Tag Archives: lies

5 gym ‘facts’ debunked

The gym is full of shit science. Also known as bro-science. Also known as bullshit. As funny as it is to hear, it ultimately signals ignorance of basic biology and training which isn’t all that funny. These sort of ideas seem to stick around and really spread their way through the gym community – especially young lifters. I’ve even heard popular trainers falling foul to these. It seems easier to spread bullshit then actual facts and science these days so in my never ending battle against pseudoscience and false facts I’ve put this article together so YOU, dear reader, can stand head and shoulders above everyone else with your vast, newly-acquired knowledge.

Don’t fall for this crap when you hear it in the gym. You are better than that. If you are feeling brave you may even want to challenge the gym-goon that spouts nonsense but that doesn’t always end well…

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So here it is. A quick run through of some of the most commonly heard gym ‘facts’ which are either only true to some extent or completely made up.

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#1 Perform sit ups and crunches to target tummy fat

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This one is ALWAYS over-heard in my gym and almost certainly yours as well. I commend people smashing out ab work when they are perhaps a bit overweight but all that does is DEVELOP YOUR ABDOMINALS. It will have almost no bearing on the visibility of ‘abs’. Obtaining a sweet set of herculean abs all comes down to your body fat percentage. The simple truth is that you MUST HAVE a low body fat percentage to see definition in the abdominals and obliques. Abs are visible at a range of body fat percentages, usually from about 15% downwards – obviously the lower your percentage the tighter and more visible your abs become. If you are overweight or oven just holding a little extra, no amount of abdominal work alone will lead you to a washboard stomach.

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The second important point here is that targeted fat loss through exercise isn’t really a thing. No single exercise burns fat from one particular area. Lots of shitty online fat-loss products will say something like ‘…burns through stubborn belly fat!’. They always go on about belly fat. The truth again, as always, is harder than what these arses would have you believe. In order to target belly fat you need to target ALL your fat reserves. That’s the only way – to reduce your overall body fat percentage. The best way to do this is frequent well rounded exercise involving cardio and weight training plus tighter control of your diet. Take a look at my big lift guide which can help you develop greater all-round strength as well as a really solid core. Alternatively check out this body-weight exercise guide – great for a quick and challenging workout.

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So if you are spending ages ab crunching away you would be much better off hitting some big tiring lifts like squatting or dead-lifting (both of which help build a great core and burn way more calories than crunches and sit ups) or getting going with some Interval Training on the bike or treadmill.

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#2 Creatine is a steroid

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This is simple to refute. As someone who has studied endocrinology for years – creatine isn’t a steroid!

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Who wouldn’t trust that face?

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I’ve written a complete guide to creatine, what it is, what it does to your body and how it can positively effect your training. There is a HUGE amount of false information online regarding creatine (and all supplements for that matter). As a scientist, I cite and support any claims with solid peer-reviewed research and this linked article is no different.

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Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid. It’s main role is to recycle ATP – the universal energy currency of our cells. I won’t go into the details (all can be found in the article above) but put briefly, supplementing with creatine slightly increases the stores of available ATP in muscle cells, allowing you to train harder and longer. Due to this – people often think creatine is a steroid. After all the main training benefit of steroid is that you can train harder and longer with less recovery in between training sessions. Creatine can certainly help you in training and has been shown to primarily benefit anaerobic and repetitive work i.e. weight lifting. However, creatine will provide you with no where near the benefit that steroids will. Creatine use provides your muscles with a bit more usable energy, steroids can alter major aspects of you entire physiology – hence the inherent risk with using them.

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Creatine is not a steroid but can certainly benefit your training.

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#3 You need specific protein for specific body parts

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This is definitely one of the more silly ‘facts’ I’ve over heard but unfortunately I’ve heard similar things more than once. The basic summary of what I heard was that if you train multiple muscles in one session and then drink a protein shake, either the protein gets ‘confused’ and doesn’t know where to go, or you are using the wrong protein for the muscles that you have trained. As stupid as this sounds it’s actually surprisingly hard to debunk directly with the literature as no studies (that I can find) have thought to explore this!

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So, just by using common sense and a very basic understanding of biology we can debunk this fact. In regards to the idea that every muscle has specific protein – that doesn’t make sense. It is true that we possess different kinds of muscles. For example, cardiac muscle cells do differ to skeletal muscle cells in both form and function, smooth muscle differs even further. However we are primarily training skeletal muscle when we weight train. Skeletal muscles are made from the same components and this does not differ from muscle to muscle, so any protein you ingest can just as easily go towards building your legs as it does your back. The idea of a protein for each muscle also falls flat on it’s face when you consider that the human body has 640 muscles and that it is also, practically speaking, impossible to train a single muscle. Even when doing isolation bicep curls we are really utilising many muscles at once. Any protein you ingest will be broken down into amino acids and ultimately used to synthesis new muscle tissue at the required site.

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The notion that protein gets confused about where it’s going throws up a number of red flags and I truly wonder what it must be like to live on this planet and genuinely believe things like that. Protein doesn’t have a memory, it isn’t alive and it doesn’t rely on chemo-attraction or some other sort of homing beacon to tell it where to go. It is perfectly fine to train multiple body parts in one training session and you will get stronger and bigger if you train hard and eat well. Protein will be transported to where your body needs it most. It won’t get lost on the way!

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#4 Steroids shrink your dick and gives you ‘ROID RAGE’

 

This one is an absolute classic. Roid rage is usually the first thing people discuss when bringing up recreational steroid use. Specifically, the term roid rage is applied to muscle building, anabolic steroids. Those used by competitive body builders for example (and an increasing number of average gym goers). Now, on the surface the concept of roid rage is plausible. Many anabolic steroids are based on or mimic the functions of natural testosterone. Testosterone is a powerful anabolic hormone which is essentially  what makes men ‘manly’ and goes towards explaining why men, on average are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than women.

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All natural baby!

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Women do posses testosterone but at no where near the same level as men. Testosterone is a fantastic muscle builder hence the use of steroids in the gym. The term roid rage began to gain popularity following high profile crimes involving sports and wrestling personalities who were heavily muscled individuals and known to take steroids. Perhaps the most famous of these was the tragic case of the pro wrestler Chris Benoit. 

Whether or not roid rage exists as it is popularly portrayed i.e. an unstoppable, violent,  muscle-bound goon, remains up for debate. Studies have linked testosterone with increased aggression however studies looking directly at the use of anabolic steroids and random fits of rage are not conclusive and show conflicting results. Anecdotal evidence from heavy users does show that a number of them suffer from increased aggression – some report becoming angry at minor things that, before steroid use, they would have just shrugged off. If true, violent and dangerous roid rage exists it is very rare and probably restricted to heavy and long term steroid users. However, even mild users might develop ‘shorter fuses’ and be more easily wound up than prior to use – this is something you will see discussed a lot online. A common theory is that steroid use will amplify the disposition of the user. If a user was intolerant and easily riled before use, this will likely get worse with steroid use.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on this. Although roid rage isn’t a complete myth it is no where near as common as many believe and doesn’t always manifest as violent fits of anger.

Regarding the idea that steroid use shrinks your dick specifically. This is incorrect and probably came about for two reasons.

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  • Professional body builders, in their tiny posing pants, do look like they have  minuscule nobs – this is because they are absolutely enormous human beings. Their legs are like that of a race horse so proportionally the penis looks like that of a pixie. In reality the size will not have changed with steroid use.

 

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#5 Training legs ‘spikes’  testosterone and makes you bigger all over 

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Similar to the concept of roid rage (above), studies have shown conflicting results regarding testosterone spiking during leg training and whether or not this makes you bigger and stronger overall. I hear trainers in my gym saying this a lot to their new clients – perhaps in an effort to get them in the habit of training their legs hard and well.

We know that testosterone is a major driver of muscle growth and that any natural way to increase testosterone production for weight lifters would offer a large advantage in the gym in both muscle mass and ultimately strength development.

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So the question is really two smaller questions…

  1. If I train my legs will I have increased testosterone production?
  2. If so, does this lead to increased muscle mass in other body areas?

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A number of factors influence your testosterone levels – your weight, age and also the time of day. In regards to question 1, it has been established that testosterone levels do increase following exercise but only briefly. Short, intense bouts of exercise and compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift appear to promote the greater release. What is harder to determine is if this actually leads to growth or gains elsewhere…

Two of the most relevant studies looking to answer this question directly show almost completely opposing results

One study performed by West et al in 2009 showed that if some male participants engaged in a high volume leg workout after a bicep workout and others just did the bicep workout without the leg exercises, there was NO DIFFERENCE in bicep size or strength between the groups by the end of the 12 week study…the theory was that the testosterone boost afforded by leg exercises would lead to a greater increase in bicep mass in the group that trained legs. This was shown to not be the case. 

Another study, with a similar design, undertaken by Ronnestad, B.R. et al in 2011, showed the exact opposite. They DID see an increase in bicep mass in the group that had trained legs. An important distinction between the studies is that in the West 2009 study, participants trained legs after their biceps, in this 2011 study, they trained legs before biceps.

So what to make of all this…

Both of these were well designed studies yet they demonstrate opposite outcomes. Perhaps the order of exercises is very important? However physiology is hugely complicated and increasing testosterone in the blood doesn’t necessarily lead to a direct increase in muscle mass.

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  • Large compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift do lead to increased circulating testosterone but this is short lived and does not lead to increased overall muscle mass

 

  • There is no doubt that big lower body lifts leads to the development of greater lower body mass – as we expect, train a muscle well and that muscle gets bigger and stronger – simple.

Whether or not training legs ultimately makes you get bigger all over should be less important than the fact that training your lower body is very important regardless. You are only as strong as your weakest part and having a balanced and developed physique all over will translate into much greater functional strength and better lifting numbers. You also wont get laughed at for your baby legs.

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Check out this big ass-lifting guide for mass monster in you!

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Thanks for reading! Hit me up in the comments

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-ScienceGuy

The Slap Therapy Tragedy

The ‘Slap Therapy’ Tragedy

 

I’ve decided to write a quick post regarding a couple of truly disturbing news stories I’ve read recently.

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The topic?

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Slapping people (including infants) to cure their diseases and illnesses…

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These sort of stories are important because they highlight pretty much everything I stand against and one of the main reasons for this websites existence. That is, charlatans taking advantage of people who don’t know better.

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In these cases, deaths have occurred due to the irresponsible and reckless behaviour from practitioners of something called ‘slap therapy’.

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Here is a link to the official website – almost everything on here, to me, is preposterous.

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Claims include that slap therapy is:

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‘Superior to modern medical practices’

‘Effective on almost all diseases’

The testimonials are even worse:

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‘A Self-healed Story of an Advanced Prostate Cancer Patient’ – If your advanced cancer has self-resolved, this is very rare and you are extremely lucky. However looking more closely, this isn’t a self healed story. The actual testimonial states that the tumour has reduced in size. This can occur for a number of reasons and is not sufficient evidence to claim a cancer is ‘healed’. 

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‘Bladder Cancer Self Healed’ – By their own admission they went through intensive radiotherapy treatment for the cancer before starting slap therapy. 

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‘Food Poisoning Self-Healed with Paida’ – Food poisoning is usually a short self-resolving affliction lasting no more than one or two days. The account says that immediately after eating a peach a man fell ill with food poisoning – illness does not occur immediately after consumption of contaminated food. This account is likely false.

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‘How Did I Self-Heal My Type 1 Diabetes?’ – This account is scary as it echoes events that led to the death of a young diabetic boy (detailed further below). A type 1 diabetic woman, under advice from a man with no medical background or training and a severely warped understanding of human biology, massively reduced her insulin intake. However on further inspection she is still receiving insulin on a  daily basis, just less than previously. This is no ‘healing’ type 1 diabetes – a huge amounts of research is focused on combating beta cell loss in type 1 diabetics. This isn’t something that spontaneously reverses or can be fixed due to being slapped. Likely, this woman can function normally on the amount of insulin she is receiving. Nevertheless she is putting her health at risk. 

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Well that’s me sold! Sign me up. Except don’t.

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This isn’t harmless homeopathy, this is physically beating the ‘toxins’ out of someone. Practitioners claim that all the serious bruising from the slapping aren’t bruises but actually harmful toxins leaving the body.

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This has directly led to the death of one elderly diabetic women after a number of people tried to beat the diabetes out of her. The news report suggest the woman had a life long phobia of needles. Having to inject insulin was therefore extremely difficult for her and she had frequently sort alternative therapies. These slap therapists preyed directly on this fear and its resulted in this poor woman’s death.

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An excerpt from the news story from the woman’s son…

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Carr-Gomm’s son Matthew, 43, said his mother, from Lewes, East Sussex, had been given false hope.

“I am certain that if she hadn’t gone on this course, she would still be alive today. She was convinced this alternative treatment was going to have a positive effect,” he said.

“She had a lifelong fear of needles, so diabetes was probably the worst illness she could get. That was why she was so keen to try alternative therapies.”

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But the story goes even further and becomes even more tragic.

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A 7 year old boy has also died as a direct or in-direct result of this therapy. The boy, a type 1 diabetic, died during a week long slap therapy retreat (at a cost of 1800 USD – far from cheap). The boy fell ill and began to vomit mid-way thought the retreat. He died on the way to hospital. Investigations are trying to determine whether he was taken off his insulin during the retreat – if so what were the parents doing agreeing to something so foolish!. Either way a young boy has lost his life.

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Parents convinced that slap therapy is the key to healing have started slapping the shit out of their babies and children as well. I really don’t know what to say about this. It’s so far into ‘lunatic’ territory that it boggles the mind. The investigation contains some fairly disturbing videos. And remember, these are the kids parents doing this. Not some stranger. They truly believe this anti-science alternative, dangerous ‘therapy’.

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In a world where the alternative therapy market continues to grow year on year into a mammoth industry, it’s so important that we make a stand and demand evidence and accountability for people who sell and promote this garbage. Selling therapies that simply don’t work is one thing – asking someone to beat their kid because it will cure their diabetes is an entirely different matter and should result in prison time for the charlatan in question. Holding the parents accountable is a tricky one and perhaps best left for a discussion in the comments.

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Thanks for reading,

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-ScienceGuy

 

5 ‘superfood’ myths

While many foods may be packed with certain nutrients and molecules that play a role in health, the food industry and health nuts have taken a massive leap of logic and applied the term ‘super’ to foods which are actually fairly ordinary.

The main message here: Some foods are better for you than others but there is no such thing as a super food.

I’ve come across articles titled ’52 of the best super foods’. So pretty much all food then. It contained everything from eggs to apples. It’s all nonsense. Maintain a balanced diet and get in some good exercise. That’s it.

Here are the top 5 super foods and the real truth behind them…

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#1 : Goji Berries

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Eat me and live for 170 years guy! healthline.com
Eat me and live for 170 years guy!
healthline.com

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.These bad boys have been a major component of Chinese traditional medicine for hundreds of years.  An ancient Chinese herbalist, Li Ching-Yuen, who loved these berries, was said to have lived for over 170 years because he ate so many. Obviously that’s mental.

There is no evidence of any kind that eating the berries or drinking the juice is any better or worse than drinking juice from other fruits.

The ‘studies’ that attribute miraculous health benefits to these berries are hugely biased, poorly planned, performed, reported  and very few in number (1,2)

These berries are fairly expensive, probably because they have been labelled a super food. If you enjoy eating them then by all means carry on but don’t expect any particular health benefits for your buck.

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#2 : Kale

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'basically cabbage' lifehack.com
‘basically cabbage’
lifehack.com

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Kale, to me, seems rather exotic. It’s all the rage at the moment at organic cafes and other ‘alternative’ hangouts. Like other ‘super foods’, many magical properties have been attributed to kale – it helps you ‘make red blood cells’ and ‘mops up free radicals’ thereby reducing your risk of cancer.

While kale contains high levels of calcium and vitamins like B6, this isn’t really any different to other, similar green vegetables like cabbage. There is also no evidence supporting claims that diets high in kale can reduce cancer or really help with anything else either in humans. The limited evidence there is is all in vitro (cell based work in a lab) data which has been misinterpreted (probably on purpose) to promote kale as a super food. There is no doubt that a balanced diet with lots of vegetables is better for you than one full of processed foods (lowered risk of various cancers for one thing) but attributing the health benefits to kale alone is wrong.

Kale does contain a decent level of anti-oxidants but so do many other fruits and vegetables and other foods.

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Anti-oxidants play myriad vital roles in the body but massively increasing your intake will not improve your overall health and may even damage it (3).

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All these health food blogs keep banging on about anti-oxidants without understanding the basics tenants of biology that I keep droning on about. There is a saturation point for all nutrients and molecules past which your body just gets rid of them or maybe even starts suffering negative consequences (4). Taking more of something when you aren’t deficient in the first place very rarely produces a positive benefit. I read a good analogy online:

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”It’s like putting more petrol in your car to make it go faster”.

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Neither cars nor your body work like that.

Kale is not super. It’s no more special than your average sad piece of cabbage.

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#3 : Pomegranates

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pomegranates.org
pomegranates.org

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Pomegranates are delicious. Those little juicy nuggets of pure flavour are always welcome in my home. However things turn sour when I hear that pomegranates are not just a simple fruit – they can fight against heart disease, inflammation, high blood pressure and some cancers (the list always seems to be the same). In other words they are super. Or are they?

Now surprisingly there is some potential for further work looking at pomegranate consumption and health benefits. Although the data are currently inconclusive regarding human health – there does appear to be a positive effect in some small trials.

Pomegranate consumption has been linked to increased bone strength in mice (5).

A small study (perhaps too small) involving 45 human patients  with coronary heart disease concluded that daily pomegranate juice increased blood flow to the heart and a reduced risk of heart attack (6). The trail was small so the result could be down to chance – this is worth repeating with a larger cohort.

A study undertaken a year previously using patients with carotid artery stenosis (narrowed arteries) found that a small daily glass of pomegranate juice (50ml) over three years reduced cholesterol buildup and cholesterol-damage in the artery by almost a half. A clear reduction (7). Over ten years later and the mechanics of this are still not understood. The study also fails to demonstrate how this will positively effect stroke and heart attack rates or outcomes.

It seems, out of all of these ‘super foods’ that pomegranates have the most real evidence behind them. However, these are all small studies so the chance of a positive result occurring by chance are much higher.

One pomegranate based company has been warned by the FDA for using published data, as shown above, to make illegal claims of unproven anti-disease benefits: this is very common in the health food industry and is extremely unfair and misleading for the consumer.

In order to make specific health claims,  far larger cohort studies followed by detailed mechanistic studies would have to be performed before we label pomegranates as having any real health benefits. 

As it stands, pomegranates may have some protective effects on heart and cardiovascular health – but we need more solid data to firmly conclude this.

 

 


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#4 : Avocado

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avocado-sliced-in-half
I’m all stone baby avocado.org.au

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First off. I love avocados. I’m not here to insult them or their families – just to question there position as a ‘super food’. An avocado is a fruit, even though I think of it as a vegetable. Getting even more technical, an avocado is apparently a large berry. What?

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Avocados are packed with all sorts of deliciousness – Vitamin A, C, K and E as well as potassium and carotenoids. On top of that an avocado is basically just a big fat berry. Literally. It’s full to the brim with a wide variety of fats, with most calories from avocado being in the form of monounsaturated fat. Due to this they are a great way to gain weight if strength training or bodybuilding – just go easy on them due to the fat content!

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Now, are they super foods? Do they cure cancer or diabetes or arthritis. As you may have guessed the answer is probably no. Although the literature is very sparse regarding avocado consumption and health specifically, we can look more closely at the effects of a high intake of monounsaturated fats on our health. Eating a good amount of these fats is protective against cardio-vascular disease (8). A review of available studies looking at avocado consumption and cardiovascular disease also suggests a protective effect but be wary as the review was paid for by Hass Avocado Board (9).

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Again, any advocate of super foods will list a number of benefits and then reason them like this with little to no sources. This is an actual argument I came across:

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  1. Luetin is a carotenoid found in the human eye and plays a role in vision
  2. Avocados contain luetin
  3. Avocados improve eyesight (this is a massive leap in logic and not confirmed by any investigation)

And another to hammer the point home..

  1. Vitamin B6 plays a role in the regulation of hormones like testosterone
  2. Avocados contain B6
  3. Avocados increase fertility and sexual health (nope – for the same reasons)

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Avocados are delicious but they wont help you with sexual function, fertility, diabetes or cancer. These things may be reduced or combated by changes to your entire lifestyle – not just eating one particular giant berry.

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#5 : Broccoli

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wikipedia.org
Can’t get enough of those baby trees – Wikipedia

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When I was a young boy/girl, broccoli was the worst. It was sort of universally hated by children. I think it still is. But for adults, and the health food market, broccoli has made a solid comeback in recent years and frequents ‘super food’ lists all over the web. What does the science say about the health benefits of this baby tree vegetable?

Well unlike avocados, more research has been undertaken in this area but unfortunately most of it is very small scale, too small to be conclusive on it’s own.

First, eating more non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli (but not necessarily broccoli only) is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers, namely throat, mouth and stomach cancer. It is therefore possible that something in the broccoli is responsible but this would need to be tested directly in further trials.

There is no evidence that broccoli helps reduce blood pressure despite some claims that it does. A cohort of individuals with high blood pressure consumed daily broccoli for 4 weeks – no change was observed in their blood pressure nor was the risk of atherosclerosis reduced (10). However in a similar but positive vein, diabetic patients consuming broccoli powder daily, saw reduced levels of circulating cholesterol and triglycerides – both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (11).

”Broccoli sprout powder could have favourable effects on  lipid profiles”

What about treating diabetes itself? Well, in an odd study, researchers applied the antioxidant sulforaphane (found in broccoli) to human blood vessels incubated in sugar. They were trying to mimic the conditions of chronic diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels. They found that the anti-oxidant appeared to prevent vascular damage to small blood vessels caused by high blood sugar as seen in many diabetic patients (12). As this is pure lab work using isolated tissue it remains to be seen if sulforaphane would be protective  in diabetics.

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What are your thoughts?

-ScienceGuy

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References

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1) Zi et al (1994) ”Observation of the effects of LAK/IL-2 therapy combining with Lycium barbarum polysaccharides in the treatment of 75 cancer patients’‘ Chinese Journal of Cancer Research. 16(6):428-31.

2) Amagase, H; Nance, D, H. (May 2008) ”A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical study of the general effects of standardised Lycium barbarum Juice” 14(4):403-12.

3)) Bjelakovic et al (2012) ”Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

4) Ristow et al (2009) ”Antioxidants prevent health promoting effects of physical exercise in humans” PNAS 106(21) 8665-86705

5) Spilmont et al (2013) ‘‘Pomegranate and its derivatives can improve bone health through decreased inflammation and oxidation stress in an animal model of postmenopausal osteoporosis” European Journal of Nutrition 53(5) 1155–1164

6) Sumner et al (2005) ”Effects of pomegranate juice consumption on myocardial perfusion in patients with coronary heart disease”  96(6):810-4.

7) Aviram et al (2008) ”Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation” Clinical Nutrition 23(3):423-33.

8) Sacks and Katan (2002) ”Randomised clinical trial on the effects of dietary fat and carbohydrate on plasma lipoproteins and cardiovascular disease” The American Journal of Medicine 113(9), Supplement 2. p. 13-24

9) Dreher and Davenport (2013) ”Hass avocado composition and potential health effects”  Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53(7): 738–750.

10) Christiansen et al (2010) ”Ingestion of broccoli sprouts does not improve endothelial function in humans with hypertension” PLos One 5(8)

11) Bahadoran et al (2012) ”Broccoli sprout powder could improve serum triglyceride and oxidised LDL/LDL-cholesterol ratio in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial’Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice  96(3):348-54

12) Mingzhan Xue et al (2008) ”Activation of NF-E2-related factor-2 reverses biochemical dysfunction of endothelial cells induced by hyperglycemia linked to vascular disease’Diabetes