Sunday, July 10, 2011

Healthy Whole Grains?

       Over the years, one of the the food issues that I have probably thought about the most are grains and their role in health. On one hand, you have the mainstream as well as many vegetarian/vegans espousing the health promoting effects of whole grains, the fiber, B vitamins, betaine, minerals, protein, and so forth. Then on the flip side you have the low carbers, and paleo crowd demonizing grains as if they were diabolos or something. After much thought on the issue, I have come to the conclusion that as with most problems in life, the answer lies somewhere in between the extremes. In the following papragraphs I will elaborate as to why I feel that while grains may not be optimal, they are probably okay for the general population, although not optimal. I believe they could definitely be incorporated into a relatively healthful diet and replacing typical processed food with whole grains is definetly an upgrade for most people.
Health Through Nutrition: Amazing Whole Grains
Healthy whole grains?

     I'll start off with some of the knocks on grains and work my way back to the big picture. One of the main arguments made by those in the paleo crowd about grains is that they decreased the stature of man and increased the incidence of disease. Now in their defense there are scientific studies to validate these claims (1,2,3,4), however, I believe this is a classic example of mistaking an association with causation. Popular paleo "gurus" such as the Robb Wolfs and Art DeVaneys of the world point out the fact that archaelogical records show decreased stature and increased incidence of disease, but they fail to mention that real archaelogists also acknowledge that this occurence may be the result of other concommitant factors, such as  a more sedentary lifestyle (2,4) or as anthropologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond points out that hunter gatherer tribes often had longer gaps in between bearing their children, thus allowing the mother more time to replete the nutrient depletion that accompanies carrying, birthing , and nourishing a child in the perinatal period (Guns,Germs and Steel p.89).

      In addition, to these historical arguments against, further claims of grains being an evolutionary novelty have also been made. The argument goes as follows, grains were introduced only roughly 10, 000 years ago and that humans simply cannot tolerate them in a manner conducive to promotin g optimal health. In addition to these claims being made by popular diet writers, such as those mentioned above, one can also find these claims in the scientific literature linking agriculture, mostly grains, to prevalent ailments and disease states such as Alzheimers (5,6). Again, I believe we have to think about this more closely before ascertaining that grains are causing many or all of th modern diseases of man.

      In the classis book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A. Price observed several culture's diets, or as he liked to call them dietaries.Some of the peoples he observed ate very little grain such as the Inuit and until very recently, the Massai , but he also observed several healthy cultures that subsited largely on grain such as the Kikuyu and Gaelics. In a series of very intriguing blog posts last year, Denisse Minger ran regression analyses on the China Study by T. Colin Campbell and colleagues and found that one of the most long lived and healthiest groups of people observed in the study were theTuoli (see here),  essentianly contemporary pastoralists subsisting off of dairy and wheat bread. I think with that in mind, we also have to look at another point made by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, the advent of agriculture invited the improvement and proliferation of further agricultuaral development. Basically it can be understood as follows, once a tribe of previous hunter gatherers had decided to take up the agricultaural lifestyle whether partly or in wholeness, they then have the incentive to improve upon their means by domestication of other flora and fauna species.
Maybe we didn't evolve eating whole grains, but I bet theyre alot less problematic than items such as high fructose cornsyrup, there refined counterparts (ie pastry), and processed oils.

      The example given by Diamond is of the Fertile cresecent. The first domesticated plant species he lists are wheat, peas, flax and barey (p. 181). This is also supported by primary scinetific findings in the field of archaeology as well (7,8). Following the domestication of these grains, foods such as banana, pomegranates, figs, grapes, olives, etc. followed. So with this line of reasoning (that grains are an evolutionary novelty) then is one to reason that apples, almonds, pecans, and so forth should not be eaten either?
  There is some scientific literature suggesting dairy may not be optimal either, but it is largely speculative as with the grain argument (6). One might even play devils advocate and argue that modern breeds of cattle and swine are  evolutionary novelties as well (see here or here). After all, the typical corn fed confinement cow of todays agribusiness establshment isnt quite the same beast as a wild game mammal found in the pleistocene era. In fact there nutrient profile isn't even equivalent to their grass fed counterparts (9). That is actually part of the reason (aside from ethical reasons) that many people are now making the transition to grass fed beef over "conventional. Nonetheless popular beef breeds are very new in evolutionary time as well, and thats where this point ties in with the grain argument. The same can be said for many of our vegetable breeds as well. The argument doesn't hold water. It is no longer possible to eat exactly as our ancestors did.
The paleo crowd seems to forget, we didn't evolve eating this either.

      The work of Price and researchers such as Piperno (7,8) show that grains were part of a historical diet that is not inherently deleterious to health. Apart from the observational work I've discussed so far, there is the work of Staffon Lindeburg's lab, who has found that the paleo diet is preferential to the meditteranean diet in reducing ad libitum caloric intake (10). So basically if one eats paleo, they get full off less food than the mediterranean diet. While I can't and wont argue with the results, I will say other factors do come into play such that with the paleo, the exclusion of milk and soda removes liquid calories. I know I have a large appetite, but in periods in my life where I have drank calories, they could easily account for well over 500 kcals. In additon I do agree that grains are an easy food to "fill up" on so if the subjects were instructed to eat ad libitum, then yes I would suspect they would eat less when excluding grain, but I don't think that means that a health/weight conscious individual has to completely exclude grains from the if they are monitoring their intake. For thos interested the physiological mechanism proposed by Lindeberg is that grains contains lectins (wiki) a class of glycoproteins that protentially interfere with leptin kinetics, (whether it be receptor competion or binding to the leptin itself is not fully understood).

        Leptin and Insulin are thought to be two of the key hormones responsible for appetite regulation, so it can be reasoned that if the lectins in grain are interfering with leptin function then yes grains maybe causing appetite disregulation (11). However there's a problem with this argument as well. Lectins are found in all types of foods, including legumes, dairy, and night shade vegetables (tomatoes, egg plants, potatoes, and peppers). RobbWolf acknowledges this in his book The Paleo Solution and subsequently advises the exclusion of all of these foods. I won't disagree that his reccomendation may be a measure of prudence, but arguments can also be made against meats with epidemiological studies and the gotirogen content of the vegetables brassicae (12). What are we to do? rely on photosynthesis. In all seriousness I would say the point is that an argument can be made against all foods. The key is to try to eat time tested foods, and grains have thousands of years supporting them.

       I think I have been more than fair in presenting the dark side of grains, and to boot, I will mention that there are also tannins and other anti nutrients found in grains. The problem with these molecules are as follows. Taninins are and other anti nutrients such as trypsin inhibitors deteriorate the absorption of minerals (iron, zinc, etc.) and inhibit enzymes neccessary for food absorption. So while some grains might provide some iron, magnesium, etc., these anti nutrients may be inhibiting full absorption. That is why the cultures I mentioned earlier used fermentation strategies. Fermementation of the grain with bacteria such as denature some of the nutrient inhibiting protein allowing for further absorption of nutrient. This is exactly what I am referring to when I say time tested. Over periods of millenia our antecedents have perfected (well pretty close) techniques to enhance nutrient bioavailability, and the available cuisine has included grains. Soy and rice are complements in the Orient, sorghum and millet with nuts such as the ground nut and mongogo in parts Africa, and corn with several varieties of pulses in the Americas. With that in mind, it's hard for me to argue that grains are the scourge of the west, but a maybe a small peice of the puzzle.

        The last line of evidence against grain I will present here is the the anti gluten argument. Gluten like proteins found through out the grain species also alert me in that they may trigger inflammation and auto-immunity disease. There are over 80 type of autoimmune disease that may associated with the gluten protein as well (see here).  The full affects of gluten are not fully understood, and seeing as science generally tensts to isolate foods/nutrients, I doubt we will ever fully understand the effects of gluten in the matrix of molecues that is food. I don't know for sure that grains are going to cause an inflammatory cascade, or an autoimmune disease. I haven't read on the topic thoroughly enough, so I just present this information as precautionary.

        In conclucsion, my general thought is that grains won't kill most folks, so they can probably eat them, but should prepare them in a traditional manner, rather than in the form of a Pop tart or something like that. And for those trying to lose weight, or really improve or optimize health, you may want to think pretty long and hard before having that bowl or slice of healthy whole grain. To those who counter that those avoiding grains are missing out on the health promoting benefits of grains, which I mentioned in brevity earlier, I present a chart I have recopied from The Paleo Solution. For almost all sources of vital micronutrients, vegetables and meat can be used in place of grains. I will say that I personally very very rarely eat a grain of any sort. Theres just too much evidence presented above that leaves me skeptical . Personally I eat vegetables, and tubers in place of where most would eat grains. While I concede grains  may be okay, they may not be so healthful after all.

Table conposed of data from Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am Journal of Clinal Nutrition 2005: 81: 341-354

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oil Processing

     Around the web and even in nutrition text books, we often  are referred to the vague term processing in regards to food stuffs manufacturing. I think most health conscious individuals acknowledge that processing is generally deleterious to the health providing qualities of food. For example refined flour, refined sugar, refined oil, etc. However I have often found that understanding the so called processing that takes place, even if only in a rudimentary manner, gives me further motivation to not eat industrialized food stuffs. I guess one might say actually knowing the methods behind the madness makes the food that much more unappeasing. Today I wanted to go over the steps from which a soybean, cotton kernel, corn kernel, and other seeds become industrial oils. I attribute much of the following information to be sourced from the online Encyclopedia Brittanica and Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill* by Udo Erasmus.

      The initiation of the process that takes a commodity seed to oil begins with general cleaning of the seed and possibly cooking. On one hand, the cooking is neccessary. Many of the seeds used, such as soy beans contain anti-nutrients such as trypsin inhibitors (1) that are only inactivated with heat. The raw oil would otherwise be inedible. Another advantage of this specific step is that heating the seed makes the pressing process (this is the following step) or the chemical extraction process (to be explained later) easier by denaturing the cell membranes which encompass the desired oils. However on the other other hand, the cooking process greatly accelerates the onset of rancidity exposing the oils to both air and heat, and possibly light (Textbook of Medical Biochemistry, Ramakrishnan, P.41) . This is confounded by the fact that most of the common commercial oils contain high proportions of the more delicate polyunsaturated fats( Ramakrishnan, P. 267).
Typical oil seeds; corn, cotton, soy, sunflower

     The next step in the process is the mechanical pressing of the seeds to extract oil. We often see this on the label of more traditional oils such as coconut, palm, and olive oils as expeller pressed. The method essentially involves subjecting the raw material to high amounts of mechanical pressure. Often times what is called a screw press is used (illustration below). This involves a continuoulsy rotating screw shaped auger pushing the seeds forward against a metal press. The friction created by the rotating auger combines with the high heat to squeeze the oil out of the seeds.The oil is released by of hole or slits in the press while the remaining solid mass(seed mash) is left behind for further processing. Accoridng to Erasmus, (p. 95) it is said that the pressing temperature takes place at 85 to 95 degrees Celsius or185 to 203 F, which subsequently  greatly increases the rate of lipid rancidity. When the end product of this mechanical extraction is sold without further processing, we have the true unrefined oils.
screw press, sounds like a resistance training exercise.

     Another consideration here is that saturated fats such as coconout and palm are less prone to be damaged by the high temperatures used (Ramakrishnan, P. 39,41). Although some companies claim to use cold pressed, Erasmus states there is not a set industry standard for this criterion or claim. The next procees described is solvent extraction, a more modern industrial practice used to further enhance the oil extraction from the seed mash, or that can be used independent of mechanical pressing.

      Solvent extraction is a very efficient means of oil extraction used by large scale industrial operations. Solvents such as heptane or hexane are used to dissolve ground seed meal or the remaining seed mash described above whilst also using mechanical agitation (think stirring on steroids). The solvent-oil mixture is separated from the naturally occuring protein and carbohydrate portion of the original seed. The same thing is going on here as the saying about oil & water dont mix. The heptane is similar to oil so it mixes while the protein, carbs, and water are repelled.) The solvent can then be evaporated at roughly 150 degrees Celsius or 302 F. The seed oil is then left behind with very minute quantities of the solvents left behind. The ranges I have found are in the range of  10-21 ppm (2). Although I am not a fan of hexane, I will say that the concentration left behind in oils does not seem to be a major casuse for concern (although there are many). What may be disconcerning to some health conscious consumers is that the solvent extracted oil may still be labeled as unrefined at this point, again placing greater importance to choosing  the expeller pressed brands if hexane is a key concern for the consumer.For the more commonly sold vbegetable oils and the oils labeled as refined, such as Spectrum refined coconut oil or NOW brands natural coconut oil, further chemical processing takes place.

       Degumming, or alkali refining is a process that removes the phospholipids naturally occuring in seed oils, such as soy lecithin (phospholipid wiki). Left behind proteins and polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates) from the preceeding extraction methods are also removed during degumming. As far as the possible health worries Erasmus claims that degumming removes chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper. The degumming process is generally carried out at roughly 140 F (Erasmus, P. 96).

      During the process known as water refining or just refining, oils are mixed with strong bases  (proton or hydrogen ion acceptors that completely dissolve in water) such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Refining is meant to further remove free fatty acids from oils.The free fatty acids form soaps with the bases (eg NaOH) and dissolve in the hydrophilic (water loving) portion of the mixture. This aqueous solution is then drained off, or centrifuged and then drained off from the oil. The temperature at which refining takes place is roughly 75 degrees celcius or 167 F. Phospholipids, polypeptides, and minerals are also lost in this process (Erasmus, P. 96). Before moving on, I have to make note that at this point, the proccessing of the oil has not only removed health promoting components of the oil like lecithin and minerals like iron, zinc, and so forth, but that they are then sold back to consumers in the form of soap, soy lecithin, etc.Its pretty crazy. Although pigments may still remain., theyl'l be gone soon enough. Next up are bleaching and deodorizing.

     Bleaching is used if removal of the pigments is desired. The remaining oil treated with various bleaching agents, which may include fuller’s earth (a natural earthy material that will decolorize oils), activated carbon, or activated clays. The bleaching agents mentioned remove beneficial pigments such as chlorophyll and beta-carotene.Magnesium is stored in the chlorophyll and beta carotene is a pre cursor to Vitamin A. Additionally if the centrifuge method was not used during refinement, additonal FFAs may be removed during bleaching. The temperature at which this process takes place is 110 Celsius or 230 F. According to Erasmus, this process forms toxic peroxides as well (Erasmus P. 96).

    Deodorizing involves steam distillation under pressure. The deodorization removes any aromatic compounds that impart any remaining pungent taste or odor to the oil.  Erasmus notes that deodorization takes place a highly destructive temperatures in the range of 240 to 270 degrees Celsius or 465-520 F! And this process is said to last 30 to 60 minute depending on the oil. These temperatures are high enough to result in carcinogenic mutations to the remaining fats in the oil (3).  Trans-fatty acids are also formed at such high temperatures. Although deodorization removes some of the peroxides formed during earlier stages of processing , as well as pesticide residues, tocopherols (Vitamin E) and plant sterols are also removed as well. (Erasmus P.97)

      At this point, the oil processor has yielded a valuable commodity. Flavorless, colorless, tasteless oil (yum!) that can be further handled to add flavors, textures, colors, etc. that meet the consumer's demands for highly palatable cheap frankenfood. However, with the exception  of some of the healthier oils, such as palm, coconut, and olive oil, most of these will have synthetic antioxidants added in back as well, such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), or tertiary butyhydroquinone (TBHQ). These replace the plant's natural antioxidants such as the above mentioned phytochemical, Vitamin E, and beta carotene.

     As you can establish for yourselves at this point, the processing of oils, while an intriguing science, does not appear to be the optimal method of foos extraction for promoting good health. In fact up until the late 20th century there were wide spread nutrient deficiencies due to processing food without the realization that key nutrients were lost. It was believed that  biologically complete diets need only to consistr sufficient proteins, carbohydrates, fats, inorganic salts, and water (4). Unfortunately or fortunately it was later discovered that we needed micronutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. While fortification of foods with certain nutrients has probably helped, I still don't believe it's enough. Below I have created a table based the calculations of Weton A. Price in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (P.246 & 247) to show just how lacking the American diet was compared to traditional diets in his time.The numbers are how many times more of the listed nutrient (eg Ca) that the traditional cultures recieved in contrast to urbanized  Americans at the time (mid 1930's) through diet. Its pretty amazing.

    With that said, processed oils (along with processed sugar and flour) just make up too much of the American diet. The USDA recently reported that we are consuming 1.4 billion pounds of cottonseed oil, alone, annually (see here).We are eating the oils of these seeds in proportions that we would never eat in the form of real food. I have blogged on this previously as well (here). The nutrient density is just not there in addition to the synergistic effect that I believe real food nutrients provide when eaten together as one in the context of real food.

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* While I found Erasmus's book helpful for this post, I think it is important to disclose he does sell his own oil blends that are focused more on the EFA rather than the coconut oil, palm, and olive oil I would reccomend. I believe eating the fat from sources like coconuts and olives that are mostly fat, when found in nature, is probably more suitable for humans in that eating large amounts of fat from these foods is not new to us as a species.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cool Garden Idea; Root Cellars!

    If you have been reading this blog, you will know that I am an advocate of eating real food. Real foods are good, and real, local food is even better, with the hope that you may actually know a where it came from,who grew it, and so fourth. The best way I can think of to attain this peace of mind is to grow some of your own food, with a local farmer's market being the next best option. Small gardens can easily be kept up is the suburbs and even some urban settings depending on neighborhood lawn rules, size, etc. Today I wanted to share a cool  garden tip on storing some of your fresh foods, root cellaring. In most regions, vegetative growth isn't really feasible in the winter months so storing it is a great option. You can also use this method to store food from the market as well.

    Root cellars pretty much say it all in the name. They are an above or underground "cellar" used to store vegetables considered roots, such as carrots and parsnips, but also tubers such as potatoes sweet potatoes. However root cellars can also be used to store other garden staples such as squash (technically a fruit). When the winter hits, and these vegetables are at risk of frost, the root cellar is used to preserve them. Prior to the 2 car garage and refrigeration unit, root cellars were a commonality. Now a days most folks don't even know what one is. However, they don't have to be fancy and are very easy to install. For example, at the farm I have been working at, the proprietor has an old, broken refrigerator dug into the ground to serve as her root cellar. My mom recently picked up a couple of old coolers, so I decided to do the same thing with them a couple of days ago. Check it out.

In conclusion, root cellars are a good way to store some of your fresh veggies for the winter without taking up a bunch of space in the house or having to worry about rats, or other critters getting to try to steal your bounty. You can use just about anything that you can ensure is fairly closed off to the elements. Get creative!

Oh yeah, digging the hole for these things provides some nice exercise. Call before you dig lol.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Perturbation training

       In coming blog posts, I would like to introduce essentially what I believe to be a "pyramid" of physical activity requirements needed to attain optimal movement ability. Discrete movement components include strentgth, mobility, balance, coordination, agility, & quickness (acceleration and deceleration) among others.  I dont think it is neccessary for everyone to neccessarily follow the pyramid, its just a source of reference to those interested in attaining sound movement proficiency. Too many people get caught up in one specific paradigm of training only to lose out on other critical components needed to ensure optimal movement. For example bodybuilding without any focus on flexibility and range of motion, or pilates whilst neglecting any form of heavy muscle strengthening. I don't want to be too verbose but it is interesting how a movemnt pyramid could further serve as microcosm for total health as well. In an ideal situation one could shoot for optimal movement along with optimal rest, nutrition, endurance, stress management, and so forth, again forming something of a "fluid" pyramid that adjusts due to training goal and/or requirements.

     Today we'll be specifically focusing on perturbation training. I plan to explain what it is, how it is already built into many activities, the benefits, some research behind it, and finally how to carry it out in one's program.

     Perturbations are a "disturbance of motion, course, arrangement, or state of equilibrium" according to Websters. Perturbation training can basically be thought of of balance training on steroids. However balance training alone consist of very basic exercises such as standing on one foot or with the eyes closed. For athletes and even those in the general population, it is indicated that the exercise be a bit more intense and metabolically more taxing in order to increase time efficiency which  have discussed before (here). Perturbation training taxes 1) the somatosensory, 2) the vestibular, and 3) the visual systems (1). The somatosensory system literally means body sensing, and essentially refers to an individuals ability to sense his or her position in space. For the vestibular system, we're thinking of the the central equilibrium center in head. It is also closely associated with the cochlea, or the hearing/auditory center. In training, the visual and vestibular systems are generally not greatly manipulated, and most of the stress, and thus subsequent adaptations occur within the somatosensory system. The somatosensory system consists myriad receptors that detect different sensations (1). 
Various sensory receptors
 Copied from Taylor, J.B.  
Lower extremity perturbation training, Strength and Cond. Journal 33(2) 76-8

  As I said earlier, perturbation training is built into many activities already. Consider boxing-out in basketball or two linemen duking it out in the trenches in football.The opponent is constantly disturbing the athletes equilibrium with their body. Another example would be skating where it takes  a certain level of ankle stablity to maintain the position of the ice-skates, and further manipulate them to porduce movement. It's my personal belief, that these occurrences in sport are what render athletes more athletic. Many sports involve all of the components to good movment that I discussed earlier in the article, mobility, agility, and so forth, where as when the general population takes on an exercise they inadvertently neglect many of the components of movement. One of the components often neglected are perturbations.  

    So one might be asking, Who cares about perturbations? Well I have already pointed out the ability to overcome perturbations is an important component of sport. It is also important to be a able to overcome perturbations in general life also. A simple example I often give is when it is icy outside, if one has no ability to overcome perturbations, it's going to be a rough winter. General situations in life come to mind, such as missing a step on the way up a light of stairs (you know it has happened to you) and other  everyday activities that don't involve sitting in front of the tv or computer. Perturbation training  is particulary important for females and those that need optimal range of movement and reaction at the knee joint (e.g. soccer players and other athletes).

    In fact most of the published literature to date has focused on lower body perturbations and as a point of reference perturbation training hs been found to increase range of movement about the joint and decrease the phenomenon of co-contraction (2, 3, 4). Co-contraction is essentially when antagonistic muscles about the same joint simultaneously contract to prevent extreme motion. Think of the quadriceps and hamstrings both contracting at the knee joint. This also is relevant to most the population because they tend tend to be quadricep dominant, meaning their quadriceps are overpowering their hamstring muscles. This is not conducive to optimal joint stability and reaction.

     However, we can build perturbations into our training quite easily and in different ways to address our specific needs. Remember in the examples earlier, the basketball, football,  and other athletes are consistently on a stable surface were the perturbation comes from an external factor in the environment (ie opponent) whereas in a sport like hockey, there is intrinsic instability built in to the sport's playing surface. One form of surface perturbation involves the use of a bosu dome, or even a rollerboard or rockerboard when available. The bosu dome can generally be found in many commercial gyms. You can use these to finish up a workout with exercises such as a push up with the dome upside down or squats with the dome right-side up or up-side down. A nice progression for the lower body movements would include closing the eyes, to further stress the somatosensory system, with the loss of visual input. I will copy an image below for those unfamiliar with this equipment below.

     The advantage of both forms of perturbation that I have mentioned or training of the somatosensory receptors we discussed earlier. There is also an endurance component to this. In addition to the balance component, the core is taxed to avoid the perturbation as well and the exercises are both metabolically taxing while offering some degree of a muscular strengthening component. For those with poor mobility, these exercises even address that area as well. I recommend saving these exercises for near the end of practice/training. Obviously we receive greater sensory input and act accordingly when we are fresh. However we want to be able to maintain this activity, which is why I recommend saving perturbation training for towards the end of the exercise training session. Perturbation training on the bosu or with the partner assisted perturbation is not the main strengthening or endurance component of training but does offer critical potential for adaptation, so think of it as an accessory or supplement to to the prime exercises in a session, back squat, deadlift, rows, etc. for strength and bike sprints, running, complexes, etc for conditioning.

     The current recommendations in the literature are for 60-90 seconds of perturbation followed by 60-90 second rest intervals to allow for tissue and neuromuscular recovery (1). In the real world, legendary strength & conditioning coach Vern Gambetta has recommended dedicating about 5-10 minutes of training time to these exercises a day, about 3-4 dys per week(5). 

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      I really like and trust Vern's advice. The guy has been around longer than the journals that pertain to strength and conditioning and he has worked with athletes spanning from high school to the pros (check out his website). In addition, perturbation can be thought of as just one small piece of the optimal movemtn pyramid. However for core stability, improved balance, and gait reaction time, and even for the rehabilitation setting (6), 5 to 10 minutes of perturbation built into the training session is crucial to to tax the systems we discussed and gain the benefits discussed as well.

Bosu Dome
      However before you go overboard with the ol' bosu dome, remember what I just wrote, not all perturbations come from unstable surfaces. Eric Cressey has written about this extensively for those interested in further reading (see here). Other measures one might take to engage in perturbation would be having a partner or trainer offer external perturbations during the performance of exercises such as the split squat or the plank. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Unsettling Findings in GMOs

      In my most recent post (see here), I discussed GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, spefically pertaining to food. We discussed how these foods are produced, as well as some history, technology, and business preactices involving GMO.s Today I specifically wanted to discuss the science behind the GMOs, are they safe or not. Is the current body of literature ambuguous in it's findings, and has it been conducted adequately?
    I am by no means an expert in the field of GMO research but I have read many articles regarding genetically modified foods on aletrnative health websites, blogs, and even mainstream publication such as the Huffington Post. With that in mind, I have come to be highly suspicious of secondary sources over the years so I try to find the primary documents (in case the original research). Its always a good idea to start research in an area with a few review papers. A 2007 review by By Varzakas (1) noted that while science is obviously a major arena in he tdetermination of a GMO efficacy, other issues such as economical, political, ideologica/philosophical, ethical, and human issues are also concerned. The authors concluded that inadequate legislative measureshave been taken to protect consumers from their consumption. This is based on their reasoning that there has not been enough experimentation conducted to ensure safety. Interestingly these ressearchers are based out of the Institute of Kalmata in Greece. Here in the US,  even fewer legislative measures have been taken to ensure the safety of the consumer.

     The next review I came across was more favorable towards GMO, but did have obvious flaws in reasoning.  A 2008 review by Key et al  (2) concluded that "Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health)". These researchers also more or less state that current safety testing in place is adequate, which is contradictory to Varzakas. In my opinion, these conclusion are pretty much laughable (except this is a serious issue!). To begin with, there is no mandated labelling of GMOs in the US so even if there are health ramifications associated with GMOs it will be impossible for future researchers to do an accurate epidemiological study in regards to GMO consumption. In additon the analysyes of such a study would be just about inconceivable, requiring a multivariate regression  analyses that, in theory, teased out the numerous other dietary offenses of the average US citizen such as excess sugar consumption and disproportianate w6:w3 ratio. Cause and effect could never be determined.
      Secondly, on the conclusion of Key et al, that current testing is adequate, GM foods must go through the FDA for approval, but there is no required independent safety testing, meaning the testing is left to the producer(see fda website). If nothing else, at the minimum, the research is thus subject to an obvious conflict of interest. There has been essentially no long term animal toxicology on any GM product, something the medical community should be concerned about.
  As far as some of the actual investigations involving GM foods and health outcomes, researchers such as Arpad Pusztai (3) and Irina Ermakova (4) claim to have found negative outcomes stemming from GMO intake including organ damage and fertility issues whuch I will further discuss shortly. Other researchers have noted negative outcomes as well such as  hypertrophy of the  villus epithelial cells in the small intestine,  hypernucleation, disrupted microvilli, and  mitochondrial degeneration, increased numbers of lysosomes and autophagic vacuoles,all indications of an inflammatory reponse. This has been one of the key concerns with GMOs (5). Pusztai suggests transgenic proteins can have major effects on their gastrointestinal tract. As most proteins are immunogenic their consumption may trigger immune/allergic effects both in the mucosal immune system of the gut and more worrisome a systemic effect, where by the reaction affects the whole body. In the latter case, the size, structure, and function of other internal organs would be affected, particularly in individuals more succeptible, such as the immunocompromised (the young and elderly member of a population).
     However the work of Pusztai was refuted in the review by Key et al for inadequate sample size and poor methodolgy leading me to  question 1) Pusztai's work, but also 2) question why Dr Pusztai has simply not been asked to do further experiments in order to clarify the issues brought into question. To the best of my knowledge,similar studies have not carried out by Pusztai or others. Another important consideration is that Ermakovas work finding infertility following GMO is exclusively sponsored by GreenPeace and is not found in mainstream peer reviewed journals. While I have no qualms with GreenPeace, their ideological believes run contrary to the use of GMO crops and I find it odd that her findings are not published in a respected journal. In addition to Ermakova's work, there is one other 2010 trial that is often discussed in anti-gmo circles.

     One of the most unsettling studies in regards to gentically modified foods was first reported in the U.S. by Jefffrey Smith and published in the Huffington Post. (see here). This story has floated around the internet quite a bit. Unfortunately The story is based upon findings that were unpublished in the scientific literature at the time and do this date, the only study I have been able to locate that is even similar to this experiment is an abstract from a Russian journal with no author name listed (6). Supposedly the research was carried out by Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov and colleagfues seeking to find if GM soy beans lead to problems in growth or reproduction. The researchers used  hamsters, and divided the population into 4 groups. All groups were fed a normal hamster chow diet (control), in addtion to non-GM soy, GM soy, and "high" amounts of GM soy. They used 5 pairs of hamsters per group. After feeding hamsters for two years over three generations, those on the GM diet, and especially the group on the high GM soy diet, displayed alarming results. By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies. They also suffered slower growth, and a high mortality rate among offspring.
   Researchers are said to have selected new pairs from each group of the first generation, which generated a total of  39 litters. There were 52 pups born to the control group (standard chow only) and 78 to the non-GMO soy group. In the GMO feed groups (both groups), only 40 pups were born, and 25% of those born are reported to have died. This equates to a  fivefold higher death rate in GMO fed groups than the 5% seen among the controls. Also worthy of note, is that of the hamsters that ate "high" GM soy content, only 1 female hamster gave birth. The researchers claim that she had 16 pups and roughly 20% died. Although no statistics are given, Smith wrote that Surov claimed near total sterility in the third generation of GMO fed hamsters. These finding are certainly unsettling (if they are ever properly substantiated) especially when one considers that endocrine impairment is already being witnessed today. A recent study by Travison found a decline in serum testosterone levels in American men witnessed across all age matched groups compared to just 20 years ago (7).

      To wrap things up, I am uneasy about eating GMO food personally, based upon the current body of scientific literature. While it appears that most of the available literature in the peer reviewed journals has not found drastically shocking findings against GMO foods, there are also some findings that are definitely alarming. I do wish that the research that does appear to against GMOs had more mainstream credibilty, however, alot of research has been funded industry (mainly biotech industry but some anti GMO interests) as well. This leaves one to question if market forces are suppressing truth. Big tobacco comes to mind as a reference point.
     At the least we can say that there are inadequacies in the research. There are other factors that must be  questioned as well; How thorough researchers can be in their work simply due to current knowledge limitations. For example it is only possible to compare currently known properties and constituents of GMO foods in contrast to conventional foods. I would imagine there are still several unknown constiuents that are not even known, making it impossible to analyze these differences. This creates a severe limitation on selection criteria observed. Also results based solely on chemical analysis of macro/micronutrients and known toxins is at best inadequate and, possibly dangerous dangerous. One of the examples I read was compairng the protein, fats, etc of  healthy cows to those oo a cow with BSE (mad cow disease). They may be the same, but no one wants to eat the cow with mad cow disease.  So with all that said, I would reccomend avoiding GMOs and the best way to do that with out stressing out about it is to once agian just eat real food! Most of these crops are only found in processed foods containing GMO corn, soybean, canola, and the other usual suspects.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods; Friends or Foes

      So the last time I posted, I thought I would have another post up within 24 hrs. Yeah not so much. Sorry but time was not on my side.I finally determined what/where I will be doing a research project next year for my masters degree, and the I started my job milking on a small dairy this week.On Saturday I took a trip back to Chicago to find an apartment and listen to Jeffrey Smith give a presentation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Anyways today I would like to do a post GMOs myself.

     First off I want to say that I am not against the idea of genetically altering foods. Plant and animal breeding has taken place since the advent of horticulture. However this form of genetic manipulation is what one would call vertical gene transfer.The desired genes are transferred down from the parent organisms to the offspring. For example, a cattleman and dairy farmer might cross breed their herds to yield a breed that is both productive for producing milk and well muscled for meat production. An example of this would be the breed known as the American Milking Shorthorn (productive milk and beef producer). Similar means are used to produce desirable plants and flowers. Most of us probably remember learning a bit about this back in Middle School or High School science classes with Gregor Mendel and his pea plants (see more here). GMOs, however, are not achieved via vertical gene transfer. The technology utilized involves the use of horizontal gene transfer.
American Milking Shorthorn
The production of GMOs relies on a form of horizontal gene alteration known as transformation.For a thorough description of this process, you may want to refer to this article by Michael Peel, of the agriculture extension agency at North Dakota State University (here). The shortened version is something like this; a desirable gene is identified and isolated, and transferred to a bacterial plasmid (a small circular piece of DNA) for protection. The plasmid is then inserted into the cells of the plant the scientists seek to alter, with the hope that the gene on the plasmid will teansfer to the target cell. The other, more common means of transfer is coating particles of metals such as gold with the genes of interest and shooting them into the target cells with a gene gun (sounds sci-fi right?)  The scientists can then use certain markers to identify if the gene transfer has taken place between the plasmid (remember its carrying the desirable genes) or the gene carrying particles and the target plant cells.

Diagram of the described horizontal gene transfer for the visual learners out there.
      Now that we've discussed how GMOs are made, lets take a look at the implications. Genetic modification is not only used in foods. This technology can also be used to produce pharmaceutical drugs, and supplements. It is used in industry to produce useful chemical agents, and can also be used for genetic mapping purposes. To the best of my knowledge, the technology used for artifical genetic modification has only been in use since the early 1970's coincident with the Green Revolution (discussion on green revolution). There first study I could find on the use of genetic modification dates back to '73 and was done by Stanley Cohen and colleagues at UC-San Francisco (1).

  In my opinion, the discoveries of Cohen and others during the green revolution were beneficial to the quality of life for mankind, with the increased production of  high quality food (although I cant say the same for the earth as a whole due to increased population pressure and environmental degradation). Contrary to others, I dont think the green revolution was spurred by malice. The occurence of the Green Revolution is a major reason the population has ballooned from 3.7 in 1970 roughly 7 billion today. In the words of Cohen et al,
   " Here is potentially useful for insertion of specific sequences from prokaryotic or eukaryotic chromosomes or extrachromosomal DNA into independently replicating bacterial plasmids."

    I believe the intent was great, but unfortunately overzealous corporations and policy makers have been too quick to allow the rapid proliferation of genetically modified crops into our food system and business practices have been less than scrupulous to say the least. In theory drought resisatant rice in sub saharan Africa sounds great to alleviate hunger in the region. I would love to see cold tolerant banana & cashew treeshere in my native midwest, but there are several catches to be considered.

   To begin with, the production of GMOs is most often carried out large corporations with profits in mind, more so than the greater good of man. Four companies, Syngenta, Dupont, Bayer, and Monsanto are thought to control more than half of the world's seeds (2) Monsanto alone holds over 650 seed patents! In addition to owning a lion's share of these market these companies do not have trhe greatest track record. For example it has been well reported in documentaries such as Unatural Selection the foreign media such as The Dailymail and The Telegraph across the pond in the UK that the practices of Monsanto led to massive suicide numbers by indian farmers. Anecdotally I have discussed with many India natives over the years as well. This 2008 article in The Dailymail by Andrew Malone describes the situation (3).

   The gist of it is that in India for millenia, farmers have farmed using heirloom seeds and re-collected the native seeds every year at no cost. In recent years, Monsanto has marketed their seeds to farmers promising higher yield. The farmers pay the premium for Monsanto's patented seeds and chemicals (Roundup anyone?) with loans expecting high yields to pay back their loans. Unfortunately the promised high yields have not come to fruition in many cases, leading the farmers to yield net loss rather than financial gain. Furthermore, since the seeds are Monsantos they cannot recollect them. They must but more seeds. Several farmers have been driven so far into debt that they are forced to relinquish their familt land, which has often been passed generation to generation for several genearations. The circumstances have led many to commit suicide. Fortunately activists such as Vandana Shiva are doing their part to educate the Indianfarmers and reclaim Indias farming sovereignity. Farming in smaller, "less developed" nations is less of a business and small farms can not afford to risk their financial livlihoods on promises of companies such as the four listed above. On another positive note, farmers in other nations have got the message as well.
    Coverage of the Haiti earthquake aftermath by the mainstream media died down pretty quickly, but the Huffington Post reported that Haitian farmers actually burned seeds "donated" by Monsanto. The article reported that  peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called for the immediate burning the of 60,000 seed sacks to be donated  by Monsanto, thus saving the farmers from having to continually purchase Monsanto seeds and the pesticides that often accompany the seeds. The farmers may or maynot have given up higher yileds by burning the seeds, but I have to agree with there decision, in that I would not want to play financial russian roulette with the Monsanto seeds either.

     Well its getting past my blogging time limit, and I have some gardening to do, so let me try to top this post off. Tomorrow I plan to discuss the health implications of GMOs. As I said I am not completely against the idea of gene modification and the improvement of plant characteristics, but as noted earlier the technology is extremely recent, relatively speaking, and I don't think these plants should have been introduced to our food system without thorough inspection on health implicationsfirst. Unfortunately that is not the case. Animal studies have been mixed in regardes to health findings in animal feeding models. Negative findings have included organ damage and sterility within 3 generations of feeding aniamls GMO feed! I plan to discuss this tomorrow.

   As I stated above, our media has not done a great job of informing the public on GMOs, the possible associated risks, and the bad business practices taking place. Below is the story of two respected journalists, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre who were censored from reporitng an unflattering news piece on a local Florida Fox station. No conspiracy here, as it makes perfect financial sense for media mogul Rupert Murdoch not to risk losing millions in advertising dollars from Monsanto for his Fox empire (see Murdoch wiki).

     In conclusion let me finish this up with a little positive news and a couple of resources. The knowledge on GMOs is finally going a little more mainstream. Prince Charles has actually been calling for cessation on the use of GMO and even spoke against factory farming just days after the recent royal wedding (45). Jeffrey Smith, one of the worlds leading advocates made a recent appearance on the Dr. Oz show to discuss GMOs (here). The Huffington Post   recently reported that 9 out of 10 Americans would like to see GMOs labeled (which they currently are not) and 53% of those polled stated they would make a conscious effort NOT to buy GMOs if they knew what foods they were found in (here).

I really have not discussed the health findings that may lead many to want to forfeit GMOs quite yet but for those interested in learning more I suggest navigating the Institute for Responsible Technology. There you can find non GMO shopping guides, as well as read the blog solely dedicated to GMOs, and download other resources such as audio CDs you can use for your own further education and to give to friends , family, etc.
Heres the link....

Lastly (no really), a quick tip I often reccomend to avoid GMOs is to just avoid processed foods (as you should be doing anyway) and read your PLU's when you buy produce. If it begins with 4, it's conventional. If it begins with 9, it's organic and if the PLU begins with 8, the product is GMO. In the 3-4 years I have known to do this, I have never seen a PLU beginning with an 8. Heres an example just in case; 4060 = broccoli, 94060 = organic broccoli, 84060 = GMO broccoli. Again just an example, Ive never seen GMO broccoli. A mnemonic my mom came up with is 8 is evil, 9 is nice.

Alright that's it for today.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Back and Balanced

Whew...took some time off there.

       Im not a self help guru and will never proclaim to be, never. I am too indecisive (open-minded, to be more positive) and I am willing to consider that in nearly all endeavors there is not a crystallized right and wrong way to do things. However,I just thought today would be a good day to stress the importance of balance in one's life. I have not posted in just over month and here is why; This semester I decided to take 4 graduate level courses, help a copuple of other grad students with their research project, work 2 teaching assistant (TA) positions, and continue with my part time job at the gym.In addition to this load, in January I also decided it was time to start passing some of my acquired knowledge forward (to anyone who wants to read it of course) and start a blog.With that in mind, I will always feel the need to workout at a high level of intensity and maintain a diet that I feel is at least in the ball park of being optimal for health.

     Needless to say I turned the concept of balance into a balancing act.Something had to give, if I were to maintain the little bit of sanity Im working with, so I figured with only a very small following, the blog would be the least impactful on my or anyone else's interests. Fortunately I am done with the semester now, and have decided to scale back my work load.  Don't get me wrong, I dont think my schedule was exactly back breaking, relatively speaking. For example, one of students this semester worked full time as a cop, took 12 credit hours, and maintained a marriage.  I know other people who maintain a much more daunting schedules than myself as well, but I think it again all comes down to balance, and what the individual's priorities are. I'm ofetn interested and wonder how long these people can this up also.

   For me to maintain my happiness, I need to be able to get my time in the gym, sleep about 7 hours per, allocate enough of my time to each of my respective endeavors to do reasonably well in each of them, maintain my JERF diet (just eat real food!), and have some quiet time at night just to read and think. It may sound like a lot, but if this is not happening, the lifestyle is not sustainable for me, as it is not conducive to my happiness and overall well being.  For some people, doing what they do well may not be a priority (unfortunately I see this alot), or a maybe they have no qualms with eating convenience "food", they workout less frequently, and the list goes on. For some of us the deal breaker maybe lack of socializing, television, and again the list goes on.

   The point is that I think it's key for all of us to periodically take the time to consider what's important in our lives and from there try to allocate our time in such a manner that we achieve what we, as individuals, believe to be balance. After we allocate time to balance our lives we have to try to remember that these activities, pursuits are important to us, or they bring us joy, or at least consider the alternative. Basically just don't lose sight of why your doing what your doing

    Also, in order to maintain the sanity, happiness, fulfillment, or  (insert whatever), I think it's important we don't lose sight of what we do because we like to versus what we do beacause we have to. Robb Wolf does a great job discussing this in the stress management portion of The Paleo Solution. He likens us to being "zoo humans". I couldn't agree more. My own thoughts, in addtion to just talking with fellow stressed out peers, friends, et cetera, kind of reaffirmed for me how many of us constantly feel the need to do things that are not actually neccessary. For example, you can study 2 hours and get a B  on an exam or study 5 hours and get an A. Its kind of like a spin on Pareto's. Our society selects the types who put in that 5 hours, but I have to wonder how admirable that really is. I know I have spent numerous hours in front of the ol' monitor that could have been spent relaxing, socializng , self educating, and so forth. For me, I find the A to be gratifying, a quantifiable means of verifying my intellligence or ability to work hard. This applies in other area of live too, needless to say.

I cant count how many days this semester I would stress about having to get my workout, rather than focusing on I get to workout, or I get to read. These are activities I like to do, but unintentionally turned them into chores. I just hope everyone reading can learn from my mistake and not make the same indiscretion. Its a privelege to spend time with family, going to work to earn money (at least in this economy anyway), gettingan education. Unfortunately we all lose sight of this sometimes. As busy as my schedule was , I know I would much rather it, than to be sitting back on my mom's couch.

   Well before I turn this into a complete vent session (hopefully I haven't done so already), I want to conclude that I am back, and I plan on posting at the minimum, weekly. In order to keep this task from becoming a chore, the length may be cut down a bit, as well as the diligance I put fourth in citing every meaningful claim/statement, but I want to continue to do this in sustainable manner that allows me to have fun while at the same put out informantion that may help others to improve their health as well. Look out for a post in the next 24 hours!

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly – at first”....Lesson learned!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New "Pre-hab" exercise

Hi everyone,

Today I wanted to share a new exercise (well at least new to me) with you that you may want to add to the exercise routine. The exercise is called the "superdog" as coined by strength coach Nick Tumminello. The exercise is to be used a prehab exercise perhaps before serious resistance training would be a god time to really get your gluteal musculature warmed up and to make sure the muscles are "firing'. However I could see using the superdog a the end of an exercise session as well as a finisher type movement to really tax the gluteals after to wrap up a solid workout.

Below is a video of the superdog being presented by Coach Tumminelo

The exercise is a twist on two commonly used core exercises, the superman and the birddog. I'll post videos to those video as well. The superman and the birddog are often performed while the athlete is in a state of exaggerated lumbar lordosis or anterior pelvic tilt.

The anterior rotation of the pelvis and accompanying lumbar lordosis actually renders certain exercises which are meant to alleviate structural imbalances pretty much worthless as is the case when superman's and birddogs are performed incorrectly. The purpose of said exercises is strengthen the core musculature as a whole (1). For a review of the EMG activity witnessed and current thoughts on many of the core exercises being used see this review of the literature by a team of researchers from Spain (2). However when performed in exaggerated lordosis, these types of exercises lengthen trunk flexor muscles while leaving the posterior extensor muscles at appropriate lengths for near optimal force production, thus rendering the movement advantageous for the posterior muscles which further encourage the problematic exaggerated lordosis we are discussing.
Good core exercises are meant to tax several muscles of the core region resulting in a synergistic effect optimizing stability. 

For a further explanation of exaggerated lordosis check out this link to exrx which does a nice job of explaining how this posture is injurious to the lower back.  When performed in exaggerated lordosis, lifts such as the shoulder press, squat, etc. induce higher loads on passive tissues in the spine (i.e. ligaments) when the spine deviates from a neutral posture Findings from a study by Shirazi-Adl (3) that tissue loading is markedly affected by the postural changes and accompanying load distributions varying up to 60% based on the posture adopted. I like that study because real world loads of up to 2800 Newtons (roughly 270 kg) were used. 
As an athlete or weekend warrior you don't want heavy loads on the spine to be exaggerated by adopting faulty postural patterns while exercising

To wrap things up, I agree with Coach Tumminello in that the superdog forces the back into a neutral position forcing the gluteal muscles to do the work not the back extensor muscles. I'll post a couple of videos to the superman and birddog. If you are going to perform these movements, do so in neutral spinal alignment  to ensure you are working all of the core muscles rather than explicitly targeting the spinal extensors which may already be overly-dominant. In closing lumbar stability + thoracic mobility + hip mobility = safer more efficient movement patterns.

The birddog
The superman

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Home Food

"Most lawns are purely cosmetic in function. Thus, affluent societies have, all unnoticed, developed an agriculture which produces a polluted waste product, in the presence of famine and erosion elsewhere, and the threat of water shortages at home"-Bill Mollison
Pretty handy book if your in to gardening or self sustainablility...

My current night stand read is Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison. Mollison is credited as being the founder of Permaculture, which essentially focuses on establishing sustainable cultures through sustainable food production, urban design,even efficient use of city refuse (humanure) and so forth. I first heard about Mollison while reading some of Joel Salatin's work. The past couple of years I have been reading gardening books and putting my skills to the test, but permaculture is the equivalent to putting your garden on steroids.* The point of this post is that it is spring time and therefore time to start getting seeds ready or at least planning your garden. Even a couple of symbolic tomato plants on the patio hepls. Here is a photo of some plant's from my garden last year.

The Brassica gang holding down fort.

In any case, I would reccomend the book and the practices it espouses to just about anyone. Whether you are interested in good health or the environment, self subsistence, or even saving a buck; growing your own food is a good idea. Personally, I do it for all of the above. Growing your own food is great supplemental exercise for the fitness enthusiast and probably adequate for the lay person if they take an old school approach and minimize the use power tools. On top of that, you can't beat fresh food. No matter what "diet" one follows, low carb, paleo, vegan/vegetarien, etc. All of these diets tend to include some plant matter unles your trying to get your Vilhjalmur Stefansson on (see bio). 
This is proof that mowing the lawn is much less cool in contrast to gardening.

Current events taking place in the world further validate the need for at least the supplemental production of local food. Not to start any debates on the merits of the globalized food production system, but the current situations in Japan and the middle east  illustrate this point quite well. For example, imagine if nuclear fallout indeed did make its way over to California soil. California is the number one food producing state in our country (1). According to a California tourist site, which I will be the first to admit may not be the most credible source, California produces over half the nations fruit, vegetable, and nut products, along with being a major dairy producer (2). Personally I know a majority of the produce I have eaten since late December has come via California.
Our food is often times more traveled than we are.

Certain foods are also highly specialized in only one or two parts of the country leaving the entire crop production highly vulnerable to disease or natural disaster. For example a majority of the worlds corn is grown in the midwest and Brazil. An article released from University of California-Davis also reports that 60 perccent of the nations apples come from Washington state alone (3). With that in mind, I understand that we can't live in fear of hypothetical situations, but it is probably prudent for the country not to put all of its eggs (and other foods) in one basket. A little bit of effort by surburanites and even city dwellers could really help to fortify our food base as well as increase the general nutrition of the food we eat.**

Think about how much food could be produced in suburban yards as well as the gas from lawn mowers that could saved or reallocated, and nitrogen run off from all the turf builder/fertilizer applied. We would also drastically cut down on food mileage. According to a report form the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, its takes about 250 Calories to produce a typical pound of pears or apples once all fuel input is taken into account (4). According to, a pound of apple only provided about 250 Calories itself (see here). In my current city, Chicago, it takes an average of 1518 miles traveled to put produce on the table (4). In Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma, it is written that it takes roughly 10 Calories to produce every 1 Calorie provided in typical California grown lettuce.

I am trying to further develop my food production adroitness this year by starting all my plants from seed, but it really can be as simple as buying a few plants from Lowes or Home Depot and plopping them in the ground, followed by an occasional watering and weeding. It really comes back to the situation being a win-win. We can have people reconnected with their food, use millions of acres of "lawn" to grow food rather than practice indentured servitude to grass. There are obviously  flaws in the current system of food production, and getting out and growing a little of your own certainly wouldn't hurt.

Mixing up some of my seed starting mix...home made compost, potting soil & vermiculture

 * Just to be clear in "gardening on steroids" comment I mean Permaculture is a step up in terms of sustainability and production. I am not referring to use of synthetic fertilizers or using pesticides.

**Analytical studies show that certain processing techniques and the travel/aging of foods can cause nutrient loss in the form of vitamin and phytochemical loss (5, 6).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fasted Cardio part 1

Update: Due to time constraints and the finding of new material to review this will be a 2 parter

Finally spring appears to be right around the corner. With the emergence of the the sun occuring before noon (ok 7 am), a recent bodybuilding event, and a few recent articles I've come across I wanted to a post on morning exercise, or fasted exercise in general. Personally when the sun is up and it's not freezing outside, I find that I am more inclined to want to get in some morning exercise as opposed to when its dark and cold in the morning. So that is what piqued my interest to look into the science behind fasted cardio this year, along with the bodybuilding event I mentioned.
 This past weekend, the Arnold Classic took place. The show is essentially the 2nd biggest show in pro bodybuilding, next to the Mr. Olympia. I read some of the contestants columns in Muscular Development magazine, and you can be sure each of them used some form of fasted cardio to get leaner for the show. In fact alot of serious fitness enthusiasts incorporate fasted conditioning into their exercise regimens in an effort to "maximize fat loss" since they are exercisng on an empty stomach. I realize several will argue that one shouldn't base decisions off of anecdotes for several reasons including confounders, personal bias, subjective outcomce meausures, chance outcomes, etc. Nonetheless,  I still believe in anecdotes, but I decided to look into a bit more more. By chance, the first "scientific" article I came across was from the most recent Strength and Conditioning Journal which was waiting for me back at my mom's house this weekend. Anyways I was none too impressed with the article. Here's why...

First off the author Brad Schoenfield, acknowledges the popularity and rationale behind fasted cardio, but concludes science does not back its efficacly. Here I will have to disagree. He goes on to write that, "First and foremost, it is shortsighted to look solely at how much fat is burned during an exercise session. The human body is very dynamic and continually adjusts its use of fat for fuel. Substrate utilization is governed by a host of factors (i.e., hormonal secretions, enzyme activity, transcription factors, etc), and these factors can change by the moment ." when considering the rationale behind one burning more fat during fasted cardio than blood glucose. However this statement in contradictory.

Despite acknowledging substrate utilization (fat or carbohytdrate) is affected by hormone secretion and gene expression, the article does not take this into account throughout its entirity, later writing, " fat burning must be considered over the course of days-not on an hour-to-hour basis-to get a meaningful perspective on its impact on body composition".  I am under the impression, Schoenfield assumes that exercising with food in the stomach will allow one to exercise longer or harder and thus burn more calories. One of the references Schoenfield uses is a classic cycling study out of Time Noakes lab showing that a preexercise meal enhances time to exhaustion in a bout of cycling compared to a fasted state (1). The key finding of this study was subjects that consumed breakfast rode for  136 minutes (+/-14 min) compared with 109 minutes (+/-12 min) when they cycled in the fasted state (109+/-12 min). These findings are not at all relevant to the average person looking to shed some fat.While going harder or longer is ideal for athletes, the general population is looking for fat loss and riding a bike to exhaustion for 2.5 hours is not quite neccessary for fat loss.  Calories burned is not as important as the hormonal response and subsequent gene expression. I have explained this before when discussing how intervals are superior to steady state cardio for fatloss despite burning far fewer calories in a session (see here).

Interval training increases stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and growth hormone(2, 3). Increasing these hormones during the exercise bouts chronically increases enzymes that are key to fat metabolism such as Citrate Synthase (4) and fat transporting proteins such as FAT/CD36 (5) . So without sounding all fanatic, like many fitness websites out there, interval training essentially increases the bodie's ability to burn fat, whether during exercise or at rest.

Now here is where things get real interesting in the Schoenfield article, the author acknowleges, " multiple studies show that consumption of carbohydrate before low-intensity aerobic exercise in untrained subjects reduces the entry of long-chain fatty acids in the mitochondria, thereby blunting fat oxidation. This is attributed to an insulin-mediated attenuation of adipose tissue lipolysis... and a decreased expression of genes involved in fatty acid transport and oxidation"  Basically this equates to eat he recognizes eating before exercise causes an increase in insulin, and insulin stops the breakdown of fat (adipose tissue lipolysis) and decreases the actions of genes that express for enzymes important in fat metabolism. One of the referenced studies is a study infact showing that eating before exercise decreases fat burning or lipolysis (6) but then the author states,  "both training status and aerobic exercise intensity have been shown to mitigate the effects of a pre-exercise meal on fat oxidation." That is not neccessarily the case. Its true that intense exercise will lower insulin levels and increase the bodies ability to "burn" fat, but for the average person who has an active life or other fitness goals such as body building, power lifting, etc. or maybe even an athlete just trying to supplement their current training, high intensity work is not always practicial. Moderate intensity does not suppress inuslin or increase the stress hormone response to exercise to the same extent as high intensity exercise. This can be read in any exercise physiology text. The following figure will show whats going on.

(BTW this is figure 5.10 from Physiology of Sport & Exercise by Jack Wilmore, Dave Costill, and W. Larry Kenney)

Basically exercise increases  glucose rate of appearance from the liver to be used as fuel. There is a subsequent decrease in insulin caused by the stress hormones I mentioned earlier in the post. One might ask how we can use that extra glucose if we have a decrease in insulin? During exercise we experience a shift in a protein that allows glucose into the cell, called GLUT4, to the cell membrane (7). This allows for the decrease in insulin while still allowing our cells to handle more glucose than would be encountered at rest. In fat as one adopts an exercise plan, they increase GLUT4 content, and the ability to translocate these proteins to the cell membrane. This is one of the key mechanisms that results in the exercising population being more insulin "sensitive" (8). Unfortunately once you stop exercising this increase in insulin sensitivity can diminish in as little as a week according to some studies. I am not so sure about this personally, but let me stop going off on a tangent.

Here is a visual of the GLUT4 transporter at the cell membrane to get a better picture of what is going on...

With more GLUT4 translocation occuring without it, less insulin is needed resulting in increased insulin sensitivity.

So hopefully what you have been able to gather is that a bout of exercise is about much more than burning calories. Particularly you are looking for a hormonal and general physiological response that will improve the bodie's ability to burn fat fat in the long run. This includes increasing enzymes and different proteins that help facilitate this process as well as decreasing circulating insulin. Fasted cardio seems to be advantageous in this department. First off after an overnight fast, you start off with lower insulin. Subsequently, the stress hormone associated with exercise drive it down further than would be experienced after a meal (breakfast) thus inhibiting insulin's fat storing effects and enhancing the lipotytic effects of the stress hormones. In regards to the GLUT4 adaptation and resting insulin levels, I am not sure at this point in time. In part 2 of this post, I plan to follow up on this by reviewing a couple of randomized experimental trials that indeed show fasting cardio is superior over the long term to exercising at the same intensity while fed.

I also just want to mention that I have no bones with Brad Schoenfield. I have read alot of his previous material and he seems like an intelligent guy. I know he has helped alot of people reach their fitness goals. However, I feel in his most recent article discussing fasted exercise, he over contextualized. It's true some people need a little food in their belly before an intense bout of exercise whether it be conditioning, sports, or weight training. With that said, there is nothing wrong with those looking to lose fat exercisng in the fasted state to facilitae metabolic adaptations that will encourage their body to metabolize fat.