Tag Archives: supplements

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

CrossFit Seven and Womens reistance training
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 may help reduce pain of exertion during intense exercise

The Pain of CrossFit WODs

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Knowing you look awesome can help make workouts easier too.

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?

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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

 

Womens Resistance Training. Is it the same as it is for men? Hormonally speaking?

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Resistance training triggers a hormonal response.  If it didn’t your body would not respond by increasing muscle mass, strengthening tendons and reinforcing bones.  The hormonal changes that occur following training are well-documented in men.  Men who do resistance training show marked changes in hormones and marked changes in muscle mass.  Men and women both benefit from resistance training.  While many fitness sites and health writers tell women that they will not “bulk up” if they add resistance training to their fitness programs, many women are still reluctant to try.  What happens to women when they start resistance training?

Womens resistance training and hormones

Men’s hormone profiles change during resistance training.  Men undertaking resistance training experience:

  • increases in growth hormone (GH)
  • increases in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)
  • increases in testosterone
  • reduction in cortisol
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But what about women?   There hasn’t been as much research on what happens with women.  There just aren’t as many research subjects for studies, and possibly less interest.  At least in the past.  That seems to be changing.  A recent paper published by a research team affiliated with the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine looked at changes in womens hormone profiles when they started weight training.   It looks like resistance training also causes hormonal changes in women.   But the changes may be different.  Women showed:

  • increases in growth hormone
  • increases in total IGF-1
  • increases in several IGF-1 binding proteins
  • a decrease in free IGF-1
  • no change in cortisol
  • no change in testosterone

IGF-1 appears to protect or increase bone strength (Courtland 2013).  Laboratory animals with low IGF-1 had “older” more fragile bones than animals with higher IGF-1.  Growth hormone also maintains tissue and helps maintain strength.

Why do Growth Hormone and IGF-1 matter for women?

Strong Woman Shirt with All-Seeing Kettlebell.  Awesome Power and exceptional femininity for a crossfit shirt
Strong Woman Shirt with All-Seeing Kettlebell. Awesome Power and exceptional femininity

Women have less bone and muscle than men to start with.  They are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.  Women may also notice the impact of strength loss before men.  This can be a serious problem leading to frailty later in life.    Frailty is a major factor in loss of independence.  Most women already know they should include resistance exercise in their fitness programs.  Hopefully understanding why and understanding how it works will help provide a little more motivation.

IGF-1 Supplements

Some supplement or nutriceutical companies market IGF supplements to women telling them it will increase youthfulness and vitality.  You may see claims that the supplements are “safe” and “natural.”  To be honest, no one knows if they are safe or not.  There simply hasn’t been enough research to know.  While IGF-1 may protect bone and muscle some suggest that suppressing IGF-1 leads to a longer life-span.   It is also very hard to know how much IGF-1 is in a supplement.  You may be getting nothing, or you may be getting an amount that may harm your health in the long run.   Supplement contents may be “natural.”  But, that is no claim to safety or to effectiveness.  Better to keep strong and healthy by eating well and exercising (and including resistance training) rather than trying to tweek your hormone levels.  We are the product of millions and even billions of year of evolution.   That deserves respect.

 

Niemann I, Hannemann A, Nauck M, Spielhagen C, Völzke H, Wallaschofski H, & Friedrich N (2013). The association between insulin-like growth factor I and bone turnover markers in the general adult population. Bone, 56 (1), 184-90 PMID: 23792936

Courtland HW, Kennedy OD, Wu Y, Gao Y, Sun H, Schaffler MB, & Yakar S (2013). Low levels of plasma IGF-1 inhibit intracortical bone remodeling during aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (5), 1691-703 PMID: 22976122

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

What is Creatine. CrossFit Training Post: On Creatine Supplements

What is Creatine?

In terms of athletics, Creatine is a molecule needed for muscle function.  It helps keep you from running out of ATP during short, intense bursts of activity.  Energy in ATP (high school biology refresher) ultimately fuels most life processes.  Skeletal muscle uses a lot of ATP during intense exercise.  Creatine helps recycle used ATP so it continues to be available.  Creatine supplements increase muscle force and power.  At least in the short term.  And that’s the very short of it.  Creatine also interacts with other cellular processes.  It appears to increase production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF). IGF works with Growth Hormone and Insulin to increase cell division and growth.  Creatine supplements may cause this Creatine/Growth Hormone system to step up growth.

Will being on Creatine Supplements help me gain muscle mass?

Probably yes.   This may be especially the case for vegetarians.  In average Westerners your body produces half its own creatine.  Diet (meat) supplies the other half.  Vegetarians have lower levels of creatine than meat eaters. Masters Athletes may also benefit.  Creatine may help preserve muscle mass as well.

Can Creatine Supplements help me during CrossFit Competition?

CrossFit involves intense burst of energy from many different muscle groups.  So CrossFit might be the poster child for creatine supplements.

Can being on Creatine Supplements help me with endurance sports?

Creatine probably won’t help with endurance.  And it might slow you down if you have to carry more weight.  That can be muscle mass or it might simply be retained water.

What else can Creatine Supplements do?

Creatine supplements are being studied as treatments for people with muscle disorders.  They are also being studied for use in treating major depression.  Creatine seems to increase the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

What are side effects or dangers?

One potential problem with Creatine Supplements is the increased activity of the IGF/Growth Hormone axis.  While this might help with muscle growth, increased IGF and Growth Hormone can increase risk of cancer.  Most studies of creatine supplementation have involved small numbers of subjects.  And have been for short periods of time.  This means that the effects of taking creatine for a long time are not known.

Another possible problem with creatine supplements is that they can reduce flexibility.  This might be because of increased muscle mass.  Or it might be because of fluid build-up in muscle tissue.

Venus with her Kettlebells CrossFit Shirt.

Should I be on Creatine Supplements all the time?

There is concern that taking creatine for a long time or in great amounts can cause kidney damage.  “More” is often not “better.”  Another thing to keep in mind is that the body tends to seek balance.  If you give it more of something it may respond by producing less of it itself.  This happens, for example, with testosterone.  Testosterone will increase muscle growth, but the testes will figure out that there is enough testosterone in circulation.  And it will stop making so much.  Hence the shrinking testes and reduced fertility in men who take testosterone supplements.   It is possible that taking creatine supplements will eventually result in less creatine synthesis.  If you are going to take creatine you should take it for short periods of time.  And take breaks.  Until more research is done.

Safdar A, Yardley NJ, Snow R, Melov S, & Tarnopolsky MA (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiological genomics, 32 (2), 219-28 PMID: 17957000

Candow DG, Forbes SC, Little JP, Cornish SM, Pinkoski C, & Chilibeck PD (2012). Effect of nutritional interventions and resistance exercise on aging muscle mass and strength. Biogerontology, 13 (4), 345-58 PMID: 22684187

Lyoo IK, Yoon S, Kim TS, Hwang J, Kim JE, Won W, Bae S, & Renshaw PF (2012). A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of oral creatine monohydrate augmentation for enhanced response to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor in women with major depressive disorder. The American journal of psychiatry, 169 (9), 937-45 PMID: 22864465

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