Here’s What Actually Happens in Your Body When You Eat Protein

While carbs and fat get alternately praised and punished, protein is basically the golden child among the macronutrients. That’s totally unfair to carbs and fat, first of all, but protein certainly does enough to earn its reliably good reputation. We know protein is a great thing to have, but why exactly do we need it, and what does our body even do with it? Here’s a rundown of what actually happens when you eat protein.

What protein actually is

Like we mentioned, protein is one of the three macronutrients (i.e. nutrients the body needs in sizable amounts). Unlike carbs and fat, protein is not usually a major energy source, although we definitely get some of that from it—protein provides 4 calories per gram. But protein is often referred to as a building block in the body because of its central role in growth and development.

Almost all animal-derived products—meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish—contain a significant amount of protein, so they get labeled as “proteins” when we’re talking about our diets and nutrition. But protein is also present in a lot of plant-based foods. There’s a good amount in beans, peas, nuts, and seeds, for instance, while vegetables and grains generally contain smaller amounts, according to the FDA. (Whole grains will have more protein than refined grains, though, which are missing the part of the grain that often supplies a lot of the protein content, as SELF previously reported.)

The different kinds of proteins

Proteins are made of small units called amino acids. Amino acids are organic compounds containing structures made of elements including nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Hundreds or thousands of amino acids link up to form super long chains, and the sequence of that chain determines the protein’s unique function, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains.

There are 20 different amino acids in total, which can be broken down into two main groups, per the FDA. Nine of the 20 are what are referred to as essential amino acids, meaning that the body is unable to produce them itself and so we must get them from food. The other 11 are nonessential because the body is able to synthesize them out of the essential amino acids or the normal process of breaking down proteins, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Many of these nonessential amino acids are also considered conditional amino acids, because they can become essential in rare, severe instances when the body is unable to synthesize amino acids properly, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Now, when a protein is a good source of all nine of the essential amino acids, we call it a complete protein, according to the FDA. All animal products are complete proteins, and so is soy. When a protein is missing or pretty low in any of those essential amino acids, it’s considered incomplete. Most plant foods are considered incomplete proteins.

The good news for vegetarians, vegans, and lovers of plant foods in general is that you can still easily get all the essential amino acids from eating a wide variety of incomplete proteins. As the FDA explains, incomplete proteins are often just lacking in one or two amino acids, so they can often make up for whatever the other one is lacking. (Pretty romantic, right?) For instance, grains are low in an amino acid called lysine, while beans and nuts are low in methionine. But when you eat, say, beans and rice or wheat toast with nut butter, you’re getting all the amino acids that you do when you eat, say, chicken. While people used to be encouraged to eat foods in combinations at meals, we now know this is not necessary, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, as long as you’re eating a variety of complementary incomplete proteins throughout the day.

Why we even need protein

That building block nomer is no exaggeration. The stuff is an integral component of every cell in the body, including, yes, your muscles. “If we don’t get enough protein, our bodies actually won’t be able to rebuild properly and we’ll start to lose muscle mass,” Colleen Tewksbury, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior research investigator and bariatric program manager at Penn Medicine and president-elect of the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF.

In addition to muscle growth, protein is essential to the growth and repair of virtually all cells and body tissues—from your skin, hair, and nails to your bones, organs, and bodily fluids, according to the FDA. That’s why it’s especially important to get enough of it during developmental periods like childhood and adolescence.

Protein also plays a role in crucial bodily functions like blood clotting, immune system response, vision, fluid balance, and the production of various enzymes and hormones, per the FDA. And because it contains calories, it can provide the body energy for storage or use. (But this definitely isn’t its main gig, which we’ll get into in a bit.)

What happens in your body when you eat protein

It’s not like we eat a piece of chicken and that protein goes directly to our biceps. Dietary protein gets broken down and reassembled into the various kinds of proteins that exist in the body. No matter what kind of protein you’re eating—plant or animal, complete or incomplete—the body’s first objective is to break it back down into all the different amino acid units it was assembled from, Tewksbury explains.

Breaking down protein requires more time and effort than carbs, but not as much as fat. It begins in the mouth, as proteins and especially animal proteins typically take more chewing than other kinds of foods, Tewksbury says. That mechanical process is the very first step of digestion.

Then, those pieces of protein move to the stomach to get mixed up with gastric juices containing acids and enzymes that help break down food. Next, that mixture gets passed on in steady increments to the small intestine, where more specialized enzymes and acids get injected (mainly by the pancreas) to help break that protein all the way down. Once you’ve got those little singular amino acids, they’re ready to get to work.

How the body uses protein

These amino acids get sent to the liver, where they’re shuffled around and reconfigured into any type of protein your body needs, Tewksbury explains. Your body is constantly regenerating and replacing cells and tissues, so there’s always a variety of proteins needed. For instance, some proteins in the body make up antibodies that help the immune system kick out bacteria and viruses. Others help with DNA synthesis, chemical reactions, or transporting other molecules, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences explains.

How much protein your body actually requires for the purpose of tissue growth and repair is determined by factors like sex, age, body composition, health, and activity level, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, but most of us are getting more than enough protein to fulfill these needs. The bummer is that once your tissues get all the amino acids that they need, they have no use for any extra.

So what happens to the rest, once our dietary protein intake exceeds what our tissues need? The body doesn’t have a protein holding tank like it does for carbs, where it can siphon away extras for quick access when we need it. “We have little to no way of being able to store protein [for future use] in our body,” Tewksbury explains. This is why you need to eat protein throughout the day, every day.

Since we can’t use excess protein for its intended purpose later on, the body breaks it down and stows it away in fat tissue, according to Merck Manuals. To do this, the liver removes the nitrogen from the amino acids and disposes of it through the urine, in the form of a waste product called urea, Linsenmeyer explains. What’s left behind is something called alpha keto-acids, which will most often then go through a chemical process that turns them into triglycerides to be stored in our fatty tissues, Linsenmeyer says. (This can technically be accessed at a later date when the body needs to tap into fat stores for energy.)

Alpha-keto acids can be converted into glucose and used for immediate fuel if necessary, when the body is in a fasting state or not getting enough calories coming in from other macronutrients, Linsenmeyer says. But this is not typical because the body prefers carbs as its primary source of energy, followed by dietary fat, which the body can adapt to use as fuel if it’s not getting enough carbs. “We can adapt to use protein for energy as well, but it’s not ideal,” Linsenmeyer says. “Ideally, [our bodies] want to leave it alone to build and maintain body tissues.”

Now, what we just walked you through is still oversimplifying the reality of what happens when we eat protein (or any food). Digestion and metabolism are complex processes happening constantly on a cellular level. But even just grasping the broad strokes can make you really appreciate what your body actually does with the protein you eat.


Anal Fissure: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


An anal fissure is a small tear in the thin, moist tissue (mucosa) that lines the anus. An anal fissure may occur when you pass hard or large stools during a bowel movement. Anal fissures typically cause pain and bleeding with bowel movements. You also may experience spasms in the ring of muscle at the end of your anus (anal sphincter).

Anal fissures are very common in young infants but can affect people of any age. Most anal fissures get better with simple treatments, such as increased fiber intake or sitz baths. Some people with anal fissures may need medication or, occasionally, surgery.


Signs and symptoms of an anal fissure include:

  • Pain, sometimes severe, during bowel movements
  • Pain after bowel movements that can last up to several hours
  • Bright red blood on the stool or toilet paper after a bowel movement
  • Itching or irritation around the anus
  • A visible crack in the skin around the anus
  • A small lump or skin tag on the skin near the anal fissure

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have pain during bowel movements or notice blood on stools or toilet paper after a bowel movement.


Common causes of anal fissure include:

  • Passing large or hard stools
  • Constipation and straining during bowel movements
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Inflammation of the anorectal area, caused by Crohn’s disease or another inflammatory bowel disease
  • Childbirth

Less common causes of anal fissures include:

  • Anal cancer
  • HIV
  • Tuberculosis
  • Syphilis
  • Herpes

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of developing an anal fissure include:

  • Infancy. Many infants experience an anal fissure during their first year of life; experts aren’t sure why.
  • Aging. Older adults may develop an anal fissure partly due to slowed circulation, resulting in decreased blood flow to the rectal area.
  • Constipation. Straining during bowel movements and passing hard stools increase the risk of tearing.
  • Childbirth. Anal fissures are more common in women after they give birth.
  • Crohn’s disease. This inflammatory bowel disease causes chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract, which may make the lining of the anal canal more vulnerable to tearing.
  • Anal intercourse.


Complications of anal fissure can include:

  • Failure to heal. An anal fissure that fails to heal within six weeks is considered chronic and may need further treatment.
  • Recurrence. Once you’ve experienced an anal fissure, you are prone to having another one.
  • A tear that extends to surrounding muscles. An anal fissure may extend into the ring of muscle that holds your anus closed (internal anal sphincter), making it more difficult for your anal fissure to heal. An unhealed fissure can trigger a cycle of discomfort that may require medications or surgery to reduce the pain and to repair or remove the fissure.


If possible, your doctor will perform a digital rectal exam, which involves inserting a gloved finger into your anal canal, or use a short, lighted tube (anoscope) to inspect your anal canal. However, if this is too painful for you, your doctor may be able to diagnose an anal fissure only by observation.

An acute anal fissure looks like a fresh tear, somewhat like a paper cut. A chronic anal fissure likely has the tear, as well as two separate lumps or tags of skin, one internal (sentinel pile) and one external (hypertrophied papilla).

The fissure’s location offers clues about its cause. A fissure that occurs on the side of the anal opening, rather than the back or front, is more likely to be a sign of another disorder, such as Crohn’s disease. Your doctor may recommend further testing if he or she thinks you have an underlying condition:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube with a tiny video into the bottom portion of your colon. This test may be done if you’re younger than 50 and have no risk factors for intestinal diseases or colon cancer.
  • Colonoscopy. Your doctor will insert a flexible tube into your rectum to inspect the entire colon. This test may be done if you are older than age 50 or you have risk factors for colon cancer, signs of other conditions, or other symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhea.


Anal fissures often heal within a few weeks if you take steps to keep your stool soft, such as increasing your intake of fiber and fluids. Soaking in warm water for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day, especially after bowel movements, can help relax the sphincter and promote healing.

If your symptoms persist, you’ll likely need further treatment.

Nonsurgical treatments

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Externally applied nitroglycerin (Rectiv), to help increase blood flow to the fissure and promote healing and to help relax the anal sphincter. Nitroglycerin is generally considered the medical treatment of choice when other conservative measures fail. Side effects may include headache, which can be severe.
  • Topical anesthetic creams such as lidocaine hydrochloride (Xylocaine) may be helpful for pain relief.
  • Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) injection, to paralyze the anal sphincter muscle and relax spasms.
  • Blood pressure medications, such as oral nifedipine (Procardia) or diltiazem (Cardizem) can help relax the anal sphincter. These medications may be taken by mouth or applied externally and may be used when nitroglycerin is not effective or causes significant side effects.


If you have a chronic anal fissure that is resistant to other treatments, or if your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend surgery. Doctors usually perform a procedure called lateral internal sphincterotomy (LIS), which involves cutting a small portion of the anal sphincter muscle to reduce spasm and pain, and promote healing. Studies have found that for chronic fissure, surgery is much more effective than any medical treatment. However, surgery has a small risk of causing incontinence.

Preparing for an appointment

If you have an anal fissure, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in digestive diseases (gastroenterologist) or a colon and rectal surgeon.

Here’s some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

When you make the appointment, ask if there’s anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before having a specific test. Make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, even if they may seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes, and family medical history
  • All medications, vitamins, or other supplements you take, including the doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you’re given.

Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is likely causing my symptoms?
  • Are there any other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • Do I need any tests?
  • Is my condition likely temporary (acute) or chronic?
  • Are there any dietary suggestions I should follow?
  • Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  • What’s the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach you’re suggesting?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don’t hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor may ask:

  • When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Where do you feel your symptoms the most?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to worsen your symptoms?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease?
  • Do you have problems with constipation?

What you can do in the meantime

While you’re waiting to see your doctor, take steps to avoid constipation, such as drinking plenty of water, adding fiber to your diet, and exercising regularly. Also, avoid straining during bowel movements. The extra pressure may lengthen the fissure or create a new one.

Your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam, including inspection of the anal region. Often the tear is visible. Usually, this exam is all that’s needed to diagnose an anal fissure.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Several lifestyle changes may help relieve discomfort and promote healing of an anal fissure, as well as prevent recurrences:

  • Add fiber to your diet. Eating about 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day can help keep stools soft and improve fissure healing. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. You also can take a fiber supplement. Adding fiber may cause gas and bloating, so increase your intake gradually.
  • Drink adequate fluids. Fluids help prevent constipation.
  • Exercise regularly. Engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity, such as walking, most days of the week. Exercise promotes regular bowel movements and increases blood flow to all parts of your body, which may promote healing of an anal fissure.
  • Avoid straining during bowel movements. Straining creates pressure, which can open a healing tear or cause a new tear.

If your infant has an anal fissure, be sure to change diapers frequently, wash the area gently, and discuss the problem with your child’s doctor.


You may be able to prevent an anal fissure by taking measures to prevent constipation. Eat high-fiber foods, drink fluids, and exercise regularly to keep from having to strain during bowel movements.

Updated: 2017-08-18

Publication Date: 2006-08-08

Moral concerns override desire to profit from finding a lost wallet

The setup of a research study was a bit like the popular ABC television program “What Would You Do?” — minus the television cameras and big reveal in the end.

An international team of behavioral scientists turned 17,303 “lost” wallets containing varying amounts of money into public and private institutions in 355 cities across 40 countries. Their goal was to see just how honest the people who handled them would be when it came to returning the “missing” property to their owners. The results were not quite what they expected.

“Honesty is important for economic development and more generally for how society functions in almost all relationships,” said Alain Cohn, assistant professor at the U-M School of Information. “Yet, it often is in conflict with individual self-interest.”

The wallets either contained no money, a small amount ($13.45) or a larger sum ($94.15). Each wallet had a transparent face revealing a grocery list along with three business cards with a fictitious person’s name, title and an email address printed on them.

Research assistants posed as the wallet finders, hurriedly dropping them off in such places as banks, theaters, museums or other cultural establishments, post offices, hotels, police stations, courts of law or other public offices so as to avoid having to leave their own contact information. Most of the activity occurred in 5-8 of the largest cities in each country, totaling approximately 400 observations per country.

The experiment on honesty most likely represents the truest picture of how people respond when no one is looking, and the results were surprising in more ways than one, researchers report in the current issue of Science.

Initially, the researchers went into the field experiment expecting to find a dollar value at which participants would be inclined to keep the money, believing the prevailing thought that the more cash in the wallet, the more tempting it would be for the recipients to take it and run.

Instead, the team from U-M, the University of Zurich and the University of Utah found that in nearly all of the countries, the wallets with greater amounts of money were more likely to be returned.

In 38 of 40 countries, citizens overwhelmingly were more likely to report lost wallets with money than without. Overall across the globe, 51% of those who were handed a wallet with the smaller amount of money reported it, compared with 40% of those that received no money. When the wallet contained a large sum of money, the rate of return increased to 72%.

“The psychological forces — an aversion to not viewing oneself as a thief — can be stronger than the financial ones,” said co-corresponding author Michel André Maréchal of the University of Zurich.

Not all wallets in the field experiment were returned, however. Among the other surprises were some of the places where people were not so honest. Wallets dropped off at the Vatican and at two anti-corruption bureaus were among those that never made their way back to the “rightful owners.”

Cohn said unlike other research of its kind, in which people knew they were being observed — usually in laboratory settings in wealthier Western, industrialized nations — the data in this field study was gathered from people across the world, in natural settings, who had no idea anyone was watching.

“It involves relatively high stakes in some countries. Previous studies focused on cheating in modest stakes,” Cohn said.

After getting the field results, the team surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United Kingdom, the United States and Poland to better understand why honesty matters to us more than the money. The respondents were presented with a scenario that matched the field experiment and asked questions about how they would respond if presented with a lost wallet. Similar to the field study, those in this survey said failing to return a wallet felt like stealing when more money was involved.

The team also conducted a survey with 279 economists and experts in the field who predicted participants likely would keep the money. Another survey of nearly 300 people in the U.S. also showed that when predicting the behavior of others, respondents believed civic honesty would waiver when the amount of money was higher. While the experts had a bit more faith in the honesty of individuals, both groups believed the more money in the wallet, the more tempting it would be to keep it.

Medical proof a vacation is good for your heart

We all treasure our vacation time and look forward to that time when we can get away from work. With the arrival of summer comes the prime vacation season and along with it one more reasons to appreciate our vacation time: the value to our heart health. While there has been much anecdotal evidence about the benefits of taking a vacation from work, a new study by Syracuse University professors Bryce Hruska and Brooks Gump and other researchers reveals the benefits of a vacation for our heart health.

“What we found is that people who vacation more frequently in the past 12 months have a lowered risk for metabolic syndrome and metabolic symptoms,” says Bryce Hruska, an assistant professor of public health at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. “Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you have more of them you are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. This is important because we are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does. Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated.”

Bottom line: A person can reduce their metabolic symptoms — and therefore their risk of cardiovascular disease — simply by going on vacation.

Hruska says that we are still learning what it is about vacations that make them beneficial for heart health, but at this point, what we do know that it is important for people to use the vacation time that is available to them. “One of the important takeaways is that vacation time is available to nearly 80 percent of full-time employees, but fewer than half utilize all the time available to them. Our research suggests that if people use more of this benefit, one that’s already available to them, it would translate into a tangible health benefit.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Syracuse University. Original written by Keith Kobland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

What the Heck Is Squalane Oil and Why Is It Suddenly in All My Skin-Care Products?

Maybe I’ve been missing out, but it feels like I just woke up one day and suddenly everything had squalane oil in it. Products containing squalane often tout benefits related to moisturizing the skin, managing stubborn acne, and sometimes even antioxidant properties.

So, what the heck is squalane oil and should I be slathering it on my face like everyone else?

But for real, what is squalane oil?

The first thing to know about squalane is that it’s a hydrogenated version of squalene, a compound produced naturally by our sebaceous glands, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF. The hydrogenation process makes squalane more shelf-stable than squalene and, therefore, easier to use in skin-care products.

The sebaceous glands are responsible for producing sebum, which is a cocktail of wax esters, triglycerides, and squalene, Dr. Stevenson says. Together, these things create a protective coating on top of the stratum corneum, the protective outer layer of skin. Sebum helps moisturize the outer layer of skin and keep that barrier intact, Rajani Katta, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Houston who specializes in sensitivity and allergic reactions, tells SELF.

Oh and, uh, maybe you’ve heard something about squalane and sharks? In fact, squalene is also found in high amounts in shark livers, which is traditionally where we got squalene (and squalane) from. Thankfully, most major companies have shifted away from using shark-derived squalane and it’s unlikely you’ll find it on the market in the U.S. Instead, many companies now get their squalane from plant sources, such as olive oil, Dr. Stevenson says.

On its own, squalene (or squalane) doesn’t feel greasy and acts like an emollient when applied to the skin, Dr. Stevenson says. That means that it can squeeze into the spaces between skin cells and make your face feel smoother. In doing so, it can also help keep moisture in your face by sealing that outer layer tight without being too heavy or occlusive, Dr. Stevenson explains.

So, what does the research say?

We know that squalene as it occurs naturally is important for our skin health, but does adding any extra actually help? For all the wonders attributed to squalane, there’s a surprising lack of studies in humans on what it can actually do, Dr. Katta says.

The studies we do have on squalane and squalene are mostly done using cells in the lab or animal models. For instance, in a 2008 study, researchers in the Netherlands found that a lipid and lanolin mixture (containing squalene and many other things) improved transepidermal water loss (TEWL) over 48 hours in hairless mice. But, obviously, it’s hard to generalize these results to humans, and it’s impossible to say that the squalene on its own was responsible for the results.

One study did involve human participants—specifically, 20 human participants dealing with mild uremic pruritis, a chronic itching condition related to kidney disease. For the study, published in 2004 in Therapeutic Apheresis and Dialysis, one half the participants applied a gel containing 80 percent water as well as aloe vera extract, vitamin E, and squalane twice a day for two weeks. The other participants received nothing. After the two weeks of treatment and an additional two weeks without treatment, the group that received the gel showed significant improvements in itching and redness compared to the control group. However, this is obviously a small study with some drawbacks, including the fact that the gel contained a bunch of things in addition to squalane (so it’s hard to know what effect the squalane had on its own).

“It’s all interesting from a laboratory standpoint,” Dr. Katta says, “but how does it work in the real world?” Right now, we have surprisingly little data to answer that question, unfortunately.

Who will get the most out of using squalane oil?

Because squalane is a part of sebum and excess sebum can contribute to acne, you probably want to exercise some caution with it if your skin tends to be oily or acne-prone, Dr. Stevenson says. You’re likely making plenty of sebum already and adding more could just cause breakouts. Plus, there is some research to suggest that squalene, when oxidized, naturally plays a role in the formation of acne—why add more?

But those with dry or combination skin who are looking to add a lightweight moisturizer may want to check it out, she says, adding that she personally tends to “run dry” and often uses products with squalane. From what we do know about squalane, “it would be fine as a moisturizing ingredient,” Dr. Katta says. “Because of the fact that its such a strong lipid, it should help lock moisture into the skin… I’d feel comfortable recommending it for that purpose.”

It’s also comforting to know that research suggests that squalane is very unlikely to be an irritant, so it’s an attractive option for those with sensitive skin. (However, as always, be mindful of the other ingredients in any product that could cause a reaction.)

Obviously, you have a lot of choices for OTC squalane-containing products these days, including products from Biossance, $32, the Inkey List, $12, and The Ordinary, $8, to name a few.

And, of course, if you have any questions about how to incorporate squalane into your routine or if something else might be a better option for you, check in with your derm.


Can You Have Sex When You Have HPV?

People who have sex tend to have a few things in common: They like to feel good, they’ve dealt with a sex stain or two in their lives, and they’ve been exposed to HPV, or human papillomavirus. Around 79 million people in the United States have HPV, making it the most common STI in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are a few ways you might discover you have HPV (or that might make doctors pretty sure you have it). Maybe you went in for a routine Pap or HPV test and your doctor called with some unexpected results. Or perhaps you got the news after finding some unusual bumps around your vagina that turned out to be genital warts. Either way, an HPV diagnosis can lead to a slew of confusing questions: How did you get it? Why did you get it? Is it dangerous? And…wait. Does this mean you have to stop having sex for some undetermined period of time?

To give you some clarity, we asked a few HPV experts to answer these questions. The most important thing to remember as you read: Having HPV doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or somehow “tainted,” Kristina A. Butler, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, tells SELF. It simply means you have a communicable disease that literally millions of other people have, too. And, depending on the circumstances, it might not even change your sex life much. It all comes down to the specifics of your situation. Keep reading to see what we mean.

The ubiquity of HPV

“The only way to fully avoid HPV is to never be sexually active,” Grace Lau, M.D., a gynecologist who specializes in HPV at NYU Langone, tells SELF. Welp. As Dr. Lau explains and as you may relate to, that’s just not realistic for many people. But because HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has the infection—even if they don’t have any symptoms—it’s hard to fully protect yourself. Unlike STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, you don’t need to come into contact with bodily fluids like vaginal secretions or semen in order to get HPV.

Using latex condoms and dental dams can reduce your risk, but the infection could be on a part of the genitals that these barriers don’t fully cover. There’s a good chance that some of your uncovered parts will touch some of your partner’s—that’s kind of how the whole thing works. There’s also the chance that one of you could touch the other’s genitals and then your own.

Along with HPV’s ability to pass through skin-to-skin contact, another reason it’s so prevalent is that it actually isn’t one virus at all. HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, according to the CDC. Each one gets a different number, which is called its HPV type or strain.

Unfortunately, while anyone can get HPV, not everyone can easily test for it. There is currently no HPV test specifically for people with penises approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it’s not possible to perform any of the approved tests for HPV on people with penises. Right now, the only way people who have penises can get diagnosed with HPV is when genital warts show up around the penis, scrotum, anus, or groin, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Even though HPV can cause cancer in body parts like the throat and anus, there’s not yet recommended routine screening for those areas, either, the CDC explains. Testing limitations are part of the reason why so many people with HPV don’t know they have it and may be passing it along to other people.

Dealing with an HPV diagnosis

We know this is easier said than done, but try not to freak out if you find out you have HPV. The vast majority of the time, HPV doesn’t cause any harm. When a person gets HPV, their body will produce antibodies that are often able to completely fight off the virus, Dr. Lau explains. Pretty cool, right?

There is currently no cure for HPV infections, so finding out you have it might feel a little anticlimactic. Essentially all you can do is wait for your body to do its thing and stay up-to-date on your suggested Pap tests to keep an eye out for anything else. Keep in mind, the vast majority of HPV cases will go away on their own. According to the CDC, more than 90 percent of new HPV infections will clear from a person’s body within two years. And this typically happens in the first six months post-infection.

However, it’s also possible in some cases for HPV to stick around, cause symptoms, or cause cellular changes that can lead to cancer. Some HPV strains, like types 6 and 11, are categorized as low-risk, meaning they can either resolve on their own or possibly cause genital warts (which can be annoying but aren’t dangerous for your health), according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. High-risk HPV strains, such as types 16 and 18, can also resolve on their own. In other cases, they may lead to cervical cancer (HPV is actually the most common cause of this illness), anal cancer, some types of oral and throat cancers, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, and penile cancer.

Having sex when you know you have HPV

It might seem highly irresponsible to even consider having sex when you know you have an STI. But, as we mentioned, HPV is pretty much everywhere. It’s so prevalent that it really makes more sense for people to assume anyone they’re having sex with has this virus than the reverse.

Depending on your unique situation, it might make sense to tell your current or previous partners what you’re dealing with. And in some cases, you might be advised to abstain from sex for a while. As you can tell, this is a really tricky issue, so talking to your provider can be a huge help. In the meantime, here are some things to consider if you’re trying to figure out what to do about your sex life after an HPV diagnosis.

If you’re under 30 and have an abnormal Pap result:

Age is actually a pretty important factor with HPV. If you’re under 30, your body is more likely to clear HPV on its own. This is why HPV tests actually aren’t recommended for people under 30. “We don’t routinely test anyone under 30 [for HPV] because we know the virus is common at that age, and we also know that it often goes away without causing problems,” Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, M.D., director of NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital’s Ob/Gyn Division, tells SELF.

So, how would you even know you have HPV then if you’re under 30? Maybe you had an abnormal Pap test result. A lot of things can cause an abnormal Pap (and false results are also possible). But the main cause of an abnormal Pap is known as ASCUS, which stands for this mouthful of a medical term: atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance. This indicates unusual cellular changes, typically due to HPV, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). More advanced cervical cell changes known as cervical dysplasia can also cause abnormal Pap tests. Cervical dysplasia can happen due to HPV, precancer, or cancer, and as such is graded from mild to severe, ACOG explains.

Depending on the type of Pap you get, your doctor may or may not know exactly which strain of HPV you have. Conventional Paps (meaning the doctor puts the cells from your cervix on a glass slide) only reveal cellular changes, not the presence of HPV, the Mayo Clinic explains. Newer Pap technology uses liquid to preserve the sample but can show the presence of high-risk HPV types, according to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors can also perform what’s known as reflex HPV testing on a conventional Pap sample to reveal high-risk HPV.

But, again, if you’re under 30, your health team is probably not going to be very concerned about the actual strain of HPV you have, since your body is very likely to clear the infection.

For instance, if you’re 22 and a Pap indicated ASCUS, your doctor will probably suggest watchful waiting, meaning you’d schedule a follow-up in a year or so to see if your HPV has cleared, Dr. Lau says. There’s really no point in abstaining from sex in this period out of a fear that you’ll spread HPV, Dr. Lau says. The risk of getting exposed to HPV is just part of having sex these days. “I think abstaining is not the answer,” Dr. Lau tells SELF. (Depending on your relationship status, it might make sense to be extra diligent about having the safest sex possible—we’ll dive into that bit more below.)

If you’re over 30 and test positive for HPV:

Once you turn 30, the recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is to get an HPV test at least once every three years or a combined Pap and HPV test at least once every five years. (The latter is called co-testing.) Doctors start looking for the presence of high-risk HPV once you’re 30 because that could indicate a more stubborn infection that your body is having trouble clearing. Still, it typically takes more than 10 years for cell changes to become cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Just like there are different types of Paps, there are also different HPV tests, which can affect the level of detail of your results. Some only check for the presence of high-risk HPV while some can detect all types of HPV, according to the National Cancer Institute. Some tests even look specifically for HPV types 16 and 18, which lead to the most cases of cervical cancer.

Because of the variety in HPV tests out there, it can be good to ask your doctor for clarification no matter your HPV test result. If they say you’re negative, does that mean for all types of HPV, or was the test only looking for high-risk strains? Same goes if the test was positive. And if you co-tested, what do your results mean in conjunction with your Pap?

If, for instance, you’re 30 or older and test positive for a low-risk strain of HPV with no abnormal Pap result, your doctor will probably just suggest more watchful waiting. And there’s no real reason to abstain from sex in the meantime.

If you’re over 30 and test positive for a high-risk strain of HPV but don’t have any cervical cell changes that need treatment, your doctor will probably also suggest watchful waiting. (As Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen explains, unless you were very recently tested for HPV you have no way of knowing if this is a new infection your body will clear or one that’s been around for a bit.) You don’t need to instinctively abstain from sex in this case, but if you’re over 30 with a high-risk strain of HPV, Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen does suggest telling your sexual partners, especially if you have a partner with a cervix who can go get tested. (If they’re over 30, that can give you even more reason to do this, since their body will also be less likely to clear the infection.)

If your partner has a penis and can’t be tested for HPV, it’s still pretty likely that they’ve been exposed to that same strain that you have. Knowing this information may be helpful for them to discuss with their doctor so that they can also be on the lookout for any signs of precancer in the sites that may have been exposed to that same HPV strain (which may be their penis, their throat, or their anus).

If you need treatment for cervical cell changes caused by HPV:

While there is no treatment for HPV itself, there is treatment for the cervical cell changes that can be caused by certain HPV infections. This is why staying on top of your Pap tests is so crucial, because those tests watch for any changes to your cervix that could be treated ASAP. The Pap test will also tell you the level of seriousness of these cervical cell changes, which will determine your next steps for treatment. You can learn more about the possible results here.

Let’s say you’re 32 and you have a positive HPV test combined with a Pap result of low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL), a mild form of cervical dysplasia that is a step up from ASCUS. (It’s also possible—but rarer—to have a level of cervical dysplasia severe enough to need treatment if you’re under 30.) This would likely require treatment, and you may need to abstain from sex for a while after you get that treatment.

Your doctor could recommend a colposcopy (a close exam of your vulva, vagina, and cervix to look for cells that appear cancerous). According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may ask you not to have sex a day or two before the procedure for the most accurate exam possible. And if they see anything strange during the colposcopy, they might remove a tissue sample for further testing (biopsy). If you do get a biopsy, it’s recommended that you avoid sex for at least a week afterward, according to the Mayo Clinic, which allows your cervix to heal and lower the chance of infection. If a biopsy discovers abnormal or cancerous cells, your doctor will walk you through your treatment options, which could affect your sex life depending on what you choose. For instance, after undergoing a loop electrical excision procedure (LEEP) to remove abnormal tissue, your doctor may recommend that you abstain from sex for about a month, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If you have genital warts:

Genital warts offer another example of how HPV-related medical procedures can influence your sex life. These warts are characteristic of low-risk strains of HPV, typically types 6 and 11. They can be raised or flat and sometimes look like cauliflower, the CDC says. Though these warts might go away on their own, they often come back.

If you have any visible genital warts, you should definitely tell your partner before any sexual contact takes place, Dr. Lau says. That gives them a chance to decide if they want to hold off on sex or have it anyway. If you two do choose to move forward with sex, be extra vigilant about protection (and remember that barrier methods can’t fully stop HPV transmission, but they’re better than nothing). Finally, if you want a guarantee that you’re not going to pass genital warts to anyone through sex, consider abstaining and seeing if they fade. Although it’s still possible to spread HPV when the warts are gone, their recession can signal lower viral levels that might make transmission less likely, Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen says.

You might decide to get your warts treated instead of hoping they’ll fade, in which case there are two general options available: topical medications, like a cream that is rubbed on the warts, or some form of removal, like surgery or having them frozen off.

Regardless of your genitalia, your doctor may recommend that you abstain from sex if you’re using medicated creams to treat warts. Some of these treatments can weaken latex and irritate your partner’s skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. And, if you have warts removed, you’ll want to wait until the skin heals to have sex, Dr. Lau says, which will depend on the form of removal you and your doctor choose. “To be clear, treatment can remove warts, but it does not necessarily clear an HPV infection,” Dr. Lau says. “So, even if the warts are gone, there is still risk of HPV transmission.”

If you have a current sexual partner (or partners):

If you’re in a relationship and are just going to keep having monogamous sex, you can be almost certain that your partner has your strain of HPV already, Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen says. Since there’s nothing to protect against, you can basically continue having sex like you always do as long as you’re not getting any further testing or treatment for HPV. (And if you’re having unprotected sex, you both should make sure your non-HPV STI testing is up to date.)

If you’re having sex with multiple people, learning you have HPV could be a reminder to have the safest sex possible. But because of HPV’s wily nature, there’s still not a ton you can do in that realm. You could use condoms and dental dams for safer sex but, again, they’re not 100 percent effective in preventing the spread of HPV because the virus passes from skin-to-skin.

Telling sexual partners you have HPV

This probably won’t surprise you at this point, but it really depends on your situation. “Unfortunately, there are no standard medical guidelines to direct physicians or patients in HPV disclosure,” Dr. Lau says.

But there are times when it definitely makes more sense to share. For instance, if you’re in a monogamous relationship, Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen recommends talking to your partner about your diagnosis purely for any emotional support you may need, because being diagnosed with an STI can be scary.

But keep in mind that when telling a sexual partner that you have HPV, it’s effectively telling them they may have HPV, too. It can be helpful to come prepared with information to assuage any fears they may have, like the fact that having HPV is super common, might clear from their system pretty quickly, and doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad will happen to their health.

Still, this information might be less useful to partners with penises since it’s not like they can run out and go get tested for HPV. But having that in the back of their mind could at least help them be more vigilant of any symptoms of genital warts or, in the very worst (and least likely) case, things like anal bleeding or penile skin changes that could indicate HPV-related cancer.

If your partner has a vulva, Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen absolutely recommends talking to them about your diagnosis because they can go get tested for HPV and, whether positive or negative, be more diligent about scheduling regular cervical cancer screenings.

If anything, hearing about your diagnosis may encourage your partners to get the HPV vaccine if they haven’t already. While the vaccine used to only be available for people under 26, the FDA recently approved a version of it, Gardasil-9, for all people between 27 and 45, regardless of sex. This newest version of the vaccine protects against nine HPV types that can cause cancer and health issues like warts.

“It’s a really exciting and beautiful thing that we have a vaccine that could save people from getting cancer,” Dr. Butler says. She suggests that everyone get the vaccine, even people who have already been diagnosed with HPV. Because there are so many different types of the virus, getting the vaccine could still protect people against types they haven’t yet encountered.

Limiting your exposure to HPV

If you’ve never gotten an abnormal Pap, positive HPV test, or genital warts, you may be wondering how to best protect yourself since HPV is so prevalent. Even if you have experienced one (or more) of those, it’s possible to get another HPV strain, which your body may or may not clear.

That’s why it’s essential to protect yourself with these tips:

  • Get vaccinated if you haven’t already.
  • Stay on top of your Pap and HPV tests so that if you do contract HPV, you can catch it as early as possible and be aware of next steps (if any).
  • Always use condoms and dental dams, but remember that they’re better at protecting against some infections than others, which is why regular screening and STI testing are so important.

Once you’ve got all of that covered, you’ve pretty much done all you can do. “You have to live your life,” Dr. Lau says.


Something I Can’t Recommend Enough: Fighting With Your Partner Over Email

Every now and again I’ll open my laptop to find an email from my husband with the subject line “Let’s Talk.” Perhaps the two most dreaded words in the history of relationships, and a phrase one that calls up images of unpleasant conversation to come—awkward silences, defensive overreacting, maybe even raised voices and trying to talk through tears. But in our relationships, “let’s talk” isn’t the nightmare fuel it used to be because in our relationship. It doesn’t mean we’re going to sit down and hash something out face to face. Instead, it signals the beginning of an email conversation where we will reply back and forth until we solve the problem and smooth it over. Because here’s the thing: My husband and I prefer to fight over email.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. We do still have disagreements in person, of course, like any longterm couple does. I should probably rephrase that to say that my husband and I prefer to try to solve our marital issues via email. It’s a technique that’s worked for us (or at least, I think it’s working—more on that later) for the past decade.

Let me back up. When we were newlyweds, I was a terrible arguer. But I was a champion fighter, with an expertise in voice-raising and door-slamming. I was out to win the argument and would stop at nothing to prove I was right. I soon realized that I had to learn to fight fairly to have a happy marriage, and over time, the solution became putting our thoughts in email.

It all began when I was traveling for work and couldn’t stop thinking about how frustrated I was by the current division of household chores. Door-slamming me would have let the issue build up and later combust, screaming red-faced at Nate to do the dishes already. But this time, I was on an airplane—no possibility of talking to him face to face and and probably with no opportunity to hash things out till I returned from my trip. So, while I was there in the plane, I constructed an email. The first draft was pretty deplorable: It consisted of a laundry list (legit laundry included) of the things that he’s not doing around the house. And there’s a good chance I added in some non-household issues, too, like general annoyances that had nothing to do with chore division.

I read it through before sending it and I noticed that it was basically a list of things that annoyed me about my husband, the recipient of the email. Seeing my words on the screen—everything I wanted to shout at him all together in a big wall of text—made me realize that saying a bunch of critical things (even if a great many of them were totally valid and legit) was probably not the most productive way to achieve an actual solution to the problem. So I went through it and deleted unfair comments, replacing them with proposed solutions. It was sort of like editing a story.

The more I thought about the issue and came up with ways to solve it, the less urgent it became, and the pressure I felt to rage my way to the changes I wanted start to lift. As I let go of my need to unleash my anger, I was able to think about things more clearly, including all the things my husband does do around the house and how unfairly my original draft had characterized him and his contributions to our home. The result was a well-thought-out email that expressed my concerns as well as how hurt and angry I was feeling and also asked him to take responsibility for the things he was neglecting. And you know what? I received a reply that was equally caring and result-driven. Boom! It was the beginning of fair fighting.

It’s worked for us so far, 15 years in. But I wanted to know: is this, like, a sign that our marriage is successful, or a recipe for disaster? So I asked an expert.

Turns out, it can be a little of both. Ty Tashiro, psychologist and the author of The Science of Happily Ever After, tells SELF that some partners are not very articulate during verbal disagreements. (Raises hand.) “They get tongue-tied or flustered, which can lead to miscommunication. If a partner is better able to articulate their thoughts in writing, then an email can be a great first step.” He says that email can be a good way to make your point and is also a great opportunity to let your partner know you understand their perspective. “Even if people do not agree with their partner’s perspective, it’s critical to convey their best understanding of where the partner is coming from and show their interest in understanding the partner’s perspective.”

For us, the medium felt natural. As we both acquired smartphones (and busy jobs), it was an instinctive way to communicate—whether we were reminding each other to buy plane tickets or using it as away to air our grievances. Working things out via email allowed me to communicate in a way that I was lousy at verbally and it gave Nate an equal voice in our arguments.

But Tashiro says that while email may work for some disagreements, he’s not a fan of couples introducing a major conflict this way or seeing email as the last word in a fight. “Email is helpful once a disagreement has surfaced in person and there is a commitment to resolving that conflict through a combination of email and face-to-face discussion.”

And I agree. Over time, we’ve learned exactly what conflicts work best over email (like division of household chores or a discussion about budgets). We reserve bigger issues—of course, what’s big to us might not be big to you and vice versa—for in-person discussions. As helpful as we’ve found it is to have these conversations by email, there are truly some things that, for us, require the intimacy of being face to face.

Since we’ve started airing our grievances via email, we’re now better at fighting fairly at home. Digital communication has taught us the art of thinking before you speak and giving both partners a chance to be heard.

But there are of, course, a few caveats and exceptions. Tashiro says that if a person is anxiously attached—for example, they have strong fears of being abandoned, are vigilantly on the lookout for signs that their partner is pulling away, etc.—they might not be a candidate for the whole argue-by-email thing. “Anxiously attached partners may be more likely to misinterpret the meaning of emails or become distressed when a response is not immediately sent back,” Tashiro says.

Another rule Tashiro recommends that we happen to already be abiding by is to never, ever fight or talk about relationship stuff by text. For us, texting is about chit chat, brief and timely updates, and saying a quick “I love you.” Tashiro points that in general we (that’s the societal “we”) tend to use text for quicker, less meaningful communication compared to email, which makes it not a great vehicle for deeper conversations. “The purpose of writing a letter or an email is to encourage time to formulate a thoughtful, measured response, but for most people text messaging is more of a quick, reflexive means of communication,” he says.

Just this week, I sent Nate an email with the subject line: “Let’s talk.” We are aggressively saving money for a home and I felt like we’ve been overspending. No one was at fault, but I wanted to write down a clear list of expenses as a reminder for ourselves about our goal. For this, email seemed like the best option, but, armed with Tashiro’s advice, we made a plan to further discuss over dinner that evening. I’m cool with the compromise. In the meantime, I’ll still be emailing about those dishes and texting all the emoji heart eyes.

Anne Roderique-Jones is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire, Southern Living, Town & Country, and Condé Nast Traveler. Twitter: @AnnieMarie_ Instagram: @AnnieMarie_

The content of each “Anything Once” column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of SELF or SELF editors.


For Jessica McDonald, Playing on the Women’s World Cup Team Is More Than Just an Athletic Achievement

In the past couple of months, Jessica McDonald has been rocked by two separate is-this-really-happening-right-now moments.

The first came earlier this spring, as the 31-year-old mother and professional American soccer player sat in her North Carolina doctor’s office for a routine check-up. A phone call interrupted the appointment. On the line? Jill Ellis, head coach of the U.S. Women’s Soccer National Team, who wasted no time in delivering the life-changing news.

”You’re going to the World Cup,” she announced, triggering McDonald to burst—immediately and uncontrollably—into tears. Ellis continued to speak, but McDonald admits she only heard “bits and pieces” as she proceeded to weep. “I was busy crying,” she tells SELF. “It was one of those ugly cries, you know, crying out loud.”

What she does remember is that towards the end of the conversation, Ellis told her to go call her family and “hug your little man,” referring to her 7-year-old son, Jeremiah. “That just made me [bawl] even more because I started thinking about my kid,” says McDonald, the only mother out of 23 athletes on the 2019 U.S. Women’s World Cup team.

As reality sank in, “I felt such a rush of emotions,” says McDonald, who in recent years considered giving up her career altogether, reported Yahoo!. But after that fateful phone call, “I was overwhelmed with so much joy,” she says. And so she hugged her doctor, FaceTimed her family, and continued to sob. All told, “I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much in my entire life,” she says.

To say this first pinch-me moment was hard-fought and long in the making would be a big understatement. During the past 10 years, McDonald, who currently plays forward for the North Carolina Courage, has played for six—yes, six—different professional soccer teams in the U.S., plus two abroad, according to U.S. Soccer. It’s been a long, twisted road pockmarked with a serious, almost career-ending knee injury; near-constant relocation; and the financial obstacles that come with supporting herself and her son on a meager National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) salary. And though McDonald is the highest American goal scorer in NWSL history, according to U.S. Soccer, she’d never before made the cut for the prestigious FIFA World Cup roster. Hence the unrelenting waterworks.

The second piece of jaw-dropping information came this past Sunday, June 16, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France. As the first half of the U.S. versus Chile match in the 2019 World Cup tournament came to a close, coaches approached McDonald with some big news: They were subbing her in.

“Excuse me, what did you just say?” McDonald recalls responding. As soon as reality was confirmed—Yeah, you’re gonna go in at half—the nerves hit hard. “I got the butterflies immediately,” she says. But encouragement from her teammates—Jess, you got this!—and a hug from the coaching team calmed her down. She stepped in bounds, and the rest came easy.

“By the time I got onto the field and by the time I got in touch with the ball, I was able to relax,” says McDonald. The nerves subsided after she got her first pass and first kick, and from that point on, “it was just kind of like another day at the office for me,” she says.

So much so that the goal-scoring veteran nearly netted one during minute 62 of the game, SB Nation reports. “I gave it everything I had in that moment,” says McDonald. Unfortunately, the ball bounced off the goalpost. ”Obviously I was bummed [that it didn’t go in],” she says, “but just to get it even on frame, I was very proud of myself in that moment.”

Balancing motherhood and soccer

Overall, “it’s been a very hard adventure,” says McDonald of her experience over the past seven years being both a mother and a professional athlete. “I’ve been tested on multiple occasions just as a human being.”

As mentioned, McDonald has suited up for six different teams in the NWSL as the result of player trades. From Chicago to Seattle to Portland, Houston, Western New York, and beyond, she and Jeremiah have moved both far and often. The near-constant relocating has been difficult on several levels, especially when it comes to childcare.

It’s been stressful to continually find new people she trusts to watch Jeremiah when she’s at practice and traveling out of state for away games, McDonald explains. On top of that, daycare alone is “pretty much a full paycheck,” she adds. “Trying to figure all of that out on such a low budget has been a true test for me as a parent.” (Reuters reported that the 2019 NWSL player salary requirements range from a minimum of annual salary of $16,538—ugh yes, you’re reading that right—to a maximum of just $46,200. And even that’s reportedly higher than previous years.)

In an attempt to make ends meet, McDonald has juggled multiple side hustles throughout her career, including a six-month stint in 2015 packing boxes at an Amazon warehouse, as well as mentoring, coaching, and making appearances.

“I’m trying to take care of my kid, and the only way to do that is obviously being financially stable,” she says. For many years, that just wasn’t possible, she adds. That’s until she finally made the World Cup roster this spring. (Participating in the global tournament brings players additional income.) “That’s why I was so overwhelmed with joy when I got the phone call that I’d made it,” says McDonald. “I was just like Wow, finally I have a break.

As stressful as motherhood can be, McDonald says Jeremiah plays a big role in keeping her grounded. “Being able to go home to my kid is such a relief because he’s such a happy kid,” she says. “He balances my life out in such a good way.”

He also motivates her to keep pushing toward her goals. “When you become a parent obviously it changes your life in so many ways,” she explains. “I know people who have a) given up on their careers or b) change career fields because they became a parent, and so I didn’t want to use that as an excuse.”

In recent years, things have turned a corner for McDonald and her son. She received her first call-up to the U.S. Women’s National Team in November 2016, marking the achievement of a lifelong goal, and since joining the North Carolina Courage the following year, McDonald says she’s finally found her “comfort zone.” The location, she says, feels like “a second home” (McDonald played collegiately at the University of North Carolina), and she knows more people in the area, including her “North Carolina parents,” a couple who frequently watches her son.

Looking beyond the World Cup

As McDonald and her teammates continue their quest for World Cup gold, Jeremiah is finishing up first grade in North Carolina. Since arriving in France, McDonald has FaceTimed him twice a day, every day—once as soon as he wakes up, and again before she goes to bed. Next Monday, June 24, he (and the adults taking care of him) will cross the Atlantic to cheer on McDonald in person as the U.S. enters the knockout round of the World Cup tournament. “I’m so anxious [for him to arrive],” she says.

Jeremiah, she explains, understands that his mom is at the World Cup, but “he doesn’t understand how big the World Cup is.” It’ll hit him one day, she says, and perhaps he’ll have a waterworks moment of his own.

“I hope that when he is older, what I’m doing now, the things that his mother has accomplished, is going to inspire him for whatever it is that he wants to do in the future,” she says. “That’s what pushes me every day to want to be successful on the soccer field. Being able to not only take care of my kid on a financial level and be stable, but most importantly, to inspire my child.”


SkinCeuticals Sale on Serums, Creams, and Sunscreens

It goes without saying that dermatologists know what’s up with skin care, and one over-the-counter brand they all seem to agree on is SkinCeuticals, which pops up again and again when we poll experts for skin care recommendations. The only catch is that these things will cost you (they can run upwards of $100), and hardly ever go on sale, so we were thrilled to see that Dermstore is offering 15 percent off on all SkinCeuticals products with the code SKINC619—but hurry, since the sale ends tonight. Here, we rounded up some of the standout SkinCeuticals products that derms have recommended to us in the past, from the brand’s famous vitamin C serum to a blackhead-busting night cream.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Long work hours associated with increased risk of stroke

People who worked long hours had a higher risk of stroke, especially if they worked those hours for 10 years or more, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.

Researchers reviewed data from CONSTANCES, a French population-based study group started in 2012, for information on age (18-69), sex, smoking and work hours derived from questionnaires from 143,592 participants. Cardiovascular risk factors and previous stroke occurrences were noted from separate medical interviews.

Researchers found:

  • overall 1,224 of the participants, suffered strokes;
  • 29% or 42,542, reported working long hours;
  • 10% or 14,481, reported working long hours for 10 years or more; and
  • participants working long hours had a 29% greater risk of stroke, and those working long hours for 10 years or more had a 45% greater risk of stroke.

Long work hours were defined as working more than 10 hours for at least 50 days per year. Part-time workers and those who suffered strokes before working long hours were excluded from the study.

“The association between 10 years of long work hours and stroke seemed stronger for people under the age of 50,” said study author Alexis Descatha, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at Paris Hospital, Versailles and Angers University and at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm). “This was unexpected. Further research is needed to explore this finding.

“I would also emphasize that many healthcare providers work much more than the definition of long working hours and may also be at higher risk of stroke,” Descatha said. “As a clinician, I will advise my patients to work more efficiently and plan to follow my own advice.”

Previous studies noted a smaller effect of long work hours among business owners, CEOs, farmers, professionals and managers. Researchers noted that it might be because those groups generally have greater decision latitude than other workers. In addition, other studies have suggested that irregular shifts, night work and job strain may be responsible for unhealthy work conditions.

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