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Breast Cancer: How To Reduce Your Risk | Fact Sheet from PCRM

A healthy diet and lifestyle can lower your risk of getting breast cancer.

These four simple tips can boost your health in other ways, too!

Choose Plant-Based Foods

Healthy foods from plants (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans) can lower your breast cancer risk in several ways. They are often low in calories and high in fiber. This helps you feel full and lose weight if needed.

High-fiber, low-fat diets can also help reduce estrogen levels. Lower estrogen levels can lower your risk of breast cancer. A recent study showed that eating less fat and more fruits, vegetables, and grains could help protect breast cancer survivors, too. Packed with nutrition, plant-based diets can also reduce the risk of other diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. For the best nutrition, eat a variety of plant foods each day. Be sure to include a good source of vitamin B12, too, such as a supplement. Keep salt intake low, but when you do use salt, choose the iodized kind.

Fill up on veggies.
Not only are they healthy, but some have cancer-fighting nutrients. Try adding broccoli, collard greens, or cabbage to meals.

Eat more soy.
Tofu, soy milk, and edamame may help protect against breast cancer. Studies show that women who eat more soy have a lower risk of breast cancer. Soy foods may help protect women who’ve already had breast cancer, too.

Avoid processed meats.
Hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunch meats have been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Swap in healthy plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, or nuts instead.

Download the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Fact Sheet, Breast Cancer: How To Reduce Your Risk, to read the remaining 3 tips! Feel free to download and share this free resource.


The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, headquartered in Washington, DC. Our efforts are dramatically changing the way doctors treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. By putting prevention over pills, doctors are empowering their patients to take control of their own health.

Fact sheet shared with permission from PCRM. Click here to view other PCRM Fact Sheets.

omega3-sources

Want to live longer? Watch your omega-3 levels

A recent study spanning 11 years and more than 2,000 participants yielded a startling finding: When comparing omega-3 index to conventional cardiovascular risk factors in older adults, it showed that having a low blood omega-3 index was as strong a predictor of mortality as smoking.1

The average age of the participants at the beginning of the study was 65, when their blood fatty acids were measured, and they were followed for 11 years. There were 2240 participants and 384 deaths over that time.

Comparing omega-3s and smoking

Omega-3 index is a measurement of DHA and EPA as a percentage of the total fatty acids in red blood cell membranes.  The average omega-3 index in the study was 5.8%, the lowest fifth had omega-3 index less than 4.2%, and the highest fifth had levels greater than 6.8%.

Using mathematical modeling, the researchers estimated that participants who were in the highest fifth of omega-3 index at age 65 gained 4.74 years of life compared to those in the lowest fifth. This was similar to the difference between smokers and non-smokers at age 65; smokers lost 4.73 years of life, according to the model.

Over the 11-year follow-up, of participants in both of the low-risk categories – non-smokers who had a high omega-3 index – 85% survived. This is compared to only 47% of those in the high-risk categories – smokers with a low omega-3 index.1 The loss of life years was similar in low-omega-3 + non-smoking and high-omega-3 + smoking.

More evidence connecting omega-3 levels with longevity 

This research comes a few months after a meta-analysis of 17 prospective cohort studies that linked higher circulating omega-3 fatty acid levels to longevity. In a pooled analysis of the studies, participants in the highest fifth of combined blood DHA and EPA were 15-18% less likely to die from any cause over the follow-up period (median follow-up time was 16 years in these studies). Higher blood omega-3s were also associated with reduced risk for death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.2

The importance of DHA and EPA

DHA and EPA are important structural and functional components of brain and retinal cell membranes. They also have triglyceride-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet, and anti-hypertensive properties, plus beneficial effects on cell membranes that may also contribute to better health and a longer life.2

Previous studies have linked low omega-3 index (below approximately 5%) with increased risk of cognitive decline in older adults.3,4  All the above studies corroborate the prior studies linking low omega index to brain shrinkage and cognitive impairment, and they reinforce how critical it is to properly address this issue.

The bottom line

DHA and EPA supplementation is important for anyone who doesn’t eat fatty fish frequently. Omega-3 index is low in vegans – approximately 4% when measured in studies, and the research suggests that adding ALA from flax seeds and walnuts does not significantly raise omega-3 index in most people. Most of the ALA in our diet is burned for energy, not converted to EPA and DHA. Consuming pre-formed DHA and EPA is the most reliable way to increase omega-3 levels in the blood.5-8 I recommend checking the omega-3 index with a blood test and assuring DHA and EPA adequacy using an algae-based supplement (refrigerated if possible) to avoid the pollutants, microplastics, and animal protein in fatty fish, and as a more sustainable option than fish oil.

Originally printed on drfuhrman.com. Reprinted with permission.


Joel Fuhrman, MD is a board-certified family physician specializing in nutritional medicine. He is President of the Nutritional Research Foundation and the author of 7 New York Times bestselling books, including his most recent book, “Eat to Live”. Visit his website, DrFuhrman.com.

👉👉Get $10 off $150 or more on Dr. Fuhrman’s website. Use coupon LS10OFF150.


REFERENCES

  1. McBurney MI, Tintle NL, Vasan RS, et al. Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict risk of all-cause mortality: the Framingham Offspring Cohort. Am J Clin Nutr 2021.
  2. Harris WS, Tintle NL, Imamura F, et al. Blood n-3 fatty acid levels and total and cause-specific mortality from 17 prospective studies. Nature Communications 2021, 12:2329.
  3. Coley N, Raman R, Donohue MC, et al. Defining the Optimal Target Population for Trials of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation Using the Erythrocyte Omega-3 Index: A Step Towards Personalized Prevention of Cognitive Decline? J Nutr Health Aging 2018, 22:982-998.
  4. Lukaschek K, von Schacky C, Kruse J, Ladwig KH. Cognitive Impairment Is Associated with a Low Omega-3 Index in the Elderly: Results from the KORA-Age Study. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2016, 42:236-245.
  5. Craddock JC, Probst YC, Neale EP, Peoples GE. A Cross-Sectional Comparison of the Whole Blood Fatty Acid Profile and Omega-3 Index of Male Vegan and Omnivorous Endurance Athletes. J Am Coll Nutr 2021:1-9.
  6. Sarter B, Kelsey KS, Schwartz TA, Harris WS. Blood docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in vegans: Associations with age and gender and effects of an algal-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Clin Nutr 2014.
  7. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals [https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/]
  8. Arterburn LM, Hall EB, Oken H. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n-3 fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 2006, 83:1467S-1476S.
BCAA-amino-acides

Branched Chain Amino Acids: Protein’s Helper

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are an essential nutrient in our body that consists of the chain of chemicals obtained from protein. We have 20 different amino acids in our body, 8 of which are considered essential, and 3 are the branch chain aminos that BCAAs are composed of. This chemical chain includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine. We get this protein source from our food, particularly meat, dairy, and legumes. They stimulate protein’s role of building muscle. They also help prevent muscle breakdown.  

BCAA’s are a popular fitness supplement. For athletes or even the common gym-goer, these chemicals can improve performance by preventing fatigue, improving concentration, and reducing muscle breakdown. They have been shown to improve muscle soreness post-exercise. They can help reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which typically occurs within the initial 24 to 72 hours post-workout. Leucine aids in the muscle-making process. BCAAs have been shown to increase protein synthesis by up to 22%. Many protein powders contain branched chain amino acids, but they can also be found as a supplement all their own. Most protein powders have about 5 grams of BCAAs per 25 grams of protein.  

They are also used medicinally. They are given to people with liver disease. They help the brain translate messages and impede upon faulty signaling related to liver disease, anorexia, mania, and tardive dyskinesia (involuntary repetitive body movements). When cirrhosis occurs in the liver, the brain does not signal correctly to help remove waste products and toxins from the blood. BCAA’s improve appetite to help people with these diseases to have better nutrition.  

Bodybuilders like to take BCAAs as a result of the dieting process leading up to a competition. Dieting is part of stage preparation to look your best, but in this process, the body is at a caloric deficit to get the lean, cut look. However, the competitor doesn’t want to lose muscle mass. BCAAs work their magic with protein synthesis trying to build new muscle while fighting the deficit and then work to decrease breakdown.  

The best food sources that contain BCAAs are meat and dairy:

  • Beef: 100 grams = 6.8 grams BCAAs 
  • Chicken: 100 grams = 5.8 grams BCAAs 
  • Whey protein powder: 1 scoop = 5.5 grams BCAAs 
  • Soy protein powder: 1 scoop = 5.5 grams BCAAs 
  • Canned tuna: 100 grams = 5.2 grams BCAAs 
  • Salmon: 100 grams = 4.9 grams BCAAs 
  • Turkey: 100 grams = 4.6 grams BCAAs 
  • Eggs: 2 = 3.28 grams BCAAs 
  • 1% milk: 1 cup = 2.2 grams BCAAs 
  • Greek yogurt: ½ cup = 2 grams 

Food is always the best source of nutrition. Add supplementation when your body needs extra support. BCAAs are essential in our body. Anything essential needs to be had, so make sure you get the right amount of amino acids to help meet your body’s needs.  

Join Megan for her webinar on this topic, Supplements: The Physiology Behind Trying to “Out Supplement” Nutrition

 


Megan Johnson McCullough, owner of Every BODY’s Fit in Oceanside CA, is a NASM Master Trainer, AFAA group exercise instructor, and specializes in Fitness Nutrition, Weight Management, Senior Fitness, Corrective Exercise, and Drug and Alcohol Recovery. She’s also a Wellness Coach, holds an M.A. Physical Education & Health, and is a current doctoral candidate in Health and Human Performance. She is a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, and published author.

References

 

Creatine

Creatine: The athlete’s supplement of choice can boost anyone’s fitness plan and health goals

Long trusted by athletes and bodybuilders to help improve athletic performance, the muscle strength supplement creatine remains either unknown or shrouded in myth among the wider population.  But increasingly creatine is being recognized by the medical community for the benefits it can bring beyond just athletic performance.  From assisting in injury recovery to helping reduce the risk of falls in the elderly, creatine is a natural, safe, and effective tool all of us can use…

Gut Health Kathryn Parker

Stress and Gut Health: 5 Tips for a Happier Gut and Calmer Life

The human gut is an amazing entity. It’s home to a vast network of nerves, neural transmitters and thousands of different microflora that keep our bodies up and running. It’s so complex that scientists sometimes call it “the second brain”. It’s no surprise that stress and gut health are closely connected. Your gut can influence your moods just as much as your brain, too. Scientists are still learning how this incredibly complex system works, and there are still many things that we don’t know. We do know, however, that because the brain and gut interplay with each other, changes in one can affect the other.

High levels of stress in your body can inhibit digestion, lower your immune system and even lead to the breakdown of your intestinal lining. This can cause short term problems like diarrhea, heartburn, gas and stomach pains, or lead to more severe problems later on, like leaky gut syndrome or IBS. That’s why it’s essential to keep your stress levels under control if you want to improve your gut health.

Here’s what you need to know about the brain-gut connection, along with our best tips for keeping your stress levels low and your gut bacteria content.

The Brain-Gut Connection: How stress affects the digestive system

We’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding the complex relationship of how the brain and the gut communicate to affect our moods. But here’s what we do know. Our digestive tract is home to thousands of different species of microbes all working together. This complex system works to break down the nutrients in our food, keep our immune system strong and produce hormones that keep our bodies operational. And what you put into your gut can directly affect how you feel.

Serotonin, the happiness hormone, is actually produced in the gut. It’s created by breaking down the essential amino acid tryptophan and is sent to your brain via the vagus nerve. Tryptophan is found in many whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and seeds. It’s one of many ways that a healthy diet can help you stay happy.

But there’s another hormone your body produces that doesn’t always make you feel good: cortisol. When your body experiences stress or discomfort, your brain triggers the adrenal gland to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Excess levels of cortisol have been linked to everything from weight gain and gastrointestinal problems to a suppressed immune system and cardiovascular diseases.

We can’t always control the things that stress us out, but we can take control of how we react to those stresses. Adopting healthy habits can help lower your cortisol levels naturally, helping you heal both your brain and your gut.

5 Tips to Strengthen your Brain-Gut Connection

1. Eat whole foods

The number one thing you can do to keep your gut thriving is to eat a diet filled with whole foods. The highly-processed foods that make up the majority of our western diet lack the necessary nutrients and fiber our gut microbes need to stay healthy.

This can lead to them dying off in mass quantities, which weakens your immune system and leaves you susceptible to disease. Whole, unrefined foods like fruits and vegetables are the perfect fuel for your gut’s vast network of microflora. Their rich quantities of fiber promote proper digestion to keep your gut working properly, and a happy gut usually leads to a happy mind. It’s also important to understand the difference between good and bad sugars.

2. Stop stress-eating

When we’re feeling stressed, the first thing most of us do is reach for our favorite candy or snack food to fill the void. It’s called stress-eating, and it’s a common coping mechanism for the chaos in our modern world. But although that burst of satisfaction feels good in the moment, eating sweets can exacerbate your stress-induced stomach issues in the long-term.

Foods high in refined sugar and unhealthy fats increase inflammation in the body. This sends your stress levels even higher and only worsens the problem you’re trying to cure. While there is something to be said for finding comfort in your favorite foods, stress-eating usually means you aren’t taking the time to properly enjoy your food. There’s a big difference between eating one cookie as a treat versus five because you’re eating your feelings.

The next time you find yourself craving a brownie after a stressful conversation, remember that eating sugar will only stress your belly even further. Save your indulgences for times when you can actually enjoy them instead.

3. Meditate

The brain and the gut are so intricately connected that calming the brain also can calm the gut. Practicing mindfulness meditation can lower levels of cortisol in the body. These lowered stress levels can lead to improved digestion, which keeps your gut in good shape.

Taking the time to clear your mind of life’s worries can also help you be more calm and understanding in your daily life. Mindfulness meditation practices have even been proven to help with depression and anxiety, which can exacerbate other health conditions. Try meditating for just a few minutes a day and see if you feel any improvements to your nervous stomach. Here is more on meditation to get you started.

4. Exercise

Working up a sweat is also an excellent way to deal with stress. In addition to obvious benefits like weight-loss and stronger muscles, exercise triggers the release of serotonin, which can lower stress levels. Even a 20-minute stroll outside can do the trick to get the serotonin flowing. Just be careful to pace yourself, and be sure not to overdo it.

5. Get more sleep

Sleep is the essential time period when our bodies take time to recharge every day. Getting a good night’s rest can improve your cognitive performance and help fight off Alzheimer’s disease. Getting adequate rest is also important for lowering stress levels, and you can improve the quality of your sleep by improving your diet.

Eating foods high in tryptophan helps your gut produce serotonin and also leads to the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Higher levels of melatonin can dramatically improve the quality of your rest, which can work to lower stress in your body. If you want to get a better night’s sleep, try eating more fruits and vegetables during the day.

The Bottom Line

Stress and gut health are closely linked. Eating healthy whole foods is one of the best things you can do to reduce your stress levels and stomach issues. Treats may be enjoyed in moderation, but not to fill an emotional void or coping mechanism for stress.


Originally printed on Aviv Clinics blog. Reprinted with permission.

Kathryn Parker is the Registered Dietitian for Aviv Clinics, located in Central Florida. Her work as a dietitian has helped many over her extensive career including college and Olympic athletes, city employees, one of the largest worldwide entertainment company’s staff members and diabetics in an academic health center. In her effort to make America healthier, Kathryn has instituted wellness programs for large organizations as well as counseling clients one-on-one. Most notably, Kathryn developed the LifeQuest fitness program for the city of Gainesville, wining the city a platinum Well Workplace award from the Wellness Council of America, an honor shared by only nine employers nationwide.


References

Aronson, D. (2009). Cortisol – Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy. Today’s Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml.

Heijnen, S., Hommel, B., Kibele, A., & Colzato, L. S. (2016). Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01890

Miller. (2021, June 14). Meditation and Brain Health: Benefits Backed by Science. Aviv Clinics USA. https://aviv-clinics.com/blog/brain-health/meditation-and-brain-health-benefits-backed-by-science/.

Parker, K. (2021, June 13). How Does Sugar Affect the Brain? Aviv Clinics USA. https://aviv-clinics.com/blog/brain-health/how-does-sugar-affect-the-brain/.

Parker, K. (2021, May 23). The Gut-Brain Connection. Aviv Clinics USA. https://aviv-clinics.com/blog/nutrition/the-gut-brain-connection/.

Rooks, M. G., & Garrett, W. S. (2016). Gut microbiota, metabolites and host immunity. Nature Reviews Immunology, 16(6), 341–352. https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.42

Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C., & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013). Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet thangphaet96 Suppl 1, S90–S95.

corn-chili-feature

The Naturopathic Chef: Summer Corn Chowder with Hatch Chilies

Even when it’s hot outside, a delicious bowl of sweet corn chowder is a perfect complement to your BBQ favorites. This soup can be adapted to so many culinary styles and flavors. I have used a slightly thicker version as a bed for grilled halibut and Peach Salsa. Oh, Yeah! We’re really into summer flavors, now. Kick it up two notches by grilling your corn on the cob, first.

Grapes

Activating The Ageless Algorithm: Food

One step in activating the Ageless Algorithm is to eat and supplement intentionally. Supplements should be regarded as augmentations and not dependencies.

There is a plant for every ailment and attribute. I have a growing collection of botanical extracts on my shelf. For maximum benefit, shelve any illogical skepticism about the fruits of spaceship Earth.

The overall shift to noninvasive medicine and healthcare that gets back to nature will support longevity and immortality very directly through vital nutrients.

Consider the immortal Hippocrates quotation “let thy food be thy medicine” with the photo of the grapes above. Grape skin contains Reservatrol, a substance linked to numerous benefits including brain health. Although it is found concentrated in supplement form, the benefit and easy (tasty) access of whole foods, in general, is clear.

Another compound identified in connection with longevity is NAD+ or Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, associated with adult stem cell production. That too comes in supplement form, yet it is also available in foods like fish and mushrooms.

[Aside] And by the way: “Research into adult stem cells has been fueled by their abilities to divide or self-renew indefinitely and generate all the cell types of the organ from which they originate — potentially regenerating the entire organ from a few cells.” — Science Daily. This is kind of funny to extract what we already have inside of us and put it back in, which implies that perhaps what we also need is a new level of awareness.

In another article, Examining Biological Immortality in Nature, I identified the disaccharide sweetener Trehalose as possibly beneficial, given its production by some plants and animals as a protective crystallization against the elements or in a period of dormancy.

Deliberate choice of intake, rich in vitamins and minerals, enhances bodily processes and therefore quality of life.

In support of the adage “you are what you eat,” having as many live foods with active enzymes as possible is the way to go. You may already have many beneficial ingredients on hand, like turmeric (curcumin) or apples and onions (quercetin). This is naming just a few of millions.

Knowing and learning the usefulness and value of plants makes them even more effective. Such is the power of intention plus understanding.


Sarah Ikerd is a USA Weightlifting Level 2 Coach and Technical Official, as well as a business owner and artist who resides in Boston, MA. Visit her website, studio-shangri-la.com

diabetes-exercise-feature

How Exercise May Be the Only Way to Curb the Diabetes Epidemic

The incidence rate of type 2 diabetes has been increasing in the United States for the past 40 years.  In fact, the American Diabetes Association estimates that at least half of all US adults (over 65 million people) have pre-diabetes or full-blown diabetes.  It is often underreported on death certificates, and is probably the third leading cause of premature death in the US.

So why is there such an increase in diabetes in this country?  The biggest reason is diet.

From a young age, children are eating processed food. When they enter school – lunchrooms in many school districts are sponsored with food from McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Coca Cola.  In college – most dorm food is also like fast food, and they can eat as much as they want. That and their foray into alcohol, and we have the beginnings of obesity, insulin resistance, and pancreatic damage. The very concept of type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult diabetes”.  Since many teenagers are now diagnosed, it’s now time to change the name.

One would say that if diabetes is a disease of the foods that you eat, then simply change the foods you eat. Not that simple. Once you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you become a ward of the medical system. Doctors will perform a lot of tests, take blood, and prescribe both insulin and drugs to mimic the glucose-lowering effects of the body, and many spend a minimal amount of time counseling on the right type of diet for your needs.

There are, in fact, many good diets to lower blood sugar, like the well-known Keto diet, which emphasizes higher fats and low carbohydrates. This is something that doctors have been prescribing in one form or another since the Atkins diet in the 1960s. What about vegetarian and vegan diets?  If you ask Dr. John McDougall, one of the nation’s leading plant-based doctors, he would advocate that a diet higher in plant-based carbohydrates is better for the body than high amounts of meat and cooking oils.

Both may have a point, but if you look at the food choices that most Americans have, they walk into a grocery store, and if they’re not savvy enough to shop on the outside isles (fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses), they are trapped in an endless cycle of boxed cereals, candy bars, frozen foods, soft drinks and alcohol. It is almost impossible to go to a store and not pick up about 50-75% of food from a box, bucket or bottle.  Many still haven’t put two and two together — that the foods they eat now will have an effect on their physiology and medical status in 5-20 years.

So what’s missing? I have been in an interesting position of working in diabetes research in the 1980s, and watching from the sidelines the work, research, and policy in this area of medical care for the past 30 years. Here are my thoughts.  

First, although exercise is touted as part of the trilogy of treatment for diabetes (along with diet and insulin), it is the first to be discarded for another type of treatment that is expedient and profitable.  

Second, there are little, if any, referrals to the health club sector in order to work on basic exercise programs for persons with diabetes. Even moderate types of programming will results in dramatic drops in body weight (and fat), daily blood sugars, and A1c levels. It simply is not being done. Many in allied health scream that personal trainers and fitness instructors are not qualified to teach exercise programs for diabetes. With the advent of medical fitness over the past 20 years, this simply isn’t the case today. I would think that having a mechanism to get patients into health clubs through their health plan, or Medicare, or a revolving door policy with their physician group, would be an outstanding way to get more patients into the exercise routine.  

Third, people who work in the fitness industry should be looking very carefully in getting diabetic persons into their facilities in their communities. This takes an effort with health club trainers, club managers and company owners to reach out to the medical community through health programs, lectures, fairs and membership discounts in order to get patients in the door.  It may even entail home exercise visits, or online coaching where patients are taught programs, and keep their exercise routines times and exercise notes. 

Lastly, the fitness industry needs to move into the technology realm and look at the effects of exercise on patients both over 3-4 weeks, but also 3-4 years. This will be done through outcomes-based software programs that can be detailed to physicians, health plans, and sports medicine journals. Once the majority of medical fitness centers and health clubs are on board, we will see a changing of the guard in terms of what Americans think is the best type of treatment program to reduce diabetes symptoms, and look at the data of how people exercise, and how many of their health risks are being reduced by a challenging and consistent exercise program. This can be done at any age, and at almost every state of diabetes — whether they are newly diagnosed, or have basic complications that they are dealing with regarding long-standing diabetes. 

It is time to embrace exercise as part of a diabetes prevention and reduction strategy.  If not, in 20 years we will probably see the epidemic at such a high level, that a good portion of Americans will not be able to work due to their complications.  The costs to society will be even higher than they are now. It’s a risk we don’t need to take, because of the untapped market of over 31,000 health clubs in the US, there is virtually no reason not to engage in exercise. It would seem that our nation’s health depends on our next steps – literally. 


Eric Durak is President of MedHealthFit – a health care education and consulting company in Santa Barbara, CA. A 25 year veteran of the health and fitness industry, he has worked in health clubs, medical research, continuing education, and business development. Among his programs include The Cancer Fit-CARE Program, Exercise Medicine, The Insurance Reimbursement Guide, and Wellness @ Home Series for home care wellness.

supplements-vitamins

Sports Supplements & Performance

In their effort to enhance energy and optimize performance, many athletes purchase vitamins, herbs, amino acids, and other sports supplements that are reputed to offer a competitive advantage. While a few supplements (beta-alanine, creatine, caffeine, nitrates) might play a small role when added to a well-thought-out fueling plan, no amount of supplements will compensate for a lousy diet. 

Fundamental to every high-performance athlete is an effective sports diet. All athletes should be taught from an early age how to optimize their performance using the food-first approach, so they know how to best fuel-up, fuel during, and refuel after challenging exercise sessions. Once an athlete has finished growing and maturing and has fine-tuned his or her fitness and performance skills, some sports supplements might be appropriately introduced with guidance from a knowledgeable professional.

That said, to the detriment of their wallets, many athletic people look for a glimmer of hope from the multi-billion-dollar supplement industry. Consulting with a registered dietitian (RD) who is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD) could easily be a better use of money.

Supplements are popular

A survey of Division-1 college students (89 females, 49 males) at Arizona State Univ. indicated 77% consumed at least one “claimed to be” ergogenic aid (1). Another survey of US Army personnel reports 75% used some type of dietary supplement at least once a week. Protein/amino acids were the most popular, taken by 52% of subjects (2).

Why are so many athletes willing to spend (or is that waste?) a great deal of money to buy sports supplements? The glimmer-of-hope reasons include: to improve physical appearance or physique, increase muscle mass, optimize general health, and help meet physical demands on their bodies. Unfortunately, most supplements don’t work. Before you spend your money, please educate yourself about each supplement you plan to buy.

Where to learn more

For information about (supposedly) performance-enhancing supplements, the US Dept. of Defense website Operation Supplement Safety (www.opss.org) offers abundant information for anyone who is curious to learn more.  The website includes:

  • a list of at least 28 unsafe sports supplements to avoid.
  • a list of questions to help determine if a supplement is safe. (Does the label have a “certified safe” seal from Informed Sport or NSF? Is the label free of the words blend, matrix, proprietary, or complex? Does it make questionable claims?)
  • an A-Z index with info about specific supplements, with all you need to know about Adderall, apple cider vinegar, caffeine, creatine, energy drinks, ephedra, ketone supplements, nitric oxide, omega-3 fats, pre-workouts, pro-hormones, proprietary blends, plus many more.
  • information on unusual reactions and adverse effects (nausea, headaches, shakiness, elevated heat rate, mood change, etc.) and how to report an adverse event to the FDA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Another helpful source of information is the Australian Institute for Sport’s ABCD Classification System (www.ais.gov.au/nutrition/supplements). The system ranks sports foods & supplements into 4 groups according to scientific evidence and practical considerations that determine whether a product is safe and if it effectively improves sports performance. 

  • Group A includes specialized products with strong evidence for benefits in specific events, including sports drinks, gels, iron, caffeine, beta-alanine, bicarbonate, beet root/nitrate, and creatine, among others.
  • Group B deserves further research. It includes food compounds with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (i.e., tart cherry juice, curcumin), vitamin C, and collagen, to name just a few.
  • Group C lacks scientific evidence to support use. These include (and are not limited to) magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, HMB, BCAAs, leucine, vitamin E–plus more.
  • Group D includes products with a high risk of leading to a positive doping test: ephedrine, DMAA, herbal stimulants, pro-hormones, hormone boosters (such as DHEA, androstenedione, Tribulus terrestris), and others.

What supplements do “work”? 

Sports supplements that do “work” actually improve performance by just a small (but potentially valuable) amount (3), despite carefully crafted advertisements that can lead you to believe otherwise. Case in point, the popular branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs), specifically the BCAA leucine, which is known to activate the muscle-building process. Unfortunately, simply activating the process is not enough to promote muscle growth. 

BCAA research indicates they do not provide any benefits above and beyond the amino acids athletes normally consume when eating protein-rich food at meals and snacks. To see any meaningful muscle-building effect, you actually need to have many other amino acids present (as happens when you eat real food, as opposed to an isolated amino acid), as well as enough calories—and of course, a good strength training program plus adequate sleep. 

Varied responses

Even among supplements that “work,” the response varies greatly from person to person. Case in point, beta-alanine, a supplement used by athletes such as sprinters, rowers, and wrestlers to reduce muscular fatigue and improve endurance during high-intensity exercise that lasts for 1 to 4 minutes. The varied responses can be related to not only genetics and biological factors, but also to the power of the mind, the placebo effect, adequate fuel, and enough sleep. Hence, when a supplement does “work” for some athletes, the response may be due not to the supplement—but rather to the athletes getting serious about taking better care of their bodies, eating wisely and getting enough sleep (4). 

Enhancing sports performance may not need rocket science, after all?


Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875). Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and her online workshop can help you eat a winning sports diet. Visit NancyClarkRD.com for more information.

 

References

  1. Vento KA and FC Wardenaar. Third-party testing nutritional supplement knowledge, attitudes, and use among an NCAA I collegiate student-athlete population. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. Sept 2020. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2020.00115 
  2. Bukhari A, A DiChiara, E Merrill, et al. Dietary supplement use in US Army personnel: A mixed-methods, survey and focus-group study examining decision making and factors associated with use.  J Acad Nutr Diet 2021; 121(6):1049-1063
  3. Maughan, R, L Burke, J Dvorak et al. IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete. Int’l J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab 2018, 28:104-125
  4. Esteves G, P Swinton, C Dale, et al. Individual participant date meta-analysis provides no evidence of intervention response variation in individuals supplementing with beat-alanine. In’tl J Sp Nutr Exerc Metab 2021; 31(4):305-313