Dear Mark: Fenugreek and HGH, Marathons and Strength Training, Gluten and Eczema, and Insect Nutrition

Today’s Monday Dear Mark question and answer post is a fun one. I look into whether a claim about fenugreek and human growth hormone by the great Dr. Mehmet Oz pans out (hint: he’s off, but not by much). Then, I discuss how to strength train as a marathon runner (hint: short and intense), after which I explore the nutritional content of edible insects. And finally, in light of my recent posts on inflammation, I cover the connection between eczema and gluten.

I watched the famous Dr. Oz. He recommended fenugreek tea as a way to naturally boost HGH levels. What say you?


Once in a while the Great and Powerful Oz does get it right…or at least close. On PubMed, I came up with a single corroborating (and I’m really stretching the normal, accepted definition of the word here) study. Researchers isolated and extracted several rat growth-hormone stimulating saponins from fenugreek seeds; later in vitro experiments confirmed that these saponins stimulated the release of various steroidal hormones from rat pituitary cells. So, there are a couple marks against this study: they were done on rats and they were in vitro (in a lab dish), rather than in vivo (real life situation).

But wait. All is not lost. An actual in vivo study conducted using real life, college-age human males found that a “purported aromatase and 5-? reductase inhibitor” supplement based on fenugreek extract increased testosterone and bioavailable testosterone levels while reducing body fat when compared to a placebo. Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that the “physiological aspects” of the male libido (drive, urge, and/or desire) were enhanced by a fenugreek extract. In particular, sexual desire and orgasm were improved by the supplement. Testosterone remained within reference range.

Fenugreek may or may not work for you, but I’d say it’s worth a shot. And if you’ve got a breastfeeding partner, it’ll help her with that, too.


Thank you for the two great posts on training and nutrition for marathons. Was wondering if you could do a part 3 or a brief response on a Monday Q&A post regarding strength training in a marathon training plan. i.e optimal exercises; low weight, high rep vs. high weight, low rep; etc.



If you’re training for marathons, road work will obviously comprise the bulk of your training. You’re going to have to put in the miles, as I mentioned in my posts (here and here), and that leaves you less time to devote to other, seemingly non-essential pursuits – like strength training.

But I’d argue that lower-rep, higher-intensity strength work is absolutely essential for everyone interested in wringing out every last drop of performance, especially endurance athletes:

1. An endurance athlete, by virtue of his or her endurance work, will already have bulging type 1 slow-twitch muscle fibers. That’s well-established. He or she doesn’t need to worry about maxing out slow twitch potential, because it’s most likely been realized. Putting in the strength work, on the other hand, will develop the fast-twitch fibers that can make the difference between finishing strong and finishing behind the other guy, or killing that scary steep hill halfway through the race or holding off a final surge by a competitor.

2. Most runners aren’t utilizing strength training. I still keep in touch with plenty of endurance athletes, and by and large they’re still doing the high-rep, super low weight isolation stuff on machines (leg extensions, tricep pulldowns, bicep curls) – if they even strength train at all. If you incorporate it, and incorporate it well (squats, deadlifts, pullups, full body compound lifts), you’ll likely have a big advantage over everyone else.

Because you have less time, intensity is key. You’re not going to accumulate significant amounts of volume alongside a hefty volume of road work without going crazy or burning out, so lift heavy, lift hard, and lift infrequently. Two sessions of heavy strength training per week is a perfect amount. Give yourself two or three days in between lifting days, and focus on one big lift each day – a lower body push (squat, lunge, leg press) one day and a lower body pull another (deadlift, Romanian deadlift, etc) another. Rotate in a few upper body exercises if you like – overhead presses and pullups on lower body pull day, rows and pushups/bench press on lower body push day – and you’ll be good to go. Keep the reps low and the weight heavy and focus on the lower body stuff. Those deadlifts and squats will get you strong where it counts. You can even do heavy singles, doubles, or triples – heavy alactic training a la Art De Vany. That’s three lifts each workout, which is very manageable. Another option entirely is to try the Body By Science routine, either using bodyweight, weights, or quality machines.

Whatever weight training regimen you choose, intensity is the tie that binds. Get in and get out of the gym quick, and make your time count. Does that help? Maybe at some point I’ll do a longer post on this, but that should suffice for now.

Oh, and be sure to check out That Paleo Guy’s series on endurance work and strength training. His focus is on cyclists, but he covers a few studies and explains in greater detail the importance of heavy strength training for endurance athletes in general.


Your book and work are great. I am hoping that you products are of the same standard as I am ordering some now. With that product in mind, the following question came to my mind …

It seems that we all agree that Grok and his family ate quite a few grubs, worms, and other insects “back in the day”. Not that we are going to start eating much of those, but I am curious whether anyone has done any work to determine WHAT NUTRITION those insects gave Grok and his family?

I am thinking that to be truly Primal, we need to consider adding some of those insect sourced nutrients back into our diets today from other more palatable sources?



Oh yes, people have done the work, and I was able to dig up a few sources. First is “Feeding Captive Insectivorous Animals: Nutritional Aspects of Insects as Food” (PDF) by a zoology group. Their purpose was to compile nutritional data for dozens of different bug species to make feeding complete, whole diets to insectivorous zoo animals easier and more science-based. Want to know the magnesium content of fruit fly larvae, blood worms, and pinhead crickets? This paper will tell you the protein, fat, carb, and mineral contents of over a dozen different insects.

Next, I found a “Concise summary of the general nutritional value of insects.” Contrary to the name, the paper doesn’t really give a concise summary, but it does give some good general info, and the list of references at the end contains the names of dozens of articles on the nutritional content of specific insects. There was some interesting information on chitin, the mineral-rich “fiber” of insect exoskeletons.

I also found a paper describing in lurid detail the nutritional value of fourteen species of edible insects in southwestern Nigeria (PDF), complete with handy tables. Another paper (PDF) describes the lipid values of some of those same insects, finding that the fat is generally more unsaturated than that of coconut, palm, and beef fats, but more saturated than fish fats. Most insects had more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated fats.

Overall, bugs are extremely high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. As is the case with things like eggs and shellfish, the advantage to eating insects is that you’re eating the whole animal, with all its interesting, nutrient-dense parts and bits that support an entire, living organism. You don’t have to eat bugs, but our ancestors certainly did, and plenty of modern and traditional cultures still do. If you’re interested, a good dish to start with are chapulines, which are crispy, spicy, limey crickets. Look for a Oaxacan restaurant in your area. They always seem to make ’em.

I have a question after reading your recent post on inflammation. My 6 year old son has chronic eczema. We’ve tried the full spectrum of sensitive skin products and allergy medicines, but nothing seems to kick the eczema. His legs are like sandpaper and he’s always asking for us to “tickle” his legs to relieve the itching. I’m beginning to think that it may be diet related. Although I’ve been following the paleo-primal lifestyle for about a year now  with great success, my wife has been reluctant. She’s of the mindset that “anything in moderation” is fine. Is there any correlation between eczema and gluten sensitivity?


There is absolutely a connection between eczema and gluten sensitivity. Celiacs are about three times more likely than the general population to have it, and even the CNN blog ran a piece on how often eczema occurs among celiacs and others sensitive to gluten! Removing gluten may help, but it’s not the whole story, because eczema, the most common type of which is atopic dermatitis, is essentially an autoimmune condition. And since we know that autoimmunity is usually preceded by intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, eczema as severe as your son’s could require more “drastic” measures to improve. You might have to eliminate all potential causes of leaky gut. Stress can worsen or even cause eczema, but I doubt a six year old is stressing over bills or the morning commute, so I’d focus on diet.

Luckily, we have a decent grasp on how to do such a thing: remove the wheat, dairy, legumes, grains, and vegetable oils from your son’s diet. In other words, try a strict Primal Blueprint plan for at least a month and I bet you’ll see some of your son’s eczema resolve, or at least improve. It’s worth a try, and it’ll be a direct test of the “anything in moderation” hypothesis. Let me know if things improve. Good luck!

That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave a comment!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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