Amino Acids for Hearing Loss: Understanding the Vital Role Certain Amino Acids Play

Chances are, when you think about protecting your hearing health, nutrition isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But maybe it should be. Here’s how nutrient intake, specifically of certain key amino acids, impacts hearing health.

Though nutrition may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider your hearing health, researchers working in the field of nutrient science have found that certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids can be quite impactful. Before delving into what scientists have uncovered so far about amino acids for hearing loss, we’ll first review some fundamental facts about hearing loss.

Basic Facts About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss occurs when part of the ear or overall auditory system malfunctions. Possible sites where malfunctions might occur include:

  • Hair cells of the inner ear
  • Organ of corti
  • Spiral ganglion
  • Stria vascularis
  • Auditory brainstem

Hearing loss has degrees of severity ranging from mild, which limits a person’s ability to hear soft sounds, to profound, which prevents a person from hearing anything but very loud sounds.

Normal hearing is defined as hearing thresholds of 25 decibels (dB) or better in both ears. Any individual who does not meet that criteria technically has some degree of hearing loss. The colloquial phrase “hard of hearing” applies to individuals with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss. Typically, those individuals can communicate through spoken language, though they may find hearing aids, cochlear implants, captioning, and other interventions useful.

Those who identify as deaf most likely have profound hearing loss. Because they can hear very few, or no, sounds, it’s common for deaf individuals to use sign language to communicate.

According to a fact sheet compiled by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), more than 2 out of every 1,000 children born in the United States annually have detectable hearing loss in one or both ears. Hearing tests show that 13% of people over the age of 12 who live in the United States have hearing loss in both ears. Furthermore, 37.5 millions adults living in the United States experience some level of hearing loss.

As individuals grow older, their odds of experiencing hearing impairment increase. In fact, age is the single most significant predictor of hearing loss for adults between the ages of 20 and 69—the highest rates of hearing loss occur among those in the 60 to 69-year-old age bracket.

Sex affects your odds of experiencing hearing loss too. Men have nearly twice the risk women do of developing hearing loss. And race seems to play a role as well, with non-Hispanic white adults reporting higher rates of hearing loss than other racial and ethnic groups.

It’s common for age-related hearing loss to become increasingly severe. Approximately 2% of adults between the ages of 45 and 54 have hearing loss significant enough to be considered disabling, meaning “hearing loss of 35 decibels or more in the better ear, the level at which adults could generally benefit from hearing aids.” That rate rises to 8.5% for adults between the ages of 55 and 64. By age 65 nearly a quarter of adults could benefit from hearing aids, and by 75, more than half could.

Unfortunately, very few of the people for whom hearing aids could be helpful actually use them. Only one in three adults 70 and older with significant hearing loss have used hearing aids.

7 Quick Facts About Hearing Loss

Probing the Link Between Nutrition and Hearing Health

Though some studies on nutrition and hearing health were conducted as early as the 1930s and 40s, it took until the late 1980s for researchers to clearly state that diet plays a role in the development of certain hearing disorders. Now, scientists have conclusively determined that insufficient dietary intake of certain nutrients, including amino acids, can cause hearing loss.

These findings stem largely from population-based studies as well as trials done with animal subjects. A study done by Saudi Arabian researchers, for example, looked at whether dietary deficiencies of certain amino acids correlated to hearing impairment among 18 to 21 year olds.

The authors used a food questionnaire to determine the dietary habits of study participants—with a focus on amino acid intake—in combination with other survey questions. They also reviewed existing literature and findings on the beneficial impact amino acids can have on hearing health.

First, they looked at arginine, a conditionally essential amino acid known for its blood pressure and protein synthesis benefits. “Studies have indicated that arginine is protective against sensorineural hearing loss,” the authors note, as well as “cochlear damage caused by the toxins that are produced in Streptococcus pneumoniae infections.” Evidence supports the use of arginine as a preventative treatment in order to provide cochlea protection.

They also address the role played by methionine, an essential amino acid with powerful antioxidant properties. This amino acid has been shown to lower a person’s risk of ototoxic hearing loss, which occurs as a result of the ingestion of chemicals, including those found in some medications, that cause damage to the inner ear.

The authors mention, too, that deficiencies of methionine may produce hearing loss. They reference an epidemic of peripheral neuropathy in Cuba from 1992-1993 that affected over 50,000 people, some of whom developed high-frequency sensorineural deafness. “Obvious malnutrition was not present,” the authors wrote, “but a deficit in micronutrients including methionine appeared to be a primary determinant of the epidemic.”

They also reference the ability of glutathione, a free-radical scavenging antioxidant made up of three amino acids (L-cysteine, glycine, and L-glutamate), to reduce your risk of developing hearing loss caused by acoustic overstimulation, or noise exposure. “A depleted glutathione state increased noise-induced hearing loss, whereas replenishment of glutathione lessened the damage,” they explained. Furthermore, glutathione can protect against ototoxic hearing loss caused by gentamicin, particularly for individuals whose diets contain low levels of protein.

Last but certainly not least, they touch on the important role played by taurine, another conditionally essential amino acid. Taurine appears to make vital contributions to the development of human hearing capacities, both anatomically and functionally. “Infants with inadequate taurine in their diets had shorter auditory brain stem responses,” the authors stated. And animal studies have shown that supplementing with taurine encourages the brainstem auditory response to mature earlier.

Further Findings on Amino Acids for Hearing Loss

Taurine may hold particular promise as a means of treating tinnitus, a hearing malfunction that impacts approximately 10% of adults living in the United States. Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley published findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicating a correlation between tinnitus and decreased levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter. The team concluded that finding ways to change GABA functions could help to treat tinnitus, and taurine could be one possible route for doing so.

A separate study published in Hearing Research examined how daily taurine supplementation impacted chronic tinnitus in rats. Rats given a high dose of taurine—294 mg/kg—showed significantly reduced symptoms of tinnitus. “These results are consistent with the hypothesis that taurine attenuates tinnitus and improves auditory discrimination by increasing inhibitory tone and decreasing noise in the auditory pathway,” the authors concluded.

The connection between amino acids and hearing health appears to be intimately intertwined with the way amino acids influence neurotransmitter levels. A review published in Neural Regeneration Research offers perspective on this issue as it applies to glutamate and glycine. “Glutamate is well established as an excitatory neurotransmitter of auditory nerve fibers,” the authors explained, and likely other ascending auditory pathways as well. Glycine, meanwhile, acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central auditory system.

How to Use Amino Acids to Maximize Hearing Health

Your particular hearing concerns will determine which amino acids you’ll want to seek out in order to maximize your hearing health. The following overview of the links between certain amino acids and auditory functions can help you build a personalized diet and supplement plan.

Arginine

Evidence shows that arginine, a conditionally essential amino acid, helps protect against sensorineural hearing loss,  which accounts for about 90% of all cases of hearing loss. Arginine can also prevent cochlear damage resulting from illnesses caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sinus and ear infections.

Foods high in arginine include:

  • Chicken
  • Dairy products
  • Lentils
  • Turkey
  • Soybeans
  • Spirulina

Carnitine

Carnitine, an amino acid already quite popular for its anti-aging impact, appears to have a positive impact on hearing loss related to brain stem auditory deficits caused by diabetes. It may also increase hearing health for older individuals.

Experts advise supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine because the body absorbs it more readily and it facilitates the transportation of fatty acids to the mitochondria of inner ear cells, a crucial step for energy production.

Cysteine

This nonessential, sulfur-containing amino acid plays a number of important roles related to your hearing. First, it safeguards the function of inner ear cells and second, it acts as a precursor for glutathione, another amino acid relevant to hearing health.

Evidence indicates that when individuals supplement with n-acetyl-cysteine, they’re unaffected by noise levels sufficient to cause permanent hearing damage in other individuals. Plus, it can counteract the negative effects certain medications and cancer treatments have on your hearing, including cisplatin.

Glutathione

Deficiencies of glutathione (an antioxidant composed of cysteine, glycine, and glutamate) make individuals more susceptible to hearing loss following noise exposure. Those already experiencing this type of hearing loss can mitigate the damage by supplementing with glutathione. Glutathione also prevents gentamicin from harming the cochlear.

As we age, our glutathione levels decrease sharply. This can be particularly dramatic in the auditory nerve, raising the question of whether age-related hearing loss might be caused in part by dropping glutathione levels.

Histidine

Our bodies need histidine, an essential amino acid, to maintain the protective myelin sheaths that surround our nerves. Histidine deficiencies can contribute to nerve deafness as well as other types of hearing loss.

Methionine

Methionine keeps auditory hair cells as well as auditory neurons safe from ototoxicity, particularly from aminoglycosides, ionic platinum compounds, and cisplatin. However, this amino acid plays somewhat of a dual role in hearing health as it’s a precursor to homocysteine. Excess levels of homocysteine may obstruct blood flow to the inner ear.

If you increase your methionine intake, be sure to maintain optimal levels of folic acid as well as vitamins B6 and B12 to keep your homocysteine levels in check.

Taurine

As addressed in some detail previously, humans need taurine to develop brainstem auditory responses. There’s also some indication that this amino acid could be used to treat tinnitus.

Dietary taurine comes primarily from red meat, poultry, and fish, so vegetarians and vegans may need to pay particular attention to sourcing this crucial nutrient.

Use These 7 Amino Acids to Prevent and Treat Hearing Loss

Plasma Exchange Therapy (Plasmapheresis): What Is It and What Can It Help Treat?

Plasma exchange therapy or plasmapheresis is not unlike undergoing dialysis and can help treat otherwise debilitating autoimmune disorders. Find out how it works.

Plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange therapy, involves removing the blood’s plasma via a blood withdrawal, cleaning it up, and transfusing it back. Similar in many ways to kidney dialysis, therapeutic plasma exchange can be used to treat certain autoimmune conditions by way of fluid replacement. We have the details on how this process works and which conditions it can help successfully treat.

What Is Plasma Exchange Therapy?

According to the American Society for Apheresis (ASFA), therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE) involves passing a patient’s blood through an apheresis machine, removing the filtered plasma volume, and then reinfusing the red blood cells back in, along with replacement fluid like fresh frozen plasma or albumin.

While the terms apheresis, plasmapheresis, and plasma exchange (PE) are quite often used interchangeably, there are some distinctions in their definitions that we’ll address first.

  • Apheresis: This is a general term that describes the removal of blood from a patient, after which some portion of the blood is separated and retained by the doctor while the rest is returned to the donor. If you’ve ever donated plasma, you have interacted with an apheresis machine.
  • Plasmapheresis: This process removes less than 15% of the donor’s blood volume, which is an amount so small it does not need to be replaced with other fluids (much like when you make a whole blood donation and you do not need any replacement substances other than a juice box and a cookie).
  • Plasma Exchange (PE): This therapeutic apheresis removes a large amount of plasma from the person’s blood flow, so much so that if it is not replaced immediately, he or she might experience hypovolemia (a decreased volume of circulating blood) and vasomotor (blood pressure) or circulatory collapse. In this instance replacement fluid is necessary.

The plasma fluid of those sick with autoimmune disorders could be full of antibodies that are attacking the immune system. By separating the red cells from the rest of the liquid part of blood with a cell separator and centrifugation machine, a health care professional can help remove these antibodies, alleviate autoimmune symptoms, and possibly improve quality of life.

What Does Plasma Exchange Therapy Treat?

Certain forms of neuropathy (diseases of the nervous system) and some complications of sickle cell disease can be treated with therapeutic apheresis. Other conditions that have shown clinical improvement from plasma exchange therapy include:

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS): Also known as acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP), Guillain-Barre syndrome can cause weakness and paralysis of the limbs, and has shown strong evidence of treatment thanks to plasmapheresis in clinical practice, from severe to mild presentations of the condition. IV immunoglobulin (IVIg) is an alternative treatment for Guillain-Barre syndrome patients, with neither IVIg or plasma exchange therapy showing any superiority in clinical trials over the other.
  • Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP): This neurological disorder is characterized by impaired sensory functions as well as progressive weakness in the limbs. There is strong evidence that plasma exchange therapy is effective as a short-term treatment alongside immunosuppressants, steroids, and IVIg.
  • Myasthenia gravis: This chronic autoimmune disease translates literally to “grave (serious) muscle weakness.” It afflicts the skeletal muscles of the limbs and body, including those needed for breathing. While clinical results are mixed, plasma exchange treatment is nevertheless considered a treatment option.
  • ANCA-associated rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis: This is inflammation of the tiny filters or glomeruli of the kidneys. Glomerulonephritis also plays a role in other autoimmune disorders like Goodpasture’s syndrome and systemic lupus erythematosus, both of which can be helped with the use of therapeutic apheresis in clinical practice.

Each of these conditions involves antibodies in the plasma of the blood which, instead of attacking foreign invaders like viruses, target healthy cells with important functions. This is true in conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS) in which the immune cells attack the protective sheathing on nerve cells. In more recent years plasma exchange therapy is being studied in relation to conditions like thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a blood disorder characterized by low platelet levels and dangerous blood clots, and Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder characterized by copper buildup in the body.

Plasmapheresis is also used as a first-line therapy in cases of hyperviscosity syndrome (too much viscosity in the blood) and cryoglobulinemia (the presence of abnormal proteins in the blood that can thicken in cold temperatures).

What is plasma exchange therapy?

How Is Plasma Exchange Therapy Administered?

Plasma exchange therapy may be administered on either an in-patient or out-patient basis. The patient will rest on a bed or cot while a needle and catheter (the tube) are inserted in the best vein possible (if not in the arm then in the shoulder or possibly the groin). This is the outtake tube, whereas the reinfusion line will be inserted in the other arm or possibly the foot.

Those who are donating plasma may be done in as little as 90 minutes, while those receiving plasma exchange therapy may find the procedure takes as long as 4 hours up to 5 times per week depending on the state of their overall condition and any side effects or exacerbations which may arise.

How Should You Prepare for Plasmapheresis?

Rest assured that the process is relatively painless. Outside of the discomfort associated with needles and sitting still for a long period of time, the general recommendations for optimal comfort during this procedure include:

  • Getting a good night’s rest the day before.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids well in advance (keep in mind that you can’t get up to pee during this procedure).
  • Eating a solid meal before this procedure to reduce the risk of becoming light-headed or fainting.
  • Wearing comfortable clothing and bringing a blanket if you tend to get cold.
  • Bringing a novel, electronic device, or book of puzzles to stay entertained during the duration.

Potential Risks of Plasma Exchange Therapy

Outside of the faintness, dizziness, and cold feelings most people know are associated with donating blood (and a drop in blood pressure), other risks of undergoing plasmapheresis include stomach cramps, blurred vision, and possible infection, blood clotting, or an allergic reaction.

If you worry about infection, talk with your doctor to make sure you’re up on your vaccinations. You may be prescribed an anti-coagulant for blood clots, and if there is an allergic reaction to the solution your plasma is replaced with, health care professionals will be on hand to help you safely through it.

How Is Plasma Exchange Therapy Administered?

It’s in Your Blood

Along with immunosuppression drugs, plasma exchange therapy can help treat and drastically improve certain autoimmune disorders by cleaning your blood. Talk to your doctor or another qualified health care professional about your treatment options and whether plasma exchange therapy could improve your condition.

What Everyone Should Know About B-Type Natriuretic Peptide and Congestive Heart Failure

B-type natriuretic peptide is a hormone produced by the heart ventricles in response to pressure changes linked to heart failure. By testing BNP levels, doctors can screen for heart disease and assess the efficacy of heart disease treatments. Learn what to expect from a test and how to keep your BNP levels in the healthy range.

Brain natriuretic peptide, commonly called B-type natriuretic peptide or, even more succinctly, BNP, is a hormone produced by the heart ventricles (the pumping chambers of the heart) in response to pressure changes linked to heart failure. Since its discovery in the late 1980s, it has earned a place of prominence in the medical world, as it can be used as a biomarker to facilitate the diagnosis of congestive heart failure (CHF).

Researchers have found that B-type natriuretic peptide measurements can be used not only to help with the diagnosis of heart failure, but also to predict future cardiovascular events and the risk that such events will prove fatal. This is part of what’s known in clinical practice as risk stratification: the separation of patients into low risk, rising risk, and high risk in order to develop the most effective treatment plan possible.

According to an article published in Circulation, a journal published by the American Heart Association, BNP levels are “a powerful marker” for cardiovascular risk stratification. “In a recent study of 78 patients referred to a heart failure clinic, BNP showed a significant correlation to the heart failure survival score,” the authors wrote. “In addition, changes in plasma BNP levels were significantly related to changes in limitations of physical activities and were a powerful predictor of the functional status deterioration.” They mention, too, that measurements of BNP levels taken when patients came in through the emergency department could be used to predicate how patients would fare once they were discharged, with higher BNP levels strongly associated with worse prognoses.

There’s some evidence as well that B-type natriuretic peptide concentrations have predictive value for other cardiac conditions, such as acute coronary syndromes and pulmonary embolism.

It’s rare that a relatively new diagnostic measurement results in such rapid and widespread changes to clinical practice. Read on to learn exactly what B-type natriuretic peptide is and how measurements of BNP levels, which can be analyzed with a simple blood test, allow doctors to evaluate complicated elements of cardiovascular health.

What Is B-Type Natriuretic Peptide?

In scientific terms, B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a polypeptide made of 32 different amino acids. When the muscles of the heart stretch excessively in response to changes in blood volume caused by heart failure, they release BNP along with its inactive, 76-amino acid synthetic byproduct, known as N-terminal prohormone BNP, or NT-proBNP.

BNP is one of four natriuretic peptides. All the members of this protein hormone family are secreted by components of the circulatory system. Atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) is secreted by the atria of the heart (the upper pumping chambers), as its name indicates. BNP comes from the larger, stronger lower chambers, while C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP) is generated primarily in the blood vessels. The highest levels of dendroaspis natriuretic peptide, or D-type natriuretic peptide (DNP), the most recently discovered member of the family, have been found in blood plasma but are believed to be secreted by the heart.

All four natriuretic peptides appear to help regulate circulation. So far, experts have compiled the most data on the actions of ANP and BNP, which are jointly known as the cardiac natriuretic peptides. Both cause the blood vessels to dilate, allowing more blood to flow through them and lowering the risk of clot formation. They also help the kidneys flush out higher quantities of water as well as salt (a process called natriuresis).

Furthermore, researchers have found that ANP and BNP downshift the production of hormones like adrenaline, angiotensin, and aldosterone that narrow blood vessels, increase fluid retention, or elevate the heart rate.

The overall effect of the actions of ANP and BNP—namely, relaxing blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure, and improving renal function—ensures that the heart does not have to overtax itself. That’s why when the heart is under stress, the body increases levels of these protective peptides.

What is B-Type Natriuretic Peptide?

How B-Type Natriuretic Peptide Relates to Heart Disease

As touched on in preceding sections, pressure changes inside the heart stimulate release of both B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) and N-terminal (NT)-pro hormone BNP (NT-proBNP). Because those pressure changes tend to be indicative of either heart failure or some other type of cardiac malfunction, experts have proposed that both BNP and NT-proBNP levels might have prognostic value as a simple, inexpensive method of screening for cardiovascular diseases, particularly chronic heart failure.

The Effects of Chronic Heart Failure on the Body

Chronic heart failure, also called congestive heart failure (CHF), occurs when the ventricles (the walls of the heart chambers) become either too weak or too tense to properly pump blood throughout the body. Two of the top underlying causes are coronary artery diseases and high blood pressure. Other causes include heart valve diseases and, less frequently, diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies).

The heart’s purpose is to draw in the blood that has been circulating through the veins and push it back out into the arteries. As the muscles weaken, the hearts of individuals with CHF cannot contract enough to fully pump blood back into the arteries. As a result, blood begins to collect in the lungs, then the veins, and the tissues of the body do not receive the supply of oxygenated blood they need.

Because of this lack of sufficient oxygen in their bodily tissues, individuals with CHF often feel fatigued and unable to exert themselves physically. Renal function becomes impaired—sometimes permanently—exacerbating the fatigue and making treatment more challenging. The brain suffers from this lack of oxygen-rich blood as well, causing confusion.

The blood collected in the lungs and veins produces its own set of symptoms, beginning with lung function. Shortness of breath is the definitive symptom of CHF. Initially, it only sets in during physical exertion, but as the disease progresses, it transpires while individuals are resting. Advanced CHF can make it impossible for individuals to sleep lying flat—when they do, their shortness of breath can intensify to the point where they are awakened by it. Other ways CHF shows up in the respiratory system include wheezing, coughing, and increased susceptibility to pneumonia. The most severe presentation is acute pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in the lungs that requires emergent medical attention.

Other symptoms of CHF include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid retention in the feet and legs
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Swelling of the scrotum and penis
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Diminished urine output throughout the day and night
  • Weight loss (cardiac cachexia)

People of all ages can develop chronic, congestive heart failure—even children!  Statistics show close to 5 million Americans currently have CHF, and around 555,000 new diagnoses are made each year.

This serious condition can be fatal, and it’s common for death to occur suddenly. Individuals with CHF experience sudden death at a rate that’s between 9 and 10 times that of the population at large! This makes it vital for doctors to have the means to rapidly and accurately diagnosis CHF.

13 Symptoms That Can Indicate Chronic Heart Failure (CHF)

Using B-Type Natriuretic Peptide to Diagnose Chronic Heart Failure

When it comes to diagnosing CHF in the advanced stages, doctors have a plethora of screening tests at their disposal. By that point, the symptoms will be quite clear, and chest X-rays, electrocardiograms (EKGs), or certain blood tests can confirm a doctor’s suspicion.

Earlier presentations of CHF can be harder to catch, however, as symptoms overlap with those of a number of lung, liver, and kidney diseases. In order to determine the root cause of a patient’s symptoms, doctors historically used an ultrasound test called an echocardiogram, or an echo for short. This safe, typically painless test allows doctors to see the heart muscles at work and to determine its ejection fraction, a measurement of the quantity of blood pumped by the left ventricle with each contraction. The healthy range for ejection fractions is between 50% and 70%.

The downside to echocardiograms is that they can be expensive and may not be available under all circumstances. This is where the value of BNP tests becomes clear. These simple, low-cost blood tests can be carried out bedside in an emergency department if need be. According to experts in the field, about 98% of the times that a BNP test reveals normal levels, it’s accurate to rule out CHF as a diagnosis. This suggests to doctors that they should focus their attention on alternate explanations for shortness of breath or other symptoms that could indicate CHF.

At most facilities, a test revealing BNP levels below 100 picograms per milliliter (pg/ml) is grounds for eliminating CHF as a potential diagnosis. If patients are experiencing kidney failure, the threshold rises to 200 pg/ml.

When tests show high BNP levels, next steps become less certain. This alone does not fully support a CHF diagnosis, as there are other factors that can affect BNP levels, such as:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Lung, kidney, and liver health
  • Blood pressure
  • Thyroid function
  • Cortisol levels
  • Some uncommon tumors
  • Brain hemorrhages
  • Body weight

Certain medications, including diuretics, beta blockers, ace inhibitors, and spironolactone also impact BNP levels.

That said, BNP levels of around 900 pg/ml in individuals between the ages of 50 to 75, or over 1,200 pg/ml for those older than 75 correlate to a diagnosis of CHF 90% of the time. In most cases, patients with high BNP levels who do not have CHF have either severe lung or kidney disease.

BNP levels can not only help doctors make a diagnosis of CHF but also evaluate how far the disease has advanced, develop treatment plans, and determine how patients respond to different interventions. Generally speaking, the higher BNP levels are, the more severe the situation. As treatments take effect, backed up blood begins circulating into the rest of the body once again, and heart muscle cells begin to recover and to secrete less BNP.

A systematic review of clinical trials published in The BMJ looked at how accurate BNP measurements—both initial levels and changes in response to treatments—are for predicting risk of death, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and other cardiovascular events in heart failure patients. The authors determined that BNP has strong prognostic value for heart failure patients at all stages of the disease as well as for asymptomatic patients.

They went as far as to state that their findings raise “important questions concerning the way that heart failure is defined and diagnosed.” The majority of the recent trials and studies they analyzed used ventricular systolic function, expressed in terms of ejection fraction measurements, as the reference standard for the diagnosis of heart failure. “This is despite the fact that it is recognized that 20-50% of patients with heart failure have preserved systolic function,” they wrote. Given those statistics, they propose that BNP may be a superior method for identifying patients who would benefit from treatment for heart disease.

What Factors Impact BNP Levels, Other Than Chronic Heart Failure?

Can B-Type Natriuretic Peptide Levels Be Used to Diagnose Coronary Artery Disease?

When patients have coronary artery disease (CAD) without CHF, the muscles of their heart do not stretch in the way that spurs the release of BNP. If they have extensive coronary artery blockages, however, or active vascular inflammation, this can cause heart muscle cells to become ischemic (oxygen-deprived). Ischemic heart muscles cells also release BNP, though in smaller quantities than when they’re attempting to counterbalance the effects of CHF.

Experts are quite excited about the possible use of BNP values to diagnose CAD, particularly for patients with asymptomatic CAD. As a review published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine put it, “It would be of great benefit if a simple blood test could identify those most likely to have CAD.” As a follow-up to that screening measure, individuals whose test results indicate they’re likely to have CAD could undergo “more definitive but more invasive tests,” like angiography and stress tests. The authors believe BNP testing “has the potential to reduce cardiac deaths” because its widespread use will let doctors “better target cardioprotective strategies to those who most need them.”

What to Expect from a BNP Test

Now that you have a sense of why experts in the field of cardiovascular health find BNP tests almost endlessly exciting, you may be wondering, what exactly occurs during a BNP test?

As you know, the test measures BNP concentrations in the blood. In clinical practices, doctors are likely to recommend a BNP test when patients have symptoms of chronic heart failure like the classic shortness of breath. This simple, inexpensive test can catch CHF in the early stages before more serious complications develop. BNP tests can also be used to evaluate whether heart disease treatments are having the desired effects.

A BNP test does not require any special preparation, such as fasting. The test involves drawing blood from a vein using a hypodermic needle, so if you feel faint at the sight of blood, you may wish to ask a family member or friend to accompany you and drive you home.

The blood sample will then be sent to a laboratory where machines measure levels of BNP as well as NT-proBNP. This process typically takes between 15 and 20 minutes if the laboratory is located in the same facility where the test was performed. If the blood sample has to be sent to a separate laboratory, it make take up to a week for the results to be ready.

Once a doctor has reviewed the BNP test results, they will let you know whether your levels are high enough to indicate a diagnosis of heart failure. If you already have a confirmed diagnosis of CHF, your doctor will update you on whether your current treatment protocol is working effectively, as evidenced by lower BNP levels.

As touched on earlier, BNP levels under the threshold of 100 pg/ml usually exclude a diagnosis of heart disease. However, normal, healthy BNP levels fluctuate depending on your age and sex.

Normal BNP levels by Age and Sex

5 Expert-Approved Methods for Lowering BNP Levels

If you improve your heart health, your BNP levels will drop. Certain risk factors for heart disease are out of your control, such as a family history of the disease and your underlying genetic makeup. However, there are a variety of steps you can take on your own to address lifestyle-related risk factors known to negatively impact heart health, including:

  1. Stop smoking cigarettes. As you almost certainly know, smoking cigarettes harms your health. Studies have shown it undermines heart health in multiple ways, including raising your blood pressure, decreasing good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and elevating your heart rate. It can be quite challenging to stop, but the benefits are undeniably worth the effort. After just 1 year, your susceptibility to heart disease drops significantly, and 15 years after cessation, it’s equivalent to that of someone who has never smoked.
  2. Engage in regular physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that adults get at least 2 hours and 3 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, along with at least two strength training sessions. If you find it difficult to fit exercise into your schedule, don’t despair: even three 10-minute sessions daily can add up to make a difference. Try taking a brisk walk or spending time outside gardening. You can also build healthy habits into your day by taking the stairs, parking in the spot furthest from the door, or commuting to work on your bike. Ideally, you should also be finding ways to enhance your fitness by increasing the intensity, frequency, and duration of your workouts.
  3. Prioritize stress management. Scientists have uncovered a clear link between uncontrolled stress and heart disease. The body responds to stress by releasing a hormone called cortisol, which can have a detrimental impact on your cardiovascular health. This is particularly true if stress becomes chronic. Be sure to find ways to manage the stress that inevitably arises as a part of life. Strong research supports the use of mediation and breathwork for this purpose.
  4. Get adequate sleep. Safeguarding your sleep is a vital part of stress management as well as the fortification of your overall health. Unfortunately, findings show that 30% of Americans experience intermittent insomnia, while many more struggle with milder forms of sleep deprivation on a regular basis. Building healthy sleep habits, such as refraining from working or eating in bed as well as using a computer or cell phone too close to your bedtime, can help you get the 7 to 8 hours experts advise for adults.
  5. Supplement with essential amino acids. As mentioned earlier, one of the physiological causes for chronic heart failure (CHF) is the weakening of the heart muscles. Researchers have found that amino acids can help counteract three of the ways that heart failure impairs muscle function: accelerated breakdown of muscle protein, poor regulation of muscle blood flow, and impaired production of cellular energy. Learn more about how to use essential amino acids to increase heart health here.

5 Ways to Lower Your BNP Levels and Enhance the Health of Your Heart

Understanding Autophagy: Loose Skin, Chronic Disease and Cancer—Some Scientists Say It Could Be the Key to Treating and Preventing All of These 

Maximize the ability of autophagy, a cellular cleansing process, to prevent loose skin after weight loss, chronic diseases, and even cancer. Read on to learn about the science behind autophagy as well as how it can help those on weight-loss journeys.

Autophagy (pronounced ah-TAH-fuh-gee), a medical term, describes a regenerative cellular process that decreases your risk of developing a multitude of serious diseases, extends your lifespan, and improves your overall health and well-being. In some circles, there’s particularly intense interest in the impact of autophagy on loose skin following weight loss, a frustrating side effect that can require surgery to address.

Read on to learn about the science behind autophagy as well as how it can help those on weight-loss journeys.

What Is Autophagy?

In simple terms, the concept of autophagy can be defined as follows: without external nutrients, the body begins to consume itself. The term comes from the Greek words “auto” meaning self and “phage” meaning to eat.

While this may sound like the premise for a horror movie, it can be incredibly beneficial. During the process of autophagy, specialized membranes seek out cells that are dead, damaged, or diseased and use their component parts for energy or to make new cells.

“Think of it as our body’s innate recycling program,” said Dr. Colin Champ, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in an interview. Other experts have summed it up as “cellular housekeeping” or “cellular quality control.”

Though Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve originated the term “autophagy” in 1963, much of what we now know about this vital process was not discovered until well into the 2000s. In fact, pioneering Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won a Nobel Prize for his investigations into the mechanisms of autophagy in 2016. Scientists working in the field, however, caution that what we currently don’t know about autophagy would fill far more books than what we do.

7 Proven Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy plays a fundamental and essential role in overall cellular function by recycling disused or dysfunctional components that, if left in place, can become problematic. By doing so, autophagy can prevent the development of several types of diseases. Here are 7 proven ways autophagy benefits your health.

1. Decrease Systemic Inflammation

A 2017 review published in Clinical and Translational Medicine states that “increasing evidence” demonstrates autophagy can help to prevent the development of inflammatory diseases.

“Autophagy plays critical roles in inflammation through influencing the development, homeostasis and survival of inflammatory cells, including macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes; effecting the transcription, processing and secretion of a number of cytokines, as well as being regulated by cytokines,” the authors state. Essentially, this means that autophagy helps to ensure that all the cells regulating your body’s inflammatory processes are working properly.

The authors go on to say that studies suggest autophagy’s positive influence on inflammatory cells offers promise as a therapeutic intervention for diseases linked to inflammation, including:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Obstructive pulmonary disease

2. Treat Neurodegenerative Diseases

Findings published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, a leading journal in its field, point to autophagy as a way to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

As we’ve established, autophagy repurposes cellular components, including misfolded proteins. The accumulation of misfolded proteins is believed to cause symptoms of many neurodegenerative diseases to worsen. So, by preventing that, autophagy can mitigate the severity of those diseases.

3. Safeguard Mental Health

Some research has shown that when autophagy does not occur with sufficient frequency, your mental health can be negatively impacted.

A study published in Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal, looked at the connection between autophagy and mental health. When they analyzed the brains of schizophrenia patients, the authors found clear reductions in post-mortem levels of proteins that control autophagy. They determined that the direct association between autophagy and the progression of schizophrenia could offer a pathway to new methods of treatment.

4. Increase Longevity

A review published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation claims that inducing autophagy can counteract cellular aging processes and enhance the metabolic activity of your cells, resulting in increased longevity.

This claim stems from experimental findings, and it’s not yet clear exactly how autophagy increases anti-aging activity and extends life spans, though studies with mice have shown that to be the case.

5. Suppress Tumor Growth

It’s clear that the process of autophagy is intimately linked to the development of cancer, but exactly what effect it has on tumor initiation and development remains somewhat murky.

Per a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “Many studies have found that autophagy plays dual roles in cell survival and cell death in the context of tumor initiation and development.” The authors elaborate that while autophagy has been shown to suppress tumor formation in certain instances, it also seems to contribute to cancer progression by supplying nutrients to cancer cells in others.

More research is needed to fully understand how to harness the power of autophagy to prevent cancer. In the future, however, the authors believe it could be “a potentially effective therapeutic strategy in anticancer therapy.”

6. Support Maintenance of a Healthy Weight

Some of what we know about autophagy comes from research in what happens in its absence. For instance, a study done with mice and published in Cell Metabolism found that deleting an essential autophagy gene led to higher body weights, increased fat mass, and higher rates of glucose intolerance.

According to the authors, these findings indicate that an autophagy deficiency may play a role in the development of obesity.

7. Prevent Sagging Skin Post-Weight Loss

Though this benefit does not have rigorous scientific support, solid anecdotal evidence indicates that autophagy can help those who have lost weight—particularly, individuals who have lost a lot of weight—from needing skin removal surgeries. Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist who specializes in research into fasting, has developed a program designed to help people successfully lose weight and reverse conditions linked to weight gain, such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and fatty liver.

“We’ve never sent a single person for skin-removal surgery,” said Dr. Fung in an interview. “We have anecdotal cases where people have lost 120, 130 pounds, and they said their skin also shrank, too.”

Fung believes this happens because the body harvests the protein contained in excess skin. “Remember, during fasting, you’re activating a pathway within your body that says, ‘Okay, we need to buckle down because we’re in a time of famine, so to speak, and we don’t need all that extra skin, so let’s burn it. And if you need it, we’ll build it again.’”

How to Increase the Efficacy of Autophagy for Loose Skin

Is It Possible to Trigger Autophagy?

Though it has not yet been definitively proved that it’s possible to trigger autophagy in humans, studies done with animals indicate that fasting and calorie restriction may be means of inducing autophagy.

A literature review published in Ageing Research Reviews in 2018 found that “the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that autophagy is induced in a wide variety of tissues and organs in response to food deprivation.” In other words, there’s a very high likelihood that if you fast, autophagy will occur.

Studies done with mice have historically delineated 24 hours as the marker for when autophagy sets in, but it’s not clear whether the same would hold true for humans. Dr. Fung believes that autophagy most likely sets in during the later stages of an extended fast, “somewhere around 20 to 24 hours is my guess, and it probably maxes out somewhere around 32 hours, again, my best guess.”

While scientists have yet to agree upon a surefire way to trigger autophagy, this process does occur naturally, though it’s unclear how frequently or extensively it takes place without outside stimulus. Fasting, exercise, and other forms of physiological stress seems to cause the process to accelerate.

However, it’s quite challenging to measure autophagy (technically, what would be measured would be termed autophagic flux) in humans, as it requires tracking the levels of minuscule proteins, including protein 1A and LC3.

Does Autophagy Have Any Negative Effects?

While autophagy clearly has a host of remarkable benefits, it can cause problems too. An article published in PLOS Biology termed it a “double-edged sword.”

Author Andrew Thorburn of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine explained that “autophagy’s effects may work for both the good and the bad of an organism.” When it comes to conditions like treating bacterial infections, autophagy sometimes leads to improvement and sometimes causes conditions to worsen. According to Thorburn, using autophagy effectively will require a better understanding of which cells it degrades and under what circumstances.

It’s important to note as well that using fasting as a method for inducing autophagy comes with its own risks. There are no universal medical recommendations at this time, but most experts agree that extended fasts—going without food for 36-, 48-, or even a full 72 hour-fast—should only be undertaken by those in good health. Extended fasting should not be done too frequently either. As a general rule, it should only be undertaken 2 or 3 times annually. Confer with a trusted doctor before embarking on a fast to make sure it’s safe for you.

If you have previously engaged in unhealthy food restrictions behaviors or have been diagnosed with an eating disorder like anorexia, it’s likely best to avoid fasting.

Expert Advice on Triggering Autophagy

Because autophagy is a stress response, to intentionally trigger it, you will have to endure some discomfort. “It’s our ancestral and evolutionary response to dealing with feast and famine in times of stress,” said Dr. Champ.

If you’d like to try triggering autophagy, one of these three methods is a good place to start.

1. Enter a State of Ketosis

If the idea of fasting feels daunting or there are reasons you should avoid it, evidence shows you can also activate autophagy by entering ketosis. By restricting your carbohydrate intake and increasing your fat intake, you can shift your body into a state in which it uses fat rather than carbs as its primary source of fuel. This is the scientific basis for the immensely popular high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, commonly abbreviated as the keto diet.

In order to adhere to the keto diet, you’ll need to keep your carbohydrate intake at no more than 5% of your total calories, your protein intake between 20% and 30%, and your fat percentage at between 60% and 70%.

Studies have shown that entering ketosis can bring about significant fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Other proven medical uses for the keto diet include improving the treatment of epilepsy and other brain conditions (in fact, it was developed to treat epilepsy in children), lowering your risk of diabetes, and assisting your body in defeating cancerous tumors.

According to Champ, “Ketosis is like an autophagy hack. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting.”

2. Experiment with Intermittent Fasting

Extended fasts can be grueling, but that may not be necessary in order to spur autophagy.

A Brazilian research team published a research review indicating that intermittent fasting can help increase autophagy, which makes cancer treatments more effective and reduces side effects. They note, however: “Additional studies are required to better understand the molecular mechanisms evoked by fasting, aiming to identify the context in which fasting may be beneficial as an adjunct to cancer treatment.”

In the meantime, it certainly seems worthwhile to give intermittent fasting a try, if for no other reason than the wealth of benefits they mention that have been associated with intermittent fasting, such as an extended lifespan and a lower risk of diseases including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Neurodegenerative conditions

As with extended fasting, there are limitations on who should try intermittent fasting. It’s typically not advisable for children, pregnant women, or individuals with diabetes or other blood sugar issues to follow this fasting protocol.

3. Engage in Regular Exercise

As you may know, exercising creates microscopic tears in your muscles. When your body repairs those tears, that process leads to bigger, stronger muscles. It appears that exercise also increases the rate at which your body carries out autophagy.

A study published in Nature, an international journal of science, found: “Acute exercise induces autophagy in skeletal and cardiac muscle of fed mice.” The authors discovered that after 30 minutes of running on a treadmill, the rate at which mice recycled their own cells via autophagy increased significantly and continued to do so until the 80-minute marker at which point rates leveled out.

Scientists have not yet pinpointed the threshold require for humans to kickstart autophagy. Dr. Daniel Kilonsky, a cellular biologist specializing in autophagy, says that at the moment, it’s proving quite difficult to answer that question.  However, he reminds us that exercise, like intermittent fasting, has many other benefits.

3 Possible Methods for Triggering Autophagy

Additional Advice on Naturally Addressing Loose Skin

If your primary interest in autophagy has to do with its potential role in addressing loose skin following weight loss, you may want to incorporate these other natural methods for resolving loose skin without plastic surgery.

A key aspect of doing so is improving skin elasticity. Without proper elasticity, your skin cannot adapt to physical changes such as weight loss. To maintain or enhance skin elasticity, you’ll need to sustain an adequate supply of collagen.

All the collagen in your body begins as procollagen. To make procollagen, your body uses two amino acids: glycine and proline. Certain nutrients have been shown to increase the rate at which your body produces those amino acids, such as vitamin C, copper, selenium, and zinc.

Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and raw liver all contain high concentrations of vitamin C. Organ meats are generally high in copper, as are cashews, sesame seeds, lentils, and cocoa powder. You can get plenty of selenium from seafood (salmon in particular) and Brazil nuts, while oysters and red meat are rich in zinc.

Consuming foods high in glycine and proline themselves also boosts procollagen production. Good sources of glycine include gelatin as well as pork and chicken skin, while egg whites, dairy products, wheat germ, mushrooms, asparagus, and cabbage provide lots of proline.

Because your body needs a balanced supply of all the amino acids in order to effectively utilize them, you’ll also want to eat foods with overall high levels of amino acids, like:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Legumes
  • Tofu

Interestingly, eating foods high in collagen, such as bone broth, is not necessarily the best way to raise levels in the body. That’s because when you consume protein, your body breaks it down into its component amino acids.

3 Possible Methods for Triggering Autophagy

How to Avoid Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Significant weight loss can result in loose, sagging skin. Studies show these 6 methods can help you avoid loose skin or minimize its appearance.

We tend to treat weight loss, particularly major weight loss, as the triumphant endpoint of a difficult journey. We divide weight-loss journeys into “Before” and “After,” often with a single photo representing the start and finish of that journey. However, this story only captures one aspect of what it’s like to lose weight. What often gets left out of weight-loss stories is that when you move from a higher body weight to a significantly lower one, you may experience other unwanted physical changes, such as loose skin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with embracing loose skin—as individuals like Kenzie Brenna, an actress, writer, and body-positivity activist, have publicly done—in fact, it’s an admirable goal and an indication of deep self-acceptance. That said, there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to learn how to avoid loose skin after weight loss.

For some people, loose skin can be damaging to their mental health and self-esteem. It can also be physically uncomfortable, particularly during physical exercise. Once you develop loose skin, it can be quite challenging to reverse without plastic surgery.

Less invasive options do exist, however, many of which are most effective when put in place preemptively. Before sharing eight ways you can avoid loose skin after weight loss, we’ll first cover some basic facts about the skin as well as risk factors that impact how likely you are to develop loose skin.

How Does Skin Function?

One of the pitfalls of the rapid loss of a lot of weight is the development of excess skin. A New York Times article covering a pioneering study that followed contestants from season eight of the popular TV show “The Biggest Loser” for 6 years after the series finale addressed this issue. Per the article, prior to the finale weigh-in during the show’s finale to determine the winner, contestants “dressed carefully to hide the rolls of loose skin that remained, to their surprise and horror, after they had lost weight. They wore compression undergarments to hold it in.”

In order to understand why rapid, significant weight loss so often results in loose skin, you must have a basic grasp of how skin functions.

The skin—which is the largest human organ—acts as a barrier to keep your body safe from viruses, fungi, bacteria, and other potentially harmful contaminants. Collagen and elastin, two proteins found in the second layer of the skin, (the dermis), allow it to stretch and contract as we move and grow.

As an individual gains weight, those proteins must continually stretch to allow the skin to adapt to that change. This can cause the fibers of those proteins to become weak and damaged. Thus, when significant weight-loss occurs, the elastin and collagen in the skin may not be readily able to contract.

“Skin stretches to form the shape of your body since it’s an ‘elastic’ organ,” Certified Exercise Physiologist Lizbeth Simancas summarized. “Your skin may not contract back to its smaller shape if weight is lost too quickly.” This can be seen most clearly for individuals who undergo bariatric surgery, but those who quickly lose a lot of weight through intense diet and exercise practices, like competitors on “Biggest Loser,” can experience this too.

The more weight is lost, the greater the demand on the skin’s previously overtaxed capacity for elasticity. And, therefore, the greater the likelihood of saggy skin post-weight loss.

What Factors Contribute to the Development of Loose Skin After Weight Loss?

Dr. Christine Choi Kim, medical and cosmetic dermatologist, underlines that fact that the skin is a living organ, and while it responds to weight gain by stretching and expanding, its ability to contract in response to weight loss is inherently more limited. Dr. Kim notes, too, that this ability to tighten depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • Age: The aging process often causes the skin to become less elastic, impairing its ability to tighten after weight loss.
  • Genetics: Some individuals are more prone to sagging skin as they grow older, regardless of weight loss.
  • Baseline strength of elastin and collagen proteins: As is the case when it comes to your genes and your age, you can’t control the impact your baseline skin elasticity will have on its ability to bounce back after you lose weight.
  • Degree of weight gain and loss: As touched on previously, the more weight you lose, and the shorter the period of time in which you lose it, the harder it will be for your skin to adapt.
  • Nutrient intake: To keep your skin healthy, you’ll need to provide it with a balanced intake of nutrients, particularly vitamins C and E and the substances that act as precursors for the development of collagen and elastin.
  • Sun exposure: While some degree of sun exposure is a healthy way to meet your body’s vitamin D needs, excess exposure can lead to skin damage.
  • Smoking history: Yet another reason to kick the habit, or avoid  cigarettes in the first place. A plethora of studies show that smoking speeds the normal aging process of your skin.

Understanding the factors that influence skin elasticity can help you avoid loose skin after weight loss. If possible, it’s best to address this issue preventatively as it’s far more difficult to tighten skin that has already begun to sag than it is to forestall the sagging.

According to Kim, “Excess skin can lead to embarrassment and a lack of satisfaction with your body image—even after significant weight loss.” Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to keep the triumph of achieving a major weight-loss goal from being marred by unexpected changes to your skin.

7 Factors That Contribute to the Development of Loose Skin

How to Avoid Loose Skin After Weight Loss

First, it’s important to be clear that there is no guaranteed way to avoid loose skin after weight loss. Depending on the amount of weight you lose, when you gained the weight and how long you carried it, as well as your skin’s baseline elasticity, some extra skin may be unavoidable. However, the experts say that the following 6 practices can help you avoid loose skin after weight loss, or minimize the appearance of existing excess skin.

1. Lose Weight Gradually

Perhaps the single most effective way to avoid loose skin after weight loss is to progress gradually toward your weight-loss goal. Slower weight loss makes it less arduous for skin to snap back into place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends aiming to lose between 1 and 2 pounds per week. Not only will this make it easier for your skin to keep pace, but it also makes it less likely that you’ll regain the weight.

Furthermore, a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism found that losing weight slowly results in more favorable changes to body composition. Study participants were randomly divided into two groups—a rapid weight-loss group that followed a diet plan designed to produce a daily 1,000- to 1,500-calorie deficit and a slow weight-loss group whose diet produced an energy deficit of 500 to 750 calories daily.

While both protocols led to reductions in waist circumference, hip circumference, body fat mass, and more, individuals in the slow weight-loss group experienced more significant reductions to waist circumference, hip circumference, fat mass, and percentage of body fat, all of which are linked to improved health.

2. Engage in Regular Cardio and Strength Training Exercise

Adding exercise to your gradual weight-loss plan also increases the odds that your skin will be able to tighten up as your weight decreases.

Both strength training and cardio make important contributions. Cardio, or aerobic exercise, can be a highly effective way to burn calories, which will help you move toward your weight-loss goal. However, if you exclusively engage in cardio training, you may lose lean muscle mass also with fat, which can increase the appearance of saggy skin as well as adversely impact your metabolism.

Strength training, however, can help you build muscle, which in turn raises your metabolic rate. One of the factors that determines your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which accounts for the vast majority of the calories you burn each day, is the amount of lean muscle you have. Muscle tissue has higher energy (calorie) demands than fat while at rest, meaning that even when you’re not working out, having more muscles translates to a greater caloric expenditure. No matter what you weigh, the more muscle and the less fat you have, the higher your BMR.

“If you have more muscle, it burns fuel more rapidly,” stated Columbia University professor Michael Rosenbaum, who specializes in weight loss and metabolism. Rosenbaum cautions, though, that if you do succeed in speeding up your metabolism, “you have to fight the natural tendency to [want to] eat more as a result of your higher metabolism.”

Still, when taking the long view of your overall health, there are clearly more benefits to physical activity than drawbacks, including the fact that weight lifting and resistance training can minimize the appearance of existing loose skin by building muscles that will fill it out. If your goal is to look lean and toned rather than built and bulky, don’t worry, you won’t accidentally develop the physique of a bodybuilder—that requires a high level of intention and commitment.

3. Optimize Your Diet

In order to lose weight and ensure you don’t subsequently gain weight, it’s important to build a diet based on whole, minimally processed foods.

A 2017 clinical trial called the DIETFITS study (the acronym stands for “Diet intervention examining the factors interacting with treatment success) set out to identify factors that predispose individuals to experience greater success when following certain weight-loss diets so that experts can more effectively match patients with dietary interventions.

Interestingly, participants in both the low-fat and low-carbohydrate groups lost comparable amounts of weight. This drew attention among health practitioners reviewing the results to the elements that remained consistent between the two diets.

Both groups were encouraged to:

  • Focus on unprocessed, high-quality foods
  • Eat as many vegetables as possible
  • Prepare meals at home
  • Restrict or eliminate trans fats, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates, including flour

Participants also had regular sessions with dietitians and access to counseling to help them break emotional eating patterns.

The findings are quite encouraging. You don’t need to follow a complicated or overly restrictive diet in order to lose weight. Instead, you can use the principles described above, which leave plenty of room for shaping a diet that accounts for your personal preferences and lifestyle.

4. Stop Smoking

Research unequivocally shows that skin damage is among the many adverse effects of cigarette smoking. In fact, even secondhand smoke exposure has been shown to decrease collagen levels, increase inflammation, and fuel oxidative damage.

A study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications found that when rats were exposed to cigarette smoke, collagen levels in their skin decreased significantly compared to control rats. The authors concluded that long-term secondhand smoke exposure would likely “affect the appearance of the skin [and] accelerate the skin aging process.”

If you’re serious about maximizing the elasticity of your skin, which you will need to do in order to prevent it from becoming loose or saggy, the decision is clear: stop smoking.

5. Try Firming Creams

If you have room in your budget and are looking for a way to immediately tighten loose skin, you may want to try firming creams.

The results of these products tend to be rather subtle, and most impactful when skin is also in need of hydration. These products often use retinoids or collagen as their active ingredient.

One of the ways retinoids work is by preventing free radical damage that negatively impacts skin tone. They can also speed up collagen production, which can boost the elasticity of the skin.

As you know, collagen is one of the key proteins that keeps your skin tight and firm. There’s some evidence that the topical application of collagen can temporarily improve the appearance of the skin, but collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin so the results will not be lasting.

A popular natural treatment, grapeseed oil, does have some scientific backing. A study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine looked at a number of herbal ingredients touted for their ability to increase skin’s elasticity and found that grapeseed did produce measurable changes to moisture levels, softness, and tightness.

6. Supplement Strategically

As wonderful as it would be if scientists could formulate a magic pill, or combination of supplements, that completely prevents or treats loose skin, that’s yet to be announced. In the meantime, an optimal supply of the following nutrients will ensure your skin has all the raw materials it needs to be maximally healthy.

While you might assume that collagen supplements would be on this list, it tends to be more effective to consume supplements that increase collagen production, such as vitamin C and certain amino acids.

Vitamin C

Scientists have confirmed that vitamin C has impressive abilities when it comes to stimulating collagen production.

A 2018 systematic review examined the efficacy of vitamin C supplementation as a means of promoting collagen synthesis, and found that not only did vitamin C increase collagen synthesis, but it also reduced oxidative stress. The authors also found no evidence of adverse side effects.

Furthermore, an article published in Nutrients in 2017 specifically touched on the impact of dietary vitamin C intake on skin sagging related to weight loss. According to the article, a higher intake of vitamin C can be linked to improved skin tightness.

Glycine

Collagen, one of the most abundant proteins not only in the skin, but also throughout the entire human body, contains between 2 and 10 amino acids. Glycine might be the most impactful of those. This simple, naturally occurring amino acid elevates collagen production, facilitates skin regeneration, and increases moisture retention.

Though your body produces its own glycine from other amino acids, it can be beneficial to increase your glycine intake, either by eating glycine-rich foods like red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and legumes or by taking a high-quality amino acid supplement.

Lysine

This essential amino acid plays a vital role in the function of your skin, ensuring that its supportive structures remain strong and intact. Our bodies also need lysine for collagen development, tissue repair, and other important physiological processes.

Good food sources of lysine include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish (especially cod and sardines)
  • Cheese (especially Parmesan)
  • Soy products
  • Spirulina
  • Fenugreek
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

6 Science-Backed Methods for Avoiding Loose Skin After Weight Loss

Losing a significant amount of weight, particularly if you do so after weight-loss surgery, or using another method to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time often causes loose skin to develop. Embracing this physical change is a viable and commendable option, but it’s equally valid to seek out ways to avoid loose skin after weight loss or to encourage skin to tighten.

There’s no one single skin tightening technique that can fully restore skin elasticity for each and every person; however, scientific findings indicate that using one or more of the methods described above will likely prevent or reduce the appearance of loose skin.

When to Take BCAAs: Pre- or Post- Workout? Morning, Noon or Night?

When is the best time to take BCAA supplements: pre-, during, or post-workout? Is it safe to consume them before bed? What about in between meals? We have the science and the answers.

There are many reasons to take protein supplements, and not all of them have to do with working out. Vegetarians and vegans often take them to make sure they’re getting enough plant-based protein. Those recovering from surgery are often on doctor’s orders to consume more protein to help heal faster. Those working to lose weight also find that consuming more protein helps fuel their energy and their weight-loss efforts by curbing hunger and increasing muscle growth. All of the above is even more true for those who consume protein like whey, creatine, or BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) to boost their workout or to build muscle: you need enough protein to function, you need even more protein for recovery, and you need to control your calorie consumption as you aim to bulk up. If you’re new to trying BCAAs, the first question you have after what they are and how do they work is likely to be: when to take BCAAs? We have the best practical advice here.

Muscles, Amino Acids, and BCAAs

Muscles are made out of protein, and protein is made out of amino acids. Specifically, the human body needs all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) to synthesize any new muscle protein. Of those nine essentials (as opposed to the nonessential amino acids that your body can make on its own, meaning it’s not essential to consume them in food), three are branched-chain amino acids, so called because of their molecular structure.

So what are the three BCAAs and why are they singled out for workout supplements? Let’s start with their names.

  • Leucine: This is the amino acid thought to make the biggest difference when it comes to building new muscle proteins.
  • Isoleucine: An isolated form of leucine (hence its name), isoleucine helps regulate blood sugar levels and energy production.
  • Valine: This BCAA is important not only for maintaining muscles but also for supporting immune function.

Together these three aminos make up about 40% of the EAAs in the body, and about 18% of the EAA content of muscle. They are broken down in the skeletal muscles directly instead of in the liver with the majority of the other EAAs, which leads researchers to theorize that they play a more direct part in energy production during exercise. Not only are BCAAs essential building blocks for protein synthesis and muscle growth, but they also positively impact your blood sugar levels and help ward off exercise fatigue.

All of the essential amino acids depreciate more rapidly during exercise due to a protein breakdown process known as catabolism (more on this later). If you are fit, active, and looking to build more muscle, you’ll want to increase protein-rich foods in your diet, which is why taking targeted amino acids like BCAAs is so popular among fitness aficionados.

Muscles, Amino Acids and BCAAs

The Scientifically Proven Benefits of BCAA Supplementation

Here’s a quick rundown on the science behind BCAAs, and why so many professional bodybuilders use them.

1. Increased Muscle Growth

Leucine particularly has been shown time and time again to stimulate new muscle protein synthesis. This 2017 study showed that those taking 5.6 grams of BCAAs post-workout enjoyed an increase in muscle protein synthesis 22% higher than the control group.

2. Decreased Exercise Fatigue and Muscle Soreness

Some fatigue will always be a part of a proper workout: if you’re not at all tired after a workout, you’re probably not doing it right! But exercise fatigue that sets in too soon or when your workout is hardly begun? You may be suffering from a low energy source, and that is where BCAAs can come in swinging.

Studies show that when your BCAA levels decrease, your tryptophan levels increase in the brain. Tryptophan is the amino acid that famously makes a turkey dinner so sleep-inducing. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, and serotonin leads to feelings of fatigue and lethargy.

Because BCAAs are burned up in the muscles during a vigorous workout, making sure your body has more than enough to burn through helps delay exercise fatigue, providing time for a few more reps or a few more steps.

BCAAs can also help mitigate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), so that you can go strong with more workouts per week because you aren’t still achingly sore from the last one. BCAAs have not only been shown to decrease muscle damage and protein breakdown during workouts, but they also lead to fewer reported instances of delayed onset muscle soreness when tested against a control group.

3. Prevention of Muscle Wasting

While muscle protein is forever in a cycle of build-up and breakdown, actual muscle wasting occurs when protein breaks down at a far faster pace than it can be rebuilt. It happens to those who are malnourished or fasting excessively, as well as to the sick and the elderly. But it can also happen to those who overexert themselves in workouts.

During times of muscle wasting, it’s important to resupply the body with the building blocks of protein that are the amino acids, which includes BCAAs. Studies reveal that one of the effects of BCAA supplementation is to inhibit muscle protein breakdown, not only in those seeking to gain muscle with resistance training or reach new heights with endurance exercise, but also in those with cancer and other wasting diseases.

Counterbalancing Catabolism

Muscle breakdown is known as “destructive metabolism” or catabolism, and while it’s a process that bodybuilders do their best to ward off, it’s also part of the natural cycle between catabolism and anabolism.

Muscle protein turnover is not unlike the regenerative properties of a forest fire. Balance is the key. Catabolism of protein molecules that are old or damaged is great; it clears the dead wood and repurposes those nutrients for healthy new growth. However, when your body doesn’t have enough amino acids to build with, unlike a forest it will start chopping down healthy molecules to meet the production demand of new lean muscle mass. This is why the timing of protein supplements like BCAAs is important.

That being said, it should be noted that an abundance of BCAAs without the rest of the nine essential amino acids will not effectively prevent unnecessary catabolism. Think of building new muscle like building furniture (perhaps with wood from the above-mentioned forest metaphor): the BCAAs are the different cuts of wood for the frame, but without cushions, fabric, springs, wood glue, nails, and screws, would you have a new couch, or just an overabundance of wood?

For this reason, we suggest taking BCAAs as part of a balanced formula of all the EAAs, because if the body lacks any one ingredient, it will burn down your hard-earned muscle tissue to take it.

Still don’t believe us? While studies on BCAA supplementation confirm that they boost muscle protein synthesis much better than a placebo, that boost is still 50% lower than the boost seen in studies with whey protein, which contains some measure of all nine essential amino acids. Taking anything less than all the EAAs is scientifically considered suboptimal, an important aspect to keep in mind when selecting the most robust and effective protein powder for your muscle-building workout.

Counterbalancing Catabolism

When to Take BCAAs

If you’ve decided BCAAs are what’s missing from your workout routine, the question still remains: when is the best time to take protein for optimal exercise performance, body fat loss, and muscle growth? The quick answers are:

  • Pre-workout: Always, for everything. To make sure you have the supplies on-hand for the vigors of your workout, take between 5 and 10 grams (depending on your body weight) of amino acids within half an hour before your workout. This helps boost your energy, endurance, and muscle recovery speed.
  • During workout: For resistance exercise and longer workouts, another dose of BCAAs can help see you through to the end and keep your muscles in A+ anabolic territory.
  • Post-workout: Across the board, yes again. While timing may vary, consuming more protein in the form of amino acids after any workout contributes to the rebuilding efforts of your muscles.
  • Before bed: This one is for bodybuilders in particular. Consuming complex proteins your body can digest while sleeping helps prevent catabolism while you rest.

The more fat burning and bodybuilding you do, the more nutrients you will need from both whole food sources and amino acid supplements. This could mean supplementing with meals or between meals multiple times a day depending on your body, your body goals, and your workout regimen. When it comes to sports nutrition, fitness professionals, athletes, or those undergoing rigorous training periods may need to consume anywhere between 15 and 20 grams of BCAAs along with other proteins each day, far more than those who are working out a handful of times or fewer per week to stay in shape throughout their daily lives.

When to take BCAAs for muscle building?

Boosting with BCAAs

The amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the core components of BCAA supplements, and while their effectiveness is proven in the areas of fitness and muscle building, it’s also known that BCAA powders or supplements alone underperform when compared to more comprehensive EAA supplements and proteins. Take your BCAAs, but take them alongside the rest of their essential team for optimal results.

Is It Possible to Reverse Liver Cirrhosis Naturally?

How serious is liver cirrhosis, what causes it, and is it possible to reverse? Find out about how to cope with liver cirrhosis naturally.

The liver is one of the most unique organs in our bodies, with an ability to heal in a way that other vital organs cannot. Damage done to the heart, for example, is damage that cannot be undone by your body or by medical technology; it can only be worked around. Likewise with the kidneys: ground lost in kidney functioning is ground that is permanently ceded. However, some people do require liver transplants, indicating that as much as the liver can recover from damage, it can’t completely regenerate after a certain point. Where is the line between reversible damage and irreversible damage? Can you reverse liver cirrhosis naturally, without medications or a transplant? This article explores that question.

Is it possible to reverse cirrhosis naturally?

What Is Cirrhosis of the Liver?

Your liver is the largest organ inside your body (your skin itself is the largest organ overall, but it’s on the outside). The liver’s function is to help digest your food, store energy substances, and detoxify your blood of any impurities, poisons, or toxins that are eaten or otherwise ingested.

You can aid a healthy liver in its detox duties by consuming a liver flush diet. But what can you do to help an already ailing liver? First, it’s important to understand what cirrhosis is and where it falls on the liver damage continuum. What follows are the stages of liver failure.

  • Stage 1: The first stage leading to liver failure is inflammation. The liver becomes inflamed and enlarged when it is overtaxed with too many toxins and cannot filter them out at a high enough rate. Common causes of liver inflammation include viral hepatitis infection, alcohol consumption, autoimmune hepatitis, or poisoning. Sometimes this stage arises without any noticeable symptoms.
  • Stage 2: Fibrosis of the liver is the second stage of liver damage, which involves the appearance of scar tissue on the liver. A little bit of scarring can be overcome, but chronic liver fibrosis is also known as the early stages of cirrhosis. Scarring inhibits liver functioning and starts to threaten a person’s survival rate.
  • Stage 3: Cirrhosis of the liver is the third stage of liver failure, an incredibly serious and life-threatening condition that may have symptoms like jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin), muscle cramps, dry mouth, peripheral edema, abdominal fluid buildup (ascites), and compromised brain function (hepatic encephalopathy).
  • Stage 4: The fourth and final stage is end-stage liver disease. This is often the cause of death in those who are not treated quickly enough or who cannot receive a liver transplant. Blood tests determine who is healthy enough to even be included on the transplant list, and not everyone is eligible.

As you can see, cirrhosis is the last stop before potential end-of-life hospitalization. When scarring of the liver becomes so extensive that it eclipses healthy liver tissue and starts to interrupt blood flow, detoxification, and digestion, medical advice and treatment is an emergency necessity, but can cirrhosis be fixed?

Cirrhosis: Symptoms, Complications, and Prognosis

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that the most common underlying causes of liver scarring and cirrhosis are conditions like chronic hepatitis, long-term alcohol abuse, and cases of diet-induced nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Some of those conditions can be treated or avoided entirely by getting vaccinated, making diet and lifestyle changes, practicing safe sex, and drinking alcohol in moderation, but if the damage is not stopped in time, liver failure and liver cancer may develop, which could end a person’s life.

Cirrhosis Symptoms

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of cirrhosis and liver disease as soon as possible. Those symptoms include:

  • An itching sensation of the skin
  • Swelling in the extremities (edema)
  • Unexplained fatigue or listlessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stomach or muscle cramping
  • A tendency to bruise or bleed easily
  • Unusually dark urine
  • Tar-colored or pale stool
  • Cognitive disorientation or confusion
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin or sclera of the eyes

Cirrhosis Complications

Regardless of how it comes about (hepatitis B, hepatitis C, alcohol abuse, fatty diet, or genetics), cirrhosis affects up to 10% of the population of the United States, according to the American Liver Foundation. The complications of cirrhosis quickly shorten the lifespan of those diagnosed with this disease. Complications include:

  • The creation of bile duct and gallstones
  • Portal hypertension, edema, and ascites, which can lead to the bacterial infection known as peritonitis
  • Hepatic encephalopathy, which leads to an accumulation of toxins in the brain
  • Diseases like type 2 diabetes and metabolic bone disease due to the interference in digestion and absorption of nutrients
  • Weakened immune system and spleen functioning
  • Higher risk of infection, kidney failure, and lung failure
  • Varices, which are enlarged blood vessels in the stomach or esophagus that may burst and cause deadly bleeding
  • A much higher risk of liver cancer

Cirrhosis Prognosis

Unfortunately cirrhosis isn’t curable, but it is treatable. Once you’re aware of the damage being done to the liver, the first priority is to treat and if possible cure the underlying cause, and then to stop the progression of cirrhosis and prevent deadly complications. For alcoholics that means sobriety is key. For those with hepatitis, disease management is the first priority. For those whose liver biopsy shows too much damage to overcome, a liver transplantation may be the only option, but for some, there are natural ways to help your liver cope with cirrhosis.

Is it possible to reverse cirrhosis naturally?

Can You Reverse Liver Cirrhosis Naturally?

As with scar tissue anywhere on or in your body, while you can’t reverse the damage, you may be able to minimize its impact on your life and live around it. What follows now are natural ways to cleanse your liver, support its health and functioning, and strengthen your body so you have the resources to cope with any complications that may arise.

1. Eat a Liver-Cleansing, Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Your liver detoxifies your body, so you can’t exactly detoxify it. What you can do, however, is to avoid poisoning it and provide it with the nutrients it needs to detox itself. That means avoiding alcohol intake entirely, only consuming medicine when you absolutely need to (avoid over-the-counter medications for mild aches and pains if possible), and eating a robust diet of nutrient-rich foods such as:

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Other steamed veggies like broccoli, carrots, and asparagus
  • Potassium foods like avocados, sweet potatoes, and bananas
  • Natural herbal supplements like ginger, turmeric, milk thistle, or dandelion and burdock root
  • Probiotics like Greek yogurt or sauerkraut
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Cold-pressed oils like coconut and extra virgin olive oil
  • Superfood supplements like wheatgrass, spirulina, and chlorella

Avoid overeating and abstain from unhealthy food substances like refined sugars and carbs, spicy and fried foods, alcohol, and caffeine. If you smoke, now is the time to quit to help preserve your liver function and quality of life.

2. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Obesity and fatty diet are huge contributors to liver disease in the Western world, and if those are the underlying causes of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and cirrhosis, they need to be addressed immediately.

Even if weight is not directly tied to cirrhosis (let’s say your cirrhosis is caused by a hepatitis infection), maintaining a healthy weight is still imperative. Obesity is closely linked to high blood pressure, which causes extra strain on your heart and increases your risk factors for diabetes and your cholesterol levels. By focusing on healthy, sustainable weight loss and eliminating obesity as a risk factor, you improve your liver’s health.

3. Guard Against Diseases and Toxins

The best defense is sometimes a good offense, and when it comes to liver disease and liver failure, that means reducing your exposure to toxins (household or industrial chemicals that can damage your liver cells), as well as to diseases like hepatitis (if you’re not already vaccinated, make it a top priority), and checking your medications for anything expired or unnecessary (ask your doctor about any prescriptions or take gentler alternatives to common over-the-counter drugs). By preventing toxins of any kind from reaching your liver, you preserve its remaining healthy tissue.

Managing a Cirrhosis Diagnosis

Cirrhosis cannot be reversed, as it’s the last stage of liver disease before hospitalization is required. However, the preceding stage, liver fibrosis (when scar tissue is still being accumulated), can be stopped before the damage becomes permanently debilitating. You can’t be too careful when it comes to the symptoms of liver damage: the sooner you catch it, the better diagnosis you’ll receive and the longer you’ll be able to live healthily.

Pulled Chest Muscle: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Chest pain could mean anything from a heart attack to a pulled chest muscle: learn the symptoms of muscle strain to better identify it, and discover the best ways to treat and prevent this injury in the future.

Straining a chest muscle can cause a sharp pain in your chest, a sensation that, if it’s anywhere near the heart, may well scare people into thinking they’re having cardiac issues. While a pulled chest muscle is not as serious as a heart attack, it is nevertheless painful and not as easy to pinpoint as, say, a pulled hamstring.

Your chest muscles are responsible for supporting your upper body and for helping you breathe properly, and can have a negative impact on the health of your back if they’re not in optimal working order. This article discusses the symptoms of a pulled chest muscle, common causes of the strain, and different treatments you can try to find the cure to what ails you.

The Muscles of the Chest

The major muscles of the chest are the appropriately named pectoralis majors, the fan-shaped muscles that go from your armpits to the center of your breast bone (sternum). These muscles help move your shoulders and keep your arms attached to your body.

The pectoralis minor muscles are smaller triangular muscles under each pectoralis major. They run along your upper ribs (just below your collarbone).

Then there are your intercostal muscles, which run between the ribs and help form the chest wall. They expand and contract your chest cavity to allow for the inflating and deflating of your lungs as you breathe. Straining muscles in this area may make breathing more laborious. As much as 49% of chest pain experienced by people comes from what is known as intercostal muscle strain.

Pulled chest muscle: signs, causes, and treatment.

Symptoms of a Pulled Chest Muscle

Muscle strains occur when any muscle is overly stretched or torn, and each one needs care and rest to repair itself. The symptoms of a pulled chest muscle may include:

  • Acute muscle pain (a sharp pull)
  • Chronic muscle pain (a dull ache)
  • Pain during breathing
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty moving the area

If this pain comes about suddenly due to strenuous activity or exercise, it’s recommended that you seek medical attention, as it may be more serious than just a strain.

Chest pain is an emergency if it is also accompanied by dizziness, fainting, sweating, a racing pulse, fever, sudden sleepiness, unexplained irritability, or difficulty breathing: these are signs of a heart attack and should be treated with the utmost seriousness.

Causes of a Pulled Chest Muscle

If your heart is not involved in the chest pain you’re experiencing, then you may well be looking at a strained or pulled chest muscle. This can come about from overuse, from heavy lifting, or from sports like tennis, rowing, golf, or gymnastics, which call for repetitive motions of the upper body. The other common causes of chest muscle strain include:

  • Lifting while twisting (like taking boxes on or off a shelf)
  • Reaching above your head for extended amounts of time
  • Repetitive sports motions
  • Skipping warm-ups before sporting activities
  • Contact injuries from sports, accidents, or falls
  • Muscle fatigue from overuse
  • Hard coughing or sneezing during illnesses

Keep in mind that certain people may be more at risk of straining their chest muscles. For example, older adults vulnerable to falling injuries have a corresponding higher risk of pulling a chest muscle. Athletes are at high risk due to the nature of competitive playing. Those involved in car accidents also have a higher rate of chest muscle injury, sometimes from the safety devices involved in a vehicle (like seatbelts and airbags in cars).

Children have the lowest risk of experiencing a pulled chest muscle because of their higher flexibility, which is why it’s always important for us non-children to stretch properly not just before sports, but before any strenuous activity. Basically, break out the yoga mat before you rearrange the living room furniture to repaint the walls: it might save you from being sore and achy the next day (or for the rest of the week).

Diagnosing Chest Pain

Since it’s easy to suspect pain in the chest area as a potentially life-threatening issue with your cardiovascular health, a visit to the doctor may be in order. Rest assured: it’s not a waste of anyone’s time, because depending on the severity of the injury, a pulled chest muscle could lead to chronic back pain and may need a physical therapist to fully remedy. A doctor may first rule out heart disease or other medical conditions (like broken bones, which may call for an X-ray) as the cause of your pain, and then conduct a physical exam to evaluate the severity of the sprain.

Other Possible Causes of Chest Pain

It’s important to seek medical advice when you’re experiencing chest pain, because other causes may include:

Pulled chest muscle: signs, causes, and treatment.

Acute vs. Chronic Muscle Strains

If your pain is indeed caused by a pulled muscle, the doctor will first evaluate whether your muscle strain is acute or chronic.

  • Acute: An acute muscle strain arises from direct injury or trauma due to an accident or fall.
  • Chronic: Chronic strains are those caused by repetitive motions, whether they’re movements from your job, from a sporting activity, or other tasks you perform regularly (like picking up your kids).

The doctor will then likely assign a grade to the strain according to the level of severity.

  • Grade 1: The first grade is the lowest one, affecting less than 5% of the muscle fibers.
  • Grade 2: This is a moderate-grade tear signifying partial muscle rupture or loss of strength.
  • Grade 3: A high-grade tear entails complete muscle rupture and may require surgery to properly repair.

How to Treat a Pulled Chest Muscle

The first and standard response to a muscle strain anywhere is RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. How does that work for your chest?

  • Rest: Cease activity for at least 2 days after your injury, and if when you return to light activity you still feel pain, rest some more.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to the strained area for 20 minutes, 3 times a day to reduce swelling, inflammation, pain, and soreness.
  • Compression: If it’s possible, wrap an Ace bandage to stabilize the area, but be sure to leave it loose enough to allow for circulation.
  • Elevation: As you move around throughout the day your chest is already elevated, but what about at night? Sleeping on an incline (a soft wedge or stacked pillows) or in a recliner can help.

If your doctor sends you home with general advice, you may choose to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to help alleviate the pain. This should be fine as long as you follow the instructions and don’t mix them with any other medications—ask your doctor directly if you have any hesitations or questions about taking painkillers. Ask also about dietary supplements that can help you rebuild and heal muscle faster, like amino acid supplementation.

For chronic strains, better treatment may involve wearing braces at work or while sporting, attending physical therapy, or changing your exercise routine to build strength in the surrounding areas.

For severe tears, if surgery is suggested, discuss your care and concerns directly with your medical team and surgeon. While light strains may be brushed up with a little rest and self-care, chest injuries that limit your breathing could put you at greater risk of a lung infection, so breathing exercises may be advised and are easy to perform at home.

Puff up Your Chest with Pride

Depending on the severity of your injury, you may be able to return to physical activity quickly, right back to the bench press. However, if returning to normal activity continues to cause pain, you may need a longer recovery period for complete pain relief.

To prevent future muscle strains, be sure to warm up before exercise or strenuous activity, be careful when lifting heavy objects, climbing or descending stairs, or lifting weights, and above all listen to your body when it twinges or aches. No one knows your body and its limits like you do, and becoming aware of an injury before it becomes chronic can save you from a lifetime of pain and complications.

Liver Failure Death: Causes, Symptoms and Stages

What are the causes and symptoms of acute and chronic liver failure? How is liver damage diagnosed? Prevented? What are the stages that lead to liver failure death? Find out here.

The human liver is one of our most vital organs, responsible for filtering our blood and detoxifying our bodies. Without a functioning liver, we first become jaundiced, and after a certain point, we can no longer stay alive without liver transplantation. Any issue with liver function is a life-threatening healthcare emergency. So come with us as we explore the leading causes of liver damage and the progressive stages of liver failure death.

What Causes Liver Failure Death?

Cirrhosis is late-stage scarring of the liver (fibrosis). According to those who study hepatology, the most common causes of cirrhosis in the United States are due to hepatitis C infections and heavy alcohol consumption. These chronic liver diseases not only affect one’s quality of life, but can also lead to the end of life.

However, there are other causes of acute liver failure that have a much faster onset, such as drug or toxin overdoses. Genetics are also among the risk factors that can contribute to liver damage and disease, as are obesity, autoimmune disorders, and various forms of cancer.

Liver failure death: causes, symptoms, and stages.

Causes and Symptoms of Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure is a rapid decline of liver function caused by:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose
  • Viral hepatitis infections (hepatitis A, B, and E)
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Adverse reactions to medications for epilepsy, antibiotics, or even nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Adverse reactions to herbal supplements like kava (a nightshade plant) or ma huang (ephedra)
  • Wilson’s disease (a rare genetic disorder that causes copper buildup and poisoning)
  • Hepatic vein thrombosis (also known as Budd-Chiari syndrome)
  • Exposure to toxins like poisonous mushrooms or industrial chemicals

The symptoms of acute liver failure include:

  • General malaise or a feeling of unwellness
  • Persistent tiredness, drowsiness, or sleepiness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes or skin)

Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Liver Failure

Chronic liver failure is characterized by long-term progressive damage from the following causes:

The symptoms of chronic liver failure and breakdown could entail:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Jaundice of the eyes or skin
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Severely itchy skin
  • Darkening of the urine
  • Fluid buildup in the arms or legs (edema)
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)

The Symptoms of Liver Cancer

Cancer that develops in the liver (referred to as primary liver cancer) could also be the cause of liver failure. Those with cirrhosis (the third stage of liver failure) are more at risk of developing liver cancer, which could then shut down the organ or spread to the rest of the body. Liver cancer symptoms could include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Itchy skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal pain or swelling

The Stages of Liver Failure

Liver failure and liver disease are two different things, but one of them can cause the other. Liver disease encompasses any ongoing condition that damages the liver, including inflammation and infection. Liver failure occurs when the liver loses a portion or the entirety of its functionality.

Damage to the liver can come in stages, creating a systematic shutdown of the body and requiring end of life care from health care professionals. What follows are the details of those various stages.

1. Inflammation of the Liver

Inflammation of the liver is often the beginning of the damage that can ultimately lead to a person’s death. Not everyone will notice or feel when their liver becomes inflamed or enlarged, and if the inflammation continues unabated, permanent injury or scarring could occur, leading to the next stage of liver failure.

2. Fibrosis of the Liver

Fibrosis is liver scarring. While the liver is one of the most unique organs thanks to its ability to heal itself (unlike the heart muscle), long-term damage from repeated intoxication or uncured or incurable infections can still build up. When scar tissue begins to take the place of healthy and functional liver tissue, it diminishes the liver’s ability to function. Again, this progressive damage is not always detectable, and the longer it persists, the more it affects the individual’s survival rate.

3. Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is characterized by severe scarring of the liver. When the damaged tissue accumulates enough to interrupt liver functioning, it puts your health in serious jeopardy. When scarring starts to outnumber and overwhelm healthy tissue, the liver begins to fail. Sometimes this stage is the first one that presents symptoms noticeable by the individual, including jaundice, dry mouth, muscle cramps, increased ease of bleeding, buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites), peripheral edema, and reduced brain functioning (hepatic encephalopathy).

4. End-Stage Liver Disease

Those with end-stage or advanced liver disease require palliative care and may be placed on a waiting list for a liver transplant by their health care provider depending on their MELD score (model for end-stage liver disease). This score was established to evaluate the short-term (90-day) survival rate of people with advanced liver damage, and it is determined by a series of blood tests. The MELD score ranges from 6 to 40, with 6 being the best change of survival.

Liver failure death: causes, symptoms, and stages.

Diagnosis of Liver Failure

Doctors may use several tools and methods to diagnosis and evaluate the severity of acute liver failure, including the following.

  • Blood tests: These tests include liver blood tests for enzymes that indicate liver functionality, CBC tests (complete blood count), or other blood tests to look for issues like viral hepatitis infection or undiagnosed genetic conditions.
  • Imaging tests: An MRI, ultrasound, or CT scan may be used to visually inspect the liver.
  • Biopsy: A tissue sample may be taken from the liver to investigate for scarring or other signs of disease and infection.

Liver Failure Treatment Options

First of all, in cases of acute liver failure, the patient will need to be hospitalized, and possibly in the intensive care unit to be given round-the-clock support as medical staff attempts to stabilize and treat their condition. Depending on the cause of the liver failure, a person may either recover or require a liver transplant.

For liver failure resulting from a chronic condition, often the first step is addressing the cause. If it’s drugs or alcohol, rehab needs to be part of the protocol. If it’s due to a viral hepatitis infection, then treatment will follow accordingly. For those with autoimmune conditions, certain therapies may be suggested by the medical team depending on the effects of the condition. If liver failure is a matter of lifestyle causes (poor diet or overuse of medications), then those behaviors would have to be addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment.

The American Liver Foundation says that liver failure can actually be reversed if it’s caught at the second (fibrosis) stage. For the third or cirrhosis stage, while the damage may not be reversed, it can be slowed, stopped, or treated so that the person may continue to live healthily.

For those with end-stage liver failure, however, if a liver transplant cannot be performed, the only follow-up may be end-of-life care.

How to Prevent Liver Failure Death

Given how important liver health is to human survival, taking care of your liver and your overall health is the best way to prevent sometimes permanent and deadly liver damage. Some ways to protect your liver include:

  • Abstaining from alcohol or only drinking in moderation
  • Never mixing medications with other drugs or supplements without a doctor’s consent
  • Never mixing medications with alcohol
  • Taking over-the-counter medications only when needed
  • Taking prescribed medications only as directed and to completion
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Aiding liver detox with your dietary choices
  • Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B

Liver Long and Prosper

If you suspect there is anything wrong with your liver, seek medical advice immediately. The sooner you intervene on behalf of your liver’s health, the better chance you have at being able to reverse the damage done and heal completely. In many cases liver failure death can be prevented, if it’s caught in time and if you follow your doctor’s advice. Eat well, detox regularly, and you may well live long and prosper.

What Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Find out when drinking becomes an addiction, learn the symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal, and discover how to detox safely at home if you can’t afford inpatient treatment. 

When it comes to cases of chronic alcoholism, detoxing isn’t just a matter of quitting cold turkey. Long-term drinking recovery, though it can be done at home, may be far safer with professional help. Substance abuse alters the body’s functions, and sudden changes can actually endanger the life of the loved one you’re trying to save. Review this information on the detoxification process and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and then decide if maybe a treatment program might be better for all family members involved.

When Is Drinking Alcohol Considered Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is distinct, clinically speaking, from moderate or even regular drinking. Some of the earliest warning signs of alcohol dependency include having an emotional attachment to drinking and craving it even when there’s no outside prompt, such as a party, a celebratory event that calls for champagne, or a nice anniversary dinner where a bottle of wine is shared.

Emotional dependency to alcohol can lead to a physical dependency. Addiction occurs when the physical and behavioral signs of alcoholism arise (shaking hands or isolating from family and commitments) and when the person cannot independently control his or her drinking.

The Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Let’s say you want to stop drinking after an alcohol-heavy season, such as spring break or the holidays. You might feel a mild version of the detox process. Side effects like mood swings, body aches, and even some slight tremors usually cause overwhelming worry—a non-addict might even decide to stop drinking for their New Year’s resolution, and be successful at it.

The same is not always true for alcohol addicts, or dipsomaniacs as they used to be called in the 1800s, the Greek dipso– for “thirst” and –mania for “madness,” referring to those with a “morbid craving for alcohol.” Now known as alcohol use disorder or AUD, the symptoms of alcohol detox are still the same, and severe withdrawal can be life-threatening. For those who are trying to dry out after years of heavy drinking, they are at risk of all of these symptoms, from mild to serious:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (also known as “the D.T.s”)

Keep in mind that the most severe symptoms involve recovery from damage done to the central nervous system, which is why in some cases a treatment center is the best option if it’s possible. Not only can inpatient treatment ensure there are medical professionals there to monitor high blood pressure and distribute appropriate amounts of withdrawal medications, but the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is combined for a reason: there may be underlying mental health issues that alcohol abuse has either hidden from knowledge or been used to “treat” (conditions like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder). Other drugs and addictions may be at play as well.

Likewise underlying medical conditions can put people at greater risk too, like heart, lung, liver, or kidney conditions that may quickly worsen the impact of alcohol withdrawal.

Delirium tremens is the most severe form of withdrawal, and can encompass many of the above-listed symptoms and overwhelm the body to the point of cardiovascular collapse. It may not start the first day either: these symptoms could arise anywhere between 2 and 5 days after the addict’s last drink, as the body begins to process all the alcohol and then comes to find out there’s no more incoming.

Delirium tremens affects less than 5% of recovering alcoholics, so while it’s not an inevitable occurrence, it’s nevertheless still important to be aware of the risk in case your loved one is in that 5% and in need of professional substance abuse treatment to monitor their blood pressure and heart rate in a fully equipped treatment facility.

How to detox from alcohol.

How to Detox from Alcohol

Not everyone will have the resources for professional help when it comes to quitting alcohol, and while there are programs available to help, like the peer-counseling at Alcoholics Anonymous, keep in mind the AA’s Serenity Prayer, which asks for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” You or your loved one may be able to detox from alcohol at home, but if you can’t, it’s important to have the wisdom to know the difference.

That being said, here is how to detox from alcohol.

1. Taper Off

Quitting cold turkey means suddenly taking away a substance the body has learned to rely on, basically pulling the rug out from under oneself. A change like that means the body has to adapt all at once, and it may cause or exacerbate symptoms of withdrawal that needn’t have been felt with a careful tapering off of alcohol consumption.

While tapering can help slowly notch down physical alcohol dependence, an addict’s emotional attachment to alcohol and to drinking may get in the way. If you’re doing this on your own, you may backslide, and if you’re helping a family member, they may just be cheating and sneaking extra booze when you’re not looking. This is why a rehab center can be so valuable in cases of alcohol addiction, so that not only are the physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms met with medical supervision, but no interpersonal relationships are irreparably damaged in the process.

Long-term alcohol use means alcohol is the new normal for the addict’s body. Imagine how you feel when you try to quit sugar or caffeine, and know that it is much harder to quit drinking because alcohol is a much stronger drug.

2. Know Your Limits

To taper off, you must first start by being honest about how much alcohol you or your loved one drinks each day. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines 1 drink as either:

  • 1 bottle of beer: 12 ounces at 5% alcohol content
  • 1 glass of wine: 5 ounces at 12% alcohol content
  • 1 mixed drink: 1.5 ounces of liquor at 40% alcohol content

These numbers may not directly correlate with each brand of alcohol product, but they are a guideline to provide a rough estimation of just how many drinks are being consumed each day. Beer is most recommended for tapering off, as it tends to have a lower alcohol percent by volume than wine or spirits do.

3. Take Your Time

Tapering should involve:

  • Taking between 3 and 7 days to ween down, depending on how much the person is accustomed to drinking
  • Temporarily increasing alcohol consumption if withdrawal symptoms arise
  • Seeking professional addiction treatment by way of a detox program if you’re unable to stop drinking at home

At-Home Detox Tips

For the milder symptoms of alcohol detox, it is possible to treat them at home. Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Water: Alcohol is a diuretic, and long-term alcoholics have probably been in a case of mild dehydration for a very long time. Staying hydrated can help reduce mental confusion, irritability, and fatigue.
  • Electrolyte drinks: With dehydration comes a loss of certain minerals like electrolytes. Having some sports drinks with electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and calcium will help the recoverer feel better faster.
  • Healthy diet: Alcohol is full of sugar, and many people in rehab discover that they have a maddening sugar craving when they quit drinking. However, trading booze for sugar won’t help anyone feel better at the end of the day, so try to concentrate on a diet that contains the proper amount of protein, carbs (also sugars), fats, minerals, and vitamins.
  • Hygiene: No, a hot shower won’t help you “sweat out” the alcohol dependency faster, and in fact, it could cause a dangerous change in your body temperature. However, a warm shower or bath can help relax your wrung-out muscles, distract you from the discomforts of withdrawal, and leave you feeling refreshed and more like yourself again.
  • Meditation and calming techniques: Controlled breathing techniques can help normalize your blood pressure and heart rate, while meditation can help clear and focus your mind. While you may not experience the severe symptom of hallucinations, many recovering addicts have overwhelmingly intense dreams as the higher parts of their brain come back online.

You Can Do This

Whether you’re attempting to detox with or without help, engage in as much self-care as possible: stock up on your favorite movies, cuddle up in blankets if you feel a chill, and slap on a cool, damp cloth if you feel too warm. Try to avoid taking medications as much as possible so you don’t overtax your detox organs (the liver and kidneys), and if you’re at all worried that withdrawal symptoms are getting too severe, seek help from a trusted medical professional. As bad as it feels, people have detoxed before and you can do it too, just do it safely, and be well.