Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Like Putting Zipps on a Magna 10 Speed from Target

Nobody would ever spend $2K on a set of Zipp wheels and then put them on a department store bike that sells for $89.99 (well, almost).  To really get the most out a machine and the experience, you have to keep the end goal in mind from the ground up, and from the inside out.  The frame material, the geometry, components, etc. must all be taken into consideration.  That is obvious when it comes to a bicycle.  What is not so obvious is the parallel I see in many of the bodies of cyclists.  Much focus is put into performance and training methods and hours upon hours of time and energy is devoted to base miles, intervals, with even more $$ put towards coaching or better gear.  But how much is all the training and gear worth, if the fundamentals of health are never addressed?  You cannot be fast or strong without first being "healthy".  And if you think you are fast now by cutting corners on the basics of healthy human physiology, just imagine the heights your fitness would reach if you put your training on top of a mountain of healthy lifestyle factors.  It's like putting a set of Zipp 404s on your mom's rail trail bike.  You just aren't going to get out of it what you put into it and will probably ruin the whole machine in the long run, which in our case is our bodies.

I covered this topic in greater detail at the Trek of Pittsburgh Winter Lecture Series earlier this year and wanted to revisit it.  There are a handful of core principles that must not be overlooked or you will limit your ability to improve, no matter how you train.  And bear with me, even though some points may sound familiar, that doesn't mean that they are weak.  Following these points will improve every area of your life, even as you age, AND will allow you to become stronger after each work out or ride.

1.  Rest
Some people can get by with less sleep, but if you're training to perform, you're goal is not to "get by".  Your goal is to maximize your training and to do that you must recover from the slight damage you do to yourself while training.  Much has been written on this but here are some basics:  During an normal and complete sleep cycle, one will go through the stages of sleep (REM being one of them) in a pattern.  The deepest stages come quick, which are followed by the longest REM stages.  Note that for a complete cycle it takes around  a 7-8 hour period of sleep.  If you are getting less than 7 or even 8 hours, and many "get by" on 6 or less, you simply are not getting rested physically (which takes place in the deep stages), or mentally (which takes place in the REM stage).  And this isn't for athletes, this is for "normal" people.  Obviously if you're riding 10-15 hours a week, you're going to require more rest.  Eight hours is not unreasonable.  Just turn off the tube and  try it for a few nights.  (If you can't fall asleep, then jumpstart going to bead earlier by forcing yourself to get up earlier, that will make you ready for bed.)

*side note: REM is when information is transferred from short to long term memory.  Ever pull an all nighter for a test, or get the obligatory 1 or 2 hours, take the test, and have no idea what you "learned" 1 or 2 days after the test?  Now you know why.
Maybe this helps:

2. Mulitvitamin/Multimineral

The next is really simple.  This is what the Journal of the American Medical Association has to say about the standard American diet (SAD):

"... suboptimal intake of some vitamins, above levels causing classic vitamin deficiency, is a risk factor for chronic diseases and common in the general population, especially the elderly."

"Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements."

Again, this is for "normal" people, the general population, which is everyone.  But the extra demands we put on our bodies from training and racing should have us supplementing our diets with a high quality multivitamin/multimineral with at least as much diligence as we try and work out or ride.   I've used a liquid, whole food supplement for over 7 years and love it.

3.  Omega3 Fatty Acids

This is also a no brainer and it goes something like this:

Less than perfect diet = inflammation.  
Extra exercise = inflammation 
Omega 3 Fatty Acids = best way to naturally bring down inflammation, sharpen cognitive functions, and limit your risk of developing a chronic disease.  Fish oil is usually the best source, but UDO's 3-6-9 Blend is a great vegetarian option.

So there are 3 very simple ways to dramatically improve your health and allowing you to get faster and stronger for each workout that you put in.  

-Dr. Darin 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why Coke is PRO But Mere Mortals Should Use Caution

                                                         Paolo Bettini chugging a Coke

I've always been perplexed as to why cyclists, with the best info and drive to take care of their bodies would put something so synthetic and harsh into their bodies.  I guessed it was because of the sugar caffeine hit, but never actually came across any literature, at least not as well summarized as what plopped in my inbox the other day.  I wanted to pass this great email on from Dr. Gabe Mirkin that talks about High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCSs, (the sugar source for so many processed drinks, foods and candies).  It has a load of references stating how the combination of HFCS and caffeine work together to boost performance.  But be careful, the rationale doesn't justify drinking Coke (or any beverage with HFCSs) for everyone.  I can't summarize his info any better so read it in his own words below:

Sodas with HFCS and Caffeine May Be Best Drinks for Endurance

      The limiting factor in endurance racing is the time that it
takes to get enough oxygen into muscles to burn food for energy. 
Anything that reduces oxygen requirements allows you to race
faster. Sugar stored in muscles, called glycogen, requires less
oxygen than fat or protein. Anything that helps you keep sugar
in muscles longer gives you greater endurance.
      A study from Georgia State University shows that drinks that
contain both glucose and fructose burn more carbohydrates than
those containing only glucose, and allow cyclists to ride much
faster over 60 miles (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and
Exercise Metabolism, April 2010).
      Most soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup
(HFCS). Both HFCS and conventional sugar (sucrose) contain a
mixture of two sugars, glucose and fructose, in nearly the same
concentrations: HFCS has 55 percent fructose/42 percent glucose,
while sucrose is a 50/50 mixture. So the relative concentrations
of glucose and fructose are not significant. However, the fructose
in sucrose from cane or beet sugar is bound to glucose and must 
first be separated from it, so it is absorbed more slowly into the
bloodstream. The manufacturing process for HFCS frees the
fructose from glucose to makes it into a free, unbound form that
is absorbed more rapidly into the bloodstream. This could cause
a higher rise in blood sugar ((Pharmacology, Biochemistry and
Behavior, March 18, 2010) and provide more sugar for muscles
during exercise.  We need to wait for more research to know if
HFCS drinks improve endurance more those made with cane or beet
      Caffeine increases endurance (Medicine & Science in Sports
& Exercise, July 2010) by increasing absorption of sugar by
muscles (Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2006). Those who
took sugared drinks with caffeine were able to absorb and use 26
percent more of the ingested sugar than those who took the same
drinks without caffeine.
      On long rides, we drink colas for their sugar and caffeine.
However, you should take sugared drinks only when you exercise and
for up to an hour after you finish(emphasis added)
.  Contracting muscles remove
sugar from the bloodstream rapidly without needing much insulin. 
Taking sugared drinks when you are not exercising causes higher
rises in blood sugar that increase risk for diabetes and cell
damage (emphasis added).

The take home message is this: what makes HFCS so effective to replenish glycogen stores during or immediately after a hard or long ride is exactly why it is so destructive at any other time.  The sugars in HFCSs are absorbed so much faster into the blood than even white table sugar, resulting in such an insulin and blood sugar spike that in any other circumstance (an afternoon pick me up or to wash down lunch) it damages the insulin and sugar control mechanisms.  And since the liver is what is primarily responsible for converting excess sugar into fat, it wrecks total havoc.  What kind of havoc?  Like the kind of damage alcoholics do to themselves, but without the alcohol.  In fact, it's referred to as "non-alcoholic fatty liver disease" and is showing up exponentially in children , with the rise in consumption of highly processed foods sweetened with HFCSs high on the list of culprits.

So don't make it any harder on your liver, (and pancreas, blood vessels, etc. for that matter) by consuming HFCSs than it has to be.  And if you are going to indulge yourself, at least savor it during or immediately after a long or hard ride (or run, swim, etc.)

-Dr. D

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Can't Trust Advertising Tuesday Tip!

We are bombarded from every direction with information about our health.  But one area that is perhaps the most confusing is the grocery store.  Virtually every product has a label on it extolling the "healthy" benefits it possesses, and manufacturers are always looking for new ways to promote their old products as "healthy".  Unfortunately this leads to a lot of conflicting information, and chances are you've encountered conflicting information as to what is or isn't' "good for you".  Now more than ever it's important for the "buyer to beware" and to arm one's self with sound information to make Better decision.  The point I'm trying to make is this:  Don't make the mistake of confusing advertising campaigns for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  To help illustrate my point,  I'll start with Exhibit A:

"More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette!"  - Camel ad circa 1940s

One might say that sufficient information wasn't available at the time to condemn smoking like it has been recently.  There were several years in the early 1950s when the American Medical Association accepted advertising dollars from tobacco companies while they published research articles linking cigarettes and cancer.  Interesting to say the least.

But nowhere is there more misleading information than in the grocery store.

One of the biggest misleading statements I see in the grocery store is the label "fat free".  What "fat free" really means, as far as the Nutrition Facts data and FDA are concerned, is that the item contains less than 500mg, or 0.5g of fat per serving.  But what might this mean to you and I as we are trying to fill up our shopping cart for the week?  Example:  a cookie may have 0.3 grams of fat per serving, and 1 serving is equal to one cookie.  If one were to eat 6 cookies, that would equal almost 2 grams of fat total, and the label on the box can legally read "Fat Free!".

Another misleading concept around "fat free" is the fact that many items are by nature very low in fat, but high in sugar.  Many candies fall in this category.  Twizzlers for example, contain only 2 grams of fat per serving, but a whopping 57 grams of sugar; that's 92% sugar.  Now, guess where the body stores all the excess sugar?  You got it, it stores it as fat.  Don't be tricked into feeling better about a purchase because it has a label on the front that advertises some "healthy" benefit.  Look at the servings and look at the ingredients.  Don't get me wrong, I like Twizzlers and they have gotten me home on many a bonked ride.  But if I were trying to lose weight this would be very misleading spin on what a Twizzler is and what it's impact on my weight and blood sugar cycles would be. 

A typical bottle of soda (that's "pop" for us Yinzers) might have 30+ grams of sugar per serving, but the whole bottle might be 2.5 servings.  That's about 75 grams of sugar in a bottle, which might polished off very easily at lunch or on a snack break.  So beware of labels and read them thoroughly.

-Dr. D

PS If you thought this was helpful, please post this on your Facebook page and share with your friends.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Do You Know Where 95% of Your Body's Energy Comes From and How to Protect It?

CoQ10 receives a lot of attention in the media but I find that many people are only vaguely aware of what it does in the body and if it is something they should consider for supplementation.

Once CoQ10 was discovered, it was quickly realized that it was present virtually every where the researchers looked, so you might also here it referred to as "ubiquinone", taken from the word "ubiquitous".  But what' so special about it?

Allow me to connect some dots.  We eat food and get energy from it.  We also breath oxygen.  Both of which we cannot live without.  The reason is because our bodies convert the stuff we eat into energy, and to do so require oxygen to help run the whole process.  CoQ10 is a molecule that plays a direct role in that process.  As a food molecules are broken down, each piece is handed off like much like hot potato.  At each hand off, a little bit of energy is taken from the molecule and saved in the form of ATP.  It might help to think of water turning a wheel as if flows down stream, producing energy that spins the wheel which can be used for other things like grinding grain or generating electricity.  To give you an idea how big of a deal this is, 95% of the human body's energy is produced this way and it makes sense that the organs that have the highest demands for energy, including the heart, liver and kidneys, have the highest concentration of CoQ10 found in them.

Here are some quick rules for when someone should supplement with CoQ10:
  • STATIN drug use - STATINS are known to lower CoQ10 levels and produce muscle pain and damage the liver, which makes CoQ10 and has a high demand for it
  • over 55 years old - our ability to make CoQ10 decreases with age
  • heart conditions - the heart has especially high demands for CoQ10
  • Parkinson's - the Basal Ganglia, the area damaged in Parkinson's disease has high demands for CoQ10
  • immune deficiencies - the immune system requires extra energy to function on top of the normal metabolic demands of the body
And the list goes on.

Although it has been a challenge getting CoQ10 in a form that is readily absorbable by the body, you can now find "emulsified" preparations that are more easily absorbed.  Also, recent research has pointed to use of a specific form of CoQ10, called "ubiquinol", as a potentially better form for supplementation since ubiquinol is the reduced form of ubiquinone, and carries with it the extra electrons that make it a powerful antioxidant.

Tomorrow will be the first "Can't Trust Advertising Tuesday" post where I point out the difference between what science tells us and what advertising campaigns try to sell us, you won't want to miss it!

-Dr. Darin

Friday, July 2, 2010

Apple a Day, or Aspirin a Day? Part II

So yesterday I wrote about 2 categories of hormone-like substances that play different roles in the body.  One category the body uses to repair injuries, or for infections by stimulating the process called inflammation.  The other category offsets these effects by promoting things like relaxation of blood vessel walls, decreasing sensitivity to pain, relaxing muscle spasms, etc.  If you need a refresher, check out yesterday's post.

Aspirin works by blocking the enzymes that activate the hormone-like substances we just talked about.  But it blocks BOTH groups.  So while there will be a decrease in the production of inflammatory signals, it also cuts off the body's anti-inflammatory signaling pathways.  Probably alright for short term relief, but clearly not a good long term solution.

The good news is that there are ways to increase the production of the anti-inflammatory signals, and that is by make sure the nutrients are there to do so.  EPA and DHA, two essential fatty acids that are found in cold water fish, ARE the precursors that are necessary to run the anti-inflammatory pathways in our cells.  Research has shown that the average American is terribly deficient in these nutrients, which tips the balance in favor of producing too many inflammatory signals, which is why chronic degenerative diseases, mediated by an inflammatory process gone wild, is the cause of 1 in 7 deaths in the US is the cause of 1 in 7 deaths in the US today.

EPA and DHA are two of the primary factors in fish oil, which also belong to the Omega 3 Fatty Acid family.  That's why fish oil has recieved so much attention over the years.  The typical diet is high in Omega 6 Fatty Acids, which promote production of the inflammatory category of hormone-like substances, which ends up looking like this:

You don't want that.

Live Better Through Balancing out your body's biochemistry!  Make daily supplementation of high quality essential fatty acids a part of your ongoing nutritional program.  Fruits and vegetables just happen to be very anti-inflammatory (unless you have an allergy or your digestive tract is in severe distress like in Chron's disease).   and live a longer, happier, healthier life!

For more information on this fascinating subject, check out

  • has a ton of useful information, the most visited "natural" health site on the planet
  • Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill - a book by Udo Erasmus
  • or shoot me a message with your question
It's also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the idea of an anti-inflammatory diet
and learn to work it into your lifestyle. 

I know, just in time for picnic and party food for the 4th of July weekend. 

Have a safe and happy 4th of July.
-Dr. D

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An Apple a Day? Or an Aspirin a Day? Let's See...

Many people have often used the expression, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". That may not be too far from the truth given all the known nutrients and benefits found in apples. Just look at all of the known nutrients in apples:

And this isn't to mention all of the nutrients that haven't been discovered or those that we know about but aren't sure how they work in our bodies. Want to get all of that in a pill? You're only fooling yourself. Like many other fruits and vegetables, apples really are an incredible food.
Contrast that with the relatively recent promotion of taking an aspirin a day, not for pain or a specific problem, but for disease-prevention, specifically heart disease. While aspirin is very effective at reducing some kinds of pain and inflammation and does affect the chemistry involved in clotting and the production of plaques on arterial walls, it is very poor in the long term for chronic pain and even worse for preventing heart disease. The reason is because of all of the harmful side effects that include:
  • gastrointestinal ulcers
  • stomach bleeding
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • increased sensitivity to pain when withdrawn
Claims that NSAIDS including aspirin are a wise long term health solution are misleading at best.  Remember? 

So why the confusion?

First, aspirin works by blocking the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play a large role in regulating many cellular functions. For simplicity, you can think of these hormone like substances as falling into 2 categories. One category (that includes leukotrienes-4 series, thromboxane-A2, and prostaglandin E2 ) signal for the cells to behave a specific way, and act as a powerful pro-inflammatory signal, meaning, it stimulates inflammation. The inflammatory system is a very useful and very important system that is normal response to injury or an invading pathogen. When left uchecked over long periods of time, it leads to many of the chronic diseases that 7 out of 10 people in the US will die from, according to the CDC website, including heart disease, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, etc.

The other category of hormone-like substances (that includes leukotriene-5 series, prostaglandin-E3 and prostaglandin-E1) act as powerful anti-inflammatory signals that counter balance the other category's effects. These beneficial anti-inflammatory effects include:
  • relaxing blood vessels
  • increasing circulation
  • relaxes airways
  • promotes anti-inflammatory reponse
  • decreases sensitivity to pain
  • reduces clotting
  • increases protective stomach secretions
  • relaxes muscle spasms
So we have 2 groups of chemicals in the body that balance each other out, both being critically important for health in the body. Tomorrow I'll continue with how aspirin (and the rest of the NSAIDS) affect these two classes, where the confusion lies, and how you can protect yourself even better than aspirin!

-Dr. D