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Aging Diet

Aging Diet

What we choose to eat can have direct effects on how we age and cognitive decline. A large study recently found that people who consume the Mediterranean Diet are more likely to preserve the length of the telomeres on their DNA. Preserved telomere length is a reliable indicator of cell health and age and has become a fundamental focus of anti-aging clinics across this country. The Mediterranean Diet itself is complex and composed of a variety of different nutrients such as wine, olive oil, whole grain, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables. Which nutrients precisely may be responsible for this correlation is unknown at this point. What we do know is that anti-oxidants in foods are strongly related to telomere length. So it may be the resveratrol in the red wine, the Vitamin E or phenols in the olive oil, the omega 3 oils in the fish, or the carotene and Vitamin C content of the vegetables which are responsible for preserving the telomere length. It may a combination of them all and this process may begin as early as adolescence.

Mediterranean diet foods
Sugar sweetened beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), including soft drinks/sodas, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks, are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet. Between 1999 and 2008, it was estimated that adults aged 20–34 years consumed an average of 333–421 calories/day, and adults aged 35 years or older consumed an average of 236–260 calories/day from SSBs. Because of these strikingly high levels of consumption, SSBs have emerged as an important target of public health efforts and policies.

In parallel to trends in SSB intake, the prevalences of obesity and type 2 diabetes have also increased in recent years. Epidemiologic studies have shown that regular consumption of SSBs is associated with increased risks of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, the mechanisms for these associations are complex and not yet fully understood. There is evidence to suggest that excess calories (via lowered satiety) and high levels of insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and inflammation, may mediate these associations. Given that oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance are also associated with telomere shortening, impaired telomere length maintenance is a potential mechanism that may help to explain the association between SSB consumption and accelerated metabolic disease.

Telomeres are the DNA-protein caps at the end of chromosomes that promote chromosomal stability and protect the genomic DNA from damage. Telomere length naturally shortens with each cell cycle and, if it falls to a critical short length, the cell is no longer able to divide and often malfunctions. In addition to biological age, telomere shortness has been linked to lifestyle behaviors and psychological stress. In turn, shorter telomeres have been associated with increased risks of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. In population studies, evidence exists for a causal role of impaired telomere maintenance in raising risks of pulmonary and cardiovascular disease. To date, the associations between dietary intake and telomere length have been examined in only a few studies; results for most food groups and nutrients have been mixed.


Given the effects of SSBs on oxidative stress and insulin resistance, scientists examined the associations between sugar-sweetened beverage, diet soda, and 100% fruit juice consumption and telomere length in a large, nationally representative sample of healthy adolescence and young adults. They found that beverages with high sugar content would be the most detrimental to cellular aging, such that sugar-sweetened sodas and non-carbonated SSBs would show the strongest associations with telomere shortness.

White bread

Another study in adolescence looked into telomere length and white bread consumption with interesting results. A positive correlation between dietary total antioxidant capacity and telomere length was found after adjustment for age and energy intake. However, higher white bread consumption was associated with shorter telomeres in fully-adjusted models. Interestingly, those individuals who had simultaneously higher dietary total antioxidant capacity and lower white bread consumption significantly presented the longest telomeres.

In a similar large study including participants from 40 countries researchers found that the same high quality diets which have been shown to be protective against the development of cardiovascular disease may also be protective for our aging brains and cognitive decline. The scientists used something called a Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) to determine the mental “sharpness” of the participants. People who consumed foods associated with higher levels of antioxidants and healthy fats, such as vegetables, fruits, and fish were associated with better scores on the MMSE over time. To the contrary, those who consumed less of these foods and more fried foods, red meats, and alcohol had lower scores on the MMSE over time. This second group of participants also had a higher incidence of “cardiac events.” The study did not explore which food or food element in the healthy diet contributed most to the reduced cognitive decline. And because it is an observational study, it cannot establish causation. The researchers did presume that it is likely that the beneficial association between diet, cardiac events, and cognitive decline is mediated through effects on risk factors such as blood pressure, glucose and inflammation.

Choline for Brain Health

Choline for Brain Health

Your brain

While almost every aspect of the body is completely vital for its survival, excluding a few leftover organs from the caveman era, the brain can prove to be especially needy for optimal function. The brain controls the entire life system, so when it’s not functioning properly, not just one body part shows the effects, numerous body parts cease to function properly

One great example of how an unhealthy brain can affect an entire body is in the event of a stroke. Most
strokes occur when blood vessels burst in the brain, or become blocked due to a blood clot. Strokes can
do tremendous damage to the brain, and in its wake, tremendous damage to the body. Those who’ve
experienced difficult strokes lose their most prized possessions, including the power of motion in certain
body parts, the power of speech, hearing, and taste; and in the occasion of a stroke, all other functions
and senses are on the table to be lost as well.

Most brain illness is not necessarily due to unhealthy or unsafe conditions. The brain is extremely intricate and simply put, in one way or another, age is the primary reason for mental deterioration. Cells eventually replicate less effectively, and eventually cease to replicate. As cells in the body age, they become less effective at doing their jobs, and as a result, the brain ultimately suffers, becoming less and less efficient at its job as the body ages.

Brain Cells

Before the ultimate end to our brains, they begin to decline in many ways, most notably in the realm of
cognition. Our thoughts come more slowly, feelings and senses become dulled and blunt, and reaction
time is severely delayed as the brain ages.

Some age related cognitive decline is more serious than others. Complicated and degenerative diseases
like Alzheimer’s disease pose not only cognitive threats to those suffering from them, but eventually
cause death.

But normal, nondisease related age related cognitive decline, or cognitive aging as it is commonly
referred to, effects certain cognitive abilities like conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed.

There are countless studies taking place daily in which scientists are fervently trying to uncover the
mysteries behind diseases like Alzheimer’s in order to develop effective and universal treatment
options. Thus far, it seems that a great way to help prevent age related cognitive decline is via diet, and
there are a lot of great dietary ways to include compounds that can strengthen the mind, even in old

A promising compound being studies is the macronutrient choline, a precursor of acetylcholine, a
neurotransmitter vital to nerve and muscle function. Studies show that choline deficiency can lead to
chronic liver damage and eventual liver failure.

Choline in foods

This compound that is great for the liver is also great for cognitive function. In all, choline helps support many functions throughout the body like liver function, brain function and development, nerve function, supports energy levels, muscle movement, and helps to balance the metabolism.

In brain function, the hippocampus is responsible for the autonomous nervous system, as well as emotion and memory.

A study published in the journal Brain Research, conducted testing on the effects of choline on the hippocampus, finding it to increase hippocampal neurogenesis and provide protection against seizure-induced neuronal death and cognitive impairment, having already been found to enhance memory and cognitive function in stroke and Alzheimer’s patients.

During a seizure, the brain can become damaged as neurons get damaged. This damage affects learning and memory among other cognitive functions.

Damaged neurons

Researchers tested whether or not choline can help to ameliorate seizure induced damage to the brain. Choline was injected into the muscle tissue of seizure-suffering rats, with positive results.

Treatments that were given between 1 and 3 weeks after seizure showed neuroprotective effect but no effect on neurogenesis. However, when researchers injected choline beginning at 3 weeks after seizure, participants showed positive results after 3 weeks of treatments.

The rats were initially given a maze test to measure cognitive function. After their seizures, cognitive function declined, but after 3 weeks of treatments researchers found reduced neuronal death and BBB disruption, as well as increased neurogenesis, concluding that choline injections could also be a beneficial treatment for improvement of cognitive function in people living with epilepsy.

Drugs for Alzheimer patients.

Choline can also help work synergistically with established cognitive function medications, with one study noting its ability to increase the effects of donepezil, a popular drug used to treat Alzheimer’s patients.

And finally, even one more study examining the benefits of choline touts choline’s ability to aid even moderate Alzheimer’s dementia.

For this study, 261 patients suffering from dementia were given 400mg capsules of either choline or a placebo for 180 days, assessing cognition at 90 days as well as the end of the trial.

Using a cognitive scale, researchers found that the patients being treated with choline supplements improved cognition, while those receiving a placebo had continued to decline, concluding that the study indeed suggests that choline can be an effective treatment to help slow cognitive decline in patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Perhaps the most promising data from studies involving natural and naturally occurring supplements is their safety. When consumed in the proper amounts, choline is safe and side-effect free, a claim that very few prescription medications can make.

While there aren’t daily recommended amounts of choline that you should be consuming, there are baseline amounts that researchers have shown to be beneficial. The average man or woman above the age of 14 years old, should be consuming between 425 and 550mg daily.

Some sources claim that it is very difficult to get enough choline through diet alone, as the body may have trouble absorbing it for various reasons, which include genetic disorders. These same experts recommend supplementing, and with high quality supplements.

Choline in the form of a supplement

Echoing the warnings of those public service announcements from the ‘80s, the mind is truly a terrible thing to waste, but it is even more unfortunate that most often, the mind simply deteriorates with age, thus making it the future endeavor of every brain on earth.

But that’s no reason to simply resolve yourself to inaction. Especially in the case of your brain, it is most beneficial to be proactive in maintaining its health, and choline is a proven, and effective place to begin.

The Importance of Potency in Supplements

The Importance of Potency in Supplements

Walk into any supermarket and you will undoubtedly see entire aisles dedicated to nutritional supplements, vitamins, and other health oriented products. Perhaps the fervor at which Americans pursue better health can be conflated to this image, an endless aisle filled with near limitless choices. Polls show that more than half of all Americans regularly supplement their diet with vitamins.

Supplements in a pharmacy

Yet, not all of the products on the market are equal in a few extremely important categories like potency, purity, and accuracy of labeling. Estimates have determined that billions of dollars are spent every year on supplements that simply do not work. There are many reasons to explain why a supplement may be ineffective, but potency is perhaps the most important.

Potency, defined as the power of something to influence or make an impression, is extremely important in determining the efficacy of a supplement. In pharmacology, potency is expressed in terms of the amount it takes of a substance to produce an effect of given intensity. A highly potent compound will produce strong results at low concentrations, and vice versa for lower potency compounds.

With potency being of so much importance, one would think that more oversight would exist concerning the accuracy of purity claims on supplement labels, but companies continue to sell less potent products than the label states, duping customers out of billions each year.

Do Your Research when Selecting a Supplement.

The Federal Drug Administration issues Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations, which a vigilant consumer should ensure are being followed by companies whose supplements they consume.

With growing concern about substandard manufacturing processes in the dietary supplement industry, the FDA introduced these standards, attempting to ensure that the proper controls be in place for dietary supplements during manufacturing, packaging, labeling and holding operations. As per the FDA website, “This includes establishing strong quality management systems, obtaining appropriate quality raw materials, establishing robust operating procedures, detecting and investigating product quality deviations, and maintaining reliable testing laboratories.”

Choosing supplements

Because consumer safety is the result of companies producing inferior products, the FDA considers any product manufactured by a company not following cGMPs to be “adulterated” under the law. However, like all consumer products, many inferior products slip through the cracks, so it is important to remain vigilant when selecting a supplement company.

Some companies take their supplements above and beyond United States standards. The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is similar to our American FDA, with the exception that they are even more stringent concerning which supplements make it to Australian shelves.

The TGA is considered to be the most stringent, toughest regulatory agency in the world, and because of this have an extremely great reputation for protecting Australian consumers from harmful products. The Aussies are among the leaders of the world in discovering and banning toxic substances, leaving the USA sometimes decades behind, so if a supplement you’re investigating has been approved by the TGA, it is extremely likely to be safe, effective, and accurately labeled, a luxury not always enjoyed by American shoppers.

Another great identifier of quality supplements is whether or not they’ve been tested by a third party laboratory. Because there are fewer restrictions on goods labeled “dietary supplements”, there are also fewer government oversights regulating the industry. This is why third party testing is important. A supplement that has been identified by an unbiased third party lends a lot of credibility to the supplement and its manufacturing process.

Third-party testing for supplements

To truly ensure that the potency of a supplement is as labeled, it must be tested by a reputable third party laboratory.

The Nutritional and Sports Supplements certification (NSF) has become the gold standard in third party evaluation, having developed the nation’s first independent testing standard and product certification program strictly for dietary supplements.

Using three major components, the NSF certifies products against NSF/ANSI 173, the only American National Standard that establishes requirements for the ingredients in dietary and nutritional supplements.

Checking labels on supplements
  1. Label Claim Review: Testing to certify that the label accurately reflects ingredients in the supplement.
  1. Toxicology Review: Certifying product formulation.
  1. Contamination Review: Certifying that the product does not contain any undeclared ingredients or toxic contaminants.

While some independent laboratories claim to be unbiased, there is a lot of collusion in American business, so the NSF is the self-proclaimed “independent, third-party testing organization that offers true testing of dietary supplements.”

In addition to good manufacturing practices and third party evaluation, when assessing the potency of a supplement you want to look for a certificate of analysis (COA). A certificate of analysis means that a product has been tested in areas like proper manufacturing guidelines, adherence to specifications, contaminant testing, and more.

Testing for potency

Each of these areas are important in determining the potency of the product. Because there are so little regulations in the Unites States concerning dietary supplements, companies from outside the U.S. are shipping in inferior products for much cheaper than American products. But this cost savings comes at a price. Many overseas factories do not place emphasis on meeting the health standards that Americans hold in such high regard.

This is not to say that all foreign supplements are inferior to American supplements, but in general, it is always best practice to ensure a supplement that you’re using has been certified as pure and potent with a certificate of analysis.

Pure supplements

When choosing a dietary supplement, remember, you are putting a foreign substance into your body, so don’t just take a company’s word for it. Do some investigating, and find out how far the company has gone to ensure the quality of its product.

Choosing a higher quality product will inevitably mean spending more, but when it comes to safety and reliability, you should really spare no expense, after all, your health and wellbeing relies on it.

Looking for a few simple quality identifiers like the NSF approval, certificate of analysis, and testing by an unbiased third party will ensure that you’re not wasting your money on dietary supplements that are ineffective and laden with harmful toxins. Putting in the extra work up front will ensure that you’re spending money on truly potent products.

Purity of Supplements

Purity of Supplements

Americans are awash in a sea of supplements. From prescription drugs, to diet aids, to everyday vitamins and mineral supplements, Americans are more focused on well being than ever before. A recent Gallup poll concluded that over half of Americans take vitamins regularly, but research also suggests that we’re spending billions of dollars yearly on supplements that actually don’t work.

Walk into nearly any general retail store and you will see shelves overflowing with vitamins and herbal supplements, usually demanding more shelf space than essential goods like bread, milk, and water. What marketing firms and retailers want you to think is that the shelf space represents the importance of these products, but in reality, it is simply because the health supplement industry is a mind-blowingly big business.

Shelves stocked with various medicinal products in a pharmacy

Like other consumer goods, not all supplements are created equal. Some are more effective than others, and some are altogether rubbish, bilking eager consumers out of their hard earned money, yet providing zero tangible results.

Deciding what do but at a pharmacy

The trick is to know what to look for. The three most important considerations are purity of product, potency of product, and accurate labeling of ingredients. By slightly manipulating these three core aspects, supplement companies can increase profits and decrease efficacy, and largely without the knowledge of the buying public.

Why Is Purity So Important?

By definition, purity is “free from adulteration or contamination”. But many products claim only a certain percentage of purity, such as 80 percent pure. But what does this really mean, since the definition of purity is that the product is free from contamination?

The truth is, nothing is 100 percent pure. The highest percentage of purity is 99.99 percent, so any supplement claiming to be 100 percent pure should automatically be eliminated from your decision to purchase.

100 percent pure symbol

The percentage of purity relates to the amount of active compound, and companies often add other elements that can affect the efficacy of the product. Sometimes an additive can aid the compound in producing results, and other times it can inhibit its efficacy, the trick is to become informed about what additives lend to the efficacy of the supplement you’re taking.

Unfortunately, many supplements include harmful impurities, added to reduce production costs and increase profits for the manufacturer, but ultimately to the detriment of the consumer.

In these cases, it is important to distinguish between the two most common types of impurities, contaminants and preservatives and excipients.

The difficulty in preventing contaminants is that there are so many companies that touch the compounds that make up the supplement before it reaches the consumer. Contaminants can occur when the processing of the supplement is done in a low quality way, and this can occur at any given point in the production.

First, the raw material is collected. Next, it is usually processed and purified in a different facility. Many of these facilities are located in countries that do not adhere to the standards imposed on United States based companies; thus, they are often found to cut corners and produce an inferior product as a result.

Calcium hydroxide

A 2011 report by the World Health Organization revealed that several batches of an additive, magnesium stearate, contained other compounds deemed toxic. These compounds were calcium hydroxide, a chemical commonly found in hair relaxing products, bisphenol- A, the toxic chemical used to make plastics more pliable – otherwise known as BPA-, and irganox 1010, a chemical that has been found to have potential developmental toxicity.

Finding a supplement source that is both reliable and well respected in the industry is an incredibly important step in combatting toxic impurities in your supplements.

In the case of preservatives and excipients, these are usually quite necessary to the stability and viability of the supplement. For example, pure vitamin D is approximately 40,000,000 units per gram, which is 40,000 per milligram, yet the suggested daily allowance of vitamin D is only 600 to 800 milligrams. Since it is quite impossible for the average consumer to measure out 600 milligrams of vitamin D without sophisticated equipment, companies package it inside a more user-friendly capsule alongside other innocuous ingredients.

Magnesium stearate is under scrutiny by some who claim that it can affect the intestines and inhibit the proper absorption of nutrients. Research has shown that this additive can suppress T cells in the body, thereby inhibiting your immune system. Studies as old as 1990 have found that stearic acid compromises the integrity of the cell’s membrane, which can lead to the death of the cell.

Preservatives in your supplements can also be dangerous. Two preservatives deemed dangerous by the scientific community, however not yet by the FDA, are sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. These two substances are used as preservatives in a lot of the liquid supplements being sold.

Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate

Sodium benzoate is deemed safe by the FDA, mainly because it is used in small amounts to preserve food. However, when sodium benzoate is combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) it forms a compound called benzene, a known carcinogen. Benzene has been found to cause leukemia and other cancers of the blood.

Potassium sorbate, while generally considered a safe food preservative, as of lately has been found to have some toxicity. This chemical is found in foods like baked goods, canned vegetables, and certain cheeses. Studies are showing that potassium sorbate can actually cause some long-term health problems like damage to white blood cells, damage to DNA that can lead to mutations like cancer, and like sodium benzoate, a reaction to vitamin C that can compound the dangers.

Dietary supplements are important to our health, especially in the modern age of fat-laden, nutrient-poor food options around every turn. But, if you’re using supplements to supplement merely a poor diet, you may actually be doing more harm than good.

It’s important to do your due diligence before buying a supplements, checking closely its purity, and researching any additives. Also, be aware that many times a less scrupulous company will exclude additives in an effort to make their product more attractive. It is important to buy from reputable companies in good standing with their consumers and governing bodies.

Coenzyme Q10 for Hearing Loss

Coenzyme Q10 for Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss

Being the third most common health problem in America, more than 200,000 people in the United States report hearing loss each year. A total of about 48 million Americans live with some hearing loss. The causes vary widely from aging to catastrophic damage to the ear, with the usual cause being inner ear damage. Inner ear damage can be caused by genetic defects, disease, injury, prolonged exposure to loud noises, old age, and even via certain medications.

Due to the nature of the ear, many types of hearing loss are untreatable, which means that the best way to treat hearing loss is to avoid it.

Some types of hearing loss absolutely cannot be avoided. One such cause is old age. Old age is the most common cause of hearing loss, affecting one out of every three people between the ages of 65 and 74, and one in two people over the age of 75.

We are told that the medication we’re prescribed is to help us get better, but some medication can actually make matters worse, and some can cause hearing loss. Over 200 medications have been found to negatively impact hearing, and some are quite surprising, like aspirin and antibiotics. Other medications like chemotherapy drugs, loop diuretics, drugs to treat malaria, and even drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction have been found to cause hearing loss.

Drugs and prescription medications

Scientists are continually studying the effects that aging has on the ear, aside from the simplified notion that things just degrade as they age. Researchers are studying the mechanisms and biology of hearing loss in ways never done before.

One such compound being explored for its benefits to hearing is coenzyme Q10. Research is underway to find out if this antioxidant compound can help mitigate the effects of hearing loss.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10 for short, is an essential element in the body, responsible for aiding many daily biological functions, and providing powerful antioxidant properties to help eliminate free radicals. Commonly thought to help treat certain heart problems, CoQ10 has been used in medicine practices for decades.

On noise induced hearing loss, CoQ10 has also shown promise.

Not all exposure to extremely loud noises causes permanent hearing loss. Very often, the exposed person will experience temporary hearing loss or impairment. This condition is called temporary threshold shift (TTS) and can cause hearing to become diminished for an undeterminable amount of time. The amount of time that it takes to recover depends largely on the intensity and duration of the exposure, with the most recovery taking place within the first 15 minutes after exposure.

Coenzyme Q10, diluted in water for better bioavailability to cells, has been found to have a protective effect on the tiny hairs inside the ear after exposure to loud noises. Researchers exposed 30 volunteers to a 90 decibel noise in one ear for 10 minutes, after which they evaluated for severity of TTS.

The ear

Before treatment with coenzyme Q10, the longest recovery time was 45 minutes. After treatment, the mean recovery time was 31 minutes. Researchers speculate that the improvement has to do with the effect of Coenzyme Q10 on the outer ear hairs. Because CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant, it helps the hairs resist oxidative stress which can damage the follicle.

One of the worst ways to lose your hearing is from medication. The emotional stress and heartache can really take its toll on a person. People are prescribed medication that gives them hope of recovery from one illness, only to have it cause more ailments. Fortunately, coenzyme Q10 has also been shown to help treat medication induced hearing loss as well.

Ototoxicity refers to drug or chemical-related damage to the inner ear, resulting in damage to the organs responsible for hearing and balance. Even very safe drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen can cause ototoxicity if taken in excess, but the most common drugs that cause this ailment are certain antibiotics like gentamicin, streptomycin, and neomycin.

Taking coenzyme Q10

One study shows that CoQ10 is effective in mitigating the ototoxic effects on the ear caused by gentamicin. This antibiotic is known to produce free radicals in the body via the formation of an iron gentamicin complex. Antioxidants like CoQ10 help to eliminate free radicals and prevent cellular damage.

In a 14 day evaluation of guinea pigs, researchers found that “[coenzyme Q10] therapy slowed and attenuated the progression of hearing loss, yielding a threshold shift of 20 decibels.” Gentamicin caused significant loss of outer hair cells in the cochlear medio-basal turn, but this effect was not observed in the animals treated with coenzyme Q10.

Researchers believe that it is the antioxidant prowess of CoQ10 that helps to fight off free radicals, especially in the hair follicle.

The good news is that the body synthesizes CoQ10 naturally, and this natural creation coupled with dietary intake seems to be enough. But as the body ages, it produces less coenzyme Q10, so those over the age of 40 may want to think about supplementing. As an antioxidant, CoQ10 is fantastic, protecting the body all over against disease-causing free radicals, and for hearing, this means retaining the hairs in the inner and outer ear longer, slowing down the effects of all types of hearing loss.

Coenzyme Q10 supplements
Sciatica and Self Care

Sciatica and Self Care

Man suffering from back pain

Sciatica can be a debilitating medical condition which effects many people around the world. If you have sciatica, you know just how painful and disruptive it can be to your life. Basic activities like walking, sitting, going to the restroom, driving in a car, grocery shopping, having sex, playing with your children all become difficult if not impossible due to pain. It can be extremely frustrating because if it does not resolve after the first 2-4 week, the chances it it recurring and lasting beyond year 1 are quite high. Not only does it take a tremendous toll on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, it can also be destructive to our pocketbooks. Estimates in the US alone show US$128Mill for hospital care, US$730Mill for absenteeism and US$708Mill for disablement.

Sciatica is a relatively common condition. Over the course a lifetime, roughly 15- 40% of us will be affected by it. If we think of these numbers in a different way, that means somewhere between 1 in 4 to more than 1 in 3 of us will be affected by sciatica over the course of our lives. Each year, on average 2-5% of us will develop a new onset of sciatica. It occurs slightly more frequently in male than females. The estimated frequency of sciatica among patients with chronic low back pain goes up substantially and estimated lifetime occurrence of low back pain is between 50-70%.

Unfortunately, these are not the most frustrating numbers with respect sciatica. Once an individual develops sciatica treatment success is rather low and rate of reoccurrence is rather high. Studies have shown that 30-50% of patients with sciatica continue to experience troublesome symptoms of pain, numbness, and tingling at 2 and even 3 years after initial onset of symptoms. As the sciatica becomes more chronic (> 12 weeks), or with recurrent episodes, it becomes less responsive to treatment. Recurrence within one year can occur in as many as 2/3 of all people.

The following are all elements contributing to the process of the pain associated with sciatica:

  1. Structural/Physical changes to the spine
  2. Structural/Physical changes to muscles
  3. Weak muscles
  4. Inflammatory chemicals
  5. Pain Chemicals
  6. Hormone imbalances
  7. Nutritional deficiencies
  8. Dehydration
  9. Inadequate sleep
  10. Mood disturbances

For most people, sciatica responds to self-care measures. Although resting for a day or so may be tempting for you to provide some relief, prolonged inactivity will make your signs and symptoms worse. Remember, the sooner you begin treatment and prevention measures, the more effective they will be.

The following can play a key role in protecting your back and preventing sciatica:

Exercise regularly. To keep your back strong, pay special attention to your core muscles — the muscles in your abdomen and lower back that are essential for proper posture and alignment.

Maintain proper posture when you sit. Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Do not sit on things in your back pockets, such as a wallet or mobile device.

Use good body mechanics. If you stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. When you lift something heavy, let your lower extremities do the work. Move straight up and down. Keep your back straight and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.

If you smoke, stop. Smoking promotes disc degeneration and floods your bloodstream with irritating pro-inflammatory chemicals.

If you are overweight, lose weight. Being overweight or obese places extra stress on your spine and discs, weakens the muscles of your back, abdomen, and buttocks, and floods your bloodstream with irritating pro-inflammatory chemicals.

Other self-care treatments that might help include:

Cold packs. Initially, you might get relief from a cold pack placed on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. Use an ice pack or a package of frozen peas wrapped in a clean towel.

Hot packs. After two to three days, apply heat to the areas that hurt. Use hot packs, a heat lamp or a heating pad on the lowest setting. If you continue to have pain, try alternating warm and cold packs. More specifics on contrast hydrotherapy will be given below.

Stretching. Stretching exercises for your low back can help you feel better and might help relieve nerve root compression. Avoid jerking, bouncing or twisting during the stretch, and try to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. More specific stretches for sciatica will be reviewed below.


Alternative therapies commonly used for low back pain and sciatica include:

Acupuncture. In acupuncture, the practitioner inserts hair-thin needles into your skin at specific points on your body. Some studies have suggested that acupuncture can help back pain, while others have found no benefit. If you decide to try acupuncture, choose a licensed practitioner to ensure that he or she has had extensive training.

Chiropractic. Spinal adjustment (manipulation) is one form of therapy chiropractors use to treat restricted spinal mobility. The goal is to restore spinal movement and, as a result, improve function and decrease pain. Spinal manipulation appears to be as effective and safe as standard treatments for low back pain, but might not be appropriate for radiating pain.


Massage Therapy. Getting regular professional massage therapy is a terrific way to keep muscles, joints, and nerves healthy.

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