Cassava Flour: Ins and Outs for the Health Conscious

Cassava flour is gaining popularity among the gluten-free, but there are health concerns to consider, especially for pregnant women and children.

What is Cassava Flour?  Is Cassava Flour Safe?

Cassava Paleo in a nutshell

Key points.

Cassava flour is flour made from the ground roots of the cassava plant.  It is also sometimes called “Yucca flour.”  Yucca, as we know it in the Southwest is not the same plant that is used to make cassava flour.  Cassava is a major food in parts of Africa and in tropical regions.  It grows well in poor soil and difficult conditions that would kill other crops.  It seems to be growing in popularity (or at least marketing) among followers of the paleo diet, which excludes grains.  Diets high in cassava are problematic for several reasons. Consumption of cassava releases cyanide.  Cyanide can cause a lot of oxidative damage.  This includes damage to neurons.  Eating a lot of cassava can lead to a neurological disease called Konzo.   The body has defense mechanisms against cyanide.  It metabolizes it to thiocyanate, which is much less toxic, but can still cause problems.   Thiocyanate can contribute to hypothyroidism. Thiocyanate interferes with the body’s ability to use iodine.  Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are important for controlling metabolic rate and for brain development.  Not having enough thyroid hormone is dangerous during pregnancy and infancy because it can lead to low IQ, reading disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) types of behavioral problems.

Tell me more about Konzo and Cassava Flour.

Konzo is a debilitating disease that occurs when people eat high in poorly processed cassava.  Signs of Konzo include spastic gait, need for support while walking, or complete inability to walk.   They may also show exaggerated knee and ankle jerk reflexes.  These are, of course, signs of nerve damage.Konzo usually shows up in people who have had nothing to eat but cassava.  The amount of cyanide in cassava varies according to the variety.  There are different varieties of cassava, like there are different varieties of apple.  Plant scientists have been working to develop less toxic cassava varieties.  Cyanide levels can also be reduced by processing and cooking.   Having nothing to eat but cassava is most likely to happen to people who are living in crisis and turmoil, conditions where processing and cooking cassava may be less than ideal.  While konzo is extremely unlikely to show up in someone living under reasonable conditions, the possibility of lesser forms of nerve injury should be considered.  This would be especially true for pregnant women and infants.  Nerve insult that occurs early in development can have life-long impact in the form of reduced IQ and/or behavioral issues. Consider something like lead, the metal.  Even tiny exposures during fetal development can be harmful.   Cassava may follow the same pattern (Bumoko et al. 2014).  The potential for cyanide to harm neurons is something to consider.  Even if it is only “a little.”

Anything else regarding Cassava Paleo concerns?

Just a bit.  There is also evidence that a cassava diet will make diabetes worse, possibly by damaging the pancreas.  This is from an animal study.

What is good about Cassava Flour?

Cassava flour may be a choice for people with celiac disease.  It should also be safe if it is properly processed and if a varied, healthy diet is followed otherwise.  Increased spending on Cassava Flour might also help the economies of developing countries that export cassava.

Andrea B. Kirk, PhD

ResearchBlogging.org
Boivin, M., Okitundu, D., Makila-Mabe Bumoko, G., Sombo, M., Mumba, D., Tylleskar, T., Page, C., Tamfum Muyembe, J., & Tshala-Katumbay, D. (2013). Neuropsychological Effects of Konzo: A Neuromotor Disease Associated With Poorly Processed Cassava PEDIATRICS, 131 (4) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-3011

Bumoko GM, Sombo MT, Okitundu LD, Mumba DN, Kazadi KT, Tamfum-Muyembe JJ, Lasarev MR, Boivin MJ, Banea JP, & Tshala-Katumbay DD (2014). Determinants of cognitive performance in children relying on cyanogenic cassava as staple food. Metabolic brain disease, 29 (2), 359-66 PMID: 24481810

Nunn PB, Lyddiard JR, & Christopher Perera KP (2011). Brain glutathione as a target for aetiological factors in neurolathyrism and konzo. Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 49 (3), 662-7 PMID: 20816718

Yessoufou A, Ategbo JM, Girard A, Prost J, Dramane KL, Moutairou K, Hichami A, & Khan NA (2006). Cassava-enriched diet is not diabetogenic rather it aggravates diabetes in rats. Fundamental & clinical pharmacology, 20 (6), 579-86 PMID: 17109651

An anti-depression diet might be high in anti-oxidants and fermentable fiber, and low in saturated fats

Is there such a thing as an anti-depression diet?

Summary:

People who suffer from depression seem to experience more oxidative stress and inflammation than others.  A diet high in anti-oxidants, fermentable fiber and low in saturated and transfats may protect against inflammatory stress in the brain and elsewhere.  More research needed.  The topic is under investigation.

Introduction:

We recently posted an article about the role of oxidative and nitrosative stress and depression.  Oxidative and nitrosative stress can cause inflammation and damage to cells.  Depression is associated with brain shrinkage, impaired memory, loss of cognitive abilities and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  There are probably more too.  People who are depressed tend to have poorer defense against oxidative damage.  Anti-oxidant and selenium levels also tend to be lower.  Are the anti-oxidants used up by heavy demand?  Or are people who are depressed less likely to eat well?  The answer could be both.

Depression and anti-oxidants

People who are depressed tend to have lower zinc, coenzyme Q10, vitamin E and glutathione than people who are not depressed.  These nutrients and biomolecules protect cells against lipid peroxidation, DNA damage, mitochondrial damage, and damage to proteins that occur with oxidative or nitrosative stress.  Nitrosative stress can result in addition of unwanted nitrogens to proteins.  This can change their structure and may trigger the immune system to attack them.  This type of damage may be related to the development of auto-immune disorders.

Can increasing anti-oxidants  and reducing inflammation decrease depression?

Researchers aren’t sure of the answer yet, but the possibility is under investigation.  If this turns out to be the case a change in diet and an aspirin might be helpful in treating depression.  Indeed, some researchers are trying to develop a depression diet that they hope will help alleviate depression or protect those at risk.

What might an anti-depression diet look like?

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An anti-depression diet would probably be high in anti-oxidants.  This would mean lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.  It might also mean more dietary fiber.  Dietary fiber as a cancer protectant has not proven to be as powerful as hoped.  However, some forms of dietary fiber contribute to anti-oxidant status when they are metabolized by gut microbiota.  An anti-depression diet should also probably be low in transfat (same for everyone btw) and low in saturated fatty acids.  Studies of mice fed diets high in saturated fatty acids have shown higher levels of brain inflammation than mice fed standard diets.  Scary add-on here: Mother mice fed a diet high in saturated fatty acids also produced off-spring that had higher levels of inflammation, even when they were fed a standard mouse diet.  The thought that maternal diet could predispose offspring to depression or other cognitive disorders is frankly scary. It’s hard for people who are severely depressed to take care of themselves.  But improving diet might be worth a shot.     NOTE: this article is meant to stimulate discussion and provide information.  Contact your health care provider for medical advice.

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Moylan S, Berk M, Dean OM, Samuni Y, Williams LJ, O’Neil A, Hayley AC, Pasco JA, Anderson G, Jacka FN, & Maes M (2014). Oxidative & nitrosative stress in depression: Why so much stress? Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 45C, 46-62 PMID: 24858007

 

Maes M, Kubera M, Leunis JC, & Berk M (2012). Increased IgA and IgM responses against gut commensals in chronic depression: further evidence for increased bacterial translocation or leaky gut. Journal of affective disorders, 141 (1), 55-62 PMID: 22410503

 

Maslowski KM, Vieira AT, Ng A, Kranich J, Sierro F, Yu D, Schilter HC, Rolph MS, Mackay F, Artis D, Xavier RJ, Teixeira MM, & Mackay CR (2009). Regulation of inflammatory responses by gut microbiota and chemoattractant receptor GPR43. Nature, 461 (7268), 1282-6 PMID: 19865172

 

Pistell PJ, Morrison CD, Gupta S, Knight AG, Keller JN, Ingram DK, & Bruce-Keller AJ (2010). Cognitive impairment following high fat diet consumption is associated with brain inflammation. Journal of neuroimmunology, 219 (1-2), 25-32 PMID: 20004026

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Low Vitamin D, Atherosclerosis and CardioVascular Disease

Vitamin D has received tremendous interest over the last ten years.  One of the many things to come out about Vitamin D is that is that it protects against vascular calcification.  Vascular calcification causes or contributes to:

  • Stiff arteries
  • Poor elasticity
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Kidney damage
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Early death
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That is terrible.  Not long ago calcification was considered a normal part of aging. Then it was considered an issue of cholesterol and a high fat diet.  The contributions of dietary cholesterol and dietary fats continue to be explored and challenged, however, researchers are uncovering other factors.  Vitamin D insufficiency has been strongly associated with risk of poor health and death.  This includes increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  Research groups are  now working to figure out more of the details.

Chronic Vitamin D Deficiency vs. On-again Off-again Vitamin D deficiency

A recent article in the Journal of Nutrition reports on an investigation of Vitamin D and vascular calcification.  The study used groups mice.  It lasted 32weeks.  Different groups of mice were fed either

  1. mouse version of a typical Western diet with adequate vitamin D for 16 weeks
  2. mouse version of a typical Western diet with low vitamin D for 16 weeks
  3. mouse version of a typical Western diet low vitamin D for 32 weeks
  4. mouse version of a typical Western diet with low vitamin D for 16 weeks then switched to a normal D diet for another 16 weeks.

Research Findings

Mice on the 16 week low vitamin D diet had more calcified arteries than mice fed the higher vitamin D diet, but not by that much.  (See the article for details).  The low vitamin D diet, however. turned up something interesting:

  • Vascular cells in the Low Vitamin D mice appeared to change into osteoblast-like cells.  Osteoblasts are build bone.  They also create dense, crosslinked collagen and create a matrix for bone.   This may not be the best thing for vascular health.
  • Mice fed a low D diet for 32 weeks had significantly more plaque than other mice, more osteoblast-like cells and more tumor necrosis factor.
  • Mice who were returned to the normal D diet had less calcification.  This is a nice finding.  It looks like increasing vitamin D  will improve the quality of arteries if your diet has been low in vitamin D.

Takeaway:

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It looks like low vitamin D plays a strong role in hardening of the arteries. Not all is lost,  Damage you have accumulated to date may be reduceable.  Please note too that this was a study of dietary vitamin D and not vitamin D made through sun exposure.  You can make your own vitamin D with exposure to sun light.  Please remember not to go overboard.  Too much vitamin D may also cause calcification of arteries.

 

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Nadine Schmidt, Corinna Brandsch, Alexandra Schutkowski, Frank Hirche, & Gabriele I. Stangl (2014). Dietary Vitamin D Inadequacy Accelerates Calcification and Osteoblast-Like Cell Formation in the Vascular System of LDL Receptor Knockout and Wild-Type Mice Journal of Nutrition

Ellam T, Hameed A, Ul Haque R, Muthana M, Wilkie M, Francis SE, & Chico TJ (2014). Vitamin d deficiency and exogenous vitamin d excess similarly increase diffuse atherosclerotic calcification in apolipoprotein e knockout mice. PloS one, 9 (2) PMID: 24586387

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Quinoa Stimulates Protein Synthesis via Phytoecdysteroids

Summary: While Quinoa contains saponins, not all saponins are harmful.  Some are anti-oxidants and are probably health protective.  Quinoa, as most readers will know, is relatively high in protein.  New research shows quinoa is also high in phytoecdysteroids.  Phytoecysteroids have been shown to stimulate protein synthesis, at least in rats.

Introductory paragraph: (feel free to skip).  I’m not sure where Quinoa falls on the dietary good-evil spectrum these days.  Many value it for its high protein and mineral content.  It can be a staple food for the health-minded vegetarian.  On the other side of the spectrum, Quinoa has been vilified by followers of the Paleo diet because advocates consider it to be a grain.  Paleo dieters have also been concerned that Quinoa contains saponins. Some have proposed that saponins may damage the intestines.  However saponins are beneficial anti-oxidants and some are health-protective.  For a more general discussion of Quinoa and why it should be an excellent addition to the paleo diet click here.

Phytoecdysteroids  in quinoa can help promote protein synthesis

Phytoecdysteroids in quinoa can help promote protein synthesis

Quinoa is high in protein, flavonoids and phytoecdysteroids

Analysis of quinoa extract shows that quinoa contains:

  • 20% protein
  • 11% oil
  • 2.6% flavonoid glycosides
  • 1% phytoecdysteroids (this is very high compared to other plants)
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Crossfit Trainer Amie Taylor of CrossFit Seven gets ready for the snatch

Flavonoid glycosides are health protective anti-oxidants.   Quinoa contains high amounts of phytoecdysteroids relative to other plants.   These are thought to be part of a plants defense system against predatory insecct.  However, they may be good for people.  There are many different phytoecdysteroids. Different phytoecdysteriods may have different functions and behave differently in mammals.  The dominant phytoecdysteroid in quinoa is 20HE.

Beneficial effects of phytoecdysteroids

There have been a number of studies showing different positive effects of both phytoecdysteroids or of qunoia extract.

  • Phytoecdysteroids increased protein synthesis in animals with and without exercise
  • 20HE (the predominant phytoecdysteroid in quinoa) has anabolic-like properties that promote protein synthesis
  • 20HE Increased muscle fiber size
  • Phytoecdysteroids Inhibited tumor growth
  • Phytoecdysteroids increased grip strength in rats
  • Quinoa extract increased metabolic rate and may be an anti-obesogen
  • Quinoa extract lowered blood glucose in obese, hyperglycemic mice
Phytoecdysteroids  in quinoa can help promote protein synthesis

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How phytoecdysteroids work is not completely understood.  They do not seem to act in the same way as anabolic steroids.  Anabolic steroids interact with androgen receptors.  Phytoecdysteroids don’t seem to do that.   So far, phytoecdysteroids show very low toxicity in mammals but limited (if any) testing has been done in humans.  Some people are marketing ecdysteroids as body-building supplements.  So far there is no evidence that these provide any benefit.

Dinan L (2009). The Karlson Lecture. Phytoecdysteroids: what use are they? Archives of insect biochemistry and physiology, 72 (3), 126-41 PMID: 19771554

Báthori M, Tóth N, Hunyadi A, Márki A, & Zádor E (2008). Phytoecdysteroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids–structure and effects on humans. Current medicinal chemistry, 15 (1), 75-91 PMID: 18220764

Foucault AS, Even P, Lafont R, Dioh W, Veillet S, Tomé D, Huneau JF, Hermier D, & Quignard-Boulangé A (2014). Quinoa extract enriched in 20-hydroxyecdysone affects energy homeostasis and intestinal fat absorption in mice fed a high-fat diet. Physiology & behavior, 128, 226-31 PMID: 24534167

Gorelick-Feldman J, Maclean D, Ilic N, Poulev A, Lila MA, Cheng D, & Raskin I (2008). Phytoecdysteroids increase protein synthesis in skeletal muscle cells. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 56 (10), 3532-7 PMID: 18444661

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Masters Athletes Need More Protein than Younger Athletes

Masters Athletes may have some nutritional needs that differ from those of younger athletes. By Masters, we’re referring to athletes over age 40. This is currently the cut-off for Crossfit. Here’s what we know about Masters and protein:

  • Masters athletes may need more protein than younger athletes regardless of sport.
  • Consuming more protein may slow normal loss of muscle mass that occurs over time.
  • Masters athletes doing resistance training may need more protein than younger people because they don’t synthesize muscle proteins as quickly.
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Masters Athlete Nutrition: what we know today.

The amount of FDA recommended protein stands at about 0.66 grams per kilogram of body weight.  This number was derived by looking at many studies of people.  Some of the studies looked at the average amount eaten by healthy people.  Others looked at nitrogen balance: how much comes in vs how much comes out.  People who lose more nitrogen than they take in through food are said to be in negative nitrogen balance.  For these studies, the recommended amount would be the amount where the amount of nitrogen coming in is equal to the amount leaving (urine).  There are a number of limits with these approaches.  They do not answer the question of “what is best”.   They have not focused on athletes or older adults.   Weight lifters and others trying to add muscle have traditionally eaten a lot of protein.   Way more than 0.66 grams/kilogram. Eating more than the recommended amount of protein doesn’t seem to hurt.  Just don’t leave out other nutrients.

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Scientists who work in this area have concluded that 0.8 g/kg is better for masters athletes than the old level of 0.66 g/kg.  Many people will find number low and may get upset about. Don’t worry if you’ve just had a WTF moment.  After all, we’ve been urged to consume at least a full gram of protein, 1.2 g/kg or even more. This may be perfectly valid if you are interested in strength gain or preservation of muscle mass during aging. We simply don’t know what is “optimal.”  “Optimal” will, of course, depend on many different factors.  The increase from 0.66 g/kg to 0.8 g/kg is 25%.  That is a big jump.

Here’s what may help preserve or increase muscle mass for masters athletes

  • Eat more than 0.8 g/kg/day to increase strength (you have to lift too.)
  • Get some protein soon after a training session
  • Some recommend taking 5 g/day of creatine monohydrate.  There is some evidence that it can boost strength gains and help increase fat free mass.  Keep in mind that creatine can also increase water retention.  Some of the gains in fat free mass may just be water.
  • For endurance: sadly, there is no evidence that carb loading helps.
  • Carbohydrates are important.  If your body doesn’t have carbohydrates it will use some of your protein for energy.  It will use fat too, but it will also use muscle.

What kind of protein is best for Masters Athletes?

There is a lot of research showing that red meat increases risk of cancer.  I know a lot of people like red meat.  But evidence says: avoid it.  If you do eat red meat avoid grilling or charring it.  Burning food creates carcinogens.  Cooking fats at high temperatures produces acrolein.  Acrolein may contribute to development of Alzheimers.  Vegetable protein (beans and nuts) seems to lower risk of cancer.  It also seems to lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.  The paleo diet is against beans.  There is really no reason not to eat beans other than that some popular diet books put them in the “bad” category.  Beans should be well-cooked.  If you are not used to eating beans . . . you will probably get better at digesting them peacefully.  You may even get good at it.

Take away:

It looks like masters athletes need more protein than others.  The  recommended increase from 0.66 g/kg/day to .80 g/kg/day is a 25% increase.  Until we know more, increasing your protein intake may help you maintain or increase muscle mass. Limit red meat. Many people seem to be devoted to red meat, but the vast majority of research indicates it is a risky protein source.  Avoid fish high in mercury (tuna, swordfish).  Mercury accumulates in the body over time and has been linked to a number of poor health outcomes. Increasing protein intake with vegetable protein is a healthy strategy.

 

 

Tarnopolsky MA (2008). Nutritional consideration in the aging athlete. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 18 (6), 531-8 PMID: 19001886

Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria C, Vupputuri S, Myers L, & Whelton PK (2001). Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Archives of internal medicine, 161 (21), 2573-8 PMID: 11718588

Position Statement (2010). Selected Issues for the Master Athlete and the Team Physician Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42 (4), 820-833 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d19a0b

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Polyunsaturated fats may protect against loss of muscle mass

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Our previous post (see below or click here) discussed the impact exercise on long-term strength.  In a nutshell, exercise has long term effects, even after the program has been halted.  This week we will talk about new research that shows that dietary fats may also be important for muscle mass.  Who’d have thought?  Researchers are unsure how it works, but . . . dietary fat may influence protein turnover through its effects on inflammation and insulin.  This may be important for long term health.   Preserving muscle mass may be important for athletes and for maintaining a competitive edge.  Loss of muscle mass occurs with age and is one of the leading contributors to frailty in the elderly.  Preserving muscle mass may also allow people to enjoy active lives longer.

A study just published in the Journal of Nutrition  looked at what types of fats were eaten by 2,689 women who are part of the UK study of twins.  The women were between the ages of 18 and 79.  Researchers also looked at ratios of the different types of fats (polyunsaturated /saturated fats), the percent of calories obtained from fat and the womens’ fat free mass.   “Fat Free Mass” is used as an indicator for muscle mass.  Its imperfect.  Bone, of course, has mass.  But people with higher fat free mass usually have more muscle mass.

Women who ate more polyunsaturated fats had the most fat free mass.  Women who ate more transfats, saturated fats and monounsaturated fats had less fat free mass.  The researchers also noted that the difference in fat free mass between women who ate mostly unsaturated fatty acids and those who ate mostly saturated fatty acids was about the same amount of fat free mass loss that occurs over the course of a decade.  Interesting.   These are, of course, correlations.  More research will be needed to find out if it is certain that unsaturated fats can protect people from age-related loss of muscle mass.

Good sources of unsaturated fatty acids include:

Olive oil
Avocado
Flax
Nuts
Etc.

Welch AA, Macgregor AJ, Minihane AM, Skinner J, Valdes AA, Spector TD, & Cassidy A (2014). Dietary Fat and Fatty Acid Profile Are Associated with Indices of Skeletal Muscle Mass in Women Aged 18-79 Years. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 24401817

Why supplements including anti-oxidants should be taken seriously.

Here are a few simple things to know about nutritional supplements, selenium and deer antler velvet

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Summer and Bill discuss womens resistance training, deer antler velvet and supplements at CrossFit Seven

I was recently informed by the well-meaning  president of a supplement company that there is no upper limit of safety for selenium.  The company president may be well-meaning and sincere in her beliefs, but her belief about selenium is incorrect.  Selenium overdoses occur.  Its hard to do that eating whole foods although it has happened.  Selenium poisoning from food happens only in areas where selenium in soil is extremely high and people eat locally grown food.  Birds and animals can also get selenium poisoning in such areas.  In most cases, selenium poisoning happens when people over do it on nutritional supplements.  Nutritional supplements (unless they are simply inert) contain biologically active ingredients. They are sold with promises of improved health, improved athletic performance or of some other form of improved well-being.   Nutritional supplements are, for the most part, drugs/medicine.

  • Products that are classified as drugs/medicine are required to meet standards of quality and consistency in manufacturing and of safety.    Studies are done in vitro, on animals, and finally on humans.  Drug interactions are checked.  Information is gathered on how the drug is metabolized. Drugs are sometimes metabolized into something deadly before being rapidly metabolized into something safe.  Tylenol is an example.  Not a problem unless something, like alcohol, blocks a metabolic step and traps Tylenol in its deadly form.  This is why people sometimes die when they drink alcohol and then take Tylenol.  This should be common knowledge, but it isn’t, yet.
  • Another important thing to know about a drug or supplement is its “Effective Dose.”  How much is needed to give a desired effect?  How much selenium is needed for health?  How much is too much?   How much is “optimal”?  These are unanswered questions for many nutritional supplements.  What happens if you take too much?  Frequently the answer to that question is unknown as well.
  • Anti-Oxidants should not be assumed to be safe.   Recent research has indicated that anti-oxidants, like oxidants, can harm DNA.  DNA damage can lead to cancer, the very thing anti-oxidants in nutritional supplements are supposed to prevent.
  • The last point to raise for this article is a manufacturing issue.  Like most people, I used to assume that vitamins and supplements contained what was written on the package.   But this is not always the case.  An example is the recent report of human growth factors added to deer antler velvet supplements.  It is hard to believe human growth factors were accidentally added to deer antler velvet supplements.   You’d have to hear the manufacturer out on that one.  However, problems like poor mixing and poor calculations can and do happen.  Our research group found that out the hard way when we tried to use a well-known brand of vitamins for a human health study.

So, how much of what is in a multi-vitamin?   How much of what is in Deer Antler Velvet, DHEA supplements, or “high performance packets?”  Deer antler velvet, especially if it is secretly spiked with human growth hormone may quite unsafe.  Secret additions to supplements may or may not be added carefully or consistently.  There is no way to know unless you are the one doing the spiking . . . or if you have the technical expertise and expensive equipment needed to test it yourself.

The supplement industry is an important economic entity, employing possibly hundreds of thousands of people.  That deserves respect.  It can be very difficult to make a living in what have lately been very difficult economic times.  That said, please understand we fully support the efforts of small businesses and individuals to make a little extra money.     However, we do believe people will be better off knowing more about what they are taking.

Lu LY, Ou N, & Lu QB (2013). Antioxidant induces DNA damage, cell death and mutagenicity in human lung and skin normal cells. Scientific reports, 3 PMID: 24201298
Cox HD, & Eichner D (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM, 27 (19), 2170-8 PMID: 23996390

Morris JS, & Crane SB (2013). Selenium toxicity from a misformulated dietary supplement, adverse health effects, and the temporal response in the nail biologic monitor. Nutrients, 5 (4), 1024-57 PMID: 23538937

Vitamin C Fitness and Performance

Vitamin C may help reduce pain of exertion during intense exercise

The Pain of CrossFit WODs

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The agony of a CrossFit WOD may be worse than the agony of any other sport. There are many little voices to that big voice telling you to slow down. Let’s not dwell on that voice. Let’s dissect it a little. Two things pushing you to ring the quit bell are core temperature and insufficient oxygen. Read this article for more information. Another thing is pain. Some research has been done on the discomfort side of exercise. Researchers measure “perceived level of exertion.” Research on intake of Vitamin C and “perceived level of exertion” indicates taking vitamin C supplements (500 mg/day) results in a lower rating of how hard the workout was. Taking vitamin C once a day also lowered heart rates compared to people who took a placebo during a 4 week exercise program. That is interesting.

Should I take Vitamin C before a CrossFit WOD?

It might be worth trying during CrossFit WOD competitions. Low vitamin C intake is associated with higher levels of fatigue. Taking a supplement if your vitamin C intake from diet is good might not help. It hasn’t been studied yet. Vitamin C has a history of being touted as a cure-all. Cure-alls are things we should be suspicious of. Along with writers who don’t know that a preposition is not something one ends a sentence with.  There is also some evidence that taking vitamin C before a challenging workout can block the body’s production of its own anti-oxidants, which might not be good.

In the meantime Vitamin C may be helpful for CrossFit WOD competitors for whom every rep counts. It should not be taken before every workout. Exercise causes the body to produce its own anti-oxidants. And these may be very important in the falling dominos of our physiology. Tweaking one thing may tweak that which is better left untweaked. As an example, taking vitamin C may result in your body synthesizing less of its own anti-oxidants.  Best to eat a good diet with lots of vegetables and fruit.

Huck CJ, Johnston CS, Beezhold BL, & Swan PD (2013). Vitamin C status and perception of effort during exercise in obese adults adhering to a calorie-reduced diet. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 29 (1), 42-5 PMID: 22677357

 

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CrossFit Masters Nutrition: Lutein Supplements Improve Night Vision even in people who do not have Macular Degeneration.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition and Vision. Our vision changes with age.  Much of that change may be due to exposure to ultra-violet light (uv-radiation).  Ultra-violet light is the same range of light that causes sunburns.  Eyes are naturally protected from ultra-violet light by anti-oxidants.

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There are three anti-oxidants that protect the eye.  These are lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin.    Lutein accumulates in the retina.  These macular pigments are powerful anti-oxidants.   As we get a bit older (wiser, smarter, cooler) these macular pigments tend to change.  And not for the better.  They get depleted and vision gets worse.    There are a number of things that can cause Lutein levels to drop off:

  • Diet low in Lutein
  • Smoking
  • Oxidative Stress from many different sources such as air pollution, arsenic and other bad stuff.
  • Maybe age

Fortunately, there are things we can do to protect our vision.

  • Don’t engage in nasty habits
  • Eat well to protect your vision and keep your vision strong over time.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition:  The Eyes Have It.

Most of us will notice vision changes in our forties and fifties.  Its not just a need for reading glasses.   Eyeball pigments (macular pigments) are needed for more than reading.  The loss of pigment makes us lose some of our capacity for clear, central color vision.   We may have a harder time with glare and with contrast.  These things can make depth perception and driving a problem.

Researchers been investigating the role of lutein supplements as a means to counter these changes in vision.  While we may not notice vision changes until we are in middle age changes and damage may occur decades before.  If Lutein is depleted it cannot protect your eyes from day to day stress.  This may cause damage to accumulate over time.   People who spend a lot of time outdoors seem to lose macular pigments like Lutein.  Loss of macular pigments is associated with increased risk of macular degeneration.  Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition: The study in brief.

The new study (Yao and Yuan 2013) looked at healthy, relatively young people.  Ages ranged from 25 to 47.   This study is especially interesting because the subjects did not have macular degeneration or other vision problems.  Subjects were given a thorough eye exam and given Lutein supplements for a year.  There were significant improvements in sharpness of vision, contrast sensitivity and sensitivity to glare.  Nice to know that improving your diet and help your driving and night basketball skills.  More studies are needed to see if increasing other macular pigments will also improve vision.  Lutein must be obtained from the diet.  The same is true for zeaxanthin.  Its possible that increasing intake of zeaxanthin would also improve vision.  Or that taking both would produce better results.  More studies will tell.

CrossFit Masters Nutrition: Supplements or Real Food?

You can get Lutein supplements if you want to go that route, but the best choice is probably to get lutein from real food.  Lutein is a carotenoid.  Like Vitamin A.  There are about 600 different carotinoids identified so far.  Most vegetables will contain many different carotenoids.  Some of these are also important for health.  Good sources of Lutein include:

    • Kale and other leafy greens
    • Peas
    • Egg Yolks
    • Carrots (Lutein in cooked carrots is more accessible)
    • Other Yellow vegetables

If you are following the Paleo diet and eating lots of vegetables you are probably doing well in this department.  If you are a vegetarian and eating lots of different vegetables you are probably doing well too.

Yao Y, Qiu GH, Wu XW, Cai ZY, Xu S, Liang XQ.  Lutein supplementation improves visual performance in Chinese drivers: 1-year randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.  Nutrition.  29 (7-8): 958-964.

Loughman J, Akkali MC, Beatty S, Scanlon G, Davison PA, O’Dwyer V, Cantwell T, Major P, Stack J, & Nolan JM (2010). The relationship between macular pigment and visual performance. Vision research, 50 (13), 1249-56 PMID: 20394766

 

Feeney J, Finucane C, Savva GM, Cronin H, Beatty S, Nolan JM, & Kenny RA (2013). Low macular pigment optical density is associated with lower cognitive performance in a large, population-based sample of older adults. Neurobiology of aging, 34 (11), 2449-56 PMID: 23769396

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Exercise Diet and Recovery: High Protein Intake Before Bed Increases Rate of Muscle Synthesis.

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Over the last few years a number of studies have looked at the importance of timing for nutrient intake.  A number of studies have looked at the timing of carbohydrate intake and recovery from intense exercise.  Others have looked at timing of carbohydrate intake and performance.   And of carbohydrate intake and recovery.  At least two research groups are now working on the effect of protein intake on protein synthesis while people are asleep.  This is important because:

A group of researchers from the UK and the Netherlands investigated the effect of protein consumption just before sleep and the rate of protein synthesis.

Protein intake and exercise study protocol (very brief)

  • Two groups of eight recreational athletes (All young men.  Total = 16)
  • Subjects did leg extensions and leg presses at weights close to each individual’s limit of ability
  • All subjects received same diet during the study
  • 8 were given 40 grams of protein just before bed.  Eight were not.
  • Muscle biopsies were taken at the time of protein intake, and 7.5 hours later.  After sleeping.

Protein intake and exercise study results

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Rate of protein synthesis was higher in subjects who received protein just before sleeping.  This is an important finding because:

  • It confirms that protein ingested just before sleep is digested and used to make muscle in humans.
  • Throws doubt on that old adage that you shouldn’t eat for several hours before bed
  • Protein intake before bed may may mean faster recovery for athletes
  • Protein intake before bed may help slow or prevent natural loss of strength and muscle mass in middle aged adults.
  • Protein intake before bed may help the elderly avoid muscle wasting.  This is a major factor limiting quality of life for the elderly.

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The second research group (Groen et al. 2012) also looked at the effect of night time protein intake on muscle synthesis.  The gave a group of elderly men protein at night, directly to the stomach, while they were actually asleep.  Protein synthesis increased in this group too.   Few athletes, even devoted CrossFit men (or CrossFit women) will want to go to this extreme.  You never know.  It may be a very good news for elderly people with muscle wasting.

Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, & VAN Loon LJ (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44 (8), 1560-9 PMID: 22330017

Groen BB, Res PT, Pennings B, Hertle E, Senden JM, Saris WH, & van Loon LJ (2012). Intragastric protein administration stimulates overnight muscle protein synthesis in elderly men. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 302 (1) PMID: 21917635