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Do You Need to Take Probiotics? (Science Says it Might Be a Waste)

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The probiotic industry has a dirty secret: It’s creating a billion-dollar business based on twisted science.

If you are wondering, “do I need probiotics?” Consider this: Probiotics — the healthy bacteria highlighted on most yogurt products — are being added to everything from popcorn to muffin mixes.

According to a report by Grand View Research, the market for probiotics supplements is expected to reach $7 billion in the next 7 years.

Here’s the thing: That business is built on a little bit of science…and a lot of fiction.

“There are many products labeled with the word ‘probiotic’ in the U.S., but not all are responsibly formatted or studied for health benefits,” says Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D., executive science officer of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.

The science is that probiotics are good for you  — but only if you have a condition that requires their use.

That’s not something you’ll want to hear if your pantry and fridge are filled with probiotic-infused foods.  

“The benefits of probiotics in foods — especially foods that aren’t fermented dairy products — is questionable, at best,” says Shira Doron, M.D., professor of medicine and attending physician in infectious diseases at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to food, many probiotic supplements fail to live up to the promise on their label.

Unless you have a specific condition that’s been shown to benefit from probiotics, you likely don’t need them.

“There is no evidence that it is essential to take probiotics to be healthy,” Sanders adds.

Her next point may be even more important:

“You don’t need probiotics if you are healthy,” Sanders says.

The Hype (and Mythology) of Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Most people treat probiotics the same way they would a multivitamin.

In theory, the benefit of a multivitamin is that it helps make up for deficiencies from your diet. So, if you have a good multivitamin (that’s an entirely different story), and if you don’t have a great diet, then it might offer you some benefits.

Here’s the thing:

Probiotics do not function like multivitamins.

Whereas multivitamins can have a benefit for anyone because it helps support deficiencies, probiotics are really designed to help treat, improve, or solve dysfunction.

You need probiotics if your microbiome (i.e. your gut health) is messed up. This means that taking probiotics can be very helpful if you suffer from a condition such as irritable bowel disease.

But if not, then your use of probiotics might not be doing as much good as you hoped.

The Probiotic-Gut Relationship: It’s Complicated

You might be wondering:

How does a billion dollar business get built on something as shaky as “maybe this will be good for you?”

It all starts with the extremely complex nature of your gut.

It’s so complicated that science needs much more time to figure it out. “The human microbiome may have as many as 200 trillion microorganisms and up to a thousand species,” Doron says.

That’s a lot of biological ground to cover, which is why probiotics are still a field that scientists are trying to understand.

“There are a variety of things we think happen, but we don’t know how that all works,” Doron says.

Three reasons why what you see on probiotic labels isn’t necessarily reflective of what it will do for your body:

  • Different probiotics may work differently (and again, there hundreds of different types)
  • Each probiotic may have more than one effect
  • Not everyone responds the same way to a specific strain

Researchers are currently trying to figure out potential benefits that have shown hypothetical promise.

One theory is that when probiotics reach your gut, they digest available carbs and produce short-chain fatty acids. Those acids then fuel other beneficial microbes in your gut, in turn, producing more fatty acids.

Why should you care?

Because short-chain fatty acids are known to create a healthy microbiome, and they improve colon health.

Another theory is that when some probiotics reach your small intestine, they interact with the immune cells lining your organs. This may lead to a positive immune system response, such as a decreased incidence of respiratory tract infections or improved response to vaccines.

Sanders says some studies suggest that probiotics improve gut barrier integrity, which is why you’ll hear probiotics recommended for some digestive issues.

But, at this point, all of this is hypothetical. Probiotics might be amazing, but — in healthy people — we don’t know if they have extended benefits.

So…What Do Probiotics Really Do?

Probiotics help people with specific conditions where gut dysfunction is a problem. Consider it one of nature’s best medicines if you suffer from:

Additionally, some research suggests taking specific probiotics may support immune health and potentially reduce the risk or duration of the common cold.

But, any benefit is specific to the strain of probiotic, and even the transport of the good strains is still a work in progress. That’s because we still don’t know if good strains that we can create in a supplement — or a food like yogurt — can survive the environment in your stomach and then have a positive impact in your gut.

“Any probiotic, even a combination product, is just a tiny drop in the bucket,” Doron explains. “In our group’s research, we saw that when subjects took a probiotic containing lactobacillus, we couldn’t even detect a change in lactobacillus abundance” within their gut.

What If I’m Healthy? Will Taking a Probiotic Help Me?

Always consult your doctor if you have an immune disorder or any serious underlying illness before taking a probiotic.

If you are generally healthy then there aren’t too many downsides. If you take a supplement, give it a month, trust yourself, and see how your body responds. It’s possible that you’ll feel better — but know that studies indicate the positive outcomes you experience could be a placebo effect.

“That’s worthwhile if you feel better, but it’s also expensive,” Doron says.

If you are healthy, curious, and OK with spending the extra money, feel free to try a supplement. As we mentioned, it could have benefits for immunity and creating more short-chain fatty acids to help your gut. But only time will tell if this is the case for people with no health problems.

If I have a health condition, what should I do?

First off, skip the fortified foods. And skip microbiome tests that will allegedly help you understand what probiotics you need to eat.

“At this point, an individual cannot look at their microbiota and come to conclusions about their health, Doron says. “There are still more questions than answers.”

Your best bet is to consult a doctor who understands your condition and is also well-versed in probiotics. Doron suggests researching academic medical centers and looking at the profiles of physicians in the field you need.

“Check [for doctors whose] interests include subjects like ‘probiotics’ and ‘microbiome,’” Doron says. “The field is still young, and even for the world’s experts, there are way more questions than answers when it comes to manipulating the human microbiome for health purposes. But there are certainly doctors in a variety of fields who take an interest in this area of research or do research themselves and use the knowledge they have gained in their medical practice.”

Remember, you’re trying to fix a dysfunction, which is the real health benefit of probiotics.

Follow your doctor’s recommendation down to the strain and dose. The strain will be a long name and often include a number, such as L. acidophilus NCFB 1748.

The “dose” is the big number on the label, such as 10 billion, which indicates the colony-forming units, or CFU. Higher isn’t necessarily better, so follow your doctor’s advice.

Avoid any products that list the CFU “at time of manufacture.”

“That’s a red flag,” Sanders says. Counts of the live microbes decrease over time, so you want to know the CFU through the end of shelf life.

The front of the box will typically say the total CFU count; the side label may list the CFU for each strain. Look for whichever your doctor recommends. And if the product is refrigerated at the store, keep it in the fridge at home to ensure you don’t kill off more CFU.

The last thing to look for is any seal from a third-party verification program to be sure that what the probiotic contains what the label says it does.

At this time the ISAPP is working with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) on a verification program, USP labels (ordinarily a good sign of quality) are not yet available. You may, however, find NSF International, which is legitimate. But note that statements like “quality guaranteed” do not mean they have been verified by third parties.

READ MORE: 

Understanding the Microbiome: How Gut Health Affects Your Health, Weight Loss and Mood

Wheat Belly Deception: Understanding Wheat, Insulin and Fat Loss

Are Multivitamins Right for Your Body?

 

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Why Activated Charcoal Has More Health Risk Than Reward

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Remember when getting a lump of coal from Santa meant you were bad? These days, coal — or activated charcoal, to be exact — is offered in health stores, smoothies, and supplements as a “cure-all” cleanser for a variety of health ailments.

While most cleanses or detoxes have no science behind them (primarily because most prey on fear and don’t deliver any real health benefit) activated charcoal is a different nature. There is reason to believe that charcoal could help cleanse your body because of different uses in emergency rooms. 

But, believe it or not, research shows that slipping random amounts of activated charcoal into products might be worse than your run-of-the-mill miracle cleanse. 

Does Activated Charcoal Work?

The rise of activated charcoal as a health cure starts in the medical community. It’s used in emergency rooms — quite effectively, might I add — to help people fight drug overdoses (oftentimes from OTC meds like acetaminophen).

Charcoal helps prevent the spread of toxins from overdosing to try and limit the danger and risk to your body. That’s great for dangerous and scary situations, but supplement manufacturers took it one step further and suggested that charcoal could prevent the spread of all toxins in your body. 

Unfortunately, emergency situations do not directly apply to general use. And there are a few reasons why taking active charcoal won’t help detox your body or rid you of toxins.

When activated charcoal is given in the ER, the standard dose is about 25 to 50 grams. If you look at the most “popular” activated charcoal products on the market, the dose is 250 milligrams. That means you’re receiving — at most — about 100x less the amount you need to “detox.” And, typically, the dose needs to be given as soon as possible. 

The Risks of Activated Charcoal

An article on CNN showed that even if the activated charcoal is doing its job, it can be a very bad thing. 

You see, activated charcoal works by binding to ingredients (like when it binds to acetaminophen) and preventing it from spreading in your body. But, it’s not selective. The charcoal doesn’t know to bind only to the bad. It just knows to bind. That means the charcoal could be stripping your body of the good nutrients it needs.

So products that are loaded with vitamins and minerals and activated charcoal are essentially worthless. That’s because the activated charcoal will bind to those vitamins and minerals and prevent them from being absorbed in your body. 

 

Does Activated Charcoal Whiten Teeth or Reduce Odor?

In addition to being positioned as a detoxifier, activated charcoal has a variety of health and wellness claims. It’s always your choice if you want to experiment and see if something works for you, but here’s an eye-opening look at what research shows about activated charcoal.

According to Consumer Reports, activated charcoal does not whitten teeth or work to remove body odor.

“There are no published studies on charcoal used for whitening, for example; one unpublished experiment presented at a dentistry conference noted that “fine black charcoal powder” could actually become embedded in cracks or small holes in the teeth—doing the opposite of whitening. There are also no studies we found examining whether activated charcoal, particularly taken orally, might work to reduce general odors (either as a breath freshener or deodorant). There have been studies showing that activated charcoal dressings can tamp down foul stenches from skin wounds and ulcers. But if you have an infected wound or ulcer, you should seek treatment or advice from a doctor before trying any form of activated charcoal.”

More importantly, the health risks are fairly significant.

  • Activated charcoal can bind with some medications, including some antidepressants and anti-inflammatory medications, causing them to be less effective. This could have serious health consequences for some people, but it’s not explained on bottles or packaging where activated charcoal is being sold.
  • Activated charcoal will only bind with whatever particles are in your stomach or intestines at the time that you take it. It works by coming into physical contact with your intestinal contents. If you’re trying to use it to detox from the alcohol and kebab you had the night before, it won’t do anything at all because they have been absorbed into your bloodstream already.
  • Activated charcoal slows down your bowel and is known to cause nausea and constipation (and black stools).

Bottom line: while most activated charcoal products offer a dose that is probably too low to see results, if you decide to take it, you have more downside than upside, and it’s likely not worth your money (or the hype).

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Are You Overtraining? (Here’s How to Tell)

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How do you know if you are pushing too hard during your workouts?

Overtraining is a real phenomenon. It is possible to train so much that you break your body down rather than build it up. But most people never come close to “real” overtraining, which is highlighted (lowlighted?) by physical breakdowns that are hard to ignore. This isn’t muscle soreness or having some bad days in the gym.

Here are 7 common symptoms of overtraining, they include:

  • Increase in resting heart rate and blood pressure
  • Insomnia-like symptoms and trouble sleeping
  • Stomach disturbances
  • Consistent low energy and bad mood
  • Changes in personality and mood
  • Decreased self-esteem and motivation
  • Feelings of sadness and apathy

Overtraining

In other words, you experience symptoms that closely mimic depression and chronic fatigue, according to research from the University of Memphis. In severe cases of overtraining, your immune system shuts down and you can suffer multiple issues, including upper respiratory infections and slow healing, says research published in the Journal of Athletic Training. You can read all about overtraining here.

Are you worried about overtraining? Don’t! Our coaches can help.

 

While that article gives a great breakdown of how to set up your training, it doesn’t cover how you determine the fine line between intensity and insanity. So if you’re worried about pushing too hard (like Paul), Mike Robertson has the answer. Mike (one of the top strength coaches in the U.S.) examines the different ways to evaluate the intensity of your workouts.

They can be broken down into a few options:

Option 1: A self-analysis technique known as RPR/RPE, or “rate of perceived recovery” and “rate of perceived exertion.” The RPR scale is how you feel coming into a training session — how well you slept, how tired/sore you feel, etc.

The RPE rates how heavy/how hard things feel once you start working out. And as you’ll see in Mike’s post, he evaluates it by regularly asking clients questions about how each move feels throughout the workout. Here’s an example:

    1. RPE of 10 – Max effort/limit lift. This is either one heckuva grinder, or they flat out miss a lift.
    2. RPE of 9 – Heavy lift, but one rep left in the tank.
    3. RPE of 8 – Heavy(ish) lift, but two reps left in the tank.
    4. RPE of 7 – Moderate weight, multiple reps left in the tank

Option 2: But let’s say you don’t trust yourself to make subjective measurements. You want data. Well, there are some tests you can use that will put some numbers to your physical preparedness.

For example, the vertical jump is a fairly accurate predictor of how fatigued you are (see study here). If your gym has one of those jump height sticks (y’know, these things), you can use that as a self-assessment tool. Jump before your workout/after your warm-up. If you are at, or above, your usual total, then you’re likely ready to go.

If you’re several inches below, then you’re more tired than you think and may want to scale the session back — or even make it an active recovery day.

Option 3: If you don’t like jumping, but still want data, no problem. A less obvious way to test your readiness is a simple hand dynamometer, which is a tool that measures hand strength. Studies show that hand strength is a reliable indicator of strength on a given day (example here).

And if you’re squeezing and squeezing but several points lower than usual, you’re more fatigued than you know.

How to make use of all of this?

When you get to the gym and start doing your “working sets” (not your warmup), stop and assess how you feel. The weight on the bar might be similar to prior workouts, but how you feel is likely different. And that is your body trying to give you helpful information to make the most of your session.

Instead of sticking to your exact plan, if the weight feels “heavier” than usual and you’re exhausted, you can still get in a great workout without grinding away unnecessarily. As you workout, this is the holy grail of feeling in control.

Push harder when your body says you can, and easy up when you know how to recognize that you’re a little overworked. It’s an approach that’s more likely to keep you consistently in the gym, feeling good, and making improvements.

The post Are You Overtraining? (Here’s How to Tell) appeared first on Born Fitness.

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I Want to Look More Muscular. What’s the Best Way to Make Gains?

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There’s one thing that all the biggest, most muscular people on the planet have in common.

It’s not great genetics.

(Good genes help, but plenty of people have gotten huge without having been blessed with it at birth.)

It’s not that they all just live at the gym and do nothing else, or follow some magical workout. (When it comes to building muscle, many different approaches — low rep/high weight, high rep/low weight, straight sets, supersets, and on and on — can work. There is no one that’s “best.”)

And it’s not that they’re on performance-enhancing drugs. (You can pack on plenty of muscle naturally — look no further than any drug-free bodybuilding competition for proof.)

The thing they all have in common is this:

Patience.

Not the answer you expected? Here’s why being patient is so important.

The Problem with Bulking and Cutting

First, when most people set out to build muscle, they go through a phase where they eat a lot and train a lot. You’ve probably heard it called “bulking.”

Then, after a few weeks or months, they switch. Maybe they get self-conscious about the size the gained. Or maybe they think they’re starting to look fat. So they trim back on calories and change their training to try and burn the fat off. This phase is called “cutting.”

Most people bounce back and forth between these two phases — bulking and cutting, bulking and cutting — without making any real progress. Why? Because each new phase undoes the success of the last.

On our website, we’ve talked about Set Point Theory. It’s the idea that the body identifies with a certain weight and then becomes resistant to change. In our previous article, we discussed how it applied to weight loss. It’s one of the reasons why losing weight — and keeping it off — can be so hard.

But the concept also applies to muscle gain. Your body is used to being a certain weight. When you change that through strength training, it will take measures to go back to how it was — unless you teach it that this more muscular weight is it’s new normal.

Have a Born Fitness coach guide your gainz!

 

You teach your body that through what’s called a maintenance phase. In a lecture on his site Renaissance Periodization, Dr. Mike Israetel discusses how people hold themselves back if they do not include this phase in their training. (The content itself is paywalled, but totally worth buying if you like to nerd out on the science of muscle-building.)

I don’t want to give too much away or do violence to the quality and depth of his explanation. So I’ll summarize it like this: During a maintenance phase, you ease up on training a little bit. And you aim to eat what’s called an isocaloric diet, meaning you try to eat as many calories as you’d need, but not more.

Sample Muscle-Building Macronutrient Formula

This formula from Adam’s Great Abs Experiment will help:

For Total Calories Per Day:

Take the body weight you wish to maintain and multiply it by 10 if you are training 1 hour or less per week. For each additional hour you train per week, add 1 to the multiplier. So if you’d muscled up to 200 pounds, and trained 4 hours per week, you’d multiply 13 by 200 and get 2,600 calories per day as your mark. You can split that total across however many meals per day you prefer to eat (two, three, four, five, whatever).

Protein:

Eat at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So if you were 200 pounds, you’d aim for 200 grams of protein (800 calories total) per day.

Fat:

Eat half a gram of fat per pound of bodyweight. So at 200 pounds, you’d target 100 grams of fat (900 calories) per day.

Carbohydrates:

Determine how many carbohydrates to eat by subtracting the protein and fat calories from your daily total, and then dividing the remainder by 4. To continue the example we’ve been using here, it would be 2,600 calories total minus 800 calories (protein) and 900 calories (fat), leaving you with 900 calories for carbs. Divide that by 4 and you get 225 calories of carbs per day.

While the length of your maintenance phase can vary, you’d want to approach it as if it were something you could do for several months or even years. Why? Because — again — you want this to be your new normal.

You want to think of building muscle not in terms of days and weeks, but months and years. The biggest, most muscular people in the world are the ones who show up for training, again and again, for years on end.

READ MORE: 

Adding Muscle At Any Age: Defying Genetics And Designing The Muscle Building Workout

The New Rules Of Specialization: How To Add Muscle Mass

How To Master The Art Of “Old School” Muscle Building

5 Muscle Building Mistakes (And How To Make Gains)

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