Tag Archives: antioxidants

Why I’m not jumping on the turmeric bandwagon

Screenshot from 2018-09-10 09:43:50

 

In a faraway land, the native people have been using X root(or fruit, or spice) as a fountain of youth, the ultimate cure-all, and as an energy-booster for thousands of years. It has been recently “discovered” by western science, and its medicinal effects have been supposedly verified by scientific research. The list of health benefits is almost endless, and it is now taken as a supplement, put in lattes, teas, juices, face-masks, lotions, in practically everything! And one ever gets old or gets cancer again.

This sounds like turmeric, doesn’t it? Well of course it does! But it’s also the same exact trajectory for every other amazing “superfood” or exotic herb from the past 30 years. I remember when it was green tea, then goji berries, then countless other things. Now turmeric has taken center-stage.

Does it live up to the hype? Preliminary research does show turmeric has some anti-inflammatory effects — but so do a million other things. It’s also an antioxidant, but antioxidants as disease-preventers has been almost entirely discredited.

I admit I tried turmeric a bunch of times many years ago, and noticed no benefit, unless you call upset stomach a benefit. I really don’t have any use for it, except when enjoying spicy south Asian cuisine. While I frequently experience inflammation from all the running I do, that’s the body’s natural response to stress and muscle damage. The soreness and inflammation I often experience is well within the range of normal and so I just let the process take its course. “Lack of turmeric” is not a known medical or athletic condition.

However, many athletes regularly take turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory effects to help speed recovery. It’s possible it actually is helpful for some athletes, and people with certain inflammatory medical conditions, but as I said before I mainly experience an upset stomach after taking turmeric.

Except for some epidemiological studies, there aren’t that many long-term placebo-controlled studies on turmeric and general health and turmeric and athletic performance. We don’t know what kind of side effects turmeric could cause when regularly taken in medicinal amounts(keep in mind that curcumin, the main medicinal chemical in turmeric is very poorly absorbed by the body). In this case I think it’s just best to leave well enough alone and not over-complicate my health and fitness regimen with something that may be useless or potentially harmful(though it’s unlikely to kill anyone). If you want to continue using it, great, but at least know all the relevant facts and please consult a health professional in case of contraindications.

Related articles:

Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine

Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All

Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health

5 More Things That Aren’t Necessary For Being a Healthy Vegan

Screenshot from 2016-01-24 12:31:45

The long-awaited sequel is here! The post I did back in November of last year titled “10 Things That Aren’t Necessary For Being a Healthy Vegan” was so popular(a big thanks to everyone who shared it), I decided to do a followup. Many things were left out because I didn’t want the post to be too long, so I prioritized the most common things that I believe are problematic. Here are 5 more things you don’t need to be a healthy vegan:

1) Eat alkaline

This form of pseudoscience has a following both within the vegan/plant-based community and misguided health nuts among omnivores. It overlaps to a large extent with rawfoodism, though isn’t necessarily the same thing. The idea behind this diet is that most people eat diets that are too “acid-forming”, and that an acidic environment inside the body can lead to serious diseases, including cancer.

By eating an alkaline diet, you are helping to prevent this unhealthy acidic environment in your body and the diseases it causes. Some advocates go even further and claim it can be used to treat serious diseases. Basically, eating alkaline means consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables(since they are generally alkaline), which is excellent advice, though alkaline gurus recommend it for the wrong reasons. There is virtually no scientific basis to this type of diet. You can’t do much to alter your PH through diet, and your body works hard to make sure your PH stays within a very limited range to keep you healthy.

Some medical conditions can lead to a significant shift in PH, which can be dangerous; the medical conditions associated with a PH imbalance require urgent medical care. Assuming you have this type of problem, you cannot fix it through diet. There is no good reason whatsoever to embrace this fad diet and its idiotic restrictions.

2) Give up all grain including bread

One of the hallmarks of disordered eating is avoiding perfectly healthy food for irrational, pseudoscientific reasons. It’s disturbing witnessing all the over the top fear-mongering on social media concerning soy foods, olive oil, cooked food, and even staples like grain and bread. Grain-free is yet another ridiculous, unnecessary restriction that greatly increases your chances of failing at veganism. It’s no coincidence that the zealots pushing this “grain is poison” madness are very often rawfoodists, though they have allies among the paleo, high meat/protein crowd.

At its most basic, the idea behind this type of dietary restriction is that grains will ruin your health because we supposedly didn’t evolve to eat them. Grains cause obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and Adam Sandler movies. As always with pseudoscience based restrictions, there is virtually no evidence for these claims, except that in a generic sense there is a grain of truth to it. Eating too much of anything can lead to health problems, not just grain. Yes, grain isn’t perfect, it contains “toxins” like phytates, but there is no such thing as a “perfect” food or a “perfect” diet. If you had to abstain from something because it contains small quantities of “toxins” and therefore falls short of perfection, you’d have to give up everything and end up starving to death.

Now while a minority of the population are better off restricting carbs or eating high-protein, this approach doesn’t appear to benefit most people. This fad is best ignored. Grain won’t harm you when consumed in reasonable amounts; whole grains are one of the cornerstones of a healthy vegan diet.

3) Focus on super foods

The most important thing you should realize about “super foods” is that this is purely a marketing term, not a special class of food recognized and recommended by reputable health professionals. That said, there’s nothing wrong with eating them, just don’t get carried away with thinking there is something magical about them.

What you really should be focusing on is eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The wider the variety, the better. The criteria for deciding what is a “super food” is usually pretty arbitrary and changes with time and what is fashionable at the moment. Since antioxidants are all the rage right now, “super foods” very often have a high antioxidant content. All too often, the evidence showing some unique medicinal effect for a certain “super food” is weak or preliminary, but that doesn’t stop health guru authors, supplement pushers, and retailers from hyping them. Again, “super foods” can be part of a healthy diet, but there’s no good reason to consume them in supplement form.

Ignore the hype and just eat several servings of fruits and vegetables every day – darker, more colorful ones are generally more nutritious.

4) Go macrobiotic

The popularity of the macrobatic diet waxes and wanes. Right now, this Japanese type diet doesn’t seem all that popular, but all it would take to make it popular again is a major celebrity endorsement. Macrobiotics isn’t a vegan or vegetarian diet(it usually includes fish) but it comes close, so it is easy enough to make it vegan.

For the most part, a macrobiotic diet is pretty healthy(though it can be salty), at least when you compare it to the way most Americans eat. It emphasizes fruits and vegetables, legumes(especially soy), and whole grains. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that macrobiotics is an overly restrictive diet based on pseudoscience. Although it gets a lot of things right, it does so for the wrong reasons. An important feature of macrobiotics are these arcane, complicated food combining rules, the purpose of which is to properly balance the “yin and yang” elements of food to help you achieve optimum health. For example, perfectly healthful members of the nightshade family like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant are excluded from this diet because they are considered too “yin”. It really should go without saying that there is no scientific basis to “yin” or “yang”; you could be missing out on a lot of nutritious foods if you follow these nonsensical rules.

There really is nothing macrobiotics can add to an already healthy plant-based diet except unnecessary restrictions, so there’s no good reason to embrace macrobiotics.

5) Go paleo

Finally, the diet that combines the best of both worlds, with incredible health benefits reflecting this best of both worlds approach. However, does it live up to the hype?

The paleo diet, which mimics the way our caveman ancestors ate is thought by proponents to be the ideal human diet since we evolved to eat this way. Or at least that is what paleos want you to believe. In essence, the paleo diet is really just the latest iteration of high protein dieting; it’s more or less a successor to the Atkins diet.

The central idea to paleo is that if you want to be optimally healthy, eat like a caveman. That’s because cavemen ate the way nature intended us to eat, we “evolved” to eat a paleo diet. Since cavemen didn’t eat processed foods, the paleo diet excludes processed foods like refined sugars, oils, etc. This is generally a good idea, though some people get a little too carried away with this. Paleos also typically eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and don’t consume dairy, so it should be easy for vegans to go paleo, right? Only if you ignore the fact that paleos typically eat a lot of meat and generally forgo grain and legumes, and that the diet is followed purely for health reasons.

To me, there’s always been something very oxymoronic about this “paleo-vegan” phenomenon. After all, a great way to describe the paleo diet is “wholefoodism for meat-lovers”. People who think paleo and vegan are compatible or combine well are usually clueless hipsters obsessed with all things trendy. I struggle to think of two things more antithetical than veganism and paleoism.

A lot of half-truths, distortions and pseudoscience underpin the paleo philosophy, but I’m mainly concerned here with how paleo-veganism is often promoted as an improved version of veganism by paleo-vegan adherents. In a lot of ways, it’s certainly healthier than the way most Americans eat, but does it offer anything to vegans?

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t offer anything to vegans except unnecessary restrictions which puts them on a slippery slope to disordered eating. Like I said before, a small percentage of the population may benefit from minimizing grain and carbs, and eating more high protein foods, but one need not go paleo to accomplish this. If you eat a whole food vegan diet, embracing paleo is largely redundant, since you’re already excluding dairy, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Science doesn’t suggest that paleo-vegans are healthier than regular vegans, or that this is the best diet.

In my opinion, just ignore this fad or anyone who fancies themselves as a reborn caveman. We already knew that eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods was good for us, and that dairy isn’t necessary, well before paleo came along.

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These are just 5 more things that may screw up your vegan diet, on top of the 10 from the previous post. I could have easily added several more to this list, but it starts getting repetitive. I write these lists because I am troubled by all the bad health advice that encourages disordered eating being spread on the blogosphere and social media. I run into ex-vegans all the time and I usually find they embraced a type of extreme diet based on lots of terrible advice and/or unnecessary restrictions like those on this list. Vegans shouldn’t be made to feel guilty by fellow vegans for not following some “perfect” version of a vegan diet, when there is no good reason to follow this “perfect” diet. I want veganism to be as practical and evidence-based as possible, not difficult and esoteric.

Pseudoscience and misinformation does nothing to help vegans improve their health, or for that matter, in case you’ve forgotten, live an ethical lifestyle that does not exploit animals, which is all that veganism is supposed to be about.

Related articles:

Is the “alkaline diet” legit? Does meat cause cancer because it’s acidic?

There’s no such thing as a superfood. It’s nonsense.

 More Trouble for Antioxidants

Stop Confusing Veganism with Clean Eating (and Pass Me That Vegan Donut…)

Exercise recovery is just a bowl of cherries

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The delicious spring weather has just been so perfect these days, allowing me to push myself to run faster while juggling 3 balls, as well as slowly improving my 4 ball joggling. All this speed means more strain on my muscles and connective tissues, so I am always on the lookout for something or other to maximize my recovery. Juggling while running for an hour or more can produce a lot of inflammation throughout the body, which can damage muscle tissue and hinder the body’s innate healing response. All else being equal, a joggler is likely more inflammed and worn out than a mere runner so we need to be a little more careful to ensure proper recovery.

I’ll assume we all know to get enough water before, during, and after a workout, as well as refueling with carbs and protein within 30 minutes after exercise. I usually drink a lot of fruit juice after long runs, along with some nuts or protein powder or will simply have a meal if its meal time. I’ve long believed that the phytochemicals in various fruit and vegetable juices can assist in recovery, due to their ability to protect tissues from inflammatory processes and free radicals. This is partially due to their antioxidant effects, but as I’ve said in previous posts, a lot more is going on. So to me, recovery has long been more than simply getting macro-nutrients, electrolytes, and proper hydration.

Which brings us to cherry juice. Some interesting studies on cherry juice suggest it may help speed recovery from both marathon running and strength training. According to the School of Psychology and Sport Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, in their study, the Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running:

The cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid peroxidation and so aiding in the recovery of muscle function.

This sounds good enough to the point that I may drink cherry juice more often after workouts. Now I realize it’s good to be skeptical and cherry juice may not work for everyone, and maybe the study is flawed, but this is just cherry juice, so there is little risk involved. I’m also very curious to see if it will do anything for me. Even if it doesn’t, I love tartness.

Here’s a study on Montmorency cherries from the Sports and Exercise Science Research Centre, London South Bank University, London, United Kingdom, Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise:

Montmorency cherries contain high levels of polyphenolic compounds including flavonoids and anthocyanins possessing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. We investigated whether the effects of intensive unilateral leg exercise on oxidative damage and muscle function were attenuated by consumption of a Montmorency cherry juice concentrate using a crossover experimental design.

CONCLUSIONS:

Montmorency cherry juice consumption improved the recovery of isometric muscle strength after intensive exercise perhaps owing to the attenuation of the oxidative damage induced by the damaging exercise.

Now that’s some juice! This isn’t very surprising, since we all know fruit has a lot of health-promoting compounds. These flavonoids occur in many different fruits, so it is possible that you can get similar benefits from eating or drinking other fruits. For example, peaches and plums are very closely related to cherries, so they may have similar benefits. Blueberries are also loaded with potent flavonoids, though they are not related to cherries.

So grab some fruit or fruit juice after a long strenuous workout, especially the dark colorful ones like cherries or blueberries. Also make sure you get enough protein(I often eat a lot of almonds after workouts) and water. Faster, more complete recovery means being able to exercise on a more consistent basis. Outside of exercise recovery, go easy on sugary fruit juices. They’re okay after exercise because that’s when your muscles need to replenish their glucose.

Do it right, and exercise can be a bowl of cherries.

The Way of the Antioxidant

It always seemed so irresistibly simple. Oxidation = bad, therefore antioxidants = good. Free radicals(any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an outer shell, making it highly reactive and unstable) have long been seen as the “bad guys” going around our body and causing oxidative damage, by “stealing” electrons from other atoms, leading to aging and disease. This in turn can lead to a chain reaction with the atoms and molecules that had their electrons “stolen” from them becoming free radicals themselves, trying to steal electrons from other atoms.

In comes the police, uh, I mean the antioxidants to put a stop to this mayhem. Antioxidants protect the body’s tissues by donating their own electrons to the free radicals, neutralizing the threat. We actually produce our own antioxidants: glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase, among others. We also get antioxidants through our diet, such as vitamin C(ascorbic acid), vitamin E(actually a family of chemically similar fat-soluble vitamins), and beta-carotine(and other carotenoids), among so many others. Even the non-vitamin phytochemicals in many plant foods often have antioxidant effects(by definition, vitamins are absolutely essential for the body to function properly, while phytochemicals are not, though at least some of them are beneficial for health).

So taking large amounts of antioxidant supplements would obviously protect the body even more than getting smaller amounts from food, right? Wrong! Indeed, let’s look at the results of a study done on athletes who took antioxidant supplements, people whose muscles are under a great deal of oxidative stress during exercise.

Does antioxidant vitamin supplementation protect against muscle damage?
McGinley C, Shafat A, Donnelly AE.
Source

Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland.

Abstract

The high forces undergone during repetitive eccentric, or lengthening, contractions place skeletal muscle under considerable stress, in particular if unaccustomed. Although muscle is highly adaptive, the responses to stress may not be optimally regulated by the body. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are one component of the stress response that may contribute to muscle damage after eccentric exercise. Antioxidants may in turn scavenge ROS, thereby preventing or attenuating muscle damage. The antioxidant vitamins C (ascorbic acid) and E (tocopherol) are among the most commonly used sport supplements, and are often taken in large doses by athletes and other sportspersons because of their potential protective effect against muscle damage. This review assesses studies that have investigated the effects of these two antioxidants, alone or in combination, on muscle damage and oxidative stress. Studies have used a variety of supplementation strategies, with variations in dosage, timing and duration of supplementation. Although there is some evidence to show that both antioxidants can reduce indices of oxidative stress, there is little evidence to support a role for vitamin C and/or vitamin E in protecting against muscle damage. Indeed, antioxidant supplementation may actually interfere with the cellular signalling functions of ROS, thereby adversely affecting muscle performance. Furthermore, recent studies have cast doubt on the benign effects of long-term, high-dosage antioxidant supplementation. High doses of vitamin E, in particular, may increase all-cause mortality. Although some equivocation remains in the extant literature regarding the beneficial effects of antioxidant vitamin supplementation on muscle damage, there is little evidence to support such a role. Since the potential for long-term harm does exist, the casual use of high doses of antioxidants by athletes and others should perhaps be curtailed.

Okay, so they don’t prevent oxidative damage to muscles, but can vitamin C at least improve athletic performance?

Effect of vitamin C supplements on physical performance.

Braakhuis AJ.
Source

US Olympic Committee, Sport Performance, Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista, CA 91915, USA. andrea.braakhuis@usoc.org

Abstract

Vitamin C is an essential component of the diet and may reduce the adverse effects of exercise-induced reactive oxygen species, including muscle damage, immune dysfunction, and fatigue. However, reactive oxygen species may mediate beneficial training adaptations that vitamin C attenuates; indeed, from a total of 12 studies, vitamin C in doses >1 g·d(-1) impaired sport performance substantially in four of four studies, possibly by reducing mitochondrial biogenesis, while a further four studies demonstrated impairments that were not statistically significant. Doses of ∼0.2 g·d(-1) of vitamin C consumed through five or more servings of fruit and vegetables may be sufficient to reduce oxidative stress and provide other health benefits without impairing training adaptations.

It appears that supplemental vitamin C impaired performance. The general idea here for why mega-doses of vitamin C and other antioxidant supplements are not protecting tissues or enhancing performance is that not all oxidation reactions are harmful; they are used in many metabolic reactions, for cell communications and are important for the immune system. So if you effectively shut down oxidation with a flood of antioxidants, you may be interfering with some important chemical reactions in your body, and doing more harm than good. Vitamin C isn’t just an antioxidant – it is needed for collagen production and immunity and not getting enough results in a serious deficiency disease called scurvy. Scurvy is very rare in the developed world, and only a small daily dose(60mg) of vitamin C is necessary to prevent it.

The best way to get antioxidants. Source: Wikipedia

The best way to get antioxidants. Source: Wikipedia

Okay, then maybe, just maybe a powerful antioxidant like beta-carotine can protect smokers, who are exposing themselves to a lot of oxidative damage through the act of smoking:

Beta-carotene in multivitamins and the possible risk of lung cancer among smokers versus former smokers: a meta-analysis and evaluation of national brands.

CONCLUSIONS:

High-dose beta-carotene supplementation appears to increase the risk of lung cancer among current smokers. Although beta-carotene was prevalent in multivitamins, high-dose beta-carotene was observed among multivitamin formulas sold to promote visual health.

So far, it doesn’t look like antioxidant supplements are beneficial for anyone’s health. Beta-carotine, in particular, may even increase lung cancer risk in smokers.

This doesn’t mean that antioxidants are themselves bad for you. It just means you are better off getting them from food, where they may interact with other chemicals in the fruits and vegetables they naturally coincide with in a manner that makes them relatively harmless and likely beneficial.

Antioxidants do provide some protection, but that’s not the whole story. It’s long been thought that fruits and vegetables are beneficial largely due to their antioxidant content. This may still be true in part, but the phytochemicals in them may have other ways of protecting our health in ways science is still trying to figure out. Antioxidant content may be a proxy measure of protective phytochemical content, since many if not most phytochemicals tend to have antioxidant effects. Blueberries, with a very high antioxidant content and some possible brain-protecting effects, are a good example of this.

Good health means having a good balance between antioxidants and oxidation reactions, which taking large doses of antioxidant supplements interferes with.

Blueberries the brain and synergy

blueberries

Source: Wikipedia

Blueberries may be one of the best foods for keeping your brain healthy. According to research at Tufts university, Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. This sounds very promising, although this study used rats instead of humans.

A study using humans at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center showed “The findings of this preliminary study suggest that moderate-term blueberry supplementation can confer neurocognitive benefit and establish a basis for more comprehensive human trials to study preventive potential and neuronal mechanisms.” Basically, blueberry consumption improved memory, and according to the same study “there were trends suggesting reduced depressive symptoms”.

This is quite impressive for something that often grows in bogs in the northern U.S. Blueberries tend to get a lot of attention due to their antioxidant power – if antioxidants were like muscle power, blueberries would consistently knock out all the other fruits and vegetables and be the antioxidant heavy weight champion(the only fruits that scored higher were dried so their antioxidant power became more concentrated). This antioxidant power comes from its very high amount of anthocyanins, the reddish, purplish, blueish pigments that gives it its distinctive color. However, the antioxidant effects of anthocyanins only partially explains their neuro-protective effects and other health benefits. There is so much else going on, with anthocyanins also having possible anti-carcinogenic effects. Cranberries, which are in the same genus as blueberries, have similar benefits. The bilberry is the European cousin of the North American blueberry – in Spanish however they are both called “arándano”.

bluebrain

Public domain image from BrainSource.com

All these studies cited(even from previous posts) only focus on one particular substance or therapy. Imagine combining them. Imagine the synergistic effects on the brain of blueberry consumption combined with exercise and juggling on patients with cognitive problems – can it also enhance brain function in people who are young and healthy? Obviously, more research needs to be done, but what we do know suggests strongly we should be eating more fruits and vegetables, especially the dark, richly colored ones.

There is so much you can do to keep your brain young, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Related articles: