Diet Heart Hypothesis – Part 2

Part 2

Cholesterol as an Enemy of Heart…

Cholesterol is an organic molecule that is essential for the normal function of our cells and our body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs. We all have heard of LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol and how supposedly high LDL is related to the high risk of CVD. So how did the scientist came to this conclusion?

Let’s look at the studies that tried to support the idea of cholesterol causing cardiovascular disease.

In 1986 the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) has published a study that became a standard and is used as a reference to this day. “Relationship between serum cholesterol and risk of premature death from coronary heart disease” by Stamler et al. In this study, scientists came to conclusion that “ 1% higher serum cholesterol level was associated with an almost 2% higher CHD risk”.

But let’s look at the actual numbers in the study and see if this conclusion makes sense.

People with the lowest LDL cholesterol:

99.7% – didn’t die from CHD

0.3% – died from the CHD

People with the highest LDL cholesterol:

98.7% – didn’t die from CHD

1.3% – died from the CHD

So how did the scientist came up with a risk factor for high cholesterol, you ask? If you take the extremes and divide 1.3% / 0.3% you will get 4.13 which translates into 400% risk factor or increase in deaths. Math magic isn’t it?! 

It’s worth remembering an important point: correlation doesn’t equal causation. 1% rate of deaths across the entire range of cholesterol amount is a way too small to be considered a “cause” for any type of disease.

There several other studies, including the ones from the large pharmaceutical companies (the ones that produce statin drugs) that also manipulated data in such fashion. But we also have a few that have some evidence showing LOW levels of cholesterol AND LDL can be linked to the increased risk of CVD.

  1. Familial Hypercholesterolemia: a genetic and metabolic study” by Harlan et al, published in 1966: “no evidence that familiar hypercholesterolemia appreciably shortens the life and affected individuals. On the contrary, they show that high levels of serum cholesterol are clearly compatible with survival into the seventh and eighth decades”.

  1. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study” (20 year long study) by Schatz et al., published in 2001: “Our data accord with precious finding of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, and show that long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases risk of death”

  2. Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review”, meta-analysis by Ravnskov et al, published in 2016: “ Since elderly people with high LDL-C live as long or longer than those with low LDL-C, our analysis provides reason to question the validity of the cholesterol hypothesis.

As you can see, the actual studies give quite opposite answers to what we normally hear these days.

The reasons behind cardiovascular diseases are quite versatile and cholesterol DOES play a role but not in the way you probably used to think.

Here are some facts:

  • There are 5 types of LDL and HDL molecules

  • Not all LDL is bad and not all HDL is good

  • LDL-a are “fluffy”, large molecules that are harmless and serve their purpose

  • LDL-b molecules, are very small and “hard’, golf-like molecules that are dangerous for our health

  • Some HDL types do not reduce inflammation that’s why some people with high HDL still develop heart disease

  • At least 50% of people with high total cholesterol have healthy hearts

  • Cholesterol alone is not a reason for heart disease.

Useful to know: Next time you do your cholesterol check instead of simply checking total cholesterol, do the particle test. That’s the only way to know what is actually happening with your cholesterol. Low total cholesterol but a high amount of LDL-b particles are BAD news. On the other hand, over the top high total cholesterol with a high count of LDL-a particles are GREAT news.

Unlike in the criminal justice system, where you are innocent until you are proven guilty; in science, the hypothesis is considered wrong until proven right.

This post is my attempt to bring your attention and to encourage you to think cryptically of anything you hear on the media, literature and even your doctors. As my 7th-grade physics teacher said: “don’t believe everything people say just because they say they know better. Analyze before you come to your own conclusion”.

This post is inspired by the work of many influential people, including Dr. David Diamond, Uffe Ravnskov, Nina Teicholz, Dr. Thomas Seyfreid, and many others. I highly recommend reviewing their lectures and books for a more in-depth understanding of the topic of nutrition.

Artificial Sweeteners and How they Affect our Bodies

Most people on the diet avoid or at least decrease the amount of sugar they consume and substitute it with artificial sweeteners. Some fitness “gurus” are against artificial sweeteners because they believe in their harmful effects. As for me, I think moderation is the key. Ideally, you should stick with natural calorie-free alternatives like Stevia and Monk fruit, but consuming “artificial sweet” few times a week is better, in my opinion, that consuming an all natural sugar, and definitely not going to kill you.

Let’s take a look at some facts

Saccharin

This compound was found in 1878 by researcher Constantin Fahlberg. In 1978 studies in rats linked this sweetener to a bladder cancer in rodents. For a while, saccharine was claimed to be harmful to humans but numerous human-based studies have shown that cancer in rodents doesn’t translate into cancer in humans. In 2000, FDA cleared saccharine as a generally safe substance to consume within daily dosage limits.

While saccharine is a calorie-free sweetener, it does raise blood glucose levels to some degree. It can also cause GI distress in some people, allergic reactions and headaches.

Aspartame

Despite the loud claims of the opponents of aspartame who claim it causes cancer, there is no actual evidence to support such a conclusion. To this date, the only “evidence” we have is several studies in rats showing that in some cases, extremely high dosages of aspartame were linked to the development of the brain tumors. That being said, there is no evidence that supports such claims in humans. Agencies in the US and in Europe evaluated aspartame and found it safe for use.

There is only one case in which aspartame presents a risk to health, Phenylketonuria is a rare genetic disorder (present at birth) in which the body can’t break down phenylalanine (one of the amino acids that make up aspartame).

Sucralose

The most well-known brand that uses sucralose is Splenda. Sucralose is a zero calorie, artificial sweetener. Over 100 studies have been analyzed by FDA and European Union Scientific Committee on Food, no evidence of carcinogenic properties was found in the process. Sucralose is safe for consumption by humans.

These are just a few, most common artificial sweeteners that we can find in almost any processed food. While I always support the idea of eating whole foods, I also support the notion of not being paranoid about small things. 

When it comes to artificial sweeteners it’s worth to note that while they don’t have any calories they do give a signal to brain similar or in some cases, identical, to the one that is produced by sugar or other carbohydrates. This sometimes translates in craving extra portion of calorie dense food later throughout the day. That all being said, I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying occasional diet soda here and there as long as you are mindful of your overall dietary targets.

Have a beautiful week, my friends!

GymKat

Sweet Tooth Cravings

I haven’t met a lot of people who don’t like sweets. In fact, I’ve had a horrible sweet tooth myself, for the most part of my life. Things have changed for me when I switched to a ketogenic diet. It wasn’t an overnight process, though, it took some time, but eventually, I lost my “thing” for sweets. A ketogenic diet is not for everyone, so even if you are on a regular carbohydrate diet there are ways to battle the sweet tooth. Here are some tips:

  1. Clean your palette

From experience and research, we know that a human brain is wired to want/ crave something that we eat on regular basis. The tastier is your food – the more you want it. Sometimes, in order to stop craving different foods, including sweets, all you need to do is to clean the palette. Sweet foods also tend to be the most calorie dense, which is a plus from an evolutionary perspective but a big problem if you are trying to lose body fat. So when you remove all sweet products for some time, your brain literally forgets the taste of it and no longer craves it. The period of time will depend on the individual. In general, I would say 15-30 days would do the trick.

The trick here, however, is to remember is that this process is NOT a punishment and that you CAN, in fact, eat the sweets, you just CHOSE NOT to. If your mental state is not on point, you are risking falling off the wagon and binging.

  1. Find a substitute

One of my favorite tricks is to eat something salty or spicy when I crave something sweet. It totally confuses the brain and kills the craving. Give it a try!

  1. Emotional Dependence

Comfort Food” can take different shapes. Some love pizza, some pasta and some devour a pint of ice cream in one seating. Many people use comfort foods, alcohol, and drugs as a way to relieve emotional discomfort. The key to battling the problem is, first of all, to recognize the problem, and then find a substitute. Make a conscious choice to do something not related to food when you are under stress or other emotional problem. YOU have the power to change the outcome by changing your actions – one at a time.

  1. Your diet is not balanced

It doesn’t matter if you are on a ketogenic diet or on a regular carbohydrate diet, if it is not structured properly you will crave “something tasty”. To balance it out, make sure to eat enough protein and fibrous veggies. This will keep you full for a while and provide you with all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Only then, add your carbs (if you are on a regular diet) and make sure that at least 80% of your daily carb intake comes from whole food sources (rice, potato, beans, etc.). Last, add fats to fill up the remainder of your caloric needs.

Of course, there could be more reasons for your cravings but these are the most common. That’s why it is important to have an individualized approach to the diet and exercise program.

Stay healthy and fit,

GymKat

Postpartum Fitness – What Are We Missing?

Social media is saturated with images of fitness models that pride themselves on “getting their bodies back” (as if there is such thing), along with the fitness centers and boot camps that encourage you to try their “magic formula”. Being a Mom is hard. Lack of sleep, never-ending stress and responsibilities, and now, added pressure from the society that tells you “being a mom is not an excuse to be out of shape”. While it is true, it also creates a sense of urgency and a requirement for the moms to look a certain way and get that perfect body FAST.

So what SHOULD we do? Should we, women, be concerned with the “fast track to better body” or should we rather be concerned with the safe and proper way of getting a NEW, STRONGER and HEALTHIER one?

Let me start by stating one simple truth: during pregnancy, our bodies change dramatically. Once the baby is born our bodies never come back to what they used to be. POSTPARTUM IS FOREVER. It doesn’t matter if you had your baby 1 month ago or 15 years ago – you always be a postpartum athlete.

That doesn’t mean that you will never be able to get in a better shape than before the pregnancy, or that you cannot be stronger or leaner. No, not at all! Of course, YOU CAN achieve anything you put your mind to (there are plenty of examples of women that have done that). Rather, what it means is that we need to learn how to be patient with our bodies postpartum and ourselves, how to listen to the NEW body we have after the baby.

Let’s take a look at some symptoms that we should be on the lookout for AT ALL TIMES:

  • Incontinence during any type of activity or at rest

  • Diastasis Recti

  • Organ prolapse

  • Painful intercourse

  • Lack of stability during movements

This is just a short list of very COMMON but NOT normal symptoms that women experience during pregnancy or postpartum. I’ve met a lot of women that have these symptoms YEARS after having their kids and don’t do anything about it simply because they don’t know that IT IS an issue that needs to be taken care of.

I wish there was one size fits all type of workout or advice but unfortunately, there isn’t one. However, there are a few tips I would like to share that can help you become more aware of your body and determine the COURSE OF ACTIONS.

  1. Talk to a pelvic floor physical therapist

Even if you have any of these symptoms years after having your kids you can still see pelvic floor specialist that can help you understand what is going on and help you adjust your fitness routine. Even if your insurance doesn’t cover it, realize, one visit will give you a lot of valuable information.

  1. There is no rush

While it is tempting to get started with a strict workout regimen and diet in an attempt to get leaner and fitter as fast as possible, the INITIAL FOCUS should always be on RESTORING and REBUILDING. There is no right or wrong timeline, each person is different. Some of us will need just a few months to recover and rebuild, while others may require a couple of years. Either way, it all should happen on YOUR terms.

  1. Work with the specialist

Work with a personal trainer and/or physical therapist that have knowledge and expertise in this specific field. Working with people that know what they are doing, is a crucial part of the process. Note, that each professional works in his/her scope of practice. Your doctor is not there to prescribe you a corrective exercise program, a physical therapist is not there to build a workout routine for your or motivate you, and a personal trainer is not there to rehab you. The more eyes you have on you during this chapter of your life, the better and faster results you are going to see.

  1. It is SERIOUS but it’s NOT the end of the world

If you experience any symptoms postpartum please, don’t feel like it’s the end of the world. Pain and discomfort are NOT the enemies, they are SIGNALS telling us that something needs to change. There are only two mistakes you can make in this situation:

  • Ignore the signs and continue your normal routine through pain and discomfort; OR

  • Panic and get discouraged

Almost any issue that arises with pregnancy is fixable with the right approach. But in order for that to happen, you have to listen to what your body is telling you and take an action.

I hope this post brings attention to the importance of understanding the pregnancy and postpartum athleticism. If you feel like you need to get some help with getting started but don’t know where, let me know, and I’ll do my best

Stay strong and beautiful,

GymKat

Fitness is a Lifestyle

I think it is safe to say that problems are evolutionary drivers and crisis often proceeds a big change. It’s at the moment of the great discomfort we often find a new way that helps us grow.

     In 2012 when I hit the rock bottom with my emotional state, there was a moment when I felt that “enough is enough” and that it was the time to try something that I subconsciously knew could help. I needed to start creating a stronger body, because strong spirit can only reside in a strong house.

     I’ve been a professional athlete for over a decade back in Russia, but with the move, daily problems, new life, and new experiences occupied my mind and I stopped exercising on a regular basis.

     I started going to the gym next to my house. I was training religiously, trying different techniques and programs. I was training 4-6 hours on some days (that’s not a recommendation). Every single day I was showing up and training like my life depended on it, because in some sense of it, it did. When I felt like crying, I pushed myself harder, I ran faster and lifted heavier. Within several weeks I noticed my body starting to change, depression started to ease, problems were not that tragic and that future was actually more exciting than what I originally thought.

     Years of unhealthy habits allowed me to forget that overcoming difficulties in a physical state ALWAYS translates  into a stronger spirit and clearer mind. Fitness showed me my strengths and presented me with the opportunity to extend my hand to others, to prove them that they are stronger than they think they are.

     To be the “saving grace” fitness has to become a lifestyle. It has to be something that you crave. You can only crave it when you I’ve gotten the taste of what it can do for you. Give yourself a chance to feel the positive effects of healthy lifestyle and regular exercise. Give it a little time to show you how strong you are. Trust the process – nothing happens overnight! I assure you, the reward is well worth it! 🙂

Stay positive and keep grinding!

Happiness

Shawn Achor, an American author of the best seller book “Happiness Advantage” made his career on studying “happiness”. Shawn believes that as a society we have focused our attention on productivity and completely forgot about the meaning of our lives along with happiness.

According to Shawn traditional formula of happiness: “I will be happy when I achieve or get something” is fundamentally wrong. We should be able to be happy in a present moment, content with what we already have while still working on our goals.

So what is the recipe for a happy life according to the advocate of positive psychology? Let’s take a look.

1. Grateful for today

Every night, before going to bed, spare at least 5 minutes to write down 3 things you are grateful for today. What happened throughout the day that made you happy? The idea is to condition yourself to see new things to be grateful for every single day and never repeat them.

2. Duplicate a positive experience

Think about a positive thing that happened in the last 24 hours. Spent several minutes “re-living” the moment by talking about it and try to find at least 4 details about it. When you go through the particular situation one more time (positive or negative) the brain begins to magnify the significance. The more details you include in the description of the positive moment the more positive emotions you are going to receive at the end of the exercise.

3. Happy 15

Science has proved it many times, exercise makes a positive impact on our psychological state. The good news is that you don’t have to “live at the gym” 7 days a week. As little as 15 min of exercise a day can positively affect your emotional state. Take your dog for a 15 minute walk, go for a short jog, or do a simple bodyweight circuit at home.

In addition, Achor adds that out brain looks at the completed exercise activity as a victory that spreads to other actions throughout the day.

4. Meditation

Spare couple of minutes every day for doing absolutely nothing, but seating still, turning off your brain and watching your breath.  Even a very short conscious break can help you to lower your stress and bring you to the more calm and happier state.

5. Acts of kindness

Doing good for other people simply because you can is a great simulator of happiness. Try sending a positive message to a person you know in the morning, buying a coffee for a next person in line or holding a door for someone. Little things add up and they do make us happier.

6. Social connections

Social connections affect success, happiness, and even life longevity. Besides, the feeling of social support is extremely important for our happiness. That doesn’t mean we always need to be surrounded by people (some of us are introverts after all). But rather be in connection with friends, family, and people that are important to us.

Happiness is something we all have to work on. If you are currently in not so happy place – you have nothing to lose. So give these tips a try and let me know what you think.

Best wishes,

GymKat