Monday, 19 November 2018

Does Ketamine Work for Depression Or Are Its Risks Too High


Environmental Working Group (EWG) just released its second round of 2018 test results measuring glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, in popular oat-based cereals and foods.

The nonprofit organization released the new results after two companies, Quaker and General Mills, told the public it has no reason to worry about traces of glyphosate in its products.

Seems that’s not the case.
Glyphosate in Cereal

In the latest batch of testing, all but two of the products tested contained levels of the potentially-carcinogenic weedkilling chemical above 160 parts per billion (ppb), the health benchmark set by EWG.

These findings come two months after EWG released its first series of tests measuring glyphosate in popular children’s breakfast products. Still, General Mills and Quaker Oats Company immediately went on the defensive, claiming glyphosate levels found in its foods fell within regulatory limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

That may be true, but many public health experts believe the levels of allowable glyphosate in food are far too high and don’t properly protect human health. Previously, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations suggest that 1- to 2-year-old children likely experience the highest exposure to glyphosate, the potential cancer-causing chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup. And according to the agency’s risk assessment, the exposure level is 230 times greater than EWG’s health benchmark of 160 ppb.

In the October 2018 batch of testing, EWG commissioned Anresco Laboratories to test a range of oat-based products, including 10 samples of different types of General Mills’ Cheerios and 18 samples of Quaker brand products. These included cereals, snack bars, granola and instant oats. Of the 28 products tested, those with the highest levels of glyphosate include: (1)

The tested products contain glyphosate at levels well above EWG’s safety standard of 160 ppb; Quaker Oatmeal Squares breakfast cereal contained levels of glyphosate 18 times higher than the benchmark.
A Look at Previous Glyphosate in Cereal Testing

Earlier in the year, EWG set a more stringent health benchmark for daily exposure to glyphosate in foods than the EPA and tested an initial batch of products. Considering EWG’s standard of 160 parts per billion (ppb), the following products exceeded that limit in one or both samples tested, with the starred products exceeding 400 ppb: (2)

Companies negatively affected by these tests may point to the EPA’s legal limit for glyphosate in oats, which is 30 parts per million. But since this outdated standard was set in 2008, the International Agency for Research on Cancer labeled glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment categorized it as a “chemical known to the state to cause cancer.”

EWG suggests that the solution is simple – keep chemicals linked to cancer out of children’s food. This may start with the EPA sharply limiting glyphosate residues allowed on oats and prohibiting the chemical’s use as a pre-harvest drying agent.

Earlier in the year, a jury found Monsanto liable in a $289 million-dollar-cancer verdict, independent lab tests.

What does this mean for our children? Without some serious changes made to the food industry and EPA standards, they’ll continue to ingest potentially toxic levels of glyphosate for breakfast. Maybe this will be the last straw for consumers?

EWG turned to Eurofins, a nationally recognized lab with extensive experience testing for chemicals. This testing involved measuring the amount of glyphosate found in popular products containing oats. What is this a big deal? I’m glad you ask …

Previous research suggests that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is linked to the development of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The bad news? The latest testing detected it in all but two of 45 non-organic product samples. The list of products tested includes Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Nature Valley granola bars and Quaker oats.

Alexis Temkin, PhD, an EWG toxicologist and the author of the report, expressed her concerns about these findings. “Parents shouldn’t worry about whether feeding their children healthy oat foods will also expose them to a chemical linked to cancer. The government must take steps to protect our vulnerable populations,” she said.
Why Is Glyphosate in Our Food?

Why is there glyphosate in our food? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 250 million pounds of glyphosate are sprayed on American crops each year. Glyphosate is primarily used on Roundup Ready corn and soybeans that are genetically modified to withstand the herbicide.

Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide, meaning it’s taken up inside of the plant, including the parts livestock and humans wind up eating.

And on top of that, glyphosate is sprayed on other non-GMO crops, like wheat, oats, barley and beans, right before harvest. Farmers sometimes call this “burning down” the crops and do this to kill the food plants and dry them out so that they can be harvested sooner.
How Much Glyphosate Is Too Much?

Why do we have to pay attention to glyphosate levels in our food? The simple answer is that glyphosate is linked to an elevated risk of cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization categorizes the weed-killing chemical as “probably carcinogenic in humans.”

So, really, any amount of glyphosate in our food is concerning, especially when it’s found in our children’s food. (And especially since children consume it during critical stages of development.)

So how did EWG come up with the limit for child glyphosate exposure? Using a cancer risk assessment developed by California state scientists, EWG calculated that glyphosate levels above 160 parts per billion (ppb) are considered too high for children. To break that down into simpler terms — a child should not ingest more than 0.01 milligrams of glyphosate per day.

How did tEWG come up with this health benchmark? Under California’s Proposition 65 registry of chemicals known to cause cancer, the “No Significant Risk Level” for glyphosate for the average adult weighing about 154 pounds is 1.1 milligrams per day. This safety level is more than 60 times lower than the standards set by the EPA.

To calculate the recommendation for children, EWG took California’s increased lifetime risk of cancer of one in 1 million (which is the number used for many cancer-causing drinking water contaminants), and added a 10-fold margin of safety, which is recommended by the federal Food Quality Protection Act to support children and developing fetuses that have an increased susceptibility to carcinogens. This is how EWG reached the safety limit of 0.01 milligrams of glyphosate per day for children.

EWG’s health benchmark concerning the amount of glyphosate that poses a threat in our food is much more stringent than what the EPA allows. Although this amount of glyphosate present in oat products doesn’t seem like much in one portion, imagine consuming that amount every day over a lifetime. Exposure to this toxic herbicide will certainly accumulate over time, which is worrisome, to say the least.

“The concern about glyphosate is for long-term exposure. As most health agencies would say, a single portion would not cause deleterious effects,” explains Olga Naidenko, PhD, EWG’s senior science advisor for children’s health. “But think about eating popular foods such as oatmeal every day, or almost every day — that’s when, according to scientific assessments, such amounts of glyphosate might pose health harm.”

And there is some controversy over whether or not we can trust government regulators to make sure the food we eat is safe. This past April, internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the FDA has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and found “a fair amount.” But these findings haven’t been released to the public. According to The Guardian, the news outlet that obtained these internal documents, an FDA chemist wrote: “I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount in all of them.” (3)

According to Naidenko, “It is essential for companies to take action and choose oats grown without herbicides. This can be done, and EWG urges government agencies such as the EPA, and companies to restrict the use of herbicides that end up in food.”
Glyphosate in Cereal: Organic vs. Non-Organic Products

What about organic cereals and oats? EWG findings suggest that organic products contain significantly less glyphosate that non-organic products. To be exact, 31 out of 45 conventional product samples contained glyphosate levels at or higher than 160 ppb, while 5 out of 16 organic brand products registered low levels of glyphosate (10 to 30 ppb). Of all the organic products tested, none of them contained a level of glyphosate anywhere near the EWG benchmark of 160 ppb.

Glyphosate can get into organic foods by drifting from nearby fields that grow conventional crops. Organic products may also be cross-contaminated during processing at a facility that also handles conventional crops.

While glyphosate was detected in some organic oat products, the levels were much, much lower than conventional products, or non-existent. So it looks like the rule still stands — to avoid increased exposure to cancer-causing chemicals like glyphosate, choose organic.
Although antidepressants are such a commonly prescribed group of medications, studies show that a large percentage of patients with depression do not get an adequate level of relief from using these drugs. Even patients who try several different types of antidepressants over the course of years are unlikely to experience significant improvements in their symptoms.

Currently, most approved medications for depression have similar mechanisms of actions and roughly the same limited efficacy — however, a drug called ketamine, which has been around since the 1970s but is now being used in new ways, may change the way depression is treated forever.

Not only is ketamine used legally as an anesthetic during surgery, but more recently it’s gained popularity as a party/club/street drug, having earned a reputation as providing users with an “out-of-body experience.” Recently, studies have also focused on the potential use of ketamine as a therapeutic tool for the management of depression. In a May 2018 Business Insider report, it said “Ketamine is emerging as a potential new drug for depression — the first of its kind in 35 years.”
What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is an FDA-approved anesthetic drug that has been used for nearly 50 years and, overall, has a very safe track record. It was developed in the 1960s and FDA approved in 1970. Ketamine has potent anesthetic effects, which is why it has been used for decades during surgery to provide pain relief and for various veterinary purposes.  Ketamine is considered an NMDA receptor antagonist drug and has been shown to produce minor hallucinogenic/psychotomimetic effects, meaning it results in not only pain relief but also a mild, short psychotic state. (1)

Is ketamine safe? The World Health Organization considers ketamine to be an “Essential Medicine,” and in the U.S., it’s widely administered to children, adults and pets prior to surgical procedures. (2) Ketamine is used around the world and is actually one of the only anesthetic agents available in most developing countries.

Because ketamine has federal approval as an anesthesia agent, clinics are legally able to administer the drug for patients, although it’s used “0ff-label” when given to patients for conditions like depression. It’s estimated that around 100 clinics spanning the U.S. now administer ketamine infusion to patients with depression and pain-related conditions.

Kalypso Wellness Centers is one organization that promotes ketamine as a treatment for more than two dozen conditions, including: depression, chronic pain, migraines/headaches, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD and inflammatory disorders. According to Kalypso’s website, their clinics (run by Board Certified Anesthesiologists and Pain Medicine Doctors) have over 50 years of experience and have administered more than 3,500 ketamine infusions. They claim that their ketamine treatments have a 91 percent success rate and only cause adverse reactions in about 5 percent of cases. (3)

Actify Neurotherapies is another network of clinics that offer the drug via intravenous injection. There’s been growing concern about clinics such as these that may be offering ketamine even though most providers at the clinics (such as nurses or physician assistant) aren’t qualified to provide mental health care on their own without more supervision.
Does Ketamine Work for Depression?

This is the big question. Ketamine is only currently indicated as an anesthetic agent that is intended to be used during surgical procedures, sometimes combined with muscle relaxant medications or other painkillers/anesthetic agents. The analgesic effects of ketamine work by prevention of central sensitization in certain neurons as well as by the inhibition on the synthesis of nitric oxide. Ketamine can also cause cardiovascular changes and bronchodilation (dilation of the airways in the lungs due to the relaxation of surrounding smooth muscle).

There are now dozens of free-standing clinics across the U.S. that provide various “proprietary blends” of ketamine off-label to patients with depression who are “desperate for an effective therapy and hopeful that ketamine can help,” according to an article published by STAT news. (4) Johnson & Johnson is one company who is actively pursuing a nasal formulation of ketamine and is awaiting results from advanced clinical trials in order to widen distribution.

One downside of using ketamine for depression or other mental health problems is that it needs to be injected and comes at a high cost: ketamine can cost about $495–$570 (or sometimes more) per infusion, although some discount programs are now being offered. It ketamine covered by insurance? Not usually. When a drug is used “off-label,” most patients must pay for the treatments out of pocket, which can really add up if treatments last several months or longer.
How Ketamine Works

Ketamine for the use of treating depression has a different mechanism of action compared to standard antidepressants. Regarding how ketamine helps to combat depression, we still have more to learn, but we know that the drugs works in at least several ways:

    it inhibits serotoninergic pathways, which is one way it exerts antidepressive effects
    interacts with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, opioid receptors and monoaminergic receptors
    affects calcium ion channels (it does not interact with GABA receptors, unlike many other anesthesia drugs) (5)

According to Kalypso Wellness Clinics, “It functions by ‘re-setting’ nerves and triggers growth of nerve pathways. It is also a very powerful anti-inflammatory medicine, therefore, it helps with both of the main types of pain (nerve pain and inflammatory pain).”

What does the research to date tell us about ketamine’s effectiveness for depression?

    A 2015 report published in The Lancet explains that so far, findings suggest that ketamine can lead to sustained improvements in depressive symptoms that last a year or more. (6)
    The drug typically acts quickly (sometimes within hours), can have powerful effects and even offers hope to patients who have not seen improvements with other antidepressants. Ketamine may also help individuals who experience severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
    Early results of a clinical trial of the nasal-spray formulation of the drug suggest that the formula is well-tolerated by patients and linked with long-lasting improvements in depressive symptoms.
    In 2016, the FDA awarded the drug esketamine, an investigational antidepressant medication with the same effects as ketamine that is made by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, the status “Breakthrough Therapy Designation.” This was meant to highlight the drug’s potential as a treatment for patients with major depressive disorder who are at imminent risk for suicide. (7) The company’s press release states that, “If approved by the FDA, esketamine would be one of the first new approaches to treat major depressive disorder available to patients in the last 50 years.” A major advantage that esketamine will have is that it’s taken as a nasal spray, eliminating the need for infusions.
    Data that is available so far from the esketamine clinical study suggests that patients with one of the hardest to treat forms of depression (known as treatment-resistant depression) on average tolerate the drug well and experience sustained improvements in depressive symptoms over more than 11 months.
    Ketamine/esketamine are also valuable because they seem to work within days, rather than the 4–8 weeks that most antidepressants usually take to kick in. (8)

Ketamine Infusions

Ketamine is typically given as an infusion, or intravenously via a needle. Infusions usually last about 45–60 minutes. Most patients receive 10 infusions over the course of about 10 weeks, with more frequent infusions administered during the first several weeks.

During a ketamine infusion, patients might feel symptoms including: disorientation, floating sensations, feelings of intoxication, seeing lights or colors more vividly, blurred vision, or tingling in the toes, lips and mouth. These symptoms usually start about 20 minutes into an infusion and diminish approximately 10–15 minutes after the infusion ends. Ketamine infusions are described as being relaxing and usually involve the patient laying down comfortably in a relaxed position that allows their body to unwind.

The fact that ketamine needs to be injected means it is much harder to get and take regularly than a typical antidepressant pill. This, along with the high cost, is a major downside to using ketamine on an ongoing basis for conditions like depression or pain management.
Ketamine Dosage

The optimal dose of ketamine is still under investigation. Currently, the goal is to find a dose that provides antidepressive effects but does not cause addiction or adverse side effects. In studies, ketamine has been shown to help decrease depression symptoms even when used in small amounts, such as concentrations that are ten times lower than the amount that would be needed for anesthetic proposes. Ketamine is absorbed rapidly and highly bioavailable. It is eliminated relatively quickly through urine, bile and feces.

Reports show that there is currently inconsistencies in the dosage and frequency of ketamine infusions that are being recommended to patients, especially those with depression. Most clinics will recommend dosages that are very low and considered sub-anesthetic, meaning only a fraction of the dose a patient would get in the hospital for surgery is given to help manage depression. However, because there is no standard dose that has been established or approved by the FDA, there may be risks involved with meeting with an unexperienced practitioner who offers ketamine.

If a patient with depression is taking other medications (antidepressants) to manage their condition, ketamine might be given in addition to these medications, but does not necessarily take the place of them. It’s up to the individual patient and their doctor to determine if current medications are still needed.
Precautions & Side Effects of Ketamine

In general, ketamine is widely used around the world, has been studied extensively since the 1960s, and is usually well-tolerated. However, ketamine side effects are still possible, especially when it’s taken illegally and in high doses.

Critics warn that ketamine has not been studied sufficiently for the use of depression and similar conditions. It also has a high cost that is a barrier for many patients. There’s also concern that off-label use of ketamine is not being properly monitored, and that we don’t know enough about the potential for addiction.

It’s possible that ketamine tolerance may develop, especially if it’s used very frequently or for long periods. It’s also important to point out that ketamine is not intended to become the sole source of mental health care for patients with depression; therapy and working with a professional is still recommended. If you do visit a clinic in hopes of receiving ketamine, it’s critical that you choose a clinic with qualified caregivers. Many working at these clinics have not been trained to handle patients at risk for behavioral problems and are not doctors, so do your research.

Ketamine may not be safe to take long-term. Studies related to the blocking of NMDA receptors have shown an increase in apoptosis (cell death) in the developing brain, which results in cognitive deficits when ketamine is used for longer than three hours.

Ketamine is also mood-altering; it’s a psychedelic drug that makes people mildly hallucinate, and some “bad trips” have been reported. While most people find ketamine to have a calming or even “spiritual effect,” some become anxious and feel very “out of touch” after using the drug. (6)

When used a street/party drug, ketamine has been used to commit sexual assaults due to its ability to sedate and incapacitate victims. Therefore, some consider ketamine to be a “date rape” drug and warn that its distribution should be more tightly-controlled. There have also been reports of ketamine side effects when used at high doses that include:

Ad of December 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that ketamine should not be placed under international control, after concluding that ketamine abuse does not pose a global public health threat and that the medical benefits of ketamine far outweigh potential harm from recreational use.

The WHO states that ketamine is one of the only anaesthetics and painkillers available in large areas of the developing world and that “controlling ketamine internationally could limit access to essential and emergency surgery, which would constitute a public health crisis in countries where no affordable alternatives exist.” (2)
As we excitedly watched the 2018 Olympic games and were amazed by the progression of many of the winter sports like snowboarding, skiing, hockey and many others, I continue to be amazed at the ability of the human body to adapt and recover. The impact that these athletes can withstand and their body’s ability to absorb impact is mind-blowing.

As they are pushing their sports and bodies to the next level, I think of the physics of it all and how amazing the human body really is. Let’s go back to our grade school song “the hip bones connected to the leg bone” and take a look at our natural shock absorbers: the SI joint, alongside the tricky issue of sacroiliitis.
The SI Joint: Connection Between the Sacrum and the Iliac

The sacroiliac joint, also known as the SI joint, connects the pelvis with the lower spine. It carries the weight of the upper body and bridges it to the lower body. The sacrum or lower section of your spine is made of five non-moveable vertebrae alongside the two large hip bones called the ilium or iliac crests. (1)

The SI joint is an essential shock absorber during weight-bearing activities and also relieves some strain on the lower lumbar.  According to a sports medicine study by Jack Harvey and Suzanne Tanner, “Lumbar spine pain accounts for 5 to 8% of athletic injuries. Although back pain is not the most common injury, it is one of the most challenging for sports physicians to clearly diagnose. Athletes who participate in sports involving repeated and forceful hyper-extension of the spine may suffer from lumbar facet syndrome, spondylolysis, or spondylolisthesis.” (2)

The sacroiliac joint is surrounded by strong ligaments and muscles such as the erector spinae, psoas, quadratus lumborum, piriformis, abdominal obliques, gluteal muscles and hamstrings, all of which strengthen the SI joint. These surround and encapsulate the sacroiliac joint and all can be affected in sacroiliitis.
What Is Sacroiliitis?

Medically speaking, the suffix “itis” refers to inflammation, while sacroiliitis refers to inflammation of the sacroiliac joint. Sacroiliitis is pain that could be dull or sharp and starts in your hip joint but can move to your buttocks, thighs, groin or upper back.

The pain may worsen when sitting for prolonged times and stiffness can be felt in the hips and lower spine. Sacroiliitis is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sacroiliac joint dysfunction. This can also lead to lower back pain and/or leg pain and can be caused by lumbar disc herniation or sciatica pain.
Why does sacroiliitis happen?

Pain usually starts when your sacroiliac joint is inflamed or irritated. This inflammation is then classified as either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is typically intense, short-lived and can be caused by an injury that heals in times as the pain gradually subsides. This can last anywhere from 10 days to six months. Chronic inflammatory pain is ongoing and may be mild or intense.

Sources of sacroiliac joint dysfunction usually include hypermobility/instability or opposite hypomobility/fixation. This pain can spread throughout your lower back, hips and legs. This pain becomes chronic after a patient experiences a prolonged level of pain that surpasses the acute phase.

There are several diagnostic tools that can be used such as x-rays, CT scans or MRI’s that can show the narrowing of the joint space or erosion of the bone area.
Read More »

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Health Benefits of Positivity + Positivity Exercises

Spending time with positive, rather than negative, people isn’t just more enjoyable — the company you keep also has deep implications when it comes to your overall well-being. Both positivity and negativity tend to be contagious, which means surrounding yourself with negative friends, family members and coworkers will tend to worsen your mood and outlook. But even more troubling, the negativity you pick up from others may potentially shorten your lifespan and impact your health in other serious ways too.

On the other hand, if your inner circle consists of people who exude positivity, you’re more likely to experience a boost in both your physical and mental health. Research suggests that benefits associated with positivity include: increased longevity, protection against chronic stress, increased happiness, greater meaning of life and greater connection to others.
What Is Positivity?

The definition of positivity is “the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.” (1) People who have a positive character are said to accept the world as it is, look for the silver lining when something unfortunate happens and spread messages of hope to others. (2)

Psychology experts consider the start of the recent “positivity movement” to be the late 1990s, when the field of positive psychology was first developed. (3) Positive psychologists study happiness and positive emotions (essentially what makes life worth living), rather than dysfunction and mental illness, which most fields of psychology have traditionally focused on. Positive psychologists work to uncover habits and attitudes that can lead people to become happier and more fulfilled, including those related to positive thinking.

While more attention may be paid to positivity’s benefits today than in the past, certain populations have long exemplified the power of positive thinking and spending time with uplifting people. For example, in Okinawa, Japan — one of the world’s “Blue Zones,” where the average life expectancy for women is around 90 years, one of the highest in the world — people form a special kind of social network called a moai, a group of several friends who offer social, emotional and even financial support that typically lasts a lifetime.

Many children join moais from a very young age, sometimes even from the time of birth. Adults in the same moais share a lifelong journey together, often working together to grow crops and split gardening responsibilities, to take care of one another’s families, to offer help when a child gets sick and provide emotional support when someone passes away. Because moai members together create an atmosphere of positivity that influences one another’s behaviors, such as by encouraging exercise and a healthy diet, they also have a positive affect on each other’s health.

Author of The Blues Zones and National Geographic writer Dan Buettner tells us that “People in Blue Zones reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the U.S. and spend most of their lives in good health.” Some of the ways they practice positivity, especially by forming supportive relationships, include: having a strong sense of purpose, doing activities that reduce stress regularly, enjoying meals or a glass of wine with friends belonging to a faith-based community, putting family first and choosing friends with healthy habits. (4)
The Power of Positivity: 6 Benefits of Positivity/Positive Thinking
1. Increases Happiness

What makes us happy? Emerging research suggests people who practice positivity and gratitude together experience multiple benefits, including feeling relatively happier, more energetic and more hopeful and experiencing more frequent positive emotions.

Positivity seems to help us recognize hidden opportunities for enjoyable states like relaxation, playfulness and connection. As it’s described in a recent Psychology Today article, “People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reason to be satisfied, because happiness leads to desirable outcomes at school and work, to fulfilling social relationships and even to good health and long life.” (5)
2. Buffers Against Negative Effects of Stress & Anxiety

In her book The How of Happiness, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us that “how you think — about yourself, your world, and other people — is more important to your happiness than the objective circumstances of your life.” Positivity seems to be protective against negative health outcomes because it reduces the effects that chronic stress has on your body. A number of studies have found that having strong social relationships, especially with positive people, protects against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.

A 2017 New York Times article points out that “there is no longer any doubt that what happens in the brain influences what happens in the body. When facing a health crisis, actively cultivating positive emotions can boost the immune system and counter depression.” (6) Many studies conducted over the past several decades have found evidence of a link between positivity and improved health markers including: (7)

3. Reduces Risk for Anxiety Disorders

Studies have found that depressed and anxious individuals have a decreased ability to identify positive emotional content in the context of competing alternatives — and that these impairments contribute to “ineffective emotion regulation” that is the hallmark of these disorders. (8) In other words, one of the features of mood disorders is pessimistic/negative thinking. People with these disorders generate negative thoughts so automatically that they are unaware that it is happening and that their thoughts can be ignored or altered. (9)

A 2016 study published in Behavioral Research and Study found that positive thinking can help to decrease pathological worry and risk for mental-health conditions like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). (10)  The study examined alternative approaches to reducing worry among people with GAD by having  one group of participants practice replacing usual worries with images of possible positive outcomes versus another group replacing usual worries with verbal expression of possible positive outcomes. A comparison control condition group visualized positive images unrelated to worry.

All groups benefited from the positive thinking training, with decreases in anxiety and worry. There were no significant differences found between groups, suggesting that any type of replacement of worry with different forms of positive ideation is beneficial for mental health
4. Contributes to Greater Meaning of Life

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that people with high levels of positive thinking report feeling that their lives have more meaning following stressful events. The study, which included 232 students and community-dwelling adults, intended to test whether positive automatic cognitions (thoughts) moderated the relationship between event stressfulness and meaning in life. The researchers found that those who said they practiced positive cognitions associated stress with higher meaning in life, while those with low levels of positive thinking associated stressful events with lower meaning in life. (11)
5. Increases Your Connection to Others

Practicing positive thinking helps us to maintain mental clarity, perspective and a bird’s eye view of the circumstances in our lives, allowing our vision to expand and helping us to form more accurate connections … Some researchers refer to this as “the broaden effect” of positivity. Positive emotions have also been shown to increase our sense of oneness with others and the world around us.

Positivity can help us when it comes to connecting to people in our community, at work and in religious organizations. This is important because studies have found that our connections to other people build meaning and purpose and are a major factor in what makes life seem like it’s “worth living.”
6. Reinforces Healthy Habits

Positivity tends to build upon itself, meaning when we experience more positive emotions, it’s easier to build health-promoting habits that contribute to our ongoing happiness. According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “As we make a habit of seeking out pleasing states, we change and grow, becoming better versions of ourselves, developing the tools we need to make the most out of lives … The benefits of positive emotions obey a tipping point: When positive emotions outnumber negative emotions by at least 3 to 1, the benefits accrue. (12)
8 Positivity Exercises

So how do you focus on the positive and shift your attention away from the negative? The positivity exercises below can help you inject more positivity into your own life, as well as the lives of those around you:

    Identify negative self-talk. Start paying attention to ways you engage in negative self-talk, such as: magnifying the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out all of the positive ones, automatically blaming yourself, always anticipating the worst and seeing things only as either good or bad with no middle ground. Identify areas of your life you usually think negatively about and then focus on one area at a time to approach in a more positive way.

    Repeat positive affirmations. Find positive words or positivity quotes that you can repeat to yourself daily or put somewhere that you see often (such as your computer or refrigerator).

    Keep a gratitude journal. The practice of gratitude involves a focus on the present moment, on appreciating your life as it is today. Try keeping a journal that you write in briefly each morning or night, jotting down things that made you feel happy and appreciative. This helps you learn to “think in terms of abundance” and savor pleasurable experiences and serves as an antidote to negative emotions, including jealousy/envy, regret, hostility, worry and irritation.

    Incorporate body positivity practices. Instead of always focusing on your weight or things you wish to change about your body, look for things that your body already does perfectly well, such as allowing you to exercise, go about your day, work and engage with others. Focus on your behaviors rather than the outcome. For example, establish an exercise routine and eat a healthy diet filled with mood-boosting foods because these have a positive affect on your outlook and stress levels, not because they might lead to weight loss.

    Avoid social comparison. Rather than focusing on what other people have that you don’t, think about things you’re thankful for in your own life. Find things about yourself that make you unique and valuable, and consider writing about your own strengths in a journal. Treat yourself like a friend by practicing self-compassion, and don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else.

    Carve time out for fun and relaxation. Make time for calming, stress-relieving activities — or those that make you smile or laugh. Seek out humor in everyday life and give yourself permission to take breaks.

    Be mindful. Practice mindfulness or meditation, which teach you to focus on “the here and now,” rather than the past or future. This is helpful for thinking of emotions/thoughts as only temporary and less overwhelming, since everything is always evolving and changing.

    Help others and volunteer.  How can you spread positivity? One way is to focus on benefiting the lives of others, which also has the added benefit of boosting your mood too. Helping others gets you “out of your own head” and can make you feel connected, grateful and proud.

Are there any downsides to being positive?

Some argue that constantly striving to be positive when you really feel the opposite can mean you’re denying how you really feel, potentially leaving you feeling closed off from certain emotions. The goal of practicing positivity shouldn’t be to deny or ignore the fact that sometimes you feel sad, annoyed, irritated or disappointed. Instead, it can be helpful to first accept how you feel and then recognize that everything is temporary. You can’t always control your circumstances or how things will turn out, but you can try your best to learn from experiences and find something to be grateful for even when things aren’t perfect. (13)

It’s official: Eating organic foods reduces your risk for developing cancer. New research out of the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in France brings incredible news. That’s right, choosing organic foods over conventionally grown foods can reduce your risk of cancer by 25 percent.

The concerning part? More than 90 percent of the U.S. population harbors detectable pesticides in their blood and urine. What does this mean for our future health? Well, for one thing, big companies that use and produce pesticides may have to start owning up to the data. Non-industry-funded research repeatedly links these chemicals to cancer. Another thing to consider? This new French study comes on the heels of Environmental Working Group’s recent testing that detected glyphosate in cereal. It appears that Monsanto’s Roundup and other pesticides are downright dangerous for our health.
What Is Organic Food?

To earn the organic label, a government-approved certifier inspects the farm and approves the food product. This happens to make sure the grower is following the rules set in place by the United States Department of Agriculture.

When it comes to organic farming, there are strict standards and inspections in place. Organic agriculture only permits the use of natural fertilizers like manure and compost.  Other hallmark methods of organic farming include: (1)

Research shows that when people switch from eating conventionally grown foods to more organic foods, concentrations of pesticide metabolites in urine decreases.

Although we know that eating more organic foods and less conventionally grown foods will reduce the amount of pesticide residues in our bodies, what exactly does this mean for our health?

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified three pesticides frequently used in agriculture as carcinogenic to humans. Yes, that means that according to the IARC, glyphosate, malathion and diazinon are chemicals used on our food even though they may cause cancer in humans.
Organic foods - Dr. Axe

Until recently, evidence supporting the carcinogenic effects of these pesticides was based only on occupational exposure, primarily in agricultural settings. But what about low-level pesticide exposure in the general population, which primarily comes from the intake of conventionally growth fruits and vegetables? That’s the exact question that researchers in France sought to answer with this study.
The Study of Organic Foods & Cancer Prevention

The 2018 October study appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine. It examines the association between self-reported organic food intake and cancer risk. Researchers collected data on more than 68,900 French adults, with a mean age of 44 years, in order to establish their organic food consumption frequency and dietary intake.

For 16 food products, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, eggs and vegetables oils, the participants reported how often they chose organic over conventional options by selecting one of eight categories, including “never,” “occasionally” and “most of the time.” Based on an individual’s self-report, researchers computed an “organic food score” and used it to estimate a person’s risk of cancer.

Study authors followed the participants for a mean of five years, analyzing the incidence of cancer during a followup assessment.

Of the 68,946 volunteers, 1,340 developed cancer, including 459 cases of breast cancers, 180 prostate cancers, 135 skin cancers, 99 colorectal cancers, 47 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and 15 other lymphomas. Researchers pointed out that among these types of cancer, individuals with a higher frequency of organic food consumption enjoyed a reduced risk for three specific cancer sites: postmenopausal breast cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other lymphomas.

According to researchers, eating a higher frequency of organic foods correlates to a 25 percent lower risk of cancer diagnosis. More specifically, people eating the highest intake of organic foods experienced a 73 percent lower risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and 21 percent lower risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer. (2)
Any Drawbacks of Study?

Although this recent data suggests what we already suspected — that eating organic foods is likely better for human health, there are some drawbacks to this particular study that we need to address.

One possible weakness of the study lies in the fact that organic food intake is notoriously difficult to assess. Eating at a restaurant, take-out spot or friend’s house makes it more difficult to know verify food sources. So there may be an issue of misclassification in some cases. Plus, not all conventional foods are equal. Some contain more pesticides (or more potent pesticides), and this study doesn’t take this into account. So if a study participant chose to go organic with all “dirty dozen” foods, but went conventional for the rest, that’s not considered here, either.
Trying to stay healthy and make practical food choices in a world where fast food and sugar reign supreme is no easy task. Part of taking control of your health is understanding what you’re consuming.

One of the best places to get this information is through entertaining and informative health documentaries. Thanks to streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu, there are a wide variety of health documentaries at your fingertips. These films take a hard look at the food industry, the role excess sugar plays in the modern diet, and the toll processed foods can take on the body.

However, the best documentaries go deeper than just telling you what not do. These 12 films never shy away from the human element, and they all offer viewers the knowledge they need to make better food choices the next time they hit the supermarket.

From forming healthier relationships with food to understanding the industry behind what we eat, these are the absolute best health documentaries available on streaming services right now.
Best Health Documentaries + Where to Watch Them
1. Forks Over Knives

Nutritional scientist T. Colin Campbell and surgeon Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. make a compelling argument for veganism in Forks Over Knives. The 2011 doc suggests that adjustments to a person’s diet can actually reverse the progression of diseases like heart Disease and diabetes.

Through research and a closer examination of non-Western diets, the film offers two expert’s take on how eliminating meat and dairy can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
2. That Sugar Film

By combining skits and interviews with experiential journalism, director Damon Gameau examines the toll added sugars take on his body. After several years of a sugar-free diet, Gameau begins consuming so-called healthy products like fat-free yogurt. His goal is to add 40 teaspoons of sugar to his diet a day — the national average for Australians. The effects this change has on his body and overall health are startling, and an absolute must-see for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of hidden sugars.
3. Fed Up

Narrated by Katie Couric, Fed Up takes aim at the sugar industry as a whole. The documentary delves into the lack of government regulation where added sugars are concerned and features commentary from author Michael Pollan. Not all of the film’s suggestions are practical, but it’s overall message — a healthier diet can be achieved by preparing your own meals — rings true.
4. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

Australian Joe Cross embarks on a road trip across America and a 60-day juice cleanse. The good-humored Aussie is on a mission to improve his health while sharing his journey with others. Along the way, he crosses paths with a truck driver suffering from the same autoimmune disease that he has, and Cross shares his tips for healthier living with his new friend.
5. Bite Size

Childhood obesity is no doubt a problem, but so is the dehumanization that comes along with the way obese children are discussed. Bite Size takes aim at the stigmas associated with being an overweight tween by following four kids as they work toward self-acceptance, a better relationship with food and a more active lifestyle. This is one doc that will leave you feeling weepy, but inspired as well.

    Super Size Me

Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 social experiment made major headlines at the time of its release, and it remains an essential health doc today. For 30 days, he eats nothing but items from the McDonald’s menu, and the effects on his health are dramatic. In the years since the film’s release, America’s attitude toward food has shifted, and that may be at least in part due to Spurlock’s examination of the fast food industry.
7. A Place at the Table

Hunger is just as much a part of the health crisis as opioids, empty calories and obesity. A Place at the Table is about the topic of food insecurity and food deserts.

An alarming number of Americans go hungry each day, or buy cheap, processed food because fruits and vegetables aren’t readily available or affordable where they live. A Place at the Table not only shines a light on this often overlooked problem, but also offer practical solutions for families who struggling with food insecurity,
8. In Defense of Food

Author Michael Pollen’s philosophy for a balanced diet is remarkably simple. In this documentary, he tells viewers to, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Through his own scientific detective work and interviews with leaders in the food science community, Pollen explores the idea behind “bad” foods, and seeks to help America recalibrate their relationship with what they eat.
9. The C Word

Cancer is a scary topic, and no one knows that better that filmmaker Meghan L. O’Hara. The director of The C Word is a cancer survivor herself, and her journey inspired this doc about lifestyle changes, the pharmaceutical industry and the way cancer treatment is approached in America. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, The C Word offers a new way to think about a difficult health topic.
10. Sustainable

Knowing where your food comes from is an important part of staying healthy. Sustainable is an agricultural documentary that takes viewers inside the modern farming community, as well as diving into the local food movement. These two subjects are well-worth exploring if you’re interested in seeing how food goes from the farm to the table.
11. Beyond Food

The topics of food and lifestyle intersect in this doc that does exactly what the title says — goes beyond food by interviewing a variety of people who lead lifestyles that they consider healthy. The wide range of viewpoints are enlightening. More importantly, they also challenge preconceived notions about health, and open up possibilities about how to be your best self by not only changing how you eat, but how you think.
12. Vegucated

What does it take to get meat lover’s to swap bacon for kale? Find out in the funny and fascinating Vegucated. The film follows three meat devotees as try out a vegan lifestyle for three weeks.
Read More »

Ways Chronic Stress is Killing Your Quality of Life

Malnutrition is a serious issue that affects millions around the globe. The standard American diet can lead to malnutrition too. Believe it or not, you don’t have to have protruding bones or gaunt features to be considered malnourished. In fact, many people who suffer from malnutrition can appear perfectly healthy and may not even notice any symptoms at all.

So what is malnutrition, and what’s the best way to prevent it? Keep reading to find out what you need to know about this global epidemic and whether or not you may be affected.
What Is Malnutrition? Malnutrition Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

The term “malnutrition” may bring about mental images of starvation, extreme hunger or severe weight loss. However, there are many different ways to define malnutrition. It can even occur in people who may appear otherwise healthy.

So what is malnutrition? The official malnutrition definition translates to “poor nutrition,” which can be caused by a lack of any of the nutrients that your body needs, including calories, protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins or minerals. However, few people realize that malnutrition may also be caused by an excess of certain nutrients in the diet, an issue that can often be just as detrimental to health.

Generally speaking, there are two main types of malnutrition, including:

    Protein-energy malnutrition: caused by either a lack of protein or a lack of protein and calories.
    Micronutrient deficiency diseases: characterized by a deficiency in specific vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, iodine, vitamin D, etc.

There are a number of potential causes of malnutrition. Some of the most common malnutrition causes include a poorly planned diet, poverty, loss of appetite or digestive disorders that interfere with nutrient absorption. Older adults or people with restrictive diets, eating disorders, reduced intake and increased nutritional needs due to other medical conditions like cancer or kidney disease are all at an increased risk of being malnourished.

So how do you know if you’re getting enough of the nutrients that your body needs? Although there are many hallmark signs of malnutrition and specific vitamin deficiency symptoms, oftentimes the effects of malnutrition go unnoticed for years. For a quick and convenient option, there are plenty of nutrient deficiency test services offered by labs and medical practices that can help pinpoint exactly which vitamins and minerals you lack. Alternatively, you can also work with a registered dietitian to analyze your diet and determine how you can safely meet your dietary needs to stay well-nourished.
Top 10 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies

1. Vitamin D

Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is an important vitamin that is synthesized in the skin in response to sun exposure. Found in very few dietary sources, it can be incredibly difficult to meet your daily needs without stepping in the sunlight. For this reason, vitamin D is sometimes considered the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. Some studies estimating that nearly 42 percent of the U.S. population may have a vitamin D deficiency. (1) Older adults, people with dark skin, those who are overweight or obese, and those with limited sun exposure are at an even higher risk of deficiency.

Symptoms of this vitamin deficiency are often very subtle and may surface only after several years. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis, bone loss and an increased risk of fractures. (2) It may also result in impaired immune function and increased susceptibility to infections. (3) Because vitamin D is found in few food sources, most people can benefit from supplementation with vitamin D3 to help meet their needs.
2. Iron

Iron is one of the main components of red blood cells. It is crucial in the transportation of oxygen from the bloodstream to the cells. It’s found in two main forms in the diet: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is more well-absorbed. It is found primarily in meat and animal products. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, is found in a variety of plant and animal sources but is not nearly as bioavailable. Because of this, vegans and vegetarians are at an especially high risk of iron deficiency.

According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization, nearly 25 percent of the global population is deficient in this essential nutrient. That equates to over 1.6 billion people around the world. (4) Iron deficiency anemia is the most common side effect of low iron levels. This can cause anemia symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, brittle nails and pale skin. Iron deficiency can be corrected through either diet modifications, supplementation or a combination of both to ensure that needs are met.
3. Calcium

Calcium is absolutely vital to several aspects of health, from bone metabolism to nerve signaling. (5) Found primarily in dairy products, soft-boned fish and leafy greens, many people don’t get nearly enough calcium in their diets. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Nutrition even found that less than 10 percent of teenage girls and women over 50 met the daily recommended intake for calcium. (6)

A deficiency can be absolutely detrimental, resulting in a range of calcium deficiency symptoms. These include cramps, muscle weakness, low energy levels and muscle spasms. Even more serious side effects can also occur over time, such as osteoporosis and rickets, a condition characterized by the softening of the bones in children. (7, 8) Calcium deficiency is often treated using both diet and supplementation, although the potential effects of calcium supplements has been a subject of controversy in recent years.
4. Iodine

Iodine is an important mineral that plays a central role in thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones. These hormones help regulate everything from metabolism to body temperature, brain development and beyond. (9) For this reason, getting enough iodine in your diet is key to keeping your thyroid working efficiently and preventing thyroid problems.

Iodine deficiency can cause goiter, which is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. It may also cause other symptoms, such as fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, an impaired ability to focus, constipation and weight gain. (10) Fortunately, iodine deficiency can usually be avoided by including plenty of iodine-rich foods in the diet, including seaweed, wild-caught cod, yogurt, eggs, tuna fish and iodized salt.
5. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that acts as a co-factor in nearly 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It also forms the structure of the bones and teeth, supports healthy nerve and muscle function, and aids in the regulation of blood sugar levels. (11) Unfortunately, most of us are sorely lacking in this essential mineral. One study out of Hawaii estimates that nearly half of all U.S. adults consume less than the recommended daily value. (12)

Some of the most common signs of deficiency can include loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, vomiting and fatigue. (13) Taking a multivitamin or including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet, such as nuts, seeds, legumes and leafy greens, can sidestep a magnesium deficiency and help round out your diet.

6. Vitamin A

This fat-soluble vitamin is perhaps most well-known for its effects on eye health. It’s also involved in many other physiological processes, including skin cell turnover, immune function and reproductive health. (14) Although vitamin A deficiency is uncommon in many parts of the world, it’s a serious problem in many developing countries. Some reports estimate that up to 127 million preschool-aged children and 7 million pregnant women around the world may lack this key vitamin. (15)

Vitamin A deficiency symptoms include frequent infections, dry eyes, night blindness and dry skin. Consuming plenty of vitamin A foods can combat deficiency, including organ meats, carrots, squash, leafy green vegetables and sweet potatoes.
7. Vitamin B12

Involved in blood cell formation, energy production, nerve cell function and DNA synthesis, there’s no doubt that your body needs a steady stream of vitamin B12 to function efficiently. However, because it’s found mostly in animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry, vegetarians and vegans are at an alarmingly high risk of deficiency. In fact, some reports estimate that the deficiency rates for these at-risk populations could reach up to 86 percent. (16)

Megaloblastic anemia is the most common side effect of vitamin B12 deficiency. This is a condition characterized by a low number of red blood cells. Aside from increasing your intake of vitamin B12 foods, supplementation is the best bet to reduce your risk of deficiency. Many multivitamins contain vitamin B12, or you can opt for a B-complex to get a concentrated dose of all of the B vitamins that your body needs in one shot.
8. Vitamin E

Vitamin E doubles as both a fat-soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant. It helps fight free radicals and protects the cells against free radical damage. (17) Because the average Western diet is typically high in processed junk and low in nutrient-rich whole foods like fruits and veggies, many people struggle to meet the daily recommended intake for vitamin E.

Deficiency is rare but can occur in those with impaired fat absorption or certain digestive disorders. Symptoms often include weakened immunity, difficulty walking, loss of vision or loss of muscle control. Wheat germ, nuts, seeds and veggies are a few of the most concentrated sources for this vital vitamin. It can also be found in some multivitamins and is available in special water-soluble forms for those with absorption issues.
9. Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that is necessary for metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis, the formation of cell membranes and brain development. (18) It is found in many food sources but is especially prevalent in animal products, such as eggs, meat and dairy. Although it is also found in several plant-based sources as well, it’s a nutrient that should be monitored closely if you’re on a restrictive diet to make sure you get enough.

A lack of choline has been associated with liver and muscle damage, as well as birth defects and impairments in growth and development. (19) Deficiency is typically treated through the diet. Supplements are also available and sometimes used for more severe cases.
10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy fats that have been linked to decreased inflammation, enhanced cognitive function and improved heart health. (20) The most active forms, DHA and EPA, are found primarily in fatty fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be obtained from some plant sources in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) as well, but studies estimate that only about 5 percent is actually converted to the active forms in the body, putting those who don’t eat fish regularly at an increased risk of deficiency. (21)

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can result in symptoms like difficulty concentrating, joint pain, mood swings, dry skin and brittle nails. For those who don’t eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week, omega-3 supplements are widely available in the form of fish oil, cod liver oil, krill oil and algal oil.
Complications and Disease Related to Malnutrition

Nutritional deficiencies contribute to a long list of diseases and disorders. They can cause many negative malnutrition symptoms and health complications as well. Here are a few of the most common malnutrition diseases that can be caused by a lack of one or more specific nutrients in the diet:

Stats and Facts on Malnutrition, Malnourishment and Nutrient Deficiencies

Malnutrition is often dismissed as a problem that only affects developing countries. However, while it’s true that certain areas are more prone to malnourishment and specific nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition is a global issue that can affect anyone.

Here are some quick facts and statistics on malnutrition around the globe:

    The official nutritional deficiency definition can include a lack of any specific nutrient, including calories, proteins, fats, vitamins or minerals.
    In developing countries, deficiencies in iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc are most common. (22)
    Although it’s unclear what is the single most common nutrient deficiency in the U.S., many adults lack vitamin D, iron and vitamin B12. (23)
    Meanwhile, vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of deficiency in nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
    Iodine deficiency is considered the most preventable cause of mental impairment worldwide. (24)
    Some research shows that climate change may contribute to changes in the nutritional value of plants. This could potentially contribute to nutritional deficiencies in some areas. (25)
    Malnutrition in children is one of the most serious risk factors for illness and death. It is associated with 52.5 percent of all deaths in young children. (26)

History/Facts

While today we know just how much of a role nutrition plays in overall health, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, researchers have only learned about the connection between vitamin and mineral consumption and conditions caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as scurvy and beriberi, within the last several hundred years.

From the 1940s onward, many food manufacturers began fortifying products with several essential vitamins and minerals as a public health measure to help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Flour was fortified with a myriad of B vitamins, breakfast cereals began being enriched with vitamin D and iodized salt started being stocked on the shelves of every supermarket. This was highly successful at eradicating many common nutritional deficiencies. It also helped decrease the risk of birth defects and serious conditions like rickets in children in many countries.

Unfortunately, malnutrition remains one of the biggest health problems around the world. This is especially true for pregnant women and young children, who are at a greater risk of deficiency. Initiatives have been set forth by organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization in an attempt to address world hunger, as well as related factors like poverty, improved nutrition education, sustainable agriculture and food security. (27)
Precautions

Malnutrition can be a serious problem that goes beyond what you put on your plate. If you suspect you may have a nutritional deficiency, consult with a doctor or dietitian to determine what other factors may be at play, as well as the best course of treatment for you.

Additionally, keep in mind that not all nutritional deficiencies can be cured by simply switching up your diet. In some cases, severe deficiencies may require supplementation, sometimes using high doses or injections performed under medical supervision. In any case, talk to your doctor before starting supplementation, especially if you’re taking other medications or have any underlying health conditions.
Final Thoughts

    The official malnutrition definition translates to “poor nutrition” and is characterized by insufficient nutrient consumption, including an inadequate intake of calories, protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins or minerals.
    Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies include iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iodine and vitamin A.
    In many cases, micronutrient deficiencies can be corrected by following a healthy, well-rounded diet or using a multivitamin to help fill in any gaps.
    In some cases, other factors may be involved and supplementation or medical treatment may also be necessary.
    For most people, however, following a balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, protein foods and healthy fats can ensure that your dietary needs are being met to help prevent malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies.
Today, women living in the U.S. are more likely to be killed by a spouse/partner than anyone else. Men commit the vast majority of violent and non-violent crimes in the U.S, including nearly all mass shootings. And men are much more likely to face accusations of sexual harassment and abuse. That includes instances occurring at home, in schools and in the workplace. (1)

Why is this? To help explain this phenomenon, many use the concept called “toxic masculinity.” There are various ways to describe toxic masculinity, depending on who you ask. According to the Teaching Tolerance website, the phrase toxic masculinity is “derived from studies that focus on violent behavior perpetrated by men, and — this is key — is designed to describe not masculinity itself, but a form of gendered behavior that results when expectations of ‘what it means to be a man’ go wrong.” (2)

Not only is toxic masculinity harmful to women, but it also hurts men themselves, both physically and mentally. The World Health Organization believes that risk-taking behaviors and lack of willingness to seek help are among the most important reasons for higher rates of negative health outcomes among men. This includes ailments like heart disease, COPD and other respiratory diseases, depression and alcoholism. Men also experience shorter life expectancies compared to women.

Beyond that, suicide rates are about four times higher among men, according to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (3) And even men who don’t suffer physical health consequences due to toxic masculinity likely deal with issues like feeling emotionally cut off and misunderstood.

Let’s take a deeper dive into toxic masculinity, including the three specific phrases you should ban from your vocabulary.
What Is Toxic Masculinity?

What is the definition of toxic masculinity? Toxic masculinity can be thought of as “hyper masculinity,” a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.

Another term tied to toxic masculinity is “hegemonic masculinity.” This is defined as a practice that legitimizes men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of women, and other marginalized ways of being a man. (4)

Urban Dictionary considers toxic masculinity to be “a social science term that describes narrow repressive types of ideas about the male gender role and that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits.” Toxic masculinity can also suggest that men who act too emotional or aren’t violent enough are not “real men.” (5)

Below are some examples of ideas/beliefs associated with toxic masculinity:

    Manhood is defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.
    Men should not be interested in “feminine things” because this makes them appear weak
    Men shouldn’t display “feminine” traits such as emotional vulnerability.
    Men and women can never truly understand each other or just be friends, for reasons like men are always interested in sex.
    Real men are strong and don’t show emotional signs of shame or weakness.
    Anger and violence are useful ways of solving conflicts.
    Men are not suited to be single parents/the dominant parent in a family.

The Origins of Toxic Masculinity

To understand more about toxic masculinity, it helps to understand the background of masculinity theories in general.

What is “the masculinity theory?” Masculinity is defined as “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men.”  The theory of masculinity enormously impacts the field of gender studies. Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell is one of the first researchers to form a theory of masculinity. Her theory is still considered to be one of the most influential in the field of men/masculinities today.

According to a 2009 article published in the Journal of Gender Studies, Connell published her book Masculinities originally in 1995. There, she provided  “a critical feminist analysis of historically specific masculinities whilst at the same time acknowledging the varying degrees to which individual men play in its reproduction.” (6)

A 2015 article published in the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality states that “the concept of hegemonic masculinity has been used in gender studies since the early-1980s to explain men’s power over women … Although men are structurally related to women in a superior position and inherently benefit from this (what Raewyn Connell called the patriarchal dividend), they do have a ‘choice’ about whether or not to actively occupy oppressive positions.” (7)

Connell argued that there are many ways to act masculine, and that it’s up to men to choose which types of characteristics they adhere to.

To be clear, toxic masculinity is not only a critique of men by women. In fact, males are very involved in discussions of toxic masculinity. And they have been from the start. For example, in the 1990s, researcher Dr. Ronald Levant played a significant role in the development of masculinity ideology. He explained how cultural belief systems and attitudes toward masculinity defined men’s roles.

Since the origins of masculinity theory, both men and women use hegemonic masculinity as a way to describe: a set of values, established by men in power, that functions to include and exclude, and to organize society in gender unequal ways. It combines several features: a hierarchy of masculinities, differential access among men to power (over women and other men) and the interplay between men’s identity, men’s ideals, interactions, power and patriarchy.

Currently, discussions of masculinity, femininity and gender distinctions remain complicated. They’re tied to gender roles and gender norms. And those are complex topics. On one hand, some feel that gender norms first developed thousands of years ago. Why? Because men spent more time dedicated to hunting, while women generally raised the family. Females are more involved in the process of birthing children, which some say triggered males to compete with each other for women’s attention.

However, according to other theories, early human behavior wasn’t largely differentiated by gender. Some argue that we didn’t see huge gender differences in society until recent agriculture-based developments. And for this reason, we shouldn’t assume that modern-day masculinity has biological roots, but rather that it is really influenced by our culture.
Masculinity vs. Toxic Masculinity

Masculinity is not the same thing as toxic masculinity. It’s possible to be “masculine” without exhibiting toxic masculinity characteristics.
What are the characteristics of masculinity, and what does “non-toxic masculinity” look like?
Many feel that “traditional masculinity” include characteristics like leadership, strength of purpose, protectiveness and a willingness to do what’s right despite its emotional cost. The goal among those fighting toxic masculinity is not to discourage men from pursuing these traits.
Organizations like The Good Men Project offer up the following ideas about what “positive-masculinity” can look like: (8)

    Men can have physical power without being violent or aggressive.
    While violence is best avoided, defending others in certain circumstances can still be a valiant goal. At the same time, men should not assume that their role is to protect the vulnerable or that women are always more vulnerable and helpless than men. We can benefit from thinking of both genders as both “protectors” and “nurturers.”
    Masculinity does not need to be at odds with sensitivity and empathy. These should be considered gender-neutral traits. Other gender-neutral traits include kindness, honesty, discipline, consideration, and being protective, strong, rational and even clever.
    Men can have relationships with women without engaging in objectification of women or being interested in sex.
1. Share Facts About Gender Research

Masculinity describes a pattern of behaviors, but it doesn’t describe biological or inherited traits. While many people may assume that men and women act differently due to biological differences, research tells us otherwise. In other words, not every masculine man is engaging in toxic masculinity.

Studies show there’s very little difference between the actual brains of men and women. The rigid societal norms created around femininity and masculinity are what actually cause the two sexes to act differently. For this reason, experts tell us that it’s important to shift the discussion away from sex and biology determining our behavior, and toward gender and culture. This helps to end men being excused for aggressive behavior because “it’s their nature.” Instead, it makes each man more personally responsible for his actions. If leaders, parents and teachers stop assuming that :boys will be boys,” then males will have to take more personal responsibility for their actions.

2. Limit Use of Harmful Phrases & Comments in the Home

Experts tell us that parents play a huge role when it comes to shaping their sons’ behaviors and ideas about what it means to be a man. Parents are discouraged from expecting violent and rough behavior from their sons and acting like this normal. Young men should not be excused from any consequences for behavior that harms others (mentally or physically).

Parents can also teach their sons that there is more than one way to be a boy or “act like a man.” It’s important for parents to stop telling boys and men to “man up” and act tough, and to make it acceptable to show emotion, tenderness or pain. Parents can also create an environment where it’s possible for everyone in the family to to openly talk about their roles, relations and expectations.
3. Discuss Masculinity & Gender Roles In Classrooms

Toxic masculinity can be a difficult topic for teachers to discuss with their classes, but many experts feel that as educators, it is teachers’ responsibility to openly communicate what types of remarks, bullying and behaviors will not be tolerated. Teachers can also help shape the beliefs of students as they’re forming ideas about gender roles. In some classrooms, teachers are now turning to films and other resources, including documentaries Tough Guise 2 and The Mask You Live In. These help explain problems with gender expectations.

Among some college campuses, leaders are creating “safe spaces” where men can openly discuss gender concerns. For example, at Brown University,  current programming includes: Masculinity101, a weekly discussion group for students to unpack and unlearn toxic masculine norms. The Men’s Story Project: Looking Within and Speaking Out, is a large-scale storytelling event featuring the stories of males.
4. Community Outreach Programs (Especially for Boys/Men Who Are Most Susceptible)

Research shows that masculinity is constructed in ways that reflect poverty or power, regional cultures and neighborhood dynamics. Destructive and exaggerated ideas of masculinity often develop among socially marginalized men living in urban areas of poverty, where the desire for power and force is emphasized. These same men may be more prone to experience violence in childhood, something that can create enduring psychological impacts that may fuel toxic masculinity later in life. This includes a lack of empathy and remorse and increased acts of aggression.

While this isn’t an easy problem to fix, a key intervention seems to be promoting more models of positive masculinity.

Outside of the classroom, a number of male-oriented clubs and organizations now involve men in sexual assault prevention courses, helping to change how they think about maleness and treating women. According to an article on this topic published in The Atlantic, “club members are walking examples of respectful male students, ones who choose conversation over clenched fists.” (9) There have also been a growing number of well-known public speakers addressing the topic of toxic masculinity, and books written on the subject — including several authored by athletes, musicians, and so on.
5. Highlight Examples of “Positive Masculinity”

The media can also help by displaying examples of men who are comfortable in their masculinity, but also respectful, polite, ambitious and kind. Community leaders can also help by showing what real-life examples of positive masculinity look like. This includes pastors, priests, teachers, business owners, politicians, and so on. Public figures can serve as powerful examples, showing that it’s okay for men to ask for help, fail and feel pain. And the less that “successful” adult men publicly degrade minority men, gay men or women, the less likely it is for younger males to learn that this is acceptable.

Women can also help fight toxic masculinity by “talking up” positive masculinity and celebrating the differences between femininity and masculinity. One way for women to do this is to form relationships with men based on mutual respect, a sense of safety and trust. As mothers, wives and friends, women can show men that it’s safe to express their feelings and that they shouldn’t fear being viewed as “soft” when they do.

Erythritol is one of the most prominent natural zero calorie sweeteners that have become so popular, and seemingly less problematic than the controversial aspartame. Instead, erythritol is a natural sugar alcohol like xylitol that I’ve spoken about before in my article regarding artificial sweeteners.

Many people choose erythritol because it can decrease the amount of sugar and calories in what they’re consuming. You’ll commonly find it as an ingredient in low-sugar, sugar-free and even carb-free foods, but there are some common erythritol side effects to consider as well; in fact, when used in large amounts, erythritol consumption could potentially cause nausea and stomach upset. (1)

The reason why it doesn’t provide calories or sugar to its consumer is because the body actually can’t break it down! That’s right — even though erythritol travels through your body, it doesn’t get metabolized. (2)

So is erythritol a safe and smart natural sweetener substitute for sugar? If it’s made from GMO cornstarch, then absolutely not. I definitely don’t recommend it, especially when there are healthier, safer options readily available. If you’re talking about non-GMO erythritol, then it can be a better choice than some other artificial sweeteners, but I still think there are better options out there.

Erythritol is rapidly absorbed in the small intestine, but it’s poorly metabolized and may not carry the same health benefits as other natural sweeteners such as monk fruit or raw honey. As we’ve seen before, just because a sweetener doesn’t have calories and doesn’t appear to affect blood sugar, it does not mean that it’s good for your health.
What Is Erythritol?

If you’re a label reader (and I hope you are!), you may have noticed alternative sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda®) and natural zero calorie sweetener erythritol becoming more and more prominent in ingredient lists lately, especially in energy and sports drinks and chocolate bars. You’re probably thinking to yourself, what is erythritol?

It naturally occurs in some fruits and fermented foods, but the variety being added to food and beverages today is typically man-made from GMO cornstarch, resulting in an ultra-processed food — very far from a natural sweetening agent. It’s one of those “invisible GMO ingredients.”

Erythritol is a four-carbon sugar alcohol or polyol that contains about 60 percent to 80 percent of the sweetness of table sugar. Sugar alcohol has nothing to do with cocktails, though since it does not contain ethanol (aka alcohol) like alcoholic beverages. Other sugar alcohols include sorbitol/glucitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, glycerol/glycerin and xylitol. Fruits like watermelon, pear and grapes naturally have minor amounts of erythritol, as do mushrooms and fermented foods like cheese, wine, beer and sake. (3)

Erythritol was first discovered in 1848 by a Scottish chemist named John Stenhouse. Japan has been using erythritol since the early 1990s in candies, jellies, jams, chocolate (including the common chocolate bar), yogurt, beverages and as a natural sugar substitute. It’s gained popularity in the United States more recently. As of 1997, it has the status of generally recognized as safe from the FDA and the food industry and consumers love it because it can have up to 80 percent of the sweetness of sugar, but it’s noncaloric and does not raise blood sugar levels.

Meanwhile, some scientists claim that it might even provide antioxidants to whoever ingests it. In a diabetic rat, erythritol seems to act as an antioxidant (to fight free radicals) and potentially offered protection again hyperglycemia-induced vascular damage. (4)

Erythritol is now commonly added to many packaged food, snack and drink items (zero calorie sodas, for example) as well as sugar-free gums, mints and even some medications. It’s also available by itself as a granulated or powdered natural zero calorie sweetener, like Zsweet and Swerve (which is non-GMO certified and sourced from France). And because erythritol is not hygroscopic (does not absorb moisture from the air), it’s popular in certain baked products because it doesn’t dry them out.

Erythritol does occur naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. However, the problem is that the grand majority of erythritol used in products today is man-made by taking glucose (most commonly from GMO cornstarch) and fermenting it with a yeast called Moniliella pollinis.
4 Reasons to Not Consume GMO Erythritol
1. GMO

The World Health Organization defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as “foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.” (5) Although there are non-GMO varieties available, much of the erythritol used in foods and beverages today is derived from cornstarch from genetically modified corn.

Animal studies have linked consumption of GMOs with infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. (6)
2. Commonly Combined with Artificial Sweeteners

Erythritol is not as sweet as sugar on its own so it’s often combined in foods and beverages with other questionable sweeteners, usually ones that are artificial. When combined with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, the erythritol-laden product can become even more troublesome for your health. Side effects of aspartame include anxiety, depression, short-term memory loss, fibromyalgia, weight gain, fatigue, brain tumors and more.

Since products containing erythritol typically also contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, the side effects of that particular food or beverage become even more likely as well as dangerous.
3. Gastrointestinal Problems

Sugar alcohols like erythritol are well-known to cause digestive issues. Some of the most common erythritol side effects are undesirable gastrointestinal side effects, which are especially common in children. (7)

Unfortunately, the gastrointestinal issues don’t necessarily stop at some rumbling in your stomach. Diarrhea is a well-known common erythritol side effect. Especially when consumed in excess, unabsorbed erythritol can attract water from the intestinal wall and cause diarrhea. The likelihood of diarrhea appears to be even more likely when erythritol is consumed along with fructose. (8) Diarrhea might sound harmless, but it can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition.

Many people report upset stomach and diarrhea after consuming erythritol in food or beverages. If consumption is high (50 grams or more per day) then digestive upset, including gas, cramping, bloating, stomachache and diarrhea, becomes even more likely. One study specifically showed that the intake of 50 grams of erythritol caused stomach rumbling and nausea. (1)

In 2012, a pediatric study looked at the GI tolerability of erythritol. The aim was to determine the maximum dose level of erythritol that’s well-tolerated by young children (4–6 years old) in a single drinking occasion. The researchers concluded that there is “a safety concern with respect to GI tolerability for the use of erythritol in beverages at a maximum use level of 2.5% for non-sweetening purposes.” (9)

For this reason, it’s important to keep intake in moderation to help prevent negative side effects and consider scaling back if digestive issues occur. Research typically shows that up to 0.45 grams of erythritol per pound of body weight is well-tolerated and safe for most people, but intake should not exceed that amount. (10)
4. Allergic Reactions

Although very rare, erythritol can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people. A study published in 2000 in the Journal of Dermatology demonstrates how drinks containing erythritol can potentially cause a severe allergic skin reaction. A young 24-year-old woman had severe wheals all over her entire body after having one glass of a beverage sweetened with erythritol. (11)

A wheal, often called a welt or hives, is a raised, itchy area of skin that’s sometimes an obvious sign of an allergy to something you’ve consumed or come in contact with. When you suddenly have a negative skin reaction, it’s always important to consider what you most recently consumed, especially if it contained a questionable ingredient you may not commonly consume, such as erythritol.
The Positive Side of Erythritol

If you purchase a product that has erythritol, how do you know if it’s a GMO erythritol? The product needs to have a USDA Organic or a Non-GMO Project-certified insignia on the packaging. Under these guidelines, it cannot be from a GMO source.

If you choose a non-GMO erythritol, can it be beneficial? I would say the answer depends on your specific health goals. Fans of this common sweetener mainly love it because of its lack of calories, which can be helpful to weight management. In fact, studies show that erythritol could influence the release of certain hormones in the gut and even slow the emptying of the stomach. (12) Many people also choose it as their sweetener of choice because it won’t cause a blood sugar spike, which can be especially helpful for diabetics.

Studies have been mixed, but some say that erythritol can decrease plaque or even help prevent tooth decay. One double-blind, randomized trial study looked at the effects of erythritol on 485 primary school children. Each child consumed four erythritol, xylitol or sorbitol candies three times per school day. In the follow-up examinations, researchers observed a lower number of cavities in the erythritol group than in the xylitol or sorbitol groups. The time until the development of cavities was also longest in the erythritol group. (13)
Better Sweetener Alternatives

Erythritol may have some positives, but I’m not convinced that those positives outweigh the negatives, especially for GMO erythritol. I personally would rather use stevia leaf extract because it also doesn’t spike blood sugar and has more proven health benefits, including improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure and even some types of cancer. (14)

Raw honey is another favorite of mine that’s truly a superfood. I also recommend monk fruit, which is a fruit-derived sweetener that has been used for hundreds of years.
1. Stevia

I’m talking about a real stevia leaf extract product, not a “stevia product” that actually contains other sweeteners like erythritol. Stevia is an herbal plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family. The stevia plant has been used for over 1,500 years by the Guaraní people of Brazil and Paraguay. It’s really a great, health-promoting choice when you buy a high-quality, pure stevia leaf extract product. Make sure to buy stevia without additives and one that has been less processed. I recommend green stevia as the best option.
2. Raw Honey

Raw honey is a pure, unfiltered and unpasteurized sweetener made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Unlike processed honey, raw honey does not get robbed of its incredible nutritional value and health powers. It has been scientifically proven to help with allergies, diabetes, sleep problems, coughs and wound healing. Look for a local beekeeper to source your raw honey. This makes it even more likely to help with seasonal allergies.
3. Monk Fruit

Monk fruit, also called luo han guo, has been used as a sweetener for centuries, and after many years being only available overseas, it’s recently become easier to find in grocery stores in the United States. Monk fruit contains compounds that, when extracted, are natural sweeteners 300–400 times sweeter than cane sugar — but with no calories and no effect on blood sugar.  Just make sure that the monk fruit product you’re purchasing doesn’t contain any GMO-derived erythritol or other unhealthy additives.
Final Thoughts on Erythritol

Once erythritol enters your body, it’s rapidly absorbed in the small intestine with only about 10 percent entering the colon while the other 90 percent is excreted in the urine. It essentially goes through your system untouched with zero metabolization. Many manufacturers and consumers think this is great because that means no added calories or sugar to your diet, but what about it is really healthy or natural? Certainly nothing if it’s man-made from genetically modified corn products.

Even if it’s not GMO, it may also cause possible gastrointestinal distress and allergic reactions in certain individuals who may be sensitive to its effects.

When we eat or drink anything, we ideally want it to go to work for us and encourage our overall health and well-being. Erythritol might have some benefits and non-GMO varieties may be fine in moderation, but there are plenty of other natural, health-promoting sweeteners available that can also be used in moderation instead.

Stress. It’s an awful word and a worse feeling, isn’t it? The thing is stress isn’t all bad. Without it, we wouldn’t be motivated to protect ourselves or perform. A certain level of stress helps us to adapt to our environment and pushes us to excel. The stress that is worrisome is chronic stress, and it can affect you negatively in multiple ways.

And new research confirms that chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels in midlife can actually cause brain shrinkage and memory problems.

How can you determine if your stress is good or chronic? Let’s take a look, along with how chronic stress can kill your quality of life and why you want to incorporate natural stress relievers into your life.
The Stress Response

So what is “good stress”? While stress itself may not be a good thing, each of us is only here because of the stress response. Our ancestors reacted to a threat by fighting or fleeing, literally or figuratively, and so survived thanks to this fight or flight instinct. Whether it was a food shortage or a physical threat, they went into what the prominent science center, the Franklin Institute, refers to as “metabolic overdrive.” (1)

Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body. Blood pressure, breathing and heart rate increase. Glucose is released into the bloodstream for ready energy. Digestion, growth, reproduction and immune system functions are suppressed or put on hold. Blood flow to the skin is decreased, and pain tolerance is increased.

During a real crisis, your actions would end up reversing many of these processes. You would fight or flee and resolve the problem — then take comfort in contact with loved ones or satisfaction in your abilities. You might dispel adrenaline through pacing or some other soothing effort and restore your metabolic and hormonal balances.

Life today, however, doesn’t often offer us the opportunity to enact a full stress response and resolution. Instead, we operate as if we’re in a constant, low-grade state of emergency, with no real end in sight. Many of us don’t physically dispel stress hormones or take the time to resolve the real problems. We don’t soothe ourselves or take the time to question our priorities.

So what are some of the things chronic stress is doing to you?
Chronic Stress Is Killing Your Quality of Life

1. It’s Messing with Your Brain

You may think that it’s necessary to work under the gun all of the time, but according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), chronic stress affects your ability to concentrate, act efficiently and makes you more accident-prone.

Chronic stress has devastating effects on memory and learning. It actually kills brain cells. UMMC reports that people with post-traumatic stress disorder experience an 8 percent shrinkage of the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, and stress affects, most decidedly, children’s ability to learn. (2)

The Franklin Institute explains that the stress hormone cortisol channels glucose to the muscles during the stress response and leaves less fuel for the brain. Cortisol also interrupts brain cell communication by compromising neurotransmitter function.

All learning depends on the use of memory. Stress affects your ability to access memories and prevents you from creating new ones.

Worse yet, your hippocampus is involved in turning cortisol off. As it becomes damaged by chronic stress, it becomes less able to do so and becomes more damaged. This is what the Franklin Institute refers to as a “degenerative cascade.”

A 2018 study published in the Neurology confirms brain shrinkage in middle-aged people with chronically elevated cortisol levels. The scary party? The brain starts to shrink before symptoms even appear.

“Our research detected memory loss and brain shrinkage in middle-aged people before symptoms started to show, so it’s important for people to find ways to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in moderate exercise, incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily lives, or asking their doctor about their cortisol levels and taking a cortisol-reducing medication if needed,” says study author Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. “It’s important for physicians to counsel all people with higher cortisol levels.”

2. Stress Increases Risk of Heart Attack, Heart Disease and Stroke

A direct link between chronic stress and increased risk for heart attack, heart disease and stroke has not yet been established by researchers. What chronic stress does do, reports UMMC, is worsen risk factors for these conditions.

Stress increases your heart rate and force, constricts your arteries, and affects heart rhythms. It thickens the blood, which may protect against blood loss in case of injury, according to UMMC. Stress increases blood pressure, and chronic stress damages blood vessel linings, especially because chronic stress contributes to inflammation.

Increased blood pressure is also a risk factor for stroke, and the Franklin Institute reports that stress levels can increase atherosclerosis, another risk factor for stroke.

3. Stress Dials Down Your Immune System

Fighting off infection isn’t a primary concern if your body thinks it’s facing an immediate danger, but the problem is chronic stress definitely dampens your immune system, making fighting infection much more difficult. People seem to be much more susceptible to infections and experience more severe symptoms when they come down with a cold or flu if they’re stressed, reports UMMC.

Stress can also trigger a detrimental overdrive in your immune system. Stress contributes to inflammation in the body. Your immune system may react to other damage going on in your body due to stress and send out immune compounds known as cytokines that contribute to the inflammatory response. These compounds can damage healthy cells in their effort to combat unhealthy factors occurring in your body.

Inflammation has been linked to a multitude of health conditions and diseases, from asthma and diabetes to cancer and heart disease.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that stress can negatively affect your ability to recover from a heart attack and that stress management training can help speed healing from a heart attack. (3)

According to the Franklin Institute, stress affects the blood-brain barrier. This barrier protects many substances that enter your body from ever reaching and affecting your brain, things like drugs and toxins, viruses and poisons. Researchers found that stress increased the permeability of the blood-brain barrier in Gulf War soldiers. Drugs meant to protect their bodies from chemical attacks and that should have never affected the brain did.

4. Chronic Stress Contributes to Aging

As I’ve explained, the stress response turns off many physiological processes that aren’t deemed urgent. Consider the lack of blood flow to the skin. That’s certainly going to affect how old you look. Worse, though, is how much chronic stress can affect the aging brain. We all lose brain cells as we age. Toxins, automatic routines, improper diet, lack of exercise and loss of social connections contribute to this. So, as stress allows more toxins to cross the blood-brain barrier and cortisol damages the hippocampus, brain function, new learning and memory are greatly affected.

The reduced effectiveness of the blood-brain barrier is a common finding in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The “degenerative cascade” is accelerated in the aging brain. A study of elderly people found that hippocampus size was reduced by 14 percent in those with high cortisol levels and that these participants showed much less ability to create new memories for new learning. Another study found that hippocampus size was linked to the rate of progression in Alzheimer’s disease.

The APA reports on a study of chronological age versus physiological age related to stress. Women that cared for disabled or sickly children over a matter of years were 10 years older physiologically. That’s because chronic stress affected their ability to regenerate blood cells. Chronic stress can also contribute to aging in terms of arthritis, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

5. Stress Contributes to Weight Gain and Digestive Disorders

Since digestion is also dialed down during the stress response, chronic stress can contribute to a variety of digestive disorders. Bloated stomach, cramping, constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of chronic stress. So, too, is acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. Stress can worsen ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease as well.

Cortisol contributes to the accumulation of dangerous belly fat and worsens cravings for fat, salt and sugar. Eating unhealthy carbs can be soothing as this lessens the behavioral and hormonal imbalances associated with the stress response. Unfortunately, this behavior can become habitual and lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

6. Chronic Stress Affects Your Mood and Relationships

Constant stress can affect your sleep patterns and make you irritable and fatigued, unable to concentrate and highly reactive. You may become unable to relax and operate in a state of anxiety. Depression is a common reaction to chronic stress. All of these things can downgrade your quality of life and affect your relationships with others.

Chronic stress is associated with feelings of helplessness and lack of control. Perfectionists are  more likely to suffer from disrupted serotonin levels due to stress, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter in the brain, reports UMMC.

7. Stress Increases Pain

Links between pain severity and chronic stress have been established with headaches, joint pain and muscle pain. Stress seems to intensify arthritis pain and back pain. Work stress is associated with backaches, and stress increases the occurrence and severity of tension headaches.

8. Stress Affects Sexuality and Reproductive Functions

Chronic stress reduces sexual desire in women and can contribute to erectile dysfunction in men. Chronic stress is linked to premenstrual syndrome severity and can affect fertility in women. Stress during pregnancy is linked to higher rates of premature birth and miscarriage. Stress during pregnancy may also affect how infants themselves react to stress after birth, reports UMMC. Chronic stress can also worsen hormonally based mood changes that accompany menopause.

9. Chronic Stress Affects Your Skin, Hair and Teeth

Hormonal imbalances due to stress and the fact that blood flow to the skin is reduced during the stress response can negatively affect your skin, hair and teeth. Eczema is a common reaction to stress. Acne, hives, psoriasis and rosacea have also been linked to stress. Hair loss and gum disease have also been linked to stress.

10. Stress Contributes to Addiction

In an attempt to escape the negative feelings associated with chronic stress, many people turn to self-soothing behaviors or activities that temporarily raise their dopamine and serotonin levels. Alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse are common ways people attempt to treat stress. Food addictions, gambling, checking out with television and video games are also habits that may develop due to chronic stress. All of these behaviors end up worsening the problem in the long run and greatly affect both mental and physical health.
Don’t Take Stress for Granted

Just because you aren’t able to spear your saber-toothed tiger doesn’t mean that you’re unable learn to deal with stress more effectively. And plenty of research has found that stress management and relaxation techniques can help you become more able to adapt to stressful events, more efficient in functioning during stress and better able to recover from stress. Much of chronic stress has to do with feeling out of control or helpless.

Stress has been linked to heart disease in men that don’t feel that they have control in their jobs. It also plays a role in acute coronary syndrome (ACS), symptoms that warn of a heart attack. UMMC reports that ACS occurs in men after work, after stressful incidents. This means that thinking and emotions play a large part in ACS, and your thoughts and emotions are the very things that you can learn to control, no matter what happens in your environment.

Take a look at your life, and identify what’s causing you stress. Pay attention to your moods, and try to identify the thoughts and beliefs that may be contributing to them. Make time to engage in pleasantly challenging activities, exercise and connect with others. Prioritize and delegate. Check out my 16 Ways to Bust Stress for more ideas. If you’re having trouble managing your weight because of chronic stress try ways to lower cortisol, like adaptogen herbs, and reduce cravings.

Don’t try to eliminate stress from your life altogether. First of all, that’s impossible as so much of life is unpredictable. Secondly, some kinds of stress are beneficial. A challenging memory task can boost your immune system while watching a violent video can weaken it, reports the Franklin Institute. Memory tasks can also contribute to brain cell growth. Learn to deal with stress effectively rather than avoid it altogether.
Brain zaps — also sometimes referred to as brain shivers, brain shocks or head shocks — are described as being one of the most unbearable withdrawal symptoms when stopping certain depression and anxiety medications. Brain zaps get their name from the uncomfortable sensations they cause that are described as feeling like sudden zaps, electrical buzzes, tremors, shakes or jolts in the brain.

According to a New York Times analysis, the fear of dealing with withdrawal effects like brain zaps is believed to keep millions of people on antidepressant medications every year, even when they think they can cope well without them. (1) For example, a 2017 survey of 250 people who were considered long-term users of psychiatric drugs (mostly antidepressants) found that nearly half of users experienced severe antidepressant withdrawal symptoms when attempting to discontinue use of their drug. Half also reported they could not/would not stop taking the drug because of potential withdrawal symptoms. (2)

Can brain zaps be prevented and/or treated? Currently there is no medical intervention or medication that can be used to reliably control brain zaps. However, natural remedies have helped many people avoid serious antidepressant withdrawal symptoms, including: tapering off from drugs slowly, managing stress/anxiety, increasing GABA naturally and taking supplements that support cognitive health.
What Are Brain Zaps?

Brain zaps are head shocks that usually follow the discontinuation of antidepressant medications — which is why they are typically considered a withdrawal effect and associated with “antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.”

What Do Brain Zaps Feel Like?

Most people who have suffered from brain zaps say they come out of nowhere, usually last only a few brief moments and then disappear. There doesn’t seem to be clear triggers or any warnings that one is coming. Some people find that they deal with brain zaps when falling asleep or shortly after waking up from sleep. Brain zaps might also be triggered by alcohol use, anxiety or stress.

What Causes Brain Zaps?

What are the electric shock sensations known as brain zaps caused by? It’s not entirely known what causes brain zaps, but brain zaps are often associated with withdrawal from certain drugs, especially SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most commonly prescribed antidepressants for depression and anxiety.

What is discontinuation syndrome? It’s a temporary condition that can occur following the interruption, reduction or discontinuation of antidepressant medications. Examples of SSRIs that can cause discontinuation syndrome include: Sertraline (Zoloft), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva).

Across the internet, many people have reported a connection between brain zaps and Zoloft withdrawal. Brain zaps are not the only withdrawal symptom that people weaning from drugs like Zoloft or Prozac can experience — other common withdrawal effects include dizziness, headaches, nausea and paresthesia (burning or prickling sensation that is usually felt in the hands, arms, legs or feet). And this does not even include antidepressant side effects that can occur while taking these medications, which often include: weight gain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment, headaches, sexual dysfunction, constipation and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

Aside from SSRIs, brain zaps have been reported when discontinuing other drugs too, such as:

    Similar drugs to SSRIs called selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SSNRIs
    Benzodiazepines, prescribed for anxiety and to promote relaxation
    ADHD medications including Adderall (amphetamine salts)
    MDMA (or ecstasy), an illegal street/party drug

There have not been many studies conducted that have investigated why brain zaps occur, although one theory is that they are due to changes in levels of serotonin in the brain. SSRI and SSNRI medications work by blocking a serotonin transporter and increasing serotonin levels. They also increase GABA activity, one of the brain’s main “calming” chemicals. However, falling levels of serotonin are not believed to be the primary cause of brain zaps because it’s been found that people with low serotonin prior to taking these medications do not experience brain zaps. (4)

A current hypothesis for the cause of brain zaps is that they may be due to declining levels of GABA. Drugs associated with brain zaps (SSRIs, benzodiazepines, ecstacy and Adderall) are all associated with an increase in GABA levels in the brain, and we know from a number of studies that when GABA levels fall, a number of withdrawal symptoms are possible. For example, low levels of GABA can trigger seizures, so it’s been speculated that brain zaps may actually be a form of a mild, localized seizure.
4 Natural Treatments for Brain Zaps & Prevention
1. Taper From Drugs Slowly

At this time, more research is needed regarding the most effective antidepressant withdrawal treatments. One thing that may be able to limit symptoms like brain zaps is slowly tapering off drugs, rather than stopping cold turkey — especially if you have been taking a high dose or using the drug for a long duration of time. (5)

You might be able to decrease your chances of experiencing brain zaps when you stop your medication slowly; however, this strategy is not guaranteed to work. Unfortunately, studies have found that even when someone slowly tapers from a drug, many of the drugs have relatively long half-lives and can still cause significant withdrawal symptoms. This leads many people to restart the drug and to stay stuck in a vicious cycle.
2. Manage Anxiety & Stress

Although you might experience brain zaps for no obvious reason, they seem to be more common among people who are under a lot of stress or dealing with anxiety. Some people report that the intensity, duration and frequency of their brain zaps gets worse when they are dealing with elevated stress.

If stress remains elevated and becomes chronic, it’s not uncommon to experience brain zaps and other symptoms for years. An important part of your brain zap treatment plan should be managing stress and giving your body time to recover from any traumatic or exhausting events you’ve dealt with lately.  If you suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder, it’s best to work with a trained counselor, coach or therapist who can help you learn how to manage your symptoms long-term.

Other stress-relieving activities that can be helpful include: yoga, exercise, meditation, time spent in nature, prayer, joining a faith-based organization/community, reading and journaling.
3. Increase GABA Naturally

Because GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that can help curb nervousness, anxiety and insomnia, it makes sense that by boosting levels naturally, you may lower your odds of experiencing brain zaps due to stress. GABA appears to have additional benefits too, such as helping to fight inflammation, PMS, weight gain, muscle loss, heart disease and ADHD. Many of GABA’s positive mood-enhancing effects are due to how it reduces/inhibits activity of certain nerve cells in the central nervous system.

Although we still need more research to confirm that declining GABA levels contribute to antidepressant withdrawal symptoms, there’s no downside in making the following types of lifestyle changes that support higher GABA production:

    Get quality sleep. Stick to a regular sleep-wake cycle, limit caffeine and alcohol intake and establish a calming “bedtime routine” to help you unwind at night.
    Eat a nutrient-dense, anti-depression diet that includes plenty of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids from foods like fresh veggies such as leafy greens, fruits including berries, grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, wild-caught fish like salmon, probiotic foods and healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds and other nuts/seeds.
    Get regular exercise, including high intensity (HIIT) workouts if possible.
    Quit smoking, drinking alcohol in excess (more than one drink per day on average) and using street/illegal drugs.
    Get sun exposure/spend time in nature to boost vitamin D levels.

GABA can also be taken in supplement form, typically in doses of about 250–650 milligrams, two to three times daily; however, supplementing with GABA is not safe for everyone, including pregnant or breast-feeding women or those taking a number of mood-altering medications.
4. Try Supplements to Support Your Overall Health

Supplements are not a quick-fix solution to getting rid of brain zaps or tackling anxiety and depression; however, some people do find that taking certain supplements helps to minimize withdrawal side effects and makes them feel better in general. Supplements that can be supportive of mental/cognitive health include:

    Omega-3 fatty acids (or fish oil supplements), which have anti-inflammatory effects
    Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, which can support GABA production and fight symptoms like fatigue, weakness and brain-fog
    Vitamin D3, which is best obtained from exposure to sunlight but can also be taken in supplement form to prevent vitamin D deficiency
    Magnesium, which is helpful for sleep and fighting restlessness, muscle tension and symptoms associated with stress
    St. John’s Wort
    L-glutamine and L-arginine, which work with GABA to support growth hormone levels
    Valerian root, ashwagandha and rhodiola, all herbs which are naturally calming and beneficial for the nervous system
    Calming essential oils, such as lavender, ylang ylang and chamomile oil

One thing to point out is that it’s important to discuss supplements with your doctor if you’re currently taking medications, since interactions may occur.
Brain Zaps Precautions

Given that withdrawal treatment research still has a long way to go, when it comes to managing brain zaps, prevention is key. Talk to your doctor about alternatives to taking antidepressant medications. If you do choose to use drugs such as SSRIs, consider the duration of treatment you actually need. Keep in mind that antidepressant drugs like SSRIs were originally intended to be taken for about three to nine months — not years on end.

If you are on a particular drug for a long period of time, you will be more likely to experience brain zaps and other effects when stopping. You can also discuss the option of taking a drug that has a longer half-life with your doctor, since some stay in your system longer than others, which may help prevent withdrawal as levels gradually decline. No matter what, don’t stop taking any prescribed medication without getting consent from your doctor. If you’re going through a stressful period, make sure to work with a professional and don’t self-treat your condition by altering the amount/type of medication you take.
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