Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Garcinia may help exercise recovery by Jerry Brainum

Garcina Cambogia, also known as Bridle berry or by the exotic name of Malabar Tamarind, is one of the more popular ingredients in products touted for promoting bodyfat loss, such as Hydroxycut. The active ingredient in Garcina is hydroxycitrate (HCA), a citric acid derivative.The primary mechanism for HCA is that it inhibits an enzyme called citrate lyase, which converts carbohydrates into fat. One problem here is that citrate lyase is far more active in animals compared to humans,thus explaining why the preponderance of studies that have shown effective fat loss with HCA has involved animals. The studies with humans are more equivocal, with some studies showing success, and others abject failure in humans who have supplemented with garcinia extract or HCA.One example of the latter is a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which human subjects ingested 1,500 milligrams a day (the suggested effective dose of HCA) of HCA for 12 weeks.In that study, HCA was found to be ineffective for weight or fat loss. Some have criticized  the JAMA study, claiming that the high fiber content of the diet used in that study interfered with the activity of HCA. A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Obesity that examined several past studies concluded that HCA is effective for short-term weight loss. HCA is also known to boost levels of the brain neurotransmitter,serotonin, which among other effects, lowers the cravings for carbohydrates. HCA may also lower levels of leptin, which would result in decreased appetite surges.
     The effects of HCA remain controversial. For example, in a study of Zucker rats, which are lab rats  genetically prone to obesity, high doses of Garcinia did suppress fat synthesis, but also caused testicular atrophy and injury in the rodents. This would lead to lower testosterone synthesis. But a follow-up 2008 study that involved human subjects who ingested 1,000 milligrams a day of either HCA or a placebo for 12 weeks found no effects of HCA on testosterone or estrogen.
     The latest study of oral HCA shows an effect that may interest all those engaged in intense exercise. The study consisted of 8 men, average age, 22, who cycled for 60 minutes at an intensity of 70-75% of maximum oxygen intake. The men consumed either 500 milligrams of HCA or a placebo with a high carbohydrate meal containing 80% carbs, 8% fat, and 12% protein. Tests showed that those who consumed the HCA with the carbs showed a significantly greater synthesis of glycogen following the exercise. The HCA also veered energy usage more toward fat oxidation, and increased post-meal insulin sensitivity.The increased glycogen synthesis rate induced by HCA would speed exercise recovery by filling up depleted muscle glycogen levels more rapidly.
Chenga, S et al. Oral hydroxycitrate supplementation enhances glycogen synthesis in  exercised human skeletal muscle.Br J Nut; 2011: in press.


©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

EAT TO GROW : Tea Off on Fat Loss How tea speeds thermogenesis while increasing insulin activity by Jerry Brainum

Tea, particularly green tea, offers many health benefits, such as protecting against several types of cancer and cardiovascular disease and improved immune system response. Drinking tea may even help prevent tooth cavities by inhibiting oral bacteria that play an integral role in their formation. Recent studies also show that green tea exerts a thermogenic effect beneficial to fat loss that’s independent of any caffeine effect. That’s the reason it’s now showing up in many nonephedra fat-loss supplements.

A new study shows that teas of various types—with the exception of herbal teas—potently increase insulin activity.1 The study used an in vitro model, or isolated cells, specifically fat cells, known to respond to products that improve insulin activity. Exposing the isolated cells to various types of tea, including green, black and oolong teas, led to a 15-fold increase in insulin activity.

The active ingredients in such teas are compounds collectively known as polyphenols. Of the natural polyphenols found in tea, the most potent is epigallocatechin gallate. Although such teas also contain caffeine, the study showed that caffeine had an insignificant effect on insulin activity.

Adding lemon to the tea had no effect on the tea’s insulin activity either. But adding five grams of 2 percent milk decreased the insulin-potentiating effect by 33 percent, while adding 50 grams caused a 90 percent drop. Adding nondairy creamers or soy milk likewise lowered insulin activity induced by tea. The active polyphenol content of the teas is deactivated when it binds to milk molecules.

Prior studies have shown that tea inhibits a starch-digesting enzyme called amylase and thereby may inhibit the complete absorption of carbohydrates. Other studies show that tea has a similar effect on lipases, enzymes that digest fat, leading to a drop in fat absorption. Since this new study didn’t involve any carb consumption, the logical conclusion is that the tea polyphenols have a direct effect on insulin itself.

One question arises: If tea affects insulin release, and insulin is known to promote lipogenesis, or bodyfat synthesis, wouldn’t drinking tea with carbs lead to increased bodyfat? That isn’t the case, simply because tea enhances insulin activity. Because it makes insulin work better, the body has to secrete less insulin in response to a meal. Less insulin means less bodyfat formation. If anything, tea appears to interfere to a minor degree with both carb and fat uptake, which would be beneficial.

The unanswered question is how much tea you should drink to obtain those beneficial effects. That remains to be determined by future research, but the protective effects seem to depend on drinking a minimum of four to five cups a day. You can also get that level of active tea polyphenol from two capsules of a standardized green tea supplement.

1 Anderson, R.A., et al. (2002). Tea enhances insulin activity. J Agric Food Chemistry. 50:7182-7186.

©,2011 Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

Have you been ripped off  by supplement makers whose products don’t work as advertised? Want to know the truth about them? Check out Jerry Brainum's book Natural Anabolics, available at


The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


See Jerry's book at


Want more evidence-based information on exercise science, nutrition and food supplements, ergogenic aids, and anti-aging research? Check out Applied Metabolics Newsletter at


Friday, August 26, 2011

TRAIN TO GAIN : Strength Set-ups ..Another look at multiple-set vs. single-set training by Jerry Brainum

If you want to increase muscular strength, is it better to do one set or three? Practical experience points to multiple sets as the superior choice for increasing strength, since that’s been demonstrated by an endless number of bodybuilders over time. On the other hand, the high-intensity advocates, such as the late brothers Mike and Ray Mentzer, say that if you train any muscle to total failure, one set is all you need. In fact, they say, doing more than one set will retard muscle gains due to overtraining.

Several scientific studies have examined this issue and arrived at different conclusions. In many of them, however, the training techniques bore no resemblance to real-world training. For instance, they generally used untrained subjects, and it’s an established fact that initial gains mostly accrue from increased neuromuscular function, or better communication between the muscles and nervous system, so just about any type of training program is effective for beginners, unless it involves gross overtraining that would lead to rapid burnout.

Another typical error is having subjects rest for as much as 30 minutes between sets. While people who go to gyms more for socializing than training may rest that long, those interested in making progress most assuredly do not.

The high-intensity training (HIT) groups often cite a stress theory first promulgated by Hans Selye, Ph.D., a noted researcher who specialized in how stress affects the human body. After years of observation and research, Selye proposed the General Adaptation Syndrome, consisting of three phases. In the first phase a new stimulus, or potential stress, is introduced. Phase two is characterized by physiological adaptations to the stress. Phase three occurs if the stress goes on too long, overwhelming the adaptation process and leading to exhaustion. That last phase could result in various stress-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease or immune function exhaustion.

According to HIT advocates, Selye’s GAS is applicable to bodybuilding in the sense that doing more than one set per exercise inevitably results in exhaustion, evident as either lack of progress or loss of previous gains. But it can be viewed another way. Once you begin training, you’re in stage one, encountering a new stress. The body adapts to that stress by getting stronger in phase two. Phase three is tricky because the body tends to attempt to maintain homeostasis and must be prodded to change. Doing one set, some say, leads to an eventual cessation of progress because it’s simply not enough stimulation for the muscles to get stronger. That’s especially true if you don’t maintain a high level of training intensity.

Another theory may explain why multiple sets seem to increase strength more effectively than single sets. According to the corridor theory of strength training, first presented by a noted Russian exercise physiologist in 1995, muscles grow best and get stronger faster when you train both recruited and exhausted motor units (muscle fibers). If you rest too long between sets or do only one set, you aren’t recruiting both sets of fibers; you’re simply working the same fibers again. If you reduce rest time between sets, your body must call on previously unused fibers, thus working more of the muscle and leading to greater size and strength gains.

You have a better chance of hitting unused muscle fibers if you train with less rest between sets, doing several sets. Most bodybuilders have discovered that through experience; it just feels better to them, and they seem to make better gains doing multiple sets.

In one study examining the issue of single vs. multiple sets, 16 men, average age 21, all of whom had at least two years of training experience, were divided into two groups, one doing one set, the other doing three.1 Both groups trained three days a week for 12 weeks. The training reps varied from four and eight, and both programs involved an equal level of training intensity.

Those in the multiple, or three-set, group made greater strength gains than those in the one-set group. The three-set group made 30 percent greater gains on the leg press and 13 percent greater gains on the bench press than did the one-set group. If the theories of HIT advocates are correct, those results should have been reversed. Score this one for the multiple-set crew.

1 Rhea, M., et al. (2002). Three sets of weight training superior to one set with equal intensity. J Str Cond Res. 16:525-29.

©,2011 Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

See Jerry's book at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Slo-Mo to Grow? : Slow-tempo training is hot, but will it make gains go to pot? by Jerry Brainum

In recent years many trainers have advocated a form of weight training called slow-mo reps, or superslow training (SST). It features a technique of slowly lifting and lowering weights, usually about 10 seconds to raise the weight (concentric contraction) and five seconds to lower it (eccentric). The theory is that you get a higher level of intensity for every rep you do, thereby enabling you to train less yet get bigger and stronger.

The popularity of SST is growing, as evidenced by the spate of recent books dealing with the topic. All of the books suggest short, hard workouts. Most go even further, saying that you can fine-tune every aspect of fitness with SST-based workouts that average 20 minutes. If that sounds familiar, it’s because people such as the late Mike Mentzer have recommended similar training styles for years.

While there’s merit in controlling both the raising and lowering of a weight, SST devotees make some statements not supported by research; for example, they claim that you can develop maximum levels of lean mass, or muscle, while also burning fat, with 20-minute workouts. Such training allegedly makes fat-burning-specific exercise superfluous.

But in research designed to directly compare SST and traditional weight training, the traditional style nearly always proved superior in every way. The latest study examined the metabolic and energy-expenditure aspects of both SST and traditional weight training.1 In seven healthy young men traditional training produced a higher maximum oxygen intake and a 45 percent greater energy expenditure than SST. The metabolic effect of the SST workout was comparable to walking three miles an hour—not very impressive and not enough to make a dent in achieving aerobic fitness.

The study also found that traditional training produced an exercise intensity level 2.6 times higher than the SST workout. The authors concluded by noting that a combination of traditional weight training and aerobics is more effective for increasing energy expenditure and promoting cardiovascular fitness. In other words, the usual style of training will lead to greater fat loss and more muscle than SST.

1 Hunter, G., et al. (2003). Comparison of metabolic and heart rate responses to superslow vs. traditional resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 17:76-81.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

Please consider joining this blog by clicking on the blue "join this site" button to the right of this blog. This will ensure that new blogs continue to be published. It costs nothing, and takes only a few seconds. Thank you.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Six-pack Cardio Stack : Getting rid of abdominal fat by Jerry Brainum

Visceral fat, or deep-lying abdominal fat stores, is considered the most detrimental to health. Having large fat stores deep in the abdomen sets you up for insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The best way to reduce such fat stores is through exercise and diet. The question is, What’s the most effective exercise for reducing this dangerous fat?

Researchers from Duke and East Carolina universities devised a study to focus on that issue, reporting their findings at the 2003 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) annual meeting in San Francisco in late May. The subjects consisted of 111 overweight men and women, age 40 to 65, randomly assigned to either a control group that did no exercises or to one of three exercise groups:
  1. 12 miles walking each week
  2. 12 miles jogging each week
  3. 20 miles jogging each week
The study lasted eight months. Those in the inactive control group gained 1.1 kilograms of weight, increasing their visceral fat deposits by 10 percent. The walking group lost 1.3 kilograms of weight, losing 3.3 percent visceral fat. The 12-mile jog group lost 1.1 kilograms of bodyweight and reduced visceral fat by 5.9 percent. The 20-mile jog group lost 3.5 kilograms of bodyweight and 10 percent visceral fat. Only those in the 20-mile jog group showed a loss of subcutaneous fat, or fat just under the skin, which was 7.6 percent.
The results show that for purposes of reducing visceral fat, the more exercise, the better. The level of exercise intensity is also important, as the 12-mile-jog group showed better results than the 12-mile-walk group. Another notable point is that visceral fat continued to increase in the sedentary group, showing that future serious health problems are inevitable in obese people who don’t exercise.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited. 

Have you been ripped off  by supplement makers whose products don’t work as advertised? Want to know the truth about them? Check out Jerry Brainum's book Natural Anabolics, available at


The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


See Jerry's book at


Want more evidence-based information on exercise science, nutrition and food supplements, ergogenic aids, and anti-aging research? Check out Applied Metabolics Newsletter at


Sunday, August 21, 2011

BODYBUILDING PHARMACOLOGY : Prostaglandin Perspectives by Jerry Brainum

Until biochemist and budding entrepreneur Barry Sears published his original diet book Enter the Zone, few people besides molecular biologists had ever heard of eicosanoids. Eicosanoids encompass several subtypes, all of which are synthesized in the body from dietary fatty acids. They include prostaglandins (so named because they were initially discovered in the prostate gland), thromboxanes and leukotrienes. They work a bit like hormones but are far more evanescent, being produced locally in a tissue and degrading within minutes.

Research shows they’re involved in just about every known body function, from blood pressure regulation to protein metabolism. They also interact with various hormones. For example, prostaglandins are involved in testosterone synthesis and release, as well as in the anabolic actions of growth hormone and insulin. Eicosanoids exist in a delicate balance in the body, and when certain ones are overproduced or underproduced, serious medical problems arise.

An example of this is the balance between prostacyclin and thromboxane A3 in blood-clotting function. Prostacyclin prevents excessive internal blood clotting, while thromboxane promotes clotting. Most heart attacks and strokes are initiated by a clot that is blocking, or occluding, an artery. An imbalance between thromboxane and prostacyclin causes clotting.

Among the eicosanoids synthesized in the body from dietary fatty acids is arachidonic acid, and many of the prostaglandins are made from it. The body can make it from omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in some vegetable oils, as well as such high-protein foods as meat and eggs.

In the body, arachidonic acid is stored in cellular membranes, but only the free, or unbound, version is subject to conversion into eicosanoids. The enzyme that releases arachidonic acid is phospholipase A2. Another enzyme system, cyclooxygenase (COX), converts the arachidonic acid into various eicosanoids. Insulin stimulates the activity of phospholipase A2, which helps explain why the Zone diet revolves around limiting insulin release through carbohydrate and fat control.

Why would you want to limit the production of eicosanoids? Some of them promote inflammation and pain in the body. Cortisol-based drugs control inflammation by inhibiting the activity of phospholipase A2 and promoting lipocortin. All nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and even aspirin, work by blocking the activity of COX enzymes, which convert arachidonic acid into eicosanoids.

Eicosanoids are also involved in muscle growth and breakdown. One prostaglandin, called prostaglandin F2-Alpha (PGF2), is known to promote muscular growth. PGF2 is released during heavy exercise, particularly the type that causes the most pain and muscle-fiber damage—eccentric, or negative, reps with heavy weights. It’s also released during a pronounced stretch of a trained muscle, which is one reason that doing short, limited movements doesn’t do much for muscular size.

Information about the potent effects of PGF2 on muscle growth didn’t escape some intrepid bodybuilders. A veterinary form of injectable PGF2 is available under the trade name Lutalyse, which is intended to either induce ovulation or terminate pregnancies in cows. The fact that it’s never been approved for human use in the United States didn’t dissuade bodybuilders from using it. The prospect of muscular growth was too alluring.

Injecting PGF2 causes immediate smooth-muscle contractions, including the smooth muscles that surround arteries. Shortly after injecting the drug, the pain becomes evident, producing a pronounced burning sensation in the injected area. Some who’ve used the drug report feeling sore, as if they had the flu. Since PGF2 causes immediate broncoconstriction, or a tightening of smooth muscle in the lungs, those with any tendency to asthma or other breathing problems can find themselves in serious trouble quite rapidly.

Smooth muscle promotes movement in the gastrointestinal tract and the bladder. Injecting Lutalyse can cause a sudden and uncontrollable urge to defecate or urinate. Others experience cramping and diarrhea and just an overall feeling of illness. For women, using the drug will reliably produce the mother of all uterine cramps, since the uterus is basically a bag of smooth muscle. Recall that one of the drug’s medical purposes is to induce abortion—now you can understand why. When this stuff is injected, anything in the uterus will be expelled with the force of a pass by Joe Montana in his prime. And, guys, that also includes anything that’s in your intestines if you get greedy and inject too much at once.

Asthmatics and others with any type of breathing problem should not even consider trying this drug, no matter how strongly it promotes muscle growth. Same is true for women. For those who don’t mind feeling sick most of the time, the usual suggested starting dose is 0.5 milligram. The drug is injected into any muscle you want to grow, but avoid injecting it anywhere near the gut, unless you want to crap or pee in your pants within seconds, and I’m not kidding.

Since prostaglandins work locally, or in a paracrine fashion, and rapidly degrade, the effect of the injected drug doesn’t last long. The recommendation is to take it three to five times a day, gradually increasing the dose to one to five milligrams. You must rotate the injection sites; the injected area will hurt like hell. Don’t try to train the muscle you injected, as it, too, will be in extreme pain for a while.

Some bodybuilders combine a fast-acting insulin injection, such as Humulin-R, with Lutalyse, to promote a synergistic anabolic effect. Anecdotal reports say that PGF2 injections offset the fat-promoting effects of insulin, and published medical literature shows that this prostaglandin does inhibit bodyfat synthesis. One Internet article a few years ago said that PGF2 actually destroys fat cells, making you wonder why so many people are wasting time dieting or having expensive liposuction procedures.

Still another report says that PGF2 will “open up closed androgen receptors,” which suggests it’s an ideal antidote for those in whom too many anabolic steroids have closed androgen receptors. On the other hand, you’re advised not to consider taking PGF2 in conjunction with any type of steroid, since the resulting muscle congestion and pain will make it difficult to train any involved muscle.

I believe that Lutalyse is a drug for the highly motivated, in whom the quest for massive muscles isn’t limited by such little things as nausea, pain and just plain feeling like crap. Other drugs—anabolic steroids, growth hormone and even insulin—are a walk in the park compared to this stuff. Not to mention the possibility of an early return to wearing diapers—the adult kind. Then there are those who are just into pain and feel that the end justifies the means. The same mind-set that would readily administer a cellular poison and weed killer such as DNP (used for fat loss) in which the “therapeutic dose” is very close to the fatal dose would no doubt have no compunction about using PGF2; heck, bring on the sudden crapping and pain if it means bigger muscles. Full speed ahead.

The rest of you can get the benefits by training hard and heavy, using prestretch in your exercises, and ingesting the raw material from which PGF2 is made—omega-6 fats. I’d veer toward a source such as primrose or borage oil, since it provides the benefits of omega-6 fats with less inflammatory effects. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish or as alpha linoleic acid in flaxseed oil, inhibit the formation of PGF2 because they divert the production of prostaglandins from arachidonic acid into another pathway. The net effect is less inflammation but no PGF2.

It may be a good idea not to ingest any omega-3 sources too close to a workout. Also, since various nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others), aspirin and newer COX-2 inhibitors like Celebrex, all prevent the synthesis of PGF2, they, too, should be avoided both before and after a workout. Wait a few hours before taking in omega-3 fats or these painkillers if you want to derive the significant benefits of naturally produced PGF2.

Natural Thyroid Stimulation and Inhibition

The thyroid gland, located in the middle of the neck, controls metabolism. The main thyroid hormones are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Of the two, T3 is considered five to seven times more biologically active than T4. Some scientists even consider T4 more of a pro-hormone for T3. Nearly all T4 is produced in the thyroid gland, while 85 percent of T3 production occurs in the liver and kidneys. In the liver the enzyme 5-iodothyronine deiodinase removes an iodine atom from T4 to convert it into the more metabolically active T3. The enzymes involved in that conversion require the presence of nutrients, especially selenium and zinc, as well as vitamin A. And of course, the raw material for thyroid hormone itself must be present: the amino acid L-tyrosine and the trace mineral iodine.

Competitive bodybuilders often take thyroid drugs, such as Cytomel (T3) or, less often, Synthroid (T4), prior to a contest in the belief that it will aid fat losses and thus produce a higher degree of muscular definition. The practice does have some scientific justification. Burning more calories than you consume, or taking in 40 or fewer grams of carbohydrates, leads to the production of reverse T3, a version of thyroid hormone with no metabolic activity. The body does this as a survival mechanism to prevent loss of lean tissue from too few calories or carbs. When that happens, your metabolism drops faster than your stock in Martha Stewart Living.

The main problem with using thyroid drugs is that you must take in more than your body normally produces to get a heightened metabolic effect. Taking doses equal to what’s normally produced in your body merely turns off normal thyroid output. Taking larger doses, however, produces a state of hyperthyroidism, which leads to a greater oxidation of all fuels, including protein. That means you can lose muscle. Most bodybuilders have found that out and have learned how to adjust thyroid dosages accordingly.

They also often use thyroid in conjunction with growth hormone. The growth hormone synergistically balances the thyroid effect, blunting catabolism while retaining the higher metabolic effect. In some cases, it’s even necessary to take thyroid (most often T3 drugs) because two weeks of GH injections blunt the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), a pituitary gland peptide (protein) hormone that controls thyroid output. Thyroid hormone also works with testosterone and insulin in promoting an anabolic effect in muscle.

A few natural thyroid supplements are on the market. One is composed mainly of phosphate, since some studies show that phosphate may prevent the drop in metabolism that leads to dieting plateaus. Others include tyrosine, which makes up two-thirds of thyroid hormone, the other third being iodine, which functions solely to synthesize thyroid hormones.

Research shows that certain herbs, such as olive leaf and guggul, can also favorably affect thyroid function in a safe and effective manner. One study, using mice, shows that a combination of herbs, specifically ashwagandha, bauhinia and guggul, can increase T3 and T4 hormones by 108 percent and 55 percent, respectively, more than in a control group.1 That combination of herbs didn’t put stress on the liver function, but it did increase the antioxidant systems of the body, an effect linked to efficient thyroid hormone synthesis. The herbal extracts also enhanced the conversion of T4 into T3.

Another study found that various flavonoids found naturally in fruits and vegetables inhibit the enzyme that converts T4 into T3.2 The study design, however, featured an in vitro, or isolated-cell, design, and while the effect may possibly be duplicated in the body, it isn’t yet known how much flavonoid intake would inhibit thyroid function. Another study showed that flavonoids in green tea can do the same thing, but massive amounts of green tea are required for the effect.

Other foods containing natural thyroid inhibitors include peanuts and brassica veggies, such as broccoli and cabbage, though you’d have to eat relatively vast amounts of these foods to adversely affect thyroid function. In addition, these foods include nutrients—including flavonoids—that research shows offer potent protective effects against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Brassica veggies also contain substances that neutralize excess estrogen. So while you don’t want to overconsume such foods, it would be foolish to cut them from a healthful diet because you’re concerned about thyroid-inhibiting effects.


1 Panda, S., et al. (2000). Combined effects of ashwagandha, guggulu, and bauhinia extracts in the regulation of thyroid function and on lipid perioxidation in mice. Pharm Pharmacol Commun. 6:141-43.

2 Ferreira, A.C.F., et al. (2002). Inhibition of thyroid type-1 deiodinase activity by flavonoids. Food Chem Toxicol. 40(7):913-917.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited. 

Have you been ripped off by supplement makers whose products don’t work as advertised? Want to know the truth about them? Check out Jerry Brainum's book Natural Anabolics, available at

Want more evidence-based information on exercise science, nutrition and food supplements, ergogenic aids, and anti-aging research? Check out Applied Metabolics Newsletter at


The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


See Jerry's book at


Friday, August 19, 2011

All shook up: Does the Shake weight device really work? by Jerry Brainum

 You've probably seen those ubiquitous infomercials touting an exercise device called the Shake Weight. My first impression when viewing this device is that it's a training aid for female porno actresses. But that's not what it's actually designed for. The Shake Weight (SW) is shaped like a dumbbell, and is available in a 2.5 pound version for women, and a 5-pound version for men (at least for men who read Men's Health regularly). You grip the SW with one or both hands, and vigorously shake the weight back and forth. Springs on both ends of the SW permit the weight to move back and forth, producing a resistance that the purveyor of the device calls "dynamic inertia."  Other claims for the device are that it's far more effective compared to free weights in building muscle definition, size, and strength  in far less time compared to standard weight workouts. This is based on the claims that using the device causes muscle to contract 240 times per minute.
     The SW has been the subject of many humorous remarks and skepticism. But the salient question here is: does it actually work as advertised? A new study tested the device, comparing it to basic free weight exercises. The study subjects were 16 healthy adults, average age, 21. They completed two exercise trials: one with the SW, the other with a free weight dumbbell of the same weight. As such, the women in the study used a 2.5 pound dumbbell, while the men used a 5 pound dumbbell. The SW part of the study involved four exercises: one-handed biceps shake; two-handed triceps shake; one-handed shoulder shake;, and the two-handed chest shake. The free weight dumbbell exercises used for comparison were: biceps curl;triceps extension;shoulder press; and chest fly. For each exercise, surface electromyograph leads were placed on the working muscles to determine the extent of muscle involvement
     The results showed that EMG values were higher for all muscles tested during the Shake Weight compared to the dumbbell exercises. But when comparing specific muscle activity for each exercise, the SW did not always result in greater EMG activity. When doing the biceps curls, muscle activity for the biceps wasn't greater when doing SW compared to DB curls. The middle or lateral deltoid was not activated more in the SW shoulder press compared to the DB press, and the pectoralis muscle wasn't more activated when doing the SW compared to the DB fly exercise.
      The researchers also noticed that the triceps was more active then the targeted muscle for most of the SW exercises. Thus, when doing the biceps curls, the triceps showed higher muscle activity than did the biceps when using the SW device. The same held true for the chest flys; triceps showed higher activity then the pecs when using the SW. The study authors think that a strong triceps contraction is required to control the motion of the SW. This explains the initial finding of higher EMG values for the SW. But when applied to specific muscles, the SW showed no superiority at all.
      In a second part of the study, the study authors determined how much weight you would have to lift to equal the muscle stimulation provided by the SW. This was found to be 48% of one rep-maximum. Since the average one-rep max for the women in the study when doing curls was 20.5 pounds, they would need to lift a 10-pound dumbell to get muscle stimulation equal to that of the SW device.
      The researchers who conducted this study noted that the muscle stimulation provided by the SW appears to be similar to that of isometric muscle contractions, in which the muscle contracts strongly without any movement. This is in contrast to the typical eccentric and concentric muscle contractions that occur with free weights.Since isometric muscle contractions only strengthen muscles in one isolated position, the value of the SW  for functional strength benefits is questionable at best. Not even for porno actresses.
Porcari J, et al. Does the Shake Weight live up to its hype? J Sports Sci Med 2011;10:598-99.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

EAT TO GROW : Do BCAAs Increase Muscle and Strength? by Jerry Brainum

Recent research into the nutritional requirements of athletes engaged in intense training have highlighted the importance of taking essential amino acids in increasing muscle protein synthesis. Of the eight amino acids considered to be essential, the branched-chain aminos—leucine, isoleucine and valine—are of considerable anabolic importance. In fact, some studies show that leucine can turn on various mechanisms in the body that lead to upgraded muscle protein synthesis. Despite that, BCAA supplements remain controversial. Some studies have found a definite anabolic response in those taking BCAAs, while others have found little or nothing.

The latest study on the matter featured 10 healthy college-aged men. In a double-blind design, subjects were given either a BCAA supplement or a placebo for three weeks, followed by a week of weight training—four workouts—with continued supplementation. Blood tests were done before and after three weeks of BCAA use, and also after two and four days of training, with the final test done 36 hours after the final training session.

Those in the BCAA group showed significantly higher testosterone counts, along with lower counts of cortisol and creatine kinase, an enzyme that, when elevated, points to amplified muscle damage. That indicates a definite anabolic effect, along with an anticatabolic effect, as reflected in the drops in cortisol and creatine kinase.

The researchers concluded that “use of a postexercise supplementation product high in BCAAs would be useful for a trained individual wishing to increase strength and lean muscle mass, as well as enhance recovery time between workouts.”

Sharp, C.P.M., et al. (2008). Amino acids and recovery from high-intensity resistance training: The role of commercially available branched-chain amino acid supplementation. J Str Cond Res. 22:114.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

TRAIN TO GAIN : Run away Muscle ; How overdoing aerobic exercise can cause muscle loss by Jerry Brainum

Aerobics offers the most efficient form of cardiovascular exercise. The increased cardiac fitness that results, along with better vascular tone, improves overall endurance. You can train harder and faster with less fatigue when you’re in good cardiovascular shape. And since the number-one cause of death is some form of cardiovascular disease, the importance of doing aerobics is self-evident.

Competitive bodybuilders usually have no particular fondness for aerobics but grudgingly do it to lose fat, particularly prior to a contest. That makes sense, since fat can only be burned in the presence of oxygen, and no form of exercise requires a greater oxygen intake than aerobics. Contrary to what you may read or hear, it’s just not possible to fully duplicate the effects of aerobics with weight training alone. In fact, attempting to do so defeats the whole purpose of weight training, which is based on progressive resistance.

But many bodybuilders have slipped into overtraining by becoming a bit too enthusiastic about aerobics. In their zeal to get as cut as possible, some follow the maxim that “more is better” when it comes to aerobics.

Unfortunately, the brain perceives excess aerobics as a form of stress and responds by initiating a cascade of hormonal events that results in an increased secretion of cortisol. Among its many functions, cortisol promotes a catabolic pathway, leading to muscle breakdown and loss.

When cortisol is elevated, opposing hormones, the anabolic ones, usually decline. That helps explain the often low testosterone levels seen in endurance athletes, particularly those who overtrain and don’t get enough rest.

From a bodybuilding perspective, low testosterone coupled with high cortisol is disastrous. Not only do muscles atrophy under such conditions, but the higher cortisol levels also promote fat deposition in the trunk, obscuring muscle definition. Cortisol’s promotion of water retention further blunts hard-earned muscle definition.

A new animal study points to another mechanism whereby excessive aerobics may reduce testosterone levels.1 Twelve rats were divided into exercise and control groups. Those in the exercise group swam for three hours a day, five days a week.

That regimen led to significant declines in testosterone levels, sperm manufacture and internal sex-organ mass. The researchers measured levels of chemicals known to increase under oxidative conditions and noted that they were high in the exercising rats. The high oxygen intake associated with aerobics produces more free radicals, which are by-products of oxygen metabolism.

Normally, the body’s defense mechanisms neutralize the effects of free radicals, but in this case the level of exercise overwhelmed the rats’ defenses, leading to unchecked free-radical production. Free radicals tend to attack tissues rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as cellular membranes, and compromised cell function leads to various negative health consequences, including cancer and heart disease.

In the study the excessive aerobic activity led to damage to testicular cell membranes, which are rich in polyunsaturated fats. That, in turn, decreased the activity of enzymes involved in testosterone synthesis. It also reduced blood flow to the testes, lowering testosterone output.

Some caveats are in order. First, the study involved rats, and what happened to the rats may or may not occur in humans. On the other hand, human-subject studies have shown that excessive endurance activity often does result in lower testosterone levels. Another thing to consider is what constitutes “excessive” endurance exercise. The rats in this study exercised for three hours a day. Recent studies involving human subjects show that cortisol levels rise after one hour of continuous aerobic exercise. One hour would likely be a sensible time limit for aerobics, enabling you to gain all the benefits while avoiding the possible side effects.

Research shows that the body responds to regular exercise by upgrading its free-radical defense system, including the various antioxidant enzymes produced in the body that constitute the first line of defense. Still, it would be prudent to assist the defense systems by taking antioxidant supplements and eating foods rich in natural antioxidants, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. While all antioxidants offer benefits, a nutrient called lycopene, which is found in watermelon and in such cooked red vegetables as tomatoes, is known to concentrate in the testes. In fact, studies indicate that men who consume lycopene show about a 30 percent reduced risk of prostate cancer. I suspect that lycopene may also help prevent the oxidation that leads to the lowered testosterone synthesis described in the rat-based study.

1 Manna, I., et al. (2003). Effect of intensive exercise-induced testicular gametogenic and steroidogenic disorders in mature Wistar strain rats: a correlative approach to oxidative stress. Acta Physiol Scand. 178:33-40.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Can you Zumba your way to fitness? by Jerry Brainum

Alberto Perez was an aerobics instructor in Columbia. On one fateful day, he was late to teach his class, and forgot to bring along his exercise music tapes. He had to improvise fast, and that he did, scooping up a few Latin dance music tapes that he had in his car. The class he taught that day was more of a Latin dance class than an aerobic class, except for the fact that the dancers were a bit more frenetic in their movements. Perez's impromptu dance class proved so popular that it aquired a life of its own, and became known as "Zumba." Zumba is currently practiced by an estimated 7.5 million people each week in over 60,000 sites in 100 countries. If you watch late night TV, sooner or later you will no doubt be confronted with an advertisment for a Zumba DVD, which has thus far sold over 3 million copies.

     Zumba is considered a form of aerobic dance with a strong Latin influence. It includes eight basic rhythms: merengue, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, belly dance, flamenco, tango, and samba. Ads for Zumba state that it's not only more enjoyable than standard exercise, but also burns 500-1,000 calories per exercise session. The question is: just how intense is Zumba, and will it actually contribute to fitness?

      This question was examined in a recent study presented at the 2011 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. The study featured 15 subjects, average age, 21, all of whom had either participated in, or taught Zumba classes.They used three of the Zumba rhythms, along with an "American mix," whatever that is. Researchers measured oxygen consumption, heart rate, and caloric usage in the exercisers, who engaged in 24 minutes of exercise.Caloric usage averaged 7 calories per minute, and the heart rate varied between 145 and 148 beats per minute, which would be considered moderate exercise intensity. As for the total caloric cost, that was 378-448 calories, not bad for just under a half hour of exercise. But the key to success with Zumba, as it is with any cardiovascular activity is to keep moving. You can figure out for yourself precisely how many calories you'll burn with Zumba by checking the online calculator located at

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BODYBUILDING PHARMACOLOGY : Pro-hormone Surprise by Jerry Brainum

Pro-hormones are substances that can be converted into active hormones by specific enzymes in the body. Pro-hormone supplements are currently sold over the counter courtesy of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Act, which permits the sale of any naturally occurring substance that is considered safe until proven otherwise.

Although they were introduced just a few years ago, pro-hormone supplements have evolved considerably. The first one available was DHEA, a natural adrenal steroid. While DHEA offers several health benefits, particularly for those over 40 whose DHEA production is naturally declining, it proved problematic for younger men and women. In younger men oral DHEA supplements most often metabolize to androstenedione, another adrenal steroid and a direct precursor of testosterone synthesis. Unfortunately, androstenedione can take another pathway—into estrogen conversion—and that happened to a lot of young men who took DHEA. Ironically, androstenedione usually converts into testosterone in young and older women. On the other hand, it’s the major androgen produced in women’s bodies and the natural source for their testosterone synthesis.

When it became apparent that DHEA wasn’t the best pro-hormone for bodybuilding purposes—at least in men—androstenedione itself came on the market. That led to estrogen-based problems, including gynecomastia, or excess male breast tissue; water retention and increased subcutaneous fat deposits, meaning the fat that’s just under the skin.

The first truly successful pro-hormone in terms of testosterone conversion was called 4-androstenediol, or 4-AD. Some studies showed that it was at least three times more effective than androstenedione at converting into testosterone, and it appeared to produce fewer estrogen-related side effects. The major problem with 4-AD was that when people took it orally, about 85 percent of the dose was deactivated in the liver in a process called first-pass metabolism. That mandated an improved delivery system.

Patrick Arnold, the leading authority on pro-hormone metabolism and development, came up with the idea of using a cyclodextrin delivery system for pro-hormones. Coating the pro-hormone matrix with carbohydrate allowed it to be absorbed through the oral mucosa in a sort of Trojan-horse effect, bypassing first-pass liver metabolism. The technology had previously proven effective for actual testosterone-based drugs. The advantage of cyclodextrin pro-hormones was that you could not only absorb more of the supplement but also use lower doses, lessening the chance of side effects.

Since then other types of delivery systems have been introduced, such as transdermal (through the skin) delivery. More recently, Pat Arnold brought out 1-AD, which appeared to be the first truly effective pro-hormone supplement. Also called 1-testosterone, its advantages include no conversion into estrogen or problems with conversion into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a testosterone metabolite that’s linked to such side effects as acne, male-pattern baldness and prostatic enlargement.

While 1-AD may justifiably be called the pick of the litter of currently available pro-hormone supplements, some problems are emerging. They aren’t directly related to 1-AD’s metabolic activity but rather issues such as quality control and proof of efficacy. No published study in any reputable medical journal has yet examined 1-AD’s anabolic efficacy. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work as advertised, only that there’s no proof involving healthy human athletes. When such experiments were done on androstenedione, it turned out that andro was an effective pro-hormone—for converting into estrogen, not testosterone, in men.

A forthcoming study analyzed several popular supplements that are marketed to bodybuilders and other athletes.1 Among the supplements studied were a commercial version of 1-AD and an unidentified supplement that, judging by its contents, appears to be a thermogenic, or fat-burning, product. The fat burner turned out to be contaminated with various pro-hormones, including 19-nor, 4-AD and DHEA—and testosterone itself.

The popular 1-AD product tested contained boldenone, a veterinary anabolic steroid commonly sold under the trade name Equipoise. According to the authors, one capsule of the pro-hormone supplement could cause a positive drug test for boldenone two to six hours after you took it. The 1-AD supplement also contained DHEA, 19-nor and 5-AD, all pro-hormones, and the level of 19-nor was great enough to lead to a positive test for nandrolone for two to 24 hours.

How could boldenone be present in an over-the-counter supplement? It turns out that 1-AD is the 5-alpha reduced version of boldenone. The enzyme 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, a more androgenic form of the hormone, but with less anabolic activity. Since 1-AD looks like boldenone, it exhibits similar properties, such as being far less androgenic than DHT but much more anabolic. Interestingly, if you manipulate the structure of 1-AD by attaching a 1-methyl group, you get a popular oral anabolic steroid called Primobolan. The addition of the methyl group, however, changes the metabolic properties, making it more bioavailable than 1-AD. That’s one reason why Primobolan is a prescription drug and 1-AD isn’t.

So it appears that boldenone exists naturally in 1-AD but still shows up on drug tests. The other pro-hormones in the analyzed sample are more difficult to pin down and could be due to a problem with quality control or manufacturing procedures. That, of course, is giving the chemists the benefit of the doubt: that the substances weren’t purposely added.

Another study found a far more serious problem with certain 1-AD supplements.2 The researchers purchased a commercial product that was manufactured by an American company and sold in Great Britain and over the Internet as “1-T Matrix.” When analyzed with sophisticated procedures, it was found to contain the anabolic steroid drug metandienone, formerly sold as Dianabol and under various other trade names. The amounts of the active drug in the products varied among the three bottles tested, but all contained significant levels of it, enough to lead to a positive drug test for metandienone.

That report is particularly disturbing, since there’s no natural way that Dianabol could exist in an over-the-counter pro-hormone supplement. It’s not, however, the first time a manufacturer has added active drugs to over-the-counter products. More than a decade ago an Arizona-based company added methyltestosterone to a supplement. The FDA caught it, and the company subsequently went out; its owners had prior convictions.

An oft-quoted line from “Forrest Gump” says that “life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.” When applied to some pro-hormone supplements, those words have never been more true.

Steroids and Long-term Risks

A major question about anabolic steroids is how they will affect the future health of long-term users. As this column and other sources have chronicled, steroid use is linked to a bevy of side effects. For example, many oral anabolic steroids are linked to liver problems. Other steroids can cause distressing cosmetic effects, such as acne and male-pattern baldness. Easily the most serious possible consequences of steroid use are those that affect cardiovascular function. Nearly all oral steroids lower a protective cholesterol carrier in the blood called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) by stimulating processes in the liver that rapidly degrade it.

Critics of steroid use—and they are legion—cite the many possible side effects, implying that injudicious use of anabolic steroids will lead to a shorter life span. After all, how can drugs that have such apparent potent physical effects not cause long-term harm? Smoking and excess drinking have an adverse effect on longevity in most people, so why not steroids?

In a study of mice published six years ago, one group of rodents got a six-month steroid regimen that mimicked that of typical human athletes. The six-month steroid use in the mice equaled human use for 15 consecutive years. Thirty-five percent of the mice that got steroids were dead after a year and only 12 percent of the drug-free control group. That led the authors to suggest that long-term human use of steroids would likely lead to reductions in life span.

But there are always dangers when you try to apply animal-based findings to human physiology. In this case it turns out that mice are far more prone to kidney failure and diseases than humans. That’s significant because most of the steroid-using mice died from kidney complications. So it could be that the steroids merely sped up the inevitable, which means that extrapolation to humans based on the results of this study would be dubious.

A new study examined a group of 32 male bodybuilders and powerlifters.3 Fifteen of the subjects had not used any steroids for 12 to 43 months, though they’d previously averaged 720 milligrams a week of various steroid drugs for 26 weeks over a period of nine years. Seventeen athletes were still using various anabolic-steroid drugs, averaging 1,030 milligrams weekly for 33 weeks, and had used them for the past eight years. Five of the past users and six current users also injected growth hormone, in doses ranging from two to 16 I.U. daily for at least one year. Nine past users and 15 current users took clenbuterol, with doses ranging from three to 20 times the therapeutic dose range. Men in both groups also used various anti-estrogen drugs.

An examination of the men revealed that nine former and 12 current drug users had previously suffered from gynecomastia. Of those, five and seven, respectively, had undergone plastic surgery to treat or remove the gyno. One past and five current users showed significant elevations in blood hemoglobin and white cell counts, as well as other blood cells. That’s not surprising, since steroids promote the production of red blood cells by stimulating the synthesis of a specific kidney hormone. In fact, one popular oral steroid, oxymetholone, or Anadrol-50, was at one time a popular treatment for a certain type of anemia.

Another expected finding was that 15 of 17 current steroid users had low HDL levels, as did two former users. Current users had testosterone levels that averaged 290 percent above normal, but their estrogen levels were 400 percent above normal. That was no doubt the result of the conversion of testosterone-based drugs into estrogen by way of the aromatase enzyme found throughout the body. Current users also had 84 percent lower levels of sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that binds with testosterone in the blood; 94 percent lower levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), a pituitary hormone that controls testosterone production in the body; and 91 percent decreased follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), another pituitary hormone. The last-named effects are due to the fact that steroids suppress pituitary hormone output.

The current users showed maximum estrogen levels that were higher than the upper limit for women. Clearly, whatever they used to block estrogen failed miserably. Thirteen of the men had testosterone levels in the lower 20 percent range, while two others showed below-normal testosterone. Whether the low testosterone levels of the former users were just natural manifestations or the result of their long-term use was unclear from this study. Some of the former users did, however, show some slight liver enzyme abnormalities, the significance of which is also uncertain.

All other steroid-induced effects on blood chemistry, blood lipid levels and liver function had returned to normal a year after most of the ex-users stopped taking the drugs. Note, however, that most of the former steroid users did show low-normal and low testosterone levels. That could point to a continued depression of the body’s natural testosterone synthesis that could be related to long-term steroid use. As noted above, steroids depress the body’s natural steroid production through a feedback mechanism from the blood to the brain.
Based on this study, however, it appears that most steroid side effects return to normal after the user gets off the drugs. On the other hand, considering the former steroid users’ varying testosterone levels, it’s also apparent that steroids have effects on each individual that cannot be accurately predicted. So some users may fare worse than others upon discontinuing these drugs.


1 Delbeke, F.T., et al. (2003). Prohormones and sport. J Steroid Biochem Mole Biol. In press.
2 Geyer, H., et al. (2003). High doses of the anabolic steroid metandienone found in dietary supplements. Eur J Sports Science. 3(1).

3 Urhausen, A., et al. (2003). Reversibility of the effects on blood cells, lipids, liver function and hormones in former anabolic-androgenic steroid abusers. J Steroid Biochem Molecular Biol. In press.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BODYBUILDING PHARMACOLOGY : ’Roid Rage Research by Jerry Brainum

Many people claim that a user may undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality change after starting a cycle of steroids. Yet studies examining the psychological effects of anabolic steroids have been inconclusive. Some have shown increases in aggression and depression, the latter effect most commonly seen when the drug use ends. While there’s little doubt that hormones such as testosterone do affect brain function, the major debate is whether they do so beyond the active control of the individual. In short, is steroid use just an excuse for bad behavior?

Some studies show that, contrary to popular belief, men with the lowest levels of testosterone are often the angriest. Other studies show that testosterone exerts little effect on day-to-day mental function. The latest study to examine the effects of anabolic steroids on personality was presented at the 2006 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in late May.

It was conducted by a group of researchers from Australia and featured 18 men, average age 25, who were randomly assigned to a steroid or placebo group for six weeks.1 The subjects trained during the course of the study on similar workout programs. The steroid group was injected once a week with testosterone enanthate at a dose of 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. That amounts to just over 300 milligrams a week of testosterone—more than the dose for hormone replacement therapy but only about one-third the weekly average “athletic” dose. Those in the placebo group received a saline injection.

Psychometric tests measured the subjects’ personality changes. Initially, the groups showed no difference in anger, depression, tension or confusion. The testosterone group did show a slight increase in vigor, coupled with a decrease in fatigue, starting at the two-week mark. The major differences between the groups occurred in measures of sensitivity, with the testosterone group showing lower levels as the study went on.

Based on that finding, the authors suggest that “this dosage of testosterone may influence the ability to be empathetic, thus reducing sensitivity to other people’s considerations, which may explain the apparent aggressive behavior observed in anabolic steroid users.”

How Quickly Do Steroids Provide Athletic Benefits?

The same group of researchers presented another steroid study at the meeting that used the same group of healthy young men as subjects.2 Noting that an athlete’s average steroid cycle lasts eight to 12 weeks, the scientists wished to determine whether smaller doses of steroids than are commonly used can produce benefits when used for less time, specifically three to six weeks. Again, the dose of testosterone was 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. As in the previous study, one group used actual testosterone enanthate, while the other injected saline solution, though neither the subjects nor the researchers knew which was which.

The testosterone (T) group had an increase in one-rep-max bench press and total work during a cycle sprint by the third week. No changes occurred in the placebo group, and there were no significant differences in lower-body strength between groups, based on leg press and peak power tests. By the sixth week body mass had improved by 7 percent over baseline in the steroid group, but not in the placebo group.

Despite the evident improvements, 44 percent showed a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of less than 4, meaning that they would have passed a drug test. The T-to-E ratios in the testosterone group ranged from 2 to 37, while the ratios for the placebo group didn’t change. The results suggest that significant improvement from even a conservative dose of anabolic steroids can occur in only three weeks, and that level will likely not be detectable with present drug-testing procedures.

How Important Is Testosterone in Building Muscle Mass?

In muscle, testosterone is known to work with other factors, collectively known as myogenic regulating factors, to build muscle during a strength-training program. What happens if you suppress testosterone production in the body but continue to train?

To answer that question, researchers from Denmark designed a study that was presented at the 2006 ACSM meeting.3 Twenty-two young men with no strength-training experience were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The subjects in the first group were given an injection of Zoladex, which is a gonadotropin-releasing-hormone analogue, 3.6 milligrams every four weeks for a period of 12 weeks. The placebo group got a saline injection. Zoladex suppresses testosterone production.

The strength training began three weeks after the subjects received the injections. The workout program used by both groups emphasized leg training, with three to four sets per exercise and six to 10 reps per set. They trained three times a week. Various body composition and muscle biopsies were done. After eight weeks those in the placebo group showed an increase in isometric muscle strength, while the Zoladex group showed no strength increase. Lean mass increased in both groups but more in the placebo group.

Based on those findings, the researchers concluded that suppressing natural testosterone production results in less muscle size gain and no strength increase.

Is DHEA Anabolic in Older People Who Lift Weights?

Dehydroepiandrosterone is the predominant steroid circulating in the blood. It’s synthesized in the adrenal glands and can be converted into other steroids, such as testosterone and estrogen. Various studies show that in women, DHEA most often converts into testosterone, while in men it takes the estrogen pathway. That’s particularly true in those under 40. DHEA levels begin to decline in the late 20s, reaching a nadir by the 60s in most people. Some studies show that when DHEA supplements are provided to older people who show low blood levels of the hormone, various health benefits ensue. Much of that is attributed to decreased insulin resistance and increased levels of insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which maintains body tissues, including muscle.

Since many older people are deficient in DHEA and muscle weakness is common with advanced age, what would happen if you provided supplemental DHEA to older people engaged in a weight-training program? That was the focus of a study presented at the ACSM meeting by researchers from the University of Colorado.4

One hundred forty adults over age 60 who had low levels of DHEA were randomly assigned to a DHEA group that got 50 milligrams daily or a placebo group for one year, during which time they engaged in a weight program. Eighteen of the subjects who had never lifted weights stayed on the DHEA and trained for an additional six months.

Those in the DHEA group showed higher blood levels of DHEA and IGF-1 than the placebo group. The DHEA group also made greater gains in lean muscle mass.

The authors suggest that DHEA may provide anabolic effects mediated by a rise in IGF-1 in older people. That in turn would promote an increase in muscle size and strength. The result would not be applicable to those who are younger or not deficient in DHEA.

Ergogenic Effects of Caffeine

Two new studies presented at the 2006 ACSM meeting confirm the benefits of caffeine for those who lift weights. One study noted that most of the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine are shown during aerobic activity, such as increased use of fat as an energy source.5 The study examined whether caffeine would also aid those engaged in anaerobic exercise, such as weight training.

Eighteen highly trained athletes, average age 24, were placed in either a caffeine or a placebo group. Various tests measured glucose, cortisol, lactate and insulin. The groups performed three tests—leg press, bench press and the Wingate power test—60 minutes after they got caffeine or a placebo.

Those in the caffeine group lifted more on the bench press than those in the placebo group. No differences occurred on the leg press between the groups, but the caffeine group showed more peak power during the Wingate, which is a high-intensity cycling test. Those in the caffeine group also had higher postexercise levels of cortisol, glucose and insulin. The findings indicate that caffeine is a definite ergogenic aid for those engaged in weight training.

The second study looked at the effects that five milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight (same dose used in the previous study) had on delayed-onset muscle soreness.6 The soreness was induced by 64 eccentric, or negative, muscle contractions of the thigh muscles that were produced by electrical muscle stimulation machines. Nine young women took either caffeine or a placebo 24 and 48 hours following the muscular contractions.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness is considered the most acute form of muscle soreness, and it worsens with the passing hours after a workout. The major cause is muscle damage induced by heavy eccentric, or negative, muscle contractions.

In those who got caffeine after a workout known to induce DOMS, there was a large decrease in postworkout pain. That’s isn’t surprising, since caffeine is known to provide analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.


1 Coutts, R.A., et al. (2006). Effect of short-term use of testosterone enanthate on personality and mood in healthy young males. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38(5):S409.

2 Deakin, G., et al. (2006). Performance enhancement and urinary detection after short-term testosterone enanthate use. Med Sci Sports Exer. 38:S405.

3 Kvorning, T., et al. (2006). The significance of endogenous testosterone on the adaptation to strength training.Med Sci Sports Exeric. 38:S53.

4 Jankowski, C., et al. (2006). Does dehydroepiandrosterone replacement augment gains in lean mass with resistance training in older adults? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S53.

5 Bidwell,W., et al. (2006). Effect of caffeine as an ergogenic aid on anaerobic performance in highly trained athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S174.

6 Maridakis, V., et al. (2006). Caffeine attenuates delayed-onset muscle pain following eccentric exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S175.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

EAT TO GROW : Lower Carbs, Higher Fat Use ...New research shows that those on low-carb diets burn more bodyfat for workout fuel by Jerry Brainum

New studies presented at the 2003 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine offered some interesting data about the effects of low-carbohydrate dieting. In one study Canadian researchers looked into the effects of low-carb diets on body composition, noting that most critics contend that weight lost on that type of diet consists mainly of glycogen and water.

The study featured six women and seven men, all of whom were obese, who went on a low-carb diet for two weeks. The subjects ate anything they wanted, as long as the total carbs didn’t exceed 20 grams, and they did aerobic exercise at an intensity level equal to 65 percent of maximum oxygen intake, a relatively low intensity that favors fat burning, especially in out-of-shape people.

The researchers measured fat and protein burned by the subjects both at rest and during exercise. The subjects stopped burning carbs at rest and burned 25 percent fewer carbs after 15 minutes of exercise. Protein oxidation increased by 38 percent at rest, remaining elevated during exercise. Fat oxidation increased slightly at rest, but it increased 50 percent during exercise in response to the diet. The subjects also reduced their total calories while on the diet. The men lost some lean mass, while the female subjects did not; however, the lean mass lost by the men wasn’t muscle but glycogen and water.

This study points to two essential features of low-carb dieting. First, the lack of carbs does increase protein oxidation, thus requiring a greater-than-usual protein intake, perhaps at least one gram per pound of goal weight. The other point is that you burn far more fat while working out during a low-carb diet.

In another study presented at the same meeting, researchers determined the effects of a ketogenic, or low-carb, diet on blood lipids. They wanted to evaluate how low-carb dieting affected small dense low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. That type of LDL cholesterol is considered the most dangerous in terms of cardiovascular disease onset. People having this LDL profile, known as pattern B, have a three times greater incidence of coronary disease than those who don’t.

The study involved 25 men who were on a ketogenic diet for six weeks. At the end of that time their blood triglycerides, or fat, had decreased by 39 percent. Meal-related elevations in blood fats had dropped by 33 percent, insulin by 40 percent and bodyfat by 11 percent. Peak LDL diameter increased by 1.8 percent, pointing to a beneficial change in the size of LDL particles. Most of the benefit of the ketogenic diet in relation to cardiovascular disease was attributed to a greater clearance of triglyceride in the blood following a meal. Higher postmeal fat levels in the blood favor smaller, denser, more dangerous LDL.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Exercise Power: what just one workout can do by Jerry Brainum

The Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of medical symptoms estimated to affect 50 million Americans. The syndrome consists of elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure, a proinflammatory state, and a higher level of fat around the waist. These symptoms, in turn, are harbingers of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Two of the earliest signs of the metabolic syndrome are insulin resistance and increased fat deposition in the liver, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The two conditions are related, and NAFLD is thought to be a primary cause of insulin resistance. NAFLD is now said to be epidemic, and if not treated, can lead to liver failure or even liver cancer. The question is: how can NAFLD and associated insulin resistance be effectively treated?
    One hint comes from a just published study that involved 12 young, lean men, average age, 23, who all had insulin resistance.While insulin resistance is usually associated with excess body fat, these men had average levels of body fat. Their insulin resistance was caused by defects in insulin-stimulated muscle glycogen synthesis caused by a lack of sufficient activity of glucose transporter proteins in muscle. What's interesting about these men is that they show the earliest sign of the metabolic syndrome--insulin resistance--without having any of the other symptoms of the disorder. As such, they are ideal subjects in which to study interventions that may prevent the onset of the metabolic syndrome and its associated diseases of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.
      The aim of this study was based on a hypothesis that skeletal muscle insulin resistance precedes liver insulin resistance. So the idea was to test the effects of a single session of 45 minutes on an elliptical machine, which would reverse skeletal insulin resistance. The men were studied at rest and after exercise. Before both, however, they ingested a carbohydrate meal (55% carbs) to follow the fate of the carbs. Would the carbs promote increased liver fat production, or be instead diverted to use for muscle glycogen synthesis?
    The results showed that after just one exercise session of 45 minutes, muscle glycogen increased three-fold over baseline. Along with this came a 45% reduction in the synthesis of liver fat following the high carb meal. The study clearly shows that if you correct skeletal muscle insulin resistance with exercise, it will reverse the insulin resistance that occurs in the liver, and leads to increased fat deposition in the liver.Since increased fat build-up in the liver is an early sign of the metabolic syndrome, this implies that you can prevent the onset of the metabolic syndrome by exercise. It also shows that carbs consumed prior to exercise, and immediately following exercise, are primarily used to replenish muscle glycogen stores, and are not used for purposes of  fat synthesis.
Rabel R, et al. Reversal of muscle insulin resistance with exercise reduces postprandial hepatic de novo lipogenesis in insulin resistant individuals.PNAS  2011: in press.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Testosterone Zone DHEA, Hormone Therapy and Quality of Life by Jerry Brainum

Dehydroepiandrosterone, a.k.a. DHEA, is relevant for bodybuilders for at least two reasons. One is that many supplements touted for their “testosterone-boosting” ability have DHEA as the active primary ingredient, although it is often listed by another name. Another is that DHEA is the only pro-hormone on the market.

While pro-hormone supplements were a previously lucrative commodity, they were banned by federal law in 2005. There’s a current legislative attempt to have DHEA removed from over-the-counter sales as well. The proposed ban is based on reports in medical journals that DHEA is an anabolic steroid and therefore is subject to the same restrictions as other anabolic steroid and pro-hormone drugs. One of the co-sponsors of the bill is former Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona.

The labeling of DHEA as an anabolic steroid implies that it’s capable of increasing testosterone in the human body. In fact, DHEA is an adrenal steroid that can be a precursor, or starting substance, of various other steroids, such as testosterone and estrogen. Its actual effects in the body, however, aren’t that straightforward. DHEA can take a number of pathways through the body.

Enzyme activity can convert DHEA to androstenedione. “Andro” may ring a bell, as it was the second pro-hormone, after DHEA, to be commercially marketed. It gained notoriety when baseball slugger Mark McGwire admitted to using it.

Andro can also convert into other steroids. In women it usually converts to testosterone. In men it mainly converts to estrogen or to a metabolite of the testosterone by-product dihydrotestosterone, though some does also convert into testosterone.

The question is whether DHEA itself can reliably boost testosterone levels in men. Several studies have examined the metabolic pathway it takes. Early studies suggested that it predominantly converts to estrogen in men. More recent studies, however, indicate that a certain amount of it converts to testosterone, particularly in men who have lower testosterone or DHEA. A study reported in the March 2004 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility traced the pathway of oral doses of DHEA in 14 men, age range 18 to 42. The men were randomly assigned to three dosage groups:

1) 50 milligrams of DHEA

2) 200 milligrams of DHEA

3) Placebo

The study lasted six months, and during that time none of the men showed any significant side effects, such as gynecomastia, a.k.a. “man boobs,” changes in testicular size or enlarged prostate. DHEA also had no effect on any of the men’s testosterone measures, regardless of the dose. More problematic, however, was the rise of ADG in those who took DHEA. ADG is a metabolite of the testosterone by-product dihydrotestosterone, a.k.a. DHT, that stays in the blood longer than DHT does. DHT is linked to such maladies as male-pattern baldness, acne and prostate enlargement.

Since none of the subjects experienced those effects even after six months, the side effects attendant to DHEA remain an open question. On the other hand, the rise in ADG could be a problem for long-term use by men over 40, since DHT and ADG are also linked to prostate enlargement and possibly cancer if estrogen levels are also higher than normal, which is common in older men with high bodyfat levels.

Because some conversion to andro and possibly testosterone does occur, could DHEA prove a useful aid for building muscle? That issue was examined in a study published nine years ago.1 Ten young men, average age 23, took 50 milligrams a day of DHEA. The men’s serum andro levels rose by 150 percent within an hour of taking DHEA, but that didn’t affect either testosterone or estrogen. Another 19 men, the same age, trained with weights for eight weeks, with half the men getting a daily dose of 150 milligrams of DHEA and the other half a placebo. The serum andro levels increased in the DHEA group at weeks two and five, but no other hormones rose. Both groups made similar gains in strength and lean mass, thus pointing to no beneficial effect from DHEA intake.

Does that mean that we can rule out DHEA as a useful muscle-building aid? That’s unclear, especially for older people. In a study published two years ago that involved older men and women, DHEA supplementation was found to increase the effects of a weight-training program in building muscle mass after 16 weeks of training.2

A more recent study involved women over age 64 who took 50 milligrams of DHEA a day and engaged in both weight-training and aerobic-exercise programs. Another group of women did the same exercise but took a placebo. After 12 weeks the women in the DHEA group had increased hormone measures, including DHEA-S, the circulating form of DHEA in the blood (up by 650 percent); total testosterone (100 percent); estradiol or estrogen (165 percent); estrone, a weaker estrogen (85 percent); and IGF-1 (30 percent).

While the exercise program led to beneficial changes in body composition, insulin sensitivity and blood lipids, the addition of DHEA provided no additional benefits to what was gained from the exercise program alone.

This study confirmed a previous widely reported study done by researchers from the Mayo Clinic and published in the October 19, 2006, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. That study featured 87 men and 57 women over age 60 who took 75 milligrams a day of DHEA (men) or 50 milligrams a day (women) for two years. DHEA was found to have no effect on muscle strength, peak endurance, muscle mass or fat mass. Further confusing the issue was still another study that found that older people who took DHEA experienced a significant loss of abdominal fat along with an increase in insulin sensitivity.3 In that study the older female subjects all showed elevations of testosterone after oral intake of DHEA; both women and men showed elevated estrogen after using it.

Past studies show that giving rats huge doses of DHEA led to a significant loss of bodyfat, but rats do not produce significant levels of DHEA, which made the study’s relevance for humans questionable. Indeed, follow-up human studies found no fat-loss benefits with DHEA use, even with massive doses. Other reports showed that DHEA appears to blunt the effects of cortisol, which tends to rise in aging bodies, and improve insulin sensitivity, as insulin and cortisol have an inverse relationship in the body. DHEA may also blunt inflammation, an underlying cause of most degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

So it appears that DHEA may offer considerable health benefits to those over 40. It does, for instance, help maintain levels of IGF-1, the active component of growth hormone. IGF-1 helps maintain muscle function and connective tissue as people age. The effects of DHEA on building muscle are still nebulous at best, however. It should never be used by those under age 40, since DHEA measures are sufficient in most people until that age. People over 40 who are considering taking DHEA should have a blood test for DHEA-S and take the supplement only if they have a below-normal level. Since DHEA always converts to testosterone in women, women who want a bit more bang from their training buck may consider taking a small dose—25 to 50 milligrams—daily or every other day. Be aware, however, that women who take DHEA supplements also have a high incidence of adult acne. That isn’t surprising when you consider that DHEA is a primary culprit in teenage acne. A study published last year found that merely taking oral doses of free fatty acids leads to a rise in various hormones, including DHEA, in women.

Those who want to reap most of the immune-enhancing and other health benefits associated with DHEA should consider a special form called 7-keto DHEA, which is sold as a dietary supplement. It doesn’t convert into either testosterone or estrogen, but it does offer some weight-loss effects not offered by DHEA itself. The 7-keto form brings on a thermogenic effect in the liver that leads to greater fat oxidation. The major drawback to 7-keto is that it’s far more expensive than plain DHEA supplements.

I’ve taken DHEA supplements in the past and still take it on occasion. I did feel better when using DHEA, although I didn’t notice any particular benefits in my regular training program. The same holds true for the 7-keto form. I’d probably now stick with the 7-keto form for long-term use because of the finding that DHEA may promote the DHT metabolite. I’d rather not add male-pattern baldness or prostate problems to the other stresses of life.

So if information on DHEA supplementation is sketchy, what’s the answer? After all, according to statistics, two men out of 10 aged 60 or over have a testosterone deficiency. Even that stat may be low because it represents total testosterone, which includes both the free, or active, form of the hormone as well as the form bound to plasma proteins. Ninety-eight percent of circulating testosterone in the blood is bound to those proteins, but only 2 percent, the free form, can interact with cellular androgen receptors. So judging the level of testosterone only by measuring the total test level is both deceptive and inaccurate. Only the free level truly reflects the state of testosterone in a man.

Based on that, I believe that many men are walking around with lower-than-optimal active-test levels, especially since most doctors don’t routinely measure free testosterone. At least three recent studies that I know of show that having low testosterone significantly increases mortality in men, mainly as a result of heart failure. Among the effects of having low testosterone are these:

• Decreased energy

• Reduced muscle mass and strength

• Decreased brain function and possible risk of degenerative brain disease, such as Alzheimer’s.

• Low libido, possibly impotence, as test is required for nitric oxide release

• Depression

• Increased bodyfat, especially visceral, or deep-lying, abdominal fat, which is considered the most dangerous form from a health standpoint.

Physicians are hesitant to prescribe test to men because of fears of activating prostate cancer—an unfounded and inaccurate assumption, all based on one case study published in 1942! A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute analyzed 18 worldwide studies related to prostate cancer and hormones. The study included 3,886 men with prostate cancer and 6,438 men who were cancer-free. It found no relationship between blood testosterone and estrogen and the onset of prostate cancer. Men who have prostate cancer should not take testosterone, although that, too, isn’t a certainty anymore. Consider that men with the lowest test levels show the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer, and one form of non-androgen-dependent prostate cancer actually recedes when treated with testosterone.

Actor Sylvester Stallone, who attributed his ability to portray action hero Rambo again at age 61 to his use of GH and test, believes that test is so effective that it will be offered over the counter within 10 years. I wouldn’t go that far, but other drugs currently in development called SARMs, or selective androgen receptor modulators, offer the benefits of test with little or no side effects. Perhaps when those drugs are available, doctors will have a more enlightened attitude. Men who are deficient in test who get on some form of test therapy will likely experience a far greater quality of life—and perhaps even live longer.

In the meantime, here are a few questions that men can ask themselves to judge whether they’re low in testosterone:

1) Are your erections weaker (and I don’t mean buildings)?

2) Do you have a decreased sex drive?

3) Do you feel fatigued and lack energy most of the time?

4) Do you fall asleep after dinner?

5) Has there been a recent deterioration in your work performance?

6) Have you noticed a decreased enjoyment of life?

7) Are you experiencing a decrease in strength, muscle size and endurance?

8) Is your ability to play sports lessened?

9) Are you sad and grumpy?

10) Have you lost weight?

11) Do you find yourself sexually attracted to Hillary Clinton (just joking)?

The test is positive for low testosterone if you answered yes to questions one or two or to any three other questions. The test was developed by a group of endocrinologists, several of whom express sexual interest in Hillary Clinton. At least they didn’t mention John McCain.


1 Brown, G.A., et al. (1999). Effect of oral DHEA on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men. J Appl Physiol. 87:2274-2283.

2 Villareal, D.T., et al. (2006). DHEA enhances effects of weight-training on muscle mass and strength in elderly women and men.Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 291:E1003-E1008.

3 Villareal, D.T., et al. (2004). Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: A randomized, controlled study. JAMA. 292:2243-2248.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

Please consider joining this blog by clicking on the blue "join this site" button to the right of this blog. This will ensure that new blogs continue to be published. It costs nothing, and takes only a few seconds. Thank you.

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