‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Abnormal Sperm Swimming Upstream

Men, grab your avocados, this one's for you. Try as you might, you cannot slink, shy, or swim away from this one. A ballsy new study adds to the growing body of research that men's nutrition does, in fact, impact sperm.

Now now, don't get teste, I'll explain.

A recent study investigated almost 1,300 obese men. Results showed obesity was associated with:
  • Lower sperm volume
  • Lower sperm count
  • Lower sperm concentration
  • Decreased progressive motility and total motility (ability to progress through the female reproductive tract, and ability to move in a typical way, respectively)
  • Higher percent of head defects, including pyriform heads (pear-shaped)
Do these results hit a little below the belt? Do they appear to hang a little low? Are they a bit lopsided? Far be it from me to bat at the low hanging fruit, but for all the men out there who care about their sperm... Read on.

I hear you asking: What do these abnormalities mean? Simply put, they make conception more difficult. That includes conception through sex and conception through IVF.

Now I hear you asking: How does obesity affects sperm? Truly, the cause is currently unknown. However, the research team whose results are discussed above is investigating the impact of weight loss on sperm quality, and the preliminary results are positive.

What about: I don't care about my sperm, so why should I care at all? If you're carting around some extra weight, and you're not thinking about babies... Maybe you don't have to worry about your (possibly abnormal) sperm, but your body has other things to worry about, like chronic diseases. You can pretty much look at any other article on this blog and learn about that.

Do you remember not that long ago there was a big hoopla in the news about declining male fertility? You might not, but I do. This one, that found mean sperm count declined 52.4% between 1973 and 2011. This data was based off 185 studies, and almost 43,000 men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Most frighteningly, the results showed no signs of slowing.

There are many reasons why sperm count may be declining. There's a vas deferens, excuse me, vast difference between these two studies. The first article found an association between sperm abnormalities and obesity, but doesn't prove causation. The second one found declining sperm counts with only possible theories as to why. Obviously more research must be done.

It is a fairly compelling argument that obesity and sperm abnormalities are linked.

The take home message at this point?

Men, what you eat affects more than your waistline. Keep is simple stupid: Add more fruit and veg to your diet. Your waist and your swimmers will salute you.
I couldn't resist, since most salad pictures are of women looking happy eating salads...
let's see a happy man eating a salad!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

4 Things to Wrap Your Sugar-Addicted Brain Around

You may have seen the memes floating around about sugar being addictive, don't worry if you haven't, I have one below! Although the thought of sugar addiction isn't new, it is, however, a gross oversimplification and misunderstanding of human biology and neurobiology. Humans are complicated, and science helps us appreciate just how complex the human body, brain, and psychology are.

Let's chow down and break down the science in relation to sugar and addiction.

First of all, addiction to a substance requires diagnosis by a certified professional using a standard set of diagnostic criteria outlined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-IV). That's a mouthful, and possibly a risky opening paragraph... If you're still with me, thanks, it gets better.

Here are a few sweet spoonfuls of science to swallow:
  1. Neural reward pathways light up in response to eating... As they do in response to sex, drugs, and a good workout
    • It is actually the act, the behaviour of eating that lights up these pathways, not a substance (eg: sugar)
    • So no, you cannot extrapolate and say that sugar lights up the same pathways as drugs, and therefore sugar is addictive. Again, it's the act of eating a food (not a specific nutrient) that lights up the pathway, and as you'll read in #3 below, addiction and dependence elicit a number of symptoms upon withdrawal that do not occur with sugar
  2. Addiction is a highly complex chronic disease involving brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry, as well as neurochemistry dysfunction... The American Society of Addiction Medicine says so
    • If addiction were a person, its relationship status would be: it's complicated
  3. Opiate withdrawal syndrome in relation to sudden opiate abstinence involves symptoms including hot and cold flashes, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia.... and then several others you've probably never heard of, so have fun google-ing these: piloerection, diaphoresis, myalgia, arthralgia, emesis, dysphoria, lacrimation, tachypnea, tachycardia, rhinorrhea, and hypertension
    • These withdrawal symptoms are similar for addictions to alcohol, stimulants, and sedatives... But not sugar, you dig?
  4. People often report "cravings" for foods (specifically, kinds of foods that are highly delicious, like chocolate, sweet desserts, or fried food)
    • BUT these people rarely limit their diets to specific nutrients or substances (eg: only eating sugar or fat)
    • AND these cravings are not as intense, frequent, and/or persistent in duration, unlike drug cravings
    • FURTHER, people restricting their intake of desirable foods (eg: chocolate) makes the forbidden food (eg: chocolate) ever so preoccupying. This is often interpreted as a craving and therefore an addiction, but really, collectively it may very well be part of normal eating behaviour. Basically, don't overthink it and make a mountain out of a molehill
Perhaps you're rethinking the sugar addiction thing a little... Maybe? In reality, your addiction might be to social media and sensationalist soundbites.

Back to point #1 about reward centers lighting up when eating, to reiterate: this is in the act, the behaviour of eating. Not in response to the substance or specific nutrient (eg: fat or sugar). Basically, if you really love the food you're eating, this reward system is activated. In my case, the act of eating peanut butter or chocolate, or both.

An offending meme: It looks legit and everything, it uses complex words like "insulin" and "dopamine"...
But there is no scientific link between sugar and addiction. Blood glucose levels dropping after eating any food with carbohydrates is not indicative of addiction, it's indicative of digestion and your body working correctly. 
In my research of this topic, I came across several points I wanted to share with anyone pedalling the idea of sugar addiction:
  • Calling certain foods or nutrients "addictive" implies they possess an inherent property making a susceptible individual addicted to it (which is the case for chemical substance abuse), NOT the case for sugar or fat
    • You are therefore giving food (or a particular nutrient) a "power" it does not have
  • Calling overeating "food addiction" neither explains overeating nor offers strategies for successfully reducing it
    • There is simply not enough evidence to validate or reject "food addiction"
    • Categorising a "food addiction" now, while evidence is insufficient to do so, risks trivialising serious and validated addictions
Just so you know, in recent years the amount of added sugar Americans eat has significantly decreased, mostly because soda consumption has decreased (yay!) BUT, the average American is still eating more sugar than is recommended. And FYI,  <10% of your daily calories should come from sugar, read more on that here.

In summary:
  • There is insufficient evidence of "food addiction" in humans, this includes substances and nutrients in foods like sugar or fat (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
  • The more correct notion is that people enjoy eating specific kinds of food that are often high in fat and sugar, and that the behaviour stimulates reward centers in the brain
  • These conclusions are not a green light to eat lots of sugary and fatty foods, because there is an mountain of evidence linking excess consumption of these to all manner of chronic diseases and death... just not by way of addiction
  • I love memes as much as the next guy, but they are unscientific sound bites, not facts!
If you're still reading, I've used this meme in other articles and I love it...
But not because it's true.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cocoa and Coffee: Convincingly Cracking Consumables

If you like coffee or chocolate, you'll want to devour this article! We're doing a crossover episode combining two of the most popular consumables in the world into one considerably charming article for your consumption.

It's pretty good news for both the coffee and cocoa lovers, with a couple of minor caveats.

Let's cover coffee first. Two large-scale, long-term studies came out this week. Collectively, they ground... I mean, found:
  • People consuming one cup of coffee/day were 12% less likely to die compared to non-coffee drinkers
  • People drinking two cups of coffee/day were 18% less likely to die compared to non-coffee drinkers
  • People drinking the most coffee had the lowest risk of dying from any disease
  • The ethnically diverse study found the coffee-consuming crowd, whether decaf or regular, had similar positive health effects
  • An inverse association exists between coffee consumption and deaths caused by heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease
    • Meaning, more coffee = lower chance of dying from the above diseases
Here are the coffee caveats that are cause for concern, tamp down your expectations:
  • Paying attention to how hot your brewed beverage is... Scoffing your scorching blend can lead to esophageal cancer
  • Much previous research into coffee found high coffee consumption wasn't actually beneficial for disease prevention and that moderation really was key
  • Akin to deep-frying a vegetable, saucing your coffee with cream, sugar, and syrups won't help your health due to the many side effects of too much sugar and too many calories
Now, onto my favourite... Chocolate. A day that goes by without eating a good quality, dark chocolate is a day wasted (that's my motto.) Okay, okay, I'll tell you about the cocoa hype, but first a little background.

It's long been known that cocoa is rich in flavonoids, particularly the sub-class called flavanols, and more specifically epicatechins and catechins. These flavanols exert cardiovascular benefits including lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. More recently, we're learning about their neuroprotective effects.

Flavonoids and their metabolites can cross the blood brain barrier and have been found in areas associated with learning and memory such as the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and striatum. New research found:
  • Consuming a daily high-flavonol drink enhanced cognitive performance in both older people with and without early memory decline
  • Higher flavanol levels also improved blood pressure and insulin resistance
  • Within hours of consuming a high-flavanol beverage, enhanced performance on various cognitive tasks significantly increased
  • Cocoa flavanols were also able to counteract cognitive impairment induced by sleep deprivation in healthy women... Something most mothers of young babies might rejoice about
Cocoa caveats to unwrap include:
  • Research into chocolate and cocoa on human cognition is still young
  • Dose, timing, and kind of flavanol requires further investigation
  • Similar to consuming a deep-fried vegetable, to get the benefit of cocoa flavanols, quality is key
    • The above research used a beverage with about 900mg of cocoa flavanols
    • Flavanol content is largely based on chocolate brand and processing, you can read more on that here and here
  • Choose dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate (let's be honest, if it's not even brown, it's not chocolate)
  • Select unsweetened cocoa powder when making your brownies or hot chocolate rather than presweetened powders like Ovaltine and Swiss Miss, this not only boosts flavanols but also slashes sugar (it's cheaper too)
  • Writing articles about chocolate and coffee increases the writer's consumption of both products
Cheers to you, coffee for decreasing death. And melt mindfully in your mouth, chocolate for marvelous mental mastery.