6 Easy and Amazing Oatmeal Recipes to Try This Week

Ask anyone what their favorite breakfast is, and you’ll likely get answers ranging from veggie omelets to sugary cinnamon buns. But how many people can say their favorite morning meal is oatmeal? Well, that’s all about to change. Not only is oatmeal super healthy (it’s packed with belly-filling fiber), but it’s also incredibly versatile. Whether you prefer the grains sweet or savory — or packed with protein or healthy fats — we have the right recipe for you. And remember that no matter which flavor combination you choose, one thing is guaranteed: You’ll never look at oatmeal the same way again.

Tomato Basil Oatmeal
Sweet oatmeal recipes are easy enough to find, but savory ones? Those are a little harder to pull off. With its tomato puree, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and Parmesan cheese, Oatgasm’s tomato and basil oatmeal reminds us of a lower-carb bowl of pasta — one that you’ll want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mangia!

Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal
Don’t have time to cook breakfast in the morning? No problem. Just toss 2 cups of oats into a slow cooker, top with some dried berries, and add water. Wait 90 minutes, and voila! With just 193 calories, this slow cooker overnight oatmeal will be your new favorite breakfast.

Blueberry Muffin Overnight Oats
Our love of overnight oats continues with this mouthwatering blueberry version from Eat Yourself Skinny. (Seriously, how gorgeous is this?) The Greek yogurt and chia seeds add an extra shot of protein (13.4 grams in one jar!) and a chewy, flavorful texture. And did we mention it only takes a few minutes to make?

Date-Sweetened Apple Pie Oatmeal
This gluten-free apple pie oatmeal from the Minimalist Baker is sweetened with dates, apple slices, and a dash of honey. It’s part crispy, part thick and creamy, and all parts totally delicious. Plus, it’s easy to mix and match this base recipe with other toppings — think: toasted nuts and flaxseed.

5-Minute Oatmeal Power Bowl
Who says comfort food can’t be healthy, too? This oatmeal power bowl from Oh She Glows is not only delicious, but it also lives up to its belly-filling promise: laden with chia seeds, almonds, and cinnamon, it’s an instant, energizing way to start your day.

Raspberry-Almond Overnight Oatmeal
Breakfast doesn’t get much easier than this raspberry almond oatmeal. Simply combine oats, milk, yogurt, almonds, chia seeds, and a dash of almond extract in a pint-sized mason jar, then shake, stir, and refrigerate. It’s packed with healthy ingredients, and served up in a perfect portion size, too!

Carbohydrates: Your Diet's Fuel

Before you feast on chicken and boycott carbs, take a closer look at the U.S. Food Pyramid.

Carbohydrates are highlighted as an important part of ahealthy diet, and not banned by any means. Your body needs a wide variety of foods to function and stay healthy.

"Carbohydrate is one of the macronutrients that we need, primarily for energy," says Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist, online nutrition coach, and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky.

While fats and protein are also necessary for energy, they're more of a long-term fuel source, while carbohydrates fulfill the body's most immediate energy needs. "It's your body's first source of energy — that's what it likes to use," adds Meyerowitz.

6 Detoxifying Vegetable Soup Recipes for the New Year

Bone broth was the hipster darling of 2015 food trends, but if healthy eating is one of your resolutions, just sipping on broth isn’t going to cut it. It’s a new year, and 2016 is all about doubling down on fruits and veggies in the most delicious way possible. Sure, salads pack in a lot of produce, but broth-based soups may be the most satisfying — and warming! — route to healthy eating this winter. If you’ve been mainlining gingerbread and peppermint bark for the past two weeks, a detoxifying veggie soup is the perfect way to usher in a healthier new year, one satisfying slurp at a time. Here are five recipes that’ll give your resolutions staying power all month long:

Many-Veggie Vegetable Soup

Many-Veggie Vegetable Soup 

We like to think of this dish from Love & Lemons as the “everything but the kitchen sink” of all soup recipes. Here at Everyday Health, we have a strict “no produce left behind” policy, and this is the perfect way to use up all of those death-row veggies in the fridge. Satiating sweet potatoes and carrots pair with lighter veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, and kale to create a hearty, stew-like dish that makes a delicious winter lunch or light supper.

Spiralized Vegan Ramen Soup With Zucchini Noodles

Spiralized Vegan Ramen Soup With Zucchini Noodles

Happiness is when two of your food obsessions (ramen and spiralizing) come together to create a healthy, guilt-free dish. Our friend Ali over at Inspiralized created the ultimate healthy substitute for when you’re jonesing for ramen. This recipe, which swaps noodles for zucchini ribbons, clocks in at 117 calories per serving, which makes it the perfect starter. Or you can make a vegan-friendly meal by adding protein-rich tofu or quinoa — or vegetarian (and a little more authentic!) by serving it with a perfect soft-boiled egg.

 

Spinach Soup With Rosemary Crouton

Spinach Soup With Rosemary Croutons

Here’s another “easy button” recipe that requires just a few essential ingredients that can be swapped in and out depending on what you have in the fridge. Here, cooked spinach, onion, and potatoes are blended with rosemary to create a vegetable-rich savory slurp, but you could use any green you have on hand (think: kale, arugula, mustard greens) and a variety of herbs (thyme, basil, and tarragon would all do the trick!). Eschewing bread this month? Just skip the croutons.

Carrot Apple Ginger Soup

Carrot Apple Ginger Soup

If you haven’t hit the supermarket for your annual “New Year, New You” shopping spree, check the crisper for these holiday holdovers: carrots, onions, apples, and ginger. This bright, sweet, and spicy soup from Joy the Baker keeps in the fridge for up to four days and freezes like a dream. Your first week of January lunch problem? Solved!

Amazon Bean Soup

Amazon Bean Soup With Winter Squash and Greens

If you’re looking for a vegetarian soup that even the most persnickety carnivore will love, look no further. The United Nations has declared 2016 the “International Year of Pulses” (pulses being beans and legumes to me and you), and for good reason: Beans are cheap, healthy, and environmentally-friendly sources of protein that are packed with fiber and nutrients. We love this wintry mix of beans, carrots, squash, and greens, finished with a squirt of lime. You can easily make this a vegan dish by swapping the butter for heart-healthy olive oil and the chicken stock for a veggie version.

No-Bone Broth

No-Bone Broth

Now that you’ve got five delicious soup ideas, you’ll need some broth. Matt Weingarten, culinary director for Dig Inn, created this No-Bone Broth recipe from kitchen scraps, like apple cores, vegetable peels, and the tops and tails of celery, to create a nutrient-rich, vegan stock that’s a perfect base for any soup recipe.

The Link Between Diet and Eye Disease

Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These eye diseases occur as we grow older, and proper nutrition may have some affect on both of them.

Cataracts develop on the lens of the eye when the proteins in the lens are damaged. These proteins are responsible for keeping the lens clear. When they become damaged, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, and your vision may become blurry. You may also have poor night vision or double vision with cataracts. Cataract surgery is often necessary to remove and replace the damaged lens with an artificial lens.

AMD occurs when cells in the macula of the eye die. The macula is located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye, and is responsible for your sharp, central vision, which you need for reading and other tasks that require good eyesight. Once the macula is damaged, your vision is no longer clear, and you cannot make out fine details of objects. There is no cure for AMD, but proper nutrition may help prevent it from worsening.

Diet and Eye Disease: What Is a “Healthy Eyes” Diet?

According to Nelson, the nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E; carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids; zinc; and vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid or folate), and B12.

“Antioxidants, especially lutein, help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce your risk for AMD,” says Jennifer K. Nelson, MS, RD, director of clinical dietetics and associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minn. “Folate and vitamin B6 decrease the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine, which lowers your risk for AMD. Antioxidants also help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts.”


Here's a list of foods containing eye-healthy nutrients:

  • Fruits and vegetables (good sources of vitamins C and E)
  • Dark green vegetables such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
  • Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (beta carotene and zeaxanthin)
  • Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Beef, eggs, lamb, milk, peanuts, pork, and whole grains (zinc)
  • Bananas, chicken, dried beans, fish, liver, pork, and potatoes (vitamin B6)
  • Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, mushrooms, nuts, and peas (folic acid)
  • Dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and shellfish (vitamin B12)

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white bread, and pasta, may actually increase your risk of developing AMD. These foods have a high glycemic index, which means they are broken down rapidly into blood glucose or sugar. Choose breads and pasta made from whole grains and brown rice for your complex carbohydrates.

Diet and Eye Disease: Nutrition Supplements for Eye Health

 

In 2001, the National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking a specific supplement of high doses of vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc, and copper may prevent intermediate AMD from progressing to the advanced stage. AREDS found no evidence that the supplement benefited anyone who showed no signs of AMD or those with early stage AMD. The AREDS-2 clinical trials are currently being conducted to look at the addition of lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids to the original AREDS formula.

For those with intermediate AMD who want to try the supplement formula, a discussion with your doctor is a must. “Because the AREDS-recommended supplement contains relatively high doses of antioxidants and zinc, you and your health care provider need to determine if the AREDS supplement is right for you,” cautions Nelson. “It is important that you do not self-medicate any supplements higher than the daily recommended intakes."

“We also need to look at the long-term effects of taking the AREDS supplement,” says Nelson. “For example, the AREDS formula has a very high level of beta carotene, which may increase the risk for lung cancer in smokers.” Nelson adds that eating a diet with plenty of green leafy vegetables, fish, and fortified cereals should make taking supplements for eye health unnecessary for most people.

“We’re only just beginning to look at nutrition and eye health, and it’s an exciting time because we have found such a link,” says Nelson. “A healthy diet is the foundation for healthy eyes.”

A Diet for Better Energy

Complex carbs are key for sustained energy throughout the day, while too many sugary snacks can lead to energy crashes. Find out which foods you need for round-the-clock energy.

 

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you're at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly," says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

 

A Diet for Better Energy

Complex carbs are key for sustained energy throughout the day, while too many sugary snacks can lead to energy crashes. Find out which foods you need for round-the-clock energy.

 

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you're at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly," says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

 

18 Ways to Make This Your Healthiest Summer Ever

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of summer always being linked to the dread of bathing suit season when there are so many healthy aspects to celebrate this time of year. Fresh produce is abundant, beautiful, and more affordable. The weather (at least in most parts of the country) is perfect for outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and swimming, and the days are longer so you have more time to fit in physical activity. Vacations allow you time to relax, de-stress, and get active with friends and family, and your schedule may be more flexible, allowing you more time to focus on healthy habits.

With summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to set some health goals and embrace new opportunities to eat smart and get fit. Here are 18 ideas to motivate and inspire you throughout the sunny months ahead:

Head to the Farmer’s Market

Loading up on summer’s best and freshest produce, including leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, berries, and stone fruits will make it easier to gobble up more vegetable and fruit servings.

Make salad your main course a few times a week. Take advantage of farm-fresh lettuce and the bounty of seasonal produce to concoct creative salad bowls. For a quintessential summer meal, top your greens with sweet corn, diced tomato, avocado, and crumbled feta.
Swap sugary desserts for delicious seasonal fruits. Instead of reaching for cookies, pastries, or chocolate after dinner, dig into a bowl of naturally sweet, ripe fruit. Best bets include berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, and plums.
Lay out a healthy, no-cook summer spread. If it’s too hot to cook, throw together a picnic-style meal of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, etc.) with hummus, sliced whole-grain bread or crackers, cheeses, olives, fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty nibbles.
Get grilling. It’s a terrific way to infuse flavor into lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts and thighs, turkey burgers, fish, shrimp, and pork tenderloin, especially if you start with a tasty spice rub or marinade. If you cook extra, you’ll have ready-to-eat proteins to add to leafy green or grain-based salads for simple meals later in the week.
And don’t forget the grilled veggies. Whenever you fire up the grill, toss on some sliced zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms. Chop them up and toss with pasta or cooked whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa for a simple meal. Or, layer grilled vegetables on whole-grain bread spread with goat cheese or hummus for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.
Cool down with fruit smoothies. Blend your favorite summer fruits — and veggies like carrots, spinach, and beets — with yogurt and your milk of a choice for a hydrating breakfast or snack. The fruit will add plenty of sweetness, so you can skip added sugars like maple syrup and honey. Make extra and pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups with popsicle sticks for a fun frozen dessert.
Start your day with a hearty, refreshing breakfast. Overnight oats are a great choice this time of year (they’re the more seasonally appropriate counterpart to a hearty bowl of hot oatmeal). Or, top fresh fruit with a dollop of protein-rich yogurt or part-skim ricotta cheese and optional chopped nuts. I can’t wait to dig into my first bowl of fresh cherries, peaches, or nectarines with ricotta!
Go skinny-dipping. Whip up a tasty new dip each week to enjoy with all of the deliciously dunkable summer produce. Try Greek yogurt with mixed fresh herbs, artichoke pesto (you have to try this recipe!), or any number of unique hummus variations, including roasted red pepper, beet, edamame, and carrot-based blends.
Start spiralizing. I don’t endorse a lot of single-use kitchen gadgets, but I’m pretty fond of the vegetable spiral slicers that are all the rage right now. The price is right at about $15 to $25 per machine, and you can use it to make low-cal veggie pastas and salads out of all of the inexpensive summer bumper crops like zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, and even beets. Check out this recipe for zesty Carrot Noodle Stir Fry from the blog Inspiralized.
Sip on iced tea. To help you stay hydrated in the hot weather, I suggest keeping a pitcher or two of unsweetened iced tea in the fridge at all times. Switching up the flavor from week to week will prevent you from getting bored in the beverage department. Mint green tea is a classic summertime brew, but I also love fruity combos like pomegranate and raspberry.
Plant something … anything! Never grown anything edible before? Don’t let that stop you; starting a simple garden in pots or other containers is actually really easy. Go to the nearest hardware store and pick up a large planter, a bag of potting soil, and a small potted plant, like any fresh herb or one of the vegetables listed here. Consider starting with basil or a cherry tomato varietal; they’re both easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen.
Go on a pick-your-own adventure! Don’t wait for apple picking in the fall. Make a date with family or friends to harvest summer produce at a local orchard or farm (visit pickyourown.org to find a site near you). If you’re willing to put in the labor, you can buy buckets of berries, stone fruit, and other seasonal items at a great price.
Sit down and enjoy meals outdoors. So many people I know own lovely patio sets but rarely use them. Make a plan to sit down to a family meal in your backyard once a week. You’ll likely eat more slowly and mindfully when you’re dining al fresco. If you don’t have access to an outdoor eating space, plan a fun picnic at a local park.
Master a few healthy recipes for summer cookouts. Finding lighter fare at barbecues can be a challenge, but if you volunteer to bring a healthy dish, you know you’ll have at least one good option to pile onto your plate and dilute some of the heavier entrees and sides. To keep things simple, bring a big bowl of fruit salad or pick up a crudite platter from the grocery store. If you don’t mind doing a bit more prep, I recommend throwing together a pasta salad with lots of veggies, like this colorful soba noodle salad with edamame, red pepper, and purple cabbage.
Go for a daily walk. Now that the days are longer, it’s easier to squeeze in a short walk at the start or end of your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (but if you can only commit to 15 or 20, that’s still well worth the effort). When things start to heat up, schedule an early morning or late evening walk when temps are cooler.
Hit the trail. For a change of scenery, seek out some local walking and hiking trails in your area using sites like alltrails.com and traillink.com. Pack a healthy lunch or snacks and make a day of it!
Take a hiatus from TV. With all the network hit shows on summer break, it’s the perfect time to reduce your screen time. Cut down on evening television viewing and spend that time outdoors walking, biking, doing yardwork, or playing with the kids or grandkids.

9 Diet Hacks Nutritionists Use Every Day

1 / 10   Think Like a Nutritionist With These Simple Tips

Whenever we have a diet or nutrition question, we call on a dietitian or nutritionist to lead us in the right direction. Although you may picture them noshing on raw veggies and sipping water all day, they aren’t always perfect — they enjoy dining out, battle the munchies, and love dessert just like the rest of us! The difference is they know the insider tips to shave calories off comfort food favorites, satisfy cravings the healthy way, and pack more nutrition into each meal. Make their tricks second nature and soon you’ll be an expert at keeping the flavor you crave, while slimming down your meals and your waistline

8 Healthy Game Day Snacks for Football Season

1 / 9   Skip the Takeout and Whip Up These 8 Winning Snacks

Even if you're not a football fanatic, game day is always an excuse to watch a good matchup, spend time with family and friends, and especially to eat your favorite foods. Nachos, chili, cheese dips — your upcoming game-day gathering will probably boast some of the best non-holiday spreads of the year. Game on! This year, it’s not about what foods you should avoid; instead, we scoured our favorite blogs for healthier game day dishes that score major points for flavor, originality, and nutrition. One look at these winning recipes and you won’t want to order out.

7 Dietitian-Approved Pumpkin Spice Foods You'll Love

1 / 8   Healthy Treats to Celebrate the Season

Fall means beautiful foliage, back-to-school time, and, you guessed it, pumpkin spice everything. From lattes to hummus (yes, you read that right), there’s no shortage of pumpkin spice-flavored products on the market. The problem is that many of these foods are laden with fat and sugar. A grande pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream at Starbucks, for example, contains a whopping 50 grams (g) of sugar and 380 calories — enough for a whole meal! Then there’s the pumpkin muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts, which weighs in at 550 calories and 24 g of fat.

The good news is you don’t have to steer clear of foods with pumpkin: They contain even more potassium than bananas, which means they can help lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. Plus, a study published in February 2014 in the International Journal of Clinical Oncology found that consuming foods rich in beta-carotene — like pumpkins — is associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer, and a study published in 2004 showed that it may also reduce risk of prostate cancer.

To help you get into the spirit of the season — without widening your waistline — try these dietitian-approved pumpkin spice treats!

Tomato Basil Oatmeal

Sweet oatmeal recipes are easy enough to find, but savory ones? Those are a little harder to pull off. With its tomato puree, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and Parmesan cheese, Oatgasm’s tomato and basil oatmeal reminds us of a lower-carb bowl of pasta — one that you’ll want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mangia!

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

Vitamin D

 

 

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

 

The Link Between Depression and Debt

Too often, depression and debt are connected — and together, they can spiral out of control. Try these strategies to regain your footing.

Mental problems and money problems often go hand in hand. For one, debt is an increasingly common stressor that can trigger depression. Indeed, people who live with debt are more likely than their peers to be depressed and even contemplate suicide, according to a report on the health effects of debt published in 2014 in BMC Public Health. They're also less likely to take good care of their health. On the other hand, the researchers found that debt management programs can help stave off depression. Here's what else you need to know.

How Debt Leads to Emotional Distress

Debt can make you feel helpless, hopeless, and low on self-esteem — and these are all symptoms and risk factors for depression, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Credit card debt, mortgage foreclosure, student loan debt, medical debt, and job loss can all contribute to depression, agree the authors of the BMC Public Health article, adding that you might also experience anger and anxiety. Other factors, such as being the sole breadwinner with dependent children, being elderly and not having much saved for retirement, or having very high interest debts, seem to increase depression risk.

When Depression Leads to Debt

It’s easy to understand how the stress of debt can trigger or worsen depression, but you may not realize that depression can also lead to debt problems.

Symptoms of depression can lead some people to accumulate growing piles of debt, Dr. Kaslow says. "Someone with depression may exhibit behaviors that can lead them into a debt crisis."

"Some people may try to relieve feelings of depression by compulsive shopping. Depression is often associated with destructive and addictive behaviors that can result in overwhelming debt. This type of debt can lead to extreme despair and even to suicide," Kaslow warns.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Ease Unemployment Blues

Compulsive buying, which can lead to debt, is indeed linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, researchers reported in the American Journal of Addiction in 2013. The researchers note that in addition to depression treatment, support groups using cognitive behavioral strategies can help control compulsive buying.

How to Find Debt and Depression Help

If you find you are dealing with debt and depression, it is important to address both, Kaslow says. Many types of help are available. "If a person is feeling trapped, desperate, and hopeless, they may need help for depression and help getting out of debt," she adds.

Depression is a very treatable disorder. The first step is to recognize the problem and ask your doctor for depression help. Once depression is diagnosed, your doctor might recommend a range of treatment strategies, including talk therapy, medications, and support groups.

For someone with addictive spending behaviors, Debtors Anonymous (DA) is an organization that can be very helpful, says Kaslow. DA has meetings all over the country where people share their experiences with compulsive debt and debt management. There are also online meetings. For help with compulsive debt, check out DA's website.

A good source of advice for getting help with a debt problem can be found via the Federal Trade Commission, which recommends the following strategies:

Develop and closely follow a budget.
Contact your creditors instead of avoiding them.
Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors.
Use a credit counseling or debt management agency.
Seek protection through bankruptcy laws.
Learn about the steps you need to take to repair your credit.
Beware of debt management scams promising an easy fix.

8 Healthy Game Day Snacks for Football Season

1 / 9   Skip the Takeout and Whip Up These 8 Winning Snacks

Even if you're not a football fanatic, game day is always an excuse to watch a good matchup, spend time with family and friends, and especially to eat your favorite foods. Nachos, chili, cheese dips — your upcoming game-day gathering will probably boast some of the best non-holiday spreads of the year. Game on! This year, it’s not about what foods you should avoid; instead, we scoured our favorite blogs for healthier game day dishes that score major points for flavor, originality, and nutrition. One look at these winning recipes and you won’t want to order out.

Serotonin Syndrome: 7 Things You Need to Know

1 / 8   Serotonin Syndrome
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a naturally occurring brain chemical) that helps regulate mood and behavior, and increasing serotonin is one way of treating depression.

But if you're taking antidepressant medication that increases serotonin too much, you could be at risk for a dangerous drug reaction called serotonin syndrome.

"Serotonin syndrome usually happens when a doctor prescribes a drug that increases serotonin to a patient already on an antidepressant," said Mark Su, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra University and director of the Toxicology Fellowship at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

The Calming Power of Nature

Spending time in nature eases depression, and could be a good supplement to medicine and therapy.

Remedies for depression abound, from medications to psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Having a range of treatment options is a good idea because no single treatment works equally well for each of the millions of U.S. adults with depression. Now researchers say a new therapy, proven to relieve depression, should be added to the mix as a supplement to established treatments. It's called nature.

Interacting with nature can have replenishing effects for those with depression, says Ethan Kross, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and one of many experts who has studied the nature-depression link.

A little dose of nature helps us all recharge, but it may have special benefit for those who are depressed. "It seems that, from our work, the restorative effect of nature seems to be stronger for individuals diagnosed with depression," says Marc Berman, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. That might be because they feel mentally fatigued, and being in nature re-energizes them. However, Dr. Berman has a strong caveat: "We're not arguing that interacting with nature should replace clinically proven therapies for depression," he says. Nor should those with clinical depression try to treat themselves.

RELATED: How to Create a Depression Treatment Plan

However, Berman and others say, interactions with nature could serve as a very effective supplemental treatment.

What Nature-Depression Research Shows

Among the studies finding nature helps with depression:

Adults with depression who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting for one research session and then a 50-minute walk in an urban setting for another research session were less depressed and had better memory skills after they took the nature walk.
Adults who moved to greener urban areas, compared to less green, had better mental health during follow-up three years after the move.
Those who took group nature walks reported less depression, less stress, and a better sense of well-being than those who didn't take nature walks, according to a study that looked at more than 1,500 people in a walking program.
Being outdoors and in nature boosts vitality, which experts define as having physical and mental energy. Those with depression often report fatigue and decreased energy. Researchers found the energy-boosting effect of nature was independent of the physical activity or social interaction experienced while outdoors.
How Nature Works Its Magic

The phenomenon of how nature helps improve depression is still being analyzed fully, Dr. Kross says.

One possibility, Berman says, is that interacting with nature helps due to the attention-restoration theory. "We have two kinds of attention," he says. "One is top-down (also called directed), the kind we use at work." Directed attention can be depleted fairly quickly, as you can only focus and concentrate for so long.

Another type of attention is bottom-up, or involuntary. "That's the kind automatically captured by things in the environment, such as lights or music." Involuntary attention is less susceptible to depletion. "You don't often hear people say, 'I can't look at this waterfall any longer,'" Berman says.

Why does nature hold this special effect? In a natural environment, we can choose to think or not, Berman says, and this choice is believed to help us rest our brains. You can then pay attention later, when you need to. "It is giving people more ability to concentrate, which is a big problem for those with depression," Berman says. Nature provides an effective setting for resting our brains, unlike urban settings. Even in the most peaceful urban environment, you have to pay attention to such things as traffic and stoplights.

Nature's replenishing effect is fairly instantaneous, Berman says. So if you're depressed and having an especially bad day, a quick dose of nature might help.

However, Berman cautions that anyone with clinical depression needs to be under a doctor's care, with supervision of all their treatments.

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Nigel Barker: How a Mediterranean Diet Cut My Cholesterol by 88 Points

You may know Nigel Barker as the encouraging yet truthful judge on America's Next Top Model, or as a famed fashion photographer who has shot pictures for GQ, Lucky, and Town & Country, among others — or as the author of a book about connecting with your best self, Beauty Equation.

He's fit and trim and confident, but under that chiseled frame, the now 44-year-old Barker learned a few years ago that he wasn't nearly as healthy as he'd assumed. And he never would have found out — and had the chance to turn his health around — if it weren't for a routine conversation with his insurance company.

In 2011, when Barker asked for an increase in the amount of coverage on his life insurance policy, what he thought would be a no-brainer (pay more to get more) turned out to be a rude awakening.

The company denied the additional coverage because Barker's cholesterol levels were too high.

Food, Family, and High Cholesterol

Barker was shocked: He'd been following a strict low-carb, high-protein diet for the previous two years and had toned his body in the process, which he thought would be good for his heart and health. But his high-protein diet also included saturated fat-heavy red meat, cheese, and butter, which probably contributed to his total cholesterol level of 253 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and an LDL ("bad") cholesterol level of 155 mg/dL.

"I looked great on the outside," says Barker. But inside, potentially dangerous levels of cholesterol were putting him at risk for heart problems.

The optimal level of total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, and LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Barker's total cholesterol level put him at risk for heart disease. On the plus side, Barker's "good" HDL cholesterol was fine, at 63; anything above 60 is considered cardio-protective. Though it's important to aim for these numbers, the American Heart Association (AHA) advocates looking at a person's overall health and lifestyle as risk factors in addition to cholesterol counts.

What you eat is one of these factors, and — bonus! — the perks of a healthy meal plan can extend beyond your heart. A study published in July 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in heart-healthy foods like whole grains, olive oil, legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables had better memories and cognition as they aged.

For Barker, even more concerning than just the numbers was his family history of heart disease: His father had his first of several heart attacks at age 45. Having a parent who had a heart attack predicts your heart disease risk more than any other single factor, according to a study published in February 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"The combination of Nigel's high LDL levels and family history was really scary," says Barker's cardiologist, Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When you have a family history of heart disease, you really have to pay attention to your own health."

Because high cholesterol has no symptoms, it can go undiagnosed for years. And people who have a high risk of heart attack due to family history often have no signs or symptoms until they have a heart attack.

While Dr. Steinbaum encourages everyone to have their levels checked regularly, it's especially important if heart disease runs in your family.

The United Stated Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting your cholesterol levels screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women, although if you have increased risk (such as with Barker), you should be screened as early as age 20.

The AHA recommends a more aggressive screening every five years beginning at age 20, but if you have high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.

The main priority is to understand your risk and discuss it with your doctor to determine when cholesterol testing is appropriate for you.

How Barker Lowered His Cholesterol Naturally

Steinbaum recommended that Barker first change his diet instead of immediately turn to cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower his total and LDL cholesterol levels.

RELATED: Dr. Dean Ornish Turns Back the Clock on Heart Disease

So Barker traded his low-carb, high-protein eating plan for a Mediterranean-style diet. "Before, Nigel was eating exactly what he shouldn't have been eating for his heart health," Steinbaum says. "But he made the decision to change, and stuck with it."

Within a year, Barker's total cholesterol reading dropped to a much healthier 165, and his LDL was about 100.

"He did it on his own by making healthy choices every day," says Steinbaum.

And Barker remains committed to those heart-healthy habits. "Sometimes you need the drugs," he says, "but we decided to try a little bit of common sense and discipline first."

Overly Controlling Moms Lose Out, Study Says

Helicopter parents, take note: A mother has a better relationship with her child if she respects the youngster's need for independence at a young age, a new study suggests.

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Mothers who allowed children more freedom at age 2 were viewed more positively by their children later in childhood, according to the University of Missouri study.

The study included more than 2,000 mothers and their children. The researchers observed how much the mothers controlled the children's play at age 2 and then interviewed the children at fifth grade to assess how they felt about their mothers.

"When mothers are highly controlling of small children's play, those children are less likely to want to engage with them," Jean Ispa, co-chair of the department of human development and family studies, said in a university news release.

 

 

Respect for independence is important both for children's growth and for creating positive parent-child relationships, she said. "We found that mothers who supported their children's autonomy were regarded more positively by their children than mothers who were highly directive," she said.

RELATED: Being a Good Parent Without Judging Other Parents

"Mothers who are very directive when their children are toddlers often tend to still be controlling when their children enter adolescence," Ispa noted.

Mothers with small children mostly use physical controls, she said, but when children are older these directives become more verbal and psychological -- not allowing kids to speak their mind, for instance. "It's not surprising that their children begin to view them in a negative light," Ispa said.

The findings, published online recently in the journal Social Development, don't mean that parents should not establish and enforce rules or offer advice, Ispa said. She noted that behavioral rules -- such as teaching children to check for cars before crossing the street -- did not have a negative impact on mother-child relationships.

It was psychological control -- such as inducing guilt or telling children what to think and feel, or to play in certain ways -- that damaged mother-child relationships, the study found.

 

 

"Many times, parents think that employing these controlling behaviors is the 'right way' to raise children, but our research shows that really does not work," Ispa said.

"Allowing children age-appropriate levels of autonomy to make safe decisions is very good for kids, and they usually will make wise decisions when they have been taught about safe choices as well as consequences," she added.

"A good place for parents to start would be to have open discussions and allow their children to express their own points of view," she suggested. "When giving children instructions, explain reasons for decisions rather than simply saying, 'Because I said so.' "

Hold That Pose: Yoga May Ease Tough Depression

Study finds weekly sessions, plus deep breathing, helped ease cases when medications failed.

The calming poses and meditation of yoga may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to beating depression, new research suggests.

Researchers found that weekly sessions of yoga and deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of the common condition. They believe the practice may be an alternative or complementary therapy for tough-to-treat cases of depression.

The intervention seemed helpful for "people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants [but] have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," study lead author Dr. Chris Streeter said in a news release from Boston Medical Center. He's a psychiatrist at the hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University.

Major depression is common and often persistent and disabling, Streeters' team noted. Up to 40 percent of people taking medication for this form of depression won't see their depression go away, according to the researchers.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

However, prior studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga may be of help.

"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals," explained Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who reviewed the new findings.

He added that exercise, especially yoga, may also "reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression."

Then there's yoga's meditative quality, as well, Manevitz said.

"It has been demonstrated that 'mindful' movement -- conscious awareness -- has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system," he said.

But would this bear out in a rigorous study? To find out, Streeter's team tracked outcomes for 30 people with major depressive disorder. All were randomly assigned to partake in either a "high-dose" or "low-dose" yoga intervention. The high-dose group had three 90-minute yoga classes each week along with home practice, while the low-dose group engaged in two 90-minute yoga sessions each week in addition to home practice.

The participants practiced Ilyengar yoga, a method that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breath control.

The study found that both groups had significant reductions in their depression symptoms. Those who took three weekly yoga classes had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the "low-dose" group, but Streeter's team said even two classes a week was still very effective in improving people's mood.

Streeter noted that this intervention targets a different neurochemical pathway in the body than mood-altering medications, suggesting that yoga may provide a new, side effect-free avenue for treatment.

For his part, Manevitz called the study "practical and well-designed." He believes the findings support yoga as a treatment "that can help the millions of people suffering from major depressive disorders around the world."

Dr. Victor Fornari is a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. He agreed that the new study "supports the use of yoga for the treatment of depression... Yoga, like regular exercise, is good for most people for health maintenance as well as to treat what ails them."

The Role of Genetics in Depression

These new genetic discoveries may someday lead to new depression treatments.

 death thoughts, and more — you might ask yourself, "Why me?" Scientists are trying to answer that question.

Researchers know from twin and family studies that genetics does play a role in depression: You don’t actually inherit depression, but you may inherit genes that predispose you to the condition. If you have a parent or sibling with major depressive disorder, you are two to three times more likely to develop depression than someone with no family history. The risk is higher if family members developed depression early in life or experienced recurrent episodes of depression.

Risk Factors for Depression Vary

Having a genetic predisposition doesn’t mean you’ll become depressed. Environmental factors are also very important, says Mary Fristad, PhD, director of research and psychological services in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Ohio State University in Columbus.

“Even if someone is ‘genetically loaded’ because they have multiple relatives with depression — and their partner is equally genetically loaded — raising a child in a calm, predictable, loving, nurturing, limit-setting household with good nutrition, plenty of exercise, adequate sleep, and participation in enjoyable activities might either prevent or delay the onset of depression,” she says.

Dr. Fristad doesn’t recommend genetic testing for depression. “The simplest and least expensive genetic test at present is to ask if anyone on either side of the family has depression,” she says.

But Chris Aiken, MD, director of the Mood Treatment Center and a clinical psychiatry instructor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, both in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says one particular type of gene has been implicated in the development of depression — information that may be helpful to some people. It’s called the serotonin transporter (SERT); serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate levels of anxiety, depression, and irritability.

RELATED: How to Tell If It’s a Bad Mood or Depression

“You can have genes for either a short or long version of SERT,” says Dr. Aiken. “These genes predict whether people will get depressed in the face of stress. For people with the long-arm version of the gene, the risk of depression doesn't rise even after a major life stress, like divorce, grief, or job loss. For those with the short-arm version, the rate of depression goes up with each new stress."

“What's interesting is that people have the same rate of depression when they aren't under any stress — regardless of which version of SERT they have,” Aiken says. “It's only after major stress or childhood trauma that the two groups start to look different.”

Having the long form of the gene raises the risk of experiencing depression after stress, but you won’t automatically become depressed if you have that gene and undergo stress. Similarly, you can still get depressed with the short-arm gene after a stressful life event (i.e., having the gene is not totally protective). In a nutshell, having a particular form of the gene raises the risk of depression after stress but cannot 100 percent predict or prevent it.

According to Aiken, the short-arm SERT isn’t unique to depression: It’s also been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, fear responses, and alcoholism.

New Genetic Markers for Depression Revealed

In a study published in July 2015 in Nature, scientists reported finding two genetic markers that appear to be clearly linked to major depression. Researchers sequenced DNA from about 10,600 Chinese women, half of whom had depression. Of that half, 85 percent had a severe type of depression called melancholia, described as a gloomy, foreboding feeling that robs people of their joy. They found two genetic sequences that seemed to be linked to depression and confirmed these correlations in an additional 6,000 subjects and controls.

Norman Sussman, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Treatment Resistant Depression Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City says the results of this study help validate the fact that depression really is an illness, not a psychosomatic disorder or weakness of character.

RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression

“I tell patients, depression is a medical disease," says Dr. Sussman. "Instead of [showing] physical symptoms (which they can also have), it primarily manifests through abnormalities in cognition and mood. You see things in a negative, hopeless way.”

The Nature findings also offer potential opportunity for treatment. Sussman says if we understand the mechanics of depression, it opens new pathways for drug development. Furthermore, says Aiken, knowing your genotype can also help you avoid wasting time with medications that are less likely to work. For example, people with short-arm SERT genes are less likely to respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most common type of antidepressant, but they may respond to other medications.

How You Can Prevent Depression Symptoms

There’s no medical test to diagnose depression, so health professionals rely on patients or family members to report symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic guidelines say patients should not be diagnosed with depression unless they exhibit a persistently low mood or loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, in addition to four or more symptoms of depression.

Depression symptoms might include loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, significant weight loss or gain, lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, or repeated thoughts of death or suicide.

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

At least 10 percent of Americans will eventually experience an incidence of major depressive disorder, the most serious type of depression. Other people have low-grade, chronic depression. “The difference is severity,” says Sussman. “People with chronic depression know they should be happier than they are.” 

The important thing to keep in mind is that depression is not inevitable — even if you’re genetically predisposed — and it is treatable.

“Studies show that people whose environments are loving, nurturing, structured, physically active, and have good social networks and friendships are protective for children with genetic risks for depression,” says Aiken.

Online screening tools, such as the Depression Wellness Analyzer and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), can help you evaluate whether you may have depression. Discuss the results with your physician so you can seek treatment if appropriate.

9 Allergy Safe Beauty Products

For a hypoallergenic beauty product to plump up your lashes, Van Dyke suggests Almay Thickening Mascara. It's affordable, available at mass-market stores, and a great beauty product to avoid skin allergy reactions. Almay products go through rigorous testing to avoid allergens and irritants and maintain the brand's reputation for hypoallergenic beauty products, says Van Dyke. "It is hard to beat Almay for dermatologist-approved makeup, particularly around the eye," she adds.

Conquering Depression and Obesity

By the time David Clark was in his early thirties, he owned a chain of 13 retail stores that reported $8 million a year in sales, and he was married with three children. “I should be happy,” he recalls thinking. But he wasn’t.

He was depressed. “I couldn’t find simple joy in anything, and had thoughts of stepping in front of a bus to end it,” he says. The depression caused him to eat massive amounts of fast food and drink recklessly, he says, and that led to obesity. At his heaviest, the nearly 6-foot-tall Clark, from Lafayette, Colorado, weighed 320 pounds.

Clark was not alone in suffering from depression and obesity. Nearly half of all adults who live with depression — 43 percent — are obese, and adults with depression are more likely to be obese than adults who aren’t depressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whether depression or obesity comes first can vary from person to person, says Kim Gudzune, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “But if you have one condition, you’re more likely to have the other,” she says.

Depression and obesity are often linked because of the stigma of obesity. Some who are obese have a poor body image and can become depressed as a result, Dr. Gudzune says, and others eat to drown their sorrows.

In addition, “there may be shared neural pathways between obesity and depression that may place individuals at risk for both,” says Leslie Heinberg, PhD, director of behavioral services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

How Clark Turned His Life Around

After his weight gain, Clark was at risk for high blood pressure and was borderline diabetic.

He says he overcame both of his health conditions essentially on his own. One morning, when he was 34, Clark says he woke up and realized how close to death he was. He knew that if he didn’t change, his children would be fatherless.

“I didn’t want my kids to see their father drink himself to death,” he says, so he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and followed the group's 12 steps to stop drinking. “I went on a spiritual journey to make peace with my path,” says Clark, who grew up poor and homeless. As a kid, he and his dad had roamed the country in the back of a pickup truck, he says.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Set Goals You’ll Actually Achieve

He also began running. And running. Some years earlier, he'd seen the New York City Marathon on television and always had it in the back of his mind that that was something he might do. Eventually, Clark became an ultra-marathon runner. Now 44, he runs at least 80 to 100 miles a week and competes in some of the most challenging endurance races on the planet, including across Death Valley in California.

At first, it was painful to run, but he says the pain was also motivating. “I knew the stakes had to be pretty high to make such a dramatic change in my life," he says.

Running: A Low Cost Mood Booster

After Clark revamped his diet to be plant-based, stopped drinking alcohol, and began running regularly, his weight began to drop. It took him 18 months, but he got down to a healthy 180 pounds. When he switched to competitive running, he lost another 20 pounds and has stayed at 160 for years now, he says.

The running also improved his mood, says Clark, who chronicles his journey in the book Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery. Exercise releases endorphins — hormones that reduce your perception of pain and improve your mood, according to Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Clark advises others who struggle with obesity and depression to do like he did and “draw a line in the sand” to say, “I’m not going to live this way anymore — I’m going to move on to a better place.”

What You Can Do

Though Clark lost weight on his own, not everyone can. So if you're struggling, consider working with a nutritionist or your doctor to find a weight-loss program. The key is to make low-calorie, healthy choices and exercise more so that you burn more calories than you consume, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you're extremely overweight, your doctor might suggest medication to curb your appetite, or weight-loss surgery.

Exercise and eating well may also help treat your depression. You can work with a therapist who can help you find the right treatment plan. That could include individual or group therapy, stress-reduction techniques, medication, or some combination of these.

Treatment can be difficult, because a side effect of some depression medications is weight gain, Gudzune says. But treating depression and weight issues simultaneously, Heinberg says, can be beneficial because if people who are depressed are able to lose weight, that could benefit their depression.

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

Teens and E-cigarettes

In Figure 2 Teen e-cig users are more likely to start smoking.
30.7 percent of e-cig users started smoking within 6 months while 8.1 percent of non users started smoking. Smoking includes combustible tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, and hookahs).

13 Conditions Commonly Mistaken for Multiple Sclerosis

Getting a correct diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a challenge.

No single test can determine a diagnosis conclusively, and not everyone has all of the common symptoms of MS, such as numbness, tingling, pain, fatigue, and heat sensitivity. And to complicate matters, the symptoms you do have may resemble those of some other condition.

To figure out what’s causing possible MS symptoms, doctors look at your medical history, the results of a neurological exam, and an MRI — and sometimes do a spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture), says Jack Burks, MD, a neurologist and chief medical officer for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. "The diagnosis can also require eliminating the possible MS mimicker diseases," he says. That leads to an MS diagnosis by exclusion.

Here are some of the conditions that are sometimes mistaken for multiple sclerosis:

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through a tick bite. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches. Later symptoms can include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, as well as cognitive problems such as short-term memory loss and speech issues. If you live in an area that’s known to have Lyme disease or have recently traveled to one, your doctor will want to rule out the possibility, Dr. Burks says.

A migraine is a type of headache that can cause intense pain; throbbing; sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells; nausea and vomiting; blurred vision; and lightheadedness and fainting. A study published online in Neurology in August 2016 found that a migraine was the most common correct diagnosis in study subjects who had definitely or probably been misdiagnosed with MS, occurring in 22 percent of them. That said, headaches — and migraines in particular — do commonly occur with MS, shows a study published in Neurological Sciences in April 2011. And according to a study published in the Journal of Headache Pain in October 2010, they are also significantly associated with other types of pain, as well as with depression.

Migraines can be difficult to diagnose, and doctors use some of the same tools to diagnose the headaches as they do for MS, including taking a medical history and performing a thorough neurological examination.

Conversion and psychogenic disorders are conditions in which psychological stress is converted into a physical problem — such as blindness or paralysis — for which no medical cause can be found. In the Neurology study on MS misdiagnosis, 11 percent of subjects definitely or probably misdiagnosed with MS actually had a conversion or psychogenic disorder.

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is an inflammatory disease that, like multiple sclerosis, attacks the myelin sheaths — the protective covering of the nerve fibers — of the optic nerves and spinal cord. But unlike MS, it usually spares the brain in its early stages. Symptoms of NMOSD — which include sudden vision loss or pain in one or both eyes, numbness or loss of sensation in the arms and legs, difficulty controlling the bladder and bowels, and uncontrollable vomiting and hiccups — tend to be more severe than symptoms of MS. Treatments for MS are ineffective for and can even worsen NMOSD, so getting an accurate diagnosis is extremely important. A blood test known as the NMO IgG antibody test can help to differentiate between MS and NMOSD.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disorder that, like MS, affects more women than men. It can cause muscle pain, joint swelling, fatigue, and headaches. The hallmark symptom of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash covering the cheeks and bridge of the nose, but only about half of people with lupus develop this rash. There is no single diagnostic test for lupus, and because its symptoms are similar to those of many other conditions, it is sometimes called “the great imitator.”

Rheumatologists (physicians specializing in diseases of the muscles and joints) typically diagnose lupus based on a number of laboratory tests and the number of symptoms characteristic of lupus that a person has.

A stroke occurs when a portion of the brain stops receiving a steady supply of blood, and consequently doesn't get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive. Symptoms of a stroke include loss of vision; loss of feeling in the limbs, usually on one side of the body; difficulty walking; and difficulty speaking — all of which can also be signs of an MS flare. The age of the person experiencing the symptoms may help to pin down the correct diagnosis. "While MS can occur in 70-year-olds, if the person is older, you tend to think of stroke, not MS," Burks says. A stroke requires immediate attention; if you think you’re experiencing a stroke, call 911.

Fibromyalgia and MS have some similar symptoms, including headaches, joint and muscle pain, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory problems, and fatigue. Like MS, fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. But unlike MS, fibromyalgia does not show up as brain lesions on an MRI.

Sjögren’s syndrome is another autoimmune disorder, and the symptoms of many autoimmune disorders overlap, Burks says. Sjögren’s causes fatigue and musculoskeletal pain and is more common in women than in men. But the telltale signs are dry eyes and dry mouth, which are not associated with MS.

RELATED:  The Complex Process of Diagnosing MS

Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels that can mimic MS, says Kathleen Costello, an adult nurse practitioner and at The Johns Hopkins MS Center in Baltimore and vice president of healthcare access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Depending on the type of vasculitis, symptoms can include joint pain, blurred vision, and numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs.

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness that typically comes and goes, but tends to progress over time. The weakness is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. In many people, the first signs of myasthenia gravis are drooping eyelids and double vision. Like MS, it can also cause difficulty with walking, speaking, chewing, and swallowing. If a doctor suspects myasthenia gravis, a number of tests can help to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.


Sarcoidosis is another inflammatory autoimmune disease that shares some symptoms with MS, including fatigue and decreased vision. But sarcoidosis most commonly affects the lungs, lymph nodes, and skin, causing a cough or wheezing, swollen lymph nodes, and lumps, sores, or areas of discoloration on the skin.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause MS-like symptoms such as fatigue, mental confusion, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. That's because vitamin B12 plays a role in the metabolism of fatty acids needed to maintain the myelin sheath. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be identified with a simple blood test.

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is a severe inflammatory attack affecting the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, and difficulty walking. A very rare condition, ADEM typically comes on rapidly, often after a viral or bacterial infection. Children are more likely to have ADEM, while MS is more likely to occur in adults.

News From AAN: Correction on Tysabri/PML Blog (last of paper)

Last week we posted a blog about the risks of PML for patients taking Tysabri, based on news from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meetings which took place earlier this month. In the comments section, Chris asked that we check our facts and report back.

Well, once again, your commitment to the Life With MS Blog community has paid off.

I jotted off a quick e-mail to the Public Affairs department for Biogen/Idec and waited… and waited… and got nothing. Because, however, of the active participation of our community the conversation was noted and I got an e-mail asking if we needed any assistance directly from the senior manager for international public affairs.

I am not happy that I was wrong, but I am happy to know that we can get the correct information out to you today.

I had reported that Alfred Sandrock, MD, PhD, of Biogen/Idec, presented findings from the company’s study on progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in patients using Biogen/Idec’s MS drug, Tysabri. I was mistaken in my assessment of “immunosuppressive” (IS) therapy in the list of risk factors for PML.

Risk factors for PML include:

More than two years on Tysabri
Prior immunosuppressant therapy
Positive serology for JC virus infection
According to Biogen, immunosuppessants, in the context used by Dr Sandrock are limited as:

“A prior IS would be considered mitoxantrone, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, cladribine, rituximab, and chemotherapy (not otherwise specified).”

Not included, as you can see, are any of the other MS disease modifying therapies (DMT) or even corticosteroids like Solu-Medral or Prednisone — which is normally considered an IS drug, but not for the case of the PML warning.

The original press release that I received on the topic was incomplete and I apologize for the misunderstanding.

As a side note, I took advantage of the conversation to request more information on the companies rational in keeping the patent on the JC Virus assay test that I also mentioned in that same blog post. I’ll update you on that conversation as soon as it happens.

Once again, your voice was heard by the people who have the answers and I think we’ve cleared up the misunderstanding. Thank you all for your continued involvement in our community. It makes a big difference in the lives of so many!

Wishing you and your family the best of health

 

8 Reasons You Have No Energy

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t hit snooze or experience the midafternoon slump every once in a while, but if you constantly feel like you’re dragging it may be time to take a closer look at your routine. If you don’t have a related health condition and are getting enough shuteye each night, you may be to blame for the constant fatigue. Here are 8 energy-zapping habits that you can change today.  

1. You’re eating too much sugar. While the candy jar is an obvious culprit, refined carbohydrates like white bread and rice, chips, and cereal are a major source of sugar,too. This type of simple sugar is digested quickly by the body, leading to a dip in blood sugar levels that leaves you feeling fatigued. Be sure to replace refined carbs with whole grain varieties for a lasting energy boost.

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2. You aren’t exercising enough. It may seem counterintuitive that exerting energy will actually increase it, but adding a workout to your daily routine will give you a short-term energy boost. Plus, regular exercise improves sleep quality, which will ultimately leave you feeling more well rested.

3.  You’re skipping breakfast. "Skipping breakfast can definitely contribute to low energy in the morning," says Johannah Sakimura, MS and Everyday Health blogger. "It's important to give your body good fuel to start the day after an extended period of fasting." Without this fuel, your body is running on empty – leaving you famished by lunchtime and more likely to make unhealthy choices that will cause that midafternoon dip in blood sugar. "Try to combine healthy carbohydrates, like fruit, veggies, and whole grains, with a protein source, such as eggs, nuts, or dairy. The carbs give you an initial boost, and the protein helps sustain you until your next meal," says Sakimura.

4. You’re sitting too much. Not only is sitting for prolonged periods of time harmful to your health (just one hour of sitting affects your heart!), but it’s a major energy zapper as well. Standing up and moving for even a few minutes helps get your blood circulating through your body and increases the oxygen in your blood, ultimately sending more oxygen to your brain which increases alertness. If you work a desk job, try this move more plan to keep your blood pumping.

5. You’re drinking too much caffeine. Whether it’s a can of soda or constant refills of your coffee mug, many of the beverages we reach for when we feel tired are packed with caffeine – a stimulant that will give you a quick jolt, but can also leave you crashing soon after if you ingest too much. Plus, if you’re drinking caffeinated beverages into the afternoon, they may start to have an effect on your sleep quality. If you’re a coffee drinker, switch to water late-morning and replace soda with seltzer for a bubbly afternoon pick-me-up without the crash.

6. You’re dehydrated. We all know the importance of drinking enough water – and even mild dehydration can have adverse effects on your energy level, mood, and concentration. Aim for at least one glass of water per hour while sitting at your desk, and be sure to fill your bottle up even more if you’re doing strenuous activity or are outdoors in high temperatures. 

7. You have poor posture. A study found that slouched walking decreased energy levels while exacerbating symptoms of depression. The good news: Simply altering body posture to a more upright position instantly boosted mood and energy, while enabling participants to more easily come up with positive thoughts. So sit up straight! Set reminders on your phone or calendar throughout the day to remind yourself to check in with your posture and straighten up. 

8. You’re not snacking smart. If you’re running to the vending machine for a quick afternoon snack, your selection – most likely high in simple carbs and sugar – will take your energy levels in the wrong direction. Instead choose a snack that has a combo of protein and complex carbs for an energy boost that will last throughout the afternoon. Think trail mix, veggies and hummus, or peanut butter on whole wheat toast.

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Side Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Medications

Twelve disease-modifying medications are FDA-approved to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, these drugs help prevent relapses and slow progression of the disease.

The newest disease-modifying medications are called “immunomodulators” because they affect the functioning of your immune system. 

“All these therapies highlight the increased choices and options for patients living with MS, and the ability of physicians to select a therapy based on individual characteristics,” says Ari Green, MD, assistant clinical director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center and director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center in San Francisco.

But all drugs can have adverse side effects, and those associated with MS medications range from mild (such as flu-like symptoms or irritation at an injection site) to serious (such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy [PML], a viral disease in the brain).

One of the challenges of MS treatment is balancing risk and benefit, says Dr. Green. Stronger medications might be more effective at slowing progression of the disease, but they may also be associated with more risks.

Discussing Medication Side Effects With Your Doctor

"A doctor has to have a frank and open discussion to find out what is tolerable for patients," says Green. "Some side effects go away as the body gets used to MS medications, but others, such as irritation where the injection takes place, do not."

Because people experience side effects differently, each individual has to decide which side effects he or she can live with, he adds.

In some cases, what are thought to be drug side effects may actually be MS symptoms. Fatigue and headache, for example, may be either.

Keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor determine whether you are experiencing a symptom of multiple sclerosis or a medication side effect.

Make a note of when your symptom began, how long it lasted, what might have triggered it, and whether anything you did eased the symptom.

“The more patients are engaged in keeping track of things, the more they can be positively and appropriately engaged in directing their own care,” says Green. This information can also help your provider select appropriate therapies in the future.

Managing MS Medication Side Effects

Some simple steps can often help you manage the most common side effects of MS medications:

Infection risk Some of the immunomodulatory medications increase your risk of common infections, so it’s important to practice prevention strategies such as washing your hands frequently and limiting your contact with people who are ill.

Flu-like symptoms Fever, chills, achiness, and feeling generally under the weather are not uncommon following interferon beta injections, leading some users to stop the medication. Interferon beta medications include Betaseron, Extavia, Avonex, Rebif, and Plegridy.

According to nurses with expertise in MS care, the following steps can help to manage these side effects:

Staying hydrated
Eating healthfully
Taking medications before sleep
Warming injectable medicines up to body temperature before injecting
You can also take a small dose of Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin (ibuprofen) an hour before and an hour after your injection. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Aleve (naproxen), or Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may also help ease these side effects, Green says.

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of MS Steroid Treatment

Injection-site irritation Applying ice to your injection sites before injections, and a warm compress afterward, can help ease any irritation.

Some people may also benefit from some retraining on the finer points of giving themselves injections, notes Green. This is especially true because most people learn how to give self-injections right after their diagnosis — a period when they’re undoubtedly absorbing lots of information about the disease.

If you’re having trouble injecting your MS medication, speak to your healthcare provider about working with an MS nurse for training in self-injections.

Heart health The medication Gilenya (fingolimod) is known to slow some users’ heart rate within the first six hours after the first dose. Because of this, your doctor may advise you to have your first dose in a clinical setting, where your pulse and blood pressure can be monitored.

Distinguishing Side Effects From Symptoms

The immediate side effects of MS medications may be more apparent once you experience them. Immediate side effects, such as flu-like symptoms and chills, are easy to discern, says Green. Even the muscle aches and pains that can occur immediately after taking disease-modifying MS medications differ from the pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

The one rare medication side effect that might be hard to distinguish from an MS symptom is PML, which has been related to use of the drug Tysabri (natalizumab). PML, however, will progress much more quickly than multiple sclerosis — a good reason to stay on top of your medical checkups.


Ongoing Medication Monitoring

Most of the medications prescribed for MS require regular blood tests to keep track of the treatment’s effect on your body, including your liver.

The drug Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) requires blood and urine monitoring before, during, and for four years after treatment is given to watch for serious autoimmune conditions associated with the drug.

In addition to monitoring for side effects, you and your doctor should monitor for positive effects of drugs as well. Green says that a change in therapy is needed if you are having more than one MS relapse a year, if multiple new brain lesions are seen on your MRI, or if your symptoms are progressing despite treatment. Switching medications is a decision you and your doctor should make together.

Risk of Preemie Birth May Rise for Depressed Parents-to-Be

Treating expectant mothers -- and fathers -- might help prevent early birth, study suggests.

It's known that an expectant mother's mental and emotional health can affect her baby. New research, however, finds that depression in either the father or the mother may be linked to an increased likelihood of preterm birth.

Screening for and treating mental health problems in both parents may help reduce the odds of a preterm delivery, according to study author Dr. Anders Hjern and his colleagues.

"Depressive fathers influence the stress hormone balance in the mother, and depression may also -- but this is more speculative -- have an effect on sperm quality," said Hjern, professor of pediatric epidemiology with the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Hjern and his colleagues analyzed more than 360,000 births in Sweden between 2007 and 2012. They determined parental depression by prescriptions for antidepressants that the expectant parents were taking. The researchers also looked at the parents' outpatient and hospital care. All this information was from 12 months before conception until six months after conception.

Mothers who had either a first bout with depression or recurring depression appeared to have a 30 percent to 40 percent higher risk of delivering a baby moderately preterm -- at 32 to 36 weeks. Full term is 39 to 40 weeks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

For expectant fathers, only those who had "new" depression were linked to a greater risk of a preterm child. (People with new depression had no depression 12 months prior to their diagnosis.) These fathers had a 38 percent higher risk of a very preterm baby, defined as 22 to 31 weeks, the study authors said.

However, the study authors only found an association, and not cause-and-effect proof, that parental depression may affect a child's birth outcome.

RELATED: Should You Have Kids If You’re Depressed?

Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death. Preemies that survive often face long-term health consequences.

Janet Currie, director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University, said stress can certainly be a culprit in causing early delivery.

"There is quite a bit of literature suggesting that stress could trigger labor," said Currie, who was not involved with the new research. "Possibly paternal depression could also have that effect on the mother, for example, if she is stressed out by a father's health problem, or if a father's depression leads to other stresses like loss of employment or income."

Hjern theorized that the effects of antidepressants and unhealthy factors such as obesity and smoking also may contribute to a greater likelihood of preterm labor.

Some experts recommend that couples planning a family or expecting a child seek advice if they are experiencing irritability, anxiety or a change in mood.

Hjern expressed concern that men are less likely to seek professional help for any mental health problems, suggesting a proactive approach toward targeting the well-being of expectant fathers may be beneficial.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force -- a panel of independent health experts -- recently recommended screening all adults, including pregnant and postpartum women, for depression.

ACOG applauded the recommendation, saying "routine screening by physicians is important for ensuring appropriate follow-up and treatment." Treatment might include lifestyle changes, therapy and/or medication, the association said.

"Perinatal depression or depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after delivery is estimated to affect one in seven women, making it one of the most common medical complications associated with pregnancy," ACOG said in a statement.

The new study was published online recently in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Talk Therapy May Help Depressed Teens Who Shun Antidepressants

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help boost mood without drugs.

Depressed teens who refuse antidepressants may benefit from counseling, a new study suggests.

The study included more than 200 teens who were unwilling to take medication to treat their depression. The researchers found that those who tried a type of short-term "talk therapy" -- known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) -- were more likely to recover than those who didn't.

"High numbers of adolescents experience depression, as many as 10 to 15 percent each year -- and up to one in five by age 18," said lead researcher Greg Clarke. He is a depression investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.

"Unfortunately, most of these depressed teens are not treated. As few as 30 percent get specific depression care," he said.

In many cases, depressed teens refuse to take antidepressants, "often because of side effect concerns," Clarke said. These include warnings going back to 2004 about suicidal thoughts and behavior related to antidepressant use, the researchers said. Other common side effects from antidepressants include weight gain and fatigue.

"Offering brief cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective alternative," Clarke said. The small to moderate benefits found in this trial may be tied to reduced need for psychiatric hospitalization, the researchers noted.

The report was published online April 20 in the journal Pediatrics.

Simon Rego is director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He said that depressed teens can benefit from talk therapy offered by pediatric and family practices.

Teen depression is usually identified in primary care and is increasingly treated there, he said. But as many as 50 percent of teens with depression turn down medications, and of those who start antidepressants, as many as 50 percent fail to keep taking them, Rego said.

"Integrating cognitive behavioral therapy into primary care would present adolescents with depression with a non-medication treatment that would be easily accessible, brief and cost-effective," Rego explained.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, cognitive behavioral therapy can cost $100 or more per hour. "Some therapists or clinics offer therapy on a sliding scale, which means that charges fluctuate based on income," the association says. Not all insurance plans cover cognitive behavioral therapy.

RELATED: 7 Antidepressant Side Effects

For the study, Clarke and his colleagues conducted a five- to nine-week program in which counselors used cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help teens identify unhelpful or depressive thinking and replace those ideas with more realistic, positive thoughts.

The program also helped patients create a plan to increase pleasant activities, especially social activities, Clarke said.

Between 2006 and 2012, the researchers randomly assigned 212 teens with major depression to receive either the weekly cognitive behavioral therapy or other care for depression, which could have included school counseling or outside therapy. All the teens, who were aged 12 to 18, had either refused antidepressants or stopped taking them, the study authors said.

On average, teens who tried cognitive behavioral therapy recovered seven weeks faster (22.6 weeks versus 30 weeks) than teens who didn't, the investigators found. In addition, the teens who used cognitive behavioral therapy were less likely to require psychiatric hospitalization, the findings showed.

Recovery was defined as having no or minimal symptoms of depression for eight weeks or more. Symptoms included feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in friends and activities, changes in sleep and appetite, trouble concentrating and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.

After six months, 70 percent of teens in the cognitive behavioral therapy program had recovered, compared with 43 percent of teens not in the program, the researchers reported.

Some benefits were still associated with cognitive behavioral therapy after one year, although the gap between the two groups of teens had tightened, Clarke said.

6 Things I Didn't Know About Depression Until It Happened to Me

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression, these insights from people who are successfully managing their own depression may help you.

Depression can make you feel alone and isolated, but in reality you aren't. Many other people live with depression every day, and you can learn a lot from them. Here, three people diagnosed with depression share insights they’ve gained along the way.

1. It's Not Your Fault

For the longest time, "I felt like something was wrong with me," says Marisa McPeck-Stringham, 37, a social worker in Ogden, Utah, who blogs about her life, including her depression, as Iron Daisy. She first noticed as a teen that she was sometimes down in the dumps, but she wasn't diagnosed until age 20, she says. Before the diagnosis, she would ask herself: What's wrong with me? She knew she had a good family, a good home, and great parents. "I didn't know it was a mental illness," she says. "I didn't know it was a problem with my brain chemistry."

That reaction is a common one, says Michelle B. Riba, MD, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. Patients often tell her they think they did something to bring on the depression, and that they could have been stronger.

Dr. Riba tells her patients, "It's a medical condition and has to be treated like a medical condition." Anyone diagnosed with depression must be evaluated to see which treatment or combination might work for them, Riba says.

2. Being Depressed Takes a Lot of Energy

Elizabeth Moon, 70, of Austin, who wrote Crown of Renewal and other books, was diagnosed in the early 1980s. She didn't understand until after she got a diagnosis and was treated how exhausted she had been from trying to keep up with her life. "I didn't realize how long I had been depressed," she says.

"I was active, very physically active," says Moon. "I didn't think of myself as depressed; I didn't realize I was sliding into depression."

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

“Not everyone fits the stereotype of sitting on the couch," unable to do anything, she says. "If you’re feeling worthless, like you have no future — even if you appear to be healthy and holding down a full-time job, get checked out.”

"People may not pinpoint [depression symptoms] right away," Riba says of those who get depressed. They may think they’re sleep deprived, for instance, or just have some temporary issues balancing responsibilities.

3. Exercise Has Been Proven to Help With Symptoms

Often, the last thing you want to do if you’re depressed is go out and get some exercise. But those who’ve been there understand the value of exercise, and say it often helps. "If I don't get out and exercise, I have to really watch myself and make sure I’m not sliding," Moon says. "I do much better if I’m active. I have much less chance of sliding into another episode."

RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression

Exercise ''readjusts our brain chemistry," says McPeck-Stringham. She includes exercise as part of her "self-care" routine. Her workouts also become valuable "me" time, she finds.

And there is good evidence that exercise improves your mental health. A study published in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry found that exercise does lower your chance of becoming depressed. And in people who already have depression, exercise helps lift depressive symptoms.

4. Writing Helps You Sort Out Your Emotions

Keola Birano, 33, of Hilo, Hawaii, is a full-time writer who also works for his wife's clothing business. Diagnosed at age 19, he soon learned the power of writing — not for his livelihood, but for his depression. First, he wrote a letter to his father and ''without giving it to him," burned it. "It released whatever [negative] feeling I may have held onto," he says.

He has continued writing, both for his blog, Keola Birano Reimagined, and for personal growth. "When you write, it opens up parts of your brain you didn't know were there,'' he says. "I try to do 10 minutes a day on autopilot, to let the feelings out."

5. Managing Depression Is an Ongoing Effort

"It takes a lot of significant work to keep yourself strong," Birano says. "You have to keep working on it. Once you start thinking you have it beat, you set yourself up for failure."

Moon agrees. "I can go downhill in 30 seconds,'' she says. "I've learned to have a plan in place when that happens," she says. Part of her plan is to keep tabs on her mental health before that slide downhill. "At least five times a year, I take the Beck Depression Inventory [a tool used by mental health experts] and see where I am. If I’m coming up [on the score], I need to be very careful. If the score doesn't go back down, I may need meds."

RELATED: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression

For her, the best approach has been to take medications when needed and then taper off them, she says, but she doesn’t claim this is best for everyone. It’s important to remember that decisions to stop or start medications should always be done in conjunction with your physician.

6. Having a Depression Relapse Doesn’t Mean You Failed

"Right now, I’m in between episodes," Moon says. "I know another one may come and it isn't a disaster when it does come. It doesn't mean you’ll end up committing suicide either."

Figuring out what works for you to stay on an even keel is critical, Moon says. The most important thing for anyone who's depressed? "Recognize when you’re falling off the cliff," she says. Then go get the help you need and deserve.

9 Diet Hacks Nutritionists Use Every Day

1 / 10   Think Like a Nutritionist With These Simple Tips

Whenever we have a diet or nutrition question, we call on a dietitian or nutritionist to lead us in the right direction. Although you may picture them noshing on raw veggies and sipping water all day, they aren’t always perfect — they enjoy dining out, battle the munchies, and love dessert just like the rest of us! The difference is they know the insider tips to shave calories off comfort food favorites, satisfy cravings the healthy way, and pack more nutrition into each meal. Make their tricks second nature and soon you’ll be an expert at keeping the flavor you crave, while slimming down your meals and your waistline

Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?

The active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" may help patients with tough-to-treat depression, a new study suggests.

Twenty patients received psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations. Nineteen who completed the study showed improvement in their depression symptoms for up to five weeks after treatment, according to the researchers at Imperial College London.

None had responded to traditional depression treatment, they noted.

"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.

However, his team emphasized that patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms. While these results are promising, the study was small and did not include a comparison group of patients who did not receive psilocybin, they noted.

Still, brain scans before and after treatment suggest psilocybin may reset the activity of brain circuits that play a role in depression.

"Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies," Carhart-Harris reported in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted," the researcher added.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.

Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.

"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.

He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.

For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.

In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.

"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."

However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.

The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Getting an IBS Diagnosis

Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome isn’t like diagnosing other diseases. Your doctor can’t take a swab or a vial of blood and test it to determine the problem. There is no single test that can point to IBS as the cause of your symptoms.

Instead, when you go to your doctor about IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps, he has to rule out other conditions and then pay careful attention to your symptoms before giving you a diagnosis.

Diagnosing IBS “For years, anyone who had gastrointestinal symptoms that couldn’t be explained was told they had IBS,” says Steven Field, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. But now doctors use the "Rome criteria," which are a specific set of symptoms that have to be present in order to give a diagnosis. In addition, the criteria designate red-flag symptoms that don’t point to IBS, he says.

 

 

Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and when you experience them will go a long way toward getting an accurate diagnosis. Here’s what your doctor considers before he makes a diagnosis:

Laboratory tests to rule out other conditions. To make sure something other than IBS isn’t causing your symptoms, your doctor may run blood tests, test your stool sample, order an X-ray, or perform a colonoscopy (a procedure in which your doctor uses a small flexible camera to look inside your colon).

Your symptoms. Under the Rome criteria, a diagnosis of IBS can be made if you have had abdominal pain during at least 12 weeks during a 12-month period, even if those 12 weeks aren’t consecutive, and if you experience two of these three things:

  • A bowel movement that causes the abdominal pain to go away
  • A change in the frequency of your bowel movements
  • A change in your stool’s appearance (it becomes hard and lumpy or loose and watery

Other signs of IBS include mucus in your stool, a swollen abdomen, an urgency to have a bowel movement, having trouble passing stool, or a feeling that your bowel isn’t empty after going to the bathroom.

If you have red flag symptoms. Your doctor will also be looking for red-flag symptoms that aren’t associated with IBS, Dr. Field says. Those include: 

  • Blood in your stool
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain or diarrhea that’s so intense it wakes you up when you’re asleep
  • What triggers your symptoms. The factors that bring on your symptoms are another clue as to whether or not you have IBS. Eating such items as fried and greasy foods, caffeine, dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, and carbonated drinks often trigger symptoms, but the exact food triggers are different for everyone. Large meals may also trigger IBS symptoms.

 

 

Stress — which can result from major life changes such as getting married or getting a new job — is also a major trigger for IBS symptoms, Field says. And for women, symptoms are usually more severe during their menstrual period, possibly because of the effect of hormones on IBS.

The bottom line: Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and knowing what triggers them will help with your diagnosis. Many doctors recommend keeping a food diary to determine exactly what brings on your symptoms and sharing that information with your doctor to make a better diagnosis and get you the right treatment.

By Marie Suszynski | Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

Prescription Drugs That Cause Depression

Some prescription drugs can cause or contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders.

What do certain asthma, acne, malaria, and smoking-cessation prescription drugs have in common? Answer: Their possible side effects include depression or other mood disorders.

Depression as a side effect of prescription drugs is widespread and increasingly gaining attention. The medications that contribute to drug-induced depression might surprise you. For example, an asthma medication, Singulair (montelukast), is prescribed to help people breathe more easily, but its side effects may include depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking, according to a research review published in Pharmacology in 2014.

“In 2009, Merck added psychiatric side effects as possible outcomes with Singulair, including tremor, depression, suicidality — suicidal thinking and behavior — and anxiousness,” says J. Douglas Bremner, MD, researcher and professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Drugs With Depression as a Side Effect

Dr. Bremner has published studies on the possible relationship between the use of retinoic acid acne treatments and the development of depression. One of the drugs within this category is Accutane (isotretinoin), the oral treatment for severe acne that has been associated with psychiatric problems, including depression.

“The original brand-name version of isotretinoin, Accutane, was taken off the market in 2009, although it continues to be marketed as Roaccutane in the U.K., Australia, and other countries," Bremner notes. "In the U.S. there are three generic versions available that have also been associated with reports of depression and suicide, Sotret, Claravis, and Amnesteem."

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The full list of drugs that could cause depression is a long one. British researchers found 110 different medications between 1998 and 2011 that were associated with increased depression risk, according to a report published in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology in September 2014.

Besides isotretinoin and montelukast, drugs that can cause or contribute to the development of depression or other mood symptoms include:

Lariam (mefloquine), used to treat malaria. Depression, anxiety, and psychosis are among the side effects of this medication, according to an article in Medical Science Monitor in 2013 that explored the chemical cascade behind mood changes.
Chantix (varenicline), used to stop smoking. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists hostility, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts as possible side effects of this medication.
Inderal (propranolol hydrochloride) and other drugs in the beta-blocker class, used to treat high blood pressure. Research on beta-blockers and depression suggests that some, but not all, of the medications in this class can contribute to depression, according to a report in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.
Contraceptives. Contraceptives including those delivered by vaginal ring or patch could lead to depression in some people, according to research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2010.
Corticosteroids. Some people who take corticosteroids experience side effects such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, among other symptoms, according to a review of research published in Rheumatology International in 2013.
Interferon-alpha. As many as 40 percent of people using this immunologic medication may experience depression, according to a 2009 report in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
Interferon-beta. The link between this immunologic medication and depression is debated, but researchers reporting in Therapeutic Advances in Neurologic Disorders in 2011 note that depression is a concern for those who take it, in part because of their underlying conditions.
Nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. These HIV medications may increase the risk for depression, according to research published in the September 2014 issue of HIV Medicine. Arimidex (anastrozole) and aromasin (exemestane). Both of these long-term breast cancer therapies may contribute to depression, according to the FDA.
Vigabatrin. This anticonvulsant may cause depression, irritability, and psychosis, notes a review of studies in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica in 2011.
The FDA investigates drugs that have many reports of depression symptoms as a side effect. It requires what are called black-box warnings to be clearly printed on medications, like isotretinoin, that have been linked to depression and suicidal behavior, among other serious health threats. Make sure you read the information pamphlets that come with your prescription medications (and ask your pharmacist if you don’t understand what they say). You can stay on top of any news about their side effects by setting up a news alert on Google.

You can get the latest drug safety information on the FDA website.

Also, pay attention to how you feel. Though you may be taking medications that seem unrelated to mood, let your doctor know if you have symptoms such as sadness, difficulty sleeping, hopelessness, sleep changes, or thoughts of suicide.

“If you suspect your medication may be causing depression or similar problems, talk with your doctor and, if necessary, consult with a psychiatrist,” Bremner advises. The good news is that drug-induced depression usually clears up once you stop taking the medication.

Are Your Drugs Causing Depression?

It can be challenging to figure out whether your depression is related to taking a prescription drug, but here are some indicators:

Timeline. Drug-induced depression is defined as depression that appears within a month of starting or stopping a medication, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). The society also advises that other conditions that might cause depression have to be considered in figuring out whether medication is the contributing factor. Bremner found in his research that the timeline varies from weeks to a month or two.
Dose-response relationship. With some drugs, depression symptoms may get better as the dose is reduced or worse as it is increased. This is usually a clear indicator of a relationship.
If you are uncertain about whether your changes in mood or energy are drug symptoms, talk with your doctor. Screening tools and questionnaires can reliably identify depression. You can also send information about your experiences to the FDA.

Prescription Drug-Induced Depression Treatment

In severe cases, people taking prescription drugs have developed depression leading to suicidal behavior. Because of this risk, don’t ignore or try to wait out feelings of depression, even if you believe they are only a prescription drug side effect. Talk with your doctor about these options to correct the situation:

Switching to an alternative treatment. If an equally effective medication that does not have depression as a side effect exists, the easiest option is to switch prescription drugs.
Getting a psychiatric evaluation. This may be recommended in any case to make sure you do not have an underlying psychiatric condition that has gone undiagnosed. People with a history of depression may have a worse response to some medications. An antidepressant might be prescribed in order to help manage depression symptoms.
Talk therapy will not work in this case, says Bremner, because the problem is chemically based. You will need prescription medication to address the depression if you cannot stop taking the drugs that are causing it.

If you think your depression symptoms are linked to a prescription drug you’re taking, talk with your doctor right away, get screened for depression, and find a better way to manage both your health issues and your mood.

Too Soon to Widely Recommend Ketamine for Depression

The drug ketamine -- known as Special K on the party scene -- shows promise as a depression treatment. But researchers aren't ready to recommend it because its long-term effects remain unknown.

That gap in knowledge must be filled before ketamine can be widely used to treat depression, said Colleen Loo, co-author of a new research review. She's a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Ketamine, an anesthetic drug, is increasingly being used off-label to treat severe and treatment-resistant depression. And some preliminary findings suggest rapid-acting effectiveness, Loo said.

But "this has not been effectively explored over the long term and after repeated dosing," she added in a university news release.

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Loo and her colleagues examined 60 published studies of ketamine treatment for depression, involving a total of nearly 900 patients. The investigators found few studies reported on the safety of repeated doses or sustained use of the drug.

"As ketamine treatment will likely involve multiple and repeated doses over an extended time period, it is crucial to determine whether the potential side effects outweigh the benefits to ensure it is safe for this purpose," she explained.

Past research has linked longer-term ketamine use to bladder inflammation, liver damage, memory loss and addiction. These potential troubles "may limit the safe use of ketamine as a long-term antidepressant treatment," the review authors wrote.

The review was published July 27 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Essential Facts About Antidepressants

Newer antidepressants target brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, but they're not magic bullets. Here are the risks and benefits of these commonly prescribed drugs.

Although mild forms of depression are often treated without medication, those with more severe symptoms may benefit from taking antidepressant drugs. These medications, which target brain chemicals involved in mood, may help people with severe depression who do not respond to talk therapy or healthy lifestyle changes alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Use of Antidepressants Is on the Rise

Roughly 67 percent of people living with depression use medication as their primary form of treatment, NAMI reports. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, according to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Overall, use of antidepressants increased from 6.5 percent in 2000 to 10.4 percent by 2010, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reveals.

How Antidepressants May Help

There are many theories about what causes depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Brain imaging technology shows that parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, and behavior look different in people with depression than in those who are not depressed. Genetics, stress, and grief could also trigger depression, according to NIMH.

RELATED: 6 Need-to-Know Antidepressant Facts

Because specific chemicals called neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, are involved in regulating mood, medications that target these chemicals are often used to treat depression. Antidepressants work by increasing concentrations of these chemicals. These drugs include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs work by making more of the neurotransmitter serotonin available to your brain. Some of the drug names you may be familiar with are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).

The most common side effects associated with these medications include sexual problems, headache, nausea, dry mouth, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms often fade over time, NAMI notes.

Atypical antidepressants: This class of drugs includes serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). In addition to serotonin, these antidepressants may target other brain chemicals such as dopamine or norepinephrine.

Side effects of SNRIs are similar to those associated with SSRI drugs. You may also experience, fatigue, weight gain, or blurred vision.

The antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) affects only the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. This drug, known as a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), has similar side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but it is less likely to cause sexual problems. Rarely, seizures may occur.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclics also affect levels of brain chemicals, but they are no longer commonly used because they have more side effects, including fatigue, dry mouth, blurred vision, urination difficulties, and constipation. If you have glaucoma, you should not take any tricyclic antidepressant. Some tricyclics antidepressants include amitriptyline, amoxapine, and Norpramin (desipramine).

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Like tricyclics, MAOIs are now prescribed less often because of their risk for serious side effects. These drugs work by blocking an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. People taking MAOIs can experience dangerous reactions if they eat certain foods, drink alcohol, or take over-the-counter cold medicines.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Emsam (selegiline), the first skin patch for treating major depression. At its lowest dose, this once-a-day patch can be used without the dietary restrictions associated with oral MAOIs. Some other MAOIs include Marplan (isocarboxazid) and Nardil (phenelzine).

Depression Medications and Government Warnings

In 2005, the FDA warned that the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior could be higher in children and adolescents taking depression drugs. In 2007, the warning was expanded to include anyone under age 25 taking antidepressants.

However, to balance the risks and benefits of antidepressants, the FDA’s so-called black box warning also states that depression itself is associated with a greater risk for suicide, notes a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nevertheless, if you are taking an antidepressant, especially if you are under 25, let your doctor know if your depression seems to be getting worse or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself.

Antidepressants Are Not Magic Bullets

It's important to remember that simply taking a pill will not cure depression. It may take up to 12 weeks before these drugs have their full effect. Some people need to take various doses or combinations of different medications before they find the treatment strategy that works best for them, according to NAMI.

It’s also important to take antidepressants as prescribed and to follow up with your mental health professional on a regular basis. Some depression drugs must be stopped gradually — if you suddenly stop taking your medication, you could experience withdrawal symptoms or a relapse of your depression.

Often the most effective treatment for depression involves some form of talk therapy, notes NAMI. Discuss with your doctor how exercise and limiting alcohol can also help ease your symptoms.

Model for a Hepatitis C Cure: Success in the Cherokee Nation

For 9 out of 10 American Indians, treatment led to a hepatitis C cure.

For most of the 3.5 million Americans living with a hepatitis C infection today, the promise of a cure is an empty one unless patients can get proper care. And deaths from hepatitis C keep rising, surpassing deaths from HIV.

Now, in a successful pilot program by the Cherokee Nation Health Services of northeastern Oklahoma, a May 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that curing hepatitis C is possible not only in clinical trials, but also in the larger population — even in remote and impoverished areas.

 

Local Hepatitis C Screening Success

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of death from hepatitis C of any group in the United States, and also the highest number of new hepatitis C infections, according to the CDC, says Jorge Mera, MD, lead study author and director of infectious diseases at Cherokee Nation Health Services, though he says it’s not known why. “We made a great effort to detect hepatitis C virus-positive patients," he says. "Hepatitis C virus is known as the invisible epidemic — we tried to make it visible.”

To get more people screened, the health services implemented an electronic health record reminder to target everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The automatic alert prompted medical providers if the patient they were seeing that day was due for a hepatitis C screening test based on the patient's birthdate. This pilot program resulted in a fivefold increase in first-time hepatitis C testing between 2012 and 2015, from 3,337 people to 16,772 and included 131,000 American Indian people, mostly from rural northeastern Oklahoma.

The program educated healthcare providers on how important it is to identify these patients as early as possible, and to offer them treatment. It also informed them about the many ways people are exposed to hepatitis C, including by using or having used IV or intranasal drugs, having been incarcerated, or having received a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC recommends testing for all people with such histories.

 

Progress in National Hepatitis C Screening

A report on a second, national initiative by the Indian Health Service (IHS) that ramped up hepatitis C testing in a similar way was also published in May 2016 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). As of June 2015, the number of people they had screened overall increased from 14,402 to 68,514 over three years, varying by region from 31 to 41 percent of people in the high-risk age group.

“The Indian Health Service’s screening rates for American Indian and Alaska Native patients in the [1945 to 1965] birth cohort have more than tripled since the national recommendations were released, greatly increasing the potential for early detection and follow-up for our patients living with hepatitis C infection,” says Susan Karol, MD, Indian Health Service chief medical officer and member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Niagara Falls, New York. The Indian Health Service provides healthcare for 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Native people, including 566 different recognized tribes.
A Second Test for Active Hepatitis C

“Once patients were detected as HCV-positive, a confirmatory viral blood test was performed to make sure they had an active infection,” says Mera about his hepatitis C program. This test looks for RNA that’s proof of ongoing hepatitis C virus replication in the patient’s blood.

Of the 715 people who tested positive on the first screening test, 68 percent had an active infection. They were referred to one of five hepatitis C virus clinics set up by Cherokee Nation Health Systems, which had primary care providers who were specifically trained through the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program. Outreach also included home visits to people who had hepatitis.
Access to Hepatitis C Drugs That Can Cure

A high proportion of the people who had an active infection — 57 percent — received antiviral drug treatment in this pilot program. Ninety percent were cured of hepatitis C.

“We don’t deny treatment to anybody because they’re depressed or have an alcohol dependence medical problem,” says Mera, though this is often a barrier to getting approvals for antiviral treatment. “We do offer and encourage them to be enrolled in a behavioral health program to address the other medical conditions. As long as they’re following up with the medical appointments and interested in HCV treatment, we will treat their hepatitis C virus.”

David Rein, PhD, program area director of the public health analytics division of NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, says access to hepatitis C care is improving for some. “In March, the U.S. Veterans Administration dropped all restrictions on treatment and began to provide treatment to any veteran in its system who is infected with the virus, regardless of how far the disease has progressed. Unfortunately, the VA is the exception and not the rule. Many state Medicaid programs and private insurance plans still place unnecessary barriers on treatment access.”   

Coverage to pay for medications is a barrier for many people with hepatitis C, notes a May 2016 editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The key to success, Mera says, is being relentless. “We have a wonderful group of case managers dedicated to hepatitis C treatment procurement,” he says. “They will work with the third party payers such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, and also with the patient assistance programs. Our case managers will not take no for an answer very easily, and will exhaust all the possibilities they have to obtain the medications.”
How to Cure Hepatitis C Across the United States

The three steps to a hepatitis C cure are to:

    Get screened to see if you’ve ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus
    Get tested for active viral infection
    Get effective drug treatment

Yet half of Americans infected with hepatitis C don’t know they have it, while many of those who do know can’t get access to care or can’t pay for the antiviral medication they need.

A plan to cure hepatitis C is important because cases of infection have increased more than 2.5 times from 2010 to 2014, and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise, exceeding 19,000 per year, according to the CDC's U.S. viral hepatitis surveillance report, published in May 2016.  

“Acute cases, which occur when a patient is first infected with hepatitis C, are increasing at an alarming rate, likely due to higher rates of injection drug use,” says Dr. Rein. But this group of people is not likely to develop symptoms of liver dysfunction for several decades.

“The record number of hepatitis C deaths that the CDC reported for 2014 is almost exclusively related to people who were initially infected with the disease in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s who developed chronic infections which gradually destroyed their livers over the course of decades,” he explains.

Rein and his colleagues had predicted in 2010 that deaths from hepatitis C would increase to 18,200 annually by the year 2020, peak at 36,000 in 2033, and kill more than one million Americans by the year 2060 if we didn't take action to prevent it. But the sobering reality is that the U.S. case numbers have already exceeded that prediction, with more than 19,000 cases in 2014.

“I still believe that is what will happen if nothing is done to address the epidemic,“ Rein says. “However, I’m both hopeful and confident in our healthcare system, and I believe that we’ll see vastly expanded testing and treatment, which will lead to dramatic reductions in deaths from hepatitis C in the years to come.”

More people, especially those born between 1945 and 1965, need to be tested for the hepatitis C antibody, he says. “Simply disseminating guidelines and providing reimbursement for testing is insufficient to assure that doctors test their patients. Interventions are needed to prioritize testing for hepatitis C.”

The Cherokee Nation group is now working with the CDC on a model that experts hope can be expanded throughout the country to lead people effectively from screening through to a hepatitis C cure.

What can help the model succeed? According to Mera, support, commitment, and trust:

    Political support (in the Cherokee Nation program, from the tribe’s chief and council)
    Commitment and trust from the administration to do the right thing to eliminate hepatitis C
    Dedicated and motivated team members who include primary care providers (nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists), lab technicians, nurses, administrators, behavioral health personnel, case managers, and clerks who understand the importance and urgency of hepatitis C screening and a cure

“My wish would be that patients would ask their medical providers to test them for HCV if they think they could have been exposed. This would increase screening, the first step in visualizing the invisible epidemic,” says Mera.

 

Can a Gluten-Free Diet Ease Your Depression?

The gluten-free movement has been a major dietary trend in recent years, with many Americans opting to cut out gluten completely.

A protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, gluten is especially harmful to some people: For those with celiac disease, eating it can cause inflammation and damage the small intestines.

But some say that even if you don’t have celiac disease, going gluten-free can help relieve symptoms of depression.

So can it? Well, the scientific evidence is sparse, and experts haven’t yet reached a consensus. Here’s what you should know before going gluten free to relieve depression symptoms.

Does a Gluten-Free Diet Treat Depression?

Skeptical experts are hesitant to endorse the gluten-free diet as a mood booster. “There is little to no good evidence for this concept,” says Sheila Crowe, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and the vice president of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Her opinion isn’t unique: Alan Manevitz, MD, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital who treats patients with mood disorders, also cites the lack of evidence that a gluten-free diet can alleviate depression.

Instead of cutting out gluten, these experts say that you should focus on eating a healthy diet in general. “My go-to diet for patients without specific disease is a healthy Mediterranean diet,” says Dr. Crowe. This meal plan includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, legumes, and some wine.

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Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in many staples of the Mediterranean diet, can have a calming effect, says Dr. Manevitz. One April 2015 study in the journal Mental Illness found that when people over 65 took omega-3 supplements, they saw a reduction in their major depression symptoms after 12 weeks.

Can Going Gluten-Free Still Help?

Perhaps. Experts in the gluten-free camp — like David Johnson, MD, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk — say that there’s some evidence that gluten may cause depression in patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. (For the record, experts also debate whether non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists, says Emily Deans, MD, a psychiatrist and clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.)

But some research suggests that the bacteria in the gut can affect both mood and behavior, Dr. Johnson says. ''Eating gluten may change the bacteria in the gut," and that, in turn, could potentially change behavior, he says.

In a May 2014 study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, people with irritable bowel syndrome reported better moods when they weren’t eating gluten, despite their continuing gastrointestinal symptoms.

Studies like this one are rare, but there’s also anecdotal evidence. Dr. Deans allows her depression patients to go gluten-free — assuming they’re taking any medications they’ve been prescribed and are participating in therapy, if needed. She believes that “gluten seems to irritate the immune system in some people,” even in those without celiac disease.

But there’s one thing all these experts would agree on: the need for a healthy diet. Simply eliminating gluten is not enough, says Deans. “I don’t think a gluten-free muffin is any healthier than a regular muffin,” she says.

Instead, if you’re depressed you should focus on eating “clean, whole food,” which has been linked to depression relief, Deans says.

How to Cut Out Gluten

Talk to your doctor first about the best approach. Eating gluten-free means including plenty of fruits and vegetables and some meat and eggs in your diet, says Deans. She notes that you may not want to suddenly switch out all of your gluten-containing rice and pasta for the gluten-free kinds.

And keep in mind that eliminating gluten may not help right away. Some patients see a difference in their mood around the two- to four-week mark, while others may not notice a change until after at least 30 days, she says.

Another point on which experts agree: If you suspect that eating gluten affects either your mood or GI tract, talk to your doctor about being tested for celiac disease.