Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

There are many different types of fasts, but the most popular and practical is called intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting gives your body more time to effectively digest what you are eating and eliminate waste. 

The most popular way to do intermittent fasting is to restrict your daily food intake to a specific window of time - typically a six to eight-hour time-frame each day.

For example, if you skip breakfast and make lunch the first meal of your day, you might restrict your food intake to the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. If you are a breakfast lover, your window could be between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  The best results are obtained by having an early feeding window to match the bodies circadian rhythm.   Food intake is a major part of setting that rhythm along with morning bright light exposure and limiting light for 2 - 3 hours before bed.

If you choose a later feeding window make sure you stop eating or drinking anything with calories at least three hours before bedtime.   This ensures that you get a better growth hormone release during sleep and avoid heartburn.   When you eat three or more meals a day, you rarely, if ever, empty your glycogen stores (storage form of glucose – mostly in your liver), mainly because it takes about eight to 12 hours to burn the sugar stored in your body as glycogen.

By fasting about 16 to 18 hours a day, you give your body enough time to drain your glycogen stores and shift into fat-burning mode. This pushes your body to use fat as a fuel.  Because fat is a slow-burning fuel, you will not only have a more balanced energy supply, but you will also avoid the typical sugar "highs" and "lows" that come with typical diets.

While you will undoubtedly feel hungry on occasion, that is perfectly normal. Once your body adjusts, you may be surprised to discover how much less food you will consume to feel completely satisfied. In many cases your food cravings literally disappear once you have regained your ability to burn fat for fuel.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting provides a number of health benefits including:
  • Forces the body to become efficient at burning fat as the primary fuel which helps eliminate sugar cravings
  • Increases growth hormone to help build muscle and promote overall health and wellness
  • Enhances brain health and helps prevent neurological disorders like Alzheimer's
  • Reduces oxidative stress and fights aging and diseases like cancer
  • Lowers triglycerides and reduces inflammation
  • Dramatically boosts brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons.
  • Dramatically increases the process of Autophagy

Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy means “self-eating” and refers to processes that your body uses to clean out various debris and detoxify while also recycling damaged cell components.   It is quite literally like your body’s recycling program.   It improves metabolic efficiency, gets rid of faulty parts, and stops cancerous growths.   It also helps to dramatically decrease inflammation throughout the body.

During the bio-energetic challenge of exercising or fasting, autophagy is increased.   This stimulates stem-cells including muscle stem cells which can help prevent sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging).     So, intermittent fasting can help maintain the regenerative capacity of muscle stem cells.

There are three ways to boost autophagy:   exercise, fasting, and nutritional ketosis. 

Difference between intermittent fasting and chronic low calorie intake (aka dieting!)

There is a huge difference in what happens when we intermittent fast compared to eating low calorie all the time.       When we keep our daily calories low for weeks or months at a time our body compensates by slowing our metabolic rate aka our daily calorie burn.    In addition you end up losing lean mass (muscle) which is exactly what we you want to avoid as you get older!     You also end up feeling deprived, fatigued, and it is easy to not fulfill all your nutrient needs.     

Intermittent fasting does NOT reduce metabolic rate or result in loss of lean mass because of the cyclical nature of the practice.   Since calories are not chronically reduced the body does not slow down.     You can use this method for weight loss but it is easy to maintain your weight by simply eating enough during your eating window each day.

How to get started with Intermittent Fasting

There is no need to jump right into a 16 - 18 daily fast.   Start by not eating in an eight hour window then progress slowly to 10 hours then 12 and eventually 16-18 hours.      A good plan is doing a week at 8 - 10 hours of fasting then progress to 10 - 12 hours the following week then 12 - 14 hours the third week and finally 16 - 18 hours in the fourth week.     This is very easy and not a big shock for most people.

The Importance of Proper Food Choices during Intermittent Fasting

During intermittent fasting, your food choices are very important. Since you'll be eating less, it's vitally important that you get proper nutrition from your food. Healthy fats are essential because intermittent fasting pushes your body to switch over to fat-burning. Particularly if you begin to feel tired and sluggish, it may be a sign that you need to increase the amount of healthy fat in your diet.

Cutting net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) is equally important. Focus on:
  • High quality fat intake in the form of avocados, coconut oil, organic grass-fed butter, organic egg yolks and nuts.
  • Moderate amounts of high-quality protein from organically raised, grass-fed or pastured animals, which translates to no more than 40 to 80 grams of protein per day
  • High amounts of fresh, low-net-carb vegetables, ideally organic

Contraindications for Fasting

Although most people can safely benefit from intermittent fasting, it's important to take caution if you have certain health challenges. Do NOT use fasting unless approved by your physician if any of the following are true:

  • You are underweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less
  • You are malnourished
  • Children should NOT fast! They need nutrients for continued growth; if your child is obese, consider cutting him or her back on refined grains and sugar to promote weight loss
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should NOT fast because a consistent flow of nutrients must be shared continually with the baby to ensure its well-being
  • If you take medications that should be taken with food you will need to be very cautious about fasting and consult with your physician first.   This is especially true for diabetics and those with gout.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Consequences of Too Little Sun Exposure

We are constantly reminded that sun exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancer.     However, there is WAY more to this story and the details matter!    First of all, many studies show that the deadliest form of skin cancer – Melanoma – is not associated with cumulative sun exposure.    In addition, skin cancer risk is mostly about avoiding sun burn, and everyone agrees this is an important goal.

Another important consideration is Vitamin D production – optimizing Vitamin D levels is incredibly important for disease prevention and the best way to do this is with safe, sensible sun exposure.    See this blogpost for information on how to optimize your sun exposure based on your genetics and where you live:

Negative implications of lack of sun exposure:

Increased dementia risk - People who completely avoid sun exposure have almost a 40% greater risk for dementia as they age.   

Increase Breast Cancer Risk – Woman who avoid sun exposure have a much greater risk of developing breast cancer.    In an analysis of women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Study, researchers found that the protective effects of sun-exposure on breast cancer was simply enormous. The risk reductions were highest for women who lived in United States regions of high solar radiation, with RRs ranging from 0.35-0.75. That means, sun-exposure reduced the risk of breast cancer by three-fold; for every 100 breast cancers in women practicing sun avoidance, the sun-loving women only had about 35 cancers, an enormous reduction.

Increased Bone Fracture Risk – Cumulative sun exposure decreases risk of breaking a hip.    Fractures are significantly lower in those with high lifetime sun exposure.   

Increased Risk of Multiple Sclerosis – Many studies show that both lifetime sun exposure and current sun exposure reduces the risk of contracting Multiple Sclerosis.

Increased of Myopia (near sightedness) – according to studies, children who get a lot of sun exposure have a much-reduced risk of developing myopia.

Increase Mortality Risk – A Study that followed 29,000 Swedish women for up to 20 years showed that sun avoiders died much younger than sun lovers, and that the effect of sun avoidance on mortality was equivalent to the risks created through smoking!

CAUTIONS – As stated above getting sun-burned is a very bad idea for many reasons.      Like most things in life it is all about the right dose which is individual based on your skin type,  where you live and your age  - sunburns are particularly bad for children and children's skin is much more sensitive to sun.   Using clothing made to block sun exposure including hats is particularly important for children who will be in the sun for a long period of time!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Can Cold Showers Increase Fat Burning and Improve Exercise Performance?

The short answer is YES!   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:

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Can Summer Camping Fix Sleep Problems?

The short answer is YES!    Camping is a great way to reset your daily sleep/wake cycle known as your Circadian Rhythm.  This cycle is critical for your health and longevity - everything in your body responds to this rhythm. 

Ideally your daily cycle should be in sync with the earth with wake cycles controlled by exposure to high levels of “blue light” early in the day and lack of exposure to Blue or Green light during the evening.

Many aspects of our modern lifestyle can wreak havoc on our ideal circadian rhythm with potentially deadly consequences if continued over the long haul.    Three of the biggest disrupters of a healthy circadian rhythm include:

Overexposure to blue and green light spectrum in the evening and night

Underexposure to Blue and Green light early in the day

Out of sync feeding cycles with a lot of eating occurring in the evening and night

Blue and green light are part of the spectrum of light given off by the sun, digital screens (including phones, tablets, TV’s and computers, electronic devices and fluorescent and LED lighting.      Early exposure to sunlight is the ideal source with an early walk outside.

In the normal course of human evolution prior to the advent of electricity humans got no blue/green light exposure at night and this is important because Blue and/or Green light signals “wake-up” to the pineal gland in the brain and shut off melatonin production.    

This is a very big deal because melatonin does a whole lot more than make you sleepy including supporting the healthy functioning of all our cells and specifically the energy powerhouse of your cells the mitochondria.

Out of sync prolonged eating – another key element of our evolutionary heritage is that humans rarely ate anything at night.     There was no light so people tended to eat during the day and go to sleep relatively early.      In addition, modern life includes a daily eating window that is way to long with most Americans eating during a 15-hour window of constant food/calorie intake.

This prolonged eating window coupled with late night eating is also out of sync with our genetic heritage.   Constant food supply and lights are a very new phenomenon for humans beings considering that this is only something that happened over the last 50 – 100 years whereas for hundreds of thousands of years people never at a night and consumed all their calories during a much shorter time window each day and also were forced to fast on a frequent basis.

Camping to the Rescue!
Believe or not something as simple as going camping for one week has been proven to rapidly fix all of these issues!   A 2013 Study in “Current Biology” showed that people’s circadian rhythm will synchronize to a natural, midsummer light-dark cycle if given the right stimulus (camping)/    For the first week of the study participants went through their normal routines of work, school, social activities and their normal sleep schedules.

For the second week participants camped in tents outdoors with only natural light and campfires (no blue or green light!).    No digital devices were allowed.     The response was pretty amazing:  they shifted their wake up time approximately 2 hours earlier and melatonin release and shut-off was optimized with light/dark cycles of the earth.    This was true even for self-proclaimed “night owls”. 
Needless to people almost always adjust their food intake timing while camping as well with the strong tendency to not eat during darkness.

So as we approach summer - think about a camping trip to help reset your daily rhythm!