Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Archive for November, 2006

21 Nov

Why Melatonin Is a Dangerous Supplement

Melatonin is a popular supplement for the sleep-deprived, namely because it carries rather innocent associations. Melatonin is “natural” and “safe” and “herbal”, right?

Wrong. I’ve been arguing with the melatonin prophets for years because I believe the image melatonin has, and what melatonin really is, are vastly different. Like so many things that we trust in, consume or think we understand, the truth may not be what we want to believe.

My caution with melatonin is simple: melatonin is a hormone.

That’s right – a hormone. Like estrogen. Like testosterone. And just like taking estrogen (whether it’s Hormone Replacement Therapy or the Pill) or testosterone therapy, melatonin comes with risks. Frequent melatonin use – especially in the typical dosage of 3-6 milligrams – can trigger a bit of a vicious cycle in the brain. Supplement with melatonin regularly to get to sleep, and your body is going to produce even less, creating even greater need for the hormone. It’s not that you can’t ever take melatonin; but I think it’s important that people understand the facts.

A caveat: While I am generally against using hormones (it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature), I am in favor of using the natural version of the hormone melatonin to “reset” the diurnal clock when traveling across time zones. Because, after all, you got there by fooling Mother Nature in the first place! Humans did not evolve a mechanism to adapt to changing time zones. Jet travel can be some of the most destructive stress you can encounter, especially the older you get.

In fact, a recent article in ScienceNow Daily News reported on the growing concern in the scientific community over the dangers of jet lag. Turns out it’s more serious than we previously realized. Jet lag increases risk of cancer, ulcers, and sleep disorders, as well as weakening the immune system. Now, this isn’t reason to stop traveling; simply be aware of the risks and take some smart precautions (drinking alcohol on the plane: not a good idea).

I travel frequently, and I don’t suffer from jet lag, because I use melatonin judiciously in these instances. I also have a few rules about travel (feel free to crib my notes):

- Once you’ve landed and checked in to your lodgings, immediately get an aerobic workout. This will help stimulate circulation, hormones and serotonin production – it’ll just be that much easier adjusting to the new time zone. Don’t tuck into a glass of wine or take a nap. Spend 30 minutes getting your heart racing instead.

- Eat a small, protein-rich meal that also includes some fiber. But keep it light so your body isn’t further stressed.

- Reset your watch and then… lie to yourself. Don’t think about it; just immediately adapt to the new time zone.

- Of course, the goal is to adjust as soon as possible to your new time zone. If you’re flying overnight or flying to a place where everyone else will have just finished sleeping, by all means, do what you can to nap on the plane or otherwise refresh yourself.

- Drink at least a quart of water your first day there (4 glasses).

- Go to bed when everyone else in your new time zone goes to bed, and take 3-6 milligrams of melatonin an hour before you plan to fall asleep to make that possible.

Here’s the ScienceNow clickativity.

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21 Nov

How Do You Say ‘No Shame’ in Spanglish?

I have to hand it to Taco Bell for being both devastatingly brilliant and unforgivably evil. In a new campaign called the Fourth Meal, they’re pumping the fourth meal (yes…“the meal between dinner and breakfast”) with a dazzling disregard for health, ethics, decency and taste.

Normally, I tend to admire rebels and rule-breakers. I don’t exactly have best friends over at Big Pharma. And I understand Taco Bell isn’t in business to kiss babies and hug Aunt Sue. Taco Bell is in business for the same reason everyone else is: to make some cash. Hopefully, you can make some cash while doing something good. Not so with el Taco. To that end, their marketers are brilliant.

Running a late-night campaign obviously aimed at college kids, night owls and (let’s be frank) bar flies – and being so blatantly cavalier about – is smart business.

The website is so cool, it’s appalling. At the site, viewers can choose to enter as a hip young man or woman. Next up, you pick trendy threads to wear. You navigate a late-night, funky urban street. Via a glossy black virtual handheld device (of course), you can talk, make buddies, and play – you can become a “Fourth Mealer”.

That’s right: Taco Bell is pushing an entire online community a la MySpace, Friendster, Squidoo (and your very own Mark’s Daily Apple) devoted entirely to feeling cool about scarfing a late night meal complete with the Taco Bell version of the four food groups: Melty, Crunchy, Spicy, Grilled.

Hey, I was a college kid once; maybe you were, too. We’ve all had a wild night (or ten) at some point in our lives. I don’t hold anything against Taco Bell for wanting to make a buck. In fact, I advocate a fourth meal – in the sense that I advocate several small meals throughout the day to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels and keep the metabolism firing full speed ahead.

But let’s consider, just for a second, if Taco Bell could have done something different. Kids are smart. They also like to rebel against authority. Don’t we all?

What if Taco Bell had incorporated a few healthy items into their menu, marketed them as still being tasty (surely the food chemists can handle that order), and gone with the whole Fourth Meal campaign anyway. Only, instead of advocating the late-night consumption of complete garbage, pitching the healthy Fourth Meal as something only college kids and night owls would really “get”.

Taco Bell: “Hey, it’s late. The parental units are home in bed and feeling great about their three squares. Your boss thinks you’re still at the office and your professor thinks you’re studying for that exam. Right. All the nerds are probably reading and listening to Beethoven. But you need a little veg, a little protein, and a little taste – now. So you’re eating a cheap, fast, healthy meal because you have a life. You’re a fourth-mealer. You either get it or you don’t.”

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21 Nov

Scientists Perplexed: Issue ‘Impossible Calorie’ Award

Researchers at Orchard University are burning the midnight oil as they attempt to determine how a single slice of the Cheesecake Factory’s carrot cake contains more calories than any of the combo “pick a number” meals at McDonald’s.

A professor leading the study quietly admitted to our reporters that we are probably closer to an understanding of string theory than a conclusive answer to what has been dubbed the “Carrot Cake Conundrum”. The professor has asked to remain anonymous to avoid jeopardizing her standing in the scientific community. “It’s the elephant in the room. No one wants to admit that we may never have an answer.”

The slice of carrot cake, which at 1 lb. weighs a lot more than even the largest of carrots, contains 1,560 calories. That’s well within the range of satisfying most people’s daily caloric intake needs. And it’s over twice the amount of calories in the Factory’s Original Cheesecake (a mere 710 calories).

Further confounding to the researchers is the fact that the cake does not appear to contain much carrot at all. The main ingredients are corn oil, cream cheese, eggs, butter, palm oil, butter, and hydrogenated palm oil. With 84 grams of fat crammed into six inches of sweetness, this dessert truly takes the cake.

The Cheesecake Factory does not reveal calories willingly – you really have to dig. Fortunately, there’s Google. Search “Cheesecake Factory nutrition information” and you’ll find lots of Factory quotes that all boil down to some variation of the following:

“Thank you for your interest in The Cheesecake Factory. Because we change our recipes and menu often, we do not currently have nutrition information for our menu selections.

Sincerely,

Guest Services for The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, Inc.”

I think the more appropriate quote should be:

“Thank you for your interest in The Cheesecake Factory. Because we change our recipes and menu often, we [insert lie here].”

Here’s the Clickativity.
ImpossibleCalorieAward

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21 Nov

The Fuming Fuji Says No to Popcorn Shrimp!

FUJ

The Fuming Fuji is outraged at the marketing of toxic food, especially when it’s aimed at the small fry. This week, the Fuming Fuji has decided to have a serious problem with popcorn shrimp.

But, Fuming Fuji, you ask, isn’t popcorn shrimp rich in protein? I thought seafood was healthy! Aren’t we supposed to eat more fish?

The Fuming Fuji says no!

The claim: Shrimp are a low-fat, high-protein food, and we all know seafood is very good for you. So what’s a little bit of breading?

The catch: Popcorn shrimp are breaded in a chemical-bleached-flour concoction. Next, they are fried in trans-fats. Also, shrimp are disgusting.

The comeback: But Fuming Fuji, isn’t a little fat okay? It’s better than fried chicken, right?

The conclusion:
Shrimp are very bad for you, especially when dipped in a sugary mess of flour and deep-fried. Shrimp are not your friends. They are not fish. They are sea-bugs.

The catchphrase: Do not eat fried bugs of the sea!

Disclaimer: Mark Sisson and the Worker Bees do not necessarily endorse the views of the Fuming Fuji.

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20 Nov

Humble Goals

One more thing on fried Coke bonbons, from the creator’s mouth (who I am sure is a perfectly nice guy), one Mr. Gonzales:

The best I can hope for is that it’s the original and hopefully the best fried Coke out there.”

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