Milk Thistle for Fatty Liver Disease and More

Milk thistle, also known as bull thistle, holy thistle, lady’s thistle, silibinin, and silymarin, is an herbal remedy that’s held strong throughout the ages. Milk thistle for fatty liver, diabetes management, brain health, and more, including aiding cancer treatments and possibly preventing osteoporosis. 

Milk thistle, scientific name Silybum marianum, also known as bull thistle, holy thistle, lady’s thistle, silibinin, and silymarin, is an herbal remedy that’s held strong throughout the ages. Data shows that supplementing with milk thistle helps promote liver function and detox, causing many to wonder if it would be beneficial to use milk thistle for fatty liver disease. We have the details on milk thistle and the scientific findings behind its health benefits so you can see the connection for yourself.

What Is Milk Thistle?

From the Asteraceae or daisy family of plants, milk thistle is native to northern Africa, Asia, and Europe, but has since been naturalized in Australia and North and South America. It can grow as tall as 10 feet with big, prickly leaves, on which there are “milky veins.” Its sap is also milky in appearance. It produces gray and black mottled fruits that are used to make milk thistle extract.

The name has a biblical origin. It’s said that the milky veins of the plant came from a drop of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk as she hid among the prickly plants to nurse baby Jesus. The medicinal use of the plant is even older than that story, however, and it was first described in writing by Greek physician Dioscorides.

It has been used as a liver aid since that time, good for “carrying off the bile” according to Pliny the Elder, though it was also used to treat snakebites, jaundice, varicose veins, and kidney, spleen, and liver obstructions. When the leaves are de-spined, the plant can also be consumed as a vegetable, and its flower can be eaten much like an artichoke.

Health Benefits of Milk Thistle for Fatty Liver and More

Health Benefits of Milk Thistle for Fatty Liver and More

Researchers have tested milk thistle’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects, but it’s still best known for its ability to help manage liver disease, including alcoholic fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and viral hepatitis. Here are the scientific findings backing up the most impressive claims of this dietary supplement.

1. Liver Cell Protection

Liver conditions like fatty liver disease and chronic hepatitis can lead to liver cancer, liver failure, and even death if left untreated or if they progress too far. Even under a health care provider’s supervision, milk thistle is often used as a complementary therapy to improve liver health and function.

The effect of silymarin serves to guard liver cells against toxins and poisonings, protect against liver damage from inflammation caused by oxidative stress and free radicals, and increase the life expectancy of those with cirrhosis of the liver.

When it comes to a condition like fatty liver disease, taking milk thistle won’t necessarily reduce the risk factors of developing NAFLD or alcoholic liver disease (proper diet, healthy weight loss, and lifestyle changes are required for that), but it can help you recover from liver injury and live to see another day. Luckily the liver is unique among organs due to its ability to heal (the same cannot be said for damage done to the brain or the heart), so if milk thistle helps to bring you back from the brink, your liver may yet recover.

2. Blood Sugar Control

Aside from being a defender of the liver, milk thistle also helps manage type 2 diabetes. Milk thistle contains compounds that work much like diabetic medication to decrease blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.

One meta-analysis on silymarin found that people who routinely take the supplement have a significant reduction in HbA1c (an important measure of blood sugar control) and fasting blood sugar levels. Those results on top of milk thistle’s known anti-inflammatory abilities make it an asset to the body’s defense against damage from diabetes, including complications such as kidney disease.

3. Brain Health

Milk thistle has also positively impacted neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Unnecessary inflammation can exacerbate age-related mental decline, and not only has milk thistle been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, but those effects have specifically been studied on brain cells.

Animal studies of Alzheimer’s have shown that milk thistle helps reduce amyloid plaque formations in the brain, the buildup of which interrupts the communication between the brain’s nerve cells. Amyloid plaque buildup is one of the characteristic markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Bone Strength

The effects of milk thistle go bone-deep, specifically in helping to prevent osteoporosis. The progressive bone loss associated with osteoporosis causes skeletal fragility, making minor falls potentially life-threatening if they result in a fracture.

In both test tube and animal studies, milk thistle has been found to promote bone mineralization, an indication that it could help protect against bone loss, especially in postmenopausal women who are more prone to the condition. While human studies are not yet available to confirm these findings, it’s nevertheless a promising indication.

5. Boost Cancer Treatment

There are indications that the antioxidant effects of milk thistle include anti-cancer properties that could help those receiving treatment. Further studies show that milk thistle may help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatments and other cancer therapeutics, including cancer cachexia. It may even help make chemotherapy work more effectively to destroy certain cancer cells like prostate cancer and bladder cancer.

Milk Thistle: Dosing and Safety

Milk thistle dosage for fatty liver and other conditions may be safe up to 420 milligrams per day for up to 41 months according to clinical trials, but it’s always recommended that if you’re using milk thistle to treat or supplement a known medical condition, you should consult with a health care professional before adding anything to your diet that could interact with your medication. Contraindications include:

  • Anyone who is allergic to the Asteraceae or Compositae family of plants
  • Those with hormone-sensitive conditions like uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and uterine, breast, or ovarian cancers
  • Individuals with GI disorders, as milk thistle may cause changes in bowel habits, stomach upset, flatulence, dyspepsia, or diarrhea
  • Pregnant women due to the lack of research done on this population
  • Diabetic patients should consult their doctor first, as milk thistle’s effect on blood sugar may lower it too much

While milk thistle is safe enough for human use in clinical trials, keep in mind that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not closely regulate dietary supplements. Again, ask a trusted health care professional if you have any questions about the safety of the milk thistle product you choose.

Milk Thistle: Dosing and Safety

Modern Uses for an Ancient Remedy

Milk thistle has been used medicinally for centuries, and today it can help prevent modern ailments and boost cutting-edge treatments for liver disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and even cancer. Ask your doctor if milk thistle could help you recover and thrive.

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer and Protein Supplements for Muscle Growth

What are the top five best weight gainers and protein supplements for muscle growth and workout support? Find out what it takes to build new muscle and bulk up as you work out.

In order to bulk up and build muscle you must be taking in optimum nutrition. Muscle mass cannot be created without the building blocks of protein (amino acids) and enough fuel for the energy that muscle creation requires. So if you’re on a journey to muscle building, make sure you take the best weight gainer and protein supplements along. What are they, you ask? We have the answers, backed by scientific research.

How to Build Muscle: The Basics

The formula for muscle growth is pretty simple: you gain muscle when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

To activate this formula, you must push your workout to demand new muscle creation, and then supply your body with enough muscle-building nutrients to meet that demand. That means extra energy and protein support before and after your workout, plus enough fuel to minimize muscle breakdown (catabolism) while you sleep.

If your body is lacking in any of the main ingredients needed for lean muscle creation, it will start harvesting other muscle cells for those supplies. It’s like tearing the plumbing out of your house to outfit a guest house: it doesn’t make sense, but what the body needs, it takes, regardless of logic.

But never fear. You don’t have to worry about stealing nutrients from your precious muscles as long as you have the right nutrient intake. Let’s find out the the best weight gainer and protein supplements for you.

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer Supplements for Muscle Growth

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer Supplements for Muscle Growth

While many people think they work out to lose weight, it would be more correct to say they’re working out to lose body fat. Muscle is denser than fat, so for those looking to become lean and strong and for those looking to bulk, the goal is actually to gain weight in the form of muscle mass, and there are high-quality protein and mass gainer supplements to help.

1. Milk Protein Supplements

It seems almost too obvious to mention, but you need protein to build muscle bulk. Muscle is made of protein, and study after study shows that protein supplements help exercising adults gain more muscle than those who don’t consume extra protein. These protein supplements specifically include whey protein (derived from the liquid part of milk) and casein supplements for exogenous amino acid support during wake and sleep.

When to take protein supplements, pre- or post-workout (or both), depends on the type of workout you’re doing. How much depends on your body composition and your bulking goals. As a macronutrient, protein should be between 10% and 35% of your daily calorie intake, and researchers suggest between 0.6 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day to support muscle growth (calculate your own serving size).

Along with whole food proteins, protein powder supplements like casein (derived from the solids of milk that make up cheese) and whey protein powder can help put your muscle gain over the top. Whey is fast-digesting and casein slow, so taking them together covers all the bases.

2. Creatine

Eating a high-protein diet is one thing, but for real gains in lean muscle mass and overall bulk weight, high-quality protein supplements maximize your muscle-building profits. Creatine is a protein supplement derived from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It’s consumed naturally from animal meat and seafood and is one of the most popular supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Creatine has been widely studied and has proven results in increasing muscle mass, improving rapid energy production (important for workout endurance), and consistently enhancing performance and muscle gain.

Creatine monohydrate supplements have been shown over and over again to be safe and effective at anywhere between 20 grams per day as a loading dose (split into 4 servings) and 3-5 grams for indefinite maintenance of muscle mass.

3. Weight Gainers

What separates weight gainers from protein supplements isn’t a lack of protein—weight gainers are high in both protein and carbs—it’s that they’re specifically designed to be high-calorie supplements for those who have a hard time gaining weight no matter how much they eat. Weight gainers are essentially protein supplements plus concentrated carbohydrates and fats for extra energy and bulk.

Some of the most popular products include:

  • MuscleTech Mass Tech: With 840 calories per serving and 63 grams of protein from whey, casein, and creatine monohydrate, this product also adds the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for extra workout support. Flavors come in Chocolate, Vanilla, and Birthday Cake.
  • BSN True Mass 1200: The best mass gainers are those with a higher calorie count per serving, and this product delivers 1,200 calories per 310-gram serving. With 50 grams of protein, 213 grams of carbs, and 17 grams of fat, BSN True Mass 1200 flavors include Chocolate Milkshake, Strawberry Milkshake, and Cookies & Cream.
  • Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass: Even higher in calories with 1,250 per serving, this product has 50 grams of protein, 252 grams of carbs, and 4.5 grams of fat in flavors like Banana, Chocolate, and Chocolate Peanut Butter.
  • MusclePharm Combat XLThe calorie content is 1,270 per serving, with 50 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat, in Chocolate Peanut Putter, Chocolate Milk, and Vanilla flavors.
  • Dymatize Super Mass GainerHigher still in calories at 1,280 per serving, this mass gainer has 52 grams of protein from whey, casein, and eggs, plus 246 grams of carbs and 9 grams of fat.

Easily ordered online via Amazon or directly from the manufacturers, these types of pro gainers provide a sort of universal nutrition profile, with protein for lean mass creation, complex carbohydrates for energy and bulk, and fats like MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) for healthy weight gain.

With so many options available, you can find products with animal proteins from grass-fed, cage-free sources, maltodextrin from non-GMO organic tapioca, and even gluten-free options with no artificial sweeteners for your weight gainer shakes.

4. Exercise Boosters

There’s almost no way to gain muscle without exercise, so optimizing your workout energy and performance is important. Here are a few supplements to boost your workout.

5. Essential Amino Acids

Speaking of amino acids, as we mentioned at the top of this article, there is no new muscle creation without amino acids, specifically the full host of all nine essential amino acids. While many protein supplements focus on the branched-chain aminos, BCAAs are only three out of the nine essential aminos, and if any one of the essentials is deficient, the body starts catabolizing other muscle molecules to get it.

While studies show that BCAAs are indeed critical for new muscle growth, so are the other six essential amino acids, and other studies have found that supplementing with the BCAAs on their own doesn’t show any preferential effects towards muscle building. You need a balanced EAA supplement to truly benefit new muscle growth and bulk.

Gain Muscle, Gain Weight

Alongside whole food protein sources, supplements designed for weight gain, workout support, and new muscle creation can go a long way towards setting you up for success as you work to bulk up. We here at AminoCo are proud to offer a product with all the essential muscle-building amino acids, along with other nutrients for muscle growth, liver health, detox support, and more, all to provide the fitness-minded with the best of everything.

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

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

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

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

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

What Are Amino Acids?

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

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

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

How Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder Work

The Link Between Amino Acids and Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defining Bipolar Disorder

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

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

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

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

How Amino Acids Influence Neurotransmitter Levels

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

  • Tyrosine
  • Tryptophan
  • Taurine

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

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

Key Findings on Amino Acids for Bipolar Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

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

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

How Muscles Are Built

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

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

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

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

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

1. Vitamin A

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

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

2. Vitamin B3

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

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

3. Vitamin B6

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

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

4. Vitamin B9

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

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

5. Vitamin B12

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

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

6. Vitamin C

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

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

7. Vitamin D

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

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

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

8. Vitamin E

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

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

9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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

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

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

10. Amino Acids

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

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

Supplementing for Muscle Recovery

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

Glycine for Sleep: The Amino Acid for Better Rest

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

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

What Is Glycine?

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

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

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

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

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

1. Sleep-Promoting

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

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

2. Enhances Memory Formation, Organization, and Retrieval

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

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

3. Encourages Deeper Sleep

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

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

4. Calms Anxiety

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

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

5. Improves Daytime Performance

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

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

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

Other Benefits of Glycine Supplementation

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

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

Glycine Foods and How to Supplement with Glycine

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

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Dosages and Possible Adverse Side Effects

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

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Soft stools

Glycine: Neurotransmitter Extraordinaire

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

Why You Need to Know About Epitalon

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

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

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

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

The Link Between Telomeres and Aging

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Epitalon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Thymus and Pineal Gland Affect Your Health

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

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

Studies consistently linked thymalin treatment to decreased mortality rates too.

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

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

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

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

11 Essential Facts Everyone Should Know About Epitalon

Important Findings About the Benefits of Epitalon

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

In Vitro Studies

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

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

Animal Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

When Is a Nutrient an Antinutrient?

Antinutrients, like phytates, oxalates, and glucosinolates, are components of food or dietary nutrients that interfere with absorption of other nutrients. In this article, we’ll cover the latest findings on how antinutrients affect your health so you can separate fact from fiction as you continue seeing news coverage on this hot topic.

If you’re interested in optimizing your diet, you’ve likely encountered the word antinutrients before. Certain experts have raised concerns about antinutrients, components of food or dietary nutrients that interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. Different antinutrients, such as phytates, oxalates, and glucosinolates can be found in various types of food, including fruits, veggies, legumes, dairy, and meat.

At this time, the long-term impact of antinutrients on human health has yet to be fully sussed out. Research has shown that while antinutrients can cause health problems, they can also bring health benefits. The majority opinion among health authorities at this time is that the advantages of eating foods containing antinutrients outweigh the adverse effects of forgoing those foods altogether.

Read on to learn more about antinutrients and how they affect your health so you can separate fact from fiction as you continue seeing news coverage on this hot topic.

What Are Antinutrients?

The answer to the question of what antinutrients are can be found in the name itself: while the term nutrients describes substances that provide the raw materials plants and animals (humans included) need to thrive, antinutrients prevent them from absorbing and utilizing those substances. In short, they block the absorption of nutrients. Antinutrients occur naturally in a variety of both plant-based and animal-based foods.

The purpose of those found in plants, like lectins, is to prevent bacterial infections and protect against consumption by predators, as an article published in Plant Physiology outlines. To illustrate that idea, consider the case of the nightshade family of vegetables, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. All nightshade vegetables contain solanine and chaconine, antinutrients intended to deter animals and humans alike from consuming them as they can make you sick when ingested in large doses.

A common health concern raised by those worried about antinutrient consumption is that ingesting high amounts can result in nutrient deficiencies, particularly for individuals adhering to diets that classify certain foods as off-limits, particularly vegan or vegetarian diets organized around legumes and grains. Another worry is that they may increase intestinal permeability, resulting in a health condition referred to as leaky gut.

Fact-Checking Concerns About 7 Antinutrients

As described above, antinutrients impede the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and so on. While this clearly has the potential to be problematic, the evidence so far indicates that it’s unlikely to cause issues in the absence of overall malnutrition or dietary imbalances. Furthermore, studies show that in certain circumstances, antinutrients can actually enhance a person’s health—for instance, tannins found in tea can decrease cancer risk and phytic acid can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

In the sections below, we’ll delve into the details of common concerns raised about seven of the most significant antinutrient groups:

  1. Lectins
  2. Phytates
  3. Oxalates
  4. Tannins and other flavonoids
  5. Glucosinolates
  6. Enzyme inhibitors
  7. Saponins

1. Lectins

Lectins can be found in all plants but in particularly high concentrations in seeds, legumes (most notably kidney beans), and whole grains as they tend to cluster in the parts of seeds that go on to become leaves after sprouting occurs.

In the popular consciousness, lectins have entered into the same category as gluten: a poorly understood substance widely believed to be, somehow, bad.

Going “lectin-free,” in the way you might go gluten-free, is posited as a way to prevent leaky gut syndrome. The theory is that when you eat foods that contain high amounts of lectin, the lectin proteins bind to cells in the walls of the digestive tract where they then create minute punctures that allow the contents of the gut to leak into the bloodstream. In high amounts, lectins may also prevent the proper absorption of certain nutrients, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

According to a literature review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, some lectins do have “deleterious nutritional effects.” The review also notes that dietary exposure to lectins appears to be widespread. However, the authors could not decisively determine whether lectins caused noticeable health issues.

A separate article states that due to the “ubiquitous” presence of lectins in plants, we all ingest them daily in “appreciable amounts”—unless, of course, you’re taking steps to avoid them. The article goes on to explain that it is the ability of lectins to remain intact in the digestive tract that allows them to cause damage to its lining, though the effects it notes do not include the development of leaky gut, but rather:

  • Loss of gut epithelial cells
  • Damage to the membranes of the epithelium
  • Impaired digestion and absorption of nutrients
  • Disruption to balance of bacterial flora and immune state of the gut

Before you begin to panic about the logistical challenges of avoiding lectins, remember that researchers have yet to find conclusive evidence that consuming lectin-containing foods produces damage significant enough to impact the well-being of individuals who are otherwise in good health.

Phytates

Also called phytic acid, these antinutrients can be found in many of the same foods as lectins—think legumes such as lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and pseudocereals like quinoa. Their purpose for the foods that contain them is to provide the phosphorous necessary for the growing plant.

Studies show that phytates interfere with the absorption of certain minerals and trace elements, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, by binding to those micronutrients during digestion.

However, an article published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research notes that dietary phytates also have beneficial effects such as decreasing the likelihood of kidney stone formation and keeping blood sugar and blood lipid levels in the healthy range. The authors note, too, that phytates appear to have antioxidant and possibly anticancerogenic properties.

So, it seems that the phytate content of a food should certainly not be a cause for concern and may even be a boon to your health.

Oxalates

Oxalates, or oxalic acid, can be commonly found in nuts and seeds as well as in leafy greens, fruits, vegetables (particularly rhubarb), and cocoa. Oxalates bind to minerals to form calcium oxalate or iron oxalate. This makes it much more challenging for the body to absorb those minerals.

A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the absorbability of calcium from spinach, which contains oxalates, to that of calcium from milk, which does not, and found that the absorption from milk was always higher. The mean absorption for milk was 27.6% while spinach achieved a mere 5.1%.

In some instances, oxalates have also been linked to an elevated risk of kidney stone formation, though thanks to the high nutritional value of oxalate-containing foods, physicians no longer universally recommend low-oxalate diets to those with kidney stones. In other words, there’s no need to try to avoid oxalate-rich foods due to this possible side effect. Most people will harm their health more by avoiding these healthful foods than by ingesting the oxalates they contain.

Tannins and Other Flavonoids

You may be confused to see flavonoids on this list, as this group of naturally occurring polyphenols (which include tannins) have often been discussed as nutraceuticals because of their antioxidant properties. However, these compounds, like the other antinutrients, chelate or bind with minerals such as iron and zinc and reduce the absorption of these nutrients.

For instance, the tannins found in tea, coffee, fruit skins, and legumes have been linked to decreases in iron absorption. Yet they have also been shown to have anticarcinogenic activity and to inhibit the growth of fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

One way to think about tannins, as an article published in Trends in Food Science and Technology aptly put it, is as “a double-edged sword.” It appears, however, that consuming small quantities of tannins will allow you to access their benefits, while larger amounts are needed before the threshold for adverse effects is crossed.

Glucosinolates

These antinutrients are found in high amounts in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Like tannins and the rest of the flavonoid family, you may be more familiar with glucosinolates as a desirable phytonutrient.

Yet the same compounds renowned for their ability to help prevent cancer also impede iodine absorption, which can lead to an iodine deficiency and impaired thyroid function. Individuals whose diets contain insufficient amounts of iodine or who have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) are most at risk for this issue.

There’s also some indication of an association between a greater intake of glucosinolates and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies so far, such as this one from 2018, have all been population-based, making it too early to say whether there’s a causal relationship at work.

Enzyme Inhibitors

This category of antinutrients includes protease, amylase, and lipase inhibitors, all of which impact the body’s ability to digest and absorb macronutrients. They can be found in a wide swathe of the plant kingdom, including legumes, seeds, and whole grains.

A protease is an enzyme (the -ase ending in chemistry denotes an enzyme) that helps break down proteins, amylase is an enzyme that breaks down certain carbohydrates, and lipase is an enzyme that breaks down lipids (fats). If the enzyme is “inhibited,” it is prevented from breaking down the macronutrient and making it available for absorption. Therefore, protease inhibitors make the body less able to digest protein, amylase inhibitors do the same for carbohydrates, and lipase inhibitors do so for fat.

Food sources of protease inhibitors include beans and other legumes, cucumbers, radishes, broccoli, spinach, potatoes, and egg whites, which contain a trypsin inhibitor along with avidin, which interferes with biotin absorption.

Interestingly, both amylase and amylase inhibitors are touted as having health benefits. Natural dietary sources of amylase include raw fruits and vegetables, along with sprouted seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains. Amylase inhibitors are found in Garcinia cambogia, guar, inulin, Rosmarinic acid, and other plant foods.

Lipase inhibitors, as already noted, interfere with the enzymes we use to process fats. Lipase inhibitors do not discriminate between fats, meaning absorption of good fats like omega-3 can be compromised. However, they can also be beneficial in that they protect the body from absorbing harmful fats. For that reason, the FDA approved a prescription lipase inhibitor called Orlistat that can increase weight-loss results by allowing fats to pass through your system unprocessed. Orlistat can also beneficially lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, return blood pressure levels to the healthy range, and regulate fasting glucose and insulin concentrations.

Saponins

Saponins are perhaps best known for their ability to produce soapy foam when shaken with water. They can be found in a range of legumes and whole grains and can interfere with normal nutrient absorption. Per an article published in the International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, they may also inhibit the actions of various digestive enzymes in the same manner as the substances discussed in the preceding section, thereby decreasing protein digestibility.

However, that same article notes that there’s evidence saponins lower cholesterol. An article published in the Journal of Medicinal Food went even further, describing saponins as “health-promoting components” and praising them for their ability to decrease your risk of cancer.

Other Antinutrients You May Encounter

In addition to the seven antinutrients discussed above, you may see references to other antinutrients. Keep in mind that what findings exist about their impact on human health likely show the same complicated and contradictory results. With that said, here are several other antinutrients as well as some food sources for each:

  • Allicin and mustard oil: Alliums like chives, leeks, onions, scallions, shallots, and garlic
  • Alpha-amylase inhibitors: Whole grains, legumes, the skins of various nuts, and the leaves of the stevia plant
  • Calcitriol, solanine, nicotine: Nightshade vegetables like eggplant, peppers, tomatoes as well as goji berries
  • Goitrogens: Cruciferous vegetables, soybeans, and peanuts
  • Oligosaccharides: Wheat, legumes, asparagus, and alliums
  • Salicylates: Berries and other fruits like apricots as well as some herbs and spices including cayenne, ginger, and turmeric
  • Uric acid: Primarily animal-based foods like meat (particularly organ meat), eggs, and dairy as well as legumes and some vegetables

14 Common Antinutrients and the Foods You'll Find Them In

How Antinutrients Affect Your Health

It’s challenging to speak generally about the health effects of antinutrients since they depend on an individual’s metabolism, how the food is cooked and prepared, and the presence of any food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, or health conditions.

Keep in mind, too, that many dietary substances can act as antinutrients under certain circumstances.  For example, alcohol, when consumed in excess, interferes with the bioavailability of zinc and the B vitamins.

Also, the antinutrient only impairs the absorption of nutrients that are co-ingested in the meal. For example, a phytate-rich snack of raw almonds won’t affect the absorption of iron from a steak consumed later in the day.

There are many other strategies to “neutralize” the antinutrients found in foods. Many culinary techniques such as soaking, fermenting, and sprouting (and, of course, cooking) of beans and seeds are common approaches that increase the palatability and nutrient availability.

In a balanced, omnivorous diet, antinutrients present no problem, and the benefits they confer, such as antioxidant properties and removal of toxic metals, far outweigh any impact on mineral balance.

Vegetarian or vegan diets, on the other hand, may involve the combination of low intake of iron, zinc, and calcium and a high consumption of grains that contain phytates and other antinutrients. The result of this combination can be dietary deficiencies in minerals that, over time, lead to a deficiency. These mineral imbalances result in impaired immune function, anemia, and poor bone health, among other symptoms.

That said, there’s some indication, like this study done in 2012, that the bodies of individuals adhering to such diets may adapt over time to the continued presence of antinutrients by becoming more efficient at metabolizing minerals such as iron and zinc.

Individuals with an elevated risk of developing conditions linked to mineral deficiencies, such as osteoporosis or anemia with iron deficiency may wish to consult a dietitian or nutritionist to develop an eating approach designed to improve mineral absorption. Such a strategy might be to reduce antinutrients, but that’s certainly not the only method. You might instead strategically time intake of foods with high antinutrient content, such as tea, to avoid impeding mineral absorption, or plan to take a high-quality calcium supplement after consuming a legume dish high in phytates.

It’s also worth noting that antinutrients can largely be minimized by food processing and by genetic engineering. In countries with less industrialized agricultural systems, antinutrients have presented nutritional problems, but in the United States, most diets contain micronutrients in amounts well above the minimal requirement.

Interestingly, the tendency to put more and more focus on the benefits of unprocessed fruit, vegetables and grains, increases the likelihood that antinutrients could undermine a well-intended dietary plan.

As established in the last section, antinutrients often have health benefits of their own. While it’s true that phytates interfere with calcium absorption, they also manage the body’s rate of digestion, forestalling blood sugar spikes. Because antinutrients can be quite good for you, most experts do not recommend that you avoid consuming them entirely.  As long as you eat foods with a high antinutrient content in the context of a nutritious, varied diet, there’s very little risk involved.

Conclusion

So, should you worry about  antinutrients? The simple answer is that they don’t need to be a problem if care is taken in preparing foods and timing the ingestion of raw foods and snacks apart from mineral-dense meals or dietary supplements. Certain foods will likely contain some antinutrients no matter how you process and prepare them, however, the nutrients found in those foods will typically have a more pronounced effect than the antinutrients. By eating a wide assortment of foods each day, and taking care not to eat meals centered on a large portion of a food source of antinutrients, you should be able to offset any potential adverse effects of antinutrients.

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

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

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

What Are T-Lymphocytes?

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

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

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

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

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

Types of T-Lymphocytes

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

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

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

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

What Are T-Lymphocytes?

Amino Acids and the Immune Response

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

Glutamine

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

Methionine

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

Leucine

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

What Interrupts T-Lymphocyte Function?

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

Low Lymphocyte Count

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

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

High Lymphocyte Count

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

Amino Acids and The Immune Response

Taking Care of Your T-Cells

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

Breaking Down the Organic Acid Test, Step by Step

By measuring levels of over 70 metabolites, the organic acid test allows individuals to better understand their overall health. The OAT can help identify the underlying causes of frustrating health issues, thereby forming the foundation for the creation of a highly individualized treatment plan.

The Organic Acid Test (OAT) measures a range of metabolic markers—over 70 in total—to provide insight into a person’s health. By providing an accurate evaluation of intestinal yeast and bacteria, fungus, mold, oxalates, metabolites, neurotransmitters, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the test offers insight into your body’s energy production and detoxification capacity.

In recent years, the test has gained quite a following among experts in the functional medicine world. It’s a simple, noninvasive urine test that can yield a wealth of valuable information for individuals with chronic illnesses, neurological conditions, and other health concerns. The OAT can also be useful for those who simply wish to gain a better understanding of their overall health and identify nutrient deficiencies as well as genetic factors that may need to be strategically addressed. The OAT can provide cellular-level wisdom about the underlying causes of frustrations like low energy levels, recurrent abdominal pain, and more.

Before explaining how organic acid testing works in more detail, however, let’s take a moment to go over some basics about organic acids themselves.

Quick Facts About Organic Acids

Organic acids, in short, are organic, acidic chemical byproducts of the body’s metabolic processes that get excreted in the urine. Many organic acids are generated by the bacteria and other microorganisms that populate the digestive tract.

The chemical makeup of organic acids always includes carbon and hydrogen molecules, and sometimes contains oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen, and sulfur molecules too.

The names of the organic acids can be used as clues to their composition. Most of their names use the suffix “ic”—for example, lactic acid. The letters before the suffix indicate its conjugate base—each organic acid has one or more—which ends with the suffix “ate.” So, going back to our example, you can deduce that the conjugate base of lactic acid is lactate. While this all sounds, and is, highly technical, it’s helpful to know, as it’s common to see the name of the organic acid—lactic acid—and the name of its conjugate base—lactate—used interchangeably.

What Does the Organic Acid Test Measure?

As touched on in the introduction, the organic acid test measures levels of over 70 biomarkers that provide information about the state of a multitude of metabolic pathways throughout the body. Abnormal organic acid levels indicate the presence of metabolic dysfunction arising from underlying causes such as:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Neuroendocrine malfunction
  • Enzyme deficits
  • Overgrowth of intestinal bacteria

Scientists use either gas or liquid chromatography in combination with mass spectrometry to measure organic acid levels. In most cases, they look at levels in a urine sample, as organic acids tend to be far more concentrated in urine than in other bodily fluids—they can be found at 100 times the concentrations seen in blood, for instance. More than 1,000 organic acids can be detected in a single urine sample.

When organic acid levels fall below the optimal range, the body’s ability to carry out essential functions becomes compromised. And when they rise too high, that can be harmful too—it may, for example, lead to metabolic acidosis.

The OAT can not only detect organic acid abnormalities and their underlying causes, but it can also help you determine the best course of treatment, which might involve some or all of the following elements:

  • Dietary changes
  • Targeted supplementation
  • Detoxification practices

Should You Take the Organic Acid Test?

Historically, the organic acid test was performed primarily in hospital settings as a means of assessing genetic metabolic defects in children. However, as new markers have been introduced, its applications have expanded. The test can now reveal health issues stemming from non-genetic factors, meaning more individuals can benefit from the information it provides.

Studies have shown correlations between abnormal organic acid levels and chronic conditions including fatigue and kidney disease as well as neurological disorders like autism. Based on the findings of the OAT, dietary interventions and targeted supplementation can be used to bring about significant clinical improvements.

The OAT can also be a relatively inexpensive way for individuals to try to suss out the root cause of health issues. It can give a more in-depth perspective than conventional bloodwork offers. Individuals dealing with sleep disturbances, mood disorders, skin issues, gastrointestinal problems and more can all garner helpful information from the OAT.

If You're Dealing with One or More of These Issues, Consider Taking the OAT

Breaking Down the 12 Sections of the Organic Acid Test

The organic acid test evaluates biomarkers relevant to a range of health issues. The test itself is divided into 12 sections:

  1. Intestinal microbial overgrowth
  2. Oxalate metabolism
  3. Glycolytic cell metabolism
  4. Krebs cell metabolites
  5. Amino acid metabolites
  6. Neurotransmitter metabolities
  7. Pyrimidine metabolites
  8. Ketone and fatty acid metabolites
  9. Nutritional markers
  10. Indicators of detoxification
  11. Mineral metabolism
  12. Fluid intake and hydration levels

Now, we’ll go section by section, discuss what exactly is being measured and how those measurements shed light on your overall health and wellness.

1. Intestinal Microbial Overgrowth

The first section of the OAT looks at markers indicating the presence of yeast and fungi, such as:

  • Candida
  • Mold
  • Clostridia

If multiple markers are elevated, that’s quite concerning. Overgrowths of fungi and yeast can interrupt immune function and digestion. They can also create imbalances in the production of stress hormones.

Elevated markers in this section often correlate to conditions such as:

2. Oxalate Metabolites

High levels of oxalates, one of the most acidic of the organic acids, can be quite damaging. The structure of oxalate crystals involves sharp edges that can damage the tissues of the body, resulting in pain, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

The location where oxalate crystals form determines the symptoms associated with the presence. Some locations they can develop include:

  • Joints
  • Organs
  • Blood vessels
  • Muscles
  • Glands

Elevated oxalate levels can be a factor in chronic joint pain, kidney stones, and other health problems.

Often, high oxalic acid levels result from deficiencies in vitamin B6 as well as heavy consumption of foods rich in oxalates. Many of those foods are quite nutritious, such as:

  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Wheat bran
  • Berries
  • Almonds

Correcting elevated oxalic acid levels will likely involve both increasing vitamin B6 intake as well as decreasing intake of foods high in oxalates.

3. Glycolytic Cycle Metabolites

During a process called the glycolytic cycle, or glycolysis, the body generates lactic and pyruvic acid from glucose (sugar) in order to give us energy.

Elevated levels of lactic or pyruvic acid indicate that a person’s metabolism has become overly reliant on sugar and is underutilizing fat. This results from mitochondrial dysfunction, which may stem from exposure to environmental toxins such as mold.

Other potential causes of high levels of glycolytic cycle metabolites include:

  • Intense exercise
  • Shock
  • Bacterial overgrowth
  • Anemia
  • Oxidative stress

4. Krebs Cycle Metabolites

The Krebs, or citric acid, cycle is comprised of a series of chemical reactions in the mitochondria. Similar to glycolysis, this process produces energy. Elevated levels or unnaturally low levels of Krebs cycle metabolites also indicate mitochondrial dysfunction, often stemming from deficiencies in various nutrients and enzymes that are vital to the health of your mitochondria.

For instance, abnormally high low levels of sunnic can be a sign of a vitamin B2 or coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiency, while extremely low levels of sunnic point to possible deficiencies of two branched-chain amino acids, leucine and isoleucine.

5. Amino Acid Metabolites

This section of the OAT measures levels of three amino acid metabolites: 3-Methylglutaric acid, 3-Hydroxyglutaric acid, and 3-Methylglutaconic acid.

When these measurements are high, that’s a sign of both impaired mitochondrial function as well as poor metabolism and absorption of amino acids. Typically, those imbalances will produce gut inflammation.

If amino acid metabolite levels are high, but glycolytic and Krebs cycle metabolites are normal, that indicates metabolic difficulties specifically with the breakdown of protein and the absorption of the amino acids it contains.

6. Neurotransmitter Metabolites

This section of the test has the greatest relevance for individuals dealing with insomnia, ADHD, autism, and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. It measures levels of metabolites for phenylalanine and tyrosine—HVA and VMA—as well three metabolites for tryptophan—5-HIAA, quinolinic acid, and kynurenic acid.

High levels of stress can have a seriously adverse effect on phenylalanine and tyrosine metabolites, as does exposure to lead. Additional factors related to abnormal levels of these metabolites include:

  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Low copper levels
  • Bacterial overgrowth

Abnormal levels of tryptophan metabolites can be a sign of issues such as:

  • Serotonin deficiency
  • Neurological inflammation
  • Microbial infection
  • Degeneration of the central nervous system
  • Inappropriate tryptophan supplementation
  • Exposure to phthalates
  • Vitamin B6 deficiencies
  • Overactive immune system
  • High cortisol levels

7. Pyrimidine Metabolites

Levels of pyrimidine metabolites (uracil and thymine) reflect how well the body is metabolizing folate.

A body deficient in folate (vitamin B9) has high uracil levels. Other causes of high uracil levels include mutations to the MTHFR homozygous gene and issues with methylation.

Individuals on extremely high-carbohydrate diets, as well as alcoholics, can become deficient in vitamin B1, leading to high levels of thymine, a physiological state linked to inflammatory diseases and cancer.

8. Ketone and Fatty Acid Metabolites

The eight ketone and fatty acid metabolites measured by this section of the OAT provide valuable information about fat metabolism.

Individuals on low-carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet, will have elevated levels of these markers as an innate feature of that eating approach. In individuals not adhering to such a dietary protocol, elevated levels indicate impaired absorption of fats.

Often, the underlying cause of such an issue is gut inflammation. It can also indicate widespread oxidative stress.

9. Nutritional Markers

This can be one of the most important sections of the OAT, as it can pinpoint nutritional deficiencies that may cause both physical and mental health conditions. It does this by measuring the byproducts generated when nutritional deficiencies set in.

For instance, elevated levels of methylmalonic acid correlate to a vitamin B12 deficiency, which might be caused by pernicious anemia, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or simply malabsorption.

Some of the nutritional deficiencies that can be flagged by this section include:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Other B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • CoQ10
  • N-Acetylcysteine
  • Biotin (vitamin H)

10. Indicators of Detoxification

This section yields crucial information about your body’s capacity for detoxification. One way it does this is by measuring levels of an essential antioxidant called glutathione. It’s common for chronic health issues to deplete the body’s glutathione supply.

High levels of pyroglutamic acid, a metabolite of glutathione, indicate that the body has an insufficient supply, typically due to overuse. Underlying causes such as infections and exposure to environmental toxins can demand more glutathione than the body can generate.

High levels of orotic acid, another significant marker of detoxification, indicate the presence of excess ammonia in the body. Ammonia toxicity has a pronounced effect on brain tissue, producing symptoms like:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating

While genetic issues account for some instances of poor ammonia metabolism, it can also be caused by viral infections, poor liver or kidney function, and gut dysbiosis and other gastrointestinal issues.

11. Mineral Metabolism

This section measures levels of phosphoric acid, which provides a view of the body’s supply of vitamin D and calcium—vital for the growth and maintenance of your bones.

Low levels of phosphoric acid point to a deficiency, which might stem from:

  • Poor phosphate intake
  • Impaired production of digestive juices
  • Deficiency of vitamin K2
  • Deficiency of magnesium

High levels of phosphoric acid might mean that a person has been exposed to toxic levels of lead, or that they’re getting too many phosphates in their diet (often from high consumption of processed foods). It can also result from inappropriate vitamin D supplementation.

12. Creatine Levels

The final section of the OAT measures creatine, which shows how dilute a person’s urine is. This, in turn, provides information about fluid intake and hydration.

High levels of creatine tend to result from dehydration, but may also be caused by excessive exercise, inappropriate creatine supplementation, or a urinary tract infection. If creatine levels exceed 300, kidney problems are indicated.

What's Covered by Each Section of the Organic Acid Test?

How to Perform an Organic Acids Test

It’s now possible to perform an OAT test at home using mail-order kits that come with comprehensive instructions and all the necessary materials. Most ask that you collect urine immediately after waking and prior to the consumption of any food or beverages.

It’s also important to follow instructions relating to foods that contain compounds with the potential to produce false positives for certain biomarkers. Typically, you would need to avoid eating these foods 2 days prior to the collection of your urine sample.

Some foods known to cause problems include:

  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Pears

You may also need to refrain from taking certain supplements, including echinacea and reishi mushrooms, for at least 12 hours leading up to urine sample collection.

Conclusion

By measuring levels of over 70 metabolites, the organic acid test allows individuals to better understand their overall health. The test looks at metabolites related to:

  • Detoxification
  • Fatty acid metabolism
  • Oxalate levels
  • Mitochondrial function
  • Neurotransmitter levels
  • Vitamin and antioxidant levels
  • Yeast and bacterial overgrowth

The test can help individuals identify the underlying causes of frustrating health issues, thereby forming the foundation for the creation of a highly individualized treatment plan.

Kidney Pain After Drinking Alcohol: How Worried Should You Be?

What causes kidney pain after drinking alcohol? How dangerous is kidney pain and does it require a trip to the doctor? We have the details on how alcohol affects your kidneys, and what health conditions may arise from excessive drinking.

The most detrimental effect of alcohol overconsumption, aside from any personal or psychological problems that arise, is the impact alcohol has on our detox organs: the liver and the kidneys. Imbibing a harmful substance like alcohol regularly overtaxes these organs with the effort of clearing out the poison, opening us up to certain risk factors associated with alcohol abuse. Heavy drinkers or those who engage in binge drinking are doing even more harm than those who drink in moderation, and alcohol abuse could lead to serious kidney problems. If you experience kidney pain after drinking alcohol, we have the information you need on the possible causes.

How the Kidneys Function and Where They Are Located

Our kidneys are part of the system known as the urinary tract, which also includes our bladders and ureters. Kidney health is essential for filtering toxins and waste out of our blood and transferring those substances to our urine for elimination from the body. The kidneys also keep our electrolyte and fluid levels balanced, and they are directly impacted by the excessive intake of alcohol.

Our kidneys are vital to our survival, and luckily they are one of many paired organs and parts our bodies have, like our eyes, ears, testes/ovaries, lungs, limbs, adrenal glands, and more. What’s fortunate about that is it’s quite possible to live with only one kidney, a fact that allows healthy, living people to donate one of their kidney organs to save the life of someone who has lost the use of both.

The kidneys are about the size of our fists and are located below the rib cage on either side of our spines. Kidney pain may be experienced as back pain, but if there is kidney damage resulting from alcohol use, other symptoms may occur. We review the symptoms of kidney damage and kidney failure further along in this article, but first let’s discuss how alcohol interacts with the kidneys.

Alcohol’s Effect on the Kidneys

According to the National Kidney Foundation, alcohol harms the kidneys in the following ways.

  • Interruption of function: High blood alcohol levels can cause changes in the function of the kidneys, interrupting the prime objective of these organs, which is filtering the blood.
  • Interference with fluid levels: Another principle role of the kidneys is fluid regulation, and alcohol as a diuretic forces frequent urination and causes dehydration and possible kidney stone formation (more information on kidney stones below).
  • Elevated blood pressure: Consumption of alcohol frequently causes high blood pressure, which increases the risk of kidney disease and other cardiovascular health problems.
  • Interrelated liver damage: Chronic alcohol consumption can cause liver disease and liver failure, disrupting the rate of blood flow between it and the kidneys and detrimentally impacting all of them.

Some of these impacts won’t be felt until they cause you pain, or lead to other health conditions with recognizable symptoms. If you suspect you’ve overdone it on alcoholic beverages, seek medical advice before being prompted by severe pain: your doctor may be able to detect the early signs of kidney stressors before they cause irreversible damage.

Alcohol's Effect on the Kidneys

Kidney Pain After Drinking Alcohol: Symptoms

Here is a list of symptoms that may indicate there is something wrong with your kidneys. Seek medical advice for a specific diagnosis if you experience:

  • Stabbing or dull pain in your mid-lower back (on either or both sides)
  • Pain between the buttocks
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Worsening kidney-area pain after sleeping
  • Painful urination
  • Blood in urine

Kidney Pain After Drinking Alcohol: Possible Causes

Here are some of the potential causes of alcohol-related kidney pain.

1. Dehydration

Because alcohol is a diuretic, it can cause severe dehydration when over-consumed, and in fact dehydration is one of the biggest culprits in causing the symptoms of a hangover (like headache). When we drink alcohol in excess, it overrides our kidneys in the area of water retention and balance, not only flushing more water than necessary out of our systems, but also the vitamins, salts, and electrolytes we need along with that water. This is why many a hangover recovery involves drinking a sports drink full of electrolytes or (more problematically) a hair-of-the-dog cure in the form of a spicy Bloody Mary.

Extreme dehydration can cause palpable kidney pain. Water is the best cure for dehydration, while sugary drinks should be avoided after a hard night of drinking. In severe cases, you may need to visit a doctor for an IV fluid.

2. Kidney Stones

When worrying about how alcohol affects the kidneys, many wonder, “Can alcohol cause kidney stones?” Dehydration can, and excessive alcohol consumption quickly induces dehydration.

When there isn’t enough fluid available to filter out certain substances like calcium or uric acid through urine, those substances will deposit in the kidneys and form into stones. Not only can alcohol contribute to the formation of the stones, but if you have kidney stones already, extreme dehydration can also cause them to move, resulting in kidney pain and (if they’re small enough to pass without medical intervention) pain throughout your urinary tract.

If you suspect you have kidney stones, increase your water consumption and consult with a medical professional for assistance and possible medication to help break them up. According to the Mayo Clinic, kidney stone diagnoses may involve blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests, and tests on any passed stone to analyze its content in the hopes that such information will help prevent future stones from forming.

3. Hydronephrosis

Hydronephrosis is a condition characterized by one (or two) swollen kidneys, filled with urine due to an obstruction or blockage of the urinary tract. This could be caused by kidney stones, and may present with flank pain or an inability to urinate.

This condition requires immediate medical attention, and treatment may involve antibiotics if the blockage is caused by a kidney infection instead of kidney stones.

4. Kidney Infection

A kidney infection can come about due to a number of causes, including bacteria that enters through the urethra and bladder, and then moves up to one (or both) kidneys. This would be a UTI (urinary tract infection), and drinking alcohol can worsen the severity of a UTI.

A UTI can be a minor infection, but if it travels to and takes hold in the kidneys, it can cause lasting kidney damage and even kidney failure if it isn’t treated successfully in time. It’s important not to hesitate in seeking advice from a health care professional, and it may be advisable to abstain from drinking if you have a UTI, and definitely if you are taking antibiotics to treat a UTI or any other infection.

5. Liver or Kidney Disease

Liver disease and kidney disease are conditions that can be caused by long-term alcohol abuse, sometimes as part of end-stage alcoholism and death. While it’s not a concern after one night of binge drinking, if you habitually over-imbibe, the damages can accumulate in the liver and cause fatty liver disease or scarring that leads to cirrhosis. Once the liver becomes compromised, the blood flow to the kidneys is interrupted, instigating a domino effect of vital organ damage and possible shutdown.

Should kidney disease develop, it could be due to alcohol or other contributing health conditions that alcohol exacerbates, including high blood sugar, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure, which, like liver failure, can sometimes only be reversed by organ transplantation.

Don’t Kid Around with Kidney Function

Excessive drinking can lead to very painful and serious health consequences, and while there are natural ways to support your kidney health with a kidney flush diet, as Benjamin Franklin once pointed out, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The best thing you can do to prevent kidney damage caused by heavy drinking is to detox from alcohol and either quit drinking entirely or drink only in moderation. Swapping hard liquor drinks for low-alcohol beer and wine can help you avoid drinking too much alcohol, as can making sure you stay adequately hydrated. Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink to help balance out the amount of alcohol consumed. If you do drink, be sure to drink responsibly, for the sake of your kidneys and your quality of life.