Tuesday, August 27, 2013


The ubiquitous recommendations for health and wellness include such recommendations as reducing salt/sodium intake, keeping saturated fats to no more than 10% of total caloric intake, and of course "moving more and eating less".

Strangely, none of these things is likely to be helpful to most folks, and yet, many folks do all of these things on the thought that "There must be a reason why so many people tell me to do this. They have a PHD, they must know what's best, its magic to me but they must know."

It's the presumption that someone out there knows the answer which drives this kind of behavior. It's what led me to go "low fat" for a few years, which also led to a monster fat gain, which led to me finally deciding I had to figure the food and fat thing out.

In the past, it was not unreasonable to assume that other people would "know" the important things. It probably made sense to do what your doctor told you to do. Doctors back in the day had access to much information that you didn't have access to, and a vast depth of training and experience. They also had many fewer tools to work with than they have now, so they likely knew the ones they had very well and had seen the results of using that or those tools many times.

That's all different now. You can know as much as your doctor about your individual situation, in many cases. You can take responsibility for your own circumstance. You no longer need believe that the voice of authority is right, at least not for your situation. You don't have to treat health and diet recommendations as if they are the magic elixir, distributed by those who know the dark secrets.

Let's take the case of salt/sodium for an example. If you have a blood pressure problem, and you reduce your salt intake, you may notice a reduction in blood pressure. There's quite a bit of evidence that reduction of blood pressure results in better health. So if you reduce sodium intake and your blood pressure numbers improve, voila, you've just proven that sodium reduction is a worthy pursuit. Of course, about 80% of those who have high blood pressure can control this problem by carb restriction, and in that case, can eat all the salt they want to. Either way, you choose your intervention and you get the results based on your own judgment of cost/benefit.

What if, on the other hand, you don't have a blood pressure issue? Strangely, the authorities will still tell you to reduce your salt intake. This is not because they can prove that reducing sodium intake will make your life better, this is because much of the information we hear about salt and such is "public health science." That is, it is intended to address the needs of and health outcomes of populations. From the public health perspective, if you tell 1000 people to reduce sodium intake and 500 comply, and of that group 100 get a benefit, that's a win. In other words, they don't really care if you or your family or anyone you know will benefit from the recommendation, because they are on a mission from god to change health statistics for a population, so they make recommendations that may or may not help you. These recommendations are promulgated because the "scientists" entered their assumptions about the recommendation in question along with estimation of compliance and estimates of the theoretical benefit of the recommendation. If their computer model calculates (based on their assumptions) that the recommendation in question will "save" thousands of life if implemented in our population of 300+ million - Yahoo! Another public victory!

Isn't that great!?!

Vaccinations are a variance on this theme. If you give enough kids a vaccine, one or more will die as a result of a reaction to the injection. If you are the parent of the dead child, it will be cold comfort to know that in theory thousands of lives, or hours of suffering, were "saved" by the vaccination of the masses.

In short, "public health" and the science that this discipline draws on is not focused on you, your circumstances or your individual interest. Knowing that, I'm stunned at how many people labor under the misinformation that this field so skillfully distributes.

The point is "don't trust the experts." If they say it is true, try it and measure the result.
If there is no change, don't assume this is some magic that should guide your life based on your faith that the government scientists must know more than you know, and must be faithfully interpreting the results of the science they work with.

Test it! If eating whole grains makes your blood sugar skyrocket, don't believe it when they tell you that whole grains "break down more slowly in the gut and therefore have a lower glycemic load." If you don't have a blood pressure problem, don't worry about salt intake. If you try carb restriction and your gout, your blood pressure, and your lipid profile improves, tell them they can go suck it when they say you need to eat 11 servings of grain each day. If you are eating a mountain of fat every day (as I do) and your blood lipids look good, you feel good, you perform well, you sleep well, your hunger is minimal to non-existent (most days I eat by habit and routine, and almost never for hunger), your waist is small (or getting smaller), then have a good laugh when they tell you to cut the red meat and animal fats and graze on vegetables 24/7; and pray for their eventual enlightenment (hopefully before I die so I can say "I told you so").

By the same token, if you can suck down bread like there's no tomorrow, and you look feel and perform just like you want to, more power to you! There's no one on the planet who's smart enough to question something that works for you - assuming it does.

And that's where this narrative gets tricky, because we often accept compromises based on our belief that they are "normal." I see people daily who think their aches and pains are normal. They think "well everyone else is taking statins and BP meds, that doesn't mean anything, it's just part of aging and boy aren't we lucky that these great meds are available and my insurance company will pay for them." They wrestle with heart burn daily but "so does everyone else in their family." I see people who think their expanding waistline is just part of getting older. I see people getting dental work who just think it's great that the dentist can remove and replace teeth with minimal pain. I see people who think osteopenia is just "aging bones" and don't question the recommendation to eat calcium. I have come to believe that all of these issues are not normal, and when I confront one I will fool around with diet until I can find a solution. This has been successful in eliminating several chronic conditions that I thought were just "normal" or part of my own genetic defects - IBS, having my nasal passages close each night (how well do you sleep when you nose is stopped up from a cold? How would you like to feel that way every night?), or having such high levels of knee pain that I was taking 800mg of ibuprophen three times daily.  I have fixed all of this and more, so yes, I'm a believer.

In other words, if you don't think something is wrong, how likely will you be to change? You will just bravely suffer on, hoping the meds don't ever stop working. And of course, this is another reason why the public health authorities make recommendations as they do - they don't think you are smart enough to figure out what's wrong or what to do about it.

I would hope that most of those who are reading this "won't be that guy/girl" who's too ignorant to know what's wrong and what to do about it. Find a solution, take action, be persistent. Magicians are fun but I don't recommend that you take their advice about diet and health.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Quack of the Century and Why You Shouldn't Take "Vitamins"

This is partly why I say "If you can't tell a difference, there is no difference."

It makes the most sense to eat in a way that helps you look, feel and perform your best. If that doesn't help you to live to 80 ... well, you'll have a good ride while you are here! No one knows yet how to make the best odds for living to 80, so "make each day count" is as smart as following expert advice on longevity.

Here's a long article about vitamins and health. I am posting the most relevant parts, but the whole thing is a good read if you have curiosity about how the science of diet could go so far wrong. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/07/the-vitamin-myth-why-we-think-we-need-supplements/277947/


On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn't. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. "It's been a tough week for vitamins," said Carrie Gann of ABC News.
These findings weren't new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world's greatest quack.

Although studies had failed to support him, Pauling believed that vitamins and supplements had one property that made them cure-alls, a property that continues to be hawked on everything from ketchup to pomegranate juice and that rivals words like natural and organic for sales impact: antioxidant.
Antioxidation vs. oxidation has been billed as a contest between good and evil. The battle takes place in cellular organelles called mitochondria, where the body converts food to energy, a process that requires oxygen and so is called oxidation. One consequence of oxidation is the generation of electron scavengers called free radicals (evil). Free radicals can damage DNA, cell membranes, and the lining of arteries; not surprisingly, they've been linked to aging, cancer, and heart disease. To neutralize free radicals, the body makes its own antioxidants (good). Antioxidants can also be found in fruits and vegetables -- specifically, selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, and E. Studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease and live longer. The logic is obvious: if fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants -- and people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are healthier -- then people who take supplemental antioxidants should also be healthier.

In 1994, the National Cancer Institute, in collaboration with Finland's National Public Health Institute, studied 29,000 Finnish men, all long-term smokers more than fifty years old. This group was chosen because they were at high risk for cancer and heart disease. Subjects were given vitamin E, beta-carotene, both, or neither. The results were clear: those taking vitamins and supplements were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease than those who didn't take them -- the opposite of what researchers had anticipated.

In 1996, investigators from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, studied 18,000 people who, because they had been exposed to asbestos, were at increased risk of lung cancer. Again, subjects received vitamin A, beta-carotene, both, or neither. Investigators ended the study abruptly when they realized that those who took vitamins and supplements were dying from cancer and heart disease at rates 28 and 17 percent higher, respectively, than those who didn't.
In 2004, researchers from the University of Copenhagen reviewed fourteen randomized trials involving more than 170,000 people who took vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene to see whether antioxidants could prevent intestinal cancers. Again, antioxidants didn't live up to the hype. The authors concluded, "We could not find evidence that antioxidant supplements can prevent gastrointestinal cancers; on the contrary, they seem to increase overall mortality." When these same researchers evaluated the seven best studies, they found that death rates were 6 percent higher in those taking vitamins.
In 2005, researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine evaluated nineteen studies involving more than 136,000people and found an increased risk of death associated with supplemental vitamin E. Dr. Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, "This reaffirms what others have said. The evidence for supplementing with any vitamin, particularly vitamin E, is just not there. This idea that people have that [vitamins] will not hurt them may not be that simple." That same year, a study published in the Journal of theAmerican Medical Association evaluated more than 9,000 people who took high-dose vitamin E to prevent cancer; those who took vitamin E were more likely to develop heart failure than those who didn't.
In 2007, researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined 11,000 men who did or didn't take multivitamins. Those who took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from advanced prostate cancer.
In 2008, a review of all existing studies involving more than 230,000 people who did or did not receive supplemental antioxidants found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.
On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota evaluated 39,000 older women and found that those who took supplemental multivitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron died at rates higher than those who didn't. They concluded, "Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements."
Two days later, on October 12, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic published the results of a study of 36,000 men who took vitamin E, selenium, both, or neither. They found that those receiving vitamin E had a 17 percent greater risk of prostate cancer. In response to the study, Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, said, "The concept of multivitamins was sold to Americans by an eager nutraceutical industry to generate profits. There was never any scientific data supporting their usage." On October 25, a headline in the Wall Street Journal asked, "Is This the End of Popping Vitamins?" Studies haven't hurt sales. In 2010, the vitamin industry grossed $28 billion, up 4.4 percent from the year before. "The thing to do with [these reports] is just ride them out," said Joseph Fortunato, chief executive of General Nutrition Centers. "We see no impact on our business."

How could this be? Given that free radicals clearly damage cells -- and given that people who eat diets rich in substances that neutralize free radicals are healthier -- why did studies of supplemental antioxidants show they were harmful? The most likely explanation is that free radicals aren't as evil as advertised. Although it's clear that free radicals can damage DNA and disrupt cell membranes, that's not always a bad thing. People need free radicals to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells. But when people take large doses of antioxidants, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers have called this "the antioxidant paradox." Whatever the reason, the data are clear: high doses of vitamins and supplements increase the risk of heart disease and cancer; for this reason, not a single national or international organization responsible for the public's health recommends them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Olympic Lifts, CrossFit and Your Cup of Tea

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program. The desired outcome is that the athlete be competent in any physical challenge. Unlike football, basketball, or marathoning, in which an athlete trains for known time domains and known physical challenges, the CrossFit athlete is preparing for "the unknown and unknowable challenge." To accomplish this, the CrossFit athlete must avoid specialization, and instead practice "constantly varied functional movement executed at high intensity". Short duration workouts, long durations workouts, working with heavy weights, working with light weights, incorporating body weight modalities (pushup, pullup, situp, rope climb, jumping, burpees and so on), running/cycling/rowing/swimming workouts, and mixing any and all of these elements in any imaginable way - that is the method to avoid the weaknesses that specialization builds into an athlete. So, the CrossFit athlete would be able to beat an equally gifted football player in a marathon or mixed modality workout, but may lose a pure strength/power contest. The CrossFit athlete wouldn't be able to hang with a dedicated marathoner in marathoning, but just about any other test - strength, power, anaerobic performance, perhaps even endurance rowing - would strongly favor the CrossFitter.

My good friends and owners of Faction Strength and Conditioning - who podcast here - podcasted recently about the olympic lifts, which are considered by many to be the sexiest lifts in the strength and conditioning world.

Doug and Mike are accomplished oly lifters and coaches, and Chris is a beastly power lifter and greedily sucks knowledge from all strength and conditioning arenas. They interview Justin Thacker, whom they view as even more accomplished than they are, and the session is a great one. I enjoyed getting a good intro to what Justin is up to with his innovative approach to teaching groups the Olympic lifts.

I don't know if they meant to, but they highlighted one reason why specialization is costly. They point out that for an accomplished lifter, gaining 10-20 pounds in their max lift, by working for months to refine their technique, is significant progress.  In other words, as one approaches one's best at a physical activity, the return on equity for each training hour is very, very low.

As a reformed runner (actually, it just got too painful to run - I never stopped loving how it felt to run), I had the same problem years ago.  I could not get faster unless I spent more hours running, which wasn't an option.

CrossFit allows some deviation from this "expert's limit", partially because there are so many physical arenas in which to pursue mastery.  If you approach the best you can be at oly lifts, you'll still likely have some element in body weight movements in which improvement may be achieved.  You may max the box squat, but be able to improve in the sumo deadlift.  You may peak in max continuous pullups, but find you can improve in handstand walks or wall ball shots.  The areas for improvement are numerous, and frequently improvement in one element facilitates improvement in another.

That doesn't mean Mike and Doug should not spend years perfecting oly lifting - if that's the cup of tea they choose.  It's your life, you get to establish the trade offs that work for you.

PS - I pulled 7 lifts on a one minute rest cycle tonight of the sumo deadlift at 365 pounds.  That's baby weight for some, but for me it was a PR and very satisfying.  I also managed 7 ring dips with 75 pounds hanging off of me.  That too was fun, but since it wasn't scary - and the heavy deadlifts always are - it wasn't as exciting.

Friday, August 9, 2013

HuffPo On Target 'bout CrossFit

"I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point in my mid to late 20s I reached a state of general malaise. It was not a conscious decision, I didn't wake up one morning and decide it was time to stop moving around quickly or throwing things on a field. It was just the result of months and months of stagnation and apathetic decisions."

The author continues to describe his entry into CrossFit, only to find these three criticisms:

1. CrossFit Illuminati Serve Kool-Aid via Water Fountains

2. CrossFit Wants All Your Lunch Money

3. CrossFit Wants to Rip Out Your Knees and Break Your Back With Them

Read on to see how he power cleans the heck out of these mis-perceptions, in a way that's as humorous as his headers.  It's one of the smartest articles I've seen about CrossFit in six plus years of reading almost all things CrossFit.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mercola Squat Technique

At the link below is a youtube of the "perfect squat".

On the one hand it is very cool that a mainstream (for "fitness") site like Mercola has a post about the virtues of squatting.  But it’s a mind blower that this guy takes almost ten minutes to warm up before squatting.  Does he do that before he sits on the toilet, sit in his car or - after the two hour drive - stand up out of his car?  Did Paleoman stretch out and warm up before he squatted to dump, or rest? 

If you want to get ready for squats to do a workout, do some squats!  I guarantee you will get some stretching, your muscles will warm and you will not explode in a puddle of overexertion from the effort.  I've seen hundreds of deconditioned folks squatting without injury.  Just start.

For what it’s worth, I do not give style points for copying his stylish breath behavior – but it is entertaining to see the gent making the dramatic noises for his squatting efforts.

It is good to breath.  It is good to breath while squatting.  It can be good to hold one’s breath while squatting.  But first, just move right and the body will take care of the breathing for you.

One thing I’ll grant this gent – it’s not easy to either teach or learn to squat with virtuosity.  I’ve been working it since 2007, and still have to pay attention to get it closer and closer to right.  I did some squats tonight with 275 pounds, to below parallel, and the technique did not suck.  Not much to show for all those years of work but it felt great!  And when I started to squat again after knee surgery, I thought I’d never be able to do it pain free. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Nat Geo, Slavery, Sugar, and Why We Got Fat

This is the money line, which is a restatement of the theorem well articulated by Gary Taubes in "Good Calories, Bad Calories":
"Johnson summed up the conventional wisdom this way: Americans are fat because they eat too much and exercise too little.  But they eat too much and exercise too little because they're addicted to sugar, which not only makes them fatter but, after the initial sugar rush, also saps their energy, beaching them on the couch." The reason you are watching TV is not because TV is so good," he said, "but because you have no energy to exercise, because you're eating too much sugar."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I was fortunate to present to a group of folks recently who are not my normal audience.  Rather than being CrossFitters they were clients of a financial services company.  I have been immersed in the nutritional idea that the primary element of health is avoiding excess carb intake for so long, I am always surprised to find that most people still don't know that.  Thus, when I deliver a short presentation that has people wrinkling their brows, it is both exciting and discouraging.  

It's a pretty simple observation - there are people who carry excess body fat who are healthy and live well.  There are people with "high" cholesterol who are healthy and live well.  There are people who never exercise who are healthy and live well.  I know of no one with out of control blood sugar that is also healthy.  Even though doctors are on to this issue, and are ever ready with metformin and other drugs to help folks deal with excessively high blood sugar, the simple premise of not over-eating carbs seems to escape the masses.  This is likely due to the cognitive dissonance that results from the very poor science of diet, which tells us cholesterol is bad, fat is bad, and too much protein is bad.  One of these things must be wrong, probably all of them are, but the result is many will dig half way into the topic, and throw up their hands wondering if they can eat anything.  

The day is coming when someone will sort out how to do compelling science on humans and diet.  We see more of it seemingly every month.  It can't come soon enough for me.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Epidemiology - 100% track Record

I read the article at this link:

I was curious - was there any evidence to support all the blah blah about "heart healthy whole grains"?

As I suspect, the answer in this article from Harvard was "no".  All they had was a series of epidemiological studies to back up their assertions about the benefits of whole grains.

That leaves me wondering, as I have for years, why this health fad is so ubiquitous amongst the health authorities.  Here's the theory, as described in the article linked above:
The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps move waste through the digestive tract. Fiber may also kindle the body’s natural anticoagulants and so help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes. The collection of antioxidants prevents LDL cholesterol from reacting with oxygen. Some experts think this reaction is a key early step in the development of cholesterol-clogged arteries. Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) found in whole grains may protect against some cancers. So might essential minerals, such as magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese. These minerals may also help reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes. And then there are the hundreds of substances that haven’t yet been identified, some or many of which may play as-yet-undiscovered roles in health.
Each of these conjectures is arguably flat wrong:
- Bran and fiber in theory work as they describe, but when tested, whole grain raise blood sugar higher and faster than regular grain based foods.  
- Lowering cholesterol has never, despite 40 years and billions of dollars, been proved to improve mortality.  
- Moving waste along:  all I can say is that you eat what they recommend you will probably need lots of fiber to help you "move things along."  If you don't, you won't.
- Interesting conjecture about anti coagulants and antioxidants - perhaps they work but there's no doubt that no one really knows.
- It's all great that grain has essential minerals, but if you want to talk conjecture, how the fact that grains are known to be laden with anti-nutrients that bind with minerals in a way that prevents you from absorbing them.  
In short, the folks in charge of the conventional wisdom have their own reasons for loving whole grains, but in many years of eating the least amount of grain I can possible get away with, I fell better than I've ever felt, my blood markers are the envy of my doctors, and I don't know anyone who's whole grained themselves to a healthier, leaner life.  I looks like another instance of epidemiology's 100% track record - that is, 100% wrong and counting.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

PN - IF Gone Wrong

The link below details an interesting story of an athlete/trainer running smack into thyroid disfunction, which PN attributes to excessively fastidious intermittent fasting and too much "stress" (for the record, and in the interest of language precision, I like to think of "stress" as a good thing; how we respond to stressors makes them "good" or "bad").   

The big lesson is - anything good can be taken too far.  I love the liberty of waking in the morning and not needed food to feel good.  I think IF is a great way to live - for me.  But if anyone takes a basic idea like IF, and gets crazy with it, they can get into the deep end of a pool they are not prepared to swim in.  Which is why, on nights like last night, I eat cake, ice cream, or other food treats with a clear conscience when I'm socializing and celebrating.  About once a month, I even get a candy bar or something stupid like that to remind myself how little I like them (even though, from years of eating them when sugar dependent, I have a positive association to sweets - a HUGE one).