Tag Archives: physical science

The Facts About Migraines

I suffer migraines often, as does over 13% of the American population. They’re classed as one of the most disabling chronic illnesses, with more than 90% of sufferers claiming that they miss school or work when experiencing one.

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”

Given that these attacks have plagued me since I hit puberty, I figured I should educate myself on them–hopefully you learn a few things as well!

What Causes Them?

What’s Going On In My Head?

It’s always good to give bad news first, right? Well, the bad news is that nobody is really sure what causes them. There are two popular theories:

  • Changes in the brainstem that affect how it interacts with the trigeminal nerve, which is one of the most crucial pain pathways.
  • Chemical or hormonal imbalances, especially in seratonin. This theory is supported by the fact that levels of this hormone are very low during attacks–though that may be an because of the pain, not the original cause of it. (1)
  • An incomplete or unusual network of arteries supplying the brain. (2)

What is known is what the mechanical affect is. During a migraine, the temporal artery (the one that runs across your temple), one of the major arteries for your head, enlarges. This causes a rush of chemicals that trigger inflammation, pain, and–in an evolutionary fluke–further enlargement of the artery.

Are My Symptoms Normal?

These hormones cause a variety of symptoms. Migraines are characterized by:

  • Extreme, aching pain that seems to originate from the temples and radiate around the head.
  • Decreased blood pressure, which causes cold hands and feet.
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds. You probably want to be somewhere dark and quiet, even though it doesn’t make you feel better.
  • Intestinal distress, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and general discomfort.

Triggers and Warnings

What’s more important for sufferers to know–more than the mechanical reason for them–is what their particular trigger or triggers are. Some of the most common ones…

Specific foods

Tyramine or phenylethylamine

“Say what?”

These two amino acids are found most abundantly in chocolate, aged or fermented cheeses such as Brie, cheddar, and “moldy” varieties, citrus fruits, vinegar, nuts, and soy products. (3) Since that most likely eliminates many of your favorite foods, make sure to document what you ate right before your migraine started so you can narrow the list down.

If this is true for you, be careful of eating leftovers. Tyramine content increases over time, so try to only store foods that don’t have to be in air tight containers, and be wary of situations where food has been left out for a while, such as parties and office snacks.

Lastly, many alcoholic beverages, such as beer, red wine, sherry, and vermouth contain copious amounts of the chemical, so try to find alternate adult beverages for partying without the pain. More on boozing further down!

Caffeine

Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and even some dark chocolates can start the aching for some.

Alcohol and Dehydration

These two belong together, as boozing is one of the few times where the more you empty your cup, the most dehydrated you are. Alcohol itself may be your trigger, but before you convict this culprit, try alternating alcoholic beverages with tall glasses of water.

Tannins

Tea, red wine, and red fruit (apples, pears, and grapes all qualify) and their juices can all cause migraines. If you frequently suffer after consuming red or purple foods or beverages, this may be your prime suspect.

Preservatives

Nitrites, nitrates, and sulfites have all been guilty of causing migraines. These chemicals are doing your body no favors. Be wary of hot dogs, deli meats, dried fruit, and, one more time, wine.

Aspartame

That cute little pink envelope by the coffee doesn’t look so friendly when you suffer from migraines. Check labels when you chose to drink diet beverages, light yogurts, or anything labelled “sugar free” that still tastes sweet.

Menstruation

As if you need another reason to hate these days of the month.

Your Surroundings

Strong perfumes, flickering lights, and excessive stress can all be triggers.

It’s important to keep a diary of when you get migraines, and narrow down what causes them. This will help you avoid them in the future. The triggers listed are only the most common, you may have something else to blame, such as medication or certain physical activities. 

Relief

You probably started reading this article to find out how to treat the stupid things, right? Well, here it is…

Prevention

The best way to treat migraines is to prevent them as often as you can. Find out what your triggers are, and avoid them! Even if it’s chocolate–it’s really just not worth the pain.

If your migraines are particularly severe, often, or both, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe preventative medicines, such as:

  • Cardiovascular drugs such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers.
  •  Tricyclic antidepressants or selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors, as they can help regulate your seratonin.
  • Anti-seizure drugs such as Depacon and Topamax have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines. These drugs have some serious side effects, so it’s recommended you only take them if you absolutely must.
  • Botox injections in the muscles of the head and neck have been shown to help lessen the effect and frequency.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen may help.

Treatment During an Attack

If you can take pain medications right when you’re feeling the beginnings of a migraine, they’re more likely to work. NSAIDS (Advil, Motrin IB) are hit or miss. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps some but is less likely.

Drugs marketed as specifically for migraines, such as Excedrin Migraine (this one is my personal favorite), help for mild to medium severity attacks, but don’t do much if you wait to take them.

All of these medications lead to stomach complications if taken too often.

If these don’t work for you, or you have migraines more than once a month, talk to your doctor about:

  • Triptans, which constrict blood vessels, have been proven to help end migraines sooner, and manage pain. There’s several side effects, however, and they are not recommended to those who are at risk for stroke or heart attack–if you have high blood pressure, don’t take these.
  • Dihydroergotamine (Migranal) is an ergotamine derivative with less side affects. It’s available as either a nasal spray or injection.
  • Opioids should only be taken as a last resort, as they’re fairly addictive. They can be helpful for those who cannot take triptans or ergot.(4)

If you can sleep, do. It’s one of the best ways to cure a migraine that doesn’t come in pill form.

Do you have any tips, tricks, or anecdotes you’d like to share about your migraines?

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Sleep Your Way To The Top

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Sleep: every single creature does it, it takes up about a third of life, if we skip it just for one day we lose the same amount of mental function as being legally drunk, and scientists don’t know what it really does.

Earlier today, I decided that a visit to ted.com was in order. This video caught my attention:

In it, Russell Foster explains that sleep is not “an illness that needs some sort of cure,” but rather one of, if not the most important behavioral mechanism that controls us.  Though no one knows definitively why we do it, science does know that it is tied to memory consolidation and problem solving, and without it, we become stupid.

Lately, however, sleep deprivation has become somewhat of a thing to be proud of. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed (or been guilty of) bragging about only getting a few hours of sleep and then going to work or school the next day. The braggart may have gone, but were they anywhere near as productive?

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Depriving yourself of sleep wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body, yet it’s become a norm in Western society. But what are the effects?

Mental

Does sleeping 6 hours a night sound fairly normal to you? Perhaps the effects don’t seem that bad, you’ll catch up on the weekend…right?

Chronic Sleep Deprivation

A study by Van Dongen showed that though the effects seemed benign, restricting sleep to 6 hours or less a night over 14 days reduced cognitive ability to a level similar to skipping two days of sleep in a row. However, participants did not rate themselves as feeling impaired, which is why it can seem fairly harmless to consistently restrict snooze time.

Sleep Deprivation and Mental Illness

Sleep is also a prime time for the formation and cementing of memories. In a Q&A session following the above presentation, Foster also explains that regular trouble sleeping can be connecting to a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD. He and his colleagues have found that those who are sleep deprived have much more difficulty remembering traumatic memories than those who are fully rested, and hypothesize that excessive wakefulness may be a natural coping mechanism.

Physical

As every athlete (at any level) knows, a huge part of exercise performance is based on mental stamina and willpower. The body also needs time to repair itself after heavy exercise sessions, and to be ready for the next physical trials we throw at it.

Length of Physical Effort

It should come as no surprise that sleep loss has detrimental effects on exercise. In a study that deprived participants of sleep for 36 hours, then stuck those poor souls on treadmills, an 11% decrease in time able to exercise was witnessed, despite a doubling of prize money for completing the assigned goal. Two groups seemed to form: “resistant,” and “susceptible,” with the resistant group losing as little as 5% of their productive time, but the susceptible group losing up to 40% of theirs.

Metabolic Changes

When you are sleep deprived, your body starts releasing higher levels of ghrelin, and decreasing leptin. This surge causes you to feel hungry more often, especially for carbohydrates, as they are a quick way to “boost” energy.

At the same time, because growth hormone (GH) is released in it’s highest amount during the first portion of each sleep cycle, those who miss out have slower metabolic functioning. In addition, sleep deprivation increases the rate at which the gastrointestinal tract absorbs glucose, which can lead to increased insulin resistance if chronic. (Mullington)

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Thinking of hitting the sack a little earlier tonight? Good! Here’s how:

  • Make your bedroom as dark as you possibly can. This helps tell your brain that it’s time to shut down.
  • If you can cool down your room, do! It will help you sleep.
  • Spend 30 minutes or so not looking at a screen.
  • Think, talk, and do happy things in the hours leading up to bedtime. It will help you sleep deeper, and will lower the chance of you waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch time, no matter how tolerant you think you are!
  • Above all, give yourself enough time before waking. There’s no definitive time that adults need to sleep, but we do know that 7-9 fits most of the population. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you need to go to bed earlier!

Parting Thoughts

There are many more effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have, including some very scary statistic on cardiovascular health. My goal for this article was to point out the effects that are more immediate, and therefore, more inconvenient for us in the short term.

Hopefully I’ve helped motivate some people to put their phone down and get that extra hour or two of sleep!

Comments?

How many hours do you sleep when you don’t have an alarm set?

Do you often deprive yourself of sleep? Why? How do you feel it affects you?

 

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Controlling Emotional Eating

I’ve only met a few people who are unfamiliar with emotionally eating, and I’m not sure I believe them. For this particular discussion I’m going to focus on emotional eating triggered by stress, instead of boredom.

Before we even begin, let me just make sure the record is straight: I pride myself on my control of my emotional eating, but there is still a gluttonous beast within me that every so often, slips its chain.

icecream

Objectively Speaking:

To qualify it as a subject worthy of study, the parameters set (via WebMD) are:

  1. Sudden onset
  2. Feeling like the hunger must be satisfied immediately; excessive urgency
  3. Continuing eating while full, possibly to the point of discomfort
  4. Feeling guilt during and/or after consuming the meal.

Generally, this kind of hunger is brought on by stress–be it sadness, anger, guilt, or fear. It’s one of the oldest evolutionary responses: “I need fuel, there’s going to be a fight or a flight.” 

The First Step: Recognition

Just like any problem, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem. For me, this is generally mid spoonful just after I’ve reached the point where yes, those calories definitely count, there is no way I can rationalize that away as “just a taste.”

I like to think that educating yourself on brain chemistry will help you combat your cravings and urges when next you catch yourself in the act–generally, this is my approach when I’m gorging because of frivolous reasons. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing really does help you control it. 

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?!

What science can tell us:

  1. Ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, is released just as reliably when we’re stressed as when we have gone for several hours without food. Ghrelin also has some interaction with the hormones that control depression and anxiety, and can act as a natural antidepressent (though this sounds like a jump off into a conversation about anorexia, I’d rather not go there, at least not today). Source
  2. Those who lack fish oil in their diet are more likely to have low moods, which may cause stress eating. This is because they run low on docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. This can be mitigated by taking fish oil pills, if you either don’t like fish or don’t like its effect on your wallet.
  3. Often times we crave food that was given to us as a reward in the past, especially during childhood. This alone is a fantastic argument against giving food “prizes” to kids for good behavior. Source
  4. Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar often stimulate various hormones in our brains that cause us to feel happy and/or relaxed.

Why Am I Craving Sugar?

Craving sugar can happen for one of two reasons, and it’s usually a combination of both:

  • You were given sugar as a child to make you feel better, and associate it with comfort, love, and safety.
  • Your body wants a blood sugar spike.

Craving sugar because of your past is something that must be overcome psychologically, and unfortunately that’s as much as science can tell us at this point. However, it’s somewhat rare for that to be the only reason I really want that mocha instead of black coffee when I’m having a rough day.

The blanket reason seems to be adrenal fatigue. If you haven’t had enough sleep–be that because of too full a schedule, or laying awake worrying about things–or are spending too much time feeling “rushed” or pressured, often times your body will turn to an outside source of energy to keep you awake. Blood sugar spikes do this quite well, especially since our body conveniently forgets that we will, inevitably, have a blood sugar crash, which will only make it all worse.

Next time you’re craving something very sugary (not fatty, so think something along the lines of hard candy), stop and evaluate how tired you are, physically and emotionally. If “exhausted” is an adjective you’d assign to yourself, perhaps try finding a quiet corner and relaxing/take a nap (guide to timing your nap) before you dig in, and see if you don’t feel better.

Why Am I Craving Fat?

This answer is rooted more in evolution, but isn’t entirely unlike our desire for sugar or carbohydrates.

Think about how a human’s day went before the agricultural revolution: We use up a lot of calories for our size because of our brain, so, in order to supply those calories, humans evolved to eat mostly dead animals. In order to survive, they hunted. If the hunt was unsuccessful, they went hungry. If they went hungry for too long, they died.

For this reason, we developed a preference for fatty animals, and our bodies have adapted to process both animal fats and proteins exceptionally. Our bodies can be fueled entirely on these two food sources (given that the animals had a natural diet and thus have nutrient rich flesh, which unfortunately is usually not the case today).

When a hunt was successful, those who helped were most likely physically spent, and eating the best parts, especially on the outside of the animal, was their reward. This is the theory behind why we crave it during stressful times: eating fat signals to our brain that we will not starve.

This video explains it well, though I do not completely condone taking chunks out of a stick of butter (I can’t really argue why it’s bad, it’s just … icky. If that’s your thing though…). Warning: this is an advertisement, but it is factually correct: Eat More Butter from Tiny Falcon on Vimeo.

Ending Thoughts

I hope that this post explained a little bit about how brains work in the face of delicious treats, and maybe I helped someone out there.

As always, for any craving, I’m a big advocate of drinking a 16+ oz glass of cold water first. I also think distraction works amazingly well. If you have a computer in front of you, pick your poison; at a party, my favorite thing to do is try to remember every word to a song, or start a conversation with someone about a very engaging topic. Being alone is always the hardest, but is also usually the only time you can nap if you feel that’s why you’re feeling peckish.

How do you combat your cravings? 

What do you crave when you’re stressed? 

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Is The Post-Exercise Anabolic Window a Myth?

Referencing:

Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?
Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld

(published in January of 2013)

What is this about?

This study challenges the belief that a specific type or timing of a “recovery meal” is necessary to get the most bang for your buck after a workout.

The researchers approach this by reviewing existing literature on the effects of nutrient timing and reanalyzing the results.

Results

There are several reasons given for eating post workout meals. This study addresses each in its own section, so I will follow suite:

Glycogen repletion

The most common reason given for eating a “recovery meal” is to replace the glycogen lost during heavy exercise.

Glycogen is a type of sugar which our body produces from the food we eat. It is very useful in “explosive,” or short and intense movements, such as jumping, or lifting something heavy. Our muscles can store glycogen within themselves, and can quickly turn it into energy (in the form of ATP) extremely quickly in a process called glycolysis.

There is some evidence that glycogen is also a mediator in intracellular signaling, and has an effect on the rate at which muscles are catabolized (reabsorbed to fuel the body).

Previous research in the field has indicated that:

  • Glycogen has been shown to be a defining factor in protein breakdown, and in reducing catabolism of muscle protein
  • When carbohydrates are consumed immediately post exercise, muscle glycogen is replenished twice as effectively as when the athletes waited to eat for 2 hours.
  • Consuming protein and carbohydrates together enhances glycogen resynthesis, or the process of muscles “filling up” with fuel again.

Aragon and Schoenfield’s thoughts on the matter are that there is not a significant amount of evidence supporting the “anabolic threshold.” Studies have, in their minds, proven that there are very select cases where the timing of eating will affect importance, such as endurance events (long enough to deplete glycogen, generally over 2 hours in duration) that are less than 8 hours apart, or those who train the same muscles more than once a day.

However, there is no evidence that there is any urgency for refueling for the majority of athletes and casual exercisers. 

Protein breakdown

As mentioned in the previous section, muscle catabolism is directly affected by insulin levels, which are almost entirely controlled by ingested carbohydrates. One of the arguments for the importance of eating directly after exercise it to prevent muscle loss. However, science, at this time, does not fully understand the control insulin has on catabolism.

Aragon and Schoenfield point to several studies that prove spiking insulin directly after a resistance training workout has trivial benefits, if any, unless the athlete is in a fasted state prior to the workout beginning.

Protein Synthesis

This, by far, is the most touted reason to have a post-workout meal as soon as possible. However, Aragon and Schoenfield state that there is almost literally no reliable outcomes in studies that address how muscle protein synthesis is affected by post workout nutrient intake. Each study gets a different result, and, in their words:

Thus, the utility of acute studies is limited to providing clues and generating hypotheses regarding hypertrophic adaptations; any attempt to extrapolate findings from such data to changes in lean body mass is speculative, at best.

Muscle hypertrophy

At this point, honestly, you can feel the authors’ blood pressure rising. Throughout the article, they have presented the findings of various studies, and then addressed how the studies were, essentially, worthless, or at least overvalued.

This section is more of the same. The table presented after explaining that each study in the field had a completely different design is all that needs to be restated:

Post-exercise nutrition and muscle hypertrophy

Essentially, there was no conclusive evidence of significant muscle volume changes in between groups.

Their conclusion and advice for practical application

According to Aragon and Schoenfield’s article, there is no conclusive evidence that the anabolic window exists in any significant way except for those most extreme competitive athletes.

Their suggestion to the majority of the population is to instead focus on all around nutrition throughout the day and week. There is some evidence that the preworkout meal is more important, but the studies for that theory are no more thorough than those outlined in this paper.

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