Are Low-Salt Diets Necessary (or Healthy) for Most People?

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen and myself recently analyzed 167 published trials that measured the effect on blood pressure from reduced sodium. We found that in the studies involving only subjects with normal blood pressure, sodium restriction had no significant impact. That means there is no scientific justification for a U.S. sodium policy directed at the entire population, because 65% to 70% of Americans have normal blood pressure and thus wouldn’t benefit from lowering their salt intake.

Thoughts on the new MacBook(s)

March 16, 2015

You may know that it’s early 2015 and I’m still rocking a mid-2010 MacBook Pro. It’s the longest I’ve ever owned a computer and, to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend it. I was eagerly awaiting Apple’s event last week, anticipating some badass MacBook updates. I was a little disappointed.

For me, the archetypal MacBook Pro is the ideal machine—a perfect mixture of power and portability—and with that in mind, I’m not especially drawn to the new MacBook. For one, the scarcity of ports (an intentional design decision meant to force portability on the user) means this computer is not likely to be used in a desktop-style setting. And indeed, the machine is so thin that its working innards are relatively weak by necessity; RAM tops out at a disappointing 8 GB, and the processing power is slower than even the baseline MacBook Air.

All of this might seem like a distraction in the direction of metric-chasing; no one needs crazy fast processing power, graphics, and RAM, right?

But on that same note, no one needs 13.1 mm thin computers either. The pursuit of portability has to eventually reach a point of diminishing returns—this notebook can only get so thin before I just don’t need that anymore. The thinner and lighter notebooks get, the less space there is for working parts, and more space needs to be filled with extra battery to make the damn thing usable. The same phenomenon is happening with the iPhone. I’ve long said: I’ll gladly take something that’s 5 mm thicker and equal parts faster and with longer battery life.

As Gabe said in his article “Considering MacBooks”:

I think Apple continues to draw a heavy line between adolescent and adult computing. The MacBook line is for college students and the MacBook Pro line is for people that make a living with their computers.

I myself am a college student, but am also an “adult computer” user—I want power, speed, and possibilities. Last week’s updates to the MacBook Pro line were indeed “modest”, if not “half-assed.” I’m not eager to upgrade my computer given Apple’s latest advancements. Their focus on portability and other silly features (Force Touch?) have neglected the other spectrum of MacBook power users who want massive speed and battery. (I’m not even talking about the Thunderbolt vs. USB-C fiasco. Make up your minds, for our sake.)

If, for every innovation in portability, Apple made an equal and opposite innovation in portable power, I’d be sold on a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. But that just doesn’t seem to be the direction Apple is interested in going, and I’m not enthused about that.

What, exactly, is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee's case against saturated fat?

There’s news going around that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans will no longer set upper limits on fat calories or dietary cholesterol intake. This is great news, because these metrics have long been known to not correlate to heart disease risk factors like we once thought.

The question still remains: why does the update not exonerate saturated fat? Meta-analysis upon meta-analysis have repeatedly confirmed that the correlation is weak, if not nonexistent. The linked article looks at the evidence put forth by the DGA committee and finds that “most of the document is dreadfully written and repetitively displays a circular logic.”

Also, anecdote is anecdote, but still:

Where are the blogs where people rave about how replacing butter with margarine has fixed their health problems? Millions of people take statins - where are the stories from statin users about the improvements to their lives? You will find more negative stories from statin users online. You might find stories of improved cholesterol, but where is the increased vitality and reversal of obesity and type 2 diabetes? Oh, wait.

Quick thoughts on the new Google Calendar iPhone app

March 10, 2015

Today Google released the much-anticipated Google Calendar app for iPhone (yep, no iPad support yet.) It’s free on the App Store and is worth a look, but I won’t be using it.

I had a lot of fun using Inbox, Google’s recent Gmail app, until Outlook for iOS stole my heart. Point being: Google has been cranking out some quality producitivty apps for iOS, and I’ve grown fond of their material design look and pleasant combination of power user features and simplicity.

However, there are a few key features preventing me from using Google Calendar for longer than five minutes. For one, and this is probably an issue for very few people, I’ve grown to rely on using the app icon badge to display the current date, something which Fantastical does fantastically. (Hah!) Second, there’s no landscape support to be found, which, on the iPhone 6 Plus, is a huge lost opportunity. Finally—the biggest problem of all—the app’s damn name is so long that is displays as “Google Cal…” on the homescreen, which is absolutely hideous. Unusably hideous.

I had high hopes for this app, but it just doesn’t pack the necessary features (or looks) to draw me away from my beloved Fantastical.

David duChemin uses Fuji X on the job

When I shot photos professionally, I used Nikon—but I was an outdoor sports photographer, and the D200 (at the time) proved to be the perfect mix of price and performance for the job, especially given the lens selection. Ever since purchasing the Fuji X100S and falling madly in love with it, I’ll likely forever be a Fuji X photographer. It’s always fascinating to read about “pros” who use the Fuji system in their professional lives.

(Now I just need to finally get around to reviving the photoblog.)

My experience with nootropics

March 6, 2015

I’d like to begin a series of blog posts that attempt to catalog the nootropics I have tried or plan on trying, the reasoning and mechanisms behind them, and to help distill the heinously complicated workings behind them to you, the lovely reader. I originally set out to write one massive article, but that grew too cumbersome. Instead, we’ll start with baby steps.

We colloquially refer to nootropics as “smart drugs.” These can be any and all compounds, natural or not, safe or not, which enherently, through their own mechanisms or cascading effects, can enchance performance. This is, after all, the ultimate goal. My own interest in these stemmed from an ever-increasing workload in life: work, school, this blog, my physical fitness pursuits, and the rest. The demand grew too great, the supply too low; a fix was needed.

Since I am playing the long game—that is, finding the perfect balance between performance and longevity—I will automatically dismiss compounds found to be dangerous in and of themselves. For instance, Modafinil and related substances, popularized by Dave Asprey, excel in ameliorating the symptoms of narcolepsy and, as a result, can be used and abused for ridiculously-productive all-nighters. However, sleep is perhaps one of the most potent and natural nootropics on the planet, so Modafinil is out. Sleep, however, is in, and so is any supplement that might enhance sleep quality. Someone like me, neurotic, detail-oriented, and compelled to optimize, will go all out here. Others, like my poor girlfriend, don’t have to. Indeed, across the Internet, the word “nootropic” has become associated with strange and sketchy white powders and illicit substances—one might be reminded of the film Limitless. This is simply not the case: a nootropic is not a magic performance pill, but any edge is still an edge.

Of course, all of this should be taken as it is: an n(1) experiment. A single-subject experimental design. Anecdote. I, being myself, research to no end, and believe that I understand the intricate mechanisms, safety, and effective doses of all of these things. But ultimately if it doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to roll out more articles which lay out my personal regimen and strategies in more detail. I’ll likely start with the basics and move more complex from there; after all, much of what we consider nootropic could also be considered a basic deficient vitamin or mineral (Vitamin D, for example) or something like a simple lifestyle change (diet, exercise, sitting less.) It doesn’t have to be alienating. We should all be pursuing excellence.

In the end, I’ll likely compile this information into a standalone page which can act as a reference guide to anyone interested (there might be a couple of you.)

The new maximalist running shoe trend

The process of reading this article, which details many runners’ obsession with these new moon-man maximalist shoes, was one huge eye-roll for me, especially because it’s coming out of the New York Times and everyone will take it for the gospel. Years of research and two books in particular—Born to Run and Ready to Run—have me convinced otherwise: huge, cushioned shoes are mostly a marketing scheme, and should ultimately be viewed as a tool, not a solution. Indeed, perhaps the problem is not the shoe, but the runner?

My eye-roll was averted by the final paragraph of the story, a quote from Jay Dicharry, author of Anatomy for Runners:

“Of course what’s on your feet is important,” Dicharry said. “But there is a lot of evidence to show that people who spend more time improving their bodies as opposed to shopping for shoes are the ones who are going to run better.”

The problem with Apple’s price tag cheerleaders

If the iPhone 7 comes in a $40,000 18-karet Rose Gold option to match the Apple Watch 3, with a $10,000 alligator leather case option, then I’ll worry. Apple Watch is one product, it’s untested, and it’s unknown. It’s a big, expensive experiment to see if Apple can use fashion to put a (potentially) useful gizmo on people’s wrists, and we don’t know how it will turn out.

Debunking the Debunking of Bulletproof Coffee

I came across this post via Marco Arment, who cited it as a “very fair, well-researched piece.” More like ignorant and petulant.

Let me attempt to set a few things straight.

First off, I must agree that everyone’s criticism of Dave Asprey’s “Bulletproof Coffee” beans is mostly valid:

Asprey claims that his Upgraded beans undergo a secret, proprietary process that all but eliminates mycotoxins. He also claims that mycotoxins are the reason you coffee is bitter.

This is almost entirely bullshit.

For starters, while mycotoxins can grow on coffee beans, the coffee industry has known about this for decades. This is why wet-processing was developed; a technique employed by nearly every roaster in the world, wherein the beans are washed, and nearly all mycotoxins are eliminated.

This is all true, and I think it’s silly that Asprey is still trying to push this on his site. Most coffee is free of mycotoxins and is just fine. However, Brent Rose, the article’s author, was otherwise entirely ignorant in his analysis of Dave Asprey and the Bulletproof Coffee phenom.

He begins by claiming that “there are no peer-reviewed studies that corroborate the idea that eating nothing but fat (and caffeine) in the morning, sets you up for burning body fat.”

This is, to be blunt, completely wrong. Just absolutely, completely wrong. The concept of ketosis is well-known in the world of physiology, and there are numerous studies confirming its validity. The human body has proven time and time again that it can function fine, if not better, on ketones (read: fatty acids) than on glycolysis (read: “carbs are energy!”) To claim that there is no evidence to support the idea that eating low-carb and high-fat helps burn more fat is complete ignorance. To claim that there are no studies supporting this means that you are either not looking hard enough, or ignoring them.

Throughout the article, Rose cites the idea that there are no peer-reviewed studies to support an idea, and completely dismisses the n(1) experiment. Then, he goes on to provide his own n(1) experiment to confirm his own theory:

This may be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing or that it’s good for you. Hell, I lost six pounds in four days by eating nothing but ice cream. And then I gained literally all of that weight back that very weekend.

To call this article well-researched indicates to me that you, in fact, don’t know how to do the appropriate research. Rose insists on quoting the saturated fat RDA, a number which we all know doesn’t matter anymore. He insists on perpetuating the claim that the Paleo diet is controversial, something stated only by those who have not tried it and therefore not succeeded on it. He insists on citing decade-old vague statements like “a balanced diet” and quoting “nutritionists” who, these days, still recommend dietary practices that have been widely proven as incorrect (such as the falsehood that “eating five small meals a day, nicely spread out, because it allows for better nutrient absorption and better processing of the food you consume.”)

It’s not well-researched, and it’s part of the problem in health-related media these days. Somehow, the people “in the know” continue to make the claim that there “are no studies” to prove a claim. I have two responses to this:

First: usually, in fact, there are studies to prove this stuff. Are you even looking?

But more importantly: we shouldn’t have to wait for peer-reviewed studies to decide what works for us—what we should and shouldn’t do. We have blood testing, genetic testing. Self-experimentation is absolutely acceptable, and if it works for someone and they can prove it, then it works. Screw the research.

When health stories are politicised, mistaken views are given far too much credibility

An investigation into the decline of vaccinations in Britain found that the problem, in part, was the way the media covered the matter. In an effort to offer balance—and to entertain viewers with a lively verbal jousting match—news outlets lined up people with opposing views. In one corner were health experts who supported the vaccine. In the other were charismatic quacks or parents who were utterly convinced that the vaccine had made their children autistic (and whose genuine grief swayed many viewers).

Slow runners (don't) come out ahead

Read this article by Gretchen Reynolds at the NYT, then read this one called “Slow Runners Don’t Come Out Ahead”, written by a doctor who actually knows what he’s talking about. Run fast, people, and don’t let journalists interpret correlational studies.

A head coach botched the end of the Super Bowl, and it wasn’t Pete Carroll

It’s a long read full of statistics and hypotheses regarding the questionable second-and-1 play call towards the end of Sunday’s Super Bowl. The I-have-way-too-much-time-on-my-hands analysis basically concludes that the Seahawks’ pass play was probably the right call.

(My thoughts? I don’t care for either team or either head coach, but since the Seahawks embarrassed my beloved Peyton last year, I’m happy the Patriots pulled through. Petty, I know.)

Wearables are totally failing the people who need them most

But if you follow the money, and you really understand the population with the most to gain from improvements health and wellness, that assumption falls apart. It turns out the wave of wearables adoption isn’t rolling out the same way as the web or smartphones. More than half of US consumers who have owned an activity tracker no longer use it. A third of them took less than six months from unboxing the device to shoving it in a drawer or fobbing it off on a relative.

So who’s made a long-term commitment to measuring and tracking their health?

(At least they didn’t call them fitness trackers.)