Monthly Archives: January 2014

Smoking, diabetes and Neanderthal ancestry


Though they went extinct about 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals are making big news these days. Thanks to recent advances in gene technology, scientists(Sriram Sankararaman and others) now have access to a fuller, more accurate Neanderthal genome. This allows scientists to give a more definitive answer to the age old question “how much did modern humans and Neanderthals interbreed?” Apparently, a lot more than what was previously thought.

For decades, it was assumed that the ancestors of modern humans and Neanderthals didn’t interbreed, or that if they did, Neanderthal genes were selected out. Now it looks like some interbreeding did take place in Eurasia, but not in Africa. Hence, caucasians and east Asians have traces of Neanderthal genes, while black Africans do not. Whether or not Neanderthals were a separate species or sub-species of human is a controversial issue among anthropologists, and is beyond the scope of this post.

It is estimated that about 2% to 4% of the genetic blueprint of non-Africans is derived from Neanderthals, with east Asians having slightly more. Interestingly enough, these genes appear to be partially responsible for diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and even difficulty quitting smoking among modern humans. If you suffer from one or more of these issues, you may be understandably upset that at least one of your ancestors married a Neanderthal.

Then again, Neanderthal genes may also have their advantages, like coding for thicker, cold-resistant skin. Also, the genes that play a role in disease or addiction today may have been helpful thousands of years ago. Red hair in humans may have first evolved among Neanderthals, so if you love your red hair, this may be due to Neanderthal ancestry.

Neanderthals were also generally shorter, and had bigger skulls than the Homo sapien invaders from Africa. The specific reasons why the Neanderthals went extinct is still something of a mystery – the idea that they were “dumb” doesn’t hold much water. We know they were out-competed, but we don’t know why exactly.

Maybe these recent discoveries will lead to a split within the Paleo diet movement: those who are more Neanderthal can eat one way, while those who are more Homo sapiens can eat another. It is well-known that Neanderthals were generally big meat-eaters, while early modern humans ate a more diverse diet.

As both science and technology continue to advance, we can expect many more startling revelations about human origins. I would personally love to see better research on early human and early chimpanzee interbreeding, especially the last times humans and chimps ever successfully interbred and what genes, if any humans got from chimpanzees. Unlike more recent Neanderthal-Homo sapien interbreeding(tens of thousands of years ago), early human-chimpanzee interbreeding likely took place more than a million years ago, so it may be difficult to find reliable DNA specimens, among other limitations.

BBC News – Neanderthals gave us disease genes

Neanderthal genes helped modern humans evolve, studies suggest

Can’t Quit Smoking? Try Blaming Neanderthals

Fifth of Neanderthals’ genetic code lives on in modern humans

Some good news and some bad news

2014-01-26 09.43.11First the bad news: My Yaktrax Walker Traction Device started falling apart a few days ago, after only a month of occasional use! The rubber strands are coming apart, and some parts of the metal rings have come off or are loose. While I can still wear it, it doesn’t do the job like it used to, and it starts coming off my sneakers after running only a few miles. In fact, just yesterday I lost one of my two traction enhancers. It fell off in a very snowy area and I didn’t even notice until long after. This makes the one I do have left which is pictured above all but useless – what good is one traction enhancer?

This is very disappointing. I was hoping they would last at least until the end of the winter. It looks like these are made for walking in wintry conditions, not distance running.

The good news: I am making great progress with recovering from the knee injury. I ran 10 miles yesterday, and only felt a little soreness in my right knee. It was a very slow run due to the snow and ice on the ground, not to mention the cold air, but it felt great to cover this distance after almost 2 weeks of no significant running(I did a 3 mile run a few days ago). I hope the soreness continues to go away. I may attempt a long run soon.

I hope everyone is doing great!

Shaming the shamans


Red-crested Pochard – public domain

When you’re injured, every person and even every dog and cat you know offers you advice to help you heal faster. Some of this advice is good. Unfortunately, a lot of the advice I receive is just plain bad, even though the people recommending it may mean well. The advice I receive from dogs and cats is generally better – this is because dogs and cats can detect pseudo-science and charlatanism much better than humans.

No, I don’t want to see your homeopath, reiki-master, shaman, faith-healer, naturopath, chiropractor, acupuncturist or any other quacks. For reasons explained in my post, “There is no magic in joggling“, I am no friend of quackery, which in recent decades has successfully rebranded itself as “alternative medicine” to make it seem legitimate.

I know, I know, so many people claim “but it works for me!”. However, testimonials are worthless, testimonials are not evidence of efficacy. Testimonials were regularly used to promote fraudulent patent medicines a century ago, and these “medicines” were very often nothing but alcohol or colored water.


To a large extent, it is because of the placebo effect that so many sick people feel better after taking fake medicine. Besides this, so many illnesses naturally run their course, like the common cold or allergy symptoms.

Now really, what is the difference between the patent medicine pictured on the right, and nearly everything coming out of the alternative medicine world these days?

Another question: Who here wants to be taken to a homeopath, or a naturopath, or a Reiki-master after getting severely injured in a car accident?

When it comes to evaluating health products, never trust testimonials or advertising. Use PubMed to research health claims. It’s not perfect, but it gives you access to peer-reviewed scientific literature.

If my knee doesn’t get better or the pain gets worse, I will go seek the help of a medical doctor. Shocking, I know.

The genetics of nightmares

The Balrog from Lord of the Rings, as interpreted in a painting by Markus Röncke

The Balrog from Lord of the Rings, as interpreted in a painting by Markus Röncke

Almost all of us experience nightmares from time to time, those terrible dreams that sometimes results in some of us leaping out of bed in horror. I rarely get or remember them, but when I do they can haunt me for days even though I know they weren’t real.

It should come as no surprise that how often we experience nightmares may be strongly influenced by our genes. It can also correlate with certain mental disorders. According to Correlates and Treatments of Nightmares in Adults:

A single study has investigated the possible genetic contributions to nightmares. Using the Finnish Twin Cohort, a nationwide questionnaire study that included 1,298 monozygotic and 2,419 dizygotic twin pairs aged 33–60, Hublin and colleagues47 found a genetic influence on nightmares that differed slightly between childhood and adult nightmares. Genetic effects accounted for an estimated 45% of the phenotypic variance in childhood, and for an estimated 37% in adulthood.

How often do you get nightmares?

Longest run and an injury

2014-01-15 09.42.21On Wednesday the 15th, I ran more miles than ever before, completing a 30 mile run in 6:15. I ran as far north as Briarcliff Manor, and ran halfway back to White Plains before taking the train home. It was very foggy, almost dream-like when I started, but the sun came out later during this epic northward run.

The main reason I ran slowly was due to this soreness in my right knee that got increasingly worse after the first half of the run(I was also carrying juice and many energy bars). It seems to be some kind of overuse injury, though I am not sure which one. Running 84 miles in 6 days wasn’t such a great idea after all, though it was hard to resist due to the unseasonably warm weather.

When I stand still, I don’t feel anything in my knee. If I walk, I feel a little bit of soreness in my right knee and the bending movement doesn’t feel as smooth as it used to. If I run, it feels very sore and awkward, like I may pull something and make the injury worse.

2014-01-15 13.28.28

The sun came out later. A meadow near Briarcliff Manor, just after the midway point of the run.

Hopefully, this will heal fast. I’ll stay off it for a few days to a week to see what happens. I’ve been injured many times, and have always recovered to a point that I was even better than before. Ever since tearing the medial meniscus and ACL in my right knee in my mid teens during my first ever “long” run, my right knee has always been my bad knee. As a result, my right knee is usually more sore than my left knee after long runs.

While I recover, I will do a lot of juggling for cardio and a lot of walking if I can manage. I will also strength train my legs. Not being able to run is starting to affect my mood, but I will persevere. Do not worry about me. I hope everyone is having fun with their endurance activities. I got to remember to not over do it!

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and support.

Screenshot from 2014-01-17 12:49:20

Vegan buckwheat beer pancakes with blueberry syrup

IMG_2295Want to make your pancakes extra fluffy and tasty? Nothing will help achieve this better than beer. That’s right, beer. Most people think of it as just a beverage, but I think it is one of the most underused food items for making delicious meals. The bubbliness of the beer helps make the pancakes extra fluffy, while also imparting a more complex, deeper, somewhat earthy kind of flavor to them. I can’t  even remember last time I had regular pancakes. This is how indispensable beer is for making pancakes to me, and I don’t even like beer as a beverage. And obviously my pancakes are 100% vegan.

I love buckwheat since it’s a nice change from the usual grains I eat, and its a good source of quality protein. It’s not necessarily better tasting, but it’s different. Buckwheat was commonly eaten in 19th century America, but it was eventually supplanted by corn and wheat which are easier to grow. Buckwheat pancakes were even one of Mark Twain’s favorite foods. So these buckwheat pancakes are an old-fashioned favorite with a modern vegan twist.


How I make pancakes:

  • 2/3 cup buckwheat flour pancake/waffle mix(I used Arrowhead Mills)
  • 1 tablespoon of liquid soy lecithin(egg replacer)
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup of beer(I usually mix in a little rice or oat milk too, maybe up to 1/4 of the liquid content of the batter while the rest is beer, but feel free to experiment). If you’re vegan, make sure the beer is vegan
  • Optional: add 2 tablespoons of freeze dried blueberries to the batter. I would have added them if I had them. This is such a great way to boost the blueberry goodness of the pancakes
  • Optional: Add a tablespoon or two of ground almond meal. This will make the pancakes nuttier, and increase their protein, fat, and mineral content, but will also make them a little less fluffy

Mix very thoroughly in a bowl. I don’t think the alcohol content of the beer or type of beer is that important. I used Budweiser, which is 5% alcohol. Go ahead and use a light beer if you want. If you’re worried about the alcohol content, keep in mind that a significant portion of the alcohol is removed through the cooking process. Just to be on the safe side, I think pregnant women shouldn’t eat this, unless very low alcohol beer or alcohol-free beer is used(or just use very little beer by diluting it with rice milk).

For the syrup, I mixed Lundberg organic brown rice syrup with some frozen blueberries and heated it on the stove. I am not sure if the brown rice syrup is healthier than maple syrup, but it does have a little bit less simple sugar.

After just a few minutes on the olive oiled griddle at medium heat on each side they will turn a golden brown, indicating they are done! The beer/buckwheat/olive oil aroma coming off the griddle as they cook is heavenly. I added a dash of cinnamon before pouring the blueberry syrup on them.

IMG_2286After running 52 miles in the past 3 days, my muscles definitely needed the high carb and sugar content of this meal to refuel my depleted glycogen stores. Although pancakes are usually eaten for breakfast, I had these for lunch after a 10 mile run.

The word “buckwheat” is misleading, since it is not related to wheat at all. It’s not even a grain. It’s a pseudo-grain related to rhubarb. These pancakes however aren’t wheat or gluten-free since they contain wheat ingredients(I don’t believe it is beneficial to eat gluten-free if you don’t have celiac disease or some kind of wheat/gluten sensitivity). The ingredients in the Arrowhead Mills Organic Buckwheat Pancake & Waffle mix are:

Organic buckwheat flour, organic whole grain wheat flour, organic soymilk powder, baking powder(monocalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, corn starch), sea salt.

This is my favorite buckwheat pancake mix because it has few ingredients, most of which are wholegrain, it is vegan(no whey, or milk ingredients), and has no added sugar. One of these days I may try making buckwheat pancakes from pure buckwheat flour, which means I’ll probably have to add baking powder to the mix.

If you try this recipe out, let us know how you liked it!

Two 20 mile runs two days in a row

Screenshot from 2014-01-11 21:44:41This is the first time I’ve ever done this, running 20 miles two days in a row. I usually do one 20 mile run per week, occasionally two. However, due to the extreme cold and icy conditions earlier this week I did little running then, so I thought I’d make up for it on friday and saturday when the temperature went up.

The 20.61 mile run on friday was my first ever run to the state of Connecticut. It felt thrilling crossing the New York/Connecticut border, though I realize it is just an arbitrarily drawn political border that means practically nothing of geographic or cultural significance, but it was still fun. Sure, I realize it also represents a border between New York and New England, but there are many towns in New York that have a New Englandish feel to them.

It was snowing for about the first 1/3 of the run, then it rained a little during the rest of the run. It felt great “introducing”(though I am not the first) joggling to the people of Connecticut. The people who saw me were amused and impressed, especially the kids.

It took me 4:18 to complete the run to Stamford, Connecticut, due in part to the wintry conditions though it was almost 40 F. There was so much slush and big ice patches in some spots. I also had a backpack full of juice, and a bunch of energy bars on me. I slipped and dropped the balls a few times.

2014-01-10 12.44.00

The Putnam Cottage

I ran mostly along route 1, also called the Boston Post Road, which is the most direct way of getting to Connecticut. There’s lots of interesting historical sites on route 1, both in New York and in Connecticut. One of the more interesting ones is the Putnam Cottage, in Greenwich, Connecticut. It is named after Israel Putnam, the American revolutionary war general, who made his daring escape from the British close to the cottage. General George Washington also stopped here with his troops in 1776, when it was used as a tavern. Going east from Greenwich, you will enter the city of Stamford, which is where I ended my run and took the train back home. These days the city of Stamford appears to be booming, with so many new businesses sprouting up all over the place.

The run the next day(saturday) was a 21.28 mile run on the Putnam* trail to Elmsford/Little Iran and back, a route that I’ve done countless times. The temperature was in the mid 50s during this 3:19 minute run, though there were occasional ice patches and big puddles on the running path. There was a light rain during most of the run. I was able to run almost like it was spring because of the unseasonably high temperatures and because most of the ice and snow from last weeks storms have melted. I feel a little sore due to the 2 long runs 2 days in a row, but I believe I will recover relatively quickly. I think even my ability to recover has improved.

I saw many red cardinals while running up to Elmsford, it’s always a joy to spot them and hear their birdsong. How are you keeping fit this winter? I hope you’re all doing fantastic and are as fit as ever!

A word of warning: Do not try running two very long runs 2 days in a row unless you’ve done enough training. This can greatly increase your risk of injury. If you want to be able to do this, build up to it slowly, start out with one 20+ mile run once a week, then add a second 20+ mile run many days after, then slowly bring them closer together.

* Named after the same Putnam mentioned before but it is called “Putnam” because this used to be a railroad route that connected New York City with Putnam county in upstate New York.

Kidney stones and weight


Kidney stone. Source: Public domain

Ever have a kidney stone? I haven’t, but based on people I’ve talked to who’ve had them, there is almost nothing as painful as passing a kidney stone. Even women who’ve had children and also had kidney stones claim it is as painful if not more painful than childbirth.

Surprise surprise, a common risk factor for developing kidney stones is being overweight. Let’s just call this reason 1,381,454 to lose weight.

Body fat composition and occurrence of kidney stones in hypercalciuric children:

In conclusion, an increased %BF was associated with an increased occurrence of kidney stones in children with idiopathic hypercalciuria.

Obesity, weight gain, and the risk of kidney stones:

Obesity and weight gain increase the risk of kidney stone formation. The magnitude of the increased risk may be greater in women than in men.

Detraining in endurance runners

2014-01-04 11.43.04If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you probably know that I usually run 50 to 60 miles per week. Unfortunately, the recent snowstorm that hit much of the eastern U.S has made it difficult to maintain this routine. My usual routes are covered in several inches of snow or ice, and it is going to take a while for most of it to melt. And more snow is expected next week.

It’s no big secret that I’m not a big fan of treadmills or indoor exercise in general. And treadmills don’t like me much either, so the feeling is mutual. I’ll use it when I absolutely must, but going beyond an hour is difficult for me since it feels tedious and dull.

I can still run outside, but it takes longer and it is more tiring to cover my usual routes. If you’ve been following my crazy blog long enough, you know I can run long distances in snowstorms, but mostly in the early stages when there is little snow on the ground. Unfortunately, due to all the snow outside yesterday, instead of running to Valhalla like I usually do, I ended up running to Mount Olympus, which is closer. For those new to the blog, Valhalla is a town 12 miles north from me, and Mount Olympus is a diner in Yonkers. What did you think I was talking about? I have traction enhancers on my sneakers, but they merely prevent slipping, they don’t necessarily make running in snow less tiring.

With my routine temporarily reduced, this leaves me wondering how much of my endurance capacity will be lost due to “detraining”. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like much. Overall, it is much easier to maintain fitness than to become fit.

According to Sports Medicine, in “Impact of reduced training on performance in endurance athletes“:


Many endurance athletes and coaches fear a decrement in physical conditioning and performance if training is reduced for several days or longer. This is largely unfounded. Maximal exercise measures (VO2max, maximal heart rate, maximal speed or workload) are maintained for 10 to 28 days with reductions in weekly training volume of up to 70 to 80%. Blood measures (creatine kinase, haemoglobin, haematocrit, blood volume) change positively or are maintained with 5 to 21 days of reduced training, as are glycogen storage and muscle oxidative capacities. Submaximal or improved with a 70 to 90% reduction in weekly volume over 6 to 21 days, provided that or improved with a 70 to 90% reduction in weekly volume over 6 to 21 days, provided that exercise frequency is reduced by no more than 20%. Athletic performance is improved or maintained with a 60 to 90% reduction in weekly training volume during a 6 to 21 day reduced training period, primarily due to an enhanced ability to exert muscular power. These findings suggest that endurance athletes should not refrain from reduced training prior to competition in an effort to improve performance, or for recovery from periods of intense training, injury, or staleness.

There doesn’t appear to be much to worry about, even though I usually feel cranky if I don’t run on a day I was scheduled to run on. Based on my readings, it appears that endurance capacity can be maintained for up to 2 weeks, even if exercise is greatly reduced. It’s after 2 weeks that reductions in fitness start becoming apparent.

So if Old Man Winter is interfering with your outdoor fitness routine, don’t worry too much about it. Adapt if you can to the outside conditions, but if the situation is too extreme, try exercising indoors whenever possible.

Add more passion to your life this year

Screenshot from 2014-01-02 22:06:36
“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion” – Martha Graham


“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”Hebbel


“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela


If there is one thing you should do differently in 2014 compared to last year, it should be to add more passion to your life. Do things you are passionate about, add passion to your fitness activities and everything else you do. Passion can even be contagious. Be passionate and pass on that passion. Nothing will help improve your life more than passion.