Why You Should Stop Wearing Socks

There's a few recurring themes that you'll see in a lot of the articles I write for this site. One such theme is certainly "Identify And Eliminate The Practices We've Inherited From Western Society That Slowly Ruin Our Biomechanics".

Modern shoes, with tall heels and narrow toe boxes are one example I've covered previously that falls under this theme. So too is sitting in chairs for extended periods, which is killing you slowly (and not-so-slowly wrecking your posture).

This article is somewhat of a continuation of the reasoning in the barefoot/minimal shoes article, so let's start by re-covering the main points there.

Walk Like A Human

The idea is pretty simple. There is an ideal way for your particular body to walk, biomechanically speaking - and thanks to a lifetime of walking around in poorly designed footwear - the way you currently walk almost certainly isn't it.

Our bodies are designed to walk around barefoot, usually on soft and uneven surfaces. In this, our foot is designed to stretch and splay - our ankles, knees and hips are designed to respond dynamically in response to the feedback from the foot.

When we throw a hunk of rubber under our foot and walk on flat surfaces all day, all of this is lost. We are left instead with an unnatural repetitive movement of the foot, ankle, knee and hip. Extrapolate this over thousands of steps a day for several decades and the result is maladaptive muscle patterning and a dramatic loss of flexibility. This leads to poor posture and undoutedly, a body that doesn't feel as awesome as it could.

For a more detailed review of proper walking mechanics and how your shoes have screwed your mechanics up, check out my previous article on barefoot shoes.

You've Got Sock Problems

A few years ago when I purged my shoe closet of it's last "traditional" shoe and started to wear exclusively barefoot/minimal shoes, I  (as do most people who make the switch) became way more attuned to my walking mechanics.

It took me a while to figure it out, but I eventually realized that despite now having perfect shoes, there was still a part of my footwear equation that was not perfect and was negatively impacting my biomechanics. Of course, it was the socks.

Here's the problems I've identified with socks:

  1. Socks Impede Toe Splay - The first thing your foot naturally wants to do upon striking the ground is to splay the toes. This motion is critical not only for the foot but for proper engagement of the muscles "upstream", at the ankle, knee and hip.

    Through compression of the foot and simply by taking up space in the shoe, socks prevent the toes from fully splaying. The relative restriction of a sock in a shoe with a wide toe box is much less than the restriction of a narrow shoe - but it's far from insignificant.

  2. Socks Encourage Slipping Of The Foot In The Shoe -  This was the big one for me. When you wear a shoe without socks, you'll notice your foot rarely, if ever, moves around inside the shoe. This is because there is a sufficiently high degree of friction between the skin of your heel and the insole of the shoe.

    Throw a sock into the equation and everything changes. That little layer of cotton between your foot and the insole of your shoe allows for more movement of the foot on the insole. The foot likely only moves a few millimeters back-and-forth with each step cycle - this might seem insignificant, but repeat over thousands of steps a day and millions of steps every year and it becomes something very significant.

    The slipping necessitates an unnatural engagement of the hip flexors as they instinctively try to compensate for the movement of the foot in the shoe. Again, extrapolate this over thousands of steps and the result is a significant negative effect on hip alignment. 

Deconstructing The Sock

When I made the commitment to move into a post-sock existence, I first had to identify all of the problems socks solve, and then find new, elegant non-sock ways to address those same problems.

Here's what I came up with.

    1. Socks Prevent Your Shoes From Getting Nasty -  Yep, bare feet in shoes inevitably means your shoes will get smelly faster.

      The Fixes:
      A. Wash your feet! - Before each time I put on a pair of shoes, I give my feet a quick rinse and dry. You'll be amazed how much doing this a few times throughout the day keeps your feet from getting offensive.
      B. Wash your shoes - Athletic shoes do just fine in the washing machine. Dryers are perhaps a bit less kind to shoes, so I generally let mine air dry in the sun. My athletic shoes get washed about once every 3 weeks on average. I have a few pairs of minimal dress/casual shoes that would do less well in the washing machine, so with these I will periodically remove and wash the insole.
      C. Take off your shoes - Whenever appropriate, I take off my shoes if I'm staying in one place for a while. Don't worry, people get used to it.
      D. Odor Absorbers - Between washing my feet and shoes, my shoes stay way cleaner than those of most of the sock-wearing populous. If I ever had a problematic pair, however, natural odor absorbers like these would be the move.

    2. Socks Prevent Blisters - Perhaps, but probably only if you have shitty shoes.

      The Fix: Get better shoes. Good minimal shoes should be constructed in a way that makes them better to wear sans-socks and are much less likely to give you blisters. There is also a component of skin toughening here, as will inevitably happen once your feet are liberated from living in cotton tubes.

      I should say, however, that the only time I've gotten blisters in recent memory is when I ran in socks (still in minimal shoes) - I assume because of the aforementioned slipping of the foot inside the shoe. So I think it's totally possible that socks actually create more blisters than they prevent. Who knows.

      There's no shortage of options for minimal athletic shoes out there. I made some recommendation about my personal favorites in the barefoot shoes article. The minimal shoe market is continually expanding, so there are more and more stylish casual and dress shoes coming available every year.

      I'm living abroad at the moment, so I've pared my shoe collection down to 3 pair of shoes for travel purposes. Below (R to L) are my athletic shoes (New Balance Minimus MT10v2's ), my casual, dressier shoes (Vivobarefoot Gobi's ) and my sandals (Luna Venados).


    3. Socks Keep Your Feet Warm 

      The Fix: Move somewhere warmer. Seriously - If you live somewhere so cold your feet would freeze without wearing socks, I'm not sure if I can help you. ;) Another reason to look forward to spring I suppose.

Life Post-Sock

If this "sock question" seems somewhat trivial to you, I think there's a fundamental point you're missing. The ways in which we move our bodies on a daily basis are a huge determinant of how our bodies feel and perform. Poor movement patterns turn into maladaptive muscular holding patterns and a general loss of range-of-motion - which equates to a less-awesome body to inhabit.

 Socks are perhaps a small component of the larger movement-pattern picture, but not one to be overlooked in my opinion. If you're going to take the time to make the switch to minimal shoes - and I seriously hope you do - you should really see the process through and ditch the socks too.

 

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Ar-Turmerone: The Turmeric Compound That Stimulates Brain Stem Cells

At this point, the list of health benefits attributed to turmeric is getting pretty ridiculous. This is not to say that the benefits are overhyped (quite the opposite) - rather, the body of research done on turmeric's benefits in the past decade is so voluminous, it's awe-worthy to the point of being almost comedic.

Can one food really be responsible for so many benefits? The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have been well known for a few decades now - but the list of conditions that turmeric has shown to be effective in treating as a result of these anti-inflammatory properties continues to grow. Everything from arthritis to depression to heart disease have been treated successfully with turmeric (often with greater success that prescription medications).

In the past decade, researchers have started to look into other potential benefits of turmeric and found that it has powerful neuroprotective effects, anticancer properties, antitumor properties and stimulates body's endogenous antioxidant systems. Now you understand why I use the term ridiculous when talking about turmeric.

Expanding Beyond Curcumin

Still, despite literally thousands of studies on turmeric listed in research databases, researchers continue to find new benefits to attribute to turmeric.

Much of the research to date has focused on one particular compound - curcumin - found in turmeric. Curcumin is welll known to be the most potent single anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric, and perhaps was assumed by some researchers to be the sole compound responsible for turmeric's benefits.

Yet, when researchers looked at benefits of whole food turmeric, rather than isolated curcumin, they saw entirely new effects, suggesting that there was more to turmeric than just curcumin.

In the past few years, more research has started to look at a group of molecules known as turmerones, and has uncovered a number of new impressive benefits not seen when research looked exclusively at curcumin. 

Stem Cells And Turmerones: The Research

In a study published in September of 2014, researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany examined the effects of turmerones on a few different aspects of neural stem cell function in vitro (isolated stem cell in culture) and in vivo (in rats). [1]

They found that in vitro, neural stem cells (NSC's) proliferated 50-80% faster when exposed to varying levels of ar-turmerone. While this is interesting, in vitro studies are always deserving of a certain degree of skepticism, as isolated cells in a lab is not the same as a living organism.

Fortunately, when researchers looked at the effects of ar-turmerone in rats, the results were just as promising.

Rats injected with ar-turmerone showed both increased proliferation of NSC's (more total neural stem cells) and increased neurogenesis (more NSC's turning into neurons). 

Additionally, NSC's in the rats were found to mobilize to other areas of the brain at a greater rate in the presence of ar-turmerone, allowing for stem cells to move from the subventicular zone (where the greatest concentrations of NSC's are found) to other areas of the brain.

Stem Cells And Turmerones: The Implications

Given the ability of ar-turmerone to increase proliferation, differentiation and mobilization of NSC's in vivo, the potential of turmeric for treating a variety of neurodegenerative diseases is huge.

Alzheimer's, dementia, depression and many other neurological diseases are driven in part by neurodegenerative activity in the brain and central nervous system. The research is obviously in very early stages, but the potential is there for turmeric to mitigate or even reverse some of the effects of the disease attributable to neurodegeneration.

Another application where stem cells would seem to hold promise is in cases of head trauma, where damage to brain tissue in certain areas (particularly the hypothalamus and pituitary) can have profound effects on the hormonal function of the individual. 

We know all of these conditions are also driven in part by neurological inflammation, so given the established ability of turmeric to reduce neurological inflammation, the healing effects of turmeric are potentially two-fold. [2][3]

Past studies have also shown that the presence of NSC's in a certain area of the brain will increase the rate of myelination. Myelin is the thin sheath that surround a neuron and "cements" the connections between neurons. Researchers looking at the neurological requirements for learning and memory formation often point to myelination as a critical part of that process. [4]

Increased myelination is of tremendous benefit to those looking to recover from neurodegenerative conditions, but the benefits could possibly extend to those with otherwise healthy brains. Researchers expect that increased myelination in certain areas of the brain would help with learning and memory retention. 

Additionally, NSC's have been shown to have neuroprotective effects when studied in animal models. [5] The combined effect of reduced neurological inflammation, neuroprotection and potential increased myelination make turmeric somewhat of a brain wonder drug.

Caveats

It comes with the territory - any time you're dealing with new research, there's going to be some caveats when extrapolating the data to make inferences about applications in humans. 

The study was done on rats, which although decidedly not human, do have a nervous system very similar to our own and offer a fairly reliable model for how a given drug will function in a human system. So while not quite as convincing as a human study, this is not my primary hesitation with this data.

The main issue I can see with this study is that the rats were injected with isolated ar-turmerone directly into cerebral fluid. The levels of turmerone that made it into the brain tissue of these rats are likely impossible to achieve by ingesting turmeric orally. That being said, based on the dose-response curve demonstrated in the study, it's reasonable to assume that lower levels of turmerone in brain tissue would have similar effects qualitatively, if of a lower magnitude.

Making predictions based on very early data about how a given compound may effect certain health conditions is always highly speculative. However, based on our best models of disease pathology for conditions like Alzheimer's and dementia, we would expect to see some level of benefit to the patient when treated with turmerone. However, until these studies are actually done, this remains in the realm of speculation.

How To Get Your Turmerone Dose

Assuming you're not going to inject isolated turmerone into your cerebral fluid, getting therapeutic levels of turmerone into your bloodstream and brain is a tricky proposition.

Raw turmeric root and powdered turmeric both suffer from the problem of poor absorption of alkaloids, meaning you would have to eat massive loads of either one of these to achieve therapeutic levels of turmerone (and it's likely not actually possible because of the limits of digestion and absorption).

There are a number of turmeric supplements on the market, and some of these have been formulated to absorb quite well. Unfortunately, these supplements almost universally use only isolated curcumin, and contain no ar-turmerone.

It is out of this frustrating lack of options that we formulated Synchro Gold, the world's only high-absorption turmeric product utilizing a full-spectrum extract of turmeric root. We can now proudly say that no other product on the market comes even close to delivering the such high levels of turmeric alkaloids, including ar-turmerone. Learn more about Synchro Gold here.

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[1] http://stemcellres.com/content/5/4/100

[2] http://www.jimmunol.org/content/171/11/6072.short

[3] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1567576912001725

[4] http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v4/n11/full/nn738.html

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/eutils/elink.fcgi?dbfrom=pubmed&cmd=prlinks&retmode=ref&id=19628689 

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