Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Exercise to a Longer Life: Stress and Telomeres

We all believe that exercise increases health and lifespan. One of the mechanisms for this is stress reduction.

In Chinese Medicine, stress is called Qi Stagnation and it has many effects on health, but the most basic is simply that it blocks the free and easy flow of energy (or Qi) throughout the body. Why is that important and how does it relate to aging?

To use the traditional and somewhat poetic language of doctors working 2000 years ago, the answer is that where these blockages occur most densely, Blood can also be blocked -- often causing pain. Phelgm can accumulate -- causing adhesions, nodules, or tumors. Over time, the body tissues are left unnourished and begin to fail in their functions. Heat can accumulate and begin to dry the tissues and burn away the body's Vital Essence (or Jing). And loss of Jing is the definition of premature aging in Chinese Medicine, and its diminishment is the cause of the diseases of aging.

This poetic description may sound strange in our modern scientific culture, and, yet, I was struck by a similarity to a recent, very scientific research article from the University of California San Francisco discussing how stress may shorten lifespan and encourage diseases of aging – and how stress-reduction through exercise may reduce this effect.

The study focuses on telomeres, a name you probably remember vaguely from Biology classes. Telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes and are necessary for chromosomal replication. Part of the telomere is lost with each replication, limiting the lifespan and function of the cell. Apparently, other factors play a role in telomere length as well, including an enzyme (Telomerase) which replenishes telomere length. The interesting connection is that stress hormones seem to interfere with the work of telomerase, causing shorter telomeres and reducing cell life span and function. And the early death of millions of cells can result in manifold health problems.
Elissa Epel, PhD, was one of the lead investigators on this study and is an associate professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiary. She summarizes the study in a UCSF News Release:
Telomere length is increasingly considered a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, integrating genetic influences, lifestyle behaviors, and stress. Even a moderate amount of vigorous exercise appears to provide a critical amount of protection for the telomeres.
That comment about a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, which integrates genetic influence, lifestyle, and stress is a great scientific description of the state of the Jing.

Whether you look at this from the ancient Chinese perspective or that of modern scientific research, the importance of stress control is clear. The question then becomes, how do you go about reducing stress?

I consider stress reduction a primary benefit of acupuncture. I also recommend herbal formulas such as the well-known Free and Easy Wanderer (Xiao Yao Wan) – it is the most commonly prescribed Chinese Formula in the United States! Supplements to consider are Fish Oils (pharmaceutical grade, and tested for purity), high quality multi-vitamins, and antioxidants (including Glutathione support formulas). Meditation is a great choice, including Tai Chi. And, of course, the UCSF study focused on the effectivess of exercise in protecting what I call “Jing” and they call Telomere length.

Whether you use exercise, acupuncture, meditation, herbs and supplements, or laughing with friends – remember that reducing stress can lead to a healthier and longer life.

Citation: Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn E, O'Donovan A, Adler N, et al. (2010) The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10837. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010837

Byron Russell

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From today's Boston Globe:

Acupuncture can relieve pain, but how the ancient technique works is still something of a mystery. A new study in mice pinpoints a natural painkiller that may be a clue.

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester led a team that tested acupuncture in mice, inserting fine needles near their knees corresponding to points on human charts. The mice had inflamed paws and the researchers measured their pain response by seeing how long it took them to withdraw their sore paws from touch or heat. When the mice had the tiny needles inserted and moved around for 30 minutes, high levels of the neurotransmitter adenosine were released surrounding the needle points and their pain was reduced by two-thirds. Adenosine, which inhibits nerve cells in response to injury, acts like the local anesthetic lidocaine.

In mice genetically engineered not to produce adenosine, acupuncture did not ease their pain. And the researchers found that when they gave the mice a leukemia drug that slows down adenosine’s removal from tissue, the mice had pain relief three times as long as when they had the treatments without the drug.

Isolating adenosine as an important factor in acupunture’s effectiveness may lead to a better understanding not only of pain and acupuncture, but also of other treatments, such as chiropractic manipulation and massage, the researchers said. But with mice, researchers can rule out the placebo effect. People sometimes say they feel better after getting a sham treatment, perhaps because their hope of relief is so powerful, but that’s unlikely to be the case with mice, Nedergaard said.

BOTTOM LINE: In experiments with mice, acupuncture activated the release of adenosine, a molecule known as a natural painkiller.

CAUTIONS: Results found in mice do not necessarily apply in humans.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Nature Neuroscience, May 30

Byron Russell

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Acupuncture for Sports Performance Enhancement

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has published a review article saying that acupuncture enhances sports performance in resistance and endurance sports.

Researchers found the use of acupuncture in resistance and endurance sports activities tended to increase muscular strength and power. Acupuncture also seemed to improve the haemodynamic parameters of endurance athletes (source: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, PubMed).

Byron Russell

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Glutathione for Stamina and Quick Muscle Recovery

Here is an excerpt from an article by Mark Hyman, M.D., on the importance of Glutathione as an antioxidant, with some tips on how to maintain your Glutathione levels. I've found that a combination of Glutathione, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, and Lipoic Acid is the single most important supplement I take. It has a profound effect on energy level, fatigue, and stamina. Dr. Hyman's article is called: Glutathione: The Mother of All Antioxidants.
It's the most important molecule you need to stay healthy and prevent disease -- yet you've probably never heard of it. It's the secret to prevent aging, cancer, heart disease, dementia and more, and necessary to treat everything from autism to Alzheimer's disease. There are more than 89,000 medical articles about it -- but your doctor doesn't know how address the epidemic deficiency of this critical life-giving molecule ...

What is it? I'm talking about the mother of all antioxidants, the master detoxifier and maestro of the immune system: GLUTATHIONE (pronounced "gloota-thigh-own").

Dr. Hyman points out that a large percentage of the population lacks the genes required to produce and maintain Glutathione levels. I've had the genetic testing done, and I am one of those people, which is why this supplement has such a profound effect on my life. One-third of the population has a reduced ability to recycle Glutathione in the body.

Glutathione is important for detoxification, supporting the immune system, and preventing illnesses like cancer and chronic fatigue. For an athlete, it is critical in supporting training and stamina.
Research has shown that raised glutathione levels decrease muscle damage, reduce recovery time, increase strength and endurance and shift metabolism from fat production to muscle development.

The supplement I use is called Thiodox by AllergyResearchGroup. I recommend it for many of my patients, 1-2 tablets per day.

9 Tips to Optimize your Glutathione Levels

These 9 tips will help you improve your glutathione levels, improve your health, optimize your performance and live a long, healthy life.

Eat Foods that Support Glutathione Production

1. Consume sulfur-rich foods. The main ones in the diet are garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.).

2. Try bioactive whey protein. This is great source of cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis. As you know, I am not a big fan of dairy. But this is an exception -- with a few warnings. The whey protein MUST be bioactive and made from non-denatured proteins ("denaturing" refers to the breakdown of the normal protein structure). Choose non-pasteurized and non-industrially produced milk that contains no pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Immunocal is a prescription bioactive non-denatured whey protein that is even listed in the Physician's Desk Reference.

Exercise for Your Way to More Glutathione

3. Exercise boosts your glutathione levels and thereby helps boost your immune system, improve detoxification and enhance your body's own antioxidant defenses. Start slow and build up to 30 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic exercise like walking or jogging, or play various sports. Strength training for 20 minutes 3 times a week is also helpful.

Take Glutathione Supporting Supplements

One would think it would be easy just to take glutathione as a pill, but the body digests protein -- so you wouldn't get the benefits if you did it this way. However, the production and recycling of glutathione in the body requires many different nutrients and you CAN take these. Here are the main supplements that need to be taken consistently to boost glutathione. Besides taking a multivitamin and fish oil, supporting my glutathione levels with these supplements is the most important thing I do every day for my personal health.

4. N-acetyl-cysteine. This has been used for years to help treat asthma and lung disease and to treat people with life-threatening liver failure from Tylenol overdose. In fact, I first learned about it in medical school while working in the emergency room. It is even given to prevent kidney damage from dyes used during x-ray studies.

5. Alpha lipoic acid. This is a close second to glutathione in importance in our cells and is involved in energy production, blood sugar control, brain health and detoxification. The body usually makes it, but given all the stresses we are under, we often become depleted.

6. Methylation nutrients (folate and vitamins B6 and B12). These are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione. Methylation and the production and recycling of glutathione are the two most important biochemical functions in your body. Take folate (especially in the active form of 5 methyltetrahydrofolate), B6 (in active form of P5P) and B12 (in the active form of methylcobalamin).

7. Selenium. This important mineral helps the body recycle and produce more glutathione.

8. A family of antioxidants including vitamins C and E (in the form of mixed tocopherols), work together to recycle glutathione.

9. Milk thistle (silymarin) has long been used in liver disease and helps boost glutathione levels.