Can Your Diet Make You Depressed?

From the fast food whistle-blower Super-Size Me to Fed Up’s investigation of “Big Sugar” and politics, many a documentary has wagged its disapproving finger at the Standard American Diet. These types of documentaries have helped educate the masses about how what we put in our bodies affects everything from our weight to our heart health, but there’s another notable victim of the Western diet they tend to gloss over: our mental health.

A recent study out of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and funded by the National Institutes of Aging points to a very real connection between our diets and mental wellbeing, and shows it’s something we ought to be paying more attention to. For the study, the researchers collected data from 964 older adults (who are more likely to struggle with mental health, especially depression) and organized them in different groups based on the type of diet they followed: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the traditional Western diet.

The DASH diet emphasizes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean animal proteins, some fat-free or low-fat dairy, and limiting foods high in saturated fats and sugar. Meanwhile, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy unsaturated fats from foods like olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Like the DASH diet, it puts the kibosh on unhealthy fats and sugar. On the flipside, though, the Western diet is typically high in unhealthy fats (like the refined oils found in many packaged foods), red meat, and added sugar, but lacking in fruits and veggies.

Related: 5 Scary Ways Eating Too Much Sugar Can Mess With Your Health

The researchers monitored participants for symptoms of depression throughout a period of six-and-a-half years. They found that those who closely followed the DASH diet were 11 percent less likely to develop depression, while those who stuck to a Western diet were more likely to develop depression.

The study only observes a trend, but the link between our diets and wellbeing it highlights is hard to ignore. Plus, the Rush study isn’t the first of its kind; What’s Good recently covered another study that suggests a healthy diet can help treat depression.

Despite this emerging research, the consideration of diet in mental health treatment—known as ‘nutritional psychiatry’—is still considered a new field of study and remains unexplored by many in the medical community. “People often don’t understand the magnitude of the impact nutrition has on health,” says Dr. Michael Gruttadauria, D.C., D.A.C.A.N., a board-certified chiropractic neurologist with the CIIT Center in New York. “Most doctors don’t even appreciate the connection.”

As for what’s behind that connection, interested experts have a few theories. In a 2015 article published by Harvard Medical School, Eva Selhub, M.D., broke down the relationship between diet and mental health quite simply: It’s all about the gut.

About 95 percent of our serotonin (the neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, sleep, appetite, and pain) is produced in our gut, which suggests that our gut function directly influences our mental and emotional function. A diet high in foods that cause an inflammatory reaction in the gut—such as alcohol, processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods high in trans fats, saturated fats, and sodium—can diminish our gut function and interfere with our mental wellbeing, says Caitlin Hoff, health and safety investigator with ConsumerSafety.org. Dairy and wheat, which many people have intolerances or allergies to, may also have this effect.

To minimize inflammation and keep your gut—and mind—healthy, the Harvard School of Public Health recommends avoiding (or at least limiting) refined carbohydrates like white bread, fried foods, soda, processed meats like hot dogs, and margarine. A diet that nourishes our mind and body (much like the DASH and Mediterranean diets) emphasizes whole foods, healthy fats, and lots of plants, which provide inflammation-fighting fiber and nutrients to keep our gut healthy.

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“The connection between fiber, our gut microbiota, and the immune system is powerful, almost magical,” says gastroenterologist and gut health expert Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., M.S.C.I. “Although some may believe that fiber simply enters our mouths and comes out in our stool, recent studies show us that certain types of fiber act as fuel for our gut microbes. We call this type of fiber ‘prebiotic’ because it feeds and nourishes the gut bacteria.” This prebiotic fiber is also converted into short chain fatty acids, which directly help fight inflammation.

Quality, fiber-rich carbs, like lentils, apples, and quinoa also trigger our production of serotonin and tryptophan (which helps produce more serotonin), and can also support our mood and feeling of wellness, adds Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D.-A.P., C.S.G., clinical dietitian with Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin. It’s no wonder the fruit- and veggie-rich DASH and Mediterranean dieters in the Rush study reported a greater sense of wellbeing.

Why Having Healthy Mitochondria Matters—And How To Power Yours Up

If the word ‘mitochondria’ sounds vaguely familiar, congratulations: You remember something from your ninth grade biology class! But if you have no idea what mitochondria actually are, then you’re pretty much on par with the majority of the population.

It just so happens, though, that mitochondria—yes, you have tons of them in your body—is pretty darn important for our health. So important, in fact, that mitochondria are a trending topic in the science world right now.

Interest in researching mitochondria’s role in our health has skyrocketed recently because some experts believe that healthy mitochondria could be the best-kept secret for disease prevention. “[Research has shown that] at the root of most, if not all, age-related degenerative diseases lies mitochondrial dysfunction,” explains Lee Know, N.D., licensed naturopathic doctor and author of Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine. “This means that if we can focus our efforts on improving [their] health and function, we can reduce the risk of degenerative diseases and improve all aspects of our health.”

Suddenly interested in learning some cellular biology? Here’s what you need to know about your mitochondria, how they work, and what you can do to make sure yours are running (and keep on running) at full-speed.

Mitochondria 101

Mitochondria are organelles (like mini internal organs) that live in many of the cells throughout our body. All organelles play a specific role in keeping a cell healthy (just like our organs help us function), and it’s one of our mitochondria’s main jobs to turn fat, sugar, and protein into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the form of chemical energy our body uses.

“Mitochondria are responsible for producing over 90 percent of the energy that powers our cells, and since everything that happens in a cell requires energy, it’s incredibly important that these little powerhouses are healthy and fully functional,” says Know. Every cell in our metabolically active tissues—like our brain or heart muscle—contains up to a few thousand of these little cellular engines.

For this reason, mitochondria also play a pretty big role in how we feel day-to-day, says Sumit Parikh, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Neurogenetics, Metabolic & Mitochondrial Disease program. For example: “We feel mostly run down and tired when we are sick with a virus or bacteria. This is partly because the mitochondria are being recruited to help fight off the infection—so they’re [then not able] to make as much energy for our cells to maintain other tasks.”

Producing energy isn’t our mitochondria’s only job, though. They also serve an important role in our body’s recovery process. Whenever we exercise, for example, we stress the body, breaking it down so that it can build back up and become stronger. Mitochondria are responsible for making sure that ‘building back up’ part of the equation goes smoothly by activating certain genes that result in cells becoming stronger, says Know. So if your mitochondria don’t function properly, you may take longer than usual to recover from a hardcore workout, experience general fatigue, and even notice that wounds heal more slowly.

When our mitochondria function at 100 percent, they also coordinate apoptosis, or ‘programmed cell death,’ the process in which our body removes defective cells before they can do any damage, says Know. However, when our mitochondria aren’t in tip-top shape, they can’t clean up these defective cells effectively, and if a tissue or organ contains enough defective cells, it can become dysfunctional over time. The potential results: serious health conditions like heart failure, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and infertility.

Unfortunately, there aren’t currently any quick, at-home mitochondrial function tests available just yet. (Researchers are working on them!) But doctors can evaluate your mitochondrial health by testing your levels of related compounds, like ATP. Thing is, they don’t usually test them until after other health consequences pop up, says Know. Why? “We all have varying degrees of mitochondrial dysfunction,” Know explains. As long as your cells are able to meet your overall energy needs, a little dysfunction isn’t a big deal. It’s when the energy you’re able to produce dips below your needs that problems occur.

How To Power Up Your Mitochondria

Even if you’re not sure about your current state of mitochondrial health, one thing is certain: What you eat (and how much) is hugely important. Mitochondria need a wide variety of nutrients to function properly, so eating a diet that contains a wide variety of colors—which indicates a variety of nutrients—will help them thrive, says Know.

Two in particular to focus on: magnesium and B vitamins—especially vitamin B3. (Magnesium is an essential part of the ATP production process while B3 works to increase levels of NAD+, another compound necessary for cellular energy production.)

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You’ll also want to watch your calories. Excessive calorie intake causes your mitochondria to generate more free radicals, unstable molecules that can then damage their DNA and leave them unable to function properly. One way to avoid this: Stay away from sugar and ‘empty-calorie’ foods, says Know.

If you’re hardcore about boosting your mitochondria, you might even want to consider trying a ketogenic diet, Know says. That’s because ketones (the energy source you run on in the high-fat diet) are a ‘cleaner’ fuel source than sugar in that they actually eat up free radicals instead of produce them. Plus, “some cells become so damaged over time that they can no longer use glucose as a fuel source, and ketones offer these cells [an alternative] source of energy,” he adds.

Related: Want To Try Keto? Here’s What A Healthy Day Of Eating Fat Looks Like

Exercise is another key contributor to healthy mitochondrial function because it increases the energy demand put on our cells, and our cells adapt to this demand by producing more (and more efficient) mitochondria. After all, the more mitochondria you have, the less stress you put on each individual mitochondria—and the less stressed your mitochondria are, the fewer free radicals they generate and less likely they are to become damaged or dysfunctional.

How Keeping A Food Diary Helps Me Manage Life With Lupus and Fibromyalgia

When you keep a food diary, you log everything—and I mean everything—down to the half-and-half in your coffee and the raisins in your oatmeal. It’s an effort.

Keeping a food diary is new to me. When I see my nutritionist next week, she’ll analyze it and tell me if I’m filling in the nutritional gaps in my diet. But I’m not keeping the diary to count calories, exactly—I’m doing it because this is what it takes to live with lupus and fibromyalgia. This is just the latest addition to my health management toolbox, which also includes supplements and exercise.

Systemic lupus erythematosus, usually just called lupus, is an autoimmune disease that affects the kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. Essentially, a healthy immune system creates special cells, called antibodies, that attack foreign objects like bacteria or viruses. With an autoimmune disease, the immune system creates antibodies to the body’s own healthy tissues. My body is at war with itself on a cellular level.

As if that weren’t enough, I also suffer from fibromyalgia, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain on top of fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

Between the two diseases, I live with chronic pain, joint stiffness, fatigue, brain fog, rashes, and fevers. Sometimes, due to the lupus, the lining around my lungs becomes inflamed and it hurts to breathe deeply. It feels like having the flu, minus the sneezing and the understanding that it will be gone whenever the flare-up is over.

There is no cure for lupus or fibromyalgia. In fact, the FDA has approved only one lupus-specific treatment in the last 50 years, and it didn’t work for me.

Like most people with autoimmune diseases, I’ve had symptoms most of my life—things like strange infections that didn’t go away with treatment, unexplained inflammation, and even an allergy to sunlight. When I had digestive problems, I saw a gastroenterologist. When I had allergy problems, I saw an allergist. When I had gynecological problems, I saw a gynecologist. It wasn’t until 2011, when I was 41, that I received a diagnosis of lupus. By that point, I’d gotten so sick I couldn’t teach, drive, or—eventually—stand on my own.

Medication only goes so far in treating autoimmune diseases, even when you find the right one. It’s only one tool. Somewhere in my head lives an irrational girl who wishes for a magic pill to fix me. Rationally, I know it doesn’t exist. Instead, I have to manage the symptoms that stay with me if I want any quality of life.

That’s where my health management toolbox enters into the picture.

With lupus, my overactive immune system has made proper eating hard. My stomach doesn’t empty normally. My intestines don’t absorb nutrients or push food along well. Too much fiber or fat and my digestive system goes on strike, leaving me unable to eat. Food allergies only further complicate the issue.

For this reason, keeping a food diary is so key. My nutritionist deals with my specific situation; she is aware of my health history, symptoms, medications, risks, preferences, and goals. They help me add calories and nutrients to my diet, and I also take a multivitamin to fill in some of the gaps. And, like many people with lupus, I am vitamin D deficient, so I take a high weekly dose of vitamin D.

Like diet and supplementation, exercise and movement is also an important tool in my wellness box. Actually, it’s as much a part of my morning as opening my eyes.

Movement is the only way to break through the immobilizing morning pain and stiffness of both lupus and fibromyalgia. Many mornings, my first thought is, I can’t move. It feels like someone has tied knots around all my joints and then pulled the string until everything is locked in place.

Related: Despite My Fibromyalgia, I’m Focused On Staying Healthy

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my doctor—through my tears—suggested that I try tai chi to help with pain management. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article about a study in which people with fibromyalgia experienced less pain if they did tai chi, a “low and slow” martial art.

So I tried the tai chi out of desperation. After a few days, my pain decreased a little. After a couple weeks, I could push through my morning pain and not wince with every step. When I didn’t do it, every move hurt. Things like getting downstairs to make my morning coffee once again became agony and the tai chi helped that pain recede.

On hard days, every little bit of effort counts as progress. I take a few bites of oatmeal and wash my morning medications down with water.

The burden of keeping a food diary and tracking my exercise and all the little things I do each day to keep functioning is infinitely lighter than the burden of watching my life slip by without fighting for it. Only a few years ago, just getting through the day was a chore. If I could shower and get dressed without having to immediately go back to bed, it was a victory.

To make the process better, I use a pretty planner and colored pens to track my wellness progression. It’s how I manage a disease that wants to manage me.

When I practice these acts of self-care—like when I eat well, take supplements, and move through my tai chi practice—my pain ebbs away. In fact, I’m not just losing pain: I’m finding myself.

Tai chi and yoga both demand attention to breath, a basic and necessary action for life. With each breath, I remember: I am more than pain. I imagine that I can feel my chi—my energy—pulsing through my body. With every food journal entry and everything I do to take care of myself, my thoughts become clearer, and I can truly focus on things that matter outside of myself.

6 Supplements I Take To Grease My Achy Joints

Waking up feeling like the Tin Man—back so stiff I can’t bend over to touch my toes and knees so achy they feel glued in place—has been my reality for nearly five years. It takes a good half hour before I can get up and move around as normal, and even longer until I feel like I’m oiled up enough—yanked and pulled and stretched out—to be a human being.

I have an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis that causes super-duper stiff joints (commonly referred to as arthritis). I’m not alone—an estimated 54 million Americans live with daily joint pain or joint disease. That’s a lot of people feeling like me, all of us aching for some sort of respite from feeling creaky, cracky, and crooked.

Of course, successfully treating the various conditions that affect the joints is like finding your way out of a particularly tricky maze. I can’t say I’ve gotten out quite yet, but I’m closer than before.

I started by talking to a doctor and a nutritionist about medication and diet, but I’ve also had a lot of luck with vitamin and supplement use.

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When I started really feeling the effects of joint pain and stiffness—before I was medicated and even during medication—I did a lot of research on vitamins and supplements. For one, you can never be too certain of what you’re putting in your body. And second, it’s good to have that autonomy and knowledge. (That said, just because the Internet’s endless stream of immediate information is available to you does not mean you know everything. Always check with your doc first before starting any supplementation!)

Here’s what I use to juice up my achy, break-y joints. I take each of the below once a day (except where otherwise noted) in the morning with my coffee and some fruit. Before supplementation, I was still doing much of the same: stretching, taking pain relief medication, and eating as well as I could. I can successfully report good news: I’ve noticed a significant increase in joint mobility and pain level after taking these supplements for about a year. Three cheers for knees that don’t pop and crunch with every jaunt up the stairs!

1. SAM-e

It might have a weird name, but SAM-e (or S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine), which is found naturally in the body and made by amino acids that we get through food, has been shown by studies to improve joint function and tenderness. It could help with joint discomfort, potentially reducing the pain you feel when you’re all locked up.

2. Cat’s Claw

I won’t lie—the oh-so-witchy name of this supplement is what caught my eye. But cat’s claw (this shouldn’t be mixed up with Devil’s Claw—which also aids joints but has a different set of benefits) has got some convincing science to back it up. First off, it may contribute to a reduction in joint discomfort, while also benefiting the immune system. Yes, please! A study showed that cat’s claw, when compared to a placebo, effectively worked to promote a reduction in pain, swelling, and tenderness of joints.

3. Turmeric

Golden lattes are incredibly popular and delicious, yes, but not without good reason. Turmeric—or more specifically the compound found in turmeric, curcumin—has been found to be effective in promoting relief from temporary joint discomfort. According to the Arthritis Foundation, turmeric has long been used by Chinese and Ayurvedic medicinal systems as a way to promote relief from pain caused by joint issues. In addition to taking one capsule of curcumin daily, I also frequently drink golden milk (made with turmeric powder and hemp milk or almond milk). Some experts say that taking curcumin with black pepper has been found to increase curcumin’s bioavailability (which is a fancier way of saying its “effectiveness”).

4. Fish oil

There’s something about fish oil that, for a lot of people, just seems gross. I get it. When you really think about it, it is kinda gross. However, I swear by it. Those little golden capsules, full of yellow-y joint-lubricating goodness, were one of the first supplements I took for my joints. And it helped. Bonus: Because fish oil is an omega-3, it’s also chock full of brain, gut, and skin benefits.

5. Ginger

I never liked ginger. But when my rheumatologist suggested that it might actually work to nix the symptoms I was experiencing, I decided to give a go—at least in supplement form.

According to Arthritis Foundation, ginger has been shown to reduce joint pain when taken twice a day. I take one or two capsules of ginger root daily (depending on my pain level), and often drink ginger tea for additional supplement. The bonus? Ginger seriously helps to settle any stomach issues, so it’s a win-win. (This is especially the case for me, since my autoimmune disease, like many others, causes digestive problems.)

6. Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia is the newest addition to my supplementation ritual. Interestingly, Boswellia is a plant found in India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa—and it’s known for producing sweet-smelling frankincense. However, its root has also been found to be effective for joint related issues. According to study, there’s some strong evidence suggesting that it is good for inflammatory conditions, although more research is necessary.

Bonus: Capsaicin

Studies show that capsaicin (the active compound in cayenne pepper)) has a pain-reducing effect on discomfort caused by joint and muscle issues associated with physical activity or overuse. I swear by capsaicin gel. It’s got a tingly, cooling effect—which, for me, distracts from the deep throbbing pain of a stuck knee or tight upper back. Plus, it’s safe to use. Some people might not fall in love with its extreme hot-cold effect, but it does work to disguise the pain. If you’re not into that tingly feeling, you can also find capsaicin in cayenne capsule form. 

 

About That Whole ‘Coffee Causes Cancer’ Thing…

recent preliminary decision in California court determined that coffee sellers will now have to warn customers about the potentially carcinogenic properties of their morning java—and people are (understandably) bugging out.

Almost a decade ago, a nonprofit called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued 19 coffee sellers, including Starbucks, for “failing to provide warnings to consumers that the coffee sold contained high levels of acrylamide, a toxic and carcinogenic chemical.” (They filed another complaint against an additional 40-plus defendants less than a month later.)

The nonprofit claimed that coffee sellers were violating a 1986 law known as Proposition 65, which requires the state of California to maintain a list of harmful chemicals “known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity” and for businesses to inform citizens of any exposure to those chemicals. The chemical acrylamide, which is produced in a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction that occurs between the sugar and asparagine when coffee beans are roasted, has been on California’s list of harmful chemicals since 1990.

Two years ago, the case went to trial to determine whether the amount of acrylamide in coffee was significant enough to warrant our favorite coffee sellers having to warn people about it. After much back-and-forth, the court ruled that, yes, a cup of Joe sold in the state of California should be labeled as possibly carcinogenic.

But does this really mean your favorite brewed beverage can cause cancer? Put simply: You don’t need to worry, says Dr. Taylor C. Wallace, Ph.D., C.F.S., F.A.C.N., disease prevention researcher and founder of nutrition consulting firm Think Healthy Group. “You have to remember that there is always a threshold of toxicological concern, which California isn’t really taking into consideration,” he says. “Acrylamide has been suggested to increase cancer, but not at levels present in a few cups of coffee,” he says—even if you’re sipping on a few brews most days.

The concern about acrylamide stems from rodent studies, which have shown that extremely high doses of the chemical—not the amount the average human coffee-drinker would ingest on a regular basis—increases cancer risk. “Rodent studies are helpful in identifying potential mechanisms when validated models are used, but many times do not translate to humans since they have a different set of genetics,” Wallace says. In other words, while animal studies are a good scientific starting point, they don’t necessarily apply or translate directly to human health, and shouldn’t send us running from coffee in fear.

If you’re still concerned, consider a similar case: A few decades back, saccharin, an artificial sweetener often found in sweetener packets and diet beverages like soda, was called into question after animal research suggested it could be carcinogenic. “But the dose needed to get that effect would have been something like 20,000 diet beverages per day for 20 years,” Wallace says. “Dose matters.”

Not to mention, coffee also contains many health-promoting bioactive compounds, such as the antioxidant chlorogenic acid, which has been associated with a lower risk of certain cancers. “You can’t look at each compound in isolation,” he says. This case just highlights the fact that science and the legal system don’t always intersect well.

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So for now, keep on drinking your coffee. “There is a long history of safe use and a ton of safety data in the scientific literature,” Wallace says. Some research even suggests a connection between coffee and long-term health benefits, like reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline. Just remember that these health benefits are seen at a consumption level of about two cups of java per day.

To keep your daily coffee run as beneficial to your health as possible, the best thing you can do is limit the amount of sugar and saturated fat you add to your brew, since high calorie and sugar consumption are associated with weight gain, which can be a big driver of cancer, says Wallace.

Related: 5 Scary Ways Eating Too Much Sugar Can Mess With Your Health

And if you’re concerned about acrylamide, you’re better off focusing your effort on avoiding foods like baked goods, processed snacks, and potato chips, which also contain acrylamide—in addition to offering zero nutrition, Wallace says.

4 Easy Ways To Use Aromatherapy Blends For Self-Care

Whether you want to relax your muscles or energize your senses, you can level up your self-care routine naturally with essential oil blends!

All you have to do is choose which of Mytrition‘s new aromatherapeutic oil blends best fits your mood. Need a pick-me-up? The Energy blend, which is loaded with refreshing citrus oils, will perk you right up. Trying to chill out? The Relax blend combines all sorts of soothing oils, like lavender, sage, chamomile, rose, and sandalwood, to help you unwind. When you need to clear your head and get down to business, oils like eucalyptus, ginger, and lemon in the Clarity blend will help you focus. And, of course, when it’s time to hit the hay, the Dream blend‘s lavender, frankincense, and ylang ylang will practically sing you to sleep.

What are the best ways to use these mind- and body-loving oil blends? Check out these four easy methods.

 

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What Is The Keto Flu—And How Can You Avoid It?

Most of us are painfully familiar with the flu—the nausea, headaches, brain fog, and distinct urge to hide under the covers are not anyone’s idea of a good time. And while flu season is thankfully over, the threat of these symptoms still looms for people who are jumping on the keto bandwagon.

The ‘keto flu,’ which has nothing to do with actual influenza, has become a rite of passage for all who take part in the ketogenic diet, which involves slashing carbs and loading up on healthy fats in order to transition the body from burning sugar to burning fat.

Toying with the keto lifestyle? Do not fear the ‘keto flu’! It doesn’t have to be as awful as it sounds.

First, The Basics

To understand the keto flu, you first have to understand ketosis. Ketosis, the holy grail of a keto diet, is the state in which the body converts both dietary and stored fat into fatty acids and compounds called ketones, which the body can use to produce energy instead of relying on carbs and sugar. Simply put, this is the body’s ‘fat-burning state,’ and it’s obviously an attractive concept for anyone interested in dropping fat, says dietitian Jaime Mass, R.D.

Achieving the fat-burning glory of ketosis is no joke, though. To get there, you have to cut carbs significantly lower than the average low-carb diet (we’re talking just about 20 grams of net carbs per day) and drastically increase fats to upwards of 70 percent of your total calories. Think of it like your backup generator; it won’t switch on unless your primary power source shuts down.

Enter ‘Keto Flu’

It takes most people at least three weeks of eating a keto diet to actually shift into ketosis. In that time, your blood sugar (glucose), glycogen, and insulin, all plummet, explains Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to begrudgingly shift over to burning fat, you have to completely empty your body of all its available sugar sources.

While that happens, most people feel pretty terrible. “In that shift of going from glucose to ketones, there is a period where the body is essentially adjusting to the fuel you are providing—and in a large way,” says Mass. Essentially, your cells are caught in limbo: They’re not getting carbs they’re used to having for optimal function, but they’re not yet efficient at running on fat. As a result, your energy plummets and you may experience fun symptoms like lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, and even headaches.

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Keto flu symptoms tend to spike once you’ve completely emptied your glucose tank, and subside as your body shifts into full-force ketosis. Even then, though, some may continue to feel lethargic and find they can’t push their bodies to the same intensities they could during their sugar-burning days, says Pritchett. That’s because the process of converting ketones into energy is pretty complicated, time-consuming, and inefficient compared to the process of using glucose—so while endurance athletes often thrive in ketosis, weightlifters and HIIT-lovers may struggle.

Surviving (And Minimizing) ‘Keto Flu’

Transitioning into ketosis will never be a 100 percent seamless process; you’re pretty much bound to run into some sort of keto flu-like issue along the way. However, there are a few tricks to save yourself some major suffering.

For starters, decrease your carb consumption down to keto-friendly levels gradually instead of going cold turkey. “If you ate a lot of carbohydrates—especially processed and sugar-dense foods—regularly for years, I would suggest first cutting out the highly-processed sweets for a week,” says Mass. “Then, the next week, cut all processed carbs.” By easing your way into the eating style, you limit the severity of any sugar withdrawals.

Related: Want To Try Keto? Here’s What A Healthy Day Of Eating Fat Looks Like

From there, up your fluid intake to make sure that you’re properly hydrated as your body depletes itself of that blood glucose and stored glycogen. “For every gram of glycogen we store, we store three grams of water. So when you start keto and break down that glycogen for energy, you release that stored water,” explains Mass. Translation: The water weight you quickly lose on keto can leave you unknowingly dehydrated if you’re not careful. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows mild dehydration (losing more than one percent of your body weight in water) decreases cognitive function and memory—so that water loss can definitely contribute to the brain fog many experience during the keto flu.

Pritchett also recommends taking it easy on exercise as your body transitions into ketosis those first few weeks; using what little energy you do have on exercise can just exacerbate keto flu symptoms. As your body and energy levels adjust, you can slowly increase your exercise frequency and intensity back up to those of your normal routine.

3 Ways To Make Your Essential Oils Work Harder

Whether it’s a eucalyptus-infused towel, lavender-scented pillowcase, or citrus candle next to the tub, essential oils can make us feel everything from energized to relaxed to just plain luxurious.

Our favorite oils are more than just smell-goods, though! In fact, essential oils have some very practical, everyday uses.

These three blends, using Aura Cacia essential oils like bergamot, sweet orange, and tea tree, will give your cleaning routines an au-naturale upgrade. Use them to freshen up any room, wipe down the kitchen counter, and keep that yoga mat from smelling funky.

 

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How Much Can Willpower Really Do For Your Health?

If you think saying ‘no’ to that chocolate cake is the only thing standing between you and shedding those last few pounds, you’re in good company: Surveys show most people identify a lack of willpower as the biggest obstacle in weight loss. But for as much as we toss the term around, does willpower really make or break our journey to a healthier lifestyle? The answer isn’t so black and white.

“When people think of willpower, they define it as denying themselves something they really want, but for whatever reason think they shouldn’t have,” says certified health coach Anna Dupree. But that approach can be problematic. Research shows that relying too much on willpower can backfire pretty easily, as the more you restrict yourself from certain foods, the more likely you are to crave them. So when you finally meet your temptation face-to-face—say at a happy hour or birthday party—you’ll end up eating three slices of cake instead of feeling satisfied with one.

“It’s not empowering and it’s not inspiring [to focus on willpower alone],” says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., founder of Nutritious Life. “It doesn’t help in the long run because when you don’t change your mindset, you just force yourself to do something, and eventually you wear out.”

Thinking things like I can’t ever eat a slice of pizza, or I won’t lose weight if I eat those chips, has the potential to destroy your relationship with food. It can also trigger a pattern of restrictive eating, which has been known to lead to certain eating disorders.

Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It

Plus, you use willpower in so many other moments throughout the day—like during your morning commute (you want to scream at the top of your lungs, but you know you shouldn’t) and in meetings at work (you want to tell your co-worker to pipe down, but you know you can’t)—that your mental muscle is often exhausted by the time you get home, making healthy food choices more difficult to stick to. And research shows that stress, insufficient sleep, and weight loss all increase your production of hunger hormones, making it physically harder to resist your favorite foods.

One review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out that science has yet to answer whether it’s even physically possible to constantly suppress the urge to eat tempting foods. After all, your brain’s reward system (yes, the one that’s linked to sex, gambling, and substance abuse) plays a big role in food decisions, and it’s not exactly easy to fight.

And even after all that effort, willpower doesn’t have as much of an impact on your waistline or health as you might think. “People’s willpower does not predict their weight,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of Secrets from the Eating Lab. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad your willpower is; it’s not enough.”

Research shows that your physical environment plays a larger role in making and sticking to healthy lifestyle changes than a split second of mental strength, says Mann. So keeping chips and cookies out of your house is more important than turning down that bagel at a morning meeting.

The bottom line: No health, fitness, or weight-loss goal should ever rely on willpower alone. Use the following three tips to make your health journey less about willpower—and more about a lifestyle. Not only will you reach your goals quicker, but you’ll actually enjoy getting there.

1. Find Your True Motivation

Both Glassman and Dupree agree: Losing weight or getting healthy is all about mindset. Focus on your true motivation for wanting to make healthy lifestyle changes—whether it’s to be able to keep up with your kids or quit feeling so darn tired all the time. “It has to be something you have a deep-down desire to do,” says Dupree. “Instead of thinking about what you can’t have, think about what you’re trading it for.” For instance, you’re trading packaged foods (which might tank you energy or lead to weight gain) for nutrient-rich whole foods that give you more energy and help you feel fuller for longer so you can go on more family outings.

2. Focus On Simple And Gradual Changes

Overhauling your routine overnight is bound to stress you out. Instead, slowly swap out foods you’d like to eat less of (like packaged cookies and snacks) for foods you’d like to eat more of (like apples and carrots). When you don’t completely restrict yourself from day one, you’re more likely to see the changes you make as positive.

3. Practice Self-Care

Even when you’ve got your mind right, eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep can still be tough—especially if your schedule is jam-packed! But you’re more likely to keep up with healthy lifestyle changes if you still make time to do things you enjoy, says Dupree.

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So swap that gym session for a fitness class you really love, turn off your phone to read after dinner, or make breakfast with your kids on the weekend. The more fulfilled you feel, the more motivated you’ll be.

3 Old Wives’ Tales About Your Health That Are Kinda True (And 5 That Really Are Bogus)

Most of us still have a slew of old wives’ tales stuck in our heads from childhood—and though our mother’s warnings about swallowing gum and sitting too close to the TV may have scared us silly in our younger days, we can’t help but wonder now if there’s actually any truth to them.

To put decades of myths to bed, we asked health experts to separate fact from fiction and de-bunk some of the most popular old wives’ tales in the book. Here’s the truth about eight of our favorites.

1. Chicken Soup Helps You Get Better When You’re Sick

Verdict: TRUE-ISH

While no scientific human studies have ever identified chicken soup as an effective cold remedy,  “It can be a nutrient powerhouse, delivering important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your body that can help boost your immunity,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., C.P.T. Carrots and onions, in particular, provide carotenoids (a type of antioxidant that can support healthy aging and eye health) and prebiotic fiber (which acts as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut), respectively.

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Plus, nutrition aside, chicken soup can just be plain old comforting—and that’s especially important when your body is in a state of stress, like when you’re not feeling well, says Shaw. So while it may not be a miracle-worker, it’s certainly worth sipping on.

2. You’ll Catch A Cold From Going Outside With Wet Hair

Verdict: FALSE

“The very act of walking out the door with wet hair won’t in itself cause you to develop a cold,” says Robert Glatter, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health. “You have to be exposed to the specific virus in order to develop an illness.”

That said, exposure to extremely cold weather does put stress on the body, which can hinder your immune function and increase your chances of getting sick when you are exposed to a bug. Plus, “certain respiratory viruses thrive in dry cold temperatures, so you have a greater chance of being exposed in that environment,” he says.

Ultimately, your best bet at preventing sickness is washing your hands (for at least 20 seconds!) frequently and coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue—especially during cold season.

3. Sugar And Dairy Give You Acne

Verdict: TRUE-ISH

While factors like hormones, bacteria, and excess sebum, are typically the main drivers of acne, there’s no denying that some connection exists between our diet and our skin, according to a review published in Dermatoendocrinology

That connection is just…murky. Preliminary research suggests a link between eating a high-glycemic (think refined carbs and sugar) diet and prevalence of acne, and some studies suggest the hormones in milk can influence acne, but the findings are limited, at best.

Related: Raise Your Hand If You Have Trouble Digesting Dairy

If you have sensitive, oily skin, though, experts still recommend you proceed with caution. “Milk contains precursors to testosterone and other androgens [male sex hormones], which influence the hormone receptors in the skin to turn on the process that causes acne,” says board-certified dermatologist and founder of customized skincare company Curology, David Lortscher, M.D. “Dairy and high-glycemic foods send insulin levels sky-high and trigger more oil production in the sebaceous glands,” he explains.

If you’re having trouble with acne and drink more than three servings of milk (skim seems to be more of an issue, though why isn’t clear) per week, consider eliminating dairy for at least a few weeks to see how your skin reacts, says Lortscher. The same goes for any type of food: If you notice a trend of breaking out the day after eating it, consider cutting it out.

4. If You Eat Fruit Seeds, They’ll Grow in Your Stomach

Verdict: REALLY?

As you probably guessed, this one is totally bogus. “Seeds need the right environment to germinate and grow, and the highly-acidic stomach isn’t it,” says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., and author of The MIND Diet. Swallow a raw seed whole and it’ll just pass through your system pretty-much undigested.

That said, you should chew the seeds in some fruits and veggies—like pumpkin or watermelon seeds, for example. In fact, they make for a portable, nutritious snack! “Each one-ounce serving of watermelon seeds packs a surprisingly high eight to 10 grams of protein and also provides iron,” Moon says.

5. Cure A Hangover With Hair Of The Dog

Verdict: FALSE

We’re not going to say you can’t enjoy a brunch-time Bloody Mary after a night out, but don’t expect it to benefit your body in any way. The phrase ‘hair of the dog’ is short for ‘hair of the dog that bit you,’ and it comes from an old superstition that you could cure yourself of rabies by taking a potion made with the hair of the rabid dog that bit you. Ya know, super-scientific.

In reality, trying to cure a hangover with more alcohol is like trying to lose weight by eating more junk food. “When you’re hungover, your body is in a state of dehydration and elevated inflammation, so your best bet is to stick with water and eat antioxidant-rich foods like sweet potatoes, blueberries, black beans, tea, and sorghum,” Moon says.

6. ‘Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever’

Verdict: FALSE

“While it ​is ​common to lose ​your appetite when ​you ​have​ a fever​, there is no need to starve yourself,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition. Regardless of whether you have a cold or a fever, you want to eat nutrient-rich food​s to​​ provide your body with the fuel it needs to recover. Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables—especially vitamin C-packed foods like kiwi and carrots—and even chicken soup.

7. Cracking Your Knuckles Will Give You Arthritis

Verdict: FALSE

“Knuckle cracking has gotten a bad rap throughout the years, but claims about it causing arthritis don’t seem to have any scientific backing,” says Axe. In fact, a 2011 study published in the ​​Journal of American Board of Family Medicine found that rates of arthritis were no higher in people who frequently cracked their knuckles than in those who did not crack their knuckles.

Here’s what happens when you crack: The sudden change in how your joints are positioned releases gases (nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide) that are dissolved in your joint fluid, causing a popping or cracking sound, explains Axe. That’s why you can only get a particular knuckle to crack every so often; those released gasses have to dissolve back into your joint fluid. Interesting but not harmful.

8. An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Verdict: TRUE-ISH

No, you don’t need to eat an apple every single day to stay healthy, but there is some truth to this old wives’ tale. “An apple is a great healthy addition to an overall healthy diet because it provides dietary fiber, which can help ward off common health concerns like constipation, and key nutrients like vitamin C and potassium,” says Axe.

“In general, scientific evidence has shown us that consuming fruits and vegetables helps lower your risk of major chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease,” he explains. “So yes, eating fruit, like an apple, can definitely provide health benefits.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you can load up on processed foods and unhealthy habits (like smoking or never exercising) and think that as long as you have an apple a day, you’ll never have a reason to see the doctor.

Don’t Quit Your Coffee Habit—Science Says So

Coffee is probably one of the most reliable things in our lives—and despite the bad rap it gets for causing jitters and stealing sleep when taken in excess, it actually offers some pretty sweet health benefits.

We may think of our morning cup of Joe as just an energy-booster, but epidemiological studies (which identify trends in people’s behaviors and health over time) have identified links between drinking coffee and lower risk of everything from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to liver cancer, says Keith Kantor, Ph.D., CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking program. We’re not saying drinking coffee automatically turns you into a superhuman, but there’s definitely something there. So, just in case you needed further justification for your Starbucks habit, take a look at these science-backed health benefits of your favorite beverage.

Coffee And Chronic Disease

Chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, plague the U.S.—and what we eat and drink play a major part in whether or not we’ll eventually develop these issues.

To investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and type 2 diabetes risk, one study published in Diabetologia analyzed the diets of over 90,000 women and 27,000 men every two to four years for more than 20 years. Throughout the study, participants self-reported their diets, lifestyle habits, and current medical conditions. What did the researchers find? Participants who upped their coffee intake by more than a cup a day had an 11 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, while those who cut their coffee consumption by more than a cup a day had a 17 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Meanwhile, research presented by the American Heart Association’s 2017 Scientific Session also linked guzzling java to a lower risk of heart failure or stroke. This time, researchers assessed info from an ongoing heart disease risk study known as the Framingham Heart Study, which looked at people’s diets and their heart health status. The scientists identified a link between drinking coffee and a decreased risk of heart failure and stroke; each additional cup of Joe per day correlated to a seven percent lower risk of heart failure and an eight percent lower risk of stroke.

Coffee And Cancer

Studies on coffee and cancer show connections between the two. For example, one review published in BMJ Open analyzed 18 studies to determine whether coffee’s antioxidants could affect the formation of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. The researchers found a correlation between higher coffee consumption and lower risk of liver cancer.

Coffee And Cognitive Function

Many of us already turn to java when we need to crank out a big work project, and research confirms that coffee really can boost cognitive function. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epiemiology, elderly adults who reported being lifelong coffee drinkers performed better on cognitive tests (like reciting the months of the year backwards, naming as many animals as possible in one minute, and repeating sequences of words from memory) than non-java-drinkers.

Where Does The Magic Come from?

You’d probably guess that caffeine is responsible for coffee’s special powers, but nope: Researchers believe the brew’s benefits come not from the caffeine, but from the antioxidants in it, says Jagdish Khubchandani, Ph.D., associate professor of community health at Ball State University. In fact, coffee contains just slightly fewer antioxidants than blueberries, which are often touted as one of the most potent sources of antioxidants out there—so its antioxidant value is no joke.

Antioxidants ward off oxidative stress (and resulting cell damage and inflammation) caused by free radicals—and polyphenols, the type of antioxidant found in coffee, have specifically been shown to help ward off a number of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, adds Kantor.

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Whether thanks to our fruit- and veggie-devoid diets or our general caffeine obsession, coffee is actually the number-one source of antioxidants in the average American diet, so it offers much more value than just the buzz. Plus, if you’re drinking coffee (and not dumping sugar into it), chances are you’re not drinking something higher in calories and sugar (and lower in antioxidants) like soda or juice—and avoiding these less-healthy beverages can also benefit your health, says Kantor.

Just keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should throw back six espressos a day! The majority of these studies look at moderate caffeine intake, which tops out at three or four eight-ounce coffees per day. And that doesn’t change the fact that it causes digestive issues and nervousness in some people—so if you have anxiety, insomnia, acid reflux, high blood pressure, or intestinal issues, you’re still best off limiting your intake.

Vegans May Have the Right Idea, After All…

Vegans have endured the ridicule of their carnivorous (and even vegetarian) peers since long before Instagram memes and Reddit boards. But in recent years—whether thanks to Beyoncé or documentaries like Forks Over Knives—the idea of swapping animal foods for plants has finally gone mainstream.

If Beyoncé being on-board isn’t enough to win you over, get a load of this: A study recently published in Nutrients found that ditching animal products can slash type 2 diabetes risk and lead to a “significant reduction” in BMI (body mass index).

The study followed two groups of 75 overweight adults for 16 weeks. One group stuck with their normal diet while the other switched to a low-fat vegan diet focused on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.

After the four months, not only did the vegan dieters lose significantly more body fat—particularly belly fat—than the normal dieters, but their blood sugar levels dropped and their insulin function improved. According to the American Diabetes Association, shedding excess body fat can lower type 2 diabetes risk; plus, declines in insulin function and high blood sugar are both telltale signs of the development of this chronic disease. Given that, the researchers believe this study indicates that veganism (done right) can help prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes (which now affects more than 100 million Americans, by the way).

What makes a vegan diet so magical? In its proper form, veganism emphasizes not vegan donuts and packaged meatless meatballs, but whole, high-fiber foods, like vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. The fiber in these foods slows digestion, regulates blood sugar, and supports weight loss and management, says Julieanna Hever, M.S., R.D., C.P.T., of The Plant-Based Dietitian.

These plant-based foods also provide antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals—and research has linked the oxidative stress caused by free radicals to type 2 diabetes, adds plant-based diet specialist David Sonenberg, M.S., R.D.

The Benefits Beyond Diabetes

The perks of plant-based eating don’t stop there: Studies show vegans enjoy up to a 75 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure, a 42 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease, and a drastically lower risk of developing a number of cancers.

Not to mention, plant-based foods are rich in compounds called phytonutrients, which boost your immune system, improve skin and bone health, and fight inflammation, according to advocacy group Produce for Better Health Foundation.

And, since oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration—in addition to type 2 diabetes—the antioxidants in a plant-focused diet have far-reaching effects on our health.

Not only does a whole food, plant-based diet help prevent some of these other chronic health issues, but it can also help resolve them after they crop up, says Hever. In fact, healthy vegan diets have been shown to improve blood pressure and reverse even advanced stage cardiovascular disease.

Make the Jump (The Right Way)

Reaping the benefits of a vegan lifestyle means eating the right vegan foods. “Anyone who focuses on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices will reap the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet,” says Hever. You can’t load up on packaged foods loaded with added oils, sugars, and salt—like French fries and vegan cupcakes—and expect your blood sugar or heart health to improve.

Related: 7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

Swapping out staples like eggs, chicken, and cheese for plants is no easy task, so experts recommend transitioning to a vegan way of eating slowly. Start by making just one meal per day with 100-percent whole plant foods, says Andy Bellatti, R.D., of Andy Bellatti Nutrition. Once that feels routine, switch another meal over. Then another.

Make the change easier by taking advantage of plant-based meals you might already eat—like oatmeal with fruit, bean and rice burritos, pasta with veggies and marinara sauce, bean chili, and tofu-vegetable stir-fries—and exploring Pinterest and Instagram for new recipes to try, says Hever. If you’re struggling to find meals you like or are skeptical about meeting your nutritional needs, enlist a pro, like a registered dietitian, to help you get started.

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And when it comes to those vegan cookies, just follow the 80:20 rule: Make sure 80 percent of your foods are minimally processed (think an apple versus apple pie or edamame versus a tofu ‘chicken nugget’). This way you have wiggle room for treats without sacrificing those vital health benefits.

Why I Broke Up With The Gym And Took To The Mountains

I’ve never been the sort of guy that likes the gym—in fact, I’ve always found the whole experience daunting. First off, I’m not a buff dude. I’m the not-conventionally-attractive guy sweating it out on the treadmill next to the super-fit 6’2″ bro with washboard abs. When I do actually muster up the courage to get to the gym, I find myself surrounded by a bunch of fancy equipment that I don’t really know how to use…that I simply end up forcing myself to stay on just to hit a number of reps.

In short, motivating myself to work out has been nothing short of challenging. After years of trying to force myself to get in a workout here and there, though, I found the illustrious secret to staying fit: the great outdoors.

Last summer, on a swelteringly hot day that no one should have willfully been outside, a friend of mine invited me to go rock scrambling, which is essentially the act of using your hands and legs to move up steep, mountainous terrain.

I’d hiked before, but never on high-incline rocks at a pretty fast clip. I remember thinking, This is essentially walkingright? I was wrong.

Related: How I Went From ‘Not Outdoorsy’ To Full-Fledged Biker

Rock scrambling was actually very tricky—nothing the average person can’t do with some trustworthy sneakers and some planning, but tricky nonetheless.

There were plenty of moments during that first experience where I had to tap into serious wells of strength—both physically and mentally—to assess and climb up those steep boulders. I’d had no experience doing any of it, but I had to make smart decisions and use muscles that, frankly, hadn’t seen the light of day.

I enjoyed scrambling up these rocks alongside a bunch of strangers also trying to make it to the top, and learned that I’m actually a fairly competitive person. The gym might not bring it out of me, but nature sure does.

There was one situation in which I’d climbed up a steep set of rocks and after getting stuck, needed to go back down and recalibrate my strategy. I ended up getting nervous because I didn’t have the strength to make the climb, so I slid down only to see my friend successfully complete what I’d tried to do. This only drove my spirit further, encouraging me to take a deep breath and give it another try. Unlike being at a fancy gym surrounded by four halogen-lit walls, I felt like I had achieved something real. I had pushed myself in a functional way that could serve me in my everyday life (and in future rock scrambles).

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The gym no doubt has its many benefits, but when you’re in nature, you’re faced with two simple (but very different) options: take the easy route or go the hard way. There’s something really fulfilling about pushing yourself in a semi-treacherous environment. In nature, you need to use your intuition; there’s no clear “time out” or end-of-workout (except getting out of there before nightfall)—which is totally different from waiting to hit 10 reps on a machine before you can quit.

As I regularly hiked and scrambled, I was surprised at how quickly my stamina and endurance developed. Each time I got stronger, gaining quicker physical reflexes. It felt like an accidental workout, all while being surrounded by beautiful scenery. (I live in New York City, so being able to exercise outside, smelling the air and seeing greenery, was a huge plus.)

You won’t get rock hard abs by hiking once a week, but it will develop your strength and stamina and make you feel more functionally apt. It also helps keep off those extra pounds (I’ve been known to indulge in fast food…more often than I should admit). Hiking also developed my legs, arms, and back muscles.

Another benefit: the hiking community. While some people around you may scramble like pros, nature is the great equalizer—you’re all out there doing the same thing, trying, moving forward. Strategizing routes with friendly strangers, helping an older person up a rock face, or having a quick chat with someone while taking a water break is encouraging—it’s this camaraderie that keeps me coming back to the mountains.

The most worthy benefit, though, may come from nature’s generous mental health boost. If you live in a city, or have a sedentary 9-5 job, setting some time away to get into nature is a great way to feel better about life in general. It definitely helps me disconnect from the grind (I work as a real estate agent, so I’m surrounded by architecture and paperwork every day). After a few weeks without hiking, I start to crave nature and the feeling of accomplishment that follows a good scramble.

During any hike, I collect victories along the way: I can choose the harder path, or climb faster than I did last time. These small but meaningful achievements are quite profound—and, personally, way more fun than figuring out my one-rep max.

7 Natural Ways To Survive Allergy Season

This article originally appeared in Amazing Wellness magazine. 

Ahhh, spring is in the air! The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the grass and trees are enjoying their post-winter thaw. But as you stop to smell the roses, you immediately start sneezing. Then, your eyes begin to itch and your nose becomes congested or runny. Oh, yeah, you almost forgot: Spring is synonymous with allergy season. In fact, according to the CDC, more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year.

“Allergies occur when our immune systems become hypersensitive to something like pollen or dust,” says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com and best-selling author of Eat Dirt. “Our bodies react to these allergens by producing histamines in order to fight the allergen. Some of the most common allergens are substances that are most prevalent during springtime, like pollen or ragweed.”

Here are some things to consider for seasonal support:

1. Raw, Local Honey

Not only is raw, local honey tasty, but it’s great during allergy season. “Raw honey contains bee pollen, so when you purchase local varieties, you’re eating the same pollen that’s causing you to suffer,” explains Dr. Axe. “Over time, this helps you become less sensitive to the pollen in your area. It has also been proven to boost your immune system.” Try adding one tablespoon of raw, local honey to your tea, yogurt, or smoothie daily.

 

2. Apple Cider Vinegar

This pantry staple helps boost the immune system, thanks to the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (called ‘polyphenols’) it contains. Axe recommends adding a tablespoon of an organic, unfiltered variety—like Bragg apple cider vinegar—to a glass of water each morning.

 

3. Probiotics

A strong immune system starts with a healthy gut, which is why probiotics—the good bacteria that reside in your gut—are so important. Dr. Axe recommends taking a probiotic supplement that totals 50 billion CFUs (we like The Vitamin Shoppe Ultimate 10 Probiotic) daily, in addition to eating probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut.

 

4. Stinging Nettle

This funny-named plant is fantastic because of its immune-boosting qualities (it’s long been used to support sinus discomfort). “During allergy season, I recommend 300 to 500 milligrams of stinging nettle supplements daily,” says Axe. The Vitamin Shoppe Stinging Nettle offers 480 milligrams. Just be advised that this herb can interact with certain medications, so check with your doctor before adding it to your routine.

 

5. Neti Pot

During allergy season, a Neti pot (like Nature’s Alchemy Nasal Cleansing Pot) should be your new best friend. The device, which looks similar to a teapot, helps you pour a nasal rinse through your nostrils to flush out irritants like pollen and dust and thin out mucus. You can either use a pre-made sinus rinse or make your own solution using purified water and a quarter to a half a teaspoon of non-iodized salt. (The FDA recommends using distilled or sterile water, or tap water that’s been boiled for three to five minutes and then cooled.)

 

6. Quercetin

“This natural compound, which found in broccoli, onions and citrus fruits, slows down the production and release of histamine by the body,” says Dr. Axe. “Eating a range of colorful fruits is a good way to get your quercetin in, but if you’re struggling, try supplementing with 1,000 milligrams daily.” Solgar Quercetin Complex with Ester-C Plus provides 500 milligrams of quercetin, along with a number of antioxidants for seasonal immune health support.

 

7. Essential Oils

When you need a quick fix, essential oils—especially eucalyptus, frankincense, and peppermint—can help clear your nose and help you breathe easy. Dr. Axe recommends adding a drop or two to your Neti pot or using an essential oil diffuser. Try Now Essential Oils 100% Pure Eucalyptus Oil or The Vitamin Shoppe 100% Pure Peppermint Essential Oil.

Pin this infographic to keep allergy season from bringing you down:

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Gut Health

Gut health may not be the sexiest topic, but there’s no denying how crucial it is for our overall wellbeing. Not only is our gut responsible for digesting food, but it’s also in charge of absorbing nutrients, keeping out bad bacteria, and regulating our immune system—and unfortunately, most Americans don’t give it the love it deserves.

Approximately 72 percent of Americans regularly deal with GI issues like nausea, abdominal pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. And many of us don’t even realize how these gut issues affect the rest of our bodies. “When our gut balance is off, all health is off,” says Lisa Ganjhu, D.O., a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health. “Our mind, body, and gut all intertwine together—so it’s a big component of our general wellbeing.” When our gut is compromised, we aren’t able to eat or poop as well, our immunity suffers, and even our peace of mind takes a hit.

Turns out, many of our everyday habits—even the ones we think are healthy—can sabotage our gut health and have serious repercussions for our health. Here are six common culprits—and expert advice for turning your gut around.

1. Stockpiling Drinks For The Weekend

Alcohol can affect gut health in a couple of ways. First: For many people, it causes inflammation in the stomach and colon, which leads to staple post-drinking discomfort like gas, bloating, and bathroom issues, says Ganjhu. Ever had the ‘beer runs’? Yeah, that’s a result of colon inflammation. Second: Alcohol alters our gut’s microbiome, with excess amounts even killing off some of the good bacteria (a.k.a. probiotics) we need to stay healthy.

Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol (two drinks per day for men, one for women) in one sitting ups the potential for these gut dysfunctions, so if you pass on alcohol Monday through Friday only to down a whole week’s worth on Saturday night, it’s time to reassess your use of booze.

2. Popping The Wrong Type Of Probiotics

Probiotic supplements are great for boosting the good bacteria in your gut, but one of the biggest mistakes Dr. Ganjhu sees is people choosing a probiotic without realizing that different types of probiotics serve different purposes. “Probiotic supplements aren’t all the same,” she explains. “Certain bacteria are there for certain parts of your body.” For example, while bifidobacterium acts solely in the gut, lactobacillus works to keep both vaginal and gut health in tip-top shape.

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If you’re constantly experiencing digestive issues and want to add a probiotic supplement to your routine, consider seeing a gastroenterologist who can evaluate your symptoms and suggest which probiotic might be best for you.

3. Ignoring Food Sensitivities

If a drop of dairy sends you running to the bathroom, you’ve probably already accepted that you have an intolerance and try to stay away from the stuff—but many of us may have subtle sensitivities to certain foods we’re not even aware of, and these sensitivities can lead to major issues over time.

“The more you eat foods that you are allergic or sensitive to, the more activated your white blood cells become,” says Vincent Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and author of Happy Gut. This sends inflammatory signals throughout your body, and before you know it, issues you’d never associate with your gut—like allergies, asthma, joint inflammation and pain, and even anxiety and insomnia—crop up.

Related: Millions Of Americans Have Autoimmune Diseases—Could You?

Whether you believe you have a sensitivity or not, consider trying an elimination diet like Whole30 or Pedre’s 28-day Happy Gut Cleanse, which remove the most common allergy culprits (including grains, dairy, legumes, and soy) for a month before reintroducing each food group one at a time. It’s a simple DIY way to identify any underlying sensitivities, says Pedre. You might be surprised by how differently you feel with certain ingredients completely out of your system—and how you react to reintroducing them!

4. Eating Sugar Like It’s Your Job

Americans today consume about 100 times as much sugar as we did 100 years ago. And considering research shows that high-sugar foods light up the same parts of our brain as drugs, it’s no wonder so many of us can’t kick the habit. Not only does over-consuming sugar wreck your blood sugar, but it also contributes to yeast overgrowth known as candida, which can damage your intestinal walls and cause leaky gut, according to Pedre.

Keep sugar from wreaking havoc on your body by limiting your added sugar intake (including refined carbohydrates) to 50 grams a day, tops, recommends Pedre. Start by cutting out obvious culprits, like dessert foods, soda, and refined carbs like white rice, pasta, and bread. Then swap out things like sweetened milks, fruit juices, and white wine (which often contains sugar to mask the grapes’ acidity) for unsweetened beverages, veggie juices, and red wine.

5. Staying At Your Stressful Job

According to the American Psychological Association, we’re more stressed than ever, and that’s not doing our gut (or our entire body) any favors. Whenever you get a pit in your stomach, feel nauseous, or lose your appetite because of something going on in your life, you feel stress’ impact on your gut.

Stress triggers the release of hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol, which shift your body into ‘fight or flight’ mode and sabotage your immune function. Research even shows that stress can increase gut permeability, allowing bad bacteria in and out of the gut and throwing the microbiome out of balance. This stress response can also trigger other issues, like bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux.

If saying sayonara to your micromanaging boss or gossipy co-workers really isn’t an option, Pedre recommends integrating more stress-reducing practices—such as meditation, yoga, Tai chi, and hiking—into your day-to-day routine.

Pin this infographic to keep your gut health in good shape:

I Thought I Was Too Young To Get Shingles

Whenever I used to hear of someone getting Shingles, I’d think of a dreary Victorian period piece and shoddy medical practices like lobotomies and bloodletting. And then, at age 30, I actually got the Shingles.

Luckily, the doctor didn’t order a lobotomy, but I probably wouldn’t have minded given how much pain I was in.

I was also really confused. Isn’t Shingles an older-person’s disease? I thought to myself. My friends asked the same when I told them.

The fact is, while seniors are at higher risk, many people of all ages are susceptible. One in three people will get Shingles, in fact—and plenty of them are young!

Shingles, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a viral infection that affects the nerves and causes a horrifically painful (and itchy!) rash—along with exhaustion and flu-like symptoms. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox (which I had when I was two).

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You have to have had the chicken pox to get the Shingles. If you have, the virus—like a nasty little termite—will remain dormant in your nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Then, when it feels antsy (i.e. when your immune system is taking some time off), it comes out to play. Fun, right?

In general, risk factors include having infections (like HIV) or cancers, being immunocompromised, or taking certain drugs. Many sources claim stress can lead to Shingles as well, since stress can wreak havoc on your immune system.

That’s sort of why so many older people are at risk for it: Their immune systems tend to be compromised. For me, I was taking an immunosuppressant drug that, in essence, let the virus out of the gate. (Cue images of viral cells wearing war paint.)

I fit the “get Shingles” bill perfectly. I was two months into using a biologic drug called Humira, an immunosuppressant used to treat an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was warned that I could get sick—and sure enough, it happened!

One evening, I noticed that my ribcage was on fire. Touching my skin hurt like hell, as if someone scraped me and was rubbing salt into the wound. It was seriously the weirdest physical sensation I’d ever felt. I thought I maybe snapped a rib while swimming. I had no language for the pain, simply because there’s nothing like it.

The next morning, right before getting an X-ray, I spotted the rash: a few tiny red spots on my right side had emerged, a bit like heat blisters.

“You’ve got Shingles,” my doctor said immediately. What tipped her off? The fact that Shingles normally appears on only one side of the body. “It doesn’t cross the midline,” said my doctor.

The rash, by day 2.

And the rash, by the way, is just the icing on the cake. It’s the nerves under your skin that hurt the most. For me, it felt like someone had cut, burned, and bruised me all at once—in a sort of stripe formation, from my chest to my back, right along my ribcage. And the strangest thing is that the area with the heaviest rash was less painful than other un-rash-covered parts of my skin. It plays by its own rules, I suppose.

When the painkillers wore off, I felt like I was actually broken—and I truly (no exaggeration) wondered if I could take it anymore. Let it be known that my autoimmune disorder causes chronic pain, but nothing—not even an iota—like this. In the “worst day ever” category, Shingles takes the win.

I couldn’t leave the house for a week, since I was super-contagious. (Hi. This was very boring.) A person with active Shingles can spread the virus (as chicken pox, not Shingles), though when the rash gets crusty, contagion is reduced.

I was prescribed antiviral medication, which I had to take three times a day for 10 days. Without rapid medication, Shingles can cause something called post-herpetic neuralgia, which causes chronic Shingles pain (without the rash) for months or years after the episode. I was lucky I began treating it within 48 hours, although statistically, I could still get post-herpetic neuralgia. Shingles—depending on severity and location—can also cause other complications: inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), facial paralysis, blindness, and hearing or balance problems.

In order to combat the pain, itchiness, and general awful-ness of the experience, I took my medicine and also looked into more holistic remedies, throwing everything I could at the problem. Shingles, according to National Institutes of Health, can last anywhere from three to five weeks—which was absolutely not okay by me. No, thank you.

Here’s what I did:

I heard that tea tree oil could help keep the rash clean, so I diluted four-five drops in a base of witch hazel and applied it to my rash several times per day. The coolness of the tea tree oil felt incredible, and I believe it helped shrink the rash within about seven days. Keeping the Shingles rash clean is important because it can develop bacterial issues. Witch hazel is also very light and cleansing, and doesn’t burn irritated skin at all.

I also adopted a specific supplement regimen: I took 1000mg of Lysine daily, which I’d found may help promote healing. Additionally, I loaded up on vitamin c to boost my immune system.

But I didn’t stop there. I’d also read that Manuka honey can both clean Shingles and keep the pain at bay, so I decided to try it.

When my skin was fresh and clean (after wiping it down with witch hazel and tea tree oil), I’d apply a light coating of the Manuka honey and leave it on for a few hours. Later, I’d wash the honey off gently with some cool water (hot water aggravates Shingles—stay away!).

FYI: You can’t spread Shingles from body part to body part (they sort of evolve, from the nerve root, on their own). It’s not like poison ivy, for example.

Related: I Added Vitamin C To My Skin-Care Routine—Here’s How My Face Reacted

The worst of my Shingles pain lasted about six days. I slept a lot and wriggled in pain even more. Nights were the worst. The rash was well-controlled, too: After diligently cleaning it, in about six days it also started to shrink considerably.

Given how terrible Shingles are, it’s odd that we don’t hear more about the condition. Part of me wonders if there is a stigma attached to it: Rashes tend to gawked at, and people with skin disorders often face judgment by strangers. These stigmas are problematic, since the more we communicate about our experiences, the more we can potentially help others.

Next time you hear of someone having Shingles, offer to pick up their dinner or bring them some Manuka honey. It may not seem like a common condition, but it’s out there—and it’s awful.

Fiber Is An Inflammation-Fighting Unicorn—Here’s Why

Fiber is an important part of a healthy, well-balanced diet—this we know. It’s long been touted for lowering cholesterol, helping control blood sugar levels, and promoting bowel health, among other things—but as it turns out, fiber may be even more of a dietary unicorn than we originally thought. In fact, recent research suggests it’s key for warding off the “I” word: inflammation.

Here’s how it went down: Researchers at Georgia State University put mice on a low-fiber diet and found that the lack of soluble fiber (the type that attracts water to form a gel and help slow down digestion and promote satiety), specifically, significantly affected their gut microbiomes. In just days, the populations of common healthy bacteria in the mice’s microbiomes plummeted, harmful bacteria became more prevalent, and their intestines developed signs of inflammation. (Their blood sugar levels also spiked, and they gained fat.)

Once the mice were put back on a fiber-filled diet, though, production of interleukin-22 immune cells increased, inflammation subsided, microbiome bacteria normalized, and fat gain slowed.

Yes, this study may have been done on little critters, but it has legit implications for us humans, too. “70 percent of our immune system resides in our gut, in close proximity to our gut microbiome, and recent science clearly shows that you cannot separate the gut microbiome from the immune system,” says Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., M.S.C.I., a board-certified gastroenterologist who was not affiliated with this particular study. “When you damage the gut, you also harm the immune system and can cause inflammation.”

Inflammation, the immune system’s response to anything that could be harmful to the body (whether an external wound or an internal issue), is meant to be a temporary corrective process. When the immune system is confused or repeatedly stimulated, though, inflammation becomes chronic and can do a lot of harm.

In fact, chronic inflammation can lead to a number of health issues, including weight gain, cognitive decline, depression, arthritis, GI diseases (like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), cancer, heart disease, and more, says Adena Neglia, the senior dietitian for Mount Sinai’s outpatient clinics in New York City.

That’s where the fiber comes in: “Certain types of fiber—which we call ‘prebiotic fiber’—act as fuel for our gut microbes,” says Bulsiewicz. As they nourish those good bacteria, they’re turned into short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

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Reaping the gut- and immune-loving benefits of fiber starts with eating enough of the stuff—25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men, minimum. Fill as much of your diet as possible with whole plant foods and pay special attention to prebiotic fibers (which include inulin, oligofructose, lactulose, and resistant starch) found in garlic, onions, sunchokes, and asparagus, says Neglia. The next time that recipe you’re following calls for two cloves of garlic, take a walk on the wild side and add four. Your gut and immune system will appreciate the extra love.

Related: 5 Prebiotic Foods That Help Probiotics Do Their Jobs

 

Are Your Supplements Potent Enough?

Shopping for supplements can be a daunting experience, to say the least. Between the endless assortment of brands and science-y-sounding language splashed across labels, buying something as seemingly simple as a multivitamin often feels like a big decision.

To add to the confusion, many different types of products are now being promoted as ‘high-potency.’ Huh?

Don’t worry, we did the research so you don’t have to. Here, we break down what ‘high-potency’ actually means, and how to tell if it’s right for you.

Defining High-Potency

According to the FDA, vitamins or minerals that present at 100 percent or more of the reference daily intake (a.k.a. ‘RDI,’ the measurements used to calculate appropriate daily intake of a nutrient) per serving can be labeled ‘high-potency.’ So if you’re reaching for a high-potency vitamin C supplement, one serving will pack enough to hit the RDI target for adults (which is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men), or more.

When there are multiple ingredients in a supplement (like in your multivitamin), at least two-thirds of them must offer 100 percent or more of the RDI in order for that supplement to be labeled ‘high-potency.’ You’ll have to check the Supplement Facts labels on multi-ingredient high-potency supps to determine which of its ingredients are present in these high levels.

When we’re not talking about vitamins and minerals, though, things get a little hairier, since the definition of ‘high-potency’ isn’t officially defined for other supplements, says naturopathic physician Chanté Wiegand, N.D, director of education at The Synergy Company.

The term can still indicate how powerful a punch a supplement packs, but it’s not backed by the FDA. Probiotics, for example, are often found in doses of five to 10 billion live organisms (or CFUs, ‘colony-forming units’)—so supplements that contain more than 100 billion are often labeled ‘high-potency.’

Same goes for herbal supplements, such as licorice. When these natural products are made into extracts and concentrated (or ‘standardized’) to contain larger amounts of their beneficial compound, they might be labeled ‘high-potency’—but again, there’s no official definition here. Take turmeric, for example: “There is a huge difference between the turmeric spice, the ground turmeric root that you can buy at the grocery store, and an extract,” says Wiegand. While you’d need to eat a tablespoon of actual turmeric spice to get about 130 milligrams of curcuminoids (the compounds responsible for turmeric’s benefits), a single capsule of a standardized extract might contain over 200 milligrams. So turmeric spice would be considered low-potency, while the extract supplement would be considered high-potency, Wiegand says.

Who Can Benefit From High-Potency Supplements

Not all health and nutrition experts agree on the necessity of high-potency supps, but Wiegand sees them as beneficial. “The RDIs vitamins and minerals are considered quite modest in most cases—and many in the nutrition world consider these levels the minimum to prevent deficiency, not to support optimal health,” says Wiegand. Experts in this school of thought suggest most people can benefit from high-potency doses of vitamins and minerals. “For example, the RDI for vitamin C is 90 milligrams, but vitamin C is a beneficial, powerful antioxidant, and at least 200 milligrams—or even more—a day is widely recommended,” Wiegand says. B vitamins are a similar story: “The RDIs for B vitamins are tiny—and these vitamins are rapidly depleted by stress, poor diet, genetic issues, and more,” she adds.

Related: Get Your B Vitamins Straight: A Guide To What’s What

People with certain health issues may also have specific high-potency vitamin needs. One example: an autoimmune disease called pernicious anemia, which affects vitamin B12 absorption. “For these folks, high-dose vitamin B12 is necessary,” says Wiegand.

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Others who might benefit from taking high-potency supplements:

  • People with gastrointestinal issues, who may have trouble absorbing nutrients.
  • Strict vegans, who have a hard time getting enough B12 (which is found in animal foods).
  • Those with chronic GI disorders that impact nutrient digestion and absorption.
  • Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should take high-dose folic acid.
  • Those who’ve just finished a round of antibiotics should take a high-potency probiotic to help rebuild the community of good bacteria in their gut.

Just like you’d use a high-potency probiotic when faced with a major gut dilemma, you might also consider high-potency herbal supplements when you want to benefit right away. “ (Since high-dose herbal products can interact with other drugs and have possible side effects long-term, think of them more as situational superheroes than everyday staples.)

Who Should Stay Away From High-Potency Supps

While high-potency supplements can be beneficial in certain cases, more isn’t always better. For example, since exceeding the upper limit of vitamin A can lead to birth defects, it’s not recommended that pregnant women take high doses, says Wiegand.

Meanwhile, if your vitamin D levels are already high enough, a high-potency supplement could be problematic, just as high-potency vitamin K could be an issue if you take blood-thinners. Even high-potency probiotics can do more harm than good if you have a common condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), in which you have too many bacteria festering in the wrong place.

Ultimately, your unique circumstances and health determine whether high-potency supplements (and which ones) are right for you, so talk to your doctor or a dietitian before updating your supplement regimen.

5 Signs You Need A Break From Caffeine

If even the thought of giving up coffee sends shivers down your spine, you’re far from alone. More than 150 million Americans—and 90 percent of adults worldwide—drink caffeine every single day.

In safe doses (up to 400 milligrams a day), caffeine offers some serious perks, including improved alertness, sports performance, and reaction time. Research has even linked regular coffee consumption with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.

However, too much of a good thing can backfire fast—and sweet, sweet caffeine is no exception. People with heart problems (like arrhythmias or high blood pressure), certain mental health conditions (like anxiety or attention disorders), and pregnant women should all be extra cautious with caffeine—but anyone who experiences any of the following six symptoms should also consider cutting back.

1. Your Heart Rate Is All Over The Place

Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and tells your body to up production of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone adrenaline, which elevates your heart rate (blood pressure and breathing rate, too), says Sushrutha Nagaraj, AMRSB, research scientist for nutritional research company Almeda Labs.

Depending on your age and health, your resting heart rate should typically be somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If you notice a resting heart rate that’s 20 to 30 beats per minute higher than normal—even when you’re sitting at your desk with your cup of Joe—be wary. An unnecessarily high heart rate means your blood isn’t being efficiently pumped and transported throughout your body, says Nagaraj.

2. You Feel Unusually Anxious

The extra adrenaline that caffeine tells your body to churn out can also cause feelings of restlessness and anxiety in some people—especially as your heart rate and breathing pick up. Caffeine also stimulates production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can have similar effects.

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In fact, people who consume five or more cups of coffee a day are significantly more likely to experience anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and antisocial behavior, says endocrinologist Caroline Messer, M.D., F.A.C.E., E.C.N.U.

3. You Stare At The Ceiling All Night

Caffeine also blocks our receptors for adenosine, a chemical that typically makes us feel fatigued and sleepy. “So if people drink a caffeinated product within a few hours of bedtime, it stimulates the brain and keeps them from sleeping,” says Nagaraj. Long-term, drinking caffeine too close to bedtime can pull the body out of its natural sleep cycle and cause insomnia.

4. You Go Through Withdrawal

If a day or two without caffeine leaves you feeling irritable, tired, or barraged by headaches, you might want to consider extending your break from it.

We may not think of caffeine the same way we think of alcohol or other drugs, but it is, in fact, a drug that can be abused. The World Health Organization considers caffeine dependence a clinical disorder.

Relying on caffeine to get through work or social events, having a high tolerance to its effects (needing to consume more than 300 milligrams a day), and experiencing withdrawal symptoms without caffeine can all indicate dependence.

5. You’re Shrouded In Brain Fog

Your body naturally develops a tolerance to caffeine over time, meaning you need more and more of the stuff to feel the same ‘boost’. Eventually you can develop such a high tolerance that your body becomes completely desensitized to caffeine, and you stop feeling any boost at all. At this point, which also indicates dependence, you’ll likely even experience the state of tiredness and mental fatigue we often describe as ‘brain fog,’ says Nagaraj.

How To Cut Back (Without Being Miserable)

If any of these signs sound familiar, it’s time to get some space from caffeine. Just take it slow: Instead of going cold turkey, decrease your caffeine intake by about 25 percent every three to four days, suggests Nagaraj. And if your caffeine consumption comes in more than one form (coffee, pre-workout supps, tea, etc.), like a pre-workout, eliminate each beverage one-by-one over the course of about two weeks. This way you can wean yourself off completely without getting smacked with withdrawal.

Related: 11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

Should You Be Using A Neti Pot? (Hint: Yes)

The winter—and the accompanying hot air we blast through our cars and homes—often leaves our noses dry, stuffy, and irritated. If you’ve torn through box after box of tissues and tried every OTC decongestant and natural remedy in the book to no avail, there’s one simple trick that just might work: a neti pot!

Here’s how it works: You fill this genie lamp-shaped pot with saline solution (water and non-iodized salt), stand bent over your sink, tilt your head to the side, and pour the water right up your top nostril so it flows out the bottom. Yes, you purposely flush your nose with water.

It sounds gross—probably because it kinda is—but people swear by it.

Though neti pots have only become trendy throughout the Western world in the past decade or so, they’ve been used in India for centuries—and they can be hugely helpful if you suffer from colds, respiratory infections, or allergies. “I commonly recommend the neti pot for several reasons,” says Dr. Noah S. Spiegel, M.D., an ENT specialist at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. “For one, it’s very effective in removing nasal and sinus symptoms. Two, it’s very safe. Three, it’s a natural, medication-free way of improving nasal and sinus function.” Not to mention it cleanses and hydrates your nose!

When you use a neti pot, you literally flush out any particles (including allergens like pollen or dust) that may get trapped in your nasal cilia (tiny hairlike cells that help mucus move along your airways). In fact, regular use can be helpful for seasonal nasal irritation, according to research published in the European Archives of Otolaryngology.

Related: 5 Supplements Nutritionists Take During Cold Season

If conventional therapies are not helping, a neti pot can be a real game-changer. You might even come to like the feeling of the flow.

Free Your Nose

Spiegel recommends using a dishwasher-safe glass or ceramic neti pot, but a plastic pot works just as well if you’re skeptical or want to save a few bucks. Just replace it every few months to stay as germ-free as possible, says Spiegel. To get your flow on, fill your neti pot with boiled or bottled water (again, germs!) and stir in a pre-made neti pot saline packet (they often come with the pot) or a sprinkle of non-iodized salt. Then, flush away until your pot’s empty!

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When your nose is in need, you can use your neti pot a few times a week, or even daily, says Spiegel. Neti pots are safe for most people (including children), but they’re probably not a good idea for anyone who has a deviated septum, so talk to your doc first if you have any ear, nose, or throat abnormalities.