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True or False: Pickle juice can help alleviate muscle cramps.

Posted on November 29, 2016


Most of us have experienced muscle cramps at some point in our lives, whether being awakened from a deep sleep with hamstring spasms or being unable to finish a tennis match because of cramping calf muscles. Muscle cramps are fairly common, and the severity can range from mild to debilitating.

I experienced this firsthand during a football game when I was a junior in high school. We were playing our cross-town rivals, and it was a hot and humid September night.

I wasn’t the greatest of football players, but I had just sprinted the width of the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle late in the fourth quarter. As I got back on my feet, an immediate pain in my entire abdominal region first bent me over, and seconds later sent me tumbling to the ground, where I lay writhing in pain.

This severe abdominal muscle cramping was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. After a few minutes of applying ice and stretching those muscles, the cramps subsided and I returned to the game, which we won by one point. e night was memorable because the win earned our team the conference championship—and because of the profound pain I had experienced.

Experts don’t fully understand the cause of muscle cramps. One possible explanation is dehydration and loss of electrolytes such as sodium, often due to sweating. Sodium and other electrolytes are important for muscle function, which could be why muscle cramps often occur near the end of practices or games.

Another possible explanation for muscle cramps is exhaustion or fatigue, again because cramping frequently occurs near the end of sports practices, games, or a long run or bike ride—times of significant exertion or overexertion. ere are small nerves in our bodies that keep muscles from over-firing or over-contracting, and these nerves might malfunction when muscles are fatigued.

The idea of giving athletes pickle juice to prevent cramping gained popularity in 2000 when an athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles served it to his athletes on their way to a 41–14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the Texas heat. e trainers reported no player cramping during the game.

Little research has been done on this topic, but one study conducted by Miller and colleagues (2010) showed that pickle juice significantly shortened the duration of electrically induced muscle cramps in dehydrated humans, whereas water had no effect on cramp duration.

It is unlikely that the pickle juice affected hydration or electrolyte levels. e authors speculated that the acetic acid (vinegar) in the juice might have triggered an “inhibitory oropharyngeal reflex shortly after ingestion, which reduces alpha motor neuron activity to cramping muscles.”

In other words, the acetic acid in pickle juice could break the spasm cycle by coming in contact with small nerves in the throat. However, I could find no evidence that consuming pickle juice prior to activity helps reduce muscle cramping.

Miller, K., Mack, G., Knight, K., Hopkins, J., Draper, D., Fields, P., and Hunter, I. Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2010), Vol 42, pp. 953-961.

True or False: You should not exercise when you have a cold?

Posted on November 16, 2016


You have spent the last nine months training religiously for your first triathlon, logging considerable
hours on your bike, in the pool and in your running shoes. Your workout this morning is supposed to be a fairly intense 40-mile bike ride up and down some pretty hilly terrain, but you wake up with an irritating cough and a scratchy throat. What should you do? Take the day off for fear that an intense workout might make your symptoms worse? Follow the adage “no pain no gain” and grab a protein shake for breakfast and a couple of packets of GU and your camel pack and hit the road? Substitute a light swim for the bike ride and attack the hills when your cough and scratchy throat are  gone?

This question of whether to exercise when feeling sick is a common one. Generally, fitness and medical professionals say it is OK to exercise when you are feeling a bit under the weather if your symptoms are at the level of your neck or above. So, for example, if you are experiencing a mild headache, runny nose, minor sore throat, sneezing, coughing or sinus congestion, you’re probably OK to continue your workouts.

On the other hand, if your symptoms are below your neck or more systemic in nature such as body aches, chills, chest congestion, diarrhea or an upset stomach, you would probably be wise to take some time  off.

It is also wise to refrain from exercise if you have a fever, as you can risk increasing your body temperature even more. Dr. Edward Laskowski, in an article at, states that mild-to-moderate physical activity is usually OK if you have a garden-variety cold and no fever.

Another thing you can do when you wake up with the sniffles on a scheduled workout day is simply ratchet down the intensity a bit. If you were planning on going for a run, take a nice relaxing walk instead. If you were headed to a spinning class at your gym, try sneaking into a yoga class, and don’t push yourself too hard. Or maybe just go float around in the pool for 20–30 minutes with your kids.

It is important to listen to your body. If you do decide to work out when you’re feeling a bit ill, and 5–10 minutes into it you start to feel really tired or light headed, stop, head home and consider having some chicken noodle soup. (See my first book 25 Ways to Cure the Hiccups: Uncovering the Truth Behind 101 Common Myths and Misconceptions to see if chicken noodle soup is helpful in treating the common  cold.)

And remember to use proper gym etiquette when you are battling a cold and decide to work out at a fitness center. Carry a towel with you to place on the equipment you are using. When you move to another exercise station, be sure to wipe down everything you touched. Finally, if you can’t stop sneezing or coughing when you’re in the gym, head outside for a walk. Your workout friends will appreciate it!

Laskowski, E. Exercise and illness: Workout with a cold? exercise/AN01097/. Website accessed June 24, 2012.

True or False: Females are genetically predisposed to bulking up if they start lifting weights?

Posted on October 19, 2016


While strolling through the magazine isle at her local super- market, Amanda happened to glance at the cover of a female bodybuilding magazine. She stared in near disbelief at the size of the woman on the cover. Her muscles were huge! Her veins were bulging! She looked more like a man than a woman.

Earlier that week, Amanda had found an article touting the benefits of resistance training. She had read that lifting weights can help decrease body fat, strengthen muscle and bone, help prevent injuries and have a positive impact on balance. She was actually considering a visit to her local fitness center to talk about getting a membership, but not now—not after seeing the cover of that magazine!

Regretfully, many women believe that if they start lifting weights, their thighs, biceps and shoulders will almost immediately be transformed into giant slabs of bulking muscle. In reality, it is difficult to gain significant muscle mass from lifting weights, a truth for both men and women. However, it is particularly difficult for women to gain muscle mass, as they have much less testosterone than do  men.

Think about it: You likely have friends and family members who participate in resistance-training exercises. They lift weights on their own, and they attend strength-training classes, often with friends. Maybe you even know someone who attends those dreaded 5 a.m. boot-camp classes, where participants are forced to do thousands of squats, lunges and pushups to the point of exhaustion!

Few of these individuals have muscles that resemble those of the people you see on bodybuilding magazine covers. When you see pictures of women with huge muscles, you can almost bet that performance-enhancing drugs are involved.

It is true that women who engage in resistance training activities usually get stronger; those gains in strength are often similar to gains realized by men, as long as the training programs are similar. In their book Physiology of Sport and Exercise, authors Wilmore and Costill (2004) report on research showing that women can gain considerable benefit from strength-training programs, even though strength gains are usually not accompanied by large increases in muscle bulk. They also write that hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) is neither a necessary consequence of nor a prerequisite to gains in muscle strength.

I’ve worked in the fitness arena for nearly 20 years and can think of dozens of women I’ve known who started lifting weights—even heavy weights— and in a matter of 4–6 weeks looked more lean, symmetrical and feminine because of their efforts. I can’t think of a single example of a woman who bulked up because of lifting.

I believe that both men and women would derive greater benefit from resistance training exercises if they would crank up the intensity just a bit. Rest assured, you can put aside your fear that starting a lifting program will someday land you on the cover of that bodybuilding  magazine.

Reference: Wilmore, J. and Costill, D. Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 3rd ed., pg 580. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL, 2004.

True or False: Resistance training can help you lose weight?

Posted on October 11, 2016


Let’s tackle the question of whether engaging in resistance training can help you lose weight.

Many of us have heard fitness professionals say that lifting weights will help you shed pounds. But when you think about it, a natural assumption  might be that lifting weights would cause you to gain weight because you’re strengthening and building muscle.

The truth is that performing resistance-training exercises can indeed help you lose weight. There are a number of reasons why this is the case.

Lifting weights burns calories. The number of calories burned while doing biceps curls, push-ups, squats or resistance-band exercises depends on a number of factors, including the intensity of the lifting session and how many sets and repetitions are performed. On average, we burn from 200– 500 calories an hour lifting weights. If you are lifting 3–4 times a week, those calories can really add up.

Our metabolism elevates slightly when we lift weights. Following our lifting session, our metabolism doesn’t immediately drop to what its baseline level was prior to hitting the gym; it can stay elevated for minutes or even hours afterward.

This phenomenon known as EPOC—excess post-exercise oxygen consumption—results in a slightly increased rate of oxygen update after exercise as the body works to restore hormonal balance and replenish fuel stores. You burn additional calories during this recovery process. The more intense the workout, the longer your metabolism will stay elevated and the more calories you will burn.

Researchers Kirk & Colleagues (2009) examined whether resistance training had an impact on energy expenditure and fat oxidation in men and women. They studied overweight young adults and had them lift weights three days a week for six months, performing one set of nine exercises with 3–6 repetitions. Following the study, the authors concluded that their findings “suggest that a minimal resistance training program may provide a sufficient stimulus to impact daily energy balance and to prevent long-term weight or body fat gain in sedentary, overweight young adults.”

Muscle is metabolically active tissue; each pound of muscle we have burns about 20 calories a day at rest. Considering that after age 30 we lose from 5–10% of our muscle mass per decade, you can see how maintaining the muscle mass we have—or adding to it a bit by resistance training—could help with weight maintenance over our  lifetime.


Kirk, E., Donnelly, J., Smith, B., Honas, J., Lecheminant, J., Bailey, B., Jacobsen, D., and Washburn, R. Minimal resistance training improves daily energy expenditure and fat oxidation. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2009), Vol 41, pp. 1122-1129.

True or False: More candy is sold for Valentine’s day than any other Holiday?

Posted on September 22, 2016

False.86 candy on valentines

Valentine’s Day, another opportunity for me to forget a “special” occasion for my wife and be riddled with guilt. As if remembering to buy gifts on Christmas, birthdays, Easter, anniversaries, ground hog’s day, mother’s day, and of course helping my kids pull off an April Fools prank isn’t enough! Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th, was established in AD 500 and has traditionally been a day for lovers to display affection for each other by offering gifts of cards, candy, and flowers. It is thought that the designation “Valentine’s Day” came from a Christian martyr or martyrs named Valentine. According to the website of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), one of those men, a priest named Valentine, was beheaded by order of the Roman emperor Claudius II on February 14th 270 AD because he was performing marriage ceremonies, something the emperor had outlawed. The website also says that more than 36 million boxes of heart shaped candy are sold for Valentine’s Day. Another tradition related to Valentine’s Day, in no way connected to lovers, is for children to exchange valentines at school. Our three children usually come home with dozens of valentines, and most of them have heart shaped candy, a sucker, or some form of cavity-causing delicacy attached to them. It’s really no surprise, then, that so many people think more candy is sold for Valentine’s Day than any other holiday. The truth is, however, that Valentine’s Day ranks fourth on the list of holidays for candy purchases. According to sales figures for 2007 compiled by the National Confectioners Association based upon data from Information Resources, Inc., and cited in an article published in Confectioner (2007), the top four selling holidays for candy were Valentine’s Day (1 billion), Christmas (1.4 billion), Easter (1.9 billion) and Halloween (2.1 billion). Trick or treat!          


Echeandia, J. Candy review: Holiday candy sales insights courtesy of Hershey Company; Seasonal candy sales for 2007 grew at Valentine and Easter in spite of short selling seasons. Confectioner (May 2007). 



True or False: Certain dogs can smell cancer?

Posted on September 13, 2016


Many people affection89 dogs can smell cancerately refer to dogs as man’s best friend. I’ve grown up with dogs and have always had dogs in my life, so I would wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Dogs provide us with companionship, help seeing-impaired individuals safely navigate streets and sidewalks, and help farmers and ranchers herd sheep and cattle; dogs are also used to locate missing persons and detect things like drugs and bombs (a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s). Recently, I had a chance to spend some time with a gentleman (Mike) from England at an outdoor archery range. Mike happened to have epilepsy and always traveled with his dog. I learned that day that Mike’s dog could warn Mike before he was going to have a seizure. Usually the warning (barking) came two to five hours before a seizure occurred, and Mike said his dog was right one hundred percent of the time. I was truly amazed! It now appears that dogs may also start being used to help detect cancer. A study by McCulloch and colleagues (2006) published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies examined whether dogs could be trained to detect cancer simply by sniffing someone’s breath. Due to increased oxidative stress, cancer cells emit slightly different waste products than normal cells. The results of the study suggest that dogs can be trained to smell cancer with high degrees of sensitivity and specificity. The authors concluded that “training was efficient and cancer identification was accurate; in a matter of weeks, ordinary household dogs with only basic behavioral ‘puppy training’ were trained to accurately distinguish breath samples of lung and breast cancer patients from those of controls.” The dogs used for the study were Portuguese water dogs and Labrador retrievers, but the ability to be trained to detect cancer is probably not breed specific.


McCulloch, M., Jezierski, T., Broffman, M., Hubbard, A., Turner, K., and Janecki, T. Diagnostic accuracy of canine scent detection in early- and late-stage lung and breast cancers. Integrative Cancer Therapies (2006), Vol 5, pp. 30-39.


True or False: There is a link between the full moon and bad behavior in humans?

Posted on July 18, 2016


90 moon and behaviorIf I were to base my response to this myth on what occurs in television shows and movies, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” TV shows and movies frequently have werewolves, zombies, and many other undesirables coming out during a full moon to engage in their sinister activities. These media outlets also exaggerate the amount of crime and abnormal human behavior that occurs during a full moon. This idea that the moon triggers a wide variety of deviant behavior in humans has been with us for many years. Consider that lunacy, which means insanity, is derived from the Latin word “luna” for moon. The full moon is frequently associated with or blamed for things like murder and other crimes, alcoholism, epilepsy, arson, natural disasters, suicide, and mental illness. It is also common for people to think that the moon influences things like the weather, fertility, and birthrates. We frequently read about police officers, paramedics, nurses, and physicians believing that crime rates increase and emergency room visits skyrocket during periods of a full moon. However, this belief is not supported by scientific studies. A few of the many studies that have been conducted on this topic have shown a relationship or association between the full moon and bad behavior, but the overwhelming evidence suggests there is no correlation between the two. Rotton and Kelly (1985) reviewed thirty-seven studies on this topic in an article published in the journal Psychological Bulletin and stated, “Although this meta-analysis uncovered a few statistically significant relations between phases of the moon and behavior, it cannot be concluded that people behave any more (or less) strangely during one phase of the moon than another.” Again, most of the studies conducted and published do not support the idea that the full moon influences human behavior in any way whatsoever.     


Rotton, J. and Kelly, I. Much ado about the full moon: A meta-analysis of lunar-lunacy research. Psychological Bulletin (1985), Vol 97, pp. 286-306. 

True or False: Cocoa butter eliminates stretch marks?

Posted on April 26, 2016

False.92 cocoa butter prevents stretch marks

Stretch marks (the medical name is striae gravidarum) are those linear scar-looking lines that appear on the skin. They commonly appear on the stomach and breasts but can also appear on the legs and buttocks. They are frequently a dark purple in color and are a source of embarrassment for many. Stretch marks sometimes appear following pregnancy, after large gains in muscle mass in weight lifters and body builders, or other significant weight gains in a relatively short time period. I experienced stretch marks my freshman year in college when I gained fifty pounds after just nine months (unlimited meal plan in the cafeteria). My wife also developed stretch marks following the birth of our first child. Interestingly, both of us were informed by healthcare providers that using cocoa butter would help eliminate stretch marks and would help prevent more stretch marks from occurring in the future. We both tried cocoa butter but didn’t notice any change in the appearance of the marks. After performing a quick internet search I came across many sites that promote the use of cocoa butter for stretch marks, but the claims of what cocoa butter could do were never backed up by scientific evidence. I was able to find one study (Osman, et al. 2008) where researchers randomly assigned pregnant women to a group that received lotion containing cocoa butter and another group of pregnant women to a group that received a placebo lotion that did not contain cocoa butter. The women entered the study during the first trimester of pregnancy and were instructed to apply the lotion until delivery. Following the study there was no difference in the development of stretch marks in the women who used cocoa butter lotion and those who didn’t.  The authors concluded that their findings did not support the use of cocoa butter lotion to prevent stretch marks.


Osman, H., Usta, I., Rubeiz, N., Abu-Rustum, R., Charara, I., and Nassar, A. Cocoa butter lotion for prevention of striae gravidarum: A double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2008), Vol 115, pp. 1138-1142.

True or False: Having a husband creates seven extra hours of housework a week for women?

Posted on March 31, 2016

True.91 husbands equal housework

It’s true! Having a husband does create an extra seven hours of housework each week for women. I have to admit I’m feeling a tinge of guilt as I sit and write these words. I’ve been scolded so many times for walking through the house with my shoes on that I’m surprised I still have shoes. I’ll also admit to having done the dishes a few times without using soap and throwing light and dark colored clothes together in the same load of laundry with the hope that everything would not turn out pink. Now, my wife cringes if I even get near the sink or the washing machine. I still get to take out the trash, pick up after the dog, and do most of the weeding in the garden, however. A research study directed by economist Frank Stafford at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research revealed that women sweep, dust, mop, clean, and pick up an average of seven hours more each week because of their husbands. On the other hand, having a wife saves husbands roughly an hour of housework a week. It’s interesting how much research has been done on who does the household chores. It really isn’t as simple as it was sixty or seventy years ago when more women stayed home and the expectation was that they would take care of much of the housework. Today, with many more dual income families, couples have to work together and decide who is going to do the laundry, cleaning, cooking, and tidying up. The study directed by Stafford revealed some interesting trends. Overall, women spend less time doing housework today (seventeen hours a week) compared to 1976 (twenty-six hours a week) whereas men do more than double the housework today (thirteen hours a week) compared to 1976 (six hours a week). The study also revealed that younger single women (in their twenties and thirties) did the least amount of housework a week, about twelve hours, and married women with more than three children did the most, about twenty-eight hours a week.


Public release date 4-4-2008

True or False: Cancer rates have increased dramatically over the past ten years?

Posted on March 23, 2016

False.94 cancer rates dramatically increased

Cancer is a disease whereby cells divide and grow abnormally, often spreading throughout the body and invading other organs and tissues. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there are over one hundred different types of cancers with the main categories being 1) carcinoma, 2) sarcoma, 3) leukemia, 4) lymphoma and myeloma, and 5) central nervous system cancers. Most people know someone who has battled or is currently battling cancer. It is not surprising that most people mistakenly believe that cancer rates are on the rise, but just the opposite is true. The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trends Progress Report for 2009/2010 reveals that death rates for lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, the four cancers that occur the most frequently, are on the decline. In fact, death rates for all cancers combined continue to go down. The report indicates that the number of people getting cancer has continued to go down since about 2000. Historically speaking, the incidence of cancer increased from the mid 1970’s to about 1990, then leveled off for the next ten years or so, and has been on the decline since. It is important to note that rates for some cancers are on the rise. Those would include esophagus, pancreas, liver, bile duct, testis, kidney, leukemia, thyroid, melanoma of the skin, and childhood cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States; heart disease is the first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2007, 616,067 people died of heart disease and 562,875 people died of cancer. The NCI report also stated that blacks had the highest rate of new cancers, followed by whites, with lower rates for Hispanics and Asians. If you want to try and reduce your risk of getting cancer, avoid smoking, eat a healthy balanced diet, engage in regular physical activity, and maintain a normal weight.


National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health. Cancer Trends Progress Report–2009/2010 Update. Accessed 7-21-10.