Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Science Lady Asks for Answers on Healthy Lifestyle

Hello Readers (the very few of you), in a first of its kind post, the Science Lady asks for answers instead of doling them out.  The Science Lady hopes she gets thoughtful responses from the Internet world rather than raging hate, perhaps a huge risk to take these days...

Like many out there, the Science Lady has struggled with her weight, experiencing intermittent success followed by longer bouts of failure. While around her, some people just seem to manage their weight naturally, effortlessly, they wear the same jeans for 20 years and look the same as their high school photos.

In the 90's and early 00's, the Science Lady bought into the low-fat craze like the rest of us. Yes, she ate those awful fat-free Snackwell's cookies a few times. She bought 1% low fat milk, lite 50% less sugar imitation maple syrup (Aunt Jemima), low fat yogurt, and low fat cheese. She cooked spaghetti with vegetables, baked chicken breasts with biscuits and salad with fat free dressing, and other "normal food."  By early 2006 she reached her peak weight ever recorded, and decided to do SOMETHING about it.
The Science Lady and her husband in summer 2005, Minnesota

In January 2006, the Science Lady signed up for Slim4Life weight loss program (now called Slimgenics) in Aurora, Colorado. Advantages: The Science Lady was unemployed for 6 months between her job at 3M and starting graduate school at the University of Colorado; she had 100% of her time and energy for dieting and meal planning. Although this diet doesn't count calories, this was a low calorie, low fat, high protein diet (roughly 1200 to 1400 calories per day) including Slim4Life's 'thermogenic' high protein snacks. Through relentless meal planning, diet journaling, measuring, and counting, the Science Lady lost 40 pounds over about 8-9 months. The Science Lady was hungry all the time, going to bed hungry, getting up hungry, she thought about nothing but food, she avoided most movement or exercise to avoid extra appetite stimulation. Sometimes her grumbling stomach woke her up and she would go to the kitchen and eat two bites of a banana at midnight. The Science Lady's husband would say, "don't worry, you can eat more tomorrow."  When going for hikes in the Rockies, or skiing, she stuck to the diet, somehow. Rather than eating chili and hot cocoa with her friends, she would heat up a special Slim4Life soup packet using the microwaves in some ski lodges. But... it worked, the Science Lady reached her goal weight and bought those skinny jeans. She kept off 30 of the 40 pounds for 3-4 years, achieving an equilibrium for a time. Aha! She thought. I have the secret, I know what to do. The Science Lady joined the National Weight Control Registry as a successful dieter. She signed up for diet and nutrition studies through the University of Colorado Center for Human Nutrition as a "normal weight" study subject, testing over- and under-eating for the sake of science.  She dabbled in jogging, yoga, spin classes, a few adventure races in relay format, and had a good time.

The Science Lady and her husband, in Kaikoura New Zealand 2009

Then, slowly, she regained 20 pounds. About 10 pounds slowly in 5 years of graduate school, but then another quick 10 pounds when she started her first desk job in 2011. Walking around the lab all day, up and down from the lab bench, back and forth to the hoods and the cold rooms, had kept off some weight. Then she started a 2 hour round trip commute and a desk job, gaining 10 pounds fast. [For those keeping track, this left her 10 pounds lighter than her peak weight in 2006]. She signed up for an after-work boot camp twice a week to get ready for a hike of Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail and strove for portion control with her food.  While she DID get more fit, she didn't lose any weight. She finished the 75 km West Coast Trail on her own two feet in 2012.

The Science Lady on the West Coast Trail 2012

It was probably inevitable, but in 2013 the Science Lady tried the low carb diet. Shying away from the extremity of Atkin's, the Science Lady ate about 50 grams of carbs each day from foods like peas, carrots, and beans, along with meat, non-starchy vegetables like spinach and peppers, and dairy. The Science Lady lost 8 pounds in 2-3 months, while her husband lost 16 pounds. Together they traveled to Turkey in 2013 and saw the sights. While on vacation, 'normal' eating returned and slowly the 8 pounds came back over a few months. 

In 2014 the Science Lady moved to Connecticut. She thought a change of scenery, a new job, new connections and experiences might shake things up and be just what she needed for health. Instead, the move (house selling, house buying, temporary apartment, eating out during the move, making friends, adjusting to new job) brought back the last 10 pounds. She was even-up with her peak weight of 2006 again. 

After about 2 years of avoiding the problem, in January 2016 the Science Lady took several steps to change things for good - she read Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, which convinced her that processed foods are bad and whole, natural foods are good. She signed up for a weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box packed with locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. She signed up for Blue Apron and Hello Fresh boxes (choosing which was better each week) to eat more fresh, whole foods for dinner. She signed up for Precision Nutrition's Womens Coaching, now about 9 months into her year of online coaching. She did the lessons, the journaling, the mental exercises...  The Science Lady dove into eating whole foods - she made her own salad dressings, homemade pesto, homemade bread, homemade pizza using shredded eggplant crust; she spent almost every Sunday cooking for 3-5 hours. She washed and chopped vegetables and fruits; she cooked farro, sorghum, freekah, quinoa. She bought grass-fed beef and organic pastured chicken. She made roasted parsnips and carrots, sorrell soup, marinara meat sauce on top of spaghetti squash, salads made of grains and vegetables, and used those CSA-box vegetables, no matter how weird, darnit.  Her coworkers drooled over her lunches, saying "wow, that looks great, and healthy!"  For four months in 2016, she did the Precision Nutrition-prescribed work outs, consisting of at-home resistance training, at least 3 days per week, in addition to walking her dog every day.  After getting bored with those, she dabbled with cardio classes at the gym and Zumba. Nine months into her whole foods craze, the Science Lady believes that whole foods are in fact TOO delicious for dieters.

For the past month, the Science Lady tried the Paleo Lifestyle. She doubled down and stopped eating bread, grains, rice, pasta, crackers, and cookies. She cooked more meat, vegetables, and fruits. She made about 15 recipes from NomNom Paleo (which is a great cookbook BTW, worth reading just for the funny quips and the cartoons!).  So, after all these Sundays in the kitchen, cooking, exercising, and soul-searching, where does this leave the Science Lady?  The same place she started - the exact same weight as January 2016.  Does this mean that the only diet that works is a low calorie, high hunger, miserable diet?  Probably. If only she could find that equilibrium she had in 2007-2010-ish. Then, it was easy to keep a healthy weight. Somehow it wasn't hard then.  She used to be one of those effortless, thin people that made it look easy. If only it was easy again.
The Science Lady and her husband near the finish of the Coastal Trail, Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario Sep 2016

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A question from Tyler, location unknown:
"My question is a bit complicated, so please bear with me.  I'm a male redhead who was diagnosed with Malignant Hyperthermia (MH). I was apparently diagnosed the hard way when I was about 1yr old after a relatively minor surgery, and then spent the next week in a bubble.
I've always run a little hot, always had a high metabolism, and have always had a really high tolerance for medication. Is it possible that there is a link between my MH and my metabolism? Would it also be possible that there's a link to my tolerance for pain medication and others?"

Dear Tyler,

Thanks for your question. I don't think these conditions are linked to each other, per se, but rather linked to your particular genetics and ancestry. It could be that by random chance, you have several different genetic mutations that cause these 3 conditions (MH, red-headed-ness, and "running hot"). I am going out on a limb here and guessing that since you are a redhead, you are of northern European descent (Scottish, Irish, Scandinavian, etc.) and your ancestors haled from a cold climate. 

Malignant hyopthermia, as you already know, runs in families and is linked to genetic changes in several genes (see this link). For my other readers' benefit, MH causes a fast rise in body temperature and severe muscle contractions when someone with this disease is administered general anesthesia. It can be life threatening. This is, unfortunately, something that runs in your family. These are genes located in your 46 "normal" chromosomes.

It turns out that people from colder climates may tend to have mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which modify the electron transport system, leading to excess heat production rather than adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. ATP is the currency of energy in our cells, but mitochondria also produce heat, part of the metabolic system which allows us to maintain constant body temperature. These mtDNA mutations in some northern people are like the difference between a well-oiled drive chain or conveyor belt producing very little heat when it moves, versus an un-oiled rusty drive belt squealing and heating up as it turns. You've got the rusty drive belt, my friend. This was advantageous for humans living in colder climates. It burns more calories but also keeps your body warmer (see link to Science Daily article to start). It could be that these mitochondrial gene mutations tend to make MH more severe for you, unfortunately, as your body has difficulty cooling itself.

And finally, redheaded traits are caused by mutations of the melanocortin-1 receptor gene (MC1R). It turns out that anesthetic resistance is significantly increased in redheads (see link). This is pretty well known among doctors and dentists, as once a dentist offered me extra local anesthetic before working on my fillings (I had dyed my hair red at the time). Redheads experience reduced efficacy of lidocaine, a local anesthetic used by dentists (see link). This may not be related to the actual red hair, it may be that the genes which regulate anesthetic drug metabolism, and other drug metabolism, are directly or indirectly linked to the genes which control complexion and hair color. 

Advantages: If lost in a snowstorm or exposed to extreme cold, you will do better than other people to avoid hypothermia and frostbite. Also, I bet you can eat a lot of food and not gain weight. Unfortunately, you also suffer from MH when needing to undergo surgery. I wish you my best for safety and health.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Does Alcohol Tolerance Mean Anything? -from John in Eden Prairie, MN

Here's John's full question on alcohol tolerance: 

1)   What is the physical mechanism by which drunkenness occurs, and how does a person’s alcohol tolerance play into that?

2)   If a person with a high alcohol tolerance consumed 6 beers, and another person of similar body composition with a low alcohol tolerance consumed 6 beers, would both people’s blood alcohol content be relatively similar?  i.e. Does a person’s tolerance affect alcohol absorption in the body or does it change the person’s reaction (drunkenness) to alcohol in the body?

John, thanks for the fun alcohol question!  Your questions are all about the pharmacology and metabolism of alcohol.  First, some important points about alcohol - it is a small molecule drug that is quickly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, and undergoes metabolism in the liver.  People have been consuming alcohol for ages.  Alcohol is one of the first anesthetics used for surgery before the discovery of modern anesthetics.  Surgeons would get people drunk enough to pass out or be disoriented for limb amputations or the like.  Alcohol also thins the blood - so those unfortunate patients were in danger of bleeding out during those surgeries.

 Alcohol has a complicated metabolic pathway, and is broken down by numerous different enzymes to several byproducts.  "Drunkeness" occurs via alcohol's effects on the the brain - alcohol binds the opiate receptors in neurons and impacts the release and re-release of dopamine.  Heroin, cocaine, and other addictive drugs also affect the opiate receptors.  That is a common feature between drugs of addiction.  That's where the "fun" part of alcohol comes into play - euphoric feelings, boisterousness, in other words, happy drunks because of altered dopamine release.  The physical effects of alcohol - dizziness, memory loss, vomiting, headache, sleepiness or lack of sleep, etc. are also partly due to alcohol's effects on the brain.  However, the byproducts of alcohol, such as acetaldehyde and lactic acid, contribute in a big way to alcohol's unpleasant effects.  Those are the two biggies that give you a hangover, make you feel sick.  Athletes get lactic acid build-up in muscles during tough, long work-outs - and sore muscles or "hitting the wall" can result from too much lactic acid.  A night of heavy drinking can cause lactic acid build-up throughout the body, causing all those unpleasant physical effects.  Alcohol metabolism also interferes with the natural breakdown of other wastes through competition with liver resources.   Hopefully that answered your first question.

Now - about differences between people who drink similar amounts of alcohol.  The two characteristics that have the biggest impact on drunkeness are body weight and amount of food consumed prior to drinking.  Bigger people have a larger volume with which to dilute the alcohol they consume, and a full stomach slows down alcohol absorption, allowing natural alcohol metabolism to "keep up" with the rate of drinking.  Everyone gets drunk faster on an empty stomach.  Individual variations come from genetic factors or subjective experiences.  Men tend to metabolize alcohol faster than women, so a man and a woman of the same body weight, eating the same meal, drinking the same drinks, will usually result in the woman being a bit more tipsy.  Aside from that, people have genetic variations in cytochrome P450 enzymes - some of the liver enzymes involved in alcohol breakdown.  Some CYP450 variants are "fast" variants or "slow" variants.  Some people with fast CYP450 variants have to be dosed with higher amounts of prescription meds for serious illnesses.  Also, other over-the-counter drugs and even foods can stimulate CYP450 production, making your liver more or less "prepared" to metabolize alcohol.   

Alcohol flush syndrome" or more commonly "the Asian flush" is due to a mutation in acetaldehyde dehydrogenase - causing accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body.  This causes flushing of the face, neck, and other areas, and more sick feelings from alcohol consumption due to acetaldehyde build-up.  People with seemingly "high tolerance" to alcohol might be fast metabolizers, or they may have so much practice drinking that they handle the effects better.  Some people have a subjectively lower threshold for "feeling drunk" compared to others.  Other people just don't react as obviously to alcohol - "quieter, more reserved" drunks, making them appear less drunk.  Alcoholics get very adept at appearing sober when actually drunk.  They can function almost normally with a high blood alcohol content.  

Lastly, if two people of the same body weight, same body composition, same age, and same CYP450 variants ate a standardized meal (clinical speak for controlled intake) and consumed the same amount of alcohol at exactly the same time, they should achieve the same peak blood alcohol content. In reality, there are so many variables that this would be hard to compare.  And still, those two people might appear drunk differently.  

Hope this helps, John, when trying to drink others under the table.     


Sunday, May 13, 2012

How can we prevent altitude sickness? -Tim in Dubuque, IA

Question:  My wife and I traveled to the Rocky Mountains, and she experienced extreme altitude sickness and didn't feel well at all.  We spent the day in Denver first, and she drinks gallons of water.  We bought this product, ChlorOxygen, from a health food store.  Will that help?  Anything else we can do? 

Thanks Tim, for the question!  What you described sounds like Acute Mountain Sickness, and can include nausea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, and a general feeling of being unwell.  These symptoms are caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood from the lower atmospheric pressure.  Altitude sickness is tricky, and each person responds differently to changes in altitude.  It can happen to anyone - fit people, young, old, overweight, it doesn't matter.  However, fit people who exercise more often tend to experience less severe symptoms, and adjust faster.  There are exceptions though - altitude sickness can strike fit people too, sometimes very suddenly.

So what can you do?  Sounds like you are already taking some good steps by stopping first in Denver to acclimate, and drinking lots of water.  Here's a longer list of things you can do to prevent or reduce altitude sickness symptoms:

1.  Ascend slowly.  Spend a day in Denver, a day in Frisco or Dillon, and then go higher. 
2.  Drink plenty of fluids, avoid caffeine and alcohol which can dehydrate you or cause their own version of headaches.
3.  Take it easy the first few days.  Go shopping or visit tourist sites before skiing or climbing  a mountain.
4.  Exercise regularly to keep your red blood cell count up.  While it's not a sure thing, being a regular exerciser can increase your oxygen carrying capacity and reduce altitude sickness symptoms.
5.  Make sure you're not low in iron.  Iron is essential for hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that binds oxygen, to work correctly.  If your wife has low iron, this could be part of her troubles. She should get checked for chronic anemia.
5.  If you have recurrent, severe symptoms, consider asking your doctor for a prescription drug called Diamox  (Acetazolamide).  This drug causes the blood to become slightly more acidic and your respiration rate to increase, increasing oxygenation of the blood.  It can have upleasant side effects though, so use this only if you really need to.  I have friends who tried this drug and they experienced numbness of the feet, hands, and lips.  Not everyone has side effects though.
6.  Act like a tourist and try one of the oxygen bars.  Estes Park, Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, and other touristy towns often have several oxygen bars where you can hang out and oxygenate your blood with fellow altitude sickness sufferers.  This is not a long-term solution though!

I checked out your herbal supplment, ChorOxygen. The active ingredient is chlorophyll, the pigment which gives plants their green color and enables them to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, you are not a plant.  Chlorophyll is not going to work the same in a human as it does in the leaves and needles of plants.  We don't have the right biochemistry or physiology to make chorophyll work for us.  If we did, we could just eat lettuce and dandelion leaves (yes, just eat the plants - those contain lots of chorophyll) and go sit outside in the sun and stop breathing.  Sorry, I doubt that herbal supplement does anything better than a big green salad.

Hope this helps.  Happy travels.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Iodine deficiency and testing for iodine deficiency

Andi, from Dubuque, Iowa, has sent in a very thoughtful question on the reasons, causes, and cures for iodine deficiency.  I will attempt to address each point:
Iodine deficiency can eventually result in thyroid problems, as the thyroid requires iodine to self-regulate and stay healthy. 
Yes, people on healthy (lower sodium) diets could eventually achieve iodine deficiency, because iodized salt is a main source of iodine in our diets.  People on low-salt diets (such as for blood pressure) can get plenty of iodine by using iodized sea salt sparingly.  It really doesn't take much! 

As for the similarities between chlorine, fluoridne, and iodine, check out the Periodic Table of the Elements here:    You'll notice that these three elements are in the same column, column 17.  That means they all have the same number of electrons in their outer shell (7) which determines the chemical reactivity of the element.  Chlorine, bromine, and iodine have some similarities in terms of reactivity.  However, the body is generally very good at distinguishing between chemical species.  Chlorine in drinking water, at low levels, might displace some iodine in the body, but without more details from the "lock" and "key" analogy your nutritionist described (he is probably referring to an enzyme, or a cell-membrane transporter/channel for iodine) I cannot be certain. I need more information on that question.

For good thyroid health, use moderate amounts of iodized sea salt.  The hormonal changes due to peri-menopause and menopause can also cause thyroid problems, and many women in middle age experience hypo- or hyper-active thyroid disorder.  Also, general fatigue can be caused by hyponutremia (low sodium levels) if you drink a lot of water and avoid salt in foods. 
Hope this helps!        

On geology, oil, and mountains

Another geology question from David:  "Obviously oil and gas "pools" are quite deep under the surface of the earth.  Science tells us that the tectonic plates and their forces cause wrinkles or mountains.  These wrinkles go up.  What is the process for oil or decayed fossils to go down and then covered over with layers of rock?  The same forces apparently with the addition of sea bottom sediment and then a rise again?  There must be some intermediate process that causes the pool to stay together or are pools formed because the oil is trapped?"
Dear David,
Tectonic plates pushing mountains up is one kind of geologic process, and occurs due to the movement of the continental plates on the earth's crust.  Oil and natural gas formation is a different process, and generally much closer to the surface.  Oil, coal, and natural gas form when decaying plant or animal material gets covered and trapped by sedimentation, and eventually gets buried deeply by more sedimentation, or processes like landslides and volanic eruptions.  For oil and gas formation, trapping the material and providing pressure is key.  If left exposed, the material will decay into the soil instead of forming fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels are continuously forming right now, but at a much, much slower rate than we are using them.  The geologic processes that move continental plates (millions of years) are much slower then for fossil fuel formation (thousands of years) - the vast time scale of geology is something that we humans find very hard to grasp. 
Thanks for your question!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Does the hCG diet work? Is it safe?

Have you heard the ads on the radio?  Or seen all the internet ads for the hCG diet?  Have you tried it, or wondered if it's safe? 
Well DON'T TRY IT.  The SL cannot be emphatic enough on this one folks, the hCG diet is useless and dangerous.  hCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin.  It is a hormone made by the embryo and the placenta during pregnancy.  It is excreted in urine during pregnancy, and detection of hCG is a common type of pregnancy test.  Diet ads will tell you eating or injecting hCG will aid weight loss - but it's bunk.  See also this article on Web\MD:
Any weight lost during the hCG diet is due to extreme calorie deficiency! 

Not only that, it's very dangerous.  The hCG being sold on the internet and other outlets is a biological therapeutic that is completely unregulated by the FDA.  There is no guarantee of the safety, purity, concentration, or even identity of the hCG you can buy.  Injecting an impure, questionably produced hormone into your own body can have serious side effects.  In fact, you could eventually have an immune reaction to hCG, a reaction that could make carrying a pregnancy impossible, as hCG is a critical hormone for successful pregnancy.  The real therapeutic hCG products are actually used to treat infertility, but those have been tested and approved by the FDA, which oversees the quality of the therapeutic product. 

Bottom line:  Do not try the hCG diet!  Most of the nutrition tips and diets I discussed on this blog are harmless, but this one is especially bad.  As always, magical secret cures are usually false. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Is hydraulic fracking dangerous for ground water? - from David in Dubuque, Iowa

Here is David's full question:
"As I understand it, hydraulic "fracking" to extract natural gas is a process of drilling a mile or so deep and pumping in a special toxic fluid and shattering rock thereby releasing natural gas.  My question is, Is it reasonable to assume that the drill passes through an aquifer and if so, the casing will someday corrode or somehow the toxic fluid will find its way upward to the aquifer eventually.  Might we be making whole aquifers unfit for any use?  Naturally the gas companies say it's safe despite the famous flaming tap water video.  I hope you know some geology."

Great question!  Unfortunately the SL is not a super geology expert. However, the SL has a friend who happens to be a geophysicist. What luck! 
Here is the expert friend's opinion:
"It is unknown what the public health risks of hydraulic fracking used in natural gas extraction are. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been a scientific study with definitive results. The EPA is doing a study that should be out in a few years.

High concentrations of the hydraulic fracking fluid used in natural gas extraction is something I would definitely stay away from. To some extent, it gets diluted once it is pumped into the ground (usually several thousand feet deep). There is no definitive study that shows if/how this fluid gets into drinking water.

The fracking fluid is pumped in early in the well's life cycle. Once the cracks are made, sand or some other porous solid is put in place to keep the cracks open.  By the time a well casing starts to corrode, the fracking fluid stage will have been longer past. It is very possible that the well casing may crack or blow out though."

So hydraulic fracking sounds risky, and dangerous for drinking water! We cannot "assume" that any drilling will go through an aquifer though. Aquifers are not everywhere. We hope that drilling companies do some geological surveys first, and drill around the ground water. I would think a major aquifer would really screw up a drilling operation.  This is a great example of why we REALLY need the EPA, and why Congress' budget proposal to de-fund and strip the EPA of authority is a BAD idea. Big companies do not have our health as high on the priority list. Write your congressman! 

Better to be safe than sorry.  I recommend filtering your drinking water (not bottled water!). See my other blog post about clean drinking water here:

I cannot comment specifically on the video with flaming tap water.  You'd have to sent me the specific link.  Spills and leaks due to fracking are widespread, though, and the regulations are weak at best.  Right now it is up to the states to regulate fracking, and most of them are behind Big Oil in scrambling to keep up with what industry is doing. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What should I look for in a protein/snack bar? -from Tim in Dubuque, Iowa

Here's the question:  What’s the skinny on power bars?  I’m headed skiing in Colorado and want to eat something at lunch with my PB sandwich that helps me get through the afternoon. I’m confused by calories, sodium, sugar.  I want to eat something healthy.  What are some good guide lines for power bars?

Thanks for your question, Tim! You have a great question for athletes on the go. It's tough to carry something easy, healthy, and filling for a day of skiing, hiking, or other activity. Protein/snack bars are convenient, a great way to go. However, if you walk down that section in the grocery store, there are literally 100s of varieties. The key lies in the details on the nutrition label: you want maximum protein and not loads of sugar, and also some complex carbs. Athletes need protein and carbs to fuel the body. Sugar provides some quick energy for those afternoon energy slumps. For athletes, some sodium is fine, since you're going to drink lots of water and sweat a lot. The other thing to look at is the ingredients list. You don't want anything hydrogenated (trans fats), fake colors, preservatives, or a bunch of fake junk if you can avoid it. The actual Power Bar brand is not very good because they are highly processed. Also, the Myoplex, Atkins, and muscle-milk brands are very fake and processed. They contain lots of processed sugars and sugar alcohols.
The Clif bar brand is pretty good. It contains mostly all-natural ingredients and good amount of protein.  The Lara bar brand is very natural, only 5 ingredients, and is sweetened with dates instead of sugar. However, every flavor tastes a little bit like dates, so don't buy those if you don't like dates! Odwalla bars are quite tasty and all-natural, but a little light on the protein. For an athlete, you really want something with at least 9 or 10 grams of protein in a bar. Supplement a low protein bar with a piece of string cheese, or something else high-protein. For best results, buy a couple different kinds and see what you like best.
Another option is making your own protein bars! It's more work, but you can customize it. One of my favorite recipes combines Kashi Go-Lean cereal (very, very high protein and fiber) with peanut butter or almond butter, honey, and mix-ins like chocolate chunks or dried fruit. Dried cranberries and cherries work really well. Happy skiing!    

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Do people really need to sleep? Why?

Since the Science Lady hasn't gotten any new QUESTIONS lately, she's doing a several part series on Sleep. First off - do people really need to sleep? YES we do. Our furry companion cats and dogs sleep, as do all mammals and birds. Insects and fish don't really "sleep" like we do per se, but they sort of "zone out" and take mental rests. It seems that more social animals with larger brains require sleep. Why do we and other animals sleep? Several reasons: first, sleep provides a physical rest. It conserves energy. Our ancestors had limited food sources and had to conserve energy whenever possible, and sleep does that for us. Second, sleep gives the body opportunity to heal. Our sore muscles regenerate, the immune system fights infections, our skin cells renew themselves, etc. It gives the body a chance to "catch up" with everything we've done to it. Third, our brain is busy while we're sleeping. For adults, about 20-25% of our sleep is REM (random eye movement) sleep, and for infants, about 80% is REM sleep. REM sleep is when we have vivid dreams, and it's also thought to be critical for long-term memory formation. While we sleep, the brain sorts our memories and puts long-term memories into storage. Sleep deprived people have difficulty with short-term recall, attention, critical thinking skills, problem solving, and on and on. Sleep deprivation also elevates stress hormone levels, lowers our overall energy, causes mood problems, and overall makes us less efficient.

The current official record for sleep deprivation is held by Randy Gardner - a 17 year old who went for 11 days without sleep in 1964. Randy's case is still discussed in social psychology classes. Randy was supervised by a physician and a sleep researcher, William Dement. Randy was fairly high-functioning during the experiment, and they kept him awake using continuous games of pinball. However, Randy suffered from mood swings, loss of concentration, losing his temper, and had several hallucinations and delusions. On the fourth day he had a delusion that he was Paul Lowe winning the Rose Bowl, and that a street sign was a person. On the 11th day, when he was asked to subtract seven repeatedly, starting with 100, he stopped at 65. When asked why he had stopped, he replied that he had forgotten what he was doing. However, after 11 days of sleep deprivation, he could still speak coherently at a press conference. Randy slept for 14 1/2 hours afterward, then stayed awake for 24 hours, before resuming a normal sleep schedule. I wonder how this might have affected an older person, as a 17 year old might be able to bounce back better than most.

What about more normal sleep deprivation, such as when you get 4-6 hours of sleep per night repeatedly? You might not have hallucinations, but chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to increase moodiness,  increase stress hormones and "perceived levels of stress", drastically decrease mental performance and critical thinking skills, and also contribute to weight gain and risk of illness, including heart disease, viral infections, diabetes, etc. Next, the SL will tackle the common question: how much sleep is ideal?