Dear Da Windex Guy,
The cheapest and safest way to get tickets to the gun show is to hit the gym! Whereas human growth hormone (HGH) products like Sytropin may help your friend beef up, it only does so in the short-term while also beefing up other hormones in the body that may lead to some unintended side effects (as you suspected). As a general rule, take caution when using any substance that isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as using prescription drugs without the okay from a health care provider.
Initial development and prescription of HGH products were for people with growth disorders and for people with diseases such as AIDS who had growth hormone deficiencies. Now HGH has gotten a reputation for being abused in the sports world and also used controversially to increase milk production in cows. Normally, the pituitary gland (located in the base of the brain) regulates the natural release of HGH. Products like Sytropin introduce synthetic HGH into the body promoting cell growth, reproduction, and regeneration. This, in turn, reduces fat in the body, and increases lean body mass (muscle mass and bone density) and exercise capacity. However, though HGH may increase bulk, there is no solid proof that it increases strength or improves athletic ability (at least not in the long-term).
Your hesitation in using Sytropin or other HGH products is warranted because there is no solid evidence to prove their safety. HGH is only legally available by prescription and scientists still aren’t certain whether HGH taken in pill or spray form (like Sytropin) are effective. Other side effects of HGH use may include:
- Swelling in the limbs.
- Pain in the joints and muscles.
- Gynecomastia (swelling of the breast tissue in men).
- Higher risk for heart disease and diabetes due to increases in insulin and cortisol.
- Potential insulin resistance.
List adapted from the Mayo Clinic
Those who reap the most benefits of using HGH are people who have problems naturally producing growth hormone. The average Jane or Joe looking to boost their muscle volume will likely have the same luck (sans potential HGH side effects) if they stick to a healthy diet and workout regime. Though it may seem tempting to buy scalped tickets to the gun show from Sytropin, investing the extra time and effort into physical exercise is the best and safest approach to securing front row seats. Check out the exercise and diet tips in the Related Q&As below for more information.
Dear Tiger M,
Thank you for the kind words about Go Ask Alice! The reason it may be hard to find an answer to your question is because there are positives to brewing tea both in and out of the bag. When it comes to green tea, however, generally yes, what you are doing (drinking loose leaf tea and consuming the leaves) is healthier than drinking green tea brewed from tea bags.
First, some background on green tea: Green is chock full of antioxidants and other nutrients, thanks to chemical compounds found in the leaves called catechins. To maximize your exposure to catechins, and thus extract the greatest health benefits from your cup of tea, the whole buds and young leaves of most loose leaf teas are superior to broken leaf pieces, called fannings and dust, which are found in many bagged varieties.
So why might loose leaf tea leaves be better?
- Catechins degrade over time. Tea bag tea may have been stored longer than the loose leaf green tea, which means fewer catechins present.
- Catechins concentrations are higher in the whole leaf than in the pieces and dust (because the greater surface area of the smaller pieces means more surface area is exposed to light and air, which results in faster loss of nutrients). These whole pieces are more likely to be found in loose leaf tea.
- Tea bags can absorb some catechins. This means you may lose more nutrients in the bag than you do if the leaf is loose.
However, drinking green tea from tea bags can also have its advantages:
- Green tea in the tea bags is more likely to be dust and fannings and because of this, there is more interaction between the tea and the water (the smaller the tea leaf, the more surface area is exposed to the water, causing more infusion of the tea nutrients).
- Tea bag material varies with the tea company. Some tea bags are biodegradable and interfere less with tea brewing than others, and may also leach fewer nutrients out of the tea.
Additionally, you mentioned that you chew the leaves, which is very healthy (if you don't mind the strong green tea flavor). This is healthier because it allows you to consume the nutrients that did not dissolve in the water (which are numerous, including minerals and fat soluble vitamins) and even gives you a little extra fiber. But if you are buying the tea bagged, you still may be consuming tea leaves that have lost lots of nutrients due to their small size and potential degradation due to long term storage. However, other factors besides loose tea vs. bagged tea, affect the health benefits of green tea. A few other considerations:
- Is your green tea organic? Drinking organic green tea ensures fewer chemicals and pesticides will make their way into your hot cup.
- How fresh is your tea? Catechins are lost the longer the green tea is stored. The fresher the leaf, the more nutrients will be present in the leaf.
- How are you storing your tea and how was it stored before it found its way to you? Tea should be stored in a sealed container as air tight as possible in a cool, dark place.
The freshness issue, by the way, is not a concern for all teas. In fact, some teas improve with age, much like wine. But green tea's benefits are more likely reaped with a fresher leaf. When checking for tea leaf freshness, keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Does the tea smell very green or does it smell smoky or even moldy? Generally, fresh green tea smells very green or refreshing, while the older stuff is likely to smell smoky, stale or moldy.
- Has your tea been stored near light, heat, moisture, or strong odors? Exposures to these things will cause tea leaves to degrade more quickly – so don't store your tea in glass canisters, over your stove, in your refrigerator, or with your spices.
- Have you checked the leaf color and tea taste? Light green colors suggest higher green tea quality than golden or brown colors. Also, the tea should also taste light, not bitter, when fresh.
So keep brewing and keep chewing! You are getting lots of vitamins and minerals this way, especially if your tea is organic and relatively fresh.
Dear Nancy Nutrition,
Props to you for your commitment to good health! And for your attempts to spread the wisdom to your boyfriend. You're right; trying to change another's habits will generally only frustrate both of you. So, you're trying to do your own thing, but find your attempts to avoid junk food foiled by temptation. What to do?
A good first step may be to clearly communicate your healthy eating goals to your boyfriend. From your question, it's not immediately clear if you've already done this. If you haven't, tell him why eating a healthy and balanced diet is so important to you. Let him know how it makes you feel, but also share with him how much you'd value his support. Have you told him how his eating habits are affecting you? He may not realize how much of an impact he is having on you.
There are a number of ways in which he could support you. Perhaps he could agree to bring home less tempting snacks, or stash them somewhere out of sight as a simple first step in being an ally to you around your health goals. Around a mouthful of pizza, could he perhaps offer verbal encouragement for your healthier eating? Does he "peer pressure" you into eating the way he does? If so, he could agree not to do this. And could he commit to eating one of your delicious home-cooked meals at least once a week?
Some other things you may be able to do while living with someone who doesn't share your same eating goals:
- Have plenty of healthy snack items on hand to substitute for cookies when you have the cravings.
- Set up at least one shelf in the pantry and one shelf in the fridge that is only for your healthy food choices.
- Make sure there are rooms in the house that do not contain unhealthy snacks.
- When you do decide to indulge, try not to snack directly from the bag or container. If you portion out how much you want to eat, you'll likely consume less.
While you certainly can make healthy choices without your boyfriend being on board, you are more likely to stick to your healthy goals if your boyfriend is making some similar healthy choices, as well. Consider getting his help in small ways at first, and if he's comfortable with it, he can make some larger changes to his lifestyle as well.
- Perhaps both of you can exercise together or go for a walk after meals.
- Try cooking meals together and cleaning up after together; make it a date
- Perhaps when you decide to indulge in take-out food with him, you could choose healthier options than pizza or Chinese take–out. Avoid fast food altogether if you can.
- Bring healthy snacks when you go out.
- If you are out together and you get hungry and you don't have snacks, if he insists on heading to the nearest fast food place, pick a healthier option for yourself and ask him to meet you there with his food.
In a world of tempting and unhealthy food choices, you have managed to establish a healthy diet for yourself. This is quite an achievement! Keep it up. See related Q&A's below for some healthy eating options.
Trying to find a trusty ally in your quest for a healthy weight can feel like an uphill battle. With so many products claiming to help you shed pounds, it can be good to be a bit cautious when eyeing the options. Some weight loss aids are classified as medications — like Alli — and are closely monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, other aids like hoodia (made from the roots and stems of an African cactus-like plant) are classified as dietary supplements and are not as closely regulated. More specifically, hoodia is considered an herbal supplement, which is a type of dietary supplement that could contain one herb or a mix of different herbs. Unfortunately, many herbal supplements can have unknown ingredients, interact with other medications, and haven’t always been researched extensively. When considering hoodia or any dietary, herbal, or “natural” supplement, it’s recommended that you chat with a health care provider before diving in.
Hoodia’s claim to fame stems from its history among people living in the Kalahari Desert, who would consume hoodia plants to suppress hunger and thirst during long periods of hunting. However, at least one study has found that hoodia did not actually lead people to eat less or lose weight when compared to people who didn’t consume any hoodia. In fact, the people who consumed it had several not-so-great side effects, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of nausea. For more information on the story behind this supplement, check out All about hoodia.
You mention that you’ve already ruled out Alli, but for the curious, here’s the 411: Unlike hoodia, Alli is an over-the-counter (OTC), lower dose form of the prescription drug Orlistat (prescription Orlistat is only for people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30). Because it’s classified as a drug, Alli is under much more stringent safety regulations. Alli works by stopping the enzymes that break down fat. In turn, much of the fat you consume would pass through your body undigested. It is generally seen as safe when taken as directed, but it has been associated with a few rare cases of liver damage. Milder side effects, like gas, abdominal discomfort, urgent bowel movements, anxiety, and headaches, have also been reported. The blocking of fat absorption also affects the body's ability to absorb beta-carotene, and other fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, so taking a multivitamin may be in order.
Now that you’re armed with info about hoodia and Alli, you might be curious about other weight loss aids. Keeping a skeptical eye when choosing dietary supplements is a smart move as the risks of dietary supplements may outweigh the benefits. For example, a popular dietary supplement called ephedrine (or ma huang) was banned in the United States in 2004 after it was found to lead to heart attacks, stroke, and even death. Some supplements still on the market — like bitter orange — have been found to have similar stimulant effects. As you consider how to rev up your weight loss plan, you might consider some of these pointers:
- Don’t underestimate the old fashioned diet and exercise plan. It sounds like you’ve had some weight loss success already and are aware of maintaining a balanced diet, but another component to consider is to get that body up and moving.
- Try browsing the National Institutes of Health Time to Talk tips, which can help you figure out how to talk to your health care provider about using alternative or herbal supplements. It can help you figure out the right questions to ask to make sure an alternative therapy won’t interfere with any of your current medical conditions or medications. While talking with a health care provider is recommended for anyone thinking of adding a supplement or medication, this is especially a wise decision for pregnant or nursing women and children.
- Keep in mind that advertising can be misleading, especially on the internet. Studies have found that sometimes herbal supplements actually don’t contain the ingredients they claim to or can be contaminated with pesticides or other substances. Sticking with supplements that have been reviewed by safety organizations like the FDA can help you avoid falling into a false advertising trap. You can often spot these products if they include a disclaimer saying that, “These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
- No matter what medication or supplement you’re taking, it is advised that you follow the recommended dosage and instructions on the label or from your health care provider may help you avoid any serious side effects or reactions.
Best of luck achieving your weight loss goals!
Props to you for wanting to donate blood! Alas, isn't it iron(ic) that one of the foods with higher iron content also may contain an iron absorption inhibitor? It's one thing to worry about getting enough iron through your food sources, but a whole other thing to worry about whether that iron is actually being absorbed. Boosting your hemoglobin by upping your iron intake shouldn't be too tricky, but know that there are a number of possible causes for low hemoglobin — being low on iron is only one cause (more on that later).
Let's discuss the raisin bran question first. Phytic acid is often found in foods that contain whole grains, including some types of raisin bran. In large enough quantities, phytic acid can inhibit your body's iron absorption. This is annoying since these foods may also be high in iron. In addition to iron absorption inhibitors, there are also substances that aid in iron absorption. The primary is vitamin C, which is often also found in raisin bran. Your best bet is to check food labels so you know when you are consuming foods that contain phytic acid (and also whether it contains a substance such as vitamin C, which will help you absorb iron). If food products contain iron and phytic acid, chances are you'll still likely get at least some iron benefit from them (especially if that food contains vitamin C, too); however, it's wise to have additional sources or iron other than raisin bran. Another iron absorption inhibitor is tannic acid, which is often found in red wine, coffee, some teas, chocolate, and some sodas.
So what does all this mean? Diversified food sources of iron will be your best bet in ensuring that you meet your recommended daily allowance, but there's no harm in making raisin bran one of those sources. Check out the related Q&A's for more information on iron, how much you need, and getting enough of it through your diet.
Now, are you sure low iron is the cause of your low hemoglobin? There are several other possible causes. Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver is one cause. Some common causes of cirrhosis include alcohol abuse, hepatitis B or C, cystic fibrosis, and some parasites caused by chronic liver damage. These conditions, as well as the cirrhosis itself, would likely be accompanied by additional symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, and/or easy bruising.
Other causes can include certain cancers of the blood (e.g. leukemia, multiple Myeloma) or of the lymphatic system (e.g. Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), enlarged spleen (splenomeglamy), or vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels caused by an autoimmune response of various origins). Though anemia and iron deficiency are common causes of low hemoglobin, it may be worth a trip to your health care provider to rule out these other causes.
Happy hemoglobin boosting!
Dear A Sip of Calm,
Can we actually find relaxation in a can? Seems like it could be a great idea, unfortunately, at this point in time, it's just too good to be true. Just like herbal supplements, the FDA does not require companies manufacturing the "relaxation beverages" to prove their claims or standardize their ingredients. As such, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that any of these products are safe and effective. What little research has been done has shown that many compounds in these drinks, such as 5-HTP and melatonin, degrade in water. Other ingredients such as GABA, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier so are completely ineffective. One study even tested five popular brands and found that many of the ingredients listed were barely even present in the drinks themselves!
Two popular ingredients in relaxation beverages that have been studied are valerian and kava and the news is not good. Valerian can cause dependency if taken regularly while kava has been shown to cause liver damage. These types of ingredients can also interact with medications such as Allegra or benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Atvian, etc.) or even with Tylenol and cause serious health problems.
What's your best bet for relaxation? For starters, maintaining a proper diet, exercising, and trying to keep a regular sleep schedule can contribute to feelings of relaxation. You may also want to try meditation and/or yoga.
In the end, the best way to guarantee a good night's sleep is to take time to unwind in the evening, and leave your bedroom for sleeping only. Enjoy some (decaf) tea, relax, close your eyes, turn off your phone and all other screens, and you'll be off to dream land in no time.
Trying to make sense of all the vitamin and mineral supplements on the pharmacy shelves may make you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place! Before you swallow any information, it is important to know that both ionic minerals and colloidal minerals have a lot of dubious marketing and advertising surrounding them. Manufacturers of colloidal and ionic supplements may make a variety of claims about their products — many of which are not confirmed by scientific research. Moreover, the body doesn’t need a whole lot of minerals; fewer than 20 have been judged to be essential to your health.
A colloid is a mixture in which particles are suspended in a liquid or a gas. Colloidal minerals come from humic shale deposits, primarily from Emery County, Utah. After collection, the shale is crushed and placed in water so that the minerals can enter the solution. Colloidal mineral distributors stress the “naturalness” of their product and have made claims about improving conditions associated with certain diseases, a practice judged to be illegal by the FDA. In addition, some advertisements state that colloidal supplements contain 75 minerals, many of which have not been proven to be beneficial to health (such as platinum, gold, and silver).
Ionic mineral distributors state that colloidal minerals have too large of a particle size to be absorbed by the body. Therefore, ionic minerals (named after their supposed positively and negatively charged molecules) were created to have the “correct electrical charge” and therefore lead to higher levels of absorption by the body. Although these supplements may actually lead to greater absorption, it is important to remember that there are various other conditions that must be present in the body in order for this to happen.
In reality, the body only needs minerals in trace amounts. Excessive dosages of minerals can actually be toxic. Therefore, before you experiment with any vitamin or mineral supplements, you may want to speak with your health care provider. A provider can help you sort out fact from fiction, so you can make an informed decision and avoid products that may be harmful or simply ineffective. In certain cases, you may be better off wearing these minerals than ingesting them!
December 11, 2012520002
There is so much nutrition information available from a host of different sources and it’s not hard to see why confusion can arise. You may have access to information published in scientific journals, which are studies that have been critiqued by nutrition experts. At the other end of the spectrum, some sources such as websites and corporate advertisements are created with the intention of boosting sales of the latest diet book or food product. In order to increase the chances of finding valid nutrition information, it's important to identify, use, and refer back to sources you trust. Additionally, when comparing information from multiple sources it is very important to make sure you are comparing exactly the same thing (same serving size, same source, etc).
When gathering information online, it is important to determine who sponsors the site, how often it is updated, the sources for information, and if advertising is involved (or influences content). As an example; Go Ask Alice! is sponsored by Columbia University, content is updated daily (all pages have an update date listed), the sources are described (see below), and the site is advertising free (learn about our no ad policy).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is generally the most reliable source of nutrition and food-related information for the general public in the United States. The dietary guidelines can be found at their MyPlate website where you can also find sample menus and recipes, a food tracker, BMI calculator, as well as several other useful health and food-related tools.
The USDA also has a National Nutrient Database, which is a reliable source for nutrient values for foods. Frequently, this site is accessed by nutrition researchers and developers of nutrient analysis programs. The National Nutrient Database site is user friendly enough that even regular people will be able to do a food search during her/his first visit to the site. Even the National Nutrient Database site, however, can be confusing. For example, it will generate conflicting numbers for nutrients in products such as milk, which comes in a number of varieties. For example, cow's milk provides 8 grams of protein per 8 ounces, evaporated skim milk provides 19 grams, and soy milk, 3 grams. The lesson learned here is to check the details of the food you searched for if the results seem different. For example, a search for milk could yield information on both coconut milk and cow's milk.
The MyPlate SuperTracker and the Nutrient Analysis Tool (NAT) are comprehensive online programs that can be used to analyze not just one food, but an entire day of food intake. They show a comparison of the analysis to your daily nutrient needs. The food lists in these programs come from the USDA National Nutrient Database, and nutrient needs are based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
RDAs are amounts of nutrients that, if consumed on a daily basis, would meet the needs of approximately 97 percent of the population, and are amounts that have been established after years of intensive research studies. The RDA of protein for adult males is 56 grams per day, and for women it is 46 grams per day. This general recommendation is based on 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, for individuals in good general health. Protein needs can vary depending on a person's health status and exercise regimen.
For a personalized assessment of your nutrient needs Columbia studnets can make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. Columbia University students can call x4-2284 or log into Open Communicator to schedule an appointment. Non-students may have access to a nutritionist through her/his primary health care provider or search for a dietitian in your area through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics web site. You might also want to check out the resources listed on the Columbia Health Get Balanced nutrition page.
For additional information regarding finding quality health information online, check out Health information on-line: Whom can you trust? Hopefully these new resources will help to clear up your nutrient value confusion, making it easier for you to make healthier eating choices.
Dear Long Cooker,
Whether you’re an avid chef or a microwave maven, it is important to know that overcooking can deplete the amount of vitamins and minerals in foods. If you are cooking your pasta and beans for as long as you say, you are most likely losing some of their nutritional value. Overcooking destroys bonds between molecules, significantly depleting the nutritional value. For example, overcooking can destroy amino acids and many of the B vitamins, such as Vitamins B-1 and B-5. These vitamins are important for metabolism and energy production.
Generally, shorter cooking time retains more nutrition in a food. Here are a few basic cooking guidelines for your pasta and beans:
Beans, peas, and lentils (members of the legume family) are low in fat and high in fiber, making them a healthy part of your diet. Cooking your beans properly can make them a nutritious and delicious addition to a meal. Dried beans should be soaked overnight in fresh water. They are then cooked for 1-3 hours, depending on the variety of bean. This is standard preparation, and beans cooked in this manner are full of nutrients.
Pasta is a complex carbohydrate, with more fiber and a lower glycemic index than simple sugars. Overcooking pasta can strip it of its fiber content. Most pasta only needs to be boiled between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the cut of the noodle. Overcooking pasta will only add to the loss of vitamins (especially water-soluble B vitamins) and minerals that occurs when you cook it. Another tip: try not to rinse cooked grains and pasta, as this causes further loss of nutrients.
The style of cooking plays an important role in the overall nutrition of food as well. Whether fresh, steamed, baked, grilled, boiled, or fried, how food is prepared can modify the nutritional content. For instance, boiling leeches more nutrients out of vegetables and beans than baking, as many of the vitamins in vegetables are water-soluble. Steaming and microwaving your food can help maintain the most nutrients.
While it appears that androstenedione has helped some people (a few prominent athletes included) increase their muscle mass and recover more quickly from injury, there is no scientific research supporting these results. In order to help you decide whether such nutritional supplements are right for you, let’s first take a look at androstenedione.
Androstenedione is a direct precursor hormone to testosterone and other hormones including one type of estrogen. It is converted from cholesterol, as are all other steroid hormones. Specific enzymes and hormones, among other things, must be present and ready to work for these conversions to take place. For instance, luteinizing hormone, produced and released by the pituitary gland, plays a pivotal role in converting androstenedione to testosterone. Simply introducing extra androstenedione to your system does not automatically indicate that all of the necessary players will be there to produce testosterone or improve the productivity of your workout.
About sixty years ago, when androstenedione was first synthesized, it was shown to have both androgenic (male hormone-like) and anabolic steroid-like properties. The anabolic effects were considerably less than those of testosterone. Subsequent research found that testosterone levels rose after inhalation of androstenedione, but remained elevated for only a couple of hours, with peak levels lasting a few short minutes.
Beyond these cursory early studies, rigorous studies have come to two broad conclusions about androstenedione. First, despite increasing testosterone levels for those with low baseline testosterone levels such as women and older men, androstenedione has not been shown to increase the testosterone levels of young men or to improve the effectiveness of their exercise regiments aimed at building muscle.
What side effects can you expect from androstenedione? No one knows for sure. Androstenedione falls under the category of steroid hormones, which are known to have androgenic and anabolic properties. Therefore, androstenedione may produce side effects similar to those of testosterone-based anabolic steroids. The most dangerous of these side effects is the increased risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, depression, psychoses, and even extreme aggression. There are also gender-specific effects. For men, these include shrinking testes, increased hair loss, enlarged breasts, and possible sterility. Women may experience side effects such as shrinking breasts and uterus, enlarged clitoris, irregular menstruation, increased facial and body hair growth, and a deepening voice. In fact, due to many potential negative health hazards, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prohibited the sale of over-the-counter androstenedione and similar steroid-like dietary substances.
Is it safe? Safety can be difficult to determine when you don't really know what you're dealing with. Is it worth the risk? That's for you to decide. Before you begin taking any dietary supplements you may want to speak with your healthcare provider. S/he can answer your questions and give you more detailed information. Columbia students might want to consider making an appointment at Medical Services by calling x4-2284 or online using Open Communicator. Students on the Medical Center campus can contact the Student Health Service.