If you’ve been here for any appreciable amount of time, you know how insane my fitness routine used to be.
I used to run 10-20 miles EVERY SINGLE DAY.
A “short ride” would be 100 miles. Uphill.
Rest days? I’d rest when I was physically unable to move.
It wasn’t even a fitness routine because it was counterproductive. It didn’t make me fitter in the holistic sense. I wasn’t even very strong, mobile, or explosive. I was “fit” only in a single domain.
And, sure, I could run and bike and swim long distances faster than most, but it ruined my health as well as took a toll on my family life, my social life, my ability to play and have fun, and my happiness.
These days all those other things are just as important as my ability to churn out physical work, lift heavy things, run sprints, and maintain vitality. Turns out that I don’t have to sacrifice the former to achieve the latter. I can have it all. How?
Well, I had to make some changes, and even today I’m still making them. A new locale has contributed to this evolution, as has a new adventure. (You’ll see me doing it in the video.)
These days I’m committed to a lifestyle that maintains my sharpness, strength and mobility—what will help me continue to live an active and awesome life in the years to come. That looks a bit different than it did fifteen years ago, and it’s more rewarding than ever. Check it out….
Let me know what you think—and what changes you’re making that bring you closer to the sweet spot of strength and well-being. Have a great week, everybody.
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In our previous menopause post, I mused on some perspectives of menopause that are positive and affirming for women. However, I don’t want to downplay the fact that many women experience menopause as a difficult, frustrating, and even disempowering time. (Again, I am using “menopause” to include the perimenopausal period.)
As I mentioned in the last post, some researchers estimate as many as 75% of women experience some type of “menopausal distress,” and we don’t talk about it enough. Today I want to examine some of the psychological and emotional facets of menopause. In the final post of this series, we’ll look at self-care techniques and non-hormonal therapies that seem to be the most beneficial.
What Research Suggests About Emotional Well-being During Menopause
Obviously menopause is a major life transition—significant biological changes wrapped up in a complex web of personal and sociocultural beliefs, fears, stressors, and stories. It can be a time of great apprehension, confusion, even despair for some women. Others pass right through menopause with hardly a bat of an eye. Still, others welcome and embrace it.
It’s extremely understandable why this would be a challenging time for women. Menopause can be a perfect storm of physical discomfort and cognitive symptoms (brain fog, forgetfulness), sleep deprivation (thanks to those night sweats and hot flashes), and emotional fluctuations. Besides how they feel, these symptoms can affect women’s personal relationships, ability to perform their jobs, and sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
For many women, menopause also coincides with the dual stressors of aging parents and raising teenagers or having a newly empty nest. Plus, menopause is an unmistakable marker of aging, which can evoke complicated feelings as well.
Overall, stress, depression, and anxiety seem to be fairly common during menopause. Recent Guidelines for the Evaluation and Treatment of Perimenopausal Depression commissioned by the Board of Trustees for The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and the Women and Mood Disorders Task Force of the National Network of Depression Centers describe perimenopause as a “window of vulnerability for the development of both depressive symptoms and a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.”
It’s difficult to know exactly how many women are affected. Studies of depression and anxiety are usually conducted on women whose symptoms are severe enough to seek help from their doctors. Researchers estimate that up to 40% of women will experience depression at some point during menopause; it’s unclear how prevalent anxiety might be.
It’s easy to assume that some women become depressed and anxious during menopause because their symptoms are so gnarly. To some degree, that narrative is probably true. Studies do find that women who experience more severe symptoms such as frequent hot flashes also exhibit more depression and anxiety. This makes sense—being physically uncomfortable and unable to get a good night’s sleep can certainly set the stage for poor psychological outcomes.
On the other hand, it’s likely that for some women, depression and anxiety exacerbate the physical and emotional symptoms. That is, depression and anxiety might be a lens that magnifies how bad menopausal symptoms feel, so these women report having more severe symptoms.
In any case, there’s more to it than “menopause is rough, and it makes women depressed and anxious.” One of the biggest risk factors for depression and anxiety during menopause is prior episodes of depression and anxiety. Women who are also experiencing other life stressors, including relationship stress and socioeconomic stress, are also more likely to become depressed.
In other words, women who are otherwise vulnerable are more likely to experience poor psychological well-being when hit with the additional stress of the menopausal transition.
Along these lines, one study compared depressed and non-depressed perimenopausal women on a variety of quality of life measures, including life enjoyment and satisfaction; ability to function in work, social situations, and relationships; and perceived social support. The researchers also assessed the severity of the women’s hot flashes. The depressed women scored lower than the non-depressed women on all quality of life measures. Severity of hot flashes had no effect for either group.
The authors concluded that future studies “need to distinguish between those women with [perimenstrual depression] and non-depressed women to avoid attribution of decreased [quality of life] to the menopause transition alone.” In other words, don’t blame the hot flashes for what the depression wrought.
This is an important point: We assume that menopause interferes with women’s well-being and quality of life because the symptoms stink (and they definitely do for a lot of women). However, the degree to which menopause actually impacts a woman’s quality of life might depend, at least in part, on whether she experiences concurrent depression or anxiety.
This is not to say that if you’re having a hard time dealing with your symptoms, you’re definitely also depressed. Rather, consider whether depression and anxiety are contributing so that you can address them directly.
Likewise, don’t assume that depression and anxiety will resolve on their own once the physical symptoms subside. Treating the physical symptoms is important, but for many women it might not be enough.
What We Need to Be Saying (To Each Other) About It
At the risk of stating the obvious, a lot of distress is surely rooted in the fact that women don’t feel like they can talk openly and honestly about their experience of menopause, perhaps especially the mental and emotional aspects.
In Becoming a Menopause Goddess, author Lynette Sheppard asserts that all of her friends experienced sadness, if not full-blown depression, during menopause. All of them. More than anything, she says, they needed to hear that it was normal, that there was nothing inherently wrong with them.
Instead, the stigma surrounding mental health struggles and the taboo nature of talking about menopause keep many women suffering in silence. Of course, it’s not like we talk freely about the physical symptoms, either. Sure, we can kvetch about hot flashes with our friends. How many women feel free to discuss brain fog and sleep deprivation with their bosses, even if they have very real consequences in the workplace?
I understand that “just talk about it” is neither easy nor sufficient—I’m not trying to be trite. It’s not like posting your hot flashes on social media will do anything to stop them. Nor can I promise that your boss will be super understanding if you march into his/her office and announce that you can’t finish your project on time because you simply can’t focus.
However, let’s think about what we can do to open up the channels of communication with our friends and partners at least to start. It’s no secret that social support can be an important factor in warding off depression during times of stress.
We Need A Multi-Pronged Approach
Besides talking about it, what else can women do to cope with physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms during menopause? Hormone therapy (HT) is the predominant approach that doctors prescribe (of course). I won’t cover the pros and cons, nor the safety questions, since Mark did so recently. Definitely check out that post if you are considering HT for yourself. Mark’s wife, Carrie, has also written about her experience with menopause symptoms in previous posts (1, 2).
I will point out that most symptoms aren’t clearly caused by the hormonal changes that characterize menopause. Vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats) are the most strongly linked to hormonal changes, but other symptoms seem to be more related to psychosocial factors. Even vasomotor symptoms don’t map perfectly onto hormone fluctuations. Women with the biggest drops in estrogen won’t necessarily experience the most hot flushes, for example.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try HT if you and your doctor decide it’s right for you. It clearly has benefits, including that it seems to help some women with depressive symptoms and anxiety. It’s not clear whether this is because it alleviates physical symptoms or because the depression and anxiety are directly caused, at least for some women, by hormone fluctuations.
However, it’s a mistake to assume that if we “fix” the hormones, or get rid of the hot flashes for example, the rest will fall into place.
Thinking about the quality of life study I mentioned above, it’s important not to get wrapped up in the story that hormones plummet, hot flashes and night sweats ensue, and then women become grouchy and depressed as a result.
In reality, the hormone stuff, the physical stuff, the emotional stuff, the sleep stuff, the relationship stuff, and more stuff all get thrown into the mix, each potentially feeding into and off of the others.
What we need is a multi-pronged approach. (I feel like there’s a pun here about protecting the flanks—I’ll keep working on that one.) Besides treating underlying hormone fluctuations with HT or herbal remedies, women and their doctors should also separately address specific physical and cognitive symptoms, general health, and psychological and emotional well-being.
The aforementioned Guidelines for the Evaluation and Treatment of Perimenopausal Depression, for example, offer this recommendation, “Proven therapeutic options for depression (antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy and other psychotherapies) should remain as front-line antidepressive treatments for major depressive episodes during perimenopause.” In other words, take care of the depression on its own.
For women who want to be holistic in their approach, and who perhaps want to avoid or minimize HT, there are a number of non-hormonal, complementary practices that have been shown to help. In the next post in this series, I’ll highlight some of the ones that show the most promise for relieving menopausal symptoms specifically, as well as for stress reduction, emotion regulation, and coping more generally.
Now I want to hear from you. Do you feel free to talk about your experience of menopause with the people in your life? Have you had positive or negative experiences when you have talked about it in the past?
Deeks AA. Psychological aspects of menopause management. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Mar;17(1):17-31.
Schneider M, Brotherton P. Physiological, psychological and situational stresses in depression during the climacteric. Maturitas. 1979 Feb;1(3):153-8.
Zhou B, Sun X, Zhang M, Deng Y, Hu J. The symptomatology of climacteric syndrome: whether associated with the physical factors or psychological disorder in perimenopausal/postmenopausal patients with anxiety-depression disorder. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2012;285(5):1345–1352.
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Disclaimer: I have not gone through menopause. I am, however, turning 40 this year. Statistically speaking, this is the decade in which I’m likely to enter perimenopause, so I have a vested interest in understanding what might be in store for me.
I’m all too familiar with the stereotype of the belligerent, out-of-control menopausal lady plagued by hot flashes and mood swings, bewildering her poor, beleaguered partner. [Note that for convenience I am going to use “menopause” to include the perimenopausal period as well.] Frankly, this narrative doesn’t suit me at all. I know very well that hot flashes and mood swings can be a part of menopause, but obviously there’s a lot more to it than that.
Of course, I want realistic view of what lies ahead so I might prepare mentally, emotionally, and physically. However, I also want the nuances. Plus, as an optimist I want to know the good, not just the bad and the ugly. To my mind, any major life transition is a chance at a reawakening of sorts, even if the road through it is rocky. My natural tendency is to find the silver lining and reframe situations as growth opportunities.
Menopause is much more than a collection of symptoms that need to be combatted. However, much of what’s written about menopause, from the scientific literature to the blogosphere, focuses on coping with and dealing with menopause. After a while, one wonders if the scientific and medical communities aren’t overeager to problematize and medicalize menopause by putting all the focus on the symptoms and, naturally, the treatments (they can make money off of). You have to dig deeper to find discussions about the meaning of menopause through the eyes of women who are living it.
Nevertheless, plenty of women and scientists (and women who are scientists!) are exploring how menopause fits into the flow of a woman’s life. I came away from my research seeing that menopause is, in fact, not terrible for many women. There’s tremendous variation in individual women’s experiences of menopause, not only in terms of the actual symptoms but also in the way she appraises them. Menopause is far more nuanced and idiosyncratic than sitcom stereotypes or medicalized portrayals would have us believe. It can be a time of tremendous growth and transformation, and a lot of women embrace that opportunity.
Moreover, although hormone therapy is by far the most loudly promoted remedy, it’s not the only game in town by far. There are actually a wide array of options that women might use to prepare for and alleviate the troublesome aspects of menopause. (Stay tuned for a future post on this topic.)
Why We Go through Menopause: The Value of Elder Women
One of the fun facts I came across in my deep dive into menopause is that scientists have so far identified four non-humans species whose females experience menopause: orcas, narwhals, belugas, and short-finned pilot whales. All toothed whales—fascinating! Other primates probably do not, although chimps and gorillas might (this is controversial, apparently). In other words, we’re pretty special!
While the biology of menopause—the when and what—are well understood, the why is still not totally clear. Human females might spend 40% or more of their lives in the post-menopausal phase. As the authors of this paper bluntly put it, “If the main purpose of women is to propagate the species (survival of the fittest), as postulated by Darwin for all species, then going through menopause many years before dying should be selected against unless there are distinct advantages to it.”
Ouch, but also fair. Scientists have come up with various theories about the nature of those advantages and how they came to evolve. The most compelling explanation is that our post-menopausal longevity directly contributes to the reproductive success of our offspring. Because humans mature slowly, not only do our children require a ton of resources and caretaking, but we also have additional children before our older children are anywhere near self-sufficient.
The Intergenerational Network of Caregiving
The “grandmother hypothesis” proposes that elder women enhance the survival of their lineage by caring for their biological grandchildren, but they also pass down their considerable knowledge and wisdom in and beyond the family itself. Post-menopausal female orcas assume leadership roles in their pods. They’re instrumental in helping other whales find food. Research has shown that their ability to lead others to fruitful fishing grounds is especially important in times of food shortage.
These older females possess skills and knowledge that enhance the survival of their offspring; and their offsprings’ mortality risk increases dramatically following their mothers’ death. The same is probably true for humans. Indeed, there is historical evidence from the 1700s and 1800s that women reproduced earlier and more often if their children’s grandmother was alive. The grandchildren’s odds of surviving to adulthood decreased if grandmothers were distant or deceased.
Competition versus Cooperation
A related theory to the grandmother hypothesis is that intergenerational conflict drove the evolution of menopause. In both human and cetaceans, daughters reach sexual maturity while the mothers are also still capable of reproducing. However, there are only so many resources (both material and energetic) to go around.
When female orcas continue to reproduce once their daughters have themselves started reproducing, the older females’ babies are less likely to survive than the younger females’ babies. The same might have been true for humans. According to this line of thinking, as we age, it’s better that we cease having children of our own and instead step into a supporting role for direct caretaking—and a more expansive role beyond caretaking itself.
Personally, I like the view of our roles changing through the lifespan, providing different types of value at different times. We have different gifts to offer in our post-reproductive years.
Different Women, Different Menopauses
In both the scientific literature and everyday conversation, people tend to talk about menopause as if it were one thing, a singular experience shared by all women. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although some symptoms are common enough to be considered standard—hot flushes/flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood alterations being at the top of the list—the range of possible symptoms is considerably greater than that. Not all women will experience even the most common ones. Among women who do, the severity of those symptoms can vary tremendously. Depending on whom you ask, anywhere from 20-75% of women experience symptoms severe enough to significantly impact their quality of life.
A huge number of factors influences any individual woman’s experience. To start, the onset and severity of symptoms can differ depending on what type of menopause she experiences: if it is premature (younger than 40-years-old) or early (between 40 and 45 years), or if it’s induced by surgical removal of the ovaries versus natural changes in hormone levels. Other factors shown to affect a woman’s symptomatology include her physical and mental health before starting menopause, activity level, lifestyle factors such as smoking, socioeconomic status, and perhaps even geography.
It’s also clear that women’s expectations about and attitudes toward menopause shape her experience. Part of the stereotype is that menopausal women complain and kvetch their way through menopause, periodically pausing to stick their heads in the freezer. (I hear this does help.) However, surveys show time and again that most women actually have neutral to somewhat positive attitudes about menopause.
Many at least hold a mix of positive and negative beliefs and expectations. Understandably, women tend to hold negative attitudes towards hot flashes, night sweats, and other unpleasant physical symptoms. On the other hand, most women are only too happy to stop having monthly periods, and many of them are ready to move past the need for contraception. However, this can be an emotionally fraught time for women who are not ready for their reproductive years to end.
There’s a complex interplay between physical symptoms, attitudes and beliefs about menopause, and psychological well-being. Studies show a bidirectional link between a woman’s attitudes and her subjective experiences. Women who experience disruptive symptoms such as frequent and severe hot flushes understandably have more negative attitudes. The reverse is also true. One prospective study also showed that premenopausal women who had more negative attitudes about menopause later reported experiencing more frequent and more severe symptoms. Another study found that women are less likely to be bothered by menopause if they have other more pressing issues in their lives. (“Pssht, menopause? I can’t be bothered worrying about that, I’m too busy dealing with this crisis over here.”)
Women’s attitudes about menopause are also shaped by her cultural milieu. This could help explain why women around the world have quite disparate experiences in menopause. Not only do women in different cultures report being more or less bothered by menopause overall, the specific symptoms they describe differ as well. The reasons for this are not well understood. It’s not clear whether cross-cultural differences are due to factors like diet, climate, and number of children a woman typically bears, or whether they reflect the varied beliefs and meanings that cultures ascribe to menopause. It’s probably all of the above and more.
Finally, women’s subjective experiences of menopause do not perfectly map onto objective markers such as hormone levels. Two women reporting the same number of hot flashes and sleep disturbances might also report very different levels of distress about those symptoms, for example. This might be due to differences in psychological and emotional well-being, as I will discuss in the next post. Women who have better coping mechanisms, more social support, or higher emotional intelligence are likely more resilient to the physical symptoms.
This all goes to show there is so much more to the menopause story than we’re typically presented with. It’s important that healthcare providers understand this and take the time to understand their patients’ unique situations. Likewise, women should know that there’s no right or wrong way to experience menopause.
“Second Adulthood”—A Lot to Look Forward To
“Menopause starts out as a horror movie, but then transitions into a coming of age story. The time after menopause can truly become the best part of our lives as we create a vibrant second half of life. … Second adulthood is the best!” — Lynette Sheppard, RN
Now for the really good news. As I said above, many women have positive attitudes toward menopause, even when they are in the thick of it. Lotte Hvas is a Danish doctor and author of the book, Menopause—Better Than Its Reputation. Her research shines light on the positive aspects of menopause. In one study, Hvas asked women to reflect in an open-ended manner on how they experienced menopause and how it affected their lives. About half of the 393 women in the study spontaneously offered positive assessments.
Not surprisingly, many women were happy to be done with PMS and monthly periods. (This is something I saw often while reading menopause blogs—”No more cramps, and I can finally wear white pants again!” White pants are apparently a big deal for a lot of ladies.) Others described it as a “wonderful” and peaceful phase in their lives. Still others celebrated the fact that now that their children were grown, they had the time and freedom to explore new areas of interest. Nine of Hvas’ respondents reported that menopause improved their sex lives.
Plenty of women celebrate menopause as the beginning of a new phase of their lives. Menopause coincides with coming into their own in a new way. They talk about exploring new creative channels, experiencing greater patience, and being more selfish in a good way.
As Margaret Mead once said, “There is no greater power in the world than the zest of a post-menopausal woman.” Once women walk through menopause, whether it’s an easy stroll or a walk through fire, they emerge on the other side more confident, with a renewed vigor, and a take-no-baloney attitude. These sentiments were echoed by participants in a study in which Dr. Hvas conducted in-depth interviews with 52- and 53-year-old women. The women perceived themselves as more experienced and more competent than their younger selves, and more assertive about speaking their minds.
As my own mother told me, “Once you get older, you stop giving a $%&! about what other people think.” This theme is echoed time and again by post-menopausal women who say they feel less constrained and more self-confident. Some researchers believe this is actually due to the hormonal changes of menopause, but there are probably psychosocial influences as well. Whatever the cause, a lot of women affirm this, and frankly it sounds pretty great.
A Shift in Perspective
At some point in my reading I came across the term “menostart” as an alternative to “menopause.” This seems apt for the many women who experience menopause as a turning point after which their interests, priorities, and attitudes change.
The psychological principle of socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) offers a lens through which we might understand some of these shifts. The central tenet of SST is that as we age, our future time perception changes. Whereas once we were young and time felt expansive, with aging comes a growing recognition that time is limited. This changes how we approach the world. According to the theory, when time seems expansive in our youth, we focus on future-oriented goals, seek novelty and knowledge, and invest in individual achievement. In contrast, older adults prioritize relational goals and positive emotional experiences.
Three decades of research into SST bears this out. Although SST is not a theory of menopause per se, it does postulate that older individuals facing important life transitions that signal an “ending,” such as retirement, will effortfully focus on positive aspects and downplay negative aspects. Menopause surely falls into this category as well. Older individuals also tend to be better at emotion regulation in everyday life and enjoy more stable positive emotions.
Consistent with this, Hvas relates, “Some women describe that they have used the menopause as a trigger to changing their lifestyles. To others it has meant that they have realised that life is not eternal and that it is important to, ‘use life while you have it’. The statements indicate that the phase has resulted in personal development.” Some of the women in her other study described themselves as more tolerant. “The women also experienced that they had become better at prioritising and at ignoring trifles and instead focus on the important things in life, viz. things that were crucial to themselves.”
I’m Starting Now
No, this isn’t my public announcement that I’m starting “the change.” (Ugh to that term.) I’m laying the foundation upon which I hope a healthy, meaningful “upper middle age” will be built when my husband and I will become empty nesters, and when we fully intend to be healthy, vibrant, active, and on the move.
I’ll talk in my next post about psychological and emotional considerations as well as non-hormonal approaches to easing one’s way through menopause. Hint: I bet you’re already using a few of them to improve overall well-being. I am, and now I see them in a new light.
Because attitude is clearly important, I’m cultivating a positive mindset about menopause. It’s necessary to be intentional about this in a world that often treats menopause like it’s the worst thing ever. One strategy is to gather positive role models of women who are celebrating this period of life. I’m starting with Oprah, who says, “So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as an ending. But I’ve discovered this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else. It’s your opportunity to get clear about what matters to you and then to pursue that with all of your energy, time and talent.” That sounds good to me.
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Ayers, BN, Forshaw MJ, Hunter MS. The menopause. The Psychologist 2011;24:348-353.
Deeks AA. Psychological aspects of menopause management. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;17(1):17-31.
Hawkes K, O’Connell JF, Jones NG, Alvarez H, Charnov EL. Grandmothering, menopause, and the evolution of human life histories. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.1998;95(3):1336–1339.
Peccei JS. Menopause: Adaptation or Epiphenomenon? Evol Anthr 2001;10:43–57.
Sievert, LL. Anthropology and the study of menopause: evolutionary, developmental, and comparative perspectives. Menopause 2014;21(10):1151–1159.
Takahashi M, Singh RS, Stone J. A Theory for the Origin of Human Menopause. Front Genet. 2017;7:222.
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Collagen or whey. Which should you choose?
For years, collagen/gelatin was maligned by bodybuilding enthusiasts as an “incomplete protein” because it doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids, nor does it contribute directly to muscle protein synthesis. There’s definitely truth to this. If you ate nothing but gelatin for your protein, you’d get sick real quick. That’s exactly what happened to dozens of people who tried the infamous “liquid protein diet” fad of the 70s and 80s, which relied heavily on a gelatin-based protein drink. Man—or woman—shall not live by collagen alone.
As for whey, it’s an extremely complete protein. It’s one of the most bioavailable protein sources around, a potent stimulator of anabolic processes and muscle protein synthesis. I consider it essential for people, especially older ones in whom protein metabolism has degraded, and for anyone who wants to boost their protein intake and get the most bang for their buck.
This said, which is best for your needs today? Let’s take a look….
Collagen and whey are two completely different foods. Whether you take one or the other depends on a number of factors.
The first thing to do is explore the different benefits and applications of whey and collagen.
Whey Protein: Uses and Benefits
Whey is one of two primary dairy proteins, the other one being casein. It gained its reputation in the fitness world as a proven muscle-builder, but it actually has some interesting health effects that have little to do with hypertrophy.
In fact, whey is more than just protein. It also includes bioactive components such as lactoferrin (which improves bone health), beta-lactoglobulin (which can promote glutathione synthesis and protect against allergy), alpha-lactoalbumin (which can improve resistance to the cognition-depleting effects of stress), and immunoglobulins (which have antimicrobial effects). Whey also turns into some interesting peptide metabolites upon digestion which, according to a review, can improve blood lipids and lower blood pressure.
What Are Some Good Applications Of Whey?
Obesity: Whey tends to reduce fasting insulin levels in the obese and overweight (but not healthy prepubertal boys, who could use the growth promotion), increase satiety, reduce food intake, and improve resting energy expenditure. If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent obesity, you can’t ask for a better trifecta than increased energy burning, increased satiety, and reduced intake.
Diabetes: Eaten before a meal, whey reduces the glucose spike from the subsequent meal in non-diabetics and type 2 diabetics alike. It achieves this by “spiking” insulin, but transiently; the insulin area under the curve improves even as the immediate insulin response increases. Plus, as seen above, fasting insulin tends to lower in people consuming whey protein. Spikes are not persistent elevations.
Fatty liver: In obese women, a whey supplement reduces liver fat (and as a nice side effect increases lean mass a bit). Fatty liver patients also benefit from whey, enjoying improvements in glutathione status, liver steatosis, and antioxidant capacity. Rats who supplement with whey see reduced fat synthesis in the liver and increased fatty acid oxidation in the skeletal muscle.
Stress: In “high-stress” subjects, a whey protein shake improved cognitive function and performance by increasing serotonin levels. The same shake had no effect on “low-stress” subjects. And dietary whey also lowers oxidative brain stress, at least in mice.
Cancer: Both the lactoferrin found in whey and the glutathione synthesis whey promotes may have anti-cancer effects. Lactoferrin shows potential to prevent cancer that has yet to occur and induce cell death in existing cancer cells. In a recent human study, oral lactoferrin suppressed the formation of colonic polyps. And in animal cancer studies and human cancer case studies, whey protein has been shown to increase glutathione (“foremost among the cellular protective mechanisms”) and have anti-tumor effects.
HIV: People with HIV experience a drastic reduction in glutathione levels. As the master antioxidant, getting glutathione higher is pretty important. Whey won’t cure anything, but it does improve CD4 (a type of white blood cell) count, lower the number of co-infections, and persistently increase glutathione status.
Cardiovascular disease: Last year, a review of the effect of whey on major cardiometabolic risk factors found that whey protein improves the lipid profile, reduces hypertension, improves vascular function, and increases insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Whey peptides that form during digestion actually act as ACE-inhibitors, reducing blood pressure similarly to pharmaceuticals without the side effects.
Sarcopenia: Muscle wasting, whether cancer-related or a product of age and inactivity, is a huge threat to one’s health and happiness. Studies show that whey protein is the most effective protein supplement for countering sarcopenia, especially compared to soy. An anti-sarcopenia smoothie I always have people drink on bed rest is 20-30 grams of whey isolate, a couple egg yolks, milk, cream, and ice. Tastes like ice cream and works like a charm. One time a friend even gave this to his grandmother who was on bedrest in the hospital with diarrhea, mental confusion, and a total lack of appetite. She was in a bad state. After a day or two of the smoothie, she recovered quite rapidly, regaining her appetite and alertness.
Gastrointestinal disorders: Dairy gets a bad rap in some corners for its supposed effects on the gut, but a component of dairy can actually improve gut health, even in patients with gastrointestinal disorders. In Crohn’s disease patients, a whey protein supplement reduces leaky gut. In rodent models of inflammatory bowel disease, whey protein reduce gut inflammation and restore mucin (the stuff used to build up the gut barrier) synthesis.
Oh, and whey is great for hypertrophy.
When To Choose Whey
- If you lift and want some extra protein, whey’s a great choice.
- If you’re older and worry about your ability to metabolize and utilize protein, some extra protein via whey can help.
- If you have any of the conditions listed above, whey’s a great choice. Do note that some of the benefits may stem from simply eating more protein than before. Whey itself may not be the whole cause; an extra slab of steak or a few more eggs could possibly have the same effect.
Along with foods like organ meats, egg yolks, and shellfish, I consider whey to be an important “supplemental food”—a food that acts like a high-density nutrition supplement, powerful in small doses and worth including in almost every diet.
Collagen Protein: Uses and Benefits
I advocate collagen protein as a fourth macronutrient. It’s different enough from whey and other “regular” proteins, serving a totally different function in the body.
If whey has been the gold standard for the muscle building amino acid profile for 30 years, collagen is the gold standard for supporting collagen-based structures in the body (fascia, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, skin, hair, nails). We don’t get much collagenous material in a normal diet these days, and meat proteins and/or plant proteins and/or milk, eggs, etc. don’t have the collagen peptides nor the ideal ratio of glycine, hydroxyproline, and other amino acids found abundantly in collagen. Furthermore, metabolism of the amino acids present in muscle meat deplete our reserves of glycine, thereby increasing the requirement even further. The more meat you eat, the more collagen you need.
Why We Need Collagen So Much These Days
This (non)relationship with collagen is extremely novel for our species. For millions of years up until very recently we ate nose to tail. We ate the entire animal. To give you an idea of how much collagen we’d have eaten, the average cow is about half muscle meat and half “other stuff,” which includes bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and other bits extremely rich in collagen. That’s a ton of glycine and a far cry from eating nothing but ground beef and ribeyes. And more recently, even when we moved toward shrink-wrapped select cuts of meat and away from bones and skin, we still had jello. Then, when jello got maligned, we had nothing. So for the past 20-30 years or so, most Americans have had no appreciable source of collagen peptides in their diet.
Just based on what we know about human biochemistry, this is a disaster. The human body requires at least 16 grams of glycine per day for basic metabolic processes, yet we can only synthesize 3 grams, and the typical omnivorous diet provides just 2-3 grams per day, so we’re looking at an average daily deficit of 10 grams that we need to make up for through diet. Collagen is roughly 1/3 glycine, so that means we need to be eating about 30 grams of collagen per day to hit our 10 gram dosage. And in disease states that disrupt glycine synthesis, like rheumatoid arthritis, or on plant-based diets that provide little to no dietary glycine, we need even more.
I suspect a lot of pro athletes who have connective tissue issues could use even more collagen, especially since they’re exposing their tissues to such incredible stress. I know I did back during my competition days.
What Does Collagen Do For Our Bodies?
It supports our connective tissue and collagen-based structures: fascia, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, skin, hair, and nails.
It improves sleep quality. Human studies show that 3 grams of glycine taken before bed increases the quality of your sleep and reduces daytime sleepiness following sleep restriction. Now that’s isolated glycine rather than collagen, but collagen is the best source of glycine. I can say that a big mug of bone broth or a couple scoops of collagen peptides before bed knock me out and give me great sleep.
It balances your muscle meat intake. I mentioned this earlier, and we see both observational and interventional evidence for it.
- Observational: In one recent observational study, the relationship between red meat and diabetes was abolished after controlling for low-glycine status. People with low glycine levels and high meat intakes were more likely to have diabetes; people with higher glycine levels could have higher meat intakes without any issues. In another study, low circulating levels of glycine predicted diabetes risk.
- Interventional: In both worms and rodents, excessive intake of methionine (the amino acid most abundantly found in muscle meat) reduced longevity, while adding in glycine restored it.
It improves gut health. When I gave up grains and stopped endurance training at age 47 my gut health improved immensely. Like, world-changing for me. But I was still at 90-95%. When I started supplementing with collagen, my gut finally had that last 5% of repair/support/healing it needed to get to 100%.
It’s a great pre-workout. Though maybe not for the reasons most people take “pre-workouts.” I’ve also experienced rapid healing of tendinitis through using pre-workout collagen with vitamin C. I’m not just imagining it because I’ve dealt with a ton of tendon issues over the years, and they never healed that quickly until I introduced pre-workout collagen.
I’ve noticed that my hair and nails grow much faster than before.
Final Answer: Which One?
So, should you use whey or collagen? Let’s get to the bottom line, Sisson.
I made Primal Fuel because I wanted a high quality, low-sugar, moderate-fat meal replacement whey protein.
Personally, I had a need for both.
If I had to choose one, collagen is a better choice for the vast majority of you.
Essential amino acids aren’t a big problem on most ancestral diets, like paleo, Primal, or Primal-keto, and if you’re eating enough animal protein you don’t really need whey. Now, can you benefit from whey despite eating meat? Sure. Necessary does not mean optimal; whey has been shown to improve hypertrophy and muscle recovery from resistance training, plus all the other benefits I already detailed earlier. Almost anyone who does anything in the gym will see benefits from adding 20 grams of whey per day.
But almost no one is getting enough collagen, even the ancestrally-minded eaters who are aware of its importance. And that is a historical aberration on a massive scale. It hasn’t been done before. I wouldn’t recommend testing those waters.
And of course, powders aren’t the only way to get collagen and whey. They both appear in plenty of foods. The powders are just convenient to have on hand when you forget to make the bone broth (chicken, beef, turkey) or throw the oxtails in the crockpot. (Check out those linked recipes if you prefer broth or stew sources.)
Which do you prefer—whey or collagen? What benefits have you noticed from each?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts, and take care.
Wodarski KH, Galus R, Brodzikowska A, Wodarski PK, Wojtowicz A. [The importance of lactoferrin in bone regeneration]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2014;37(217):65-7.
Markus CR, Olivier B, De haan EH. Whey protein rich in alpha-lactalbumin increases the ratio of plasma tryptophan to the sum of the other large neutral amino acids and improves cognitive performance in stress-vulnerable subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;75(6):1051-6.
Pal S, Ellis V, Dhaliwal S. Effects of whey protein isolate on body composition, lipids, insulin and glucose in overweight and obese individuals. Br J Nutr. 2010;104(5):716-23.
Hall WL, Millward DJ, Long SJ, Morgan LM. Casein and whey exert different effects on plasma amino acid profiles, gastrointestinal hormone secretion and appetite. Br J Nutr. 2003;89(2):239-48.
Shertzer HG, Krishan M, Genter MB. Dietary whey protein stimulates mitochondrial activity and decreases oxidative stress in mouse female brain. Neurosci Lett. 2013;548:159-64.
Bounous G. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and glutathione modulation in cancer treatment. Anticancer Res. 2000;20(6C):4785-92.
Meléndez-hevia E, De paz-lugo P, Cornish-bowden A, Cárdenas ML. A weak link in metabolism: the metabolic capacity for glycine biosynthesis does not satisfy the need for collagen synthesis. J Biosci. 2009;34(6):853-72.
The post Collagen vs. Whey: Which Protein is Best For Your Needs? appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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“Do not go gentle into that good night.” That’s one of my favorite lines in all of literature, and it informs my outlook on health, life, wellness, and longevity.
Live long, drop dead. Compression of morbidity. Vitality to the end. All that good stuff.
But I’m sorry to report that Dylan Thomas imploring you to assail life with boldness is becoming harder for the average person to fulfill and embody. People more than ever before are heading into middle age with a head-start on the degenerative changes to body composition and function that used to only hit older folks. They may want to go boldly into that good night, but their bodies probably won’t be cooperating.
Ignore the standouts for a moment. I’m not talking about that awesome granny you saw deadlifting her bodyweight on Instagram or the centenarian sprinter smoking the competition. I’m not talking about the celebrities with personal trainers and access to the latest and greatest medical technologies. I’m referring to the general trend in the greater population. All signs point to average men and women alike having more fragile bones, weaker muscles, and worse postures at a younger age than their counterparts from previous eras.
What Signs Point This Way?
Low Bone Density
These days, more men than ever before are developing the signs of osteoporosis at an earlier age. In fact, one recent study found that among 35-50 year olds, men were more likely than women to have osteopenia—lower bone mineral density—at the neck.
Osteoporosis used to be a “woman’s disease,” lower estrogen after menopause being the primary cause. That’s rather understandable; estrogen is a powerful modulator of bone metabolism in women, and a natural decline in estrogen will lead to a natural decline in bone density. Men’s bone density has a similar relationship with testosterone; as a man’s testosterone declined, so does his bone density. As long as a man or woman entered the decline with high bone density, the decline wouldn’t be as destructive.
But here’s the thing: these days, both men and women are starting the decline with lower bone density. In women and men, peak bone mass attainment occurs during puberty. In girls, that’s about ages 11-13. In boys, it’s later. Puberty sets up our hormonal environment to accumulate healthy amounts of bone mineral density—but we have to take advantage of that window.
One of the main determinants of bone density accumulation is physical activity. If you’re an 11-year-old girl or a 16-year-old boy and you’re not engaging in regular physical activity—running, jumping, throwing, lifting, playing—you will fail to send the appropriate signals to your body to begin amassing bone mass. And once that developmental window closes, and you didn’t spend it engaging in lots of varied movement, it’s really hard to make up for all the bone mineral density you didn’t get.
But you can certainly improve bone mineral density at any age. Even the elderly can make big gains by lifting weights, walking frequently, or even doing something a simple as regular hopping exercises. The problem is that physical activity is down across all ages.
Children are spending more time indoors using devices than outdoors playing. They aren’t walking to school or roaming around outdoors with friends getting into trouble. If they’re active, they’re more likely to be shuttled from soccer practice to ballet to music lessons. Their movement is prescribed rather than freely chosen. Hour-long chunks of “training” rather than hours and hours of unstructured movement…
Not just kids, either. Sedentary living is up in everyone.
So there are two big issues:
- Kids are squandering the developmental window where they should be making the biggest gains in bone density.
- Adults are leading sedentary lives, squandering the lifelong window we all have to increase bone density.
Another reason men are having newfound problems with low bone mineral density is that a generational drop in testosterone has been observed. Twenty years go, men of all ages had higher testosterone levels than their counterparts today, meaning an average 50-year-old guy in 1999 had higher testosterone than an average 50-year-old guy in 2019. Testosterone will decline with age. That’s unavoidable. But something other than aging is also lowering testosterone—and bone density—across the board.
Experts are now recommending that young men use night lights, avoid throw rugs on the floor, and do pre-emptive physical therapy—all to reduce the risk of tripping, falling, and breaking something. That is absolutely tragic. This shouldn’t be happening.
The smartphone is a great tool with incredible potential to transform lives, economies, and personal capacities. But it can wreck your posture if you’re not careful and mindful.
Try this. Pick up your phone and compose a text message. Do it without thinking. Now hold that position and go look at yourself in a mirror. What do you see?
Head jutting forward, tilted down.
Upper back rounded, almost hunched.
Shoulders internally rotated.
Now spend 6-8 hours a day in this position. Add a few more if you work on a computer. Add another 15-20 minutes if you take your phone into the bathroom with you. Add an hour if you’re the type to walk around staring at your phone.
It all starts to sound a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Not only are people spending their days sitting and standing with their spine contorted, they’re staring down at their phones while walking. This is particularly pernicious. They’re training their body to operate in motion with a suboptimal, subhuman spinal position. They’re making it the new normal, forcing the body to adapt. And it is subhuman. Humans are bipeds, hominids that tower over the grasslands, able to scan for miles in every direction, perceive oncoming threats, plot their approach, stand upright and hold the tools at the ready. What would a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer of 20,000 years ago make of the average 25-year-old hunchback shuffling along, nose pointed toward the ground? What would your grandfather make of it?
It used to be that the only person with a kyphotic, hunchback posture was pushing 70 or 80 years old. And even in that age group, it was relatively rare. Nowadays young adults, teens, and even kids have the posture.
Interest in effective fitness and healthy eating and CrossFit and paleo and keto and everything else we talk about is at an all-time high, and all your friends on Instagram seem to be drinking bone broth and doing squats, so you’d think that people are getting stronger and waking up from all the crazy conventional wisdom that society has foisted upon us over the years. They’re not, though. That’s the view from inside the Internet bubble. This explosion in ancestral health and fitness is a reaction to the physical ineptitude and torpor enveloping the modern world. A small but growing group of people are discovering the keys to true health and wellness because the world at large has become so backwards.
And no matter how many CrossFit gyms pop up or people you see walking around in yoga pants, the average adult today is weaker than the average adult from twenty years ago. That’s the real trend. It probably doesn’t apply to you, my regular reader, but it does apply to people you know, love, and work with. Here’s the reality:
Grip strength—one of the better predictors of mortality we have—of 20-34 year old men and women has declined since 1985, so much that they’re “updating the normative standards” for grip strength. Even 6-year-olds are weaker today.
New recruits in the military are weaker than recruits from previous eras. They’re even having trouble “throwing grenades.”
Everywhere you look—Lithuania, Portugal, Sweden, to name just a few—kids, teens, and adults of all ages are failing to hit the normative standards of strength and fitness established in older eras. People are getting weaker, softer, and less fit earlier than ever before.
Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let it happen to the people you care about. You have the chance, the duty to your future self to go boldly into that good night, rather than wither and dwindle and fall apart. And it starts today, right now, right here. Do one thing today. What will it be?
How are you guys fighting the ravages of age and gravity? What are you going to do today to ensure you’ll go boldly into older age?
Bass MA, Sharma A, Nahar VK, et al. Bone Mineral Density Among Men and Women Aged 35 to 50 Years. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2019;119(6):357-363.
Fain E, Weatherford C. Comparative study of millennials’ (age 20-34 years) grip and lateral pinch with the norms. J Hand Ther. 2016;29(4):483-488.
Larson CC, Ye Z. Development of an updated normative data table for hand grip and pinch strength: A pilot study. Comput Biol Med. 2017;86:40-46.
Venckunas T, Emeljanovas A, Mieziene B, Volbekiene V. Secular trends in physical fitness and body size in Lithuanian children and adolescents between 1992 and 2012. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(2):181-187.
Marques EA, Baptista F, Santos R, et al. Normative functional fitness standards and trends of Portuguese older adults: cross-cultural comparisons. J Aging Phys Act. 2014;22(1):126-37.
Ekblom B, Engström LM, Ekblom O. Secular trends of physical fitness in Swedish adults. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2007;17(3):267-73.
The post Is 50 the New 70? How the Modern Lifestyle Is Remaking Middle Age appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Last week, I linked to a story about a popular vegan blogger, author, and influencer who found herself going into menopause at the age of 37 despite doing “everything right.” She exercised, she ate raw, she avoided gluten and refined sugar, and, most importantly, she avoided all animal products. Now, this wasn’t a randomized controlled trial. This wasn’t even a case study. But it was a powerful anecdote from someone whose livelihood depended on her remaining a raw vegan. It wasn’t in her interest to make it up.
So, it got me wondering: How do diet and lifestyle influence the timing of menopause?
Now, before I begin, let’s just state the obvious: Menopause isn’t a problem to be avoided. It’s not something to be feared or maligned. It’s not “the end.” I wrote an entire series on menopause last year, and there will always be more to come on the subject because it’s an important time of life with its own questions and possibilities. While it’s a natural, evolutionarily-preserved part of being a woman, it also follows a natural cadence. Menopause at the right time in accordance with your genetics is normal, expected, and healthy. Menopause that occurs earlier than your genetics would direct suggests something is amiss. Sure enough, early or premature menopause—defined in most places as menopause before the age of 40—has a number of troubling links to poor health outcomes.
Early menopause is linked to:
- A shorter life and an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced physical function in later years.
- Lower cognitive function.
- Increased heart disease.
Not to mention that all the other things normally associated with menopause, like osteoporosis and changes in mood, also have the potential to occur, only earlier.
Okay, so early menopause can have some health consequences. Is veganism actually linked?
What Research Says About Diet and Menopause Timing
There was one study that found people who’d never been a vegetarian developed menopause at a later age, which is a roundabout way of saying that vegetarianism may increase the risk of early menopause.
Other lifestyle factors linked to later menopause included regular strenuous exercise, never smoking, midlife weight gain, and drinking alcohol. Strange mix of behaviors, both classically healthy and unhealthy.
But then another study in Han Chinese women found the opposite—that vegetarianism was associated with a lower risk of premature menopause.
Those are the only direct (if you can call it that) lines of evidence, and they conflict. No solid answers there. That said, there’s more indirect stuff pointing toward a link between exclusion of animal foods and earlier menopause:
- A high intake of vitamin D and calcium from dietary sources has been linked to a lower risk of premature menopause. Oddly enough, supplemental vitamin D and calcium were not linked to lower risks, suggesting that it’s the food—dairy primarily, but also bone-in small fatty fish like sardines—and not the nutrients alone. So a vegan might not be in the clear simply by supplementing with D and calcium.
- The amount of protein and carbs a woman eats throughout her life seems to predict the age at which menopause occurs. More protein, later menopause. More carbs, earlier menopause. Protein is harder and carbs are easier to come by on a plant-based diet—that’s for sure.
- Another fairly consistent finding is that polyunsaturated fat intake “accelerates” menopause. Women who eat the most PUFA tend to have menopause earlier. High PUFA intakes are pretty unavoidable when your diet is awash in seeds, nuts, and other plant-based fat sources.
Then there was a different connection in another study.
The Nurses Health Study found that women who ate the most plant protein were more likely to avoid premature menopause; animal protein intake had no effect. They even found beneficial links between specific foods and protection against early menopause, including dark bread, cold cereal, and pasta. Those are about as unPrimal as you can get.
How Can We Make Sense of Conflicting Research?
In addition to smoking (which we all know is trouble for almost all markers of health), one thing that keeps appearing in all these observational studies—and they’re all observational studies, unable to prove causation—is that underweight BMIs predict early menopause. In the Nurses Health Study, for example, BMIs under 18.5 were linked to a 30% greater risk of early menopause and BMIs between 25 and 29 were linked to a 30% lower risk. If that’s true, and if that’s actually a causal factor, then the most important thing a woman who wants to avoid early menopause can do is avoid being underweight. In that case, filling up on foods known to cause weight gain in susceptible people like bread, pasta, and cereal would be protective (at least for early menopause).
And that could really explain why the vegan blogger developed premature menopause. In her own words, she “had run out of fuel.”
A big downfall of many plant-based diets is that they starve you. They starve you of vital micronutrients you can really only get in animal foods, like B12, zinc, creatine, cholesterol, and others. They starve you of vital macronutrients, like protein and animal fat. And they starve you of calories. It’s hard to maintain your weight and physical robustness eating a diet of leaves, twigs, and seeds (unless you’re a gorilla). Oddly enough, I think vegans who eat grains and vegan “junk food” like fake burgers and weird nut cheeses are probably better off than the gluten-free ones who live off salads, simply because they’re getting more calories. It’s true that there are many ways to eat vegetarian and even vegan—and some are healthier than others (I’ve written about Primal recommendations for vegetarians and vegans in the past), but the more restrictive a person is with animal products, the trickier it will be to stay well-nourished.
If I had to make a bet, it’d be that any diet that provides sufficient nourishment in the form of micronutrients, macronutrients, and total calories will help stave off early menopause.
What about you? What’s your take on this? Has anyone out there experienced premature/early menopause that didn’t follow natural, familial patterns? What can you recall about the diet and lifestyle leading up to it?
Wang H, Chen H, Qin Y, et al. Risks associated with premature ovarian failure in Han Chinese women. Reprod Biomed Online. 2015;30(4):401-7.
Velez MP, Alvarado BE, Rosendaal N, et al. Age at natural menopause and physical functioning in postmenopausal women: the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Menopause. 2019;
Sujarwoto S, Tampubolon G. Premature natural menopause and cognitive function among older women in Indonesia. J Women Aging. 2019;:1-15.
Løkkegaard E, Jovanovic Z, Heitmann BL, Keiding N, Ottesen B, Pedersen AT. The association between early menopause and risk of ischaemic heart disease: influence of Hormone Therapy. Maturitas. 2006;53(2):226-33.
Purdue-smithe AC, Whitcomb BW, Szegda KL, et al. Vitamin D and calcium intake and risk of early menopause. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(6):1493-1501.
Sapre S, Thakur R. Lifestyle and dietary factors determine age at natural menopause. J Midlife Health. 2014;5(1):3-5.
Boutot ME, Purdue-smithe A, Whitcomb BW, et al. Dietary Protein Intake and Early Menopause in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(2):270-277.
Szegda KL, Whitcomb BW, Purdue-smithe AC, et al. Adult adiposity and risk of early menopause. Hum Reprod. 2017;32(12):2522-2531.
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One of the most common complaints people have as they age is poor quality sleep. They get less sleep than younger people, and, despite what you may have heard, their sleep requirements do not decline with age. A 70-year-old should still be getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night. The problem is that, for many different reasons, older people usually have issues getting the amount of sleep they need.
The popular approach is to accept poor sleep as an inevitable part of aging and find workarounds, ideally workarounds that require a lifelong prescription to a name-brand pharmaceutical. That’s not my way. I accept that the conventional approach may be warranted in certain cases, but it should be a last resort. A person should exhaust the diet, lifestyle, and exercise options before turning to the prescription pad.
What about that central position of the conventional wisdom: Declining sleep quality is a necessary function of age. Is that actually true?
Why Do We Equate Getting Older With Sleeping Poorly?
Age is a predictor of poor quality sleep, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. Not every older adult suffers from poor sleep, which means the passage of time alone cannot explain the loss of sleep quality. In fact, when you drill down deeper, you find that there are many health and lifestyle-related predictors of poor quality sleep among older adults.
- In older Taiwanese adults living in a retirement community, 42% reported sleep disturbances. The best predictors for low quality sleep were being sedentary, suffering from nighttime urination, using anti-hypertensive drugs, and having poor mental health.
- In older Korean adults, 60% reported sleep issues. The best predictors for low quality sleep in this group were depression, pain, and poor self-rated health scores.
- In older women, menopause can make getting good sleep harder. The night sweats and body temperature fluctuations (the body tends to drop its temperature in preparation for sleep, and heat flashes can interfere with this) are notorious sleep disruptors.
These are all modifiable risk factors. Even menopause. Menopause will happen, but the symptoms can be addressed and mitigated (though admittedly not easily). I actually wrote a post about this.
There is one specific cluster of neurons called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus that acts as a “sleep switch”—releasing GABA and other inhibitory neurotransmitters that inhibit wakefulness. The ventrolateral preoptic nucleus has been shown to degrade with age, actually getting smaller over time; further research shows that the size of a person’s VPN correlates closely with their sleep quality. But there’s no indication that this is an inevitable consequence of aging. After all, the rate of VPN decline varies between individuals. Maybe some of that rate variation is genetic. Maybe some is environmental—based on how you live and eat and exercise. We do know that light and sun exposure during the day boosts serotonin levels, and serotonin is one of the precursors for VPN sleep activity. What if a lifetime of inadequate sun and daylight exposure causes the VPN to “atrophy”? There are many unanswered questions, but even if the VPN turns out to follow a strictly chronological decline, there are improvements to be made.
Other “inevitabilities” of aging are often a function of accruing compound interest on one’s failure to lead a healthy lifestyle. If we’ve neglected our health and wellness for our entire lives—often because we were following bad advice from the “experts” who were supposed to know better—that’s going to come to a head the older we get. The older we are, the worse our body will work. The more negative interest we’ll have accrued.
Okay, Sisson, that’s all well and good, but what if I’m already an older adult, I’ve already accrued a lifetime of suboptimal health, and my sleep is bad? What can I do?
5 Easy Ways To Improve Your Sleep (At ANY Age)
You can start addressing the issues right now, right today.
1. You can lift heavy things.
Resistance training has been shown to improve sleep quality in older adults. Three times a week, older adults lifted weights for 30 minutes in the morning and saw their sleep quality improve by 38%. It also works in older adults with poor sleep and depression.
2. You can walk.
A three-time weekly walking program for four weeks helped older Nepalese adults improve their sleep quality.
3. You can reduce your alcohol intake.
A few years ago, I noticed that my nightly glass or two of wine was messing with my sleep, so I gave it up and my sleep improved immediately. I’ve since re-introduced Dry Farm natural wine—lower in alcohol and sulfites, higher in antioxidants and complexity—and have no issues. If you drink on a regular basis and have trouble with sleep, try giving up alcohol for a month. It’s a potentially very easy fix.
4. You can avoid artificial light after dark.
This doesn’t just work in younger people. There is strong evidence that exposure to artificial light after dark is linked to insomnia in older adults. Wearing blue-blocking goggles or simply not using electronic devices after dark are easy fixes.
5. You can get more natural light in the morning and daytime.
In older adults, getting more natural light in the daytime hours has a direct effect of improving sleep quality.
Hey, it’s almost like everything in our lives is connected. Some people find this overwhelming and depressing—”how can I possibly fix everything?” I find it empowering. It fills me with optimism because addressing one piece of the chain can get everything else moving in the right direction. Just look at the study with depressed older adults who had trouble sleeping. All they had to do was start lifting heavy things a few times a week and all their major issues began resolving, or at least improving. That’s powerful.
Now imagine if you tried everything. Imagine if you started lifting weights, walking, reduced your alcohol intake. Imagine the changes you could see. Now imagine if you did this from early adulthood and never stopped. Imagine how you’d sleep. Oh, and don’t neglect the power of a consistent routine.
What I Do (and One Thing That’s Made the Biggest Difference)
Last year, I released a video of my nighttime routine. Now that I’m in Miami, the setup has changed but I still do the same basic stuff.
I live in a condo now that has a great spa. I do “fire and ice” before dinner almost every night”—usually 7-10 minutes sauna, 3-4 minutes cold plunge at 50 degrees, repeat a few times. So, no longer right before bed. But it has the effect of making me relaxed and sleep-ready a few hours after a light dinner.
But there’s one tool I began using a couple years ago that has probably made the most difference of any particular strategy: controlling the temperature of my bed.
Ambient temperature matters for sleep quality. My chiliPAD has become indispensable. (Disclosure: I became such a fan that I eventually invested in the company.) Carrie uses one, too. We have different ideal temperature ranges. Mine cools to 65 at bedtime, but with the app I can set it to rise to 68 at 3:00 A.M. (otherwise I get a little too much heat loss), 70 at 5:00 A.M. and then 75 at 6:45 to help me wake up. It makes a huge difference and has real evolutionary antecedence; humans spent many millennia sleeping on a cold surface (the ground) covered with animal skins. It’s what our genes still expect from us.
How’s your sleep, older (or not) readers? What’s worked, what hasn’t? If you have any questions about sleep, drop them down below and I’ll follow up!
Now For the Giveaway…
Whenever I find a product I truly love, I want to share it. Today it’s for two lucky winners.
The great folks at ChiliTechnology have offered two of their cooling systems for MDA readers (the two Carrie and I use): a chiliPAD system and their new OOLER system. Both offer the same fully programmable cooling technology to help you manufacture your best night’s sleep. Plus, I’m throwing in a Primal Essentials Kit (Damage Control, Primal Omegas, Primal Sun, Primal Probiotics and Adaptogenic Calm) because good health and great sleep go hand-in-hand.
One winner will nab the chiliPAD, plus Primal supplements package.
The second winner will enjoy the OOLER system, plus Primal supplements package.
To enter to win:
Open to US only. The winner will be announced and contacted via Instagram direct message on Thursday, May 30th.
Good luck, everybody!
Park JH, Yoo MS, Bae SH. Prevalence and predictors of poor sleep quality in Korean older adults. Int J Nurs Pract. 2013;19(2):116-23.
Ferris LT, Williams JS, Shen CL, O’keefe KA, Hale KB. Resistance training improves sleep quality in older adults a pilot study. J Sports Sci Med. 2005;4(3):354-60.
Singh NA, Clements KM, Fiatarone MA. A randomized controlled trial of the effect of exercise on sleep. Sleep. 1997;20(2):95-101.
The post Does Sleep Quality Really Decline With Age? (Plus, What I Do & a Giveaway) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis, osteoarthritis, and other connective tissue injuries are on the rise. Athletes have always gotten them, but it’s only in the past few decades that regular folks are getting them too. For some connective tissue injuries, non-athletes outnumber athletes. That shouldn’t happen if the conventional wisdom—injuries to tendons, ligaments, and cartilage occur only because of overuse or overloading during intense physical activity—were true.
Now, of course the way we train affects the health and function of our connective tissue. Acute injuries absolutely occur. Overuse injuries absolutely develop. But that’s to be expected. Athletes put their bodies through a lot, and there is going to be fallout from that. Where those injuries shouldn’t be happening is in regular, everyday folks who don’t train for a living or engage in intense physical competition on a regular basis. And yet that’s exactly how it’s going down in the world today. In one recent study, the majority of patients with Achilles tendon injuries couldn’t attribute their condition to working out or playing sports. In other words, they just got it.
Part of the problem is our nutrition. We eat too many of the inflammatory foods which contribute to connective tissue degradation and deconditioning, like grains and refined seed oils and sugar, and too few of the nutritive building blocks our bodies use to buttress and repair damaged connective tissue, like collagen. For over a decade, I’ve sought to address these deficiencies in the modern diet by laying out the Primal eating plan and creating non-inflammatory versions of existing products (like mayo and salad dressings) and products that replace some of the foods we’ve been missing. This is why I started selling collagen powder—because it’s the greatest source of gelatin, provides the necessary building blocks for collagen construction and repair, and provides the glycine that balances out the methionine in our meat-heavy diets and makes them less inflammatory.
This is all standard stuff at this point. It’s no surprise to most of you. Eat healthy, exercise, sleep, and most other things fall into place, including the health of your connective tissues. But it can’t explain everything. There’s more to it.
I’ve been suspicious of stretching in the past, especially static stretching. You don’t see Hadza tribes people doing the downward dog, hitting the couch stretch, or doing toe touches every morning. They simply move around a lot and avoid sitting in chairs for ten hours a day, and it’s enough. Right?
But over the past few months, I’ve become acquainted with Matt Wallden, the Global Head of Education for the Chek Institute. Like me, he’s obsessed with taking lessons from human evolution and applying them to humans living today to help them thrive. We really hit it off, so much that we collaborated on a pair of papers that appear in the April edition of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies that discuss the power of “Archetypal resting positions” (several positions depicted in the article) and the crisis (and solution) of “Modern disintegration and primal connectivity.”
In the papers, we posit that it’s not just our tendency to sit in chairs way too much that’s destroying our health, movement quality, and tissue quality. We’re also failing to utilize the archetypal resting positions that humans have been using for hundreds of thousands of years. Sitting in chairs isn’t ideal, but far worse is our neglect of the dozen or so permutations of ancestral floor positions.
- The full squat, with heels down.
- The high kneel.
- The low kneel.
- The side sit.
- The long sit.
- The cross-legged sit.
- In each of these positions, some tissues are lengthened (stretched) while others are compressed.
- The squat stretches the back, glutes, quads, and calves.
- The high kneel stretches the quads, Achilles’ tendon, and foot fascia.
- The low kneel stretches the feet and quads.
- The long sit stretches the hamstrings and wrist flexors.
- The cross-legged sit stretches the hip adductors and rotators.
- The side sit stretches the external and internal rotators of the hip.
If you alternate between all the positions, every limb will receive the stretch/compression treatment that has been shown to improve tissue healing and maintain tissue viability and function.
Many of these positions also restrict blood flow to specific areas of the body, a practice that has been shown to enhance connective tissue healing. You restrict the blood flow and then restore it, and the tissue gets a “rebound” effect.
Now imagine doing this all the time, whenever you’re at rest. Imagine not having any chairs at all. Imagine how you’d feel—and move, and perform, and recover—if instead of spending 10 hours a day hunched over in a chair you spent 2 hours a day exposing your body to these archetypal stretch/compression positions.
Not only that, but sitting in these archetypal resting positions may even improve glucose tolerance.
We cite research showing that a gentle passive stretching program (10 different stretching positions, 4 30-second “reps” each for a total of 20 minutes) lowers blood sugar in diabetics. That’s a possibility, but I’ve always found dedicated stretching or mobility routines to be the hardest to maintain. And I’m not alone—pretty much everyone hates stretching. A more evolutionarily-congruent method would be to integrate these resting positions into your daily life.
Hanging around at home or at the park or beach? Sure, getting down into these positions on the floor is cinch. You could easily make that work. But what about at work? What if you work in front of a computer? I’m picturing a floor-based workstation that enables the archetypal resting position as you work, sort of a low-lying modular “desk” that can be manipulated into various shapes to adhere to your particular resting position. That would be very cool and very interesting. We haven’t done the research on the cognitive effects of chair sitting vs archetypal resting positioning, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered some performance-enhancing effects for knowledge workers.
In the next couple weeks, Matt and I will be releasing a podcast discussing the archetypal resting positions and other topics in full.
For now, why don’t you make it a point to spend the next month doing at least one hour of archetypal floor sitting every day? See if you notice any improvements to your tissue function, and report back. I’d love to hear your results.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!
De jonge S, Van den berg C, De vos RJ, et al. Incidence of midportion Achilles tendinopathy in the general population. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(13):1026-8.
Wallden M, Sisson M. Modern disintegration and primal connectivity. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019;23(2):359-365.
Wallden M, Sisson M. Biomechanical attractors – A paleolithic prescription for tendinopathy & glycemic control. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019;23(2):366-371.
Taheri N, Mohammadi HK, Ardakani GJ, Heshmatipour M. The effects of passive stretching on the blood glucose levels of patients with type 2 diabetes. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019;23(2):394-398.
The post Archetypal Resting Positions: How Sitting Like Your Ancestors Could Save Your Health appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Folks, you know I’m a long-time believer in intermittent fasting for longevity, autophagy, mental clarity, fitness performance, metabolic health, and more. I’m excited that Dr. Jason Fung has stopped by the blog today to share a bit about common fasting mistakes. Enjoy!
So, you’ve decided to add some fasting to your lifestyle. Excellent. No matter how much you have (or haven’t) read on the topic, you’re likely to find aspects of fasting to be challenging or even frustrating. It can be hard to stay on track when you’re feeling hungry, irritable and not really noticing any changes.
It’ll become tremendously easier once you begin to experience the health benefits of fasting, but we all know it takes a little while for that to happen. Benefits like mental clarity and improved energy will show up sooner than significant weight loss. Plus, the benefits you experience will depend on what kind of fast you’re doing and how well you stick to it.
But if you’re making fasting mistakes, you might never accomplish the benefits you were hoping for. . Before you throw in the towel, I want to help you identify some possible fasting pitfalls you might not be aware of and also help you avoid them. Plus, don’t miss the Number One reason fasts fail, shared at the end of this article.
1. You’re Snacking or “Grazing”
Look, the entire purpose of a fast is to contain your eating within certain windows of time. Snacking or “grazing” all day long is basically the opposite of fasting, so stop thinking that you can get away with it. Fasting is “on” or “off”—there is no gray area. Even having “just a bite,” no matter how healthy or how little, will almost invariably kick your body out of fasting mode and will interfere with the healing process responsible for fasting’s many benefits. It also creates a situation where your body is producing insulin all day long. Bad idea.
Avoid grazing by putting snacks and food out of sight. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” really applies here. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to bypass snacking when the food isn’t sitting right in front of you. If you snack out of habit, get creative and find new, non-food based habits. If your snacking comes from genuine hunger, you may need to re-evaluate the meals you eat during your eating window. Make sure you’re getting enough healthy, unsaturated fats with each meal as these will keep you satiated for longer.
2. You Aren’t Drinking Enough Water
This is not only a common fasting mistake, but a mistake most people make no matter what their diet is. Drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water daily is essential to staying hydrated and healthy. Some signs that you aren’t drinking enough water include dizziness and lightheadedness, feeling tired, or constipation.
Even worse, when you don’t drink enough water, your brain may try to trick you into thinking that you’re hungry, so you get the vitamins and minerals you’re lacking. Minerals like potassium and magnesium are essential to your brain health. So don’t be surprised next time you feel hungry but find that drinking a glass of water makes the appetite disappear. Various kinds of tea are also a satisfying way to hydrate, or try some bone broth if you’re truly struggling.
3. You Aren’t Consuming Enough Salts
Speaking of vitamins and minerals, appropriate salt intake is vital to your health. Now, when I say “salt,” I’m not talking about the kind you put in a shaker. I’m talking about electrolytes, which are essential to your diet. Sodium (Na), which is also commonly known as table salt, is one of these electrolytes, along with potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), and chloride (Cl).
How can you tell if you’re low on electrolytes? Some symptoms of electrolyte deficiency are anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping, muscle spasms, fatigue, digestive issues, and dizziness. If these are the kinds of symptoms you experience during your fast, lack of electrolytes could be the answer. Try taking some pink Himalayan rock salt and placing it under your tongue to dissolve. You can also try drinking some pickle juice — just make sure it’s from high-quality natural pickles and not the kind made with sugar.
4. You’re Eating Right Before You Go To Sleep
Your body needs time to digest all the food from your last meal before you go to sleep. If you’ve scheduled your eating window to happen right before bedtime, your body will be taking all the time you’ve allotted to rest to digest instead. That takes energy, and instead of waking up feeling restored and ready to take on the day, you’ll just feel tired.
When you’re following a fasting plan, a seven-hour window is an ideal amount of time to leave between your last meal and when you go to sleep. Even three or four hours is enough to make a difference. Unfortunately, with crazy work schedules and early mornings, a lot of people aren’t able to stick to that three- or four-hour window. It’s more like get home, eat dinner, and go straight to bed. If this is you, the next best thing is to eat a light meal, like salad, and avoid a meal filled with carbohydrates and protein.
5. You’re Eating Too Much of Some Food Groups
When we cut certain foods from our diet, especially carbs, it’s easy to rely on other food groups, like nuts and dairy. They’re readily available and a staple of most diets.
Nuts are a low-carb, healthy fat option, but only in small amounts. They’re great to add to fruit or veggie salads, and they’re easy to grab a handful of when you need a quick snack. But those quick snacks can add up, especially on top of eating full meals. Nuts are high in good fat, low in carbs, and are a good source of protein, but too much protein can be detrimental to your fast. Excess protein that your body doesn’t need is converted to glucose and stored as fat. If you’re fasting to lose weight, this is the exact opposite of what you want.
Dairy, the other easy food group that too many people defect to, can cause inflammation, upset stomach, bloating, gas, and other kinds of discomfort. If this is a pattern you’ve noticed with your own health and eating habits, try cutting out dairy for a few weeks and see if these symptoms improve. If you haven’t noticed these symptoms, be more mindful of your eating habits and track how you feel after eating dairy.
6. You Aren’t Eating Enough of Certain Food Groups
As easy as it is to eat too much of one food group, it’s equally easy to not get enough of another. Just because you can eat “whatever” you want during your eating window doesn’t mean you should. Empty calories and junk food are momentarily satisfying, but they don’t fuel your body. Eating the right foods provides your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive throughout the day; these foods will also keep you feeling fuller, longer.
Vegetables are one of the best food groups to keep you nourished and thriving. They’re low calorie and they provide different vitamins and minerals like potassium, fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Fruits are also healthy, but don’t overdo it, as most are high in sugar. Fruit juices typically have added sugar as well. Naturally flavored drinks and teas are the healthiest option. Nuts are high in fat and a good source of protein, as are eggs. Refined carbohydrates and sugars are highly unnecessary for your body and if you’re going to include them in your meals, there should be very little.
7. You’re Pushing Your Body Too Hard
Did you dive off the deep end and go from zero fasting to attempting 24-hr fasts every other day? Back up and take a more moderate approach first. Don’t expect fasting to be easy right away. Not only will your body need time to adjust, but your mind will, too. If you’ve been accustomed to three square meals a day, plus snacks and calorie-filled drinks, your body has gotten used to this routine.
Your body needs time to adapt. First it burns through stored sugar and then it will start burning body fat for energy. Start slow and get a feeling for this new practice. You can start with a twelve-hour fasting period and twelve-hour eating window. When eight hours of that fast are during your sleeping hours, this window is relatively easy. Once you’ve become accustomed to this schedule, you can reduce your eating window to ten hours. Continue decreasing your eating window by two hours every one to two weeks, until you’ve hit the fasting period you want.
8. You Have the Wrong Mindset
Fasting provides your body with everything it needs to thrive, but without the right mindset, you’re bound to fail. Focusing on the negative, like not being allowed to eat certain foods or at certain times, will easily spiral into other negative self-talk. The harder you are on yourself, the more difficult it is to achieve success.
Rather than thinking about how hard the fast is, focus on the positive that will come out of it. Fasting allows your body to heal. Fasting can help you lose weight. You’ll feel more energized and have a clearer mind. Whatever the reason you’ve chosen to fast, focus on that. Fasting with a friend, family member, partner, or online community is another way to hold yourself accountable and can be very helpful.
9. You’re Too Stressed
When you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is problematic when fasting because it can prompt your body to break down muscle tissue instead of fat. When fasting, your body should tap into stored body fat and preserve your healthy muscle tissue.
If you’re stressed on occasion, this shouldn’t cause much of a problem. But if you’re chronically stressed, that constant release of cortisol can lead to a breakdown of muscle tissue.
Not sure if you’re stressed? Here are some symptoms:
- Teeth grinding
- Muscle tension
- Digestive problems
- Trouble concentrating
Alleviate stress with deep breathing, positive visualization, an epsom salt bath, and stress-relieving teas. If you can, take some time off from work. If you’re an outdoorsy person, relax in nature.
10. You’re Inactive
Being inactive is one of the biggest mistakes people make during their fast. If you aren’t eating, you should rest and save your energy, right? Wrong. Exercise is a great way to improve your fasting. Activity increases fat burning and boosts circulation. Going outside and getting some sunlight and fresh air can improve your mood, making you more likely to stick to your fast. Movement generally makes people feel better than sitting on the couch inside all day; being inactive makes you cold, tired, and unfocused.
Since a lot of people work sedentary jobs that tie them to a desk all day, exercise isn’t a convenient way to stay active. But taking a short walk or stretching are two easy ways to get your blood flowing throughout the day.
Fasting shouldn’t be synonymous with suffering. If you’re feeling deprived during your fast, be sure that you aren’t making any of the above fasting mistakes. Ease yourself into your fast, stick with it, and enjoy the results when they come with time.
But there’s one more—in fact, the number one reason fasts fail….
Can you guess what it is?
***Giving Into Cravings
Which is why I want to tell you about my new favorite secret weapon for staying fasted longer and with less difficulty: Pique Fasting Teas. Why tea? The combination of catechins and caffeine gives you a higher chance of experiencing tangible benefits from fasting. It suppresses hunger cravings, boosts calorie burn and supports malabsorption of unhealthy fats and sugars.
These Fasting Teas include ingredients targeted at maximizing the fasting experience:
1) Organic highest ceremonial grade matcha, which increases levels of l-theanine to calm and tide you through your fasts with ease. 2) Organic peppermint, which is a natural appetite suppressant with calming properties. 3) Proprietary blend of high catechin green Tea Crystals, which regulate the hunger hormone ghrelin and increase thermogenesis (burning fat for fuel). This helps you to stay fasted and see quicker results. 4) Additional plant ingredients including ginger and citrus peel to support digestion and enhance autophagy.
As with all of Pique’s teas, you can rest assured these are pure and Triple Toxin Screened for pesticides, heavy metals and toxic mold. For a limited time only, if you order through the Mark’s Daily Apple link, you can get up to 8% off and free shipping (U.S. only).
Thanks again to Dr. Jason Fung for today’s post. Have questions on fasting protocols or missteps? Share them below, everybody, and have a great day.
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Biological systems are self-maintaining. They have to be. We don’t have maintenance workers, mechanics, troubleshooters that can “take a look inside” and make sure everything’s running smoothly. Doctors perform a kind of biological maintenance, but even they are working blind from the outside.
No, for life to sustain itself, it has to perform automatic maintenance work on its cells, tissues, organs, and biological processes. One of the most important types of biological maintenance is a process called autophagy.
Autophagy: the word comes from the Greek for “self-eating,” and that’s a very accurate description: Autophagy is when a cell consumes the parts of itself that are damaged or malfunctioning. Lysosomes—members of the innate immune system that also degrade pathogens—degrade the damaged cellular material, making it available for energy and other metabolites. It’s cellular pruning, and it’s an important part of staving off the worst parts of the aging process.
In study after study, we find that impairment to or reductions of normal levels of autophagy are linked to almost every age-related degenerative disease and malady you can imagine.
- Cancer: Autophagy can inhibit the establishment of cancer by removing malfunctioning cellular material before it becomes problematic. Once cancer is established, however, autophagy can enhance tumor growth.
- Diabetes: Impaired autophagy enables the progression from obesity to diabetes via pancreatic beta cell degradation and insulin resistance. Impaired autophagy also accompanies the serious complications related to diabetes, like kidney disease and heart failure.
- Heart disease: Autophagy plays an important role in all aspects of heart health.
- Osteoporosis: Both human and animal studies indicate that autophagy dysfunction precedes osteoporosis.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Early stage Alzheimer’s disease is linked to deficits in autophagy.
- Muscle loss: Autophagy preserves muscle tissue; loss of autophagy begins the process of age-related muscle atrophy.
Okay, so autophagy is rather important. It’s fundamental to health.
But how does autophagy happen?
The way it’s supposed to happen is this:
Humans traditionally and historically lived in a very different food environment. Traditionally and historically, humans were feasters and fasters. While I don’t think our paleolithic ancestors were miserable, wretched, perpetually starving creatures scuttling from one rare meal to the next—the fossil records show incredibly robust remains, with powerful bones and healthy teeth and little sign of nutritional deficits—they also couldn’t stroll down to the local Whole Foods for a cart full of ingredients. Going without food from time to time was a fundamental aspect of human ancestral life.
They worked for their food. I don’t mean “sat in a cubicle to get a paycheck to spend on groceries.” I mean they expended calories to obtain food. They hunted—and sometimes came back empty handed. They dug and climbed and rooted around and gathered. They walked, ran, stalked, jumped, lifted. Movement was a necessity.
In short, they experienced energy deficits on a regular basis. And energy deficits, particularly sustained energy deficits, are the primary triggers for autophagy. Without energy deficits, you remain in fed mode and never quite hit the fasted mode required for autophagy.
Now compare that ancestral food environment to the modern food environment:
Almost no one goes hungry. Food is cheap and plentiful, with the tastiest and most calorie-rich stuff tending to be the cheapest and most widely available.
Few people have to physically work for their food. We drive to the store and walk a couple hundred steps, hand over some money, and—BOOM—obtain thirty thousand calories, just like that. Or someone comes to our house and delivers the food directly.
We eat all the time. Unless you set out to do it, chances are you’ll be grazing, snacking, and nibbling throughout the day. We’re in a perpetually fed state.
The average person in a modern society eating a modern industrial diet rarely goes long enough without eating something to trigger autophagy. Nor are they expending enough energy to create an energy deficit from the other end—the output. It’s understandable. If our ancestors were thrust into our current situation, many would fall all over themselves to take advantage of the modern food environment. But that doesn’t make it desirable, or good for you. It just means that figuring out how to trigger autophagy becomes that much more vital for modern humans.
Here are 7 ways to induce autophagy with regular lifestyle choices.
There’s no better way to quickly and reliably induce a large energy deficit than not eating anything at all. There are no definitive studies identifying “optimal” fasting guidelines for autophagy in humans. Longer fasts probably allow deeper levels of autophagy, but shorter fasts are no slouch.
2) Get Keto-Adapted
When you’re keto- and fat-adapted, it takes you less time to hit serious autophagy upon commencing a fast. You’re already halfway there.
3) Train Regularly
With exercise-related autophagy, the biggest effects are seen with lifelong training, not acute. In mice, for example, the mice who are subjected to lifelong exercise see the most autophagy-related benefits. In people, those who have played soccer (football) for their entire lives have far more autophagy-related markers of gene activity than people of the same age who have not trained their whole lives.
4) Train Hard
In studies of acute exercise-induced autophagy, the intensity of the exercise is the biggest predictor of autophagy—even more than whether the athletes are in the fed or fasted state.
5) Drink Coffee
At least in mice, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee induce autophagy in the liver, muscle tissue, and heart. This effect persists even when the coffee is given alongside ad libitum food. These mice didn’t have to fast for the coffee to induce autophagy.
Certain nutrients can trigger autophagy, too….
6) Eat Turmeric
Curcumin, the primary phytonutrient in turmeric, is especially effective at inducing autophagy in the mitochondria (mitophagy).
7) Consume Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The anticancer potential of its main antioxidant, oleuropein, likely occurs via autophagy.
Disclaimer: The autophagy/nutrient literature is anything but definitive. Most studies take place in test tube settings, not living humans. Eating some turmeric probably won’t flip a switch and trigger autophagy right away, but it won’t hurt.
Autophagy is a long game.
This can’t be underscored enough: Autophagy is a lifelong pursuit attained by regular doses of exercise and not overeating every time you sit down to a meal. Staying so ketotic your pee tests look like a Prince album cover, doing epic 7-day fasts every month, fasting every other day, making sure you end every day with fully depleted liver glycogen—while these strategies might be “effective,” obsessing over their measures to hit some “optimal” level of constant autophagy isn’t the point and is likely to activate or trigger neurotic behavior.
Besides, we don’t know what “optimal autophagy” looks like. Autophagy isn’t easy to measure in live humans. You can’t order an “autophagy test” from your doc. We don’t even know if more autophagy is necessarily better. There’s the fact that unchecked autophagy can actually increase existing cancer in some cases. There’s the fact that too much autophagy in the wrong place might be bad. We just don’t know very much. Autophagy is important. It’s good to have some happening. That’s what we have to go on.
Putting These Tips Into Practice
Autophagy happens largely when you just live a healthy lifestyle. Get some exercise and daily activity. Go hard every now and then. Sleep deeply. Recover well. Don’t eat carbohydrates you don’t need and haven’t earned (and I don’t just mean “earned through glycogen depleting-exercise”). Reach ketosis sometimes. Don’t eat more food than you need. Drink coffee, even decaf.
All those caveats aside, I see the utility in doing a big “autophagy session” a few times a year. Here’s how mine looks:
- Do a big training session incorporating strength training and sprints. Lots of intense bursts. This will trigger autophagy.
- Fast for two or three days. This will push autophagy even further.
- Stay busy throughout the fast. Take as many walks as possible. This will really ramp up the fat burning and get you quickly into ketosis, another autophagy trigger.
- Drink coffee throughout the fast. Coffee is a nice boost to autophagy. Decaf is fine.
I know people are often skeptical of using “Grok logic,” but it’s likely that most human ancestors experienced similar “perfect storms” of deprivation-induced autophagy on occasion throughout the year. You track an animal for a couple days and come up short, or it takes that long to make the kill. You nibble on various stimulants plucked from the land along the way. You walk a ton and sprint some, then lift heavy. And finally, maybe, you get to eat.
If you find yourself aging well, you’re on the right track. If you’re not progressing from obesity to diabetes, you’re good to go. If you’re maintaining and even building your muscle despite qualifying for the blue plate special, you’ve probably dipping into the autophagy pathway. If you’re thinking clearly, I wouldn’t worry. Obviously, we can’t really see what’s happening on the inside. But if everything you can verify is going well, keep it up.
That’s it for today, folks. If you have any more questions about autophagy, leave them down below and I’ll try to get to all of them in future posts.
Thanks for reading!
Yang ZJ, Chee CE, Huang S, Sinicrope FA. The role of autophagy in cancer: therapeutic implications. Mol Cancer Ther. 2011;10(9):1533-41.
Barlow AD, Thomas DC. Autophagy in diabetes: ?-cell dysfunction, insulin resistance, and complications. DNA Cell Biol. 2015;34(4):252-60.
Sasaki Y, Ikeda Y, Iwabayashi M, Akasaki Y, Ohishi M. The Impact of Autophagy on Cardiovascular Senescence and Diseases. Int Heart J. 2017;58(5):666-673.
Florencio-silva R, Sasso GR, Simões MJ, et al. Osteoporosis and autophagy: What is the relationship?. Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2017;63(2):173-179.
Li Q, Liu Y, Sun M. Autophagy and Alzheimer’s Disease. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2017;37(3):377-388.
Jiao J, Demontis F. Skeletal muscle autophagy and its role in sarcopenia and organismal aging. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2017;34:1-6.
Schwalm C, Jamart C, Benoit N, et al. Activation of autophagy in human skeletal muscle is dependent on exercise intensity and AMPK activation. FASEB J. 2015;29(8):3515-26.
De oliveira MR, Jardim FR, Setzer WN, Nabavi SM, Nabavi SF. Curcumin, mitochondrial biogenesis, and mitophagy: Exploring recent data and indicating future needs. Biotechnol Adv. 2016;34(5):813-826.
Przychodzen P, Wyszkowska R, Gorzynik-debicka M, Kostrzewa T, Kuban-jankowska A, Gorska-ponikowska M. Anticancer Potential of Oleuropein, the Polyphenol of Olive Oil, With 2-Methoxyestradiol, Separately or in Combination, in Human Osteosarcoma Cells. Anticancer Res. 2019;39(3):1243-1251.
The post The Definitive Guide To Autophagy (and 7 Ways To Induce It) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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