In the United States, two-thirds of the population is said to be either overweight or obese. Now there’s a new option for those who might need medical help to lose weight but don’t qualify for weight loss surgery. This week Mayo Clinic surgeons were the first in the U.S. to implant a new device recently approved by the FDA. The procedure involves the temporary placement of a special balloon in the stomach and has the potential for lasting results. Here’s Dennis Douda for the Mayo Clinic News Network.
If you are looking for the stuff you “need to know” from the title, it’s further on down in the article. In observance of PCOS Awareness Month, we thought we would share the true story of a young woman living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). I know her well but interviewed her for the article anyway. She’s my super cool middle, Delaney.
Delaney grew up a very active, wonderfully gregarious kid who moved around a few times with the Navy until we exited and settled in SoCar – that’s South Carolina, for those who don’t know. A natural athlete, fast, nimble and taller than her peers, she quickly found herself to be a standout soccer player. She didn’t know she couldn’t score every time she had the ball at her feet, and so she did. Because she was quick and had incredible endurance, she also was recruited by the track coach to run the varsity 800m in seventh grade, along with a teammate who was her opposite on the field.
But soccer was her thing, and she eventually dropped the spikes to focus solely on futbol. Running upwards of 8 miles every day in practice – anywhere from trotting to full Sprint, even backwards and sideways as an outside midfielder, she was fit in all the ways a peak performing Athlete would be. To fuel it all, she would eat FOUR big meals every day – each bigger than those her 220 lbs weight Training father would consume. She ate it and burned it with a ferocity on the Field we all admired.
Attack, fight, victory was her personal motto, in everything and in all ways. Then came college. She decided to focus on her studies and didn’t go out for the team. In fact, just about every bit of working out came to a screeching halt. And then, her period stopped….for a full year.
She had gained the average “freshman fifteen”, which wasn’t surprising when considering her eating habits, if anything, were filling her with added calories, and she had stopped using those calories on the field. So, if she had always had her period as an athlete and now had even more body fat, why was she experiencing amenorrhea (the technical term for missing your period)? Stress? All the life changes in general? Purely hormonal?
Poly cystic ovarian syndrome is, at its most basic level, a hormonal imbalance, where too much of the “male” hormones are produced in a female. While the only apparent symptom she displayed at the time was amenorrhea, her ever diligent homeopathic healer in residence, aka, her mom, was convinced she had PCOS.
First stop, her old pediatrician, who told her everything was normal; but she could go on birth control to start her period again. After all, having one is important for so many other things in a young woman’s life, like the other hormones it generates that aid in creating increased bone density.
Not enough info, so on to an Ob/Gyn. There, the feedback was little more along the lines of what her mom had already assumed, but they were even skeptical. “So, let’s get an ultrasound,” my wife suggested. The physician said you couldn’t see PCOS on an ultrasound. As a DMS, my wife knew better.
On ultrasound, it was clear her ovaries were encased in cysts. They were covered in follicles too numerous to count – today, 20 on an ovary will typically be used as a clear diagnosis.
Diagnosis in hand, the physician gave her the long list of troubles she was set to endure in her life – infertility, type II diabetes, a constant struggle with weight gain, hirsutism, and skin issues to name a few. And, as if on queue, while the lack of period was the only thing she went to the physician for, she began to experience all of the negative symptoms save diabetes.
“I started to use PCOS as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted,” she says today. “I just stopped caring about what I put in my body,” and she may have even begun to somewhat celebrate the new-found freedom from lack of discipline around diet. Pictures of food became the standard in her social feed, and she did start to suffer the weight gain her MD predicted. Along with that came the added pain of body image issues.
She started taking birth control to manage her cycle, and it worked. At least, it did ensure she became regular; but deep down inside, she knew it wasn’t fixing the problem. “I knew it was a bandaid put on to cover what was really wrong, so I quit after a year. It wasn’t really doing anything. It definitely was not helping fix whatever was at the root,” she said to me this Labor Day morning.
She finished college as a star student, winning all but one of the math awards given out by the University of South Carolina. I guess I forgot to mention, she’s also brilliant, and I am very proud, of her and all of our kids. On to New York City!
Always called to serve, Delaney decided to teach in the high schools of the Bronx. She was not sure if it was the added stress or the increased disregard for dietary discipline, but she added even more weight with the move, though she began to workout more than before. And, the skin issues and extra hair growth kicked in….
“I began to understand I had to do something. Thankfully, Mom has always been a huge proponent of natural healing, so I started a few different regiments of eating more mindfully and living more intentionally,” Delaney says now. She went through a few rounds of Whole 30, and really started to stop eating when full. “I used to empty my plate, no matter what;… but now come home with leftovers routinely,” she says. “If I want to have pizza, I still have pizza. I just don’t eat a WHOLE pizza.”
The changes in diet and exercise, along with a few other healthy changes in her life, over a two-year period, have restored this vivacious young lady to the same level of health she had when she entered college in 2011. She would say her PCOS is in remission.
“I still wonder, on occasion, about my ability to have a family; but, since my cycle is normal, naturally, I am ovulating, and my health is optimized, I think that won’t be a problem, either.” We hope not! We love grandkids!
Delaney would tell anyone asking her results may not be normal. She would encourage you to seek to control PCOS in the most natural ways possible – through diet, exercise and healthy living – but she also acknowledges those methods may not be for everyone. Definitely seek medical counsel.
So, What Is PCOS, Really?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition. Hormones are substances your body makes to help make different processes happen. Some are related to your ability to have a baby, and also affect your menstrual cycle. Those that are involved in PCOS include.
- Androgens: Often called “male” hormones, women have them, too. Those with PCOS tend to have higher levels, which can cause symptoms like hair loss, hair in places you don’t want it (such as on your face), and trouble getting pregnant.
- Insulin: This hormone manages your blood sugar. If you have PCOS, your body might not react to insulin the way that it should.
- Progesterone: With PCOS, your body may not have enough of this hormone. That can make you to miss your periods for a long time, or to have periods that are hard to predict.
With PCOS, your reproductive hormones are out of balance. This can lead to problems with your ovaries, such as not having your period on time, or missing it entirely. In women who have it, it can:
- Affect your ability to have a child (fertility)
- Make your periods stop or become difficult to predict
- Cause acneand unwanted hair
- Raise your chances for other health problems, including diabetesand high blood pressure
There are treatments for the symptoms, and if you want to get pregnant, that’s still possible, though you may need to try different methods. Many women who have PCOS don’t have cysts on their ovaries, so “polycystic” can be misleading. You might have cysts, and you might not.
What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?
If you have things such as oily skin, missed periods, or trouble losing weight, you may think those issues are just a normal part of your life. But those frustrations could actually be signs that you have polycystic ovary (or ovarian) syndrome, also known as PCOS.
The condition has many symptoms, and you may not have all of them. It’s pretty common for it to take women a while – even years – to find out they have this condition.
Things You Might Notice
You might be most bothered by some of the PCOS symptoms that other people can notice. These include:
- Hair growth in unwanted areas. Your doctor may call this “hirsutism” (pronounced HUR-soo-tiz-uhm). You might have unwanted hair growing in places such as on your face or chin, breasts, stomach, or thumbs and toes.
- Hair loss. Women with PCOS might see thinning hair on their head, which could worsen in middle age.
- Weight problems. About half of women with PCOS struggle with weight gain or have a tough time losing weight.
- Acne or oily skin. Because of hormone changes related to PCOS, you might develop pimples and oily skin. (You can have these PCOS, of course).
- Problems sleeping, feeling tired all the time. You could have trouble falling asleep. Or you might have a disorder known as sleep apnea. This means that even when you do sleep, you do not feel well-rested after you wake up.
- Headaches. This is because of hormone changes with PCOS.
- Trouble getting pregnant. PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility.
- Period problems. You could have irregular periods. Or you might not have a period for several months. Or you might have very heavy bleeding during your period.
How Do I Know If I Have PCOS?
There’s no single test that, by itself, shows whether you have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and give you a physical exam and blood tests to help find out if you have this condition.
PCOS is a common hormone disorder that can cause problems with your period, fertility, weight, and skin. It can also put you at risk for other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. If you have it, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can start treatment.
What Your Doctor Will ask
Your doctor will want to know about all the signs and symptoms you’ve noticed. This is an important step to help figure out whether you have PCOS, and to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.
You’ll need to answer questions about your family’s medical history, including whether your mother or sister has PCOS or problems getting pregnant. This information is helpful — PCOS tends to run in families.
Be ready to discuss any period problems you’ve had, weight changes, and other concerns.
Your doctor may diagnose PCOS if you have at least two of these symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Higher levels of androgen (male hormones) shown in blood tests or through symptoms like acne, male-pattern balding, or extra hair growth on your face, chin, or body
- Cysts in your ovaries as shown in an ultrasound exam
What’s the Treatment for PCOS?
Treatments can help you manage the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and lower your odds for long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
You and your doctor should talk about what your goals are, then you can come up with a treatment plan. For example, if you want to get pregnant and are having trouble, then your treatment would focus on helping you conceive. If you want to tame PCOS-related acne, your treatment would be geared toward skin problems.
- One of the best ways to deal with PCOSis to eat well and exercise
- Many women with PCOS are overweightor obese. Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight may ease some symptoms and help make your periods more regular. It may also help manage problems with blood sugar levels and ovulation.
- Since PCOS could lead to high blood sugar, your doctor may want you to limit starchy or sugary foods. Instead, eat foods and meals that have plenty of fiber, which raise your blood sugarlevel slowly.
- Staying active helps you control your blood sugar and insulin, too. And exercisingevery day will help you with your weight.
- Staying active helps you control your blood sugar and insulin, too. And exercisingevery day will help you with your weight.
Hormone Treatments and Medication
Birth control is the most common PCOS treatment for women who don’t want to get pregnant. Hormonal birth control — pills, a skin patch, vaginal ring, shots, or a hormonal IUD (intrauterine device) — can help restore regular periods. The hormones also treat acne and unwanted hair growth.
These birth control methods may also lower your chance of having endometrial cancer, in the inner lining of the uterus.
Taking just a hormone called progestin could help get your periods back on track. It doesn’t prevent pregnancies or treat unwanted hair growth and acne. But it can lower the chance of uterine cancer.
Metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage) lowers insulin levels. It can help with weight loss and may prevent you from getting type 2 diabetes. It may also make you more fertile.
If birth control doesn’t stop hair growth after 6 months, your doctor may prescribe spironolactone (Aldactone). It lowers the level of a type of sex hormone called androgens. But you shouldn’t take it if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, because it can cause birth defects.
When a healthy diet and regular exercise aren’t enough, medications can make losing weight easier. Different drugs work in different ways. For example, orlistat (Alli, Xenical) stops your body from digesting some of the fat in your food, so it may also improve your cholesterol levels. Lorcaserin (Belviq) makes you feel less hungry. Your doctor will prescribe the medication they think will be the most successful for you.
Weight loss surgery could help if you’re severely obese and other methods haven’t worked. The change in your weight afterward can regulate your menstrual cycle and hormones and cut your odds of having diabetes.
Products called depilatories, including creams, gels, and lotions, break down the protein structure of hair so it falls out of the skin. Follow the directions on the package.
A process like electrolysis (a way to remove individual hairs by using an electric current to destroy the root) or laser therapy destroys hair follicles. You’ll need several sessions, and though some hair may come back, it should be finer and less noticeable.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you get pregnant. Clomiphene and letrozole encourage steps in the process that trigger ovulation. If they don’t work, you can try shots of hormones called gonadotropins.
A surgery called ovarian drilling might make your ovaries work better when ovulation medications don’t, but it’s being done less often than it used to. The doctor makes a small cut in your belly and uses a tool called a laparoscope with a needle to poke your ovary and wreck a small part of it. The procedure changes your hormone levels and may make it easier for you to ovulate.
With in vitro fertilization, or IVF, your egg is fertilized outside of your body and then placed back inside your uterus. This may be the best way to get pregnant when you have PCOS, but it can be expensive.
What Are the Complications of PCOS?
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, your ovaries may contain many tiny cysts that cause your body to produce too many hormones called androgens.
In men, androgens are made in the testes. They’re involved in the development of male sex organs and other male characteristics, like body hair. In women, androgens are made in the ovaries, but are later turned into estrogens. These are hormones that play a vital role in the reproductive system, as well as the health of your heart, arteries, skin, hair, brain, and other body parts and systems.
If you have PCOS and your androgen levels are too high, you have higher odds for a number of possible complications. (These may differ from woman to woman):
Trouble Getting Pregnant
- Cysts in the ovaries can interfere with ovulation. That’s when one of your ovaries releases an egg each month. If a healthy egg isn’t available to be fertilized by a sperm, you can’t get pregnant.
- You may still be able to get pregnant if you have PCOS. But you might have to take medicine and work with a fertility specialist to make it happen.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes PCOS. One theory is that insulin resistance may cause your body to make too many androgens.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the cells in your body absorb sugar (glucose) from your blood to be used as energy later. If you have insulin resistance, the cells in your muscles, organs, and other tissue don’t absorb blood sugar very well. As a result, you can have too much sugar moving through your bloodstream. This is called diabetes, and it can cause problems with your cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Other Possible Problems
You might have metabolic syndrome. This is a group of symptoms that raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as high triglyceride and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. Other common complications of PCOS include:
- Bleeding from the uterus and higher risk of uterine cancer
- Sleep problems
- Inflammation of the liver
Some complications of PCOS may not be serious threats to your health, but they can be unwanted and embarrassing:
- Abnormal body or facial hair growth
- Thinning hair on your head
- Weight gain around your middle
- Acne, dark patches, and other skin problems
Most women at some point have to contend with weight, but for women with polycystic ovary syndrome(PCOS), losing weight can become a constant struggle.
PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women of childbearing age and can lead to issues with fertility. Women who have PCOS have higher levels of male hormones and are also less sensitive to insulin or are “insulin-resistant.” Many are overweight or obese. As a result, these women can be at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and uterine cancer.
If you have PCOS, certain lifestyle changes can help you shed pounds and reduce the disease’s severity.
Why does polycystic ovary syndrome cause weight gain?
PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy. This condition — called insulin resistance– can cause insulin and sugar — glucose — to build up in the bloodstream.
High insulin levels increase the production of male hormones called androgens. High androgen levels lead to symptoms such as body hair growth, acne, irregular periods — and weight gain. Because the weight gain is triggered by male hormones, it is typically in the abdomen. That is where men tend to carry weight. So, instead of having a pear shape, women with PCOS have more of an apple shape.
Abdominal fat is the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s because it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other health conditions.
What are the risks associated with PCOS-related weight gain?
No matter what the cause, weight gain can be detrimental to your health. Women with PCOS are more likely to develop many of the problems associated with weight gain and insulin resistance, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Endometrial cancer
Many of these conditions can lead to heart disease. In fact, women with PCOS are four to seven times more likely to have a heart attack than women of the same age without the condition.
Experts think weight gain also helps trigger PCOS symptoms, such as menstrual abnormalities and acne.
What can I do to lose weight if I have polycystic ovary syndrome?
Losing weight not only cuts your risk for many diseases, it can also make you feel better. When you have PCOS, shedding just 10% of your body weight can bring your periods back to normal. It can also help relieve some of the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.
Weight loss can improve insulin sensitivity. That will reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other PCOS complications.
To lose weight, start with a visit to your doctor. The doctor will weigh you and check your waist size and body mass index. Body mass index is also called BMI, and it is the ratio of your height to your weight.
Your doctor may also prescribe medication. Several medications are approved for PCOS, including birth control pills and anti-androgen medications. The anti-androgen medications block the effects of male hormones. A few medications are used specifically to promote weight loss in women with PCOS. These include:
- Metformin (Glucophage). Metformin is a diabetes drug that helps the body use insulin more efficiently. It also reduces testosterone production. Some research has found that it can help obese women with PCOS lose weight.
- Thiazolidinediones. These should be used with contraception. The drugs pioglitazone (Actos) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) also help the body use insulin. In studies, these drugs improved insulin resistance. But their effect on body weight is unclear. All patients using Avandia must review and fully understand the cardiovascular risks. Research has found that Flutamide (Eulexin), an anti-androgen drug, helps obese women with PCOS lose weight. It also improves their blood sugar levels. The drug can be given alone or with metformin.
In addition to taking medication, adding healthy habits into your lifestyle can help you keep your weight under control:
- Eat a high-fiber, low-sugar diet. Load up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid processed and fatty foods to keep your blood sugar levels in check. If you’re having trouble eating healthy on your own, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.
- Eat four to six small meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals. This will help control your blood sugar levels.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day on most, if not all, days of the week.
- Work with your doctor to track your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- If you smoke, get involved in a program that can help you quit.
PCOS and Your Fertility — and What You Can Do About It
One of the most common reasons a woman has trouble getting pregnant is a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It’s a hormone problem that interferes with the reproductive system. When you have PCOS, your ovaries are larger than normal. These bigger ovaries can have many tiny cysts that contain immature eggs.
PCOS causes a woman’s body to produce higher-than-normal levels of androgens. These are hormones that are usually thought of as male hormones, because men have much higher levels of androgens than women.
Androgens are important in the development of male sex organs and other male traits. In women, androgens are usually converted into the hormone estrogen.
Elevated levels of androgens interfere with the development of your eggs and the regular release of your eggs. This process is called ovulation.
If a healthy egg isn’t released, it can’t be fertilized by sperm, meaning you can’t get pregnant. PCOS can cause you to miss your menstrual period or have irregular periods. This can be one of the first signs that you may have a problem such as PCOS.
Regulating Your Period
Fortunately, there are some treatments that can help women with PCOS have healthy pregnancies.
Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills that contain man-made versions of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These pills can help regulate your menstrual cycle by reducing androgen production.
If you cannot tolerate a combination birth control pill, your doctor might recommend a progestin-only pill.
You take this pill for about 2 weeks a month, for about 1-2 months. It’s also designed to help regulate your period.
Medicines to Help You Ovulate
You won’t be able to get pregnant while you’re taking birth control pills for PCOS. But if you need help ovulating so that you can become pregnant, certain medicines may help:
- Clomiphene is an anti-estrogen drug that you take at the beginning of your cycle.
- If clomiphene doesn’t help with ovulation, you may be prescribed the diabetes drug metformin.
- If clomiphene and metformin don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a medication containing a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and a luteinizing hormone (LH). You get this medicine in a shot.
- One other drug that helps with ovulation is letrozole. It’s sometimes used when other medications aren’t effective.
If you have PCOS and you want to get pregnant, you should work with a doctor who is a specialist in reproductive medicine. This type of doctor is also known as a fertility specialist.
A specialist will help make sure you get the right dose of medicines, help with any problems you have, and schedule regular checkups and ultrasounds to see how you’re doing. (An ultrasound is a machine that uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. It’s a painless procedure that can track the growth and development of your baby).
For some women, gaining a lot of weight can affect their hormones. In turn, losing weight, if you’re obese or overweight, may help get your hormones back to normal levels. Losing 10% of your body weight may help your menstrual cycle become more predictable. This should help you get pregnant.
In general, living a healthier lifestyle with a better diet, regular exercise, no smoking, less stress, and control of diabetes and other medical conditions should improve your fertility odds.
Remember, if your period isn’t happening when it should, or you’ve already been diagnosed with PCOS, work closely with your doctor to help get it under control. And if you want to get pregnant, talk with a fertility specialist.
If you’re having irregular periods or are unable to get pregnant, see your doctor. The same holds for:
- Mood changes
- Unexplained weight gain
- Changes in your hair or skin
These symptoms may might not be caused by PCOS but could signal other serious health issues.
If anything is this article sounds like something you are dealing with, get connected with a doctor in your area who can help. Using HealthLynked, you can find a physician and securely share relevant health information with them, collaborating more closely on your healthcare than ever before possible.
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Adapted from – WebMd
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:
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Helps Balance Thyroid And Adrenaline Function
Zucchini is rich in manganese, a mineral that promotes the optimal functioning of the thyroid gland.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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,
Zucchini might cause allergies in individuals who are sensitive to it. These include nausea, pruritus (severe skin itching), and certain kinds of oral allergies.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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).
- 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.
- Slice the end of the zucchini. Wash it thoroughly under a stream of cold water.
- Cut it into thin slices.
- Fill a saucepan with cold water and bring it to a boil.
- Add the sliced zucchini to it. Once the water boils, decrease the heat to medium.
- Keep boiling the zucchini until it turns tender – this should take about 10 minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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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.