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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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If you look up the term "antioxidant" on pubmed, you get around 423,000 papers. And that number will continue to climb each week.
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Today, Examine.com presents a page on L-alanyl-L-glutamine, a dipeptide molecule similar to alanine and glutamine, also known by its brand name, Sustamine.
Dipeptides are made up of two amino acids. They are sometimes referred to as nature’s prodrug. A prodrug is a compound that becomes active when it is metabolized by the body. In a way, L-alanyl-L-glutamine is a prodrug for glutamine.
Glutamine is an amino acid that plays a critical role in muscle function and development. However, it’s not a very useful supplement. After supplementation, glutamine ends up predominantly in the intestines and liver, which provide the body with glutamine on an as-needed basis. This prevents glutamine from having any performance-enhancing or muscle-building effects. It may, however, be a useful supplement for intestinal health and muscular endurance.
L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine is claimed to allow glutamine to get past the liver and intestines, since its dipeptide structure is thought to act like a prodrug. Unfortunately, current evidence is not promising, suggesting that supplementing L-alanyl-L-glutamine does not provide more benefits than glutamine itself.
L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine is very water-soluble, which means it may play a promising role in IV nutrition. Plus, it’s way easier to dissolve in a drink, so it may be gentler on the digestive system, which is important for endurance athletes.
L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine is a more water-soluble glutamine. If you’re thinking of supplementing glutamine for intestinal health or endurance exercise, L-alanyl-L-glutamine may be a better option, since the increased water solubility poses a lower risk for intestinal distress.
The Examine.com editors have finished the page on bioactive compounds in chocolate. Collectively, these molecules are called Cocoa Extract.
Most of the interest in cocoa extract is due to its high (-)-epicatechin content. Low doses of (-)-epicatechin are associated with benefits related to blood flow, due to improved nitric oxide (NO) synthesis.
Unlike most pre-workout supplements, which provide L-Arginine in an effort to unreliably increase nitric oxide, (-)-epicatechin works at the rate-limiting step of NO production by stimulating the enzyme that produces it. This results in improved blood flow to the brain and reduced blood pressure. This effect may be able to reduce the rate of cognitive decline in older adults. One study even found healthy people supplementing (-)-epicatechin experienced a protective effect in the kidneys due to improved oxygenation.
Improving nitric oxide synthesis also improves insulin signaling. This is why low doses of (-)-epicatechin improve insulin sensitivity, particularly in muscle tissue. Evidence from animal studies suggests this may improve physical performance and facilitate effective energy use in muscles.
Eating dark chocolate (50 – 85% cocoa), baker’s chocolate, and semisweet chocolate provides a low dose of (-)-epicatechin and results in the same effects as cocoa extract supplementation. About 25-40 grams of chocolate is equivalent to the standard (-)-epicatechin dose. This is about 200 calories of chocolate. The more cocoa chocolate contains, by weight, the less is needed to achieve the same (-)-epicatechin dose. White and milk chocolate do not contain enough catechins to provide the health benefits associated with dark chocolate.
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