Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Many Benefits of Safe Sun Exposure

As with a lot of health advice the media tends to be very polarized when it comes to sun exposure.    While Ultraviolet (UV) exposure can cause sunburn which can lead to the development of skin cancer - proper safe, sun exposure is critical for optimal health and wellness.   

In addition proper UV exposure is critical for Vitamin D production which is by far the best way to optimize the many benefits of Vitamin D (See these previous blog posts on how to get safe sun exposure and supplement vitamin D in the winter: and )  Also, sunlight delivers more than UV light!

Sunlight exposure has many has many other proven benefits beyond Vitamin D production including:

Sunlight kills bad bacteria on the skin and is proven to improve psoriasis, acne, eczema and fungal infections of the skin.

UVA exposure from the sun causes skin to release stores of nitric oxide which is a potent signaling molecule with many benefits including vasodilation of blood vessels that can lower blood pressure and improve erectile function.     Nitric Oxide is also critical for proper immune function.

UVA and UVB exposure cause endorphin release which is relaxing and produces a strong analgesic effect helping to reduce pain.   Endorphins also act as a potent anti-depressant. 

Sunlight exposure early in the day is critical for proper sleep/wake cycle – sunlight signals received through the yes signal the master timekeeper in the brain, the suprachiasmic nucleus, that it is daytime and this keep time in all the peripheral “clocks” in the body so they function properly.   All cells express genes that keep cellular time and regular gene expression and activity.     For example skin cells exposed to UV light they expressed higher levels of two “clock” genes that control cellular circadian activity.  

Decreased sunlight exposure during daytime negatively affects circadian rhythms and night-time melatonin production so while night-time exposure to light (and blue light in particular) decreases melatonin secretion – daytime exposure (particularly early morning after first waking up) increases it later in the night!

The infrared rays of the sun penetrate the skin deeply producing many benefits including:

Increased Circulation

Helps reduce blood pressure

Helps prevent sunburns – so early morning sun exposure (when there is a high percentage of Infrared and reduced UV) can paradoxically help prevent sunburn later in the day.

Reduces pain and stiffness – this a very real benefit which is why you see animals like cats sit in the sun and stretch!

So enjoy safe sun exposure every day to reap these many benefits.   The key is pre-burn exposure.       Morning sun exposure (prior to 11am is very safe in most locations) and will greatly improve circadian rhythms and sleep while mid-day exposure is key for Vitamin D production.      To learn how to get safe sun exposure read the two previous blog posts mentioned above.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Can Cold Showers Improve Exercise Performance and Fat Burning?

Exposure to cold is unpleasant, but used properly, cold exposure is an extremely potent tool for improving health, exercise capacity, and fat burning.

Cold causes an increase in metabolic rate to produce heat to try and counteract the effects of cold resulting in increased calorie/fat burning. However, exposure to cold has a far deeper biological and hormonal impact on the body.

Cold Therapy (CT) is proven to increase adiponectin levels. Adiponectin is a hormone that stimulates fatty acid oxidation in muscle cells by activating AMP-activated protein kinase. Or in simple terms – cold increases adiponectin, adiponectin burns fat.

CT also lowers blood sugar levels by burning glucose as heat, and increases glucose uptake into muscle helping speed up recovery times. Clearance of excess blood glucose into muscle helps prevent blood sugar being converted into fat by the liver. Meaning a cold shower after a high carb meal might prevent a lot of the negatives from high sugar intake!

CT also activates conversion of regular body fat (known as white adipose tissue or WAT) into brown adipose tissue (BAT – aka Brown Fat). BAT is very different than typical fat in that it is dense in energy producing mitochondria (hence its brownish color) and utilizes body fat (typically from the belly and back) as its fuel source.

Cold and Norepinepherine

Norepinepherine (NE for short) is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is one of the primary initiators of fat burning.  NE is the key initiator of the Sympathetic Nervous System’s (SNS) Flight or Fight Response.

The Flight or Fight Response is something we have all experienced anytime we are really scared such as almost getting into a serious car accident. If you recall an experience like that you will remember that you are often shaking after the danger has passed.
Shaking occurs because when you perceive a threat the brain pushes out high levels of NE. High levels of NE stimulate a cascade of effects including:

Increased heart rate

Increased oxygen consumption

Increased circulation

Shut-down of digestive tract while pushing more blood to muscles for action

Increased pupil dilation

Increased mental focus

Reduced perceived exertion, pain, and inflammation.

Release of fatty acids and glucose from storage to fuel high levels of muscular activity.

High levels of NE also stimulate the adrenal glands to secrete epinephrine (EP).   EP is also known as adrenaline.   NE and EP are chemically almost identical with NE being a neurotransmitter and EP being a hormonal version.     

This strong SNS response prepares you for action!

Even brief exposure to extreme cold (20 seconds at 40°F, 4.4°C) causes a 200-300% boost in norepinephrine that lasts for an hour. As stated above increased NE stimulate release of EP as well. You experience a noticeable boost in vigilance, focus, attention, and mood, along with improved oxygen delivery, blood circulation, antioxidant function, mitochondrial biogenesis, and reduced perceived exertion, pain, and inflammation.

Cold and Sleep

Although cold exposure initially causes a strong sympathetic nervous response (like what occurs during any high intensity exercise) later the body re balances and there is an increase in your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) response as a reaction to this stimulus.

Your PNS is basically your rest/sleep/repair mode.   So the increased PNS response to cold exposure after the acute SNS response helps with sleep quality.    
Takeaway – Cold Showers can be an effective tool to boost exercise performance and fat burning. for those seeking lower body fat levels. Do 5-10 minute sessions in the morning, dry off and then warm-up and exercise – you will feel rocket charged, have a better workout and burn more fat!

To learn more about all the positive effects of using cold exposure for positive health and fitness benefits listen to this great podcast on the subject:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What is So Great About Watermelon?

What is so great about Watermelon?

Summer is almost here, and watermelon is a great tasting summer treat. The great news is that watermelon has some powerful health benefits.  It is a cousin to cucumbers, squash and pumpkins.

Watermelon contains more lycopene than tomatoes
Lycopene is a powerful carotenoid antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables a pink or red color.       It has been proven to be excellent for cardiovascular health, prostate health, and breast health.   A half cup contains 6.5 mg.  
One study showed that men with the highest blood levels of lycopene where 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.

A 2014 meta-analysis showed the lycopene may protect against ovarian cancer in post-menopausal woman.

Watermelon contains high levels of l-citrulline which is an amino acid.

L-Citrulline can help prevent muscle pain, boost Nitric Oxide Levels better than L-arginine and through this action can lower blood pressure and help treat erectile dysfunction.   In fact, watermelon is sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Viagra”. The rind contains even more citrulline than the pink flesh so you can grind it in a blender and add some lime for a healthy refreshing drink.

So - eat your watermelon while it is available!

Monday, May 6, 2019

How Dangerous are Nutritional Supplements?

Unless you have been under a rock for the last 6 months you have seen many articles about the dangers of nutrition supplements including a very popular article put out by the New York Times titled “Older Americans are Hooked on Vitamins”. But how dangerous are they really?

To put this into perspective consider that drug overdoses currently kill over 85,000 Americans each year. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications like aspirin and ibuprofen routinely kill over 7,000 people every year. Opioids along account for 50,000 deaths and are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years of age!

Now what about deaths from nutritional supplements?

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which has been tracking supplement and drug issues for over three decades, there have been 13 alleged deaths from vitamins in 31 years! Let that sink in 13 years less than 1 death per year compared to over 85,000 deaths from pharmaceuticals.  However, according to Dr. Andrew Saul, the editor in chief of the Orthomolecular Medicine News, “My team looked into this and we could not find substantiation, documentation, proof or convincing evidence of one single death.” In most of these alleged cases people were taking both medications AND nutrition supplements.

Considerations When Taking Nutrition Supplements

Although nutrition supplements have a great safety record there are supplements that can be toxic in high doses, supplements that interactive with medications, and supplements that should not be used by certain populations.

Blood Thinning Supplements

Many nutrition supplements thin the blood slightly including all types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and many herbs and spices. This is usually not an issue unless you have a blood clotting disorder or are taking prescription medications such as Warfarin or Coumadin which are very strong blood thinning agents. In this case it is critical to avoid any and all supplements which thin the blood because it can push you over the edge and you can develop internal bleeding!

Other Drug/Nutrient Interactions

There are literally hundreds of drug/nutrient interactions and even drug/food interactions some of which are quite serious and acute, and others which can create a problem over the long haul.
For example, grapefruit is a BIG no/no when taking many drugs including Calcium Channel Blockers, Erectile Dysfunction Drugs, and Statins (most common cholesterol lowering drug class) to name a few.

Preventing Drug Interactions

ALWAYS check online to see any and all interactions for any medication you are taking INCLUDING over the counter medications. For example acetaminophen (Tylenol) and alcohol can be deadly and is one of the most common causes of liver failure. Google drug interactions for any drug you are taking and also google drug/nutrient interactions, and drug/food interactions. Do NOT assume your physician or pharmacist will always know or inform you of all of these – be proactive and know these interactions for any medication you are taking.

There are numerous excellent medical websites for drug interactions where you can enter your medications to see if there is any possible interaction between different medications such as Webmd. Read the entire product label for any medication or nutrition supplement and ask for the drug wrapper from your pharmacist for prescription drugs. The FDA has a great site for common interactions with different classes of drugs here: A great site for drug/nutrient interactions is or

Also check for drug/nutrient depletions because many drugs deplete or prevent absorption of important nutrients. For example, proton pump inhibitors (like Nexium and Prilosec) can prevent proper absorption of key minerals like magnesium which can cause serious issues over the long haul including cardiac arrhythmias. Here is a good list of common drug/nutrient depletions and interactions: and also this one:

A little checking can prevent any potential issue with drug/nutrient interactions; drug to drug interactions, and drug/food interactions.