For the vast majority of human history (and prehistory), men, women, and children had near-constant contact with the natural world around them. They were walking on the ground. They were playing in the dirt. They were digging for roots and grubs. They were eating with their hands. They were field dressing animals and wiping their hands on the grass. Nothing was sterilized; the tools to sterilize the environment didn’t exist. You could boil water, but that was about it. Bacteria were everywhere, and humans were constantly ingesting it. Even as babies, preindustrial infants nursed for almost four years, so they were getting a steady source of breastmilk-based probiotic bacteria for a good portion of their early lives.
The Agricultural Age: Farms and Fermented Foods
After agriculture and animal husbandry hit the scene, human diets changed, but their environmental exposures didn’t so much. Every day they interacted closely with the soil and/or animals (and their respective bacteria). And they also continued ingesting probiotic bacteria on a regular basis through the use of fermented food—for at least the last 10,000 years. Honey into mead, grains into beer, fruit into wine, alcohol into vinegar.
We know that fermented dairy has been an integral part of any traditional dairy-eating culture because fermentation is the natural result of having milk around without refrigeration. You take raw milk and leave it out for a couple days at room temperature, and it will begin to separate and ferment. Introduce an animal stomach and you can make cheese. Introduce specific strains of bacteria, and you can make yogurt or kefir. But the point is that dairy fermentation—and, thus, the consumption of dairy-based probiotics—was unavoidable in pre-industrial dairy-eating societies.
Modern Diets, Modern Environments
Here’s my point to all this: probiotics in one form or another have been a constant input in the human experience… until today.
Today? We live sterilized lives.
- We wipe everything down with anti-microbial agents.
- We wash all our plates and eating utensils with ultra-hot water and powerful soaps.
- We wear shoes.
- We don’t touch (or see) dirt for days, weeks at a time.
- We stay indoors most of the day.
- We pasteurize our dairy. We render shelf-stable (and thus inert) our sauerkraut and pickles.
- We sterilize our water.
- We take antibiotics.
- We eat processed, refined food that’s been treated with preservatives and anti-microbial additives designed to remove all traces of bacteria.
- We employ tens of thousands of scientists, bureaucrats, and agents whose primary role is to ensure our food supply is as sterile as possible.
I get all that. There are good reasons for doing all these things, and on the balance I’d of course rather have clean water, clean food, and antibiotics than not, but there are also drawbacks and unintended consequences. We live in a sterile world, and our guts weren’t built for a sterile world. They’re meant to house a diverse array of bacteria.
What Are the Consequences Of Living a Sterile Life?
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said that “all diseases originate in the gut.” The most obvious example, digestive issues, are some of the most common in the post-industrial world. Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and general digestive distress affect tens of millions. Food intolerances and allergies, which also have a link to gut health, are rising.
At least since Biblical times (and probably earlier), humans have identified a connection between the gut and our emotions. “I’ve got a gut feeling…” or “I feel it in my gut.” Though it’s usually portrayed as “merely metaphor,” this connection isn’t spurious and can feel quite real. Remember when you held hands with that pretty girl or handsome guy for the first time? You felt those butterflies in your gut. Or how you had to rush to the bathroom before giving that big talk in front of your college class? You felt the nervousness and anxiety in your gut.
Evidence is accumulating that our gut bacteria can manufacture and synthesize neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, and even sex hormones like testosterone. We’ve even identified a legitimate physiological pathway running from the gut to the brain and back again. Couple that with the fact that gut health seems to play a role in depression, anxiety, and other related conditions, and it starts looking like our lack of exposure to probiotic bacteria could be triggering (or at least exacerbating) the rise in mental health issues.
Supporting Our Guts In the Age of Sterility
The foundation of gut health has to be diet: 1) Eating fermented foods to provide probiotic bacteria and 2) eating plant and animal foods that provide prebiotic substrate to feed and nourish those bacteria. That’s been the way of humans for tens of thousands of years—from ingesting soil-based and animal-based bacteria on the food we ate as foragers to directly producing and consuming fermented food—and it should remain the primary mode of probiotic procurement.
But there’s also a place for probiotic supplementation. Food alone probably can’t atone for the sterile existence we’ve built for ourselves. Food alone can’t counteract the several years of breastfeeding you didn’t get, the dirt you didn’t play with, the antelope colons you didn’t handle with bare hands, the untreated water you didn’t drink. You may get it now, but what about ten years ago? What about when you were a kid?
Evolutionarily novel circumstances often require evolutionarily novel responses to restore balance.
And probiotics aren’t even that “novel.” We’re clearly designed to consume probiotics in the food we eat, and probiotic supplements utilize the same ingestion pathway, especially if you consume them with food. The dosages may sound high. Primal Probiotics, the one I make (and take), contains 5 billion colony forming units (cfu, a measure of bacteria that are able to survive digestion and establish colonies in the gut) of good bacteria per dose—but that’s right in line with (or even well under) the dose of probiotics found in common fermented foods.
A single milliliter of kefir can have up to 10 billion cfu.
A cup of yogurt can contain up to 500 billion cfu.
A tablespoon of sauerkraut juice can contain 1.5 trillion cfu. Kimchi is probably quite similar.
A single gram of soil can contain almost 10 trillion cfu. A gram of soil is easy to consume if you’re eating foods (and drink water) directly from the earth.
Now, Primal Probiotics isn’t the only option. It may not even be the best option if you have specific conditions that other strains are particularly adept at addressing. (I’ll cover this in a future post.) But the way I designed Primal Probiotics was to be a good general, all-purpose probiotic with particular applications for Primal, keto, and other ancestrally-minded people living their modern lives.
For instance, one of my favorite strains I’ve included is Bacillus subtilis, the very same bacterial strain that’s found in natto, the traditional Japanese fermented soybean. B. subtilis addresses many of the issues we face in the modern world. It helps break down phytase in the gut and turn it into inositol, an important nutrient for brain and mood and stress. It helps convert vitamin K1 (from plants) into vitamin K2 (the more potent animal form of the vitamin). It can even hydrolyze wheat and dairy proteins to make them less allergenic.
There’s also Bacillus clausii, an integral modulator of the innate immune system (PDF)—the part of the immune system that fights off pathogens, toxins, and other invading offenders. Innate immunity is ancient immunity; it’s the same system employed by lower organisms like animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. It’s the foundation of what we know as the immune response. What’s funny is that B. clausii has such a powerful effect on our innate immunity that one could argue B. clausii is an innate aspect of our gut community.
I’ve also included a small amount of prebiotic substrates in the latest iteration. I use raw potato starch (for resistant starch) and a blend of fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. The prebiotic doses are low enough that they shouldn’t exacerbate any gut problems or FODMAPs intolerances and high enough to provide enough food for the probiotics to flourish.
Again, you don’t have to take Primal Probiotics. It’s my opinion that they provide the perfect combination of strains for most people’s needs, especially when combined with regular intakes of fermented veggies like sauerkraut and fermented dairy like yogurt, cheese, and kefir, but the actual strains themselves aren’t proprietary. You can find them elsewhere if you want to get individual probiotics. Hell, you may not even need a probiotic supplement. Depending on your personal health background, the level of sterility in your life history and current life (if you grew up on a farm drinking raw milk, for example), and the amount of fermented foods you currently consume, you may not need supplemental assistance.
But it’s sure nice to have around.
Anyway, that’s it for today.
How do you get your probiotics? Do you find them necessary for optimum health? What kind of benefits have you experienced from taking probiotics, either via food or supplementation?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.
The post Life In the Sanitized Bubble (Or Why Probiotics Are So Important) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For my entire athletic career, I considered the gold standard of recovery to be sleeping, resting on the couch watching T.V., and generally being still and inactive. Come on, what could be more effective than couch potato mode to recover from the hormonal and inflammatory stresses of marathon training runs or long days of extreme swim-bike-run workouts? I’m kidding (mostly), but it’s not a total exaggeration. Our understanding of fitness recovery has grown exponentially since I was in the elite arena, and it’s exciting to see new and better approaches taking root that genuinely speed recovery and stave off burnout. I’m sharing two such techniques today. They’re simple, mostly free, and accessible to anyone with the most basic fitness opportunities and venues.
Note: Here’s the thing…. This is the stuff you should focus on before considering advanced techniques like exposure to cold or heat, Theragun treatments (although I happen to be a fan of this device), hyperbaric oxygen chambers, etc.
The first recovery technique is to move more instead of just sit around. That’s right, science is validating the idea that if you make a concerted effort to increase all forms of general everyday movement in the hours and days after strenuous workouts, you will help minimize the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by strenuous workouts.
Let’s call this strategy JFW—Just F—ing Walk.
Moving your body through space helps you burn fat better, which will maximize the fat reduction goals of your workouts. Walking also helps boost brain function. A 2017 UCLA study comparing MRI scans revealed that active older folks (over 60 and walking more than three kilometers per day) have faster brain processing speed, better working memory for quick decisions, and better memory consolidation than inactive folks. In his book, The Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain By Moving Your Body, Swedish researcher Dr. Anders Hansen reports that just taking a daily walk can reduce your risk of dementia by 40 percent.
Walking and general movement of any kind improve lymphatic function for a huge recovery boost. The lymphatic system is a plumbing network running throughout your body that detoxifies every cell, tissue and organ through a separate operating system from the cardiovascular system. The lymphatic system operates through a pumping process instead of a beating heart. This means that you’re obligated to move your muscles and joints to turbocharge lymphatic detoxification and avoid the pooling of lymphatic fluid caused by chilling on the couch in the hours and days after heavy workouts. Even the old-time exercise apparatus of the mini-trampoline has come into vogue recently because bouncing around for even a few minutes has been shown to significantly boost lymphatic function.
To help your lymphatic system function optimally, be sure to hydrate adequately at all times. While my original Primal Blueprint presentation suggested that you simply honor your thirst to achieve good hydration, recent science suggests that successful hydration can be a little more complicated. Stacy Sims, Ph.D., a hydration expert who studied thermoregulation at Stanford and is currently a senior research fellow at University of Waikato in New Zealand, is doing some great work in this field. Check out this fantastic infographic. Her research suggests that the female menstrual cycle can influence hydration needs and strategies. Another breakthrough insight is that strenuous workouts have the potential to mute your thirst mechanism; you may become too hot and tired or distracted to notice that you’re actually getting dehydrated. For most minimally active folks, going by thirst might be just fine; the kidneys do an excellent job regulating fluid and sodium balance in the body.
If you are a novice fitness enthusiast, a high performing athlete, or routinely exercise in hot temperatures, a deliberate pre- and post-workout hydration is a strategy worth considering and implementing. Sprinkle some high quality natural mineral salt in each glass of fluid, which will help it become better absorbed in the tissues throughout your body.
Joel Jamieson, a noted trainer of world-champion MMA fighters in Washington (8WeeksOut.com—as in eight weeks out from a title bout), and developer of the Morpheus Recovery app, advocates a system called Rebound Training where specially designed workouts can actually speed recovery time in comparison with total rest. The idea that a Rebound Workout can boost recovery is validated through the tracking of Heart Rate Variability. Joel is a pioneer in Heart Rate Variability and has been tracking his fighters and other high performing athletes for decades. Yes, decades, as in dating back to the original hospital grade $30,000 units that required placement of a dozen electrodes on your skin.
The idea that a Rebound workout can beat couch time is an extraordinary revelation. Amazingly, when you drag your tired, stiff, sore body into the gym and do some foam rolling, deep breathing exercises, dynamic stretches, and even very brief explosive efforts, such as short sprints with long recovery on the bike, or “positive-only” deadlifts (lift the weight then drop it to the ground to prevent soreness caused by eccentric contractions), you can stimulate parasympathetic nervous system activity and actually accelerate recovery. The parasympathetic is known the “rest and digest” component of autonomic nervous system, and counterbalances the sympathetic “fight or flight” component.
You can learn more about Rebound Training and see a sample workout here. If you just want to dabble in the concept, know that increasing your walking and general movement in the hours and days after a challenging training session will help boost blood circulation and lymphatic function to speed recovery. I always find ways to walk more and spend more time at my stand-up desk in the 24 hours following a tough Ultimate Frisbee match or sprint workout.
Sample Restorative Workout
The next time you throw down a killer workout, trying heading to the gym the following day and creating a restorative experience.
Start by lying flat on the mat and completing 20 deep diaphragmatic breath cycles. When you’re in the prone position, you can hone good technique by placing your hand on your abdomen and making sure that the abdomen expands upon inhalation. First expand the abdomen, which enables the chest cavity to then expand outward and enable the full use of the diaphragm for a powerful breath. You notice this sequence better when laying down.
After 20 deep breaths, commence 10 minutes of foam rolling, dynamic stretches and flexibility drills.
Then, get a little sympathetic stimulation going with some bike sprints or positive only deadlifts as follows:
- Exercise bike: Warmup five minutes, then sprint for 10 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of easy pedaling. Repeat for five repetitions.
- Deadlift: With 70% of your one rep maximum weight, raise the bar three-quarters of the way to the top, then allow it to fall to the ground with minimal muscle engagement. Repeat five times.
The idea with these efforts is that you’ll trigger a brief stimulation of fight or flight sympathetic nervous system activity, but because the effort is so brief, you’ll prompt a compensatory parasympathetic reaction during the recovery period. The net effect of the session is to turbocharge parasympathetic for hours afterward to a greater extent than just chilling on the couch watching Netflix.
Thanks to the gentle nature of the session, you enjoy an increase in energy and alertness from getting the oxygen and blood flowing throughout the body—but without the cellular breakdown and glycogen depletion of a more strenuous workout. You should leave the gym feeling relaxed and a little looser than before the workout.
Implementing “Rebound”-style workouts, along with making a general effort to walk around more in the hours following your most challenging sessions aren’t just fun diversions; they’re part of putting recovery as the central element of your training program.
Speaking of HRV, Jamieson offers a breakthrough insight that has helped me further appreciate the value of tracking HRV over time, and also alleviate some confusion that arose during some data accumulation over the past several years. If you’re a fan of HRV, you know a high HRV on the familiar 1-100 scale is indicative of a strong and rested cardiovascular system. You have a greater variation in beat-to-beat intervals than a lower score, indicating a harmonious balance between fight or flight sympathetic nervous system function and rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system function. A low HRV indicates a more metronomic heartbeat, and sympathetic nervous system dominance over parasympathetic. These are reliable signs of overtraining or a general overstress condition in life, or a weak cardiovascular system in general.
By tracking HRV for several weeks, you can establish a healthy baseline, then gauge your level of stress and readiness to train based on daily HRV fluctuations. Low equals overstressed, high equals healthy. That’s all well and good, but here’s an important nuance I learned from Joel about HRV readings significantly higher than your baseline: An 86 seems better than the usual 72-75, but actually an abnormally high HRV could be an indication of parasympathetic dominance versus a sympathetic-parasympathetic balance. When your parasympathetic kicks into overdrive, it’s possibly because you trashed yourself way beyond healthy limits, and you’re struggling to return to a rested and stress-balanced state. This explained some strange outlier readings where I felt pretty cooked after coming off a jet travel binge or a series of extreme workouts in a tight time frame but delivered a rock star HRV reading.
As I’ve written about before, I’m not a fan of overdoing biofeedback devices. I’ve used them and still do occasionally when I’m attempting something new or just want to check in with some hard data, but too much tech can disconnect you with your intuition—what should always be front and center in your assessments. Dr. Kelly Starrett references scientific research indicating that the single most valuable and accurate metric for your state of recovery is “desire to train.” I wonder how this goes up against the blood lactate meters at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and any ring or watch data you can accumulate. I have confidence it would hold its own in most scenarios.
Thanks for stopping by today, everybody. How do you do recovery? What have you learned over the years in your own study and experience. Have a great end to the week.
The post Recovery Workouts: Two Simple But Powerful Ways to Speed Fitness Recovery appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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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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When you stop to think about it, mushrooms are remarkable.
They’re closer to animals than plants on the tree of life.
They can break down plastic and petroleum.
The single largest organism on the planet is an underground honey fungus spanning almost 3 miles in the the state of Oregon.
They carry messages along their underground fungal networks using neurotransmitters that are very similar to the ones our brains use.
They’re a kind of “forest internet” which plants and trees use to communicate with each other.
And, as it turns out, they possess and confer some very impressive health and therapeutic effects. Several years ago, I highlighted the culinary varieties and explored their considerable health benefits. Go read that, then come back here because I’m going to talk about the different types of adaptogenic mushrooms today. These are the real heavy hitters, the ones that appear to supercharge immune systems, stimulate neuronal growth, improve memory and focus, pacify the anxious mind, increase the libido, and enhance sleep quality.
Let’s go through the most important adaptogenic mushrooms and the evidence for each. I’ll primarily stick to human studies, but may relay some animal studies if they seem relevant.
Reishi has been used in traditional Asian medicine for hundreds of years to treat diseases of the immune system. (Reishi is its Japanese name; in China, it’s called lingzhi and in Korea, it’s yeongji.) Other folk uses include all the regular stuff you expect—aches, pains, allergies, “qi”—but the majority of modern clinical evidence focuses on immunity, cancer, and inflammation.
But the interesting thing to remember is that inflammation figures into pretty much every modern ailment. Even conditions like depression and anxiety are often characterized by a surplus of systemic inflammation. If reishi can soothe the inflammation, it could very well help with all the other seemingly unrelated conditions, too.
- Reduced anxiety, depression, and fatigue and improved quality of life in breast cancer patients.
- Reduced insulin resistance.
- Reduced inflammatory markers and restored kidney function in kidney disease patients.
- Suppressed the growth of more adenomas (benign tumors with the potential to become malignant) in patients with existing colorectal adenomas.
- Boosted the immune systems of late-stage cancer patients.
Reishi is also said to be very good for sleep, though I wasn’t able to find a supporting human study.
Exercise caution if you have an autoimmune disease, as using reishi to”activate” the immune system that’s attacking you may—theoretically—increase the attack’s severity.
Reishi may also lower libido in high doses, as it inhibits the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone—albeit in rats. More rat research suggests that low doses of reishi could increase libido.
No human studies indicate this, but a rodent study found that giving reishi reduced time to exhaustion in a forced weighted swimming challenge (throw a rat in the water with a weight attached). They got tired faster.
Cordyceps is another mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote vitality and energy. For the men, that’s code for “better erections.” What does the evidence say?
It is broadly anti-inflammatory.
It’s an effective immuno-adaptogen: it boosts immunity when immune function is too low and dampens it when it’s over-activated. Autoimmune thyroiditis patients who took cordyceps saw dual-direction immunomodulation—too low got higher, too high got lower.
As for the “energy and vitality” claims, that appears to be true in mammals. We have evidence that rats, pigs, mice, and even yaks, goats, and sheep get boosts to testosterone status and sexual function when taking cordyceps, and that it improves brain function and cognition in small mammals, but nothing solid in humans. Still, the fact that it helps other mammals probably indicates utility for us.
Chaga is a mushroom with a long history of use in Northern Eurasia (Russia, Siberia) as well as a considerable body of animal evidence and isolated human cell evidence in support, but no real studies using actual live humans. That’s unfortunate, because chaga appears to be the real deal:
- Immunomodulation (mice).
- Increased endurance and improved lactate threshold during exercise (mice).
- Reduced cancer progression and spread (mice).
- Reduced DNA damage (human cells).
I hope we get some strong human studies in the near future. In the meantime, you can always run your own!
Lion’s Mane is a mushroom that looks like a pom-pom. Or a brain, which is fitting. Lion’s Mane’s main claim to fame is its purported ability to increase neurogenesis, reduce cognitive decline, and even regrow damaged nerves.
Studies in fact show that Lion’s Mane can:
- Reverse mild cognitive decline in the elderly (for as long as they continue to take the mushroom).
- Help nerve-damaged rats regenerate destroyed nerves and regain their ability to walk.
- Improve the Functional Index Measure in patients with dementia.
- Reduce anxiety and depression in women.
The majority of Lion’s Mane customers aren’t interested in reducing decline. They want a boost. They want increased focus, improved cognition, more and better neurons. Judging from the reversal of cognitive decline in the elderly and the flood of online anecdotes about improved focus and cognition, I suspect that there’s something there.
That said, another common side effect I’ve heard about from many of the same people lauding its cognitive effects is reduced libido. So keep an eye out for that one.
You know how I do things here. I can’t in good faith make definitive claims based on mouse studies that show this or that mushroom improving memory, blasting tumor cells, and increasing sexual virility. Still, I also can’t discount the hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of years of traditional use of these mushrooms for many of the conditions, nor can I ignore (or write off as “placebo”) the thousands of experimenters out there online deriving major benefits from some of these mushrooms.
The only option, of course, is to try it for yourself, which I may do in the near future (and will write about my findings).
How to Choose a Mushroom Supplement
When you’re buying an adaptogenic mushroom extract, look for products that come from fruiting bodies (actual mushrooms) rather than mycelium (the “roots” of the mushrooms). Fruiting bodies tend to have more of the active constituents than mycelium. Fruiting body extracts will also be more expensive—mushrooms take longer to grow than mycelium—but the added potency makes up for it.
Look for products that list the beta-glucan content, not the polysaccharide content. Beta-glucans are the uniquely active constituents. All beta-glucans are polysaccharides, but not all polysaccharides are beta-glucans.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences with adaptogenic mushrooms. Have you tried them? How have they been useful for you (or not)? Thanks for stopping in, everybody.
Zhao H, Zhang Q, Zhao L, Huang X, Wang J, Kang X. Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:809614.
Futrakul N, Panichakul T, Butthep P, et al. Ganoderma lucidum suppresses endothelial cell cytotoxicity and proteinuria in persistent proteinuric focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) nephrosis. Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2004;31(4):267-72.
Smiderle FR, Baggio CH, Borato DG, et al. Anti-inflammatory properties of the medicinal mushroom Cordyceps militaris might be related to its linear (1?3)-?-D-glucan. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(10):e110266.
Lin WH, Tsai MT, Chen YS, et al. Improvement of sperm production in subfertile boars by Cordyceps militaris supplement. Am J Chin Med. 2007;35(4):631-41.
Parcell AC, Smith JM, Schulthies SS, Myrer JW, Fellingham G. Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004;14(2):236-42.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First up, what can a person do to help their gut recover its barrier function after too many antibiotics? Are there any foods, supplements, or dietary strategies? Second, what can explain rapid fatigue during sprint sessions on a keto diet? Is this simply part of the deal, or are there modifications you can make? And finally, what do I do when I know I’m going to get a bad night’s sleep?
Mark – any idea how to cure leaky gut caused by overuse of antibiotics. Tried raw dairy for a month to no avail.
First of all, check out my post on leaky gut. Read through it and follow my suggestions for preventing and treating intestinal permeability. It’s a great place to start.
Then, let’s look at some other interventions that have been shown to improve recovery from antibiotic therapy. While most of the studies referenced don’t explicitly describe antibiotic-induced leaky gut, anything that improves gut function and restores healthy gut bacteria will also normalize leaky gut—since it’s the eradication of native gut bacteria that causes antibiotic-induced leaky gut.
Fermented dairy. You tried raw dairy. What about fermented dairy? While raw dairy has its merits, it’s fermented dairy that just works for recovery from antibiotics. Yogurt is a good option to try, although the evidence is a bit inconsistent. Kefir is probably better; it’s been shown to improve patients’ tolerance to triple antibiotic therapy during treatment for H. pylori infection. This is even worth consuming during antibiotic therapy, as many of the probiotic bacteria found in fermented dairy show resistance to common antibiotics.
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are also must-eats. The fermented cabbage contains ample amounts of L. plantarum, a bacteria strain that’s been shown to prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea in piglets (another omnivorous mammal). Good options exist in stores (check the refrigerated section; shelf-stable pickles and kraut aren’t lactofermented), and even more are available in farmer’s markets, but the best way to get the most bacteria-rich vegetable ferments is to make your own.
Supplemental probiotics are fantastic here, too: large doses of the desired microorganisms delivered directly to your gut. Some of the strains used in Primal Probiotics, like B. clausii and S. boulardii, have been shown to be effective against antibiotic-related diarrhea, so that could be a good choice.
Don’t forget the food for your gut bugs: prebiotics. You need to eat fermentable fibers and other prebiotics like resistant starch to support the growth and maintenance of the helpful bacteria that improve gut barrier function. Consider eating cooked and cooled potatoes, unheated potato starch, leeks, garlic, onions, green bananas, apples, pears, berries, and pretty much any fruit or vegetable you can get your hands on. Plenty of them are low-carb enough to work on a keto diet, if that’s your desire. Oh, and dark chocolate is a great source of fiber and polyphenols, which have prebiotic effects in the gut.
Incorporate intermittent fasting. Going without food for a spell gives your gut a break and induces autophagy, which can help with tissue healing.
Get dirty, too, to introduce potentially helpful bacteria. Go out and garden. Go barefoot at the park (do your due/doo diligence, of course) and practice tumbling, or roughhouse with your kids (or friends). Don’t immediately rush to wash your hands all the time (unless you’ve been handling raw meat and/or dog poop).
Whatever you do, don’t stress too much about the antibiotics you had to take. Stress is awful for gut health and you’ve already taken the antibiotics—which were probably necessary—so that ship has sailed.
If probiotics with prebiotics aren’t helping (or making things worse), you might want to try going the opposite direction—removing all plant foods and doing a carnivore diet for a few weeks. While I have doubts about the long term viability and safety of eschewing all plant foods, enough people have written to me about their great experiences resolving gut issues with a bout of carnivory that it’s worth trying.
When on a strict keto plan, why do I become so quickly fatigued while attempting a HIT sprint workout?
The first five seconds of a sprint are primarily powered by phosphocreatine (or creatine phosphate), a “quick burst” energy source that burns hot but disappears quickly. This is the stuff used to perform max effort Olympic lifts, short sprints, and other rapid expressions of maximum power. It doesn’t last very long and takes a couple minutes to replenish itself. A keto diet doesn’t affect our creatine phosphate levels. If anything, it should improve them if we’re eating meat.
After five seconds, anaerobic metabolism of muscle glycogen provides the lion’s share of your energy needs. The longer your sprint, the more glycogen you’ll burn. The less glycogen you carry in your muscles, the shorter your sprint. Because once you run out of creatine phosphate and glycogen, you’re left with aerobic metabolism—great for longer distances, not so great for max effort sprints.
Keto dieters tend to walk around with less glycogen in their muscles. If that’s the case, longer sprints will be harder.
If you want to keep sprinting:
Do shorter sprints. Try a 10-second hill sprint rather than a 20-second one. Really go hard. Heck, you can even do 5-second sprints and derive major benefits; just do more of them and make sure to recover in between. There’s no rule saying you have to sprint for 20-30 seconds.
Take longer rest periods. Give your muscles a chance to replenish more creatine phosphate (and take creatine or eat red meat and fish, which are the best sources of dietary creatine).
Eat 20-30 grams of carbs 30 minutes before a sprint session. See if it helps. Alternatively, you can eat the 20-30 grams of carbs after the sprint session to replenish lost glycogen stores (without really impacting your ketone adaptation, by the way).
Most people figure out their sprinting sweet spot while doing keto. They may have to play around with the dosages, durations, and rest periods, but you can usually make it work. Be open to trying new permutations.
If you knew you were going to have a poor nights sleep, what measures would you take to reduce some of the damage?
I would exercise hard that night. Normally, a bad night’s sleep tanks your insulin sensitivity the next day, giving you the insulin resistance and glucose tolerance of a diabetic. A good hard interval session the night before a bad night’s sleep, however, counters the next-day insulin resistance.
I would make the most of it. Don’t dawdle. Don’t beat yourself up because of the impending sleep deprivation. It’s going to happen. You have to accept it, not let it destroy you.
Enjoy it. A little-known acute treatment for depression is sleep deprivation. That’s right: a single night of sleep deprivation has been shown to ameliorate depression in patients with clinical depression. Sometimes the effect lasts up to several weeks. It’s not a long term or sustainable fix for clinical depression, obviously, and you can’t do it every single night—chronic sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for developing depression—but it can improve your mood if you give in to it.
I would set out a jar of cassia cinnamon. I always add cassia cinnamon to my coffee in the morning after bad sleep; cassia cinnamon the day after a bad night’s sleep attenuates the loss of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for writing in and reading! If you have any input on today’s round of questions, let me know down below.
De vrese M, Kristen H, Rautenberg P, Laue C, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in a fermented milk product with added fruit preparation reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea and Helicobacter pylori activity. J Dairy Res. 2011;78(4):396-403.
Bekar O, Yilmaz Y, Gulten M. Kefir improves the efficacy and tolerability of triple therapy in eradicating Helicobacter pylori. J Med Food. 2011;14(4):344-7.
Erginkaya Z, Turhan EU, Tatl? D. Determination of antibiotic resistance of lactic acid bacteria isolated from traditional Turkish fermented dairy products. Iran J Vet Res. 2018;19(1):53-56.
Yang KM, Jiang ZY, Zheng CT, Wang L, Yang XF. Effect of Lactobacillus plantarum on diarrhea and intestinal barrier function of young piglets challenged with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli K88. J Anim Sci. 2014;92(4):1496-503.
Jitomir J, Willoughby DS. Cassia cinnamon for the attenuation of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss. J Med Food. 2009;12(3):467-72.
The post Dear Mark: Antibiotic Recovery, Sprinting on Keto, Preparing for Bad Sleep appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Back in June during the 21-Day Challenge, I asked you to share questions you had about my personal health routine, and I’m looking forward to answering those in the coming months. We talk a lot about generalities here, and for good reason. Research can and should drive principle, but oftentimes while we wait around for it (or have questions about the overall validity of what’s out there), n=1 self-experimentation can tell us a lot.
Over the years, I’ve gathered ideas for that experimentation by reading the studies and listening to others talk about the choices they make. All of it together has—and continues to—inform the routine I follow to live the life I want. Among the many questions you sent were inquiries about my supplement regimen. Today I’m sharing what I take, when I take it, and why.
As a former endurance athlete, supplements were tools of the trade. I fielded recommendations from coaches and specialists of course, but I also studied the subject intently on my own. To push my performance further, I even began developing my own formulas for training recovery back then. Though I’m not in the competitive athletic world anymore, I still feel the benefits of certain supplements in my personal health and performance, and I’ve continued to formulate those I wish to take.
Here’s a bit about my choices for supplementation and the changes I’ve made over the years in how I take them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and any questions you have about what I take (or don’t take). And if you have other kinds of questions about my routine (or anything health-related of course), shoot me a message on the comment board. Thanks for stopping by, everyone.
Finally, for those who are curious about the supplements I’ve shared today, I have a deal on two of my favorites. Order Adaptogenic Calm today, and I’ll include a bottle of Primal Sun entirely free. Just add both Adaptogenic Calm and Primal Sun to the cart, and use the code FREESUN at checkout to redeem this offer. Valid on One-Time Purchases only. Offer expires 8/30 at midnight PDT.
The post My Supplement Routine: What I Take, When I Take It, and Why appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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It’s been a long time since I published the Definitive Guide to Fish Oils.
Oh sure, here and there I’ve cited some research supporting the beneficial effects of fish fat, but it almost goes without saying that omega-3s are important. Everyone knows it. Even the most curmudgeonly, conventional wisdom-spouting, statin script-writing, lifestyle modification-ignoring doc will tell you to take fish oil. And research in the last few years has not only continually confirmed the health advantages but illuminated new applications—and new physiological explanations—for their essential function in the body.
But what are those benefits, exactly? Why should we be eating fatty fish or, barring access to high quality edible marine life, taking fish oil supplements?
A major reason is that fish oil can help us reclaim our ancestral omega-3:omega-6 ratio and thus restore the inflammatory backdrop of the human body.
Polyunsaturated fats convert to eicosanoids in the body. Both omega-6 and omega-3-derived eicosanoids are important signaling molecules, but each has different effects, both figuring prominently in the body’s response to inflammation. Omega-6 eicosanoids are generally pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 eicosanoids are anti-inflammatory. Omega-3-derived eicosanoids (the type we get from taking fish oil or eating fatty fish) actually reduce inflammation; in an unbalanced diet heavy in vegetable oils, the omega-6 eicosanoids far outnumber the omega-3s and contribute to a lot more inflammation.
The best available evidence points to ancient humans having an omega-3:omega-6 ratio of around 1 to 1. A typical ratio these days is 1 to 16!
As most diseases and health conditions have an inflammatory component, such lopsided ratios can predispose us to any number of health problems. Conversely, correcting those ratios with smart supplementation of fish oil has the potential to correct or prevent those health problems.
Let’s look at some of them and what the most recent research tells us.
How Omega-3s Benefit Health
Arthritis is an inflammatory disease, whether we’re talking autoimmune arthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis.
The potential mechanisms are there. In vitro studies using isolated joint tissue show that both DHA and EPA increase joint lubrication. Studies in people show that fish oil reduces inflammatory markers and may even stop the progression of inflammation into inflammatory arthritis.
In a recent study out of Thailand, knee arthritis patients who took fish oil improved their walking speed. “Everyone felt good and happy with the fish oil.” In psoriatic arthritis, fish oil reduced inflammatory markers and lowered patients’ reliance on pain meds.
Fish oil also helps reduce the symptoms of autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In one paper, fish oil supplements had additive effects on top of RA drugs. 3-6 grams appears to be an effective dose range. If that sounds high, it is—but you need that much to quell the exaggerated inflammatory responses of RA.
Depression is another one of those conditions that we don’t often think of as an inflammatory disease, but it is. The evidence is considerable. Vets with the most severe depression also have the highest levels of inflammatory markers. Among Type 2 diabetes, depression and inflammation go hand in hand, with the latter appearing to play a causative role in the former.
There’s considerable evidence that the causation goes both ways: depression can increase inflammation, and inflammation can increase depression. Thus, treating one may treat the other. Since omega-3s are potent and broad-reaching anti-inflammatories, could fish oil treat depression?
Fish oil has proven effective with EPA having a greater effect than DHA. It’s even effective in patients with and without an official diagnosis of major depressive disorder. It’s effective in type 2 diabetics with depression.
The stress response is an inflammatory one. A healthy omega-3:omega-6 ratio—the foundation of our inflammatory response system—should produce a healthy stress response. Does it?
In response to mental stress, fish oil promotes a healthy, less reactive neurovascular response. It lowers resting heart rate, a good indicator of general stress resilience. When taken post-trauma, it even reduces psychophysiological symptoms (like pounding heart) in car accident survivors. And in alcoholics, fish oil reduces both perceived (subjective) stress and basal cortisol (objective).
General Inflammatory and Immune Responses
Name a disease and “elevated inflammation” or “exaggerated immune response” is probably part of the pathology. What effect does fish oil have on some of these inflammatory pathologies?
- Reduced inflammatory markers (HS-CRP) in Type 2 diabetes patients.
- Improved inflammatory markers in colorectal cancer, including HS-CRP.
- Reduced airway inflammation in asthma patients.
- Pre-op fish oil improved post-op inflammatory and immune markers in cancer surgery patients.
- Reduced inflammatory marker IL-10 in chronic Chagas cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition.
- Reduced inflammatory gene expression in humans.
I could go on and on. And these are just studies done in the last year or two.
Fish Oil and Cardiovascular Disease
Not everything is so cut and dry. When it comes to certain conditions, like cardiovascular disease, the fish oil literature is confusing. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. What are we to make of it?
One thing that is unequivocal is that a high omega-3 index—the proportion of omega-3 fatty acids in the red blood cell membrane—is protective against cardiovascular disease (see the chart; as omega-6 content goes up, so does cardiovascular mortality). So the question isn’t if long chain fatty acids from fish oil are helpful. It’s: Are those fatty acids reaching your red blood cell membranes and being incorporated?
How To Improve Bioavailability
Several factors affect whether fish oil will increase omega-3 index and thus have the effects we’re looking for:
Omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats compete for space in the red blood cell membranes. If omega-6 intake is too high, fewer omega-3s will make it into the membranes, thereby inhibiting or even abolishing the positive effects of fish oil.
If omega-3 index is low, we’ll see effects. If it’s high enough, further fish oil has no additive effect. We see this in studies such as this one, where only older adults with a low omega-3 index experienced cognitive benefits from omega-3 supplementation. In another study of older adults and cognition that didn’t control for omega-3 index, they found no benefit.
Or in this study, where fish oil had benefits in congestive heart failure patients because they had low baseline levels of omega-3.
Or this study, where autistic patients—who tend to have lower omega-3 statuses than the general population—improved some behavioral measures after taking fish oil.
To take advantage of the full effects of fish oil, however, one must also limit the amount of omega-6 fats they eat. In one study, taking fish oil with saturated fat increased incorporation of omega-3s into red blood cell membranes, while taking it with omega-6 prevented omega-3 incorporation. The best way to do it is to eliminate seed oils—the most concentrated source of omega-6 fatty acids in the modern diet. If you don’t limit seed oils and other dense sources of omega-6s, you’ll have to consume extremely high doses of fish oil to make a dent in your inflammatory status.
Making It Easier To Get Your Omega-3s…
Thanks for reading today, folks. I take this information very personally in my life and business. To that end, this week I just released a new formula of Primal Omega-3s that enhances bioavailability and adheres to stricter environmental sustainability standards—all in a smaller capsule. The idea was to optimize benefits and maximize ease. And right now I’m also offering a deal to make this level of quality more affordable….
I’m kicking off the new formula with a BOGO deal. Buy one new Primal Omegas, get the second bottle free now through 8/10/18 at midnight PDT. Just add two Primal Omegas to your cart and use code NEWOMEGAS at checkout. Limit 1 per customer. One-time purchase only.
Thanks again, everybody. Have a great end to the week.
The post Omega-3 for Health: What the Latest Research Shows appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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One of the biggest mistakes I see among people who exercise is they forget this core truth: we get fitter not from training, but from recovering from training. This doesn’t just occur in beginners either. Some of the most experienced, hardest-charging athletes I know fail to heed the importance of recovery. Hell, the reason my endurance training destroyed my life and inadvertently set the stage for creation of the Primal Blueprint was that I didn’t grasp the concept of recovery. I just piled on the miles, thinking the more the merrier.
It didn’t work.
What is recovery, anyway?
There’s short-term recovery. Your heart rate slows back down, your body temperature drops, your sweat dries, your muscles and lungs stop burning.
Long-term recovery is less conspicuous, more internal. You replace lost energy stores, repair damaged muscle, clear out waste products, and begin the process of adaptation to the training.
When both short- and long-term recovery happen together, you “feel ready” to go again.
Some portion of how quickly we recover from training is out of our direct control.
Genetics is one factor we can’t control. Researchers have found genetic variants of collagen-encoding genes that increase or decrease the rate at which we recover from exercise-induced muscle damage, muscle tissue genes that increase resistance to exercise-induced muscle soreness, immune genes that affect the speed of adaptation to training. But even many genetic variants purported to affect recovery act through decisions carriers make. A carrier of a genetic variant linked to muscle power experienced more muscle damage and required more recovery after a soccer match, but only because that carrier “performed more speed and power actions during the game.”
Age is another factor out of our direct control. Sure, living, eating, and training right can stave off many of the worst effects of aging. Sure, a sedentary 70-year-old will recover from a workout far more slowly (if he or she can be cajoled into training) than a 70-year-old master athlete. But time does tick on. Following training that fatigues but doesn’t damage the muscles, like easy cycling, light weight training, or a sub-aerobic threshold jog, older athletes recover muscle function and performance at similar rates to younger athletes. After intense exercises that damage the muscles, like sprints, heavy lifting, intervals, or longer race-pace runs, however, older athletes recover more slowly than younger athletes.
Other factors, while preventable and modifiable over the long haul, inexorably inhibit workout recovery once they’re in place:
If you’re sick, you won’t recover as quickly. Illness diverts some of the resources that would otherwise be used to recover from training.
If you have heart disease, you’ll recover more slowly. In one study, having heart disease was the greatest predictor of a slower rate of heart rate recovery after exercise.
If your hormones are out of whack, you’ll likely recover more slowly. Hormones are the messengers and managers that tell our cells what to do. That includes muscle repair, hypertrophy, fuel replenishment, inflammatory signaling, and every other cellular function related to recovery.
Now I’ve got bad news and good news. Everything else that slows down workout recovery is under your direct control.
Factors We Can Control
Stress is stress. Traffic is a stressor. A job you hate is a stressor. Procrastinating until you absolutely must get working is a stressor. And yes, exercise is a stressor. Too much of the psychological, lifestyle, or mental stress we all face impairs our ability to recover from exercise-induced stress.
Recent research confirms that “mental stress” impairs workout recovery, and it doesn’t speak in generalities. Thirty-one undergrads were assessed for stress levels using a battery of psychological tests, then engaged in a heavy lower body strength workout. At an hour post-workout, students in the high stress group had regained 38 percent of their leg strength, while students in the low stress group had regained 60 percent of their strength.
I developed my anti-stress supplement Primal Calm (now, Adaptogenic Calm) back in the chronic cardio days as a way to improve my training recovery. That’s what gave the product so much momentum in the endurance community—it turns out that beating back stress of all kinds quickened recovery from a very specific type of training stress.
Some stress is unavoidable. But most of us create additional stress in our lives and fail to do enough to counter or manage it. Stop making unforced errors.
Sleep debt impairs exercise recovery primarily via two routes: by increasing cortisol, reducing testosterone production, and lowering muscle protein synthesis; and by disrupting slow wave sleep, the constructive stage of slumber in which growth hormone secretion peaks, tissues heal, and muscles rebuild. That’s probably why sleep deprivation has been linked to muscular atrophy and increased urinary excretion of nitrogen, and why the kind of cortisol excess caused by sleep deprivation reduces muscle strength.
Additionally, sleep loss can increase the risk of injuries by decreasing balance and postural control. If you trip and fall, or throw out your back due to poor technique, you won’t even have a workout to recover from.
Most people think bad sleep is unavoidable. It happens to the best of us from time to time, but a night of bad sleep here and there isn’t going to slow down recovery. The real recovery killer is chronically bad sleep, and that’s the kind most of us can avoid by sticking to a good sleep hygiene regimen.
Since every physiological function requires a micronutrient substrate—vitamin, mineral, hormone, neurotransmitter, etc.—and physiological functions increase with exercise and recovery, active people require more micronutrients in their diet. “More of everything” is a safe bet, but there are a few key nutrients that working out especially depletes:
Zinc: Exercise, especially weight training, works better with plenty of testosterone on hand to build muscle and develop strength. Zinc is a key substrate for the production of testosterone, and studies show that exercise probably increases the need for zinc. In fact, one study found that exhaustive exercise depleted testosterone (and thyroid) hormones in athletes, while supplementing with zinc restored it.
Magnesium and Other Electrolytes: Magnesium is required for a number of physiological processes related to workout recovery, including oxygen uptake by cells, energy production, and electrolyte balance. Unfortunately, as one of the main electrolytes, lots of magnesium is lost to sweat during exercise. The same could be said for other electrolytes like calcium, sodium, and potassium, but most people get plenty of those minerals from a basic Primal eating plan. Getting enough magnesium, however, is a bit tougher, making magnesium deficiency a real issue for people trying to recover from workouts.
Iron: Intense exercise depletes iron, which is instrumental in the formation of red blood cells and oxygen delivery to your tissues during training and the immune response after it. They even have a name for it—exercise-induced anemia.
Post-workout delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is no joke. While many of you folks reading this probably enjoy DOMS and take it as feedback for a job well done, it’s a hurdle that many beginners never move past. They join a gym, d0 a workout, feel great, go to bed feeling awesome, sleep like a baby, then wake up and find they have the bipedal capacity of a three-month-old. They can barely walk. Lifting their arms to brush their teeth is agony. Walking downstairs is out of the question. Some will move past the DOMS and get back into the gym. Many will not.
Low Fuel Availability
Working out expends energy. That energy must be replenished before you’re fully recovered and prepared to do another workout. Unless you’re trying to increase efficiency by training in a state of low fuel availability, like the “train low-carb, race high-carb” method, you should recover what’s been lost. What you replenish is conditional on the type of exercise you did. If you went for a long hike or easy bike ride that burned primarily body fat, you don’t need to—and probably shouldn’t—”replenish what you lost.” If you’re coming off a 30-minute full body CrossFit session that left you gasping on the ground in a puddle of sweat, you probably have some glycogen stores to refill.
This is a common issue for folks trying to lose weight through diet and exercise. Inadequate calorie intake coupled with intense exercise sends a “starvation” signal to the body, causing a down-regulation of anabolic hormones. Instead of growing lean mass and burning body fat, starvation (whether real or simulated) promotes muscle atrophy and body fat retention. Either alone can be somewhat effective, but combining the two for too long will only impair recovery.
Drinking directly impairs muscle protein synthesis, the essential step in muscle recovery and adaptation to training. Moderate or “social” drinking is probably safe (just don’t use alcohol as a post-workout recovery drink), but even just a single day per week of binge drinking is linked to 4x the risk of sarcopenia, or muscle-wasting. It’s hard to recover from your workouts if your muscles are atrophying.
Oddly, drinking directly after a training session also increases testosterone levels. One theory is that testosterone levels rise after drinking because it becomes less bioavailable; your muscle cells’ resistance to testosterone goes up, so it just circulates and gives “false” readings.
Things You Can Try
The obvious thing to try is the opposite of all the modifiable and preventable recovery-inhibitors mentioned above. Get good sleep, don’t drink too much (especially post-workout), get a handle on your stress, eat enough food, eat enough protein, get your micronutrients. What else?
L-citrulline is an amino acid found in watermelon that shows a significantly ameliorative effect on post-workout muscle pain, or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). You can also supplement directly with L-citrulline, which may work, but watermelon is so good right now with a little salt, lime juice, and cayenne pepper, and it’s actually lower in carbs than you probably think (about 10 grams per cup of watermelon). I recommend fresh watermelon over pasteurized juice, as heat treatment reduces the effect.
Beets (and beet juice) aren’t only good for exercise performance. They also reduce DOMS. Nitrates have been posited as the primary constituent responsible for the effect, but beet juice works better than pure sodium nitrate.
Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice is best used to recover during competition, when your primary concern is to get back out there and perform. Its extreme effectiveness at killing muscle pain, reducing local and systemic inflammation and exercise-induced muscle damage suggests it may hamper training adaptations, however. It does also improve sleep, which should translate into better adaptations.
Massage feels great, and the evidence shows that it’s great for recovery from exercise. It alleviates DOMS. It speeds up the recovery of muscle strength and enhances proprioception. It improves central nervous system parasympathetic/sympathetic balance, even if the masseuse is one of those weird back massage machines.
These aren’t just for show. A recent meta-analysis of the available research concluded that compression garments enhance muscle recovery after strength training and improve next-day cycling performance.
Although we get creatine from red meat and fish, supplementary creatine can boost our recovery from exercise via a couple mechanisms. First, it increases muscle content of phosphocreatine. That’s the stuff we use for quick bursts of maximal effort, so carrying a little extra can do wonders for our ability to perform. Second, it enhances muscle glycogen replenishment without increasing insulin.
Fish Oil (or Fatty Fish)
A cold water plunge after training enhances the recovery of muscle function. However—and this is a big “however”—post training cold water plunges also seem to impair long term muscular adaptations to resistance training. In other words, a cold plunge might help you get back in the game for the short term at the cost of long-term adaptations.
I always say “Eat the carbs you earn.” While that often means eating fewer carbs than before, it can also mean eating more if you’ve trained hard enough to warrant them. This even applies to keto folks; depleting glycogen through exercise creates a “glycogen debt” that you can repay without inhibiting ketosis or fat-adaptation too much. The carbs—which you don’t need much of—go into muscle glycogen stores for recovery and later use without disrupting ketosis.
Don’t take this final section as a blanket recommendation, however. Before taking ice baths, dropping $500 on massages every week, taking a long list of expensive supplements, and walking around in a full body compression suit, make sure you’re sleeping, eating enough food, and giving yourself enough time between workouts. Quite often, handling the basics will be enough.
What have you found to be the best way to recover from your training? What are the biggest roadblocks? Let me know down below, and thanks for reading!
The post What Causes Slow Post-Workout Recovery—and What Can You Do About It? appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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I get more questions these days about lymphatic health—particularly lymphedema. Sometimes it’s an issue related to a reader’s cancer recovery or a co-occurring symptom seen with a loved one’s other health concerns. While I might take up specific conditions in future posts (let me know if you have suggestions there), I thought I’d spend today taking apart the basics of lymphatic health. As with many of the body’s core operating functions, the real story often gets camouflaged within vague, consumer-based terms that end up being only medically tangential. Consider today’s post a trip into the weeds and (maybe) the beginning of an ongoing conversation on the topic.
In essence, the lymphatic system is the body’s filtration system, helping to sample incoming substances, filter out waste products from cells, regulate fluid homeostasis, and prime the immune system for action when a threat is located. Central to the entire system is the transportation of lymph, a clear fluid that stores and transports white blood cells, proteins, salts, glucose, bacteria and certain waste products.
Lymphatic vessels perform a similar role to the blood circulatory system, carrying lymph to virtually all areas of the body other than bone marrow. Unlike the blood system, however, a series of valves force lymph to travel in just one direction, taking it ever-upward towards the neck, whereupon it re-enters the venous circulatory system. New lymph is formed when specialized lymphatic capillaries allow soluble materials and cells to court their way back into the lymphatic vessels.
Lymphatic vessels are connected to lymph organs. These organs are where the lymph is filtered and lymphocyte is created—arguably where most of the exciting action happens.
Red bone marrow and the thymus gland are considered the primary lymphoid organs and act as incubators for maturation of lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell. As these lymphocytes get older, they’re sent into the lymphatic vessels to hunt down and attacking infected or cancerous cells.
Secondary lymphoid organs, which include the lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen, act as traps for incoming pathogens, whereupon foreign bodies are set upon by mature lymphocytes.
Your Lymphatic System In Action
Up until quite recently, the lymphatic system was considered secondary to the blood circulatory system. A series of groundbreaking discoveries in the 90s changed all this, and we’ve been learning since.
For one, the lymphatic system plays a key part in our adaptive immunity. Antigens that make their way into the body or develop within our cells are recognized primarily by the lymphocytes produced by the thymus and bone marrow, or picked up as they pass through the secondary lymphatic organs. Upon detection of the antigen, the lymphatic system initiates a immunological cascade that activates or produces more and more lymphocytes to wipe out the threat. Lymph nodes and other secondary lymphatic organs are strategically located around the body where they are well placed to sample incoming materials and intercept potential threats.
Beyond immunity, there’s the equally important fluid homeostasis role that the lymphatic system plays. Lymphatic vessels act as conduits, allowing surrounding tissues to expel or absorb fluid in order to maintain homeostasis and prevent excess swelling. Recent research has even discovered an element of the lymphatic system devoted to draining interstitial fluid from in and around the brain, thereby exhibiting a critical function in alleviating pressure in the CNS.
Add to that the lymphatic system’s roles in lipid absorption and transportation from the digestive system, and the efficient removal of metabolic wastes from tissue, organs and the central nervous system, and it’s not hard to see why the lymphatic system is so nuanced (not to mention critical).
It’s all well and good when the lymphatic system is doing what it ought to, but lymphatic disruption can portend unfortunate news for your health: compromised immune function and lymphedema for starters.
Like any system within the body, factors like chronic inflammation, lifestyle choices, and toxin exposure can all place stress on the lymphatic system. Problems often occur when the flow of lymph is disrupted, whether with systemic inflammation or localized swelling at the nodes and vessels, whereby the entire system can become compromised as it relies on that constant movement of lymph to do its job.
And then there’s the fact that the lymphatic system acts as a sort of microbiological conveyor belt—fundamentally useful when antibodies can be released in a timely and efficient fashion to dispatch any antigens, but highly problematic when the system is overwhelmed or overrun. In these scenarios, the lymphatic system can quickly become a means by which infection can rapidly disseminate throughout the body.
Common diseases associated with the lymphatic system include:
- Lymphedema—pooling of lymph fluid in the surrounding tissue, typically in the feet or lower legs.
- Lymphadenitis—inflammation of a lymph node or nodes due to an infection of the tissue, usually in the neck.
- Lymphoma—a group of cancers that develop in the lymphatic system, involving multiplication of lymphocytes eventually forming a malignant tumor in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma—another subset of lymphatic cancers that can involve either B cells or T cells.
- Splenomegaly—more conveniently known as an enlarged spleen. This is caused by several possible factors, including infection or cancer.
- Tonsillitis—recurrent infection of the lymphoid tissues in the back of the mouth and top of the throat, which together form the tonsils.
There’s plenty more where that came from, but it’s fair to say that if your lymphatic system is ailing, your health in general will be lacking.
Factors That Help or Hinder Lymphatic Health
Inflammation (or Lack Thereof)
While the lymphatic system plays a key role in regulating inflammatory response within the body, it’s also susceptible to inflammation-driven dysfunction. As with every other angle of health, keeping inflammatory foods to a minimum, and anti-inflammatory foods on the regular, is definitely a plus for supporting lymphatic health.
I’ve periodically shared my thoughts on the most anti-inflammatory foods, so be sure to check out the likes of this post if you’re not already familiar. Foods like wild fish oil/fat, berries, turmeric and pastured animal fat have all been shown to significantly lower chronic inflammation patterns. One interesting case study showed that MCT oil along with fat soluble vitamins helped to improve symptoms of intestinal lymphangiectasia.
Aside from anti-inflammatory foods, there’s the usual lifestyle choices that can make or break an anti-inflammatory way of life: getting plenty of sleep, regular (but not excessive) exercise, and avoiding chronic stress wherever possible.
Whereas the blood circulatory system is propelled by the pump-like workings of the heart, our lymphatic system relies on the contraction and relaxation of a complex series of smaller muscles to keep lymph continually flowing. While lymphatic vessels are equipped with their very own smooth muscle cells, research shows that “outer” forces such as skeletal muscle motion help to maintain healthy lymphatic flow.
Logically-speaking, the more movement you get, the better off your lymphatic system should be—and the literature seems to support this notion. A 2012 literature review concluded that exercise is an effective therapy for the treatment of lymphedema, while a considerable number of other studies indicate that water exercise in particular is a proven, safe way to treat swelling associated with secondary lymphedema.
Rebounding (e.g. jumping up and down on a trampoline), for one, has attained something of akin to cult status, and anecdotal evidence at least suggests there might be something in it. According to its proponents, rebounding helps to stimulate and maintain the flow of lymph by the dual action of weightlessness and “double gravity,” in addition to providing passive lymphatic muscular stimulation throughout many of the major muscle groups.
From a theoretical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. While there are plenty of enthusiasts, I haven’t been able to dig up direct (confirmed) links between rebounding and lymphatic health. That being said, there’s no doubt that rebounding is good for our general health, so I see no reason not to give it a go.
Stress, as it happens, can exhibit a direct negative effect on the lymphatic system. A study published a couple of years ago, for example, showed that “chronic stress restructures lymphatic networks within and around tumours to provide pathways for tumour cell escape.” Not an ideal scenario…
Consciously pursuing a limited stress lifestyle (and taking advantage of stress reduction strategies) is critical for promoting a robust lymphatic system that’s still capable of fighting infection, regulating fluid, and removing waste. As always, daily meditation is a big step in the right direction, along with regular movement (somehow we keep coming back to that), plenty of social interaction, and getting out into nature as much as possible.
Lymphatic massage, otherwise known as lymphatic drainage, was developed in Germany specifically for the treatment of lymphedema. While the massage technique varies depending on the location and nature of the lymphedema (lymphatic blockage leading to painful swelling), it generally involves a practitioner gently rubbing, stroking and manipulating the skin in directions that follow the structure of lymphatic pathways. In this way, accumulated lymph fluid is forced to drain from the area of swelling.
And as far as the literature is concerned, lymphatic massage produces tangible results. A 2015 review of six applicable trials found that lymphatic massage was at least moderately effective across the board, particularly when combined with compression bandaging or sleeves. A recent Chinese study also showed that a combination of lymphatic drainage massage and exercise were beneficial in the treatment of axillary web syndrome, a common lymphatic condition in post-op breast cancer patients.
An alternative therapy for lymphatic conditions like lymphedema that shows some promise (although peer-reviewed research is thus far lacking) is far-infrared treatment.
Disclaimer aside, the premise of infrared sauna treatment is thus: it purportedly stimulates mitochondrial function directly beneath the skin, which just so happens to be where some of the lymphatic system (and action) resides. In theory, more red light means more cellular energy, thereby encouraging more efficient flow of lymph and the possible treatment of conditions like lymphedema. With the cell-repairing, wound-healing, and other probable/confirmed benefits of far-infrared, it’s probably a therapy worth considering if lymph dysfunction is an issue.
Thanks for stopping by. Have you or anyone you know suffered from lymphatic issues? What treatments and/or lifestyle changes have been pivotal? Share your thoughts and questions below, and have a great end to your week, everyone.
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Cold is really catching these days. Aubrey Marcus, whom I recently filmed a nice podcast with, was asked about his winning daily behaviors on another show. The very first thing he mentioned was “exposure to cold.” His practice is finishing his morning shower with a three-minute stint at full cold setting. He mentioned the hormonal benefits but also the mental edge he gets from psyching up and accepting the challenge instead of wimping out. He also cited research that people who engage in therapeutic cold exposure catch fewer upper respiratory infections. Hence, like many other elements of conventional wisdom, the old wives tale is backwards. Of course, we are talking about acute and optimal duration cold exposure, not prolonged exposure to elements that weaken your resistance and contribute to immune disturbances.
As with keto, there’s much more to be learned in this burgeoning field before we can operate in definitive (hence today’s title). Today, however, I’ll expose you (the first of more double entendrés to be on the lookout for) to important concepts and best practices so that you may enjoy the vaunted benefits and avoid some of the negative effects of going about cold exposure wrong.
Cold therapy has been around forever as in the athletic world—a central element of injury treatment and post-workout recovery. Ice packs wrapped on aching joints are a staple of every high school, college and professional team locker room. The iconic stainless steel cold whirlpool has been a post-workout destination of professional ballers for decades, and Olympic distance runners have inspired millions of recreational runners to dutifully wade into a cold stream, lake or pool after long runs to soothe and revitalize inflamed muscles. In recent years, whole body cryotherapy clinics have exploded in popularity, making grand promises in return for $45-$90 (the latter in NYC) for a three-minute session in a chamber blowing air at 190-255 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I haven’t tried cryo, but let’s just say I’ve heard it stings.
In writing Primal Endurance, my co-author Brad Kearns and I studied the cold therapy subject extensively to convey some best practices in the recovery chapter of the book. For this article, we also consulted with Dr. Kelly “K-Starr” Starrett—thought leader on all things mobility, rehab, prevention, and performance (check MobilityWOD.com or Becoming A Supple Leopard for cutting edge strategies that will keep you moving optimally and avoiding breakdown and injury) and reviewed numerous articles, which you will find linked or at the end of the post.
It appears that while cold therapy can offer some proven benefits for inflammation control, enhanced cellular, immune, and cognitive function, and recovery from exercise, numerous elements of cold therapy claims seem to be hype, notably the expensive cryochambers (cold water is better) and the potential of cold exposure to reduce body fat (cut grains and sugars instead!) Worse, the prominent cold therapy practice of post-exercise immersion into cold water or application of ice appears to be counterproductive, compromising potential fitness gains generated by hard workouts.
What NOT To Do…
The most emphatic suggestion made by K-Starr is that cold exposure should happen far away from the stimulus of workouts. While it feels soothing to wade into the icy river right after a run or to relax with an ice pack on your back after a pickup basketball game or CrossFit session, blunting post-exercise inflammation can compromise the adaptive response to workouts, of which inflammation is a critical component. Your muscles becoming inflamed during exercise—and remaining that way for hours afterward are part of how they become stronger and more resilient for future performances. In the hours after workouts, your muscles and other body systems are challenged to naturally repair exercise-induced damage, recalibrate to homeostasis, and replenish depleted cellular energy. Cold exposure also inhibits the function of the lymphatic system in clearing inflammatory toxins from the bloodstream. The takeaway: while cold feels great after workouts, don’t do it.
Furthering this concept about letting inflammation run its course, I know world ranked pro triathletes are experimenting with a complete avoidance of not just cold therapy, but also stretching, massage, and myofascial release (foam rolling.) The thinking here is that when those lower back muscles stiffen after 80 miles of hilly cycling, or hamstrings tighten up after a set of 800s on the track, loosening them up with massage strokes or foam rolling will weaken them and counteract the training stimulus. Again, these unwinding therapies might feel great, but you are teaching the central nervous system to relax the muscles that you just asked to contract with great force and duration for the workout. Andrew MacNaughton, former elite pro triathlete and current coach of both top professionals and recreational endurance athletes, says succinctly: “Don’t help your body, otherwise you lose some of the adaptation you’re seeking through your challenging workouts.”
The stuff is so counterintuitive that it becomes intuitive. Are you with me? Consider how it’s now widely understood that static stretching weakens muscles for up to 30 minutes and that you should not static stretch before workouts. This seems like a related principle applied to post workout. Keep in mind that we are isolating this “leave it be” concept to the topic of fitness adaptation. If you are trying to recover from (or prevent) injuries, massage, stretching, and foam rolling can make a valuable contribution—even in and around workouts as directed by an expert. Good old ice is still a recommended treatment in the immediate aftermath of an acute injury to help contain the swelling to the injured ankle (e.g., pickup basketball game) or eye (e.g., parking lot fight after pickup basketball game.)
However, the now dated RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol for injury healing after the ~24-hour acute phase has been replaced by ECM (Elevate, Compress, and Move). Starrett is a leading advocate for ECM, with the emphasis on Move as the top priority for those sprained ankles or stiff calves. Look at some of K-Starr’s stuff on YouTube (like the amazing Voodoo Floss treatment), or read Becoming a Supple Leopard, and you’ll realize that many of today’s soothing therapies and gadgets can be bested by flexibility/mobility drills to help you move with more efficiency and less injury risk in the first place.
Back to cold therapy—it appears the greatest benefits accrue to the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune system rather than the muscles. It’s difficult if not impossible for cold exposure to speed the healing of muscle damage incurred during training. Patience and increased general everyday movement are the big ticket items here.
In recent years, I’ve made a concerted effort to take frequent short walks or perform very light calisthenics or mobility sequences in the hours after a high intensity sprint workout or Ultimate Frisbee match, and it really seems to help me wake up the following day with less stiffness. My Primal Collagen Fuel regimen deserves tons of credit here too; it’s been an absolute game changer, particularly as I continue to insist on doing explosive jumps, burst and lateral movement against fit 20- and 30-somethings on the Ultimate field (yes, I’ve discovered that there are some big time gamers in Miami too!)
So, Should I Shell Out Like Cristiano Ronaldo For Cyrotherapy?
I was suspicious of the cryotherapy craze from the start, and Starrett concurs. Research is building that cryotherapy doesn’t deliver the same level of benefit that water exposure does. Starrett even observes that folks following a devoted cryo regimen don’t seem to tolerate cold water very well! Instead, for the price of only a handful of cryo sessions, I suggest you instead go to the cutting edge of cold therapy with an inexpensive and easily-accessible chest freezer regimen—details shortly.
When Is The Best Time For Cold Therapy?
Allow for a minimum of a couple hours, preferably more, after workouts before introducing cold exposure. Perhaps the best time for cold exposure is first thing in the morning for a cellular and central nervous system energizer, and also right before bed in order to help lower body temperature—a key element of transitioning into a good night’s sleep.
Chest Freezers: Not Just For Grass-Fed Beef Anymore
If you’re in Finland or in the Colorado rockies and have a year-round cold lake or river nearby (shout out to body hacking guru Ben Greenfield, author of Beyond Training and host of Ben Greenfield Podcast, who indeed has a cold river running through his property outside Spokane, WA), hey—you’re good to go! For the rest of us who don’t have a readily available natural source of cold water that’s reliably under 60 degrees (a good upper limit to observe for therapeutic practices, down to a lower limit of just above freezing), it’s time to talk about the wonder world of the chest freezer. Yep, the same item previously recommended on MDA for storing big orders of Internet-sourced grass-fed beef and other bulk-order treasures.
The idea here is to repurpose a chest freezer into a readily available, any time, any place cold plunge (even Miami, although I don’t think my high rise would allow me to sneak one into the first floor fitness center.). My Primal Endurance and Keto Reset Diet co-author Brad Kearns has plunged deep into the cold therapy scene (that’s #3 double-e if you’re keeping score) with a deluxe chest freezer setup and twice-a-day regimen of brief immersion into near-freezing water.
What you do here is take a 12-15 cubic foot, top opening chest freezer, fill it with water, and then run the motor on a timer for only around 1.5-4 hours per day—depending on the power of your unit, your ambient temperatures, and your desired exposure temperature. For a moderate investment of perhaps $200 on Craigslist or $400 for an ample-sized new unit (Brad grabbed this one with free home delivery), you are in the cold therapy business.
Brad’s preferred water temperature is 33 ºF (icicle alert!), maintained through continual tweaking of the 24-hour timer. Other enthusiasts like to keep water anywhere from 45-60 degrees, with exposure times ranging from 4 minutes at 44 degrees (easy to remember, per Dave Kobrine in Newport Coast, CA—Brad’s initial inspiration for cold therapy) to nearly 10 minutes at 60 degrees. Starrett, who keeps his water in the forties and has twice-weekly gatherings of friends for what he calls “church services” consisting of contrast therapy between chest freezer and hot sauna, confirms that there are no strict protocols to tout as superior to others, and surely significant individual variation in cold tolerance. “Get out before you start shivering!,” Starrett exclaims. “Never stay in to the extent that you suffer or experience pain or burning. Gabby and Laird suggest that if you’re in there long enough to shiver, you’re just showing off.”
Brad describes how he used to set a timer for three minutes at 33 ºF and tried to last that long but then realized that this could compromise the intended purpose of enjoying a Zenlike, mood-elevating start to the day. Instead, he prefers to start with a full submerging, then move hands and head out of water to complete a cycle of 20 slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths while otherwise fully immersed—which ends up taking around three minutes. As cold water master Wim Hof has popularized lately, pairing a breathing regimen with your cold water immersion will enhance the circulation and oxygen delivery benefits.
Check out Brad’s video (completed in only one take), in which he describes (coherently, while sitting in freezing water) the benefits and setup logistics—everything you need to get started:
Benefits of Cold Exposure
The shock of cold exposure stimulates assorted fight or flight hormonal processes, which deliver an adaptive benefit because the stressor is brief. Contrast the prolonged fight or flight stimulation of hectic modern life (or exposing yourself to cold for too long and catching a cold—duh), which leads to breakdown and burnout.
Optimally brief cold exposure is a hormetic stressor—a natural stressor that delivers a net positive effect. Your heart rate and respiration increase as a way to try and keep warm, increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body. Norepinephrine floods your brain, boosting vigilance, focus, attention and mood, and reducing pain and inflammation. The norepinephrine spike from cold exposure delivers what we often call an endorphin rush—natural pain relief and an enhanced sense of well-being.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, one of the absolute best communicators of cutting edge health and longevity science anywhere, cites research that norepinephrine can rise 200-300 percent with just a 20-second immersion into freezing water a couple times a week (imagine going three minutes, twice a day like Brad—no wonder he was such a big help with this article). Patrick explains that norepinephrine also helps reduce inflammation by inhibiting inflammatory cytokines like the noted bad guy TNF-alpha, a known accomplice in many modern disease patterns.
Quelling inflammatory cytokines is also believed to help battle anxiety and depression. A researcher named Nikolai Shevchuk was quoted in a Fast Company article by Chris Gayomali, speculating about the mechanisms by which cold exposure can boost mood: “probably the stimulation of the dopaminergic transmission in the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathway. These dopaminergic pathways are known to be involved in the regulation of emotions. There is a lot of research linking these brain areas to depression.” Indeed, it’s been chronicled that VanGogh was treated in an asylum for depression with two-hour cold baths, twice a week, to combat his well-known condition of depression.
Further tidbits were offered in the Fast Company article from Australian cold water researcher Ned Brophy-Williams on the anti-inflammatory benefits of cold water immersion: “It moves blood from the peripheral to deep blood vessels, thereby limiting inflammation and swelling and improving venous return. Metabolites and waste products built up during exercise can be efficiently removed by the body and nutrients quickly replenished to fatigued muscles.”
Carrying on if you’re still not convinced… Your lymphatic system is activated by cold exposure, helping speed the clearance of toxins from tissues throughout the body. You also elicit an enhanced anti-oxidative defense with increased T cell activity to improve your immune function.
Finally, you may have heard Dr. Patrick promoting the hot topic of heat shock proteins, and how sauna/heat exposure can deliver assorted health benefits. Patrick also informs us that cold exposure releases so-called cold shock proteins such as RNA binding motif 3 (RBM3) that are linked to the regeneration of synapses in the same manner as heat shock proteins. As the Finns have known for centuries, it seems like temperature alterations—deliberate exposure to both cold and hot—deliver phenomenal health benefits.
Cold Exposure—The Right Way—To Boost Recovery
For fitness enthusiasts looking to speed recovery with cold therapy, it’s now clear that the immediate post-exercise inflammation reduction is potentially harmful, and that implementing a simple daily regimen of morning and/or evening exposure can deliver the aforementioned benefits without compromising fitness adaptations. In recent years during the winter months in Malibu, Carrie and I would end our evenings with some 104F spa time, interspersed by quick visits to the sub-60F pool and back to the spa. I’d always end with a few minutes in the pool, leaving me wonderfully relaxed, cool, and ready for sleep. Brad’s morning chest freezer ritual looks as good or better than a morning caffeine blast to get going on a busy, productive day.
Beyond the exciting emerging science, anecdotal evidence from enthusiasts also suggests that toughing out a cold shower or committing to a focused cold therapy regimen has profound mood elevating effects. Primal Blueprint’s own Brian McAndrew (yeah, check out what our guy behind the camera looks like!), who produces our podcasts and fabulous videos on both our YouTube Channel and our comprehensive online multimedia educational courses, has dabbled in cold exposure, using contrast therapy at his health club (going back and forth between the ~50F cold plunge and the sauna at his Portland, OR health club), or just lingering up to his torso in a wintertime cold swimming pool. Brian relates, “All I know is that the worse I made myself feel in the moment [by staying longer in the cold], the better I felt afterwards in regards to mood. This was true for both cold and hot. Having the cold plunge and sauna together lets you go to further extremes, because you know you can get immediate relief at any moment with contrasting cold or warmth.”
Cold Exposure Gives Meaning And Richness To Life—Really!
I believe there are other profound cold therapy benefits that are hard-to-quantify. Starrett contends that your cold exposure practice can serve as a good barometer for your state of recovery and desire to train. He asserts that sore, stiff, or poorly functioning muscles seem to be more sensitive to cold exposure, and that if you’re in a fatigue/overtraining rut, your tolerance to cold diminishes accordingly. K-Starr notices that when he’s fried from big workouts or stressful travel, the cold water stings and he wants out quickly. When he’s less stressed and more rested, he has no problem relaxing in there for up to eight minutes. Remember, he’s jumping right into a dry sauna. As Brian described, your exposure times can increase when you have access to a sweet contrast setup.
Starrett’s “desire to train” concept deserves further appreciation. In his set of exclusive video interviews in the Primal Endurance Mastery Course and the Keto Reset Mastery Course, he references studies with athletes suggesting that a subjective “desire to train” score is a more accurate indicator than any of the modern high tech biofeedback metrics like Heart Rate Variability, pulse oximeters, blood lactate meters, sleep cycle apps and all the rest. As an old timer whose endurance exploits predate even heart rate monitors, I strongly agree that your intuition, mood and motivation level should take center stage for making workout decisions, especially when it’s time to downsize grand ambitions. I know that when I take a few moments to sit quietly and reflect on my planned workout, sometimes profound insights occur, and I roll over and go back to sleep. Ditto for when I hesitate to jump into a routine cold shower or pool plunge (or get out earlier than usual)—it’s a reliable indicator that I’m overstressed or overtired.
Furthering Brian’s comments about the mood elevating effects of cold therapy, I’d also suggest that cold exposure helps improve your focus, confidence, and mental resilience—particularly since you will improve your tolerance and appreciation over time—and that these benefits will carry over into all other areas of life. Lift heavy things, sprint once in a while, get adequate sun exposure, plunge into cold water—these are all hormetic stressors that help you bring your A-game to everything you do. I’m not saying sitting in a chest freezer every morning will help you muster the courage to ask for a promotion, commit to enter an adventure race, or ask for a date with that certain person in the office, but it might help….
If you’re content to spend almost all 24 daily hours in a climate controlled home, car, and office, enjoy the wholly modern luxury of a hot shower a couple times a day, and never voluntarily subject yourself to the beautiful moments of discomfort like a cold plunge, the final few reps of a tough set in the gym, or the final few miles of a tough session on the roads, that’s fine. We can still be friends. But as many of us living Primally can attest, there are benefits to challenging the perceived limits of mind and body in order to stimulate peak performance and happiness. Sir Roger Bannister, the legendary first sub-four minute miler who passed in March at age 88, offered up a memorable quote in his 1954 biography, The Four Minute Mile: “Struggle gives meaning and richness to life.” One thing’s for sure after you try it out: you will appreciate a warm shower or a warm bed like never before.
Does Cold Exposure Stimulate Fat Reduction? Mehhh…
You may have heard exciting news about something called Brown Adipose Tissue (aka BAT, or brown fat), a special type of adipose tissue that has a different role in the body than the fat that accumulates across the body when you store more calories than you burn; this stuff is known as white adipose tissue. Instead of just storing calories like white fat, brown fat is also able to generate heat to help maintain the body’s ideal core temperature. Infants have lots of brown fat for extra protection. Brown fat levels dwindle as we age, and interestingly, obese people have lower than normal levels of brown fat.
The excitement about brown fat emanates from research showing that cold exposure spurs a fifteen-fold increase in brown fat activation. It’s theorized that this increase in cellular activity in brown adipose tissue can help stimulate the burning of additional white fat, making cold exposure an effective weight loss catalyst. The idea here is that the caloric energy your brown fat generates for rewarming will be burned instead of otherwise stored as white fat.
Research is not conclusive in the brown fat area, and scientists assert that it’s very difficult to measure the effect of environmental temperature on metabolism. It’s virtually certain that getting cold and then forcing yourself to warm naturally (no saunas or hot showers allowed!) will boost metabolic rate. However, I’d hesitate to put this in the forefront of fat reduction techniques. Even as drug companies are spending millions to unlock the power of brown fat (via cold exposure or drug-related means) to burn white fat, I’ll argue that ditching grains, sugars and refined vegetable oils to minimize insulin and boost fat metabolism might be a much better area of focus. What’s more, there is a logical counterargument that cold exposure might stimulate a corresponding increase in appetite that would counteract any potential fat reduction benefits. This makes sense along the lines of the compensation theory of exercise, detailed in a recent post about Rest and Recovery.
Ray Cronise, a former NASA materials scientist who oversaw Space Shuttle experiments and has been a prominent voice in progressive health circles for the past decade, has performed some increasingly sophisticated experiments that suggest the potential of cold exposure to boost fat loss. Cronise lost a remarkable 27 pounds in six weeks with a regimen of cold showers, talking neighborhood walks while purposely way underdressed, and sleeping with open windows and/or little or no covering. Cronise’s experiment was inspired by that infamous viral news story about Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps eating 12,000 calorie per day that I discussed in the recent Sami Inkinen post. Doing some basic metabolic calculations, Cronise speculated that Phelps was eating vastly more calories than he burned during his intense workouts, and that hence a significant portion of his caloric expenditure must be going toward maintaining his core temperature while spending hours in the water.
Tim Ferriss brought more attention to Cronise’s work and the concept of burning off brown fat through cold exposure when he covered the matter in his bestseller, The Four Hour Body. Google brown fat and you will find assorted chatter jumping to the conclusion that brown fat stimulation promotes weight loss, but the hard science is just not there—yet anyway. For now, I wouldn’t put much emphasis on cold exposure for fat loss, and instead be content to enjoy the many other benefits of cold therapy.
Nothing left to say but get yourself a chest freezer (another chest freezer?) and get started! Let me know what you think, and thanks for stopping by today.
A Few More Links For Your Enjoyment:
Tapping the Power Of Cold To Lose Weight
Scientific Case For Cold Showers
Top 7 Reasons You Should Take Cold Showers
Brown Fat Burns White Fat Studies
Surprising Benefits Of Cold Showers
Dr. Rhonda Patrick on health benefits of cold and sauna
The post The (Maybe Not So) Definitive Guide to Cold Therapy appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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