Jul 1, 2017

True, False or Incomplete Part 3


Part 1

Part 2

Undoubtedly anecdotal or empirical evidence is fraught with potential for inaccuracies and without actual scientific basis must always be viewed skeptically.

Some may have heard the story about great grandma's amazing ham recipe that illustrates this.

Part of her written instructions included cutting a few inches off from each end of the ham before cooking it.

This recipe was passed down two generations and often resulted in requests for the recipe. When people noted the instructions to trim the ends, puzzled questions resulted as to why. The answer basically came down to, "that's how my mother did it." When mother was asked about it, she replied similarly that her mother had always done it that way as well. When grandma was finally asked, she laughed and said, when your grandfather and I were young, we couldn't afford much and the only cookware we had wasn't big enough so I would cut it to make it fit into the pot!

Similarly, many "old wives' tales" or in sports circles, "old coaches' tales", get passed down and the only rationale seems to be something to the effect of "that's the way the old timers did it" or "if it's not broken..."

Still before throwing out the baby with the bath water, I have to note that there are cases where science catches up with the anecdotal evidence. In fact, much research starts out with the goal of testing a hypothesis that has come from anecdotal evidence.

One example that comes to mind is the recommendation to have a nice bowl of chicken soup when not feeling well. While undoubtedly being ridiculed as an "old wives' tale", there is apparently now a lot of evidence that bone broth which gives us access to collagen and many other nutrients not available when only consuming muscle meat, is in fact highly desirable from a health standpoint.

Another thing I find somewhat humorous is the expression, "snake oil salesman".
This has become synonymous with charlatanism. However, we now know that having the wrong balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats is detrimental and this is why the advice to eat more fish or even take that cod liver oil your mother used to force on you. I've read that the original claims made for snake oil were based on sea snakes (eels?) which were likely great sources of omega 3.

As demand grew so did profit potential so either ignorance or lack of scruples led to the sale of snake oil that was not rich in Omega 3. No doubt, hucksters also vastly exaggerated benefits but that is not to say there were not any benefits if from the right source and taken by someone whose omega's were out of balance.

Fasting in various forms has long been practiced for religious or health reasons but only recently has research shown tangible significant benefits. Up until recently, advocates were of course written off as quacks. More on this later. "Detoxing" has been ridiculed as one of the supposed benefits of fasting, but I suspect that what may have been wrongly described as "detoxing" may actually be "autophagy" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autophagy

As previously, I discussed the limitations of the scientific method, which I described as the gold standard, the limitations of anecdotal evidence are potentially far greater.

As per some of my examples above failure to even consider variables much less make attempts to replicate them will inevitably lead to many generalizations that will not be universally applicable and may not apply more often than they do.

While maintaining a healthy skepticism for above reasons, I think it's a mistake to equate "lack of scientific basis" or "not backed up by research" with "false".

When I see something traditional that has stood the test of time over decades, centuries or more, rather than ridicule what I don't understand, I'm more prone to wonder in what context this may have been applicable and see whether there might be an opportunity to learn something useful.

Of course, on either side there is also massive potential for misrepresentation either motivated by wanting to exploit and done purposefully, or with good intention in honest error but especially due to the error of premature extrapolation of information to apply in cases where it is not applicable.

Then there is the media (advertising and news) and second handedness.

Most of us get our health information on a food label, a commercial or a news bit reporting a new study reporting an "indication" of a "possible link" that "could be linked".... but extremely few ever peruse actual studies or research how traditional practices started or what their basis is.

However many and probably most of us make and or believe blanket statements about something being true or false because it is presumably

"Scientifically proven"
"Everyone knows it's true"
"An old wives' tale"
"Heard it on the news"
"Read it in a fitness publication"
Etc etc

By the way, one of my distinctions has been to replace "I believe this is true (or false)" with "this is what seems to make the most sense to me at this time based on the available information that I'm aware of."

Please note, I'm not equating this with, "who am I to know?" as I believe in thinking for myself, and so this is the exact opposite of this, but it is merely acknowledging that many issues are extremely complex and much more research is needed before drawing any final conclusions.

So what prompted this particular blog post?

So here are a list of "outside the nine dots" thoughts that I have. Several may fall under "seem to make sense but can't prove."


Hormesis and therapeutic window:

A definition I found through Google by

Medical Definition of hormesis:
"a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something (as a heavy metal or ionizing radiation) that produces harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses"

The above definition refers to heavy metal and ionizing radiation but it seems logical to me that it would also apply to things that are considered good for you such as exercise or sleep as well as things that are bad for you such as smoking or alcohol.


Being too sedentary or too active takes you out of therapeutic window.

In fitness circles, a ubiquitous error has been to assume more is better. This error is often reinforced by the training regimens of elite athletes who are by definition extreme outliers. Drugs are often a factor as well.

Even in their case, their success may be caused despite their overtraining and not because of it. (note that skill training does require countless hours of practice while actual conditioning may require adequate recovery, and balancing both becomes a challenge, part of the reason, in my opinion why the highest levels of success are the domain of extreme outliers, who can withstand and recover from hours of skill practice and still maintain conditioning. Unfortunately, the distinction between skill practice and conditioning is often missed, and hours are spent on both.)

Also, I understand there is good evidence that superior performance and health track together fairly well to a point however to be competitive at a world class level, athletes may go well beyond that point and pay a heavy price for the tiny extra that can take them from the middle of the pack to the podium (perhaps far before that point, just to be in contention to make the Olympic team).

We know that being bed ridden due to illness has an extreme deconditioning effect, but too much activity can be toxic as well.


Could moderate smoking make you more resistant to other air pollutants? In this example would the risk of finding the proper therapeutic window outweigh the potential benefits? I personally doubt it, which is why the idea of hormesis may help to explain the benefits of existing activities or substances such as exercise and certain vitamins, I don't believe it follows, that we should necessarily seek out potentially toxic factors because of their potential benefit. Note that there is a growing body of research that shows benefit from exposing one to relatively extreme cold (cold showers to ice baths) or relatively extreme heat (saunas)

Ayn Rand has been quoted as saying something to the effect that in a compromise between poison and non poison, poison will always prevail. While I take the point to heart, the analogy fails to consider that toxicity is not a matter of substance but rather of concentration.

Perhaps exposure to potentially toxic ideas can help us to develop philosophical defenses against bad ideas in general?


Low carb, fasting, potato hacks all seem to be contradictory approaches to claimed health benefits? Could they all be different routes to the same goal, i.e. helping your digestive system and metabolism to an optimal state by temporarily inducing fat burning and autophagy?


The whole anti-vax controversy. All I will say here, and I paraphrase Dr. Doug McGuff in that, if a drug or treatment of any type has a therapeutic effect, then by definition it will also have a side effect. This will be true of vaccination as well. Dr. McGuff, who is an emergency room physician has shared with me that he has personally witnessed an extreme reaction in a child who was vaccinated that morning. While he doesn't claim proof that it was caused by this, when he reported it, it was ignored. That is the danger of ridiculing something, is that, as new evidence becomes known, it is ignored due to being immediately written off as quackery. Obviously, the case for the benefits of vaccination outweighing the harm is strong, especially in large populations, but does that mean it will always be the case for individuals, or that further research should be ignored. "Settled science" is an oxymoron. I will update this paragraph with a link, as soon as I can find a site that can tell you the probability of a drug helping vs harming.


GMO's benefits outweigh the risks however both sides are overly polarized in my opinion, in that while I don't believe genetic modification is dangerous per se, I do believe caution should be taken before assuming complete safety. Margarine is a modified food and trans fats have now been shown to be very unhealthy. (Is there a therapeutic window for trans fats?)


It would appear that one of the, if not the only consistent lifestyle links to longevity is caloric deprivation. Various experiments with animals have shown as much as a 20% increase in longevity when exposing them to lifelong slight caloric deficit. While, this might require feeling some hunger throughout life, there is promising research that suggests that much of the same results can be achieved through intermittent fasting. There is another school of thought that suggests that lowering our heart rate can improve longevity...(and other research that seems to show the opposite), but one thing my fitbit has shown me pretty consistently is that when I am strict with my dieting and or do intermittent fasting, my resting heart rate goes down, and at times like the holidays when my discipline wanes, my resting heart rate goes up.


In 1968, Kenneth Cooper wrote the book Aerobics, at which time, this term was first coined in relationship to exercise. His findings were largely based on anecdotal, or empirical evidence. For example, he pointed out that bus drivers (who sat most of the day) in Britain, had much more obesity and heart disease than the individuals who stood all day to collect the fares. From this, he extrapolated that being sedentary was bad, and being active was good. The conclusion was the more active you were the better, and he developed a point system, and encouraged people to achieve a given number of points per day or per week, with the strong implication that more was better. With this, came the running craze, and he was hailed and the "man who would save America's hearts". A few decades letter, and with many orthopedic surgeons getting quite wealthy fixing knees, hips and low backs, some suggested, he might turn out to be remembered as the "man who ruined America's knees". He conceded later that more was not better, and even suggested that too much activity might even make one more prone to cancer.

Strength training, as it is now more commonly known, but had long been called weight lifting or bodybuilding had been around forever, but it was considered that training muscles had more to do with vanity, and that actual health benefits had to focus on the heart and lungs. In fact, it was widely believed that large muscles could interfere with sports performance, and even put a strain on your heart. Over time, however, these myths went by the wayside, and strength training became more recognized, for both performance and overall health. Today, we see that muscles are very active metabolically, and that strength training stimulates the production of myokines which are apparently linked to a myriad of health benefits, and have even been compared to the closest thing to the fountain of youth yet.

So "aerobics" or "cardio" advocated low intensity, frequent, long duration exercise, while "strength training" generally advocated briefer, higher intensity, and less frequent exercise. Of course, many people tried to combine both, in order to get all benefits simultaneously, however it was thought that doing so would make it difficult if not impossible to properly recover from that much exercise, not to mention that few people with family and career responsibilities could keep a long term commitment to that much exercise.

Arthur Jones, the creator of Nautilus machines, and later MedX, claimed, and the science now seems to confirm, that all benefits could be had from a properly designed strength training program, and further advocated that the intensity be very high, and thus the frequency and volume be kept very low in order to maximize recovery, in some cases, admonising people from any type of exertion between workouts, claiming that this would interfere with recovery and limit results or even bring them to a halt. Pendulums tend to swing far as we know. Today, where I've landed with all this, is that proper strength training should be the cornerstone of an exercise regimens, and while I agree with Jones that so called "cardio" is unnecessary, there is another aspect which is now coming to light; going back to our sedentary bus driver from Ken Cooper's book, it would seem that the actual sitting or not moving around much all day, is, in itself hazardous to your health. So, the ticket collector wasn't jogging or running marathons, but he was up and about regularly. Cooper, assumed more was better, and Jones assumed less (or none) was better. My recommendation (what makes the most sense to me right now: do proper strength training for conditioning, and just make sure you regularly move around, each hour for example, and for recreation if desired, engage in whatever sport or activity enhances your life (mental/spiritual) accordingly. (more on safety later)


Obesity has long been associated as a health risk for multiple ailments. I have pondered, that obsesity per se, may only be a part of the issue. I suspect strongly, that what we do to become obese, (overeating, and being in a constanntly overfed state, (see caloric deprivation above) making poor food choices and being extremely sedentary (see above as well)) puts a lot of negative stress on the body distinct from the actual added fat that it makes us carry. Carrying fat, historically, has helped us to survive famines, and the ability to store and retain fat has been very desirable from an evolutionary standpoint. I do concede that being fat, in and of itself, does create issues such as strain on knees, lower backs etc, which will almost surely compromise our functional ability as we age, and that will at the very least reduce quality of life, and most likely longevity. Being fat also wreaks havoc with hormones, and there is evidence that being fat, leads us to overeating and being sedentary, as much as the vice versa. My point here is that the health hazards are not just about being fat, but the stress we put on our bodies in the process of getting fat.


In exercise, and other activities, it is obvious that safety is paramount, both from the point of view of avoiding acute injuries or long term debilities from overuse. Much has been written and discussed about high impact, low impact, proper posture, lifting technique (both in sport and every day activities). With the forementioned aerobics craze and the accompanying injuries, we have seen an entire industry created to provide products either designed to prevent or treat fitness related injuries such as properly cushioned shoes and a new branch of medicine referred to as "sports medicine". (Arthur Jones stated that if the number of emergency room visits called by so called fitness activities were due to some new disease, a national outcry of a crisis would be heard and there would be much research and or fund raising done to stem this terrible threat.)

We've also seen "low impact" and, in strength training, as a result of research done by Nautilus on how to safely train elderly people suffering from osteoporosis (who could benefit greatly from strength training, but whose fragility made that very challenging), the advent of "Superslow" strength training, which advocates moving extremely slowly in order to minimize force on joints, tendons and ligaments. There is much evidence that this method of training also more effectively loads the targeted musculature and produces better results for the general population in a safer manner. High intensity is still a major component of Superslow (which has gone through different monikers over time) as participants are instructed to continue an exercise until "momentary muscular failure, or fatigue".

Conversely, a current very popular fitness trend is crossfit, which definitely embraces high intensity, but seems to have little or no regard for "low impact" or "minimizing force" as it involves rapid movements as well as plyometric (jumping) activities. Superslow proponents consider this insanity and a recipe for disaster, whereas many crossfit enthusiasts (assuming they've even heard of Superslow) would argue that slow movements are inadequate to build speed and so called explosive strength. I have strong opinions (convictions?) on much of this....

(to be continued in Part 4)