Posts Tagged ‘Hormesis’

Is charred meat bad for you?

Posted 06 Sep 2015 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

imagesAs the end of summer approaches, you love to grill your food on the open flame.  You savor that char-grilled flavor on your meat or fish.  Perhaps you fashion yourself as a modern-day caveman, inspired by the Paleo Diet and getting back to Nature.

At the same time, you’ve probably heard that eating grilled meat is a bad idea, because compounds in the meat char can cause cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, grilling meat to the point of charring causes the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and Maillard reaction products such as acrylamide (AA) or advanced glycation end-products (AGEs).  HCAs and AGEs are formed when the amino acids, sugars and creatine in meat react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when meat fats burn.  Maillard reaction products are those tasty brown “caramelized” substances produced by the reaction of sugars and amino acids when meats and other foods are cooked by grilling, baking, frying or toasting.

The National Cancer Institute reports that HCAs, PAHs and acrylamide have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.  Added to this are a number of epidemiological studies purporting to show an association between consumption of cooked meats and cancer.

So you reluctantly curtail your inner caveman and carefully scrape the blackened parts off your meats, or grill them at a lower temperature.  Or perhaps you avoid grilling altogether, retreating indoors and lightly sautéing or boiling your meat dishes.

Relax. I’m here to make the case that charred meat is not to be feared.  It may actually be good for you, hormetically boosting your general ability to neutralize and dispose of dietary toxins. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the animal and human studies, combined with a deeper look at the evolutionary record, aided by the perspective of modern toxicology.  I think it may change your mind.

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Live longer!

Posted 31 Mar 2015 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

Spring Chicken

So you want to live a long life, or at least age gracefully?

Bill Gifford has provided a well-researched and engrossing account of the quest for longevity. In his new book, Spring Chicken, Gifford critically examines the claims of scientists, enthusiasts and hucksters in their attempts to extend life using hormone replacement therapy, telomerase, supplements, drugs, exercise, caloric restriction, intermittent fasting and other practices. Along the way, he visits with a 108-year old investment advisor and a 76-year old female sprinter who can run a 6:58 mile, and he  takes a close look at mice, monkeys and microbes that live much longer than species norms.

I found the book hard to put down. That’s not merely because Bill’s hilarious account of my wintry swim with him in the Pacific Ocean appears in Chapter 12–as a bracing illustration of how hormesis builds stress tolerance.  I was captivated by reading of his up-close encounters with a diverse set of gerontologists, centenarians and odd, long-lived creatures such as the naked mole rat. Most interesting of all was his meticulous detective work in probing the major competing theories of aging, leading to some unconventional conclusions about what may or may not actually help prolong life and healthspan.

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Is it dangerous to skip breakfast?

Posted 08 Dec 2014 — by Todd
Category Diet, Health, Hormesis

empty_plateThere is increasing evidence from recent human and animal studies that intermittent fasting — refraining from food or caloric beverages for at least 12 hours a day, several days a week — reduces the risks of cardiovascular diseasedementia and cancer.  Those benefits are well-documented in the hyperlinked articles, so I won’t repeat them here.  Yet many nutritionists hold that skipping breakfast or other meals and snacks can lead to weight gain and metabolic imbalance.  Several recent articles have suggested that IF and breakfast skipping is a particularly bad idea for women. Much to my chagrin, this view been even embraced recently by a number of ‘Paleo’ advocates whom I respect, such as Chris Kresser and Mark Sisson.

In this post I’d like to address three main objections that have been raised against skipping breakfast and other forms of intermittent fasting:

  1. It spurs hunger cravings, leading to compensatory overeating and obesity
  2. It causes cardiovascular disease and metabolic dysregulation of blood glucose and hormone levels
  3. It’s bad for women, leading to hormone imbalance, disrupted menstrual cycle, and heightened stress response

I believe these concerns with breakfast skipping are overblown, based on an incorrect interpretation of a few animal and human studies, and flawed personal implementation.  To the contrary, adaptation to meal skipping can actually help boost stress tolerance and improve blood sugar control. If practiced correctly, intermittent fasting (IF) can actually be a powerful tool to overcome hypoglycemic symptoms, and regain control over a harried lifestyle.   And it can be particularly useful for women who are struggling with cravings, weight management and stress management.

Opposition to intermittent fasting arises from both published research and anecdotal reports.  I’d like to address both in this post.  I’ll first point out some significant flaws in the interpretation of several recent studies purporting to show negative effects of reduced meal frequency on women and other groups.  And I’ll end by pointing out how to avoid common mistakes made by many who try intermittent fasting find it to be unpleasant and unsustainable.

Approached correctly, IF can provide major health benefits for most us.

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What cold showers and exercise have in common

Posted 17 Feb 2014 — by Todd
Category Diet, Fitness, Hormesis, Uncategorized

lewisgordonpugh2PA1307_468xCan cold showers, winter plunges, and brisk walks in the chilly outdoors provide some of the same benefits as intense exercise—including weight loss and increased energy levels?  Such a link has been suspected, because cold exposure is known to convert metabolically docile white adipose tissue (WAT) into metabolically active brown adipose tissue (BAT). This “brown fat” helps you stay warmer and burn more energy.  But now there is some evidence that cold exposure doesn’t merely help you turn up your inner furnace, and burn off a little fat in the short term.  It may actually lower your body’s weight set point by activating a hormone that is also released during intense exercise.

That hormone is irisin (pronounced “EYE-rissin”), a cytokine produced in skeletal muscle.  From the initial evidence, irisin and its partner hormone FGF21 may provide lasting benefits by boosting your metabolism and inducing you to shed excess pounds. Read More

The case against nutritional supplements

Posted 17 Aug 2013 — by Todd
Category Diet, Health, Hormesis, Uncategorized

Here is a hyperlink with slides from the talk I gave today at the Ancestral Health Symposium 2013 in Atlanta.  I will upload a video of the talk once the organizers make it available.  Until then, you can click on the “Link to audio recording”  to listen to a recording that one of the conference attendees made and posted on YouTube.   The sound is a bit faint, but still audible, and should make the slides more intelligible.

Todd question AHS2013 - Copy

This presentation is based on material from several previous blog posts

The talk includes some new material not covered in those previous posts, in particular addressing antioxidant recycling, supplementation of calcium and the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.  I have also provided a list of references of supporting studies and literature in the final 3 slides.

I enjoyed meeting many new faces and recognizing old ones at this year’s AHS.



Posted 07 Jul 2013 — by Todd
Category Diet, Fitness, Health, Hormesis, Psychology, Stoicism

Hormesis is the ability of organisms to become stronger when exposed to low-dose stress.  Is hormesis a basic principle of biology — or is it merely a strange but unimportant quirk of nature that only applies in exceptional circumstances?

Unknown-7Nassim Nicholas Taleb–the options trader turned philosopher–is intrigued by hormesis, and sees it as but one example of a much broader phenomenon:  a fundamental principle he calls “antifragility”. The principle of antifragility applies not just to biology–but to sociology, economics, and perhaps even physics. Taleb has been developing this idea for a number of years.  Antifragility made a subdued appearance in his 2007 blockbuster work, The Black Swan, a guide to dealing with unpredictable yet momentously consequential events in our increasingly volatile world. Taleb has now more fully developed the concept of antifragility in his most recent book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.

The antifragile is the antithesis of the fragile.  You might suppose that the opposite of “fragile” is something like “robust” — something that resists change. But Taleb points out that that would be the wrong answer.  A fragile thing – a package of wine glasses, perhaps — is easily broken when subjected to a stressor, such as being dropped.   Something robust is merely resistant to breakage. But an antifragile object actually benefits by being subjected to stress.  Taleb conjures up an image of the fragile as an object we would ship in a box marked “Handle with Care”; by contrast, a box holding the antifragile would be labelled “Please Mishandle”

At first, this seems to be a tease.  Are there really such antifragile things?  Yes, indeed; the world is full of them, including you and me. And there are steps we can take to become ever more antifragile.

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Physical improvements using hormesis

Posted 17 Jun 2013 — by Todd
Category Diet, Fitness, Health, Hormesis

Here is a link to the video recording from the talk Health Activator web conference presented June 19, 2013. It also includes a short Q&A session:

And here are the slides if you want to see them separately:

The talk covers the basic principles of hormesis and how to apply them to improve in four areas:

  •  Physical strength
  •  Vision improvement
  •  Metabolic health
  •  Immune health

Many thanks to Christine Peterson for inviting me as a speaker.

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AHS 2012

Posted 13 Aug 2012 — by Todd
Category Uncategorized

What a great conference!  I had heard such high praise for the inaugural meeting of the Ancestral Health Symposium last August, but I was too late to register in 2011.  This year I submitted an abstract that was accepted as a poster presentation.   For those who missed it, I’ve attached a copy of my presentation below.

What an edifying and uplifting experience! We just wrapped up three days of excellent talks, panels, poster presentations and plenty of informal networking and socializing. This conference is really the hub of the Paleo movement. The emphasis was on the most recent developments in the scientific, cultural, political, and practical approaches to overcoming the contemporary health epidemics that derive from a mismatch between contemporary lifestyles and the biology of our evolutionary heritage.  The talks and panels were diverse, covering nutrition, cholesterol, cancer, immune health, farming, exercise, and many other topics.

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Hormesis and the limbic brain

Posted 02 Jan 2012 — by Todd
Category Health, Hormesis, Psychology

There is a powerful way to re-program your brain that has been largely overlooked.  A way to change your relationship with eating, sleep, sex and basic emotions like fear, love and aggression.  While cognitive therapies can modify behavior, they are of questionable help in altering these basic drives.

Our drives are largely governed by two small primitive brain structures, the hypothalamus and the amygdala — shown in red in the drawing at right.  Remarkably, these two tiny structures are respectively the size of a pea and an almond — representing less than 1% of the brain’s three pounds of neural matter. Together, they constitute the control center of the paleomammalian brain–the “limbic” brain that governs our basic urges and desires as well as our homeostatic “set points” for temperature, sleep, body fat and behavioral urges like sex drive and aggression.

You can attempt to change your behavior by conscious determination and cognitive therapies.  But most attempts at intentional change are temporary and are doomed to fail in the long term because they are strongly resisted by powerful homeostatic processes encoded in our limbic brain.  Modern medicine recognizes the importance of homeostatic drives, and has developed pharmaceuticals to override them with diet pills, sleeping pills and antidepressants.  In fact, these medications do shift the balance of neurotransmitters and neural activity — at least in the short term.  But such chemical interventions are short-sighted “crutches” that promote dependency and come with side effects.  Often they exhibit  a “tolerance” effect: the brain’s control system fights back and weakens the impact of the medication.  To maintain the benefit, doses are increased, but this strategy may not always work.

This article will explain how the hypothalamus and amygdala contribute to the regulation of basic drives like eating, sleeping and sexuality, and how the amygdala can actually override the hypothalamus by enhancing the reward value of foods and other stimuli. (As I will explain, however, my take on “food reward” is different from that of Stephan Guyenet and other advocates of the Food Reward Hypothesis). This dual-control model can help explain anomalies such as obesity, addiction, and disordered sleep.

Finally,  I will provide suggestions on effective and natural ways to re-program the hypothalamus and amygdala and change your homeostatic set points, using the principle of hormesis.

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Voluntary stress

Posted 22 Sep 2011 — by Todd
Category Hormesis, Psychology, Stoicism

When does stress help you and when does it hurt you? There is no doubt that stresses of the wrong sort can lead to anxiety, emotional turmoil — and eventually depression and diseases like atherosclerosis and cancer.  Yet a central theme of this blog is that certain stresses are “hormetic”: at the right dose and frequency, stress can actually make you stronger and more resilient.  The many posts on this blog illustrate how stress can be channelled to build muscle, retrain appetite, improve eyesight, strengthen immunity, defeat allergies, and tame addictions and anger.  Judicious exposure to stress can even promote joy and excellent health.

But one can come away from the study of hormesis with the misleading impression that it’s all about adjusting the level and timing of stressors to induce an appropriate adaptive or defensive response.  In this article, I would like to focus on a frequently overlooked ingredient in hormesis:  the role of intention, attitude and voluntary choice.  If you omit this ingredient, you are leaving out an important element of the way that stress helps you become stronger.

Voluntary, deliberate exposure to stress can be particularly effective in providing psychological benefits, including overcoming anxieties, obsessions and phobias, and vanquishing appetite cravings, addictions. Beyond overcoming such self-defeating tendencies, deliberate exposure works to unleash confidence and generate a sense of joy and accomplishment.

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