6.27.2014

Cardiovascular Benefits of Magnesium Chloride

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I am a bicyclist and in pretty good health, but over the past two or three years, I have been experiencing some mild cardiovascular symptoms like transient arrhythmia and a mild throbbing sensation in my chest upon exertion (like biking up hills). I also began detecting what seemed like a heart murmur, that I could hear when I was sitting quietly. I have not lived the healthiest lifestyle until just the past few years, and since I was covered by an employer’s health insurance plan, I decided to go to a cardiovascular specialist and get these symptoms checked out.

The heart doctors (there were more than one, because our archaic health care system forced me to change doctors when the insurance plan changed to a new carrier) told me I was in great cardiovascular health and I passed my stress test with flying colors no problem. But an echocardiogram detected mild enlargement of my left ventricle. No one could tell me the cause of that, but it might have explained the heart murmur (also confirmed by the doctors) because the enlargement meant my heart’s mitral valve wasn’t opening and closing properly.

The arrhythmia was probably linked to stress because I would get them at work sometimes when my managers were behaving particularly douchy. The doctors had me wear a halter monitor EKG and press a button whenever I thought I had a skipped beat or any other symptom. Of course, Murphy’s Law dictated that I didn’t get any symptoms while the thing was on me. So that did not shed much light and the doctors said my EKG looked normal.

I still had symptoms sometimes when I would bike or run, but I was less concerned about it now that the doctors did not seem too worried. It seemed like fish oil seemed to reduce these symptoms, if I took it before exercise, but I could not verify that consistently.

This past winter, my mom sent me some bottles of liquid magnesium chloride solution to take as a nutritional supplement. She said her own naturopathic doctor swore by it for all manner of ailments including anxiety, muscle pain and soreness, immune deficiency, and heart issues. I did a little research online and found out that supplementing with magnesium chloride is fairly harmless and there is not a strong body of evidence for any of its health benefits. This told me that it was a “can’t hurt, might help” kind of scenario and I started adding the supplement solution to juice or water fairly regularly from about February on. It has a sort of tart salty taste, making juice seem more tart than usual and water tasted salty.

It was a long winter, and although I had been pretty good about indoor exercise on my bike trainer, I caught a long lasting cold in March and April that put a kibosh on exercising because the frigid temperatures outside just wouldn’t let up (otherwise walking might have been an option at least). I did do some trainer rides, but much less frequently, and I started to feel less healthy as a result. But I did sign up for RAGBRAI, a week long bike ride across Iowa, during that time and so as soon as the weather outside got nice and my cold was on the mend, I started biking more to train for that.

I have been bike commuting and doing weekend rides a lot through May and June. In past years, it was during my commutes that I often got cardiovascular symptoms, like climbing the grade up to the State Capitol building in Madison WI as I winded my way through town. But this year was different. I have not had any symptoms, with or without exercise. No arrhythmia or throbbing, and I don’t notice any murmur anymore at rest. Is this a result of the magnesium?

I cannot say it is or it isn’t. I can definitely notice that if I have sore muscles from exercise and take magnesium before bed, I wake up with much less soreness. Sometimes it is gone completely. But I can’t say that it is responsible for my lack of cardiovascular symptoms. There are too many confounding variables.

For one thing, I was exercising more than usual in the early part of the winter before I got sick. So I was probably conditioning and strengthening my heart because of that. If my heart muscle tone had improved, maybe the enlarged ventricle had “tightened up” a bit and my valves were closing properly again. The prior summer, I had noticed a reduction in symptoms (though not complete disappearance) as the season went on and I got more and more bike commutes in. I did not do RAGBRAI last year, so I was bike commuting a lot mainly to avoid the stress of Madison WI traffic. Stress reduction, albeit small, and aerobic exercise might have contributed to the dwindling symptoms last summer, but I was not taking magnesium then (only fish oil).

Another confounder is that I was under a lot more stress at work for the first three months of this year (new employer) and was drinking more alcohol than usual to escape the anxiety (not smart, I know…but it was an easy go to solution). Hypothetically, that should have contributed to my arrhythmia, I knew from past experiences with workplace stress. I probably was not eating as well either, and I began to eat more meat this year, whereas I had been largely vegetarian for the prior two years. I always considered meat to be somewhat unhealthy because of the inflammatory fats it contains, but on second thought, the meat protein may have contributed to a stronger heart muscle, even while the fats were thickening my arterial walls and shortening my lifespan. Lastly, in March I got out of that very stressful job and now work in a much more relaxed and liberating work environment, so my stress levels are lower at work. At the same time, though, I have also been preparing to move to Madison over the past two months and that is very stressful, although I have been handling it remarkably well (perhaps due to mental health constitutional benefits of magnesium?).

So it is hard to say if the magnesium chloride supplement has contributed to the near absence of these cardiovascular symptoms I once had, or to my overall health. It does seem to help with muscle soreness post exercise and generally speaking I am in a good mental state right now (the endorphins from exercise probably account for most of that). Magnesium is deficient in the diets of most Americans, I discovered during my research. So perhaps by taking the supplement, I have just improved my nutrition enough ti allow my body to revert back to a healthier overall state.

In any case, I am not going to stop doing what I am doing at present, because it seems to be working. I feel great, I have tons of energy and feel like a million bucks.

5.16.2014

The Health Benefits of Alcohol

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A lot of research has confirmed that people who drink a couple servings of alcohol daily live longer and have better health overall. The scientists who study this spend a lot of time looking for the active ingredients in beer and wine and booze that contribute to these beneficial health effects.

For example, resveratrol is a compound in grapes that is thought to be a strong antioxidant.

However, when these “magic bullet” compounds are studied independently, they don’t seem to show any demonstrable health benefits. A recent study just completely pooped all over the resveratrol link to red wine’s apparent health benefits, at least in older adults.

What if the benefits of alcoholic beverages are not physical benefits but rather mental ones? Alcohol in small amounts can relax the nervous system and reduce anxiety and inhibitions. That may in turn cause the body to experience less stress hormones that can damage tissues and health over time. Chronic stress is a known contributor to early death.

It has been shown that drinking one or two drinks a day is not only healthier than drinking too much, but also healthier than drinking nothing at all, statistically across the population. This supports the anti-stress idea, though it is circumstantial. Alcohol in excess is damaging to the body and mind, of course. Perhaps so is our busy modern life, in excess?

In addition to the relaxing effects of alcohol itself, hops (related to marijuana) in beer is also a soporific. That means it makes you drowsy (and why hops is an ingredient in herbal sleep aids). So beer might also help people sleep, and it is well known that getting good sleep reduces stress and keeps you healthier.

Just a hypothesis.

REFERENCE: Resveratrol Levels and All-Cause Mortality in Older Community-Dwelling Adults. JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 12, 2014.

3.27.2014

Health Benefits of Juicing

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I first discovered the benefits of juicing when a drummer in one of my bands brought his Juiceman Junior to band practice, along with a large sack filled with bulk apples, oranges, and carrots. This drummer was not a particularly health conscious individual, and he liked to smoke and drink. A lot. So it was a bit surprising for him to be expounding on the health value of juicing. He had received the juicer as a gift.

So we humored him and we juiced before we started band practice. We were astounded to find our energy levels and focus were substantially increased during the practice and we accomplished a lot more than we usually did. Always the skeptic, I wasn't certain this was not a fluke, so I told our drummer to bring the juicer and some juiceables (not a real word) to the next practice, and sure enough, we had a similar outcome. After a while, we started ritualistically juicing before shows and it amped up our live rock-n-roll performances considerably.

It's possible these were placebo effects. But it is also possible that juicing was somehow concentrating the life essences of the fruits and vegetables we rammed into the juicer. When we added ginger root to the mix of oranges, apples, and carrots, it seemed to energize us even more. Ginger is known anecdotally as an energizing herb, and it also adds a nice bite to the juice flavor.


Advocates of juicing list several health benefits, including improved nutrition, boosting immunity against diseases, and providing antioxidant protection against free radicals and toxins (possibly a reason my smoking, boozing drummer liked juicing).

Other more sketchy health benefits may include pain relief, weight loss, and a decreased need for prescription medications. (Note: Do not change your prescription medicine dosages without first consulting your doctor.)

There is no convincing scientific evidence that juicing is any better than just eating the whole food fruits or vegetables. However, it is quick and easy, and you can consume the juice of several fruits and vegetables all at once, concentrating their nutrients. Why eat three apples, two carrots, and an orange when you can drink one glass of their juice?

To retain more of the nutrients in the pulp of the fruits and vegetables, try blending them in a blender, rather than juicing them.