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Ep. 39 – Supplementation, exercise and intermittent fasting

Today on the Straight Talk on Health podcast, Dr. Chet Zelasko shares some take-home messages he gathered from a recent webinar on supplementation, exercise and intermittent fasting

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health. I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. Straight Talk on Health is a joint production with WGVU in Grand Rapids MI. I examine the world of health. Whether it’s research that makes the news, another miracle diet, or a new food fad, I look at the science behind them, and let you know whether it’s real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website drchet.com and sign up for my free emails.

I listened to a webinar on mitochondrial health and athletic performance. It was co-sponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine and a nutrition company. The speakers were a clinical researcher and a PhD dietitian for a professional basketball team. I'm going to focus on a comment by the dietary specialist. She believes as I do that supplements compliment a good diet. Then, I'm going review what the clinical researcher talked about.

I think it's important that we start with understanding a concept. In short, the cells police their area. They clean up after themselves. When things are broken or no longer usable, they are recycled or eliminated. When speaking generally, the term is called autophagy. When we talk about mitochondria, it's called mitophagy.

Mitochondria can get old, damaged, and just not work at optimal levels. Eliminating broken down mitochondria is critical to making new mitochondria. That's important for athletes and it's important for all of us as we get older.

The dietitian for the professional basketball team actually spoke second in the webinar. She talked a lot about trying to teach professional athletes, who make millions of dollars per season, about nutrition. Well she didn't explicitly say it, I think that as athletes who have to play several times a week in a very energy consuming sport, it becomes apparent that the better that they take care of their bodies, the more court time they will get and the longer their career will last. So while the younger players may still live on big Macs and chicken wings, they learn pretty quick how important nutrition is to their overall recovery and performance. There was nothing really new in terms of dietary recommendations from the dietitian. More fruits and vegetables. Lean sources of protein. Healthy snacks. Etc.

Then she turned to dietary supplements. I almost turned off the webinar when she started talking about dietary supplements. Why? Because she said that dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug administration. I would typically stop listening because she's incorrect. Both the FDA and the FTC do regulate dietary supplements; it's just different then over-the-counter medications and pharmaceuticals. I grow fatigued when I hear physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and dietitians miss state the governmental control over dietary supplements.

I may have said this on a prior podcast but one more time. The Dietary Supplement And Health Education Act of 1994 clearly states that dietary supplements do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug administration. However, they are not allowed to make claims about preventing, treating, or curing any diseases. You can make a structure function claim but that's all. You can't say a supplement will help with arthritis. You can say that it contributes to joint health. How healthcare professionals do not know this and do not understand this simply amazes me.

Then she said something that I agree with. Whatever supplements she recommends to her players, she looks for products that are certified by NSF or The US Pharmacopeia. Those are not easy certifications to obtain and it isn't just the supplement is tested once and it's over. It's an ongoing process that costs a lot of money for the company but they are industry standards. She got that right. It's something you should consider if you purchase dietary supplements of any type but especially related to sport performance.

The research scientist in the webinar focused on the mitochondria and aging in his part of the presentation. He has performed research and developed a nutrient that appears to help with mitophagy, the process of removing and replenishing old mitochondria. The naturally produced chemical is called Urolithin A. It is produced naturally by the microbiome in response to eating foods such as fruit, especially pomegranate, and nuts. The problem is that we may or may not produce enough Urolithin A, depending on the state of our microbiome. There has been decent research on the supplement and I take it myself along with other amino acids that help with mitophagy.

What caught my attention was that intermittent fasting may also help with renewing and replenishing mitochondria. The problem becomes what kind of fasting are we talking about? Complete fasting? Only eating during a few hours per day? I'll cover the two most popular forms.

Intermittent fasting is “in” right now. It is especially popular when combined with the Paleolithic or the ketogenic diet. What it essentially means is that you take no calories by mouth for up to 20 hours per day, often called the 20:4 approach, and then you eat during that 4-hour block of time. Research has shown that people lose weight, get better control of their pre diabetes, and may even reduce some of the metrics related to cardiovascular disease such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But specific to mitochondria, the data are nowhere near as clear.

The Fasting Mimicking Diet - I first encountered the fasting mimicking diet when I looked at the research of Valter Longo. He's a scientist who has used periodic fasting with patients undergoing cancer treatment. For anywhere between one to five days before treatment, they go on an FMD which drops down to 500 calories per day in some cases. And then they go back to their regular diet and go through their normal chemotherapy protocol. The critical thing is that he's shown an improved quality of life as well as improved outcomes for people who used the FMD during treatment as opposed to those who ate their normal diet.

Why does FMD work? As near as I can gather, the concept utilizes the body's protective mechanisms that allow energy to continue to be produced at a high enough rate to continue carrying on with life in the absence of food until food can be found. Research in athletes who've used FMD versus normal diet have demonstrated maintenance of strength and endurance after going through a five-day FMD protocol while continuing to work out.

In my opinion, FMD makes more sense. Fasting for two days and then going back to your normal diet for a couple of weeks just makes more sense then obsessing about time every day. However, you may feel that that's a better way to go for yourself and that's fine as well. One thing for sure is that I’m going to continue to follow this research.

The whole point to this is that restricting calories for long blocks of time stimulate the body to take good care of our mitochondria. And that's one battle that we have to win if we expect to Age with a Vengeance. And the great thing is that you can begin at any age.

Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.
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