Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is sugar making you go bald?

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My google alerts, alerted me to this clip from The Doctors that says sugar is the surprising food behind your hair loss. While absolutely being sensationalist I do have to give them a little credit for not going full Dr Oz. They made sure to state that sugar, in and of itself, is not inherently evil and that it’s fine to consume it in small quantities. According to them, sugar is leading to expanding waistlines and thinning hairlines. Sweet.

It’s a very short clip, and naturally, there aren’t any references. As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any new research in this area. I found a few studies from about a decade ago looking at the connection between an alleged male form of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and premature balding and insulin resistance (1, 2). These studies did not explicitly examine a link between sugar consumption and hair loss.

Insulin resistance is an impaired ability of the body to properly use insulin. The causes of insulin resistance are not yet fully known; however, major contributing factors include diet and lifestyle. High levels of fat around the waist and a sedentary lifestyle may both contribute to insulin resistance. Excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates may contribute to those high levels of abdominal adiposity. However, excessive consumption of calories in general, regardless of source, may cause accumulation of excessive abdominal fat.

There are many causes of hair loss, including hormonal disruptions. These may go hand-in-hand with insulin resistance and conditions such as PCOS and type 2 diabetes.

To summarize: The Doctors have taken the leap from excessive sugar consumption to hair loss. There are many other factors at play and sugar itself would not be the direct cause of hair loss, even if it is a contributing factor in the development of hormonal disruptions. Because there are many other causes of hair loss, before you go sugar-free, you should book an appointment with your primary health care provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis. That being said, if you watched that video and thought “I’m eating too much sugar” there’s absolutely no harm in cutting back. Too much of anything is bad for you.


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Do you need a testosterone boost?

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A friend recently sent me a link to this article Why Testosterone Is Your FriendMy first question was: is testosterone deficiency a common problem. This study puts the prevalence at roughly 10% in males aged 20-79. However, deficiency was much more common among the older males. Testosterone deficiency may also be a problem for women. Naturally, the research in this area lags far behind that of the research on men so it’s impossible for me to comment on the need for testosterone boosting efforts in women.

The article is correct in stating that testosterone plays an important role in the body. It plays a role in sex development and libido, bone mineralization, weight and body mass composition, and energy levels (1). That being said, it’s relatively unlikely that a fit young person suffers from testosterone deficiency. If you do suspect that you suffer from testosterone deficiency, then you should visit your doctor. She or he will be able to measure you testosterone levels through blood tests. Pending the results, appropriate treatment efforts can be determined. Please don’t self-diagnose or take the advice of a fitness blog written by a personal trainer (or anyone, regardless of credentials as gospel).

Much of the advice in the post is solid advice for anyone regardless of testosterone levels. Indeed, obtaining an adequate nights sleep and reducing stress could benefit most of us. Let’s just quickly go through each of the suggestions…

1. Get deep sleep. Everyone can benefit from getting a solid nights sleep. Yes, this may help to increase testosterone.

2. Lift heavy things. Strength training is important for everyone to maintain muscle mass and bone density as we age. This may help to increase testosterone levels in people who are slightly low, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference for anyone who’s deficient (2).

3. Don’t run too much. As someone who loves to run, I have a bit of a personal bias against this one. Run too much? Does not compute. Apparently, those who over-train, or elite athletes, may actually see a drop in testosterone levels. However, it would certainly take more than running a few times a week to have such an effect. If you enjoy running, don’t stop.

4. Eat fat, especially saturated fat. This is quite a vague recommendation. I certainly thing that fat has been unfairly vilified in the past (and sometimes, in the present). It is also possible that consumption of fat, and saturated fat may impact testosterone levels (3). However, these findings are based on a very small correlational study which makes it impossible to draw widespread recommendations from them. That being said, fat is an essential nutrient and (aside from man-made trans-fats) should not be avoided. There’s a good review of the research here. The AMDR for dietary fat is 20-35% of total calories for adults. Of course, our needs vary so you may fall on the low or high end of that scale depending on your genes and activity levels. Ignore the recommendation in the article to eschew plant oils. Use a variety of oils and fats.

5. Eat enough protein. Most of the research on protein and testosterone focuses on the inverse relationship. Again, a very small study found that ingestion of whey protein following a workout increased testosterone and androgen receptors in men (aged 57-72) while a placebo had no effect. Interesting. However, I would caution against extrapolating such a small study to younger men and women and even to all middle-aged men. While most of us consume more protein than we need, we may be well-served by consuming more consistent amounts at meals and snacks. Focus on getting more than 15 grams of protein at breakfast, protein at all meals and snacks, and meet with a registered dietitian if you have questions about adequate consumption of protein.

6. Keep stress levels low. Low testosterone and symptoms of stress may manifest in the same manner but there’s little evidence to support the assertion that stress will lower testosterone (4). Of course, stress is not good for us so taking steps to reduce stress in your life will likely serve you well regardless of your testosterone levels.

7. Don’t binge drink. Duh. Binge drinking is bad for your liver, your brain, and every other organ in your body. Animal studies suggest that chronic alcohol consumption may lower testosterone levels. It makes sense that if heavy alcohol consumption impairs bodily functions that it would also impair testosterone production. Despite the lack of human evidence, I’m not going to argue with this one. Don’t drink to excess, regardless of your testosterone status.

8. Get enough zinc and magnesium. There may be benefits to getting more zinc if you’re not getting enough in your diet. If you’re already getting enough, more is not going to help (5). Many of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets so aiming to consume more magnesium-rich foods (e.g. nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate) is worthwhile. I wouldn’t recommend supplementing with zinc without first discussing with your doctor as zinc can interfere with the absorption of other minerals, like copper, and unnecessary supplementation could lead to deficiency in another mineral.

9. Make sure to get enough carbs. Personally, I love carbs. I’d never suggest anyone cut carbs from their diets. However, there’s no reason to believe that insufficient carb consumption will lead to testosterone deficiency.

10. Get enough vitamin D. Research on vitamin D has been mixed. Most of us can get enough from the sun in the summer months. We may benefit from supplementation of 1000 IU during winter months. Vitamin D may slightly increase testosterone in deficient males (6). As with most things, just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better. While uncommon, it is possible to consume toxic levels of vitamin D so don’t go mega-dosing.

11. Stay away from soy. Research looking at testosterone levels and soy consumption has focused on soy protein supplements. Results have been mixed. It’s quite unlikely that consuming soy in “natural” states (such as tofu, edamame, soy beans/nuts, or tempeh) is going to have any impact on your testosterone levels.

12. Eliminate wheat and gluten grains. Now we’re really going off the rails. There is no link between wheat and gluten and testosterone deficiency. There is no reason to eliminate gluten from your diet unless you have celiac disease or an allergy.

13. Limit all medications/birth control pills. Some medications may affect hormone levels. Some will not. Don’t stop taking essential medications and don’t take unnecessary medications. If you have any concerns about any medications that you’re on discuss them with your doctor.

There are also potential risks associated with high testosterone levels. Let’s not get carried away with focusing on low testosterone without first learning that our testosterone is indeed low.


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Is your thyroid making you fat?

I was just flipping through the latest issue of Chatelaine magazine and started reading this article Train Your Thyroid to Burn More Fat (sorry, I can’t find a link online). Sounds great! So… I started reading this article. I was surprised to learn that my strenuous cardio workouts might actually be making me fat by “leading to higher cortisol levels and lower levels of thyroid hormones 24 hours after exercise.” But when I read that I should be avoiding foods like, “peanuts, soy, and cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli – so enjoy them sparingly” I thought “who the heck wrote this article?!” Clearly not a dietitian as this is not scientific, evidence based advice. The average person is not going to experience negative hormonal effects from exercising more than 30 minutes a day. The average person is also not going to experience negative hormonal consequences from eating the aforementioned foods. In fact, most people could benefit from eating more of these foods. This advice is completely gimmicky and is not going to help anyone burn more fat and lose weight. Enjoy your 50 minute spin class and indulge yourself in a vegetarian stir fry chockfull of tofu and vegetables like broccoli. Any diet that is telling you to eliminate (or at least highly limit) foods (especially vegetables and vegetarian sources of protein) should set off red flags.

Thyroid disease and under-active thyroid (which I can only assume the article is referring to) is a serious issue but the number of people affected is not as high as the article leads you to believe. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, approximately 2% of Canadians are affected by hypothyroidism, and it’s more common in older adults. Don’t be mislead into believing you suffer from a health condition by reading a magazine article, and don’t be mislead into following bizarre diets and limiting your exercise. If you do believe you may be suffering from a thyroid condition make an appointment with your primary health care provider and get a professional diagnosis.