7 Health Benefits of Holding Hands and Its Potential for Healing Society


There’s something special about holding hands with another human being. All of us are innately conscious of how this simple act can stir an instant intimacy, heighten our awareness and express a deep connection. This alchemy of two hands touching has so deeply captured our collective imagination, it’s been the subject of our highest artistic achievements, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to the poetry of Romeo and Juliet, to the lyrics of the Beatles.

But what is it about holding hands, exactly, that makes it so powerful? In partnership with Dignity Health, The Huffington Post explored what science can tell us about this ubiquitous, mysterious gesture and how it can affect our brains and physical well-being, as well as our relationships. Holding hands, we learn, has the power to impact the world.

Holding Patterns

Human beings are hardwired to seek out each other’s touch before we are even born. If you’ve ever touched the palm of a newborn baby, then you’ve likely witnessed (and been treated to) one of the earliest instinctual responses to manifest in humans: the “grasping reflex.” Known to science as the palmar grasp reflex, the instinct makes a baby grab your finger and squeeze it tight.

Humans share this trait with our primate ancestors; it can still be observed in species of monkeys, notably in the way newborns cling to their mothers, unsupported, so the mother can transport the two, hands-free.

Human fetuses have been observed displaying this behavior weeks before full-term delivery. They will clutch their umbilical cord, place their hand in their mouth, or suck their thumb. Twin fetuses are known to hold hands, as poignantly captured in a Kansas family’s moving sonogram image, in which one twin is healthy and the other is critically ill.

Babies may relinquish the grasping reflex over time, but the importance and vitality of touch remain essential.

Touch, A Necessity Of Life

Quantifying the power of touch can be challenging for researchers — measuring the outcome of, say, depriving a child from human contact is unethical. But an unsettling episode in Romania offered scientists some telling insights into what can happen when we are denied the nurturing that touch can provide.

Charles Nelson, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and author of the book Romania’s Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery, led a study that measured the developmental progress of hundreds of children raised in poorly run Romanian orphanages. They had endured years without being held, nuzzled or hugged, according to a Harvard Gazette report. Many of the children had physical problems and stunted growth, despite receiving proper nutrition.

The same appears to hold true through adulthood. Adults who don’t receive regular human touch — a condition called skin hunger or touch hunger — are more prone to suffer from mental and emotional maladies like depression and anxiety disorders.

As psychologists Alberto Gallace and Charles Spence point out in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, “touch is the first of our senses to develop” and “our most fundamental means of contact with the external world.” It’s more than just a comforting sensation; touch is vital to human development and life.

The ‘Love Hormone’ 

Clearly, we humans live to touch. But how does it sustain us? What’s happening in our bodies and minds when what we touch is another person’s hand?

Multiple studies — including one conducted at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) — show that human touch triggers the release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone,” in our brain. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of trust, generosity and compassion, and decreases feelings of fear and anxiety.

Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami/Miller School of Medicine, says that holding hands is one of the most powerful forms of touch in part because the skin is a sense organ and needs stimulation, just as the ears and the eyes do.

Touch is our most fundamental means of contact with the external world.

Psychologists Alberto Gallace and Charles Spence

“When the fingers are interlaced and someone is holding your hand, they’re stimulating pressure receptors [that trigger] what’s called vagal activity,” Field says. “When there’s pressure in the touch, the heart rate goes down, the blood pressure goes down, and you’re put in a relaxed state. When people interlace their fingers, they get more pressure stimulation than the regular way of holding hands.”

Physical touch — and especially holding hands — is commonly associated with “feeling good.” Which raises the question, is there more hand-holding can do for us?

With Touch Comes Toleration

As we’ve seen, humans are not only creatures of habit, we’re also creatures of comfort. We gravitate toward situations and people who make us feel as content and secure as possible.

In the scientific study “Lending A Hand,” neuroscientists from the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin studied the effect the simple act of a human touch has on people in stressful situations. In this case, the participants underwent the threat of electric shock. The researchers came to the conclusion that a “loving touch reassures.”

On a physiological level, participants were able to better cope with pain and discomfort when they were holding hands because the act of holding hands decreased the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in their body. In other words, if stress is contagious, apparently a feeling of calm is contagious, too.

The Societal Imprint Of Human Touch 

Scientific research correlates physical touch with well being in  several important areas of life. Multiple studies at TRI concluded physical touch can affect pain management, lower blood pressure, decrease violence, increased trust, build a stronger immune system, create greater learning engagement and enhance overall well-being.

TRI is mining the potential of touch through a range of current studies, including how massage may help premature babies to grow, and if it can reduce depression in pregnant women such that they’re less likely to deliver prematurely.

“If every preemie was massaged in the U.S.,” Field suggests, “in one year that would save about $4.8 billion in hospital costs, because on average they get out of the hospital six days earlier.”

Field and her colleagues at TRI treat people with hip pain, typically from arthritis, and work to reduce depression and sleep problems in veterans who suffer from PTSD.  “Touch reduces pain because of the serotonin that’s released, and with the pressure on receptors during physical exercise, you get more deep sleep,” Field says.

Human Touch: More Important Now Than Ever

Science indicates that there’s a social argument to encourage hand-holding. What’s holding us back from embracing this? Today’s growing preoccupation with digital media over personal physical contact may unintentionally affect people negatively.

Though small in scope, another Touch Research Institute study suggests that American teenagers touch each other less than French teenagers do, and are more prone to aggressive verbal and physical behavior. Other data supports this claim that American youth is more violent and more prone to suicide than youth in other countries. Field’s hypothesis is that it has to do with ours being a “touch-phobic society.”

Oh please, say to me / You’ll let me be your man / And please, say to me / You’ll let me hold your hand

The Beatles, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”

“With this taboo of touch in the school system, children are getting touched less,… less than when I was a kid, certainly,” Field says. “We’re so concerned about kids being touched the wrong way that we’ve basically banned it from the school system, and I think that’s really unfortunate.”

What can we do to shift this paradigm? It may be as simple as instilling in ourselves the mindfulness to outstretch a hand more often to those in our lives who matter most to us.

Here is a summary of seven documented benefits of holding hands:

  1. Holding hands is a great stress reliever

Holding hands with your significant other decreases the level of a stress hormone called cortisol. Even the touch of a friend or a teammate can make us feel more content, connected, or better about ourselves. When we are stressed out, a light touch on our hand can help ease the strain, both physically and mentally. Our skin also gets more sensitive when cortisol is rushing through our bloodstream, so the touch of a helping hand will have a significantly larger impact. The largest concentration of nerve endings is actually contained inside the hands and fingertips.

So, next time you’re having a really tough day, get together with your partner or a friend and ease the stressful day with them.

  1. Holding hands boosts love & bonding

Oxytocin is the hormone behind this benefit. Oxytocin strengthens empathy and communication between partners in a relationship, which is proven to be a contributing factor for long-lasting, happy relationships. Holding hands with your partner will improve your relationship and create a bond that will impact the quality of your relationship significantly.

Couples who have happy relationships hold hands automatically, sometimes without even noticing, because of a habit developed by their nervous systems. Holding hands produces the oxytocin, which makes us feel happier and more loved.

  1. Holding hands is great for your heart

Besides relieving stress, holding hands with your partner lowers your blood pressure, which is one of the major contributors to heart disease. When we’re clasping fingers with our loved ones, we’re not just easing stress and improving our relationships – we are providing a comfortable sensation that helps our heart. The power of a warm touch goes beyond the health benefits to the heart; a study from Behavioral Medicine backs up this claim.

  1. Holding hands relieves pain

While enduring pain, humans have the natural reflex to tighten their muscles. Think of childbirth – husbands are typically inside the delivery room holding their wife’s hand while she’s going through labor. The reflex to grasp our partner’s hand comes as second nature: It’s always easier to endure pain while holding hands with your soulmate.helping hand

  1. Holding hands fights fear

Remember that horrible scene in the last horror movie you saw that made you want to jump out of your chair? Luckily, your darling was with you to hold your hand and make you feel safe. The human brain responds to sudden stimulation using adrenaline; this stimulation gets our blood pumping and releases high levels of cortisol throughout our body.

During these moments, our natural reaction is to hold hands with someone we trust. It varies from person to person, but a large portion of women will instantly grab their partner’s hand. That’s the intuitive way to fight off nerve

  1. Holding hands provides a sense of security

Simple hand holding is a source of safety and comfort for young children. Remember when your parents taught you to how to cross the street or walked you down a crowded sidewalk? Or when you were learning to ride a bicycle? Insecurity disappears when we have a hand to hold and allows us to more easily conquer obstacles. The security that parents provide their children by holding hands shapes their children’s behavior and their way of thinking.

Additionally, the sensation of safety goes both ways; parents also feel safer when their children are within their grasp.

  1. Holding hands is just plain comfortable

Everybody loves comfort. The sensation of holding hands often provides a comfy feeling while talking a walk with your loved one. A great example is holding hands inside a jacket pocket to warm them up on those cold December nights when you decide to take a stroll in the snow with your partner. Even with gloves, we love to hold hands. It bonds us; it provides lovely sensations and gives us quality time with people we care about.

Conclusion

One thing is certain: our entire bodies, from our nerves to our brains, respond positively to touch and crave it from the time we’re born. Whether it’s due to instinct, comfort, intimacy or love, touch brings us closer to each other both physically and emotionally — and is a necessity for our overall well-being.

This tiny, commonplace behavior triggers chemical reactions in our minds that make us feel loved, happy, cared for, and respected.  Holding hands is one of the fundamental ways we can positively impact our lives and the lives of others.

When we hold hands, the nerves in our skin communicate with our core nervous system, producing hormones that make us feel pleasant and warm. There’s much more to it, of course, and new studies continue to explore the positive psychological effects of human touch today.



As AT&T used to say, “Reach out and Touch Someone”, but not through the phone.  Be present.  Put down the phone.  Hold hands.

Looking for a physician that understand the importance of compassionate care?  At HealthLynked, we are connecting patients and physicians in ways never before possible.  We have built a social ecosystem designed to bring you and your care givers closer than ever before to Improve HealthCare.

Ready to get Lynked?  Get connected today for free by going to HealthLynked.com.


Adapted from the following Sources:

By HuffPost Partner Studio.  The Science Behind The Profound Power Of Holding Hands |

A touching tribute. May 20, 2016

Kvrgic, Dejan.  Study Discovers 7 Surprising Benefits of Holding Hands.  LifeHack.com

 

 

 

Care and Connection | NIH News in Health

August 2018






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Loneliness Affects All Ages

Human beings are social creatures. Feeling like we’re part of a community helps us thrive. But we sometimes have a hard time making and keeping the relationships that sustain us. Many Americans report feeling lonely for long periods of time. Connections with others are important for your health.

Social isolation and loneliness can both cause problems. “Isolation is about whether other people are physically there or not. Being lonely is about not feeling connected to others. You can feel lonely in a room full of people,” explains Dr. Steve Cole, an NIH-funded researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies loneliness.

Loneliness not only feels bad, it may also be harmful to your health. People who feel lonely are at higher risk of many diseases. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, and Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness may also increase the risk of death for older adults.

Some of the increased risk of disease may come from changes in behavior. People who feel isolated may not have friends or family encouraging them to eat right, exercise, or see a doctor. New research suggests that loneliness can also directly harm our health.

“Lonely people have differences in their biology that make them more vulnerable to disease,” Cole explains. He and colleagues have studied how loneliness affects the immune system, your body’s disease fighting system. They found that loneliness may alter the tendency of cells in the immune system to promote inflammationHeat, swelling, and redness caused by the body’s protective response to injury or infection.. Inflammation is necessary to help our bodies heal from injury. But when it goes on too long, it may raise the risk of chronic diseases.

People who feel lonely may also have weakened immune cells that have trouble fighting off viruses. “So that leaves lonely people more vulnerable to a variety of infectious diseases,” Cole adds.

People often associate loneliness with getting older. But you can feel lonely at any age. A recent survey found that young Americans are more likely to feel lonely than older adults. Some research suggests that social media tools and resources are preventing younger people from connecting in real life, Cole says. However, more studies are needed to know whether this is true.

It can be hard for people to talk about loneliness, Cole explains. They may feel like something is wrong with them, even though feeling lonely happens to almost everyone at some point.

NIH-funded researchers are looking into ways to help people break the cycle of loneliness. Studies have shown that feelings of loneliness can be reduced by helping others, Cole says. Caregiving and volunteering to help others may therefore help people to feel less lonely.

Having a sense of purpose in life may be another way to fight the effects of loneliness. Research has found that having a strong sense of mission in life is linked to healthier immune cells. “And when you start to pursue a goal that’s important to you, you almost always have to cooperate with others to do that,” Cole says. “That helps bring people together.”

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To schedule a consultation for vasectomy reversal, please contact:
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– Outside of the United States: 507-284-8884
or email at: intl.mcr@mayo.edu

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Bionic Movements | NIH News in Health

Connecting Mind and Machine

When you lose the use of a limb, even the simplest of daily tasks can turn into a challenge. High-tech devices can help restore independence. New technologies are even making it possible to connect the mind to an artificial limb. These artificial limbs are called bionic prosthetic devicesDevices that replace a body part..

“To get back some of that lost function, you need some sort of assistive tool or technology to either enhance recovery or restore the capability of the anatomy that’s missing now,” says Dr. Nick Langhals, who oversees NIH-supported prosthetic engineering research.

This fast-moving research aims to improve people’s lives by restoring both movement and feeling.

Prosthetic Control

Traditional prosthetic devices use a body-powered harness to control a hand device. These are easy to use. With a shrug of your shoulder, the prosthetic hand or hook opens. With the release of your shoulder, the prosthesis closes. Through the feel of the cable tension across your shoulders, you know whether the prosthesis is open or closed without looking at it.

Newer, motorized hands are not as easy to learn how to use. To close the device, you contract the remaining muscles in your arm. An electrical sensor placed over those muscles detects the contraction and tells the hand to close. Since the original muscles that controlled the hand are gone, the remaining muscles must be retrained. Learning how to open and close a prosthetic hand in this way takes some time. And you still need to watch the device to know what it’s doing.

To make motorized hands more intuitive to use, researchers are developing ways to detect the electrical signals in your brain and nervesSpecial tissues that carry signals between your brain and other parts of your body. to help control advanced bionic prosthetics. This can be done many ways, such as by implanting tiny sensors in the parts of the brain that control movement or by attaching small electrodesTools that are used to carry electricity to or from different parts of the body. to the amputated nerves. Either way, the patients simply think about moving their hand and computers translate it into the movements of a bionic prosthetic hand.

Two-Way Communication

To regain a sense of wholeness, a person with a bionic limb needs to do more than control the device. They also need to “feel” what it’s doing. New bionic devices can send sensation from the device back to the brain. This allows a person with a bionic device to feel like they are using their own limb.

“The most important thing about the research that we’re doing is this sense of wholeness,” says Dr. Paul Marasco, a biomedical engineering researcher at Cleveland Clinic.

One way to help a person feel their prosthetic hand is to move the remaining sensory nerves from the amputated hand to the skin of the upper arm. You can then use small robots to press on the skin of the upper arm when the hand is touching something.

Marasco’s team devised a similar system to restore the feeling of movement, too. The bionic hand sends signals to a computerized control system outside of the body. The computer then tells a small robot worn on the arm to send vibrations to the arm muscle. These vibrations deep in the muscle create an illusion of movement that tells the brain when the hand is closing or opening.

Marasco’s team tested this feedback system with several people who had a hand prosthesis. The study participants were able to operate the bionic hand and know what position it was in just as well as with their natural hand. With this feedback system, they didn’t have to look at the bionic hand to know when it was open or closed, or when it was reaching for an object.

“We fool their brains into believing that the prosthesis is actually part of their body,” Marasco says. This advancement directly taps into the way that the brain senses movement, which helps improve the two-way communication between prosthetic device and mind.

Wearable Robots

Research teams are also trying to help people who have lost the use of their legs. By wearing a robotic device called an exoskeleton, some people with leg paralysis have been able to regain the ability to walk.

A group led by Dr. Thomas Bulea, a biomedical engineer at the NIH Clinical Center, created a wearable exoskeleton for children with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a brain disorder that makes it hard to stand up straight, balance, and walk. The motorized, robotic exoskeleton changes the way the children walk by helping them straighten their knees at key points during the walking cycle. While the exoskeleton can make walking easier, children must be able to navigate at least small distances on their own to use it.

“The ultimate goal really is to have a person wear this outside of our lab, or even outside of the clinical setting,” Bulea explains. “To do that you have to have a really robust control system that makes sure that the robot is behaving properly in all different kinds of environments.”

The team is now writing software so that the robotic device can be worn while navigating bumps in the terrain and other real-world conditions.

Finding the Right Device

“What I try to emphasize to people is that there are a lot of potential tools and technologies at our disposal to try and make people better, and they should explore them and consider embracing them,” Langhals says.

Many types of prosthetic devices are now in development. If you’d like to find a clinical study to help test one, you can search for one in clinicaltrials.gov, a database of both NIH-supported and other studies around the world.

If you’re interested in taking part in a study, talk with your doctor about the possible risks and benefits. See the Ask Your Doctor box for questions to ask.

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Baby Hip Instability and Dysplasia – Mayo Clinic

Few moments are as joyful as the one when you bring a brand new baby into the world. But imagine the worry you’d feel if right after birth you learned something was wrong. Hip instability is an issue in approximately one in 1-hundred births. Most cases resolve on their own, but some don’t. Mayo Clinic doctors say if you treat hip instability as soon as possible after birth, most kids grow up with healthy, normal hips.

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21 Health Benefits and 6 Cool Facts About Zucchini

A staple at many markets and bountiful in backyard gardens during this time of year, zucchini can range in color from yellow to deep green. It has a tender texture with a slightly sweet flavor and, at just 21 calories per cup, it makes a welcome addition to a calorie-controlled diet.

Today, August 8th, is National Zuchinni Day and Sneak Some Zucchini on Your Neighbors’ Porch Day, so let’s take a look at all the potential benefits of this SuperFood.

What Is Zucchini?

Often known globally as courgette, zucchini is a summer squash native to the Americas. It belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo, along with a few other types of squashes and pumpkins. Zucchini boasts a rich nutritional profile, and it offers many health benefits thanks to its phytonutrients, mineral and vitamin content, including:

Vitamin C

Zucchini serves as a good source of vitamin C. A water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C dissolves in your body fluids and protects your cells from free radicals, which are highly reactive compounds that oxidize your DNA, lipids and proteins, causing cellular damage. Getting enough vitamin C in your diet also aids in nerve cell communication, helps your body metabolize cholesterol and keeps your tissues strong. A cup of chopped zucchini contains 22 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 24 percent of the recommended daily intake for men and 29 percent for women, set by the Institute of Medicine.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Zucchini also provides you with lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytonutrients that belong to the carotenoid family, which is the same nutrient family that includes beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. Lutein and zeaxanthin promote healthy eyesight. They filter light rays as they enter your eye, helping to ensure that harmful rays can’t damage your eye tissues. While, as of September 2013, the Institute of Medicine has not set a recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, the American Optometric Association notes that intakes of at least 6 milligrams per day can reduce your risk for age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes blindness. A cup of chopped zucchini provides 2.6 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin, or 43 percent of this intake goal.

 Manganese

Consuming zucchini also boosts your intake of manganese, an essential mineral. Like vitamin C, manganese protects your tissues from harmful free radicals. It supports the function of glycosyltransferases, a family of proteins that promote healthy bone tissue development. Manganese also helps your body produce collagen essential for efficient wound healing. Each cup of chopped zucchini boasts 0.22 milligram of manganese. This provides 12 and 10 percent of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intake for women and men, respectively.

 Other Cool Zucchini Facts

  • One zucchini is called zucchina.
  • The world’s largest zucchini was 69 1/2 inches long and weighed close to 30 kilos.
  • Zucchini is the only fruit that starts with the letter Z.
  • The most flavorful of zucchinis are usually small and have darker skin.
  • Even the flower of the zucchini plant is edible. You can fry the zucchini blossoms into a delicacy.
  • And lastly, the word zucchini comes from ‘zucca’, which is the Italian word for squash.

Benefits Of Zucchini

  1. Zucchini Benefits For Weight Loss

It’s super low in calories, making it the perfect light side dish for a heavy meal; one cup of sliced zucchini has about 19 calories. That’s 40 to 50% lower than the same serving size for other low-cal green veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. And because it’s so versatile, you can enjoy this low-calorie food in so many different recipes, from baked fries to pesto roll-ups. Of course, you can always grill zucchini with herbs for some savory flavor, too.

Zucchini is a low-starch fruit, low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. It will fill you up and discourage overeating.

The fruit also has a high water content which can keep you full for longer periods. It is one of those foods with a low glycemic index. Increased intake of fruits and vegetables and low-fat foods has been linked to healthy weight loss and weight maintenance.  Another benefit of high-fiber foods is they require more chewing – an individual, therefore, takes more time to eat and is typically unable to gorge on a large number of calories in a brief period.

  1. Improves Heart Health

Zucchini has a good amount of potassium: 295 milligrams per cup, or 8% of your recommended daily value. According to the American Heart Association, potassium can help control blood pressure because it lessens the harmful effects of salt on your body. Studies suggest boosting your potassium intake (while also curbing sodium) can slash your stroke risk and may also lower your odds of developing heart disease.

Because it is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, zucchini may help the lining of your blood cells function better, lowering blood pressure and protecting against clogged arteries. One cup of sliced zucchini has 20 milligrams, or about 33% of your daily value.

Ever heard of DASH diet? Also called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, this diet is aimed at improving heart health by lowering hypertension. According to a report published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, zucchini is a prominent part of the DASH diet.

Zucchini is low in cholesterol, sodium, and fat, and helps maintain a balance of carbohydrates – a requirement for optimum heart health.

Another reason zucchini works great for the heart is the presence of fiber. High intakes of fiber have been associated with significantly lower risks of developing stroke, hypertension, and heart disease.

Zucchini is also rich in folate, and as per a Chinese study, folate intake is inversely associated with heart disease risk.   The fact that it is rich in other nutrients like potassium and magnesium makes zucchini a superfood for the heart. Research has stated that deficiencies in the two nutrients can be directly linked to heart failure.

Another nutrient in zucchini that is worth your attention is riboflavin, which is a B-complex vitamin essential for energy production. In one study, children with cardiac disease were found to be shockingly deficient in riboflavin, emphasizing on the possible link between riboflavin and heart health.  Another Chinese study has linked riboflavin with alleviated cardiac failure in diabetics.

Riboflavin deficiency is also linked to certain birth defects in pregnant women, especially issues with the outflow tracts in the infant’s heart.

  1. Improves Eye Health

One doesn’t need to be reminded of the importance of vision. That said, zucchini seems to be more than food for your eyes. The fruit is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that were found to prevent age-related macular degeneration.

It is shocking to note that certain serious (and often irreversible) eye diseases like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration have no warning signs.  So, what’s the best approach? Including zucchini in your diet. Zucchini is also a good source of vitamin A, shown to improve eye health.  It is important for eye development and maintenance.  As per a report published by Flaum Eye Institute of the University of Rochester Medical Center, a low-fat diet could be beneficial for the eyes – and zucchini can very well be a part of this diet.

The squash is also a wonderful source of beta-carotene that can improve eye health and offer protection against infections.

  1. Helps Control Diabetes

It is but unfortunate that a household without a diabetic is a rare scene. Well, that’s the sad part. So, is zucchini good for diabetics? Yes, the good part is, zucchini can help.

Non-starchy foods like zucchini can fill you up and aid diabetes treatment.  And the dietary fiber, which zucchini is replete with, can delay glucose absorption and help the patients with type 2 diabetes.  A German study states that insoluble fiber (which zucchini has a good amount of) can be very much effective in preventing type 2 diabetes.  Another study indicates the efficacy of insoluble dietary fiber that has shown to reduce diabetes risk.

Higher fiber intake is also associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, which is one of the factors contributing to diabetes.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, soluble fiber can improve glucose tolerance in diabetics. Zucchini contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, by the way.

  1. Helps Lower Cholesterol

Zucchini is one of the few foods that are free of cholesterol, and hence you can include it in your cholesterol-lowering diet.  Soluble fiber has been found to interfere with cholesterol absorption. This helps lower the bad cholesterol or LDL in the blood.

  1. Helps Improve Asthma

In one Iranian study, the high levels of vitamin C in zucchini were thought to even cure asthma.  The anti-inflammatory properties of zucchini also contribute to asthma treatment.

Along with the vitamin C, zucchini also contains copper that is far more effective in treating asthma.

One Finnish study has found the benefits of vitamin C in treating not only asthma attacks, but also bronchial hypersensitivity — a characteristic of asthma.

  1. Protects Against Colon Cancer

The fiber in zucchini is the most important reason it can help in the treatment of colon cancer.  The fiber does multiple things – it absorbs the excess water in the colon, retains enough moisture in the fecal matter, and helps it to pass smoothly out of the body. Though precise knowledge about the subtypes of fiber (soluble or insoluble) in this aspect is important, dietary fiber as a whole has been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

As per a Los Angeles study, dietary fiber plays a vital role in regulating the normal intestinal functioning and maintaining a healthy mucus membrane of the intestine. Though the exact amount of fiber and the type is still not clearly known, an expert panel from the study had recommended a fiber intake of 20 to 35 grams per day to prevent colon cancer.

The lutein in zucchini may also reduce the risk of colon cancer.

  1. Enhances Digestion

According to a report published by the University of Rhode Island, green fruits and vegetables, like zucchini, promote healthy digestion.  You can have zucchini as an after-meal snack – simply shred some carrots and zucchini on a quick bread or muffins and relish the taste and health benefits.

In fact, the late Henry Bieler (a prominent American physician who championed the idea of treating disease with foods alone) used to treat digestive issues in his patients with a pureed soup broth made from zucchini.   The dietary fiber in zucchini adds bulk to your diet and aids digestion. However, ensure you introduce fiber in your diet gradually. Increasing dietary fiber in your diet too quickly can lead to bloating, abdominal cramps, and even gas.

It has been found that dietary fiber forms the major components of foods that have low energy value, and hence are of particular importance, especially when it comes to dealing with abdominal issues.  If you are suffering from digestive issues, simply including zucchini in your meal might do the trick. It has been found that the addition of fiber in bread, cookies, breakfast cereals, and even meat products was found to have desirable results.

Zucchini contains both soluble as well as insoluble fiber. The insoluble fiber, also known as ‘the regulator’, accelerates the passage of water through the digestive tract. This reduces the time available for harmful substances to come in contact with the intestinal walls.

Seek out all-natural sources of fiber, and not just zucchini alone. If you are purchasing fiber-rich foods from the supermarket, there is but one ground rule – a good source of fiber is one that has at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving. Foods having more than 5 grams of fiber per serving are excellent.  Anything lower than 2.5 grams could just be a waste of money.

  1. Lowers Blood Pressure

If you walk down a random street and pick any person you first see, chances are they might be (or is likely soon to be) suffering from high blood pressure.  We are so stressed about everything in life that blood pressure issues have become inevitable…almost.

With zucchini by our side, there is hope for natural relief.  Zucchini, being rich in potassium, is one of the preferred foods to combat hypertension.  Surprisingly enough, zucchini has more potassium than a banana.

Potassium is vasoactive, meaning it can affect the diameter of blood vessels. And hence, the blood pressure as well.  In a London study, potassium supplementation was linked to lowered blood pressure levels.  Though the study talks about certain conflicting results in pertinence to oral potassium supplementation, potassium was never shown to elevate the blood pressure levels.

As per another New Orleans study, potassium intake is mandatory to combat hypertension, especially when the individual is unable to reduce his/her sodium intake.  In addition to controlling blood pressure, potassium also lowers the heart rate and counters the harmful effects of sodium.

According to the National Academies Press, the adequate intake of potassium for adults is 4.7 grams per day.  Echoed by the World Health Organization, this dosage of potassium had the greatest impact on blood pressure levels.  However, dosing might vary depending on the overall health of an individual. Hence, consult your doctor for further details.

So, why is potassium so important with respect to lowering blood pressure? Because the nutrient is one of the principal electrolytes in the human body.  It is required in proper balance with sodium, in a ratio of 2:1. The junk foods we so very lovingly consume every other day have higher levels of sodium than potassium. Which is why they contribute to high blood pressure like no other. Zucchini is a good source of potassium. A medium-sized fruit offers 512 milligrams of the nutrient, which roughly equals 11% of your daily need.

  1. Slows Down Aging

Anti-aging is a big market today – a multi-billion dollar industry. You probably wouldn’t have to contribute much to that segment if you have zucchinis in your kitchen.

Zucchini is a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These two carotenoids exhibit powerful anti-aging properties.  They protect the cells of the body and the skin from free radical damage, which may otherwise lead to premature aging. Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been found to lighten the skin and improve its health.

In a study, lutein was found to prevent cell loss and membrane damage.  It also has photoprotective properties that protect the skin from UV damage. Zucchini is also rich in beta-carotene, the low levels of which were found to increase mortality risk in older men.

The riboflavin in zucchini maintains the health of the skin, hair, nails, and mucus membranes. It slows down aging by boosting athletic performance and preventing age-related memory loss and other related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.  In one study, riboflavin was found to prolong the lifespan of fruit flies – indicating a similar possibility in human beings.

Zucchini, as we have seen, is rich in vitamin C. According to a South Korean study, the vitamin was found to decelerate aging in human heart cells.  Also, vitamin C is found in high levels in the skin layers, and the concentration shows a decline when we age.  Hence, intake of vitamin C appears to be a logical solution to slow down the signs of aging.

  1. Strengthens Bones And Teeth

Green vegetables and fruits, like zucchini, promote stronger bones and teeth,  The lutein and zeaxanthin in zucchini keep the bones and teeth strong. In addition, they also strengthen the blood cells.  Zucchini also contains vitamin K, which contributes to stronger bones.

Magnesium is another nutrient abundant in zucchini.  Most of the body’s magnesium resides in the bones, which helps build strong bones and teeth.  Magnesium also works along with calcium to improve muscle contraction.

The folate in zucchini also protects the bones, as does beta-carotene. Studies show that the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which contributes to bone growth.

Zucchini contains phytochemicals such as indoles, which, according to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, maintain strong bones and teeth.  Similar findings have been published by the California Department of Public Health.

  1. Helps Balance Thyroid And Adrenaline Function

Zucchini is rich in manganese, a mineral that promotes the optimal functioning of the thyroid gland.

  1. Helps During Pregnancy

Dark green vegetables are a must during pregnancy, and zucchini is one of them. In the nine months of pregnancy, consuming zucchini offers adequate B-complex vitamins that help maintain the energy levels and mood.

Zucchini is rich in folic acid that has shown to reduce the risk of certain birth defects,  like spina bifida – baby’s spinal chord doesn’t develop properly –  and anencephaly – the absence of a major portion of the brain.  As per a Canadian study, over 50 countries that have fortified their food staples with folic acid saw a dramatic decrease in neural tube defects in pregnant women.

One more reason folate is beneficial to pregnant women is its ability to aid in the production of red blood cells in the body.  This also helps lower the risk of developmental problems in the baby during pregnancy.

It is important to keep in mind that folic acid (or folate) works best when taken before getting pregnant and during the first trimester.  As women need additional folic acid during pregnancy, it is advisable to take a folic acid supplement as well.  Around 400 mcg of folic acid per day is recommended for women in this aspect.

Another reason zucchini is good for pregnancy is its magnesium content. As per an Italian study, magnesium is very important for women with an elevated risk of gestosis or premature labor.

  1. Good For Babies (And Kids)

Diarrhea is one common problem amongst most kids over one year of age. Oh yes, there are medications. But changes in the diet can also help. Bland foods work well in this case, and peeled zucchini can do wonders.

Mashed zucchini can also be a good addition to your baby’s diet.  Since it is soft and bland in taste (and since it comes replete with nutrients), your baby will be able to consume it easily.   NOTE: Never leave a baby alone when he/she is eating. Keep the portions small. And avoid those foods that he/she can easily choke on – these include everything that is hard to chew.

There is likely no need to emphasize the negative effects smoking can have on pregnant women. But, what if a woman has been a smoker for a long time before getting pregnant and just can’t give the habit up? In one Portland study, the intake of vitamin C has been found to prevent lung problems in babies born to pregnant smokers.  Zucchini, being rich in vitamin C, can help in this regard. By the way, this doesn’t mean it is okay to smoke during pregnancy. It simply isn’t.

In another Denmark study, the deficiency of vitamin C was found to impair brain development in infants.  In fact, the importance of vitamin C for infants was discovered way back in the early 1900s.

Studies conducted then stressed the significance of vitamin C in preventing scurvy in infants.  Dr. F.R. Klenner, between 1948-49, cured polio in children with vitamin C, and vitamin C only.  Of course, polio is nearly eradicated today. Both show how important vitamin C has been in the improvement  of population health.

  1. Helps Prevent Gout

Zucchini’s vitamin C grabs the spotlight, yet again. One study has linked vitamin C intake with a lower risk of gout in men.  It achieves this by lowering serum uric acid levels via a process called the uricosuric effect. The vitamin was also found to prevent not just gout, but numerous other urate-related diseases as well.

You can also intake zucchini to complement your gout treatment, especially if your treatment isn’t working well. As with every health concern, dosage is important, so talk to your doctor.

Though gout generally affects men over the age of 40 or anyone with a family history of the disease, it can occur anytime to anyone. It is caused by the excessive build-up of uric acid in the body, leading to its accumulation in tissues in the form of needle-shaped crystals. Apart from taking zucchini and other foods rich in vitamin C, something as simple as drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water daily can prevent gout.

  1. Promotes Prostate Health

When it comes to men’s health, zucchini is one of the vegetables that is often overlooked, but its phytonutrients greatly benefit the prostate.  The high carotenoid content of zucchini also associates it with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

We have seen that zucchini is rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C. Both of these nutrients, as per a study, were found to be positively associated with prostate cancer.  Vitamin C reduces oxidative DNA damage and hampers the growth and ability of prostate cancer cells.

Lutein is also found in zucchini. As per a report published by the University of California San Francisco, lutein intake is inversely associated with prostate cancer.

Dietary fiber has been found to bind with carcinogens and eliminate them from the body. It also has the ability to prevent prostate cancer progression, and phytonutrients protect the cells from damage.  Both of these healthful compounds are abundant in zucchini, making it a powerful weapon to combat prostate cancer.

  1. Aids Collagen Formation

As we have seen, zucchini contains riboflavin, whose deficiency was found to affect the maturation of collagen.   The vitamin C in the squash plays a major part in the synthesis of collagen, which, as we know, is quite important to maintain the health of joints, cartilage, skin, and blood vessels.  The vitamin also protects the body from cellular damage.  In addition to collagen, vitamin C also helps in the production of elastin, both of which are essential for radiant and healthy skin.

A few other nutrients contribute to collagen formation, like potassium, zeaxanthin, and folate.  Zucchini is replete with these.

  1. Helps In Skin Hydration

Zucchini hydrates the body (and the skin) and helps it deal with the summer heat.

The lutein in zucchini encourages skin health by reducing inflammation responses. But how does that promote skin hydration? Well, here’s the science behind it. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, lutein reduces the inflammation response. This means the sunlight will cause less damage to the skin, and that means less damage to the moisture barrier of the skin as well.  And the result? Well hydrated skin.

Zucchini is 95% water.  This translates to hydrating the skin well. Keep in mind  only about 20% of our daily water intake is met through foods. Hence, it is also important we drink 8-10 glasses of water every day as skin cells need water to function at their best.

  1. Improves Brain Functioning And Memory

Green foods, especially zucchini, are rich in folate and are excellent for brain health.  Folate also helps in the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material. The nutrient, apart from improving mental health, also enhances emotional health.

The deficiency of folate is linked to megaloblastic anemia, which results in weakness and fatigue. Increased folate intake has been linked to reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in women.

Also, our brain is 75% water. When there is adequate water in your system, you will be more focused, think quick, and also display greater creativity. More importantly, sufficient water efficiently delivers nutrients to your brain and aids toxin removal. This results in enhanced concentration and mental alertness.  Zucchini, apart from being rich in water, also contains vitamin C, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids – all of which largely contribute to brain health.

Though not very rich in iron, zucchini contains the nutrient in acceptable amounts. As per a study, early iron deficiency can lead to permanent neurobehavioral problems despite diagnosis and treatment.  Early iron deficiency can even affect the brain’s physical structure. Iron is also important for producing myelin, the fatty sheath that coats the brain’s nerves and accelerates brain communications.

  1. Promotes Hair Growth

Zucchini, being rich in zinc, promotes hair growth.  The vitamin C in zucchini can help heal dry and splitting hair.  It also makes your hair strands strong and supple.  Lack of vitamin C can result in the enlargement of hair follicles, which might eventually stall hair growth.

  1. Enhances Immunity

The vitamin C found in zucchini is an active form of ascorbic acid that boosts the immune system, and it does this in several ways. First, vitamin C helps develop the body’s T cells (a type of white blood cell) into functional T cells that defend against diseases. It also helps you produce more immune cells. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C also prevent cells from dying due to inflammation. The RDA of vitamin C is 90 mg in males and 74 mg in females.

Low levels of vitamin C are linked to increased risk of infection. In fact, high levels of vitamin C are frequently recommended for HIV-positive individuals to enhance their immunity.

In a Switzerland study, vitamin C and zinc were found to enhance immunity, so much that they had even improved the health of patients suffering from certain immune-deficient diseases like malaria and diarrhea.

Potential Side Effects Of Consuming Zucchini

  1. Digestive issues

Zucchini might cause digestive issues in people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In such a case, consume it with caution, or avoid it altogether.  Bitter zucchini might also cause stomach cramps, diarrhea or both,

  1. Allergies

Zucchini might cause allergies in individuals who are sensitive to it. These include nausea, pruritus (severe skin itching), and certain kinds of oral allergies.

  1. Alzheimer’s

Yes, this can be contradictory to what was covered earlier in the article. Iron does help prevent brain ailments. But studies suggest that too much of it can cause neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s.  Though iron is not abundant in zucchini, it still is better to consider its effects.

  1. Excessive beta-carotene

Since zucchini is a very good source of beta-carotene, this could be a concern for certain individuals. Large doses of beta-carotene might be inadvisable for pregnant and lactating women, people who smoke, people who have been exposed to asbestos, and individuals who have undergone angioplasty.

Beta-carotene might also interact with medications – especially those used for lowering cholesterol and other medicines like niacin.

How much of zucchini is too much?

These side effects need not worry you unless you happen to take zucchini in excess. It sure is a super-food, yet there is conflicting information about just how much is too much, so please consult your doctor for more guidance.

 Zucchini – Tips For Selection And Storage

How to select zucchini

Zucchini is usually picked and sold even before it matures. Hence, the seeds and skin are tender, and you can cook it even without peeling. The zucchini must be clean and blemish-free. You must be able to pierce the skin easily with your fingernail.

Also, ensure the zucchini you select is small to medium in size – no more than 6 to 8 inches, and free of pricks and cuts. Some say it is better if it has one inch of stem attached.

How to store zucchini

Zucchini must be stored in a refrigerator. Remember to wrap it tightly.

If you want to freeze zucchini, choose the one with tender skin. Wash and slice it and scald for 3 minutes. Cool and drain and then pack it in a freezer container. You can also freeze shredded zucchini, provided you do it immediately.

If you are planning to grow zucchini in your backyard, you must remember that it grows best when surrounded by mulch, which keeps the soil moist. You also need to add two inches of water every week for the plant to thrive.

How To Prepare Zucchini

  1. As a healthy snack

Simply take raw zucchini sticks or slices and enjoy them with your favorite dip. You can also pack them in your lunchbox for a healthy afternoon snack.

  1. Mashed Zucchini

Wondering what to use as a side dish for your meal? Zucchini! Steam it and mash it. You can then puree this with other root vegetables and serve. Much better (and healthier) than mashed potatoes!

  1. Grilled Zucchini

Who said only meat can be thrown on the grill? Slice zucchini into 1/2-inch thick disks, or cut the zucchini lengthwise, and brush them with cooking oil.  Season as you desire, and grill right on the grate.

  1. Stuffed Zucchini

Pretty simple: Cut the zucchini lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Fill the empty zucchini cups with chopped vegetables, meat, and cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes at 375° F, or until they turn golden brown. Serve while hot.

  1. Use in salads

Make your salad healthier by slicing in zucchini.

Can you eat zucchini skin?

In fact, you should, as zucchini is 95% water. Most of this water is found in the flesh – which means most of the nutrients are found in the skin. Peeling the skin deprives you of vitamins C and K, fiber, potassium, antioxidants, and the other nutrients. Eating zucchini without the skin is almost like drinking plain water – only that you would be chewing in this case.

How To Make Zucchini For Baby

Zucchini can be wonderful for babies. It has a mild flavor. It is soft to chew, and it offers super nutrients.

But, remember this – zucchini, particularly because of its skin, can cause a bit of stomach upset in some individuals. Hence, you must wait till your baby is eating stage 2 foods, which would happen when (s)he is around 8 months old.

In case your child is prone to stomach upsets, peel the zucchini before cooking and observe how your child receives it. If things are alright, try with the skin the next time.

Here is how you can cook zucchini for your child:

  1. Select a zucchini with a firm and shiny skin. It must be free of bruises and any other visible damage. Keep it unwashed in a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator (until you are ready to cook it, which would usually be up to 4-5 days).
  2. Divide the zucchini widthwise into half. Prepare the zucchini one half at a time. You can keep the second half back in the refrigerator until you want to use it next time.
  3. Slice the end of the zucchini. Wash it thoroughly under a stream of cold water.
  4. Cut it into thin slices.
  5. Fill a saucepan with cold water and bring it to a boil.
  6. Add the sliced zucchini to it. Once the water boils, decrease the heat to medium.
  7. Keep boiling the zucchini until it turns tender – this should take about 10 minutes.
  8. Drain the water and transfer the boiled zucchini into a food processor. Process it until it is completely pureed. You can add a little cold water if it appears too thick.
  9. Wait till the puree cools before you feed it to your little one. You can store the leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
  10. You can prepare the other half of zucchini in a similar way.

As always, it is best to consult your baby’s pediatrician before introducing new foods in his/her diet.

Conclusion

Celebrate the  end-of-summer with the super food zucchini . Try grated zucchini in cookies and bread for added moisture, or, stuff between tortillas for a simple veggie quesadilla.  Packed with beneficial nutrients, including Vitamins C and A, potassium, folate, and fiber, zucchini contributes to a healthy heart by decreasing the risk of stroke, reducing high blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol. Get maximum benefits by eating either raw or cooked zucchini and feel free to eat the skin– it’s edible.

And, if you are looking for a physician in your area to advise you on how to take control of your nutritional health, go to HealthLynked.com to find a provider who fits the bill.  We connect providers to Patients and providers to providers to improve overall population health in a novel social ecosystem.

Ready to get Lynked?  Got to HealthLynked.com today to register for free and be entered into our “End of Summer” Contest.

Adapted from the Following Sources:

Tadimalla, Ravi Teja.  21 Amazing Benefits Of Zucchini For Skin, Hair, And Health. Stylecraze, February 20, 2018.

TREMBLAY, MSC, Steve.  The Health Benefits of Zucchini.  LiveStrong.com, OCT. 03, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Existing drug could prevent Alzheimer’s

Existing drug may prevent Alzheimer’s

Published
Emerging evidence suggests that a “potent” drug could prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease — but only if a person takes the medication long before symptoms of this condition make an appearance.

An existing drug may be able to stop Alzheimer’s onset, researchers say.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 5.7 million adults in the United States live with this condition.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and following disease onset, symptoms tend to worsen progressively.

Then, the question, “Can specialists prevent the disease in people deemed at increased risk?” arises.

The authors of a new study, from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, suggest that one drug called memantine — which is currently used to manage Alzheimer’s symptoms — may actually help prevent the disease. This, however, might only happen if a person takes the drug before symptoms set in.

“Based on what we’ve learned so far, it is my opinion that we will never be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease by treating patients once they become symptomatic,” says Prof. George Bloom, of the University of Virginia, who oversaw the study.

“The best hope for conquering this disease is to first recognize patients who are at risk, and begin treating them prophylactically with new drugs and perhaps lifestyle adjustments that would reduce the rate at which the silent phase of the disease progresses,” he says, adding, “Ideally, we would prevent it from starting in the first place.”

The journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia has now published the team’s findings.

The cell cycle re-entry process

The researchers explain that Alzheimer’s disease actually begins long before symptoms start to show — perhaps even a decade or longer in advance.

One of the condition’s characteristics is that, once affected by the disease, brain cells attempt to divide — possibly in order to balance out the death of other neurons — only to die, anyway.

In any case, the further division of fully formed brain cells is unusual and does not happen in a healthy brain. The affected neurons’ attempt at division is called the “cell cycle re-entry process.”

“It’s been estimated that as much as 90 percent of neuron death that occurs in the Alzheimer’s brain follows this cell cycle re-entry process, which is an abnormal attempt to divide,” explains Prof. Bloom.

“By the end of the course of the disease, the patient will have lost about 30 percent of the neurons in the frontal lobes of the brain,” he estimates.

Study co-author Erin Kodis — Prof. Bloom’s former doctoral student — formed her own hypothesis about what triggers this mechanism.

Excess calcium, she believes, enters neurons through special receptors called NMDA receptors on the cells’ surface. This drives brain cells to start dividing.

Following a series of laboratory experiments, Kodis confirmed that her hypothesis was correct. This mechanism is set in motion before the formation of amyloid plaques, which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

Eventually, however, molecules of an amino acid called beta amyloid stick together to form toxic amyloid plaques.

Memantine may have ‘potent properties’

Kodis saw that when neurons encounter beta amyloid molecules in the early stages that precede plaque buildup, NMDA receptors open to receive the excess calcium that ultimately leads to their destruction.

But then the researcher made another discovery: the drug memantine prevented cell cycle re-entry by closing the NMDA receptors on the surface of neurons.

The experiments suggest that memantine might have potent disease-modifying properties if it could be administered to patients long before they have become symptomatic and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Prof. George Bloom

“Perhaps this could prevent the disease or slow its progression long enough that the average age of symptom onset could be significantly later, if it happens at all,” Prof. Bloom adds.

These findings are particularly promising; memantine has few known side effects, and those that have been reported are rare and do not have a major impact on an individual’s well-being.

Prof. Bloom believes that, in the future, a useful preventive approach might be to screen people for telling signs that they are exposed to Alzheimer’s as early as possible.

Specialists could then prescribe memantine to those at an increased risk of the disease, he says. People may have to take the drug throughout their lives to keep Alzheimer’s at bay — or at least in check.

“I don’t want to raise false hopes,” says Prof. Bloom. However, he continues, “[I]f this idea of using memantine as a prophylactic pans out, it will be because we now understand that calcium is one of the agents that gets the disease started, and we may be able to stop or slow the process if done very early.”

Currently, Prof. Bloom and colleagues are planning a clinical trial to test the preventive strategy that they outlined in the study.

Fourteen possible reasons for an irregular period

14 possible causes for irregular periods

Last reviewed

 

What causes irregular periods?

Your menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of your last period to the start of your next period. Your period is considered irregular if it’s longer than 38 days or if the duration varies.

Irregular periods can have several causes, from hormonal imbalances to other underlying conditions, and should be evaluated by your doctor. Here’s a look at the possible causes and their symptoms.

 

1. Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause you to miss your period or experience spotting. Other symptoms of early pregnancy may include:

  • morning sickness
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to smells
  • breast tingling or tenderness
  • fatigue

If you miss a period or notice changes in your period and you’ve had sex, you can take a pregnancy test at home or see your doctor to find out if you’re pregnant.

If you may be pregnant and experience sharp, stabbing pain in the pelvis or abdomen that lasts more than a few minutes, see your doctor right away to rule out ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

 

2. Hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control pills and hormone-containing intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause irregular bleeding.

Birth control pills may cause spotting between periods and result in much lighter periods.

An IUD may cause heavy bleeding.

 

3. Breastfeeding

Prolactin is a hormone that’s responsible for breast milk production. Prolactin suppresses your reproductive hormones resulting in very light periods or no period at all while you’re breastfeeding.

Your periods should return shortly after you stop breastfeeding. Read on to learn more the effects of breastfeeding on your period.

 

4. Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the transition phase before you enter menopause. It usually begins in your 40s, but can occur earlier.

You may experience signs and symptoms lasting from 4 to 8 years, beginning with changes to your menstrual cycle. Fluctuating estrogen levels during this time can cause your menstrual cycles to get longer or shorter.

Other signs and symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • mood changes
  • difficulty sleeping
  • vaginal dryness

 

5. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Irregular periods are the most common sign of PCOS. If you have PCOS, you may miss periods and have heavy bleeding when you do get your period.

PCOS can also cause:

  • infertility
  • excess facial and body hair
  • male-pattern baldness
  • weight gain or obesity

 

6. Thyroid problems

An underactive thyroid may cause longer, heavier periods.

A 2015 study found that 44 percent of participants with menstrual irregularities also had thyroid disorders.

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can cause longer, heavier periods and increased cramping. You may also experience fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and weight gain.

High levels of thyroid hormones, which is seen in hyperthyroidism, can cause shorter, lighter periods. You may also experience:

  • sudden weight loss
  • anxiety and nervousness
  • heart palpitations

Swelling at the base of your neck is another common sign of a thyroid disorder.

 

7. Uterine fibroids

Fibroids are muscular tumors that develop in the wall of the uterus. Most fibroids are noncancerous and can range in size from as small as an apple seed to the size of a grapefruit.

Fibroids can cause your periods to be very painful and heavy enough to cause anemia. You may also experience:

  • pelvic pain or pressure
  • low back pain
  • pain in your legs
  • pain during sex

Most fibroids don’t require treatment and symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and an iron supplement if you develop anemia.

 

8. Endometriosis

Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. This is a condition in which the tissue that normally lines your uterus grows outside the uterus.

Endometriosis causes very painful, even debilitating menstrual cramps. Endometriosis also causes heavy bleeding, prolonged periods, and bleeding between periods.

Other symptoms may include:

  • gastrointestinal pain
  • painful bowel movements
  • pain during and after intercourse
  • infertility

Exploratory surgery is the only way to diagnose endometriosis. There’s currently no cure for the condition, but symptoms can be managed with medication or hormone therapy.

 

9. Being overweight

Obesity is known to cause menstrual irregularity. Research shows that being overweight impacts hormone and insulin levels, which can interfere with your menstrual cycle.

Rapid weight gain can also cause menstrual irregularities. Weight gain and irregular periods are common signs of PCOS and hypothyroidism, and should be evaluated by your doctor.

 

10. Extreme weight loss and eating disorders

Excessive or rapid weight loss can cause your period to stop. Not consuming enough calories can interfere with the production of the hormones needed for ovulation.

You’re considered underweight if you have a body mass index lower than 18.5. Along with stopped periods, you may also experience fatigue, headaches, and hair loss.

See your doctor if:

  • you’re underweight
  • have lost a lot of weight without trying
  • you have an eating disorder

 

11. Excessive exercise

Intense or excessive exercise has been shown to interfere with the hormones responsible for menstruation.

Female athletes and women who participate in intensive training and physical activities, such as ballet dancers, often develop amenorrhea, which is missed or stopped periods.

Cutting back on your training and increasing your calorie count can help restore your periods.

 

12. Stress

Research shows that stress can interfere with your menstrual cycle by temporarily interfering with the part of the brain that controls the hormones that regulate your cycle. Your periods should return to normal after your stress decreases. Try these 16 techniques to relieve your stress.

 

13. Medications

Certain medications can interfere with your menstrual cycle, including:

Speak to your doctor about changing your medication.

 

14. Cervical and endometrial cancer

Cervical and endometrial cancers can cause changes to your menstrual cycle, along with bleeding between periods or heavy periods. Bleeding during or after intercourse and unusual discharge are other signs and symptoms of these cancers.

Remember that these symptoms are more commonly caused by other issues. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.

 

When to call your healthcare provider

There are several possible causes of irregular periods, many of which require medical treatment. Make an appointment to see your doctor if:

  • your periods stop for more than 3 months and you’re not pregnant
  • your periods become irregular suddenly
  • you have a period that lasts longer than 7 days
  • you need more than one pad or tampon every hour or two
  • you develop severe pain during your period
  • your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
  • you experience spotting between periods
  • you experience other symptoms, such as unusual discharge or fever

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and want to know about:

  • any stress or emotional issues you’re experiencing
  • any changes to your weight
  • your sexual history
  • how much you exercise

Medical tests may also be used to help diagnose the cause of your irregular bleeding, including:

  • a pelvic examination
  • blood tests
  • abdominal ultrasound
  • pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI

 

Treatments

Treatment depends on what’s causing your irregular periods and may require treating an underlying medical condition. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • oral contraceptives
  • hormonal IUDs
  • thyroid medication
  • metformin
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • exercise
  • vitamin D supplements

Stress reduction techniques may also help, including:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • deep breathing
  • cutting back on work and other demands

 

How to track your period

Tracking your period is a good idea even when your period is regular. You can track your period on a calendar or in a notebook, or use one of the many period tracking apps available.

Begin tracking your period by marking the first day of your period on a calendar. Within a few months you’ll begin to see if your periods are regular or different each month.

Keep track of the following:

  • PMS symptoms, such as headaches, cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, and moods
  • when your bleeding begins and whether or not it was earlier or later than expected
  • how heavy your bleeding was, including how many pads or tampons you used
  • symptoms during your period, such as cramping, back pain, and other symptoms and how bad they were
  • how long your period lasted and whether or not it was longer or shorter than your last period

 

Outlook

Irregular periods can be caused by a number of things, some of them serious. Your doctor can help you determine the cause and help you get your cycle back on track. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding stress can also help.