Archive for October, 2013

Vit C

‘Tis the season.  No, not for Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas.  This is the season for getting sick.  Right when the weather turns colder we all tend to get the cold, flu or some other annoying illness.  I hate it.  I hate being sick and I am sure you hate it too.  Actually, if you like being sick you are just weird.

My exposure to these pathogens has increased exponentially this year due to two factors.  One, my wife is a first grade teacher so she will undoubtedly be bringing home her fair share of nastiness from her students.  Secondly, my 19-month old daughter is going to daycare which, outside of a CDC lab, could be the most germ-infested place on earth.  Every time I pick her up I see at least half the class with snotty/drooly faces and food smeared on their clothes.  For me, there is no escaping an exposure at some point.

So what can you do to prevent getting sick?  The current wisdom is to make sure you are always washing your hands and eating a healthy diet.  We even see the crazy people who carry hand sanitizer with them everywhere and would bathe in it if they could.  While I am sure sanitizing your hands does kill the germs on them for now (there is an evolutionary argument to be made about mutation and resistance) the diet approach seemed to make more sense to me.

sneezing-cold

To learn more about the optimal diet for cold and flu prevention, I did some research and came across some very interesting data about a familiar Vitamin.  Specifically, Vitamin C.  We all know that Vitamin C is present in many citrus fruits but what does it do exactly? A definition of Vitamin C from Wikipedia:

Vitamin C or L-ascorbic acid, or simply ascorbate (the anion of ascorbic acid), is an essential nutrient for humans and certain other animal species. Vitamin C refers to a number of vitamers that have vitamin C activity in animals, including ascorbic acid and its salts, and some oxidized forms of the molecule like dehydroascorbic acid. Ascorbate and ascorbic acid are both naturally present in the body when either of these is introduced into cells, since the forms interconvert according to pH.

Vitamin C is a cofactor in at least eight enzymatic reactions, including several collagen synthesis reactions that, when dysfunctional, cause the most severe symptoms of scurvy. In animals, these reactions are especially important in wound-healing and in preventing bleeding from capillaries. Ascorbate may also act as an antioxidant against oxidative stress. However, the fact that the enantiomer D-ascorbate (not found in nature) has identical antioxidant activity to L-ascorbate, yet far less vitamin activity,  underscores the fact that most of the function of L-ascorbate as a vitamin relies not on its antioxidant properties, but upon enzymic reactions that are stereospecific. “Ascorbate” without the letter for the enantiomeric form is always presumed to be the chemical L-ascorbate.

As you can see, Vitamin C is very important for a variety of bodily functions.  This fact caught the attention of the most famous and controversial Vitamin C proponent in history.  Dr. Linus Pauling, a 2 time Nobel Prize winner (one for Chemistry and one for Peace) is most famous for his books on the curative powers of it.   Pauling believed that vitamins have important biochemical effects beyond just the prevention of deficiency diseases.  After being introduced to the concept of high-dose Vitamin C by a colleague in the 1970s, he was convinced of its preventative abilities and began a regimen where he took 3 grams per day to defend against colds.  Eventually, Dr. Pauling wrote three books that claimed high-dose Vitamin C prevented colds, extended human life and even cured cancer.

Dr. Pauling’s claims caused quite the uproar.  Many in the scientific community refuted his statements and sought to discredit his supposed research.  Studies have been done in the meantime and most have supported the opposite of what Pauling claimed; that there are no benefits from taking high doses of Vitamin C.  But despite the research studies there are still a good amount of people who swear that mega-dosing Vitamin C has kept them free from illness and feeling better than ever.  To support this, more recent studies have also shown that there may actually be some validity behind the claims that Vitamin C helps alleviate cold symptoms and can shorten the time you have a cold.

column25-vitaminc

 All of this intrigued me.  What if I was to give this a try?  Could it help me?  Was it even safe? To answer the last question, all studies of extreme mega-doses (up to 20g per day) have shown that the only negative from such high doses is that it might provide a mild laxative effect.  Since it is a water-soluble vitamin, the excess gets expelled through your urine.  Ok, so the side effects are just like the ones I experience after a trip to Chipotle.  To me, a season without a cold is worth the possibility of spending a couple extra minutes on the toilet.

Then I came across the point that really convinced me to give this a try.  Again, from Wikipedia:

Ascorbate (the anion of ascorbic acid) is required for a range of essential metabolic reactions in all animals and plants. It is made internally by almost all organisms; the main exceptions are bats, guinea pigs, capybaras, and the Anthropoidea (i.e., Haplorrhini, one of the two major primate suborders, consisting of tarsiers, monkeys, and humans and other apes). Ascorbate is also not synthesized by some species of birds and fish. All species that do not synthesize ascorbate require it in the diet. Deficiency in this vitamin causes the disease scurvy in humans.

I highlighted the important part for easier reference.  Humans are one of only a few species that cannot synthesize and make our own Vitamin C.  We must get it through diet.  Interestingly, we used to have this ability but lost it at some point during our evolution.  Since manufacturing ascorbic acid takes glucose and energy, this loss actually ended up being an energy-saving advantage. This benefit is what allowed the genetic defect to win out over time, which is why we still don’t have the biochemical pathway of ascorbic acid production and why ascorbic acid became vitamin C. But the fact that virtually ALL other species have this ability should point to its biological importance.

Think about this.  How many times have you had to take your dog, cat or other animal to the vet for a cold? I know they can’t get the human version of the cold but there are pathogens that effect dogs and cats similar to the human variety.  Animals in the wild routinely get injuries from fighting/avoiding a predator but most can survive these injuries without needing some sort of antibiotic.  Studies on goats have shown that a 140 lb. goat will produce around 13g of Vitamin C every day which is enough to keep it healthy in most circumstances.  But when wounded or fighting an infection, the animal will produce up to 100g to get it through the crisis (Stone, 1979).  To me, this information was the final little push I needed to convince me to give it a shot.

orange jiuce

Starting mid-October, I have been taking 3,000-4,000mg of Vitamin C each day, split up as evenly as possible to maximize blood concentrations.  If I start to feel and symptoms coming on, I plan to up my dosage to 6,000mg per day until symptoms dissipate.  I am going to update my progress each month on the blog to give you all an idea of how it is working for me.

Hopefully, this experiment will be a fruitful one (so cheesy, I know).

The Next 30 Days: Part 3

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

acidic-food-choices

If you haven’t read the previous two installments, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Part 2 of this series gave you a game plan for sustaining the positive results you experience from the Better Body Challenge.  Foolish are those who take on something of this magnitude and do not have a strategy to continue their new ways for the long haul. But you already knew that, right?  So lets delve a little deeper into why month-long nutrition changes work so well.

30-day nutrition challenges are a funny thing.  Why 30 days?  Why not 2 weeks or 60 days?  30 seems to be the gold standard for all challenges designed to change a nutritional habit or start a new one. 30 days is the perfect amount of time for several reasons, some of which include:

  • Most people can commit to something for 30 days without being too overwhelmed.  Changing your diet for 30 days is much more palatable mentally than changing it for 60 days.  Believe it or not, some humans can’t imagine 2 months without bread and ice cream.
  • 30 days is long enough to provide the physical results one is seeking.  15 days is easier to commit to but normally your body needs about 2 weeks to assimilate to the shift in diet you have undergone.  Week 3 is when results start to be very evident and week 4 only solidifies it.
  • Because of these two reasons, a 30-day challenge becomes attractive to groups of people so many can participate.  The group mentality can be very strong and participants are more likely to adhere to the plan if others are as well.  No one wants to be the only person to drop out or cheat.

One of the biggest points of contention about starting a nutritional challenge is the perception that all healthy food has no taste.  You hear it over and over again.  Flip on Dr. Oz and you will see a bunch of overweight people stating they can’t eat healthy because the food “doesn’t taste good”.  They need some sort of way to make “healthy” food taste similar to their current calorie bombs.  Lord knows if it doesn’t taste like butter, sugar or salt, it tastes like crap.  These people are nuts!

I am pretty sure deep frying broccoli defeats the point

I am pretty sure deep frying broccoli defeats the point

Believe it or not, those weak-willed fame seekers might have a point.  Here are some interesting facts about taste:

  • It requires extremely small amounts of HCl (hydrogen chloride) and quinine to trigger the detection of sourness and bitterness. This is because HCl and other sour tastants are present in foods that have begun to go off and it was advantageous for our hunter-gatherer precursors to be able to detect that. The ones that could detect the tastants at small amounts would not then suffer the illnesses that came with rotten food and as a result would be able to reproduce, passing down their genes via Natural Selection.
  • The same goes for bitter foods. The ability to perceive bitter tastants was advantageous as there are numerous natural bitter compounds, of which a large number are known to be toxic. The ability to detect bitter-tasting and therefore toxic compounds at extremely low thresholds was considered to provide an important protective function.
  • Sweet tastants are detectable at low values because when one thinks of a hunter-gatherer scenario that was all too common in times gone by, food that contained sufficient calories for the survival of a group was relatively scarce. Therefore, the ability to perceive sweet tastants would be vital as it would draw the hunter-gatherers to foods with high energy content which could be broken down by the body.
  • Salty foods contain electrolytes, which help your body with homeostasis – the regulation of its internal environment. Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells use to maintain voltages across the cell membranes in order to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) to other cells. When you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium.
  • Since the body is two-thirds water, it is incredibly important that the body has enough electrolytes and this is the reasoning behind the relatively higher threshold value of the salty tastant. Hunter-gatherers would lose large amounts of electrolytes through sweat and diseases (like diarrhea), so the ability to taste salty foods would be vital for survival.

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The Next 30 Days: Part 2

Posted: October 10, 2013 in Advice, Nutrition
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In the first installment, we delved into how Option 2 would look.  Basically it illustrated how, as humans, we are generally very bad at sticking with something long term, especially if it requires us to make a significant life change.  Actually, the more I thought about it the more depressing it became.  Think about it.  The overwhelming majority of people cannot make the dietary commitment needed to make a permanent change, even when this change is vital to long term health and wellness.  What makes this even worse is that fact that they have already stuck to a nutritional strategy that has produced the results they wanted and they still make the choice to regress back to their old habits.  To me it is mind-boggling.

History has taught us many things.  For starters, humans as a species are pretty damn dumb.  From “Jersey Shore” to “Dancing with the Stars”, we consistently celebrate the most mindless and insignificant parts of our culture.  So dumb, in fact, that we will eventually end up as a part of one of History’s second lessons: We will go through an extinction event.  The dinosaurs were eliminated by a meteor that hit off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and one day we will be gone too.  Of course the dinos couldn’t control their event but I will fathom a guess they we will be the cause of our own extinction.  The pieces are coming together.  With almost daily reports of genetic testing, viral mutations and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the end is inevitable.

Friends of yours, Jen Eby?

Our eating habits are also in the running for the catalyst that propels us toward oblivion.  Bad dietary choices lead to a plethora of life-threatening health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, etc.  Over many life cycles, these conditions can start to become genetic (through mutations) and will begin to effect future generations from birth.  Take Type-2 Diabetes for example.  According to the World Health Organization, “Rates of diabetes in 1985 were estimated at 30 million, increasing to 135 million in 1995 and 217 million in 2005.  This increase is believed to be primarily due to the global population aging, a decrease in exercise, and increasing rates of obesity.”

I can hear Scott Boggs and Erin Vroman (The Paleo Police) now, “PROCESSED FOODS ARE OUR EXTINCTION EVENT!”  Well, maybe that is taking it a little too far but you can see my point.  The cycle has started and, as those stats show, it is only getting worse.  This may not be the actual end of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (shout out to Maria!) but it could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.  Man, I really got off on a tangent didn’t I?  Lets get back on track.

Boggs saves another CrossFitter from the dreaded insulin spike!

So that is the bad news.  The good news for you is that you can choose Option 1. The good news for me is that you already know how to succeed at Option 1.  But 30 days is a small snippet in time.  How do you ensure success for the long term?

Here are some time-tested strategies you can use:

  1. Set a weekly date with the grocery store:  This should be a no-brainer.  The only true way to control what you are eating is to buy and make it yourself.  Since most of you are following Paleo, you already know the foods that will fit that plan so the list shouldn’t change much.  Don’t give yourself the excuse to eat poorly because there is no food in your fridge.
  2.  Cook your food ahead of time:  Again, this should be another no-brainer. With Paleo being a pretty protein-heavy nutrition strategy, most of your meals will need to a cooked element to them because there are not many natural proteins that can be eaten raw safely.  Set aside one day a week where you will prepare your meals you can take with you to work, vacation, etc.  Weekends tend to be most convenient and Sundays work best for me because I make enough food to last me until then.  My favorite is the big package of boneless skinless chicken breasts.  Cut them in to 6 oz portions and place them in a baking dish.  Then, fill the dish halfway with lemon juice and cover the tops of the chicken with salt and pepper.  Bake for 23 min. at 400 degrees and you have a week’s worth of chicken at 2 breasts (insert bad joke here) per day. (more…)

“The Next 30 Days” is a 3 or 4 part series I am doing in order to help us all continue to succeed with the positive lifestyle changes we have made while participating in the Better Body Challenge.  Hopefully, it will assist those who took part and maybe even inspire those who didn’t to make their own positive change.

Congrats! You did it!

So you have finished the “30 Day Better Body Challenge”.  Congrats! I am sure all your hard work and perseverance has paid off, probably even more than you expected when you first started.  Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it and I am sure you are feeling a real sense of accomplishment.  Everyone I have personally seen shows a marked physical improvement and I don’t know how your performance has been effected but I would be willing to bet it is better than a month ago.  My hat goes off to all of you, especially since I didn’t participate!

But as Dan asked on the main site, where do you go from here?  In my opinion, you only have two options:

  1. You stick to a consistent diet plan and continue to work hard at whatever your goals are with regards to your fitness

-or-

        2.   You don’t

Choose wisely…

Here is how the story usually goes: You feel great after surviving a month of mental and physical torture and decide that you deserve a reward for doing so well.  This reward is directly related to what you have deprived yourself of for the past 30 days: sugary, fattening food and drink.  So off you go to Chipotle, Dairy Queen, Cold Stone, etc. to find your special treat, the one you have been craving since day 1 of the BB Challenge.  You then exchange currency for goods and services and ravage that meal like never before.  A state of euphoria sets in, the same euphoric feeling  experienced by drug users getting their next fix.  You are feeling oh so good for the next 30 minutes and then, if you have stuck to your new diet consistently for the past 30 days, the sugar rush wears off and the stomach cramps begin.  But you knew this feeling was coming and in your opinion it is the price of doing business.  You go to bed a happy camper, 30 days under your belt and a just reward in your stomach.  The next day you get up with a slight “food hangover” but nothing major.  You jump in the shower, get dressed and go to the kitchen to make breakfast.  This is the point where you choose where you go from here, Option 1 or Option 2.

Let’s take a look at Option 2 because statistically, it is the most probable outcome for the majority of Americans.  Since you are a little tired, you are running late in the morning and need a quick breakfast (or even worse, none at all).  You rifle through the cupboard and grab one of the relics of your former dietary regimen.  Maybe it’s a cereal or maybe it’s an instant flavored oatmeal, feel free to insert anything you used to eat before the BB Challenge.  You wolf it down as you bolt out the door.  You know it is not the best choice but at least it is food.  No big deal, right? It’s only one meal.

Then lunch comes around.  You realize that the weekend came and went and you didn’t have a chance to get to the grocery store or prepare the food you usually take to work with you each day.  Lucky for you, Subway is right around the corner.  Lunch problem solved.  You get a “healthy” six inch Italian sub with just a small amount of mayonnaise (or whatever people put on those).  A sub and some apple slices later, you settle back into the work day; swearing that is the last time you will be eating out and that you will get back on the wagon.  You have put in too much hard work in and out of the box to throw it all away.

On the way home from work, you begin to ponder what you will do for dinner.  You remember that you have some extra broccoli in the fridge but nothing to eat with it.  Giant provides the answer in the form of a rotisserie chicken, $5 for about 3 meals worth of meat.  You get home, steam your veggies and plate a nice portion of chicken.  On the way back to the kitchen to clean up your dishes, you grab a dark chocolate because “hey, why not? I just had a really healthy meal and one little chocolate can’t hurt”.  As you jump into bed, you reflect on the day you’ve had compared to the 30 that you just completed for the BB Challenge.  Not near as disciplined as you were but certainly not the worst day you’ve ever had, especially compared to how you were eating before the BB Challenge started.  And so it begins…

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