Diet and Exercise

Nessun Dorma: Insomnia and Sleep Aids

Sleep deprivation side effects -- Wikimedia

Sleep deprivation side effects — Wikimedia

Most people experience less than satisfying sleep at least occasionally, but some sufferers go for years without relief. Not being able to fall asleep at the normal hour in a reasonable length of time is known as “sleep onset insomnia.” Older people especially may suffer from waking too soon or not getting enough deep sleep. Sleep is a complex neurochemical phenomenon, and a wide variety of different causes for poor sleep make it hard to diagnose and relieve.

What’s often called sleep hygiene is a collection of good practices and habits that tend to lead to better sleep. Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine has a good list.

If you’re getting exercise and avoiding caffeine or alcohol late in the evening, you might still have problems. Chemical sleep inducers in the form of drugs and supplements can help get you to sleep or keep you asleep, but prescription medications like Ambien and Lunesta can have side-effects, cost a lot, and can be addictive. Many people have been hooked on them (and the drugs of past eras like tranquilizers and sedatives) for years, unable to stop without going through far worse withdrawal symptoms.

If your problem is getting to sleep, your body and mind may be revved up and out of synch with your natural sleep hours. Not engaging in eating, drinking, or stimulating activities for a few hours before normal bedtime can help. Some natural supplements — chemicals already found in your body or food that promote sleep — work for many people. A list:

Melatonin, one of the body’s primary sleep signalling chemicals, is continuously produced by the pineal gland, but destroyed by light hitting the eyes, so it is a driver of the sleep-wake cycle that lags exposure to light; it’s partly because exposure to light synchronizes your sleep cycle that staying up late with bright lighting can disturb it. Taking natural melatonin a few hours before normal bedtime reinforces the natural cycle somewhat, although there’s little evidence of it crossing the blood-brain barrier after absorption by the digestive system. Try sprinkling a bit of melatonin in powdered form under your tongue, perhaps by opening a commercial capsule like these. Melatonin, like some other drugs and vitamins, can be absorbed somewhat by the blood-vessel-rich skin under the tongue — this is called sublingual administration. Melatonin successfully reduces time-to-sleep and insomnia for most people, though it is less effective at keeping you asleep. If you’re already getting up to go to the bathroom at 3 AM, though, you can do another sublingual dose of melatonin and sleep a few more hours successfully.

5-HTP or its precursor L-Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid component of the proteins in many meats, eggs, and dairy products, and is commonly believed to create the sleepiness after a big Thanksgiving turkey dinner — though turkey meat has no more L-Tryptophan than most other meats. It is also usually credited for the “glass of milk at bedtime” method for assisting sleep. After a Japanese manufacturer of L-Tryptophan produced contaminated batches in 1989, injuring thousands and killing as many as 37 people, L-Tryptophan was banned by the FDA in the US. These restrictions were loosened and finally lifted completely in 2005. As a result of that incident, though, more people still take 5-HTP, which is a metabolite of L-Tryptophan and his similar effects. A few hundred mg of either does tend to produce faster and deeper sleep in most people, and like melatonin thet are both safe and not habit-forming.

Valerian Root is somewhat less harmless. An old herbal standby, this herb in capsule form is used by millions as a sleep aid. While it does work, it can’t be recommended for any but the shortest-term use because it is a mild liver poison — long-term use damages liver function. Other herbal teas like chamomile also have some sedative effects without any obvious toxicities.

GABA is another amino acid and neurotransmitter which doesn’t seem to cross the blood-brain barrier, yet has some obvious effects, producing calm and deeper sleep and perhaps aiding production of growth hormone in older body builders who take it. I take a gram every night before bed and it seems to deepen sleep. It also has some side-effects reminiscent of the niacin flush for some, so be careful and experiment with small doses before trying more. A reliable low-cost provider of GABA powder which can be mixed into any drink is here. Capsules tend to provide less effective dosages.

Doxylamine succinate is an old standby which works fairly well and is cheap and safe as a sleep aid: as an antihistamine, it is obsolete because its side-effect of drowsiness is intolerable during the day. But while it’s unwise to take any drug regularly unless you really need to, it’s at least not addictive and is easy to buy OTC: as this Kirkland-label product from Costco, for example.

Everyone’s sleep problem is different, and with age staying asleep becomes the most common problem. Natural substances can help but good sleep hygiene should be tried first.

More reading on other topics:

Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire

Flossing: Absence of Proof is Not Proof of Absence

Flossing: Never Like the Photo

Flossing: Never Like the Photo

Dentists and media have been telling us for generations that brushing and daily flossing are absolutely critical for preservation of teeth and gums into old age. A flurry of publicity in the last few days has people wondering if this is another instance of authorities blindly asserting healthy living ideals that are not only wrong, but might actually be harmful, as the USDA’s Food Pyramid and advice to eat low-fat, high-carb diets were.

Let the New York Times story, which was typical, explain:

For decades, the federal government — not to mention your dentist — has insisted that daily flossing is necessary to prevent cavities and gums so diseased that your teeth fall out. Turns out, all that flossing may be overrated.

The latest dietary guidelines for Americans, issued by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, quietly dropped any mention of flossing without notice. This week, The Associated Press reported that officials had never researched the effectiveness of regular flossing, as required, before cajoling Americans to do it.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the American Academy of Periodontology acknowledged that most of the current evidence fell short because researchers had not been able to include enough participants or “examine gum health over a significant amount of time.”

The revelation has caused a stir among guilt-ridden citizens who strive to floss daily but fall short of that lofty goal. Among experts, however, it has been something of an open secret that flossing has not been shown to prevent cavities or severe periodontal disease.

A review of 12 randomized controlled trials published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2011 found only “very unreliable” evidence that flossing might reduce plaque after one and three months. Researchers could not find any studies on the effectiveness of flossing combined with brushing for cavity prevention.

“It is very surprising that you have two habits, flossing and toothbrushing without fluoride, which are widely believed to prevent cavities and tooth loss, and yet we don’t have the randomized clinical trials to show they are effective,” said Dr. Philippe Hujoel, a professor of oral health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

But this is not unusual. Double-blind scientific studies are very expensive, and impractical for long-term effects on large populations. Because flossing is a procedure done by the study subjects themselves, there is no way of telling whether self-reported flossing is done correctly or at all, and lying about having faithfully flossed to your dentist is one of the most common white lies. “I always floss daily” is right up there with “I never think lustful thoughts about [sexually-attractive person who is not my spouse]!” in the book of self-serving fibs.

“Absence of Proof is Not Proof of Absence” — the lack of evidence of an assertion (“flossing helps prevent gum disease and preserves teeth”) is not evidence that the assertion is false. That would be the fallacy of Argument from Ignorance, often seen in the argument that there is no God because there is no evidence that He/She/It exists. If we have no evidence, we can’t determine anything about truth or falsehood. So all of these clickbait stories hinting everyone has been wasting their time flossing and authorities are full of it are simply wrong.

No studies are really needed because long experience of millions of dentists shows that regular brushing and flossing do tend to prevent gum disease and loss of teeth. While the evidence is not proof as the FDA might require it if it were a newly-proposed drug, my own personal results from periods of less and more dental hygiene efforts demonstrated that flossing helps. My gums improved and I had far fewer problems once I found two excellent time-saving devices for brushing and flossing.

First, electric toothbrushes with high-speed oscillating brush heads make brushing your teeth thoroughly yet gently easy and quick. These are marketed as ultrasonic, though that’s exaggerating bit. Here’s the one I use:

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean Toothbrush

Flossing is notoriously tedious, with some types of floss shredding between teeth, cutting into fingers trying to hold it, and being almost impossible to get between back molars without stretching your mouth uncomfortably. There are several flossing helpers that ease this by holding a short segment of floss at the end of a long handle you can reach back with, but this is still time-consuming.

I found a great appliance which uses puffs of water or mouthwash instead of floss, and easily reaches back to flush the spaces between back molars:

Philips Sonicare Airfloss Ultra

This does a decent job of flushing out food particles, but is far more practical than the dental irrigators (Waterpiks) which spray far more water and take much more time to use. With the Airfloss, you place the head at the lower end of the junction between two teeth, push the button, and *puff* a tiny amount of high-speed liquid flushes out the crack. The consensus is that while this is not as good as thorough flossing, it is much better than the haphazard and occasional flossing most people do, and by making it easy to add to your routine, far more likely to become a regular habit. My dentist started complimenting me on my gum health shortly after I started using it regularly, and it continues to be excellent. One note: because of the high-tech nature of the machine, it doesn’t last as long as one might like — I went through a warranty replacement, but the company was good about sending me a new one when it stopped working. If you have to buy one every two years, it’s still a great deal better than gum surgery. You also need to practice to avoid spraying your surroundings, but it’s still far less messy than Waterpiks.

More reading on health and diet:

Salt: New Research Says Too Little May Be Unhealthy
Fish and Fish Oil for Better Brain Health
Sugared Soft Drinks: Health Risk? (and What About Diet Soda?)
Almonds: Superfood, Eat Them Daily for Heart Health
Who Killed Prince? Restrictions on Buprenorphine
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy
Study: Gut Bacteria on Artificial Sweeteners
Soy Protein Blunts Testosterone Response
Junk Science: Vitamin Mania
Progressive Neighborhoods: Low Vaccination Rates Create Epidemics
Smarter Babies when Mothers Eat More Salmon
Why We’re Fat: In-Depth Studies Under Way
Gluten-Free Diets: The Nocebo Effect
Green Coffee Extract for Weight Loss: “Dr. Oz” Hypesters Fined
Bulletproof Coffee: Coffee, Oil, and Butter for Breakfast?LeBron James Cut Carbs for Lean Look
Daily Aspirin Regimen Reduces Cancer Rates
Acidic Soft Drinks and Sodas: Demineralization Damages Teeth
Low-Dose Aspirin Reduces Pancreatic Cancer

Recommended: Kinivo Bluetooth Headphones

Kinovo Bluetooth headphones

Kinovo Bluetooth headphones

Kinovo Bluetooth headphones - folded

Kinovo Bluetooth headphones – folded

I Occasionally recommend a product I have used and liked with links to the Amazon page — which gives my readers a chance to support this micro-enterprise by buying through it, since Amazon returns a small fee when you do. That doesn’t affect the price you pay, and since I’m a cost-conscious shopper, I recommend mostly cost-effective items.

Kinivo BTH240 Bluetooth Stereo Headphone – Supports Wireless Music Streaming and Hands-Free calling (Black) [Update July 2016] The successor to the headphones I previously recommended for workouts. Great low-cost (c. $25) Bluetooth headphones for exercise, making it easy to use your phone for cordless music while exercising. Good sound, long life battery (I only have to charge mine once a month!), sturdy yet compact when folded, works for phone calls using iPhone or similar.

After my Bose headphones were stolen at the gym, I looked around for a more disposable pair and found the predecessor of this current offering. Good enough fidelity for exercising, and as it turns out they lasted for five years until recently when the left channel wire broke and the ear padding started to erode. The new models are improved but very similar in size and feel, so after a few days of evaluation, I can recommend them.



Soy Protein Blunts Testosterone Response

Soy vs Whey

Soy vs Whey

It’s long been rumored that soy products are similar enough to natural estrogens that males should beware heavy consumption. Bodybuilders especially were concerned that soy protein supplements might be doing them more harm than good. The mechanism for this effect is unclear, but it does seem to exist.

A study (“The Effects of Soy and Whey Protein Supplementation on Acute Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise in Men”) from researchers at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut seems to confirm this; from the abstract:

Objective: For many resistance-trained men concerns exist regarding the production of estrogen with the consumption of soy protein when training for muscle strength and size. Thus, the purpose of this investigation was to examine the effects of soy and whey protein supplementation on sex hormones following an acute bout of heavy resistance exercise in resistance trained men.

Methods: Ten resistance-trained men (age 21.7 ± 2.8 [SD] years; height 175.0 ± 5.4 cm; weight 84.2 ± 9.1 kg) volunteered to participate in an investigation. Utilizing a within subject randomized crossover balanced placebo design, all subjects completed 3 experimental treatment conditions supplementing with whey protein isolate (WPI), soy protein isolate (SPI), and maltodextrin placebo control for 14 days with participants ingesting 20 g of their assigned supplement each morning at approximately the same time each day. Following supplementation, subjects performed an acute heavy resistance exercise test consisting of 6 sets of 10 repetitions in the squat exercise at 80% of the subject’s one repetition maximum.

Results: This investigation observed lower testosterone responses following supplementation with soy protein in addition to a positive blunted cortisol response with the use of whey protein at some recovery time points. Although sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) was proposed as a possible mechanism for understanding changes in androgen content, SHBG did not differ between experimental treatments. Importantly, there were no significant differences between groups in changes in estradiol concentrations.

Conclusion: Our main findings demonstrate that 14 days of supplementation with soy protein does appear to partially blunt serum testosterone. In addition, whey influences the response of cortisol following an acute bout of resistance exercise by blunting its increase during recovery. Protein supplementation alters the physiological responses to a commonly used exercise modality with some differences due to the type of protein utilized.

Blunted testosterone response would be expected to reduce muscle gains from intense exercise. So it appears the widely-held view that soy products and soy protein are counterproductive when trying to build muscle mass is likely correct. The alternative, whey protein, is presumably preferable. Muscle and Fitness Magazine disagrees.

More on Diet:

Getting to Less Than 10% Body Fat Like the Models – Ask Me How!
Starbucks, Jamba Juice Make You Fat
Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat. Government Guidelines Did!
‘Fed Up’ Asks, Are All Calories Equal?
Fructose: The True Villain?
More on “Fed Up”, Sugar Subsidies, and Obesity
Another Study on Diet Drinks
LeBron James Cut Carbs for Lean Look
Why We’re Fat: In-Depth Studies Under Way
Almonds: Superfood, Eat Them Daily for Heart Health
Fish Oil Supplements Ward Off Dementia
More on Diet Drinks: Best Studies Show They Aid Weight Loss
Vani Hari: “Food Babe” and Quack
Cleanses and Detox Diets: Quackery
Sugared Soft Drinks: Health Risk? (and What About Diet Soda?)
Gluten-Free Diets: The Nocebo Effect
Acidic Soft Drinks and Sodas: Demineralization Damages Teeth
Fish and Fish Oil for Better Brain Health
Salt: New Research Says Too Little May Be Unhealthy
Bulletproof Coffee: Coffee, Oil, and Butter for Breakfast?
Study: Gut Bacteria on Artificial Sweeteners Create Insulin Resistance?