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Electrolyte Balance – Part Two

Achieving electrolyte balance is a key step in getting to a place of optimal health. It isn’t an easy thing to do, what with the stress of everyday life (robs your body of potassium), working out hard (lose sodium) and trying to deal with out toxic environment. But, with a little bit of time and effort, you can get it right.

The key issue is getting the right balance of potassium and sodium everyday in your diet to attain electrolyte balance in the long term. As I mentioned in my previous blog on electrolyte balance, you need to get about a 2:1 ratio of potassium over sodium. As you recall, this is not what the average person living in the Western world is getting. According to research, we are nowhere near that ratio, as is evidenced by this important paper. In it they state that it is estimated that only 3% of Americans get the daily need of 4,700 mgs of potassium. That is insane!!! As they put it “Adequate dietary potassium is important for heart and bone health and reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.”

We already have been made aware that many people get more than enough sodium, typically 3,300-3,400 mgs a day but that is only 1 gram more than is recommended. Potassium deficit’s are a much greater problem in my opinion. The best way is by increasing your dietary intake like I mentioned in the previous blog.

Now it sounds to some that I’m being a bit too repetitive on increasing potassium but the data out there shows that it is a crises in the making. Athletes are a group that needs to be aware of this, especially those who cramp a lot. Recently, I did a podcast interview with the guts at Clean Health in Sydney, Australia on the subject of electrolyte balance and athletes (you can find it on iTunes or other podcatchers). In it, I recount a conversation I had with a trainer where they mentioned another “biochemist” claiming that athletes do not need additional potassium as when tested after working out, their levels were high.

What the skeptic failed to realize is that most potassium is intracellular (inside the cell) and when looking at a blood test, you are measuring the extracellular (outside the cell) amounts. Athletes, especially high performing ones, are breaking up cells when they work out which would naturally increase their extracellular levels for a short time but that does not mean they don’t need it. Quite often they cramp precisely because they don’t have enough potassium. Electrolyte balance is key in preventing cramping and improving performance.

So next time you’re out looking for a electrolyte that is truly balanced, make sure it has a 2-1 ratio of potassium over sodium like the ones at KTS Products.

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Electrolytes – Balance is Key – Part 1

One of the most asked questions I am posed with is what supplement(s) would I want to take with me on a desert island and my answer always remains the same, electrolytes. There are others I would bring along depending on how many things I could take like Vitamin C, trace minerals and definitely B-Complex vitamins (wouldn’t want pellagra, beriberi or anemia). Electrolytes though would always be number one.

A better question would be, ‘If you were dropped into a western, developed country, which supplement would you most want to make sure you have available?’ My answer would definitely be electrolytes with a bullet. The balance between two components of electrolytes, sodium and potassium, are as messed up in the Western diet as could be imagined.

Before we go much further, we need to define what electrolytes are. The standard definition is ‘any fluid that conducts, or has the ability to conduct electricity.’ Distilled water does not conduct electricity so would not be considered an electrolyte. Most soft drinks like Cola’s can be called an electrolyte but they are very poor conductors. So what about those sports drinks that are mass marketed? They probably are but they have lots of things in them like sugar and food colorings that are not helpful and for many people, detrimental. Your best choice for good electrolytes contain a balance of salts without sugars, additives or colorings.

Going back to the question of electrolytes and the Western diet, why you might ask, do I feel so strongly about its need? According to research, the average human needs 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day and 2,300 milligrams of sodium. In the typical Western diet, we get about 3,400 milligrams of sodium, slightly above recommendations, but the real kicker is that we only get about 2,400 milligrams of potassium, almost half of what we should be getting.

Today’s health monitors tell us that we need to reduce sodium intake because of its implication in coronary heart disease and in particular, high blood pressure (hypertension). Problem is, most studies done to measure the benefits of sodium reduction come up way short. Frankly, they tell us that reducing sodium intake really doesn’t do anything beneficial unless the amounts ingested are far greater than the average person takes in. Medicine seems to be stumped which astonishes me as they are missing the other side of the equation, potassium deficiency.

The DASH study is supposedly the be all reason why reducing sodium works so well but when you look at the diet, it dramatically increased potassium and magnesium, two of the minerals most deficient in the Western diet. While sodium reduction was the focus, I propose that it was the improved diets (vegetables, legumes and fruits) that helped the most as well of increasing the minerals we needed.

Every food we eat contains potassium so our bodies do not store this essential mineral very well. We don’t need to. Sodium on the other hand, is found in far fewer foods so we have evolved to retain this mineral. For millenium, salt, which is known as sodium chloride or NaCl, was an expensive commodity and not available to everyone. Today, it is loaded into almost every processed food and is a cheap condiment. Because of the West’s reliance on fast food for its convenience and easy availability, we are getting all the sodium we need. Potassium? Not so much.

Fruits, legumes and vegetables are abundant in potassium but that is what we tend to leave out of our diets. And we don’t do this for a few days a week, we do this year in and year out. Continuing to be deficient in potassium should be one of the main concerns in today’s Western diet but unfortunately it isn’t.

Next time, I will continue showing how important electrolyte balance is and what systems within the human body are most affected by imbalances.

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Responses to Comments

In November of this year, I did two speeches at the annual Weston A. Price Foundation conference. Recently, I received my speakers review which had some interesting comments, some of which I’d like to respond to here.

Typically, when I get criticized I like to use it to improve my public speaking which is something I always strive to do. Comments like, “Spoke so fast it was hard to take notes” told me something important that I need to work on. Others, baffled me like, “Mark was too much opinion without 3rd party content or much supporting science.” What baffled me was in that particular presentation I repeatedly mentioned journals the research I was presenting came from and on one slide I listed nine references on the health effects of phthalates. On seven slides out of 46 I listed references or links to sites where the information came from like Environmental Health Perspectives and the Environmental Working Group. On top of it, I always tell my audience to doubt what I say and verify things independently.

One comment that enlightened me was, “I don’t think he fully understands the detoxification process and the role of the gut.” I guess I dropped the ball somewhat on that issue as I didn’t go into it in great detail, something I will do in the future. There are two slides in my presentation where I talked about the role of the gut, and I did go into how important it was to deal with gut issues, especially inflammatory reactions in the gut, but obviously, not enough. That will be a topic that I will go into in a future blog.

Here is one that tells me that the attendee may not have listened to me fully, “For research-oriented presentation I’d like to see bibliography or references; e.g he asserted aspartame proven to lead to insulin resistance – I can’t find proof of this. Great topic though, and otherwise good.” Problem here was I did not say aspartame was proven to lead to insulin resistance. What I did refer to was a paper in the October 9, 2014 issue of Nature magazine (which I referenced) entitled “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.”

I criticized and praised the article. My praise was for the study of this important issue, the overuse of artificial sweeteners and their potential affect on health. What I criticized was their broad statement of culpability of all artificial sweeteners when it seems that when you read the paper, all they studied in lab rats was the affect of saccharin on the gut microbiota. You can’t indict everyone when you only study one of them.

Another criticism I’d like to address was this one, “He stated that electrolytes were helpful for depression and internet later confirmed he is affiliated with seller of such.” Guilty as charged but I stated at the lecture that I had created an electrolyte but I was not going to mention its name as I wanted to avoid my talk being a commercial one, which is something I do at conferences like this one. My affiliation and part ownership of KTS Products is not something I have hidden but I understand the critique. In the future, I will make my affiliations a little bit more assertive, so thanks for the comment.

One critique on a scientific basis I need to address is this one, “Needs to inform himself between glutamic acid in protein and possible injury to brain similar to MSG.” Without glutamic acid, your brain would cease to function. According to Dr. Eric Braverman in his book “The Healing Nutrients Within” (which I highly recommend) “…glutamic acid is the most prolific neurotransmitter; it exists everywhere in the body and is present in almost all nerve cells.” He goes on to say, “Of all the amino acid in the brain, glutamic acid has the highest concentration with the exception of aspartic acid, another glutamate amino acid.” I made it very clear in my talk that there is a distinct difference between MSG and glutamic acid. To eliminate this important amino acid would come with dire consequences. What I also said was that excessive glutamic acid is dangerous. Guess I didn’t say it with enough conviction.

All in all though, it was a great experience to speak at this conference and if you ever get a chance to attend (next year it’s in Anaheim, California), go. The people and the speakers were for the most part amazing and the attendees are fantastic.

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The Plague and Heavy Metals

Talking about the plague and heavy metals may seem like a kind of odd subject to talk about but bear with me, it will be worth it. Just this past weekend I was a speaker at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s (WAPF) annual international conference where I heard a talk from the controversial doctor, Andrew Wakefield. He was the guest of honor and he made a very impassioned speech but there was one comment he made where I had an “ah ha” moment.

As some of you might know, Dr. Wakefield is the British gastroenterologist who made the claim that autistic children had inflamed guts, more so than the average child, and that there seems to be a correlation with the MMR vaccine. He has been vilified by the media and his own professional organizations despite having solid evidence to back his position. His talk at WAPF was passionate and information. Then he made a comment about the plague and heavy metals in the Siberian steppe. This picked my interest despite him only briefly commenting on it.

So why would this three second snippet get my attention? Simple, what he said was that researchers found the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, in marmots on the Russian steppe but only those who foraged on heavy metal laced grasses died of the disease. All of these members of the rodent family had the bacterium but only those with higher levels of heavy metals died of the plague.

This got me to thinking, how many diseases are dormant in our bodies waiting for a trigger to turn them virulent? And I’m not just talking about viruses, bacterium like the plague or parasites like toxoplasma gondii, but chronic diseases like type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer. We get a load of toxins building up, like heavy metals or petrochemicals and when a critical mass is reached, bang, a disease begins to ravage us. This phenomenon can explain a lot of sudden onset disorders which come out of the blue.

My take on this is to not only be on the constant outlook for toxic exposure but to make it a lifestyle choice to always look to detoxify yourself regularly. Whether you follow the protocols of Dr. Andrew Cutler for heavy metal detox or use glycine and other amino acids for petrochemical removal, just do it and do it all the time.

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Sodium Potassium Balance & Muscle Groups

At my last Art and Science of Biochemical Individuality class in the UK, I taught a segment on the influence of sodium and potassium on balanced appearance and muscle groups. This concept was originally taught to me by my mentor, the late John Kitkoski. The idea that you can determine electrolyte balance based on appearance has wide implications and can help find out why some individuals may have problems building certain muscle groups.

The first step in determining imbalances in sodium and potassium is to look a t a persons face. The left side is influenced by sodium and the right side by potassium. If the persons left side is drooping, consider a sodium deficiency (not as rare as you may think). Conversely, if the right side is droopy, then consider a potassium deficiency (very common). One of the best ways to practice this is to watch news anchors and reporters as they typically stare straight into the camera..

The next idea is understand how sodium and potassium affect muscles. Some of you might remember the frog leg experiment from junior high school. When a sodium solution is poured on the frog’s leg, it contracts. When a potassium solution is poured on it, it relaxes. Hence, sodium is important in muscle contraction and potassium is important in muscle relaxation. Bear this in mind when you look at which muscle group sodium and potassium control.

Sodium is important in the both the bicep and hamstring while potassium is important in the tricep and quadricep. Sometimes, when someone has a problem developing one of these muscle groups, their electrolyte balance is off. One caveat is that working on specific electrolytes can easily cause an imbalance which is why I always recommend a balanced electrolyte solution. This is why I developed the Synerplex electrolyte series as I believe that electrolyte balance is key to optimal health and performance.

Next blog, I will talk about the importance of electrolyte balance in adrenal function as well as the reason why humans developed a mechanism to retain sodium but not potassium.

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Anorexia – Things to Think About

Anorexia is a serious disorder that needs to be dealt with early on if possible and very carefully if it is a long-term issue. How a person becomes an anorexic is multi-faceted. Sometimes it is due to the pressure society places on women through the unreal skinny models who don the covers of fashion magazines or the rail thin actresses who look like they’ve missed every other meal. Other reasons include just plain malnutrition or over exercise without enough caloric intake. That last one is an issue I had to deal with personally back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

When I ran competitively, I assummed that being thin was the way to get faster. It was also the era of carbohydrate loading and an aversion to protein. The outcome? When I finished the 1979 NYC Marathon, with a broken knee cap, I weighed 129 pounds. Now if I was 5’2″, that might have been acceptable except I am 6 feet tall. I was anorexic but I didn’t know it.

As I look back on my life at that time and saw pictures of myself I was stunned that I didn’t realize how skinny I was. Remembering what my self image was I knew that I was thin, but not that bad. Years later it hit me, anorexics don’t see themselves as being that thin either and the reason may be a lack of potassium. Now, you must be thinking, ‘wow what a stretch’ to claim that potassium is a possible cause of an inability to properly view ones own body shape, but follow me on this line of thinking.

Two main electrolytes are key to the proper functioning of our nervous system and the way we perceive ourselves, sodium and potassium. Humans are quite good at retaining sodium as it wasn’t in many of the foods our ancestors ate and we evolved to retain sodium. That is why salt became such an important commodity in the past. We don’t retain potassium very well as it is in all the foods we eat and therein lies the problem. Someone with anorexia does not eat enough so they do not get an adequate amount of potassium to allow their nervous systems to operate properly. Here is a study that showed a decrease in potassium in people with anorexia.

Anorexia patients muscles become taught as potassium is necessary for the relaxation of tissue. If you remember back to junior high school and the frog’s leg experiment when you put sodium on the leg, it contracts, if you put potassium on it, it relaxes. But how do you get potassium into someone with anorexia who does not want to eat? One way is to get them to drink no calorie electrolytes. Another is to stimulate their appetite using zinc. A study on zinc supplementation from the journal Eating and Weight Disorders showed that adding zinc to people with anorexia can increase their BMI dramatically. Unfortunately, as stated in the study, it is infrequently used. It should be a standard of care.

Depression is another serious issue that comes with anorexia and something that needs attention as well. Potassium levels below 4.0 mEq/L (found on a standard blood chemistry) always makes me ask whether a person is suffering from depression. So where can we find no calorie electrolytes as most of the ones on the market are filled with sugar or other sweeteners? Here are two sources, one from Charles Poliquin and one from my company, Knowledge Through Solutions. Either one will help add needed potassium to someone with anorexia but should not be considered a cure by any stretch.

Anorexia is a very complex disorder which needs a team to help the individual recover including psychological support. Family and close friends need to support the anorexic as well. Just know that there are ways to help recover people with anorexia.

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