Could Gut Bacteria Influence Mental Health?

Could Gut Bacteria Influence Mental Health?

Within recent years, there has been increasing evidence to suggest gut bacteria plays a powerful role in many aspects of health. The microbiome, or microbial communities within our intestinal tract, have been a suspected agent behind many chronic conditions. Now, one study indicates gut flora may impact mental health, too.

Depression & Gut Bacteria

A recent study published in Nature Microbiology shows that individuals with depression had low levels of two types of “good” gut bacteria, Coprococcus and Dialister. The finding was consistent regardless of whether or not the subjects were taking antidepressants.

Interestingly, subjects who claimed to have a high mental quality of life were found to have plentiful levels of Coprococcus. The gut flora Faecalibacterium was also common among the same group.

While the study findings don’t outright prove that insufficient gut flora leads to mood disorders, they do strongly suggest a correlation. Moreover, it’s possible that the effect works in the opposite way, with mental health problems contributing to microbiome issues. The researchers further discovered that gut microbes can actually communicate with the body’s nervous system via neurotransmitters which support mental health.

The lead researcher said that many gut bacteria can produce neurotransmitters or precursors for critical substances like serotonin and dopamine, both of which play a role in regulating mood. Imbalances in these can also contribute to depression.

Based on this fascinating link, it’s possible that taking probiotics will one day become a prescriptive aspect of treating the effects of depression and perhaps boosting overall mood even in individuals without mental illness. In the meantime, discussing the option of probiotics as a means to promote disease prevention and overall health isn’t a bad idea anyhow. Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle tactics for boosting gut flora, such as incorporating probiotic-rich foods with live bacteria such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir into your diet. They may also suggest Vitamin A as a potential source to help as well.

Can Hemp Extracts Aid in Chronic Pain Management?

Can Hemp Extracts Aid in Chronic Pain Management?

Nowadays, you wouldn’t have to look very far to find advertisements for products containing hemp seed extract, or CBD oil. But how is this popular new solution made, and does it deliver on its promises to ease pain? Let’s explore what the compound consists of and how it may aid in pain management, below.

What is CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol, better known by the acronym “CBD,” is one of 104 chemical compounds derived from the hemp or cannabis plants. Typically, CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, then added to a carrier oil to form “CBD oil.” Because there are a number of different processes used to produce CBD oil, it can be found in varying strengths. As such, it’s advisable to consult with your physician before use.

Does It Help with Pain?

According to research published in 2017, adults suffering from chronic pain experienced “a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms” when treated with CBD. In a separate study, CBD was proven to reduce pain and inflammation. Although the findings are fairly recent, experts believe cannabis has been used as a pain reliever for thousands of years.

The pain-relieving effect is believed to work as follows: The body has a system referred to the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, which regulates functions such as pain and immune system responses. It produces endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters which bind to the nervous system’s cannabinoid receptors. Research demonstrates that CBD may influence endocannabinoid receptor activity, thereby alleviating inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.

For example, CBD has been shown to minimize pain from surgical incisions, alleviate sciatic nerve pain, and reduce inflammation. It has also been used to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

What Are Its Additional Benefits?

Despite having been used for millennia, the research surrounding the potential benefits of the powerful plant derivative is ongoing. Possible applications may include treatment for anxiety, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and seizures, and smoking cessation. Additionally, it is suspected CBD oil may hold promise for treating drug withdrawal, and in the future, conditions such as acne, diabetes, and cancer.

Currently, the legality of CBD oil varies by state, but the FDA has already approved CBD as a treatment for certain types of epilepsy. Thus, it’s possible that the compound could have a significant impact on treatment plans for chronic conditions in the future.

 

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What Is Macular Degeneration & How Can You Prevent It?

What Is Macular Degeneration & How Can You Prevent It?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss and affects more than 10 million people across the U.S., which is more than both glaucoma and cataracts combined. The condition is characterized by the deterioration of the central retina, or macula, which focuses on central vision. This important area of the eye enables reading, driving, recognizing faces and colors, and allows us to see objects in detail.

Although AMD is currently incurable, there are ways you can limit your risks, and if diagnosed, potentially control its progression. Discover more about the condition and key prevention strategies below.

What Causes AMD?

While the specific mechanisms behind AMD are still not conclusively known, experts are on the verge of making groundbreaking discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. In particular, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are exploring gene therapies as a prevention strategy, and have discovered that subtle gene alterations are responsible for 75% of a person’s risk for developing AMD. They have also pinpointed a daily regimen of vitamins and minerals which delays the onset of the more advanced phases of the condition by 25%.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk?

Although the definitive cause for AMD has yet to be discovered, there are known factors which are known to increase risk. For this reason, the following lifestyle modifications may be your best line of defense for preventing AMD:

  • Quit or Avoid Smoking: Research indicates that smoking doubles the risk of AMD, so if you haven’t already quit, make a plan to do so.
  • Control Your Blood Pressure: High blood pressure has body-wide implications, but in the delicate blood vessels in your eyes, its effects are especially pronounced. It is therefore essential for anyone experiencing hypertension to work closely with their doctors on controlling their blood pressure levels.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to protect against AMD. In particular, sedentary individuals were four times more likely to get AMD than those who exercised lightly at least 10 hours per week or moderately for 8 hours each week.
  • Eat a Well-Balanced Diet: Based on the NIH’s AERDS study, experts believe high doses of critical nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc can slow the progression of both AMD and cataracts. This suggests nutrition may play a pivotal role in maintaining eye health with age, especially for at-risk populations including those with a family history of AMD.
  • Consider Supplements: While diet should be your primary source for vitamins and minerals, even healthy eating patterns leave nutritional gaps. Moreover, participants in the aforementioned AERDS study who benefited from increased vitamin intake were given high doses which would be impossible to obtain through diet alone. If you have been diagnosed with early-stage AMD or face an elevated risk for the disease, consider discussing your supplement options with your doctor.
7 of the Best Salad Greens for Your Health

7 of the Best Salad Greens for Your Health

You probably already know that leafy greens are considered the holy grail of nutrition. While they’re low in calories, they’re also rich in the key vitamins and minerals needed to help our body function its best. Yet, a lesser-known aspect of these powerful veggies is that not all are created equal, and in fact, some are far more nutritious than others. Browse through some of the most popular salad greens, ranked from least nutritional to healthiest, below.

#7 Butter Lettuce

While swapping out wraps or bread for butter lettuce is a healthy way to enjoy your favorite sandwich without the carbs, butter lettuce has only small amounts of iron and calcium. It is, however, a good source of vitamin A, which still makes it a strong contender in the realm of salad greens.

#6 Green/Red Leaf Lettuce

Often found in packaged mixed greens, red and green leaf lettuce is well-liked for its mild taste, making it the perfect base for salads with flavorful ingredients. It can also deliver a significant dose of vitamins A and K. Since it’s low in fiber, consider pairing it with some fibrous veggies, including cauliflower, celery, and green peppers.

#5 Romaine

Perhaps the most popular lettuce of all, romaine has a fresh flavor and a rewarding crunch. Although it’s versatile enough to accommodate virtually any toppings, it isn’t quite as nutritional as some of the other types on this list. It does, however, have a high concentration of folic acid, which supports fetal health.

#4 Watercress

Often overlooked here in the U.S., watercress is a popular salad green in Europe. It’s has a higher nutritional value than romaine and leaf lettuce, and delivers nearly the entire daily recommended intake for vitamins A and K. Surprisingly, it’s also a great source of vitamin C.

#3 Swiss Chard

Also, a less popular veggie, swiss chard has similar properties to watercress with lots of vitamins A, C, and K. Yet, it also has iron and calcium, a critical nutrient for supporting bone health. This green from the beet family can be enjoyed raw, but it has less bitterness when cooked. If you don’t find it appealing on its own, consider incorporating it into a soup, omelet, or stir fry.

#2 Spinach

It should come as no surprise that spinach falls so high on the list. Although it has a mild flavor, it provides a wealth of nutrients, including vitamins C and K, as well as fiber and iron. It also has lots of folic acid. While fresh fruit and nuts come together to form a delicious spinach salad, it can also be blended into smoothies without altering the overall taste.

#1 Kale

Often hailed as a “super food,” kale is certainly deserving of its spot as the healthiest salad green. In addition to fulfilling your daily requirements for vitamins A, C, and K, the veggie is a rich source of phytonutrients. These compounds found in plants have powerful benefits, including cancer prevention, heart health, and immune system support.

As you can see, it’s a good idea to switch up your go-to salad every now and then to reap the greatest benefits that greens have to offer.  Whether you’re a longtime kale connoisseur or you’re just starting to broaden your horizons for salad greens, there are many ways a variety of leafy vegetables can help you achieve and maintain your best version of health.

Here’s What Everyone Should Know About the Keto Diet

Here’s What Everyone Should Know About the Keto Diet

At one point or another, you’ve probably come across something about the “keto diet,” whether it’s a friend who’s lost weight on it or an article on the newsstand. Indeed, it appears that following ketogenic (keto for short) eating principles is the latest dieting fad which has taken the masses by storm. While it does have the potential to spur significant weight loss, however, it also carries certain risks. Here’s what you need to know before going keto.

What Is the Keto Diet?

At the most basic level, keto is a low-carb, high-fat approach to eating. It bears similarities to the Atkins diet and similar low-carb eating plans. Essentially, it requires dieters to drastically limit their intake of carbohydrates (which are found in everything from breads, pasta, and cereal products to fruit) and to replace them with fat. For those who follow the plan strictly, it means breaking down nutrition as follows:

  • 75% fat
  • 20% protein
  • 5% carbohydrates

The average American diet consists of 50-65% of carbohydrates, so the keto diet requires a major dietary overhaul for most people. By making these changes, you’ll send your body into a different metabolic state known as ketosis.

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is the process by which the body uses stored fat for energy. This occurs when there isn’t enough glucose to provide energy. As stored fat is burned, a buildup of acids known as ketones develop, which can supply the brain with energy. To determine whether they’ve reached ketosis, many individuals who pursue the diet use urine strips or blood pricks. Eventually, however, most people become able to recognize the feeling of being in ketosis.

Keto Meal Planning

Most variations of the keto diet require a strict, principled approach to eating in which high-fat foods like oils, butter, avocado, cheese, coconut, and nuts are used to satisfy the appetite. Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, peppers, and cucumbers, as well as leafy greens, are also permitted. Meats, eggs, and fish can be consumed regularly as well.

The list of restricted foods spans far and wide, however. Most fruits are not permitted, nor are grains of any type, heavily processed foods, alcohol, and milk, among many other foods and drinks.

Keto Diet Benefits

Weight loss is one of the main drivers that attracts people to the keto diet. More than 20 studies have supported low-carb eating approaches, indicating that reducing carbohydrate intake can help people lose weight. This is likely due to the fact that cutting carbs also requires you to nix simple, refined carbohydrates, which are typically caloric yet have little nutritional value.

It’s also suspected that the keto diet may help to control or prevent certain diseases, including epilepsy, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and certain types of cancer.

Despite its potential benefits, however, further research is still limited, especially in terms of long-term results. There are also certain risks all participants should consider before embarking on this diet.

Keto Diet Risks

One of the most notorious impacts of the diet is the “keto flu.” As the body adapts to this new eating approach, it experiences flu-like symptoms, including headaches and fatigue. Water is also lost early on, which can lead to dehydration – a potentially serious condition. It’s therefore critical to drink plenty of water, especially at first.

The diet is also difficult to stick with. Thus, while you may see results at first, it’s important to ask whether reducing carb intake so drastically is a practical long-term eating style you can maintain.

Additionally, a high-fat diet could lead you to take in too many saturated or trans fats, found in foods like red meat, cheese, butter, and poultry skin. These can cause “bad” cholesterol to spike and put you at risk for developing heart disease. Moreover, eliminating entire food groups can lead to unfavorable byproducts like kidney stones and constipation.

Ultimately, while the keto diet may be right for certain populations, it’s a good idea to have a talk with your doctor before you make the switch. By staying hydrated, limiting saturated and trans fats, and eating a healthy variety of keto-friendly foods, you may be able to find success with this approach.

5 Illnesses Associated with Low Vitamin D

5 Illnesses Associated with Low Vitamin D

At some point or another, you’ve probably heard about the importance of getting enough vitamin D. This nutrient helps us stay healthy at every age, supporting the body’s ability to absorb calcium and block parathyroid hormone release to support strong bones. Yet, outside of promoting bone strength, vitamin D could also help us combat potentially serious illnesses. Below are five health issues which have been linked to low vitamin D levels.

1 Schizophrenia

Unlike many of the other conditions on this list, schizophrenia is a condition which typically appears at a younger age. Symptoms such as social withdrawal, difficulty focusing, and hallucinations commonly develop between the ages of 16 and 30. Research shows people who are vitamin D deficient are twice as likely to be diagnosed, and specifically, individuals living in high latitudes and colder climates are at a higher risk for developing schizophrenia.

2 Dementia

The risk for some forms of dementia, the condition in which cognitive function, behavior, and memory are compromised, is as much as two times higher in older adults with vitamin D deficiencies. Research shows that the greater the deficiency is, the higher the risk. While a direct cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be established, having vitamin D levels checked may still be a practice worth considering, especially in groups with a family history of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

3 Heart Disease

Low vitamin D blood levels have been linked to cardiovascular complications, including heart disease. Vitamin D is involved in cardiovascular function, and vitamin D receptors have been found in all cardiovascular cells and are even located in arterial walls. It’s suspected that insufficient levels of the nutrient are correlated with atherosclerosis, a build-up of fat in the artery walls which is a telltale characteristic of heart disease.

4 Erectile Dysfunction

Men with severe erectile dysfunction (ED) appear to have lower vitamin D levels than those with mild ED. While these findings were gathered through a small study, researchers theorize that the relationship between vitamin D and artery health (described in the point above) could be behind the trend. To produce and maintain an erection, there must be ample blood flow and properly functioning arteries.

5 Prostate Cancer

In a study published in 2014, researchers observed lower vitamin D levels in men who tested positive for prostate cancer, compared to their cancer-free peers. The trend was especially prevalent among African-American men. While the research didn’t suggest how vitamin D levels could lead to prostate cancer, the nutrient has been a suspected disease-fighting agent for quite some time and is said to also help reduce the risk of conditions such as multiple sclerosis and the flu virus.

While there’s still much to learn about vitamin D’s ability to defend against disease and promote better overall mental and physical health, these findings make a compelling case in the nutrient’s favor. Because the body can’t produce its own vitamin D without sunlight exposure or dietary factors, it’s important to make sure you’re taking in ample levels every day. Populations across the globe are suffering from low vitamin D, which could be attributed to dietary factors and increasing sun safety awareness. If you’re concerned about your levels, consider discussing supplementation options with your medical team.

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