Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A conversation with a (Man)imal...Derek Woodske

Derek Woodske is a well-decorated track and field athlete, winning three Nationals Titles in the Hammer Throw and four All-American Honors in college. Derek set multiple Canadian records in the hammer and earned a top two world ranking indoors as a member of Team Canada. Derek has worked professionally as a coach in the NCAA, NFL and is currently a master course conductor for the Poliquin Performance Center in East Greenwich Rhode Island. I met Derek several years ago and was instantly impressed, not only by his immense size, strength and experience, but by his open and honest perspective of the strength and conditioning industry, as well as life in general.

I recently caught up with Derek and asked him to share some thoughts on the strength and conditioning industry.

Dusten: You travel the world, have competed and coached at the highest level of athletics and still you are excited about your work. What excites you most about your work?
Derek: For me it is the opportunity to exchange ideas with a lot of different coaches in different areas. I have never been one that prescribed to one ideology or system. I think the mechanic is as good as the tools that he has available. So the more tools, the better end results.

Dusten: You spend a fair amount of time teaching people how to use those tools, what has teaching others taught you about yourself?
Derek: That you have to understand that they (students) are seeing for the first time something that you may take for granted.  You have to stop and remember what it is like to have your hair blown back and don’t act like it isn’t important.

Dusten: That’s a good point - and a mature perspective.  How has your experience and maturity affected your own view of the industry?
Derek: There are a lot of selfish assholes in this industry… a lot. People that I have really given a lot of my time to and you see that they are just simple assholes in the end. Worst part for sure.

Dusten: That seems to be a common thread regardless of the industry. What have you taken from those incidents’ moving forward?
Derek: Even though others will try to push aside or replace your reputation with their own, as long as you continue to be a good coach and provide as much of your ability to those that need it. The reputation part will pass like the clouds, no one can be loved by everyone so don’t try. Do your best provide the most that you can and let the results speak for themselves.

Dusten: That’s really good perspective. Speaking of results what is the difference in your mind between coaches focusing on rehabilitation, training for exercise and training for athletic performance?
Derek: They are the same, just different points along the same linear progression. All a power clean represents is a step towards the end goal between a 30sec plank and a vertical jump to catch a pass as wide out.

Dusten: I get what you are saying, they are not separate but rather part of a progressive continuum but do you ever see coaches putting the emphasis on corrective exercises when their client is focused on fat loss etc?
Derek: I do, but it is typically due to the confusion created by educated people in our industry selling opinion for facts. The reality is there are very few ways to do it wrong but people don’t want you to know that because that decreases their ability to sell you bullshit. The confusion is typically emotion-based misrepresentation of good information.

Dusten: As long as we are talking about misrepresentation of information - What are your thoughts on Crossfit training?
Derek: I think that it has become a case-by-case evaluation. In the beginning it was much more controlled from the top of the organization, with the idea that periodization of a program was evil and all that stuff, however, when money and television gets involved things start to become standardized very quickly. There once was a time the WWE or wrestling in general was the most watched sport on television because they knew the ending and they controlled the variables. Now, CrossFit is not “fake” by any means, but the events have to fit into a television time slot and because of that it has to change. People know that there will only be so many options exercise-wise and the durations are shorter. So better more precise coaching is evolving.  However, there are still some dog shit boxes out there cranking our injuries for a living.

Dusten: That makes sense - It is my opinion that Crossfit has done a great job motivating people to train, reducing the intimidation associated with walking in a weight room and promoting “the sport of Olympic lifting” to the general public. But I also see a lot of people that are drawn to Crossfit for those reasons, but get frustrated when they don’t see fat loss, muscle mass development and experience injuries. You had a great post on your blog recently where you discussed this very topic. Can you elaborate on this topic?

Derek: I think the benefit to the group training setting is the fact that you have forced accountability through camaraderie.  However, the problem that CrossFit has run into is the fact that there are way too many people with knowledge trying to dispense a pound of cure. What happens is they inevitably make people physically sick with injuries not understanding how to put together the ingredients of the medication for lack of a better description. I think we're at a crossroads with that industry because a lot of the gyms will have to choose to pursue performance, and the others will have to choose to perform maintaining a clientele that does not want to compete in the sport fitness. So what I believe is that exercises are like tools, you use tools for different jobs. Unfortunately with the competitive arena some of the tools are being misused (high repetition volume in Olympic lifts for example) so in the general population they still need to be used correctly but you can make up that fat burning fat loss volume through much safer alternative means like pushing prowlers, drags, ropes, tug-of-war etc.

Dusten: As you mentioned, Crossfit is another in a long line of product-service changes to the strength and conditioning industry.  Where do you see this industry going in the next 5, 10, 20 years?
Derek: That is the question! There are only so many ways to do a biceps curl, that much we know. The question is how do we make the product more athlete / client available while still earning a great living. That truly will be the interesting part, plus a need for more supplementation as our nutrient levels in our food continue to be manipulated.

Dusten: It seems like you’re saying the line between fitness and functional medicine will continue to blend. I think there is a lot of truth to that statement. The question in my mind is should that line continue to blend? I have a fair number of clients and coaches contact me and ask me to help them with nutrition/detoxification programs – One common question I get is can I help them dose/adjust herbal formulas being marketed for detoxification even though the products they are using were not designed for that purpose. It is a mistake I see being made more frequently by strength coaches. I am not saying that strength coaches should not advocate detoxification support programs, but I am saying – similar to the Crossfit discussion, that as things evolve, we need to evolve with them and continue to make adjustments to the demands of the market.

As we provide coaches with more freedom to make nutritional interventions, what adjustments do we need to make as an industry to their educational process so that they understand the treatments they are recommending?  If we don’t make any adjustments, aren’t we just making the same mistakes Crossfit made with training – lack of knowledge leading to poor instruction of Olympic lift technique, poor program design resulting in injury, etc?  Without changes, aren’t we talking about the same mistakes on the nutritional side of the industry?

Derek: That is really good question as well, the thing that I see as being a major red flag in the nutritional care side of the industry is that we have people that believe that they are experts in everything holistic and internal when they don't even understand basic macronutrient profiling. And they are doing exactly what the early CrossFit people did they took a little bit of information, misrepresented and misused it, and in return they could make people harmed percent as well. It is the equivalent of poor coaching in terms of nutritional advice. I think we have way too many cracker box Doctors out there that think that just because they attended one seminar they should be dispensing advice beyond that of a general practitioner and that is a massive, massive mistake. Typically in the physical world you can see the mistakes happening, but when people start manipulating the internal environment of the body you don't see the results of their misguided adventures until it's often too late

Dusten: Ok so where does the problem start? What changes would you make to fix the problem?
Derek: Truly, even though we have a dietitians association that tries to control us in terms of what we can dispense information-wise in regards to nutrition and supplementation, the problem will always be present in United States due to the freedom of supplementation act.  We have a lot of liberties in terms of what we can consume. However, with that also comes a lot of liberties and who can determine or promote what you can use. I think the ISSN has a good idea in terms of their certification in sports supplementation, because at least it gives you a better understanding of the do’s and don'ts. But I think there has to be a little bit clearer determination of what people can and can't say to somebody in regards to holistic supplementation.

Dusten: I agree with you there, the problem is as soon as you set the regulation, someone needs to enforce it. It will be interesting to see if an extra level of credible education, similar to the education you received as therapist but focused on strength, conditioning and nutritional skill sets, develops in the near future.

You mentioned that Crossfit ran into a problem with injury and making people sick because they didn’t know as you put it “How to pull all the ingredients together.” I assume you are talking about program design and instruction – Challenges with program design are not solely a Crossfit issue, what is the biggest mistake you see people make in the strength and conditioning industry?
Derek: I would say program hopping - not accepting that change takes time and duration not just four weeks. A program is not four weeks…a program is a minimum of 12.

Dusten: Do you see coaches make the same mistakes with their own training?
Derek: Yes, the artist that doesn’t like his canvas always thinks that they can change it or in our world make it easier… let someone else take control once in a while and feel what it is like to be locked in for a full 55min.

Dusten: Well what about you? What do you do to improve your own health and fitness?
For me it has been a process… as I get older I have started to move in the direction of movements and flexibility. My goal this year is to continue to progress in Muay Thai and Krav Maga with the addition of yoga… Strong is something that has always been a priority but I need change so that is my life now.

Dusten: You mentioned a change in your priorities, if strength isn’t in the top spot anymore, what goals do you have?
Derek: Lose 8% BF and get a little smaller and faster.

Dusten: You are a really big strong dude so wanting to be a little smaller and faster makes sense –we tend to want to be the things we aren’t. Tell us something about yourself that would surprise people.
Derek: I am extremely spiritual in my life and have studied alternative practices for a long time.  Like in training the body I don’t believe there is one way to develop the soul.

Dusten: I believe that about you. Though it doesn’t necessarily come across in your blog – which I really dig by the way. Who should follow your blog?
Derek: Thank you! I think people that are a fan of health and fitness but need a break from the mainstream tirade of bullshit and sales. Sometimes you need to just watch or read something because the information is solid and the medium is entertaining.

Dusten: Every industry has their share of bullshit and ours is no exception.  If you were going to leave the industry tomorrow and change careers what would you do?
Derek: Marine Biologist.

Dusten: Nothing about you screams Marine biologist my friend – I don’t think they even make wetsuit to fit your “gigantor” ass – so why that career?
Derek: The ocean, the power of sea and life! Zero bullshit, a dolphin has never told the ocean that seals suck because they swim differently. 

Dusten: That we know of…they could be every bit the judgmental assholes we are just with a different language...keep that in mind before you make a switch. But I get what you mean, the industry is growing and becoming more competitive – It’s like the wild west out there with very few rules and lots of opinions.  How do you maintain perspective on work/life balance?
Derek: You have to maintain separation, stay connected to those that have always known you for what you were not who you may be. Society will always establish a personality for you, but it is friends and family who matter most.

Dusten: There’s that spiritual side coming through – I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your insights Derek.

Derek: Thank you for the opportunity to get to know your followers and friends! I look forward to crossing paths with you in March when I am in Chicago!

You can follow Derek’s blog – (Man)imalwww.themanimalsguide.wordpress.com

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I'm doing a detox!

Dusten Nelson

I want to take a few minutes to provide some clarity to the whole concept of a “Detox”.  First and foremost a “Detox” is not a dance thus, one does not DO a detox. Detoxification is a process our bodies are built to perform without us ever lifting a finger, which is a good damn thing because if the body was dependant on us making the right decisions to keep it running smoothly we would have died off as a species years ago. To borrow a quote from an Italian friend of mine “When I came to America I thought to myself, ‘All the people look like little houses’.”  She’s right--we need to take better care of bodies. Thankfully, whatever created us had a pretty darn good design that is rather self-sufficient.

That being said, supporting detoxification is a beneficial and in most situations necessary step in the process of achieving optimal health. The problem is there are a number of companies out there that use the new year as an opportunity to sell us on our need to make good on the health and fitness goals that may have eluded us last year. Most of these companies lack the platform to educate the public on what detoxification is and where you as an individual may be experiencing problems. So instead, they put a bunch of fruits, veggies, and vitamins into a container and sell us a program that promotes eating lean meat (or no meat), increasing our water consumption and cutting out all the processed foods.  Folks that not a detox, that’s called eating a healthy diet and it’s been producing results since the beginning of time - food doesn’t need to come in a box or a bottle to make it work.

Detoxification is not a product that we just buy, drink and suddenly morph into the clean, lean and sexy versions of ourselves. This article will help you better understand the process of detoxification and the various techniques used in the name of “detox”. In the end, you should have a better understanding of what detoxification is, and what you can do to enhance the process.

First-things-first, we need to gain a better understanding of what detoxification is and how it works. So if you will indulge me, I will take a minute to explain the basics of the detoxification process.

The liver is the main organ of detoxification and the target of most detox programs. Its primary role in detoxification is to neutralize or remove harmful toxins in the body (though other organs including the bowel, kidney, and lymphatic system also play important roles as well). The liver achieves this by converting toxins into compounds that are excreted via sweat, stool, and urine. This process is broken into three main phases:

                Phase I: This phase is responsible for the conversion of fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins. Think of this phase as a custodian gathering trash from each office in an office building and putting them in one large container in the basement of the building. This is the phase of the detoxification most packaged “Detox” products focus on.

                Phase II: This phase neutralizes the free radicals generated in Phase I. This phase is dependant on enzymes and co-factors to facilitate mechanisms including: acetylation, glucuronidation, glycine, glutathione, methylation and sulfation to form water-soluble metabolites. Think of this phase as the custodian moving the container holding all the trash into position for the garbage truck. Ideally, all toxins addressed in Phase I are efficiently moved to Phase II, but it doesn’t always work that way, as any inefficiency in these phases of detoxification can cause a build up of toxins.

                Phase III: For most people this is the easiest phase of detoxification to understand; it is simply the excretion of toxins from Phase I and Phase II in bile, feces, sweat and urine for removal. Think of this phase as the garbage company picking up the trash and moving it to the dump.

If you support phase I and fail to support phase II or III, it creates a detoxification log jam. This is one reason it is so important to make sure a detoxification program is right for you as an individual before you start.

Or is it a cleanse?
Now you may be asking yourself, “If that is detoxification then what is a cleanse?”  That’s a great question. I’ve scoured several handbooks on clinical medicine and physiology and never once found a chapter on how the body “cleanses” itself. My best guess is that somewhere along the way an individual or company began marketing a detoxification program as a “cleanse”, the term stuck and now we have a bunch of yahoo’s out there talking about “cleansing”.  A personal observation - the people most often advocating “cleanses” tend to be of the vegan-yogi persuasion. If I were walking in their flip flops I would spend less time worried about “cleansing” and more time trying to figure out why their skin and hair turns grey  (hint: it involves meat).  I rib the vegans but it’s only because they keep eating my foods food.  Did you like how I snuck a BBQ reference in there too?

So what is a Flush?
It is possible to “flush” most bowls and some organs that contain ducts. For example:

Liver:  The liver is essentially a filter responsible for cleaning the blood. If the liver gets congested with fatty deposits that block the ducts it can theoretically inhibit the bodies ability to detoxify. In response to this potential disruption of the detoxification process, it is possible to dilate (open) the ducts in the liver and move the fatty deposits through into to the intestinal tract for excretion. The same can be said of the ducts of the gallbladder. Depending with whom you speak, there can be any number of ways to determine if a flush is needed and how best to perform the flush (None of these important steps are outlined in juice bar literature, on the backs of “flush” products or in programs that recommend you drink lemonade, maple syrup and cayenne pepper). The system I have found most successful for determining an appropriate herbal formula for a “flush” is Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM.

TCM commonly utilizes diagnostic techniques involving the pulse and tongue, both of which are believed to be holographic representations of the homeostatic balance within the body. Depending on where a licensed Acupuncture and Herbalist (LA.c) finds an imbalance, they can make an herbal remedy to dilate or open the appropriate duct work and “flush” any fat, cholesterol, etc that has become an obstruction.

“A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing” – Alexander Pope
I am not going to turn this post into an Essay On Criticism but I might add some witticism (If you don’t get the reference you should read more) Pope must have been referring to the world of detoxification programs when he penned those words. We live in a copy cat world built upon provisional information and if someone can take an idea and make it better we want it. But as my friend Derek Woodske says: "The one thing he can’t live without used to be his gym clothes, now its his cell phone – Not all changes are good."  (more on this in an  upcoming interview)

The same can be said about the current trend of non-licensed herbalist “borrowing” classic Chinese herbal formulas for use in liver detoxification programs. Most of the herbal formulas I see being marketed were not created for use in liver detoxification programs. Though it is common to find multiple uses for the same products (i.e; baking soda) any self-respecting herbalist will tell you that though in some situation these formulas may be helpful, in most situations they will do little to support detox and can create adverse effects. If you truly want to use herbs to support your bodies’ ability to detoxify, work with a licensed herbalist and have them design a custom formula for your personal constitution. – If you have a problem with your car you don’t go to the dentist. If you want to use herbs to support detoxification, speak to an herbalist.

Colon: Colons are the most common organ associated with flushing. It requires less skill and has fewer negative outcomes but they are also the least effective. I am not saying they are worthless – they can do a nice job of moving impacted waste in the bowl.  However, they are often marketed as the key to being lean and that’s simply not the case. Most of the aesthetic changes from a colon flush result from the flushing of impacted waste product in the intestines.  Simple flush remedy’s include a brief (24-72 hour) period of fasting combined with a stool softening medicinal such as Epsom salts (mang xiao) or an over the counter teas such as Traditional Medicinal “Smooth Moves”. These techniques can be very effective in ridding the intestinal track of impacted waste but if used incorrectly can also result in the crapping of once pants or worst - so it best to consult a licesensed herbalist before trying these thing on your own.

Is fasting a form of detoxification? Fasting, though not involved in the detoxification process, can be used to improve health. Fasts are probably the easiest technique of the three we have discussed to use at home because fasting is simply not eating solid food for a period of time. Despite their simplicity, fasts can actually be useful. Fasting alleviates the stress on the digestive system and engages a primal defense system to improve metabolic activity and cellular defense. Research suggests that fasting creates an environment of deprivations causing the response of a genetic factor known as SIRT1. SIRT1 increases activity in fat cells, moving them into the blood stream for energy. Increases in SIRT1 has also been shown to inhibit a protein that promotes inflammation (NF-B). This is important because inflammation is beginning to gain traction in the medical community as the base cause behind a laundry list of degenerative disease processes. (See the February 23rd 2004 issue of TIME magazine).

Fasting for as little as 16-hours, one to four times per month may be enough to activate the SIRT1 gene and see results in reduction of body fat and inflammation. So why don’t we hear more about the benefits of fasting?  First, the only product associated with a fast is water, making it a difficult product for companies to market and sell.  Second, fasting can cause destabilization of blood sugar and increased adrenal stress, so it may not be right for you. That doesn’t mean we should avoid fasting but rather respect it for what it is, a tool to be used in a specific situation to enhance a detoxification program.

What we should take from this?
We are designed to execute the phases of detoxification without even thinking about it…in fact, your body is detoxifying right now. So does the liver need our help? Theoretically no, but practically yes.

Where do we go from here?
We live in a toxic world filled with environmental toxins, toxins in make-up, lotions, cleaning products, water, food, etc (even organic food still has some level of toxins, though significantly less in most situations) Get the point? We are inundated with toxins, and though they body is designed to get rid of toxins, we don’t always give the body the raw materials needed to exist in our overly toxic world.  So here are the top two strategies you will want to include in your detoxification support program:

#1: Reduce the toxic load:
  • Eat clean, organic, unprocessed food.
  • Replace make-up and beauty products (hair care, skin care, etc) with natural, non-toxic alternatives.
  • Replace toxic cleaning products with natural, non-toxic alternatives.

#2. Give the body the raw materials it needs to execute phase I, II and III detoxification.
Phase I – This phase requires significant antioxidant consumption, so eating fruits and vegetables is crucial. Berries, especially blueberries are incredibly high in antioxidants and a great support to phase I detoxification. In every country of the world you will find an indigenous berry that is easily grown, harvested and consumed. The exotic goji berry and acai berry, though heavily marketed and said to do everything including sealing cracks in the concrete are no better as a nutritional source than the blueberry - you can bet that the good ole Buddhist in the Himalayan mountains are getting a good chuckle over the amount of money we spend marketing this exotic cure-all berry from their mystical land.  Nutrient support for this phase often includes Folate (B5), B3, B6, B12, Vitamins A, C ,D & E, Quercetin and N-Acetyl-Cystine.

Phase II – This is where things get tricky. If a detoxification program or product has a weak spot this is typically where you will find it. Phase II detoxification pathways often get log jammed and require specific nutritional support to “un-jam them”. Here are a couple supplements to consider when supporting phase II detoxification:
  • Glycinaton Nutrients - Including glycine, a sweet amino acid.
  • Methylation Nutrients – Including Folate (B5), B6 and B12.
  • Glutathione Nutrients –Including Glutathione spray, N-Acetyl-Cystine, Selenium, Milk Thistle.
  • Sulfur metabolites - Found in cruciferous vegetables, MSM, Calcium D-Glucerate and additional amino acids including Lysine, Carnitine, and Taruine.

For those of you looking for a little more explanation, I picked a few nutrients involved in phase II detoxification and discuss them a little more in-depth at the end of the post.

Phase III – This one is a little less technical, as sweating is probably the most effective way we can support our phase III detoxification. Exercising for 30-60 minutes, four to six days per week will significantly move blood, lymph and sweat and aid in the third phase of detoxification. Clinically three to five percent of sweat from exercise is identified as toxins. Infrared sauna can also be a great tool to support this phase of detoxification. Sweat resulting from an Infrared Sauna, which utilizes heat and infrared light to stimulate the blood, lymph and sweat has been shown clinically to contain as much as 35 percent toxin.

Side note – Despite popular belief, January in the Northern Hemisphere (especially north of 40 degrees of latitude) is not a great time of year to detox. This is a time to boost the immune system and protect the body from getting sick. As the days get longer and warmer with the presence of spring and summer, the body is better equipped to handle a detoxification program. Regardless, people are more likely to start health and fitness resolutions in January than March.

Though I do recommend working through this process with a qualified health care professional, here are the steps I use when designing a detoxification support program that you might find useful in your own program design.

How to select a program to support your detoxification:

Step 1: Goals
I like to start by identifying a detoxification goal(s). A few common goals include:
                Improving Digestion
                Increasing Energy
                Expediting Fat loss (Metabolic detox)
                Reducing Musculoskeletal Pain
                Improving Sleep
                Decreasing Stress

Step 2: Techniques
Decide what combination of detoxification support is best for your goals and constitution. This process often involves selecting which nutritional program, supplementation, herbs, acupuncture, infrared sauna and exercise will best support these goals.

Step 3: Timing
Pick an appropriate time of year to execute the program. As I mentioned earlier, winter is not the best time to embark on a life altering detoxification program. During the cold and flu laden months of the winter, the body is allocating its resources to bolster immune functions and thus we do not want to circulate excess toxins and impair the immune function of the body.  Empirically I have found that performing detoxification programs in January does increase the occurrence of cold and flu. I prefer to run detoxification programs late in February through September.

Step 4: Results
Evaluate results. Detoxification is a process unique to the individual and works best with clearly outlined goals, processes and tracking.

Keep these thoughts in mind as we approach the beginning of detoxification season (in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere) and contact me if you would like to try our detoxification programs for yourself.

Yours in health,


As always, Statements on this blog are intended for educational awareness and do not replace the recommendation of your medical professional. Before beginning any exercise, nutrition or supplementation programs speak with a qualified medical professional and decide which programs are right for you.

A little more info on the nutrients involved in phase II detoxification:

The acetylation process is responsible for metabolizing a plethora of toxins (pharmaceuticals, beauty products, cleaning products, etc).  This process is dependant on B vitamins and Vitamin C to maintain proper function.

A laundry list of amino acids including arginine, cystine glutamine, glycine, and taurine, are involved with various detoxification processes. Consuming significant amounts and varieties of amino acids is crucial to successfully supporting detoxification.

Glucuronidation is a critical detoxification process where the acid (glucuronic acid) binds with drugs, hormones and other toxins. Research has shown that calcium-D-glucarate can inhibit beta-glucuronidase  (referred to as BG from now on) and support phase II detoxification. Milk thistle – and its chemical constituent silymarin not only boost glutathione levels but also inhibits BG. Elevated levels of BG are associated with an increased risk for hormone-dependent cancers, primarily the estrogen driven cancers breast, prostate and colon.

A major antioxidant that aids in phase II detoxification and is a major contributor to the detoxification of xenobiotic compounds. Supplements including milk thistle, vitamin c, N-acetyl cystine, and SAMe have been shown to increase glutathione levels in addition to providing the raw materials of glutamine, cystine and glycine which are amino acids from which glutathione is synthesized.

Methylation is a hot topic these days as an increased percentage of the population is demonstrating inhibited methylation. And requires adequate levels of SAMe, methionine, choline, vitamin B12 and folic acid for synthesis. Methylation is important for the metabolism of several pharmaceuticals as well the production of neurotransmitters

A follow up comment on methionine – when methionine is broken down in the blood it produces a compound known as homocystine. Elevated levels of homocystine (know clinically as hyperhomocysteinemia) can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke. Elevated levels of homocystine are often found in people suffering from kidney disease, low thyroid levels, low Vitamin B and low Folate. Additionally, there is an increasing percentage of the population presenting with a genetic variant called Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase – pronounced just like its written –for those of you that don’t speak a Slavic based language, its simply known as MTHFR –or referred to by a pneumonic that involves coitis with ones mother – but I digress. This little genetic variant impairs ones ability to process folic acid –and thus elevated levels of homocystine and a decrease in the methyl donor SAMe – which is crucial to detoxification.

So here is my point, this is very basic overview of the process of methylation, highlighting the potential implications for detoxification in the liver. If a person has an MTHFR mutation, takes a prepackaged detoxification product that doesn’t address the inhibited methylation ability and uses folic acid instead of a folate blend in their supplementation, not only will the person not support their detoxification ability as intended, but the unprocessed folic acid can create a log jam in the methylation process in the phase II liver detoxification pathway.  Not an effective way to support methylation.

Sulfur containing compounds are used to eliminate hormones, neurotransmitters and several medications including acetaminophen. You can get a significant amount of sulfur from foods including garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and watercress) or supplement with sulforaphane.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is it time to be SAD?

By: Dusten Nelson

I recently had a request to put out some information on Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD – The clinical term for “winter blues”. SAD (which can happen in any season, but is more commonly diagnosed as  “Depression” when it occurs during spring and summer) was first validated by the medical community in 1984 by Norman Rosenthal at the National Institute of Mental health. Seasonal Affective Disorder was determined to be a form of depression that occurs at the same time every year (fall or winter) and is more likely to occur in women than in men. – Lending more clinical credibility to my wife’s claim that it is in fact more difficult to be a woman.

What does SAD look like?
How do you test for it? Here’s the problem…there are no definitive tests for SAD thus it becomes a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning it’s a diagnosis reached by a health care provider if after performing an evaluation or testing they cannot determine a differential diagnosis.

How can you treat it? Since we don’t know exactly what causes SAD, we cannot definitively determine a successful treatment strategy. Despite not knowing the exact cause of SAD, several treatment strategies have proven successful in the past 25 years.
Possible Causes and Treatments: 
Sunlight – Though SAD can be diagnosed in any season, more cases seem to be reported in winter months in cold weather climates. As the days get shorter, the amount of sunlight we receive decreases. This not only has an affect on our “tan”, it also has a significant effect on our hormones. Melatonin (which plays a major role in our sleep/wake cycles) increases as exposure to sunlight decreases. Elevated levels of melatonin can improve sleep quality but when melatonin levels increase too much it in can also result in feelings of lethargy and excessive affinity for beanbag chairs, lava lamps and Pink Floyd music – you know what I mean? – “I’d be a lot cooler if you did” – Dazed and Confused reference for you Matthew McConaughey movie buffs.

Back to the point- in the same way Melatonin INCREASES with decreased exposure to sunlight, Serotonin levels DECREASE with decreased exposure to sunlight. This is a big problem since Serotonin levels are directly related to your “mood”. Adequate levels of Serotonin are crucial to elevating mood and can play a big part in alleviating the depressive symptoms associated with SAD. It may sound crazy but sunlight directly affects our serotonin levels and thus, our mood. So what do you do when you live in an area with long, cold, dark winters? Move.  But if that’s not an option – try installing full spectrum lighting in your house.

Full spectrum light contains infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths, which despite popular belief are necessary for optimal health. Problems begin when people get too much UV exposure - which is probably not the case if you are living in a northern climate and suffering from SAD. Full spectrum bulbs range widely in quality and can be expensive to purchase (I have seen high quality full spectrum bulbs sell for $30-$40 each).  Though they are typically more energy efficient, which will reduce your energy costs, full spectrum bulbs can have significant effect on the winter blues.

If changing light bulbs doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, try changing your diet.

Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in the production of neurotransmitters and hormones – which in turn directly affect the symptoms of SAD.

Vitamin D  Sunlight plays a key role in our ability to maintain adequate serum levels of vitamin D. Direct sunlight facilitates Vitamin D production in the skin. Research suggests that if you live north of 40 degrees of latitude (or south of 40 degrees in the southern hemisphere) it is difficult to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels year round, creating a window for a drop in Vitamin D levels and an increase in the occurrence of SAD symptoms. Supplementation of Vitamin D can be effective in raising serum levels quickly and thus is should be monitored closely by a qualified health care practitioner.

Carbohydrate Cravings  - Decreased levels of serotonin can also result in the carbohydrate cravings commonly described in the list of SAD symptoms.

Nutritional interventions can be successful at alleviating these symptoms. Since Tryptophan (an amino acid) is a precursor of Serotonin, consuming Tryptophan rich foods can increase Serotonin production and help alleviate symptoms.  To this point I have not been able to find significant research to support the Tryptophan-SAD link though empirically I have found that increasing Tryptophan in the diet (in food and supplement form) can help alleviate symptoms associated with SAD.  

Where can you find Tryptophan?  The first food everyone mentions is Turkey, and yes, Turkey does contain Tryptophan, but really all meat and seafood caries significant levels of Tryptophan – thus eating meat is important.

I also like a Magnesium and Tryptophan supplement that includes Magnesium Taurate, Glycinate, Fumarate, Orotate and 300 mg of Tryptophan to supplement the diet in some situations.

Beyond Tryptophan, steps can also be taken to increase the consumption of foods to boost Serotonin. Basmati rice (more so than other varieties of rice do to its less damaging effects on blood sugar levels), apricots, apples, pears, grapes, plums, grapefruits and oranges, when combined with adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, can improve Serotonin levels. If that doesn’t work, you could try a Using a 5-HTP supplement which have been shown to increase Serotonin levels quickly, though it is best to have this monitored by a qualified health care professional.

Weight Training:  Research has long suggested the correlations between weight training and resolution of depression symptoms. I am not aware of any research to support direct link between SAD and weight training, however, there is research to support a negative relationship between cardio training (especially late in the day) and an increased occurrence of SAD symptoms. This is not said to discourage people from running but rather recommending the inclusion of significant weight training to reduce symptoms of SAD.  And no, “band training” doesn’t count.

Here is what you should take away from this discussion: 

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a classification for depression occurring the same time every year.
  • It is more common in women than men.
  • It is more common in northern climates (north of 40 degree latitude) in the fall and winter.
  • There is no definitive cause or test for SAD.
  •  SAD may be linked to low sunlight exposure, low levels of Vitamin D, low serotonin levels and elevated levels of Melatonin

This is a list of steps you could take at home to improve SAD symptoms.

  • Install full spectrum lights in your home (and office if you can)
  • Consume 3g of pure epa/dha omega-3 fatty acids per day.
  • Take a Vitamin D3 supplement (consult with a qualified health care practitioner for an appropriate dosage)
  • Take Magnesium with Tryptophan supplement.
  • Eat meat with every meal (Doesn’t have to be turkey to work)
  • Consume certain foods to raise Serotonin levels.
  • Take a 5-HTP supplement to increase Serotonin levels.
  • Weight training for one-hour at least 3 times per week.
  • Hydrate – every process in the body is improved with hydration.

In addition to adding full spectrum bulbs, eating meat with each meal and weight training at least 3-hours per week, if you are interested in trying a supplement program, one recommendation might look something like this:
Vitamin D3- 2,000- 10,000 IU per day (again dosages range greatly and should be adjusted for you by a qualified health care professional)
Omega-3 – 1-2g of pure EPA/DHA oil per meal.
Magnesium with Tryptophan – 250 mg – 1,000mg in the evening
5-HTP – 50mg -600 mg per day can have an effect though it may be best to take 100-200 mg three times per day.

As always, Statements on this blog are intended for educational awareness and do not replace the recommendation of your personal medical professional. Before beginning any exercise, nutrition or supplementation programs always speak with a qualified medical professional and decide which programs are right for you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Headache - what your body is trying to tell you

By Dusten Nelson

Headaches are like a crying baby - no one really likes to hear a baby cry - but it’s the only way a baby can tell us something is wrong. When a baby cries, we don’t view the baby crying as the problem (unless we are sitting next to it on a flight), no we ask ourselves “What does the baby need? Is it hungry? Is it tired? Does it need a diaper change?” - Incidentally if you crapped yourself in public you might cry too so lets pump the breaks on judgment here. The point is we try to figure out WHY the baby is crying, so we can fix the problem and put an end to the crying. Yet when we have a headache we use a different approach – we try to kill the pain with the most available form of analgesia – asprin, ibuprofen, tylenol etc. This approach w it will only mask the problem. The headache is NOT caused by a lack painkillers in the system, there is something else going on here.  The body is trying to tell us something is wrong. Its time to unmask the real cause behind headaches.

We reach for the painkillers because we don’t know what else to do, until now, consider this a crash course in learning to speak headache. The goal is to walk you through a 3-step process to prepare you so that the next time you feel a headache coming on you can stop it in its tracks.

Step 1: Determine the type of headache you are experiencing: 
The first step in fixing a problem is identifying what the problem is, in this case, you have a headache, but what type of headache do you have?

3 -Main Types of headaches:

  • Tension headache- Also known as a “hat-band headache” because the pain pattern presents like a hatband, is the most common type of head ache. The pain associated with a tension headache is thought to be caused by prolonged muscle contraction in the face, scalp and neck.
  • Cluster headache- Less common, but characterized by clusters of pain in and around the eye, these headaches are often mistaken for sinus or dental pain.
  • Migraine- The big daddy of the headache world, migraines split into two main categories: Migraine with Aura and Migraine without Aura. Both carry ipsilateral, pulsating characteristics.
  • Migraine without an aura – described as a recurrent headache manifesting in attacks lasting between 4 and 72 hours. Typical characteristics of this type of migraine include: unilateral location, pulsating quality, nausea and photophobia with symptoms aggravated with activity.
  • Migraine with an aura - Consist of an alteration in visual, sensory and/or speech that develop gradually but last less than an hour. People often feel the “aura” coming on before the other symptoms of the migraine present. Migraine headaches are complex entities take a little more refinement. Migraines can be caused

Step 2: Determine the cause of the headache - This is a short list of potential causes.

#1. Dehydration – Is a MAJOR cause of headaches and is fairly easy to avoid – drink water. But how much should you drink? General rule of thumb to avoid dehydration is to drink “half your body weight in oz” of water per day. i.e.: a 100lb human should drink 50 oz of water per day. That may or may not be true based on your ability to metabolize water and the quality of water you are drinking. For more explanation about how dehydration can cause a headache, visit the water section on our earlier post about hangovers – “Hair of the Dog”.

#2. Muscle Tension – Obviously, tension associated with headaches involves constriction of muscle and fascia contributes to the pain associated with tension headaches therefore, stretching is a useful weapon in the fight against tension headaches. Its about to get technical, muscle The most common cause of muscle tension headache (MTH) results from inflammatory changes at the site of muscular attachment on the occipital ridge.  In the adult, this occurs most often at the attachment of the Splenius Capitis and Semispinalis Capitis Muscles.  As inflammation develops, irritation of the Greater Occipital Nerve occurs and headache precipitates.

#3. Food sensitivity – Food sensitivities will almost certainly cause a headache, try eliminating grains from your diet and adopting a rotating food schedule to see if it impacts the headaches. If you want to take things a step further, speak with a health care provider about doing a Mediator Release Test (MRT) to help identify foods that may be causing you problems. Here is a short list of foods that have been linked to headaches:

  • All grains except rice, very rarely is rice associated with headaches or allergies.
  • All breads
  • Peanuts, peanut butter - Few issues reported with raw varieties of other nuts and seeds which most likely results from the elevated levels of Aflatoxin (dangerous fungus found in peanuts)
  • Potato chip products
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Bread, crackers, and desserts containing cheese
  • Dried fruits (figs, raisins, dates)
  • Cultured dairy products, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt
  • Chocolate, coffee, tea and colas and wine. – These have particular implications for estrogen.
  • Aspartame and ALL other artificial sweetener

#4. Hormonal fluctuations –Commonly associated with migraine headaches, the hormone most commonly blamed for headaches is estrogen. Estrogen driven headaches can occur in both men and women. (Though is it more common in women, and men that look like “Bitch Tit Bob” – watch fight club if you don’t get the reference.) This may explain why women, especially before and during their menses report a higher incidence of migraine headache. If you suspect a hormonal cause, it would not be a bad idea to talk with your health care professional about testing your hormonal balance. So how do hormonal fluctuations cause headaches? Dr. B.W. Somerville published a study in the early 1970s, showing a direct correlation between migraine headaches in women and a drop in estrogen (in particular estradiol –the primary type of estrogen made by the ovary). Estrogen along with progesterone, beta-endorphin, and serotonin levels, decreases dramatically from the last few days of the menstrual cycle to the first few days of menses resulting in headaches. There are several other common hormone causes for headaches, particularly women: Thyroid hormone, specifically T3, progesterone and DHEA have all been linked to headaches.

#5. Medication side effect – If you are on ANY medications, read the list of side effects. The first step in resolving a problem is identifying it, so start with the most likely culprit and work your way down. To quote one of my mentors who happens to be a brilliant physician “When in doubt, blame the pharmaceutical, it’s the most likely culprit” This does not mean that all pharmaceuticals are bad. There are a number of situations in which pharmaceuticals are needed, but they can also do a lot of damage and must be watched closely.

#6. Poor diet- chemicals: Eating a diet rich in foods that are packaged and/or claim to be “Diet, fat free, sugar free, or reduced in any way”, is most likely to contain a fair amount of chemicals and thus is unfit for human consumption. These foods include but are not limited to: most candy, chewing gums, mints, sodas and ALL “diet foods or diet food services”. They will not aid you in fat loss nor will they contribute positively to your health. Chemicals in processed foods can include aspartame, caffeine monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, sulfites, Tyamine etc each of which can cause a laundry list of issues; headaches are just a pimple on the ass of the elephant here

#7. Magnesium decencies:
Magnesium is on of the four most common nutritional deficiencies and typically presents in the form of muscle cramping or cramp like headaches, muscle twitching, constipation (or dark and hard to pass stool), forms of insomnia and irritability.

#8 People: If you live in the world you will interact with people- some of these people will cause pains in head and other orifices - None of the remedies listed below will help, that is what vacation and training sessions are for.

Step 3: Pick a Remedy: If you have a headache, here is a short list of potential remedies.

  • Drink water
  • Take magnesium – (provided you do not suffer from hypermagneisa) magnesium glucinate, citrate and asparate can relieve symptoms. A magnesium supplement that includes several forms of magnesium would be best.
  • Remove grains, dairy and processed food from your diet.
  • Stretch your head, neck and shoulders and exercise regularly. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on stretching)
  • Consult with an acupuncturist – acupuncture in credibly successful in resolving headaches.
  • Use an herbal remedy.

Herbal Remedies for headaches:
The type of herbal remedy used to treat a headache depends on the type of headache that presents. There are probably hundreds herbal formulas that can be used to treat a headache, often addressing your personal “constitution” or “make-up” and trying to restore balance. For this type of treatment I would recommend speaking with a licensed herbalist to design an herbal formula specifically for you. That being said, here is a quick list of herbal remedies that may help your headache. 

Cluster & Tension headaches:
One-Sided Headache, Occipital headache, Headache behind the eyes, or Pain at the Vertex (top of the head) often described in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as Liver & Gall Bladder Heat Rising)
Useful Herbal Formulas: Tian Ma Gou Teng Wan and Xiao Yao Wan

Frontal or Occipital Headaches: Often described as Sinus or rhinitis headaches.
Useful herbal formulas: Bi Yan Wan

Headache Behind the Eyes:
Useful herbal formulas: Ming Mu Di Huang Wan

Whole head headache & headache following menstrual period:
Useful herbal formulas: Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

The statements in the blog are intended to be educational in nature and create awareness for potential causes and solutions to a headache. If you have persistent headaches, it is always best to meet with a qualified health care professional and discuss treatment options.