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General Health & Fitness

  • Creatine use, safe or not?

    Many of my articles intended to debunk common myths surrounding the perceived effectiveness of certain supplements in the world of fitness. On the other hand, although sometimes the effects can be inconsistent, creatine generally works, there's no question about that and with the currently available scientific data to back this up, I am in no position to criticize its efficacy. However, the increase in strength and energy comes at a cost, kidney damage, liver problems, muscle camping, diarrhea, impaired thermoregulation and death just for starters. Or is it really?

    The well-publicized side effects of creatine are generally hypothesised theories based on how the supplement works inside the body under extreme doses. Creatine is an organic acid that is synthesized by the kidney, pancreas and liver to help to supply energy to the body by increasing the formation of ATP. Theoretically, creatine uptake in muscle can result in an increase in fluid retention hence may affect the body's fluid balance and ability to dissipate heat. On the other hand, the body needs to get rid of and compensate for the extra creatine consumed, which puts extra strain on the kidneys and liver. The association between creatine use and liver and kidney damage was thus made based on a few case reports and small changes in organ function indicators.

    The theorized side effects have their scientific merits. However, if used properly, hardly any of the proposed side effects of creatine have been confirmed in well-controlled, randomized studies conducted on healthy subjects. Of course, you should not use creatine if you have an underlining health condition, especially kidney or liver problems, and you should not overdose, which may result in unwanted side effects. But if you are perfectly healthy, not allergic to any of the contents in the supplement that you ingest, and follow the proper guideline of oral creatine supplementation, it is very safe.

    How much creatine should I use then? One should always strive to achieve the best results with the lowest dose possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical loading dose could be anywhere around 9-25 grams daily (depends on body weight) with good fluid intake for 4-7 days and a typical maintenance dose would be 2-20 grams daily for 5 days up to 12 weeks depends on body weight. This is just a general guideline and you should always tailor your regime based on your own circumstances. But remember, the effect of creatine can be inconsistent between different people and if you feel that the creatine you are taking does not give the expected result, it may not be the problem of dosage but the efficacy of the supplement itself.

    All in all creatine is safe supplement to use when taken properly.

  • Fish Oil Benefits

    Fish oil has become extremely popular in the fitness realm, mainly due to the long list of benefits that research has discovered. Some of these include fat loss, preventing insulin resistance.. the list can go on and on.

    In fact, after you read this research long enough, you begin to wonder why EVERYBODY doesn’t take in the recommended intake each day. The benefits are too good to ignore, and I want to share a few of them with you today.

    Fish Oil Fights Off Insulin Resistance

    Insulin is a very powerful hormone in our bodies that we try to manipulate for either fat loss or muscle gain. However, without a proper diet in place, insulin can quickly become your worst enemy.

    You see, insulin is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is the most powerful hormone for creating an anabolic state. On the other hand, however, it contributes to fat gain when too much insulin is being produced.

    When you are insulin resistant, you experience more of the negative side of insulin. What that means is that more fatty acids and glucose will be sent to fat cells in your body, which is something we all want to avoid.

    Enter fish oil.

    Studies have shown that fish oil can actually prevent insulin resistance, especially in high fat diets1. This is extremely important if you find that you are often feeling bloated, soft, or have noticeable fat gain when eating too much carbs or fats. Once you notice this, you can use fish oil to help prevent insulin resistance, and thus help yourself increase nutrition partitioning.

    Burn the Fat

    Since nobody wants to be fat, this is an obvious advantage. However, fish oil isn’t directly related to burning fat, unlike some supplements that are designed specifically for that reason. But, this is what makes fish oil so great, as it has numerous advantages without being specialized in one thing.

    Fish oil can help burn fat because fats are a source of energy for our body, so it is used for fuel. When this occurs, it increases your metabolism. Studies have shown this to be effective in a calorie-restricted diet2. Combined with its abilities against insulin as I mentioned above, it becomes an effective fat-burning tool to have at your disposal.

    Fish Oil Reduces Inflammation

    Fish oil is an anti-inflammatory that does a great job at helping with your joint health. Those who are avid fitness enthusiasts know how beneficial this is, because you are destroying muscle tissue with each exercise session.

    Now, this can sometimes cause serious issues such as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), which can set back your progress for weeks. Inflammation also slows down muscle growth by stopping protein synthesis, which means you are wasting sessions due to lack of recovery. With fish oil, this problem can be solved, and it can help keep you in an anabolic state. In fact, some studies have shown that it is more effective at reducing inflammation than flaxseed oil3.

    A Combination of Benefits

    When you look at just these 3 benefits, you start to see the other benefits fish oil has. For example, since it helps fight off insulin resistance, this helps to promote muscle growth. And since fish oil helps to protect your joints, this leads to improved recovery, as well as longevity.

    Fish oil contains a lot of small benefits that add up to build a very potent supplement that can keep you healthy. As an added bonus, it will also contribute to your brain health, and keep you in the game longer.

    1. Storlien, L. H., Kraegen, E. W., Chisholm, D. J., Ford, G. L., Bruce, D. G., & Pascoe, W. S. (n.d.). Fish oil prevents insulin resistance induced by high-fat feeding in rats. Science.
    2. Thorsdottir, I., Tomasson, H., Gunnarsdottir, I., Gisladottir, E., Kiely, M., Parra, M. D., . . . Martinéz, J. A. (n.d.). Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content. International Journal of Obesity.
    3. Duda, M. K., O'Shea, K. M., Tintinu, A., Xu, W., Khairallah, R. J., Barrows, B. R., . . . Stanley, W. C. (n.d.). Fish oil, but not flaxseed oil, decreases inflammation and prevents pressure overload-induced cardiac dysfunction. Cardiovascular Research.
  • Casein Protein Benefits

    Casein protein is another protein supplement that, while certainly not unpopular, isn’t talked about nearly as often as whey protein. Because of this, many people do not understand the benefits casein protein can have for them.

    Casein protein is a dairy protein, like whey protein. However, casein is well-known for its slow-digesting components, whereas whey protein has become the golden child due to its fast absorbing abilities. So why use casein protein if you already use whey protein?

    It’s a Great Tool to Use before Going to Bed

    When you are going to sleep, you are entering a state of fasting for around 8 hours, depending on how long you sleep. On top of that comes the factor of how soon you eat after you wake up, which could extend the fast.

    In order to prime your body for growth, you need to be feeding the body the nutrients it needs to create an anabolic state. Including casein into your diet before going to bed is an excellent way to keep your body supplied with high-quality protein, and it is also slow-digesting, which means it will fuel your muscles for a longer period of time.

    While this means that whey protein is clearly the better choice after resistance training, it also means that casein protein can be very effective at times when you are not going to be eating food again for a while. And if this is after exercise, don’t worry: studies show that casein protein is also effective at starting protein synthesis after exercise, just like whey protein1. While whey protein will reach your muscles quicker, casein can be used effectively if eating after exercise does not seem to be an option.

    For added benefit, be sure to include BCAA’s after exercise as well, which will help prevent muscle breakdown.

    Greater Fat Loss

    When trying to lose fat, it is important to also have a good balance between protein intake and calcium intake. This helps to preserve muscle mass while in a caloric deficit, not to mention all of the benefits calcium has on the body.

    Casein protein powder has good amounts of both calcium and protein, which makes it easier on you. By supplementing your caloric deficit with casein, you are helping to maintain a good balance between the two, helping to preserve quality muscle mass while burning the fat away.

    Great Combination with Whey Protein

    People are always searching for the fastest way possible to build muscle. After all, everyone wants to be strong and look strong, and we don’t want to waste our time doing unnecessary things.

    Well, one study that came out showed that combining whey and casein post-exercise can greatly enhance lean muscle mass gains2. This is due to the two having different benefits that actually blend very well together, since whey being fast acting, while casein protein takes longer.

    Conclusion

    As you can see, casein is actually a very versatile form of protein that can be included multiple ways into your current diet. By using it before bedtime, or post-workout with a whey protein, you are adding another layer of benefits onto your current nutrition regimen, and will help facilitate more muscle growth, and even fat loss.

    1. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (n.d.). Ingestion of Casein and Whey Proteins Result in Muscle Anabolism after Resistance Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
    2. Kerksick, C. M., Rasmussen, C. J., Lancaster, S. L., Magu, B., Smith, P., Melton, C., . . . Kreider, R. B. (n.d.). The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
  • Sedentary life style can be detrimental

    Having a sedentary life style doesn't just make you unfit or gain weight. A recent study by Schmid and Meitzmann and published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute meta-analysed data collected from 4 million individuals including 68,936 cancer cases concluded that there is an increased risks of chronic disease and mortality rate associated with sedentary behaviors such as watching TV.

     

    The study found that each 2-hour per day increase in sitting time outside your normal occupation is associated with an 8% increased risk in colon cancer, a 10% increased risk in endometrial cancer and 6% increased risk in lung cancer. The increased risks in these cancers appear to be independent of physical activity. This means spending a large amount of time sitting down could be detrimental to health even to those who do regular exercise. Sitting at work seems to be a lot healthier than watching TV, given that you don't over do it. A 2-hour per day increment in sitting at work has been found to increase the risk of obesity by 5%, whereas each 2-hour per day increase in TV time is associated with 23% increase in obesity risks.

     

    The mechanism of which sedentary behaviors cause cancer is unclear. However, the authors of the study speculated that unhealthy eating habits, vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sun exposure, weight gain from low energy expenditure and an increase in pro-inflammatory markers in blood due to prolonged sedentary life style maybe the main culprits. Colon cancer and endometrial cancer are obesity related cancers. Therefore, the increased risks of cancer caused by sedentary life style may work through similar pathways, even if you are not obese.

     

    People today spend on average 50 - 60% of their time in sedentary pursuits and we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. On top of that, it's forecasted by the US National Cancer Institute that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will bear the risk of developing some form of cancer by 2050 in the US, doubling the current rates. Doing regular exercise can reduce the risk of mortality and chronic diseases. The world health organization (WHO) recognizes this and recommends adults to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. What the WHO guideline doesn't address is the amount of time spent by people in sedentary pursuits, which will cause an increased risk in cancer independent of physical activity levels. It is therefore recommended that one should consciously limit the time spent watching TV and other screen-based entertainments. It is also recommended that children and adults should breakup their sitting-down periods, let it be at work or watching TV, traveling on a plane or during long distant driving with interspersing intervals of standing or short exercises. We as humans are not built to cope with sedentariness, start moving and life will prosper.

  • Probiotics

    People generally regard bacteria as harmful and equate them as germs. There are countless ads on TV for bacteria removal. We are taught from a young age to wash our hands after coming home from outside, after going to the bathroom, before touching food, before touching newborn babies…for the purpose of removing bacteria. Disaster flicks such as the 2001 film "Anthrax", as well as various news reports of incidents associated with "meningococcus (meat-eating bacteria)" or "superbugs" really made us flinch at the mere mention of the word "bacteria". Amidst all this negativity and fear towards bacteria, we need to understand that not all of them are bad. While only the bad guys made it onto the news, it is the good guys that keep us healthy and well.

    In fact, we cannot live a healthy life without the help of bacteria. There are, on average, 1.1-2.7kgs of bacteria inside of a human body (exact kgs may vary depends on the sources and human subjects). Yes! That's right! Each one of us has kilos of bacteria living inside of us, they live up your nose, in your hair and in your gut, they are pretty much everywhere. Now consider the small size of a single bacterium, a kilo of them means that there are really a lot of bugs. There can be up to 100 trillion bacteria living in your intestine alone, that's almost 10 times the number of human cells present in the entire human body. That's not all, it has been suggested that there are an average of 500 different species of bacteria living in the intestines. These bacteria are what we commonly call intestinal microflora or simply "the good bacteria", which can help us regulate the function and development of the digestive system, maintain proper immune function, reduce/eliminate the number of bad bacteria that we are scared of, and produce useful nutrients and substrates that the body needs. Intestinal microflora are so important to us, they are part of us, so much so, they have been dubbed as the "forgotten organ" of the human body (O'Hara and Shanahan 2006). In this article, we will explore some facts about the good bacteria in our gut, their significance, and what can we do to make sure that they do their jobs properly.

    Intestinal Microflora

    How did the bacteria get in there and what can influence their composition?

    The gastrointestinal track of a normal fetus is thought to be sterile. Infants acquire the bacteria from their mother and the surrounding environments during and shortly after birth. It would take up to one month for the intestinal microflora to be well established in an infant after natural birth and up to 6 months if the infant was born by caesarean delivery (Gronlund et al. 1999, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition). The composition of the intestinal microflora can be influenced by the diet and living environment of a person.

    The use of antibiotics is the biggest culprit for disrupting the natural balance of intestinal microflora. A course antibiotics will not only kill off the bad bacteria that gave you the diseases, it will also destroy good bacteria along with it. Some diseases can also disrupt the balance of the microflora. The use of probiotics can attenuate the imbalance and potentially return the intestinal microflora to normal levels.

    What are probiotics and what are their benefits?

    Probiotics are defined as non-pathogenic living microorganisms that contribute to the intestinal microbial balance when consumed in adequate amounts (Modified from Parker 1974). The most common natural probiotics are fermented foods such as yogurt, cheese and sauerkraut. In comparison, probiotic supplements are more concentrated and defined, but have a less variety of microorganisms compared to natural foods. Even though there are hundreds of species of beneficial microorganisms naturally living in the gut, years of research have helped to identify the most potent ones of the lot. Hence most probiotic supplements today contain a large number of the few bacterial species and strains. These bacteria have a high survival rate to ensure that there will be enough of them that can pass through the acidic environment of the stomach to reach the intestines after ingestion and stay alive. The most commonly used bacterial species in probiotic supplements are various strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

    What are the positive effects of probiotics?

    The positive effects of probiotics have been widely researched over the years in both animals and humans. The use of probiotics in humans is thought to have the following benefits (Toole and Cooney 2008, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases):

    • Improve immune function by enhance T-cell (a type of immune cell of the adaptive immune system) numbers and activation levels.
    • Reduce inflammation by promoting the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
    • Reduce symptoms caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
    • Reduce number of pathogens in the gut by directly inhibiting their growth.
    • Reduce the risk of certain cancers by detoxifying carcinogenic (cancer causing) metabolites.
    • Enhance the value of nutrients by producing vitamins and co-factors.
    • Improve the function of gut barrier by promoting its integrity.
    • Reduce allergy and food intolerance symptoms by suppression of hypersensitivity and catabolize dietary ingredients.
    • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by de-conjugate bile salts to reduce cholesterol levels and produce anti-hypertensive peptides.

    Effects of probiotics on metabolic disorders, diabetes and obesity

    Recent studies have linked intestinal microflora imbalance to metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes and obesity. It has been found that obese animal and human subjects have altered intestinal microflora composition in comparison to their lean counterparts (Sanz et, al. 2010, The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society). It is thought that intestinal microflora can provide additional metabolic functions and regulate the host's gene expression to improve the body's ability to extract and store energy from diet, and thus influence body weight. The supplementation of probiotics and its effect on body weight composition has been investigated. The supplementation of bifidobacterial in rats yielded reduced body weight and fat accumulation as well as their lipid profile and glucose-insulin homeostasis compared to the control rats. On the other hand, the studies conducted using human subjects are inconclusive and yielded mixed results (Shen et al. 2012, Molecular Aspects of Medicine). The duration of the studies were too short to determine the effect on body weight, and the parameters of many studies were usually not well defined (Sanz et, al. 2012, Pharmacological Research). Thus, better designed studies and further in-depth analysis are required to determine the effects of various strains of microbes on obesity and other metabolic disorders.

    Probiotics and sports

    Heavy and prolonged exercise, such as marathon running can increase the risk of upper respiratory track infections, and strenuous exercise can cause gastrointestinal symptoms (Kekkonen et al. 2007, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). The administration of probiotics (lactobacillus) has been found to reduce the length of time an athlete experience respiratory symptoms (Cox et al. 2010, British Journal of Sports Medicine) and shorten the duration of gastrointestinal symptoms (Kekkonen et al. 2007, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism) post exercise. However, the supplementation of probiotics did not seem to improve the performance of the athletes in the above studies.

    Risks of taking probiotics

    There are always two sides of every story and the use of probiotics is no exception. The following points need to be considered before choosing and taking probiotics to ensure maximum benefits with minimum side effects.

    • Probiotics are living microorganisms thus may cause infections in immunocompromised people.
    • Probiotic supplements may cause allergic or food intolerance reactions. These reactions may be caused by the ingredients contained in the probiotics to keep the microorganisms alive. Therefore, it is important to choose the right product that does not contain undesirable ingredients (ie. Choose dairy free probiotics if you are allergic to dairy products).
    • Even though it is rare, but probiotics can sometimes interact with other drugs such as sulfasalazine.
    • Taking probiotics can sometimes cause digestive discomfort, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation and flatulence. The discomfort usually goes away within a week after continued ingestion. However, sometimes the discomfort may be caused by a particular type of probiotics and when such incident occurs, changing to a different brand of probiotics may eliminate the problems.

    Final words

    Maintaining a properly balanced intestinal microflora is essential for living a healthy, feel-good life. Of course, not disturbing the balance of the microflora in the first place would be ideal. However, such feat is difficult to achieve for most people, for instance, most of us have taken antibiotics at some point in our lives. Taking appropriate probiotics supplements can provide the means of replenish the beneficial microflora population in the gastrointestinal track and hence to help the body to regain its balance that was once disrupted.

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