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Nitric Oxide May Help Athletes

Should you believe claims that nitric oxide supplements will enlarge muscles and increase endurance? Actually, there are no products that contain nitric oxide because it is too unstable. However, supplements containing arginine (an amino acid) in combination with another blood vessel widener, alpha- ketoglutarate, can stimulate the blood vessels to increase production of nitric oxide. This dilates blood vessels that bring blood to muscles. Several studies show that the nitric oxide releasers may help athletes exercise longer, but the data are weak, sparse and not very impressive. If you take these supplements and do not exercise to your maximum, you are wasting your money. However, if you are already exercising as hard and as fast as you can, taking these supplements may let you do more work, which can make your muscles stronger (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, December 2000).

Promoters of these supplements recommend doses of 6,000-10,000 mg per day and most athletes who use them take far more than that. Half of the athletes who took double the recommended dose suffered adverse side effects, usually nausea, stomach cramps or diarrhea. High doses may drop blood pressure which would harm performance. Blood pressure usually rises with exercise; a person with resting blood pressure of 120/80 can expect it to rise to 200/80 while jogging.

Prescription nitric oxide simulators such as Viagra can benefit men who have difficulty achieving or maintaining erections. Exercise, by itself, raises blood levels of nitric oxide (American Journal of Hypertension, August 2007). So if you want your arteries to make more nitric oxide, go out and exercise.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: What can I do about painful cracking skin on my feet?

Try applying tape across the split skin to limit movement of the cracked edges. Let the tape fall off, as pulling it off may tear the skin even more. Friction irritates the cracks, causing more pain, so avoid loose slip-on shoes, sandals or any other footwear that causes friction. Do not file the skin as this can cause even greater thickening (called the Koebner phenomenon) that leads to cracking.

Your podiatrist can prescribe topical medications, such as urea-based creams or cortisone creams, to help heal the cracks. Cortisone creams should be used with caution since they can cause permanent thinning of the skin. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend cortisone injections, but again be aware of the side effects of too much cortisone.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Can you give me some new studies to help me persuade my spouse to exercise?

This week's literature shows that exercise prevents cancers and helps to improve mental function with aging. Researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia show that adults with memory impairment improve mental function after a six-month exercise program (JAMA, September 3, 2008). Another study, from Tokyo, shows that adults who exercise regularly and are active are less likely to develop a range of cancers (American Journal of Epidemiology, August 2008). The researchers followed 80,000 Japanese adults for up to ten years. Those who were more active had reduced risk for developing any type of cancer, particularly cancers of the colon, liver, pancreas or stomach.

This benefit was greatest in those who were not overweight, showing that exercising enough to control your weight is better than just exercising. Exercise lowers body fat and being overweight is associated with increased cancer risk. Furthermore, exercise can activate immune cells to hep prevent cancer. It also lowers certain sex hormones and insulin-like growth factors that can feed the growth and spread of tumors.

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Recipe of the Week

Take advantage of the Fall farmer's market bounty! Fall Minestrone

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 22nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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