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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

This gentle form of exercise can help maintain strength, flexibility, and balance, and could be the perfect activity for the rest of your life.

Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems. And you can get started even if you aren’t in top shape or the best of health.

In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise, you go without pausing through a series of motions named for animal actions — for example, “white crane spreads its wings” — or martial arts moves, such as “box both ears.” As you move, you breathe deeply and naturally, focusing your attention — as in some kinds of meditation — on your bodily sensations. Tai chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery.

Tai chi movement

A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age. An adjunct therapy is one that’s used together with primary medical treatments, either to address a disease itself or its primary symptoms, or, more generally, to improve a patient’s functioning and quality of life.

Belief systems

You don’t need to subscribe to or learn much about tai chi’s roots in Chinese philosophy to enjoy its health benefits, but these concepts can help make sense of its approach:

  • Qi — an energy force thought to flow through the body; tai chi is said to unblock and encourage the proper flow of qi.
  • Yin and yang — opposing elements thought to make up the universe that need to be kept in harmony. Tai chi is said to promote this balance.

Tai chi in motion

A tai chi class might include these parts:

Warm-up. Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body.

Instruction and practice of tai chi forms. Short forms — forms are sets of movements — may include a dozen or fewer movements; long forms may include hundreds. Different styles require smaller or larger movements. A short form with smaller, slower movements is usually recommended at the beginning, especially if you’re older or not in good condition.

Qigong (or chi kung). Translated as “breath work” or “energy work,” this consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Qigong may be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down.

Getting started

The benefits of tai chi are generally greatest if you begin before you develop a chronic illness or functional limitations. Tai chi is very safe, and no fancy equipment is needed, so it’s easy to get started. Here’s some advice for doing so:

Don’t be intimidated by the language. Names like Yang, Wu, and Cheng are given to various branches of tai chi, in honor of people who devised the sets of movements called forms. Certain programs emphasize the martial arts aspect of tai chi rather than its potential for healing and stress reduction. In some forms, you learn long sequences of movements, while others involve shorter series and more focus on breathing and meditation. The name is less important than finding an approach that matches your interests and needs.

Check with your doctor. If you have a limiting musculoskeletal problem or medical condition — or if you take medications that can make you dizzy or lightheaded — check with your doctor before starting tai chi. Given its excellent safety record, chances are that you’ll be encouraged to try it.

Consider observing and taking a class. Taking a class may be the best way to learn tai chi. Seeing a teacher in action, getting feedback, and experiencing the camaraderie of a group are all pluses. Most teachers will let you observe the class first to see if you feel comfortable with the approach and atmosphere. Instruction can be individualized. Ask about classes at your local Y, senior center, or community education center.

If you’d rather learn at home, you can buy or rent videos geared to your interests and fitness needs (see “Selected resources”). Although there are some excellent tai chi books, it can be difficult to appreciate the flow of movements from still photos or illustrations.

Talk to the instructor. There’s no standard training or licensing for tai chi instructors, so you’ll need to rely on recommendations from friends or clinicians and, of course, your own judgment. Look for an experienced teacher who will accommodate individual health concerns or levels of coordination and fitness.

Dress comfortably. Choose loose-fitting clothes that don’t restrict your range of motion. You can practice barefoot or in lightweight, comfortable, and flexible shoes. Tai chi shoes are available, but ones you find in your closet will probably work fine. You’ll need shoes that won’t slip and can provide enough support to help you balance, but have soles thin enough to allow you to feel the ground. Running shoes, designed to propel you forward, are usually unsuitable.

Gauge your progress. Most beginning programs and tai chi interventions tested in medical research last at least 12 weeks, with instruction once or twice a week and practice at home. By the end of that time, you should know whether you enjoy tai chi, and you may already notice positive physical and psychological changes.

No pain, big gains

Although tai chi is slow and gentle and doesn’t leave you breathless, it addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning. Here’s some of the evidence:

Muscle strength. Tai chi can improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking.

Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body. Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.

Flexibility. Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.

Balance. Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.

Aerobic conditioning. Depending on the speed and size of the movements, tai chi can provide some aerobic benefits. If your clinician advises a more intense cardio workout with a higher heart rate than tai chi can offer, you may need something more aerobic as well.

August 20, 2019

 

Tai-Chi-in-Park

11 Ways Tai Chi Can Benefit Your Health

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is a form of exercise that began as a Chinese tradition. It’s based in martial arts, and involves slow movements and deep breaths. Tai chi has many physical and emotional benefits. Some of the benefits of tai chi include decreased anxiety and depression and improvements in cognition. It may also help you manage symptoms of some chronic diseases, such as fibromyalgia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

1. Reduces stress

One of the main benefits of tai chi is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, though most evidence is anecdotal.

In 2018, one study compared the effects of tai chi on stress-related anxiety to traditional exercise. The study included 50 participants. The researchers found that tai chi provided the same benefits for managing stress-related anxiety as exercise. Because tai chi also includes meditation and focused breathing, the researchers noted that tai chi may be superior to other forms of exercise for reducing stress and anxiety. However, a larger-scale study is needed.

Tai chi is very accessible and lower impact than many other forms of exercise. The researchers found it to be safe and inexpensive, so it may be a good option if you are otherwise healthy and experiencing stress-related anxiety.

2. Improves mood

Tai chi may help improve your mood if you are depressed or anxious. Preliminary research suggests that regularly practicing tai chi can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s believed that the slow, mindful breaths and movements have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood-regulating hormones. Further research is being done to establish a clear link between tai chi and improved mood.

3. Better sleep

Regularly practicing tai chi may help you to have more restful sleep.

One study followed young adults with anxiety after they were prescribed two tai chi classes each week, for 10 weeks. Based on participant reporting, the individuals who practiced tai chi experienced significant improvements in their quality of sleep compared to those in the control group. This same group also experienced a decrease in their anxiety symptoms.

Tai chi can improve sleep for older adults, too. In a study published in 2016, researchers found that two months of twice-weekly tai chi classes was associated with better sleep in older adults with cognitive impairment.

4. Promotes weight loss

Regularly practicing tai chi can result in weight loss. One study tracked changes in weight in a group of adults practicing tai chi five times a week for 45 minutes. At the end of the 12 weeks, these adults lost a little over a pound without making any additional lifestyle changes.

5. Improves cognition in older adults

Tai chi may improve cognition in older adults with cognitive impairment. More specifically, tai chi may help improve memory and executive functioning skills like paying attention and carrying out complex tasks.

6. Reduces risk of falling in older adults

Tai chi can help improve balance and motor function, and reduce fear of falling in older adults. It can also reduce actual falls after 8 weeks of practice, and significantly reduce falls after 16 weeks of practice. Because fear of falling can reduce independence and quality of life, and falls can lead to serious complications, tai chi may offer the additional benefit of improving quality of life and general well-being in older adults.

7. Improves fibromyalgia symptoms

Tai chi may compliment traditional methods for management of certain chronic diseases.

Results from a 2018 study showed that a consistent tai chi practice can decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. Participants in the study who practiced tai chi for 52 weeks exhibited greater improvements in their fibromyalgia-related symptoms when compared to participants practicing aerobics. Learn about other alternative treatments for fibromyalgia symptoms.

8. Improves COPD symptoms

Tai chi may improve some of the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In one study, people with COPD practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, they have improvements in their ability to exercise and reported an overall improvement in their quality of life.

9. Improves balance and strength in people with Parkinson’s

In a randomized, controlled trial of 195 participants, regular practice of tai chi was found to decrease the number of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi can also help you to increase leg strength and overall balance.

10. Safe for people with coronary heart disease

Tai chi is a safe form of moderate exercise you can try if you have coronary heart disease. Following a cardiovascular event, regular tai chi practices may help you:

  • increase physical activity
  • lose weight
  • improve your quality of life

11. Reduces pain from arthritis

In a small-scale 2010 study, 15 participants with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) practiced tai chi for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the participants reported less pain and improved mobility and balance.

A larger, earlier study found similar results in people with knee osteoarthritis (OA). In this study, 40 participants with knee OA practiced 60 minutes of tai chi, two times a week for 12 weeks. Following the study, participants reported a reduction in pain and an improvement in mobility and quality of life.

When compared to physical therapy, tai chi has also been found to be as effective in the treatment of knee OA.

Always talk to your doctor before starting tai chi if you have arthritis. You may need to do modified versions of some of the movements.

Is tai chi safe?

Tai chi is generally considered to be a safe exercise with few side effects. You may experience some aches or pains after practicing tai chi if you’re a beginner. More rigorous forms of tai chi and improper practice of tai chi are associated with increased risk of injury to joints. Especially if you’re new to tai chi, consider attending a class or working with an instructor to reduce your risk of injury.

If you’re pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program.

How to start tai chi

Tai chi focuses on proper posture and exact movements, something that is difficult to learn on your own. If you’re new to tai chi, take a class or get an instructor.

Tai chi is taught in studios all over the United States and other countries. Larger gyms, like the YMCA, sometimes offer tai chi classes as well.

Choosing a tai chi style

There are five different styles of tai chi, and each style can be modified to suit your goals and personal fitness level. All styles of tai chi incorporate continuous movement from one pose to the next.

  • Yang style tai chi focuses on slow, graceful movements and relaxation. Yang style is a good starting point for beginners.
  • Wu style tai chi places an emphasis on micro-movements. This style of tai chi is practiced very slowly.
  • Chen style tai chi uses both slow and fast movements. This style of tai chi might be difficult for you if you’re new to the practice.
  • Sun style tai chi shares a lot of similarities with Chen style. Sun style involves less crouching, kicking, and punching, making it less physically demanding.
  • Hao style tai chi is a lesser-known and rarely practiced style. This style of tai chi is defined by a focus on accurate position and internal strength.

How does tai chi differ from yoga?

Tai chi emphasizes fluid movement and has roots in Chinese culture. Yoga focuses on posing and originated in Northern India.

Both tai chi and yoga are forms of exercise that involve meditation and deep breathing, and they have similar benefits, such as:

  • relieves stress
  • improves mood
  • Improves sleep

Takeaway

Tai chi is an exercise that can benefit both healthy adults and adults living with a chronic condition.

The benefits of tai chi include:

  • better sleep
  • weight loss
  • improved mood
  • management of chronic conditions

If you’re interested in trying tai chi, an instructor can help you get started. Classes are offered in specialized studios, community centers, and gyms.

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The Power of Flowers May Ease Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Participating in a flower-arranging course may improve both pain and psychiatric symptoms for patients with fibromyalgia, new research suggests.

The findings highlight the potential benefits of floristry as occupational therapy to improve the quality of life of patients with fibromyalgia.

Coinvestigator Howard Amital, MD, head of the Center for Autoimmune Diseases, Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer, and professor of medicine at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Israel, noted that flower arranging is particularly effective because it’s a “multistimulation therapy.”

It affects different senses that “all coincide and produce a very positive effect on the patient,” Amital told Medscape Medical News.

He added that it’s important for clinicians to hear about nonpharmacologic therapies for fibromyalgia, which is why he sought to have the study published in a medical journal.

The findings were published online in the July issue of the Israel Medical Association Journal.

Creating Bouquets

Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic, widespread pain and fatigue and is often accompanied by somatic syndromes such as irritable bowel and migraines. Patients may also present with mood and anxiety disorders.

Worldwide, fibromyalgia affects 2% to 4% of the population. It mostly affects women.

Little is known about the pathogenesis of the syndrome, so treatments primarily focus on alleviating pain and improving quality of life. Experts recommend a multimodel approach that includes aerobic exercise and cognitive-behavioral therapy in addition to pharmacologic regimes.

The current observational study included 61 adult female patients (mean age, 51 years) who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

The women completed a 12-week flower design course that included weekly sessions under the supervision of a trained florist. The participants learned to create flower bouquets that they could take home.

Two consecutive groups participated in the study. The first group participated from week 1 to week 12, and the second, from week 12 to week 24.

At baseline, 12 weeks, and at study completion (week 24), the researchers measured a number of fibromyalgia disease-activity indices. Assessment tools included the 36-item Short Form Survey (SF-36), the Brief Pain Impact Questionnaire (BPI), the Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), tender-point count, and the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ).

The study also assessed depression, using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), and anxiety, using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAMA).

The two groups were similar with regard to mental and physical health at baseline, but the VAS score was significantly higher in group 1, the first group to complete the course, than in group 2 (mean, 8 vs 7, respectively; P = .01).

There were no between-group differences in use of serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or pregabalin (Lyrica, PF Prism CV). However, the participants in group 1 reported significantly higher use of cannabis (46.7% vs 13.3%; P = .010).

‘Quite Amazing’

Results showed statistically significant improvements in the SF-36 physical and mental health components, VAS scores, FIQ scores, and HAMA and HDRS scores for the entire study population (all, P < .05), which Amital said is “quite amazing.”

However, tender-point counts remained unaffected, which was not surprising, Amital noted. Tender points “are not discriminatory enough” and reflect a limited aspect of the syndrome, which also includes unrefreshing sleep, fatigue, and cognitive impairment, he added.

When evaluating the groups separately, the researchers found a significant improvement in all study measures except tender-point count during the course. There was a slight decline in improvement in group 1 after their course ended (weeks 12 to 24), but the measurements did not return to starting levels.

“These study participants still kept the positive effect,” said Amital.

However, he added that, as with any intervention, especially for patients with fibromyalgia, “you need to do maintenance” to preserve the optimal effect.

Participating in a floristry course combines art therapy with exposure to a natural element, flowers, both of which have been shown to be beneficial.

For example, studies have shown that self-expression through creative art therapy alleviates psychiatric symptoms for patients presenting with trauma and depression. Engaging with natural elements — for example, flowers and houseplants indoors and parks and forests outdoors — is believed to promote relaxation, reduce blood pressure and heart rate, and improve stress levels and mood.

Amital is now planning to start a flower arranging course for patients with fibromyalgia and other rheumatic conditions at the Sheba Medical Center, which is the largest hospital in Israel.

“I thought it would be a good platform to show that even though it’s a bit different from the conventional way of education and thinking that we physicians are usually exposed to, it does have a positive effect and has no side effects,” he said.

Shows Promise

Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, Clayton Jackson, MD, former president of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management and clinical assistant professor of family medicine and psychiatry, University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Memphis, noted that the study had some limitations, including its small size and its observational, nonblinded design.

However, he said the intervention shows promise, and the results “add to the evidence base that there are multiple interventions that can be helpful for patients with chronic pain.”

Jackson, who was not involved with the research, stressed that fibromyalgia is “particularly problematic” with respect to symptom relief.

“This study is interesting because it’s a non-opioid and nonpharmacological approach to a difficult pain management problem in patients with fibromyalgia,” Jackson said. “Anything nonpharmacological that can be shown to work is incredibly interesting because it might have implications for other pain syndromes.”

Unlike other types of occupational therapy, floral design “might be multisensory in its effect” in fibromyalgia, Jackson added.

“There’s social contact, there’s visual stimulation from the flowers, there’s tactile stimulation of arranging in certain ways, and then there’s potentially an element of aromatherapy, because flowers are aromatic,” he said.

One theory of pain is that “pleasant sensory experiences may help to block unpleasant sensory experiences,” said Jackson.

Amital and Jackson have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pauline Anderson
August 19, 2019

 

flowers

These 5 tropical plants may ‘provide anticancer benefits’

In a recent study, scientists identified several tropical plants that have anticancer properties.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore, Department of Pharmacy (NUS Pharmacy) spent 3 years investigating the pharmacological properties of local plants.

They found that three species were particularly effective at inhibiting the growth of several cancers, and they have now published their findings in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Despite the widespread use of modern medicine in Singapore, there is a tradition of using local plants to treat various conditions, including cancer.

Cancer is the current leading cause of death in Singapore, where 1 out of every 4–5 people develop the condition at some point in their lives.

A 2017 report by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board stated that the number of people who receive a cancer diagnosis will continue to rise, but that the number of people who survive will also increase as medical technology and cancer care improve.

Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and Malaysia, are undergoing rapid urbanization that is transforming their landscape and culture. Because there is a lack of scientific evidence around the medicinal properties of local plants, the NUS Pharmacy team recognized an urgent need to document any health benefits these plants may provide before the knowledge is lost.

Evidence of anticancer benefits in 5 plants

The team focused on seven plants that people have used as traditional medicines for cancer. They were:

• Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica)
• Sabah Snake Grass (Clinacanthus nutans)
• Fool’s Curry Leaf (Clausena lansium)
• Seven Star Needle (Pereskia bleo)
• Black Face General (Strobilanthes crispus)
• South African Leaf (Vernonia amygdalina)
• Simpleleaf Chastetree (Vitex trifolia)

In the study, the team prepared extracts of “fresh,” “healthy,” and “mature” leaves from these plants and examined their effects on cells from breast, ovarian, uterine, cervical, leukemia, liver, and colon cancers.

Bandicoot Berry, South African Leaf, and Simpleleaf Chastetree had an anticancer effect against all seven types of cancer, according to the researchers. Fool’s Curry Leaf and Black Face General also had protective properties against some cancer cells.

Interestingly, the team found that Sabah Snake Grass was not effective at preventing the growth of cancerous cells, despite many people with cancer in the region using it.

The authors hypothesize that people commonly use Sabah Snake Grass as a traditional medicine because it offers some kind of benefit to people with cancer other than killing cancerous cells.

Implications for new cancer therapies

“Medicinal plants have been used for the treatment of diverse ailments since ancient times,” says lead study author Koh Hwee Ling, “but their anticancer properties have not been well studied.”

“Our findings provide new scientific evidence for the use of traditional herbs for cancer treatment, and pave the way for the development of new therapeutic agents.”

Koh and colleagues add that further research is required to identify the active compounds that provide the anticancer effects associated with these plants. They also caution against people with cancer attempting to self-medicate using these plants without first consulting their doctor.

Recently, Medical News Today looked at some other studies that evaluated the anticancer properties of plants. One of these was a 15-year-long study into a small flowering plant called the Madagascar periwinkle.

Scientists have been aware for more than 60 years that this plant has beneficial properties for people with cancer, but until recently, they had been unable to fully understand or replicate its mechanism of action.

Earlier this month, MNT looked at a study that found that medicinal herbs grown in Mauritius contain chemical compounds that may help treat esophageal cancer.

The authors of that study argued that maintaining global biodiversity is key to ensuring the discovery and development of breakthrough therapies now and in the future.

 

Monday 27 May 2019       By David McNamee
Fact checked by Jasmin Collier


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What Are Oxalates?

What is oxalate?
Oxalate is a naturally occurring molecule found in abundance in plants and humans. It’s not a required nutrient for people, and too much can lead to kidney stones.

In plants, oxalate helps to get rid of extra calcium by binding with it. That is why so many high-oxalate foods are from plants. In humans, it may work as a “prebiotic,” feeding good bacteria in the gut.

How does the body process it?
When we eat foods with oxalate, it travels through the digestive tract and passes out in the stool or urine. As it passes through the intestines, oxalate can bind with calcium and be excreted in the stool. However, when too much oxalate continues through to the kidneys, it can lead to kidney stones.

Calcium oxalate kidney stones are the most common type of kidney stone in the North America. The higher your levels of oxalate, the greater your risk of developing these kinds of kidney stones.

What is a low-oxalate diet?
If you are at high risk for kidney stones, lowering the amount of oxalate that you eat may help reduce this risk.

However, new research indicates that boosting your intake of calcium-rich foods when you eat foods that are high in oxalate may be a better approach than simply eliminating it from the diet. As they digest, oxalate and calcium are more likely to bind together before they get to the kidneys, making it less likely that kidney stones will form.

What causes oxalate buildup?
Foods that are high in vitamin C can increase the body’s oxalate levels. Vitamin C converts to oxalate, and levels over 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day have been shown to increase oxalate levels.

Taking antibiotics, or having a history of digestive disease, can also increase the body’s oxalate levels. The good bacteria in the gut help get rid of oxalate, and when the levels of these bacteria are low, higher amounts of oxalate can be absorbed in the body.

What can reduce oxalate?
Drinking enough fluid each day can help clear kidney stones or even keep them from forming. Spreading liquids throughout the day is ideal. Choosing water over other drinks is preferable.

Getting enough calcium is also helpful. Getting too little calcium can increase the amount of oxalate that gets to the kidneys, which will increase the risk of kidney stones.

Lowering your salt intake can also lower your risk of kidney stones. High-salt diets tend to cause more calcium to be lost in the urine. The more calcium and oxalate in the kidneys, the greater the risk of kidney stones.

How is oxalate measured?
Lists that provide the oxalate content in foods can be confusing. The oxalate levels reported in foods can vary depending on the following factors:

  • when the foods are harvested
  • where they are grown
  • how their oxalate levels were tested

 

oxalates





High-oxalate foods
Foods that are highest in oxalate include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes
  • grains

High-oxalate fruits include:

  • berries
  • kiwis
  • figs
  • purple grapes

Vegetables that contain high levels of oxalate include:

  • rhubarb
  • okra
  • leeks
  • spinach
  • beets
  • Swiss chard

To reduce how much oxalate you get, minimize consumption of:

  • almonds
  • cashews
  • peanuts
  • soy products

Some grain products are also high in oxalate, including:

  • bran flakes
  • wheat germ
  • quinoa

The following foods are also high in oxalates:

  • cocoa
  • chocolate
  • tea

High-calcium foods
Increasing your calcium intake when eating foods with oxalate can help lower oxalate levels in the urine. Choose high-calcium dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Vegetables can also provide a good amount of calcium. Choose among the following foods to increase your calcium levels:

  • broccoli
  • watercress
  • kale
  • okra

High-calcium legumes that have a fair amount of calcium include:

  • kidney beans
  • chickpeas
  • baked beans
  • navy beans

Fish high in calcium include:

  • sardines with bones
  • whitebait
  • salmon

How to avoid kidney stones
To lower your risk of kidney stones, add a high-calcium food to a meal that contains a food with higher levels of oxalate.

For example, if you add wheat germ to your oatmeal, be sure to add some milk as well. If you are cooking spinach, don’t feel guilty about combining it with pizza or lasagna. If you have a craving for a berry smoothie, add some regular or Greek yogurt to help provide balance.

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Dopamine Deficiency And Your Mental Health

by Deane Alban    ON JULY 11, 2015

If you wake up every morning and feel like “the thrill is gone,” you may have a dopamine deficiency. Dopamine is the main brain chemical responsible for making us feel motivated. Low levels of dopamine can manifest in some very disruptive ways. It can leave you feeling fatigued, apathetic, moody and unable to concentrate. Just as importantly, it plays a role in many mental disorders including depression, addiction of all kinds, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and schizophrenia. Understanding how dopamine affects your life is a key to taking control of this neurotransmitter — instead of letting it take control of you.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is considered one of the “feel good” neurotransmitters, along with serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. It has several distinct major functions. It’s been called the “motivation molecule” for providing the drive and focus you need to be productive. It’s also been called the “reward chemical” since it’s in charge of your brain’s pleasure-reward system. Dopamine plays a role in numerous brain functions involving mood, sleep, learning, the ability to focus and concentrate, motor control, and working memory.

What Does Dopamine Do?

Understanding dopamine’s functions is a work in progress. Over 110,000 research papers have been written about it, yet scientists are still trying to determine exactly what it does. Here are some of the known functions of dopamine: Dopamine is crucial to the feeling of motivation you need to work towards both long-term and short-term goals. It delivers a feeling of satisfaction when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Dopamine is released when your needs are about to be met .

Dopamine helped our ancestors survive by giving them an energy boost when presented with a great opportunity, such as locating a new source of food. You wouldn’t think we’d need to be motivated to find food, yet alarmingly, lab mice with dopamine deficiency are so unmotivated they starve to death — even when food is readily available. Our modern lifestyle doesn’t provide the same opportunities for dopamine boosts that our ancestors experienced, like hunting down dinner. But we still seek dopamine because of the way it makes us feel — alive and excited.

There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to get a dopamine lift. You can boost your dopamine watching or playing sports, learning something new, finishing a project, or landing a new account at work. Any form of accomplishment that gives you that “Yes, I did it!” feeling will increase dopamine. The unhealthy way to stimulate dopamine production is with addictive substances of all kinds.

Low Dopamine Symptoms

Dopamine deficiency sucks the zest out of life. It can leave you feeling apathetic, hopeless, and joyless. It makes it hard to start things and even harder to finish them. Common low dopamine symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Insomnia
  • Hard time getting going in the morning
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to focus and concentrate
  • Inability to connect with others
  • Low libido
  • Sugar cravings
  • Caffeine cravings
  • Inability to handle stress
  • Inability to lose weight

 

Dopamine Deficiency Related Disorders

When dopamine levels are out of balance, they can be an important factor in many mental health and other systemic disorders. Here are some of the most common conditions that have a dopamine deficiency connection.

Low Dopamine And Depression

Depression is usually thought of as due to a lack of serotonin, another “feel good” brain chemical. But there’s a growing body of evidence that dopamine deficiency is the underlying cause of depression for many people instead. This explains why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — depression medications that work by increasing serotonin — work for only 40 percent of those who use them. Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an antidepressant that works by addressing low dopamine for those who have not been helped by SSRIs. There’s a difference in the symptoms of depression experienced by those with serotonin versus dopamine deficiency. Dopamine-based depression expresses itself as lethargy and lack of enjoyment of life, while serotonin-based depression tends to be accompanied by anxiety.

happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphin-oxytocin

The Dopamine Addiction Connection

People low in dopamine are more prone to addictions of all kinds. People with dopamine addictions often rely on caffeine, sugar, smoking, or other stimulants to boost their energy, focus, and drive. What they are really doing is self-medicating to increase their dopamine levels. Using self-destructive behaviors to overcome dopamine deficiency can lead to addictions of all kinds — video games, shopping, gambling, sex, money, power, alcohol, and drugs.

Dopamine And Parkinson’s Disease

When dopamine-generating brain cells in one specific part of the brain die, it leads to Parkinson’s, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Parkinson’s usually starts with a slight tremor in one hand. Patients gradually lose their ability to regulate their movements and emotions. There is no cure but so far the most effective treatment is levodopa, a natural compound that converts into dopamine.

ADHD And Dopamine

The underlying cause of ADHD is still unknown. But it is widely accepted that the root cause of ADHD is probably an abnormality in dopamine function. This seems logical since dopamine is critical for maintaining focus. Most ADHD medications are based on the “dopamine deficiency” theory. Prescription medications used to treat ADHD are believed to work by increasing the release of dopamine and norepinephrine while slowing down their rate of reabsorption.

Schizophrenia And Dopamine

The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but genetics and environmental factors are believed to play a role. One prevailing theory is that it’s caused by an overactive dopamine system . Supporting evidence for this theory is that the best drugs to treat schizophrenia symptoms resemble dopamine and block dopamine receptors. However, these medications can take days to work, which indicates that the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood.

Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms In Fibromyalgia And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Both fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are associated with low dopamine levels. Low dopamine symptoms experienced by FMS and CFS patients include brain fog, achy muscles, poor concentration, tremors, poor balance and coordination, and walking abnormalities.

How To Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally

If you experience signs of low dopamine, you don’t have to live with it. There are several lifestyle changes that can increase dopamine naturally.

Dopamine Foods

The amino acid tyrosine is a precursor of dopamine. Tyrosine-rich foods provide the basic building blocks for dopamine production. Phenylalanine is an amino acid that converts into tyrosine.

Virtually all animal products are good sources of both tyrosine and phenylalanine. Here are some other foods known to increase dopamine:

  • Legumes
  • Almonds, sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • Apples, avocados, bananas, watermelon
  • Beets, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee and green tea
  • Oatmeal
  • Turmeric
  • Wheat germ

Dopamine Supplements

Dopamine is a serious medicine used in emergency situations like heart attacks and shock. So while actual dopamine supplements are not available, there are many dopamine boosting supplements you can try. The most obvious dopamine supplement to consider is l-tyrosine. Without it, you can’t make dopamine. Even if you think you get plenty of l-tyrosine in your diet, you may not be converting it effectively.

There are several forms of tyrosine supplements available. Dopamine used by the brain must be produced in the brain, so it’s important that any dopamine enhancing supplement you take gets into the brain. That’s why we recommend acetyl-l-tyrosine, an absorbable form that can readily cross the blood-brain barrier. Next, look into vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Deficiencies of all three are extremely common, and each can contribute to dopamine deficiency. Lastly, you can look into taking a dopamine enhancing supplement. Here are some supplements proven to increase dopamine:

  • Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean or cowhage)
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • L-theanine
  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e)
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • Curcumin

Some dopamine supplements contain phenylethylamine, the precursor of tyrosine, but we don’t recommend them. Phenylethylamine is pretty useless for increasing dopamine levels. Once it reaches your brain it has a half-life of only 30 seconds.

Activities That Boost Dopamine Levels

Any activity that makes you feel happy and relaxed increases dopamine. Physical exercise increases dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters and is responsible for what’s known as “runner’s high”. Get a therapeutic massage. It can boost dopamine by over 30 percent. Meditation increases dopamine. So do mind-focusing hobbies like knitting, home repair, gardening, painting, photography, or woodworking. Playing and listening to music you enjoy releases dopamine . Engage in “seeking and finding” activities. This emulates the hunt that provided our ancestors with their dopamine boosts. Take on new challenges and set small milestones. Accomplishing goals, even small ones, trains your brain to release dopamine.

For more information on increasing your levels of dopamine, read this article “How to Increase Dopamine Naturally.”

Overcoming Dopamine Deficiency: The Bottom Line

Dopamine deficiency can sap the joy from life. It also plays a role in many mental health conditions, including depression and addictive behaviors. Make appropriate lifestyle changes to increase your dopamine levels.

  • Eat a diet high in dopamine boosting foods.
  • Get plenty of physical exercise.
  • Engage in stress-reducing activities.
  • Take appropriate dopamine enhancing supplements.

Deane AlbanThis article was brought to you by Deane Alban, a health information researcher, writer and teacher for over 25 years. For more helpful articles about improving your cognitive and mental health, visit BeBrainFit.com today.


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What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is the most common musculoskeletal condition after osteoarthritis. Still, it is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Its characteristics include widespread muscle and joint pain and fatigue, as well as other symptoms. Fibromyalgia can lead to depression and social isolation.

This overview of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) covers symptoms, diagnosis, and both standard and alternative treatments.

What Is Fibromyalgia Syndrome?

A syndrome is a set of symptoms. When they exist together, they imply the presence of a specific disease or a greater chance of developing the disease. With fibromyalgia syndrome, the following symptoms commonly occur together:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Decreased pain threshold or tender points
  • Incapacitating fatigue
  • Widespread pain

Are Women More Likely to Get Fibromyalgia Than Men?

More than 12 million Americans have fibromyalgia. Most of them are women ranging in age from 25 to 60. Women are 10 times more likely to get this disease than men.

What Are Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Fibromyalgia causes you to ache all over. You may have symptoms of crippling fatigue — even on arising. Specific tender points on the body may be painful to touch. You may experience swelling, disturbances in deep-level or restful sleep, and mood disturbances or depression.

Your muscles may feel like they have been overworked or pulled. They’ll feel that way even without exercise or another cause. Sometimes, your muscles twitch, burn, or have deep stabbing pain.

Some patients with fibromyalgia have pain and achiness around the joints in the neck, shoulder, back, and hips. This makes it difficult for them to sleep or exercise. Other fibromyalgia symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Dryness in mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat
  • Inability to concentrate (called “fibro fog”)
  • Incontinence
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers and feet
  • Stiffness

Fibromyalgia can cause signs and feelings similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis. Some experts include it in this group of arthritis and related disorders. However, while the pain of bursitis or tendinitis is localized to a specific area, pain and stiffness with fibromyalgia are widespread.

What Tests Are Used to Diagnose Fibromyalgia?

To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will rely on a comprehensive physical exam and your medical history. There is a blood test to help diagnose fibromyalgia. The test — called FM/a — identifies markers produced by immune system blood cells in people with fibromyalgia. Ask your doctor if the FM/a test is right for you.

To rule out more serious illnesses, your doctor may run some specific blood tests. For example, your doctor may ask for a complete blood count (CBC). The doctor may also ask for tests for chemicals, such as glucose, that can create problems similar to problems caused by fibromyalgia. A thyroid test may also be done. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause problems similar to fibromyalgia. That includes fatigue, muscle aches, weakness, and depression.

Other laboratory tests used to rule out serious illnesses may include Lyme titers, antinuclear antibodies (ANA), rheumatoid factor (RF), erythrocyte (red blood cell) sedimentation rate (ESR), prolactin level, calcium level, and vitamin D level.

Your doctor may see if your symptoms satisfy the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia syndrome outlined by the American College of Rheumatology. These criteria include widespread pain that persists for at least three months. Widespread pain refers to pain that occurs in both the right and left sides of the body, both above and below the waist, and in the chest, neck, and mid or lower back. The criteria also include the presence of tender points at various spots on the body.

The doctor will evaluate the severity of related symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and mood disorders. This will help measure the impact FMS has on your physical and emotional function as well as on your overall health-related quality of life.

What Is the Standard Treatment for Fibromyalgia?

There is no fibromyalgia cure. And there is no treatment that will address all of the fibromyalgia symptoms. Instead, a wide array of traditional and alternative treatments has been shown to be effective in treating this difficult syndrome. A treatment program may include a combination of medications, exercises — both strengthening and aerobic conditioning — and behavioral techniques.

What Drugs Are Used to Treat Fibromyalgia?

According to the American College of Rheumatology, drug therapy for fibromyalgia primarily treats the symptoms. The FDA has approved three drugs to treat fibromyalgia: Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Savella. The FDA says Lyrica — which is also used to treat nerve pain caused by shingles, diabetes, and spinal cord injuries — can ease fibromyalgia pain for some patients. Cymbalta and Savella are in a class of drugs known as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Low doses of tricyclic drugs such as Flexeril and amitriptyline have been found effective in treating the pain of FMS. In addition, positive results have been shown with the antidepressants known as dual reuptake inhibitors (Effexor). Ultram is a pain-relieving medicine that can be helpful.

Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft. These drugs may help relieve feelings of depression, sleep disorders, and pain. Recently, researchers have found that the antiepileptic Neurontin is promising for fibromyalgia treatment.

The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including Cox-2 inhibitors, have not been found to be effective for treating FMS pain. It’s usually best to avoid opioid pain medications because they tend not to work well in the long-run and can lead to problems with dependency.

Are There Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia?

Alternative therapies, although they are not well-tested, can help manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. For instance, therapeutic massage manipulates the muscles and soft tissues of the body and helps ease deep muscle pain. It also helps relieve pain of tender points, muscles spasms, and tense muscles. Similarly, myofascial release therapy, which works on a broader range of muscles, can gently stretch, soften, lengthen, and realign the connective tissue to ease discomfort.

The American Pain Society recommends moderately intense aerobic exercise at least two or three times a week. They also endorse clinician-assisted treatments, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and chiropractic manipulation for pain relief.

Along with alternative therapies, it’s important to allow time each day to rest and relax. Relaxation therapies – such as deep muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises — may help reduce the added stress that can trigger fibromyalgia symptoms. Having a regularly scheduled bedtime is also important. Sleep is essential to let the body repair itself.

source: www.webmd.com