Monthly Archives: September 2013

Effect of Vitamin C on common cold, and athletic performance

Vitamin C(ascorbic acid) is a common cold remedy, and besides this, some athletes may take large doses believing it may speed recovery.

But does it actually help treat or prevent the common cold, assuming the person isn’t deficient? A great Cochrane Review, conducted at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, in “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold“:

REVIEWERS’ CONCLUSIONS:

The failure of vitamin C supplementation to reduce the incidence of colds in the normal population indicates that routine mega-dose prophylaxis is not rationally justified for community use. But evidence shows that it could be justified in persons exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise and/or cold environments. Also, the consistent and statistically significant small benefits on duration and severity for those using regular vitamin C prophylaxis indicates that vitamin C plays some role in respiratory defence mechanisms. The trials in which vitamin C was introduced at the onset of colds as therapy did not show any benefit in doses up to 4 grams daily, but one large trial reported equivocal benefit from an 8 gram therapeutic dose at onset of symptoms.

I won’t be taking vitamin C next time I catch a cold. But how about vitamin C and athletic performance? According to US Olympic Committee, Sport Performance, Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista, CA, in “Effect of vitamin C supplements on physical performance.“:

Vitamin C is an essential component of the diet and may reduce the adverse effects of exercise-induced reactive oxygen species, including muscle damage, immune dysfunction, and fatigue. However, reactive oxygen species may mediate beneficial training adaptations that vitamin C attenuates; indeed, from a total of 12 studies, vitamin C in doses >1 g·d(-1) impaired sport performance substantially in four of four studies, possibly by reducing mitochondrial biogenesis, while a further four studies demonstrated impairments that were not statistically significant. Doses of ∼0.2 g·d(-1) of vitamin C consumed through five or more servings of fruit and vegetables may be sufficient to reduce oxidative stress and provide other health benefits without impairing training adaptations.

It doesn’t look like supplemental vitamin C is a good idea. We only need about 60mg of vitamin C daily to prevent scurvy. Maybe a little more for smokers. This is easily obtainable by eating a diet that includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits in particular. Vitamin C doesn’t seem to be beneficial for either athletes or for preventing/treating the cold, except maybe in some subpopulations living in extreme environments, and maybe it has some modest benefits on respiratory function.

OOTD – Some time in the 1940s

3143229960_50bfc0f5e3_zMy grandmother, some time back in the 1940s. Besides being a terrific mother and grandmother, she always had a really good fashion sense. It’s too bad I didn’t inherit it, though she did what she could to help.

If the brain were so simple…

Waterfall in Beacon, New York

Waterfall in Beacon, New York

“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t” – Watson, Lyall

Dinner at Andy’s Pure Foods

IMG_1993After that 22 mile run yesterday up to Millwood yesterday, I needed some super-nourishment. So I eventually made my way down to Rye, New York and had an early dinner at Andy’s Pure Foods, which is located in the heart of Rye village on Purchase Street. No, I didn’t run there, I drove.

Andy’s Pure Foods specializes in fresh, organic vegan food. They have a very large selection of delicious legume based meals and fresh salads, and sandwiches, as well as fresh juices, smoothies, and even some vegan deserts. They also have many raw vegan meals.

I decided to have the butter beans with dolmades(stuffed grape leaves) and falafel. The dolmades are very fresh and tasty, almost as good as the ones my family makes. The falafel was delicious too. They have a lot of other Middle Eastern vegan food, like hummus, and various chickpea dishes and I can’t even remember the rest.

IMG_1989All in all, it was a fantastic recovery meal. I even think I could run today if I really wanted to, but my legs need a rest. I highly recommend Andy’s if you’re in the area.

Longest distance run without doubling back

Screenshot from 2013-09-14 21:04:20Today’s 22 mile(35.4 km) run wasn’t a record breaker in terms of miles covered, but it was the farthest distance I’ve run from anywhere without doubling back. It’s also the farthest north I’ve ever run. I ran up to Millwood where my ride was patiently waiting. Millwood is about as “middle of no where” you can get in Westchester county(it’s not even on the map above because it has such a small population). It took me 3 hours and 19 minutes to complete. I took a short break in Elmsford at the 10 mile mark to get some apple juice from the grocery store. This is also the first time I ran through the notorious gap in the Putnam trail between the northern terminus of the southern portion and the start of the northern portion in the middle of the village of Elmsford. The gap isn’t much, but the streets have a lot of traffic in this area.

The temperature through most of it was in the mid to upper 60s, so I didn’t sweat a lot. I dropped the balls several times. The northern portion of the Putnam trail, also known as the North County Trailway is steeper than I had anticipated. From Elmsford to Millwood, it is mostly an upward slope. I saw some cyclists struggle with it in a few steeper areas. It proved a challenge to me in some parts, and the resulting tiredness is a large part of why I dropped the balls many times.

Another runner seemed interested in challenging me to a race. Somewhere just north of the Irish famine park, I started hearing another runner behind me. Before I knew it, she zoomed ahead of me and looked back at me smugly. I was taken by surprise. I normally don’t race other runners, especially during long runs but I couldn’t resist. I tried keeping up with the woman in the pink leggings, but couldn’t. She kept getting farther and farther away. Eventually I slowed down to a very slow jog to regain my energy.

After doing this for a little less than 10 seconds I felt an energy rush. I was soon able to keep pace with her, though I was still far behind. I eventually caught up to her, and was just several feet behind. My competitive side took over me and soon I ran right by her on the approach to Elmsford. At the same time I think she was slowing down anyway. I lost sight of her by the time I got to Elmsford for my break. She was a very fast runner. If you’re reading this, I had a lot of fun. And yes I dropped the balls many times.

At the end of the run I was tired and sore, though I felt I could have run a few more miles, very slowly.

Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold

Cold season will soon be upon us(in the Northern hemisphere), so it helps to know what may help prevent or treat this common illness. One of the most popular cold remedies is the herb echinacea, a member of the daisy or asteraceae family. But does it really help?

According to the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, Storrs, CT, USA, in Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis:

Abstract

Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbal products, but controversy exists about its benefit in the prevention and treatment of the common cold. Thus, we did a meta-analysis evaluating the effect of echinacea on the incidence and duration of the common cold. 14 unique studies were included in the meta-analysis. Incidence of the common cold was reported as an odds ratio (OR) with 95% CI, and duration of the common cold was reported as the weighted mean difference (WMD) with 95% CI. Weighted averages and mean differences were calculated by a random-effects model (DerSimonian-Laird methodology). Heterogeneity was assessed by the Q statistic and review of L’Abbé plots, and publication bias was assessed through the Egger weighted regression statistic and visual inspection of funnel plots. Echinacea decreased the odds of developing the common cold by 58% (OR 0.42; 95% CI 0.25-0.71; Q statistic p<0.001) and the duration of a cold by 1.4 days (WMD -1.44, -2.24 to -0.64; p=0.01). Similarly, significant reductions were maintained in subgroup analyses limited to Echinaguard/Echinacin use, concomitant supplement use, method of cold exposure, Jadad scores less than 3, or use of a fixed-effects model. Published evidence supports echinacea’s benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold.

Impressive, so it appears to have helped. But wait, here’s another look, from the Cochrane Database(2006), a study done at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Kaiserstrasse 9, Munich, Germany, Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold:

AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS:

Echinacea preparations tested in clinical trials differ greatly. There is some evidence that preparations based on the aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea might be effective for the early treatment of colds in adults but results are not fully consistent. Beneficial effects of other Echinacea preparations, and for preventative purposes might exist but have not been shown in independently replicated, rigorous randomized trials.

And another, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53715, USA, Echinacea for treating the common cold: a randomized trial:

CONCLUSION:

Illness duration and severity were not statistically significant with echinacea compared with placebo. These results do not support the ability of this dose of the echinacea formulation to substantively change the course of the common cold.

This one is clearly negative. This is just a small sample of many echinacea studies. I encourage you to read through the literature yourself if you are curious about echinacea. But overall, based on these studies and many others, the evidence is mostly negative to mixed for echinacea. If I had a cold, I wouldn’t take it.

Is waterpipe smoking safer than cigarette smoking?

Hookah_2

Waterpipe or hookah. Source: Wikipedia

Many people believe that smoking tobacco through a waterpipe(also called a shisha or hookah) is much safer than smoking cigarettes. I even know some people who hate cigarettes, and are health conscious, yet they love smoking tobacco through a waterpipe, believing it is not hazardous to their health. This bias may be largely due to coming from parts of the world where waterpipe smoking is common, such as the Middle East and south Asia.

I never smoke anything, and I hate smoking, so I am not interested in using myself as a guinea pig to test the hypothesis that waterpipe smoking is as dangerous as cigarette smoking. Besides, this wouldn’t be scientific.

Luckily for us, some brilliant scientists have already looked into this. It took a little digging, but I found a really nice study. In the study “Waterpipe tobacco smoking and cigarette smoking: a direct comparison of toxicant exposure and subjective effects”, which was done at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA:

CONCLUSIONS:

Relative to a cigarette, waterpipe tobacco smoking was associated with similar peak nicotine exposure, 3.75-fold greater COHb, and 56-fold greater inhaled smoke volume. Waterpipe and cigarette influenced many of the same subjective effect measures. These findings are consistent with the conclusion that waterpipe tobacco smoking presents substantial risk of dependence, disease, and death, and they can be incorporated into prevention interventions that might help deter more adolescents and young adults from experimenting with an almost certainly lethal method of tobacco use.

I never thought it was safer than cigarette smoking, but I had no idea it was this toxic. The smoke volume from waterpipes is astonishing. It’s actually much more hazardous than cigarette smoking, not safer. Other studies and news reports refer to the growing popularity of waterpipe smoking as a new “health crisis”. I think that may be a good way to describe this.

In conclusion, it doesn’t matter how you smoke it, tobacco smoking kills.

Are push-ups on unstable surfaces more beneficial?

Push-ups are one of the best strength training exercises. You can do them almost anywhere and they require no special equipment. While they target the chest(pectoral) muscles, they also exercise the shoulder(deltoid), arm, and ab muscles.

There are many variants of the push-up. In particular, a recent trend is doing push-ups on unstable surfaces using BOSU balls or T-Bows. According to the companies that sell these products and some of their devoted users, this improves the push-up so that it is more beneficial. But is there any validity to this?

Fortunately for us, a study posted in the International Journal of Sports Therapy, Comparison of the effects of an eight-week push-up program using stable versus unstable surfaces found that:

CONCLUSIONS:

The addition of unstable surfaces in push-up training does not provide greater improvement in muscular strength and endurance than push up training performed on a stable surface in young men.

In other words, don’t waste your money on this fancy equipment. The unstable surface provided no extra benefit.

The Vegan Brain is Different After All!

Food or friend? Source: Public domain

Food or friend? Source: Public domain

I just found a very interesting new study which suggests that vegan and vegetarian brains do in fact work differently from the brains of omnivores when we observe the mouth gestures of closely related animals. According to San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy in, The “vegetarian brain”: chatting with monkeys and pigs?:

An array of brain regions in the fronto-parietal and temporal lobes cooperates to process observation and execution of actions performed by other individuals. Using functional MRI, we hypothesized that vegetarians and vegans might show brain responses to mouth actions performed by humans, monkeys, and pigs different from omnivores. We scanned 20 omnivores, 19 vegetarians, and 21 vegans while watching a series of silent videos, which presented a single mouth action performed by a human, a monkey, and a pig. Compared to omnivores, vegetarians and vegans have increased functional connectivity between regions of the fronto-parietal and temporal lobes versus the cerebellum during observation of mouth actions performed by humans and, to the same degree, animals. Vegans also had increased connectivity with the supplementary motor area. During human mouth actions, increased amygdala activity in vegetarians and vegans was found. More critically, vegetarians recruited the right middle frontal gyrus and insula, which are involved in social mirroring, whereas vegans activated the left inferior frontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus, which are part of the mirror neuron system. Monkey mouth actions triggered language network activity in both groups, which might be due to the attempt to decode monkey mouth gesture, with an additional recruitment of associative temporo-occipital areas in vegans, whereas pig mouth actions activated empathy-related regions, including the anterior cingulum. These results support the role of the action observation-execution matching system in social cognition, which enables us to interact not only with our conspecifics but also with species in phylogenetic proximity to humans.

So next time you have trouble understanding the eating habits of omnivores, it could be due to our brains being wired differently. It seems we are more likely to feel empathy when seeing certain animals, and this may be hard-wired into our brains more so than in omnivores. Interestingly enough, vegan and vegetarian amygdalas(the emotional center of the brain) were more active than omnivore amygdalas when watching human mouth actions too. This means that our amydalas are more reactive in general, not just when it comes to empathizing with animals.

As an aside, it would be great if we could do brain scans of politicians, to see if their brains are very different from the brains of non-politicians. I have my suspicions. Most days, they seem like an entirely differently life-form!

What keeps me motivated

IMG_1715

Joggling across Croton Reservoir on the Putnam(North County) trailway in Westchester county, NY

Staying motivated to exercise every day can be a challenge for some people. But with the right amount of motivation, it becomes much easier. This is why I believe it is a good idea to write a list of reasons to exercise, that way you don’t lose sight of why you do it. While some of the reasons I exercise are pretty standard, there are some motivations that are unique to me as a vegan joggler. Here is what keeps me motivated:

  • The health benefits of exercise, and this includes both cardiovascular and mental benefits
  • Joggling is fun
  • When I joggle, I often wear a vegan or vegetarian T-shirt. In this way I can help dispel the myths that many people still believe about veganism. This is probably one of the best ways to open up people’s minds to the vegan lifestyle. I can’t “convert” anyone, but by setting an example as a vegan joggler, I can suggest the idea to them
  • For the kids: A lot of kids love seeing me joggle around the neighborhood, so the fact that I am a source of entertainment and inspiration for a lot of children also helps me stay focused on my fitness routine. Who knows, maybe one of them will take up joggling some day and set some new world records!
  • To ensure I am as fit as possible for running competitions or for hiking adventures

I think we should all try to make our fitness routine as fun as possible, and set a good example to inspire others. Doing competitions or fitness events, joining a running club, or running for charity are other good ways to keep you motivated. You don’t have to be a joggler to do these things, but it will certainly bring you more attention. If you can find a way to entertain children while running or exercising, that’s yet another reason to exercise, and you will even forget you are exercising.

What keeps you motivated to exercise?