Dysthymia: Understanding Persistent Mild Depression and Seeking Treatment

Curious about dysthymia, or persistent mild depression? Dysthymia, which is less severe than major depression, entails long-term, chronic symptoms. These symptoms do not disable a person, but keep him or her from functioning well or from feeling good.

Depressive disorders, illnesses that involve the body, mood, and thoughts, affect the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. Without treatment, symptoms may last for weeks, months, or years, but most people can benefit from appropriate treatment.

Depressive disorders come in different forms. Dysthymia, which is less severe than major depression, entails long-term, chronic symptoms. These symptoms do not disable a person, but keep him or her from functioning well or from feeling good.

There is a significant impact of dysthymia on the people who have it, their families, and society. People with this form of mild depression are twice as likely to develop dementia. They may be unproductive and unable to care for themselves or others.

Dysthymia Explained

Dysthymia, which occurs by itself or in conjunction with other mood or psychiatric disorders, puts people at higher risk for anxiety and substance use disorders than major depression. More than half of people who suffer from dysthymia experience at least one episode of major depression. This condition is called double depression. In each year in the U.S., dysthymia is projected to affect 0.5% of people. As in major depression, dysthymia occurs twice as often in women as in men.

Other researchers say that dysthymia affects 3% to 6% of the population and as many as one-third of people who receive outpatient mental-health services in the United States. While older individuals are less likely to develop major depression than younger people, senior citizens appear to be more at risk for developing less severe but chronic dysthymia. Unlike the prevalence of major depression in ethnic groups in the United States, dysthymia is more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians and some Hispanic-Americans in most age groups. In the elderly, older, non-Hispanic Caucasians are thought to experience dysthymia and other depressive disorders more frequently than African-American and Asian people but with equal frequency to older Latino people. Dysthymia usually occurs along with other disorders, most often with major depression, anxiety, personality, or somatic symptom and related disorders, and alcohol or other drug abuse.

While dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD), low-grade depression, or persistent mild depression, is less severe than major depression, it is more chronic. PDD, which has many symptoms in common with other kinds of clinical depression, is a less severe but more enduring form of major depression. Usually experienced for two years or more, PDD is identified by a depressed mood that is felt most of the time.

Dysthymia Symptoms

The primary symptom of dysthymia is “low, dark, or sad mood that occurs for most of the day, for more days than not, for at least two years,” according to Psychology Today. Children and adolescents suffering from dysthymia might be more irritable than depressed. Other symptoms may include insomnia or excessive sleep, low energy or fatigue, low self-esteem, poor appetite or overeating, poor concentration or indecisiveness, and feelings of hopelessness.

PDD usually does not include the severe symptoms of major depression, such as anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), psychomotor symptoms (particularly lethargy or agitation), and thoughts of death or suicide. Symptoms, which are not a direct result of a general medical condition or substance usage, often result in impaired functioning in work, social, or personal situations.

Dysthymia is often characterized by fatigue, low energy, low self-esteem, and changes in appetite or sleep. Despite potential brief periods of normal mood, symptoms last at least two years at a time in adults and more than one year at a time in children and adolescents.

To meet criteria for the diagnosis of PDD, a person must experience depression, which can manifest itself as a loss of interest or general discontent (irritability or excessive anger in children and adolescents) most of every day, more days than not for at least two years in a row in adults, and one year for children and teens. Someone with PDD will not experience more than a two-month symptom-free period during the illness and must experience at least two of the following:

  • Loss of appetite or excessive hunger
  • Insomnia or excess sleepiness
  • Fatigue or other physical symptoms
  • Slowness in activity and thought
  • Low self-esteem/feelings of inadequacy
  • Lack of concentration or making decisions
  • Hopelessness

A person with PDD can also have major depression, but does not suffer from cyclothymia, never has the mania or hypomania of bipolar disorder, and does not have symptoms that are better explained by another mental-health problem, the effects of a medication, drug of abuse, or medical condition.

Dysthymia is a mild but long-lasting type of depression that makes a person feel inadequate and hopeless. The condition affects productivity in work or school, enjoyment of life’s normal and special activities, and the ability to have relationships. People with dysthymia are usually chronic complainers who seem to find negatives in every situation.

 

Curious about dysthymia, or persistent mild depression? Dysthymia, which is less severe than major depression, entails long-term, chronic symptoms. These symptoms do not disable a person, but keep him or her from functioning well or from feeling good.

Causes of Persistent Mild Depression

Persistent mild depression seems to be the result of a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors, along with chronic stress and trauma. Stress can influence a person’s ability to regulate mood and minimize the effect of mild sadness. Social situations, such as isolation and lack of social support, add to the development of PDD. Lack of social support is a major concern, because depression often makes people who could provide support uncomfortable, increasing isolation and exacerbating symptoms. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation can trigger PDD. Additional episodes can occur even without an apparent reason. In the case of older people, PDD might be triggered by illness, cognitive decline, bereavement, and physical disability.

Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain that are a function of an imbalance in neurotransmitters, chemicals that brain cells use to communicate. While brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), show that the brains of people with depression look different from those of people without depression, they do not explain why the depression has occurred.

Different segments of the brain of people with dysthymia respond differently to negative emotions such as fear and sadness, and to physical sensations, as compared with the brains of people without the disorder. People who develop PDD usually have a family member who also has PDD, major depression, or a personality disorder. Major stress during childhood or adulthood—neglect, abuse, or community violence without support—can trigger PDD.

Dysthymia Treatment

People with PDD can attempt to make lifestyle changes and use home/natural remedies for relieving or coping with the condition. Lifestyle changes may include getting adequate sleep, creating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, developing small goals, limiting alcohol consumption, and refraining from abusing other drugs. Homeopathic remedies include St. John’s wort and SAM-e, but people who have PDD should consult a physician before taking them.

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, dysthymia treatment might include medicine, therapy, or both. Many medicines are used to treat depression. It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for antidepressants to have appropriate impact on patients. They need to keep taking the medications, consult the healthcare provider before stopping, and consider adding or switching medicines on the advice or a physician.

The most prevalent medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), or one of the newer dual-action antidepressants like venlafaxine (Effexor). There are also tricyclic antidepressants like imipramine (Tofranil). Some antidepressant drugs have side effects. SSRIs can cause stomach upset, mild insomnia, and reduced sex drive in some patients.

Cognitive behavioral or interpersonal therapy may help people to change distorted views of themselves and their environment. Such therapy can help to improve relationship skills and identify and manage stressors.

Curious if you or someone you love has dysthymia? If you answer “yes” to several questions on this dysthymia test, you may want to consider seeking treatment.

6 Ways to Find Natural Relief from Lupus Pain

Lupus is a chronic disease that is poorly understood and poorly managed. An autoimmune disorder, lupus causes the body’s organs to come under attack by its own immune system. Here are 6 natural ways to treat lupus that have passed the mettle of health professionals.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus affects approximately 1.5 million Americans and at least 5 million people worldwide. The vast majority of those with lupus experience joint or muscle pain at some point during the course of the illness. In fact, joint pain is the first symptom encountered by more than half of those with the condition. If you’re one of the many suffering from lupus pain, read on to discover six natural treatments that may help you find relief and increase your quality of life.

What Causes Lupus Pain?

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system becomes overactive and begins to attack its own cells, tissues, and organs. Under normal circumstances, the immune system uses its natural inflammatory response to help isolate foreign substances—such as bacteria, viruses, or injuries—from further contact with the body’s tissues.

However, when the immune system goes awry and begins to turn against the body itself, inflammation can spread from system to system, leading to a number of negative consequences, including widespread pain.

Symptoms of Lupus Pain

People suffering from lupus may experience many different types of pain, especially during flare-ups of the disease. Furthermore, the most common type of lupus—systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)—is frequently accompanied by symptoms of chronic pain. In fact, a 2003 study demonstrated that 85% of people with SLE experience joint pain, and 32% to 66% report having headaches.

Other common symptoms and disorders seen with lupus include:

Lupus Pain Medications

While pain management for lupus often involves the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids, these types of medications can have nasty side effects, including:

Thankfully, there are also several natural treatments available that may help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with lupus.

Natural Pain Relief for Lupus

According to a 2013 review of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments published in the journal Current Rheumatology Reports, supplements, mind-body interventions, and acupuncture have all demonstrated some efficacy in reducing the disease activity of lupus. So let’s take a closer look at some of these remedies.

Vitamins D and B6

Supplementing with vitamin D may be helpful in reducing the inflammation that leads to lupus pain. In fact, several studies have shown a relationship between vitamin D and disease activity in lupus, with high levels of vitamin D being associated with fewer lupus symptoms. Research also indicates that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have lupus flares. Moreover, a recent study demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation is effective in improving levels of inflammatory markers.

Vitamin B6 supplementation has also been shown to have an effect on lupus, with a 2011 study demonstrating that higher intake was associated with a lower risk of active disease.

Antioxidants

Multiple studies have shown that lupus patients who eat a diet rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E and beta carotene have fewer flares than those who don’t. When you think about it, this only makes sense, as antioxidants are well known for their ability to fight inflammation.

One study found that vitamin C intake was inversely associated with the risk of active disease, and another demonstrated that antioxidants like beta carotene and vitamin E can protect against tissue damage.

Additional studies have also shown that levels of glutathione—the body’s so-called master antioxidant—are depleted in people with lupus. However, the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a precursor of glutathione. And, in addition to its direct effects on levels of inflammation in the body, NAC has the ability to improve fatigue and limit the toxicity of the immunosuppressant medications commonly used to treat lupus.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Like antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids also have the ability to decrease levels of inflammation and help prevent flare-ups, both of which, as we’ve seen, can be of particular benefit to people with lupus.

A report from the American College of Rheumatology indicates that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with decreased symptoms of both fibromyalgia and depression and better sleep quality.

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

A number of herbs display anti-inflammatory properties as well. For instance, white willow bark works in a manner similar to aspirin but has fewer side effects. And green tea has properties that protect against both inflammation and cartilage breakdown. In addition, an herb called Polygonum cuspidatum, or Japanese knotweed, contains the polyphenol resveratrol, which possesses significant anti-inflammatory (and antioxidant) qualities.

Another herb with strong anti-inflammatory characteristics is turmeric, which has features similar to NSAIDs, without the dangerous side effects. And Boswellia serrata, a plant more widely known as frankincense, has anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, and analgesic properties. Moreover, a combination of turmeric and Boswellia has been shown to be safer and more effective than diclofenac in treating arthritis pain.

Mind-Body Interventions

Like diet and nutrition, mind-body interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), have also been shown to be effective in helping people with lupus deal with pain and its psychological effects.

CBT works by addressing ongoing issues, finding more effective coping strategies, and developing new ways of processing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. One study demonstrated that patients receiving CBT had significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which are common in people dealing with lupus pain.

Another intervention that’s been used to treat a variety of chronic pain conditions is biofeedback. This technique uses sensors to increase awareness of and change physiologic responses to unwanted symptoms.

Biofeedback helps individuals learn to regulate the central nervous system imbalance whereby stress and pain reinforce one another by making them aware of specific habits, such as muscle tension and shallow breathing. This awareness allows people to develop new, more adaptive patterns that break the pain-stress cycle.

Additional mind-body therapies, including progressive relaxation and meditation, may also be useful in coping with pain due to lupus.

Acupuncture

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a number of studies have shown that acupuncture may help ease symptoms of chronic pain, including low back and arthritis pain and headaches. And a small pilot study published in the journal Lupus found similar findings when investigating the effects of acupuncture on the pain associated specifically with lupus.

As you can see, a variety of natural options are available to people suffering lupus pain. However, it’s important to remember that lupus is a serious autoimmune disease that can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. Therefore, you should speak with your health care provider about any natural treatments you’re considering and let them know if you experience any change in your symptoms.

Lupus is a chronic disease that is poorly understood and poorly managed. An autoimmune disorder, lupus causes the body’s organs to come under attack by its own immune system. The entire body becomes inflamed and hurts.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Appendicitis

It is important to be able to recognize appendicitis symptoms and identify the early signs right away so you know to seek medical attention. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes appendicitis and the initial warnings to look out for when the illness strikes.

When severe pain strikes, it’s often difficult to pinpoint where it is coming from, what is the cause, and if you need to call your doctor. In the case of appendicitis, the sooner you get help, the better. You want to avoid the condition from snowballing into a life-threatening situation. That’s why it is important to be able to recognize appendicitis symptoms and identify the early signs right away so you know to seek medical attention. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes appendicitis and the initial warnings to look out for when the illness attacks.

What Is Your Appendix?

Your appendix is a located in your lower abdomen in the front part of your colon called the cecum. It’s a sac of tissue that resembles a worm, and while its exact purpose has been a bit of a question mark for many years, several doctors believe it aids your immune system by storing good bacteria for proper digestion. It also may give your digestive system a reboot after illnesses that involve nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Thankfully, we can survive without our appendix, so if it does become infected, it can be removed without any life-threatening consequences.

What Is Appendicitis?

Inflammation of the appendix is referred to as appendicitis. This inflammation causes a decrease in blood flow, an increase in pressure, and provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Because of the danger of the appendix rupturing, it is vital you get to the hospital as quickly as possible when appendicitis strikes. If your appendix bursts, infectious material can spread into your abdomen, creating a life-threatening situation called peritonitis in a very short period of time.

Appendicitis does not favor one age over another, but it is most often seen in people in their teens and twenties. In this country, it is the most common reason for an ER visit for abdominal pain, with over 5% of the population experiencing appendicitis at some point.

What Causes Appendicitis?

When your appendix becomes inflamed from an infection it is often due to bacteria, a blockage caused by feces or foreign matter, ulcers, or a parasite. The walls of the appendix are then invaded by bacteria, which can multiply quickly, causing the tissues to become inflamed and the infection to spread. If you do not seek medical assistance immediately, the appendix may fill with pus and burst, leaking the toxic material into your abdomen and surrounding areas.

What Are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?

Signs of appendicitis typically appear quickly and you will know to get to a doctor within 24 hours of the first symptoms. The first indication that your appendix is inflamed is severe and sudden pain in your abdomen around your belly button. As hours go by, the pain intensifies and does not subside. You may notice that simple movements, such as walking, laying down, and breathing, become extremely uncomfortable.

Other common signs of appendicitis include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent bloating
  • Severe abdomen, rectum, or back pain
  • Pain when urinating
  • Intense cramping
  • Diarrhea with gas or constipation

The first red flag may just be uncomfortable gas, but if you notice the pain begins to become more intense with no relief and other symptoms arise, get to a doctor immediately. Be sure not to drink or eat anything, apply heat, or use any over-the-counter medications like pain medicine or antacids, since doing so could raise your risk of rupturing an infected appendix.

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and perform a thorough physical exam to make sure you are not experiencing another condition, since symptoms can be similar to those of urinary tract infections, gallbladder issues, Crohn’s disease, or a blockage of the intestines.

How Is Appendicitis Diagnosed?

Appendicitis is diagnosed from exam results and your current symptoms. Blood tests may be ordered to look for an infection—an increased white blood cell count can indicate your body’s reaction to bacteria. An X-ray and CT scan will likely be performed on your pelvis and abdomen to get a closer look at potential inflammation, blockages, or other issues. An ultrasound can also be used, especially if it is a child experiencing stomach pain.

How Is Appendicitis Treated?

Identifying appendicitis as early as possible and receiving treatment is essential for preventing further complications. In mild cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. As the infection clears, the inflammation in the appendix and any additional symptoms should begin to disappear. In most situations where the appendix hasn’t burst, however, surgery is the more frequent method of treating appendicitis. Called an appendectomy, this surgical procedure removes the appendix through an incision in the belly button. Most people recover from surgery within a few weeks and can return to school, work, and normal activities.

If your appendix ruptures, surgery is more complicated, requiring an invasive method to clear the abdomen and surrounding tissues of any infection that may have spread. In both cases of appendicitis, antibiotics are given prior to surgery and for a period of time afterwards.

If you notice any signs of appendicitis or suspect there may be an issue, get to a hospital as soon as possible for necessary medical attention and treatment. Being prompt can reduce the risk of a rupture and prevent the situation from becoming much worse.

12 Home Remedies for Toothaches: Top Tricks to Soothe Tooth Pain

Sudden toothaches can be very painful and may include sharp or throbbing tooth pain, inflammation around the tooth or gum line, red, irritated gums, or generalized mouth pain. Until you can get in to see a doctor, follow these tricks to know what to do and which homemade remedies for toothaches can relieve some of the nagging pain.

Whether caused by tooth decay, gum disease, trauma, tooth grinding, an abnormal bite, or simply sensitive teeth, a toothache is one of the most common dental problems there is. And there’s no denying that dental pain can be an incredibly frustrating and unwelcome part of life, especially if it hits in the middle of the night or on the weekend. But take heart—you don’t have to suffer through it alone anymore because we have 12 home remedies for toothaches that will help see you through the pain while you wait to see your dentist.

Best Home Remedies for Toothaches

There are many folk remedies out there that make use of common—and not so common—household items. And, believe it or not, many of these natural remedies have even been proven by science to be effective at providing pain relief and fighting off infection. So read on to discover, in no particular order, our top 12 picks for toothache relief.

Sudden toothaches can be very painful and may include sharp or throbbing tooth pain, inflammation around the tooth or gum line, red, irritated gums, or generalized mouth pain. Until you can get in to see a doctor, follow these tricks to know what to do and which homemade remedies for toothaches can relieve some of the nagging pain.

1. Ice or Cold Compress

Probably the quickest way to treat a toothache is to head to the freezer for some ice to make a cold compress or ice pack. The application of cold not only constricts blood vessels, which slows blood flow to the affected area, but also helps numb pain and reduce swelling. To reduce toothache pain, simply apply an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) or cloth dipped in ice water and then apply it to the jaw in the area of pain. Do this for several minutes at a time and repeat throughout the day as necessary.

2. Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse

Hydrogen peroxide is a first aid remedy a lot of people keep stocked in their medicine cabinets for treating cuts, but did you know its antibacterial and pain-relieving properties are also helpful for easing a toothache? To use this method, simply rinse your mouth thoroughly with 3% hydrogen peroxide and spit, and then rinse your mouth several times with water. This process can be repeated throughout the day as needed.

3. Salt Water Rinse

The use of salt as medicine goes back thousands of years. In fact, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used it as a natural disinfectant and anti-inflammatory. The use of salt water for oral health is also well respected and is known to promote healing and increase mouth pH, creating an alkaline environment that makes it difficult for bacteria to survive. To use this solution for an aching tooth, dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, swish the mixture around in your mouth for a minimum of 30 seconds, and then spit it out. This can be done several times a day as needed.

4. Black Seed Oil

Like salt, black seed, or Nigella sativa, was also revered by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks for its medicinal properties. And modern science has begun to verify what the ancients knew. In fact, the oil has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antihistaminic, antimicrobial, analgesic, and immune-modulating effects. A recent study also demonstrated that black seed is effective for a wide range of dental problems. To use the oil for a toothache, apply a small amount directly to the affected tooth and gum or mix a teaspoon of the oil in a glass of warm water for use as a mouth rinse twice a day.

5. Essential Oils

The use of essential oils—which are not really oils at all, but rather hydrophobic mixtures of various volatile aromatic compounds—for the purposes of healing goes back at least 2,500 years. Science has confirmed that many essential oils do indeed have antibacterial, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties. And a number of these, including oregano, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, myrrh, cinnamon, and clove, are also known for their benefits to oral health.

All of these oils can be used alone or mixed and matched and applied directly to the tooth or used as a dental rinse to kill bacteria and provide relief of pain. Just remember that essential oils are extremely potent and shouldn’t be used without first diluting them in oil or water. Adding one or two drops to a carrier like neem oil—which also has antibacterial properties—and applying directly to the affected tooth or diluting several drops in a glass of water for use as a mouth rinse a couple of times a day can even stop a tooth abscess in its tracks.

6. Ginger Root

You may never have thought of ginger root as something that could cure a toothache, but this spicy culinary wonder has also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and broad antibacterial properties—including against strains of bacteria linked to gum disease. Biting down on a fresh piece of ginger root or applying a paste of the powdered root mixed with water directly to the tooth can provide instant relief. Ginger root can also be reapplied as often as needed.

7. Turmeric

While turmeric has become well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, many people may not be aware that its active ingredient, curcumin, also makes this spice great for a toothache. In fact, turmeric has many antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. One study even found that it was as effective as chlorhexidine in killing oral bacteria. To help a toothache, make a paste using a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a small amount of water and apply directly to the affected tooth as often as needed.

8. Tea Compress

Black tea contains astringent tannins, which can help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with a toothache. To use this method, soak a tea bag in warm water for 15 to 30 seconds, squeeze out the excess fluid, and place the tea bag against the affected tooth. Keep the tea bag pressed against your tooth until it cools, and then discard. This technique can be used once or twice a day as needed.

9. Asafetida

Asafetida, or Ferula asafoetida, is a spice widely used in Ayurvedic medicine, though it hasn’t quite taken hold in the West. But that might change soon, as this is a remarkable plant with a remarkable range of functions. However, its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties make it especially effective against dental infections. Placing a cotton ball soaked in a pinch of asafetida combined with a tablespoon of lemon juice can alleviate pain almost instantly. This remedy can also be used several times throughout the day.

10. Garlic

Garlic is another plant that’s been used for thousands of years as both food and medicine. And modern science has shown that the ancients again knew what they were talking about. That’s because garlic contains allicin, a substance with both antibacterial and antiviral properties that has even shown activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). To put this powerful bulb to work for a toothache, simply crush a garlic clove and place it against the affected tooth. You can also make a paste of crushed garlic and sea salt and apply it to the tooth once or twice a day.

11. Onions

Preparing this toothache treatment may make your eyes water, but onions possess both antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can put a stop to toothache pain. For a quick home toothache remedy, either slice or crush some raw onion and place it directly against the affected area for up to 5 minutes. Like garlic, this treatment can be repeated once or twice a day.

12. Vanilla Extract

Believe it or not, along with being an indispensable ingredient in your homemade cookies, vanilla extract can be surprisingly effective at providing temporary relief of toothache pain. That’s because this essential flavoring in many baked goods has both antiseptic and analgesic properties. Simply apply two or three drops of pure vanilla extract to a cotton swab and hold it against the affected tooth as long as needed and repeat as necessary. Other extracts, including lemon, almond, and peppermint, can be used as well.

While toothache relief can be achieved at home with many over-the-counter products, a toothache can also be a symptom of something more serious. If you experience pain that lasts more than a few hours or gets worse, don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see your dentist right away.

Signs of Early Heart Disease

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart disease kills about 610,000 people in the United States every year. Signs of early heart disease include fatigue and shortness of breath—everyday activities can become challenging.

Your heart delivers oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body’s cells—when this vital organ is not pumping as well as it should be, heart failure occurs.

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. There are two types of heart failure. In systolic heart failure the heart muscle is weakened so that it cannot pump out all the blood that has filled the heart in the interval after the last heart beat. In heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, the muscles of the heart can contract adequately, but they don’t relax fully after each beat. This limits the amount of blood that can fill the heart before the next beat.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease kills about 610,000 people in the United States every year. Signs of early heart disease include fatigue and shortness of breath—everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs can become challenging.

Your heart tries to react to the failure in different ways using temporary measures to mask the problem. It stretches to contract and pump more blood, develops stronger, thicker heart muscle, and pumps faster. The body also tries to compensate by narrowing the blood vessels to keep blood pressure up and divert the blood away from “less important” organs and towards the heart and brain. Eventually, these temporary measures fail because the body cannot keep up. These mechanisms help explain why some people may not be aware of their condition for many years.

Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease symptoms depend on the type of heart disease, and they might be different for men and women. The Heart Failure Society of America developed a handy tool that goes by the acronym FACES to help people detect heart disease.

F = Fatigue. When the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, the person will often get tired and drained.

A = Activity limitation. A person with heart failure struggles to perform normal activities such as walking or climbing stairs because shortness of breath occurs.

C = Congestion. Fluid accumulated in the lungs can cause coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulty.

E = Edema. When the heart does not pump with enough force, fluid accumulates in the ankles, legs, thighs, and abdomen—excess fluid can also cause rapid weight gain.

S = Shortness of breath. The fluid accumulated in the lungs makes it more difficult for carbon dioxide to be exchanged for fresh oxygen. This causes shortness of breath.

Other symptoms include chest pain, chest tightness, numbness, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back.

It is important to mention that, by themselves, these symptoms do not confirm a diagnosis of heart failure, but you should watch for signs of cardiovascular distress and discuss concerns with your doctor if you experience any of the conditions mentioned above. Additional symptoms might occur depending on the specific heart disease.

Congestive Heart Disease

Congestive heart disease, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), is a chronic condition that affects the pumping force of your heart muscles. Congestive heart disease is a type of heart failure—it refers to the stage in which fluid accumulates around the heart and affects its pumping power.

You have four heart chambers: the right atrium, the right ventricle, the left atrium, and the left ventricle. The ventricles pump blood to your body’s organs, while the atria receive blood circulating back from your body. Congestive heart disease develops when your ventricles cannot pump enough blood to cover the volume of your body. Left-sided congestive heart failure is the most common type; it occurs when your left ventricle cannot properly pump blood to your body. As the disease progresses, fluid accumulates in your lungs making breathing difficult.

There are two kinds of left-sided heart failure:

Systolic heart failure: This disease occurs when the left ventricle fails to contract normally, reducing the power of the heart, which cannot push blood into circulation.

Diastolic heart failure: This disease happens when the muscle in the left ventricle becomes stiff because it can no longer relax. The result is that the heart cannot fill with blood between beats.

Right-sided heart failure, instead, occurs when the right ventricle struggles to pump blood to your lungs. Blood accumulates in your blood vessels, causing fluid retention in your lower extremities, abdomen, and other vital organs. It is possible to have left-sided and right-sided heart disease at the same time. When this happens, usually, the failure starts in the left side and expands to the right when the disease is left untreated. Congestive heart failure may result from other health conditions including:

  • Hypertension: When your blood pressure is higher than normal, congestive heart disease might occur. One of the causes of hypertension is the narrowing of your arteries, which makes it hard for your blood to go through them.
  • Coronary artery diseaseCoronaries are the small arteries that supply blood to the heart. Cholesterol and other types of fatty substances can block the coronary arteries, causing the arteries to become narrow. This can result in a restriction of your blood flow and can damage your arteries.
  • Valve conditions: Heart valves regulate blood flow through your heart by opening and closing to allow the passage of the blood through the chambers. If valves do not open and close properly, ventricles have to work harder to pump blood.
  • Other conditions: Heart-related diseases can lead to congestive heart failure, but there are other unrelated conditions that may increase your risk. These include diabetes, thyroid disease, and obesity. Severe infections and allergies may also contribute to congestive heart failure.

15 Proven Effective Natural Arthritis Treatments

Conventional methods used to treat arthritis can cause side effects and dependency when used over the long term. Fortunately, there are natural arthritis treatments that can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

If one or more of your joints are inflamed, in pain, and stiff, you’re likely suffering from some form of arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 54 million Americans have arthritis. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, caused by wear-and-tear of joint cartilage, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that gradually destroys the cartilage and bone in a joint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 24 million adults are unable to freely go about their daily activities due to arthritis and 1 in 4 suffer from extreme joint pain. Conventional methods used to treat arthritis can cause side effects and dependency when used over the long term. Fortunately, there are natural arthritis treatments that can help alleviate arthritis symptoms and improve quality of life.

When it comes to choosing natural paths to arthritis relief, the best and only place to start is by understanding what little medical research does exist. Herbal supplements occasionally can cause harm, particularly when used in ways not directed. Less always is better to begin, and nobody should start a natural supplement plan without first talking to their doctor.

That being said, here are 15 natural remedies for arthritis that have already passed scientific muster to some degree or another.

1. Fish Oil/Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids have become popular natural arthritis treatments for painful joints. They work by blocking chemicals called cytokines and prostaglandins that cause inflammation. Instead, the body converts them into inflammation fighters.

A 2010 meta-analysis—the granddaddy of medical research papers because it reviews all the previous papers on a topic—declared “when collateral benefits of fish oil are included within efficacy, the argument for its adjunctive use in (rheumatoid arthritis) is strong.”

The researchers lambast the pharmaceutical industry for attempting to silence the benefits of fish oil.

“Despite evidence for efficacy and plausible biological mechanisms, the limited clinical use of fish oil indicates there are barriers to its use,” they conclude. “These probably include the pharmaceutical dominance of RA (rheumatoid arthritis) therapies and the perception that fish oil has relatively modest effects.”

2. Cat’s Claw

It sounds like it could sting, but cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has been proven effective for treating osteoarthritis.

That’s the conclusion of a small, year-long clinical trial of 40 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who received a highly purified extract of the plant experienced a more than 50% reduction in joint pain and swelling. The study was published in the esteemed journal Rheumatology.

3 & 4. Glucosamine and Chondroitin

These two supplements often are used in tandem to treat arthritic joints. They are compounds that may help reduce inflammation and therefore provide joint pain relief.

Scientific studies have yielded mixed results on the efficacy of these compounds. Some studies say the compounds are no more effective than placebo; others say they do help. Even the medical establishment cannot agree on whether glucosamine and chondroitin are effective at bringing about arthritis relief.

A January 2018 study looked at various ways of treating osteoarthritis of the knee and hip economically, specifically comparing the efficacies of oral glucosamine, chondroitin, the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and celecoxib (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, NSAID). Results showed that celecoxib was the most effective at alleviating pain and improving physical function such as range of motion, followed by the combo of glucosamine and chondroitin. Acetaminophen was the least effective.

The study, a meta-analysis which analyzed 61 previous studies, appeared in Clinical Experience Rheumatology.

Clinical trials are very expensive, and traditionally there has not been a lot of support for government research dollars that examine non-pharmaceutical solutions. That’s changing, however, with the onset of the opioid crisis. Glucosamine and chondroitin may be particularly attractive home remedies due to the side effects of long-term NSAID use, such as kidney, gastrointestinal, heart, and liver problems.

5-11. Collagen Hydrolysate, Passion Fruit Peel Extract, Curcuma Long Extract, Boswellia Serrata Extract, Curcumin, Pycnogenol, and L-Carnitine

Why lump these all together? Because they all come from the same study, a meta-analysis and systematic review in the journal British Sports Medicine that analyzed the effectiveness of 20 supplements on hand, hip, or knee osteoarthritis. The authors of the paper determined, after sifting through 69 clinical trials, that 7 natural arthritis treatments result in significant “clinical pain reduction.”

  • Collagen hydrolysate
  • Passion fruit peel extract
  • Curcuma long extract
  • Boswellia serrata extract
  • Curcumin
  • Pycnogenol
  • L-carnitine

12. Daily Sesame Oil

This one comes from research on rats, but often that’s the only research we have for new ideas in natural pain relief.

In a study published in the journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, scientists determined that a daily sesame oil supplement reduced joint pain by suppressing the oxidation of nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor (Nrf2) expression. Nrf2 controls the expression of antioxidants that protect against the oxidative damage caused by injury and inflammation. By inhibiting the oxidation of Nrf2, sesame oil shows potential as a natural treatment for arthritis.

13, 14 and 15: Amino acids Cysteine, Methionine, and Arginine

Cysteine, methionine, and arginine are amino acids that have shown particular promise as natural arthritis treatments. Research on laboratory animals suggests these amino acids are effective at managing arthritis symptoms and joint pain.

Cysteine, an antioxidant with remarkable anti-inflammatory properties, works by attenuating inflammation and preserving bone cells. In a 2017 study published in the Korean Journal of Internal Medicine, cysteine proved effective in reducing inflammation and bone deterioration in rats induced with simulated rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Methionine is also believed to boost skeletal development and keep it healthy. In a 2016 study published in the journal Mediators of Inflammation, rodents induced with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms but given methionine gained muscle and experienced fewer severe arthritis symptoms than a control group.

The amino acid arginine is important to bone and joint health because it plays a role in collagen production. Collagen is a protein that provides structure to connective tissues and bone. And research has linked arginine deficiency to osteoporosis, a bone disease that causes bone loss and reduced bone density. One study demonstrated that when arginine was combined with the essential amino acid lysine, it stimulated the growth of osteoblasts that help form bone. Yet another study showed arginine relieves arthritis symptoms in rats.

Human studies also show that amino acids call help ease arthritis pain by reducing inflammation. Learn more about amino acids and arthritis relief from a world-renowned amino acid expert in this article.

Herbal supplements occasionally can cause harm, particularly when used in ways not directed. Less always is better to begin, and always talk to your doctor before starting a natural supplement plan. Here are a dozen natural arthritis treatments which have already passed scientific muster to some degree or another.

The Liver: Your Body’s Central Processing Plant

The liver is the largest organ in the body and has an impressive list of duties. Many of us only think of our liver when we feel we’ve overtaxed it with excessive alcohol or exposure to toxins, but the liver works full time every day. Let’s get to know it better.

The liver is the largest internal organ in the body and is found only in vertebrates. Although it’s an organ that has an impressive list of duties—an estimated 500 according to most textbooks—many of us think of it only when we’ve had too much to drink or been exposed to certain toxic substances. But the liver works all day every day, detoxifying and purifying the body’s blood supply and acting as the primary site for nutrient processing and lipid, carbohydrate, and amino acid distribution.

So come with us as we explore the structure and many functions of the liver and what this amazingly important organ means for the rest of the body.

The Structure of the Liver

The liver is a reddish-brown solid organ that’s located in the upper right side of the abdominal cavity, just below the lungs, and is partially protected by the rib cage. The liver of an adult human weighs approximately 3 pounds, which makes it the second heaviest organ in the body, surpassed only by the skin (which is also considered the largest organ overall). The liver is also the only organ that receives blood from two sources:

  • Hepatic artery
  • Portal vein

The hepatic artery carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart, and the portal vein carries nutrient-rich blood from the intestines. These blood vessels further subdivide into capillaries that supply the two main lobes’ many smaller lobules. These functional units of the liver are, in turn, made up of millions of metabolic liver cells called hepatocytes.

Because of its role in filtering the body’s blood supply, the liver holds about a pint of blood at any given moment. After being processed, this blood is then passed out of the liver via the three hepatic veins.

How the Liver Functions

We’ve established that the liver is the largest internal organ in the body, but did you know it’s also the largest gland?

The liver is afforded the status of gland because it synthesizes and secretes substances that are used by the rest of the body. This means it has the ability to regulate the levels of most chemicals in the blood both directly and indirectly through the secretion of a number of important substances, including bile—a bitter alkaline fluid manufactured by the hepatocytes and stored and concentrated in the gallbladder. Bile not only aids in the elimination of certain byproducts of liver metabolism but also assists in the digestion and absorption of fats.

And this brings us to one of the most important functions of the liver—processing the food we eat.

The Liver and Food Processing

The foods we eat are basically combinations of macronutrients—the substances we require in relatively large amounts to survive—and the main macronutrients are generally considered carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. But other consumables, such as alcohol, are technically macronutrients too, in the sense that they contribute calories to the diet.

After food has gone through the digestive process, its nutrients are absorbed by the small intestine and sent to the “central processing plant” of the liver to be broken down, converted, stored, or repackaged for delivery to other tissues and organs based on the current needs of the body.

An easy way to illustrate this process may be to think of how an oil refinery works. First, crude oil is delivered to the refinery and sent through the processing stream, which yields whatever end products are most in demand by the current market—for example, gasoline, diesel fuel, and kerosene. Likewise, the liver senses which nutrients are needed by various tissues and organs and delivers the building blocks required to meet the body’s demands.

In the case of fats, the bile produced by the liver is pushed by the gallbladder into tubes called bile ducts. These ducts carry the bile to the small intestine, where it mixes with the fats in food to aid in their digestion and promote their absorption by the gastrointestinal tract.

One of these fats, triglycerides, which is found in the blood and can cause fatty liver if allowed to build up to excessive levels, is metabolized in the liver to produce energy for its (the liver’s) own use. And the metabolites, or breakdown products, are then transported out to the blood for delivery to the body’s various tissues.

As for the carbohydrates, after they’re broken down into their simplest form—the monosaccharides glucose, fructose, and galactose—and the fructose and galactose are converted into glucose, their fate depends on the liver to store or use glucose as needed.

It’s vitally important to maintain blood glucose levels within a very narrow range, and the liver does a precise job of this by taking up excess glucose after a meal and storing it as glycogen. And when blood glucose levels drop, the liver senses the change and releases glucose back into the blood.

The Liver and Amino Acids

The liver is also responsible for the regulation of blood levels of amino acids, and is the place where amino acids from protein digestion get sorted and transformed. This process is carried out by enzymes called deaminases and transaminases. These enzymes can either add nitrogen to molecules to synthesize nonessential amino acids or remove nitrogen to leave carbon structures that can then be used to make glucose or—less readily—be converted to fatty acids.

The liver also converts the ammonia that’s generated by the release of nitrogen from some of these reactions into urea—a process that allows what was a toxic byproduct (ammonia) to be safely excreted in the urine.

In addition, the liver produces a number of proteins, including albumin and fibrinogen—two major plasma proteins (proteins present in blood plasma) that circulate through the body. Albumin serves to regulate blood volume and may also be a means of transporting essential amino acids to other tissues. Fibrinogen is an important component of the blood clotting process. The levels of these plasma proteins, and the liver’s capacity to produce them, are affected by overall nutrition and excessive use of alcohol or other drugs.

The Liver and Its Many (Other) Roles

As stated earlier, the liver is responsible for about 500 known tasks, some of which have already been discussed. But there are so many more—too many to possibly cover here. Still, the liver is such an important organ we thought we’d show it the respect it deserves and talk about a few more of its better known functions.

  • Vitamin and mineral storage: The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12—some for months, and even years. It also stores iron and copper and is the main organ responsible for the recycling of iron and the removal of old red blood cells.
  • Detoxification: Anything that enters the body, whether it’s via the mouth, skin, or lungs, gets filtered by the liver. If the liver decides something’s a nutrient, it gets sent to the bloodstream, while substances deemed to be toxins or waste are excreted with the help of bile.
  • Hormone regulation: The liver regulates the balance of sex, thyroid, and adrenal hormones, breaking down and removing excess levels from the body.
  • Immune system support: The liver helps fight infections by making immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and has an impressive list of duties. Many of us only think of our liver when we feel we’ve overtaxed it with excessive alcohol or exposure to toxins, but the liver works full time every day.

Diseases of the Liver

The liver has a lot of amazing abilities, not the least of which is its remarkable powers of regeneration. In fact, the liver can become whole again even if as little as 25% of the liver tissue remains. While this is a truly astounding feat no other internal organ can duplicate, the liver isn’t invincible. Indeed, there are a number of conditions that can affect the liver’s capacity to perform its myriad functions. These include:

  • Viral hepatitis: The hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses all cause liver damage. However, hepatitis A and E typically result in acute infections, while hepatitis B, C, and D can lead to both liver failure and liver cancer.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis: Sometimes the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the liver, leading to inflammation and liver damage.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: As mentioned earlier, excess levels of triglycerides can lead to a fatty liver, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is liver disease that’s caused by the buildup of too much fat in the liver.
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis: In people with primary sclerosing cholangitis, inflammation occurs within the bile ducts, which leads to scar tissue and hardened, narrowed ducts. Over time, this can result in serious liver damage and require liver transplantation.
  • Primary biliary cholangitis: This condition, which was previously known as primary biliary cirrhosis, leads to the gradual destruction of the bile ducts. If the damage is extensive enough, bile can back up in the liver and cause cirrhosis.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and has an impressive list of duties. Many of us only think of our liver when we feel we’ve overtaxed it with excessive alcohol or exposure to toxins, but the liver works full time every day.

Keeping the Liver Healthy

As we’ve seen, the liver performs many important functions that help keep the body running smoothly. But certain conditions can compromise its ability to function. However, there are a few things you can do to help prevent these liver problems and ensure a lifetime of tireless service. These include:

  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and healthy oils like olive oil and limits the amount of red meat and dairy products can keep the liver healthy and going strong. Likewise, processed and refined foods should be kept to a bare minimum, as these types of foods are associated with obesity and fatty liver disease.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps lower triglycerides and boost levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—the so-called good cholesterol—which can reduce the amount of fat in the liver.
  • Limit exposure to toxins. Because the liver is responsible for processing every toxin that enters the body, excessive exposure can injure liver cells. Try to limit direct contact with chemicals that may be found in products such as paints, cleaning supplies, aerosols, herbicides, and pesticides.
  • Drink in moderation. Too much alcohol can lead to liver damage, so aim for no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Avoid potential contamination. Viruses that damage the liver, such as hepatitis C, are spread through body fluids, so never share needles or personal hygiene items and always use condoms or dental dams during sex.
  • Use medications wisely. Some medications, like acetaminophen, are well known for their ability to cause liver damage. However, medications that are relatively harmless in isolation may become toxic in combination with others. Educate yourself or speak with your health care provider before mixing medications with either other medications or alcohol—or even herbal supplements.

From filtering the blood and neutralizing toxins to processing food and regulating hormones, the liver is truly one of the wonders of nature. And by following a few simple guidelines, you can go a long way toward ensuring the body’s central processing plant remains up and running for many years to come.

What Is Post-Workout Inflammation? Plus, 8 Expert-Approved Ways to Recover Faster

There’s a way to make post-workout inflammation work for the greater good of your muscles and body, and there is, unfortunately, also a way to stoke the flames of inflammation to the degree that they’re burning away all the gains you’ve worked out for. Learn how to manage inflammation after strenuous exercise and increase your fitness gains.

If you’re interested in health and wellness, you’ve likely come across the topic of inflammation, which has been widely covered. The vast majority of that coverage, however, has focused on the damage inflammation can do to the body. But that’s not the whole story. Certain kinds of inflammation can be highly beneficial, including what’s known as post-workout inflammation.

As Shawn Talbott, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, put it, “You need enough inflammation to trigger a physiological response that makes your body fitter and stronger and helps it recover after a workout, but not so much inflammation that it slows the body’s natural repair process.”

The reason many work out is to see and feel results, which can make even muscle aches and pains feel gratifying. We often see muscle pain as evidence that, say, the 50 weighted squats we completed the day before are going to make our muscles bigger and stronger. And that’s true, to a point. Post-workout inflammation can work for the greater good of our muscles and bodies, but when inflammation becomes too elevated, its flames can begin to burn away all the gains you’ve been working for.

The Inflammatory Response Explained

The inflammatory response is the immune system’s reaction to tissue damage. When we work out we naturally and inadvertently cause microscopic trauma to muscle fibers, connective tissues, bones, and joints. After workouts, the inflammatory response kicks in, sending a flood of chemicals and hormones throughout the body to repair the damage done to affected tissues; fill in the divots strength training creates in weak areas of bones with new, stronger bone; and build stronger muscle fibers. According to Joanne Donoghue, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic medicine, this type of inflammation is crucial to overall immune system function and has potent healing effects.

You might see and feel this inflammation in the form of swelling, heat, stiffness, muscle pain, or joint aches. Alternately, this inflammatory response may be so mild that you might not experience any perceptible physical symptoms.

Post-workout inflammation typically sets in between 2 and 48 hours after exercise. In an ideal world, this transpires during your recovery time between workouts, allowing pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines to work uninterrupted as they rejuvenate soft tissue cells in muscles, ligaments, and tendons so that they are stronger for subsequent workouts of a similar nature.

Understanding how inflammation works will help you learn how to recover more quickly after intense bouts of physical activity. Post-workout inflammation follows the same trajectory as any other inflammatory response, whether it’s an acute, short-term flare in response to a sprained ankle or chronic, low-level inflammation resulting from an ongoing condition such as Crohn’s disease.

Let’s break the inflammatory response down in phases.

  • Phase 1: Blood rushes to the affected area or areas, inducing the familiar symptoms of inflammation, such as redness and swelling.
  • Phase 2: White blood cells called neutrophils sweep away the remains of damaged cells.
  • Phase 3: Macrophages, another type of white blood cell, flood the site of injury, clear up the remaining debris, and activate tissue rebuilding.

Inflammation Phase One

When your immune system detects an injury or threat, it responds by delivering a rapid infusion of blood and expanding blood vessels leading to the affected area or areas and sealing those leading away from it.

Inflammation Phase Two

Next, the immune system directs pro-inflammatory cytokines and a specialized type of white blood cell called neutrophils to the injured area. They sail through the wide-open blood vessels leading to the area, then pile up when they encounter the sealed-off vessels leading away.

This creates an environment in which a concentrated supply of cytokines and neutrophils can rapidly flush out damaged or infected cells.

Inflammation Phase Three

Finally, the immune system sends in macrophages, another type of white blood cell, to complete the clean-up process and begin repairing the damage caused by the injury or infection.

When the area appears to be stabilized, meaning the trauma has been reduced and any infections resolved, the immune system reopens the blood vessels leading away, allowing the extra blood cells that have accumulated to evacuate and bringing swelling and redness down.

There’s a way to make post-workout inflammation work for the greater good of your muscles and body, and there is, unfortunately, also a way to stoke the flames of inflammation to the degree that they’re burning away all the gains you’ve worked out for. Learn how to manage inflammation after strenuous exercise and increase your fitness gains.

Differentiating Between Healthy and Unhealthy Inflammation

As you can see, the intended purpose of inflammation is to heal. However, when inflammation levels rise too high or remain elevated for too long, this can result in damage to healthy muscle and tissue cells that present as chronic aches and pains.

When it comes to post-workout inflammation, issues often arise when individuals neglect to leave adequate time for the healing process to transpire between sessions. If you put too much strain on your joints and don’t take time off to let your body repair the tendons and ligaments, you may develop arthritis.

The goal should not be to avoid inflammation altogether, but rather to ensure it remains at healthy, healing levels.

The Healing Benefits of Inflammation

Post-workout inflammation is important to muscle recovery and growth because it helps accelerate the healing process and keeps us from working out already depleted muscles and joints before they are ready to once again perform at top function.

Inflammation can also help to accelerate fitness gains due to satellite cell proliferation, which is crucial to the building of stronger and better adapted muscle fibers.

Furthermore, inflammation builds up a resistance to future injury due to an occurrence called the “repeated bout effect.” Essentially, inflammation after strenuous exercise increases neutrophil activity for the next round of exercise, thereby shielding muscle fibers from redundant and extreme damage.

In the same way that regular workouts expand your muscles’ strength capacity, they also improve your body’s ability to regulate inflammation levels to contain them within the healthy range. This translates to the capacity to work out longer and harder with decreased muscle breakdown, and subsequently, decreased recovery time.

Scientists have found, too, that routine physical activity can lower systemic inflammation. A 2016 study showed that a combination of endurance and resistance training reduced markers of inflammation, which the authors believe could have exciting implications for the treatment of diseases caused by inflammation.

When Inflammation Goes Wrong

Post-workout inflammation, if not appropriately managed, does have downsides—slow recovery, increased risk of injuries from overuse, and constrained fitness gains due to secondary muscle damage between workouts, of which delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a primary cause.

DOMS is that peculiar type of muscle pain that begins the day after a hard workout, and becomes even more severe the day after that. Exercise scientists attribute DOMS in part due to free radicals that are produced as byproducts of neutrophil activity. The degree of muscle damage that has triggered DOMS can greatly impact the quality of your workouts and training, and place undue stress on your joints, increasing your risk of future injuries.

Muscles aren’t the only part of the body affected by post-workout inflammation. The joints also experience microtrauma during exercise and must be restored and fortified during the healing process instigated by post-workout inflammation. However, if joint tissues aren’t fully revived during the recovery process, unrelenting chronic inflammation can take over and slowly whittle away joint stability, resulting in long-term joint pain and even acute joint injuries.

Those who enjoy physical exertion and pushing their limits face particularly high risks for inflammation-related injuries. Take Alia Malley’s experience. She committed to a serious yoga practice after discovering a style and instructor she loved, and assumed that the harder she worked, the greater the rewards would be. After several months of attending vinyasa classes practically every other day, Malley developed knee pain extreme enough to compel her to schedule an appointment with her doctor, who diagnosed her with partially-torn ACLs in both knees. By the time she sought medical care, the condition had progressed to the point at which it would take a combination of surgery and physical therapy to restore function to her knees. “I was ignoring the warning signs—soreness and swelling,” Malley told Fitness Magazine. “I kept pushing myself until I got hurt because I thought I could handle it.”

The challenge with addressing joint, tendon, and muscle inflammation, according to Tom Hackett, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado and lead physician for the U.S. men’s and women’s snowboarding and raft teams, is that you can’t see the inflammation that affects your fascia or muscle tissue. This makes it more likely to be ignored until a problem like tendinitis, arthritis, or even fibromyalgia develops.

To avoid this, Dr. Hackett advises tuning into which muscles and joints are most vulnerable. This will depend on your own physiology as well as the activity you’re engaged in. Tennis, for example, puts a significant amount of strain on the shoulders and elbows while runners often develop knee and ankle issues. Any time you experience pain or swelling in a muscle, joint, or tendon, that’s a sign you need to let it rest. If you’re dealing with chronic issues in the same area, it can be helpful to consult with a doctor, trainer, or physical therapist for guidance on how best to rest and restore the problem area.

Your doctor may also want to check inflammatory markers such as the ratio of arachidonic acid to eciposapentaenoic acid, which can help them ascertain whether your global anti-inflammatory response has been compromised. If this occurs, inflammation can begin to spread throughout your body, setting off a cascade of adverse events such as increased belly and body fat, decreased immune function, and higher levels of fatigue and depression.

How to Manage Post-Workout Inflammation

Your muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues need adequate rest between workouts to fully recover so that they can rebuild stronger and more durable. You can subdue inflammation and trim down the time it takes for your body to regenerate with the following eight tips for managing post-workout inflammation.

There’s a way to make post-workout inflammation work for the greater good of your muscles and body, and there is, unfortunately, also a way to stoke the flames of inflammation to the degree that they’re burning away all the gains you’ve worked out for. Learn how to manage inflammation after strenuous exercise and increase your fitness gains.

1. Alternate Workouts

You most likely know that the consensus among experts is that you should allow your muscles a full 48 hours to recover before working them in the same way. That doesn’t mean you need to abstain from all physical activity during that time, though.

Adding one or two alternate workouts to your preferred form of exercise is a great way to maximize your strength and fitness gains. That might mean experimenting with cardio and resistance-training workouts between your strength-training sessions. You can lift heavy on Monday, go for a run or bike ride on Tuesday, run through a set of body-weight exercises on Wednesday, and circle back to strength training on Thursday.

2. Develop a Post-Workout Stretching Routine

It can be tempting to allow yourself to just collapse after a tough workout, but this takes a toll on your muscles.

After you’ve exerted them, your muscles excrete a protein called creatine kinase, which your kidneys must filter from your blood. Sitting still allows this substance to accumulate, which can delay recovery time.

When you move your muscles by engaging in a light cool down and stretching routine, you increase blood flow, which helps flush creatine kinase from your body more quickly. This, in turn, facilitates a speedier cellular repair process.

3. Exercise in the Morning

Researchers have found that certain hormones that mitigate post-workout inflammation, including testosterone and cortisol, are at their highest levels in the morning. Take advantage by timing your workouts to take place early in the day so you can make rapid recoveries from even the most strenuous training sessions.

4. Sleep Well

Though you’re not consciously aware it’s transpiring, your body carries out many functions, including healing ones, while you’re asleep. Be sure to get a minimum of 8 hours of quality sleep nightly to help your body move through the inflammation and repair process as rapidly as possible.

5. Feed Your Muscles

Your post-exercise meals can significantly impact the time it takes your body to recover. The more intense the workout, the more strategic you’ll need to be about the timing and nutrient profile of your food choices. Typically, experts advise ingesting a combination of protein and carbs within 20 minutes of the conclusion of an intense workout.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids also show promise as a means of fueling major recovery gains due to their ability to lower inflammation levels. Though fish oil supplements can seem like the easiest way to load up on these potent nutrients, not all formulations are made from high-quality ingredients or contain sufficient quantities of omega-3 fatty acids to produce results. Because of this, it can be a better option to meet your body’s needs through strategic food choices. Tuna, salmon, and herring all contain high levels of an omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

6. Get a Massage

Recent studies indicate that massage can be key to quicker recoveries after high-intensity workouts.

A particular massage technique known as myofascial release manipulates connective tissues to reduce inflammation. Fans say that it reduces soreness and improves performance in subsequent workouts.

If you can’t find a massage therapist near you who practices myofascial release, or want to try it on your own first, self-massage with a foam roller can produce similar results, though it can be challenging to apply to certain areas of the body.

7. Address Your Stress

Stress can intensify the inflammation that occurs after workouts. Any time your brain perceives anxiety or danger, inflammation levels rise. This can be beneficial in the short term, since the release of cortisol and other chemicals keep you extra alert. When it becomes chronic, however, inflammation can be quite damaging, as previously discussed.

Scientists have identified a number of ways to lower stress levels, including spending time in nature, practicing meditation, and eating more probiotic foods.

8. Give Your Body a Boost with Amino Acids

Taking amino acids is a proven technique for maximizing your workout gains and minimizing the time needed to recover between training sessions.

Research consistently shows that a well-formulated blend of essential amino acids can accelerate muscle growth during recovery by boosting muscle protein synthesis. If you’d like to learn more about the science behind how amino acids support muscle recovery, check out this article.

5 Habits of Emotionally Healthy People

Your emotional health is tied to your physical health, your relationships, and how you navigate through life’s ups and downs. Here are 5 habits of emotionally healthy people that can help inspire and motivate you on your search for emotional health and balance.

Your emotional health is the epicenter of your overall well-being and outlook on life. It is intricately tied to your physical health, your relationships, and how you navigate through life’s ups and downs. You likely have met someone who seems genuinely happy most days, is able to cope with changes gracefully, and is a positive force to be around. What’s their secret? Can anyone find balance and be an emotionally healthy person?

The great news is many of these healthy habits are choices, and you truly can choose to be happy simply by making small shifts in your way of thinking and how you approach both challenges and opportunities. The goal is not to achieve emotional perfection, but rather emotional intelligence—to be able to manage your feelings effectively and keep a positive outlook as you move through life. Here are five habits of emotionally healthy people that can help inspire and motivate you on your search for emotional health and balance.

1. Practice Self-Love and Reflection

It all begins with you. Emotional well-being truly comes from within, and emotionally healthy people practice self-love and self-care every day.

Being kind to ourselves is often difficult, and it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of negative self-talk and criticism. It’s essential to strengthen your self-awareness muscle and identify when this impolite voice starts to chatter away, and quickly reverse it. Offer yourself the support and encouragement you would a friend; doing so will positively affect your emotions and overall state of mind.

Learn to identify what triggers your negative emotions and implement healthy ways to respond when these feelings pop up. It’s unrealistic to avoid feeling angry, sad, or upset. Instead it’s important to face these sensations, let them flow through you, and then let go of what no longer serves you.

Loving yourself improves your self-worth and sets expectations for how you should be treated. When you are compassionate toward yourself, you automatically send that outwards, improving your relationships with other people.

It may take a little practice, but try to find moments that allow reflection, either through meditation, journaling, a walk, or sitting quietly. Having a peaceful space to check in with yourself allows you to get in touch with anything that may need your attention. Determine how you’re feeling or what may be worrying you and reframe any negative emotions in a resourceful way. For instance, if the thought, “I’m so lazy, why can’t I get to the gym every day like I should?” is plaguing your mind, take a moment to review it and amend it. Try a simple change to “I would love to get to the gym every day, but my schedule just doesn’t allow it right now. I will get there as often as I can, and when I can’t, I will try to take a quick walk or play in the yard with the kids.” 

The more you become in tune with your reactions and the reasons for your certain emotions, you’ll have better luck at remaining flexible and optimistic when faced with challenging people or situations.

2. Maintain Resilience After Failures and Mistakes

No one likes the dreaded F word—failure. It sure can sting and knock you off balance, but failure is an important step to mastering your emotions. It helps you evolve and strengthens your resiliency.

When life throws a curveball, emotionally healthy people are able to maintain flexibility, not take it personally, and choose effective action in the face of emotional discomfort. It’s important to learn how to control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, especially when facing life’s difficulties. Resilient people understand setbacks are disappointing but temporary, and refuse to let failure define them or their qualities.

Healthy emotional habits include taking an optimistic approach by stepping back, recalibrating the experience, working through the emotions, and then forging ahead. For example, you were really set on a big promotion at work. You’ve been working extra hours, speaking up in meetings, and taking on hard challenges and projects. Then when the big day comes, you find out you’ve been passed up and the promotion went to someone else. While it can be heartbreaking, it’s proactive to avoid passing blame, getting overcome by frustration, and allowing anger to take over. Instead, after allowing yourself to feel disappointed, run through what you think you could have done differently, applaud yourself for the things you did accomplish, and focus on the positives like the sharpening of certain skills or increasing visibility within your team. Then, while keeping your head high, revise your plan and continue moving toward your goal.

When it comes to making mistakes, the same train of thought applies. Even though mistakes are often embarrassing and unpleasant, they are lessons in disguise and present an opportunity for reflection to help you avoid making the same error in the future. Emotionally resilient people accept responsibility for their mistakes and determine what could have been done differently to have produced a better result. A good reminder is just because you made a mistake, that doesn’t make you a failure.

3. Take Time for Passions and Hobbies

Break out your beloved stamp collection! Whatever it is that brings you joy, embrace it and take time to fit it into your life. If you don’t currently have a favorite activity, invest time into finding one by asking friends, browsing the library, or looking for inspiration from your past.

The happiest, most emotionally stable people have something they do just for the sheer enjoyment of it. A hobby is yours and yours alone and brings a feeling of accomplishment, excitement, and creative freedom to your day-to-day. Plus, it provides a sense of purpose and often gives a unique perspective to other areas of your life. Whether it’s woodworking, painting, or bird watching, personal pursuits provide physical health benefits, such as helping to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and elevate mood. Carving out time to enjoy your interests is one of the best things you can do for your emotional and physical health.

Your emotional health is tied to your physical health, your relationships, and how you navigate through life’s ups and downs. Here are 5 habits of emotionally healthy people that can help inspire and motivate you on your search for emotional health and balance.

4. Surround Yourself with Positive People

Life’s too short to spend it with miserable people, so choose your company wisely and find your tribe. Just like germs, emotions are contagious and when you surround yourself with happy people, you can’t help but be happy too. Having loving and caring relationships in your life helps you feel connected and accepted, and promotes a positive mood and outlook on life.

Emotionally healthy people have a well-established support system that provides guidance and a needed boost when going through difficult times. When you know you have people to fall back on, it makes the trials of life a little less intimidating.

It’s extremely important to set boundaries with difficult relationships and get rid of negative influences that do not provide a good element to your life. As the adage goes, misery loves company and toxic people often sabotage your self-improvement journey and threaten your emotional health. Being involved in a toxic relationship usually takes a toll on your self-esteem since the other person picks on your weaknesses.

Becoming more in tune with yourself, appreciating both your strengths and flaws and not letting negative people affect you, can greatly protect you from being brought down. Your best bet is to stay in close contact with people who make you feel safe, cherished, and happy.

5. Show Kindness and Compassion for Others

Emotionally healthy people make a dedicated effort to positively impact the world around them and reach out to others. An important step in finding emotional balance is recognizing that life isn’t solely about you and that you have the power to influence the lives around you.

Sharing your knowledge, skills, and abilities with other people gives your life more purpose and a deeper meaning. Showing compassion towards others and doing selfless acts of kindness are linked to personal happiness and contentment. When you give to another, especially to someone in need, you promote empathy within yourself and in turn enhance your sense of interconnectedness with others.

You’ll often find that those who are eager to provide a helping hand are among the most emotionally upbeat because, simply put, doing good makes you feel good. Doing a good deed doesn’t require big bucks or even a lot of time. Small efforts can have a large impact. Try volunteering, mentoring, or random acts of kindness to positively influence others and improve your own sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

Your emotional and mental health is just as important as your physical health. It makes us who we are and keeps us motivated to move forward in life with enthusiasm and energy. There are several secrets of emotionally healthy people; most importantly they manage their emotions, rather than letting their emotions manage them. You too can fine-tune your outlook and adopt habits that promote your emotional health. Choose a positive attitude, be grateful for what you have, and open your heart to others—it will be one of the greatest gifts you could ever receive.

Let’s Get to Know the Essential Amino Acids in Vegetables

Vegetables normally call to mind vitamins and antioxidants, but let’s not forget the protein component of our favorite and flavorful greens and roots. The essential amino acids in vegetables are crucial to our survival because proteins are needed for most biological processes in our body.

Amino acids are well known as the building blocks of protein—substances necessary for most biological processes in the body. It’s for this reason that proteins, and the amino acids that form them, are considered crucial to our survival. Some amino acids can be produced by the human body and are therefore called nonessential amino acids, but the remaining essential amino acids must be obtained through diet. While animal protein has generally been considered the easiest (and best) way to get all the essential amino acids, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, it’s helpful to know that you can still get everything you need from plant sources—the trick lies in simply eating the right types of plant foods. So come with us as we break down the essential amino acids in vegetables and uncover what you need to know to make sure you’re getting the amino acids your body craves.

Protein Sources: Animal vs. Plant

When we think of dietary protein, most of us probably think of meat, fish, and dairy products. Our minds don’t naturally land on hemp seeds, kale, or whole grains. But while animal sources do contain higher levels of quality protein than plant sources, people who rely on animal-based sources of protein are also at greater risk of developing many of the diseases most commonly associated with the traditional Western diet, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease

Moreover, a recent study indicates that the majority of Americans may actually be eating too much protein—and they’re getting the bulk of it from red and processed meats, both of which are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death.

What’s more, plant sources of protein, in addition to decreasing the risk of excessive protein consumption and chronic diseases, also offer additional health benefits that animal sources do not. Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved gut health
  • Immune system support
  • Increased longevity

Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins

Animal-based proteins are considered complete proteins because they contain relatively high levels of all nine essential amino acids:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Yet many plant proteins are considered incomplete, as they lack or have low levels of one or more of these amino acids. Moreover, it used to be believed that to make incomplete proteins complete, they had to be consumed together to compensate for each other’s lack of amino acids. Many of us probably even remember our parents instructing us in these complementary proteins, such as beans and rice.

But according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this entire thought process is actually flawed, as it’s been shown that an optimal amino acid profile is perfectly obtainable by eating a variety of protein sources over the course of a day.

Essential Amino Acids in Vegetables

If we take a look at some of the best sources of plant-based protein, nine of the top contenders are:

  • Tofu
  • Quinoa
  • Chia seeds
  • Legumes
  • Hemp seeds
  • Spirulina
  • Broccoli
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Although every plant on this list isn’t universally considered a vegetable, deciding whether something is a fruit, vegetable, or something entirely different isn’t always straightforward. So, with this in mind, we’re going to omit the true nuts and seeds from our discussion and keep the legumes—but don’t forget the importance of all these sources when it comes to your actual diet!

Starchy Vegetables

The starchy vegetables, which include potatoes, taro root, and corn, may not contain complete proteins, but they do deliver more protein than you might think. For example, a large baked russet potato with the skin on contains 7.9 grams of protein, while a cup of cooked taro root has 5.7 grams and a cup of corn dishes up 5.4 grams.

The starchy vegetables also furnish all nine essential amino acids, but many contain lower levels of lysine and the sulfur-containing amino acid methionine.

As the term “sulfur-containing” suggests, the amino acid methionine helps increase the uptake of sulfur, but it also aids in the absorption and bioavailability of selenium and zinc and the removal of heavy metals.

Lysine is the second most abundant essential amino acid in muscle protein and is a necessary component of immune, bone, and cardiovascular health. Lysine is also a precursor of the amino acid carnitine, which is responsible for delivering fatty acids to the mitochondria—the so-called powerhouses of the cell—for use as energy.

Legumes

The protein-rich legumes, whose members include beans, peas, and lentils, help pick up where the starchy vegetables leave off. For instance, several varieties of beans, including kidney beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans, can conceivably furnish a full day’s supply of lysine. However, like the starchy vegetables, the legumes also tend to contain lower levels of methionine.

Green Leafy Vegetables

While the leafy greens also contain relatively high levels of protein, they tend to contain higher levels of the amino acids leucine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan.

Phenylalanine is a precursor of tyrosine, which is itself a precursor of neurotransmitters and thyroid hormones. Leucine is important in muscle building, while threonine is essential for nervous system health and tryptophan is needed for the production of niacin, melatonin, and serotonin.

Cruciferous Vegetables

The cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli, also have high levels of protein and tend to contain higher quantities of isoleucine and valine, which are important for hemoglobin synthesis and regulation of blood sugar and energy levels (isoleucine) and muscle growth and tissue repair (valine).

Marrow Vegetables

The marrow vegetables include pumpkin and zucchini and are rich in leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan.

Stem Vegetables

The stem vegetables include celery and asparagus and are relatively high in tryptophan.

Allium Vegetables

The allium vegetables include onions, garlic, and leeks. Because this group of vegetables is high in sulfur, it actually contains relatively high levels of methionine, in addition to tryptophan.

The essential amino acids in vegetables are crucial to our survival because proteins are needed for most biological processes in our body.

Plant-Based Complete Proteins

Among plant-based protein food sources, both quinoa and soy contain high levels of all nine essential amino acids—hence, their designation as complete proteins. But as we’ve discussed, the term “complete” is now considered misleading, so while including quinoa and soy in your diet is certainly not a bad idea, it’s still possible to achieve a complete amino acid profile through other sources.

As you can see, Americans who choose to eat a plant-based diet don’t need to fear that they’ll end up deficient in protein and amino acids as long as they are including a diverse array of high-protein plant sources in their diets. Even so, several factors can affect the nutritional profile of any food, including soil quality and the method of storage and food preparation.

Which is why, in addition to eating a healthy diet and aiming for both variety and adequate calories, you may want to consider supplementing with essential amino acids to make sure you are obtaining all the different amino acids your body needs.

Essential amino acid supplements enhance your muscle strength and mass and provide benefits that even the highest quality dietary proteins cannot. But single therapy supplementation, such as with lysine, won’t meet your protein needs. All amino acids need to be present in their optimal amount for supplements to be truly beneficial.