What Does ‘Alkaline’ Really Mean?

The word ‘alkaline’ is all over Instagram and health food labels—but as trendy as it is (and cool as it sounds), do you know what it actually means?

Let’s take a trip back to high school chem class. Remember the pH scale? In case you forgot, it’s a way of measuring how acidic or basic (a.k.a. alkaline) something is. Lemon juice, for example? Pretty darn acidic. Bleach? That’d be a base.

The pH scale ranges from zero to 14. Anything below 7.0 is considered acidic, while anything above 7.0 is considered alkaline, explains Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. (A pH of seven is considered neutral.)

Depending on their function, certain parts of your body are more acidic or alkaline. Think of it like how your body maintains a certain temperature to work properly. For example, your blood has a slightly alkaline pH of around 7.4, says nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, R.D. (This helps your body carry out all of the metabolic reactions and processes necessary for it to function properly, says Stagg.) Meanwhile, your stomach is very acidic (anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5) because it has to break down food, says Rissetto.

Should The pH Scale Influence Your diet?

That’s where the concept of the alkaline diet comes in. The fad, beloved by celebs, is based on the idea that eating certain foods and avoiding others can help your body (specifically your blood) maintain a health-promoting pH.

Here’s the thing: The logic falls flat. The theory that chowing down on high-alkaline foods to help regulate your blood’s pH is totally incorrect, says Rissetto. “Food can’t change the acidity or alkalinity of your blood,” she says. Why? Just like your body works to maintain a proper body temperature, it also regulates the pH of your blood. (Remember the term ‘homeostasis?’ If not, it’s the state of balance in which your body functions at its best.)

What your diet can determine, however, is the pH of your urine, she says. There may be some benefit to having urine that’s slightly alkaline, such as a potentially lower risk for kidney stones, according to Stagg. But that whole homeostasis thing applies here, too: Highly acidic urine can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes, while highly alkaline urine can indicate a UTI or kidney failure, says Rissetto.

The Alkaline Diet Menu

Still, the alkaline diet is pretty dang popular—and can be pretty dang healthy, too. On the diet, you eat tons of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds that have high pHs. Spinach, kale, leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, celery, and cucumber are some of the most alkaline foods out there, says Stagg. Meanwhile, foods like artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, peas, pumpkins, onions, watercress, and summer squash, are more mildly alkaline, says Rissetto.

Off the menu are acidic foods like eggs, dairy, meat, most grains, alcohol, and caffeine. (Soy, which is high alkaline, is one of the main protein sources on this diet.) The alkaline diet is similar to a vegan diet in that it’s plant-based and pretty restrictive, says Stagg.

Related: 7 Plant-Based Protein Sources

Alkaline Foods And Your Health

Alkaline diet advocates have suggested that the benefits of eating this way include everything from weight loss to less chronic pain to a lower risk of high blood pressure. The thing is, though, it’s not the foods’ high pHs that are responsible for these health benefits. It’s the fact that they’re plants.

Plant foods are generally packed with important nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “Large-scale studies on plant-based diets have shown improved outcomes on most measures of chronic disease like cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer,” says Stagg.

And the weight loss? Also credited to the fact that the foods allowed on the alkaline diet are incredibly healthy, says Rissetto. (They also tend to pack a lot of fiber, which helps you feel fuller for longer.)

There are even alkaline-branded waters, which often add minerals like potassium and magnesium (which are high-alkaline) added, says Stagg. Again, the pH levels of these minerals don’t matter, but our body does need the minerals for optimal function, especially after losing them through sweat during exercise, she explains

Plus, the restriction of processed foods (and the added sugars in them) on the alkaline diet also benefits our health. Case in point: A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who got more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar had a higher risk of dying from heart disease than those kept their consumption of the sweet stuff low. So, alkaline diet or not, passing on candy bars and soda is just a good idea.

The Bottom Line

Your body can take care of its various pH levels perfectly fine on its own, thank you very much, but incorporating aspects of an alkaline diet—like loading up on fresh fruits and greens—into your daily life certainly can’t hurt.

Related: Finds a greens supplement to up your intake of the good stuff.

This Is How Working Out Affects Your Testosterone Levels

You know that working out does the body good. In fact, research shows that regular exercise does everything from increasing your odds of living longer to supporting your memory function. But what you may not have realized is that regular sweat sessions offer another pretty cool perk if you’re a dude—they boost your testosterone.

Testosterone, the primary sex hormone in men, is responsible for everything from muscle development to hair growth to mood regulation to sex drive. So yeah, it’s pretty important when it comes to your health and well-being. The problem is, your testosterone levels begin to decline by about one to two percent per year when you hit your 30s. “It then drops until it reaches a critical low level in your 50s and 60s,” says Westin Childs, D.O., who specializes in balancing hormones for weight loss. As your T production dips, you could experience symptoms like weight gain (particularly an increase in belly fat), reduced libido, depression, irritability, decreased energy, and trouble sleeping, explains Childs.

How Exercise Affects Your Hormones

As much as we wish we could, there’s no way to stop time. But you do have some power over those T levels—and it involves putting together a consistent workout regimen. Without regular exercise, dropping testosterone levels can lead to a loss in muscle mass. “The slow and steady decline of testosterone with aging doesn’t necessarily lead to that decrease in muscle by itself,” says Jonathan Ross, C.P.T., senior consultant on personal training for the American Council on Exercise. “But with the absence of training stimulus to maintain that muscle mass, you would see it go away.” And that’s a problem, because muscle mass boosts your metabolism and keeps your body strong and mobile as you get older.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Well-Being

Certain types of exercise temporarily boost testosterone during, and for a short period after, your workout, says Ross. Even though this temporary boost subsides after a few hours, your body is generally able to maintain some of the muscle-supporting benefits after that, he says. And the body you’ve worked your whole life to build will thank you for that.

Testosterone isn’t the only hormone affected by hitting up the gym, though. Some exercises also result in a temporary increase in human growth hormone (HGH), says Childs, which, like testosterone, promotes muscle growth and the reduction of body fat. Another plus for your muscles!

The Best Types of Exercise for Boosting Testosterone

There are two kinds of exercise that’ll give you a T boost: heavy resistance training and very intense, explosive plyometric training (quick, coordinated movements like box jumps), says Ross. He recommends guys who are dealing with declining testosterone work out four to five times a week, alternating days of strength training and plyometric routines.

As far as specific exercises go, it’s all about training the muscles “between your hips and pits,” says Ross. Think squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench presses, and rows. “You’re going to get a bigger temporary testosterone boost from exercises that work bigger muscles, like those in your torso and thighs,” he says. Sure, you can work on your biceps, triceps, and calves, but consider it optional.

Related: Shop popular testosterone boosters, like Nugenix

That said, how many hours you log in the gym isn’t as important. It’s totally normal that as you get older you’re not able to train quite as hard or long as you could in your 20s—and that you’ll need more recovery time between workouts. Plus, if you go overboard on training, you can really sabotage your body’s ability to recover, which can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Ross. Over time, cortisol can mess with sleep and spur weight gain, totally counteracting the body-building benefits of testosterone and HGH, according to a study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.

The most important aspects of your fitness regimen are consistency and intensity. “You can pick very demanding exercises and just do them for 15 minutes,” says Ross. “Even that will trigger a response in the body.” Choose weights you can lift for a few sets of between four and eight reps to reap the maximum benefit, he says. According to a review published in Sports Medicine, lifting at maximum intensity for about six reps has consistently demonstrated greater impacts on testosterone than lifting a more moderate weight.

The Bottom Line

Declining testosterone is natural with age, so don’t feel like you need to go crazy trying to replenish it, Ross says. After all, your body knows what it’s doing. “If you use biological triggers [like exercise] to maintain your testosterone, your body will respond,” he says. “If you tell your body, ‘Hey, I need to move on a regular basis,’ it maintains its ability to move well.” So, go on, take your T into your own hands!

Related: Help your body recover and rebound from tough workouts with a recovery supplement.

5 Foods and Drinks That Are Zapping Your Energy

We all know the ‘food coma’ feeling that hits after scarfing down a ginormous meal. But even if you’re not diving into a meal of massive proportions, there are some foods that definitely leave you with way less energy than you had before eating. Here, learn about the most common energy-draining foods and drinks—and how to adjust your grub to avoid that post-nosh slump.

1. White Bread + Pasta

While carbs are absolutely delish, they’re one of the biggest culprits of food coma. That’s because refined carbs (found in white bread and pasta) are more easily absorbed by your digestive system than whole grains, explains Meg Hagar, R.D., founder of No Diet Nutrition in New York City. What that means: Your blood sugar spikes, giving you an energy boost after eating—followed by a rapid crash When your blood sugar rises quickly, your body churns out the hormone insulin to bring it down ASAP—so the lower your blood sugar, the more pooped you’ll feel.

What you can do: Swap the white stuff for whole-wheat pasta or bread, which are higher in fiber. Fiber helps slow down digestion, keeping your blood sugar—and your energy—more stable.

You can also try pairing bread or pasta with protein and healthy fats to slow down the energy-zapping effects of a high-carb meal. “When you eat carbs at the same time as protein and healthy fats, that’s the trifecta,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N. Like fiber, protein and healthy fats help keep your blood sugar levels steady. So, next time you make pasta, try mixing in chicken (for protein) and olive oil or avocado (for healthy fats).

2. Candy Bars + Soda

Sometimes that afternoon trip to the vending machine is unavoidable. But you may want to pass on buying anything too sweet. Sugar is a type of refined carb, so candy or soda will have the same effect on your bod as white bread or a bagel, says Stephanie McKercher, R.D.N., of The Grateful Grazer. We meet again, sugar crash!

What you can do: Unlike carbs—which definitely have a place in your diet, as long as they’re of the whole-grain variety—sugar is not as beloved by nutritionists. And considering research published in JAMA Internal Medicine identified a significant relationship between eating added sugar and increased risk for heart disease, it’s no wonder why. If you’re a sucker for soda, try swapping your usual can for sparkling water or fruit-infused H2O, McKercher says. (If you haven’t hopped on the La Croix bandwagon, now is your time!).

And instead of grabbing a candy bar, nosh on fruit (like berries) when cravings hit. Yes, fruit does contain sugar, but it’s also a nutrient-dense source of vitamins and minerals, says Hagar.

Related: The 5 Fruits With The Most (And Least!) Sugar

3. High-Fat Foods

When it comes to fried food and fatty meats, it’s not just the food itself that makes you sleepy—it’s the amount you’re eating, says McKercher. Think about it: When you have a juicy burger and a pile of French fries in front of you, are you really going to stop yourself after just a few bites? (If so, kudos to you and your willpower of steel.)

In general, big portions  make you feel sleepy because your body needs to focus on digesting it all, says Hagar. Plus, since fats are harder for your body to break down, having a large, fat-filled meal means double the exhaustion, adds Taub-Dix.

What you can do: It’s all about portion control for this one. In general, try to stick to three ounces of protein and the carb equivalent of two slices of bread in any one meal, says Taub-Dix. (Your individual portion needs may vary depending on whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight and how much you exercise, but this is a good rule of thumb if you have trouble keeping portions in check when eating out.) The USDA recommends keeping vegetable oils (which are often used to fry food) to a tablespoon a day. What does that mean for your fries? Try to keep your portion to about the size of your fist, says Hagar.

4. Tart Cherries

This one may come as a bit of a surprise. But if you’re looking for something to snack or sip on, tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) may not be the most energy-friendly bet. Why? “Tart cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles,” says McKercher. Hence why tart cherry juice is actually used as a natural sleep aid. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that older adults with chronic insomnia who sipped eight ounces of tart cherry juice for two weeks slept spent less time lying awake in bed than participants who downed a placebo drink.

What you can do: Have trouble sleeping? Try drinking a glass of tart cherry juice about a half hour to 45 minutes before bed, says McKercher. Just don’t do it in the middle of the afternoon…

5. Decaf Green Tea + Chamomile Tea

You probably associate green tea with that a subtle, steady buzz—but that’s only if you drink the caffeinated stuff. Decaf green tea, though, may actually prep you for nap-time. The culprit: the amino acid L-theanine, which promotes relaxation and calm, McKercher says. Other teas like chamomile and peppermint (both of which are caffeine-free) also have soothing properties, and may be too snooze-friendly for midday sips, says Taub-Dix. Chamomile, in particular, has been used for centuries to calm nerves and support sleep, according to research published in Molecular Medicine Reports.

What you can do: People are affected differently by soothing teas—some can have a mug of chamomile at midday no problem, while others feel sloth-like afterward. That said, Taub-Dix does often suggest drinking a glass of chamomile or peppermint tea during the day to keep gas at bay and promote easy digestion. But if you find yourself getting sleepy after your mug, you may want to keep the herbal tea drinking to pre-bedtime—reaching for a caffeinated bag during working hours.

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support energy.

 

Keep this infographic handy for the next time you’re feeling inexplicably sluggish: 

7 Gym-Related Skin Issues—And How To Deal

Working out is great for your bod—but it can really do a number on your skin. From uncomfortable chafing to back breakouts, chances are you’ve dealt with your share. While some sweat-related skin conditions are just annoying, others can be more serious—like herpes or staph infections. Not good.

Here, find out what causes some of the most common gym-related skin conditions, and how to prevent and treat them.

  1. Heat Rash

When you feel super itchy mid-run, you might be breaking out in a heat rash (don’t worry too much, though—it’s irritating, but it’s common). “This pink, bumpy rash can develop on the neck and body when working out in a super-hot environment, whether it’s outdoors or in a spin class without air conditioning,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California. How exactly does heat rash happen? Your hair follicles become inflamed by sweat that gets trapped beneath them, explains board-certified dermatologist Esta Kronberg, M.D.

The fix: If you’re sprouting bumps, move to a cooler area and apply a cool compress (like a cold, wet washcloth) to relieve the irritation, says Shainhouse. “If the rash is very itchy and uncomfortable, apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream twice a day for a couple of days,” she adds. It’s also a good idea to skip the gym until the rash heals—sorry!

  1. Body Acne

Bacne is a total pain in the you-know-what—and it can rear its ugly head after an intense training session. Body acne (which most commonly pops up on the chest, back, and butt), usually makes an appearance when you wear super-tight spandex gym clothes that aren’t breathable and lock in moisture, says Shainhouse. Why the breakouts? When you exercise, the glands in your body start secreting sweat—and then the sweat builds up in your hair follicles and clogs them, explains Kronberg.

The fix: Step one: Make sure you change out of your sweaty workout gear ASAP after you exercise, says Shainhouse. Then, shower right away and use an anti-bacterial body wash that contains benzoyl peroxide, suggests Kronberg. (Look for a cleanser with 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide—anything stronger may just cause further irritation.)

If an immediate shower isn’t in the cards, wipe down your acne-prone areas with a salicylic acid towelette, says Shainhouse. (Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates dead skin cells that build up, clog pores, and cause zits.) Skincare products may contain anywhere from 0.5 to 2 percent salicylic acid. These 2 percent Clearasil Rapid Action Pads make for a strong acne-fighting option.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Still Breaking Out As An Adult

  1. Chafing

Many a gym goer is familiar with this pesky issue. “When skin rubs against itself or clothing, it can chafe, leaving it pink and sore,” says Shainhouse. Ouch! Chafing usually occurs around the armpits, inner thighs, and under sports bra straps and bands, says Shainhouse. But it can also happen around your ankles if your shoes aren’t snug enough!

The fix: Say goodbye to shirts, leggings, and sports bras that are too restricting. “Make sure that all clothing fits and that you don’t feel any rubbing during movements like swinging your arms,” says Shainhouse. You can also apply a thin layer of Vaseline or coconut oil before working out to reduce friction in those trouble zones, says Shainhouse. If you sweat a lot, she recommends applying an absorbent, like Zeasorb Super Absorbent Powder, to dry skin.

If you do experience chafing, you can use an OTC cortisone cream to ease irritation, says Kronberg. She also recommends slathering on a fragrance-free lotion to keep the area moist and to curb any further friction. (Fragrance may cause irritation, so it’s best to avoid scented moisturizers if your skin has chafed.)

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

  1. Sunburn

It makes sense that you’d want to take your workout to the park when the weather is nice—but just be mindful of the sun! “Working out outdoors—including walking, running, swimming, or bike riding—leaves your skin vulnerable to damage by the sun’s UV rays,” says Shainhouse.

The fix: Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 30 minutes before heading outside, says Kronberg. Look for a sunscreen that’s ‘non-comedogenic’ or that’s specially formulated for acne-prone facial skin. You’ll need to reapply every two hours—or more frequently if you swim or get sweaty, so keep the SPF handy.

If possible, try to avoid getting your sweat on outdoors during peak sun hours (11 A.M. through 3 P.M.), advises Shainhouse. And try to stay as covered up as possible—that means no shirtless runs, adds Kronberg. All fabrics offer some sun protection, and there are even special workout clothes (labeled ‘UPF’) that offer UV protection.

Sometimes even the most diligent of sunscreen users get a burn, though. Taking an OTC anti-inflammatory and applying emu oil or a one-percent cortisone lotion may help soothe the pain, says Kronberg. Wait, emu oil? Kronberg likes this out-of-the-ordinary oil for sunburn because it moisturizes the skin and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support immune health. (A 2013 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that emu oil could be useful when dealing with itchy or irritated skin.)

  1. Athlete’s Foot

So you forgot to put your flip flops in your gym bag—and now you have to shower sans sandals. Sounds like NBD, right? Er, not quite. “If you walk around the gym changing room, pool area, or showers barefoot, you may pick up fungus from other people’s feet,” says Shainhouse. Athlete’s foot is marked by dry white scales on the sides and bottom of your feet or mushy white skin between your toes, explains Shainhouse. “Once it gets into your toenails—leaving them thick, yellow, and crumbly—it can be harder to treat,” she says.

The fix: This one’s a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating: Always wear flip flops around the locker room, says Kronberg. If you notice any of the symptoms we mentioned above, make an appointment with your derm. You’ll likely need to use a prescription anti-fungal cream twice a day for three weeks or so until the infection goes away, says Kronberg.

  1. Herpes

Yep, it’s possible to catch an STD at the gym, says Kronberg. More specifically, we’re talking about the herpes simplex one virus (HSV-1), which is transmitted orally and most often causes cold sores around the mouth. Think about it: If someone touches their cold sore and then puts their hands on a mat, then they’ve just transferred the germs, leaving you susceptible to coming into contact with them, says Kronberg.

The fix: We know this sounds freaky, but a few easy protective moves can reduce your risk. If you’re taking a yoga or Pilates class, consider bringing your own mat. If you have to rent a mat from the gym, or will be using other gym equipment or machines, wipe everything down with a disinfectant wipe before you get started. (Dispensers are pretty much all over the place in most gyms.)

Once you have HSV-1, it stays in your symptoms for the rest of your life. The good news is that prescription meds can knock out an outbreak pretty quickly, says Kronberg.

  1. Staph Infection

Thought only people in hospitals contracted staph infections? Not the case. “Staph bacteria lives on our skin and is easily transferred to shared gym equipment,” says Shainhouse. “If you have any open cuts or sores on your skin that come into contact with that bacteria, you can develop a localized staph infection, called an abscess or boil.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, these abscesses are often warm to the touch, full of pus, and accompanied by a fever. (And yep, it’s pretty much as unpleasant as it sounds.) Methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA), a common type of staph infection that is resistant to some antibiotics, is one you should be especially aware of, says Kronberg. The infection often looks like a really bad spider bite, so people may not realize it’s actually a staph infection.

The fix: Preventing a staph infection isn’t complicated. Just cover up any open sores while you’re at the gym and be sure to wash your hands really well—preferably while showering after you work out, says Shainhouse. The thing is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when left untreated, MRSA can be deadly.

That’s why it’s critical to book it to your M.D. immediately if you think you might have MRSA, says Kronberg. In addition to starting a course of antibiotics to treat the infection, you may need to have any abscesses lanced by your doc if they don’t go away on their own, says Shainhouse.

Related: Shop supplements to support your immune system.

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.

Spoonful.JPG
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: 

5 sources of caffeine.jpg

 

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.

All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

Take a walk down the supplement aisle and you’re bound to see shelves packed with fish oil supplements. That’s because omega-3s, a type of fatty acid found in fish oil, have become a go-to for heart health support. And while you probably already knew omegas were good for your ticker, they have quite a few other benefits, too.

The Omega-3 Basics

Omega-3s are a type of molecule called a polyunsaturated fatty acid. The body can only produce so much on its own—so you need to get these polyunsaturated fatty acids through your diet, too. “There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids, and all are important for good health,” says Kim Melton, R.D., owner of Nutrition Pro Consulting.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the two most useful kinds of omega-3s. They’re found in salmon, tuna, shrimp, herring, seaweed, and some grass-fed meats, says Melton. The third omega-3, ALA (alpha linolenic acid), is found in plant sources like flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp, kale, and spinach. Since the body can’t produce this one at all, it has to come from food. Your body has to convert ALA into DHA and EPA through a multi-step process before it can use it, says Melton, hence why it gets the bronze medal.

Once in your body, omega-3s play a role in cell membranes and cell receptors, and help produce hormone-like substances that regulate artery function and inflammation, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The role of omega-3s regarding immune system and inflammatory response may be perhaps most noteworthy, says Myers Hurt, M.D., general physician at Diamond Physicians in Dallas, Texas. And that’s because they suppress inflammatory chemicals within the body.

The Health Benefits of Omega-3s

Omegas offer up plenty of health benefits, from boosting your immune system to supporting your heart health.

Omegas and your heart: Dietary omega-3s can help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as help support cholesterol and blood pressure, says Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Omega-3s and your immune system: Because they may bolster the body’s productions of immune cells called cytokines, omega-3s may promote immune health. A study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, for example, found that participants with joint issues who took fish oil for eight weeks reported less joint discomfort and stiffness than those who took a placebo.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Your Joints Are Aching—And How To Deal

Omega-3s and your gut: Some researchers suggest that essential fatty acid deficiency may affect gut health because of EFAs’ interactions with immune cells and role in cell membrane structure. (The concept is that EFAs support the gut’s ability to act as a barrier between substances you consume and your bloodstream.) A review of studies published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases concluded that dietary omega-3s may even have some beneficial effects on ulcerative colitis, a condition that causes ulcers in the digestive tract.

Omega-3s and your skin: These essential fatty acids may also support healthy skin, says Steinbaum. In fact, they may calm and soothe skin due to their role in the immune system, according to Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. However, more research is still needed in this area.

Omega-3s and your brain: Here’s a fun fact we bet you didn’t know: Omega-3s are highly-concentrated in your brain, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Because of this, they play an important role in cognitive and behavioral brain function. One review published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity suggests that omega-3s may support mood stability and feelings of wellness. While the study suggests further research, they propose that inadequate omega-3 intake in the Western diet may negatively impact brain function and overall health.

Related: New Study Suggests A Healthy Diet May Help Treat Depression

Considering A Supplement?

Many people don’t get enough from their diet alone—unless they regularly eat a lot of fish or plant sources like flaxseed. Steinbaum recommends talking to your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen. A blood test can determine if you’re actually deficient in omega-3s.

The typical dosage for an omega-3 fish oil supplement is 1,000 milligrams, with at least 500 milligrams coming from EPA and DHA—though Steinbaum notes that a doc may recommend higher dosages for some individuals.

And if you’re less than thrilled at the thought of fishy burps, Hurt recommends stashing your soft gels in the fridge to help them go down easier.

Related: Find the omega-packed supplement that’s right for you.

Are There Any Legit Health Benefits To Sitting In The Sauna?

If you belong to a gym, chances are you’ve spent some time in the sauna. After all, it feels pretty great to get your heat on after working your muscles hard. Lately, lots of celebrities have been touting the detoxifying, fat-busting, and pain-relieving power of sweating it out in the sauna—but is this too good to be true? We asked experts to weigh in on the hype before you sweat your life away in search of all those benefits.

Can Sitting In The Sauna Help You Lose Weight?

You may have heard through the grapevine that sweating buckets in a sauna could help you drop major pounds—but sadly, this is not an effective weight loss treatment, says Mitchell Rosen, M.D., chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Here’s the theory behind saunas and shedding pounds: “When you’re in hot or cold [environments], there’s a certain amount of work that your body has to do to maintain a normal temperature,” says Rosen. “So you burn some extra energy to keep your body at that normal level.” However, this extra energy expenditure is so minimal that it won’t noticeably influence weight.

Related: Can Drinking Lemon Water Really Help You Lose Weight?

That being said, you’re probably wondering why you might be a pound or two lighter after a long sauna session. While you haven’t lost any actual fat, what you have lost is water. By making you sweat buckets, saunas dehydrate you (a.k.a. deplete you of fluids). “You could make weight if you were on the wrestling team, but that weight would come back very quickly,” says Rosen. “You’re not going to dehydrate yourself to weight loss.” Nor would you want to, considering proper hydration is key for your body to function at its best.

What Benefits Can You Actually Expect from the Sauna?

Saunas may not be the miracle weight loss tool you hoped for, but that doesn’t mean they have zero benefits. Saunas help promote better circulation and improved heart rate, says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., a holistic doctor and author of Diet Slave No More!.

How it works: “Heat increases the heart rate by stimulating a cardiac muscle to contract faster,” explains Kogan. “Circulation is improved by causing vasodilation (widening) of the arterial blood vessels.”

Research also points to a few potential perks of spending time in the sauna. For example, a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that regular sauna treatments improved both the cardiovascular health and exercise ability of patients with chronic heart failure.

That’s not all, though. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that regular sauna use could be effective in helping to improve the function of blood vessel walls (called ‘endothelial function’) of those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

“Endothelium is the innermost layer of the arteries, which can shrink or expand,” says Kogan. So, better endothelial function means your arteries can stretch to accommodate the same volume of blood, leading to lower blood pressure.

Plus, a 2014 study published in JAMA International Medicine even found an association between frequency of ‘sauna bathing’ and lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Saunas may do us good beyond our heart health, too. According to Kogan, the intense heat can help soothe symptoms like muscle soreness and joint pain, making them popular among chronic fatigue and arthritis patients. That’s because heat relaxes muscle fibers, relieving tension and spasms, she says.

Related: Find a supplement to support muscle recovery.

One more major reason to enjoy a good sit in the sauna: You may find yourself in a more warm and fuzzy mood afterward. Saunas have been used since ancient times as a wellness tool by northern societies with lots of cold weather, says Kogan, who notes that many of her patients report a mood boost after a sauna treatment. Similarly, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that daily sauna sessions improved ratings of relaxation in patients with mild depression.

The good news is there are no harmful effects that can come from spending time in a sauna, says Kogan. Just keep in mind that women shouldn’t use saunas while pregnant in order to avoid the risk of becoming overheated or dehydrated.

Attention All Men Over 30: You’re Leaking Testosterone

Guys, this one’s for you. If you’re tired all the time and just don’t feel like getting it on any more (unlike in the past), you’re not alone—but what gives? It could have to do with testosterone. The hormone plays a huge role in men’s libido and overall health, but it declines with age.

What Is Testosterone—And Why Is It So Important?

Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men. That means it plays a key role in developing muscle, growing hair, regulating mood, and fueling your sex drive, says Christopher Asandra, M.D., chief medical officer of NuMale and NuFemme, medical centers that specialize in sexual health and treating sexual dysfunction.

Basically, testosterone is what makes men ‘men,’ at least from a physical standpoint—but that’s not all. “Testosterone also influences emotion and behavior—not just in the developing male, but the adult and aging male as well,” says John Robinson, a board-certified naturopathic medical doctor and founder of The Hormone Zone in Scottsdale, Arizona.

We tend to think of testosterone as what makes guys act like jerks, says Robinson, as it plays a role in traits like assertiveness, risk-taking, and competiveness. But it’s not all so stereotypical—recent research also links testosterone with other social behaviors and traits like confidence.

What Happens To Testosterone As You Age?

Once you hit 30, your T-levels start to decline by about one to two percent annually, says Asandra.

After hitting the big 3-0, you may start to experience fatigue, decreased mental clarity, irritability, depression, and decreased muscle mass. “I hear that [last] one a lot,” says Asandra, who notes that a drop in testosterone levels could be to blame for you not being able to lose fat or put on muscle—even if you hit the gym regularly. And, of course, your appetite for sex might start to wane, too: “The frequency and intensity of erections may start to go down,” says Robinson.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Tired All The Time

What About Testosterone Boosters?

Chances are, you’ve heard about supplements that can help boost your testosterone—but what’s in them, and should you start taking them?

One of the most common ingredients found in testosterone boosters is fenugreek extract. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that taking 500 milligrams of fenugreek extract in supplement form had a positive impact on upper and lower-body strength compared to a placebo. (Remember: When your T drops, you may face a loss of muscle mass.)

Two other popular ingredients—vitamins B6 and B12—have been the subject of multiple animal studies. A review out of University College London suggests that B6 plays a role in mediating the action of steroid hormones like testosterone in the body, which may explain why you’ll see it on many supplement ingredient lists.

If you are considering taking a testosterone booster, it’s important to see your doc first, says Asandra. You could be dealing with another medical issue, like diabetes, which may be mimicking the signs of low testosterone. And since some people may need a considerable dose to see an effect, you should also check with your doctor if you take other medications, like blood thinners or antidepressants, before adding it to your supplement regimen.

How Can You Replace Testosterone?

Robinson says boosters tend to work in younger guys, but that once you hit 50 and start to experience an exponential decrease in the hormone, you may need to talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy.

Yep, there are ways your doc can help you actually replace lost testosterone. Both Asandra and Robinson like to use pellets that are placed under the skin and pump out hormones slowly over the course of four to six months. Testosterone injections are another option—but keep in mind that you’ll have to stick yourself with a needle once or twice a week.

Related: Nugenix Natural Testosterone Booster is flying off the shelves.

7 Reasons Why Your Joints Are Aching—And How To Deal

Fact: Joint pain is incredibly frustrating—especially when your aching hip, knee, or shoulder makes even the smallest of movements excruciating or uncomfortable. There’s a long list of possible reasons for achy joints, ranging from the easily-fixed to the more complicated. Below are some of the most common, along with tips for reducing the level of pain you’re in.

  1. You Like to Run—a LOT

Training for another race and noticing a nagging knee? You may be pounding your way to pain. “As a practitioner, I see a lot of people who exercise for fun—particularly runners—with knee pain,” says Robert Hayden, D.C., Ph.D., a chiropractor in Griffin, Georgia.

Hitting the pavement hard can put a whole lot of stress on your knee joints. Running on hard concrete surfaces can be especially damaging to cartilage over time, says Carol Michaels, fitness expert and owner of Recovery Fitness in West, Orange New Jersey. (Cartilage is the flexible tissue in your joints that helps prevent friction between the bones when you move.)

The good news is that many people are able to start running again after resting and strengthening the affected joint, says Michaels. A chiropractor or physical therapist may be able to help you come up with a stretching and strength-training plan to help you recover and avoid joint pain in the future.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Well-Being

That being said, if a doctor determines you have serious knee damage (or serious damage to another joint), you may need to switch up your exercise routine to prevent further damage, says Hayden. Low impact cardio —like brisk walking —puts far less stress on your body and may be a necessary alternative if you’ve literally run your joints into the ground, he says.

  1. You Sprained Your Ankle

One klutzy moment that involves tripping over a curb (or nothing at all) can result in a sprain that lasts longer than your embarrassment will. When you twist or fall on an ankle, you can stretch or damage the ligament (tissue connecting two or more bones at a joint), says Hayden. According to the National Institute of Health, the telltale signs of a sprain are pain, swelling, bruising, and the inability to move the affected joint.

To treat a mild sprain, the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society advises following the R.I.C.E. guidelines: Rest your ankle by not walking on it; ice your ankle to shrink swelling; compress your ankle to control swelling; and elevate your foot by keeping it propped up above your heart. If your injury lasts more than a few days, your doc may need to put you in a cast or boot until it’s healed, says Hayden.

  1. Your Routine Is the Same Day in and Day Out

Many of us sit on our butts in front of a computer for hours at a time every day (#officelife)—and that can have some nasty consequences on our joints. According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting for prolonged periods of time—especially on hard surfaces—can lead to a condition called bursitis.

This painful condition occurs when the bursae (fluid-filled cushioning sacs in between joints) become inflamed, typically from repeated activity, says Michaels. It’s usually seen in the shoulder, elbow, or hip. Common symptoms include aches, stiffness, swelling, redness, and sensitivity to the touch.

Michaels suggests seeing an exercise specialist or physical therapist who can help show you stretching and strengthening exercises to relieve some of the pressure on the affected joints. In addition to physical therapy, cushioning the affected area may help relieve discomfort.

Related: Shop training accessories for effective workouts at home or on-the-go.

  1. You Have Osteoarthritis

One of the most common culprits of joint pain is arthritis—in fact, more than 50 million Americans have some form of it, according to the Arthritis Foundation. While there are a many different kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis, (caused by the wearing away of cartilage) is the most prevalent. Apart from joint pain, osteoarthritis also often involves tenderness, stiffness, and loss of flexibility.

Osteoarthritis can generally be managed by your primary care physician, says Lynn M. Ludmer, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist and internal medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Meds can help ease the joint pain associated with osteoarthritis, but exercise can play a crucial role in addressing the condition. “There’s a misconception that people should stop moving if they have pain,” says Ludmer. “But it’s important for people with arthritis to exercise, and walking or swimming can be particularly beneficial.”

The slow, controlled movements and low-impact of tai chi make it another good option for those with osteoarthritis, suggests Michaels. Ludmer adds that complementary therapies like acupuncture may also help.

  1. You Have an Autoimmune Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory form of arthritis, is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your joints, wearing them down over time. It can also cause damage to other organs and systems in your body. You may notice tender, warm, and swollen joints along with stiffness, fatigue, and possibly weight loss.No one knows for sure what causes autoimmune disorders, but age and genetics may be involved.

Since the autoimmune aspects of arthritis can affect more than just your joints, Ludmer urges the importance of being carefully monitored and treated by your doc if diagnosed. Treatments may include taking immune-suppressing medication.

  1. You’re Overweight

The more pounds you’re carrying, the more pressure you’re putting on your joints. You may notice trouble with your knees in particular. “Every pound you lose can relieve five pounds of pressure off your knees,” says Michaels.

Of course, losing weight is easier said than done. Incorporating fitness into your daily routine as and being mindful about what you eat are good first steps, says Hayden. Michaels suggests starting off with gentle exercises like walking, bicycling, and swimming if you’re dealing with joint pain.

Related: 3 People Share How They Lost Over 60 Pounds—And Kept It Off

  1. You Chow Down on a Ton of Meat

Ludmer says that gout—another inflammatory form of arthritis—can also cause joint pain, particularly in your feet. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms, which include intense pain in your big toe (and possibly in the rest of your feet, ankles, knees, hands, and wrists), redness, swelling, and limited mobility, usually strike suddenly—and can stick around for days. The majority of people who experience gout for the first time will have another flare-up within a year, according to The Arthritis Foundation.

The condition occurs as a result of too-high levels of uric acid in your blood, explains Hayden. Eating tons of meat and seafood, guzzling drinks high in fructose, and going a little too hard on the booze can all up your levels.

The excess uric acid then forms crystals in your joints, which cause the sudden, severe episodes of pain. Lab tests can determine your uric acid levels, while your doc might recommend pain relievers as well dietary changes to help relieve your symptoms.

Related: Browse supplements to support your bones and joints. 

Does BMI Really Matter?

You eat your greens and do a solid mix of cardio and strength-training all week long—so why the heck is your body mass index (BMI) so high? Well, if recent research is any indicator, you shouldn’t necessarily be stressing over that number quite so much. It turns out that BMI may not be much more than, well, a number.

If you’ve been to a primary care physician—ever—you’ve probably had your BMI calculated. It’s pretty simple: Your body mass index is your weight divided by your height squared in meters. The resulting number is supposed to reflect whether your weight is in a healthy range.

According to the World Health Organization, a normal or ‘healthy’ BMI would fall between 18.5-24.99, an overweight BMI would be between 25-29.99, and an obese BMI would be anything 30 and above.

Here’s the issue, though: The formula for BMI doesn’t take muscle mass, bone mass, or the physical differences between men and women into consideration, says Michelle May, M.D., founder of AmIHungry.com.

BMI was first developed by a mathematician in the nineteenth century to assess the health of population groups—not individuals, says Stephen Box, a certified fitness trainer and nutrition coach in Suwanee, Georgia. “If you look at it statistically across big groups of people, you would notice that it’s fairly accurate in determining the overall level of obesity,” he says. “But the problem is when you try to put it to an individual.”

Since BMI doesn’t take anything other than weight into account, explains Box, it doesn’t provide a full picture of your health. For example, someone who has 12 percent body fat and tons of muscle could have the same BMI as someone with 40 percent body fat—but the more body fat you have, the higher your risk of developing things like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even certain types of cancer. Not to mention, genetics plays a part in your health and risk levels for disease, explains May, which is certainly not something BMI can take into account.

Because of these limitations, you could theoretically be fit and healthy, but be classified as obese according to your BMI. “A bodybuilder may have a high BMI because of all the muscle mass that they have relative to their height, but just simply looking at their BMI could lead you to make an assumption that they’re unhealthy,” says May.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Well Being

Making assumptions around BMI don’t get us very far. A 2013 study published in JAMA actually found that those in the “overweight” BMI range had a lower risk of death than those in the “normal” range. Plus, a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that 34.4 million Americans who are considered overweight (according to their BMI) are actually healthy, according to benchmarks like blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance. The same goes for the19.8 million who are considered obese by BMI standards.

The bottom line: Since BMI doesn’t indicate anything about your current health or diseases you could be at risk for, there’s really no use in obsessing over it, says May. Instead of looking for ways to lower the number, focus on practicing good habits—like consistently eating whole foods and veggies, and being active for 30 minutes every day. “Your daily lifestyle is a better indicator of whether you’re going to be healthy than just a number,” says Box.

Related: Shop a variety of supplements to support your weight-management plan.

10 Natural Ways To Nix Gas

We’ve all been there: You scarf down a delicious dinner only to be hit with abdominal discomfort—as well as the noises and fumes that come along with it. Aside from eating certain foods (hello, beans!), gas can also be caused by how fast you eat that food and how stressed you are in your day-to-day life.  The good news is that there are quite a few natural remedies you can try to nip a case of the farts in the bud.

  1. Sip Peppermint Tea…

Peppermint tea is very effective for gas-related problems,” says Shinas Hussain, M.D., general practitioner with ICliniq. That’s because peppermint tea contains menthol, which can aid in digestion as well, says Hussain. Try brewing a cup and drinking it either 30 minutes before you eat or with your meal.

  1. …Or Add Peppermint Oil Capsules to Your Routine

Tea isn’t your only option for the minty goodness: Try peppermint oil capsules. “A supplement can help to relax your gut, preventing that uncomfortable gassy buildup,” says Brooke Alpert, R.D., founder of B Nutritious and author of The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Look Years Younger. Just make sure they’re enteric coated to reduce your chances of dealing with any heartburn, and take one 30 minutes to an hour before eating, she says.

  1. Guzzle Plenty of H2O

Do you often forget to refill your water bottle throughout the day? It’s time to start upping your agua intake—especially if you get gassy on the reg. “Water is important for pushing foods through your digestive system,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., founder of Better Than Dieting. She recommends drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day.

  1. Get Your Ohm On

You know how you feel super-relaxed after yoga class? Well, that’s not this exercise’s only benefit. It turns out certain yoga poses are actually good for your gut. If you’re gassy, practice your cat/cow pose, recommends Alpert. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, making sure to engage your core. Round your back and exhale as you tuck your chin for ‘cat’ pose. Then, arch your back and inhale as you turn your face upward for ‘cow’ pose.

Since this progression works your core muscles, it may help move food through and relieve some of your gas. “This yoga stretch helps activate the lower belly and get things flowing,” says Alpert.

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

  1. Try a Magnesium Supplement

Magnesium is a beloved mineral in the health and wellness world for many reasons—one being that it can help curb gassiness. “Magnesium plays an important role in muscle contraction and may help with GI tract function, preventing and relieving gas buildup,” says Arielle Levitan, M.D., author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. Levitan recommends taking a magnesium supplement up to two times a day with meals.

Related: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

  1. Down a Glass of Dill Water

Dill is definitely our favorite salmon seasoning—but did you know it has gas-fighting powers? “Dill contains essential oils that calm the stomach,” says Erin Stair, M.D., founder of Blooming Wellness and author of Food and Mood: Eating Your Way Out of Depression. Dill water (a.k.a. “gripe water”) has been used for years as a homeopathic treatment for babies with tummy troubles.

You can try it, too. Just boil 1 tablespoon of dill seeds in approximately 200 milliliters of water, let it cool, and sip throughout the day or 30 minutes before eating, says Stair.

  1. Pop a Digestive Enzyme Supplement

Rachel Carlton Abrams, M.D., board-certified family and integrative medicine physician and author of Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing suggests taking a digestive enzyme before eating foods that tend to gas you up. A digestive enzyme can help you break these foods down—and hopefully avoid the usual ballooning and tooting.

  1. Make Activated Charcoal Your BFF

The charcoal trend really is everywhere. “Activated charcoal is a very porous substance that attracts toxins throughout the gastrointestinal tract,” says Lahana Vigliano, holistic nutritionist and founder of Thrival Nutrition. Try taking activated charcoal after eating. (Just don’t take activated charcoal with meds, says Vigliano, since it can decrease their effectiveness.)

Related: I Brushed My Teeth With Charcoal For 2 Weeks

  1. Go for a Walk

So you inhaled your lunch at your desk, and now you’re worried your co-workers can hear what’s going on inside your stomach. Consider this your excuse to take a break and step away from your desk. “Just moving your body can be stimulating and help air move through your system,” in turn helping to dissipate gas, says Alpert.

  1. Chew on Ginger

Ginger is commonly used to help ease digestive issues—including gas—because of its soothing properties. “Ginger chews are perfect for once-in-a-while gas,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. To make your own, all you have to do is boil slices of ginger root to soften them, and coat them in sugar. “They taste great, have a slightly spicy kick to them, and often help pretty quickly,” says Sonpal.

Chronic gas, though, may be a sign of a more serious gastrointestinal issue, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance, so if you’re gassy on the regular, head to your doc.

According to the Mayo Clinic, more than three days of abdominal discomfort in a three-month period may be a sign of IBS, while gas, cramping, or bloating a half hour to two hours after noshing on dairy may indicate lactose intolerance.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Gassy

Could You Have a Thyroid Issue?

Whether you’ve had trouble pooping, can’t stop yawning all day long, feel constantly hot or chilly, or can’t sit still, these seemingly random symptoms may point to an issue with one teeny tiny body part: your thyroid.

According to the American Thyroid Association, up to 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease—and a whopping 60 percent of them don’t even know it. Yikes. We blame everything from weight gain to wonky energy levels on our thyroid levels—but how much do you know about this small but powerful gland?

What Exactly Is Your Thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck that produces hormones which  help your entire body work efficiently, says Supneet Saluja, M.D., an endocrinology specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

We often associate the thyroid with one thing in particular: metabolism. “The thyroid is the master of metabolism,” says John Robinson, a board-certified naturopathic medical doctor and founder of The Hormone Zone in Scottsdale, Arizona. And by metabolism, we’re not just talking about your body’s ability to lose fat and keep up your energy levels. On a cellular level, metabolism is a set of chemical reactions that allows cells in just about every part of your body (think your brain, heart, nervous system, and liver) to do their jobs.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

Problem is, the thyroid doesn’t always work the way it should.

What Happens When Your Thyroid Isn’t On Its A-Game?

The most common thyroid issue involves the gland not producing enough thyroid hormone to keep your body running on all cylinders— and this is called hypothyroidism, says Robinson.

If you have an underactive thyroid gland, you may experience symptoms like unexplained weight gain, hair loss, constipation, fatigue, dry skin, and/or depression—without any change in your activity or diet, says Saluja. (Women with underactive thyroids may also experience heavier periods, Robinson adds.)

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Tired All The Time

An overactive thyroid, called hyperthyroidism, is a lot less common. If you have an overactive thyroid gland, you may experience an unusually fast heartbeat, feelings of anxiety, trouble sleeping, and/or diarrhea, says Saluja. Because it can affect the heart, hyperthyroidism is potentially much more dangerous than hypothyroidism if untreated, says Robinson.

Another note for the ladies: According to the American Thyroid Association, women are a whopping five to eight times more likely to deal with thyroid problems—although experts don’t know for certain why that is.

But what the heck throws off the thyroid in the first place? A lot of times, an underlying autoimmune disease is to blame, says Saluja. In the case of an underactive thyroid gland, the culprit may be Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your thyroid. When it comes to an overactive thyroid gland, the culprit may be Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body produces too much of an antibody that spurs thyroid hormone production.

According to the National Institutes of Health, no one’s really sure what, exactly, causes autoimmune diseases in general. Saluja notes, though, that thyroid disorders often run in the family, so if you’re experiencing any signs of a whacked out thyroid and have a loved one who’s also had issues, talk to your doctor about testing your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels.

What Can You Do About An Off-Kilter Thyroid?

First things first, if you suspect something is off with your thyroid, you’ll need a blood test to confirm whether your hormone levels are too high or too low, says Saluja.

If you’re diagnosed with underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), the treatment is, luckily, pretty simple: Your doc will likely prescribe hormone for you to take. “This shouldn’t be considered medication,” says Saluja. “It’s really your own body’s hormone that is available in pill form.”

Treating an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can be a little trickier, though, because you’re actively trying to manipulate hormone production, says Saluja. Your doc may prescribe radioactive iodine—which can be taken in pill or liquid form—to destroy thyroid tissue and decrease how much hormone it produces.

While this can cure hyperthyroidism, it can actually leave you with the opposite problem—low thyroid—afterwards, says Saluja. No need to panic, though. Like Saluja said, it’s much easier to treat hypothyroidism than hyperthyroidism.

The Keys To Keeping Your Tummy Happy When You’re Taking Antibiotics

When we’re sick, we usually hit up the doc’s office in hopes of being sent on our way with an Rx for antibiotics. After all, taking meds usually means we’ll be on the mend quickly. But it’s not always that simple.

Antibiotics are sometimes necessary, but they definitely come with their own set of complications. For example, they can throw your gut majorly out of whack. Here, the lowdown on how antibiotics work, and how to keep them from hurting your stomach.

How Antibiotics Work

Antibiotics work by targeting and killing bacteria in your body. That’s NBD, since bacteria sound pretty gross, right? Well, not really. Bacteria get a bad rap, says Myers Hurt, M.D., general physician at Diamond Physicians in Dallas, Texas. It turns out there are actually tons of good bacteria (microorganisms) living in your gut and your gut lining—and they actually work to bolster your immune system, he explains.

If you’re sniffling and sneezing your way through a cold (which is caused by a virus) or itching yourself like crazy thanks to a gnarly rash (which may be fungal), then antibiotics won’t do a thing for you. They work their magic, though, when you’re dealing with a bacterial infection like strep throat, bacterial bronchitis, or a urinary tract infection, says David Bernstein, M.D., chief of the division of hepatology at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York. “You should only use antibiotics as directed by your physician to treat bacterial infections. Period.” Bernstein says.

The thing is, antibiotics are so gosh darn good at killing bacteria that they destroy the good bacteria in your body along with whatever bad stuff is making you sick, says Hurt. In killing off the good stuff, antibiotics disrupt the normal flora of your gastrointestinal tract, potentially leaving you with issues like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, says Jamie J. Hardy, board-certified pharmacist.

Related: Three Ways To Give Your Tummy Some TLC

Hardy explains that antibiotics can also affect the bacteria in the vaginal tract, which can leave women with another rough symptom: a yeast infection.

If you don’t take them properly and sparingly, though, the bacteria in your system can actually develop a resistance to antibiotics, says Bernstein. In addition to only taking them to treat bacterial infections, you should finish out the full course of antibiotics even if you start feeling better a couple days in. When you quit before finishing your prescription, your infection might just pop back up, says Bernstein.

How to Take Care of Your Tummy on Antibiotics

So, what can you do if antibiotics wreak havoc on your stomach? Bernstein first recommends taking your antibiotics with food to help offset any stomach irritation.

Of course, when it comes to gut health, you’ve probably heard the “P” word—probiotics—thrown around. “Probiotics are certain types of beneficial bacteria that replace those in your gut flora killed off by the antibiotics,” says Faisal Tawwab, M.D., family practice specialist at Multicare Physicians in Florida. You can find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, or in supplement form.

The two most common types of bacteria you’ll find in probiotic supplements are lactobacillus and bifdobacterium, so you’ll probably see them on most ingredient labels. Just make sure you’re supplementing post-antibiotics in order to repopulate the good gut bacteria your prescription depleted.

If you want to eat your probiotics, Hardy suggests noshing on one to two servings of live culture-containing foods for at least three to five days after you’ve completed your course of treatment.

Just wait at least two hours after popping your antibiotic to eat that yogurt, since the calcium in it may reduce the effectiveness of some antibiotics (called ‘tetracyclines’), Hardy says.

Related: 5 Foods That Are Packed With Probiotics

Could You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder And Not Even Know It?

When it’s cold and dark outside, it’s totally understandable to want to hibernate inside your cozy bedroom watching Netflix all day, every day. But if you find yourself feeling particularly low in the winter—and it’s significantly affecting your quality of life—you may be dealing with something more serious than the winter blues.

You could have something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (a.k.a. SAD). “It’s a real disorder,” says Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., a psychologist in Los Angeles, “but because it has this cute little acronym it kind of gets played off in a jokey way.” Cute acronym aside, SAD is nothing to take lightly.

What Is SAD?

SAD is a type of  depression that begins and ends at the same time each year. It typically starts in the fall and lasts through the winter, subsiding when there’s a lot of sunshine, says Kubacky.

The signs and symptoms of SAD are pretty similar to clinical depression: According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), that means frequent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and/or worthlessness, seriously low energy levels, trouble sleeping, and losing interest in your favorite activities. That might explain why even your favorite weekly kickboxing class doesn’t get you jazzed anymore.

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

Another sign of SAD that may surprise you is a hefty appetite. If you’ve got any of the above symptoms and also find yourself dreaming of eating bagels or chocolate cake 24/7, consider it a red flag. SAD often comes along with a strong craving for sweets and starchy foods, says Coral Arvon, Ph.D., director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami. “This is the body’s way of trying to scrounge up some kind of energy to combat how tired and down you’re feeling,” she says. (Carbs cause blood sugar levels to rise, leading to a spike in energy, after all.)

What Causes SAD?

Docs aren’t totally sure on an exact explanation for why some people develop SAD, says Arvon, though quite a few factors seem to be at play.

Biologically, your body’s levels of melatonin, vitamin D, and serotonin could be to blame. Your brain secretes the hormone melatonin when it’s dark outside in order to help your body wind down for sleep. (When you’re exposed to sunlight, your melatonin production decreases and you feel more awake and energized.) So, if it’s dark more often than not, your body may produce too much of the stuff, making you feel way more lethargic than you do during the summer, explains Arvon.

Similarly, the less time you spend basking in the sun, the less vitamin D your body produces. Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones and immune function, and research has identified a link between low levels of vitamin D and symptoms of depression.

The final potential culprit is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood. In the winter, people tend to produce less serotonin, says Arvon, which could explain why shorter days and frigid temps leave you feeling down in the dumps.

Who’s Most at Risk?

Geography is obviously a big factor. Those who live in not-so-sunny climates far away from the equator (we’re looking at you, Boston and Toronto) are more likely to experience SAD than those who reside in places like Florida, according to a study published in Depression Research and Treatment. In fact, according to the study, about nine percent of people in Alaska have SAD, compared to just one percent of people in the Sunshine State.

And not-so-good news for the ladies: The same study found that women are a whopping four times more likely to have SAD than men, possibly because women generally experience more hormonal fluctuations than men.

Arvon cautions that those diagnosed with bipolar disorder may also be at an increased risk for SAD, since the change in weather may exacerbate symptoms.

Additionally, according to the NIMH, a family history of depression may also up your risk for SAD.

How Is SAD Treated?

The good news is there are lots of ways to help get this condition under control, even when the sun is nowhere to be found.

One of the best things you can do is invest in a light box, says Kubacky. Light boxes emit bright light, which can help lower your melatonin and boost your vitamin D. “They’re low-risk and easy,” she says.

Another game-changer: exercise. Regular physical activity may help to improve feelings of depression and anxiety, according to Harvard Health Publications. Cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of therapy that focuses on developing alternative ways of thinking and behaving) and meditation can help, too, Avron says.

It’s also important to make social connections so that you don’t feel so isolated, and to try to get some fresh air, even on cloudy days, she says. In fact, a study published in Ecopsychology found that regular group nature walks helped to decrease depression and promote well-being in participants.

Related: New Study Suggests A Healthy Diet May Help Treat Depression

Let’s Clear The Air About Caffeine

If you’re a tea or coffee drinker, you probably rely on your morning mug to give you a good jolt of caffeine. But even if hot beverages aren’t your thing, chances are you consume caffeine in some form during your day.

Caffeine shows up in a variety of products, including soda, chocolate, some ice creams, sports nutrition supplements, pain relievers, and headache medications, says Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health. But despite its prevalence in foods and drinks, you’ve probably heard mixed reviews about whether or not it’s good for you. What’s a java-lover (or preworkout junkie) to think?

First, the basics: Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your heart rate and opens up your blood vessels, which boosts delivery of oxygen throughout your bod, making you feel alert. “On the flipside, caffeine may contribute to anxiety and sleep troubles,” says Sonya Angelone, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Plus, since caffeine is addictive, stopping suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, and drowsiness.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, it appears to be safe for most healthy adults to consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (that’s about four cups of coffee). However, consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day can lead to insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, an upset stomach, a fast heartbeat, and muscle tremors, the clinic says.

For all of its potentially uncomfortable side effects, caffeine has many scientifically-proven perks. “Caffeine is a proven performance-enhancer,” Upton says. For example, one study published in the British Journal of Sports Science discovered that people who drank coffee before running 1,500 meters (which is just shy of a mile) on a treadmill finished their runs 4.2 seconds faster than those who didn’t drink coffee beforehand.

Related: Can Green Tea Really Help You Lose Weight?

There’s also some evidence to show that caffeine may even have a connection to your—woah—longevity. Research from Harvard University published in the journal Circulation found that higher consumption of coffee (both regular and decaf) was associated with a lower risk of mortality, including that due to heart disease, neurological diseases, type 2 diabetes, and suicide.

The connection between coffee and a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes isn’t new: An analysis of several studies published in Circulation found a link between drinking three to five cups of coffee a day and a low risk of developing heart disease. Meanwhile, research published in the journal Diabetes Care found that moderate consumption (two or more cups per day) of decaf or regular coffee may lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women.

However, there may be a danger of too much of a good thing. A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology discovered that people who consumed eight or more cups of coffee daily had a 58 percent greater risk of suicide than those who had less caffeine each daily. (It’s worth noting here that eight or more cups of coffee a day is a lot.)

Certain age groups and populations should consume caffeine with extra caution. The Mayo Clinic points out that children and teens are encouraged to have no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day, while people with heart conditions are typically advised to limit their caffeine intake, according to Upton. Pregnant woman are also advised to limit the amount of caffeine they have daily since the stimulant can travel through the blood stream to the placenta and affect the developing baby, Angelone says. (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women have no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day.)

Bottom line: You know how caffeine makes you feel. If you find that you get jittery or just feel off after having a certain amount, scale back or try to eliminate it from your diet. But, if you don’t have any issues with caffeine and you don’t have a health condition that may be problematic with it, have at that java, tea, or supplement—just strive to stay within the 400 milligrams-a-day recommendation for max health benefits.

Related: Check out The Vitamin Shoppe’s new coffee category.