Sleep as a competitive edge


The majority of us need around 7-9 hours of restorative sleep with a smaller percent of us needing less to feel fully rested. That’s the foregone conclusion of the overwhelming research on sleep.

But here’s how I frame it.  We often don’t get enough zzz’s to function  anywhere close to the top of our game.  And that doesn’t matter, because what do we tell ourselves?  That to be competitive, to be more successful, all we need to do is sleep one hour less to gain one more hour of productivity in the day.

But whose the beneficiary?  Only a very small fraction of the population can get away with less sleep, and the stars probably don’t line up that your one of them.

Sleep deprivation.  A performance killer

If you want advice on sleep? Look to what the sleep experts have to say. And better yet? Someone who knows a thing or two about a competition. Harvard sleep expert and professional sports team go-to-advisor on sleep, Dr. Charles Czeisler, weighs in, “Like a drunk, a person who is sleep deprived has no idea how functionally sleep-deprived, he or she truly is,” he was quoted as saying. “Most of us have forgotten what it feels like to be awake.”

You probably heard this before. If you are burning the candle at both ends, eventually you won’t stay on top of your game.  According to Czeisler, if you average just 4 hours a night, day after day, your memory, cognition, problem-solving and performance speed will be just as cognitively impaired as someone who has stayed up 24 hours straight.

Take, for instance, the performance of Major League Baseball players on less than ideal sleep. According to a 1995 study, as reported in the Atlantic, if the visiting team is flown in on a red-eye, the home team scores more than 1.2 points. Back-to-backs have seen nose-dives in the performance of the NBA and other Major League teams.

More Zzzz’s? Who can benefit?

But it doesn’t take being a Major League player whose performance could benefit from more sleep.  People who are chronically sleep deprived, from working long hours- including those who need to make a decision, process a new memory, or use critical thinking skills- could benefit. Especially, since research has shown that consolidation of memories specifically occurs during sleep.

The upshot

If today you are sleep deprived and tomorrow you need to be on “top of your game,” what’s the takeaway? Sleep expert Czeisler’s advice to the Major League players can explain:

On the eve of game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, Czeisler got an emergency call from the team physician of the Boston Bruins. Their game against the Vancouver Canucks was scheduled for 5 pm the next day with a team practice scheduled at 10:30 am. “Cancel the practice,” Czeisler advised. “The guys need to take a nap to perform at their best.”

Czeisler calculated that a 10.30 nap in the morning would equal a 1:30 nap in the afternoon in Boston. He also knew that memory, skill and performance speed would be affected if the team could not recoup the lost sleep. He went on to unexpectedly advise that the team then sleep at least 9 hours the very next night after the game. Czeizler stated: “It’s the sleep after the lesson, game or event that is most important.” He went on, “Interestingly, if you don’t sleep the night after training, then if you sleep the next night and the next, you never learn.”

The night of the Stanley Cup? The Bruins ended a 39 year Stanley Cup drought with their 4:3 win. Was it a striking turnaround, or simply good sleep?


Preparing for the holidays? Give your health a headstart

holiday turkey

So you’ve been busy preparing for the holidays – buying food, arranging travel, and making plans with family and friends. But is your body prepared? Here’s a seven-day countdown, seven point action plan to help you make plans with your body.

Diet always matters. But during the holidays, our unquestioned commitment to gorge ourselves on foods we’ve waited all year to eat, beckons us to forego a healthy diet once at the table. Turkey drenched in gravy, walnut sausage stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple pie. Appetizers galore, and of course, those holiday drinks and cocktails.

It’s the traditional apocalyptic-style food free-for-all that comes with each meal or party feast that can finish you off, both in terms of your diet and energy levels. But neither do you need to deny yourself of traditions to keep yourself healthy during the holiday. Instead, the key is to plan ahead!

So a week prior to, and then throughout the holiday, remember these seven pointers for a healthy holiday:


Be sure to drink at least 1.5-2 liters of water daily. Drinking water is super important to flush your body of toxins and rehydrate both your body and skin. Get a jump on your 2-liter requirement by drinking a large glass of water when you first wake up in the morning. And then be sure to drink and keep drinking more water throughout the day.

Eat fish, fish, and more fish.

Eating fish for at least one meal a day for seven consecutive days will get you red carpet-ready before any big event, including the holidays. The omega three essential fatty acids found in fish will not only give your skin a beautiful glow, but the anti-inflammatory properties can help you feel your absolute best.

Get rid of the bad stuff.

Cut right back on bread, pasta, rice, foods made with refined flour, and high sugar content foods. You will be grateful you saved those calories when it comes time for your holiday meal.

Cut back on alcohol.

If you must partake in evening cocktail hour, limit yourself to one glass of wine or one measure of clear spirits. Your body will always thank you for it the next day.

Keep moving.

Although the holidays are a very busy time, don’t let your exercise fall by the wayside. Instead, hit it hard the week before the holiday. Wake up 30 minutes earlier to get your workout in. And don’t stop! Stick to the same schedule every day.

Grab extra ZZZs.

Be sure to bank up some extra sleep the week before the holiday. You will need it in reserve to get you through the holidays, as the hustle and bustle will likely disrupt your biological sleep clock. Staying up late, drinking more alcohol, and those heavy-hitting carbohydrates can all interfere with your rest.

Smile often

We all know the holidays can be stressful. Being thrown together into a house full of people who haven’t spent so much time together for a while isn’t easy for anyone. When gifts don’t arrive on time or your least favorite relative annoys you, be mindful and try and find the humor in the situation.

The effects of smiling and laughter not only will help you to de-stress, but it’s contagious in the best way. It shows that you are truly thankful, and enjoy celebrating life with your family and friends.

So keep in mind these seven pointers, and you and your body will be just fine.

Oh, and one more thing. Remember to pick up the turkey.

That’s all folks, and I wish you a very happy, healthy holidays!


Does your eye color indicate your risk of disease?


An increasing amount of research has linked the color of your eyes to your risk of a number of health concerns – and alcoholism is the latest reveal

When you look into someone’s eyes, what do you see? Their soul? What they’re thinking? Or maybe even something about their health?

A new study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics parsed the question: Can eye color be a useful clinical indicator of alcoholism and possibly other psychiatric illnesses?

How is eye color linked to alcohol dependence?

The researchers, Arvis Sulovari and Dawei Li, Ph.D., studied people of European or African ancestry who had at least one mental health illness. Many individuals had multiple illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and addiction to either alcohol or drugs.

From that database, Sulovari and Li filtered out 1, 263 Europeans with alcohol dependence as their sample population and controlled for population stratification. Age, gender, and different ethnic or geographic backgrounds were compared.

The duo found that individuals with lighter eye colors – including green, grey or brown in the center – had a higher incidence of dependence on alcohol than those who had brown eyes.

After noting the eye-color connection with blue eyes as a risk factor compared to brown eyes, the researchers found a statistically significant interaction between eye color and alcohol-dependence associated genes. The genetic components of both eye color and alcohol dependence lined up along the same chromosome.

In a press release, Li said his work with Sulavari provided a strong stepping-stone – though he pointed out that more research is needed as “we still don’t know the reason” for these associations.

According to the University of Vermont, the study results suggested hope in finding not only the roots of alcoholism but also many other psychiatric illnesses.

A 2000 archival study published in the journal Personality and Individual differences suggested similar results, with the results indicating that lighter-eyed individuals were more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those with darker eyes. The authors concluded that darker-eyed individuals were more drug and alcohol sensitive and therefore needed less alcohol to feel effects that took longer in lighter-eyed individuals.

Where does eye color come from?

Eye color is controlled by as many as 15 genes associated with eye color inheritance, with one of the genes located on the X-chromosome, making it a partially sex-linked trait. The interactions and variations between several genes actually determine our eye color. Previously, it was thought that eye color came from one gene and that blue eyes were recessive to brown eyes, meaning if two parents had blue eyes they could not produce a brown eyed child.

Now we know that the color of the iris is determined by the amount and distribution of melanin or pigmentation in the layers of the iris. Light colored eyes have less melanin and will therefore appear blue, green or hazel due to the way the light is scattered in the collagen fibers of the iris.

What other conditions could the color of our eyes determine?

Research has linked eye color with various health concerns. According to Dr Jari Louhelainen, a senior lecturer in biomolecular sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, genes that determine our eye color do other things in the body. “’One of them, NCX-4, which is linked to darker eyes, controls many proteins, of which one has recently been linked to pain,” he explained in an article published in the Daily Mail.

Additionally, Inna Belford, MD., Ph.D., a professor of anesthesiology at Pittsburgh University, linked eye color to pain at the American Pain Society (APS) 33rd annual scientific meeting in Tampa, Florida

Dr. Belford studied the association of eye color and pain-related traits among 58 healthy women who were giving birth . Her study found that women with lighter-colored eyes – blue or green- experienced less pain during childbirth than women with brown or hazel eyes. The lighter-eyed women also experienced less anxiety, depression, and negative thoughts after delivering their babies than women with dark eyes.

Blue eyes and macular degeneration

Blue eyes may also increase your risk of blindness from macular degeneration, according to Scottish researchers. Lighter eyes, such as blue and green, contain less of a macular pigment believed to protect against macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease.

Also, an Australian study found that darker eyes had up to 2.5 times the risk for developing cataracts than those with lighter eyes. The theory offered is that dark eyes absorb sunlight, much like wearing dark clothing in the summer. Sunlight exposure is thought to increase the temperature of the lens and therefore the risk of cataracts. However, the authors acknowledged that dark eyes were associated with an increased risk of cataracts even when not in the sun.

Eye color may also indicate anxiety levels

Your eye color could also be an indicator of anxiety levels – and this could be explained by the developmental relationship between eye color and anxiety. “The melanocytes, the cells involved in pigmentation and the ganglion cells in the autonomic nervous system, which are involved in your experience of anxiety both originate in the neural crest,” report Bassett and Dabbs Jr.

The authors cited a Caucasian children’s study demonstrating that behaviorally-inhibited children who withdrew from the unfamiliar, including situations or people, more often had blue eye than brown.

Where to from here?

If you’re concerned about your eye color and an increased risk of a health concern, it’s important to bear in mind that many of these statistics warrant further research – that is, there is more to them than meets the eye.

More importantly, you should have yearly eye exams to rule out health conditions that may be easily determined by the arteries, veins, optic nerve and sclera of the eyes. Your optometrist can assess your eyes for these conditions – and you should also visit your doctor regularly who can determine whether you are at risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disorders, cardiovascular disease, or other eye diseases.

Tick-Tock: The fertility war on women over 35


Top fertility experts staunchly at odds with delaying parenthood-warning of the fertility risks and reliability of IVF in older women

Geeta Nargund, Britain’s top fertility specialist, is staunchly at odds with women over 30 delaying parenthood. Have children too late, and you could miss out completely is the message Professor Nargund recently conveyed.

Professor Nargund’s no-nonsense position that women should “start trying for a baby before 30 – or risk never having children” was conveyed in a frank letter addressed to education secretary Nicky Morgan. In the letter, which was published on Daily Mail, Professor Nargund demanded that teenagers be taught the “dangers of delaying parenthood because of the spiraling cost to the taxpayer of IVF for women in their late 30s and 40s.”

Professor Nargund is the Medical Director of CREATE Fertility. She is also a Senior Consultant Gynecologist and Lead Consultant for Reproductive Medicine services at St George’s Hospital, London.

Her letter cited the devastation and regret by women who realize they are too late to start a family. She also argued that many young people were poorly informed about the impact of age on fertility.

When is a woman’s “best” reproductive age?

According to a 2012 guide on age and fertility by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a women’s best reproductive years are in her 20’s. Fertility gradually declines in the 30’s, particularly until 35 – after which point it sharply declines.

“Each month that she tries, a healthy fertile 30 year old women has a 20% chance of getting pregnant per cycle, by age 40 a women’s chance is less than 5% per cycle,” the guide states.

These percentages are true if conception occurs by natural conception, fertility treatments or IVF. “Fertility does not last until menopause,” the guide makes clear. “The average age of menopause is 51 but most women become unable to have successful pregnancies sometime in their mid-40’s.”

How reliable is IVF in older women?

Dr. Marta Devasa, gynecologist at Dexeus Women’s Health, recently presented her research on IVF fertility rates in older women at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

The data came from a Spanish clinic that treated 4,195 women and 5,841 cycles with IVF. The clinic calculated the cumulative live birth rate using one fresh and any subsequent frozen embryo transfers over 12 years.

The study showcased the difficulty of getting pregnant through In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF) for women over 44 using their own ovules, with a treatment success rate for IVF cycles of only 1.3%.

The results demonstrated that fertility begins to significantly drop after 38. The rate of live births after IVF using their own ovules, is 23.6% for women between 38 and 39 years, 15.6% aged 40-41 and dropping as low as 6.6% in those between 42 and 43 years.

The conclusion drawn from the study was that by the age of 35, women should be urged to freeze their eggs and women over 44 should choose donated oocytes in order to increase their success rate as the “chances of success with their own ones are scarce.”

“And it is true”, Dr. Devasa argued, “Pregnancies in older women and celebrities don’t help us because many people don’t know that most of the time they have gone for egg donation.”

The dangers of “fertility security”

An increasing amount of young women may be being lulled into a false sense of “fertility security”. A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found entrenched fertility myths among University Israeli students.

According to the authors, these myths included in particular “the false belief in the possibility of late (beyond 35 years) and very late genetic motherhood. This can be explained by the technological ‘hype’ and favorable media coverage of very late pregnancies.”

Perhaps, the media’s infatuation with celebrity baby bumps may have become a “raison d’être” for delaying parenting. The media has” glamorized the “40 is the new 30” frenzy of celebrities with children, including Salma Hayak, age 41, Halle Barre, age 42, Kelley Preston with her third child at age 47, and Laura Linny welcoming her first child at age 49.

Other scholars such Elizabeth Gregory, author of “Ready, Why Women Are Embracing the Later Motherhood”, argue “the national media have tended to focus on the individual and on the negative, leaving us with a skewed sense of what’s going on or what’s at stake.”

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Gregory, who is also director of women’s studies at the University of Houston and research fellow on the Council on Contemporary Families, pointed out that women are delaying conception globally.

“The ‘experts’ are just catching up to explain why. Women figured out early that delay provides a shadow benefits system in our family-unfriendly world: higher salaries, more flexibility and higher marriage rates, as well as more interest in staying home at night,” she wrote.

“Along with personal benefits, delay has been an engine of feminist social change because it allows women – who for millennia were kept busy, uneducated and out of decision-making circles by early and unending fertility – to begin to have a voice in policy. Change creates pushback, as today’s harsh fertility politics demonstrate,” Gregory added.

Her work has explored why so many women are making this choice and what the effects are for fertility, the individual women involved and on society at large.

Costly fertility treatments

And for women who intentionally delay pregnancies or marriage to pursue their education, careers or other personal goals, insuring their fertility can be cost prohibitive.

Egg donation costs around $10,000 per egg freezing cycle and $500 per year to maintain frozen eggs – such costs can be prohibitive, if not out of the question financially for some women or couples. Plus, there’s no guarantee that they will result in viable pregnancies.

Perhaps the best message is that women need to weigh up the benefits and risks of having children later in life themselves and be responsible for their choices. We can fight the fertility war without the media’s constant “tick tock” narrative.

Does acetaminophen use in pregnancy lower testosterone in the male fetus?

Ultrasound of fetus larger sizeRecent research has suggested that taking Paracetamol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy for long periods of time may lower testosterone production in the male fetus – potentially increasing the risk for undescended testes and adverse reproductive health effects later in life.

The animal study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine (STM) investigated the effects of Paracetamol exposure on fetal testosterone levels. The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, used host mice grafted with human fetal testicular tissue to study the effects of Paracetamol on testosterone production. The grafted testicular tissue simulated the developing testes during pregnancy.
The researchers found a 45% decline in plasma testosterone levels after 7 days of exposure to a typical dose of acetaminophen. However, after one day of exposure to a typical dose there was no change in testosterone levels.
A 2010 study published in the journal Epidemiology linked protracted use of Paracetamol during pregnancy to undescended testes (cryptorchidism) in males; however, the University of Edinburgh study was the first to demonstrate the effects of the drug on testosterone levels.
“These results are of clinical importance as there is growing evidence that most common male reproductive disorders, which can affect 1 in 6 men, may be attributed to sub-optimal testosterone exposure during fetal life,” the authors wrote.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone, a sex hormone, is produced by the testes in approximately the 7th or 8th week of pregnancy. Testosterone has key effects on sex drive, bone mass, the growth of body hair, fat distribution, muscle strength, brain function, metabolism, the vasculature and the production of sperm.
Testosterone is important to the developing fetus because it determines the sex of the newborn as well as future reproductive health.
Health implications of lowered testosterone in the womb
Researchers have suggested that reduced levels of testosterone in the womb may have implications later in life.
According to the authors of a reproductive health study published in the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Science, during the period of fetal masculinization, testosterone exposure can (re) program fetal stem cells which later develop into testosterone producing adult Leydig cells. A lower testosterone exposure in the fetus can lead to lower
testosterone levels in the adult male which can ultimately impact fertility, erectile function, and sex drive.
Past research has previously linked low testosterone in adult males to an increased risk of other health issues such as obesity, depression and type 2 diabetes.
Paracetamol (acetaminophen) safety during pregnancy
According to the authors of an American Family Physician journal article, acetaminophen has a good safety record and is widely used during pregnancy with a paucity of adverse effects documented; hence, why acetaminophen has been validated as the pain reliever of choice during pregnancy.
An article published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, suggests the safety record is less clear. The authors associated the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy to a higher risk of ADHD and other hyperactivity behavior disorders in children, with the risk stronger for maternal acetaminophen use in more than 1 trimester.
As both an over the counter and prescribed medication, Paracetamol is one of the most commonly used analgesic (pain) and fever medications used during pregnancy
A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported at least 65% of women had used acetaminophen at one point or another during their pregnancy.
Planning a pregnancy?
This recent study also highlights the public health relevance of medication effects during pregnancy. Women who are planning a pregnancy or have just learned they are pregnant should consult with their physicians prior to taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medications.