Ovulation Signs: When Is Conception Most Likely?

What ovulation signs can I look out for if I’m hoping to conceive?

Answer From Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.

Understanding when you’re ovulating—and having sex regularly five days before and on the day of ovulation—can improve the odds of conceiving.

Ovulation is the process in which a mature egg is released from the ovary. Those six days are important because the egg is able to be fertilized for about 12 to 24 hours after it’s released. In addition, sperm can live inside the female reproductive tract as long as five days after sexual intercourse under the right conditions. Your chance of getting pregnant is highest when live sperm are present in the fallopian tubes during ovulation.

In an average 28-day menstrual cycle, ovulation typically occurs about 14 days before the start of the next menstrual period. But in most women, ovulation occurs in the four days before or after the midpoint of the menstrual cycle. If, like many women, you don’t have a perfect 28-day menstrual cycle, you can determine the length and midpoint of your cycle by keeping a menstrual calendar.

Beyond the calendar, you can also look for ovulation signs and symptoms, including:

  • Change in vaginal secretions. Just before ovulation, you might notice an increase in clear, wet, and stretchy vaginal secretions. Just after ovulation, cervical mucus decreases and becomes thicker, cloudy, and less noticeable.
  • Change in basal body temperature. Your body’s temperature at rest (basal body temperature) increases slightly during ovulation. Using a thermometer specifically designed to measure basal body temperature, take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed. Record the results and look for a pattern to emerge. You’ll be most fertile during the two to three days before your temperature rises.

You also might want to try an over-the-counter ovulation kit. These kits test your urine for the surge in hormones that takes place before ovulation, which helps you identify when you’re most likely to ovulate.

Updated: 2016-10-25

Publication Date: 2016-10-25

PCOS and Diet: Can Diet and Exercise Actually Improve PCOS Symptoms?

Figuring out how to manage polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can feel like a maddening game of throwing darts while blindfolded. And maybe while using your non-dominant hand, too. PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can prompt a wide range of symptoms including irregular periods, excess facial hair, scalp hair loss, and acne, all of which may make it feel like your body isn’t, well, yours anymore.

If you have this condition, you may have heard that diet and exercise can help. But people tend to say that for a lot of health issues, even when it couldn’t be further from the truth. So, is this medical fact or fiction? Here, SELF explores the connection between PCOS, diet, and exercise.

What causes PCOS

Let’s walk through the science of PCOS a bit. Stay with us here, because it will help you understand any possible diet and exercise links.

One commonly accepted theory suggests that PCOS happens because the brain’s hypothalamus sends incorrect signals to the pituitary gland (a pea-sized organ that produces hormones), resulting in ovarian dysfunction that causes PCOS symptoms, Leanne Redman, Ph.D., director of the Reproductive Endocrinology and Women’s Health Research Program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tells SELF.

Typically, your ovaries are tasked with producing hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and androgens (hormones that have historically been viewed as “male,” like testosterone). Ovarian dysfunction can throw these hormones out of whack, leading to PCOS symptoms. For instance, your ovaries might churn out excess androgens that rear their head through PCOS symptoms like acne, excess facial hair, scalp hair loss, and problems conceiving due to irregular or totally absent ovulation.

Experts aren’t sure of exactly how these excess androgens can affect ovulation. It could be that the buildup of these hormones inside ovarian follicles (small sacs that each hold an egg) keeps the follicles from maturing and eventually releasing eggs to be fertilized, John Nestler, M.D., a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, tells SELF.

Another prevalent theory holds that insulin resistance is at the root of PCOS. The relationship here is incredibly complex, but here’s the gist: If you’re insulin resistant, your cells don’t react properly to the insulin hormone your pancreas makes so you can absorb glucose (i.e., sugar from food), the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) explains. In that instance, your pancreas pumps out extra insulin. But if that’s still not enough to help your cells properly absorb glucose, high blood sugar levels lead to prediabetes, which then raises your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Where does PCOS come in? Insulin resistance can cause your ovaries to make too many androgens, according to the Mayo Clinic. Insulin resistance may also affect how the pituitary gland regulates your levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), both of which prepare those ovarian follicles for maturation. But data on this is conflicting, according to 2012 research on insulin resistance and PCOS in Endocrine Reviews.

So, how are diet and exercise supposed to help with these PCOS symptoms? If you’re insulin resistant, then becoming more sensitive to insulin can lower the androgen levels that give rise to PCOS symptoms. “You can improve the insulin sensitivity and improve the syndrome,” Dr. Nestler says. The way you eat and exercise might help you do it.

The relationship between diet, insulin resistance, and PCOS

Maybe you’ve heard people say that trying this diet or swearing off those foods helped their PCOS symptoms. Don’t believe the claims that any particular food or food group worsens, causes, or cures PCOS, Lisa Moran, Ph.D., a dietitian and head of the Healthy Lifestyle Research Program at the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation in Melbourne, Australia, tells SELF.

No evidence suggests that you should cut out food groups to manage PCOS, says Moran, who served as chair of lifestyle research for a set of international evidence-based guidelines on the assessment and management of PCOS published in 2018. The exception is if you have PCOS and food intolerances, in which case, avoiding certain foods (under advisement from your doctor or registered dietitian) really might make you feel better overall even if it doesn’t directly impact your PCOS symptoms.

With that said, there is a wealth of evidence that eating what is commonly perceived to be a “healthy” diet may help improve PCOS symptoms by reducing insulin resistance. The evidence-based guidelines Moran worked on present what scientists have found on the subject so far.

These guidelines come from a partnership between the Centre for Research Excellence in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (CREPCOS) in Australia, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), and American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). Teams of researchers from Australia, Europe, and the United States consulted with physicians and patients (and dug through data) in an attempt to improve health care, health outcomes, and quality of life for people with PCOS. When it comes to diet, these guidelines recommend going for balance, not a specific diet in particular.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines, a balanced diet includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes like beans and peas, grains (especially whole grains), fat-free or low-fat dairy products, oils, and proteins like lean meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs. The USDA also recommends limiting trans fats, saturated fats, added sugars, and excessive sodium.

A balanced diet is recommended for PCOS in part because eating this way may help you incorporate more foods low on the glycemic index (GI). In general, low GI foods take longer to digest and absorb, raising your blood sugar levels at a slower rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Eating a lot of foods high on the glycemic index like white cereal and pasta forces the pancreas to work hard to produce extra insulin, which may exacerbate insulin resistance.

It’s no coincidence that a lot of low GI foods are high in fiber, as fiber requires more time to digest. Low GI, high-fiber foods include quinoa, rolled oats, barley, bulgur wheat, whole-grain bread, beans, and lentils. However, as the Mayo Clinic emphasizes, this is not about going on a low GI diet but instead eating more of these foods if you and your PCOS treatment team decide that makes sense for you.

Some experts believe eating this way may also help calm systemic inflammation that seems like it might be linked to PCOS. “Inflammation” is such a notorious buzzword that people often view it as inherently negative, but inflammation is actually a totally normal immune process that happens when your body is trying to protect you from an irritant or injury. The issue is when that inflammation becomes chronic, which may (among other issues) prompt the ovaries to produce too many androgens, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There’s no one “anti-inflammatory” diet, but a 2016 Fertility and Sterility review of diet, inflammation, and reproductive outcomes in people with PCOS suggests that choosing low GI carbs, cutting trans fat, and eating more plant-based sources of protein or fatty fish like salmon could help fight this kind of chronic low-grade inflammation. Still, it’s up to future research to confirm whether dietary changes can really improve PCOS symptoms.

All of this is well and good, but remember that you don’t need to cut out everything you love in order to have a balanced diet, and imposing a restrictive diet on yourself can make it much harder to have a healthy relationship with food, Moran says. What matters most is eating in a safe, sustainable way that’s healthy for you, which isn’t something anyone besides you and your PCOS treatment team can determine.

Exercise and insulin resistance

Working out can increase your cells’ response to insulin and allow them to more easily use glucose for energy, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

There isn’t enough research to recommend specific types of activity for reducing PCOS symptoms, says Redman, who contributed to the evidence-based guidelines as an expert in PCOS and exercise physiology. Both the evidence-based guidelines and the American Heart Association say that adults can aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Think brisk walking, hiking, yoga, low-impact aerobics, recreational swimming, golf, and tennis. Or you can get 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, like running, mountain climbing, high-impact aerobics, high-intensity intervals, and intense swimming. Your third option is an equivalent combo of moderate and vigorous exercise. Muscle-strengthening activities should be part of whichever routine you choose (preferably twice a week on non-consecutive days).

Definitely talk to your doctor if your main goal is to exercise for better insulin sensitivity, or if you’re just not sure how much working out is best for your health.

What you need to know about weight management and PCOS

It might seem like the point of eating a balanced diet and exercising is to lose weight. It’s true that losing weight may help relieve certain PCOS symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, because weight loss can make you more insulin sensitive.

But it’s not valid to say that everyone with PCOS should consider trying to lose weight, Moran says. Not everyone with PCOS is overweight or obese, and even if someone is overweight or obese, it’s not as simple as drawing a line between their BMI and their health. Metabolic health varies from person to person, even among those with PCOS, according to a 2012 Fertility and Sterility review from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which summarized findings from hundreds of studies.

It’s also nowhere near guaranteed that eating well and exercising will always lead to weight loss. Stress, sleep, medications, and any other health conditions you have in addition to PCOS can all affect whether or not you’re able to lose weight easily. Plus, being able to afford (and access) healthy foods or make time for exercise also factors into this. In other words, circumstances you have little to no control over can impact your weight.

There’s also the fact that insulin resistance may make losing weight more difficult in the first place, Redman says. Some research points to a possible relationship between ghrelin (a hormone that helps to regulate appetite) and PCOS. The hormone has been linked to insulin, blood sugar, and ovarian function, according to a 2016 Endocrine Journal meta-analysis of ghrelin levels in PCOS. More research is needed to understand this connection, though.

Finally, even if losing weight would alleviate your PCOS symptoms, focusing too much on weight loss can be harmful if, for example, you have a history of disordered eating.

The biggest goal here is really to eat well and stay active for a variety of reasons, only one of which is PCOS management. If your doctor says that losing a certain amount of weight will really help with your PCOS, they should give you actionable tools to do that in a way that’s safe for you physically and mentally.

Bottom line: There’s no one-size-fits-all way to treat PCOS.
The options go far beyond diet and exercise, so you might need to mix and match. Your doctor may recommend hormonal birth control to regulate hormone levels (to alleviate androgen-related issues like acne) and menstrual cycles, according to the Mayo Clinic. They may also prescribe drugs like metformin to help your body become more sensitive to insulin or medications to stimulate ovulation if PCOS is making it difficult for you to get pregnant.

The point is that if you have PCOS, you also have options. See what your doctor thinks about how diet, exercise, and various medical treatments may impact your symptoms. Having the conversation may get you one step closer to landing on the best PCOS treatment regimen for your body and mind.

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How Owning My Sexuality Transformed My Career

My career in the tech world started to take off a few years after I began building my first company, an accounting software for growing businesses called inDinero. I was closing more sales deals, nailing my speaking engagements, and getting feedback that I was positively impacting others on my team. When people asked me what I was doing differently, I would lie, saying something like, “Oh, I started meditating. Totally life-changing.”

The truth was that I was finally having the sex I wanted. My career transformation was the bonus cherry on top.

Taking control of my sex life was a long process. Although I was an early bloomer in some ways—I went to college at 16 and started building inDinero at 20—I was raised in a conservative environment that left me in the dark when it came to my own body and sexuality. I was 24 before I felt comfortable enough to look at my own genitals.

Around that time, I committed to learning about my body, leaning into my identity as a sexual being, and making time for pleasure. The results were powerful. Exploring my sexuality helped me unlearn a lot of harmful thought patterns about bodies and desire, and it helped give me both the sex life and career I’d dreamed about.

Now, I’m the founder and CEO of O.school, a welcoming online resource aiming to educate people on all things sex and sexuality. So, these days my career is obviously influenced by the subject of sex and sexuality—it’s what we do at O.school! But aside from that—and even well before that—I found that tapping into my sexual energy led to enormous growth in my career. Here are a few ways that getting in touch with my sexuality spilled over into my professional calling.

1. I learned to listen to my intuition.

I used to be really uncomfortable even trying to think about my own pleasure. In bed, I was often completely focused on the other person. I would shut down when a partner would say, “Let’s make you feel good. What do you like?” I didn’t know because I didn’t have much sexual intuition, which I view as a connection to what makes me feel good.

Making time for pleasure helped me strengthen this sexual intuition. One thing that really got me there was orgasmic meditation. “OM,” as it’s often called, is primarily focused on exploring where you like to be touched on your clitoris. OM is about being present in how you’re feeling in one precise moment: One day you might like one kind of touch, and another day it could be something different. The key is being willing to listen to your own body, which helped me flex that mental muscle of knowing what feels good and right. This kind of gut instinct became a guiding compass for me at work, too.

In the span of a week, 20 smart investors can recommend I take my business in 20 different directions. I listen to everyone’s advice, but then I listen most to what feels right in my body. I know something is right for me—in sex or at work—when I feel curious, connected, and attentive. I feel calm and can see the pros and cons. When something is a bad fit, I notice that I feel fearful, anxious, and have a lot of spiraling thoughts. Listening to my intuition, no matter the situation, has rarely steered me wrong.

2. I practiced asking for what I want.

I know it seems obvious, but it’s so true that I have to emphasize it: People can only meet your needs if you make what you want clear. Sex has become a safe space for me to practice asking for what I want in a relatively low-stakes situation.

Once, right after taking a shower, a partner asked me to sit down and spontaneously started to blow dry my hair. It was one of the sweetest and, surprisingly, most pleasurable gestures I had ever experienced. I could have kept this quirky delight a secret from other partners, but I’ve chosen to talk about it with various people since then. While a few have declined to engage in this hair-focused foreplay, pretty much all of them have made a beeline for the blow dryer. This has reinforced that being open about what makes me feel good usually leads to me feeling, well, really good.

Experimenting with clear communication in bed built up my confidence to do the same in a professional environment. I’ve learned to be incredibly specific when it comes to asking for what I want at work. In the past, when I’ve expected people to decide on their own to give me what I “deserve,” I’ve been constantly disappointed.

For example, when I worked as a venture partner at a venture capital fund, I learned that a male coworker who joined the exact same week as I did was given a raise. I didn’t wait around hoping to have a commensurate raise land in my lap. Instead, I went to my boss and asked not just for a raise, but also for more travel opportunities to our global offices, introductions to people who could provide me with paid speaking appearances, and the ability to start making investments in international markets. I got all of it. That probably won’t happen every time, but it definitely wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked.

3. I realized that connecting with my body clears my mind.

When I’m feeling too uptight, that usually means I haven’t made time for self-care. My sexuality plays a big role in renewing my energy. When I’m more connected to my body, I think more clearly, get more done, and make better decisions. I’m funnier, more powerful, and more relaxed on stage at speaking events. I can tell people read me as more confident and interact with me differently.

Feeling connected to my body is not limited to sex. Sometimes it’s a massage. Sometimes it’s hanging out with my friends and holding their hands while we drink wine, kiss, hug, and flirt.

Restoring myself in this way has become so important that I actually put self-care time on my color-coded calendar. (It gets the honor of being purple.) Self-care is in the mix with my meetings and appointments because it’s just as—if not more—important. If I look at my week ahead and see no purple blocks, I make it a point to change that.

4. I learned to establish firm boundaries.

From a young age, I was taught that my body didn’t fully belong to me. (As are many of us.) Sometimes I had to kiss and hug relatives when I didn’t want to. On the playground, little boys would grab at me, and adults would say, “That’s how you know they like you.” I felt resigned to the fact that others could do what they wanted to my body, and I should stay quiet to avoid “making a fuss.”

This thinking persisted for years. One day in college, a guy in class with me started rubbing my leg under the table. I couldn’t move or say anything because I still didn’t feel in charge of my own body.

I started to unlearn these lessons through kink and role playing. A Kink 101 class taught me that nothing sexual should happen without discussing boundaries and consent. I also realized that “bottoms” (submissive people) are often viewed as the ones actually “in charge” because they can slow down or completely stop a situation with a safeword.

Meditating on these concepts helped me see how much of my sex life was spent going along with other people’s desires, following scripts I saw in movies and porn, and how little I was focusing on what I wanted. It took years of practice and overcoming occasional discomfort, but now I only have the sex that I want to have, and I stop sex that doesn’t feel good.

This sense of control transferred to my career. I’ve realized that, ultimately, I get to choose how I spend my time. (Granted, this is a privilege that I have due to my being an entrepreneur.) I swiftly decline opportunities that aren’t aligned with my goals, often leave draining events or meetings to take care of myself, and generally feel more empowered and less complacent about how I spend my time and energy.

5. I stopped caring about looking stupid.

Sex is a great chance to practice getting out of your head and seeing what happens when you do something “silly” without judging yourself. When I first tried to explore dirty talk and role play, I struggled with this big time. I wasn’t naturally excited about trying to say sexy things or pretend to be someone else, so I felt dumb when I tried. Then I decided to view it as a game of improv. That got me out of my “this is dumb” thought patterns, and I found myself surprisingly turned on.

That same fear of appearing stupid used to block the creativity my career needs in order to thrive. I’d get an idea in a meeting and hesitate to speak up, only to kick myself when someone else said the exact same thing. Sex helped me realize how freeing it can be to leave that fear of judgment behind, so I started to let go of it at work, too.

To experiment with bringing that mindset into my work life even more, I once hired an amazing business coach who was an ex-clown. She made me mime my talks with really exaggerated gestures. It felt horribly uncomfortable. But the next time I was on stage, I was more aware of my body and felt so much more dynamic. It’s all because I was no longer holding back due to fear.

It might sound unconventional, but for me, sex and work are intimately connected in a way that’s made my life so much better. Having good sex is worth celebrating all on its own. Being able to apply lessons I’ve learned through my sexual experiences to my career is even better.

Related:

A global database of women scientists is diversifying the face of science

Underrepresentation of women scientists in the public sphere perpetuates the stereotype of the white male scientist and fails both to reflect the true diversity of people practicing science today and to encourage more diversity. In a new article publishing April 23 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, Dr. Elizabeth McCullagh and colleagues from the grassroots organization 500 Women Scientists, describe the first year of a database they founded in January 2018 to combat this issue. The database — called Request a Woman Scientist — is a public register of women scientists categorized by discipline and geographic region, as well as other self-identifying dimensions.

In under a year, more than 7,500 women from 174 scientific disciplines and 133 countries voluntarily signed up, expressing a willingness to share their science. These volunteers indicated interest in participating in panels, public outreach, and interactions with the media. The biological sciences and the USA are best represented in the database, but targeted outreach is planned to improve the representation of women from other disciplines and regions.

To understand how the register has been utilized, 500 Women Scientists sent an electronic survey to women on the register in November 2018. Of 1,278 respondents, 150 women (11%) had been contacted for a range of reasons, including media requests for expert comment, conference participation, and educational outreach. This is likely an underestimate of how many women are being contacted since the database has been accessed more than 100,000 times. Guided by input from database users, we are now working to improve the functionality of the online database, focusing on improving user experience, and ensuring that the database can continue to grow and meet the demand for women scientists and their expertise. The scope of the database is also being expanded to include the medical sciences.

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Experiences of ‘ultimate reality’ or ‘God’ confer lasting benefits to mental health

People over the millennia have reported having deeply moving religious experiences either spontaneously or while under the influence of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms or the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, and a portion of those experiences have been encounters with what the person regards as “God” or “ultimate reality.” In a survey of thousands of people who reported having experienced personal encounters with God, Johns Hopkins researchers report that more than two-thirds of self-identified atheists shed that label after their encounter, regardless of whether it was spontaneous or while taking a psychedelic.

Moreover, the researchers say, a majority of respondents attributed lasting positive changes in their psychological health ¾ e.g., life satisfaction, purpose and meaning ¾ even decades after their initial experience.

The findings, described in a paper published April 23 in PLOS ONE, add to evidence that such deeply meaningful experiences may have healing properties, the researchers say. And the study’s design, they add, is the first to systematically and rigorously compare reports of spontaneous God encounter experiences with those occasioned, or catalyzed, by psychedelic substances.

“Experiences that people describe as encounters with God or a representative of God have been reported for thousands of years, and they likely form the basis of many of the world’s religions,” says lead researcher Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “And although modern Western medicine doesn’t typically consider ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ experiences as one of the tools in the arsenal against sickness, our findings suggest that these encounters often lead to improvements in mental health.”

The historic and widespread anecdotal evidence for their benefits led to the research team’s latest effort to research the value, and possible downsides, of such encounters, Griffiths says.

For the new study, the scientists used data from 4,285 people worldwide who responded to online advertisements to complete one of two 50-minute online surveys about God encounter experiences. The surveys asked participants to recall their single most memorable encounter experience with the “God of their understanding,” a “higher power,” “ultimate reality” or “an aspect or representative of God, such as an angel.” They also asked how respondents felt about their experience and whether and how it changed their lives.

About 69 percent of the participants were men, and 88 percent were white. Of those who reported using a psychedelic, 1,184 took psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), 1,251 said they took LSD, 435 said they took ayahuasca (a plant-based brew originating with indigenous cultures in Latin America), and 606 said they took DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), also a naturally occurring substance found in certain plants and animals.

Of the total participants, 809 were those who responded to the non-drug survey, whereas 3,476 responded to the psychedelics survey. Respondents were an average age of 38 when they took the survey. The people who said they had a God encounter experience when on a psychedelic reported that these experiences happened at age 25 on average, whereas those whose experience was spontaneous reported having it at an average age of 35.

Among other key findings:

  • About 75 percent of respondents in both the non-drug and psychedelics groups rated their “God encounter” experience as among the most meaningful and spiritually significant in their lifetime, and both groups attributed to it positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose and meaning.
  • Independent of psychedelics use, more than two-thirds of those who said they were atheists before the experience no longer identified as such afterward.
  • Most participants, in both the non-drug and psychedelics groups, reported vivid memories of the encounter experience, which frequently involved communication with some entity having the attributes of consciousness (approximately 70 percent), benevolence (approximately 75 percent), intelligence (approximately 80 percent), sacredness (approximately 75 percent) and eternal existence (approximately 70 percent).
  • Although both groups reported a decreased fear of death, 70 percent of participants in the psychedelics group reported this change, compared with 57 percent among non-drug respondents.
  • In both groups, about 15 percent of the respondents said their experience was the most psychologically challenging of their lives.
  • In the non-drug group, participants were most likely to choose “God” or “an emissary of God” (59 percent) as the best descriptor of their encounter, while the psychedelics group were most likely (55 percent) to choose “ultimate reality.”

For future studies, Griffiths said his team would like to explore what factors predispose someone to having such a memorable and life-altering perceived encounter, and they would like to see what happens in the brain during the experience.

“Continuing to explore these experiences may provide new insights into religious and spiritual beliefs that have been integral to shaping human culture since time immemorial,” says Griffiths.z

Griffiths and the research team caution that the study relied on self-reported responses to a questionnaire, a method that carries substantial possibilities for biased or inaccurate responses among participants. They don’t advocate that people use hallucinogenic substances on their own because they carry not only legal risks, but also behavioral risks associated with impaired judgment under the influence and the possibility of negative psychological consequences, particularly in vulnerable people or when the experience isn’t safeguarded by qualified guides.

In addition, says Griffiths, “We want to be clear that our study looks at personal experiences and says nothing about the existence, or nonexistence of God. We doubt that any science can definitively settle this point either way.”

Griffiths has been researching psychedelic drugs for nearly two decades. Some of his earlier studies have used psilocybin to explore mystical-type experiences and their consequences in healthy volunteers, and the therapeutic potential of the drug in helping people to quit smoking or to ease mental distress in people due to a cancer diagnosis.

His team is hopeful that, one day, psilocybin may be developed as a drug to use in therapeutic settings under the care of a trained guide.

Additional authors on the study include Ethan Hurwitz, Alan Davis and Matthew Johnson of Johns Hopkins and Robert Jesse of the Council on Spiritual Practices, an organization that brings together religious scholars and scientists.

Funding for the study came from the Council on Spiritual Practices, the Heffter Research Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA03889 and T32DA07209).

Griffiths is on the board of directors of the Heffter Research Institute. Jesse is chairperson of the Council on Spiritual Practices.

How lifestyle affects our genes

In the past decade, knowledge of how lifestyle affects our genes, a research field called epigenetics, has grown exponentially. Researchers at Lund University have summarised the state of scientific knowledge within epigenetics linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes in a review article published in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism.

Epigenetic mechanisms control the activity of different genes. Disruptions in the epigenetic machinery may lead to diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. This review summarises the role of epigenetic changes in different human tissues of relevance for metabolism, for example, in adipose tissue, skeletal muscle, pancreatic islets (which, among other things, contain the insulin-producing cells), liver and blood, linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“Epigenetics is still a relatively new research field; however, we now know that epigenetic mechanisms play an important role in disease development. Similarly, the epigenetic patterns are affected by disease. Variations in genetic material (DNA), age, exercise and diet also have an impact on epigenetic variation,” says Charlotte Ling, professor and pioneer in the field of epigenetics and diabetes who authored the review together with researcher Tina Rönn.

The researchers detail the latest findings in epigenetics in the following categories:

  • The significance of diet
  • Physical activity
  • Aging
  • The significance of genes
  • Is the epigenome heritable?
  • How can epigenetics contribute to novel treatments?

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People with happy spouses may live longer

Research suggests that having a happy spouse leads to a longer marriage, and now study results show that it’s associated with a longer life, too. The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“The data show that spousal life satisfaction was associated with mortality, regardless of individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, or their physical health status,” says study author Olga Stavrova, a researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Notably, spouses’ life satisfaction was an even better predictor of participants’ mortality than participants’ own life satisfaction. Participants who had a happy partner at the beginning of the study were less likely to pass away over the next 8 years compared with participants who had less happy partners.

“The findings underscore the role of individuals’ immediate social environment in their health outcomes. Most importantly, it has the potential to extend our understanding of what makes up individuals’ ‘social environment’ by including the personality and well-being of individuals’ close ones,” says Stavrova.

Life satisfaction is known to be associated with behaviors that can affect health, including diet and exercise, and people who have a happy, active spouse, for example, are likely to have an active lifestyle themselves. The opposite is also likely to be true, says Stavrova:

“If your partner is depressed and wants to spend the evening eating chips in front of the TV — that’s how your evening will probably end up looking, as well.”

Stavrova examined data from a nationally representative survey of about 4,400 couples in the United States who were over the age of 50. The survey, funded by the National Institute on Aging, collected data on participants who had spouses or live-in partners; 99% of the sampled couples were heterosexual.

For up to 8 years, participants and their spouses reported on life satisfaction and various factors hypothesized to be related to mortality, including perceived partner support and frequency of physical activity. They also completed a self-rated health measure and provided information related to their morbidity (as measured by number of doctor-diagnosed chronic conditions), gender, age at the beginning of the study, ethnicity, education, household income, and partner mortality. Participant deaths over the course of the study were tracked using the National Death Index from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or spouses’ reports.

At the end of 8 years, about 16% of participants had died. Those who died tended to be older, male, less educated, less wealthy, less physically active, and in poorer health than those who were still alive; those who died also tended to report lower relationship satisfaction, lower life satisfaction, and having a partner who also reported lower life satisfaction. The spouses of participants who died were also more likely to pass away within the 8-year observation period than were spouses of participants who were still living.

The findings suggest that greater partner life satisfaction at the beginning of the study was associated with lower participant mortality risk. Specifically, the risk of mortality for participants with a happy spouse increased more slowly than mortality risk for participants with an unhappy spouse. The association between partner life satisfaction and mortality risk held even after accounting for major sociodemographic variables, self-rated health and morbidity, and partner mortality.

Exploring plausible explanations for these findings, Stavrova found that perceived partner support was not related to lower participant mortality. However, higher partner life satisfaction was related to more partner physical activity, which corresponded to higher participant physical activity, and lower participant mortality.

This research demonstrates that partner life satisfaction may have important consequences for health and longevity. Although the participants in this study were American, Stavrova believes the results are likely to apply to couples outside of the United States, as well.

“This research might have implications for questions such as what attributes we should pay attention to when selecting our spouse or partner and whether healthy lifestyle recommendations should target couples (or households) rather than individuals,” says Stavrova.

Future research could also investigate larger social networks to see if the same pattern of results emerges in the context of other relationships.

13 Infused Water Recipes That Will Help You Drink Way More Water

I have a hard time staying hydrated, because I just don’t like plain water that much. I’ll choke it down if I have to, but I always prefer a bit of flavor when I can get it, even if that’s just a splash of juice or a slice of lemon.

It’s clear that I’m not the only one in this boat, because the internet is obsessed with infused waters right now. You’ve probably noticed them at a spa or even in some hotel lobbies, where you can often find water pitchers spiked with slices of refreshing fruits like cucumbers and lemons. In most cases, infused waters don’t contain any added sugar or sodium (other than whatever small amount comes naturally from the steeped ingredients). Infused waters are just as hydrating as regular old water, but way, way tastier. Plus, you get to eat the fruits and veggies when you’re finished!

The best part is that infused water is so simple to make at home—just throw your favorite combination of fruits and herbs, or even vegetables, spices, and seeds, into a pitcher of water and let it steep for a few hours or overnight.

If hydrating always feels like a chore to you, too, these 13 infused water recipes will make the whole process a lot more palatable. Whether you’re looking for a minty number to freshen up your breath, a fruity option with subtle sweetness, or something that’s more savory (and even spicy), these infused water ideas will show you that water definitely doesn’t have to be boring.

Playing video games generally not harmful to boys’ social development

The popularity of interactive video games has sparked concern among parents, educators, and policymakers about how the games affect children and adolescents. Most research on the effect of gaming on youth has focused on problematic gaming and negative effects like aggression, anxiety, and depression. A new longitudinal study conducted in Norway looked at how playing video games affects the social skills of 6- to 12-year-olds. It found that playing the games affected youth differently by age and gender, but that generally speaking, gaming was not associated with social development. However, the authors did find that 10-year-old girls who played games frequently had less social competence than 12-year-olds than girls who played less frequently.

The findings come from researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NTNU Social Research, the University of California, Davis, and St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway. They are published in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

“Our study may mitigate some concerns about the adverse effects of gaming on children’s development,” says Beate Wold Hygen, postdoctoral fellow at the NTNU and NTNU Social Research, who led the study. “It might not be gaming itself that warrants our attention, but the reasons some children and adolescents spend a lot of their spare time playing the games.”

The researchers studied 873 Norwegian youth from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds every two years for six years when the children were ages 6 to 12. The children (when they were 10 and 12) and their parents (when the children were 6 and 8) reported how much time the youth spent playing video games — using tablets, PCs, game consoles, and phones. The youth’s teachers completed questionnaires on the children’s and adolescents’ social competence, including measures of cooperation, assertion, and self-control. And the youth told researchers how often they played games with their friends.

The researchers took into consideration several factors:

  • Gender, because boys tend to spend more time gaming than girls and may be more likely to display lower levels of social competence;
  • Socioeconomic status, because youth from less advantaged families may be at greater risk of problems that influence social competence;
  • Body-mass index (BMI), because higher BMI in girls is associated with more gaming and youth with higher BMIs tend to have more problems with social competence, and
  • Amount of time youth spent gaming with friends, since those who play games with friends have more opportunities to practice social skills than youth who play alone or online with strangers.

The study findings suggest that:

  • Time boys spent gaming did not affect their social development.
  • Girls who spent more time playing video games at age 10 developed weaker social skills two years later than girls who spent less time playing games.
  • Girls who play video games may be more isolated socially and have less opportunity to practice social skills with other girls, which may affect their later social competence.
  • Children who struggled socially at ages 8 and 10 were more likely to spend more time playing video games at ages 10 and 12.

“It might be that poor social competence drives youth’s tendency to play video games for extensive periods of time,” suggests Lars Wichstrøm, professor of psychology at NTNU, who coauthored the study. “That is, youth who struggle socially might be more inclined to play games to fulfill their need to belong and their desire for mastery because gaming is easily accessible and may be less complicated for them than face-to-face interactions.”

The study’s authors caution that the youth in the study provided researchers with an average of a limited amount of time gaming, and that the measure of gaming, as reported by the youth and their parents, may be imperfect given the difficulty of estimating time spent playing video games.

The study was funded by the Research Council of Norway and the Liaison Committee between the Central Norway Regional Health Authority and NTNU.

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Materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

I’m a Strong Black Woman. I Deserve Therapy, Too

From Olivia Pope’s iconic “it’s handled” line to real-world examples about how black women continue to “save America,” the strong black woman trope is real and prevalent. When Congresswoman Maxine Waters (aka Auntie Maxine) proclaimed that she is a “strong black woman,” we rejoiced and celebrated her. She was right. Just like so many of us in the face of oppression, she didn’t back down.

But this loaded label can also promote this perception of unwavering strength, while simultaneously dismissing the presence of pain or struggle for black women who are strong and resilient. I’ve felt this firsthand.

Like many black women, it has taken me some time to realize it’s OK to take off the cape and ask for help.

Grieving the death of my father and later finding myself without a place to live in a city that didn’t feel like home a few months after completing grad school in 2017, I finally fell apart. I felt discouraged, sad, afraid, and insecure. Still, I’d grown up admiring the images of “strong black women,” with aspirations of growing into one. I was under the impression that those women don’t complain or fall apart. They didn’t need help.

Cheryl Woods Giscombe, Ph.D., a nurse and social health psychologist at UNC Chapel Hill, observed this exact mentality among black women through her academic studies and in her day-to-day life, prompting her to author the Superwoman Schema study back in 2010. The goal of her research was to examine the relationship between stress and health among African-American women. In order to explore this, Giscombe conducted eight, hours-long focus groups with a total of 48 African-American women from various cities and ranging in age from 18 to 60s.

In each interview, she asked the women questions pertaining to their perception of stress, how they manage stress, and what they felt was expected of them when it comes to stress management. Questions included things like, How do you cope with stress, and how did you see the women in your life cope with stress? Have you ever heard the term “strong black woman” or “black superwoman,” and what does that mean? How does a woman develop those characteristics?

Using the data and feedback she gathered from these conversations, she identified the superwoman schema as a framework that has five key characteristics (as described in the study text): an obligation to manifest strength, an obligation to suppress emotions, a resistance to being vulnerable or dependent, a determination to succeed despite limited resources, and an obligation to help others.

This way of thinking is the result of black women’s experiences throughout history.

Black women are frequently assigned a “caregiver” stereotype (in addition to many other harmful representations). We have taken on that role, and often times been forced into that role, from the days of slavery to today.

Until the 1970s, domestic caregiving work was what was available to black women. Today, in 2019, employment opportunities have broadened for black women, but we’re still more likely to work service jobs than white women (nearly one-third of black women are employed in service jobs compared to one-fifth of white women).

In addition, this reality has been deeply ingrained into the American psyche, from the construction of the “Mammy” caricature (an offensive stereotype of the black women who were domestic workers in the homes of white families) to the continuous on-screen representation of black women in caretaking roles, such as Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of a maid in Gone With the Wind (which made her the first black woman to win an Oscar) and Octavia Spencer’s Oscar-winning performance in The Help.

For years, mainstream media has been perpetuating the ideology that black women don’t ask for help—we are the help.

History led me to believe that asking for help wasn’t a luxury afforded to me. I believed it was something for rich (often times white) people. I believed that I should be strong enough to forge onward without the external support.

“In the past, therapy was seen as indulgent, which, historically, doesn’t correlate with black women,” Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and the founder of Therapy for Black Girls (an online platform that seeks to make it easier for black women to connect with black female therapists), tells SELF.

It’s also an issue of access to care. Statistically, people of color are also uninsured at higher rates than white people, making access to therapy all the more challenging. Not to mention, it’s not easy to access to a therapist of color. For black women who do have access to insurance that covers therapy, or the means to pay any out-of-pocket fees, some would prefer to work with someone who they feel can really relate to their personal experience. But it’s not always easy to find that person. According to the American Psychology Association, as of 2016, only about 4 percent of all practicing psychologists in America were black, as SELF reported previously.

“In my experience, when black women talk about wanting to speak to a therapist, they typically want to speak with another black woman,” Bradford says. “A lot of that is probably related to it being a very foreign kind of experience. If you’re going to do this thing that already feels a little weird, you probably want it to be in a space that feels familiar to you.”

According to Giscombe, black women who have taken the leap and gone to therapy have often found themselves “educating the therapist,” as she describes, on their specific cultural norms and lived experiences. She believes that a big access issue is “wanting to make sure you find someone who’s congruent with your values or at least accepts, respects, and understands your values.”

There’s also the issue of trust: “The black community has had a strained relationship in a lot of ways with medical institutions,” Bradford notes (keeping in mind: the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments on black men, and how J. Marion Sims, dubbed the “father of gynecology,” experimented on enslaved women without anesthesia.) “So it hasn’t felt very safe for black people to be able to open up about some of the concerns that you might share in therapy,” Bradford goes on.

It’s taken time (and a lot of reflection and conversations with other black women) for me to acknowledge and move past these access barriers and explore mental health resources. It’s also encouraging to see prominent black figures, from Jay-Z to Taraji P. Henson, speak out about the racial disparities when it comes to mental health care, and the strong black woman trope specifically. I’ve begun to accept that this strong black woman stereotype doesn’t need to stop me from showing vulnerability, or allowing myself to be emotionally fragile when that’s the reality of how I’m feeling.

So, for my fellow strong black women who need (and are ready) to ask for help, here’s how to start.

First, if you do have insurance, call your provider to find out what type of mental health coverage your plan includes. Bradford notes that, for those with coverage, “more than likely there are some mental health benefits [of your insurance plan].” Thanks to the Mental Health Parity Act passed about 10 years ago, insurance plans have to have comparable coverage for mental health concerns just like they have for physical health issues.

When you call, ask the representative to point you to where you can search for a therapist who accepts your insurance. You may find that the options are pretty limited, so if you don’t see someone that you’re drawn to or can’t find someone with good reviews, you may want to consider looking out of your insurance network.

Bradford created the online platform Therapy for Black Girls, which includes a directory that lists over 300 therapists in 34 states and Washington, D.C. Users can search for therapists who are black women by location and by accepted insurance providers. You can also head to the directory on africanamericantherapist.com to search for even more black therapists (both men and women) in many cities. Another avenue potentially worth exploring is doing therapy over the phone or via video chat if you’ve found a therapist of color who isn’t accessible to you for face-to-face sessions in your location. (You can read more about how to make teletherapy worthwhile and effective here.)

For women who can’t find an available black female therapist in their area, don’t let that deter you from therapy altogether. “The familiarity we feel we’ll have with another black woman is valid, but don’t miss out on therapeutic options that could be really beneficial,” Bradford says.

She recommends that you be honest with yourself in regards to what characteristics are going to be most important for you when it comes to your therapist, and considering those factors as you search. For example, “if you need to discuss race-related issues, a black therapist may be important,” Bradford explains. “If you’re going for relationship issues or anxiety, race might not be as much of an issue.”

For those who do not have insurance or who have insurance that doesn’t cover mental health resources (or if you just want to look outside of your provider network for a therapist in general), other options do exist. If you’ve found a therapist you really want to work with, it may be worth asking them if they ever offer a sliding scale, meaning they adjust the session cost for some (or all) clients based on the person’s income and circumstances, and explain to them why you feel the most comfortable working with them in particular.

Despite lack of funding, Bradford said there are still some community mental health clinics in most states and cities available for people without coverage. She says there’s also the option to work with a clinician in training who is still in supervision and therefore typically offers treatment at a lower cost than you would with someone who’s already licensed. “You can sometimes find that at colleges and universities. People who are still getting their degrees will sometimes work in a clinic on campus and you can connect with them for low cost,” she explains, “when I was in the program, we were seeing people for like five dollars.”

For me, being a strong black woman is an honor, but I know I can’t allow this label to block me from the mental health care I deserve. From the “superwoman schema” to the blunt phrase “strong black woman,” the acknowledgment of our ability to endure and sustain in spite of the conditions we face is affirming. But it can also be a lot to unpack in terms of your identity as a black woman.

It’s an honor in the sense that women who look like me and have endured the most egregious atrocities over time have been able to not only survive, but also to thrive. At the same time, the “strong black woman” label can negate the very real pain that black women can and do experience. Once I realized my pain was valid and deserving of treatment and was able to acknowledge the strength in asking for help, I felt secure enough to begin looking for a therapist. I haven’t found the right person yet, but I’ve taken steps to do this, which is a start.

So, ladies, moving forward, don’t let anyone call you a “strong black woman” and leave it at that. Allow yourself to identify as a strong black woman, and also as someone deserving of (and sometimes in need of) asking for help.

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