Tag Archives: nutrition

Calcium blocks lead absorption

Everyone knows about calcium. I don’t think it is really necessary to list why it is so important for human health, but I’ll say it anyway – it is needed to build strong bones, as well as for proper functioning of the heart and muscles. Lack of calcium can even lead to heart failure in the elderly. It also has many other functions, but these are its most important duties. While you can get calcium from milk, leafy green vegetables like kale and collard greens are even better sources.

What isn’t as well known is that calcium can block the absorption of lead, which is very toxic even in small doses. This is yet another reason you should make sure you are getting enough calcium. This is especially important in communities where children are exposed to lead, since it can permanently damage the brain.

According to the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet- Human Nutrition and Food Management:

An adequate calcium intake can protect against lead poisoning. It has been observed in animals and humans that both the absorption and retention of lead decreases as calcium intake increases. Many children at risk for exposure to excess lead are also those who live at the poverty level, and may consume a diet with insufficient calcium. Therefore, increasing consumption of low-cost calcium rich foods can reduce the severity of the effects of lead exposure.

Why lead exposure in young children is especially problematic:

Epidemiologic studies of children show that those exposed to lead, even low levels of lead, may have a lower IQ, learning disabilities, behavioral abnormalities and kidney damage. Cognitive and growth defects also may occur in infants whose mothers are exposed to lead during pregnancy. Lead intoxication is a widespread problem. One of every nine children under six years of age has blood lead levels high enough to be at risk. In 1970, an estimated 3 million children aged less than 6 years had blood lead levels associated with adverse health events. Children in older, inner-city neighborhoods are more likely to be affected, but children in suburban and rural areas are at risk too.

There are a lot of ways to ensure you are getting enough calcium, but make food your primary source. While you can get calcium from dairy, vegans or people with lactose intolerance require another source. Luckily, the bioavailability of calcium in kale is even higher than the calcium in milk. It must be noted that while spinach has a lot of calcium, spinach also has a lot of oxalic acid which can block calcium absorption. Therefore, do not rely on spinach or other high oxalic acid foods for calcium(kale is a low oxalic acid vegetable). Oxalic acid also contributes to kidney stones.

Increasingly, many foods and beverages are fortified with calcium, like orange juice and rice milk for example. Also make sure you get enough vitamin D to absorb the calcium. If you have very young children, do all you can to make their environment lead free, besides making sure they get enough calcium. Don’t forget that lead tastes sweet.

Lead poisoning in children

Winter is officially here

Now that winter is officially here with all its challenges and positives, I keep thinking of the how different it was when I joggled during the summer and its own unique challenges.

I joggled many times around this lake during the summer. This photo was taken in the Rockefeller Preserve, Pocantico Hills, NY.

In a strange kind of way, I miss it, especially as the weather gets colder. It’s like I have forgotten the profuse sweating, the heat-induced muscle fatigue causing me to slow down or drop the balls, the countless insects biting me or flying into my face, and the sunscreen I had to rub over much of my body to prevent sunburn. Okay, maybe I haven’t forgotten, but I still achieved bliss on a good run. I remember joggling in the summer wishing it was the heaven that is winter.

And now sometimes I wish it was summer, or spring. How ironic. The middle of the winter means heavy clothing, shorter days, a running nose, the risk of frost-bite, kids throwing snow balls, and sometimes stiffer muscles. If there is snow or ice, winter joggling can be especially problematic – be not afraid of new challenges. And the local kids should know they can’t win in a snow ball fight with a joggler!

“When you long for a life without difficulties, remind yourself that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure” – Uknown

Although I have to adapt to the weather, all the rules for joggling are the same. For beginners, this is very important: Maintaining the proper rhythm and posture is everything. It is like music, making beautiful music, becoming one with the rhythm and one with the balls. You may hear the music, you may not. If a melody develops, literally run with it. Hum along if you want.

With all this emphasis on rhythm, and music perhaps it would be better for jogglers to forget about running and to think of themselves as dancers. Running simply takes you from point A to point B. But juggling adds a new magical dimension to the running; going from point A to point B^3.

It really doesn’t matter what kind of dancer-joggler you think of yourself as. If you prefer the grace of a ballerina, go with that. Or if you prefer hip-hop dance, go ahead. You don’t even necessarily have to do the 3 ball cascade pattern, although that is most efficient and easiest for beginners. Above all, be creative. You may surprise yourself and learn all sorts of new things about yourself through joggling. If it really does make us smarter, that isn’t such a surprise.

In the new year, whatever your fitness goals are, it helps to be as creative as possible, to think outside-the-box, to make it as fun as possible and to not care what anyone else thinks.

And for the record, I’ve decided to stop eating eggs, which makes me vegan yet again.

The effects of air pollution on exercise

How air pollution affects exercise performance doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. It is a rather complex subject, although it seems rather intuitive that the more polluted the air, the worse it is for exercise. Although air pollution is everywhere, it is far worse in urban centers, with most of it coming from vehicle exhaust.

On this issue, it appears that science agrees with our intuition. According to this study – Subclinical Effects of Aerobic Training in Urban Environment, which compared people trying to improve their aerobic fitness in urban and rural settings, both groups became equally fit, though reaction times were better in rural settings and the urban exercisers had significantly higher levels of inflammation markers(exercise even in a non-polluted area can cause inflammation, it’s just worse in polluted areas).

I don’t believe the lesson to be learned from this is to not exercise if you live in a polluted area, unless you have respiratory disease, but rather to be more cautious or try to seek out an area with cleaner air to exercise if possible.

Also, I think it could be possible to prevent the inflammation caused by pollution by eating better. Some foods have a pro-inflammatory effect, like food with a high saturated fat content, as well as fried, roasted and overly processed foods. On the other hand, many fresh fruits and vegetables either have a neutral effect on inflammation or can help prevent it from getting out of control. Curcumin, a natural compound which is found in turmeric(an important ingredient in curry), has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger, a close cousin of turmeric has similar benefits. Leafy greens may also help. Try to get all this from food, not supplements.

Besides this, if you are a runner living in an urban environment, try to stay far away from highways or areas with heavy traffic when running. In my personal experience, it seems that I’ve had to apply more effort when running in polluted areas than in non-polluted areas to achieve my usual pace. Also, the study I cited seems to suggest that air pollution would have more of an effect on jogglers than runners, since air pollution interferes with reaction rates/cognition during aerobic exercise. In my experience, I am more likely to drop the balls in polluted areas.

Do not let this discourage you from exercise, unless you have medical issues.

Lactic acid is not your enemy

The idea that lactic acid causes muscle fatigue and stiffness during exercise is a stubborn one. It has been discredited by scientific research, but many fitness enthusiasts still see lactic acid as an enemy that interferes with performance.

Not only does lactic acid(which in the body is in the form called “lactate”) not cause muscle fatigue, it is actually used as an important fuel during vigorous exercise.

This myth goes back to the early 20th century, but it was fully discredited only recently.

All this begs the question: What is causing the fatigue and stiffness that was once blamed on lactate? According to researchers at Columbia University, it may be caused by overworked muscles leaking calcium, among many other factors. And acidity in general in fatigued muscles may play a role in stiffness and fatigue, it’s just not the lactate causing most of it.

So what’s the solution? The idea of calcium leakage partially causing muscle fatigue doesn’t mean most people should consume less calcium, as this is a vital mineral(it is possible to get too much, and it can cause problems but this is rare). However, and I am just speculating here, maybe ensuring adequate vitamin K consumption can help prevent this a little, since it helps with calcium metabolism, along with making sure you get enough magnesium. Calcium helps muscles contract, magnesium helps them contract as well as relax; if you have too much calcium in your body relative to the amount of magnesium, this can be problematic(in fact, not getting enough magnesium may be detrimental to your heart).

It is relatively east to get enough magnesium if you eat like a rabbit – lots of leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains. Fermented vegetables are an especially good source of vitamin K. If you are taking calcium supplements, it may be a good idea to take supplements that combine magnesium with the calcium, to counteract the potentially negative effects of calcium. Try discussing this with your doctor or pharmacist.

Proper hydration and making sure you are getting the right amount of electrolytes helps too. I don’t think stretching would help, since just because a muscle is stiff doesn’t mean it needs to be stretched. Increasingly, science is showing that stretching is practically useless for most people.

Vitamin D may improve athletic performance

It may not be the cold air or Old Man Winter’s roar that keeps even seasoned athletes indoors during the winter. According to the scientific literature, vitamin D may improve athletic performance, but only in athletes who are deficient in vitamin D.

So who is most likely to be deficient in vitamin D? Since vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, it shouldn’t worry people who get at least some sun exposure throughout most of the year, unless they live north of 37 degrees latitude during the winter. The sun’s rays are too weak north of 37 degrees, and it’s even worse if your skin is dark, since melanin can block sunlight.

The elderly also have problems making vitamin D, even if they get sufficient sunlight. Vitamin D(a misnomer, it is actually a hormone) is necessary for calcium absorption, which helps build strong bones, and may also boost the immune system, among other things. Scientists have found links between vitamin D deficiency and certain forms of cancer, but a lot more research needs to be done.

Eating a healthy, varied diet can provide just about all the nutrients the average person needs, but hardly any foods contain sufficient quantities of vitamin D to meet new nutritional guidelines. Even multivitamins fall short of the new guidelines. So it looks like eating food fortified with vitamin D(like milk) or vitamin D supplements may be the answer, for those who live north of 37 degrees latitude from autumn to spring.

A rather interesting possible solution which doesn’t involve supplements is to get some mushrooms(button mushrooms, shiitake, and many other mushroom species, but do not pick any wild mushrooms unless you know what you are doing) and place them in the sun for a few hours. When exposed to sunlight, they will manufacture vitamin D, just like humans, in quantities that are as good as or even better than supplements. This is certainly a wild solution!

I take a 5,000 I.U vitamin D supplement about twice a week during the winter since I am in the north-east U.S. I don’t take them at all during the summer, since I get enough sunlight during that time of year. I take it twice a week since vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means it can be stored in the liver and fatty tissue, unlike water soluble nutrients like vitamin C, which are quickly removed from the body which is why you need to get it every day.

So if you’re an athlete or even if you’re not an athlete, and you feel sluggish and you live in the northern U.S, see if you can get your vitamin D levels checked by your doctor. Or, you can just eat more mushrooms that have been sun-bathed as suggested above if you suspect you’re deficient. Like many nutrients, Vitamin D can be toxic in large quantities, so be careful.

For my fellow vegetarians and vegans – vitamin D-3, also called “cholecalciferol” is not vegan since it is derived from animal sources. However, vitamin D-2, also called “ergocalciferol” is vegan since it comes from plant sources. The type of vitamin D that is in mushrooms is D-2/ergocalciferol.