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.

4 Reasons Why Meditation Can Be Life-Changing (Science Even Says So)

Dating back to the ancient Indian Vedas of 1500 BCE, meditation is known to be deeply relaxing and plenty soothing during stressful times. But that’s not all: Science proves that its benefits go so much deeper. In fact, it’s literally mind-changing.

If you’re not into meditating now, here are four reasons why you might want to hop on the mindfulness wagon:

Meditation Literally Grows Your Brain

It might sound strange, but meditation is like a chia pet for your brain. When you meditate, the grey matter in your brain (the regions of the brain responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, self-control, and decision-making) grows larger.

In a study published in the journal NeuroImage, meditating participants showed enlarged regions of both the orbito-frontal and hippocampal areas of the brain, which are crucial to emotional regulation and response control. So, say you’re having a stressful day—the benefits of meditation may have changed your brain, helping to you keep your emotions stable and under control.

Related: Shop yoga accessories to inspire calm in your life.

Meditation Can Make You More Zen

A study at Johns Hopkins showed a connection between mindful meditation and moderate relief of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

On top of that, a 2016 study published by Biological Psychiatry showed that meditation led to increased communication within the portions of the brain that handles stress, focus, and calm. We’ll have some of that, please.

Related: The Many Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Meditation May Decrease Inflammation

Turn in any direction, and you’ll hear inflammation being touted as the key culprit or symptom behind many of our conditions, including stress.

The good news? Various studies show a reduction in inflammation due to meditation, including one published by Georgetown University. The study took 89 people with panic disorder and divided them in half: Half the group took an eight-week mindful meditation course, while the other half spent eight weeks in a stress-management course.

Both before and after the study, the subjects took the Trier Social Stress Test, a tool for creating and monitoring a stress response in a lab setting. Basically, the stress test works by giving the participants rapid and anxiety-inducing instructions and then monitoring their responses.

The stress test specifically monitors blood-based markers of stress responses, including levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the inflammatory proteins. The group who took the stress management had increased anxiety and inflammation.

But the meditation group? Not so much. They showed drops in inflammation and stress markers.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

Meditation Can Boost Your Attention Span

The verdict is in: Meditation increases your attention span. One study, published in Psychological Science, concluded that mindfulness training improved test scores and working memory capacity while also keep distracting thoughts at bay. Whether you’re a student taking a big test or an employee at work, having a great attention span is pretty key.

So, how much should you meditate to reap the rewards of mindfulness? According to Psychiatry Research, just 27 minutes of meditation per day can lead to benefits. Sign us up!

5 Health Gurus Share Their Morning Routines

You try to wake up early, eat a healthy breakfast, get some exercise in, and make sure your morning routine is all around killin’ it. But sometimes it doesn’t always work out so well, does it?

It doesn’t have to be so hard to have a great morning—promise. Putting time aside for a consistent daily routine—even just one small thing each morning to help you feel healthy and happy—can make a huge difference.

For inspiration, five health gurus offer up their own morning routines. From protein-packed breakfasts to setting intentions, you’re sure to find something here that may change the way you prep for the day ahead.

Nikki Ortiz, dancer, yogi, and 2015 National Yoga Champion

“The main thing I do every morning to ensure a successful day is meditate. I make sure I have some time with myself to get centered and grounded before I can start my day. I got in the habit of doing it every morning about two years ago and it’s changed the game. I feel very incomplete if I don’t meditate in the morning. I do it for about 10 minutes, and after that I can go about my day.”

Lauren Gleisberg, fitness pro

“Regardless of what time you wake each morning, establish and stick to a morning routine to set yourself up for success each day. My 10-minute morning routine includes waking and sitting in silence for a minute to set an intention for the day, drinking a glass of water to get my body going, writing out my daily to-do list that aligns with my weekly and monthly goals, making a protein smoothie, and then diving into my day. A simple yet productive routine like this helps set the tone for the entire day.”

Related: Shop protein for a healthy, satiating breakfast.

Cristina Curp, food blogger and recipe developer

“Although my life has had a total health overhaul in the last two years, one thing I haven’t given up is my morning coffee. Instead, I have made it into a nutrient dense vessel for all good things. My one cup of Joe packs plenty of satiating good fats, protein, turmeric, and health-promoting wild mushroom blend. A little cinnamon for flavor and a whirl in my blender. This stuff is practically rocket fuel! Here’s my recipe:

12-oz of fair trade coffee
1 tbsp grass-fed butter
1 tbsp mct oil
1 tbsp grass-fed beef gelatin
1 tbsp cocotropic wild mushroom blend
Dash of cinnamon

Blend until frothy. Pour, sip. Kick butt.”

Related: One Nutritionist’s Entire Day Of Eating, In Photos

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, nutritionist

“Two critical parts of my morning routine are my 7:30 a.m. workout and a protein-packed breakfast for refuel. I find that exercising in the morning gets my day started while I have enough energy, as I’m too drained in the late afternoon and too busy with my kids. Also, I make sure to consume a breakfast with at least 20 grams of protein along with fiber-rich carbs and healthy fat to support muscle growth and repair.”

Dr. Rajeev Kurapati, physician and author

“I wake up early (around 4:30 or five in the morning) after making sure I get at least five to six hours of restorative sleep. Then, I drink warm water to help with digestion and to re-hydrate from the night before. I do yoga and meditation for about 20 minutes after I shower.”

Related: Is It Worse To Skip A Workout Or Skimp On Sleep?

perfect morning routine

Aromatherapy For Beginners: How To Jazz Up Your Life With Essential Oils

Our senses play a huge part in how we experience and react to the world around us. Hearing a displeasing sound can trigger anxiety, while breathing in a beautiful scent may send you back in time, consumed by an equally lovely memory.

In fact, our sense of smell is so powerful that certain essential oils—which are typically extracted from parts of plants and then distilled—can promote feelings of wellness.

What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system—the part of the brain that controls emotions.

Essential oils can be used for a myriad of reasons,” says Leslie Cohen, an aromatherapist and owner of The Blissful Heart wellness collective in New Jersey. “They can help with respiratory issues, evoke a mood—calm, happiness, sensuality—and deepen a meditative practice.” Cohen says they can also be used to help clean surfaces and dissipate not-so-nice odors.

There’s science behind the power of aromatherapy, too. According to the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it’s been shown to provide stress relief, promote healthy sleeping patterns, and ease symptoms of anxiety.

Related: 5 Essential Oils You Absolutely Want In Your Life

Pick A Few Favorites

Getting the most out of aromatherapy means honing in on the oils that are best for your needs.

When you first start investigating essential oils, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options and combinations.  “Start with only five to 10 primary essential oils for your basic natural healthcare kit,” recommends Stephanie Tourles, a licensed esthetician, certified aromatherapist, and herbalist in Maine. “Try truly multi-purpose oils, like Roman chamomile, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, sweet marjoram, sweet orange, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme.”

Many oils come in standard or milder versions, so be sure to look out for that, as well.

Use Wisely

  1. Diffuse or directly inhale

You can buy a diffuser to disperse the essential oils into your space.

But Cohen prefers direct inhalation, if you’re game. “Put a few drops of your favorite oil or blend on your palm, rub your hands together briskly, cup around your nose, and breathe deeply,” she instructs. “This is by far the quickest and most effective way to enjoy the benefits of many oils.”

Related: Shop diffusers for your aromatherapy experience.

That said, you should be cautious with which oils you apply directly to your palms—or any part of your body—and breathe in. Many are caustic and almost any essential oil can cause a reaction (like sun sensitivity, allergic reactions, or skin irritation) if you are sensitive to it, she explains.

The solution? Dilute them with oil or cream (more on that below)! “Some need to be diluted more than others to make them safer,” Cohen notes. “In general, think about how it might taste or how it’s used in its complete form. For instance, oregano, black pepper and cinnamon are hot when you eat them.” So, you wouldn’t want to put ‘hot’ oils directly onto your skin.

If you’re planning on directly inhaling a strong oil, start with one drop only and cautiously bring your hands to your nose to make sure it’s not too overpowering for your respiratory system, Cohen advises. “Those hot oils can burn your sinuses. Also be careful not to touch your hands to your face if you’re using a strong oil.”

2. Apply directly to your skin

If you want to apply an essential oil to your skin, your best bet is to dilute it to a very low concentration—one to three drops per ounce of an oil with a preferably organic, fat-soluble base or “carrier” oil like sunflower oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil. You can also use an unscented cream. After diluting it, you can test the blend on a small area of your body before using it as a massage oil, for example.

After the patch test, you can work with different concentrations. Generally, you want to mix a drop with at least a teaspoon of a carrier oil.

Related: Shop essential oils, from eucalyptus to lavender—and everything in between.

 A Note of Caution on Formulations

Use age-appropriate oils, avoiding eucalyptus and rosemary, in particular, for children under 10, advises Tourles.

“Children are not small adults and cannot handle the same dilution ratios as adults,” she says. So, do your research before concocting your blends!

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy is one particularly reputable resource that provides details on how to dilute your oils appropriately (depending on what you’re using them for and who you’re using them on) and how to locate a certified aromatherapist in your area.

You can also find a practitioner by searching on the Aromatherapy Registration Council site.

The Term ‘Leaky Gut’ Is All Over The Internet—But What Exactly Is It?

The more we learn about the gut, the more we realize the vital role it plays in our overall health. After all, much of our immune system lives in our GI tract, meaning our gut plays a big role in our ability to respond to harmful bacteria, toxins, and more.

Here’s how it works: The lining of our gut acts as a barrier, allowing some of the substances we ingest (like water, vitamins, and minerals) to enter the bloodstream, and blocking others so they pass through and exit our system, according to a review published in the Journal of Allergy and Immunology.

When this barrier doesn’t function properly, though, those harmful particles are able to get through, into the bloodstream, and causing a domino effect of issues as the immune system responds to the intruders. Experts refer to this reduced function of the gut barrier as ‘intestinal permeability,’ but you probably know it by a term that seems to have taken over the internet: leaky gut.

How And Why Exactly Does A Gut ‘Leak’?

The gut has a few layers that help keep harmful substances out of the bloodstream, but a lot of the action related to leaky gut happens on what’s called the epithelial cell layer. “Between these cells are structures called ‘tight junctures’ that act like gates between the gut and the bloodstream,” says Patrick Okolo, M.D., Chief of Gastroenterology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

In a normally-functioning gut, these structures are ‘tight’ enough to block out larger molecules. When tight junctures open up, though, they allow potentially harmful molecules into the bloodstream, and the body reacts by triggering an inflammatory response, Okolo says. Basically, your body goes into attack mode, which can lead to (or worsen) autoimmune disorders like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid conditions, Crohn’s disease, or IBS, to name a few.

But how does this gut barrier get ‘leaky’ in the first place? It all starts with genetics, and additional stresses put on the GI system (like bacterial overgrowth or exposure to triggers like alcohol, NSAIDs, or foods we’re allergic to) can weaken that barrier function further, according to a review published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology.

Related: 4 Types of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

What Can You Do About ‘Leaky Gut’?

If your intestinal permeability is off, your symptoms will reflect the GI and immune systems being affected. “Common symptoms patients report include abdominal pain, fatigue, chills, and diarrhea,” says Christine Frissora, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine at the Weill College of Medicine of Cornell University. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, see a gastroenterologist who can properly test for issues like an autoimmune disease (such as celiac disease or Crohn’s), a food allergy, or gastrointestinal disease (such as IBS).

While there’s no comprehensive test that evaluates the gut’s barrier function, a protein called zonulin seems to open and close the tight junctures in the gut barrier, says Okolo—and a review published in Clinical Reviews of Allergies & Immunology notes that excess zonulin has been found in people with autoimmune conditions.

Since there’s no medication that can whip a leaky gut back into shape, supporting overall gut health and treating a related GI or immune conditions is your best bet for tightening up those tight junctures and improving your gut’s barrier magic.

Your doc will work with you to eliminate any allergy-inducing foods, diagnose and/or treat GI or immune conditions, support gut flora with prebiotics and probiotics, and improve overall nutrition, says Okolo.

Just beware leaky gut hysteria that suggests even neurological conditions like autism result from not-so-tight tight junctures, says Okolo. While there’s research and credible literature to support the role of gut permeability in digestive and immune issues, there’s no evidence that its effects go beyond that, he says.

Related: Check out a variety of supplements that promote gut health.

The 7 Healthiest Things To Order On A Sushi Menu

When you think “sushi’ you probably also think “healthy,” right? With its fresh fish, cucumber, seaweed, and occasional avocado, it sure seems that way. But the fact is that many items on a sushi menu might be considered rather indulgent. From the tempura to the white rice, there’s a lot of not-so-good options. If you’re getting your raw fish fix and want to keep it clean, here’s what the experts suggest.

sashimi

“I’m a registered dietitian in private practice and go out to sushi weekly,” says Monica Auslander, R.D., founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami, FL. Auslander’s go-to pick is the sashimi platter, which is a selection of raw fish—sans rice—served over a bed of greens or curly-cued radish.

Her usual suspects include salmon, yellowtail, and fluke. “Pure protein and omega-3 fatty acids? Sign me up!” Auslander says. “Protein helps keep us full and modulates blood sugar, and omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body.”

Related: Shop heart-healthy omega-3 fish oils

seaweed salad

According to the journal Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, seaweed (sometimes called sea vegetables) packs a powerful nutritional punch. Filled with b-vitamins, vitamins A and E, antioxidants, and carotenoids, this delicious appetizer promotes  healthy blood pressure and aids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. And did we mention it’s delicious?

green tea

Sipping green tea to enjoy alongside your sushi meal could be a big boon for your wellness. The beverage has been associated with a bevy of health perks. The reason: Researchers in the journal Chinese Medical Journal give the credit to green tea’s stores of natural phenol and antioxidant catechins, particularly EGCG.

Related: Is Matcha Really A Miracle Worker?

edamame

These steamed soy beans, served in their pods, are a popular appetizer option at most sushi restaurants. Next time you’re torn between an order of edamame or miso soup as a starter, go for the former, says Chelsey Amer, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in Manhattan, NY and creator of CitNutritionally.com.

“While miso soup is low in calories, it’s loaded with sodium,” she explains. “Edamame contains fiber and protein to fill you up without the added sodium. To add a boost of flavor—and vitamin C—ask for a lemon wedge to juice on top.”

brown rice 

Amer prefers to let the fish be the main attraction, and axe any “fillers” like rice altogether. But if you’re really craving maki, opt for brown rice over white.

Brown rice contains more fiber,” Amer explains. “Most Americans don’t eat enough fiber, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and heart disease risk.” One important caveat: “The average sushi roll contains about one cup of rice, which is more than the recommended serving of 1/2 cup, so ask for your roll light on rice, even if it’s brown,” she says.

avocado salad

If you love a creamy condiment with your seafood (and we all do!), do your best not to gravitate to anything that’s made of multiple ingredients or is mayo-based. “I recommend skipping sauces—like spicy mayo—because these contain tons of added fat, and enjoy avocado, which provides heart-healthy fats,” advises Amer.

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels but maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level, potentially helping improve the unction of your blood vessels.

soba noodles

Skipping the brown rice in favor of sashimi but still want to nosh on something super filling? Soba noodles are a great go-to and a standard option on most Japanese menus. Offering up all the benefits of buckwheat, soba, which is gluten-free, filled with amino acids, vits and minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants, and protein.

Not to mention, soba can be eaten hot or cold. According to the journal Nutritional Research Reviews, the rutin in buckwheat packs a powerful punch; it’s been shown to reduce blood pressure, regulate weight and preserve insulin signaling.

A Note On Tuna

Every sushi menu stars tuna, so it’s a pretty ubiquitous go-to option. It’s delicious, sure, but you’ll do well to eat it in moderation. Why? It’s pretty high in mercury, explains Auslander. The concern there is that you run the risk of heavy metal poisoning, which is linked to lasting neurological and muscular impairments, Auslander says. “It’s rare, but not impossible,” she notes.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

Other high-mercury fish include king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, ahi tuna, and bigeye tuna. Lower on the mercury? Choices like eel, salmon, crab, and clam.

The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) notes that if you’re pregnant, nursing, or planning a family, though, you should probably skip all types of tuna, mackerel, sea bass, and yellowtail.