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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Don’t Fear Bacon

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

So, here’s some interesting news about my favorite food.

Meat Candy!

Meat Candy!

According to this article from Chris Krlesser, nitrates and nitrites are actually not bad for you.

Who would have known?  I guess there was a study a while back suggesting that nitrites are linked to cancer, and that study has since been debunked by peer review.  On top of that, the article says that dietary nitrite intake comes primarily from vegetables, “It may shock you to learn that one serving of arugula, two servings of butter lettuce, and four servings of celery or beets all have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs.”

You didn’t need to give me any more reason to enjoy my favorite meat, but I know there are some of you out there who are still skeptical about this whole bacon thing.  Well, this is just one more reason to not fear the bacon.

Workout Music

Monday, March 25th, 2013

As most of you know, there is almost always music coming from the CrossFit Area.  While I regularly work out without music, I know many people who enjoy a rousing beat, or get pumped up by good music blasting in the gym.

Chris Spealler listening to music during the Games

Chris Spealler listening to music during the Games

This article from Scientific American delves into a bunch of research on the topic.

There are numerous studies showing that music has positive effect on working out, and there are multiple hypotheses as to why.  One of the more obvious explanations is that music serves to distract us from the pain of the workout.  Another is that it helps us keep a good pace.

One of the more interesting ideas is that the areas of the brain responsible for processing sounds and for coordinating movement are strongly linked.  “We have also known for decades that there are direct connections from auditory neurons to motor neurons… When you hear a loud noise, you jump before you have even processed what it is. That’s a reflex circuit, and it turns out that it can also be active for non-startling sounds, such as music.”

How does music motivate you when you work out?  What kinds of music or what bands/songs pump you up the most?  Or do you prefer to work out in silence?

Robb Wolf on Kidney Disease

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Have you ever heard that high protein diets such as Paleo cause kidney damage?

These are... kind of important.

These are... kind of important.

Recently, a friend of mine (who does not follow the Paleo template) had a bout with some kidney stones.  She ended up winning, whatever that means, but her doctor told her to eat more grains and less meat.  I found this strange, and decided to do a bit of research.  In the process, I came across an interesting article from Robb Wolf.

In it, he makes the following claims:

1-Dietary protein DOES NOT CAUSE KIDNEY DAMAGE.

2-Chronically elevated BLOOD GLUCOSE levels DO cause kidney damage.

3-Dietary fructose REALLY causes kidney damage.

4-Many kidney issues have either a hyperinsulinemic characteristic, an autoimmune characteristic, and or a combination of autoimmunity or hyperinsulinism. A standard, low-ish carb paleo diet can fix most of these issues.

5-For serious kidney damage a low-protein, ketogenic diet can be remarkably therapeutic.

6-If you get kidney stones that are from oxalates, reduce your green veggie intake (spinach for example) and have other types of veggies.

7-If you get kidney stones that are from urate salts, you are likely NOT following a low-ish carb paleodiet, you likely have insulin resistance and your liver is not processing uric acid.

He then goes on to explain why he makes these claims, and to provide some evidence for them.  It’s a pretty good, and only moderately technical read, but well worth it if you have some interest in this subject.

What are your thoughts and experience with kidney issues?  Any doctors out there care to chime in?

Soda Kills

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Recently, a woman in New Zealand died of a heart attack.  That wouldn’t ordinarily be a big deal, except that the medical examiner who did the autopsy attributed her death to her addiction to Coca-Cola.

Poison!

Poison!

According to the article from Discovery News, the woman drank up to 2.2 liters of Coke per day, and her family described her as suffering withdraw type symptoms if she ran out.  Apparently, she suffered a variety of serious health issues due to the sugar, caffeine, and phosphoric acid in the drink.  The article says she had fatty deposits in her liver, cardiac arrhythmia, and had lost all her teeth.  In addition, one of her children was born with no enamel on its teeth.

While this is clearly tragic, I can’t help but have a morbid interest in the physiological effects of overdosing on Coke.  You could say that any soda is bad just on account of the vast amounts of sugar in it, but Coke and other colas are particularly nasty because they pack a triple punch of sugar, caffeine, phosphoric acid.  The last two in particular can work to offset electrolyte levels in the body.

Her family said that they didn’t think her Coke habit was dangerous because there was no warning labels on the drink.  Now, this brings up a question of responsibility.  I feel that you can be dumb as a rock and still understand that drinking an excessive amount of soda is unhealthy.  By the same standards, you shouldn’t need a warning label to understand that fast food, alcohol, and cigarettes are bad for you.  These are things that, I feel, are common knowledge.  At the same time, people didn’t always know that cigarettes were bad for you–my aunt was told to smoke during her pregnancy by her doctor in order to “keep the birth weight down and make for an easier delivery.”   It took a major paradigm shift, legal fights and legislation, advertisement campaigns, and labels to finally get the public to realize how bad smoking is for you.

What do you think?  Do we need to go a similar route with soda and fast food, or should it just be common sense?

Paleo Teeth

Monday, March 11th, 2013

A year or so ago, I went to a dentist.  I had been putting it off for quite a while– about a decade, actually.  I was scared that there was going to be a lot of crazy stuff going on with my teeth.  But the dentist said that my teeth were in remarkably good condition and after a brief conversation about lifestyle, we attributed it to the fact that my diet consists mostly of meat and vegetables.

Teeth

Teeth

As such, I was not surprised at all to read this article from NPR, Ancient Chompers Were Healthier Than Ours.

The article points out that, despite our ancestors being devoid of dental hygiene and modern medicine, evidence shows that they were also nearly without cavities, gum disease and other oral maladies.  It’s only once people start farming and eating higher carbohydrate diets that evidence of poor oral health appear.

Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, attributes this to bacteria that thrive on sugars.  When more carbohydrates are introduced into the diet, those bacteria have a greater food supply; it imbalances the ecosystem in your mouth.  He goes on to say that, due to a virtually permanent immune response, it could potentially cause all kinds of trouble outside of just poor oral health.

It’s not at all surprising for those of us who have seen the benefits of a Paleo lifestyle, but it’s nice to see more and more science backing us up.

Should You Go Gluten Free?

Friday, March 1st, 2013

This article from the New York Times was suggested by Amanda N.

Wheat

Wheat

The article does a decent job of explaining what gluten proteins are and that some people seem to have a sensitivity to gluten that exists outside of a diagnosis of celiac disease.

The article points to an Australian study published in the American Journal of Gastrointerology, in which some non-celiac, gluten free patients suffering from irritable bowl syndrome were given baked goods.  The study was double-blind, and some of the patients were given regular baked goods, while others received gluten free muffins.  While the sample size was pretty small, only 34 people, all of the patients who ate the gluten reported feeling worse, which suggests that there is more to it than a placebo effect.

After that, the author tries very hard not to take a side on the issue, suggesting that most people probably don’t have a gluten sensitivity, and using the disclaimer that you should check with your doctor before going gluten free.

One point that I appreciate is the mention that just because it’s gluten free doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  Many gluten free foods are just as loaded with sugar, preservatives, and other chemicals as their enriched wheat flour friends.  It’s not enough to just stop eating gluten, you need to make sure that you’re getting plenty of micronutrients from vegetables and fruits, too.

I have yet to meet somebody who hasn’t noticed improvements to their health from removing gluten, but what do you think?

What Paleo Really Means

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
Your great(1.5x10^5) grandparent.

Your great(1.5x10^5) grandparent.

I’ve had a bunch of discussions with people about the Paleo Diet, some of whom have argued that grains, dairy, nightshades, and a variety of other things should be included in the Paleo diet because “cavemen ate them.”  While there might be evidence for some “cavemen” harvesting grains or keeping goats for milking, this misses the point.  Just because some “cavemen” did it, does not mean that our species has a genetic tolerance to that type of food.

I find that a big part of this confusion has to do with a misunderstanding of the scale we’re talking about.  Sometimes it helps to get a visual, so I’ve created a timeline of major events in human prehistory, taking us back to the beginning of our species, 200,000 years ago.  Below, each bullet point represents traveling back in time 1,000 years.

· · Leif Ericson vacations in Canada

· Death of Emperor Agustus

· Rise of Greek city-states

· Domestication of the Horse

· Cuneiform developed by Sumerians

· Civilization develops in Mesopotamia/ Mastodon goes extinct

· Wheel invented

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· Cultivation of barley and wheat

· Goats domesticated/  Horses extinct in North America

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· Woolly rhinoceros extinct

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· Oldest permanent settlement of humans/ First colonization of North America

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· Neanderthals extinct

· First evidence of “cavemen” eating grains & beans (30,000 years ago)/ Dogs domesticated

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· Oldest known cave paintings

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· Modern humans spread from Africa to Near East (50,000 years ago)

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· Toba Volcano supereruption

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· 100,000 years ago.  Keep scrolling.

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· Appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa (200,000 years ago)

This takes us back 200,000 years, to the beginning of the Middle Paleolithic, marked by the first evidence of our species.  The entire Paleolithic period started with the first emergence of Homo habilis, about 2.5 million years ago.  To give you a sense of scale, if I were to continue with the bullet point illustration, this post would be 15 times longer than it currently is.  If you were to print it, it would be about 75 pages of bullet points.  And it’s that far back (or even farther) that the foundation was laid for our species dietary habits.

Keep in mind that the beginning of our species is only about 10-15 thousand generations ago.  If we were talking about the cultures that widely drank milk or ate grains, we’d only have to go back 11,000 and 30,000 years, respectively, or about 650 and 1700 generations.  So, while it’s definitely possible that more recent mutations have popped up that allow some of us to tolerate lactose or other substances that fit outside of the Paleo diet template, the majority of us are evolved to eat meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds.

As we continue to learn more about our own prehistory and biology, more and more evidence points toward the Paleo template as a safe and healthy lifestyle.

Endurance vs. Intensity

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Here is an interesting article from active.com, Why Too Much Running is Bad for Your Health.

Phidippides ran too much, then died.

Phidippides ran too much, then died.

According to the article, the hearts of “chronic runners,” have more coronary plaque build up than sedentary people.  Based on a 30 year study 52,000 people, they found that runners have a lower risk of death overall, but that the benefits of running decrease after a certain amount; more is not better.  The “sweet spot” seems to be five - 19 miles per week, at six to seven miles per hour, spread over three to four sessions per week.

The article goes on to explain that much of the ill effects of long distance running has to do with the way the body processes free radicals released during strenuous exercise.  It seems that the body can naturally deal with a certain amount of oxidative stress, but too much will cause problems.  The fact that the problems seen in chronic runners are similar to the problems related to obesity is not surprising since both promote systemic inflammation.  The article expands on this a little by suggesting that people don’t run for more than about an hour per session, and suggests performing shorter, higher intensity exercise like sprints.

Of course, if you asked a CrossFitter, we could have told you that short, high intensity exercise is both more healthy for you and provides better results than running for hours at a time.  It’s nice to see a similar view coming from outside the CrossFit community, though.

I know we have quite a few distance runners in The Cave.  What do you think about this article?

Measuring VO2 Max

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
Specified Wattage Output

Specified Wattage Output

The other day Rich L. brought Dr. Justin Mager in to establish his VO2 Max. We all know Rich likes to run tests. He likes all the gear. He likes to try new things to see if it will help him improve. He is the most thorough N=1 tester in the gym. I’m a data geek myself so this is all great. We can look at different parameters and learn all we can about these tests and processes. We’ll utilize what is helpful and toss out what is not.

VO2 max is a measurement of your body’s maximal oxygen uptake. It is the gold standard test for endurance athletes because there is a correlation between VO2 max and performance in endurance events. Higher caliber athletes have higher VO2 maxes.

There isn’t a lot of evidence to support that training specifically to increase VO2 max is a good training strategy for endurance events. Even the testing can give pretty broad numbers depending on how it is administered. Take Rich’s numbers as an example. He first tested using a controlled wattage method. He was told to row at a given wattage for short durations increasing wattage by a fixed amount. In theory at some point he would reach maximal oxygen uptake when he increases wattage, but O2 uptake does not increase. Using this test he reached a VO2 max of  38 ml/kg/min at a heart rate of 166 bpm with anaerobic threshold at of 31 ml O2/kg/min. The second test was to completed a 2K Row pacing for best time. In this test he recorded a VO2 max of 46.2 ml/kg/min at a heart rate of 169 with an anaerobic threshold of 40.7 ml O2/kg/min.  A difference of  roughly 22%.  Using the aggregate metrics of the system used for testing the first test put Rich in the “good” category of individuals his age, and the second test put him in the “superior” category (well above the top mark in the bell curve). This data is a very small sample set and we’d need to run more tests over time to get accurate markers for Rich’s true O2 uptake.

Rich had a much harder time maintaining the wattage test. It was difficult for him to maintain an arbitrary pace. He experienced muscular shutdown at a much lower output than with the 2K row. This is another problem with the VO2 max tests. To truly test the physiological limits of O2 uptake it must be done testing performing an activity you are fairly proficient at so that your lack of experience with given constraints does not negatively impact the test rather than the true limiting factor being physiological.

The question is how useful is this data? Can we use this data to improve Rich’s training protocol. It is possible this data could give us a method of determining Rich’s maximal sustainable work output. He could wear a heart rate meter and run workouts keeping it just below that threshold. In theory this is a pace he can sustain for a very long time. If he trained this way for a while he could develop a very good feel for where that line is which could help him in competitions. Most athletes that test themselves regularly develop a good intuitive feel for where this line is anyway. It is also very variant as this trait can adapt and change fairly rapidly.

Let us know if you have interest in running VO2 max tests. We can arrange to have the tools at the facility periodically and run people through the tests.

Interesting notes. Measurment of O2 in ml would be impacted by ambient pressure. This could account for differences in performance at different altitudes. Lower pressure would increase the measurement given the same quantity of O2 actually involved in reactive processes, however O2 uptake at lower pressures is slower. A measurement of O2 by mass would give an exact reactive process, but may not correlate to actual work output as well as other factors would have marked impacts on these numbers.

People with Superpowers

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Martin H. suggested I share this link with you guys.  It’s a Cracked.com article on “Real People with Superpowers.”

The fittest man on earth also has superpowers.

The fittest man on earth also has superpowers.

For those of you not familiar with Cracked.com’s style, while not necessarily highly vulgar, they do have a a propensity toward some foul language.  Honestly, it’s mostly just that the authors are so amazed by what they’re writing about that they can’t help it.  Really, how else do you express how incredible it is that there are human beings that can do this stuff?

Their list includes a man who cannot be electrocuted, a guy who can run forever, two guys with perfect memories, a man who is immune to cold, and a person with superhuman reflexes (he’s on my zombie apocalypse team).

Stuff like this just goes to show you the incredible potential of our species.