Building Strong Bones Through Nutrition

Where Bone Strength Begins®

Welcome to OsteoNaturals. We invite you to shop our online store for quality nutritional supplements that promote skeletal health. In addition, our site is full of useful information about osteoporosis and insights about how it can be managed naturally.

Individuals who intend to stay active into retirement will need strong, healthy bones, and a strategy for maintaining muscle strength and overall fitness. Whatever your age or current condition, it is never too early or too late to make a positive difference. The "OsteoNaturals difference" = natural ingredients chosen for quality, safety, purity and potency.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Probiotics May Be Repurposed for Therapy in Osteoporosis


In my book, The Whole-Body Approach to Osteoporosis, I write about the importance of gut health when treating osteoporosis. An unhealthy digestive tract can not only interfere with optimal nutrient absorption but it disrupts the immune system and can lead to chronic systemic inflammation. As with the loss of estrogen at menopause, another common cause of osteoporosis is when the immune system gets out of balance (especially in postmenopausal women). Since 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut, keeping it healthy is critical for skeletal health. In a study published recently in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers (Jau-Yi Li et al) working with mice reaffirm this premise and suggest that giving the mice probiotics improved the immune response and improved bone density. In this blog, I would like to help readers better understand how a healthy gut keeps chronic systemic inflammation at bay, and why it is so important to keep inflammation to a minimum if you want healthy bones.


The gastrointestinal tract is home to literally billions of bugs. Some good...some not so good. When the gut is over run by the not so good ones, (often due to a poor diet, allergies to foods and/or frequent use of antibiotics) it can be damaged and begin to leak. A chronically inflamed digestive tract causes gaps to form through which partially digested food particles and microbes can pass. Now, instead of being a protective barrier, this "leaky gut" becomes a portal to ill health. The particulate and microbial toxins that filter through these newly opened gaps set off reactions, which are a constant source of inflammation that insidiously permeate the entire body. This "leaking gut syndrome" or intestinal dysbiosis not only causes a chronic inflammatory reaction and a disruption of proper immune function in the person but when the gut is damaged it can no longer absorb nutrients effectively. So we NEED "good" bacteria to thrive in the gut. When healthy microbiota predominate in the gastrointestinal tract we are much healthier and so are our bones.


Our immune system and bone cells use the same signaling molecules (cytokines) to relay messages. When the immune system is out of balance it sends out way too many abnormal signaling molecules and the bone cells, especially the osteoclasts (the cells that break down bone), "hear" these abnormal signals and become hyper aggressive, eating up excessive amounts of bone. In chronic systemic inflammation, a condition I talk a lot about in my book, the "out of wack" immune system ends up being the cause of excessive bone loss. With too much inflammation in the body the osteoclasts become turned on ALL the time and the result is bone loss...osteoporosis. People often think that the most important thing they can do for osteoporosis is to take supplemental calcium. Yes, calcium is important but it isn't the whole story. We need to take in approximately 1,200 mg/day which is best achieved through a combination of dietary and supplemental sources. But we also need to make sure we get enough magnesium and vitamins D and K. AND we also must make sure our gut and immune systems are functioning optimally. Having all the nutrients available won't help much if the gut can't absorb them or if there are so many inflammatory cytokines circulating in the blood that the osteoclasts just destroy all the bone that is being made. When we give the body the minerals and vitamins it needs, PLUS have a healthy gut and immune system...then better bones will follow. Take out just one of those from the equation and the whole system falls apart.


Postmenopausal osteoporosis is typically the result of two things: 1) the loss of estrogen production from the ovaries, and 2) chronic systemic inflammation. Often, these go together as estrogen helps to reduce inflammation. In the published study using mice, researchers found that with the loss of estrogen there was an increase in ‘gut leakage’ and the subsequent inflammation resulted in increased osteoclastic or bone resorbing activity. After giving the mice probiotics, there was improvement in the immune response and improved bone density. 


Taking oral probiotics and eating fermented or cultured foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso encourages healthy gut microbiota which in turn helps gut function (as a barrier to pathogens and for improved digestion and absorption of nutrients) and regulation of the body's immune system. The bottom line from this study is that the use of probiotics has potential in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis.

 Jau-Yi Li, et al. Sex steroid deficiency-associated bone loss is microbiota dependent and prevented by probiotics. The Journal of Clinical Investigations. 2016;10.1172/JCI86062.
 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Zolpidem (Ambien) Increases Fracture Risk In Men and Women with Osteoporosis

People break bones when they fall. In fact, falling is the number one cause of fractures especially in the elderly. It therefore makes sense that people with osteoporosis should avoid taking medications that increase their risk of falling. That is exactly what a recent study published in Osteoporosis International concluded. Park et al. conducted a large (1,092,925 participants) systematic review and meta-analysis and concluded that Zolpidem (Ambien), a medication often prescribed for insomnia, was associated with increased risk for fracture. The study noted that the increased fracture rate was especially pronounced for hip fractures.

This finding makes total sense when you realize that Ambien, a short-acting nonbenzodiazopine hypnotic, can cause ataxia, poor motor control, difficulty maintaining balance, dizziness, and sleepwalking. The last thing a person with fragile bones needs to be doing is dizzily walking around in their sleep . The kicker here is that a 2012 NIH study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that much of Zolpidem's effectiveness is psychological...in other words, a placebo effect. The study concluded that greater caution should be used when prescribing Ambien to individuals at risk for fracture and that "increased attention should be directed at psychological intervention of insomnia".

Park, S.M. et al.  2016. Zolpidem use and risk of fractures: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Osteoporosis International April 22.

Huedo-Medina, T.B. et al. 2012. Effectiveness of non-benzodiazopine hypnotics in treatment of adult insomnia: meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. BMJ (Clinical Research ed.) 345:e8343.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Do Calcium Supplements Contribute to Clogged Arteries?


"Am I at risk for clogged arteries by taking calcium supplements?"
                   Woman age 65 living with osteoporosis

Excellent question.

The short answer:
Healthy bones DO need a sensible intake of supplemental calcium, along with adequate vitamin D and K, and magnesium for proper absorption. They also need ingredients that (1) promote balanced bone remodeling and (2) help prevent blood vessel calcification. OsteoNaturals products fit all these requirements.

The long answer:
In a recent study published in Climacteric, C.E. Lampropoulos, et al. assessed the correlation between osteoporosis and vascular calcification in postmenopausal women. The goal was to determine not only if there was a correlation (there have been numerous studies linking these as comorbidities) but also to determine if low dose calcium supplementation plus vitamin D contributed to calcification of arteries.

The study concluded that "Calcified plaques were significantly correlated with osteoporosis."  Osteoporotic women were "16 times more likely" to develop calcification of the abdominal aorta and "seven times more likely" to develop plaques and thickening of blood vessels compared to normal individuals. It also concluded that "low doses of supplements do not appear to cause any increase in vascular calcification in osteoporotic women." In other words, although bone loss and calcification of arteries go hand in hand their connection is NOT due to taking calcium supplements. And this is key! We need calcium for our bones to be healthy. Taking supplemental calcium is safe when used in moderation. Taking huge amounts of any supplement, including calcium, is never advisable. But a sensible intake of 600 to 1,000 mg/day of supplemental calcium (plus another 500 or so from the diet) is important for getting your 1,200 to 1,500 mg calcium/day as recommended by most bone-health experts. Making sure you get adequate vitamins D and K, and magnesium is also a vital part of the equation. You NEED these to ensure that the calcium you take in goes to the right places in your body: muscles, nerves and bone...and NOT settle into the blood vessels!

So what is it that makes women with bone loss be more susceptible to calcification and hardening of the arteries? The answer is INFLAMATION. We at OsteoNaturals know that simply taking in adequate calcium is NOT the total answer to improving bone health. The MOST important thing you can do for better bone health is to reduce inflammation-driven, excessive osteoclastic bone resorption. Inflammation, not a lack of calcium, is usually what fuels excessive bone loss. And that is where OsteoStim comes to the rescue. OsteoNaturals' OsteoStim has ingredients designed to do exactly that: modulate the activity between the osteoclasts and the osteoblasts so that the bone remodeling process comes more into balance. A balanced bone remodeling system is important for the skeleton to renew itself periodically...important for keeping it young, supple, and strong. AND, not only does OsteoStim have ingredients that promote balanced bone remodeling but it also has 300 mg of a very important antioxidant that, yes, you guessed it...helps prevent blood vessel calcification!

And as Lampropoulos, et al. showed in their research, since osteoporotic women are 16 times more likely to develop calcifications it is EXTREMELY important to address this head on! Alpha lipoic acid is THE perfect antioxidant that can help prevent this calcification. Studies such as the one by Ying, et al. demonstrate this beneficial effect. In this 2010  research, published in Life Sciences, Ying, et al. showed that lipoic acid "reduced atherosclerotic plaques in the abdominal aorta".

The combined effect of supplemental calcium, magnesium and other minerals from OsteoSustain and OsteoMineralBoost, plus improved bone remodeling and lowered atherosclerotic risk from our OsteoStim makes OsteoNaturals products your first choice for improved skeletal health.  

Lampropoulos, C.E., et al. 2016. Osteoporosis and vascular calcification in postmenopausal women: a cross-sectional study. Climacteric April 5:1-5.

Ying, Z., et al. 2010. Lipoic acid effects on established atherosclerosis. Life Sciences 86(3-4):95-102.   

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Success/failure...?...well, the course of this adventure was certainly not the way I had planned it... but I'm going to put it in the category of success none the less. I guess that is the way I will interpret my ascent up Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet) two days ago. My plan had been to take the Umbwe route up to the top in three days, going slowly to get used to the altitude. Then on day four head back down the mountain to the starting point at Umbwe gate (about 5,000 feet above sea level) and then do a speed ascent/descent on the fifth day. That all changed on the third day when snow and freezing rain made the going extremely dangerous. After camping at 17,000 feet at the Lava Tower we (my guides Julius, Jonas and myself) started our ascent up the dangerous Western Breach. We only made it approximately 2 kilometers when we hit an impasse on a ridge with 30 foot drop-offs to each side. It was just too treacherous to continue up and trying to make steps with the ice axe was of no help due to the loose shale rock beneath the snow. We

had no choice but to head back down the mountain. I knew at this point that a speed attempt would not happen. With rain and snow for five days straight this, the beginning of the rainy season in Tanzania, was not the optimal time to try a speed ascent.

After descending to about 14,000 feet we spent the night at Barranco camp. On day four we headed back up to 17,000 feet to Barafu where we camped and from where we would try again to reach Uhuru peak, the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, on the morning of day five.

Julius and I started our ascent at 1 a.m. It was cold and the trail was snow covered the whole way. Not too long into the ascent I became extremely ill with altitude sickness throwing up numerous times. The nausea never let up and it was tough going. We reached Uhuru peak just before sunrise. Freezing cold at 20 degrees and with extreme nausea I couldn't enjoy the view and headed back down off the mountain after only 5
View from the top of Africa
minutes at the top of Africa. I just had to get down to a lower altitude and breath some air again.

I will certainly never forget this adventure up Mount Kilimanjaro. I would love to try for a speed attempt again someday but I'm still nauseous two days later so it is hard for me to make that commitment right now. I'm just happy to have made it to the top. My advice for anyone wanting to tackle this amazing mountain is to NOT try in the rainy season. The altitude is a problem no matter what season but by not having to deal with snow and ice your odds of success will improve greatly. So, what ever your next dream...dream big, I always do. Don't be afraid to try...and don't be afraid to fail. The more failures you rack up in your life just means the more things you have tried...and that is awesome in and of itself. Most of all, enjoy what ever you do. Onward!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Follow Your Dreams

In a week from now I'll be heading up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro for an attempt at a speed ascent. I arrived in Nairobi three days ago and after logging a few miles at a slight altitude (between 5 and 8,000 feet), seeing some cool animals, and very unsuccessfully trying to shake off jet lag, I take off for Arusha, Tanzania later today. With this challenge just around the corner, I find myself reflecting on just why I get so excited by adventures such as this. What is it that makes me so excited about something that will hurt so much?

In Run or Die, super endurance athlete (and former record holder for the Mt. Kilimanjaro speed ascent) Kilian Jornet writes, "Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality."

Limitations...fears...dreams...yes, these are all certainly part of why I love to challenge myself. No
matter if I am competing in a race or simply challenging myself in some cooked-up crazy scheme  like tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro in one day. I absolutely love pushing my body to its limit. And, probably equal to challenging myself, I love the feelings that are born with the blending of my surroundings with my own body, with my own struggles. The visual beauty of trees and sky, the sounds of wind and birds, the scents of flowers and shrubbery (Wow, the wild basil when running through the Ngong hills here in Nairobi was awesome!), and the constant impact of my feet with the earth and my body funneling through the air...this blending of my surroundings with "me" is a feeling that has always drawn me to running. It was like that when I was 5 years old and it's still like that today. I guess it's something like when multiple forces collide...new and refreshed energy emerges. It is this energy that fuels me, keeps me going forward. Not just physically but propelling me forward in life itself with all of its continual challenges.

As someone who has gone through the challenges of osteoporosis, I am constantly thankful that I can do crazy things like this attempt to run up (and down) Mt Kilimanjaro in a day. As people age, activities of daily living (ADLs) can become challenging especially for those who suffer from musculoskeletal disease (such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis). Increased rates of depression are also part of what can be a spiraling downward cascade of ill-health in the elderly. Now I'm not saying I'm elderly at 61 and I'm not saying that running up Mt. Kilimanjaro is an ADL, but I'm just saying that I'm totally excited that I can still do things like Ironman triathlons and endurance runs and that I continue to follow my dreams. Continuing to engage in physical activity as we age has been shown to not only improve skeletal health but also improve brain function and dramatically reduce depression. So whether you love to exercise or don't even list it as a top 100 things you like to do, I hope that these benefits are enough to get you out there walking, running, lifting weights, or just moving and playing in the mountains.

Everyone has their struggles in life, both physical and emotional, and they will meet those challenges in different ways. But I hope that what ever your dreams are, and no matter how difficult things might seem at times, that you will always live each day and follow all your dreams. Having osteoporosis can certainly impose its own set of unique challenges the likes of which I happen to know a lot about. But whatever your challenge, what ever mountain it is you are trying to climb, don't just dream it...get out there and do it...today. Sometimes all it takes is just one step at a time...and don't give up on your dreams.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Magnesium is Important for Healthy Bones and RBCs Even if You Are NOT Tackling Mount Kilimanjaro on the Run



I've been a runner since I was about 6 years old. It was just something I did, naturally. I would look at hills or mountains off in the distance and run to them. Half the time my mother never knew where I was. Usually I didn't follow roads...I would just cut though fields and woods while keeping the hill in site the best I could. It might take an hour, or half a day, if it was far away. The distance really didn't mater to me...I just wanted to get to the top. They were magical and drew me to them like a magnet. 

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world, looming 19,341 feet high  
over the surrounding Tanzania plains, and its magic is drawing me. This majestic mountain is Africa's most-visited trekking destination, attracting tens of thousands of tourists and adventurers every year. While you don't have to be a technical climber, you need to be pretty physically fit to attempt the 5 to 6 day hike to the summit. Typical issues include fatigue, dehydration, muscle strains, knee pain, bonking (lack of sufficient energy stores) and, of course, the potential for sprained ankles and falls. But the biggest challenge is the altitude. Approximately 75% of the 25,000 people who make the attempt each year develop some form of altitude sickness (1), and only 60% succeed in summiting.

If you prefer running to hiking, the challenge is even greater. Yes, in April, I will attempt a speed ascent and decent of Mt. Kilimanjaro in one day (under 14 hours of daylight).  I love physical tests and running (instead of hiking) Mt. K sounds like a cool one to tackle. Cool yes, but also one fraught with some extreme physiological challenges that I have never dealt with before - ultramarathoning at high altitudes. (2)

Those of you who know me are aware that I can be fairly tenacious.  When I was first diagnosed with severe osteoporosis in my 40’s and sustained 12 fragility fractures over a 5-year period, I did not take it well. I did the research to learn about everything that impacts bone health. I experimented with a myriad of minerals, vitamins, and herbs sifting through all the hype and finding out what really would make a difference to bone health. I became an expert on the subject and developed my own nutritional supplements using natural ingredients chosen for their safety and efficacy. Today, my bone health has improved and I’m back to competing in triathlons and not breaking bones. That said, I have given this Mt. K decision a great deal of thought and deliberation – most specifically the altitude issue, and the endurance consideration. 

Altitude and Oxygen Circulation:
Red blood cells (RBCs) carry and distribute oxygen to your body. People with osteoporosis often have a lower RBC count and therefore a slightly reduced capacity to carry oxygen to their tissues (3). When expending a lot of energy, such a person might feel weak and tired and experience shortness of breath. At the altitude of 19,341 feet there is 49% less oxygen than at sea level, so the potential danger is obvious. To compensate for this paucity of oxygen carrying red blood cells, the heart has to work harder. It beats more rapidly. Up to 20 beats per minute faster than normal. Not only does this take a considerable amount of additional energy but it also places a huge mechanical strain on the heart when calculated over time. The good news is that I have been able to increase my RBC count slightly as I have improved my health AND I have optimized the function of the RBCs that I have. (4)

Most people know that iron is important for blood's oxygen carrying ability. What they don't know is that magnesium also plays a huge role in this capacity. Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients in your body and is a major component of bone. Magnesium is vital for cell energy metabolism, blood glucose control, nerve conduction, cell membrane integrity, electrolyte balance, and the proper functioning of over 300 enzymes. Specific to bones, magnesium helps osteoblast cells make new bone. And, it is extremely important to have adequate amounts of magnesium for the production and release of calcitonin (from the thyroid gland) and parathormone (from the parathyroid glands), for maintaining a balanced bone remodeling system.

Magnesium is also a vital component of RBCs ability to hold on to oxygen molecules. Optimal levels of magnesium in the body are necessary for blood to be able to transport oxygen. Magnesium helps transport nutrients into RBCs so that they can do their job. If a person is deficient in magnesium his or her heart will either have to beat faster and/or they need to take in more oxygen (breath more times per minute) to get the same job done as someone with good magnesium stores. This is why magnesium supplementation often helps lower a person's blood pressure.

Strong Bones and Endurance:
I have to admit that my muscle mass is declining (as is the case with everyone as they get older). I can see muscles starting to sag here and there and just don't feel as strong as I used to. Less muscle leads to less power and with the increased body fat that goes along with aging it will be more dead weight for me to drag up the mountain. The good news is that I have done 3 important things to help keep my "fitness age" substantially lower than my real age.

First, I have been able to maintain a fairly steady training regimen over the years. I am always training for something; whether it is a triathlon or running race; I never let my fitness level drop too much. I’m also pretty consistent about getting to the gym for strength training with weights. The feeling I get from this and the benefit to my bones are what motivate me to keep it up. I feel more "put together" when I lift regularly. Even if it is only 20 minutes a day 3 times a week (although I usually get in 45 minutes, 5 days a week) I feel I get great benefits from strength training.

Second, I train for a multi-sport event...triathlon...which also puts me ahead of the game. Research shows that people who vary their training have more muscular power and higher endurance capacity than athletes who constantly do the same workouts day in and day out.

Third, I often "put the pedal to the metal" during my various training sessions. This habit of "red-lining" with multiple high-intensity workouts each week helps me maintain a good lactate threshold. By doing so, my body's chemistry is able to neutralize and eliminate lactate levels fairly rapidly because I've trained my enzyme systems to do this. 

Physical and Mental Well-being:
I did not accomplish what I set out to do in my last challenge (the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii) - mainly due to a bout of flu.  The good news is that my positive attitude is still intact.  I also eat fairly well and take nutritional supplements. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables (and taking OsteoMineralWhey for its powerful alkalinizing effect) each day helps me stay alkaline and gives me the trace minerals I need to process fats and sugars for energy. One of the most important nutrients I take in everyday is magnesium (available in our OsteoSustain and OsteoMineralBoost). Magnesium, it's not just for skeletal health...your red blood cells need it too. I will certainly be putting both to the test in a few weeks.

Having weighed the pros and cons of this one-day speed ascent/descent attempt, I am relying on my positive attitude, my improved skeletal and over-all health, and my diet and nutritional supplementation to get me through this. I think that I’ve been able to limit some of the normal decline seen with aging and that this will translate into more power and speed up the mountain. I am holding on to the confidence that I’ve been able to keep my body more on the anabolic side of the aging curve and less on the catabolic side. I’m also holding on to a quote from Barry Finlay in his book Kilimanjaro and Beyond:  “Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”  I'm hoping that together these will give me the edge I need to succeed in this venture. 

I hope that when you read my next blog that it will tell of my success in finding this next mountain top. But most of all, I hope I have you all thinking about your own next goals: places you would like to see, activities you would like to do, things you would like to accomplish, adventures you would like to tackle. It is an amazing world out there. Go have fun. And don't forget…while you are doing all this, make sure you get your daily quota of magnesium, it will help you reach your own mountain top.


(1) Altitude sickness comes in 3 forms:  Acute mountain sickness (AMS), high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high altitude cerebral edema (HACA).  AMS is the mildest form of altitude sickness, causing headaches, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Not pleasant but bearable. HAPE and HACA (fluid on the lungs/brain) are not just unpleasant, they are life threatening.



(2) When I race in Ironman competitions I often get nauseous to the point of throwing up. The reason for this is that the stomach is constantly being jostled and there is a shunting of blood away from the stomach and toward the muscles in your legs where it is really needed. When there is no blood going to the stomach, any food or liquid you take in just sits there. If it just sits there and you keep cramming it in sooner or later it’s going to come back up the other way. This often leads to extreme gastric distress causing both vomiting and diarrhea. Add into the mix extreme altitude (which in and of itself causes nausea) and I have quite a few nutritional challenges in store for me.



When a trained athlete runs at or just below his or her anaerobic threshold, they have only 3 hours of glycogen stores in their legs. Since I am expecting this run to take a good portion of 14 hours, I will need to consume a lot of calories throughout the day to prevent bonking. My goal is to take in 200 to 250 calories plus 18 to 25 ounces of fluid each hour… and try hard to not throw it all up. I've never run above 14,000 feet before and all I have to train on here in Massachusetts is 1,200 foot Mt. Tom, so this will be all new territory.



(3) Next time you get your Complete Blood Count (CBC) taken by your doctor, check out your RBCs. If you have osteoporosis, your RBC count will more than likely be on the low side. When I was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis 16 years ago, one of the procedures I had performed was a bone biopsy. The severity of my bone loss, my relatively young age at the time of diagnosis, the fact that I am a male, and, that I've been an athlete all my life all made the endocrinologist extremely concerned that I may have a rare form of bone cancer that was the cause of my osteoporosis. To rule this out, he took a core sample of bone from my pelvis and analyzed it under a microscope. What he found was not cancer (thank goodness) but extremely poor bone quality (thus the 12 fractures over a 5 year period) and LOTS of FAT in my bone marrow. All this fat makes for less room for hematopoietic stem cells; the cells that make RBCs.  



Typically, having a somewhat reduced amount of RBCs isn't a huge problem in people with osteoporosis. It is just one of those "interesting" medical facts when looking at someone's lab results. But when the person relies on getting the most out of his or her body as an athlete, then it does present somewhat of an obstacle....especially when planning a run up into the clouds of Mt. Kilimanjaro.



(4) In my 20s, I was a professional athlete competing for the United States in World Championships and the Olympic Games. I had my VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption) assessed 5 times during those years. A person's VO2 max is a measure of how well he or she utilizes oxygen and for the most part it is genetic. A person can improve it slightly with hard work but in general "you got what you got"...and there is very little you can do to substantially change it. VO2 max is a huge determinate of how well you will do as an endurance athlete. And genetics, when it comes to VO2 max, is really important. At 56 mL, my VO2 max was never that great. Most of my athlete buddies who I competed with had VO2 max's in the 70s and one guy was in the low 80s (thus my excuse for never being a real hot shot). I mention VO2 max for obvious reasons in that if I am attempting a run up Mt. K with its rareified air, having a low VO2 max puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage. The fact that VO2 max begins to tumble at age 40....and I'm 61, presents an even bigger problem. The reason why VO2 max declines is because our heart isn't able to beat as fast as it used to as we get older. If we take me as an example, when I was in my 20s I could regularly get my heart rate up to just over 200 beats per minute during hard workouts. Now, I have trouble getting it to 175.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Power of AWE on Health and Well Being


"When people think of an Ironman competition, it may elicit the emotion of awe...at least it does in me. And, when a person strives to overcome a disease like osteoporosis, to me, it elicits awe as well. But awe is apparent in every aspect in life - big and small. The key is to put away distractions and stay completely present and connected; you will experience awe-inspiring stuff all around you."
                                                                                                              Dr. McCormick

What is "awe"?
Wikipedia says that awe is "an emotion comparable to wonder but less joyous." The dictionary defines it as "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear..." and "produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful..." Maybe a more gut-generated definition would be "that which drops your jaw"..."that which leaves your mouth agape"..."that which powers through your
body, not just as some exciting visual titillation, but something that sends extreme ripples of energy throughout every single cell, tissue, fluid and organ in your body"...and yes, even your bones (more about that soon!)

The emotion of awe can be aroused by a sight, sound, feeling, smell, or taste, or any combination there of. It can be evoked by the actions of a person, an animal, or by a weather event or music. It can be caused by something as small as nanoparticles or as large as the universe. It can be inspired by something as common as a crow or as rare as a natural pearl. It can be from something that may cause one person's heart to race while barely producing a blip in another. It can be fickle...something that may inspire awe in a person one day may completely flat line on another. And awe can also be both complex and simple. I've sometimes been left in awe by something only to analyze it later and then loose the awe. Sometimes it's best to not over-think or analyze the thing that gives you awe. Just let whatever it is do its thing. Let it simply and thoroughly pull that guttural awwwwwwwe of inspiration out of you.. and then let it continue producing the awwwwwwwe of expiration...as it tantalizes all through your body...all the way to your bones.

J.E. Stellar and colleagues explain in a recent issue of the journal, Emotion, that awe has clear health benefits. We have all experienced a grumpy neighbor or coworker who is negative about everything and has every health issue in the book; it's difficult to know if the negativity is responsible for the health problems or the poor health is the root of the negative attitude. Suppose you were able to help that individual experience things in a new light - elicit a smile and physical signs of joy, open his/her eyes to new possibilities and the good, amazing things that happen every day all around us? Stellar has shown that it really would help - emotionally, physically, and bio-chemically.

Stellar studied college student's reactions to various emotions and found that there was a relationship between discrete positive emotions and the blood level of the pro-inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-6 (IL-6). This is very important because excessive levels of IL-6 not only promote inflammation but it also stokes osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone and are responsible for bone loss. (For more on how this happens and what it does to your skeleton check out Chapter 4, "Chronic Systemic Inflammation and the Conflagration of Bone" in The Whole-Body Approach to Osteoporosis

We want to lower IL-6 levels. IL-6 is natural to the body but when its levels get too high we are in a state of chronic systemic inflammation and this leads to disease...to osteoporosis. We want to do everything we can to lower this pro-inflammatory cytokine and Stellar's work demonstrates how important it really is to be more positive in our lives. Stellar specifically demonstrates that the positive emotion of awe is "the strongest predictor of lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines."

Rudolf Steiner, the great Austrian philosopher who founded the first Waldorf Steiner School, believed that wonder and awe were key to the acquisition of knowledge. It was through the opening of one's body, mind, and spirit to the wonders of nature that Steiner believed we were best able to develop acute emotional sensitivity and a state of well being. Steiner didn't know anything about IL-6 but he sure understood the importance of awe.

Make it a point to look on the bright side of things, check out the greatness of life...and above all, simply observe sometimes and be in awe.

Stellar, J.E., et al. 2015. Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines.
Emotion 15(2):129-33.
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