Is IV Nutrition Worth a Try?

Will IV Therapy improve your health?

If you have a confirmed deficiency of a specific nutrient, or a condition that prevents you from absorbing nutrients  delivered orally, IV nutrition might make sense. And if you were severely dehydrated, an IV can be an efficient way to deliver fluids.

But I have grave reservations about these “IV therapy” clinics that are springing up and pumping people full of nutrient cocktails.  Although it’s promoted as everything from a hangover cure to energy booster to anti-aging therapy, most of the claims are not supported by evidence and may even be unsafe.

IV fluids may help relieve some of the acute symptoms of a hangover (many of which are due to dehydration), but won’t counteract the other harmful effects of drinking too much. More questionable are the alleged benefits of the vitamins, minerals, and other compounds used in IV therapy.

Supplying nutrients in excess of the body’s needs will not make your cellular processes work better or faster, any more than over-filling your gas tank will make your car run faster.

High doses of antioxidants can even shut down the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms.

There are also general risks associated with any IV therapy, such as infection or hematoma.

Those administering IV therapy may be well-meaning but uninformed, or they may simply be out to make a buck. Given the lack of regulation and oversight (and research), I think I’d steer clear.

What is the Sirtfood Diet?

Will there ever be an end to silly new diet trends?

The Sirtfood Diet is the latest to cross my desk and, boy, is it a doozy.

The premise is that certain foods increase the activity of sir ruins in your body. Sirtuins are special proteins which allegedly have all sorts of beneficial effects, everything from fighting inflammation to preventing cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, all the way to reversing aging and extending lifespan.

The Sirtdiet protocol consists of lots of green smoothies and other meals made from “sirtfoods,” which include capers, celery, cocoa powder, green tea, kale,  parsley, onions, strawberries, turmeric, and walnuts.

Nothing wrong with those foods.  But there is a lot wrong with this diet.

First, the claims for this diet are not only unproven, they verge on the preposterous. Although sirtuins are an area of promising research, what we don’t know about them far exceeds what we do know about them.

Even if we did know more about how sirtiuns promote health and longevity, the idea that these foods will increase sirtuin activity is pure speculation.  These foods are rich in poloyphenols, compounds that might boost sirutin activity. Then again they might not. We’ll have to get back to you on that.

The other problem with this diet is that it is designed to produce extreme (and extremely fast) weight loss. As you’ve heard me say before, dieting is counter-productive. Extreme dieting is extremely counter-productive.

I bet a lot of these so called “sirtfoods” are already in your diet. Stay the course! And some of the “sirtfood” recipes I’ve seen look delicious. Feel free to add them to your repertoire. But the actual Sirtfood Diet protocol? I’d pass on that if I were you.

Do phytates fight cancer?

Jennie writes:

“I read a book on plant-based diets that which cliams that the phytates in whole grains kill cancer cells. Do whole grains really fight cancer?”

Ironic, isn’t it? In some corners of the nutrition world, the phytates in grains and legumes are reviled as “anti-nutrients.” In other circles, they are heralded as cancer killers.

In fact, both are true. Phytic acid in nuts, whole grains and legumes can bind to minerals like calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption of these minerals.  This effect can be greatly diminished by soaking, sprouting, or cooking these foods. But if you’re not soaking or sprouting your grains, don’t worry.  It’s unlikely to lead to mineral deficiencies.

In fact, the health benefits of phytic acid from whole grains and legumes appear to be much more significant than any downside.  In addition to building strong bones, lowering cholesterol, and removing heavy metals from your body, phytates may help prevent cancer (colon cancer in particular).

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of things that kill cancer cells.  But killing cancer cells in a petri dish and impeding the progression of cancer in a living organism are two entirely different things. Phytates are not effective chemotherapy. But they have been found to reduce the effects of actual chemotherapy in cancer patients.


Sugar and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Whenever I talk about cancer and diet, I try to debunk the myth that eating sugar makes cancer grow faster. I explain that all cells, including cancer cells, use glucose (sugar) to fuel their metabolism. Cancer cells often have an accelerated metabolism and utilize blood glucose at a faster rate than other cells. But it’s a gross over-simplification to say that consuming sugar will make cancer grow faster or that eliminating sugar will slow the growth of a tumor.

So imagine my surprise to see a recent headline in Newsweek about a new study published in the prestigious science journal Nature.

Despite the provocative headline, however, this study has absolutely nothing to do with how sugar from foods affects cancer cells. The research explores how some cancer cells differ from healthy cells in the way that they metabolize glucose. This is undoubtedly important to cancer researchers. But it does not add to, subtract from, or change in any way what we know about the interaction of diet and cancer.  

The link between sugar consumption and cancer risk is more indirect.  Excessive sugar consumption often leads to obesity, which increases cancer risk. But it’s the excess body fat that is the problem, not the source of the calories that caused it. 

This is important to cancer researchers, but it doesn't change what we know about diet and cancer. Click To Tweet

There are a lot of good reasons to limit our consumption of added sugars.  Limiting these empty calories can make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. A diet that’s lower in added sugars is also likely to be higher in nutrients. Both can help to reduce your risk of cancer and/or improve your chances of beating it.

But the last thing a cancer patient (or survivor) needs is to stress about whether eating too much sugar may have caused their cancer or made it more aggressive. Neither is true.

See also: Diet Recommendations for Cancer Survivors

Related Listening

Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?

Photo by Jennifer Blackburn for the National Sorghum Producers

Q. I’ve been seeing ads for Onyx Sorghum, specifically its use in certain cereals. This supposed “miracle” grain apparently contains a lot of antioxidants. However it looks like the high tannin content might affect iron absorption. Could this whole grain fit into a healthy and balanced diet or might it do more harm than good?

A. Sorghum is a whole grain that we’ve hearing more about lately.  Onyx (or black) sorghum is a special type of sorghum that is a dark red or black color intead of the usual pale beige.  It was created by plant geneticists at Texas A&M, who used traditional cross-breeding techniques and not genetic modification to create the richly hued grain.

As with berries and other plants, the pigment that gives onyx sorghum its distinctive color also happens to be rich in antioxidants. However, some of those antioxidants are in the form of tannins, bitter compounds that are also found in tea, coffee, wine, and other plants.  Tannins, in addition to acting as antioxidants can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals. Do the benefits outweigh the potential downsides?


Continue reading “Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?” >

Losing weight will shorten your life? Not exactly.

A new study finds that people who lost more than 15% of their body weight over a five year period were actually more likely to die than those who didn’t lose weight. What’s more, the biggest losers were more likely to die than people who gained 20% during the same period.

How can this be? We’re constantly bombarded with headlines about the obesity epidemic and how it’s shaving years off our life span. Are you really better off remaining overweight than losing weight? 

Poor health causes weight loss, not the other way around. Click To Tweet

This latest study does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss, nor did it take into account the cause of death. People who are terminally ill tend to lose weight. But there's a world of difference between losing weight due to serious illness and intentionally losing weight.

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

One way to see this quite clearly is to distinguish between the loss of total body weight and the loss of body fat. The loss of total body weight may be associated with increased mortality. But the loss of body fat is associated with increased life span.

Another way to separate out the effect of wasting disease is to distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss. Previous studies have shown that while unintentional weight loss is associated with increased risk of death, intentional weight loss can reduce mortality by 15%

The Bottom Line(s)

Actually, I have three bottom lines for you

Bottom Line #1. Losing excess body fat will improve your health.

Bottom Line #2. Losing weight slowly will increase the percentage of body fat you lose.

Bottom Line #3. Losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off will do more to improve your health than repeatedly losing and gaining large amounts of weight.

Need help with sustainable weight loss? That’s what the Weighless program is all about. ​Learn more.

Fact Check: Three quarters of Americans are chronically dehydrated

Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisI got an email this morning from a blogger asking me to contribute to a post he was doing on ways to drink more water.

“My reason for doing this post,” he wrote, “is the scary fact that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated and it’s probably the same in most countries. The hope is to create “dehydration awareness” and provide inspiration for how others can drink more water.”

(He also happens to operate a website in which he sells lots of water-related products through affiliate links but I’m sure that’s neither here nor there…)

I declined to participate in the post but I was curious about the claim that three-quarters of Americans are chronically dehydrated. A quick Google search shows this exact claim repeated all over the web (although not by any terribly reliable websites).

Where do these “facts” come from?

Continue reading “Fact Check: Three quarters of Americans are chronically dehydrated” >

Is Your Metabolism to Blame?

If you are unhappy with your weight or frustrated by your inability to lose weight, you’ve probably wondered whether a slow metabolism may be to blame.

Your suspicions may have been confirmed by all the diets, programs, and products out there that claim to “fix” a slow metabolism. Let’s take a closer look at what factors have an impact—either positive or negative—on our metabolism and how big that effect might be.

This article is also available as a podcast. Click to listen.

First, let’s define some terms. In this context, metabolism refers to your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is the amount of energy your body uses just to maintain basic biological functions like breathing, pumping blood, blinking, and maintaining your body temperature.

For a healthy adult, this is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 to 1600 calories per day. However, there are some things that can lower the number of calories your body burns in “maintenance” mode–or slow your metabolism

Things that decrease your metabolic rate

Losing weight. This strikes a lot of people as criminally unfair but the truth is that the smaller your body, the fewer calories it takes to maintain it. But the effect is greatly amplified when you lose weight quickly.

Restricting calories. Dramatically restricting calories for more than a few days can also affect your metabolismand that’s above and beyond the effect of any weight loss that this causes.

Losing muscle. Lean muscle tissue is more metabolically active than other tissues such as bone and fat. So when you lose muscle, your metabolism slows. Yet another problem with rapid weight loss is that you lose a lot of muscle tissue in addition to losing fat.

See also: How much fat can you lose?

Getting older. We also tend to lose muscle tissue as we get older, which leads to a slower metabolism. As a result, we generally need fewer calories as we age.

Low thyroid function. One of the many things the thyroid gland does is to regulate metabolism. If your thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone, your metabolism slows. You can have your thyroid function tested if you suspect that it is a factor. If it is low, your doctor will probably suggest replacement thyroid hormone, which can help.

How to Preserve your Metabolism

The best way to protect yourself against these metabolism-slowing factors is to avoid quick weight loss and extended fasting or very low calorie diets. If you are losing weight, take your time, and be sure to consume sufficient protein, which helps to prevent the loss of muscle during weight less.  And although there’s nothing you can do to avoid getting older, you can slow age related loss of muscle tissue by increasing your protein intake.

Can you Increase Your Metabolism?

Avoiding the things that can slow your metabolism down is one thing. But is there anything you can do to speed it up?

Obviously, you can burn more calories by exercising more. But there are only so many hours in the day–how many of them can you spend at the gym? If you could somehow somehow arrange to burn more calories just maintaining your basic biological functions, that could really help with weight control. And there are a few things that have been shown to increase resting metabolism (although there is a catch).

Things that can increase your metabolic rate

Gain muscle. Just as losing weight decreases the number of calories you burn, gaining weight increases the number of calories you burn–especially if you gain lean muscle. Strength training to increase your muscle mass can help you burn more calories.

Eat more protein. Protein takes a little more effort for your body to digest than fat or carbohydrate, so increasing the amount of protein in your diet can help you burn more calories. It can also help you gain more muscle.

Chill.  Your body burns calories in order to keep your body warm. The cooler your environment, the more calories it takes. Turning down the heat, taking cold showers, and drinking ice water can all increase your calorie burn.

Your body burns calories in order to keep your body warm. The cooler your environment, the more calories it takes.

And finally, everyone’s favorite way to increase your metabolism:

Eat metabolism-boosting foods. There are also some foods and herbs, including hot peppers, vinegar (any kind), garcinia, and green tea, which have been demonstrated to increase the rate at which your body burns calories.

And Now for the Fine Print

If these metabolism boosting techniques could increase your resting metabolism by 10%, this could add up to an extra 120 to 160 calories burned every day. Over the course of one month, you could theoretically lose a pound of fat.

Unfortunately, turning down the heat and eating more protein, hot peppers and green tea isn’t going to boost your metabolism anywhere near 10%. At best, you might burn an extra 10-20 calories a day, or enough to burn an extra pound or two per year.

The Bottom Line

Trying to lose weight by boosting your resting metabolism is like trying to row a boat with a butter knife. You’re going to be rowing for an awfully long time without moving very far.

There are more effective ways to pursue weight loss, such as those I outlined in my episode on how to lose weight without dieting and those I use in my weight management coaching program. But it’s definitely worth your while to avoid things that may slow your metabolism–such as severe dieting and fast weight loss.