I’ve been asked to comment on the latest media deluge to suggest that red meat is again the primary cause of atherosclerosis, heart disease, and your impending doom. At least this time they’re targeting something other than cholesterol: this time it’s carnitine.
Carnitine is found in red meat, mostly, as well as dairy, tempeh, and some other meats, and it performs a number of important roles in the human body, foremost of which is the transportation of fatty acids into the mitochondria for breakdown into useable energy. It’s so important to basic function that we make endogenous carnitine by synthesizing it from the amino acids lysine and methionine. Vegans and vegetarians, who tend to run deficient in carnitine, benefit greatly from supplementation (or a nice steak). It’s even been used to reduce atherosclerosis (albeit in rabbits), improve arterial function, and help heart failure patients recover. Carnitine is not some evil compound.
Earlier this week I ran across a study that demonstrated a “simple lifestyle” can decrease our contact with toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals. The researchers looked at lifestyle elements like transportation, personal care products, and homegrown versus purchased food in their participants. I was struck by the study’s suggestion itself but also by the larger metaphoric significance. A simpler code of life can spare us some of the inherent stress and damage of our modern lives. As this study showed, the principle certainly holds for physical health, and I easily venture it holds for mental well-being, too. Living simply offers a multi-layered protective benefit. That’s worth taking apart.
There’s another “meat is bad” study making the rounds, featuring such stellar prose as:
“Although causality cannot be established…”
“…further research is recommended.”
“…should still strive to reduce intake of red and processed meat, which tend to contain high amounts of saturated fat and sodium.”
And so on.
By now, we see these lines, roll our eyes, and keep on moving down the path that seems to be helping us. But that’s us, people who pay attention to nutrition news and stay abreast of the literature. We may be able to write off these breathless articles without thinking we’re going to die because we ate that bunless burger the other day, but our parents, our friends, our colleagues may not be so well-equipped. They’re worried about our health, and who can blame them? If you take mainstream health articles at face value, articles which confirm what your doctor is probably telling you, you would do the same.
It’s the month when gym memberships spike and fitness equipment flies off store shelves. I think most of us begin the year wanting to be healthier, and fitness stands as an essential element of that endeavor. Logical. Reasonable. Commendable. Yet, the common interpretation of what it will take to get there suddenly veers off in a white knuckle, nonsensical detour. Yes, let’s hear it for the chronic cardio model. As a former cardio king, I rack my brain questioning why so many people still subscribe to the “exhaustion or bust” mentality. (It’s unfortunately one of the reasons many said memberships will go unused by the middle of next month and the aforementioned equipment will begin gathering dust in a corner.) As with so many aspects of healthy living, the conventional fitness culture often misleads because it ignores what can and should be its ultimate guide – the nuanced role of physical activity in evolution and the simple but rather elegant connections that movement has to overall vitality.
I’ve said this before, but inflammation is a necessary response to injury. It’s the inflammatory response that increases blood and lymphatic flow to and from the injured tissues, bringing healing nutrients and inflammatory mediators and removing damaged refuse. It’s the inflammatory response that makes injuries hurt, which prevents us from using and re-injuring the injured area. And yeah, the inflammatory response can get out of hand and do more damage than the initial insult, but it’s ultimately how our bodies heal damaged tissues and recover from injuries. If we didn’t have an inflammatory response, we’d never get anywhere. This was the crux of a very interesting blog post by Kelly Starrett in which he questioned the typical use of ice after injury. In short, Kelly says that putting ice on a healing tissue is counterproductive because it halts or at least disrupts inflammation, which is really how we heal.
Do we want to use ice in order to reduce the inflammation incurred after a soft tissue injury?
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