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

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.

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.

Telomeres and Aging: How Do These Structures Help Prolong Your Life?

Telomeres cap our chromosomes, protect our DNA from damage, and could be the key to human longevity. Find out about the connection between telomeres and aging.

If you’re a Greek mythology buff, you might be aware of the three blind sisters known as the Fates who share one eye between them and hold the threads of every human life. One would spin the thread of life, the second would dispense it, and the third would cut it off: the longer the thread, the longer the life. This imagery may help you better understand telomeres and aging, as telomeres and DNA strands shorten as you grow and age, and may be one of the keys to living a longer life. Read on for a detailed explanation of what telomeres are, how they function, and why lengthening short telomeres could prolong a healthy life.

What Are Telomeres?

Here’s the long and the short of it: telomeres are the caps on the ends of chromosomes that help protect our unique genetic code from damage or rogue influences.

Our DNA strands are made up of chemical base pairs and are bundled together inside the nucleus of each of our cells, bundles that are known as chromosomes. Each of these chromosomes has our genetic information, our genes, and when cell division occurs, these genes are replicated so that every new cell carries these blueprints. At the end of each chromosome are substance strands known as telomeres, which protect the ends of our chromosomes from trying to fuse together. Telomeres guard our chromosomes against any damage.

The problem is that as we age our DNA strands get shorter, losing some genes in the process. Telomeres are there to help prevent gene loss, but as our chromosomes replicate, our telomeres shorten too. The way to build back up these telomere protectors is with an enzyme called telomerase, which can add extra telomere sequences onto the ends of our DNA strands, but most somatic cell types (which are non-reproductive cell types) do not contain telomerase, meaning our telomeres inevitably shorten over time, affecting human health.

Length of Telomeres and Aging: What’s the Link?

There is some evidence that telomere shortening contributes to the aging process and disease development in human cells. Though the science is new and more investigation is needed, here are some of the recent studies linking telomere length and the symptoms of aging.

1. Mortality

This review of studies from 2011 notes that markers for DNA damage increase with age, just as telomere function decreases. This correlation could be a significant finding, as another smaller study from 2003 showed a link between shortened telomeres and increased rates of death from infectious disease and heart disease, which is the top cause of death worldwide. Another more recent meta-analysis of studies also suggests a connection between shorter telomeres and coronary heart disease.

2. Cancer

Not only do shorter telomeres appear to increase the risk of cancer, but these specific cancers have been studied in connection with human telomere length:

  • Bladder
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Head
  • Kidney
  • Lung
  • Neck

One of the characteristics of cancer cells is that they profligate and divide rapidly compared to healthy human cell types. While the division of normal human cells leads to shorter and shorter telomeres, somehow tumor cells are exempt from shortening their telomeres into oblivion, which causes cell death. How?

Researchers assert that it’s because the telomerase enzyme that adds length to telomeres is actually increased in 90% of cancers according to this 2016 study published in the journal Genome Medicine. While even our original stem cells have a limited capacity in using the anti-aging telomerase enzyme, cancer stem cells have no such limitations and use it to maintain long telomeres and protect their destructive or mutated genetic material for more extended periods of time.

Because of this telomere research, some cancer treatments now involve targeting the cell biology of cancer cells, hoping to cause telomere dysfunction and cell death.

3. Oxidative Stress

If you’ve ever gone on a health kick, you’ve probably been prompted to consume more antioxidants, nutrients that can help fight oxidative stress and the DNA damage done by free radicals in the body. Oxidative stress is linked time and time again with chronic conditions and diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and various cancers.

Because our telomeres work to protect our DNA too, increased oxidative stress could cause telomeres to shorten, just as shortened telomeres could lead to more damage done by oxidative stress. It’s a truly vicious cycle that contributes to human aging and shortens our health spans, and while avoiding environmental poisons like pollution, alcohol, and smoking can help, as can utilizing natural ways to combat inflammation, there is some damage we’re not going to be able to avoid.

The damage done to our DNA and the telomeres meant to protect that information leads inevitably to increased biological age and all the symptoms associated with aging cells like age-related diseases and death.

Telomeres and aging: what's the connection?

How Do You Lengthen Telomeres?

Since telomere biology appears to be such an important aspect in premature aging, what can you do to help support the role of telomeres in protecting against cellular aging? So far gene therapy meant to lengthen telomeres is inconclusive, however there are ways to help delay the shortening of these vital life threads and maintain the heathy lengths that you still have.

If your telomeres shorten enough, your chromosomes can no longer replicate, which causes the cells they’re housed in to undergo cellular senescence. In other words, they die. Enough cell death, and your body reaches such a weakened state that your immune system can no longer protect you from opportunistic infections and diseases, which could ultimately result in your death.

The following advice comes from a 2013 study that analyzed the telomere length of men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. One group was instructed to make certain lifestyle changes (regular exercise, healthy diet, and managing stress), while the control group was not. After 5 years, those who improved their lifestyles had longer telomeres than those who did not, giving researchers a basic understanding of how these three aspects influence telomere length.

1. Regular Exercise

Regularly exercising helps reduce oxidative stress, as evidenced by a 2017 study of thousands of American men and women. This study suggests a connection between high levels of physical activity and significantly longer telomere lengths.

Another study from the same year found that in young adults, those who participated in aerobic fitness activities had not only longer telomeres, but also better muscle endurance.

2. Healthy Diet

Everyone knows a healthy diet is a boon to your overall well-being, but researchers have been able to link healthy dieting to telomere length specifically. A 2016 study found that a Mediterranean diet full of antioxidants may help, while an even more recent 2018 study found that longer telomere length could be linked to greater fiber intake.

3. Managing Stress

Cell biologist and Nobel Prize-winner Elizabeth Blackburn in an interview with the New York Times said, “We know that stress is bad for cells. What about alleviating it? We’ve been collaborating on studies looking at the telomerase levels in people who practice meditation.”

Stress increases oxidative stress, and study after study has shown that increased stress and cortisol production reduces telomerase activity and increases telomere shortening. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, improved sleep, or talk therapy, anything you can do to alleviate your stress could help protect your DNA.

Telomeres to Live Longer

These structures capping our chromosome ends can protect our DNA from dozens of risk factors for chronic disease and aging. While some diseases like dyskeratosis congenita (a progressive bone marrow failure syndrome) cause rapid telomere shortening, premature aging, and death, those who have enough health to prevent telomeres from shortening should focus on improving their lifestyles, thereby extending their lives.

Kidney Infections: The Symptoms and Solutions

Kidney infections: what are the symptoms, what causes them, who’s most at risk, and how can they be cured? These important kidney-related questions are answered here.

A kidney infection is a serious health condition that needs immediate medical treatment. This article details the signs and symptoms of kidney infection, the diagnostic process, and the treatment options so you can determine whether or not it’s time to seek medical care.

What Is a Kidney Infection?

The medical term for an infection in your kidneys is pyelonephritis. It can develop from urinary tract or bladder infections that spread to one or both of your kidneys, and it can be a life-threatening condition. If you experience the following symptoms, seek medical evaluation immediately.

The Symptoms of a Kidney Infection

This list includes possible kidney infection symptoms, and due to the seriousness of such infections, if you experience them you’re encouraged to seek health care as soon as possible.

  • Cloudy urine (or urine containing blood or pus)
  • Pain in your groin, lower back, side, or abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent urination
  • Burning or painful urination
  • High fever
  • Chills

An untreated kidney infection can quickly lead to sepsis and possible death, so do not hesitate if you are experiencing these symptoms, or if you suspect them in a person you care for like a child or an elderly parent.

The Causes of Kidney Infection

Your kidneys reside in your upper abdomen. These two fist-sized organs filter waste out of your bloodstream and into your urine for elimination from the body. They also work to regulate your electrolytes and water retention and are vital to human survival.

Bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli) can enter the kidneys via the urethra and bladder, where the bacteria can multiply and spread. Bacteria can also arise from other sources in the body and be spread via the bloodstream, or can arise from something blocking the flow of urine (like a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate).

The Risk Factors for Kidney Infection

Since we all have kidneys, we are all at risk of developing a kidney infection of some sort, but there are certain situations and conditions which make infection more likely.

  • Urinary catheter use: Because a catheter enters the urethra, it can introduce bacteria.
  • Compromised immune system: Taking immunosuppressant drugs, or having conditions like HIV/AIDS or diabetes, can increase the risk of kidney infection.
  • Urinary tract damage: Any damage that causes urine retention or backup can lead to kidney infection. Urine backing up into the kidneys is a condition known as vesicoureteral reflux.
  • Urinary tract infection: UTIs account for at least 1 in 30 kidney infection cases.
  • Being female: Due to the proximity between urethra and anus, plus the shorter urethra that characterizes female anatomy, women are statistically more likely to contract a kidney infection due to a UTI.
  • Being pregnant: Pregnant women are even more likely to have a kidney infection due to shifts that happen to the urinary tract during pregnancy.

If you have a UTI, seek medical intervention before it progresses to a severe infection. Likewise if you have unexplained lower back pain, abdominal pain (common kidney pain locations), or any other suspicious symptoms, consult a doctor as quickly as possible for treatment.

How Kidney Infections Are Diagnosed

A doctor may conduct a medical history survey to determine your health information and risk factors for kidney infection, and then order tests or conduct a physical exam of the genital area. Tests may include:

  • X-rays to assess for urinary system blockage
  • A rectal exam for men to evaluate the prostate gland
  • MRI, ultrasound, or CT scan of the kidneys
  • A urine culture to determine the type of bacteria involved
  • Urinalysis to check the urine for bacteria or white blood cell presence

Kidney Infection Treatment Options

Depending on the nature and severity of your kidney infection, treatment options may vary. Once your urine tests have been evaluated, a doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, recommend you drink plenty of fluids to help clear out the infection, and issue other medical advice to help you avoid kidney problems in the future.

If you are given antibiotics, be sure to take them as directed and to completion to effectively eliminate the infection and avoid other serious complications like sepsis, chronic kidney disease, or kidney failure. Some instances may even call for surgical intervention and need prolonged medical attention.

Kidney Infection Recovery Tips

If you are sent home with a 2-week course of antibiotics, you can use a heating pad to help reduce your kidney pain or take over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen (avoid acetaminophen or Tylenol as it can cause more kidney harm). Be sure to drink at least 8 glasses of water and/or cranberry juice each day to help your body clear out the bacteria afflicting your organs.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Kidneys

Kidney infections, especially if they are caught early enough, can be managed and completely cured. Your kidneys are some of the hardest-working organs you’ve got detoxifying your body every day, so if you suspect they’re in danger or besieged by bacteria, seek medical assistance right away to get them back to functioning.

Kidney infections: symptoms and solutions.

Liver Flush: What Ingredients Actually Help Liver Function?

Will a liver flush or cleanse actually work? Find out what damages your liver, and which supplements and foods can actually help prevent liver disease.

Your liver is the undefeated detoxifier. Along with your kidneys, it’s the organ that detoxes you, and there’s only so much you can do to help detox it. That being said, while a liver flush is not as simple a concept as, say, clearing out your rain gutters with a high-powered spray of water, there are things you can do to support your liver’s natural detoxification processes, so it can flush itself and your entire body of any toxins swirling around in your bloodstream. This article details what substances can harm your liver and which liver aids have scientific reasoning behind them.

Liver Flush: Fad vs. Fact

Your liver is your largest internal organ. As big as an average football, the liver resides on the upper right side of your abdomen, above your stomach but beneath the divide separating your lungs from your guts: the diaphragm.

Many homemade liver cleanse concoctions involve fruit juice (organic apple juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice), along with epsom salt and extra virgin olive oil. Some go so far as to suggest a coffee enema, but which one if any of these ingredients actually benefits your liver, and how? Let’s first dispel some misconceptions, and then read on for a list of foods and beverages that are proven to benefit your liver.

Is There Anything Useful in Liver Supplements?

Your liver is unique among your organs because it has the ability to heal and regenerate itself that other vital organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys simply do not have. While you need to consume certain substances such as essential amino acids and antioxidant vitamins to support even your most basic functions, most of those nutrients can be found naturally in whole foods.

Many supplements on the market are sold without clinical testing or FDA approval, but there are certain ingredients that have been proven scientifically to help the liver do its job.

Can a Liver Flush Help with Weight Loss?

There really is no quick shortcut to losing weight. There are only two ways to shed body fat: one is burning more calories than you consume and the other is consuming fewer calories than you burn.

Because there are so many questionable claims surrounding liver cleanses on the market, studies have actually looked into and found that certain supposed liver-cleansing diets actually succeed in lowering your metabolic rate, therefore impeding weight loss rather than aiding it.

Instead of trying to find a shortcut to weight loss via your liver, focus on more tried-and-true methods of healthy weight loss (which in turn benefit your liver by cutting down on fatty deposits that may lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease). You can do this by:

  • Reducing caloric intake. It’s recommended that women eat 1,600-2,400 calories per day, and men 2,000-3,000. Staying closer to the lower end of the appropriate range is ideal for both your waistline and your liver’s health.
  • Burning calories through exercise. To burn off the body fat you already have, especially dangerous abdominal fat that could be negatively impacting your vital organs, take up regular exercise. Even evening walks or gentle at-home morning yoga can help get harmful fat deposits off your body and away from your liver.
  • Upgrading your diet. The better foods you choose, the more you can eat. If you want to lose weight without feeling like you’re starving yourself, eat superior foods from each food group: whole vegetables and fruits, unrefined whole grains, lean proteins like fish, chicken, and eggs, and healthy fats like those in nuts and olive oil.

Will a Liver Detox Diet Help Prevent Liver Disease?

Liver disease can arise from many different conditions, the most well-known being hepatitis (from infection by the hepatitis A, B, or C virus), alcohol abuse (leading to inflammation of the liver, scarring, and ultimately cirrhosis), and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can come about through poor exercise and diet. The best way to prevent liver disease depends on the cause of it, and includes:

  • Safe sex and hygiene practices: Hepatitis can be contracted through unprotected sex, needle-sharing, or from mother to child during birth.
  • Alcohol moderation: The best way to prevent alcoholic fatty liver disease and other adverse health conditions (like kidney damage) is to drink alcohol in moderation or not at all.
  • Proper diet and exercise: To prevent the buildup of fat in your liver (not to mention your arteries), eating well and exercising regularly are key.

While the liver can recover and repair itself, once there is scarring of the liver tissue, that scarring cannot be reversed. Severe scarring of the liver is known as cirrhosis, and can ultimately lead to liver failure and death.

Avoiding fatty foods by choosing a liver detox diet can only prevent some of the risk factors for liver disease, not all, so be careful with your liver—unlike your kidneys, it’s the only one you’ve got.

If you have a family history of liver disease, consult a health care professional for medical advice on how to maintain optimal liver function.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Liver

There are foods and substances that can help cleanse or flush your system and aid liver health, but before we get to dietary solutions, here are other things you can do to maintain a healthy liver.

1. Vaccinate Against Hepatitis

Some forms of hepatitis are incurable, and preventing infection is the best way to make sure your liver does not have to suffer damage from the disease. Hepatitis viruses are not just sexually transmitted; they can be caught during travel to countries with unsanitary conditions, by healthcare workers who work in close proximity with infected patients, or from tattoo parlors with unsafe needle practices. The proper hepatitis vaccinations may save you from infection no matter how you’re exposed to these viruses.

2. Take Medications Cautiously and as Directed

No matter whether it’s a prescription or nonprescription drug, your liver must process the medication you take. If it’s possible to use natural remedies instead of pharmaceutical drugs, you may want to try those first.

If you need certain medications, take them as directed by your doctor (don’t stop a course of antibiotics for example when you start feeling better, as this can lead to drug-resistant viruses), and do not mix any medications with alcohol, including and especially over-the-counter medicine like Tylenol (acetaminophen), which should never be taken within 24 hours of imbibing alcohol, and vice versa.

3. Limit or Avoid Alcohol Intake

Liver damage from alcohol use is one of the most preventable conditions around. Alcohol is a poison, a toxin that your liver has to clean up. In fact, your liver has the lion’s share of the responsibility, as 90% of the alcohol you ingest is metabolized by your liver. The recommended limit is no more than 1 drink per day for women, and 2 drinks per day for men.

It’s not just liver disease you need to be concerned about with alcohol. When the liver metabolizes alcohol it converts it into acetaldehyde, which is a cancer-causing agent. While a glass of red wine with dinner is connected to heart health, excessive drinking and hard liquor consumption can cause inflammation, fatty buildup, and permanent scarring, which compromises your liver’s ability to detox your body, and no liver flush or cleanse can reverse that kind of damage.

4. Protect Yourself from Needles (and with Condoms)

If you need to use needles regularly for insulin injections or other medications, if you’re a healthcare worker who frequently handles needles, or if you are in the market for a tattoo, be proactive in making sure your needles are properly sterilized and never shared. Should you get stuck with a previously used needle, seek immediate medical attention, and do not take street drugs at all, especially if they involve injection.

Many viruses can be transmitted not just by blood, but via other bodily fluids as well. When engaging in intercourse, practice safe sex precautions like condom usage, dental dams, regular STD testing, and preventative medications like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).

5. Handle Chemicals with Caution

Household chemicals, paint, insecticides, fungicides, etc. are all toxins you can inhale or ingest, and it is up to your liver to process and eliminate those toxins. Protect yourself by wearing gloves, a mask, and protective skin coverings (like long-sleeved shirts and pants) to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals you’re exposed to in any given situation.

6. Reduce Unhealthy Food Consumption

Salt, sugar, and processed foods can all be detrimental to your liver’s health. For example, consuming excessive salt can lead to fluid retention, water weight gain, and extra stress on both your kidneys and your liver. If you don’t consume enough water along with the salt, your body may produce an antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin) that prevents urination, and you’ll retain the water instead of using it to flush toxins from your system. In this situation, more water intake, decreased salt intake, or increased potassium could help, as potassium helps balance out the effects of sodium.

When it comes to sugar and processed foods, it’s a metabolic nightmare. Added sugars like refined sugar and corn syrup are permeating processed foods, from cookies and candies, to salad dressings, pasta sauces, and even granola bars. High sugar consumption not only can lead to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, but can also contribute to other chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Maintaining a healthy weight via diet and exercise can help prevent gallstone formation, which arises when you have too much cholesterol in your bile. Your gallbladder is attached to your liver courtesy of the common bile duct, and acts as a storage site for the necessary bile your liver produces. Bile that is thick with cholesterol can form stones that block your gallbladder or your liver (making them liver stones), and interrupt or damage the liver’s normal functioning.

Replacing junk foods with healthier alternatives, as well as eating more whole foods instead of processed ones, invariably leads to better health for you and your vital organs.

What ingredients work for a liver flush?

Healthy Foods for Liver Cleansing

So here we are: one of the best ways to help remove toxins from your bloodstream and your liver is to avoid consuming them in the first place. However, that begs the question, “What foods are good for a liver flush?” Here’s a list of foods and beverages that are particularly suited to promoting your liver’s health and helping it eliminate toxins.

1. Coffee

Good news: coffee is an excellent drink for liver health. It can protect against the development of liver disease, even for those who already have compromised liver function. For instance, multiple studies have shown that regularly consuming coffee lowers your risk for cirrhosis, even for those who already have chronic liver disease. Researchers urge those with liver disease to drink coffee, as many as 3 cups per day, because it may even lower the risk of death.

These amazing benefits are attributed in the above-linked studies to coffee’s ability to block collagen and fat buildup, two huge contributors to liver disease, and to aid in the production of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps guard against the oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Coffee comes with many health benefits, including improved liver function.

2. Grapes

Darker grapes (purple and red) are famously well-known for containing resveratrol, the compound that makes red wine a heart-healthy beverage. Grapes and grape juices have been shown to benefit the liver in various animal studies, preventing damage from toxins and lowering unhealthy inflammation.

One human study conducted in 2010 found that supplementing with grape seed extract for 3 months improved the liver function of participants with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, leading to the supposition that consuming concentrated, unsweetened grape fruit juice could help those with even severe liver conditions feel better.

3. Grapefruit

Another fruit that can provide natural hepatoprotective (liver-protective) antioxidants is grapefruit, thanks to its concentrations of naringenin and naringin. These antioxidants have been shown to help guard against liver damage and help reduce dangerous inflammation. They can also discourage the development of hepatic fibrosis, a condition wherein connective tissue excessively builds up in the liver and causes chronic inflammation.

Naringenin specifically has been shown to increase fat-burning enzymes and prevent metabolic dysregulation, while naringin is known to improve alcohol metabolism and mitigate alcohol’s adverse side effects. So if you find grapefruit juice in a liver flush recipe, it has scientifically backed reasoning to be included, not to mention it’s a great source of vitamin C, another antioxidant that’s known to help prevent cold and flu infection.

4. Nuts

Full of the antioxidant vitamin E and high in healthy fats, nuts are great benefactors for heart health and possibly the liver as well. This observational study conducted in 2015 found that consuming walnuts helped improve liver enzyme levels of 106 participants with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. And an observational study from 2014 demonstrated that men who consumed nuts and seeds in large amounts had a lower risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in the first place.

5. Tea

Tea (especially green, black, and oolong tea) has been shown to consistently improve the health and longevity of those who consume it regularly. Tea consumption has also been found to benefit the liver in particular, as can be seen in this study of Japanese men who drank 5-10 cups of green tea each day and had improved blood markers of both cardiovascular and hepatic health. In another study of 17 participants with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, drinking green tea for a 12-week period decreased fat deposits in their livers, reduced their oxidative stress levels, and improved their liver enzyme levels.

Green tea has also been found to help prevent the development of liver cancer, and black tea too has been observed reducing the negative liver effects of a high-fat diet while also improving liver health blood markers. If you have an active liver condition, consult your doctor before supplementing with green tea extract, but if you’re just looking to flush your liver of toxins, drinking green tea is a strong place to start.

6. Dark Berries

Deep-colored berries like blueberries and cranberries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. This compound gives berries their rich colors and is connected to improved liver health. For example, cranberries can help prevent toxic liver injury, and blueberries can help positively modulate T-cell activity in the immune response to your liver.

Blueberry extract has even managed to inhibit human liver cancer cell growth in laboratory studies, and may someday have practical anti-cancer application in humans.

7. Beetroot Juice

Beetroot juice contains betalains, nitrates that function as antioxidants for heart health. When it comes to the liver, beetroot juice also serves to increase your production of natural detoxification enzymes, improving your liver’s detox capacity. It also lowers inflammation levels in the liver and blocks oxidative stress damage.

8. Prickly Pear

The prickly pear, aka Opuntia ficus-indica, is an edible cactus that you may remember from the song “The Bare Necessities” in Disney’s The Jungle Book. A long-standing staple of traditional medicine, the prickly pear is used in modern medicine to treat wounds, ulcers, liver disease, and even hangovers.

That’s right: those who overindulge in alcohol and wake up the next morning with symptoms like dry mouth, nausea, and lack of appetite may lessen the severity of those ill effects according to this study from 2004. This is thanks to the detoxification-enhancing abilities and anti-inflammatory properties of the prickly pear. A more recent study from 2012 on rat models found that prickly pear helped protect the liver from the after-effects of alcohol consumption as well.

9. Fatty Fish

You might not think nonalcoholic fatty liver disease could be helped by eating more fat, but it’s the quality of fat that counts, as well as the omega-3 fatty acid content. Eating oily, fatty fish like salmon or halibut is well-known to be good for heart and cholesterol health, and consuming fish oil may help alleviate arthritis inflammation.

Fatty fish are good for your liver health as well, because they can help balance your ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (most people in the modern world get far too much omega-6 and nowhere near enough omega-3 fatty acids), which is important because an imbalance between the two may help promote liver disease development.

10. Olive Oil

Olive oil can not only replace unhealthy refined vegetable oils in your diet, but it can also improve your liver enzyme levels, as was seen in this 2010 study of 11 nonalcoholic fatty liver disease patients. As with fatty fish, olive oil is a healthy fat that can improve your metabolic rate, optimize insulin sensitivity, and even increase blood flow to your liver.

Liver, Laugh, Love

When it comes to optimal liver function, it’s half about what you add to your body, and half about what you abstain from adding. Avoid overtaxing your liver with poison like alcohol and drugs, but do be sure to make a habit of consuming detoxification aids like green tea, grapefruit juice, healthy whole foods, and the occasional nutrient supplement designed to provide the liver-protective nutrients you don’t naturally gain from food.

PEMF Therapy: The History, Science and Safety

PEMF therapy has been safely in use for decades: in hospitals, research facilities, and even in NASA’s treatment protocol for astronauts returning from space. Can this noninvasive therapy help relieve your pain?

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy or PEMF therapy may sound like something out of a sci-fi future world, not least because it’s been used by NASA to help mitigate muscle atrophy and bone loss in astronauts. However, it is a real technology that can aid pain management, and this article has the facts you’re looking for regarding PEMF treatment and the science behind its sensational health claims.

What Exactly Is PEMF Therapy?

PEMF therapy devices emit electromagnetic waves at different wavelengths to help stimulate and encourage the body’s natural recovery mechanisms.

You might wonder how PEMF technology can be beneficial to the body when other electromagnetic pulses, like the ones emitted by X-ray machines and microwaves, are detrimental to your body. It’s the duration and the frequency that make the difference: PEMF therapy devices generate waves in short bursts at very low frequencies, closer to the electromagnetic waves that occur in nature. In fact, the majority of the waves experienced during PEMF treatments have a lower frequency than those you’d be exposed to during a thunderstorm.

Does PEMF Therapy Actually Work?

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy has been used to improve circulation, bone healing, energy levels, depression, sleep function, immune function, and the rate of injury healing. The low frequencies in PEMF therapy pass through the skin and penetrate into muscles, tendons, bones, and even organs to activate cell energy and encourage their natural repair processes.

Cell membranes have positive and negative magnetic charges, but since those cells can degrade over time or become damaged due to injury, sometimes these charges fail to function. That means your cells are then incapable of exchanging the ions that are transporting the chemical compounds your body needs, like potassium and calcium. The symptoms that arise from this type of failure to function include chronic pain, fatigue, and inflammation. PEMF is a noninvasive way to target these areas, and call the body’s attention to them.

PEMF therapy: the history, science, and safety.

Scientific Proof Behind PEMF Therapy

Here is what scientists have been able to show regarding the use PEMF therapy.

5 Facts About PEMF Machines

Have we stoked your curiosity about PEMF machines? Here are some more interesting facts to know.

1. Many of the Original PEMF Machines Were Developed in Eastern Europe

The first PEMF devices came from the Czech Republic, found their way to Hungary in the 1980s, and swept through Europe by the 1990s. The original PEMF devices were quite large, consisting of a Helmholtz coil. A patient was placed inside of the machine to receive a uniform dose of magnetic energy. Modern PEMF machines are about the size of a yoga mat and use the magnetic loop coil invented by Nikola Tesla long before the invention of the PEMF machine.

2. PEMF Therapy Was First Approved by the FDA in 1979

The first FDA-approved PEMF system was meant to stimulate bone healing and treat nonunion fractures, and since then has come into use for various post-surgical healing therapies, pain relief, and even treatment for depression. The machines are safe for use on humans and animals.

3. PEMF Technology Was Then Adopted by NASA

Wider therapeutic uses of PEMF technology emerged after 2003, when NASA did a 4-year study on the use of electromagnetic fields to stimulate repair and growth in mammalian tissue. Once pulsed electromagnetic fields were successfully used to help astronauts after their return from space, scientists theorized that the cause of astronaut fatigue, depression, and bone loss has to do with being away from the beneficial magnetic field that naturally emanates from the Earth.

4. PEMF Therapy Has a Long Track Record of Clinical Success

PEMF therapy has years of positive clinical success in treating the body at the cellular level using pulsing electromagnetic waves at specific frequencies. Since its 1979 FDA approval, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been known to treat a wide array of conditions in clinical trials performed by hospitals, physiotherapists, rheumatologists, and neurologists.

5. PEMF Machines Are Completely Safe, Unlike X-ray Machines

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are often referred to as radiation. EMFs are invisible fields of energy associated with lighting pulses and electrical power. There are two radioactive categories EMFs fall into based on their wavelength and frequency.

  • Non-ionizing: This is low-to-mid-level radiation that is generally understood to be harmless to humans, and can be found in computers, microwaves, radio frequencies, cell phones, bluetooth devices, power lines, and MRI machines.
  • Ionizing: These are mid-to-high-levels of radiation, and have the potential for DNA and/or cellular damage with long exposure, like UV rays from sunlight and X-ray machines.

Should You Explore PEMF Therapy?

A disruption to the electrical currents of your cell membranes can lead to a lifetime of pain, so if you’re suffering from joint pain, chronic pain and fatigue conditions, or a recent injury, PEMF therapy might be an option for you.

If you’re concerned about PEMF therapy quackery, or worried about PEMF therapy side effects, know that this technology has never been associated with any adverse or negative side effects, and consult with your doctor or a trusted health care expert to see if electromagnetic therapy might be the noninvasive treatment option that’s right for you.

Inflammation of the Liver: The Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Learn about the causes and consequences of inflammation of the liver: the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and preventative measures you can take to avoid liver disease and liver failure.

Any health issue that adversely affects your liver has the potential to put your life in danger. Inflammation of the liver is a symptom of many serious medical conditions. We’ll detail these various liver diseases as well as what happens when your liver is under attack.

What Is the Function of the Liver?

The liver is your body’s largest organ, a dark-red gland that is located in the upper right area of your abdomen, just beneath your diaphragm. The bile produced by your liver collects into the gallbladder, located on the liver’s underside, which is itself attached to the small intestine via a bile duct. The manifold functions of the liver also include:

  • Blood filtration and the detoxification of alcohol, drugs, and environmental poisons
  • Converting sugars to glycogen
  • Breaking down and storing fatty acids
  • Synthesizing proteins like albumin (needed for regulating blood volume) and fibrinogen and prothrombin (essential coagulation factors)
  • Disposing of depleted blood cells by breaking them down to their basic components
  • Destroying bacteria filtered from the blood
  • Maintaining the balance of sex hormones (reducing the amount of naturally occurring male sex hormones in women and female sex hormones in men, known as estrogen dominance)
  • Policing the proteins that pass through the digestive system

What Is Inflammation of the Liver?

Inflammation of the liver occurs when your liver cells are attacked by disease-causing agents. The various symptoms that can be caused by liver inflammation, hepatitis, and liver disease include:

Yellowing of the skin and/or whites of the eyes (jaundice) Fatigue
Fluid buildup in the legs and ankles (edema) Itchy skin
A tendency to bruise or bleed easily Dark urine color
Abdominal pain and swelling (ascites) Chronic fatigue
Bloody or tar-colored stool Pale stool color
Nausea or vomiting Diarrhea
Unexplained weight loss Loss of appetite

Not all of these symptoms are as obvious as jaundice, and many could be signs of other conditions entirely, from stomach bleeding to heart failure to Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder that occurs when copper builds up in the body, affecting the brain and liver. Such non-specific symptoms often make liver failure hard to diagnose, which is particularly dangerous because while your liver is out of commission, toxins could be accumulating in your body and your brain and causing new problems, one of which is liver cancer.

What Is Hepatitis?

The word “hepatitis” specifically refers to inflammation of the liver: from the Greek hêpar meaning “liver” and -itis meaning “inflammation” (as in arthritis, tendinitis, pancreatitis, etc.).

Hepatitis is often caused by either a viral infection or an autoimmune disorder that directs the body’s immune system to target the liver cells because it cannot differentiate healthy liver tissue from harmful invading cells.

There are several types of viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, with hepatitises A and B being common causes of liver inflammation (though fortunately there are vaccines available for both). The following information on these conditions has been sourced from the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hepatitis A

This highly contagious liver infection is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). Hepatitis A is often contracted from contaminated food or water, or close contact with an infected person or object. Mild cases of hepatitis A often don’t require treatment, and most people who’ve been infected can recover completely, with no permanent damage to their liver. Severe cases can persist for several months, however, so getting the vaccine for hepatitis A is encouraged, as is practicing good hygiene to protect against the hepatitis A virus.

If you suspect you were exposed to the hepatitis A virus, an injection of the vaccine or the antibody immunoglobulin within two weeks of possible exposure may protect you from infection. Seek medical advice right away if there’s been a hepatitis A outbreak in your area (in a restaurant for example), if you’ve had close or sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A, or of if you’ve traveled outside the country to areas like Mexico, Central, or South America, or to regions with poor sanitation practices.

Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) brings on this very serious liver infection. Hepatitis B infection can become chronic (lasting more than 6 months), increasing the risk of liver failure, liver cancer, and cirrhosis (the end-stage of extensive scarring of the liver).

While most adults are able to recover fully from hepatitis B infection, infants and children are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B. While a vaccine can prevent the infection of hepatitis B, and preventative treatment may help if you receive it within 24 hours after exposure, there is no cure once you are infected. Contracting hepatitis B will mean taking precautions to prevent spreading the virus to others. Hepatitis B can be spread from:

  • Sexual contact: You may contract hepatitis B if you have unprotected sex with an infected person. While the virus is not spread by coughing or sneezing, direct contact with an infected person’s saliva, blood, semen, or vaginal secretions can communicate the virus.
  • Needle sharing: Hepatitis B can easily spread through contaminated syringes and needles, so sharing intravenous drug paraphernalia puts you at a much higher risk of contracting hepatitis B.
  • Accidental needle sticks: Health care workers and anyone else who comes into regular contact with human blood are at a higher risk of exposure to hepatitis B.
  • Mother to child: Pregnant women with hepatitis B can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth. In such cases, the newborn can immediately be vaccinated to avoid infection.

Risk factors for hepatitis B infection include engaging in unprotected sex, needle sharing, working in a health care job that exposes you to human blood, and traveling to certain areas with high hepatitis B infection rates, like Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for everyone, but especially for those who are at higher risk.

Hepatitis C

A viral infection with no preventative vaccine, hepatitis C (HCV) also leads to inflammation of the liver. Traditional treatment of hepatitis C used to involve weekly injections and oral medications with prohibitive side effects, but more recently chronic hepatitis C has become curable via oral medications taken over a period of 2-6 months.

The issue that remains, however, is that people are often unaware that they’re infected until the symptoms of liver inflammation arise, which could take decades to appear. Because of this long incubation, the CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945-1965 (colloquially known as Baby Boomers) get a one-time screening blood test, as they’re in a group that is 5 times more likely to be infected than the rest of the populace.

Acute hepatitis C infection does not always become chronic. Between 14-50% of those infected are able clear hepatitis C from their bodies after the acute phase in what’s known as “spontaneous viral clearance.” Fortunately, hepatitis C usually responds well to antiviral therapy, though there are several distinct types of hepatitis C around the world. While the symptoms and progression of each genotype is the same, the treatment variations depend on the strand. The type 1 genotype is most common in North America and Europe.

Risk factors for contracting hepatitis C include health care work, needle sharing, incarceration, receiving hemodialysis for an extended period, receiving a blood transfusion before 1992, or clotting factor concentrates before 1987. To avoid exposure, it’s recommended to not use illicit drugs, to be cautious about the hygienic practices of tattoo parlors, and to practice safe sex.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D is also known as “delta hepatitis,” and is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). It is an uncommon infection in the United States, and only occurs in those who are first infected with hepatitis B, because hepatitis D is an incomplete virus that needs the function of hepatitis B to replicate itself. Hepatitis D is transmitted via intimate contact with infected blood (either percutaneous or mucosal), and can be acquired with hepatitis B (coinfection) or after the fact (superinfection). There is no vaccine for hepatitis D, but it can be prevented by getting vaccinated for the hepatitis B vaccine, because it is a codependent virus.

Hepatitis E

This viral condition is brought about by infection from hepatitis E (HEV), though it fortunately does not result in chronic infection. Quite uncommon in the United States, hepatitis E exists in many other parts of the world, often transmitted through ingesting trace amounts of infected fecal matter through either contaminated water or poor overall sanitation. There is no current vaccine for preventing hepatitis E.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

This condition is the result of drinking too much alcohol over a period of many years, though not all heavy drinkers will develop alcoholic hepatitis. The American Liver Foundation states that up to 35% of people who drink heavily develop alcoholic hepatitis. It remains unclear to researchers why this condition only happens to some heavy drinkers (and a few moderate drinkers) and not to all of them. Receiving the diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis requires you to immediately stop drinking, as ingesting alcohol will only escalate the condition to life-threatening proportions.

Risk factors that contribute to developing alcoholic hepatitis beyond immoderate drinking include being infected with other forms of hepatitis, being obese, being a woman, or being a person of color (African American or Hispanic), as well as binge drinking and malnutrition—heavy drinkers tend to eat poorly, and alcohol and its byproducts can hinder digestive absorption. Most people who develop alcoholic hepatitis have a history of drinking the equivalent of 7 glasses of wine, beer, or liquor shots daily for over 20 years.

Preventative measures include drinking moderately or abstaining, avoiding viral hepatitis infection, and being careful not to mix medications with alcohol, especially pain relievers like acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, which has its own adverse impact on the liver.

Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that occurs when the immune system attacks your liver cells. The exact cause has never been scientifically pinpointed, but genetic and environmental factors appear to trigger the disease. While autoimmune hepatitis can be controlled via immune-suppressing drugs, if the condition does not respond to medication, it could lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, the need for a liver transplant, and death.

There are two types of autoimmune hepatitis that have been identified.

  • Type 1 autoimmune hepatitis: The most common type of the disease, type 1 autoimmune hepatitis can occur at any age, and is often accompanied by other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis.
  • Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis: Although it is possible for adults to develop type 2 autoimmune hepatitis, it’s more common in children and young adults.

Risk factors for autoimmune hepatitis include having other autoimmune diseases or a history of certain infections (like the measles, herpes simplex, or hepatitises A, B, and C), being female, or having a hereditary history that suggests a predisposition to the disease.

Liver inflammation: everything you need to know.

What Happens When the Liver Fails?

Because the liver plays a role in processing everything we eat and drink, any liver damage or inflammation is an emergency. Liver failure or hepatic failure is a life-threatening condition that can be either acute or chronic.

Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure is a rapid loss of liver function in someone who has no pre-existing liver condition, and is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate hospitalization. Depending on the cause, acute liver failure may be reversed, but often the only cure is to receive a liver transplant.

Causes of acute liver failure include:

  • Acetaminophen overdose: The Mayo Clinic states that acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol.
  • Prescription medications: Certain prescription medications like antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and anticonvulsants may cause acute liver failure.
  • Herbal supplements: Herbal drugs and supplements including ephedra, kava, pennyroyal, and skullcap have been linked to acute liver failure.
  • Viruses: Hepatitises A-E can cause acute liver failure, as well as cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and herpes simplex virus.
  • Toxins: Toxins that can be responsible for acute liver failure include the poisonous wild mushroom Amanita phalloides (aka the “death cap”), and carbon tetrachloride, an industrial chemical in refrigerants, and solvents for waxes and varnishes.
  • Autoimmune disease: Liver failure can result from autoimmune hepatitis, wherein the immune system causes inflammation and injury to healthy liver cells.
  • Vascular diseases of the liver: Diseases such as Budd-Chiari syndrome can create blockages in the veins of the liver, resulting in acute liver failure.
  • Metabolic disease: Certain rare metabolic diseases like acute fatty liver of pregnancy and Wilson’s disease have the potential to cause acute liver failure, though it is an infrequent occurrence.
  • Cancer: Cancer that originates from or spreads to your liver can cause the liver to fail.
  • Septic shock: Massive infection or sepsis can overwhelm the body and severely impair blood flow to the liver, causing failure.

Though there is an extensive amount of known causes, many cases of acute liver failure have no obvious cause, and the complications can be dire, from cerebral edema (fluid buildup in the brain), to an inability of the blood to clot, to opportunistic infections in the blood, lungs, and urinary tract, to kidney failure. While it’s impossible to prevent the unknown causes of acute liver failure, it is nevertheless advised that you get vaccinated, avoid ingesting wild mushrooms, avoid coming into close contact with chemical substances, practice good hygiene, avoid or moderate alcohol use, and stay fit.

Chronic Liver Failure

Chronic liver failure is marked by the gradual destruction of liver tissue over many years.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is the late-stage condition caused by scarring of the liver tissue. Cirrhosis is the result of the accumulation of scars that form whenever the liver is injured by either disease or toxin consumption and tries to repair itself. Cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, and approximately half of those cases are due to alcohol abuse.

Chronic damage to the liver escalates to cirrhosis in these stages:

  • Scar tissue slowly begins replacing healthy functioning liver tissue.
  • Blood flow through the liver is progressively diminished by the encroachment of scar tissue.
  • As more and more normal liver tissue is lost, liver function declines.
  • Ultimately the liver becomes unable to produce proteins, or process nutrients, hormones, poisons, and drugs.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (ALD)

Alcoholic fatty liver disease results when fat cells get deposited in the liver, causing it to enlarge, and generally affects those who are both obese and heavy users of alcohol. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is preventable, and usually improves if you can stop drinking. If drinking continues and the condition progresses, it can lead to alcoholic hepatitis or alcoholic cirrhosis, which have all the same symptoms as listed above, plus potentially high blood pressure in the liver, an enlarged spleen, mental confusion, and internal bleeding. Alcohol-related fatty liver disease is the precursor before hepatitis and cirrhosis, and should be treated as an opportunity to halt the progression of liver failure.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is an umbrella term for many liver conditions that affect those who drink little-to-no alcohol. The National Institutes of Health lists other health conditions as common contributors to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which is another umbrella term for a condition that involves high levels of bad cholesterol, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and large amounts of belly fat. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can also cause chronic damage that progresses towards liver failure.

How Is Liver Failure Diagnosed?

Whatever the underlying cause of liver inflammation and liver failure, medical attention is necessary. Common methods of diagnosis involve blood tests to detect any abnormalities, imaging scans to get a picture of the liver (CTs, ultrasounds, MRIs), or a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small piece of the liver is extracted and examined to determine the extent of any liver damage. If the liver damage is caught early enough and the cause quickly identified, then the liver may be able to heal and recover. Going forward after a successful treatment, there are ways to prevent further liver damage.

How to Prevent Liver Inflammation and Damage

One of the best ways to prevent liver conditions from developing is to limit certain risk factors and increase your overall health.

  • Get vaccinated. Receiving the vaccines for hepatitises A and B helps guard your liver.
  • Beware of contaminated needles. Whether it’s from illicit drug use, medical conditions that require regular injectables (like diabetes), or work as a health care provider, always be wary of used needles.
  • Do not eat any wild plant foods. Consuming wild mushrooms or berries can expose you to toxins and environmental contaminants.
  • Limit your alcohol consumptionConsume no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men.
  • Practice safe sex. Using condoms and dental dams helps limit sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a nutritious plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats helps keeps fat deposits from building up in your liver.
  • Exercise. Staying physically active is a great boon to your overall health, from exercises as low-impact as walking to hitting the gym and taking fitness classes.
  • Lose excess weight. If you are obese or overweight, you can lose weight by reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing the amount of calories you burn.

Amino Acid Treatment of the Liver

On the cutting edge of developing science, amino acid therapies applied to the liver are showing amazing results. Studies have found that amino acid supplements are effective in treating both alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver diseases. One study found that long-term oral supplementation of branched-chain amino acids had positive effects for patients with advanced liver cirrhosis, while another showed that application of those same essential amino acids positively impacted patients with advanced chronic liver disease.

Yet another study revealed that the dysregulation of the branched-chain amino acids is a characteristic signature in adolescents with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, independent of the factors of obesity and insulin resistance. They also concluded that an amino acid disruption could predict an increase in liver fat content over time. For as mysterious as the causes of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be, scientists have found that disordered amino acids are a consistent marker for it.

Liver Your Best Life

Inflammation of the liver can be both the cause and the symptom of serious liver conditions. The best way to avoid liver inflammation is to live a safe and healthy life and to make sure your essential amino acids are in the proper balance, as they have been scientifically shown to act as both a prevention and a cure for various liver diseases. If you suspect any issue with your liver’s function, visit your doctor immediately, because the importance of your liver is right there in its name: you need your liver to live. Fortunately the liver has the ability to recover and heal itself, so if you take care of it, it can take care of you for a long time.