Category Archives: Health

Healthy Benefit Of Walnuts

“Walnuts have been called a ‘superfood’ because they are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid and fiber, and they contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants,” notes Dr. Byerley. “Now, an additional superfood benefit of walnuts may be their beneficial changes to the gut microbiota.”

Working in a rodent model, the research team added walnuts to the diet of one group. The diet of the other group contained no walnuts. They then measured the types and numbers of gut bacteria in the descending colon and compared the results. They found that there were two distinct communities of bacteria in the groups. In the walnut-eating group, the numbers and types of bacteria changed, as did the bacteria’s functional capacity. The researchers reported a significant increase in beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus.

“We found that walnuts in the diet increased the diversity of bacteria in the gut, and other non-related studies have associated less bacterial diversity with obesity and other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease,” says Byerley. “Walnuts increased several bacteria, like Lactobacillus, typically associated with probiotics suggesting walnuts may act as a prebiotic.”

Prebiotics are dietary substances that selectively promote the numbers and activity of beneficial bacteria.

“Gut health is an emerging research area, and researchers are finding that greater bacterial diversity may be associated with better health outcomes,” adds Byerley.

The researchers conclude that the reshaping of the gut microbe community by adding walnuts to the diet suggests a new physiological mechanism to improve health. Eating walnuts has been associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk, slower tumor growth in animals and improved brain health.

The LSU Health New Orleans research team also included Drs. Derrick Samuelson, Eugene Blanchard, IV, Meng Luo, Sheila Banks, David Welsh, Brittany Lorenzen and Christopher Taylor, as well as Dr. Monica Ponder at Virginia Tech.

Know The Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease but only if you are rich or highly educated. This is the surprising finding by researchers from the Italian I.R.C.C.S. Neuromed, who performed a study on over 18,000 subjects recruited within the Moli-sani study and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Cardiovascular advantages associated with the Mediterranean diet are well-known but now the Italian study, conducted by a team of researchers at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention led by Giovanni de Gaetano, reveals that such benefits are strongly influenced by the socioeconomic position of people. Basically, given a comparable adherence to this eating pattern, the study has shown that the reduction in cardiovascular risk is observed only in people with higher educational level and/or greater household income. No actual benefits were observed for the less advantaged groups.

“The cardiovascular benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet in a general population are well known — says Marialaura Bonaccio, researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention and first author of the study — Yet for the first time our study has revealed that the socioeconomic position is able to modulate the health advantages linked to Mediterranean diet. In other words, a person from low socioeconomic status who struggles to follow a Mediterranean model, is unlikely to get the same advantages of a person with higher income, despite the fact that they both similarly adhere to the same healthy diet.”

Neuromed researchers went further and tried to unravel the possible mechanisms underlying such disparities.

“Given a comparable adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the most advantaged groups were more likely to report a larger number of indices of high quality diet as opposed to people with low socioeconomic status — explains Licia Iacoviello, head of the Laboratory of nutritional and molecular Epidemiology at the Department — For example, within those reporting an optimal adherence to the Mediterranean diet (as measured by a score comprising fruits and nuts, vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fats, meat, dairy products and alcohol intake) people with high income or higher educational level consumed products richer in antioxidants and polyphenols, and had a greater diversity in fruit and vegetables choice. We have also found a socioeconomic gradient in the consumption of whole-grain products and in the preferred cooking methods. These substantial differences in consuming products belonging to Mediterranean diet lead us to think that quality of foods may be as important for health as quantity and frequency of intake.”

“Our results should promote a serious consideration of socioeconomic scenario of health — comments Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Department — Socioeconomic disparities in health are growing also in access to healthy diets. During the very last years, we documented a rapid shifting from the Mediterranean diet in the whole population, but it might also be that the weakest citizens tend to buy ‘Mediterranean’ food with lower nutritional value. We cannot be keeping on say that the Mediterranean diet is good for health — de Gaetano concludes — if we are not able to guarantee an equal access to it.”

Know The Link Between Inflammation And Mental Illness

Up to 75 percent of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus — an incurable autoimmune disease commonly known as lupus — experience neuropsychiatric symptoms. But so far, our understanding of the mechanisms underlying lupus’ effects on the brain has remained murky. Now, new research from Boston Children’s Hospital has shed light on the mystery and points to a potential new drug for protecting the brain from the neuropsychiatric effects of lupus and other central nervous system (CNS) diseases. The team has published its surprising findings in Nature.

“In general, lupus patients commonly have a broad range of neuropsychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression, headaches, seizures, even psychosis,” says Allison Bialas, PhD, first author on the study and a research fellow working in the lab of Michael Carroll, PhD, senior author on the study, who are part of the Boston Children’s Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But their cause has not been clear — for a long time it wasn’t even appreciated that these were symptoms of the disease.

Collectively, lupus’ neuropsychiatric symptoms are known as central nervous system (CNS) lupus. Carroll’s team wondered if changes in the immune system in lupus patients were directly causing these symptoms from a pathological standpoint.

“How does chronic inflammation affect the brain?”

Lupus, which affects at least 1.5 million Americans, causes the immune systems to attack the body’s tissues and organs. This causes the body’s white blood cells to release type 1 interferon-alpha, a small cytokine protein that acts as a systemic alarm, triggering a cascade of additional immune activity as it binds with receptors in different tissues.

Until now, however, these circulating cytokines were not thought to be able to cross the blood brain barrier, the highly-selective membrane that controls the transfer of materials between circulating blood and the central nervous system (CNS) fluids.

“There had not been any indication that type 1 interferon could get into the brain and set off immune responses there,” says Carroll, who is also professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

So, working with a mouse model of lupus, it was quite unexpected when Carroll’s team discovered that enough interferon-alpha did indeed appear to permeate the blood brain barrier to cause changes in the brain. Once across the barrier, it launched microglia — the immune defense cells of the CNS — into attack mode on the brain’s neuronal synapses. This caused synapses to be lost in the frontal cortex.

“We’ve found a mechanism that directly links inflammation to mental illness,” says Carroll. “This discovery has huge implications for a range of central nervous system diseases.”

Blocking inflammation’s effects on the brain

The team decided to see if they could reduce synapse loss by administering a drug that blocks interferon-alpha’s receptor, called an anti-IFNAR.

Remarkably, they found that anti-IFNAR did seem to have neuro-protective effects in mice with lupus, preventing synapse loss when compared with mice who were not given the drug. What’s more, they noticed that mice treated with anti-IFNAR had a reduction in behavioral signs associated with mental illnesses such as anxiety and cognitive defects.

Although further study is needed to determine exactly how interferon-alpha is crossing the blood brain barrier, the team’s findings establish a basis for future clinical trials to investigate the effects of anti-IFNAR drugs on CNS lupus and other CNS diseases. One such anti-IFNAR, anifrolumab, is currently being evaluated in a phase 3 human clinical trial for treating other aspects of lupus.

“We’ve seen microglia dysfunction in other diseases like schizophrenia, and so now this allows us to connect lupus to other CNS diseases,” says Bialas. “CNS lupus is not just an undefined cluster of neuropsychiatric symptoms, it’s a real disease of the brain — and it’s something that we can potentially treat.”

The implications go beyond lupus because inflammation underpins so many diseases and conditions, ranging from Alzheimer’s to viral infection to chronic stress.

“Are we all losing synapses, to some varying degree?” Carroll suggests. His team plans to find out.

Information About Fragmentation That Explain Aphasia Recovery

While it is common for people who have had a stroke to experience language disturbances (aphasia), approximately 60 to 70 percent of survivors recover their ability to produce language within six months. The other 30 to 40 percent of stroke patients, however, suffer permanent aphasia.

Differences between patients in the degree to which language is eventually recovered are not well understood. Currently, the only prognostic estimate that clinicians can provide is an educated guess based largely on the size and location of the stroke lesion, which can be frustratingly inaccurate. Some researchers think variations in aphasia recovery may be caused by an undetected fragmentation or disorganization of brain networks that disrupts the transfer of information in areas that may be far from the lesion itself.

To investigate this theory, MUSC researchers, under the guidance of Leonardo Bonilha, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology, worked in close collaboration with a team led by Julius Fridriksson, Ph.D., professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, to map entire brain networks and assess post-event connectivity in 90 people who had suffered a left hemisphere stroke.

Barbara Marebwa, a Ph.D. candidate in MUSC’s Department of Neurology, and lead author, explains, “Not a lot is known about the underlying mechanisms behind differences in language recovery. We think disruption of the network structure might be responsible. So, we wanted to look at how the entire brain was connected after the stroke. Instead of focusing on the damaged region, we looked at areas they still had to work with, and mapped those networks to see associations with their aphasia severity.”

Study participants underwent language testing to establish a global aphasia severity score, followed by magnetic resonance image (MRI) scanning. By dividing the brain into 189 regions and mapping each participant’s stroke lesion, the investigators could identify and focus on white- and grey-matter areas outside of the directly affected region. A connectivity map (or connectome) was created for each patient reflecting existing neural networks within and between these brain areas.

The team then partitioned these connectivity maps into modules and calculated a ‘modularity metric’ for each participant. “This metric helps you see how well different brain regions are connected both within themselves and to other areas. The different brain areas are like people at a party — they sit and talk together in cliques based on some connection or shared similarity. Modularity shows us how tight those cliques are. Areas that are tightly connected within themselves but not to others have high modularity,” says Marebwa.

Bonilha adds, “The way the brain is connected is not random or haphazard — there’s a balance between how much regions need to be integrated or connected and how much they need to be separated. Modularity reflects that community structure. Isolated areas no longer work with the rest of the team. So, modularity is one number that tells you how well various brain areas are able to communicate or share information.”

Language is a highly complex function. To produce speech, distant brain areas must be able to accurately share information and translate it into sounds. The study, funded by the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders and the American Heart Association, assessed the overall brain network and summarized overall brain health based on connectivity, which provided important information about why and to what degree language abilities can recover.

Modularity was significantly correlated with patients’ aphasia scores, so that the higher the left hemisphere modularity, the more severe the aphasia (r= -0.42; p<0.00001). In addition, patients with highly fragmented left hemisphere community structure had more severe aphasia (r= -0.43; p<0.0001) — a correlation that held after controlling for white matter damage (r=-0.22; p=0.0175). Thus, patients with comparable white matter damage, lesion size, and location but different fragmentation patterns had very different language abilities. For example, one patient with a lesion volume of 76.1 cm3, mean white matter damage of 0.099, and 4 left hemisphere modules had an aphasia score of 88.1. Meanwhile, another patient with similar lesion volume (99.24 cm3) and mean white matter damage (0.096), but more left hemisphere modules (9), had an aphasia score of 58.2. The second patient, then, had a more fragmented left hemisphere and more severe aphasia (lower aphasia scores indicate more severe aphasia).

Says Marebwa, “It was surprising that even when we controlled for lesion location and size, it was still significant. Modularity was a better predictor of aphasia severity than some of the other estimates that rely on the size and location of the stroke — plus it gives us a lot of new information. Modularity helps us explain why some patients do better than others with their aphasia recovery. We hope that one day we’ll be able to use it to predict recovery and steer therapies, but we’re not quite there yet.”

A novel aspect of this study was the complex mathematical algorithms that the team used to calculate modularity. Bonilha explains, “Barbara comes to neurology research from a technical imaging background and so she has a unique ability to combine complex network mathematical models with clinical imaging studies to help us better understand brain networks. This is a new approach — there’s currently no measure of ‘brain health’. We talk about small vessel changes but we don’t know how much those affect the network and the brain’s ability to function. It’s a new frontier to have a computational method to calculate how well the brain is functioning by looking at network connectivity and to have a single number indicating that. This may be a useful new metric of brain health, which can help us understand recovery from neurological injury, or identify problems in healthy individuals long before clinical symptoms appear.”

Eventually, modularity as a measure of brain organization and function, may be put to use in other conditions, such as dementia. The team is already working on studies in people without stroke but who have other chronic conditions that are known to impact brain health. “We’re expanding the application of our imaging calculations to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes, to try to see how these conditions may contribute to disrupting brain networks. How that may affect patients’ resilience or recovery,” says Marebwa.

Should You Know If Brain Cells Found to Control Aging

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that stem cells in the brain’s hypothalamus govern how fast aging occurs in the body. The finding, made in mice, could lead to new strategies for warding off age-related diseases and extending lifespan. The paper was published online today in Nature.

The hypothalamus was known to regulate important processes including growth, development, reproduction and metabolism. In a 2013 Nature paper, Einstein researchers made the surprising finding that the hypothalamus also regulates aging throughout the body. Now, the scientists have pinpointed the cells in the hypothalamus that control aging: a tiny population of adult neural stem cells, which were known to be responsible for forming new brain neurons.

“Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal, and this decline accelerates aging,” says senior author Dongsheng Cai, M.D., Ph.D., (professor of molecular pharmacology at Einstein. “But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it’s possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of aging throughout the body.”

In studying whether stem cells in the hypothalamus held the key to aging, the researchers first looked at the fate of those cells as healthy mice got older. The number of hypothalamic stem cells began to diminish when the animals reached about 10 months, which is several months before the usual signs of aging start appearing. “By old age — about two years of age in mice — most of those cells were gone,” says Dr. Cai.

The researchers next wanted to learn whether this progressive loss of stem cells was actually causing aging and was not just associated with it. So they observed what happened when they selectively disrupted the hypothalamic stem cells in middle-aged mice. “This disruption greatly accelerated aging compared with control mice, and those animals with disrupted stem cells died earlier than normal,” says Dr. Cai.

Could adding stem cells to the hypothalamus counteract aging? To answer that question, the researchers injected hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of middle-aged mice whose stem cells had been destroyed as well as into the brains of normal old mice. In both groups of animals, the treatment slowed or reversed various measures of aging.

Dr. Cai and his colleagues found that the hypothalamic stem cells appear to exert their anti-aging effects by releasing molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs). They are not involved in protein synthesis but instead play key roles in regulating gene expression. miRNAs are packaged inside tiny particles called exosomes, which hypothalamic stem cells release into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice.

The researchers extracted miRNA-containing exosomes from hypothalamic stem cells and injected them into the cerebrospinal fluid of two groups of mice: middle-aged mice whose hypothalamic stem cells had been destroyed and normal middle-aged mice. This treatment significantly slowed aging in both groups of animals as measured by tissue analysis and behavioral testing that involved assessing changes in the animals’ muscle endurance, coordination, social behavior and cognitive ability.

The researchers are now trying to identify the particular populations of microRNAs and perhaps other factors secreted by these stem cells that are responsible for these anti-aging effects — a first step toward possibly slowing the aging process and treating age-related diseases.

Build Your Optimal Intra-Workout Supplement

Your body works hard during training. An intra-workout supplement that contains a high concentration of amino acids maximizes those efforts and accelerates your progress.

How? Intra-workout supplementation takes effect at the exact time your body needs it. During exercise, blood flow to your muscles and nutrient absorption are at an all-time high.

When consumed as an intra-workout supplement, amino acids promote muscle building and fights muscle breakdown. This means you’ll see improvements in both performance and recovery.

But creating the best intra-workout supplement is a matter of individual goals, preferences, and priorities.

Here, we’re breaking down the different types of amino acids, their sources, and dosage guidelines, so you have all the information you need to build your optimal intra-workout supplementation plan.

WHICH AMINO ACIDS SHOULD I TAKE INTRA-WORKOUT?

Even as healthy adults, our bodies cannot make the nine classified essential amino acids (EAAs) so we need to rely on our diets to get them. Included within these nine EAAs is the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, valine, and isoleucine.

If you’ve done any reading on the topic, you’ll find plenty of conflicting information about whether you should take just the BCAAs or the full spectrum of all nine EAAs.

Related: Why Intra-Workout Supplementation Works

BCAA advocators believe that athletes already consume plenty of protein, whether it’s from food or supplements, so additional EAAs are not necessary. They support only taking the BCAAs, particularly leucine, during workouts.

But EAA advocators question this stance, wondering why BCAA advocators recommend taking the other two BCAAs (valine and isoleucine) at all if leucine is the key amino acid responsible for stimulating protein synthesis (muscle building). Using leucine alone yields the same stimulus results as taking all three BCAAs, so a middle-ground stance of taking just the three BCAAs doesn’t make sense.

Here are the facts: Research has found that taking all nine EAAs may allow for a longer stimulus on protein synthesis than just taking the BCAAs alone. To gain the largest and longest protein synthesis, include all nine EAAs in your supplement. Based on scientific research, this approach will maximize the benefits of your intra-workout supplementation.

One exception to note: Emerging research shows that under extreme training conditions, our bodies may need nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) in order to sustain elevated levels of muscle protein synthesis.

Previous research has found that those who took whey protein, which contains both EAAs and NEAAs, experienced an elevated rate of muscle protein synthesis for three to five hours post-exercise, while those who just took the EAAs kept muscle protein synthesis elevated for only one to three hours.7

Given these findings, there is a strong, growing case that taking EAAs and NEAAs together from whey is superior to taking just the EAAs, and certainly superior to taking just the BCAAs.

WHICH SOURCES OF AMINO ACIDS PROVIDE THE MOST BENEFITS?

To optimize the effects of your intra-workout supplement without upsetting your digestive tract, focus on hydrolyzed protein and free-form amino acids. As a distant third, consider your general protein powders.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of these different sources:

HYDROLYZED PROTEINS

Whey is currently the best source of protein that has been hydrolyzed (enzymatically broken down) into rapidly absorbing di- and tripeptides.

Peptides are chains of two or more amino acids. Your body can absorb the shortest peptides rapidly and without any digestion needed. Any peptide longer than tripeptide requires digestion to break it down to either a dipeptide, tripeptide, or a single amino acid, before it can be absorbed into the blood.

It pays to check labels. If it states the percentage of di- and tripeptides, aim for a significant amount in the 30 to 50 percent range or more.

Pros:

  • Our bodies’ small intestines are naturally designed to absorb di- and tripeptides intact, so no digestion is required. Absorption is quick and easy without stomach or gastrointestinal (GI) tract discomfort.
  • Hydrolyzed protein contains both EAAs and NEAAs.
  • When mixed with water, it has a very thin, easy-to-drink consistency.
  • Di- and tripeptides may actually enhance free-form amino acid transporters, further increasing the rate of absorption and creating a higher spike of amino acids in the blood during your workout.

Cons:

  • Very few protein hydrolysates in the market contain any significant amount of di- and tripeptides—and the few that do are usually very expensive.
  • Di- and tripeptides can taste bitter, so it’s a challenge to flavor products so that they taste appealing.

FREE-FORM AMINO ACIDS

You’ll know that a product contains single free-form amino acids if its label lists amino acids but doesn’t note a protein source, such as whey, egg, or plant.

Related: Peri-Workout Supplements – Complete Pre, Intra & Post-Workout Guide

Pros:

  • Our bodies’ small intestines house a specific transporter to absorb single free-form amino acids, leading to rapid absorption into the blood without GI distress.
  • Ingesting free-form amino acids causes an almost immediate spike in amino acids that can last up to 90 minutes.
  • Due to their rapid absorption and subsequent spike in the blood, free-form amino acids produce a rapid spike in protein synthesis stimulus (muscle building).
  • They can be mixed into water and maintain a very thin consistency, making them easy to drink during an intense workout.

Cons:

  • Free-form amino acids do not contain the NEAAs.
  • These can be more expensive than intact proteins, such as whey, egg or soy.
  • Free-form amino acids are more difficult to flavor than intact proteins.

INTACT PROTEIN SOURCES

Intact protein sources include regular whey protein concentrate, isolate, milk, egg, casein, soy, and other plant-based proteins. Intact means the proteins are in long chains of amino acids called polypeptides, which must be broken down into shorter di- and tripeptides and free-form amino acids before our bodies can absorb them from the small intestine into the blood.

Pros:

  • Intact protein sources contain all of the EAAs and NEAAs.
  • They are inexpensive compared to hydrolyzed proteins and free-form amino acids.
  • They’re easy to flavor and usually taste good.
  • Whey protein in particular has the highest amount of EAAs, along with the lowest amount of NEAAs. More specifically, it has the highest naturally occurring amounts of the beneficial amino acid leucine (typically 10 percent).

Cons:

  • Intact protein sources require digestion prior to absorption.
  • More time is required before amino acids start appearing in the blood in significant concentrations.
  • The required digestion and slower release of amino acids into your blood may limit the acute protein synthesis (muscle building) response.
  • They mix into water with a thicker consistency than free-form amino acids or di- and tripeptides, making them impractical to drink during your workout.

WHAT IS THE OPTIMAL DOSE OF ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS?

For the maximum protein synthesis stimulus, anti-catabolic, and recovery benefits, utilize the dosage ranges outlined below for your intra-workout supplementation. Be sure to take into account the source you choose and the amount of essential amino acids it naturally contains. You can use single sources or combine multiple sources to reach these numbers.

  1. 6-15 grams of essential amino acids
  2. 3-5 grams of the amino acid leucine, the most important stimulating protein synthesis amino acid

Related: Should I Take High Molecular Weight Carbs During My Workout?

Example (lower end of the dosing spectrum, combined sources):

  • Free-form amino acids: 5 g, with 2.5 g coming from leucine
  • Whey protein: 5 g, providing 2.0-2.5 g of EAAs and 0.5-0.7 g coming from leucine
  • Total EAAs provided: 7 g, with 3 g of leucine making up the majority

Example (upper end of the dosing spectrum, combined sources):

  • Free-form amino acids: 10 g, with 5 g coming from leucine
  • Whey protein: 10 g, providing 4.5-4.9 g of EAAs and 1.0-1.4 g coming from leucine.
  • Total EAAs provided: 14-15 g, with 6 g of leucine making up the majority

If you use single sources of protein without the addition of free-form amino acids to reach the optimal amounts of EAAs and leucine, follow these guidelines:

WHEY PROTEIN

  • 25-30 g needed
  • 44-49% EAAs
  • 10% leucine

RICE PROTEIN POWDER

  • 44 g needed
  • 35-37% EAAs
  • 8% leucine

SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE

  • 44 g needed
  • 35-37% EAAs
  • 8% leucine

EGG PROTEIN

  • 40 g needed
  • 42% EAAs
  • 8% leucine

MILK PROTEIN ISOLATE

  • 30-35g needed
  • 42% EAAs
  • 10% leucine

You’re willing to work hard to achieve your training goals and you know the best things in life take time, effort, and commitment. To maximize your progress and performance, rely on scientifically sound strategies like optimal intra-workout supplementation. Building a nutrition plan that aligns with your priorities and preferences means you’ll gain the edge you need to succeed.

Information About Caffeine That You Actually Still Believe

Coffee is the nectar of the gods.

Partially because the aroma of it is the planets best aphrodisiac and it tastes like a million angles are dancing on sunshine, but most importantly it contains caffeine.

Ok, this is probably a bit of hyperbole but coffee is one of the most popular beverages consumed in the world.

In fact, the average American drinks 3.1 cups of coffee per day and we spend approximately $40 billion on coffee each year1. That number is mind-boggling.

Caffeine has garnered a lot of attention in both the fitness world and in the research world due to a lot of the performance and health properties it can convey. Sadly, as with most health claims, many of the things you hear are like unicorns, they aren’t real.

Now since caffeine is one of the most consumed “drugs” on the planet I think we ought to set the record straight and clear up a few of the myths surrounding caffeine.

1. CAFFEINE DEHYDRATES YOU

People think that because coffee makes you pee it dehydrates you. I never really understood that logic, it is missing a lot of steps and doesn’t really make any sense when you think about it. For example, drinking water makes you pee but drinking water is how you hydrate.

The body’s fluid balance system is a lot more complicated than that. Honestly, sometimes journalists’ logic baffles me at times. This is where science is important. We can actually ask and answer the question of, “Does caffeine dehydrate you”?

Fortunately for us, several studies have looked at whether caffeine consumption actually dehydrates you. For example, one studied looked at a dose response of caffeine and diuresis (making more urine) and found that daily intakes of caffeine at 3 and 6 mg per kg per day over a span of 11 days does not have a real effect on fluid balance and hydrations status2.

Now that is great and all when considering the study was conducted with pure caffeine, but what about caffeinated beverages and all the other things that go with them? I am glad you asked. Here is a study that showed that black tea also doesn’t do squat as a diuretic and hydrates you just as well as water3.

2. CAFFEINE IS A GOOD FAT BURNER

Caffeine is marketed as a fat burner pretty heavily. The thing about it is that it can be a fat burner. . . but it likely doesn’t work the way you think it does.

The old version of caffeine being a fat burner goes something like this: caffeine causes fat cells to release fatty acids which is then burned for energy. This is kind of true but not really. The data is a little more complex than that.

When you really get down to the nitty gritty, it looks like caffeine increases lipid mobilization by a significant amount but most of that fat isn’t actually burned, about 75% of it is actually recycled, meaning it’s “released” from fat cells and then stored again without being used4.

Related: Coconut Coffee Cardio – Early Morning Strategy to Get Shredded

So caffeine probably won’t directly increase fat loss but it may increase your training capacity, making increased fat-loss a byproduct.

In addition to the fact that most of the “mobilized” fat is simply recycled, caffeine loses its efficacy over time. Much like alcohol or drugs, your body habituates to caffeine and eventually it loses its ability to be stimulated by caffeine. At some point it becomes a “return to normal function” supplement.

If you take a second to think about this you realize how true it is. Think about the first time you had a cup of coffee in the morning and how alert and ready to go you felt. Now fast forward 15 years and think about how you feel like one of those zombies in The Walking Dead until that first cup of coffee kicks in and you feel a little more human.

If you abuse coffee/caffeine as much as I do it might take the whole pot to get you back to normal. . . I should probably take a caffeine break sometime soon.

3. CAFFEINE IS GOOD FOR PERFORMANCE

People often tout caffeine as the ultimate performance enhancer. This is true to some extent. It is the most effective, legal, ergogenic aid we have on the market, For example, people who are not habituated to caffeine can see increases in strength and power from pre-exercise caffeine supplementation.

Sadly, there is a very large “habituation” effect and caffeine loses its efficacy overtime. In fact, if you want to really maximize your caffeine you should cycle on and off it regularly. This is part of the reason you only get that “first time I took pre-workout feeling” once in your lifetime.

The other reason caffeine may not help your performance is the type of exercise you engage in. Caffeine is a known stimulate than can increase heart rate. In certain cases an elevated heart rate is actually a good way to ruin your performance.

In “metcon” style workouts where your goal is to sustain a relatively high workload for an extended period of time a higher resting rate will actually decrease your time to fatigue, which is the opposite effect of what you want.

Know More about Nitric Oxide Supplements

Until you have achieved “the pump” you haven’t fully lived.

If you have never walked out of the gym with your biceps feeling like they are going to explode, your whole life has been a lie.

I’m only half kidding here. Well, actually I am not kidding at all; the pump is the best.

In fact, there is a whole class of supplements that were originally designed to help you achieve the pump, known today as nitric oxide boosters.

More recently, nitric oxide boosters have been utilized in wider applications as they are meant to increase blood flow.

Increased blood flow can improve nutrient delivery to muscle tissue, allowing you to train longer, harder, recover better, and makes achieving the elusive pump easier.

While most nitric oxide boosting supplements contain a plethora of ingredients, there are really only a few things you need to know about to really understand NO boosters.

WHAT IS NITRIC OXIDE?

So before we go any further we should probably fill you in on what the heck nitric oxide is and why the heck you would want to boost it.

Nitric oxide causes vasodilation. This effectively increases blood flow which can increase nutrient and oxygen delivery to the muscles. Essentially, vasodilation gives your muscles more go juice.

Related: Are BCAAs an Essential Part of Your Supplementation Plan?

L-ARGININE

The Quick and Dirty: Arginine is an amino acid that is turned into nitric oxide in the body. In theory arginine should improve blood flow and thus improve performance and enhance your training.

Currently, the results are mixed and we don’t have a slam dunk case for it. This supplement may be a case of “responders vs non-responders” and some self-experimentation may prove that it is an effective supplement for you.

The Deeper Dive: The real science from studies done on L-arginine studies indicate that it does get taken up into the body and that nitric oxide boosting supplements with L-arginine do effectively increase arginine levels.

However, the increase of arginine levels in the blood doesn’t always translate into efficacy for blood flow or improvement in work capacity. One study has shown that arginine supplementation increases levels of arginine in the blood but does not increase levels of nitric oxide or muscular blood flow, nor does it enhance muscle protein synthesis.1

Yet, another shows that it increases blood volume but not strength performance.2

Even longer term supplementation of arginine appears to be largely ineffective. 7 days of supplementing with 12d/day of an arginine-alpha-ketoglutarate supplement showed that it did indeed increase plasma levels of L-arginine but had zero effect on hemodynamics or blood flow.3  More studies have shown no meaningful or significant increase in training capacity.

Currently, the evidence suggests that L-arginine may increase circulatory blood flow, but does not consistently or meaningfully increase training performance. No it isn’t all doom and gloom as when you look deeper into the research it appears that there are definitely “responders” and “non-responders” (I looked at a lot of papers and made assumptions based on means and standard deviations).

Perhaps it is time to enter a brand new era of NO boosting and find something that is more effective.

ENTER NITRATE

The Quick and Dirty: L-arginine is only one way to increase nitric oxide in your blood and increase blood and oxygen deliver. There appears to be a different molecule that is more effective than L-arginine at boosting NO and at improving training.

Recent evidence has shown that inorganic nitrate (NO3-) from dietary sources can also increase NO production.4 Most supplemental nitrate comes from beet root juice or nitrate salts.

The Deeper Dive: Dietary NO3- is broken down into a bioactive form nitrite (NO2-) which causes a rise in plasma NO2-.5 Plasma NO2- is then further reduced in the blood and tissues into bioactive NO. Let’s stop and take a look and compare this to L-arginine.

Now that we have an idea of how it works, we can dive into what the research says about how effective it is in improving performance.

When I set out to write this article I knew I was going to need a bit of backup so I contacted a colleague of mine, Dylan Dahlquist MSc, who is well versed in the research regarding dietary nitrates and human performance and he got me up to speed on the research.

Several studies have shown that consuming roughly 8 mmol/nitrate per day through beet root juice can improve performance during a cycling trial.6 One of the interesting things that has come out of the research is that it may improve “efficiency”, meaning that less ATP is required to complete the same amount of work.

This is pretty mind blowing and no one really understands exactly how this happens . . . science is hard. One hypothesis is that it improves mitochondrial function and makes it more efficient, which is pretty cool.7

Related: Pre-Workout Nutrition: 4 Strategies to Improve Performance & Maximize Results

When we summarize what we know about nitrate supplementation is that it appears to be a bit more effective than L-arginine at accomplishing the same task and may have performance enhancing effects. The studies conducted clearly show an increase in NO production with acute and/or chronic supplementation and may elicit the ergogenic effects and improve athletic performance.

If used as a pre-workout supplement it is wise to take it about 2-3 hours before training as blood levels typically peak roughly 2-3 hours after ingestion, which relates to the peak increase in NO bioavailability.

All About Vitamin D

Let’s rewind the clock about 20 years to 1998.

This year sticks out in my mind for one major reason: Harry Potter had to find the Sorcerer’s Stone which made the Elixir of Life.

This Elixir had the ability to grant the drinker eternal life and also cure all diseases.

Voldemort strangely occupied the back of some dude’s head (still haven’t figured that one out) and convinced him to try and steal this stone so he could come back to life.

Harry thwarted him and that stone got destroyed.

What the heck does that have to do with vitamin D? Well, in many ways, the fervor that has been generated around vitamin D makes it seem like it might be the true Elixir of Life.

For about 5 years there was a mind-blowing boom of articles and small companies trying to capitalize on the interest in vitamin D.

While many of the claims about vitamin D are hyperbole, there are some very interesting aspects of vitamin D that are worth exploring and most of them deal with correcting deficiencies.

VITAMIN D AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

There has been a substantial amount of pomp and circumstance surrounding vitamin D as an ergogenic aid and claims have circulated that taking large amounts of vitamin D can enhance your performance in the gym.

Related: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements

This question was so pervasive and so interesting that we actually conducted a rigorous analysis of the current scientific literature and wrote a peer-reviewed paper on the topic1.

There have been several studies that have examined levels of vitamin D and aerobic performance. What we can tell from the scientific data is that people who have low levels of vitamin D appear to have lower aerobic capacity than people with adequate levels of vitamin D.

Additionally, it is very likely that supplementing with vitamin D to correct a vitamin D deficiency might provide a small benefit on aerobic performance.

There has also been some interest in recovery. Most of the evidence has been done in cells and rats, but one study showed a very small improvement in loss of power output.

However, it was only one study with a small number, so we can’t say anything for sure but I would argue supplementing vitamin D to correct a deficiency would be helpful to optimize recovery.

There is also some speculation that large doses of vitamin D improves power production and force output.

A few small studies seem to suggest this might be possible but the effects are quite small and other studies show no response. I think we can safely conclude that a vitamin D pre-workout supplement is pretty much dead on arrival and not worth much investigation from a maximal effort standpoint.

VITAMIN D AND INFECTIONS

Vitamin D may be a critical piece to warding off infection. No, not as an anti-zombie spray. Vitamin D actually plays a regulatory role in your immune system and supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in preventing respiratory infections.

In a recent study that examined 25 studies, researchers showed that supplementation of vitamin D substantially reduces your risk of acquiring acute respiratory tract infections2.

However, there is a little caveat to it. It really only makes a meaningful difference if you are deficient in vitamin D, people who had normal levels only had a very small reduction in risk of acquiring an infection. Also, small, daily or weekly doses were much better than infrequent large doses.

VITAMIN D AND FAT LOSS

For some very strange, borderline asinine reason someone, somewhere along the way took some preliminary research and decided they would make some claims that vitamin D is a good supplement for fat loss.

Um, no. This is not true.

It is true that vitamin D deficiency can cause a lot of issues with hormones, calcium regulation, mood, immune function, and a lot of other processes, but there is no evidence to suggest that has any meaningful effect on fat loss.

For people who are “dieting” or restricting calories supplementing with vitamin D to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D to maintain their vitamin D levels is an awesome idea. It just won’t turn you into a fat burning furnace.

YOUR VITAMIN D LEVELS ARE PROBABLY LOW

I know what you are thinking, “I don’t need to worry about this; I am healthy so I am good”. Well, it turns out you probably do need to think about your vitamin D levels. 41% of adults in the United States are vitamin D deficient3. That means 4 out of 10 people don’t have enough vitamin D and really need to consider supplementing with it.

Related: Supplementing for Success – The Key Mineral You’re Deficient In

Why is there such a large percentage of people with vitamin D deficiency? Well, your blood levels of vitamin D are determined by your genetics, diet, and sun exposure.

Most of us get a tiny fraction of the sunlight we actually need due to the amount of time we spend indoors. For those of us who live in the northern part of North America we also get much less intense solar radiation and for what seems to be 11 months out of the year almost zero sunny days.

Also, most of us do not eat diets rich in vitamin D. Combine these things together and you get the perfect storm to ensure that large amounts of people are vitamin D deficient.

WHAT KIND AND HOW MUCH SHOULD I TAKE?

Supplementing with vitamin D is actually fairly simple for most of us.

If you have levels below 20 ng/mL you should be supplementing with between 1,000 IU and 5,000 IU a day until you reach normal levels. You should be taking vitamin D3, not vitamin D2.

You can take it as a daily vitamin, usually with a meal as vitamin D is fat soluble.

THE WRAP UP

Chances are your vitamin D levels are low and should be getting them checked at your annual checkup with your doctor (you definitely should be getting an annual checkup).

There is some evidence that letting your vitamin D levels stay low increases your risks of infections, reduces your overall aerobic performance, and might limit your recovery.

If you want to stay at the top of your game, correct any deficiency that you might have with smart vitamin D supplementation, especially during the winter months. If they are low you should supplement with around 1000-5000 IU of vitamin D3 per day until your levels are back in normal range.

Know More About Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller, Contagion, boasts plenty of big names — Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, and Laurence Fishburne, to name a few — but the real star of the film isn’t on the cast list and doesn’t speak a single line of dialogue.

In fact, Contagion’s main “character” isn’t a traditional one at all; rather, it’s a lethal flu-like virus that triggers a global panic as it threatens to wipe out millions of people worldwide. Moviegoers have seen similar threats in films like 1995’s Outbreak and 2002’s 28 Days Later, but this one — which is grounded in science, not science fiction — may be the scariest yet.

Could ‘Contagion’ Really Happen?

In short, yes.

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns went to great lengths to make the movie “ultrarealistic.” Operating on the belief that truth is stranger than fiction, they sought advice from various experts and public officials, all of whom, according to Burns, said that a real global pandemic was “not a matter of if, but when.”

Soderbergh and Burns’ main scientific advisor was Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a member of the Center for Disease Control’s National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee. Dr. Lipkin served as the film’s on-set consultant, offering counsel on everything from script rewrites to costume choices to lab protocol. According to The New York Times, he even conceived of the film’s virus as a corollary of the real-life Nipah virus that spread among Malaysian pig farmers in the late 1990s. Like the Nipah virus, Contagion’s virus goes to the brain and attacks the central nervous system. It spreads from person to person through the respiratory route — for example, via coughs and sneezes — similar to the flu or the SARS virus, which caused a near pandemic in 2002 when it infected people in some 37 countries in a matter of weeks. The United States got by relatively unscathed then, but Lipkin says we may not be so lucky next time.

What Is a Pandemic?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease,” the key words being “worldwide” (spanning multiple continents) and “spread” (meaning the disease is infectious and easily transmitted between humans). Both must be true of a condition in order for it to be considered a pandemic, so cancer, for example, would not qualify, but a new influenza virus might.

It’s important to note that mortality is no longer a factor in WHO’s definition. Though some pandemics — like the Spanish Flu outbreak, which is thought to have killed more than 40 million people between 1918 and 1919 — are particularly lethal, pandemics themselves are not inherently deadly.

The most recent example of a pandemic is the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, which spread quickly via international travelers who carried the virus from Mexico to various other cities. Within a year, more than 200 countries had confirmed cases.

“It’s a global world we’re living in,” Lipkin told Mother Nature Network. The same services and technologies that afford us access to different cultures and people — international trade, air travel, mass transit — can also make us vulnerable to different diseases. “Anything can rapidly travel to another place.”

In the film, that includes information. Drawing on inspiration from the SARS frenzy, Soderbergh and Burns show how, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and a 24-hour news cycle, misinformation can be just as damaging to the public as a lethal virus.

“It’s not just the disease that you have to track, it’s how the disease is interpreted by the population,” Burns told ComingSoon.net. “There’s a lot of unfiltered content in the world now. It is both a great freedom and a huge danger.”

How Can We Prepare for a Real-Life Pandemic?

“Neils Bohr once said, ‘It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,’” Lipkin tells Everyday Health. Which is to say, we don’t know whether or when a virus is going to be pandemic, so there’s only so much we can do in advance. For example, we can’t create vaccines for diseases we don’t yet know about — but we can change the system we use to manufacture and administer them. And we should, according to Lipkin.

“If we were to have some sort of an outbreak — or pandemic, worse yet — in the United States, we don’t at present have the tools that are required to rapidly ramp up some sort of a strategy for making vaccines and distributing them,” he told Salon.

“We need to step up our game. It need not take six months to create, test, and begin to distribute a vaccine. We have the technology required to do this in three months. The impediment to doing so is lack of commitment and resources.”

On a more individual level, Lipkin says you can protect against infection by maintaining healthy habits and stocking your home with emergency supplies. “Keep your vaccinations up to date, wash your hands frequently, stay home if you are potentially contagious, and store food, water, and batteries sufficient for several days,” Lipkin advises. “N95 masks are a good idea as well.”

Both he and the filmmakers hope that Contagion will educate as well as entertain, and possibly even serve as a teaching tool for public-health issues. “It’s not a documentary,” Lipkin told Salon. “But by and large, it is a plausible scenario — and it’s also something in the way of a wake-up call.”