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Friday, March 19, 2010

FDA Warns That Statin Drugs Can Cause Muscle Damage

Statins, the most widely prescribed medications in the world, have been widely recognized to cause muscle pain and weakness in a small percentage of users. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning that Zocor, a popular version of simvastatin, can cause muscle damage, particularly when used in its highest approved dosage (80 mg). What makes this even more dangerous is that muscle damage results in the release into the blood stream of large proteins that are not easily flushed through the kidneys. This can result in kidney failure and death. Admittedly, fatal problems due to statins are highly unlikely. Nevertheless, the problem is very serious for susceptible individuals. The 80 mg dose should be avoided, if possible, and patients must be encouraged to lower their total and LDL cholesterol by more natural means (e.g. weight control, exercise, reduced consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol). It is unfortunate that so many people see statins as the easy way out. Who wants to control one's eating and activity level when a pill will do? believes that MOST people can keep their total and LDL cholesterol levels within recommended ranges if they follow a healthy lifestyle. Drugs should only be used as a last resort. See our natural methods for reducing total and LDL cholesterol levels.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Profile of the Changing American Diet

In its March 2010 issue, the Nutrition Action Healthletter, a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, reported the following changes in U.S. eating patterns between 1970 and 2007. All quantities are per person per year.

Meat, Poultry, and Seafood
  • Beef - Dropped by about 20% to 40 lb
  • Chicken - Doubled to about 35 lb
  • Pork - Steady at about 28 lb
  • Fish - Increased more than 1/3 to 11 lb
  • Turkey - more than doubled to about 9 lb
Comment: There's still plenty of room for improvement, since beef and pork consumption increase the risk of colon cancer and heart disease.

  • Cheese - Almost tripled to about 25 lb
  • Full fat ice cream - Dropped about 25% to 10 lb
  • Yogurt - Increased more than tenfold to about 8 lb
  • Low fat ice cream - Steady at about 5 lb
Comment: The sharp increase in cheese consumption is not good since most of the calories in cheese come from the kind of saturated fat that raises undesirable blood cholesterol (LDL). Yogurt is usually made from 1% milk, which is better than whole or 2% milk (regular milk is about 3.5%), and usually contains live cultures that benefit the digestive system. Yet all but plain yogurt contain a lot of sugar, usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, the health effects of which remain controversial.

  • White and whole wheat flour - Up about 20% to about 97 lb
  • Corn flour and meal - Almost tripled to about 22 lb
  • Rice - Almost tripled to about 15 lb
  • Oats - Fairly steady at about 2.5 lb
Comment: The overall increase in grain consumption is largely related to our increased total caloric intake. Unfortunately, grains often form the base of salty and calorie-heavy snacks such as corn chips and pretzels. It is best to eat whole grains in the form of bread, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.

Fats and Oils
  • Salad and cooking oil - More than tripled to about 32 gallons
  • Shortening (hydrogenated oils) - Up about 25% over 1970 to about 15 gal but a third less than its peak consumption in 2000-2005
  • Margarine (also hydrogenated oils) - Dropped by 2/3 to about 3 gal
  • Butter - Dropped by 25% to 3 gal
  • Beef and pork fat - Steady at about 2.5 gal
Comment: Vegetable oils are generally considered healthful except when they raise caloric consumption over our daily needs. However, most of us consume an excess ratio of omega-6 oils (abundant in most vegetable oils) to omega-3 oils (abundant in fish and flaxseed oils). Olive oil has less omega-6 fat than most other vegetable oils and is generally regarded as beneficial.

  • Sugared soda - Data only goes back to 1985. Since then there was an increase until 1998 but a 15% drop since then to about 34 gallons
  • Bottled water - Increased from almost nothing to about 29 gal
  • Coffee - Dropped by 25% to 24 gal
  • Beer - Up 20% to 22 gal
  • Milk - Down by 20% to 21 gal. Considering milk types, whole milk has fallen by 3/4 to 4 gal, 2% milk has more than doubled to 5 gal, skim milk has doubled to 2 gal, and 1% milk has gone from almost zero to 2 gal
  • Diet soda - Data only goes back to 1985. Since then its been up 2/3 to 15 gal
  • Fruit drinks - Data only goes back to 1985. Since then its been up 1/3 to 14 gal
  • Fruit juice - Up 1/3 to about 8 gal
  • Wine - Doubled to about 3 gal
Comment: We've gone in the right direction by cutting soda and whole milk consumption, but we still drink too much soda and sweetened drinks.

Fruits and vegetables
  • Vegetables (excluding potatoes) - Increased by 1/3 to 129 lb
  • Fruit - Increased about 5% to 73 lb
  • Fresh potatoes - Decreased by almost half to 25 lb
  • Frozen potatoes - More than doubled to 19 lb.
Comment: The increase in vegetable consumption is very good. However, the switch from fresh to frozen potatoes suggests that people are eating more french fries than mashed or baked potatoes.

Sugars (including corn syrup)
  • Up about 15% to 96 lb
Comment: Of course this is undesirable. Sugars are empty calories that increase the likelihood of weight gain, high blood triglycerides, and other problems.

Coffee and Tea Said to Reduce Diabetes Risk

In its March 2010 issue, the Nutrition Action Healthletter, a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, reported that a review of 18 studies with a total of 450,000 subjects around the world revealed that people who drank 3-4 cups of regular coffee per day had a 25% lower risk of diabetes than people who drank 2 or less cups per day. One might think that this was due to the caffeine content of coffee, but the effect was even stronger for decaffeinated coffee (35% reduced risk). The same quantity of tea had a more moderate effect (20% reduction). As with any cross-sectional study, one must be cautious about concluding cause-and-effect because people who choose to drink coffee or tea may be in some way constitutionally different from people who don't. A longitudinal study will be necessary to determine if people randomly assigned to drink or not drink coffee or tea have different risk of diabetes. In the meantime, this and other studies indicate that moderate consumption of coffee or tea appears beneficial.

Improving Performance in High-Level Athletes

     It is not difficult to improve the physical performance of people who have had little or no intense training. Yet, it is much more challenging to improve the performance of high-level athletes who presumably have been training and competing at intense levels for considerable time. After all, their training and play have already stimulated their bodies to make major physiological changes, and many have likely reached a plateau by which they are no longer improving in their physical performance. However, a study by Wong et al. in the latest issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (vol 24, no 3, 2010, pp. 653-660) shows that even the performance of professional athletes can be improved by a well-designed training program.

Experimental Methods
A group of Hong Kong professional soccer players were divided into 2 groups that trained for 8 weeks during the pre-season as follows:
  • Group 1: made up of 20 players who engaged in strength training and high-intensity interval training twice per week in addition to their regular soccer training. The strength training consisted of 4 sets of 6 repetitions of high pull, jump squat, bench press, back half squat, and chin-up. The high-intensity intervals consisted of sixteen 15-second sprints at 20% faster than maximal aerobic speed interspersed with 15-second rest periods. The method for determining maximal aerobic speed was not clearly described. However, it might be taken as the fastest pace at which one can run 3-5 miles (5-8 km).
  • Group 2: made up of 19 players engaged in only their regular soccer training.

Only Group 1 improved significantly in the vertical jump (by 4%), 10-meter sprint time (by 6%), and 30-meter sprint time (by 3%).
Group 1 improved twice as much (20%) in a test of shuttle-running at progressively increasing speed as Group 2 (9%).

Bottom Line
Even high-level athletes can improve their physical performance by following a well-designed training program. Twice per week sessions of high-intensity interval training and weight training in addition to regular sport training appear effective for high-level athletes. It should be noted that this was pre-season training. Generally, during a competitive season, exercise other than regular sport-drills and competition is cut back considerably to avoid overtraining.

Medical Disclaimer
This description of experimental results is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation. Anyone engaging in an exercise program should obtain proper medical authorization before doing so.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Regular Stretching Can Increase Weight Training Gains

The value of stretching has been somewhat controversial. While there is no doubt that stretching is necessary for athletes whose limbs go through extreme ranges of motion in their sports (e.g. hurdlers, gymnasts) there is little evidence that it benefits other athletes. Regular stretching has not been shown to reduce the incidence of injuries among runners, and static stretching done right before "explosive" activities like jumping and sprinting actually impairs performance (although not next-day performance). However, a recent study by Kokkonen et al. in  the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (vol 24, no 2, 2010, pages 502-506) indicates that regular static stretching can actually increase weight training gains, at least for the first several weeks of a training program.

Experimental Procedure
Group 1 - Performed 3 sets of 6 repetitions of knee extension, knee flexion, and
               leg press 3 days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) for 8 weeks
Group 2 - Performed the same weight training routine as Group 1 but also did a stretching
               routine twice a week (Tuesday, Thursday) consisting of 15 stretches for the hamstrings,
               quadriceps, aductors, abductors, external and internal rotators, planter flexors, and dorsiflexors.
               Each stretch was done for 3 sets of 15-second holds with 15 seconds of rest in between sets.

Group 1 improved in knee flexion, knee extension, and leg press max lifts by 12, 14, and 9% respectively, while Group 2 improved 16, 27, and 31% respectively. For the latter 2 lifts, improvement was significantly greater for group 2.

Bottom Line
A static stretching routine performed Tuesdays and Thursdays can increases strength gains obtained from weight training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least during the first several weeks of a training program.