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

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Grains may protect against telomere aging and cellular aging.

Telomere aging.

Aging is associated with many undesired developments.  Fragile skin, vision change, unimpressive reaction times.  Less noticeable, at least to others who may think you are becoming a little “slow”, are changes in hearing.

One of the things that biologists examine when assessing biological aging is telomere length.  Telomeres function as protective caps at the ends of our DNA.  Telomeres wear down a little with each cell division.  Older people, and older animals, will have shorter telomeres than the young.  However, the rate of telomere shortening, is not set in stone.  Oxidative stress can wear on telomeres as they do on other cell components.  Inflammation also appears to increase biological age as it also seems to speed shortening of telomeres.  Some researchers have found that long-term exercisers have longer telomeres than their sedentary peers.  Others have shown that a diet high in anti-oxidants (or high in fruits and vegetables) is also protective.   Accelerated telomere wearing has been associated with:

  • Osteoporosis (who’d have thought?)
  • Increased risk of bladder cancers
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Risk factors for faster telomere aging include:

Protective factors against telomere aging.

  • Mediterranean diet
  • Long-term exercise pattern
  • Fruit and vegetable intake
  • Grain and cereal intake
  • More things we can write about later.  This is a hot research topic.

Don’t give grains a completely short stick: grains may preserve telomeres and reduce cellular aging.

Cereals have gotten the short stick lately as two popular diets, low-carb and paleo diets, are anti-grain.  However, grains have been part of the human diet for millennia.  Certainly long enough for humans to have made genetic adaptations.  Grains contain anti-oxidants, minerals, soluble and non-soluble fiber.  All of these are beneficial to health.   Diets relatively high in grains are associated with longer telomeres (less cellular aging).  Diets rich in grains (cereal fibers) may help preserve telomere length . . . possibly by providing anti-oxidants and minerals . . . it’s too early to tell.   As for now, you may actually be better off including grains in your meals.  If, like me, you have continued to eat them despite all the pressure to stop from Paleo friends who are convinced you are slowly killing yourself with bran flakes. . . carry on.  You’re doing fine. Read more about telomeres and telomere aging here.

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Andrea B. Kirk, PhD

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Lee JY, Jun NR, Yoon D, Shin C, & Baik I (2015). Association between dietary patterns in the remote past and telomere length. European journal of clinical nutrition PMID: 25872911

Cassidy A, De Vivo I, Liu Y, Han J, Prescott J, Hunter DJ, & Rimm EB (2010). Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91 (5), 1273-80 PMID: 20219960

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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)
Crossfit trainer amie taylor crossfit seven with phytoecdysteroids

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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Dietary Fat Preserves Muscle?

Preservation of lean muscle mass matters for long term health and function.  It is also important to those who want to gain muscle mass so they can look hot and/or awesome.   it is also important for strength and for athletic performance. Whatever your interests, here is a report of a recent study on dietary fats and muscle mass.

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Dietary fat may help you stay strong so you can beat up young people.

Dietary Fat and Protein Turnover

Dietary fat may regulate protein turnover.  The thought is that dietary fats influence both inflammation and insulin.  This study was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Nutrition.   Study subjects were 2,689 women who are part of a study of twins in the UK.  Data was collected on:

  • Percent of Calories obtained from Fat
  • Fatty acid profile
  • Fat -free mass in kilograms (an indicator of muscle mass)
  • Fat-free mass measured by X-Ray absorptiometry

Results of the Dietary Fat and Muscle Study

  • Women whose diets were higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids had higher fat-free mass (more muscle).
  • Women who got more of their calories from fat had less fat free mass (less muscle)
  • Women who ate more saturated fat had less fat free mass (less muscle)
  • Women who ate more unsaturated fatty acids had less fat free mass (less muscle)
  • Women who are more transfats had less fat free mass (less muscle)

Women who were in the top 20% for energy intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids had about a pound more muscle mass than women who were at the bottom 20% for polyunsaturated fatty acid.  This is about the same difference in muscle mass that would be seen in a 10 year aging period.  You could look at this and say that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids saves 10 years of muscle aging.  And you might be right.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce inflammation and seem to protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer as well.  We don’t know what drives age-related muscle loss.  It might be related to the same factors that drive cell-aging in general.  

The Simple Takeaway for Dietary Fat and Muscle Mass

ResearchBlogging.orgThis is the first study of its kind and more research is needed to figure out what is going on.  However, this study supports the idea that a diet higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids is protective against loss of muscle mass.  As many are sure to proclaim: correlation is not causation.  That claim does not end arguments, although it is often used that way.  It simply means that we need to know more.   This is an interesting study that should lead to further investigation.  Thanks to the team (Alisa Welch, Alex MacGregor, Anne-Marie Minihane, Jane Skinner, Anna Valdes, Tim Spector and Aedin Cassidy) for your hard work.

 

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, 144 (3), 327-34 PMID: 24401817

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Protein intake throughout the day increases muscle protein synthesis by 25%

New research on protein intake: protein each meal results in more muscle protein synthesis than the same amount of protein eaten in one meal

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Protein synthesis is a high-interest topic of athletes and many male recreational athletes. Well-developed muscles are signs of health, strength and virility in men. Well-developed muscles are also important for women. Muscles as well as bone are lost as we get older. Much attention has been given to avoiding osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can lead to fractures, spine malformation, pain and loss of independence. Sarcopenia is the muscle equivalent of osteoporosis. Muscle mass is lost a bit each year. That can accelerate in menopausal women. Loss of muscle can lead to weakness, frailty and loss of independence too. Sarcopenia also happens to men. It is important to take care of “muscle health,” even if you’re not interested in looking jacked.

Timing of protein intake

There are some advantages to late protein intake. Protein intake before bed increases muscle synthesis. But what about the rest of the day? Many people get most of their protein at dinner. Many get most of their carbs at breakfast. Is there an advantage to spreading protein intake out over the course of your day? It looks like the answer is Yes.

The Research:

Researchers looked at 24 hour muscle protein synthesis in a group of healthy adults (men and women). The subjects were first given a diet with most of the protein consumed at night (about 10 grams at breakfast, 16 grams at lunch and 63 grams at dinner). This was followed by a second diet where protein was consumed evenly at three meals (average about 31 grams per meal). Subjects stayed on each diet for seven days.

The results:

Protein synthesis was 25% higher when subjects consumed protein evenly at each meal.

Take away:

Its better to have protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner than having a big high protein meal at night. This runs counter to some current diet practices among the health conscious such as intermittent fasting or eating one meal a day. For more information on intermittent fasting see this article by Dr. Jose Antonio of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.  Those practices may not be beneficial for prevention of muscle loss although they may be beneficial for other reasons.  The paper is written more with an eye towards preventing sarcopenia in the ill and the elderly. The authors do suggest that the amount of protein in the RDA is low for optimal health.  I don’t know of any research that’s been done on protein timing and performance for athletes.  If anyone does, please send a link.

“There is broad agreement among many protein researchers
that the RDA for protein [0.8 g protein/(kgd)], although
sufficient to prevent deficiency, is insufficient to promote optimal
health, particularly in populations exposed to catabolic stressors
such as illness, physical inactivity, injury, or advanced age (4,22–
25). Several recent consensus statements have suggested that a
protein intake between 1.0 and 1.5 g/(kgd) may confer health
benefits beyond those afforded by simply meeting the current
RDA (4,26,27). In the current study we provided diets that
exceeded the RDA for protein by 50% but were consistent with
the average daily protein intake of the U.S. adult population [i.e.,
1.2 g protein/(kgd)]”

 Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults J. Nutr. jn.113.185280;

 

Celiac Disease and Children

Celiac Disease: protecting children from Celiac and Gluten Intolerance

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a problem of auto-immunity and exposure to the plant protein gluten.  It can be a rough road, especially for children.  They can’t eat the same things other children eat.  Other kids and even adults may not understand that something that seems so normal to them, like a cupcake or sandwich, can cause serious pain and discomfort for a celiac child.

two children without celiac disease
Two children enjoy a Box lunch at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.

Celiac disease is more common in people of European descent and probably has a strong genetic component.  However, there are other factors involved as well.  An individual may be predisposed to developing Celiac disease but not get it unless a combination of other factors line up as well.

Can Celiac Disease be Prevented?

One thing I had written about in an earlier post was the possibility that gut flora (microbial species and ratios of species) might influence the development of Celiac disease.  Intestinal flora in infants will be dependent on whether the infant was born by C-section and on whether he or she was breast fed or bottle fed.  The infant digestive system is not completely developed at birth.  It is suited for breast milk.  New research published this month (October 2012) supports a role for bacterial ecology in Celiac Disease.

Delaying introduction of wheat until the infant reaches 12 months of age appears to reduce risk that a genetically at-risk child will develop the disease.  Children with a genetic predisposition to Celiacs may take longer to develop an intestinal ecology favorable for wheat (and possibly other foods) than other children.  The study was a joint project of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Universita` Politecnica delle Marche, in Ancona, Italy.

Should I let my children eat gluten?

The answer to that seems to be yes.  Not exposing your children to gluten may make them more likely to develop celiac disease.A Systematic Review of infant feeding practices and incidence of Celiac (Coelicac) disease has also been published very recently (Szajewska et al. 2012).  The authors suggest that the best time to introduce wheat into an infant’s diet is between 4 and 7 months, and that it should be done while the child is still breastfeeding.   Introducing wheat before a child is under 4 months increases the likelihood that he or she will develop Celiac Disease.  Likewise, delaying introduction until a child is older than seven months may also increase risk of Celiac’s.

Gluten-free diets, such as the Paleo Diet, are very popular right now, especially within the CrossFit community.  If you are wondering “what is CrossFit?” here is a link.  If you are wondering “what is the paleo diet?” try this link.  Do parents who raise their non-celiac children on gluten free diets put them at risk of developing celiac disease? That could be the case.  This website, “Growing Up Gluten Free” is written and maintained by a child with celiac disease.  It helped me understand what life is like for kids like her.

There are lots of unknowns still.  The Szajewska paper does a great job of defining what they are.  

Sellitto M, Bai G, Serena G, Fricke WF, Sturgeon C, Gajer P, White JR, Koenig SS, Sakamoto J, Boothe D, Gicquelais R, Kryszak D, Puppa E, Catassi C, Ravel J, & Fasano A (2012). Proof of concept of microbiome-metabolome analysis and delayed gluten exposure on celiac disease autoimmunity in genetically at-risk infants. PloS one, 7 (3) PMID: 22432018

Szajewska H, Chmielewska A, Pieścik-Lech M, Ivarsson A, Kolacek S, Koletzko S, Mearin ML, Shamir R, Auricchio R, Troncone R, & PREVENTCD Study Group (2012). Systematic review: early infant feeding and the prevention of coeliac disease. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 36 (7), 607-18 PMID: 22905651

Crossfit Masters Athlete at Crossfit Seven in Fort Worth. Quinoa and Paleo

The Paleo Diet: Quinoa, protein, anti-oxidants and saponins.

What is Quinoa and is Quinoa Paleo (OK for the paleo diet?)

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Quinoa is (are?) seeds from a broad-leaf plant.  Grains are from grasses.  When cooked quinoa tastes mildly like toasted broccoli.  This is not as bad as it sounds.  Quinoa is grain-like and can be used in place of rice or pasta.  It is good for breakfast with nuts and cinnamon.   Quinoa does not contain Gluten.  So if you have celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity you should be fine with Quinoa.

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Is Quinoa Paleo?

If you are trying to follow the Paleo diet, quinoa should be fine too. Quinoa commonly contains many important minerals, including selenium.  Selenium is an important anti-oxidant and is protective against some cancers.  It is also important for synthesis of testosterone, among other things.
Quinoa has a number of other benefits. Quinoa provides more anti-oxidants and protein than wheat.  The anti-oxidants in quinoa appear to be more bio-available than anti-oxidants from wheat.  Bio-available simply means that the nutrients can be extracted by the digestive system and used.  Somethings are present in foods, but cannot be used.   Things that are not bio-available are dumped.   Other benefits of quinoa include an omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of about 6:1, and high vitamin E and protein content (~15%).  It also has a low glycemic index.

What about Saponins? Are Saponins Dangerous?

Some people in the CrossFit and the Paleo communities believe saponins are dangerous and will damage the intestines.   Quinoa does contain saponins. Followers of the paleo diet have placed quinoa on the forbidden list for this reason.  However, saponins are a class of chemical. There are many different saponins.  There are good ones and bad ones (Francis et al. 2002). Some saponins can damage cell membranes. However, others are beneficial.  Some saponins are protective and serve as anti-oxidants. The Saponin arjunolic acid is one of these.   This saponin has been proposed as a possible treatment for diabetes. P-coumaric acid, another saponin that is present in quinoa, may reduce risk of colon cancer. It is also an anti-oxidant. Like curcumin.  Saponins are also found in many other healthful foods such as vegetables and tea.

Some people think that increasing selenium intake will increase testosterone levels.  But, that is probably not true. You can read more about that here.

Francis G, Kerem Z, Makkar HPS, Becker K.  2002.  The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review.  British Journal of Nutrition.  88(6): 587-605.

Laus MN, Gagliardi A, Soccio M, Flagella Z, Pastore D.  2012.  Antioxidant activity of free and bound compounds in Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.) seeds in comparison with durum wheat and emmer.  2012.  Journal of Food Science. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02923.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Alvarez-Jubete L, Arendt EK, & Gallagher E (2009). Nutritive value and chemical composition of pseudocereals as gluten-free ingredients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60 Suppl 4, 240-57 PMID: 19462323 Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Ferguson LR, Zhu ST, & Harris PJ (2005). Antioxidant and antigenotoxic effects of plant cell wall hydroxycinnamic acids in cultured HT-29 cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 49 (6), 585-93 PMID: 15841493

Social support may protect telomeres and protect against depression and biological aging

Nutrition: Could Coconut Oil Speed Cell Aging?

Nutrition: Cell Health and Telomeres.

You can only be as healthy as your cells.  A major marker of cell health is telomere length.  Telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes.  They protect DNA from deteriorating.  They also protect DNA from accidental fusion with other chromosomes.  You need the caps.  Caps, however, tend to wear out (they get shorter) with repeated cell divisions.  Once a telomere suffers enough wear the cell can no longer divide.  Other things can wear out telomeres too.   Things like oxidative stress and inflammation.  Telomere shortening and wear is thought to play a major role in aging.  Preserving telomere length may be a way to prolong life.  Speeding telomere wear may cause faster aging.
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Short to Medium Chain Saturated Fatty Acids

A diet rich in short to medium chain saturated fatty acids may damage telomeres.  A new paper published in the Journal of Nutrition reports on diet, fat intake and telomere length.  Subjects were part of the Women’s Health Initiative study.  Women who ate a lot of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids had shorter telomeres.  Women with the lowest intake of short and medium chain saturated fatty acids had the longest telomeres.  Long-chain saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats had no effect on telomeres.

Nutrition take away.

A diet high in short to medium chain fatty acids may speed aging.  A lot of people in CrossFit follow the Paleo Diet.  Or The Paleolithic Diet.  The Paleo diet and a lot of its followers advocate consumption of coconut oil.  Medium chain fatty acids do have some nice qualities.  Medium chain fatty acids have been associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.  Medium chain fatty acids are easy to digest.  They may reduce appetite and feelings of hunger.  And they pack a lot of calories.  Having a source of calories is important.   The research reported here shows you are probably better off sticking to long chain, and unsaturated fats.  Drink olive oil.  Eat walnuts.  Future research may report something different.  Few people, after all, eat lots of coconut oil.  And there may have been other factors involved with the women in the Women’s Health Initiative study that might also have caused their telomeres to shorten.

Foods High in Short or Medium Chain Saturated Fatty Acids

  • Coconut oil: 66% medium chain saturated fatty acids
  • Palm Kernal Oil
  • Butter
  • Whole Milk
  • Cheese

 

Song Y, You NC, Song Y, Kang MK, Hou L, Wallace R, Eaton CB, Tinker LF, & Liu S (2013). Intake of Small-to-Medium-Chain Saturated Fatty Acids Is Associated with Peripheral Leukocyte Telomere Length in Postmenopausal Women. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 23616516

Nagao K, & Yanagita T (2010). Medium-chain fatty acids: functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Pharmacological research : the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society, 61 (3), 208-12 PMID: 19931617

palm coolingcoconut oil, paleo diet, crossfit, CrossFit t shirt design with stiff fish

Coconut oil and the search for the perfect diet.

Coconut oil is being promoted by some as a “perfect” food. This is common in the CrossFit and Paleo communities. Coconut oil is like animal fat in that it is high in saturated fat. Many paleo followers are told that a diet high in saturated fat is ideal for health. Coconut oil is easier for most people to tolerate than eating similar amounts of lard. What do we actually know about diets high in saturated vs. unsaturated fat?

Coconut oil, saturated fat, paleo diet expert

Buy into it or your head goes in the toilet

Diet, research and unsaturated fat.

Some studies have found that diets high in Omega-6 unsaturated fats may increase inflammation.  General inflammation is a marker for a number of chronic diseases.  Other studies have found that diets high in omega-6s may cause insulin resistance and increase risk of diabetes.  Also found is an association of omega-6s with poor blood cholesterol profiles.  Most of these studies have been done with animals.  Such as mice.Other studies have found that diets high in omega-6s reduce inflammation.  And improve cholesterol profiles.  Most of these studies were done in humans.  At present, we do not know what is best as far as omega-6s are concerned.  We are not discussing the role of Omega-3s here.  But they are important too.

Back to diet, coconut oil and saturated fat.

A new study in mice has found that a diet containing 12% saturated was worse in a number of ways.  (Compared to diets with 6% or 24% saturated fat).  A 12% saturated fat diet is typical for Americans.  A 12% saturated fat diet caused the most gain in body fat, the most insulin resistance, and the most inflammation.  Inspite of the fact that all animals got 40% of their calories from fat.  The take away here is, at least for mice, the type of fat consumed matters.  What about the low vs. high saturated fat mice?  The high saturated fat diet caused the lowest insulin resistance.  This might mean that a high saturated fat diet is better for avoiding diabetes.  But it also gave the highest total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio.  A high total cholesterol/hdl cholesterol ratio is a risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Coconut oil and diet take away.

No one has all the answers.  There’s a lot we do not know.  And until we know more it would be best to be wary of people who claim that what they know is enough.
Enos RT, Davis JM, Velázquez KT, McClellan JL, Day SD, Carnevale KA, & Murphy EA (2013). Influence of dietary saturated fat content on adiposity, macrophage behavior, inflammation, and metabolism: composition matters. Journal of lipid research, 54 (1), 152-63 PMID: 23103474

Vitamin C Fitness and Performance

CrossFit, The Paleo Diet, Alcohol and Vodka

CrossFit, Paleo Diet, alcohol and athletes.

Main points:

  1. alcohol slows recovery from training and exercise
  2. alcohol increases decline in muscle performance
  3. alcohol impairs nerve response to training and exercise.

About alcohol and athletes and the paleolthic diet (the paleo diet): a lot of athletes follow it.   Especially CrossFit athletes.  And I’ve been hearing a lot about alcohol in the CrossFit community.  Questions floating around have been:  Is Vodka the best drink for people following a paleo diet?  And Is Vodka best for CrossFit?  I’m not sure why these questions are coming up so often.  I would attribute it to geekery.  People with geeky tendencies spend a lot of energy tweeking and micro-adjusting.  You can see this a lot in the Paleo diet community and among CrossFit people as well.  This tendency seems to come with the drive for perfection.

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I was asked an interesting question by a teenager who has cut milk and juice out of his diet because they are “unhealthy”.  He follows the paleo diet.  You don’t need juice or milk to have a healthy diet.  But the question was not about that.  The young person asked if he should drink Vodka because he had read that it was “the healthiest drink.”

Is drinking alcohol good for athletes?

That was funny.  You might think “good try bud.”  But it wasn’t all funny because he is sincere in wanting to be healthy.  And sincere in following the paleo diet.  I mentioned the story to an adult friend who is also follows the paleo diet and received “funny” and authoritative response.  “That is actually true.”  Where is this idea about vodka coming from?  I thought “maybe Mark’s Daily Apple?”  But Mark is pretty good about outlining the good and the bad.  Alcohol can be quite dangerous when used recklessly.  It can also be dangerous when used in ignorance.  Are there other teens out there who think they should be downing vodka after weighlifting?  Other adults?  Is alcohol bad for athletes? Is alcohol Paleo?

A young boy rests between lifts at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.  This is not the kid who asked about Vodka

Looking at alcohol and athletics from current research: athletes should not drink alcohol after training.  Even moderate amounts slow recovery.  And even moderate mounts reduce strength (Barnes et al. 2010).  Alcohol also seems to impair activation of muscle contraction. (Barnes et al. 2012).  For a current (2010) review of what’s known and what still needs work the Vella paper is a good place to start.  You can read it free here.

Research so far, and a lot of anecdotal evidence, indicates that alcohol (ethanol) is not good for athletic performance.  And that alcohol is not good strength gain.  Feel free and comfortable telling this to any teens who ask about alcohol and health.  Or about alcohol and athletes.  As for the “is alcohol paleo?” question one could think about evolution and selective pressure.

Is Alcohol Paleo?

Since the Paleo Diet is an attempt to follow a pre-agricultural diet we’ll have to use our imaginations to answer that question.  Were paleolithic people (or monkeys or australopithecus) who drank alcohol more likely to reproduce and pass along their genes?  Let’s guess yes on reproduction.  Survival of offspring  . . . might depend on how drunk, how often.  Let’s guess the occasional handful of fermented berries would have given best odds.

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764

Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2012). The effects of acute alcohol consumption and eccentric muscle damage on neuromuscular function. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (1), 63-71 PMID: 22185621

Vella LD, & Cameron-Smith D (2010). Alcohol, athletic performance and recovery. Nutrients, 2 (8), 781-9 PMID: 22254055 Barnes MJ, Mündel T, & Stannard SR (2010). Acute alcohol consumption aggravates the decline in muscle performance following strenuous eccentric exercise. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 13 (1), 189-93 PMID: 19230764