Thursday, 30 October 2008

Sugar & Cancer

I stumbled across a rather interesting article on the Irish Times website that you can read here. Sugar and sugar variants are seemingly reliable indicators of cancer:

"Cancer cells also use sugars to hide from the body's immune system so that they can travel from the primary site to seed new cancers in other organs, a process called metastasis. This means that the levels and types of sugars produced can also be used to monitor disease progression and how the patient is responding to therapy"

I wonder if and when the relationship between sugars and the cause of cancer will be drawn? Time to air one of my favourite quotes:

Superior doctors prevent the disease.
Mediocre doctors treat the disease before evident.
Inferior doctors treat the full-blown disease.

— Huang Dee Nai-Chang—(2600 BC 1st Chinese Medical Text)

Monday, 27 October 2008

What Follows Will Change Your Workout: After the Rhino Test

My previous post seems to have been well received. I hoped it would highlight certain qualities that I felt were important to a quality workout, and give a vivid handle on what you should and should not be doing to 'leverage' your body's evolutionary capacity to respond to activity. So, having given you 'The Rhino Test', I figured I would expand on some of my other thoughts on exercise.

Metrics
First a little digression. One of the first points I would like to raise is that of metrics. One thing that most of us are guilty of is trying to apply detailed measure to our workouts. This is fine, to a point. We need to 'see how far we have come' on a particular program. Unfortunately we can get too wrapped up in reps, sets and weights without seeing the bigger picture.

Think back to the Rhino Test and tell me how you would quantify such an activity? You couldn't. Even if you applied measures to one rhino hunt, would they apply to the next one? Yet despite this lack of metrics, I am sure we would both agree that anyone tackling coelodonta antiquitatis would exhibit excellent physical markers of health and would not be lacking in athleticism!

I am not saying that metrics have no place, I just feel that we should not get too hung up on them. In particular, if you feel during a workout that it just is not 'happening' for you, then either sack it completely, or on occasion, simply throw the metrics out the window and go with the flow. Try to 'feel' you way through the workout rather than chasing numbers.

One way to 'feel' your way through a workout is to invoke an element of 'play'.

The Importance of Play
I look at my kids playing and they give me loads of ideas for what exercises I should be doing. Captain Kid (CK), is my chief inspiration (as Flash has only just mastered walking - so her repertoire is currently limited).

Given any open space - either the living room or a field, CK will gladly demonstrate short bursts of sprinting, quick changes of pace and direction, jumping, rolling, tumbling, climbing, back bridges, hopping, handstands (although my handstands are better than hers ;) - at the moment!), and various throwing activities of sticks and stones (particularly near water).

If you were to list the range of exercises you perform in a typical session, would it come anywhere close to CK's list in terms of variety? I know that in my days as a gym rat, my routine wouldn't compare! More importantly, I would say that CK's 'routine' would satisfy the Rhino Test! Not bad for a four year old with no formal knowledge of training.

It is this 'instinctive' play that I find so appealing. Think about those nature programs you see on TV. All the mammals (particularly apex predators), develop their skills and abilities through play. Even your domestic cat and dog will hone hunting instincts in the safety of your house, before tackling mice/postmen.

Play and Intensity
There is tendency to train 'hard' every session. At times it is very difficult to avoid this mentality. I normally train about six times a week. This comprises of two martial arts lessons (that can be physically easy and more skill based, or, intense sparring sessions with heavy pad work), and four mini workouts of about 30 minutes. Two of the mini-workouts are gymnastic-based involving body weight exercises (and the odd dumbell), and two are more climbing oriented.

My broad approach is to have a 'hard day' followed by one or more easy days. The easy day will involve light training or complete rest. I do two or three 'hard days' in a week. I might do a hard gymnastic workout at lunch and follow it with a hard climbing session in the evening. Sometimes these sessions are a day apart. I allow my sessions to 'drift' through the week and alter intensity accordingly.

When I approach a light session, be it during a martial arts, climbing or gymnastic session, I choose to mentally embrace that workout as a session of 'play' as this seems to put a natural brake on my inner gym-rat.

For example, with the gymnastics, I will replace a more 'rigid' exercise like pistols, with something more fun such as hopping over a small obstruction. Alternatively, sprinting might be replaced with a game of 'tag' with the kids. The idea is to substitute some of the exercises for more 'fun' options.

Play and Exercise Selection
This is one of the more revolutionary changes that I have adopted! Given the role of play amongst wildlife in developing primal skills, I believe that you should be able to describe all of the exercises you perform in terms of play. This I will call The Play Test.

When you think about this, it is a natural (and hopefully right), conclusion to make. I mean why wouldn't our inclination to play reflect those skills we require later in life?

Moving my exercise to the outdoors and emphasising climbing, combat and gymnastics was an express route to the 'play' approach. Kids instinctively climb, they play-fight and perform gymnastic activities, relying heavily on body weight (handstands, rolls, back bridges etc....all those things you'll witness as a parent).

I have noted amongst some gym-rats a reluctance to go down the route of body weight routines (BWRs). It is irrelevant whether I think BWRs are better than training with iron, but the thing to remember is that it is all 'resistance' and with gymnastic body weight exercises there is always a harder variation to master!

the 'play test' means that what is 'out' are curls, pec-dec flyes, tricep extensions, lying leg curls (although I do use a heel-hook' when climbing), and other exercises which lack wider utility.

If you want big guns, try pull ups (especially as part of a tree climbing activity). You want big triceps? Well, as a kid I would climb the local football/soccer goal. I would traverse out along the 'cross bar' hanging by my arms and then perform a 'muscle-up' and try to stand up on the crossbar. Muscle ups REALLY work the triceps!

You get the idea. 'Play' builds utility and function.

Play and Skill
Play has a greater emphasis on skill than strength and fitness. The latter follows on from skill as you push your performance. Not all performances have to be 'maximal'!

Again, with gymnastics in particular, there are always harder variations to master and so you can always push your abilities. Conversely you can base a light session on easier variations of an exercise.

Conclusion
So there you go. These are my thoughts on exercise. What you have just read in the last two posts is my framework for how I train currently. I will flesh out the bones in subsequent posts.

A final thought I'd like to leave you with is that 'play' is almost exclusively a body weight activity. I don't think we should limit ourselves to training ONLY with our own body weight, but we should certainly EMPHASISE it. My reason for thinking this way is neatly expressed by Steven Johnson in Emergence,

  • "the essential characteristic of all organic growth - [is] to maintain diversity and balance, the organism must not exceed the norm of its species. Any ecological association eventually reaches the 'climax' stage,' beyond which growth without deterioration is not possible."

Now go play!

What Follows Will Change Your Workout

"What Follows Will Change Your Workout". How about that for title? It might sound a tad arrogant, but for most of the people out there, I think this post will give you significant food for thought.

Paleo Food
We can see from cave paintings and bone remnants that paleo dude hunted down game.....BIG game.
The problems of a diet based upon high levels of protein and the constraints of carbohydrate availability - particularly during the winter period and even during cooler periods in the earth's history where the vegetation would have been characteristically slow growing, difficult to harvest and largely indigestible to humans, are circumvented by adaption to the hunting of big game.

Big game offers copious amounts of fatty meat and additional materials (skin, fur and bone) from which to make tools and garments. Big game offer optimal utility in a marginal environment. Big game was a staple of our early diet.

Big Game
You often read about 'big game' and ancient hunter gatherers. I have visited several museums with flint tools and skeleton of these mighty beasts. Images of early man tackling mammoth and other giants of the planet abound. This is the reason for my post!

Woolly Rhinoceros
The Woolly Rhinoceros was just under 4m in length, around 2m in height, with a one meter horn on its nose. These bad-boys weighed in at 3 tonnes and were powerfully built. I cannot find a information on the speed that they could attain, but modern rhino can reach around 30mph, and it is not improbable that the Woolly Rhino could reach a similar speed. They existed in herds called a 'crash'.

If you saw one of these beasts you would undoubtedly find it intimidating. Very intimidating. I was at a museum the other day where they had a model of a woolly rhino - and I managed to capture a photograph of it with a man standing beside it - useful for scale purposes. The guy was about 5ft8in tall and is standing directly beneath the animal.

You probably know where I am going with this, but look at that picture for a minute. Now imagine that this was one of your staples - a staple which you HAVE to tackle, simply to eat. Now imagine yourself going out on the hunt, to kill on of these animals......!

The Workout

Given the scenario above and the physical prowess of the woolly rhino, what kind of physical skills do you think you would want to possess prior to going in to battle with one? Obviously you'd want speed and agility to get close to it, but also to keep out of its way. You'd want great strength to throw spears or rocks into it. Your movements would involve multidirectional bursts of speed, changing angles quickly as the 'battle' dictated.

What of the 'crash'? Perhaps you might need to quickly scale rocks or a tree if the wider herd were in pursuit. For sure, you would probably choose not to 'jog' away in a steady state.

Perhaps you would be called upon to rescue an injured comrade?

Even after kill, you might be called on to protect your kill from other scavengers. The meat would have to be quickly butchered and carried back to camp. The load would be heavy.

Modern Gym Rats
Think about your local gym. Can you imagine a bodybuilder or even a power lifter expressing the necessary qualities to engage in those activities above?

More importantly, does YOUR workout?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

God to Protect Pets

I like blogging - it is an excellent vent for ones opinions and views. This blog was set up to cover my paleo leanings - particularly my experiences with paleo diet and exercise.

But, religion seems to be making a 'more than occasional' appearance. I don't mind religion or faith, nor spirituality. People can believe pretty much what they want as long as they do not use it from a position of power on a decision of policy that affects all of us. Such decisions should be informed by science and rationality rather than on belief in the supernatural.

Many of the religious people I have engaged with offer pity at my atheism - as if I am missing out on some kind of love or humanity and an experience in some kind of 'higher magic'. On the contrary, the magic of science is way bigger and more curious than any religious concept (check out Quantum Theory for a start).

The religious opine about the beauty of God's creation, but the beauty of the physical world around us (accessible to us all), is similarly matched by beauty in human endeavours such as mathematics - a field of thought well beyond all religious texts.

And what of Gods' love? Well the love I experience between myself, my family and my friends is a nourishing as anything I could hope to receive from a deity. Secular humanism offers love from a tangible source.

The thing with deism and theism is that once you subscribe to such thoughts, where do you stop? How can you exclude or dismiss the gods of others? What you end up doing is binning your bullshit filter and have to accept all gods and supernatural - no matter how absurd.

One of my personal problems with 'faith' is that I don't know which god or gods to believe in. I suppose as a Westerner I should chose Christianity...but then my problem becomes which version of the Bible to read. The Bible has varied massively in content and interpretation particularly before the onset of mass printing, often under political influence rather than spiritual.

This leads me to today's absurd religious observation. Not content with encouraging motorists to make the sign of the cross before starting a journey (does that lower insurance premiums?), it now appears that you can extend Gods own protection for your pooch. Belive it or not, you can have your pet blessed!

This says so much about how religion reflects human interest - whereas you'd imagine religion would lead humanity, it actually follows our desires. It has a plasticity that allows you to do this - which kind of makes a mockery of it.

Any gap in science (such as the source of the Big Bang), is held up as 'proof of God', anything we care about - such as pets, are eligible for inclusion. The complexity, interconnectedness and interdependence between all species is held up as proof of God's power - when if you think about it, a lack of inter-dependence would be a greater proof of God as you'd be left reasoning, from where could it originate?

Anyway, next time you are out walking and tread in some dog-muck, don't be so quick to blaspheme and resort to coarse language. That muck might just be the deposit of one 'favoured by God'!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Free Book!

I found this free book via Ben Goldacre's book, 'Bad Science' (have you bought it yet?). It is published by the James Lind Library, which has the following noble objective;

  • "The James Lind Library has been created to help people understand fair tests of treatments in health care."
The book offers an excellent primer on medical testing.

Go get!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Facing Fear

An interesting article caught my eye today which you can read here. A UCSB study has found that physical strength and fighting ability is revealed in human faces.

I have a post that is still in gestation which details some of my thoughts on physical activity. It includes the kinds of exercises we should pursue - and combat is one of them. If the paper above is correct and we have evolved mechanisms to determine an opponents ability in combat, you can bet your bottom dollar that some form of combat will be key to our physical well being and so should be a part of our training.

I myself do an hours Lau Gar Kung Fu and Lau Gar Kickboxing a week. The sessions are excellent for general conditioning and follow a classic interval training model with bursts of high intensity work (for up to two minutes), followed by rest. Some session concentrate on skill work and some are more fitness oriented.

Wider Picture
I have no interest in being 'hard', it is the wider implications of combat that interest me. Some of the kicks in particular require excellent balance (spinning kicks for example). Sparring improves reactions time and full body agility - ducking, bobbing and weaving. A key tool for the successful martial artists is speed and explosive power - jumping in to kicks and springing forwards with a jab. You develop all round kinaesthetic awareness.

If fitness is your thing then three one minute rounds on a kick shield (with a minutes rest between rounds), will get your heart working in a similar way as a sprint. The last round will demand real heart.

Variety
One of the real advantages of combat is that outside of skill work where you may follow a particular drill, sparring and pad work has a degree of randomness in that there is only a broad structure to your work. The detail within is ad-hoc and provides the randomness and novelty that should be present in every good workout.

Can you kick it?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Speed of Bite

It now appears that eating quickly can cause obesity! I hate to use car and gas-tank analogies as they can over-simplify the complexity of diet, nutrition, hunger and satiety. But to cut a long story short, that is exactly what your hunger should do. Hunger should act as a simple mechanism to guide your appetite - and given that it evolved over the last two-million years, you'd think it would be bloody good at it.

How does 'eating fast' cause obesity? According to Professor Ian McDonald from Nottingham University,
  • "If you eat quickly you basically fill your stomach before your gastric feedback has a chance to start developing - you can overfill the thing."
Now this may be true, but if you put more fuel in to your car, you can drive further. And this is where the 'eating fast' concept breaks down. It simplifies the problem much further than my gas tank analogy in that it assumes that once the food is inside of you, no further appetite correction can or will occur.

I am sure many of us have 'over filled' our stomach - on Christmas day for example. And at your next meal, did you eat your 'usual amount' or did you actually have less or skip the meal all together? I for one have witnessed my family and myself all 'fasting' between our Christmas dinner (around 1400hrs) and a small late supper (around 2100hrs).

Why do we 'fast' this period? It is because we over-consumed and our bodies were happy for us to go without a top up for longer than usual. Much longer. Are we really to believe that our bodies cannot adjust our appetite in accordance with how much food we have eaten? Has anybody actually had an experience of being able to continually over-eat at every meal time?

You might be able to over-eat at a particular meal (and feel ill because of it), but that does not explain obesity. Obesity is driven by appetite.

Fork Me
Whilst eating fast may lead to a short term weight gain, over a longer term your body still knows if it is maintaining homeostasis and will adjust appetite accordingly....unless you eat grains.....but then you already knew that.

It can be only a matter of time before scientists discover that large plates or bigger spoons are similarly implicated.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Godless Buses are more Dangerous

This story caught my eye recently. Buses are to carry atheistic slogans. On the face of it, this is fine, but it may come with a heavy price.

The Vatican notes that "one of the roots of many problems relating to traffic is spiritual". They go on to comment that "for believers, a solution to these problems may be found in a vision of faith, in the relationship with God, and in a generous option in favour of life, which is also borne out by behaviour that respects the lives of others, and the rules established to protect them, on the road." (You can read the full document here).

Researchers at the Vatican have already correlated a lack of faith and the dangers of travel in a double-blind randomised control trial, noting in conclusion that the repeated unfaithfulness of the Israelites to the Covenant "lead to a far more distressing journey".

Such distress can be avoided by all of us by no forgetting "the importance of the sign of the cross, [which is] to be made before setting out on a journey."

Now this may sound absurd to some but "with this sign we put ourselves directly under the protection of the Holy Trinity."

Science at its best. God bless 'em.

Repent.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Bad Science


Don't interpret anything I put on this blog as advice. No siree. I will not tell you what to do or how to do it. It is a collection of my own personal experiences and view on life, the universe and everything. No matter what I write or how I write it, it is NOT advice. If you seek to follow any of it then I am happy to answer any questions but really, the choice is yours. That is until now. There will now follow some advice - and let me state this as clearly as I can:

You MUST buy 'Bad Science' by Ben Goldacre. In case you are in any doubt about this advice I will repeat it. You MUST buy 'Bad Science' by Ben Goldacre. At the very least, put it on your Christmas list!

Let me explain.....

Paleo Types
If you have found this blog then you are probably a paleo dude already. You will have shunned conventional dietary advice and turned the food pyramid upside down - enjoying lots of fats (including saturated), eggs and red meat. You are probably as scared of cholesterol as you are of your own shadow.

Furthermore, you have probably looked at a lot of opinion from reasonably qualified doctors such as Dr Michael Eades and Dr John Briffa to give you intellectual comfort to your decision to go paleo and ignore the low fat, complex carb and calorie counting model (LFC4).

In addition you might well lack formal medical qualifications but might have tackled some medical papers. You will have found Eades and Briffa pretty useful to guide you through this minefield and from them will have learned a thing or two about medical research, how to read a medical paper and the world of medicine as a whole.

Finally, you probably recognise media bias - not least against saturated fat (and indeed detect a certain hysteria surrounding it). You will be aware of, amongst other things, the medicalisation of our very lives - every ache and feeling, every limitation of our being, the infomercialisation of medicine and health advice in general, and a certain 'noise' created by celebrity detox plans and plain old bad advice form quacks and assorted others in white coats.

You will have realised from you own experience (visible abs and 'normal' cholesterol tests from your doctor, and maybe even a reduction in some meds), that the paleo model is healthful and pretty easy to follow.

This is where Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' comes in.


What is Bad Science?
Goldacre is an NHS doctor and journalist with a gift for communication. He has a regular column in The Guardian (which along with Charlie Brooker's 'Screenburn' is the main reason I read the paper), and an excellent website .

Goldacre is a one man crusade against the bullshit which obscures science. In particular, media fuelled bullshit around medicine, nutrition and general quackery.

In both his newspaper articles, book and on his website, he tackles everything from shoddy journalism on scientific issues to new age quackery and the rise of the celebrity nutritionism business. Goldacre goes after big game! In fact such is the scale of his agenda and such is the size of his intended target that you can relax knowing that this guy is the real deal and somebody worth listening to, as there must be a thousand lawyers out there trying to nail him. But his case would appear to be water-tight. Go Ben!

Goldacre takes your hand and leads you through several medically oriented 'news storms' from the past decade - back to the cold hard data. He explains the origin of the data, comments on its quality, notes flaws in methodology and then looks at the conclusions. He then turns your head around so you can see how far you have come. The distance between the edge of these media storms and the science underneath them is pretty scarily far.

From MMR and other health scares, through 'Brain Gym' and on to nutritionists such as Gillian McKeith and pill peddlers such as Patrick Holford, Goldacre coolly draws out the facts of the story and assembles them in a way that will make you look at just about every science story covered in the popular media with increased skepticism and a (more) critical eye.

What is more is that this book also serves as a rough guide to scientific methodology, giving you some useful tools with which to dissect research and get a feel at the outset whether the conclusion that follows is likely to be up to much (Dr Mike Eades, Tamir Katz and Anthony Colpo are also excellent at this).

He recognises the confusion that surrounds science and the fear of mathematics/science in general. He observes our mistrust of much of the medical industry and the underlying profession. He addresses the fiscal influence of 'big pharma' on both doctors and the media - and the media's part in hyping up a storm to flog advertising space and increase sales/viewers. His spotlight searches out 'bad science' wherever it may exist - and he isn't afraid to upset the apple cart in pursuit of this objective.

He goes further and notes our own innate weaknesses - appreciation for patterns when what we are seeing is actually random. The romance of a 'maverick scientist' fighting big pharma and the government for the sake of parents and their sickly kids ("won't someone purleez think of the kids?"). Such emotionally charged stories have massive currency to the media. He takes time addressing these personal interest stories knowing the media loves a story that will connect to you in a way that bypasses your logic and strikes you with that fear of 'what if it were my kid?'

We are a reactionary species and our sense of flight of fight kicks in all to often when a more rational approach my be more productive. Science is of no use to the scared, only running or fighting.

Once we have calmed down, only then can we look at the data and reassure ourselves accordingly.

Questioning Paleo
I am all to aware that my simple paleo filter is not rooted in science. I trust that as I have achieved my current level of health and fitness more easily than using a low-fat diet with lots of cardio, then I must be doing something right (that and the fact that my doctor keeps rolling his eyes each time I turn up for a medical as if to say "You are fit as a fiddle so why the hell are you here?).

It is easy for us to lose sight of the broader picture and become as entrenched in our paleo view as the low fat brigade are in their model. There would appear to be a growing body of evidence to suggest that the low carb model has real benefit with little drawback, but we have to be careful with how far we extrapolate that evidence to our current idea of what it is to be paleo.

Diet Delusion

If there was one disappointment for me in the book it is where Goldacre alludes to the fact that we all know what is meant by a healthy lifestyle and healthy food,


  • "If I was writing a lifestyle book it would have the same advice on every page, and you'd know it all already. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and live your whole life in every way as well as you can: exercise regularly as part of your daily routine, avoid obesity, don't drink too much, don't smoke, and don't get distracted from the real, basic, simple causes of ill health."
The fact is we don't 'know it already' and fifty years of low fat dogma have distracted us from the real, basic and simple causes of ill health. The advice to 'avoid obesity' isn't that simple for many people.

But to criticise him on this point is rather parochial - he has bigger fish to fry and this is but one small part of the scientific fog that he is endeavouring to cut through.

Personally I think that this is easily the most important book to any paleo-dude's collection after Gary Taubes' 'Good Calories, Bad Calories'. If you found GCBC a bit difficult in places then fear not, Bad Science is way more accessible.

I actually sent an email to Ben Goldacre about GCBC when it first came out, but sadly he didn't seem too enthralled by it. Having read Bad Science I am sure he would find it enthralling - tackling as it does an abuse of science by both governments, business (including pharma) and the media. It covers exactly the kind of ground Bad Science does and it would be really interesting to hear his views on both Taubes' tome and the lipid hypothesis in general.

Conclusion
Goldacre's book is worthy of massive success. Guys like him, Taubes, Eades and for the religiously inclined, Richard Dawkins, have a gift for communication; an ability to clearly and concisely explain complex issues and basically to look through the bullshit. They can lead you through some tough topics after which you feel intellectually stimulated and indeed smarter. All done with a side-order of humour.

Ultimately this book is a call to arms for us to empower both ourselves and our kids with the tools to understand scientific method, to support scientific endeavour and to eschew the bullshit that infects our lives and blights society, be it from pharma, government, the 'meeja' or some new-age missive. It is a manifesto in support of critical thinking.

I genuinely think that the paleo crowd are already on the path Goldacre is trying to map out. He would personally be a massive asset to the paleo movement - all we need do is have a whip round to get him GCBC!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Workout Outdoors


What I like about the paleo model is that it gives us a handle on a variety of issues with only only simple knowledge of the framework. These 'handles' are based upon our ideas of what we believe our ancestors did and what they experienced in their day-to-day of times past. From these ideas we make assumptions and draw conclusions about what is healthful. I guess most of us finds that this works. Paleo allows us to keep it simple - and if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

The simplicity of paleo is in contrast to modern dietary advice - particularly for fat loss. If you follow a calorie counting diet you have to maintain some form of running total throughout the day. You have to have some knowledge of portion sizes, trying to assess whether a potato is the size of your fist and so forth. I have trouble remembering phone numbers and names so having to go through a day with yet another ever-changing figure in my head is a bit of a no-no.

Similar problems exist with 'traffic light' systems indicating the sugar, salt and fat content of foods. Although I am aware of the concept I could not tell you how many portions of food with a 'green' rating for salt is equal to a single 'red' portion. Nor can I tell you how many portions of food with a 'red' rating one is able to eat in a day. This system also suffers from the 'running total' problem of having to remember the number of portions of different foodstuffs you have consumed each day for each classification of sugar, salt and fat....unless you can eat 'green' indicators with impunity. Who knows?

In fact, if I step back and observe how calorie counting and traffic lights have crept in to nutrition, I have one thought- what a nonsense!

So to cut to the chase, the paleo model ignores all counting and volumes. It involves no traffic-lights nor scales. In paleo eating, if you chose from the rich and bountiful 'real' food groups then simply follow your appetite. Easy!

The Simplicity of Paleo
Along with uncomplicating eating/nutrition and diets, the paleo model is easily extended to other areas of life. A good example of applying the paleo filter to other areas of life can be found is in relation to vitamin D and Parkinson's Disease.

The BBC recently posted an article (found here) which suggests a link between Parkinson's and a lack of vitamin D. For me there are several worrying aspects to this article. The first is the emphasis of vitamin D supplementation and the second is the observation that "people with Parkinson's may be particularly vulnerable because their condition limits the amount of time they spend out of doors".

Run to the Pills
Two things strike me about the BBC story. The first is the mentality that leads us to 'Run to the Pills' (with apologies to Iron Maiden).


First a disclaimer - I am no doctor. I have no medical training. I am an avid 'armchair physician/athlete/nutritionist' but would probably be qualified as a 'quack' by most anyone in the medical profession as I draw my conclusions from personal experience and like those of like minded people meaning my ideas are not open to peer reviewed criticism and also that I am subject to confirmation bias. But in my defence I am fit and athletic and the paleo model has been the easiest way I have found of achieving and maintaining such health. I digress.

Despite my intellectual limitations, I do know that vitamin D supplementation is not without its problems. Whilst your body can moderate vitamin D levels when generated from sunshine, in a pill form, the body has little control over its levels. At high doses it is toxic and being fat-soluble, can reside at high doses in the liver.

My second point is that if Parkinson's is related to an absence of vitamin D, and if the deficiency is related to patients being housebound, and if vitamin D can be obtained from sunshine, then why help to get the patients outside a bit more?

Is this because vitamin D from sunshine is too cheap? Is it because getting the patients outside would present to them the stimulation and visual splendour of the natural world. Is it that the physical act of pottering around a garden or park would be too much of a novelty? Maybe the benefits of the physical exertion of getting out and about are sooooooo much greater than atrophying in a chair inside a room that smells of urine. Who knows?

I am sure there are cases where a patients dependence on medical equipment or the geography of the establishment mean that patients cannot get out and about - but to me that is the most terrifying situation - imprisoned inside. I recall my grandfather in a home for the elderly and the smell of the place (urine) and the general lack of stimulation really depressed me. I rarely saw him get outside other than with family members, and once in the home his mental and then physical demise was swift. There was talk of an 'escape committee' amongst some of the folk there but the only way people seemed to leave was on 'Air-Reaper' (first class).

Wider Implications
Another thing that strikes me about the story is that although the scientists and doctors noted that vitamin D deficiency is possibly related to an absence of time spent out doors, no consideration is given to the implication of sun cream. Even a cursory visit to a holiday website or chemist is witness to the marketing hysteria about the sun and the damage it can wreak. From 'Slip, Slap and Slop' to 'Splat, Hat and Wrap' we are encouraged to shy away from letting our body feel the natural rays of the sun.

And why is this the case. I mean we need the sun - not least for vitamin D. Better still, we have our own inbuilt sun protection mechanism - tanning.

Ask yourself this, when was the last time you were almost naked outdoors in the sun? The answer will be 'on your last summer holiday'. You probably doused yourself in suncream on that self same holiday.


Again from my 'armchair quack' position, I can see that people from northern latitudes are paler than those who originate closer to the equator. Notwithstanding migration this appears to be a pretty linear relationship. This leads me to conclude that the body evolved a mechanism to handle varied sun strength at latitude. It then raises the question of what is the implication of us spending so much time covered up and under cover away from the Sun's rays?

Sun Worship
I have often wondered why so many of us are 'sun worshippers'? In the UK if you get a hot day, particularly at the weekends, there will be acres of flesh on display and the beaches and parks are full of people enjoying the sun. (I read somewhere that the sales of convertible cars in the UK is the highest in all Europe, despite our wet climate!)

Our ancestors must have spent much of their time in the sun, and its pull upon modern humans is obvious. Evolution has brought with it a delicate interaction between the skin, kidneys and liver to provide us with a sufficient vitamin D.

From a paleo point of view, our lives would have been spent outdoors in the sun. The sun would have blessed our skin every day. In the modern world, most of our skin is covered up from the sun most of the time. The times it is exposed to the sun, such as on holidays, it is covered with a film of oil that in itself can cause harm. Without 'raw' exposure to the sun, this evolutionary reaction cannot occur and we cannot create vitamin D

I wonder if any of these scientists in the article have thought to look in to the long-term consequence of applying sun cream - particularly on growing children? Also sun creams often block predominantly UVB - and not UVA which you will be prolonging your exposure to and which is (as I understand it), potentially more harmful.


The Paleo Model
So how does the paleo model help us here? Well, paleo dude spent most of his life outdoors and for much of his evolution would have worn crude clothing and no Piz Buin. Thus his body would have been regularly exposed to the sun. How can suited and shirted modern man bag a similar amount of 'tan-time'?

For me the answer is to expose myself as much as possible to the sun (down to a pair of shorts and no less!), up to the point that my skin slightly reddens. Under no circumstances do I go beyond this point and I certainly avoid burning. I do this even in winter.

One particular way of doing this is to workout outdoors! At my local gym we have a courtyard in which we can train. Most of my exercise is conducted in this courtyard, rain or shine. If it is sunny, I will train only in shorts. As long as you are sheltered from the wind, this is comfortable even on a clear day in winter.

This means I never have 'blue leg' (that colour as worn by sun-averse Caucasians in northern latitudes). It also means I regularly allow my body to top up on vitamin D.


By logically extending the paleo model we are in a position to draw benefits that might well future proof us in our old age. Easy!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Fat Fur


We hear a lot of excuses for obesity - slow metabolism, big bones (covered in meat and gravy with a side order of chips/fries no doubt), genetic predisposition etc... Recently I have found out that obesity is a 'disease' and/or an 'unavoidable product of middle age'. However, the excuses have begun to push the envelope and indeed the boundaries of the believable.

The BBC has taday published a story (which you can read here), with a new take on obesity, but the bit you should read with interest is as follows:

"You see at your age the belly resembles a very old balloon which has been repeatedly blown up and now lacks all elasticity. It no longer springs back into shape after exercise or dieting. It displays a permanent droop."

What niggles about this article is that despite the osteopath's diagnosis that "All this accumulated fat. It's tipping you over as though you were wearing a heavy rucksack on the front of your body. Your back can't cope with all that weight pulling it forward. Mr Taylor, you have to face the fact - you are a fat man.", he then confuses obesity with a bariatric condition.

Anyone who has seen the belly of somebody who has lost weight will appreciate the ability of skin to stretch and grow to accommodate an expanding girth. But such a person will also appreciate how skin, once encouraged to perform such accommodation, then takes its time to retract (if at all). What remains is a certain 'baggyness'. But such a condition should not and cannot be mistaken for fat!

If your posture is being pulled forwards then it is because of excess weight applying posture-impairing forces. That crap about the 'balloon' is nothing to do with the problem - it is just a sugar pill to sweeten the criticism.

Worse than that is the sense of 'hopelessness' offered by the osteopath. He give the impression that the damage is done and there is nothing that can be done. With medical advice like this, who needs enemies?

Tiger
This reminds me of my Gran's cat, Tiger. Tiger was a stray cat that my gran took in and was treated like a king - fed three times a day and offered a rich feast of food at every meal. The food on offer was both cat food (in all its guises) and left overs. Over time Tiger grew in to one fat pussy.

In Tiger's final year of life a family member commented that Tiger was looking a 'a bit big'. "Nonsense!", replied my gran, "It's simply fat fur!"

Gran has survived Tiger and is still going strong. I may well recommend she becomes an osteopath.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

War and Feast

Ok, so in retrospect my emotions got the better of me as I waxed lyrical in my last post about the paleo-insurgency, and there was definitely a bit of steam being let off. So maybe I should let you in on the exchange that generated it!

Now everyone knows 'my enemies enemy is my friend' and to a low-fat, calorie controlled, complex carbinator (LFC4), it must horrify him that we paleo types are indeed friends of fat - and quite a lot of it. Not only that but we hold no fear of saturated fat! We not only eat it, but do so regularly!

It is also no secret that fighting the dual personal battle of bodyfat and hunger as an LFC4 must be a difficult battle to maintain whilst taking on those faddish paleo types! One of the first rules of battle is not to over stretch - and fighting your own weight and then fighting the lean guy in the corner (tucking in to steaks whilst waving some favourable scientific evidence around), is just another battle front to hold.

The thing is that you can only fight a movement if it presents a target. If you think the war is over, you have no target - there is no enemy. That my friends is where the crux of this argument lies.

The fight

Climbers take risks. They are in a weight dependent sport. Strength to weight ratio plays a significant role in the likelihood of your success on a climb - particularly when you move towards the elite grades.

Often climbing threads will appear asking for advice on how to lose weight. The usual advice appears regarding eating less or running more. Anecdotes appear in support of various weight loss strategies. Interestingly the only modern scientific papers that seem to get referenced are those which favour low carb diets - but this latter point is lost on opponents to the paleo diet.

You can read the full thread here, but I warn you it does not make pretty reading. Not least for the following....

"calorie counting has lasted the test of time". The poster quotes some 'definitive' LFC4 dietary advice from a guy named Stow, and goes on to note, " I dont diet seriously but I am more aware of what I eat and if I see it edging upwards I try to stop eating dairy products, bread and chocolate and if really pushed alcohol ....Previously I was more despairing abourt weight control which I was putting down to an inevivatable consequence of middle-age. I lack the discipline and motivation to diet as Stow recommends seriously and follow it properly. I have posted that dieting advice several times over the past couple of years and it has never been seriously challenged or should I say challenged by someone I take seriously."

The milking of money from fat people is the only part of the LFC4 model that has stood the test of time. The whole 'weight edging upwards' is a classic consequence of LFC4 eating and the poster even notes the holy trinity of the obese - bread, chocolate and alcohol (or from a paleo point of view grains, sugar and alcohol). Importantly he puts failure to diet down to a lack of "discipline and motivation". Now does this resonate with anyone who has ever followed an LFC4 diet? Of course it does - it is a diet that makes you hungry, that cannot be followed in the long term AND makes YOU the scapegoat as and when it fails.

Despite all this, the post concludes with a personal sleight about 'seriousness'. A further post notes, "I guess I am discrediting you rather than them. In the fullness of time you may be proved right but in a world of information the way you protagnise things is offputting to say the least and my gut tells me that it is not time worth researching. The Stow diet advice falls into the 'good enough for me' category and I suspect 99% of the climbing population as well so I do not feel compelled to look further as there seems to be no advantage. If I decided to follow the diet more avidly and found it wanting than I might seek info elsewhere."

So hey, my style might not be engaging, but could you put your head any further in the sand? All this despite a few references to the recent Israeli Study, and a few other tidbits (Nasim Taleb's interview on the Knackered Hack, an author whom the poster had respectfully name checked elsewhere, supporting paleo eating), some really enthusiastic anecdotal posts from a few other climbers and a few links to some articles by Gary Taubes.

The thread also drew an attack on Gary Taubes - who was described by one poster as being a 'quack' and guilty of "very low quality advocative writing". I should point out that this comment followed a recommendation to read "Good Calories, Bad Calories" - which our hapless critic inferred he had read based upon some as yet unspecified quotes that had been place elsewhere on the forum. How you can claim to have read the 450-0dd pages of GCBC based upon some quotes I do not know.

When pressed on the problems with low-carbing, the same poster wrote that he has "...not posted a detailed criticism of low carb diets on here for much the same reason that [he] wouldn't post a detailed criticism of an atlas produced by the flat earth society".

So there you have it. Two guys content to battle with their weight by following the LFC4 model and who do not feel a need to engage with ANY evidence supporting paleo eating because they just KNOW it is wrong. The diet wars are over. The LFC4 diet has won. Victory is theirs.

And yet I know one of the posters. I climb with him. He knows I am lean and reasonable good at climbing, despite following the paleo fad. Above all else, you'd think that would at least pique his curiosity to look a bit deeper at this whole concept wouldn't you? He is not risk averse so why not 'risk' an attempt at paleo nutrition?

Maybe the fight for hearts and minds is the real battle and will be the hardest. The opinions based upon LFC4 are deeply engrained in public consciousness and the bodycount of the sick and dying is rising. I won't be laying down arms just yet.....

Final Countdown

As a final thought, we paleo and primal guys and gals have kept it simple. We eat 'close to the ground', our food remains largely if not exclusively unprocessed. We are not consumers of protein mixes and power shakes, abdominator machines nor lateral thigh trainers. We come from a global pool of humanity and collectively form a broad 'church' dedicated to this way of life. I really appreciate the richness of the primal/paleo community. Although I am absolutely convinced of my hold on the 'paleo philosophy' I love reading the thoughts of others, their opinions and views on what it means to follow the primal pattern.

Sure there may be a better way out there - but I have yet to find it. Sure there may be a less complex way of getting fit and healthy out there, but I doubt it! Paleo is health and fitness made simple (and no simpler). The time is closing when this message will become the orthodoxy!

This blog was going to be an autopsy dedicated to some of the threads I have posted on in which I have had to deal with the LFC4 forces - but instead calmness has descended upon me and really, I just want to thank those of you out there who, over he years, have taken the time to thread, blog and upload guidance on the true way to fitness.

For that I salute you!