How Is Serotonin Actually Linked to Chronic Disease

Have you ever been doing something you really enjoy, like spending time with a loved one or playing your favorite game and felt overwhelmed with happiness? Or maybe you’ve experienced the opposite, where you felt down for a few days or weeks? Have you had difficulty falling asleep? Or experienced stomach cramping and bloating after a meal?  If you’ve ever experienced one of these things, or all of them, you may think they have nothing in common. But, thanks to a hormone and neurotransmitter called serotonin, they actually have more in common and are more connected than you think.   What is Serotonin?  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain and the gut. The body uses it to send messages between neurons, or nerve cells, throughout the body. The messages sent by this neurotransmitter are responsible for regulating mood and sleep, as well as appetite, digestion, and cognitive function.   It is often referred to as the “happy chemical” because it contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, the scientific name for serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). It is mainly stored in a cluster of nuclei in the brain stem called Raphe nuclei. Serotonergic fibers are synthesized from the Raphe nuclei and …

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5 Things You Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting and Chronic Illness

Chronic fatigue. Muscle and joint pain. Gastrointestinal problems. Changes in weight. Headaches. Mood swings. Brain fog. All symptoms you may experience if you have a chronic illness, like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or chronic kidney disease. While most chronic illnesses don’t have a definitive cure, many experts agree that following an anti-inflammatory diet can help ease symptoms and even prevent a second chronic illness from developing. A recent study found that pro-inflammatory diets increase the risk of 27 chronic diseases and premature death. This study reviewed 15 meta-analyses investigating the association between the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DDI) and 38 health outcomes from 4 million people all over the world. Researchers compared the health outcomes of people who follow a pro-inflammatory diet with those who follow an anti-inflammatory diet. They found that those who followed a pro-inflammatory diet were more likely to develop heart disease, certain cancers, some autoimmune diseases, and depression. Following a diet that avoids inflammatory foods is one way to help reduce inflammation and improve health outcomes. But shifting the times you eat may help you feel even better. This type of eating plan, called intermittent fasting, has been shown to help reduce inflammation and even reverse some …

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Genomics & Medicine: Your Questions Answered!

Recently, PatientsLikeMe’s Associate Director of Community Management, Brad Hornback, sat down with Dr. Eric Topol (Founder & Director at Scripps Research Translational Institute) and Christine Von Raesefeld (Patient Advocate) to discuss the topic of genomics and medicine, including how genomic data can affect the healthcare journey and how individuals may receive their own DNA results by participating in the All of Us Research Program.  The webinar resulted in some great questions from our PatientsLikeMe community and social media followers, which we’ve compiled and had our team respond to, below.  In case you missed the webinar, you can watch it here! Q+A Question: What are genetics and genomics? Answer: Genetics is a term that refers to the study of genes and their roles in inheritance – in other words, the way that certain traits or conditions are passed down from one generation to another. Genomics is a more recent term that describes the study of all of a person’s genes (the genome), including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person’s environment. Genomics includes the scientific study of complex diseases such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer because these diseases are typically caused more by a combination …

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Rheumatoid Arthritis Comorbidities: 7 Conditions You Are At Risk For

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a progressive autoimmune condition can be difficult. While there are ways to treat and manage RA, it can be hard to find which ones work best for you. To make things even more challenging, rheumatoid arthritis probably isn’t the only condition you’re trying to treat.   Studies show that patients with RA are more likely to develop other chronic conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and depression, compared to people without RA. When more than one condition exists at the same it’s called a comorbidity. If left untreated, comorbidities can be fatal to people with RA.  Why Does RA Cause Other Conditions?  Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that affects 14 million people worldwide. Autoimmune disorders mistakenly attack the immune system’s healthy cells instead of protecting them. With RA, the immune system primarily attacks the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling that can eventually cause bone erosion and joint deformity. In severe cases, it can affect the heart and lungs.  Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:   Pain or aching in more than one joint Stiffness in more than one joint Swelling or tenderness in more than one joint Weakness Widespread inflammation associated with RA is what …

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7 Ways to Feel Confident About Being Your Own Health Advocate

When you’ve been experiencing new symptoms or symptoms that have continued to get worse, going to the doctor can be nerve-racking. You may have even been a victim of medical gaslighting that is causing you to avoid going to the doctor. Or maybe you are scared of sharing such personal information about yourself with a total stranger While it’s understandable to be wary of seeing a doctor, it’s important to feel comfortable and empowered to tell your doctor about what you are experiencing.  Because you know your body best, you play one of the most important roles in your health care. By advocating for your health and getting involved in the decision-making process, you can improve your health outcomes and reap many benefits. Be Your Own Health Advocate  Advocating for your own health can be intimidating and you may be unsure of where to start. Here are seven ways you start to can feel confident about advocating for your health. Educate yourself on your condition  Talking about your health to a stranger and sharing deeply personal information about how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally can be nerve-racking.  During a doctor’s appointment, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed with emotions as …

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Here’s What You Need to Know About Epstein Barr and Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects nearly 1 million people in the United States. In MS, the immune system attacks myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Damage to these cells causes symptoms like pain, fatigue, impaired coordination, and vision loss. It can also cause cognitive changes that affect attention, mood, and motivation.   Although the exact cause is unknown, the connection between the human herpesvirus Epstein-Barr and MS has been suspected for many years. Recent studies have found that people who have the virus are likely to go on to develop the disease.   What is Epstein-Barr Virus?  Epstein-Barr virus, commonly referred to as EBV, is a member of the herpes virus family. It’s one of the most common human infections that most people contract during childhood, though it doesn’t usually cause symptoms. Teenagers and adults who get EBV may experience symptoms like:   Fatigue  Fever  Rash Swollen lymph nodes  Inflamed throat  Symptoms usually resolve within two to four weeks of infection, though some people may experience fatigue for several weeks or months after.   Epstein-Barr is mainly spread through the exchange of saliva, like by way of kissing or sharing …

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What is Medical Racism?

Racial discrimination has saturated healthcare systems around the world. Disparities in care have led to negative consequences for people of color and other marginalized groups.  Some of these consequences include gaps or lack of access to health insurance, limited access to services and high-quality physicians, and poorer health outcomes among certain populations.   Over the last year, disparities in the United States healthcare system have come to the fold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center of Disease Control reports that racial and ethnic minority groups are and have been unequally affected by economic, social, and secondary health consequences of the pandemic.  Of the case data collected, African Americans have the highest percentage (13.8%) of a positive test result. Data also shows that non-Hispanic American Indians or Alaska Natives have the highest rate of hospitalization due to the disease, while 34% of deaths were among African Americans.   While these numbers are just a glimpse into public health data, it shines a light on racial health disparities, policies, and practices that have been an integral part of medical history.  What is Medical Racism?  Medical racism is defined as the systemic, widespread prejudice or discrimination against people of color, ethnicity, or culture within …

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5 Signs of Cognitive Impairment in MS

If you’ve been living with multiple sclerosis, you might have noticed that you don’t feel as sharp as usual. Maybe you’re having trouble remembering information or concentrating on certain tasks. You may even feel like your brain is constantly in a fog. If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.   Although many of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis are related to movement and balance, cognitive changes are also very common with MS. Not everyone with MS will experience cognitive impairment. Research has found that nearly half of people with MS show some signs of cognitive dysfunction. About 40% of MS patients have mild cognitive dysfunction, and 5% to 10% have moderate to severe cognitive impairment.   Cognitive changes are often one of the first signs of multiple sclerosis. They can occur before an official diagnosis. But these changes can occur during any course of the disease, including clinically isolated syndrome. They can also appear in radiologically isolated syndrome and may appear before structural abnormalities are found on an MRI. However, studies have shown the prevalence and severity of cognitive impairment appear to be greatest in patients with secondary progressive MS and primary progressive MS.   Here are some things to …

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What is the Impact of Obesity on Autoimmune Conditions?

There are over 100 autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, but experts still aren’t sure what causes them. Autoimmune conditions occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks the body instead of protecting it. Certain factors increase your risk of getting an autoimmune condition, such as smoking or having a family member with an autoimmune condition. Recent studies have shown that obesity also plays a major role in triggering autoimmune conditions.   What is Obesity?  Obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that poses a risk to health. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that has historically been used to diagnose obesity. A BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.  However, body mass index isn’t an accurate measure of obesity for everyone. Muscular athletes, for example, might have a BMI that is considered obese even though they have little excess body fat. Body fat percentage may be a better indicator of risk of weight-related diseases. It distinguishes fat from muscle and calculates the percentage of body fat in the body. The American Council on Exercise provides the following …

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How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?

If you’ve been having unexplained symptoms like numbness, fatigue, or cognitive changes, you might suspect a neurological disease like multiple sclerosis. However, getting a definitive multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be difficult and can often take years. Because MS is often confused with other conditions like lupus and Lyme disease, your doctor will have to rule out any other possibilities first.   How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?  To make a diagnosis of MS, your doctor must first find evidence of damage in at least two separate areas of the central nervous system (CNS). The two main areas of damage are found on the brain and spinal cord. Your doctor must also find evidence that the damage occurred at different points in time. This will help determine if you have MS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). Although CIS has characteristics of MS, it represents only one episode of symptoms and doesn’t mean you will develop MS.  In addition to finding evidence of damage to the CNS, your doctor will use several other methods to determine if you have MS. Some of these methods include taking a full medical history, a neurological exam, and other tests.   Medical History   Your doctor will take a comprehensive look …

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