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.

What You Should Know About Lysine Supplementation

Lysine is an essential amino acid required for protein synthesis, collagen development, proper cell function, and tissue repair. But your body cannot make it on its own. You have to get it from the foods you eat or the supplements you take. Lysine supplementation, however, comes with its own set of best practices.

L-lysine, the form of lysine used by the body—usually referred to as simply lysine—is one of nine essential amino acids. This indispensable amino acid is required for protein synthesis, collagen development, proper cell function, and tissue repair. But like the other essential amino acids, your body can’t make it on its own. You have to get it from the foods you eat or the supplements you take. If you’re interested in lysine supplementation, however, you should know that it comes with its own set of best practices.

But before we get into those, let’s first talk about lysine deficiency and what may lead to a lysine-deficient diet.

Lysine Deficiency

In developed countries, such as the United States, lysine is an abundant nutrient in the majority of people’s diets, where it can be found in a variety of food sources, including:

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

However, in poor countries, where cereals are relied upon heavily for nutrition, lysine is the most limiting amino acid.

What is a limiting amino acid, you ask?

Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein, as they create all the different proteins in our bodies by linking together in long chains. However, if any single essential amino acid is in short supply, protein synthesis will stop as soon as its supply is exhausted. The amino acid in shortest supply during protein synthesis is therefore known as the limiting amino acid.

Because the majority of cereal grains are lysine deficient, lysine becomes the limiting amino acid. And the people who rely on these grains as their main source of food are deficient in this essential amino acid as well.

Based on animal studies, every cereal grain that’s been studied contains an insufficient amount of lysine. Lysine is also the most limiting amino acid in pig feed and falls just behind methionine as the second most limiting amino acid in avian diets.

In fact, over 90% of the lysine produced is used to supplement animal diets. In 2005, 200,000 metric tons of lysine was used in the United States alone to supplement animal feed.

Why do I mention this in an article about lysine supplementation presumably aimed at humans?

It’s merely to make the point that lysine is most likely the most studied amino acid in animal nutrition, yet has received far less attention for its role in human nutrition.

Still, let’s explore what we know thus far.

What Are the Symptoms of Lysine Deficiency?

Symptoms of a lysine deficiency may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Broken skin
  • Fragile nails
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss

While lysine is supplied by many animal proteins (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products), it’s typically the limiting amino acid in plant proteins. Therefore, vegetarians, and especially vegans, must be diligent in choosing appropriate proteins or taking an essential amino acid supplement to ensure adequate lysine intake.

Lysine supplementation

Lysine and Muscle Protein

Lysine is an important component of muscle tissue. In fact, it’s the second most abundant essential amino acid in human muscle protein.

Even so, lysine does not play a significant role in either molecular signaling (the communication between cells) or protein synthesis (the process of building new proteins) and is only effective in stimulating the synthesis of new muscle protein when it’s included in a mixture of all the other essential amino acids.

Muscle protein is comprised of 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are essential amino acids. However, to build new muscle protein, each of these amino acids must be available to muscle cells in a proportion that roughly matches their own individual contribution to the muscle protein amino acid profile. Lysine, however, is a bit of an outlier.

For maximal effectiveness in stimulating muscle protein synthesis, an essential amino acid formulation must contain more lysine than the amount of lysine found in muscle protein. This is because some dietary lysine may be altered during digestion, rendering it useless.

Also, once lysine is in the blood, it’s transported into muscle tissue very slowly. Therefore, it’s necessary to consume higher levels of lysine to achieve an optimal balance of essential amino acids inside muscle cells.

Lysine and the Immune System

In addition to its important role as a component of muscle protein, lysine is a key player in the immune system. For example, lysine is involved in the development of antibodies and has important antiviral properties.

As a nutritional supplement, lysine has also been found to be active against certain viruses, including herpes simplex viruses.

In fact, a study published in the journal Dermatologica found that a treatment group given L-lysine monohydrochloride (1,000 milligrams 3 times a day for 6 months) had an average of 2.4 fewer infections, and their symptoms were significantly less severe and healing time significantly reduced.

The important role of lysine in immunity to infections is particularly evident when the diet is deficient in this essential amino acid.

A diet deficient in lysine not only impairs immune function but also increases the susceptibility of both animals and humans to infectious disease. Therefore, people whose diets are especially deficient in good sources of lysine, especially vegans and those from countries that rely on cereal grains, would benefit from lysine supplementation.

Those with diets that are deficient in either protein sources or amino acids in general also need to be aware of the possibility of impaired immune function. However, for these people, care must be taken when supplementing with any individual amino acid—including lysine—to support immune function.

The reason for this is that the various amino acids involved in immune function are intricately related. Of the immune system’s major amino acid players, arginine, glutamine, and cysteine are considered the most crucial for proper immune function. But lysine competes with them for transport.

In other words, an excess of lysine relative to other key amino acids may actually impair immune function. Maintaining a normal balance of amino acids in the blood is therefore critical for optimal immune system function.

Lysine and the Maillard Reaction

When you think about the amount of lysine you’re getting in your diet, you need to be aware of one other caveat: the Maillard reaction.

The Maillard reaction refers to a chemical reaction that takes place between amino acids and sugars. In fact, it’s the process that gives browned food its complex flavor (think dark coffee, toasted bread, and charred meat).

Most protein foods that have been processed in a factory are heat treated. This facilitates the formation of Maillard reactions, and these reactions are accelerated at higher temperatures.

Lysine is particularly susceptible to Maillard reactions because it possesses a reactive amino group (every amino acid is made up of one amino group and one carboxyl group) at the end of its side chain (the shorter chain of atoms attached to the main chain, or backbone, of the molecule).

Maillard products can make lysine nutritionally unavailable. By contrast, free lysine (lysine that isn’t bound to other amino acids in a protein string), either alone or in a balanced essential amino acid formulation, is not subject to Maillard reactions.

Additional Benefits of Lysine Supplementation

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, a variety of other health benefits have been attributed to lysine.

Cancer Treatment

In one study, researchers found that a combination of lysine, proline, green tea extract, and vitamin C displayed an anti-tumor effect against pancreatic cancer cells.

Reduced Anxiety

Another study found that lysine was effective in reducing stress-induced anxiety and its associated diarrhea.

Improved Bone Health

Lysine supplementation was found in one study to improve intestinal calcium absorption. Studies have also found that taking lysine and L-arginine together can make bone-building cells more active and increase the production of collagen.

Lysine also works in conjunction with vitamin D to help support the assimilation of calcium and strengthen bones. For those suffering from osteoporosis, higher amounts of calcium in the body may improve bone strength and help prevent fractures.

Reduced Complications from Type 2 Diabetes

In a study of the effects of lysine on insulin and glucagon concentrations, researchers discovered that relatively high doses of lysine supplementation resulted in a small decrease in blood sugar levels and an increase in glucagon and insulin concentrations.

Another study also found that supplementation with lysine was helpful in decreasing infection risk in diabetic patients.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Additional studies have found that, in combination with vitamin C, lysine helps form the collagen necessary to maintain artery wall strength and help prevent atherosclerosis.

Reduced Gastrointestinal Inflammation

In one study, it was found that lysine has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining, which could have implications for inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

However, before we can definitively say that lysine is beneficial in these areas, additional controlled clinical trials will need to be performed.

Side Effects of Lysine Supplementation

While the use of lysine supplements is generally considered safe and adverse effects are uncommon, lysine has been known to cause stomach pain and diarrhea in some individuals.

There has also been one report of kidney disease linked to lysine supplements, so if you have kidney disease or are taking aminoglycoside antibiotics, please speak with your health care provider before taking lysine supplements.

In addition, lysine supplementation has not been thoroughly studied in pregnant and nursing women, so its use cannot be recommended in this population.

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with these parting thoughts. While the research on lysine remains spotty, we can say that lysine supplementation is appropriate for individuals whose diets are specifically deficient in this amino acid.

For most other circumstances, a more balanced formulation of essential amino acids is optimal. However, as we stated earlier, because of lysine’s incomplete digestion and slow transport into muscle cells, one should look for a formula containing at least 20% lysine.

Upper Respiratory Infection: Symptoms to Look out For, Types to Know and Treatments to Try

Wondering if you’ve ever had an upper respiratory infection? If you’ve ever suffered from the common cold, then the answer is almost certainly yes. Let’s get you well soon!

Wondering if you’ve ever had an upper respiratory infection (URI)? If you’ve suffered from the common cold, then the answer is almost certainly yes. According to Johns Hopkins University, this illness is one of the most common in adults and children, with the latter enduring up to eight colds each year.

While most healthy individuals recover from upper respiratory infections within a week or two of getting sick, the condition can be more dangerous in young children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems. Because an acute upper respiratory infection can impede normal breathing, people with certain immune system disorders may need to see their doctors for care in the event they get sick.

Upper Respiratory Causes

Over 200 different viruses can cause a URI. The most common culprits include:

  • Rhinovirus
  • Corona virus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Enterovirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus

These viruses affect the nasal passages and throat and bring on common cold symptoms, such as the classic runny nose, sneezing, and cough.

Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms

Wondering if you or a loved one is suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection? Stay alert to the following common symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion, including discharge, sneezing, and runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Body aches
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore or scratchy throat

Occasionally, patients may suffer from more severe symptoms, including fever and chills, breathing problems, dizziness, and even fainting or loss of consciousness. If you or a family member experiences these serious cold symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

Types of URIs

While the common cold is one of the most frequently contracted upper respiratory infections, there are other forms of this condition. Below are some of the other upper respiratory tract infections out there, along with symptoms to help identify them.

upper respiratory infection

Flu

Also known as influenza, the flu is a potentially serious respiratory infection resulting from viruses that attack the nose, throat, and lungs. Common flu symptoms include fever, chills, severe fatigue, and cough.

While healthy people tend to recover from the flu in a few days, the condition can be serious in babies and small children, women who are pregnant, and adults over 65, along with anyone who has a compromised immune system. Individuals in the latter groups should not hesitate to seek medical attention if they feel ill, as the flu can turn into a more serious condition such as pneumonia or another lower respiratory infection affecting the lungs.

Sinusitis

Referring to a condition in which the sinuses become inflamed, sinusitis is a sinus infection that may result in sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, fatigue, and facial tenderness.

Epiglottitis

Resulting from inflammation of the epiglottis, or the upper part of your trachea, this type of infection can cause blocked airways, a sore or irritated throat, and coughing. Fever is also a common side effect of this illness and one that should be monitored.

Laryngitis

Laryngitis, or inflammation of the larynx or voice box, can be caused by vocal strain or a viral infection. Along with a weak or absent voice, laryngitis sufferers may experience dry throat and coughing. Typically, sufferers regain the ability to speak within a week or so.

Tonsillitis

Caused by either a viral infection or bacterial infection of the tonsils, tonsillitis results in inflammation, pain in the throat and ears, loss of voice, and headache. Some patients also suffer a fever. In rare cases, doctors may opt to remove the tonsils surgically to prevent recurrence.

Bronchitis

A common upper respiratory infection, bronchitis stems from inflammation in the bronchial tubes. Along with traditional cold symptoms, like sneezing and sore throat, individuals may suffer wheezing, back and muscle aches, and a low fever.

Diagnosing Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

Obtaining a diagnosis for an upper respiratory tract infection is usually simple. When you visit your doctor, he or she will likely take a medical history and conduct a physical exam. Your healthcare provider may also perform a throat swab to rule out strep and take chest x-rays to check for more serious conditions like pneumonia. While most upper respiratory infections resolve on their own within a couple weeks, others require treatment to expedite recovery and prevent patients from passing the illness to others.

Upper Respiratory Treatments

Because doctors have yet to discover a cure for the common cold, it’s best to avoid catching an upper respiratory infection in the first place. Colds spread through direct contact with infected persons or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can reduce your odds of contracting one of these common illnesses by washing your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu season, and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer while on the go. Additionally, individuals should avoid close contact with people who are sick, and take steps to ensure proper rest and nutrition.

If you’ve already contracted a cold, you can avoid spreading it to others by covering your face while coughing and sneezing and washing hands frequently. You can expedite recovery and ease symptoms by getting plenty of rest and increasing fluid intake. Over-the-counter NSAIDs can help alleviate muscle aches, cold medicine and cough suppressants can help you sleep, and nasal decongestants like saline nasal sprays or Neti pots can help you breathe easier.

To help reduce the likelihood of catching a URI or to shorten the duration of symptoms consider using some of Mother Nature’s natural URI fighters, like:

  • Zinc
  • Vitamin C
  • Oregano oil
  • Echinacea
  • Salt water gargle

If your symptoms are severe or if you don’t start to feel better within 7 to 10 days, you should consider seeing your doctor. In some cases, antibiotics are needed to treat more stubborn upper respiratory infections that are bacterial in nature.

Essential Amino Acids and Recovery

The absence of a pill to cure an upper respiratory infection means that you have to rely on your own physiology to get well. Your immune system must be functioning at peak performance. Optimal nutritional intake is the best way to support your immune function. However, if you are sick, you probably don’t feel like eating, and this lack of appetite is likely to compound your problems.

When you are sick and battling an upper respiratory infection, it is particularly important to maintain your intake of essential amino acids, as these are the key components of the diet that support the synthesis of new proteins. You’ll want to fortify your health with a variety of high-quality protein food sources, including fish, eggs, meat, and dairy products. In addition, a dietary supplement of essential amino acids will help ensure an adequate intake of these vital nutrients, particularly if you find it difficult to eat the amount of protein required for optimal immune function.

Lower Respiratory Tract Infection and Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

Lower respiratory tract infection is often used as a synonym for pneumonia. However, this condition can refer to a host of illnesses affecting the airways below the larynx. Read on for the types, causes, and treatments of LRTIs.

Lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) is often used as a synonym for pneumonia. However, this condition can refer to a host of illnesses that affect the airways below the larynx. While many people recover quickly from LRTIs, these diseases can be very serious. In fact, the European Lung Foundation notes that acute lower respiratory tract infections are the leading cause of sickness and death in people around the globe. For this reason, individuals with acute and chronic lower respiratory diseases should not hesitate to seek medical attention.

Types of Lower Respiratory Tract Infection

Because there are several types of lower respiratory tract infections, it can be difficult to determine which one you have. Below are some of the more common lower respiratory tract diseases, along with symptoms to look out for.

Acute Bronchitis

Usually short lasting, this condition affects both adults and children. The most common symptom is a cough that doesn’t go away. With bronchitis, the cough can be dry or wet. You may also suffer from fatigue, post-nasal drip, headache, and shortness of breath. Because of a chronic cough, many bronchitis sufferers also have trouble sleeping.

Bronchiolitis

Affecting the lower airways, this illness is most common in babies under 2 years of age. Coughing and wheezing are the most likely symptoms. Bronchiolitis tends to occur in the winter but can develop at any time of year. If your child experiences audible wheezing, vomiting, or lethargy, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

Pneumonia

A lung infection, pneumonia results from various organisms, including bacteria and fungi. The condition may result in cold-like symptoms lasting for up to 4 weeks. Coughing, fever, whole body fatigue, and trouble breathing are common. In some cases, pneumonia patients develop a buildup of fluid around the lungs, a condition known as pleural effusion. Children under the age of 2 and those with underlying health conditions should be seen by a health care provider if they develop pneumonia to prevent potentially serious side effects.

Note that upper respiratory infections that start out affecting the upper respiratory tract, like the common cold or flu with milder symptoms such as runny nose and sore throat, can develop into more serious illnesses, such as infection of the lungs. For this reason, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek medical attention if you’re feeling ill.

Lower respiratory tract infection is often used as a synonym for pneumonia.

Causes of Lower Respiratory Tract Infection

Acute and chronic lower respiratory diseases are caused by both viral infections and bacterial infections. These conditions spread by direct contact with infected persons or through the air after an infected person has coughed or sneezed.

In most cases, healthy individuals who have become infected with a virus will form antibodies to fight it off. They are then immune from acquiring that form of the virus again. However, if your lower respiratory tract infection is caused by bacteria, you may need medical intervention to get well.

Certain risk factors increase the likelihood you will develop a lower respiratory infection. Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are more prone to dangerous infections.

Most cases of pneumonia in adults stem from contact with the Streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, but some viruses can also cause pneumonia, most commonly the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children, and sometimes influenza.

Individuals who are hospitalized may contract a different type of pneumonia resulting from hospital germs. Those in long-term care facilities are at high risk for healthcare-acquired pneumonia. Hospital-pneumonia and healthcare-acquired pneumonia patients often need supportive care and medication in order to make a full recovery.

Finally, community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) can be contracted in a community setting outside of hospitals, nursing homes, or other healthcare institutions. CAP is the primary cause of death from infectious diseases in developed countries.

Antibiotic Treatment for Lower Respiratory Infection

Lower respiratory tract infection recovery times vary based on the infection type. In many cases, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and expedite recovery. It’s important not to overuse antibiotics, as doing so can lead to antibiotic resistance. When this happens, bacteria mutate and become resistant to the effects of certain drugs.

Some of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics for lower respiratory infections include: Amoxicillin, Augmentin, and Doxycycline. If your doctor recommends antibiotics, make sure to take the entire course as prescribed to avoid creating superbugs.

It’s important to note that not all cases of lower respiratory infection require antibiotics. Acute bronchitis usually resolves on its own, provided that patients drink plenty of fluids and get enough rest. If you’ve been sick for more than a week with a lower respiratory infection and don’t seem to be improving, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.

What Are Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases?

Many lower respiratory diseases are acute, and patients tend to recover within a short period of time. However, some patients suffer from chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COPD was the third most common cause of death in the United States in 2011.

A term for a group of diseases, the lung disease COPD refers to conditions that compromise airflow and breathing. These diseases include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and even asthma, and can lead to acute respiratory failure. While some conditions like asthma are genetic, others result from environmental factors. You can reduce your odds of developing COPD by:

You can minimize the severity of COPD by visiting your doctor regularly to ensure these conditions are detected early when treatment is most effective.

Essential Amino Acids and Recovery

You may get relief from a lower respiratory disease with antibiotics, but even so the ailment can take a lot out of you. Even with successful antibiotic therapy, your immune system must be functioning at peak performance, yet the stress of the disease often limits the immune system’s efficiency. In addition, the stress of the disease, coupled with poor appetite and a low level of activity, will result in loss of muscle mass and strength, which may lead to a long-term loss in physical function.

Optimal nutritional intake is the best way to support your immune function and to minimize the loss of muscle mass. In fact, the primary goal of recovery is to replace lost muscle mass and function.

When you are sick and battling a lower respiratory infection, it is particularly important to maintain your intake of essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the key components of the diet that support the synthesis of new proteins, and they cannot be produced in the body.

To make sure you’re getting the amino acids your body needs to recover, eat a variety of high-quality protein food sources, including fish, eggs, meat, and dairy products. Taking a dietary supplement of essential amino acids will also help ensure an optimal level of intake of these vital nutrients, particularly if you find it difficult to eat the amount of protein food sources required for healthy immune function.

As your appetite returns, these dietary supplements of free essential amino acids will help support muscle growth and improve function in a way that you cannot achieve with normal dietary protein food sources alone.

Everything You Need to Know About Mumps

Mumps is a viral disease that affects the salivary glands, causing swelling. Contagious diseases such as mumps are not dangerous just for us—we can easily transmit them to the people around us, as is the case with mumps.

Contagious diseases such as mumps are not dangerous just for us—we can easily transmit them to the people around us, as is the case with mumps.

What is mumps? Mumps is a viral disease that affects the salivary glands, also called the parotid glands. These glands are responsible for producing saliva. They are located behind and below your ears. The mumps virus causes swelling of the salivary glands.

When people think about the mumps, they usually think about mumps in children, but adults can also get the virus—and outbreaks are possible. Mumps outbreaks can occur any time of year, especially in crowded environments, classrooms, athletic teams, and college dorms. Mumps in adults often occurs with behaviors such as kissing or sharing cups. It’s typical for health departments to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when they experience an unusually high number of mumps cases, as well as cases of other vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2016 and 2017, for example, some outbreaks of mumps on college campuses were reported to the CDC. In 2018, over 2000 Americans were diagnosed with mumps.

Mumps Symptoms

Symptoms of mumps usually appear between 12 and 25 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, but 30% to 40% of people affected do not have any symptoms at all. When mumps symptoms develop, they include:

  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain while chewing or swallowing

Complications of mumps, such as hearing loss, are rare and might involve inflammation in other parts of the body such as:

  • Testicles: This condition, called orchitis, causes swelling in one or both testicles.
  • Pancreas: This condition, called pancreatitis, causes pain in the upper abdomen, along with nausea and vomiting.
  • Ovaries and breasts: This condition causes inflammation in the ovaries (oophoritis) or breasts (mastitis). If a woman has mumps during pregnancy, she may experience a miscarriage.
  • Brain: A condition called encephalitis causes inflammation of the brain and can lead to neurological problems. Fluid around the brain and spinal cord, a condition called meningitis, occurs when the virus spreads through the bloodstream and infects your central nervous system.

Mumps in Children

If your child has mumps, the first thing you have to do is keep him or her away from other children and anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated—a person stays contagious until the swelling goes down, which is about a week. If your child has a fever or is in pain, you may give them ibuprofen, but do not give him/her ASA (acetylsalicylic acid). Give your child plenty of water or other fluids often to keep him/her hydrated. Monitor complications and call your doctor if your child develops:

  • Fever of 103 °F (39 °C) or higher
  • Issues eating or drinking
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling and inflammation of the testicles

Mumps Vaccine

There is a vaccine to prevent mumps, which is given as part of the measles-mumps-rubella MMR, a combination vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. You do not need a mumps vaccination if you had two doses of the MMR vaccine after 12 months of age, had one dose of MMR and you’re not at high risk of mumps exposure, or you were born before 1957.

Doctors do not recommend the vaccine to pregnant women or women who plan to get pregnant within the next 4 weeks, people who are allergic to the antibiotic components, or people with cancer, blood disorders, and diseases that affect the immune systems, such as HIV.

Doctors recommend that you get a vaccine if you:

  • Were born in 1957 or later
  • Are a nonpregnant woman of childbearing age
  • Attend college or other postsecondary schools
  • Work in a school, hospital, or other medical facilities
  • Plan to travel overseas

Can You Get Mumps if You Have Been Vaccinated?

In the United States, the MMRV vaccine offers protection for 95% of people, leaving about 5% of people vulnerable. This is the reason why two doses are often recommended; the first dose at 12 to 15 months and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. Even with two doses, some patients may not produce the quality or quantity of antibodies needed for life-long protection.

If You Had Mumps, Can You Get Mumps Twice?

People who have had mumps are usually protected for life against another mumps infection, but second occurrences may happen. They are, however, rare.

Mumps Remedies

If you or your child has mumps, rest and patience are crucial. The doctor can not help to speed up recovery, but you can follow these tips to reduce the discomfort and make sure others do not get infected.

  • Isolation: Isolate yourself or your child during the week after you notice symptoms to prevent mumps outbreaks.
  • Rest: If you have a fever, rest in bed until the fever goes away.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids—water is always best.
  • Cold relief: Soothe swollen glands by applying ice packs.
  • Diet: Eat a gentle diet of soup, yogurt, and soft foods that are easy to chew, such as mashed potatoes or cooked oatmeal. Avoid acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits or juices that may make the pain worse in your salivary glands.
  • Medication: Consider taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil) to ease symptoms. Adults may also take aspirin, but do not give aspirin to children. Reye’s syndrome is a rare disorder that causes brain and liver damage, and it usually occurs in children who have had a recent viral infection—taking aspirin increases the risk of Reye’s.
  • Clothes: Wear an athletic supporter and use cold compresses to reduce the pain of swollen testicles.

What Is Listeria and How Can You Protect Yourself?

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to get the infection.

Listeriosis is a serious infection primarily contracted from food contaminated with the gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency estimates that 1,600 people contract listeriosis each year and that 260 die. Fatal in one of five people, Listeria infection is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States, and the most vulnerable are pregnant women and their newborns, people aged 65 or older, and those with compromised immune systems.

While pregnant women have a 10 times greater risk of succumbing to L. monocytogenes, pregnant Hispanic women are 24 times more likely than other people to contract the infection. Listeria infection can result in miscarriages, premature delivery, and stillbirths. Pregnant women can transmit the infection to their unborn babies. The infection can cause serious illness and even death in newborns.

More than half of all listeriosis cases occur in people 65 and older, because the immune system and organs of older people are not as capable of recognizing and ridding the body of harmful germs, such as those that trigger food poisoning. Because older adults may also have chronic conditions, including diabetes and cancer, they may have weakened immune systems due to prescribed medications. There is also a reduction in stomach acid when people age, making it harder to kill germs and reduce the risk of illness. Thus, adults 65 years and older are 4 times more likely than the general population in the United States to get Listeria infections.

People whose immune systems are compromised due to medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, and HIV or AIDS, are susceptible to listeriosis. Treatments that interfere with the body’s ability to fend off illness, such as steroids and chemotherapy, also increase the odds of contracting a Listeria infection. Some medical conditions and treatments can weaken the immune system and enable the body to react more intensely to contaminated food.

What Is Listeria?

As explained by Larry M. Bush, MD, in Merck Manuals, most listeriosis cases are the result of eating contaminated food, such as raw food and uncooked meat, that has been improperly cooked or handled. Listeria bacteria sneak in through the bloodstream and go on a rampage, spreading to other organs. The bacteria have also been known to infect the skin of people who have direct contact with infected animals, like veterinarians, farmers, and slaughterhouse workers. A hardy germ that can even grow on refrigerated foods, Listeria can go unnoticed in the equipment or appliances where food is prepared, including in factories and grocery stores.

Listeria bacteria can contaminate food at refrigerator temperatures and even stay alive in the freezer. Pasteurizing dairy products can help kill Listeria, as can proper cooking or reheating of food. Keep in mind that Listeria bacteria are survivors and can thrive in cracks filled with food and untouched and inaccessible areas in commercial food preparation facilities where food is not adequately prepared or stored. When food needs no further cooking when bought, remaining bacteria are eaten with the food.

Listeria can grow in refrigerated, packaged, ready-to-eat products without altering the taste or smell of the food. Foods often implicated in listeriosis outbreaks are soft cheeses, delicatessen salads, unpasteurized milk, cold cuts, hot dogs, seafood, raw meat, and undercooked chicken.

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the gram-positive bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to get the infection.

Symptoms of Listeriosis

Listeriosis can manifest with myriad symptoms according to the individual and part of the body affected. Like other foodborne illnesses, listeriosis can show up as fever and diarrhea, but these instances are rarely diagnosed, with symptoms lasting for 1 to 7 days.

The symptoms of Listeria infection normally begin 1 to 4 weeks after eating contaminated food. Some people might have these symptoms as long as 70 days after exposure, while others may experience them as early as the day of exposure.

Symptoms of invasive listeriosis, when the infection spreads beyond the gastric organs, manifest differently in pregnant and non-pregnant individuals. Although pregnant women usually have only fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches, a Listeria infection while carrying can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, early delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. People who are not pregnant may have such symptoms as headache, confusion, loss of balance, a stiff neck, convulsions, fever, and muscle aches.

Invasive listeriosis involves the bacteria entering the bloodstream from the intestine and invading other organs. Bacteria may spread to the nervous system and tissues covering the brain and spinal cord (causing meningitis); eyes; heart valves (causing endocarditis); joints; and, in the case of pregnant women, the uterus and fetus. Infrequently, there can be collections of pus (abscesses) in the brain and spinal cord.

Listeriosis Diagnosis

To diagnose listeriosis, doctors take a blood sample. If symptoms of meningitis are present, doctors will do a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to obtain a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. After culturing, the bacteria are identified to confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, Listeriosis can be diagnosed when a bacterial culture is used to grow Listeria monocytogenes from a body tissue or fluid, such as blood, spinal fluid, or the placenta.

Listeriosis Treatment

Most people with Listeria infections spontaneously recover from the infection in about one week. Patients in high-risk groups, particularly pregnant women in the third trimester, usually need immediate intravenous antibiotics to stop or retard the progress before it becomes a more invasive disease. Treatment with antibiotics early on can save the life of the fetus.

The antibiotics ampicillin and gentamicin are administered intravenously to most people with listeriosis, including endocarditis and meningitis. People who are allergic to penicillin medications receive medications such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. Physicians treat listeriosis-related eye infections with erythromycin, given orally, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, given intravenously.

The course of antibiotic treatment depends on how severe the infection is. A patient with meningitis typically receives treatment for 3 weeks, while patients with brain abscesses undergo antibiotic treatment for 6 weeks. IV ampicillin is the go-to treatment for listeriosis. Bactrim (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) is another successful medication. Researchers say that every patient’s treatment ought to be customized for best results. If diagnosed with a Listeria infection, your health care team should include an infectious-disease consultant, and if pregnant, an obstetrician and a pediatric specialist.

Listeria Contamination Prevention

The CDC recommends following the safe purchasing and preparation guidelines at www.FoodSafety.gov, the federal gateway for food safety information.

In the 1990s most outbreaks involved deli meats and hot dogs. Currently, dairy products and produce are implicated in Listeria outbreaks. Recent outbreaks have been traced to soft cheeses, cantaloupe, celery, sprouts, and ice cream.

Listeria bacteria can reproduce at refrigerator temperatures, meaning that food lightly contaminated can become heavily contaminated while in the refrigerator. It is important to take precautions, especially for people at risk of serious consequences if infected. These people should not eat:

  • Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk (including feta, Brie, Mexican-style cheeses like queso fresco and queso blanco, and Camembert)
  • Refrigerated ready-to-eat foods (including luncheon meats, hot dogs, pȃtés, and meat spreads), unless heated to an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C ) or until steaming hot just before serving
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood (including foods labeled nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, or jerky), unless cooked
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk and cheeses made from raw milk

In addition to washing raw vegetables and fruits before consumption, always wash hands and all kitchen surfaces, appliances, utensils, and cutting boards after use. Apart from sanitation, there are many ways to reduce the risk of infection.

  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours in shallow, covered containers and use them within three to four days.
  • Set the refrigerator temperature at 40 °F (44.4 °C) or lower.
  • Set the freezer at 0 °F (-17.8 °C) or lower.

Listeriosis prevention is a matter of being very cautious with food selection, preparation, and storage and understanding food poisoning risks. The safe food guidelines—Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill—at www.FoodSafety.gov are some helpful best practices to follow.

The CDC says Listeria effects may not arise for several weeks, at which point it’s increasingly difficult to figure out the contaminated food source. The bacterium can contaminate many foods that don’t require cooking, such as cheese, as well as foods unlikely to be affected, including fruits and vegetables like celery and cantaloupe.

The CDC recommends the following prevention techniques:

  • Using special laboratory tests and disease detectives to help quickly identify outbreaks.
  • Finding and removing contaminated food before consumption.
  • Learning from past outbreaks and conducting environmental investigations to make food safer.
  • Implementing new safety measures for food production, such as those included in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), to reduce food contamination.
  • Diligently following USDA guidelines to help reduce instances of Listeria contamination of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.
  • Working at developing a strong and effective public health system that offers the tools and resources necessary to champion food safety.
  • Investigating and creating the most effective policies and practices.

How Nutrition Impacts Immune System Function

There is no other physiological system more important to staying healthy than the immune system. In order for our immune system to operate at peak capacity, it’s essential that we provide it with key nutrients required to keep all the parts of the immune system healthy and fully functioning.

There is no other physiological system more important to staying healthy than the immune system. It protects us against infectious organisms and invaders that cause bodily harm. The vast majority of ailments and health problems we experience can be attributed to lapses in immune function and to oxidative stress and related inflammation.

In order for our immune system to operate at peak capacity, it’s essential that we provide it with key nutrients required to keep all the parts of the immune system healthy and fully functioning.

What Is the Immune System?

The immune system is a complex network of cells, cell products, tissues, and organs that collectively launch the immune response by utilizing a varied arsenal made up of macrophages, lymphocytes including the B cells (B meaning derived from bone marrow) and T cells (T meaning derived from the thymus), and antibodies.

Antibodies

An antibody is a blood protein produced in response to a particular class of foreign substances known as antigens. Antigens, short for antibody generators, include invaders like bacteria, viruses, and toxins. The defining characteristic of an antigen is that it binds to specific immune receptors, eliciting a certain immune response. Antibodies protect us by combining chemically with antigens, which renders them inactive and removes them from the body.

A healthy, fully-functioning immune system has the capacity to detect a wide variety of antigens and other microorganisms as well as to differentiate between potential threats and the body’s own healthy tissue.

White Blood Cells

White blood cells are like the scouts of the immune system’s army, constantly surveying the landscape for looming attacks. The human body produces and stores white blood cells in four different locations, which are collectively known as the lymphoid organs.

  • Bone marrow: This spongy tissue is found at the center of some bones, such as the hip and thigh bones, and contains immature cells known as stem cells that can develop into any kind of cell found in the human body.
  • Thymus: This small organ is situated beneath the breast bone where T cells mature.
  • Spleen: The largest lymphoid organ, it not only stores white blood cells but also helps to regulate the volume of blood in the body as well as to dispose of old or defective blood cells.
  • Lymph nodes: These small, bean-shaped structures produce and store infection and disease-fighting cells as well as the lymph fluid that transports them throughout the body.

Additionally, the liver is now recognized as an important contributor of factors involved in immune function.

Because the immune system is so complex, it’s often divided into subsystems in order to better conceptualize its operations. Two of the most important distinctions drawn are: 1) the innate immune system versus the adaptive immune system and 2) cellular immunity versus humoral immunity.

The Innate Immune System vs. the Adaptive Immune System

One way to conceive of the immune system is as a series of layered defenses designed to respond with increasing precision to threatening pathogens.

Physical barriers, like the skin, form the first line of defense against microorganisms like bacteria and viruses by simply preventing them from entering the body. If a pathogen successfully breaches the physical barriers, that activates the innate immune system. When a pathogen manages to evade the innate immune response, the adaptive immune system kicks into gear.

The adaptive immune system alters its response based on its recognition of the specific pathogen and its understanding of the most effective way to combat that pathogen. It retains this targeted response in the form of immunological memory, allowing it to become more and more effective at eliminating microorganisms it has encountered previously.

The ability of the immune system to distinguish between healthy tissues and foreign invaders such as antigens is a prerequisite for both innate immunity and adaptive immunity.

The Innate Immune System

Once a microorganism has made it past the physical barriers, the innate immune system works to neutralize that substance. This can happen either because pattern recognition receptors perceive components that belong to broad groups of microorganisms known to be foreign to the body, or because injured or stressed cells have sent out distress signals.

The innate immune response is non-specific, meaning it reacts to all foreign substances in the same way. That does not mean its response is simplistic, however. In fact, the innate immune system itself has many subcomponents, such as:

  • Surface barriers: This category includes mechanical, chemical, and biological barriers. The skin is the most obvious example of a mechanical barrier, and as previously mentioned, it forms the first line of defense against microorganisms. However, since the human body cannot thrive while completely sealed off from its environment, other, more porous surface barriers are needed too. For example, the respiratory tract secretes antimicrobial peptides that form a chemical barrier, while commensal flora in the gastrointestinal tract serves as a biological barrier.
  • Inflammation: This is one of the first ways the immune system responds to infection or injury. Increased blood flow to the affected tissue results in redness, swelling, heat, and pain. Injured or infected cells release eicosanoids, which produce fever and the dilation of blood vessels, and leukotrienes, which attract a kind of white blood cell called leukocytes.
  • Complement system: This biochemical cascade attacks the surfaces of foreign cells. It’s an important and rapid element of the immune response. Its name refers to how it complements the process by which antibodies kill pathogens.
  • Cellular barriers: Leukocytes, first mentioned in relation to inflammatory responses, play a vital role in the innate immune system’s response to threats. Innate leukocytes include phagocytes (a class that’s subdivided into macrophages, neutrophils, and dendritic cells), innate lymphoid cells, mast cells, eosinophils, basophils, and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells eliminate pathogens via multiple mechanisms, such as attacking through contact or engulfing and then killing the pathogens.

The Adaptive Immune System

Early vertebrates developed an adaptive immune response that can more effectively deal with threats thanks to immunological memory. The antigen-specific adaptive immune response occurs when the immune system recognizes an antigen and then launches a response informed by its knowledge of that specific antigen.

The adaptive immune system, like the innate immune system, has a number of subcomponents, including a number of different cell types.

  • Lymphocytes: This special form of leukocytes is unique to the adaptive immune system. Two of the major types of lymphocytes, B cells and T cells, come from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. B cells play a part in the humoral immune response while T cells contribute to the cellular immune response (more on that later).
  • Killer T cells:  This subgroup of T cells targets microorganisms carrying infectious diseases, other pathogens, and cells that have become damaged or dysfunctional. Killer T cells get activated when their T-cell receptor (TCR) binds to a specific antigen. T cells are particularly crucial when it comes to preventing the replication of viruses.
  • Helper T cells: When this group of T cells identifies a possibly dangerous microorganism, they send out stimulatory signals that activate microphages, killer T cells, and B cells. They contribute to both the adaptive and the innate immune response and help the body determine which immune response to use to combat a pathogen. They don’t attack pathogens themselves, but control the immune response by directing the activity of other cells.
  • Gamma delta T cells (γδ T cells): This class of T cells shares characteristics of helper T cells, cytotoxic T cells, and NK cells. Experts consider them an unconventional T cell subset and have yet to identify exactly what stimulates them into action. They blur the line between innate and adaptive immunity by participating in certain elements of both types of immune responses.
  • B lymphocytes and antibodies: Activated B cells divide to create plasma cell offspring, which then secrete millions of copies of an antibody formulated in response to the presence of a specific antigen. The antibodies then circulate in the bloodstream and lymphatic system, binding to the antigens and marking them for elimination or neutralizing them immediately.

There is no other physiological system more important to staying healthy than the immune system. It protects us against infectious organisms and invaders that cause bodily harm. The vast majority of health problems can be attributed to lapses in immune function and to oxidative stress and related inflammation.

Cellular Immunity vs. Humoral Immunity

The other important division related to the immune system has to do with cellular immunity and humoral immunity.

Cellular immunity involves mostly T cells and carries out immune responses to cells that are altered in a specific way, including cancer cells, transplanted cells, and cells invaded by pathogens.

The humoral response, sometimes referred to as the antibody‐mediated response, involves B cells that recognize antigens or pathogens that circulate in the lymph or blood.

Passive Immunity

This is not an ongoing operational state of the immune system, but it’s nonetheless worth addressing. Passive immunity refers to an immune system response that is, in essence, borrowed from another source rather than generated innately.

For example, during the gestational period, a fetus receives antibodies from the placenta. Breast milk also contains antibodies that bolster infants’ immune systems after birth. This type of passive immunity can protect babies and toddlers from bacterial infections and other threats during their first years of life.

Understanding Disorders of the Immune System

Given the complexity of the immune system, it’s hardly surprising that it can malfunction in a multitude of ways. Immune system disorders arise because the immune system responds too aggressively, which is known as hypersensitivity; fails to respond aggressively enough, which is known as immunodeficiency, or responds in the wrong way, which is known as autoimmunity.

Hypersensitivity

Immune system hypersensitivity describes any instance in which the immune system overreacts, thereby causing collateral damage to healthy cells.

Allergic reactions are a classic example of immune system hypersensitivity. With anaphylactic shock, the immune system response to the presence of an allergen is so intense, it can be fatal.

Immunodeficiency

Immunodeficiency is the flip side of hypersensitivity. A number of underlying conditions and factors can lead to immune deficiency, such as:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Alcoholism
  • Malnutrition

It’s also possible to develop acquired immunodeficiency as the result of another disease, as can happen in patients with HIV/AIDS or cancer. In some cases, immunodeficiency has genetic causes, such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) or chronic granulomatous disease.

Autoimmunity

The uniting characteristic of autoimmune disorders is that the body’s ability to differentiate between healthy tissue and pathogens or faulty cells becomes compromised. This causes the immune system to begin to target healthy cells.

There are a variety of autoimmune diseases, all of which affect the body in different ways. Some common ones include:

There is no other physiological system more important to staying healthy than the immune system. It protects us against infectious organisms and invaders that cause bodily harm. The vast majority of health problems can be attributed to lapses in immune function and to oxidative stress and related inflammation.

How Nutrition Impacts Immune System Function

Nutrition is a critical determinant of immune function capability, and malnutrition is one of—if not the—most common cause of immunodeficiency. According to an article published in Trends in Immunology, “Malnutrition, which encompasses under- and over-nutrition, is responsible for an enormous morbidity and mortality burden globally.”

Low-protein intake as well as deficiency or suboptimal intakes of single nutrients results in altered immune responses. The levels of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C, E, and B-6, and folic acid in a person’s diet all strongly influence immune system function.

Additionally, certain elements of a person’s diet and lifestyle may degrade immune function. Two major culprits are excessive alcohol consumption and drug use, which harm the body’s immune system in two ways. First, they deplete the body of many of the key nutrients required for immunocompetence, such as zinc, B vitamins, and folic acid. Second, they directly impair cells and molecules that shape the immune response. The liver plays an important role in producing specialized proteins as part of the immune response, and direct damage to liver cells by ethanol or other drugs can also compromise immune function.

Differentiating Between Acute and Chronic Inflammation

It’s worth circling back to one element of the immune system response—inflammation—to clarify some misconceptions about this physical process.

When we talk about inflammation, we rarely bother to differentiate between chronic inflammation and acute inflammation, but grasping that distinction is a vital part of learning how to optimize immune system function as well as your overall health and well-being.

When all is going well, inflammation is simply another way in which the immune system acts to heal injured body parts.

Acute inflammation occurs in response to a specific injury, such as an infected cut or an ingrown toenail. It is characterized by redness, swelling, and soreness around the injured tissue as white blood cells infiltrate the area to destroy germs, dead and damaged cells, and other foreign material.

Chronic inflammation, far from being a part of the healing process, can have quite a destructive effect. Many of us today worry about how chronic systemic inflammation might be eroding our health, and for good reason. Researchers have identified a number of lifestyle and environmental factors that can result in chronic inflammation, such as:

  • Excess body weight
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Pollution
  • Poor oral health
  • Illicit drug use
  • Heavy alcohol consumption

There is a specific physiological basis to this type of inflammation related to the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from immune-related cells. The term cytokine refers to a number of substances, such as small proteins like interferon, interleukin, and growth factors. These immune cells have an effect on other cells which, when released throughout the body, can result in the chronic activation of the immune system.

Control of both types of inflammation may be disrupted by an inadequate supply of either macronutrients (protein in particular) or micronutrients. A strong immune system then, is dependent upon proper nutritional strategies that fortify and optimize function. An immune system replete with solid antioxidant and anti-inflammatory defenses is absolutely necessary for good health and can be assured by a combination of proper nutrition, rest, and an active lifestyle.

The Relationship Between Antioxidants and the Immune System

No discussion of the connection between nutrition and immune function would be complete without at least a nod to antioxidants. While the immune system does not include an antioxidant component per se, the two are tightly intertwined in that antioxidant protection is crucial to maintaining a strong, vital immune system.

Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories are important tools in the repertoire of the immune system. Antioxidants are agents that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, leading to chain reactions that may damage cells.

Free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are highly reactive compounds that adversely alter the structure and integrity of lipids and proteins, including many of the protein components of the immune system. They can attack at several sites, often starting at the level of DNA itself.

If the DNA of a compound is altered, it will ultimately lead to mutations and genomic instability. These changes could result in the development of a variety of cancers or inflammation. It has been proposed that the process of aging is in part due to accumulation of DNA damage.

Oxidative damage that changes the chemical structure of a compound will almost always affect its function, given the precision with which biological compounds are designed. Lipid membranes are very susceptible to peroxidation, the oxidative degradation of lipids in which free radicals steal electrons from the lipids in cell membranes. This damage leads to leaky membranes and loss of cellular integrity and function.

Damage of this nature to cells involved with immune function will compromise the ability of the immune system to ward off bacteria, viruses, and other harmful compounds. The body relies on internal and external sources of antioxidants to assist in coping with this oxidative stress. Not coincidentally, many nutrients shown to boost the immune system have significant antioxidant properties, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, selenium, copper, iron, and zinc. Dietary antioxidants are important in establishing resistance to infectious pathogens.

Can Nutrients Boost Immune System Function?

Although more research needs to be done to quantify the precise effects of various nutrients on the immune system, as well as the effects of nutrition on the development (as opposed to the treatment) of diseases, the studies that have been conducted so far certainly indicate connections between micronutrient deficiencies and immune response.

As mentioned in the preceding sections, without an adequate supply of certain nutrients, the immune system is unable to operate at peak capacity. Studies done with animals have shown that deficiencies of the following nutrients adversely impact immune function:

  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Folic acid
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E

It’s important to note that the interrelationship between deficiencies of those nutrients and overall health has yet to be demonstrated, and controlled studies with human subjects have yet to be carried out. However, given that eating a balanced, nutritious diet rich in the nutrients above will certainly not harm your health, there’s no reason to hold off on prioritizing your intake of those vital nutrients.

There is no other physiological system more important to staying healthy than the immune system. It protects us against infectious organisms and invaders that cause bodily harm. The vast majority of health problems can be attributed to lapses in immune function and to oxidative stress and related inflammation.

If you’re concerned that diet alone will not meet your micronutrient needs, due to ethical restrictions, allergies and food sensitivities, or simply personal preferences, it may be valuable to seek out high-quality supplements to fill in the gaps. For instance, if you’re worried your diet may not provide an optimal amount of protein to meet your body’s amino acid needs, adding a well-formulated essential amino acid supplement, such as the Amino Co. essential amino acid blends, can make up the difference.

Heal Faster with Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu

Even with the best of intentions, it’s not easy to avoid contracting the cold or flu. And with so many health aids out there, choosing the best remedies for flu and cold relief can be a hassle. Here are our favorites.

Even with the best of intentions, it’s not easy to avoid contracting the cold or flu. And with so many health aids out there, choosing the best remedies for flu and cold relief can be a hassle. Although conventional methods for flu and common cold treatment are more prevalent, consider trying less toxic natural remedies for cold and flu. The following tips will help prepare you to de-stress your next distressing bout with these contagious bugs.

Immune System Attack

When influenza, more commonly known as “the flu,” attacks, the body expresses one or more of the following symptoms a few days after exposure: muscle pains, body aches, fatigue, fever, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache. Symptoms for the common cold are not as severe but may take longer to subside. The flu takes approximately one week to run its course, while cold symptoms could last as long as two to three weeks. Influenza is particularly alarming, because many people die from complications associated with the illness. Like most viruses, influenza is generally spread by coughing and sneezing.

Conventional Cures

Treating your illness can be as easy as a trip to a local drugstore and popping pills every few hours. As tempting as this may sound, choosing synthetic treatment options over natural remedies comes at a cost to your immediate and long-term health.

Antibiotics vs. Antiviral Drugs

The common cold and the flu are viral infections rather than bacterial infections, so antibiotics do not prevent the spread of these viruses. However, inflammation symptoms can occur as a result of influenza virus infection. Antibiotics can be effective when treating symptoms like inflammation, sinusitis, and ear infections. Antibiotics destroy the target pathogen. Antiviral drugs inhibit pathogen development, which helps to stop the spread of the flu bug and lessens viral potency.

If antibiotics are not administered properly and sparingly, pathogens mutate and yield antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This means that each time you take antibiotics, you run the risk of attacking the antibiotic-sensitive bacteria while the antibiotic-resistant strains remain and spread in your body. Additional side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and allergies. Antiviral drugs come with a slew of side effects as well, including diarrhea, mood changes, nausea, vomiting, stuffy nose, and runny nose.

Aspirin

Analgesics like aspirin relieve mild or chronic pain and reduce inflammation and fever. Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is a potent over-the-counter drug, and it is one of the most widely used medications in the world. Approximately 50 to 120 billion pills are consumed each year. Side effects from aspirin use may include upset stomach, stomach bleeding, stomach ulcers, and aggravated asthma.

Acetaminophen

Like aspirin, acetaminophen is a common over-the-counter medication and is sold in assorted dosages. Acetaminophen treats fever and pain symptoms. Drug side effects include liver failure and skin rashes.

Flu Vaccine

Influenza vaccines, or flu shots, are only effective against particular strains of the virus, and vaccines are updated every so often in reaction to viral strain changes. The vaccines contain preservatives and chemicals that can cause harm in addition to the allergies, fever, and stomach complications people commonly experience as side effects.

Natural Remedies for Cold and Flu

Pondering the side effects associated with synthetic treatments for cold and flu is motivation to explore natural preventive measures against illness, and to devise your own home remedies for flu and cold. Once you discover the assorted natural medication options, put your creative healing powers to the test.

Even with the best of intentions, it’s not easy to avoid contracting the cold or flu. And with so many health aids out there, choosing the best remedies for flu and cold relief can be a hassle. Although conventional methods for flu and cold treatment are more prevalent, consider these natural remedies for cold and flu.

Antiviral Herbs

Mother nature offers many potent natural remedies for cold and flu. Here are a few of our favorites to keep in your medicine cabinet.

Elderberry

This super berry possesses antiviral properties that inhibit viral strength and development. Boost your immune system by taking elderberry when you first experience flu or cold symptoms. Elderberry has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Taken daily, this herb deters a gamut of illnesses. Soak the elderberry flowers in water and drink as a tea. Crush the berries and mix with food or your favorite drink.

Echinacea

This common cold and flu preventive supports respiratory health, which both illnesses tend to compromise considerably. It contains the compound echinacein, a natural bacteria and virus inhibitor. Echinacea also impedes inflammation and alleviates pain. Crush and steep echinacea root in hot water and enjoy as a tea.

Calendula Flower

This antiviral herb fights infection and alleviates inflammation when applied topically as an oil. Slowly heat crushed dry calendula leaf in a carrier oil (like coconut oil or jojoba oil) for several hours. Let cool and then soothe affected areas.

Olive Leaf

Olive leaf attacks viruses that spawn respiratory infections, like the common cold or influenza. Additionally, it defends the body against lethal disease-causing pathogens, including malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and meningitis. The olive leaf extract is effective when infused in olive oil and ingested as drops.

Oregano Oil

This antibacterial powerhouse alleviates inflammation and treats viral as well as bacterial infections. Take 2 drops of concentrated oregano oil daily. Increase dosage as needed to ward off infection. Source a reputable oregano oil supplier that manufactures a potent and pure laboratory-grade extract.

Vitamins

By all means take a multivitamin daily, but when you’re battling the cold and flu an extra dose of the following vitamins can only help.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, should be taken daily, up to 1,000 milligrams. Increase your dosage to no more than 4,000 milligrams if you contract the cold or flu. Vitamin C stimulates your body’s white blood cells, or leukocytes, which are disease-fighting cells of the immune system.

Vitamin D

Otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is difficult to synthesize for many people who do not receive an abundance of sun. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of minerals essential for fighting disease. Your body produces vitamin D naturally with regular sun exposure. Take 2 to 4 drops of liquid vitamin D daily if your levels of this essential natural remedy are low.

Zinc

Zinc should be taken at the first sign of the common cold or flu. However, inject zinc supplements sparingly, using no more than 100 milligrams daily. Opt for a daily intake of zinc-rich foods, such as eggs, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Essential Oil Treatments

When experiencing cold or flu symptoms, inhale oil-infused vapors for decongestion and topically apply essential oil mixtures to alleviate muscle aches and pains. Purchase pure organic essential oils for best results. Diffuse, vaporize, or infuse a mix of 3 to 5 drops of your preferred oil to treat your cold and flu symptoms.

  • Clove is a natural antiviral and antimicrobial essential oil. Infuse with a carrier oil and water before applying as a compress to assuage headaches.
  • Peppermint is great for treating your cough and decongesting air passages. Apply with a carrier oil to the less sensitive areas of your body, or vaporize your room using a few drops of this strong oil.
  • Eucalyptus oil is a natural antiviral remedy. Use this essential oil with steam to address congestion symptoms naturally.
  • Pine is a treatment for your sore throat and neck symptoms. It also lessens congestion.

Take care when using essential oils. Even diluted oils can induce allergic reactions. Gradually incorporate these oils into your cold and flu prevention strategy. Test a patch area on the body before using these oils liberally. Avoid direct contact with sensitive areas of the body, such as the groin, eyes, nose, and mouth. You should not swallow essential oils intended for topical use, and do not apply edible oils to the skin. Essential oil side effects include severe allergies, rashes, swelling, and behavioral changes.

Age-Old Wellness Hacks

These are the good-ole cures your mom healed you with when you were a child, and they’re as helpful now as they were back then!

Gargle with Salt

A salt water tincture can help soothe a sore throat by subduing inflammation and easing respiratory distress by loosening up all that thick mucus.

Add half a teaspoon of salt to an 8-ounce glass of warm water and gargle for a few seconds before spitting out.

To add to salt’s healing wonders, it can also be used as a saline flush to clear sinuses. You can make a homemade and highly effective nasal spray by adding a half teaspoon salt to a Neti pot of warm filtered water to help clear your sinuses of mucus and bacteria.

Sip on Chicken Soup

Research shows chicken soup is a clear winner for cold remedies. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory, and can help get rid of mucus and stubborn nasal congestion. Make sure you have chicken soup on hand this flu season, and add healthy vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and celery!

Supplement with Zinc Lozenges

This immune system strengthener is a common cold remedy found in medicine cabinets across America. Science shows that it can significantly reduce incidences of upper respiratory tract infections in young children, and can cut your chance of contracting a cold by as much as 50%! You have to use it quick though—within the first 24 hours of cold symptoms for it to do the trick.

Get Well with Ginger

Ginger root and ginger tea are equally effective flu remedies. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory gingerols and shaogals that can take the sting out of a scratchy throat, and ginger is famously know for its stomach-soothing super powers.

Chop up a 1- to 2-inch piece of ginger root and add it to a cup of boiling water to make fresh ginger tea. Let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes, strain and enjoy. Turn it into even more palatable ginger lemon water by adding honey and lemon, two other cold busters!

Prevent Illness Naturally

In addition to incorporating natural remedies for cold and flu into your prevention routine, be sure to review lifestyle basics to ensure your good health. Stay hydrated to flush out toxins that invade the body, and enrich purified water naturally with antioxidant black and green teas. Get enough sleep so that you feel rested; lack of sleep and oversleeping can make you susceptible to illness. Incorporate antiviral food elements, like ginger, garlic, and onions, into your real-food dishes daily, avoiding harmful preservatives.

Be mindful of your sugar intake, as it can inhibit your body’s ability to fight cold and flu naturally. If possible, ditch the sedentary life. Maintain healthy lymphatic and circulatory systems with frequent walks and detoxifying yoga stretches. Torso stretches are great for expanding air passages for all that fresh air you should take in regularly.

Consult your doctor for proper diagnoses and dosage recommendations, especially if you are pregnant, taking other medications, or your immune system is compromised due to pre-existing conditions.

5 Proven Health Benefits of Amino Acids

Amino acid supplements are popular in the bodybuilding world. But amino acids, while key muscle makers, perform many more health-enhancing feats. They can help improve mood, keep stress at bay, and even strengthen the immune system. Let’s take a look at 5 of the most celebrated benefits of amino acids.

Amino acids, fittingly nicknamed the building blocks of proteins, not only make up the protein you eat, but also join together to form proteins in your body. These proteins are the very foundation of your hair, nails, bones, muscles, cartilage, connective tissues, and skin. They are the proteins your body uses to build and repair tissues and to synthesize hormones and enzymes. When you eat dietary protein, your body breaks amino acids into their individual parts, and then uses these amino acids to build the protein your body requires. Given that amino acids are so integrated into the makeup of the human body, it’s hardly surprising that researchers have uncovered a plethora of health benefits of amino acids.

Amino acids play a key role in muscle health, and, for this reason, amino acid supplements are popular in the bodybuilding world. But amino acids, while key muscle makers, perform many more health-enhancing feats. While they undoubtedly play vital roles in processes such as muscle growth and muscle recovery, they also contribute to brain function. Research indicates that increasing your amino acid intake from food sources or by taking supplements can help improve mood and keep stress at bay. Plus, they can strengthen the immune system. Before diving deep into five scientifically validated health benefits of amino acids, let’s take a moment to go over some amino acid basics.

The Basics of Amino Acids

In scientific terms, amino acids can be defined as organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group. Scientists have identified 20 different amino acids that the human body requires in order to properly develop and maintain itself. Though all 20 make essential contributions to your overall health, 9 of those amino acids have been categorized as essential amino acids (EAAs):

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

The reason scientists deemed those nine amino acids essential is that your body cannot independently produce them, making it essential that you obtain them from the food you eat or supplements you take.

Three of the nine essential amino acids exist in their own subcategory: the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Those amino acids are:

  1. Isoleucine
  2. Leucine
  3. Valine

While many have touted the benefits of BCAA supplements, based on the impressive effects of those three specific amino acids, the truth is that to benefit from an increased supply of one amino acid, your body must have a balanced amount of all the essential amino acids.

The 11 amino acids necessary for human health that the body can produce on its own are called nonessential amino acids (NEAAs), because it’s not essential that you consume them.

However, the dividing line between essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids has more wiggle room than their names might initially lead you to believe. Enter the conditionally essential amino acids. Of the 11 nonessential amino acids, 7 have been identified as conditionally essential:

  1. Arginine
  2. Cysteine
  3. Glutamine
  4. Glycine
  5. Proline
  6. Serine
  7. Tyrosine

While your body has the ability to generate these amino acids, that ability becomes compromised under certain conditions, like if you become ill or are dealing with chronic stress. To illustrate this idea, let’s look at how this plays out with one specific conditionally essential amino acid: arginine. Researchers have found that your body cannot produce enough arginine on its own while fighting diseases such as cancer. Under those conditions, it becomes essential to augment your body’s supply of naturally produced arginine with supplemental arginine.

Now that you have a working understanding of the different types of amino acids relevant to human health, we can discuss some of the most exciting, research-backed health benefits associated with individual amino acids.

5 Proven Benefits of Amino Acids for Your Body and Mind

We rely on amino acids to perform a multitude of roles. An adequate intake of amino acids helps us build muscle, maintain mental focus, maximize exercise performance, and more. Amino acids contribute to crucial bodily functions such as:

  • Protein synthesis
  • Tissue growth and repair
  • Energy production
  • Immune defenses
  • Wound healing
  • Nutrient absorption

Individual amino acids have been shown to prevent muscle loss, increase energy, boost endurance and stamina, improve mood, decrease body fat percentage, speed recovery time, enhance immune health, optimize sleep quality, and more.

The essential amino acids, which your body cannot generate, can be found in high-quality sources of dietary protein. While eating a vegetarian or vegan diet may necessitate that you pay closer attention to your amino acid intake, it’s certainly possible to meet your body’s needs using only plant-based proteins. Furthermore, it can be beneficial to take concentrated doses in supplemental forms regardless of how healthy and balanced a diet you eat.

Essential amino acids are the only macronutrients required for survival. A normal diet containing high-quality proteins should deliver adequate amounts of essential amino acids to meet minimal requirements. However, amino acid supplements can provide benefits not achievable with even high-quality protein food sources.

Amino Acid Benefit #1: Muscle Protector

Muscle tissue consists mainly of proteins, and protein is made of amino acids. It stands to reason that amino acids would have a pronounced effect on muscle growth. As you may be aware, increasing your amino acid intake can boost muscle mass, strength, and function by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, or the building of new muscle tissue.

Did you know, however, that amino acids also help prevent muscle breakdown during exercise or between meals? In other words, they not only encourage muscle growth, but they also protect the gains you’ve worked so hard to build.

When you exercise, your body uses glucose, fats, and protein as fuel sources. If the body is low in fuel, it will start pulling protein from muscles, chipping away at your overall muscle mass. For instance, endurance activities quickly drain your stores of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). To avoid muscle loss, it’s important to supply your body with more essential amino acids, either by eating dietary protein or supplementing with amino acids. This ensures amino acid levels in your bloodstream stay stable and keeps your muscles protected.

Amino Acid Benefit #2: Energy Generator

As I touched on above, your body requires fuel to carry out tasks such as contracting your muscles. However, the body stores very little energy. The energy stored in your muscle takes the form of creatine phosphate.

Three amino acids—arginine, methionine, and glycine—join together to form creatine. The process of breaking down creatine phosphate releases energy that can provide an immediate source of fuel for muscle contraction. It gives us the energy boost we need for activities like sprinting or lifting heavy weights.

Because only a small quantity of creatine phosphate can be stored in our muscles at any given time, we depend on a different kind of cellular energy called adenosine triphosphate (typically abbreviated to ATP) for more sustained exercise activities. As with creatine phosphate, the breakdown of ATP provides energy that can fuel muscle contraction. When ATP is broken down, it forms adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Your body then regenerates ATP from ADP and phosphate in small organelles in the muscle called mitochondria.

There are a number of proteins in the mitochondria that enable the production of ATP from the oxidation of glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids. These specialized proteins are called enzymes. The more mitochondrial enzymes you have, the more ATP can be produced and the more energy is available to fuel muscle function. The number of mitochondrial enzymes depend on the number of mitochondria and the number of oxidative enzymes in each mitochondria.

Amino acids play a crucial role in increasing both the number of mitochondria available to generate ATP as well as the number of enzymes within each mitochondria. Both the formation of new mitochondria and the enzymes they contain result from protein synthesis.

A proportionately blended amino acid supplement stimulates the production of new mitochondria and increases the number of enzymes in the mitochondria by stimulating mitochondrial protein synthesis. Thus, an ample availability of dietary amino acids is an indispensable part of producing the energy our bodies need to keep functioning and to perform at their best.

Amino Acid Benefit #3: Endurance Enhancer

In addition to increasing your body’s ability to produce physical energy to fuel exercise performance, amino acids can help improve mental energy during a long workout.

Your mental energy depends on the balance between the inhibitory neurotransmitter serotonin (which brings on feelings of calm) and the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine (which stimulates feelings of excitement). These neurotransmitters are made inside the brain from amino acids circulating in your bloodstream. The amino acid tryptophan serves as a precursor to serotonin production and tyrosine fulfills the same role for dopamine.

During long, grueling workouts, the balance between tryptophan uptake and tyrosine uptake can be disrupted. The brain begins to let in more tryptophan, and as production of serotonin outstrips production of dopamine, you end up feeling mental fatigue. You have plenty of physical energy to keep going, but not the cognitive drive you need.

Taking an amino acid supplement with a balance of essential amino acids can counter the increased uptake of tryptophan by the brain, helping you work out for longer by reducing serotonin production and thus delaying the mental perception of fatigue.

It is important to use an appropriately balanced amino acid mixture that also increases dopamine production, as it is the balance between serotonin and dopamine that determines your mental energy level.

As I briefly mentioned earlier when introducing the concept of branched-chain amino acids, taking an imbalanced mixture of amino acids will not yield the results you hope for. While taking a BCAA supplement can reduce the uptake of tryptophan by the brain, it will also reduce the amount of tyrosine taken up by the brain.

In order to boost mental energy so you can sustain focus during a workout, an amino acid supplement must decrease the ratio of serotonin to dopamine in the brain. Decreasing the amount of serotonin will have minimal effect on brain focus and energy if the amount of dopamine is also reduced. It is, therefore, important that you use a balanced amino acid supplement that not only decreases brain tryptophan uptake, but also increases the dopamine precursor tyrosine.

Amino Acid Benefit #4: Mood Stabilizer

As we just discussed, too much serotonin can cause fatigue during workouts. Too little serotonin, however, has been linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and overall moodiness. While tryptophan, and subsequently serotonin production, is ideally down-regulated during exercise, it can have a palliative effect when it is increased in individuals battling mood disorders.

Low tryptophan can be especially problematic when you are dieting. Dieting generally calls for eating fewer calories, which typically entails eating less protein, even if you’re on a so-called high protein diet. So, it is especially important to consume sufficient tryptophan if you’re on a diet.

There are two other standout amino acids for promoting balanced moods. The first, which I introduced in the preceding section, is tyrosine. This amino acid functions as a precursor not only for dopamine, but also for the equally influential brain chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine. Increasing your intake of tyrosine has been shown to significantly amplify energy, strengthen motivation, elevate sexual function, and heighten concentration, thereby benefiting mood. The best route to increasing tyrosine levels, however, is not to up your intake of tyrosine itself but rather to focus on the essential amino acid phenylalanine, which the body then converts into tyrosine.

The third amino acid that’s particularly important when it comes to promoting balanced moods is glutamate. This nonessential amino acid can act as a neurotransmitter itself, but is probably more relevant as a mood enhancer due to its role as the precursor of gamma-aminobutyric acid, better known as GABA. As the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA helps us feel calm and relaxed and prevents overstimulation of nerve cells. Glutamate is produced from glutamine, so both glutamine and glutamate have similar effects on GABA production.

It’s also worth noting that theanine, a non-dietary amino acid, mimics some of the properties of glutamate and GABA. Green tea is one of the few natural source of theanine, and probably responsible for green tea’s reputation as a mood enhancer.

Amino Acids Benefit #5: Immune Strengthener

Nutritional deficiencies, stress, and environmental toxins can take a toll on our immune systems. Amino acid support can help keep our immune systems strong.

People with compromised immune systems tend to have low levels of the amino acid cysteine, which is a precursor of the master antioxidant glutathione. To efficiently and effectively increase your stores of this vital amino acid, select a balanced essential amino acid supplement that contains cysteine in the form of N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC).

Research consistently demonstrates that an increased intake of cysteine can fortify the immune system. According to one study published in The European Respiratory Journal, supplementing with cysteine significantly decreased flu symptoms in elderly patients.

Since cysteine is produced from the essential amino acid methionine, it’s also possible to use methionine supplementation to achieve similar effects while promoting the production of proteins involved in the immune response.

Lysine is another amino acid noted for its antiviral and immune-boosting properties. It is traditionally recommended as a preventative nutraceutical for flare-ups of the herpes virus and shingles.

If only one piece of information from this article stays with you, I hope that it is this: in order to benefit from the properties of any individual amino acid, it is vital that you supply your body with an appropriate quantity of all the essential amino acids. That’s why research consistently shows that the most reliable way to access the health benefits of amino acids is by taking a carefully formulated essential amino acid supplement.

Should You Take an Ornithine Supplement for Muscle Building?

Visit any bodybuilding forum on the web and you’ll see mention of ornithine and its athletic performance-enhancing and muscle-building benefits. But is an ornithine supplement the best amino acid supplement for muscle building?

Visit any bodybuilding forum on the web and you’ll see mention of ornithine and its athletic performance-enhancing and muscle-building benefits. This amino acid (also called: L-Ornithine, L-Ornithine HCl, L-Ornithine Hydrochloride, L-5-aminorvaline, L-2,5-diaminovaleric acid, and Ornithine HCl) is frequently promoted as a dietary supplement for stimulating muscle growth. But is an ornithine supplement the best amino acid supplement for muscle building?

5 Top Uses for Ornithine Supplements

While much of the excitement about ornithine has to do with its impact on muscle mass and athletic performance, scientists have found that this potent amino acid can affect your health in other ways as well.

Here’s further information on five of the top reasons people try ornithine supplementation:

  1. Anti-fatigue effects: Some evidence indicates that ornithine helps flush fatigue-inducing metabolites from your muscles and can relieve fatigue related to excess ammonia in the blood (common with chronic stress).
  2. Increased muscle mass: Studies show that ornithine supplementation can positively influence factors that stimulate the growth of muscle tissue, like testosterone and growth hormone levels.
  3. Boosted athletic performance: Because of its role in the urea cycle, ornithine can increase your capacity for physical exertion, allowing you to push yourself harder, for longer.
  4. Enhanced wound healing: Research shows that ornithine supplementation can substantially improve wound healing, largely due to the way ornithine influences collagen synthesis.
  5. Strengthened immune function: At least one study (which looked specifically at the use of ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate) has found that ornithine can improve your immune function.

How the Body Uses Ornithine

In order to understand the mechanics of L-ornithine supplementation, it’s important to have a grasp on the basics of how your body uses amino acids.

Amino acids, in technical terms, are simple organic compounds that link together to form protein. Our bodies need an adequate supply of amino acids to build muscle tissue and perform other vital functions. Because amino acids—including L-ornithine—are so essential to our overall health and well-being, they’ve earned the moniker: the building blocks of life.

A quick note about why you’ll sometimes see amino acids like ornithine referred to interchangeably as “L-ornithine” and “ornithine.” Amino acids can be in either a D configuration (like D-aspartic acid) or L configuration (like L-aspartate). However, since there really isn’t a “D-ornithine” in supplements, it’s common to see both terms used synonymously.

When we talk about amino acids, we tend to focus on the role they play in protein metabolism. But certain amino acids carry out different functions that are not directly linked to the synthesis or production of protein. These acids are categorized as non-proteinogenic amino acids or NPAAs.

Neither the proteins we eat nor the proteins our bodies make contain ornithine. Rather, ornithine functions in the liver as part of the urea cycle. In fact, the urea cycle is often called the ornithine cycle because ornithine is such an important component.

Understanding the Urea Cycle

The urea cycle is a biochemical reaction that converts ammonia to urea that the body can then excrete. This is an absolutely crucial detoxification process since excess ammonia, a waste product generated from cellular metabolism, can be toxic when blood concentration levels rise too high.

The urea cycle has four phases: 1) your liver produces urea, 2) your liver releases the urea into your bloodstream, 3) the urea travels to your kidneys, 4) your kidneys excrete the urea in your urine.

As part of the urea cycle, ornithine combines with ammonia to form the amino acid L-citrulline, or more simply, citrulline. Citrulline then combines with another ammonia molecule to form the amino acid L-arginine, which is more commonly referred to as (you guessed it) just plain arginine. From here, arginine is converted to ornithine, with urea as a byproduct—and we’re back to where the cycle started. Ornithine to citrulline to arginine to ornithine, and so on.

So, the urea cycle converts ammonia to nontoxic urea for excretion by the kidneys without disrupting amounts of the essential components: arginine, ornithine, and citrulline. In almost all circumstances other than liver failure, the cycle functions adequately to produce urea and prevent excess ammonia from entering the bloodstream. None of the amino acids involved in the urea cycle are essential amino acids, which must be taken in from the food you eat or from dietary supplements. Under normal conditions, the body produces sufficient amounts of these nonessential amino acids to effectively keep plasma ammonia levels in check and produce urea for elimination.

Why You Should Care About Your Nitric Oxide Levels

The idea behind ornithine supplementation (and prior to that, arginine supplementation), is that it can increase blood levels of nitric oxide, a desirable outcome for several reasons.

During the urea cycle, a small percent of arginine is not converted to ornithine but rather is converted to citrulline. Nitric oxide (NO) is the byproduct of this arginine to citrulline conversion. Testing has revealed that nitric oxide helps to regulate how much blood can pass through your blood vessels. When nitric oxide levels increase, the diameter of your blood vessels expands, a process known as vasodilation. Maximizing vasodilation during exercise can be highly beneficial since you want as much blood flowing to your muscle tissue as possible in order to bring in oxygen and nutrients and clear out waste products.

Nitric oxide also supports healthy sexual function in men.

Methods for Increasing Nitric Oxide Levels

As scientists began to appreciate the physiological importance of nitric oxide, they devised different approaches to promote its production.

1. Arginine Supplementation

One of the first methods they tried was arginine supplements, which have been used since the 1950s. In the early days, arginine supplements were considered to have nutraceutical properties, as they seemed to have more potent effects than would have been expected, but the precise mechanisms were not understood.

Subsequent studies showed that the benefit of arginine supplementation was due at least in part to the increased production of NO. Arginine was also found to have a direct stimulatory effect on muscle protein production by activating a key molecular factor inside the cell (mTOR). Finally, in large doses arginine was discovered to stimulate the release of growth hormone.

There are, however, two considerable problems with arginine supplementation. The first has to do with the cellular metabolism of arginine. After L-arginine is absorbed from the intestine it must pass through the liver before reaching the blood in the rest of the body. However, your liver cells very effectively take up and metabolize orally ingested arginine. As a result, consuming oral L-arginine has only a small effect on blood levels of arginine.

The second problem, which is related to the first, is that in order to elevate blood levels of arginine to the desired extent, you have to take doses that are so high they cause digestive distress in most people. Studies show that doses of arginine at 10 grams and higher can cause diarrhea as well as other unpleasant side effects.

2. Ornithine Supplementation

Given the problems with using dietary supplements of arginine, scientists started to explore alternate options for raising arginine levels in the blood with the ultimate goal of increasing nitric oxide production.

We’ve already seen how ornithine, citrulline, and arginine convert from one to the other via the urea cycle. Both amino acids are possible alternative approaches to arginine supplementation. The idea behind ornithine supplementation is to increase arginine by conversion in the urea cycle.

Research indicates that oral L-ornithine supplementation can have an anti-fatigue effect while improving measures of athletic performance including speed, strength, and power.

A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that ornithine supplementation increased lean muscle mass as well as power output for weight lifters.

Separate findings from a study done with bodybuilders demonstrated that ornithine can increase growth hormone levels. Low-dose ornithine supplementation had no effect, but the highest dose (170 milligrams of ornithine hydrochloride) increased growth hormone concentrations to 318% above baseline. As with arginine, high doses of ornithine frequently cause digestive side effects.

The effects of ornithine on growth hormone appear to be short-lived. The desirable effects of raising growth hormone levels, such as increased lean muscle mass gains and fat loss, occur when you sustain elevated levels. This makes ornithine supplementation an ineffective method for pursuing those goals.

3. Citrulline Supplementation

Another reason taking an ornithine supplement may not be the most logical route to achieving goals like improved endurance and increased muscle mass is that the ornithine you take is converted to citrulline, which is then converted to arginine. So, ornithine is two metabolic steps away from arginine.

Keep in mind too that if your primary reason for trying arginine supplementation or ornithine supplementation is to build muscle and maximize your athletic performance, you need to increase nitric oxide production and stimulate muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth.

Citrulline is the optimal nutritional supplement to achieve this. Unlike arginine, the liver lets most of the absorbed citrulline pass through. Citrulline is largely converted to arginine in the kidneys, which release the arginine into the blood for circulation to the rest of the body, including muscle tissue. This explains the surprising fact that the blood level of arginine increases much more after consumption of citrulline than after the same amount of arginine.

The second aspect of citrulline that makes it a great way to increase arginine concentration is that citrulline consumption rarely causes gastric distress.

All in all, it appears that supplementing with citrulline is the most effective way to increase blood levels of arginine as well as ornithine, elevate production of nitric oxide, and reap the benefits.