The best vegan and vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids

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If you’re familiar with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, you may already know that oily fish like mackerel, salmon, or sardines are some of the most efficient omega-3 sources. 

But while the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week, vegetarians and vegans can still stock up on this essential nutrient. Read on to see how plant-based omega-3s compare to fish oil, and how algae can up your omega-3 game.

Understanding the different kinds of fat

When it comes to dietary fat, there’s the good, the good-in-moderation, the bad, and the essential.

Unsaturated fats (both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are good—they can lower bad cholesterol and rates of cardiovascular problems. Saturated fats, meanwhile, are good in moderation, while trans fats are just bad—most nutrition experts recommend avoiding them altogether.

Which brings us to the essential fats. 

Omega-3s are both a good (polyunsaturated) and essential fatty acid. Essential means that the body needs it but can’t make it, so it has to be obtained through diet or supplements.

Your body needs omega-3s for brain function and cell growth, and they also have wide-ranging functions in your heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system.

Are all omega-3s created equal?

Well, (surprisingly) no. 

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids that affect the human body: ALA, EPA, and DHA. 

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) comes from plant oils, while EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) come from fish oils.

Generally speaking, EPA promotes heart health, DHA promotes brain health (DHA makes up 40% of the fatty acids in the brain), and plant-based ALA helps promote overall health. 

If you want to get into specifics of the many and diverse roles that omega-3s play in your health, there’s been extensive research on the topic over the past 20-odd years. Just keep in mind that most studies have focused on fish-derived EPA and DHA—not ALA. 

How to get your omega-3 daily serving

Despite all the internet love for EPA and DHA-rich fish oil, the National Institutes of Health has only formally established a recommended amount for plant-based ALA (men should aim for 1.6 grams daily while women should get 1.1 grams).

You’ll typically meet your ALA needs through diet since there are many good sources of ALA omega-3s. Just one tablespoon of flaxseed, for example, will contain 2.3 g.

Good sources of ALA omega-3s include nuts and seeds, beans, and even certain cooking oils. Some foods, such as certain eggs and yogurt, are specially fortified with omega-3s. Foods containing high levels of ALA from the USDA include:

  • cold pressed flaxseed oil     7.258 g per 1.0 tbsp

  • dried chia seeds                  5.055 g per 1.0 oz

  • dried walnuts                      3.346 g per 1.0 cup, chopped

  • hemp seeds                          2.605 g per 3.0 tbsp

  • canola oil                             1.279 g per 1.0 tbsp

  • navy beans                          1.119 g per 1.0 cup

  • pesto                                    1.066 g per 0.25 cup

  • soybean oil                          0.923 g per 1.0 tbsp

  • edamame, frozen                 0.555 g per 1.0 cup

  • refried beans, vegetarian     0.426 g per 1.0 cup

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In comparison, most health organizations recommend about 250 mg of DHA and EPA per day, the equivalent of 8oz of seafood each week. 

But while EPA and DHA are found in oily fish, fish don’t produce omega-3s. Instead, EPA and DHA are actually synthesized by the microalgae that these fish ingest (more on that later). 


The health benefits of EPA and DHA omega-3s

Early research on EPA and DHA focused on heart disease, and studies in the early 2000’s showed that omega-3s helped with reduce heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.

But more recent research has produced mixed results. Two large studies (from 2012 and 2018) found that a daily 1 g fish oil supplement did not lower incidence of major cardiovascular events.

The National Institutes of Health now cautions that while omega-3s can reduce levels of triglycerides (which are markers for heart disease and stroke risk), current research indicates omega-3s do not reduce risk of heart disease

But while enthusiasm for fish oil for heart health seems to be dimming, EPA and DHA supplements still offer benefits. Other research has found a promising relationship between EPA and DHA omega-3s and depression, anxiety and inflammation, and even asthma in children.  


Does ALA convert into EPA and DHA omega-3s?

So can vegetarians and vegans get by on ALA alone? Maybe. 

The body can actually convert plant-sourced ALA into EPA and DHA, and there’s some evidence that people who don’t eat fish convert more of their ALA than people who do. In other words, vegans and vegetarians may be able to get by with only ALA omega-3s.

That said, scientists aren’t sure if the amount of ALA that converts to EPA (as little as 5%) and DHA (as little as .5%) is enough to ensure optimal health, or just prevent a deficiency. 

 In other words, your body will create a very small amount of EPA and DHA for use even if you avoid eating its best dietary sources, which are oily fish. However, if you’re vegan and vegetarian and want to reap the additional health benefits of EPA and DHA, you’ll need to use a supplement.

And for now, research shows that DHA and EPA supplements aren’t a bad idea. One study notes that while vegetarians already have reduced cardiovascular risk markers compared to omnivores, increasing omega-3 concentrations might yield further risk reduction, though there’s not yet enough research to support this hypothesis.

 Another study recommends supplementation for those with increased needs, including pregnant and lactating women, older people, and those with chronic disease. 


Vegetarian EPA and DHA from algae 

Remember algae? Research shows microalgae to be a great source of EPA and DHA, and one study using algal oil found a positive effect on cholesterol. 

There are a variety of supplements available that are derived from algae. Like fish oil, you can find algae (or “algal”) oil in either softgels or liquid and at similar prices.

Look for supplements that identify themselves as vegan/vegetarian and state their EPA and DHA content. 

Even if you’re not vegetarian, you may choose algae over fish oil. One advantage is that unlike fish oil, algae oil is cholesterol free. Additionally, algae also lacks potential contaminants like mercury that can be found in fish, is more sustainable produced and environmentally friendly, and lacks that signature fishy odor.

Given that very little ALA converts into EPA and DHA, for now algae oil is likely the best way for a vegan or vegetarian to supplement their diet with these nutrients. 


The bottom line

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in promoting overall health. Of the three types, only ALA is officially recommended by the NIH, and most people can get enough ALA through diet.

EPA and DHA are commonly found in fish, but actually originate in algae. They serve functions in the brain and heart, and they may offer additional benefits for a range of symptoms for mild depression, ADD, alzheimer’s, and systemic inflammation

Many obtain EPA and DHA through eating fish or by taking a fish oil supplement. Vegetarians or anyone seeking a plant-based alternative can get these nutrients from algal oil, which is derived from the original source of EPA and DHA: algae.




Turmeric—the humble spice with impressive health benefits

Turmeric—the humble spice with impressive health benefits. Golden Milk with Turmeric by Crystal Star

You’ve heard of turmeric. It’s the tasty spice that dyes your counters and fingernails yellow. It’s also the magical golden root recognized around the world for its supposed ability to heal just about anything.

So is turmeric a humble kitchen standby,  medicinal powerhouse, or something in between?

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine since 500 BCE. It’s also used in Chinese medicine as well as the cuisines of many Asian countries. Its health benefits have been widely studied, and the science adds up—turmeric’s active component, curcumin, has been shown to be beneficial for arthritis, metabolic syndrome, and inflammation-related illnesses, as well as improving mood and energy for healthy people.

So what’s the catch?

Curcumin can be hard for our bodies to absorb, so all these health benefits only apply if you take your turmeric with something that increases curcumin’s bioavailability (the degree to which it can be absorbed into your bloodstream). 

But there’s a simple fix for this problem: a sprinkle of black pepper (or more specifically, its active ingredient, piperine) can increase your ability to absorb curcumin by up to 2000%.

What’s so good about turmeric?

Turmeric is anti-inflammatory

Inflammation is your body’s response to irritation, whether that’s an infection, an injury or an allergy. It’s a natural part of the healing process, but sometimes it sticks around when it’s not needed. 

In autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease, the immune system attacks itself, causing harmful inflammation. There’s also increasing evidence that inflammation induces diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

In the body, curcumin has been shown to inhibit cytokines, the protein that causes inflammation. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties have been widely studied, and it has yielded positive results in treating inflammatory conditions from asthma to post-workout muscle pain.

Turmeric has antioxidant properties

Our cells produce atoms called free radicals as part of their normal processes, but too many free radicals cause oxidative stress, which damages our cells and leads to aging, as well as a wide range of diseases. We can help our body fight oxidative stress by making sure we have plenty of antioxidants.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of a variety of antioxidants that help protect a variety of body structures—which is why a diverse diet is the best way to cultivate whole-body health. 

The exciting thing about curcumin is that it’s a powerful antioxidant that can target some of the biggest and baddest disease categories: cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Turmeric has anti-microbial properties

Curcumin is a natural antimicrobial agent. This is a big umbrella: it encompasses antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.

  • Antibacterial: Curcumin has been shown to inhibit bacterial infections like staph, E. coli, and salmonella.

  • Antiviral: Curcumin has yielded positive results as part of a treatment for HIV, influenza, and HPV.

  • Antifungal: Curcumin has been used effectively to treat a range of Candida infections.

Can turmeric improve mood and energy?

In one study, a group of healthy adults aged 65–80 showed significant improvements in calmness, contentedness, and fatigue after taking curcumin for four weeks. Their performance in memory and attention-related tasks improved significantly in as little as an hour after taking the supplement.

And while we don’t totally understand how curcumin affects the brain, one 2008 study found that it affected mood-modulating neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in mice. 

How do you take turmeric?

Eat a turmeric-rich diet

Turmeric might be a superfood, but it’s also delicious. Both turmeric root and powdered turmeric are easy to incorporate into your diet, and each is suited to different purposes. Cook’s Illustrated tested both side-by-side and concluded that flavor-wise turmeric powder is better for cooking and turmeric root is better for uncooked applications, like juices and smoothies.

Cook with turmeric root

The antioxidant properties of turmeric root have been tested in raw and cooked formulations, and however you prepare it, turmeric root is still an effective antioxidant to some degree. Studies show that raw turmeric has the most potent antioxidant effects, followed by boiled, roasted, then fried.

You can keep turmeric root fresh for up to four weeks by storing it in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Recipe ideas: 

  • If you don’t want to add black pepper to your breakfast juice blend (understandable), a great alternative to increase bioavailability is to blend turmeric root with apples or berries. These fruits are high in the flavonoid quercetin, which is also shown to increase turmeric’s benefits.

  • Stir grated turmeric root into your salad, or add it to your vinaigrette. Just make sure you add black pepper to maximize its effects.

Season with turmeric powder

If you buy turmeric powder, make sure it’s organic since some turmeric powder has been found to be adulterated with lead.

Recipe ideas: 

  • Turmeric makes a great addition to scrambled eggs. Just add ⅓ teaspoon of turmeric powder per egg, plus salt, pepper, and a splash of water, milk or cream.

  • You can pre-make a paste for turmeric lattes (a.k.a golden milk) by mixing one part black pepper to two parts each of ginger powder and ground cinnamon, three parts coconut oil, and twelve parts turmeric powder. Keep it in the refrigerator, and heat a spoonful with milk and honey or maple syrup.

Take turmeric supplements

If you take turmeric as a supplement, you’ll miss out on the flavor, but you’ll also probably be getting a higher and more effective dosage of curcumin. 

Make sure you find a blend that combines turmeric with other ingredients to improve bioavailability. Good options are blends that include quercetin-rich goji berries or Gotu kola. Depending on your needs, you can find turmeric and quercetin formulations to address conditions as diverse as liver function, cellulite, and inflammation.


How do you get rid of turmeric stains?

If you stain your kitchen or clothes with turmeric, working fast will help remove it. 

If you have an enzyme-based stain solution handy, apply it to the fresh turmeric stain and work it in before rinsing with cool water. Dish soap or laundry detergent can also help prevent the stain from setting.

If the stain is already set, try soaking the affected surface with white vinegar or a paste made from water and baking powder. Then wash, and reapply if necessary.

Stain still hanging around? If your surface or fabric is white, try hydrogen peroxide as a safer and gentler alternative to chlorine bleach. For colors, try color-safe oxygen bleach.

Cooking for integrated health: turmeric’s just the beginning

In Western countries, diet and medicine are often separate, but that isn’t the case in other parts of the world. 

Ayurvedic (ancient Indian) medicine uses turmeric as one of many natural-food ingredients that can safeguard your health. In Ayurvedic cooking, you can find recipes and diets that, in concert with other treatments, can help address just about any health condition. If you like cooking (or if you’re trying to like cooking), it can be incredibly motivating to make a dish that guards you and your family against illness. Chances are, it’s tasty, too.


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EFT Tapping: combat anxiety with your fingertips

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Once a healing practice gets demoed on The Today Show, you know it’s gone mainstream. Tapping’s proponents say that it can help with pain, anxiety, stress, and more—all by using your fingers to tap a series of points on your body. 

Given its recent popularity, you may have already considered integrating tapping into your health practices. Madonna is rumored to be a tapping fan, along with Whoopi Goldberg, and Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall. 

But the idea that a simple, at-home (and strange) procedure can be beneficial seems too good to believe. Is tapping a passing fad, or is there scientific proof of its benefits?

What is EFT tapping?

In a tapping session, you say an affirmation aloud while using your fingers to tap specific points of your body. The affirmation identifies what issue you’re working through, while the tapping is like sending a Morse code message to your brain to relax.

The modern practice of tapping was popularized by Gary Craig in 1998 with the publication of the EFT Handbook. His Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) introduced tapping as a profound tool capable of fighting a huge variety of issues, including pain, addiction, anxiety,

depression, phobias, trauma, and more. Because of Craig’s work, the practice is often referred to as EFT tapping.

Gary Craig was introduced to tapping by Dr. Roger Callahan, who first began experimenting with a practice he called Thought Field Therapy in the 1980s. Craig simplified the practice and distilled it to what he thought was most beneficial practice: tapping.

Since then, growing interest has spawned hundreds of tomes that boast tapping as the key to everything from weight loss to business success.

Tapping: a modern version of an ancient tradition

If the notion of activating certain points of the body sounds familiar, that’s probably because it’s a central tenet of Chinese Medicine, and acupuncture in particular. For about three thousand years, acupuncture practitioners have used needles to activate the body’s “meridian points” in an effort to redirect the flow of qi (“chee”), or energy.

Acupuncture has been extensively studied over its long history, and a relationship has been measured between meridian points and the brain. One study of acupuncture showed that activating these points can decrease activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain that processes fear.

Acupuncture can be beneficial, but it requires both a visit to a specialist and a lot of needles. Needles may be applied to any number of the body’s hundreds of meridian points. In comparison, EFT meridian tapping simplifies this system to nine important points.

Another major difference is in the application: EFT tapping relies on acupressure instead of acupuncture. Acupressure uses the same meridian points as in acupuncture, but stimulates these points using pressure rather than getting under your skin.

In a double-blind study from 2009, acupressure was found to be as effective as acupuncture in stimulating meridian points. And if you’re wondering what’s been studied as an ideal way to apply acupressure to your own body? That’s right—tapping.

How does tapping work?

Tapping is (almost) as simple as it sounds. You begin by identifying a problem you’re experiencing and selecting which meridian points to tap on your body, then follow a few simple instructions to hone your tapping technique. 

Identify a problem

Do a little soul searching to get to the bottom of what’s bothering you. What’s causing you stress? What’s causing you anxiety? Identify an issue you’d like to work on, getting as specific as possible. 

Maybe you’d like to be a more fearless public speaker, or to be more at ease when meeting new people.

The theory behind EFT tapping is that the way you feel about the problem is negative, and the way to counteract this is by turning these bad feelings into positive affirmations.

Create your affirmation
Structure your affirmation in an “Even though I (negative experience or emotion), I still (positive feeling about yourself)” format. 

For example:
Even though I feel anxiety/fear public speaking/experience nightmares/feel nervous to fly, I deeply and completely accept myself.

This phrasing is important because it reminds you that while you have a problem you’d like to work on, the problem does not define who you are. You are worthy as you are, and you accept yourself as you are. Remember that it is an act of self-love to identify a problem and to take steps to improve it.

Quantify the problem

Tapping can help with a variety of issues, both big and small. You’ll want to measure if tapping is helpful for you, so assign your problem a 0-10 rating based on its severity. A 10 is debilitating, but even a 2 leaves some room for improvement. You wouldn’t leave a splinter in your finger just because it isn’t tremendously painful.

Begin tapping

Let’s say your affirmation is, “Even though I feel this anxiety, I deeply and completely accept myself.” 

Speak your statement aloud three times while using your fingers to tap the “karate chop” section of your other hand, which is the fleshy edge alongside your pinky. It doesn’t matter which hand you tap. 

Next, create a reminder phrase, which is a simple reminder of what problem you’re working on. In this example it would be “this anxiety.” Say this phrase aloud once as you proceed to tap eight more meridian points in order. These points are symmetrical across your body, so you can choose to tap either side or both sides. Tap each area 3-7 times as you repeat the reminder phrase.

  1. Inner eyebrow point

  2. Outer corner of eye

  3. Under eye

  4. Under nose

  5. Under lower lip

  6. Under collarbone

  7. Under armpit

  8. Top of head

Assessment

Reconsider your 0-10 scale, and ask yourself how you would rate the problem now. No change? Try another tapping session ia few days later. You may also benefit from a longer session, so try setting a 15-minute timer. Some will experience a big change, and if this is the case for you, that’s great. You can still tap on the problem as long as it exists at all, whether you’re having a flare-up or if you’d simply like to perform some maintenance mindfulness.

Science review: does tapping really work?

EFT tapping therapy is easy, fast, and possible to do from the comfort of your home without any special equipment. But is it scientifically legitimate? 

While there are skeptics, there are also fierce advocates. One doctor, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Rick Leskowitz, called it "the most impressive intervention I’ve encountered in 25 years of work.” 

Other medical professionals are increasingly supporting the practice too, and a growing body of research shows that tapping can have measurable benefits.  

Research studies on tapping

One study from 2013 found that tapping helped war veterans with their posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who participated in EFT tapping coaching sessions had significantly reduced psychological distress and PTSD symptom levels. In another case study, a 9/11 survivor with PTSD was able to return to work after treatment including EFT proved to be “highly effective.”

In one 2019 study, EFT tapping improved multiple physiological markers of health, including cortisol levels, blood pressure, and resting heart rate. A study from 2018 found a reduction in PTSD, depression, and anxiety for those who attended EFT workshops, and participants maintained all gains at a 6-month follow-up. In a 2017 study on adolescents, EFT was found to be effective in reducing anxiety.

A review of available research performed in 2016 showed that EFT tapping resulted in a significant decrease in anxiety scores compared to control groups receiving no treatment. A more recent comparative study from 2018 agreed that tapping was an “active ingredient” in reducing the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.

The takeaway on tapping

Preliminary research indicates that EFT tapping really works. Tapping a sequence of meridian points on your upper body while repeating an affirmation can help with anxiety, PTSD, and according to its fiercest advocates, much more than that. The practice has gained supporters ranging from celebrities, to doctors, to even Olympic athletes.

It’s important to remember that tapping is just one tool to add to your self-care toolbox. Chocolate ice cream is good, but you wouldn’t have it for every meal. And while studies have consistently found positive effects of tapping, they haven’t found tapping to be necessarily superior to better-studied mental health treatments. 

If you’re still wondering whether or not to try tapping, there isn’t much to lose. The process is easy to learn, low risk, free, and (once you get over the fear of looking silly), completely painless.

Just be sure to continue with whatever treatments your health care providers recommend—tapping is helpful, but probably not a cure-all.  

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CBD, the miracle cure: should you believe the hype?

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CBD is having a moment. In a few years, it’s gone from being a little-studied and less-fun cousin of THC, to a cure for just about everything: epilepsy, autoimmune diseases, acne, psychosis, cancer, anxiety, and your dog’s anxiety. You name it, someone’s trying to treat it with CBD. 

So, should you plunge into the CBD lifestyle? 

While CBD has only been studied rigorously since 2015, when funding from the National Institutes of Health kicked in, the science shows that its benefits are significant and wide-ranging. Plus, CBD may also boast few and mild side effects when used to treat conditions like epilepsy and psychotic disorders.

What are the risks of CBD use? 

So what are the downsides? There are (potentially) three.

1) We don’t know the long-term effects.

Because most of the research into CBD has been conducted in the past few years, the effects of long-term use are still unknown. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean CBD has any scary long-term side effects. 

Studies on long-term marijuana use say its detrimental effects, such as addiction, are due to its THC content. CBD not only hasn’t been shown to cause addiction  but has also been used clinically to treat addiction disorders. There are no warning signs that long-term CBD use is bad for you, it just hasn’t been rigorously tested yet.

2)  CBD products aren’t regulated.

Second, the manufacture of products containing CBD is currently unregulated, and the products on the market labeled CBD vary a lot in terms of quality, strength, purity, and efficacy. Depending on how much THC a CBD product contains, there is a (small) possibility that ingesting CBD could lead to testing positive on a drug test.

 This last point doesn’t need to be a dealbreaker; it just means you should be mindful of your employer’s policies and do some brand research before choosing a CBD product. Hemp-derived CBD oils, in general, tend to have the lowest THC levels. 

3) There are some (minor) side effects 

More testing needs to be done into CBD’s side effects, both in short and long-term use, but research so far suggests that there are very few. The most commonly reported ones are fatigue, diarrhea, and changes in appetite or weight.  

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What is CBD?

CBD —  short for cannabidiol — is a compound found in the cannabis plant. CBD acts on the body’s natural cannabinoid receptors, which help modulate sleep, mood, anxiety, appetite, pain, and inflammation. Hence all the disparate conditions it’s (maybe) able to address. 

CBD was actually discovered in 1940 and research on its therapeutic applications continued into the 1960s, when the interest of scientists and (the public) shifted to THC’s mind-altering effects. When researchers confirmed the existence of cannabinoid receptors in the 1980s, researchers began to look more closely at the other, non-psychoactive components of marijuana, including CBD.

The recent and worldwide push to legislate medical marijuana has ignited popular interest in CBD, which may boast benefits similar to marijuana without the high— or the stigma.  

CBD oil is available in bottles, capsules, gummies, tinctures, topical ointments, transdermal applications (patches applied to the skin that allow the CBD to directly enter the bloodstream) and cartridges for vape pens. 

CBD vs THC

CBD is one of the two main compounds in cannabis, along with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). While both of the compounds are shown to have some medical benefits, they work in very different ways. 

THC can reduce nausea, pain and inflammation, but it’s probably best known for its mind-altering properties — any “high” that comes from marijuana is the result of this compound. This means THC is also responsible for the adverse effects associated with marijuana, including mood changes, addiction, nausea and vomiting, and cognitive impairment in teens.

CBD is thought to share THC’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects, but without the high and any of the associated risks. And in fact, not only is CBD safer than THC, it’s also thought to counteract some of THC’s adverse effects when they’re taken together. 

For example, while THC is associated with risks of psychosis, CBD is antipsychotic. There’s also growing evidence that combining THC and CBD increases the efficacy of both. Many CBD products (called “full spectrum”) also contain a very small amount of THC, but not enough to be intoxicating.

But while a small amount of THC may improve the efficacy of CBD, CBD without THC can still work.


What do we know about CBD’s positive effects?

Research shows that CBD may be neuroprotective (protects nerve cells), anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation in the body), and anxiolytic (reduces anxiety). These three qualities mean CBD could be helpful for a large number of disorders.

CBD to protect neurons

Neurons are the most basic and most important cells in our nervous system; they work to carry information from our brain to our body, and vice versa. Diseases associated with neuron damage are classified as neurodegenerative, and include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and Multiple Sclerosis. 

If something is neuroprotective, it helps salvage, recover, or regenerate nerve cells and the structure and function of the nervous system as a whole. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests CBD has these qualities. That means it’s potentially useful in treating these diseases, plus other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s Disease.

CBD to fight inflammation

Inflammation (swelling, redness and sometimes pain) is the immune system’s basic response to irritation. The irritation can be due to almost anything, including germs, external injuries, or chemicals. Inflammation is part of the body’s healing process, but when it occurs for too long or where it’s not needed, it can become a problem.

Researchers think inflammation contributes to many diseases, both infectious and non-infectious. The body initiates inflammation through proteins called cytokines, and CBD (along with THC) has been shown to reduce these proteins.

CBD to treat anxiety

While longer-term studies haven’t yet been performed, CBD has shown to be beneficial in treating a range of anxiety disorders in the short term. CBD may ease anxiety by regulating the body’s serotonin, the key hormone that stabilizes our mood. CBD may also help fight insomnia by helping us fall asleep and stay asleep.


Thinking of trying CBD?

With all the current research going into CBD, it’s likely you’ll see more medications containing it as an active ingredient in the coming years. The first of such medicines, an epilepsy treatment, was approved by the FDA in June 2018.

In the meantime, you can find CBD almost everywhere — online, at your local coop, and at standalone stores. If you decide to try it, here’s what to keep in mind about types of products, quality , and dosage.


What type of CBD product should I try?

The way you take CBD is largely a matter of preference. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that until you know the dosage you want, vaping is a good way to begin since its effects leave the bloodstream more quickly. 

If buying a vape pen feels intimidating, CBD tincture has less of a learning curve— you can add one or two drops to a drink or meal. 

Topical applications, like ointments and salves, don’t enter the bloodstream, so these are more useful for localized symptoms of skin conditions, arthritis, or nerve pain.


CBD quality

Project CBD, a nonprofit that promotes CBD for medical use, says that the most reliable way to buy CBD is from a licensed cannabis dispensary, in states that have licensed cannabis for medical or personal use. They suggest that these states are likely to have better safety regulations for CBD.

It’s also fine to buy CBD elsewhere, but check the product label for evidence of lab testing and verification of CBD concentrations.

When reading labels, look for “full spectrum” — this means the product contains a number of cannabis compounds, including a small amount of THC, which isn’t enough to make you high, but is thought to improve the efficacy of CBD. However, full-spectrum products are more likely to show up in a drug screening.

If THC is completely illegal in your state or you're concerned about employer-mandated drug tests, look for “broad spectrum” products — these contain other cannabis compounds, but no THC.


CBD dosage

Doses of CBD range from one milligram to a gram or more. Project CBD recommends you start with a dose of just a few milligrams, observe the effects for several days, and then adjust, depending on its effects. A one-milliliter cartridge containing 200 mg will result in a dose of 1–2 mg per puff. 

A high dose won’t necessarily yield stronger results than a small dose — CBD is biphasic, meaning that low and high doses can produce opposite effects. That said, a fairly high dose won’t harm you — studies have shown humans to tolerate CBD well in daily doses of up to 1,500 mg.


CBD in perspective

So, is CBD a wonder drug? It’s too early to tell. The science behind CBD suggests that it’s a potentially useful treatment for many conditions, with low or no side effects, but this doesn’t mean it’s the only good treatment or even the best one. 

If you have a specific condition related to neuron damage, inflammation, pain, or anxiety, it’s worth doing more research into how CBD has been tested to treat that condition. In many cases, the verdict is that it seems promising but needs more testing.

In the years to come, we’ll know more, and likely have better regulations, so you’ll be able to buy CBD with more confidence. For now, as long as you seek out a reliable product, and don’t use it to supplant medications without checking with your doctor, many studies suggest CBD could be a versatile treatment.




Can drinking tea help PTSD symptoms?

Can drinking tea help ptsd symptoms and anxiety? Crystal Star blog

In the last decade, body-based therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have gained traction as powerful, mind-healing tools. Trauma researchers like Bessel van der Kolk advocate yoga, somatic experiencing, and EMDR, a little-understood treatment that (we think) uses eye movement to help process traumatic memories. 

Neurofeedback—a guided therapy that helps you cultivate healthier brain wave patterns—is also showing promise, as is LSD, and psilocybin from mushrooms. 

Since 1996, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has researched the effects of MDMA (a component of the club drug “molly”) on anxiety and PTSD. With these studies, MAPS hopes to secure FDA approval for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy by 2021.

In short, the PTSD treatments of the future look more diverse and radical than the somewhat-effective antidepressant cocktails many trauma survivors now rely on to sleep, hold jobs, and maintain relationships.   

But while researchers try to dispel the stigma around psychedelics and trauma survivors wonder whether insurance will cover these new treatment protocols—a full course of MDMA-assisted therapy will run about $12,000—it’s worth considering low-cost and accessible adjuncts to PTSD treatment. 


Can tea improve your mood?

While PTSD’s drastic mood changes can be daunting, the good news is that the brain is surprisingly malleable, a phenomenon that scientists call neuroplasticity. This neuroplasticity means that many of the newer mind-body therapies and psychedelic treatments under development have the potential to permanently shift the brain into a healthier pattern. 

But while drinking tea to ease PTSD symptoms sounds like putting a bandaid on a broken leg, this small, simple, and low-cost habit can have a helpful, if modest, impact on your mental health.

So what’s so important about tea when it comes to brain health? Tea contains specific amino acid and polyphenol compounds that act on the brain’s neurotransmitters and receptors to reduce fear and anxiety. 

Read on for a breakdown of what they are and how they work. 


What is L-theanine? 

L-theanine is an amino acid  that’s present in all tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, though some varieties contain more L-theanine than others. A 50mg dose of L-theanine (about the amount in a cup of matcha or gyokuro tea) has been shown to increase alpha brainwaves, which are responsible for a feeling of relaxed alertness.

L-theanine also has the ability to block L-glutamic acid from binding to the brain’s glutamate receptors. People with PTSD have more of a particular type of glutamate receptor (metabotropic glutamate receptor 5) in their brains than non-traumatized people, and higher availability of these receptors is associated with mood disturbances and fear. 

By blocking the action of glutamate receptors, L-theanine inhibits neuron excitation in the brain, reducing feelings of anxiety.

L-theanine may also promote the production of feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter responsible for calming the nervous system that is deficient in people with PTSD. 

While L-theanine content can vary widely by cultivation practices and tea variety, green tea tends to have the highest L-theanine content per gram followed by white tea, and black tea while pu-erh, a fermented tea from the Yunnan province in China, has the least. 

But while pu-erh isn’t rich in theanine, it still has powerful glutamate-receptor-blocking properties that researchers don’t yet totally understand. In one study, pu-erh even outperformed green and black tea when it came to inhibiting glutamate receptors.  


What is EGCG? 

Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is an antioxidant  polyphenol found in all green tea. It can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as PTSD symptoms. 

While researchers don’t know the exact role EGCG plays in reducing symptoms, one study found that it may help reverse learning and memory-based dysfunction from a traumatic event, such as avoidant behaviors and flashbacks.

Some researchers have compared EGCG’s effects to those of benzodiazepines—a class of psychoactive drug that is commonly prescribed for insomnia and anxiety or panic attacks. However, unlike benzodiazepines, which pose long-term use risks ranging from dependency to dementia, the EGCG in tea is safe for consistent use. 


What is the best tea for PTSD?

While pu-erh tea is a promising research avenue for PTSD, it’s the least-studied and understood of the bunch. For that reason, we recommend starting with teas that feature high levels of EGCG and L-theanine, which to date have more evidence backing their calming properties.

Shade-grown green teas like gyokuro and matcha from Japan will likely contain the highest amounts of L-theanine. That’s because photosynthesis from sun exposure reduces theanine levels in tea plants. Even better? Gyokuro and matcha also tend to have high levels of EGCG.


How much tea is too much tea? 

Before you start lugging around a growler full of matcha keep in mind that tea contains caffeine, which is a stimulant that can make your symptoms worse if you overuse it. 

For reference, a cup of matcha or pu-erh may have about half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee at 41-50mg, while gyokuro is a little less at 26-40mg. 

Find a high-quality matcha powder or gyokuro loose-leaf or pu-erh tea that you like—tea shops will often let you smell the leaves or try a cup before buying, or you can buy a custom tea sample set online. Start with one or two cups in the morning, then wait one-to-two hours for your caffeine blood concentration to peak. If you feel wired, cut back, and if you feel okay feel free to add another cup later in the day with a snack—eating can also temper caffeine’s effects. 

Can’t handle caffeine? Chamomile tea has calming properties, and if you’re open to trying adding a drop or two of CBD tincture, early research shows that CBD may help inhibit trauma-based memories and behaviors. Just be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you’re currently taking medication; CBD can inhibit or enhance the effects of some antidepressants commonly prescribed for PTSD. 


What is PTSD? 

PTSD refers to a set of changes that occur in the brain in response to a traumatic event, or series of events.

Violence of all kinds, accidents or serious illness, and prolonged or severe emotional abuse can all affect brain function. Most symptoms of PTSD are due to activation in the deep structures of the brain, which are responsible for our reflexive stress, fear, and survival responses (the amygdala) as well as memory formation (the hippocampus).  

An overactive amygdala results in anxiety, hypervigilance, and a sensitive startle response. These symptoms make it difficult for people with PTSD to relax or fall asleep.

Meanwhile, an overactive hippocampus is easily triggered and retrieves traumatic memories in response to even slight reminders of the events, leading to flashbacks and nightmares.

At the same time, the prefrontal cortex (which sits directly behind the forehead) is less active. 

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning, expressing personality, controlling impulses, and regulating emotions and behavior. When it’s inhibited, the prefrontal cortex is unable to override the traumatic memories retrieved by the hippocampus or calm the fear response of the amygdala. 

This inhibition can lead to avoidance of potential trauma triggers, irritability, emotional numbing, and personality changes. 


What causes PTSD? 

While it’s true that trauma is a catalyst for PTSD, not everyone who experiences traumatic events will go on to develop it.

Since trauma can be cumulative, your childhood and past experiences may also make you more or less vulnerable to PTSD. But the reasons for this are surprising. Some researchers have concluded that early trauma affects the gut microbiome, which in turn can lead to immune system dysregulation and inflammation. And inflammation markers are a strong predictor of who will be most susceptible to developing PTSD. 

The good news about this finding is that researchers are now exploring ways to manipulate the bacteria in our gut in order to improve resilience and resistance to diseases like depression and PTSD. One promising study showed that rats inoculated with a particular strain of bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) were quicker to recover from a conditioned fear response than untreated rats. 

 Until researchers design and validate a bacteria-based therapy for PTSD, incorporating fermented foods into your diet is a safe and easy way to try to reap the mental health benefits of a thriving microbiome.


Be kind to yourself and keep trying 

PTSD is a disease with complex biological causes and mechanisms. If you’re struggling, blame your biome, not your character. Survival is an act of will, but recovery often means asking for help and accepting what you’re capable of right now. 

Look for mental health providers with experience with PTSD and familiarity with more innovative and recent treatment modalities like neurofeedback, EMDR, and yoga. Take care of your gut health with fermented foods, and try out tea if you want.

Most of all remember that your struggles aren’t permanent. With the right people guiding you through the right treatments, your brain is capable of radical change and healing.



Milk options multiply at the market, but which to drink?

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There was once a time when you only needed to know two things about milk: It went great poured over cereal, and an ice-cold glass was the perfect beverage pairing with a slice of chocolate cake. Choosing which kind to drink consisted of opening the fridge to see what mom and dad brought home from the grocery store.

Nowadays there are more choices—almost too many of them. There’s still the familiar whole or skim, and you can also find lactose-free, or even milk that contains a particular type of protein structure. While cow’s milk is the most typical dairy option, it’s increasingly common to find goat’s milk, as well as a growing variety of non-dairy choices. Many of these products claim a variety of health benefits. But which is the best?

The skinny on milkfat

If you’re sticking with dairy milk, the most basic distinction comes down to milkfat, also known as butterfat. You’re probably familiar with 2% and 1% varieties. Whole milk is typically 3.25% fat, and skim milk is close to 0. What do those numbers mean, exactly?

Consider an 8-ounce glass of whole milk. That one cup will contain 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. The same size glass of 2% milk will contain 5 grams of fat. When it comes to skim, you’ll have reduced those numbers to 80 calories and 0 grams of fat, while retaining the same type of nutrients and 8 grams of protein that whole milk has.

What’s the trade-off? It can be hard to beat the flavor of whole milk, and when it comes to using milk as an ingredient for cooking, skim is not ideal. While it’s recommended to limit saturated fat intake, fat isn’t inherently unhealthy, and consuming the right amount of fat can aid in satiety. For reference, butter contains at least 80% milkfat, and the French seem to be doing all right.

If you’re wary but love cow dairy

If dairy milk is a no-go because of lactose intolerance, you’re in good company—the estimated global incidence is 65–70%. 

If you suffer from the hallmark symptoms when you indulge in dairy, you’ll also benefit from the emergence of more grocery options by finding lactose-free milk at your supermarket. This product typically contains lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, and has a similar taste and texture to regular cow’s milk. Science!

An additional emerging option is the cryptically-named A2 milk.

What is A2 milk?

Milk contains beta-casein proteins that can be categorized as A1 (no relation to steak sauce) and A2. Cow’s milk will typically contain both proteins. But recently, a New Zealand scientist found a way to genetically test which protein a cow will produce, and this allowed for the production of milk without the A1 protein.

Why does this matter? The A1 protein can cause digestive irritation that produces symptoms similar to those caused by lactose intolerance. A research study showed that drinkers of A2 milk had lower concentrations of inflammation-related biomarkers, or in other words, fewer tummy troubles. If you’ve previously given up cow’s milk due to the digestive distress it causes, A2 milk may yet be a more stomach-friendly option.

Is goat milk the GOAT?

That’s greatest of all time, for those not currently parenting meme-loving teenagers. Cow’s milk remains the most common dairy option, but milk from other animals is becoming easier to find. Is there any benefit to moving away from moo juice?

Goat’s milk has been consumed by people worldwide for millennia, and it’s getting more popular in America too, with goat herds increasing more than any other livestock in the past decade. Why? 

It may be because goat’s milk is said to be easier to digest, with a softer curd and smaller fat globules than cow’s milk. Others tout it for its lower allergenic properties and as superior to cow’s milk for remaining low-carb and in ketosis.

Other studies, however, have shown that goat’s milk has no nutritional advantage over cow’s, nor is it less allergenic. The bottom line is that while some may find it easier to digest, its overall benefits are quite similar to plain ol’ cow’s milk. Ultimately, goat’s milk is a strong option whether you’re simply looking for another choice or if you’ve ruled out dairy from cows.

What else can you milk?

A pretty wide array of land mammals (bison, buffalo, camels, and for the brave and quick-footed, pigs) and some plants, sort of.

Types of non-dairy milk 

Although the European Court of Justice ruled in 2017 that if a substance didn’t come from an animal, it can’t be called milk, the term plant milk remains a helpful catch-all to describe the variety of milk alternatives on the market, and at any rate is easier to translate than “non-dairy beverage” when trying to order an oat milk latte abroad.

Whether your reasons for seeking out these alternatives are due to lactose intolerance, allergy, dietary restrictions, health concerns, or if you’re simply looking for ways to live a more plant-based lifestyle, there are more products to consider than ever before.

What’s the story with all these new milks? All plant milk is made by soaking, crushing, cooking, and filtering a crop, and then including additives to make for a more milk-like beverage. A huge variety of plants make for great milk, and some of the most common types are made from:

  • Grains: barley, oat, rice

  • Legumes: pea, soy

  • Nuts: almond, cashew, macadamia

  • Seeds: chia, flaxseed, hemp

  • Vegetables and Fruits: coconut, potato

With so many available products it can be hard to know which to choose, but you can narrow your selection by considering dietary restrictions, desired nutrients, as well as the classic benchmark—taste.

Soy, almond, oat: the most popular plant milks

Soy milk

Soy milk was one of the first dairy alternatives, having been commercially available in America since the 1950s. Soy is both high in protein and contains healthy fats, but it has recently been scrutinized for its phytoestrogen content. Phytoestrogen’s feminizing effects have thus far shown to be subtle. Research continues as soy finds its way into more consumer products, but for now the data suggests that alarm over soy products is likely unnecessary

To play it safe, opt for moderate intake of organic, non-GMO soymilk—about 1 cup a day. 

Almond milk

Almond milk is made from ground almonds that are then diluted with water. It’s a non-dairy go-to for people with soy allergies, and it has other advantages too. Its nutritional profile is low in calories (about 40 per cup), although this is only true with unsweetened product. It lacks the protein and calcium of cow’s milk, but some brands do offer a comparable amount of vitamins and minerals through fortification.

Oat milk

Oat milk may be the plant-based alternative to beat, if its up-and-coming popularity is any indication. The beverage is trending to the point that there was a shortage. Why is it suddenly in demand? It may be because oats are a familiar breakfast staple, or perhaps it’s due to some of its strong qualities, such as its similar consistency to 1% milk or 4 grams of protein per cup, which is higher than other alternatives.

But oat milk’s rise is not without controversy. Oat crops have been found to contain residues of glyphosate (herbicide), but at least one oat milk brand specifically addresses this concern in explaining how they source their crops. When in doubt, you can seek out products that are certified organic or glyphosate-free.

Another unwanted addition is carrageenan, a controversial food additive used as a thickener and emulsifier in some plant milks. While FDA-approved, it can trigger adverse biological effects, and in 2014 The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives recommended it be excluded from infant formula. While some say the risk is overblown, you may still want to seek brands that nix this common additive. Or if you want to avoid a commercially produced product altogether, you can take matters into your own kitchen.

Make your own plant-based milk at home

Ready to fully embrace the alt-dairy lifestyle? Making your own plant-based milk can be surprisingly easy, fun, demystifying, as well as a great way to control your base ingredients and what additives to use. You typically won’t need any specialized equipment beyond cheesecloth and a blender.

Then, look up a recipe that’s specific to the plant you’re using. Some plants have a more involved process: making soy milk, for example, involves soaking the beans overnight, and then blending and boiling the mixture until it’s safe to drink. Other milks can be made in minutes.

Simple oat milk

  • 1 cup oats

  • 4 cups water (or less for thicker milk)

  • 1 pinch salt

  • 1 whole date, pitted (for sweetness, optional)

  • add all ingredients to a blender and blend at high speed for 30–60 seconds

  • strain into a bottle and refrigerate

Not ready to go full DIY foodie? You can reap the same benefits of knowing exactly what goes into your food by carefully scrutinizing the labels and ingredient lists of whichever choice you make at the grocery store, whether it’s milk, milk, or mylk

And the verdict is…

So which is it? Among the dozens of options in the dairy aisle, which milk reigns supreme? Answering that question is a bit like answering which exercise is best. Recommendations will vary. Like the pursuit of fitness, there are many roads to balanced nutrition.

The best way to whittle down the myriad of options is to ask yourself what’s not working and to work from there.

  • For many, cow’s milk remains ideal for its well-rounded nutritional profile, availability, affordability, and familiarity. Choose a milkfat level that suits your nutritional needs and desire for satiety.

  • If cow’s milk causes digestive issues, try lactose-free or A2 milk.

  • Or, switch to goat’s milk, which many claim is easier to digest.

  • If you’re avoiding animal products, soy milk is the plant-based alternative that is closest in protein content to traditional milk.

  • Concerns about soy? Try a cool glass of almond milk.

  • Whether you have a nut allergy or you’re interested in the latest trends, oat milk may be for you.

  • Not impressed with soy, almond, or oat? Other options abound, and your ultimate preference may come down to a matter of taste.

A final consideration is whether or not you need to incorporate milk into your diet at all. USDA guidelines have changed multiple times over the years. Current recommendations are for a daily serving of dairy, but this is largely a consideration of calcium. You can also get the recommended value via a supplement, or through a variety of other calcium-rich foods, although it will never be quite as appealing to pour a collard green smoothie over your morning cereal.

So drink up… or not! As always, it remains most important to consider your overall nutrition and health. There may not be a single best option at the store. But somewhere in the aisles are the choices that are best for your body.


Get friendly with GABA, the brain molecule that beats anxiety

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What causes anxiety?

Feeling anxious? You’re in good company. Some studies show that as many as 1 in 3 people are affected by anxiety disorders in their lifetimes—and that’s to say nothing of the day-to-day anxiety and stress that come from being a busy adult.

As with many other mood disorders, scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes anxiety. But most researchers believe that mood disorders are linked to a dysregulation of neurotransmitters--the molecules that communicate messages in the brain to orchestrate many of our mind and body processes, including mood.

You’ve probably heard of serotonin and dopamine—they’re the neurotransmitters that aid emotional wellbeing, and deficiencies in them are linked to both anxiety and depression. In fact, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for depression and anxiety, and they work in part by increasing serotonin levels in your brain.

But the neurotransmitter most often connected specifically with anxiety is one you may not have heard of: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

What is GABA?

GABA is our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that its main job is to calm our nervous system. So it makes sense that without enough of it, you might feel anxious. As well as making you feel more relaxed, GABA helps regulate your mood, attention, and sleep. It also helps counteract addictive tendencies.

Like other neurotransmitters, GABA communicates between brain cells by binding to specific receptors. Receptors are shaped so that they can only absorb one particular neurotransmitter and not others.

Think of neurotransmitters and receptors like a puzzle: the knob has to go in the knob-shaped space; it won’t fit anywhere else, and no other piece will fit where it’s meant to go. When your GABA receptors catch a molecule that’s the right shape, they transmit the message of calm. So for your brain to absorb GABA well, you need both GABA-shaped molecules (the round knob) and GABA receptors (the round space). You can boost each of these capabilities in different ways.

Is your gut talking to your brain?

It’s all very well to say that GABA deficiency contributes to anxiety—but what causes GABA deficiency?

For a long time, doctors have been treating neurotransmitter dysfunction as the root cause of mood disorders, but there’s a growing body of science that suggests that our neurotransmitter levels are controlled in part by our gut health, and specifically, the health of the bacteria that live in our guts.

Our bodies are home to trillions of microorganisms, most of which are bacteria. You might associate bacteria with sickness, but for the most part, the bacteria living in our bodies work to keep us healthy. In particular, the bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are linked with GABA production, and hence with fighting anxiety.

Help your gut grow good bacteria

As well as being good for you nutritionally, a balanced diet low in processed foods helps your gut maintain a good bacteria balance. Specifically, emulsifiers and other food additives—found in many processed foods—have been shown to kill healthy gut bacteria. At the other end of the spectrum, high-fiber, plant-based foods (think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) promote healthy gut bacteria.

But on top of the balanced-diet approach (which is never a bad idea), there are specific foods you can introduce to your diet to increase your Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and help your brain create more GABA. Another plus to this method is that, unlike antidepressant medication, naturally producing your own GABA has no side-effects.

The key here is to find foods that are fermented with lactic acid. There are a lot to choose from: kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, miso, kombucha, sourdough bread, and even soy sauce all fall into this category. And if you’re adventurous, you can do a lot of the fermenting yourself.

Ferment at home

Fermenting isn’t just for foodies--there are simple, low-cost ways you can start fermenting your food at home. Here are some good ways to get started.

Oatmeal

The easiest way to ferment oats is to soak them in water at room temperature.

Add equal parts oats and water, loosely cover your container, and leave it out for 12–48 hours. Then, prepare the oats however you normally would.

A quicker way to start the fermentation process is to add a spoonful of yogurt to the oats and water. The healthy bacteria in the yogurt kickstarts the fermentation, so with this method you only need to leave the oats out overnight.

Tips:

●       The longer you leave oats to ferment, the sourer they’ll taste. Some people like them this way, but if you want your oats to taste the way they usually do, eat them after 12 hours. For a more neutral flavor, you can rinse them before eating, too.

●       You can add spices like cinnamon, cardamom or ginger to the oats before you soak them—they’ll soak up the flavor.

●       Not into oats? You can also ferment just about any other breakfast grain, like millet or teff.

Yogurt

It’s really easy to make your own yogurt—all you need is organic milk, a few spoonfuls of store-bought, unsweetened organic yogurt, and a heavy saucepan with a lid.

Use one tablespoon of yogurt for every two cups of milk. Heat the milk until just before it boils, then cool it until it’s just warm. Mix a little of the milk with the yogurt, then whisk the milk–yogurt mixture into the warm milk.

Then, you want to keep the yogurt warm while it sets: either wrap it in towels, put it in the oven with only the oven light on, or pour it into a thermos, and leave it for at least eight hours.

Or, if you have an Instant Pot, you can check out this recipe here.

Tips:

●       Choose a starter organic yogurt that contains active cultures—look for Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

●       If you have a candy thermometer, you can control the heating and cooling process more precisely. You’re looking to heat the milk to 180°F, cool it to 115°F and then set it at 110°F.

●       Set aside a bit of your yogurt in the fridge to use as the starter for the next batch.

Vegetables

You can ferment just about any vegetable, but crunchy ones will maintain a better texture—think carrots, beets, radishes, or cucumber.

Other than the vegetable you want to ferment, all you need is a jar with a tight seal, filtered water, and salt. Dissolve one tablespoon of salt in two cups of water. Put the vegetables in the jar, completely submerge them in the salt water, close the lid tightly, and leave the jar unopened in a cool, dark place for about three weeks.

Tips:

●       Choose organic vegetables. The pesticides used on conventionally grown vegetables kill some of the good bacteria you want to nurture.

●       Unrefined salt, like sea salt or Himalayan salt, works best. If the salt you use contains an anti-caking agent, the fermentation process will still work, but the water will be cloudy.

●       Add fresh herbs or garlic to enhance the flavor.

Health note: keep everything clean

By fermenting your food at home, you’re giving good bacteria the time to grow. You want to make sure you’re not inviting any bad bacteria in at the same time. Just make sure your hands and all your cooking equipment are very clean, and your creations will be safe and healthy.

Fight GABA deficiency with herbs

The natural remedies for anxiety related to GABA deficiency fall into two categories: ones that help create GABA (like fermentation) and ones that bind to GABA receptors (like herbal supplements).

Out of a wide range of natural remedies, the herbs that have proved to make the biggest difference to anxiety are kava kava and passionflower—and both herbs work by simulating GABA production in the brain. In other words, these herbs aren’t actually GABA supplements, but they fool our brains into believing they are. Their molecules are the same shape as GABA molecules, so our GABA receptors will bind to them and transmit their calming message, exactly as if they were GABA.

A good herbal blend will combine kava kava with other herbs thought to simulate GABA, like black haw and ashwagandha.

If you’re dealing with low mood as well as feeling anxious, a blend that combines kava kava with St. John’s Wort (shown to ease mild to moderate depression) is a good choice. St. John’s Wort can sometimes interact with other medications, so check with your doctor if this is a concern for you.

If your anxiety is affecting your sleep, look for blends with both kava kava and passionflower, alongside valerian, which scientists think might help people fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply.

Take care of your body, brain, and spirit

While the link between GABA and anxiety is pretty clear, it’s not the whole picture. Scientists think anxiety is usually due to some combination of genetics, stress, and environmental factors, so there’s no one anxiety treatment that works for everyone.

It’s a good idea to think of diet as only one component of taking care of your mental health. On top of that, exercise is well-established as an important way to fight anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation have also been shown to ease anxiety for many people.

It’s also never a bad idea to check in with your doctor if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Listen to the way you’re feeling, and trust that there’s a way to feel better. The science behind anxiety is improving all the time, so there are more and more precise ways to help yourself feel healthy, calm and strong.

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The top natural solutions for women’s hormone imbalance

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From puberty to menopause and everything in between, hormone imbalances can be frustrating, especially since hormones impact so many different body systems. And while hormone fluctuations are normal (especially for sex and stress hormones), that doesn’t mean we should be stuck with uncomfortable symptoms. 

But prescription, hormone-altering medications like hormone replacement therapy can be expensive and equipped with their own set of side effects. Below, we’ll walk through common signs of hormone imbalance as well as herbal and nutritional support for gentle, natural relief. 

What are hormones? 

Hormones are chemical substances that help build your body’s structures and coordinate its functions. They’re secreted by endocrine glands and have roles in growth, sleep, metabolism, mood, reproduction, and sexual development and response. 

There are many kinds of hormones, but we’ve called out some of the more common culprits of hormone imbalance below. 

Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, including your weight, energy levels, and body temperature. 

Insulin regulates blood sugar levels and converts carbohydrates to sugar or fat.  

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and performs and regulates a wide range of functions, from metabolism to immune and stress response.  

Estrogen is responsible for regulating menstruation in women, and reproductive functions and structures in both women and men.  

Progesterone stimulates and regulates conception, pregnancy, and menstruation in women, and serves as a precursor to testosterone in both women and men.  

Testosterone is a sex hormone responsible for building muscle and bone. It also regulates sexual function and body hair growth in both men and women. 

What is hormonal imbalance?  

A hormonal imbalance means your endocrine glands are producing too much or too little of a given hormone. Having hormones released in more or less concentrated quantities can deeply impact the way our bodies grow and work.  

Many medical conditions can cause hormone imbalances, especially ones that directly affect endocrine glands. Examples of these include thyroid disorders, diabetes, Addison’s disease, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). 

And sometimes one form of hormone imbalance can trigger others. For example, in some cases of PCOS the pancreas produces too much insulin, prompting the ovaries to make more testosterone, disrupting ovulation and leading to symptoms like irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and increased body and facial hair.  

But not all hormone imbalance is due to disease or disorders. Stress can spike cortisol levels, which use up the raw materials that your body needs to create sex hormones. This leads to insufficient levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.     

Menopause, pregnancy, breastfeeding, age-related hormone declines, and hormonal birth control are also common causes of hormonal imbalance. 

Symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women 

While every body is different, there are some common symptoms of hormone imbalance to keep an eye out for, especially when it comes to reproductive hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. 

1) Unusual periods 
If your once-predictable menstrual cycle now features unusually heavy, irregular or painful periods, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone may be to blame — especially for women experiencing puberty or approaching menopause. 

That said, consult your healthcare provider if you experience sudden changes in your cycle, since unusual periods can also be signs of conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibroids.  

2) Fatigue 
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of an irregularity with hormone levels for both men and women. High levels of progesterone (which occur naturally during pregnancy), hypothyroidism, or decreasing testosterone levels with age, are all possible hormone triggers for fatigue.  

3) Hot flashes and sweating 
While most people associate hot flashes with the estrogen and progesterone fluctuations of menopause, they can also be a sign of high cortisol levels from stress. Estrogen and progesterone levels may also drop due to excessive exercise, thyroid disorders, sudden weight loss, low body weight, or issues concerning the pituitary gland (a supervisory endocrine gland in your brain).  

4) Mood swings 
Mood swings aren’t confined to women. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels all play a part in mood swings, and men can also experience fluctuations in these hormones. When men experience drops in testosterone due to age, stress or medical conditions, they are likely to also experience a low mood. Additionally, cortisol spikes during stressful times can cause heightened anxiety and irritability in both men and women. 

5) Skin problems 
Acne, dry skin, dark circles, rashes, and wrinkles are just a few of the many ways that hormone imbalances impact your skin

Raised estrogen or testosterone can stimulate your oil glands, causing acne. A drop in those same hormones prompts loss of collagen and elastin, reducing skin firmness and elasticity.  

A spike in your cortisol levels may prevent you from getting restful sleep, which is necessary for optimal skin moisture and collagen production. 

Hormone therapies for women 

Some women choose to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control their hormone levels. 

Hormone therapy can be systemic (delivered through a pill or skin patch) or local (vaginal rings, suppositories or creams to treat vaginal symptoms of menopause). Hormones can be synthesized from the urine of pregnant horses, or derived from plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) found in soy or yams that have identical molecular structures to human hormones.  

These plant-based hormones are called bioidentical hormones. While we’re still learning about the benefits and risks of bioidentical hormones relative to synthetic hormones, some health care provider and researchers believe bioidentical hormones will prove to be the healthier choice.  

If you’d like to avoid the HRT route altogether or support an ongoing protocol, plenty of foods and herbs can support healthy hormone levels, naturally.  

Nutritional support 

Knowing what foods to add to or subtract from your diet is an important part of naturally regulating your hormones. 

Dr. Sarah Bennett, a naturopathic physician at Natural Med Doc in Arizona, offers lifestyle advice in addition to hormone therapy recommendations: 

“I also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to help your body every day with the right nutrients. This is vital to sustainability, and you can’t outrun poor diet and exercise, no matter what treatments you seek out.” 

Some foods to consider adding to your diet include: 

Sources of fiber like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts to help your body better metabolize and regulate estrogen. 

Plant-based protein like beans, seeds, quinoa, and nuts to avoid meat or dairy products with excessive hormones. 

Green tea as a replacement for coffee to avoid overworking your estrogen and possibly even encouraging fibroid growth. 

Low-carb and low-sugar foods and snacks optimize your hormone production by keeping insulin levels low (and maintain your overall health). 

Healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil and MCT oil to reduce insulin resistance. 

Fatty fish to boost your omega-3 levels to reduce the effects of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. 

Ultimately, a conversation with your health care provider can help narrow down the exact foods that you should eat or avoid given your unique circumstances. 

Herbal and supplemental solutions 

During your period, herbal blends geared specifically towards discomfort will be incredibly helpful. Herbs like cramp bark, Jamaican dogwood, and peony roots are good additions to help with the immediate discomfort caused by a period. 

For menopausal discomfort, look for blends that use hormone-supporting herbs like wild yam, damiana, and sarsparilla, and adaptogenic herbs like licorice root.  

Below are some additional supplements that can help with hormone imbalance: 

Probiotics help overall body system regulation 

Magnesium helps regulate cortisol 

Omega-3 helps protect against inflammatory damage 

Of course, also staying on top of regular exercise, healthy amounts of sleep, and stress management will go a long way in naturally regulating your hormones and keeping the symptoms at bay, no matter what your specific concerns may be. 

Summary 

Hormone imbalance is frustrating, and unless we’re in a position where hormone therapy is necessary it can be beneficial to try to regulate ourselves with natural solutions like diet and exercise. 

Combatting everything from mood swings to skin problems can seem like a lot to stay on top of, but since our hormones all work together, simply knowing the right foods, supplements and lifestyle changes will go a long way. 

Katherine (Tori) Lutz is a writer, editor, and marketer. She graduated from Florida State University and is currently a journalism student at Columbia University.  

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How aging affects your skin and what you can do about it

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Remember when you were a kid and you were so excited about getting older? When you couldn’t wait to turn 18 or 21? Yeah, it’s a shame that doesn’t last. Aging can be scary, especially when we start to notice it in our faces. But while we haven’t yet figured out a way to halt the march of time, some researchers believe that only 10-15% of skin aging is due to genetics. Which means that when it comes to your skin, you have more power over the aging process than you might think.

Why does skin age?

Our skin ages in two ways: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic aging is what happens to all our organs as we age — it’s the natural process of being alive, and its speed is genetically determined

Collagen degradation is the primary mark of intrinsic aging. Collagen is a protein that binds together the connective tissue in your skin, and as you grow older you have about 1% less of it each year. Hyaluronic acid (HA) also decreases with age. Hyaluronic acid is actually a carbohydrate that can hold a thousand times its weight in water and it’s responsible for plumping and hydrating the skin.

So when your structure-giving collagen and dew-enhancing hyaluronic decline, you get fine lines and wrinkles and dry skin. Intrinsic aging can also lead to neoplasms (growths like moles and skin tags). 

There’s nothing we can do about intrinsic aging, so let’s celebrate being living beings existing in time and let it go! 

Extrinsic aging, on the other hand, is entirely dependent on environmental factors like nutrition, exercise, stress, smoking, and sun exposure. These are the areas you can influence in order to age the way you want to. Extrinsic aging most often shows itself in deep wrinkles, age spots, rough or leathery texture, and skin cancer.

So how does extrinsic aging work, and what can you do about it?

Sun damage and free radicals

We all know that too much sun damages our skin, and in fact, as much as 80% of extrinsic aging is due to UV radiation. So how do you stop that from happening? It’s not just about staying out of the sun, though that’s a big part of it. There are also steps you can take to help your body process sunlight better. 

When skin is exposed to the sun, it produces unstable molecules called free radicals. (These are also generated by cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol, but to a lesser extent.) Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which can lead to cell damage.

What can you do about it?

Prevention
The best way to combat extrinsic aging is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The most important part of this is protecting your skin from the sun by avoiding exposure and wearing sunscreen. The next step is making sure you’re absorbing lots of antioxidants, which you can address through topical application and from nutrition and supplements. 

Sunscreen
As well as staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and keeping your body covered in the sun, the more diligent you are with sunscreen, the more you reduce the UV radiation your skin receives. Look for a daily sunscreen or moisturizer that’s broad spectrum, with an SPF of at least 30. Don’t skimp on the amount you use, and reapply liberally.

Nutrition
The extent that UV radiation damages your skin isn’t dependent only on how much radiation you get, but also on how your body responds to that radiation. This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants protect skin cells and collagen fibers from free radicals. They’re naturally generated in the body, but our level of antioxidants decreases as we get older. So as you age, you can use some help topping them up.

In your diet, fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs provide the most antioxidants. Spices like ginger and turmeric contain antioxidant compounds that are particularly effective — look for herbal blends that combine it with skin-supporting herbs like sage

Many foods contain hyaluronic acid or can help your body produce its own. HA-friendly foods include bone broth, citrus fruits, starchy root vegetables, leafy greens, and whole soy foods. 

Skin treatments
Topical antioxidants can help reduce extrinsic aging. The most effective topicals include vitamins C, B3 or E — because of their small molecular weight, they’re more able to penetrate the skin than other antioxidants. 

When assessing natural products, look for ingredients like thyme, rosehips, and parsley, which are rich in vitamin C, and rice bran oil, which contains vitamin B3. Good blends will include additional antioxidant-rich, sun-damage-fighting herbs, like green tea and centella (gotu kola).

Keeping your skin hydrated with hyaluronic acid serums can also help head off premature aging. Natural hyaluronic acid can be derived from bacteria or plants including marshmallow plants, beets, tremella mushroom, or wheat. And while that last source may be alarming to the celiacs or gluten-sensitive among us, the extraction and processing methods remove any gluten proteins.
 

Combating existing signs of aging

Yes, it’s (somewhat) possible to age in reverse, naturally! While your first course of action should be to prevent collagen degradation from happening in the first place, there are also ways you can repair skin damage that has already occurred. Boosting your collagen levels will repair damaged skin cells, and also keep your skin plump and youthful-looking. 

Two great ways to enhance your collagen growth naturally are with vitamin C and with silicon dioxide (a.k.a. silica). Studies show that your body absorbs silicon best through the stomach, so dietary supplements containing silicon are a good option. You can cover all your bases at once with herbal blends that combine silicon-rich horsetail with vitamin C-rich nettle

Collagen supplements may also help boost skin elasticity, hydration, and collagen density, which typically decrease with age. While Western scientific studies testing collagen supplement efficacy are still in their early stages, in other parts of the world they’re a well-established practice. (In ancient China, women took their collagen supplements in the form of donkey skin.)

Age well, holistically

When it comes to how we treat our bodies, everything is interconnected. This is great news — it means most of the actions you can take to help your skin age well are also beneficial to your general health, mood, and overall well-being.

Collagen doesn’t just help your skin — it also helps maintain and repair your bones, joints, and tendons, and some studies have shown it can reduce arthritis symptoms. Similarly, as well as fighting oxidative stress in skin cells, antioxidants help protect against eye disease, and absorbing them through fruits and vegetables is great for your overall health.

Our skin is our most visible organ, so its appearance tells us a lot about what else is going on in our bodies. It’s important to note changes to your skin, as they can often be warning signs of illness — contact your health care provider if any new moles or lesions pop up.

Good nutrition, rest, avoiding tobacco, and minimizing alcohol are good for your skin, and for the rest of your body, too. So skincare isn’t just about your appearance — paying attention to your skin is an important way to take care of your whole body.

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These are the top natural inflammation-fighting remedies

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Signs of chronic inflammation can range from skin issues like eczema to the chronic joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis. But while the idea of a body system gone-amok can be overwhelming, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your inflammatory response and improve your health. Read on to learn about inflammation, why it’s important, and the research-backed herbs and self-care that have the greatest anti-inflammatory properties.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural process that your immune system initiates to remove harmful pathogens and promote healing. During an inflammation response, white blood cells release hormones that dilate your blood vessels, increasing blood flow to an injury or infection. This blood flow gives the white blood cells better access to the affected area, where they fight viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and remove dead and injured cells.
 

Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a vital immune response. It occurs over minutes or hours while your body fights pathogens and repairs damaged tissue. Signs of acute inflammation are noticeable — think swelling when you sprain your ankle, the redness from sunburn, or stiffness the day after a workout. 

In chronic inflammation, a haywire immune response simultaneously destroys and repairs your body tissues. Over time, this process can lead to DNA damage which can increase your risk for developing cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, and possibly even depression. 

Scarier still, symptoms of chronic inflammation appear over months or years and are often subtle. Fatigue, all-over pain, mouth sores, rashes, mood disorders, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, and fever are just some of the ways chronic inflammation may manifest.
 

What causes chronic inflammation?

  • Pathogens. If your body’s acute inflammation response can’t get rid of invasive bacteria, protozoa, fungi, or parasites, your immune system may stay activated, leading to chronic inflammation.

  • Autoimmune disorders. In an autoimmune disorder, the immune system attacks your body’s own healthy tissue, resulting in chronic inflammation. In a chicken-or-egg reversal, chronic inflammation may also be a risk factor for autoimmune disorders. 

  • Pollution. Long-term pollution exposure from pesticides to cigarette smoke can lead to oxidative stress and cell damage or death that triggers inflammation over time. 

  • Stress. Chronic emotional stress puts your immune system on high alert, increasing the amount of inflammation-boosting white blood cells in your bloodstream. 

  • Food choices. Red meat, alcohol, refined carbs, and sugar, can worsen inflammation, as can trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil) found in margarine, shortening, and soybean and vegetable oil. 


Foods for natural inflammation relief 

While chronic inflammation can be painful, it doesn’t have to run your life. The foods and herbs that you put in your body can be a powerful way to alter your inflammation levels.  

Leafy greens, berries (and most colorful fruits), green tea, nuts, seeds, beans, olive oil, and fatty fish like mackerel can all help reduce inflammation. 


Herbs to fight inflammation

When it comes to inflammation, turmeric, white willow, uva ursi, and Gotu Kola (a.k.a. Centella) are potent herbs that work best combined in professional blends

  • Turmeric. Curcumin, a substance found in the spice turmeric, is widely known for its ability to help modulate inflammatory processes. It’s also a tasty seasoning that’s easy to add to your grains, tofu, lean animal protein, or smoothies.

  • White willow. White willow bark (Salix alba) has been used as an anti-inflammatory compound for millennia.  

  • Uva Ursi (Bearberry). In one study, Japanese researchers found that Bearberry leaf decreased swelling and inflammation related to arthritis.  

  • Gotu Kola. Gotu Kola is a nutritionally important plant and potent inflammatory-fighting compound which is valued as a traditional medicine in South East Asia.  


Self-care practices to combat inflammation

  • Moderate exercise.  Regular exercise promotes increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes the health of brain cells and protects them from oxidative stress i.e. damage caused by inflammation.  Exercise also transforms the body on the molecular level, improving cardiovascular health and promoting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity throughout your system. Remember that “moderate” is the key word here. Routinely pushing yourself hard can actually lead to more inflammation.

  • Manage stress.  Chronic stress can contribute to inflammation, so make sure to make time to de-stress in your life.  Good ways to reduce stress include meditation, yoga, or have a provider train you in biofeedback, which some insurance policies cover under mental health care. If human-guided biofeedback isn’t an option, smartphone-based apps and gadgets can help you train you to relax. 


You can’t control everything

While we can influence our levels of chronic inflammation, that doesn’t mean that we have total control over, or responsibility for, our immune system. Chronic inflammation can be a byproduct of many factors from genetics to pollution or limited food options, so it’s important not to blame yourself for your pain, fatigue, or discomfort. 

Instead, focus on the factors that are under your control and do your best to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods, herbs, and habits into your life. Over time, these small changes can help soothe discomfort and reset your immune system.

The best natural relief for acid reflux

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What is acid reflux (a.k.a. heartburn)?

Normally when we eat, food travels through the esophagus and into the stomach, where it’s broken down by digestive acids.  But sometimes that stomach acid travels back up the esophagus, leading to a burning sensation in your stomach, throat, or near your heart—hence acid reflux’s unofficial name, heartburn.

Most people have occasional bouts of reflux, usually from eating large meals, late-night snacking, or consuming certain foods. These reflux triggers work by either slowing digestion or relaxing the valve between the esophagus and stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).  When the LES doesn’t tighten as it should, stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus.

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD?

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is a chronic form of heartburn. About 20% of the U.S. population suffers from GERD.  

Without adequate treatment, the condition’s symptoms can lead to complications such as inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus.  According to the American Cancer Society, people who have GERD can also develop a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus which puts them at a higher risk for esophageal cancer. Refluxed stomach acid can also enter the lungs, leading to respiratory problems.  

How can I tell if I have GERD?

GERD can refer to a mild form of acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or severe reflux episodes that occur at least once a week.  Not everyone who develops GERD will experience heartburn. You may suffer from GERD if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Chronic heartburn, chest pains and bloating after eating, which may be more severe at nighttime

  • Belching, hiccups, and regurgitation after eating

  • Difficulty swallowing and a full feeling at the base of the throat

  • Chronic hoarseness or cough

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Asthma. Asthma and reflux often go hand-in-hand, though researchers don’t yet know which condition causes the other. 

What puts me at risk for GERD or heartburn? 

There are many risk factors for GERD—some are related to lifestyle, while others are side-effects of existing medical problems or prescriptions. 

Lifestyle 

Pregnancy
Changing hormones during pregnancy slows down the digestive system.  As the uterus expands, it can also push stomach acid into the esophagus, leading to bouts of heartburn or chronic GERD.

Stress
Stress can delay stomach emptying, putting pressure on the LES, which then allows acid to flow back into the esophagus.   

Overeating
Overeating places pressure on the LES, which can lead to acid reflux.  Fried and processed foods, in particular, are harder for the stomach to digest, leading to over-production of stomach acid.

Being overweight or obese
Excess belly fat can put pressure on the LES and digestive organs, worsening GERD symptoms.

Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
Smoking not only raises your esophageal cancer risk but also signals your stomach to produce more acid and prevents the LES from functioning properly, leading to GERD. Regular secondhand smoke exposure can also raise your risk of developing GERD.

Medical Complications 

Enzyme deficiency
Insufficient digestive enzymes can contribute to GERD. Conditions that inflame or damage the pancreas, such as alcohol abuse, celiac disease, or cystic fibrosis, can contribute to enzyme deficiency.  

Drug side effects
Some medications and mineral supplements can irritate the esophagus, worsening reflux pain. These include bisphosphonates used to treat postmenopausal osteoporosis, some antibiotics, iron or potassium supplements, and NSAID pain relievers.  

Other medications may worsen GERD symptoms by actually increasing acid reflux.  These medications include certain psychoactive medications, sedatives, hormonal medications, and high blood pressure and heart disease medications.  Talk to your health care provider before you start any new medications to ensure that your treatment plan will not worsen your GERD symptoms.

Hiatal hernia
A hiatal hernia happens when the upper portion of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm, blocking the LES from closing completely. 

Severe osteoporosis
Severe osteoporosis can cause posture changes that block food transit through the digestive system, leading to acid reflux.  Medications to treat osteoporosis can also exacerbate GERD. 

How can I make my GERD symptoms go away naturally?

The upside to the many risk factors involved in GERD is that there are also many ways to help reduce reflux frequency or severity.

Dietary changes to treat GERD

Foods to add
Cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, and miso help cultivate healthy intestinal flora. Cooked vegetables are easier to digest than raw ones, so try lightly steaming yours—which also avoids added fat from cooking oil. 

Enzyme-rich papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain) make for a refreshing dessert that may help your digestion. That said, papaya and pineapple’s effects on GERD aren’t well-studied, so make sure to listen to your body when adding in new foods. 

Foods to avoid 
For long-term GERD prevention, eliminate fried foods and cut back on red meat—they slow the rate at which your stomach empties, allowing food to travel back to the esophagus. Also steer clear of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods—they boost gastric acidity. Garlic, onions, high-fat dairy, sodas, alcohol, and caffeine (especially coffee) can also contribute to flare-ups, and spicy foods can irritate the esophagus, worsening symptoms.

Herbs to try
If you’d like to try herbal care for your GERD, look for balanced blends that include soothing chamomile, marshmallow root, and slippery elm, with stimulating ginger. Studies show that chamomile can help reduce stomach acid, while marshmallow root and slippery elm provide a mucous-like coating to protect the esophagus and stomach. Ginger, meanwhile, speeds up stomach emptying, decreasing the likelihood that acid will back up into your esophagus. 

Lifestyle changes to reduce GERD symptoms

  • Try to eat when relaxed, at least three hours before bedtime.

  • Eat smaller meals and chew food well. 

  • Don’t lie down after eating, or after drinking caffeinated or carbonated beverages

  • Sleep with your head elevated by an extra pillow or two to prevent acid reflux at night.

  • Don’t wear tight clothes that put pressure on the stomach

  • Quit smoking.  Smoking can increase the production of stomach acid.

  • Lose weight  Weight around the midsection can exert pressure on the stomach and push stomach contents back up the esophagus.

Ask for help if you need it 

Talk to a health care provider if you’re having trouble managing your GERD. In some cases, a doctor may recommend laparoscopic surgery—a minimally invasive procedure that fixes the valve at the bottom of the esophagus.

 But in most cases, a few self-care adjustments can bring relief: slowing down, altering your eating patterns, and giving yourself plenty of time to digest before bed with the help of gentle herbal remedies

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How to care for your sebaceous cysts

What are cysts?

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Cysts are keratin or sebum-filled growths that develop under the skin. They’re common, but can also be painful and embarrassing. 

Most cysts form as a result of damage to the sebaceous gland (which secretes sebum into our hair follicles) or some portion of the hair follicle itself. This damage can result from infection, acne, sun exposure, or injury, and leads to the accumulation of sebum and/or keratin below the skin. Depending on the exact gland or follicle structures involved in the cyst’s formation, a dermatologist may diagnose it as a trichilemmal (pilar) cyst, or the much more common sebaceous (epidermoid) cyst.

What are the symptoms of cysts?

Regardless of how a cyst forms, the result is a raised bump composed of some mix of keratin and sebum that may go away on its own in 2-8 weeks—or it may not. Cysts usually aren’t harmful, but it’s a good idea to consult your health care provider whenever you notice new growths on your skin. If the cyst becomes red and tender, this may indicate that it has ruptured and needs to be drained by a medical professional to avoid infection.

Where do cysts occur on the body?

Cysts may occur anywhere on your body, except your palms and soles of the feet, where there are no hair follicles or sebaceous glands.

What are the risk factors for cysts?   

Smoking, as well as viral, bacterial, or fungal infections can all contribute to cyst formation, as can a rare genetic disorder. Hormones have also been shown to play a role in the development of hair follicle/sebaceous gland structures, and testosterone in particular is implicated in several human skin functions. Changes in testosterone levels are related to excess sebum production and cysts, as well as the development of other skin conditions such as acne. 

How to prevent cysts

A diet rich in antioxidant-rich foods like sweet potatoes, broccoli, leafy greens, and berries  promote skin health, and supplementing with herbal blends with burdock and red clover can also help promote detoxification and immune system health.

Some herbal blends may also help promote healthy shedding of skin cells, reducing the likelihood of cell accumulations that lead to cysts. Look for blends that contain white sage, tremella mushroom, and horsetail. In combination, these herbs may help promote healthy skin texture by assisting cell regeneration and maintaining collagen.

What if my cyst doesn’t go away on its own?

Most of the time, sebaceous cysts don’t need treatment.  If cysts appear, don’t scratch them or attempt to drain them yourself. Wash the cyst and surrounding area with soap and water and apply a warm compress for 20 minutes to help soften the trapped sebum and keratin. This may encourage the cyst to drain on its own (and relieve some discomfort in the process).

If the cysts don’t subside after two weeks to a month or become painful or unsightly, check in with your primary health care provider or a dermatologist. In-office treatment options include:

Incision and drainage.  The doctor makes a small cut in the cyst and then squeezes out the liquid contents (a la Dr. Pimple Popper). This is a quick-fix, but not a lasting one; the cyst may reappear in a few days.

Injection.  The cyst can be injected with steroid medication to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Surgery.  If the cyst gets too large, you may need to have it surgically removes. Minor surgery is more effective than drainage since it reduces the risk that the cyst will grow back.

 Laser treatment.  A doctor will use a carbon dioxide laser vaporizes the cyst. Laser treatment can be very effective, with minimal scarring.

Conclusion

Cysts can be unpleasant to deal with, but are rarely harmful to your health. And while nutritional adjustments and herbal supplementation may help promote healthy skin, they may not be enough to address existing cysts. If your cysts are new or cause you pain, be it emotional or physical, don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider for help managing them.

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Intermittent fasting: the safe way to detox and eat healthy

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Cleanses, fasts, and detox plans abound online, with wellness icons from Gwyneth Paltrow to Dr. Oz plugging complicated deprivation drills. But days-long fasts built around fruit and vegetable juice can encourage disordered eating under the guise of self-care. And while fresh juices may be rich in vitamins and minerals, they lack the protein, fat, and fiber we need to sustain healthy body functions.

Yet, a growing body of research shows that the common-sense advice of eating fresh, whole foods may not be the only key to metabolic health. One form of daily fasting, based on circadian rhythms, may actually jumpstart your digestive system.

Changing when you eat improves your metabolism

Intermittent fasting is a bit of a misnomer, calling to mind skipped lunches and lemon water. But the fast in intermittent fasting refers to a healthy daily period of not eating, i.e. after dinner, while you sleep, and before breakfast. In other words, intermittent fasting (or more accurately, circadian rhythm eating) research shows that all-day grazing, late-night snacking, or irregular meals aren’t great for our health.

That’s because our digestive system (and the microbes it hosts), like all body systems, operates on a 24-hour rhythm requiring periods of rest to remain healthy. Eating during these genetically programmed rest periods taxes digestive organs like the pancreas, which secretes the insulin that moves sugar from your bloodstream to your cells. Insulin then stores any leftover sugar in your liver and muscles. If your liver has more sugar than it needs, it converts it into fat, leading to weight gain.

Persistent, elevated insulin levels brought on by all-day snacking are linked to higher cardiovascular risk in children and young adults, while lower insulin levels brought on by fasting help your body burn fat. Periods of fasting also lower blood pressure, encourage the cellular repair that protects against infection, degeneration, and cancerous growth, and elevate growth hormone levels, helping to increase muscle mass.

How to lose weight without going hungry

The circadian diet is worth a shot if you get irate when you’re hungry (“hangry”), have digestive problems like heartburn or frequent bloating, experience intense cravings, can’t lose weight despite a healthy diet and exercise routine, feel like your metabolism has slowed with age, and/or suffer from poor sleep quality. If you decide to try it, go slow. Most people eat over a 12-15 hour window with 12-9 hours of fasting. The circadian diet recommends you shorten your eating period to 8-10 hours and eat real meals with breaks in between to give your digestive organs a chance to recover.

 That’s a big change, so start with a 12-hour eating window then shave off an hour every day until you’re down to eight — or nine or ten if eight feels too restrictive. After 30 days, assess how you feel. Good? Then feel free to continue. Bad? Adjust your eating schedule until you feel better.

 The great thing about circadian eating is that you can eat a healthy and satisfying quantity of food every day. It’s a lifestyle change, not a yo-yo diet.     

Circadian diet shortcut: Eat a bigger breakfast

 So, how do you schedule your meals on a circadian diet? It’s not easy, especially for those of us working from 9-to-5 (who wants to eat dinner at work?).

Studies show that our bodies are better at regulating blood sugar, digesting, and burning calories in the morning, so try making breakfast your biggest meal and consider bringing it to work (along with lunch). That way, you can start your eating window later and have plenty of time to make dinner at home.

Healthy fats like full-fat yogurt and avocado and high-fiber grains like brown rice have great nutrient profiles and also help you feel full longer. Add an egg or some tofu and a piece of fruit, and you’ll feel full until lunch.

If eating breakfast at your desk feels clumsy, try this calorie-rich green smoothie recipe.

Circadian Diet Smoothie

  • 1 handful of baby spinach

  • 2 bananas

  • 2 cups almond milk

  • 2 dates

  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter

  • ¼ cup full fat plain yogurt

  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 pinch of salt

  •  Adjust the ratios to taste, blend, and take it to-go.

At lunch, decrease your portions and calorie load, and for best results keep dinner light when you get home. Throughout the day, try to stick to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil, or fatty fish.

Herbs for healthy metabolism

 Some herbs may actually assist your body’s natural metabolism. One 2018 study found that the combination of catechins   and caffeine in matcha green tea can help accelerate fat burning during exercise. Green tea may also help regulate blood sugar, keeping you from hunger spikes and mood plummets.

Look for professionally blended formulas that combine green tea with additional herbs like dandelion and licorice root. Animal studies show that dandelion may lower both fat and sugar levels in the bloodstream, and a review of 26 clinical trials found that licorice consumption also reduces BMI.  

Circadian rhythm diet: The good and the bad

 The circadian diet is about satisfying your hunger in a deliberate and consistent way. Beyond the physical benefits sticking to meal and rest times every day honors the healing qualities of food instead of making it the enemy

That said, the circadian diet isn’t necessarily the best fit for everyone. Skip it if you’re under 21, over 70, a brittle diabetic, or pregnant, or if you have a low Body Mass Index (BMI), a history of eating disorders, or heart or kidney problems. We also recommend the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach” if you’re happy with your daily energy levels, hunger patterns, digestion, and sleep. The science behind the circadian diet is cool, but every body is different —if you already feel well, you probably are.

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Sex Rx: The natural remedies that help women feel more and want more

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Women should enjoy sex. And while we wish this went without saying, it doesn’t. 75% of women will experience painful intercourse at some point in their lifetime, and 7% to 22% of women experience pain during every encounter. These statistics don’t account for those of us who feel numb, uncomfortable, or just unfulfilled during sex.

Sometimes, our pain or lack of pleasure from sex warps into a belief that there’s something wrong with us—there isn’t. What’s wrong is how badly we’ve been educated about our own sexual health and the agency that we have over it. But adjustments to your body care, nutrition, and mindsets, as well as educating your partner, can build your sexual confidence and create the best conditions for you to experience pleasure. 

Arousal and desire aren’t the same thing

The whole “arousal, plateau, orgasm, resolution” model of sex you probably learned in health class is just that—a model that doesn’t account for the huge array of sexual variables and patterns that both women and men can experience. When this model fails to describe our own sexual life, we tend to instead think that we’ve failed to behave in a healthy way—and that’s when we (wrongly) begin to label our sexual patterns as “dysfunctional”. Differentiating between arousal and desire is an important first step in reclaiming your sexual health.

 Arousal is a set of body processes that occur in response to a sexual prompt, whether or not you actually find that prompt appealing. This usually involves lubrication and increased blood flow to the genitals (which you may or may not notice).

Contrary to popular belief, for many women desire actually doesn’t set in until after arousal, if she does, in fact, find a sexual situation appealing. It indicates wanting sex (getting turned on) rather than only being physically prepared for it. In other words, your body (lubrication, blood flow) and your mind (anticipation, excitement) need to be in agreement for you to enjoy sex. When they aren’t, sex can be painful or tedious.

Researchers call this mismatch of body and mind states, non-concordance, and it’s normal and common, especially in women. In fact, a woman’s genital response rarely reflects whether or not she’s turned on—her body and mind may only be aligned as little as 10% of the time. That means that the other 90% of the time you may be lubricated without being turned on, turned on without being lubricated, or interested in initiating sex for emotional reasons but unable to feel stimulated.

Don’t power through painful sex

Painful intercourse (a.k.a. dyspareunia [dis-puh-ROO-nee-ah] ) can happen if your body isn’t sufficiently aroused or lubricated, or if you feel low on desire. One of the problems with powering through painful sex for your partner’s sake is that it trains your mind and body to anticipate pain with penetration. This can cause the muscles in your pelvic floor to tense involuntarily, leading to more pain and more tension.

This feedback loop is a form of pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) that can lead to vaginismus, the painful tightening or spasm of the vaginal wall muscles. When pelvic floor dysfunction irritates nerves, women may also develop vulvodynia, a chronic sharp or stinging pain in the vulva without any apparent underlying disease. Vulvodynia can also begin in response to infection, injury, or vaginal atrophy—tissue thinning and inflammation due to low estrogen from menopause or hormonal birth control.

Pelvic floor physical therapy is an excellent option if you frequently experience painful sex, despite feeling turned on, or if you have chronic vulvar or vaginal pain. Pelvic floor physical therapists can help you retrain your muscles and calm your pain responses, as well as teach you exercises to maintain pelvic floor health. Find a pelvic floor physical therapist near you with this directory.

If you want to want more sex

Many people have what researchers call a responsive desire pattern, meaning they don’t often get turned on out of the blue. If you’re not in the mood as often as you’d like and want to initiate more or feel more receptive to a partner, you can learn how to trigger responsive desire.

 Since desire often comes after arousal in women, you can start by looking at erotic images, or reading erotic books to encourage your body to get aroused. These activities may lead to a desire to have sex on their own, but if they don’t consider adding in a partner to engage in low-pressure, non-sexual touching of your choosing.

 Take your time to figure out what sequence of images, thoughts, or touch arouses you and turns on your mind. Once you have that information, use it. There’s nothing wrong with relying on a prompt or two to get you started.

Having trouble getting aroused?

Any rigorous exercise can be incredibly effective in boosting your arousal, including for women on prescription antidepressants, or who have had hysterectomies. One study found that yoga can improve arousal, lubrication, desire, and orgasm in women, with women over 45 showing the most marked improvements.

Herbs like Tribulus terrestris and ginseng professionally blended with supporting herbs can also help. One small 2014 study found that an extract of Tribulus terrestris improved women’s arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction, and ginseng is a staple of Chinese Medicine that may enhance women’s libido.

If you struggle with vaginal dryness, look for herbal blends that capitalize on phytoestrogens like licorice root. And while there isn’t enough evidence or product testing to recommend topical royal jelly, research shows that it may also have estrogen-like effects and could be a promising alternative to synthetic hormones. One study found that when diluted in a lubricant base, royal jelly was more effective than topical estrogen cream or vaginal moisturizer in treating sexual problems in menopausal women.

Aroused but not turned on?

If you can get aroused but not turned on (i.e. your body is ready but you feel no desire), it’s worth examining the overall context of your life. Are you sleeping enough? Stressed at work? Feeling distant from your partner, or your body? All of these life factors can disrupt your ability to feel desire. Try making a list of what might be inhibiting you, then pick two or three that you can influence, like improving your sleep hygiene or spending quality time with a partner.

Mindfulness practices can also help boost your desire. One 2016  study found that mindfulness-based sex therapy improved alignment between genital response and feelings of desire, and another 2018 study concluded that women who meditated reported better sexual function and desire than non-meditators. If you’re new to meditation, try a free guided podcast for just five minutes a day.

Let go of “should”

From a young age, women are bombarded with media that shape our idea of what a healthy sexual relationship with our partners and ourselves should look like. We’re supposed to be spontaneous and enthusiastic and accommodating; we’re supposed to be pleasing at the expense of feeling pleasure.

 It takes effort and time to break free of these thought patterns. Try writing out what your ideal sex life will look and feel like along with a list of turn-ons, which can help you become aware of your needs and communicate them to your partner. It can also help you develop a definition of sexual wellness that reflects who and how you are right now, rather than how you think you should be.

If you aren’t seeing improvement with your new self-care practices and remedies, don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider. Your pleasure matters, and the right gynecologists and physical and sex therapists can help you navigate the disconnections between your mind and body.

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Stuck in a sex rut? These are the best foods, herbs, and exercises for men

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Maybe you’ve tried quieting your mind, connecting with your partner, and cutting down on your sexual inhibitors, but you’re still struggling to activate your desire, arousal, or endurance. If these struggles appeared gradually over time and are consistent even in the best sexual contexts (low stress, high intimacy, good mood), body-based protocols targeting your hormone levels, circulation, and cellular health can help.

Limits of the erection Rx

While medications for ED can enhance your erections (part of male arousal), they won’t act on your desire i.e. you may wind up with an erection and no interest in using it. Like all medications, ED prescriptions can have side effects from headaches and nausea to hearing loss, and some men can’t take them due to heart conditions or high blood pressure—some of the very health conditions that can cause ED in the first place.

Hormones or circulation: what’s the difference?

Sex hormones like testosterone play a big part in sexual desire , so if you don’t feel motivated to have sex you may need to address your hormone levels. This lack of motivation can contribute indirectly to erectile dysfunction (ED), but it’s also possible to experience arousal (i.e. erections) without feeling desire. In short: disinterest in sex usually has psychological or hormonal origins.

If you’re interested in sex but can’t get aroused, that’s most likely a blood flow or retention issue, especially if you aren’t having involuntary erections at night. Underlying health conditions like high blood pressure can reduce blood supply to the penis, as can smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and certain classes of medication. As men age, their erectile tissue may also have a tougher time retaining the blood necessary for an erection. That’s because oxidative stress caused by free radicals damages cells, making the erectile tissue porous. Oxidative stress may also lead to clogged arteries (a.k.a atherosclerosis), another condition that limits blood flow to the penis. 

Whatever combination of hormonal or circulatory problems you might be facing, nutrition, sleep, exercise, diet, and herbal remedies can help boost both your desire and performance.

Eat antioxidants and zinc for sexual health

Since oxidative stress is a leading cause of age-related ED, antioxidants from food are vital for both prevention and treatment. While there are plenty of antioxidant-packed superfood options like goji berries and chaga mushroom, incorporating antioxidants into your diet can be both simple and affordable. A good rule is to get as much colorful produce in your grocery cart as possible since each color usually corresponds to a different type of antioxidant. For example, black plums, blackberries, blueberries, and red grapes all contain the antioxidant anthocyanin. Other high-antioxidant foods include beets, beans, cabbage, kale, spinach, pecans, and dark chocolate.

Zinc is a vital trace element that we can only obtain from food and supplements. In addition to its antioxidant properties, zinc plays a big part in sperm production and quality, testosterone production, and protecting the prostate against infection. In short, healthy male reproductive systems depend on adequate zinc intake.

That said, it’s possible to overdose on zinc when you use supplements, so as always we recommend turning to whole foods first. While most foods contain some amount of zinc, a few healthy categories and items are more zinc-rich than others. These include seeds, nuts, shellfish, crab, lobster, tofu, mushrooms, legumes, whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa, eggs, lean poultry, non-rbST dairy, and even that antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.

A few simple diet adjustments can quickly fulfill your recommended daily intake—about 11mg for men (for more details check out this zinc intake guide). An egg contains 1mg while yogurt is about 1.7mg per serving. Add two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds for another 2mg of zinc and your light breakfast has already put you at 43% of your daily value. Aim to incorporate 1-2 servings of least one zinc-rich food at lunch and dinner and you’ll hit 11mg by bedtime.

Cut down on sugar and red meat

While red meat is high in zinc, it’s also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and erectile dysfunction. Consuming sugar, meanwhile, is associated with lowered testosterone levels in men. Excess sugar (and refined carbohydrate) consumption also leads to increased fat deposits in your body, which in turn decrease your testosterone levels.

Try sex-enhancing herbs

Herbs can boost male desire and performance by supporting circulation, hormone balance, and healthy tissue. If sexual arousal and desire are your main problems, horny goat weed (really) and ginseng are staples of Chinese Medicine and can support male sexual health when appropriately blended with other, balancing herbs. One study found that a compound in horny goat weed inhibits an enzyme that restricts blood flow to the penis, and several studies have shown that different varieties of ginseng may assist with erections, hormone regulation, and sperm production

If you also struggle with energy, endurance, and recovery (in the gym as well as the bedroom), instead look for professional herbal blends that include wild oats (really), gingko biloba, and maca. Several compounds in wild green oats may support cardiovascular health , and gingko biloba can increase blood flow to the brain and genitals, and may help increase dopamine in the brain, contributing to alertness. Studies show that maca, meanwhile, can lessen fatigue and promote physical endurance. A 2002 double blind placebo-controlled study also found that maca increased sexual desire in men aged 21 to 56

Exercise for better sex

Aerobic exercise like dancing, running, brisk walking, and swimming stimulate circulation and improve overall cardiovascular health. A 2018 systematic review of ED research studies found that weekly exercise of 160 minutes for six months decreased erectile problems in men with ED, while a 2010 study found that a consistent yoga practice improved men’s desire, erections, and orgasm. The takeaway? Pick a form of movement you enjoy and stick to it for lasting sexual health benefits.  

Get more sleep

If you’ve been struggling to improve your sleep habits here’s another motivator: poor or insufficient sleep is associated with lowered testosterone levels, leading to decreased desire, particularly in older men.

Good sleep hygiene includes going to bed and waking at the same time every day (even weekends), turning off screens and eating dinner at least two hours before bedtime, and scheduling at least eight hours in bed. Track how many hours of sleep you need to feel rested, which can range from seven to nine hours among adults, then adjust your scheduled time in bed accordingly. 

If you’re struggling to fall asleep, herbal blends containing valerian, passion flower, and poppy can help.  Studies have shown that all three of these herbs cab help alleviate sleeplessness. Try a DIY lavender aromatherapy spray on your pillow at bedtime. Combine equal parts vodka or witch hazel with distilled water in a spray bottle and add lavender oil at a 1%-2% dilution (between 6 and 12 drops for each ounce of liquid) spritz on your pillow, and take slow, gentle breaths—lavender essential oil improves both sleep quality and duration.  

Give it time

All of these approaches are geared towards healing and strengthening your body—in some cases at the cellular level. Improvements may show themselves gradually over weeks and months, but as long as you keep up your new healthy habits, they’ll last for years.

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Mind your mind: Applying the new science of male sexuality

It’s a myth that all healthy men experience strong and spontaneous desire, and this myth can make men with non-linear, intimacy-focused sexual patterns feel broken. If your struggles with sex feel abrupt or inconsistent, you may just need help getting your body and mind to cooperate.

What is sexual dysfunction?

 Sexual dysfunction is a broad (and probably overused) term that can cover anything from painful sex or trouble with arousal to a person’s feeling that they just aren’t enjoying sex the way they’d like to. To understand the many factors that can hinder a man’s sexual experience, it’s worth defining some sexual health terms. Problems with any of these can have both physical and emotional origins.

  • Arousal is a set of body processes that occur in response to a sexual situation/thought/image, whether or not a man actually finds that situation appealing.


  • Desire can set in before or after arousal, if a man does in fact find a sexual situation appealing. It indicates wanting sex rather than only being prepared for it.


  • Erectile dysfunction (ED) refers to the consistent inability to have or maintain an erection (a sign of arousal) long enough to have intercourse, despite feeling desire.


  • Premature ejaculation (PE) is when ejaculation occurs before sex, or within one minute of engaging in sexual activity.

How to improve men’s sexual health

 A string of research since 2001 proposes that much of what we learned about sex in health class is wrong—for men as well as women. Some researchers now say there’s no biological evidence for sex being a physical “drive”, or even a one-size-fits-all model for how arousal, desire, and fulfillment work.

Translation? We don’t need sex to live, so our bodies don’t have to crave it spontaneously the way they do food or water. Instead, the desire for sex can arise from combinations of thoughts (including memories and fantasies), feelings, or sensory input. The prompt can be obvious (partner in a towel!) or subtle (partner laughing at bad jokes!), but it’s always in play. True biological drives will arise with or without a prompt i.e. you don’t need to fantasize about hamburgers in order to feel hungry.

According to the “responsive desire” sex framework, men and women may not be so different when it comes to getting in the mood. It all comes down to lag time. Many (but not all) men feel the effects of a sexual prompt right away, and many (but not all) women need more time or more prompts to feel interest.

On top of all that, many researches think that all human sexual functioning can be explained through an excitation/inhibition system. That is, we all have specific circumstances, moods, and forms of touch that turn us on, but we also have lots of things that turn us off. This gas/brakes model means that you could be excited (partner in a towel!) and inhibited (weird smell in the kitchen!) at the same time, making for confusing combinations of feeling desire without arousal, arousal without desire, or nothing at all.

If a man wants intimacy with a partner, he may be disappointed with his body’s refusal to play along. But our bodies often take cues from our minds: anxiety, depression, fatigue, situational stressors, and relationship tension or disconnection can all inhibit both desire and arousal in men. This can result in ED, PE, or just lackluster sexual encounters.

Tips for managing sexual inhibitors

While most of us know that creating intimate contexts (walks on the beach, wine by the fire) can boost our sexual functioning, we often don’t address what inhibits us. Something as simple as a tough day at work or tax season can kill the mood for hours-to-weeks. Since we don’t recommend you quit your job or evade your taxes in the name of sexual wellness, here are some tips to manage those sex-inhibitors.

Stay in the moment

For one week, keep track of triggers that turn you off, then identify which ones you can control or reduce. The trick here is to consistently remove as many sexual blocks as you can. Even better if you can replace those blocks with sexual instigators. 

Watching the news or scrolling through your phone before bed can be both distracting and subtly stressful. If you can, try unplugging completely after work. Go for a walk or run with your partner a few days a week instead of braving traffic on the way to the gym. Replace time on your phone with books, card games, or short, simple meditations or breath work. If making dinner every night stresses you out, give yourself permission to order out or pay for a meal delivery kit a few nights a week. If you feel too exhausted at night, try instituting a stricter sleep routine, and/or leaving time for intimacy in the morning when you’re rested.

 Since your brakes/gas system is unique to you, your plan for managing it will be, too.

Herbs to relax

 Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that with regular use reduces cortisol levels as well as feelings of depression and anxiety, which can in turn make you more receptive to sexual contexts. Blends that pair Ashwaghanda with soothing herbs like valerian and hops (yep, the same hops that’s in beer) bring out its calming properties.

If you want to elevate your mood, try ashwagandha blends that incorporate St. John’s wort. One 2016 review of 35 research studies of St. John’s wort concluded that its effects were comparable to antidepressant medication. If you’re currently taking medications, be sure to talk to your health care provider before adding herbs to your routine since they can affect the way you metabolize certain common pharmaceuticals.  

Don’t try too hard

Sex is complicated. It can create life, for one. It can also communicate intimacy or reveal relationship rifts, lead to pleasure or disappointment, resolve arguments or start them, and lift or deepen anxiety. In other words, sex is not a problem to be solved—it’s an ongoing negotiation between your feelings, your body, your partner(s), and the circumstances of your life. For the best results, be kind to yourself and patient with your body as you explore these new self-care options.


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How non-GMOs help honey bees

At Crystal Star, we love honey bees—they help propagate fruits, vegetables, nuts, and many of the flowering herbs we use in our products. Like honeybees, we know that small contributions can lead to big benefits. That’s why we support both the Honey Bee Health Coalition and non-GMO formulas as part of our mission to support healthy people in a healthy world.

Even better news? Herbs used in natural supplements in general aren’t genetically modified, even if they don’t have a certification sticker.  That’s because most genetic engineering targets cash crops like corn, wheat, and soy, in an effort to keep costs down while increasing yield. Herbs (happily) aren’t profitable enough to draw the attention of gene-altering agribusinesses—though herbs modified for pharmaceutical use are another story. 

GMOs have their public-health and papaya-saving  upsides, but they come with costs, too. One 1999 study found that pollen from genetically modified corn kills monarch butterfly larvae in lab tests, and a 2012 study concluded that “Roundup Ready” crops led to increased pesticide use and declines in milkweed—the primary food source for monarch caterpillars.

While there’s no direct evidence that genetically modified plants hurt honey bees, GMO-enabled monocultures and the herbicides and pesticides growers spray on many GMO crops do.When you support non-GMO plants, growers and businesses, you also support a return to diversified and sustainable agriculture.

What your yeast infections are telling you

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For most women, yeast infections are an occasional nuisance. Forget to change out of your wet bikini and twelve hours later you’re cradling a box of Monistat 3 in the CVS checkout line. But for some of us those infections keep coming back, no matter how many tubs of Greek yogurt we eat. Why, and how do we break the cycle?

Imbalance ≠ invasion

Our microbiomes are powerful, intricate ecosystems that regulate normal body processes and protect us from disease.  In other words, the mix of bacteria, archaea , viruses, fungi and in and on our bodies can affect our immune response, our skin health, and even our weight.

 Repeated courses of antibiotics and diets low in fiber and high in processed foods (looking at you, toaster pastry) can lead to systemic imbalances in our microbiomes. So can stress and pH-altering soaps and detergents.

Most yeast infections occur when otherwise healthy Candida albicans yeast overpopulates the vaginal canal, or when it penetrates into deeper cell layers. The latter happens when the mucous lining is compromised—think vaginal dryness or irritation from douching, hormonal changes, medications, spermicides, or other types of infection.

Yeast isn't so bad once you get to know it

Yeast isn't so bad once you get to know it

Disinfect your laundry

Most household water heaters are set to about 120°F and dryers usually max out at 135°. But Candida albicans can survive in temperatures up to 15, so your underwear may continue to harbor yeast even after washing, making you susceptible to reinfection. To kill yeast while protecting laundry colors, add 5-10 drops of lavender or tea tree essential oil with your detergent and a cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle. If you’re washing whites, hydrogen peroxide bleach is an excellent antifungal that’s gentler than chlorine bleach. If you can, hang-dry your laundry outside—UV light kills most yeast and bacteria.  

Boost your probiotics

Probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus strains rhamnosus and reuteri can have powerful Candida-regulating properties, but oral supplements and fermented foods alone probably aren’t enough to maintain vaginal health. Enter prebiotics.   

Prebiotics are foods that help fuel colonies of beneficial bacteria in the colon, and are usually high in fiber. Leafy greens are good bets, as are bananas, asparagus, avocados, brown rice, legumes, and alliums like garlic and onion. Add these foods to your daily diet and they’ll help your probiotics balance your microbiome over time. 

Try herbs

Check overgrowth

If you have an active infection, try supplementing with fungus-inhibiting herbs like olive leaf and pau d’arco. Look for blends that include immunity-supporting herbs like siberian eleuthero.

Support your hormones

Hormonal birth control may make you more vulnerable to yeast infections, so consider asking your doctor for alternatives—particularly if you suspect your birth control is causing vaginal dryness, painful sex, or thinning tissue.  

If you’ve reached menopause, herbs like sarsaparilla, and black cohosh can encourage healthy hormone balance, which fortifies vaginal tissue. These herbs work best in synergistic blends. Phytoestrogens  like licorice root may also help improve vaginal atrophy caused by hormonal fluctuations. Look for blends that also contain hormone-helping shatavari and maca.

Get cultured

If you’re still dealing with chronic or recurrent yeast infections after following these steps, consider asking your health care provider for a vaginal culture to figure out which species of bacteria and yeast are causing your symptoms. While Candida albicans is likely to blame, other less common strains of Candida may be at work and could require a different treatment course. It’s also a good idea to ask about underlying health conditions like diabetes, which can lead to high blood sugar levels that feed yeast.

Fungi: not as bad as you think

Fungus gets a bad rap. There’s yeast infections and athlete’s foot and ringworm, for starters, plus a few species of delicious and deadly wild mushrooms. Some researchers classify entire cultures as either mycophilic (mushroom-loving) or mycophobic (mushroom-fearing), with English-speaking societies historically landing in the anti-fungus camp.

But fungus helps us more often than it harms. It’s instrumental in the creation of foods like bread, cheese, wine, kombucha, kefir, and soy sauce. For people of a certain generation or spiritual bent, fungus can even be the wellspring of life-enhancing hallucinogenic experiences (writer and Baby Boomer Michael Pollan writes about his late-life mushroom trip in How To Change Your Mind).

Mounting scientific evidence shows that trees rely on fungus networks to share nutrients and communicate through hormonal signals and electrical impulses, making fungus a hybrid circulatory-system-internet of the natural world. If you’re struggling with yeast infections, remember that fungus is a champion regulator and communicator—it may only be telling you that your body needs some help rebalancing itself.

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Don’t wait out uterine fibroids

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Up to 70% of all women will develop uterine fibroids by age 50. About 25% of us will go on to develop symptoms ranging from heavy menstrual bleeding to staggering pelvic pain. And while fibroids rarely threaten our lives or fertility, they can require surgery in severe cases. But for most of us, our fibroids are mild-to-moderate, waxing and waning throughout our reproductive years until (we hope) the hormonal shifts at menopause bring balance and relief.

While no treatment is guaranteed to prevent fibroids, at-home care to manage your hormones means you don’t have to wait until menopause to feel at home in your body.

What causes fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are benign tissue growths that appear on uterine walls. While your genes contribute to your risk of developing fibroids, your hormones also play a significant role. Exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals like pesticides and BPA in plastics can stimulate fibroid growth, as can obesity, a diet rich in red meat, and even some hormonal birth control.

Researchers continue to study the effects of plant-based estrogens like isoflavones in soy, which may increase fibroid risk in infants fed soy formula. That said, moderate intake of organic whole-soy products like tofu and miso (as opposed to highly-processed products like soy-based formula, milk, and supplements that contain high concentrations of isoflavones) is likely safe and may even reduce breast cancer risk in non-pregnant or nursing adult women.

If all this sounds like a fibroid-inducing minefield, don’t worry. Our hormones are incredibly responsive to positive changes in our diet, environment, and lifestyle.

Nutritional support

Foods to add

High-fiber diets decrease your body’s circulating estrogen, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussel sprouts also contain indole-3-carbinol, a compound that helps your body metabolize estrogen. Sea greens like dulse and nori are a good source of iodine, another potential estrogen regulator.

Try to get most of your protein from plant sources like beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, brown rice, sprouts, and avocado. Low-mercury seafoods and hormone-free poultry are also safe choices, as are hormone-free fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir, which contain anti-tumor-forming calcium, vitamin D, and butyric acid. This tool can calculate your recommended daily protein intake.

Foods to avoid

Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake—research shows that high coffee consumption may spur estrogen production, leading to fibroid growth. Try substituting your morning joe with a cup or two of fibroid-fighting green tea. Green tea contains less than half the caffeine of coffee, along with antioxidants and l-theanine, a calming amino acid that counteracts that “wired” feeling you get from caffeine.

Eliminate fibroid-aggravating red meats as well as sugary foods, which increase systemic inflammation and fat deposits, which in turn raise circulating estrogen levels.

Herbs and Supplements

Get ahead of your cycle

If you’re still menstruating, try starting a protocol once your last period ends. Look for herbal blends that target inflammation and pain while supporting healthy tissue. A good formulation will contain herbs like ginger, pau d’arco, goldenseal, and red raspberry. Bonus points for blends that contain maitake mushroom—preliminary studies show that it may slow tumor growth. Use as directed until your next period begins.

Use as suggested until your next period begins.

Once your period begins, switch over to a formula that supports balanced hormones as well as occasional discomfort and inflammation. Goldenseal and red raspberry are still good bets, but look for additional herbs like uva ursi, cramp bark, and Jamaican dogwood. Consider blends that include rehmannia, which Chinese Medicine regards as a potent tonic for blood circulation. Some studies have found that blends containing rehmannia may even improve pain and fertility outcomes in endometriosis patients. Use this blend as suggested for the duration of your period, then switch back to the first one. Repeat this protocol for three to four cycles.  

Not menstruating? Stick to the first blend in this protocol for three to four months.

Support your liver

Our livers produce enzymes that metabolize most of our body’s estrogen, so give it some love for all that hard work. Try a cup of dandelion root tea after dinner to stimulate bile production (another liver function), which yields the added benefit of breaking down and assimilating fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

Milk thistle may also support liver function and can aid with indigestion. While some online sources caution that milk thistle has estrogen-like effects, this inference is based on studies of silymarin, a concentrated, flavonoid , extract of milk thistle. As with soy, it’s the processing that’s the problem—whole-herb milk thistle is more likely to help with your fibroid management than to hinder it. If you’re still uneasy about milk thistle and prefer to avoid it, that’s okay. CoQ-10 is a potent antioxidant that also shows promise in treating inflammatory liver conditions. Try supplementing with 100mg daily.☼

Mind and Bodywork

Make friends with stress

Stress can affect your hormone levels, but believing that stress can harm you may be the bigger risk to your health. How to stop stressing about stress? Make friends with it through mindfulness practices. Daily free guided meditations that take as little as 10 minutes a day can reduce the impact of stress and help manage chronic pain. Stress is part of life and innate to any act of commitment or bravery, from starting a new job or family, to learning to dance or driving in rush hour traffic.

Health care providers trained in biofeedback can also help you learn how to calm your nervous system and some at-home gadgets let you perform biofeedback, (or a brain-wave based subset called neurofeedback) with your smartphone.

Exercise

Research shows that regular, vigorous exercise may help prevent fibroid onset. If rowing machines and jumping jacks aren’t your thing, sign up for a dance or vinyasa yoga class. For a low-impact workout, try cycling, swimming or water aerobics classes.  

Keep your providers in the loop

Update your health care providers on any herbs or other supplements you may be taking, as well as any changes in your diet and exercise. Fibroids are common, but pain is not inevitable. Natural food and lifestyle choices can help manage fibroids, and even help you recover from surgical or pharmaceutical interventions.

☼ CoQ10 may reduce the effectiveness of blood thinning drugs like Warfarin. Consult with your doctor on the remedies you’re taking.