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Kopac's Corner

Nutritionist Matt Johnson Talks at MHRRC Meeting

by Bob Kopac

Matt Johnson, a certified nutritionist and co-owner of the House of Nutrition on Collegeview Avenue in Poughkeepsie, recently spoke at a Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club meeting. Dozens of MHRRC members enjoyed his very informative talk, as was evidenced by the many questions asked.

MATT: "I am going to talk about joint health. I've already heard from people in the room talk about sore knees and backs. It's probably one of the most common question I get in the store every day. By the way, I run the House of Nutrition in Poughkeepsie. I am sure most of the people in this room have heard about glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM. If you are not using them, start. They do work eventually. The way they work is that they are going to strengthen all the soft tissue in the joints--ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. There actually are ongoing studies right now that suggest it will even regenerate cartilage--that is, actually build cartilage. These studies are not definitive, but they are ongoing and very promising. So if you are not using those three things for your joints or ankles, knees, hip, your back, start using them.

Question: Do you have to take all three, or can you take just one?

MATT: Glucosamine sulfate is the one they are really looking at closely. But historically combinations of things, including herbs or nutrients will work better. If I had my choice, I would really try to steer you to the combination of the three, and it really does not increase the tablet intake. You are actually getting the therapeutic dosages in a tablet, three a day.

Glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, MSM--they are all sulfur compounds found naturally in the body. They are what keep our soft tissues, the matrix of our joints, together tight and strong. As we age, these joints and soft tissues begin to break down. These will not only keep them strong, but will regenerate. Also slightly anti-inflammatory, which I will get into later.

Usually the response for this will be eight weeks before they will just begin to work. As for myself, I have a torn rotator cuff which I decided not to get surgery on. I have been doing this therapeutic dose now for just over a year, along with other nutritional weapons that I have. It is something I can say works.

Q: You are taking a glucosamine/MSM combination. Would it be beneficial to also take flax seed oil?

MATT: Absolutely. Flax seed oil has so many health benefits including joint health. So flax seed oil, fish oil, even primrose oil all intelligent choices for healthy joints.

The other thing with joints, any time you get an injury, hurt yourself, and so forth, you have inflammation. A real quick fix is any ibuprofen off the pharmacy counter. The anti-inflammatory can get you through a couple of rough days or so. Anyone here who has been diagnosed with arthritis, especially osteo-arthritis, doctors are very quick to prescribe various medicines... There are three or four different types of arthritis medications that really are just super-potent ibuprofen. The downside of this: ibuprofen can make your liver like Swiss cheese eventually--very bad for the health. There are natural remedies. I am not going to fool you; they do not work as well as the ibuprofens, but they will keep inflammation down along with, believe it or not, improving your cardiovascular health. So there are nutritional alternatives to the anti-inflammatories that are over the counter that would be much healthier for you.

Q: What are too many Advils? Ten a day? Six a day? Four a day?

MATT: Six a day for anything longer than 5 days is too long. So if you are popping these things for chronic inflammation, you are better off killing a bottle of JD [Jack Daniels whiskey] for what it is going to do to your liver. [laughter]

Inflammation is an ongoing thing. You wouldn't believe the amount of pills I swallowed a day to keep the inflammation down in my shoulder. It is an ongoing battle, but it works. Again, for immediate improvement, ibuprofen is certainly a viable thing for a couple of days. But after that, certainly visit a doctor and see if there is a real injury, a soft tissue damage that needs attention. But if you can rule that out, then you are dealing with, like, a tendonitis or bursitis, a sprain, or something like that that you can deal with temporarily. A great anti-inflammatory product is Wobenzyme.

Q: Have there been any studies on liver toxicity with that combination?

MATT: Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM? Not that I have read. It is nothing new that is on the market, and I have been doing this now for close to 10 years. It has been on the store shelves for at least that long. Does that qualify it for being entirely safe for the liver? No, but if there was some sort of red flag, it would be waving. There would be some type of warning not to use it for any length of time. I have been taking it for a long time, so if that is the case, I am in big trouble. [laughter] But there are no studies to say yes or no, to be honest with you. It is a natural nutrient that occurs in our bodies. Even though the therapy dose is 1500 milligrams of glucosamine... it is very, very small. I can't see it being detrimental to your health. That's an opinion rather than a fact.

Q: So it would be used with moderation?

MATT: Oh, sure. Actually I have screws in my knees to hold my knees together. When I do any running, I swell up. I increase my doses for a short period of time, and then I cut down to the therapeutic dose. That's true with anything, even water is no good for you [in large doses.] Everything in moderation.

This also, with joints, topical things. A lot of you guys might want to reach for mineral ice or...analgesics. All they do is hide the pain topically for a short period of time. They do nothing to help heal you. There are some alternatives you can seek out there from a health food store or even some pharmacies that are up on things. Things like Arnica Gel. There is also another remedy out there called Therapeutic Pain Rub. It's premise is Arnica Gel. Arnica will actually make the soft tissue of a joint--again, your ligature, cartilage, tendons-- more permeable, allow better blood flow. If you get blood flow to the joints, you get a lot better healing, you get rid of toxins, and so on and so forth. So rather than reaching for...things that are going to numb you up, find something that is actually going to help heal or correct the problem.

Q: What would you recommend for long-distance runners for building up bones?

MATT: "Building up" is the wrong terminology. The strength--those core ingredients, glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, believe it or not, silica which is found in earth or horse tail [an herb], those are also great for building bones, but it's also found in the soft tissue as well. Silica can really help a great deal. So that is something else to throw into your arsenal if you are really getting desperate to help heal an injury or surgery, a chronic ache that just will not go away.

Certainly with something chronic, chiropractors, podiatrists, so on and so forth, or orthotics will certainly help. You know what they [orthotics] are. They are simply arches in the shoes; they do wonders. If you have chronic problems with the ankles, knees, hips or back, you may want to look to the feet first. You might be flat-footed, your feet might roll. An orthotic will correct that, keep everything in a straight line, and keep you injury-free. So it's something you should pay close attention to. My experience with chiropractors have been great for my back.

Someone mentioned flax seed oil. Any essential fatty acid, again simply termed "good fats", fats such as vegetable oils, even olive oil although we will go over that thing about not heated, flax seed oil, fish oil, even primrose oil is the oil best for joints because of anti-inflammatory properties. If you are already doing your glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, and it's still not getting you over the hump, you may want to look into some of these good fats or essential fatty acids. Don't be afraid of fats. I do almost a thousand calories a day in flax seed oil. It seems like a lot, but the good fats keep you lean, they are good for your joints, they are good for your skin. The benefits are, for your cardiovascular system, knock down cholesterol levels. Not that this group [runners in attendance] have to worry about it. Maybe with all the pizza you are eating... [laughter] I kind of like it, pizza and beer [at the club meeting], that's real good.

REMARK FROM THE AUDIENCE: That's why we run! [laughter]

MATT:That's it in a nutshell for joint health. Because you are an athletic group, I just thought I'd get on that. It's something I hear most often in the store. Someone asks, "What do you have for joints?" It seems everyone is pretty much up on glucosamine, but they may not know the doses, they may not know how long you need to take it before you expect to see results. There are a log of questions in that. Even buying the right supplement is important.

Q: What is the maintenance does for those three things?

MATT: 1500 milligrams a day for glucosamine; that is the most important. 800 milligrams a day for chondroitin, and MSM is ongoing--anywhere from 800 milligrams to 3000 milligrams a day.

Q: What would change that dosage?

MATT: A lot of people when they do the therapeutic dose, they are doing it for six months or so, their joints are feeling stronger noticeably, without much of their pain. They cut back on a therapeutic dose to a maintenance dose. Say from three tablets a day down to two tablets a day. If they are still feeling strong, they cut down to one a day and cruise on that until they do something silly like aggravate that joint and it pops back up again. It is easy to use common sense to taper off a little bit. I wouldn't go without. Especially if you are 40 years or above, you should seriously consider supplementing with these nutrients.

Q: I have read articles that certain of these health medications cause problems for people who have to have surgery?

MATT: You do not want to have taken anything that would thin the blood. A lot of people take vitamin E, for instance. If you take a large dose of vitamin E, say 1000 I.U.'s or higher for a long period of time, it tends to thin the blood a bit. You may not collagulate properly, if you are a chronic bleeder. There are certain herbs that can do the same thing. So, going into surgery, you may want to step back on your supplementation. Then, when you are done with the surgery, though, pop things up to recover. There are a few quirky herbs and maybe vitamin E may fall into that category. That is what you should be most concerned with.

Q: What about garlic?

MATT: Garlic is one of those overall products for the body, much like ginseng. There are a 100 uses. If it is something you choose to use in your supplement regimen, by all means. There are thousands of studies that talk about its health benefits--reducing cholesterol, boosting immunities, being ant-viral... For health benefits, you really would not want to cook it. If you try to eat raw cloves, it is going to tear your stomach up eventually.

Q: What happens when someone comes to your store, since you carry hundreds of different products?

MATT: I have found that when someone comes to the store, most people have a purpose. They have a pretty good idea of what they want. Defining it is another thing. I deal with thousands of bottles a day. People have a pretty good idea of what they want. They say, "I want an endurance drink. What do you have?" "My joints are killing me. What have you got?" "My cholesterol is through the roof. What have you got?" These are people who usually tried a doctor's method first, say cholesterol medication... The side effects of some of these cholesterol medications send people running to me. Cholesterol is easily remedied with some nutritional therapies.

People usually come with some kind of purpose. Usually they have tried all types of things and begrudgingly walk through the door of a health food store and think "Snake-oil, witch-doctor stuff. What can you possibly do for me?" [laughter]

Q: Are you pretty much at the store?

MATT: All the time. Too often. [laughter] I work about 70 hours a week, and most of it I spend in that store [on Collegeview Avenue in the Town of Poughkeepsie.] You are hard-pressed not to find me there.

Q: What do you recommend to lower cholesterol?

MATT: There are a lot things. Garlic is one of those things. Probably the best thing I can offer you, though, is called red yeast rice. It is derived from rice. It is so effective at reducing cholesterol in the body the FDA tried to classify it as a drug and failed. So the pharmaceutical companies are up in arms about this.

Q: Is there any problem with taking the whole amount of supplements once a day?

MATT: You won't absorb it well... Space out the doses; you can absorb it better. If you do lump it all together, your body may try to excrete some of it. It might be a little too much for one time to handle... It could cause some gastro-intestinal disturbance. I really strongly suggest trying to spread the dose out. One with each meal.

Q: What dosage of red rice yeast for cholesterol?

MATT: To be honest with you, I would look on the label. It's really just 2 capsules a day... Some of cholesterol is attributed to the foods we eat, but it's really what we produce within our own bodies. And the red yeast rice actually controls our liver output of cholesterol. Cholesterol is actually a good thing. It's what all our hormones travel on. Hormones are carried by our cholesterol, and it is important to have it in our system. But you don't want an overabundance of it, either. There are ongoing studies with cholesterol right now, it may not be what causes ateriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. They are looking into homosistene levels which are byproducts of free radicals which give us another can of worms. At some point in time, cholesterol might be freed of its ugly tag in our lifetime. We'll see.

Q: My overall cholesterol is low. My problem is my good cholesterol is also low. How do you raise HDL?

MATT: That's really a strange question coming from you, because really the one thing that is going to do that is exercise. [laughter]

REMARK FROM THE AUDIENCE: You are not running enough! [laughter]

COUNTER REMARK: 40 miles per week is enough for me! [laughter]

REMARK FROM THE AUDIENCE: I hear soy can raise the HDL.

Q: Do you know of any controversy over soy products.

MATT: There is so much stuff coming out now that is anti-soy... The studies good or bad do not make it definitive. A lot of times they find what they want to find. But there are some negative studies coming out about soy. I just don't know how to interpret them at the moment. Everything from decreased testosterone levels in men which is not a good thing. There have been many studies on women. Every woman here should have some soy in her diet. There have been so many studies that suggest that soy is anti-cancer of the breast. It is a real important thing with all the breast cancer out there. Soy will actually go in and occupy the receptor sites of the breast tissue and send estrogen back into the system where it belongs. So every woman should have some soy in her diet--soy powder, soy capsule, tofu. Make a point of getting it in your diet.

Q: If you lift weights, but you don't get bulked up, what do you have to take?

MATT: If you are pushing weights, in my opinion you need to increase protein, which I wanted to get with this group anyway. I think endurance athletes, be it triathletes, cyclists, marathoners, what have you, I think as a group you neglect protein as a nutrient, and you don't get enough. Anytime you run past an hour, an hour or more of cardio work, your body stops using carbohydrates as a fuel. And guess what. It cannibalizes part of your own muscle tissue, wasting away your muscle tissue by going an hour or longer.

So I think protein is very important. I was going to address it later, but I might as well do it now. Protein is something endurance people should think more about or try to make a conscious effort to increase the protein they take... I think most people want to be 100 grams a day or more. If you are pushing weights... pushing weights is my bag. I take a gram of protein per pound. I am 220 pounds, so I take a gram of protein per pound every day.

Q: What types of food have protein?

MATT: A chicken breast is going to be an average of 30 to 35 grams of protein. An egg is 5 grams of protein. A can of tuna fish is 40 grams. Protein will help your recovery from your runs. When you are done with your runs, you want to replace glycogens and fluids, get carbohydrates back in your system. An hour later, though, you really want to consider getting protein back into you. A good high-protein meal to help the muscle recover.

Q: Is it good to eat read meat after a long run?

MATT: An hour later. Immediately when you are done with your run, you are looking for fluids and glycogens... Cyclists I have read are turning to proteins, increasing their protein intake.

Q: I hear creatin builds strength.

MATT: For explosive moves. Sprinters would benefit a great deal from creatin.

Q: Has it been banned yet collegiately?

MATT: No.

Q: When I was in college a year or two ago, there was a rumor floating around that creatin was going to be pulled?

MATT: They tried planting a lot of horrible things on it. There were stories of high school wrestlers killing themselves on creatin. It turned out to be false. It got a bad rap for a while...Creatin is probably the most studied nutrient there is, more so than vitamin C. There have been countless studies on Creatin: safety, efficiency, effectiveness. But I don't see how it is going to benefit an endurance guy as much.

Q: What is your bottom line on creatin?

MATT: I am a big advocate of it for what I do. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. It works like nothing else. It actually is pretty amazing. So if you looking for it for your own workouts, to increase your weights, it definitely will do it. No doubts about it. It will increase poundages. The muscle tissue will come along with it eventually.

Getting back to the endurance issue, with lactit acid buffers: if you haven't experimented with glycerol, try it. Glycerol will keep you running like the Energizer Bunny all day long. From what I understand, all the top endurance people are doing now. Glycerol is a strange thing. It is not a carbohydrate. It is not a protein. It is not a fat. The FDA does not know how to classify it. It actually has been used as a skin lotion for a number of years. It also is sickenly sweet. It is like drinking straight syrup. But you haven't tried it, try it in your next running or your next race.

Q: What concentration do you recommend?

MATT: You want to use a tablespoon of glycerol for eight ounces of fluid. You want to get a couple of tablespoons in you the night before the race, and the morning prior to the race...For races over an hour long, that is where it really comes into play.

Q: Can you talk about grape seed extract?

MATT: It is something I really like. It is the best known anti-oxidant there is. Of all the studies on anti-oxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, grape seed extract is the best...Anti-oxidants, what they do is anti-aging, anti-disease; certainly something we are all interested in taking. Grape seed will also strengthens all the vessels in which our blood travels through--our veins and arteries--will strengthen the walls. It will keep the walls from collapsing.

Q: What about chromium?

MATT: Chromium is getting bashed again these days. The one thing I can say is that if you have a blood sugar problem, chromium will help stabilize you. If you don't eat three or four meals a day, chromium might be a good supplement to keep your blood sugar stabilized between meals so you don't binge on sweets. Chromium was touted as building muscle; it's not happening. They thought it was the wonder nutrient for a long time.

Q: It was being used for weight loss.

MATT: It went over as a fat-burner diet aid. It helped you resist from diving into the cookie jar, but it didn't help you lose body fat.

Q: One last question. What brand of vitamins do you recommend?

MATT: Stick with a reputable name brand that has been around 20, 30, 40 years. Solgar has been around 50 years. Nature's Plus has been around almost 40 years. Source Natural about 40 years. Twin Labs--even grocery stores are now carrying Twin Labs. All reputable companies. If you write to them, they will send you independent laboratory analyses. Don't fall for over-hyped marketing.