The Rising Rates of Asthma: Theories Behind Asthma’s Growing Numbers

Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that affects millions of people across the globe. Asthma rates continue to climb, and while no one can pinpoint the exact cause for the rising rates of asthma, several theories have come to light.

Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that affects millions of people across the globe. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 26 million people in the United States have asthma, and asthma prevalence has been steadily increasing in all ages, ethnicities, and genders since the early 1980s. It’s unknown what exactly causes it, but scientists believe that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of the disease. Asthma rates continue to climb, and while no one can pinpoint the exact cause for the rising rates of asthma, several theories have come to light.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that causes inflammation of the bronchial airways. These passageways become swollen and narrow. The inflamed airways restrict the amount of air passing through. A large amount of mucus buildup can further restrict breathing.

Certain triggers may worsen asthma and cause a greater amount of inflammation and tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways. As breathing becomes more difficult and the lungs work harder to get enough air, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath can occur.

Asthma does tend to run in families, so if you have family members who suffer from it, there is a higher chance you do too. It is called allergic asthma if environmental triggers or allergies lead to an asthmatic episode. Other types of asthma include:

  • Childhood asthma, which develops early in young children, typically before the fifth birthday.
  • Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), or exercise-induced asthma (EIA), which occurs in individuals who only experience asthma during exercise or sports.
  • Occupational asthma, which manifests when people have jobs that expose them to dust, gas, smoke, and other fumes.

Asthma Symptoms

Asthma attacks or flare-ups are asthmatic episodes that occur after being exposed to allergens or other triggers. Wheezing and difficulty breathing are the most common signs you have asthma. Other symptoms include:

  • A chronic cough
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing or wheezing that disrupts sleep

These asthma symptoms can develop in people of all ages, including children.

Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that affects millions of people across the globe. Asthma rates continue to climb, and while no one can pinpoint the exact cause for the rising rates of asthma, several theories have come to light.

Rising Rates of Asthma

The number of people diagnosed with asthma continues to grow. Asthma affects 7.6% of all Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the majority of asthma sufferers are children from birth to 18 years of age. Asthma rates started to dip in the 1970s, but increased 75% between 1980 and 1995, and continue to rise over two decades later. While researchers are investigating the reasons why, several theories attempt to explain the prevalence of this disease.

Genetics

Asthma trends indicate a genetic link, with children of asthmatic parents having a higher asthma risk. As more and more parents with asthma have children, the genes linked to asthma continue to be passed on. In the past 10 years, the role of genes in the development of asthma is becoming better understood, and certain genes have been pinpointed. Many experts believe the rate of asthma is rising due to a combination of factors, including genes and environmental.

Upping Our Cleanliness

The “hygiene hypothesis” is based on the premise that our modern way of life has made us too clean and we lack exposure to germs that help build up and train our immune systems. Our effort to keep our environments ultra-clean with the use of antimicrobial products is actually interfering with the natural course of our immune system development by removing the infectious agents that help test and strengthen it. Prior research has shown that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates, possibly due to their regular exposure to bacteria and microbes.

Poor Diet and Obesity

Many experts believe that lifestyle changes associated with diet and a decrease in activity are leading to the rising rates of certain conditions, like asthma and food allergies. With obesity rates climbing, many people are becoming more sedentary and practice poor health and lifestyle habits. Diets low in essential nutrients and vitamins, particularly vitamin D,  may also be tied to the rise of asthma cases, particularly when a pregnant mother does not follow a healthy diet. Including more probiotics, antioxidants, and healthy sources of fat in your diet can help prevent asthma from developing.

Increased Use of Antibiotics

An increase in certain medications and the overprescribing of antibiotics could be contributing to the rise in asthma sufferers. Studies have shown that the increase in asthma and allergies coincides with a spike in antibiotic use. The overuse of antibiotics destroys healthy gut flora, lowering immune function and potentially making us more susceptible to diseases like asthma.

Air Pollution

Children living in close proximity to high traffic areas are more likely to develop asthma or have more frequent flare-ups, particularly if allergies or asthma runs in the family. As population rates expand throughout the world and more cars are on the road, air pollution becomes a growing concern and will likely lead to more asthma cases and breathing disorders.

Increased C-Section Rates

It has been found that there is a higher risk of asthma in children when delivered via Cesarean section. A C-section changes the gut flora in the early stages of a baby’s life, causing an imbalance and making him or her more susceptible to infection and disease, including asthma. On the other hand, breastfeeding for at least 3 months helps protect the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Common Asthma Triggers

Numerous triggers can cause asthma attacks. Your allergist can help identify what you are allergic to, what aggravates your condition, and recommend ways to avoid exposure. Common risk factors include:

  • Allergens, such as pollen, mold, pet dander, and dust mites, that can lead to an asthma flare-up and worsen symptoms.
  • Exercise can narrow airways and increase breathing, aggravating the lungs of a person with asthma. As bronchial airways constrict, symptoms can worsen shortly after exercise has begun and last for 30 minutes or more unless treatment like an inhaler is used.
  • Tobacco smoke can be very irritating to someone with asthma and lead to an attack. Studies have shown that children exposed to cigarette smoke, or those with a mother who smoked while they were in the womb, had a 20% higher risk of developing asthma and wheezing. Fumes, strong odors, and pollutants can also be a trigger.
  • Medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can worsen asthma and lead to a flare-up of symptoms.
  • Stress and anxiety may exacerbate asthma symptoms and cause an attack. A well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help lessen the frequency of asthma attacks.
  • Respiratory infections are often responsible for triggering asthma issues, most often in children. Bronchitis, a cold, or sinus infection can cause asthma symptoms to be more intense.
  • Weather changes may lead to asthma, including cold air in the winter or AC used in warmer months. Wind and blowing dust can also trigger an attack.
  • Food additives may lead to an allergic reaction that progresses into an asthma attack. Preservatives like aspartame, parabens, MSG, nitrates, nitrites, and BHA are among some of the more common culprits.

Managing Asthma and Treatments

A cure for asthma does not exist, but once it is properly diagnosed and an asthma action plan is in place, it is easier to manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Asthma is a chronic disease, and working with your doctor is a part of your long-term treatment plan. Certain medications can help prevent asthma attacks and minimize symptoms to keep airways open and ease your breathing.

If you suspect you have asthma, an allergist can help investigate your medical history and see how your lungs work by conducting various breathing tests. For instance, spirometry can determine the air speed coming in and out of your lungs and how much air your lungs can hold when you blow into a sensory device. This is performed early on in diagnosis and throughout treatment to evaluate if your plan is helping to reduce your symptoms.

You may also deal with allergies if you are asthmatic, so allergy testing can be very useful for identifying the exact allergens that cause an asthmatic reaction. Knowing which triggers to avoid or getting treatment for these allergens may help reduce your asthma symptoms.

Asthma Medications

After your doctor determines what type of asthma you have, he or she will prescribe medication that will help prevent asthma attacks or stop one if it begins. Quick-relief options are used for people who need a temporary fix, as in before exercise begins. Bronchodilators, including inhalers, fall in this category and open inflamed airways so you can breathe easier.

Controller medications are prescribed for more long-term management of symptoms and are used every day to keep airways open and attacks at bay. If you have frequent asthma issues, these medications will most likely be part of your treatment plan.

Asthma sufferers are also more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, both viral or bacterial, so it is essential to keep up with annual flu and pneumonia vaccinations to help reduce the likelihood of becoming sick.

Asthma Management

With proper treatment and a plan to manage your asthma, you can help minimize your symptoms and enjoy an active, healthy life. Work with your allergist to understand your asthma, what triggers it, and what you can do to reduce attacks. Most plans include:

  • Quick relief and long-term medications
  • Identifying ways to minimize triggers
  • Knowing how to identify an attack and what to do when one strikes
  • Working with your allergist, your family, and other doctors to keep them informed of your condition

To reduce the rising national and global rates of asthma, we likely need to confront larger public health issues such as air quality, obesity rates, and the potential overuse of antibiotics. Better understanding of the disease can hopefully reverse the current trend as well as prevent more people from receiving an asthma diagnosis. If you live with asthma, several symptoms can be improved by diet and exercise, breathing exercises, and finding a management plan that works for you.

Lupus Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Lupus is a condition in which the body’s immune system attack its own tissues and organs. The disease can affect an array of bodily systems, including joints, kidneys, lungs, and skin. Because the effects of lupus are so extensive and widespread, identifying the disease can be difficult.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus affects approximately 1.5 million Americans and at least 5 million people worldwide. However, the foundation also states that 73% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are either unaware of the condition or know little or nothing about it. Because lupus can have wide-ranging effects on the body, yet be a challenge to diagnose, we want to help you understand lupus symptoms, how a diagnosis is made, and the types of treatment options available to manage this widespread but little understood condition.

What Is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system becomes overactive and begins to attack healthy cells, tissues, and organs. As a result, the condition can affect an array of bodily systems, including the joints, kidneys, lungs, and skin. Lupus also impacts each person differently and can result in symptoms that overlap with other conditions, making diagnosis difficult.

What Causes Lupus?

Unfortunately, the exact cause of lupus is unknown. However, experts suspect the disease is the result of an interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Many genetic variants have already been linked to the condition, and the disease tends to run in families with a history of either lupus or another autoimmune condition. Specific environmental factors have also been implicated in triggering the development of lupus. These include:

  • Ultraviolet light
  • Viruses
  • Medications
  • Chemicals and toxins
  • Stress

Risk Factors for Lupus

Lupus is most often seen in people aged 15 to 44, but women actually develop the condition 9 times more often than men. Although researchers believe differences in hormones and sex chromosomes may play a role in a person’s susceptibility to lupus, the extent to which these differences contribute to the development of the disease is largely unknown.

However, estrogen is known to be an immunoenhancing hormone, which means that women have stronger immune systems than men. And while this contributes to women’s longer life spans, it’s a double-edged sword that helps explain why the incidence of autoimmune diseases is generally higher in women.

Interestingly, lupus is also 2 to 3 times more prevalent in women of color, including Hispanics and African Americans, who are more likely to develop the disease at a younger age and have more severe symptoms.

Types of Lupus

There are actually four different types of lupus, each of which comes with its own set of symptoms.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): Approximately 70% of people diagnosed with lupus have SLE. Unfortunately, this is also the most serious type of lupus and affects the tissues and organs of about half those diagnosed with the condition.
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE): Also known as cutaneous lupus erythematosus, DLE is a type of lupus that affects only the skin.
  • Drug-induced lupus: This form of lupus occurs in people using certain types of medications, including antibiotics and heart-related drugs. Symptoms seen with drug-induced lupus are similar to those experienced with systemic lupus. However, symptoms generally disappear after the offending medication is stopped. Interestingly, this form is more commonly seen in men.
  • Neonatal lupus: This type of lupus, which affects newborns, is the most rarely seen. Babies born with the condition may have a skin rash and liver or heart problems. Neonatal lupus appears to be associated with a reaction to the mother’s antibodies, and symptoms tend to disappear over the course of several months.

Lupus Symptoms and Signs

As mentioned earlier, the symptoms and signs of lupus often mimic those of other conditions, and they differ from person to person, making diagnosis difficult. Symptoms may also appear suddenly or develop slowly over time and vary in severity, with long periods of mild (or even nonexistent) symptoms punctuated by episodes, or flares, of increased manifestations.

However, the signs and symptoms experienced will reflect the parts of the body involved with the disease. Some of the more common symptoms of lupus include:

Butterfly rash across the cheeks and bridge of the nose Headaches
Extreme fatigue Hair loss
Fever Weight loss or gain
Joint pain or swelling Raynaud’s phenomenon
Shortness of breath Abnormal blood clotting
Chest pain with deep breathing Nose or mouth sores
Sun or light sensitivity Low blood counts
Confusion or memory problems Blood clots

Getting a Lupus Diagnosis

Since the symptoms of lupus are so diverse, getting an accurate diagnosis can be a long process. Moreover, there’s no single test that’s used to diagnose the condition.

Because of the complexity of both the condition and its diagnosis, the American College of Rheumatology has put together a list of signs and symptoms to help guide health care providers in determining whether a diagnosis of lupus is warranted. Factors your health care provider should keep an eye out for are:

  • Skin rashes
  • Nose or mouth sores
  • Arthritis
  • Lung or heart inflammation
  • Kidney problems
  • Central nervous system issues
  • Abnormal blood tests

If after speaking with you regarding your personal and family medical history and performing a physical exam your doctor suspects lupus, a series of blood tests will be conducted to confirm the diagnosis. These tests include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC is a test that measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the blood. Low values can be associated with lupus.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): This is a blood test that’s used to determine the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a test tube over the course of an hour. A faster than normal rate can be associated with lupus.
  • Urinalysis: This test is used to check a sample of urine for red blood cells or increased levels of protein. The presence of either can indicate the kidneys have been affected by lupus.
  • Antinuclear antibody (ANA): The ANA test evaluates for the presence of an autoimmune disorder by looking for autoantibodies—antibodies the body produces when it begins attacking itself. If the test comes back with positive results, it indicates an overstimulated immune system. Because most people with lupus have a positive ANA, but most people with a positive ANA don’t have lupus, additional testing of specific antibodies may be recommended to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Imaging: An echocardiogram or chest X-ray may be recommended if heart or lung problems are suspected.
  • Biopsy: Tissue sampling can be used to check specific organs for damage, especially the kidneys and skin.

A systemic autoimmune disease, lupus is a condition in which the body’s immune system attack its own tissues and organs. The disease can affect an array of bodily systems, including joints, kidneys, lungs, and skin. Because the effects of lupus are so extensive and widespread, identifying the disease can be difficult.

Lupus Treatment Options

Treatment of lupus depends on the specific type as well as a person’s symptoms and their severity. Because most people tend to experience a waxing and waning of symptoms, with periodic lupus flares, you and your health care provider may find that both medications and their dosages need to be changed on occasion. However, the medications most commonly used to control lupus are:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Medications such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may be prescribed for fever, pain, and swelling.
  • Antimalarials: Medications commonly used to treat malaria can help decrease lupus flares.
  • Corticosteroids: Steroids can be effective against inflammation and serious conditions involving the kidneys and brain.
  • Immunosuppressants: Medications designed to suppress the immune system may be used in people with severe lupus symptoms.
  • Biologics: Medications made from living organisms—as opposed to chemically synthesized drugs—may be helpful in some people, especially those with resistant forms of lupus.

Additionally, certain lifestyle changes may be beneficial in reducing lupus symptoms and flares. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Reducing sun exposure
  • Maintaining a support network

While there’s still no known cure for lupus, both diagnosis and treatment have improved, and most people with the disease are now able to live out a normal life span. However, regular communication with your health care team is vital for maintaining quality of life and ensuring the condition stays under control, so be sure to keep track of your symptoms and report any significant changes.

How to Cure a Hangover: Top Remedies for the Brown Bottle Flu

You are officially sick with the brown bottle flu and most likely regretting those extra couple drinks. Want to know how to cure a hangover? Here are several remedies many people swear by to kick a hangover and get you back on your feet.

You wake up after a night out and realize that last night’s happy hour has you feeling not so happy this morning. Your head feels like it’s in a vise, your stomach is in knots, and the inside of your mouth is as dry as the Sahara. You’re officially sick with the brown bottle flu and wondering how to cure a hangover.

Well, hold on to that pounding head and read on because we’re here to tell you not only what’s actually caused that hangover but also what may just be the hangover remedy you’ve been searching for.

What Causes a Hangover?

Hangovers affect nearly every organ system in your body, from your brain to your heart to your digestive system.

When you consume alcohol, approximately 80% of it is processed by your liver. The rest is handled by your stomach or comes out in your saliva, feces, urine, sweat, and breast milk—that is, if you’re nursing.

You know you have a hangover when you feel dizzy and nauseous, have a pounding headache, and are tired, sweaty, and anxious. You may also have an extremely dry mouth and eyes and have trouble thinking, talking, or dealing with light.

Symptoms of a hangover can last a full day after drinking alcohol, and it may take you even longer than that to feel like you’re back to your old self again.

Dehydration

The biggest culprit for your hangover is dehydration, as alcohol quickly depletes you of fluids through a combination of its diuretic effect and suppression of vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone. That’s twice the dehydration for the price of one and results in frequent trips to the bathroom.

On top of draining you of fluids, alcohol upsets your digestive system and causes your stomach lining to become irritated and inflamed. In addition, stomach acid production increases and digestion, pancreatic secretions, and nutrient absorption slow.

This reaction of the body to the effects of alcohol can lead to that delightful nausea—and, yes, vomiting—we often experience after a night of excessive drinking.

Acetaldehyde

Another thing to blame for your hangover is acetaldehyde, a toxic compound (and known carcinogen) created in your liver from the interaction of alcohol and an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.

When your liver works efficiently and you avoid binge drinking, acetaldehyde is easily converted to acetate—a harmless substance that’s passed out of the body as water and carbon dioxide.

However, when you drink heavily, your liver eventually becomes overwhelmed, and acetaldehyde can reach excessive levels. It’s this buildup that’s believed to lead to hangover symptoms like nausea and headache.

Congeners

Believe it or not, different types of alcohol cause different types of hangovers. The reason for this is that, along with ethanol, some of your favorite alcoholic drinks also contain high levels of compounds called congeners. These byproducts of alcohol fermentation are found in their highest amounts in red wine and dark liquors.

Anyone who’s ever mixed wine and beer at the same sitting has probably noticed the deadly combination that can be. That’s because different types of alcohol have different congeners, and when you mix them together, a hangover can become exponentially worse.

Interestingly, the carbonation in beer also speeds up the absorption of alcohol, so mixing beer with any other type of alcohol gives your liver even less time to process the toxins.

One of the congeners found in alcohol is methanol (methyl alcohol). Methanol breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde—two highly toxic substances that not only worsen a hangover but can also extend the duration of symptoms.

Immune System Changes

Throwing back drinks also causes changes in the concentration of your body’s cytokine levels. Secreted by immune cells, cytokines mediate cellular processes and regulate inflammatory responses.

A study in the journal Alcohol found that people in the throes of a hangover have elevated levels of cytokines. Normally, cytokines help us fight off infections, but in high doses, they can lead to hangover symptoms like nausea, headache, and fatigue.

So now that you know what’s happening inside your body to make you feel like dirt, here are several tips you can try to speed up your hangover recovery.

How to Cure a Hangover

You may have heard of all sorts of concoctions your friends insist will stop a hangover in its tracks. Probably one of the oldest is hair of the dog that bit you, or its more recognizable shortened version hair of the dog. The phrase actually comes from an old belief that a person could be cured of rabies if they drank a potion containing the rabid dog’s hair.

Some people think that drinking alcohol during a hangover is the best way to cure it. This is based on the belief that a hangover is a form of alcohol withdrawal and a little more alcohol—the dog’s hair—is a way of getting a fix. But is this just folklore?

Surprisingly, there may actually be something to this old wives’ tale. Like sedatives such as benzodiazepines, alcohol binds to GABA receptors in the brain, inhibits glutamate, and increases the amount of both dopamine and serotonin. So, in effect, alcohol activates the brain’s reward system, and when you take it away, your brain wants more.

However, we’re certainly not recommending you hit the liquor cabinet when you have a hangover because more alcohol just creates a vicious cycle—and contributes to even more dehydration.

Yet there are several remedies that can help ease symptoms in a more healthy way and get you back to feeling like a normal human being again.

You are officially sick with the brown bottle flu and most likely regretting those extra couple drinks. Want to know how to cure a hangover? Here are several cures many people swear by to kick a hangover and get you back on your feet.

Drink Water

Perhaps the most important thing you can do for a hangover is to rehydrate. While dehydration is not the only cause of your hangover, it does contribute to the fatigue, dizziness, and pounding head that sometimes follow a bout of drinking.

In fact, drinking plenty of water between alcoholic drinks may even help prevent a hangover. Likewise, having several glasses of water the last thing before you fall into bed may also help prevent dehydration the next day.

But if it’s already the next morning and the thought of a large glass of water makes you nauseous, at least try frequent small sips. Any water you can get back into your system will help speed your recovery.

Even after you’ve given your hangover the boot, be sure to continue to drink water and stay hydrated because it will take a while for your body to fully bounce back.

Replace Electrolytes

While you may be familiar with Pedialyte as a beverage designed to help prevent dehydration in kids with the stomach flu, because it helps replenish electrolytes, it can also be useful for treating dehydration caused by overdrinking.

Like Pedialyte, sports drinks such as Gatorade can also help replenish the electrolytes lost from the night before. But sports drinks also tend to have more sugar, so be sure to keep that in mind when deciding which electrolyte replacement is best for you.

Coconut water is another liquid that can aid in rehydration after too much alcohol consumption. Owing to its key electrolytes sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, coconut water can also help put back what alcohol has taken away.

Take Prickly Pear Extract

A study conducted by researchers from Tulane University found that people given prickly pear extract 5 hours before consuming alcohol were less likely to have a severe hangover the next day. In particular, symptoms of nausea, dry mouth, and appetite loss were significantly reduced.

What’s more, they also found that the extract lowered the levels of C-reactive protein—an inflammatory marker—in the liver, leading researchers to conclude that the benefits of prickly pear extract in reducing hangover symptoms may be due to its ability to decrease the body’s inflammatory response to alcohol.

Shoot Pickle Juice

Pickle juice has a bit of a reputation among both athletes and alcohol lovers alike. But can it really help a hangover? Yes, it can. The vinegar and salt that make up the pickle brine aid in replenishing electrolyte levels and restoring water balance. And if the thought of chugging pickle juice does nothing for you, don’t think you have to go crazy with it either. Just a quarter of a cup can do the trick.

Eat Something

While you may crave a hamburger and fries the morning after a heavy night of drinking, it’s probably wise to avoid anything too heavy or greasy. Instead, be kind to your sensitive stomach and eat some oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter on toast, or a banana. Large amounts of alcohol can actually cause your blood sugar levels to drop, so these foods can help nudge your levels back to normal.

The complex carbohydrates of oatmeal are slowly digested and provide a steady release of blood sugar. Eggs are rich in the amino acid cysteine, the precursor to the antioxidant glutathione, which the liver needs to break down toxic acetaldehyde. Peanut butter provides a rich protein source. And bananas help replenish potassium levels.

Drink Kombucha

Heavy drinking can throw off the balance of your gut’s harmful and beneficial bacteria, and it’s important to restore that ratio to a proper state. Kombucha, a fermented tea, contains live cultures and B vitamins that can combat an inflamed gut, calm an upset stomach, and keep nausea away. Kombucha is also rich in antioxidants and has been shown to reduce toxins in the liver.

Take Red Ginseng

Used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and touted for a range of health benefits, red ginseng has also been shown to lessen hangover severity and lower blood alcohol levels.

Preventing a Hangover

We’ve shown that there are ways to help improve the symptoms of a hangover, but the only way to truly prevent a hangover is to avoid one in the first place. However, if you just can’t resist the siren’s call, remember the following tips.

  • Watch out for congeners. Dark alcohols, including red wine, tequila, and whiskey, are high in congeners and are associated with more severe hangover symptoms. Light alcohols, such as gin and vodka, have lower levels.
  • Eat a healthy meal before heading out the door. A meal containing plenty of good fats, proteins, and carbohydrates can help slow down the absorption of alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach also leads to quicker intoxication, increasing your chances of having a severe hangover the next day.
  • Take a supplement or consume foods rich in antioxidants and amino acids. Antioxidants can help tone down the inflammatory effects of alcohol, and essential amino acids (EAAs) can help rebalance brain chemicals. EAAs can also give your liver an extra boost by helping it break down the toxic byproducts of alcohol. In particular, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a derivative of the amino acid cysteine, can support liver function by helping increase glutathione production.

And if you do end up having a few too many, be kind to your body. In the end, the only real cure for a hangover is time.

Acid Reflux: What Causes It and Remedies to Help Soothe the Burn

You may be among the millions of people who suffer from acid reflux and heartburn. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes acid reflux, the symptoms associated with it, and the remedies that can help soothe the burn and provide you with much-needed relief.

You may be among the millions of people who suffer from acid reflux and heartburn. Some reflux is normal and harmless, but when it happens frequently, it can burn the inside of your esophagus and lead to more serious problems. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes acid reflux, the symptoms associated with it, and acid reflux remedies that can help soothe the burn and provide you with much-needed relief.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a common condition that causes a burning sensation in your chest, especially following a meal. Often referred to as heartburn, acid reflux occurs when stomach acid that helps to break down your food travels back up into your esophagus, causing pain and irritation.

Normally the valve that connects your food pipe to your stomach is effective at preventing backflow. If that valve is weakened or does not function properly, acid reflux results. Over 60 million Americans experience heartburn monthly, with nearly 15 million individuals suffering from symptoms on a daily basis.

Is It GERD?

You may hear acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) used interchangeably, and while they are related, they are not identical conditions. Acid reflux can happen from time to time, with a spicy or large meal being the culprit. However, when it becomes a chronic issue, popping up more than a couple times a week, it is defined as GERD.

GERD is the most common digestive disorder in the United States and can also cause chest pain, coughing, trouble swallowing and breathing, and the regurgitation of bitter tasting fluid. Symptoms are typically worse at night when you lie down to go to sleep.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

The gastric acid in your stomach is a powerful mixture of hydrochloric acid, enzymes for digestion, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride. When this irritating fluid flows back into the esophagus, especially on a frequent basis, the lining of your food pipe becomes inflamed and you feel that fiery burn.

Your esophagus has a built-in muscular valve known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that allows food to pass to the stomach but keeps harmful contents from traveling back up. When the LES malfunctions, either by relaxing too often or not being strong enough to remain completely closed, acid reflux occurs.

Common Risk Factors

Acid reflux can affect a person of any age and can be tied to issues that occurred at birth, an underlying condition, or by certain lifestyle and diet choices. For instance, a hiatal hernia—a condition in which a section of the stomach protrudes into the muscle of the diaphragm—can lead to symptoms of GERD or acid reflux. If you are obese, inactive or sedentary, smoke cigarettes, and take medication for other conditions, you may be at higher risk for GERD. You may also experience GERD during pregnancy, even if you have never had an issue in the past. Food moves through the esophagus at a slower rate when you are pregnant and your digestive system lags due to hormones. Plus, pressure from the growing baby on your stomach can cause stomach acid to head north back up the esophagus.

Diet and Acid Reflux

Certain foods and eating behaviors have been tied to heartburn and the occurrence of acid reflux. Eating a very large meal and then laying down for a couple hours can cause issues with digestion and lead to reflux. Eating foods high in salt and fat and low in fiber can also lead to the development of this condition. Alcohol can play a role as well by causing the LES to greatly relax, increasing acid production in the stomach and preventing the clearance of acid from the esophagus. Even moderate intake of alcoholic drinks can lead to reflux symptoms according to research.

It is helpful to identify the foods that trigger your acid reflux so you know exactly what to avoid or to eat in very small amounts. These items may include:

  • Fatty foods like potato chips, french fries, fried food, and cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy food
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Onions, tomatoes, garlic
  • Mint gum

Keeping a diary for several weeks can help you identify which foods may cause you problems, if there is a certain meal time that increases reflux, and other potential triggers.

Acid Reflux Symptoms

Heartburn is one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux and is either the result of a random occurrence or a chronic condition like GERD. You may feel an uncomfortable, persistent burn in your chest that worsens when you lean over or lie down. It typically arises after eating, when your stomach is full and busily breaking down your meal. If stomach acid travels far into the esophagus, you may feel burning and irritation in your throat and notice an unappealing taste in your mouth.

Other acid reflux symptoms include:

  • Sore throat or hoarseness
  • Chronic cough
  • Asthma
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swallowing issues
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth decay

Acid Reflux Risks

When acid reflux becomes a chronic issue or you are diagnosed with GERD, it’s important to take stock of your food and lifestyle choices and seek assistance if necessary.  Without treatment, GERD can lead to complications, including an increased risk of cancer. When your esophagus is exposed to stomach acid for prolonged periods of time, it can gradually damage the lining and lead to more serious issues down the road. These include:

  • Esophagitis: Inflammation of the esophagus that leads to bleeding, severe irritation, and ulcers.
  • Strictures: Occurs when chronic inflammation causes scarring and blocks food from passing through the esophagus.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: The tissues and cells that line the esophagus are altered by the repeated irritation from stomach acid, raising their risk of becoming cancerous.

Acid Reflux Home Remedies

Managing the symptoms of acid reflux mainly involves learning what triggers the symptoms, avoiding these irritants, and making certain lifestyle changes to bring long-term heartburn relief. If you do experience an episode, here are a variety of natural remedies to ease indigestion and take the heat out of your heartburn.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

If you experience acid reflux from time to time, you can try over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including:

  • Antacids: To help neutralize stomach acid.
  • H-2-receptor blockers: Includes Pepcid AC and Tagamet HB to help lower the production of stomach acid for several hours.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Medication such as Prilosec OTC to block the production of stomach acid, helping your esophagus recover from any damage.

OTC options to treat your acid reflux can be helpful for infrequent cases of heartburn and other symptoms, but should not be used for a chronic condition. Long-term use of PPIs can lower your vitamin B12 levels and lead to bone conditions such as osteoporosis.

Natural Reflux Remedies

When heartburn strikes, several natural home remedies can help ease the pain and support your body so it can properly digest food. Include the following natural heartburn remedies in your acid reflux diet.

Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

This pantry staple can lower the pH in your stomach, raising the acidity to help break down food more efficiently and inhibiting gastric fluid from traveling back up the esophagus. Mix 1 tablespoon of high-quality apple cider vinegar into water or tea and drink before eating.

Aloe Vera

Not just for sunburns, aloe vera is commonly used to calm stomachaches, diarrhea, and pain caused by bowel conditions. You can also use this dietary supplement to boost digestive health and prevent heartburn symptoms.

Lemon Juice

Even more powerful than vinegar, lemon juice can lower your stomach’s pH levels. Plus it contains vitamin C and other beneficial nutrients that support immune health. You can make your own mixture by juicing a lemon in a cup of water and drinking to prevent or calm reflux.

Baking Soda

A house staple, baking soda helps to neutralize the acid in your stomach or esophagus. Baking soda can offer a quick fix when you’ve eaten something that is irritating your stomach and causing heartburn. It’s important not to rely on this solution for GERD as a long-term treatment since doing so can alter acid levels. Mix a half teaspoon of baking soda into a small glass of water and drink slowly. You can drink another glass of this mixture if after several minutes the pain persists.

You may be among the millions of people who suffer from acid reflux and heartburn. We’ll get to the bottom of what causes acid reflux, the symptoms associated with it, and the remedies that can help soothe the burn and provide you with much-needed relief.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to controlling reflux symptoms with diet and nutrition, you can manage symptoms with lifestyle modifications. Try to be active following a meal and avoid laying down for at least 2 hours to allow for proper digestion.

It can also be helpful to lift the head of your bed several inches with books or blocks so that you can sleep at a diagonal. Also try sleeping on your left side to help reduce symptoms. Your esophagus attaches to your stomach on the right side and if you lay on your left side any gastric acid covers your LES valve. Acid may leak through and lead to reflux symptoms. Other lifestyle changes to eliminate discomfort due to reflux and GERD include losing excess pounds, eating smaller meals, and avoiding smoking and alcohol.

If you suspect that you have GERD, your signs and symptoms worsen, or you experience nausea, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing, be sure to talk to your doctor. Prescription medications may be needed to combat your symptoms. In a few cases, GERD may be treated with surgery or other procedures.

IBS vs. IBD: What’s the Difference Between These Two Bowel Conditions?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are medical conditions that share some similar symptoms and for this reason are sometimes confused with one another. However, IBS and IBD are two distinct disorders with different causes and treatments.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are medical conditions that share some similar symptoms and for this reason are sometimes confused with one another. However, IBS and IBD are two distinct disorders with different causes and treatments. So if you’re struggling with symptoms and wondering if it’s IBS or IBD, come with us as we explore the similarities and differences as well as common symptoms and treatment options for each.

What Is IBS?

IBS is a functional disorder of the large intestine that affects the way the colon works. While the precise cause of IBS remains unclear, certain factors appear to play a role in the condition. These include:

  • Disorganized intestinal contractions: The muscles that line the intestines usually contract smoothly to move food along the digestive tract, but in people with IBS, these movements become disorganized and can be weak (as in IBS with constipation predominance, or IBS-C) or overly forceful (as in IBS with diarrhea predominance, or IBS-D).
  • Hypersensitive nerves: People with IBS may have abnormalities in the nerves of the digestive tract that cause the colon to overreact to normal digestive processes. Moreover, there’s increasing evidence to suggest that alterations in levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (most of which resides in the gut) may be involved as well.
  • Gut flora imbalance: Studies suggest that people with IBS may have altered levels of good vs. bad bacteria in their intestines.

Most people with IBS experience mild symptoms that can be controlled with simple lifestyle and dietary changes. However, some individuals may have symptoms severe enough to interfere with their day-to-day lives. Common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms of IBS can also be triggered by things like stress, certain foods, and fluctuations in hormones, such as those seen during menstrual periods. Certain risk factors may also predispose an individual to IBS. These include:

  • Age: People under the age of 50 are more likely to develop IBS.
  • Sex: Women are twice as likely as men to have IBS.
  • Family history: People with family members with IBS are more likely to develop the condition themselves.
  • Psychological history: People with a history of anxiety, depression, or childhood trauma may have a greater risk of developing IBS.

What Is IBD?

IBD is a term used to describe a group of digestive diseases of the gastrointestinal tract—or GI tract—that involve chronic inflammation. The two most common types of IBD are ulcerative colitis, which affects the innermost layer of the large intestine and rectum, and Crohn’s disease, which may involve the entirety of the intestinal lining throughout the digestive system. Common IBD symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Like IBS, the precise cause of IBD is unknown, but it’s thought that people with the condition may experience an abnormal immune response in the presence of invading pathogens—a response that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells in the digestive tract.

Certain risk factors are also thought to influence the development of IBD. These include:

  • Race/ethnicity: Caucasians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more at risk of developing IBD.
  • Family history: People with a close family member with IBD have a greater risk of developing the condition themselves.
  • Tobacco use: People who smoke have a higher chance of developing Crohn’s disease, though smoking appears to result in a decreased risk of ulcerative colitis.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: People who use NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib have a higher chance of developing IBD or experiencing worsening of pre-existing symptoms.

IBS vs. IBD: The Takeaways

As you can see, there are a number of similarities as well as differences between IBS and IBD. Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the fact that IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder and IBD is an inflammatory disorder. In other words, while the symptoms of IBS can be attributed to a disturbance in the functioning of the GI tract, the symptoms of IBD are the result of an actual disease process.

In addition, IBS doesn’t cause any damage to the digestive system, though people with severe symptoms may have a decreased quality of life. By contrast, people with IBD have a greater risk of developing serious complications, including:

  • Joint, skin, and eye inflammation
  • Colon cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Blood clots
  • Bowel obstruction or perforation

Finally, while the number of Americans with IBD is estimated to be around 1.4 million, IBS is thought to affect approximately 25 to 45 million people in the United States.

IBS vs. IBD: Treatment Dos and Don’ts

Just like we’ve seen in our discussion of symptoms, the treatments needed to address IBS and IBD have some overlap as well, but there are some important differences that should also be kept in mind.

Treating IBS

As discussed earlier, the majority of people with IBS can manage their symptoms by following a few simple lifestyle and dietary guidelines.

Foods that commonly trigger symptoms of IBS include spicy foods, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, caffeinated and carbonated beverages, citrus fruits, and beans.

In addition, a 2012 study found that diets low in the fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols—or FODMAPs—found in some grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products may be beneficial for some people with IBS.

However, diets that contain plenty of probiotics and fiber, especially soluble fiber—which studies have found can help regulate bowel motility and feed good gut bacteria—have been shown to aid in symptom relief. Studies have also shown that the use of both peppermint and fennel, which have been found to reduce colonic spasms and decrease abdominal pain, bloating, and gas, can be beneficial in the treatment of IBS.

Stress management that emphasizes proper sleep as well as techniques such as exercise, meditation, yoga, and tai chi is also recommended. And because more and more evidence is identifying a link between serotonin and IBS symptoms, people who struggle with IBS-D may benefit from supplementing with the serotonin precursors L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).

Treating IBD

Because IBD is a serious disease that can lead to long-term and even life-threatening complications if not properly addressed, the main goal of treatment is reducing the inflammation that underlies the condition. Therefore, IBD treatment usually begins with medication, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Depending on the affected portion of the GI tract, patients with mild to moderate IBD symptoms may be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids or aminosalicylates. While corticosteroids are used as short-term therapy during flare-ups, aminosalicylates can be utilized for long-term treatment.
  • Immunosuppressants: These types of medications help suppress the immune system’s release of the chemicals known to damage the cells of the GI tract.
  • Antibiotics: These medications are used in cases where IBD has led to an infection or required surgery.

Although there’s currently no evidence firmly linking stress to IBD, many people who suffer from the condition have noted a direct correlation between increased stress and symptom flare-ups, so IBD patients may benefit from using stress reduction techniques.

The link between diet and IBD is also not clear, but certain foods and beverages can aggravate symptoms. For this reason, experts recommend keeping a food diary to track foods that help and foods that harm.

For example, many people with IBD experience symptoms after eating spicy, fatty, or fried foods or dairy products or after drinking alcohol or carbonated or caffeinated beverages. High-fiber foods may also aggravate symptoms, as may cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, and popcorn.

Additional dietary and lifestyle habits that may improve symptoms of IBD include:

  • Water: Drinking plenty of water can help stave off dehydration and prevent the overstimulation of the GI tract that can lead to diarrhea.
  • Small meals: Eating five or six small meals a day, as opposed to two or three large ones, can help people with IBD avoid the overstimulation of the digestive tract that may lead to symptoms.
  • Supplements: IBD can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, so vitamin and mineral supplements may be a helpful addition to the diet. Likewise, iron supplements may be required if IBD results in bleeding and associated anemia. In addition, a 2017 study found that even though there’s a possible link between diets high in animal protein and the development of IBD, there’s also evidence to suggest that the use of certain amino acids—the building blocks of protein—may actually have beneficial effects on the digestive system.

If diet and lifestyle changes and medications aren’t successful in treating IBD, surgery will likely be recommended. In the case of ulcerative colitis, symptoms may be completely eliminated by removing the entire colon and rectum and forming a pouch that attaches the small intestine to the anus—or creating an opening in the abdomen for use with a colostomy bag.

People with uncontrolled Crohn’s disease may undergo multiple surgeries to remove damaged parts of the digestive tract, drain abscesses, or repair abnormal connections (fistulas) caused by ulcers. Unfortunately, as many as 50% of people with Crohn’s disease require surgery at some point, yet because of the extensive nature of the condition, surgery may provide only temporary relief of symptoms.

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms that point to the possibility of IBS or IBD, be sure to seek medical advice from your health care provider. Dealing with either of these conditions can bring up a lot of questions and concerns. But your health care provider can assist you in finding the guidance you need to help control your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Are You a Compulsive Eater? How to Keep Binge Eating in Check

Binge eating, also known as compulsive eating, refers to a pattern of consuming food when you aren’t actually hungry. Not only can eating on “auto pilot” result in feelings of discomfort, guilt, and shame, but it may also lead to various negative symptoms affecting your heart health, weight, and even metabolism.

Do you ever gorge yourself on large amounts of food when you’re not hungry, and then feel racked by feelings of guilt and shame for your lack of self-control? If so, you may have a condition known as binge eating disorder.

And you’re not alone.

In fact, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. However, compulsive eating behaviors can eventually lead to physical and mental health problems, so in this article, we’re going to dig into this serious disorder and uncover what you need to know to reduce your compulsive overeating and achieve a healthier relationship with food.

What Is Binge Eating?

Binge eating is the act of consuming large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time. When this behavior becomes a regular pattern, it becomes known as binge eating disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with binge eating disorder eat excessively at least once a week for at least 3 months.

While most people with binge eating disorder are either already overweight or obese, individuals with the condition may be of normal weight as well. The exact cause of the disorder is also unknown, though genetic predisposition, hormone imbalances, history of trauma, and pre-existing mental health conditions are all thought to play a role.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Because people with binge eating disorder feel embarrassed or ashamed of their behavior, they may go to great lengths to keep their symptoms hidden from others. But signs and symptoms for binge eaters and their loved ones to look out for include:

  • Eating a large amount of food in a short period of time
  • Feeling a loss of control when eating
  • Continuing to eat when no longer hungry
  • Feeling depressed or guilty about bingeing
  • Gorging on stockpiled food when alone
  • Frequently dieting to compensate for binge eating episodes
  • Feeling numb while bingeing

Risk Factors for Binge Eating Disorder

While binge eating disorder can affect anyone, some people are more at risk than others. Some common risk factors include:

  • Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop binge eating disorder.
  • Age: People in their teens and 20s are more likely to develop compulsive eating behaviors.
  • Family history: People with close family members with eating disorders are more likely to develop binge eating disorder.
  • Dieting: People who practice calorie restriction for weight loss have a greater risk of engaging in binge eating episodes.
  • Mental health issues: People with low self-esteem and body image issues are at greater risk of developing compulsive eating behaviors.

Binge eating, also known as compulsive eating, refers to a pattern of consuming food when you aren’t actually hungry. Not only can eating on “auto pilot” result in feelings of discomfort, guilt, and shame, but it may also lead to various negative symptoms affecting your heart health, weight, and even metabolism.

How Binge Eating Affects the Body

Regular episodes of compulsive overeating take a toll on the mind and body and can lead to a wide range of health issues, including:

Bingeing also causes levels of fat and sugar in the bloodstream to rise and fall continuously, which can put you at increased risk of fatty liver disease. And according to a 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients, a single day of excessive dietary fat intake may have immediate effects on metabolism by reducing insulin sensitivity, which can lead to both weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes.

Treating Binge Eating Disorder

The first step in the treatment of binge eating disorder is finding a health professional with expertise in treating eating disorders. Depending on the severity of symptoms, your health care provider may also recommend referral to a nutritionist and mental health professional to help work on the underlying issues leading to compulsive overeating.

Because binge eating often results from a combination of low self-esteem, obsession with body shape, and poor coping skills, addressing these issues can help individuals struggling with binge eating disorder learn better ways to deal with the ups and downs of day-to-day life.

Your health care provider may also recommend a support group for people with eating disorders. Moreover, three types of psychotherapy have also been shown to be helpful in the treatment of binge eating disorder. These are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT is a generally short-term form of therapy that can help individuals address ongoing problems, find more effective coping strategies, and develop new ways of processing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy: This type of therapy focuses on an individual’s relationships with other people, including family members and friends, and works to improve interpersonal skills, thus reducing episodes of binge eating related to difficult relationships and communication issues.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy: This form of therapy focuses on helping individuals learn coping skills that can increase stress tolerance, regulate emotions, and improve interpersonal relationships.

While many people with binge eating disorder have a history of unsuccessful dieting, treatment strategies that focus on weight loss often lead to compulsive overeating and aren’t recommended until binge eating disorder has been successfully treated.

In addition, an article published in Psychology Today indicates that supplemental amino acids are the “single most helpful intervention for treating disturbances of appetite,” as amino acids are required for sustaining the balance between several substances involved in synchronizing hunger cues, eating patterns, and appetite.

What’s more, amino acids are also necessary for maintaining the brain’s balance of neurotransmitters, which is crucial for proper regulation of mood and behavior.

If you suspect you or someone you love has a problem with binge eating, be sure to speak with a knowledgeable health care professional who can help you pinpoint the underlying cause of your eating habits and identify the best treatment option for you.

And if you’re interested in adding an amino acid supplement to your treatment, it’s important to remember that amino acids work best when used in concert. So be sure to look for a formula that contains a balanced supply of all nine essential amino acids.

How to Prevent Diabetes: 8 Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Reducing Your Risk

Diabetes is a debilitating metabolic disorder that manifests in a number of ways depending on its form. The following 8 tips comprise a crash course on how to prevent diabetes when you can control circumstances relevant to the illness.

Diabetes is a debilitating metabolic disorder that manifests in a number of ways depending on its form. Gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes insipidus, is a condition that develops in women who do not have diabetes but develop high blood sugar during pregnancy. Usual symptoms that signal the presence of diabetes insipidus are an overproduction of urine and extreme thirst. Mental illness, head trauma, or kidney damage trigger other forms of diabetes insipidus.

Diabetes mellitus types 1 and 2 are common manifestations of the disease that may have genetic influences. The cause of type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is not known and is characterized by autoimmunity, low insulin production, and high blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes comprises 90% of all diabetes cases and involves low insulin production, insulin resistance, and high blood sugar. Excess body fat and lack of exercise are highly probable triggers of the illness. Type 2 diabetes is particularly injurious. Its symptoms, such as increased hunger, frequent urination, or weight loss are sometimes undetectable, and if left untreated complications can lead to blindness, amputations, kidney failure, heart disease, or death.

8 Simple Steps to Prevent Diabetes

There remains a pressing need for more extensive type 2 diabetes research, as the number of type 2 diabetes cases is expected to grow in the coming years. Close to 2 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year. Nevertheless, the existing evidence is clear: healthy lifestyle behaviors and healthy eating are the best ways to avoid type 2 diabetes.

The drug metformin demonstrated a significant effect in decreasing type 2 diabetes risk in a 2002 study; yet, the same study cites that lifestyle changes were more effective than metformin in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. A 2001 report in The New England Journal of Medicine echoes the importance of lifestyle behaviors in preventing type 2 diabetes. The study suggests that most cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable with healthier choices.

The following 8 tips comprise a crash course on how to prevent diabetes when you can control circumstances relevant to the illness.

Diabetes is a debilitating metabolic disorder that manifests in a number of ways depending on its form. The following 8 tips comprise a crash course on how to prevent diabetes when you can control circumstances relevant to the illness.

1. Get Physical with Intensity

Physical inactivity and a chronic sedentary lifestyle lead to obesity—a prime risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Attempting to reverse this very preventable risk doesn’t stop at performing casual activities, like walking or taking a light jog around the block. Intense physical activity, as opposed to low or moderate levels of physical activity, may substantially reduce type 2 diabetes risk, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association conclusion. The study measured energy expenditure levels in women aged 40 to 65 years who did not have diabetes.

If taking sprints is not your thing, then moving (e.g., cycling or walking) at energy levels equivalent to vigorous exercise is key to preventing diabetes. Anything less than vibrant movement may not combat diabetes risk factors. Likewise, prolonged television watching and other sedentary behaviors have been linked to high risks of type 2 diabetes and death.

2. Shrug Coffee Guilt

While being mindful of your reaction to the caffeine in unfiltered coffee, drink your cup of joe knowing that it can reduce your risk of diabetes. The Archives of Internal Medicine published a 2009 study that suggested consuming high levels of coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea demonstrated a reduced risk of diabetes. This news seems to elaborate on findings of a 2006 study of younger and middle-aged women that showed coffee ingredients other than caffeine may negatively affect diabetes risk; but consumed in moderation, the beverage may decrease the risk.

3. Do Not Smoke

Smoking tobacco cigarettes is not only linked to developing cancers and heart disease, but it can also lead to type 2 diabetes. A 2007 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that risks of developing type 2 diabetes were higher for active heavy smokers than active lighter smokers, and lower for former smokers. It’s never too late to quit smoking and better your odds of avoiding diabetes.

4. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Consuming alcohol in excess can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in both men and women, according to a 2009 study in the journal Diabetes Care. In fact, researchers published findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that revealed how alcohol consumption in moderation was associated with a 40% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people who had initially exhibited low-risk lifestyle behaviors.

5. Curb the Soft Drinks

Sugary beverages like soda, fruit punch, and sweet tea have been linked to increased levels of diabetes incidences—particularly in children and teenagers. Several cities in the United States, such as Philadelphia, Seattle, and Boulder have taken measures to protect citizens by de-incentivizing consumption and taxing soft drink purchases.

A 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition deems the connection between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the elevated risk of type 2 diabetes as significant. These sugary beverages lead to weight gain and obesity—common diabetes warning signs. The Lancet journal published a 2001 study substantiating the association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity. An overwhelming consensus within the science community discourages soft drink consumption.

6. Scrutinize with Grains

Whenever possible, replace white starchy foods with whole grain alternatives. Refined carbohydrates may contribute to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. Research supports replacing white rice with whole grains, including brown rice. PLoS Medicine published results that also champion the consumption of whole grains for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, revealing bran as most effective in decreasing type 2 diabetes risk in the 2007 study.

A report in the Archives of Internal Medicine states that including cereal fiber in the diets of African American women showed a decrease of type 2 diabetes risk. Another 2007 study in the same journal showed a link between the high intake of foods with a high glycemic index and glycemic load, like rice and noodles, and increased type 2 diabetes risk in middle-aged Chinese women.

7. Replace Unhealthy Fats, Steady Omega-3s

A low-fat diet isn’t a prerequisite of a diabetes prevention program as much as a low-carb diet is. As indicated in a 2009 study, dietary fats positively influence glucose metabolism. Study participants with prediabetes were assigned to a low-fat or low-carb diet for 12 weeks. Those eating low carb experienced a 12% drop in blood sugar levels and a 50% drop in insulin levels. Prediabetic individuals eating low fat only decreased blood sugar and insulin levels by 1% and 19% respectively.

Findings from another 2009 study show a link between linoleic acid—a polyunsaturated fat—and improved insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for diabetes prevention. Health advocates encourage replacing unhealthy fats, like saturated fats and trans fatty acids, with polyunsaturated fats like linoleic acid, which can be found in almonds, olive oil, and wheat germ.

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help to lower risks for developing heart disease. However, high levels of these long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) were linked to a moderate increase in type 2 diabetes incidences. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition details this phenomenon in relation to a higher consumption of LCFAs found in fish.

8. Consume Amino Acids

Researchers examined the effect of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—on obesity and excess weight in middle-aged East Asian women and Western adults who did not have diabetes. This 2011 study showed that BCAA intake had an inverse association with body weight and fatty tissue prevalence. East Asian women and Western adult research participants who consumed BCAAs from their regional diets were less likely to gain weight. This is promising news considering that excess body weight and obesity are risk factors for developing diabetes.

Diets rich in amino acids include dairy products, legumes, and meat. Although BCAAs have been shown to help lower weight gain, and thus diabetes risk, a 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that there is a correlation between BCAA-laden meat intake and the development of type 2 diabetes in the study’s pool of women aged 50 to 79 years.

Similarly, 2017 findings in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes conclude that the context of BCAAs matters when considering type 2 diabetes risk. This data complements a 2011 conclusion that red meat consumption, particularly processed red meat, is linked to increased type 2 diabetes risk. So choose your BCAA source wisely.

Rather than taking a BCAA supplement, you’d be much better served taking an amino acid supplement made with all the essential amino acids. When BCAAs are taken alone, they disrupt the balance of the amino acid pool, and their benefits are lost if not taken as part of a complete amino acid complex. A balanced mixture of essential amino acids will stimulate the production of new muscle protein, thereby increasing muscle mass. BCAAs do not have a sustained effect on muscle, as all the essential amino acids are needed to make new muscle protein. The muscle is the primary site of glucose clearance in the body, so increasing muscle mass will improve metabolic control in diabetes.

A Diabetes Prevention Program for Life

Preventing diabetes is no less complicated than preventing any other avertible health problem. It all comes down to wellness basics such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, keeping your blood glucose levels in the safe range, monitoring your blood pressure, and getting regular health care exams to check your fasting glucose levels and catch any issues that could put you at higher risk of diabetes.

Coping with Anxiety: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

While it’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about that big date or upcoming presentation at work, chronic anxiety can have a negative effect on your life. If you’re suffering from anxiety attacks or persistent feelings of dread, you might have an anxiety disorder. Here are some tips for coping with anxiety.

Everyone gets anxious now and then. And while it’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about that big date or upcoming presentation at work, chronic, excessive worry that invades your everyday life can have a negative effect on your physical and mental health. So if you’re suffering from anxious thoughts, a general sense of unease, or even full-blown panic attacks, read on to discover important tips for coping with anxiety and improving your well-being and quality of life.

What Is Anxiety?

Occasional anxiety is a normal, even healthy part of life. It can heighten your senses and provide motivation in stressful situations. It can even help save your life when a fight-or-flight situation arises. But when anxiety either doesn’t go away or gets worse with time, it begins to color your entire life and can make even the most basic tasks seem impossible.

When this happens, it becomes what’s known as an anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common of all psychiatric conditions, affecting nearly 40 million people in the United States each year. However, determining who will develop an anxiety disorder and who won’t isn’t a simple task. That’s because anxiety is a complex condition that’s influenced by many different factors. Some of these include:

  • Family history: People with a history of anxiety in the family may have a genetic predisposition toward developing the condition, though not everyone with a family history will develop anxiety.
  • Personality traits: Studies have shown that children with certain traits, including perfectionism, low self-esteem, and control issues, have a greater chance of developing anxiety.
  • Stressful events: People who experienced trauma or abuse as a child are more likely to suffer from anxiety. Traumatic events experienced as an adult may also predispose someone to developing an anxiety disorder.
  • Health problems: People dealing with chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, chronic pain, and heart disease, are more at risk of having anxiety. Anxiety may also be a sign of certain medical problems, as in the case of hyperthyroidism, certain tumors, and drug and alcohol withdrawal.
  • Mental health conditions: People with coexisting mental illnesses like depression often experience anxiety as well.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

While there are many different forms of anxiety, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), the five major types are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This disorder involves chronic feelings of worry and tension that interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily activities or enjoy life.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): This is a type of anxiety disorder in which sufferers experience recurrent, unwanted thoughts and sometimes repetitive, compulsive behaviors, such as handwashing, cleaning, or counting. These rituals provide temporary relief from obsessive negative thoughts, and levels of anxiety increase when they’re not performed.
  • Panic disorder: This is an extreme form of anxiety in which individuals suffer repeated episodes of intense fear, or panic attacks. These anxiety attacks often involve physical symptoms, including chest pain—which may further increase the sense of panic when interpreted as a heart attack—shortness of breath, and dizziness.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This form of anxiety may arise after living through a traumatic experience, such as childhood abuse, a serious accident, or combat, and can lead to recurrent unpleasant symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, and even violent outbursts.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This type of anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia and is characterized by avoidance of social situations due to feelings of fear and excessive self-consciousness. This type of anxiety can be limited to one type of activity, like public speaking or eating in front of other people, or occur any time contact with other people is necessary. An estimated 7% of Americans experience social anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety isn’t a subtle condition, and when you have it, you tend to know it. Whether it’s a general sense of being ill at ease or the hyperventilation and palpitations that can accompany a panic attack, anxiety lets you know it’s there. But anxiety can also mess with your head, causing you to throw logic out the window and think something positively dreadful is either happening right now or going to happen in a very short time.

If you’ve ever had anxiety, you’re probably familiar with this worry and self-doubt. But because anxiety can throw all sorts of unexpected things your way, it’s sometimes calming just being aware of the different types of symptoms that might arise. With that in mind, we offer the following list of symptoms often associated with anxiety and panic.

Feelings of nervousness and tension Insomnia
Overwhelming sense of panic or doom Frequent urination
Shortness of breath or hyperventilation Sense of detachment or unreality
Fear of losing your mind Hot flashes or chills
Palpitations or dizziness Fuzzy thinking or brain fog
Sweating or trembling Tunnel vision
Muscle pain and twitching Excessive worry
Abdominal pain, nausea, or diarrhea Desire to avoid anxiety triggers
Loss of appetite or overeating Feelings of exhaustion or weakness
Numbness or tingling sensations Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks

Coping with Anxiety: Treatments and Strategies

Unfortunately, no single treatment for anxiety works for everyone. However, there’s a host of both conventional and complementary and alternative treatments available for people suffering from anxiety disorders, so with a little patience, everyone should be able to find the therapy that works best for them.

Before getting into the different types of complementary and alternative treatments, let’s first take a look at the more well-known types of therapy for anxiety—medication and psychotherapy.

Medication

Various medications are available for treating anxiety. If you and your health care provider feel your symptoms warrant medication, one may be chosen based on the severity of your symptoms, the type of anxiety disorder you have, and whether you also have other physical or mental health issues. Some of the more common options are:

  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressants have been found to be effective in treating anxiety disorders, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as escitalopram (Lexapro) and paroxetine (Paxil), and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), including duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
  • Benzodiazepines: While benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan) are widely used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, they carry a high risk of dependence with long-term use.
  • Buspirone: The anti-anxiety medication buspirone (BuSpar, Vanspar) has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and has the added plus of carrying a low risk of dependence.

Psychotherapy

Perhaps the most well-known form of psychotherapy is counseling. This tried and true approach to treating anxiety disorders involves talking with a health care provider to address specific issues and develop strategies for coping with anxiety. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, however, counseling is generally considered a short-term approach. Several longer term methods of psychotherapy are available also. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is one of the most effective forms of therapy for people suffering from anxiety. This generally short-term treatment is designed to address ongoing problems, find more effective coping strategies, and develop new ways of processing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. CBT can also help people who’ve experienced traumatic events process and reframe the experience.
  • Eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy (EMDR): One of the newer forms of psychotherapy, EMDR has been proven effective for a range of anxiety disorders. Based on the observation that certain eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, EMDR is designed to reduce the impact of these thoughts by utilizing specific eye movements while focusing on particular traumatic events or memories.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): This type of psychotherapy has also been used successfully to treat a range of anxiety disorders. ACT involves learning to stop fighting and accept particular traits or emotions, recognizing that feelings are merely passing sensations, and then choosing the direction you most want to go and taking action to engage in behaviors that will move you toward that goal.

While it’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about that big date or upcoming presentation at work, chronic anxiety can have a negative effect on your life. If you’re suffering from anxiety attacks or persistent feelings of dread, you might have an anxiety disorder. Here are some tips for coping with anxiety.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

In addition to the more conventional therapies, a number of complementary and alternative treatments have shown efficacy in treating anxiety. What makes these therapies especially useful is that they not only can be used in conjunction with more traditional forms of treatment in the short term, but they can also be incorporated as a series of lifestyle changes over the long term to help prevent the recurrence of anxiety in the future.

Relaxation Techniques

The opposite of the fight-or-flight response of anxiety is the so-called relaxation response. Practicing some of these simple techniques to elicit that response can be very helpful for people suffering from anxiety.

  • Deep breathing exercises: Taking a series of slow, deep breaths while focusing on nothing but your breathing can help disengage your mind from anxious thoughts.
  • Body scan: This technique involves a few minutes of deep breathing, followed by progressive muscle relaxation, focusing on one part of the body at a time and mentally releasing any tension.
  • Guided imagery: This technique involves imagining yourself immersed in a soothing place or experience. Practicing this approach can help create feelings of relaxation and improve focus.
  • Mindfulness meditation: This form of meditation involves focusing on the breath while bringing attention to the present moment, gently drawing the attention back to the present each time the mind drifts to thoughts of the past or future.
  • Tai chi, yogaand qigong: All three of these ancient practices combine rhythmic breathing with flowing movements and specific postures and have been proven to decrease anxiety, help manage stress, and improve flexibility and balance.
  • Biofeedback: This relaxation technique uses sensors to provide feedback, helping you learn to control certain bodily functions and thus reduce unwanted symptoms.

Emotional Freedom Technique

The emotional freedom technique, or EFT, is a method that involves tapping specific acupressure points on the body while reciting certain phrases. Although EFT is a relatively new method for treating anxiety, at least one study has already found it effective in reducing symptoms.

Aromatherapy

The use of aromatherapy—essential oils from plants for therapeutic purposes—has long been touted for treating anxiety, and its effectiveness has been demonstrated in several studies.

For example, one study found that aromatherapy was effective in reducing anxiety in patients awaiting surgery, while another found that rose water was useful in reducing anxiety in hemodialysis patients. And yet another study found that lavender essential oil demonstrated many of the benefits of anxiolytics without any of the harmful side effects.

Additional essential oils shown to have relaxing effects include:

  • Vetiver
  • Ylang ylang
  • Bergamot
  • Clary sage

Diet and Nutrition

Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, sugar, and caffeine can have a tremendous effect on your state of mind. Moreover, studies have shown a link between the deterioration of the Western diet and increasing rates of mental health disorders.

In fact, a study from 2008 not only emphasizes the importance of nutritional therapy in treating mental health conditions but also references almost 30 additional studies that have found a link between nutrient deficiencies and mental illness.

Some of the nutrients found to be associated with mental health conditions include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • B vitamins
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • Lecithin
  • Amino acids

Several amino acids, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), tryptophan, and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), have been shown to be beneficial in treating anxiety.

For instance, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps induce a state of relaxation, and tryptophan and 5-HTP are both precursors of serotonin, low levels of which have been linked to both anxiety and depression. In addition, the amino acid L-theanine, which can be found in green tea, helps reduce anxiety by blocking excitatory stimuli at the brain’s glutamate receptors and by stimulating production of GABA.

A balanced amino acid supplement that emphasizes these particular substances may help provide much needed support for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including helping them get enough sleep, which is crucial for getting symptoms under control.

Finally, perhaps one of the most powerful ways of coping with anxiety is learning not to fear it. This is easier said than done, of course. But the cycle of anxiety and panic can become a self-perpetuating one as a person begins to fear the fear.

What do we mean by this?

The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that one begins to fear the very possibility of having one. This fear in itself can trigger another attack until they start happening seemingly out of the blue. And pretty soon, they become so crippling that a person becomes more and more housebound until they’re literally being held hostage by their anxiety.

But when it comes to anxiety, knowledge really is power, and the best way to start combating this vicious cycle is by defusing some of the fear by learning everything one can about anxiety. Then comes the scary part—accepting that to get through it, you must face it.

You see, anxiety is like a bully. If you let it have its way, it’ll just take more from you the next time and the next until you wake up one day to find you’re living a shadow of a life.

So when anxiety rears its ugly head, try not to run from it. Like exercise, it won’t be easy at first, but the more you’re able to accept the fear and sit with it until it passes—and it will pass—the looser its hold on you will be and the more you’ll be free to live your life as you were always meant to.

Of course, if you’re experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety and don’t feel capable of going it alone, don’t hesitate to speak with a health professional. They can help get you through the current crisis and guide you toward the therapy or therapies that work best for you.

Maneuvering Through Menopause: Outwitting Body Composition Changes with Amino Acids

There are ways to maneuver through menopause that make the transition from your bleeding to non-bleeding years easier. Managing menopause and body composition changes with essential amino acid support is key.

Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle. It occurs most commonly between the ages of 48 and 55. The average age for a woman to go through menopause in the United States is 51.

Menopause begins when the ovaries greatly reduce the production of the hormone estrogen, and it is marked by the end of menstrual cycles.

There are a variety of responses that can occur during the menopause transition. Most women recognize…

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Mood changes
  • Thinning of hair
  • Dry skin
  • Loss of breast fullness
  • Vaginal dryness

Then there are the postmenopausal symptoms, which can increase your risk of serious medical conditions:

  • Elevated blood cholesterol level
  • Osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Susceptibility to constipation
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Impaired sexual function (discomfort during sex)
  • Weight gain and altered body composition

There are ways to maneuver through menopause that make the transition from your bleeding to non-bleeding years more manageable.

Hormones and Menopause

Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers that direct different bodily functions, from hunger to happiness to reproduction. During menopause, your ovaries stop producing as much of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, and menstrual cycles and fertility decrease as a result. As ovarian follicles decrease, the luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are unable to effectively regulate your estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels. Lower levels of reproductive hormones can impact your health.

Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle. There are ways to maneuver through menopause that make the transition from your bleeding to non-bleeding years easier. Managing menopause and body composition changes with essential amino acid support is key.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Produced by the ovaries, estrogen is the “female” hormone that is important in the development of many female characteristics. Because estrogen levels plunge in menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used to decrease the symptoms of estrogen deficiency.

HRT can be taken orally, vaginally, or transdermally (in patches). The most common type of hormone therapy combines estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is given regularly, while progesterone is added in on a supplementary basis. The two hormones are given in combination to prevent the overgrowth of the uterine lining, which decreases the risk of endometrial cancer that might occur as a result of estrogen therapy alone.

The effects of HRT on body composition in postmenopausal women are inconclusive, with some studies showing a positive effect and others failing to show any difference in body composition between HRT users and control subjects. While cross-sectional studies demonstrate conflicting results as to HRT’s effect on muscle performance, experimental trials indicate that hormone therapy may actually help prevent the deterioration in muscle force that commonly accompanies menopause.

HRT is generally used for lessening menopausal symptoms and is not recommended for more than 3 to 5 years due to evidence of increased health risks.

Risks of HRT

Hormones have a wide variety of effects in the body, and providing hormones therapeutically to increase hormone levels and treat one problem often causes unexpected side effects. HRT increases the risk of a number of conditions and diseases.

Here are the takeaways of HRT risks:

  • When estrogen is given alone the risk of endometrial cancer is increased.
  • Combining estrogen with progesterone diminishes this risk.
  • The combined use of estrogen and progesterone slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Combined estrogen and progesterone therapy increases the risk of venous thromboembolic disease (blood clots in the veins).
  • HRT increases the risk of gallbladder disease.
  • The risk of both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is also increased.

We will cover some HRT alternatives in a bit, but first, let’s discuss menopause and its influence on body composition.

Menopause and Body Composition

Menopause is associated with weight gain and a change in body composition. Not only can fat mass increase and lean mass decrease, but the distribution of body fat (otherwise known as adipose tissue) can change as well. In particular, the deposition of trunk fat increases after menopause—the trunk area of your body is your abs, hips, and back.

Many of the adverse responses during and after menopause are related to these changes in body composition and fat distribution. An increase in trunk fat is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk. Total body and trunk fat accumulation also have indirect effects on other heart disease-risk factors, including plasma lipoprotein-lipid profiles, blood pressure, and insulin resistance. A loss of muscle mass can lead to impaired physical function and other problems as well. Addressing the changes in body composition related to menopause may be the most important way to decrease many of these related detrimental responses.

What Causes Body Composition Changes in Menopause?

Weight gain, especially fat, occurs so commonly after menopause that it is presumed by many to be caused by the drop in estrogen. This perspective was supported by some early studies indicating changes in body weight and composition could be lessened with HRT therapy. However, more recent evidence suggests that an increase in body and trunk fat in midlife women is a natural function of aging, as well as a response to changes in dietary and physical activity patterns.

The effects of regular physical activity on body composition changes was demonstrated in a study comparing three groups of postmenopausal women.

  • One group consisted of endurance athletes who had been training for many years and regularly performed high-intensity athletic endeavors.
  • The second group was composed of sedentary women.
  • The third group was made up of active women who were not athletes.
  • About half the women were receiving HRT.

Total and regional body composition were measured using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. The results showed that the active women and endurance athletes spent about the same amount of time per week performing exercise, and had been for the same number of years. The women who performed high-intensity training had the lowest body fat, but there was no difference between the sedentary and active women. HRT had no significant impact on body composition in any of the groups. These results indicate that it is possible to do something about body composition changes in menopause by exercising, but that the intensity of exercise must be high.

The Effect of Essential Amino Acids on Body Composition

If you are in the postmenopausal category, take a moment to check in and be honest with yourself: now that you know that high-intensity training can improve body composition in postmenopausal women, will you engage in high-intensity exercise on a regular basis?

We hope so, as high-intensity training can help tone your heart and lungs, lower you body mass index (BMI), and improve your overall health, while a sedentary life contributes to a higher waist circumference, intra-abdominal (or visceral) fat and significantly less lean mass. But, if you think you might slack on your high-intensity training efforts, then we have some good news.

The good news is that you can improve your body composition without intensive training if you add an essential amino acid supplement to your diet. Essential amino acids are the active components of dietary protein. They cannot be produced in the body but are crucial components of all proteins in the body.

One study of postmenopausal women showed that supplementing with essential amino acids daily increased lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis in the absence of any change in activity level.

In a different study, essential amino acid supplementation for 3 months increased lean muscle mass, strength, and physical function in sedentary postmenopausal women. Other responses associated with changes in body composition in menopause, including plasma and liver fat and impaired insulin sensitivity, were also improved with essential amino acid supplementation.

So, while changes in body composition at the time of menopause are, in part, an unavoidable aspect of aging, supplementing with essential amino acids has a proven beneficial effect on body composition, strength, and physical function, along with improvement in many of the risk factors for serious diseases and conditions. Combining essential amino acid supplementation with high-intensity exercise is an optimal duo for health before, during, and after menopause.

Barrett’s Esophagus: Symptoms, Causes and Protecting Yourself from Cancer

If you’re concerned about your esophageal health, read on to learn about the symptoms and causes of Barrett’s esophagus and what you can do to protect yourself from esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the normal lining of the esophagus is replaced by tissue similar to that lining the intestines. According to at least one estimate, the disorder may affect as many as 18 million Americans. Unfortunately, while Barrett’s can sometimes lead to the development of cancer of the esophagus, health care providers believe only a fraction of people with the condition are actually aware they have it.

If you’re concerned about your esophageal health, read on to learn about the symptoms and causes of Barrett’s esophagus and what you can do to protect yourself from esophageal cancer.

Causes of Barrett’s Esophagus

While the exact cause is unknown, Barrett’s esophagus is most often seen as a complication of long-standing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—the condition in which stomach acid washes back, or refluxes, into the esophagus. However, Barrett’s may also be seen in people who’ve never experienced symptoms of GERD.

Symptoms of Barrett’s Esophagus

Interestingly, the tissue changes that occur with Barrett’s esophagus cause no symptoms on their own, so any symptoms that might be experienced will be related to GERD. Symptoms of GERD to watch out for include:

  • Regurgitation of stomach contents
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Chest pain

If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD or are experiencing ongoing symptoms of acid reflux, don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider for a consultation.

Risk Factors for Barrett’s Esophagus

Beyond its association with long-standing GERD, the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus is also higher among certain groups. Risk factors that contribute to your chances of developing the condition include:

  • Sex: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women.
  • Age: The average age at which Barrett’s is diagnosed is 55.
  • Race: Caucasians—especially white men—have a greater risk of Barrett’s than other races do.
  • Weight: Those with obesity and increased fat around the abdomen have a greater risk of Barrett’s.
  • Smoking: People with a current or past history of smoking run a greater risk of developing Barrett’s.
  • Family history: Those with a family history of Barrett’s esophagus have a greater risk of developing the condition.

A condition in which normal, healthy esophageal cells are replaced with abnormal ones, Barrett's esophagus is a side effect of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. The latter condition occurs from a repeated regurgitation of stomach acid.

Barrett’s Esophagus and Cancer

The esophagus is lined with a type of mucosa that’s largely made up of squamous cells, which are flat cells similar to those seen on the surface of the skin. By contrast, intestinal mucosa is largely composed of goblet cells whose main purpose is to secrete a protective layer of mucus.

Each time stomach acid flows up into the esophagus, it damages the esophageal lining. And over time, the constant attempts by the esophagus to heal and protect itself can cause the normal squamous cells of the esophageal lining to be replaced by the goblet cells of the intestines. When this happens, it’s called intestinal metaplasia and is the hallmark of Barrett’s esophagus.

Although the risk is small, this Barrett’s tissue can sometimes become precancerous (dysplastic) or even cancerous. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that about 0.5% (or 1 in 200) of people with Barrett’s develop esophageal cancer each year.

The percentage of people with GERD who go on to develop Barrett’s esophagus is also relatively small, and those who do may have the condition for years before cancer develops. However, cancer of the esophagus is now considered the fastest growing cancer in the United States.

Moreover, people with Barrett’s are 30 to 125 times more likely to develop esophageal adenocarcinoma than those without the condition. It’s thus recommended that all individuals with GERD be regularly evaluated to check for the presence of Barrett’s.

Diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus

In order to diagnose the presence of Barrett’s, an upper endoscopy must be performed. During an endoscopic procedure, a lighted, flexible tube with a camera on one end is passed down the throat and into the esophagus, where biopsies (tissue samples) are taken.

While normal esophageal tissue appears pale and glossy, in Barrett’s esophagus, the tissue instead tends to appear red and velvety. However, in the early stages of the condition, it can be almost impossible to detect changes related to Barrett’s without a microscopic evaluation. Therefore, your health care provider will take biopsies from multiple areas of the esophageal lining.

After conducting a microscopic evaluation, your tissue samples may receive one of five classifications:

  • Negative for dysplasia: If Barrett’s esophagus is found but no precancerous cells are present, the biopsy is deemed negative for dysplasia.
  • Indefinite for dysplasia: If Barrett’s esophagus is found, but the cells are not abnormal enough to be considered dysplastic, the sample is considered indefinite for dysplasia.
  • Low-grade dysplasia: A classification of low-grade dysplasia is given when the sample cells show small signs of precancerous changes.
  • High-grade dysplasia: Considered the final stage before esophageal cancer, high-grade dysplasia refers to cells that appear very abnormal on examination.
  • Intramucosal adenocarcinoma: A classification of intramucosal adenocarcinoma indicates the presence of esophageal cancer in the biopsy sample.

Treatment of Barrett’s Esophagus

Your health care provider’s recommendations for treatment of your Barrett’s esophagus will depend on your overall health and the extent of damage to your esophageal mucosa. However, treatment will most likely consist of some type of procedure in combination with medication, diet, and lifestyle changes.

Procedures

If you’ve been found to have no dysplasia or indefinite dysplasia, treatment will most likely include a follow-up endoscopic examination in a year and periodic examinations thereafter to monitor for any changes in your esophageal mucosa.

If you’ve been found to have low-grade dysplasia, an endoscopic mucosal resection to remove abnormal cells or radiofrequency ablation to remove abnormal tissue may be recommended.

While esophagectomy—the removal of part or all of the esophagus—was once considered the treatment of choice for both high-grade dysplasia and intramucosal adenocarcinoma, the procedure carries with it substantial risks, including higher rates of death and complications and lowered quality of life.

Consequently, because esophageal cancer is associated with low rates of metastasis, most health care providers now choose to use less invasive techniques, including:

  • Endoscopic mucosal resection to remove superficial cancer
  • Endoscopic submucosal dissection to remove cancer involving deeper layers of the mucosa
  • Radiofrequency ablation to remove abnormal tissue with heat
  • Cryotherapy to freeze abnormal cells
  • Photodynamic therapy to destroy damaged cells with light

Medication, Diet, and Lifestyle Changes

As GERD is most often associated with the development of Barrett’s esophagus, managing its symptoms is an integral part of preventing the damage that can lead to Barrett’s.

To reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach and help prevent further damage to the esophagus, your health care provider may prescribe an acid suppression medication. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the most commonly prescribed class of drugs for this purpose. Examples of this group include:

  • Omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)

It should be noted that these drugs come with their own risks of serious side effects, including decreased absorption of calcium and magnesium and increased risk of infections. Early studies also reported a link between long-term PPI use and increased risk of dementia, though later studies have resulted in mixed findings.

Regardless, to decrease symptoms of GERD over the long run and increase quality of life, dietary changes should be initiated as well. Some of these changes include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • Avoiding high fat, fried, spicy, or acidic foods
  • Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, and chocolate

Finally, certain additional lifestyle changes can also help decrease GERD symptoms and aid esophageal healing. These include:

  • Stopping use of tobacco products
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothing or belts
  • Raising the head of the bed 6 to 8 inches

If you or someone you care about has a family history of Barrett’s esophagus or has made diet and lifestyle changes and is still experiencing symptoms of GERD, be sure to speak with your health care provider about additional steps you can take to avoid damage to your esophagus and protect your long-term health.

A condition in which normal, healthy esophageal cells are replaced with abnormal ones, Barrett's esophagus is a side effect of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. The latter condition occurs from a repeated regurgitation of stomach acid.