Saturday, February 22, 2014

The risks posed by high doses of dietary supplements

This is a valuable and revealing study about the dangers posed by the over-use of dietary supplements.  What we once thought - or were told - was good for us, turns out to be quite the opposite. 

"Many people think that dietary supplements are helpful or at the least innocuous. This is not true," said corresponding and first author Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., a faculty member in the Public Health Sciences Division of Fred Hutch. "We know from several other studies that some high-dose dietary supplements – that is, supplements that provide far more than the daily recommended intakes of micronutrients – increase cancer risk. We knew this based on randomized, controlled, double-blinded studies for folate and beta carotene, and now we know it for vitamin E and selenium."

Selenium and vitamin E supplements can increase risk of prostate cancer in some men

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heading to Texas soon

Is sitting killing us?

I just stumbled across this informative graphic which illustrates rather well why we should all move more.
Sitting Disease by the Numbers 

Sitting Disease Infographic 1 (Ergotron) / CC BY 3.0

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Post-fast weight remains steady

It is 12 days since I last fasted for 5 days, consuming only small meals supplied by USC's School of Gerontology.  I have returned to 'normal' food - although my new norm is an almost entirely vegan diet, with fish - usually salmon - twice a week. Persuaded by the argument that a low protein (about 60g/day for me) plant protein diet is far better for my long-term health, I have abandoned my beloved dairy products and chicken meals.  I will continue for at least a year to make a realistic assessment of its impact on my overall health.  I will continue to fast, periodically. A key factor will be what it does to my cholesterol levels (currently slightly high) and systolic blood pressure over the long term. 

Crucially, I have maintained the weight loss achieved during the last 5-day fast. I am still at about 172 lbs with a BMI of 24.0.  Unlike during the clinical trial - when volunteers were not given specific instructions on what to eat between fasting cycles - I have made a concerted effort to eat clean and intelligently to try to maintain a steady weight.  This is been achieved largely through skipping lunch - or at least consuming only a small snack between breakfast and dinner.  My default snack is about 200 calories of almonds and raisins. 

It has been easy, so far - especially now that I have adopted a routine. Planning my day is much easier, knowing that 'lunch' is contained in a tiny box in my backpack.  During the afternoon I experience hunger pangs but also the increased mental alertness that I have become so familiar with. Most days I consume fewer calories than I burn. This allows me occasionally to share lunch with a friend or go out to dinner, without counting calories.  It all balances out during the week. 

Fellow experimental faster - and cancer survivor - says diet made her feel better

So far my experience of periodic fasting has been extremely positive. Others have found it more difficult, as I reported here, although they were in the minority during the USC trial.

Nora Quinn, another study volunteer, tells me that she throughly enjoyed the experience and that fasting made her feel physically better.

"I loved the food," she says.

Quinn was one of the participants in the study, which involved three periods of fasting for 5 consecutive days, during which only low calorie food, supplied by USC scientists, was allowed.  See earlier blogs for details.

"I kept trying to buy it. The honey and nut bar is way too good.  I would eat way too many of those if I had access to them generally.  I thought the soups were terrific," says Quinn.

Quinn adds that she felt physically better while fasting.

"Now that I am out of the trial I try to continue to do fasting. I try to mimic the foods."

Like me, Quinn said he experienced a greater sense of mental alertness while fasting.

"I have more energy and I'm more cognitively alert,' she says.

Quinn, who describes herself as “aggressive and bold" says she was amused by some of the social implications of fasting.

"I find this so funny because there are people who I work with who will say, 'Oh, you're fasting that's not healthy - you can't just not eat anything.’  I will say, 'Well I can. I've done it before and I will do it again. And they'll be standing there eating donuts, telling me how unhealthy it is to fast.'

'I want to say look at yourself - how can you possibly say that what I'm doing is unhealthy?'

Quinn, an administrative judge in Los Angeles is a cancer survivor.  She is convinced that an earlier period of fasting, before and during a course of chemotherapy, helped her make a good recovery from breast cancer.

After reading about the work of Valter Longo she took it on herself to fast just before starting chemotherapy.  Without medical advice, which is certainly not to be recommended, she devised a fasting plan that roughly mimicked regimes which had been tested with mice. At that stage, there had been no human trials, but Quinn believes fasting helped alleviate the negative side-effects of chemo and contributed towards her recovery.  Her story is told at greater length in Michael Mosely’s book, the Fast Diet.

The beneficial effects of fasting during cancer treatment are the subject of ongoing studies, involving human trials. According to a research published in the journal Oncogene, in 2011, an intense period of calorie restriction, for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, has the potential to reduce the adverse side-effects of the treatment and improve survival rates.