What is Gut Health?

If you want to know what gut health is, what causes an unhealthy gut, and how to have a healthy gut, then you want to read this article.

Bacteria.

When we hear this word, we default to the negative connotations associated with the microscopic organisms, including illnesses and infections such as strep throat or Lyme disease.

And, it’s easy to understand why — for much of our lives bacteria have been thought of as teeny, tiny ne’er-do-wells seeking to lay waste to our immune systems and rob us of our health and vitality.

But, more and more research as of late is demonstrating that not only are all not bacteria not to be feared, they play an essential role in keeping us healthy and possible avoiding illness.

We are, of course, talking about the bacteria residing in our gut microbiome. These prokaryotic partners form a symbiotic relationship with our bodies impacts our mood, immune function, insulin sensitivity, and performance in the gym.

Ahead, we’ll dive deep into gut health — what it is, why it’s crucial, signs of poor gut health, and ways you can improve the health of your gut.

So, let’s get started!

What is Gut Health?

When we think of our gut, most of us think of our stomachs. A few of us might even think of the intestines as well.

But, the “gut” actually refers to the whole gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small Intestine
  • Large Intestine
  • Rectum
  • Anus

The primary function of the gut is to digest, harness, and absorb nutrients from the foods we eat and eliminate waste from the body. But, that only begins to scratch the surface of what our gut can do.

Besides nutrient acquisition, the gut also serves several other essential roles in the body, including [1,2,3,4]:

  • Development of the Immune System
  • Maintaining Intestinal Homeostasis (Gut Permeability)
  • Appetite
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Insulin Sensitivity
  • Weight Maintenance
  • Neurotransmitter Synthesis
  • Sleep

The gut also helps keep harmful substances out of the body, when it’s healthy.  If it’s not in the best of shape, dysfunction follows, and illness ensues.

The gut is home to around 100 trillion micro-organisms, collectively known as the microbiome. While we typically think that only bacteria make up the microbiome, this diverse ecosystem contains viruses, fungi, and protozoa. [5]

Interestingly enough, your body houses roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells. Our bodies have approximately 30 trillion human cells. [6,7] This means our bodies are more bacteria than human!

And to top it off, the combined weight of the different bacteria in your body is roughly 3-5 pounds — our brains weigh, on average, three pounds! [8,9]

What Influences Gut Health?

The composition of our microbiome and the health of our gut is established from birth. The body’s first exposure to microbes comes when it crosses through the birth canal as well as when it first encounters an open environment (i.e., the hospital).

Interestingly, babies that are birthed via C-section have been found to have different gut bacteria than those that pass through the birth canal. [10] Some researchers have found associations between babies delivered via C-section and increased risks of disease and obesity compared to those delivered vaginally.

While the microbiome begins developing from birth, it’s always in flux throughout life. Where we live, the food we eat, supplements we use, and drugs we take to treat illnesses (antibiotics especially) all have an impact, for better or worse, on our microbiome as well as our overall health. [11,12,13] Even short courses of antibiotics (~7 days) can wipe out a significant portion of our good gut bacteria.

Other less obvious factors that can impact gut health are stress, sleep, and the amount of body fat we are carrying.

Let’s now drill a bit deeper into the ways these different factors affect the gut microbiome.

5 Factors That Affect Gut Health and the Microbiome

 

Diet

The foods we eat daily have a profound effect on the health and diversity of our microbiome and may account for 30 – 60% of the changes that occur in gut microbiota changes. FYI, our genes only account for 12% of gut microbiota changes, at most. [14]

Mostly, if we have poor, micronutrient-void diets, the good gut bacteria in our bodies have a hard time surviving. This is all the more concerning given that recent estimates suggest that less than 10% of more Westerners consume enough whole fruits and vegetables. [15]

This means that the vast majority of the Western population is missing out on loads of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber which serves as fodder for the gut bacteria.

Researchers have noted that temporary changes in the diet can lead to quick changes in the microbiome, but they are reversible. Long-term diet changes (e.g., going keto for years and years) could cause irreversible changes to gut microbiota. [16]

For example, the studies analyzing the effects of long-term consumption of a Mediterranean diet found significantly higher production of butyrate. [17]

Why is butyrate important?

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced via microbial fermentation of dietary fibers in the lower GI tract that [18,19,32]:

  • Serves as a significant energy source for colon cells
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Boosts energy expenditure by improving mitochondrial function
  • Fortifies the intestinal barrier

Not having enough butyrate in the gut may lead to diarrhea, irritable bowel diseases, and possibly even colorectal cancer. [20,21,22]

This begs the question…” how do we get more butyrate?”

Butyrate production is determined by the number of bacteria in the gut that generate butyrate as well as the pH of the stomach. Researchers have noted that Firmicutes strains of bacteria mainly produce butyrate and that more acidic (lower pH) environments are optimal.

The way to ensure your gut has the right type of bacteria and that those bacteria have the proper “raw materials” to produce butyrate is through a combination of prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics are the indigestible parts of plants (fiber) that reach the colon and serve as food for the good bacteria in the gut.

Sources of fiber used by gut bacteria to produce butyrate are:

  • Resistant starch — produced when certain starches are cooked and then cooled. They are also found in unripe, green bananas
  • Inulin — onions, garlic, asparagus, artichokes
  • Pectin — apples, carrots, oranges, and apricots
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) — bananas, onions, garlic, and asparagus as well as many other fruits and vegetables
  • Pectin: Food sources include apples, apricots, carrots, oranges, and others
  • Arabinoxylan

Numerous trials have found that consumption of prebiotics leads to increased growth of good gut bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in humans as well as greater butyrate production. [23,24,25]

Probiotics are live strains of bacteria that when consumed can improve and fortify gut health as well as butyrate production. [26,27] Typical strains of these “good bacteria” include Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Probiotics can also help reduce levels of potentially bad, harmful bacteria. [28,29]

And, probiotics may also be useful following a course of antibiotics to help restore good bacteria wiped out by the potent medications.[ 30,31]

Exercise

Not only does the food you eat have a profound impact on gut health, but so too does the amount of physical activity you get.

Research has documented that elite athletes have richer gut microbiota compared to non-athletes, including the butyrate-producing Firmicutes strain Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.[33]

Additional research in women has noted that active women tend to have more good gut bacteria than sedentary individuals.[ 34]

And, it’s also worth noting that excessive amounts of endurance exercise have been recorded to hurt gut health. [5]

You want to train at a relatively high level of intensity but don’t train so long that you border on exceeding your body’s ability recovery. And, you can now add gut health to the growing list reasons (mental health, increased longevity, mood, greater focus, more muscle, etc.) of why you should be physically active.

Sleep

The importance of sleep can’t be emphasized heavily enough. Poor sleep leads to feelings of low energy, difficulty concentrating, impaired recovery from exercise, and poor performance in the gym.

You can also add poorer gut health to the list of things that accompanies poor sleep hygiene.

Research has shown that sleep deprivation (even as little as two nights) negatively impacts the gut microbiome [35], and it also leads to increases in cortisol and decreases in testosterone as well as reduced insulin sensitivity. [36,37]

Furthermore, melatonin — the hormone the governs our circadian rhythm and sleep patterns — is produced in the gut. So not only does a bad night sleep, negatively impact your gut microbiome, it can also lead to further difficulty sleeping due to its impact on the hormones in the body that help you go to sleep. [38]

Many people struggle with sleep, so you’re not alone. Due to the importance sleep plays in maintaining overall health and wellbeing as well as your ability to perform at a high level, SteelFit® created Steel Dreams™ — an all-natural nighttime sleep and recovery aid that helps quiet the mind and lull the body into a state of deep relaxation promoting the optimal environment for a great night’s sleep.

Stress

When we are stressed, cortisol levels rise. Chronic elevations in stress also cause inflammation and hurt gut health.[39]

One particularly interesting study in pregnant women observed that the babies born to mothers who were chronically stressed during pregnancy had more harmful bacteria and fewer good bacteria. [40] Researchers also noted that children with distorted gut bacteria were also more prone to allergic reactions and various gut disorders.

Now, it’s worth noting that not all stress is bad. Acute stressors, such as heavy back squats or high-intensity interval training, are beneficial stressors that help build muscle, and as we noted above, also improve the diversity and health of our microbiota.

Chronic stress, however, leads to prolonged elevations of cortisol, which adversely impacts health, testosterone levels, gut microbiota, recovery, mood, and performance.

Antibiotics

Various medications have been noted to disturb the gut microbiome, with antibiotics receiving the majority of attention from researchers in the gut community due to their potential to eliminate both good and bad gut bacteria. [41,42]

The negative impact of antibiotics on good gut bacteria is usually short term; however, there is some research demonstrating that broad-spectrum usage antibiotic, such as clindamycin, can lead to disturbances in the microbiome that last over two years.[43] Furthermore, in certain instances of prolonged antibiotic use, researchers have noted that full restoration of the gut microbiome is no longer feasible. [41]

This is especially pertinent to women who have a history of antibiotic use, as research indicates that infants may have reductions in good gut bacteria as a result of the mothers’ course of antibiotics. [43]

To make matters worse, the disruption of good gut bacteria resulting from antibiotics use can also lead to the possibility of additional bacteria setting up home in your gut, resulting in further microbiota disturbance and illness. [44]

Researchers advise the use of narrow-spectrum antibiotics (antibiotics that target specific strains of bacteria) to reduce the risk of gut dysbiosis.

However, all is not doom and gloom regarding antibiotic use. They do help treat severe infections, and some research indicates they may be able to restore balance to gut bacteria by reducing the number of harmful bacteria.[ 45]

The Bottom Line on Gut Health

Gut health and the integrity of our microbiome is critical, which is why researchers continue to pour over the many ways the gut impacts our overall health and well-being. New research continues to come out about the gut furthering our understanding of this micro-organ that resides in each of us.

While we’re a long way from understanding every aspect of gut health and what is needed to create the “optimal” microbiome, we do know that forming a healthy gut is best achieved through a mixture of diet and lifestyle modifications.

References

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  30. Wang, T., Hu, X., Liang, S., Li, W., Wu, X., Wang, L., & Jin, F. (2015). Lactobacillus fermentum NS9 restores the antibiotic induced physiological and psychological abnormalities in rats. Beneficial Microbes, 6(5), 707–717. https://doi.org/10.3920/BM2014.0177
  31. Rodgers B, Kirley K, Mounsey A. PURLs: prescribing an antibiotic? Pair it with probiotics. J Fam Pract. 2013;62(3):148-50.
  32. den Besten G, van Eunen K, Groen AK, Venema K, Reijngoud DJ, Bakker BM. The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. J Lipid Res. 2013;54(9):2325-40.
  33. Clarke, S. F., Murphy, E. F., O’Sullivan, O., Lucey, A. J., Humphreys, M., Hogan, A., Cotter, P. D. (2014). Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut, 63(12), 1913–1920. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541
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  37. Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA. 2011;305(21):2173-4.
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Bloating 101: Why You Feel Bloated

If you want to know what bloating is, what causes it, how to prevent it, and what to do to fix bloating, then you want to read this article.

High levels of stress.

Poor diet.

Prescription use.

What do these three things have in common?

They can all lead to bloating.

We’ve all experienced it before — the painful, overstuffed, distended stomach that occurs after indulging a bit too much in our favorite foods, or eating something that didn’t quite sit right with our digestive system.

Sadly, it seems that bloating is more common than ever these days. And with the increased attention to all things related to gut health and the microbiome in recent years, the issue of belly bloat has never been more scrutinized.

A bloated midsection can make an otherwise slim physique look untrained and out of shape.

In this article, we’ll discuss what is bloating, the various causes of bloating, and what you can do to rectify the situation.

Let’s get started!

What is Bloating?

Bloating is often confused with water retention, and while both may lead to a similar appearance in your midsection, they are very different.

Bloating occurs when your stomach looks and/or feels swollen after eating. This swelling is caused by excessive gas production in the GI system, or from disturbances in peristalsis. [1,2]  It may also be caused by excessive amounts of liquids or solids in your digestive tract as well.

And, as you’ve probably experienced for yourself on occasion, bloating often leads to feeling “stuffed” and uncomfortable as well as sometimes painful. [3] Estimates indicate that roughly 16% of all adults experience bloating at least once a month, and women more often experience symptoms of bloating than men. [3]

Additionally, those with GI disorders, such as IBS, are more prone to experiencing bloating than others who do not have the condition.

8 Common Causes of Bloating

 

Food Sensitivities, Intolerances, and Allergies

Food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies are relatively common these days.

When a person eats a food that they are sensitive to, they can experience gassiness, bloating, cramping, and other GI-related issues.

Some of the most commonly cited sources of food intolerances are:

  • Eggs
  • Fructose
  • Gluten
  • Nuts
  • Vegetable oils
  • Lactose
  • Gluten
  • FODMAPs

FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols. [4]  They are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates naturally occurring in several foods common to the diet, including:

  • Beans
  • Artichokes
  • Apples
  • Milk
  • Honey
  • Lentils
  • Broccoli Stalks
  • Sugar Alcohols

What makes FODMAPs such a problem for certain individuals is that they are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, which means they travel to the large intestine and serve as food for your gut bacteria.

Interestingly, both lactose and fructose are a member of the FODMAPs family.

Medications

A variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs have been known to induce bloating in some people as well other less desirable GI effects including nausea, diarrhea, and gas when taken.

One of the biggest “offenders” in this class are antibiotics.

Commonly prescribed to treat infections, antibiotics exert their effects by ridding the body of harmful, pathogenic bacteria. However, certain broad-spectrum antibiotics also kill the “good” bacteria along with the bad.

This leads to disruption of the gut microbiome and causes the digestive system to get a bit out of whack, resulting in several GI issues, not the least of which is bloating.

To help restore gut balance and increase the number of beneficial gut bacteria, you can take a probiotic supplement or (more preferably) consume probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

GI Disorders

Many gastrointestinal disorders including celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis (UC) have bloating as a common side effect. Various studies note that bloating occurs in 23-96% of people with IBS as well as 50% percent of those who live with “functional dyspepsia” — a chronic form of indigestion where an individual experience the feeling and movement of food in the upper digestive tract.

Infections

Infections are caused by harmful bacteria that lay waste to the body and can induce any/all of the following:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

The primary bacteria linked to stomach infections are Escherichia coli (E. coli) or Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

Constipation and Bowel Obstruction

Bloating can sometimes be caused by constipation or bowel obstruction, which can be brought on by scar tissue in the small intestine or colon.

As the blockages increase and continue to press against your innards, fluid and stool accumulate leading to abdominal pain and bloating.

Common, less severe causes of constipation include insufficient fiber intake, not drinking enough water, stress, and being too sedentary. If constipation continues despite rectifying these issues, it’s critical to see a doctor for a potential bowel obstruction as it may lead to a ruptured bowel if not addressed quickly.

SIBO

SIBO is an abbreviation that stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It occurs when there are abnormal (excessive) levels of bacteria in the small intestine. [5]

This over accumulation of bacteria can occur due to a variety of factors including poor digestion, inflammation, or a result of taking antibiotics.

This bacterial overgrowth may also cause damage to the stomach lining further exacerbating gut problems and malabsorption of essential nutrients.

Swallowing Air

There are two primary sources (“culprits”) of gas in the body. The endogenous gas that is produced from the fermentation of carbohydrates by gut bacteria, and the “exogenous” type, which is the air you swallow when eating and drinking. [6]

The single most significant contributor to external gas for most people is soft drinks, carbonated beverages, and soda.

These fizzy drinks are carbonated from an infusion of carbon dioxide, and the gas can release from the liquid (and into your stomach) post-ingestion.

Drinking liquids through a straw, eating in a hurry, talking while eating, and chewing gum all contributed to increasing the amount of air swallowed.

Gynecological-Related Issues

Endometriosis and hormonal fluctuations accompanying a woman’s regular monthly menstrual cycle can both lead to bloating, fluid retention, and severe cramping.

7 Ways to Prevent Bloating

 

Don’t Overeat

This may seem rather obvious, but one of the biggest culprits for feeling bloated and having a distended belly, particularly around the holidays, is consuming too much food in a rather brief amount of time.

Everyone’s stomach has a limited capacity to expand and for a subset of individuals consuming too much food volume at a given time can lead to unwanted pressure and discomfort in the midsection.

The simple fix here is two-fold:

  • Eat smaller meals, and
  • Thoroughly chew your food.

    Chewing your full reduces the amount of air you swallow, which is one of the causes of bloating, and it also makes you eat slower. FYI, slower eating is associated with decreased food intake and smaller food portions.

Limit Intake of FODMAPs and Sugar Alcohols

While FODMAPs and sugar alcohols are safe to consume. For many individuals, they merely lead to unwanted GI distress and bloating. Adopting a low FODMAPs diet and reducing your intake of these foods can help limit the onset of bloating, cramping, etc.

Notable sugar alcohols to avoid include xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol. Erythritol is one of the few sugar alcohols that seems to be tolerated better by FODMAP-sensitive folks. But, proceed with caution as large doses of any sugar alcohol can lead to excessive gassiness, flatulence, and bloating.

Use Digestive Enzymes Supplements

With the dramatic increase in gut health in the past few years, there has been an explosion of digestive enzyme supplements. These products typically contain a mix of digestive enzymes that improve the body’s ability to break down indigestible carbohydrates as well as proteins and fats.

Specific enzymes to keep an eye on if you’re looking to improve your digestion include:

  • Lactase — an enzyme that helps breakdown lactose, the primary sugar (carb) in dairy
  • Protease — an enzyme that helps digest protein
  • Lipase — an enzyme that improves fat digestion
  • Alpha-galactosidase — an enzyme that can help break down the indigestible carbohydrates from various foods, legumes in particular
  • Amylase — enhances the ability to digest starches
  • Cellulase — enhances the body’s ability to break down cellulose (fiber) in vegetables, fruits, grains, and seeds.

Take a serving of digestive enzymes with your meal, and you may witness immediate improvement in your digestion as well as a reduction in your bloating.

Increase Your Probiotic Intake

Probiotics are live cultures of good gut bacteria that improve gut health as well as your ability to digest and absorb food efficiently. As we mentioned above, fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha are packed with gut-friendly probiotics. You can also invest in a high-quality probiotics supplement to further improve the ratio of good-to-bad gut bacteria.

Peppermint Tea or Oil

Antispasmodics are a class of medications that help reduce muscle spasms, such as those that occur in the GI tract which can lead to bloating. Usage of these drugs has been noted to reduce bloating. [7]

Peppermint is a plant believed to function similar to antispasmodic medications and documented in several studies to reduce bloating and various other IBS-related symptoms. [8,9]

Both peppermint oils and peppermint teas are easily accessible in most grocery stores and provide an all-natural means to beat the bloat.

Reduce Stress

Chronic stress leads to prolonged elevations of cortisol — the body’s primary stress hormone. In certain situation (attempting a 1-rep max on deadlifts), cortisol can be your friend. However, when we’re chronically stressed it can lead to a number of unwanted consequences including poor sleep, increased fat storage, and exacerbation of GI disorders, which can result in bloating.

Taking time each day to unwind is essential to managing stress, limiting fluid-retention, and supporting your muscle-building and fat loss efforts.

Move More

Physical inactivity is a contributor to constipation and bloating. Increasing your movement during the day can help to “keep things moving” in your digestive tract, avoiding unwanted bloating, constipation, and potential stomach pain.

As a bonus, the extra movement may also enhance your recovery between training sessions as the light movement increases systemic blood flow which helps clear waste metabolites and supplies your muscles with higher oxygen and nutrients.

Takeaway

Bloating is incredibly common and something we all have to deal with at one time or another. For some of us bloating is a rarity, while others seemingly have to deal with it daily.

Use the tips in this article to help identify the biggest culprits causing you to have belly bloat and work to address them in the coming weeks.

References

  1. Iovino P, Bucci C, Tremolaterra F, Santonicola A, Chiarioni G. Bloating and functional gastro-intestinal disorders: where are we and where are we going?. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(39):14407-19.
  2. AGRAWAL, A. and WHORWELL, P. J. (2008), Review article: abdominal bloating and distension in functional gastrointestinal disorders – epidemiology and exploration of possible mechanisms. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 27: 2-10. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03549.x
  3. Lea R, Whorwell PJ. Expert commentary–bloating, distension, and the irritable bowel syndrome. MedGenMed. 2005;7(1):18. Published 2005 Jan 10.
  4. Gibson, P. R. and Shepherd, S. J. (2010), Evidence‐based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 25: 252-258. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1746.2009.06149.x
  5. Dukowicz AC, Lacy BE, Levine GM. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2007;3(2):112-22.
  6. Lacy BE, Gabbard SL, Crowell MD. Pathophysiology, evaluation, and treatment of bloating: hope, hype, or hot air?. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2011;7(11):729-39.
  7. Ford AC, Talley NJ, Spiegel BM, et al. Effect of fibre, antispasmodics, and peppermint oil in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008;337:a2313. Published 2008 Nov 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2313
  8. Khanna, R., MacDonald, J. K., & Levesque, B. G. (2014). Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 48(6), 505–512. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCG.0b013e3182a88357
  9. Cash BD, Epstein MS, Shah SM. A Novel Delivery System of Peppermint Oil Is an Effective Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms. Dig Dis Sci. 2015;61(2):560-71.
  10. Li, J., Zhang, N., Hu, L., Li, Z., Li, R., Li, C., & Wang, S. (2011). Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(3), 709–716. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.015164

Benefits of Green Tea

Millions of people have enjoyed Green tea across the world for centuries. Created by lightly steaming leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, green tea was first brewed in China in 2737 BC.

Since that time, it has remained a staple of the human diet since and has been revered in cultures across Asia. Over the past 20 years, it has gained enormous popularity in the West, rivaling coffee as the way to start one’s day.

Today, we’re going to take a deep-dive into green tea and see just how many ways it can improve health, wellness, and longevity.

Let’s get started!

Eight Benefits of Green Tea

Smooth, Jitter-Free Energy

When it comes to energy-boosting beverages, coffee reigns supreme for most people. And, while no one will argue that the jolt coffee can supply is potent (and vitally needed at times), not everyone always responds to the powerful “kick” the dark elixir provides.

Green tea represents a smoother-feeling energy drink option for individuals looking for a much-needed pick-me-up but doesn’t want the jitters or “on edge” feelings that typically accompany coffee.

What makes the infusion of energy supplied by green tea smoother-feeling than coffee is a powerful little amino acid known as L-Theanine.

L-Theanine is a component of green tea leaves that help smooth out the “harsh” stimulatory qualities of caffeine due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate GABA receptors in the brain. [1]

GABA is the body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter and when activated promotes feelings of calm and relaxation.

Since green tea supplies both caffeine and theanine, you get a “best of both worlds” energy boost in the form of heightened (yet calm and controlled) alertness.

This is part of the reason why we include 200mg of L-Theanine (alongside 300mg caffeine anhydrous) in each serving of our pre-workout, Steel Pump. Combining these two supplements provides smooth energy that helps keep you dialed into your workout without feeling out of control or overstimulated.

Enhanced Focus & Productivity

In addition to providing a smoother energy “high,” the combination of caffeine + theanine is also a powerful nootropic stack. On its own, caffeine has been documented to improve multiple facets of cognitive function, including mood, reaction time, memory, wakefulness, and vigilance. [2]

While theanine is most well-known for its GABA-stimulating properties, it also increases serotonin (the “happy” neurotransmitter) and dopamine (the “motivation and reward” molecule) as well as the production of alpha waves in the brain. [1,3,4]

In case you weren’t aware, alpha brain waves play an important role in attention and focus.

Studies show that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine is synergistic, leading to improved brain function, greater focus, and increased productivity. [5,6] Furthermore, taking theanine alongside caffeine may also help reduce the decrease in cerebral blood flow that can occur when taking caffeine alone.

Increased Exercise Performance

Caffeine is a notable ergogenic aid, not only for boost energy levels and cognitive function but also for boosting physical performance. Two comprehensive reviews of the effects of caffeine on exercise noted it increases performance by an average of 11-12%. [7,8]

The way caffeine enhances exercise performance is multifactorial, but two of the primary mechanisms by which it supports greater stamina and endurance is by reducing perceived exertion and mobilizing stored fatty acids from adipose tissues thereby making them available for use as energy. [9,10]

This also has the added effect of preserving glycogen stores for later in the workout when they’re needed for that last bit of all-out effort.

However, the performance-boosting effects of green tea aren’t solely due to its caffeine content. Additional research notes that the antioxidants present in green tea (i.e., catechins) are also capable of delaying muscular fatigue and reducing cellular damage typically induced by endurance exercise. [11,12]

One study, in particular, found that men supplementing with green tea extract increased their running distance by 10.9%. [13]

Greater Fat Burning and Weight Loss

Conventional fat burners tend to rely on a combination of two things:

  • High Amounts of Stimulants
  • Ingredients that (in theory) help burn fat, but in reality don’t have much of any effect at all (i.e., L-Carnitine and CLA)

Green tea, however, is one of the ingredients that hold up to clinical testing in humans and has been shown to boost metabolism and enhance fat loss. [14]

One study noted green tea consumption increased fat oxidation (fat burning) by 17%, while another study in men found green tea increased energy expenditure by 4%. [15,16]

While green tea does contain caffeine (a noted metabolism booster and pro-lipolytic agent), green tea’s weight loss benefits aren’t solely attributed to the well-known stimulant. Research shows that both catechins and caffeine aid weight loss by regulating the hormones that can boost thermogenesis. [17,18]

Moreover, 12-week randomized controlled trial (RCT), the “gold standard” of research” including 240 men and women noted that use of green tea extract led to significant reductions in body fat percentage, waist circumference, total body weight, and belly fat. [35]

Due to its ability to increase calorie burning and enhance weight loss, we’ve included 50mg Green Tea Extract (std. To 80% catechins and 50% EGCG) in every serving of Steel Sweat.

Now, it should be noted that some studies indicate that green tea doesn’t have much of an impact on metabolism, which suggests that the ability of green tea to help burn fat may boil down to an individual’s response to it. [19]

Neuroprotection

Not only may green tea boost your cognitive performance in the short-term, other studies indicate that the potent phytochemicals in green tea (including EGCG) may also provide long-term benefits for brain health.

More specifically, multiple studies note that green tea catechins exert an array of neuroprotective effects on neurons. [20,21,22] Among the various ways, tea catechins confer protection of neurons include antioxidant activity and running “interference” with an accumulation of various neuropeptides that are heavily associated with cognitive decline, such as α-synuclein — a protein linked to Parkinson’s Disease.

Based on these results, researchers are investigating how tea polyphenols may be able to aid in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

L-Theanine may also exert a neuroprotective effect due to its antagonistic action on glutamate receptors and preventive effect on neuronal cell death. [23]

May Help Lower Blood Sugar and Combat Diabetes

Sky-high blood sugars, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome are an epidemic these days, leading to unprecedented cases of Type 2 Diabetes in both adults and children.

Brought on by a mixture of reduced physical activity, increased availability of hyperpalatable foods, and excessive calorie consumption, significant portions of the population are faced with the issues associated with high blood sugar levels daily.

Green tea catechins, EGCG in particular, have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and help regulate blood sugar, both of which contribute to lower blood sugar levels. [24,25]

One particularly interesting study found that when people were given either 1.5g of green tea or a placebo ahead of an oral glucose tolerance test, the treatment group (those who received green tea) demonstrated better blood sugar tolerance than the placebo group. [26].

A separate study found that green tea extract improved insulin sensitivity by 13% in healthy young men.[27] And to top it off, a meta-analysis of 17 studies concluded that green tea extract is useful in reducing fasting blood sugar levels and levels of hemoglobin A1C, a key indicator used by doctors to measure the progression of diabetes. [28]

Supports Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the #1 cause of death globally.[29] Two of the key contributors to the development and progression of heart disease are hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).

Accumulation of oxidative stress leads to build up of fat in the blood. This fosters elevated cholesterol levels, inflammation in the arteries, and eventually high blood pressure. [30,31]

Fortunately, the potent polyphenols and antioxidants naturally occurring in green tea and green tea extract may help combat inflammation and reduce high blood pressure. [31,32,33]

One study of note gave obese subjects with hypertension green tea extract daily for three months. At the end of the trial, subjects demonstrated significant reductions in blood pressure and blood lipids (LDL cholesterol and triglycerides). [33]

A separate trial noted that daily ingestion of 250 mg of green tea extract over eight weeks decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol by 4.5% and total cholesterol by 3.9%. [34]

May Combat Signs of Aging and Boost Longevity

Green tea and green tea extracts are naturally rich in antioxidants. The polyphenols in green tea, such as EGCG, may help protect against UVB light-induced skin disorders associated with DNA damage and immune system suppression. [36,37]

A review of green tea’s effects regarding dermatology noted that when applied directly to the skin, green tea extract improved symptoms of many skin problems, including dermatitis and rosacea. The potent extract has also been documented to help with acne and skin aging.[37,38,39]

Due to the extraordinary skin-protecting measures of green tea and its polyphenols, Steel Beauty includes a potent green tea extract standardized to 80% catechins and 50% EGCG.

Lastly, green tea may also help increase longevity due to the full range of benefits it offers in regard to protecting against oxidative stress, decreasing risk factors associated with different cancers and cardiovascular diseases, and promoting cognitive health.

A rather large study, involving 40,530 Japanese adults, found that those who drank the most green tea (5+ cups per day) had a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality over 11 years. [40]

The Bottom Line on Green Tea

Green tea is a centuries-old beverage that tastes great, is high in antioxidants, and has been documented numerous times to help improve health and body composition.

Regardless if your goal is muscle gain, fat loss, increased productivity, or more significant health and wellness, green tea has something to offer. Even better, green tea is exceptionally accessible and affordable both in liquid form or as a dietary supplement. And if you’re seeking better fat loss, performance, or health, you might want to consider adding more green tea into your life.

References

  1. Nathan, P. J., Lu, K., Gray, M., & Oliver, C. (2006). The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 6(2), 21–30.
  2. Ruxton, C. H. (2008), The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks. Nutrition Bulletin, 33: 15-25. doi:10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x
  3. Nobre, A. C., Rao, A., & Owen, G. N. (2008). L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 17 Suppl 1, 167–168.
  4. Egashira, N., Hayakawa, K., Osajima, M., Mishima, K., Iwasaki, K., Oishi, R., & Fujiwara, M. (2007). Involvement of GABA(A) receptors in the neuroprotective effect of theanine on focal cerebral ischemia in mice. Journal of Pharmacological Sciences, 105(2), 211–214.
  5. Kelly, S. P., Gomez-Ramirez, M., Montesi, J. L., & Foxe, J. J. (2008). L-theanine and caffeine in combination affect human cognition as evidenced by oscillatory alpha-band activity and attention task performance. The Journal of Nutrition, 138(8), 1572S–1577S. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/138.8.1572S
  6. Dodd FL, Kennedy DO, Riby LM, Haskell-Ramsay CF. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015;232(14):2563-76.
  7. Doherty, M. and Smith, P. M. (2005), Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta‐analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 15: 69-78. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2005.00445.x
  8. Doherty, M., & Smith, P. M. (2004). Effects of caffeine ingestion on exercise testing: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14(6), 626–646.
  9. Magkos, F., & Kavouras, S. A. (2005). Caffeine use in sports, pharmacokinetics in man, and cellular mechanisms of action. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 45(7–8), 535–562. https://doi.org/10.1080/1040-830491379245
  10. Higgins, S., Straight, C. R., & Lewis, R. D. (2016). The Effects of Preexercise Caffeinated Coffee Ingestion on Endurance Performance: An Evidence-Based Review. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 26(3), 221–239. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2015-0147
  11. Powers, S. K., Ji, L. L., & Leeuwenburgh, C. (1999). Exercise training-induced alterations in skeletal muscle antioxidant capacity: a  brief review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31(7), 987–997.
  12. Ji, L. L. (1999). Antioxidants and oxidative stress in exercise. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (New York, N.Y.), 222(3), 283–292.
  13. Roberts JD, Roberts MG, Tarpey MD, Weekes JC, Thomas CH. The effect of a decaffeinated green tea extract formula on fat oxidation, body composition and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):1. Published 2015 Jan 21. doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0062-7
  14. Diepvens, K., Westerterp, K. R., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2007). Obesity and thermogenesis related to the consumption of caffeine, ephedrine, capsaicin, and green tea. American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 292(1), R77-85. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.00832.2005
  15. Venables, M. C., Hulston, C. J., Cox, H. R., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2008). Green tea extract ingestion, fat oxidation, and glucose tolerance in healthy humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(3), 778–784. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.3.778
  16. Dulloo, A. G., Duret, C., Rohrer, D., Girardier, L., Mensi, N., Fathi, M., Vandermander, J. (1999). Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(6), 1040–1045. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.6.1040
  17. Berube-Parent, S., Pelletier, C., Dore, J., & Tremblay, A. (2005). Effects of encapsulated green tea and Guarana extracts containing a mixture of epigallocatechin-3-gallate and caffeine on 24 h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in men. The British Journal of Nutrition, 94(3), 432–436.
  18. Dulloo, A. G., Seydoux, J., Girardier, L., Chantre, P., & Vandermander, J. (2000). Green tea and thermogenesis: interactions between catechin-polyphenols, caffeine  and sympathetic activity. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders : Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 24(2), 252–258.
  19. Gregersen, N. T., Bitz, C., Krog-Mikkelsen, I., Hels, O., Kovacs, E. M. R., Rycroft, J. A., Astrup, A. (2009). Effect of moderate intakes of different tea catechins and caffeine on acute measures of energy metabolism under sedentary conditions. The British Journal of Nutrition, 102(8), 1187–1194. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114509371779
  20. Weinreb, O., Mandel, S., Amit, T., & Youdim, M. B. H. (2004). Neurological mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 15(9), 506–516. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2004.05.002
  21. Mandel, S. A., Amit, T., Weinreb, O., Reznichenko, L., & Youdim, M. B. H. (2008). Simultaneous manipulation of multiple brain targets by green tea catechins: a potential neuroprotective strategy for Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14(4), 352–365. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00060.x
  22. Caruana, M., & Vassallo, N. (2015). Tea Polyphenols in Parkinson’s Disease. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 863, 117–137. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-18365-7_6
  23. Kakuda, T. (2011). Neuroprotective effects of theanine and its preventive effects on cognitive dysfunction. Pharmacological Research, 64(2), 162–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phrs.2011.03.010
  24. Waltner-Law, M. E., Wang, X. L., Law, B. K., Hall, R. K., Nawano, M., & Granner, D. K. (2002). Epigallocatechin gallate, a constituent of green tea, represses hepatic glucose production. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 277(38), 34933–34940. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.M204672200
  25. Anderson, R. A., & Polansky, M. M. (2002). Tea enhances insulin activity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(24), 7182–7186.
  26. Tsuneki H, Ishizuka M, Terasawa M, Wu JB, Sasaoka T, Kimura I. Effect of green tea on blood glucose levels and serum proteomic patterns in diabetic (db/db) mice and on glucose metabolism in healthy humans. BMC Pharmacol. 2004;4:18. Published 2004 Aug 26. doi:10.1186/1471-2210-4-18
  27. Venables, M. C., Hulston, C. J., Cox, H. R., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2008). Green tea extract ingestion, fat oxidation, and glucose tolerance in healthy humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(3), 778–784. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.3.778
  28. Liu, K., Zhou, R., Wang, B., Chen, K., Shi, L.-Y., Zhu, J.-D., & Mi, M.-T. (2013). Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(2), 340–348. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.052746
  29. “The Top 10 Causes of Death.” WHO | World Health Organization, 24 May 2018, www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death.
  30. González J, Valls N, Brito R, Rodrigo R. Essential hypertension and oxidative stress: New insights. World J Cardiol. 2014;6(6):353-66.
  31. Babu PV, Liu D. Green tea catechins and cardiovascular health: an update. Curr Med Chem. 2008;15(18):1840-50.
  32. Erba, D., Riso, P., Bordoni, A., Foti, P., Biagi, P. L., & Testolin, G. (2005). Effectiveness of moderate green tea consumption on antioxidative status and plasma lipid profile in humans. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 16(3), 144–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2004.11.006
  33. Bogdanski, P., Suliburska, J., Szulinska, M., Stepien, M., Pupek-Musialik, D., & Jablecka, A. (2012). Green tea extract reduces blood pressure, inflammatory biomarkers, and oxidative  stress and improves parameters associated with insulin resistance in obese, hypertensive patients. Nutrition Research (New York, N.Y.), 32(6), 421–427. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2012.05.007
  34. Batista, G. de A. P., Cunha, C. L. P. da, Scartezini, M., von der Heyde, R., Bitencourt, M. G., & Melo, S. F. de. (2009). Prospective double-blind crossover study of Camellia sinensis (green tea) in dyslipidemias. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, 93(2), 128–134.
  35. Nagao, T. , Hase, T. and Tokimitsu, I. (2007), A Green Tea Extract High in Catechins Reduces Body Fat and Cardiovascular Risks in Humans. Obesity, 15: 1473-1483. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.176
  36. Schwarz, A., Maeda, A., Gan, D., Mammone, T., Matsui, M. S., & Schwarz, T. (2008). Green tea phenol extracts reduce UVB-induced DNA damage in human cells via interleukin-12. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 84(2), 350–355. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-1097.2007.00265.x
  37. Katiyar, S. K. (2003). Skin photoprotection by green tea: antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects. Current Drug Targets. Immune, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, 3(3), 234–242.
  38. Lu, P. H., & Hsu, C. H. (2016). Does supplementation with green tea extract improve acne in post-adolescent women? A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 25, 159–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.004
  39. Pazyar, N., Feily, A., & Kazerouni, A. (2012). Green tea in dermatology. Skinmed, 10(6), 352–355.
  40. Kuriyama, S., Shimazu, T., Ohmori, K., Kikuchi, N., Nakaya, N., Nishino, Y., Tsuji, I. (2006). Green tea consumption and mortality due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in Japan: the Ohsaki study. JAMA, 296(10), 1255–1265. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.296.10.1255

How Stress and Cortisol Affect Weight Loss

A baby is crying in the night.

Bumper to bumper traffic on the freeway.

Debt collectors are calling for overdue bills.

What do these three things have in common?

They all are sources of stress in a person’s life. Stress is something that is a part of everyday life, for better or worse. Some of us are better at handling stressful times than others, and some of us have a lifestyle that inherently brings more stress into it.

And, while there’s no way to eliminate all stress from your life, which you wouldn’t want to, as some stress is good and needed for the body to get stronger, you do want to do your best to improve the way your body faces and recovers from stress, particularly if you’re interested in getting fit and living a healthy lifestyle.

Today, we’re going to see how stress and cortisol affect weight loss.

First, let’s begin by gaining an understanding of the hormone at the root of stress — cortisol.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by your adrenal glands that regulate a wide range of processes throughout the body, including the immune response and metabolism. And while it is most well-known for the role it plays in the body’s stress response, hence its moniker the “stress hormone,” cortisol serves many essential functions in the body.

Namely, cortisol [1,2,3]:

  • Aids Metabolism of Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat
  • Increases Blood Sugar (via gluconeogenesis)
  • Modulates the Immune System

It’s also worth noting that cortisol is involved in the inflammatory response. Cortisol does not cause inflammation, but levels increase in response to inflammation (such as during and after intense exercise when muscle repair commences).

Cortisol levels sharply increase in the morning when you wake up and peak roughly 30 minutes later. [4] From here, they slowly begin to decline throughout the day until another acute physical or emotional stress causes them to rise sharply again.

Now, cortisol has been labeled as an “enemy” of weight loss for quite some time due to some research indicating that individuals with elevated cortisol levels have difficulty losing weight, or even worse, causing weight gain. [8,9]

But here’s the thing — cortisol has a lipolytic effect in the body. [5]

This means that cortisol enhances the rate at which stored fatty acids are released into the bloodstream for beta-oxidation (i.e., fat burning).

“But, wait for a second… everything I’ve been reading about cortisol is telling me that it is the reason I can’t lose stubborn belly fat!”

As you’ll see, the cortisol-weight gain situation isn’t as simple as you’ve been led to believe.

And with that said, we arrive at the next topic of discussion — acute vs. chronic stress and weight gain/weight loss.

Acute vs. Chronic Stress

Stress (cortisol) in and of itself is not inherently bad. In times it can be very useful (and even necessary).

Case in point, acute stress, such as when you’re being chased through the jungle by a hungry jaguar, is essential. In this scenario, the acute stressor (wild jaguar chasing you) causes a spike in cortisol (and adrenaline) which activates the body’s fight or flight response. Here, cortisol increases blood sugar to give your muscles energy to fight or evade the hungry jungle predator.

Once the immediate threat has passed your body can then return to homeostasis, and your hormones return to their normal resting levels. (Assuming you defeated or outran the jaguar, that is).

In the above scenario, stress was useful and even life-saving.

Unfortunately, stress does have a dark side too. With chronic stress (due to either persistent physical and/or psychological stress), adrenaline levels go back to resting levels after a time, but, cortisol remains elevated throughout the day.

Why is this bad?

Well, chronic elevation of cortisol in the body has been linked to many adverse consequences, including [6,7]:

  • Weight Gain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hormone Imbalances
  • GI Complications
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease

As you can see, chronic stress is not good. And just in case you were wondering, performing an extended cut in which you are training intensely multiple times per week while eating at a calorie deficit constitutes prolonged stress on the body.

So, let’s dig a little deeper into how chronic stress causes weight gain and slows fat loss.

Chronic Stress, Cortisol, and Stalled Fat Loss

First, while cortisol does enhance lipolysis (breakdown of stored fatty acids) in the body, it tends to not draw as heavily from the fat located around your midsection. [9] This is part of the reason why people who are chronically stressed tend to have higher amounts of abdominal fat. [10]

Additionally, when cortisol levels remain high for prolonged periods, insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia occur, which further hinders fat loss and encourages weight retention/gain. [9]

As if that wasn’t enough, chronically elevated cortisol levels also promote muscle breakdown, inhibits protein synthesis, and counteracts the effects of other anabolic hormones, including testosterone, subsequently slowing your metabolic rate.

This is because the amount of muscle mass an individual has directly impacted their metabolic rate (less muscle mass = slower metabolism).

Side note: since weight gain is first and foremost a function of excess calorie intake, no matter how stressed you are or how much cortisol is coursing through your body will make you gain weight.

In other words, cortisol isn’t directly responsible for your weight gain, but the chronic elevation of cortisol can have several “downstream effects” and impact other hormones that cause you to eat more, thus exceeding your TDEE, and gaining weight.

Speaking of downstream effects, let’s take a look at how stress and cortisol impact your diet.

Chronic Stress, Appetite, and Weight Gain

Ever notice how when you’re stressed you tend to crave all the “wrong” foods (e.g., fried food, pizza, ice cream, etc.). There’s a reason for this, and thanks to researchers we know what that reason is.

When stress hormones (cortisol) increase, so do levels of the hormone that stimulates appetite in the body — ghrelin. [11] But that’s not all; cortisol may also make your brain less sensitive to the effects of leptin, the hormone that signals to your mind that you’ve had enough to eat.

Less satiety with increased feelings of hunger makes you more likely to overeat and less likely to stay on track with your diet.

This lousy combination leads us to eat more and possibly go on an all-out food binge.

And, to make matters just a little bit worse, some research indicates that stress can make us more prone to crave “comfort foods.” [12] By “comfort foods” we mean the hyper-processed, sugary, salty, fatty, packaged goods that are borderline addictive they taste so good. But with that delicious taste comes a truckload of calories devoid of much micronutrition.

This inevitably leads to weight gain, which causes further stress in your life and likely results in you continuing to turn to more of the wrong foods and this sadistic merry-go-round of stress-food binging-weight gain-stress goes round and round and round.

And it’s here where we see how chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels hinder fat loss and the main reason cortisol is often blamed for weight gain.

Chronic Stress and Weight Loss

Interestingly enough, not everyone reacts to stress the same way though. Some populations lose weight when they’re chronically stressed.

This is partly due to individual variations in one’s psychology. For example, one person might find a particular situation extremely stressful, while another perceives it differently and with less stress.

Once the stressor has passed, both individuals cortisol levels return to baseline, but this occurs at different rates due to the magnitude of cortisol released and the frequency at which each person’s body can break down cortisol.

So, how does this have anything to do with weight loss?

Well, while some people tend to get hungrier and crave salty, fatty, and sugary foods when they’re stressed, others lose their appetite and eat little food.

While this might seem like a good thing (especially if you want to lose weight), this lack of desire to eat food also comes with a very much unwanted side effect — muscle loss.

You see, cortisol is a catabolic hormone in that it breaks down protein (amino acids) to provide the body with energy in the form glucose via gluconeogenesis. When you combine an increase in protein breakdown with inadequate protein (and overall calorie) intake you have the perfect recipe for accelerated muscle loss.

There’s even research to demonstrate just how catabolic extreme stress can be.

An 8-week study involving a group of US Army Rangers were fed a deficient calorie diet while exposed to a “multi-stressor” environment which included [13]:

  • Hot and cold weather extremes
  • Patrols in hostile terrain while lugging around a 70+ pound rucksack
  • Less than 4 hours of sleep per night
  • Low-calorie diet (many times only getting one meal per day)

As you would expect, the Rangers lost a considerable amount of weight over the 8-week timeframe, about 22 lbs. on average. However, what was more shocking was that 9 lbs. of that weight loss came in the form of muscle loss. The other 13 pounds was fat. [13]

Cortisol levels were extraordinarily high and testosterone levels, unsurprisingly, plummeted.

Similar findings can be observed in a case study on a drug-free bodybuilder during contest prep. Throughout three months of dieting, combined with an intense training regimen, the bodybuilder got to sub 10% body fat in spite of his cortisol levels being chronically elevated. [14]

Over the following three months (bringing total prep time to 6 months) cortisol levels remained twice the baseline, resting levels. However, the bodybuilder continued to drop body fat and finished his prep at 4.5% body fat.

Both of these studies highlight the fact that elevated cortisol levels did not induce fat gain or prevent individuals from losing fat.

So again, cortisol isn’t the lone culprit in why you may be struggling to lose weight, but it may be a factor depending on how you react in times of prolonged stress.

How to Manage Stress and Lose Fat Faster

Now that we’ve looked at both sides of the stress-weight coin let’s give you a few quick, easy tips on how to better manage stress and improve your state of mind and body composition.

Do Calming Activities

Do activities that you find relaxing and calming such as reading a book, listening to classical music, going for a walk in the forest, meditation, yoga, stretching.

Exercise

Yes, we realize that moderate-high intensity exercise is a physical stressor on the body, but for many people training is a mental “de-stressor.” A time when they can unplug from their troubles and focus on putting in the work lifting weights. Plus, studies note that intense exercise brings about physiological changes that improve the body’s ability to handle stress. [15]

Also, some research indicates that low-intensity forms of exercise can lower cortisol levels. [16]

Sleep

Sleep is the body’s time to recover, recharge, and grow from the day. Studies have shown that failing to get sufficient sleep leads to elevated levels of cortisol the following day. [17]

As we discussed above for the Army Rangers chronic elevations in cortisol and constant exposure to stress can impair muscle retention/gain as well as testosterone levels. Sleep deprivation is a form of chronic stressor in that you’re never allowing the body the proper amount of rest and recovery it needs.

Getting adequate sleep, which for most people is 7-9 hours per night, is essential to keeping cortisol levels in check and helping reduce the muscle-wasting effects of stress.

If you need help turning off your brain at night, SteelFit® Steel Dreams offers an all-natural, non-habit-forming solution.

Steel Dreams™ contains a comprehensive matrix of natural sleep and recovery aids scientifically formulated to help reduce stress, calm a hyperactive nervous system, and improve sleep quality and duration.

Stress-Relief and Anti-Anxiety Supplements

It’s more common than ever for individuals to be in a state of chronic stress, whether it be due to toxic work environments, relationships, or home lives. As such, supplements that help reduce stress and anxiety are in higher demand than ever.

Some of the best stress-relief and anti-anxiety formula include the any/all of the following ingredients:

L-Theanine

L-Theanine — an amino acid in green tea that binds to GABA receptors in the brain, increasing levels of the calming neurotransmitter, boosting alpha brain waves and lowering beta brain waves. Research has shown that L-Theanine dosed between 100-200mg significantly reduces an individual’s response to stress and decreases cortisol levels up to 3 hours post-stressor. [18]

Both Steel Pump® and Steel Dreams™ contain 200mg of L-Theanine to promote a state of calm and improve the stress response.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are plants or herbs that improve the body’s ability to encounter, interact, and recover from stress and support the adrenal system. These botanicals are staples of traditional medicine, having been used for thousands of years to help people of diverse cultures mitigate the stressors of the time.

These days, adaptogens are more popular than ever as individuals seek all-natural remedies to combat feelings of stress and anxiety and avoid walking down the tenuous path of prescription anti-depressants.

Some of the most popular adaptogens include Rhodiola rosea and KSM-66® Ashwagandha. FYI, KSM-66® is included in both Steel Pump® and Steel Dreams™ at the research-backed dose of 300mg.

Numerous research studies have been conducted on these two ingredients demonstrating significant reductions in cortisol levels, decreased feelings of stress, and improved cognitive function.[19,20]

The age-old cold remedy, Vitamin C, may also be something you consider trying to combat your feelings of stress. One study, in particular, noted that when individuals consumed 1g of Vitamin C they experienced significant reductions in cortisol levels. [21] 

Cut Back on Alcohol

How many times have you seen on TV or in the movies where characters complete an incredibly stressful encounter and head straight for a stiff drink?

While it might seem that alcohol is helping you reduce stress (it is a depressant after all), it might not be as good as you think. Research has noted a positive association between the amount of alcohol consumed per week and cortisol levels. In fact, for every unit of alcohol consumed, researchers have pointed out a 3% increase in cortisol. [22]

Now, we’re not saying you have to completely give up alcohol (though you can if you choose to do so), but don’t use it as your main go-to stress-reliever.

The Bottom Line on Stress, Cortisol, and Weight

Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone released when we perceive and encounter a threat. In regard to weight, cortisol has been noted to both encourage weight gain and weight loss. The primary determinant is in how an individual deals with stress. Regardless of the scenario, it’s important to note that cortisol is not solely to blame for weight gain, though it may make losing stubborn belly fat difficult.

If you feel chronically stressed, there are all-natural means to help relieve stress and anxiety and don’t come with the tolerance, habituation, dependence, or downsides of prescription pharmaceuticals.

If you need help dealing with stress, try some of the tips in this article, and if you primarily need help “turning off” your busy mind at night, Steel Dreams™ is packed with natural ingredients to help reduce stress, calm body, and mind and lull you into a deep, restorative sleep.

References

  1. ELENKOV, I. J. (2004), Glucocorticoids and the Th1/Th2 Balance. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1024: 138-146. doi:10.1196/annals.1321.010
  2. Boudarene M , et al. “[Study of the Stress Response: Role of Anxiety, Cortisol and DHEAs]. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11972140.
  3. Hoehn K, Marieb EN (2010). Human Anatomy & Physiology. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. ISBN 978-0-321-60261-9
  4. Edwards, S., et al. “Association between time of awakening and diurnal cortisol secretory activity.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 26, no. 6, 2001, pp. 613-622.
  5. Djurhuus C.B., Gravholt C.H., et al. Effects of cortisol on lipolysis and regional interstitial glycerol levels in humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 2002 283:1, E172-E177
  6. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Miller GE. Psychological Stress and Disease. JAMA. 2007;298(14):1685–1687. doi:10.1001/jama.298.14.1685
  7. Salleh MR. Life event, stress and illness. Malays J Med Sci. 2008;15(4):9-18.
  8. Epel, E. E., Moyer, A. E., Martin, C. D., Macary, S. , Cummings, N. , Rodin, J. and Rebuffe‐Scrive, M. (1999), Stress‐Induced Cortisol, Mood, and Fat Distribution in Men. Obesity Research, 7: 9-15. doi:10.1002/j.1550-8528.1999.tb00385.x
  9. Samra, J. S. “Effects of Physiological Hypercortisolemia on the Regulation of Lipolysis in Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 83, no. 2, 1998, pp. 626-631.
  10. Wajchenberg, B. L. “Estimation of body fat and lean tissue distribution by dual energy X- ray absorptiometry and abdominal body fat evaluation by computed tomography in Cushing’s disease.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 80, no. 9, 1995, pp. 2791-2794.
  11. Adams, C. E., et al. “Lifestyle factors and ghrelin: critical review and implications for weight loss maintenance.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 12, no. 5, 2010, pp. E211-e218.
  12. Dallman, M. F., Pecoraro, N., Akana, S. F., la Fleur, S. E., Gomez, F., Houshyar, H., … Manalo, S. (2003). Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of “comfort food.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20), 11696 LP-11701. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1934666100
  13. Friedl, K. E., Moore, R. J., Hoyt, R. W., Marchitelli, L. J., Martinez-Lopez, L. E., & Askew, E. W. (2000). Endocrine markers of semistarvation in healthy lean  men in a multistressor environment. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(5), 1820–1830. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2000.88.5.1820
  14. Rossow, Lindy M., et al. “Natural Bodybuilding Competition Preparation and Recovery: A 12-Month Case Study.” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, vol. 8, no. 5, 2013, pp. 582-592.
  15. Mastorakos G , et al. “Exercise and the Stress System. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16613809.
  16. Hill EE , et al. “Exercise and Circulating Cortisol Levels: the Intensity Threshold Effect. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18787373.
  17. “Sleep Loss Results in an Elevation of Cortisol Levels the Next Evening.” Sleep, 1997.
  18. White DJ, de Klerk S, Woods W, Gondalia S, Noonan C, Scholey AB. Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an L-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):53. Published 2016 Jan 19. doi:10.3390/nu8010053
  19. De Bock, Katrien, et al. “Acute Rhodiola Rosea Intake Can Improve Endurance Exercise Performance.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, vol. 14, no. 3, 2004, pp. 298-307.
  20. Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha SR, Bhattacharyya S. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:43. Published 2015 Nov 25. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9
  21. Marsit, Joseph L., et al. “Effects of Ascorbic Acid on Serum Cortisol and the Testosterone.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 12, no. 3, 1998, pp. 179-184.
  22. Badrick E, Bobak M, Britton A, Kirschbaum C, Marmot M, Kumari M. The relationship between alcohol consumption and cortisol secretion in an aging cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007;93(3):750-7.

7 Ways Poor Sleep Hurts Fat Loss

If you want to know why sleep is so crucial for fat loss and why sleep deprivation stalls weight loss, then you want to read this article.

When it comes to losing body fat as quickly as possible, individuals tend to focus first on reducing calories and then increasing their training intensity (usually in the form of added cardio workouts).

This 1-2 punch works incredibly well for weight loss, but after a time, weight loss slows, and that “stubborn fat” won’t seem to get lost. In these instances, dieters look to reduce calories further and increase their amount of exercise. One area they never think to address, that’s secretly hampering their ability to lose weight rapidly, is sleep.

Look, we get it. Sleep is one of those things that most people think is only necessary for infants and geriatrics, and the population’s lack of interest in sleep is noticeable. Recent estimates suggest that adults sleep duration has decreased by 1.5-2 hours per night over the last 50 years.

And while you may not understand how or why sleep deprivation is hurting your fat loss results, it is big time.

Here, we review the various ways in which skimping on sleep handicaps your ability to lose weight quickly and easily.

So, let’s get started.

 

7 Ways Sleep Deprivation Hinders Fat Loss

 

Less Energy for Workouts

Weight loss is a matter of calories in vs. calories out. Burn more calories per day than you ingest, and you lose weight, it’s a simple as that.

One of the ways to increase the number of calories you burn is through exercise.

Generally, speaking the more quality sleep you get at night, the better you can perform in your workouts. Conversely, when you sleep poorly, you’re tired mentally and physically. Muscles don’t respond as quickly or powerfully. You don’t move as fast during cardio workouts, and you get winded that much easier when you don’t get a full night’s sleep.

While you can still get a workout in, it won’t pack nearly the calorie burn it would have you gotten quality sleep. [7]

But that’s not all.

Not only does sleep severely impair your ability to perform at your absolute best, but it also decreases your motivation and willpower to drag yourself to the gym for your working in the first place.

Fewer calories burned in your workout, while small compared to the rest of the types of thermogenesis going on in the body, but it still count towards your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

And, when you’re trying to lose weight as quickly as possible, every single calorie counts.

Therefore, if you want to accomplish the greatest amount of calorie burning possible during training, you need to get a solid 8-9 hours of sleep.

Increased Hunger and Cravings

Poor sleep doesn’t just affect energy output during training; it may lead you to consume more calories the next day.

The reason for this is a bit complex, but essentially, sleep deprivation disrupts the delicate balance of hormones that regulate appetite and satiety.

Leptin is the “satiety” hormone that is released by fat cells to tell the brain that you’ve had enough to eat. [1,2]

Studies have shown that chronically skimping on sleep leads to significant decreases in leptin, especially at nighttime. One study noted that after six nights of sleeping only 4 hours per night, individuals experienced a decline in leptin that was on par with where levels would be had test subjects reduced calorie intake by 900 calories per day. [3]

Here’s the fascinating thing, though.

Both groups of subjects (those deprived of sleep and those getting a full night’s sleep) consumed the same amount of calories and had approximately equal amounts of physical activity.

Compounding the issue is ghrelin — the “hunger” hormone.

When individuals get less sleep, there is an increase in ghrelin secretion, particularly at night. [4] Research has also shown that individuals lacking sleep were more prone to crave sweet, carbohydrate-dense foods as well. [5]

In other words, depriving yourself of sleep makes you hungrier and more prone to eat micronutrient-poor, calorie-dense foods (e.g., junk food).

Diet is the single most crucial factor when it comes to losing fat and body recomposition. Skipping just one night of sleep can have serious ramification on your ability to stick to your diet.

Reduced Fat Burning

In addition to being more likely to overeat the day after a short night of sleep, your body also burns less fat for fuel during the day. What does it burn instead?

For the answer to that question, let’s consider a 2010 study that measured weight lost when individuals slept 8.5 hours per night and 5.5 hours per night.

Ten overweight but healthy adults had their sleep monitored for two separate 14-day periods. Additionally, every two weeks, they followed the same weight loss diet.

On both occasions (8.5 vs. 5.5 hours of sleep/night), average weight loss was about the same (~6 pounds). However, for the two weeks that Researchers found that when dieters got a full night’s sleep, they lost weight consisted of a considerably higher percentage of fat. When subjects only slept an average of 5.5 hours per night, the fraction of weight lost as fat decreased by 55% and there was a 60% increase in the amount of fat-free body mass lost. [5]

In other words, while sleep deprivation may not reduce the total amount of weight you lose (provided you eat the same calories on the days you get a full night’s sleep as the ones you don’t), you lose more muscle and less body fat.

This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen when dieting as muscle retention is a primary goal of fat loss as it helps maintain a higher metabolic rate, meaning you can lose weight at a higher amount of calories.

Increased Fatigue During the Day

Not only does lack of sleep impair your ability to perform at a high level in your workouts, but it also makes you feel more tired and lazy during the day.

So, how do this general malaise and fatigue hurt your weight loss goals?

Well, when you look at the different ways, your body burns calories, one of the types of thermogenesis that’s often overlooked is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

NEAT accounts for the energy your body uses performing all of your daily movements and activities that don’t qualify as strictly exercise. For example, activities such as doing the laundry, walking the dog, even tapping your foot while you work or watch tv counts towards NEAT.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to move less the following day (on account of being tired), which decreases the number of calories you’re burning during the day, slowing the rate at which you lose weight. [7]

Increased Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is a pretty infamous hormone. It’s most often associated with stress and the creation/retention of belly fat.

Like all of our hormones, cortisol has a specific purpose and is extremely useful at times, such as when a predator is chasing you. So, in moderate doses and the right time, cortisol can help you avoid becoming lunch meat for an angry T-Rex.

However, chronically elevated levels of cortisol, like those that come with consistently depriving yourself of sleep, are terrible for fat loss and returning to healthy sleep habits.

You see, when cortisol is released, it puts our bodies into a heightened state of alertness, which is the exact opposite of what you want at night when trying to go to sleep. Research has shown that when individuals were restricted to four hours of sleep per night, their cortisol levels the following night were significantly elevated and slower to decrease than subjects who got a full night’s sleep. [8]

Decreased Testosterone

Testosterone is the hormone most often associated with masculinity, manhood, and muscle growth. It’s also pretty well-known that cortisol and testosterone have an inverse relationship. When cortisol is elevated, testosterone is reduced and vice versa.

For quite a while, researchers have known that sleep loss led to lower testosterone production, but the didn’t know how much lower.

A 2010 study sought to determine just how severely a poor night of sleep impacted men’s testosterone levels. For seven nights (one week), ten healthy men in their 20s were restricted to five hours of sleep per night. Researchers noticed that the men’s daytime testosterone levels decreased by 10-15%, and the lowest levels of testosterone were in the evening. [9]

Researchers also noted that the men had overall less energy during the week of sleep deprivation, which as we discussed impacts your workout performance and non-exercise activity thermogenesis.

Impairs Immune System Function

Your immune system is your line of defense against microscopic ne’er-do-wells that seek to plunder and pillage your cells making your ill.

Unsurprisingly, when you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system doesn’t work as well as it should.

Cytotoxic natural killer cells are a type of immune cell (antibody) that fight off antigens (toxic and foreign substances) and help repair tissue damage. However, when you regularly shortcut your sleep, the body’s immune response becomes compromised, natural killer cell activity drops, and inflammation rises. [10,11]

More specifically, levels of C-reactive protein significantly increase when you regularly skimp on sleep. In case you weren’t aware C-reactive protein (CRP) is a critical inflammatory marker used by doctors to assess a person’s risk of heart disease as well as get an idea of their systemic inflammation.

Being in a state of chronic inflammation leads to weight gain, reduces immune system function, and increases your risk for infection as well as other chronic diseases. [12]

Steel Dreams — The Solution for Bad Sleep

Suffice it to say that if you want to lose weight as quickly and efficiently as possible, then you need to sleep. There’s no sloughing it off until you are old and gray. Sleep impacts too many vital functions of the body as well as your ability to perform, recover and grow muscle tissue.

Due to the grave importance sleep plays in health, longevity, and your ability to be a badass in the gym, SteelFit has created Steel Dreams.

Steel Dreams is an all-natural, non-habit forming, sleep and recovery aid scientifically formulated to help reduce stress, quiet an overactive mind, and improve sleep quality and duration.

Sleep is critical, plain and simple, and Steel Dreams was created to help you get the most out of every minute of sleep every night so that you can perform at your best mentally and physically day after day.

References

  1. “The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism.” Medscape, 28 Apr. 2005, www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825.
  2. Margetic, S., et al. “Leptin: a review of its peripheral actions and interactions.” International Journal of Obesity, vol. 26, no. 11, 2002, pp. 1407-1433.
  3. Spiegel K, Leproult R, L’Hermite-Baleriaux M, et al. Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympatho-vagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol and TSH. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004;89:5762-5771.
  4. SCHMID, SEBASTIAN M., et al. “A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men.” Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 17, no. 3, 2008, pp. 331-334.
  5. Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2259.
  6. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(7):435-41.
  7. Knutson KL, Spiegel K, Penev P, Van Cauter E. The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Med Rev. 2007;11(3):163-78.
  8. Leproult, R., Copinschi, G., Buxton, O., & Van Cauter, E. (1997). Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep, 20(10), 865–870.
  9. Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA. 2011;305(21):2173-4.
  10. Irwin, M., et al. “Partial night sleep deprivation reduces natural killer and cellular immune responses in humans.” The FASEB Journal, vol. 10, no. 5, 1996, pp. 643-653.
  11. Irwin, M., et al. “Partial sleep deprivation reduces natural killer cell activity in humans.” Psychosomatic Medicine, vol. 56, no. 6, 1994, pp. 493-498.
  12. Pahwa R, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2018 Oct 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan-.

How to Develop a New Healthy Habit

If you were like most people when New Year’s Day arrived you set out on a quest to revamp your daily life. Whether it be diet, exercise, relationships, or work when the new year starts each of us is imbued with a sense of motivation to make things better than they were last year.

Unfortunately, this strong initial motivation and excitement fizzle within a few short weeks, frequently resulting in millions and millions of unfilled resolutions.

NOT THIS YEAR!

In this guide, we’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to create new healthy habits and make them stick!

Even better, the tips we’ll outline in this article aren’t just useful for helping you stick to your New Year’s Resolution. You can also use these pointers to help establish any other new habit (and/or break old ones) as well as help you achieve any other personal, physical, or financial goal, too!

Let’s get started.

8 Tips to Make Those New Habits Stick

 

Focus on One Thing at a Time

We’ll be completely honest, establishing a new healthy habit can be hard – really, really hard. Even the most internally motivated people struggle from time to time by embracing new things and integrating them in their daily lives.

This is also what makes breaking old habits so hard. All humans, even the most flexible are all resistant to some extent or another to change.

Developing a new habit takes time, commitment, and effort.

As such, we recommend you take things slowly and try to focus on building your new healthy habits one at a time. Trying to instill too many new habits at once or break too many old ones at once is setting yourself up for failure as well as a great deal of frustration and hopelessness.

By focusing on creating, developing, and nurturing one good habit at a time (no matter how small it may be) sets you up for success and the likelihood that it will stick for good.

As a bonus, anytime you accomplish a goal in life, your body rewards you with a dopamine hit. Dopamine, in case you weren’t aware, is the happy hormone/neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when completing a task.

Dopamine also helps motivate us to get started on a task and focus on the work it takes to complete that task.

Use the surge of dopamine released from establishing your first new habit to fuel you for the second one, then the third one, and so on.

Take Things Slowly

In line with the previous point, another crucial tip to keep in mind when trying to build a new habit is to take things slowly.

What do we mean by “slowly”? Well, let’s say that your goal is to clean up your diet.

If you’re like most people who try to go about revamping their diet, they try to completely overhaul their diet in one fell swoop.

Any junk food is removed from the house, the takeout menus are thrown away, and the new meals are comprised of baked chicken, boiled rice and steamed broccoli.

Even the most stalwart clean eater would be tempted to ditch such as dull, unimaginative, restrictive, and bland diet.

Rather than try to build Rome in a day, start your road to a healthier nutrition plan by making small changes one at a time. Start by breaking the larger goal of wanting to eat better into several small ones.

For example, your first week, aim to consume at least 2-3 servings of vegetables per day.

The second week keep eating the 2-3 servings of vegetables and add to it that you will consume enough protein each day.

The third week keep your habits from the first two weeks in place and then remove one “bad” thing from your diet.

Say, for instance, you’re used to having two full sugar cans of soda during the day, a candy bar, and then some ice cream at night before going to bed.

Your goal this week is to remove one of these indulgences.

So, if you “have” to have your candy and ice cream, then switch to diet soda, or if you can remove soda all together.

The fourth week, continue to phase out the “dirty” foods and phase in healthier options.

These small changes compound on themselves and build momentum.

Some people may be able to go cold turkey and completely overhaul their diet in one day, but the vast majority of people do better with taking things slowly and making small changes one at a time.

Doing so also helps reinforce that you’re making long-term changes and not adopting yet another quick-fix fad diet that has you feeling deprived and itching to cheat.

Be Specific

This pointer isn’t relegated to New Year’s resolutions, weight loss goals, or financial dreams. It applies to everything.

If you want something, want to change some tendency you have (i.e., a habit), or want to develop a new way to do things, you have to be specific in deciding what you want and how you want to do it.

Using weight loss again as an example.

Don’t merely say, “I want to lose weight.”

While not entirely meaningless, failing to attach any metrics (amount of weight loss, date to have weight loss completed by, etc.) to your goal makes it less concrete, less definitive, and less likely that you will accomplish it.

Instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” maybe say, “I want to lose 5 pounds in the next five weeks.”

This goal is both specific and has a timeline attached to it so that you also have that little bit of pressure and motivation to accomplish your goal before the due date.

Specificity also works with establishing other habits as well.

For instance, if you want to revamp your diet or spend less time browsing social media, don’t say “I want to eat better” or “I want to waste less time on social media.”

Instead, tell yourself, “I will eat three servings of green vegetables today and two pieces of fruit” or “I will only spend 30 minutes on Instagram only after I’ve completed my meaningful work for the day.”

Again, being specific gives you a more precise, more defined target to focus your mental and physical energies on, and helping you take another step towards developing and ingraining those healthy habits.

Make Sure Your Life Is in Order

Much of the advice given when it comes to getting things done in life or establishing new habits is “just do it.”

What this advice/mindset is essentially telling you is that “I don’t care what’s going on in your life right now. Just suck it up and do it.”

While this attitude might work form a small percentage of the population, for the vast majority of people, telling them to do “x” with little regard for the other factors in their life is a bit too reductionist in our opinion.

You see, forming new habits requires a considerable amount of determination and willpower, both of which run out after a certain point.

Trying to instill new habits amidst changing jobs, movings residences, having a baby, or a zombie apocalypse is a recipe for disaster. Each of these scenarios (along with many others) brings about a considerable amount of stress. Developing new habits is also stressful to a certain point.

You have a finite ability to tolerate and recover from stress before you crack.

When trying to create new healthy habits, make sure the rest of your life is in relatively good order. Nobody’s life is perfect, and there is always something bound to happen each day, but so long the things you have to do with are relatively “small potatoes” you can work your way towards developing those new habits.

Eliminate the “Have to” Mindset

For many people, whenever they seek to change something in their lives or create a new way of doing things, they approach it from a “have to” mindset, meaning they “have to” do “x” or “y” or “z”.

This “have to” mindset automatically creates a negative association with the new habit you’re trying to develop and puts you in a very defensive (potentially) hostile disposition.

People often say things such as “I have to eat vegetables,” “I have to lose weight,” or “I have to go visit my in-laws.”

Instead of looking at your new habit as a “have to,” embrace a more positive, opportunistic mindset by using the phrase “get to.”

Let’s say for example you struggle with wanting to go to the gym to exercise. The next time you set out for the gym, don’t tell yourself that you “have to” go exercise because it’s the right thing to do. 

Instead, say “I get to go spend an hour bettering myself mentally and physically. I’m becoming stronger, more resilient.”

If more superficial things motivate you when it comes to training, you could just as easily say, “I get to go build a better set of biceps” (or glutes, pecs, etc.).

This also translates to diet, family, or anything else. Switching your mindset from “have to” to “get to” creates a sense of opportunity with a potential reward at the end, both of which put you in a more positive state of being and more motivated to do whatever it is that you are about to do.

While it may seem silly at first, this small change in your attitude towards things will pay enormous dividends for embracing and establishing new habits in your life.

Visualize Success

Visualization is key to success with everything in life.

If you don’t believe that you are capable of achieving something, then you will not accomplish it. Plain and simple.

For example, let’s say you are attempting to set a new 1-rep max on the back squat. Before you step under the bar, you have to see yourself squatting full depth and standing back up. If you don’t know in your heart of hearts than you can lift the weight, then you won’t.

The same can be said of breaking a bad habit. If you cannot visualize yourself avoiding or stopping whatever it is that you’re trying to remove from your daily life, then you won’t.

In other words, you have to believe you can do something to accomplish it.

Visualize yourself performing the bad habit, and then envision yourself stopping. Next, visualize yourself performing the good habit. Finally, make sure to envision the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and reward you will feel at having set aside the bad habit and performed the good one.

Performing these mental exercises will set you up for success so that when you do put your plan into motion, your body will automatically go through the motions.

After all, the body follows where the mind takes it.

Visualize success in your new habit, and you WILL achieve it!

Get Support and Accountability

There comes a point in every person’s life when they need support emotionally, physically, or psychologically. Referencing on of the previous points above, we all have a finite amount of determination, willpower, and resilience. Sooner or later each of us will hit a sticking point where we need some help, encouragement, and support to overcome said obstacle and continue along our path of success.

Having a friend, significant other, or family member as your accountability and support buddy can do wonders for helping you stay on track with your goals and new habit formations.

Self-motivation can take you a long way, but we all have those moments of weakness when we don’t feel like going to the gym or want to deviate from our healthy eating plan.

Having an accountability part can provide support to help you overcome the temptation to deviate from your plan of action and help you stay on locked in on your goals.

Realize You Aren’t Perfect

Nobody is perfect.

During your journey to establish new healthy habits, you will have lapses in judgment and fall back into old habits, even if just for a moment.

When it happens (and it does to all of us), realize that it is ok. You are not perfect, and you will goof up from time to time.

The more important thing is how you rebound from your slip. Do you let your minor mistake completely derail your progress and send you spiraling down into your old ways, or do you take it as a learning experience and use the mistake as fuel for your internal fire to make you better the next time.

Remember, it’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you rise.

The way you come back after falling off course says volumes more about your character, determination, and work ethic than a minor lapse here or there.

And remember to stay focused on the big picture. Do not let small things derail you from achieving your end goal.

Expect a few bumps along the way and realize they are there merely to make you stronger and more resilient.

Takeaway

As the new year begins, we are all excited for what lies ahead. In that excitement, we make all sorts of lofty goals, but very few of them are ever truly realized.

Use the tips in this guide to help you instill those new habits and achieve more this year than in any previous one.

Collagen 101: What it is and What it Does

If you’re looking for information about collagen, congratulations! You’ve arrived at your destination.

Collagen is one of the big buzzwords tossed around these days regardless if you’re talking about health, fitness, beauty or bodybuilding. There are collagen supplements, supplements to improve collagen, collagen creams, lotions, and even foods you can eat to boost collagen.

Collagen is literally everywhere it seems. But what is it, what does it do, and why does everyone seem to be interested in it lately?

We’re here to answer those questions and many more in this complete guide to all things collagen.

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein. In fact, collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, especially type 1 collagen. It’s composed principally of the two amino acids, glycine and proline. As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen is present in your skin, bones, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and even the digestive system.

Collagen is what gives the skin elasticity and strength. In essence, collagen is the “glue” that holds your body together!

Unfortunately, as we age, the amount of collagen produced by the body gradually declines, as with most other things in life. In addition to aging, a number of other factors can impact your body’s collagen levels and production. Prolonged exposure to the sun and excessive sugar consumption have both been shown to reduce collagen synthesis, as do activities such as drinking and smoking. [1,2,3]

To further complicated things, there isn’t just one type of collagen present in the body either. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that there are in fact SIXTEEN (16) different kinds of collagen found throughout the body. [4]

Now, types I, II, and III accounts for the vast majority of the collagen in your body (around 90%), but nevertheless, that’s a LOT of different types of collagen floating around inside you.

Benefits of Collagen

Collagen has become a hot commodity in recent years due to the wide range of benefits it offers:

  • Improves the health of hair, skin, and nails

    Seeing as that collagen is the main structural protein of the body, it makes perfect sense that it would improve the quality and appearance of your hair, skin, and nails. Research has shown that supplementing with collagen can help reduce signs of aging by reducing the appearance of cellulite and wrinkles as well as improve skin elasticity. [5,6]

    If you suffer from brittle nails or thinning hair, consuming collagen may help there too, as the protein is a primary component in the structure of your nails and hair. [7] A 2015 study noted that there are “essential relationships between extracellular matrix (ECM) and hair follicle regeneration”[7], and suggest collagen supplementation could be beneficial for treating hair loss and skin-related diseases.

  • Preserves joint integrity

    Collagen isn’t only important for your external structures, but also your internal ones, especially your connective tissues, including cartilage and tendons.

    Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when there is a significant breakdown of the entire joint complex — cartilage, joint lining, ligaments, and bone. This continual degradation leads to pain, stiffness, and swelling, which limits range of movement, significantly impacting quality of life.

    Joints naturally degrade over the years, but intense physical activity also contributes to wear and tear of the joints. As such, collagen supplements aren’t used by just the elderly, but also athletes, bodybuilders, and even recreational lifters. A comprehensive review of the literature found that collagen supplements can be extremely beneficial for improving signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis. [8]

  • Combats leaky gut

    Collagen is a crucial cog in the function and integrity of your digestive system. For starters, collagen regulates the number of gastric juices released into the stomach, preventing an excessive amount of stomach acid, which can lead to heartburn, stomach ulcers, and other painful GI issues. On top of that, glycine and proline, the two primary amino acids of collagen, can help heal the lining of the stomach, preventing ulcers from forming. Finally, low levels of collagen are associated with certain GI illnesses, including inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). Supplementing with collagen can help raise collagen levels in the body, which promotes gut health and contributes to the structural integrity of the entire GI tract. [9]

  • Accelerate injury recovery

    Collagen has also been studied for its ability to enhance recovery following traumatic injury, wounds, skeletal muscle injury or burns. [10,11] From collagen-based wound dressings to orally consumed collagen supplements, researchers are exploring the many different ways by which collagen can accelerate the recovery and rehabilitation process both in the internal structures and external appearance of the body.

  • Better sleep

    Consuming collagen 30 to 60 minutes might help with sleep too! This is due to the fact that collagen is very high in glycine, which has been shown in research to reduce fatigue, improve mental clarity the morning after taking glycine. Additionally, it’s also been shown to accelerate how quickly you fall asleep and how “deep” your sleep is. [12,13]

  • Supports liver health

    Collagen supplementation can also improve your body’s ability to detox, thereby enhancing its ability to stave off sickness. One of the biggest contributors to liver function and health is the amino acid glycine, one of the primary building blocks of collagen. Glycine is essential to glutathione production, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body. [14]

    It’s also required for something called “phase 2 detoxification” which is one of the two pathways involved in detoxifying the body. Phase 2 detoxification involves converting fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble chemicals that can then be excreted out through bile and urine. This involves converting the fat-soluble toxic chemical and transforming the toxins into water-soluble chemicals. Then they are passed out through body fluids as such as the bile or urine. Deficiencies in glycine (or one of the other amino acids needed) can severely reduce Phase 2 detoxification, heightening your chances for illness and infection.

  • More Muscle

    Yes, collagen can even help you build more muscle, which is probably another reason lifters are shoveling down collagen by the spoonful. Research conducted in elderly men demonstrated that consuming collagen supplements in conjunction with resistance training increased mass and strength more than placebo. [15]

How to Increase Collagen

Given the litany of benefits that collagen has to offer, you’re probably salivating at the prospect of getting your hands-on collagen and adding it to your supplement stash. Before you resort to supplements though, there are a few things you can do with your current diet to ensure optimal collagen production in your body, namely consuming more of the following four nutrients:

  • Glycine

    The primary building block of collagen is found in vast amounts in chicken skin, gelatin, and pork skin. So, feel free to have some more of those skin on chicken breasts, thighs, and legs.

  • Proline

    The other major amino acid of collagen is found in high amounts in dairy products, asparagus, mushrooms, egg whites, and wheat germ.

  • Vitamin C

    Everyone’s favorite cold-combatting vitamin, the water-soluble vitamin can be found in a great many foods, but some of our favorites are bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and of course everyone’s favorite — the orange.

  • Pantothenic Acid

    Also known as Vitamin B5, Pantothenic Acid is an essential nutrient that is required for the metabolism of dietary carbs, proteins, and fats consumed on a daily basis. Vitamin B5 is critical for the growth and differentiation of keratin and collagen.

Aside from diet, collagen supplements are becoming increasingly more affordable and accessible. While there are a great many options to choose from, our recommendation is to go with BioCell Collagen®, which is a main ingredient in Steel Beauty™. It’s the only form of collagen supplement on the market with several clinical trials demonstrating its effectiveness at increasing collagen production in the body, improving symptoms of joint pain and discomfort, and accelerating recovery from exercise. [16,17]

For these reasons, and many more, BioCell Collagen® which is found in Steel Beauty™, is the clear front-runner when it comes to purchasing your collagen supplement.

Wrap Up

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, quite possibly the most important one too. It’s involved in just about every aspect of appearance, function, and health of the body, and it’s definitely one protein you don’t want to be lacking. If you’re suffering from achy knees and cranky elbows, looking to up your gains in the gym, or wanting to restore your youthful looks collagen can be a safe and effective means to enhancing your appearance and performance.

By supplementing with Steel Beauty™, you will maintain youthful looking skin and promote healthy, lustrous hair and strong, beautiful nails. Steel Beauty™ is physician formulated with clinical doses of the most cutting edge, research validated, patented ingredients known to boost collagen synthesis, improve skin hydration, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, strengthen hair, reduce oxidative stress and support cellular and tissue health.*

References

  1. Donejko M, Przylipiak A, Rysiak E, et al. Hyaluronic acid abrogates ethanol-dependent inhibition of collagen biosynthesis in cultured human fibroblasts. Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 2015;9:6225-6233. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S91968.
  2. Overbeek SA, Braber S, Koelink PJ, et al. Cigarette Smoke-Induced Collagen Destruction; Key to Chronic Neutrophilic Airway Inflammation? Hartl D, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(1):e55612. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055612.
  3. Danby FW. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clin Dermatol. 2010;28(4):409-411. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.03.018.
  4. Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix.
  5. Proksch E, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):113-119. doi:10.1159/000355523.
  6. Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, Proksch E. Dietary Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2015;18(12):1340-1348. doi:10.1089/jmf.2015.0022.
  7. Chen P, Cescon M, Bonaldo P. Lack of Collagen VI Promotes Wound-Induced Hair Growth. J Invest Dermatol. 2015;135(10):2358-2367. doi:10.1038/jid.2015.187.
  8. Bello AE, Oesser S. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Curr Med Res Opin. 2006;22(11):2221-2232. doi:10.1185/030079906X148373.
  9. Koutroubakis IE, Petinaki E, Dimoulios P, et al. Serum laminin and collagen IV in inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Clinical Pathology. 2003;56(11):817-820.
  10. Mathangi Ramakrishnan K, Babu M, Mathivanan, Jayaraman V, Shankar J. Advantages of collagen based biological dressings in the management of superficial and superficial partial thickness burns in children. Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters. 2013;26(2):98-104.
  11. Baar K. Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.z). 2017;47(Suppl 1):5-11. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0719-x.
  12. INAGAWA, K., HIRAOKA, T., KOHDA, T., YAMADERA, W. and TAKAHASHI, M. (2006), Subjective effects of glycine ingestion before bedtime on sleep quality. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 4: 75–77. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8425.2006.00193.x
  13. YAMADERA, W., INAGAWA, K., CHIBA, S., BANNAI, M., TAKAHASHI, M. and NAKAYAMA, K. (2007), Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5: 126–131. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00262.x
  14. Ruiz-Ramirez A, Ortiz-Balderas E, Cardozo-Saldana G, Diaz-Diaz E, El-Hafidi M. Glycine restores glutathione and protects against oxidative stress in vascular tissue from sucrose-fed rats. Clin Sci (Lond). 2014;126(1):19-29. doi:10.1042/CS20130164.
  15. Zdzieblik D, Oesser S, Baumstark MW, Gollhofer A, König D. Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;114(8):1237-1245. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002810.
  16. Lopez HL, Habowski S, Sandrock J, Kedia A, Ziegenfuss T. Effects of BioCell Collagen® on connective tissue protection and functional recovery from exercise in healthy adults: a pilot study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014;11(Suppl 1):P48. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-S1-P48.
  17. Schauss AG, Stenehjem J, Park J, Endres JR, Clewell A. Effect of the novel low molecular weight hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract, BioCell Collagen, on improving osteoarthritis-related symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Agric Food Chem. 2012;60(16):4096-4101. doi:10.1021/jf205295u.

Complete Guide to Cupping and its Benefits

Cupping is an age-old remedy that’s been historically used to treat a variety of ailments. Recently, it’s come back into the limelight and if you’re like many people, you’re wondering what all the fuss is about.

What is cupping? Is cupping effective? Is it backed by science? How many cups do you need for cupping?

We answer all those questions and more in this up-close look at cupping.

What is Cupping?

Cupping is a type of alternative non-pharmaceutical therapy used as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction. This suction promotes healing through increasing blood flow and the flow of “qi” in the body. FYI, ‘“qi” means “life force” in Chinese.

Cupping increases blood circulation to the areas of the body where the cups are placed, which is purported to encourage cellular repair and relieve muscle tension. It may also help create/restore connective tissue and encourage blood vessel formation, further improving circulation.

Cupping is most often used as an adjunct therapy for whatever current conditions or ailments they may be facing.

Types of Cupping

When it was originally developed many centuries ago (as far back as 1,550 B.C.!) cupping was performed using animal horns, and over the years, the horns have been replaced by bamboo, and later on, ceramic cups. Today, cupping is performed with rounded glass cups that look like a ball with one of the ends opened up.

The “suction” effect that happens during cupping is a result of the heating process of the cups, which was originally accomplished using fire. As the heated cups cool, the skin is drawn in as the air is removed, creating the “suction” that is so well-known with the practice of cupping.

Modern cupping is performed following either of two methods:

  • Dry cupping involves using only suction, whereas
  • Wet cupping involves suction as well as controlled medicinal bleeding

Note: the cupping practitioner usually determines which method is appropriate for you given your age, medical condition, preferences, etc.

Cupping Up-Close

So, what happens during a cupping treatment?

Well, regardless of wet or dry cupping, the practitioner will put a flammable substance (alcohol, paper, herbs, etc.) in a cup and set the it on fire. This heats the cup, and once the fire goes out, the cup is placed upside down on your skin. As the air inside the cup cools, a vacuum is created, causing suction and leads to your skin being drawn up and into the cup. Additionally, the skin also reddens due to the increased blood flow.

Note: Certain modern practitioners have transitioned to machine pumps with silicone cups that can be moved from one spot to another on your skin, yielding a “massage-like” sensation.

If it’s your first time being “cupped”, you may only receive 3-5 cups, though it may be as high as seven cups if you’re a cupping veteran. Now, here’s where we get into the differences of dry and wet cupping.

In dry cupping, cups are set in place for usually between 5 and 10 minutes and then removed, whereas with wet cupping, the cups are usually only in place for approximately 3-5 minutes before the practitioner removes the cup and makes a small incision to draw blood. Following the “blood letting”, the practitioner will apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage to prevent any infection.

While that might seem pretty scary having someone cut your skin and release blood, cupping enthusiasts believe it helps purify and detoxify the body from any hazardous toxins, which promotes healing, though this is not substantiated by any scientific evidence. Following your cupping treatment, the skin should begin to look normal in about 7-10 days.

A third, and less common, form of cupping has been tried recently called “needle cupping” where the cupping practitioner first inserts acupuncture needles into the skin and then places cups over them.

Before any cupping treatment, it is best recommended to fast or eat a light meal approximately 2-3 hours before your cupping session.

Common Applications of Cupping

Over the centuries, cupping has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including everything from minor aches and pains to skin issues, such as acne. Since the cups can be applied to acupressure points, cupping has been used to also treat digestive issues and other conditions commonly treated with acupressure.

A comprehensive review of cupping conducted in 2012 noted that the practice may offer more than simply placebo, and stated that cupping could help with the several conditions, including[1]:

  • Acne
  • Coughing
  • Facial paralysis
  • Dyspnea
  • Herpes zoster
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Lumbar disc herniation

However, the review clearly states that most of the 135 studies included in the review are highly biased and additional studies are needed to determine whether or not cupping is truly effective for the conditions outlined in the review.

Additionally another report in 2015 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine stated that cupping may be beneficial for pain management, herpes zoster, and acne [2], and even more recently, a 2017 review of the literature[3] concluded:

“Cupping therapy and acupuncture are potentially safe, and they have similar effectiveness in relieving pain. However, further rigorous studies investigating relevant pain-related conditions are warranted to establish comparative effectiveness analysis between these two therapies. Cost-effectiveness studies should be considered in the future studies to establish evidence for decision-making in clinical practice.”

Finally, a 2018 study suggests that a “clear relationship between Hijama and the reduction and control of SBP in patients with hypertension. Therefore, Hijama can be used as an adjunct to conventional therapy, which may allow down titration of given doses of antihypertensive drugs.” [4]

That final study is interesting and somewhat obvious, anything that decreases the total volume of blood in the body is going to lead to a reduction in systemic blood pressure. Is bloodletting a long-term solution to high blood pressure (hypertension)? No.

Potential Side Effects

Provided your seeking treatment from a well-trained and qualified cupping practitioner, the side effects and risks of cupping are relatively minimal. Possible side effects that might occur as a result of your cupping treatment include:

  • Mild discomfort
  • Burns
  • Bruises
  • Skin infection
  • Scarring (if receiving wet cupping)

Additionally, you may also feel slightly dizzy or lightheaded during your treatment, as well as potential sweating (from the heat) or nausea).

Following your cupping session, the skin on the areas where the cups were placed will be reddened and possibly irritated. If you did wet cupping, you will also likely experience pain where the incisions occurred.

Be aware that infection is always a possibility when undergoing wet cupping. The risk is low, and typically not a concern provided that the practitioner is using proper sanitation methods on the instruments involved as well as your skin.

Some things to look for in your practitioner, especially if they’re performing wet cupping on you. They should wear:

  • Disposable gloves
  • Goggles (or some form of protective eyewear)
  • Apron

Using properly sterilized instruments helps prevent infection and ensures you’re not at risk for contracting certain viruses such as hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Tips on Cupping

Before we finish this expose’ on cupping, we’ll leave you with a few parting pointers to be aware of should you be interested in giving this ancient healing art a go.

Most degreed medical professionals (i.e. doctors) are not trained or have any background in adjunct (complementary) therapies typically used in alternative medicine. As such, your doctor will in all likelihood be very skeptical of your attempt to try cupping.

Certain traditional medicine practitioners are such strong believers in their craft, that they may encourage you to forego standard Western medicine practices in favor of their methods, but again, this is not advised. Always consult with your physician before starting or stopping any treatments, no matter how old they may be.

Additionally, if you do attempt cupping, make sure to keep up your regular doctor visits and keep them informed of your desire/progress with cupping.

Finally, cupping isn’t for everyone. If you are pregnant, menstruating, elderly, or a child, cupping is NOT recommended. Also, if you have any form of organ disorder, it is strongly advised that you do not try cupping.

Cupping Wrap Up

Cupping is an ancient healing practice used to treat a wide range of ailments. Anecdotal evidence speaks highly of the practice, and there is some scientific research to support its effectiveness in reducing aches and pains. It is by no means a replacement for regular doctor visits or western medicine, and should you be interested in giving cupping a go, always make sure to check with your primary care physician before attempting it.

References

  1. Cao H, Li X, Liu J. An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy. Malaga G, ed. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(2):e31793. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031793.
  2. Mehta P, Dhapte V. Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2015;5(3):127-134. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2014.11.036.
  3. Zhang Y-J, Cao H-J, Li X-L, et al. Cupping therapy versus acupuncture for pain-related conditions: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and trial sequential analysis. Chinese Medicine. 2017;12:21. doi:10.1186/s13020-017-0142-0.
  4. Al-Tabakha MM, Sameer FT, Saeed MH, Batran RM, Abouhegazy NT, Farajallah AA. Evaluation of Bloodletting Cupping Therapy in the Management of Hypertension. Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences. 2018;10(1):1-6. doi:10.4103/jpbs.JPBS_242_17.