4 Possible Reasons Why Your Stomach Is Killing You All The Time

Tummy troubles: We all have them from time to time. But while a bout of gas, cramps, or diarrhea every now and then (hello, late-night junk food!) isn’t usually cause for alarm, what if your pain is a regular thing? Not only is it seriously uncomfortable—it could signal a deeper issue.

Here are the four most common causes of persistent stomach pain, along with moves for potential relief. Just keep in mind that each of the following conditions needs to be diagnosed by a doc, and treatments vary.

  1. You Have Lactose Intolerance

Your favorite dairy products (looking at you, cheese) contain lactose, a sugar that needs to be broken down in your small intestine by an enzyme called lactase.“If you have lactose intolerance, you were either born without or at some point lost the enzyme that breaks down lactose,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. “If you don’t have that enzyme, the sugar lactose molecule ferments and creates bacteria—and a lot of gas—in the gut.” What that means for you: You might experience severe abdominal bloating, explosive diarrhea, and even nausea after noshing on some cheddar Jack or ice cream. Fun times.

Not all lactose intolerance is created equal, though—it varies by individual. “Some people can handle cheese but not ice cream or milk,” says Sonpal. The fix may be as simple as taking a lactase supplement with your meals—or you may find you need to quit dairy altogether.

As far as dairy alternatives go, Sofia Sanchez, R.D., nutritionist and co-founder of Ubuntu Fitness, is a big fan of almond milk, since its calcium levels are pretty similar to cow’s milk. (An average cup of almond milk contains about 400 milligrams of calcium, while a cup cow’s milk contains somewhere around 300 milligrams.) Coconut milk is another popular option, but Sanchez points out that coconut-based products are high in fat, and should be used in moderation.

If you cut dairy out completely, it’s a good idea to supplement with a multivitamin, since you won’t be getting the calcium or vitamin D found in milk, says David Bernstein, M.D., chief of hepatology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Center for Liver Diseases in Manhasset, New York. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends adults get 600 IUs of vitamin D per day—a number many Americans fall short of—and either 1,000 milligrams (men) or 1,200 milligrams (women) of calcium per day.

  1. You Have Acid Reflux

Feeling the burn in your muscles after a workout? Awesome. Feeling the burn in your chest after eating a spicy meal? Er, not so much. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus, causing irritation. The thing is, while your stomach has a lining that protects it from acid, your poor ol’ esophagus does not, says Bernstein. Hence the discomfort and pain.

And when you have GERD, “the sphincter at the end of the esophagus that controls the passage of food to the stomach is too loose,” says Sonpal. This ineffective barrier is what causes the dreaded burning in your chest—but people with GERD may also deal with gas, bloating, hoarseness, and a sore throat, says Sonpal.

While occasional reflux is NBD, it may threaten your health when it occurs regularly. “Daily reflux for five to 10 years can put you at risk for cancer,” says Sonpal, so managing the condition is definitely important. The first line of treatment against acid reflux is making a lifestyle (a.k.a. diet) change, says Bernstein. “You want to avoid foods that are acidic,” he says. Beyond that, reflux can usually be controlled with OTC drugs as needed.

Related: 10 Possible Reasons Why You’re Suddenly So Bloated

The most common trigger foods are tomatoes, chocolate, red wine, peppermint, red meat, and caffeine, says Sonpal. (You know, all the good stuff.) In addition to avoiding these foods, people with reflux shouldn’t eat within at least four hours of bedtime, says Bernstein. When you lay down, it’s easier for that stomach acid to creep back up into your esophagus. Sleeping with your head propped up at a 45-degree angle can also help ward off nighttime discomfort, he suggests.

Even losing weight can help with GERD. “The number one risk factor for acid reflux is obesity,” says Sonpal. (According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, weight gain exacerbates symptoms.) Just another reason to clean up your kitchen and get moving.

  1. You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Although irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is super-common (anywhere from 25-45 million Americans have it, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders), it’s still hard to treat, says Bernstein.

“When you have IBS, your stomach either contracts too much or doesn’t at all,” he says. So you’ll likely find yourself alternating between bouts of diarrhea and constipation—as well as experiencing bloating and discomfort.

Sonpal says stress has a lot to do with the disease. “A lot of IBS is due to emotional, traumatic, and stress-related conditions,” says Bernstein. Think of the condition as an increased response to stress in the gut.

Treatments typically involve lifestyle modifications, says Bernstein. Your doc will help you identify which trigger foods you should avoid, and suggest you steer clear of alcohol (which can trigger symptoms), up your fiber intake (to help keep your bowel movements regular), and cut down on stress. Sanchez suggests getting fiber from fruits and veggies—not packaged foods, since processed food products may contribute to symptoms.

Related: 12 Natural Ways To Kick Your Stress To The Curb

For some, following a low-FODMAP diet can ease IBS-related stomach pain, says Sanchez.

FODMAPs are a group of sugars found in certain foods, including dairy, wheat, legumes, and some fruits, according to Stanford University Medical Center. Low-FODMAP foods include bananas, carrots, fish, chicken, and almonds.

Everyone is different, however, so what works for one person won’t necessarily be the answer for another, says Bernstein. And sometimes, an IBS treatment that used to get the job done stops working, so you’ll need to try something else—which is why the disorder has a reputation for being so tricky.

  1. You Have a Peptic Ulcer

There are two types of peptic ulcers—gastric ulcers, which occur in the stomach and are marked by inflammation, and duodenal ulcers, which occur in the small intestine and are marked by craters that have formed, says Bernstein.

When you have an ulcer, you’ll likely experience severe, feels-like-you’re-going-to-fall-over stomach pain, says Sonpal. If you have a gastric ulcer, you’ll notice worsening stomach pain soon after eating; if you a duodenal ulcer, your stomach pain might actually get better after you eat, but worsen on an empty stomach, says Sonpal.

Related: How To Move On With Your Life When You Have IBS

You’ll most likely notice pain in the middle of your abdomen, and it can feel like a gnawing or shooting sensation, adds Bernstein. Sometimes, you might even vomit or see blood in your stool. (Your stool will look black and tarry, says Sonpal).

There are a few common causes of both types of peptic ulcers, like overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which reduce the blood clotting action in your body, and an overgrowth of bacteria called H. plyori, which stimulates acid secretions and breaks your stomach’s protective layer, Sonpal says. Unchecked stress can also cause a gastric or duodenal ulcer, says Sonpal.

If your ulcer is due to NSAID use, you’ll obviously need to stop taking them—and you’ll also have to pop antacids until it heals. If it’s caused by H. pylori, you’ll need to take antibiotics in addition to antacids. Meanwhile, a large ulcer requires surgical repair, since it can cause bleeding, say Sonpal.

Since antibiotics can actually wipe out a lot of the healthy bacteria in your gut, you may want to supplement your diet with fermented foods (like sauerkraut and kimchi) and probiotics (like yogurt) because they contain good bacteria, says Sanchez.

Your doc won’t be able to diagnose you based on your symptoms alone, says Bernstein. You’ll need to have an endoscopy (a procedure in which a long, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into your upper GI tract) to find out for sure.

Related: Find the right supplement to support your digestive health.

I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like

As someone who has at least one new cavity every time I visit the dentist, I’d been considering adding oil pulling—the ancient practice of swishing an oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes in order to promote oral health—to my daily routine for some time. So, when What’s Good asked me to try out a new oil-pulling mouthwash on the market, I signed up without hesitation.

I was sent The Dirt Oil Pulling Mouthwash (a combo of coconut oil, natural extracts, and essential oils) and asked to swish with it every morning for two weeks straight. Here’s how it all went down.

Mouthwash bottle.JPG
photo: Christina Heiser

It took a few days to get used to oil pulling—but then it became enjoyable.

I’m not much of a morning person, but since I’d heard that oil pulling on a full stomach makes some people feel nauseous, I set my alarm for the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. in order to do it before I got hungry.

At first I was a little put off by the strong earthy taste of the mouthwash, which is full of essential oils like peppermint, tea tree, and rose, as well as extracts like turmeric and cardamom. After four days, though, my taste buds got used to the flavor and I actually started to like it!

To pass the 20 minutes, I’d usually just chill in my PJs on my couch. That quiet chunk of time helped me relax—and I noticed that I wasn’t as stressed out later during the day. Maybe there was something to this whole ‘morning person’ thing after all…

Related: 7 Ways To Become A Morning Person

My breath was fresh all day long.

I hate traditional mouthwashes—not only do they dry out my mouth (since most of them contain alcohol), but they also tend to leave a funky aftertaste that makes my nose burn a bit. But that wasn’t the case with this coconut oil-based mixture. My breath felt fresh for hours without any of the artificial ickiness I had come to associate with mouthwash.

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photo: Christina Heiser

My lips felt softer than they’ve ever been.

As a beauty editor, I’ve known about the moisturizing superpowers of coconut oil for years—and this mouthwash definitely delivered. During my 20 minutes of swishing, a small amount of coconut oil always seeped out onto my lips, and it had a major conditioning effect. Normally, I apply balm throughout the day because my lips tend to get flaky—but as I got into my oil-pulling groove, I noticed I didn’t need to tend to my lips all that much.

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

I started paying more attention to my mouth.

Halfway through my oil-pulling experiment, I called April Patterson, D.D.S., a cosmetic and restorative dentist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out if there was any scientific evidence that the trend works. Patterson told me that while she’s tried oil pulling before and is a fan, it won’t change your mouth’s pH level—which determines whether bacteria can survive in your mouth. (The higher the pH, the harder it is for bacteria to thrive.)

There are some small-scale studies on oil pulling—which suggest it can help nix stinky breath and help keep some bacteria at bay—but larger studies are needed to support its effectiveness.

Still, Patterson pointed out that patients of hers who oil pull tend to pick up better dental habits across the board. “When people oil pull, they often become more attuned to their mouths,” Patterson told me. “They start doing a better job brushing and flossing.” And that’s exactly what happened to me.

While I’d listened to my own dentist extol the virtues of brushing for a full two minutes twice a day (and flossing at least once a day) time and time again, I always used to rush through the process without much care. Oil pulling for those 20 minutes each morning forced me to really think about what was going on in my mouth. For example, I realized just how much tartar buildup I have on my bottom teeth—which I could’ve easily gotten rid of before it hardened if I had just brushed and flossed as much as I was supposed to. And that’s why I plan to keep up with my new oil-pulling habit—although probably not every day, to be honest, because I just love sleep too much.

Since dedicating such a large amount of time to my morning swish, I’ve found it a whole lot easier to hit the two-minute mark with my toothbrush. After all, compared to 20 minutes, two feels like a breeze. And that in itself is good news for my mouth.

Related: Check out a number of oral-care products for a happy mouth.

What Can You Really Do About Stretch Marks?

Many of us—guys and gals alike—have stretch marks. And although they’re so common, they can be pretty frustrating—especially when you’re getting ready for a summer of swimsuits.

“Stretch marks are pink, red, or purple indented streaks that most commonly appear on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks, and thighs,” says Fayne L. Frey, M.D., a dermatologist in West Nyack, New York. If you have ‘em, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Why We Get Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are caused by the breaking of elastin and collagen in the dermis (the thick layer of tissue below the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin) when your skin stretches quickly, says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. (Elastin is a connective tissue found in the skin that allows it to stretch and bounce back, while collagen is a protein found all over the body that basically acts as your skin’s support structure —not only strengthening your skin, but keeping it smooth-looking.)

There are a number of reasons these marks might show up on your skin. For one, stretch marks are genetic, Shainhouse says. So if your parents have them, you’re more likely to develop them, too.

First noticed stretch marks as a teen? That’s because they often form on both guys and girls during quick growth spurts, says Esta Kronberg, M.D., a dermatologist in Houston. They can also pop up during pregnancy, after quick weight gain, because of hormone abnormalities, and even as a result of lots of exercise, says Kronberg.

One such stretch mark-causing hormonal disorder is Cushing’s syndrome (which is marked by excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol), explains Frey. According to the Mayo Clinic, cortisol which is pumped out by your adrenal glands, weakens elastic fibers in your skin, making it easier for stretch marks to form.

Related: Could You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

And, yes, you heard us right—your stretch marks might also be an unexpected result of your dedication to the gym. You can be fit and have stretch marks. “They are fairly common in bodybuilders, who develop significant muscle mass over a short period,” says Shainhouse, noting that stretch marks caused by muscle growth are often seen in the biceps.

Are Stretch Marks Permanent?

If you have stretch marks—wherever they are—you’ve probably wondered: Is there anything you can to do to get rid of ‘em? Eventually most stretch marks fade to white or gray, but they rarely disappear completely, says Frey. Womp. That being said, there are a few treatments that may help minimize their appearance.

One option: pulsed dye laser treatment. This non-invasive, relatively painless laser treatment takes just a few minutes per session and can be very effective, says Kronberg.

The procedure uses a concentrated beam of light to target blood vessels, according to the Baylor College of Medicine. “Pulsed dye lasers can help reduce the color [of stretch marks] more quickly,” says Shainhouse.

Many patients begin to see results in two to four sessions, says Kronberg, who recommends sessions on a biweekly or monthly basis.

Just keep in mind that this is a cosmetic treatment, so you’ll have to pay out of pocket. According to the online cosmetic surgery community RealSelf.com, the average cost of a pulsed dye laser session comes in around $800 (although price may vary by location). Kronberg recommends seeing a dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic treatments for the procedure instead of visiting a spa.

Related: 15 Natural Ways To Hang On To That Youthful Glow

Another in-office treatment: microdermabrasion. While this one might lessen the appearance of stretch marks, it’s not a given. “Microdermabrasion is used to gently remove the top layers of skin with the hopes of stimulating underlying collagen formation,” says Frey —“but little scientific evidence exists showing the efficacy of this treatment.” (Remember: When collagen breaks, it can leave behind stretch marks.)

As far as at-home options go, lotions with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid are your best bet, because they stimulate collagen, says Kronberg. Topical retinoids also stimulate collagen, says Kronberg. But they can be irritating—and may only work on new stretch marks that are less than a few months old, adds Frey.  Your best bet is going to the derm, since a prescription product will have higher-strength ingredients than anything you’d find at a drugstore, says Kronberg.

Stick with your treatment option of choice for three months, suggests Kronberg. If after three months nothing has changed and your stretch marks haven’t faded, it’s likely a sign they’ll pretty much stick around for good.

The bottom line: We’re all about embracing the skin we’re in—but of course, if you’re unhappy or frustrated with how your skin looks, talk with your derm to weigh your options. Otherwise, we say flaunt what you’ve got—stretch marks and all! After all, summer only lasts so long, and you deserve to enjoy every moment of it.

Related: Check out a number of body care products to pamper your skin with.

5 Natural Sources of Caffeine—Other Than Coffee

For many of us, sipping a cup (or two) of Joe in the morning is necessary before we can take on the day. Thanks for the buzz, caffeine!

How exactly does our daily java get us going, though? “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant,” says Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. It’s a very mild diuretic (meaning it’ll cause you to pee more frequently than you normally do), and it also increases your heart rate and blood pressure for a time, she says.

And, yes, it may also help you focus and charge through whatever’s on your plate. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that caffeine helped athletes concentrate and perform better when they hadn’t slept well.

Coffee isn’t the only natural source of caffeine, though. “Caffeine is found in a variety of plant species, including tea leaves,” explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It. Your average mug of brew contains about 100 to 120 milligrams of caffeine—and Stagg recommends capping your daily intake at 400 milligrams. Too much of the stuff might mess with your ticker, potentially causing issues like heart palpitations, Stagg says.

Related: Let’s Clear The Air About Caffeine

If you’re not a huge fan of coffee but still crave that jolt, here are a few buzz-worthy alternatives.

  1. Dark Chocolate (20 milligrams per one-ounce serving)

As if you needed another reason to snack on chocolate, right? Just go for the dark stuff, which contains more caffeine than milk varieties, because it contains fewer ingredients and more cocoa, says Stagg.

Plus, cocoa contains flavanol antioxidants, which help your body fight off free radicals and can support brain health and cognitive function, according to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Bonus points!

  1. Green Tea (30-45 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)

Chances are, you’ve already heard all about green tea’s awesome health benefits. One study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the polyphenols (a.k.a. compounds containing antioxidant properties) in this herbal tea might help protect against heart disease and some cancers.

  1. Black Tea (40-60 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)

Like green tea, black tea contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols—but black tea contains more caffeine, says Stagg. The best thing about black tea? There are plenty of varieties (we’ll be enjoying a cup of Earl Grey, ourselves…).

  1. Guarana Seeds (47 milligrams per gram)

You’ve probably seen guarana listed as an ingredient in energy drinks—and that’s because it’s one of the more powerful natural caffeine sources out there. The extract used for these drinks actually comes from an Amazonian fruit. Its seeds contain about four times the caffeine as coffee beans, according to a study published in PLOS One. Who knew!

  1. Yerba Mate Tea (85 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)

Yerba mate, a tea that originally found popularity in South America, is now available at health food stores all over the place. This rather bitter tea also happens to pack more caffeine than you’ll find in other teas, says Stagg. Plus, a review published in Nutrients identified a number of health perks associated with yerba mate consumption, including healthy cholesterol and blood sugar support.

Related: Find a tea for every need.

Keep this infographic handy for the next time you need a caffeine boost: 

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9 Natural Ways To Nix Bad Breath

We’ve all had a case (or two) of stinky breath—and there are plenty of possible reasons for it, from what you eat to the meds you take. But you shouldn’t just reach for any ol’ bottle of mouthwash to mask the issue. A lot of them are chock full of alcohol, which can actually cause bad breath.

Alcohol dries out your mouth and decreases your saliva flow—which allows for bacteria and bad breath to flourish, says Jonathan Levine, D.M.D., associate professor of NYU School of Dentistry.

So, what should you do to freshen up? Try one of these nine natural solutions for curbing a case of dragon breath.

toothbrush

  1. Brush and Floss Your Teeth on the Regular

Yeah, we know you’ve heard this a hundred times. That’s because it’s important. Simply committing to this habit could have a major impact on your breath. “When you think about the health of the mouth, gingivitis—which is inflammation—is directly related to halitosis [a.k.a. bad breath],” says Levine. “The same bacteria that cause inflammation in the mouth produce the sulfur compound that causes bad breath.”

To stop plaque buildup and stinky breath, make sure you brush for two minutes twice a day—and floss once a day. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums and gently moving your brush back and forth using short strokes.

“Electric toothbrushes are helpful because they do a better job of removing plaque,” says Levine. Flossing helps nix plaque in hard-to-reach places, like between teeth and in the back of your mouth.

Related: 7 Possible Reasons Why You Have Dragon Breath

water

  1. Drink More Agua

You know how we told you that a lack of saliva could create the perfect environment for bad bacteria to hang out? Upping your intake of H20 can also help take care of that. Water stimulates saliva production, so even if you think you’re drinking enough water, drink some more, says Levine.

There’s even an International Journal of Dental Hygiene study to prove that a glass of water in the morning can reduce bad breath—so keep a glass on your nightstand!

coconut oil

  1. Hop on the Oil-Pulling Trend

Swap out your old alcohol-drenched mouthwash for an ingredient that’s probably already in your pantry: coconut oil. Swish one to two tablespoons of coconut oil in your mouth for about 15 minutes when you wake up, says Rebeccca Lee, R.N., a New York City-based nurse and creator of Remedies for Me. Just don’t swallow! When you’re done, spit the oil into the garbage, rinse your mouth with warm water, and brush your chompers as usual. Lee suggests doing this morning ritual—called ‘oil pulling’—two or three times a week.

Here’s how it works: “Coconut oil contains lauric acid and produces monolaurin [a fatty acid] when digested,” says Lee. Both lauric acid and monolaurin fight against harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungus, she explains. Coconut oil, FTW.

fruits veggies

  1. Munch on Crunchy Fruits and Veggies

Eating acidic foods—such as beef, cheese, and eggs—lowers the pH level of your mouth, which makes it easier for bacteria to thrive. And that can lead to some seriously rank odor. Levine says the best diet for your breath is one that includes lots of fruits and veggies, which have a higher pH and can keep your mouth balanced.

But it goes beyond that. Consider raw fruits and vegetables—like celery and cucumbers—nature’s toothbrush, says Lee. Their crunchy, fibrous nature helps to physically clean your teeth surfaces when you chew, she says.

cinnamon

  1. Sweeten Up with Cinnamon

Have a sweet tooth? The essential oils in cinnamon can help give your breath a boost.

“The spice contains a component called aldehyde, which is great at keeping noxious bacteria at bay,” Lee says.

Research presented at the International Association for Dental Research found that the cinnamon gum worked way better at killing bacteria in the mouth than non-flavored gum, axing 40 percent of the types of bacteria related to bad breath. So the next time you buy a pack of gum, go for one naturally flavored with cinnamon.

herbs

  1. Chew on Herbs

Nix artificially-flavored breath mints: Chomping on herbs like thyme or peppermint may have some positive effects on your breath. “Chewing on herbs stimulates bacteria-fighting saliva,” says Lee. Not to mention, these aromatic, flavorful plans also contain chlorophyll, which is a natural deodorizer, she says.

fennel seeds

  1. Suck on Fennel Seeds

Yet another ingredient that can put bad breath in its place? Fennel seeds! The phenolic compounds found in these seeds (and many other plants) help to fight bacteria and the bad breath that follows, says Lee. Plus, it also contains a compound called anethole, which relaxes the stomach, helping to prevent gas and odors that come from down under, too.

ACV

  1. Take a Shot of Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a super-popular natural go-to for many reasons, bad breath relief being one of them. Halitosis is sometimes caused by GI issues like lactose intolerance or heartburn and ACV can support digestion, says Lee. Plus, the acetic acid that forms in the vinegar through the fermentation process—which gives apple cider vinegar its unique smell and taste—is another bacteria fighter, she says. Down a teaspoon or two of straight-up ACV once a day—or mix it into a mug of tea or glass of sparkling water.

tongue

  1. Clean Your Tongue

That white coating you sometimes see on your tongue is actually the build-up of bad bacteria, says Levine. And as you’re now well aware, bacteria wreak havoc on your breath. Luckily, you can get rid of it pretty easily with a tongue scraper. Start at the back of your tongue and pull the tool forward, recommends the ADA. Then brush your teeth as usual!

Related: Check out a number of oral care products for a happier mouth.

Could You Be At Risk For Metabolic Syndrome?

When it comes to your health, caring for your ticker should be a top priority. After all, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is responsible for a whopping one in three deaths in the United States. And it turns out there’s a scary-sounding condition—metabolic syndrome—that could increase your risk for serious issues in the heart department.

Want to show that vital beating organ the love it deserves? Brush up on your knowledge of metabolic syndrome, and learn how to curb your risk of developing it.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

“Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions that directly increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke,” says Sindhu Koshy, M.D., a cardiologist with Ascension/Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, Michigan.

Yep, metabolic syndrome actually refers to five not-so-great health factors—increased abdominal weight, high triglycerides, low HDL (a.k.a. “good” cholesterol), high blood pressure, and high blood sugar—that, together, can cause major health problems, says Koshy.

You’re more likely to develop these individual conditions if you’re obese and inactive, says Matthew Budoff, M.D., professor of medicine at the division of cardiology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Koshy notes that your risk increases as you age, too.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Determining whether or not you have metabolic syndrome can be done via blood testing and other evaluations at your doc’s office. The thing is, none of the conditions that contribute to metabolic syndrome have outward symptoms, says Budoff, so you may not be aware that something’s wrong.

For starters, find out if you have a family history of these issues. “If your family members had diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or cardiovascular disease, you are at higher risk,” says Koshy.

To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you need to exhibit three or more of the following measurements, per the AHA:

Abdominal obesity: a waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women

High triglycerides: 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or higher

Low HDL cholesterol: Less than 40 mg/DL in men or less than 50 mg/DL in women

High blood pressure: Top number (systolic blood pressure) of 130 mm Hg or higher, or bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) of 85 mm Hg or higher

High blood sugar: 100 mg/DL or higher

“[Having] just one condition doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome,” says Koshy, “but if you have one, you should make sure you are evaluated for the others to learn how to prevent them.”

And while you may not feel sick if you have metabolic syndrome, Koshy says oftentimes your doc will request lab work and measurements to test for these risk factors, so don’t skip out on booking that yearly appointment. If you do get diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you’re definitely not alone.

According to the AHA, about 23 percent of adults in the U.S. have it. Yikes. Once you’re diagnosed, you’ll likely be asked to see your M.D. every three months to check in, but in most cases you can wait longer than that if you’re managing the disease, says Budoff.

What Can You Do to Treat Metabolic Syndrome—and Reduce Your Risk?

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or your numbers indicate you’re creeping into danger territory, there are a few steps you can take to get your health back on track.

For starters, physical activity is key, as it can help with all five risk factors, says Budoff. He advises patients to get a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day three times a week, and to work their way up to more.

Related: This Is The Best Cardio Workout For Weight Loss

Watching your weight is also super-important, says Koshy, who suggests cutting back on sugar, fats, and red meat, as well as upping your intake of fiber, green veggies, and fruits. The USDA recommends eating the following per day: 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams of fiber for men; two and a half cups of vegetables for women and three cups of vegetables for men; and one and a half cups of fruit for women and two cups of fruit for men.

Plus, according to Mayo Clinic, foods high in fiber (like fruits and greens) aid in digestion and can help control your blood sugar. Koshy recommends working with a dietitian to help get your healthy eating in order.

Omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fatty fish and some plants, like flax seeds, may also be helpful. Check this out: One review published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine found that higher levels of dietary omega-3 fatty acids helped to lower blood triglyceride levels, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

However, Budoff says that traditional meds are often necessary if lifestyle changes aren’t working. These might include diuretics, beta-blockers, or ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, or statins for high cholesterol, according to the AHA.

Meanwhile, alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, which lower blood sugar levels, are often prescribed for type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. These will help prevent further complications, like a heart attack or stroke, says Koshy.

Related: Shop a variety of supplements to support a healthy ticker.