11 Things to Know About Pot and Your Health

Author ArticleAs more states legalize marijuana, it’s important to know the pros and cons of pot—and what exactly it might do for your health.

Health looked at recent research and spoke with several experts about who might want to try it, who should avoid it, and what any marijuana user should know.

It may help with anxiety and PTSD
The relaxing effects of marijuana are well known, so it’s not surprising that a 2016 paper in the journal Clinical Psychology Review concluded that it may have benefits for people with depression, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence also found that a very low dose of THC, one of the main compounds in marijuana, helped people feel less nervous about a public-speaking task.

But it may not be that simple: That dose was equivalent to only a few puffs on a marijuana cigarette, say the study authors. They also found that slightly higher amounts of TCH—anything that would produce even a mild high—actually made anxiety worse. Other research has also suggested that marijuana may be more harmful than helpful for people with certain mental health conditions, like psychosis or bipolar disorder.

The research “indicates cannabinoids could be helpful for people with anxiety,” lead author Emma Childs, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells Health. But more research is needed, she says, to determine appropriate dosages and delivery methods, and to prevent the opposite effects from happening.

It can relieve chronic pain and nausea
Pain relief is a common use for medical marijuana, and the National Academies of Sciences concluded there is indeed good evidence to support this practice. Marijuana products also appear to be effective at calming muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis and easing nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, the report stated.

The National Academies also determined that there is moderate evidence that cannabis or cannabis-derived products may help people who have trouble sleeping due to sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain.

RELATED: 13 Surprising Reasons You’re Nauseous

People with epilepsy may benefit—even kids
In a New England Journal of Medicine study, cannabidiol oil—a derivative of marijuana—reduced seizures by 39% in children with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. That was big news for parents who have been using medical marijuana for years, often illegally, to help their kids suffering from this debilitating condition.

The cannabidiol oil used in the study—approved by the FDA in 2018 and marketed as Epidiolex—won’t make people high, because it doesn’t contain THC. Experts say that results may be riskier and more unpredictable with other marijuana products.

It may be a safer alternative to opioids
Despite beliefs that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” research suggests that the use of medical marijuana may actually reduce dependence on dangerous prescription painkillers like those fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic.

In a 2016 study in the journal Health Affairs, researchers found that there were 1,826 fewer daily doses of painkillers prescribed per year, on average, in states where medical marijuana was legal compared to states it’s not. And in a review article published in Trends in Neuroscience, researchers wrote that cannabinoids may help people recover from opioid addiction. Human trials have been limited because of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug—but the authors argue that more studies are urgently needed.

RELATED: 19 Things You Didn’t Know About the Opioid Epidemic

It may have anti-cancer effects, but research is limited
Olivia Newton John uses cannabiodiol oil (along with conventional medicine) to fight her metastatic breast cancer, the actress’s daughter recently revealed. Studies have shown that the oil may inhibit the growth of cancer cells outside of the human body, but there haven’t been any real-life trials to back up these findings.

Gregory Gerdeman, PhD, assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College, told Time that there have also been anecdotal patient reports and “increasing numbers of legitimate clinical case studies … that all indicate tumor-fighting activities of cannabinoids.” It’s still unknown, however, whether traditional forms of marijuana would be an effective cancer therapy, or what cancer types it might actually work against.

Parents (and expectant parents) should know the risks
As pot use becomes more prevalent, more pregnant women are getting high, according to a 2016 JAMA study—either for recreational use or, sometimes, to treat morning sickness. But evidence suggests that prenatal exposure to marijuana is associated with developmental and health problems in children, including low birth weight, anemia, and impaired impulse control, memory, and attention, the authors wrote. Until more is known for sure, they say women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should be “advised to avoid using marijuana or other cannabinoids.”

Current parents should also use marijuana with caution, University of Washington researchers suggest. Their study in Prevention Science found that people tend to cut back on marijuana use once they have kids, but they don’t always quit. That’s concerning, says lead author and research scientist Marina Epstien, PhD, because parental marijuana use is strongly related to children’s use—and children’s use is associated with higher rates of health problems.

“Children watch what their parents do,” Epstein tells Health. “I would encourage parents to be talking to their kids and be clear about expectations for their kids about using or not using marijuana and the amount, especially with their teenagers.”

RELATED: Marijuana Use Linked to Higher Sperm Count, Suggests Surprising New Study

Heart problems could make it extra risky
In 2014, a study in Forensic Science International documented what German researchers claimed to be the first known deaths directly attributed by intoxication from marijuana. The authors pointed out that, during autopsies, it was discovered that one of the two young men had a serious but undetected heart problem, and that the other had a history of drug and alcohol use.

The researchers concluded that the absolute risk of cannabis-related cardiovascular effects is low, especially for healthy people. But they say that people who are at high risk for heart-related complications should avoid the use of cannabis, since it can have temporary effects on the cardiovascular system.

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It’s not safe to use marijuana and drive
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that insurance claim rates for motor vehicle accidents from 2012 to 2016 were about 3% higher in states with legalized marijuana than in states without. But other studies have found no such increase in fatal car crashes in states with legalized marijuana, compared to similar states without.

Experts say it’s possible that driving under the influence of marijuana may increase the risk of minor fender benders—but may also reduce rates of alcohol consumption and therefore help prevent more serious, deadly crashes. The bottom line? Driving while stoned may be less dangerous than driving drunk, but it’s still riskier than driving sober.

Weed smoke is still smoke—and still has health risks
The Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse published a set of “lower-risk cannabis use guidelines,” aimed at helping people who use marijuana make responsible decisions about their health. (The drug was legalized for recreational use in Canada in 2018.) Among other advice, the guidelines urge people to “avoid smoking burnt cannabis,” which can harm the lungs and respiratory system—especially when combined with tobacco.

They recommend choosing vaporizers or edibles instead, but caution that these methods also come with some risks. And if you do smoke cannabis, the guidelines say, “avoid ‘deep inhalation’ or ‘breath-holding,’” which increase the amount of toxic materials absorbed by the body.

It’s not just lung-health that frequent weed smokers should worry about, either. A study in the Journal of Periodontology found that frequent marijuana users were twice as likely as people who didn’t use frequently to have gum disease, even after controlling for other factors such as cigarette smoke. The research didn’t distinguish between methods of marijuana use, but they do point out that smoking is the most common form of recreational use.

RELATED: Can Smoking Pot Cause Lung Cancer?

For recreational users, less is safer
Canada’s low-risk guidelines may sum it up best with this statement: “To avoid all risks, do not use cannabis. If you decide to use, you could experience immediate, as well as long-term risks to your health and well-being.” The guidelines also recommend avoiding marijuana use during adolescence, because the later in life people start using the drug, the less likely they are to experience these problems.

Finally, the guidelines recommend adults choose natural cannabis over dangerous synthetic versions, and limit themselves to “occasional use, such as on weekends or one day a week at most.”

Some marijuana users develop a condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) causes some marijuana users to experience severe nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that, among study participants, 18.4% of people who inhaled cannabis and ended up in the emergency room of a Colorado hospital and 8.4% of those who ate edible cannabis and ended up in the emergency room had CHS symptoms.

CHS hasn’t been studied extensively, says Joseph Habboushe, MD, who specializes in emergency medicine at NYU Langone. While it’s possible to use marijuana for years without experiencing symptoms of CHS, once a person does experience CHS symptoms, the symptoms tend to stick around as long as the person continues using marijuana. Stopping marijuana use is the only known way to permanently alleviate CHS symptoms, but it takes time. “We know that if you stop smoking you get better, but it takes days to weeks,” Dr. Habboushe says.

This post was originally published on June 29, 2017 and has been updated for accuracy.

11 Fascinating Things It Means If You Need More Than 8 Hours Of Sleep

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There are many things it could mean if you need more than eight hours of sleep per night. In some instances, snoozing the day away could be a sign of a health issue, such as an underlying infection or a mental health concern — which could keep you in bed past the typical sleeping times. But those aren’t the only things that could lead to an increased need for sleep.

“Doctors recommend that all adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep on a nightly basis,” Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck, tells Bustle “That variance depends on each individual, but if you aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep, you are considered sleep deprived. That said, there are also times that we might need more sleep than our normal routine.”

If you have a cold, for instance, you’re going to need more sleep than usual as you recover. And the same may be true if you’re going through a difficult time in life, experiencing depression, if you’ve been exercising more than usual, and so on. It’s important to listen to your body, and get the rest you need. But it’s also a good idea to let a doctor know if you can’t get out of bed, or if you don’t feel well-rested.

Read on below for some possible reasons why you need more than the recommended eight hours of sleep per night, according to experts.

1. It’s In Your Genes

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If you need more than eight hours of sleep each night, you might want to thank your DNA. “Some folks are just genetically inclined to need more sleep,” Matthew Ross, co-founder and COO of The Slumber Yard, tells Bustle. “Not every person shares the same sleep patterns and circadian rhythms.”

2. Depression & Other Mood Disorders

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If you have a mental health concern, like depression, there’s a good chance it’ll impact your sleep one way or another.

Depression can cause a desire to sleep too much, or it may cause insomnia,” Rose MacDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. “People with bipolar disorder might sleep too much during the depressive phase and too little during the manic phase.”

If you happen to notice any changes either way, it can help to let a doctor know.

3. Hypersomnia

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“Hypersomnia is a classification of sleep disorders that includes narcolepsy, probably the best-known form of hypersomnia,” MacDowell says. And this can result in an increased need for sleep.

“Narcolepsy is caused by an autoimmune reaction that damages hypocretin, the brain chemical responsible for feeling awake and alert,” MacDowell says. “People with hypersomnia can sleep up to sixteen hours a day and still feel the need to nap.”

4. Restless Legs Syndrome


Sleep disorders that make it difficult to rest properly, such as restless legs syndromeand sleep apnea, can also cause you to need more sleep.

“Because both sleep disorders interrupt or prevent sleep,” MacDowell says, “sufferers may feel excessively sleepy during the day and spend an unusual amount of time asleep.”

The best thing to do, if you think a sleep disorder is to blame, is to make an appointment with your doctor. There are ways to overcome such issues, and get the sleep you need.

5. Medication Side Effects


Some medications list sleepiness as a side effect, including “antihistamines, found in certain cold, motion sickness, and allergy medications,” MacDowell says. “Antihistamines cause sleepiness by blocking the effects of the brain’s natural histamines, which regulate wakefulness and sleep.” But other medications can do this, too. If you feel sleepier than usual, let your doctor know so they can help adjust your dosage, or switch you to a new medication that won’t be as intense.

6. Chronic Illnesses


Unexplained fatigue is one of the many symptoms of a chronic illness. “Common conditions include fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, anemia, and rheumatoid arthritis,” Ross says. “People who suffer from conditions that result in fatigue and pain often require more sleep in order for their bodies to properly rest and recover.”

7. Colds & Infections

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“If we are fighting some sort of cold or sickness, our bodies can become drained [from] exerting more energy than normal to fight the virus, and we may require more sleep than normal as we recuperate,” Fish says. When an illness is to blame, you’ll want to make time to get all the extra rest you need, until you feel better.

8. Exercise


Have you been getting more exercise than usual? If you’ve just started running, training for a marathon, or lifting weights, and your body isn’t accustomed to this new physical exertion, Fish says you may need more sleep than usual until your body adjusts.

9. Trauma

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“One of the most common causes of acute (temporary) insomnia is stress and/or a traumatic event,” sleep expert and author CM Hamilton, tells Bustle. If you’ve recently been through a traumatic event — a breakup, a death in the family, etc. — you may be sleepless at first, and then super exhausted as your body recovers.

10. You’re Young

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Young people tend to need more sleep than many older folks would deem appropriate. And yet, younger people require more sleep for a reason.

“Teenagers’ brains are developing at rapid rate and therefore require additional sleep, when brain development takes place,” Riki Taubenblat, a pediatric sleep consultant, tells Bustle. So if you’re young, snag that sleep while you still can.

11. Sleep Deprivation


“The most common reason to need more sleep than usual is because your body is trying to repay a sleep debt, which comes after a few days or weeks of consistent sleep deprivation,” Taubenblat says. If you haven’t been getting those seven to nine hours, you will feel tired — and need more sleep.

To catch up, try sticking to a more consistent schedule, where you go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Eventually, your body will fall into a pattern, and you’ll hopefully feel more rested.

It is OK, though, if you need a little more or a little less sleep than the average person each night. But if you’re sleeping ten hours or more, or don’t feel rested, let a doctor know so they can help uncover the reason why.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

The 10 Best Vitamins for Anxiety, According to Experts

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7 Signs Your Body Is Expressing Anxiety Physically

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You may experience anxious thoughts, but physically, anxiety lives in your body. Everyone is born with a predisposition towards occasional anxiety — a form of self-preservation — but with time, some people do become more anxious than others. Dealing with chronic anxiety is multifaceted, but figuring out how anxiety exists in both your mind and body can be really helpful towards understanding these issues on a deeper level.

Anxiety is meant to be hard-wired. It is a natural way humans have protected themselves throughout the course of evolution. But different people have different thresholds for anxiety, and different bodies process these feelings differently. You may even look back on your past and realize that your adult anxiety has been becoming more and more hard-wired over the years, as you’ve learned the specific ways you personally respond to stress.

“Each time we experience stress and don’t manage it, it builds in our body,” Kristen Fescoe, clinical program manager at Resility Health, tells Bustle. “Over time our bodies become wired for stress and anxiety. Every time we experience day-to-day stressors our bodies exhibit this hard-wired response of fight or flight.” Because of this, anxiety can build up over time.

Understanding whether or not you’re more hard-wired for anxiety than most, however, isn’t that difficult. According to mental health professionals, there are multiple ways to tell.

Here are seven signs your body may be physically wired for anxiety, according to experts.

1Difficulty Focusing Or Concentrating

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When your body is predisposed to anxiety, you may struggle with attention issues a bit more than most. You may not have a clinically-diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but you may find that concentrating is a bit harder for you than others — especially when you’re stressed.

“One of the most common signs that you are hard-wired for anxiety is having difficulty focusing or concentrating,” Fescoe says. Finding coping mechanisms for anxiety that work best for you can help you struggle with this issue less.

2You Struggle With Sleep

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Bodies that are physically wired for anxiety may have more trouble than others when it comes to relaxing at night. So if you struggle with both anxiety and sleep, this may be the missing link.

“You may also find that you have trouble sleeping, whether it be falling asleep, staying asleep, or not feeling rested after you are able to sleep,” Fescoe says. This isn’t to say, however, that sleep issues are incurable. Both therapy and medication can help you deal with your nighttime symptoms of anxiety.

3You Have Stomach Problems

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Anxiety and the gut are deeply connected. So if you can correlate bouts of stomach upset to moments of stress in your life, you may be predisposed to anxiety.

“Many people living with high levels of stress and anxiety experience stomach issues of all sorts,” Fescoe says. Both mental health professionals, as well as physicians, can help you deal with these unpleasant symptoms.

4You Were Socially Anxious As A Child

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Not all signs of anxiety being hard-wired in your body actually show up in your body. Sometimes it requires a little digging into your past to understand why you may experience these feelings.

“When you’re young, your brain has a lot of myelin, the substance that turns neurons into superconductors,” author and professor Loretta Breuning, PhD, tells Bustle. “Any neurons you activate repeatedly when you’re young get myelinated. So any social pain you anticipate when you’re young gets wired in.” If you had a childhood where socializing was difficult, then, your brain may automatically react to social situations with fear. Therapy can help with this.

5You Have Back Pain


For people who are physically wired for anxiety, back pain is pretty common. Holding tension in your back and neck is a natural reaction to long periods of stress.

“Many people who experience muscle tension and blame everything from prolonged sitting to poor posture, but this is one of the most common physical signs that your body is hard-wired from anxiety,” Fescoe says. Of course, multiple issues can cause back pain, but if you deal with anxiety, there’s a chance there’s a link between the two issues.

6You Get Headaches Often


Headaches, like many chronic health problems, have a variety of causes. But if you get anxious often, and have headaches, there may be a correlation in your physical wiring.

“Chronic and irritating headaches [… are] a telltale sign that your anxiety level is triggering a physical response,” Fescoe says. Making sure you talk to your doctor about both your physical and emotional symptoms is important.

7You Have Been Rewarded For Being Anxious In The Past

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If your anxiety leads to perfectionism, which leads to success in school or extracurriculars as a child, then you may have developed a physical hardwiring for anxiety as an adult.

“It is useful to know how your anxiety habit got built,’ Dr. Breuning says. “Sometimes people get rewarded for being anxious in one way or another.” Anxiety you feel now can be traced back to this.

Since everyone is physically wired to experience anxiety to some degree, the goal is not to cure yourself of anxiety itself. Finding healthy coping mechanisms and physical relief from the more uncomfortable symptoms is a worthy goal as you strive to attain more balanced mental health.

7 Signs Your Body Doesn’t Actually Know How To Maintain Deep Sleep

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Every night of sleep is not created equal — even if you think you get eight hours of rest. If you’re having trouble getting deep sleep, you may not even know it. Sleep medicine experts know how to pinpoint the vague symptoms related to this issue, however, and can help you get back on track. Having a hard time getting adequate sleep is troubling enough, but it can be caused by a variety of underlying issues.

“There are several medical problems that make it difficult for people to maintain deep sleep at night,” Dr. Teofilo Lee-Chiong, M.D., Chief Medical Liaison at health technology company Philips, tells Bustle. “According to Philips annual global sleep survey, three quarters of adults around the world experience at least one of the following conditions that impact their sleep: insomnia, snoring, shift work sleep disorder, chronic pain, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy.” Both physical and mental health problems can make getting that deepest stage of sleep difficult, but since this all goes on at night, you may struggle pinpointing what’s going on.

Paying more attention to how you sleep at night, plus keeping an eye on whether you’re tired during the day, can give you a little more data to then help you try to work on your sleep cycle at home, or bring your concerns to a doctor. Everyone deserves a good night’s rest.

Here are seven signs your body doesn’t actually know how to maintain deep sleep.

1You Wake Up Easily

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If you’re prone to waking up from every car that passes, every bump in the night, or even the slightest hint of sunlight out your bedroom window, then you may not be getting the deep sleep you need.

“If you’re a light sleeper, it might be a sign that you’re not maintaining deep sleep,” Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “When your body is in deep sleep, it should be difficult for you to be woken. When this isn’t the case, a lack of deep sleep might be to blame.” If your constant waking up is causing you difficulties during the day, this is worth mentioning to a doctor.

2You Constantly Hit The Snooze Button

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Feeling refreshed when you wake up in the morning may seem like a myth to you, but it doesn’t need to be. If you need to hit snooze every morning, then you may not be getting the deep sleep you need in the middle of the night.

“If you know you’re getting enough hours of sleep, but you just can’t stop hitting the snooze button and feel groggy in the morning, it might be a sign that you’re not maintaining deep sleep at night,” Backe says. If you find that even putting in an effort to break this habit doesn’t work, then you may want to examine what’s keeping you from getting deep into your sleep cycle at night.

3You Snore A Lot


When severe, snoring can be more than just an annoyance during the night. Your snoring may actually be preventing you from getting the deep sleep your body so desperately needs.

“Snoring is another common cause that impacts sleep with 29 percent of global adults reporting they experience this condition,” Dr. Lee-Chiong says. “[… And] snoring can be a manifestation of an underlying sleep apnea disorder.” So if you have an inkling that your snoring is causing you to have trouble breathing, or is severe in another way, then you should definitely bring it up to a doctor.

4You Need To Nap To Get Through The Day


Naps can be a really great occasional boost. But if you absolutely need them to get through the day, something more serious might be going on.

“If you find that you can’t get through the day without taking a nap, despite having the recommended six to eight hours sleep the night before, it might be a sign that you’re not maintaining deep sleep at night,” Backe says. Your daytime naps may actually be making it harder for you to get deep sleep at night, so trying to get yourself back onto a regular schedule may help.

5You Wake Up During The Night


If you get up multiple times every night, for whatever reason, that’s a strong sign of something underlying going on in the world of sleep medicine.

“Waking up throughout the night can indicate that you are not reaching a state of deep sleep,” Dr. Lee-Chiong says. “Deep sleep, or the final stage of non-REM sleep, is the time when your brain waves are at their lowest frequency and you are at your hardest to wake up.” Finding ways to improve your sleep environment, or talking to your doctor about this issue, may help improve things.

6You’re Tired Throughout The Day

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Being sleepy during the day doesn’t have to be something you put up with willingly just because it’s common. Exhaustion — even when you feel you’ve slept an adequate number of hours — doesn’t need to be your norm.

Six in 10 global adults experience daytime sleepiness at least twice per week,” Dr. Lee-Chiong says. “People who do not obtain optimal deep sleep at night often feel tried throughout the day, which may impact their energy levels and productivity.” If this applies to you, then you may want to try working on your sleep hygiene to improve the amount of deep sleep you achieve.

7You Wake Up Before Your Alarm Goes Off


Waking up before your alarm occasionally can be a good thing — especially if it is slightly before your alarm and at a regular time. But if you wake up way before your alarm goes off, then your sleep cycle may be off.

“If you wake up too early and never return back to sleep, this might influence your time in deep sleep and REM sleep,” Vikas Jain, MD, sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, tells Bustle. Staying in bed and trying to rest for those final few hours may help.

Not getting adequate deep sleep could end up being as detrimental as staying up too late or waking up too early. So if you realize you may not be getting deep enough sleep throughout the night, you may want to either find ways to adjust your routine, or visit the doctor to get to the bottom of it.

The Emotional Benefits of Cooking

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Whether you’re drowning your sorrows in a pint of Blue Bell ice cream or eating your feelings at the Waffle House, there’s no doubt that eating is therapeutic. As anyone who has found themselves beating eggs, whipping cream, and pounding out biscuit dough can attest, cooking can be pretty therapeutic, as well.

While any Southern grandma would probably scoff at the need for a study on the idea of cooking as therapy, because, of course, retreating to the kitchen to whip up fried chicken, collards, and corn bread is good for the soul, one study foundthis link opens in a new tabthat baking classes boosted confidence and increased concentration. Another study revealed that a little creativity and creation in the kitchen can make people happier. That study, published in the this link opens in a new tabJournal of Positive Psychologythis link opens in a new tab, suggests that people who frequently take on small, creative projects like baking or cooking report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives. The researchers followed 658 people for about two weeks, and found that small, everyday projects in the kitchen made the group feel more enthusiastic about their pursuits the next day, food website Munchies reportsthis link opens in a new tab.

Being creative for a little while each day made people feel like they were “flourishing”—a psychological term that describes the feeling of personal growth. “There is growing recognition in psychology research that creativity is associated with emotional functioning,” Tamlin Conner, a psychologist with the University of Otago in New Zealand and lead author on the study told The Telegraphthis link opens in a new tab.

Cooking can be so good for your emotional wellbeing that, as The Wall Street Journal reportsthis link opens in a new tab, therapists are now recommending cooking classes as a way to treat depression and anxiety, as well as eating disorders, ADHD and addictionthis link opens in a new tab. According to the counselors who spoke to the WSJ, cooking can help “soothe stress, build self-esteem and curb negative thinking by focusing the mind on following a recipe.”

Psychologists believe that cooking and baking are therapeutic because they fit a type of therapy known as “behavioral activation,” the Wall Street Journalreported. These activities alleviate depression by “increasing goal oriented behavior and curbing procrastination.” Cooking can help people focus on a task, which can give them a sense of power and control that they might not naturally have on their own in their daily lives outside the kitchen. “When I’m in the kitchen, measuring the amount of sugar, flour or butter I need for a recipe or cracking the exact number of eggs—I am in control,” John Whaite, a baker who won The Great British Bake Off in 2012, told the BBCthis link opens in a new tab. “That’s really important as a key element of my condition is a feeling of no control.” Whaite was diagnosed with manic depression in 2005 and used baking to help stabilize his moods by providing small tasks to focus on.

When you’re cooking, you must be constantly focused, prepping ingredients, stirring the roux (or whatever you’re cooking), adjusting the seasoning, monitoring the cooking process—all of which can be helpful techniques in keeping your mind off of things it’s better not to focus on. It’s a bit like meditation, but with tastier output, and can be very useful in treating some forms of mental illness, The Guardian reportedthis link opens in a new tab. In short, it’s the ultimate in self-care—calming, mindful, creative, keeping you from dwelling on things, and with cookies or pot roast at the end of it all.

While cooking for yourself can offer plenty of soothing and potentially delicious perks, when you cook for other people there’s an added benefit. Namely, cooking for others connects you to your community and helps you feel like you’re providing a needed and useful service. While any form of altruism can make people feel happy and connected to othersthis link opens in a new tab, cooking for others helps people fulfill needs and that is important. Culinary arts therapist Michal AviShai told Huffington Postthis link opens in a new tab, that “giving to others fills us in so many ways. And even more so when it’s cooking because feeding fulfills a survival need, and so our feeling of fulfillment comes not only from the good of the act of giving, but also the fact that we have ‘helped’ in some very primal way.”

Through the combination of self-care, creative output, mindfulness, and a sense of control, cooking for yourself or others can be a huge boon to your mental wellbeing—although your grandmother probably already knew that.

These Are The 10 Healthiest Countries In The World

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A cursory check of the factors utilized by Bloomberg’s Healthiest Country Index, make it hard to be bemused by America not quite making the cut.  Obesity, tobacco use and life expectancy were just some of the contributory things that officially crowned Spain as the healthiest country in the world.The U.S. came in at 35th, down one spot from 2017. Here were the other top contenders:

The Top 10 healthiest nations

    1. Spain
    2. Italy
    3. Iceland
    4. Japan
    5. Switzerlan
    6. Sweden
    7. Australia
    8. Singapore
    9. Norway
    10. Israel

This comes as little surprise, considering how much of a new life the Mediterranean diet experienced this year. In addition to the already documented benefits to heart healthweight loss, and cognitive decline prevention,  Ladders recently reported on the effect the diet has on mental health and cancer prevention. The study found that incidences of cancer are much lower in Mediterranean counties compared to the U.S.

Among European countries, Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth. The fact that primary care is both focused on preventive measures and typically administered by public providers is suspected to play a part in steadily declining instances of cardiovascular disease and fatal cancer diagnosis. The medical Journal Lancet predicts Spain’s life expectancy to rise to 85.8 years by the year 2040.

So why didn’t the U.S. make the cut? Life expectancy has dropped quite a bit due to an increase in “deaths of despair” (defined as suicides, drug and alcohol overdoses, and diseases from chronic alcoholism.) Plus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that close to 40% of American adults are obese.

Check out the rest of the rankings below.

Roughly 93.3 million adults are currently obese in America, which costs us some serious penalty points. Moreover, our emphasis on treating and diagnosing as opposed to preemptive tactics has negatively impacted our mortality rates.

Italy, which ranked just below Spain, on balance adheres to very similar dietary traditions. Lots of fruits, vegetables, poultry, grains, with very little red meat. A large bulk of the items mentioned have been independently linked to lower fatality rates for many chronic illnesses.

Iceland which previously ranked number two, secured the third spot this year. Still, clean water, low levels of smoking and a great healthcare system, soars its health index score to 91.21.

Japan was named the healthiest Asian nation, coming in at number four overall. The country boasts an obesity rate of 3.5% and is ranked 48th in cancer rates.  Smaller portions and a national obsession with walking certainly didn’t hurt.

Switzerland, which rounds at the top five, can likely thank the disparity of fast food chains, markets that don’t remain open for twenty-four hours and a general shunning of the concept of snacking.

5 Small Changes You Can Make That Have A Positive Impact On Your Health

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Humans are very good at picking out big goals with the best of intentions and then struggling when it comes to sticking with them. Instead of giving yourself a mountain to climb (maybe an actual mountain, if that’s your thing), start off with something manageable. These five small changes are the first steps to eventually making those long-term targets for your health. Just don’t try to do them all at once.

1. Exercise 20 minutes more a week

Forget what phys ed class taught you: Your version of working out doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Meghan Stevenson is a certified running coach with the Road Runners of America and founder of virtual training website Your Best Run, whose focus is helping individuals meet their personal goals. “I started my running journey almost 15 years ago with just walking,” Stevenson explains. “I built up from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. When I got bored, I started running. Now I’ve completed marathons, and I run an average of 30 miles each week!” Whether you want to eventually build up to marathons or just want to make running a habit, Stevenson recommends combining running and walking to start. “Twenty minutes is fine!” she encourages. “Schedule it into your calendar like you would lunch with a friend or a meeting at work.”

It doesn’t have to be running: Greg Pignataro, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Grindset Fitness, says that you don’t even have to go to a gym to start your workout routine. “There are plenty of great exercises that don’t require any equipment and can be done in the comfort of your own home,” he tells us. “A five-minute routine of bodyweight-only exercises performed once a day can be a wonderful catalyst for positive change.” Skipping the hassle of going to the gym can help with the mental leap required to force yourself to work out, he explains. If you do want to go to a gym but are worried about other people judging you, Pignataro reassures us, “You’re not alone! However, between checking themselves out in the mirrors and fretting that someone is judging them, hardly anyone is judging you!”

2. Cut out one cigarette a day

Smokers already know that quitting cigarettes is one of the best ways to improve their health. Licensed clinical social worker Heather Senior Monroe, director of program development at Newport Academy, confirms that people who cut down their cigarette usage can look forward to “improved lung capacity; better blood circulation; stronger immune system; enhanced sense of smell and sense of taste; and reduced risk of gum disease, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.”

Of course, smokers also know that it’s one of the hardest habits to kick. Reducing your cigarette use by one a day (then two, then three, etc.) is one way to try. “Quitting slow and steady gives a person a much smaller goal to focus on, which is a lot easier for some people to do compared to cutting down quickly or even going cold turkey,” says Cedrina L. Calder, MD, a preventive medicine doctor in Nashville, TN. “Also, cutting back slowly may work better for someone who is not using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), as it may allow their body to get better adjusted to receiving less nicotine if they slowly reduce the amount over a period of time.”

However, there are some potential drawbacks to quitting cigarettes slowly. “Some people may not actually end up quitting,” Calder cautions. “They may cut down and start smoking less but still struggle to quit.” To refocus your goal, Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a family medicine doctor with One Medical, recommends, “Try setting a final quit date. Write it down and stick it up on your bathroom mirror — it helps to have a goal to work toward, and a recurring reminder will offer you that daily nudge to stay on track.” And give yourself help. “Speak with your doctor about smoking cessation programs, which will help with medication management as well as behavioral therapy and will increase your chance of successfully quitting,” Calder advises.

3. Eat one more fruit or vegetable a day

Instead of restricting what you eat, try introducing more fruits and vegetables. “Think in terms of adding nutrition to your diet rather than taking it out,” encourages Alyssa Lavy, registered dietitian, certified dietitian nutritionist, and owner of Alyssa Lavy Nutrition & Wellness. “Consider how to add vegetables to increase your nutrient intake, rather than using them as a way to decrease calories or replace a food that has a completely different nutrient value.” She recommends following your taste buds: “While someone may love bananas, someone else may not be able to stand them, so it’s best to think about which fruit or vegetable you would be open to incorporating into your diet.”

See it as a chance to get creative! “I always encourage clients to add a new food to one that they love, so that the new food is mixed with something familiar,” Lavy suggests. “For example, if you love mashed potatoes, perhaps add broccoli to them, or try including zucchini ‘zoodles’ in your pasta dish with sauce. Once that food becomes more familiar, preparing it in a variety of ways is helpful, because you may love a certain vegetable raw or roasted, but you may hate it steamed.” Healthy eating just got interesting!

4. Have one fewer drink a week

The line between a safe and fun amount of alcohol and heavy drinking that can lead to addiction is a lot narrower than many people realize. “For women, heavy drinking is more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week, and for men it is more than four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week,” explains Indra Cidambi, MD, medical director at the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey. If you can stick to those limits long-term, you’ll experience better sleep, clearer skin, a reduced risk of breast cancer, and more energy, and you’ll potentially reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

If going teetotal for a full month or longer is too much for you, try saying no to one or two drinks each week. “The benefits of this slow and steady method is that total abstinence is not the immediate goal, and it gives the person time to introduce other fun activities to substitute for alcohol,” says Cidambi. She recommends looking at why you’re drinking more than is good for you: “If it’s due to boredom or lack of alternate activities, try finding different hobbies. If it’s your choice of friends, try expanding your social circle.” That said, as with smoking, some people will find reducing alcohol in this slow way harder than others. “For some, perfect moderation may be harder to achieve than total abstinence,” Cidambi admits. If you regularly find yourself on the “all” side of all or nothing, it might be a good idea to see your doctor for extra advice.

5. Sleep 30 minutes longer every night

Make this the year you finally get that early bedtime your sleepy body has been calling for. “Everyone out there should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night,” asserts Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and founder of sleep website Tuck.com. “Sleep is now considered the third pillar of wellness to go along with diet and exercise.” And slow and steady works best. “Gradually change your bedtime by even as little at 10 minutes per night,” recommends Fish. “Set a reminder that will alert you at least 45 minutes before you want to be asleep. Give your body and mind time to decompress to ensure you are ready to get to sleep, whether that is with a warm shower, 15 minutes of a good book, some meditation, or any other ritual.”

An extra 30 minutes of sleep might not seem like a lot, but it can really help. Therapist, licensed social worker, and owner of Bright Spot Counseling Ginger Houghton says, “An increase of around 30 minutes of sleep for several nights in a row can help reduce daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and tension. If you can inch closer to an hour of additional sleep for a few consistent nights, studies show an increase in attention span and improved performance and response times. Additionally, people who are getting the right amount of sleep are also less prone to moodiness, binge-eating, and accidents.” When it comes to self-improvement, you can’t rush perfection.

This article originally appeared on Brit + Co.

The World’s Healthiest Countries, Ranked

Author Article

Spain just surpassed Italy as the world’s healthiest nation. That’s according to this year’s edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 countries based on factors that contribute to overall health.

Six of the top 10 countries were in Europe, with Italy ranking second. In contrast, the United States didn’t even break into the top 30, ranking at number 35, one notch worse than last year.

The top 10 healthiest nations, according to the report, were:

  1. Spain
  2. Italy
  3. Iceland
  4. Japan
  5. Switzerland
  6. Sweden
  7. Australia
  8. Singapore
  9. Norway
  10. Israel

To come up with the rankings, Bloomberg researchers graded nations based on several factors including life expectancy, while giving penalties for health risks such as obesity and tobacco use. Environmental factors like access to clean water and sanitation were also taken into account.

The results mirror other research that came out last fall looking at future life expectancies in 195 countries and territories around the world. In that study, published in the international medical journal The Lancet, Spain also ranked first, with a projected life expectancy of 85.8 years by 2040. The United States ranked 64th.

Experts say the eating habits of the Mediterranean diet may provide clues for why Spain and Italy enjoy such good health. This heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, along with healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados.

A number of studies have shown the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and may have numerous other health benefits, including reduction of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, as well as a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s diseaseParkinson’s disease and cancer. One study published in British Journal of Nutrition found that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 25 percent lower chance of death from any cause.

People in Spain also benefit from a national health system focused on preventative care, according to a review by The European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, which praised its “principles of universality, free access, equity and financial fairness.”

One of the main reasons the U.S. ranks so poorly compared to other developed nations is the obesity epidemic, which shows little sign of letting up. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate nearly 40 percent of American adults — equivalent to 93.3 million people — are obese.

Life expectancy in the U.S. has also been driven down in recent years due to so-called deaths of despair, including suicide and drug overdoses. For the first time, Americans were even more likely to die from opioid overdoses than car accidents.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 27 of the 30 unhealthiest nations in the Bloomberg rankings. Haiti, Afghanistan and Yemen were also in the bottom 30.

Showing Yourself Compassion Can Have Mental and Physical Benefits

Author Article

Expressing love for your nearest and dearest is a hallmark of Valentine’s Day, but research suggests that you may want to save some of that love and compassion for yourself.

A study published in Clinical Psychological Science shows that university students who engaged in exercises focused on self-compassion had lower physiological arousal relative to peers who engaged in other exercises.

“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing,” says Hans Kirschner of the University of Exeter, first author on the research.

“Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of well-being and better mental health, but we didn’t know why,” explains lead researcher Anke Karl, also of the University of Exeter.

“Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments,” Karl says. “By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing. We hope future research can use our method to investigate this in people with mental health problems such as recurrent depression.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 135 university students and assigned them to one of five experimental groups. Each group completed an exercise in which they listened to an 11-minute audio recording and engaged with a specific scenario.

The researchers monitored participants’ physiological arousal during the exercise, measuring their heart rate and sweat response. Participants also answered questions about how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to themselves, and how connected they felt to others.

As expected, the two groups that engaged in self-compassion exercises — either a body scan meditation or a loving-kindness meditation — reported feeling more self-compassion and connection with others as a result of the exercises. And they also showed reduced physiological arousal, with a drop in heart rate and diminished sweat response. They also showed an increase in heart rate variability, a sign of being able to flexibly adapt to different situations.

Importantly, participants who engaged in positive thinking by focusing on an event or situation that was going well also reported increased self-compassion and decreased self-criticism, but they did not show the same physiological response.

In contrast, the group that engaged in self-critical thinking, contemplating something they hadn’t managed or achieved as they had hoped, showed an increase in heart rate and sweat response — physiological signs consistent with feelings of stress.

“These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate,” says coauthor Willem Kuyken of the University of Oxford.

Future research will need to explore whether the one-time self-compassion exercises used in this study have similar effects for people with depression.

Overall, the findings suggest that showing yourself a little love and compassion may help you feel more connected and less stressed.


Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, & Karl, A. (2019). Soothing your heart and feeling connected: A new experimental paradigm to study the benefits of self-compassion. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/2167702618812438