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Research Rundown: Garlic, Forests, Organic Food and Ashwagandha

What’s up PBers? Coach Kyle here and I work primarily with plant-based Runners all over the world to improve their running through optimized run training, strength work, nutritional habits, and anything else that needs dialed in such as sleep, mindfulness meditation, and more.

Today you are going to learn about a few studies I have come across recently. I have no doubt you’ll find them interesting and I hope you can take them to the next level and Implement something that you learn today into your life.

The first study I want to look at considered the impact of ashwagandha on sleep. This study piqued my interest because I actually take an ashwagandha supplement.

There are thousands of herbal supplements out there on the market but this one is probably one of the top options for herbal supplements that actually do something beneficial backed up by some literature. It’s also called Indian ginseng but it doesn’t actually contain any ginseng. It’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to tackle just about any type of disorder or problem from nerve damage, inflammation, anxiety, stress or insomnia.

This particular randomized control trial of six weeks included 150 healthy adults with sleep problems. They either took a placebo or 120 mg of ashwagandha extract daily. Sleep Quality was assessed using a couple different evaluation tools. The researchers also looked at sleep onset latency or the time needed to fall asleep, Total Sleep Time, sleep efficiency or the time spent sleep while actually in bed, and wake after sleep onset.

What they found was sleep onset latency, Total Sleep Time, sleep efficiency, and wake after sleep onset which refers to periods of wakefulness that happened after you actually first falling asleep all improved in the ashwagandha group! Self-reported Sleep Quality increased by almost 75% in the supplement group compared to only 29% in the control group and the self-reported quality of life also improved in the supplement group. Good news all around, unless you got the placebo.

The next study featured one of my favorite food items, garlic. It’s well-known that garlic is a great anti-inflammatory and immunomodulator but researchers wanted to look specifically at this food and any potential for it to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

This was an 8-week randomized control trial with 70 women who had moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis. The participants either took one gram of garlic or a placebo daily and clinical symptoms and inflammatory markers were assessed before and after the intervention.

What they found was that during this rigorous well-designed trial there was evidence that garlic can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms potentially by dampening the inflammatory signaling. The garlic group experience reductions in C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis Factor Alpha, disease activity score, joint stiffness, pain, and fatigue. It’s also important to note that the participants were already taking multiple immunity suppressing Pharmaceuticals and this suggests that the garlic can be an adjunct to treatment along with these prescribed medicines.

One of the important compounds in garlic for both taste and health is the sulfur compound allicin. But what’ interesting is garlic actually does not contain any of it! You need to help it along and I’ll tell you how. Allicin is created when the enzyme alliinase meets the sulfur compound allin. As enzymes do, something new is created and that is allicin! The trick is that you must do this before cooking as only the end result is heat resistant as heat will inactivate alliinase. If I’m cooking with garlic I will often press it first and let it sit on the cutting board for a minute to give the chemical process time.

One interesting article to come out recently was a literature review looking at forest bathing, which isn’t technically bathing in the forest but more generally spending time out in nature in a mindful and present way. We all hear that being outside is good for you but what does the science actually tell us?

This review looked at 14 studies related to forest bathing and hypertension, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood markers for cardiovascular health.

The review found that what we assume is absolutely correct, spending time out in nature does indeed effectively reduce blood pressure, heart rate, physiological and psychological stress, and it also improves blood markers of cardiovascular health and metabolism.

I think this was one of those results where you just think, well of course, but it’s nice to see it validated. As runners, I think it’s important for us to spend time and make an effort to not just run outdoors in an urban setting but get into a forested or trail environment if you can.

For my clients and myself, I like to incorporate trail running into easy runs. It can be as simple as heading out your front door and running towards a trail system that you have access to in town. If your trails are farther away you might have to save them for the weekend but spending a half-hour driving out to a trailhead for an easy long run can be a big motivational and rejuvenation boost to your mood.

Another way to incorporate forest environments into your training is to use hikes as a supplemental aerobic activity. I always tell my clients they’re more than welcome to do low effort cycling, hiking, or taking the dog for a walk as either a second light workout for the day or its own standalone activity on a rest day.

You can check out the full study here or search Google for the effects of forest bathing on prehypertensive and hypertensive adults a systematic review of the literature.

The final interesting study to come out in the summer of 2020 that I’m going to talk about today looked at how consuming organic foods impacted levels of toxic trace elements in the body.

Heavy metals and chemicals pollute our air and water which resultantly contaminates our food products. Long-term exposure to these can be linked to cancer, diabetes, obesity, and various other health problems. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of detox diets by primarily looking at how organic ingredients affect toxin elimination.

In this 4-week randomized control study, 45 healthy overweight women were recruited to evaluate the effects of organic food on body detoxification. They were broken up into three groups including The detox diet group, a regular diet calorie-restricted group, and a regular diet no calorie-restricted group.

The primary outcome was to observe toxic trace element levels in hair with a secondary outcome looking at body fat reduction measurements. Some of the participants had it easy with the detox group and the calorie-restricted group receiving prepared meals consisting of shakes, fruit, and vegetables, salads, juices, whole grains, meat, and nut bars. The detox group received only organic ingredients from pesticide-free and pollution-free farms while the calorie-restricted group received items from a supermarket. The group with no calorie restriction and no organic products were simply instructed to maintain their usual dietary intake and did not receive any prepared meals.

The outcomes were interesting in that the levels of eight toxic trace elements decreased or displayed a decreasing trend in the detox group compared to baseline levels. These elements were led, nickel, rhodium, uranium, tin, gallium, silver, and tungsten. At the end of the 4 weeks, both the detox group and the calorie-restricted group lost weight and had a lower body mass index, waist circumference, and hip circumference. The calorie-restricted group lost slightly more weight than the detox group.

This was interesting for me to see that there were some toxic trace elements that decreased but what it really showed me was not so much that eating organic food decreased these elements but that eating non-organic food increases them!

The tricky part is that just because something is organic does not mean it’s pesticide-free. under the laws of many states, organic farmers are still allowed to use a variety of chemical sprays and powders. An organic terminology generally more so means that any pesticides, if used, must be derived from natural sources and not synthetically manufactured. These pesticides also should be applied using equipment that has not been used to apply other synthetic materials and the land being planted cannot have been treated with synthetic materials for 3 years. most organic farmers do employ mechanical and cultural tools to help control pests including traps, crop selection including growing disease-resistant varieties, and biological controls such as predator insects or beneficial microorganisms. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free. The pesticides that are allowed for organic food production are typically not man-made and tend to have natural substances such as soaps, lime sulfur, hydrogen peroxide or other ingredients. Now of course not all natural substances are allowed in organic agriculture such as arsenic or tobacco dust.

I personally don’t buy a lot of organic produce because it’s much more expensive and unless you’re buying it straight from the grower you really don’t know exactly what they’re putting on even these organic products. We do like to frequent the local farmer’s market, however, where much of it is organic and/or pesticide free.

So there we have it, folks! Some great advice that I hope you can use yourself and pass on to your fellow running friends.

And when it comes to coaching and improving your running, the way I’ve seen it, you have two choices. You can decide to remain where you’re at or make a decision to improve further.

On one hand, you can choose not to invest in working with me as your coach. If you walk down this path you’ll continue to go at it alone, trying to piece together tips, tricks, and hacks, maybe have some success but also likely struggle on your own a bit. Running that first marathon or personal best is tough cookies and you’re risking being in the same position in 3 months as you are now.

If you want to stay on that path, that’s your choice if you’re good to go how you are.

But on the other hand, we have the one where I simplify and guide every aspect of your fitness, we integrate meditation + mindfulness and of course the miles, you’re held accountable and motivated and feel GREAT about what you’re doing and your progress.

Which option will it be?

If it’s the success path, head here: ​