Holistically Healthy Cold Remedies

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Sorry I didn’t post anything last week – I came down with a pretty bad cold at the beginning of the week.

While I was lying in bed recovering, I realized that the perfect blog post upon my return would be a list of effective cold remedies!

Now of course, when a cold gets bad enough, we may turn towards the cough suppressant and decongestant pharmaceuticals…but it’s important to remember this are merely bandages. They reduce the symptoms (frequently through the power of placebo), but they do nothing to shorten the length of the cold.

Below is a list of easy, affordable, and, best of all, clinically proven steps you can take to feel better and recover from the common cold.

  • Zinc – For my whole life I’ve heard to mega-dose vitamin C, using the popular Emergen-C packets, during a cold. While vitamin C has many uses in the body, it’s never been proven effective at “beating a cold”. However, in multiple studies, supplementing with less than 50mgs of Zinc a day reduced the length of a cold by 50%!

When you’re in the cold aisle of the pharmacy, you’ll see plenty of throat drops that have zinc in them due to these studies. But guess what? Dosages are rarely listed and many also contain Vitamin C which prevents Zinc absorption. Instead of paying top dollar for a day worth of dissolvable zinc wafers, head over to the supplement aisle and get a full bottle of standardized zinc gluconate or acetate vitamins. Break each tablet into quarters and take a piece before every meal (keeping separate from sources of vitamin C).

  • Hydrogen Peroxide – This is a more unenjoyable remedy, but not nearly as unpleasant as the awful symptoms of the rhinovirus! Purchase 3% hydrogen peroxide for a dollar at any pharmacy or market. Lay on your side at home and pour a few drops in the ear facing the ceiling. It will feel cold and may bubble or sting slightly. Tough it out and wait until the bubbling subsides (usually 5 to 10 minutes) before draining your ear, rolling over, and repeating the same process on the other side.

Although we’ve all been raised to fear germs spreading through sneezing, coughing, and runny noses, the virus that carries the common cold often enters the body through the ear canals. This tactic proves to be 80% successfully at reducing the length and severity of cold symptoms! Just be sure to start it immediately, while the germs are still multiplying in the ears, and do it as frequently as possible (at least 3 times a day during the first day or two).

  • Sinus Rinse – This method doesn’t necessarily cure a cold, but it will provide more sinus pressure relief and clear nasal passageways than most over the counter medicines. Purchase a Neti-Pot or a Sinus Rinse bottle (with pH balanced solution packets) in any pharmacy. Most packages will come with instructions but all you have to do is lean over the sink, insert the nozzle in one nostril, and squeeze the water through your sinuses and out the other side.

Be sure not to use tap water for this – you will want to boil water and let it cool to guarantee you’re not introducing any new living organisms into your body.

  • Mint/Eucalyptus Rubs – Apply a product like Vick’s Vapor-Rub on your chest, throat, and under your nose after bathing, showering, and before bed. This can help clear the sinuses, provide a cooling sensation for sore areas, and even reduce severity of coughs. It won’t end the cold any sooner, but it will provide you some much needed physical relief.
  • Spicy Food – Again, this probably won’t shorten the life of a cold, but it can make you feel immensely better. Besides clearing the sinuses and making you feel warm from the inside out, spicy foods can actually cause mild euphoria, which can act as a pain-reliever throughout the body.

I typically make a hot “tea” or chicken broth, containing lemon juice, ginger, garlic, apple cider vinegar, pepper, salt, turmeric, and cayenne. Play around with the amounts of inputs – you want enough spice that you are almost sweating by the end drinking it.

Besides these tactics, which are most effective if followed the moment symptoms appear, I also try to take extra vitamins in general, get more sleep than normal, take more steam showers (or hold my head over a boiling pot of water), and eat more fermented foods.

When I was growing up I would get a few colds every year. They would typically last 5 to 10 days, with 3 to 5 of those days being almost unbearable. Since I’ve switched my diet around and adjusted my lifestyle in general, I now only get 1 cold a year.

Last week I woke up on Monday with a tickle in my throat. By the time I got home from work I knew I was getting sick. That night I didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours without waking up in a coughing fit or struggling to breathe through a clogged nose. When I woke up Tuesday I felt so miserable, with a splitting headache from sinus pressure, that I even called out of work. After going back to sleep for a few hours to give my body time to recover, I immediately began a regimen of zinc supplementation, filling my ears with hydrogen peroxide, and sinus rinses every couple hours.

I woke up Wednesday feeling at least 50% better! I was able to get up at 5AM, go through my typical workout, and have a productive day at work. I continued using these aids throughout the weekend, reducing the frequency as the days passed.

Anecdotal reports online support these results and, as previously mentioned, even clinical studies show some of these tactics as being more effective than over the counter medicines. And they should all cost less than $20 and carry next to no side effects.

So, next time you start feeling a cold coming on, invest in this survival kit and start treatment immediately! I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes your go-to cold remedy, taking the place of modern chemicals.

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What I’ve Been Up To: Lifestyle & Supplements

What I've been up to (2)

After my last two posts, you should be all caught up on what I’ve done nutritionally and in terms of exercise over the past year – but what about everything else? As the last part in this 3-post series, I’ll discuss any development in lifestyle that contribute to health, starting with sleep!

With my new work schedule, I can either workout before work, from about 5:30-7AM, or after work, closer to 6PM. I personally love to start my day with a workout and doubt I’d feel up to anything truly productive after 9 hours of computer-based work. 

images (2)So, I’ve transitioned from sleeping 10+ hours to hardly 8. Now yes, I am still getting more than the average American, but I no longer wake-up before my alarm, eager to hop up. Some of this could be due to having to be up before the sun as well, which has been a good excuse to get back to using my “light therapy” lamp!

At the moment I am not trying to build muscle or set PR’s in the gym so I’ve been able to make due with less sleep. But we’ll have to see what happens as my focus shifts…

I still foam roll every night and take an Epsom salt bath before bed (in the summer its turned into more of a shower with an Epsom salt scrub). Rolling certainly decreases
soreness but I find there is a point of diminishing returns. 

One thing I have made a better effort to incorporate is 15 minutes a day in nature. It makeswpid-rest_optionsan enormous difference for me, psychologically, to walk through the trees to a river behind my house after work. And the added Vitamin D from the sun is an added benefit!

Before I get into supplements, let’s cover the ever-popular topic of what I consider to be an “indulgent supplement” – alcohol. For about a year or two, I didn’t touch alcohol. I’ve since become a little more moderate, having an occasional drink if I’m out in a social situation, or splitting a bottle of red wine with friends on a Saturday.

No, my opinion (and the facts) about alcohol have not changed. Yes, it is still a toxin with more detriments than benefits. But, I haven’t noticed any detriment to my health or performance when consuming a moderate amount once a week, and it does bring certain social and relaxation benefits with it.

What about other supplements though?

I’ve start consuming a “pre-workout” drink before training. I’ve always said a cup of coffee is sufficient, and I still believe that. But, the extra bit of energy and focus that certain pre-workout powders contain make an amazing difference for me, getting to the gym before the sun rises.

quote_food always have recommended Vitamin D for those that don’t spend hours in the sun everyday…but we are seeing a reduction in benefits when too much is consumed. There are still no reports of overdoses (like Vitamin A for example) but we see that those with extremely low blood levels, and high levels, both suffer worse health outcomes. Instead of just recommending 10,000 IUs a day, I favor getting a blood test and supplementing to keep your levels in the 35 to 50 ng/mL range.

I have also started using vitamin C, B vitamins, and Valerian Root on occasion. But I still don’t recommend them for everyone across the board – they tend to have limited application in times of stress (such as starting a new job, sleeping less, or eating a calorie deficit). I still think there is good reason to supplement with magnesium (either transdermal or oral), but I’ve stopped consuming fish oil altogether.

The argument for fish oil makes sense, but, from a chemistry standpoint, consuming the most unstable fat in nature, extracted from fish, packaged into bottles, shipped across the world, and stored for weeks or months, doesn’t seem ideal.

I avoid vegetable/seed oils and grains, only eat beef and dairy from grass-fed cows, and consume seafood often. This seems like a much more sensible way to improve my omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.

Feel free to comment, or contact me directly, if you have questions about what lifestyle changes, or supplements, may be most suitable for your wants and needs!

Next week we‘ll get back to the nutrition and fitness topics that most of you have come to expect of me – thanks for sticking through all the posts about me from this past week!

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Epsom Salt Baths

Most times of the year, I schedule a workout 5 days a week. This gives me 3 or 4 days of strength training and 1 or 2 days of conditioning. Including a warm-up and cool-down, my workout takes just over one hour.

If I can find an hour everyday to workout, I can certainly find under an hour to go through some recovery techniques.

One recovery method previously discussed is foam rolling. Today, I’ll talk about my other favorite technique – taking an Epsom Salt bath.

Epsom salt consists of magnesium sulfate, a combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen.

The planets water and soils used to contain far more magnesium, but due to overpopulation and unsustainable farming practices, the Earth’s stores have been greatly depleted. This in turn means that we are not consuming nearly as much magnesium as we once did.

Low magnesium levels can cause weakness, cramps, arrhythmias, anxiety, tremors, confusion, depression, hypertension, and seizures. Countless times I have seen clients eliminate foot cramps or difficulty sleeping by simply raising their magnesium levels.

Another cause of these symptoms is our high consumption of dairy and calcium fortified products. Magnesium and calcium work together in the body. Calcium causes muscles to contract while magnesium allows them to relax. Consuming massive amounts of calcium, without properly balancing magnesium levels accordingly, can contribute to tension, muscle tightness, and electrolyte imbalances.

Some choose to consume powdered or tablet forms of supplemental magnesium. Although this is effective for raising magnesium levels, oral bioavailability of magnesium varies greatly and high doses may have a laxative effect.

For this reason, on workout days, I spend a minimum of 15 minutes in a hot bath, with 1 cup of Epsom salt, before bed.

This is the perfect way to relax at the end of a long day. The hot water and magnesium relaxes the muscles while the still nature of the water and peaceful setting can greatly calm the mind.

Epsom salt is inexpensive and causes no dangerous side effects. The worst that may happen with soaking too long, or using excessive amounts of Epsom salt, would be lethargy or a heavy feeling in the limbs.

I have noticed that since I start incorporating this workout technique years ago, I recover from workouts sooner and fall asleep much faster.

Next time you’re at the store, spend a few dollars on a bag of Epsom salt and take a 15-minute bath that day. Let me know if your results are as worthwhile as mine!

Bath

How to lift without “Getting Bulky”

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My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

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Female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky?

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at paulromasco@hotmail.com !

 

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Improve Your Hormone Levels

As I promised a few weeks ago, I’ll provide some simple steps you can take to improve your hormone levels.

Just to reiterate, your hormone levels dictate a large part of your health, performance, and body composition.

For the actual details about healthy hormone levels and effects, please refer to my post about testosterone.

Without further ado, here are the safest and most effective tactics to manage healthy hormone levels:

• Make sure you are consuming a nutrient rich diet.
Any nutrient deficiency has the potential to negatively impact hormones, but the biggest culprits will be zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, and magnesium. I’ll do a post explaining which foods have the most nutrient value later on but, for now, I’ll just recommend oysters, liver (if you can stand the flavor and have a high-quality source), avocados, eggs (particularly the yolk), and plenty of naturally-raised, well-treated meats, full of the fats and proteins your body needs to manufacture testosterone.

• Consume dietary cholesterol on a regular basis.
The best sources are eggs, shrimp, and fattier cuts of beef (grass-fed of course!). Cholesterol is a precursor to testosterone production. Keep in mind, the cholesterol you eat will only raise your HDL a little and have hardly any effect on triglycerides (the “bad” cholesterol in the blood).

• Avoid over-consuming carbohydrates.
Starches and sugars will cause insulin spikes in the blood. Your muscles can only store so many carbs before the insulin forces carbs to be stored in fat cells. This insulin will also disrupt normal hormone signaling.

• Get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
During the first few hours of sleep, your body will release the largest amount of human growth hormone, allowing your body to recover from the day. I know everyone says they can get by with 6 hours…but your body composition, mental performance, and energy levels will always be better with a proper 8 hours of sleep.

• Lift something heavy a few times a week.
This will stimulate the body to produce testosterone to recover from the stimulus. Again, keep in mind that heavy lifting isn’t what produces bulky muscles…that would be higher repetitions (8-15) for multiple sets (3-4) with very little rest (30-90 seconds).

• Do some high intensity interval training.
Refer to my post from a few weeks ago. This has the potential of benefiting hormones more than any other exercise.

• Avoid alcohol.
Or at least try to moderate your intake. Alcohol will convert testosterone to estrogen within the body.

• Avoid stress.
This might be the most difficult but cortisol, released when you’re stressed, will lower testosterone levels. Some of the easiest things you can do are to limit your caffeine intake and take time during the day to stare off into nature or distract yourself from the stresses of our modern lives.

One final method for increasing testosterone levels is to supplement directly with hormones (a.k.a. steroids). However, this is a much more controversial and potentially unsafe method that I’ll save for another post.

Give all these things a try and see if you notice an improvement in body composition, strength, recovery, or just general mood and energy on a daily basis!

High Intensity Interval Training

Hill SprintsIf you read any fitness magazines or websites than you may have seen the phrase “high intensity interval training”, sometimes abbreviated as “HIIT”.

This is a method of aerobic conditioning, alternating short periods of high-intensity work with low-intensity recoveries.

An example would be sprinting up a hill as fast as you, then walking back down and catching your breath, before running up again. You would alternate this for as many intervals as you can.

The science behind HIIT is still in its infancy but, thus far, we know that 15 minutes of HIIT provides more benefits to the body than 2 hours of “steady state cardio”. Also, one high-intensity burst of power during regular cardio is not as effective as alternating high-intensity efforts with periods of recovery for the entire workout. Finally, studies have shown that HIIT increases the release of human growth hormone within the body by about 500% for two hours after the workout!
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Remember, it’s these benefits to our hormone levels that make it possible to reduce body fat while improving lean muscle mass, strength, and bone density.

My favorite thing about HIIT is the efficiency. I always tell my clients, they can take a Spinning class, for an hour, twice a week, and end up famished, ultimately overeating later in the day, or perform one HIIT session for less than 30 minutes counting a warm up and cool down.

In addition, high intensity interval training can be modified based upon the individual’s capability and equipment available.

For example, in the summer I prefer hill sprints or sprinting on a grass field. In the winter, I move indoors and perform intervals on a rowing machine or stairmaster.

A safe and effective way to start a HIIT routine is to warm up for a few minutes on a rowing machine or stationary bike, and then alternate 30 seconds as fast as you can with 30 second recoveries. Continue this until you feel like you could only complete one or two more intervals. Finally, cool down for another few minutes and do some stretching or foam rolling.

Even though this protocol is referred to as high intensity, it is entirely dependent upon the effort you put forth. For this to be effective, you want to move at a speed that you could not sustain comfortably for much more than 30 seconds…but the key word is “comfortably”. You don’t have to push beyond your comfort zone to experience the amazing results of HIIT. All you have to do is be willing to work very hard for some short intervals once or twice a week.

It’s actually important you don’t push too hard as it can cause adrenal fatigue or burnout. For this reason, I recommend clients limit HIIT sessions to once or twice a week in the beginning and always stop when they feel like they could only complete one or two more intervals at their “high-intensity” pace.

So, give it a try, play with the variables, and reap the amazing benefits of high intensity interval training!

Foam Rolling

As a change of pace this week let’s look at the recovery technique known as foam rolling.

As the name implies, foam rolling is the act of position one’s body on a foam tube and rolling over different muscles or tissues. I have mentioned foam rolling before when listing different recovery techniques, but today I’ll explain this topic in depth.

The technical term for foam rolling is “self-myofascial release”.

Our muscles are encased in soft tissue known as fascia, hence myofascial release.

Very often, training, or alternatively, inactivity, can cause muscle tension, soreness, and reduced blood flow through the tissue. By massaging (rolling or kneading) the fascia, blood flow will improve and the soreness should dissipate.

The act of foam rolling can be very painful in the moment, particularly when you roll over a muscle you used recently training (known as a “trigger point”).

I always joke with my clients that foam rolling “is the only time you’ll see me cry”. If you read my previous post that first touched upon foam rolling, you’ll recall that I have a metal Trigger Point roller that can be frozen, resulting in a more intense feeling.

Now, just to clarify, I am not a “no pain, no gain” type of trainer. I always like my clients to feel like they can complete a few more repetitions or intervals to ensure they are not overtraining. But, I will still tell them that, as long as they are rolling on muscle and not bone or cartilage, the immediate resulting sensations may not be pleasant.

If you stick with it for long enough however, you should notice improved recovery, primarily due to less time spent feeling stiff and sore after workouts.

The most common parts of the body to roll are the abductors (the outer thigh…particularly the IT Band), the adductors (inner thigh), hamstrings and glutes, and the length of the back. But, if you search around online, and are willing to crawl around on the floor for long enough, you can find a way to roll almost every muscle in your body.

I tend to use a softer roller in the morning to warm up my body for the day and save my metal roller for before bed to really dig in and massage my sore muscles from the day.

Foam rolling is not only for recovery from intense exercise however.

A quick anecdotal testament to the efficacy of foam rolling: I had a middle-aged female client that had extreme low back pain her entire life. Doctors, chiropractors, and even physical therapists were not able to give her any relief. We tried strengthening her core, we tried improving hamstring and hip flexibility, but nothing worked. Finally, at the end of one session, I had her roll out her thighs. When she woke up the next day, her back pain was gone. No amount of strengthening, stretching, or resting helped as much as a simple self-myofascial release.

I have some of my beginning clients lay on a foam roller, lining their spine up with it. Even this will help alleviate muscle tightness throughout the chest and back. And it may even reveal postural issues stemming from the spinal alignment

So, next time you are at a gym that has a foam roller, try taking a seat on it and slowing rolling along your back, thighs, hamstrings, glutes, or calves. It may be awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning but the benefits are definitely worth it in my professional opinion.