That “Caffeine Running Through Your Veins” Joke Isn’t So Funny

Soda, coffee, even chocolate–caffeine is everywhere, and if you’re like me, you’re guilty of using the wonder stay-awake drug, too. After all, it’s viewed as relatively harmless and people have been using it to cram for finals or make it through the workday for decades.

As it turns out, that cup of joe may be making part of its way out of your cup and into your bloodstream, according to a new study from the Oregon State University that was published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis (https://today.oregonstate.edu/news/we-love-coffee-tea-chocolate-and-soft-drinks-so-much-caffeine-literally-our-blood).

For the study, the research team bought 18 batches of what was considered “pure” human blood serum from various donors. All the samples were then tested for caffeine and came up positive. In the test results, researchers also found that many samples had traces of drugs used to treat anxiety and cold medicines. These findings suggest that what are held as “pure” blood samples may not be very pure, and that it may be possible your blood is contaminated by any drugs you take.

Luying Chen, a researcher involved in the study, said that caffeine is not necessarily a big concern for patients, although it can be viewed as a commentary on our caffeine-obsessed and time-demanding society, but the the presence of other drugs found in the human serum may pose a problem for patients and researchers since it’s already difficult to get blood samples that are viewed as clean.

The researchers also suggested that, based on their findings, the chances of a person receiving some amount of various drugs and caffeine in their system via a blood transfusion is high. As explained by researcher Richard van Breemen, it’s impossible to say exactly how widespread this issue could be without the completion of a comprehensive survey of blood labs and vendors. Van Breemen also noted that the researchers just happened to find those drugs as part of the study’s parameters, and there could be many other substances we take in the blood that they simply didn’t test for.

Of course, it’s too early to tell what the effect of having these trace substances in your blood could mean for medical researchers who need pure blood samples and people on the receiving end of transfusions. However, as this study shows, you may very well be more of what you consume than we all originally thought.

The Controversy Surrounding Mammograms

I’ve got to get serious for a moment, folks, and talk about something that impacts the lives of millions of women and their families: breast cancer. While treatments have improved, this cancer is still far too common, affecting one of every eight women in the US according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts).

As part of the gold standard for detecting this disease early, mammograms are something that we’ve all heard recommended. But what shocked me and may shock you is the fact that studies are showing this diagnostic tool may not be the solution we thought it was.

One study, conducted by researchers at Dartmouth University and published in the New England Journal of Medicine (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1600249), came to the conclusion that a mammogram is more likely to catch to a small tumor that would remain benign than a tumor likely to become bigger and life-threatening. The researchers in this study reviewed research from the past 35 years, finding that around two thirds of the tumors detected by mammograms where less than two centimeters, non-harmful growths that were not likely to progress to cancer.

Another study, conducted by Danish researchers and published in The Annals of Internal Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28114661), had findings similar to the Dartmouth study. The Danish researchers also concluded that possibly one in every three women diagnosed with breast cancer had a tumor that may never have been life-threatening and received unnecessary medical treatment as a result. In the Danish study, researchers examined the medical records of all women who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer from 1980 to 2010. Based on the availability of mammogram screenings in the various regions of the country, researchers found that anywhere from 15 to 39 percent of the breast tumors found would not have become harmful.

Of course, these conclusions are somewhat controversial, although they are not entirely new. In 2012, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied data from Norway and found that 15 to 25 percent of breast cancer cases that were revealed via a mammogram were over-diagnosed and never would have become dangerous tumors (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/04/mammography-tied-to-overdiagnosis/).

Naturally, this doesn’t mean mammograms are over. More studies on these area are needed, and we still don’t entirely know which women should have mammograms and how often. As more data comes to light, the use of these diagnostic tools is likely to change for the better.

Sleep Actually Removes Toxins Right From Your Brain

Sleep, that elusive creature! None of us get enough of it. I know I certainly don’t sometimes with everything I’ve got planned and whatever else decides to pop up.

But, my friends, I’ve since learned that sleep does a lot of wonderful things beyond allowing me to function for another day. In fact, it looks like sleeping actually allows for the flushing of toxins from your brain, according to recent research.

Scientific American (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deep-sleep-gives-your-brain-a-deep-clean1/) reports that a study saw researchers monitoring brainwaves of 13 adults while they were sleeping using an fMRI, which measures brain activity by checking blood flow changes, and electroencephalography. They discovered that when people were in non-REM sleep, there were slow waves happening at the same time as blood flow and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) changes. This suggests that the brain activity caused a blood flow change, which led to a reduced volume of blood on the brain, then CSF came in to full up the space.

Laura Lewis, a neuroscientist at Boston University who led the study, said the large CSF waves only appear in the brain during sleep. Researchers are hoping to study this effect further to see how it relates to brain health, especially when it comes to disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. People with these conditions have fewer slow brain waves, leading researchers to wonder whether they also have fewer CSF waves.

It’s time to sleep

The long list of benefits associated with good sleep keeps growing, and the same applies to the negative consequences of a lack of quality sleep. If you’re struggling to get your seven to eight hours a night, there are some things you can do to improve your odds.

If you haven’t yet reduced your nighttime blue light exposure, now’s the time to start. Blue light is the artificial light given off by many devices, including tablets and cellphones, and it tells your brain it’s time to stay up instead of sleep. If you can’t give up your late-night device use, activate blue light filters to reduce the blue light being given off by those devices at night. Many devices have a blue light filter built in, and if not, you can find apps to do the job.

You can also reduce daytime naps, reduce the amount of caffeine you drink at night, and start carving out your days so that you are leaving yourself with enough time to get your full hours of sleep.

The Frightening Link Between Chemicals and Male Infertility

Whether you want to be a dad or not, it’s still nice to have the option. Being told kids are off the table for you isn’t the best experience, and it can screw up your current or future life plans in a big way.

And while I hate to be alarmist, the way human fertility is on a downward spiral in general isn’t great news for humanity as a whole. There are a lot of different things causing this trend, but some research I’m going to share with you seems to point toward a more recent love of humanity: the use of chemicals in just about everything.

Male infertility rates soaring

Between 1973 and 2013, male sperm counts declined by over 50 percent, according to an analysis published in the Human Reproduction Update journal (https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article/23/6/646/4035689). In that data, researchers noticed that the largest decline appeared in samples from men in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and North America.

There are a lot of factors that can impact male fertility, but research suggests that chemicals that disrupt endocrines–the messaging system of your body that’s responsible for hormone activity–deserve a large share of the blame for the dramatic decline in male reproductive health. These chemicals are found in many areas of daily life, including herbicides, non-organic foods, plastics and personal care products.

The US currently allows more than 84,000 different chemicals to be used in food, food packaging, household items and cosmetics, and many of these were not thoroughly tested for safety – or even tested at all. In a 2005 study by the Environmental Working Group, researchers actually found that there were around 200 pollutants and industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of US-born babies.

Of course, as noted above, other factors besides chemicals can impact male fertility. Nutritional deficiencies, immune system issues, obesity, stress and a sedentary lifestyle can all wreak havoc on male reproductive health.

Women are also negatively impacted by these chemicals, but male reproductive health is more affected due to how the male reproductive system develops in the womb. At the start, female and male fetuses are pretty identical. Hormones are what drive the differentiation between male and female, so when synthetic chemicals that mimic natural hormones enter the mix, they interfere with biological process that results in a male fetus.

If you’re worried about your reproductive health, speak to your doctor as soon as you can for support and help.

Knock Down Your Resting Heart Rate

I bet you know exactly what your heart rate goes up to at the gym, but do you know what’s like when you’re just sitting there watching Netflix?

It may not seem super important, but your resting heart rate can say a lot about your health and fitness level. A lower heart rate usually means a higher level of fitness, and that’s associated with reduced heart trouble risk. But if your heart rate at rest is higher, it can signal an increased risk of heart problems. That’s why, my friends, it’s time to learn how to get yours down!

A heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minutes while at rest is considered normal, but research has indicated that a rate between 60 to 80 is ideal. A ten-year study published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1104748) found that people who had a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute or less had a lower death risk than those with rates of 70 to 85 beats per minute.

To get your resting heart rate, check in the morning; changes in body position, hydration, and activity levels all affect the measurement. Keep in mind that your age, medications, level of exercise and genetics can also impact your resting heart rate. Once you know what yours is, you can check it several times in a week to see what the trends are, and you can start working on lowering it using the tips below.

Hit the gym

Both strength training and aerobics can help lower your resting heart rate by improving your heart health. If you’ve not yet committed to any sort of regular exercise routine, now’s the time to start!

Reduce anxiety and stress

Of course, this is easier said than done, but anxiety and stress are unnecessary strains on your health. Try walking, reading more–whatever it is that can help you decompress each day. Yoga, meditation and some other activities have also been linked to reduced anxiety and stress.

Get some sleep

Getting the right amount of good, restful sleep improves your heart rate, your health and your performance in general. While recommendations vary, most experts agree that between seven and eight hours of sleep each night is what adults need.

Your resting heart rate is an indication of your heart’s health and performance. Knock that number down to get the most out of your body.

Get More Protein on Your Plant-Based Diet

I’m willing to bet you are on, have tried and are going to try again, or are thinking about trying a plant-based diet. After all, it’s pretty much the thing to do right now, and for good reason. Plant-based diets offer a lot of benefits and can have a great impact on the health of many people.

But, here’s the thing: it can be tough to get all the proteins you need on these types of diets, and you do really need those proteins for your health and your body’s overall performance. Your body uses 20 amino acids, and nine of those are considered vital, the essential amino acids (EAAs).

How much protein do you need?

Your level of activity, age and gender determine what protein level you should aim for. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in the US is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, but that doesn’t account for people who are more active.

If you’re pretty active, you need a bit more than that, but not as much as you may have heard. Studies, including one published in The Journal of Applied Physiology, have put the recommendation for active people at around 0.55 grams per pound of body weight (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2745350).

Once you’ve got your own needs calculated, you can try the methods below to help you meet them.

Aim for complete EAA plants

There are a few plants that have complete EAA profiles–all nine of the essentials in a significant amount–that you can add to your diet. These include buckwheat, quinoa, tofu and hemp seeds.

Combine when necessary

You can combine foods together that don’t have all nine EAAs on their own but do when they are combined. These don’t need to be eaten together, but they should be consumed over the course of an entire day. Some common pairings include nut butter with whole grain bread, rice and beans, and stews or soups that contain both grains and legumes.

Use supplements as needed

Unfortunately, plant proteins are usually more difficult for your body to digest than animal ones, and your body only will absorb and use a fraction of the EAAs in a plant protein. Steps like soaking and sprouting seeds, grains and nuts help, but that’s not always going to be practical.

If you feel you’re not getting enough protein, you can use plant-based protein supplements. This include vegan EAAs and plant-based blends and isolates in powders and other forms.

A plant-based diet can be a game-changer for your health, but you’ve got to always make sure you’re getting enough protein in number and variety!

There is No Age Limit on Strength Training

Do you know that anyone can pump iron, even your grandmother? I’m just going to leave you with that mental image for a while….

Anyway, we are all impressed by those older bodybuilders who look better than we ever did at any age, and while you don’t have to go that far, anyone at any age can engage in strength training for more stable joints and better overall health.

There’s no age limit on training

Just about anyone can do strength training, but shockingly few of us actually do it – even among those of us who exercise regularly. As reported by the Minn Post, close to 60 percent of all adults in the US don’t bother with any form of strength training at all (https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2018/12/nearly-60-of-u-s-adults-do-no-strength-training-study-suggests/). That’s a lot of people whose sole form of weightlifting is moving a cell phone. While smaller kids, of course, do need to wait until their bones are strong enough, strength training is for people in most age groups, even those in their 90s. It’s one area of exercise that can be tailored to just about any need.

It helps your joints

As Harvard Medical School points out, strength training can help protect and support joints, and it can also ease stiffness, pain and some swelling, even in people with arthritis (https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-weight-training-tips-for-people-with-arthritis). Naturally, the thought of starting a strength training program may seem off the wall to someone with arthritis, but when done properly, it can be very beneficial and improve your quality of life.

Choose a trainer who has experience working with people with joint conditions if you have any form of arthritis as they will be able to develop a safe and effective program for you. If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, it’s recommended that you do water exercises instead of weights when you are in a period of active inflammation.

The way weights can help boost your joints is surprisingly simple: when you have stronger muscles, they’re better able to support your joints. When you have more muscle and less fat, that’s less strain on your joints, too.

Your joints can cause a lot of problems in your daily life when they develop issues, whether it’s from injury, age or a medical condition. Consider adding strength training to your regular routine to help keep your joints in the best possible shape.

3 Tips for Balancing Your Hormones

Hey readers, guess what? As you’re sitting there right now, the hormones in your body are making everything awesome–or not. These signaling molecules tell your body what work to do, when to do it and for how long. They’re like a bunch of tiny bosses, and how well they run the office has a pretty strong impact on your health and how you feel in general.

Naturally, when your hormones aren’t balanced, it can wreck havoc on your body. For women, for example, it can mean hot flashes, skin breakouts, stomach trouble and more. For men, it can bring weight gain, tiredness, trouble sleeping and other negative effects. To get yourself started on the way to a more level you, here’s what you can try.

Find out what’s lacking

You can have your hormone levels tested by a medical professional to see where you are lacking. Like many other facets of life, too much isn’t good; hormone levels that are too high aren’t any better than those that are too low. When you know what your baseline is, you’ll be able to target the hormones that are out of whack instead of messing up in areas where your body is doing just fine. As you make adjustments, you may want to get more testing done to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Eat more real food

Processed food in general just isn’t good news for your hormones. Dangerous types of fats and refined carbs can cause hormone levels to rise, and this may even be behind menopausal symptom severity for women. Sugar, unhealthy oils, processed salt and other chemical additives can alter critical hormone levels and are to be avoided as much as possible, too.

Try Ashwagandha for your thyroid

Your thyroid hormones are responsible for the all-important speed of your metabolism, and some studies have found that the herb may help normalize thyroid levels. In a study in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found that Ashwagandha boosted thyroid levels when compared to a placebo they used (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2017.0183). The study used 600 mg daily doses of the root extract, but there is not yet a consensus on the ideal dose. Keep in mind that if taken in very large quantities, Ashwagandha can cause stomach upset.

Your hormones, though they’re never seen, have a profound impact on how you feel and your health every single day. Remember the tips above so you can get your hormones back on a level playing field.

One is a Dangerous Number for Your Heart, As It Turns Out

So, my friends, it just so happens that one isn’t just the loneliest number; it can also mean some disastrous things for your heath health. When you feel alone, isolated and just disconnected from others, it not only impacts your mental state but your heart health.

Loneliness is a terrible thing to experience on its own, and the findings of a study on how it impacts your health are pretty alarming.

The recent study, which was carried out by scientists from the University of Copenhagen and reported on by the Telegraph, included 13,443 people who had had a heart attack. After taking a look at the health outcomes for each person, the researchers found that men who reported being lonely were twice as likely to die a year after their heart attack compared to men who didn’t report loneliness, and women fared even worse at three times as likely (https://www.msn.com/en-ae/lifestyle/wellbeing/loneliness-is-a-killer-the-health-problems-associated-with-an-isolated-life/ar-AAJWosz?li=BBqrVLO).

Other studies have been carried out on the impact of being alone on your health, and none of them have had good results. Researchers have found that lonely people sleep more poorly, have reduced function and are more likely to have inflammation than people who have a network of family or friends.

While social media may seem like the answer to loneliness, it really isn’t. It’s not been found to be a proper replacement for a community simply because we weren’t made to relate to each other without face-to-face contact. That’s why talking to loved ones over the phone, especially ones who are far away, doesn’t feel the same as seeing them in person.

What you can do

If you feel disconnected from others, you may feel depressed and anxious, and you’re certainly not alone when struggling with loneliness. You can start taking some steps to get yourself back out there and avoid experiencing the negative consequences loneliness can bring, such as:

•       Getting a new job or making some life change
•       Adopting a furry or reptilian friend
•       Joining a volunteer group
•       Working out with other people
•       Using digital media to connect with people when necessary
•       Taking a social media break if it’s making you feel more lonely
•       Learning a new skill

It’s never easy to get back into the community, but trust me: you can do it. Start off easy with one of the steps above to get yourself back out there!

Move Over, 10,000 Steps!

I bet you’ve heard that 10,000 steps is the magic number for good health, the future and that winning lottery ticket… it’s been advertised everywhere so much that I started counting my steps in my head when I forgot my handy counter!

I’m going to take a wild guess and say you, like me, had no idea that the 10,000-steps figure had no basis in science but actually came from an old ad campaign for a pedometer.

We do need to keep moving, don’t get me wrong. As the Washington Post reports, the average US adult spends more than six hours a day sitting, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-big-numberthe-average-us-adult-sits-65-hours-a-day-for-teens-its-even-more/2019/04/26/7c29e4c2-676a-11e9-a1b6-b29b90efa879_story.html), and working out later isn’t enough to counteract the negative effects. Nevertheless, taking 10,000 steps doesn’t appear to be necessary to ward off the effects of not moving for hours everyday, and that lengthy recommendation can be a dissuading roadblock for some people.

Where the magic number came from

The idea behind walking for 10,000 steps per day comes from an 1965 ad campaign by the Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company to promote their new pedometer at the time. Companies in the US later adopted the same figure, which is why you see it everywhere now.

What you do need

Researchers don’t yet have a firmly established number of steps that you should aim for, but studies have been carried out exploring the matter. A recent study in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal shed some light on this area when it comes to women (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2734709). In the study, researchers found that women aged between 62 and 101–the average age was 72–who took 4,363 steps per day were less 41 percent likely to die over the next four years than women who only took around 2,718 steps. This percentage climbed to 46 percent for those who took 5,905 steps and to 58 percent for those stepping 8,442 times each day.

Researchers did find, however, that there was a “Goldilocks zone,” or an area where benefits leveled off. When the results were examined further, researchers realized that the benefits tended to max out at around 7,500 steps each day.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with aiming for 10,000 steps each day; in general, the more you move, the better off you are. But if you find yourself discouraged because you can’t reach that “magic” number, research is indicating you should still aim for the stars!