How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

Find out the difference between acute and chronic inflammation (one is good, one is bad). Also learn about the natural ways to reduce inflammation and improve your health through lifestyle, exercise, diet, and supplementation. 

Inflammation is one of those necessary evils. Yes, you need an inflammatory response in the body to alert you and your healing resources that something is wrong, and that is healthy inflammation. A twisted ankle, a reaction to stress, a bug or mosquito bite: these are common external examples of inflammation that let you know: you’ve hurt your ankle, you need a vacation, or it’s time to reapply the bug spray.

Unhealthy inflammation is chronic and persistent inflammation that is no longer helping you, only hurting. For instance if your ankle swells up so badly you can’t walk, you have to put ice on it, elevate it, maybe take an anti-inflammatory medication. But how do you reduce inflammation inside your body? You can’t ice your liver! Moreover how do you reduce inflammation naturally, without resorting to taking over-the-counter drugs and risking their side effects? Read on to find ways to reduce overall inflammation through lifestyle, diet, and natural supplements.

What Is Inflammation? Acute vs. Chronic

Acute inflammation is the immune system’s response to injury or foreign substance. It activates inflammation to deal with a specific threat, and then subsides. That inflammatory response includes the increased production of immune cells, cytokines, and white blood cells. The physical signs of acute inflammation are swelling, redness, pain, and heat. This is the healthy function of inflammation.

Chronic inflammation on the other hand is not beneficial to the body, and occurs when your immune system regularly and consistently releases inflammatory chemicals, even when there’s no injury to fix or foreign invader to fight.

To diagnosis chronic inflammation, doctors test for blood markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6), TNF alpha, homocysteine, and C-reactive protein (CRP). This type of inflammation often results from lifestyle factors such as poor diet, obesity, and stress, and is associated with many dangerous health conditions, including:

These are the conditions that can be caused or exacerbated by chronic inflammation, but what causes chronic inflammation itself? There are a few factors.

Habitually consuming high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, refined carbs (like white bread), trans fats, and the vegetable oils included in so many processed foods is one contributor. Excessive alcohol intake is another culprit, and so is an inactive or sedentary lifestyle.

Now that you know what chronic inflammation is, where it comes from, and how it works, the final question is: how can you reduce chronic inflammation with natural remedies? Read on for the answers.

How to reduce inflammation naturally.

How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally Through Lifestyle, Diet, and Supplements

Here are several approaches you can take to combat inflammation naturally before resorting to over-the-counter drugs or medications.

Lifestyle Choices and Therapies to Fight Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is also called low-grade or systemic inflammation. There are some ways you can boost your health by managing lifestyle practices and fitness activities. Some practices you may want to adjust are as follows.

  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Manage stress naturally (meditation perhaps, or tai chi)
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Exercise regularly

When it comes to exercise, something as readily available as walking can help improve your health drastically, and when it comes to fitness with meditation, you could look into yoga. Those who practice yoga regularly have lower levels of the inflammatory marker IL-6, up to 41% lower than those who don’t practice yoga.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A diet of anti-inflammatory foods is a huge component to reducing inflammation. As a general rule, you want to eat whole foods rather than processed foods, as they contain more nutrients and antioxidants for your health. Antioxidants help by reducing levels of free radicals in your body, molecules that cause cell damage and oxidative stress.

You’ll also want a healthy dietary balance between carbs, protein, fats, fruits, and veggies to ensure the proper amount of minerals, vitamins, and fiber throughout each day. One diet that’s been scientifically shown to have anti-inflammatory properties is the Mediterranean diet, which entails a high consumption of vegetables, along with olive oil and moderate amounts of lean protein.

Foods to Eat

Healthy eating can help you reduce inflammation in your body. These foods are the answer to how to reduce intestinal inflammation naturally. Reach inside and soothe what ails you!

  • High-fat fruits: Stone fruits like avocados and olives, including their oils
  • Whole grains: Whole grain wheat, barley, quinoa, oats, brown rice, spelt, rye, etc.
  • Vegetables: Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables especially, like kale, broccoli and broccoli greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Fruit: Dark berries like cherries and grapes particularly, either fresh or dried
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel for omega-3 fatty acids
  • Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc.
  • Spices: Including turmeric, cinnamon, and fenugreek
  • Tea: Green tea especially
  • Red wine: Up to 10 ounces of red wine for men and 5 ounces for women per day
  • Peppers: Chili peppers and bell peppers of any color
  • Chocolate: Dark chocolate specifically, and the higher the cocoa bean percentage, the better

Foods to Avoid

These foods can help cause inflammation and amplify negative inflammatory effects in your body. You’d do well to reduce intake of or avoid entirely.

  • Alcohol: Hard liquors, beers, and ciders
  • Desserts: Candies, cookies, ice creams, and cakes
  • Processed meats: Sausages, hot dogs, and bologna
  • Trans fats: Foods containing partially hydrogenated ingredients like vegetable shortening, coffee creamer, ready-to-use frosting, and stick butter
  • Sugary beverages: Sugar-sweetened fruit juices, sports drinks, etc.
  • Refined carbs: White bread, white pasta, and white rice
  • Processed snacks: Crackers, pretzels, and chips
  • Certain oils and fried foods: Foods prepared with processed vegetable and seed oils like soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, etc.

When it comes to how to reduce liver inflammation naturally, what you avoid is just as important as what you put into your body, which is why it’s also recommended to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke and to limit your contact with toxic chemicals like aerosol cleaners.

Anti-Inflammatory Natural Supplements

You can help treat inflammation by including certain supplements that reduce inflammation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Supplements like fish oil contain omega-3 fatty acids, and while eating fatty fish can also provide this nutrient, not everyone has the access or means to eat two to three helpings of fish per week.

Though both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to get from our diets, we often have a drastic overabundance of omega-6s and not nearly enough omega-3s to keep the ideal ratio between the two. Likewise, while red meat and dairy products may have anti-inflammatory effects, red meat and dairy are also prohibitive on certain diets and health care regimens (for example, red meat is not recommended for those with heart-health concerns). Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil can help defeat pro-inflammatory factors.

Herbs and Spices

Curcumin, found in the curry spice turmeric, has been shown to fight back against pro-inflammatory cytokines. And ginger also has been found to reduce inflammation even more successfully than NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, and with fewer side effects. Whether fresh or dried, certain herbs and spices can help reduce inflammation without having any detriment to your overall health.

Flame Off

With these tips, you can help reduce chronic inflammation in your life naturally, and the rewards for taking such precise care of yourself could be great. Those on an anti-inflammatory diet, for example, may find that certain health problems improve, from inflammatory bowel syndrome, to arthritis, to lupus and other autoimmune disorders. Not only that, but a healthier lifestyle leads almost invariably to lowered risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, and cancer. You’ll have better cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels, plus an improvement in mood and energy. The bottom line is: lowering your levels of inflammation naturally increases your quality of life!

How to Speed up Healing: From Sunburns to Surgery Recovery

The wound healing process, much like our physical activity levels, tends to decline as we age. Here are some scientifically backed tips on the best ways to speed up healing, from minor cuts and scrapes around the home, to post-surgical recovery and muscle tissue rebuilding.

Whether you have a cut, a burn, or are healing from a surgical procedure, there are ways to help speed up healing and close your wounds faster. The wound healing process, much like our physical activity levels, tends to decline as we age. The older we get, the longer our healing time takes, leading in some instances to chronic wounds that never really go away. To speed up wound repair, here are some tips for helping your body along.

Speed up healing: from sunburns to surgery.

At-Home Healing: Small Wounds and Scar Reduction

When it comes to home remedies for wound care, there are a lot of old wives’ tales still around. Some of them make a certain amount of sense when considered scientifically, like waiting 30 minutes to swim after you eat may well help you avoid a minor cramp. However, not all of these folktales are true enough to keep repeating or insisting on. Not everyone will get a minor cramp if they swim after eating, and even if they do, it won’t cause them to drown. And yet still we wait, and tell children to wait, and keep the myth going.

When it comes to how to speed up wound healing, there are a lot of practices that don’t really apply. Some say leaving a wound open to dry in the air and “breathe” helps it heal faster, but that isn’t true if it’s now open to dirt and possible infection. To stop infection, many douse a wound in alcohol or peroxide—talk about pouring salt on a wound!

In truth, leaving a wound to dry out is not ideal, and can even slow healing and increase pain. Wounds need moisture to heal, and moist wound healing speeds up healing and reduces scarring. Here are some other tips on how to foster faster healing and reduce the risk of scarring.

1. Clean and Disinfect

Before touching a wound, wash your hands. When it comes to cleaning the wound, start with clear water and a clean cloth to remove any dirt or particles from the wound. If there are pieces of debris in a wound (your kid took a wipeout on their skateboard and has gravel embedded in the scrape, for example), use a pair of tweezers to remove them. The tweezers should be sterilized with some isopropyl alcohol, but alcohol is not advised directly on the open wound.

Instead, once the wound is clean, apply an antibiotic cream, ointment, or spray to the wound area, and make your call about what kind of bandage applies. If it’s an open wound like a wide scrape, a gauze and a wrap may be called for, but a cut on a finger might need only a bandaid to reduce the risk of infection and speed healing.

Remember not to pick at any scab that forms, because a scab is the body’s natural bandage.

2. Encourage Blood Flow

Nobody can heal you better than your own body, but there are ways to help it along. You’ll notice when you get a scrape or a bruise that the area seems to heat up. That’s because the body has dispatched its in-house medical team via your bloodstream.

To increase blood flow to the skin and surrounding area, you can apply a heating pad or hot water bottle, or place the wound area in some warm water for 15-30 minutes. It’s not a high-tech method but it does help, especially for wounds on your extremities (fingers, toes, arms, and legs) where your blood vessels are smaller, or for anyone with poor circulation, like the elderly.

If adding heat is uncomfortable, massaging the surrounding area is another way to usher blood to the site of injury.

3. Reduce Inflammation

After encouraging healthy blood flow, your wound may experience unhealthy inflammation. A burn that you got from pulling dinner out of the oven might feel like it’s still burning for days after, and you’ll want some kind of anti-inflammatory to help relieve the pain.

Many people think of the gel-like insides of the aloe vera plant for burns, and this is an age-old home remedy that actually works! Aloe vera is a succulent plant originally native to Africa that has a gooey substance in its leaves called mucilaginous juice, and while the plant is 99% water, it does have two chemicals within that improve wound healing.

According to researchers, many of the healing effects of aloe vera are due to the glycoproteins and polysaccharides present in the plant’s pulp. The polysaccharides increase cellular movement, leading to faster tissue regrowth, and the glycoproteins help relieve pain and control the inflammatory response. Together these compounds aid and possibly improve your immune system.

There is even more evidence out of a 2015 study that suggests there are further helpful compounds in aloe vera for cutaneous wounds (like sunburns). For instance, glucomannan stimulates the growth of fibroblasts responsible for collagen, skin cell, and tissue building. Other chemicals found in aloe vera may also help foster blood vessel regrowth, making it a fantastic, natural anti-inflammatory to have on hand for minor wound healing.

4. Get More Protein, Vitamins, and Nutrients

There are certain power foods that contain the nutrients your body needs to rebuild itself, including vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium. You’ll find these nutrients in dark green leafy vegetables and in orange, yellow, and red fruits and veggies (eat the rainbow!), like bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges, and more.

One of the biggest factors when it comes to tissue and wound healing though? Protein. Omega-3s come from fish along with fish’s protein content, and you can get an assortment of your essential amino acids from various meats and dairy products.

Amino acids are needed for wound healing, so if you’re not a meat-eater, you can increase your protein intake with certain vegetarian and vegan protein foods, or with an amino acid supplement while you heal.

How to Speed up Healing After Surgery

Outside of household and playground injuries, recovery after surgery is a whole different ball game. No matter where it is on the body or how good the chances for a speedy recovery are, surgery still carries a certain amount of risk, and so does surgical recovery. Once you’re sent home from your procedure, you’re going to want to heal as quickly and safely as possible. Here are some tips for how to do so.

1. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions

While it’s true that no one knows your body quite like you do, doctors don’t give out suggestions willy-nilly. Their medical advice is based on data and research collected from all different kinds of patients over years and years of procedures.

If a doctor tells you to avoid activities for a specific amount of time after a procedure, it’s in your best interest to heed that advice. If you’re told to avoid driving, avoid sexual intercourse, avoid alcohol, or avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds for a couple of weeks, this is for your safety, and so you don’t end up back in their office with a new injury or complication. You may be feeling good enough to return to normal activity, and that’s great, it means your healing is right on course! And yet there may still be healing processes going on beneath your skin that need a little bit more time.

2. Eat the Right Recovery Foods

As true as it was for minor wounds, eating a nutrient-dense diet is even more important after a surgery, because you’re healing much deeper wounds. Although you may have a loss of appetite or digestive discomfort after a surgery, it’s important that you eat a healthy diet by any means necessary (broths, smoothies, amino acid powders), because certain foods are actually going to feed your recovery process.

Again, vitamin C and zinc can help with healing, and can be had from fruit and beans. Iron and vitamin B12 help in forming new blood cells and can be found in fish and eggs. Sports and sugary drinks should be avoided for the time being, as should refined sugar foods.

Protein is more important than ever, as many surgeries by nature involve cutting through tissue and muscle, and the amino acids in protein can help speed post-surgical recovery. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are all strong sources of protein, but if a doctor tells you to take a protein supplement, look for a comprehensive amino acid supplement. For recovering after surgery, you may need more protein than a normal diet or your appetite can provide, and supplementing may be a necessity.

3. Follow-up, Ask For Help, and Get Moving Gradually

Surgical recovery may take a while and involve follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and/or at-home assistance. During this time, it’s important to keep all appointments with your health care team, because a diagnostic such as bloodwork could alert your doctor to a problem before it becomes an infection. Likewise, physical therapy could help you correct something like a limp before it becomes a misalignment.

Asking for help from your family or your medical team may not be your usual tendency, but it is necessary and encouraged for the sake of a speedy and successful recovery. If problems are allowed to fester, you could end up back in the hospital or on bedrest, and in danger of new problems altogether, like muscle atrophy.

4. Don’t Smoke

This is a tip that may not apply to all, so if you don’t smoke or have never smoked, skip ahead. However, if you are a smoker or live with one, the effects of cigarette smoking can counteract your wound healing.

Nicotine tightens blood vessels, and the more constricted your blood vessels are, the harder it is for all the other recovery work you’re doing to matter. The nutrients you eat won’t be going to the right places, the muscle you’re building takes longer to thrive, your wounds take longer to heal, and more carcinogens and harmful substances are coming in at the same time. If you’ve ever wanted to quit smoking, after a surgery it’s more important than ever, and can make even more of a positive health impact.

The Need for Speed

Some things can’t be rushed, and a lot of the time your health is the tortoise racing against the hare: slow and steady wins the race. Diet and exercise are long-haul habits that make all the difference. While that’s also true when it comes to a lot of aspects of healing, the more you can do to support your body’s healing mechanisms and get out of their way, the faster the process goes and the lower the chance you’ll have any more problems arising from the initial issue.

Whether it’s a cut, a sunburn, a broken limb, or a surgical operation, anything can go from bad to worse if you’re not careful. Luckily there are resources you can use and advice to be had on how to speed up healing in a successful and sustainable way. Take these tips into consideration, seek medical advice if needed, and know that we wish you a speedy recovery.

Serrapeptase: The Science Behind the Supplement

Mostly used by health care professionals in Japan and Europe for reducing inflammation after trauma, surgery, or in other inflammatory circumstances, serrapeptase is also available as a dietary supplement for its various health benefits. Find out what serrapeptase is, how it was discovered, and which of its supposed benefits have the strongest evidence backing them.

Serrapeptase, also known as serratiopeptidase, serratia peptidase, or silk worm enzyme, is an isolated enzyme from bacteria found in silk worms. Mostly used by health care professionals in Japan and Europe for reducing inflammation after trauma, surgery, or in other inflammatory circumstances, it is also available as a dietary supplement for its various health benefits. This article will explore the science behind those health claims, discuss the potential side effects of serrapeptase, and help you decide whether this anti-inflammatory is right for you.

What Is Serrapeptase?

The serrapeptase enzyme is a proteolytic enzyme, which means it has the ability to break down proteins into their building blocks, amino acids. It’s an enzyme produced by the bacteria living in the silk worm’s digestive tract, and specifically it’s the enzyme that allows an emerging moth to dissolve and digest its own cocoon. If you’re the kind of person who finds bugs and worms to be skin-crawlingly gross, it might do you well to think less about where this enzyme comes from, and more about what it and other proteolytic enzymes like bromelain, chymotrypsin, and trypsin can do to benefit you.

Discovered throughout the 1950s, these enzymes were used in the United States to relieve the inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-surgical swelling. By 1957, the Japanese were using serrapeptase in the same manner, and in the 1990s these different enzymes were compared and it was found that serrapeptase was the most successful at reducing inflammatory responses. Since then it has become more widely used in Europe and Japan for its anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Benefits of Serrapeptase

Though serrapeptase is relatively new to the medicinal scene, there have nevertheless been many studies done to document its effectiveness and safety. Here are some of the benefits that have been observed from the use of serrapeptase.

Serrapeptase supplements: the science and the speculation.

May Reduce Inflammation

This is the health benefit serrapeptase is best known for, reducing inflammation in instances like tooth removal or post-surgery recovery. It’s thought that serrapeptase works by decreasing inflammatory cells at the site of injury. The anti-inflammatory effects of serrapeptase were shown in a clinical trial on the surgical removal of wisdom teeth, and serrapeptase was found to be more effective at improving lockjaw than more powerful drugs like ibuprofen and corticosteroids.

Though corticosteroids improved facial swelling more effectively on the first day post-surgery, the differences on the second day were insignificant. While more research is still needed to define the best uses of serrapeptase going forward, the researchers in the study did note that serrapeptase had a better safety profile than the other drugs analyzed, which may make it particularly useful in cases of drug intolerance in patients, or those who have adverse side effects with stronger drugs.

May Prevent Infections

There is evidence that serrapeptase may decrease the risk of bacterial infection by acting as a “biofilm buster,” so-called because bacteria have the ability to join together and form a protective barrier or film around themselves. The biofilm shields them from antibiotics long enough that their rapid growth can take place and cause infection. Serrapeptase can inhibit the formation of biofilms, increasing the efficacy of antibiotics in cases like Staphylococcus aureus (Staph. aureus), or staph infection, one of the most common opportunistic dangers associated with hospital stays.

Both animal and test-tube studies have shown that serrapeptase combined with antibiotics was more effective than treating Staph. aureus with antibiotics alone, including those strains that have become drug-resistant. An example of a drug-resistant form of staph infection is MRSA (methicillin resistant Staph. aureus), an especially dangerous infection to those who are already hospitalized in immune-compromised states.

May Reduce Pain

Pain being a symptom of inflammation, serrapeptase has been known to reduce pain by inhibiting certain compounds. For example, in one double-blind study that examined the effects of serrapeptase in about 200 people with inflammatory conditions of the ear, nose, and throat, researchers found that those who took a serrapeptase supplement had significant reductions in mucus production and pain severity than did those who took a placebo.

Another study found that serrapeptase reduced pain significantly compared to a placebo in 24 participants following the removal of their wisdom teeth. More research is needed for scientists to be sure of serrapeptase’s effects, but these findings show promise for those hoping to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) after medical procedures.

May Help Dissolve Blood Clots

It is thought that by acting to break down fibrin (a protein formed in blood clots) as well as damaged and dead tissue, the serrapeptase enzyme could help treat atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis involves plaque buildup inside your arteries, which leads to a hardening and narrowing of the arteries and an increased danger from blood clots.

If serrapeptase is successful at dissolving plaque or blood clots, it could reduce a person’s risk of stroke or heart attack. However, not enough studies have been done showing a direct effect, and so while there is potential that serrapeptase has a role in treating blood clots, more research is warranted.

May Be an Aid Against Chronic Respiratory Disease

Chronic respiratory and chronic airway diseases affect the lungs and breathing apparatuses of the body. Serrapeptase’s potential to clear mucus and reduce inflammation in the the lungs could help improve breathing in those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary hypertension, which is a form of high blood pressure in the vessels of your lungs.

These chronic conditions are ongoing and incurable, and yet managing the symptoms effectively (as with increased mucus clearance and better dilation of air passages) can greatly improve a person’s quality of life. One month-long study of 29 participants with chronic bronchitis involved a test group that was given 30 milligrams of serrapeptase per day, which resulted in less mucus production than the control group, better lung-clearing ability, and greater ease of breathing.

May Treat Endometriosis

Due to the potential serrapeptase has for targeting dead tissue and scar tissue throughout the body, some believe there is potential in using serrapeptase for endometriosis treatment. Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells grow outside the uterus, in the tissues surrounding the pelvic area, causing pain and often issues with fertility.

Likewise with conception issues arising due to ovarian or uterine cysts, serrapeptase for fertility is another natural therapy that currently has more anecdotal evidence than scientific research done on it, though that does not mean the research won’t be done, nor that it wouldn’t be a safe supplement to try in consultation with a qualified health care professional.

May Help Relieve Alzheimer’s Disease

One study on rat models revealed that the proteolytic enzymes nattokinase and serrapeptase may have a therapeutic application in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, modulating the different factors that characterize the disease. Oral application of these enzymes provided a decrease in transforming growth factor, acetylcholinesterase activity, and interleukin-6, all of which are found in high levels among patients with Alzheimer’s disease. While more research still needs to be done, Alzheimer’s is a medical condition that needs any relief options available.

Potential Serrapeptase Side Effects

Because it’s such a new commodity, people are rightly concerned that there could be potential serrapeptase dangers. There are not many published studies touching on potential adverse reactions to taking serrapeptase, however some studies have reported the following side effects.

As there is a lack of data on the long-term safety and tolerability of this enzyme, should any side effect occur after you take it, you should stop immediately and seek medical advice. What works for some may not work for all, and so your judgement is paramount when it comes to whether you’re getting the benefits you want.

How to Take Serrapeptase

It’s advised against taking serrapeptase with any sort of blood thinner, or other dietary supplements like turmeric, garlic, or fish oil which could increase a risk of bruising or bleeding. For serrapeptase dosage, it’s recommended to take between 10-60 milligrams per day (the range used within the various studies) on an empty stomach, and to avoid eating for at least 30 minutes afterwards.

When purchasing the supplement, choose a product in an enteric-coated capsule to prevent your stomach acid from neutralizing the enzyme before it reaches your intestine. Without a strong enough capsule, the enzymatic activity could be deactivated before it has a chance to work.

How long does it take serrapeptase to work after you take it? For pain and swelling it can have immediate effects post-surgery, but for more gradual or ongoing treatments, the effects might be felt over a period of weeks. It truly depends on your condition, your health, and how you’re using the supplement.

The Secrets of Serrapeptase

Our understanding of serrapeptase is far from comprehensive at this moment. There is one study linking it to treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome and anecdotal evidence suggesting serrapeptase for weight loss (albeit temporary). There are far more clinical studies on the use of serrapeptase for reducing inflammation, fighting infections, and preventing blood clots, but researchers are still exploring its uses. Should you be interested in seeing what serrapeptase supplementation can do for you, we only ask that you do so wisely, and with a willingness to consult a medical professional about any results you find, be they bad or good.

Unexplained Weight Loss: What Could It Mean?

Unexplained weight loss could be due to dangerous underlying causes, from infections, to disorders, to conditions as serious as congestive heart failure and cancer. 

Under normal circumstances, people have to work hard to control their weight, whether they’re trying to slim down or bulk up. Sudden, noticeable, weight loss is often a symptom of an underlying health concern, and unexplained weight loss is even more worrying, as it could be an indication that something is wrong with your body, but is currently undiagnosed. This article will detail some of the usual suspects behind unintentional weight loss, so you can better understand how important it is to identify the underlying cause.

How Much Weight Loss Is Concerning?

It’s common to fluctuate between 1-3 pounds per day according to your scale; those are just the vagaries of water weight. However, a loss of 10 pounds or more (or 5% of your body weight) over a 6-12 month period with no known reason warrants concern. If you’ve changed your habits, changed your diet, or undergone a change in life that could explain the reduction in weight, then it may not be that unusual, but you may benefit from asking yourself some questions.

  • Did you start a new job?
  • Did you move to a new area?
  • Are you under some known form of stress (whether happy or unfortunate—i.e. planning a wedding or caring for a sick loved one).
  • Has there been a change in your relationship status?

It’s important to know, because while this sort of steady weight loss would be welcome if you’d changed your diet with the intention to lose weight (by transitioning from processed to whole foods for example), if no alterations to your diet or lifestyle have been made and your weight has still gone down this dramatically, there may be some serious underlying reasons.

Losing Weight Without Trying: Am I Sick?

Unexplained weight loss could be the first sign of sickness, yes. You should contact a doctor or health care professional right away to seek evaluation, as the causes for unexplained weight loss can be quite serious, from infections, to thyroid issues, to the terrifying prospect of cancer (but please don’t go to the extreme scenario…just go to a doctor!).

The good news is that doctors quickly find the cause of abnormal weight loss in over 75% of cases. In fact, even if you think you know the cause, something like general stress and anxiety could be masking a physical health problem, and you should make an appointment to be sure this weight loss isn’t caused by a combination of issues or that it isn’t taxing your health in other ways.

If the first examination isn’t thorough enough, seek a second opinion to rule out other causes. Blood tests, a urinalysis, a thyroid panel, liver and kidney function tests, a blood sugar test, or imaging studies may need to be done to make sure there are no red flags in your health profile.

Your doctor may ask:

  • Have you made any changes in your exercise or diet recently?
  • Has this sort of weight loss ever happened to you before?
  • Do you have any dental problems or mouth sores that could impede your ability to eat normally?
  • Is there a history of any particular illness that runs in your family?
  • Do you have any other concerning symptoms (palpitations, excessive thirst, sensitivity to heat or cold, a persistent cough, shortness of breath)?

Consider your overall health as you prepare for your appointment, so you can make sure your doctor is informed of any symptom that might be relevant to your condition.

Why Diagnosis Is Important

There are many medical conditions that might lead to unintentional weight loss. The American Cancer Society points out that 50% of all cancer patients have a form of cancer cachexia, a wasting syndrome that involves unintentional weight loss and brings on the death of about 20% of cancer patients.

It is the same with cardiac events. One study explicitly states, “Unintentional weight loss was an independent predictor of poor outcomes.” Unintentional weight loss brings about higher morbidity, mortality, and bodes ill for anyone already battling a disease. That is why identifying and treating unexplained weight loss is so important, especially in older adults (above age 65), who are all the more at risk of serious consequences from any sudden change in health.

Possible Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss

We’ll now run down some of the common causes of unintentional or abnormal weight loss.

Unexplained weight loss: possible underlying causes.

Endocrine Conditions

Endocrine conditions include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), diabetes, and Addison’s disease (wherein the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones). The thyroid gland is located in your neck, is somewhat butterfly-shaped, and controls your metabolism. An issue with the thyroid gland could be accompanied by heart palpitations, and if type 2 diabetes is at play, you’re likely to experience increased thirst and excessive urination as your body tries to expel all the glucose it can’t absorb.

Infections

Infections include anything from parasites, bacterial infections, and viruses (which HIV/AIDS patients are more susceptible to), along with conditions like endocarditis (an infection of the heart valves), or tuberculosis (an infection of the lungs). In these instances, your body is losing weight because it is using all of its resources to fight off an invasion.

Cancer

Weight loss can sometimes be one of the earliest symptoms of cancer, such as from lung cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, or blood-related cancers like lymphomas and leukemias. About 40% of cancer patients report having experienced weight loss around the time of their diagnosis, and studies have shown that unintentional weight loss is the second highest predictor for certain cancers. Weight loss often occurs as a result of cancer due to the body’s nourishing efforts being hijacked to support an abnormal tumor growth. Doctors will often check first for tumors in the bowels, colon, and esophagus, which can impede swallowing and quickly contribute to unintentional weight loss.

Intestinal Conditions

Conditions like celiac disease, peptic ulcer disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and pancreatitis can lead to unexplained weight loss in those who have yet to be diagnosed.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder wherein the small intestine is damaged by gluten intake, leading to GI symptoms like diarrhea and bloating. According to the Mayo Clinic, when the immune system sees gluten as a threat, it reacts, and that reaction means your body doesn’t have a chance to absorb its nutrients properly. Likewise, in an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, the body’s reaction leads to malabsorption and unexplained loss of weight.

Those with chronic pancreatitis lose weight due to the fact that their body cannot produce enough digestive enzymes to properly break down food (and this may come with nausea, particularly from eating fatty foods).

Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure may cause weight loss due to a lack of sufficient blood flow to the GI tract. In a 2014 study researchers observed that those who had the most dramatic unintentional weight loss were indeed those who had the lowest blood flow to their intestines. Inadequate blood flow makes it harder to absorb nutrients, and the nausea and fatigue associated with congestive heart failure could lead to a loss of appetite.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa can cause dangerous weight loss, and while it might not be a completely unknown cause to the person suffering from the condition, it can be an indicator to a loved one or parent that something is wrong. Moreover, because of the nature of body dysmorphia, those coping with these eating disorders may not fully realize just how significant their weight loss is until it starts causing other health symptoms due to malnutrition.

Psychological Conditions

Depression and anxiety disorders often come with loss of appetite as a side effect, and can be an underlying cause of unexplained weight loss. It often goes unnoticed until the weight loss is significant enough, and will involve a different sort of diagnosis, as these are not conditions that can be found via imaging scan or blood test.

Drug Abuse

Be they extralegally obtained drugs or prescription medications, drug dependence can alter your body’s metabolic and digestive processes, and change your eating habits. Side effects from medications could lead to nausea, loss of appetite, or laxative effects that can contribute to unintentional weight loss as well.

Neurological Conditions

Unintentional weight loss is frequently seen in those with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. This is possibly due to the increased energy expense of rigidity, tremors, or dyskinesia (involuntary movements) associated with Parkinson’s, or the reduced energy intake due to poor health, stress, or the side effects of medication.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

When the immune system causes inflammatory reactions in healthy tissues, as in those with rheumatoid arthritis, it can also lead to a loss of appetite or an inflammation of the gut that interrupts nutrient absorption.

Reproductive Issues

Unexplained weight loss during menopause is unnatural, as it’s more common that menopause cause weight gain in women experiencing the change. Unintentional weight loss surrounding menopause could indicate that the changes in hormones has caused or made you susceptible to some other condition (stress, diabetes).

Likewise, unexplained weight loss during pregnancy is the opposite of the normal course of order. In the first few months, a loss of appetite due to morning sickness could be the culprit behind unintentional weight loss, but excessive weight loss could be a sign of a thyroid dysfunction or hyperemesis, a pregnancy complication that entails vomiting, severe nausea, dehydration, and weight loss. Your obstetrician should be made aware of any such symptoms.

An Explanation Is Necessary

Unknown causes of weight loss include a lot of scary and potentially life-threatening concerns. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate by a few pounds here or there throughout the course of the year, but if you cannot determine a cause for sudden, steady weight loss, it’s important to consult with a medical professional and investigate: in fact, it could save your life.

Muscle Atrophy: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Learn about what causes muscle wasting or muscle atrophy, and how best to prevent and treat this condition, including through the use of physical therapy, medical intervention, and staying active. 

Muscle atrophy is essentially muscle wasting: it’s what happens when your muscles waste away, frequently as a result of a lack of physical activity. This article will explore the causes and symptoms of muscle atrophy, as well as preventative steps people can take if they’re immobile or bedridden due to illness. Loss of muscle mass or muscle strength can be particularly devastating for those who are already in positions of compromised health, and so in an effort to help you maintain your quality of life, we’ve compiled the relevant information here.

Muscle Atrophy: Definition

Atrophy of the muscles occurs when a person is inactive for so long that their skeletal muscles (these are the muscles attached to your bones which literally make your skeleton move) begin to break down, and the muscle protein is cannibalized by the body. This can happen in small instances or large, catastrophic instances.

Muscle atrophy of the hand or forearm may occur if you spend weeks in a cast to heal a broken arm, which is why people in casts are given exercises to do while they’re immobilized to prevent protein degradation in their muscles and muscle wasting. Muscle atrophy of the legs or muscle atrophy of the thighs can happen on a much larger scale to those who become wheelchair-bound, either temporarily or due to becoming permanently paraplegic. In even more extreme cases, those who have been held as prisoners of war may have full-body muscle wasting due to confinement and malnutrition for significantly long periods, sometimes years.

Muscle atrophy is a decrease in muscle mass, either partial or complete, which is most commonly suffered when a person becomes disabled or their movements severely restricted. This makes it difficult or impossible to move the part of the body where the muscle has atrophied, and medical advice should be sought for solutions.

Muscle atrophy: causes, treatment, and prevention.

Muscle Atrophy: Causes

Significant decreases in activity levels can lead to muscle atrophy, and there are many situations where that can occur, causing what’s known as disuse atrophy. There are also instances of muscle atrophy due to medical conditions that inhibit the use of a body part, and even rarer causes like the muscle atrophy experienced by astronauts after relatively short periods (a few days) of weightlessness. Muscle atrophy in situations of being bedbound or ceasing intense physical training can come on in as little as 2 weeks. Some of the other causes of muscle atrophy are as follows.

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Advanced aging
  • Malnutrition
  • Stroke
  • Alcohol-associated myopathy
  • Burns
  • Temporary disabling injuries (broken bones, torn rotator cuff)
  • Permanently disabling injuries (severed spinal cord, peripheral nerve damage)
  • Prolonged corticosteroid therapy

Some of the diseases and medical conditions that can disrupt or restrict movement, thus leading to muscle atrophy, include:

  • Spinal muscular atrophy: A hereditary wasting disease of the limbs.
  • Osteoarthritis: Degeneration of bones and joint cartilage that leads to decreased movement.
  • Polymyositis: An inflammatory disease of the muscles.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease): Compromises the nerve cells of the spinal cord.
  • Muscular dystrophy: A hereditary disease that causes muscle weakness.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): An autoimmune disease that destroys the protective sheathing of brain and spinal nerves.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): A chronic inflammatory disease of the joints.
  • Dermatomyositis: Inflammation of the skin and underlying muscle tissue.
  • Polio: A virus afflicting muscle tissue, which can lead to paralysis.
  • Cancer cachexia: The weight loss, lack of energy, and loss of appetite in someone undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: An autoimmune disease and form of polyneuritis, which leads to paralysis of the limbs.
  • Neuropathy: Nerve damage that results in loss of sensation or functioning.

Muscle Atrophy: Symptoms

Regardless of the cause, these are the symptoms that may alert you to possible muscle atrophy, after which a trusted medical professional should be sought for advice.

  • One of your limbs (arms, legs) appears markedly smaller than the other one.
  • You’ve spent a long time physically inactive (bedridden, hospitalized).
  • You’re experiencing noticeable weakness in one limb.

Not to be flippant about the subject, but there is some truth to the phrase “use it or lose it” when it comes to muscle. If you cannot move your muscles with regular physical activity, you will start to lose them.

Muscle atrophy pain may or may not be a symptom, as that depends on the cause of the atrophy. Many people will begin to lose muscle before they are aware it’s happening, and will have to rely on visual muscle size to realize they need medical attention.

Muscle Atrophy: Diagnosis

Once you’ve gotten in contact with a medical professional, the diagnosis may involve your full medical history, a review of any previous injuries, as well as an evaluation of your symptoms. Diagnosing the atrophy may also involve diagnosing the underlying medical condition, which may require blood tests, X-rays, MRIs, CTs, a nerve conduction study, or a muscle and/or nerve biopsy to find out what could be causing muscle atrophy if it’s not readily apparently (as it would be if you’d suddenly become bedbound).

Can Muscle Atrophy Be Reversed?

Depending on the cause, yes. There are some cases where a proper diet, exercise, and physical therapy can not only reverse muscle atrophy, but also prevent it from recurring. However, this will not be the case in some disease-related forms of atrophy, and it is important that you consult your doctor on what your expectations for muscle atrophy recovery should be in restimulating protein synthesis and rebuilding your muscles.

Muscle Atrophy: Treatment

Again, this will depend on the diagnosis of the cause, and also the severity of your muscle loss, but the treatments for reversible muscle atrophy may be as follows.

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Dietary changes
  • Surgery
  • Electrical stimulation

If a lack of movement caused this condition, regaining movement will go a long way towards fixing it, and moderate exercise like walking, along with physical therapy, may be a way to regain muscle strength without needing surgery to fix skin, tendons, or ligaments too tight to begin moving again (as in cases of contracture deformity that could be caused by malnutrition or burn injury scar tissue).

Muscle Atrophy: Prevention

There are ways to prevent muscle atrophy before it happens, and ways to guard against it if you were fortunate enough to recover your musculature after one instance of muscle loss. If preventing muscle atrophy is in your control (and, of course, sometimes it will not be), here are a few ways to maintain muscle strength in adverse circumstances.

Stay Active

If you’re in recovery from a severe illness or have just come home from the hospital after a debilitating accident, it’s not as if you’ll take up jogging right away. However, movements as small as walking to your mailbox each day, or around the block, or up and down a single flight of stairs, can truly make the difference in the long run when it comes to maintaining your mobility.

Stay Nourished

Depending on your condition, this may be difficult, but when your body lacks the proper nutrition to stay running, it will start to catabolize your muscles for its needs, which is a form of self-cannibalization or destructive metabolism that literally eats away at your muscles. Make sure you’re getting proper protein, if not from whole foods, then in the forms of protein shakes or supplements, as every little bit may help.

In fact, supplementing with amino acids has been proven to help accelerate muscle recovery in times of sickness and illness and can help boost your muscle-building gains. To learn more about amino acid therapy for muscle atrophy, give this informative article, written by one of the world’s foremost amino acid researchers, a read.

Seek Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is particularly valuable for those with severe injury recovery (such as a car crash survivor) or a neurological condition, as therapists provide professional guidance on what, and how, and how often to stretch your body to build strength.

Try Passive Movement

Another way physical therapy can help you even before you have the strength to help yourself is with passive movement. Passive movement requires the therapist to gently move your legs and arms for you. This is how you can begin to recover from a very deep muscle deficit and build up strength and muscle again.

Preventative Measures

Not only will the above advice help prevent muscle atrophy, but it can also help discourage bedsores in those who are bedridden due to illness, and reduce the chances of developing dangerous blood clots in the limbs. Likewise, these movements may prevent muscle stiffness, retraction, and nerve damage. Consult a medical professional or licensed physical therapist for more advice.

Eliminate Atrophy

If you are in danger of muscle atrophy, take steps to make sure your protein intake and nutrients are sufficient, including the use of a supplement if necessary, like Amino Co.’s essential amino acid supplement, which contains all of the essential aminos required to build new muscle cells and structures. Also, make sure that you stay active, no matter in how small a way, to preserve your muscle function and prevent your muscles from falling into complete disuse. You cannot always control your body’s condition, but if the type of atrophy you fear is the type that’s preventable, it’s well worth the effort to maintain the quality of life and movement you’ve come to expect.

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

The best time to take protein supplements depends on your activity level, your personal goals, and the types of workouts you engage in. This article will provide you with specific, scientifically backed recommendations, and the reasoning behind that advice.

When taking protein supplements, people often wonder when exactly is the best time of day to consume them. Pre-workout? Post-workout? Is it okay to drink a protein shake before bed? Protein supplements can help people lose weight, build muscle, and recover from tissue damage due to injury or surgery. Because they’re so effective, most people want to be sure they’re utilizing protein the right way. So when is the best time to take protein? Short answer is: that depends on your health goals and the kinds of workouts you’re doing. For the longer answer and more detail, read on.

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

Protein is a source of energy for the body, essential for muscle growth, repairing damaged tissue, and preventing certain infections and diseases. Normal dietary protein comes from foods like meats, eggs, fish, dairy, grains, legumes, and seeds. Though animal products contain the most amount of protein, vegetables are sources of protein too, a fact well-known by those living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Of the most popular protein powders on the market in fact, a significant portion are plant-based.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • Soy protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Rice protein, which is lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
  • Pea protein, which has lower levels of the essential amino acid methionine and nonessential amino acid cysteine.
  • Hemp protein, which is low in lysine but high in fiber, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential, meaning your body can’t make them on its own, and needs to gain them from the foods you eat.

Dairy-based proteins include:

  • Whey protein, which is absorbed relatively quickly and contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein from milk curds, also containing the essential amino acids, and with a slower digestion rate than whey (which is why people often take casein before they sleep, so it will digest throughout the night… more on that timing below).

Animal-based proteins include:

  • Egg protein powder made from pure egg white protein.
  • Creatine, which is not found in plants but can be synthetically created. Though it is an animal protein, depending on its origin source, it may nevertheless be possible for vegans to use creatine as a supplement.

These are among the most commonly known protein powders available to buy, but we here at the Amino Co. have also developed an essential amino acid (EAA) blend that isn’t lacking or low on any of the amino acids required for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. It also blends free-form amino acids with whey protein and creatine, a nonessential protein that nevertheless has great value as a supplement. These forms of protein are used to help those who want to build muscle rapidly, and can even benefit those with muscle, neurological, or neuromuscular diseases.

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

From muscle building to weight loss, here’s a quick look at all that supplemental protein can do to benefit your body.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Added protein has been shown to increase endurance during training and workouts, as well as reduce soreness and speed up post-workout recovery. The timing of your protein intake matters here, whether you’re eating high-protein foods or taking supplements. Read on to learn about workout-specific timing recommendations.

Muscle Building

Muscles can only be built when you have the proper amount of amino acids for protein synthesis, and when you’re consuming more protein than your body breaks down during workouts. Taking a protein supplement, especially one that contains all the necessary EAAs for muscle growth, can make a huge difference. Finding the right anabolic window, the period of time when the protein you take in will go directly to your muscles, is something the International Society of Sports Nutrition has done extensive research on, and we, too, will provide specific scientific reasoning below.

Muscle Loss Prevention

Muscle mass is lost not only during intensive workouts, but also naturally as we age. Each decade you live after the age of 30 brings with it a higher risk of losing muscle (anywhere between 3-8% per decade). Proper protein intake is not only valuable to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who works out regularly, but it’s also important for each and every one of us as we age. Most Americans reserve their protein more for dinner than breakfast (3 times the amount on average is the difference between the two meals), and could use a supplemental boost of protein first thing in the morning to shore up their protein stores and help prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Fat Loss Facilitation

Protein is filling enough to help curb hunger pangs and chemically contributes to appetite suppression by reducing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. A high-protein diet raises your metabolism and increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). More satiety means fewer calories consumed throughout the day, which quickly leads to safe, maintainable weight loss and the reduction of dangerous body fat.

The Enduring Power of Protein

Popular because they’re convenient and effective, protein powders and supplements are here to stay and can offer you a wide variety of options, from self-mix formulas and powders to ready-to-drink protein shakes. If you’ve got your preferred protein supplement ready to go, then it’s time to wonder: when should you drink protein?

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

Depending on your goals and activities, there are recommended times to take protein for the greatest effectiveness for your energy levels and muscle-building needs. Here are specific recommendations based on different types of workout activity.

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout and post-workout

The amino acid leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it promotes muscle recovery after workouts. Not only that, it activates protein synthesis, prompting new muscle to be built. One might think that due to leucine’s ability to boost endurance and stamina, one should take a BCAA supplement before a workout, but the science contradicts that idea. Not only are BCAAs only three of the nine essential amino acids needed to construct new muscle, leucine and the other BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) experience oxidative degradation during aerobic activity.

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

Adding these limited amino acids before your workout, especially in the unbalanced form of BCAAs instead of a complete EAA formula, means that a greater percentage will be oxidized and used for energy instead of muscle building. Your body does not want to be out of balance, so a sudden overabundance of a few amino acids will cause the body to clean up and reduce them in order to maintain equilibrium.

Rather than risk burning off the protein you put in because your body is only looking for energy sources, it’s better to take a full measure of EAAs within the hour after your aerobic workout, when your body is looking for supplies to rebuild. Leucine will be there to prompt muscle protein synthesis, and the rest of the essential amino acids will all be included in the ideal ratio for generating new muscle growth.

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

That being said, taking a complete amino acid protein supplement before an aerobic cardiovascular workout (like a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class), not only provides the necessary ingredients for muscle building, but also helps fight fatigue in a way that only taking BCAAs can’t, by fueling your body with the amino acids that help produce dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, running stairs, or jumping rope, start by taking your EAA supplement 30 minutes before your workout session. The biggest benefit comes when you take your EAA supplement within an hour after your workout, when your blood flow is strong and active. Not only will the amino acids rush in to replace damaged muscle fibers with new muscle, EAAs can also help calm unnecessary inflammation. That will help quicken your recovery, allowing you to feel only the good side effects of working out, like increased energy and light euphoria, instead of soreness and fatigue.

Resistance Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout, during, and post-workout

Research has shown that EAAs given 30 minutes before a resistance exercise workout prompt muscle protein synthesis much more effectively than consuming EAAs afterwards does. Taking a protein supplement before this type of workout helps prevent the breakdown of muscle protein during the activity, and also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus getting the amino acids quickly into the muscle where they’re needed.

Consuming EAAs after a resistance workout is not harmful by any means, as that method, too, will prompt the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, but it’s not ideal to leave the consumption of EAAs until after your resistance training is complete. Our recommendation is to first and foremost take a complete protein supplement before a resistance workout, and if possible take them throughout and/or after as well to get the most benefit.

Bodybuilding

Best time to take protein: Pre- and post-workout, and also before bed.

Immediately before and after a weight-lifting workout, we recommend that you take 15 grams of EAAs each. An EAA supplement has been shown to have a faster effect on muscle protein synthesis than either whey or casein protein alone. However, our Amino Co. blend of free-form EAAs with whey and creatine support ensures that you get a fast dose of EAAs and that the EAAs from whey will digest more slowly as you work out, offering a steady supply to help prevent muscle breakdown. Creatine helps prevent catabolism by supplying faster energy than your body can naturally generate from muscle cell mitochondria. This means more energy for more reps, which ultimately means more work put in and more muscle gained.

An hour after your post-workout dose of EAAs, we recommend another 15-gram dose. On off days, continue taking these same doses, measured between meals instead of surrounding your workout. Lastly, it’s also recommended you take another 15-gram dose before bed to keep your muscles fed as you sleep and to help prevent muscle breakdown as much as possible. You work hard to gain your muscles, and we encourage you to protect those gains at every opportunity. Set your alarm to take one more dose around 4 am if you know you won’t have a problem falling back to sleep, that way your muscles never go hungry for fuel.

It should be noted here that bodybuilders aren’t the only ones who benefit from taking extra protein before bed. One study of 16 elderly men showed that those who consumed casein protein (which digests slowly) before bed had increased muscle growth over those who took a placebo, despite being less active individuals. When you’re sleeping, it’s the protein that counts, and not the activity.

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

The majority of scientific studies into how our bodies process high amounts of protein show that you can safely consume plenty of protein without risk of harmful side effects. Unless your doctor advises against protein supplements or you have a known kidney issue like rhabdomyolysis, there is no need to worry about excessive protein intake; merely take your products as recommended and spread them throughout your day.

Timing Is Everything

At the end of the day, it’s true that people who work out need more protein, but even those with a less active lifestyle benefit from consuming extra protein for strength, for maintaining healthy weight levels, and for preventing the loss of muscle mass we all experience as we age.

Make a protein shake for breakfast, have another to curb your appetite between meals, and make another as a beneficial treat before bed. Know that the more regularly you take in balanced forms of protein like Amino Co.’s complete EAA blend, the more good you can do for your body. Whether you’re working out or not, upping your daily protein intake is safe and smart. Bulk up, slim down, and stay strong with protein!

What are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

What is an amino acid functional group? This article will answer that question with information on amino acid classification and how proteins (and possibly all life on Earth) are formed.

What are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

So you’ve heard of amino acid functional groups and you want to understand them better. This article will help to clarify the structure of amino acids, their functional groups, and what it all has to do with the creation of protein.

Some Basic Reference Definitions

Below are the names of the 20 common amino acids in the body, nine of which are essential amino acids, meaning humans must eat or otherwise consume them to get what we need to function. The essential aminos are designated with an asterisk (*). There are their names, their three-letter codes, their one-letter codes (as used in drawing models of molecular bonds), plus their bond type and properties. Polar vs. nonpolar bond types refers to their covalent bonds. We will start with those definitions for the bond type category—get ready for some high school clique metaphors to help you visualize all this organic chemistry.

Covalent Bonds

Covalent bonds form the base of the chemical reactions between atoms of different elements. The bonds form in only one way: when an electron becomes shared by two elements. That creates the connection that then results in a new substance. Covalent bonds can exist as polar or nonpolar compounds, and all bonds that are polar or nonpolar in nature are by definition covalent.

To visualize: think of these bonds like the bonds of friendship. Two students (atoms) come close to one another and share their lunch (electrons). This sharing means there is a bond of friendship (the covalent bond). Whereas before they had been two separate elements, strangers, now a new substance has formed: a friendship.

Polar Bonds

Polar bonds are bonds where the electrons are not shared equally between two atoms. These types of bonds are what designates polar molecules from nonpolar ones. This occurs when the two atoms bonding are from two different elements; atoms from the same element do not form polar bonds.

Just as bigger planets can hold bigger moons in their orbits, so it is with atoms: they pull electrons to the best of their ability, but when they come into the orbit of a better puller (a bigger planet), that atom will pull more electrons into its orbit (and steal the lesser planet’s moons).

When two atoms of the same element meet, neither is stronger than the other, and thus neither one is more attractive than the other regarding electrons, and so neither side exhibits the polar pull, and the bond is considered nonpolar. The negative charge end of the bond is the more attractive atom, because it can draw more negative (-) electrons.

To put this back into the context of our high school friends, let’s say the two atoms meeting and bonding are a vivacious theater student and a more reserved math student. In sharing lunch, somehow the theater student always gets more to eat because the math student is so transfixed and feels the need to be overly generous. This is true whenever the theater student meets someone with less personal magnetism, which means the theater student gets an overabundance of food (electrons), which is negative because the increased calories may cause the theater student to gain weight, or get a bad complexion from eating too much processed lunch food. Eventually the theater student will fill up to the brim with extra food, and won’t be able to accept any more.

Nonpolar Bonds

A nonpolar bond is formed when two atoms from the same element meet and share electrons equally and evenly with one another. Neither atom is a better electron puller than the other, and so there is no one side more polar than the other.

In our friendship metaphor, this is a bond between two theater students, or two math students, who pool all of their lunch food together in the middle of the table, and pull from the pile equally and in unison.

Hydrophobic vs. Hydrophilic

For the properties category, hydrophobic and hydrophilic refer to molecules and their reactions to water. Molecules that repel water, or are phobic of hydration, are hydrophobic. The molecules that can form an ionic or hydrogen bond with a water molecule are hydrophilic, they have a philia for water, they like the feel of it.

If atoms are students once again, the hydrophilic ones are either on the swim team itself, or part of a group that likes to swim and heads out to the beach or the lake every weekend. The hydrophobic ones either can’t swim or simply do not like it. Hydrophobic students will tell you that their friends and the community pool go together like oil and water: they don’t mix.

Your Amino Acids: Names and Designations

Amino-acid name: Alanine Amino-acid name: Arginine
Three-letter code: Ala

One-letter code: A

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Arg

One-letter code: R

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Asparagine Amino-acid name: Aspartate
Three-letter code: Asn

One-letter code: N

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Asp

One-letter code: D

Bond type: Polar, negatively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Cysteine Amino-acid name: Glutamate
Three-letter code: Cys

One-letter code: C

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Glu

One-letter code: E

Bond type: Polar, negatively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Glutamine Amino-acid name: Glycine
Three-letter code: Gln

One-letter code: Q

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Gly

One-letter code: G

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Histidine* Amino-acid name: Isoleucine*
Three-letter code: His

One-letter code: H

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Ile

One-letter code: I

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Leucine* Amino-acid name: Lysine*
Three-letter code: Leu

One-letter code: L

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Lys

One-letter code: K

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Methionine* Amino-acid name: Phenylalanine
Three-letter code: Met

One-letter code: M

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Phe

One-letter code: F

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Proline Amino-acid name: Serine
Three-letter code: Pro

One-letter code: P

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Ser

One-letter code: S

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Threonine* Amino-acid name: Tryptophan*
Three-letter code: Thr

One-letter code: T

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Trp

One-letter code: W

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Tyrosine Amino-acid name: Valine*
Three-letter code: Tyr

One-letter code: Y

Bond type: Polar, no charge
Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Val

One-letter code: V

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

It’s a lot of information, to be sure, but it’s provided as a reference point to help facilitate the following explanations.

What Are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

Amino acids are all made up of groups of atoms, and the functional groups are the important ones in each amino, it’s what makes them different and unique, deciding whether the amino overall is polar or nonpolar, acidic or basic.

Each of the above standard 20 aminos have one hydrogen atom, and two groups attached to its alpha carbon atom: an amino or amine group (~NH3+) and a carboxyl group (~COOH). They are each then distinguished from other types of amino acids by their third attached functional group: side chains referred to as R groups. When you ask what are amino acid functional groups, here they are, with the R group being the one with the most diversity. When you think of R groups, think R for radical, as it’s the variable part that makes each amino acid different from the rest.

What is the amino acid functional group?

About R Groups

Of the 20 standard amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein:

  • 6 of them have hydrocarbon R groups
  • 7 of them have neutral R groups
  • 6 of them have acid or base R groups

The simplest of the amino acids is glycine, which has just one hydrogen atom in the position of the side chain group (no R group at all, just an attached loner).

Some Quite Interesting Relevant Facts

  • In chemistry, organic compounds are generally thought of as any chemical compound that contains carbon, which includes amino acids.
  • All amino acids are soluble in an aqueous solution (water), even the hydrophobic ones (counterintuitive but true).
  • All naturally occurring amino acids are in the L-form; L for levorotatory, referring to the way you’d turn the amino acid to read the order of its attached groups (the opposite of is dextrorotatory or D-form).
  • As you can see in the above list, 50% of the amino acids have nonpolar side chains. The other half is designated polar, five of which have side chains that are not only polar, but charged.
  • Because the carboxyl group is an acid, it can form peptide bonds with the base amino groups of other amino acids, causing chemical reactions that create polypeptide chains and amino acid residues.
  • When two amino acids react and form a peptide bond, and that process goes on to be repeated, many amino acids may string together, which forms a protein structure.
  • This protein synthesis (though a little more complicated than just linking acid to base over and over again like links of a chain) is among the most fundamental of biological processes, an invaluable component of every cell. Proteins make our nails and hair, protein builds and repairs our tissues, protein is needed to make our hormones, our enzymes, and many other chemicals in the human body.
  • In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted a simulation, to test a hypothesis about how life originally formed on Earth. They built a closed system that contained a heated pool of water under a mixture of gases that were thought to be present in the early atmosphere of Earth. They delivered an electric current to simulate lightning, and after a week analyzed the contents of the liquid pool. In there they discovered that several organic amino acids had spontaneously formed from inorganic raw materials. This leant support to the theory that the first life on Earth arose out of the primordial ooze through naturally occurring chemical reactions like a little flash of lightning.

Conclusion

The functional or R groups of amino acids are the groups that define the chemistry of proteins. They are the basis on which amino acids are classified, and according to the Miller-Urey experiment, possibly the start of all organic life on Earth. Not only is “What are amino acid functional groups?” a stimulating question to ask, but the answer to that question comes awfully close to revealing the true answers behind life, the universe, and…well…everything.

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

Wondering what muscle recovery foods are good for prevention and relief of delayed onset muscle soreness? This comprehensive list of foods full of healthy fats, amino acids, and natural sugars will support your workout and recovery goals.

After starting a new workout, you’re in for some growing pains. Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS can affect anyone, from those new to working out to elite athletes incorporating different exercises into their routines. Whenever you push your muscles, either with unfamiliar exercises or longer durations, you’re creating microscopic tears to the muscles, which then cause stiffness, soreness, and pain. Are sore muscles a good sign? Yes, in a sense, because it means you’re using your muscles in new ways that will eventually lead to a better fitness profile. But don’t fret! Eating muscle recovery foods can help ease the discomfort and may even help decrease muscle soreness in the first place.

Using food as your method of recovery and prevention may truly be the best road to take. The other suggestions to help muscle recovery either take extra time or come with other risks, and none of them can get in front of DOMS before it starts. Getting a massage after every workout would be great, but do you have the time, the money? Rest and ice packs are perfectly reasonable options too, but it’s the rest that might bother you if you’re really excited about a new workout and seeing results. Do you really want to take a couple of days off after every workout to let your muscles recover? It might not be a bad idea, but with the right foods pre- and post-workout, it might not be necessary either.

The last refuge to treat the ache and pain of muscle soreness is to use painkillers. Whether it’s over the counter fare you’d take for any pains (a wincing headache for example, or to relieve menstrual cramps), or prescription painkillers meant for more serious pains (a wrenched back or dental surgery). And these pain killers come with health-compromising side effects that are best avoided.

So what can you eat that will make a difference? Here are some foods you might want to include on the menu on gym days.

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

Whether for their protein content, iron content, anti-inflammatory properties, or amino acids, these foods can help your muscles heal faster.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has around 27 grams of protein per cup, and is often a regular food in the fitness community for those without any dietary restrictions surrounding milk products. In fact, the casein protein found in cottage cheese curds (as opposed to the whey protein found in watery milk) are often isolated and used as a workout protein supplement. As a slow-digesting protein, casein can help build and rebuild muscle while you sleep if it’s your last snack before bed.

The essential amino acid leucine is also present in cottage cheese, and comprises around 23% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein (the most abundant percentage of them all). Foods with leucine can help you build muscle by activating protein synthesis, and the faster you rebuild your muscle, the faster your muscle repair and workout recovery!

Eat it plain, or combine cottage cheese with some of the other recovery foods on this list to stack the benefits. Cottage cheese can even be used in baked goods and pancakes or included in protein shakes—don’t be afraid to get creative.

Sweet Potatoes

Adding sweet potatoes to your post-workout meal can help replenish your glycogen stores after a tough workout. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta-carotene as well, and are loaded with fiber which helps to control appetite and maintain healthy digestion and build muscle.

Sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or on a grill, cut into fries, spiced with cinnamon, or made savory with garlic powder and pepper. Enjoy them at the dinner table or on the go: a baked potato wrapped in foil can join you just about anywhere.

Baking Spices

Speaking of what you can put on sweet potatoes, it turns out some baking spices are good for post-workout recovery as well. Not so much in the form of gingerbread cookies or cinnamon rolls, but a study showed that cinnamon or ginger given to 60 trained young women (between the ages of 13 and 25) significantly reduced their muscle soreness post-exercise. If you’re already having a sweet potato, make it a little sweeter with some cinnamon, add it to oatmeal, or put some in your coffee for the extra boost.

Coffee

Did we just mention coffee? Good news: coffee’s on the list too. Research suggests that about 2 cups of caffeinated coffee can reduce post-workout pain by 48%, and another study showed that pairing caffeine with painkilling pharmaceuticals resulted in a 40% reduction of the drugs taken. If you do need pharmaceutical pain relief, maybe coffee can help you minimize just how much you take—caffeine is a much less dangerous stimulant than pain pills.

Turmeric

Another spice on the list, turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and has been shown to be a proven and reliable pain reliever. Whether it’s helping you with delayed onset muscle soreness or pain from an injury (workout-related or otherwise), turmeric eases both pain and swelling by blocking chemical pain messengers and pro-inflammatory enzymes.

As with the other spices, it can be easily added to baked goods, to coffee, and to oatmeal. With its beautiful golden color, you can even make what’s called “golden milk” or a turmeric latte by combining 2 cups of warm cow’s or almond milk with 1 teaspoon of turmeric and another teaspoon of ginger, and then sip your muscle soreness away.

Oatmeal

Speaking of oatmeal (and isn’t it nice that so many of these ingredients can be easily combined?), it, too, can help relieve muscle soreness. This complex carb gives you a slow and steady release of sugar, along with iron needed to carry oxygen through your blood, and vitamin B1 (thiamin), which can reduce stress and improve alertness. This is why oatmeal is a great way to start the day, but since it also includes selenium, a mineral that protects cells from free-radical damage and lowers the potential for joint inflammation, it’s a great food for those in high-intensity workout training as well (like, up to Olympic level training).

Use oatmeal as a daily vehicle for other healthy ingredients, including the spices on this list, and enjoy its reliable benefits.

Bananas

Easily sliced into oatmeal, included in smoothies, or eaten alone, not only are bananas a healthy way to replace sweets (frozen and blended they can even make a delicious ice cream alternative), bananas are also a great way to get much-needed potassium. Research suggests potassium helps reduce muscle soreness and muscle cramps like the dreaded “Charley horse” spasm that contracts your muscle against your will and might not let up until it causes enough damage to last for days. A banana a day could keep the Charley horse away, and is particularly delicious (and helpful) when paired with its classic mate: peanut butter.

Peanut Butter

The healthy fats and protein found in nut butters like peanut or almond butter can help repair sore muscles. A reliable source of protein for muscle building, with fiber for blood pressure aid, vitamin E for antioxidant properties, and phytosterols for heart health, peanut butter offers up a ton of benefit and is easy to eat anywhere. Make a sandwich, use it to help bind together portable protein balls filled with other ingredients, add it into smoothies, or just eat it from the jar with a spoon (no one’s judging).

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a fan of protein balls, then you’re well acquainted with nuts and seeds, which are great additions to these protein-rich foods. While providing essential omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation, various nuts and seeds can provide you protein for muscle protein synthesis, electrolytes for hydration, and zinc for an immune system boost. Something as simple as a baggie full of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, and cashews can help maximize your muscles. Mixing in seeds (sunflower, chia, pumpkin) adds a healthy density that can curb your hunger and satisfy your appetite for longer. They’re small but powerful assets in quick muscle recovery.

Manuka Honey

This is not your grocery store honey in its little bear- or hive-shaped bottle. Manuka honey comes from the Manuka bush in New Zealand, with a milder flavor than that of bee honey and a much thicker texture. It’s anti-inflammatory and rich in the carbs needed to replenish glycogen stores and deliver protein to your muscles. Drizzle it over yogurt or stir it into tea to gain its benefits.

Green Tea

Green tea is particularly helpful for muscle recovery purposes. With anti-inflammatory antioxidants, it makes an excellent pre- or post-workout drink to prevent muscle damage related to exercise, and also helps you stay hydrated.

Cacao

Cacao has high levels of magnesium, antioxidants, and B-vitamins, which reduce exercise stress, balance electrolytes, and boost immunity and energy levels. The antioxidant flavanols in cacao also help up the production of nitric oxide in your body, which allows your blood vessel walls to relax, lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy blood flow. Adding cacao powder to your high-quality protein shakes or a glass of cow/almond/coconut milk post-workout will bring you its benefits.

Tart Cherries

Tart cherry juice has been shown to minimize post-run muscle pain, reduce muscle damage, and improve recovery time in professional athletes like lifters, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Enjoy tart cherry juice as a drink, or include the dried fruit as a part of your own muscle-building trail mix with the nuts and seeds discussed above. It’s not the only fruit or fruit juice you might include either. The nutrients in fruits like oranges, pineapples, and raspberries can also help speed up your recovery.

Salmon

Rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, muscle-building protein, and antioxidants, salmon is an extremely efficient post-workout food. Not an option if you are vegan or vegetarian, of course, but for the meat eaters among us, or those on the Paleo diet, salmon can specifically help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and provide you with an abundance of the protein needed for muscle growth. Eat this protein within 45 minutes after working out for maximum effect, either grilled, cooked up in salmon cakes, or raw in the form of sushi or sashimi. All of the above goes for tuna as well, by the way—reasons you might become a pescatarian.

Eggs

If you are an omnivore or ovo-vegetarian, eggs are great way to gain protein first thing in the morning, and an even more effective food to have immediately post-workout to help prevent DOMS. Like cottage cheese, eggs are a rich provider of leucine, and like salmon, eggs contain vitamin D (in their yolks). For your convenience, eggs can be boiled and brought along for immediate consumption after your training. Boil a dozen at the start of each week during your meal prep, and have an easy protein source in the palm of your hand every other day of the week.

Spinach

Did we really get all the way to the end of the list without a vegetable? So sorry! Let’s fix that with spinach. A powerhouse of antioxidants, not only can spinach help prevent diseases like heart disease and various cancers, but it also helps you recover quickly from intense exercise. Spinach’s nitrates help to strengthen your muscles, and its magnesium content helps maintain nerve function. Spinach helps to regulate your blood sugar (in case you worry about the spikes you might get from the sweeter items on this list), and can be added to many dinners, snuck into smoothies, or eaten on its own either raw or sautéed in olive oil.

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

These foods help with recovery from DOMS and reduce the amount of soreness you get in the first place by providing your body with the proteins and nutrients it craves when you’re working out to the best of your ability.

A quick note before you go. In your quest for pain-free muscles, you’ll want to avoid:

  • Refined sugar: Just one sugary soda a day can increase your inflammatory markers, as can white bread and other products with refined sugar. Natural sugars don’t bring that kind of adverse effect, so get your sugar from whole foods instead.
  • Alcohol: The dehydration caused by alcohol requires its own special recovery, and will deplete many of your vitamins (especially B vitamins). Some research suggests that alcohol can interfere with how your body breaks down lactic acid, which would increase muscle soreness. If you’re on a mission to build muscle, it’s best to avoid alcohol.

If you’re eating pretty well and avoiding what you shouldn’t eat, but still find muscle soreness a burden after working out, there is always the option to supplement.

What is the best supplement for muscle recovery? Evidence shows that getting all your body’s essential amino acids in balance will help specifically with muscle sprains and pulls, so when supplementing, just make sure you cover the waterfront (rather than choosing one or two essentials and neglecting the rest). Other than that, a diverse diet can be had in choosing natural preventions and remedies for healthy muscle recovery.

Foods That Are High in Arginine

Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Explore its many functions, as well as which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine (also called L-arginine) is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in our bodies. Essential amino acids must come from our food sources or from ingesting a supplement, but conditionally or semi-essential amino acids are on the edge. Arginine, for example, is essential during our early years of childhood growth, but is usually nonessential in normally functioning healthy adults. However, because arginine is so valuable for so many processes in the body, foods high in arginine can help shore up your stores, and may be even more important in certain medical circumstances.

This article will explore what arginine does in the human body, who could use more of it, and which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine: Its Role in the Body

Here are some of the health benefits that might result from an extra intake of arginine. Research is still being conducted on this amino acid and how supplementing or concentrating it might help treat certain conditions, and so far the results look promising.

Blood and Heart Health

Arginine supplements are used to treat conditions such as excessive inflammation and chronic migraines. Arginine creates nitric oxide, which relaxes our blood vessels, improves blood flow, and therefore brings cardiovascular aid for certain people and conditions. For example, those with peripheral arterial disease, angina, heart disease, and even erectile dysfunction can find benefit from increased arginine. Arginine is also associated with shortening post-surgery recovery time and helps heal injuries.

The Immune System

Studies are beginning to show arginine’s immune-boosting effects, particularly with modulating some symptoms of herpes (flare-ups) and HIV (excessive weight loss), and there have even been correlations shown between low circulating arginine and cases of trauma and cancer. Though more research is needed, it’s a valuable discovery to know that arginine is often missing when the body is experiencing traumatic events.

Kidney Functioning

Not only is arginine helpful in assisting kidney function after transplantation, but it also appears to reduce kidney inflammation. Arginine is often studied in relation to kidney functioning to try to isolate which conditions it helps best and whether or not there’s any potential harm from enhanced levels of arginine. As a natural player on the body’s chemical stage, it’s a particularly safe facet to explore.

The Research Continues

Arginine has been studied in the contexts of helping diabetes, obesity, male fertility, hypertension, dementia, and cancer, and the research goes on still. Scientists and doctors work to pinpoint the best application of arginine treatment and to better define its powers of influence. As a naturally created amino acid that helps us grow and keeps our bodies functioning, it’s a promising reserve for testing.

Foods High in Arginine

Short of supplementation, you can always get arginine from certain natural food sources. So which foods are arginine foods, and are they easy to incorporate in your diet? Short answer to that last question: yes, these arginine-rich foods will be easy to find and to eat (you’ve surely tried a few if not all of them already). As for which foods you should eat more of if you want to up your arginine content? Take a look at the list of foods below and start thinking about which ones you’d like to incorporate into your diet as well as your dietary intake.

Foods high in the amino acid arginine.

Turkey

Since arginine is derived in the body from protein, any high-protein food will help, but turkey breast in particular has such a substantial amount of arginine that it’s considered the best source around. With a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins to boot, one cooked turkey breast provides 16 grams of arginine.

Sunflower Seeds

Seeds and nuts have a fair amount of arginine, with sunflower and sesame seeds both contributing 2.4 grams of arginine per 100 grams of seeds. While they’re a tad low in arginine, they definitely make up in balance by providing a high amount of the essential amino acid lysine along with your arginine intake, so you don’t run the risk of overbalancing. Lysine helps absorb any excess of arginine, and will act as a check on keeping your amount of arginine within its optimal healthy levels.

Pork Loin

Another high-protein food, and with it comes another high contribution to your arginine content. Pork loin is one of the leaner cuts of pork you can get, so you’re not sacrificing one aspect of your health to favor another (balance is always key). Pork loin has 14 grams of arginine per rib, just second under the above-listed turkey breast.

Pumpkin Seeds

What did we say above about seeds, that some aren’t that impressive in the arginine department? Well, here’s an even better option then: a cup of pumpkin seeds can give you nearly 7 grams of arginine, as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Pumpkin seeds are easy to snack on and a great arginine-rich food for vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat animal products. Plus, they’re trail-mix-worthy and can be flavored sweet or salty depending on your taste.

Chicken

Chicken is a staple of a diet rich in protein and low in fat. One chicken breast can contain up to 9 grams of arginine and can be combined easily with other potent sources of vitamins and minerals like beans and vegetables in meals and stews.

Chickpeas

Another kind of chick, this time chickpeas, or as they’re also known, garbanzo beans, offer up fiber and protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat). A single cooked cup of chickpeas has at least 12 grams of fiber, over 14 grams of protein, and 1.3 grams of arginine. Enjoy it as hummus and know that it’s providing you with that little boost of arginine you’re looking for.

Peanuts

With vitamin E, vitamin B3, niacin, and folate, a cup of peanuts also gives you over 4 grams of arginine. Pine nuts, too, contain over 3 grams of arginine per cup, and a good helping of mixed nuts will almost certainly give you a fair amount of arginine, as there are levels of arginine in almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans. Go nuts with nuts if you’re looking for foods high in arginine. Be squirrelly with them!

Soybeans

Another great protein and arginine source for non-meat eaters, soybeans and other soy products like tofu and tempeh provide potassium and magnesium. Soybeans specifically come with 4.6 grams of arginine per cup, and soybeans are also loaded with lysine for help balancing arginine.

Spirulina

Derived from a seawater blue-green algae, spirulina can be purchased in powdered form and added for its nutrients to smoothies and other foods. A cup of spirulina contains 4.6 grams of arginine, as well as iron, niacin, calcium, and potassium. You’ll probably use spirulina sparingly, but when you do know that it brings you that much more arginine along with its other nutrients.

Lentils

Another great vegetarian/vegan source of protein and fiber, arginine can be found in lentils up to 1.3 grams per cup, with lysine again to pack a double punch of amino acid intake. Lentils also pair excellently with the meats on this list for the carnivores who are interested—there’s an arginine-rich meal in the making here.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are sources of protein and thus arginine too. Just 4 ounces of cheddar cheese has a small amount of arginine, 0.25 grams, and a cup of milk has 0.2 grams, just a little bit more arginine for your effort. Some good news: if your dairy is coming in the form of ice cream, chocolate syrup has 0.9 grams of arginine per 100 grams, so add a little of it on top, or have some chocolate milk while you’re at it, and know that you’re getting some arginine there too.

Watermelon Seeds

We’ve saved the most curious for last: though most of us spit out or avoid the seeds in our watermelons, they contain over 5 grams of arginine per cup, so feel free to swallow them knowing they’re doing you no harm and also bringing you a little bit good—you can’t lose!

Arginine Foods and You

The value of gaining more arginine from foods is that it’s as natural as the healthy production of arginine within us. Not only is arginine deficiency blessedly low due to its levels in our food, but if you’re gaining a bit more of it through dietary intake, you’re not very likely to get too much of it either. With evidence showing arginine helps blood flow and heart health along with the immune response to cancer, it’s a natural amino acid to value and desire.

However: do remember that if you’re looking for even more arginine in supplement form (as with any sort of dietary supplement), it’s important not to go overboard. Too much of any one vitamin, mineral, or amino acid might have the unwanted effect of overtaxing a specific part of the body. Whether it’s by causing an excessive clean-up in the liver or kidneys, or overwhelming the other chemicals in the body that your chosen one works in concert with, you don’t want to throw yourself off kilter.

Look into well-rounded multivitamins or comprehensive essential amino acid blends that offer a measured balance of your body’s needs. Extremely high levels of arginine are no more desirable than low levels of arginine. Instead, what’s important is to have a healthy arginine ratio in the body that will meet your needs but not overwhelm your system. Eat well, supplement well, and prosper!

9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief

Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Looking for back pain relief? Here are some natural remedies that can help get the pain off your back.

Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Our backs are a delicate and complex structure of muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones. Back pain can be caused by a wide range of injuries, dehydration, inflammation, and certain underlying health conditions, and back pain relief can be difficult to come by.

Be it acute or chronic, back pain causes a reduction in physical activity, lost productivity at work, and overall poor quality of life scores according to a study published in the journal European Spine. 

Low back pain is incredibly common, not only in the United States but also globally. In fact, according to findings from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Fortunately, there are effective natural pain management remedies that can help you enjoy life to the fullest.

Are You at Risk for Back Pain?

Nearly everyone will experience some type of back pain over the course of a year. According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2016 report, during 2012 more than 125 million adults in the United States had a musculoskeletal pain disorder. This staggering figure accounts for more than 50% of the U.S. adult population.

It must be noted that musculoskeletal pain is classified as pain related to nerves, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones, not just in the back. The Cleveland Clinic also puts fibromyalgia, arthritic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome in the same category.

In the general population, researchers report the lifetime prevalence of back pain high at 85%. This surprising statistic comes from a comprehensive review conducted by researchers from the Department of Sports Medicine and Sports Nutrition in Germany.

This same review also found that in athletes, the lifetime prevalence can be as high as 94%, and it identifies rowing and cross-country skiing as sports with the greatest risk.

Of course, there are also risk factors for chronic pain conditions, such as occupations that increase your likelihood of suffering an injury to the back muscles or sustaining muscle pain. In a review of the National Health Interview Survey completed by the National Institutes of Health, the following occupations have the highest rate of low back pain—attributed directly to the job:

  • Construction and Extraction: 11.22%
  • Healthcare Practitioners and Healthcare Support: 10.61%
  • Personal Care and Service: 8.27%
  • Transportation and Moving: 7.74%

Your risk for developing back pain increases according to a cross-sectional study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases if you:

  • Are obese
  • Smoke
  • Are inactive
  • Have family members with chronic back pain

Types of Back Pain

Back pain can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute back pain can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, and generally does not require traditional medical intervention. However, when back pain persists or worsens for 12 weeks or longer, the pain is considered chronic, and a consultation with your health care provider is advised.

Pain in the back can present in the:

  • Lower back
  • Middle back
  • Upper back
  • Neck and shoulders
  • Glutes

Back pain can be described as:

  • Nagging
  • Radiating
  • Throbbing
  • Pinching
  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

Keeping a journal of your pain can help you find a successful treatment. Take note of the type of pain, severity, when it occurs and for how long, the location of the pain, and what you were doing when it occurred. These details can help your wellness team identify the best course of action to relieve your back pain naturally.

Common Causes of Back Pain

According to Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care, there is a wide range of injuries and medical conditions that can cause back pain. Their list includes:

Muscle injuries and muscle strains Vertebral fractures Pregnancy
Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal Scoliosis Obesity
Degenerative disc disease Tumors Anxiety
Pinched or compressed nerves Osteoporosis Smoking
Lack of physical activity Aging

The Center for Comprehensive Spine Care makes a special effort to identify the symptoms of thoracic back pain. This type of back pain occurs in the upper back and it may indicate a serious or even potentially life-threatening underlying condition. If you experience upper back pain and any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Deformity of the spine
  • Nerve pain in the lower body
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs or lower body
  • Severe stiffness
  • Severe constant pain
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief

1. Fish Oil (2,000 milligrams a day)

Omega-3 fatty acids make an essential contribution according to the Harvard T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health. Omega-3s cannot be produced in the body; they must be consumed. The richest sources are coldwater fish, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Every healthy diet should include a variety of foods with these essential fats to reap their health benefits. However, when you are experiencing back pain, taking a high-quality supplement of 2,000 milligrams a day may be advised. In a landmark study conducted by the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center, fish oil was shown to be as effective and safer than NSAIDs in relieving back pain.

While omega 3s are well-tolerated in food, check with your doctor prior to taking a fish oil supplement if you have type 2 diabetes, take blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder or a shellfish allergy.

2. Turmeric (1,000 milligrams a day)

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that fights inflammation and reduces pain, is one of the most effective natural compounds in the world. Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Experimental Therapeutics conducted a clinical trial that found that natural compounds including curcumin are more effective than aspirin or ibuprofen.

Curcumin’s health benefits extend beyond its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, in a systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers state curcumin is safe in doses up to 2500 milligrams a day and can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. Current clinical trials are focusing on curcumin’s ability to prevent cancer, fight cancer, and even make traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy more effective.

Incorporating turmeric into your diet is easy. The small orange root is now readily available in most grocery stores. Just look for it near the fresh ginger. But please note, when using fresh or powdered turmeric, to get its full benefit, it must be combined with black pepper. Piperine, an essential compound in black pepper, makes it easier for the body to absorb curcumin.

Turmeric is easy to incorporate into salad dressings, stews and soups, and rice dishes for daily enjoyment. When you feel you need an extra boost of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory powers, sip on a turmeric latte. This delightful warm drink can be made with ingredients in your pantry—just don’t forget to add the black pepper!

3. D-Phenylalanine (1,500 milligrams a day, for several weeks)

D-Phenylalanine, or DPA, is one of the essential amino acids that is recognized for its power to reduce low back pain according to University of Michigan’s, Michigan Medicine. They report DPA decreases pain and can inhibit chronic pain in some cases. There are currently 48 clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of phenylalanine on conditions like cystic fibrosis and PKU, as well as the levels needed for wellness.

To learn more about taking phenylalanine for back pain, check out this article.

4. L-Tryptophan (2-6 grams a day)

Tryptophan, most commonly associated with turkey “comas” on Thanksgiving, is another of the essential amino acids that can help when you are experiencing upper back pain, middle back pain, or lower back pain. Tryptophan plays a critical role in back pain relief by helping to repair muscle tissue that has been damaged. Additional tryptophan benefits include reducing anxiety and depression.

An important note about amino acid supplements: The balance of amino acids in your blood is a delicate one. Because certain amino acids hitch a ride on the same transporter for entry into the brain, increasing levels of one without increasing levels of the other can restrict access and adversely affect mind and mood. For this reason, it’s recommended to supplement with a complete essential amino acid blend formulated with an ideal ratio of aminos.

5. Collagen (2-5 grams a day)

A vital protein, and the most abundant in the human body, collagen is the substance that gives our skin, hair, ligaments, and tendons the fuel they need. If your joints creak or pop, you may not have enough collagen “greasing the wheel” between your joints. And that can increase the risk for joint deterioration that can cause arthritis and chronic back pain.

Collagen is recognized for improving skin health, hair health, IBS symptoms, cellulite, and muscle mass, and has even garnered a reputation as an effective treatment for joint disorders and osteoarthritis according to researchers from the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine. This study specifically points to the efficacy of collagen hydrolysate.

Think of collagen hydrolysate as gelatin. It is rich in amino acids, but it has been processed fairly extensively to make the proteins smaller and more easily absorbed. Seek a high-quality supplement from a reputable company to add to your diet. While generally considered safe, some mild side effects have been reported with collagen supplements, namely digestive upset and heartburn.

6. Acupuncture

A popular and time-tested holistic technique, acupuncture has been shown to improve chronic back pain. In a large-scale clinical trial, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture for back and neck pain, arthritis pain, chronic headaches, and shoulder pain. The researchers determined that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain and verified that acupuncture has more than a placebo effect.

7. Massage

Massage is known for relieving stress, anxiety, pain, and a variety of other health conditions. Professional athletes often turn to massage after a tough workout or game to help relieve sore or strained muscles. Massage therapists can target specific muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues that are causing back pain.

There are a number of massage modalities, with some dating back to ancient China. Depending on the root cause of the back pain, a licensed and experienced massage therapist might recommend a deep tissue, sports, soft tissue, or Shiatsu massage. Massage is believed to relieve low back pain by improving circulation, releasing tension, increasing endorphin levels, and improving range of motion. Understand that it may take multiple sessions to accomplish relief.

8. Capsaicin Cream

Made from the compound found in cayenne and other hot peppers that cause the burning sensation and taste, capsaicin promotes pain relief, particularly for back pain, according to a study published in the journal Molecules. Available both over-the-counter and by prescription, a topical capsaicin cream can provide immediate back pain relief.

It is important to purchase a high-quality product and apply it as directed on the packaging. In itself, capsaicin can create pain, but it can also relieve the discomfort and pain caused by soft tissue injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and muscle pulls or strains. Researchers believe that the heat generated by the capsaicin works by activating pain receptors that cause the brain to release pain-fighting hormones.

9. DIY Pain Relief Rub

Beyond using heating pads to soothe muscle tension and back pain, you can whip up a quick DIY pain relief rub. For a quick DIY topical back pain reliever (that smells great too!) use the recipe below. This home remedy is perfect for relieving lower back pain after a hard workout or pulling weeds. When applied, it provides a cooling, yet invigorating effect because of the menthol in the peppermint oil.

DIY Pain Relief Rub

  • 5-7 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 5-7 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5-7 drops marjoram essential oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil or jojoba oil

Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Massage into sore muscles and joints daily, or as needed.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

6 Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Back Pain

1. Exercise Regularly

The more you move, the better. Regular exercise is important for keeping your strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health at their pinnacle. Low-impact exercise like walking, riding a bike, and swimming are good options when you have back pain.

In addition to weight management, regular exercise has been shown to help:

Aim for 180 minutes each week, or 30 minutes a day, of moderate, low-impact exercise to relieve back pain and discomfort. The other health benefits will help to prevent additional injury and improve cardiovascular function.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

2. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least 8 ounces of pure water for every 10 pounds of body weight to stay properly hydrated. When you are dehydrated, the natural lubrication in your spinal discs is depleted and can result in backaches and fatigue.

Kidney stones and urinary tract infections are more worrisome side effects of dehydration and can both cause back pain. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it is vital to drink enough water during workouts and periods of hot weather as prolonged or frequent dehydration can cause kidney damage.

3. Lift Heavy Items Properly

Avoiding back injury is the best way to prevent back pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is important to use proper lifting techniques to avoid back pain. The Mayo Clinic recommends:

  • Starting in a safe position
  • Maintaining the natural curve of your spine
  • Using your legs to lift the weight
  • Squatting instead of kneeling
  • Avoiding twisting

4. Practice Pilates

Joseph Pilates developed this practice of stretching and body conditioning while interned during World War I. The reformer, which is widely used in Pilates studios today, is modeled after the first equipment he developed in the internment camp using bunk beds, springs, and ropes.

Pilates is focused on increasing core strength and creating long fluid muscle groups. This practice can help prevent injuries to the back and provide back pain relief. If you do have back pain, medical research shows that a regular Pilates practice is a great way to strengthen your core to prevent low back pain. In the just-released results of a randomized controlled trial, 12 weeks of Pilates practice improved chronic back pain.

Most metropolitan areas have established Pilates studios where experienced instructors and reformers are available. If a studio is not available in your area, Pilates equipment, including reformers, are available for home use.

5. Tai Chi

This ancient martial art has been practiced for thousands of years. It is characterized by slow, precise, and controlled movements—a very different discipline than other martial arts that focus on explosive power. Tai chi epitomizes the mind-body connection, as every fiber of your being must be engaged for best practice.

According to Harvard Medical School, the health benefits of tai chi include aerobic conditioning, improved flexibility and balance, better muscle strength and muscle response, and a reduction in falls. Tai chi can be practiced by virtually anyone, in any health condition. It involves low-impact and slow-motion isolating muscle groups responsible for core strength, balance, and confidence.

6. Yoga

Millions of Americans practice a form of yoga. This practice combines deep relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and strength-training postures that are mixed together in balance to create a discipline known for reducing pain and improving balance, flexibility, and strength.

According to Harvard Medical School, yoga’s proven health benefits include:

  • Reducing your risk of heart disease
  • Relieving migraines
  • Fighting osteoporosis
  • Alleviating the pain of fibromyalgia
  • Easing multiple sclerosis symptoms
  • Increasing blood vessel flexibility (69%!)
  • Shrinking arterial blockages

Regular yoga practice can help you prevent injury and back pain. And, if you have low back pain, a systematic review and meta-analysis focusing on the effectiveness of yoga and back pain showed that yoga is effective for both short-term and long-term relief of chronic low back pain.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

Precautions

As mentioned above, back pain accompanied by certain other symptoms can be a sign of serious underlying health conditions. If you experience back pain and any of the following symptoms, please consult with your physician immediately:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling in any part of the body
  • Deformity of the spine
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Extreme stiffness
  • Severe constant pain
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

Back pain symptoms tend to recur, with studies showing a recurrence rate of somewhere between 24% and 80%. To protect against future episodes of back pain, learn to lift heavy items properly and build your core strength to reduce your risk of injury.

At the End of the Day

Back pain is costly. It affects productivity at work, health care costs, and most importantly your quality of life. Whether acute or chronic, when you are in pain, the only thing you can focus on is effective back pain relief. Whether it strikes as lower back pain, middle back pain, or as neck and shoulder pain, pain is pain and finding the natural back pain remedy to ease your pain and speed up the healing process is essential.

Once the root cause of your back pain is determined, natural lower back pain remedies and upper back pain remedies are available. The key is finding the combination of treatments that work for you. Whether it is a high-quality amino acid supplement, a DIY essential oil rub, yoga, or Pilates, you can improve your quality of life and relieve your discomfort.