This Thursday’s Science and Nutrition Nuggets is a doozy. I start things off with my review of whether we should get all worked up over the fact that endurance athletes have damaged right ventricles after a race, to the healing properties of crying, to HCG supplements being pulled by the FDA and the FTC because they don’t work.
Endurance Athletes May Incur Heart Damage
Intense endurance exercise — such as running a marathon — may induce cardiac damage confined to the right ventricle, a small study showed.
The study included 40 athletes (mean age 37) who were participating in a marathon, an endurance triathlon, an alpine cycling race, or an ultra triathlon. All trained for more than 10 hours a week and had finished in the top quarter of a recent endurance race. None had cardiac symptoms or risk factors (1).
At first glance we look at a study like this and say “Wow, damaged the heart? I thought endurance exercise was good for the heart.” Right?
A real quick review of heart anatomy reminds us that the heart is divided into four primary chambers separated by valves. The right atrium receives deoxygenated blood returned to it after circulating throughout the body. Blood then goes into the right ventricle and it then pumps this oxygen-poor blood into pulmonary (lung) arteries so the lungs can reoxygenate the blood. The lungs do just that and the blood is then returned back to the left atrium and then the left ventricle which pumps the “ready to go” blood to the aorta which sends it off to circulate throughout the body once again. So the right ventricle works VERY hard and it’s not hard to imagine why it might be stressed during intense, long-term competition. Cool huh?
The body is also very adept at specific adaptations to imposed demands. It would only make sense that cardiac muscle, through repetitive “damage” caused by endurance training, would adapt to become stronger, much like skeletal muscle. But does it?
There are three major muscle types in the body: Cardiac, skeletal and visceral (smooth). So heart muscle is truly unique. It only exists in the heart. So when I say what I’m about to say I realize not all muscle tissue is the same.
Skeletal muscle is damaged during intense resistance-training exercise. Should we be alarmed? No. Why? Because the body repairs it. Not only does it repair it the body repairs it and increases the size of the actin and myosin filaments within it (i.e., hypertrophy) to make it stronger for next time. So what does this have to do with the incredibly special cardiac muscle?
“Both cardiac (heart) and skeletal muscle adapt to regular, increasing work loads that exceed the preexisting capacity of the muscle fiber. With cardiac muscle, the heart becomes more effective at squeezing blood out of its chambers, whereas skeletal muscle becomes more efficient at transmitting forces through tendonous attachments to bones. (2)”
I’m not saying there is no concern for high-level endurance athletes. But I am saying that cardiac muscle adapts to stress and I’d have to say that running a marathon qualifies as stress. It appears that within just a few days a lot of the damage had already been repaired to the right ventricle. Seems like this is what would be expected. I can’t imagine that high-level endurance athletes could push themselves to get better without SOME transient damage to cardiac muscle–which the body will repair and strengthen for the next go round.
Finally, while the researchers certainly aren’t making the case that endurance training is bad for health or even for the right ventricle, I WILL make the case that there are a few things we DO know are bad for health and your heart:
- Not moving your ass off the couch,
- Piling in loads of processed, sugar-salt-and fat-laiden junk foods and
- Worrying yourself literally sick.
Today, as I sit here, if I had to choose WHICH class of individuals I’d most worry about it’d be the latter class just mentioned, not the high-level endurance athletes who are likely micro-managing their nutrition with aerobic capacity to be envious of. For now? You runners and endurance elites? Keep swimming, biking and running.
Crying That Heals
Did you know humans are the only animals that cry emotional tears? Other animals have tear ducts but no other animal cries emotional tears.
“Other animals whimper in distress, but humans are believed to be the only species wired so that strong emotions provoke the shedding of tears. (4)”
Benedict Carey, a reporter for the New York Times had this to say about tears…
“They’re considered a release, a psychological tonic, and to many a glimpse of something deeper: the heart’s own sign language, emotional perspiration from the well of common humanity. (5)”
We all know that having dust or some foreign particle in your eye is going to promote tear creation to help the eye clean things up. But what’s far more intriguing to me are the tears we shed not because of some foreign-bodied irritant but because of emotion. We cry because of joy, anger, frustration, sadness, anger, hopelessness, despair, anxiety, remorse, sorrow, loneliness, failure, gratitude, and empathy.
What possible purpose could crying serve aside from cleansing and protecting the eyes?
According to the Harvard Health Letter tears can infer vulnerability and evoke compassion. From an evolutionary standpoint, for example, crying may confer protection of a woman from a too-aggressive man. Through the vulnerability expressed through tears it’s also suggested that stronger bonds may be built in communities and thus confer reproductive advantages.
The theory of evolution says, by the way, that only those behaviors or physical adaptations that are essential to the continued survival of the species are passed on to subsequent generations. Emotional tears, ipso facto, must serve a useful and necessary purpose. This seems to be confirmed by the chemical makeup of tears (6).
Emotional crying releases toxins.
“Tears produced in response to human emotions are very different from basal and irritant tears, both chemically and in volume. They contain large quantities of hormones also secreted by other organs as a normal stress response. Additionally, emotional tears hold increased amounts of potassium and manganese. These elements are by-products of the stress response and act as toxins in the human body. …given the unique chemical composition of emotional tears, crying may have a positive impact on the physical and psychological health of the human body by relieving the effects of stress. (6)”
Crying may release built-up stress and emotions. Many academics and laypeople alike believe crying can be cathartic (i.e., cleansing). Freud wrote about how a large part of emotion disappears if it’s expressed. Numerous studies report that people say they feel better after crying.
Emotional crying is healing.
“As a holistically viewed phenomenon, crying appears to bridge the divides between mind and body, mind and spirit, and body and spirit. In doing so, crying contributes to healing. Just how it does so is open to interpretation (6)”.
Emotional crying does seem to be associated with a calming effect as well. Again Harvard reports …
“…weeping is associated with activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heartbeat and winds us down, not up. Several years ago, Dutch researchers reported that the heart rates of 60 study subjects increased as they watched cry-eliciting movies, but then subsided after they started to cry. It seems that there’s a handoff from fight-or-flight arousal to parasympathetic calming, which is certainly how many of us experience crying.”
Therese Borchard wrote in an article for Beliefnet there are seven key benefits to tears:
- Tears help us see.
- Tears kill bacteria.
- Tears remove toxins.
- Crying can elevate mood.
- Crying lowers stress.
- Tears build community.
- Tears release feelings (7).
I’ve got to give some ink space to Christians as well to include the possibility that God designed each of us with the capacity to cry for reasons beyond what was given to all other animals. Indeed, as Jerry Bergman wrote in his 1993 article “The Miracle of Tears”
“Tears are just one of many miracles which work so well that we take them for granted every day. And it is one more reason to realize that our marvellous body is not the result of evolutionary trial and error. (8).”
Not everyone benefits from crying or in the same way for the same reasons. Crying is so biologically universal, however, that if you can’t cry it’s given a medical term called Familial Dysautonomia.
Sometimes, for almost all of us, there are just things that we are faced with that simply feel overwhelming for all the reasons previously mentioned and more. Crying that heals appears to do just that in a number of ways for most people. Having a good cry is healthy, normal and very likely beneficial to the healing processes.
HCG Supplements Pulled From Market – I Told You It Was A Sham!
In an article I penned here February 3, 2011 I titled it “HCG Diet Is a Sham and …” In a December 6, 2011 article on Medpage Today the authors stated “FDA Yanks HCG Weight-Loss Agents from Market.” Wow, I didn’t know I had such power! LOL
The Medpage Today article states …
“The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission said over-the-counter weight-loss products containing human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) are fraudulent and illegal, and the agencies have told seven manufacturers to stop selling them.
Noting that the product labels call for the pellets, liquids, and sprays to be taken in conjunction with a very low-calorie diet, an FDA official said it did not appear that oral HCG offers any extra benefit.
“There is no substantial evidence HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from the recommended caloric restriction,” said Elizabeth Miller, acting director of the FDA’s fraud unit for OTC products, during a conference call with reporters.
The recommended diets call for daily calorie intake as low as 500 calories, low enough to create a risk of malnutrition, electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrhythmias, and gallstone formation, Miller said. (3)”
Okay, a point of clarity to make here. The FDA has yanked over-the-counter homeopathic products claiming to have HCG in them. So this hasn’t quite reached the medical professionals administering injectable HCG. Not yet. But I suspect it will and for very similar reasons as the authors stated above.
The HCG diet is stupid, it’s 500 calories a day and “low enough to create a risk of malnutrition, electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrhythmias, and gallstone formation.” So even if the medical world is using the “real deal” injectable form of HCG the whole premise of it is a farse and there just ISN’T good data, at all, to support that HCG is a beneficial diet aid. 500 calories a day? Ya, you’re gonna lose a lot of weight eating that little. But remember – IT’S FRIGGIN STUPID SO DON’T DO IT!
This week it was over-the-counter HCG products. I suspect the prescription-based HCG products are next. Docs doing HCG clinics better make sure they have a back up plan to generate revenue.
4. Harvard Health Letter, April 2011
6. Journal of Holistic Nursing / Vol. 29, No. 3, September 2011