Monday, September 30, 2013

"Crossfit's dirty little secret": My take on the new anti-crossfit article

An article recently posted on the website entitled, "Crossfit's dirty little secret" made the rounds on many news websites last week and created a firestorm on the internet.  Most people see it as the beginning of the end for Crossfit, but that's not how I see it.  If you haven't read the article, you can find it here.

Before I get in to the article, I must first point out that I am by no means a Crossfit apologist.  I can think of about 10 other more pertinent reasons why you shouldn't do Crossfit that are far more likely to happen than Rhabdomyolosis.  However, what this article actually points out isn't that Crossfit is bad. What it points out is that it is far too easy for any schmuck off the street to start training people and most people like lying to themselves about what it takes to be healthy.

Do you have any idea what it takes to become a Crossfit certified trainer?  It takes $1000 and 1 free weekend to attend a workshop on "programming" crossfit workouts.  That's it.  No formal education on exercise programming, no anatomy or physiology, no apprenticeship, no internship.  You probably think that is pretty shocking and outrageous that Crossfit is allowed to exist.  After all, most trainers have to do far more work to become certified, right?  Nope.

My first "certification" as a trainer was a 20 question test at a gym that any high school student who took a gym class could pass.  The first actual certification I took was online, by myself, with the materials they gave me.  I didn't use their materials and still finished it within 30 minutes and it included 50 multiple choice questions and 4 essays.  My final certification is considered one of the more prestigious certifications and qualifies me to work with athletes, the NSCA-CSCS.  It was a much more difficult test, was proctored, and required a college degree to sit for the test.  It gave me the knowledge about exercise, but it didn't make me qualified to train people.

Another problem is that the people who are looking for personal trainers have a skewed view of what they are looking for.  They are constantly bombarded on TV by trainers who are hacks.  I wouldn't let most of those trainers train my father's dog.  Anyone who would take a person who is 150lbs overweight and have them jump is as negligent as the Crossfit gym that promotes that "Go 'til you puke" mentality.  Why people venture in to fitness without researching it is beyond me, do you buy a house without researching it first?  I think part of it is that they don't respect the occupation, another one is that they are under the mistaken impression that they can continue what they are doing in every day life and just exercise 5 days a week to counteract that.  Newsflash: You can't and your trainer should tell you that.  I see clients 2-3 hours per week tops, and most of the hard work is during the other 165 hours in the week.  This isn't even taking in to consideration the fact that if you feel like crap during a workout you should stop and that's ultimately your responsibility.

The real problems addressed by the Crossfit article is that it is basically like the wild wild west out there when it comes to who you get as a personal trainer and most people are looking for something that doesn't exist.  Some personal trainers are very good and work hard to become better.  Some are terrible and really don't care about you.  Whether or not they are affiliated with a Crossfit is irrelevant.  If you don't care to put the time in outside of the gym, who's at fault?  In my state of NJ, there was a push a few years ago for required licensure of personal trainers that was voted down.  I didn't support that law because the organization that was going to do the licensing is terrible.  I fully support requiring personal trainers to get a license just as I believe massage therapists should get a license.  The problem is, what makes a good trainer?  We'll take a look at this topic in the next blog.

Six habits of a good personal trainer

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why you should avoid overeating and overexercising for optimal health

Eating less is good for your health in more ways than one.  Most people can understand the detrimental effect eating more calories can have on your health from a weight gain perspective, but it actually goes much deeper than that.  The same can be said about overexercising.  To understand how this works, let's take a look at the energy generating furnaces of our cells, the mitochondria.

The Mitochondria

The mitochondria are interesting structures. For one, they aren't original parts of our cellular machinery.  The current theory is that they were a bacteria that was engulfed by a eukaryote, a type of cell that contains organelles as well as a nucleus that separates the cell's DNA from the rest of the cell.  Eukaryotes are the cells that make up most of the life on the planet.  In exchange for protection within their predator, the mitochondria can provide energy via aerobic pathways of energy that the eukaryotes cannot use.  Without the mitochondria, life on the planet would be quite different, if it existed at all.

Also, mitochondria have their own DNA which mostly produces structures responsible for a form of energy metabolism called the electron transport chain.  This DNA is similar in structure to a bacteria's DNA and is not protected by it's own membrane.  For these reasons, the amount of energy produced by the mitochondria can have major effects on your risk for diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease.

Free radicals and disease

A common thread among many of these diseases that are prevalent today is high levels of free radicals.  Free radicals are unstable molecules that contain unpaired electrons.  Since these molecules strive for stability, they steal electrons from other molecules making them free radicals in the process and causing them to become unstable.  This can cause your cells to malfunction.  Reducing free radicals is fairly important for health, but taking antioxidants doesn't typically work because antioxidants work by donating electrons, which makes the antioxidant a free radical itself.  The best way to reduce free radicals is to not make many in the first place.

How does this relate to your mitochondria?  Another common thread in all of these diseases is mitochondrial dysfunction.  Recall from above that one of the ways the mitochondria generate energy is via the electron transport chain.  The electron train is a form of producing energy where complexes in the mitochondria pass around electron to generate energy.  Do you see a common thread between free radicals and the electron transport chain?  As a natural byproduct of energy production via the electron transport chain, some electrons leak out and react with oxygen forming the free radical superoxide, which is very reactive.

While the mitochondrial DNA is contained within the mitochondrial membrane, it is not separated from the electron transport chain by a membrane.  This means that free radicals can react with and damage the mitochondrial DNA.  Since the mitochondrial DNA contains the instructions for building the electron transport chain, this can cause the electron transport chain to malfunction, potentially generating even more free radicals that can damage the cell.  A relatively recent study showed that cells with damaged mitochondrial DNA or a malfunctioning electron transport chain generate more free radicals than healthy cells(1).

So why exercise at all?  Why not just sit on your butt all day long?  At the proper dosage, exercise will activate antioxidant systems that will neutralize these free radicals.  In fact, one of the worst things you can do is just sit around as sitting will reduce the expression of genes that make your cells' internal antioxidant system, the NRF-2 pathway.

Breaking up prolonged periods of sitting has been shown to increase expression of these genes which increases the amount of glutathione your cells make, their master antioxidant(2).  Overeating while being sedentary most of the day will generate free radicals in the cell because they have to process that energy, and sitting down will reduce the amount of antioxidants that will take care of those free radicals.  Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, the omega 3 fatty acid DHA, blueberries, turmeric, and most sulfur containing vegetables will activate this system as well.  This is most likely the mechanism by which broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables exert their anti-cancer effect.


So how does all of this relate to eating fewer calories and moderate exercise being healthy?  Obviously you will generate fewer free radicals by generating less energy through your mitochondria because you will be passing fewer electrons around inside of them.  As such, you will cause less free radical damage to your mitochondrial DNA which will prevent the excess free radical production associated with mitochondrial dysfunction and a poorly functioning electron transport chain.

When you overeat, you are generating more free radicals because you are forcing more energy through the electron transport chain.  The same goes for excessive exercise.  Moderate exercise is the goal because some exercise is necessary for other parts of your body to function properly, and just sitting all day creates free radicals without generating antioxidants to take care of them.  It is also necessary to increase the number of mitochondria you have within your cells.  A higher number of mitochondria is ideal because it allows you to generate more energy while generating fewer free radicals within each one.  This causes less damage to each mitochondria and decreases the likelihood that they will malfunction.

So what should you do if you are just looking to be healthy?  Basically what I've recommended in nearly every blog I've written.  Eat a Paleo Diet relatively low in carbohdyrate(150g per day or so), get 10,000 steps per day, stay off your butt, and strength train a couple of days per week to maintain muscle mass.  Avoid things like bootcamps, high volume/high intensity exercise, extremely long duration cardio, and worst of all sitting.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book review: Grain Brain

A few years back I read the book Power Up Your Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter.  I was amazed at the content of that book and to say it had a major impact on the way I view human health is an understatement.  One of the best things about the book is that Dr. Perlmutter has an incredible way of breaking down complex topics in to very digestible information, even for the layperson.  His book was my initial introduction to epigenetics and he broke it down very well.  I didn't, however, agree with the consumption of grains recommended in the book.  To be fair, his program only recommended one serving per day, but even that is detrimental in my opinion.  As is the case with all great thinkers and scientists, Dr. Perlmutter has both looked at the data and used his own clinical experience to modify his program...enter Grain Brain.

Before we discuss Grain Brain, I think it's important to look at Dr. Perlmutter's credentials.  Dr. Perlmutter is a board certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition.  He currently sees patients at his practice in Naples, Florida and is an Associate Professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

In Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter makes the case that consumption of grains and a high carbohydrate diet are detrimental to brain health and seem to be a primary cause for a number of neurological problems.  He goes over the effects of gluten, high blood glucose, and insulin levels on brain function thoroughly.  I think most people buy in to these concepts save for gluten, but one concept they will not buy in to is the health promoting effects of cholesterol on the brain and how detrimental it is to try and lower your cholesterol.   He covers this in detail, and it was something he covered in depth in Power Up Your Brain as well.

The amount of research he goes over in Grain Brain is impressive.  While a lot of that data is epidemiological, meaning you can't use it to draw conclusions, he uses the research in the way that it's meant to be used.  He uses the data to identify the important relationships and provides the mechanisms by which the relationships may exist.  It doesn't hurt that his clinical experience confirms much of his reasoning, which he points out in a few case studies throughout the book.  Let's look at some of the general mechanisms he discusses in Grain Brain.

Dr. Perlmutter fingers diet as the primary cause of more or less all of the common brain diseases we are seeing today including Alzhimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and more..  He describes how a high carbohydrate diet, gluten consumption, and the avoidance of dietary cholesterol are related to brain disease in great detail.  The two primary mechanisms by which diet can negatively affect brain health are inflammation and free radical production.  If you don't have a thorough understanding of how these processes are interrelated, this book will give it to you.  The research even points to blood glucose levels in the normal range as being detrimental to brain health and he describes why very well.  Let's just say that by the time you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you have done significant damage already.

While most of the book is related to brain health, he discusses several instances where patients have resolved terrible neurological problems by removing gluten from their diet.  The science has identified the vagus nerve as the conduit through which the bacteria in your gut communicate with your brain(1).  If pathogenic bacteria are able to hijack the vagus nerve, bad neurological problems are sure to ensue.  The vagus nerve helps control heart rate, blood pressure, and other aspects of the autonomic nervous system, specifically by calming the nervous system down, so to speak.

One thing I find very refreshing about Grain Brain is that Dr. Perlmutter squashes the notion that you can be overweight and healthy at the same time.  While it is possible to be overweight and have numbers that are perfectly fine on a comprehensive metabolic panel, the effects on the brain are noticeable from the get go.  Here is a quote directly from Grain Brain:

"In a joint research project between UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh, neuroscientists examined brain images of ninety-four people in their seventies who had participated in an earlier study of cardiovascular health and cognition...What these researchers found was that the brains of obese people-defined by having a body mass index above 30-looked sixteen years older than their healthy counterparts of normal weight.  And those who were overweight-defined by having a body mass index between 25 and 30-looked eight years older than their leaner counterparts."

While this quote is pretty shocking, many of the findings in other studies he references match or surpass it.  This is not to say that this damage is irreversible, it is completely reversible with the proper dietary and lifestyle modifications which are included in the book as an easy to follow program.

The discussion on cholesterol in Grain Brain is fantastic and should be required reading.  One thing Dr. Perlmutter does in Grain Brain that he didn't in Power Up Your Brain is take on statin drugs.  Given his discussion on how important cholesterol is for the brain, his take makes sense.  However, he also discusses how statin drugs, although anti-inflammatory, can actually increase inflammation and free radical production.

When I started reading Grain Brain and up until about halfway through I did not buy in to his recommended carbohydrate consumption.  At this point I still think his recommendations on carbohydrates are too low.  His description of how glucose enters the cell is pretty simplistic and does not take in to consideration that insulin is only necessary for glucose to enter cells when at rest.  However, as I read on I began to buy in a little more.  When the discussion in the book began I was adamant that he was wrong, but after providing his case I'm not so sure.  If you are trying to mitigate the risk of having elevated blood glucose, he may be spot on.  At this point, however, my A1c and fasting blood glucose levels are in line with his recommendations.  Since I have not had my fasting insulin levels checked, which he recommends, there is the potential that I am wrong.

It's funny, I really liked Power Up Your Brain.  I read it as I was beginning my shift to a more Paleo way of life.  What drew me to the Paleo Diet is the evolutionary approach to health.  Not the mistaken notion that we are not evolved to eat certain things so much as the way we evolved has a dramatic impact on what is optimal for human health today.  Dr. Perlmutter uses the same approach in Grain Brain and you don't have any of the "gotcha" scientific misrepresentations that many make about Paleo.  Most of these issues were settled a few years ago but new books by hacks seem to want to rehash these issues.  It's great to have people like Dr. Perlmutter on board because he is obviously a better source of information than the guy your Uncle Eddie knows who heard from another guy that gluten is only bad for celiacs.  He has the scientific references and clinical experience to back up his assertions and I am thankful he invests his time in writing books to help people that aren't his patients.

The grand question is will Grain Brain make a difference?  I'm a bit cynical about how big of an impact this will have.  It is estimated that 90% of Americans are for the labeling of GMOs, yet somehow California is unable to pass a bill requiring the labeling of GMOs.  This is because corporations have essentially unlimited funds to mislead a populace that is uninformed at best and stupid at worst.  I bought and read this book on the day it was released and I will buy a few more copies for people I want to read it to help push it up the NY Times best seller list.  If it gets to the top, the discussion on cholesterol will at least annoy some vegans I know.

Overall I give Grain Brain a 9 out of 10.  I still think the discussion on carbohydrate metabolism is off and potatoes and low fructose fruits are probably perfectly fine to consume within a sane level of total daily carbohydrates (150g or so).  Everything else in the book is great and I think most people would be healthier and happier trying his 4 week program.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why counting calories doesn't work

The food issue of Scientific American came out yesterday and they have a pretty cool spread on how and why counting calories doesn't work.  Below is a video going over some of the very basic science.

Why Calorie Counts are Wrong

As a strength and wellness coach I have seen the argument, time and time again, that in order to lose weight people need to eat less and exercise more.  This quantitative approach fails on so many levels that I thought it prudent to write a blog article on why it fails.  Before we delve in to the specific reasons why, I think it's important to first set down a framework for how the human body works.  From there I will go over why counting calories doesn't work and what you should focus on to lose weight effectively.

From hormones to genes to environmental signals

When you look at how the body works, you can see fairly easily how counting calories and focusing on burning them fails.  Systems within your body talk to one another via hormones, also known as chemical messengers.  For example, when you consume a meal, nutrients get digested and eventually enter your bloodstream.  These nutrients, in turn, cause the secretion of hormones to help utilize and store these nutrients.  When you exercise, hormones are also released that help dictate the fuel you use.  In fact, there isn't a time in the day when you are not secreting some level of many hormones.  However, while your hormones are affecting how you feel, how much energy you have, and whether you are actively using energy or storing it for later use; what you do throughout the day will also affect those hormones.

We do not need to discuss the biology of this in great depth to grasp a very simple concept.  What causes the secretion of hormones is genes.  In fact, every biological process occurs via genes.  A perfect example is alcohol.  In order to make alcohol you need water, sugar, and yeast.  The water is the medium in which the yeast convert sugar in to alcohol.  The yeast do this because they contain genes that direct the processes that cause the fermentation of sugar in to alcohol and water is required for this process.  If the genes weren't there, the yeast would do nothing.  If the water and sugar weren't there, the genes would do nothing.  If you put the yeast in a pail of gasoline and oil it would do nothing.  Genes are a set of instruction for what an organism will do under certain environmental conditions, or signals.  If the proper signals are not sent to the genes, they do nothing.

In much the same way, you burn fat under the proper environmental signals.  This is largely dictated by the hormonal environment within your body.  Making it an even more complex situation, we burn fat and glucose through separate, intertwined processes.  At no time are you ever burning 100% fat or 100% carbohydrate.  Even if you ate no carbohydrates, your body can still make glucose which is how carbohdyrates enter the glycolytic(carbohydrate burning) energy systems anyway.   If you ate no fat you would simply use body fat to fuel fat dependent energy systems.

The energy system that is predominantly used is largely dependent on the environmental signals you send, which are dictated by lifestyle factors including sleep, stress, exercise, diet, and how each affects your hormonal profile.  Ignore these factors and not only will you not burn fat, you will set yourself up for failure by producing a hormonal environment primed to drive your appetite through the roof and store as much of the energy you consume as possible.  So while you are essentially a machine, you are far too complex of a machine to be broken down in to a simple, archaic energy in/energy out system.

A good analogy for this is a hybrid car.  The calories in vs calories out mentality is that if the car won't move, all you need to do is put more fuel in to it, regardless of type.  However, if the car won't move because it is out of gasoline, you cannot pour electricity in to the gasoline motor because it cannot use electricity as it's energy source.

Appetite and food reward

Another reason that calories in vs calories out doesn't work is because it fails to address appetite.  Appetite is dictated by hormones as well as something called food reward which directly impacts hormone secretion.  The food reward system is very complex but involves the same processes and areas of the brain that drug addiction affects.  Basically, certain foods hit the reward center of your brain hard and generate a sense of pleasure we like.  This means that, over time, we will actively seek out these foods, especially when we are hungry.

Removing these foods for an extended period of time not only reduces your craving for them, it helps put you in a better hormonal environment to burn fat.  Frequent consumption of these foods wrecks your metabolism by negatively affecting your cells' sensitivity to insulin and leptin, two very important hormones.  If it were simply a matter of calories this shouldn't be an issue, but it's a big one.  It's also why once you pop you can't stop and the primary reason you can't eat only one.

It's all in the genes, and most of them aren't yours

Now that we have a thorough understanding behind the general concepts of how genes impact biology, it becomes important to realize that most of the genes responsible for the biology going on in your body right now do not belong to you.  Most people have heard of their gut bacteria, but I don't think they truly understand the scope of how important these little guys are.  From a shear numbers standpoint, the bacteria in your gut outnumber the cells of your body 10 to 1.  This not only means we are only 10% human, it also means that the amount of genetic material contained within the bacteria in our gut outnumbers that within our cells by a factor of 300(1).

If you buy in to the importance of genes for human health, it isn't too far of a stretch to realize that our gut bacteria should be a main concern.  These bacteria help us in many ways by helping train and control the immune system, manufacturing nutrients, transporting ions, helping heal intestinal damage, and this is merely the tip of the iceberg.  There also appears to be a line of communication between the brain and the gut.  This is a 2 way line of communication that appears to be through the vagus nerve(2), a part of the autonomic nervous system which regulates minor things like respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. 

Changes in gut bacteria have been attributed to so many diseases that one may be suspicious of all the things healing the gut could potentially help.  People with autism, adhd, anxiety/depression, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, you name it.  With regard to obesity, there is a clear relationship.  While there are more than 10,000 different strains of bacteria in your gut, most of that bacteria belongs to 10 species.  Of those 10 species, the ones that appear to be the most important to human health are bacteroidetes, firmicutes, and bifidobateria.

Specifically, with regard to obesity, there appears to be two strains of bacteria that are consistently different between obese and lean people, bacteroidetes and firmicutes.  Obese people tend to have fewer bacteroidetes and more firmicutes than lean individuals.  This relationship is so powerful that in mice, when mice with sterile guts are given the bacteria from lean humans they remain lean and when they are given the bacteria from obese humans they become obese.  If you place these mice together in cages and give them the proper diet the obese mice become lean(3) because the obese mice eat the lean mice's bacteria(aka poo).

Many other studies have shown that swapping the gut bacteria between lean and obese mice causes the mice to take on the form of the mouse whose gut bacteria they were given.  In all of these experiments, calories were kept exactly the same.  One of the primary factors noted for this phenomenon is that the gut bacteria in obese mice extract more energy from food which provides an energy surplus to the host.  This means that while the calorie count is the same, the gut bacteria liberate more energy for the host which in turn causes more calories to be absorbed.

Building a proper microbiome

For the most part, the types of bacteria found in your gut are determined in your first few years.  Whether you were born vaginally or via C-section, whether you were breast or formula fed, and whether you were kept in a completely sterile environment or had frequent exposure to dirt and bacteria when you were a baby will dictate the types of bacteria in your gut.  Once your gut is populated, the proportion of each strain of bacteria is largely dictated by diet.  In the study on mice that were given human gut bacteria, a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat led to the more desirable lean gut bacteria while a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in saturated fat led to the obese gut bacteria.  From the research it appears that the more desirable gut bacteria tend to feast on the fiber and polyphenols found in fruits and veggies(4, 5).

I have not seen any evidence that suggests that saturated fat is implicated in altering the gut bacteria in obese people.  While it is true that obese people tend to eat more saturated fat, they also tend to eat more processed foods high in sugar and avoid fruits and vegetables.  One of the more troubling developments over the past 40 years is that people avoided saturated fat and swapped in processed, high sugar foods which do have a damaging impact on gut bacteria composition.  This scenario has played out the way it would in a petri dish as bad bacteria crowd out good ones because the bad ones are fed and the good ones starved.


The video posted above goes over why calorie counts are wrong, but that is besides the point.  Even if they were accurate, focusing on calories in vs calories out will never be a successful way for people to deal with weight loss.  If more people focused on what they should eat rather than how much, they would be in a much better place right now in terms of health as well as proper weight maintenance.  The research has been pointing in this direction for quite some time now, but by the time it reaches clinics and fitness professionals it may be too late for some.

Being a fitness professional, I should be towing this line if I was doing what's right for my pocket book.  If I want to do what's right for my clients, I will help them alter their lifestyle in a way that will foster genetic expression that is optimal for weight loss.  This doesn't involve buying supplements, starving yourself, and exercising with me 6 days a week.  It involves eating the proper foods and staying off their butts more than sitting on them, something I discuss here.  Exercise is merely icing on the cake.

Monday, September 16, 2013

No Deficiency Diet update

Well, the no deficiency diet didn't last very long.  Aside from being not very palatable, both my digestion and sleep did not take the diet very well so I discontinued it.  After the first couple of days, every time I ate red peppers or tomatoes I would get a bloated feeling in my gut within a couple of hours followed by diarrhea.  After a couple of days of this, I got really constipated and decided to stop.  I normally split a red pepper with my wife in our morning veggies so I can tolerate them, but eating 2 whole red peppers every day was just too much.  Without 2 red peppers I found it difficult to get 100% of the RDA of vitamin E. While I typically eat FODMAPS, I think the amount of FODMAPS I was eating during this diet (6-8 per day) was too much for me to handle.

In addition to the higher level of FODMAPS, I also had to eat a couple of servings of seeds which I wasn't not accustomed to.  While I enjoyed the sunflower seeds and may keep them in, I was also eating sesame seeds and chia seeds along with flax seeds every other day.  The seeds were necessary to get enough vitamin E in addition to calcium and magnesium.  I don't typically eat that many nuts or seeds so it may have been a shock to my system.

In addition to the above contributing to GI issues, the volume of spices in this diet was way too large.  While 2 tbsp seems like a small amount, with spices it is waaaaaaaay too much.  By the third day I was already cutting it back by at least 50 percent.  Even split throughout the day I couldn't get down 2-3 tbsp of multiple spices.  The spices provided calcium, thiamin, and zinc.

I expected this diet to reduce my appetite significantly, but that really didn't happen.  While I got sick to my stomach for about an hour after eating, after that I would get ravenously hungry.  I will definitely work on this to try and make it better and more palatable.  I think one of the major stumbling blocks is that I have been working to repair overworked adrenals from overtraining for a little over a year and my gut may not be where it needs to be.  In addition, I think I need to slowly work the FODMAPS in over time rather than introducing them in to my body with blunt force trauma, same with the spices.

When I designed this diet I designed it on the backbone of my standard diet so my diet won't change substantially.  I will begin using spices more as I never really used them before and I think I will leave the sunflower seeds in for the thiamin. Other than that, I miss my old diet and glad to be back on it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How gut bacteria alter metabolism and how antibiotics help the bad guys.

Every week more and more studies get published on the bugs in your gut and how they can help, and harm, you.  This past week, 2 new studies were published that shed a little light on how these little guys affect health and how antibiotics help the bad guys take over.

In the first study researchers used the gut bacteria of human twins discordant for obesity.  This means that one was obese and the other lean.  They took the gut bacteria from each twin and implanted it in to mice that were bread to have sterile guts.  As one would expect, the mice who received gut bacteria from the obese twin grew larger and fatter than the mice implanted with the lean twin's bacteria.  This was primarily due to an increase in the amount of bacteroidetes species in the lean mice compared to the obese.  The researchers point out that this was not due to an increased consumption of food as both groups of mice ate the same amount of food.  The difference was due to the bacteria in the gut producing a metabolic profile more conducive to obesity.

One of the cool parts of this study was that the researchers didn't stop there.  Once the trial was over, they housed the mice together and followed them to see what happened.   Mice are known to swap bacteria pretty freely(AKA they eat each others' poop) and that is exactly what happened.  The interesting part is that the obese mice were protected from becoming obese by coming in to contact with the gut bacteria of the lean mice.  Specifically, bacteria of the species bacteroidetes were shown to help the obese mice by returning their metabolic profile to that of the lean mice.  However, this was only under specific dietary conditions.  When the obese mice were served a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber and low in saturated fat, coming in to contact with the more health promoting bacteria allowed their gut to take on the more healthy metabolic profile.  However, when fed a diet high in saturated fat and low in fruits, vegetables, and fiber their metabolic profile remained obese suggesting they were not afforded the protection provided to them by having contact with the bacteria from the lean mice.

The other study looked at how a course of antibiotics can help the bad guys overtake the good guys.  In the first 24 hours after beginning a course of antibiotics, researchers noticed a surplus of sugars in the gut of mice.  They attempted to replicate the condition in mice bred to have sterile guts by introducing a pathogenic strain (Salmonella or Clostridum Difficile) with a beneficial strain (Bacteroides Theta).

B. Theta is known to liberate sugars found in the mucus of your intestinal tract but does not consume a specific type known to feed other types of bacteria, good and bad.  Since the pathogenic bacteria are unable to break down mucus themselves, it was theorized that they were feeding on sugars liberated from mucus by B. Theta.  In this simulation, B. Theta liberated the sugar but without the other beneficial bacteria to consume that sugar there was fuel for pathogenic bacteria which, when introduced in to the gut, proliferated and caused trouble.  If the mice did not come in to contact with the pathogenic the sugars in the gut went back to normal within three days, presumably as the good bacteria is restored and consumes the excess sugars.

These studies show how important the beneficial bacteria found in the gut are to health.  The first study confirms something I believe will be a major stumbling block for people hoping that their obesity will be cured by a fecal implant.  Without a diet that will provide an environment that is optimal for beneficial bacteria to live in, a fecal transplant will be a failed, short-lived solution.  In other words, you won't take a pill and be able to eat what you want, which is more than likely what people are waiting for.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Deficiency Diet starts today...

Well, today marks the official first day of my No Deficiency Diet.  I have taken before pics and will be monitoring weight and body fat, but I don't suspect those numbers will change much.  What I expect to see is more functional changes such as better digestion, reduced appetite, and better sleep.  Below is a picture of what I will be eating throughout the week.

This is a much larger amount of food by volume than I am accustomed to eating so I expect the first couple of days to be hard.  I will post nutritional info for each day as well as subjective feelings such as energy levels, satiety, digestion, and I will post fitbit sleep data after each week.

In addition to the diet, I will continue to get at east 10,000 steps per day and will be strength training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Each strength training day will consist of 30 minutes of foam rolling, stretching and activation work followed by 20-30 minutes of total body strength training.  Each day will consist of three sets each of a push, pull, hip dominant, and knee dominant exercise as well as some core work as active recovery between sets.  Wednesday will be an active recovery day where I drop intensity and perform higher volume/rep work.

I will post updates on this little experiment next Monday and the Monday after that.  I also hope to upload a video of my foam rolling and stretching routine either next Wednesday or the one after that and will also post a couple of recipes so stay tuned.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

No deficiency diet insights...

As of this writing, I am finished developing 1 week of meals for my no deficiency diet.  I am sure I'll take the lazy man's way out and just repeat the first week for week two.  So far I have some interesting tidbits.
  • I think there is a nutritional reason we like to season our food with spices
  • I Didn't get anywhere near the RDA for vitamin D, but that's what the Sun is for
  • Vitamin E was the hardest nutrient to attain
  • Thiamin is very difficult to get for most people without processed foods fortified in it
  • Zinc and calcium are pretty difficult as well
  • The only way I'll get adequate sodium is via liberal use of Celtic Sea Salt
  • I have a very respectable Omega 3:Omega 6 ratio of 1:2 for the first 2 days
  • Iodine is not listed anywhere, had to use seaweed
Here are some macronutrient numbers for the first 2 days...

Day 1
  • Calories=1945
  • Fat=82.1g
  • Carbs=259.3g
  • Sugar=38.5g 
  • Fiber=56g
  • Protein=96g
Day 2
  • Calories=1919
  • Fat=80.2
  • Carbs=257.4
  • Sugar=31.1
  • Fiber=55.1g
  • Protein=100.4g
These numbers are close for a reason, breakfast and lunch on the first 2 days are basically the same.  Breakfast will more or less be the same throughout the week with only one or two diversions.  This also makes it easier to make multiple lunches on a day in the event I end up not having lunch off.

While I have attempted to keep as close to a 1:1 Omega 3:6 ratio during the first couple of days, it is not something I am going out of my way to do.  I will attempt to not let it get out of hand which is difficult, especially when trying to get enough vitamin E at the same time.  One problem with my Omega 3:6 ratio calculation is that these ratios are not available for grass-fed beef and free range chicken.  Since I will be using both as my primary meat sources, my Omega 3:6 ratio is probably better than what is calculated, but I don't know how much better or if it's even significant.

I have also decided to make an effort to get cruciferous vegetables 2-3 times a week for their anti-cancer and detox benefits, but I do not want to overconsume them as they are goitrogenic.  Most of the studies I have read point to the benefit lasting 2-3 days so I will use that as my guide.

The nutrients that appear to be easiest to get on this sort of diet are Vitamins A, C, K, and manganese.  Potassium is also quite high, especially in relation to sodium.  Vitamin B12 would have been very difficult to get without small servings of liver.  Thiamin, a big player in carbohydrate metabolism, was just as difficult to get and I was probably severely low on this nutrient before realizing it.  I've noticed adrenal fatigue/insufficiency seems to be common in the Paleo crowd, I'm guessing thiamin is the culpri, which you can read about here.

Probably the biggest surprise to me was calcium.  I figured it would be difficult to get enough calcium without dairy, but when I searched calcium sources, I found that dairy isn't even the best source of calcium.  By weight, spices have more calcium than dairy by a long shot, almost double.  The only foods that beat spices by weight are processed foods fortified with calcium.  Two tablespoons of ground basil will give you 20% of the RDA for calcium.  I wonder if this is why we like spices so much considering how important calcium is for human physiology(I'm not talking about bone density).

That about covers the update for this week, Monday is go time!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Just quit smoking and gained weight? It's your gut bugs!

Weight gain from smoking cessation attributed to changes in gut bacteria

In a study recently published in PLoS One, scientists have found that the weight gain attributed to smoking cessation is due to a change in gut bacteria composition.  The study, which ran for 9 weeks, compared the composition of gut bacteria in 10 subjects who underwent a smoking cessation program to that of 5 subjects who were smokers and 5 subjects who were non-smokers.  The results were shocking to say the least.

Not only did the composition of the gut bacteria change with smoking cessation when compared to smokers and non-smokers, but the change was not due to a change in the composition of the diet .  In addition, the changes in composition of gut bacteria in the subjects who quit smoking resembled that of the changes seen between lean and obese people.  Obese people tend to have a lower proportion of bacteroidetes and a higher proportion of firmicutes when compared to lean people.  When the subjects went from smoker to non-smoker, their gut bacteria diversity basically switched from resembling that of a lean person to that of an obese person.

The ramifications for this are believed to be an increased ability to extract nutrients from the food one consumes.  So the weigh gain, rather than being from an increased caloric consumption, appears to be from an increased ability to harvest nutrients from a calorically similar diet.  Although it should be pointed out that diet was assessed by food questionnaire which is known to be error prone.

Since this is a small study, we need more research in this area to confirm it and identify causative factors.  One fascinating thing to pull away from this study is that it points towards a 2 way road of communication between your body and your gut bacteria.  Diet is known to have a significant impact on the composition of bacteria in your gut via providing nutrients for the proliferation of specific species.  Friendly bacteria are known to impact health by providing nutrients, training the immune system, and positively affecting the hormonal status of the body.  Unfriendly bacteria can introduce toxins and increase inflammation that will negatively impact health.

In this study, however, it would appear that changes in the blood are triggering changes in gut bacteria composition.  Nothing in cigarette smoke should make it's way in to the digestive tract past the mouth as it is inhaled in to the lungs.  Unless a change in the microbial communities in the mouth, pharynx, or trachea are able to influence gut bacteria in some way other than via the bloodstream, it would appear that something in the blood is influencing the composition of bacteria in the gut.  Since smoking is known to cause a lot of inflammation, as is being obese, the attractive answer is that inflammation is the mode of communication.

Perhaps continued levels of inflammation signal a stressful state to the body in smokers.  When the inflammation is removed, the body senses a need to store more calories for when the stressful state resumes and communicates this somehow to the microbiome.  The bacteria in the microbiome then shift to benefit the host, aka you, by extracting more calories from the food you eat.  Although this is possible, the fact that obese people are continually bombarded by inflammation makes it unlikely unless obese people are reinforcing the poor gut bacteria composition with poor dietary choices.  This is where the autonomic nervous system could come in to play.

Obesity is known to lead to a constantly activated fight or flight response and going from smoking to non-smoking would be an obvious stressor.  It is possible that the changes in gut bacteria could be mediated by the autonomic nervous system and your ability to move between sympathetic and parasympathetic states effectively(AKA, being able to move from fight or flight to rest and digest).  Perhaps being in fight or flight for long periods of time induces a change in gut bacteria that allows you to extract more calories from your food once you enter rest and digest.

This could be a novel way that the body prepares you to deal with your environment.  If stress is only minimal or intermittent, this change wouldn't be necessary.  However, someone who is constantly bombarded by stress would benefit from an increased ability to extract nutrients from their food because if they are in fight or flight mode constantly, they are in rest and digest for smaller periods of time.  There is no doubt that nicotine withdrawal would lead to a significant period of time of increased stress on the body.

For the vast majority of our time on the planet, stress has been related to our ability to find food.  Therefore, constant stress would tend to be due to a lack of finding food and an enhanced ability to extract nutrients from a small amount of food would be beneficial.  An enhanced ability to extract nutrients from a large amount of food would not.  Quitting smoking is a serious stressor that would be novel to modern humans, and in the environment of a steady food supply it appears that changes in the composition of gut bacteria could be what's leading to those extra pounds and not an increase in food consumption.  Whether or not this is mediated via the autonomic nervous system is only speculation, but interesting nonetheless.