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Can stress from noise make you gain weight?

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Can stress make you gain weight?  Not too long ago that would have been considered a funny question. Weight gain, you would have known for fact, is caused by eating too much and exercising too little.  These things are certainly important, but research indicates that is not the entire story.  There are other factors. Research indicates stress, including stress from such simple things as noise, can play a role in weight gain.

Can stress make you gain weight?

Surely there are many factors involved in the current obesity epidemic.  I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of people blame the loss of recess and gym class in schools, the supersized drinks, and the easy availability of junk food,  There is also the lack of time needed to plan, shop for, and prepare the healthy, home-cooked meals that some of us stealthily passed to the dog under the table during our childhoods.  Unwanted vegetables, I recall, were stashed in pockets.  But why are so many people struggling today with body weight?  If you stop to think about it, our bodies do an amazing job of maintaining body weight.  Our weight doesn’t, unless something is really wrong, seesaw all over the place.  When we do gain weight, it tends to move gradually upwards, and then is hard to take off.  This is due to complex interactions of hormones, which we do not completely understand.  Note here: what we don’t know about the regulation of our own bodies could fill a barn. Somewhere out there is the answer to the question how can stress make you gain weight.

How stress can make you gain weight

When a person experiences long-term stress the body adapts by increasing levels of cortisol.  Cortisol does a number of things.  Cortisol elevates blood sugar, suppresses your immune system, and breaks down muscle to use it for fuel.  Fat, tends to build up, especially around the waist.  This is a very simplified nut-shell explanation.   For an excellent and enjoyable discussion check out this video featuring stress researcher Robert Sapolsky.

Contemporary life is full of stressors.  This can include things we think we have completely tuned out, like noise. Living in an area with heavy traffic noise has been associated with cardiovascular disease.  It has also been associated with metabolic disorders and sleep problems.   Noise as a factor in body fat was studied by a group of Danish researchers.  They had a cohort of over 57,000 people.  This is a lot of people, which makes the study a lot more powerful than studies that look at small numbers of people.   The results of the study found that people in areas with noise levels of 60+ decibels had larger waists and higher BMI than people living in quiet areas (20 or fewer decibels of noise).   Researchers controlled for socioeconomic factors, history of smoking, level of physical activity and exposure to air pollution which are also associated with body weight and metabolic disorders.

Can stress make you gain weight?  Maybe.  Can noise make you gain weight?

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This study indicates that people living with noise have bigger waists and are heavier, as a whole, than people whose homes were quiet.     What makes for a noisy home?  The researchers were particularly interested in noise from traffic and railroads.  The cutoff for “noisy” was 60 decibels.  This is not considered all that loud.  Background conversation in a restaurant will clock in at about 60 decibels.   Being a hundred feet from an air conditioner can too.  Driving in a car, presumably with the windows shut will be around 70 decibels and conversation at home is normally around 50.  To get into the quiet category (20 decibels or less) your average background noise would consist of gently rustling leaves and whispering.

Things to consider for the can stress make you gain weight question

Reducing stress in your life, including extra noise, may help you improve your health and make losing weight easier.  However, not everyone responds to stress, including the stress of noise, in the same way.  Some people find quiet very stressful.  Some noise can be soothing.  Tweeting birds and babbling brooks make noise too.

Christensen JS, Raaschou-Nielsen O, Tjønneland A, Overvad K, Nordsborg RB, Ketzel M, Sørensen TI, & Sørensen M (2015). Road Traffic and Railway Noise Exposures and Adiposity in Adults: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort. Environmental health perspectives PMID: 26241990

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Athletes have fewer Advanced Glycation End Products

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Most of us have probably heard at some point from someone that those of us who have been life long athletes will suffer for it later.  But this may not be true.  An important factor thought to influence aging is accumulation of “advanced glycation end products.”  Athletes have less of it.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are caused by sugars in the blood that get stuck on proteins.  AGEs are higher in diabetics.  AGEs might be a cause of poor aging in uncontrolled diabetics. AGEs form crosslinks in connective tissue.  There is evidence that accumulation of crosslinks makes tendons stiffer and more fragile.  But what about masters athletes?  Could reduced advanced glycation end products be one of the reasons masters athletes seem to age better and look younger than sedentary people?

Advanced Glycation End Products in Life Long Endurance Runners

The question of advanced glycation end products in older athletes was recently investigated by Couppe et al. (2014).  They compared AGEs in four groups of men.  One group was made of life long masters athletes with an average age of 64.  The second group was a similar number of men who were not masters athletes (average age 66).  The third was of trained athletes, average age 26.  They were matched to a fourth group of untrained young men, average age 24.  The researchers looked at AGEs in the patellar tendon (the one holding the kneecap down) as well as AGEs in skin.  All of the men in the athletic categories were trained runners.

Findings: Advanced glycation end products and tendon strength and skin in endurance athletes.

  • Advanced glycation end products were 21% lower in tendons trained masters athletes than in their matched sedentary peers.
  • Advanced glycation end products were 11% lower in skin of trained masters athletes than their sedentary peers. (This may be part of why masters athletes look so good.)  It is also indicates endurance exercise reduces AGEs throughout the body, and not just in the muscles being used.
  • Masters Athletes had the thickest tendons out of everyone.   This is good because strong tendons can take more stress before suffering damage.
  • Masters Athletes had lowest insulin levels among all groups
  • Young athletes however had the lowest fasting and non-fasting glucose levels.  Masters athletes did better than sedentary peers, but not as good as either group of young men


The most important findings in this study is that life-long endurance training produces a masters athlete with stronger, thicker tendons, less accumulation of advanced glycation end productss in tendon and skin.  The increase in AGEs in skin is thought to be responsible for wrinkling and loss of resilience in older skin. Exercise can give you a better body, but it can also make you look better.  Limitations of the study:  The researchers who did this study only looked at one AGE,Pentosidine.   There are many.  In all likelihood if Pentosidine is elevated other AGEs are too. But we don’t know for sure  How do lifelong masters athletes compare to people who have been exercising for a couple of years or months?  What is the optimal level of exercise?

Take away: exercise can reduce Advanced Glycation End Products

Other studies have shown that exercise other than running can reduce circulation of Advanced Glycation End Products.   Short-term human studies have include studies of walking and resistance training.  If you are a masters athlete . . . keep it up.  If you are not, or have fallen off the wagon, . . . its time to join in.

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Couppé C, Svensson RB, Grosset JF, Kovanen V, Nielsen RH, Olsen MR, Larsen JO, Praet SF, Skovgaard D, Hansen M, Aagaard P, Kjaer M, & Magnusson SP (2014). Life-long endurance running is associated with reduced glycation and mechanical stress in connective tissue. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 36 (4) PMID: 24997017

Gkogkolou P, & Böhm M (2012). Advanced glycation end products: Key players in skin aging? Dermato-endocrinology, 4 (3), 259-70 PMID: 23467327

A New Source of Protein for the Athletic and the Sedentary

A New Source of Protein for the Athletic and the Sedentary?

A New Source of Protein?

This is an odd and interesting bit of research.  It relates to reaborption of nitrogen . . . and presents the possibility that more protein is conserved than previously thought.  First dietary nitrogen 101: Nitrogen is a major component of amino acids.  Amino acids are needed to form proteins.  We can synthesize some amino acids ourselves, but others need to be obtained through diet.  Dietary protein provides nitrogen and amino acids from plant or animal sources which are resynthesized into human proteins.  Unused nitrogen is converted into Ammonia and Urea and excreted.

Can nitrogen be reabsorbed from the intestines?

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The answer is a shocking “maybe.”  A new nutritional study (published ahead of print in the Journal of Nutrition) has found that nitrogen appears to be reabsorbed.  This makes little sense at first glance.  Until we consider the vast populations of microorganisms that reside in the gut.  Until recently, they were all thought of as “germs” that needed to be quashed.   That has changed.  We are learning more and more about how important they are for our health and even our survival.

The study is titled:

Nonprotein Nitrogen Is Absorbed from the Large Intestine and Increases Nitrogen Balance in Growing Pigs Fed a Valine-Limiting Diet.

Valine is an essential Amino Acid, so these animals were fed a protein-deficient diet.   Then researchers administered urea or casein into the cecum of pigs.  Let’s consider this research a step toward greater understanding of how nitrogen may be recycled in living animals.  Not a new way to increase protein for strength.  (Although who knows.  It might work.) The urea was synthesized using Nitrogen-15.  Dietary nitrogen is Nitrogen 14.  Using nitrogen-15 lets the team know where the cecum-delivered nitrogen ended up.


Researchers found that more than 80% of the cecum delivered nitrogen was absorbed.  Some of it was excreted in urine, but some was retained. This is a shocker.  I know.   Humans cannot synthesize protein using nitrogen.  So WTF?  The researchers propose that urea traveled through the bloodstream and into to the small intestine.   Bacteria (some of which can make amino acids using urea or plain nitrogen) in the small intestine then used the extra urea to make amino acids.  Amino acids produced by bacteria could then be absorbed the host (animals).


More research would need to be done to confirm that this happens.  But it is very interesting.  Humans vary in the types of bacteria they host.  Bacterial populations vary according to diet, environment, chance (?) and who knows what else.  Do people get extra protein from bacteria?  Does this happen under normal circumstances (i.e. not piped in through the back end.)?  One thing is sure: there is a lot to learn.

Columbus DA, Lapierre H, Htoo JK, & de Lange CF (2014). Nonprotein Nitrogen Is Absorbed from the Large Intestine and Increases Nitrogen Balance in Growing Pigs Fed a Valine-Limiting Diet. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 24647394

Cell Interior by David Bolinsky

Breakthrough of the Year: Sleep cleanses the brain.

From the Editors at Science:
Science 20 December 2013:
Vol. 342 no. 6165 pp. 1440-1441
DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6165.1440-a
  • NEWS

To Sleep, Perchance to Clean

In work that Science‘s editors named a runner-up for Breakthrough of the Year, researchers studying mice have found experimental evidence that sleep helps to restore and repair the brain.

 Why do we sleep?

Questions of biology don’t get much more fundamental than that. This year, neuroscientists took what looks like a major stride toward an answer.

Most researchers agree that sleep serves many purposes, such as bolstering the immune system and consolidating memories, but they have long sought a “core” function common to species that sleep. By tracking colored dye through the brains of sleeping mice, scientists got what they think is a direct view of sleep’s basic purpose: cleaning the brain. When mice slumber, they found, a network of transport channels through the brain expands by 60%, increasing the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. The surge of fluid clears away metabolic waste products such as β amyloid proteins, which can plaster neurons with plaques and are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Until this discovery, researchers thought the brain’s only way to dispose of cellular trash was to break it down and recycle it inside cells. If future research finds that many other species undergo this cerebral housekeeping, it would suggest that cleaning is indeed a core function of sleep. The new findings also suggest that sleep deprivation may play a role in the development of neurological diseases. But with a causal role far from certain, it’s too early for anyone to stay awake worrying.

References and Web Sites

E. Underwood, “Sleep: The Brain’s Housekeeper?” Science 342, 6156 (18 October 2013).

L. Xie et al., “Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance From the Adult Brain,”Science 342, 6156 (18 October 2013).

CrossFit News CrossFit Mobility

CrossFit News for Health: Yoga stretching and mobility training protect against infection.

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CrossFit News.  CrossFit  and Yoga seem like polar opposites. CrossFit is hard driving. Speed and raw strength matter. Yoga can also be very challenging, but yoga evokes control, grace and peace. While not ideal, CrossFit participants can often be seen sacrificing grace for reps. What can yoga teach us as CrossFit athletes? Control, grace and inner peace may also be important for CrossFit performance and practice.

CrossFit News: CrossFit Masters Athlete works on mobility and maybe protects himself from colds, fungi and bacteria.

CrossFit News: CrossFit Masters Athlete works on mobility and maybe protects himself from colds, fungi and bacteria.

Why research on Yoga and the immune system is CrossFit News

First a little background:  Humans produce their own anti-bacterial coatings.  A peptide called Beta-Defensin-2 was first discovered in infected skin.  Since then it has been found to be produced in other cell types too.  Examples include cells lining the nose, mouth and airways.  Beta Defensin 2 protects against infection by certain types of germs.  The germ types are called “gram negative.”  Beta Defensin doesn’t seem to protect against Staph infections though.  Fortunately there are other forms Defensins that protect against a range of viruses, fungi and bacteria.  You should still wash your hands after working out at your CrossFit box or anywhere else where you are sharing workout equipment.  Be a friend and wash your hands before you workout too.

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Researchers wanted to know if Yoga would increase Beta-Defensin in people who were not physically active.  The hope was that gentle stretching and movement would boost immune function in people who could not do vigorous exercise.    The study participants were all older adults (ages ~60 to 80).   The research team is also hoping to find out if stretching and mobility training (as Yoga) would reduce lung infections.

What was done?

Researchers had participants do yoga for 90 minutes.  Subjects didn’t do any of the yoga breathing stuff.  Spit samples were collected before and after.  The samples were tested for Beta Defensin-2.  Results: a single 90 minute yoga session resulted in increased saliva levels of Beta Defensin 2.

CrossFit News take away.

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Yoga might be a good thing to add to your fitness life.  While the study didn’t look at CrossFit Mobility training its reasonable to expect similar benefits.  Some have a hard time doing stretching and mobility.  Maybe its time to give stretching, mobility and yoga its due.

Eda N, Shimizu K, Suzuki S, Tanabe Y, Lee E, & Akama T (2013). Effects of yoga exercise on salivary beta-defensin 2. European journal of applied physiology, 113 (10), 2621-7 PMID: 23925803

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Exercise and Weight and Gut Microbiota

Exercise and Weight.

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Exercise and weight are closely related. We all know that exercise burns calories and helps maintain body weight. Exercise has a lot of other health benefits. And maintaining a healthy body weight is important too. But ever wonder how gut microbes, exercise and weight interact? If you are like most people you will be thinking about such things as you wander the grocery store aisles, forgetting why you are there in the first place. Or you may wonder about how physical activity changes gene expression. Or how inactivity changes gene expression. You may wonder, as you pass the yogurt section, “what is with this probiotic stuff?” We’ll talk about probiotics another time.

Exercise weight and bacteria.

Exercise and weight are inter-related. But it looks like there is another player involved. (At least one and probably many.) It looks like exercise has influence over the bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Most of us have been taught that bacteria are bad. But they are not all bad. We need some species to help us digest food, access vitamins, stay healthy and defend us against evil germs. New research shows that the kinds of bacteria in the digestive tract differ depending on level of physical activity.  The study was of mice. Mice may have been chosen for the project because it is more agreeable to pick up their poop and analyze it.  You can scoop them into a flour sifter to remove the litter.  And because you can easily control their diets. And keep them in cages with few complaints.

The researchers wanted to know how exercise, obesity, diabetes and gut microbes interact. The mice were placed in a cage with an exercise wheel. OR placed in a cage with an exercise wheel that didn’t work. After five weeks of exercising or not exercising animals were dosed with a common environmental contaminant. The chemical (PCBs) are known to impair glucose handling. They may also increase risk of diabetes. And a lot of other health problems. After dosing doots were collected. Little rodent poops are often called “doots” by the research community.

Mice who exercised had different kinds of bacteria in their doots. Bacteria from the digestive tracts of sedentary mice had a dramatic loss of proteobacteria and a hugely dramatic loss of Erysipelotrichaceae. The guts of exercising mice had many different kinds of bacteria.

What does this mean for us humans?

This research fits a piece into a larger puzzle. How are exercise and weight and bacteria related? People who are overweight have different gut bacteria profiles. The profiles change when a person loses weight. There are still many other puzzle pieces to fit And many that are missing. But it looks more and more that we need to move to keep our bodies running the way they should. And that things may go badly if we don’t.

Choi JJ, Eum SY, Rampersaud E, Daunert S, Abreu MT, & Toborek M (2013). Exercise Attenuates PCB-Induced Changes in the Mouse Gut Microbiome. Environmental health perspectives, 121 (6), 725-30 PMID: 23632211

Putting a positive view on physical challenges ramps up natural opiods.

CrossFit and mental toughness. Its a cultural thing. If you do CrossFit you are supposed to be stronger than the pain you are feeling. Sometimes this gets a little nutty. You should stop or slow down if you are going to hurt yourself. You should go lighter on weights sometimes. For some of us, that some times may be all the time. It is dangerous to sacrifice form for heroics. That can be hard to keep in mind when pushing yourself is fun. And rewarding.  And you are addicted.

Fitness and getting the right attitude..

New research indicates that a positive mental attitude towards pain can make you feel awesome.  Or at least awesomer than you would feel with a negative attitude.  The paper, “Pain as a reward: Changing the meaning of pain from negative to positive co-activates opioid and cannabinoid systems” was published this month.  You can see the reference at the bottom of this post.  Two groups of people were either told “this is going to hurt.”  Or: this will make your muscles stronger.  The people who thought the pain would make them stronger were able to endure more pain.  That may surprise few readers.  Here is what is surprising and very interesting:The ability to tolerate pain could be blocked by blocking the chemicals that produce the runner’s high.

Its more than attitude: implications for CrossFit Athletes.

The research mentioned above is especially interesting because the researchers were able to turn off the increased ability to withstand pain by blocking the opiods and cannabinoids.   Part of the “runner’s high” is caused by natural opiods and cannabinoids that are produced in the brain.  These can be addictive.  And lead to people getting addicted to their workouts.  Maybe it is attitude that makes some people love working out.  And makes other people feel that working out just sucks.  Being able to train harder will make you better at CrossFit WOD s.  And knowing that you will get better at your workouts will make you better able to handle them.  Just don’t try it with an opiod blocker.


Benedetti F, Thoen W, Blanchard C, Vighetti S, & Arduino C (2013). Pain as a reward: Changing the meaning of pain from negative to positive co-activates opioid and cannabinoid systems. Pain, 154 (3), 361-7 PMID: 23265686