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Andrographis: Uses, Benefits and Effects

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is a small evergreen plant native to Sri Lanka, India, and several Southeast Asian countries. It is commonly known as create or green chiretta as sometimes referred to as  “Indian echinacea” or the “king of bitters.”  Andrographis has been used in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat a variety of health ailments ranging from mild stomachaches to low-grade fever and inflammation. It has a strong bitter taste and oval-shaped leaves that produce small white and purple flowers known for attracting butterflies and other wildlife.

Andrographolide is the main biochemical compound found in Andrographis. It is an extremely bitter substance and responsible for giving the entire plant – from roots to leaves –a prominent bitter taste. Studies show that andrographolide compounds may have antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Health Benefits & Uses

Andrographis extract has been used for many chronic diseases and acute ailments, including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, skin diseases, upset stomach, and influenza.

Researchers have identified many of the properties of Andrographis extract that help support the immune system and relieve symptoms. Some of the most essential conclusions of research on the effects of Andrographis extract include:

How does it work? Many of the immune-supporting properties of Andrographis extract are due to the high concentration of andrographolide lactones found in the plant. These lactones stimulate the immune system and have potent antiviral, anti-allergic, anti-diarrheal, hypoglycemic, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Recently, Andrographis has become a subject of interest in western scientific research. Evidence suggests that andrographolide may help support normal blood pressure and circulation. It has also been shown to act as a potent antioxidant capable of neutralizing free radicals, and recent studies show that this natural compound may also protect against certain viral and bacterial infections by modulating the levels of immune cells in the body.

In a 2017 study published in Nature Research’s Scientific Report, researchers found that Andrographis extract effectively reduced viral concentration among people with chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has caused large epidemics in many African, Southeast Asian, and South American countries. The authors of the study also noted that Andrographis’ principal biochemical compound, andrographolide, has been observed to act in several other viruses, including the influenza virus (flu); hepatitis A, B, and C; herpes simplex, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Because of its antiviral properties, andrographolide also shows promise as a potential COVID-19 complementary treatment or preventive measure. A recent preliminary study that tested in silico (i.e., via computer simulation) andrographolide against SARS-COV-2 –the virus that causes COVID-19 – found that the compounds were able to bind to the virus successfully, and prediction models showed that andrographolide is safe and well-tolerated.

Of course, this was a computer-simulated study that was not tested on people, so it is impossible to know whether Andrographis extract can indeed treat or prevent the novel coronavirus until more research is conducted. However, this promising model certainly adds to the herb’s intriguing list of potential health benefits, especially in a time when affordable, accessible, and safe COVID-19 therapies are so desperately needed.

 

 

 

What are adaptogens and why are they good for us?

Adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, so they’re backed by ancient use as well as recent studies too.  They are becoming increasingly popular, but do they work? Are they safe to use? What does the research say about them, and would you benefit from taking them?

Adapt and Survive
Adaptogens are natural stress-protective compounds or plant extracts that increase the adaptability, resilience, and survival of organisms.  They are stress-response modifiers that increase an organism’s nonspecific resistance to stress by increasing its ability to adapt and survive. Adaptogens are believed to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes, supporting the stabilization of physiological processes and promotion of homeostasis.

According to an article published by the New York Academy of Sciences, current and potential uses of adaptogens are mainly related to stress-induced fatigue and cognitive function, mental illness, and behavioral disorders. Their prophylactic use by healthy subjects to ameliorate stress and prevent age-related diseases appears to be justified. Science has shown promising results for the remarkable neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, mood-regulating, and nootropic benefits of adaptogenic herbs.

Adaptogenic herbs can work on stress in one of two ways: they work to help the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, our body’s central stress response system, better adapt to stressors, and produce fewer stress hormones.

Adaptogens are also considered beneficial for the prevention and treatment of respiratory infections by supporting a challenged immune system, increasing resistance to viral infection, inhibiting the progression of severe inflammatory, and promoting effective recovery. The evidence from pre-clinical and clinical studies of a combination of adaptogens suggests they can be useful in prophylaxis and treatment of viral infections at all stages of progression of inflammation and provide the following benefits:

  • modulating innate and adaptive immunity
  • anti-inflammatory activity
  • detoxification and repair of oxidative stress-induced damage in compromised cells
  • direct antiviral effects to inhibit viral replication (Viruses must first penetrate and enter the targeted host cells before they can replicate)
  • improving quality of life during convalescence

In a nutshell:

1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology

Should you be taking adaptogens?

Adaptogens are for anyone looking to improve their overall health.  Today’s modern lifestyles and current challenges leave many of us susceptible to low energy and a weakened immune system. Researchers agree our bodies are existing in a prolonged state of stress. In addition to the kind of anxiety that comes with deadlines, hectic agendas, and burning the candle at both ends, there’s also stress at a physiological level. Stressors like sleep deprivation, sedentary jobs, and overexposure to toxins through food and the environment can have a huge impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing.

How fast will you see results?
Some people experience instant effects after taking certain adaptogens, but it can take weeks before you notice any real changes. When starting any food supplement, it’s best to take it for 10-12 weeks and keep a diary of symptoms. This allows subtle changes to be acknowledged and allows a comparison between weeks one and twelve.  Adaptogens come in powders, teas, tinctures, and pills, but not all are created equal.  Quality, purity, and potency matters as well as taking the correct amounts.  When added to your normal healthy diet, they can offer big benefits.

Some common adaptogens include:

Bacopa Monnieri – improves memory and cognition – Studies suggest bacopa monnieri may slow cognitive decline and improve memory, attention, and cognition. A study conducted on participants over age 65 produced fascinating results. One group was given 300 mg of Bacopa daily for 3 weeks while another was administered a placebo. The group taking Bacopa showed significant improvement in working memory, attention, and anxiety.  Bacopa isn’t just for the elderly, though. In another study involving 107 people aged 18-60, participants who took bacopa for 90 days performed significantly better on working memory tests, especially memory accuracy.

Andrographis  – natural immune booster with anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Supports respiratory health

Eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng) – boosts the immune system, improves memory, helps adapt to stress, fights fatigue, boosts physical performance. Studies also suggest it improves the overall quality of life.

Ashwaghanda  – fights stress and stress related weight gain, reduces anxiety

Rhodiola Rosea – anti-fatigue, boosts cognitive function, and regulates mood

Panax Ginseng – anti-fatigue, improved wellbeing and happiness, cognition, brainpower, DNA protection, anti-stress, and blood glucose regulation.

Holy Basil
– build muscle, improve your mood, protect your liver, and boost libido

Reishi Mushrooms – supports immune health, rich in anti-oxidants, has detoxifying properties, and protects cells

Cordyceps – promotes energy, enhances memory, supports brain function

Maca – boosts libido and fertility

The Surprising Health Benefits of Fresh Air

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started and the world was asked to stay at home and avoid social interactions, our demanding schedules and hectic routines left little time to enjoy the great outdoors. In fact, according to some pre-pandemic government estimates, people in the United States spent, on average, 90 percent of their lives indoors.

Being “cooped up” inside for extended periods can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation, which have been linked to higher risks for physical and mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even premature death. But, while it may still be a little longer before we can return to our normal lives, it is never too late to reap the health benefits of being outdoors and getting some fresh air.

Here are a few reasons to venture out and soak up the sunshine and fresh air, even if we temporarily have to do it while wearing a mask and allowing sufficient space for social distancing.

It helps clear your lungs

Now that the weather is getting colder, it may feel cozy to stay indoors with all the doors and windows sealed shut, but stale indoor air can wreak havoc in people who suffer from allergies or are prone to respiratory problems.

Considering the amount of smog, haze, and car emissions floating in the air, it’s easy to think that air pollution occurs only outside. But research shows that the air in indoor spaces can be more polluted than the air in the street. Microscopic dust mites, mold, lead, fire retardants, and radon (not to mention volatile chemicals from everyday household products) can hang in the walls, cushions, carpets, and drapes. When we breathe them in, they can cause allergies, asthma, and lung irritation.

Fresh air, on the other hand, contains higher levels of oxygen and lower levels of pollution. Oxygen helps dilate blood vessels in the lungs, promoting cellular and tissue reparation and improving their ability to cleanse themselves.

It may help you heal faster

Oxygen is not only good for clearing out your lungs. It’s also essential for healing from illnesses and injuries. An adequate amount of oxygen is needed for cellular function; it keeps cells nourished and helps create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an essential organic compound and the primary energy source at the cellular level.

Studies have shown that patients exposed to natural sunlight after surgery tend to take fewer medications, experience less pain, and have a more favorable recovery experience. A recent study published in the journal Biomolecules also showed that oxygen therapy has the ability to preserve brain tissue and improve outcomes in stroke patients. While this study was not conducted using outdoors, fresh air, it’s pretty clear that we could all benefit from breathing in a little more oxygen in the form of fresh air.

It will improve your mood

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the human body makes when the skin is exposed directly to the sun. There may be some association between vitamin D deficiencies and certain mood disorders, including depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter and ends in spring or early summer. In a 2018 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, investigators found that low vitamin D levels are associated with depression.

In addition to higher vitamin D levels, spending time outdoors – especially in green spaces – has been associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders. In fact, a 2019 meta-analysis of studies comparing indoor and outdoor exercise found that just a few minutes of exercising in an outdoors, green space resulted in improved mood and better self-esteem.

It will give you more energy and mental clarity

Evidence suggests that children with ADHD may fare better in exams and schoolwork after spending time outdoors. Getting fresh air in outdoor green spaces also seems to reduce ADHD symptoms in some children. Of course, those studies were done in children, and it’s hard to say if it applies to adults, let alone adults without ADHD. But, in a 2008 analysis conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, participants who walked in nature improved their attention and memory scores by 20 percent compared to those who walked in more urban settings.

It will boost your immune system

Those who get outside and breathe fresh (clean) air on a regular basis have been shown to have stronger immune systems than those who stay indoors. Fresh air can help your immune system to fight off disease more effectively due to healthier white blood cells. It also supplies your immune system with the oxygen it needs to kill and destroy bacteria, viruses, and germs. Breathing in stale air will not supply your body with enough oxygen to keep your cells fueled and functioning properly.

It will improve heart health

Being outdoors and inhaling fresh air helps clear your lungs and enables you to take deeper, longer breaths of air — which increases the amount of oxygen that’s transported to your body’s cells. Increased oxygen in your body is great for your heart and overall health.

Spending time outdoors

There is nothing worse than being stuck indoors for long periods of time. We all need fresh air; our bodies crave the oxygen and the good feelings that come with it. Not only will you feel better, but you may boost your health for a lifetime. Make some time in your life to get outside and breathe the freshness. Spending time outdoors does not mean you have to take a trip to a national forest. Just being outdoors anywhere the air is fresh should be part of your everyday health routine. If you are unable to spend much time outdoors and if you live in an area that tends to get good air quality, then open your windows as much as possible and take a deep breath. But if the air quality is poor, especially near major highly trafficked roads or highways, industrial areas, or large airports, air from an HVAC  system (air purifier) with a good filter may be better for you. Breathing stale, polluted, or recirculated air makes our bodies have to work harder to get the oxygen they need to rejuvenate our bodies and minds.  So head for clean air when you can and breath deeply. Your body and your mind will thank you in the long run.

 

The Mediterranean Diet: The Best Overall Diet of 2020

In January of this year, U.S News World & Report named the Mediterranean diet the best overall diet for the third time in a row. Find out why.

The Mediterranean diet is an eating plan based on traditional foods from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Spain, and Italy. Like the ancient civilizations that first consumed it, the origins of the Mediterranean diet are lost in time. However, following the development of the modern concept of the Mediterranean diet in the early 1960s, a considerable – and compelling – amount of research has continuously backed its health benefits.

What is the Mediterranean diet, exactly?

Almost anyone with a passing interest in healthy eating – or anyone with a chronic disease – has surely heard about the Mediterranean diet, an eating style that focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. But the Mediterranean diet is so much more than that.

Unlike restrictive, calorie-centered diets that focus on the foods you should avoid, the Mediterranean diet is about the foods you should eat. In that sense, it doesn’t fall into the “diet” category because its end goal is not to lose weight.

Instead, it involves plenty of fresh vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and cucumbers, among others, always emphasizing color and variety. Because of its origins near the Mediterranean Sea, seafood, especially fatty fish like sardines and salmon, make up an important portion of the diet’s protein intake. Whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, oats, should be consumed daily, in moderation. Red meats should be eaten only rarely, and highly processed foods should be avoided.

Like other diets, the Mediterranean diet has its own modified food pyramid developed by the Oldways Preservation Trust, the World Health Organization (WHO), and Harvard University in 1993. The pyramid doesn’t list specific serving sizes; instead, it suggests the types and frequency of foods to be consumed daily. Another interesting feature of the Mediterranean diet is that it places daily exercise and social interactions at the broadest row, or the pyramid’s base.

Mediterranean diet pyramid

Lifestyle is important, too

One of the reasons the Mediterranean diet became so famous outside Europe was that people who live in the Mediterranean live longer, healthier lives than those in many other countries. Researchers theorized that their eating habits could be behind that longevity. And they were right; study after study confirms the impressive health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. But there is another important factor behind the region’s good health: lifestyle.

In a Pew Research Center survey, 84 percent of U.S parents reported eating dinner with their children at least once a week, and only 50 percent of those parents said it happened every night. But in Europe, where the Mediterranean diet is a not diet but a daily practice, people regard meals as social occasions. Cooking and eating together, sharing food, and spending quality time around the table are paramount. So is eating slowly, savoring every bit of food, moving often, and enjoying a glass of wine with friends and loved ones to cultivate stronger bonds.

Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most recommended eating plans by healthcare professionals. It’s also recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural asset and recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to prevent chronic disease. Some science-backed health benefits of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • May reduce the risk for heart disease
  • May help lose weight and maintaining it
  • May protect against type 2 diabetes
  • May help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer
  • May help delay cognitive decline

Eating the Mediterranean way

Traditional diets around the Mediterranean Sea differ slightly from region to region, so there isn’t a concrete eating plan to follow. Instead, focus on fresh, mostly-plant based, nutrient-rich foods, like:

Vegetables, with every meal: mainly non-starchy vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, artichokes, and dark leafy greens.

Animal protein, occasionally: fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna. Seafood, chicken, turkey, eggs.

Fruits, daily: all fresh fruits. Avoid fruit juice and concentrates.

Nuts and seeds, daily: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds.

Whole grains, moderately: whole grain bread, corn, bulgur wheat, farro, quinoa, oatmeal, polenta, couscous.

Dairy, moderately: cheese, Greek yogurt.

Herbs and spices, daily: garlic, basil, mint, cinnamon, paprika.

 

 

5 Tips to Strengthen Your Immune System Naturally

A well-balanced, strong immune system is key to preventing disease or disease complications.  But, is it really possible to strengthen the immune system?

December is here; the weather is turning cold, and flu season well underway, which is reason enough to start thinking of your immune system and how to protect yourself against diseases and infections. The stakes are higher this year, though – as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread all across the United States, people are looking for ways to boost their immune systems and keep their bodies’ defenses as healthy as possible.

But, is boosting the immune system really possible? Experts say the answer is complicated. A common misconception surrounding the immune system is that people must ‘boost’ or ‘strengthen’ it to ward off disease. However, an exceedingly strong immune system can be just as problematic as a weak one. An overactive immune system that continually produces too much of an immune response can encourage the body to attack itself.

Instead, we should strive for a more balanced immune system, one that can identify and attack harmful microorganisms without turning against its own cells and tissues. To do so, it’s important to understand that the immune system is a complex and dynamic network of organs, tissues, and cells that work closely together to defend the body against harmful pathogens.

It makes sense, then, that certain diet and lifestyle changes may positively impact the body’s natural defense mechanism and influence your immune response.

Here 5 tips for balancing your immune system naturally.

Don’t Smoke

Each year, more than 480,000 people in the United States die from tobacco-related illnesses. That means that smoking kills more than car accidents, guns, illegal drugs, and alcohol combined. Smoking cigarettes is also associated with many diseases and leads to acute changes in the immune system.

Numerous chemical compounds found in cigarettes are proven proinflammatory and immunosuppressive agents, meaning that they can trigger inflammatory responses and lower the body’s ability to mount an immune response, respectively. In fact, studies have shown that people who smoke are twice as likely to contract a respiratory tract infection, such as the flu or COVID-19. Smoking also seems to reduce the flu vaccine’s effectiveness among older adults.

Fortunately, much of the damage from smoking is reversible. Up to 79% of cigarette’s harmful effects and changes and genetic modifications can be reversed after a person quits smoking, according to a 2007 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology.

Get Enough Sleep

Several studies have looked at the relationship between sleep and immunity and found that the two might be more connected than initially thought. Research shows that people who don’t get enough sleep or are sleep deprived are more likely to catch a cold or get sick after being exposed to a virus. It can also affect how long it takes you to get better and how often you get sick.

A study led by sleep investigators at UC San Francisco reported that people who sleep six hours or less were four times more likely to get sick when exposed to the common cold virus, compared to those who slept seven or more hours per night. Another study conducted in Germany found that sleep is vital for regulating T cells, a type of white blood cell essential for immune function.

Immune chemicals may also be closely intertwined with your nightly slumber. When you are asleep, your immune system gets busy secreting proteins called cytokines. Cytokine is the general term for a cluster of chemicals that carry out several important jobs, like aiding cellular communication during immune responses and mediating and regulating inflammation.

The immune system raises specific cytokines in response to infections, stress, inflammation, and trauma. But if you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system doesn’t get the chance to produce these cytokines, potentially leaving you more vulnerable to harmful pathogens.

Limited Added Sugars

Eating high doses of processed sugars can temporarily “deactivate” or suppress the immune system, increasing the risk for infectious diseases. Although research is being conducted on how added sugars affect the body, we know that sugar seems to affect how white blood (immunity) cells fight harmful pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.

The most common sources of processed and added sugars are candy, bakery items, soda, etc. But it also hides in many savory foods such as bread, salad dressings, yogurt, breakfast cereals, and more. These are a few of the (many) names sugar may show up as in food labels:

  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Maltose/malt sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Fructose
  • Invert sugar
  • Agave nectar
  • Dextrose
  • Lactose
  • Cane sugar/cane crystals
  • Honey
  • Brown sugar/molasses
  • Evaporated cane juice

 

Manage Stress

Stress produces hormonal changes that decrease the body’s ability to fight colds and other infections. When you are under stress, the body releases cortisol, also known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone.

In appropriate quantities, cortisol can boost the immune system by limiting inflammation. However, chronic stress, or a prolonged cortisol secretion, may drive the immune system to become “resistant.” As a result, the body may need to release more cortisol, causing a disproportionate inflammatory response.

Fill Nutritional Gaps

One of the best ways you have to make sure your immune system and its components are functioning is to maintain a healthy diet. Your immune system (just like the rest of your body) runs on the nutrients you get from your food and other sources like nutritional supplements.

The foods you eat have direct consequences (both positive and negative) on how your immune system responds. For example, some nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact the number of immune cells circulating in your bloodstream. Eating certain things excessively, such as fats, can also disrupt your immune system’s ability to craft a response.

Andrographis Extract

Animal studies show that Andrographis, also known as Indian echinacea, can effectively treat and prevent lung inflammation, as demonstrated in a study of mice with chemically induced bronchitis. Double-blind clinical trials have also shown that people taking 48 to 60 mg of Andrographis extract tend to have milder symptoms and recover faster from the common cold.

Elderberry Extract

Elderberries have been considered one of the most healing medicinal plants in the world. Historically, Native American and European civilizations used these tart fruits to heal wounds, treat infections, and lower fevers. Nowadays, elderberries are a popular supplement to fight off common viruses like the common cold and the flu.

100 grams of elderberries provide about 60 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Black elderberry extract also contains important compounds like flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants with immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. Evidence shows that supplementing with black elderberry extract can significantly reduce upper respiratory symptoms, like those produced by the cold and flu viruses.

Siberian Ginseng

In traditional Eastern medicine, Siberian ginseng was used as an “adaptogen.” An adaptogen is a substance that might help the body cope better with stress. Nowadays, it is used as a natural immune booster. The active compounds in Siberian ginseng, called eleutherosides, may stimulate the immune system and reduce the duration and severity of some respiratory infections like pneumonia.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is involved in many cellular processes that benefit immunity. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C is capable of decreasing inflammation and neutralizing free-radical damage. It also promotes phagocytes’ activity, and research shows it may reduce lung inflammation caused by certain respiratory viruses.

A systematic review of more than 30 studies about the effects of vitamin C found that ingesting 1 to 2 grams (1,000 to 2,000 mg) of this vitamin every day reduced common cold duration by 8 percent in adults and 18 percent in children.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral essential for DNA synthesis and regulating immune function. People who have zinc deficiencies tend to have weaker immune systems and may be more prone to infections. Studies have shown that zinc supplements may reduce the number of respiratory infections in children and may reduce the duration of the common cold in adults when started early on the disease.

These 5 simple lifestyle changes can go a long way towards building and maintaining a strong immune system and protecting yourself from viruses and infections during cold and flu season.

Facts About Arthritis You Didn’t Know

Arthritis is a common condition that impacts more than 50 million adults in the United States. It is the most common cause of disability, accounting for more than 12 million lost workdays each year. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with arthritis recently, these facts will help you better understand – and hopefully manage – this condition.

Arthritis is among the oldest-known human conditions

Arthritis isn’t deadly, and it doesn’t decrease the quality of life substantially, as long as you receive treatment and manage it properly. Nevertheless, a diagnosis of arthritis (or any disease) can be frightening, but you’re not alone.  People have been getting it for more than 500,000 years. Historically, arthritis was one of the earliest disorders to be identified and characterized clinically—one that dates back to prehistoric times. Reference to arthritis is found in texts at least as far as 4500 BC. A text dated 123 AD first describes symptoms that appear similar to rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis can affect any joint in the human body

There are 203 joints in the adult human body, and each of those joints can develop arthritis over time. Not surprisingly, most of these joints are subjected to wear and tear that can break down the buffer between two bones, causing friction, inflammation, and pain. The joints that are most prone to arthritis include the fingers, hips, back, knees, and ankles.

Arthritis can strike at any age

Most people believe that arthritis is an old person’s disease and that it is entirely a consequence of aging.  This is one of the biggest misconceptions about arthritis.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 2/3 of people with arthritis are under age 65.  It can occur at any age. Nearly 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis

We often hear the word “arthritis” to describe all kinds of joint inflammation, discomfort, or stiffness. However, arthritis is actually a blanket term for more than 100 different disorders and rheumatic conditions. Some of the most well-known types include:

Osteoarthritis (OA): also called degenerative arthritis or “wear and tear” disease, it is the most common type of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. OA happens when the joints’ protective cartilage wears down over time, causing pain and mobility issues. It can affect any joint in the body, but it usually causes the most damage in the hands, knees, and hips.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic (long-term) autoimmune and inflammatory condition that accidentally causes the immune system to attack healthy cells in the body. This generates pain and swelling in different parts of the body and can cause irreversible joint deformities and bone damage. Experts don’t know what triggers RA, but it is believed that genes and certain lifestyle habits such as smoking can make a person more susceptible.

Gout: this type of inflammatory arthritis is more prevalent in men than in women, but it can affect anyone. It usually starts as a sudden, extremely painful swelling at the base of the big toe that causes the joint to feel hot and tender. It occurs when urate crystals accumulate in the affected joint, resulting from a uric acid buildup in the blood. Being overweight or obese, eating an unhealthy diet, and having certain chronic conditions can increase the risk of developing gout.

Juvenile arthritis (JA): many people don’t know that arthritis can affect children as well as adults. More than 300,000 kids and teens in the United States are affected by JA, a rheumatoid condition that causes the immune system to release inflammatory chemicals that attack healthy cells and joints. There are several subtypes of JA, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, fibromyalgia, juvenile scleroderma, and juvenile lupus.

Arthritis is more common in older women than in men

Before the age of 55, arthritis is more prevalent in men than in women. However, studies show that after this age, women quickly overtake men in numbers. Experts don’t know what causes this gender disparity, but some theories include estrogen level dips during menopause, anatomical differences (women’s hips are wider than men’s, for example), and the number of full-term childbirths a woman might have.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Is Genetic

Research has found that those who develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) could be inheriting the disease. Several genes are responsible for the body’s tendency to get rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the severity of the disease. Since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, the genes involved have to deal with immune system control.

Being overweight increases the risk

Having an unhealthy weight is connected to many health issues, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Yet, the risks do not stop there. Being overweight or obese has been recognized as a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. With recent studies revealing that more than 50-percent of North Americans, including Canadians and Americans, being overweight, an explosion of osteoarthritis is expected to occur as this overweight population ages. After all, any weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, and back, are going to be worn down faster if you are carrying extra weight than if you were at a healthier weight.

Arthritis cannot be cured, but it can be managed

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis, but there are treatments that can help improve its symptoms and slow it down. One of the most important factors when it comes to having arthritis is getting an early diagnosis; early treatment and support may help reduce mobility issues and reduce the risk for future problems.

Arthritis treatments have improved significantly over the past few decades, and there are medications available to stop some types of arthritis and rheumatoid diseases from worsening. Lifestyle habits can also help manage arthritis symptoms, ease pain, and restore mobility:

  • Exercise – swimming is excellent for improving arthritis pain
  • Avoid stress
  • Sleep at least 7 hours every night
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight

There are natural ingredients that have been clinically proven to be beneficial for arthritis sufferers.

There are several science-backed herbs, vitamins, and minerals that can provide effective nutritional support for arthritis sufferers.

Boswellia extract: a sticky resin extracted from the Boswellia serrata tree, Boswellia has proven anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Research studies show that this extract can improve pain and swelling in inflammatory conditions like OA and RA through a series of acids called Boswellic acids that block leukotrienes’ formation (molecules that cause inflammation) in the body.

Ginger: ginger supplements are a safe and effective option for promoting comfort. For example, a 2015 review of five research studies with more than 500 participants found that those who had osteoarthritis and took ginger supplements saw a 30 percent reduction in pain compared to a placebo group. Ginger to supports a healthy inflammatory response, joint flexibility, mobility, and comfort, and boost overall immunity.

Curcumin: evidence suggests that curcumin – the bioactive compound in turmeric – has potent anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that, after supplementing with turmeric capsules over 12 weeks, participants experienced significant improvement in pain and stiffness of knee osteoarthritis compared to those taking a placebo pill.

Ashwagandha: research studies looking at the benefits and properties of Ashwagandha have found significant neuroprotectant and anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Phytotherapy Research showed that Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) extract significantly reduced inflammatory markers in the body and may protect against cartilage damage.

Vitamin C – Ascorbic Acid:  Vitamin C is critical for the production and maintenance of collagen, the major component of connective tissue throughout the body. Our joints are largely made of the protein collage, supporting both flexible and strong joints. Low vitamin C intake is directly associated with joint issues in the knees.*

Magnesium
Being deficient in magnesium can mean trouble for your joints and collagen. Magnesium helps promote a healthy inflammatory response, improves calcium absorption, and reduces oxidative stress. The sufficient intake of magnesium is particularly important for maintaining muscle and nerve function, which also contributes to the structural development of bones. Magnesium also has a relaxing effect on the nervous system. This makes magnesium especially important to those involved in sports, the elderly, and anyone of any age with joint issues.*

Boron
The trace mineral boron has been shown to support joint mobility and flexibility while promoting joint comfort. Boron is also critical for the bone health of those bones that surround and are the foundation for your joints. Boron stimulates the bone-growing and strengthening processes.*

Feverfew
Researchers have found that the herb feverfew can inhibit the release of enzymes from white cells found in inflamed joints, which is of particular support for joint comfort.*

Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid binds to water to support lubrication and act as a joint shock absorber. It’s main functions are to maintain collagen, retain moisture, and encourage elasticity and flexible.*

Hopefully, you have learned some important facts about arthritis.  If you have arthritis or have questions about the disease, contact a healthcare professional to learn more.  Learn what lifestyle changes you can implement to improve your symptoms, increase mobility, and promote comfort.  Related Article:  Facts you need to know about joint pain.

 

 

Covid-19 Holiday Celebrations – Minimizing Risks and Gathering Safely

It’s hard to believe that almost a year has passed since the world learned about COVID-19, a novel and fast-spreading coronavirus that quickly became a worldwide pandemic. As of December 1st, more than 63 million people have become infected with the virus. Global deaths inch towards 1.5 million – with almost 20% stemming from the United States alone, where a recent surge of infections has firmly taken hold of the country’s healthcare system.

Now, the holiday season is here, and COVID-19 cases are hitting all-time highs. Public health experts believe that the increase in infections is likely to continue – or even worsen – due to the upcoming celebrations.

Still, after months of lockdowns, social distancing, and virtual gatherings, many people are understandingly eager to see their loved ones, reconnect, and regain some sense of normalcy during these trying times. If you’ve been weighing travel plans to join loved ones for the holidays, read on to find out how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep yourself, family, friends, and the community healthy during the holidays.

Safety Tips for the Holidays

First things first, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as a totally COVID-safe holiday party or event. When it comes to viruses that spread through contact and respiratory droplets, the single most effective way of avoiding infection is to limit exposure by maintaining a safe distance from people who may be infected with the virus. But there are some ways to minimize risks:

Check local infection rates: Research the number and rate of infections (CDC Covid Data Tracker) in your community and the area where the holiday gathering will occur. Then, consider if it’s safer to hold, attend, or postpone it. You may also want to check if hospitals in your community or destination are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

Limit travel:  Travel may increase the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19. If you must travel, opt for driving to your destination with your household members only instead of flying or taking other forms of mass transportation.

Keep events small:  The greater the number of people, the greater the risk for infection. If you are considering hosting or attending an in-person holiday gathering this year, keep the guest list short or ask the host how many people will be at the event. Many health agencies recommend limiting the number of people to 10 or fewer. However, bear in mind that the size of any holiday event should be determined based on local or state laws as well as the ability of people attending the gathering to keep a safe distance from one another.

Wear a mask: Recent studies suggest that as many as 80 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning that they don’t experience any symptoms from the disease. And because they don’t have any symptoms, they may not even know they have the virus. However, asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease just as much as people that do have symptoms. A mask that completely covers your nose and mouth serves as a barrier for keeping respiratory droplets from going into the air and infecting others. Although wearing a mask to a holiday gathering may feel strange, it is one of the most effective ways to prevent COVID-19 spread.

Other considerations if you are hosting a holiday gathering:

  • Check local guidelines before planning your event.
  • Choose outdoor gatherings over indoor spaces.
  • Ask guests to wear a mask at all times except when eating and drinking.
  • If you are holding the holiday celebration indoors, increase ventilation by opening windows and doors, if possible.
  • Encourage guests to wash their hands often and provide supplies to help everyone stay healthy, such as hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and tissues.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces often.
  • If you are holding a potluck-style gathering, encourage guests to bring their own foods and drinks. If you are serving food, have only one person serve everything to avoid several people touching communal utensils.

Other considerations if you are attending a holiday gathering:

  • Stay at home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms or has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not been cleared to be around others.
  • Don’t attend in-person events if you
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use at least 60% alcohol hand sanitizer.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet (2 meters) distance from people who do not live with you.
  • Avoid crowded areas.
  • Don’t touch your mask, eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Avoid shouting or singing, especially indoors.Stay safe this winter and enjoy the holidays.

Vitamin D for Covid-19: What we know so far

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin present in vitamin-rich foods and produced in the skin in response to being exposed to UV rays – aka sunlight. Recent research has shown that taking vitamin D supplements reduces the risk of developing certain respiratory infections, like the influenza virus. Now, and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, investigators think that vitamin D could also reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Vitamin D and immunity

Vitamin D plays many vital roles in the body, including aiding in calcium and phosphorus absorption, two essential compounds for healthy bones and teeth. Several studies have found links between vitamin D deficiencies and mood disorders, particularly depression. Laboratory studies have also found that vitamin D can reduce cell cancer growth and lower the risk of developing infections.

Supplementing with vitamin D may protect against acute respiratory tract infections, according to a 2015 systematic review and analysis of past studies. Published by the British Medical Journal, the reviewers looked at 25 clinical trials with over 11,000 participants in total to see if vitamin D supplements could potentially prevent respiratory infections.

The results showed that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of contracting at least one respiratory infection. Additionally, vitamin D was particularly effective at preventing respiratory infections among those who already had a deficiency.

Other reviews of the existing literature have found similar results, like this 2018 meta-analysis, which concluded that vitamin D supplements may have a protective effect against the influenza virus. However, some of the studies that they analyzed had no relevant results.

But despite being so crucial for health, vitamin D deficiency remains a public health issue. About 1 billion people have vitamin D deficiency worldwide, and nearly 50 percent of the entire world’s population has vitamin D insufficiency. In the United States, it is estimated that almost 40 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency is common among dark-skinned individuals, older adults, people who are obese and overweight, and hospitalized patients.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

Vitamin D had been previously shown to protect against respiratory viruses like influenza, and recent analyses demonstrate that the same could be true for COVID-19.

One study led by Northwestern University researchers compared COVID-19 data from 10 countries to each country’s average vitamin D deficiency rates. They found that countries with more vitamin D deficiency had higher mortality rates, whereas countries with higher vitamin D levels were not affected as severely by the virus.

Several observational studies conducted at South Asian hospitals show that the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was significantly higher among patients with severe coronavirus cases. An analysis of 489 patients records from the University of Chicago found that people who had vitamin D deficiencies before the pandemic were substantially more likely to receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis than people with normal levels.

Further, according to a population-based study conducted in Israel, low plasma vitamin D levels increased the likelihood of COVID-19 infection even after adjusting for age and other demographic factors. Finally, a recently published Boston University study revealed that those who are vitamin D deficient have a 54 percent higher risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

How much vitamin D should I take?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for babies up to 12 months, 600 IU for healthy individuals 1 to 70, and 800 IU for those older than 70 years. However, these daily intakes vary depending on several factors, including how much sun a person is exposed to, their diet, and whether they have a preexisting medical condition.

Now may be a good time to get your vitamin D levels checked if you haven’t done so already. The normal range of vitamin D is measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), and experts recommend aspiring for a vitamin D concentration of no less than 40 ng/ml.

Vitamin D deficiency is very common and may not always produce any signs or symptoms, but the good news is that it’s easy to fix. Increasing your sun exposure; eating more vitamin D-rich foods like salmon, egg yolks, mushrooms, or fortified foods; and taking a supplement are all effective ways of boosting your vitamin D intake.

Migraines and Covid-19

The stressful atmosphere of the pandemic has triggered migraines for many migraineurs.  The migraine brain is sensitive and likes consistency.  This disruption in lifestyle has been a trigger for many migraineurs.  The blurred boundaries between work and home life is difficult for many people.   As coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to rise globally, many people, especially those with medical conditions – including migraine sufferers – worry about their potential risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Here’s what we know so far about migraines and COVID-19.

Is migraine a symptom of COVID-19?

Experts know that COVID-19 can wreak havoc in almost every organ of the human body, including the heart, the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, and the brain. Blood clots, pulmonary embolisms, and chilblains, an unusual and swelling of the small vessels of the skin that people have come to know as the “COVID toe” are just a few of the many unexpected complications of the coronavirus.

More predictable symptoms include a dry cough, fever, shortness of breath, and headaches. According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February, about 14 percent of people with COVID-19 experience headaches, which can be similar to migraines and tension-type headaches. And, because migraines are a type of headaches, it is possible for some migraine-prone people to get these headaches if they have COVID-19.

A small observational study presented at this year’s virtual America Headache Society Annual Meeting found that people can experience headaches similar to migraines or tension-type before getting other COVID-19 symptoms (presymptomatic phase). Interestingly enough, these headaches were also associated with having a shorter symptomatic period.

However, it is important to note that research on COVID-19 is still very limited, and more studies are needed to fully understand the role of the virus concerning migraine headaches and other neurological conditions.

The coronavirus pandemic has been and continues to be a great source of stress, anxiety, and emotional uncertainty for many people. And, as most migraineurs know, stress is a direct trigger of migraines. The American Migraine Foundation recommends migraineurs take steps to minimize their stress, with techniques like:

  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Exercising for about 30 minutes every day
  • Doing relaxation techniques (mindfulness meditation, biofeedback, yoga)
  • Taking breaks

 

Are migraine sufferers more at risk of COVID-19?

Migraines do not increase your risk for COVID-19 infection and do not seem to increase your risk for COVID-19-related complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who may have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include those who have:

  • Cancer
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Obesity
  • Serious heart conditions (unstable angina, heart failure, coronary artery disease)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • A weakened immune system

 

Reduce Stress When and Where Possible
  • taking breaks from news stories and social media feeds about COVID-19
  • doing breathing exercises or meditation practices
  • stretching
  • avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • exercising regularly
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • contacting friends or family members to discuss feelings

 

Is it safe to go to my migraine appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has forced hospitals, health centers, and doctor offices to take extraordinary measures to continue providing care to those who need it in the safest possible way. One of those measures is offering virtual or “telehealth” visits as a safer alternative to outpatient appointments.

A virtual or telehealth visit lets you talk to your doctor by phone or video, usually through a secure and confidential platform. These visits are appropriate for instances where you don’t need a close physical examination, like medication management appointments (refills), follow-up visits, and regular migraine monitoring.

If you decide to visit your doctor in person, there are measures you can take to minimize your risk. The CDC encourages patients to cover their mouth and nose with facial coverings, avoid touching their face, and practice social distancing while inside the clinic or doctor’s office. You may also want to check with your doctor to see if they can prescribe a larger supply of your medications to avoid frequent trips to the pharmacy.

When possible,

  • taking breaks from news stories and social media feeds about COVID-19
  • doing breathing exercises or meditation practices
  • stretching
  • avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • exercising regularly
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • contacting friends or family members to discuss feelings

 

 

 

 

Hand Sanitizer Safety – What You Need to Know

Together with wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing, keeping your hands clean is essential for preventing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The CDC and other health agencies recommend washing hands with soap and water whenever possible, scrubbing all surfaces of the hands – including the back of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails – for at least 20 seconds. But there are times when soap and water are not available. In those cases, hand sanitizers – when used correctly – can be just as effective at killing COVID-19 and other types of viruses.

A brief history of the importance of clean hands

Nowadays, handwashing might seem as self-evident as wearing a seatbelt or washing our teeth, but hand hygiene hasn’t always been a given. Religious handwashing rituals have been around for thousands of years; Judaism, Sikhism, and Islam, for example, all outline precise handwashing rules in their holy texts. In the Catholic religion, some priests still practice sprinkling their hands with holy water before the consecration of bread and wine. But it wasn’t until about 130 years ago that the life-saving powers of clean hands were discovered.

In the 1840s, a Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis became worried at the difference between maternal death rates in two clinics at the Vienna General Hospital. The two clinics were located at the same hospital and used almost the same practices and techniques. But, for some reason, mortality rates were much higher at one of the clinics. The only difference between the locations was their staff: one clinic was run by doctors, and the other was led by midwives.

At the time, it was thought that miasma, or “bad air,” was responsible for spreading disease. These poisonous vapors were believed to emerge from rotting corpses and other types of decomposing matter. But that didn’t explain the disparities between maternal deaths. So, after testing several failed hypotheses, a revelation came to Semmelweis in 1847 when one of his colleagues cut his hand with a scalpel during an autopsy. Soon after, the doctor died exhibiting the same symptoms as the mothers that passed at the clinic.

Because the concept of handwashing didn’t exist at the time, doctors performed all kinds of medical procedures without washing their hands. That meant that it was normal for physicians to perform an autopsy on a corpse and deliver a baby right after.

That realization led Semmelweis to theorize that miasma from the corpses was perhaps clinging to the doctor’s hands and then infecting mothers during childbirth. On the other hand, midwives – who didn’t wash their hands either – were solely attending births, so they didn’t have the same kind of cross-contamination issues. To test his hypothesis, Semmelweis ordered doctors to clean their hands and tools with a chlorine solution.

The experiment was a success – clean hands instantly started saving lives. Although Semmelweis wrongly believed that childbed fever was coming directly from corpses, and not from germs as it was later discovered, mortality rates at the delivery room dropped significantly. Unfortunately, the idea of personal hygiene was received with great resistance in part because Victorians found the idea of their hands being dirty insulting. Soon after his experiments, Semmelweis’ ideas were dismissed, and he was committed to a mental institution, where he died at the age of 47.

How do hand sanitizers work?

Over the decades following Semmelweis’ discovery, a deeper understanding of germs emerged, and attitudes towards hygiene slowly shifted. Today, we know that there are millions of microbes – viruses, bacteria, fungi – capable of causing disease. These bugs live in all kinds of environments, including surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, handrails, etc., but they can’t move on their own, so they depend on living things to spread them around.

Common germs such as the influenza virus, and more recently COVID-19, lie in wait on surfaces – including other people’s hands – until they can hitch a ride from another host. They enter the body when our hands come in contact with porous membranes such as the mouth, eyes, and nose. We then transmit these germs ourselves by touching our noses, eyes, or mouths and then touching other surfaces or by coughing and sneezing.

Because our hands are the main driving germs inside our bodies, cleaning them frequently is a sure-fire way of preventing the spread of many types of infections. Washing them with soap and water is generally the best way of killing germs, but when they are not readily available, hand sanitizer can also help avoid getting sick and spreading bugs around.

The main – and most important – ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol. Alcohol is used in hand sanitizers for its ability to quickly kill disease-causing microbes by dissolving the outer fatty membrane of viruses and bacteria and destroying their inner structure – similar to what happens when you wash your hands with soap and water.

Most hand sanitizers are made with isopropanol or ethanol, two types of alcohol highly soluble in water. Generally speaking, both are highly effective at killing certain types of viruses and bacteria. However, ethanol – the chemical present in alcoholic drinks – is slightly more potent than isopropanol (aka rubbing alcohol).

Hand sanitizers are typically marketed as capable of destroying “99.9 percent of germs,” which is certainly true under some circumstances. The effectiveness of hand sanitizer depends on three things: the alcohol concentration in the formula, the type of germ, and how dirty or oily your hands actually are.

Alcohol concentration: not all hand sanitizers are alcohol-based, and not all alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain the appropriate amount of alcohol needed to kill germs. That means that not all kinds of hand sanitizers are effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to a systematic review of studies published in The Journal of Hospital Infection, ethanol is very effective at enveloping and inactivating certain viruses within 30 seconds at a concentration of 80 percent. Lower concentrations, such as under 60 percent, might take longer to neutralize the virus – maybe a minute or more. By which time, however, the alcohol may evaporate from the skin before it can destroy the germs. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends using a sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol when soap and water are not available.

Types of germs: at the appropriate concentration, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can eliminate a broad range of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. However, alcohol is not effective at neutralizing all bugs. Research suggests that alcoholic preparations cannot destroy the virus that causes hepatitis A. It is also ineffective against the poliovirus – the virus that causes poliomyelitis.

Soiled hands: hand sanitizers may not work well when hands are visibly soiled or too greasy.

Does alcohol-free hand sanitizer protect against COVID-19?

The short answer is no. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers have been popping up all over the internet and grocery stores during the COVID-19 outbreak. These sanitizers are typically made with a disinfectant chemical called benzalkonium chloride, essential oils, and other ingredients that aren’t capable of killing coronaviruses.

Shortages of hand sanitizer caused by this public health emergency have also led some to make their own hand sanitizer solutions at home, but there are several downsides to this. First of all, some ingredients might not be effective at killing the pathogens that cause COVID-19, leaving you unprotected without your knowledge.

Additionally, rubbing alcohol is not enough to make hand sanitizer, and most people don’t have the right ingredients and tools at home. Non-sterile working environments might contaminate the mixture. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also received reports of skin burns from DIY hand sanitizers.

New FDA guidelines

Now that hand sanitizer is part of our day to day existence, knowing whether the product you are applying so frequently to your hands is safe or not is more important than ever. In June, the FDA issued a warning against nine tainted hand sanitizer brans made by Eskbiochem. The agency has recently expanded its list, and it now contains over 75 hand sanitizers for containing dangerous methanol levels.

Methanol, also called wood alcohol, is a toxic substance that can cause nausea, nerve damage, and blindness when absorbed through the skin. Ingesting methanol can be lethal. According to experts, young children are at the highest risk of methanol poisoning.

The FDA recommends consumers to avoid purchasing and using hand sanitizers that:

  • Have been tested by FDA and found to contain methanol or 1-propanol
  • Are labeled to contain methanol
  • Have been tested and were found to have microbial contamination
  • Are being recalled by the manufacturer or distributor
  • Has less than the required amount of alcohol
  • Are purportedly made at the same facility as products that have been tested by FDA and found to contain methanol or 1-propanol
  • Are packaged in containers that resemble a food/beverage container, presenting an increased risk of accidental ingestion

Click here to see the FDA’s complete do-not-use / RECALL list.

Using hand sanitizer properly

One common mistake is using too little hand sanitizer because they tend to be too sticky or goopy. The World Health Organization recommends applying a “coin-sized” amount of sanitizer, enough to cover both sides of both hands and between the fingers.

Like washing your hands with soap and water, the process of applying hand sanitizer should take at least 20 seconds. It’s important to pay special attention to your thumbs, the back of the hands, and fingers. You should stop rubbing when the sanitizer has evaporated and your hands feel dry. Store your hand sanitizer in a cool, dry location away from sunlight and heat.

Hand sanitizer safety

While hand sanitizer is a great alternative when soap and water are not readily available, they are regulated by the FDA as over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs and should be used with caution. Keep these tips in mind for using hand sanitizer safely:

  • Never ingest hand sanitizer
  • Store hand sanitizer out of reach of children and pets
  • Children should only use hand sanitizer under adult supervision
  • Hand sanitizer is flammable: keep away from heat and open flames
  • Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or nose immediately after using hand sanitizer
  • Read the label and consult the FDA’s do-not-use list before purchasing a hand sanitizer
  • If your hand sanitizer lists methanol as one of its ingredients, discontinue its use immediately

 

 

Sleep and Mental Health

Better sleep helps us cope with negative emotions and stress

It’s no secret that sleep plays an essential role in physical health. Sleep is involved in many vital functions, like cell reparation and memory formation and consolidation. On the other hand, poor sleep is linked with worse health outcomes, including higher body weight, greater risk of stroke and heart disease, and more.

But it is not just our physical health that can deteriorate when we don’t sleep enough. Research shows that sleep deprivation and insomnia can also negatively affect a person’s mental health and how they cope with daily stressors.

How sleep affects mental health

Anybody who has spent a night tossing and turning knows how miserable and irritable it can leave you feeling the day after. Drowsiness, decreased concentration, mood swings, and short-term memory problems are some of the immediate effects of lack of sleep. In the long run, sleep deprivation can also contribute to unfavorable changes in mental health.

It was once believed that sleep issues were a symptom of mental health or emotional disorders. But recent research has begun to challenge these views, showing that there seems to be a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, where lack of sleep can be both a symptom of or a contributing factor to mental health problems.

Although researchers are still trying to piece together how this relationship works, we know that different sleep stages play important roles in distinct neurological functions. In the case of mental health, sleep scientists have uncovered that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the phase when we usually dream – encourages learning and memory and facilitates the processing of emotional information. In fact, it may be possible that not getting enough sleep prevents the brain from evaluating and consolidating positive memories and emotions.

Depression and anxiety are typically associated with sleep problems. Studies suggest that the relationship between these conditions and sleep problems seems to go both directions. One evaluation of 21 long-term studies found that non-depressed individuals with insomnia have a two-fold risk of developing depression, compared to those who slept well during the night.

Sleep disturbances are also common among children and teens struggling with ADHD. Research suggests that reduced sleep may be a predictor or perhaps even a contributing factor of this condition, mainly because people with ADHD tend to experience a number of sleep-related challenges, including night terrors, insomnia, nightmares, and snoring or breathing difficulties.

Further, a recent study conducted by investigators at the University of British Columbia, in Canada, found that shorter sleep duration can even influence how we cope in our day to day lives. Using self-reported data from nearly 2,000 participants, the researchers analyzed how individuals responded to positive and negative events in the day following a bad night of sleep. The results suggested that people with shorter sleep duration were more likely to react to a negative event with less positive emotions than those who slept better.

Improving sleep and mental health

If you’ve been struggling with mental health and sleep problems, your doctor can help you find the most appropriate strategy for you. Treatments for sleep disturbances and mental health issues can range from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to reshape your relationship with sleep, to prescription medications and other types of personalized care.

Poor sleep hygiene is one of the leading causes of sleeping difficulties. Some habits that can help improve your sleeping routine:

  • Minimizing daytime naps
  • Limiting screen time before bed
  • Avoiding large or heavy meals before bed
  • Making sure you have a consistent sleep routine
  • Exercising during the day
  • Turning your bedroom into an optimal sleeping environment (dark, no loud noises, pleasant temperature)
  • Taking a natural sleeping supplement

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