6 Ways to ‘Quiet’ Your Brain and Live Longer

  • Newer research links “quiet” brains with longevity.
  • Researchers theorize that a less active brain uses less of the body’s energy.
  • Experts say there are a number of ways to calm your brain, including meditation, active listening, and mindful eating.

Everyone wants to stay mentally sharp as they get older — and it stands to reason that one way to do this is to maintain an active brain.

But new research suggests that less may be more when it comes to your brain activity.

In a study published in the medical journal Nature, researchers from Harvard Medical School report that a calm brain with less neural activity could lead to a longer life.

After analyzing donated brain tissue from people who died at ages from 60 to more than 100, researchers said they noticed that the longest-lived people had lower levels of genes related to neural activity.

A protein, REST, that suppresses neural activity was found to be associated with neural activity and mortality.

In experiments on worms and mammals, boosting REST led to lower neural activity and longer lifespans while suppressing it did the opposite.

“This study shows that daily periods of slowed activity, whether spent in meditation, unitasking, or simply being still or sleeping are as important for brain health and longevity as activity and exercise,” Gayatri Devi, MD, a neurologist and psychiatrist at Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline.

“The brain is the most energy-hungry organ in our body, consuming nearly a third of our energy, although it weighs only about one-seventieth of our body weight,” explained Devi. “For our brains and our bodies, less is more and rest is best.”

In a world that often feels like it’s moving too quickly, what are some of the best ways to quiet the brain?

Maryanna Klatt, PhD, a professor of clinical family medicine at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, specializes in stress-related chronic illness and is trained in mindfulness, running a program called Mindfulness in Motion.

She shared some strategies for your brain with Healthline.

Tune into your body

Klatt says a great way to start on your path to lowered stress and heightened mindfulness is to be more aware of your body.

“Just some gentle stretches and awareness of where you’re holding your tension is a great starting point because when people acknowledge their body, they open up to what really is going on for them,” she said.

Another exercise in mindfulness is to establish a habit that sets events into motion.

“Since we deal a lot with medical doctors, I suggest touching a doorknob before meeting with a patient,” explained Klatt. “This creates a moment to focus on why they’re doing what they’re doing and how they’re going to connect with the patient. The habit is a helpful way to be present with a patient or co-worker.”

Meditation works hand-in-hand with mindfulness because it provides a helpful barometer of one’s mental state.

“It’s not about clearing your mind, it’s about seeing where your mind’s at,” said Klatt. “That’s why having a little meditation practice, even 5 or 10 minutes a day, can make a difference in bringing mindfulness to your activity during the whole day.”

Listen!

In a spirited discussion, it’s all too easy to stop listening to others as you wait for your chance to speak.

Klatt says she’s seen this in a classroom setting.

“One way to recognize that we are going a thousand miles an hour is to watch our thoughts,” she said. “If you’re not really listening, or not being present with whoever you’re with, that can be a wake-up call to be present and not miss the moment.”

Chart it out

A simple exercise can spell out, in stark terms, whether we’re truly living the life we want to live.

Klatt asks students to create two pie charts, one to show how they’d like to divide the 24 hours in their day, and one to show how they actually spend their time.

While the breakdown likely includes time away from the office, it often doesn’t include any time that’s truly free.

“Earmarking open space intentionally every day, so it’s not for X, Y, or Z, not for exercising, not for reading, but for unstructured time, can help,” said Klatt.

During this time, it’s important to set boundaries and consciously tell yourself that you’re taking time for yourself.

“It’s about being really honest with yourself about having clear boundaries and telling yourself that you’re going to take a break from work, or kids, or trying to solve problems, during the downtime,” Klatt explained. “I think that people waste their downtime. People feel doubly bad because they didn’t get anything productive done and what they really didn’t get done was relaxing.”

Think about meals

We’re often told to watch what we eat, but we’re rarely told to watch how or where we eat.

While it’s fine to enjoy a treat full of empty calories from time to time, it’s probably best not to wolf down a bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television.

“I tell people that if they’re going to eat it anyway, they need to savor it,” said Klatt. “Savor every moment of it because otherwise you’re getting all those calories and you’re missing the pleasure of it.”

Recognize burnout

Many people don’t acknowledge burnout until they’re fully burnt out.

Recognizing the signs of burnout before it sets in can help with re-assessing and re-prioritizing.

Klatt says symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, the lack of a sense of personal accomplishment, a lack of excitement, and a pervasive mood of irritation.

“It’s when stuff that hadn’t in the past been a big deal suddenly becomes a big deal,” she said. “That’s the point where you want to step back before you get to the point where you’re really not effective at your job, nor effective at living the life that you want to live. Then it’s lose-lose.”

Seek mentors

It’s always good to learn from the best.

To this end, Klatt suggests reading up on mindfulness and meditation. (She suggests the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn).

Positive examples can also be found in daily life. People who are engaged in their job and their life might have good advice for finding the right balance.

“I think mentorship in terms of mindfulness has really meant a lot during my life,” said Klatt. “Sometimes, you stumble and don’t know how to move forward. I think people all around us have this wisdom, but we don’t take the time to think about who we respect in terms of how they live their lives.”

5 Pressure Points for Great Sleep

Overview

Insomnia is a fairly common sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Having insomnia prevents many people from getting the seven to nine hours of sleep per night that experts recommend.

Some people experience short periods of insomnia for a few days or weeks, while others have insomnia for months at a time.

Regardless of how often you have insomnia, acupressure may provide some relief. Acupressure involves using physical touch to stimulate pressure points that correspond to different aspects of physical and mental health.

While you can have acupressure done by a professional, you can also try stimulating pressure points on your own. Read on to learn five pressure points you can try and find out more about the science behind using acupressure for sleep.

1. Spirit gate

The spirit gate point is located at the crease on your outer wrist, below your pinkie finger.

To treat insomnia:

  1. Feel for the small, hollow space in this area and apply gentle pressure in a circular or up-and-down movement.
  2. Continue for two to three minutes.
  3. Hold the left side of the point with gentle pressure for a few seconds, and then hold the right side.
  4. Repeat on the same area of your other wrist.

Stimulating this pressure point is associated with quieting your mind, which can help you fall asleep.

2. Three yin intersection

The three yin intersection point is located on your inner leg, just above your ankle.

To treat insomnia:

  1. Locate the highest point on your ankle.
  2. Count four finger widths up your leg, above your ankle.
  3. Apply deep pressure slightly behind your biggest lower-leg bone (tibia), massaging with circular or up-and-down motions for four to five seconds.

In addition to helping with insomnia, simulating this pressure point can also help with pelvic disorders and menstrual cramps.

Don’t use this pressure point if you’re pregnant, as it’s also associated with inducing labor.

3. Bubbling spring

The bubbling spring point is located on the sole of your foot. It’s the small depression that appears just above the middle of your foot when your curl your toes inward.

To treat insomnia:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent so you can reach your feet with your hands.
  2. Take one foot in your hand and curl your toes.
  3. Feel for the depression on the sole of your foot.
  4. Apply firm pressure and massage this point for a few minutes using circular or up-and-down motion.

Stimulating this pressure point is believed to ground your energy and induce sleep.

4. Inner frontier gate

The inner frontier gate point is found on your inner forearm between two tendons.

To ease insomnia:

  1. Turn your hands over so that your palms are facing up.
  2. Take one hand and count three finger widths down from your wrist crease.
  3. Apply a steady downward pressure between the two tendons in this location.
  4. Use a circular or up-and-down motion to massage the area for four to five seconds.
  5. In addition to helping you sleep, the inner frontier gate point is associated with soothing nausea, stomach pain, and headaches.

5. Wind pool

The wind pool point is located on the back of your neck. You can find it by feeling for the mastoid bone behind your ears and following the groove around to where your neck muscles attach to the skull.

To treat insomnia:

  1. Clasp your hands together and gently open your palms with your fingers interlocked to create a cup shape with your hands.
  2. Use your thumbs to apply a deep and firm pressure toward your skull, using circular or up-and-down movements to massage this area for four to five seconds.
  3. Breathe deeply as you massage the area.
  1. Stimulating this pressure point may help to reduce respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, which often interrupt sleep. It’s also associated with reducing stress and calming the mind.

What does the research say?

Acupressure has been around for thousands of years, but experts only recently started to evaluate its effectiveness as a medical treatment. While most of the existing studies about acupressure and sleep are small, their results are promising.

For example, a 2010 study involved 25 participants in long-term care facilities who had trouble sleeping. Their sleep quality improved after five weeks of acupressure treatment. The benefits lasted for up to two weeks after they stopped receiving treatment.

2011 study involving 45 postmenopausal women with insomnia had similar results after four weeks of treatment.

There are many studies with similar findings, but they’re all relatively small and limited. As a result, experts don’t have enough high-quality data to draw any concrete conclusions.

However, there’s also no evidence that acupressure decreases sleep quality, so it’s certainly worth trying if you’re interested.

When to see a doctor

Sleep is crucial for your physical and mental health.

Regularly not getting enough sleep is linked to a range of health problems, including:

  • weakened immune function
  • weight gain
  • decreased cognitive function

If you have insomnia that lasts for more than a few weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. You may have an underlying condition that needs treatment.

The bottom line

Most people deal with insomnia at some point in their lives. If you’re looking for a natural remedy to improve your sleep, try doing acupressure 15 minutes before going to bed.

Just make sure to rule out any underlying causes of long-term insomnia.

Here’s Why Exercise is Crucial in Preventing, Treating Cancer

Strength training two to three times a week along with aerobic exercise three times a week is recommended for cancer prevention. Getty Images
  • A panel of experts has released guidelines stating that regular exercise can help prevent cancer as well as help people undergoing cancer treatment.
  • The experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week and strength training 2 to 3 times a week.
  • Experts say exercise can help prevent cancer by reducing inflammation, keeping weight under control, and boosting the immune system.

Kathryn Schmitz is seeking a paradigm shift.

Schmitz, a professor of public health specializing in cancer at Penn State University, thinks the perception of the ties between exercise and cancer is where the perception of the ties between exercise and heart health was decades ago.

Back then, she said, getting a patient out of bed and moving after a heart attack would be criticized. Today, the benefits of exercise to heart health and recovery are well known.

A similar consensus is emerging in the way the medical field thinks about cancer.

The latest sign in that shift came this week, with the publication of new guidelines that recommend physicians “prescribe” exercise in efforts to reduce the risk of certain cancers and improve the treatment outcomes and quality of life of those with the disease.

“Today if you asked someone with a dad with colon cancer if he should be exercising they’d probably either say no or they don’t know,” Schmitz told Healthline.

Schmitz co-chaired the roundtable — which included experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society, and 15 other groups — that put together the new guidance.

The gist of the guidance, published in three papers this week, is that exercise can contribute to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer.

The guidelines also state exercise can help improve survival rates for people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer — as well as the quality of life of those people in terms of reducing side effects of cancer treatment.

How much exercise?

The researchers recommend that people with cancer do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 3 times a week and strength training such as weights 2 to 3 times a week.

Schmitz said originally the researchers looking into that question sought to find out if there were specific “doses” of exercise that could be tailored to different people with cancer.

But the 30 minutes 3 times a week recommendation seemed to work pretty universally.

They still ended up with their goal of being able to “prescribe exercise like a drug,” Schmitz said. “Just turns out that it’s, say, 600 milligrams for everybody, if you will.”

In terms of cancer prevention, the recommended general physical activity guidelines are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

Schmitz says getting more tailored recommendations for cancer prevention is one of the remaining open questions that ongoing research hopes to help answer.

“We don’t know the exact, optimal dose of exercise needed for cancer prevention,” Alpa Patel, the American Cancer Society’s senior scientific director for epidemiology research, told Healthline. “But we know from the evidence to date that the more you do the better.”

Why exercise works

Patel, lead author of the paper that covered the prevention aspects of the new guidance, said how exactly exercise affects cancer prevention is severalfold.

That includes exercise’s effects on reducing inflammation, helping regulate blood sugar and sex hormones, and improving metabolism and immune function.

“Depending on the specific cancer, one or more of those mechanisms may be more important than the others,” he said. “So, for breast cancer, the benefits of exercise are really driven through the impact on sex hormones.”

“It can also affect cancer development or risk through reducing obesity, a risk factor for many cancers,” said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s panel on survivorship guidelines.

She told Healthline that the exact reasons why exercise affects certain cancers in different ways still needs additional research.

The current recommendations do vary a bit based on personal history, Denlinger noted. But, she said, “at this time, there is no one ‘best’ exercise — anything that gets you moving and active is good.”

She said further trials are under way to evaluate how and when exercise can affect cancer treatment.

The effort underway for Schmitz — through an initiative she started at the American College of Sports Medicine — is pushing to get oncologists to assess and advise cancer patients’ physical activity.

“This is an easy, cheap way to give patients less fatigue and a better quality of life,” she said.

15 Helpful Tips to Overcome Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder (BED) is considered the most common feeding and eating disorder in the United States (1).

BED is about more than food, it’s a recognized psychological condition. That means people with the disorder will likely need a treatment plan designed by a medical professional to overcome it.People who are diagnosed with BED experience episodes of eating unusually large amounts, even when they’re not hungry. After an episode, they may feel a strong sense of guilt or shame.

Regular binge episodes can lead to weight gain, which can contribute to health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can try — both at home and with the help of a professional — to reduce episodes of binge eating.

Here are 15 tips to help overcome binge eating.

1. Ditch the diet

Fad diets can often be very unhealthy, and studies show that overly restrictive eating methods may trigger episodes of binge eating.

For example, one study in 496 adolescent girls found that fasting was associated with a higher risk of binge eating (2).

Similarly, another study in 103 women noticed that abstaining from certain foods resulted in increased cravings and a higher risk of overeating (3).

Instead of following diets that focus on cutting out entire food groups or significantly slashing calorie intake to lose weight quickly, focus on making healthy changes.

Eat more whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and moderate your intake of treats rather than excluding them from your diet altogether. This can help reduce binge eating and promote better health.

SUMMARYStudies show that fasting or eliminating certain foods from your diet may be associated with increased cravings and overeating. Focus on eating healthy foods instead of dieting or cutting out certain foods completely.

2. Avoid skipping meals

Setting a regular eating schedule and sticking to it is one of the most effective ways to overcome binge eating.

Skipping meals can contribute to cravings and increase the risk of overeating.

One small, 2-month study showed that eating one large meal per day increased levels of blood sugar and the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin to a greater extent than eating three meals per day (4).

Another study in 38 people found that adhering to a regular eating pattern was associated with a decreased frequency of binge eating (5).

Try setting a regular eating schedule and sticking to it.

SUMMARYAdhering to a regular eating pattern can reduce the risk of overeating and may be associated with lower levels of ghrelin and fasting blood sugar.

3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves listening to your body and paying attention to how you feel at the moment.

This technique can prevent overeating by helping a person learn to recognize when they no longer feel hungry.

One review of 14 studies found that practicing mindfulness meditation decreased the incidence of binge eating and emotional eating (6).

Another small study showed that combining mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy may improve eating behavior and self-awareness (7).

Try listening to your body to recognize when hunger tapers off. Additionally, try to eat slowly and enjoy food to promote healthy eating behaviors.

SUMMARYPracticing mindfulness can help you recognize when you’re no longer hungry, which can improve your eating behaviors and reduce the incidence of binge eating.

4. Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is a simple yet effective way to curb cravings and stop overeating.

In fact, studies show that increasing water intake could be linked to decreased hunger and calorie intake.

For example, one study in 24 older adults found that drinking 17 ounces (500 ml) of water before eating a meal decreased the number of calories consumed by 13%, compared with a control group (8).

Similarly, another study in older adults showed that drinking 13–17 ounces (375–500 ml) of water 30 minutes before a meal significantly decreased hunger and calorie intake while increasing feelings of fullness during the day (9).

Other studies indicate that drinking more water can boost metabolism and weight loss (1011).

The amount of water each person should drink daily depends on various factors. Thus, it’s best to listen to your body and drink when you feel thirsty to ensure you’re staying well hydrated.

SUMMARYDrinking more water can keep you feeling full to decrease calorie intake and prevent binge eating.

5. Try yoga

Yoga is a practice that incorporates both the body and mind by using specific breathing exercises, poses, and meditation to reduce stress and enhance relaxation.

Studies indicate that yoga can help encourage healthy eating habits and reduce the risk of emotional eating.

One small study in 50 people with BED showed that practicing yoga for 12 weeks led to a significant reduction in binging (12).

Another study in 20 girls found that combining yoga with outpatient eating disorder treatment decreased depression, anxiety, and body image disturbances — all of which could be factors involved in emotional eating (13).

Research also shows that yoga can decrease levels of stress hormones like cortisol to keep stress under control and prevent binge eating (1415).

Try joining a local yoga studio to start adding this type of exercise to your routine. You can also use online resources and videos to practice at home.

SUMMARYYoga can help prevent binge eating and may reduce common triggers like stress, depression, and anxiety.

6. Eat more fiber

Fiber moves slowly through your digestive tract, keeping you feeling full longer (16).

Some research suggests that increasing fiber intake could cut cravings, reduce appetite, and food intake.

One small, 2-week study found that supplementing twice daily with a type of fiber found in vegetables decreased hunger and calorie intake while increasing fullness (17).

Another study in 10 adults showed that taking 16 grams of prebiotic fiber daily increased levels of specific hormones that influence satiety and significantly reduced feelings of hunger (18).

Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are just a few fiber-rich foods that can keep you feeling full.

SUMMARYFiber can help keep you feeling full to reduce calorie intake and feelings of hunger.

7. Clean out the kitchen

Having lots of junk food or trigger foods in the kitchen can make it much easier to binge eat.

Conversely, keeping healthy foods on hand can reduce your risk of emotional eating by limiting the number of unhealthy options.

Start by clearing out processed snack foods like chips, candies, and pre-packaged convenience foods and swapping them for healthier alternatives.

Stocking your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, protein-rich foods, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can improve your diet and reduce your risk of binge eating unhealthy foods.

SUMMARYRemoving unhealthy foods from your kitchen and stocking up on healthy alternatives can improve diet quality and make it harder to binge eat.

8. Start hitting the gym

Studies indicate that adding exercise to your routine could prevent binge eating.

For instance, one 6-month study in 77 people showed that increasing weekly exercise frequency stopped binge eating in 81% of participants (19).

Another study in 84 women found that pairing cognitive behavioral therapy with regular exercise was significantly more effective at reducing the frequency of binge eating than therapy alone (20).

Plus, other research suggests that exercise can decrease stress levels and enhance mood to prevent emotional eating (21).

Walking, running, swimming, biking, and playing sports are just a few different forms of physical activity that can help relieve stress and reduce binge eating.

SUMMARYStudies show that exercising can reduce the risk of binge eating and decrease stress levels.

9. Eat breakfast every day

Starting each day off with a healthy breakfast might reduce the risk of binge eating later in the day.

Several studies have found that maintaining a regular eating pattern is associated with less binge eating and lower levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates feelings of hunger (45).

Plus, filling up on the right foods can keep you feeling full to curb cravings and reduce hunger throughout the day.

For example, one study in 15 people found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced levels of ghrelin to a greater extent than eating a high carb breakfast (22).

Meanwhile, eating fiber- and protein-rich oatmeal was shown to improve appetite control and promote fullness in another study in 48 people (23).

Try combining a few fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, with a good source of protein to avoid overeating.

SUMMARYEating a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast can prevent cravings and keep you satisfied throughout the morning.

10. Get enough sleep

Sleep affects your hunger levels and appetite, and sleep deprivation may be linked to binge eating.

In fact, one study in 146 people found that those with BED reported significantly more symptoms of insomnia than people without a history of this condition (24).

Another large study showed that shorter sleep duration was associated with higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lower levels of leptin — the hormone responsible for promoting fullness.

Additionally, sleeping less than 8 hours per night was linked to higher body weight (25).

Aim to squeeze in at least 8 hours per night to keep your appetite in check and reduce your risk of binge eating.

SUMMARYBED may be linked to increased symptoms of insomnia. Sleep deprivation has been shown to alter the levels of hormones that affect hunger and appetite.

11. Keep a food and mood journal

Keeping a food and mood journal that tracks what you eat and how you feel can be an effective tool. It can help identify potential emotional and food triggers and promote healthier eating habits.

One study in 17 people showed that using an online self-help program that involved keeping a food diary was associated with fewer self-reported episodes of binge eating (26).

Several other studies also suggest that tracking your intake may be linked to increased weight loss and aid long-term weight management (272829).

To get started, simply start recording what you eat and how you feel each day using either a journal or app.

SUMMARYFood and mood journals can help identify triggers to address potential problems. Studies show that using a food diary is associated with fewer episodes of binge eating, as well as increased weight loss.

12. Find someone to talk to

Talking to a friend or peer when you feel like binging may help reduce your likelihood of overeating.

One study in 101 adolescents undergoing sleeve gastrectomy showed that reliable social support was associated with less binge eating (30).

Another study in 125 women with obesity found that better social support was linked to decreased binge eating severity (31).

A good social support system is thought to reduce the impact of stress, which may help decrease your risk of other coping habits like emotional eating (3233).

Next time you feel like binge eating, pick up the phone and call a trusted friend or family member. If you don’t have someone to talk to, eating disorder helplines are available free of charge.

SUMMARYA good social support system may be linked to decreased binge eating and stress.

13. Increase your protein intake

Upping your intake of protein-rich foods can keep you feeling full and help control your appetite.

One study in 19 people showed that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% led to significant reductions in body weight and fat mass, as well as decreased daily calorie intake by an average of 441 calories (34).

Similarly, another study found that following a high-protein diet enhanced metabolism, promoted feelings of fullness, and increased levels of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone known for its ability to suppress appetite (35).

Try including at least one good source of protein — such as meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, or legumes — in each meal and enjoy high-protein snacks when you feel hungry to keep cravings at bay.

SUMMARYIncreasing your protein intake has been shown to decrease calorie intake, enhance feelings of fullness, and increase levels of GLP-1, a hormone that can help suppress appetite.

14. Plan meals

Planning meals can help ensure that you have healthy ingredients on hand to prepare nutritious meals. Also, measuring out portion sizes and putting the remainder of food away may help you avoid triggering a binge.

In fact, one study in over 40,000 adults showed that meal planning was associated with improvements in diet quality and variety, as well as a lower risk of obesity (36).

Meal planning also makes it easier to stick to a regular eating pattern, which has been linked to a decreased frequency of binge eating (5).

Set aside an hour or two each week to plan out a weekly rotation for your meals.

SUMMARYMeal planning has been associated with improvements in diet quality and variety. It can also make sticking to a regular eating pattern easier and ensure that you have healthy ingredients on hand at all times.

15. Seek help

While the strategies above can be helpful, oftentimes a treatment plan designed by a professional is needed to help overcome binging.

Treatment for BED can involve different types of therapy or medications to help get binging under control and treat any underlying causes or symptoms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most effective form of therapy, explores the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and eating patterns and then develops strategies to modify your behavior (37).

Other types of therapy used to treat binge eating include dialectical behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and behavioral weight loss therapy (37).

Antidepressants, antiepileptic drugs, and certain stimulants are also sometimes used to treat BED, though more research is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of these medications (3839).

SUMMARYCognitive behavioral therapy is considered an effective treatment method for binge eating. Other types of therapy and certain medications can also be used.

The bottom line

BED is a recognized psychological condition that affects millions of people around the world.

However, it’s possible to overcome it with the right treatment plan and healthy lifestyle modifications.

Ask the Expert: How Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Health Are Connected

ask the expert

1. What is the link between type 2 diabetes and heart health?

The association between type 2 diabetes and heart health is two-fold.

First, type 2 diabetes is frequently associated with cardiovascular risk factors. This includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.

Second, diabetes itself increases the risk of heart disease. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes. This includes heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.

Heart failure also occurs more often in people living with diabetes.

You can try out the American College of Cardiology’s calculator to estimate your 10-year risk of heart disease.

2. What steps can I take to prevent complications of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is associated with microvascular and macrovascular complications.

Microvascular complications involve damage to small blood vessels. This includes:

  • diabetic retinopathy, which is damage to the eyes
  • nephropathy, which is damage to the kidneys
  • neuropathy, which is damage to the peripheral nerves

Macrovascular complications involve damage to large blood vessels. These increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.

Controlling your blood sugar levels can decrease your chances of microvascular complications. Blood sugar targets depend on your age and comorbidities. Most people should keep a blood sugar level of 80 to 130 mg/dL fasting, and under 160 mg/dL at two hours after meals, with an A1C less than 7.

You can lower your risk of macrovascular complications by managing your cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. Your doctor may also recommend aspirin and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking.

3. What other factors put me at high risk for heart disease?

In addition to type 2 diabetes, risk factors for heart disease include:

  • age
  • smoking
  • family history of heart problems
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • obesity
  • high levels of albumin, a protein in your urine
  • chronic kidney disease

You can’t change some risk factors, such as your family history, but others are treatable.

 

4. Will a doctor monitor my risk for heart disease, and how often will I need to see one?

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your primary care physician is typically the person who will help you manage your diabetes and cardiac risk factors. You may also need to see an endocrinologist for more complex diabetes management.

The frequency of doctor visits varies from person to person. Still, it’s a good idea to get checked at least twice a year if your condition is under good control. If your diabetes is more complex, you should see your doctor about four times per year.

If your doctor suspects a heart condition, they should refer you to a cardiologist for more specialized testing.

5. What tests will doctors use to monitor my heart health?

Your doctor will monitor your cardiovascular risk factors through your medical history, a physical exam, lab tests, and an electrocardiogram (EKG).

If your symptoms or resting EKG are abnormal, additional tests may include a stress test, echocardiogram, or coronary angiography. If your doctor suspects peripheral vascular disease or carotid disease, they may use a Doppler ultrasound.

6. How can I lower my blood pressure with diabetes?

High blood pressure is a risk factor for both heart and kidney disease, so it’s important to keep it under control. Typically, we target a blood pressure of under 140/90 for most people. In some cases, such as people with kidney or heart disease, we target under 130/80 if lower numbers can be safely achieved.

Lowering your blood pressure includes a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. If you’re considered overweight or obese, weight loss is recommended.

You should also make changes to your diet, such as following a DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension). This diet calls for less than 2.3 g of sodium per day and 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. It also consists of low-fat dairy products.

You should also avoid excessive alcohol consumption and increase your activity levels.

7. How can I lower my cholesterol with diabetes?

Your diet plays a big role in your cholesterol levels. You should consume less saturated and trans fats, and increase your consumption of dietary omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Two diets that are helpful for managing cholesterol are the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet.

It’s a good idea to increase your physical activity levels as well.

For the most part, many people with type 2 diabetes should also take a statin drug to lower their cholesterol. Even with normal cholesterol, these drugs have been shown to decrease the risk of heart problems.

The type and intensity of the statin drug and the target cholesterol values depend on several factors. This includes your age, comorbidities, and your projected 10-year risk of atherosclerotic vascular disease. If your risk is greater than 20 percent, you’ll require more aggressive treatment.

8. Are there any treatments I can take to protect my heart?

A heart-healthy lifestyle includes a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and regular exercise. In addition, all cardiac risk factors need to be under control. This includes blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol.

Most people with type 2 diabetes should also take a statin drug to reduce the likelihood of a coronary event. People with a history of cardiovascular disease or those who are at high risk for it may be candidates for aspirin or other antiplatelet agents. These treatments vary from person to person.

9. Are there any warning signs that I’m developing heart disease?

Warning signs for the presence of cardiovascular disease may include:

  • chest or arm discomfort
  • shortness of breath
  • palpitations
  • neurological symptoms
  • leg swelling
  • calf pain
  • dizziness
  • fainting

Unfortunately, in the presence of diabetes, heart disease is often silent. For example, a blockage can be present in the coronary arteries without any chest pain. This is known as silent ischemia.

This is why proactively addressing all of your cardiac risk factors is so important.

The 7 Best Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important fats that provide many health benefits.

Studies have found that they may reduce inflammation, decrease blood triglycerides and even reduce the risk of dementia (123).

The most well-known sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and fatty fish like salmon, trout and tuna.

This can make it challenging for vegans, vegetarians or even those who simply dislike fish to meet their omega-3 fatty acid needs.

Of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, plant foods typically only contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

ALA is not as active in the body and must be converted to two other forms of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — to bestow the same health benefits (4).

Unfortunately, your body’s ability to convert ALA is limited. Only about 5% of ALA is converted to EPA, while less than 0.5% is converted to DHA (5).

Thus, if you don’t supplement with fish oil or get EPA or DHA from your diet, it’s important to eat a good amount of ALA-rich foods to meet your omega-3 needs.

Additionally, keep in mind your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, as a diet low in omega-3s but high in omega-6s can increase inflammation and your risk of disease (6).

Here are 7 of the best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are known for their many health benefits, bringing a hefty dose of fiber and protein with each serving.

They’re also a great plant-based source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

Thanks to their omega-3, fiber and protein, studies have found chia seeds could decrease the risk of chronic disease when consumed as part of a healthy diet.

One study found that consuming a diet with chia seeds, nopal, soy protein and oats decreased blood triglycerides, glucose intolerance and inflammatory markers (7).

A 2007 animal study also found that eating chia seeds decreased blood triglycerides and increased both “good” HDL cholesterol and omega-3 levels in the blood (8).

Just one ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds can meet and exceed your daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids, delivering a whopping 4,915 mg (9).

The current daily recommended intake of ALA for adults over age 19 is 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men (10).

Boost your chia seed intake by whipping up a nutritious chia pudding or sprinkle chia seeds on top of salads, yogurts or smoothies.

Ground chia seeds can also be used as a vegan substitute for eggs. Combine one tablespoon (7 grams) with 3 tablespoons of water to replace one egg in recipes.

SUMMARY:One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds provides 4,915 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, meeting 307–447% of the recommended daily intake.

2. Brussels Sprouts

In addition to their high content of vitamin K, vitamin C and fiber, Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Because cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts are so rich in nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, they have been linked to many health benefits.

In fact, one study found that an increased intake of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a 16% lower risk of heart disease (11).

A half cup (44 grams) of raw Brussels sprouts contains about 44 mg of ALA (12).

Meanwhile, cooked Brussels sprouts contain three times as much, providing 135 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in each half-cup (78-gram) serving (13).

Whether they’re roasted, steamed, blanched or stir-fried, Brussels sprouts make a healthy and delicious accompaniment to any meal.

SUMMARY:Each half-cup (78-gram) serving of cooked Brussels sprouts contains 135 mg of ALA, or up to 12% of the daily recommended intake.

3. Algal Oil

Algal oil, a type of oil derived from algae, stands out as one of the few vegan sources of both EPA and DHA (14).

Some studies have even found that it’s comparable to seafood in regard to its nutritional availability of EPA and DHA.

One study compared algal oil capsules to cooked salmon and found that both were well tolerated and equivalent in terms of absorption (15).

Though research is limited, animal studies show that the DHA from algal oil is especially beneficial to health.

In fact, a recent animal study found that supplementing mice with a DHA algal oil compound led to an improvement in memory (16).

However, more studies are needed to determine the extent of its health benefits.

Most commonly available in softgel form, algal oil supplements typically provide 400–500 mg of combined DHA and EPA. Generally, it is recommended to get 300–900 mg of combined DHA and EPA per day (17).

Algal oil supplements are easy to find in most pharmacies. Liquid forms can also be added to drinks or smoothies for a dose of healthy fats.

SUMMARY:Depending on the supplement, algal oil provides 400–500 mg of DHA and EPA, fulfilling 44–167% of the daily recommended intake.

4. Hemp Seed

In addition to protein, magnesium, iron and zinc, hemp seeds are comprised of about 30% oil and contain a good amount of omega-3s (1819).

Animal studies have found that the omega-3s found in hemp seeds could benefit heart health.

They may do this by preventing the formation of blood clots and helping the heart recover after a heart attack (2021).

Each ounce (28 grams) of hemp seeds contains approximately 6,000 mg of ALA (22).

Sprinkle hemp seeds on top of yogurt or mix them into a smoothie to add a bit of crunch and boost the omega-3 content of your snack.

Also, homemade hemp seed granola bars can be a simple way to combine hemp seeds with other healthy ingredients like flaxseeds and pack in extra omega-3s.

Hemp seed oil, which is made by pressing hemp seeds, can also be consumed to provide a concentrated dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

SUMMARY:One ounce (28 grams) of hemp seeds contains 6,000 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, or 375–545% of the daily recommended intake.

5. Walnuts

Walnuts are loaded with healthy fats and ALA omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, walnuts are comprised of about 65% fat by weight (23).

Several animal studies have found that walnuts could help improve brain health due to their omega-3 content.

A 2011 animal study found that eating walnuts was associated with improvements in learning and memory (24).

Another animal study showed walnuts caused significant improvements in memory, learning, motor development and anxiety in mice with Alzheimer’s disease (25).

Just one serving of walnuts can fulfill an entire day’s requirements of omega-3 fatty acids, with a single ounce (28 grams) providing 2,542 mg (26).

Add walnuts to your homemade granola or cereal, sprinkle them on top of yogurt or simply snack on a handful to increase your ALA intake.

SUMMARY:One ounce (28 grams) of walnuts contains 2,542 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, or 159–231% of the daily recommended intake.

6. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are nutritional powerhouses, providing a good amount of fiber, protein, magnesium and manganese in each serving.

They’re also an excellent source of omega-3s.

Several studies have demonstrated the heart-healthy benefits of flaxseeds, largely thanks to their omega-3 fatty acid content.

Both flaxseeds and flaxseed oil have been shown to reduce cholesterol in multiple studies (272829).

Another study found that flaxseeds could help significantly lower blood pressure, particularly in those with high blood pressure (30).

One ounce (28 grams) of flaxseeds contains 6,388 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, surpassing the daily recommended amount (31).

Flaxseeds are easy to incorporate into your diet and can be a staple ingredient in vegan baking.

Whisk together one tablespoon (7 grams) of flaxseed meal with 2.5 tablespoons of water to use it as a handy substitute for one egg in baked goods.

With a mild yet slightly nutty flavor, flaxseed also makes the perfect addition to cereal, oatmeal, soups or salads.

SUMMARY:One ounce (28 grams) of flaxseeds contains 6,388 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, or 400–580% of the daily recommended intake.

7. Perilla Oil

This oil, derived from perilla seeds, is often used in Korean cuisine as a condiment and cooking oil.

In addition to being a versatile and flavorful ingredient, it’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

One study in 20 elderly participants replaced soybean oil with perilla oil and found that it caused ALA levels in the blood to double. In the long term, it also led to an increase in EPA and DHA blood levels (32).

Perilla oil is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, with ALA making up an estimated 64% of this seed oil (33).

Each tablespoon (14 grams) contains nearly 9,000 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

To maximize its health benefits, perilla oil should be used as a flavor enhancer or dressing, rather than a cooking oil. This is because oils high in polyunsaturated fats can oxidize with heat, forming harmful free radicals that contribute to disease (34).

Perilla oil is also available in capsule form for an easy and convenient way to increase your omega-3 intake.

SUMMARY:Each tablespoon (14 grams) of perilla oil contains 9,000 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, or 563–818% of the daily recommended intake.

The Bottom Line

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of the diet and essential to your health.

If you don’t eat fish because of dietary reasons or personal preference, you can still reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

By either incorporating a few omega-3-rich foods into your diet or opting for a plant-based supplement, it’s possible to meet your needs, seafood-free.

The Mediterranean Diet Can Help Keep Your Gut Happy

A diet high in fish and vegetables can help keep your gut healthy. Getty Images
  • A new study presented this week found that eating a plant-based diet or a Mediterranean diet can affect your gut microbiome.
  • “Friendly” bacteria are more likely to appear when people eat a healthy, well-rounded diet.
  • Researchers are still learning about the microbiome and how it can affect your health.

Trillions of bacteria and other microbes live in the human digestive system. Together, they form a community that’s known as the gut microbiota.

Many bacteria in the microbiota play important roles in human health, helping to metabolize food, strengthen intestinal integrity, and protect against disease.

To help friendly bacteria in the gut thrive, new research presented at UEG Week 2019 suggests it may help to eat a Mediterranean-style diet that’s rich in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts, as well as fish.

When researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands assessed the eating habits and gut bacteria of more than 1,400 participants, they found that a Mediterranean-style diet was linked to healthier gut microbiota. It was also associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers in stool.

This points to the role that a plant-rich diet might play in helping to protect against intestinal diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

“Connecting the diet to the gut microbiome gives us more insight into the relation between diet and intestinal disease,” Laura Bolte, lead investigator of the study and a dietitian who’s currently pursuing an MD and PhD in the field of nutrition, said in a statement.

“The results indicate that diet is likely to become a significant and serious line of treatment or disease management for diseases of the gut — by modulating the gut microbiome,” she added.

Mediterranean diet might reduce inflammation

Four groups of participants took part in Bolte’s study, including members of the general population and patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis (UC), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Crohn’s disease and UC are forms of IBD that involve chronic inflammation in the intestines. IBS is another intestinal disease in which inflammation may play a role.

To identify potential links between diet, gut microbiota, and intestinal inflammation, the researchers administered a food frequency questionnaire and collected a stool sample from each participant.

They found multiple links between participants’ eating habits, gut microbiota, and markers of intestinal inflammation.

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and fish was linked to greater abundance of friendly bacteria that help synthesize essential nutrients, produce fuel for cells in the colon, and reduce inflammation. This plant-rich eating pattern was also linked to lower levels of inflammatory markers in the stool.

In comparison, a diet rich in meat, refined sugar, or fast foods was linked to lower levels of friendly gut bacteria and higher levels of inflammatory markers.

“It’s not surprising that a diet pattern which has been connected to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and increased longevity is also associated with beneficial digestive effects,” Julie Stefanski, MEd, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline.

“This study reinforces a growing body of data demonstrating that having a healthy intestine and pinpointing the right mix of bacteria needed for health may be key to tackling many chronic diseases,” she added.

More research is needed

This study adds to a large body of research that suggests Mediterranean-style diets and other plant-rich eating patterns have benefits for human health.

In addition to cardiovascular benefits and reduced risk of cancer, some research has linked plant-rich eating patterns to lower incidence of IBD. This new study might help explain why.

“We’ve known for some time that when you look at it at a country level, populations that take in less red meat and eat a more plant-based diet have lower incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and colitis,” Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Healthline.

“I think the interesting addition here is that we didn’t know why that was true or really understand what the mechanism of that was,” he continued, “and the microbiome seems to be at least one of the ways that this association exists.”

To learn more about the potential relationship between diet, gut microbiota, and intestinal health, more research is needed. In particular, clinical trials are needed to test the links identified in this cross-sectional study.

“Food frequency questionnaires can have hundreds of variables and microbiota data can have the same,” Swaminath explained, “and it’s hard to tell whether there’s really a meaningful signal or if it’s just part of the statistical noise.”

“So I think it’ll be interesting when we’re able to see more of the details of their data and methodology and then reproduce some of this in clinical trials,” he continued, “especially if people are put on these diets and we can see how the microbiota change moving forward in time.”

To follow up on their study, researchers at the University Medical Center Groningen are planning to conduct a trial to test the effects of a Mediterranean-style plant-rich eating pattern in people with Crohn’s disease.

Similar research is also underway in the United States, where investigators are comparing the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet and an eating pattern known as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in adults with Crohn’s disease.

Expert guidance may help

While research on gut microbiota and diet continues, Swaminath and Stefanski encourage patients with IBD to work with qualified health professionals to develop diet plans that works for them.

Some people with Crohn’s disease or UC develop strictures or narrowed segments in their intestines, which can make it difficult to pass bulky stools. Such patients might benefit from a low-fiber diet.

But in patients without intestinal strictures, eating more fiber may promote better gut health. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help them learn which types of food might be best for them.

“Certain [foods] and ways of preparing them are better tolerated than others,” Stefanski said.

“Working with a [registered dietitian nutritionist] to personalize specific food choices is vital when trying to achieve more plant-based diets,” she added.

What are the best vitamins for eye health?

Certain vitamins are essential for maintaining good eye health. Many are powerful antioxidants that protect the eyes and other parts of the body from oxidative damage and inflammation.

Deficiencies in particular vitamins can increase the risk of some eye conditions, such as cataractsglaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Research suggests that some vitamin and mineral supplements may help protect against or slow the development of these conditions.

In this article, we outline four vitamins that are essential for good eye health. We also discuss three additional nutrients that are beneficial for the eyes. Finally, we list the various dietary sources of these vitamins and nutrients.

4 vitamins that contribute to eye health

People who wish to protect the health of their eyes should try to include sufficient amounts of the following vitamins in their diet.

1. Vitamin A and beta carotene

a womans eyes that are very healthy thanks to vitamins
Vitamin A may help a person see in low-light conditions.

Vitamin A is essential for good vision. It is a component of the protein rhodopsin, which allows the eye to see in low-light conditions. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness.

Vitamin A also supports the function of the cornea, which is the protective outer layer of the eye. A person who is deficient in vitamin A may find that their eyes produce too little moisture to stay lubricated.

Beta carotene is the primary source of vitamin A in the human diet. Beta carotene is a type of plant pigment called a carotenoid that exists in many colorful fruits and vegetables. When a person consumes carotenoids, their body converts the pigments into vitamin A.

2. Vitamin E

Alpha tocopherol is a form of vitamin E that has particularly powerful antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants help fight free radicals, which damage tissues throughout the body. Sometimes, free radicals may damage proteins within the eye. This damage can result in the development of cloudy areas called cataracts on the lens of the eye.

2014 review looked at studies linking vitamin E to the prevention of cataracts. Some of the research found that lens clarity was better in people who took vitamin E supplements.

However, the authors note that a separate study showed that vitamin E supplements had no effect on the progression of cataracts. They conclude that further research is necessary to determine the effectiveness of vitamin E supplements in preventing and slowing cataract development.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that helps protect against oxidative damage.

Oxidative damage is a key factor in two of the most common age-related cataracts: cortical and nuclear cataracts. Cortical cataracts develop on the edges of the lens, while nuclear cataracts occur deep in its center or “nucleus.”

2016 longitudinal study investigated different factors that may help prevent nuclear cataract development. The study involved more than 1,000 pairs of female twins.

At the start of the study, the researchers measured the participants’ cataracts. They then tracked each participant’s intake of vitamin C and other nutrients over 10 years.

At the end of the study period, the researchers remeasured the cataracts in 324 pairs of twins. The participants who reported consuming more vitamin C showed a 33% reduction in the risk of cataract progression. They also had clearer lenses overall.

4. B vitamins

2009 study suggests that daily supplementation with a combination of vitamins B-6, B-9, and B-12 may reduce the risk of AMD. AMD is a degenerative eye disease that affects the vision.

However, this particular study only included women. Further research is, therefore, necessary to support the use of B-vitamins in preventing AMD in both women and men.

An older study looked at nutrient intake and eye health in 2,900 people between the ages of 49 and 97 years. The findings revealed that higher intakes of protein, vitamin A, and the B-vitamins riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin had an association with a lower rate of nuclear cataracts.

2018 nationwide study in South Korea found a link between a reduced intake of vitamin B-3, or niacin, and glaucoma. In people with glaucoma, a buildup of fluid within the eye puts pressure on the optic nerve. Over time, this can damage the nerve, resulting in vision loss.

3 Other Nutrients for eye health

Research suggests that the following nutrients are also beneficial for the eyes.

1. Lutein and zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that exist in high quantities in green leafy vegetables. They are also present in the lens and retina of the eye.

As antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce oxidative damage in the retina. Some research suggests that taking approximately 6 milligrams (mg) a day of lutein and zeaxanthin may lower a person’s risk of developing AMD.

2. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that helps maintain the health of the retina, cell membranes, and protein structure of the eye.

Zinc allows vitamin A to travel from the liver to the retina to produce melanin. Melanin is a pigment that protects the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light.

According to the American Optometric Association, zinc supplementation may help people who have AMD or are at risk of developing the condition. Taking 40–80 mg of zinc each day, alongside certain antioxidants, could slow the progression of advanced AMD by 25%. It could also reduce visual acuity loss by 19%.

3. Omega-3 fatty acids

person at desk holding omega 3 supplements in palm
A person may help protect their retinas by consuming omega-3.

The retina of the eye contains a particularly high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s). These fatty acids help protect the retina from damage and degeneration.

Specifically, omega-3s reduce the buildup of fatty deposits in the blood vessels, including those that supply blood to the retina. Some scientists believe that fatty deposits in these blood vessels could contribute to AMD.

Additionally, a small amount of research suggests that increasing the intake of omega-3s may lower the risk of dry eye syndrome. A person with dry eye syndrome does not produce enough tears to keep the eyes lubricated. However, research in this area is limited, and further studies are necessary to support this claim.

Sources of these vitamins

A balanced, healthful diet containing a range of the following foods should provide enough vitamins and nutrients to promote good eye health. Research suggests that these nutrients work together to protect the eye, so eating a wide variety of healthful foods is the best approach.

People who take medications or have an existing health condition should check with their doctor before taking dietary supplements. In some cases, certain supplements may be harmful to health. For example, high dosages of zinc can affect how the body absorbs copper.

Additionally, it seems that very high dosages of beta carotene can increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.

Below, we list the dietary sources of the vitamins that we mention in this article.

Vitamin A and beta carotene:

  • sweet potato
  • carrots
  • red pepper
  • pumpkin
  • squash

Vitamin E:

  • almonds
  • sunflower seeds
  • peanuts
  • safflower oil
  • soybean oil
  • corn oil
  • wheat germ oil
  • asparagus

Vitamin C:

  • oranges and orange juice
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • blackberries
  • grapefruit juice

Vitamin B-1, or thiamine:

  • beans
  • lentils
  • pork
  • fish
  • green peas
  • yogurt

Vitamin B-2, or riboflavin:

  • beef
  • oats
  • yogurt
  • milk
  • clams
  • mushrooms
  • almonds

Vitamin B-3, or niacin:

  • beef liver
  • chicken
  • salmon and tuna
  • brown and white rice
  • peanuts

Vitamin B-6, or pyridoxine:

  • chickpeas
  • dark leafy greens
  • poultry
  • beef liver
  • salmon and tuna

Vitamin B-9, or folic acid:

  • dark leafy greens
  • peanuts
  • beans
  • seafood
  • sunflower seeds
  • eggs

Vitamin B-12, or cobalamin:

  • fish
  • liver
  • red meat
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • fortified milk, cereals, and nutritional yeast

People can only get vitamin B-12 from animal sources. As such, people who do not consume animal products will need to take vitamin B-12 supplements or consume products that manufacturers have fortified with vitamin B-12.

Lutein and zeaxanthin:

  • dark leafy greens
  • egg yolks
  • corn
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • lettuce
  • peas
  • kale
  • spinach

Zinc:

roasted chickpeas in bowl
Chickpeas are a good source of zinc.
  • seafood, such as oysters, crab, and lobster
  • turkey
  • beans
  • chickpeas
  • nuts
  • pumpkin seeds
  • whole grains
  • milk
  • fortified cereals

Vegetarians may need to double their intake of zinc-rich foods because a vegetarian diet provides less zinc than an omnivorous diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • oily fish, such as sardines, tuna, and herring
  • flaxseed
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds

Summary

Specific vitamins and nutrients are essential for maintaining good eye health. Some may even help prevent certain eye diseases from developing or progressing.

A balanced, healthful diet will provide people with the necessary range of nutrients. The diet should include whole grains, legumes, and plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables.

9 Drinks That Help You Sleep

A good night’s rest is often overlooked as an important component of health.

Experts recommend that adults aged 18–60 get at least 7–9 hours of sleep each night (1).

Too little or too much sleep is associated with an increased risk of depression, diabetes, heart disease, and even death (2).

But sleeping for at least 7 full hours each night does not always come easy.

Fortunately, a variety of sleep-inducing drinks can help you catch some z’s.

Here are 9 drinks that may improve your sleep naturally.

1. Cherry juice

Cherries are stone fruits that vary in flavor depending on the variety. They can be sweet, tart, or sour and grow in different colors, including yellow, red, and purple.

They’re not only known for making a great pie filling but also a number of health benefits, including improved sleep quality (34).

Cherries’ tryptophan content is believed to be one reason these fruits aid sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s a precursor to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate when you fall asleep and wake up (5678).

Though both sweet and tart cherry varieties contain melatonin, the tart types pack the most. In fact, one study found that tart Montmorency cherries may have up to six times more melatonin than sweet Balaton cherries (391011).

A 7-day study in 20 people found that drinking tart cherry juice concentrate daily significantly increased melatonin levels, compared with a placebo beverage (11).

A similar study in 30 participants observed that consuming a cherry-based product twice daily improved nightly rest, decreased the number of nighttime awakenings, and resulted in higher urinary melatonin levels first thing in the morning (12).

Finally, one study noted that drinking 2 cups (480 ml) of cherry juice each day for 2 weeks increased total sleep time by 84 minutes and helped treat symptoms of insomnia in adults aged 50 and older (13).

If you decide to drink cherry juice to help you sleep, you may want to opt for amounts similar to those used in these studies. Drinking 2 cups (480 ml) per day has not been linked to any side effects (12).

SUMMARY

Cherries are a great source of tryptophan and melatonin. Drinking 2 cups (480 ml) of cherry juice per day may increase your melatonin levels and improve your sleep overall.

2. Chamomile tea

Chamomile is a daisy-like flower that is part of the Asteraceae family.

Tea made from this plant has been consumed for ages. It has multiple health benefits, including relieving cold symptoms, reducing inflammation, and improving skin health. The tea is made by infusing chamomile flowers in hot water (14).

Some research suggests that chamomile may improve sleep quality. One study in 60 older adults found that taking 400 mg of chamomile extract for 28 consecutive days safely improved sleep quality (15).

Another study in 80 women who experienced reduced sleep quality noted that physical symptoms of sleep inefficiency were significantly improved after participants drank chamomile tea daily for 2 weeks (16).

Chamomile may help with anxiety and insomnia, which could also improve sleep.

Two review studies researched the relationship between chamomile intake and insomnia. However, neither found enough evidence to support these claims. Therefore, more studies are needed (1718).

To make chamomile tea at home, add 4 tablespoons of fresh (or 2 tablespoons of dried) chamomile flowers to 1 cup (237 ml) of boiling water. Let the flowers steep for about 5 minutes before using a mesh strainer to drain the liquid from the flowers.

It’s safe to drink chamomile tea daily, and ingesting chamomile in the form of tea or other supplements has not been linked to negative side effects (1920).

SUMMARY

Chamomile tea may help with insomnia, though more research is needed. It’s more likely to aid sleep quality. You can make it at home using just two ingredients.

3. Ashwagandha tea

Ashwagandha has a reputation for being a powerful medicinal plant. It’s sometimes called Indian ginseng or winter cherry.

Extracts made from the root, berries, and leaves of the plant have been used to treat conditions like stress, anxiety, and arthritis (212223).

Ashwagandha is traditionally used in Ayurvedic practices. The root contains compounds that appear to induce sleep when isolated and consumed in large doses (24).

One study in mice found that triethylene glycol — an active component of ashwagandha leaves — promoted non-rapid eye movement sleep, the sleep phase during which your body regenerates tissue and bone (24).

In human studies, ashwagandha has shown potential to help the body wind down and prepare for rest, as well as to improve overall sleep quality (2526).

You can buy ashwagandha tea bags at most grocery or health food stores.

Another way to drink ashwagandha is in moon milk. Moon milk is a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for insomnia made by adding ashwagandha, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg to warm milk.

Though ashwagandha tea is safe for most people, some individuals should be cautious. This includes those with autoimmune disorders, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people taking medicine for blood pressure, blood sugar, or thyroid disease (2127).

SUMMARY

Alleviating insomnia is only one of ashwagandha’s many known benefits. The root is often steeped in hot water or warm milk. Certain groups should exercise caution with the plant.

4. Valerian tea

Valerian is a perennial plant that blooms sweet-smelling pink or white flowers and is part of the honeysuckle family.

Similarly to ashwagandha, the root of the valerian plant is used as a medicinal herb that’s known to promote sleep and relieve insomnia (28).

Valerian particularly shows promise for alleviating insomnia and improving sleep quality among menopausal women. One study found that 30% of postmenopausal women who took a 530 mg valerian capsule twice a day for 4 weeks reported improvements in sleep quality (2930).

While a large body of research suggests that valerian may treat insomnia, researchers have concluded that more studies are needed before specific recommendations regarding dosage and treatment regimens can be made (20313233).

To make valerian root tea, steep 2–3 grams of dried valerian root in 1 cup (237 ml) of hot water. Let it sit for 10–15 minutes before straining (34).

Valerian is considered a safe strategy to manage insomnia that doesn’t alter circadian rhythm — your body’s daily pattern that decides when it’s time to sleep and wake. However, one study observed that large doses increased anxiety levels (20353637).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that women who are pregnant or nursing, as well as children under 3 years old, avoid valerian (38).

Furthermore, the root can enhance sedation and should never be mixed with alcohol or drugs like barbiturate and benzodiazepines (38).

SUMMARY

Valerian tea may help treat insomnia and improve sleep quality, especially among menopausal women. Yet, more research is needed on dosage and treatment directions.

5. Peppermint tea

Formally known as the Lamiaceae, the herbs of the mint family are well known for their culinary uses. This includes peppermint, which appears to be powerful and versatile in its uses.

Peppermint has been used in traditional medicine for years. The tea is believed to have antiviral, antimicrobial, and even anti-allergenic properties. Peppermint may also help with gastrointestinal (GI) conditions like indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (39404142).

Though it has been shown to help ease an upset stomach in the evenings, more clinical trials on peppermint tea are needed to determine how it impacts sleep directly (394344).

Peppermint tea is easy to make. Simply boil 2 cups (480 ml) of water and add a handful of peppermint leaves. You can adjust the quantity of leaves depending on how strong you like your tea. Let the leaves sit in the hot water for at least 5 minutes.

Peppermint tea is generally safe, but it may interact with certain blood pressure, indigestion, and diabetes medications. If you’re taking any medications, you should consult your healthcare provider before drinking peppermint tea or using peppermint oil (4546).

SUMMARY

Peppermint tea may improve your sleep by soothing gastrointestinal distress and discomfort in the evenings. More research is needed on peppermint as a potential sedative.

6. Warm milk

It may sound like an old wives’ tale, but many reputable organizations recommended warm milk for a good night’s sleep (4748).

That’s because milk contains tryptophan. Tryptophan naturally increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter known for happiness and well-being. Plus, serotonin is a precursor to the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin (495051).

Simply put, tryptophan increases serotonin levels, which increases melatonin levels. Melatonin may promote sleep and help combat various sleep disorders, including jet lag, shift work sleep disorder, and insomnia (525354).

Multiple studies have found that warm milk may improve sleep quality and decrease movement at night, but further studies are needed to confirm these claims (55565758).

It’s possible that having a glass of warm milk before bed is simply a soothing ritual that helps you unwind and prepare to rest. If you want to give warm milk a try, simply choose your favorite milk and bring it to a low simmer on the stove for a couple of minutes.

Unless you’re lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, there’s no harm to giving this bedtime ritual a shot.

SUMMARY

Milk contains tryptophan, which helps increase melatonin levels and induce sleep. Drinking warm milk before bed is also a soothing nighttime ritual.

7. Golden milk

There is some evidence that warm milk alone may help you sleep better at night (55565758).

Golden milk not only harnesses the sleep-aiding potential of warm milk but also boasts tumeric.

Because milk contains tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin, it may help increase melatonin levels. Melatonin is the primary hormone that regulates your body’s sleep-wake cycle (49505154).

Meanwhile, turmeric is rich in the compound curcumin, which may alleviate some effects of sleep deprivation, reduce inflammation, and safely treat symptoms of anxiety and depression (59606162).

For example, a study in mice found that 72 hours of sleep deprivation resulted in weight loss, anxiety-like behavior, and oxidative damage (59).

However, treatment with 10–20 mg of curcumin extract for 5 consecutive days reduced weight loss and significantly improved anxiety-like behavior (59).

To make golden milk, combine 1/2 cup (118 ml) of milk, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 small piece of ginger, and 1 teaspoon of honey. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 3–5 minutes.

Each of the ingredients in golden milk is generally considered safe. Still, individuals taking certain medications, including blood thinners and drugs to reduce stomach acid and manage diabetes, should exercise caution with turmeric and ginger (6364).

SUMMARY

Milk, turmeric, and ginger each contain compounds that may improve sleep quality through a few different mechanisms. Golden milk is a calming drink that combines all three.

8. Almond milk

Almonds are tree nuts packed with healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Almond milk is a creamy, nutty alternative to cow’s milk that is made by blending almonds with water and then straining the pulp.

Whole almonds may improve sleep quality. Violet oil made from almonds or sesame seeds has even been used in traditional Iranian medicine for many years as a treatment for insomnia (65).

In one study in 75 people with chronic insomnia, participants reported significant improvements in sleep quality after self-administering 3 intranasal drops of either violet or pure almond oil nightly for 30 days (65).

In another study in 442 university students, the number of participants who reported insomnia decreased by 8.4% after consuming 10 almonds daily for 2 weeks (66).

Since almond milk is made from whole almonds, it may also promote good sleep. Almond milk is high in sleep-promoting hormones and minerals, including tryptophan, melatonin, and magnesium. In fact, 1 cup (237 ml) of almond milk contains nearly 17 mg of magnesium (676869).

In recent years, magnesium has shown potential as a treatment for insomnia, particularly in older adults (707172).

Almond milk can likely be found at your local grocery store. It comes in a variety of brands and flavors. You can also make it at home.

Given that almond milk is made from whole almonds, people with nut allergies should avoid almond milk and products made with it.

SUMMARY

Almonds are high in sleep-promoting hormones and minerals. Thus, almond milk is also high in compounds that may help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

9. Banana-almond smoothie

Bananas are another food that’s high in magnesium, tryptophan, and melatonin (73).

They’re also high in potassium. Potassium and magnesium are two minerals that relax your muscles and may help you unwind at the end of a long day (74).

By combining bananas and almond milk in a smoothie, you can really pack in a powerful tryptophan and melatonin punch that might help reduce symptoms of insomnia.

To make a banana-almond smoothie, blend:

  • 1 fresh or frozen banana
  • 1 cup (237 ml) of almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of almond butter
  • 1/2 cup of ice (if using fresh a banana)

This simple recipe makes a good smoothie base to which you can add other ingredients that are rich in magnesium and potassium, such as leafy greens, orange juice, dark chocolate, yogurt, or avocados.

As long as you don’t have an allergy to bananas or almonds, a smoothie like this is a healthy and delicious way to end the day.

SUMMARY

Banana-almond smoothies contain many sleep-promoting compounds. Almonds have tryptophan and melatonin, while bananas boast muscle-relaxing potassium and magnesium.

The bottom line

Sometimes good sleep can be easily interrupted or hard to come by.

Fortunately, many beverages can serve as natural sleep aids.

Some sleep-promoting drinks are high in compounds like tryptophan and melatonin, while others encourage sleep by easing pain and discomfort in the evenings.

Most drinks with sleep-promoting potential can be prepared with just a few simple ingredients in 5 minutes or less.

Consider trying a few of the drinks above to find out which ones help you sleep best.

If you continue to have trouble sleeping, speak with your healthcare provider to get to the bottom of what may be causing your sleep difficulties.

6 Ways to Boost Your Coffee with Vitamins and Antioxidants

Start your day with a boost

Always forgetting to take your daily vitamins? Us, too. But something we never, ever forget? Our daily cup of coffee. In fact, our day doesn’t start until we’ve had it.

So why not double these activities? Add a healthy dose of vitamins, antioxidants, and nutritious benefits to your daily caffeine fix with a teaspoon of something extra in the morning. Yes, you heard us right. Try one of these six additions and brew up special vitamin coffee. The benefits are aplenty — from boosting mood and energy and protecting your heart to enhancing your sex life.

Sprinkle cinnamon for heart health

Sprinkling your morning cup o’ joe with cinnamon delivers a powerful (and delicious) dose of antioxidants. Cinnamon has been used both as a spice and medicinally for thousands of years. The spice is loaded with protective compounds (all 41 of them!) and has one of the highest antioxidant activity among spices.

According to a study on mice, cinnamon may add protection to your heart and brain. A study on human cells suggests it can lower cancer risk, too, and may also boost your immune system.

Serve: Stir 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon into your cup of coffee, or brew your coffee with 1 tsp. of cinnamon mixed right into the grounds.

Tip: Look for Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true” cinnamon. Although this variety is slightly harder to find and a bit more expensive, it’s a much higher quality than cassia cinnamon, the lower-quality version most commonly found in the United States. Ceylon is also safer to consume regularly compared to cassia. Cassia has a higher amount of the plant compound coumarin, which is considered unsafe to consume in large amounts.

Ginger up your java for muscle pain

If you’re only consuming ginger in its bread version, you’re missing out on a ton of health benefits. One of the easiest ways to get said benefits? Sprinkle some into your coffee for a slightly spicy, aromatic cup.

Ginger has been a common treatment for nausea for centuries. It contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Ginger can also reduce muscle pain, lower cholesterol, and aid in digestion.

Serve: Add ginger directly to your coffee (up to 1 tsp. per cup), or ditch the calorie- and sugar-laden coffee shop version and make a healthy pumpkin spice latte at home.

Tip: Got leftover fresh ginger sitting in your fridge from stir-fry night? Finely grate it using a microplane and then freeze it in individual teaspoon servings, ready to stir into your java.

Boost your health shield with mushrooms

Coffee and… mushrooms? OK, hear us out. A fungi-filled brew can have some surprising benefits on your health. Mushrooms have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting qualities. Loaded with antioxidants, mushrooms have anticancer effects on mice, and other studies on mice suggest mushrooms may prevent liver disease. It may also aid in digestion due to its powerful prebiotics.

Popular mushroom coffee brand Four Sigmatic tells us that drinking mushroom coffee is beneficial for your body, filled with superfoods, and only half the caffeine. “You also skip the jitters, stomach issues, and post-caffeine crash that normal coffee gives most [people],” they say.

Tip: Not all mushroom coffee is created equal. Looking for more energy? Try Cordyceps mushrooms. For stress and sleep aid, reach for Reishi.

Serve: You can purchase your own mushroom powders (which will indicate serving size), or buy conveniently packaged mushroom coffee (and even mushroom coffee K-Cup pods!).

Aid your digestion with a dose of turmeric

If you frequent health blogs, you’re probably no stranger to the infamous turmeric latte. The earthy, golden spice is a big deal for good reason. Many of its medicinal benefits come from the compound curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This antioxidant powerhouse supports liver detoxification, aids in digestion, and may even help treat depression.

Serve: Couple turmeric with healthy fats in a four-ingredient coconut-infused awakening coffee.

Tip: To boost the health benefits of turmeric, pair it with a pinch of black pepper. Pepper improves turmeric’s bioavailability, making the spice more effective in smaller doses.

Balance hormones with maca

Maybe you’ve seen maca powder, made from the maca root plant, available at your local health store. Maca root has been traditionally used to enhance fertility, and was shown to have hormone-balancing effects in a study on rats. The plant has also been studied to increase athletic performance, energy levels, and sex drive.

Not to mention, it’s highly nutritious. Maca contains over 20 amino acids (including eight essential amino acids), 20 free-form fatty acids, and is high in protein and vitamin C.

Serve: For maca’s optimal health benefits, 1 to 3 tsp. per day is recommended. Try making this Superfood Coffee. In addition to maca powder, it has four other superfoods from this list.

Tip: To prolong the shelf life of your maca powder, store it in the fridge.

Sweeten up your cup with antidepressive cacao

Chocolate and coffee seem like a match made in heaven already, right? When you add in the health benefits of raw cacao powder, it gets even better. This superfood is one of the most powerful antioxidants around and the highest plant-based source of iron. It’s good for your heart, too.

Anti-inflammatory cacao lowers blood pressure, increases HDL (good) cholesterol, and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. Its cognitive benefits, mood-enhancing, and antidepressive qualities make cacao great for the brain, too. And did we mention it’s delicious?

Serve: World’s healthiest mocha, anyone? Stir 1 tbsp. of raw cacao into your cup of coffee for a boost in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and magnesium.

Tip: Look for organic raw cacao to get the most benefits, and learn the difference between raw cacao and cacao powder.

Since most people are encouraged to limit their coffee consumption, it makes sense to make the most of each cup. Why not spice up that morning drink?All of these suggestions have great benefits and little risk, although more research is needed on humans to understand their full effects.