Cod liver oil and optimal health

Fish oil and fresh fish on light background

Cod liver oil is a fish oil supplement. It has a long history in medicine, dating back to the late 1700’s where is was first used to treat rheumatism and then rickets and a variety of other infections.

Similar to other fish oils, cod liver oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a variety of health benefits including reduced overall inflammation, improved brain function, heart health and lower blood pressure.

Cod liver oil also contains bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D, often deficient in the modern diet, provide many other health benefits contributing to optimal health and performance.

Typical nutritional profile of a 5 ml serving:

  • Calories: 45
  • Fat: 5g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1000mg
  • Cholesterol: 25mg
  • Vitamin A: approx. 90% of RDI
  • Vitamin D: approx. 110% of RDI

Below are just some of the scientifically back health benefits of supplementing with cod liver oil:

Great source of vitamins A and D
Cod liver oil is incredibly nutritious food, providing approx. 90% of the daily requirement for vitamin A and over 100% of the daily vitamin D requirements.

Traditionally cod liver oil was given to children to support proper growth and brain development, stronger bones and a general protection from infection. It was also taken by mothers during pregnancy and breast-feeding to support the optimal development of their infant.

Vitamin A has many roles in the human body, including maintaining eye health, the immune system, brain function and healthy skin.

It is also one of the best food sources of vitamin D, which has many important roles in the body including brain health and maintaining bone homeostasis by regulating calcium absorption.

Reduced inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries.

In some cases however, this inflammation may continue at low levels for extended periods of time. This is known as chronic inflammation, which is harmful and may increase the risk high blood pressure and several other health conditions.

The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil may help suppress chronic inflammation.

Improved bone health
Having strong bones is incredibly important, especially as you enter advanced age. It is common for people to begin to have a reduction in bone density levels from about the age of 30 years. This can lead to fractures and breaks later in life, especially in women after menopause.

Cod liver oil is a great dietary source of vitamin D and may reduce age-related bone loss. That’s because it helps your body absorb and regulate calcium, which is a necessary mineral for strong and healthy bones.

Reduced joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by damage to the joints.

There is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. This study however, suggests that cod liver oil may reduce joint pain and improve some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis like joint stiffness and swelling.

In fact, cod liver oil has been used to treat patients with rheumatism since the late 1700’s.

Supports eye health
Cod liver oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA and vitamin A, both of which may protect against vision loss from age related and inflammatory eye diseases.

To summarise
Cod liver oil is an incredibly nutritious food supplement. It is convent and contains high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, along with bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D which are important to optimal health and performance.

Traditionally used to support the proper growth and development of young children, it also has many other health promoting benefits.

Adding cod liver oil to your diet may provide health benefits such as improved bone density, an increased protection against general illness and a reduction in joint pain for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

In general, dosing is usually between 1 and 2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per day. For those who can’t handle the taste it also comes in capsule form.

Alternatively, you can add your daily dose to a small glass of fresh juice or water.

What is DHA?

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Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.

Found naturally occurring in certain fish (with emphasis on mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines), it has been shown to be one of the most potent health boosters on the entire planet.

Structure
DHA is what is known as a ‘Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid’, as it is 22 carbons long, and has 6 double bonds (making it physically long in structure compared to other fatty acid molecules).

epa-and-dha-structure

DHA and the evolution of the human brain
An important turning point in human evolution was the discovery of high-quality, easily digested nutrients from coastal seafood and inland freshwater sources.

Previously, Neanderthals sourced protein predominantly from the red meat of wolves, large feline and hyenas. The is little to no evidence of fresh water aquatic species or marine sources of protein in the bone collagen of Neanderthal specimens.

In comparison, seafood consumption of early modern humans was a nutritional staple. Depending on geographical region, freshwater or marine sources of protein made up between 10-50% of the diet for these populations.

Freshwater sources occurred along rivers and included fish and/or water fowl and marine sources were coastal and included fish, shellfish and small slow-moving animals such as turtles or tortoises.

This study suggests that the discovery, and subsequent multi-generational exploitation of aquatic and marine food sources coincides with the rapid expansion of the brain that is unique to modern humans.

This exploitation coincided with a rise in cognitive development leading to a more elaborate enrichment in material culture, such as personal ornamentation, decoration of burials and pottery figurines.

Benefits of DHA in the diet
Supplementation of DHA has been shown to have profound effects on health, wellbeing and overall performance. Due to its somewhat broad influence throughout the body, these effects can impact a number of physiological systems, boosting health in a variety of ways.

DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.

Brain health
The human brain requires somewhere between 20 and 30% of the body’s available energy. It is even higher during the early years of life. Both EPA and DHA are responsible for many of the brain’s unique cognitive capacities and advance brain functions.

As DHA makes up about 30% of our brain matter and approximately 50% of retinal structure in our eyes, it stands to reason that its consumption has the potential to impact our brain health and eye health. This has been well supported within the scientific literature.

Consumption of DHA has been shown to protect against age related declines in brain health, brain size, and associated reductions in neural function. With this has come an increase in performance during cognitively driven tasks, in conjunction with improved memory, and an improved capacity for learning.

DHA supplementation has also been shown to have a preventative effect on both dementia and age related cognitive decline, ensuring our mental function well into older age, while significantly reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Heart health
DHA has the potential to improve the state of the body’s cells, while simultaneously reducing harmful inflammation throughout the entire body.

Through these two mechanisms, the supplementation of DHA can cause significant reductions in blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

DHA has also been shown to reduce cardiac arrhythmias.

As a result, the consumption of DHA can greatly improve our cardiovascular health and function, significantly reducing our risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

In summary
DHA is one of the most important nutrients within the entire body, where it is used to make the cell membranes of literally every cell in the body, while also acting as a key structural component for tissues found in the brain, eyes, and skin.

With this in mind, its supplementation can improve brain health, increase cardiovascular function, and cause significant improvement in eye health and function. Making it one of the most effective supplements on the market.

The benefits of Magnesium

Magnesium (Chemical Element)

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and the second most common intracellular cation (positively charged ion) after potassium, magnesium is required for the healthy function of most cells in your body, especially your heart, kidneys and muscles.

Magnesium’s benefits can include reduced symptoms from conditions such as chronic pain, fatigue and insomnia. Magnesium may also provide protection from a number of chronic diseases, especially those associated with aging and stress.

Essential to life, necessary for good health, and a vital component within our cells, magnesium’s benefits help our bodies maintain balance, avoid illness, perform well under stress, and maintain a general state of good health.

What conditions can benefit from Magnesium?
Magnesium is known to reduce muscle tension, lessen pain associated with migraine headaches, improve sleep, and address neurological disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Conditions linked to magnesium levels include:

Pain:

  • Headaches;
  • Muscle cramps and spasms.

Mental health and sleep:

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Autism and ADHD;
  • Restless Leg Syndrome;
  • Insomnia.

Other conditions:

  • Psoriasis, Acne and Eczema;
  • Asthma;
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure);
  • Diabetes;
  • Osteoporosis.

Magnesium works within our cells. The powerhouses, factories and regulators of the body’s systems.

Because it is a necessary part of hundreds of biochemical reactions occurring constantly inside our cells, magnesium’s presence or absence affects the brain, the muscles, and the heart and blood vessels.

The importance of Magnesium?
There are fifteen essential minerals required by our bodies to function properly. These can be divided into trace minerals, those required in very small amounts, and major minerals, those required in larger amounts.

The six major minerals required in excess of 250 mg per day include:

  • Calcium;
  • Magnesium;
  • Potassium;
  • Phosphorus;
  • Sodium;
  • Chloride.

Magnesium impacts nearly all of systems of the body due to its cellular and molecular function. It has vital role as a co-factor to over 300 enzyme functions.

Not only one of the most vital and essential enzyme co-factors, regulating more reactions than any other mineral, but magnesium is also responsible for two of the most important cellular functions: energy production and cellular reproduction.

Magnesium and heart health
Insufficient magnesium tends to trigger muscle spasms, and this has consequences for your heart in particular. This is especially true if you also have excessive calcium, as calcium causes muscle contractions.

Magnesium also functions as an electrolyte, which is crucial for all electrical activity in your body. Without electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium and sodium, electrical signals cannot be sent or received, and without these signals, your heart cannot pump blood and your brain cannot function properly.

The heart has the highest magnesium requirement of any organ, specifically your left ventricle. With insufficient amounts of magnesium, the heart simply cannot function properly. Elevated blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and sudden cardiac death are all potential effects of magnesium deficiency and/or a lopsided magnesium to calcium ratio.

This systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2013,  concluded that circulating and dietary magnesium are inversely associated with CVD risk. Simply put, this means the lower your magnesium intake (and the lower the circulating magnesium in your body), the higher your risk for CVD.

Other notable effects include:

  • Is an important factor in muscle relaxation and heart health;
  • Creating energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP);
  • Allows nerves to send messages in the brain and nervous system;
  • Aids and regulates the body’s use of calcium and other minerals;
  • Assists in bone and teeth formation;
  • Regulates the metabolism of nutrients such as protein, nucleic acids, fats and carbohydrates;
  • Regulates cholesterol production and helps modulate insulin sensitivity;
  • Assists in energy production, DNA transcription and protein synthesis;
  • Maintains the structural health of cell membranes throughout the body.

Foods high in Magnesium
Magnesium in food sources were once commonly consumed, but have diminished in the last century due to industrialized agriculture and a shifting to more modern westernized diets. Below is a list of foods that are high in dietary magnesium:

  • Pumpkin Seeds;
  • Spinach;
  • Swiss Chard;
  • Dark Cocoa Powder;
  • Almonds;
  • Coffee.

Who should supplement with Magnesium?
Magnesium has been linked to reduced incidence of common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in large peer-reviewed, long-term studies.

Studies today focus on whether active magnesium supplementation may be one of the missing links to preventing these diseases, as well as several disorders affecting the brain, muscles and skin.

The good news is that magnesium supplementation is a safe and effective way for most people to ensure they are getting enough magnesium to stay healthy, before deficiencies arise.

How much Magnesium to supplement
While the RDI for magnesium is around 310 to 420 mg per day depending on your age and sex, many experts believe you may need around 600 to 900 mg per day.

What is Overtraining?

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Recovery is one of the key components to high performance in sports but is rarely appreciated by most athletes ranging from the weekend shuffler to the elite level endurance athlete. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the road to success is hard workouts, and the more the better.

A highly motivated athlete, no matter how elite, who has placed recovery on the back burner, will soon enough experience total fatigue. Waking up in the morning tired, unable to complete the easiest of training sessions. This can go on for days, weeks or even months. You’re overtrained.

How Overtraining can occur
Below is a list of just some of the reasons an athlete could become overtrained:

  • Inadequate recovery between training sessions;
  • Too much high intensity training, typically for too long;
  • Sudden drastic increases in distance, length, or intensity of exercise routine;
  • Daily intense weightlifting;
  • High volumes of endurance training;
  • No vacations, breaks, or off-seasons;
  • For athletes, excessive competition at high levels (i.e. trying to win every race);
  • Inadequate nutrition, typically in the form of caloric and carbohydrate/fat restriction;
  • Insufficient sleep;
  • High amounts of stress and anxiety.

Common Symptoms of Overtraining
There are many symptoms of overtraining, ranging from physiological to biochemical or even a compromised immune system. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of overtraining.

Physiological and Psychological

  • Decreased performance;
  • Decreased strength;
  • Decreased work capacity;
  • Changes in heart rate at rest, exercise and recovery;
  • Increased frequency of breathing;
  • Insomnia;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Increased aches and pains;
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Depression;
  • Apathy;
  • Decreased self-esteem;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Irritability.

Immunological

  • Susceptibility to illness;
  • Slow healing of minor scratches;
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Biochemical

  • Negative nitrogen balance;
  • Flat glucose tolerance curves;
  • Reduced muscle glycogen concentration;
  • Decreased hemoglobin;
  • Decreased iron serum;
  • Mineral depletion;
  • Elevated cortisol levels;
  • Low free testosterone.

Overcoming Overtraining
The only way to overcome overtraining is adequate rest along with sound nutrition. Overtraining usually results from training mistakes, most commonly is an imbalance between stress and rest. This usually occurs as an athlete suddenly increases their training workload in either volume or intensity, sometimes both.

Overtraining can be avoided by following a long-term, structured training program that has scheduled rest and recovery days. A reduction in workload for a single training week, every 6-8 weeks is also very beneficial. Taking the time out to reduce both mental and physical stressors of the modern world can help with recovery.

Training programs should be unique to the individual athlete, taking into consideration, age, experience, susceptibility to illness and injury, along with any personal goals.

Ancestral tips to better sleep, health and performance during the cooler months

As we move into the cooler, darker and shorter days of winter it becomes more difficult to maintain energy levels, productivity and fight off nasty colds and flu. These common complaints become the “norm” as the seasons change and people are constantly searching for the “magic bullet” supplement to keep them running on all cylinders.

Recent studies on the daily patterns of modern hunter gatherer tribes around the world may hold a few clues in how to keep yourself health and productive throughout the winter months.

How much sleep did our ancestors get?
Did our hunter-gatherer ancestors really go to bed as the sun went down, sleeping through the night for 8-10 hours, waking up with the sun? They definitely did not have mobile phones, laptops, external light sources keeping awake all night.

In 2015, a study was conducted on several modern hunter-gatherer tribes. The San of southern Africa, the Tsimane in Bolivia, and the Hadza in Tanzania. The study found that they only slept an average of 5.7 to 7.1 hours per night. Surprised? Most sleep research today suggests that most people are sleep deprived, averaging about 6.5 hours per night. This is approximately 1-2 hours less sleep than our grandparents got two generations ago. Experts today believe the general population should be aiming for 7-9 hours sleep per night for better health.

Although very important, there is more at play than simply the amount of sleep you get. Here are some of the key factors that could help improve your overall sleep and optimise your health and wellbeing this winter.

Go to bed earlier in the winter months
Looking at the tribes mentioned earlier in the study, we’ll see that they went to bed earlier during the darker days of winter / wet season and later in the summer / dry season. The average bedtime was around 9pm in the winter months, compared to about 10:45pm in the summer.

Today a lot of people struggle to get to bed before midnight (laptops, mobile devices and TVs don’t help) and usually don’t get to bed any earlier in the winter months. This lack of sleep has been shown in research to suppress the immune system, putting you at greater risk of developing an infection such as colds and flu.

Wake up consistently with the morning sun
Most people would agree that hitting the snooze button on your smartphone in the morning and sleeping in for another few minutes feels pretty good, but is it what your body really needs? The tribal groups in the study woke up at similar time each day of the year with the morning sun.

If you have ever done any real camping you would be aware how quickly you naturally get tired once the sun has gone down. Even in front of an open fire, the body begins to wind down and processes for sleep activate naturally. Waking up is just as easy once the sun has risen and the amount of light and temperature begins to rise.

Several key hormones are produced during a natural daily pattern or circadian rhythm that new research shows gets disrupted if you constantly change your sleeping and waking time. Disrupted circadian patterns have been shown to leave you more prone to fatigue, inflammation, weight gain and even change the balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria in your gut.

If you struggle with fatigue, insomnia or frequent colds and flu, aim to have a consistent bedtime and waking time this winter. Go to bed earlier (and don’t sleep in longer in the mornings) to help kick your snooze button habit in the morning.

Exposure to a lot of morning sunlight
It’s difficult to wake in the morning and get outside during the cold days of winter. Fatigue, lack of time and general desire to stay warm keep you huddled up in your house, car, and office. However, not exposing yourself to natural light may be having a significant negative impact on your health.

Modern hunter-gatherer communities get up daily with the morning sun and engage in the vast majority of their physical activity in the morning hours exposed to natural light. In contrast, most people are indoors all morning throughout the winter. Commuting in cars and working in buildings. Not getting nearly enough exposure to natural light. Even on a cloudy day, the natural light outside provides a massive 100,000-lux, compared to only 5,000-lux in your office or home.

There is research showing that this light exposure is crucial for circadian hormone production and thus your energy levels, health and resiliency. Try to get outside to grab your morning coffee, walk a few blocks, or go outdoors in the morning for a light run/jog to start your day. You’ll feel much better for it!

The take away
Just because the modern-day hunter-gatherers studied only got about 6.5 hours sleep per night does not mean it is the optimal amount for everybody.

Traditional hunter-gatherers may require less sleep than most people in modern-day societies, due to the fact that they are not exposed to artificial lighting, mobile devices, junk food, and all of the other sleep-disrupting factors that are a part of life in modern society, and therefore experience better quality sleep than most people.

Getting quality light exposure early in the day is crucial for circadian rhythm and will optimise your energy, health and resiliency.

Your individual sleep needs may in large part be determined by your health condition and physical activity levels, as well as your evening routine and sleeping environment. If you are in great health and prioritize the quality of your sleep, you may require less than 8 hours of sleep every night.

Skinny Fat

Skinny Fat: A physique, while not overweight (and possibly underweight), lacks any visible lean, striated tissue.

– Definition, Urban Dictionary

Conventional wisdom would suggest that if you are overweight you are generally unhealthy, and if you are thin, you are healthy. However, new research points to just how dangerous being skinny can be. Well, if you are a “skinny fat” person, that is.

The medical term for this is metabolically obese normal weight (MONW), or skinny fat. Basically, this means that you are carrying too much body fat and not enough lean muscle (generally belly fat).

Women are more commonly to be hit with MONW syndrome or skinny fat than men. A common theory is that men usually aren’t afraid to lift weight in the gym (and, to be fair, men naturally have more lean muscle than women).

On the other hand, women generally have the misconception that lifting weights immediately makes you look big and bulky (which couldn’t any further from the truth) and prefer group fitness classes like as Zumba and/or Aerobics or spend all of their time on the treadmill, stairmaster or a spin bike, not to mention inventing a million bizarre weight loss diets (with equally bizarre names).

Simply dieting can eliminate weight, but it will not strengthen anything. Also, because of physiology unique to women, the fat cells in the lower body just happen to be world-class hoarders.

Starting at an early age
In America, studies on teenagers found that 37% of skinny children had one or more signs of pre-diabetes, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol. Yes. You read correctly. Almost 4 out of 10 normal-weight children are pre-diabetic!

Nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese in the America. However, it appears that only 20% are healthy. This means that 8 out of 10 children in America are either overweight or have pre-diabetes or type-2 diabetes. Countries like Australia aren’t that far behind.

Processed and fast foods, video games, social media sources, reduced sleep quality and inactivity are all causative factors in developing these conditions in children.

It probably isn’t helping that many of the role models in our society aren’t exactly the picture of health, ie: skinny runway models, or super skinny guys without an ounce of masculinity in them. Whatever happened to the track and field champions of past Olympic Games? Fast, fit, strong, conditioned men and women able to compete in multiple events.

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Health issues related to Skinny Fat Syndrome
A person who is skinny fat is susceptible to the following conditions (but not limited to):

  • Diabetes;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Osteoporosis;
  • Fragile bones from calcium and other nutrient deficiencies;
  • Elevated blood pressure and cholesterol;
  • Chronically low energy levels; and
  • Infertility (both men and women).

How does a person become Skinny Fat?
In no particular order, these are several of the most common ways a person can become skinny fat:

  • Eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you don’t eat any meat, the body will eat itself instead;
  • Eating lots of Gluten. Lectins, phytates and other anti-nutrirents setting the stage for systemic inflammation that damages the digestive tract making it harder to utilize nutrients from the rest of your diet.
  • Excessive cardio. Training your body to be catabolic, breaking down muscle tissue and to store fat;
  • Fat burning pills. Potential short-term fat burners, but in the long run they are more muscle burners and long-term fat storers;
  • Not lifting weights… Ever. Do I even need to comment here?

How to turn it all around
Reversing the effects of skinny fat syndrome is very similar to that of someone who is overweight and pre-diabetic. Using the following steps one can easily turn it all around start improving their quality of life:

  • Eat a nutrient dense, low glycemic load diet (basically a whole food or Paleo type diet). Lean meats, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, healthful oils, nuts and seeds;
  • Avoid flours and sugars. Including gluten-free flour products. Even whole grain flour acts like sugar in your body;
  • Don’t drink your calories. It’s always better to chew you calories. No soft drinks, juices, sweetened drinks. Reduce alcohol to no more than 2-4 glasses of wine per week;
  • Lift and move your body. A training routine that combines both strength and cardio is important;
  • Sleep well. Sleep deprivation alters the metabolism and increases cravings for carbohydrates and sugars. Aim for 7 or more hours per night; and
  • Did I say lift? I can’t stress this enough. A simple solution to many of the problems women face. Osteoporosis, the beach season, the belly fat that wont budge… weight-bearing physical activity is the answer.

What is most alarming is that many people who think they get a pass because they are thin should actually be taking a second look at their health. It is possible to be skinny and sick and be metabolically obese, which is potentially even more dangerous.

The good news is that it is a solvable condition. By following the above points or speaking with your medical practitioner you will be well on the way to becoming a healthier person that is full of energy and has a much better overall body composition.