The Silence Surrounding Men’s Health

This week is National Men’s Health Week and a perfect time for male-identified individuals at UNC to make sure health and wellness are a top priority in their daily lives.

Keyboard with health button highlighted in bright green.
Health by Got Credit, Flickr, Creative Commons.

According to the National Center for Disease Control, Men’s Health Week is a time when men should remember to: get good sleep, toss out the tobacco, move more, eat healthy, tame stress, get regular medical checkups, and make sure you have affordable healthcare.

But in addition to these more commonly discussed health priorities for men, it’s also important for men to know about resources that can help them deal some of the more “taboo” or unspoken subjects related to men’s health. For example, issues like eating disorders are rarely openly discussed when it comes to men’s health.

Despite the silence surrounding this issue, according to the National Association for Men with Eating Disorders, one in four individuals with an eating disorder is a man. Men often falsely view eating disorders as issues that “don’t affect them” or see them stereotypically as “women’s issues.” These notions are false, rooted in sexism, and harmful to men.

Issues like eating disorders can be hard for men to talk about openly and honestly. The culture of dominant masculinity teaches men to always act tough and to deny issues that are stereotypically associated with women’s health. This sentiment is deeply detrimental to men’s health and leads many men to feel isolated and alone when dealing with issues of disordered eating.

It’s important that we talk openly and honestly about men’s health and that men on our campus know they have resources available. Let’s work together to support people across the gender spectrum who may be dealing with eating disorders and advocate for a National Men’s Health Week that discusses all the issues of health and wellness that affect men.

UNC Old Well
Phone Pic #66 by Mr. Jincks, Flickr, Creative Commons.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder at UNC, there are resources available to help and support you.

Embody Carolina, a student group whose mission is to “educate students about identifying and supporting someone struggling with an eating disorder,” has a great resource page available on their website with various options for students seeking help or guidance.

Click here to learn about steps you can take to get help today.







WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Fish Oil, or No Fish Oil? Medical Journal Findings and Fish Oil Sales Just Don’t Match Up!

by: Emily Wheeler

Since this article is about both fish oil and research about fish oil, let’s start off Friday with a related fun fact: in Portuguese, the verb for “to fish” is pescar, and the noun for “research” is pesquisa. I like that combination conceptually because it makes me think of research as the process of fishing for valuable knowledge out of the vast pool of universal information. Pretty cool, right? Just me? Ok, we’ll move on.

Between the years 2007 and 2012, annual sales of fish oils and omega-3 fatty acid supplements increased from $425 million to $1043 million in the United States and similar sales booms were seen in the United Kingdom and Australasia (which consists of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and other small neighboring pacific islands). Considering the fact that 10% of adults in the U.S. take a fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid (FA) supplement, chances are that we all know someone who spends quite a bit of money on those fishy, transparent capsules!

I turned to Google to find 10 different bottles of fish oil capsules with roughly the same quantity of fish oil per bottle (GNC, Nature Made, Sundown, Spring Valley, Nordic Naturals, Nature’s Bounty, Optimum Nutrition, Carlson, and Barlean’s) and found the average price of the 10 bottles to be $16.08 for roughly 100 days of taking 1000 mg fish oil per day (this is not an unusual quantity for people to take). No wonder fish oil sales are so high; that’s not cheap for a plastic bottle that smells like a seafood market!

Fish oil caps

“Fish Oil Caps” by Stephen Cummings of Flickr Creative Commons

In March, 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine published a research letter in which Dr.’s Andrew Grey and Mark Bolland identified randomized clinical trials (RCTs) or meta-analyses of RCTs about omega-2 fatty acid use published in the top ranking internal medicine journals in the world between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2012. A randomized control trial is a research study in which two groups of people are followed over time, and one group is given the treatment (fish oil supplements in this case) and the other group is given a placebo (a similar-looking pill that actually contains no fish oil), so each participant does not know which group they are in (to prevent bias). Then the groups are assessed to see if there are any significant differences between the “case” and the “control” groups, such as differences in cardiovascular health in the fish oil trials. The assessment of 18 RCTs found that only 2 of the 18 reported that they found a health benefit to treatment with omega-3 fatty acid supplements (which term I am using interchangeably with fish oil in this article).

The researchers then found the popular news reports that covered the same RCTs that they had assessed and used a 5-point scale with 1 meaning “clearly unfavorable” and 5 meaning “clearly favorable” to assess the way each news report chose to report the findings of the RCTs. For each of the 18 RCTs assessed, they found between 0 and 27 news stories covering each one, ranked them all using the 5-point scale, and then found the median editorial score to be 4. Because a score of 5 means “clearly favorable,” most of the editorial reviews of the RCTs were enthusiastic about the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements, even though only 2 of the 18 studies showed health benefit to their use.

If the majority of RCTs published in the top internal medicine journals in the world have found no notable health benefit to taking fish oil supplements, why have fish oil sales increased exponentially in recent years in various parts of the world?

Randomized clinical trials are considered the “gold standard” for a research study that is trying to establish a clear relationship between a treatment and an outcome, and they are typically the most trusted study design. However, the analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that the RCT publications in prominent medical journals have had very little effect on the use of fish oil supplements, as well as the media portrayal of these supplements.

Since 90% of people who take omega-3 FA supplements do so by their own choice and not at the advice of a health care professional, it is understandable why this trend is occurring. These supplements are readily available in the vitamin aisles of thousands of stores, are more affordable than a prescription, and are touted as beneficial to heart health or lowering cholesterol by hundreds of news sources.

These use of these supplements was even endorsed by the American Heart Association in 2002 because less reliable research evidence than the RCTs had shown a benefit to cardiovascular health.

When previous research has shown a benefit, media sources have spread the message far and wide, and supplement companies have seized the opportunity to claim that their product will make people healthier, it is hard to contradict all of this information and change consumer’s minds.  Even when newer, more reliable evidence has emerged saying that what we previously thought about fish oil supplements might not be entirely correct, the majority of consumers don’t take the time to look for hard evidence of a benefit before they make their way to the pharmacy.

Before you go out and spend money on a product claiming a health benefit, it is best to look for the original up-to-date research showing what benefit, or lack thereof, has been found. Even then, it’s always best to talk to your doctor before you alter your diet or begin taking a supplement. You never know how it many affect you based on your unique medical history and it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health! (Plus, I’d personally get my omega-3’s straight from the source and eat real fish instead.)

wild salmon grilled on a cedar plank

“Wild salmon grilled on a cedar plank” by woodlywonderworks of Flickr Creative Commons


Grey A, Bolland M. Clinical Trial Evidence and Use of Fish Oil Supplements. JAMA Intern Med.2014;174(3):460-462. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.12765.

How to Foam Roll

By: Emily Wheeler
"Foam Roller" by Naoto Sato; Flickr Creative Commons
“Foam Roller” by Naoto Sato; Flickr Creative Commons
       Think about that feeling when you wake up the day after an intense workout and as soon as you move to get out of bed you can’t help but groan because you’re so sore. Now think about how having someone else massage an especially sore muscle or doing it yourself can hurt but feel good at the same time. Lifting weights, general strenuous exercise and even stressful daily activities can cause our muscles to feel tight and sore. We can even get “muscle knots,” as people like to call them, where a particular area of muscle feels uncomfortably tight and stretching just doesn’t release the tension enough to feel completely normal. Firmly massaging these “muscle knots” with a thumb can even cause pain to radiate out to the surrounding muscle, even though that’s not where you’re touching.
       For quite some time, athletes and personal trainers have been using a simple secret to release this muscle tension and discomfort: the foam roll. A foam roll is exactly what it sounds like, a cylindrical piece of hard foam, and it is designed especially for use in self-massaging sore and tight muscles! The official name of what most people casually refer to as “foam rolling,” is self-myofascial release, which means to massage your own muscles to release tightness and soreness. I prefer the fun verbified form of the noun, so I’ll call it foam rolling.
       The first time I learned to use a foam roll, I actually wasn’t feeling very sore at all, nor could I identify any especially tight muscles; I was just doing it because I was learning how to do so in a fitness class. However, we started by rolling the quads and hamstrings and I quickly realized that whether you think you do or not, you probably have a lot of muscle tension that could benefit from some foam rolling! I usually have fairly tight hamstrings, so as soon and I put the pressure of my body weight down onto the roll and started moving it down the back of my thigh, there was definitely some major discomfort involved!
       Now, why would I do something painful, you might ask? Foam rolling muscle pain is one of those “it hurts, but in a good way” kind of muscle feelings. Stretching, or a deep tissue massage, can also be painful, yet people still do it voluntarily and claim to feel better afterward. This is a similar situation and you’re just going to have to trust me until you try it when I say that you’ll feel so much better afterward.
       Here are the basics of how foam rolling works. First, start with your foam roll, comfortable clothing, and some space to lay on the floor. You’ll pick a muscle that you want to target, and we’ll just stick with the hamstring example for now. Your hamstring muscle runs down the back of your leg from the bottom of your gluts down to the back of your knee. Start by placing the foam roller under your leg at the top of one of your hamstrings, stretching out that leg and leaning back so that your hands are on the floor behind you and are holding you up slightly. Then, slowly release your arms so that your hands are still on the floor behind you but the majority of your body weight is resting on the foam roller. Then start to move yourself backward over the roller slowly, so that it rolls down toward the back of your knee. This is where you might start to feel some discomfort, so listen to your own body to tell you whether you’re feeling pain (bad) or discomfort (good), and use your arms to lift some of your body weight off of the roller if it becomes painful.
Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.
Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.
Now, there are a few key rules to remember when foam rolling to keep it safe for your body:
  1. Always roll very slowly to achieve maximum benefits, and when you find an especially sore spot, pause there to let that point relax and prevent unnecessary pain
  2. Never roll over a joint or directly on a bone. Doing so can cause more harm than good. An example of rolling over a joint would be rolling down your hamstring all the way down to your calf, because you’ve rolled over your knee joint. Instead, roll down to just above the knee, move the roll beneath the knee, and then continue to roll over the calf. An example of rolling over a bone would be laying on your stomach and rolling up your quad over your hipbone. Any bones that you can clearly feel are not protected by muscle and you shouldn’t be rolling over them.
  3. Do not roll your lower back or neck muscles. These are more sensitive to damage, and your pain in these areas might be coming from a problem that needs to addressed by a professional, such as a chiropractor.
  4. Do not roll the same areas over and over in a short period of time. If you concentrate on a certain muscle group, wait at least 24 hours to roll that muscle group again to give it time to relax and heal.
  5. Always roll with the grain of the muscle. Your hamstring runs vertically down your leg, so you should never roll horizontally across your hamstring muscle. It’s best to actually keep your rolling in a single direction, so after your roll down your hamstring, remove the roll and start back up at the top if you’re going to do it again instead of rolling back up the hamstring.
       Here is an awesome article called “How to Foam Roll Like a Pro!” It includes cartoon graphics to help you know how to target certain muscles! I have to say that I think that place that is consistently most uncomfortable yet most beneficial to me is rolling my IT band, which is the muscle that runs down the outer side of your leg above the knee. Try rolling yours and tell me if that doesn’t make you make some crazy faces because you had no idea how much tension you had to release there.
Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.
Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.
       Shortly after you foam roll, and especially the next day, you should start to feel your soreness fade, your muscles become more relaxed, and your range of motion increase compared to before you foam rolled! You can purchase your own foam roller at any major sporting goods store for anywhere from $10-$40 depending on how intense you want to get, but you can also check out foam rollers from the front desk of the Student Recreation Center on campus for convenient and free use! P.S. Side comment– I have no idea why a hunk of foam can cost $40.
       Try it out the next time you come to work out and make it a regular part of your routine! I can’t lie, I almost kind of like the sore feeling in my muscles after a good workout because it makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile when I can actually feel the change, but what I don’t like is constant or long-lingering soreness and foam rolling definitely helps me prevent that from happening! Ironically enough, it can also help you wake up and start your day in the morning if you have time, but can still help you relax and feel ready to sleep if you choose to do it at the end of the day. It might feel silly at first, but give it a try and you’ll see why it’s worth it! I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing some foam rolling this week after I attend the “muscle-cut barbells” and “upper body conditioning” group fitness classes; be sure to check back in at the end of the week to read my reviews on what I thought about both classes!

Live to 100: Do This, Not That

By: Ben Smart

With the advent of improved scientific and social structures, it’s easier today than ever before to live well. But so often we neglect the healthy choice for the more convenient (and often less healthy) one. Let’s take a look at simple switches you can make to live longer- maybe even to 100.

Do This: Exercise 5x per week 

Not That: Avoid exercise because, like, who wants to get all sweaty

photo: "Exercise" by: Andyinnyc; source: flickr creative commons
photo: “Exercise” by: Andyinnyc; source: flickr creative commons

Regular exercise has been scientifically studied for its role in increasing lifespan. Here’s a list from of the benefits of regular exercise:

  • Improves blood circulation, which reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Keeps weight under control
  • Helps in the battle to quit smoking
  • Improves blood cholesterol levels
  • Prevents and manages high blood pressure
  • Prevents bone loss
  • Boosts energy level
  • Helps manage stress
  • Releases tension
  • Promotes enthusiasm and optimism
  • Counters anxiety and depression
  • Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
  • Improves self-image
  • Increases muscle strength, increasing the ability to do other physical activities
  • Provides a way to share an activity with family and friends
  • Reduces coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent
  • Reduces risk of stroke by 20 percent in moderately active people and by 27 percent in highly active ones
  • Establishes good heart-healthy habits in children and counters the conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, poor lifestyle habits, etc.) that lead to heart attack and stroke later in life
  • Helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer for seniors

Do This: Floss daily

Not That: Floss only when you feel like

Picking up the dental floss and cleaning out the gaps between your teeth nightly can add up to 6 years to your life! How can this be? The line of thinking is that flossing reduces harmful bacteria between your teeth, reducing inflammation. And less inflammation means a healthier heart and a reduced risk of stroke. Make it a habit, and reap the benefits. You’ll even get a prettier smile as a side benefit.

Do This: Sleep 7-8 hours a night

Not That: Stay up late every night, because sleep is for the weak!

There’s this belief that when you sleep, you’re missing out on life. This idea isn’t just flawed logic- it’s dangerous to your health. Sleep is reparative, necessary, and can make your waking hours feel better. When you sleep, your brain and body repair cells in preparation for the next day. Aim for 7-9 hours, depending on your age and activity level.