Examine.com Blog - Interesting Revelations on Supplements

   
Posted by KamalPatel on Feb 26, 2015

In February 2015, over one million people have visited Examine.com. Almost 35,000 people visit us every day.

To compare, we had roughly 600,000 visitors in February 24, 2014.

We've been able to stick to our guns (unbiased, neutral, and independent) because of the massive support we've had from our fans and supporters.

Slowly but surely, working together (you guys spreading the word, us focusing on the evidence), we're making a dent in the nonsense that is health and fitness online.

We're one million strong now. And with your continued support, we're only gonna grow!


Posted by KamalPatel on Feb 24, 2015

There are several different ways to determine your body fat percentage, and with summer quickly approaching, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the most accurate method.

Body fat measurement techniques range from cheap and inaccurate, to expensive and precise. Though the ideal method is accurate, repeatable, and cheap, no such method actually exists. The two most accurate methods, hydrostatic weighing and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA, which is synonymous with DXA) are too expensive for the average person to use frequently.

A recent study compared the accuracy of DEXA and a ‘bod pod,’ or air displacement plethysmograph, a device that determines body fat based on how much air is displaced when a person gets in the pod. This is conceptually similar to hydrostatic weighing, except it uses air, not water.

This study examined three groups of participants: people with a below average BMI (18.5), higher than average (25 or greater), and a middle group with BMI between 18.5 and 24.99. Researchers performed two body fat measurement tests on each participant, six hours apart.

Underweight people measured with DEXA were determined to have 8.82% body fat, while the bod pod measured 16.15-16.16% body fat. The bod pod overestimated body fat by an average of 6.79-6.84%, when compared to DEXA measurements. The largest individual difference was 13.2%, which was observed when an individual with a very low body fat percentage was measured.

People with a healthy BMI had 20% body fat, as calculated by DEXA, compared to 21.96-22.45% according to the bod pod. Average weight individuals had slightly higher body fat percentage when measured by the pod pod, compared to DEXA.

Overweight individuals reported an average body fat of 34.38% when measured by DEXA, compared to 31.64-32.93% from bod pod measurements. Bod pod readings were slight underestimations compared to DEXA.

The researchers concluded that the bod pod was more accurate when testing people closer to a healthy BMI. The bod pod was less accurate than DEXA when it came to measuring very lean individuals. People with low body fat percentages were much more likely to get a higher reading from the bod pod, and people with higher body fat percentages were more likely to see a lower readout.

This finding is important for both research and self-tracking. The more accurate scientists can be when tracking data and people’s health, the more they know about potentially life-saving therapies and medicines. People who get their body fat tested (whether bodybuilders or just people looking to track their weight loss) sometimes equate the bod pod to DEXA in terms of accuracy, but they should be aware that measurements between the two can vary considerably.

Click here to learn more about fat mass and fat burners.


Posted by KamalPatel on Feb 19, 2015

Herbal tea products pop up frequently in supplement stores. Whether they’re marketed for weight loss or detoxification, herbal teas are often a haphazard mixture of herbs that’s geared toward taste, not necessarily health benefits. Still, there are a few herbs that have a unique effect. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, commonly known as uva ursi or bear’s grape, is sometimes included in herbal tea products, though it’s not a very popular dietary supplement.

Uva ursi is a plant native to Europe and North America. It is one of several plant species referred to as the bearberry. The leaves of uva ursi, often brewed into a tea, have traditionally been used by women to alleviate urinary ailments.

Uva ursi leaves contain a relatively large amount of hydroquinone, though not enough to result in toxicity. The liver can safely package hydroquinone to prepare it for waste disposal. This is the reason uva ursi supplementation can protect against urinary tract infections (UTI). When hydroquinone or its metabolites are present in the urinary tract, bacteria are unable to stick to tissue and are removed through urine.

Preventing bacterial adhesion is a potent and uncommon way of fighting bacterial infections. Cranberries, which also protect against UTIs, are also able to prevent bacterial adhesion without actually killing the bacteria. This mechanism explains the benefits Pelargonium sidoides provides for the respiratory tract as well.

Uva ursi cannot be recommended as a dietary supplement because there is a lack of human studies on its effects, though it has been found to be effective at fighting all of the tested strains of bacteria endemic to the urinary tract. Based on current evidence, uva ursi is a promising supplement, with a mechanism akin to cranberries. More research, ideally comparing uva ursi to cranberries, will determine uva ursi’s role in urinary health.

If you want to know more, we have quite a few other teas covered at Examine.com.


Posted by KamalPatel on Feb 13, 2015

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we've had a surge of people asking us what supplements they can take to help rev up their libido. Luckily, there’s a whole category of supplements available: aphrodisiacs.

Instead of focusing on muscles and fat loss, aphrodisiacs are supplements marketed to improve your love life. Aphrodisiacs are named after the Greek goddess of love and pleasure, Aphrodite, but unlike the goddess, these supplements cannot cause you to fall in love. Despite all the marketing, there are no compounds that are capable of such a mind-altering effect after oral supplementation.

The majority of these supplements are libido enhancers. Like with most supplement categories, it takes a bit of research to figure out which of these compounds work and which are a waste of your money.


Enhancing the libido

Supplements that enhance libido rarely undergo rigorous scientific examination. Though most of the supplements listed below have some evidence to support their effects, even the very best options have only been the subject of a couple studies.


Promising supplements

Maca and fenugreek are two of the best-researched libido-enhancing supplements. Both require at least a week of supplementation to provide benefits. Maca has been specifically shown to work for women, an often-overlooked population when it comes to libido enhancement.

Similar supplements include Tribulus terrestris and eurycoma longifolia jack, though there has only been one human study done on each of these herbs. There is, however, animal evidence that supports the results found in human studies, suggesting these herbs may be useful supplements to improve libido.

Supplements that are able to improve libido immediately after oral supplementation are rare and often come with unwanted side effects. Yohimbine has been shown to improve libido, but it should not be supplemented by people using medication for heart and brain conditions. Alcohol can also be an effective spur-of-the-moment libido enhancer for some people (in moderate doses) because it provides a small boost to testosterone and reduces inhibition. But this effect doesn’t work for everyone. Some people experience a small reduction to testosterone after imbibing alcohol, or no effect at all. This unpredictability, combined with alcohol’s health risks, make it unsuitable as a long-term testosterone booster and libido enhancer.


Ineffective supplements

There are many more herbal supplements marketed as libido enhancers, but if they’re not one of the four listed above, there’s a good chance the supplement is just marketing hype. Have you heard of DHEA, Ginkgo biloba, L-DOPA, or velvet antler? All of these supplements have been marketed as libido enhancers, despite evidence suggesting they are ineffective as oral supplements.

Even foods traditionally associated with romance and love turn out to have a limited effect on libido once they’re studied. Rose, used in aromatherapy, and chocolate (sometimes supplemented through cocoa extract) may have mild relaxing properties, notably for women, but these effects contribute more to stress reduction than libido enhancement.

There is no evidence to suggest eating oysters before bed improves performance, though if you’re low on zinc, oyster consumption could alleviate a deficiency, which can negatively affect several hormones that influence libido.

Visit the Examine.com page to find out more about supplements marketed as testosterone boosters.


Cautionary note: stimulants in the bedroom

Some people choose to introduce stimulants into the bedroom for special occasions. These supplements should be used cautiously, not just in terms of safety, but due to their potential effect on performance.

Apart from pharmaceutical options like Viagra, stimulants are generally not recommended for bedroom use. Ephedrine has been found to increase sexual arousal when supplemented by men and women, but other stimulants like nicotine, rather than influencing arousal, reduce perceived stimulation.

Any substance that increases diastolic blood pressure or increases the risks of cardiovascular damage should not be used with Viagra. For example, there are numerous case studies on marijuana use resulting in a heart attack when combined with Viagra, since marijuana increases diastolic blood pressure.


Spend your money wisely

Don’t let the marketing get to you. Chances are, you’d be better off spending your money on an extra-romantic dinner.

Before introducing a new supplement into the bedroom, talk to your partner. People taking medication or with chronic heart conditions should talk to their doctor before supplementing for the bedroom.

Have fun, and stay safe this Valentine’s Day!

For a step-by-step breakdown of supplements proven to work synergistically for increased libido check out our human effect matrix for libido here.


Posted by KamalPatel on Feb 10, 2015

February is National Heart Month. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide, it is preventable. That makes heart-health supplements a big business, which brings a lot of marketing fluff with it. Here are five supplements that have actual evidence behind their effects and have been shown to help lower your risk for heart disease (remember to always consult with your physician before taking anything).


Nitrates

Nitrates and potassium are two of the reasons vegetables are so good for you. Nitrates, found in beets and a variety of leafy greens, are a reliable and effective way to increase nitric oxide synthesis in the body, which improves circulation and reduces blood pressure.

Eating a diet high in nitrates decreases your risk for hypertension and the problems associated with high blood pressure, such as myocardial infarctions and sexual dysfunction.


Garlic

Hydrogen sulfide is another compound that can reduce blood pressure. In fact, it even aids in the creation of new blood vessels. Garlic, whether part of the diet or ingested through supplementation, is a cheap and potent way to increase hydrogen sulfide’s signaling in the body. Like elevated nitric oxide levels, improved hydrogen sulfide signaling helps sustain reduced blood pressure, while also promoting the growth of new arterioles.

Studies show that garlic can also reduce arterial calcification, as well as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, though this effect is less potent than its effect on hydrogen sulfide. Garlic is a good heart-health supplement because it can improve several parameters of heart health.


Vitamin K

A healthy artery is a flexible one. During arterial calcification, calcium adheres to the artery wall, increasing its stiffness. Arterial stiffness and “compliance” (the inverse of stiffness) are very reliable biomarkers of mortality from cardiovascular diseases.

In addition to providing benefits for bone health, Vitamin K (found in high doses in kale and natto) is one of the few dietary supplements that may be able to reduce arterial calcification. The optimum daily intake for vitamin K supplementation, characterized by heart health benefits, is higher than the amount food could reasonably provide. This is why vitamin K supplementation is recommended in addition to eating food rich in vitamin K.


Berberine

Insulin resistance can worsen cardiovascular health over time, since chronically elevated blood sugar levels can cause tissue damage and increased blood pressure.

Berberine, an AMPK activator (which means it draws glucose and lipids into a cell, allowing them to be used as energy) and comparable to the diabetes drug Metformin, is a very potent blood glucose–lowering agent that can be beneficial for people with glucose intolerance and diabetes. Berberine supplementation also reduces cholesterol and triglycerides.


Terminalia arjuna

Unlike the supplements above, which indirectly benefit the heart by improving and protecting blood vessels and other tissue, arjuna water extracts affects the heart directly. Although its exact mechanisms are unknown, Terminalia arjuna has a protective effect on cardiac tissue, shielding it from catecholamines or elevated glucose levels.

Human studies on Terminalia arjuna are limited by their small number of participants, but results show that the patients given arjuna experience a cardioprotective effect, especially in regard to left ventricle function.


Better heart health through food and supplementation

Adding more garlic, leafy greens, and beets to your diet is an easy first step to protect your heart and February is the perfect time to get started! Remember - supplementation comes after ensuring your nutrition is in check (and that you’re getting enough sleep).


Posted by KamalPatel on Feb 4, 2015

ERD #4 is out, and here’s your exclusive sneak peek!

Our fourth issue of the Examine.com Research Digest is out! This month, we explore a range of studies, from iPad hangovers (they exist) to the relationship between red meat and cancer.

In February’s sneak peek, Adele Hite asks a question we’ve all been thinking about, “what if there were no dietary guidelines?”

Serious about nutrition? Subscribe now OR check out our Facebook giveaway for a chance to win a one year subscription to ERD!


Posted by KamalPatel on Jan 30, 2015

Sometimes studies suddenly catch people’s attention, even years after they’ve been published. Recently, we’ve had a lot of people sending us articles related to this study, with the popular headline being that “a glass of red wine is equivalent to an hour of exercise.” With our ERD coming out next week, we thought it would be fun to do a quick analysis.

The basic study was simple: four groups of rats - sedentary, sedentary + resveratrol, exercise, and exercise + resveratrol.

If we look at Figure 2 we can see that in both cases, rats that took resveratrol did better than their colleagues who did not take any. But - when we compare the group of rats that exercised and took no resveratrol, they far outperformed the sedentary rats that took resveratrol.

In fact, if we were going to set “1.0” as a baseline (sedentary and no resveratrol), than the sedentary and resveratrol group performed at 1.25, the exercise and no resveratrol group clocked in at a 4.0, and the exercise and resveratrol clocked in at a 4.1.

Even with the study being done on rats, exercise was shown to be far more beneficial than resveratrol.

Finally, even if we somehow equate that 1.25 = 4, the dosage of resveratrol was 4g per kg of rat chow, or roughly 146mg per kb bodyweight (in rats). In humans the estimated dose (after estimated conversion based on body mass) is 24mg/kg, or about 1,600mg for a 150lb person.

To compare, red wine has roughly 2-7mg resveratrol per liter. A glass of wine is roughly 175mg. Or roughly 5.7 glasses of wine per liter. Even if we take the high end of 7mg, that means you would need to drink 229 liters of red wine (aka 1300 glasses of red wine) to get the same amount of resveratrol that rats get.

One would need to drink roughly 1300 glasses of red wine every day to match the resveratrol content from the study.

It should be noted that the study itself is well conducted, and has spurred even more research in the field of phytochemicals and exercise. It’s just (unfortunate) that the headlines don’t even come close to reporting the actual results of the study.

If you’re a professional and found the above analysis useful, you likely will find our Examine.com Research Digest (ERD) quite valuable. Every month, we do publish in-depth analysis of eight recent nutrition studies that make it easy to stay on top of the latest research. See a sneak peek from one of our previous issues, or get subscribed immediately.


Posted by KamalPatel on Jan 27, 2015

The Examine.com editors have finished the entry on Vitamin B3. Commonly called niacin, this essential vitamin is at the center of a great debate.

Supplementing niacin increases HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and reduces triglycerides. It causes a significant increase in HDL, to the point where supplementing niacin should greatly reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Yet, all the evidence points to the fact that niacin supplementation does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. At the very center of the debate lies one question: why?

Niacin’s effects on glucose metabolism may be the reason such significant biomarker improvements do not result in an actual reduced disease risk. When supplemented over a long period of time, niacin increases insulin resistance. Though not everyone experiences this side effect, it occurs frequently enough to be a concern, especially since researchers are still trying to figure out why this effect occurs.

An alternate form of niacin called nicotinamide (the other vitamin B3 vitamer) doesn’t affect cholesterol or insulin resistance, but preliminary evidence suggests it provides benefits for mitochondrial function and longevity after supplementation.

Many more studies are needed on both B3 vitamers before they can be recommended for supplementation. Niacin is a promising cardioprotective supplement, provided the major side effect of increased insulin resistance is thoroughly researched. A stack, or combination of supplements, designed to counteract niacin’s side effects, could make it an effective supplementation option in the future. Nicotinamide requires specific research on oral supplementation, but initial evidence is promising.

See the Human Effect Matrix for Vitamin B3


Posted by Sol on Jan 21, 2015

Any diet promising a quick fix is always too good to be true. Good health takes time and dedication. Still, that doesn’t stop fad diets and their marketers from gumming up the airways with advertisements. One kind of fad diet always makes the rounds this time of year: the cleanse, or “detox” diet.


What exactly is a cleanse?

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a specific definition for either of these interchangeable terms. Presumably, the goal of a cleanse is to eliminate harmful substances from the body by “flushing” them out through a combination of caloric restriction and a liquid-only diet. Many cleanses are supposedly aimed at specific body parts, whether it’s a liver cleanse, a colon cleanse, or the almighty Master Cleanse.

Cleanses and detox diets often involve strict food limitations, usually allowing only fruit and vegetable juice, or other drinks. The master cleanse, for example, prescribes a daily six to twelve glasses of lemonade containing maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Supposedly, this concoction will remove toxins from the body, and according to its creator, support the “elimination of every kind of disease.”

While minor differences might differentiate one fad cleanse or detox diet from another, no specific one is worth dissecting in detail, since a new one will be around the corner, claiming to be more effective than the others. In simple terms, detox and cleanses hinge on the premise that the human body accumulates “toxins” as a result of exposure to pesticides, pollutants, food additives, or simply from inadequate flushing of metabolic waste.


Does the body need cleansing?

It is important to understand, however, that the human body is remarkably resilient. The liver, kidneys, lungs, and several other organs work around the clock to remove harmful substances and excrete waste products of metabolism. They don’t need any help from pepper-infused lemonade. Moreover, there is evidence that commercial detox supplements are not based on facts. A 2009 investigation found that not a single company behind 15 commercial cleanses could name the toxins targeted by their treatment, agree on the definition of the word ‘detox’, or even supply evidence that their products work.

The fact that no company can name the toxin their product targets reveals just how little of an effect cleanses have. To scientifically determine the effectiveness of a treatment, the toxin being investigated first needs to be identified in order to accurately measure its accumulation in the body. Then, researchers would investigate the effects of pharmaceuticals or supplements on the toxin. Finally, scientists would begin to explore a hypothesis for why the toxin is affected by a particular drug or supplement. For example, scientists researching the effects of organochlorine pesticides, which are known to accumulate in mammals, not only know the name of the toxin they are researching, but they have also determined that accumulation can be limited by the pharmaceutical Orlistat. In fact, the mechanism behind Orlistat’s effect on organochlorine is largely understood: normally, organochlorine pesticides can move between the liver and intestines. Orlistat confines the toxins to the intestines, where they are removed as waste.

This is not to say that the human body does not accumulate low levels of toxicants, such as heavy metals or certain fat soluble substances. Rather, the takeaway is that detox diets or cleanses have no demonstrable effect on the removal or excretion of these toxicants.


How can you explain apparent cleanse benefits?

Fad cleanses often spread through word-of-mouth despite their apparent lack of beneficial health effects. Since a cleanse involves caloric restriction, temporary weight loss often results. This is a result of glycogen loss from the liver and muscles, not fat loss. Under caloric restriction, the body’s glycogen stores can easily be depleted in 24-48 hours, resulting in a weight loss of several pounds (both from the glycogen burnt, and the water weight associated with glycogen storage). Once a regular eating schedule is resumed, however, the glycogen and water come rushing back. Nevertheless, this temporary weight loss leads a lot of people to believe the cleanse they just completed had some beneficial health effects.

Not to mention - most people eat poorly. A cleanse usually brings with it vegetable and fruit consumption, which brings a host of nutrients their regular diet is likely severely lacking in.

Instead of doing a cleanse for a New Year’s resolution, focus on long-term sustainable health habits, like eating nutritious food on a daily basis. Leafy greens, ample protein, and food chock-full of vitamins is not just tastier than a cleanse, but will actually benefit your body too.


Posted by Sol on Jan 15, 2015

Our third issue of the Examine.com Research Digest is out! With studies ranging from heart benefits of alcohol, to weight gain and how marijuana use affects your brain, this month’s ERD promises the latest in nutrition and supplement research over the past few weeks.

January’s sneak peek includes an investigation on the progression of carbs and saturated fat intakes - read it now.

And if you’re serious about nutrition, subscribe now!