Differences between Organic and Non-Organic Food

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

A new study finds significant differences between organic and non-organic food:

The study, funded jointly by the European Framework 6 programme and the Sheepdrove Trust, found that concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were between 18-69% higher in organically-grown crops. Numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

Substantially lower concentrations of a range of the toxic heavy metal cadmium were also detected in organic crops (on average 48% lower).

Nitrogen concentrations were found to be significantly lower in organic crops. Concentrations of total nitrogen were 10%, nitrate 30% and nitrite 87% lower in organic compared to conventional crops. The study also found that pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than organic ones.

Cool It in the Bedroom

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Cool it in the bedroom, a new study recommends:

For the new study, published in June in Diabetes, researchers affiliated with the National Institutes of Health persuaded five healthy young male volunteers to sleep in climate-controlled chambers at the N.I.H. for four months. The men went about their normal lives during the days, then returned at 8 every evening. All meals, including lunch, were provided, to keep their caloric intakes constant. They slept in hospital scrubs under light sheets.

For the first month, the researchers kept the bedrooms at 75 degrees, considered a neutral temperature that would not prompt moderating responses from the body. The next month, the bedrooms were cooled to 66 degrees, a temperature that the researchers expected might stimulate brown-fat activity (but not shivering, which usually begins at more frigid temperatures). The following month, the bedrooms were reset to 75 degrees, to undo any effects from the chillier room, and for the last month, the sleeping temperature was a balmy 81 degrees. Throughout, the subjects’ blood-sugar and insulin levels and daily caloric expenditures were tracked; after each month, the amount of brown fat was measured.

The cold temperatures, it turned out, changed the men’s bodies noticeably. Most striking, after four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the men had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. Their insulin sensitivity, which is affected by shifts in blood sugar, improved. The changes were slight but meaningful, says Francesco S. Celi, the study’s senior author and now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “These were all healthy young men to start with,” he says, “but just by sleeping in a colder room, they gained metabolic advantages” that could, over time, he says, lessen their risk for diabetes and other metabolic problems. The men also burned a few more calories throughout the day when their bedroom was chillier (although not enough to result in weight loss after four weeks). The metabolic enhancements were undone after four weeks of sleeping at 81 degrees; in fact, the men then had less brown fat than after the first scan.

The message of these findings, Celi says, is that you can almost effortlessly tweak your metabolic health by turning down the bedroom thermostat a few degrees.

Decadence Is Not Physical

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Decadence is not physical, Glubb argues:

The citizens of nations in decline are sometimes described as too physically emasculated to be able to bear hardship or make great efforts. This does not seem to be a true picture. Citizens of great nations in decadence are normally physically larger and stronger than those of their barbarian invaders.

Moreover, as was proved in Britain in the First World War, young men brought up in luxury and wealth found little difficulty in accustoming themselves to life in the front-line trenches. The history of exploration proves the same point. Men accustomed to comfortable living in homes in Europe or America were able to show as much endurance as the natives in riding camels across the desert or in hacking their way through tropical forests.

Decadence is a moral and spiritual disease, resulting from too long a period of wealth and power, producing cynicism, decline of religion, pessimism and frivolity. The citizens of such a nation will no longer make an effort to save themselves, because they are not convinced that anything in life is worth saving.

No Pain, No Gain

Friday, July 11th, 2014

The New York Times‘ fitness writer seems surprised that intense exercise is more effective than milder exercise. A new study found one mechanism:

At Scripps, the scientists had been focusing on catecholamines and their relationship with a protein found in both mice and people that is genetically activated during stress, called CRTC2. This protein, they discovered, affects the body’s use of blood sugar and fatty acids during moments of stress and seems to have an impact on health issues such as insulin resistance.

The researchers also began to wonder about the role of CRTC2 during exercise.

Scientists long have known that the sympathetic nervous system plays a part in exercise, particularly if the activity is intense. Strenuous exercise, the thinking went, acts as a kind of stress, prompting the fight or flight response and the release of catecholamines, which goose the cardiovascular system into high gear. And while these catecholamines were important in helping you to instantly fight or flee, it was generally thought they did not play an important role in the body’s longer-term response to exercise, including changes in muscle size and endurance. Intense exercise, in that case, would have no special or unique effects on the body beyond those that can be attained by easy exercise.

But the Scripps researchers were unconvinced. “It just didn’t make sense” that the catecholamines served so little purpose in the body’s overall response to exercise, said Michael Conkright, an assistant professor at Scripps, who, with his colleague Dr. Nelson Bruno and other collaborators, conducted the new research. So, for a study published last month in The EMBO Journal, he and his collaborators decided to look deeper inside the bodies of exercising mice and, in particular, into what was going on with their CRTC2 proteins.

To do so, they first bred mice that were genetically programmed to produce far more of the CRTC2 protein than other mice. When these mice began a program of frequent, strenuous treadmill running, their endurance soared by 103 percent after two weeks, compared to an increase of only 8.5 percent in normal mice following the same exercise routine. The genetically modified animals also developed tighter, larger muscles than the other animals, and their bodies became far more efficient at releasing fat from muscles for use as fuel.

These differences all were the result of a sequence of events set off by catecholamines, the scientists found in closely examining mouse cells. When the CRTC2 protein received and read certain signals from the catecholamines, it would turn around and send a chemical message to genes in muscle cells that would set in motion processes resulting in larger, stronger muscles.

In other words, the catecholamines were involved in improving fitness after all.

What this finding means, Dr. Conkright said, is that “there is some truth to that idea of ‘no pain, no gain.’”

Hunt, Gather, and Be Merry

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

John Durant (The Paleo Manifesto) had some obsessive readers and book hoarders on both sides of the family, and he was an obsessive reader growing up:

I would spend a few years plowing through a genre before moving on to the next one: Greek myths (ages 6–7), fantasy (8–17), science fiction (15–18), economics and government (16–22), evolutionary psychology (17–23), biology and health (23–28), Judaism (29–30), and men and masculinity (29 to present). One day I’ll do something similar to John Cusack’s character in “High Fidelity” and arrange all my books in autobiographical order.

I guess I never made that swing through Judaism…

Durant says he’s less interested in Paleo and Libertarianism than evolution and politics:

For example, try watching a political debate with no sound — it makes it easier to focus on the candidates’ body language. I’m fascinated by the influence of factors like height, posture, and facial shape on how we select our “tribal” leaders.

Evolution also offers some perspective on deep political divides on social issues. A theme in my book is the tight relationship between religion and infectious disease (see chapter 4, “Moses the Microbiologist”). It seems fairly clear that many traditional, conservative religious values are heuristics for surviving in a habitat with a high disease burden. For example, pretty much all traditional sexual values — lifelong monogamy and edicts against sex before marriage, promiscuity, bestiality, prostitution, and men having sex with men — would have limited the spread of STDs back before antibiotics, latex condoms, and knowledge of the germ theory of disease. The people who engaged in sexual behaviors that led to STDs would have been more likely to be sick, sterile, or die — and it would have looked like they were punished by God (since people didn’t realize germs were to blame). So I can understand how pathogens may have led to the emergence of these cultural values, and why there may be political and cultural conflict as the need for them is obviated by modern hygienic practices and technology.

In Pursuit Of An Ancient Pursuit

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Back in 1978 Michael Baughman wrote about trying to run down a deer Indian-style for Sports Illustrated:

A large stone in each hand, I trotted down to it through the star thistle. Breathing deeply, I stood in the warm shade on the uphill side. The thicket was even denser than I remembered, much too thick to see into. I tossed the first stone, shook the slender trunk of a willow and yelled. There was a heavy thrashing deep within the thicket, then a whirring of wings. A covey of 30 or 40 valley quail burst out in all directions. A pheasant came behind them, a cock this time, and then the deer. I heard the deer before I saw it, crashing out of the bottom end. I circled around the top to avoid the swampy area. It was a young buck.

I dropped the second stone and started after him. He had a 40- or 50-yard head start, going south, parallel with the ditch above us, and his head was turned to watch me as he picked up speed. I held my pace and angled back to the firmer footing along the ditch.

He was 200 yards ahead and gaining ground. I maintained my pace. As long as I stayed within a quarter mile of him I would have a chance of running him down.

The springy, almost jumping gait of the buck was beautiful to see. His raised tail and rump were startlingly white in the dusty heat, and small clouds of powdery dust rose like smoke behind him.

I kept my pace. I’d covered better than a quarter mile by now without tiring. He stayed below the ditch, heading, as I had hoped he would, for the next thicket along the way.

By then I was sweating hard, but my legs were fine. As he entered the thicket, I was little more than 300 yards behind. I could see him in the willows, see the white rump, and then even closer, the turned head with its brown, glassy eyes staring back at me in fright.

A hundred yards away I yelled, and this time he broke out from the top end, raced straight up the hill and cleared the irrigation ditch with one incredibly graceful bound. This was lucky for me. By coming up the hill, he had actually shortened the distance between us.

Once across the ditch, he picked up speed again. The next mile or two, I knew, would be the hardest. But after that his fright would work to my advantage.

He started up the slope on the other side of the ditch, stopped, turned again to look, then headed straight for the nearest thicket. I had to step up my pace. My legs hadn’t begun to tire, but my breath was coming so hard that my side ached. Two hundred yards above me, and twice that far ahead, the buck reached the sparse thicket near the long-deserted ranch house with the rusted Model T in the yard.

Twenty minutes later the buck was exhausted:

I was only 10 yards away from him. He took a tentative step, but his head sank. He could go no further. I stopped where I was and talked to him soothingly.

Flies circled over his back, at least a couple of dozen of them, but he was trembling so severely that they couldn’t light. His wide brown eyes never blinked or left my own the whole time I was talking to him.

When a full minute had passed that way, he had rested enough to raise his head. The trembling eased. The flies alighted.

I walked up slowly and touched his sweaty flank. He started away, jerkily and graceless for the first few steps, then with increasing confidence, and all the way his head was turned to watch me.

Catch-and-release persistence hunting never caught on.

Russia Is Restarting Stalin’s National Fitness Program

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

On March 24, Putin signed an executive order to bring back the Ready for Labor and Defense program, or GTO:

Back in the U.S.S.R., people of all ages were expected to participate in GTO. If you were 16 to 18 years old, you were enlisted in your high school’s “Strength and Courage” program, which included elements of military basic training. Not only did you run, swim, and do cross-country skiing, depending on the season, you also ran obstacle courses and practiced grenade-throwing minus grenades. Sometimes there was rifle practice, too.

Older people got off lightly but not completely. Men between the ages of 40 to 60 and women from 35 to 55 were expected to take part in the “Vigor and Health” program run by the GTO’s local branch. Driving the whole program was the quest for medals and glory amid huge pomp and ceremony. In its heyday, the GTO sponsored annual championships in towns and cities across the Soviet Union, with 37 million people taking part in 1975. The winners were feted on television and lionized in the state press.

Really, this is one of the least crazy things to come out of 20th-century totalitarianism.

How Athletes Use Caffeine

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Athletes use caffeine strategically:

In 2009, Ganio and his colleagues published a systematic review of 21 studies on caffeine in timed performance. Most of the researchers looked at subjects cycling, but some also studied running, rowing, and cross-country skiing, and most of the tests were in the 15-minute to two-hour range. Looking across all the results, Ganio found consistent improvements in performance.

The improvements can be substantial, he told me, often as much as 3 percent. To put that into context, a 3 percent improvement would mean an 18-minute boost in a 10-hour race. Eighteen minutes was all that separated the top eight finishers in both the men’s and women’s pro races at Kona.

[...]

Ganio said it is important to take the right dose, which shakes out to about three to six milligrams per kilogram of body mass. That is a lot of caffeine. An 80-kilo (176-pound) athlete taking six milligrams per kilogram would need 480 milligrams of caffeine.

“That’s four strong cups of coffee,” said Ganio. “If you can tolerate it, it seems to be the upper end of what you can have to improve performance.”

Since “cups of coffee” is a notoriously imprecise measure of caffeine, it may help to think of it this way: 480 milligrams would be six 8-ounce Red Bulls, two and a half NoDoz tablets, or two Extra Strength 5-hour Energy shots. A more moderate dose for a smaller athlete, say, a 65-kilo (143-pound) athlete taking three milligrams per kilo, is still an impressive amount of caffeine: equal to one NoDoz tablet, one 5-hour Energy shot, or two and a half Red Bulls. Even this amount of caffeine is difficult to obtain using caffeinated sodas like Coca-Cola. A 65-kilo athlete would need to chug nearly six cans of Coke at once to get a caffeine dose of three milligrams per kilogram.

Also, researchers found no evidence of dehydration from using caffeine.

Where Americans Get Enough Exercise

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Richard Florida maps out where Americans get enough exercise:

As the maps suggest, both forms of exercise are highly correlated with one another. States where people participate more in aerobic exercise also have higher levels of muscle strengthening (the correlation between the two is .81).

Also not surprisingly, states where people exercise more also have significantly lower levels of obesity and smoking, two known causes of preventable deaths. Mellander found substantial negative associations between exercise levels and obesity (-.80) and smoking (-.63).

You might think people would exercise more in warmer, sunnier states. But that’s not the case. She found a negative correlation (-.38) between yearly average temperature and exercise across the 50 states.

Exercise levels also correspond to wealth and affluence, with substantial positive correlations to both income (.65) and wages (.64). States where people exercise more are also more highly educated, with a significant correlation (.68) to the share of adults who are college graduates. And exercise levels are higher in states with more post-industrial economies, as participation was highly positively correlated with the share of knowledge, professional and creative workers (.51) and negatively correlated with the share of blue-collar workers (-.65).

Fitness participation also tracks the nation’s red/blue divide, being positively associated with the share of Obama voters (.51) and negatively associated with Romney voters (-.53). Exercise also hews closely to America’s religious divide. People in more religious states exercise less (the correlation between religiosity and exercise is -.69).

Paleo Manifesto Author John Durant

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

“When I’m talking to a libertarian,” John Durant (The Paleo Manifesto) says, “and I make the point that the USDA food pyramid is not God’s truth, they’re like, ‘Oh, right, of course it isn’t.’”:

The talk isn’t really about libertarianism — or even about the paleo diet.

Men with big muscles cut cancer risk by 40 per cent

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Lifting weights cuts cancer risk in men — by 40 per cent!

A team of experts, led by scientists from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, tracked the lifestyles of 8,677 men aged between 20 and 82 for more than two decades.

Each volunteer had regular medical check ups that included tests of their muscular strength.

Between 1980 and 2003, researchers monitored how many developed cancer and subsequently died from it.

The results showed men who regularly worked out with weights and had the highest muscle strength were between 30 and 40 per cent less likely to lose their life to a deadly tumour.

Howard Schatz’s Athlete

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Howard Schatz’s Athlete could be considered an ode to human biodiversity:

A new book of photographs of 125 champion athletes. In such uniquely visionary books as Water Dance, Pool Light, Passion and Line, and Nude Body Nude, Howard Schatz has established himself as one of the great photographers of the human form.

Howard Schatz Athletes 070-000

Working primarily with dancers, Schatz has been particularly attracted to form shaped by function. Now, in Athlete, he reaches the zenith of his photographic paean to the human body, creating an astonishing record of the specialized forms both adapted to the wide spectrum of sport and shaped by fiercely focused effort.

Howard Schatz Athletes 070-001

His subjects, as varied and meticulously documented as Audubon’s birds, literally embody the astonishing array of physical perfection required for their particular sports. With a seamless blend of art and precision, Schatz shows us the awesome upper-body power of Olympic wrestling champions, discus throwers, and football players; the lissome graces of high jumpers and rhythmic gymnasts, the shock-absorbing legs of downhill skiers, the sculptural perfection of NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens and sprinter Shawn Crawford; the compact muscularity of gymnasts Tasha Schwikert and Sean Townsend; the Giacometti-like slenderness of marathoners Tegla Loroupe and American marathon champion Deena Drossin; as well as 125 other athletes at the top of their games.

Howard Schatz Athletes 070-002

In serene portraits and intricately dissected motion photographs, Schatz gives us an unprecedented celebration of the body as divine machine, and manages at the same time to present a collective view of the human spirit at its most intense.

Howard Schatz Athletes 070-003

Many of the athletes look surprisingly unathletic, because athleticism isn’t a single trait. Each athlete is a specialist in an esoteric physical task.

Stravacide

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Strava allows runners and cyclists to share, compare, and compete using their GPS data. This kind of gamification can be a powerful motivator — too powerful for some people:

“Downhills are the easiest way to get high up on Strava. You don’t need a lot of fitness, so you can leapfrog the process. Basically, it’s a game of chicken.”

Naturally, it’s Strava’s fault when riders kills themselves — or random pedestrians — while racing down busy “segments” defined by other users.

The Most Perfect Example of the Male Human Form

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Eugen Sandow was considered the most perfect example of the male human form and served as the model in Baillière’s Popular Atlas of the Anatomy and Physiology of the Male Human Body (London, 1908):

Eugen Sandow Anatomy Diagram

Hormesis

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

The concept of hormesis — that a low dose of poison or some other stressor is good for you — makes a wonderful excuse for many vices.

Having a little too much to drink or having a cigar is good for me, as long as I don’t overdo it.

Cold showers are also good for you, if not as much fun as other stresors:

As one form of hydrotherapy, the health benefits of cold water therapy are numerous. Cold showers provide a gentle form of stress that leads to thermogenesis (internal generation of body heat), turning on the body’s adaptive repair systems to strengthen immunity, enhance pain and stress tolerance, and ward off depression, overcome chronic fatigue syndrome, stop hair loss, and stimulate anti-tumor responses.

Some people advocate starting with a warm shower, and switching over to cool or cold water only at the end of the shower. This is fine, particularly if you are afraid that a pure cold shower would just be too uncomfortable or intolerable. But I prefer just jumping right in. When you start with cold water, you will experience the phenomenon of cold shock, an involuntary response characterized by a sudden rapid breathing and increased heart rate. This in itself is very beneficial. The extent of cold shock has been shown to decrease with habituation, and exposure to colder water (10C or 50F) appears to be more effective than just cool water (15 C or 59F) in promoting habituation. The habituation itself is what is most beneficial, both objectively and subjectively. There is an analogy here with high intensity resistance exercise and interval training, both of which elevate heart rate and lead to long term adaptations to stress, with improved cardiovascular capacity and athletic performance.

But cold showers provide a different and probably complementary type of habituation to that which results from exercise. A study of winter swimmers compared them with a control group in their physiological response to being immersed in cold water: Both groups responded to cold water by thermogenesis (internal production of body heat), but the winter swimmers did so by raising their core temperature and did not shiver until much later than the controls, whereas the control subjects responded by shivering to increase their peripheral temperatures. The winter swimmers also tolerated much larger temperature differences and conserved their energy better. Other studies confirm that the benefits of habituation show up only after several weeks of cold showering. For example, adaptation to cold leads to increased output of the beneficial “short term stress” hormones adrenaline and thyroxine, leading to mobilization of fatty acids, and substantial fat loss over a 1-2 week period.

So regular cold showers, like high intensity exercise, and intermittent fasting, appear to provide similar, but not identical hormetic benefits.

I’m in no hurry to try an ice bath.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)