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Science! I like it!

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Disclosure: I received the gently used Grid and new-in-package MobiPoint Massage Ball as conference swag, directly from TriggerPoint Therapy, one of the sponsors of Sweat Pink’s BlogFest at IDEA World 2019. (I’m only giving them away because I already had my own!) I wasn’t asked to write a blog post, host a giveaway, or anything else for that matter. All opinions and words are my own.

What Have You Heard about Foam Rolling?

Pictures of The Grid
The Grid (left), The Grid Vibe Plus (right), and the travel Grid

If you haven’t heard about “foam rolling,” you’ve probably been living under a rock. There’s WAY more to the world of self-myofacial release (SMFR or MFR) than the foamy logs you see at the Relax the Back store or in your yoga/pilates studio. Essentially, SMFR is a type of self-massage that often involves specialized tools, including various kinds of stick-rollers, log/tube-shaped rollers, balls, and other tools. SMFR techniques manipulate and massage the muscles and surrounding tissues, increasing blood flow and elasticity. In my experience, while there is sometimes a bit of “owww, that’s a tight spot,” the end result is a bit like the end result of a massage: everything feels better.

I first encountered the Grid at an SCW Mania event nearly ten years ago, back when TP Therapy was a small company based in Austin, TX. (It is now owned by Implus, the American parent company of SKLZ, Harbinger, Balega, RockTape, FuelBelt, Sofsole, Spenco, and more.) Their trainers–including Cassidy Phillips, the founder and CEO–taught several practical SMFR sessions. Cassidy taught us a little bit about fascia, the connective tissue that helps form the structure of the human body; it’s like a scaffolding around the bones that helps keep other body tissues and organs in their place. Think of it as a stretchy mesh: if you pull on one corner and wad it up, the rest of the mesh stretches out to accommodate. Fascia does something similar in the body (which is why when your left low back gets tight, you might find your right upper back, or some other seemingly unrelated body part, is also upset). Cassidy also explained that human muscle tissue is just like any other animal muscle tissue; when it is fully hydrated and moving well it is like a tender steak, but when it is partially dehydrated and has knots or spots of uneven tension it is more like beef jerky. (That image has stuck with me, and I’m a more hydrated-human because of it.)

Before I get into why I love The Grid, let’s take a step back. If you’ve tried SMFR you probably agree that it feels good (well, after it stops hurting like hell), and maybe you’ve read some other blogger yammer on about how fantastic it is. That’s all well and good, but fancy tea tastes good and no matter how many bloggers say so it isn’t going to “detox” you (at least not any more than your liver and kidneys already do). So…is foam rolling worthwhile, or is it some woo-woo goop-esque trend?

What Science Says

If you’re a science geek, you probably already know about PubMed. If you are an athlete interested in exercise science, or a person interested in the latest nutrition research, or a blogger who doles out advice on anything related to the human body (including products and ingredients) you really ought to bookmark it. PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institute of Health. PubMed largely includes abstracts of peer-reviewed articles, though a few articles are available for free. The articles include clinical trials, epidemiology reviews, case studies, and more. You can choose to view the results by “best match” or “most recent”

Pro tip: if you don’t want to pay for access to an article, but you really want to read it, you have two free options. One, reach out to the authors of the paper. Many authors are happy that someone wants to read their research, and would be thrilled to send you a copy of the publication. Two, seek out access via a college or university library. If you attended a college or university, start there. Many allow their alumni to use the library resources for free or super cheap. If you didn’t, you can try a nearby college or university. Many have a non-student library card that you can obtain for a fee, and that may include access to electronic resources.

A PubMed search for “foam rolling” returned 83 results! (The more scientific “self myofascial release” returned 100. There is some overlap, of course.) Some of the articles are very general, while others are almost nauseatingly specific, such as Behara B, and Jacobson BH’s “Acute Effects of Deep Tissue Foam Rolling and Dynamic Stretching on Muscular Strength, Power, and Flexibility in Division I Linemen.” J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):888-892. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001051. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26121431

A Little of the Bad News

There are several articles that cast doubt on what you’ve likely heard about foam rolling.

At least one review concludes that the term “self-myofascial release” is misleading, because there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that foam rolling and similar practices actually release myofascial restrictions. Behm, DG and Wilke, J. Do Self-Myofascial Release Devices Release Myofascia? Rolling Mechanisms: A Narrative Review. Sports Med. 2019 Aug;49(8):1173-1181. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01149-y. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31256353  It strikes me that this is a fair conclusion, since the research on foam rolling and similar practices is still pretty young, and it’s entirely possible that any results achieved are from something other than myofascial release, maybe improved blood circulation, or something about how your breathing changes while you are doing it–we don’t know. (But we might, soon!)

Bundle of TP tools
TP Performance Collection (minus the Baller Block–trust me, you want that too) and MB5 Massage Ball

Another study concluded that adding SMFR to static stretching did not have an effect on hamstring stiffness, as a group that did only static stretching achieved the same results. Mortin, RW et al. Self-Myofascial Release: No Improvement of Functional Outcomes in ‘Tight’ Hamstrings. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016 Jul;11(5):658-63. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2015-0399. Epub 2015 Nov 9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26562930

Remember that in order to make sense of any study’s result, you need to take a look at who the participants were (students, professionals, weekend warriors?), what the researchers looked at (how did they measure results? what did they consider or fail to consider?), and the testing protocol (what did the participants actually do? was there a control group?). The results of a small study of college tennis players, for example, may not apply to a Gen Xer who only does Crossfit.

A Little of the Good News

I love the way I feel in my body after a good session with The Grid, so I almost don’t care if there is any science to support it. Since I’m recommending it to you though, I think it would be irresponsible to talk about how great I think it is if in reality it’s a sham like detoxing foot pads or alkaline water. Here are a few studies that found foam rolling or SMFR beneficial–these are the ones I found interesting, but you can go find more on PubMed. The term “key finding” is mine (as some abstracts use “results,” others use “conclusions,” and I like a tidy organization to my references).

Several studies concluded that the protocol they studied led to an improved range of motion:

  • Su H, et al. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. J Sport Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6):469-477. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2016-0102. Epub 2016 Oct 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27736289 Key finding: flexibility test scores improved significantly more after foam rolling a compared with static and dynamic stretching.
  • Mohr AR, et al. Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. J Sport Rehabil. 2014 Nov;23(4):296-9. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2013-0025. Epub 2014 Jan 21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24458506 Key finding: Regardless of the treatment, all subjects had increased range of motion (regardless of treatment: static stretching, foam rolling and static stretching, or only foam rolling). Use of a foam roller followed by static-stretching increased range of motion more than static stretching alone.
  • Bushell JE, et al. Clinical Relevance of Foam Rolling on Hip Extension Angle in a Functional Lunge Position. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sep;29(9):2397-403. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000888. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25734777
    Key finding: repeated foam rolling is beneficial, both objectively and subjectively, for increasing range of motion immediately preceding a dynamic activity.

Several studies concluded that the protocol they studied led to improvement in recovery, including delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS, or the soreness you get a day or two after your workout):

  • Pearcey GE, et al. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415413
    Key finding: Foam rolling effectively reduced DOMS and associated decrements in most dynamic performance measures.
  • Rey E, et al. Effects of Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool in Professional Soccer Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Aug;33(8):2194-2201. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29016479 Key finding: soccer coaches and trainers working with high-level players should use a structured recovery session of 15-20 minutes using foam rolling at the end of a training session to enhance recovery.

Some studies looked at specific health conditions or effects, rather than muscular performance. A few of the ones I found nifty:

  • Improvement of Fibromyalgia. Ceca, D et al. Benefits of a self-myofascial release program on health-related quality of life in people with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Jul-Aug;57(7-8):993-1002. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07025-6. Epub 2017 Jan 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28139112
    Key finding: regular, structured practice of SMFR can improve health-related quality of life for people with fibromyalgia.
  • Reduction of Arterial Stiffness. Okamoto T, et al. Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829480f5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23575360 Key finding: SMFR with a foam roller reduces arterial stiffness and improves vascular endothelial function.

In short, while the jury is still out on some claims about foam rolling, there is also some evidence–at least regarding the population and specific protocols studied–that foam rolling provides a benefit. I mean beyond feeling good when you’re done.

Back To The Grid

Comparison of The Grid and The Grid Vibe
Above, my well-worn The Grid (yours will be nicer); The Grid Vibe Plus is a bit more slender

Unlike the long foam rollers I’d known before, the Grid has a hollow hard-plastic core. (While there is a smaller travel Grid available–think as if you took a slice of the roller–the original Grid is great for travel, as you can stuff a lot of clothing in there inside your suitcase.) On the outside, the Grid is textured in an un-even grid-like pattern: small squares are high and firm, like fingertips or a thumb tip; long and narrow rectangles are more like fingers; and larger rectangular flat areas are like palms. Positioning the Grid so that a particular surface hits the targeted area changes how it feels on your body. Rolling through all of the different zones feels delicious to me! In my first class, we learned techniques to roll out the peroneals, IT band, quads, anterior tibialis, and more.

Also unlike the long foam rollers I’d known before, the Grid is very sturdy. (I’ve had my personal Grid since that first SCW Mania, I’ve toted it around the country, and you’d be hard pressed to tell.) The fact that it is hollow means you can also incorporate it into exercises apart from SMFR. For example, you can hold the sides (palms on top, fingers tucked inside the hollow center) and plank. This adds an extra dose of instability to your plank, as any shift of your body weight forward or back will cause the Grid to roll. Another example exercise is the lunge. Standing with your front foot on the Grid and your back leg in an extended lunge, keep your torso upright and your front leg steady while you drop you back knee to a right angle. Another example is the plank-to-pike exercise: start in a plank with your toes on the Grid, transition to a pike with the soles of your feet on the Grid. Quite possibly my favorite is the wall squat using the Grid between your back and the wall.

Your Only Tool Is a Hammer…Is Everything a Nail?

One of the things that impressed me was that the staff at the TriggerPoint booth were more interested in showing you how to use their tools than selling you the tools. SMFR isn’t something you just do here and there to make a workout smoother, or to recover from a workout. In order to create and maintain results, any SMFR program requires repetition–just like exercise. The TriggerPoint website includes a library of videos on how to use their products (which back in the day we bought on DVD). After using it in a workshop targeted towards runners, I purchased a tools kit (similar to what is now called the TP Performance Collection) that came with a booklet outlining a total body program (including a dry-erase calendar to plan your program); I also bought The Ultimate 6 for Runners–a similar booklet that targets the soleus, qaudcriceps, psoas, piriformis, pectorales, and thoracic spine. I particularly like the booklets. They are spiral bound to lay flat, and have plenty of photographs in addition to the text description.

Today, the TP Therapy products in my SMFR tool kit also include the Grid Vibe (thinner than the Grid, but OMG the vibration is brilliant!), MB5 large foam massage ball, MobiPoint massage ball, and the Nano X foot roller (the extra-dense version of the Nano foot roller). Recently TP Therapy released a new tool, the MB Vibe, which is similar to the MB5 but also has vibration to it. (I cannot wait to get my hands on one!)

Win Your Own!

I have ONE prize pack to give away. It includes The Grid, the original TP Therapy product, in orange; and the MobiPoint Massage Ball (a sweet treat for runner feet!). Apologies to my friends elsewhere, but postage is spendy these days and so I have to limit this giveaway to U.S. residents only. Void where prohibited.

Start by leaving a comment and tell me about your experiencce: Have you tried foam rolling or another form of self myofacial release? Which tools do you use? What’s your favorite exercise? How often do you roll?

Then work your way through the steps in the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This post by Lauren Grant was provided by New Hope Network. I am a member of the New Hope Influencer Co-op, a network of health and wellness bloggers committed to spreading more health to more people. The parts in italics? All me!

Eating right doesn’t have to equal mundane meals and slim wallets. And this list of the ten healthiest—and cheapest—plant-based foods proves just that. From leafy greens and grains to fruit and hearty vegetables, these ingredients guarantee nutritious, budget-friendly meals that will satisfy even the hungriest of appetites. So say good-bye to boring breakfasts and flavorless side dishes and get in the kitchen with these versatile recommendations. They provide endless options for healthy, money-saving meals that will fuel your body and save your wallet. There is something for everyone!

Nuts for Seeds?

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Seeds. When it comes to buying seeds and nuts, you may experience some sticker shock. Stop struggling between health and savings, and pick up a bag of nutritious, budget-friendly pumpkin seeds.

Cost: $0.30 per ¼-cup serving ($4.25 per pound).

Benefits: Pumpkin seeds—or pepitas, as they’re called when they’re shelled—pack a lot of health benefits for their little size. Aside from offering a high amount of manganese, just ¼ cup of pepitas contains nearly 50 percent of your daily need for magnesium—important for muscle, heart and bone health. That same serving size is high in heart-healthy fats and adds almost 10 grams of protein to your diet.

Ideas: I like pumpkin seeds on my salads, but I also like them plain (cooked, even in the shell!). Next time you gut your Jack o’ Lantern, save the seeds, wash and pat dry, then spread on a cookie sheet with a little oil and salt; bake until they start to turn brown, stirring occasionally. Buy in bulk to save money. Spending to treat yourself? Try Health Warrior’s pumpkin seed bars!

Need Some Color in Your Life?

Carrots & Cauliflower. With a combined résumé that’s pretty stunning, these two powerhouse veggies are vital when it comes to filling your plate and your wallet.

Cost: 0.20 to $0.50 per cup ($0.98 to $2.48 per pound).

Benefits: One cup of carrots alone surpasses your daily need of vitamin A. Throw in the various antioxidants (beta-carotene being the most well-known, and a precursor to vitamin A), and you’re already looking at one of the healthiest foods you can buy. Add a cup of cauliflower to up the ante. Just 1 cup contains 73 percent of your daily vitamin C needs; plus it’s been shown to decrease the risk of various cancers.

Ideas: Grate cauliflower and cook, use in place of rice. Carrots roast nicely either whole or chopped into pieces, alone or with other root vegetables, but my favorite way to eat them (in the winter, at least) is in carrot and roasted red pepper soup. Make a hearty all-vegetable meal by topping a baked potato with cauliflower and carrots; add broccoli for color variety and top with butter or cheese if that’s your thing.

Bean There, Tried That?

Pinto BeansPinto Beans. Whether dried and cooked or used straight from the can, heart-healthy pinto beans are one of the cheapest protein sources you can buy.

Cost: $0.04 per ½-cup cooked serving from dried beans ($0.80 per pound dried beans) and $0.20 per ½-cup serving from canned beans ($0.64 per pound canned beans).

Benefits: Not surprisingly, pinto beans are packed with fiber. Just ½ cup of cooked beans gives you more than 30 percent of your daily recommended intake for dietary fiber. Additionally, pinto beans contain high levels of folate, magnesium and potassium, all of which contribute to heart health. And, being high in protein and iron makes pinto beans a favorable plant-based alternative to red meat.

Ideas: My go-to “lazy dinner” is the homemade version of Cafe Yumm’s classic bowl: brown rice, beans of your choice, salsa and/or pico de gallo and/or chopped tomatoes, top with cheese and Yumm sauce. Make it fancier by adding some sliced olives, chopped onions, garlic, cilantro, and cheese. If quac is your thing, that would work too. (Yuck.) Need Yumm sauce? Find out where to buy it here.

Feeling Fruity?

Butternut squashButternut Squash. This hourglass-shaped fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) has taken a backseat to summer squash for far too long. The butternut is a winter squash that offers more benefits and versatility than is often thought.

Cost: $0.40 per 1-cup serving ($1.31 per pound).

Benefits: Although some produce hide their nutrients, butternut squash isn’t afraid to flaunt them. Its brightly colored orange flesh indicates the presence of beta-carotene, which we know to fight certain cancers and protect eye health. Beyond that, this gourd adds a healthy amount of fiber and vitamins A and C to your diet, which in combination contribute to a strong immune system, bone and tissue health and healthy blood sugar levels.

Ideas: Not a big squash eater here…but I do love chopped, baked butternut squash served warm on a winter salad (kale, goat cheese, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds) or in a cold quinoa or rice-based salad (especially pretty with the black “forbidden rice”). In the winter, I love using it in soup. If you’re not up for cooking, look for Pacific Foods butternut squash soup (it comes in a carton, so if you take it to work for lunch you can make it last two days).

Would it Kale You to Eat Greens?

KaleKale. This once rare but now beloved veggie can be found on tables and menus everywhere. The popularity of this leafy green has caused prices to drop, and you should take advantage of its nutrition prowess.

Cost: $0.11 per 1-cup serving ($1.60 to $2.00 per pound). (I seriously dare you to try to eat a pound of kale. I swear it cannot be done.)

Benefits: Kale contains more lutein, a type of carotenoid important for eye health, than any other produce. It’s also high in manganese and vitamins A, C and K, all of which contribute to kale’s health benefits—such as lowering your risk of some cancers, reducing your risk of blood clots and boosting your bone and tissue health. Just 1 cup of loosely packed kale contains 20 to 25 percent of your daily vitamin C needs.

Ideas: Before I started to like the taste of kale, I used to “hide” it in my smoothies. Turns out I just prefer thinly sliced kale to big kale leaves–try it, you might like it better too! I am particularly fond of the chopped salad kits by Taylor Farms, Eat Smart, and Fresh Express. Yes, they definitely increase the cost of the kale, but they also ensure I will eat it–wasted food is wasted money.

Fancy Something Fuzzy?

EdamameFrozen Edamame. High in fiber and protein and low in unhealthy fats, soybeans are an easy and healthy way to get more bang for your buck. Not many protein sources render as strong of a nutritional profile, which lands edamame on this list.

Cost: $0.34 per ½-cup serving ($2.72 per pound) of frozen, shelled edamame.

Benefits: Edamame contains a long list of vitamins and minerals (some rarely heard of), with the most notable being iron, manganese, B vitamins and vitamin K. Additionally, edamame is a complete protein, which means it contains all of the nine essential amino acids, a rarity in plant protein sources.

Pro tip: You can find edamame at Trader Joe’s, and often at discount grocers such as Grocery Outlet. It’s easy to steam, and you can even warm it in the microwave. If you buy the edamame still in the pods, it tends to be substantially cheaper than the shelled stuff; I find it helpful to buy the pods so it takes me longer to eat it.

Fuzzier?

KiwiKiwifruit. This little fruit packs flavor, nutrition and a gorgeous green hue inside an unusual fuzzy peel. Simply slice in half and scoop out flesh with a spoon, or peel and slice, or even eat it sliced with the peel on (wash it first, of course) for a quick, healthful snack.

Cost: $0.53 per fruit ($3.56 per pound).

Benefits: An incredible source of vitamin C, kiwi is a good option when oranges become mundane. Just one kiwi serves up a hefty amount of dietary fiber and more than 30 percent of your daily needs for vitamin K. This small green fruit, speckled with tiny seeds, has been found to benefit cardiovascular health and respiratory problems such as asthma, shortness of breath and coughing.

Lunchbox Envy: I first learned to love kiwi when a classmate brought one in her lunch. We used to peel them with our fingers–messy, but satisfying–but you can also slice it in advance. Kiwi is really yummy frozen, and frozen sliced kiwi looks pretty in drinks and sparkling water.

Are You the Saucy Type?

Marinara SauceMarinara Sauce. Although it may be surprising to see a sauce on this list, marinara has earned its place. Made primarily of whole foods, including tomatoes and spices, marinara contains a long index of antioxidants. But be sure to check labels and look for marinara with the fewest grams of added sugars and sodium.

Cost: $0.32 per ½-cup serving ($1.92 per 24-ounce jar).

Benefits: Tomatoes are naturally high in the antioxidant lycopene—thought to have cancer-prevention benefits—and when cooked, lycopene becomes more readily available to absorb. Marinara also provides a good amount of iron and vitamin C.

Top tip: It’s not hard to make your own sauce, and then you can control how much sugar and salt is added. You don’t even have to start with fresh tomatoes–try canned tomatoes or tomato paste, and add an Italian herb blend. I like mine with garlic, and sometimes pieces of bell pepper and onions. If you have picky eaters, try making your sauce relatively plain, and offer a buffet of add-ins, such as mushroom pieces or grated Parmesean cheese.

Sticks to Your Ribs, They Told Me…

OatsOats.  A quick, nutritious breakfast, old-fashioned oats offer a myriad of health benefits in just one bowl. This wallet-friendly whole-grain can be enjoyed sweet or savory, and is a great foundation for a healthful meal or snack.

Cost: $0.07 per ½-cup serving ($1.09 per pound).

Benefits: Naturally gluten-free (but often processed in facilities where gluten-containing grains are also processed), oats deliver almost 10 percent of your recommended daily fiber needs in just ½ cup cooked, along with 3 grams of protein. Also, the daily intake of unrefined, concentrated sources of fiber in oats has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer. Now that’s a healthy carbohydrate!

Warning!! If you (or the person you’re serving the oats to) is celiac or has a gluten allergy, be absolutely certain to look for oats that are certified gluten-free. That ensures the oats were processed in a place and manner that ensures they will not be cross-contaminated. Buying in bulk might be cheaper, but not if it’s going to make you ill.

Keen for Something Ancient?

QuinoaQuinoa. Although this seed has been around since 1200 AD, quinoa took the world by storm just a few years ago, thanks to its incredible nutrient profile, credited with strengthening warriors through the ages.

Cost: $0.21 per ¾-cup cooked serving ($2.14 per pound).

Benefits: These tiny seeds provide 8 grams of complete protein and nearly 60 percent of your daily manganese needs in each ¾-cup cooked serving, making it an ideal plant-based protein. It contains essential fatty acids and heart-healthy fats, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits—proving that good things do, after all, come in small packages.

More than salad! Quinoa is often served as a side dish or salad, like rice. You can add it to soups, breads, meat-loaf (and meatless-loaf!), and a wide variety of other dishes. I’m also a fan of Qrunch, quinoa-based frozen foods. Qrunch products are certified gluten-free and made of ingredients you recognize. In addition to burger-type patties, I really like the “breakfast toastables” which are tasty with syrup, or can be a quick grab-and-go hand-held breakfast. 

Stretch Dollars While Eating Well?

I’d love to hear how you enjoy these foods! Is there a recipe you like to use them in? Or do you prefer some other inexpensive yet nutritious finds?

Disclosure: in accordance with the FTC guidelines for influencers, as well as my own promise to be honest and up front with readers, I disclose that White Cedar Naturals provided me with a bottle of White Cedar Naturals’ full spectrum hemp oil in exchange for my honest review. White Cedar Naturals had absolutely no control or input on the contents of this review; 100% of the opinions and research are my own.

The market for hemp-derived CBD in the United States was an estimated $591 million in 2018, and the Financial Post predicts it will be worth $22 billion by 2022. As with other innovative markets–organic products, supplements–the majority of companies benefit handsomely from consumer misunderstanding. There is A TON of misinformation out there about CBD. If you have shied away from trying CBD products because (1) “they are drugs!” or (2) it’s just too crazy confusing with all the conflicting advertising, labels, and shifty bloggers, this review is for you.

Warning! At the outset, it is very important for anyone subject to testing for drugs or banned substances–whether that’s because you are a competitive athlete or hold a job with the U.S. federal government–that many brands of CBD, as well as other hemp-derived products, are not subject to third-party testing for THC content. Look for products that are NSF International Certified for Sport or bear the Informed-Sport certification, and use your influence as a consumer to demand more companies participate. Further, as with ANY herb, tea, OTC drug, or grapefruit juice, CBD can interfere with some medications. It is very important that you keep your medical care providers apprised of y our CBD usage (take them the package(s) for the product(s) you use). As a side note, known side-effects of CBD consumption include diarrhea, changes in appetite, and fatigue.

What is CBD and isn’t it just for stoners?

CBD is the abbreviation for the phytocannabinoid named cannabidiol. It is a naturally occurring compound that is part of the cannabis family of plants. Cannabis has three classifications: cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and cannabis ruderalis. (You can see sketches and read more HERE.) Humans have been selectively breeding cannabis plants for centuries, just like humans used selective breeding to create big ears of corn from plants that originally had just a few kernels per stem. The variety of cannabis bred to maximize the content of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (a different phytocannabinoid), is known as marijuana. THC is a psychoactive substance, and consuming it results in a “high.” Marijuana plants also have some naturally occurring CBD in them.

Hemp—often referred to as industrial hemp—is a variety of cannabis sativa. Hemp was one of the first plants to be spun into fibers, and historically hemp has been used in paper, textiles, rope, and clothing. Hemp has much lower concentrations of THC than marijuana—you don’t get “high” from smoking hemp because the THC concentration is 0.3% or less (marijuana has a THC concentration of 15% to 40% depending on the strain)—and much higher concentrations of cannabidiol, or CBD. Hemp is a very versatile plant. In addition to spinning the fibers, you can eat the hemp seeds. (I’m a huge fan of Manitoba Harvest in case anyone asks. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of nutritional fiber, protein, and healthy fat and they are delicious on salads and yogurt parfaits. Bonus: no known allergans. Tilray just acquired Manitoba Harvest for $419 million, proving the hemp market is a cash cow.) Hemp seeds are also used for animal feed and bird seed. Parts of the plant can be used for biofuel. Hemp oil from the seeds is used in oil-based paints, as a moisturizer for creams, and for cooking.

Hemp seeds
Unshelled hemp seeds

CBD is NON-psychoactive. It is also NOT addictive. The Wikipedia entry has all the nerdy good stuff on it, from the chemical structure to the currently known pharmacology. Running Shoes Guru has already outlined the preliminary benefits and linked to the research.

Can CBD really do so many things? Is it a scam?

You’ve probably read at least one article claiming that CBD is The Answer for anxiety, depression, insomnia, muscle pain, acne, and more. (If not, seriously, go look at the Running Shoes Guru article already.) If you’re like me, the claim that one compound can help with such a wide variety of conditions makes your inner skeptic start asking questions, like “How can that be?” The answer, as of 2019, is that the mechanism by which CBD operates in the body is not (yet) well understood.

CBD is one of hundreds of plant compounds called phytocannabinoids (“phyto” for plant-based). The human body also produces cannabinoid compounds. These are called endocannabinoids (“endo” is short for “endogenous” which means “having an internal cause or origin”). The human body has a regulatory system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS for short), which I did not learn about in my high school or college biology classes for the simple reason that it hadn’t been discovered yet! The ECS is made up of receptors found in the nervous system throughout the body, endocannabinoids produced by the body, and enzymes that break down cannabinoids. This system helps to maintain balance within the body in many ways. Among other things, the endocannabinoid system has an effect on motor learning and memory, appetite, the stress response, and pain sensation. There is some evidence that CBD has an effect on certain types of cancer cells (when pure CBD is applied directly to the cells) and epilepsy.

CBD can hook up with some of the types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Depending on what it interacts with and how, CBD can have a variety of effects in the body. This article has a chart (scroll down to Figure 2) that explains what CBD does and how it does it. Some scientists hypothesize that endocannabinoid deficiency is the root cause of multiple diseases, including fibromyalgia. Despite the blooming market for CBD products, we still don’t fully understand how the human endocannabinoid system works.

It is Legal? Yes, but also Maybe No.

When Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included a provision making industrial hemp legal, the entire CBD industry let out a cheer: hemp-derived CBD is legal! Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true. It might seem odd if you work outside the world of highly-regulated industries (wait, hemp is legal but a component of hemp is not?). If you are sincerely interested in the nitty-gritty, I highly recommend you follow the status reports issued by the American Herbal Products Association. Without getting too far into the weeds, here are the highlights following the 2018 Farm Bill:

  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not have authority over hemp, cultivation of hemp, or hemp products (which includes plants, plant parts, and plant derivatives). This is because the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the “controlled substances” list (and that’s what the DEA controls).
  • Each state has the opportunity to assert primary regulatory authority over hemp. (Remember how the federal government only gets the powers enumerated in the Constitution, and the rest are reserved to the States? This is a little bit like that.) To take primary control, each state has to submit a “hemp plan” to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If a state does not submit a “hemp plan,” that state’s hemp is regulated by USDA.
  • Hemp is no longer a controlled substance under federal law, which means hemp ingredients MAY be used in food, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and personal care products sold across state lines…but not necessarily right now. (See below.) You still can’t sell marijuana across state lines, and that includes CBD derived from marijuana. (I’m just the messenger–don’t tell me that makes no sense.)
  • Hemp ingredients are subject to the same regulations as other herbal ingredients. Those regulations include rules about production facilities, labels, “serious adverse effect” reports, and more.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the position that CBD cannot be added to foods sold over state lines, and that CBD can’t be a dietary supplement. Sound wrong, since hemp is legal now? It’s because the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) has a rule that any article being investigated or approved as a drug is forbidden from being marketed as a supplement or added to any food, and there are several CBD-based drugs under investigation with the FDA by a company called GW Pharmaceuticals plc. (In Jun 2018 the FDA approved the first CBD medication, Epidiolex, for the treatment of seizures associated with rare/severe forms of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.)
  • Ironic, right? The fact that there is evidence CBD has health benefits means it can’t be used in OTC health products yet? Slow your roll. The FDA is trying to find a way to both permit CBD in food and supplements, while preserving the financial incentives for companies to study potential pharmaceutical use. The most likely solution is to put a limit on the concentration or dosage of CBD in non-pharmaceuticals.
  • The FDA does have the power to use its rule-making authority to allow CBD use in food and supplements, it has to actually act to make that happen. Right now, don’t hold your breath…though some legislators have noted that the FDA really ought to do something, given that CBD products are readily available despite the lack of rules.
  • AHPA noted “Immediately following the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, the FDA Commissioner issued a statement noting that the legislation preserves FDA’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, and indicated that such ingredients–including hemp and hemp derivatives, such as CBD–will be treated as the agency treats any other FDA-regulated products.”

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb resigned a few months after the 2018 Farm Bill passed. As a result, a great deal remains up in the air. There is a significant possibility the new commissioner may have completely different priorities, and ignore Commissions Gottlieb’s stated intent to reform DSHEA (the act regulating supplements) and act on the hemp provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hemp Hearts are shelled hemp seeds–no CBD content implied

Further, the nebulous state of the law on CBD products means there is no uniform labeling language used on all products. The hazy state of the law has led some companies to label their products as “hemp extract” instead of “CBD.” This has the benefit, potentially, of not being regulated as a “CBD” product (definitely a benefit in states where CBD is state-regulated and illegal) but the downside of not clearly stating the component parts (e.g. how much CBD, how much other phytocannabinoids, how much plant terpenes?), as well as making it difficult to compare products across brands.

If you’re interested in hemp, you might want to keep an eye on the various hemp industry groups’ websites, or join their mailing lists. In addition to the AHPA, there is also the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is championing the U.S. Hemp Authority Certification; the Hemp Industries Association; and for basic education, keep on eye on the annual Hemp History Week.

By the way, if you’re not in the United States? The law is probably more clear. CBD is legal in the UK, Europe, Canada, and Japan

Limits on Self-Experimentation.

Before I launch into my review of White Cedar Naturals and my experience with the product, I think it is important to acknowledge that self-experimentation has limits. The placebo effect–basically the idea that your brain can convince your body that a fake treatment is real–exists and is recognized by all serious medical authorities, including Harvard Medical School. This is why “double blind” studies–whee neither the participant nor the researcher know which study participants receive the investigational medicine and which receive a placebo–are the gold standard for peer-reviewed research. In taking a product for a test-drive, there is no way to conduct such a study, and no way to separate my potential expectations from my experiences.

In general, prior to trying any hemp-derived product I was cautious. I read as much as I could find in both general advertising from CBD companies, as well as the published peer-reviewed research on PubMed. Because many compounds remain active in the body long after they are taken–that’s part of how many anti-depressants work, which is why they have an “on ramp” and “off ramp” dosage for starting and stopping–I conducted my first experiments on the weekend, and made sure I did not have to operate heavy machinery or drive. (Just about every medication I have taken says not to drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how it affects you, so that just seemed like a smart thing to do.)

Photo courtesy of White Cedar Naturals

Introducing White Cedar Naturals

When I was first approached by White Cedar Naturals they had a website, but the only way to purchase products was via their Amazon store. I read every word on the website, as well as the studies linked in support of product claims. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the initial website–remember, I’m both a skeptic and the daughter of an English teacher–I provided detailed, extensive feedback to the representative who reached out to me. That feedback ranged from “you’re missing a comma here” to “the summary of that study is misleading, because it implies that it applies to taking hemp extract orally but the study was conducted by putting CBD directly onto tumor cells.” I was extremely impressed when 100% of my feedback was incorporated into the updated (much prettier!) website. The updated website has much clearer, more accurate language (in my opinion).

I liked that the hemp plants used by White Cedar Naturals are sourced from specific farms in Kentucky, from a specific breed of plant (“Cherry”). While I have no facts regarding how this affects quality or efficacy, to me it shows that the company cares about the source ingredients (as opposed to buying whatever is cheapest on the market). Like the majority of companies, White Cedar Naturals does not disclose who does its third-party testing but it does state that all products are tested. (Third-party testing is testing done outside of the company by an independent lab.)

I also liked the idea that the White Cedar Naturals oils are made from both cold-pressed raw hemp extract (from the entire plant) and cold-pressed hemp seed oil. While I have found absolutely no scientific support for this, in my mind I compare it to apples: drinking apple juice does not give a body the same nutrition as eating the whole apple, or eating applesauce; juice has none of the fiber, and may be missing other unstudied plant components.

Finally, I really like that the White Cedar Naturals website has a solid FAQ aimed at the non-expert consumer. You can check that out here.

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My Personal Experimentation and Opinion

This is MY experience. I am not a doctor or a medical professional. I cannot predict how your body will react, nor do I attempt to do so.

Prior to trying White Cedar Naturals full spectrum hemp extract (the 300mg product) I had tried only one other CBD oil. Frankly, it tasted like the smell of old gym socks and I gulped that product down while trying to avoid it touching my tongue. The package of the White Cedar Naturals oil described it as “cinnamint” flavor, and directed me to hold the oil under my tongue before swallowing. (Sublingual–under the tongue–absorption is recommended for a variety of products, including the vitamin B12 supplement I take. The idea is that some component of the product dissolves or is warmed or otherwise made available to absorption into the bloodstream via the tissues under your tongue. If you look under your tongue, you can see the network of blood vessels there.) Much to my surprise, the cinnamint flavor is quite pleasant. A little mint, a little cinnamon. Not too pungent. Not too tingly. Most important: no old gym socks flavor.

The first Friday night I tried White Cedar Naturals, I tried two droppers-full. I wasn’t feeling particularly agitated or sleepless, but was hoping the hemp extract would allow me to fall asleep (and more important: STAY asleep!) and have a solid sleep that night. I did. I can’t be sure that was due solely to the hemp extract (you can’t conduct a double-blind study on yourself), but honestly for that kind of sleep I don’t care if it was a placebo!

I also conducted the next several trials on weekend nights. (Just in case. Always better to be cautious.) In my experience, one dropper post-workout helped my muscles relax a wee bit more post-workout during the warm shower. In my experience, two droppers is about right for an average night for sleeping soundly. I did try three droppers on a few nights when I was feeling agitated, overstimulated, or too “wide awake” to sleep, and that seemed to work fine. Each time when I awoke the next morning I felt well-rested, had no memory of disrupted sleep, and did not feel groggy or have any of the slowness that I associate with sleep-aid medications. I felt absolutely zero effects that I would describe as a “high.” Instead I felt just a little more relaxed, and slept quite well.

If you are looking for a solid hemp extract product from a company that cares about the quality of its products, White Cedar Naturals is worth your attention and is a solid candidate for your first hemp-derived product.  White Cedar Naturals has a  90-day 100% satisfaction guarantee, and (based solely on my own experience) is very responsive to questions. (To me, that’s a virtue. If you can’t be bothered to give me satisfactory answers to my genuine questions, you don’t deserve my money or my patronage.) I’m excited to try their chocolates!

For more sane resources on CBD and hemp:

I also highly recommend searching PubMed (which comprises more than 29 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books) for published, peer-reviewed studies on CBD and hemp extract, especially if you are trying to evaluate the evidence to support a product’s claim that “CBD can help with condition X.”

The first time I used turmeric, I was cooking from a recipe for an Indian curry in the kitchen of the very first apartment I rented by myself. As I was cleaning up, I spilled some of the curry on the brand-new white linoleum. Immediately I wiped it up but it left a bright yellow spot on the floor. Eek! Terrified to lose any part of my security deposit, I grabbed the first liquid cleaner I could find. The bright yellow? Promptly turned bright purple!!

Fortunately it only took a damp washcloth to wipe away the bright purple. (whew!)

Brightly colored turmeric
The vibrant color of turmeric can stain! Beware!

Turmeric is the hot ingredient du jour, and played a major role at Expo West in 2017 and 2018. Since I’m not a big fan of the “golden milk” flavor, I’m giving away a turmeric prize pack (more on that below), but first I thought I’d do a deep dive into the truth about turmeric.

Disclosure: I received the contents of the Turmeric Taster Prize Pack as a New Hope Blogger Co-op member. All of the content in this post is mine, and none of the brands included even know I am writing this.

Get Your Nerd On!(Or Start Scrolling)

Since I’m an attorney for my day job, let’s start by defining turmeric. In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21 (Food and Drugs), Part 73 (Listing of Color Additives Exempt from Certification), Subpart A (Foods) defines turmeric:

(a) Identity. (1) The color additive turmeric is the ground rhizome of Curcuma longa L. The definition of turmeric in this paragraph is for the purpose of identity as a color additive only, and shall not be construed as setting forth an official standard for turmeric under section 401 of the act. [Bain: Section 401 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is “Definitions and standards for food.”]

Tur Latte mix
Tur Latte mix–included in the giveaway!

(2) Color additive mixtures made with turmeric may contain as diluents only those substances listed in this subpart as safe and suitable in color additive mixtures for coloring foods.

(b) Uses and restrictions. Turmeric may be safely used for the coloring of foods generally, in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice, except that it may not be used to color foods for which standards of identity have been promulgated under section 401 of the act, unless the use of added color is authorized by such standards.

(c) Labeling. The color additive and any mixtures intended solely or in part for coloring purposes prepared therefrom shall bear, in addition to the other information required by the act, labeling in accordance with the provisions of 70.25 of this chapter. [Bain: this is the labeling requirements for color additives, other than hair dyes, 21 CFR 70.25]

Golden Turmeric cereal
Golden Turmeric cereal

(d) Exemption from certification. Certification of this color additive is not necessary for the protection of the public health, and therefore batches thereof are exempt from the certification requirements of section 721(c) of the act. [Bain: Section 721 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is “Listing and certification of color additives for foods, drugs, devices, and cosmetics.”]

21 CFR 73.600 (revised as of April 1, 2017). There is an entire separate definition for “turmeric oleoresin” at 21 CFR 73.615 (which is “the combination of flavor and color principles obtained from turmeric by extraction using any one or a combination of” specified solvents).

Hey, this is what you get when you cross a nerd with a blogger.

If you read that and wondered what the part in (a) is about “definitions and standards for food,” here it is:

Turmeric tea sampler
Multiple companies are making teas infused with turmeric

Whenever in the judgment of the Secretary such action will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, he shall promulgate regulations fixing and establishing for any food, under its common or usual name so far as practicable, a reasonable definition and standard of identity, a reasonable standard of quality, or reasonable standards of fill of container. No definition and standard of identity and no standard of quality shall be established for fresh or dried fruits, fresh or dried vegetables, or butter, except that definitions and standards of identity may be established for avocados, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, and melons. In prescribing any standard of fill of container, the Secretary shall give due consideration to the natural shrinkage in storage and in transit of fresh natural food and to need for the necessary packing and protective material. In the prescribing of any standard of quality for any canned fruit or canned vegetable, consideration shall be given and due allowance made for the differing characteristics of the several varieties of such fruit or vegetable. In prescribing a definition and standard of identity for any food or class of food in which optional ingredients are permitted, the Secretary shall, for the purpose of promoting honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, designate the optional ingredients which shall be named on the label. Any definition and standard of identity prescribed by the Secretary for avocados, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, or melons shall relate only to maturity and to the effects of freezing. [BTW: the official version use “avocadoes” which makes me think former Vice President Quayle did the editing!]

21 USC 341. (You can find all of the nerdy goodness at http://uscode.house.gov in Title 21, Food and Drugs.)

If you don’t care about the legal stuff, start reading here.

Turmeric Taster Prize Pack
Part of the Turmeric Taster Prize Pack

I was surprised to learn there are six different plants called “turmeric” (see the disambiguation page here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmeric_(disambiguation) The one I care about, of course, is the gold-yellow one: curcuma longa, ”a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.”

In English, it’s a plant that has underground stem that sends out roots and shoots, and if you separate that piece it can become a new plant (“rhizomatous”). It does not have a permanent woody stem, but has a stem that dies at the end of the growing season like a potato or a carrot (“herbaceous”). While the stem dies at the end of the growing season, a part of the plant survives underground and the plant can grow a new stem in the next growing season (“perennial”). This means that unlike some other plants that Americans have fixated on over the years, it’s unlikely we’re going to accidentally wipe out turmeric.

Uses of Turmeric

As a plant dye, turmeric has been used to dye clothing. (Wikipedia reports it isn’t very good for that purpose as it fades in sunlight, but another site I found claims Asian monks use it to dye their robes.) Turmeric is also used as a dye in food products, as well as in cosmetic products. (According to UKfoodguide.net it is sometimes identified by E100 on labels.) You can find turmeric as a colorant and a featured ingredient in soaps, teas, cheeses, and more.

Penzey’s Turmeric Root

In cooking, the turmeric root is ground up and used as a flavoring. Turmeric is what makes yellow mustard yellow. It flavors and colors a variety of curries. A little turmeric in rice turns the dish yellow and adds a little flavor. If you just run a quick web search, you’ll find millions of recipes that use turmeric. (Here are a bunch from my friends at Luvo, and here is one for roasted carrots that I think looks delicious!)

The part of turmeric that does all the cool things is called curcumin. (Note this is not the same as cumin, which is an entirely different plant.) Curcumin’s chemical formula is (1,7-bis(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-3,5-dione),  and it is also called diferuloylmethane; it is a polyphenol. [Hewlings/Kalman for that factoid, and for most of the rest of this paragraph.] Not all that helpfully, Wikipedia explains that polyphenols are “are a structural class of mainly natural, but also synthetic or semisynthetic, organic chemicals characterized by the presence of large multiples of phenol structural units.” Curcumin is also a curcuminoid (which has an equally unhelpful definition for those of us who are not chemistry majors). That category includes curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin. The FDA labels curcuminoids “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), even at amounts much longer than you are ever likely to ingest (12,000/mg day).

Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine?

With all the hype turmeric has gotten in the past few years, you’d think there is a bunch of science backing the effectiveness of turmeric. Nope!

Turmeric tablets
What’s old is new again, as youtheory demonstrates with their Turmeric tablets

Sure, ancient people did not have microscopes and the period table, or even a basic understanding of biology (just look at the history of “hysteria”), but there wasn’t any interest in proving turmeric had health benefits until recently. Call me cynical, but that interest seems to coincide with the natural product manufacturers’ realization that adding a health claim to a turmeric product would make it much more profitable. Saying, “it tastes nice” is one thing, but if you can say “contains anti-oxidants” then you can up the price.

Ready for a total oversimplification of the science? The two main ways curcumin acts within the human body are as an antioxidant and as an anti-inflammatory. There is evidence curcumin acts to reduce markers of oxidative stress in the body. [Hewlings/Kalman]  Oxidative stress and inflammation are like BFFs, and as near as I can tell from reading what’s on PubMed, one can cause the other. There is some evidence curcumin can downregulate (stop the action of) things that cause inflammation. While we’re on the topic of inflammation, that word gets tossed around WAY too much these days, especially in the fake-science and pseudoscience that is running rampant on the internet. You’ve got two ways to know you have real inflammation, and pretty much only two: one, observing something that is inflamed like a bruise or an injured body part or two, diagnostic testing by a qualified medical professional, like a blood test (other tests may be appropriate to diagnose inflammation). If you vaguely feel crummy, you can’t just magically tell inflammation is the cause or get diagnosed over the internet.

Some of the promising research on curcumin (not turmeric) has been for arthritis and the cluster of symptoms known as metabolic sydrome. The Hewlings/Kalman article has a decedent overview and summary of the state of the research up to 2017. Unfortunately, most of the research to date has been animal research, not human research; and while we have some means to logically extrapolate, the results of even well-designed animal studies do not always translate to how a substance actually works in humans.

Turmeric has been used medicinally for a long time, though until recently there wasn’t much research to support the effectiveness. While we now have additional research and data out, the health benefits of turmeric specifically, and curcumin generally, is not as rock-solid as the ads for turmeric-based products would have you believe. Even the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states, “Claims that curcuminoids found in turmeric help to reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies.” [NCCIH]

Important Safety Tips!

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. As with ANY supplement, herb, vitamin, or mineral you use on a regular basis: tell your doctor! If you’re interested in trying a supplement of any kind and you also take prescription medication, please talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. You’ve probably come across at least one mention of an older person who got sicker or died because they drank grapefruit juice with their medication. There is some evidence that curcumin can affect anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, and interact poorly with GERD and some other health conditions.

natural Factors Muscle Recovery and
natural Factors has an entire line of supplements, the curcuminRich line

Understand this: turmeric is NOT what’s been studied. Remember that all of the studies and papers out there are testing refined curcumin compounds and NOT mere ground-up turmeric like you can buy in the spice section. Turmeric is only about 3% curcumin!! In addition, most of the studies don’t use pure curcumin because the human body can’t simply grab all the goodness out of the curcuminoids; instead, they enhance the bioavailability (making it easier for your body to grab the goods) by adding another substance. One of the more common ways to enhance the bioavailability of the ingredients in certain supplements that I have observed (by reading labels) is something called piperine, which is a substance extracted from black pepper.

Remember, you’re not a lab rat. In addition, most of the studies of curcumin have been done either in petri dishes or in animals–not in people. This makes sense, since it’s unethical to test potential medical things on human being until there is sufficient evidence that (1) it’s safe, and (2) it’s probably going to be effective. After all, if there is a treatment that will definitely cure your cancer, and something that will probably work but if it does not then you will die, it would be cruel to put you in a double-blind study instead of just giving you the treatment that is proven to work. In any case, animal studies can be useful, but human bodies do not respond the same way that mouse bodies (or any other animal bodies) do. Oh, and some of the published studies were retracted due to problems with potential data manipulation (read: lying). [Blakemore]

As with any substance, too much can cause problems. With turmeric, you’re pretty much good to eat your curries every day–remember curcumin is just one component of turmeric. If you’re scarfing down huge quantities of curcumin, like drinking the tea all day and swallowing a fistful of capsules as well, you might have some unfortunate side effects. Most things you eat too much of will cause some tummy troubles, from indigestion and nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. [Hall]

gaia herbs golden milk
“Golden Milk” mixes are readily available in the grocery store

References

Harriet Hall.” Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine.” Science-Based Medicine, June 17, 2014. Available online. This is now four years old, but is a very readable overview.

Susan J. Hewlings and Douglas S. Kalman. “Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health.” Foods. 2017 Oct; 6(10): 92. PMCID: PMC5664031; PMID: 29065496. Available online. Not as old, but much more technical; great for getting your nerd on.

NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health), “Turmeric.” https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm (This article has a bibliography at the bottom that includes many articles available online.)

Gid-MK. “The Bitter Truth about Turmeric.” January 30 2018. Medium. Super readable, mostly focused on poor (misleading) media coverage of the study on curcumin and Alzheimers.

Erin Blakemore. “What should you make of the health claims for turmeric?” August 20, 2017, Washington Post. A quick read, covers some of the potential problems with studies in curcumin, including that it might be some other compound delivering the claimed benefits.

Turmeric Taster Prize Pack!

There is ONE prize, which consists of the following items:

  • natural Factors Muscle Recovery & Growth Curcumizer  5.5oz (approx. retail $22)
  • gaia herbs golden milk 3.7 oz (approx. retail $15)
  • Golden Goddess Turmeric Chocolate Elixir sample x2, Turmeric Chai Elixir sample x2, and turmeric infused tea sample tin
  • Tea samples: yogi tea Honey Chai Turmeric Vitality, pukka turmeric glow, Republic of Tea turmeric
  • Nature’s Path Golden Turmeric cereal sample x2
  • youtheory Turmeric tablet samples x2
  • Raw and Root Organic Tur Latte Golden Milk Infusion ($22 on Amazon)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Inspired by Jenna Blumenfeld’s article, 5 food trends that should end in 2018, I offer you Six Food Trends That Need To Die Immediately. (For the record, I’m on board with all of Jenna’s recommendations–erythritol [I would expand this to “overuse of sugar alcohols”], bottled water, protein overload, natural flavoring [at least where the flavoring ingredients can be described legally and accurately], and “pixie-dusting,” which is throwing in a dash of some ingredient like turmeric or reishi and then splashing claims about the ingredient on the packaging even though there isn’t even a single serving of the ingredient in there.)

Six Food Trends That Need To Die Immediately

“Clean Eating.” I love the idea behind clean eating–eat more produce, more whole food, fewer things that fall into the category of over-processed junk food. It pre-dates the zany blogger-amplified contemporary “clean eating” by years. See, for example, Tosca Reno’s series of books (influencer link) which started in 2007 and focus on healthy and nutritious eating, not a ton of restrictive rules. (BTW, there is LOTS of processed food that is not over-processed. A few examples: fruit that is washed, sliced, and frozen; shredded and bagged salad; simple pico de gallo in a tub.) More apples, more carrots, fewer Twinkies, fewer Fruit Loops. I really loathe the actual term, “clean eating.” It implies that anything that doesn’t fall into the approved definition is dirty or contaminated. It’s a way of letting disgust define your eating (or It’s just one step from “clean eating” to dietary snobbery and an attitude of superiority. The term is readily accepted in most circles, but it’s easy to take it too far and twist a basically fine idea into an obsession or an eating disorder such as orthorexia. In my own experience, I have a friend who became so particular about the food she was eating that when she went to visit her parents there was “nothing to eat.” That might sound normal if you grew up in a meat-and-potatoes Midwest suburb, but her parents own and operate a produce farm and orchards. I’m not the only critic of “clean eating;” check out the evaluations by Vice, Vogue UK, a variety of other publications (you can use Google to find more), and the Daily Mail UKs piece on how clean eating hurts women. There’s even a film on the subject, Clean Eating–The Dirty Truth. Let’s continue to believe in, and advocate for, healthy eating and access to nutritionally dense food like fresh produce for ALL people, but let’s quit using judge-y language to do it, eh?

All “Natural”?

“Natural.” The word natural conjures up all sorts of wholesome images, and the people marketing to you know this. The problem is that the word “natural” is susceptible to all sorts of interpretations. I don’t care if you use the word with your own definition. What I take issue with? Using the word “natural” on consumer products and food. Why? Unlike many of the words on your food and household products–words like juice, cheese, and organic–the term “natural” has no legal meaning. It’s not defined by the FDA. This means anyone can put it on any package with any intended meaning. Almost worse, it means a small group of lawyers are wasting limited judicial resources on lawsuits. There have been lawsuits challenging the use of the word natural on products that contain GMO corn, high-fructose corn syrup, types of vanilla, xanthan gum, and for products such as green tea that when tested had “trace levels” of glyphosphate, juice made from concentrate, cheese and yogurt made from milk from cows that ate GMO grains, and pita chips with B vitamins created synthetically but identical in every way to those found in nature. You can read more and find links on this Washington Post article. There are two easy solutions to this problem. One, ban the use of the word “natural” on all consumer products. (No one is going to like that solution.) Two, require any product using the word “natural” to include a footnote that states “the term natural has no legal meaning, and is not a guarantee of the quality or origin of this product.” There are other ways to resolve the “natural” dilemma, of course, but if we wait for the FDA to step in my great-great-great granddaughter will be president.

P.S. I’d like to remind you that “natural” does not have the same meaning as “healthy” or “good for you.” A few 100% natural items to consider: cyanide, crocidolite asbestos, white oleander, poison dart frogs, black widows, volcano, cobras, certain bright red mushrooms, hemlock, ticks, manure, MRSA, listeria, malaria, salmonella…and the list goes on.

It might taste good, but it’s not removing toxins or cleansing anything

Detox, tea-tox, pre-tox, cleanse. Everything marketed in this category makes me want to vomit because it is so grossly misleading that it is unconscionable. Worse, many of the recommended practices can cause health problems in healthy people. But let’s start from the top: The term “detox” is used in the medical realm to refer to medical interventions for a person who is physically dependent on a drug and treatment of the associated withdrawal symptoms. “Detox” may also used in the case of an accidental poisoning. For an actual, real detox, there is science to explain exactly what toxic substance is being removed from the body, and how it is being removed. For example in many case of poisoning, activated charcoal is used to absorb the poison (“activated” means it has been treated to make it more absorbent, allowing it to soak up more) and generate a laxative effect to help it exit the body. (There is chemistry to explain how this works, and you can go look it up.) Commercially marketed “detox” and “cleanse” products claim there are mysterious “toxins” built up in your body and if you release them from your body by taking the magic pill or drinking the special smoothie, you will improve your health. Even if they specify a scary-sounding “toxin” (heavy metals!) none of these products will explain to you which toxin(s) they allegedly remove, nor will they explain the chemical and biological means by which they allegedly remove these toxins. (Because they don’t.) There’s not a single, credible, peer-reviewed study showing any detoxes achieve the results they claim–all detox claims are 100% hype. For the amount of money going into this market, that’s beyond suspicious. Worse, some allegedly detoxing things can be dangerous. Colonic irrigation has no proven benefits, for example, and most “tea tox” products either contain ingredients that sound nice but do nothing or known laxatives (such as senna)–and of course they are marketed as “100% natural.” Ugh.

As for the term cleanse, if your kidneys and liver are functioning properly, you are “cleansing” right now. Go look at a basic human anatomy text and read about the circulatory and urinary systems. (BTW, if your kidneys and liver are NOT functioning properly, you should be under medical care–poorly functioning kidneys may require dialysis to keep waste products out of your bloodstream, for example.) If you are afraid your body has bad stuff in it that needs to get out, start by “cleansing” your kitchen of all the things containing stuff you don’t want in your body.

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Alkaline everything. Let’s go back to basics. Your body works very hard to maintain a state of equilibrium called homeostasis. Basically, your genes are pre-programmed to know what is best for your body on any given scale. Think about your body temperature; your body naturally regulates to keep you from getting too hot or too cold (you sweat in the heat, and your body sends more blood to your core in the cold, among other adaptations). In chemistry, everything has a pH based on how acidic it is. At one end of the 0 to 14 scale is 100% acid  (pH 0) and on the other end is 100% not-acid, also called alkaline (pH 14). Just like your body adapts to keep your temperature at the right place, it also adjusts to keep your pH at the right place. Different parts of your body have different needs in terms of pH, for example your stomach creates an acidic environment to help you digest food while your blood is slightly alkaline. Your body (and specifically your kidneys) works really hard to keep your blood at the right pH because allowing it to get even a little bit too acidic OR a little bit too alkaline means you will die. While I love the idea of getting Americans to eat more green vegetables, you’re never going to “alkalinize” your body by eating them. If you did, you’d die. Oh, and in case someone tries to argue that a change in urinary pH is proof in support of this unscientific nonsense, remember that urine is a waste product kept in a holding tank (the bladder) so the body can get rid of it.

Hype and confusing messaging about products is designed to keep you spending.

Profiteering via ignorance and disinformation. This is so rampant in the consumer marketplace, in every category of product. This is a sugary kid cereal advertising it is made with whole grains–even if true, that just makes it slightly better than the non-whole-grain alternative, it doesn’t turn Cap’n Crunch into health food. This is products touting that they are non-GMO when there isn’t even a GMO version of that product or its ingredients available (e.g. salt, popcorn, and EVERY product that doesn’t contain squash, cotton, soybeans, field corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola/rapeseed, potato, and one type of apple which are the only available GMO crops) and failing to mention that no one has so much as gotten a tummyache from a GMO. This is any product that relies on consumer ignorance or fear to help sell itself. We are better than this. Consumers deserve to be educated and know the facts, and companies should be working to make this knowledge easier to obtain, not harder.

Nutritional Imperialism. As Americans, we live in one of the richest nations on Earth, one that wields a considerable amount of political and economic power. Unfortunately, we collectively end up pillaging other nations to support our needs and wants. All of those exotically sourced ingredients? Many have a negative impact on the environment and the economy in their nations of origin. Take palm oil, for example. As demand increases, we’re threatening the orangutan population and rapidly increasing deforestation. (Details at Rainforest Action Network, Say No To Palm Oil, World Wildlife Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists.) Companies are responsive to consumer demand, so why not demand the companies that make the products you buy use sustainable palm oil or an alternative? (There’s a debate on whether palm oil can be truly sustainable, but I’ll leave you and Google to that.)  Palm oil isn’t the only bad guy, it’s just an example.

One of the alternatives to nutritional imperialism is trade that helps build and sustain the local economy while respecting the environment. This isn’t necessarily the same as Fair Trade, which is a specific third-party certification that can be cost-prohibitive for small companies. A few companies doing this type of work are Kuli Kuli, which has helped women farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Nicaragua earn an income and support their families, and Dean’s Beans, which has relationships with each of the farmers that grow their coffee beans and actively supports the farmers and communities that grow them.

Which food trends would you like to vanish?

Disclosure: I received free samples of MeStrength because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

Psst! Want a discount on MeStrength? Through September 30, 2016 you can get MeStrength for 25% off by using the code bibchat716 at the MeStrength online shop.Click To Tweet
Sampler pack of all the flavors
Sampler pack of all the flavors

Runners today are lucky to live in a world with unlimited hydration options. Do you like flavored or unflavored? Liquid, powder, tablet? Single serve or bulk? Sugar, monkfruit, stevia, sugar alcohols? Carbs? Caffeine? Electrolytes alone, or in combination with fuel/protein/something else? Pre-workout or post-workout? Strawberry, grape, lemon-lime…we could be here for awhile. Anyway, you get the point.

MeStrength is hydration with creatine. “Creatine?” I can hear you asking. “Isn’t that something that 1970s musclehead lifters use?” Au contraire, and that is the focus of this review.

(If you want to read about all the details that make MeStrength a fine product–such as the attention to detail in the manufacturing process, or how the electrolytes are isotonic which is the same as they exist naturally in your body–you can head to the MeStrength website. There are too many specifics to cover in my one little review.)

What is Creatine and Why Should You Care?

Let’s start at square one. “Creatine is a nitrogenous substance, derived from arginine, glycine, and methionine, found in muscle tissue.” Your body makes it in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. It is part of creatine kinase, which is an isoenzyme found in muscle and brain tissue that catalyzes the formation of ATP (remember that from high school biology?). Creatine is present in HIGHER amounts after muscle injury, which should make it very interesting to anyone involved in sports training, since part of what you do when you work out (and race) is break down muscle tissue (that’s injury).

Creatine is considered a non-essential nutrient. Precision Nutrition defines a non-essential nutrient as “food-based nutrients that either the body can make itself, assuming adequate nutritional intake, or nutrients that aren’t needed for normal physiological functioning.” Creatine falls into this category, along with glutamine, the other non-essential amino acids, caffeine, and green tea extract.

Creatine is also one of the best-studied potential supplements. According to the Precision Nutrition textbook (see Resources section), there are over 500 published studies on creatine supplementation. When I did a search in PubMed specific to creatine and exercise, I found 414 studies (and remember, PubMed doesn’t index every published study). Oh, and in case you have Olympic dreams, creatine isn’t on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substances list.

Highly portable MeStrength
Highly portable MeStrength

Let Me Drop Some Science On You: ATP and Energy In the Body

ATP is adenosine triphosphate; basically that’s adenosine (A) with three phosphate molecules (P) attached. One of the ways the body makes energy is to break the bonds that hold the A to one of the P, creating ADP (adenosine with two phophates) and P (just the phosphate, all by itself); the body then regenerates the ATP, basically recycling it. This all happens through the ATP-PCr system. Creatine kinase breaks up phosphoecreatine (PCr) into two parts, creatine (Cr) and phosphate (the same P we’ve been discussing), by breaking the bond that holds them together. That creates both energy from breaking the bond, and extra P that can be used to make more ATP (by combining with

The body stores about 80-100 grams of ATP, which is enough to fuel maximal exercise–think crazy hard sprint–for a few seconds. When you engage in intense exercise, the body’s natural supply of PCR only lasts about ten seconds. Once that system is maxed out, you MUST slow down–your body can’t carry you faster.

Creatine Benefit #1: Improved Muscular Performance

If you train hard, doing the type of high-intensity exercise that is dependent on the ATP-PCr system (hill repeats? strength training?wind sprints?), and would like to add lean muscle mass, creatine supplementation can help you. (In contrast, if you do low-volume or infrequent exercise, or always run in the very comfortable jog-zone, creatine isn’t likely to offer you many benefits.)

Supplementing with creatine improves your performance in a very specific way: “By increasing the intramuscular creatine pool, more creatine (and PCr) will be available for high intensity, short-bury muscle contractions. Research has shown that higher concentrations of intramuscular creatine are linked with improved force during maximal contraction, and improved staying power with high intensity exercise.” (74) In other words, adding creatine helps your hard training by letting your body continue to recycle the ATP, and that gives you strength and longer endurance (for the high-intensity periods like sprints or lifts you can improve your staying power past the usual ten seconds).

Creatine Benefit #2: Improved Muscle Recovery

If you’ve read anything about training or worked with a trainer, you’ve probably heard about the SAID principle which states that the body responds to training with Stragetic Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  In other words, if you repeat an exercise over time your body will get better and more efficient at doing that exercise. (This is also the reason why you eventually burn fewer calories doing the same workout, and why trainer Tony Horton’s programs all vary exercises instead of sticking with the same program over and over; he calls it “muscle confusion,” but let’s be real: your muscle isn’t confused, it’s just getting better at performing something it has rehearsed many times.)

The body’s responses to training include increases in stored ATP and increases in stored PCr. The more you engage in high intensity exercise, the better your body adapts to using the ATP-PCr cycle to fuel the system, and the faster it can do it. This has an additional benefit: “Increasing the rate of creatine phosphate resynthesis during intense exercise appears to lower blood lactate accumulation and ammonia levels, both byproducts that inhibit peak performance output,” according to research cited by Elliott Reimers (see Resources below).

Translated into everyday language, that means two things. First, in doing high intensity exercise, your body recovers faster so you can spend less time resting  between intervals. Second, your final recovery may also be easier (as your body will have less muscular waste product–lactate and ammonia if you supplement with creatine). There is at least one study that shows creatine supplementation can help with recovery following injury.

MeStrength

Packaging. MeStrength comes in individual “stick” style packets, making it portable and easy to use while on the run (or at the gym, if that’s your schtick–see, I’m funny!). The instructions say to mix with 20 oz of water, though if you happen to have a water bottle that only holds 16 oz (as I did during one test), it just ends up with a slightly stronger flavor, and you can always add more water later. As with any supplement (and pretty much any other consumable product I can think of, from canned tomatoes to toilet paper), buying the larger package is more economical.

Usage. While I initially thought of MeStrength as a pre-workout because that provides the benefit of pre-hydration and available extra creatine within the body, it also works well as an in-workout hydration product. Given the study showing creatine can aid recovery, and I don’t know anyone who is properly 100% hydrated following a hard workout, there is also evidence it would make a good post-workout/recovery beverage.

Ingredients. Setting aside creatine, what’s in it? MeStrength contains five electrolytes: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Personally, I find this superior to the hydration products that rely exclusively on sodium and potassium. I’m a sweaty girl, and I’m sure I lose ALL the electrolytes during an intense workout. It’s definitely better than consuming only potassium (which can cause cardiac issues in some individuals) or just sodium (which makes some of us feel water-logged but still thirsty).

The other ingredients are citric acid, natural flavor, vegetable and fruit juice for color only, and stevia (for a touch of sweetness).

  • Citric acid exists in nature in fruits and vegetables, and is often used as a preservative. It also occurs in the citric acid cycle, part of the metabolic processes in humans (and other living things).
  • Natural flavor has a very specific meaning in the administrative code relevant to the FDA:  “[natural flavor] means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 21, Section 501.22 MeStrength is a vegan product, so the natural flavor does not come from meal, etc. You can safely ignore all the fear-mongers who claim the term natural flavor is a way to hide mystery ingredients in food.
  • Vegetable and fruit juices for color only means the small amount of juices present do not add nutrients (or calories) to the product.
  • Stevia is a sweetener/sugar-substitute that comes from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste so it isn’t usually used as the sole sweetener, but I didn’t notice any bitter aftertaste in MeStrength.

Taste & Opinions. Overall, I liked the taste of MeStrength, with my favorite flavor being fruit punch. (That’s almost always my favorite flavor in supplements. Something about how much I loved Hawaiian Punch as a kid.) It isn’t super sweet like, say, full-strength Gatorade or Powerade. As I mentioned above, there isn’t a bitter aftertaste. I’m willing to bet those who complain they don’t like the new Nuun formulations due to the stevia won’t even notice it in this product. I also like that this product separates hydration (electrolytes) and supplementation from fuel. I tend to need hydration at a more rapid rate than fuel, and my stomach cramps if I rely on a two-in-one product. This way I can use MeStrength by itself, add it to a fuel product, or consume separate fuel (like actual food!)

Fruit punch is my favorite!
Fruit punch is my favorite!

Resources

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Certification Manual, second edition. John Berardi, PhD; Ryan ANdrews, MA, MS, RD. (All of the material in quotation marks above is from this textbook, numbers indicate page numbers.)

“All About Creatine.” Ryan Andrews

“Body Fuel: Creatine Myths” John Berardi, PhD

“Does Creatine Impact Recovery & Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?” Elliott Reimers

My search on PubMed returned 414 results on July 12, 2016. (Search terms: “creatine supplementation and exercise performance”)

 

Disclosure: I received raspberry Ultima sticks and a lemonade Ultima canister because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like. All opinions are my own.

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It’s summer, which means I need to up my hydration game. (Sadly, wine doesn’t count.) That’s part of why I asked to be one of the BibRave Pro Team members to test the new and improved formula of Ultima; I’m always looking for variety in my hydration game.  Ultima sent me a 30-serving container of lemonade, as well as a box of raspberry individual stick-style packets. Ultima is a hydrating electrolyte beverage, NOT a fuel product. There are no carbs, proteins, or fats in Ultima (and therefore nothing for your body to use as fuel). Ever since I learned you can separate hydration from fuel, I’ve been a huge fan of taking that approach. First, since I sweat a lot (especially in the heat!) I need hydration more often than I need fuel. Second, separating hydration and fuel allows me to fuel with real foods and fat-containing foods, such as peanut butter. Third, the science is with me on this one: gastric emptying (stuff leaving your stomach and getting into the other parts of your body) is slowed by the addition of carbohydrates. (See resources below.)

First Thing’s First: How Does It Taste?

Flavor: Raspberry. If you’re like me, you need your hydration (and nutrition) to taste good. I can’t count the number of people who don’t drink enough water because “the water where I live tastes bad” (or some variation of that excuse). There are plenty of hydration options I don’t like because they are too sweet, too sour, too salty, taste like old socks, etc. To me, the raspberry flavor smells like a red popsicle. It has a pleasant taste that I like enough to both look forward to drinking while out running, and to drink at my desk to encourage me to stay hydrated. While it is sweetened in part with stevia, I had to try very hard to taste the stevia. At least one of the BibRave Pro team members  (Heather from Heather Runs Thirteen Point One) loathes stevia and gave up on her prior hydration when the stevia flavor in the new formula got to be too much for her. (Note: I do not have this problem. I also like cilantro. That said, I’m sympathetic to those who have the genetic disposition that makes cilantro taste like soap. Perhaps there is a similar thing for stevia?)

Can you see why I thought this cute little scoop was too small?
Can you see why I thought this cute little scoop was too small?

Flavor: Lemonade. Since the raspberry Ultima I received came in sticks, it was easy to measure. (Cut one open, dump it in the glass, boom.) My lemonade Ultima came in a tub. By the way, I LOVE this. Thirty servings fit in the palm of my hand! This is a bonus to me because it means Ultima doesn’t hog a lot of pantry space and is travel-friendly. Of course a smaller package is also more environmentally-friendly (e.g. uses less plastic in the packaging, takes less fuel to transport, etc.) and a bulk package is less expensive than individually wrapped sticks (cost is about $0.66 per serving instead of $1 per serving). If you buy the larger canister (90 servings) the cost goes down to around $0.33 per serving. Anyway, when I first pulled out the teeny-tiny scoop I thought for sure it was too small to be the actual serving size, and mixed a heaping scoop with water. Bad move! It tasted like a non-gritty Country Time Lemonade mix! WAY too sweet! When I actually used the scoop to measure a level scoop–the real serving, and it seems tiny–it came out much better. The taste is lemonade, but a sweetish lemonade, not a sour/tart one. It’s not overly sugary, and I bet it would make a nice margarita when mixed with tequila.

Other flavors. Ultima also comes in orange, grape, cherry pomegranate, and “toddler berry punch” (which as the name implies, is intended for kids–a useful thing to have in your arsenal when your kid is getting dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea, for example). I’m using the BibRave discount to buy a big tub of cherry pomegranate the instant it comes back in stock.

Raspberry after initial mixing (the clumps around the sides dissolved too)
Raspberry after initial mixing (the clumps around the sides dissolved too)

Mouth-feel. I hate gritty drink mixes. Many powdered drink mixes seem to not fully dissolve, leaving little sand-like particles floating around in the drink (and this makes me crazy). Initially I was afraid that might be the case for Ultima, but it turns out I was just being silly–like most powders, if you mix Ultima in ice water it isn’t going to dissolve very well. Oops. When I tried very cold water (from a pitcher that had been refrigerated overnight), I put the Ultima in the bottom and poured the water over the top. This time, some powder rose to the top almost like bubbles. A quick swish with a spoon and they were gone. The resulting beverage was translucent pink, and smooth like water. The very bottom of the glass had a small amount of undissolved solids, but that didn’t bother me (though the very last sip had a tiny bit of a granular texture, it wasn’t sandy, and overall didn’t bother me–plus when I’m running I almost never get all the way to the bottom of the bottle before I refill).

What is NOT in Ultima?

Ultima’s website and packaging spend quite a bit of space on what is NOT in Ultima. Since that may also be important to you, here’s a list:

  • No sugar
  • No calories
  • No artificial flavors
  • No artificial colors
  • No GMO ingredients (Non-GMO Project verified)
  • No gluten (certified gluten-free)
  • No animal products (certified vegan)
  • No caffeine
  • No added maltodextrin (the natural flavors have a tiny amount)
My Ultima arrived all wrapped up like a present!
My Ultima arrived all wrapped up like a present!

What is actually IN Ultima? A bunch of things.

You probably know you lose “salt” when you sweat, especially if you are a salty sweat-er (you can feel the grit on your face when you are done). Many people rely on salt packets when they run, but this is a mistake (outside the scope of this article, read the science-y bits of the article cited below). The short story is that you need to replenish ALL of the electrolytes you lose through sweat. (Did you know you sweat out iron too, especially in hot weather? That’s also a blog post for another day.)

Since many of the ingredients are familiar to the average person as “something from the periodic table” or “a chemical,” I thought it might be helpful to understand what each of these ingredients does inside the body–yes, every one of the main ingredients in Ultima already exists inside your body AND is critical for it to function at peak performance. I’ve included a quickie description, but also a link to that nutrient’s page on the Precision Nutrition Encyclopedia of Food. That way you can read more about food sources for that nutrient, as well as more than the examples I’ve given of problems that a deficiency may cause, and find out where that item lives in your food/diet.

The name in parenthesis is the form found in Ultima. (That way if you are as nerdy as I am, you can use your Google-fu for more information, and compare the bioavailability of various forms.) Potassium, for example, can combine to form many chemical compounds including potassium chloride, a common substitute for regular table salt (sodium chloride). In selecting the forms to include in Ultima, the creators tried to use the form that your body can most easily access and use (known as the most “bioavailable” form).

  • Potassium (potassium aspartate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes; this is important for nerve impulse transmission, cardiac function, and muscle contraction. The proper electrochemical gradient allows nutrients into the cell and waste products to exit. Deficiency can cause cardiac problems and muscle cramps. Read more.
  • Magnesium (Magnesium citrate and Magnesium aspartate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Helps your body metabolize fats and carbohydrates, involved in DNA and protein synthesis, plays a role in wound healing. Deficiency can cause hypokalemia (deficiency of potassium in the bloodstream).  Read more.
  • Chloride (sodium chloride)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Like Potassium, assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes (see above); also aids in the digestion and absorption of many nutrients. Deficiency can cause low blood pressure and weakness.  Read more.
  • Calcium (calcium citrate and calcium ascorbate)
    • Essential mineral, and the most common mineral in the body
    • Electrolyte
    • We all know it plays a role in healthy bones and teeth, but did you know it also regulates nerve impulse transmissions, muscle contractions, and hormone secretions? Deficiency can cause skeletal problems (e.g. rickets, osteoporosis), among others. Read more. 
  • Selenium (amino acid chelate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Helps create antioxidant balance in the body, works in concert with certain proteins and enzymes. Deficiency can lead to problems with cartilage development/formation, among other problems. Read more.
  • Zinc
    • Essential mineral
    • Helps with growth, development, neurological function, reproduction, and immune function (that’s a lot of different things!); acts as a catalyst in some chemical reactions within the body; forms/sustains cell structure; regulates genetic expressions, signaling among cells (including in the nervous system), and release of hormones. A zinc deficiency can slow wound healing. Read more.
  • Phosphorus (potassium phosphate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Yes, this is the stuff on match tips (but please don’t go eat them!). It forms bone structure, plays a role in energy transfer, helps with hormone production and enzyme production, signals cells, and facilitates binding site activity for hemoglobin. Deficiency is pretty rare. Read more.
  • Sodium (sodium chloride)
    • Essential mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Often painted as the dietary bad-guy, sodium is something you lose through sweat, and replacing it is important! Like Potassium, Sodium assists in keeping the proper electrochemical gradient across cell membranes. It also regulates extracellular fluid (fluid outside of your cells) and is key to blood volume and blood pressure. A sodium deficiency spells race day disaster: nausea, vomiting, disorientation/confusion, cramps, headache, and fatigue. Read more.
  • Copper (copper citrate)
    • Essential mineral
    • Pennies might not be made of it anymore, but copper does help make up some neurotransmitters and the myelin structures that coat your nerves. (No copper? Nervous breakdown, ha ha!) Copper helps with collagen and elastin structures, and helps with protein synthesis and cell energy. Deficiency can cause anemia that doesn’t respond to iron treatments, and cause imbalances/deficiencies in your white blood cells. Read more.
  • Manganese (manganese citrate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Electrolyte
    • Tiny but mighty? That’s manganese. It helps metabolize carbs, cholesterol, and amino acids (the building blocks of protein); it helps the antioxidant enzymes of the mitochondria (the “powerhouse” organelles inside your cells). Deficiency is rare. Read more.
  • Molybdenum (sodium molybdate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Acts as a cofactor (a substance required for enzymes to do their jobs) for the enzymes in the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles; also helps with metabolism of drugs. Read more.
  • Chromium (chromium dinicotinate glycinate)
    • Essential Mineral
    • Enhances the effects of insulin and assists in metabolism of glucose and fat. Deficiency (predictably!) can cause impaired glucose tolerance and elevated circulating insulin. Read more.

There are some additional ingredients that vary by flavor (for example, beta carotene exists naturally in oranges, so it is present in orange flavor). You can read Ultima’s description of their ingredients on their website.

That’s The Basics. You’ve probably now learned more than you ever needed or wanted to know about Ultima, but in case you need more, do go to the website: http://www.ultimareplenisher.com/ The website can tell you where to find Ultima in stores near you, but the code BIBRAVE2016 which gets you 35% off plus free shipping will only work on the Ultima website.

Selected References:

Happy Running! NERD OUT!!

Disclosure: I received complimentary bottles of MinoTOR to review because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!–and I don’t accept unlabeled advertorials.) 

In classical Greek mythology, the minotaur was a half-man, half-bull who lived in a maze. In the modern age, MinoTOR is a new performance beverage living in a maze of supplements (many of which are nutritionally worthless or can’t fulfill any of the claims they make–just check out the FDA’s latest smack-down actions or the New York attorney general’s latest suit to see what I mean). The name MinoTOR actually has nothing to do with the Greek bull-headed mythological monster, per the website:

The word “minoTOR” is a portmanteau.
A combination of two (or more) words or morphemes, and their definitions, into one new word. We took “mino” from Amino Acids and TOR from mTOR (more about that later) and put them together to form minoTOR™. Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins. mTOR is the abbreviation of Mammalian Target of Rapamyacin. mTOR is a protein synthesis pathway that is vital for recovery and muscular growth.

I don’t like junky supplements, so MinoTOR had to win me over before I decided to test it out. Appealing aspects:

  • all claims backed by science explained on the website (by the way, I did my own reading for this blog post!)
  • no artificial colors, flavors, or unnecessary stuff
  • contains amino acids (key for recovery and muscle building)
  • low calorie, but not filled with sugar alcohols

As with anything I’m going to consume, I went to the website to read about it first.

The Other Ingredients.

Let’s start with the non-nutrional stuff inside. MinoTOR contains filtered water (of course!), cane sugar (real ingredient), citric acid (that’s like Vitamin C), natural flavors (legally defined term that’s not a big deal), acesulfame-potassium, and sucralose. Out of all of those, the only ingredients that are even mildly controversial are sucralose and ace-K, so I’m going to talk about those. Both are on the FDA’s list of accepted food additives, and are in use in the European Union as well. I haven’t found any credible study pointing to any serious health problem from consuming small amounts in moderation–if you find one, let me know.

Sucralose is a sweetener. When you eat it, your body doesn’t break it down very well, so most of it goes undigested, and thus contributes no calories to a product. It also has no effect on blood sugar levels, and does not contribute to tooth decay. Sucralose has been around since 1976 and is sold under the brand name Splenda. While one unpublished rat study claimed to link sucralose to leukemia, that study has been criticized for poor design; I wasn’t able to find other studies replicating that result that were published, peer-reviewed, or critiqued for design, and no studies showing any similar results in humans. Another recent study concluded that sucralose kills off good gut bacteria, but that study has been solidly questioned because it was funded by the sugar industry (which stands to profit handsomely from making anything other than sugar look as bad as possible); further, that study’s results haven’t been replicated in humans either.

Acesulfame-potassium is another no-calorie sweetener. It’s been around since 1967, and is sold under the brands Sunnett and Sweet One. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste, which means it can balance out the sweet flavor but also means it can’t be the sole sweetener used in a product (unless you want a bitter aftertaste). Both the FDA and the European Union (which tends to have stricter controls and regulation when it comes to food) approved it for general use. Again, the only studies I could find were rat studies, used a larger dose of ace-K than you will ever consume (like 3%+ of the rats’ total diet, which, according to Wikipedia, “would be equivalent to a human consuming 1,343 12 oz cans of artificially sweetened soft drinks every day”) and they are at best inconclusive. The studies were observing whether ace-K promotes tumor development; if you’re a male p53 haploinsufficient rat, the answer is “maybe.” At the same dose over 40 weeks, there was a limited effect on neurometabolic function. There was also some hypothesis that rat fetuses ingest ace-K via amniotic fluid or later from breast milk, and that it may influence their preference for sweet flavors. Something to consider if you decide to start drinking 1,343 12 oz. cans of diet soda each day.

Bottom Line: MinoTOR contains a small amount of sucralose and ace-K in order to keep the taste mouth-friendly without inflating the calories. You’d have to consume a ridiculous amount of diet soda (which is higher in both than MinoTOR) to come close to the dose any rat in any study received. (Also, you are not a rat.) I have zero worries about the sucralose and acesulfame-potassium in MinoTOR, and I’m fine with a small amount of artificial sweeteners as the last two ingredients in my beverage. A serving of MinTOR is half a bottle, and 50 calories. That’s a little over 8 ounces. To compare to the calories in other drinks, it is easiest to compare 12 ounces (the standard serving size for beverages). So let’s call it 75-80 calories. A few others for comparison are orange juice at 157-168 calories, and lowfat unflavored milk at 154 calories. A 20 ounce serving of cool blue Gatorade (a bottle) is 130 calories, which is similar to MinoTOR (8ish ounces = 50 calories, x 2 to get to 20 ounces brings it to 100 calories in 16 ounces).

A little aside…the sweetness factor/taste was the big dividing line between the Pros that like the taste and those that did not. 

Angie, another BibRave Pro, didn’t care for the sweet taste. She had a conversation with the MinoTOR crew about it too. You can read her experience on her blog, Marathang. She also took decent pictures (Mine were bad. Hence you don’t see them here.) Katherine agreed with Angie about the sweetness; her review is at Magic of Running.  Heather didn’t find the taste offensively sweet, and described it as more like coconut water. You can read her review at Heather Runs 13.1  Similarly, Erica over at Another Half Please found the taste just fine.

The Non-Ingredients.

Worth mentioning, MinTOR does not have artificial colors or flavors. Unlike some very popular drinks marketed as “sports drinks,” it doesn’t come in orange, red, or bright blue. It doesn’t have sugar alcohols, which upset some people’s GI tracts (and interesting fact at least one sugar alcohol, sorbitol, is regularly prescribed as a laxative).

The Main Ingredients.

For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to divide the ingredients into three categories: vitamins and minerals, caffeine, and amino acids.

Vitamins and Minerals. Straight from the label, you’ve probably heard of all of these:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Zinc
  • Chromium

With the exception of zinc and chromium, the ingredients in this category come in at 50% of the RDA. (Zinc is a little higher (83%) and chromium is lower (10%).) This is EXCELLENT news, as mega-doses of any vitamin are almost never a good idea and should be closely supervised by a doctor. For example, Niacin is a vitamin you need for overall good health, and there is some evidence that it helps to prevent atherosclerosis; it is used in extremely high doses to treat cholesterol imbalances, but needs close medical supervision because mega-doses can cause liver problems.

As a vegetarian I’m pleased to see B12 included. B12 is primarily consumed by humans in animal meat, but not because meat has B12–B12 is actually made by bacteria! (Animals, like humans, cannot synthesize B12 or make it within the body. They have to eat it.)

Caffeine. Look at any pre-workout supplement on the market, and you’ll see they ALL have stimulants. (“Green tea extract” is partially code for caffeine. Even yerba matte, consumed by Mormons because coffee and tea are forbidden by their religion, is naturally caffeinated.)  Most of them have hundreds of milligrams of caffeine. Pharma Freak’s “Super Freak” brand, for example, has 500 mg of caffeine. For comparison, 100mg of caffeine is about what you’d find in an strong cup of coffee, or one and a half cans of Red Bull. The various flavors of Coca Cola have between 34mg and 45 mg per 12 ounce can.

MinoTOR has 40mg of caffeine. Caffeine is the most widely-used stimulant in the world, and is safe for the general population in ordinary doses. (I’m not a doctor, but a can of Coke isn’t going to kill the average person.) A quick Google search of “caffeine for runners” returned 457,000 results; the top of the page includes articles in Runners World, Competitor, The Guardian, and Active.com so if you want to read more about why caffeine before a workout, Google yourself silly. Or pick up the book, Caffeine for Sports Performance, by sports dietitians Louise Burke and Ben Desbrow and exercise physiologist Lawrence Spriet.

Amino Acids. As you’ve likely forgotten from high school biology, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When you eat protein (which is a bunch of amino acids stuck together), your body breaks it down into the component amino acids, and then shuttles those amino acids off to where they are needed in the body. For athletes, amino acids are critical for muscle repair (which leads to muscle growth) as muscles are at least one-third amino acids. That’s why branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are popular supplements. I highly recommend the BCAA article on Precision Nutrition to learn more.

Amino acids come in two basic types. Essential amino acids are those the human body must obtain through food or drink–you have to eat them. Non-essential amino acids are those that the human body can manufacture within itself. The amino acids in MinoTOR are:

  • Leucine (this is a BCAA)
  • Beta-alanine
  • Isoleucine (this is a BCAA)
  • Valine (this is a BCAA)
  • Taurine
  • Sustamine™ (L-Alanine and L-Glutamine)

If you’ve ever gotten into an argument with someone who tried to make their dog or cat a vegan, you probably know that for dogs and cats, taurine is an essential amino acid–that’s generally the reason why they are obligate carnivores. (Please, don’t try to make your dog or cat vegan.) In humans, taurine is a non-essential amino acid. I confirmed with the company founder, prior to trying MinTOR, that the taurine is from vegetarian sources. So it is vegetarian-friendly.

Amino acids also serve other critical roles in the human body that are of particular interest to athletes. They assist in nitrogen transport, and production and transportation of glucose (aka the carbs your body uses for fuel), for example.

The Experience.

Okay, science is super awesome, but what about the drink? Sure, I’m getting to that.

Taste. MinoTOR has a slightly sweet taste that reminds me a little bit of coconut candy. It isn’t super sugary. It feels like water in your mouth, or maybe water with a little bit of sugar.

Performance. The bottle makes six claims, “Formulated with ingredients designed to:

  1. Increase energy
  2. Buffer lactic acid
  3. Accelerate recovery
  4. Improve oxygen utilization
  5. Promote muscular growth
  6. Boost metabolism”

These are all things that I can only evaluate subjectively. There’s zero science or study design here, because I can’t do a double-blind test with water (MinoTOR has a flavor, and I’d have a hard time fooling myself). I don’t have massive lab equipment to test how my muscles handle lactic acid, or whether my body is more efficiently using oxygen. Finally, since I’m reviewing this product and I know what it is supposed to do, I can’t avoid observational bias.

My Testing… All that aside, I tried MiniTOR before starting two of the 21 Day Fix Extreme workouts with Autumn Calabrese. These are targeted workouts with weights, about 30 minutes each, broken into sets of 2 or 3 exercises; upper body uses drop-sets, while lower body goes from weighted movements to plyometric ones.  I didn’t even pretend to try to do everything the same way, too many variables to control.

Test #1: 21 Day Fix Extreme: Upper Body Fix. For this session, I worked out first thing in the morning on a weekend. After I got up and threw on workout clothes, I drank half a bottle of MinoTOR and then waiting about 30 minutes before I did the workout. While I couldn’t bang out all of the push-ups, even with the modification (which isn’t “girl style on your knees” but “don’t drop as much and stay in full-body plank”) that was because my hands are apparently just not built for push-ups. I managed to do almost everything else in the workout minus the triceps kick-backs (dumb exercise, difficult to hit the target muscles and very easy to have bad form in my messed up shoulder) which I swapped for skull-crushers. At the end of the workout, I felt great. I had a post-workout protein and carb snack before my shower, and went about the rest of my day. The NEXT morning, ow!!! HOLY DOMS BATMAN!!! (DOMS = delayed-onset muscle soreness.) Yes, I killed that workout, but that workout tried to kill me right back. After teaching the morning yoga class, I felt much better. Conclusion: if MinoTOR makes the workout seem easy-ish when clearly I’m kicking butt–wimpy workouts do not cause sore muscles–then I’m for it. I’ll definitely drink it the next time I try this workout.

Test #2: 21 Day Fix Extreme: Lower Body Fix. For this session, I worked out in the evening, after work. (Actually it was after work, driving home, and doing some computer work.) It had been some time since I had lunch, so between driving home and working out, I had a small serving of cheese tortellini and drank the other half of the bottle of MinoTOR. The lower body workout seemed much more difficult than the upper body workout, I suspect because the lower body muscles are bigger, and I know I have weak glutes and hamstrings. This workout was definitely much more challenging, and I had to drop out to catch my breath several times (no, this was not an aerobic workout, thanks). But I finished it, and kept good form for every rep I banged out. Next time, I should try to eat the pre-workout snack earlier, as my stomach definitely let me know it had stuff in it. Conclusion: I’m pretty sure I’m going to be sore tomorrow. Even though I detest getting up early, I think my morning MinoTOR plus workout was better than the evening one…though I suspect this was due to poor timing of the snack.

OverallI’m glad I had the opportunity to try MinoTOR. I’ll definitely use it for future weighted workouts.

Want to try MinoTOR? Head over to the MinoTOR website and enter code BIBRAVE1. You’ll get 10% off and FREE shipping. You can also follow MinoTOR on social media to ask questions, and learn more.

Twitter: @drinkminotor
Instagram: @drinkminotor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drinkminotor

It’s national Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. (I discovered this by accident, so I’m sharing it widely.)  Appropriate too, as we’re moving into cold and flu season AND about to celebrate Thanksgiving. Did your Thanksgiving turkey take any antibiotics?  Unfortunately unless you’ve sought out a drug-free bird, you’ll never know.

Earlier this week I participated in a twitter chat with Center for Disease Control (CDC) experts Dr. Tom Chiller, Dr. Lauri Hicks, and Dr. Loria Pollack (#SaveAbx), and if I could communicate just one thing from that chat it would be this:

I view antibiotics as a resource like fisheries or a forest. If we don’t protect them, they will be gone.    –Dr. Daniel Uslan

antibiotics get smart

We haven’t discovered any significant new antibiotics in over 20 years. Antibiotic resistance leads to infections that have limited or no treatment options.

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine (and also among the most commonly counterfeited drugs, so don’t even think about buying them on the internet). Most people do not understand how antibiotics work, yet the way we use antibiotics today directly affects how effective they will be in the future. Because they have been around for our whole lives and are relatively safe drugs—by which I mean few people die or suffer very bad side effects from taking them—the perceived risks of antibiotics are overlooked by the general public. We easily forget that antibiotics are a “social drug.” Each time you use an antibiotic, it becomes less effective for you AND for others.

Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic Resistance

Essentially it’s like bacteria evolution: the strongest (most drug-resistant) survive and reproduce, populating the world with eve more drug-resistant bacteria. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them, or failing to finish a course of antibiotics, promotes growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria (sometimes called “superbugs”). The Capital and Coast DHB in New Zealand reported that the risk of contracting EBSL (an antibiotic resistant superbug) in Singapore increases from 6.3% to a whopping 29.4% with hospitalization and antibiotic use. The CDC estimates that antibiotic resistance causes at least 2,049,442 illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the US alone. (In contrast, leukemia causes 22,569 deaths and homicide causes 16,259.) Of those, approximately 410,000 illnesses are caused by antibiotic resistant germs in food.

antibiotics animals

Antibiotic use isn’t just out of control in human medicine, but also in agriculture. Approximately 80% of antibiotics used in the US are given to food animals, not people. That we can protect people from getting infections from eating animal meat is a wonderful thing for public health; that most feedlots use antibiotics like cow-treats due to overcrowded and unsanitary conditions is not. Meat producers also pump antibiotics into all kinds of healthy animals to cause the animals to grow faster and bigger (which is good for their bottom line, but bad for the future use of antibiotics).

antibiotics cows

Antibiotics are an important tool we have to fight infections and maintain/protect health, but in order to keep them effective, we need to make sure they doctors and patients are making the right decisions about antibiotic use. Essentially, we need to use the right medicine for the right patient at the right time—this includes promptly identifying the specific disease-causing pathogen so that doctors can match the right drug to the right bug, prescribing antibiotics only when they are necessary and will be effective, and finishing the entire prescribed course of treatment.

antibiotics recommendations

 

HOW TO TAKE ACTION!

Preventing infections is the first step towards reducing antibiotic overuse.

  1. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands. Clean and cover cuts and scrapes.
  2. Follow best practices when cooking meat. Immediately clean surfaces and tools that touch raw meat. Keep raw meat separated from other ingredients (until cooking).
  3. Get a flu shot.

Be a responsible patient when seeking medical treatment.

  1. Don’t insist your doctor prescribe an antibiotic.
  2. If prescribed an antibiotic, take ALL the medication as directed.

Choose your food wisely.

  1. Buy meat from companies that pledge to use antibiotics responsibly.
  2. If you have the storage space, consider buying a share of an organically raised animal. Many farms offer “co-op” style buying.
  3. A few sources for turkeys: Diestel, D’Artagnan, Plainville Farms, Harvestland brand, Mary’s Free Range Turkeys. Check for turkey farmers in your area (a Google search is actually quite helpful)
  4. “The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.” Michael Pollan

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/

“Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work”

“Get Smart for Healthcare”

“Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work on the Farm”

“Get Smart About Antibiotics Week”

Antibiotic Resistance and Food Safety, Center for Disease Control website. http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/antibiotic-resistance.html

“Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Cost the U.S. Healthcare System in Excess of $20 Billion Annually.” PR Newswire. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/antibiotic-resistant-infections-cost-the-us-healthcare-system-in-excess-of-20-billion-annually-64727562.html

Sydney Baldwin, “You’ve Got Questions About Antibiotic Resistance; We’ve Got Answers” at the Food & Water Watch blog. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/youve-got-questions-about-antibiotic-resistance-weve-got-answers/

Eliza Barclay. “Did Your Thanksgiving Turkey Take Any Antibiotics?” NPR. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/26/247377377/did-your-thanksgiving-turkey-take-any-antibiotics

“Bibliogaphy on Antibiotic Resistance and Food Animal Production: Scientific Studies (1969-2014). Pre Charitable Trusts. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2013/05/21/bibliography-on-antibiotic-resistance-and-food-animal-production

Martin Blaser, “Why antibiotics are making us all ill” on the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/01/why-antibiotics-making-us-ill-bacteria-martin-blaser

“Getting Smarter: A Year of Action on Antibiotics” via the Pew Charitable Trusts. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/collections/2014/11/getting-smarter-a-year-of-action-on-antibiotics

“Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria.” (video) PBS Frontline. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hunting-the-nightmare-bacteria/
“Overuse of antibiotics in animals is dangerous for people.” (video) Consumer Reports. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/video-hub/3291481807001/

Sharing Antimicrobial Reports for Pediatric Stewardship (SHARPS) collaborative. http://www.sharpsgroup.org/

Lydia Zuraw, “FDA: Antibiotics Sales to Farms Up 16 Percent Between 2009-12” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/10/antibiotic-sales-to-farms-up-16-percent/#.VGuulaPTmDZ

Recently I’ve learned that while many runners and athletes can diligently recite what to do while exercising in hot and humid conditions (drink fluids, take it easy, cool down when done), they don’t have a firm grasp on the science behind the body’s reaction to humidity.  Worse, they don’t know how to recognize the symptoms of heat-and-humidity-related illness in their friends, leading to delay in seeking appropriate medical attention.  When you’re done reading this post, I hope you understand the science better, know how to prevent illness, and are equipped to seek help if necessary.  A hot, humid environment is the most stressful condition for exercise.

The Science of Sweat.  When you exercise, your body warms up and your body temperature increases. The body is amazing at self-regulating temperature, and when your temperature rises, your body’s cooling mechanism kicks in.  The body re-directs blood from the deeper, more central parts of the body—like the internal organs and your muscles—and into the blood vessels that are closest to the surface of the skin.  (The technical term for this is peripheral vasodilation)  Also, you sweat.  Sweat is the body’s main mechanism to cool the body.  Sweat is made up primarily of water, with some salts (which play a role in the movement of fluids between and among cells in the body).  The body produces sweat inside the body, which then exits the body via the pores in the skin. The water in the sweat evaporates from the water, which cools the underlying blood.

Even without heat and humidity, extended bouts of strenuous exercise will lead to dehydration as the body sweats to dissipate heat.  Dehydration is dangerous because it impairs performance (as fluids are not circulating the way they should within the bloodstream) and can cause muscle cramps.  It can also lead to other inconveniences and symptoms, which on the less dangerous end include headache and light-headedness, and on the more severe end include fatigue, confusion, lethargy, and an elevated body temperature.

The Science of Humidity.  If the air surrounding the body is humid, sweating becomes a less efficient way to cool the body.  The higher the humidity, the less efficient sweating is.  If you’ve ever experienced humidity, you know how your skin stays wet?  That’s sweat, sitting on your skin, unable to evaporate.  When sweat can’t evaporate, it doesn’t cool off the body. The body keeps pumping out sweat, but the body temperature does not drop.

At this point, a few things happen.  First, any exercise seems more difficult because the body is actively redirecting blood away from the muscles.  The muscles are not actually working any harder—in fact they are working less efficiently, because the supply of oxygen has been drastically reduced—it just seems that way.  (In fact, they are working the same as, or less than, they would be at a lower temperature.  This is why “hot” exercise does not produce a higher calorie burn.)  Second, the heart has to work harder to drive the circulatory system because (a) the blood is thicker and sludgier (as part of the water that usually keeps blood at the regular consistency has been lost due to sweat), and (b) it is being pumped through vessels that are further away from the heart (closer to the surface of the skin than usual).

At this point, it should make sense that humidity magnifies the effect of heat.  If it is hot and NOT humid (a so-called “dry heat”), you will sweat but the sweat will evaporate and the body will be cooled.  These conditions present their own dangers, as without a feeling of being sweaty, fluid loss might not be as apparent until you experience sudden or extreme thirst.  What we call “heat-related illnesses” are often caused not by heat, but by a combination of heat (actual temperature) and humidity (relative humidity). The combined effect of the two is known as the heat index. For example, at a relative humidity of 70% and an actual temperature of 70 degrees F, the body reacts as though it is 70 degrees (apparent temperature).  At the same humidity but an actual temperature of 80, the apparent temperature is 85 degrees, well within a safe temperature to exercise; at actual temperature 90 degrees the apparent temperature is 106, just over the threshold where heat cramps or heat exhaustion are likely and heat stroke is possible.

Houston, We Have A Problem.  Heat and humidity lead to sweating, which lead to elevated body temperature, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance.  Sodium and potassium are two electrolytes. Electrolytes are compounds that become ions when they are dissolved into a solution, and they regulate the flow of substances into and out of cells. The regulated flow of things into and out of cells is crucial to muscle contraction, fluid balance in and out of cells, and nerve impulses. (Think of them as the traffic cops of the body.  No traffic cops, and no traffic signals, and you get a traffic jam with all of the cars bumper to bumper with nowhere to go.) 

Heat-Related Illnesses.  There are three main heat-related illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.  Heat cramps are muscle cramps that occur due to heat.  The cramps occur because the muscles are not receiving regular blood circulation.  This means that the muscles do not receive as much oxygenated blood, and the waste products produced by muscular activity are not removed from the body at the same rate, as would occur in cooler and less humid temperatures.  The resulting electrolyte imbalance means muscle contraction is not properly regulated. This is the least serious form of heat-related illness.  The muscle might feel hard to the touch (just like a “Charlie Horse” typo of calf cramp feels).  Heat cramps are the most minor form of heat-related illness.  Rest and rehydration (including salts such as those found in electrolyte-type sports drinks) are the appropriate treatment.

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are potentially life-threatening and must be treated immediately.  Heat exhaustion has multiple signs and symptoms, not all of which are present in any given case.  Elevated body temperatures may reach up to 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

Heat Exhaustion Signs

Pulse that is rapid and weak

Low blood pressure

Fatigue, tiredness, general weakness

Headache, dizziness

Nausea

Pale, cold, clammy skin

Profuse sweating

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke.  If you suspect that you or a friend have heat exhaustion, seek immediate treatment.  Treatment for Heat Exhaustion starts with stopping exercise and getting out of the heat/humidity; if possible, move to a cool, ventilated area.  Drink fluids—not just water, but also sports drinks (which contain electrolytes potassium and sodium).  Remove any tight clothing and unnecessary layers, and any non-breathable clothing.  Temperature monitoring is also recommended for heat exhaustion.  If you or a friend suffer from heat exhaustion during a distance running event, contact on-course medical support immediately.  Your race might be over, but your life will be safe; listen to on-course medical support and follow their advice.

More serious than heat exhaustion is Heat Stroke.  If you compare the signs of heat stroke with those of heat exhaustion, you’ll notice many of them are opposites: cold, clammy skin (heat exhaustion) v. hot, dry skin (heat stroke); paleness (heat exhaustion) v. redness (heat stroke); and strong pulse (heat exhaustion) v. weak pulse (heat stroke).  In heat stroke, the body temperature rises to or above 105 degrees F (41 degrees C).

More serious than heat exhaustion is Heat Stroke.  If you compare the signs of heat stroke with those of heat exhaustion, you’ll notice many of them are opposites: cold, clammy skin (heat exhaustion) v. hot, dry skin (heat stroke); paleness (heat exhaustion) v. redness (heat stroke); and strong pulse (heat exhaustion) v. weak pulse (heat stroke).  In heat stroke, the body temperature rises to or above 105 degrees F (41 degrees C).

Heat Stroke Signs

Hot, dry skin (not sweating)

Bright red skin color

Rapid, strong pulse

Mental status changes, such as confusion, irritability, anxiety, aggression

Labored breathing

Heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition.  It can cause organ failure, brain damage, or death.  If you suspect that you or another has heat stroke, stop exercise and seek immediate medical attention. Treatment for Heat Stroke is to stop exercising immediately, remove as much clothing as possible, cool the body in any way possible, give fluids to the person suffering, and get them to an emergency room immediately.

Heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition.  It can cause organ failure, brain damage, or death.  If you suspect that you or another has heat stroke, stop exercise and seek immediate medical attention. Treatment for Heat Stroke is to stop exercising immediately, remove as much clothing as possible, cool the body in any way possible, give fluids to the person suffering, and get them to an emergency room immediately.

Risk Factors for Heat-Related Illness.  Clearly, heat—or more likely heat AND humidity—are required for a heat-related illness.  Other risk factors are more personal and include:

  • Dehydration
  • Obesity
  • Low physical fitness/poor conditioning
  • Lack of acclimatization (to the heat/humidity/elevation)
  • Sleep deprivation (surprised?)
  • Certain medications including diuretics and antidepressants
  • Sweat gland dysfunction
  • Illness, including upper respiratory illnesses (cold/flu/etc.) or gastrointestinal illness (severe upset stomach, etc.)

Prevent Heat-Related Illness! 

  • Understand how heat and humidity affect your body; if possible, train in some humidity.
  • Pay attention to how your body feels.  Take walking breaks if you are running, and otherwise reduce the intensity of other exercise.
  • Acclimate yourself by increasing exercise gradually in the heat.  According to the American Counsel on Exercise, it takes a week to 10 days to acclimate to heat; ACE recommends exercising for short periods each day.  Author and Coach Jenny Hadfield, writing for Active.com, stated it takes two weeks.  (This is, I believe, a highly personalized factor.)
  • Choose lightweight, breathable clothing.  At the gym, cotton is cooler; distance runners say “cotton is death” because the fabric’s propensity to retain moisture leads to blisters.  Do not wear “sauna suits” or other deliberately heated clothing in the heat and humidity.
  • Choose light colors.  White clothing reflects the heat better than dark clothing.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Drink a moderate amount of extra fluids prior to an event in the heat and humidity.  During the event, consume small amounts of fluid frequently.  Even if you do not usually carry liquid, consider carrying it with you on hot and humid days.  If you carry fluid at an event, sip it between aid stations, and refill each time you are able.

Cooling the Body.  Heat-related illness treatment requires someone to cool the affected body as well as possible.  Here are some ways to cool the body—though seeking shade (getting the heck out of the sun and heat!) should be a top priority, if at all possible.

  • In hot but not humid weather, pour cool water on your head and body.  This will act as a sort of sweat supplement, evaporating from the body and cooling it.
  • Similarly, wear a wet towel around your neck.  There are specially designed cooling towels, as well as thin neck bands containing beads that hold water designed for this purpose.
  • Ice, ice, baby!  Ice in the mouth melts to create cold water to cool the body’s core.  Ice on the wrists, back of the neck, and top of the head will help cool the blood near the surface of the body faster.

THIS IS SERIOUS.  For those who were at the Disneyland Half Marathon this past weekend, you may have seen a few unfortunate runners succumb to the heat and humidity.  I don’t know those runners personally, and don’t know whether they were prepared for the environment (and I’m not rude enough to stare so I don’t know what they were wearing or whether they were carrying fluids).  I also saw a few runners being treated for heat-related illness at the Santa Rosa half/full as well.  Just so you don’t think it’s only me, I asked for some input from other runners.

A fellow member of the Half Fanatics (let’s call him Fellow Fanatic) wrote to me about a race his friend (Fanatic Friend) drove to, one that took place in a hot and humid climate.  The drive prevented Fanatic Friend from hydrating as he would have—just like people drink less while traveling by air.  While Friend carried water, he drank it instead of using the aid stations (the better thing would have been to sip it in addition to the aid stations).  Fellow Fanatic observed Fanatic Friend as far out as mile 9, where he seemed to be doing fine; by mile 12 Fanatic Friend was talking to medical, but waived to Fellow Fanatic and told him to go on by.  Not 15 minutes later another runner saw Fanatic Friend being whisked off to the ER by ambulance, as the on-course medical staff were unable to lower his temperature.

Here’s what Fellow Fanatic concluded:

Bottom line is: the humidity will hit you fast. You cannot be a superstar runner in the humidity, so do not push for a PR. Use those water stations before depleting your own water source. Do not be alone at a race. Make sure you have a plan with your family or a friend who you’re racing with on what to do if something goes wrong. Where to meet, text, whatever. If you are out of state or the country, make sure you know what your insurance covers and how your family/friend can help.

Be safe out there!

 

Sources:

ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual, Chapter 1: Exercise Physiology, discussion of environmental conditions while exercising.

AFAA textbook, Fitness: Theory and Practice.

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Precision Nutrition Certification Manual, second edition.

Multiple articles available via PubMed.gov and the NCBI, including but not limited to:

Coris EE, Ramirez AM, and Van Durme DJ.  “Heat illness in athletes: the dangerous combination of heat, humidity and exercise.”  Sports Med  2004; 34(1): 9-16.