The best probiotic foods everyone should eat

Probiotics are living microorganisms that deliver a range of health benefits when included in the diet. (1) Traditional fermented food sources of these bacteria exist in nearly every culture, and can also be taken in supplement form.

These beneficial microorganisms are believed to improve brain function and digestion, and may also promote heart health and better skin. (2, 3, 4, 5)

This list of healthy fermented foods containing beneficial probiotics can help you round out your health plan and get the most out of your menu.

1. Kefir and Traditional Buttermilk

These fermented milk products may be well-tolerated even by those who are lactose intolerant because friendly bacteria have already begun to digest the milk sugar (lactose) that causes problems for some people.

The name “kefir” is derived from the Turkish word “keyif,” referring to feeling good after eating it. Continue reading

11 unhealthy foods you should avoid

11-unhealthy-foods-margarineMisconceptions about which foods are “healthy” and which foods aren’t often originate in the barrage of advertising most of us are subject to in this technology-oriented age.

Capitalizing on the current buzz in nutritional trends is an integral part of tending that bottom line for food corporations, but it can be confusing for consumers.

These 11 foods are presented as healthy choices, but if you’re eating them without knowing these facts, you may be sabotaging your desire for strength and wellness.

1. Whole Wheat Bread

Most of the bread labeled “whole wheat” is made with grains that have been pulverized into a fine flour that will raise blood sugar levels just as fast as bread made with white flour. In fact, the glycemic index (GI) of many whole wheat breads is similar to white breads. (1)

The darker appearance of breads marketed as whole wheat sometimes comes from added colorants (2), and remember that “whole grains” lose their wholeness when they’ve been over-processed.

Even if you’re getting the real deal, keep in mind that the wheat available today has lower nutritional value than it did in about a half-century ago, when some of the good properties were sacrificed through gene manipulation designed to increase crop yields. (3)

2. Agave Nectar

Since everyone knows sugar is bad, the market has been flooded with alternative sweeteners. Billed as a “natural” sweetener, agave nectar is a popular choice, but it’s even worse than sugar.

The fructose content of agave nectar is about 85%, much higher than sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Agave nectar rates lower on the GI scale than sugar and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels in the same way sugar does; that’s because the liver processes fructose, and overloading this vital organ by ingesting foods high in fructose content can lead to serious metabolic disorders. (4)

The natural qualities of agave nectar are destroyed in processing, and while “nectar” makes it sound attractive, it’s really a syrup.

3. Organic and Vegan Junk Foods

Just because a processed food is made with organic ingredients doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

For example, organic raw cane sugar hits the bloodstream with the same punch as white table sugar, and it delivers the same nutritional value: zip.

Vegan foods designed to replace the animal-based counterparts are similar. If you have any doubts, check the ingredient label on a package of vegan bacon.

4. Commercial Salad Dressings

Many people depend on commercially prepared salad dressings to get down their quota of vegetables, which are incredibly healthy but often bland, especially when eaten raw.

Most salad dressings on supermarket shelves are made with ingredients that will cancel out the benefits of your vegetables.

Common ingredients include trans fats, sugar, chemical additives, and processed vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, which most of us already eat far too much of.

You’re better off using your own healthy ingredients to make a dressing at home, even if it’s just a simple olive oil and vinegar drizzle.

5. Brown Rice Syrup

Another sweetener marketed as “natural” and “healthy,” brown rice syrup is made from cooked rice that’s been exposed to enzymes to break down the starch into simple sugars.

It’s pure glucose and will spike blood sugar in a flash. (5)

All the nutrients contained in rice are lost in processing, so it’s full of empty calories, just like table sugar.

Recent analyses of brown rice syrup pulled off grocery shelves indicates a small percentage products are contaminated with arsenic. (6)

Skip the brown rice syrup and check into other alternative sweeteners with actual health benefits, like xylitol, stevia and erythritol.

6. Sweet Drinks Like Fruit Juice and Sports Drinks

Many commercial fruit juices are loaded with chemicals and flavorings that have nothing to do with fruit.

Even if you’re a careful label-reader and believe fruit juice must be healthy since it comes from fruit, keep in mind the sugar content of fruit juice is comparable to any sugar-sweetened drink. (7)

When the fiber is removed from fruit, it speeds up the assimilation process, jacking up blood sugar.

While sports drinks usually contain a bit less sugar and the focus is on maintaining electrolyte balance through adding salts lost through perspiration, they were developed for athletes.

While everyone who works out with any enthusiasm is likely to break a sweat and perhaps sustain it for a while, most people are better off drinking water.

7. Packaged Low-Carb Foods

Numerous studies over the last decade confirm that following a low-carb diet is a great way to improve overall health and lose weight. (8, 9)

Marketing packaged junk foods labeled “low-carb” is an excellent route to higher profits for manufacturers.

While indulging in the occasional low-carb junk food treat won’t set you back when you’re adhering to a low-carb diet, all you have to do is read the label to see that these products are usually loaded with chemicals and artificial ingredients.

8. Processed Foods Labeled “Fat Free” and “Low Fat”

The myth that saturated fat is bad for you has been thoroughly disproven by science in recent years, but food manufacturers are still cleaning up on products tailored to appeal to misled consumers.

Added sugar is the most common strategy used to compensate for the missing fat that made the food taste good in the first place.

Saturated fat won’t damage your health, but eating excessive amounts of sugar will really mess up your metabolism. (10, 11)

While there may be some exceptions, most low fat and fat free foods are heavy on sugar content.

9. Margarine

When people believed saturated fat caused heart disease, food manufacturers were quick to offer margarine as a substitute, with products often labeled “heart healthy.”

Margarine was originally loaded with trans fats; while that’s changed in modern times, the replacement is highly processed vegetable oil laced with chemicals to make it taste and look like real butter.

Data from the Framingham Heart Study confirms that margarine-eaters are more likely to die of heart disease than those who eat butter. (12)

10. Gluten-Free Junk Foods

A full third of Americans reported they were trying to avoid gluten in 2013. (13)

Many people find gluten in the diet causes a variety of health issues (14), and the demand for gluten-free products continues to grow.

The replacement ingredients in these foods may be gluten-free, but they’re also often devoid of nutrients, and the refined starches will spike blood sugar in exactly the same manner as products containing wheat.

Choosing foods that are naturally free of gluten is a better idea.

11. Vegetable Oils

Studies have shown that eating vegetable oils like grapeseed and canola can reduce blood cholesterol levels in the short term (15), but it’s important to remember high cholesterol isn’t a disease, it’s a risk factor.

If you’ve been following advice to include highly processed vegetable and seed oils in your diet, you should know several controlled trials show these products raise the risk of being diagnosed with cancer and developing heart disease. (16, 17, 18)

Dropping the numbers on a single risk factor like cholesterol levels may not be worth the price. Stick with butter, olive oil and coconut oil.

Summary: There are many products besides the ones covered here that are promoted as “healthy” even though they’re not. Your bottom line is more important than net profits of giant corporations; know what you’re buying and how it will affect your body so you can make informed food choices.

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Insulin resistance symptoms and treatment

insulin

Insulin resistance occurs when cells no longer respond to the message delivered by insulin. The pancreas secretes more insulin to try to fix the situation, and excess circulating insulin can build up to create a condition called hyperinsulinemia.

Insulin is a hormone involved in the regulation of many vital processes in the body. Problems with this important hormone can lead to a number of common modern health issues.

When cells no longer respond to insulin the way they’re designed to, it’s called insulin resistance; a study conducted in 2002 indicated nearly a third of Americans may be suffering from this condition. (1)

Among certain groups, the problem is even more widespread.

Estimates for the number of obese women with insulin resistance run at 70%, and obese children and young adults may clock in as high as 33%. (2, 3)

In many cases, lifestyle modifications can result in dramatic improvements in this condition. Read on to find out about causes and how to overcome insulin resistance.

Insulin 101

Secreted by the pancreas, insulin controls nutrients in the blood; its main job is to regulate blood sugar levels, but it also plays a role in the metabolism of protein and fat.

The carbohydrates in meals increases the amount of sugar in our bloodstreams, and pancreatic cells sense the change and release insulin, which circulates in the blood, signaling cells to pick up sugar.

Cells follow orders, taking up sugar for energy use or storage, and blood sugar levels drop; but if this process isn’t working, blood sugar levels stay high, leading to imbalances that can cause harm or even death when levels are extremely elevated.

This can go on for a long time, with blood sugar and insulin levels continuing to rise; the issue can eventually lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, a serious disease that affects nearly one in ten people worldwide. (4)

Note the distinction between insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity:

  • Insulin resistance means your insulin sensitivity is low
  • Insulin sensitivity means you are sensitive to the message insulin is delivering to cells

So insulin sensitivity indicates normal function, where cells respond to the message to uptake sugar from the blood, while insulin resistance is the opposite circumstance that results in high blood sugar levels.

Causes of Insulin Resistance

Researchers believe one of the main triggers for insulin resistance is elevated levels of free fatty acids in the blood. (5)

The build-up of fatty acid metabolites and fats inside muscle cells, for example, may block signals sent by insulin; the term for this build-up is intramyocellular fat. (6)

This type of fat accumulation is due to eating more calories than necessary and packing around excess weight. Obesity, weight gain and overeating are all associated with developing insulin resistance. (7)

Belly fat that can build up around the organs is thought to release fatty acids into blood, along with inflammatory hormones leading to insulin resistance. (8)

People who aren’t overweight can also be insulin resistant, but it’s not as common. (9)

Other potential causes for insulin resistance include:

  • High fructose intake from a diet high in sugar (added sugar, rather than whole fruit) (10)
  • Inflammation and high levels of oxidative stress (11)
  • Sedentary lifestyle (12)
  • Imbalances in gut bacteria (13)

Social factors, heredity and race may also play a role in establishing risk factors for insulin resistance; studies show Asians, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to develop this condition. (14)

Are You Insulin Resistant?

If you’re overweight and have a lot of belly fat, you may be insulin resistant. Besides having high fasting blood sugar levels, there are several other ways to determine if you’ve developed insulin resistance.

HOMA-IR is a fairly accurate blood test used to estimate resistance from insulin and blood sugar levels. Oral glucose tolerance tests are another method; after an oral dose of glucose is given, blood sugar levels are tested over the following few hours.

Acanthosis nigrans is a skin condition where dark spots appear on the skin, sometimes indicating insulin resistance.

Low levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind), as well as high blood triglyceride measurements, are two other possible signs of the condition.

Insulin resistance is present in two extremely common health conditions: type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Symptoms

Metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, is a combination of risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems, including: (15, 16)

  • Elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Central obesity (high amounts of belly fat)
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • High measurements of blood triglycerides

Insulin resistance is associated with type 2 diabetes as well; cells no longer respond to insulin, and eventually the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand for more. An insulin-deficiency develops. (17, 18)

Stopping this process may result in preventing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome; people with these conditions are 93% more likely to get heart disease. (19)

Other chronic diseases associated with insulin resistance include:

  • Fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic) (20)
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (21)
  • Alzheimer’s disease (22)
  • Cancer (23)

Treatment

Insulin resistance does not have to lead to serious health issues. In many cases, simple lifestyle choices can improve or reverse the condition.

Here are ten changes you can make to positively influence insulin sensitivity:

  1. Increase the amount of exercise you get (24)
  2. Reduce belly fat
  3. Quit smoking tobacco (25)
  4. Eat less sugar and stop drinking sweetened beverages, especially sugary sodas
  5. Base your diet on whole foods, including fish and nuts
  6. Get adequate omega-3 fatty acids (26)
  7. Add supplements like berberine and magnesium (27, 28)
  8. Improve the quality of your sleep (29)
  9. Manage stress (30)
  10. Practice intermittent fasting (31)

Eating a low-carb diet has also been shown to improve health markers linked with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, partly through positive effects on insulin resistance. (32, 33)

While this list isn’t intended as medical advice, note that the suggested actions are all associated with good health habits.

Summary: Evidence shows insulin resistance can play a role in raising risk factors for many modern chronic diseases; making lifestyle choices that help prevent or correct this vital issue may be one of the most positive actions you can take to enjoy good health.

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Ranking the 5 best fitness trackers of 2017

best-food-appsPeople who take time to track food intake and calorie counts intermittently are more successful in losing weight and keeping it off than those who don’t. (1, 2)

It’s not necessary to know what you’re eating every meal or every day, but giving yourself a periodic, accurate update is important; this can help you stay in ranges that will help you meet goals and make yours a success story instead of a bust.

Keeping a food record is much easier in this digital age; you don’t need to use books or written journals to know where you stand with food intake each day. All the information you need is accessible through your computer or other device.

There are many apps available for tracking food, and most of them won’t cost you anything unless you decide to upgrade to premium versions.

These are the five best you can find online:

1. MyFitnessPal

One of the reasons this app is so popular is the huge database users draw from; this includes more than five million foods, as well as a feature that allows you to download recipes from the internet and calculate caloric content.

Creating custom dishes is also possible on MyFitnessPal, and you can save favorite meals so they’ll be quick and easy to add in when you eat them again.

Home page layout makes it simple to see calories consumed, the portion of recommended intake remaining for the day, as well as the number of calories burned through exercise.

For those who use a fitness tracking device, syncing the app is usually an option; you can include exercise stats in the log without spending a lot of time.

There’s even a barcode scanner, making it easy to add information from certain packaged foods.

The pie chart you’ll see onscreen shows ratios of protein, carbs and fat, and there’s a place to enter notes about how you felt or other relevant aspects of the day in relation to food intake and exercise.

You can track goals, interact with others in the chat forum, share recipes or tips, and look over meal planning ideas.

Most features are available in the free version, and upgrading will run you $49.99 for a year.

Pros:

  • Large database includes a good selection of restaurant foods
  • Caloric counts are automatically calculated for downloaded recipes
  • A “quick-add” feature lets you enter calories without fussing over details

Cons:

  • Other users upload most of the foods, so accuracy and duplicate entries may be an issue
  • Difficult to adjust for serving size

2. LoseIt!

This app can also connect with other devices to make entering information about exercise simple and fast. Food and exercise records are easy to enter, and a personalized recommendation for caloric intake is provided.

The database is extensive, and once you enter age, height, weight and goals, you can monitor calories on the home page.

The barcode scanner is handy for adding information from packaged foods, which can be saved for quick entry the next time.

You get daily and weekly total calorie counts, with weight changes presented in graph form. The chat community is active, and participating in “challenges” is always an option, as well as organizing one of your own.

The premium membership, running at $39.99 a year, allows you to set more goals and enter additional information, along with a few other extras.

Pros:

  • Database includes restaurant foods and grocery items that have been entered by an “expert” team
  • You can set reminders to add information about snacks or meals

Cons:

  • Navigation can be difficult
  • Adding the nutritional value of home-cooked meals is a clunky process
  • Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals cannot be tracked

3. FatSecret

This completely free app offers a nutrition database, exercise log, food journal, calorie counter and weight chart, as well as healthy recipes.

The barcode feature is included so you can scan packaged foods, and totals for all categories are accessible in graph form for each meal as well as for the day’s food.

FatSecret offers a monthly summary, which shows daily calorie consumption and averages that can help you track ongoing progress.

You’ll find the calorie-counter quite user-friendly, and chat forums are active, with recipe-swapping, success stories and frequent “challenges” to keep you motivated.

There are lots of recipes, and articles and other information are also available.

Pros:

  • Large database includes supermarket foods as well as restaurant choices
  • When information is added by users, it’s highlighted so you can verify if desired
  • “Net carb” counts can be helpful for those following a low-carb plan

Cons:

  • Some users find the interface confusing and cluttered

4. Chron-o-meter

Food intake, body weight and exercise are all easy to track with this app. The exercise database is excellent, and separate settings are available for pregnant and lactating women, as well as those with other special needs.

Recommendations for macronutrient intake can be adjusted according to specific diets you may be following, including low carb, paleo and low-fat vegetarian plans.

The simple food diary is fast and easy to use, and a bar chart below shows a daily breakdown for protein, carbs and fat, as well as total calories.

You can track micronutrient intake including vitamins and minerals, and for less than $3 monthly, you get extra features like advanced analysis and no advertisements.

Pros:

  • Simple to use
  • Data syncing with other devices
  • Micronutrient tracking

Cons:

  • Home recipes can only be added on the website; once you add something, the app can access relevant information
  • No social forum
  • Website use is free, but the app costs $2.99

5. SparkPeople

The massive community of SparkPeople offers a variety of resources including articles by experts, trending news in health and wellness, videos of exercise demos, and recipes.

This app is a good choice for people who appreciate a lot of support and interaction with others.

You’ll find the free database impressively large, but many of the features are only accessible to users who have upgraded their accounts.

Adding recipes is easy, and you can get food info by scanning barcodes of many packaged items. A user-friendly food diary converts calories and macronutrients at the end of each day with the option of viewing as a pie chart.

Pros:

  • Abundant resources

Cons:

  • Some users are overwhelmed by the amount of information on the site
  • Content is spread between apps that are customized, such as for pregnant women
  • Logging foods can be tricky

When you’re working on physical improvements, accessing the information you need to keep yourself headed in the right direction can make all the difference.

Most people only need to track occasionally, for a few weeks or less, in order to make crucial adjustments or corrections needed to meet goals.

Summary: Tracking food intake can be integral to success whether you’re trying to gain weight, lose weight or maintain previous losses. Food apps for use on your computer and personal devices make the process much simpler and easier.

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How to prevent diabetes

low-carb-diabetesMore than 400 million people around the world are affected by the growing epidemic of diabetes. (1)

Complications associated with this complex disease can be greatly reduced by good management of blood sugar levels, and following a low-carb diet has been shown effective for this purpose. (2)

While a healthy body can efficiently break down dietary carbohydrates into tiny units of glucose that become blood sugar, this process doesn’t work properly for diabetics.

We’ll take a close look here at how low-carb diets can be used to manage blood sugar levels.

Diabetes 101: How Food Affects Blood Sugar

When blood sugar levels rise after eating the consumption of carbohydrates, insulin is produced by the pancreas. This hormone is necessary for blood sugar to be taken into cells and used to fuel body processes.

Blood sugar stays within a fairly narrow range during the day when everything works right; this is vital, since both low and elevated blood sugar levels can lead to serious harm.

The two most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2; people have been diagnosed with these disorders at all ages.

  • Type 1 diabetes is characterized by an autoimmune process that destroys pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin; to facilitate glucose entering cells, type 1 diabetic patients inject insulin several times daily for blood sugar regulation. (3)
  • Type 2 diabetic patients produce enough insulin at first, but cells grow resistant to the hormone, resulting in high blood sugar levels; the pancreas pumps out more insulin in an attempt to restore balance in the bloodstream, but eventually beta cells can’t keep up with the demand. (4)

Of the three macronutrients in food (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), carbs have the most significant impact on blood sugar levels.

When diabetic patients eat large quantities of carbohydrates, they may need to take bigger doses of diabetic medication or insulin to manage blood sugar.

Trials and Studies

A number of studies show that low-carb diets can be very effective in treating diabetes. (5, 6, 7, 8)

Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, placing diabetic patients on a low carb diet was standard treatment for the disease. (9)

Those who follow the diet usually have good long-term results. In one study, type 2 diabetic patients following a low-carb diet were closely observed for six months, then re-evaluated three years later. Those who stuck with the plan had well-controlled blood sugar. (10)

Type 1 diabetic patients had similar results over a 4-year study period using a restricted carbohydrate diet. (11)

In some studies, dramatic improvements in both blood sugar levels and weight were noted by restricting carb intake to less than 20 grams daily. (12)

Other research indicates comparable results can be achieved by limiting carbs to 20% of dietary intake, or between 70 and 90 grams daily. (13)

Since everyone has a unique response to carbohydrates, the best way to pinpoint optimal carb amounts is measuring blood sugar levels an hour or two after meals.

Nerve damage begins to occur at 140 mg/dL (or mmol/L), so monitoring levels with a blood glucose meter can help patients determine optimal carbs for their bodies; some may need to keep carbs at 6 per meal, while others may be able to handle up to 25 or 30.

Carbohydrates and Food Choices

Fiber in plant foods is not broken down into glucose; sugar and starch content jacks up blood sugar.

Seeds, nuts, blueberries and vegetables are the preferred sources of carbohydrates because they are nutrient-dense and high in fiber.

When you’re looking at carb content of various foods, subtracting fiber carbs leaves a carb count that is called “net,” or “digestible” carbs.

For example, a cup of cauliflower delivers 5 carbs, but 3 are from fiber, so net carbs are only 2.

Inulin is a type of prebiotic fiber that has been shown to positively affect blood sugar levels and other health markers in diabetic patients. (14)

Be wary of sugar alcohols such as erithritol, mannitol and xylitol, which may be used to sweeten diet products like candy; these can raise blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.

For example, if carbs from mannitol are subtracted from total carb counts found on product labels, the result may be inaccurate. (15)

Also, fitness trackers may be a good resource for tracking intake.

These are examples of foods you can eat freely, some of which will also help make certain you’re getting plenty of protein:

  • Eggs, meat, poultry and fish
  • Cheese, avocados and olives
  • Low-starch vegetables
  • Quality fats and oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, butter, cream cheese and sour cream

Depending on your level of carb tolerance, these foods can be eaten in smaller quantities:

  • Starchy vegetables high in fiber, such as acorn, hubbard and butternut squash (a cup or less)
  • Cottage cheese (½ cup) or Greek yogurt (1 cup)
  • Berries (1 cup)
  • Peanuts and nuts (1 to 2 ounces)
  • Chia or flax seed (1 to 2 tablespoons)
  • Dark chocolate at 85% cocoa (up to 30 grams)
  • 5 ounces of liquor or 4 ounces of dry wine

Lowering carb intake will usually drop insulin levels, causing the kidneys to release both water and sodium. (16)

Low-carb foods that can help replace lost sodium include olives and broth, and adding a little salt to meals is fine unless you’re on a low-sodium diet as part of a plan for treating kidney disease, congestive heart failure or hypertension; in cases like these, consult your physician.

Foods such as these are higher in carbs and can raise blood sugar levels:

  • Sweetened drinks like juice and soda; beer
  • Fruit, except for berries
  • Milk
  • Legumes, including beans, lentils and peas (greens beans and snow peas are exceptions)
  • Yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes and taro
  • Grains (including corn), bread, cereal and pasta
  • Candy, deserts, baked goods, ice cream, etc.

If you take insulin or other medications to control diabetes, it’s vital to speak with your doctor before adopting a low-carb diet.

Blood sugar levels can fall dramatically in short periods of time when carb intake is reduced, and adjustments to medications may be necessary to prevent hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Some patients have been able to stop taking medications altogether when following a low-carb diet. (17)

Other methods proven to help manage blood sugar levels include:

  • Getting good quality sleep (18)
  • Tegular resistance training and aerobic exercise (19)
  • Reducing stress (20)

Many diabetics have had good results in dropping blood sugar levels by following a low-carb diet. Be sure to speak with your doctor before making dietary changes.

Summary: Restricting carbohydrates can be effective in reducing the risk of complications for patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes; blood sugar levels may also be improved, and some patients are able to decrease or discontinue medications.

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7 sleep deprivation effects that will ruin your life

sleepSleep deprivation is a condition that can cause fatigue, sleepiness during the day or extreme weight loss or weight gain.

Getting plenty of sleep is equally important for good health as eating quality food and exercising.

Lifestyles in the modern Western world have taken a toll on sleep habits. People sleep fewer hours each night than they did in past times, and overall quality of sleep has been negatively impacted by environment.

Here are seven reasons why sleep deprivation could be ruining your life:

1. Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Increased Appetite and Weight Gain

Short sleep duration is a strong risk factor for obesity. Those who don’t sleep enough weigh significantly more than those who get adequate rest. (1, 2)

Children who are chronically short on sleep are at an even higher risk for developing obesity than adults.

In a massive review of multiple studies, data indicated that children are 89% more likely to become obese when they don’t get enough down time. Adult rates for obesity ran at 55%. (3)

Fatigue can decrease motivation to exercise, and hormonal changes related to the lack of sleep are two factors believed to influence weight gain.

Sleep deprivation jacks up levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, stimulating appetite when the real problem is not enough rest. Leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, is present at lower levels for the sleep-deprived. (4, 5)

If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re likely to have a bigger appetite and eat more calories during the day.

2. Decreases Cognitive Performance

Concentration and productivity are improved when the body and brain have been rested. (6)

Medical interns are known for running on very little sleep; one study compared the performance of interns operating on a traditional schedule to those who worked schedules allowing them more sack time.

Interns who slept less made 36% more serious medical errors than the ones who slept more. (7)

Another study measured the negative effects of sleep deprivation on brain function in comparison to the way alcohol intoxication affects thinking processes, finding the two had similar effects. (8)

Children and adults alike are more proficient in problem-solving exercises when they have had enough sleep. (9, 10)

3. Your Body Performs Worse

Researchers studied the athletic performance of basketball players in relation to sleep habits, and results indicated those who got adequate sleep could react and move faster, incorporated greater level accuracy in the game, and enjoyed a higher level of mental wellbeing. (11)

A study with nearly 3000 older women indicated a lack of sleep resulted in functional limitations during exercise, as well as poor overall performance. Not only did the women walk more slowly, but they couldn’t grip as well, and weren’t as good at following through with independent activities. (12)

4. Raises the Risk of Developing Chronic Diseases

The length and quality of sleep you get can have a significant effect on a number of risk factors for developing chronic diseases.

An analysis of 15 separate studies showed that people who slept 7 to 8 hours each night were much less likely to suffer a stroke or be diagnosed with heart disease than those who spent less time in bed. (13)

Researchers tracking various effects of sleep deprivation found insulin sensitivity decreases when people don’t sleep enough. (14, 15)

When healthy young men were only allowed to sleep four hours each night for six nights in a row, they developed signs of pre-diabetes. Insulin levels returned to normal after a full week of adequate sleep. (16)

Other studies have also shown poor sleep is associated with problems in regulating blood sugar. If you sleep less than 6 hours a night, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is higher. (17, 18)

5. Increases Inflammation Levels

The loss of sleep has been clearly linked with increased inflammation, activating undesirable markers and measuring both cell damage and inflammation.

Studies indicate digestive tract disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseases are much more common for people who don’t sleep enough. (19, 20)

Patients diagnosed with Crohn’s disease suffer twice the rates of relapse when they’re sleep-deprived. (21)

Medical evaluations to predict long-term outcomes for patients diagnosed with inflammatory diseases may take information about quality and duration of sleep into consideration in the future. (22)

6. Decreases Your Immune System

Even the loss of a few hours of sleep can negatively impact immune system function, making you more vulnerable to bacteria and other pathogens in your environment. (23)

During a two-week study, more than 150 healthy participants were given nasal drops containing the virus that causes the common cold.

Subjects who slept seven hours or less each night came down with colds at three times the rate of those who spent eight hours or more between the sheets. (24)

If you’re catching a cold often, try adding some extra sleep time.

7. Increases Depression

Depression and other mental health challenges have been strongly associated with sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep.

Nine out of ten patients being treated for depression say they don’t get enough good sleep. (25)

Death by suicide occurs more frequently with patients who report poor sleep habits. (26)

Subjects being treated for obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia suffer depression at a much higher rate than people who get adequate sleep. (27)

The ability to interact with others is also impacted by a lack of quality sleep; researchers say we’re more likely to miss important social cues and are not able to process emotional information as well when we are tired.

We may not be as alert to facial expressions indicating anger or happiness, resulting in blunders or misinterpretation of information normally gathered from watching others during conversation. (28, 29)

Many people working to improve health focus mostly on nutrition and exercise. It’s absolutely necessary to consider these vital components, but sleep is often sacrificed in the interest of fitting it all in.

Leading a full life can be stimulating and exciting, but if you don’t get enough sleep, you may be sabotaging yourself on other levels.

Summary: Sleep deprivation sucks. Schedule and protect your down time to make sure you’re at the top of your game physically and mentally. You’ll be faster, smarter, happier, and more socially adept, as well as less likely to catch a cold or be diagnosed with something more serious.

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Gluten sensitivity symptoms and diagnosis

gluten-sensitivityGluten sensitivity is condition in which certain individuals experience adverse reactions to eating foods containing gluten, such as wheat. (1)

Health professionals find the problem highly controversial, since 1% or less of the population suffers from celiac disease, a severe form of gluten intolerance classified as an autoimmune and digestive disorder that damages the small intestine. (2)

Many people who don’t have full-blown celiac disease have problems with eating gluten, and a 2013 survey indicates a full third of Americans actively avoid or try to cut back on gluten. (3)

Wheat is the most common source of gluten in the diet, along with other cereal grains like barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten is made up of a family of proteins, the two most prominent of which are gliadin and glutenin.

Researchers believe gliadin is the protein most people have problems with. (4)

The word gluten originated from descriptions of how these proteins affect the texture of foods containing them: adding water to flour causes proteins to cross-link and create a sticky texture much like glue. (5)

This is what holds bread together, as well as allowing it to rise when heated due to trapped gas molecules inside the dough.

Let’s take a look at what gluten sensitivity is, and whether or not you need to be concerned about it.

Gluten sensitivity diagnosis

Recent research has separated and classified a number of disease conditions related to wheat and gluten, the best-known of which is celiac disease. (6)

When celiac patients consume gluten, their immune systems mistake the proteins for invaders and mount an attack; structures of the gut wall are also targeted, and the resulting damage is what makes the issue an autoimmune disorder. (7)

Severe cases are on the rise, and most people who have celiac disease don’t realize it. (8)

Those who suffer from gluten sensitivity don’t experience this autoimmune reaction, but symptoms can be similar, with problems of a digestive nature as well as non-digestive reactions. (9, 10)

A small number of people estimated at less than 1% are actually allergic to wheat, which is a different issue than gluten sensitivity. (11)

A bad reaction or sensitivity to gluten has been associated with a number of diseases and disorders; some of these are cerebral ataxia, schizophrenia, depression, autism, type 1 diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

While the links with these disorders don’t mean that gluten intolerance caused them, it appears that the condition may make symptoms worse, and a diet free of gluten often leads to improvements.

All the recent attention to gluten and gluten sensitivity has led to intense research on the subject, but the mechanism is still not clearly understood; scientists believe the immune system is involved, as well as genetics. (18)

Symptoms

A lab test for gluten sensitivity is not available, and it’s usually diagnosed by ruling out other conditions. Here is a proposed protocol for establishing sensitivities: (19)

  1. When people experience negative symptoms after eating foods containing gluten, they are placed on a gluten-free diet.
  2. If symptoms disappear, gluten is added back into the diet.
  3. If symptoms recur, celiac disease and wheat allergies are ruled out with lab tests.
  4. A blinded gluten challenge test can be used to confirm diagnosis.

Common symptoms of gluten sensitivity include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Flatulence and bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Eczema and Erythema (skin conditions, including rashes and redness)

Other mysterious symptoms that may not be directly related to digestion also appear to be linked to gluten intolerance, including various neurological disorders and skin conditions besides those mentioned above. (20)

Good data on how prevalent gluten intolerance is doesn’t exist. While some studies estimate the percentage is likely in the low ranges, such as less than 0.5%, others speculate it could be as high as 6%. (21)

Adults, especially those in middle age, and women in all age groups, appear to suffer from gluten intolerance at higher rates. (22)

A recent trial conducted on gluten sensitivity may shed new light on the subject; 37 people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who believed they were gluten intolerant ate a diet low in FODMAPs and given isolated gluten. (23)

FODMAPs are Fermentable Oligo- Di-Mono Saccharides and Polpyols; these short chain carbohydrates cause digestive problems for many people, especially in those with IBS.

When people can’t digest FODMAPs, this matter ends up feeding gut bacteria in the intestines, resulting in bloating, gas and diarrhea. An estimated 14% of Americans are affected by IBS. (24)

Foods containing FODMAPS include legumes, some fruits and vegetables, grains, milk and sugar alcohols like mannitol and xylitol.

In this study, participants followed a diet low in FODMAPs and did not experience digestive disturbances when they took isolated gluten, leading researchers to believe the self-reported gluten sensitivity was actually a reaction to FODMAPs.

The results indicate that gluten may not be the biggest offender when it comes to symptoms suffered by patients with IBS; instead, foods containing FODMAPs may be the main issue.

Researchers concluded that “wheat intolerance” or “wheat sensitivity” may be a more accurate label for the problem in some cases. (25) Avoiding wheat is still the best solution for those with this type of sensitivity.

Other recent studies suggest that modern strains of wheat can be much more aggravating than the ancient varieties, such as Kamut and Einkorn. (26)

Recap

Gluten sensitivity is a complex issue that will continue to be the subject of intense study to find clear answers for the question of intolerance.

Despite the fact that some health professionals are skeptical on the subject, many scientists and doctors, some of whom specialize in gastroenterology, are convinced gluten sensitivity is a valid and growing concern.

If you believe you’re sensitive to gluten, waiting for confirmation from ongoing research is certainly not necessary, but keep the results from the FODMAP study mentioned above in mind. You may want to extend your range of experimentation to check out this possibility.

The nutrients found in wheat are available in other foods; you’ll get the best nutritional value if you avoid processed foods when choosing suitable substitutes for wheat, since these are just junk foods even though they’re gluten-free.

Summary: Gluten sensitivity isn’t a problem for everyone, and if wheat doesn’t cause problems for you, there’s no need to avoid it just because it’s trendy to do so. For anyone with established issues related to wheat consumption, going gluten-free can bring considerable relief and improved health.

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