Posts Tagged ‘estrogen’

Bone Health

September 7, 2013

Bone Health

Andrew Siegel, MD   Blog #118

Our bones are our foundation, the framework that supports the rest of our body.  If our infrastructure is “crumbling,” other organs and tissues that depend on intact structural support can be profoundly affected.  In other words, if our foundation and framework are shoddily constructed, the rest of our structures and functions are likely to be adversely impacted.

“Rickety” is a descriptive adjective meaning shaky, run down, and dilapidated.  It is derived from the disease rickets, a “softening” of the bones due to Vitamin D issues that can lead to fractures and deformities, typically seen in children suffering from malnutrition.  It is important to avoid the development of rickety bones—we do not want to be built of a “house of cards,” as we function best if our bones are “steely.”

A fundamental problem in terms of bone health and vigor is that most people do not consider their bone health early in life.  Unfortunately, it only becomes a matter of concern at a time in which it is getting late in the game to protect against loss of bone strength and fractures. The time to focus on bone health is during childhood when the achievement of bone integrity and strength begins.  This bone formative process continues through adolescence, when the body builds the lion’s share of bone mass, and peaks in our early 20’s. One-quarter of bone mass is obtained within the two-year window of time around puberty; as much bone is gained in this two-year period as is typically lost in the 30-year interval between ages 50-80.

Since children, understandably so, are not likely to consider their bone health, as responsible parents we must educate our kids and be the overseers of their diets, physical activities and sun exposure—all of which can positively contribute to healthy bone development—as well as lead by example. Helping them achieve the goal of bone health during adolescence is an investment in personal health that will pay dividends later in life, helping to prevent bone thinning and the potential for fractures.   It is important to direct our children away from computer games, television and other sedentary activities and motivate them towards the outdoors to participate in a variety of physical activities. It is equally important to encourage them to have a nutritionally sound diet rich in calcium-containing foods including dairy sources such as milk, yogurt and cheese; non-dairy sources including vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli and spinach; seafood sources such as salmon and sardines; and calcium-fortified sources such as cereals, tofu and fruit juices.  It is equally as important to ensure sufficient vitamin intake.  Vitamin D is necessary in order to absorb and utilize dietary calcium; a brief amount of sunlight exposure on a daily basis is generally sufficient to ensure adequate levels of vitamin D. Children can kill two birds with one stone by participating in athletic activities outside in the sunlight.

In terms of key factors determining bone health, genetics looms large.  In other words, if bone thinning tends to run in your family, you will have a greater likelihood of suffering the same fate.  Like so many of our physical attributes, bone strength and integrity have a strong hereditary basis and there is not a thing that we can do about the genes that we inherit. Additionally, age and gender are important elements.  There is a gradual but insidious loss of bone mass that correlates with the aging process, and the older we are, the greater the likelihood for osteopenia, the medical term for bone loss. Osteoporosis is the medical term applied to severe bone loss with great risk for fractures.  Women are at much higher risk for such bone thinning and wasting processes than men.

Although genetics, age, and gender are factors beyond our control, exercise and intake of bone-building nutrients including calcium and vitamin D are modifiable factors that we have some real influence over. Thin people tend to have greater issues with osteopenia than heavy people.  One of the few advantages of being overweight is that it requires extra anti-gravitational weight-bearing effort to carry around that excess poundage; this exertion against the force of gravity helps to mineralize and fortify bones.

The male and female sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen respectively, play a health role that goes way beyond sexuality.  Both of these hormones promote bone health and mineralization. After menopause, with the precipitous drop in estrogen, there is often an acceleration of bone loss. Men often experience a gradual drop in testosterone levels correlating with the aging process.  A healthy testosterone level is correlated with bone health and low levels of testosterone are linked with osteopenia.   Men who are on medication to purposefully lower testosterone—most typically used for the management of prostate cancer—experience an accelerated loss of bone mass, akin to women at the time of menopause.  Reasons that males experience bone loss at a less accelerated rate than females include the fact that men in general weigh more than women, and thus by virtue of the fact that they have to carry around extra weight, they keep their bones mineralized; additionally, the variable changes in testosterone with aging that men experience are much more minor as opposed to the major precipitous decline in estrogen at menopause in women.

Our bones demand physical activity in order to stay well mineralized.   When our bodies are kept in a sedentary state—for example when one’s arm is in a cast because of a fracture, or when one is immobilized by a severe injury and is at bed rest—there is a rapid demineralization and thinning of our bones.  Spinal cord injured patients who are paralyzed undergo a very rapid demineralization. Astronauts who spend time in zero gravity experience a remarkably fast demineralization and run the risk not only of thinning bones—as does anybody with rapid demineralization— but also of developing kidney stones that result from the calcium mobilized from the bones.

In general, the more active the individual, the greater the bone mineral density (BMD) and the less risk for fracture.  Most any physical exercise is healthy for our bones, but there are certain exercises that are better to achieve the endpoint of achieving bone mineralization and vigor. BMD is greater in sprinters, ball sport athletes and gymnasts than in endurance sports athletes including walkers, runners, swimmers and cyclists.  Bone mineralization is promoted by stresses placed upon the bones, rest periods, and variety, as opposed to repetitive, monotonous movements.  Aerobic ball sports activities provide highly effective variable stresses on our bones that work against gravity and provide periods of rest; these include tennis, squash, football, soccer, basketball, hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, dancing, and gymnastics.   Additionally, weight training and any activity that uses resistance equipment can be a highly effective means of promoting bone mineralization.  Training that necessitates straining, versatile movements, and a high peak force is more effective in terms of bone mineralization than training with a large number of low-force repetitions. It seems that just as ones body requires a variety of different and variable nutrients to maintain its health, so ones bones require a variety of different exercises, movements, and stresses to maintain their health

Runners and swimmers have the lowest bone densities among athletes. Some studies have even shown that participants in endurance and non-weight-bearing sports have bones that are less robust and at a greater risk of fracture than the population of sedentary and inactive people.  In terms of increasing bone mineral density, when running, swimming, and cycling, it is best to shake it up and do interval training at variable speeds, intensities, and durations and not maintain a monotonous motion, since repetitive unvarying stress can actually demineralize bone and is thus not a productive means of increasing bone fortitude.

Bone mineralization is a dynamic process as opposed to a static process.  In other words, our bones are not fixed in composition like the framing and foundation of our homes.  Our bones are constantly being remodeled, restructured and refashioned in accordance with the building blocks available and in an adaptive response to biomechanical forces including gravity and musculo-skeletal stresses.

The concept of  “energy availability” is important in terms of understanding bone building versus bone destruction.  Energy availability is defined as the amount of energy taken in while exercising minus the amount expended, divided by lean body mass (consisting of bone and muscle).  Energy availability is the net amount of energy available to support all the body’s functions including new bone formation, a process that requires energy.  Low energy availability will occur if there is insufficient intake of calories, excessive burning of calories, or a combination of both.  Endurance athletes—including long-distance runners and cyclists—can burn so many calories that there is not sufficient energy remaining to fuel the dynamic process of maintaining bone health.  When there is low energy availability, the consequence can be stress fractures, fractures due to repeated stresses on a weight-bearing bone.

Bottom Line: Bone health has its critical beginnings in childhood, then continues (at a slower pace) into adulthood.  Key factors contributing to maximal bone health are proper nutrition, varied and continued physical activity, vitamin intake, and exposure to sunlight.  It is never too early to address—and take the necessary measures—to ensure the life-long health of the body’s vital skeletal framework

Reference:  “To Ensure Bone Health, Start Early,” article in New York Times by Jane E Brody, August 5, 2013

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food:

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health, in press and will be available in e-book and paperback formats in the Autumn 2013.

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Man-Oh-Pause: When Things Are Not So Good Under The Hood

September 1, 2012

Blog #73     Andrew Siegel, M.D.


“T”  (an abbreviation for testosterone) has become a very commonly used and in vogue term. Many of my patients come into the office specifically asking for their T levels to be checked.  The pharmaceutical industry has been responsible for direct-to-consumer advertising of testosterone replacement products, a practice that has promoted this recent grass-roots awareness of testosterone issues, a subject that was previously the domain of urologists and endocrinologists.

T is that all-important male hormone that goes way beyond male sexuality.  Testosterone has moved to the endocrine vanguard and is now regarded as a key factor in men’s health. Current evidence suggests that a man’s testosterone level might serve a function as a good indicator/marker of general male health.

Aside for contributing to libido, masculinity and sexual function, T is responsible for the physical changes that commence at the time of puberty, including pubic, axillary and facial hair, deepening voice, prominent Adam’s apple and increased bone and muscle mass.  Additionally, T contributes to our mood, bone and muscle strength, red blood cell count, energy, and general mojo.  Most testosterone is manufactured in the testicles, although a small percentage is made by the adrenal glands.

There is a gradual decline in T that occurs with the aging process—approximately a 1% decline each year after age 30.  This will occur in most men, but will not always be symptomatic.  40% of American men aged 45 or older have low or low range T.  Low T is associated with metabolic syndrome and diabetes, bone mineral loss, and altered sexual function.  Specifically, symptoms of low T may include one or more of the following:  fatigue; irritability; depression; decreased libido; erectile dysfunction; impaired orgasmic function; decreased energy and sense of well-being; loss of muscle and bone mass; increased body fat; abnormal lipid profiles. Essentially, low T can accelerate the aging process.

Belly fat is literally the enemy of masculinity and a testosterone-choker that can push you in the direction of the female gender.  Perhaps when you are standing naked in the shower and you gaze down towards your feet, all you see is the protuberant roundness of your large midriff, obscuring the sight of your manhood.  Perhaps you’re wondering where your penis is hiding.  In most cases, the abundant pubic fat pad that occurs coincident with weight gain obscures the penis—the “turtle effect.”  If your belly blocks your view of your penis, your pubic fat pad makes your penis difficult to locate, your breasts have filled out, and your libido and erections are sub-par, it may just really be time to rethink your lifestyle habits!

Abdominal obesity—an accumulation of fat in our midsections—not only is unattractive from a cosmetic standpoint, but can have dire metabolic consequences that can affect the quality and quantity of our lives. Obesity has a pivotal role in the process leading to low T and waist circumference is a reasonable proxy for low T. Fat is not just fat—it is a metabolically active endocrine organ that does way more than just protrude from our abdomens.  Fat has an abundance of the hormone aromatase, which functions to convert T to the female sex hormone estrogen (E).  The consequence of too much conversion of T to E is the potential for gynecomastia, aka man boobs.  Too much E slows T production, and with less T, more abdominal obesity occurs and even more E is made, a vicious cycle (literally a vicious circus) of male castration and emasculation.

Obesity can steal away your masculinity, male athletic form and body composition, mojo, strength, and also one of your most precious resources—the ability to obtain and maintain a good quality erection.  Remember the days when you could achieve a majestic, heaven-pointing erection simply by seeing an attractive woman or thinking some vague sexual thought?  Chances were that you were young, physically active, and had a svelte build with a hard abdomen. If those days are mere memories, it is probable that you are now carrying extra pounds, have a soft and protuberant belly, and are not physically active.  When you’re soft in the middle, the consequence is that you will probably be soft down below. The good news is that by losing the abdominal fat, the unfortunate consequences of low T can often be reversed.

How To Turn On Your Testosterone Boosters: 

  • A healthy lifestyle, including good eating habits, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in exercise, obtaining adequate sleep, moderation with respect to alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco, and stress reduction are the initial approaches to treating low T engendered by abdominal obesity.  Insufficient sleep can lower T.  Excessive alcohol increases the conversion of T to E.  Maintaining an active sex life can help maintain T.
  • It is of paramount importance to lose the abdominal fat, with the caveat that a sufficient caloric intake of quality food and nutrients is necessary to prevent the body going into “starvation mode,” which can substantially decrease T production.
  • In terms of exercise, a healthy balance of aerobic, resistance, and core training is best, but in particular, vigorous resistance exercise is crucial.  This will help the flabby abdomen disappear and build lean muscle mass, which in turn will increase metabolic rate.

If lifestyle modification fails to improve the symptoms of low T and T remains measurably low via a simple blood test, a trial of T replacement under the supervision of your doctor can provide a meaningful improvement of your quality of life.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

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Where’s Your 6-Pack?

January 28, 2012

Blog # 43 written by Andrew Siegel, M.D.


I posed this question to my nurse friend Jen and she replied “in the fridge.”  She made me laugh with that reply, but in reality she has a pretty hard body, especially for a woman who has given birth to several children.  However, if your answer to the question truly is “in the fridge,” then you might just want to read on!

If you would like the short version, skip to the end of this blog where you can read “10 pearls to help your washboard abdomen emerge”—itprovides nuggets of information that if heeded, will allow your to firm up your abdomen and start the process of unveiling the 2-pack, 4-pack or 6-pack that lies obscured within.  Read the full blog if you would like to know the more detailed science.  Although vanity may be an important driving force for wanting to develop that 6-pack, it’s really about living a healthy lifestyle—in brief, the aesthetics will follow a healthy existence and our internal health often mirrors our external physiques.

Sporting a six-pack is a badge of honor emblematic of one’s discipline, restraint and tenacity.   A “hard core” can only be earned through the combined efforts of healthy eating and vigorous exercise.  Chances are if you’re wearing a 6-pack, then you are fit and healthy and that in all probability you have rejected the Western diet of processed foods, lots of added fats, sugars and loads of refined grains and instead have chosen a healthy diet consisting of real food that comes from nature, rather than from a chemistry lab.

We all have 6-packs hidden beneath our winter-weighted physiques.  We may be flabbier and less toned than desirable, but somewhere within is a sinewy, tight, and lean torso.  The question is: what can we do to bring out this svelte body?  How do we reduce our shapeless stockpile of stored energy that is shrouding our underlying sculpted physique?

Michelangelo’s “David” was at one time a mere solid block of marble.  The master artist crafted this magnificent sculpture by knowing exactly what to carve away—what did not belong. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of Le Petit Prince): “Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but when there is no more to take away.”  The late Steve Jobs was a grand master at removing the unnecessary and superfluous to reveal the elegant simplicity that remains. In the words that follow, I will offer sound advice on how to peel away the nonessential to reveal your own magnficence that lies obscured.

Having some fat on our bodies is not a bad thing, as long as it is not excessive. Fat actually serves a number of useful purposes.  It functions to cushion our internal organs and as insulation to conserve heat.  Fat provides a means of storing energy and fat-soluble vitamins.  During periods of decreased caloric intake, fat reserves are broken down to release energy.  Fats are important parts of the structure of the brain and cell membranes and are used in the manufacture of several important hormones.  Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein.   Anybody who has barbecued any kind of meat with a high fat content and has witnessed their would-be dinner engulfed in flames realizes what a concentrated form of fuel that fats are.

As we age, many of us tend to slowly and insidiously gain weight.  A collection of fat often becomes apparent on our abdomens, particularly around our waistlines.  An accumulation of fat in our midsections not only is unattractive from a cosmetic standpoint, but also can have dire metabolic consequences.  It is important to distinguish between visceral fat and subcutaneous fat.  Visceral fat—also referred to as a “pot belly,” “beer belly,” or “Buddha belly”—is internal fat deep within the abdominal cavity.  Subcutaneous fat—also known as “love handles,” “spare tires,” “muffin top,” or “middle-age spread”—is present between the skin and the abdominal wall.  Although neither type is pretty, visceral fat is much more hazardous than subcutaneous fat since it increases the risk of diabetes, cardiac issues, and metabolic disturbances.  Subcutaneous fat is inactive and relatively harmless and does not contribute to the health problems that visceral fat does.

The good news is that by losing abdominal fat, the potentially bad health repercussions can be reversed and the six-pack within can become more unveiled.  The dangerous visceral fat submits relatively easily to diet and exercise whereas the less harmful subcutaneous fat at the waist is more stubborn and resistant to reversal measures.  It is this accumulation of belly fat that masks the underlying rectus abdominis muscle that is our 6-pack muscle.

And now a few necessary paragraphs on metabolism: Dietary carbohydrates are broken down to the simple sugar glucose, which is the “energy of life” and the fuel source of every cell in our body. When it is not used immediately for energy, it is stored as glycogen. The pancreatic hormone insulin is responsible for converting glucose into glycogen. Glycogen is present in our liver and muscles; when a state of saturation has been achieved and no more glycogen can be stored in our liver and muscles, the excess glucose is converted to fat.  There is a finite limit to the amount of carbohydrate stored in the muscles and liver—it amounts to about 1600-1800 calories.

When talking metabolism, it is helpful to think of our glycogen as our “small fuel tank.”  Once the fuel in the liver and muscles is exhausted, our “large fuel tank”—our fat—needs to be tapped to provide energy.  In contrast to the limited carbohydrate storage in our liver and muscles, our bodies abundantly store fat.  Depending on how much fat we have, many days to weeks of energy can be provided.  To reveal your 6-pack, you need to have as small a “large fuel tank” as possible, since it is these stored energy reserves that are obscuring the glorious sculpted abdominal musculature that lies beneath.

There are a few important facts that are fundamental to our understanding of the science of fat. First off, our fat stores are not static, but are dynamic.  In other words, there is continuous mobilization of our fat (as fatty acids) and storage (as triglycerides).  Secondly, fat storage is largely under hormonal control.  Hormones are chemical messengers that cause specific actions in our body.  The hormones involved in fat metabolism are insulin, cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone.  Thirdly, fat is not just fat—it is a metabolically active endocrine organ that does not just protrude from our abdomens in an inert state, but has a life of its own.  Fat produces pro-inflammatory factors, hormones and immune cells.  Fat has an abundance of the hormone aromatase, which converts testosterone to the female hormone estrogen.  One consequence of too much fat in men is excessive conversion of testosterone to estrogen, creating the potential for male breast enlargement.

Insulin is the principal regulator of fat metabolism. After a sugar and carbohydrate load, insulin is released to get the fuel into our cells. When we go without food, as happens when we sleep, insulin levels decrease and fat is released to be used as fuel.  Insulin levels are determined primarily in response to our carbohydrate intake in order to keep our blood sugar regulated.

Insulin has much to do with the way our bodies store or burn fat. You can think of insulin as our fat hormone. When insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat; when levels are low, we burn fat for fuel.  Insulin is all about increasing fat storage and decreasing fat burning—this is why diabetics on insulin injections typically get fat.  If we have a substantial amount of belly fat, then by definition we have insulin-resistance, a condition in which our pancreas works overtime to make more and more insulin to get fuel into our cells.  This is a precursor to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all the havoc they can wreak.

Our insulin levels are determined by the carbohydrates we eat—the more carbs we eat, the sweeter they are, the easier they are to digest, the greater the insulin levels and the more that fat accumulation is driven.  Insulin secretion caused by eating carb-rich foods—flour and cereal grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes and rice, sugars and high-fructose corn syrup—is what makes us fat.  The sweeter the food, and the easier it is to digest, the fatter it will make us, and liquid carbs such as sodas, fruit juices and beer are the biggest culprits.

If we want to get leaner and reveal the 6-pack within, we must lower our insulin levels.   To lower our insulin levels requires carbohydrate restriction, meaning decreased consumption of sweets and starchy carbs.  Even if we don’t reduce our quantity of carb intake, we can improve the quality of our carb intake by eating healthier carbs—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.  Aside from shrinking our waistlines, there are numerous other health benefits that accrue from a lower carb diet.  If we replace a high carb diet with a diet lower in carbs and higher in healthy protein and healthy fat, the consequences are the following: weight loss; HDL (good) cholesterol rises; triglycerides decrease; glucose levels stabilize; blood pressure decreases; heart disease risk decreases; body fat reduces; energy levels surge.

The adrenal gland hormone cortisol—releasedin response to stress—can stimulate our appetites and cravings for sugar, causing fat storage and promoting weight gain and obesity. This is the very reason people on corticosteroid medications tend to have enormous appetites, gain weight and have a central distribution of body fat known as centripetal obesity, even if they were very thin prior to starting on the cortisol.  Chronic stress literally can make us soft and flabby and sabotage our efforts to achieve that chiseled 6-pack.  So what can we do about stress, because we all have it, and it’s not going away anytime soon?  Stress busters include exercise, yoga, meditation, massages, getting into a Jacuzzi, aromatherapy, chamomile or other herbal teas, sex, etc.  Sounds nice…relax to help bring forth that 6-pack!

The sex hormones estrogen and testosterone play a key role in fat regulation. One of the key reasons that women have a different physical appearance and body fat distribution than men is because of the different levels of these two hormones in each gender.  Around the time of menopause, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen, central fat deposition is promoted and many women start packing on pounds in their mid-section.  Similarly, as men age, testosterone levels often drop, contributing to a loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat. Low testosterone is present in about half of obese men.

Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep will help us on our mission for that elusive 6-pack.  When we sleep poorly and become sleep-deprived, we are often driven to eat. Sleep deprivation results in decreased levels of leptin, our chemical appetite suppressant, and increased levels of ghrelin, our appetite stimulant, in addition to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Furthermore, being exhausted can sabotage our exercise regimen.

Six-pack diet

Lean sources of protein including egg whites, wild salmon (or any other wild fish that is grilled or broiled), skinless chicken, turkey breast, fat-free yogurt and soy products such as tofu and edamame are money.  We need to be sparing with meat and dairy intake since they are rich in saturated fats and high in calories.  Vegetables—including nuts, avocados and olives—are a much healthier source of fat.

High fiber foods—vegetables, fruits, legumes (lentils, peas and beans) and whole-grain cereals and breads—are very filling and the fiber regulates the rate of carbohydrate absorption. Intake of a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables will ensure getting ample doses of phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants. Dietary fiber (roughage) refers to the indigestible part of a carbohydrate.  Insoluble fiber, e.g., cellulose from plant foods, serves as plants’ armor against predatory pests and serves as humans protection against obesity.  Since we do not have the enzymes necessary to dissolve insoluble fiber, it increases stool bulk, decreases intestinal transit time, increases our satiety, reduces the rate of carbohydrate absorption and the conversion of complex carbohydrates to simple sugars, and decreases the absorption of some fats.  Soluble fiber binds cholesterol in the intestinal tract; for example, oatmeal can help lower serum cholesterol levels.

It is very important to minimize refined carbohydrates, substituting whole grain products for white bread, white pasta, white rice, etc.  Curtailing sugar intake is equally important since sucrose is a 50% fructose/50% glucose combination and fructose gets metabolized completely differently from glucose, pushing our bodies towards fat deposition.  The same is especially true for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), that gooey liquefied sweetener abundant in processed foods and beverages in a 55% fructose/45% glucose ratio. Every cell in our body can metabolize glucose, but it is primarily the liver that metabolizes fructose. Fructose, more readily than glucose, replenishes liver glycogen, and once the liver is saturated with glycogen, fats are made and stored. So, HFCS gives us a fatty liver, a fatty body and a masked 6-pack.  Fructose does not suppress ghrelin (our hunger hormone), does not stimulate insulin, and is truly a toxin to our body in immoderate doses. Let fruits be the source of fructose for our bodies, not refined sugars and HFCS.

Nature is very clever—whenever it provides us with a nutrient that is potentially bad for our health, it limits access to that nutrient by adding lots of fiber to it.  So when nature has given us fructose, it has also included the antidote.  Did you ever try to get the sugar out of a sugar cane plant?  It is literally like gnawing on a piece of bamboo stick—you can’t chew it and have to suck it out!  Processing has allowed us to cheat nature by refining sugar, permitting consumption in unrestrained, unhealthy amounts, contrary to nature’s design.  For example, it is very easy to drink 12 ounces of orange juice, to the tune of about 170 calories of fiber-free sugar.  To get that kind of caloric load from nature’s whole product—the orange—you would have to eat almost 3 of them.  Can you imagine sitting down and eating three oranges?  I sure can’t.  So go easy on anything that comes in a bottle, box, carton or can…think whole foods that resonate with nature, not refined foods that are unfaithful to nature.

While at the dinner table the other evening, I found myself staring at a colorful salad on my left and a basketful of white Italian bread (not whole grain) on the right.  I pondered the “order” of eating in terms of insulin release—would there any difference if I had salad first followed by bread vs. bread first followed by salad, vs. eating them together and would the order of eating play a role in the way calories are burned or stored?

Salad first followed by bread (bulky, fiber-rich carbs then fiber-less carbs): This gives us a gradual, low-level insulin spike followed by rapid, high-level insulin spike.  It is likely that the bolus of salad slowly digesting in the gut will modulate (regulate) the insulin spike from the bread’s fiber-less carbs, resulting in less of a tendency for fat deposition.

Bread first followed by salad: (fiber-less carbs then fiber-rich carbs):  This gives us a rapid, intense insulin spike followed by gradual, lower-level insulin spike.  It is likely that this order will result in fat deposition, since by the time the salad gets to the gut, the bread has already been digested and absorbed.

Together: The salad mixing in the gut with the bread will modulate the insulin spike from the fiber-less carbohydrate load of the bread, resulting in less of a tendency for fat deposition.

Bottom line: If you are going to eat white carbs, you can minimize the intensity of the insulin spike and thus the tendency for fat deposition by mixing in some fiber-rich foods; better yet is to ditch the white carbs completely and eat the whole-grain product. If you are going to use the strategy of using the powers of fiber-rich food like salad to lessen the “damage” from fiber-less white carbs, be sure to go easy on the croutons, cheese and excessive amounts of salad dressing that can sabotage the strategy.

A very important principle in the acquisition of a 6-pack is not to drink calories, so avoid liquid calories such as soda, juices, processed iced tea, lemonade, etc.  These are particularly bad since they are essentially pre-digested, fiber-less carbohydrates that get “mainlined” into our bodies causing a massive insulin spike and caloric storage as fat.  A “beer belly” resulting from the carbohydrate alcohol and a “soda belly” resulting from the carbohydrate fructose are substantially equivalent. The best drink is water or seltzer—it can be jazzed up with a squeeze of lemon or lime.  Water keeps us well hydrated, dampens our appetite and will quell our thirst that is sometimes confused for hunger.

It is important to be careful not to overdo sodium intake as it can cause fluid retention, high blood pressure, bloating, weight gain and a number of potential cardiac issues, aside from thwarting the emergence of our 6-packs.

Six-pack exercise regimen:

A general rule of thumb is to think “athletics” and the “aesthetics” will follow.   The key to exercise is diligence—carving out the time—and variety—strength  (resistance) training, cardiovascular (aerobic) training and core (abdominal and torso) conditioning, and perseverance.  A core synergistic exercise regimen, which is a combination of the aforementioned three types of exercise, provides a terrific overall workout. Pilates, yoga, and martial arts are three great means of obtaining a hard core, although there are many other effective exercises as well.  Pilates, in particular, is an awesome means of developing core strength.  I have been taking Pilates lessons weekly for over a year from an amazing instructor, Catherine Byron, who has been instrumental in helping me achieve a toned abdomen, core strength, better balance, posture and muscle symmetry (  My friend and yoga instructor Ben Wisch, has also helped whip my core into shape (  I  enjoy and have derived great benefit from home exercise DVDs from  the P90x “ab ripper,” “core synergistic,” and “yoga” workouts and the P90x plus “abs-core” workout can’t be beat.

Muscles play a key role in our metabolism: they are extremely metabolically active, each pound of lean muscle burning about 50 calories/day.  With a sedentary existence and aging, there is a gradual loss of muscle mass and a resultant slowing in our resting metabolism.  By building and maintaining our muscle mass with strength training, we will raise our resting metabolic rate and burn more calories.  Additionally, exercise serves to increase the “insulin sensitivity” of muscle, which means that are muscles become more efficient at burning off carbohydrates as fuel. Exercise is also our endogenous stress reducer, lowering cortisol levels, suppressing our appetites and helping us burn carbs before they have a chance to be stored to fats.

We can measure our maximal heart rates by doing an aerobic activity, such as swimming, running or cycling full throttle until we can’t go on, and then taking our pulses.  In our workouts, if we can achieve a heart rate of 75% of our maximum rate and sustain that for 30-60 minutes daily, it is easily conceivable to burn 600 or more calories per day.   High intensity interval training—alternating between extremely intense exertion and regular “normal” exertion—can rapidly help propel us towards that sculpted body that lies within.
10 pearls to help your washboard abdomen emerge:

 1.    If you want a hard waist, you must incorporate exercise into your lifestyle, achieving balance between aerobic, resistance and core workouts.

2.    Eat high-quality, whole-grain, high-fiber carbs, lean protein sources (easy on meat and dairy) and healthy fats (vegetable and seafood-origin).

3.    Eat in accordance with nature’s design—meaning whole foods.  Avoid processed foods.  The best diet is an “anti-processed-atarian” diet.

4.    If you want to look good naked, don’t eat “naked” calories (stripped of fiber), so restrict sugar, simple white carbs, and liquid calories.  Aggressively steer clear of high fructose corn syrup.

5.    Soft foods (sugared drinks, white pasta, white rice, white bread, doughnuts, bagels, potatoes, etc., will earn you a soft core; hard foods (whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole grain breads, legumes, whole fruits and vegetables) will help earn you a hard core.

6.    Avoid giant meals in which the caloric load will be stored as fat; substitute with multiple smaller meals in which the calories will be used for immediate energy.

7.    Limit after dinner snacking since unnecessary calories at a time of minimal physical activity will be stored as fat.  If you restrict your evening snacking to one piece of fruit, you will wake up in the morning with less to pinch on your waistline.

8.    Drink plenty of water; use salt sparingly.

9.    Minimize stress; if you can’t eliminate it, manage it.

10. Get adequate amounts of quality sleep.


Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food