Category Archives: Lifestyle

Carnitine supplements

Acetyl L-Carnitine and L-carnitine are supplements that I’m being asked about more frequently these days by clients, so I thought a post was in order.  Its only been about… forever since I wrote a post, so here it goes!

A little bit about the biology of L-carnitine to get started

L-Carnitine is a dipeptide made from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, and as a result it is often classified as an “essential amino acid” itself.  L-Carnitine has been shown to play an important role in cellular energy exchange.  Specifically, L-carnitine is involved in transforming fats into energy in the mitochondria (which are basically little cellular power factories).  There is also evidence that L-Carnitine can facilitate the metabolism of carbs by improving ATP production.  As ATP is a critical molecule in making us LIVE, this is probably an important thing to support.  With this in mind, its perhaps not surprising that L-Carnitine is found in highest concentrations in the heart and liver tissues.  Importantly, there is some good evidence to suggest that L-Carnitine works synergistically with Co-Q10, an antioxidant and energy production cofactor that is found in the inner membrane of the mitochondria.

With this association between L-Carnitine and fat metabolism, some people refer to the supplement as a “fat burner.”  As long branched chain fatty acids can only pass through the mitochondrial membrane as a result of esterification by Carnitine, there is some element of truth to the statement!

Enough biochemistry talk… lets get to the good stuff.

So there are some fairly decent studies showing that there are beneficial effects of L-carnitine supplementation for a variety of biological processes involving fat-loss, mortality and morbidiy and brain function that I’ll highlight below!  Looks like a pretty good supplement overall, right?

L-Carnitine improving fatty-acid oxidation

L-Carnitine supplementation associated with a 27% decrease in death, 65% decrease in ventricular arrhythmias, and 40% reduction in angina

Benefits of L-Carnitine on brain function/degeneration

I could keep going on this but instead I’ll just leave some links at the bottom of the page which illustrate the rather broad amount of research that has been done on L-carnitine.  The list is not all inclusive…

So, what kind of supplement should I take???

So there are two kinds of Carnitine supplements that you are likely to run into, L-Carnitine and Acetyl-L Carnitine.  They are based off of the same structure, but work slightly differently, notably the Acetyl form can pass through the blood brain barrier and therefore has more of a neurological effect.  Another aspect is that Acetyl-L Carnitine may also provide substrate (acetyl groups) for synthesis of acetylcholine—a primary neurotransmitter in the brain.  There is still some support for the idea that the Acetyl L-Carnitine can still help for converting fat into energy, but perhaps less as a primary benefit than the regular L-Carnitine claims.

I’ve read some claims that ALL the various forms of Carnitine will provide support for nervous system, cardiovascular system and muscles, but a specific form is probably preferred for a specific function.  As I’m most comfortable with the research supporting the neurological benefits, I personally take the Acetyl-L Carnitine form, but to each their own!

SPECIFICALLY, I take 1000 mg of ALC with 200 mg of ubiquinol in the morning (around 10 am) to help get my brain rolling.  Overall, I feel as though I see a benefit in my day to day functioning.

As usual, email with any questions!

Additional References

Prada, P.O., Hirabara, S.M., de Souza, C.T., Schenka, A.A., Zecchin,H.G., Vassallo, J., Velloso, L.A., Carneiro, E., Carvalheira, J.B., Curi, R. & Saad, M.J. (2007) L-glutamine supplementation induces insulin resistance in adipose tissue and improves insulin signalling in liver and muscle with diet-induced obesity,Diabetologia, Volume 50, issue 9, (pp. 149-15

Wutzke, K.D. & Lorenz, H. (2004) The Effect of l-Carnitine on Fat Oxidation, Protein Turnover, and Body Composition in Slightly Overweight Subjects, Metabolism, Vol. 53, issue 8, (pp. 1002-1006)

Reda, E., D’Iddio, S., Nicolai, R., Benatti, P. & Calvani, M. (2003) The Carnitine System and Body Composition, Acta Diabetol, issue 40, (pp. 106-113)

Evangeliou, A. & Vlassopoulos, D. (2003) Carnitine Metabolism and Deficit – When Supplementation is Necessary? Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (pp. 211-219)

Müller, D.M., Seim, H., Kiess, W., Löster, H. & Richter, T. (2002) Effects of Oral l-Carnitine Supplementation on In Vivo Long-Chain Fatty Acid Oxidation in Healthy Adults, Metabolism, Vol. 51, issue 11, (pp. 1389-1391)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat like a champ

Sometimes the universe gives you a big serendipitous gift… in the form of an Instagram post.

I just spent the weekend working at the Crossfit Free/Vagabond Crossfit “Coaches and Athletes Camp” down in Salem, NH.  In addition to Brandon and Kevin running workouts that tested the various energy systems, specialty coaches were brought in to help improve people’s form in the olympic lifts and gymnastics.  There were also some specialists involved in injury prevention and trigger point release there to work on the athletes as well.

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I was brought in to discuss how to optimize nutrition and other aspects of a lifestyle to improve performance in the gym.  I focused much of the discussion on nutrient intake as it related to the timing of the workout.  While everyone’s situation is unique, I tried to give some basic guidelines on what and when to eat pre-workout and post-workout with ideas about what carbohydrate and protein sources are best for each period.

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Additionally, we talked in depth about the importance of providing fuel throughout the day to support the rigorous life-style of a competitive Crossfit athlete.  Over the years, many people in the crossfit community have come to fear any and all processed carbohydrates.  While this approach can certainly be beneficial for someone looking to focus on improved HEALTH, it can also be a recipe for disaster for a person looking to train like a pro-athlete.  With this in mind, I tried to provide a minimum amount of protein, carbs and fats that both men and women should eat on training days.  I think a lot of people were surprised by the sheer amount of food, and especially carbs that I was recommending.

I woke up this morning to see a post from Lauren Fisher showing exactly what she ate on a normal Monday-Friday.  FYI, Lauren recently represented the USA at the Junior World Weightlifting Championship AND finished 9th at the Crossfit Games a few weeks back as well.  She is 5’5” inches and 135 lbs of bad-ass performance.

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The timing of her post was PERFECT, as this is almost exactly what I was telling people how to eat at the Camp, both post workout and through the rest of the day.  Here are the key points that I would stress in Lauren’s post:

1) She starts off her day with a large breakfast with a ton of healthy protein, fats and plenty of carbs.

2) Post workout she’s immediately taking in protein and carbs with little to no fats… Perfect.

3) She’s not afraid of using some dense carbohydrate sources like white rice and oats to increase her total caloric intake.

4) Monday-Friday she’s still avoiding REALLY processed foods, but on weekends she lets loose a little bit to enjoy some sweets (which probably also acts as a huge carb reload… another good habit to develop for an athlete).  This helps her stay sane and keep her training and lifestyle fun and not too stressful.

5) Whether she knows it or not, the tea she’s drinking has some great adaptogens which help her to ramp up in the morning and chill out at night.

When I tell people, especially women, that a diet like the one described above is the starting point for a performance athlete they tend to get a little nervous about excessive weight gain because of all the calories and carbohydrates.  Take a look at Lauren though… 10552492_738288006230919_2942893137199159685_nAgain, she’s listed at 5’5” and she has to weigh less than 138 pounds seeing as she’s a 63 kg Olympic weightlifter (she lists herself at 135).  More importantly though, she defines herself by her performance in the gym as that is what is most important to her.  Check out this video to hear it for yourself.  At the end of the day, you should do what makes you happy.  If that means trying to become as strong and fit as you possibly can, that’s fantastic… just be sure that you’re fueling yourself for success.

Quick Note:  Everyone, even games athletes, are slightly different and will run optimally at various levels of food intake and macronutrient balance.  This post is not designed to convince everyone to eat just like Lauren, but instead to take look at your diet and analyze whether you could be handicapping your performance by not eating enough!

 

 

The in’s and out’s of whey protein

I get at least one question a week about whey protein. Who should be taking whey protein, when to take it, how much, what company, will it make me fat? it goes on and on.  This post will hopefully answer many of your questions and concerns.  Before we start down that road though, I want to preface everything by saying that whey protein is not some magical formula that will take your performance to the next level.  It is a small tool that can help improve recovery time and is a convenient option for many.  Lets get started!

Who should be taking whey protein?

I actually think its easier to focus on who should NOT be using a whey protein shake than it is to focus on who should be.  If you are:

1) Trying to lose body fat

2) Focusing mostly on health and general fitness as a goal.

3) This should go without saying but if you’re not very active at all, you don’t need whey protein shakes.  Sounds too insane to be true, but trust me, I’ve seen people stop working out and continue to use protein shakes.

These  3 groups of people should focus on eating real foods post workout instead of taking in a protein isolate.  This mostly has to do with the effects of liquid food on the body, a fact Robb Wolf has laid out more than enough over the years.  While the science isn’t actually very convincing, the experience that I’ve had with DOZENS of clients has been.  People struggling to lose weight generally make better progress when they drop the protein shake and eat real foods post-workout.  Yes it requires you spend 15 less minutes prepping food, but the results are worth it.

A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition
A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition

When to take in whey protein and how much to take?

Now, if you’re a lean person, focusing on athletic performance with intense exercise more than 3 days a week, whey protein can be a very useful tool to aid in your  recovery.  Generally I recommend 30 grams of protein for men and 20 grams for women as a starting point for discussion.  Try to consume the shake as soon as possible after finishing my workout.

The one situation where I’ll wait an extra 20-30 minutes is if the workout has been extremely intense.  In this situation, the body responds by inducing a “leaky-gut” state, most likely to improve nutrient reabsorption from the intestinal lumen.  While I couldn’t find any sound evidence to show that this leads to increased potential for food intolerance, it makes sense immunologically that undigested whey proteins crossing intact into the intestinal tissue could induce an immune response.  It might not actually be a problem, but the trade off of waiting a half an hour is minimal.

What to look for in a good whey protein?

1) I prefer whey protein isolates as the isolation process removes most (but not quite all) of the other ingredients in dairy that can give people problems.

2) Your whey protein should have digestive enzymes added to improve the bioavailability of the protein.

3) All artificial sweeteners suck, but stevia seems to be the least horrible of them all so finding a whey protein that uses stevia is about as good an option as you’re going to find.  Personally, as a lean individual I don’t mind the higher carbohydrate whey proteins that use maltodextrin as a sugar source, but they aren’t for everyone.

Personally, I’ve had very good experiences with two whey proteins:

1) Low carb whey protein from MRM (w/ Stevia)

2) Higher carb whey protein from MRM (with maltodextrin)

There are many other brands out there that also produce a good product however, I would generally avoid many of the highly commercialized main stream products however.  A consumer reports study of EAS and Muscle Milk found high levels of several heavy metals such as arsenic (a poison) cadmium and lead.  Needless to say, spend a very small amount of extra money and get the higher quality products.

Hopefully this helps answer a number of questions you have about whey protein.  If you have a specific one, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

 

John Oliver and the supplement industry.

There’s a fantastic new show on HBO called “Last Week with John Oliver.”  It loosely resembles The Daily Show but is infinitely better.  In fact, it might actually be better than CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc at actually reporting the news…

Last week, the show took the supplement industry to town, which you can see in the link below.  I highly recommend watching it through to the end, especially if you like Steve Buscemi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA0wKeokWUU

The points made in the segment are all extremely valid.

1) Many supplements have no evidence to back up their claims.

2) Some supplements don’t even have the listed ingredients in the supplement (What a bunch of assholes).

3) Some of these over-the-counter supplements have proven to be dangerous and, in extreme cases, lethal.

I think the natural response after watching the segment is to try and improve the regulation system of over-the-counter supplements, perhaps even make it a mirror of the prescription medication system which requires FDA approval.

Let me preface this next sentence by telling you the following, I sell exactly zero supplements of my own so I have no financial ties to the supplement industry.  Despite that fact, the idea of regulating the supplement industry in the same manner we regulate medical prescriptions is not something that I’d be excited about seeing happen.  Why?  Well, if we were to tightly regulate supplements, I think there’d be several major effects.

1) It would likely make the supplement industry safer and hopefully improve the quality of research on supplements (A good thing).

2) It would drive the price of supplements through the roof as basic research and safety trials would have to be conducted prior to sale.  Trials are EXTREMELY expensive and as a result, the end product would have to cost more to make up the difference (Mostly a bad thing).

3) This added cost would likely dissuade many people from starting new businesses around supplements.  For instance, Mike Kesthely’s Max Adrenal product which he sells through Dynamic Nutrition.  Many of my clients have reported insanely impressive result with this product and there are scientific publications supporting all of the ingredients that are put into it.  My guess is that if we were to regulate the supplement industry like we regulate medical drugs, Mike would have never created the product in the first place… (A very bad thing).

In my opinion, the cost of driving good, helpful supplements out of the market outweighs the benefits of getting rid of all the snake oil that Dr. OZ wants you to buy.

Realistically, I don’t see any changes happening to the way the supplement industry is regulated anyway because of all the lobbying described by John Oliver.  Instead, YOU are going to have to take some personal responsibility and figure out how to tell if something is a pile of bull shit or a product that can help your health and/or performance.  Personal responsibility… what a crazy idea.

Here’s how I would go about deciphering whether or not a supplement is A) Safe and B) Useful.

1) Know what happens if you take too much (aka overdose).  Something like magnesium or arginine causes diarrhea when you take too much.  Shit happens, but its not the end of the world.  Other supplements with reported health benefits also can have serious side effects at higher amounts, most frequently liver issues.  Know how to decipher between the two or work with someone that does.

2) If you’re a trainer or consult people on nutrition, I would HIGHLY recommend investing in a guide to help summarize the research on supplements, as doing Google searches (or better yet, PubMed searches) can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out safety and efficacy.  I’ve had good experiences with “Stack Guides”  as it has sections about the synergistic effects of various supplements which many other sites lack.   Also, “Stack Guides” doesn’t sell any supplements themselves so they’re not trying to steer you towards their products.  Definitely worth the investment…

3) Listen to people with more experience in the industry than you.  No one says that you have to know everything and I guarantee if you’re thinking of trying a supplement, then so have 1000 other people.  Find the people you respect and listen to their opinions on the topic.

4) You should probably stop listening to Dr. Oz.

Random musings…

Not every thought that bounces through my head deserves a full post… so here are 10 random thoughts about health and human performance.

1) Get your stress under control… its killing your will-power to make good nutritional decisions.  http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/how-stress-makes-you-crave-food-and-store-fat

2) Shitty bacon sources are shitty because of the health of the animals… not because of the nitrates/nitrites in them.  http://chriskresser.com/the-nitrate-and-nitrite-myth-another-reason-not-to-fear-bacon

3) Don’t be an askhole…

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4) If you’re going to eat rice, then eat white rice.  No, I don’t care how much fiber is in your brown rice…

5) You’re probably not sleeping enough and not spending enough time in the sun.

6) This woman is really smart, you should watch her youtube videos…  https://www.facebook.com/foundmyfitness?ref=profile

7) While you have to be smart about it… sauna’s are an amazing tool to improve your health and performance.   http://fourhourworkweek.com/2014/04/10/saunas-hyperthermic-conditioning-2/

8) Non-resistant starch seems to be helpful for people with screwed up guts but doesn’t seem to provide any added health benefit for people without GI issues.

9) There are 5 superfoods that I try to eat every day:  Animal protein, sweet potatoes, avocado, coconut and kale.

10) We spend way too much time staring at computer screens… and its going to be a huge problem.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22850476

Max Adrenal review

Sometimes we are all our own worst enemy… we know how to make the right choices for our health, performance, etc but let other things get in the way.    As many of you know, I spend most of my day working for a small biotech company in New Hampshire, trying to develop drugs for cancer and autoimmunity.  I also coach multiple Crossfit classes a week, consult people nutritionally for Crossfit, marathons, weight loss, life as a Navy Seal, etc.  Needless to say it’s a lot but no more than most people deal with in reality.  We’re all busy and all have stress in our lives.  Where I become my own worst enemy is when I try to train like a freaking pro-athlete on top of all the other work.  I can handle it for a while but the overall stress has run me down a couple times in the past to the point of needing a complete break from training…

I’ve tried some supplements in the past to extend how far I can push.  BCAA’s and creatine were a big help.  Adding in dense starchy foods was another step in the right direction.  Overall, I still wasn’t feeling quite right though, so I started to play with adaptogens, which are supplements that are supposed to help correct hormonal imbalances related to stress.  Ultimately I decided to try a new supplement from Nova 3 Labs called Max Adrenal.  The purpose of Max Adrenal is to help the body maintain the appropriate response to exercise by helping the body to produce the correct hormonal response to exercise.  In a person who has pushed the gas pedal too hard for too long, the body sometimes stops making the appropriate amounts of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, etc…  Max Adrenal’s goal is to help restore some hormonal balance OR to prevent you from getting out of whack in the first place.

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Mike Kesthely, creator of Max Adrenal, was kind enough to send me a list of links for every single ingredient that is in his product (there are many).  I’ll list them at the bottom of this post for anyone that wants to have a look through the research.  Overall, I was pretty impressed by the background that went into the selection of supplements in the product.  Many solid studies with well controlled experiments… something that cannot be said for all products in this market.

After taking Max Adrenal solidly for 1 month solidly these are the biggest differences I’ve noticed:

1) Deeper sleep with less frequent disruptions in the last 2 hours of sleep (4am-6am).

2) Fewer days where I have absolutely zero energy to train and have to call it a day before even getting started.  It still happens, but not as often.

3) More energy from 2pm-6pm on a daily basis with less of an afternoon wall.  This generally correlates with the post workout for me as well.  I used to just be an absolute zombie after working out, but its much less of an issue now.

4) Falling asleep much more easily.

5) Improved quality and consistency in the fast lifts.  I still have days where I just cannot get myself firing correctly (like today) but overall this has been happening less than usual despite pushing harder.  Recently, I hit 5 out of 7 snatches at 215 after a solid back squat session.  I can’t give all the credit to Max Adrenal, but I do feel like it was part of the process in making progress.

Now, I’m not saying that Max Adrenal is a wonder drug.  You’ve still got to be smart and take care of the other aspects of your life; meaning  eat cleanly and the appropriate amount, take rest days and get enough sleep to recover from your workouts.  Manage the other stress in your life as best as you can.  What I will say though is that Max Adrenal has let me push that gas pedal harder and longer than I’ve been able to in the past.  I’m looking forward to getting my next shipment soon.

 

REFERENCE MATERIAL:

Vitamin A: required for the conversion of cholesterol to steroid hormones

1. http://www.westonaprice.org/ask-the-doctor/steroid-drugs

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/9/4/36.abstract

Vitamin C: The highest concentrations of vitamin C reside in the eyes, brain and adrenal glands; stress,infection and intense exercise all increase the cellular demand for vitamin C, with studies showing how blood levels of ascorbic acid fall at an increased rate during these time

1. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/abstract/1998/08000/effects_of_ascorbic_acid_on_serum_cortisol_and_the.10.aspx

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19223675

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17616774

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6668225

Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Pyridoxine (B6), Pantothenic Acid (B5): All B vitamins are essential in the Kreb’s cycle for conversion of fat, carbs and protein to energy. Specific to the adrenal cascade, pantothenic acid is required for the production of co-enzyme-A, which is essential for the creation of acetylcholine and pregnenolone. Thiamine is used in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Riboflavin, key in the citric acid cycle, is also a cofactor in the utilization of B6 in the creation of neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4320823

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4060684

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10450194

Zinc: Zinc is an essential trace element required for the activity of over 300 enzymes and is involved in most major metabolic pathways. Zinc participates not only in catalytic processes, but also in the structure and stability of some regulatory proteins, as is essential for immune support and testosterone production. Training reduces levels through metabolic use and sweat loss.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17984944

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16338007

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11475319

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9812018

Adrenal/Spleen Extract: Clinical experience has long endorsed the use of glandular extracts to support the activity of the target gland. Glandulars provide peptides and nutrient cofactors which are found in the gland itself when it is healthy and fully functioning, and which are required for the gland to carry out its biological functions. A highly active mineralocorticoid, aldosterone, 19-hydroxy-11-desoxycorticosterone and a sodium-retaining substance have all been isolated from beef adrenal extract. Despite the widespread belief that such peptide cofactors would be destroyed by the digestive process, it’s now known the main route of absorption of amino acids is, in fact, by active transport in the form of peptides, rather than by totally breaking down proteins into individual amino acids. Evidence has also accumulated that many surprisingly large polypeptides and even proteins are directly absorbed by the gut.

1. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v169/n4306/abs/169795a0.html

2. http://reference.medscape.com/drug/adrenal-extract-aortic-glycosaminoglycans-gags-
glandular-products-344579#0

DL-Phenylalanine: DLPA is a depression fighting mixture that combines two forms of the amino acid, phenylalanine. The L-portion of phenylalanine, found in protein-rich foods, bolsters mood-elevating chemicals in the brain, specifically dopamine and nor-epinephrine, while The “D” form of phenylalanine is made synthetically in a laboratory. The mechanism of DL-phenylalanine’s supposed antidepressant activity may be accounted for by the precursor role of L-phenylalanine in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/335027

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2243904

L-Tyrosine: One of the 22 amino acids used in the formation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. It is also involved in the formation of thyroid hormones like triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Supplementation has shown greater efficacy to reduce perception of stress while under stress.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2736402

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7794222

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10230711

Rhodiola Rosea: is a potent adaptogen that has been the focus of much research. Rhodiola provides a buffer to stress-related mental and physical fatigue. Rhodiola contains a glycoside known as salisdroside. This component helps combat anxiety and aging, and has been investigated for use in high-altitude sickness, as it modulates EPO gene expression. Rhodiola suppresses the production of cortisol and increases levels of stress-resistant proteins. Studies have found that it restores normal patterns of eating and sleeping after stress, & combats mental and physical fatigue by affecting RPE (perception to STRESS).

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19500070

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23443221

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378318

L-Methionine: Methionine belongs to a group of compounds called lipotropics which help the liver to process fat in the body. Once in the liver, methionine is converted into SAM(s-adenosyl methionine); SAMe is known to have a high degree of efficacy in treating various forms of depression. Methionine also converts the stronger and carcinogenic estradiol (E2) into estriol (E3) which is the “good” estrogen as compared to estradiol; imbalance is common in various form of adrenal dysfunction. Methionine supports methylation pathways, which facilitate the conversion of norepinephrine to epinephrine, essential in the adrenal cascade.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20595412

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/5/1151S.abstract

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18950248

Octocasonol: The main component of policosanol, a lipophilic component derived from Cuban cane sugar. While initial studies concentrated on it’s ability to affect cholesterol levels, it also has positive neurological effects specific to reaction time and Ach (acetylcholine) release.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10094851

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10754431

Schisandra Chinensis: A vine native to northern China and Eastern Russia, commonly known as Wu Wei Zi, or “Five flavor berry”. Much of the research that ahs been done on Schisandra Chinesis was done in Russia decades ago, hence the popularity with Eastern European athletes. Noted is the ability to both raise and lower cortisol in response to stressors.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21666550

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515024

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10228607

Bacopa Monnieri: Bacopa (aka Brahmi) is an Indian Ayurvedic herb noted for its use as a nootropic, or “mental focusing & memory enhancing” agent, and also acts protectively in neurodegeneration. It appears to work through enhancing synaptic transmission, and also acts as an anti-oxidant, hence the protective effects.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23788517

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24252493

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18683852

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12093601

Eleutherococcus senticosus: Commonly known as Siberian Ginseng or in Chinese medicine Ci Wu Ju. Although it is not related to true ginseng (Panax ginseng), the name Siberian ginseng became popular based on potential properties similar to Panax ginseng. This adaptogenic herb has both properties of increasing work capacity and immunity. Increased work capacity is thought to be due to increased oxygen efficiency through FFA use. Immunomodulating polysaccharides or saponins isolated from Siberian ginseng stimulate macrophages, promoted antibody formation, activated complement, and increased T lymphocyte proliferation.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21793317

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10641044

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11798012

Magnolia Officinalis: Another herb traditional used in Chinese medicine; the bark contains the polyphenolic compounds honokiol and magnolol, which have been found to have neuroprotective and anxiolytic activity, the latter of which is due to the effect on GABA receptors and the attenuation of cortisol-induced stress perception.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16631734

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11408830

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23924268

Rehmannia Glutinosia: Also known as Yukmijihwang-tang or Chinese foxglove; it contains vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as the active component catalpol. Regarded as a tonic herb and used in TCM for centuries, current well-controlled human data is still lacking. That said, it shows promise as a neuro- protecting agent as well as a nootropic.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18407446

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15635169

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15844838

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17078935

Bupleurum Falcatum: Commonly known as Chinese Thoroughwax, it has been traditionally used to treat disorders of inflammation. One of the active components are saikosaponins; their metabolites have been shown to induce corticosterone activity, hence it use as an adrenal tonic in TCM. It also shows serotonergic and noradrenergic activity, and therefore used as an anti-depressant.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2045012

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19932727

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22450800

Panax Ginseng: Also known as Red or Korean ginseng (not to be confused with Siberian). The predominant pharmacologically active constituents of Panax are ginsenosides; at least 25 of which have been identified and are present in variable amounts and ratios, depending on the particular species. One of the most studies herbal adaptogens in history, its efficacy in treating fatigue, mood, immune system and adrenal issues is second to none.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11842896

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16355078

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645

Plectranthus Barbatus (Forskolii): Better known as Coleus Forskoli, the active component tis forskolin, which stimulates the cellular production of cAMP. When cAMP increases, a wide range of signaling properties can occur because of it. While much research has ben done on upregulation of cAMP and fat loss, recent research suggests that cAMP affects the function of higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex through its regulation of ion channels. Much of the marketed focus has been on the ability to increase testosterone, which plays an integral role in the treatment of adrenal dysfunction.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9029414

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129715

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1648588

Withania Somnifera: Another Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha, aka Indian Ginseng, rivals that of Panax. Ginseng in the amount of positive data available. It shows adaptogenic properties both in attenuating stress perception, altering cortisol, and increasing TTE (time to exhaustion) in trained athletes. The potentially active constituents of ashwagandha include alkaloids and steroidal lactones that together are called withanolides (particularly withaferin A), and preparations are often standardized to their percentage contents of withanolides.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23326093

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22987912

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956379

Meat as bad for you as smoking???

I’ve received quite a few emails about this report which has become sensationalized by the media.

Meat as bad as smoking

Is it legit or just another piece of garbage study.  I’m going to give you my basic reasoning why I think it sucks and then link you to Mike Kesthely’s thoughts as well.  Mike’s the health/nutrition guy for Optimum Performance Training and the International Fitness Center in Arizona.  He knows his shit.

My thoughts:

1) Their result is a CORRELATION, not a CAUSATION.  There’s a big difference between the two.
2) Their statistics seem pretty suspicious at best.  I see one graph with low, medium and high protein diets with rates of cancer of 9.8, 10.1 and 9.0… there’s no difference there.  Saying that there is a difference is misleading and idiotic.
3) The use of mouse studies in their report… Look, I use mice all the time in my research.  They are very helpful for some diseases, metabolic disease is not one of them.  They are basically built to be foragers of all kinds of food, so force feeding them high levels of protein is non-physiological.  Also, there’s still some shitty statistics here…
4) What they are calling a high protein diet and what people like Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, Mark Sisson, etc. are recommending are two different things.  Do you really think the people in this study are eating fruits, veggies, nuts seeds and high quality protein?  Or does high protein most likely involve a bunch of fast food.  The last time one of these reports came out that I analyzed, I found that “animal meat based diet” included things like meat on pizza.
 
5) Look at the affiliations of the researchers.  The SENIOR RESEARCHER is the founder and has equity in L-Nutra, a vegan based nutrition system.  Hmmm, perhaps there’s a conflict of interest there…
Anyway, here’s the opinion of a man much smarter than myself:

If you’re an athlete… take creatine. If you’re not an athlete… take creatine.

Recently, I’ve received a lot of questions from people about creatine regarding who should take it, when to take it, how much to take… the list goes on.  So I thought would write a quick post about my thoughts on creatine.  Up front though, I have to say that not all creatine’s are equal, buy a high quality one and you’ll thank me.  Personally I use MRM’s but there are MANY other good options out there.

How much?

There’s a lot of chatter out there that you need to have a loading phase with creatine but this is just a load of BS.  There’s a nice study from St. Francis Xavier University which showed that if you consume 10 grams of creatine, you’ll piss just under half of it out of your body.  Combine that with a second study from Ball State where lower doses showed really nice efficacy without a loading phase and I think we can safely say that ~ 5 grams of creatine daily is enough to generate desired effects.

Is this going to hurt my kidneys?

There are too many studies to list showing that this is NOT a problem.  If you have a kidney disease, may be a different story but since 99.9% of people I know don’t have kidney problems, lets just go with no.

Am I going to retain a bunch of water?

Another myth about creatine, especially if you buy high quality stuff and take the recommended 5 grams.  If you’re cheap, then your creatine might have some sodium in it which could cause water retention, but again, its the sodium’s fault, not the creatine.  If you take a shit load of it, then that’s another story.

Health and performance benefits

Alright, that should prevent anyone from being scared of taking creatine.  Now onto the benefits.  Most times the fitness industry can’t agree on anything but almost everyone agrees that creatine will improve your output for power sports, high intensity interval training, lactate producing sports, etc.  Some people would even tell you it can help with endurance sports which is fascinating.  Great review if you want to read more: Creatine and athletic performance

What’s really cool is that there’s an emerging pile of literature showing that creatine has some pretty impressive effects on neurological performance as well.  The study referenced here showed that 5 grams per day improved working memory and overall intelligence.  Not impressed?  How about this study discussing that creatine supplementation in animals provided enhanced protection against models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and sclerosis… oh yeah, they also lived about 10% longer as well.

Most men are willing to give creatine a try but women are a different story due to fears about excessive bulking.  Well there’s a pretty good study from 2003 in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” showing that creatine supplementation improved women’s strength, fat-free mass and body fat levels without any weight gain… which is amazing.

At the end of the day, there appears to be a ton of physical and mental benefits to supplementing with ~ 5 grams of creatine daily.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Dissecting coconuts… the good, the bad and the ugly.

I find the use of “coconuts” in the Paleo diet pretty amusing.  People use coconut milk, coconut oil and drink themselves silly with Coconut water but rarely actually use an actual freaking coconut unless its to hold some boozy drink at a party (not judging… they’re freaking delicious).

I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the different aspects of a coconut and decide what is good for us and what we should discard.

Coconut water.

People seemingly either love or hate this stuff.  I personally enjoy the taste of the VitaCoco and Zico brands while others have a really metallic flavor to me.  The good news is that coconut water has a bunch of healthy electrolytes.  The bad news is that it also has a ton of sugar in it as well.  If you’re looking to lose body-fat then you need to stay away from this stuff.

I’ve heard people say its great for post-workout but the problem is that it actually is missing some of the necessary salts that really optimize rehydration.  So I probably wouldn’t use it for that purpose either…  In the end, we probably want to avoid it all together for health purposes.  Social purposes… well that’s another story all-together.

Coconut milk

The base of a thousand amazing different curry recipes out there, coconut milk is one of the most adaptable ingredients in my opinion.  While its creamy and has a unique flavor, it blends well with so many spices as well making it extremely useful.

Nutritionally, its fantastic as well as its loaded with healthy saturated fats like lauric acid and medium chain triglycerides (AKA the oil that people pour into their bulletproof coffee). Sounds great, right?  Well, the problem is all the other shit that goes into the commercial coconut milk that we buy.  MOST brands that you’ll find at the local store have BPA and guar gum in them as well.

The literature on BPA is a little inconclusive but there are enough studies out there linking it to everything from obesity to cancer to make me worry… especially if I was a pregenant mom.  Seriously, look at this review and find me something that isn’t terrifying. One more point, BPA isn’t just in canned coconut milk, its in many other canned products as well…

Guar gum is one of those things that some people have no problem with while others experience intestinal distress from it.  If you’re one of those people, you should avoid common canned coconut milk.

Good news though!  There are a couple of new brands of coconut milk out there that do not put BPA or GG into their products that I would highly recommend.  If you live in a city, you can probably find these at a local store.  If not, then Amazon is your place!

AROY-D and Native Forest

Also, if you have IBD or IBS, you want to avoid coconut milk for additional reasons that are a little beyond the scope of this post.  It has to do with the FODMAP diet if you’re really interesting in learning more.

Coconut Oil

I use coconut oil to cook pretty much everything from sweet potatoes to steaks with.  Why? coconut oil has all those great saturated fats like lauric acid and MCTs as well that I mentioned above.  Lauric acid in general has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

There are different qualities of coconut oil, with the higher end products having a more distinct coconut flavoring.  Overall though, most of the time, the oil itself will not overpower the rest of your food.  I usually get mine in bulk (read: 1 gallon) from Tropical traditions but there are many other great brands out there as well.  I highly recommend integrating coconut oil into your cooking going forward.

Overall, I think coconuts are amazing and extremely helpful as part of your diet.  As with most things, the higher quality products you can get, the less you have to worry about with things like BPA, etc.

Are potatoes a wonder drug for your gut and health???

So in some of the original Paleo books and sites that came out, there was this notion that potatoes should be excluded from your diet.  Most notably, Loren Cordain (THE original Paleo guy) was cited as saying that there are inflammatory aspects to potatoes and that they should be removed to help heal the gut.  He’s right to an extent in that potatoes contain relatively high amounts of glycoalkaloids, which are basically nature’s pest repellants.  What’s interesting though is that most of the glycoalkaloids are concentrated into the skin of the potato, making it easy to reduce the content by peeling them…. simple enough it seems.

The question remains though, is there a good reason even bother eating potatoes outside of taste?  Well, if you’re a very lean active person then they can be a great energy source of course… but not everyone is lean and active as we know.

However, I think there’s another reason to start getting interested in potatoes again, and its all about Resistant Starch which I’ll refer to as RS for simplicity sake.  What is RS?  Good old wikipedia defines it as “starch and starch degradation products that escape from digestion in the small intestine of healthy individuals. Resistant starch is considered the third type of dietary fiber, as it can deliver some of the benefits of insoluble fiber and some of the benefits of soluble fiber.”  Interestingly, potatoes (and to some extent rice) are loaded with resistant starch.

A little bit of background:

RS was discovered in the 80’s and since then a TON of studies have been conducted on its affects on humans and other animals.  Many of these studies correlated RS consumption with improved colon health, improved cholesterol, better glucose control, weight management, improved satiety, and better gut function as it relates to nutrient absorption.  All good things!!!

Anyway, why are there so many studies linking RS to improved health markers? Biologically, we now know that there are specific bacteria in our GI tracts, most accurately the large intestine that use RS as a fuel source.  As the bacteria grow on RS, they produce by-products.  One of the by-products that gets produced by bacteria consuming RS is a short chained fatty acid called butyrate.  Interestingly, epithelial cells of the gut use butyrate as an energy source in many of their normal processes which helps keep them healthy, which in turn keeps your gut intact.  Its absolutely critical to have an intact GI tract to prevent microbial translocation of bacteria.  To state it simply, You want to keep your poo separate from you.”

If you’ve read my author description, you know I’m an immunologist by training and at heart.  So when I came across this HIGH profile paper linking butyrate to the induction of regulatory T cells, I was ecstatic.  Regulatory T cells are one of the immune systems most important ways of preventing autoimmune disease and overt inflammatory disorders.  Remember my post from a few weeks back where I made the argument that obesity is linked to inflammation as well.  Basically, at the end of the day, inflammation is connected to almost every disease you can think of.  What this paper says is that butyrate, produced by specific bacteria in our guts is critical to the formation of these regulatory T cells which prevent inflammation…. AWESOME.

So what’s the take home message???? Having adequate levels of butyrate will likely be extremely helpful for maintaining a healthy gut and overall health.  Most of your butyrate is going to come as a result of eating RS.  I’m not convinced that this can be done with a diet using just fruits and veggies as your carbohydrate source.  Potatoes and rice appear to be a great source of RS, but they require a very specific preparation.  You have to cook them and then let them cool which is a little less than ideal so I’m going to try a couple of other options.

1) I’ve been taking a sodium butyrate supplement for the last 3 weeks or so.  I’ve noticed some subtle changes (less gas, more energy, clearer thinking).  Side note: the pills smell like butter… which isn’t surprising because butter is a great source of butyrate!  One more reason to love Grass Fed butter.

That said, the results could be better still in my opinion so…

2) I’m going to try taking 4 TBSP of Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch every day and see if I can get even better results.  I’ve read several other successful stories using this exact approach so I’m excited to see how it goes.

http://freetheanimal.com/2013/04/resistant-assimilation-resistance.html

http://www.diabetes-warrior.net/2014/01/08/omg-intense-exercise-another-resistant-starch-test/

Anybody else want to give it a try???