Category Archives: cancer

BREAKING NEWS: Green tea anti-oxidant EGCG may increase cancer risk. TWF!

 Basics: The anti-oxidant EGCG can cause DNA strand breaks and mutations.

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EGCG stands for Epigallocatechin gallate.   Epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC) is a polyphenol found in green tea.  Some people take it as a supplement.  Or it may be part of “green tea extracts.”  Anti-oxidants are thought to protect cells and DNA from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can occur when one atom or molecule “steals” electrons from important molecules in your body. Cell membranes, for example. Or DNA. When DNA undergoes oxidative damage it may become mutated. Mutations in body cells can lead to cancer. So, protecting your body by taking anti-oxidants seemed to make a lot of sense. No oxidants, no oxidation, no mutations, no cancer. Many people believe(d) that taking anti-oxidants would protect against illness and aging and extend life. The benefits of anti-oxidant supplements now appears to be more complicated that we thought.

Hypoxia study.  Hypoxia can also cause cellular damage
Hypoxia study without anti-oxidants or oxidants.  Hypoxia can also cause cellular damage.  It might also increase cancer risk.  Brain damage for sure though.

Anti-oxidants have had a mixed history when used medicinally.

There are many anti-oxidants.   Vitamins C, A, E and selenium are commonly used as nutritional supplements for their anti-oxidant properties.  And many have assumed that more is better.  As with many other things in life, more is not always better.  Sometimes “more” makes more trouble than less.  Selenium, for example, seems to have protective effects against cancer.  Unfortunately when too much selenium is taken, it can increase the risk of cancer.  One of the problems with taking supplements is that we rarely know how much is too much.  And we almost never know how much is optimal.   Studies of Vitamin A, C and E have also shown signs of creating problems when taken above levels one would normally get eating from food.

EGCG as an inducer of mutations and cancer.

A paper newly released by Nature (Lu et al. 2013) shows how anti-oxidants are able to cause DNA damage and increase risk of mutations. The researchers used epigallocatechin gallate as the test anti-oxidant.  The researchers present their data very clearly and efficiently with minimal interpretation.  They simply report that Epigallocatechin gallate caused DNA damage and increased number of mutations (among other non-good things.)  These results may or may not apply to other anti-oxidants, but they are a good indication that we should exercise caution with anti-oxidant supplements.    There is sure to be a lot of discussion and debate over the results of the Lu study.  And many additional studies are sure to follow.

Anti-oxidants, oxidants and health
It you are feeding your pets anti-oxidants you might want to hold off for a while.

This is a very interesting paper and sure to upset a lot of boats.   ECGC is a powerful anti-oxidant.  Other anti-oxidants may not be strong enough to cause damage.  It was just a year ago that  ECGC was reported to be the most effective anti-cancer chemo protective compound in green tea.  ECGC may turn out to be health protective.  It may turn out to be one of those “nutrients” that is good for you at low levels but dangerous when high.  Its too early to tell.  More research is needed.

Until we know more, eat real food.  Eat a varied diet so you don’t get too much of something that may be harmful.



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

Du GJ, Zhang Z, Wen XD, Yu C, Calway T, Yuan CS, & Wang CZ (2012). Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) is the most effective cancer chemopreventive polyphenol in green tea. Nutrients, 4 (11), 1679-91 PMID: 23201840

Thangapazham RL, Passi N, & Maheshwari RK (2007). Green tea polyphenol and epigallocatechin gallate induce apoptosis and inhibit invasion in human breast cancer cells. Cancer biology & therapy, 6 (12), 1938-43 PMID: 18059161

CrossFit Supplements: Deer Antler Velvet Supplements and Human Growth Hormone. Yes or No?

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Deer antler velvet supplements are marketed to body builders, weightlifters, athletes and others. Advertisements claim that deer antler velvet can increase strength gain, speed recovery, improve joint health and increase “vigor.” Deer antler velvet has been used as traditional medicine in China for quite some time. When I first heard about it I thought this was a load of hooey and hoped that no deer were harmed in production.  It turns out that Deer Antler Velvet Supplements may work after all.  Their effectiveness may depend on how much human growth factor has been added to them.

Deer antler velvet supplements for athletes
Deer antler velvet supplements? You can do just great without them. Crossfit Athlete Lynne2 shops at WODMasters

How deer antler velvet supplements might work.

Deer antler velvet is a velvety substance that covers the developing antlers of male deer.  Antlers require a lot of bone building in a relatively short period of time.  The growth is hormone driven.  Deer antler velvet contains a hormone called Insulin Like Growth Factor.  You may know it as IGF or IGF-1.  Normal deer produce deer IGF.  It is a little different than human IGF.  IGF is used to treat some forms of dwarfism and stunting in children.  It increases growth.  It shows promise in some medical treatments for nerve damage.  IGF declines with age and some people believe that increasing growth hormones will slow or halt aging.  IGF may help preserve muscle mass and strength.  However, IGF can also increase the growth of abnormal cells and increase risk of cancer.

Does deer IGF have the same effect as human IGF?

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It probably does.  Deer IGF and human IGF are very similar.  Deer antler IGF can probably interact with human IGF receptors.  However this isn’t known for sure.  A very interesting paper on Deer Antler Velvet was published this month (October 2013).  Researchers analyzed Deer Antler Velvet supplements and found that many of them actually contained human IGF or IGF from other species in addition to deer IGF.  Athlete use of IGF is illegal.  If you are a competitive athlete you should not use deer antler velvet supplements unless you are sure it has not been “beefed” up with illegal additives.  Other people should avoid deer antler velvet supplements too because using them may increase risk of cancer.

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

Anti-Inflammatories and Anti-Oxidants in Licorice: Is Licorice good before a workout?

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This article started in response to a question: “what is the best supplement to take before a workout.”  Licorice seems as good a choice as several other products.  So I looked into it.  First of all Licorice has a lot of interesting chemicals in it.  Many of these seem to be good for you.   As long as its used in moderation.  Every silver lining has a cloud.  Licorice contains several different pretty powerful anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are important because they protect cells and DNA from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage increases risk of cancer and shortens cell life.   A research team in China, isolated six different compounds from licorice extract.  The licorice compounds were then tested for anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.   Inflammation can also lead to oxidative damage and can increase risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and etc.  Anti-inflammatory agents may protect long-term health.   The compounds are listed below in case anyone wants to look into them a little more deeply.  Interested in making the switch from booze and cigarettes to licorice and tea? New research indicates licorice may be the better choice.

omega-6 fatty acids and health discussion with licorice
CrossFit Trainer talks about nutrition and omega-6 fatty acids and licorice.


All of the compounds had health protective qualities.  Many shared the same properties.  Here are a few of the things licorice extract can do:

  • Anti-Oxidant Power.  Three of the compounds in licorice extract were strong anti-oxidants.  The three were better at scavenging free radicals than Vitamin C.
  • Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation.  A number of the compounds were able to inhibit lipid peroxidation.  Lipid peroxidation damages cell membranes.  Stopping lipid peroxidation is generally considered a good thing.  Licorice compounds also inhibited production of reactive oxygen species.  Reactive oxygen species are compounds that cause oxidative damage including lipid peroxidation.
  • Inhibited prostaglandin E2.  Inhibition of prostaglandin E2 may or may not be a good thing.  Prostaglandin E2 is important in pregnancy and birth.  But it also stimulates tumor growth possibly by increasing inflammation.   It is possible that licorice extracts may be anti-carcinogens.  It is possible that pregnant women should stay away from licorice.
  • Inhibited production of interleukin-6.  Interleukin-6 inhibitors are under study as anti-arthritis drugs.  Interleukin-6 also activates inflammation.  Elevated interleukin-6 is associated with atherosclerosis, depression, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, among other things.  Interleukin-6 is important in good ways too.  Inhibiting the hell out of it may create other problems.  Such as maybe suppressing the immune system.

Should I eat tons of Licorice to protect my health?

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No.  Don’t eat tons of it.  Licorice has a down side.  Too much of most things is not good and there is not enough research to support going overboard.  There are also compounds in licorice that are harmful.  Licorice has been shown to raise blood pressure, for example.   And there is a case report of a woman who overindulged in licorice (about 1.5 pounds) and became extremely ill.    Her body underwent a series of changes unfavorable to a long life.  To quote from the paper:  Creatine kinase, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia and hypophosphatemia with low aldosterone and plasma renin levels and high intact PTH.  So go light.  She also got rhabdomyelesis.

Should I eat Twizzlers before working out or doing a CrossFit WOD?

You should avoid black licorice if you have high blood pressure.   Otherwise a twizzler or two is probably fine once in a while.  One or two red twizzlers will help you get pumped without the risks posed by black licorice.  And exercise stimulates the body to produce its own anti-oxidants.  Adding anti-oxidants before a workout may blunt your body’s response.  In this case red Twizzlers may be better than black twizzlers as a pre-workout stimulant.  Only black twizzlers are made with real licorice extract.  If you check the package you will see that it contains “less than 3% licorice extract.”  With good quality control you could eat a pound of black twizzler licorice and consume less than 3.6 grams of extract.  The University of Maryland posts that licorice can be used at about 1.2 grams per day.  A pound of twizzlers may contain three times that limit.    Hard to say when the content might be anywhere between 3.6 grams and nothing.  There is a lot of information and a lot of research being done on licorice as a medicinal plant.  Much more than I expected.  More than I can chew right now.   There does not seem to be any research on the benefits or dangers of red twizzlers.

Licorice compounds with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties:

  • 5′-(1,1-dimethylallyl)-3,4,4′-trihydroxy-2-methoxychalcone
  • licochalcone B
  • licochalcone A
  • echinatin
  • glycycoumarin
  • glyurallin B

Fu Y, Chen J, Li YJ, Zheng YF, & Li P (2013). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of six flavonoids separated from licorice. Food chemistry, 141 (2), 1063-71 PMID: 23790887

Sigurjónsdóttir HA, Franzson L, Manhem K, Ragnarsson J, Sigurdsson G, & Wallerstedt S (2001). Liquorice-induced rise in blood pressure: a linear dose-response relationship. Journal of human hypertension, 15 (8), 549-52 PMID: 11494093

Shah M, Williams C, Aggarwal A, & Choudhry WM (2012). Licorice-related rhabdomyolysis: a big price for a sweet tooth. Clinical nephrology, 77 (6), 491-5 PMID: 22595392

CrossFit Training: How fitness protects from chronic disease

CrossFit Training and recent research on links between adaptation to fitness and increased levels of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants lower risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.There are many benefits in maintaining fitness.  Regular exercise reduces risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  While the association of exercise and disease prevention has been strong, understanding why has been unclear.  But this is changing.

CrossFit Training, Anti-oxidants, free-radicals and fitness.

Uncontrolled free-radicals are major factors in the development of serious diseases.  Diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are all conditions where free-radicals are thought to play major roles.  Free radicals are molecules or atoms that have lost an electron.  These pose problems because they are very reactive and will grab electrons from other molecules.  Free radicals can also interact with other molecules, stress cells and throw wrenches in the works.  This includes wrench throwing into your DNA.    Damaged DNA that is not repaired can result in cancer.  Or birth defects.  Free radicals also  damage tissues and organs by damaging large numbers of cells. They can damage pancreatic beta cells and increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

CrossFit Training and How fitness protects from cancer, heart disease, diabetes.

Of CrossFit Training and General Health.  Anti-oxidants protect us from free-radicals by neutralizing them.  Having enough anti-oxidants reduces risk of diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.  Exercise causes a number of changes beyond weight loss and fitness.  And these changes play into the free-radical games.   These changes are adaptions to the increased stress of exercise.  When people are first getting in shape there is an increase in free-radical production.  And a temporary increase in physical stress.   As a result, your body suffers inflammation, along with aches and pains. This is very much like what happens when you get sick with a fever.  This may be a good part of why getting in shape sucks so much.   When you are getting in shape (or trying to push yourself to a higher level) your body will produce more free-radicals, including more reactive oxygen species, until it adapts to your new level of activity.  Part of that adaptation includes increasing production of its own anti-oxidants.  Once you have adapted you will be producing enough anti-oxidants to protect against other sources of free-radicals.

CrossFit Training, Endurance or Weight Training?

What is CrossFit looking like in terms of increasing anti-oxidants?  Is Endurance Training best?  Or Resistance Training?  So far animal testing indicates that endurance exercise works best for protection against inflammation and production of anti-oxidants (Oliveira et al. 2012).  The animals in the study were subjected to endurance training, resistance training or combination training.   Hopefully more work will be done in this area and we will get a better picture of what is optimal for humans.  Weight training (resistance exercise) remains important.  And CrossFit exercises (and high intensity interval training) show very promising results on other aspects of health and fitness.  It seems likely that adaptation to these forms of exercise (i.e. CrossFit) will produce similar results to endurance training.


de Lemos ET, Oliveira J, Pinheiro JP, & Reis F (2012). Regular physical exercise as a strategy to improve antioxidant and anti-inflammatory status: benefits in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012 PMID: 22928086

de Oliveira VN, Bessa A, Jorge ML, Oliveira RJ, de Mello MT, De Agostini GG, Jorge PT, & Espindola FS (2012). The effect of different training programs on antioxidant status, oxidative stress, and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (2), 334-44 PMID: 22458821

Folate, Cardiovascular disease, migraine, depression and MTHFRs

What is a MTHFR?

MTHFR is a gene.  It is a section of DNA that is responsible for producing an important enzyme.  Enzymes are proteins that drive many biochemical reactions.  Enzyme function is essential for your function as a living entity.  MTHFR is also pronounced (Mother @#$!% by graduate students.  And by younger faculty when they think tenured faculty are not listening.)    The enzyme is called Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase.  It is key to converting folate (Vitamin B9) to a form that the body can use.

If you had no methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase you would be screwed.  Fortunately this is extremely rare.  Possibly because few would survive long enough to be born.  However, life being complicated . . . there are several different forms of the MTHFR gene.  The different forms produce slightly different kinds of enzyme.  The “normal” form is found in most people.  About 70% of the general population. The other 30% have mutations. Chances are high that someone you know is a mutant.  You may be a mutant too.   And there are different kinds of mutants.  “Normal” has two copies of the gene that makes high function enzyme.  Someone could have one normal and one mutant.  This person would make less high functioning enzyme.  But more than someone with two mutant copies.  About 10% of the population is thought to have two mutant copies.  There are also different types of mutations.  So there is probably a range going on here.  In terms of how much methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is circulating in people.

What does it mean health-wise for MTHFR mutants?

MTHFR mutants can’t convert folate to its useable form as well as MTHFR normals.  They are more likely to be folate-deficient.  This can lead to greater risk of some birth defects.  For example: spina bifida and anencephaly. (not having a brain).  Mutants are much more likely to get migraine headaches.  The kind of headache with aura.  They are also more likely to get cardiovascular disease.  Even if they do everything else right.  Other bad things are:

  • More severe forms of schizophrenia (not all MTHFR mutants have this! Or so says a very reliable voice)
  • More likely to suffer from depression
  • Greater risk of high blood pressure
  • Greater risk of pre-eclampsia
  • Greater risk of some cancers
  • Greater risk of birth defects including heart defects and spina bifida

Some good things about being a MTHR mutant are:

  • Less risk of colon cancer
  • Less risk of leukemia

What are the chances that I am a MTHFR mutant?

A lot of research is still being done.  So far it looks like there are 24 different polymorphisms.   So far it looks like people of Mediterranean descent and Hispanics are more likely to have a MTHFR mutation.  General Caucasions are next.  MTHFR mutations seem to be least frequent in people of African ancestry.  See this article (page 12 for a chart).  If you look at the chart you will see that MTHFR mutations are not uncommon at all.  So don’t feel bad if you are one.  You will need to be more careful about heart disease.  If you are a young woman of childbearing age you should make sure your diet contains enough folate.  If you are low in folate AND a MTHFR mutant you may be more likely to have health problems.

Is there anything I can do about my mutation (Does CrossFit fix mutations)?

Possibly yes.  Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is only one step in the conversion of folate to its useable form.  There are now folate supplements you can take in which the folate is already partly converted.  These are available by prescription.  Some people are taking them to help combat depression.  It will be interesting to see if such supplements will also control migraine headaches.  And cardiovascular disease.  And birth defects.  Very exciting. Oh.  CrossFit will not help with this.

What about diet? Are people on the Paleo diet protected?

People who have the MTHFR mutation may need more folate than others.  Regardless of what diet they follow.  Increasing folate intake may protect them from heart disease.  And other problems.  Beans and whole grains are major sources of folate.  Fruit, vegetables and liver are good sources too.  People who drink alcohol regularly will need more folate than others.  So will young women.  People who follow the Paleo diet (or Paleolithic diet) may also have low folate intake. That is because the paleo diet excludes grains and beans.  High vegetable intake should help.   The paleo diet is popular with CrossFit athletes.

Here are a few citations. For more check pubmed.

Liu A, Menon S, Colson NJ, Quinlan S, Cox H, Peterson M, Tiang T, Haupt LM, Lea RA, & Griffiths LR (2010). Analysis of the MTHFR C677T variant with migraine phenotypes. BMC research notes, 3 PMID: 20663228

Gong D, Gu H, Zhang Y, Gong J, Nie Y, Wang J, Zhang H, Liu R, Hu S, & Zhang H (2012). Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase C677T and reduced folate carrier 80 GA polymorphisms are associated with an increased risk of conotruncal heart defects. Clinical chemistry and laboratory medicine : CCLM / FESCC, 50 (8), 1455-61 PMID: 22868813

Khandanpour N, Willis G, Meyer FJ, Armon MP, Loke YK, Wright AJ, Finglas PM, & Jennings BA (2009). Peripheral arterial disease and methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) C677T mutations: A case-control study and meta-analysis. Journal of vascular surgery, 49 (3), 711-8 PMID: 19157768

CrossFit Nutrition: Should men increase selenium intake to increase testosterone?

What is Selenium and Will Increasing Selenium intake increase Testosterone?

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What is selenium?  Selenium is an essential nutrient that is needed create essential enzymes.  That includes enzymes needed for testosterone and thyroid hormone.  It is also plays an important role an anti-oxidant production.  There seems to be a lot out in the popular press or online material that increasing selenium will increase a healthy man’s testosterone.  However, there is little, if anything, in the scientific literature to support the idea.

There has also been recent emphasis on consumption of Brazil nuts as a natural source of selenium that will boost testosterone and increase virility. You may have heard advocates of the paleo diet talking about this. (if you want to know more about the paleo diet here is a link.  It tells you what is the paleo diet and includes criticisms and controversies rather than telling you the paleo diet is the answer to all life’s problems).

Increasing selenium to increase testosterone is also promoted for athletes hoping to improve CrossFit training.  Or sports performance in general.  So far there is no evidence that increasing selenium will increase testosterone levels in healthy men.

Are there any problems with taking selenium to increase testosterone?

Yes.  There are a lot of good things about selenium, but as with a lot of other things, you can damage yourself by overdoing it.  Selenium is protective against prostate cancer, and some other cancers and is important for testicular development (during the fetal period) and possibly protective against other oxidative-stress-induced ailments, testicular or not. On the other hand, selenium, at high concentrations can cause DNA damage, and thus increase risk of cancer. The problem with supplementing, either through tablets, or through consumption of a natural product high in selenium, is that we do not know where the lines of good and evil cross. No one knows yet how much is ideal or at what point intake becomes more of a liability than a help.

Are Brazil Nuts good for testosterone?

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The upper limit for selenium intake for a healthy adult is 400 mcg. You can easily get twice this much from a handful of Brazil nuts. Selenium concentrations in any plant should be dependent on the concentration of selenium in the soil in which it grows, therefore, the concentration of selenium in Brazil nuts will vary. Nuts grown in Manaus-Belem region of Brazil have more than ten times higher selenium content than those grown in the Acre-Rondia region. I’m guessing packaging doesn’t tell you where the nuts you might buy are grown.

Bottom Line:  If you eat a lot of Brazil nuts and take selenium supplements you might want to lay off or do one or the other. Don’t assume that more is better.  References are listed below.  For a better way to increase testosterone see this earlier post.



Chang, J. (1995). Selenium content of Brazil nuts from two geographic locations in Brazil Chemosphere, 30 (4), 801-802 DOI: 10.1016/0045-6535(94)00409-N

ATIF, F., YOUSUF, S., & AGRAWAL, S. (2008). Restraint stress-induced oxidative damage and its amelioration with selenium. European Journal of Pharmacology, 600 (1-3), 59-63 DOI: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2008.09.029

Brozmanová J, Mániková D, Vlčková V, & Chovanec M (2010). Selenium: a double-edged sword for defense and offence in cancer. Archives of toxicology, 84 (12), 919-38 PMID: 20871980 

Henderson, B. (2000). Hormonal carcinogenesis Carcinogenesis, 21 (3), 427-433 DOI: 10.1093/carcin/21.3.427

Shafiei Neek L, Gaeini AA, & Choobineh S (2011). Effect of zinc and selenium supplementation on serum testosterone and plasma lactate in cyclist after an exhaustive exercise bout. Biological trace element research, 144 (1-3), 454-62 PMID: 21744023