Intermittent Fasting
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Intermittent Fasting: How to Know If It’s Right For You

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Intermittent Fasting

There are many tricks to promote weight loss, but intermittent fasting (IF) isn’t a joke.

It’s become increasingly popular in recent years and for good reason. Research shows it has plenty of benefits, but that still doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone.

How do you know if it’s right for you? Read on.

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What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a specific pattern of eating designed to promote fasting benefits without denying yourself food for more than 24 hours.

It is different from strict fasting, which might eliminate all or most foods for a certain number of days. Fasting can be dangerous and should not be attempted without medical approval.

Intermittent fasting, however, implies daily food intake. Instead of eating throughout the day, however, your total food intake is contained to a specific window.

For example, many intermittent fasters skip a traditionally-timed breakfast and don’t eat first until noon and then end their last meal of the day by 7pm.

Intermittent fasting is a protocol that does not tell you what to eat, but rather when.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can be done in many different ways. These are the most common methods for using IF.

The 5:2 Diet

This doesn’t involve long periods of no food but instead refers to extreme caloric restriction on two days of the week. For five days you eat normally, and for two non-consecutive days you eat fewer than 1,000 calories, which is typically two smaller meals.

You should get medical clearance before you fast this way.

24-Hour Method

Also known as eat-stop-eat fasting, this type involves not eating from dinner one day until dinnertime the next. So you don’t go an entire day with no food, but you do give your digestive system a 24-hour break.

This is typically done one or two times per week, with normal eating patterns the other days of the week. You should get medical clearance before you fast for 24-hours at a time.

The 16/8 Method

With this protocol, you skip breakfast and only consume food for about eight hours each day. Some people choose from 12 pm to 8 pm, or from 1 pm to 9 pm, but others will also restrict food consumption to six or seven hours.

This method reduces snacking in the evening and capitalizes on the already normal fasting time while you are asleep.

This method is also referred to as the lean-gains protocol, and even though it’s less extreme, you should still check with your doctor before trying it.

The 16/8 method or others close to it are the most popular ways to do intermittent fasting.

8 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

8 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Research has examined many angles of intermittent fasting and discovered several key benefits. Not only can it promote weight loss, but it can promote cognitive wellness, and it might even lengthen your lifespan. (1, 2)

These are the top proven reasons why IF might be beneficial for health.

1. Weight Loss

Eating less will naturally lead to weight loss in most cases.

Intermittent fasting works for weight loss in several ways, but one of them is by restricting the time of eating, it results in less mindless snacking and excessively large meals. (3)

During the time that you’re not eating, such as a 16 hour fast from dinner until lunchtime the next day, your body dips into stored glucose and fat for energy, resulting in more energy expended than being stored.

This translates to fat loss. However, if your meals when you do eat are not high enough in protein, you could end up burning muscle for energy during times of fasting, so it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet for the best long-term results.

Intermittent fasting can also be helpful for shrinking the waist as research has found that it can reduce belly fat.

Belly fat is dangerous because it surrounds the organs in your trunk and can lead to several types of disease including diabetes and heart disease. (4)

2. Metabolism

Part of the reason we lose weight is because of metabolism.

Regulated by the thyroid and other hormones, metabolism sets the baseline for how much energy your body needs just to be awake and functioning.

When your basal (or baseline) metabolic rate is higher, you naturally burn more fat and calories just by being up and around. Intermittent fasting can help to boost your basal metabolic rate. (5)

Intermittent fasting can boost your basal metabolic rate by as much as 14 percent. (6)

This can lead to a greater loss of weight than simply counting calories. Research shows that by using IF, you can lose up to eight percent more body weight over six months. (7)

3. Epigenetic Improvements

You are born with one set of genes that don’t change. But what can change is how your genes work or express themselves. Epigenetics is the process by which your genes are influenced by the environment around you.

This includes your living space and the air you breathe, but also diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle, like whether you get enough sleep or are too stressed on a regular basis.

Intermittent fasting helps to promote cell repair and also boosts the function of genes that promote longevity. It can help to turn off epigenetic expression that is associated with inflammation and disease, too. (8, 9, 10, 11)

4. Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone that helps take glucose into your cells to be used as fuel. When the body becomes resistant to insulin’s activity, insulin resistance develops and blood sugar levels get too high.

This is often the case with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The more optimized your insulin levels, the better your body can use fat for energy, and the closer your weight will be to optimal. (12)

Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce blood sugar by as much as six percent and fasting insulin levels by as much as 31 percent. (13)

5. Human Growth Hormone

Intermittent fasting can increase levels of human growth hormone which can rev metabolism, promote weight loss, and boost muscle gain alongside fat loss. (14, 15)

6. Inflammation

Inflammation is typically a healing response in the body, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to negative consequences. IF can help to regulate inflammation levels in the body and reduce problems related to systemic inflammation. (16)

This makes intermittent fasting a positive lifestyle intervention for people with autoimmunity and other chronic inflammatory disorders as long as it is medically approved by their doctors. (17, 18)

7. Cardiovascular Health

Heart health is benefitted by intermittent fasting. While all cholesterol isn’t bad, when LDL cholesterol becomes oxidized it can sit in the arteries and lead to inflammation, plaque build-up, and eventual blockage.

IF can help to reduce the chance that LDL might oxidize, and it can also improve blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, and CRP-hs—all labs that are associated with heart disease risk factors. (19, 20)

8. Cognitive and Neurological Health

Intermittent fasting can support a healthy brain and cognitive function. It can even promote the growth of new nerve cells as well as increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that promotes healthy brain cells.

Intermittent fasting might even be able to protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s because of these benefits. (21, 22)

Who Should Not Practice Intermittent Fasting?

As with most things, not everyone gets the same benefits from certain diets or dietary protocols. Intermittent fasting can have dramatic improvements in health in some people but would not be a good idea for others.

Certain people should not try intermittent fasting because they need a more steady nutritional intake for proper growth or development or this pattern of eating would be detrimental in some other way. These include:

  • Anyone under age 18
  • Anyone who is underweight
  • Anyone who has ever experienced an eating disorder
  • Anyone who has a diagnosed medical condition of any kind
  • Anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • Pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant
  • Anyone with low blood pressure
  • Women with a history of menstrual problems
  • Women who are breastfeeding
  • Women with thyroid disorders

Even if you don’t fall under any of those categories it is a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a new dietary protocol. Nothing replaces the benefit of personalized medical care.

There is also some research that shows that IF may not be the best idea for women overall as directly compared to men. Most studies look at how IF affects men, and that cannot be universally applied to women.

In some other studies, intermittent fasting was shown to actually cause more problems for women, like worsening blood sugar levels or insulin sensitivity or leading to menstrual disorders or even problems getting pregnant. (23)

This doesn’t necessarily mean that women cannot practice IF, but they may need to ease into it more slowly or fast for shorter periods of time. Some tips for women to start intermittent fasting include:

  • Fasting for 10-12 hours, at most 14, instead of 16 to 24
  • Monitoring thyroid and reproductive hormones throughout the cycle to ensure they are not being suppressed in response to fasting
  • Working with a nutritionist to ensure that when they’re eating, they are meeting all nutritional requirements and not contributing to deficiencies or unhealthy relationships with food

What Counts As Breaking the Fast?

If you’re practicing intermittent fasting, you might want to know what you can do during fasting periods versus eating times.

You can (and should) drink plenty of fluids during non-eating times. These include water, black coffee, tea, and sparkling water. Basically liquid without calories. Caffeine does not count.

If you are looking to do a less intense version of IF, you can also include bone broth and soup stock during periods of fasting so that you’re getting a few calories, but your digestive system still isn’t having to work too hard.

You can also add collagen peptides to coffee or beverages during fasting time without breaking the fast.

Is Intermittent Fasting Right For You?

If you are interested in the idea of intermittent fasting and have no underlying medical conditions or reasons why it is not a good idea, it may be an interesting experience. You may feel better and be able to lose some weight.

However, intermittent fasting is not a magic bullet and should not be attempted to lose extreme amounts of weight quickly or to otherwise engage in unhealthy eating behaviors.

It’s most important that you eat a balanced diet and meet all of your body’s nutritional needs. This can be done with or without intermittent fasting and needs to be the primary focus.

If the idea of fasting in any form seems stressful or undesirable, then don’t do it. Unless your doctor has specifically recommended intermittent fasting, you don’t need to do something that will make you feel miserable about how or when you eat.

There are many ways to approach healthy eating.

Bottom Line

Intermittent fasting is one approach for eating in a way that may have some health benefits, like insulin sensitivity, weight loss, and cardiovascular health.

However, there are many ways to achieve these health benefits and intermittent fasting is not the only answer.

IF can be a great way to optimize a relationship with food and eating, but for others, it may have negative consequences.

Ultimately, a person’s relationship with food is highly individualized and should be considered. Nothing is one size fits all.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Intermittent Fasting: How to Know If It’s Right For You | Happybodyformula.com

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Natural PMS Relief
Health & Wellness, All posts

17 Simple Ways to Relieve PMS Cramps Naturally

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Natural PMS Relief

For many women, PMS is a part of life for close to 30 years. The average woman has about 450 periods in her life during the reproductive years. That’s 450 different chances to experience PMS.

Unfortunately, close to 80 percent of menstruating women experience PMS in one form or another, with half of them stating that the symptoms are so overwhelming that they interfere with daily life and the ability to function at school, work, or elsewhere.

Other statistics say that 95 percent of all women will experience PMS at one time or another in her life.

With this volume of women experiencing these problems, it makes perfect sense that they’d be on the lookout for the best natural remedies.

This article will cover the best and most proven ways to find relief for this unpleasant time of the month.

Contrary to popular opinion, PMS isn’t a required part of having a menstrual cycle, and it’s time to find some relief for yours.

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What is PMS?

PMS, which stands for premenstrual syndrome, is a hormonal condition that affects women before and during their period. Symptoms can appear as early as two weeks before the expected period and last as long as menstruation.

Some women can, therefore, experience PMS three out of every four weeks.

Symptoms of PMS

Symptoms of PMS can range from physical to emotional and psychological. They can be mild or severe or can vary day by day or cycle by cycle.

Common symptoms of PMS include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Tender breasts
  • Achy joints and muscles
  • Acne and skin breakouts
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Water retention
  • Hot flashes
  • Low sex drive
  • Digestive symptoms like heartburn, gas, or indigestion
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Stomach pains
  • Uterine cramping
  • Intestinal cramping
  • Food cravings, typically for sweet or salty foods

Most women won’t experience all of these symptoms but might have three or four predominant ones. Others might only have one or two bad ones or several milder symptoms.

Several of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, so if your PMS is regular and severe, it’s important to work with your doctor to rule out underlying causes or other disorders.

What Causes PMS?

Research isn’t 100 percent clear as to what, exactly, leads women to experience PMS. Some theories and studies show that hormone fluctuations which are more extreme can lead to the symptoms, while others show that neurotransmitters and the way a woman’s brain is wired can play a role.

Still other research shows that nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune conditions, or inflammation can all add to or worsen the PMS experience.

Autoimmune thyroid conditions, arthritis, endometriosis, or other reproductive-related conditions can also worsen PMS or contribute to worsening symptoms.

Common nutritional deficiencies that could play a role in worse PMS symptoms include iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese, and vitamin D.

Stress, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, environmental toxin exposure, and obesity can also be factors that contribute to PMS, but it’s unclear whether they can cause them on their own.

17 Natural Ways to Relieve PMS

Natural Ways to Relieve PMS

Regardless of the cause of your PMS, there are plenty of natural tweaks and remedies to try to improve your experience.

It’s always important to check in with your doctor first, though, to make sure that anything you’re experiencing isn’t a sign of a bigger or hidden imbalance.

1. Eliminate or Reduce Junk Food

While it’s normal to crave sweet or salty foods, or comfort foods, during PMS, avoiding these foods during PMS—and all the time—can help to reduce water retention, bloating, and other digestive symptoms associated with PMS.

Since PMS might have roots in inflammation, avoiding these processed and junk foods is a good way to curb dietary triggers for inflammatory issues. (source)

2. Quit Alcohol

Alcohol can mess with hormones and gut health, and when you regularly consume it, it can increase the odds you’ll experience PMS and worsen the symptoms when you do have it. (source)

3. Cut Back on Caffeine

Caffeine isn’t all bad, but when it comes to PMS, it could be a factor that worsens cramping, breast tenderness, and even anxiety. If you drink more than two full cups of caffeinated beverages per day, try cutting that in half, or switch to half-caff for your beverages.

4. Eat Iron-Rich Foods (and Maybe Take a Supplement)

Iron deficiency or anemia is still fairly common even in the U.S. today, and research shows that diets high in iron can lead to a more than 30 percent reduction in the chances of having PMS.

Likewise, being anemic or having low levels or iron can result in worse PMS, greater fatigue, and great menstrual discomfort. Foods rich in iron include red meat, seafood, spinach, broccoli, and even dried fruits.

If you don’t get enough iron-rich foods in your diet, ask your doctor what kind of iron supplement you should take (and what dose).

5. Boost Your Magnesium Levels

Magnesium is an important mineral for many reasons, but it helps muscles be more relaxed throughout the body and is also essential for healthy sleep and mood balance.

Research shows that magnesium supplements can help relieve PMS symptoms, and that some cases of PMS are related to low levels of magnesium. (source)

Magnesium is naturally found in many foods like leafy greens and almonds, but supplementing is the best way to correct low levels quickly.

6. Try Acupuncture

Research shows that acupuncture can help to decrease PMS symptoms relating to pain and discomfort like back pain, cramping, and overall aches and pains.

It can also help to reduce stress and address mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression. Make sure you work with a qualified practitioner. (source)

7. Chastetree Berry (also known as Vitex)

An herbal supplement, chastetree berry has been studied for many female-related reproductive needs. Research shows that it can help address PMS in many ways, particularly by reducing mood changes, migraines, and breast tenderness. (source)

It works best and shows the most relief when taken regularly for at least three months.

8. Omega-3 Fats

Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats have many health benefits, including being able to help address symptoms of PMS. They can reduce mood swings, fatigue, and even depression, along with the need to take frequent NSAID pain relievers. (source)

Taking fish oil daily can help to offset the severity of PMS over time.

9. Curcumin

Curcumin for PMS

The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin is an anti-inflammatory supplement that has pain-relieving qualities.

It can help address menstrual cramps and general aches and pains, and has also been shown to improve mood and fight inflammatory causes of depression. (source)

10. Yoga

An excellent way to exercise and get mind/body benefits, yoga is helpful for PMS and period pain because it can help to alleviate cramps, back pain, and overall body pain.

A regular practice can also address stress levels, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. (source) 

11. Calcium

Most people think of calcium for bone health, and it is required for that. However, supplementing with calcium can also help alleviate many PMS-related symptoms, such as: physical pain, anxiety, depression, general irritability, bloating, and fatigue.

Research also shows that many of the women with the worst PMS symptoms have lower calcium levels. It is not always possible to get enough calcium through diet alone, but there are plenty of non-dairy sources, including sardines, almonds, and leafy greens.

A calcium supplement, even just before and during PMS, could be beneficial for anyone who cannot or chooses not to eat dairy products. (source)

12. Ashwagandha

An adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha literally helps the body adapt to certain types of stress. Research shows that ashwagandha can help to reduce stress and mood changes associated with hormone fluctuations and PMS.

Taking an herbal supplement for stress isn’t enough, though. Work in ways to address stress on a daily basis like deep breathing, time in nature, and maybe even meditation.

Ashwagandha can start the process of decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone, but it alone won’t combat excessive feelings of stress, burn out, or overwhelm. Stress is tied with PMS because, basically, the more stressed you are, the worse your PMS symptoms could be.

13. Essential Oils

Several essential oils can work as great natural remedies for PMS symptoms. Clary sage oil can help to balance hormones, while cypress oil has been used for hundreds of years as a topical massage for menstrual cramps.

Lavender oil can help to improve sleep and decrease stress, and ylang ylang can help to promote a more balanced mood. When using essential oils, always mix with a carrier oil first (almond, jojoba, and coconut work nicely!) and apply topically to the skin.

You can also diffuse and breathe in for aromatherapy benefits. Most experts agree that ingesting essential oils is risky at best—no studies have been done to show they’re safe and they could have other unknown side effects on the digestive tract.

Considering the need for a carrier oil topically. If you drink straight essential oils, even mixed with water, they could hurt your esophagus or stomach lining simply from the extreme potency.

14. Ginger

Ginger is a warming herb that is well-known for being able to address nausea. It can also naturally address pain levels in the body, comparable to NSAID pain relievers according to some research.

For effective ginger supplementation, start taking it a day or two before PMS symptoms set in, and continue for a few days after they’ve ended, at 250 milligrams four times per day.

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting ginger if you take other medications, since it can interact with some, most notably blood thinners or anticoagulants.

15. Fennel

A licorice-like herb, fennel is frequently used in cooking. It’s also a medicinal herb that can help to address pain from cramping. It can even reduce cramping altogether.

In order to be effective, it should be taken at the onset of cramping and continued through the end of PMS or the menstrual cycle, whenever cramping and pain is most likely to occur.

16. Pycnogenol

A supplement that is made from the extract of pine bark trees, pycnogenol is an effective method of natural pain relief. Research shows that it can reduce pain and even decrease the need for other pain relievers.

While this supplement has not been extensively studied, the results have been repeated in two separate studies, and it appears to have minimal, if any, side effects. You should not take pycnogenol if you’re allergic to pine trees, however.

17. Vitamin B6

While all of the B vitamins have essential roles for health and the nervous system in particular, vitamin B6 is especially associated with mood regulation. It’s naturally found in plenty of food sources like seafood, meat, and starchy vegetables.

It works best in conjunction with the other B vitamins, as they have a synergistic effect on each other. Vitamin B6 is also an effective remedy for nausea, which some women experience as part of their PMS.

B vitamins are water-soluble, which means excess amounts don’t get stored in the body. They need replenished on a regular basis.

Bottom Line

PMS is an unpleasant hormonal, physical, and mental experience for a majority of reproductive-aged women.

While there are many conventional ways to treat it, like with NSAID pain relievers or birth control, there are many more natural options that come with fewer risks and side effects.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Health & Wellness, All posts

The Ultimate Guide to PCOS: Diet, Supplements, and Essential Oils

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

PCOS diet

PCOS, short for polycystic ovary syndrome, is a hormone condition in women that can impact fertility and many other aspects of wellness.

It is often treated with hormones and medication, but there are numerous natural remedies that can support the quality of life after a PCOS diagnosis and can even help to boost fertility and bring balance to hormones.

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What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormone condition that, among other things, can lead to the development of cysts in the ovaries. However, this condition can also exist without the presence of cysts.

It is the most common hormone disorder in women of reproductive age and can lead to problems getting or staying pregnant.

Symptoms of PCOS

While there are not always immediate symptoms of PCOS, some common ones can include:

  • Irregular periods, long menstrual cycles, or excessively long flow
  • Excess hair on the face or body
  • Acne (sometimes severe)
  • Decreased breast size
  • Infertility
  • Cysts in the ovaries
  • Weight gain or trouble losing weight

Sometimes PCOS symptoms can develop shortly after the start of menstruation, but in most women, signs don’t show until later in their reproductive years, in the 20s or 30s.

Causes of PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a complicated hormone disorder in that it has some simple causes but is not always easy to resolve.

In most cases, PCOS is caused by insulin resistance. Insulin helps draw glucose into the cells for energy and storage after carbohydrates and sugars are eaten.

In cases of insulin resistance, the body has enough insulin, but it does not respond to the intake of glucose like it should, leaving higher levels of sugar in the blood for extended periods of time.

This pattern results in more and more insulin being made, to try to compensate, but the resulting ongoing hormone challenges between glucose, insulin, and other hormones continue to produce hormonal chaos within the body.

Insulin resistance and other hormone disruptions don’t only affect blood sugar. They can also lead to improper levels of reproductive hormones.

When the PCOS pattern develops, the following can happen:

  • Testosterone and androgens are produced at higher levels
  • Estrogen levels may or may not be adequate
  • Thyroid hormones can become suppressed
  • Progesterone levels can be too low due to infrequent or improper ovulation follow-through

In addition to hormone problems, insulin resistance can also lead to rapid weight gain, irregular or lack of ovulation (leading to infertility), type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even an increased risk for certain kinds of cancer.

Pregnancy after polycystic ovary syndrome is also increased with a higher chance of developing gestational diabetes.

Risk factors for developing PCOS include:

  • A family history of PCOS
  • A personal history of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
  • Excess weight gain or obesity
  • Other hormone imbalances, like thyroid problems

Conventional vs. Natural Treatment for PCOS

When a woman is diagnosed with PCOS, conventional medical treatment often includes a variety of pharmaceutical interventions, such as:

  • Birth control pills to regulate the cycle
  • Clomiphene citrate to stimulate the maturation of eggs and ovulation
  • Medication to control acne and excess androgens and hair growth
  • Metformin to lower blood glucose levels and decrease insulin resistance

Weight loss is typically recommended since this will also help to decrease insulin resistance.

A more natural approach to PCOS involves making dietary and lifestyle changes to address contributing factors, stress management, and supplements, herbs, and essential oils to more holistically bring about the desired results for ovulation, insulin balance, and acne.

Some patients use a combination of both natural and conventional methods.

Ultimately, it’s important to find a doctor who will work to find answers and treat your condition in a way that you are comfortable with and which supports your short and long-term goals.

How to Eat for PCOS

How to Eat for PCOS

Eating for PCOS is similar to eating for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or for other hormone balance.

The principles are simple and the diet does not have to be a complex program that will add stress to your life.

In fact, decreasing stress is also an important aspect of promoting wellness and hormone balance for polycystic ovary syndrome.

1. Limit Processed Foods

Regardless of the ingredients or type, processed foods have fewer nutrients and tend to be significantly higher in carbs, sugar, and artificial ingredients or preservatives.

None of these are great for hormone balance or overall health. They can tend to make it harder to lose weight, too.

2. Increase Whole Foods

Whole foods is a vague term these days, but it means foods that are unprocessed, don’t contain added ingredients, and are free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and other hard-to-pronounce words.

Uncured and unprocessed meat and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, and grains or legumes to a very limited extent all constitute whole foods. Dairy products do, too, but as you’ll see below, dairy products aren’t very hormone friendly.

3. Go Dairy-Free

Many adults struggle to properly digest dairy products, leading to symptoms of lactose intolerance. But that doesn’t stop a lot of them from eating milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream anyway.

Dairy products also tend to contain higher amounts of hormones and natural sugars and can be addictive. Simply limiting dairy in the diet can be hard, so it’s a good idea to try being dairy-free for at least 30 days.

Some women find that they can more easily lose weight after stopping milk and cheese, while others find bloating, gastrointestinal discomfort, and constipation all dissipate for good.

4. Boost Protein Intake

While it’s not hard to get enough protein in your diet, especially in the U.S., many fall short of daily needs. If you’re not sure how much your body requires or how much is optimal, plug your numbers into this handy protein calculator by Examine Research Digest.

Protein is made of amino acids, which are literally the building blocks of our bodies. To balance energy levels, insulin and glucose, and even to promote weight loss, the body needs a steady and healthy supply of protein at each meal.

This is especially true for when your carbohydrate consumption is higher, as protein helps to slow the digestion and release of glucose into the bloodstream.

5. Increase Healthy Fats

Most hormone conditions have roots in chronic inflammation or produce inflammation as a result of their imbalance. Either way, eating the right healthy fats helps to keep the body’s inflammation levels normal.

Modern foods are full of unhealthy fats like vegetable oils, fake foods like margarine, and trans fats in processed and fried foods.

The type of fats that support hormone balance, weight loss, and insulin balance are those that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fats and naturally found in whole foods.

These include:

  • Salmon, sardines, mackerel and other wild-caught seafood
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Pure butter
  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds

6. Eat More Fiber Every Day

Fiber helps to support balanced blood sugar and a healthy digestive system. This means eating more vegetables and fruits, especially:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Pears
  • Avocado
  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

You can also take a psyllium husk supplement if you need more help boosting fiber intake, but if you’re new to fiber supplements, start with a very small dose and slowly work your way up over two to four weeks.

This will help avoid sudden bloating or constipation.

7. Limit or Quit Caffeine

While not a popular sentiment, caffeine, when consumed in large amounts on a regular basis, can strongly influence blood sugar, weight, and hormones.

You don’t have to quit coffee or caffeine altogether, but start changing your approach. Drink half-caff instead of full-strength caffeine and pair your coffee with a fat (like coconut oil) or some protein (like collagen peptides).

This helps slow the way your body absorbs and uses the caffeine and minimizes the blood sugar spike.

8. Stop Eating Soy

Soy foods are confusing for hormone problems because some research says it is good and others say it is bad. Ultimately, soy can contribute to further thyroid dysfunction and systemic hormonal chaos, so don’t rely heavily on soy for protein or as a diet staple.

9. What About Gluten?

Gluten is a tricky subject and many PCOS experts will tell you to stop eating gluten if you have PCOS. Gluten certainly doesn’t provide any needed health benefits and avoiding gluten means avoiding a lot of carb sources that could mess with blood sugar.

Some research even shows that eating gluten regularly before and during pregnancy can worsen insulin resistance for both mom and baby. (source)

Trying a gluten-free diet for 30 to 60 days may lead to improved weight loss and hormone, digestive, or other symptoms, but it also may not.

Speak to your healthcare provider or nutritionist to determine if this is the right approach for you.

9 Effective Supplements for PCOS

While not all supplements are effective for polycystic ovary syndrome, several have been research-proven to address issues associated with PCOS.

Many healthcare providers, both traditional and holistic, rely on these to provide natural medicine for women suffering from these issues.

Always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement. Quality matters, so get brand recommendations, but also remember that supplements can interact with medications and even other supplements in ways you might not be aware of.

Here are the top supplements used for PCOS:

1. Inositol (or Myo-Inositol): A nutrient that is similar to the B vitamins, inositol works against insulin resistance and can lead to improvements in ovulation regularity and timing.

2. Chromium Picolinate: A mineral, chromium is well-known for insulin regulation in the body, helping blood sugar levels come down. (source)

3. Curcumin: The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin is anti-inflammatory and helps to naturally support healthy blood glucose levels.

4. Cinnamon: In supplement form, cinnamon can be a powerful tool to address insulin resistance, inflammation, and weight loss. It can also help to normalize the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS. (source)

5. Vitamin D: Before starting with vitamin D, get your levels checked. Having low vitamin D levels is associated with blood sugar problems and chronic disorders of all kinds, as well as hormone problems.

If your levels are lower than 50, you could benefit from a daily supplement. Ask your doctor what the dose should be since opinions vary.

6. Fish Oil: Anti-inflammatory and supportive of blood sugar and fertility, taking a daily EPA and DHA fish oil supplement can help shed weight and promote a normal menstrual cycle.

7. Ashwagandha: An adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha can help to address stress levels in the body, which can in turn have a balancing effect on blood sugar and hormones.

8. Vitex: Also known as chastetree berry, vitex is a supplement that helps the body to naturally address PMS, menstrual irregularity, and low levels of progesterone. It has to be taken for two to three cycles before it really shows much effect.

9. Probiotics: A healthy gut strongly influence blood sugar levels, weight, mood, and fertility. Taking probiotics every night before bed can address several aspects of PCOS.

Top 8 Essential Oils for PCOS

Essential Oils for PCOS

Aromatherapy has many benefits beyond smelling nice. Essential oils have been extracted from medicinal plant sources and have been used to address health conditions around the world for thousands of years.

Some have been shown to help with insulin issues and hormone problems, like PCOS.

These are the top essential oils for PCOS.

1. Sandalwood: Recommended for hormone balance and acne, it can also help to boost libido, which can be problematic in women suffering from PCOS.

2. Clary sage: Used for estrogen imbalance, clary sage can provide benefits for a balanced mood, healthy periods, and acne.

3. Geranium: Aromatherapy experts use this for mood balance and regulating hormones. It’s also been used for anxiety reduction and addressing low feelings.

4. Thyme: Used for benefits like hormone balance and addressing weight gain, thyme can also help with hot flashes and ovulation.

5. Lavender: Perhaps one of the most essential oils of all time, lavender is great for stress relief, menstrual pain, and even sleep improvement.

6. Ylang ylang: A lesser known oil, ylang ylang is great for acne, skin health, fertility, and healthy hair. It’s also a great mood booster, too.

7. Spearmint: Another great-smelling oil, spearmint can address weight-related issues and help to lower oxidative stress.

8. German chamomile: This oil is a great mood stabilizer and can help reduce hormonal aggression and mood swings. It’s also great for supporting natural fertility.

How to Use Essential Oils for PCOS

When considering essential oils to help with PCOS, consider that inhaling or topical application are both valid options. What no healthcare provider recommends, however, is ingestion. This is unsafe and unproven and could lead to worse or unknown consequences.

When using essential oils for aromatherapy, you can diffuse them so that they are in and around the air that you’re breathing. This can have a pleasant impact on your home or work environment while also helping to address your hormonal needs.

If diffusing is not an option, simply opening the bottle and breathing in the scent can be equally as effective for aromatherapy.

When using topically, you can apply oils directly to your skin, but it’s always important to use a carrier oil. Some oils are strong and can irritate the skin or lead to itching or reactions when not diluted.

Carrier oils like jojoba, almond, or coconut work well.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

The Ultimate Guide to PCOS: Diet, Supplements, and Essential Oils | HappyBodyFormula.com

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Foods High in Potassium
Nutrition, All posts

8 Foods High in Potassium & 6 Essential Health Benefits

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Foods High in Potassium

People think of potassium as coming from bananas and the thing you take if you have a muscle cramp. But it’s a mineral that does a lot more than that.

While it functions as an electrolyte in the body, it does so much more and is highly underrated.

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What is Potassium?

Potassium is found at high levels in the body and is the third most abundant. It controls how the body uses fluids and how cells take in and let out water.

It’s also important for nerve signaling, muscle contractions (which is why you get cramps when levels are too low!), and is needed for healthy bones, liver, and red blood cells. (source)

The body relies on electrolytes for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, throughout the tissues and cells. When there aren’t enough, complications can follow.

Potassium is needed in balance with other electrolytes, like magnesium and sodium, but is important in its own right.

6 Proven Health Benefits of Potassium

Potassium has many essential functions in the body. These are the top ways that it influences health.

1. Maintains Fluid Balance

Adult human bodies are about 60 to 70 percent water, so it is important that the water found within cells and tissues in the body goes (or stays) where it needs to be.

Forty percent of body fluids are inside of the cells and help them do their work. Without enough fluid, cellular energy and function can slow—which means the entire body’s energy production can be dramatically influenced by low or inadequate levels of fluid balance.

When the body gets dehydrated, it doesn’t just impact cells. It can also have a strong influence on entire organs, particularly the kidneys (which filter waste) and the heart. (source)

2. Promotes Heart Health & Normal Blood Pressure

While potassium supports the function of healthy nerve signaling, it’s also required for steady, regular heartbeats.

Potassium levels that are too high can result in an irregular heartbeat and low levels also alter the normal rhythm of this critical organ. (source)

The entire reason that the heart beats is to supply the body’s organs, tissues, and cells with a healthy blood supply. When the heart cannot beat rhythmically and effectively to do this, the entire body can suffer.

High blood pressure is another complication that interferes with heart health, and more than 30 percent of Americans deal with it one way or another. (source)

When blood pressure is consistently elevated, it can increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and death.

Potassium helps to reduce blood pressure by counterbalancing the effects of excessive sodium intake.

Research shows that when potassium intake increases, systolic and diastolic blood pressure both go down and that a potassium-rich diet is protective against heart disease. (source, source)

3. Protects Against Strokes

Strokes are the fifth-highest cause of death in the U.S. They are also a major cause of disability. Strokes happen when the brain has an interruption in blood flow to the brain.

Research shows that a diet high in potassium decreases the risk of experiencing a stroke by as much as 40 percent. (source)

When adults eat more than five servings daily of fruits and vegetables, they can lower their odds of having a stroke by more than 25 percent, compared to those who eat only three or fewer servings daily. (source)

4. Supports Nervous System Function

The entire job of the nervous system is communication. Between sending and receiving signals, and interpreting them via the brain, without a healthy communication network the entire body is compromised.

Nerve impulses happen when sodium ions move into cells and when potassium ions move out of cells. When the body’s potassium levels are too low or unstable, nerve impulse signaling can be strongly affected. (source)

Optimizing potassium levels helps the body to function as it should, which explains why dehydration—and low potassium levels—can result in symptoms of confusion, fatigue, and even poor coordination.

5. Supports Bone Health & Decreases Osteoporosis Risk

Osteoporosis occurs when bones become too brittle and lack the proper mineral balance to be dense enough. They can fracture easily and lead to numerous health complications.

While calcium and vitamin D are often cited as the main nutrients needed for bone health, and to prevent osteoporosis, potassium is also a critical element. This is because potassium plays a role in how the body maintains calcium levels.

When potassium levels are too low, more calcium is lost through urine and increases the chance of having too little in the body. (source)

Research shows that people who eat a diet high in potassium have greater levels of bone mass and a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis at any point. (source)

6. Supports Kidney Health & Decreases Risk of Kidney Stones

Potassium supports kidney health in a few key ways.

A diet that is higher in potassium, especially from fruits and vegetables, is associated with a decreased risk of chronic kidney disease because potassium directly decreases inflammation in this critical detox organ. (source)

Potassium can also help to reduce the risk of developing kidney stones, which are clumps of crystals that form when urine becomes excessively concentrated from dehydration. (source)

People who eat higher amounts of dietary potassium have a more than 50 percent reduced chance of developing kidney stones. (source)

For those who are prone to kidney stones for other reasons, increasing the amount of potassium in the diet can lead to a dramatic reduction in the size of kidney stones that form.

What Happens When Your Potassium Levels Are Too Low?

With potassium being such a crucial nutrient for many aspects of health like the heart, nervous system, muscles, and kidneys, it’s shocking that less than two percent of people in the U.S. get their daily potassium needs met. (source)

While the average healthy person in the population won’t have severe consequences from not getting enough, people in risk factor groups for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease are especially at risk if their potassium intake is consistently inadequate.

The recommended daily intake for various age groups is as follows:

  • 400 milligrams for infants ages 0 to 6 months
  • 860 milligrams for babies ages 7 to 12 months
  • 2,000 milligrams for children ages 1 to 3
  • 2,300 milligrams for children ages 4 to 8, and females ages 9 to 18
  • 2,500 milligrams for males ages 9 to 13
  • 2,600 milligrams for females ages 19 and older
  • 2,800 milligrams for adult breastfeeding women
  • 2,900 milligrams for adult pregnant women
  • 3,000 milligrams for males ages 14 to 18
  • 3,400 milligrams for males ages 19 and older

Potassium Rich Foods You Can Enjoy

Potassium Rich Foods

Many foods provide all of the potassium needed to meet daily requirements. These are the top ways to boost your dietary intake of this important mineral.

1. Dried Fruits

While dried fruits aren’t the best way to get your daily produce intake in, when eaten occasionally they do provide a nice amount of dietary potassium.

Dried apricots contain 31 percent of the daily potassium requirements in just a half-cup, while a half-cup of dried prunes provide 20 percent daily value.

One half-cup of raisins contains 18 percent daily value. When choosing dried fruits, avoid types that have added sugars or other artificial ingredients, and stick to something that is organic.

2. Lentils and Beans

Lentils and beans are both rich sources of potassium and they’re easy to add to a diet in a variety of ways. They also contain fiber and a little protein, which can contribute to other aspects of a balanced macronutrient intake.

One cup of cooked lentils contains 21 percent daily value and one cup of cooked kidney beans contains 17 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs. Soybeans and soybean products contain about 13 percent daily value per half-cup serving.

3. Squash

Acorn squash in particular is a great source of potassium. It’s also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Squash is versatile and can be cooked in many ways: baking, roasting, boiling, mashing, and even steaming.

It can be prepared sweet (with coconut sugar) or savory (with salt and pepper) and is delicious both ways. Adding some oil while cooking or roasting can also elevate the flavors. One cup of acorn squash contains 18 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs.

4. White Potatoes

While white potatoes get a bad reputation as being an unhealthy starchy food, they actually contain a surprising amount of nutrients. Comparing them to eating white rice or white bread is unfair and they certainly have a place at the table for many people.

Avoiding large amounts of white potatoes for those who are diabetic or have blood sugar issues might be a good idea, but for the general population, they can be quite healthy.

White potatoes contain 17 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs in just one medium russet potato, along with other important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, and fiber.

5. Orange Juice

Most orange juice is fortified with extra nutrients, like calcium and potassium. Opting for an organic version that is free from added sugars, and is not made from concentrate, can be a great way to boost vitamin C intake as well as potassium.

A one-cup serving of orange juice contains 14 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs.

6. Bananas

Most fresh fruits contain some level of potassium, but bananas have long had a reputation for being the ultimate source of potassium. While sixth on this list, they do still contain a respectable amount.

One medium banana contains 12 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs. They’re also rich in fiber, prebiotics that nourish the healthy bacteria in the microbiome, and vitamins B6 and C.

7. Dairy Products

Most people think that dairy products only contain calcium and protein, and not much else, but a one-cup serving of milk contains 10 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs and most one-half cup servings of yogurt do the same.

You can’t drink or eat enough dairy products to replace the need for several daily servings of fruits and vegetables, but for those who can tolerate it, dairy definitely adds to the body’s potassium requirements.

When choosing dairy products, it’s important to pick organic and hormone-free options, and make sure that yogurt is not loaded with sugar and other additives.

8. Leafy Greens

Eating leafy greens every day is important for many reasons, and adding to the body’s potassium needs is a big one. Two cups of raw spinach contains 10 percent of potassium daily needs, but when cooked, a single cup contains close to 25 percent.

One cup of cooked bok choy contains 20 percent, and one cup of cooked Swiss chard contains 40 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs. All the more reason to eat these vital nutrients every single day!

How to Supplement with Potassium

It’s best for health to get your potassium needs met through diet. However, in some circumstances, a healthcare provider may recommend potassium supplements regularly or occasionally.

This must be done carefully, however, because research shows that taking too much potassium in supplement form can actually cause heart or kidney problems. (source)

Small amounts of potassium may be found in multivitamin or electrolyte supplements, and these are generally at safe amounts when paired with other nutrients.

Taking a stand alone potassium supplement is almost never recommended unless explicitly prescribed by a doctor.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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7 Health Benefits of Selenium
Health & Wellness, All posts

7 Health Benefits of Selenium Backed by Science

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

7 Health Benefits of Selenium

Selenium is one of many essential minerals needed in the body for good health. Too much, or too little, can be harmful to overall wellness.

With the right amount of selenium in the body, it can promote good immunity, thyroid health, a proper sleep cycle, and even fertility.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of selenium, how to make sure you’re getting the right amount, and how to supplement if needed.

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What is Selenium?

Selenium is a mineral that is naturally found in many foods like Brazil nuts, eggs, and seafood. It functions as an antioxidant in the body and works to boost levels of another important antioxidant, glutathione.

Most people in the U.S. and developed countries get enough selenium each day from food and supplements, but those who live in countries with poor soil quality may not get enough.

7 Research-Backed Benefits of Selenium

Selenium is needed in the body for several key reasons. With too little, health problems can develop, and too much from excessive supplementation can also be an issue. More is not always better!

These are the top reasons why selenium—in the right amounts—supports good health.

1. Reduces Inflammation in the Body

Selenium functions as an antioxidant, which naturally combats inflammation. It does this by boosting the function of glutathione, known as the “mother of all antioxidants,” but also by increasing the activity of certain genes that produce antioxidant defenses.

This benefit is especially seen in cooling the chronic inflammation that exists in autoimmune and chronic disorders. (source)

Selenium can also reduce C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker often associated with cardiovascular disorders or risks.

It works to block DNA transcription factors in the body that release inflammatory substances into the bloodstream, keeping systemic inflammation levels lower. (source)

2. Supports Brain Health and Decreases Mental Decline

Many nutrients are crucial for brain health, and selenium is an equally important one. Selenium is especially helpful for boosting the healthy effect that omega-3 fatty acids have on the brain, by improving how they work.

In studies done on eating or taking omega-3 fats for brain health, it was found that eating seafood actually boosted blood selenium levels more than omega-3 fatty acid levels.

Both are required to boost cognitive function and prevent mental decline, like that associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. (source)

Research also shows that those with existing Alzheimer’s have lower blood levels of selenium than those who don’t have it—by as much as 40 percent. (source)

The sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s is a serious problem for which there is no known cure.

As studies continue to determine what helps and what is preventative, research continues to show that diets rich in selenium foods, as well as moderate supplementation, can help to protect and improve cognitive function.

3. Protects Heart Health

Cardiovascular disease is a complex set of factors that can lead to life-threatening consequences like heart attack. Research shows that factors that are protective include lowering inflammation levels and reducing oxidative stress in the body—both of which are supported by dietary antioxidants.

Selenium is so important for heart health that when levels fall too low, it can make blood vessels more likely to develop plaque, and blood becomes stickier and more prone to clotting.

When selenium levels are increased by 50 percent, in someone who previously had lower levels, it can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 24 percent. (source)

Glutathione is also an important antioxidant for heart health and cardiovascular disease reduction, and selenium helps to increase this significantly.

4. Supports a Healthy Sleep-Wake Cycle

Selenium contains an amino acid, methyl selenocysteine, that helps to promote a normal circadian rhythm, even when it’s not taken right before bed.

Research shows that this amino acid reminds certain genes to work more effectively at nighttime to prepare the body for sleep. Found naturally in foods like garlic, onions, and broccoli, moderate selenium supplementation might also be helpful.

Selenium is especially important when it comes to addressing sleep disorders or insomnia, although an ideal level of supplementation hasn’t been determined by research.

Working with a doctor and nutritionist to boost selenium intake safely is a healthy way to support a good sleep routine.

5. Increases Natural Immunity

The immune system has many functions in the body, but a primary one is fending off threats from outside invaders like bacterial infections and viruses. When the body is excessively stressed, even from oxidative stress, the immune system is weakened and does not protect as well.

Selenium reduces oxidative stress and helps your immune system work as it should. When levels are too low in the body, the immune response is decreased and sickness occurs more frequently. (source)

Research finds selenium particularly helpful when fighting cases of the flu, tuberculosis, and even hepatitis C. (source)

It can also help the immune system work to protect against specific threats, like asthma, immune-driven allergies, and even cancer in some cases. (source)

6. Supports Natural Thyroid Health

When found in the body, selenium concentrations are highest in the thyroid gland. When levels fall too low, this deficiency can be part of the development of autoimmune thyroid disease. (source)

There are two types of autoimmune thyroid diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Hashimoto’s is autoimmune hypothyroidism, where the gland’s function is permanently reduced after the immune system attacks it and destroys its ability to function, in part or completely.

Graves’ disease is autoimmune hyperthyroidism, where the immune system revs the gland into overdrive and still ultimately weakens it.

Low levels of selenium are found to be a risk factor for the development of autoimmune thyroid problems. (source)

When someone already has existing thyroid disease, whether it is Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, selenium can help to reduce the antibodies found from the disease and promote remission and a reduction in symptoms. (source)

Selenium also supports thyroid health in pregnant and postpartum women, who are especially prone to thyroid disturbances. (source)

7. Supports Natural Fertility in Men and Women

Both men and women need selenium for healthy fertility and reproduction.

In men, selenium is an antioxidant that protects sperm health and supports healthy levels of testosterone. Supplementing with this antioxidant can boost sperm quality and motility after just three months.

In just one study, 11 percent of men supplementing with selenium went on to have children, while none in the placebo group did. (source)

For women, selenium is more critical in the first weeks of pregnancy. When levels are too low, it has been associated with an increased risk of early miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage. (source)

Problems with Having Low or High Selenium Levels

It’s not good to have too much or too little selenium in the body. When this happens, certain signs and symptoms can show.

Problems with too much selenium, such as from taking excessive supplements, can include:

  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes or elevated blood sugar
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach and digestive pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat (higher than 100 beats per minute)
  • Skin rashes and irritation
  • Tremors and muscles spasms

Problems with too little selenium include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor cognitive health and memory
  • Anemia
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Miscarriage
  • Anxiety and depression

The 10 Foods Highest in Selenium

Foods Highest in Selenium

Many foods are rich sources of selenium. Regularly eating these can ensure that your selenium levels are not too low. Sometimes supplementation is still needed, depending on your health conditions, but starting with diet is always important.

Try these foods to boost your selenium levels naturally.

1. Seafood

All seafood contains some selenium, but the types highest in this nutrient include yellowfin tuna, sardines, oysters, clams, salmon, shrimp, and halibut.

2. Brazil nuts

Not all nuts are created equal when it comes to selenium levels. Six nuts contain more than a day’s serving of selenium so much so that you should not eat Brazil nuts every day to ensure you don’t get too much.

3. Meat

While most meats will have some selenium, the types that contain the most are ham, pork, beef, turkey, chicken, beef liver, and chicken liver. The quality of the meat matters here, with organic, pastured, and grass-fed varieties containing higher levels of nutrients.

4. Dairy products

While most cow-based dairy products contain some selenium, the types with the highest amounts are cottage cheese (which provides 30 percent of the daily need in just one cup), whole milk, and Greek yogurt (both of which are closer to 10 percent daily need).

Keep in mind that if you’re sensitive to dairy products or struggle to digest them, eating them for nutritional benefit won’t be as effective, because your food needs to be properly broken down to extract the nutrients from it.

5. Eggs

One egg provides close to 30 percent of the selenium you need each day.

6. Vegetables

Not all veggies supply you with selenium, but a few provide decently high amounts, including mushrooms, spinach, and red Swiss chard.

7. Brown rice

Long-grain brown rice gives you almost 30 percent of your daily serving size per cup, but the nutrients are best extracted when paired with another selenium-rich meat.

8. Oats

Cooked oatmeal from regular or steel-cut oats will provide about 15 percent of your daily selenium needs.

9. Sunflower seeds

One-fourth of a cup gives you about 15 percent of your daily selenium needs, making them an allergy-friendly and delicious way to boost this mineral in your diet.

10. Cashews

Not nearly as high in selenium as Brazil nuts, cashews are the next highest nut in selenium.

How Much Selenium Do You Need?

Selenium is a vital mineral for health, but getting the right amount is important. Selenium needs differ based on age and stage of life.

Daily selenium requirements are:

  • 20 micrograms per day for children ages 1 to 3
  • 30 micrograms per day for children ages 4 to 8
  • 40 micrograms per day for children ages 9 to 13
  • 55 micrograms per day for anyone age 14 and older

Women who are pregnant require 60 micrograms per day, and breastfeeding women need 70 micrograms daily.

More selenium could be considered safe, and ultimately, most adults in the U.S. get closer to 100 micrograms per day. When it comes to selenium, though, it’s important to consider the tolerable upper intake, which is a level set to ensure that toxicity doesn’t occur.

Consuming selenium at higher levels than this on a regular basis could result in levels that are too high and problematic.

The tolerable upper intake for selenium is as follows:

  • 45 micrograms for infants birth to 6 months
  • 60 micrograms for babies 7 to 12 months
  • 90 micrograms for children ages 1 to 3
  • 150 micrograms for children ages 4 to 8
  • 280 micrograms for children ages 9 to 13
  • 400 micrograms for anyone age 14 and older, including pregnant and breastfeeding women

How to Supplement with Selenium

Depending on your health status and needs, your healthcare provider or nutritionist may recommend supplementing with additional selenium.

It’s important that when you do this, you pay attention to the overall amount you’re likely getting from your diet and all supplements combined. Remember that if you take a multivitamin, it will also contain some selenium.

Additionally, if you regularly take vitamin D supplements, these have been shown to boost selenium levels in a roundabout way.

While the recommended daily intake is just 55 micrograms for adults, most studies examining selenium benefits utilize doses between 100 and 200 micrograms per day.

Multivitamins can contain anywhere from 50 micrograms to upwards of 200 micrograms per serving size, so be sure to check the dose on yours before adding a standalone selenium supplement.

Cautions & Who Should Not Take

You should not take selenium supplements if you eat Brazil nuts regularly or if your doctor has told you not to. Even if your doctor has not, it’s always best to run supplements by your healthcare provider before starting anything new.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Benefits of Vitamin D
Health & Wellness, All posts

10 Benefits of Vitamin D

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” is one of the few vitamins that it’s hard to obtain fully from food sources. Yet it is a critical nutrient for many aspects of health: skeletal, hormone, mental, neurological, immune, and more.

Without enough vitamin D, the body is at risk for many diseases and disorders. Many people don’t have high enough levels to be protective.

Learning how to optimize levels through sun exposure and supplementation is an important part of wellness.

However, since vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, it can become toxic, so it is vital to understand how to safely supplement.

[toc]

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of several essential nutrients, vital for protecting well-being. Unlike most, it’s very hard to obtain high enough levels from food alone.

Because you can get vitamin D from sun exposure, it is also referred to as a pro-hormone because it is synthesized in the body in response to a chemical reaction. (source)

Vitamin D has many essential benefits. The top 10 that are backed by research are discussed here, plus how it can help overall health.

10 Health Benefits of Vitamin D

While most people know that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones, along with calcium, it’s not widely known how essential this nutrient is for nearly every other aspect of health.

1. Promotes Healthy Sleep

Sleep is essential for health—and you need enough vitamin D to get good rest. (source)

When people have lower levels of vitamin D, they sleep worse. In fact, low levels can be blamed for disturbed sleep patterns and shorter sleep duration. (source)

Research finds that higher blood concentrations of vitamin D are associated with better regular sleep. Sleep quality can also be improved by supplementing with vitamin D. (source)

Beyond regular sleep disturbances, low vitamin D levels are also associated with sleep apnea. This condition results in numerous nightly episodes of breathing cessation and can lead to serious health problems.

Optimizing vitamin D levels, with other treatments, can address this condition. (source)

2. Supports Neurological Health and Cognition

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for the brain, cognition, and neurological health. Receptors for vitamin D are found in the brain and research shows that this nutrient and hormone is vital for proper brain development and function. (source)

Deficiency of vitamin D creates problems that could lead to psychiatric or neurological disorders. These can include:

Vitamin D protects the brain and nervous system in many ways. It promotes healthy detoxification and antioxidant levels, which help to prevent brain cell degradation.

It also creates proteins that help brain cells fight premature aging and promote normal function. (source)

3. Defends Against Certain Types of Cancer

Overall, vitamin D is protective against many types of cancer and lowers the overall risk of death when levels are optimal. (source)

It helps the body to prevent the spread of cancer cells and can even rally the protective mechanisms in the body that destroy and remove cancer cells. (source)

Research shows vitamin D to be especially protective against breast cancer. Women with higher intake levels and regular sun exposure were shown to have a reduced risk of developing or dying from breast cancer. (source)

Supplementation with at least 2,000 IU daily reduces the chance of developing breast cancer by 50 percent. (source) Conversely, when vitamin D levels are too low, breast cancer can progress faster, metastasize, and be harder to treat. (source)

Vitamin D also reduces the risk of colon cancer, with at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily reducing the chances by 50 percent. (source)

Men who get more vitamin D from the sun have a reduced risk of dying from prostate cancer, too. But when men have too little vitamin D, their risk of developing prostate cancer significantly goes up. (source)

Pancreatic and ovarian cancer risks, too, are reduced by vitamin D. Intake of 600 IU or more daily reduced pancreatic cancer risk by more than 40 percent, and research finds that overall low levels of vitamin D are associated with a lower survival rate from ovarian cancer. (source, source)

4. Decreases Depression

The benefits of vitamin D for brain health extend well beyond cognition and neurological disorders. Having too little vitamin D or being deficient in it is related to a 14 percent higher chance of depression.

Boosting levels through supplementation and sun exposure can reduce depression. It can also help to improve the ability to function in people who are depressed. (source)

5. Supports Optimal Bone Health

Vitamin D is important for helping keep calcium levels properly balanced in the body, which is essential for bone health. (source)

Vitamin D works to optimize calcium levels by helping the intestines more effectively absorb calcium from the diet and to resorb it from the kidneys. (source)

Bone mass is also influenced by parathyroid hormone, which can lead to bone loss. Vitamin D suppresses the elevated activity of parathyroid hormone, helping to protect bone density. (source)

Without enough vitamin D, bones also struggle to grow and form. Vitamin D helps promote the function of osteoblasts, the cells that rebuild bone. (source)

Vitamin D is so important that deficiency in the mother can even affect fetal bone skeletal development. (source)

It’s also an important nutrient for preventing and treating osteoporosis and osteopenia. Low levels of vitamin D in the blood lead to higher risks of fracture, poor bone density, and mineralization problems. (source)

Those at highest risk for osteoporosis and fracture can reduce the chance by 43 percent when taking a combination of eggs and vitamin D3 together. (source)

6. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

When you don’t have enough vitamin D, many aspects of health can suffer. It is especially noted that there is an increased risk of heart disease when vitamin D is deficient.

This also includes a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. (source)

Supplementing with vitamin D and boosting levels via sun exposure have been shown to reduce blood pressure, protect blood vessel function, and reduce several risk factors for atherosclerosis. (source)

With blood pressure specifically, people whose blood levels are lower than 30 ng/mL face a higher risk of hypertension than those whose levels are above 30 ng/mL.

7. Reduces Risk of Diabetes

Vitamin D is essential for healthy glucose levels and insulin management. It helps optimize insulin production and secretion from the pancreas.

Without enough vitamin D, the risk goes up for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as metabolic syndrome. (source)

When insulin problems exist, supplementing with vitamin D helps to restore insulin sensitivity and production. (source)

Vitamin D is so crucial for pancreatic and insulin function that drastically low levels in childhood can increase the chance for later developing type 1, or autoimmune, diabetes. (source)

Research also associated lower blood levels of vitamin D with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Supplementing daily with at least 500 IU helps reduce the risk. (source)

8. Fights Inflammation and Boosts Immunity

Vitamin D is an important component of the immune system. While inflammation can be a healthy response to healing, when it turns into chronic inflammation, it can wreak havoc on the body and lead to disease.

Vitamin D can influence immunity from boosting the ability to fight infectious disease to calming the immune system’s attack of self in autoimmune disorders. (source)

It can also cool the body’s chronic inflammatory levels and provide relief for disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, and more.

9. Supports Intestinal Health

Vitamin D can promote intestinal health, especially when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease, which primarily affects the large intestine, and celiac disease, which affects the small intestine. (source, source)

Both are critical components of the digestive system.

Supplementing with vitamin D helps to reduce blood markers associated with gut inflammation and can also decrease C-reactive protein, another inflammatory marker, by as much as 46 percent. (source)

10. Supports Fertility and Pregnancy

Vitamin D is critical for both male and female fertility. Animal studies show that vitamin D is needed for healthy sperm count and motility, as well as healthy testicles. (source)

Men with vitamin D levels that are lower than 20 ng/mL are considered deficient and research shows that they have less healthy sperm than men with higher vitamin D levels. (source)

Women need healthy vitamin D levels for overall fertility, too. It’s also important when facing fertility challenges, like PCOS (also known as polycystic ovary syndrome).

Optimizing vitamin D levels is beneficial for addressing glucose imbalance and regulating the menstrual cycle in PCOS. (source)

Vitamin D is also important for a healthy pregnancy for both mother and baby. When levels are too low, the fetus could have bone growth and skeletal problems and the mother could experience greater amounts of bone density loss. (source)

Having adequate vitamin D levels can also help to protect against the risk of preterm birth. (source)

When vitamin D levels are not healthy during pregnancy there is a greater risk for preeclampsia and bacterial vaginosis. (source)

Supplementing with at least 4,000 IU daily during pregnancy is considered to be both safe and effective. During breastfeeding, 6,400 IU daily is needed to ensure that the infant gets enough via breast milk.

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

It is important to get enough vitamin D for many reasons, but how to accomplish that isn’t always so straightforward.

You can boost vitamin D levels in three ways: sun exposure, food sources, and supplements.

Sun: The sun is the best and most efficient way to have healthy vitamin D levels. However, being in the sun is not an option for everyone.

Additionally, people who live far enough above or below the equator cannot get enough direct sun exposure approximately six months out of the year, making supplementation necessary.

If you have lighter skin, spending 10 to 15 minutes in the sun per day is often enough to optimize levels. The key is that you have to have most of your trunk, arms, and legs exposed and cannot be wearing sunscreen during this time.

Those with darker skin complexions will need 20 to 30 minutes to achieve the same results.

Unless you live near the equator, this can only be accomplished from about April through September each year in the northern hemisphere and October through March in the southern hemisphere.

Food: There are few foods that are rich sources of vitamin D. The best sources are fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, along with cod liver oil, beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms.

Other foods are fortified with vitamin D, but the type used is not as absorbable (vitamin D2). More on that below.

Supplements: Supplements are widely available in both vitamin D2 and D3 forms. Vitamin D3 is the closest to the type the body makes from the sun and is highly absorbable.

Vitamin D2 does not successfully raise blood levels. Doses range from a few hundred to 10,000 IU or more per dose.

Doses: It’s important to consult your doctor for recommendations on vitamin D doses. The minimum requirements are as follows:

  • Children under age one—400 IU
  • Adolescents and children under 19—600 IU
  • Adults ages 19-70, including pregnant women—600 IU
  • Adults over age 70—800 IU

Most health professionals recommend 2,000 IU daily as the minimum supplemental dose, but testing needs to be done to verify that levels are adequate.

Certain health factors can reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D, requiring higher levels of supplementation just to prevent deficiency.

Vitamin D Deficiency and Toxicity

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems across the world. As many as 80 percent of people on all continents have a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. (source)

The best way to evaluate levels is to test via the blood using the 25(OH)D method. Deficiency is a result lower than 20 ng/mL, whereas insufficiency is lower than 30 ng/mL.

Optimal levels are defined differently by practitioners, but most agree that between 40 and 65 ng/mL is ideal.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Obesity
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor immunity
  • Frequent infections
  • The presence of chronic or autoimmune conditions

While vitamin D deficiency is dangerous for health and has negative consequences, too much is also not ideal.

Vitamin D toxicity can occur because it is a fat-soluble nutrient, so taking too much in supplemental form can get stored in the tissues and result in serious problems, including:

  • Calcification of tissues
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart damage and problems

Symptoms of too much vitamin D include:

  • Headaches
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones

Always check with your doctor about supplement doses and get your blood levels assessed at least once per year and more often if you take vitamin D supplements.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Foods for High Blood Pressure
Health & Wellness, All posts

17 Foods & Supplements That Support Healthy Blood Pressure

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Foods for High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is something that no one thinks about, until it becomes a problem. Having healthy blood pressure is essential for cardiovascular health.

While many factors can influence blood pressure, like genetics or other health aspects, there are many natural ways to naturally lower levels.

This article explores the top research-backed ways to lower high blood pressure.

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Blood Pressure Basics

Many people never think about or check their blood pressure at home. It is routinely checked in a doctor’s office as part of a yearly physical or wellness exam, or during other appointments that monitor pregnancy and other conditions.

Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers. One is known as the systolic number and the other is diastolic. Simplified, systolic is the top number and diastolic is the bottom number.

Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mm/Hg, with a normal range of 90 to 120 for systolic and 60 to 80 for diastolic.

Systolic blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure in the arteries during the heart’s contraction. Diastolic blood pressure is the measurement of pressure in the heart between beats.

Blood pressure readings that are higher than 120/80 mm/Hg, for either number or both, is indicative of elevated blood pressure.

Hypertension, or the diagnosis of high blood pressure, comes in two stages. Stage 1 hypertension is when blood pressure is between 130 to 139 for the top number and/or 81 to 89 for the bottom number.

Stage 2 is diagnosed when blood pressure reads more than 140 for the top number and/or more than 90 for the bottom number. It is considered a medical emergency if blood pressure ever reads at 180/120 mm/Hg or higher.

A randomly elevated reading is not true high blood pressure. Momentary stress or other situations can temporarily raise blood pressure. When it consistently falls into these ranges, hypertension will be diagnosed and treatments or lifestyle changes will be suggested by your doctor.

High blood pressure or hypertension can happen for many reasons, including:

  • Genetics or family history
  • Diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Frequent alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • High stress

It’s important to make lifestyle adjustments to support blood pressure if you numbers are elevated or if you have been diagnosed with hypertension.

Fortunately, there are many natural ways to support healthy blood pressure, including dietary changes, supplements, and other lifestyle adjustments like stress management and exercise.

8 Foods That Naturally Lower Blood Pressure

These foods aren’t a magic fix, but they’ve been shown by research to naturally support lower blood pressure levels when included regularly as a part of a healthy diet.

1. Red Beets

Red beets are a potent detox food that supports liver health, and they’re also great for healthy blood pressure. They’re rich in nitric oxide which helps to dilate blood vessels and decrease the pressure in them.

Beets can be steamed or roasted, eaten whole or cut up. They can even be juiced. Don’t toss the greens either—they’re good for blood pressure, too! The only potential downside to beets is their color: it can stain countertops, sinks, clothes, and hands, so be careful when cooking and prepping with them.

Try this recipe: Roasted Beets with Balsamic Glaze (but go light on the salt)

2. Dark Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are healthy for many reasons, but they have a positive influence on blood pressure thanks to the higher levels of potassium and fiber. Potassium helps excrete sodium from the body which reduces overall blood pressure.

The top dark leafy greens for blood pressure health benefits are:

  • Swiss chard
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Beet greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Dandelion greens

Fresh or frozen vegetables provide similar health benefits. Avoid canned vegetables as they contain added sodium and fewer nutrients.

Try this recipe: Garlicky Collard Greens

3. Bananas

Bananas not only provide potassium, but also fiber, vitamin B6, and magnesium—all of which can help to support heart health and normal blood pressure.

Eat them plain or add them to smoothies, just don’t turn them into dessert.

Try this recipe: Banana Smoothie

4. Fatty Fish

Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and support heart health, good blood pressure, and so much more. You can get the highest amounts from fatty fish foods like salmon and mackerel.

These foods also happen to be some of the few food sources of vitamin D, which also supports healthy blood pressure. Eat salmon or mackerel a few times a week at least to support good blood pressure and fight inflammation.

Try this recipe: Lemon-Garlic Baked Salmon

5. Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds

Seeds provide a good dietary source of magnesium, potassium, and zinc, all of which support healthy blood pressure. They make a great snack, can be added to salads, and can even be used to make your own granola or cereal.

Make sure to get unsalted seeds, though, since salt is a problematic food for blood pressure.

Try this recipe: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (just leave out the salt!)

6. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a heart-healthy fat that fights inflammation and helps to lower blood pressure. It’s so healthy that you can eat it several times a day. Use it to make your own salad dressing or to lightly roast vegetables.

Try this recipe: Apple Cider Vinaigrette

7. Berries

Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all rich in flavonoids that help to prevent hypertension and lower blood pressure when it’s high.

Plus, they’re rich in fiber and other nutrients like magnesium and potassium, both of which support healthy blood pressure levels.

Eat berries raw or in smoothies, or even add them to salads.

Try this recipe: Spinach Blueberry Salad

8. Garlic

Research shows that garlic can help reduce blood pressure by boosting levels of nitric oxide. This helps to relax the arteries and decrease the tension within them, lowering blood pressure. (source)

Garlic can be eaten raw, roasted, or cooked into other dishes, but for the best benefit, you need to use actual garlic cloves—not just garlic powder or other seasoning.

Try this recipe: Roasted Garlic Clove Chicken Thighs

7 Foods That Worsen Blood Pressure Problems

Not only is it important to eat foods that lower blood pressure, it’s also essential to avoid foods that can trigger high blood pressure. These are the worst foods for blood pressure health.

Salt

Of course one of the worst foods for blood pressure is table salt. While Himalayan salt and natural salts are healthier options, it’s still best to eat in moderation. The CDC guidelines suggest 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily at most.

Processed Foods

Most processed foods come with extremely high levels of sodium. These include anything from canned goods to frozen pizza to pickles, junk foods, and beyond. Always check labels for sodium content and try to stick to fresh, unprocessed foods.

Restaurant Foods

Much like processed foods, those prepared in restaurants almost always contain more salt than you can taste. Be mindful of restaurant choices, especially if you eat out a lot.

Cured Meats

Whether it’s deli meat, smoked sausage, or bacon, these cured meats all contain high levels of sodium. Instead of relying on these, opt for freshly cooked meats that are prepared with minimal salt.

Sugar

While salt gets a bad rap when it comes to blood pressure, sugar is just as bad. Sugar in processed foods or even homemade desserts can lead to weight gain, which can put added pressure on arteries and worsen blood pressure. This goes for all sweeteners, too, not just cane sugar.

Caffeine

Caffeine from any beverage or food can increase blood pressure because it stimulates the nervous system and constricts blood vessels. If blood pressure is a challenge, consider going exclusively decaf with all beverages.

Alcohol

Blood pressure can also be raised from alcohol, especially if you drink more than one alcoholic beverage at a time. Regular intake of alcohol on a daily or several-times-a-week basis can also contribute to blood pressure problems.

Alcohol can also change gut health and lead to weight problems, which are bad for blood pressure disorders.

9 Supplements To Help Naturally Lower Blood Pressure

supplements for lower blood pressure

In addition to eating foods that help lower blood pressure, and avoiding foods that worsen it, several supplements are backed by research to help reduce blood pressure.

These are the top supplements to try, but remember, always check with your doctor before starting new supplements, especially if you take any medications.

Vitamin D

Having deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D can lead to blood pressure problems. Optimizing vitamin D levels has been shown by research to improve both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (source, source)

Folate

Also known as vitamin B9, folate can help to reduce blood pressure in both men and women. It plays a special role in helping to promote normal blood pressure in pregnant women, too.

It’s important to choose a supplemental form that is folate, not folic acid. Folic acid is synthetic and cannot be activated into a usable nutrient by as much as 60 percent of the population.

Choose food-based folate or opt for folinic acid or L-5-MTHF (also referred to as methylfolate), which are more easily absorbed and used.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that also acts as an electrolyte in the body. It helps to promote healthy muscle function and plays a role in heart health. By helping to keep the body’s fluid levels balanced, it can decrease blood pressure.

Coenzyme Q10

Sometimes shortened to CoQ10, this antioxidant supplement helps cells function properly and helps to prevent oxidative damage.

It can also help to reduce systolic blood pressure by as much as 17 points and diastolic blood pressure by as much as 10.

Potassium

Another mineral that acts as an electrolyte, potassium is essential for healthy fluid balance in the body. When fluid balance is off, more pressure can be put on the arteries.

Potassium helps take the pressure off of artery walls and helps to lower blood pressure.

Garlic

Garlic cloves are a healthy food for blood pressure, but taken in supplement form it can also be beneficial. It can help to lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension, reducing both systolic and diastolic numbers by around 10 points each.

Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can help to reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation in the body. High-quality fish oil supplements should include both EPA and DHA.

Nattokinase

A supplement derived from fermented soy, it acts a natural type of blood thinner and is often taken as an alternative to baby aspirin.

It has been shown by some research to decrease blood pressure.

Olive Leaf Extract

A potent antiviral, olive leaf extract also has benefits for reducing blood pressure in those who have hypertension. It can also decrease inflammation and promote a healthy immune system.

Bottom Line

Supplements can be a great way to naturally lower blood pressure, but they must be used with caution. Supplements can interact with other supplements, with prescription and over the counter medications, and with health conditions.

Before choosing and starting a supplement, make sure to check with your healthcare provider to rule out interactions and negative side effects, as well as to get advice on the proper dose.

Do not stop blood pressure or other medications on your own without your doctor’s guidance.

Lifestyle Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Diet and supplements together can make a huge impact on reducing blood pressure. But there are also important lifestyle factors to consider.

It is important to avoid lifestyle behaviors that can worsen blood pressure. These include smoking cigarettes and drinking caffeine or alcohol regularly. But they can also include not exercising or being active at all and having unhealthy stress levels.

These are the top ways to support healthy blood pressure with lifestyle.

Exercise: Important for many reasons, regular physical activity is essential for promoting low blood pressure. Whether you walk, run, bike, or swim—or anything in between—what’s important is the regularity of it.

Exercising a few times a month won’t cut it. You need to actively participate in something at least three to five times per week. Aim for 30 minutes each time as a good goal to start.

Losing weight: Maintaining or getting to a healthy weight is important for healthy blood pressure. Obesity adds strain to blood vessels and arteries, increasing the risk for hypertension. Even just losing five or 10 pounds to start can improve blood pressure readings.

Stress management: Almost everyone has stress as part of their life, but unhealthy coping can result in blood pressure problems. Learning to reduce stress in a healthy way can help to reduce high blood pressure.

Consider practicing yoga, seeing a therapist, learning to meditate, or getting acupuncture—all research-backed ways to help the body cope with stress.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Vitamin E Benefits
Health & Wellness, All posts

8 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Vitamin E

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Vitamin E benefits

An antioxidant and essential nutrient, vitamin E is beneficial for many aspects of health, including fighting oxidative stress, protecting heart health, supporting skin health, promoting hormone balance, and more.

Most Americans don’t get enough dietary vitamin E, which could be why supplements are so popular.

However, too much vitamin E can also cause problems—as you will learn below.

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What Is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions as a potent antioxidant in the body. It is naturally found in foods but it also widely available as a supplement.

Antioxidants are necessary because they protect the cells from free radicals, which damage cells and could lead to the development of heart disease and cancer, among other diseases. (source)

We are exposed to free radicals from everyday aspects of life: eating, the environment (like air pollution and secondhand smoke), and UV rays from the sun. There is no way to prevent free radical exposure, which is why it is important to make sure that your body has the tools it needs to help decrease the damage they can cause.

Vitamin E is also an important nutrient for healthy immunity, and it also improves the ability of cells to communicate, for genes to express, and for normal metabolic processes to occur.

Health Benefits of Vitamin E

As you can see, vitamin E has a substantial impact on human health. These are the top research-backed ways that it supports health and promotes wellness.

1. Protects Heart Health

Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death across the world. There is convincing evidence that shows that vitamin E can help to prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease, particularly in middle-aged and older men and women. (source)

Vitamin E can also lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent when taken in supplement form on a regular basis. It can also reduce the risk of mortality from heart disease. (source, source)

While not every study shows unanimous prevention of heart attack, other studies do associate vitamin E with a 21 percent reduced chance of having heart failure. (source)

It’s important to understand that taking excessively high amounts of vitamin E does not increase the protection, and can actually lead to a risk of hemorrhagic stroke or other bleeding complications.

Always take vitamins as directed. Overall, antioxidants such as vitamin E can protect heart health, but need to be combined in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle factors like a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management.

2. Protects Brain Health

Oxidative damage in the brain can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia and lead to cognitive decline. As an antioxidant, vitamin E can help to protect the brain against the rapid degradation of cells. (source)

Supplementing with vitamin E helps reduce cognitive decline over a three year period in people older than 65. (source)

While all research is not unanimous in vitamin E’s brain benefits, it is recognized as an important nutrient for preventing overall oxidative damage.

Since the brain is particularly subject to this due to lifestyle and environmental exposures, diet, and genetics, it could be a helpful tool in preventing or reducing risk of developing age-related cognitive disorders.

3. Fights Free Radical Damage

Free radicals cause problems beyond heart or brain health. They break down healthy cells anywhere in the body. The results can be as extreme as getting cancer, or to a lesser degree, experiencing inflammation or signs of premature aging.

Vitamin E helps to reverse these oxidative damage effects. (source)

Cancer, while a big scary concept, is actually as “simple” as cells that begin to reproduce incorrectly. They become damaged and the checks and balances that keep cells from taking over become lost.

Cancer can be caused by many things, including genetics, but regular exposure to carcinogens, paired with the body’s inability to handle free radicals, can increase the risk. Vitamin E protects cells from being damaged by free radicals.

It may also help protect against cancer by boosting the immune system. (source)

Most cancer research does not find vitamin E in and of itself to be effective against cancer. But in conjunction with other nutrients it may have a protective effect in certain types of cancer or individuals, particularly those exposed to carcinogenic substances.

One study found vitamin E to reduce the occurrence of prostate cancer by 32 percent compared to those not taking the supplement. (source)

However, other studies have found there to be no difference between vitamin E and placebo.

Another study found that vitamin E can decrease the risk of developing colon cancer, particularly in women who are over age 65. (source)

Ultimately, whether vitamin E is anti-cancer or not depends on the person’s individual genetics and other health factors.

4. Protects the Skin & Promotes Wound Healing

Vitamin E is well-known for having skin benefits. It helps to strengthen blood vessel walls, boosts moisture, and increases elasticity—all of which protect the skin from premature signs of aging.

The main reason that vitamin E has these skin benefits is that it fights inflammation internally and topically. Antioxidants help reduce skin damage over time from things like UV rays, secondhand smoke, and other triggers for skin cancer.

Vitamin E paired with vitamin C, another potent antioxidant, helps address acne and eczema when taken orally.

Not all research points to vitamin E as a skin healer, though. Some studies show it’s not effective for healing scars, as is widely believed, while others show that it is when used on healed but recent surgical scars.

5. Promotes Eye Health

Vitamin E has long been used to support eye health, especially in the context of aging. Age-related macular degeneration, also known as AMD, is one of the primary causes of blindness in older individuals. Typically oxidative stress has been assumed to be a trigger in this process.

Studies have shown that vitamin E intakes within the normal range can lead to a 20 percent reduced chance of developing age-related macular degeneration. (source)

Others have found that vitamin E, paired with vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, and copper, was able to reduce the risk of AMD by 25 percent over a five-year period. (source)

6. Promotes Hormone Balance & Relieves PMS

Hormone imbalance can lead to significant life alterations and discomfort. Vitamin E has been shown by research to provide a calming and balancing effect on the nervous system and endocrine system. (source)

Common signs of hormonal problems include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Skin blemishes or changes
  • Weight gain
  • Allergies
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes or disorders

While there are many other signs that hormones could be off-balanced, these tend to show up frequently, especially in women of reproductive age and menopause.

Vitamin E is especially effective when taken the week leading up to menstruation and two to four days into the new cycle. It can help to calm the nervous system and lead to better balance and could also improve other PMS-related symptoms like cramping, cravings, and stress.

7. Supports Healthy Fertility & Pregnancy

Vitamin E helps to protect a developing fetus during the early days of pregnancy when inflammation could result in developmental problems. It affects neurological development, particularly how the brain forms, first during pregnancy and then into the first few years of their life.

Prenatal vitamins include slightly higher amounts of vitamin E for this reason, to boost the levels of pregnant and breastfeeding women. Many infant formulas also contain vitamin E. Supplementation should be considered as part of a healthy diet for children up to age two.

8. Supports Natural Immunity

Vitamin E isn’t the first nutrient you think of when it comes to the immune system, but as an antioxidant, it has a stimulating effect, primarily in older individuals.

One study found that vitamin E supplementation, especially in older people, was able to reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections, most notably the common cold. (source)

It has also been shown to increase immunity in healthy individuals, too. (source)

Vitamin E could also be helpful in optimizing how the body responds to certain vaccinations. One study showed that it influenced how effectively individuals responded to both hepatitis B and tetanus vaccines. (source)

15 Things Vitamin E Won’t Help With (According to Research)

While vitamin E certainly has many health benefits, claims abound on the internet that it can do more than it has been proven to.

The following are not areas where vitamin E has been proven by research to be helpful: (source)

  • Lowering blood glucose levels, insulin, hemoglobin A1c, and treating diabetes
  • Reducing the risk of breast cancer
  • Increasing HDL or lowering LDL cholesterol levels
  • Boosting red blood cells or hemoglobin levels
  • Reducing risk of stroke
  • Increasing levels of thyroid hormones
  • Lowering triglyceride levels
  • Promoting weight loss
  • Treating asthma
  • Reducing cortisol levels

While vitamin E has many benefits, it is not a magic fix, and needs to be consumed in balance with the other essential vitamins and minerals.

Risks of Too Much Vitamin E

While vitamin E can definitely be beneficial in many cases, it’s important not to take too much in supplement form. No risks have been found from consuming vitamin E from foods alone, but high doses of supplements can lead to excessive bleeding and clotting problems, especially when vitamin E is taken together with aspirin. (source)

The upper limit for safe vitamin E intake in adults over age 19 is 1,000 milligrams or 1,500 IU, however several studies find that supplemental vitamin E should max out at no more than 400 IU per day. (source)

Cautions and Who Should Not Take Vitamin E Supplements

Like many other supplements, vitamin E can interact with other supplements or medications. You should always ask your doctor before starting any new supplements to ensure that there will be no interactions or problems.

Vitamin E should not be taken by people who take:

  • Blood thinners
  • Antiplatelet medications
  • Cholesterol medication
  • Niacin

Vitamin E is also not safe to be taken during cancer treatments or chemotherapy.

Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin E

Vitamin E needs are met for most people when they get 15 milligrams or 22.4 IU each day, which is drastically lower than most supplement doses. Children need even less.

The safest way to optimize vitamin E intake might be to focus on eating more foods that contain this antioxidant nutrient.

Vitamin E Foods

Vitamin E Foods

There are many food sources of natural vitamin E. These include:

  • Wheat germ oil = 1 tbsp, 100% daily value
  • Sunflower seeds = 1 tbsp, 37% daily value
  • Almonds = 1 ounce, 34% daily value
  • Hazelnuts = 1 ounce, 22% daily value
  • Spinach = ½ cup, 10% daily value
  • Broccoli = ½ cup, 6% daily value
  • Mango = ½ cup, 4% daily value
  • Tomato = 1 medium, 4% daily value

If you eat a balanced diet and take a multivitamin, odds are you are meeting your body’s basic needs for vitamin E.

Vitamin E Supplements

When does someone need to take vitamin E on its own? Ideally only if directed by your doctor. Since the recommended daily amount is just 22 IU for most adults, it’s possible that regularly taking a standalone supplement could quickly lead to excess vitamin E intake.

Vitamin E supplements come in many types and doses, and it’s crucial to look at the dose you’re taking from all supplements combined. Some antioxidant supplements will also include vitamin E, too. Then, consider how much you’re regularly getting from your diet.

If you need help determining optimal vitamin E intake, consult a nutritionist who can assess your dietary habits. Always keep your doctor informed about the supplements you take and any changes to your routine.

Bottom Line

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant nutrient that is vital for many reasons. However, it is not needed in high amounts to be effective. Research shows several benefits for it, but there are also some downsides and risks to taking vitamin E supplements.

Make sure that you’ve considered all aspects of your personal health before supplementing with vitamin E on its own and be sure to get your doctor’s feedback before starting it if you already take other medications.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Evening Primrose Oil
Natural Living, All posts

7 Ways Evening Primrose Oil Reduces Inflammation & Promotes Health

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil—EPO for short—is a plant extract that is commonly taken as a supplement. It is rich in gamma-linolenic acid, also known as GLA.

It is used for many different things, ranging from PMS relief to eczema to diabetes and beyond.

This article will explore the evidence-based health benefits of EPO along with information on how to take and cautions.

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What is Evening Primrose Oil?

Evening primrose oil comes from a flowering plant with yellow blossoms. It is named as such because the flowers bloom in the evenings. It was first used by Native Americans as a medicinal substance.

The plant is naturally found in Europe and parts of the United States and North America. It has been used for hundreds of years as a healing remedy for wounds and even hormone problems.

The oil extracted from the seeds of the plant is rich in GLA, which is beneficial for a variety of conditions. Evening primrose oil helps support healthy fatty acid ratios in the body.

The specific type of fatty acid found in EPO also fights inflammation both topically and internally.

Health Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil has many health benefits. While it is frequently used for many reasons, these are the top evidence-backed ways that EPO can support health.

1. Alleviates Menopause Symptoms

There is mixed evidence for evening primrose oil and menopause. Some studies show no benefit, while others find that EPO can improve hot flashes relating to menopause, as well as other hormone-based symptoms like breast tenderness, mood swings, and even fluid retention or bloating.

While the results are mixed, some of the other health benefits—like supporting bone health—are applicable for women in menopause. More studies need to be done to effectively understand exactly how EPO can help menopause and provide natural relief for symptoms.

2. Addresses Eczema

Eczema is a complicated skin disorder that has roots in autoimmunity and inflammation. Research has not produced conclusive results, but oral and topical use for eczema could show promise.

Evening primrose oil might be beneficial for eczema because it can reduce inflammation in the body and help to promote fatty acid balance. In other countries, evening primrose oil is sometimes used as a prescribed treatment for eczema.

When using for eczema relief, EPO was taken orally for up to 12 weeks or used topically for up to four months. Before using anything topically, it’s always important to perform a patch test to ensure that a widespread allergic reaction or irritation won’t occur.

3. May Help Address Nerve Pain

Nerve pain is a common side effect of many conditions, including diabetes. The linolenic acid in evening primrose oil might be beneficial for addressing nerve pain symptoms such as numbness or tingling, weakness, and hot/cold sensitivity. (source)

Evening primrose oil has been found to be particularly successful at addressing nerve pain when other more conventional treatments have failed.

Typically, evening primrose oil taken for between six and 12 months can help to reduce pain and symptoms associated with nerve damage, especially when associated with diabetic neuropathy.

4. Treats Acne and Promotes Skin Health

Evening primrose oil has often been used as a natural way to treat and relieve acne, pimples, or other skin conditions. The fatty acids in EPO can help to promote healthy skin elasticity and firmness along with moisture.

It can be especially effective for acne because of its ability to reduce inflammation, with research finding that it is effective for reducing lesions and breakouts. (source)

It can be used both topically and internally to address acne and overall skin health needs.

5. Promotes Heart Health and Normal Blood Pressure

While more research is needed to fully understand and outline the benefits of evening primrose oil for heart health and blood pressure, it has promising benefits for heart health primarily due to its ability to reduce inflammation.

With more than 600,000 people dying each year in the U.S. from heart disease alone, continuing to find ways to benefit and treat this condition is a top priority.

EPO has even been shown to help balance cholesterol, although it’s not clear if it can prevent cholesterol from oxidizing—which is the primary way that cholesterol affects heart health.

Taking evening primrose oil for heart health can be beneficial, but research has not yet identified a specific, actionable dose. Follow your doctor’s recommendations or dosing instructions.

6. Supports Bone Health

Evening primrose oil can be used in conjunction with other nutrients to improve bone density and slow bone loss, especially in menopausal women.

It is most often paired with calcium, vitamin D, and fish oil for optimal benefits.

Research has not identified why EPO supports bone health on its own, but together with these other nutrients, it helps keep inflammation in check.

7. Relieves PMS Symptoms

There are many causes and triggers for PMS, but some research suggests that women who experience it worse have more sensitivity to the hormone prolactin.

The GLA found in evening primrose oil can help to reduce the sensitive effects of prolactin and the way that it can trigger PMS.

Other research has shown evening primrose oil to help reduce other aspects of PMS like mood swings, irritability, depression, bloating, and more. (source)

It’s also effective when paired with vitamin E and vitamin B6 for PMS relief.

Evening primrose oil might also be able to help with breast pain associated with menstrual cycle hormone changes. Studies show that it’s because EPO can block prostaglandins that trigger breast tenderness.

Evening primrose oil, when taken daily, can have this benefit. (source)

Conditions That Are Not Improved With Evening Primrose Oil

While evening primrose oil has some convincing evidence for certain health conditions, there are some that it is frequently touted for that is not backed by any level of research.

It should not be used as a general GLA supplement since it has several interactions (see below), and should not be used to treat or address any of the following conditions or disorders.

The following are unproven ways to use evening primrose oil:

  • Asthma
  • ADHD
  • Arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Hepatitis B
  • Liver cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Diaper rash
  • Dyslexia
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Induction of labor
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Infertility

How to Take Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose Oil Benefits

The recommended dose of evening primrose oil varies based on the product strength and suggested dosage. It’s important to check with your healthcare provider before starting evening primrose oil and to get a recommendation of product, dose, intake, and duration.

There are many evening primrose products available online and in health food stores, but many supplements contain extra ingredients or fillers that could change the way they work. Always buy from a reputable source and follow product instructions.

Choosing products that have little to no “inactive ingredients” is the best option, along with reading and understanding every other ingredient in the product. If you have questions on a product, ask your healthcare provider, pharmacist, or contact the manufacturing company.

Cautions, Side Effects, and Who Should Avoid Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil is generally considered to be safe, especially when it’s used for a short-term duration (less than four months). It has not been studied for long-term use and could be dangerous if taken for longer periods of time.

Some potential side effects associated with taking evening primrose oil include:

  • Changed bowel patterns (such as softer stools)
  • Stomach ache or nausea
  • Headache

Because evening primrose oil is plant-derived, it can cause allergic reactions in rare cases. If you take EPO and experience rash, wheezing, difficulty breathing, or any other signs of an allergic reaction, discontinue use and seek emergency medical care immediately.

It can also cause allergic reactions if it comes into contact during the manufacturing process with other allergenic substances. Always read the label carefully and ask questions if you are not sure.

Evening primrose oil can interact with certain medications and other supplements. Do not take evening primrose oil if you take any of the following:

  • Blood thinners or anticoagulants
  • Aspirin or NSAID drugs (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
  • Antiplatelet drugs
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Nattokinase
  • Cytochrome P450 substrates
  • Lopinavir, ritonavir, or any other medication or treatment for HIV
  • Any other supplements for blood pressure
  • Medication for seizures
  • Phenothiazines or other medications for schizophrenia
  • CBD oil

This is not a full list of possible interactions, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting evening primrose oil.

Stop taking evening primrose oil at least two weeks before surgery since it can increase the risk of bleeding. It should also not be taken within two weeks before or after receiving general anesthesia as this can increase the risk of seizures and complications.

While evening primrose oil has many benefits, using it incorrectly could make it a dangerous supplement. Always seek personalized medical advice before starting this or any supplement.

The FDA does not regulate supplements for safety, only for the claims that they make.

Evening Primrose Oil and Pregnancy

Another note of caution is that evening primrose oil is frequently used to help a woman’s body prepare for labor during pregnancy.

It is sometimes taken orally to help prepare and tone the uterus for delivery, and other times it is used topically or internally to help prepare the cervix (ripening the cervix and leading to dilation) or to massage the perineum to prevent tearing.

None of these uses are supported by research. In fact, research shows that none of these are effective and that their uses in pregnancy could be unsafe. EPO has actually been associated with slowing down the time to dilation and leading to longer labor along with complications.

It can potentially increase the risk of preterm labor in those who are at risk for other reasons and can be problematic for high-risk pregnancies. If taking shortly before delivery, it can increase the risk of postpartum hemorrhage or complications following a cesarean birth.

Always keep your OBGYN apprised of supplements you take during pregnancy and do not self-medicate. Most supplements have not been studied for safety in pregnancy and can be dangerous to the mother, baby, or both.

Bottom Line

While evening primrose oil has some great health benefits as a complementary and alternative medicine, it has not been as widely studied as certain other supplements. More research is needed to determine what exactly evening primrose oil is good for, how safe it is, and what doses are effective.

Evening primrose oil should never be used to self-medicate or to replace anything that your doctor has prescribed. There is also no single dosage standard for evening primrose oil.

One product could be significantly more potent than another, so it’s important to get your healthcare provider’s feedback on how much you should be taking. If you’re unsure, always start with the lowest possible dose to see if it is effective. This helps to minimize risk and side effects.

If you’re wondering whether evening primrose oil could help you, the best way is to check with your healthcare provider. This natural medicine could be the perfect remedy—just make sure it’s applicable to your health needs.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Calcium supplements
Nutrition, All posts

7 Reasons Why Calcium Is Essential for More Than Just Bone Health

Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy

Calcium Supplements

Calcium is well-known for its role in bone health—it’s shouted from commercials, advertisements, and most doctor offices. Everyone needs calcium for healthy bones.

Yet calcium supplements are essential for many other health reasons, much like other nutrients are also critical for bone wellness (like magnesium and vitamin D, to name a few).

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What is Calcium?

Calcium is an essential mineral and the most abundant mineral in the human body. It is required for many aspects of health, including:

  • Bone strength and skeletal structure
  • Normal heart rhythm
  • Muscular function
  • Healthy blood pressure
  • Normal cholesterol levels
  • Nerve communication and signaling
  • Balance of minerals magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium in the blood
  • And more

A deficiency in calcium isn’t only harmful for bones, but it’s detrimental for heart heart, the nervous system, the muscular system, and beyond.

While it’s true that most of the body’s calcium stores are held in the bones and teeth (approximately 99 percent of it), it’s still needed for other reasons. The other one percent of calcium lives in various tissues throughout the body. (source)

Calcium is needed on a daily basis from dietary sources. The recommended daily amount for adult men and women under age 50 is 1,000 milligrams, and over age 50 increases to 1,200 milligrams.

Children need between 200 and 700 milligrams daily, depending on age, and teenagers need 1,300 milligrams daily to support the rapid growth and expansion of the skeletal frame in the teen years.

Low levels of calcium at any age can lead to serious problems. Signs of low calcium can include:

  • Bones that fracture easily
  • Osteoporosis diagnosis
  • Osteopenia diagnosis
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Poor growth and development in children and teens
  • Blood pressure problems or heart arrhythmias
  • Poor energy levels and fatigue

The body works hard to keep calcium levels stable at all times, so when it’s low in tissues, it can pull calcium from bone stores. The problem is that, over time, this results in the bones being deficient in this crucial nutrient.

At some point in the aging process, it can be difficult to recoup these losses. Bone density begins to naturally decline in the 30s and rapidly progresses after menopause sets in for women, and after age 50 for men.

Certain people have a higher risk for calcium deficiency than others. Risk factors can include:

  • Children and adolescents who are experiencing rapid times of growth and development
  • Pregnant women
  • Postmenopausal women
  • Diets high in grains, beans, and legumes
  • Diets excessively high in protein or sodium
  • Long-term use of steroids
  • People who don’t eat any dairy products
  • People with insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels
  • People who have digestive problems that make it hard to absorb nutrients from food

Even though calcium is found in many food sources, many adults in the United States and across the world do not get enough each day to maintain healthy bone and tissue levels.

While this affects both men and women, women are at greater risk from long-term lower levels.

7 Health Benefits of Calcium

While bone health is a crucial aspect of calcium, it is far from the only reason that we need it. These are the top reasons why the body needs calcium.

1. Healthy Bones and Teeth

Calcium is needed for the growth and health of the entire skeletal structure. The same is true for teeth.

Calcium works with other nutrients, like magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin D, and phosphorous, to provide strong bones that support the weight of the body. Without enough calcium, bones will be weak and brittle and prone to easy breaks.

Calcium also helps to prevent tooth decay and promotes healthy teeth and gums.

2. Healthy Blood Pressure Levels

Calcium is a mineral that is crucial for helping to regulate heart functions. This is because it helps to dilate blood vessels, allowing blood to pass more freely through them, and reducing the likelihood that arterial plaque will build up.

Calcium also helps to send chemical nerve signals from the brain to the heart, which promotes normal heart rhythms, blood pressure, and healthy systemic circulation.

Ensuring that calcium levels are adequate has been shown by research to help lower blood pressure in people who were diagnosed with hypertension. (source)

Boosting calcium levels by using supplements as needed has further supported the role that calcium has in reducing blood pressure levels.

3. Healthy Glucose Levels

Calcium isn’t only important for bone health, it also supports glucose metabolism and how the body handles the digestion of carbohydrates. It can even be helpful in preventing diabetes, according to research. (source)

This is because calcium, along with vitamin D, acts on cells in the pancreas that regulate how much insulin is made and released. The amount of insulin released determines how much blood sugar is taken into cells versus how much remains in circulation.

Regular intake of calcium at the RDA or higher (1,200 milligrams) was associated with a more than 30 percent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (source)

While there are other factors in preventing diabetes, this research shows that calcium is critical for other aspects of health that go beyond bone strength alone.

It’s also possible to assume that those who eat nutrient-rich diets, including those with adequate calcium, are also doing other things to reduce the risk of diabetes. Either way, optimal levels of calcium are required in both scenarios.

4. Reduced Risk for Certain Types of Cancer

Cancer prevention is a popular topic and for good reason—it’s often easier to prevent something than to cure it.

Research shows a strong association between healthy calcium levels, paired with good vitamin D intake, and a reduced risk of developing 15 different types of cancer, including: (source)

  • Colon cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Gastric cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Renal (kidney) cancer

Research shows a strong association between optimal levels of calcium and a reduced chance of developing these types.

Calcium could have anti-cancer properties due to the way that it induces cell death in cancerous cells and the checks and balances it introduces for cell reproduction. (source)

However, simply supplementing with high levels of calcium don’t provide anti-cancer benefits. Calcium needs to be obtained naturally through dietary sources to primarily have the overall health benefits.

5. Healthy Muscles and Nerves

Calcium is necessary for the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that help to regulate muscle movements and contractions, as well as nerve signaling.

It helps cells communicate better, relay nerve impulses, and activate proteins in the body that control voluntary and involuntary movement. (source)

Calcium is also essential for helping to maintain healthy glucose levels. This is important because the muscles draw from glucose stores to get fuel for the energy needed to move.

Without adequate calcium levels, this process can be compromised, and the results could be muscle spasms and cramps, fatigue, and poor nerve function.

6. Supports Healthy Body Weight

Everyone seems to be looking for the magic bullet to fight obesity and promote healthy, natural weight loss.

While nothing is a quick or magic fix, healthy calcium levels are associated with maintaining healthy body weight in both men and women.

Low calcium levels contribute to weight problems by triggering excess parathyroid hormone to be released. This causes the body to withdraw more calcium from bone stores.

However, excess parathyroid also triggers the production and storage of fat, preventing its breakdown, and contributing to excess body weight.

7. Supports Kidney Health

Kidneys filter fluids in the body and get rid of waste. Because of this, they can be at risk for developing stones of oxalate deposits as waste passes through.

In the past, it was assumed that high levels of mineral intake was what caused these to occur, but more modern research shows that optimal intake levels of calcium actually decrease the risk of developing kidney stones, along with drinking plenty of fluids and maintaining healthy hydration levels.

Bottom Line

Calcium is a vital nutrient that supports skeletal health. While 99 percent of calcium stores live in the body’s bones and teeth, the other one percent that is found in tissues is vital for health and wellness.

While calcium is essential for health, how you get it matters equally as much. Those who have low dietary calcium intake might be tempted to simply get all of their calcium from supplements alone, but the absorption rate and other nutrient balance does not make this an equal choice.

In fact, research finds that excessive supplementation from calcium without a high level from foods can result in an increased risk for heart attack. (source)

The Best Dairy-Free Foods That Are Rich In Calcium

We all know that dairy products are high in calcium, but many adults and children can’t digest dairy. You can still get plenty of dietary calcium from non-dairy food sources.

Dairy-free foods that are naturally high in calcium include:

  • Bone-in sardines (1 cup = 57 percent RDA)
  • Almonds (¼ cup = 14 percent RDA)
  • Raw kale (1 cup = 9 percent RDA)
  • Raw okra (1 cup = 8 percent RDA)
  • Bok choy (1 cup = 7 percent RDA)
  • Broccoli (1 cup = 5 percent RDA)
  • Watercress (1 cup = 4 percent RDA)

While calcium foods contain some of the highest amounts of calcium per serving, sardines are actually higher than milk or cheese. Research shows that calcium from dairy sources is not superior, as many in the past have claimed.

It is especially not effective for people who struggle to digest lactose or who are allergic to milk protein to assume that they need dairy products to have healthy calcium levels.

Whether you eat dairy products or not, getting calcium from food sources is optimal. If it is not possible to get enough calcium from food alone, supplements may be used, but it is not healthy to rely only on supplements, and can, in fact, be risky or disruptive to overall mineral balances.

How to Supplement with Calcium

If you do need to up the amount of calcium in your diet and plan to use a supplement, be sure that you approach it as a supplement and that you are not aiming to get all 1,000 milligrams or more from a capsule alone.

Additionally, the calcium-filled antacids are not the optimal form of calcium and can also reduce stomach acid too much, compromising digestion and making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients in general.

If you plan to supplement with calcium, be sure to check with your doctor first and ask if it’s recommended. Second, ask the maximum number of milligrams you should take each day from supplements.

If you take a multivitamin, check the number of milligrams in that first. Next, choose a high-quality supplement that contains no additional ingredients.

It’s also a good idea to pair calcium with vitamin D supplementation if needed.

This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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