I see this kind of stuff all the time but I can’t resist talking about this example because it has so many elements of the half-science that underpins most of the nutritional supplement world. This link will take you to an article in the British newspaper, Daily Mail, that talks about how an ingredient in mustard (homobrassinolide) was discovered to build muscle.
The headline says fitness “fanatics” should “reach for the mustard and not spinach” if they want to look like Popeye (i.e. muscular). The article talks about how the homobrassinolide was given to the rats and that it resulted in higher protein synthesis and increased muscle mass compared to the control rats.
The popular conclusion might well be that slapping some extra mustard on your sandwich will help you pack on some extra muscle.
Now take look at this article published by Britain’s National Health Service, a government agency, which takes a slightly drier and more penetrating look at the specifics of the study. Key points include:
a) the study never tested mustard, it tested homobrassinolide found in mustard seeds
b) the concentration of homobrassinolide in mustard is nowhere near what it is in seeds
c) there is no evidence the rat’s protein synthesis or muscle gain would also occur in humans
d) nobody knows the long term effects and safety of humans ingesting concentrated homobrassinolide
What are you left with? A meaningless bit of information about rats and seeds, insofar as you and your health are concerned. And since the study was partially funded by the nutritional supplement industry, can it be long before we see “Bodybuilder’s Mustard” hawked in magazines and online? If you take this one example and multiply it by 1,000 you approach the reality of the maze of false claims and semi-science that permeates health and fitness marketing.
Neither article mentioned the most important fact; muscle only grows when it is stimulated to grow by working the muscle at or near it’s highest output.
Want to build more muscle than the rats did? It’s easy – lift a really, really heavy weight in the gym. Rest, so your muscles have time to grow and make you a bit stronger. Then go back to the gym and lift a slightly heavier weight. Rinse and repeat. That’s not as easy as eating a nice ham sandwich with a dollop of mustard – but it’s been working for over a million years.
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