Startup Vitamins and Maximizing Energy

Running a startup is like nothing else I’ve ever done. It’s an exhilarating 24×7, always-on series of experiences, interactions and product evolution. If you’re running or working at a startup, you’ll probably understand the need to have your brain (and body) functioning at 110% at all times.

If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to squeeze another hour out of the day — answer 5 more emails, return 3 more phone calls, finish up one more proposal — however you want to justify it to yourself. Then you get home super-late, just in time to shovel down something that shouldn’t be described as “dinner”, spend a few moments enjoying the company of family and friends, and then hit the hay for the night. Oh, and you may have skipped a few meals during the day as you were plowing through some back-to-back meetings.

Well if that sounds like your normal routine, it’s probably not a huge stretch to say you’re also constantly striving to maximize your energy, performance and endurance, and minimize the stress that you put on your body — so that you can do even more! If you’re a poor eater, then you may also find yourself with a foggy mind. That’s no fun for anyone.

I’m no nutritionist, but I recently went to see one and learned some great things. So… I thought I’d share my learnings with the community for it’s collective good.

In less than 2 weeks, I’ve gone from from having a foggy brain, feeling light-headed and slightly dizzy (after working solid for most of the day), exhausted when I got home at the end of each day to feeling sharp in the morning, no signs of dizziness throughout the day and feeling full of energy when I get home at the end of the day.

It turns out that there are a number of factors that contributed to this change. Nothing hugely substantial, just some basic changes, some scientific rationale/reasoning and finding a small bit of time to cook and eat better foods.

My learnings have shown the following to make a huge (positive) difference in my energy, mental clarity and general well-being (in no particular order):

  • Cut alcohol and caffeine
  • Drink 3-5L water each day
  • Sleep more than 6.5 hours each night
  • DHA and other healthy oils are important
  • Supplement with other energy boosting vitamins
  • Increase protein intake at breakfast and other meals
  • Avoid problem foods (food sensitivities)
  • Graze throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady
  • Stop making excuses, go back to the gym

The first three points above are fairly straightforward; however, if you’re sleeping from 3:00am-10:00am your sleep will not give you the same restorative effects and benefits as a sleep that is from 10:00pm to 5:00am. There are built-in processes tied to your circadian rhythm and if you’re awake and not sleeping during those times, your body essentially skips those cycles. Do this repeatedly and you’ll feel like crap in no time.

DHA is one of the Omega fatty acids (healthy oils) that is primarily derived from fish. I recently learned that it is absolutely critical for a high-functioning brain. Also, I don’t eat fish. Your brain is a very fatty tissue and DHA is required for a number of synaptic signaling mechanisms; if you don’t get enough DHA in your diet, your brain can’t signal as effectively and hence runs slower or becomes foggy. Boom.

Of course, I had an added issue which was that I didn’t really eat much fat or cholesterol-containing foods — stayed away from butter, fatty meats, yadda yadda — in efforts to be healthy, but was achieving an opposing end. Again, I was recently reminded that the cells in our bodies have a phospholipid bilayer (a cell membrane that is composed of fatty acid molecules as well as cholesterol to keep it loose and fluid) and mine was leakier than it should be because I didn’t have enough fats in my diet. The leaky membrane causes more water to flow out of the cells, leaving them slightly dehydrated and more susceptible to oxidative damage (hint: eat lots of anti-oxidants, they’re good for you too)! Nonetheless, this has been a fatty, tasty and scrumptious problem to solve and cure.

To get my required oils, I’ve supplemented my diet with DHA (2 capsules / day) from Metagenics, Omega 3 capsules, liquid flax seed oil (added to my green smoothies), coconut oil (used to stir fry at higher temperatures) and butter.

To improve my energy, I’ve supplemented with an active form of Vitamin B12 called Methyl-cobalamin, B100 complex (warning: your urine will turn a highlighter form of yellow), and Siberian Ginseng (caution: don’t take for more than 30 days; don’t use Korean or Canadian Ginseng, it’s not as good as the Siberian stuff, they know how to make it right!). Take these in the morning and not before bed, or you’ll find yourself wired all night. Also, I believe big contributing factors include proper sleep, drinking over 3L water everyday and working out at least twice per week (at a minimum, and even for 30 minutes if time is tight). Cutting caffeine and alcohol will help here.

If you’re stressed out, Vitamin B complex will help you cope, add Vitamin D (if you don’t get much sun) and consider yoga/meditation — or if time is even more constrained — find 5 minutes every hour to get up and walk down the hall while doing some deep breathing. You’d be surprised, but it makes a difference, just don’t let people catch you in the act or they may think you’re a bit strange.

One last tip: I’ve been starting my day with these green smoothies and they rock because it’s a fully balanced meal packed with protein, fats, carbs, antioxidants, fibre and calories to burn. My green smoothie contains spinach, kale, frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, fresh kiwi, banana, POM juice (optional), 1 serving of whey protein powder, 2% fat yogurt, kefir, flex seed oil and water. Blend it up and you’re good to go!

Let me know if you decide to adopt any of these recommendations, I’d be curious to know and hear about whether or not any of the changes worked for you as well.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned above, I am not a nutritionist so please consult one or a physician before you add any vitamin supplements to your diet, especially if you are taking any prescription medication.

Personal Metrics for 2010

In the early days of 2010, I have undertaken a few new year’s resolutions. One of these resolutions is to record and track a number of daily activities and fitness metrics. I was incentivized to do this by Brad Feld, whose 2009 metrics were pretty impressive! In 2010, I am going to be tracking the number of books and magazines I read (and their genre, of course), workouts (broken down by type) and logging net time as well as unique instances, daily mood (or “feeling today”) and number of hours of sleep logged. I’ve also set goals in each of these categories and I’m excited to see how the presence of a tracking mechanism affects my net performance and my choices of what I do with my ever-decreasing spare time.

There are a few tools that can help to keep track of this data for you such as Daytum, but that requires a $4/month fee; I simply created a Google Spreadsheet with inputs on one tab and a dashboard of progress on another – an economy version of sorts. Let me know if you want a copy.

Some more granular tools can keep track of some specific details if you are really into this stuff. For example, a company called Zeo has a product for $249 that tracks minute details of your night’s sleep such as time in REM and disturbances and can upload data to it’s website for further analysis and coaching on how to get a better night’s sleep; I’d love to try it, but I heard it was only semi-effective. There are also plenty of tools to track running including a suite of pedometers, GPS-enabled units and embedded heart rate monitoring to ensure that you maintain an ideal cardiac output during your workout. No need to venture into more detail here. Let me know your favourite tools that you use to track your life, workouts and whatever else you track!

Pharmaceuticals in Ground Water

The journal Ground Water (May/June 2007 issue) reported on the findings of pharmaceuticals in septic tanks, and ground water due to incomplete human metabolism and excretion.

I’m not sure what all the hype is about. This was evident to happen when drugs were designed to be excreted without being broken down by metabolic processes. Didn’t big pharma come up with a plan to treat water systems, or should that be left to the government?

See full story.

Today’s Healthy Picks

A few headlines today demonstrate some beneficial foods to keep you healthy.
Eat pistachios, and macadamia nuts … also, drink your daily cup of coffee – or five! Picstachios were found to lower cholesterol and provide antioxidants, macademia nuts were shown to reduce cardiovascular disease (according to researchers) and coffee was shown (in moderate consumption) to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease in addition to previous studies showing it reduces kidney stones, gallstones, depression and suicide.

Eat Your Berries!

Cyanidin-3-rutinoside, or C-3-R which is found in fruits and vegetables has been found to have extremely high chemopreventive properties. When extracted from black raspberries, it was found to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) in leukemia and lymphoma cell lines. It is thought that this compound can prevent other cancers from developing as well. One of the most interesting aspects of the research discusses how C-3-R, an antioxidant, that usually stabilizes reactive oxygen species (free radicals), actually increases the amount of peroxides (reactive oxygen species) within leukemia cells through an activated mitochondria-mediated apoptotic pathway. See full story for more details.

Play in the Mud. Fight Depression.

Maybe its not that simple, but exposure to probiotic bacteria commonly found in soil have been linked to the brain chemical, serotonin.

  • Cancer patients increased their qualities of life with exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae
  • M. vaccae activated a group of neurons to produce more serotonin mitigating depression

Full article at Getting Dirty May Lift Your Mood.

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Chicken McNuggets

Okay, this may not have to do with biotech, but since there was mention of mutations, mutagens and tumorigenic additives, I figured it “could fit”. In any case, I loved McD’s Chicken McNuggets (notice the past tense there…) until I read this article, that got its founding from the book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Apparently McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are composed of 38 ingredients, and are 56% corn! The book goes into each in detail, but I want to concentrate on the genetics aspect of this. Here is a list of chemical additives that are harmful to your DNA:

dimethylpolysiloxene: suspected carcinogen, established mutagen, tumorigen, and reproductive effector. It is also flammable.

tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ): antioxidant derived from petroleum. TBHQ is a form of butane (lighter fluid). FDA limits addition of TBHQ to less than 0.02% percent of the oil per nugget [Suggestion: choose hotdogs over chicken mcnuggets in a spur of the moment eating contest.]

So, what are you eating next time you go out to McDonald’s?

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US Masks Global Warming Consequences

The US administration is being accused with editing out the significance from the scientific proposals made by lead scientists, notably James Hansen who is the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a pioneer who first started warning us all about the threats of climate change.

There was a great article that talks about all the hype – from NewScientist, I have highlighted some of the interesting points:

In a 10-year policy plan, Cooney and Brian Hannegan, also at CEQ, made at least 181 edits to emphasize scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of climate change and 113 changes to minimise the importance of human contributions to global warming, according to the committee’s memo.

For example, Cooney replaced “will” with “may” in the sentence: Warming temperatures will also affect Arctic land areas.” He also deleted this sentence: “Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.”

Hansen had previously accused political appointees of trying to silence scientists (see US agencies accused of muzzling climate experts). His case came to prominence in 2006 after he had called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (see Top climatologist accuses US of trying to gag him).

See full article at: US fudging of climate science – details revealed

Exercising: your Heart and Brain

Okay … this isn’t so much about genetics or biotech, but these articles are ones I came across and said “wow, I have to tell people about this” — so here it is!

These articles discuss the scientific reasons why going to the gym makes you feel more alert, and how cardiovascular exercise helps your heart.

The first study shows a correlation between exercise and better results on memory tests. The study done by the Columbia University Medical Center explains specifically what exercise does within the brain:

This finding is significant because it was accomplished via the first-ever observation of neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, within a living brain. Using an MRI imaging technique developed at Columbia, the researchers were able to identify neurogenesis within the dentate gyrus region following exercise.

“No previous research has systematically examined the different regions of the hippocampus and identified which region is most affected by exercise,” said Scott A. Small, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s lead author.

See more at: New Reason To Hit The Gym: Fighting Memory Loss (ScienceDaily)

The second study, also from the Columbia University Medical Center shows that aerobic exercise is good for the heart, but why? Here is what they found:

Whole blood samples were taken from 46 healthy young adults (20-45 years old) both before and after participating in moderate or high intensity aerobic exercise, over a 12-week period.

The blood samples were stimulated with the infectious agent lipopolysaccharide (LPS) – gram negative bacteria – and then analyzed for levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) – an initial step in the inflammatory cascade. Substantially lower levels of TNF were found after aerobic training, in both the moderate and high intensity groups.

“These findings suggest strongly that exercise reduces the systemic inflammation that can lead to heart disease,” said Dr. Sloan. “This study is especially significant because the value of exercise has never before been shown in TNF, and never in healthy adults who were not at high-risk for heart disease.”

See more at: Why Aerobic Exercise Is Good For The Heart (ScienceDaily)

Ethics in Personalized Medicine

Today, I want to highlight a great article I found on the ethical issues in personalized medicine, which is centered around pharmacogenetic information (your specific DNA genotype for a number of specific genes). Firstly, if you want to get up to speed on pharmacogenomics, check out the US government-run Human Genome Project Information site that has some quick Q&A on this topic!

There was an article recently published online by Reagan Kelly, that discusses some ethical issues of personalized medicine, please see some excerpts below:

“Protecting patient privacy is one of the most important things that must be done before ordinary people will be willing to take advantage of individualized medical care, and just about everyone agrees that patient’s have a right to keep details about their health private from most people (even if not from, say, their insurance company or in some cases state or local governments). But how far does that right extend? Does it cover a person’s genetic makeup? That is something that undeniably influences health, and a fair amount of information about what diseases a person has or is at risk for can be extracted from genotype and gene expression information like what would be collected for personalized medicine services. How do you keep that information private and what uses are OK? … Additionally, what about the privacy of other family members? Families share genetic information, and by knowing something about their risk, a person also learns about their relatives’ risks.”

“One of the issues of privacy is also directly related to patient autonomy – the right of a patient to choose what happens to them. The question of what uses of a patient’s data are permissible is not exclusively a question of privacy but also one of autonomy. Is it OK to require a person to allow their data to be used for risk profiling or diagnosis as a condition of performing the service for them?”

“Cost, just like with the policy issues last time, is a significant ethical issue as well. Something like 46 million people are without health insurance today, and many more have insurance plans that cover only the most basic things. How can we provide access to personalized medicine to everyone? Is access for everyone a reasonable goal? Is it an attainable one?”

Please see the full article for more details.