What Is ‘Sitting Disease’?

Sitting for long hours is linked to a whole lot of health problems. It’s even been referred to as “sitting disease.” There are things you can do break up the time you spend sitting. Here’s how to take a stand for your health.

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The Basics: Vitamin D

Vitamin D is sometimes called a “wonder vitamin.” Find out why we need it and where to get it.

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Health problems before and during pregnancy

Pregnancy complications

Complications of pregnancy are health problems that occur during pregnancy. They can involve the mother’s health, the baby’s health, or both. Some women have health problems before they become pregnant that could lead to complications. Other problems arise during the pregnancy. Whether a complication is common or rare, there are ways to manage problems that come up during pregnancy.

Health problems before pregnancy

Before pregnancy, make sure to talk to your doctor about health problems you have now or have had in the past. If you are receiving treatment for a health problem, your doctor might want to change the way your health problem is managed. Some medicines used to treat health problems could be harmful if taken during pregnancy. At the same time, stopping medicines that you need could be more harmful than the risks posed should you become pregnant. Be assured that you are likely to have a normal, healthy baby when health problems are under control and you get good prenatal care.

Health problems before pregnancy
Condition How it can affect pregnancy Where to learn more
Asthma Poorly controlled asthma may increase risk of preeclampsia, poor weight gain in the fetus, preterm birth, cesarean birth, and other complications. If pregnant women stop using asthma medicine, even mild asthma can become severe.
Depression Depression that persists during pregnancy can make it hard for a woman to care for herself and her unborn baby. Having depression before pregnancy also is a risk factor for postpartum depression.
Diabetes High blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy can harm the fetus and worsen a woman’s long-term diabetes complications. Doctors advise getting diabetes under control at least three to six months before trying to conceive.
Eating disorders Body image changes during pregnancy can cause eating disorders to worsen. Eating disorders are linked to many pregnancy complications, including birth defects and premature birth. Women with eating disorders also have higher rates of postpartum depression.
Epilepsy and other seizure disorders Seizures during pregnancy can harm the fetus, and increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. But using medicine to control seizures might cause birth defects. For most pregnant women with epilepsy, using medicine poses less risk to their own health and the health of their babies than stopping medicine.
High blood pressure Having chronic high blood pressure puts a pregnant woman and her baby at risk for problems. Women with high blood pressure have a higher risk of preeclampsia and placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus). The likelihood of preterm birth and low birth weight also is higher.
HIV HIV can be passed from a woman to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. Yet this risk is less than 1 percent if a woman takes certain HIV medicines during pregnancy. Women who have HIV and want to become pregnant should talk to their doctors before trying to conceive. Good prenatal care will help protect a woman’s baby from HIV and keep her healthy.
Migraine Migraine symptoms tend to improve during pregnancy. Some women have no migraine attacks during pregnancy. Certain medicines commonly used to treat headaches should not be used during pregnancy. A woman who has severe headaches should speak to her doctor about ways to relieve symptoms safely.
Overweight and Obesity Recent studies suggest that the heavier a woman is before she becomes pregnant, the greater her risk of a range of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia and preterm delivery. Overweight and obese women who lose weight before pregnancy are likely to have healthier pregnancies.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) Some STIs can cause early labor, a woman’s water to break too early, and infection in the uterus after birth. Some STIs also can be passed from a woman to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. Some ways STIs can harm the baby include: low birth weight, dangerous infections, brain damage, blindness, deafness, liver problems, or stillbirth.
Thyroid disease Uncontrolled hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can be dangerous to the mother and cause health problems such as heart failure and poor weight gain in the fetus. Uncontrolled hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) also threatens the mother’s health and can cause birth defects.
Uterine fibroids Uterine fibroids are not uncommon, but few cause symptoms that require treatment. Uterine fibroids rarely cause miscarriage. Sometimes, fibroids can cause preterm or breech birth. Cesarean delivery may be needed if a fibroid blocks the birth canal.

Pregnancy related problems

Sometimes pregnancy problems arise — even in healthy women. Some prenatal tests done during pregnancy can help prevent these problems or spot them early. Use this chart to learn about some common pregnancy complications. Call your doctor if you have any of the symptoms on this chart. If a problem is found, make sure to follow your doctor’s advice about treatment. Doing so will boost your chances of having a safe delivery and a strong, healthy baby.

Health problems during pregnancy
Problem Symptoms Treatment
Anemia – Lower than normal number of healthy red blood cells
  • Feel tired or weak
  • Look pale
  • Feel faint
  • Shortness of breath
Treating the underlying cause of the anemia will help restore the number of healthy red blood cells. Women with pregnancy related anemia are helped by taking iron and folic acid supplements. Your doctor will check your iron levels throughout pregnancy to be sure anemia does not happen again.
Depression – Extreme sadness during pregnancy or after birth (postpartum)
  • Intense sadness
  • Helplessness and irritability
  • Appetite changes
  • Thoughts of harming self or baby
Women who are pregnant might be helped with one or a combination of treatment options, including:

  • Therapy
  • Support groups
  • Medicines

A mother’s depression can affect her baby’s development, so getting treatment is important for both mother and baby. Learn more about depression during and after pregnancy.

Ectopic (ek-TOP-ihk) pregnancy – When a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
With ectopic pregnancy, the egg cannot develop. Drugs or surgery is used to remove the ectopic tissue so your organs are not damaged.
Fetal problems – Unborn baby has a health issue, such as poor growth or heart problems
  • Baby moving less than normal (Learn how to count your baby’s movements on our Prenatal care and tests page.)
  • Baby is smaller than normal for gestational age
  • Some problems have no symptoms, but are found with prenatal tests
Treatment depends on results of tests to monitor baby’s health. If a test suggests a problem, this does not always mean the baby is in trouble. It may only mean that the mother needs special care until the baby is delivered. This can include a wide variety of things, such as bed rest, depending on the mother’s condition. Sometimes, the baby has to be delivered early.
Gestational diabetes – Too high blood sugar levels during pregnancy
  • Usually, there are no symptoms. Sometimes, extreme thirst, hunger, or fatigue
  • Screening test shows high blood sugar levels
Most women with pregnancy related diabetes can control their blood sugar levels by a following a healthy meal plan from their doctor. Some women also need insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. Doing so is important because poorly controlled diabetes increases the risk of:

High blood pressure (pregnancy related) – High blood pressure that starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy and goes away after birth
  • High blood pressure without other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia
The health of the mother and baby are closely watched to make sure high blood pressure is not preeclampsia.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HEYE-pur-EM-uh-suhss grav-uh-DAR-uhm) (HG) – Severe, persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy — more extreme than “morning sickness”
  • Nausea that does not go away
  • Vomiting several times every day
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Feeling faint or fainting
Dry, bland foods and fluids together is the first line of treatment. Sometimes, medicines are prescribed to help nausea. Many women with HG have to be hospitalized so they can be fed fluids and nutrients through a tube in their veins. Usually, women with HG begin to feel better by the 20th week of pregnancy. But some women vomit and feel nauseated throughout all three trimesters.
Miscarriage – Pregnancy loss from natural causes before 20 weeks. As many as 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Often, miscarriage occurs before a woman even knows she is pregnant Signs of a miscarriage can include:

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding*
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Fluid or tissue passing from the vagina

* Spotting early in pregnancy doesn’t mean miscarriage is certain. Still, contact your doctor right away if you have any bleeding.

In most cases, miscarriage cannot be prevented. Sometimes, a woman must undergo treatment to remove pregnancy tissue in the uterus. Counseling can help with emotional healing. See our section on Pregnancy loss.
Placenta previaPlacenta covers part or entire opening of cervix inside of the uterus
  • Painless vaginal bleeding during second or third trimester
  • For some, no symptoms
If diagnosed after the 20th week of pregnancy, but with no bleeding, a woman will need to cut back on her activity level and increase bed rest. If bleeding is heavy, hospitalization may be needed until mother and baby are stable. If the bleeding stops or is light, continued bed rest is resumed until baby is ready for delivery. If bleeding doesn’t stop or if preterm labor starts, baby will be delivered by cesarean section.
Placental abruptionPlacenta separates from uterine wall before delivery, which can mean the fetus doesn’t get enough oxygen.
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Cramping, abdominal pain, and uterine tenderness
When the separation is minor, bed rest for a few days usually stops the bleeding. Moderate cases may require complete bed rest. Severe cases (when more than half of the placenta separates) can require immediate medical attention and early delivery of the baby.
Preeclampsia (pree-ee-CLAMP-see-uh) – A condition starting after 20 weeks of pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and problems with the kidneys and other organs. Also called toxemia.
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling of hands and face
  • Too much protein in urine
  • Stomach pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
The only cure is delivery, which may not be best for the baby. Labor will probably be induced if condition is mild and the woman is near term (37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy). If it is too early to deliver, the doctor will watch the health of the mother and her baby very closely. She may need medicines and bed rest at home or in the hospital to lower her blood pressure. Medicines also might be used to prevent the mother from having seizures.
Preterm labor – Going into labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pressure and cramping
  • Back pain radiating to the abdomen
  • Contractions
Medicines can stop labor from progressing. Bed rest is often advised. Sometimes, a woman must deliver early. Giving birth before 37 weeks is called “preterm birth.” Preterm birth is a major risk factor for future preterm births.

Infections during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your baby is protected from many illnesses, like the common cold or a passing stomach bug. But some infections can be harmful to your pregnancy, your baby, or both. This chart provides an overview of infections that can be harmful during pregnancy. Learn the symptoms and what you can do to keep healthy. Easy steps, such as hand washing, practicing safe sex, and avoiding certain foods, can help protect you from some infections.

Infections during pregnancy
Infection Symptoms Prevention and treatment
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

A vaginal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the vagina.

BV has been linked to preterm birth and low birth weight babies.

  • Grey or whitish discharge that has a foul, fishy odor
  • Burning when passing urine or itching
  • Some women have no symptoms
How to prevent BV is unclear. BV is not passed through sexual contact, although it is linked with having a new or more than one sex partner.

Women with symptoms should be tested for BV.

Antibiotics are used to treat BV.

Cytomegalovirus (SEYE-toh-MEG-uh-loh VEYE-ruhss) (CMV)

A common virus that can cause disease in infants whose mothers are infected with CMV during pregnancy. CMV infection in infants can lead to hearing loss, vision loss, and other disabilities.

  • Mild illness that may include fever, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen glands
  • Some women have no symptoms
Good hygiene is the best way to keep from getting CMV.

No treatment is currently available. But studies are looking at antiviral drugs for use in infants. Work to create a CMV vaccine also is underway.

Group B strep (GBS)

Group B strep is a type of bacteria often found in the vagina and rectum of healthy women. One in four women has it. GBS usually is not harmful to you, but can be deadly to your baby if passed during childbirth.

  • No symptoms
You can keep from passing GBS to your baby by getting tested at 35 to 37 weeks. This simply involves swabbing the vagina and rectum and does not hurt.

If you have GBS, an antibiotic given to you during labor will protect your baby from infection. Make sure to tell the labor and delivery staff that you are a group B strep carrier when you check into the hospital.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

A viral infection that can be passed to baby during birth. Newborns that get infected have a 90 percent chance of developing lifelong infection. This can lead to liver damage and liver cancer. A vaccine can keep newborns from getting HBV. But 1 in 5 newborns of mothers who are HBV positive don’t get the vaccine at the hospital before leaving.

There may be no symptoms. Or symptoms can include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Dark urine and pale bowel movements
  • Whites of eyes or skin looks yellow
Lab tests can find out if the mother is a carrier of hepatitis B.

You can protect your baby for life from HBV with the hepatitis B vaccine, which is a series of three shots:

  • First dose of hepatitis B vaccine plus HBIG shot given to baby at birth
  • Second dose of hepatitis B vaccine given to baby at 1-2 months old
  • Third dose of hepatitis B vaccine given to baby at 6 months old (but not before 24 weeks old)
Influenza (flu)

Flu is a common viral infection that is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Pregnant woman with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.

  • Fever (sometimes) or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Feeling tired
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (sometimes)
Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting against flu. The flu shot given during pregnancy is safe and has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from flu. (The nasal spray vaccine should not be given to women who are pregnant.)

If you get sick with flu-like symptoms call your doctor right away. If needed, the doctor will prescribe an antiviral medicine that treats the flu.

Listeriosis (lih-steer-ee-OH-suhss)

An infection with the harmful bacteria called listeria. It is found in some refrigerated and ready-to-eat foods. Infection can cause early delivery or miscarriage.

  • Fever, muscle aches, chills
  • Sometimes diarrhea or nausea
  • If progresses, severe headache and stiff neck
Avoid foods that can harbor listeria.

Antibiotics are used to treat listeriosis.

Parvovirus B19 (fifth disease)

Most pregnant women who are infected with this virus do not have serious problems. But there is a small chance the virus can infect the fetus. This raises the risk of miscarriage during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Fifth disease can cause severe anemia in women who have red blood cell disorders like sickle cell disease or immune system problems.

  • Low-grade fever
  • Tiredness
  • Rash on face, trunk, and limbs
  • Painful and swollen joints
No specific treatment, except for blood transfusions that might be needed for people who have problems with their immune systems or with red blood cell disorders. There is no vaccine to help prevent infection with this virus.
Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

An infection that is passed through sexual contact. Many STIs can be passed to the baby in the womb or during birth. Some effects include stillbirth, low birth weight, and life-threatening infections. STIs also can cause a woman’s water to break too early or preterm labor.

STIs can be prevented by practicing safe sex. A woman can keep from passing an STI to her baby by being screened early in pregnancy.

Treatments vary depending on the STI. Many STIs are treated easily with antibiotics.

Toxoplasmosis (TOK-soh-plaz-MOH-suhss)

This infection is caused by a parasite, which is found in cat feces, soil, and raw or undercooked meat. If passed to an unborn baby, the infection can cause hearing loss, blindness, or intellectual disabilities.

  • Mild flu-like symptoms, or possibly no symptoms.
You can lower your risk by:

  • Washing hands with soap after touching soil or raw meat
  • Washing produce before eating
  • Cooking meat completely
  • Washing cooking utensils with hot, soapy water
  • Not cleaning cats’ litter boxes

Medicines are used to treat a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Sometimes, the baby is treated with medicine after birth.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Bacterial infection in urinary tract. If untreated, it can spread to the kidneys, which can cause preterm labor.

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Pelvis, back, stomach, or side pain
  • Shaking, chills, fever, sweats
UTIs are treated with antibiotics.
Yeast infection

An infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the vagina. Yeast infections are more common during pregnancy than in other times of a woman’s life. They do not threaten the health of your baby. But they can be uncomfortable and difficult to treat in pregnancy.

  • Extreme itchiness in and around the vagina
  • Burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina and the vulva
  • Pain when passing urine or during sex
  • A thick, white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese and does not have a bad smell
Vaginal creams and suppositories are used to treat yeast infection during pregnancy.

When to call the doctor

When you are pregnant, don’t wait to call your doctor or midwife if something is bothering or worrying you. Sometimes physical changes can be signs of a problem.

Call your doctor or midwife as soon as you can if you:

  • Are bleeding or leaking fluid from the vagina
  • Have sudden or severe swelling in the face, hands, or fingers
  • Get severe or long-lasting headaches
  • Have discomfort, pain, or cramping in the lower abdomen
  • Have a fever or chills
  • Are vomiting or have persistent nausea
  • Feel discomfort, pain, or burning with urination
  • Have problems seeing or blurred vision
  • Feel dizzy
  • Suspect your baby is moving less than normal after 28 weeks of pregnancy (If you count less than 10 movements within two hours. Learn how to count your baby’s movements on our Prenatal care and tests page.)
  • Have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

This content is provided by the Office on Women’s Health.

Syndicated Content Details:
Source URL: https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/pregnancy-complications
Source Agency: Office on Women’s Health (OWH)
Captured Date: 2018-06-06 20:56:00.0

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loneliness – A Gene Deep Epidemic that Raises Health Risks and Can Be Spread

A 2016 survey of more than 2,000 American adults found 72 percent report having felt a sense of loneliness, with nearly a third (31 percent) experiencing loneliness at least once a week. The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association in September.

Isolation is often an underlying factor in many of the most common health conditions, including chronic pain, substance abuse and depression, according to osteopathic physicians.

Long working hours, increased use of social media—in many cases surpassing in-person interaction—and a mobile workforce traveling or living far from family contribute to the high rates of loneliness, noted Jennifer Caudle, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Loneliness is an invisible epidemic masked by our online personas, which are rarely representative of our real emotions,” said Dr. Caudle. “It’s important for patients to understand how their mental and emotional well-being directly affects the body. By taking a whole-person approach to care, osteopathic physicians are trained to address these underlying issues that can quietly erode patients’ health.”

Damage to the Immune Response

Research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health.

In one study, researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging.

Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response.

“It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions. And people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships,” said Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and lead author of the research.

“One reason this type of research is important is to understand how loneliness and relationships broadly affect health. The more we understand about the process, the more potential there is to counter those negative effects – to perhaps intervene. If we don’t know the physiological processes, what are we going to do to change them?”

The results are based on a series of studies conducted with two populations: a healthy group of overweight middle-aged adults and a group of breast cancer survivors. The researchers measured loneliness in all studies using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a questionnaire that assesses perceptions of social isolation and loneliness.

Jaremka presented the research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting in New Orleans.

The researchers first sought to obtain a snapshot of immune system behavior related to loneliness by gauging levels of antibodies in the blood that are produced when herpes viruses are reactivated.

Participants were 200 breast cancer survivors who were between two months and three years past completion of cancer treatment with an average age of 51 years. Their blood was analyzed for the presence of antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus.

Both are herpes viruses that infect a majority of Americans. About half of infections do not produce illness, but once a person is infected, the viruses remain dormant in the body and can be reactivated, resulting in elevated antibody levels, or titers – again, often producing no symptoms but hinting at regulatory problems in the cellular immune system.

Lonelier participants had higher levels of antibodies against cytomegalovirus than did less lonely participants, and those higher antibody levels were related to more pain, depression and fatigue symptoms. No difference was seen in Epstein-Barr virus antibody levels, possibly because this reactivation is linked to age and many of these participants were somewhat older, meaning reactivation related to loneliness would be difficult to detect, Jaremka said.

Previous research has suggested that stress can promote reactivation of these viruses, also resulting in elevated antibody titers.

“The same processes involved in stress and reactivation of these viruses is probably also relevant to the loneliness findings,” Jaremka said. “Loneliness has been thought of in many ways as a chronic stressor – a socially painful situation that can last for quite a long time.”

In an additional set of studies, the scientists sought to determine how loneliness affected the production of proinflammatory proteins, or cytokines, in response to stress. These studies were conducted with 144 women from the same group of breast cancer survivors and a group of 134 overweight middle-aged and older adults with no major health problems.

Baseline blood samples were taken from all participants, who were then subjected to stress – they were asked to deliver an impromptu five-minute speech and perform a mental arithmetic task in front of a video camera and three panelists. Researchers followed by stimulating the participants’ immune systems with lipopolysaccharide, a compound found on bacterial cell walls that is known to trigger an immune response.

In both populations, those who were lonelier produced significantly higher levels of a cytokine called interleukin-6, or IL-6, in response to acute stress than did participants who were more socially connected. Levels of another cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, also rose more dramatically in lonelier participants than in less lonely participants, but the findings were significant by statistical standards in only one study group, the healthy adults.

In the study with breast cancer survivors, researchers also tested for levels of the cytokine interleukin 1-beta, which was produced at higher levels in lonelier participants.

When the scientists controlled for a number of factors, including sleep quality, age and general health measures, the results were the same.  “We saw consistency in the sense that more lonely people in both studies had more inflammation than less lonely people,” Jaremka said.

“It’s also important to remember the flip side, which is that people who feel very socially connected are experiencing more positive outcomes,” she said.

Loneliness Can Add 30 Points To Your Blood Pressure

In another study conducted at the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, researchers found that if you are over 50 and lonely, you could be adding 30 points to your blood pressure and raising significantly your chances of suffering from hypertension.   The increase in blood pressure due to loneliness was present after taking into account a person’s emotional state (how sad or stressed the person was).

The older the lonely person gets, the higher his/her blood pressure seems to get, said the researchers.   Lead researcher, Louise Hawkley, said “The take-home message is that feelings of loneliness are a health risk, in that the lonelier you are, the higher your blood pressure. And we know that high blood pressure has all kinds of negative consequences.”

229 people were monitored in this study, aged 50-68. The participants had to answer a questionnaire which determined each person’s level of loneliness.

Hawkley said it is not as simple as that. She said “Remember, people can feel lonely even if they are with a lot of people. You can think of Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana – there was certainly nothing lacking in their social lives, yet they claimed to have felt intensely lonely. They may want to go out and make friends, and yet they have a nagging lack of trust with whomever they want to interact with, or they may feel hostile. So, they end up behaving in ways that force potential partners away.”

Loneliness Is Gene Deep

Loneliness has a molecular signature is reflected in the lonely person’s DNA. This was the conclusion of a new US study by scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and other US academic centers.

The study is published in an issue of the journal, Genome Biology.  The researchers discovered a distinct pattern of gene expression in immune cells of people who are chronically extremely lonely.

Study author Steve Cole, associate professor of medicine at the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, member of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center said in a press release that:

“What this study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes: the activity of our genes.”  Cole and colleagues suggest that feelings of isolation are linked to changes in gene expression that drive inflammation, one of the first responses of the immune system.  They hope the study gives a framework for understanding how social factors and increased risk of heart disease, viral infections and cancer are linked.

Scientists already know that social environments affect health. People who are lonely and socially isolated die earlier.  What they don’t know is if the higher rate of death among lonely people is because of reduced social resources or because of the effect of isolation on their bodily functions, or perhaps both.

However, Cole and the other researchers found that changes in the way immune cells express their genes were directly linked to the “subjective experience of social distance”.  The differences were independent of other known risk factors like health status, weight, age and use of medication, they said.  “The changes were even independent of the objective size of a person’s social network,” said Cole.

Cole and colleagues enrolled 14 participants from the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study and scanned their DNA using a chip technology called DNA microarrays that allowed them to survey all known human genes in the samples.  6 of the participants scored in the top 15 per cent of a well known psychological test for loneliness that was developed in the 70s called the UCLA Loneliness Scale.  The remaining 8 participants scored in the bottom 15 per cent of the Loneliness Scale.

The DNA survey showed that 209 gene transcripts (where the gene gets its code ready to start making proteins) were expressed differently between the two groups. All the genes coded for leucocytes, agents of the immune system.  78 of the gene transcripts were “over expressed” (resulting in too much protein) and 131 were “under expressed” (not enough protein) in the lonely individuals compared to the others.

The over expressed genes included many that control immune system functions like inflammation.  However, it was also interesting that the under expressed genes were those involved in antiviral responses and production of antibodies.

“These data provide the first indication that human genome-wide transcriptional activity is altered in association with a social epidemiological risk factor. Impaired transcription of glucocorticoid response genes and increased activity of pro-inflammatory transcription control pathways provide a functional genomic explanation for elevated risk of inflammatory disease in individuals who experience chronically high levels of subjective social isolation.”

Distinguishing between the various aspects of loneliness that are closely linked to these changes in gene expression, the scientists discovered:  “What counts at the level of gene expression is not how many people you know, it’s how many you feel really close to over time,” said Cole.  He added that the findings could identify molecular targets for blocking the negative health impact of social isolation.

Loneliness Can Spread Through Social Networks

A US study of social networks found that a person’s loneliness can spread to others, in that when they become lonely they move to the edge of the network and transmit feelings of loneliness to their few remaining friends who also become lonely, leading to an effect that the researchers described as an unravelling at the edges of our social fabric.

The study, which was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, is the work of John T Cacciopo of the University of Chicago, James H Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas A Christakis of Harvard University and is about to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Cacciopo, a social neuroscientist and lead investigator on the study, is Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at Chicago. He told the press that:

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely.”

“On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left,” he added.

Loneliness is often associated with mental and physical diseases that can shorten life, said Cacioppo, so it is important for us to recognize it and help people reconnect with their social group before they move to the edges.

He and his co-authors wrote that while previous studies have already shown that a person’s loneliness and the number of people they are connected to in a network are linked, we don’t know much about “the placement of loneliness within, or the spread of loneliness through, social networks”.

Using longitudinal data from a large-scale study, they found that loneliness, like a bad cold, spreads in groups: people share their loneliness with others.

Cacioppo and colleagues used data on 5,124 people in the second generation of participants from the Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health of individuals and their descendants for more than 60 years. The data set included information taken every two to four years on participants’ friends and social contacts.

For the study, Cacioppo and colleagues charted the friendship histories of participants and linked them to their reports of loneliness. This showed a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported fewer close friends, and that lonely people appeared to transmit loneliness to others, and then moved to the edges of their social networks.

“Loneliness is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks and spreads through a contagious process,” wrote the researchers.

For example, one pattern might start when a participant reports one extra day a week of loneliness. This is followed by similar reports among his or her next-door neighbors who are also close friends. The pattern of loneliness then spreads as the neighbors spend less time together.

“These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater,” explained Cacioppo.

The researchers also found that:

  • Women were more likely to report “catching loneliness from others” than men (perhaps reinforcing findings from studies that suggest women rely more on emotional support than men).
  • Loneliness occurred in clusters and extended up to three degrees of separation.
  • A person’s chances of reporting increased loneliness were more likely to be linked to changes in friendship networks than changes in family networks.

The authors concluded that the study helps us better understand the social forces that drive loneliness.

Society may benefit by “aggressively targeting the people in the periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network from unraveling,” they added.

Other studies suggest that as people become lonely they trust other people less and less, and this leads to a cycle of less trusting and more loneliness, which leads to less trusting, and so on, and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to make friends.

Cacioppo said researchers have seen this social tendency reflected in monkey colonies that drive out members who have been removed and then reintroduced.  He said such a pattern makes it all the more important for us to recognize and offset loneliness before it spreads.

Overcoming Loneliness

The first step in addressing loneliness is to determine whether those feelings are caused by depression. A physician can diagnose any existing mental health conditions and suggest treatment options. To limit loneliness, physicians recommend some simple steps to help increase real social engagement:

  1. Consider a digital cleanse. Social networks can offer real connections, but the curated platforms may over-emphasize the success of others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. For more empowering activities, consider enrolling in a continuing education course or spending time enjoying nature.
  2. Exercise with others. Participating in a running club, group fitness course or team sport can have dual benefits, creating opportunities to meet new people while also improving physical health. Many sports stores, churches and community groups offer free weekly activities including fun runs and yoga.
  3. Buy local. Developing a routine that includes visiting a local shopkeeper, coffee shop, farmers’ market or gym builds roots in the community. Creating relationships with local vendors can lead to a sense of shared history and camaraderie.
  4. Step out of your comfort zone. Introducing yourself to nearby neighbors or engaging with people in the building elevator—while initially uncomfortable—can begin the process of developing community and has the added bonus of alleviating loneliness for others.
  5. Change jobs, schools or cities. This drastic option is not always possible, and certainly not easy, but it may have the most significant impact. Start by identifying the culture that would best fit your personality and work toward a transition.

“Face-to-face communication is critical for emotional and mental health,” Dr. Caudle added. “Seeking out meaningful human interactions makes patients happier and, ultimately, healthier overall.”

Conclusion

Loneliness has negative effects on your immune system, creates a genetic signature and can spread through social networks.  Our digital addictions seem to be contributing to our disconnectedness.  Additional studies indicate loneliness significantly shortens lives and can lead to or magnify dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Today is National Cheer up the Lonely Day.  Visit with the lonely and bring happy things to talk about. Keep the conversation upbeat, and lively. When you leave, give a big hug and let them know you enjoyed the stay. Sending cards or making a phone call is okay if they live too far away to visit, but what a lonely person really needs is face to face time with other people.

If you are feeling lonely, other studies indicate you are more likely to see a physician with increased frequency.  At HealthLynked, we can connect you to those physicians who really care and want to spend time with you.

To find a physician you really, well, click with, click on this link and get Lynked today!  It is free, and a great way for you to begin taking control of your health!

 

Adapted from:

[1] Caldwell, Emily. The Immune System Taxed By Loneliness, Similar To The Effect Of Chronic Stress.  Medical News Today, Tuesday 22 January 2013

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Pelotonia Postdoctoral Fellowship from Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Co-authors include Christopher Fagundes of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR); Juan Peng of the College of Public Health; Jeanette Bennett of the Division of Oral Biology; Ronald Glaser of the Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics; William Malarkey of the Department of Internal Medicine; and Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of the Department of Psychiatry, all at Ohio State. Bennett, Glaser, Malarkey and Kiecolt-Glaser are also IBMR investigators.

[2] Lombardi, Yvonne. Loneliness Can Add 30 Points To Your Blood Pressure If You Are Over 50.  Medical News Today. Wednesday, 29 March 2006.

[3] Paddock, Catharine PhD.  Loneliness Is Gene Deep. Medical News Today. Friday, 14 September 2007

“Effects of loneliness on gene expression.”
Cole SW, Hawkley LC, Arevalo JM, Sung CY, Rose RM, Cacioppo JT.
Genome Biology 2007, 8:R189.
doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189
Published online 13 September 2007 (provisional version).

[4]  Paddock, Catharine PhD.  Loneliness Can Spread Through Social Networks.  Medical News Today. Wednesday, 2 December 2009

“Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network.”
John T Cacciopo, James H Fowler, Nicholas A Christakis.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 2009 (pre-publication proof).
DOI:10.1037/a0016076

[5] American Osteopathic Association.  Survey Finds Nearly Three-Quarters (72%) of Americans Feel Lonely: Osteopathic Physicians Say Silent ‘Loneliness Epidemic’ Contributes to Nation’s Health Woes. PRN. Oct 11, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Eating Chocolate Actually Good for You? Researchers Seem to Think So!

Despite a bad rap for causing weight gain and loosely being associated with acne, Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food for many.  Americans spend $10 billion annually on chocolaty treats.  For many, it is a sure-fire relief in times of stress, a reliable source of consolation in times of disappointment, and a mood-enhancer and romance-magnifier in more positive circumstances.

But is it at all healthy?  If you consume lots of it, obviously not; but the next time you savor a piece of chocolate, you may not have to feel so guilty about it. Countless studies document a host of medically proven ways in which chocolate — good chocolate, which is to say dark chocolate, with a cocoa percentage of around seventy per cent or more — really is good for us.

Fast facts on chocolate

  • Chocolate is made from tropical Theobroma cacao tree seeds.
  • Its earliest use dates back to the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica.
  • After the European discovery of the Americas, chocolate became very popular in the wider world, and its demand exploded.
  • Chocolate consumption has long been associated with conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.
  • Chocolate is believed to contain high levels of antioxidants.
  • Some studies have suggested chocolate could lower cholesterol levels and prevent memory decline.
  • Chocolate contains a large number of calories.
  • People who are seeking to lose or maintain weight should eat chocolate only in moderation.

Benefits

Chocolate receives a lot of bad press because of its high fat and sugar content. Its consumption has also been associated high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

However, a review of chocolate’s health effects published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine point to the discovery that cocoa – the key ingredient in chocolate –  contains biologically active phenolic compounds.  This has changed people’s views on chocolate, and it has stimulated research into how it might impact aging, and conditions such as oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis.

It is important to note many of the possible health benefits mentioned below are gleaned  from single studies.

1)  Cholesterol

One study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, suggests that chocolate consumption might help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, also known as “bad cholesterol.”

The researchers set out to investigate whether chocolate bars containing plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) have any effect on cholesterol levels.

The authors concluded: “Regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS and CF, as part of a low-fat diet, may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure.”

2)  Cognitive function

Scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people.

The researchers found that hot chocolate helped improve blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed.

Lead author, Farzaneh A. Sorond, said:

“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

Another study, published in 2016 in the journal Appetite, suggests eating chocolate at least once weekly could improve cognitive function.

Flavanols are thought to reduce memory loss in older people, and the anti-inflammatory qualities of dark chocolate have been found beneficial in treating brain injuries such as concussion.

Research has shown that when elderly people were given specially prepared cocoa extracts which was high in flavanols, their cognitive function greatly improved. The only problem is that when it comes to eating chocolate, the percentage of those cocoa flavanols is much reduced due to the processing and the addition of eggs, sugar and milk.

3)  Heart disease

Lots of studies reveal that the flavonoids in chocolate can help your veins and arteries to stay supple. Over 7 studies followed 114,000 participants who were given a few servings of dark chocolate a week. The results showed that their risk of getting a heart attack was reduced by about 37% while the chances of getting a stroke were 29% less when they had a higher consumption of chocolate.

Research published in The BMJ, suggests that consuming chocolate could help lower the risk of developing heart disease by one-third.  Based on their observations, the authors concluded that higher levels of chocolate consumption could be linked to a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders.

A 2014 study found that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels – both common causes of artery clogging.

4)  Stroke

Canadian scientists, in a study involving 44,489 individuals, found that people who ate chocolate were 22 percent less likely to experience a stroke than those who did not. Also, those who had a stroke but regularly consumed chocolate were 46 percent less likely to die as a result.

A further study, published in the journal Heart in 2015, tracked the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women.  The findings suggested that eating up to 100 grams (g) of chocolate each day may be linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

5)  Good for moms, fetal growth and development

Eating 30 g of chocolate every day during pregnancy might benefit fetal growth and development, according to a study presented at the 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Atlanta, GA.

A Finnish study also found that chocolate reduced stress in expectant mothers, and that the babies of such mothers smiled more often than the offspring of non-chocolate-eating parents.

One of the complications of pregnancy, known as preeclampsia, can cause blood pressure can shoot up. Researchers have established that one of the chemicals in dark chocolate, theobromine, can stimulate the heart and help the arteries dilate. When pregnant women were given higher doses of chocolate, they had a 40% less chance of developing this complication.

6)  Athletic performance

Findings published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggest a little dark chocolate might boost oxygen availability during fitness training.

Another magical flavanol in chocolate is epicatechin. Mice were given this substance and they were much fitter and stronger than those mice on water only. Researchers say that to get the best results from your workout you have to limit the amount to only about half of one square of chocolate a day! If you have too much, it could undo the beneficial effects.

7)   It’s mineral rich

Dark chocolate is packed with beneficial minerals such as potassium, zinc and selenium, and a 100g bar of dark (70 per cent or more) choc provides 67 per cent of the RDA of iron.  It has almost all of your RDA for copper and manganese, contains over half your magnesium RDA and delivers about 10% of fiber.

8)  It reduces cholesterol

Consumption of cocoa has been shown to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of “good” cholesterol, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Journal of Nutrition published an interesting article about the results of a study done to determine whether dark chocolate could have any effect on the LDL cholesterol levels. They found when subjects were given bars of dark chocolate with plant sterols and flavanols, they were getting lower scores on their cholesterol levels.

9)  It’s good for your skin

The flavanols in dark chocolate can protect the skin against sun damage.     One study conducted in London found that women who were given chocolate with a high flavanol content were able to withstand double the amount of UV light on their skins without burning, compared to those on lower doses.  Still, you are probably better off slapping on some sunscreen.

10) It can help you lose weight

Chocolate can help you lose weight. Really. Neuroscientist Will Clower says a small square of good choc melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain that say, “I’m full”, cutting the amount of food you subsequently consume. Finishing a meal with the same small trigger could reduce subsequent snacking.

11) It may prevent diabetes

It sounds mad, but cocoa has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. So dark chocolate – in moderation – might delay or prevent the onset of diabetes. One small study at the University of L’Aquila in Italy found that the right does of chocolate flavonoids can help the body’s metabolism and enhance insulin function.

12) Chocolate makes you feel better

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins. These Endorphins play a key role in helping to prevent depression and other mental malaise.

Some chocolate lovers also add certain kinds of chocolate may be good for the soul: this is chocolate for which the raw materials have been grown with care by farmers who are properly rewarded for their work; then processed by people who take time and care in their work and finished by chocolatiers who love what they do. It is not mass-produced, and it may not be cheap. But it could be good for you, heart and soul.

13) It may help people with Alzheimer’s disease

As we know, the nerve pathways to the brain get damaged when Alzheimer’s disease strikes, causing severe loss in certain mental functions. It is fascinating to read about how one extract from cocoa, called lavado, can actually reduce the damage done to these vital pathways.

Results of a lab experiment, published in 2014, indicated that a cocoa extract, called lavado, might reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This extract could help slow symptoms such as cognitive decline.

14) It can help to lower your blood pressure

You may not know it but having the right amount of NO (Nitric Oxide) in your body can help your arteries to relax. That will, in turn help to take some of the pressure off them and the result is a lower BP count. Just another benefit of the dark chocolate flavanols which help to produce this vital Nitric Oxide.

15) It can also help you see better

University of Reading researchers were curious to see if dark chocolate flavanols could actually improve vision as they knew it certainly improved blood circulation in general. They decided to do a small experiment and gave two groups of volunteers some white and dark chocolate. The dark chocolate groups were doing better on vision tests afterwards.

16) It may help reduce fatigue

If you suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome you should try adding chocolate to your daily diet. One group of sufferers were given a daily dose of chocolate for two months. They were less tired and the best news of all is that they did not put on any extra weight.

17) It may help to lower your Body Mass Index

There has been a lot of emphasis on how chocolate can actually reduce your BMI (Body Mass Index) which is how you measure up as regards your height versus your weight. One study took 1,000 Californians and they found that those who ate chocolate more often during the week had a lower BMI. Overall diet and exercise regimes were not factors which influenced this result.

18) It may help reduce your chances of getting cancer

As we have mentioned, the cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These are important in keeping the actions of free radicals at bay. As we know, these are the protagonists when cancer starts to invade cells.

19) It may help your cough

Another marvelous effect of the theobromine chemical in chocolate is that it can calm a troublesome cough. Manufacturers are looking at this to produce safer cough syrups instead of using codeine which has some undesirable side effects.

20) It may help with blood circulation

Normally you take an aspirin to help prevent blood clotting and to improve circulation. Studies now show that chocolate can have a similar effect.

Light vs. dark chocolate

Chocolate’s antioxidant potential may have a range of health benefits. The higher the cocoa content, as in dark chocolate, the more benefits there are. Dark chocolate may also contain less fat and sugar, but it is important to check the label.

Manufacturers of light, or milk, chocolate, claim their product is better for health because it contains milk, and milk provides protein and calcium. Supporters of dark chocolate point to the higher iron content and levels of antioxidants in their product.

How do the nutrients compare?

Here are some sample nutrient levels in light and dark chocolate,

Nutrient Light (100 g) Dark (100 g)
Energy 531 kcal 556 kcal
Protein 8.51 g 5.54 g
Carbohydrate 58 g 60.49 g
Fat 30.57 g 32.4 g
Sugars 54 g 47.56 g
Iron 0.91 mg 2.13 mg
Phosphorus 206 mg 51 mg
Potassium 438 mg 502 mg
Sodium 101 mg 6 mg
Calcium 251 mg 30 mg
Cholesterol 24 mg 5 mg

The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cocoa, and so, in theory, the higher the level of antioxidants there will be in the bar.

However, nutrients vary widely in commercially available chocolate bars, depending on the brand and type you choose. It is best to check the label if you want to be sure of the nutrients.

Risks and precautions

More research is needed to confirm eating chocolate can really improve people’s health.  In addition, chocolate bars do not contain only cocoa. The benefits and risks of any other ingredients, such as sugar and fat, need to be considered.

Weight gain: Some studies suggest that chocolate consumption is linked to lower body mass index (BMI) and fatness. However, chocolate can have a high calorie count due to its sugar and fat content. Anyone who is trying to slim down or maintain their weight should limit their chocolate consumption and check the label of their favorite product.

Sugar content: The high sugar content of most chocolate can also be a cause of tooth decay.

Migraine risk: Some people may experience an increase in migraines when eating chocolate regularly due to cocoa’s tyramine, histamine, and phenylalanine content. However, research is mixed.

Bone health: There is some evidence that chocolate might cause poor bone structure and osteoporosis. The results of one study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that older women who consumed chocolate every day had lower bone density and strength.

Heavy metals: Some cocoa powders, chocolate bars, and cacao nibs may contain high levels of cadmium and lead, which are toxic to the kidneys, bones, and other body tissues.

In 2017, Consumer Lab tested 43 chocolate products and found that nearly all cocoa powders contained more than 0.3 mcg cadmium per serving, the maximum amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Conclusion

All in all, eating chocolate can have both health benefits and risks. As with anything, moderation is key.  Research is continuing, and while experts have already found chocolate is good for the heart, circulation and brain, it has been suggested it may even greater benefit in such major heath challenges as autism, obesity and  diabetes.

If you are interested in speaking with a physician about the delicious benefits of chocolate or starting a workout to shed the unwanted effects of too much, find a doctor in the nation’s largest healthcare social ecosystem – HealthLynked.  Here, patients a connecting with physicians in unique ways to Improve HealthCare.

Ready to get Lynked?  Go to HealthLynked.com to sign up for Free!

 

Sources:

20 Health Benefits of Chocolate, Robert Locke

Health benefits and risks of chocolate, Natalie Butler, RD, LD

 

Why is it Important to Know My Family Health History?

Family Health History: Why It’s Important and What You Should Know
Why is it important to know my family history?

by Kimberly Holland

Family members share more than similar appearance. You may recognize that you have your father’s curly hair or your mother’s button nose. Thank goodness my kids got my wife’s food looks. What is not so easy to see is that your great-grandmother passed along an increased risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

That’s why discovering and knowing your family health history is vitally important. Your medical history includes all the traits your family shares you can’t see. These traits may increase your risk for many hereditary conditions and diseases, including:

• cancer
• diabetes
• asthma
• heart disease and blood clots
• Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
• arthritis
• depression
• high blood pressure and high cholesterol

Whose history do I need?

The general rule for family health history is that more is better. First, you’ll want to focus on immediate family members who are related to you through blood. Start with your parents, siblings, and children. If they’re still alive, grandparents are another great place to start. They may know partial histories of many members of your family.

You can also gather information from your aunts and uncles, and other blood relatives. Once you move beyond this core circle of family, genetic makeups change so greatly that you may not be able to learn much about your own risk. Still, keep information handy for any family members you learn about during your search for medical history. It may be helpful down the road.

How can I gather this information?

Talking about health may not come naturally to you or your family. You can start the conversation by letting your family members know why you want to gather health information. Also, let them know that you’re willing to share information with them, so that you can all have more complete health histories. It may be easier to start out by having one-on-one conversations.

Get the right information

When you’re ready to gather family health history information, keep these things in mind:

Major medical issues: Ask about every major medical issue anyone in close relation to you has been diagnosed with. In this fact-finding stage, nothing is too small, though issues are only significant if the cause was genetic. Lyme disease, injuries, and other things caused by external factors can’t be inherited.
Causes of death: Find out the cause of death for any family members who’ve passed away. That might provide a clue to your family medical history, too.
Age of onset: Ask when each family member was diagnosed with each condition. This may help your doctor recognize the early onset of certain diseases.
Ethnic background: Different ethnicities have varying levels of risk for certain conditions. As best you can, identify your ethnic background to help spot potential health risks.
Environment: Families share common genes, but they also share common environments, habits, and behaviors. A complete family history also includes understanding what factors in your environment could impact your health.

5 questions to ask

Here are some questions you can ask to start the conversation:

  1. How old was my relative when they died, and what was the cause of death?
  2. Are there health problems that run in the family?
  3. Is there a history of pregnancy loss or birth defects in my family?
  4. What allergies do people in my family have?
  5. What is my ethnicity? (Some conditions are common among certain ethnicities.)

What should I do with this information?

Knowing your own health history is important, and sharing it with your doctor may be more important. That’s because your doctor can help you interpret what it means for your current lifestyle, suggest prevention tips, and decide on screening or testing options for conditions you may be more at risk for developing.

The genes you’re born with can’t be changed or altered. If you know your family history, you’re one step ahead of the game. You can take the initiative to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. For example, you could decide to stop smoking or drinking alcohol, or to start exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. These lifestyle changes may reduce your chances for developing hereditary conditions.

Is incomplete information still useful?

Even a family health history that’s incomplete is still useful to your doctor. Share any information you have with them.

For example, if you know that your sibling was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 35, your doctor may suspect a possible genetic issue. They may then decide it’s important that you have regular colon cancer screenings before the recommended age of 50. Your doctor may also suggest you undergo genetic counseling or testing to identify any genetic risks.

What if I was adopted

Environment plays an important part in your health history, and you can get the details for this from your adoptive family. Learning more about your birth family’s health history may require a large investment of time and energy.

Ask your adoptive parents if they have any information about your birth parents. It’s possible family health history information was shared during the adoption process. If not, ask the agency that arranged the adoption if they retained any personal health history information for your birth parents. Understand your state’s statutes before you begin requesting adoption history information.

If all of these avenues come up short, you may need to make a choice about seeking out your birth parents. You may not wish to pursue that route, or you may be unable to connect with them. In that case, alert your doctor to your personal history. The two of you can then work to identify ways to screen for and detect your risk of certain conditions.

What if I’m estranged from my family?

If you’re estranged from only part of your family, you can try a few things to collect your family health history:

Talk to the family members you’re connected with. You may not need to reconnect with your whole family to collect your family health history.
Reach out via your doctor. Some medical offices may be able to send out questionnaires to family members asking for information in an official capacity. This may prompt people to respond.

Do some research. You may be able to discover the cause of death of your relatives from death certificates. Search online to find state-specific death records or check ancestry sites for this information. Obituaries, often available online or archived by public libraries, might also provide health information.

What about genetic testing and genetic predisposition?

Certain ethnic backgrounds and races may be predisposed to conditions for which a genetic test is useful. For example, women of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have an increased risk for breast cancer. A specific gene mutation is more common in these women than in other women. Genetic screening may help your doctor detect this gene mutation and prepare you for treatment options early.

Although genetic tests can help identify potential risks you may have inherited for a specific disease, they don’t guarantee you’ll develop that disease. Results may show you have a predisposition to several conditions. While you may never actually develop any of these, you might feel the added anxiety isn’t worth the knowledge. Seriously consider the benefits and concerns you may have with knowing your genetic risk factors before you do any testing.

How do I record the details?

Make sure you write down or electronically document the health information your relatives provide. You can use HealthLynked for this. Just complete one profile per family member whose medical records you are responsible for and have other family members complete and share their own with you.

Outlook

Knowing your health history helps you to be more proactive about your health. Share this information with your doctor so they can screen early for conditions you’re predisposed to and suggest lifestyle choices that can help reduce your risk.



Also talk to your doctor if you need more help figuring out how to uncover your health history or what questions you should ask. If you don’t have one you depend on today, you might find a great physician using the first of its kind social ecosystem designed specifically for everything described in the article.

Ready to get Lynked? Go to HealthLynked.com now to start compiling your medical history and sharing with those you choose, for Free, today!

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