We’re lucky to be in a position where we don’t have any sponsors or donors or advertisers to make happy. It’s what lets us be unbiased. Unfortunately, most people do have to worry about the influence of money.
Andy Bellatti has been raising the siren on the cosy relationship between industry and researchers for a while, and he has a must-read article (from the latest issue of our Examine.com Research Digest).
Click here to read "How the food industry spins science to fit its agenda" now.
A lot of people think food is pretty straightforward when it comes to improving how you feel. Just pick your favorite meal, maybe grab a beer or glass of wine, and go to town! Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
A favorite meal or snack will definitely perk you up for a bit, but the effect won’t be as long-lasting, consistent, or healthy as incorporating a variety of vitamins and minerals into your regular diet. There are even some foods that have natural stress-reducing effects, making them a great way to improve mood without resorting to comfort food.
Zinc and Magnesium are both indirectly associated with improved mood. Studies show that people with depression tend to have lower magnesium levels than people without depression. Some antidepressants, like amitriptyline and sertraline, actually increase magnesium levels in red blood cells. There is animal evidence to suggest a lack of magnesium in the diet is associated with increased anxiety and symptoms of depression, but more research is needed to confirm this kind of direct relationship in people.
Bananas, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate are good sources of magnesium.
Zinc does not have an antidepressant effect by itself, but it increases the effectiveness of antidepressant effects from other food and supplements. Meat, eggs, legumes, and oysters are high in zinc.
To supplement zinc, take 25 – 30 mg a day, with a meal. Zinc supplementation does not improve mood when supplemented by people suffering from clinical depression.
Need help with your sleep? A great way to avoid feeling tired during the day is a good night's rest, but for most of us, that might be easier said than done. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamomilla recutita) has traditionally been used for its relaxing and calming effect. It is often brewed into a tea. Two double-blinded studies have shown chamomile to be effective for people struggling with anxiety and troubled sleep, though more research is needed to determine the mechanism for this effect.
Another option for fighting fatigue is supplementing with Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid that can alleviate fatigue associated with elevated ammonia levels. Ammonia buildup can be the result of prolonged exercise or long work hours. Several liver disorders, like hepatic encephalopathy, are also associated with high levels of ammonia.
To supplement ornithine, take 2 – 6 grams a day. People with normal ammonia levels will not benefit from ornithine supplementation.
If stress seems to be the root of your problems, supplementing Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwagandha might help. Both these supplements are adaptogen compouds. Adaptogens desensitize the body to stress before it occurs and can alleviate depression, mood swings, and irritability. More specifically, rhodiola rosea has been specifically shown to prevent and relieve burnout caused by stress. Ashwagandha is well-tested and has been shown to be effective for athletes, as well as people suffering from social anxiety.
Daily doses of 50 mg of Rhodiola rosea have been shown to be effective at fighting daily fatigue. To supplement Rhodiola rosea in preparation for a specific stressful event, take 288 – 680 mg. Do not exceed 680 mg, as higher doses have been shown to be ineffective. To supplement ashwagandha, take 300 – 500 mg, with breakfast, in preparation for a stressful day.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are associated with a variety of health benefits, and preliminary evidence suggests treatment-resistant depression is associated with a low concentration of EPA in the brain.
Fish Oil, derived from fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, mussels, and trout, is high in EPA and DHA. Fish oil supplementation has been shown to be effective at reducing symptoms of depression, specifically when taken by people suffering from major depression. People that eat a lot of fatty fish don’t need to supplement fish oil. Algae is the best alternative for vegetarians and vegans.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood. Low levels of serotonin are one of the contributing factors to depression. Poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, dairy, and legumes are all good sources of tryptophan.
Another option for improving serotonin levels is supplementing 5-HTP, the precursor to serotonin. However, eating food that contains tryptophan will enable slower, more prolonged production of serotonin, compared to the rapid production associated with 5-HTP supplementation. Supplementation of tryptophan is not as effective as 5-HTP supplementation.
To supplement 5-HTP, take 300 – 500 mg a day. Do not take 5-HTP if you are taking any neurological drug or antidepressant. High levels of serotonin are very dangerous and potentially lethal.
St. John’s Wort is a well-researched herbal antidepressant, comparable in strength to pharmaceutical alternatives like tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Do not supplement St. John’s Wort if you are taking antidepressants like SSRIs, SNRIs, or MAOIs. St. John’s Wort increases serotonin signaling in the brain and, like 5-HTP, can result in an overdose if taken alongside medication.
Agmatine is a neurotransmitter that works synergistically to increase the effects of other antidepressant compounds, including bupropion, SSRIs, adenosine, imipramine, and folic acid. Agmatine does possess some antidepressant effects, but they are weaker than comparable reference drugs, like imipramine.
Before supplementing a compound to alleviate symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor.
Comfort foods tend to be loaded with sodium and packed with calories, without a lot of nutrients to show for them.Don’t give in to the temporary pick-me-up, no matter how tempting it is. Instead, evaluate your weekly diet to determine if you could include some additional healthy foods that will also improve your day-to-day mood.
Change your diet one step at a time. Start by adding a dark, leafy salad to your lunch, or replace burger night with fish night. As you change your diet, take note of your mood. Taking the time to track results will help you stick to your goals.
Supplementation should be the last step in a dietary overhaul. Eating better food to become a happier person is cheaper, delicious, and more effective than supplementation.
If you’re a marathoner (or training to be one), you may have noticed that many popular supplements intended to improve your physical performance, fall flat when used during endurance events. Pre-workout supplements and stimulants, for example, don’t work because a marathon typically lasts longer than the stimulant itself, leaving you crashing mid race. Even Creatine, a supplement used to improve physical performance, is counterproductive because it results in temporary water weight gain, which makes running harder.
Carbohydrate supplements however, are far more effective than traditional physical performance enhancers. Gel packs, or energy gels, are ideal for improving marathon performance because they are easy to ingest during a race.
So what makes gel packs so effective? Runners talk about eating a big bowl of pasta the night before a race because “carb-loading” is a good way to increase glycogen levels. A lot of glycogen is used in the first 10 minutes of exercise, and the rate of glycogen use falls until it is depleted altogether.
Have you ever ‘hit the wall’ during a marathon?
Glycogen depletion is responsible for that feeling. Eating a lot of carbohydrates the night before might delay the wall, but it won’t necessarily prevent it altogether. This is why energy gels are an ideal way to get mid-race carbohydrates. They are dense and viscous, which reduces the risk of intestinal upset, even during exercise. Plus, they’re light and portable, which means you can carry them with you or easily snag a few from an aid station. Just don’t forget to properly dispose of the wrapper!
A recent study investigated whether energy gel supplementation in the middle of a race can help delay or prevent hitting the wall during a marathon. Researchers split non-elite marathon runners into two groups. One group was provided energy gels containing 20 grams of carbohydrates and 30 milligrams of caffeine (equivalent to one cup of tea), and were told to eat two before the race, one when they believed they had hit the wall, and another every 20 minutes afterward. The runners in the second group were left to fend for themselves. Researchers also monitored the water intake of both groups.
The results show that the energy gel group was able to maintain its speed throughout the marathon, while the control group began to drop off around the halfway point. Though both groups were running at about the same speed at the beginning of the marathon, researchers found significant differences at the last three checkpoints of the race, beginning at the 18 mile mark.
The runners supplementing energy gels averaged a completion time of 3:38.31 while the control group had an average completion time of 3:49.26. Energy gel supplementation was found to improve time by just over 10 minutes, or by about 5%.
Runners having trouble with energy levels or anxious about hitting ‘the wall’ for the first time can consider energy gel supplementation to improve their time and avoid getting hit by a ton of bricks.
Never try anything for the first time during a race. If energy gels sound right for you, try taking one or two during a long training run. You don’t want to find out gels disagree with you when you’re lining up at the starting line.
Do you remember how you felt after your very first cup of coffee (ever)? Excitement and a remarkable ability to focus...Sometimes, even euphoria. Compare that with the slightly less-sleepy feeling you get after the fifth cup of coffee this morning. So, what happened since that first, magical sip?
Found in tea and coffee, caffeine is the world’s most popular stimulant. We usually associate a cup of coffee with happiness, and for some of us, even relief. Unfortunately, only people who aren’t used to caffeine will experience the euphoric effects associated with that cup of liquid gold. Chances are, if you’re a coffee-lover, you’ll only experience caffeine’s anti-sleep effect, and not much else.
And before you reach for that second cup, remember, caffeine tolerance is an insurmountable tolerance. This means more, doesn’t necessarily mean better. Increasing the amount of caffeine you consume will not amplify the effects of caffeine, no matter how much coffee you drink.
So the question is, are you considered caffeine tolerant? The ‘bad news’ is, just drinking coffee more than a few times a week will increase your caffeine tolerance, which means no super-focus and no euphoria. If you want to maximize the benefits of caffeine, you may want to try weaning yourself off of it or excluding it from your diet for a month, which will allow your tolerance to fade.
Caffeine blocks a subset of adenosine receptors called A2A receptors. These receptors are normally responsible for the sleepy feeling that signals you to get ready for bed, but when caffeine blocks this receptor, that sleepy feeling disappears. Blocking this receptor also augments dopamine signaling, which results in the stimulated feeling associated with caffeine.
Caffeine tolerance prevents augmented dopamine signaling, which is why coffee veterans don’t feel true stimulation after drinking a few cups. Even the most enthusiastic coffee drinker however, will benefit from the anti-sleep effect caused by blocked adenosine receptors.
For many of us, grabbing that hot cup of coffee or tea in the morning, has become almost instinctual. It doesn’t just taste great, it also helps us kick off that lingering feeling of fatigue after a poor night’s sleep. But just in case you need another excuse to drink coffee, here are two more science-backed reasons to justify each sip:
Caffeine increases catecholamine signaling (adrenaline and dopamine) in the body, which doesn’t just make you feel good, but also increases motivation and improves focus. Just like how supplementing Creatine alongside exercise improves exercise performance, supplementing caffeine while studying will improve retention and focus.
A caffeine dose of 400 – 600 mg is one of the most reliable and potent ways to temporarily increase strength through supplementation. People who are caffeine naive will typically experience improved power output during strength training or anaerobic exercise.
Caffeine can also play a role in recovery post-workout, whether you’re caffeine naive or caffeine tolerant. Ingesting caffeine alongside carbohydrates can improve the rate of glycogen replenishment, which is particularly important if you work out very frequently or multiple times per day.
How do you maximize the benefits of caffeine? Drink less. Or to be even more specific, less frequently. It may be difficult, but capping off your caffeine intake to once or twice a week is the best way to get more from each cup.
Having turned four years old last month, and with over a million people visiting us every month, it's time for us to expand our team to make sure we remain your best resource on unbiased information on supplementation and nutrition.
These are all part time positions, but essential to our workflow and great as learning opportunities.
We're looking for additional members to join our research team. The team includes members with a variety of backgrounds, from those with dietetics degrees to biomedical PhDs to those with doctorates in pharmacy. Researchers work with the most nitty gritty details of research, and must be intimately familiar with interpreting and evaluating peer-reviewed articles on nutrition and supplementation.
Copyeditors help translate research into reader-friendly writing. A high level of curiosity and interest in nutrition and supplementation is an asset, and experience as a copyeditor is a prerequisite. The ideal candidate would have enough coursework in science to understand concepts that we cover, in addition to at least a couple years of copyediting experience, preferably with a college or graduate degree in writing as well.
This position is mainly for those with advanced degrees and experience. Reviewers provide an additional layer of expertise for the information we put out, making sure that we don't miss essential points and are as accurate as possible. They should have broad knowledge as well as formal research experience.
The Journal of Drug Testing and Analysis published an article earlier this month concerning an herb being sold today that may warrant U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action. The herb is called Acacia rigidula, and its main bioactive is β-methylphenylethylamine (BMPEA).
BMPEA was first synthesized in the 1930s, but it was only discovered to come from a natural source in 1997. Acacia rigidula is a source of various amines that may have psychiatric effects, based on their chemical structure. BMPEA, in relatively high doses of 960-60,500µg/g, was also found to have these effects. In fact, it may cause a false positive for an amphetamine drug test.
The published article describes how researchers examined 21 dietary supplements found on store shelves and found that 11 of them contained a bioactive amount of BMPEA, meaning 93.7mg a day or more. The authors of the article called for FDA action because BMPEA lacks safety testing despite being found in multiple supplement products.
The researchers are correct when they say that there is not much evidence for BMPEA’s safety. Searching PubMed for Acacia rigidula reveals only four articles on the topic, none of which include tests in living animals, much less people. Searching for information on BMPEA reveals similar lackluster results. The Examine.com page on Phenylethylamine (PEA) summarizes the research on BMPEA in section 1.4 (where it is called β-Me-PEA) by describing the chemical structure, since there is so little other evidence.
Despite the lack of evidence for Acacia rigidula’s effects and the nonexistence of safety testing, it’s still found in supplements. Supplement manufacturers, particularly companies that sell stimulants, are in a constant arms race to provide their customers with better, stronger, newer supplements than their competitors. That’s why questionable compounds end up on store shelves.
Untested supplements are potentially dangerous, and that goes double for stimulant compounds. Almost every stimulant is harmful if abused or used improperly, but no research means no warning labels. People that shouldn’t normally take stimulants because of a weak cardiovascular system or heart issues can’t know that they shouldn’t take a supplement containing Acacia rigidula, which puts them at greater risk for harm.
Much more research is needed before Acacia rigidula can be added to supplement products. While an FDA ban may be too reactionary, leaving the compound on store shelves when it might hurt people is an equally poor decision.
Supplement manufacturers adding understudied psychoactive amines to their products should read up on case studies concerning geranium, 1,3-DMAA, dendrobium, and AMP citrate, because adding those compounds to supplements will also summon the FDA to your door.
Eating at a caloric deficit for extended periods isn’t just physically difficult, but also mentally. Battling hunger cravings can be frustrating because you’re often fighting both brain and body, trying to convince them that no, you don’t actually want to eat that brownie.
Luckily there are several methods, backed by scientific evidence, that can help curb hunger cravings.
The body naturally produces a variety of peptides and hormones that suppress hunger.
One class of receptors, called mechanoreceptors, are located in the stomach and intestines and are not actually activated by any specific molecule, but by the stretching of tissue. That means that expanding the stomach will result in appetite suppression, regardless of what is causing the expansion.
Eating low-calorie food that results in intestinal bulk is a good way to limit caloric intake while suppressing the urge to eat more. While vegetables with a high water content will shrivel and shrink after consumption, foods high in soluble fiber will ‘gel’ and expand in the stomach. Vegetables high in cellulose, an indigestible carbohydrate, will also result in increased intestinal bulk.
A popular supplemental fiber option is Metamucil. Metamucil is a digestion aid made up of flavored soluble fiber. It can be added to a shake, but just make sure to drink the shake quickly or else the Metamucil will gel before it hits the intestines.
Do not use appetite suppressant products that are not digestible. Sponges, stomach balloons, and other devices are dangerous and can cause intestinal blockage, which is a medical emergency.
Emotional eating is a common symptom of stress and can derail weight loss. Since emotional eating is not a result of physical hunger pangs, it cannot necessarily be controlled through increased fiber intake.
The best way to fight emotional eating is to buckle down and take on your stress. Though it is impossible to provide a generalized solution that will work to alleviate everyone’s stress, maintaining healthy sleep habits and dialing in your diet are two good lifestyle steps to reducing stress.
A consistent sleep schedule in a quiet, dark sleep environment is vital to reducing stress.
If lifestyle changes don’t alleviate stress and emotional eating episodes continue, considering supplementing an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbal supplements that cause a mild stress response after supplementation. This response desensitizes the body to further, real stress.
Supplementing an adaptogen will not directly reduce hunger, but it can reduce the hunger cravings sometimes associated with increased stress levels.
Adrenaline also reduces appetite. When the body is stimulated, blood is redirected away from the digestive tract, to help prepare for a fight – or flight.
Stimulants and other supplements that increase adrenaline also have this effect. A low dose of a stimulant can help reduce hunger, but too much can result in nausea and other side effects.
People that aren’t used to caffeine can drink coffee in the morning to reduce hunger. This strategy may not be effective for people that are used to caffeine.
Other, more powerful stimulants, like synephrine and yohimbine, can also reduce hunger cravings, but they may not be appropriate for daily use like coffee is.
Using stimulants to curb hunger cravings at night is not recommended due to their disruptive effect on sleep.
There are also several supplements with preliminary evidence to support appetite suppression. These include Ginger, 5-HTP, and Caralluma fimbriata. Much more research is needed before these supplements can be recommended specifically to curb hunger cravings.
Have you heard of Hoodia gordonii or Garcinia cambogia supplements advertised as appetite suppressants? Both of these supplements had promising animal evidence for their effects on appetite, but follow-up studies revealed these effects didn’t occur when the herbs were supplemented by people. Unfortunately, marketing had already spread these products far and wide.
There are no shortcuts in health and nutrition. Still, many people need some help with hunger cravings now and then. That’s why there are hundreds of products aimed at suppressing appetite. Yet most of the effective strategies listed above don’t even involve supplements!
In other words, don’t waste money on hype. Fiber is way cheaper.
A recent study has been making rounds in the media that investigates supplements (including creatine) and their potential impact on testicular cancer.
The authors of this paper wanted to investigate the relationship between testicular germ cell cancer (TGCC), the most common form of tumor-forming cancer in young men, and muscle building supplements.
In this population-based case-control study, the authors recruited male residents from various hospitals (in either Massachusetts or Connecticut) during 2006-2010. These men were histologically confirmed to have some degree of TGCC, People in the control groups were recruited from the same age demographic, and were also male residents at these hospitals.
Residents were given a questionnaire asking about their usage of “muscle building supplements“ (MBS), where ‘usage’ was defined as “at least once a week for four consecutive weeks.”
The questionnaire asked:
Groin injury, cryptorchidism (about 10% of TGCC cases have a history of this, so it is considered a risk factor) and being caucasian was more common in the TGCC group compared to the control. Alcohol use, tobacco use, and education level were similar between groups.
Researchers found that male residents who reported to have used MBS had an increased risk of developing TGCC (adjusted odds ratio of 1.65 with a 95% CI of 1.11-2.46).
Other findings included:
Studies like these do not prove a causal relationship (taking X causes Y). Instead, they reveal a potential connection, which further research must investigate in order to determine what causes this potential relationship.
As such, this study should not be used as evidence to prove anything. Instead, it acts as a stepping stone to more in depth research.
The main issue with this study is how broad the category of ‘Muscle Building Supplements’ (MBS) is. The authors state that the participant interview included an assessment of 30 different types of MBS powders or pills but disclosed:
Specifically, the article stated that “The interview included an assessment of 30 different types of MBS powders or pills. The major ingredients, including creatine, protein, and androstenedione or its booster, were abstracted according to the product ingredients.”
The researchers also specified that the ingredients were abstracted, or taken at the word of the label. If the label claimed there was androstenedione in the supplement, the authors assumed it was true. There was no mention of analyzing the supplements to confirm this. Confounding ingredients or ‘hidden’ ingredients (those not disclosed on the label) do not seem to be accounted for. This is particularly relevant in the context of the recent revelations of poor supplement quality in the industry.
This kind of ambiguity makes it difficult to connect the results of this study with anything more specific than the general category of muscle building supplements. Moreover, it’s nearly impossible to dissect what this category actually refers to. The only three components disclosed are also very different in terms of their actions in the body.
The breakdown also seems a bit odd, since the major selling point of this article’s abstract is that people who have reported usage of something in this vague all-encompassing category even once, are at higher risk than people who have reported never using something in this category. Consuming a protein powder once a week for a four-week span at any point in your life would count as your ‘one’ usage according to the interviews used in this study.
Since the MBS category is too vague and broad to dissect, no specific recommendations can be made based off of the results of this study. The fact that it is a retrospective questionnaire with odd usage criteria of four times a month doesn’t help.
Ultimately, this study does not offer enough evidence for current MBS users to change their supplementing habits at all. However, this kind of study will spark interest in the topic of MBS and testicular cancer, spur more research and hopefully, result in a better questionnaire that can be used to predict relative risk of various cancers.
This study does not provide practical evidence to answer the question, on a personal level, “will this supplement I’m using give me testicular cancer?” It is, however, always a good idea to look up each ingredient in your dietary supplement in Examine.com’s database to see if any provide individual cause for concern. For example, you can see that the body of existing research finds creatine to be safe.
At this moment in time, there is no reason to fear ‘muscle building supplements’ as a group.
Our sixth issue of the Examine.com Research Digest is out and this month, we’ve investigated the health benefits of berries, curry and… Yakult?
April’s sneak peek delves into how BPA in canned drinks impacts your blood pressure. So put that soda can down and click here to learn more about BPA and your health!
Serious about nutrition? Subscribe now for the latest in nutrition research.
It’s been an amazing four years and we can’t begin to describe how much we appreciate your overwhelming support. As you know, our mission at Examine.com is to be useful and provide you with the best in nutrition and supplement research. We wanted to celebrate this April 1st with a product everyone can use, whether you're a professional or a layperson.
The #1 request we've had from our users since our founding has been to sell them supplement stacks they can trust. We already know more about supplements than anyone else in the industry, so who better to come up with the perfect combination? We have Stack Guides that tell you what to do, but why not make it even easier for you? Why not offer the very products our stacks recommend?
In an effort to make supplementing even easier for our readers, we’ve decided to ditch our unbiased approach to help you get the tools you need for better health!
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