Should You add Pycnogenol to your Daily Supplement Regimen?

I usually order vitamins and supplements from iHerb.com, because of both the convenience and cost factor (if you order from iHerb, use the referral code JON420 to save $5 on your order).   iHerb usually includes flyers or sample packs of various supplements and vitamins in the box.   About a year ago, the “ride along” flyer was for a supplement I had never heard about called Pycnogenol.

I did a little research and I discovered that pycnogenol comes from the bark of a pine tree grown in France.  It is marketed as an anti-oxidant and as a supplement to help blood circulation and aid the vascular system.

I normally check out any potential new supplement at ConsumerLab.com, which is a paid membership site that offers unbiased evaluations of various vitamins and supplements.  If you just run a search on Google or  Yahoo, you won’t find much other than ads for the product itself.  ConsumerLab had nothing on Pycnogenol other than to identify it as an “oligomeric proanthocyanidin” (OPCs)- meaning extract of the French pine.

ConsumerLab’s conclusions are that there is no scientific evidence of specific benefits from OPCs, but also no harm associated with these extracts.  However, when I looked at the customer reviews, there were some very positive and very specific praise of pycnogenol – enough so that I decided to try it out.

Source Natural pycnogenolI ordered a bottle of the 100mg pills manufactured by Source Naturals, which I have always found to be a quality manufacturer.

My experience with pycnogenol has been positive.  The most apparent benefit for me has been increased pliability and softness of my skin.  This winter, for the first time in many years, I did not experience dry, cracked skin on my hands and elbows.

Obviously I cannot speak to any circulatory issues, but based on the noticeable improvement to my skin, I have added pycnogenol to my daily supplement regimen.  I am also sticking to the Source Naturals brand – I tried a different manufacturer’s formulation but noticed a drop off in the effect.  I came back to the 100mg dosage of pycnogenol from Source naturals, which is what I now take.

I am obviously speaking about my own experience – your experience, doctor’s opinion and reaction may be different.

Muscle Confusion – the Key to Strength and Tone?

About 3 weeks ago, I met my workout partner at the gym on a Saturday morning and we ran through a new workout sequence that Michael called a “super set.”   This involved 50 repetitions of a variety of machine equipment exercises set at a medium weight.   We did leg presses, seated arm presses, seated tricep push downs, hamstring extensions and seated shoulder presses.

That afternoon, I was so exhausted, that I took a 3 hour nap.

Over the past 3 weeks, we have added this “super set” to our weekly routine – performing it twice a week and even adding additional exercises.  This morning (Saturday) we did a super set that included more exercises at higher weights than the one we did three weeks ago.

I have a normal post-workout burn but I am not fatigued like I was after that first set and I feel no worse after doing these super sets than I do with any other exercise routine.

I suspect that muscle confusion and muscle adaptation offers an explanation.  I do find it interesting that the fatigue associated with muscle confusion happened only after that first set.

I am thinking that I need to come up with different routines to re-create that muscle confusion, both for weight loss and for increased strength.

Why Fish Oil is Good for You

At my last annual physical, my doctor recommended that I add fish oil to my daily intake of supplements to help keep my cholesterol down.   Specifically, he recommended a fish oil supplement that contains high levels of both DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid).  In my case, I am taking fish oil from Vital Oils – two gel tabs each containing 750mg of DHA and 250 mg of EPA.  Obviously you should discuss your needs with your own physician.

It turns out that many fish oil supplements on the market contain much lower levels of one or both of these components.  Further, my doctor noted that consuming fish several times a week as I do does not offer the same benefit.

This past week the Los Angeles Times published an article that explains why omega-3 fish oil supplementation works well to keep you healthy.  In a joint American and Japanese study, researchers found that omega-3 fish oil helps reduce inflammation caused by certain white blood cells.  An excess of this inflammation can make the immune system resistant to insulin thereby triggering diabetes.

So, it appears that in addition to moderating cholesterol in the blood, omega-3 fish oil can also protect you against diabetes and other conditions that result from chronic inflammation in the body.

Why Calorie Counting Matters

I am not happy that calorie counting matters, but it really does.  Like many of my peers, I could stand to lose a few pounds.  In my teens and twenties, it was fairly easy to lose weight – just increase my physical activity and, presto, the weight would come off without any diet modification.

Sad to say, those days are over.   Even with 4 to 5 rigorous, 90 minute workouts a week, those excess pounds are very slow to come off.

Nutrition experts as well as physicians with whom I have discussed this are fairly blunt – you have to count calories.

What does this mean, in a practical sense?  In my case, I need about 2,750 calories a day to maintain my weight.   A vigorous workout burns around 800 calories, so I can consume around 3,500 calories a day and not gain any weight.  A pound is equal to 3,500 calories.    Assuming that 2 days a week, I consume 3,500 calories, I need to limit myself to 2800 calories a day for 5 days a week to drop a pound a week.

I can’t eat too few – or my body will go into starvation mode.

Recently, I started counting calories.   I made some surprising discoveries.

  • I enjoy popcorn and I use a Whirley-pop 6 quart popper that uses 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels and 3 to 4 tbsp of oil – 6 quarts = 1,536 calories
  • I enjoy French bread and butter or Smart Balance – my portion costs me between 1,200 and 1,500 calories
  • Pizza – 3 slices of cheese pizza – 500 calories
  • chicken breast (8 oz.) – 450 calories
  • rice (flavored) – my portion around 800 calories

In my case, portion size is the problem, as is speed of eating.   I am using the About.com Calorie Count online service to track what I eat – we’ll see how it goes.

How Often Should You Work Out With Kettlebells?

Over the past couple of months, my workout partner and I have re-integrated kettlebell workouts into our weekly routine at the Perimeter L.A. Fitness.  We bring out kettlebells on Tuesdays and Fridays and go through our set of exercises three times.  The entire routine takes about an hour.

Recently some of the regulars at the gym have been asking questions and one gentlemen has joined us in our kettlebell workout.  He is able to get through about 1/2 to 2/3 of each set but he keeps coming back so that is a good sign.  I’ll go into more detail about our routine in a future post.

I suspect that you could perform different kettlebell exercises each day and find something different to do every day of the week.  In our case, we have to deal with the issue of schlepping the kettlebells from the car, as our L.A. Fitness does not have a full set.  Interestingly, however, about six months after workout partner Michael and I used our kettlebells for the first time, a couple of the personal trainers there purchased four or five bells and started using them occasionally.  Right now, there is one 16kb bell, the rest are very light weights – most of the trainer clients are women who do not run through a very intense workout.  We use 16kb and 12kb bells and it is nice to have one available to use in addition to what we bring.

In the mornings at L.A. Fitness at least, most of the regulars are in their 40’s and 50’s and I doubt that too many of these folks would be able to handle an intense kettlebell workout.  On the other hand, swinging a 2kb kettlebell is not going to do much.  For  us, at this time, two days a week is about right.  I think it is better to run through a solid kettlebell workout once or twice a week, as opposed to a peripheral use of the weights once every two to four weeks.

As I will discuss in a future post, many of our kettlebell day exercises are focused on core strength and now that we are consistent, I am really starting to see some good results.  Not quite ready for photos (although I have several very solid “before” photos!).