that needs to be met with antioxidant aid from nutrients like vitamin E.

Vitamin E can be found naturally in nuts, seeds, spinach, avocado, and fish such as rainbow trout. In addition to antioxidant support, vitamin E also helps flush out toxins and cellular waste, which is why it’s part of our recommended liver flush diet.

9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

If you eat a standard American diet, you’re likely to have a skewed omega-3-to-omega-6 fatty acid ratio. The ideal is as close as possible to a 1:1 ratio, but due to the overabundance of omega-6s (thanks in part to vegetable oils in processed foods and the difficulty and cost associated with eating natural omega-3 foods), many first-world residents have around a 20:1 ratio when it comes to omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. We can optimize this ratio by eating more omega-3s.

Omega-3s are needed to help reduce post-workout muscle soreness and promote muscle growth (not to mention skin, brain, joint, eye, and cardiovascular health).

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the highest concentrations in fatty, oily fish like sardines, tuna, and mackerel, but they can also be found in eggs, nuts like walnuts, avocados, or fish oil supplements.

10. Amino Acids

There is no rebuilding muscle without a proper amount of all nine essential amino acids. Many workout aids and protein powders focus on the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), but they are only one-third of the full host of necessary aminos for muscle recovery and new muscle growth. If your body has to repair your muscles without a sufficient supply of amino acids, it will catabolize nearby muscle cells for these molecules, which is like building an addition on your house using supplies you have to rip out of the walls already built.

Amino acid foods include “complete protein” foods, such as quinoa, animal meats, and eggs, and complementary proteins like beans and lentils that almost contain all nine amino acids, but still need to be combined with another food like a whole grain for the rest. When actively building muscle, it’s important to keep your essential amino acid levels at max capacity at all times, which is where amino acid supplementation comes in handy.

Supplementing for Muscle Recovery

We here at AminoCo have an amino acid formula that combines a scientifically balanced amount of all nine essential amino acids, with protein support from creatine and with the inclusion of vitamins needed to reduce muscle cramps and aid workout performance. On top of a whole foods diet that contains lean protein and nutritionally dense plant foods, make sure you’re getting the best vitamins and amino acid support for your post-workout muscle recovery.

Glycine for Sleep: The Amino Acid for Better Rest

Glycine for sleep and so much more: find out how this amino acid and neurotransmitter aids your body’s most important functions, and learn how to supplement with it for better sleep quality, vital organ protection, and supple skin.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which probably makes you think of all things muscle, like muscle repair and new muscle creation. You do need all nine essential amino acids to build muscle, but amino acids perform a wide variety of important tasks in the body, including regulating your sleep-wake cycle and the quality of sleep you experience. Glycine is one of those amino acids working tirelessly behind the scenes so that you can get a good night’s sleep. We have the details on the effects of glycine for sleep, and how you can utilize it to optimize your sleep patterns.

What Is Glycine?

Glycine is a naturally occurring nonessential amino acid. It is the simplest in structure of all the amino acids, and yet it’s just as important in daily functioning. Glycine is used to make vital substances like various enzymes and hormones in the body, and it’s also used to synthesize new protein, a role it plays in muscle maintenance and growth.

The human body naturally produces glycine, but it’s also found in protein foods and can be taken as a dietary supplement. While glycine deficiency is extremely rare, studies have shown that low levels of glycine are associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, which we’ll cover in a bit.

Insufficient glycine levels may also be associated with chronic sleep problems, and glycine supplements could function as a natural sleep aid.

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Daytime sleepiness coupled with an inability to fall asleep easily can quickly interrupt your quality of life. It’s more dangerous to drive or commute to work if you’re not properly rested, it’s more difficult to concentrate on your daily tasks, and it saps the enjoyment you should be experiencing when your work is completed each day. Here are some of the scientifically backed data points showing that glycine ingestion could lead to better sleep.

1. Sleep-Promoting

Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter operating in our central nervous system. That means it has a role to play in hearing, vision, motor movement, and our intake and processing of sensory information. By working as an inhibitor, glycine has a calming effect on the central nervous system. The dietary glycine we consume has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, enter our brains, and go where it’s needed.

Perhaps working with other inhibitory neurotransmitters like the amino acid GABA (the exact mechanisms are still not fully understood by researchers), glycine has the ability to help “quiet down” the nervous system and effectively promote sleep.

2. Enhances Memory Formation, Organization, and Retrieval

Memory formation and memory organization are deeply connected to healthy, adequate sleep. One of the other roles glycine performs in the brain is to activate excitatory NMDA receptors, which are keys to synaptic plasticity and the creation of new synapses for learning and memory retention.

Research shows that glycine may be beneficial to memory retrieval in both old and young participants in instances of disrupted sleep, like jet lag or having to work a night shift. Researchers also suggest that glycine may be able to help those with Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and schizophrenia in the area of memory retrieval.

3. Encourages Deeper Sleep

Studies on glycine’s effect on sleep have revealed that glycine ingestion before bedtime improves the subjective sleep quality of those dealing with insomnia. Researchers studied both rat and human subjects, and found the same effects in both, with more information coming from the rat models on the inner workings of glycine.

Glycine taken orally significantly increased the concentration of glycine in the cerebrospinal fluid of rats. Researches noted an increase of cutaneous blood flow coupled with a decrease in core body temperature. A low core body temperature is maintained during human sleep, revealing another facet of how glycine may beneficially interact with our sleep patterns.

4. Calms Anxiety

Studies on glycine for anxiety work closely with serotonin and its relationship to restful sleep. Serotonin is known as the “happy hormone” because it contributes to feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being. Serotonin is also needed to create the hormone melatonin, which encourages deeper sleep and is often lacking in those with sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea.

By increasing serotonin levels, you can lessen anxiety and promote restful sleep, and consuming glycine has been shown to elevate serotonin levels and encourage healthy sleep cycles, both of which provide much needed anxiety relief.

5. Improves Daytime Performance

A study on the effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers asserts that about 30% of the general population suffers from insomnia. Knowing that, researchers chose to test the effects of glycine on the daytime levels of fatigue and sleepiness on people restricted to 25% less of their usual sleep time. They then measured the cognitive performances of the participants.

The results found that those who were given glycine instead of a placebo reported significantly less fatigue and sleepiness, and demonstrated improvements in psychomotor vigilance tests. The researchers also measured circadian rhythms by looking at the suprachiasmatic nucleus (one of a pair of small nuclei in the hypothalamus of the brain). While they found no changes in the circadian clock, they did find that glycine altered specific neuropeptides in the brain, which they suggest accounts for glycine’s ability to improve feelings of sleepiness and fatigue in those who are sleep deprived.

A previously linked study also found that taking supplemental glycine helped people reach slow-wave sleep faster, providing the benefits of deeper REM sleep in a shorter amount of time. This benefit may extend to better mental performance during the day, even when sleep is restricted.

Other Benefits of Glycine Supplementation

The use of glycine in both animal models and human volunteers shows that it has a beneficial impact on the polysomnographic changes in our brains and bodies. But glycine amino acid supplementation can benefit even more than sleep. For instance:

  • Antioxidant support: Glycine is one of the three amino acids needed to create glutathione, an antioxidant that protects the body from the oxidative stress damage caused by free radicles.
  • Collagen creation and skincare: Ingesting glycine promotes collagen levels in the body and helps keep our connective tissues supple and young. Externally, glycine soja oil from soy contains all of the essential amino acids along with vitamin E, and is commonly found in skin conditioning products, beauty supplies, moisturizing soaps, and bath oils.
  • Creatine and workout aid: Glycine is needed to form creatine, a substance you most likely know as a main ingredient in protein shakes that are used to build muscle bulk. Creatine provides fast energy to muscles, making it a vigorous workout aid for any strenuous activity, from weightlifting to sprinting.
  • Liver protection: Glycine has been shown to help prevent alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic cirrhosis.
  • Heart health and blood pressure support: Glycine treatment has been found to improve the usability of nitric oxide in the body, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack.
  • Diabetes management: Glycine aids in both preventing and managing the development of type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity and response.

Glycine Foods and How to Supplement with Glycine

“Glycine” comes from the Greek word glykys (γλυκύς), meaning “sweet-tasting.” In fact, the original betaine, now known as glycine betaine, was first discovered in the sugar beet in the 19th century. Glycine in supplement form still tastes quite sweet, and for that reason it is easily added to foods and beverages like oatmeal, coffee, protein shakes, yogurt, and pudding. Natural glycine foods include high-protein options like:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Dosages and Possible Adverse Side Effects

When studied, up to 90 grams of glycine can be administered every day for several weeks without adverse effects. However, the standard effective dosage is between 3 and 5 grams per day. It’s also important that you seek professional medical advice before adding glycine or any other supplement to your routine if you are already on medications or if you are pregnant or nursing. Some reported potential side effects of supplementing with glycine include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Soft stools

Glycine: Neurotransmitter Extraordinaire

There you have it: glycine is not only effective at improving sleep but also a vital contributor to many functions in the body, including maintaining healthy skin and protecting the liver and the heart. By ensuring that you have sufficient amounts of both your essential and nonessential amino acids like glycine, you can improve your whole-body health.

Functions of Insulin in the Body: Good Guy or Bad Guy?

The functions of insulin in the body are widely misunderstood. In this article, we will explore the actions of insulin on a cellular level to gain a better appreciation for all it does as well as a clearer understanding of how to keep this hormone functioning in balance and at its optimal capacity.

Insulin is perhaps the most important compound circulating in our bodies. It is involved in more than 60 key biological processes. Impairments in insulin function affect many facets of health and well-being and, if left uncorrected, are ultimately fatal. Despite its paramount importance, the functions of insulin in the body are widely misunderstood.

Insulin is an anabolic hormone, meaning it acts to promote synthesis and building, as opposed to catabolic hormones that break down and deconstruct bodily tissues and compounds. Given its vital importance, it is curious that insulin is sometimes portrayed as the bad guy. Consider, for instance, how we cast insulin as the villain responsible for the development of adverse health conditions: type 1 and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and even certain types of cancer.

In this article, we will explore the basic functions of insulin in the body to gain a better appreciation for all it does as well as a clearer understanding of how to keep this hormone functioning in balance and at its optimal capacity.

What Is Insulin?

In technical terms, insulin is a peptide hormone produced by pancreatic beta cells located in the islets of Langerhans. As touched on in the introduction, insulin is the primary anabolic hormone found in the human body.

It governs the metabolic processes your body uses to digest and absorb carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, playing a particularly prominent role in the absorption of carbohydrates—specifically, the movement of glucose from the bloodstream into the liver, muscle, and fat cells throughout the body. Insulin acts on receptors located on the membranes of cells in the liver, other organs, and muscles to promote the uptake of glucose from the blood into the tissue where it is used as fuel or stored as glycogen for later use. Once insulin has successfully engineered the absorption of glucose into the cells, blood glucose levels return to the healthy, baseline range within a few hours.

This touches on the function of insulin that’s most familiar to the average person: its role in regulating blood glucose levels, also called blood sugar levels. Blood glucose or sugar serves as fuel for all the muscles, tissues, and organs of the body. Most importantly, it is the primary fuel for the brain. As such, it is extremely important that blood glucose levels be maintained within a very narrow range.

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia leaves us shaky, irritable, weak, and unable to focus or think clearly. Very high blood sugar levels wreak havoc on our organs and can even induce a coma. Insulin is released by the beta cells in the pancreas when blood sugar levels increase in response to ingestion of carbohydrates and other nutrients. When blood glucose levels are low, the secretion of insulin is inhibited.

Insulin is not only anabolic with regard to delivering fuel and building glucose stores. It also promotes muscle building and fat storage. Depending on your diet and exercise regimen, insulin can work to build muscle and improve body composition. Alternatively, if calories are consumed in excess, creating a positive energy balance, insulin works to clear excess circulating fatty acids in the blood by promoting their storage in adipose cells.

It’s important to understand that the relationship between insulin and glucose goes both ways. When insulin levels in the blood are high, the liver’s production and secretion of glucose decreases and systems throughout the body prioritize the growth and development of new cells. When levels are low, those effects are reversed, and widespread catabolism (the process by which cells are broken down to release the energy they contain) sets in. The catabolic effect associated with low insulin levels has a particularly prominent impact on stores of body fat.

When beta cells become damaged, insulin synthesis as well as insulin secretion become impaired. One example of this would be the autoimmune reaction that results in type 1 diabetes mellitus, the primary symptoms of which are abnormally high blood glucose concentrations as well as excessive catabolism through the body. Type 2 diabetes mellitus stems from the same cause—the destruction of beta cells—however, it’s differentiated from type 1 diabetes in that damage is not spurred by an autoimmune reaction and is less severe.

A Timeline of Key Discoveries About Insulin

Because of the vital importance of insulin as a diabetes treatment, it has been intensely studied for close to a century.

In the early 1920s, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto hit on a method for extracting insulin from the pancreases of animals and purifying it to make it safe to administer to humans as a treatment for diabetes. This discovery earned them the Nobel Prize in 1923.

As an interesting side note, an eminent Romanian scientist named Nicolae Paulescu successfully extracted insulin and demonstrated its efficacy as a diabetes treatment prior to the Canadian team, however, his extract could not be used on humans. No mention of Paulescu’s work was made when the Nobel Prize was awarded, which has since been viewed as a “historic wrong,” in the words of Ian Murray, a professor of physiology, vice-president of the British Association of Diabetes, and founding member of the International Diabetes Foundation.

In 1955, biochemist Fred Sanger determined the order of the amino acids in insulin, making it the first protein to be sequenced. His work with insulin, which he found was made up of two chains of amino acids (the A chain containing 21 amino acids and the B chain 30) linked by disulphide bonds, led to the knowledge that all proteins found in the human body are composed of varying sequences of some or all of the same set of amino acids. This work resulted in another Nobel Prize, which was awarded to Sanger in 1959.

Insulin spurred another major scientific breakthrough in 1963 when it became the first protein to be chemically synthesized. However, it was not yet possible to produce it on a large scale, meaning that individuals with diabetes had to continue to use animal insulin, which causes side effects such as immune responses in some patients.

In 1969, Dorothy Hodgkin (also a Nobel Prize winner), used X-ray crystallography to map the molecular structure of insulin. This allowed researchers to learn more about the functions of insulin in the body as well as how it’s produced.

The form of insulin used for diabetes care today dates back to 1978, when scientists used genetic modification to get bacteria to generate the A and B chains of insulin, then developed a chemical process to link the chains together. This allowed synthetic human insulin to be mass produced and diabetes to be treated far more effectively.

7 Key Discoveries About Insulin

The 4 Different Types of Insulin

At this time, insulin therapy involves the use of four primary types of insulin differentiated by how rapidly the effect of insulin sets in, when the effect reaches its peak, and how long the effect lasts.

The four types are:

  1. Rapid-acting insulin
  2. Short-acting insulin
  3. Intermediate-acting insulin
  4. Long-acting insulin

Per information provided by the American Diabetes Association, the first type, rapid-acting insulin, can be detected in the bloodstream within 15 minutes of injection, reaches peak concentrations in the blood between 30 and 90 minutes, and continues to be detectable for approximately 5 hours.

Short-acting insulin can be detected within 30 minutes, reaches peak concentrations about 2 to 4 hours after injection, and remains present for between 4 and 8 hours.

Intermediate-acting insulin reaches the bloodstream between 2 and 6 hours after injection, peaks between 4 and 14 hours after, and stays in the blood for around 14 to 20 hours.

Long-acting insulin does not reach the bloodstream for 6 to 14 hours, reaches peak concentrations shortly after, and remains in the blood for between 20 hours and a full day.

Every diabetic has individual insulin needs and responses, and there’s no single type that’s universally best. Rather, it’s important to tailor insulin therapy to a patient’s specific needs. It’s even possible to use two types mixed together to access a range of different delivery times, peaks, and durations.

What You Should Know About the 4 Types of Insulin

Insulin’s Role in the Development of Adverse Health Conditions

Experts have found that abnormal insulin levels as well as changes to the body’s ability to detect the presence of insulin contribute to the development of several health conditions, including:

  • Diabetes mellitus: The symptoms of both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes stem from insulin abnormalities resulting in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels).
    • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to destroy the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin, ultimately resulting in complete insulin deficiency.
    • Type 2 diabetes results from either impaired insulin production, insulin resistance, or a combination of both. The mechanisms that cause type 2 diabetes have yet to be fully comprehended, but contributing factors seem to include a lack of physical activity and imbalanced diet.
  • Metabolic syndrome: This accounts for a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and abdominal obesity, all of which seem to originate from insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome often precedes the development of type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This hormonal disorder affects women during their reproductive years, resulting in elevated levels of androgen and poorly functioning ovaries. It’s common for PCOS to involve insulin resistance. Once insulin resistance sets in, the body increases its insulin production, which in turn leads to increased production of androgens.
  • Cancer: Insulin promotes extremely rapid cell division, which can cause cancer to metastasize. High levels of insulin also appear to trigger dangerous changes to DNA regulatory genes that can result in cancer. Furthermore, tumors of the beta cells (whether cancerous or noncancerous) result in a condition called insulinoma that causes high levels of insulin as well as reactive hypoglycemia.

Let’s get into some specifics about the role insulin plays in the development of these conditions.

Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs because the beta cells of the pancreas stop producing insulin. The condition is either present from birth or from an early point in childhood. The treatment of type 1 diabetes necessitates careful monitoring of blood sugar levels in combination with regular insulin injections to keep those levels stable.

Type 2 diabetes, once called adult-onset diabetes, though it’s now becoming quite common among adolescents and children, transpires when the body begins to require higher and higher levels of insulin in order for that protein to carry out its essential functions. This happens due to insulin resistance—though a sufficient amount of insulin is present in the bloodstream, the body cannot detect it, meaning it must continue to produce more and more and more. At a certain point, the demand for insulin exceeds the beta cell’s ability to produce it, and synthetic human insulin must be introduced in order to regulate blood sugar levels.

As has been noted already, without enough insulin, physiological disturbances occur that result in unpleasant symptoms such as:

  • Low energy levels
  • Frequent infections
  • Impaired eyesight
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • High levels of thirst
  • Poor healing of cuts and bruises

As this transpires, the cells of the body shift away from glucose metabolism—since a reliable supply of glucose is no longer available—and begin the breakdown of fat stored as an emergency energy source. If the cells remain in this fat-fueled mode long enough, they begin producing ketones.

As a side note, individuals adhering to the keto diet intentionally pursue the production of ketones by strictly restricting carbohydrates in order to force the body to switch from glucogenesis to ketogenesis as its mode of energy production. In this resulting state of ketosis, the body burns off fat stores at a much higher rate than usual. Intentionally induced nutritional ketosis can be beneficial in terms of weight loss and other potentially positive physiological changes, however, diabetic ketoacidosis is not beneficial at all and is instead quite harmful. In addition to the question of intention, the two states can be differentiated by blood ketone levels. The blood ketone threshold for nutritional ketosis is 0.6 mmol/L. When those levels exceed 1.5 mmol/L, a person is at high risk of ketoacidosis. When left untreated, ketoacidosis can result in severe illness, coma, and even death.

Metabolic Syndrome

Sometimes referred to as insulin resistance syndrome, metabolic syndrome involves the presence of at least three of the following five conditions:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  3. High triglyceride levels
  4. High fasting blood glucose levels
  5. Abdominal obesity

A growing consensus among experts holds that insulin resistance is the catalyst behind the development of metabolic syndrome. “Once acquired, those with a genetic predisposition would develop all the other aspects of the disorder,” they claim.

Other researchers believe insulin resistance arises from a sedentary lifestyle, but whether or not the insulin resistance comes first, it’s clear that it plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of metabolic syndrome.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome results from imbalanced reproductive hormones. It can involve the presence of a fluid-filled cyst inside the ovaries, but the name is somewhat misleading as it’s entirely possible for individuals to have PCOS without developing cysts.

It’s also possible for PCOS to produce very little disruption to a person’s life. In other cases, however, it leads to more serious health problems including type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

As touched on above, insulin resistance drives the development of PCOS. Some risk factors that lead to insulin resistance can’t be controlled, but others relate to lifestyle such as diet and physical activity. Proactive steps can help prevent insulin resistance, and making adjustments can also help to reverse this condition.

Cancer

Insulin has been implicated as a factor in overall cancer risk—specifically, high levels of circulating insulin appear to raise your odds of developing cancer.

Because insulin is a growth factor, hyperinsulinemia promotes extremely rapid cell division, which is not desirable when it comes to cancer cells. Cancer cells exposed to high insulin concentrations can proliferate and migrate aggressively.

DNA regulatory genes are also influenced by chronically elevated insulin and blood sugar, which can trigger changes or mutations in the cell. These alterations can lead to cancers in different tissues and organs in the body.

Last but not least, with insulinoma, the tumors (which can be noncancerous) constantly secrete insulin, thereby causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

How Insulin Leads to the Development of These 4 Conditions

Understanding the Functions of Insulin in the Body

As touched on previously, the presence of glucose stimulates the body to secrete insulin. However, other macronutrients, hormones, and biological compounds also stimulate insulin secretion. The primary function of insulin, as well as its counterpart, glucagon, is to regulate blood glucose concentrations.

Basal Insulin Secretion

A very comprehensive article published in the Clinical Biochemist Reviews establishes the healthy basal level of insulin secretion when the body’s in a fasting state as 0.25 to 1.5 units of insulin per hour. In healthy individuals, basal secretion maintains fasting insulin concentrations in the bloodstream of between 3 and 15 mlU/L. This allows for insulin-dependent entry of glucose into the cells of the body, prevents excessive breakdown of triglycerides, and minimizes glucogenesis, all of which ensures that blood sugar levels remain stable.

Glucose-Stimulated Insulin Secretion

When all is operating as it should, glucose-stimulated insulin secretion occurs in two distinct phases. The first phase is a rapid response, resulting in insulin secretion within 1 minute of glucose entering the bloodstream. This phase peaks in 3 to 5 minutes and only lasts for about 10 minutes.

The second phase has a slower onset. It’s not apparent until 10 minutes after glucose reaches the bloodstream (at which point the first phase will be over, or close to over). The phase involves continuous secretion of insulin for the duration of the time that blood sugar levels remain elevated. The amount of insulin secreted is proportional to the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream.

The first phase involves insulin that has already been synthesized and stored, while the second phase requires the use of newly synthesized insulin.

The Release of Insulin in Response to a Meal

The neat and tidy insulin responses described above only occur in laboratory settings. In the real world, the secretion of insulin stimulated by food intake proves far more difficult to predict due to the multitude of variables involved, such as:

  • Presence of specific nutrients, including amino acids
  • Physical makeup of the foods
  • Rate of gastric emptying
  • Speed of gastrointestinal motility

Furthermore, neural input as well as other digestive hormones such as incretin affect insulin response.

Specific nutrients produce distinct insulin responses. For instance, non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA),  which may come directly from high-fat foods or from the synthesis of excess carbohydrates, lead to increased output of glucose and reduce insulin sensitivity. There’s some indication, too, that they alter glucose-stimulated insulin secretion—in the short-term, elevated levels of NEFA in the blood have been linked to increased glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, but chronically high levels of NEFA result in decreased glucose-stimulated insulin secretion as well as decreased insulin synthesis.

The Role of Insulin Receptors

First described by scientists in 1971, insulin receptors contain special proteins called insulin responsive substrates (IRS) that mediate the effects of insulin on the body’s cells.

Four distinct IRS proteins have been identified and named (rather prosaically): IRS 1, IRS 2, IRS 3, and IRS 4.

IRS 1 controls most actions of insulin in the skeletal muscle cells. IRS 2 handles the liver as well as peripheral insulin signals and the development of pancreatic beta cells. The roles of IRS 3 and 4 remain somewhat more mysterious. IRS 3 can be found in fat cells as well as in beta cells and in the liver, while IRS 4 appear in the thymus, brain, and kidneys.

How Insulin Functions on a Cellular Level

The primary functions of insulin in the body’s cells have to do with the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids from protein as well as the transcription and translation of mRNA.

  • Carbohydrates: Insulin contributes to carbohydrate metabolism at many points during the process. It facilitates the diffusion of glucose from carbohydrates into fat and muscle cells, signals the presence of an abundance of intracellular energy, and more.
  • Fats: Insulin instigates the synthesis of fatty acids in adipose tissue (fat) as well as in the liver and in the mammary glands during lactation. It also affects the metabolism of phospholipids.
  • Protein: Insulin stimulates protein synthesis throughout the body. It also contributes to the transcription of mRNA as well as aiding translation of mRNA into ribosomal proteins.

In a big-picture sense, insulin’s role has to do with the regulation of the body’s cellular energy supply and the balance of micronutrients. When the body is in a fed, as opposed to fasting, state, insulin orchestrates the anabolic processes that lead to muscle growth (so long as a sufficient quantity of amino acids are available), tissue healing, and more. Insulin signals an abundance of energy, indicating to the body that it can halt the breakdown of fat stores and instead carry out fat synthesis.

How Does Insulin Function in the Body?

How to Enhance Insulin Function

Aside from the nutritional strategy of minimizing large spikes in blood glucose, the most effective way to enhance insulin function is to stay physically active.

It makes sense that insulin is an important factor in making sure the body is properly fueled for physical activity. Insulin helps deliver glucose from the blood into the muscle cell. Once in the muscle, glucose is metabolized to produce energy to support physical exertion. Insulin also stores excess glucose as glycogen so that it can be used for energy at a later time.

Dietary protein and amino acids can also stimulate insulin release. Consuming a balance of carbohydrate and protein during exercise has been proven to stimulate more insulin than carbohydrate alone, resulting in faster delivery of glucose to working muscles.

Insulin is also needed to optimize recovery of muscles from a hard workout. Immediately after exercise, the muscle is primed to replenish fuel stores like glycogen and to rebuild and repair muscle proteins. During this period, insulin accelerates the rate at which glycogen and protein synthesis proceeds, up to 2 to 3 times the normal rate as long as carbohydrate and protein are ingested and made available.

Insulin likes to do these jobs, and can carry them out quite efficiently. However, for individuals who live sedentary lifestyles, the muscles use very little stored fuel, resulting in an abundance of excess fuels, carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids in circulation. The good news is, just a single bout of exercise can wake up the insulin receptors and enhance their sensitivity and functioning.  This helps rebalance the body’s energy utilization and storage processes.

Tips for Enhancing Insulin Function

Conclusion

In summary, insulin is an amazing hormone dedicated to ensuring that the food we eat is properly routed to where it is needed and when it is needed. A poor diet high in processed carbohydrates, excess energy intake, and lack of physical activity all tax the ability of insulin to do its job properly.

The overproduction of insulin, as it tries to overcome these challenges, has led to an interpretation that insulin in some way contributes to metabolic dysfunction and health complications. While it’s true that abnormal insulin levels as well as changes to the body’s ability to detect the presence of insulin can lead to the development of adverse health conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and even cancer, insulin itself is not to blame.

Rather, the true instigating factors in the development of these conditions can be traced back to a person’s genes, lifestyle choices, environment, or a combination of all the above. By supplying your body with a properly balanced diet and prioritizing physical activity as much as your other commitments and overall health allow, you can build a foundation for proper insulin function that will keep this crucial hormone operating as a “good guy, not a “bad” one.

Why You Need to Know About Epitalon

Epitalon can influence gene expression, extend telomere length, and produce other exciting physiological effects that have what experts call “geroprotective” results. It may be too soon to make definitive statements about epitalon but the findings so far certainly give a justification for further investigation.

Unless you have a scientific background, it’s unlikely you would have heard of epitalon, sometimes referred to as epithalon, epithalone, epithalamin, or epithalamine. If the promise indicated by certain studies on its anti-aging properties prove to be true, however, this synthetic peptide may become a household name.

Research indicates that epitalon is a telomerase activator, meaning it can stimulate telomere elongation. Much of what we know about epitalon comes from the work of Dr. Vladimir Khavinson and other researchers at the St. Petersburg Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology in Russia where it’s being developed as an anti-aging drug.

In this article, we’ll define what epitalon is and explore what scientists have discovered about its potential anti-aging benefits. But before delving into why scientists are so excited about the effect of epitalon on telomeres, let’s cover some basics about telomeres themselves.

The Link Between Telomeres and Aging

Telomeres cap the ends of our chromosomes and protect our genetic code during cell division. Each chromosome contains the genetic information necessary to keep all the cells in our body healthy and functioning at peak capacity. During cell division, those genes must be copied exactly so that the newly created cells have that same essential information. However, the process of replication always leaves off a small section from the ends of the DNA strands. That’s where telomeres come in. They’re placed at the ends to ensure no vital data gets left behind. Therefore, each time a cell divides, the telomeres capping its chromosomes get shorter. This makes telomere length the limiting factor for cellular division: when they become too short, the cell they’re attached to ceases to divide and enters senescence.

Studies indicate shortened telomeres may cause several adverse consequences of aging and age-related diseases, including increased oxidative stress, cancer, and overall mortality. Some experts have gone so far as to hypothesize that the shortening of telomeres may drive the entire aging process.

Understandably, this has drawn attention to telomere elongation as a possible method for preserving good health as we grow older. Stem cells—a subset of cells within the body with the ability to develop into different cell types (and in some instances, to repair injured tissues)—contain an enzyme called telomerase that keeps telomeres long, allowing those cells to replicate an infinite number of times.

Research indicates that providing the body with supplemental telomerase can indeed be an effective anti-aging treatment, however, it may have seriously deleterious side effects. That’s because cancer cells, like stem cells, rely on telomerase to maintain a ceaseless rate of replication. Experts in the field of gerontology, the multidisciplinary study of aging and the problems that can accompany it, have raised concerns that the use of exogenous telomerase could spur the development of cancer.

Epitalon may offer a way to lengthen telomeres without the same risks associated with the use of supplemental telomerase.

What Is Epitalon?

The discovery of epitalon, a tetrapeptide with the amino acid sequence Ala-Glu-Asp-Gly, was a direct result of efforts to develop safe and effective methods for offsetting adverse effects of aging.

Scientists know that gene expression varies significantly with age, though there are numerous and conflicting explanations for why that might be. A simple and persuasive one goes like this: gene expression acts as a timer for the human life cycle. During our youth, we express genes that allow us to grow. During middle age, we express genes meant to keep us healthy. And when we reach old age, we begin to express genes that cause our cells to shut down.

Gene expression, on a cellular level, describes the translation of our DNA into proteins, the signaling mechanisms of the body. In the 1970s, Dr. Vladimir Anisimov, of the Department  of Carcinogenesis and Oncogerontology, N.N. Petrov Research Institute of Oncology in St. Petersburg, and a frequent collaborator of Dr. Khavinson, began investigating the role of short peptides, which he ultimately learned function as epigenetic signals that both promote and repress the expression of whole categories of genes.

These short peptides, strings of fewer than 10 amino acids, can regulate the chemistry of the entire body. This capacity comes in part from the fact that their small size allows them to pass through the skin as well as through the blood-brain barrier. And unlike larger proteins, they tend to pass through the digestive tract intact.

In a review that synthesized a few decades of data, Anisimov shared the results of his investigation of the roles of small peptides isolated from different organs and tissues, such as the thymus gland and the pineal gland, on the mechanisms of aging. As part of his research, Anisimov also developed analogues of those peptide bioregulators, such as synthetic tetrapeptide epitalon.

The terms “epithalamin” and “epithalamine” typically refer to extracted peptide preparations, while “epitalon,” “epithalon,” and “epithalone” refer to synthetic peptide preparations. As epitalon has been shown to reproduce the effects of epithalamin, we will use that term throughout unless further specificity is required for clarity.

The long-term use of certain peptide preparations led to significantly increased longevity (mean lifespan increases between 20% and 40%) as well as a slower rate of age-associated alterations to biomarkers linked to physical and mental decline. Anisimov’s work also showed lower rates of spontaneous tumor incidence in subjects who received epitalon treatment, indicating that it has anti-carcinogenic effects.

We’ll dig into the specifics of some pioneering animal and human studies on epitalon in the following section, but first, let’s discuss why Anismov focused on the thymus and pineal gland.

How the Thymus and Pineal Gland Affect Your Health

The main function of the thymus, a gland in the upper region of the chest, is to teach the immune cells to differentiate between invading pathogens and the cells of the body. As we age, the size of the thymus decreases, which some have suggested could be the root cause of age-related decreases to immune function, resulting in higher incidences of infections and autoimmune diseases.

In the 1980s, the Slavic researchers whom we have to thank for the bulk of our knowledge about short peptides were focused on the possibilities of a thymic peptide bioregulator  called thymalin which they found could spur the thymus to re-grow, thus enhancing immune function. The use of thymalin also resulted in other desirable anti-aging benefits, such as:

Studies consistently linked thymalin treatment to decreased mortality rates too.

However, the heyday of thymalin was short-lived. In the early 1990s, researchers began focusing on the role the pineal gland plays in the aging process, specifically, its ability to modulate functions of the neuroendocrine and immune systems, which have been shown to decease with age.

Located in a region of the brain called the epithalamus, the pineal gland regulates the body’s sleep/wake cycle, a crucial task that involves the secretion of a hormone called melatonin. A significant moment in the progression of research in this field occurred when researchers used syngeneic transplantation to place pineal glands from young mice into the thymus of older mice, resulting in a prolonged lifespan. Concurrently, researchers were examining the effects of various pineal peptides. One such compound, epithalamin, was found to be a complex peptide bioregulator that could reduce the rate of cellular aging, leading to increased longevity.

Epithalamin, like thymalin, is a short peptide composed of a string of four amino acids. However, studies showed that it could increase longevity more consistently than thymalin, that it suppressed cancer growth, and that it even had a more pronounced effect on thymic growth.

In the early 2000s, excitement about epitalon increased even more when scientists found it could activate telomerase, leading to the regrowth of telomeres. It has now become the most-studied short peptide.

11 Essential Facts Everyone Should Know About Epitalon

Important Findings About the Benefits of Epitalon

The effects of epitalon have been examined in a variety of contexts: in vitro studies, animal studies, and human studies. Findings in all three realms have clearly and consistently indicated pronounced anti-aging benefits.

In Vitro Studies

The most significant work being done in vitro has to do with the effect of epitalon on telomerase activity. According to a 2003 study with Khavinson as the lead author, the addition of epitalon to a human somatic cell that did not naturally produce telomerase induced enzymatic telomerase activity, resulting in telomere elongation. They concluded that these findings indicate “the possibility of prolonging life span of a cell population and of the whole organism.”

In 2016, a St. Petersburg-based research team found that epitalon produced telomere elongation significant enough to allow cells to exceed the Hayflick limit, which describes the typical lifespan for a human cell.

Animal Studies

In 1998, Anisimov and Khavinson collaborated on a study that, as described in an article published by the The Longevity Research Institute (LRI), examined the effect of epithalamin, a pineal peptide preparation, on the lifespan of fruit flies, mice, and rats. They found that epithalamin led to a median lifespan extension of between 14% and 32% longer than control subjects. Interestingly, they also found indications that epithalamin decreased cancer risk.

The LRI article cited above shares further key findings from other studies on epithalamin. Female rats between the ages of 16 and 18 months receiving daily doses of 0.1 milligrams of pineal peptide extract had a 10% longer lifespan than control subjects per a study published in Experimentelle Pathologie. When the dose was increased to 0.5 milligrams, the rats lived 25% longer than controls. Female mice given a 0.5-milligram dose of epithalamin daily lived 31% longer than controls and had 50% fewer tumors, according to another study Anisimov and Khavinson worked on.

In 2002, a team from the Department of Medical Biology and Genetics, I. P. Pavlov St. Petersburg State Medical University collaborated with Anisimov and Khavinson to examine the effects of epitalon on chromosome aberrations related to aging. They found that the incidence of such aberrations decreased by between 17.9% and 30% compared to age-matched controls. The team concluded that these results point to an “antimutagenic effect,” which they hypothesize could be the source of epitalon’s geroprotective abilities. It’s worth noting, too, that the changes observed were consistent with increased telomere length.

Some skeptics have suggested that the lifespan extension benefits associated with various anti-aging treatments, such as epithalamin and epitalon, can more accurately be attributed to incidental food intake changes related to the way such treatments affect appetite. And indeed, fasting has been shown to have an impressive effect on lifespan.

In the case of epitalon specifically, studies with standardized food consumption have yielded the same findings related to longevity.

Take, for example a study published in Biogerontology in 2003Anisimov, Khavinson, and a team of seven other researchers from the Department of Carcinogenesis and Oncogerontology at the NN Petrov Research Institute of Oncology in St. Petersburg looked at the effects of epitalon on body weight, food consumption, and lifespan in female Swiss SHR mice. The researchers subcutaneously injected the mice in the treatment group with 1.0 microgram/mouse of epitalon on 5 consecutive days each month. The control group received saline injections on the same schedule. The results showed a 12.3% extension of maximum lifespan in comparison to the control group with no changes to food consumption or body weight.

Epitalon has been linked to benefits that, while relevant to those interested in remaining healthy and vital while they age, can be quite valuable for individuals of all ages.

A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2007 looked at the antioxidant properties of epitalon. The authors (Khavinson and two other Russian researchers) found that epitalon produced impressive antioxidant effects, and perhaps even more crucially, simultaneously stimulated the expression of additional antioxidant enzymes such as ceruloplasmin, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione-S-transferase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD). All in all, this translates to a major fortification of the body’s antioxidant defense system.

Anisimov joined forces with a team of scientists from the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Rehovot, Israel to examine the effect of epitalon on cancer growth. To do so, they injected 0.1-microgram doses of epitalon 5 times each week. They found this treatment decreased the number of malignant tumors and prevented the development of metastases. The long-term exposure to epitalon involved in the treatment protocol produced no adverse side effects.

Human Studies

Human studies have also yielded promising results. A randomized, controlled trial co-authored by Khavinson and a researcher named Vyacheslav G. Morozov and published in Neuroendocrinology Letters enrolled 94 women between the ages of 66 and 94, all of whom lived at the War Veterans Home in St. Petersburg. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: the first received a placebo, the second a thymus extract called thymalin, the third epithalamin, and the fourth both thymalin and epithalamin.

Over the course of the 6-year study, 81.8% of the patients in the control group died, while only 41.7% of patients in the thymalin group and 45.8% of those in the epithalamin group, both of which received treatment for 2 years, died. And only a stunningly slight 20.0% of those in the group who received both epithalamin and thymalin for the full 6 years had died by the study’s conclusion. Further, the authors noted that participants who received epithalamin had lower rates of ischemic heart disease as well as improved levels of key biomarkers such as cortisol and insulin.

In 2006, Khavinson collaborated with lead author O.V. Korkushko of the Institute of Gerontology at the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine in Kiev on a randomized clinical study done with human subjects. They set out to examine the effect of “pineal gland peptide preparation”—epithalamin—on elderly patients with accelerated aging of the cardiovascular system, and  found that long-term treatment with 50-milligram injections of epithalamin every 6 months for a duration of 12 years lead to decreased cardiovascular aging as well as decreased overall functional age. Epithalamin also improved participants’ exercise tolerance. Furthermore, mortality in the group that received epithalamin was 28% lower than in the control group.

In a review titled “Peptides, Genome, and Aging,” Khavinson states that treatment with both epitalon and epithalamin resulted in increased telomere lengths in the blood cells of patients between 60 and 65 years of age as well as 75 and 80 years of age. The efficacy of the two treatments proved to be equal.

As was the case for research done with animal subjects, human trials pointed to epitalon benefits desirable for individuals of all ages.

A 2011 collaboration between Korkushko, Khavinson, and two other researchers examined the effects of epitalon on elderly coronary patients. The team found that long-term treatment—meaning six courses over 3 years—resulted in numerous benefits, including:

  • Slowed rate of cardiovascular aging
  • Prevention of age-related declines to physical endurance
  • Rebalanced melatonin production and circadian rhythm
  • Normalized carbohydrate and fat metabolism

Patients also had lower rates of mortality than those in the control group who received basic therapy but no epitalon.

A 2013 study looked at the influence of epitalon on chromosome aberrations in pulmonary tuberculosis patients, as this disease is classified as one stemming from a genetic predisposition. Genome stability, or rather, instability, is one marker that can assist with the early detection of pulmonary tuberculosis. The researchers hoped that epitalon would have a corrective effect on the genome variability linked to the disease. Epitalon proved to have a potent protective effect—it reduced the frequency of aberrant cells for all subjects. However, it did not have a significant effect on chromosomal fragility that was already present.

Conclusion

The work of Dr. Vladimir Khavinson and other researchers, primarily based in Russia and Ukraine, indicate that epitalon has immense promise as an anti-aging drug. This promise has to do with epitalon’s ability to influence gene expression, extend telomere length, and other exciting physiological effects that have what experts call “geroprotective” results.

Little research has yet been conducted on epitalon by researchers without ties to Russian institutions, so it may be too soon to make definitive statements about epitalon, but the findings so far certainly give a justification for further investigation.

Pulled and Torn Calf Muscle Recovery Time: How to Heal Your Lower Leg

This article has details on how to rest the injured area, how long it takes for pulled or torn calf muscle recovery time, and how to strengthen the back of the lower leg to avoid reinjury going forward.

Anything from a calf strain to an outright muscle tear can hobble you, interrupting your ability to walk, to work out, and to enjoy your daily life. This article has details on how to rest the injured area, how long it takes for pulled or torn calf muscle recovery time, and how to strengthen the back of the lower leg to avoid reinjury going forward.

The Calf Muscle and Lower Leg

In human anatomy, the calf muscle is located on the back of the lower leg. It consists of two distinct muscles, the larger gastrocnemius muscle, which creates the visible bulge on the back of the leg, and the soleus muscle, a flatter muscle that lies beneath the gastrocnemius muscle.

The calf is attached via the Achilles tendon to the heel of the foot. The calf muscle allows us to flex the ankle and the knee, and to run, jump, and rise to our tippy toes. It’s an integral part of daily movement.

Calf Muscle Injuries

There are many degrees of calf muscle injury. Here’s a breakdown of the different soft tissue injuries that could be causing calf pain.

  • Calf muscle strain: Straining the calf muscle involves a tearing of the calf muscle fibers. Muscle strains can exist along a spectrum from mild cases of light pain and soreness to severe cases of complete tear.
  • Pulled calf muscle: Another name for a calf muscle strain, a pulled calf muscle is caused by “pulling” or overstretching the muscle beyond its natural limits.
  • Calf muscle tear: Any strain involves some measure of tearing, but the more serious ones are partial or complete tears that may require surgery to fix.
  • Calf muscle rupture: A complete tear is also known as a rupture, which impairs the ability to walk and may display a lump under the skin if the calf collapses.
  • Calf muscle myositis: Another culprit that can cause calf pain is myositis, a rare inflammation of the muscle that can occur due to infections or autoimmune disorders.
  • Calf muscle cancer: This is another rare condition, but in cases of cancer, it is possible for a tumor (sarcoma) to form in the calf muscle or for other cancerous growths to spread to the calf (metastasis).

Pulled or torn calf muscle recovery time.

Pulled or Torn Calf Muscle Recovery Time

A pulled or torn calf muscle can be a brief concern, a mild injury resulting from a one-time accident or overstrain. It’s a common sports injury, familiar to many athletes and runners, but one strain that is not properly healed can become a long-term chronic injury that is more likely to become reinjured multiple times. Chronic calf injuries could possibly lead to a complete calf tear and immobility. The treatment options and recovery times differ depending on severity.

Pulled Calf Muscle Recovery Time

A milder pulled calf injury may come with symptoms like redness, bruising, mild swelling, and an inability to stand up on the ball of your foot. Depending on the severity of the injury, these types of sprains can usually be treated at home with RICE and other healing aids. RICE stands for:

  • Rest: If sharp pain makes it difficult for you to walk normally, stay off your feet or use the aid of a cane or crutch to give your body time to heal.
  • Ice: An ice pack or a cold compress applied to the area for 10 minutes at a time, every hour or so in the first few days, can help reduce inflammation and swelling, plus ease pain.
  • Compression: A leg wrap can also help reduce swelling and increase your mobility while you heal.
  • Elevation: Prop up your leg above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling and pain.

Other options for at-home treatment include a heating pad to help draw blood to the area after the first few days (just be sure not to fall asleep with the pad on as it could cause skin burns or exacerbate swelling). You might also try over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen—just be sure to take them as directed. For more natural aids, consider taking an amino acid supplement to increase the supply of raw materials needed to mend muscle fiber: all nine essential amino acids.

The recovery time for a mild calf injury is a few days to a week. You may only have to take special care to treat the injury in the first day or two. So long as you don’t reinjure the area by resuming vigorous physical activity too soon, your body will take care of the rest. In more severe cases it could take a month to 6 weeks to fully heal an injured calf muscle, so just be sure to listen to your body before resuming sports activities.

Torn Calf Muscle Recovery Time

Symptoms of a torn calf that don’t improve after a few days or start to worsen could be a sign of a more severe tear or a gastrocnemius muscle rupture. Also known as “tennis leg,” calf ruptures may require surgical intervention and/or physical therapy. Prompt treatment should be sought if you suspect the injury won’t improve with at-home care, as some injuries could handicap the affected leg for the rest of your life.

Keep in mind that around 30% of people who have one calf muscle strain end up experiencing repeated injuries because they’re not fully healed before returning to strenuous activity. This is especially true for athletes who demand the same movements from their bodies over and over again. Also keep in mind that it’s possible to herniate the muscle of a calf, prompting repeated and chronic injury.

The recovery time for a fully torn calf muscle will be longer than a simple strain and will depend on the treatment option you choose with your doctor or physical therapist, plus other factors like your age and general fitness level. Once you are healed, it’s important to restrengthen your calf to avoid future injuries.

How to Prevent a Torn Calf Muscle

Here are some stretches and strengthening exercises you can use to help minimize the risk of calf injury and hopefully prevent future sprains and injuries.

  • Warm up and stretch for at least 5 minutes before engaging in exercise or sport, and set aside time for a cool-down period of stretching to prevent cramping.
  • Use a chair stretch to loosen up your hamstrings. It’s important to stretch your whole leg and body before working out, as every bit of the body is connected to the rest, and tension in one area could cause an injury in another.
  • Wall stretches allow you to focus on loosening up the back of the leg from heel to hip.
  • The floor or supine stretch helps condition your leg muscles for the prevention of injury.
  • A standing calf stretch is not only targeted for calf strength but can also be easily done just about anywhere throughout the day.
  • Supplement with amino acids to help support muscle recovery and repair with a full host of the building blocks of new protein synthesis.

Proper stretching helps prevent injury and strengthens the stability of your knee, improving your physical performance and protecting other areas of the leg from getting hurt. For more specific medical advice or help with your technique, consult with a doctor or qualified physiotherapist.

Long-Term Calf Recovery

Calf injuries are relatively common in sports medicine and physiotherapy and can quickly become debilitating if they keep you from walking. Be extra cautious as you heal these injuries to reduce recovery time. And be sure to consume the right amount of amino acid nutrition to build new muscle fibers. The faster you heal, the better chance you have to return to your full range of motion and make instances of further injury less likely.

How to Memorize Amino Acids: Your Study Hack for Acing the MCATs

How to memorize amino acids: 6 creative mnemonics for memorizing the different amino acid classifications, including charged, polar, nonpolar, essential, nonessential, and aromatic.

Whether you’re studying to pass the MCATs (future medical students) or the PCATs (future pharmacists), you’re going to need to summon extensive knowledge of the 20 main amino acids relevant to human health. We have a few mnemonics that can help you ace your upcoming exam. Read on to learn how to memorize amino acids.

The Use of Mnemonics for Memory

Mnemonic devices are memory aids, and can be anything from a rhyme, a song (like the alphabet song), or any other trick to remember a set of information for whatever reason. Researchers have confirmed that mnemonic strategies help improve memory in those with mild cognitive impairment by literally reshaping the brain network to support superior memory.

Some examples of mnemonics include the way people remember the order of colors in the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet, which can be recalled by thinking of a man named ROY G. BIV, or by remembering the phrase “Rainbows Over Your Great Big Island Vista.”

The mnemonic for order of operations is PEMDAS or “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction. Same with remembering the order of the plants that revolve around our sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune can be remembered with the phrase, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.”

These sorts of mnemonic devices might only need to take up space in your head until you’ve fully retained the information, or these devices may serve you for the rest of your life, like remembering the clockwise order of North, East, South, and West by forever thinking, “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.” As nonsensical as it may be, it’s helpful!

How to memorize Amino Acids

How to Memorize Amino Acids: 6 Mnemonic Devices

Without further ado, here are the tricks for how to memorize 20 amino acids. MCATs are notoriously difficult and stressful, so if you can help yourself file away the information you need on the aminos in general, like which are polar and nonpolar, which are essential and nonessential, plus their structures and which have electrically charged side chains, you’re that much closer to passing your exam.

Fundamentals First

Let’s start with the structure of amino acids, as that is what classifies them each so distinctly.

1. Amino Acid Structures

Amino acids all have the same basic structure, with a hydrogen atom and three functional groups of molecules attached to a central atom. They start with a carbon atom at the center and are joined by an amino or amine group (~NH3+), a hydrogen atom, and a carboxyl group (~COOH). The final side chain is the one that makes each amino different: the R group is the variable group that makes each structure distinct.

The way to remember their collective structure is CORN, an acronym for the carboxyl group (CO), R group (R), and amino group (N).

When it comes to L- vs. D- amino acids, the difference is the direction that they rotate. For the L- or left-moving amino acids, starting with the carboxyl group (CO) the next structure that moves to the top will be the R group (R), and then the amino group (N). D- aminos move in the opposite direction showing you carboxyl, then amino, then the R group. The order stays the same, it’s just a matter of whether the molecule rotates right or left.

CORN is easier to keep in mind than the non-word CONR for remembering which groups in what order surround the central carbon atom.

All 20 Amino Acids: Charged, Polar, and Nonpolar

Read on for ways to remember which amino acids are hydrophilic (polar) and which are hydrophobic (nonpolar), as well as a trick for remembering the basic (positively charged) and acidic (negatively charged) aminos. All 20 amino acids can be sorted into the three categories: charged, polar, and nonpolar.

2. Charged Amino Acids

In organic chemistry, of the 20 common amino acids, five have side chains that are able to be charged, two negatively and three positively.

  • Negatively charged amino acids: Glutamate or glutamic acid (Glu, E) and aspartate or aspartic acid (Asp, D). These are the two acidic amino acids (hence the word “acid” in their names). Here’s a good place to note that aspartate and glutamate are identical to asparagine (Asn, N) and glutamine (Gln, Q) except that the first two have negatively charged oxygen molecules attached to them, while the latter two have an amino group with nitrogen contained within. When you notice the “n” in each of their three-letter codes, think of nitrogen, and that may help you differentiate between them.
  • Positively charged amino acids: Arginine (Arg, R), histidine (His, H), and lysine (Lys, K). These are also the three basic amino acids.

To remember these five we suggest the phrase: “Dragons Eat Knights Riding Horses.” It’s based on their one-letter codes D, E, K, R, and H. As far as which one-letter code goes to which amino, we suggest you employ flashcards for memorizing the letter abbreviations, because as you can see, they don’t necessarily contain the letter to which they’re assigned.

3. Polar Amino Acids (Hydrophilic)

Polar amino acids are so classified because they contain side chains that prefer to reside in water environments (hydrophilic). Histidine, lysine, and arginine (the positively charged aminos) are also considered polar. The rest include: asparagine (Asn, N), aspartate (Asp, D), serine (Ser, S), glutamine (Gln, Q), threonine (Thr, T), glutamate (Glu, E), and tyrosine (Tyr, Y).

One way to remember these is by their one-letter codes: “Santa’s Team Darns New Quilts Every Year.”

4. Nonpolar Amino Acids (Hydrophobic)

The nonpolar, hydrophobic amino acids are:

  • Alanine (Ala, A)
  • Phenylalanine (Phe, F)
  • Glycine (Gly, G)
  • Proline (Pro, P)
  • Isoleucine (Ile)
  • Tryptophan (Trp, W)
  • Leucine (Leu, L)
  • Isoleucine (Ile, I)
  • Valine (Val, V)
  • Methionine (Met, M)
  • Cysteine (Cys, C)

Here’s a handy way to remember these 10 nonpolar aminos: “Grandma Always Visits London In May For Winston Churchill’s Party.” Winston Churchill was born November 30, 1874, but as the prime minister during World War II, you might imagine he’d have a party each year on May 8th, which is Victory in Europe Day, celebrating the formal surrender of the Nazis to the Allies. This is a mnemonic device that could help you on any upcoming history exams too!

Aromatic, Essential, and Nonessential Amino Acids

There are a few more classifications that might be useful to know on MCAT amino acids questions: which amino acids are aromatic and which are considered essential vs. nonessential.

5. Essential Amino Acids

The essential amino acids are the ones we need to get from our food, because they cannot be produced independently inside the body. They include:

  • Histidine
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

The best mnemonic device for this one is not based on the one-letter codes, but instead on the first letter of each amino: PVT. T.M. HILL. Just think of Private T.M. Hill as one of the brave soldiers who returned from war and happily celebrates each May with Winston Churchill.

6. Nonessential Amino Acids

Here are the remaining 11 amino acids that our bodies can synthesize independently:

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine

You can use the first letter of each one as a mnemonic: “Ah, Almost All Girls Go Crazy After Getting Taken Prom Shopping.” If you think the guys go as crazy as the girls, feel free to sub in one G-word for the other.

Memorable Aminos

Now you have six mnemonic tools for how to memorize the amino acids in preparation for your exams. There’s always more information to learn (for example, the three aromatic amino acids), but these memory tricks can help you lay the groundwork for a pre-med education that’s only just beginning. Best of luck!

T-Lymphocytes: How Your T-Cells Save Your Life

You may have heard vaguely about the importance of T-lymphocyte or T-cells in your immune system, but how do they function? Find out how closely linked amino acids like glutamine, methionine, and leucine are to your immune system response and the utilization of T-lymphocyte cells to fight diseases and cancer.

You may have heard vaguely about the importance of T-lymphocyte or T-cells in your immune system, but how do they function? And what do they have to do with amino acids? We break down the science so that if ever you hear your T-cells are too high or too low, you’ll know what the doctor is talking about.

What Are T-Lymphocytes?

A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell, and each white blood cell has a specific role to play in the body’s immune function. Like all blood cells, T-lymphocytes come from haematopoietic stem cells, which are stem cells in our bone marrow. They work to fight infections and various types of cancer cells in an adaptive immune system, also referred to as an acquired immune system. Our adaptive immunity uses T-cells and B-cells (B-lymphocytes, also derived from bone marrow) to battle organisms and intracellular pathogens that slip through the frontlines of our bodies’ defenses.

T-cells work in cell-mediated immunity. While we’re born with other innate immune cells like dendritic cells, basophils, neutrophils, and macrophages (which are also deployed in emergency immune responses), T-cells and B-cells launch a more sophisticated and targeted attack.

Both T-cells and B-cells are specialized cells that we earn by surviving in our environments. These cells tend to live longer than innate immune cells, and they are also the cells that allow for vaccinations to work due to their ability to learn, adapt, and grow stronger.

B-cells mature in our bone marrow, whereas T-cells travel first to the thymus gland and become thymocytes, which is where they get their “T,” and continue to mature and differentiate. Our thymus glands shrink as we age, making T-cell expansion more and more vital as we grow older.

Immunotherapy treatments for multiple forms of cancer, including cancers of the bloodstream like lymphoma and leukemia, rely on T-cells. T-cells are less likely than B-cells to mutate into liquid cancers like chronic lymphocytic leukemia or B-cell lymphoma, and T-cells can also be engineered into chimeric antigen receptors, able to identify specific proteins on tumor cell membranes for a surgical strike against cancer.

Types of T-Lymphocytes

There are two major types of T-cells: helper T-cells, which stimulate B-cells to create antibodies, and killer T-cells, which mercilessly strike out any compromised or infected cell they find.

Taking advantage of this ability to target cells, researchers have developed anti-cancer drugs to enhance this form of autoimmunity against cancers like melanoma and lung cancer, disrupting the surface marker evasions these cells employ to sneak into the body and activating the surface receptors of T-cells to focus them on cancer elimination.

Further T-cell specifications break down into five types of T-cells.

  • CD4+ T-Cells: These helper cells activate when they discover MHC Class II molecules (major histocompatibility complex) on the cell surface of antigen presenting cells (APCs). They stimulate B-cells to become plasma cells and memory B-cells, activate innate macrophages and cytotoxic T-cells, and rapidly divide while secreting cytokines (small proteins) to alert the immune system’s response.
  • CD8+ T-Cells: CD8+ cytotoxic T-cells (CTLs) cause lysis (cell wall disintegration) in antigenic tumor and virus-infected cells.
  • Memory T-cells: Naive T-cells upon activation differentiate into either CD4+ or CD8+ effector function cells, or memory T-cells. Memory T-cells are long-living, and therefore have the ability to “remember” encountered pathogens and quickly expand into CD4+ or CD8+ in large numbers when they encounter them again.
  • Natural Killer T-Cells: Most T-cells function after recognizing MHC molecules (MHC-I or -II) via T-cell receptors (TCRs), but these natural killer cells are able to bind to other foreign antigen cells without that stimulation, and proceed to kill them by inserting perforin-containing granules through the cell walls (perforin is a protein that creates lesion-like pores in cell membranes).
  • Regulatory T-cells: Regulatory T-cells are present to check the immune system and help prevent the development of autoimmune diseases and allergies to common environmental realities like molds, pollen, or pet dander.

What Are T-Lymphocytes?

Amino Acids and the Immune Response

Thymic, or T-cell activation, is closely linked to our amino acids. Most of our lymphocytes, including T-cells, move through the lymph nodes and other lymphatic organs like the tonsils and spleen, but they can’t do so unaided. There are amino acids necessary for this immune response.

Glutamine

Glutamine is a nonessential hydrophilic amino acid that is coupled with naive T-cell activation and linked to the amino acid transporter ASCT2. Researchers have found that inflammatory T-cell responses rely on amino acid transporter ASCT2 and come with a rapid glutamine uptake. Though it’s still not largely understood, it’s nevertheless clear that glutamine plays a role in the immune response necessary to defeat deadly pathogens.

Methionine

Methionine is an essential amino acid that researchers have identified as necessary for the synthesis of new proteins and muscle and for the methylation of RNA and DNA, which drives T-cell proliferation and differentiation. Essential amino acids are those our bodies cannot make independently, and so must be consumed in the proper amount via food sources or supplementation.

Leucine

Again, the amino acid transporters that are tasked with the uptake of essential amino acids like leucine are attached to the development, maintenance, and activation of T-lymphocytes. This 2017 review looked at LAT1 (L-leucine transporter) along with ASCT2 (L-glutamine transporter) and GAT-1 (γ-aminobutyric acid transporter-1) and found that they are important for the fate decisions and determinations of memory T-cells and other lymphocytes. The researchers also suggested that manipulation of the amino acid transporter-mTORC1 axis could help manage inflammatory and autoimmune diseases tied to T-cell-based immune responses.

What Interrupts T-Lymphocyte Function?

T- and B-lymphocytes work hand-in-hand to fight disease and infection, but sometimes they are forced out of order in circumstances of illness. Doctors can often use a blood count of overall lymphocyte content to determine whether or not there is something afflicting your immune system. If your lymphocyte count is too high or too low it could indicate the following diseases and disorders.

Low Lymphocyte Count

A low lymphocyte count is known as lymphocytopenia, and can arise if your body isn’t producing sufficient lymphocytes, if the lymphocytes you do produce are being destroyed, or if they are trapped in places like your spleen or lymph nodes. With a lower lymphocyte count you are more at risk of developing infections, and that low count is often associated with the following conditions:

  • Influenza
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Undernutrition
  • Steroid usage
  • Radiation therapy and chemo drugs for cancer
  • Cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus
  • Inherited conditions like DiGeorge or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome

High Lymphocyte Count

A high lymphocyte count, called lymphocytosis, is also an indication that your immune system is under attack from an overwhelming disease or illness, such as the following:

Amino Acids and The Immune Response

Taking Care of Your T-Cells

Without T-lymphocyte cells standing as the second line of defense against diseases, viruses, and cancer cells, our immune systems would collapse. Scientists are hard at work not only trying to understand the utilization pathways of these cells, but also striving to improve their numbers and recruit them in the battle to cure cancer. Closely tied to the movement and usage of our amino acids, T-cells are the special ops team keeping each of us alive.