Saturday, July 23, 2011

Do We Feel What We Eat?

I would like to interrupt my programmed writing schedule for an additional entry on diet and how it affects us. A friend of a friend told me that there was a discussion on how food affects our mood and may help us cope with what we may feel. Before you believe these claims, I’ve written something down to get you to a thinking mood.

Let’s start things off with something easy, the easiest being the “sugar rush.” Although most parents attribute their children’s manic behaviour following a large intake in sweets to the intake itself, it would be nothing short of folly to attribute this as the sole explanation. The best instances to consider are those where sugar, either alone or with substances considered neutral with regards to affecting our mood, are administered in a controlled environment. One of the things that may come to mind is intravenous dextrose. To be honest, I’ve never seen a patient happy while an intravenous line was attached, regardless of how much sugar we pumped into their veins. However, one could rationalize that either the amount was not sufficient or perhaps ingestion was a necessary component. Giving a 50% glucose solution via an intravenous push does not give a rise in excitement either, perhaps due to the fact that administration of a viscous solution into a blood vessel is a painful experience.

The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) involves the ingestion of 75 g of glucose dissolved in a glass of water. There are several people who complain that this test is extremely nauseating; indicating that it often pushes against our limits of ingesting sugar. For those who do not complain, there is no excitement or happiness. The predominant mood being an anxious one, chiefly due to thoughts on whether they have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or not.

So maybe it isn’t glucose. Table sugar is sucrose. It is made mainly of two sugar molecules, mainly glucose and fructose. Fructose is the sugar commonly found in fruits. I don’t see children get the sugar rush, regardless of how many ripe mangoes and mango shakes they consume. To cut a long story short, there may be a period of hyperactivity in people after they consume large amounts of sugar. However, more frequent reliable observations show that this may be due to something else in the situation rather than just sugar. Perhaps the fulfilment of a guilty pleasure is enough?

Another thing that bugs me is the frequent assumption that an increased intake of tryptophan-rich food will result in an increase in the serotonin levels of the brain. Considering that the human body is fully dependent on outside sources for this amino acid, the statement may seem plausible. This also means that it is available in very low concentrations within our body. There are two ways that this molecule may be fashioned three-dimensionally and they are called the D- and L- forms. Our body uses the L- form and it is called L-tryptophan.

The biggest investment of our absorbed tryptophan is, of course, protein synthesis. This only concerns structural proteins and proteins that speed up chemical reactions (called enzymes). Now before the tryptophan goes to serotonin, it also goes to a pathway responsible for vitamin B level maintenance. According to present day estimates, only about 3% of dietary tryptophan is used in the manufacture of serotonin. The funny thing is that, in mammals, 80-95% of our serotonin is found in our stomach. So isn’t it more plausible to believe that it would more likely be able to affect gastrointestinal function than brain activity?

The absorption and metabolism of tryptophan is an extremely complicated and boring discussion. Suffice it to say, given their levels all throughout the body; it should affect a lot more than just our mood. But it doesn’t.

One common flaw in reasoning is the assumption that, when two things happen together frequently, it's a cause-and-effect relationship. It just means that there is an association. Proving one causes the other is another thing altogether. Common sense screens the obvious associations that do not cause the other, like people having the same birthday or the rooster crowing in the morning.

Remember that people don't eat pasta because they're lonely. It’s just as believable as kids eating spaghetti because they’re lonely.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jim and the Four-Minute Workout

Last week, we discussed decreasing caloric input. However, this is only half of the problem. Increasing caloric output is the other half. Exercise is, of course, the obvious answer. It is also a rhetorical answer as most people would rather not exercise. They just like to talk about it.

Warning: Although exercise is a healthy activity, there are several things that it does not do. It does not cure hypertension. It does not cure diabetes mellitus. The only medical condition that it can possibly cure is obesity. It is not safe for people with uncontrolled blood pressure to undergo exercise and other strenuous activities.

Being a sedentary person, I decided to ask myself why I avoid and abhor exercise. The first reason that came to my mind was that I don’t like to put on exercise clothes. The next was that I didn’t like to be seen by other people. Other reasons included financial expenditure (I find it ridiculous to spend for something I might use only once or twice), portable (I can do it anywhere), and, lastly, adjustable difficulty levels. This is where another radio show on 99.5 RT comes in. The TNT show, previously hosted by Neil Almighty and Tina Ryan, had fitness experts over on Wednesdays on a segment they called FIT Radio. I listened eagerly every time, hoping that they would give me a piece of the puzzle I was currently trying to solve. One day, they had a guest that they called “Coach Jim from the gym.” He had something he called the Four-Minute Workout. What enthralled me were the words that followed. He said that it would burn 400 calories every time and that he wasn’t going to copyright it since he wanted a fit Philippines. It was perfect. After some thought, I realized that it wasn’t. I needed this man’s name. If he wasn’t going to get the cash his idea should produce, at least he should get the credit. A phone call later, I knew that this fitness genius was Jim Saret. He happens to be a Sports Training and Fitness Consultant for the Philippine Smart Gilas, the Philippine Swimming Team, and the Philippine Olympic Committee, among others.

Now that I had my wanted workout, I then found a new obstacle in getting people to exercise. Motivation. Most adults say that their exercise is housework. Guess what? Exercise is a planned activity with the objective of strengthening or increasing the fitness of the performer. Work is an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something. From their definitions, you could easily see that work uses your pre-existing abilities to do something whereas exercise makes you stronger. The problem arises when one is expected to perform work that is beyond their present capabilities. This results in injury.

Before I go, I would like to thank Neil Almighty and Scarlet of The Awesome Show for advertising my blog. I’ll try and get in touch with Jim Saret for any corrections or confirmations he may have regarding this entry.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Calorie Restriction and the Half-Diet

So, after a few days, we’ve finally reached the last bullet point to discuss:

3. The only proven method of extending your lifespan is by calorie restriction.

Okay, I’ll admit, when you look at the data on the webpage above, you’ll see an animal study showing that mice and rhesus monkeys live longer. There are claims on other species and I managed to look at them before they restructured this webpage. Unfortunately, I can’t claim evidence that I can’t show you. There are other articles based on human studies but they are simply ‘presumptive.’ That means these studies point to a few things and presume that the people who have these things will live longer. It’s difficult to make studies regarding human lifespans mainly because humans live longer than our interest levels would hold.

Now, one big difference with people and animals is that we can rationalize eating less or more. Another difference is that we have a lot of freely available food compared to animals that have to struggle and scrounge for their nutrition. What does this mean? Animals consume a fairly static level of calories per day because their level of activity is fairly static. Humans, however, have occasions where they consume more or move less. Holidays, in general, allow people to eat more. They also move less, resulting in less traffic during said days. The result is a greater input and lesser output. This means that although total caloric intake is important, our ability to regulate our caloric output also means that we can focus our attention on caloric excess, or the difference between our input and our output. If your output is equal to or greater than your input, you’ll lose weight. It’s actually that simple.

After a large part of my life was spent labelling things black and white, maturity has shown me that things, even when simplified, are not really that simple. I do not advocate calorie restriction wholeheartedly. Another tenet in my life is to “Enjoy everything in moderation.” That rule also applies to calorie restriction. I only advise it when you’re trying to reach your ideal body weight. I use Broca’s formula (the first one on the previous link) simply because it’s easier to remember. However, if you are a stickler for accuracy, the Body Mass Index (BMI) is the way to go. Since most of my readers are Asians, I would recommend either the Japanese or Singapore version for you.

Sometime ago, Glyco wrote a request for me to discuss liquid fasting diets. Although liquid fasting diets are great to jump start a weight loss program, they’re not really that great to use for the rest of your life. Weight loss is just the start. Weight maintenance is the real battle. And that’s where liquid fasting diets fail. What people need is a diet that they can and will adhere to for the rest of their lives. My answer to that is the “half diet.” You eat whatever you used to eat before you started dieting but half the amount. That means half the viands and half the rice. It also means no in-between-meal snacks. The nice thing about this diet is that you’re going to be eating the same things you’ve been eating. Why? The smaller the change, the easier it is to incorporate into your daily life.

Now that we’ve got the preliminary discussion down pat, we’ll continue with increasing output next week.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eating Cake and Losing Weight

After a few days of counting my usage of a certain phrase, I’ve decided to take Luis’ suggestion and rename my blog. I’ve also decided to schedule updates on Fridays so as to give me more time to write. I basically write when the muses visit me and not whenever I want to, which is inconvenient but I don’t like making works of poor quality.

As promised, my next discussion will be on weight loss and maintenance. This is very important to me because I have a sedentary job and I found myself gaining weight after I became self-employed. Although I knew that obesity was a risk factor for deadly incommunicable diseases, there was always this voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t going to be one of those people on television. Then, one a rainy day, I was watching the Discovery channel and it was an episode entitled, “Super Obese.” I don’t have a copy of this episode and I’m hoping that it becomes available locally soon.

The important word for this article is “calorie” which means “an amount of food having an energy-producing value equal to the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water 1 degree Celsius.”

To cut a long story short, the program has 3 bullet points:
1. People usually gain weight because their daily activities decrease but their eating habits remain the same.

Basically, we all know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Well, the human body is an energy system. Our only sources of energy input are eating and drinking. Breathing only contributes the material by which we can harvest the energy. Although we use an amount for regular maintenance, our energy output can be voluntarily increased by physical activity. So when we go back to statement #1, it simply means the person’s input eventually exceeds the output.

You often hear the statement, “I have a low metabolic rate,” or something roughly similar to that. Guess what? Your metabolic rate is actually under your control. You can increase it by exercising or working, exercise being the safer. Take note that exercise is not work and vice versa.

2. Our bodies run better when we have fewer calories available.

The human body is an expert in conserving energy. That’s basically the reason why it is easier to gain rather than lose weight. Unfortunately, becoming overweight is like living in a cluttered house. You eventually have very little space to move and do things quickly and effectively.

A lot of individuals have forgotten that the human body produces sugar (glucose) and fat (triglycerides) at will in response to excessive intake of calories. If you remember your high school biology, you would know that the digestive system breaks down all the food you eat into its component compounds. Carbohydrates become sugars, fats become fatty acids and glycerol, while proteins become amino acids. In short, getting fat and eating fat are two different things. As most people have experienced, you can get fat without eating fat. However, what most people don’t know is that you can lose weight even while eating fat.

I’ll continue with the third bullet point when I return.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Natural Safety

First off, thanks to a local radio show called “Disturbing the Peace” for advertising my blog and for the warm welcome that the SaGOs have given it. Being an avid and active listener definitely has it perks. One listener by the name of Luis had a suggestion that I change the title of this blog to “The Thing Is.” I’ll definitely consider it since I use that phrase with some consistency. For those who want topics discussed, I’ll try to work them in as fast as I can. You can send me topic requests by commenting on my blog. For those who send me requests through Facebook, that account was only made per request of Sam and Gibb, so it will only be accessed on necessity. But once I get them, I’ll work them in.

For comments, I’m very open to them. Please comment if you wish further discussion or clarification. Just keep in mind that a blog entry has to be long enough to convey everything you have to say and short enough to keep from exceeding the reader’s attention span.

Now, on to the next article.

I left off last time saying that even natural things have harmful effects. Saying that natural supplements have no side effects because they’re natural is as credible as fire not having the ability to burn or water not having the ability to drown. Take note that fire and water are both natural. Consider also the fact that all diseases have a natural basis. The corollary is also amusing. The only natural medication for Diabetes Mellitus is the one that the diabetics commonly fear the most – insulin. If you still don’t believe me, the Wikipedia actually has a handy list that you can access here. I mean, don’t take my word for it – read! Be cautious, however, since the list is far from complete.

When you click on it, I would like to focus your attention on a substance known as aristolochic acid. This beauty was brought to my attention a couple of years ago when I was part of a transplant ethics committee. Some recipients had their kidneys inadvertently destroyed by the lavish unnecessary intake of Chinese herbal medications. Because of this discovery, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert. This alert was issued more than a decade ago and people still peddle to the belief that “natural” means “safe” to this very day.

One of the more popular herbal supplement components are antioxidants. One thing that people don’t know is recent research indicates that an increased intake of beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality significantly. In plain English, it can kill you. Again, don’t take my word for it. If you don’t have the time to read the entirety, focus on the abstract’s conclusion here. Take note that the article is more than four years old and it still remains largely unknown to the majority of the population.

Welcome to the 21st century, people. I’ll get back to you when I do. I'll probably write about weight loss and maintenance next.

Monday, July 4, 2011

All Things Herbal

So I finally decided to start my own weblog, or blog as most would put it. I was initially wondering on what to put in it but I eventually came to the conclusion that if whatever I wrote was interesting, others would give it their time and attention. In short, whatever came to my mind: my beliefs, opinions, and interpretations of events, whether actual or theoretical.

In this day and age, my biggest concern would be the preponderance of health supplements. Now most people would debate that this depends mainly on one's healing paradigm. True, of course. So, before I continue, here is my disclaimer: everything that follows pertains only with regards to Western medicine.

Most supplements are connected with Western medicine mainly because this is the one most intimately connected with financial gain. It's also the one with the largest market. So basically, if you wanted to sell something related to health, the most rewarding paradigm would be this one.

The primary tagline of supplements is “natural, not artificial.” This might seem common sense to you but this is nothing but wordplay. As defined by the Merriam-Webster, “natural” in this sense means either “growing without human care” or “existing in or produced by nature” whereas, “artificial” is defined as “humanly contrived often on a natural model.”

Yes, my dear readers, for some reason, the human animal has considered its work of lesser quality than that of other animals. For that reason, I often jest with the more fanatical of my students. I often ask them that, if they believe natural things to be superior, why wear clothes or ride mechanical means of transportation? It seems quite self-defeating to me and that is the main reason why I do not ascribe to this school of thought. I have realized that the natural-artificial dichotomy is, likewise, artificial.

Is there any evidence that imperfection resides in both the natural and the artificial? Sadly, the answer is yes. There is nothing perfect in this imperfect world. For every substance that has an effect, there is a side effect. If there are no side effects, logic dictates that there is most likely no effect at all.

Don’t worry, I’ll continue this where I left off next time.