nutrition

Natural nootropics: Health Benefits of Ceylon Cinnamon

cinnamon nootropic health fitness

This post first appeared on my Biofit website Journal page here.

You probably have a jar of cinnamon hidden on your spice rack - it goes nicely on a bowl of oatmeal and banana, right?

How long it has been sitting there and whether it is the Ceylon or Cassia variety makes all the difference to its potential health benefits however, so read on to find out how to do cinnamon right.

what exactly is ceylon cinnamon?

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the evergreen Cinnamomum tree, which is native to tropical climates in southern India and Sri Lanka.[1]  

First, growers remove the outer layers, then they shave inner bark into curled scrolls; after drying, the scrolls can either be processed into a powder or left as they are.

Ceylon cinnamon, or Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is one of two main varieties of Cinnamomum tree. Be sure not to confuse Ceylon cinnamon with the cheaper, mass market Cinnamon cassia however - the latter contains a toxic compound called coumarin [2]. Avoid it and splash some cash on the upgrade.

how does ceylon cinnamon work?

Ceylon cinnamon bark contains several biologically active essential oils, notably cinnamaldehyde, eugenol and linalool.[2]  It’s also an antioxidant, meaning it can help protect cells from damage by scavenging reactive oxygen species.[3]

ceylon cinnamon for blood glucose

Researchers are also interested in cinnamon as a potential treatment for diabetes, thus we have several clinical trials on the subject. 

One four-month, double-blind study looked at the effects of a 3 g daily cinnamon powder supplement on 79 individuals with type II diabetes. The group taking the cinnamon supplement experienced a drop in fasting blood glucose above and beyond that of the placebo group (10.3% vs 3.4%).[4]

It seems that cinnamon achieves this by reducing absorption of glucose from the intestines after a meal, as well as increasing uptake into the cells and enhancing insulin activity.[2]

cognitive performance

Interestingly, strong correlations between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s patients suggest additional benefits in cinnamon’s blood sugar reducing properties.

Separate studies have shown that Ceylon cinnamon consumption can improve cognitive function, which is where its newfound natural nootropic status comes from (9).

antimicrobial properties

Traditional natural health practitioners have been using cinnamon bark as an antiseptic agent for centuries, now modern science can back it up - cinnamaldehyde and eugenol have potent antimicrobial effects against a long list of germs, including Escherichia coli, Haemophilus influenzae, Salmonella choleraesuis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae.[5]

Furthermore, a pilot study in HIV patients observed noticeable improvements in oral candidiasis (thrush) upon taking eight cinnamon lozenges daily.[6]

references

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266390492

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3854496/ 

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814605000063

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16634838

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20924865

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8874667

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16582031/

[8] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9347/783684c3df37ccc621f4df38c258c9050398.pdf

(9) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130523143737.htm

Natural Nootropics: Health Benefits of Raw Cacao

natural nootropic cacao health benefits biofit fitness

This article first appeared as a blog post on my Biofit Health & Fitness site here.

When posts appear in your feed lauding the health benefits of dark chocolate and encouraging readers to eat it with reckless abandon, a dose of skepticism is justified - most chocolate is heavily processed and contains enough fat and sugar to negate any arguable benefits.  

While such mass-produced bars have no place in a whole food based, organic lifestyle therefore, high-grade cacao is a different story altogether. 

“Superfood” hype aside, the Mayans knew a good thing when they saw it. Here’s our guide to how and why cacao deserves a permanent place on your nootropics shelf for its proven health benefits.

what exactly is cacao and how is it different to chocolate?

It all starts with the Theobroma cacao tree. Inside the fruiting pods of this plant are seeds - usually called beans - which form the building blocks of chocolate production. At this stage, cacao beans don’t bear much resemblance to the products we’re familiar with. 

To develop their characteristic flavour profile and aroma, they must first be fermented and dried for several days, a process that gives us raw cacao with a rich but bitter taste.

The hulls are then removed from the raw beans and the contents ground into a fine powder or crushed into small pieces known as nibs. Some producers opt to roast the beans beforehand, giving rise to a product with some degree of natural sweetness.[1]

cacao and healthy polyphenols

Experts attribute the bulk of cacao’s health benefits to polyphenols - natural compounds with antioxidant properties - and it tops the charts in one particular class of potent polyphenol: flavonoids. You’ll find higher doses in cacao than even green tea or red wine.[2

cognitive performance

Additional research has shown links between these flavanols and a reduction in cognitive decline, when paired with aerobic exercise, which is where the ‘natural nootropic’ status justifiably comes from; i.e. a natural substance that boost cognitive or mental performance.

cacao as a stimulant

Be warned too that cacao has a stimulant effect (it is known as “the cocaine of the Mayan’s” for a reason!) and has a half-life of 6hrs or so, suggesting it should only be consumed in modest amounts after dark by those people susceptible to such things.

anti-inflammatory effects of cacao

Inflammation is a double-edged sword, in acute situations it helps us heal and fight infection.  However, long-term inflammation is linked to chronic illnesses. In theory, the antioxidant polyphenols in cacao should combat the free radicals which mediate chronic inflammation, creating a subject of considerable interest to the medical community.

A randomized, controlled, cross-over trial with 24 participants found that those who consumed two servings of a cocoa product per day for four weeks experienced a greater reduced inflammatory markers IL-1β and IL-10 compared to the placebo group.[4]

cacao for blood sugar control

With diabetes levels on the rise due to the pervasive unbalanced Western diet, anything that can help keep blood sugar in check is likely to capture the health community’s attention - and scientists believe that cacao might help by interacting with insulin to do just that. 

In 2015, a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study (the gold standard!) tested the effects of polyphenol-rich chocolate on 60 participants. Researchers instructed subjects to eat 25 grams of the chocolate daily for eight weeks and found that fasting blood sugar and HbA1c (indicative of longer-term blood sugar levels) decreased above and beyond that of the placebo group.[3]

how to integrate cacao into your diet?

We buy 1kg bags of organic, sustainably sourced cacao powder and add a tablespoon to our morning smoothie with a nut mylk base and either a vegan or organic whey protein powder. 

After a light breakfast of seasonal berries and macadamias with kefir, followed by some organic boiled eggs and an avocado, this malty cacao-flavored mid-morning smoothie is all we need to get through to lunchtime. Try it for yourself!

References

[1] http://www.mjpath.org.my/2013.2/history-and-science-of-chocolate.pdf

[2] http://www.njmonline.nl/getpdf.php?id=1269

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460349/ 

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23823716

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460349/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820048/

A Guide to the Health Benefits of Organic Whey Protein

 
biofit matt aspiotis morley health benefits to whey protein

Is organic whey protein natural & healthy?

Whey protein is one of the most popular nutritional supplements among active adults so why are so many men and women taking it nowadays? In most cases, they’re likely hoping to gain lean muscle mass in combination with their strength training, lose weight with a high protein low carb diet and / or recover faster from workouts.  

Are such expectations realistic? Is it really just an off-shoot of more desirable dairy products? Can it safely be considered part of a natural lifestyle? 

With so many wild claims flying about between gym locker rooms and product marketing material it’s genuinely hard to know sometimes, so we took a look at the evidence-based research to help you make an informed decision. Read on to find out more.

biofit's whey protein guide health benefits

first things first, what exactly is whey protein?

Whey protein powder is made from cow’s milk.  When the milk is processed into curds to make cheese, whey is the liquid portion left over.  When manufacturers put this liquid through a drying process, it forms whey protein powder. Nothing complicated.

how does whey protein work?

Muscle metabolism is a delicate balance of muscle protein synthesis and breakdown.  Only when synthesis exceeds breakdown does muscle mass grow.  When you weight train, this balance swings heavily in favour of muscle synthesis - as long as you can supply enough amino acids to support it. [1]

Whey protein is rich in amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) valine, isoleucine and leucine.  Whey’s high leucine content gives it an edge over other protein supplements, as that particular type has the strongest effect on muscle synthesis of all the amino acids.[2]  

Furthermore, the body can absorb whey much faster than other proteins, making it the preferred choice for many.[3]

biofit guide to organic whey protein health benefits

whey protein for muscle growth

There’s plenty of evidence to show that whey protein can increase muscle mass and performance alongside an exercise routine of adequate difficulty, duration and frequency.

Results from a 2017 double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial with 24 active male participants support this. Researchers found that 20 grams of whey protein per day increased fat-free mass (+1.4% v.s. 0.0% placebo) and vastus medialis thickness (part of the quad) (12.1% v.s. 6.3% placebo) during an 8-week resistance-training program.[4]

How much regular strength training is necessary to make an impact?

A 2015 review of 38 studies concluded that taking a protein supplement likely has no impact on lean mass and muscle strength during the first few weeks of working out.  Gains only begin to appear as the duration, frequency, and volume of strength training increase.[5] Our advice? Give it 6-8 weeks at least, we’re all in this for the long-term anyway, not just for a quick win.

whey protein for exercise recovery

The soreness and reduced muscle performance you experience after intense exercise are thanks to damaged contractile proteins.  If you’ve been following so far, you might be thinking that whey protein’s ability to stimulate muscle synthesis could also help with repair and recovery. And you’d be right, partly.

Protein supplementation does help with recovery but only over the longer term. Studies that looked at recovery over less than 24 hours found no change. However, taking a protein supplement on a regular basis for extended periods reduced muscle soreness and indirect markers of muscle damage from subsequent exercise.[6]

Flavored whey vs organic unflavored, which is better?

This one is obvious people! All of those flavored, sweetened whey products simply have no place in a natural diet so ignore them completely and hunt down the high-grade, grass-fed, organic whey protein from a source in your region.

If you’re in Europe, try to find whey from European cows for example. This is just common sense in our opinion.

Then to add interest and make the stuff vaguely pleasant to consume, add raw cocoa powder, organic peanut butter and your preferred nut mylk for a light, easily digestible and sugar-free pre or post-workout smoothie. Remember, keep it super simple if this is a drink you consume every day. Your stomach will thank you for it!

For more nutrition advice and all things natural health and fitness, simply visit my Biofit website.