Melatonin

Melatonin. The “magic” sleep aid. A majority of Americans think that melatonin only benefits sleep. That is wrong. Very wrong. Melatonin has a wide array of positive benefits for your health besides promoting sleep; including neuroprotective agents, cancer-fighting agents, and others. The most widely-studied are its’ neuroprotective and cancer-fighting abilities, which are the two components that I focus on today. So, how does melatonin provide these benefits and why are they not more widely-known?

First and foremost, melatonin, although widely advertised as a sleeping aid in pharmacies and online stores, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (for the record, many current supplements available today are not FDA-approved as the rigorous approval process cannot keep up with the amount of supplements appearing on the market today). The non-approval from the FDA has resulted in lack of resources and lack of opportunities for public research on the supplement, which has hindered further study of other benefits. Do not fear though, melatonin has no observable side-effects (except sleepiness so only take it at night!).

Neuroprotective agents: Melatonin converts to a powerful antioxidant once ingested in the body. Unlike many antioxidants on the market today, all cells in the body easily accept melatonin, and the blood-brain barrier is easily crossed. Antioxidants as a whole protect proteins and lipids (mainly important fats), and melatonin is widely considered one the best for overall protection in the brain and body.

What is interesting, and something that I have yet to experience due to youth, is that melatonin levels naturally dip as humans age. Many of the neurological diseases associated with old age; Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, etc.; are highly correlated with individuals with low antioxidant levels. It is crucial for aging individuals to start supplementing with melatonin to garner antioxidant protection. The normalized sleep patterns and balanced hormones offered by melatonin also protect against one the main factors in strokes: high blood pressure. Check out this study for men and this study for women for details, but in essence the melatonin treatment group’s blood pressure was significantly better than the placebo group.

Cancer-fighting agents: This is one of the most exciting avenues for future research at the moment. Little was known about the effects on cancerous cells until the mid-1990’s when academic research was begun. From different research institutes, a basic two-fold consensus has been established: melatonin reduces probability of death while also counteracting the adverse effects of chemotherapy treatment.

A meta-analysis of 10+ studies found that melatonin supplementation reduced risk of death by 34% at one year after a cancer diagnosis with no adverse effects reported. While chemotherapy attacks many bodily functions, melatonin supplementation is statistically significant in protecting platelet health, damage from neurotoxins, heart health, and fatigue (one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy).

Dosage: Melatonin comes from in capsule form from 100 micrograms to 10 milligrams (100 times the amount of 100 micrograms) per capsule. Caution is needed here as the upper-end of dosing from 5-10 milligrams has shown to cause grogginess the next day. I usually take 300 micrograms as needed at night. This dosage is the level that current research shows as the “sweet spot”.

Life Extension Melatonin Time Released Vegetarian Tablets, 300 mcg

It ultimately is up to you, as what works for you might be different than someone else. As an example, a close friend of mine used 1 mg capsules (Natrol Melatonin Fast Dissolve Tablets, Strawberry flavor, 1mg) and recommends them highly, as that is the correct dose for him. Ultimately though, what works for you, i.e. your own “sweet spot”, is a dosage that provides a sufficient night sleep but does not leave you feeling groggy the next morning.

cycling biking fat loss muscle build overall health

Cycling

cycling biking fat loss muscle build overall health
The freedom of cycling

For every-day individuals, finding time to efficiently exercise can be tough with the daily commitments to work, social life, other activities. Finding a convenient exercise that promotes overall health and sustainability is important, especially as the body ages. Two major forms of exercise fit these requirements, biking and swimming. For convenience purposes, we are splitting up biking and swimming into different articles. Today, we are looking at the advantages of incorporating biking into your daily and weekly workout routine.

Relative to running and other forms of extended exercise, biking has been shown to exert less impact upon crucial ligaments and tendons while promoting superior muscle build around the lower body. Biking has direct impact on the building of muscle but also the toning of muscle for the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Relative to running, which has no muscle-building properties, biking has shown that you can both promote muscle build while also reducing wear and tear on the ligaments and tendons surrounding the muscles.

Biking allows the user to exercise for much longer distances, as the inflammatory load on the body is much lower on a per distance basis. For example, running leads to muscle soreness and ligament/tendon damage i.e. inflammation. On the other hand, cyclists can exercise for much longer distances. This is important, as sustained stamina training on bikes allows you to get fit faster. The sustained energy output relies on muscle breakdown from the three major muscle groups listed above, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. These three groups are responsible for producing power to produce the cycling motion. As basic physiology will show, high volume and low weight is equally, if not more than, efficient at building toned muscle throughout the body.

The fun part of biking is the freedom. How far and how hard you go is entirely up to you. It also gets you out in the open which allows to get to go different places. Instead of going to the gym and running on a treadmill, biking allows you to get out into the open and experience the geology around you. Likewise, the choice between a mountain bike and a performance bike is entirely up to you. Mountain bikes are cheaper and built for multi-purpose settings, such as children and beginners. Performance bikes are meant for, you guessed it, performance. Unless you are an experienced biker or desire a finer product, the mountain bike is for you.

One of the most popular mountain bikes on the market is the Northwoods Mountain Bike.
Northwoods Aluminum Full Suspension Mountain Bike

One of the most popular performance bikes on the market is the Vilano Diverse 2.0
Vilano Diverse 2.0 Performance Hybrid Bike

Ginkgo Biloba extract/nootropic/ability to boost executive function/anti-anxiety agent

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba extract/nootropic/ability to boost executive function/anti-anxiety agent
Ginkgo Biloba extract powder

Ginkgo Biloba is a tree species that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of illnesses and diseases. From blood disorders to memory issues to vein health, this plant and its many variants have been a staple of medicinal programs for many cultures and civilizations. Although many parts of the tree can be beneficial for humans, current day research revolves around the extract of the gingko biloba tree. The extract is a heavily concentrated derivative that has shown its efficacy in treating a multitude of health problems in clinical trials.

What is ginkgo biloba extract? The extract is made from dried green leaves. Scientifically, two of the components within the extract, flavonoids and terpeniods, are the drivers behind the benefits of this product. Flavonoids protect certain parts of the body, nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, from damage. Terpenoids have a two-fold mechanism to stimulate blood flow by reducing the adhesiveness of blood platelets and widening blood vessels.

Cognitive and physical effects in humans: Ginkgo biloba is extremely effective at executing many functions, but the most popular and widely-studied effects are increased cognitive function and reduced anxiety.

First, the increased blood circulation throughout the body takes greater effect within the brain, as the increased blood flow improves executive function. Executive function ranges from improved thinking to improved memory. This study here (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) shows that even in patients with cognitive disease, supplementation of gingko biloba increases both cognitive function and social function.

Second, both animal and human studies have shown that dosing gingko biloba 120 milligrams twice a day shows basic anxiolytic effects for both healthy individuals and those suffering from cognitive disease. Anxiety-reducing effects were observed using symptom reduction by charting stress antibodies in the blood. The range of symptomatic anxiety reduction varied from 7.8 to 14.3 points. Alternatively, corticosterone levels, a precursor and predictor of stress response, in the blood were reduced in trials with proper ginkgo biloba dosing. A lower level of corticosterone has observable effects in humans that result in more stable levels of blood pressure and cortisol.

Cautions: Due to its effectiveness at increasing blood flow and the smoothing action of platelets, the body’s ability to form blood clots is decreased. This is mainly applicable for persons about to undergo surgery or that struggle with stopping wound bleeding. If either of these apply to you, always consult a doctor before and during supplementation.

Dosage and products: Ginkgo biloba extract is a product where specific dosing guidelines are not set due to its dosing efficacy being highly dose-dependent on individual biology. Some users dose 100 milligrams day (in one or two doses), and some users dose 600 milligrams a day (again, in one or two doses). My conclusion, and the advice that I followed, is that if you think that ginkgo biloba is a supplement you want to pursue, start with 50 milligrams twice a day and go up from there if needed.

 Nature’s Bounty Ginkgo Biloba Extract 120 mg

How correct hex bar form can impact strength and lower back pressure and stress

The Hex-Bar Deadlift

How correct hex bar form can impact strength and lower back pressure and stress
How correct hex bar form can impact strength and lower back pressure and stress

What is the hex bar and what purpose does it serve to every-day gym go-ers? First, let’s give some context to why it serves any purpose at all.

Everyone knows the regular straight-bar deadlift. You have seen huge weightlifters walk up to the straight-bar with 400 pounds on the sides, bend down, and pull up while also holding good form. For experienced bodybuilders with tons of practice, this is usually not a problem. But what some lifters do not understand is that unless you are efficiently stretching before, after and using textbook deadlift technique (hint: many typical lifters you see at the gym, and especially younger ones, are not), this exercise can put an excessive magnitude of stress into your back’s joints, ligaments, and muscles which over time causes damage.

So, one day in the early 1980’s some of the top bodybuilders wanted to find a more efficient way to get the results of the deadlift without the pain and damage. Enter the hex-bar deadlift. Once invented for bulking up traps, the hex-bar has found new life in lifting circles. Even for more experienced lifters, this has transitioned into the go-to deadlift exercise for many reasons.

First, it reduces lower back stress. Looking at the picture above, the weight is placed directly over the hips and the back is straight with the head looking up. This is the optimal loading position for the back. Relative to the straight-bar deadlift, which shifts the weight forward and ramps up the compressive forces on the lower back, this exercise is much better suited for the human body and its functionality.

Second, the weight is distributed more evenly around the body allowing your body to more efficiently uses its muscles. A research study cited in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (you can see more details on it by clicking here)found that lifters could deadlift fifty more pounds on average using the hex-bar compared to the straight-bar. For those lifters who care about how much weight you can put up, this should be an immediate incentive to implement this into your leg routine.

Third, non-athletes or less-experienced gym go-ers can easily add this to their routine without any worry of a learning curve. The motion is simple, as shown below. Simply bend down and pull straight up while keeping your abdominal muscle tight. This is especially helpful for busy professionals and adults, as this exercise hits all major muscles groups in the lower body including abdominal muscles. This finding is expounded upon in a major comparative medical study that you can read here.

This means that the hex-bar deadlift could take the place of a variety of smaller lower-body exercises taking up excess time. As with any new exercise, start low and increase weight only when you feel comfortable.

Correct hex-bar form can impact your health and significantly reduce back pressure and stress.
Correct hex-bar form.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a new thing or two about lifting. Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts or any questions/comments you might have!

Check back early next week for another article keeping you up to date with the health and fitness world!