4 Root Causes of Low Mood & Depression

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Low mood and depression are increasingly at an alarming rate in today's modern society. The Center for Disease Control shows 10% of people suffer from depression, but in clinical practice people struggle with low mood at much higher rates in today's constantly connected world seemingly fuelled by processed foods. The World Health Organization has estimated that by the year 2050, one-third of the global population will suffer from either anxiety or depression. This is a moind-boggling statistic. How is this possible? Why are we more prone to depression today than in generations past? As with any complex condition, multiple underlying factors conspire to create an environment where low mood and depression can thrive. Let’s look at a few common root causes to better understand how things go wrong at a cellular and hormonal level. 

#1 BLOOD SUGAR AND INSULIN DYSFUNCTION

Today, 75% of the North American population are classified as overweight or obese. While the annual consumption of processed and simple sugars has dropped a little over the past few years, it's still incredibly high at 100-140 lb. of sugar per person. Combined with the over-consumption of processed carbs and alcohol and you've got five of the top six foods in the American diet; desserts (grain-based), breads, processed chicken, soda pop and energy drink, alcohol and pizza. This leads to an excessive caloric intake, which is further exacerbated by these hyper-palatable foods, meaning the cycle continues over and over again. When your cells are constantly flooded with excess energy, they eventually say "enough is enough" and refuse to take in more energy. This is the state of insulin resistance and further down the road diabetes (type-2). 

How does this relate to mood? Research from Scandinavia has uncovered a clear association between elevated HbA1c - a three-month average of you blood sugar levels - and insulin levels with increased risk of depression. They found that young men with insulin resistance were three times more likely to suffer from severe depression.(1) Another study in Diabetes Care of over 4,000 people showed depressive symptoms were highly associated with higher fasting and 30-minute insulin levels.(2) The authors specifically noted that antidepressant medications did not alter this association because the medications target neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, dopamine) and do not address blood sugar and insulin dysfunction. Improving blood sugars and insulin control is an important first step for reducing your risk for low mood and depression.

#2 CHRONIC & SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION

Inflammation is another potential root cause of low mood. Low-grade systemic inflammation leads to the over-production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are also associated with depression.(3) The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine recently published a review of the growing connection between chronic inflammation and the development of today’s most common chronic diseases, including depression.(4) The current medical literature tells us that if you are overweight or obese, you likely have low-grade systemic inflammation.(5) This shouldn't be a surprise, as inflammation is "upstream" of blood sugar and insulin dysfunction. A diet rooted in traditional foods - rich in animal protein, healthy fats and antioxidants - will help to cool inflammation and reduce the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced during the inflammatory response. Polyphenols found in coffee, dark chocolate (even red wine!), as well as vegetables are great sources of anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Extra-long chain omega-3 fats DHA and EPA also exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects and a poor omega-3 to omega-6 fats ratio is also associated with a chronic stress state and increased risk of depression.(6)

#3 GUT DYSFUNCTION & DYSBIOSIS

The gut microbiota - commonly referred to as your microbiome - plays a key role in your mental health through its constant communication with the brain via the vagus nerve. Key neurotransmitters targeted by medications for improving symptoms of depression – serotonin and dopamine – are actually produced in the greatest concentrations in the gut (not the brain). This gut:axis is highlighted by research showing that if you are overweight, you're at much greater risk of poor zonulin function, a key molecule that regulates gut permeability.(7) Poor zonulin function leads to symptoms of a leaky gut, leading to a pro-inflammatory environment that creates the cytokine storm that contributes to low mood and depression. You don’t need to be overweight to suffer from leaky gut. If you travel across multiple time zones, consume alcohol excessively, or chronically rely on NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – like ibuprofen and naproxen you'll be much more prone to leaky gut and chronic worsen inflammation.(8,9) A dietary approach rooted in traditional foods - animal protein, healthy fats, vegetables and unprocessed carbohydrates - will help to keep blood sugar levels balanced and support a healthy gut microbiota, thus keeping systemic inflammation and low mood at bay.  

#4 A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE

Movement is a critical component of mental health and wellbeing. Long, busy workdays make it difficult to find time to exercise, however it should be a foundation of every mental health plan. A recent meta-analysis of 92 studies on more than 4,310 people showed that light to moderate exercise significantly reduced the incidence of depression.(10) Try adding 15-20 minute walks at lunch or the end of your day to increase your activity level.

Strength training can also play a key role in mental health. Basic movements like squatting, lunging, bending, pushing, and pulling are deeply engrained in our DNA and exert tremendous positive benefit on multiple systems of the body: improving blood sugars and insulin, reducing inflammation, boosting testosterone (low levels have been associated with depression), and supporting healthy gut flora. If you’re not active, start slowly with 10-20 minutes of strength training 2-3 times weekly and focus on bodyweight type movements.

There is no “magic bullet” to fix depression. It’s a complex multi-factorial condition that is impacted by numerous systems of the body. From a biochemistry and physiology standpoint,  addressing root causes like blood sugar and insulin dysfunction, chronic inflammation, dysbiosis and leaky gut and maintaining an active lifestyle are great places to start so you can raise the playing field. (It's also important to consult a qualified mental health professional to address the underlying emotional root-causes). Take control of your mental health by making the small changes to your nutrition, movement and lifestyle so you can get back to feeling your best. Many people and athletes alike experience low mood and depression, you're not alone.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? High blood sugar and insulin levels are strongly associated with depression. Listen to diabetes expert Dr. Jason Fung MD in Episode #15.

 

 

REFERENCES

1. Timonen. M et al. Insulin resistance and depressive symptoms in young adult males: Findings from Finnish military conscripts. Psychosom Med 69(8):723-28.

2. Pyykkonen AJ et al. Depressive symptoms, antidepressant medication use, and insulin resistance: the PPP-Botnia Study. Diabetes Care. 2011 Dec;34(12):2545-7.

3. Felger J, Lotrich FE. Inflammatory cytokines in depression: neurobiological mechanisms and therapeutic implications. Neuroscience. 2013 Aug 29;246:199-229.

4. Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration. Diabetes mellitus, fasting glucose, and risk of cause-specific death. New England Journal Medicine, Mar 2011;364;9:328-341.

5. G. S. Hotamisligil, N. S. Shargill, and B. M. Spiegelman, “Adipose expression of tumor necrosis factor-α: direct role in obesity-linked insulin resistance,” Science, vol. 259, no. 5091, pp. 87–91, 1993.

6. Larrieu T, et al. Nutritional omega-3 modulates neuronal morphology in the prefrontal cortex along with depression-related behaviour through corticosterone secretion. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Sep 9;4:e437.

7. Moreno-Navarrete JM et al. Circulating zonulin, a marker of intestinal permeability, is increased in association with obesity-associated insulin resistance.. PLos One 2012;7(5):e37160.

8. VanWijck K et al. Aggravation of exercise-induced intestinal injury by Ibroprofen in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Dec;44(12):2257-62.

9. Matsui H et al. The pathophysiology of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-induced mucosal injuries in stomach and small intestine. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2011 Mar;48(2):107-11.

10. Rebar A, et al. A Meta-Meta-Analysis of the effect of physical activity on depression and anxiety in non-clinical adult populations. Health Psychol Rev. 2015 Mar 5:1-78.

7 Simple Benefits of Fasting

7 Simple Benefits of Fasting

We didn’t always have the option to eat all day long. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would go days, even weeks, with no food yet managed to cope and survive under these conditions. Before the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago food availability was highly unpredictable, in abundance in the summer and scarce in winter. Fasting has been a natural part of our evolution and practiced for millennia by all faiths as a means of “cleansing” the body and mind, yet today medical authorities warn us of the dangers of missing a meal (or even a snack).

Read More

Reduce Omega-6s (and Increase Omega-3s) for Better Health & Performance

If there’s one area where the nutrition media seems to sing a different and more confusing tune every week, it’s with their messages about fats.

Low fat was good for us, now it’s not. Saturated fats may not be the heart-clogging poison we thought. And what exactly are trans fats? It’s enough to make us throw our hands in the air and reach for the nearest burger.

Fortunately, one message has been consistent: omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) are extremely beneficial for your overall health.  

The problem is, not all sources of omega-3 fatty acids are created equal.

In fact, the most common plant source of Omega-3s, called DHA, is converted to the form that we use, called EPA. It’s EPA which exerts the majority of the potent benefits of omega-3 fats.

But that’s only half of the story. While omega-3’s benefit our health, too much consumption of its counterpart, omega-6 EFAs, increases circulating levels of inflammatory arachidonic acid (AA) which can promote heart disease, cancer and most chronic diseases. 1

Unfortunately, our bodies can more readily convert omega-6 fatty acids to AA. Especially among some multi-generational vegetarians. That’s why, for optimal health, it’s not enough to just increase your variety of DHA and EPA-rich foods. You need to reduce your intake of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats as well.  

Decrease Your Omega-6 Intake

The balance of omega-6 to omega-3 is critically important and unfortunately today’s modern diet is loaded with omega-6 fats. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of ancestral hunter-gatherer diets was approximately 2:1-3:1, whereas today’s ratio is around 10:1 to 20:1 (and higher among vegetarians). 2

Many people aren’t even aware they consume as much Omega-6 fatty acid as they do. It’s hidden in processed and convenience foods, used in most restaurants (even the expensive ones!) and in your favorite midday treat.

Vegetable and cooking oils are the most common sources. The following is a list of common omega-6 rich oils:

Oil - Omega-6 (%):Omega-3 (%)

Safflower- 75:0%

Sunflower- 65:0%

Corn - 54:0%

Cottonseed50%0%

Sesame - 42:0%

Peanut - 32:0%

Soybean - 51:7%

Canola - 20-9%

Fish Oil - 0:100%


Most of us will benefit from cutting out these pro-inflammatory oils in favor of animal fats like beef tallow and duck fat (best for high-heat cooking) as well as coconut, avocado, walnut, macadamia or extra-virgin olive oil (best for moderate-heat cooking).

Increase Omega-3 Intake (EPA/DHA)

Now that you’ve cleared your kitchen of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats, it’s time to ramp up your dietary intake of the extra-long chain omega-3 fats; DHA and EPA.

A daily intake of just 1g of combined EPA and DHA can have many positive effects. If you’re overweight or struggling with poor health, increasing your intake of omega-3 fats can improve blood sugar and insulin control, help fight off low mood and depression, and protect you from coronary heart disease. 3,4,5

If you’re exercising regularly (or just getting active), the University of Florida found consuming DHA post-training was able to significantly reduce exercise induced pro-inflammatory markers IL-6 and CRP over a two-week period. 6 In the UK, researchers at Cardiff University found that EPA and DHA were able to reduce key proteins that trigger the disease progression in osteoarthritis. 7

Fish: A Great Source of EPA

Terrific sources of extra-long chain omega-3 fats include Atlantic mackerel (2.6g per 3.5 oz. serving), herring (1.8g), tuna (1.6g), and salmon (1.5g per 3.5 oz.). If you like shell fish, blue mussels (0.5g per 3.5oz serving), oysters (0.6g), and squid (0.4g) are nice options as well.

Lean Meats: A Less Known Sources of Omega-3s

While most people naturally associate feedlot beef with saturated fats, and look to fish and seafood to get their omega-3s, grass-fed beef is actually a good source of EPA and DHA (0.3g per 3.5oz. serving).  Ancestral staples like wild game meats – elk, bison, venison, etc. – are also good options as they’re naturally low in pro-inflammatory omega-6 with some omega-3s.

Omega-3 Eggs

Pasture-raised eggs are far more nutrient dense than conventional eggs and provide 0.3g of omega-3s per two large eggs.8

If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 is what’s crucial for optimal health, as well as mental and physical performance.9,10,11 Focus on both reducing your intake of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats and increase your intake of extra-long chain omega-3 fats to reverse chronic degenerative conditions and restore health and vitality.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

References

[1]  ResearchGate. (March 29, 2016). Human genome shaped by vegetarian diet increases risk of cancer and heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/blog/post/human-genome-shaped-by-vegetarian-diet-increases-risk-of-cancer-and-heart-disease

[2]  Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(2):341-54.

[3] Delarue J et al.Interaction of fish oil and a glucocorticoid on metabolic responses to an oral glucose load in healthy human subjects.Br J Nutr.2006 Feb;95(2):267-72.

[4] Su K, et al.Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder. A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2003;13(4):267-271

[5] Okuyama H et al. ω3 Fatty Acids Effectively Prevent Coronary Heart Disease and Other Late-Onset Diseases – The Excessive Linoleic Acid Syndrome. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics (Karger) 2007, 96 (Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease):83-103. Retrieved From – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232471505_o3_Fatty_Acids_Effectively_Prevent_Coronary_Heart_Disease_and_Other_Late-Onset_Diseases_-_The_Excessive_Linoleic_Acid_Syndrome

[6] Phillips T et al.A dietary supplement attenuates IL-6 and CRP after eccentric exercise in untrained males.Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003;35(12):2032-2037.

[7] Zainal, Z et al. Relative efficacies of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in reducing expression of key proteins in a model system for studying osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2009 Jul;17(7):896-905.

[8] Karsten H et al. Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. Volume 25/ Special Issue 01 / March 2010, pp45-54. Retrieved From – http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7219036

[9] Sheppard, K.W. and C.L. Cheatham, Omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio and higher-order cognitive functions in 7- to 9-y-olds: a cross-sectional study. Am J Clin Nutr, 2013. 98(3): p. 659-67.

[10] Simopoulos, A.P., An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients, 2016. 8(3): p. 128.

[11] Simopoulos, A.P., The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother, 2002. 56(8): p. 365-79.

 

23 Reasons To Eat More Zinc-Rich Foods

Could you be missing this vital nutrient because of your diet? Find out if you’re not getting enough and missing out on the benefits of zinc.

In today’s 24/7 society of constant connectivity and longer work days, many people are struggling to keep up.

How can you stay on top of your work deadlines, find time to exercise, and have enough energy for family and friend time in the evening?

Fatigue, low mood, frequent colds and flu, and lack of vitality are more and more commonplace. While there are a number of essential vitamins and minerals, there are a select few that influence many key areas of your health. Zinc is one of those “all-star” nutrients.

Almost 20 percent of the population is at risk of overt zinc deficiency, while insufficient intake — a level at which your intake doesn’t meet your daily needs — is seen in almost one out two people. (1)

How important is zinc? It’s involved in over 300 different chemical reactions in the body. From immunity to wound healing, healthy skin to libido, zinc packs a serious health punch.

Here are 23 ways zinc can supercharge your health.

#1 Stops Cold and Flu

If you struggle with catching too many colds or flus, or find you’re always getting sick, then upgrading your zinc intake should be a top priority.

Zinc helps to supercharge the production of your first line of immune defense immune soldiers, neutrophils and natural killer cells, which means more protection for you from nasty bugs. (2)

#2 Supports Robust Metabolism

Whether it’s long days at the office or intense exercise sessions at the gym, stress is one of the primary causes of sluggish thyroid function and weight gain. Prolonged stress can decrease levels of both T4 and T3 thyroid hormone. Ensuring adequate zinc intake can protect against this effect. (3)

#3 Boosts Testosterone

Testosterone is equally important for both men and women. It’s vital for building lean muscle, keeping bones strong, supporting a healthy heart, and boosting libido. Zinc supports the production of testosterone at a cellular levels in the testes in men and ovaries in women if your levels are low. (4)

#4 Improves Blood Sugar

Maintaining steady blood sugar levels throughout the day is a hallmark of good health and maintaining an ideal body composition. Research in children shows increasing zinc intake has a dramatic improvement on fasting blood sugar levels. (5)

#5 Improves Insulin Function

If you’re overweight, out of shape, or in poor health, then you likely have poor insulin sensitivity. Insulin, your blood sugar hormone, has a powerful influence on weight gain and risk of chronic disease. Numerous studies show that zinc plays a key role in improving insulin sensitivity, helping to combat weight gain and chronic disease. (6)

#6 Optimizes Stomach Acid

Your stomach is in charge of breaking down the food you eat so you can absorb all the wonderful nutrients in your meal. This requires robust levels of stomach acid (HCl) to be produced.

Unfortunately, people are so busy at work that they often eat lunch without even leaving their desk, which can hinder HCl output, as can diets low in zinc, which is required to support the parietal cells that produce HCl. Vegetarians typically have lower stomach acid levels than meat eaters, and their diets are also lower in zinc. (7)

#7 Improves Fertility

If you’re trying to conceive, and you want to keep your “swimmers” strong (or your partner’s) then ensuring adequate zinc status is very important. Add some of the zinc-rich foods at the end of this post to increase your intake to improve fertility. (8)

#8 Fixes Acne Problems

Struggling with chronic acne? Nutrient deficiencies and poor nutrient absorption are often overlooked by today’s doctors. The research shows a strong correlation between low levels of zinc and increased severity of acne. (9)

#9 Boosts Low Mood

There are many factors that impact low mood and depression. On the nutrition front, correcting low zinc levels has been shown to reduce anger and incidence of depression in young women. (10)

#10 Supports Healthy Growth In Toddlers

Infants and young children are at particular risk of zinc deficiency. (11) If your child is not growing at the same rate as his or her peers, zinc deficiency may be a root cause.

The likelihood of low “height-for-age” in children under 5 years old has been recommended as an indirect indicator of zinc deficiency and when the prevalence of slow growth is greater than 20 percent, the risk of zinc deficiency is elevated. (12)

#11 Acts As Aromatase Inhibitor

If you’ve been struggling with weight gain and have increased belly fat, an enzyme called aromatase ramps up in fat cells that converts your muscle-building testosterone into fat-building estrogen.

The more overweight you are (particularly around the midsection, more commonly seen in men), the worse things get. Zinc acts as an aromatase inhibitor, which blocks this conversion… which is a good thing!

#12 Reduces DHT Levels

Another factor that reduces testosterone levels, particularly in men with male-pattern baldness or significant body hair, is the conversion of testosterone to DHT (dihydrotestosterone).

Like the aromatase enzyme, zinc helps to block the conversion of testosterone to DHT. (13) This is very good news because DHT is a much weaker form of testosterone and doesn’t provide the mood-boosting, muscle-building, or healthy heart-supporting benefits that regular testosterone does.

#13 Speeds Wound Healing

Fall off your bike lately? Snowboarding accident? Or simply cut yourself shaving? Zinc is an essential mineral that supports collagen formation, helping to rebuild tissue and accelerate wound healing. (14)

#14 Stops The Ringing In Your Ears

Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in your ears. In traditional Chinese medicine, being fatigued or rundown is tops on the list and in clinical practice high coffee intake (inhibits absorption of key minerals, like zinc, when taken with food) is also a primary culprit. The research shows that low zinc levels also may play a key role. Bump up your zinc levels and see if it’s the quick fix you need. (15)

#15 Increases Muscular Strength

Do you struggle with low back pain? How about low vitality and energy? Building strength in the gym is a great way to fight off all of these ailments. (Recall the famous quote… “only the strong survive!”)

If you do start going to the gym, adding more zinc into your nutritional arsenal has been shown to support significant increases in strength. (16)

#16 Supercharges Your Libido

Oysters have been traditionally viewed as an aphrodisiac, boosting libido and sexual vigor. It’s no coincidence that oysters are head and shoulders above all other foods when it comes to zinc status. Low libido? Eat more super zinc-rich oysters!

#17 Reduces Inflammation

If you’re overweight or in poor health, you’re likely suffering from some degree of systemic inflammation. Experts agree that high levels of inflammation are a root cause of many of today’s chronic diseases.

Getting enough zinc in your diet can help reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine molecules and reduce CRP levels in the body, a classic marker for systemic inflammation. (17)

#18 Boosts Brain Function

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a potent mood-boosting chemical that is decreased in athletes training intensely, overweight individuals, or those with systemic inflammation.

Interestingly, a significant positive correlation has been found between zinc and BDNF levels, which supports positive mood and brain function. (18) Another great reason to eat steak! (A great source of zinc).

#19 Fights Off Psoriasis

Approximately 7 million adults suffer from psoriasis, a skin condition marked by red, scaly patches that tend to be quite itchy. Topical zinc creams have been shown to be highly effective at reducing local psoriasis. (19)

#20 Protects Against Anorexia

Anorexia is most common among young women, a group that is also at high risk of zinc deficiency, in particular if they’re vegetarian. The medical journal Eating and Weight Disorders found that insufficient zinc intake adversely affects specific neurotransmitters in the brain and that zinc supplementation is able to correct these abnormalities. (20)

#21 Quenches Free Radical Damage

Your cellular membranes are responsible for communication between all the cells of your body, and free radical damage from a poor diet, lack of exercise, or environmental factors constantly cause free radicals — little fires that must constantly be put out by antioxidants. Zinc acts as an antioxidant to protect cell membranes from free radical damage. (21)

#22 Stops Diarrhea In Kids

If your kids are suffering from bouts of diarrhea, zinc supplementation has been shown to be an effective strategy for reducing both the severity and duration of the illness. (22)

#23 Helps Repair Leaky Gut

Zinc has been found to play a key role in protecting against intestinal permeability or leaky gut, a condition where undigested food, proteins, and bacteria from the gut can enter the bloodstream unimpeded, leading to immune system over-activation and possible autoimmune conditions. (23)

How do you know if you may be low in zinc? Common symptoms include poor immunity, low stomach acid, low testosterone levels, white spots on your finger nails, allergies, thinning hair, or acne.

Blood tests for serum or RBC zinc can help identify frank zinc deficiency, while zinc insufficiency is typically seen when lab results show low white blood cell (WBC) counts, as well as low levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP).

If you want to upgrade your zinc intake, oysters are your best bet. A 3-ounce serving provides 74mg, almost 500 percent of the daily recommended intake.

Beef and crab are the next best, at about 7mg per 3-ounce portion, and other meats like lobster, pork, and chicken provide 3mg per serving. Vegetable sources include cashews and almonds, at 1.6 and 0.9g per ounce.

If you want to upgrade your health, energy, and vitality, then ensuring your body is getting the right dose of the essential mineral zinc — responsible for over 300 key reactions in the body — is an absolute must.

(This article originally appeared on Paleohacks.com)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

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The Athletic Potential of Vitamin D

It’s the middle of winter, and the days are dark and cold. But you’re still training intensely and eating clean to get ready for your upcoming competition. Unfortunately, there is one vitamin no amount of clean eating can fix, especially in athletes. New research suggests maintaining the right levels of vitamin D may improve several elements of performance, including your VO2 max, sprint capacity, and power production.

A Growing Research Field

Exercise dramatically increases an athlete’s demand for vitamin D, as your muscle, heart, and vascular tissue all contain key vitamin D receptors. Today, studies show more than 50 percent of athletes are low in vitamin D.1 While the direct cause isn’t clear, it’s most likely a combination of things like inflammatory processes, muscular damage, increased protein synthesis requirements, increased immune activity, lack of sun exposure, race, and genetics.2

A clear vitamin D deficiency occurs at blood levels less than 20ng/mL (< 50 nmol/L), while insufficiency for athletes is generally defined at blood levels between 20-32 ng/mL (50-80 nmol/L). Insufficiency simply means you’re not getting enough to meet the demands of your activity. Intense training is demanding. New research suggests that 40-50ng/mL (100-125 nmol/L) seems to be the “sweet spot” for supporting optimal athletic performance, and experts agree the body needs daily replenishment to meet that requirement.3,4

Achieving your ideal vitamin D intake may upgrade six key areas of performance:

  1. VO2 max
  2. Muscular power production
  3. Testosterone levels
  4. Inflammation
  5. Susceptibility to colds and flu
  6. Mood

Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. VO2 Max

You likely spend a lot of time planning and periodizing your training to maximize your efforts, but did you know that not having enough vitamin D could compromise your maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2 max, a classic marker for assessing aerobic fitness? New research in professional hockey and soccer players found a strong correlation between low vitamin D status and VO2 max. If you’re a weekend warrior, this relationship may be even stronger.

Experts will tell you just because there is an association doesn’t mean that increasing the amount of vitamin D in your diet will improve performance. However, a new study in vitamin D deficient rowers found that 8 weeks of supplementation (6,000IU per day) resulted in more than a 10 percent improvement of VO2 max. For elite athletes, improving performance by 2-3 percent is the difference between a podium finish and being in the middle of the pack.5,6,7 Remember, more is not always better. Talk to your doctor and get tested before supplementing with high doses of vitamin D.

2. Power Production

Your muscle tissues have many key receptor sites for vitamin D, and they seem to play a key role in supporting power production. For athletes, increasing power production translates to improved performance on the playing field. Recently, the Canadian Women’s National Hockey strength and conditioning team found athletes with higher power production were more likely to make the final selection for the national team. 

Additionally, a study in soccer players found increasing baseline vitamin D status over an 8-week period resulted in an increase in 10-meter sprint times and vertical jump.8 While not all studies found this relationship, it’s important to ensure you meet the minimal baseline requirements to ensure maximum training benefit.

3. Testosterone Levels

Low testosterone is a common symptom in athletes who are over-reaching and overtraining. Unfortunately, too many people look for a quick fix rather than address why their testosterone levels are low in the first place. Vitamin D is a precursor to testosterone production and may increase the binding efficiency of testosterone to its receptors.4 Low levels are linked to increased protein breakdown, reduced strength, and increased body fat.

If you’re an athlete over age sixty, the connection is even more compelling because low vitamin D levels at that age correlate strongly to low testosterone levels.9 A new study over a 12-month time span found that adding approximately 3,000 IU of vitamin D daily resulted in increased total, bioavailable, and free testosterone.10 For those training through the winter, low testosterone combined with intense training will lead to sub-optimal recovery and increased risk of symptoms of overtraining (i.e., increased muscle soreness, low mood, fatigue, low libido, etc.). This is especially true for athletes who compete in indoor sports year round that limit sun exposure.

4. Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural product of intense training. However, too much inflammation can impair muscular function and future performance. One study showed adding an extra 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily can offset the increased inflammatory reaction with a high-volume training load of 10 sets of 10 reps of compound exercises in men and women.11

Interestingly, the group adding extra vitamin D also noted a mere 6 percent drop in power output over the course of the workout, while the group not supplementing had a 32 percent decrease in power. Amazingly, this deficit lasted for up to 48 hours. If you’re preparing for a competition or the CrossFit Games, maintaining power output during competition is critical to your performance.

5. Colds and Flu

There is nothing worse than catching a cold or flu in the days leading up to a competition. All those hard training days and dedication to be at the top of your game, only to be cut short by a nasty bug. If you’re low in vitamin D, the “foot soldier” immune cells that make up your innate immune system will also be low. If this first-line of immune defense is compromised, you’ll be at increased risk of infection.12

Vitamin D promotes hundreds of anti-microbial proteins in the body that fight off bacteria and viruses and helps keep your immune system robust in the build-up to competition. Research in athletic populations highlights that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D can reduce common infectious illnesses.13 If your levels are low, your immunity and performance will likely be compromised.

6. Mood

Training intensely isn’t just tough on your muscles and joints. It also takes a toll on your mental game. If you're an athlete, you regularly push that fine line between over-reaching (pushing beyond your limits to grow stronger) and overtraining (pushing too far beyond your limits). Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain a positive mood as you fight through the toughest weeks of your training.

Low levels of vitamin D are consistently associated with low mood and depression, and because many athletes train indoors through the winter months (and sometimes even summer, depending on your sport), deficient levels can impair you sense of well-being.14 Cognitive decline also impacts your decision-making abilities, which are crucial in the heat of competition, yet fatigue and pain make them very difficult.

Sources of Vitamin D

Now that you know vitamin D is key for optimal performance, where is the best place to get it? The sun is far and away your best source of vitamin D. Fifteen minutes of exposure on 5 percent of your skin leads to 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D production.4 If you live in a city with a true winter – north of the 42nd parallel – you’ll need more than sun exposure alone to meet your demands, as the sun isn’t high enough in the sky for an adequate dose.

Including vitamin D rich foods in your diet should always be your foundation, and the best dietary sources include egg yolks, pork (yes, bacon!), mushrooms, fortified milk, and yogurt (if you struggle to digest dairy effectively, discontinue).

Of course, if you live in a city with a true winter climate, food alone won’t meet your demands. The general recommendation for supplementing with vitamin D during winter is 1,000-2,000 IU per day. However, this is the case for the general population, not athletes. The research on athletes suggests between 4,000-6,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily is a good bet, however this should only be taken during your intense training phases (up to 8-12 weeks), or from November to March. If you decide to take vitamin D doses greater than 2,000 IU, you must get regular blood tests done with your doctor.

Give Yourself a Winning Edge

Whether your goal for 2016 is achieving a new personal best or finishing on top of the podium, make sure your vitamin D levels are adequate. Assess your vitamin D status, add more vitamin D-rich foods, and find the right supplement strategy to meet your needs.

Intense training requires a robust nutrition plan to meet your body’s demands, and failing to adequately replenish vitamin D can negatively impact too many key systems to ignore. Get your daily dose of vitamin D this winter. The research shows it can make all the difference.

(Read the rest of my article @BreakingMuscle)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

References

1. Farrokhyar F, et al., “Prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Sport Medicine 5 (2014): 365–78.

2. Willis KS, Smith DT, Broughton KS, Larson-Meyer DE. “Vitamin D status and biomarkers of inflmmation in runners,” Journal of Sports Medicine, 3 (2012): 35-42.

3. Ogan D, Pritchett K. “Vitamin D and the athlete: Risks, recommendations, and benefits,” Nutrients 5 (2013): 1856–1868.

4. Dahlquist D et al. “Plausible ergogenic effects of vitamin D on athletic performance and recovery,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12 (2015):33

5. Koundourakis N et al. “Relation of vitamin D level to maximal oxygen uptake in adults,” American Journal of Cardiology, 107 (2011):1246–9.

6. Forney L, et al. “Vitamin D status, body composition, and fitness measures in college-aged students,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (2014): 814–24.

7. Jastrz?bski Z. “Effect of vitamin D supplementation on the level of physical fitness and blood parameters of rowers during the 8-week high intensity training,” Facicula Educ Fiz ?i Sport, 2 (2014): 57–67.

8. Close G et al. “Assessment of vitamin D concentration in non-supplemented professional athletes and healthy adults during the winter months in the UK: implications for skeletal muscle function,” Journal of Sports Science, 31 (2013): 344–53.

9. Wehr et al. “Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men,” Clinical Endocrinology (Oxf), 73 (2010): 243–8.

10. Pilz S, et al. “Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men,” Hormone and Metabolic Research, 43 (2011): 223–5.

11. Barker T et al. "Supplemental vitamin D enhances the recovery in peak isometric force shortly after intense exercise," Nutr Metab (Lond), 10 (2013): 69.

12. Youssef D et al. “Vitamin D’s potential to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections,” Dermatoendocrinol, 4(2012):167-75.

13. Larson E. “Vitamin D supplementation in athletes,” Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop Series, 75 (2013): 109-21.

14. Polak M et al. “Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and depressive symptoms among young adult men and women,” Nutrients, 6 (2014): 4720–30.

7 Evidence-Based Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Fasting is a practice that’s been used for centuries in many diverse cultures and faiths to promote mental, physical and spiritual healing. From an evolutionary perspective, our Paleo ancestors would have gone long stretches of time without food and feasted in times of plenty. In today’s convenience society, food is everywhere and mindless eating – snacking even if you’re not actually hungry – is the norm.

You’ve likely heard many times that eating multiple small meals throughout the day is best for your health and that skipping meals is bad for you. What if skipping a meal was actually good for you? More and more research is coming out highlighting the potential benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) for not only losing weight but also for improving your overall health. It seems IF is not just a fad dietary approach, but a potential therapeutic tool to upgrade your health and support healthy weight loss.

Reducing your food intake during parts of the day has dramatic changes on key hormonal and physiological mechanisms in the body that may be catalysts for boosting your brain function, cooling inflammation, improving your heart health and slowing the aging process. It seems the wisdom from our ancestors may unlock some powerful health benefits!

Increases Fat Burning

After a full night’s sleep, you wake up with the perfect hormonal terrain for burning fat. Low insulin and high glucagon levels make delaying your first meal an effective strategy for prolonging this fat-burning period.

While the mantra “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is deeply ingrained in our society, if your breakfast is muffins, bagels, cereal or juice then perhaps it’s time to try another strategy. Studies show better blood sugar control, cardiac markers and significant weight loss with intermittent fasting for overweight and obese individuals. (1)

Intermittent fasting not only capitalizes on your perfect fat-burning hormone balance by delaying your first meal in the morning, but provides the added weight-loss bonus of limiting food consumption in the late evening.

Cools Inflammation

Inflammation is considered to be the root cause of almost every chronic disease. Weight gain is a powerful trigger for inflammation, and with two-thirds of the population classified as overweight or obese, this is a major roadblock to better health.

The Journal Obesity recently found that fasting induced a significant anti-inflammatory effect on the body, improving nervous system and immune function. (2) Cooling inflammation is critical for anyone trying to improve health or lose weight, and any dietary strategy that improves this key health marker is definitely one to consider.

Improves Brain Function

One of the most common questions I get asked by clients is how to improve their focus and concentration at work. Fatigue, brain fog, and inability to stay on task are common symptoms that people experience throughout the day. These symptoms are made worse by high blood sugars, insulin and weight gain.

Intermittent fasting may hold the answer for you. A recent study showed that IF in overweight mice led to much greater learning and memory scores. (3) They also had dramatic improvement in the structural function of their brains. Better brain function and a slimmer waistline…sounds like a nice combination!

Improves Low Mood

Low mood and depression are on the rise around the world, with the World Health Organization predicting that by 2030 it will be the leading cause of disease burden around the globe. (4) That is a powerful statistic, and, like most chronic conditions, it likely stems from a wide array of root causes.

 Low mood and depression are on the rise. Intermittent fasting can help by regulating blood sugar levels.

One root cause in particular, chronically high blood sugar and insulin, has shown a strong association with low mood and depression. With the average sugar consumption up to a whopping 160 lbs. per person per year, it’s no wonder more and more people are suffering from low mood and depression.

Supports Better Heart Health

Keeping your heart healthy is crucial for overall health, as heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Common causes include weight gain, lack of exercise, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which may be positively influenced by fasting.

 Delaying your first meal or going longer periods between meals can be a powerful weapon for improving your health.

Studies show that heart failure can be dramatically improved with fasting and significantly increase long-term survival. (5) If you’re overweight or out of shape, excessive carbohydrate and/or caloric intake can worsen your situation. Delaying your first meal or going longer periods between meals can be a powerful weapon for improving your health.

Slows the Aging Process

Exotic supplements and medications are available to help people look and feel younger, but food choices give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to anti-aging. A recent study in animals found that fasting helped to significantly reduce oxidative stress and fibrosis, two key characteristics of aging tissues. (6)

Again, these results reflect significant improvements in cellular function, something fad diets definitely don’t provide. If your cells are happy, you’ll be happy. Intermittent fasting may in fact be an effective strategy for slowing the aging process.

Easy to Follow

As a clinician, giving people a dietary plan to help them lose weight is the easy part; getting people to adhere to the protocol is the hard part. Compliance is a big piece of the puzzle. If a person can’t implement their nutrition strategy into their day-to-day life, then chances are they won’t stick to it.

Surprisingly, intermittent fasting seems to simplify things for people as studies show greater compliance with intermittent fasting compared to traditional calorie-reduced diets. (7) The best program is the one you (or your client) will stick to!

Guidelines for Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can be a great tool to use for 4-12 weeks to trigger weight loss and better health, or, for some people, a long-term lifestyle change. However, before you embark on this journey, you must make sure a few key systems are in good working order:

1. Diet – If you’re not eating clean and your diet is still made up of processed and convenience foods, then get your nutrition in line before starting

2. Sleep  If you struggle to fall asleep or don’t sleep through the night, then IF may not be the best fit for you as it may lead to increased cortisol stress levels.

3. Stress  Lack of sleep, busy workdays and intense training programs can all lead to chronic stress. If your stress levels are high, hold off on intermittent fasting until things settle down.

Most of my clients tell me they are very busy, often grabbing unhealthy breakfast options and snacks in the morning on their way to work. Intermittent fasting can not only provide a novel approach to weight loss and improved health, but also offers a potentially desirable lifestyle that frees up more time to work or spend time at home.

If you’re ready to start an intermittent fasting protocol, try it for 2-4 weeks and see for yourself how you may be able to upgrade your body, mind and energy levels with simply changing when you eat your meals!

(This article originally appeared @Paleohacks.com)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

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