The hidden health hazards in workout supplements

Dr Simon Hendel | Jan 19 2017Finally – it’s sun’s out, guns out season.

But with more and more men striving for that perfectly shredded beach bod, many are resorting to supplements to achieve it. But while mates might not let you forget leg days, real friends remind to find out whether the supplements you’re using are actually safe.

The industry is completely unregulated

Sports and exercise physician, Dr Krishant Naidu has had patients ask him for everything from caffeine to human growth hormone and anabolic steroids as they strive to get bigger.

You may think over-the-counter supplements are far less dangerous than anabolic steroids, but Dr Naidu says the real problem is the total lack of industry regulation. To put it simply, the powder you mix for a pre-workout boost or an after-workout bulk-up isn’t necessarily what it says it is.

“Unlike pharmaceuticals, there’s no requirement for manufacturers to prove the safety of the supplements they sell,” he says. “Or even guarantee what’s in them.”

The great supplement heist

International manufacturers can have components mixed together in some chemical factory offshore and then send this to another factory for branding as an appealing wild-berry-flavoured workout product. And if you order these online they won’t go through any testing in Australia before you consume them.

On the other hand, supplements made in Australia are subject to “batch-testing” which means the risk of contamination is low and they’re likely to contain what they claim – making Australian products much safer to use, says Dr Naidu.

So if you are keen on taking some kind of supplement, either pre- or post-workout, at the very least go Australian made.

Even ones that work may cause health problems

Creatine is marketed to improve performance and there’s some evidence supporting its effectiveness. Although Dr Naidu stresses the research looking at creatine is limited.

And its use can cause serious kidney damage even in people with healthy kidneys – especially if you’re dehydrated.

Supplements containing protein and carbohydrate are commonly marketed to gym-goers to increase their energy and improve recovery.

Dr Naidu says there’s good quality evidence that taking carbohydrates and protein together, in the first 30 minutes after a workout, will provide the best conditions for muscle gain.

But, he says, there isn’t any compelling evidence that carbohydrates and protein from supplements are any more effective than from a good diet.

Secret stimulants

Still other supplements that claim to help “shredding” often contain stimulants not listed in the ingredients to aid weight loss, says Dr Naidu. And these are usually derivatives of the drug ephedrine that can place the heart under considerable stress – even if they do work to drive weight loss and improve muscle definition.

A dangerous addiction

Former gym devotee, Mina, 35, who doesn’t want his surname published, knows first hand the risks of using supplements.

His fitness motivation morphed from being healthy and fit to being driven by image, one where bigger was better.

Mina was using so many stimulant-based supplements that he needed ever-increasing doses for the same effect. He recalls regularly having to pull over on the way to the gym after taking pre-workout “supps” because he had tremors and heart palpitations.

“The older formulations were incredibly dangerous,” he says.

Focus on the real issues

Mina’s use of supplements and other aids was also a money pit. At his peak, he says he was spending more than $600 a fortnight – not including gym memberships.

He’s now completely off it all and says “not a single minute” was worth it.

Dr Naidu’s message to anyone considering adding in supplements as a boost to reach their end goal is simple: focus on your health, not your looks.

 

Stay Healthy With 8 Home Remedies For Cold And Debunked Myths

A plethora of myths surround do-it-yourself sickness secrets, and while some hold true, many are made up. One of the most popular is advice not to touch any dairy products when a cold hits because it’ll produce more mucus, but there’s no medical basis for this assumption. In fact, a cup of ice cream can soothe your throat or even get some calories into you when you don’t want to eat.

Another tale is that sickness spreads the quickest before symptoms even show up — not true. You’re at your most contagious two to four days after exposure, which is at the beginning of a sickness when you first start showing symptoms. Stay at home as soon as you start feeling under the weather and don’t wait until you’ve spread germs around the office to catch up on some rest.

Speaking of rest, while relaxation is important for the body’s immune system to work at optimal capacity, you should still try and squeeze in 30 minutes of exercise. Rigorous workouts at the gym won’t help you, but studies have shown those who allotted half an hour of moderate exercise felt better in the evenings than those who just laid around in bed all day.

8 EVIDENCE-BASED REMEDIES THAT ACTUALLY WORK

  1. Chicken Soup: The classic go-to by mothers and grandmothers everywhere, soup has true healing powers. Its creates an anti-inflammatory impact by slowing down the movement of neutrophils. This will decrease the chances of cells collecting in the lungs and ultimately relieve you of congestion.
  2. Eat Healthy: Nutrient-rich food is key to boosting the body’s immune system by flooding it with dietary nutrients. A healthy balanced meal can increase gamma interferon, which is essential for immunity and viral and bacterial infections.
  3. Apple A Day: Apple cider vinegar has been shown to fight off infections, but a few slices off an apple can attack common cold viruses. Just 100 grams of apple equal 1,500 mg of vitamin C. Bonus: peels are rich in flavonoids, which lowers the risk for heart disease.
  4. Vitamin C: Studies aren’t definitive on whether or not vitamin C can prevent or stop colds, but it has been proven to reduce the length of colds by increasing growth in T cells.
  5. Honey: Has been shown to be as effective as the over-the-counter common cough supplement dextromethorphan. Honey can fight lung infections thanks to increased activity, which releases inflammatory relief of cytokines in order to repair cells.
  6. Garlic: Not only does it decrease length and severity of flu symptoms, but it also stimulates the immune system. Garlic works best consumed raw, and has been shown to increase the growth of gamma delta T cells, which are able to locate infectious pathogens and remove them from the body.
  7. Echinacea: Taking this herbal remedy can help treat the common cold by up to 58 percent, and even reduce the life of the cold by 1.5 days. Taking about 900 mgs of extract twice a day should do the trick.
  8. Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Can help boost immune system and relax the body; however, it’s not recommended a sick person hit the bar. Drinking too much lowers the immune system’s defense and makes the body and those around a person susceptible to germs.

February 9, 2015 4:50 PM By

Five Female Fitness Myths Debunked by Science

In today’s guest article, Luke Briggs breaks down the most common myths in female fitness and backs it all up with science.

Luke is an equally talented writer and passionate coach who truly get the most out of every single one of his clients, and challenges the current fitness industry with new and innovative ideas.  Let me tell you, he doesn’t just write about training, he is an avid competitive powerlifter who truly walks the walk.

He has really put together an exhaustive list of the downright fallacies women have been burdened with in our industry.  So ladies AND gentleman, get ready to pay attention and take some notes. Time for Luke to set the record straight!

Here’s What You Need To Know…

1. Lifting weights won’t make women bulky, but it will make them strong, lean and healthy if you’re interested in that.

2. Save the pink dumbbells for a doorstop, ultra high rep training is a dead practice. Sticking to strategic rep ranges will build the body of your dreams.

3. Weight lifting is not inherently dangerous; being brutally weak is actually a more risky daily practice.

4. Cardio may help you lose weight, but that “weight” may be muscle mass, which can lead to the dreaded skinny fat appearance. Not exactly the long-term result you had in mind from your daily run.

5. Protein should be prioritized, and eating more with goals of building muscle won’t leave you fat and dumpy. It will help you stay satiated and recovering from training more effectively than ever.

The Female Fitness Industry

Step aside, guys! It’s time to share the squat rack. We are currently living in the new age of fitness. As men, you are no longer the only gender passionately pumping iron with goals of chiseling a strong physique that will turn a few heads while tossing around a few plates.

While men have traditionally dominated the global strength scene, the change is becoming blatantly clear; women are lifting, training and dominating the iron game more than every before. And no, it’s not just about toning up the muscles with pink dumbbells and yoga!

According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, the number of women who participate in strength training increased significantly from 1998 to 2004 (Kruger, Carlson and Kohl III 2006). Just think that was more than a decade ago, before the rise of CrossFit, The Glute Guy and our American obsession with the backside.

While it’s about damn time that more and more females are starting to prioritize strength, it’s a damn shame that droves of misinformation about women and strength training still exist.

Though zombie lies are as hard to kill as the monsters themselves, we need to set the record straight once and for all.

Here is where I stand on dispelling the five most heinous mainstreamed fallacies that the fitness industry force feeds down the throats of vulnerable women looking to improve their bodies and health.

#1 Lifting Weights Will Make You Bulky

trap bar deadlift

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding females and strength training involves the notion that lifting weights will make them appear bulky.

Unless females take anabolic steroids or double their clean food intake, that simply won’t happen.

Hormones factor heavily in determining an individual’s size. According to Medline Plus, women naturally produce about only 5-7% as much testosterone as men.

That means men produce 14 to 20 times as much testosterone as women, so women won’t increase muscle mass at nearly the same rate unless they supplement with steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.

They can work at the same intensities as men and build lean, slender physiques like fitness models instead of massive bodybuilders. This is absolutely possible, but the bulk thing? Not so much.

According to a 2004 study by Dr. Andrew Fry, “In general, females do not exhibit as great an absolute hypertrophic response when compared with males, although relative gains may be similar” (Fry, 2004).

Ladies aren’t going to throw on big slabs of muscle even if they exert the same level of effort as men. Whether this is good or bad is for you to decide, but being informed of facts, not opinions or anecdotal case studies of one, is necessary.

If women want to build muscle while losing weight, they should focus on maintaining a negative energy balance and burning off more calories than they consume. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. And guess what? That same tip can be used for men! Who would have thought?

To take it to the next level, females should work on reducing stress and getting a requisite amount of sleep per night. Again, this is not rocket science, but it has been shown that getting decreased number of hours of sleep reduces anabolic hormone levels and increases catabolic hormone concentrations (Cook, Kilduff and Jones; 2004).

While the very word “anabolic” may scare some women, it’s actually an important hormone for building lean muscle and burning fat. You’re either building muscle or losing muscle, and you definitely don’t want to decrease muscle mass because muscle burns more calories than fat.

So if females want to remain lean, they had better prioritize staying in an anabolic state.

That means ladies should aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night and consume plenty of high quality, unprocessed foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. And yes, it can be that simple. Master the basics to move your goals forward.

#2 If You Want To Tone Muscle, Lift Light Weight For High Reps

lindsay bloom

Women need much more than five-pound pink dumbbells to build the bodies they desire.

If you don’t think women should lift heavy weights, take a trip to your local grocery store to find women of all types hauling massive grocery bags and lifting children over their shoulders.

First off, “heavy” is a relative term. What’s heavy for a 110-pound female will be different than what’s heavy for a 200-pound male.

A certain level of stress must be placed on the body’s muscles and joints in order to create adaptations to allow for lean muscle growth.

According to a recent research review by Brad Schoenfeld called The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Applications to Resistance Training, “Intensity (i.e. load) has been shown to have a significant impact on muscle hypertrophy and is arguably the most important exercise variable for stimulating muscle growth (Schoenfeld, 2010).”

Schoenfeld also indicated, “The use of high repetitions has generally proven to be inferior to moderate and lower repetition ranges in eliciting increases in muscle hypertrophy.” And we’re talking lean, toned muscles.

It should be noted that women who use strictly high repetitions will develop sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the build-up of non-contractile fluid in muscle cells. This type of training makes muscles appear puffy. Not exactly what you are shooting for, right ladies?

Most women probably prefer to build lean, dense muscle. In this case, they should use fewer reps to achieve myofibrillar hypertrophy, an actual increase in the size of the muscle fibers.

Since we’ve already established women won’t get big and bulky unless they take steroids or eat massive amounts of food, let’s discuss the rep ranges women should use.

The majority of women (and men, yeah you guys!) exercise mainly to improve their physiques, so they don’t necessarily need to perform one-, two-, or three-rep maxes like strength athletes.

Sticking between six and 12 reps should be sufficient for optimal lean muscle development, assuming you’re working at a maximal level of intensity.

Women should make sure to use compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, push-ups and pull-ups to stimulate their nervous systems to the highest degree.

#3 You’ll Get Hurt If You Lift Weights

lindsay bloom female

You may actually increase your chances of getting hurt if you don’t lift weights. Like my man Bret Contreras says, “If you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.”

A lot of females possess great flexibility, but lack stability. According to a 2012 report from the University of Colorado Hospital, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are four to six times more likely to happen in women than men (Osborne, 2012).

ACL injuries are more likely to occur in sports that involve jumping and changing of direction, so improving core stability and developing greater strength in the posterior chain can assist in reducing the possibility of injury.

While it’s important to have some level of flexibility, women who focus solely on stretching-based routines like yoga are short-changing themselves.

According to a 2012 study published in Yoga Journal, more than 82 percent of the 20.4 million yoga practitioners in the United States are female (Yoga Journal, 2012). The point isn’t to entice the guys to sign up for stretch class, but to put a number on the popularity of fitness fads.

Yoga is certainly a wonderful practice, and many women who are already flexible are naturally attracted to it because it’s something with which they’re going to have success. On the other hand, men tend to stick to weight lifting because they’re stronger and have more muscle mass than women. Perhaps many of them would benefit from doing more yoga.

Women can certainly get hurt lifting weights. Men can too.

Attempting to squat or deadlift under heavy load without proper form is a recipe for disaster.

That’s why; if you’re not confident with your form, seek out a qualified professional to learn proper exercise technique. You can then make sure you’re performing the proper progression for each exercise and you’re focusing on quality movement and form and build a foundation of strength to work towards for the long term.

Once you’ve gained confidence in your ability to complete a lift with perfect technique, you’ll be able to increase the weight without worry.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll start putting some men to shame with the amount of weight you have on the bar. No shame in showing up the boys every now and then!

As long as all of the movements are being performed correctly, adding in some form of resistance training is highly beneficial for females from an injury prevention standpoint. Start slow, master your movement, and you will progress faster than you would have ever dreamed.

#4 You Need To Focus On Cardio To Get Lean

lindsay bloom dr john rusin

Just about all of us have walked into a commercial gym to find dozens of exercisers on a treadmill or elliptical moving at a slow and steady pace for prolonged periods of time in an attempt to burn fat.

While there’s no question cardiovascular exercise can help you lose fat, you would be remiss to ignore strength training.

If you focus only on cardio, you’ll likely lose weight if you ensure your diet and recovery are also on point, but you’ll lose muscle if you don’t engage in resistance training.

Having more muscle speeds up your metabolism because it burns calories at a faster rate than fat. If you perform too much cardio, you can actually lose muscle. That is worth repeating, but I’ll save you the burden.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, “Chronic, high-volume running creates a catabolic response that can lead to muscle degradation and reduction in power (Campbell and Spano, 131).” In case you read that quickly, this is not a good thing.

If improving body composition is your goal, it’s important to incorporate, if not prioritize weight training and other exercise methods that involve working at high intensities for shorter periods of time to place your body in an anabolic state.

Protein synthesis is elevated after bouts of strength training and can remain elevated for up to two full days following your workout (Campbell and Spano, 100).

For strictly aesthetic-based goals, ladies should implement at least two or three strength-training workouts and a couple of high-intensity interval routines each week.

Steady-state cardio is OK to use occasionally, but it shouldn’t be the main focus of any exercise regimen focusing on physical appearance. This can even be said for the high level triathletes I train on a daily basis.

Ultimately, women must have a negative energy balance to lose weight, so they must make sure diet and recovery are up to par first before focusing on exercise methods. You certainly can’t out-train a bad diet, no matter how hard you train. Sorry to burst your bubble!

#5 You’ll Get Fat If You Eat Too Much Protein

lindsay bloom rusin

Exercise is important, but your diet will have a much greater impact on your physique and your health for that matter.

Making sure you have a good balance of all your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) is essential.

Protein is often talked about among men looking to bulk up, but it’s equally as important for women seeking to burn fat. Protein supports muscle and tissue growth, so it’s essential for the development of lean muscle mass, which elevates metabolism.

The Center for Disease Control recommends 56 grams of protein per day for men and 46 grams for women. But recommendations you find on food labels are generally for sedentary individuals.

Women who are active need more protein even if their goals are to lose weight and body fat.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends you consume between one and one-half and two grams per kilogram of body weight per day and to “maintain or slightly increase protein intake…when following a hypocaloric diet (Campbell and Spano, 192).”

So even if you’re only a 50-kilogram (110-pound) female, you should still take in between 75 and 100 grams of protein each and every day.

Also, eating protein can help you eat fewer calories overall because protein has a high thermic effect of food. It requires more energy for the body to digest than the other macronutrients.

Think about it. Have you ever eaten a piece of steak before and felt stuffed? The portion you ate was probably only a couple hundred calories at most.

You’ve probably also eaten a large bag of potato chips and still felt hungry. That bag could have been more than 1,000 calories, but because chips are mostly carbohydrates, your body processed them really quickly.

Precision Nutrition, among the world leaders in nutrition coaching, recommends females have one palm-sized serving of protein with each meal. You should be able to fit about 20 to 30 grams of protein in your palm. If you have three meals, that’s a total of 60 to 90 grams.

So, ladies, start getting in more protein if you want to build your dream body. And skip the potato chips while you’re at it!

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*All images were provided by Lindsay Bloom- Business Manger of John Rusin Fitness Systems, LLC

About The Author

luke briggs

Luke Briggs is a strength coach, powerlifter and former full time print journalist.  Luke is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association who also holds a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious University of Wisconsin’s school of journalism. Luke’s vision is to help people around the world build muscle, burn fat, get stronger and become the best versions of themselves.  With his background in print journalism, he combines his writing skills, knowledge of fitness and personal training experience to be the best possible resource for you to reach all of your strength and physique goals.

Visit Luke at  Luke Briggs Fitness

REFERENCES: 

Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.” Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.

Campbell, Bill I., and Marie A. Spano. “NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2011. Print.

Cook, Christian J., Liam P. Kilduff, and Marc R. Jones. “Recovering Effectively in High-Performance Sports.” High-Performance Training for Sports. N.p.: Human Kinetics, 2014. 325. Print.

Fry, Andrew C. “The Role of Resistance Training Intensity on Muscle Fibre Adaptations.” Sports Med 34.10 (2004): 663-78. Web. Female Fitness

Kruger, J., S. Carlson and H. Kohl, III. “Trends in Strength Training – United States, 1998-2004.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 July 2006. Web.

Osborne, Maria. “Why Do Females Injure Their Knees Four to Six Times More Than Men…And What Can You Do About It?” University of Colorado Health (2012): 1-6. University of Colorado-Denver. Female Fitness Web.

Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24 (2010): 2857-872. Web. Female Fitness

Yoga Journal. “New Study Finds More Than 20 Million Yogis in U.S. – Yoga Journal.” Yoga Journal. N.p., 05 Dec. 2012. Web. Female Fitness

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6 Phases of the Perfect
Dynamic Warm Up

By | May 26th, 2015|Bodybuilding, Lifestyle, Strength Training

United States: Homeopathic Medicines Will Carry Labels Saying They’re Unscientific

But for the people buying them, this will make them even more attractive.

Homeopathic remedies are seen at Ainsworths Pharmacy on August 26, 2005 in London.
These remedies sure look scientific.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

 

The Federal Trade Commission just cracked down on an unusual product that has long enjoyed exemption from regulation: homeopathic drugs. Available everywhere from Whole Foods to CVS, homeopathic products are advertised as an effective way to treat a wide range of conditions. Just the “H” section of CVS’ online homeopathic medicine webpage mentions hay fever, head injury, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, HIV support, and hypertension. According to 2007 government data, Americans spend over $3 billion a year on homeopathy, and the market appears to be growing steadily.

Despite their popularity companies selling these products have never been required to show they are effective at doing what they claim. So yesterday, when the FTC announced its “enforcement policy statement” about homeopathic product labeling, it was a welcome move. Unfortunately, the recommendations are pretty minimal: After soliciting comments, commissioning studies, and convening a one-day public workshop, the agency produced a 24 page report that concluded customers were likely to be deceived by labels that did not carry the appropriate disclaimers, and therefore disclaimers stating that these products are untested will now be required. The requirement is not technically a law like, say, the Food and Drug Administration regulations that govern prescription drug labels. Instead, A. Wes Siegner, an attorney who specializes in FTC and FDA regulation, told me “it’s an official heads up that if you want to avoid litigation you need to play by the rules.”

The rules require packaging to effectively communicate two key disclaimers:

  1. “There is no scientific evidence that the product works.”
  2. “The product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.”

That, to this day, a health care product deemed by the FTC to have “no scientific evidence” has avoided substantive regulation is due entirely to the peculiar nature of homeopathy. Developed in the late 18th century by a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann, the novel approach to healing blended scientific, religious, and downright strange concepts, like so from Hahnemann’s book The Organon of the Healing Art: “It is only by means of the spiritual influence of a morbific agent, that our spiritual vital power can be diseased; and in like manner, only by the spiritual (dynamic) operation of medicine, that health can be restored.”

There is near-unanimous mainstream scientific consensus that homeopathy’s purported mechanism of action—using ultra-highly diluted substances to allow “like to cure like”—runs counter to basic principles of chemistry, biology, and physics. As health policy expert Timothy Caulfield recently said, “to believe homeopathy works … is to believe in magic.” Detractors like him suggest the most likely explanation for homeopathy’s perceived efficacy is a combination of wishful thinking and placebo effect. This view of homeopathy has been popular for nearly two centuries: “The homeopathic method,” wrote physician Jacob Bigelow in 1835, “consists in leaving the case to nature, while the patient is amused with nominal and nugatory remedies.”

Nevertheless, practitioners and patients alike have successfully championed homeopathy into the present day. Unmoored as it is from the rest of conventional scientific thinking, regulators have had no idea how to classify homeopathic products. Most products are engineered to contain only infinitesimally small amounts of the active substance, which means they are almost always harmless. Consequently, until now, the FDA and the FTC found it easier to take a hands-off approach, which means that homeopathic medicine packaging has been basically governed by practitioner-authored guidelines and the FTC’s general injunction to be truthful and not deceptive.

That the FTC decided to regulate homeopathic medicine may seem like a step in the right direction. But the mandate they’ve come up with—to require disclaimers on these products—is nearly as lacking in scientific evidence as the products themselves. Requiring disclosures will probably do nothing to help people realize the true nature of what they’re buying.

Time and time again, studies have shown that with few exceptions, “This claim has not been approved by the FDA”–style disclaimers do little to inform consumers or change their purchasing habits. As I reported for Slate in 2014, the FDA’s own studies show this, with most disclaimers making no difference and some actually making heath claims appear persuasive! The FTC’s more recent studies on homeopathic medicine disclaimers are not encouraging, with 25-45 percent of consumers reporting that homeopathic products are FDA approved—after looking at a package with a disclaimer that says they aren’t.

The problem is bigger than inadequate packaging disclaimers. “I’m not confident that a disclaimer could ever effectively communicate ‘there’s really no evidence this product works,’ ” said Georgetown Law professor Rebecca Tushnet.* “Many consumers expect ‘they couldn’t say it if it wasn’t true’ and disclaimers are probably not good enough to combat a belief that basic.”

hyland label.

Screenshot via Amazon

 

Homeopathy compounds the problem. (That’s a homeopathy pun.) The labels on these drugs look incredibly scientific. They’ve got weird units (12X HPUS), and technical-sounding ingredients (Cuprum Metallicum), and even name-drop “the official Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States.” The whole thing evokes a standardized, highly refined system, and for reasonable people unfamiliar with homeopathy it’s understandably hard to believe that products based on such a system that make health claims and are sold in CVS could actually be nothing more than placebos.

What’s worse, the second point required by the FTC’s new labeling standards may reinforce some consumers’ beliefs in the efficacy of the product. Prior beliefs and confirmation bias have a strong effect on how we process information. Those drawn to homeopathic medicine are more likely to be skeptical of mainstream medicine, a preference that homeopathic advertising plays to with its emphasis on descriptors like “natural.” To read that most modern medical experts don’t accept homeopathy highlights the anti-establishment allure of the product. Similarly, the appeal to antiquity means that mentioning homeopathy’s ancient origin will actually serve to bolster its plausibility. After all, goes the fallacious thinking, if it weren’t true and didn’t work how could it have stuck around for over two centuries?

This is not to rail on the FTC, which should be applauded for its strongly worded and scientifically accurate statement, especially given how difficult it is to mandate disclaimers without violating consumers’ rights. It did the best it could given the limitations it faces. But we cannot, as a society, let such statements breed complacency when it comes to addressing the problem of pseudoscience and deceptive marketing. In truth, what’s necessary is recognition that our education system is badly misallocating resources and leaving us susceptible to such claims. We learn a great number of scientific facts in middle school and high school, but spend virtually no time on the philosophy of science. This is a shame. Without understanding the process by which our culture decides on what counts as scientific knowledge, people are left to judge the reliability of a claim with little more than “Was it made by someone with letters after their name?” and “Does it sound like the science I did in school?”

When these questions are the only tools in the public’s epistemic toolkit, the gates are open to all sorts of pseudoscientific nonsense, from quantum healing to a lot of what has passed as macroeconomics. Confronted with an epidemic of inadequate education, I can see how it would be tempting to administer it on packages in an ultra-highly diluted form. Doing so, combined with anecdotal evidence of success, might even make us feel better about the problem. But that feeling isn’t based on actual improvement. It’s just wishful thinking and the placebo effect. And while placebos are often useful, in certain cases they can be dangerous, allowing the patient to ignore an illness until it’s gone too far. We wouldn’t want that to happen to someone taking homeopathic remedies for a serious disease. Let’s not let it happen with disclaimers and public scientific literacy.

*Correction, Nov. 16, 2016: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled Rebecca Tushnet’s last name. (Return.)

 

Cold therapy? Maybe better to save your money

My friends know they are going to get an evidence-based read on medical practices when they turn to me for advice. Not all of them enjoy the eye rolls that involuntarily occur when I hear what they are considering, like when a friend asked me about the benefits of whole body cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy is the practice of subjecting tissue or lesions in tissue to very cold temperatures in an effort to kill something that is considered unhealthy. It can also mean the application of ice packs to reduce swelling or pain on a part of the body.

Icing an injury: There’s little good evidence for it. Photo: iStock
But whole body cryotherapy exposes the body for a couple of minutes to vapor that has been supercooled to somewhere between minus 94 and minus 148 degrees Celcius. It was once confined mostly to elite athletes, but now centres have cropped up across the country asserting that the practice can lead to any number of health benefits.

There is not much evidence, however, to back this up. A 2015 Cochrane systematic review looked at studies assessing the benefits and harms of whole body cryotherapy in preventing and treating exercise-induced muscle soreness in adults. The authors found four laboratory-based randomised controlled trials that included 64 young adults (average age 23), 60 of whom were male. All of the studies were judged to have some problems with design features, and overall, they found insufficient evidence to support the use of whole body cryotherapy for muscle soreness. Moreover, there was almost no evidence supporting its use for women or for the middle-aged and older people.

When we get into specific treatments, the evidence is even more scant. A recent two-week study (which doesn’t appear to have been randomised or blinded) found whole body cryotherapy to be similar to traditional rehabilitation in improving outcomes for 44 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A case control study of 24 patients with multiple sclerosis found that those who received whole body cryotherapy had improved functional status and reduced feelings of fatigue. In a small randomised controlled trial lasting eight weeks, 12 patients with restless leg syndrome seemed to see improvements in symptoms and quality of life.

These were all small studies, involving few patients, over short periods of time, with minimal overall changes. Given the likelihood of publication bias here (positive results are more likely to be published than negative ones), it’s hard to make sweeping recommendations based on these findings.

Because so little data is available, the Food and Drug Administration has not certified cryotherapy chambers to treat anything, including muscle pain or inflammation. For this reason, they cannot be marketed to treat diseases.

That doesn’t stop all kinds of other assertions from centres that offer whole body cryotherapy. Some say it can help people lose weight. Others argue that it can help slow ageing and make you look younger. There are even those who maintain that it can make a difference in your mental health. None of these claims have been the subject of well-designed studies.

Most of the research on whole body cryotherapy doesn’t focus on disability or disease but on athletic performance. In 2013, a meta-analysis published on 21 randomised controlled trials showed no significant benefit to endurance, strength or the ability to jump. There was some benefit to sprint performance, but even this seems to be the result of one outlying study.

This hasn’t stopped these athletes from continuing to use cryotherapy. But as I’ve discussed before, many athletes are willing to spend money and try therapies with little proof of potential gain.

The bad news is that even the use of ice to take care of localised injuries isn’t nearly as well supported as you might imagine. A systematic review published in The Journal of Athletic Training in 2012 gathered evidence from studies testing “rest, ice, compression and elevation” therapies. They found limited evidence to support the use of ice in the treatment of ankle sprains.

A 2004 systematic review looking at the use of ice for a variety of soft-tissue injuries found that “many more high-quality trials are needed to provide evidence-based guidelines in the treatment of acute soft-tissue injuries.”

Of course, applying an ice pack has few potential harms and almost no cost. If people find benefit from that, I’m not going to argue that they should stop. The potential downsides of whole body cryotherapy are much more significant.

Whole body cryotherapy is also inherently dangerous, which is why it should never be done alone. In 2015, an employee using a cryotherapy chamber after hours unaccompanied was found dead inside. Freezing your body can also result in hypothermia or frostbite, adding to the necessity that the procedure be monitored closely.

Whole body cryotherapy isn’t cheap, either. Sessions can run between $50 and $100, and no insurance plans I know of will help you cover those bills. Given all of this, and the utter lack of proven benefits, when my friend asked about it, an eye roll was probably the appropriate response.

New York Times

[Original Article] AARON E. CARROLL
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