Our six hour trek began at the base of a dormant volcano about three hours northwest of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. Our 4×4 vehicle, filled with friends and our guide, has taken us as far as Volcanos National Park will allow this particular combustible engine to pass. At 7,700 feet of elevation and on relatively flat land, we took our first steps on our way to the park entrance navigating through a small village followed by a series of nutrient rich, agricultural fields. This was our first glimpse into the daily life of a rural Rwandan farmer. Distant, and repeated, calls of ‘hello’ were heard from many high-pitched and scattered voices. A quick look up from the narrow and muddy trail we spotted the young farmers with wide smiles and flailing hands making their way to our trail. Without losing pace, we were able to return a few high-fives and make some new friends.
At this point, there were many emotions heightening our senses. Being the first time to this region, we are experiencing a positive sensory overload as we absorb the new scenery, new culture, new food, new smells, and an ever growing excitement of encountering our first mountain gorilla tribe.
Two hours into our ascent we arrived at the park entrance. It was a six foot tall rock wall with a small opening. We were instructed to leave our back packs at the entrance and only bring essential items moving forward. I left a small bag and ensured I had my camera equipment and extra batteries. Passing through the park boundary instantly put us into thick brush and a narrower path. We teamed up with the full-time, friendly gorilla trackers who wielded sharp machetes, necessary for clearing new paths to the always migrating tribe. Another 30 minutes of dodging branches we began to hear some murmurs, followed by a quiet dialogue spoken in the local language, break out between the guide and trackers. Looking and listening expectantly, our first sighting of
gorillas seemed to materialize very quickly. The density of the jungle moved us into a position much closer to the tribe than expected. Feelings of caution, awe, exhilaration and intimidation rapidly replaced all anticipation. We were surrounded by a gorilla family from babies up to a dominant, 400 plus pound male silverback. As a young-adult gorilla walked by, nearly brushing against me, I recalled our orientation prior to the journey when guides mentioned to keep a distance of 7 meters. Apparently, some rules did not apply in that situation. At that time, it was confirmation that we were now in gorilla territory, abiding by their rules. We were only to remain calm, quiet and observe.
It was heartening to learn how serious Rwanda was about protecting the gorillas and their habitat. Not all gorilla families are habituated with human encounters. Many families will never see a tourist and the families that do encounter outside visitors are limited to small groups, only one hour per day. It was reported to us that there are only about 880 mountain gorillas alive today and only live in the high-altitude, volcanic regions within Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Our hour with this Rwandan gorilla tribe, without a doubt, was well worth the travel and cost to this remote area and exceeded all of my expectations. And, that was only Day One.
Cure. A very strong and controversial word within the medical and pharmaceutical communities. Turmeric, a plant that produces a spice for medicinal use and food preparation, has been benefiting cultures in Asia for thousands of years. Even recently, claims have been made about turmeric curing specific types of cancer. Many people probably believe this to be an absurd claim, but does evidence exist to support this case? I admit, how can a cheap spice available in many local markets compete with a very well funded pharmaceutical industry? The orange-yellowish powder is relatively new to the western world, arriving in Europe sometime in the mid-20th century. Today, turmeric is talked about in almost every media outlet from mainstream to smaller independents. Google analytic’s show a 300% growth of ‘turmeric’ searches within the last 5 years. So, what is it about turmeric that has everyone energized? Is there some truth behind these awe-inspiring claims?
The two main uses for turmeric are for medicinal and culinary purposes. For the sake of this post, we’ll focus on the medicinal aspect. The active ingredient in turmeric, and in small amounts of ginger, that shows to be beneficial to our health is a molecule called curcumin. This powerful component of turmeric “exerts potent anti-inflammatory effects, and these anti-inflammatory effects may be protective against some form of cancer progression based on very preliminary research,” according to examine.com. TTAC adds that, “Based on a 2011 study conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, researchers found that the curcumin extract effectively differentiates between cancer cells and normal cells while activating cancer cell death (apoptosis).”
Aside from evidence curcumin is effective against certain types of cancer, it is also known to “help detoxify and rejuvenate the liver, reduce negative effects of iron overload , increase antioxidant capacity in the body, regenerate brain cells and improve cognitive function, reduce likelihood of and treats Alzheimer’s, is anti-inflammatory, reduce heart disease risk, reduce depression, and fight premature aging,” says naturalnews.com. Examine.com has reviewed 288 individual, scientific studies on curcimin and created an easy to read matrix based on the various study results. In this table you can see the magnitude of effect curcumin has on humans, the level of evidence to support said effect, and the level of consistency in the results.
Some personal testimonies are even more optimistic. In one reported case, a woman eliminated stage-3 myeloma by using a strict regiment of curcumin. Mrs. Dieneke Furguson was first diagnosed with the blood cancer in 2007 and it had spread quickly. UK Daily Mail reports that, “Doctors say her case is the first recorded instance in which a patient has recovered by using the spice after stopping conventional medical treatments. With her myeloma spreading rapidly after three rounds of chemotherapy and four stem cell transplants, the 67-year-old began taking 8g of curcumin a day – one of the main compounds in turmeric.”
The Mayo Clinic, a well know cancer research and medical practice center, is hesitant to conclude that turmeric has any of the aforementioned qualities…in humans. However, in a monotonous write-up on their website mayoclinic.org, they do admit that research is “ongoing” and that “laboratory and animal research suggests that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from damage by radiation therapy.” In my opinion, this is a highly notable statement from one of the largest “not-for-profit” hospitals, that happened to rake in almost $11 billion in revenue in 2016 ($278 million in retail pharmacy sales alone), that financially benefit from expensive and ghastly cancer treatments. I did mention before that turmeric root powder was cheap, only costing about $25 for an organic, lead-free tested, 24 ounce bag. It would be quite difficult for large medical clinics to profit from something you could grow in your backyard if further studies continue to prove the promising results.
There are a few downsides to curcumin to take note. It has low bioavailability, meaning the body has challenges absorbing this powerful compound. According to nautralnews.com, a few ways to increase absorption and maximize your curcumin intake is to combine this spice with healthy fats (olive oil, avocado), a black pepper extract called piperine, or combine with quercetin. “Foods high in quercetin include red wine, red grapes, onions, green tea, apples, cranberries, blueberries, black plums, red leaf lettuce, raw kale, chicory greens, raw spinach, sweet peppers, snap beans and raw broccoli. The best whole food source of quercetin is capers.” Naturalnews continues, “Some test tube studies suggest that high concentration of curcumin can cause DNA damage as well as suppress the immune system.” As with many things in life, moderation is important. Curejoy.com reports that, “Dietary intake of turmeric on a regular basis is fine and seems to cause no side effects. However, some people have complained of stomach aches after prolonged ingestion of large amounts of turmeric. There have also been some reports of skin problems and irritation on consuming large amounts.” In others words, follow recommended serving sizes and stop using if you are noticing negative side effects. As with many non-regulated supplements, quality can vary. Ensure you are buying turmeric or curcumin from a legitimate and trusted source. If you plan to use turmeric for reasons beyond adding it to your daily diet as healthy, preventative measure, ensure you perform your own, adequate research.
In conclusion, there have been a vast amount of studies performed on turmeric that are showing promising results. These same studies have also shown that some of the benefits claimed may be more probable, while others claims may be more hype. However, just about every source I reviewed did agree on one common fact, turmeric is effective to some degree. The ongoing debate will be how effective is curcumin for each desired outcome. If you make a choice to introduce proper quantities of turmeric into your diet, ensure you purchase from a trustworthy source. Also, take steps to maximize the benefits of the turmeric you ingest by following the bioavailablily tips noted above. Ask your friends or family members if they have any experience using turmeric and take an active part in researching and sharing your knowledge to others.
If you have not yet set a fitness goal for yourself in 2018, now is the time. What are your priorities? Are you looking to lose weight for summer, gain strength, build mass, or improve your diet? Any of these are good steps towards improving your overall health and keeping you out of the dreaded doctors office. What ever goal suits you at this point in time, remember to start small and set manageable goals that will give you the best chance for success. If your goal is to gain lean muscle mass, check out this article from Men’s Fitness. I’ve also shared a similar, personal success story in previous blog that you can access here. The advice in the article is a simple approach that will give you results, but you’ll need to remain disciplined and patient.
Here are some key components for lean mass gains:
Diet: wholefoods, good ratio of protein/carbs/fat
Small caloric surplus
Slightly reduce your calorie in-take for small periods of time
You have made a decision to improve your health in 2018. Motivation is high and now you are working on building your discipline skill set to carry you though to achieving your goal (read Motivation vs. Discipline post). There are many ways to integrate fitness into your normal routine from home workouts, various outdoor activities, or becoming a member at your local gym. If you have chosen the latter, check out this article by Muscle & Fitness about the worst rookie mistakes you can make in the gym. Here is the quick rundown on what to avoid:
A new year. A new start. A concept many people believe. Although, I have never understood why January 1st carries such a deep association to change and improvement as opposed to any other random date. A change for the better can begin at any time if you have the motivation. Or, is it more discipline that you need? An article from breakingmuscle.com directs the spotlight on motivation vs discipline. Motivation – a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way. Discipline – train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way. From these simple definitions it is apparent that one behavior tends to be sporadic, or short-term, moments while that other seeks consistence. Motivation can burn within a person almost instantaneously resulting from an experience or observation, good or bad, but can then soon smolder. Discipline is the true grit that takes a spontaneous burst of motivational fire that is within you and keep you on track to achieve a new goal.
Discipline is a trait that can be learned, but will most likely be challenging in the beginning. The first step, as mentioned in previous Salus Update Blog posts, is to start small. Do not set yourself up for failure by taking on too much, too fast. Second, set realistic and achievable goals, write them down and keep them in a place where you’ll see them often. Lastly, ensure it is meaningful to you and remind yourself why it’s important to you to achieve the particular goal.
Of course, both motivation and discipline are important. The key is understanding the differences between the two in order to give you the best chance to succeed.
We, humans, underestimate the power of our brains and consciousness. An example of this has been demonstrated through numerous studies and it has come to be known as the placebo effect. A phenomenon that takes place when a fake treatment is administered to a patient that results in positive or negative outcomes. Put in another way, an individual can improve or worsen their particular condition solely based on what the person’s belief’s and expectations are of the treatment. A simple example of this is putting a Band-Aid on a child instantly making the child feel better. A more complex example was shared in the article by experiencelife.com called, “The power of the placebo effect.” In this case, a woman had been in pain when she fractured her spine and was no longer able to perform activities such as playing golf. A few months after the incident, she was included in a “trial for an outpatient procedure called vertebroplasty, which involves injecting medical cement into fractured bone to strengthen it. She walked out of the hospital after the procedure and felt better immediately.” Ten years after the trial she still reported how pleased she was with the outcome, never knowing that she was part of the placebo group.
Other accounts of positive outcomes come even when people know they are taking a placebo. According to webmd.com, “Studies show that placebos can have an effect on conditions such as: depression, pain, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and menopause.” These results are not only imaginary, “some studies show that there are actual physical changes that occur with the placebo effect. For instance, some studies have documented an increase in the body’s production of endorphins, one of the body’s natural pain relievers.”
As experiencelife.com asks, “Might the placebo effect have real clinical value? Can a simple belief – that we are about to get better – have the power to heal?” Research into the placebo effect is relatively new, as the first paper published was only in 1955 called “The Powerful Placebo” by Henry K. Beecher. However, from the studies already completed to date it is looking very promising. A recent study published in 2010 tested 80 patients with IBS. Half of the group knowingly received a placebo and the other half received no treatment of any kind. The “patients who were consciously taking placebos did significantly better than those who received no treatment…and the act of taking a pill was enough to trigger the body’s own healing response.”
A more significant question I have is, why are placebo effect treatments not more widely studied and used in the medical field? I believe the main hindrance is that the pharmaceutical industry is just too powerful to overcome and that there is little money to be made in placebos. According to statista.com, there was almost $1 TRILLION USD global pharmaceutical sales in 2016. $1 TRILLION! In Beecher’s study he reported that 32% of his patients responded to the placebo effect. If doctors prescribed an extremely cheap, non-active, no side effect placebo pill and it was positively effective for one-third of the patients, that could equate to hundreds of millions of lost profits every year for BigPharma. Right there are hundreds of millions of reasons to keep placebos on the back burner instead of focusing on the most important thing, helping people.