Tuesday, 20 October 2009

How I Got My Vitamin D into the Sweet Spot

Back in May, I posted about my vitamin D deficiency, having sent away for a test via the Grassroots Health organisation.

I discovered I was seriously deficient at 29 ng/ml. The healthy range recommended by the organisation is 40 - 60 ng/ml.

Six months later, I managed to persuade my haematology specialist to include serum vitamin D levels in the battery of tests he performs every 6 months or so.

The results came back this week and I wanted to share the improved result and what steps I took to get there. For an explanation on why I have these tests done at all, read here (hint: I don't think there's anything wrong with me.)

The advice of Grassroots Health was to supplement with 1000 ui of vitamin D for every 10 ng/ml of deficiency.
The Plan
With the British Summer just starting, I wanted to combine supplementation with some serious (but careful) sun worshipping. I had been reading that sun exposure without burning was perfectly safe and was looking forward to replacing my lily-white appearance borne of years of sun-phobia with a healthy tan.... not to mention replacing the evil sun tan cream with appropriately-timed donning of lightweight sleeves, scarves and hats.
The Result
The result of my latest test came back at 53 ng/ml - an increase of 24. This is nicely in the upper regions of their stated sweet spot, which is good news.

The specialist's letter informed me that this is in the 'normal' range of 10-60. To be fair, this in no way implies this is the healthy range - but I can't help thinking that a level of 20 would not have sounded alarm bells.

So what did I do in the 6 months between tests?
What I Did
I took 3000 ui of vitamin D3 on every day I did not sunbathe.

Over the summer in the UK and for one week on holiday in France I estimate I had 15 days of sunbathing in strong sun. I always avoided burning. On these days I did not supplement.

As my tan increased, the time I could spend in the sun increased - but a tan diminishes the manufacture of vitamin D by the skin, so I assume that by getting as much sun as I could safely get on any given day, I was getting as much vitamin D as my body could produce.

On sunbathing days, I always avoided washing all but the important parts with soap next time I showered (see this Dr Mercola Video for why).
Advice May Underestimate the Dose
I believe that for me, a little more than 1000 iu is required to increase the serum levels by 10 ng/ml - I consistently took 3000 iu on non sunbathing days and would expect the sunbathing days to have far exceeded that dose... yet my blood levels were increased by only 24 (not 30 as Grassroots' advice would suggest.)
Winter Plan
Over the summer I got a lot of incidental sun on the non-sunbathing days, simply by walking outside. This winter, any sun I get outside will be very weak and produce little or no vitamin D. On that basis, I plan to increase my daily dose to 4000 iu to compensate and hopefully maintaining my current level.
Stronger Immune System?
This year has seen me treat my health with less respect than the previous 3 years put together - for example, this and this :-(

...yet I have still not been ill. Previous years have taught me to know when I am pushing it too far. By those standards, by now I should have had a cold.
Two things have changed this year. First, the vitamin D. Second, I have been doing even fewer, even shorter, but still highly intense workout sessions. My failure to get ill could be due to one of these factors, the other, or both. Or neither. Such are the vagaries of anecdotal reporting.

I will get re-tested in 6 months and report back.

See Also:
My Yellow Skin Mystery
My Wheat Experiment
My Wheat Experiment Blood Test Update
My Vitamin D Defficiency
... Read more

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Scientific Breakthrough: 'The Roman Box' Allows you Eat Without Digesting

Guest Post by A. Hack

A new scientific breakthrough may soon allow people to decide how much of each food type they digest, or even to digest none of the food they are eating.

A device being dubbed The Roman Box filters food as it passes into the stomach, applying a combination of chemical and electrical processes to change its composition. The device also has a discrete set of dials and an external outlet which allows the owner to configure their digestion and channel some or all of the food out of the body before it is digested, to be collected in a 'gastrostomy' bag.

The name Roman Box is a reference to the practice, said to be common among the rich in Roman times, of vomiting during a feast to allow more food to be eaten.

Peter Perkins, an engineer from Bedford, UK, says he has been working on the invention for several years but the product is now finally ready to go into production.

"This is the most significant breakthrough in dieting science there has ever been," he said yesterday."For the first time, we will be able to physically intervene in the process of digestion, allowing people to choose whether to digest the food they are eating and if so which type of nutrients to absorb."

"It came to me when I was deliberately throwing up after an especially large eating binge about 10 years ago," he explained. "I realised that if I could stop the food getting as far as the stomach in the first place, there would be no need for all that effort."

"Then, when I read about all these low carb, low fat, or high protein diets I decided what people also needed was to be able to separate the constraints on macronutrients from decisions on meal composition. If they could choose the meal they wanted to eat, while separately determining the percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrate that digested, then they would be in full control."

Yet attractive though this may sound, it raises profound questions about the implications for human eating behaviour.

Would party-goers turn their absorption down to zero and eat continuously all night? According to Mr Perkins, the only downside might be forgetting to empty your gastrostomy bag, since a full one will prevent the machine from working properly.

"I got so drunk one time that I forgot to empty my bag," he recalls. "I thought I was low carbing all my burgers but ended up gaining 5 lbs at a barbecue.

Critics argue the machine will encourages binge eating and ask what will stop a person from eating if their hunger is never sated. Whereas overeating a favourite food used to mean becoming full from eating it, now the prospect of instead becoming bored seems realistic; or might more physical factors come into play, such as the oesophagus eventually become painful or jaw ache?

Others warn that the widespread use of the Roman Box could cause a massive spike in food demand, as culinary decadence sweeps the globe.

"It's obscene," said a spokesman for Oxfam. "In fact I'm almost speechless with horror at the idea that while children starve in the developing world, people would see this as a good idea."

Mr Perkins' work has also provoked anger in the medical and nutrition world. Arnold Clamshell of the Centre for Medical Ethics said yesterday "This is a truly unfortunate development and an illustration that technological advances can nevertheless represent moral and ethical regression."

Anyone desperate to have a Roman Box fitted may have to wait, however. Mr Perkins, who is currently recovering from multiple organ failure in London Royal Infirmary, is sketchy when quizzed on the commercial status of his product.

"My mate Dave used to be a vet and my other mate, John, is in sales," he explains. "It's the perfect storm. My idea and their expertise. Within a few months we'll have this baby on the production line and I'll be choosing a yacht for my wife."

Mr Perkins' doctor is less sanguine.

"To be honest he's lucky to be alive," says Professor Legg, a senior surgeon at the hospital. "He appears to have allowed someone to fit a crude device between his oesophagus and his stomach which channels food out of his body via a puncture wound in his upper thorax."

"There were some dials attached to this device and externalised just above the sternum, apparently taken from an old radio. They appeared to regulate the release of liquids from bottles housed in the device and also change the voltage on a rusty electrode which extended into the stomach. Mr Perkins is not a well man."

A neighbour of Mr Perkins, who wishes to remain anonymous, says Mr Perkins and his friends had been drinking heavily on the day he was admitted to hospital and strange noises could be heard coming from his garage throughout the afternoon. "He has a history of mental illness," said the man. "I think that tells you all you need to know."
... Read more

Monday, 5 October 2009

Exercise WILL Make you Thin - if You Really Want it to

For years we thought you needed to exercise to lose weight. Don’t exercise, you get fat. Exercise, you get thin. Simple.

Then we realised this advice may be wrong. Studies showed that exercise increased the appetite, so people ate more. Books like Good Calories Bad Calories dismantled the calories-in-calories-out hypothesis. Respected commentators stated that getting the diet right is by far the most significant contributor to weight loss.

Recently, an article appeared in Time magazine article, Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin. It was widely commented on in the health and fitness blogging community and touted as evidence that the mainstream might finally be 'getting it.'

Yet, one such commenter, Rusty Moore on Fitness Black Book posted an analysis of the article which contained a single, important phrase, challenging this new doctrine:

The biggest flaw in the article is his notion that exercise gives you no choice but to over-eat.


Key questions of health and fitness almost always get polarised. People want simple – and the there are those who exploit that for their own gain. The subtleties are brushed aside in an orgy of gourd following a lá Life of Brian.

Two subtleties that do discussed in health and fitness circles are:
  • Intense, interval-based training may be more likely to create the conditions for weight loss without self-defeatingly stimulating appetite.
  • The effect on appetite of exercise may vary according to the type of food eaten and the metabolic state of the subject (i.e. are they adjusted to a low carbohydrate diet or riding the high carbohydrate merry-go-round.)
Rarely is psychological state discussed in any depth. How badly does a person want to lose weight? How strong is their will power and self discipline? The research appears to treat people as machines. Get hungry, eat food.

I believe that if someone really wants to lose weight with exercise, then they will, regardless of the type of exercise they are doing or food they are eating.

I will admit up front that I am far too lazy to delve into the full detail of all the studies on exercise and weight loss - scientific papers make my eyes bleed; but I did look at the methodology section of a study referenced by the Time article. This is what it said about how the subjects were recruited:
… 464 postmenopausal women within the age range of 45 to 75 years, who were sedentary (not exercising more than 20 minutes on 3 or more day a week, and [less than]8000 steps per day assessed over the course of one week), overweight or obese (BMI 25.0 to 43.0 kg/m2), and had a systolic blood pressure of 120.0 to 159.9 mm Hg were randomized to 1 of 3 exercise groups…
Notice that the criteria here are mostly physiological. Machines. Get hungry, eat food.

Two things I would have wanted to know about the subjects:
  1. What was their attitude to weight loss? Did they want to lose weight? We cannot assume that just because they were overweight or obese that they wanted to lose weight.
  2. How strong was their willpower?
I am not pretending that either of these is easy to measure – but equally I think we can assume that the psychometric testing industry has successfully tackled them at some point.

The attitude to weight loss is especially important. The implicit point of studies like this is to evaluate how effective exercise is as a weight loss tool… a tool which one assumes would mainly be used by people who want to lose weight. So there’s not much point studying people who don’t want to lose weight, right?

I have not examined the results section of the study. For the sake of my eyes, I did not delve beyond the methodology; but what we can assume is that the average weight loss for the exercise group was no greater than the average weight loss for the non-exercise group.

Yet by the laws of natural variation there must have been exercisers who did lose more weight than the average non-exerciser.

In other words, for whatever reason, at least some people must have lost more weight through exercise. Why?

In my experiment, the subjects would be tested for attitude and personality characteristics:
  • Do they want to lose weight? How badly?
  • How much will power and self-discipline do they have?
We would then look for a link between these factors and weight loss. If there is a link, is it more pronounced amongst the exercisers? Perhaps people with willpower and self-discipline can lose weight through exercise.

Moreover, could actually knowing that exercise affects your appetite make a difference to the result? In a follow up study we might tell one group of subjects that exercise will increase their appetite and sabotage the weight loss benefits. Could that knowledge elevate those with less will power to a position where they, too, can lose weight though exercise?

Anecdotally, I know this to be possible. A few years ago I lost several pounds by religiously sticking to the types and amounts of food I consumed daily while increasing my weekly running mileage by 15 miles; and I witnessed my gym partner drop nearly a stone in weight over 3 months by the addition 30 minutes of post-weights cardio and a determination not to eat more food than usual.

I’ve nothing against people who want to issue advice that’s most likely to lead to success for everyone – after all, I advocate the Paleo diet, which takes the lowest common denominator approach to nutrition.

So if you have to chisel something onto a stone tablet, then yes,

Exercise is not the key to weight loss: it’s mostly about what you eat

…would be the best thing.

However, it would be nice to see more recognition by both commentators and researchers that humans can apply free will in this matter.
... Read more

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Recipe Video: Butternut Squash Chips/Fries

This is a nice way to get that potato-like taste (but sweeter) with a Paleo/Primal-friendly vegetable and with a similar shape and texture to normal chips/fries. If you manage to get yours to be crispy, let me know how you did it. Personally I prefer them soggy anyway, but I know most people like them crispy.

Okay, I admit this barely counts as a recipe. I am guessing that by definition there needs to be more than one ingredient for it to be a recipe. It's more of an idea.

For those in the US, chips is what we call fries in the UK.

... Read more