Monthly Archives: February 2014

Benefits of Cold Showers

On one of my favorite fitness podcasts, the host has been talking about all of the benefits of cold showers lately. Why? I’m not sure, but it caught my attention. It made me think, and I’ve been trying to turn the temperature down a little. Granted, I have heard about people using cold temperatures in general to burn more calories and lose weight through the shiver effect. But it’s a hard thing to get used to. Still, considering all of the benefits I’ve heard of, it seems to be worth a try. Personally, I never found the idea of a cold shower in the winter appealing, but what do you do. These are just a few of the benefits that have come up.

  1. Metabolism, Metabolism, Metabolism – The shiver effect we’ve all heard of does take effect. When you’re cold, blood gets flowing, and you shiver in order to get warmer. You end up burning more calories, and your metabolism gets a little boost. Your body produces more brown fats. which burn more fat. Who would’ve known?
  2. Increased Hormone Production – If you want to have a kid, it doesn’t hurt to take a cold shower. You may need hormone therapy, and you may need to take more extreme measures of course. The truth is that a cold shower can provide you with a small boost in testosterone levels for increased fertility. On the other hand, a hot bath can actually decrease sperm count. There is only so much that it can do of course, but with fertility, if you’re having trouble, every little bit counts.
  3. Relieving Depression – Cold showers can actually lift your mood and relieve mild depression. When you’re sitting under cold water, it sends impulses from your brain’s nerve endings, and it can be somewhat similar to antidepressants. It can calm your nerves, leading to very positive effects.
  4. Healthy Skin & Hair – If you want healthy hair, there are plenty of people who talk about not using blow dryers, straight irons, curling irons, etc. I had a friend whose mom was an absolute Nazi about it. She uses them now, in part I think because her mom wouldn’t let her for all of those years. Hot showers can have somewhat of the same effect. The only difference is nobody really knows it. Yes, hot protein treatments can be healthy, but when you have a cold shower, it is healthier for your hair, and it doesn’t dry out your skin like a hot shower can. You can of course take a mostly hot shower. Just try warm more than hot, and try closing it out with a bit of cold. According to many who have tried it, you can really see the difference.
  5. Increasing your energy levels – If you haven’t noticed, a little cold can really snap you awake. The energy could last a little longer than that though. When it comes right down to it, it can help to reduce the amount of caffeine for some people while stimulating energy, increasing your heart rate, and leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to go.
  6. Sleep Better – When I exercise regularly, I actually sleep better. The same goes for cold showers for some people. Cold showers provide energy in the morning, and they can be calming for your body as well. Yes, it’s shocking to your body at first, but then your body can calm down and help you to sleep better.
  7. Better Stress Tolerance – You wouldn’t think it, but taking a cold shower now and again can actually help you to better tolerate stress. You could build up your immune function, which would also equal out to not getting sick as often. Finally, it can actually reduce inflammation and chronic pain.

Personally, I don’t really think of cold showers as being particularly pleasant, but you get used to it. Of course, it’s always going to be a little shocking to the body when you step in, but you will acclimate and it can be extremely healthy in various ways. At the very least, for many of us, it’s worth a try.


Too Much TV May Make Kids Antisocial

Once upon a time, we used to actually go outside and play as kids, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, seem to believe that our move towards TV for kids is a bad one. In fact, they have gone so far as to recommend restricting your child’s TV time. Why?

Because studies have shown that the more time children spend watching TV, the less sleep they get and the less likely they are to be physically active. Therefore, they are more likely to be obese, increasing the population of obese Americans both in children and adults over time.

They’re not just flapping their jaws though. Again, like I mentioned above, they have studies.

Researchers in New Zealand conducted a study tracking the amount of time spent watching TV in children born between the years of 1972 and 73, and they were between the ages of 5 and 15. These children were followed until age 26, and the researchers looked not at obesity, but rather for signs and symptoms of anti-social behavior. Examples would include criminal convictions, aggressive personality traits in early adulthood, and even a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Of course, that would be the extreme, but is the risk really there?

They controlled for various factors of course, as responsible researchers should do. They ultimately found a statistically significant increase in this type of antisocial behavior in children who watched more TV. Personally, I would say it would also correlate with less involved parenting and other factors, which naturally could lead to these types of problems (not TV), but what do I know.

Either way, this was observed in both males and females. Regardless, if you are more involved in your children’s lives, chances are, it’s not a bad thing. You can’t spend too much time trying to actually be involved and develop your kids instead of just sitting them in front of a TV.

You Can Prevent Cancer

With how long we’ve known about cancer and the billions of dollars we’ve dedicated to dealing with it, you would think that we would’ve found a real cure for cancer. I’m not talking about chemo, or for that matter things that lead to a waiting period to just see if it comes back. At this point, we don’t even have technology to catch many cases of cancer until it’s too late. What we do know is that because of all of that research, there are numerous ways to treat cancer, a growing number of steps toward getting a cure, and we also know some of the things that may put you at greater risk. In other words, we know some of what you can ultimately do in order to prevent cancer.

The truth is that Americans are largely uninformed or severely misinformed. Many Americans believe that this baffling disease is hopeless, and they are powerless before it. The study producing these numbers conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) leaves little to the imagination. Many are having a harder time with cancer and the questions behind it than may really be necessary.

However, the big focus here is diet. There are plenty of ways to speculate, and just about everything seems to either cause or prevent cancer. Of course, the fact is that there is no food that we know of that is going to cure cancer. So do me a favor and don’t go out and buy yourself a whole bottle of vitamin C instead of using the medications prescribed by your doctor if you already have cancer. This said, a healthy diet doesn’t hurt. What do people know about this?

When asked about diet and cancer, just 58% knew that they could reduce their risk of cancer by using a healthy diet while 11% either disagreed and 31% could not make up their minds either way. Of course, it is possible that some of these people are following a healthy diet anyway, but how many are not? How many are putting themselves at a higher risk of cancer, because they don’t know?

Interestingly enough, those polled in the UK knew even less when polled by the World Cancer Research Fund International. 49% of people in that poll reported that they did not know that diet affected your cancer risk. 2/3 of the 2000 adults involved in the UK polls did not know about the association between cancer and physical activity and 59% did not know about the link between body weight and cancer. More than 1/3 (34%) associated cancer risk mostly with family genes. Factually speaking, only 5-10% of cancer risk is linked to genes.

What does this mean for the world at large and future cases of cancer? It means that about 374,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the US each year by improving diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight according to AICR estimates. In other words 1/3 of those suffering from cancer do’t actually have to.

You can argue all you want if you feel that’s necessary. However, the fact is that being overweight or obese (having too much body fat) is linked to cancers including post menopausal breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and esophageal cancer. In fact, excess body fat alone could account for 117,000 cases of cancer in the US every year. Just 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise on the other hand could reduce cancer risk, even when taking related body weight out of the equation.

So what kind of diet are we talking about? Any diet that is rich in healthy fruits and vegetables, reducing packaged foods, high fat, etc could be effective. However, some are turning to the Mediterranean diet, which seems to be easier, less calorie counting, and many would consider it to have more taste. When combined with 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, you could improve your health as a whole. In other words, you could reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and many others.

So why the Mediterranean diet in particular? There are plenty of reasons when you think about it. For one thing, the Mediterranean diet is full of anti inflammatory agents, antioxidants, and healthy vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and lean proteins. Reducing inflammation and free radical activity in the body could easily help to reduce the risk of potentially dangerous and cancerous cells.

If you aren’t interested in the Mediterranean diet, there are other options though. For example, the Low glycemic impact diet. It focuses on foods that don’t make our blood glucose levels spike as quickly, and this ultimately includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, which are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy antioxidants. The fact that these types of diets are also meant to help you to lose weight also has that added benefit.

So what about particular foods? Not all of us need a whole structured diet plan? Fruits and vegetables are obvious, but you should also try for more healthy fats. Healthy fats have antioxidants, they reduce inflammation, they lubricate joints, and they keep the heart healthier. As mentioned before, the Mediterranean diet actually has quite a few healthy fats included.

Living healthy may require more changes for some people than others. It may also lead to more budgetary changes for some than others. Buying packaged foods all the time can lead to major differences in a lot of things, and depending on the severity, you could experience some diarrhea and other unpleasant side effects of introducing more fiber to a diet that did not have enough before. Regardless, these are changes that are completely within your control, and if you want to prevent cancer, this is something you may want to take very seriously.

Why Diets Fail

Around New Years, diet pill sales spike. They suddenly multiply, and you find yourself in a situation where everybody around you has decided they are going to diet, exercise, lose weight, and change their lives. The problem is that this typically doesn’t work out so well. Personally, I’ve done cleanses at random throughout the year, and sometimes it’s nice to just have those few days, or few meals. When it comes to serious dieting though, a cleanse is not right for everybody, especially if you’re running between diets and cleanses willy nilly. If people do lose weight, chances are they’re not going to keep it off, especially in today’s society, but why?

There’s the standard answer (and it’s actually true) that diets are bad, because they are not a lifestyle change. They are temporary changes, and then we go back to exactly what we were doing before. However, it goes beyond that. It’s the same basic principle, or at least the small things lead back to the same principle, but here we go.

First, it’s how we look at diets. Diets are painful. They require a lot of change. We give things up that we love, and it’s a commitment that can really be scary. Diets should not be painful. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but you should know that you can still have your cake every once in a while, or whatever else you may love and not want to give up.

The second thing that comes up is that it’s not a long term change. We set short term goals for ourselves. Yes, baby steps are good, but not when all you want is to look good for bathing suit season….and then what? That’s the age old question that we run into. Instead of I want to look this good in 2 months, why not try something more general like I want to be healthier. I want to have more energy, I want things that are generally associated with healthier living in short. If you are going for a different lifestyle, you are more likely to stick with it than you would be if you were just shooting for that small goal 2 months out. You can set small goals for yourself in short time frames. Just make sure that you have long term ideals too. Don’t replace a long term health change to a quickie diet.

Another problem is food addiction. Yes, it happens. There are those who actually suffer from an addiction to food, maybe even an addiction to sugar that may require more of a cold turkey approach. Obviously, you can’t stop eating altogether, but you can narrow it down to which foods you have a problem with. There have been recent rat studies that have shown that rats who have a history of eating too much sugar tend to display symptoms that look like addiction. If you have this problem, you may want to get more outside help.

So how do we reverse this problem with our diets? How do we turn things around? You take it step by step. Determine that you want to be healthy, not just skinny. Once you get going, reward yourself every once in a while by giving yourself a break. It shouldn’t be a struggle that you dread. You should still enjoy your food and occasional cheats are fine. They are certainly better than a major slip-up. But even if you do slip, it’s not the end of the world. It’s okay to slip and then start again. When you keep going, even when you make a mistake, you can teach yourself new strategies along the way to prevent future problems.

More importantly than this perhaps, stick to small changes. Remember when we mentioned baby steps? Baby steps are good. Baby steps could be something like changing to more water instead of drinking soda or eating more fruits and vegetables (focusing on what you do eat instead of what you don’t). Focus on small lifestyle changes.

Can You Cure Crohn’s Disease?

Just try getting a correct diagnosis. Let’s jump that hurdle first. If you have a digestive disorder, a lot of them look virtually identical, and many times, it takes a few attempts with the doctor to actually get the right one. If you have Celiac disease, in a way, you’re lucky as it’s all about dietary changes, and it can be fixed. However, with Crohn’s disease, it could very well be the most severe and tragic of digestive disorders, especially when diagnosed improperly.

This said, one can live with Crohn’s disease. In fact, some are even talking about a cure. Some have started to use fecal transplants for this (among other digestive disorders). Personally, I just can’t stomach the idea of someone else’s feces going into my body, regardless. However, some have talked about truly miraculous results there.

There are others though who say that they have been cured of Crohn’s disease in other ways. My question is, is it like the cure for AIDS, which as it turns out is not a cure at all. AIDS has reemerged in those who were thought to be cured.

When it comes to Crohn’s, it is a mix of medications according to some, specifically for TB and leprosy. Like fecal implants, the idea is that Crohn’s disease is actually caused by a germ in the digestive system, and if you get that germ out or overwhelm it with good germs, then you can eliminate the problem and the plethora of symptoms that come with it. According to proponents for this treatment, you have to follow a certain diet, and in most treatments for digestive disorders, they recommend following a healthier diet free of certain trigger foods, such as spicy foods for example.

As of right now, the evidence is based on case reports. There are no large, overwhelming studies. So there is some fair speculation about if this is actually legitimate. It’s fair to say though that some have benefited from it, and of course, the ones experiencing the medical miracles are more willing to be loud about it than those who simply saw no results either way. So what is this plan?

The Diet

This diet is a bit more extreme and particular than many others suggested for digestive disorders. Something called MAP (otherwise known as Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis) has been found in many dairy products. In other words, we get into the hormones put into foods and animals. Proponents suggest that MAP is part of the problem, and if you eliminate foods with MAP in it, that is one of the first steps to kill and prevent the bacteria’s regrowth. Some people are also extending this MAP free diet to other digestive disorders. Articles about Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis have permeated many of the natural magazines and even other scientific publications. Granted, if you talk to your gastroenterologist, chances are they are going to brush it off, especially with some of the sources who have become slightly obsessed with it.

The Borody Protocol

Some patients have been started on what’s called the Borody protocol. This consists of clarithromycin, rifabutin, clofazimine and ethambutol. This is more medically supported in some circles. Since the beginning, some have stopped taking ethambutol due to the fear of side effects while clofazimine was discontinued in the US. It was instead donated to agencies that treat leprosy, generally through the World Health Organization. Patients have then reduced it to a combination of rifabutin, clofazimine, and clarithromycin. Within a few months, there have been reports that all symptoms have virtually disappeared.

Are People Cured?

There are people who have gone a number of years without more symptoms, but do we dare say that they are cured. Many are understandably approaching this with a large degree of caution. Crohn’s disease has negatively affected a number of people, and it is a daunting disease. We don’t want people to stop using good medications or for that matter do things that will allow/force the disease to progress.

Nobody is really sure how this will go forward. There are some who are trying to conduct more studies and do more research. We don’t know if this is really a cure, and there are plenty of critics of this for strong reasons. At this point, we will see how things move forward, and if it turns out to be a cure, then we’ll talk about that then.

Will The Legalization of Marijuana Increase Obesity?

The Super Bowl will be a super pot event. That has been going around in various forms after finding out the two football teams involved are from cities that recently legalized marijuana. It’s exciting for a lot of people, and not just for medical purposes. These cities legalized pot for recreational use. The question for many is will marijuana use lead to weight gain? If you’ve ever been involved or heard about it, it tends to lead to the munchies for many people, and it makes sense.

Marijuana is made up in part by appetite stimulants known as cannabinoids. We have natural cannabinoids, which are called endocannabinoids, and they create feelings of both bliss and hunger, leading to those infamous munchies. When you get a higher concentration of these in the hypothalamus, especially all at once, what do you really think happens? Traditionally, the hypothalamus regulates appetite, hunger, and satiety. Marijauna just turns that around.

Of course, we all have our moments and days when we eat more. Frankly, there are those who have used marijuana regularly for various reasons (sometimes medical) and have not gained weight. So what happens here?

When inhaled (as happens when you smoke marijuana), the cannabinoids are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, quickly traveling up to the hypothalamus. The levels of THC rise after a few mere minutes, and they bind to the brain receptors, triggering that hunger and the munchies for fatty foods such as onion rings, fries, chips, and candy.

Of course, it’s not the same for everyone just as the high many experience is highly variable. However, the general rule is that there is an increase in the intake of fatty foods. Consumption of fatty foods means that you have to work harder to burn those calories off, and you could conceivably gain weight, especially being that marijuana does not naturally increase your metabolism.

Ironically, surveys of those who smoke marijuana on a regular basis shows that many are actually quite skinny, not fat as you might expect. The munchies associated with marijuana aren’t necessarily translating into that weight gain we would just expect. Why?

Because especially in states leaning toward legalization, it comes down to the fact that some people have medical problems. Some have Crohn’s disease, others have cancer, both of which would lead to problems digesting, holding down food, etc. Yes, you stabilize or gain weight when you can actually absorb food properly, but it would depend partly on how long that had been going on.

This isn’t to suggest that you would actually lose weight by smoking marijuana, just that some of the reasons why people smoke are not as predictable as you might think. Therefore, the results aren’t as automatic or predictable when it comes to obesity as you may think. Frankly, for some of these people, an increased appetite may actually be extremely healthy and even lifesaving.

Public health officials are of course watching states that have approved marijuana, and it will be interesting to see how things change. Will people gain weight? Will the rate of obesity rise? If you have no experience with pot, and you are afraid of gaining weight, chances are you may want to stay on the safe side, even if you live in a state that has now legalized it. The jury is still out in saying for sure though.

Should You Pay Kids to Eat Their Veggies?

When I was a kid, it was eat or starve. My mom didn’t pay me or beg me to eat. She gave me my options (which was what she was eating), and that was it. When it came right down to it, I knew I wasn’t going to get other options in between meals. So for me, it came down to the fact that I wasn’t all that willing to starve. However, other parents in today’s world seem to be taking a different approach. Maybe they’re worried their children will starve or get food somewhere else, and then they’ll look like bad parents. However, the thing that some parents are doing is bribing their kids. They say if you eat these veggies, I’ll give you a brownie for example. I personally find the old approach the best, but is paying your kids to eat their vegetables valid too?

According to recent research, researchers were able to get kids to eat 80% more fruits and vegetables by paying them as little as just 5 cents. Not surprisingly, especially as kids got older and understood the value of money, 25 cents became more effective. It seems a bit desperate, even a bit sleezy, but if it works….it’s better than what a lot of us have been doing so far. Some things parents (and schools) have used so far include:

  • Eat a piece of fruit and get a nickel
  • Eat your broccoli and you get a brownie
  • Two more bites of your peas and you can leave the table (this is actually an old one)

Frankly, it’s not so much a bribe that’s the problem. You’re rewarding the wrong behavior when you really think about it. By doing this, the main thing we are pushing is eat more, which is part of the reason why people have so much trouble losing weight. Instead you should be trying to teach your kids to eat vegetables instead, to enjoy vegetables and fruits more. Frankly, in a country where we have such a huge problem with overeating, is this really the lesson we want to teach our kids?

One of the biggest things that has come up in studies of childhood obesity is that we push our children to eat more after they’re full. We say just one more bite and you can leave the table. Eat this much more and you get this prize. Kids naturally have a threshold where they naturally realize they’re full, but we are telling them to override that.

In a way, if you’re telling them eat this instead of that, or for that matter only providing one or limited options, chances are you’re going to get off on a much better foot.