A 30 Day Paleo Diet Experiment


Today I foraged a little bit like a hunter gatherer. I agreed to participate in a 30 day study/documentary of the paleolithic diet that the pre-agricultural human ancestors used. Today was my first day.

The foundation of the paleo diet is that human nutrition is based on a genome adapted to what humans ate for most of our evolutionary history. It is somewhat of a tautology that if we eat foods we are genetically adapted to eat, we'll be healthier and hopefully leaner. The paleo diet is low glycemic, so it does not stimulate the fat storage endocrine machinery of the human body (insulin) as much. That's the logic anyway. This study I am in should shed more light on the reality of it.

Anyway, I was away from my home turf today, road tripping to Oshkosh. I adhered to the proscribed diet remarkably well. I ate a couple apples this morning and did a bit of hunting and gathering for paleo snacks in the early afternoon. I found raw mixed nuts and all natural Lara bars at a divy little health and nutrition shoppe in Oshkosh. That was more than ample to tied me over until my dinner of bison burgers. The bison was store bought (CostCo).

I actually was not very hungry today, in theory because I was providing my body with an optimal nutritional mix of foods. That's a good sign that it may pay off in health improvement and weight control.

Geeked to be doing the study because it forces me to be more diligent and compliant with the paleo diet.


A Paleolithic Diet Guinea Pig?

An opportunity may have fallen into my lap to be a guinea pig in a Paleolithic Diet study and documentary. I was talking to a friend of a friend on Facebook who is some kind of documentary filmmaker or something like that, and we got to talking about the Paleolithic diet. I think she brought it up.

I told her I try to follow a Paleo diet when I can and have trouble adhering due to all the non-Paleo foods that are everywhere in America and tempt me daily.

That’s when she told me about her study documentary and asked if I would be interested in being a subject, since doing so would require 100% adherence to the dietary guidelines of the study. Win-win. I told her I would love to participate and now I am just awaiting follow-up.

Right now, the possibility to be a subject in this study and documentary is on the table, but that’s all. I don’t have any further details, but I hope it pans out. Naturally, I will keep you updated.

If you need a little background, the Paleolithic Diet is based on human evolution and genetics. Its premise is that 10 million years of hominid evolution can’t be wrong. The genome and biochemistry of Homo sapiens has been modified by natural selection as our ancestors foraged an omnivorous diet in nature, before agriculture. Most humans thrive on this diet, because if they didn’t, they would not survive in nature.

The diet is made of up vegetables, lean wild-caught meat, fruits, nuts, and any other kinds of foods that grow wild in nature and can be foraged. Agricultural foods are a relatively modern development and our genome has not adapted to it yet. Because we are omnivores, we can get some nutrition from agricultural foods, but there are also negative side effects of a modern agricultural based diet. The latter is high in salt and the wrong kinds of fat. We are not optimized for processing grain and high calorie foods, so we process them inefficiently, and store a lot of tha calories as fat. The Paleo diet was a low glycemic one, high in fiber, so calories did not get stored as fat and hunter-gatherers were much leaner.


10 Miles and No Filler

Chet’s three mile run with his neighbor seemed fairly easy after his 10 mile run on the weekend. It seemed to go faster than usual and he had fewer aches and pains after it was done. He had been doing three milers for a few weeks prior to the 10 mile run, and that definitely put him in better shape for the longer run. He did the 10 miles at a relaxed pace, averaging about 5 mph (12 minute miles), and it took him just over two hours to finish (he walked briefly a couple of times, and stopped once to photograph a cool mushroom growing in the ditch by the side of the road).

Chet’s left hip had been giving him some grief during the past several weeks of running. He thought the 10 mile run would amplify that soreness, but because he took it easy, the inflammation was no worse than after his three mile runs, during which he tended to push himself a little harder to keep up with his neighbor, who was in better shape. He had discovered a decent stretch to alleviate the hip soreness and he did that stretch after the 10 mile run, which probably helped. In fact, his hamstrings hurt more than his hip after the long run.

Chet bike commuted to work after his run this morning, getting more aerobics under his belt (and hopefully, with time, less beer gut under his belt). At work, he got a salad and a piece of baked fish for lunch. The past two days he has been eating “half size” salads in the cafeteria at work. He had been loading the plastic to go salad trays to the rim before, rationalizing that because salads were healthy, you could eat them in unlimited quantities. But he decided to cut back the portions, because these salads contained a lot of protein (chicken, eggs, black beans, chick peas) and thus more calories than a salad filled with a lot of leafy filler.

He usually put a small base of spinach in the bottom of the salad tray and then piled on the good stuff. As a result of cutting back to half as much salad, he also used half as much salad dressing, albeit a low calorie and sugar free one (Newman’s Own Light Italian).

Chet also used to force himself to add raw broccoli and cauliflower to his salads, because they were “healthy.” But all that did was make him like salads less. So he did away with the crunchy veggies and now he likes salads more. He is getting more health benefits from eating average salads he likes more regularly than eating healthier salads he does not like less regularly.


Coffee Napping is a Thing

So, coffee napping is a thing.

Apparently, you get more benefit from drinking coffee immediately before taking a 20 minute nap than you get from only drinking coffee or only taking a 20 minute nap.

The way it works is interesting. The reason you get tired is because as the day goes on, your brain produces adenosine, a chemical that binds to specific receptors in the brain and tells the nervous system to slow down. This makes you less alert and sometimes quite sleepy, especially after using your brain a lot. Taking a short power nap can lower the amount of adenosine, making you more alert.

Adenosine is a nervous system suppressor, and when you ingest caffeine, it inhibits adenosine and stimulates the nervous system in a variety of ways.

It pretty much is that simple. But more specifically, at the molecular level, caffeine resembles adenosine, and binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. This means adenosine cannot bind at the receptors blocked by caffeine and so the nervous system suppressing effects of adenosine are blocked.

So both caffeine and power napping are ways to stimulate your nervous system and be less tired and more alert.

A coffee nap combines these two things together. When you ingest the caffeine, it takes 20-30 minutes for it to be absorbed in your small intestine. So if you lie down for a power nap immediately after drinking coffee, say, your adenosine levels begin to drop, and when you wake up, the caffeine is starting to enter your brain. Due to the nap, the caffeine has less adenosine to compete with for brain receptors and thus it has a greater stimulant affect by blocking adenosine from binding those receptors as adenosine levels begin to rise again.

They did studies and it appears to be true.

However, I have a question. After a good night of sleep, adenosine levels in the brain should be at an all-time low. So why am I so groggy and sluggish in the morning? Coffee in the morning does seem to have more potent awakening effects than coffee later in the day, presumably because it has very little adenosine to compete with when I wake up. But I usually wake up groggier than when I fell asleep, and that’s a quandary.

Here’s a list of the amount of caffeine in various ingestible things.


Cardiovascular Benefits of Magnesium Chloride

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.


The Health Benefits of Alcohol

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.


Health Benefits of Juicing

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.

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a purported health drink that is all the rage among health nuts. But what is really known about this lightly fermented tea?

Kombucha is actually a misnomer. The Japanese name for what English speakers call Kombucha is kōcha kinoko, which literally translates as "toadstool tea."

Kombucha is made by adding a fermentation agent to sweetened black tea (other types of tea also may be used). The fermentation agent is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), which when added to the sweetened tea, forms a microbial mat on the top of the liquid. The mat contains bacterial cellulose and is so firm that it can actually be used to manufacture a form of artificial leather. The mat also helps prevent contamination of the liquid beneath, although when contaminants are found growing on top of the mat, the entire batch is usually discarded for safety reasons.

The fermenting agent in kombucha is not an actual mushroom or toadstool, although it is often casually called the kombucha mushroom because of its solid and leathery appearance. The mat also often sends bacterial "threads" into the liquid portion of the brew, which may contribute to its mushroom-like appearance.

The yeast in the SCOBY converts sugars in the sweetened tea to alcohol, which the bacteria then convert to acetic acid (vinegar). This makes kombucha a somewhat acidic beverage with a low alcohol content. The acidity and alcohol helps prevent contamination of the drink, making kombucha fairly easy to prepare and maintain in non-sterile conditions. By the same token, contamination can be a problem in improper kombucha manufacture, such as home brewing, leading to adverse reactions when consumed. Kombucha products often contain more than 0.5% alcohol by volume, though some contain less. People with alcohol sensitivity are advised to read product labels carefully.

The purported health benefits of kombucha are unsubstantiated by science, but analysis of the beverage has shown that it contains high levels of B vitamins and potentially healthful micronutrients, most notably glucuronic acid, used by the liver for detoxification.

Because it contains bacteria and yeast molds, allergic reactions to kombucha are possible.


Liquid Chlorophyll

A reader asked me to look into what is known about chlorophyll tinctures, so I did a little bit of research and there is very little out there. A tincture is an ethanolic extract of something, and likely contains some water and fat soluble constituents of whatever is being extracted.

There are plenty of aqueous (water soluble) extracts of chlorophyll available in the nutritional supplement marketplace. Some of the lack of tinctures might have to do with the supplement industry shying away from ethyl alcohol based extracts.

The vitamin company I used to work for has a fat soluble chlorophyll extract, but it is unclear how they manufacture it and it is not readily available on the retail market (sold only through clinicians, although there are some pirates who will sell it to you on AMAZON).

Chlorophyll is used medicinally as a blood purifier and a breath freshener (Note: Chlorophyll products are often flavored with mint), however, there is not a lot of scientific research to validate these uses, so it is probably subjective to the user experience. In general, being a constituent of all green plants, chlorophyll is generally cheap and safe. "Can't hurt. Might Help."

The main risks associated with liquid chlorophyll depend on its source. It is usually manufactured from alfalfa, an inexpensive and prolific agricultural plant (hay). Depending on where and how the alfalfa is grown, there can be a risk for pesticide and heavy metal contamination. Read labels and if you cannot determine the source of the chlorophyll in the product, think twice. Nutritional supplements are poorly regulated in the U.S., especially if they are imported.

I have been pleased with NOW Foods brand supplements. I recently started using their herbal sleep aid and it seems to work, even if it is just the placebo effect.