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The Keynote Speaker (Part 1): Sitting Down for Another Chat With Dr Eric Serrano
Let’s go back in time to the Society of Weight-Training Specialists 2005 Symposium held in Mississauga, Canada on November 4-5, 2005. It was touted as The Best of SWIS – The Final Symposium and for good reason. Some of the top names in the industry were there including Dr. John Berardi, Charles Poliquin, Paul Chek, Dave Tate, Charles Staley, and Joe DeFranco just to name a few. All of these guys should be familiar to the weightlifting audience.
Who had the honor to deliver the keynote presentation among all these giants? It was none other than Dr. Eric Serrano. Serrano has always been one of the more popular presenters at SWIS, and he is regarded quite highly by his peers when it comes to sports nutrition and supplementation. The man knows his stuff – there’s no doubt about that.
I had the pleasure to sit down with Dr. Serrano during the event for another informative interview. We tried to chat at lunch on the first day, but with big, somewhat opinionated Dave Tate at our table, who could ever get a word in edgewise, or more appropriately, who would ever try? Actually, the place was so loud and our time was limited that it was a bit of a bust. We fared much better on the second day when we took off during one of the sessions to a remote area of the conference hall. Armed with a Dictaphone in one hand and a bunch of questions scribbled on a page in the other hand, I fired away!
Now, fast forward to today. Why did it take over a year to get this story to you? Very simple – I’ve been extremely busy! Writing is not my primary occupation; training is! It’s not like I write a ton for EzineArticles on a regular basis, but I’ve had my fair share of articles published here. However, this past year, in particular, has been killer! I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, writing was definitely put on the back burner.
That is not to say that I did not try to get this out sooner. I actually had three people attempt to decipher the interview – my wife, my assistant, and my kids’ caregiver – and all three failed miserably. Why? Two reasons:
- They could not understand what the hell we were talking about, and
- They could not understand a word that came out of Eric’s mouth! (He’s got a pretty thick Puerto Rican accent.)
So that meant I had to do the leg work. Anyhow, enough talk already. This vintage wine needs to be uncorked! Let’s get to it.
JP: How do you detect overreaching and overtraining? What should one do in a situation like this? Everyone has stress in their lives – how do we curb it?
ES: When you are talking about overreaching and overtraining, you’ve got to be careful because most people will just look at your training program and say you’re fine. Well, they don’t look at your sleeping habits. Are you married with kids? Are you dating someone behind your wife’s back? Are you going to church? Are you working? You’ve got to look at all these factors.
To gauge stress, you can always measure cortisol in the blood, and now you can even measure its conversion in the urine which gives you a better picture. Research also indicates that measuring amino acids is effective, specifically the glutamine to glutamic acid ratio should be a certain number. If I measure that in the blood, I can tell right away if you are overtraining. I discovered this ratio after reviewing a number of research papers, but it’s my little secret!
JP: What is your opinion of the Adrenal Stress Index test by Diagnostechs? This is a saliva test used to measure free cortisol rhythm throughout the day (as well as testing DHEA, insulin, progesterone, and a bunch of other things.)
ES: Saliva testing for cortisol is more accurate than blood, and urine is even more accurate than both of them but it’s also more expensive. The body gets rid of cortisol by degrading it to cortisone which you can then measure in the urine. For most purposes, though, saliva is good enough and the ASI test by Diagnostechs is pretty good.
JP: By the way, would you check progesterone levels in a male, and would you ever prescribe it to a male?
ES: The only time I would check progesterone levels in a male is when their testosterone or DHEA levels do not return to normal, or they are depressed, or they experience joint problems. Then I would check it. Progesterone is actually considered the mother hormone.
JP: Hang on a second. I thought Pregnenlone was the mother of all hormones?
ES: Well, what comes after pregnenlone? Progesterone, of course. I’d rather prescribe progesterone than pregnenlone to bypass an unnecessary step. Why build a house from the basement when you can start on the main floor, to use a loose analogy? I have tried this with a few males with low testosterone and it has worked quite well. Just 100 mgs and they feel great – no more depression, no more headaches, etc. so I do think it has merit in certain cases.
Now it can get quite complicated because progesterone can increase androgen levels (i.e. anabolic hormones) or it can increase cortisol (i.e. a catabolic hormone.) I can manipulate those pathways somewhat by giving the patient just a bit of cortisone to encourage progesterone toward the androgenic route.
JP: Hold up their doc. If you give cortisone, aren’t you adding fuel to the fire?
ES: Oh, good question! Think about it this way. If you have a patient who is under an extreme amount of stress and they are already producing quite a bit of cortisol, by giving them just enough exogenous cortisone, it can help lower their endogenous cortisol production significantly through feedback inhibition. It’s a way of tricking the body!
JP: Ahhh, much like the trick you use with hyperchlorydic patients (i.e. people who produce too much stomach acid), you give them a bit of HCL to lower their own production.
ES: That’s right.
JP: Smart! What about the controversy that DHEA is over-prescribed today, and that after a month of use, in most males it will increase estrogen levels and in most females testosterone. Is this true?
ES: This is very true, although it depends on the dosage as well as the size of the person. For instance, you don’t want to start the average female on 50 mgs of DHEA right off the bat. Always start low and work your way up. Even a 25 mg dose is too much in most cases. Start around half that amount and work up in 5 mg doses for best effect. For males, I start them at 25 mgs.
JP: Should you cycle off of DHEA after a certain period of time?
ES: If you are below the age of 40 for males and 35 for females, then you should cycle DHEA. Above those ages, there’s no need to since you are not producing that much anymore.
Keep in mind that it is very common for people to use DHEA and testosterone together. This is a mistake. What happens when you use both of them simultaneously? They spill over into estrogen!
JP: Okay, while we are on the subject, what are the best forms of DHEA (i.e. sublingual, oral, etc.) and testosterone?
ES: For DHEA, sublingual is best and for testosterone, creams and injections work best but I do prefer the cream form.
JP: Which cream – Androgel or Testim?
ES: Another great question! Here’s the low down between the tw Androgel will result in higher total testosterone levels while Testim will give you higher free levels which is actually more desirable. The other difference is in the smell. Most females will be attracted to guys using Testim than Androgel.
JP: Interesting! What are your views on Testosterone replacement and anti-aging therapies then?
ES: I believe in testosterone replacement and not just for males. Testosterone is actually the most underprescribed medication for females. I may give a female a packet of Testim or Androgel to use every 4 or 5 days depending on her situation (i.e. symptoms, menstrual cycle, etc.)
Melatonin is another anti-aging remedy. People who are depressed and have a hard time sleeping at night often present with very high cortisol levels. Melatonin can help counter the ill-effects of cortisol and induce sleep if taken at bedtime. The problem is that most people take too high of a dose. Again, start low at around 1-2 mgs and work your way up from there.
JP: Good advice, but let’s go back to testosterone for a second. What would you recommend to a female interested in experimenting with steroids? How about natural methods to enhance testosterone in females? And more importantly, how does a guy boost his girlfriend’s or wife’s libido through the roof without her knowing it???
ES: My first question to her would be why do you want to experiment with steroids? Is it health related or performance related? As a physician, I can not prescribe any drug for performance enhancing purposes; however, if she was to ask me what my honest opinion is of whether a female can compete at a high level without these ergogenic aids, my answer would be [At this point, the noise in the restaurant was so loud, you could not hear a thing on the tape. It got better around here] is a product that is not on the market yet that contains tribulus, avena sativa, longjack and other little goodies. We’ve used this on females with incredible results. We measured testosterone levels and in 100% of the cases (we used 19 women in the study), total testosterone did not rise but free testosterone definitely did go up. They could not explain why, but all of the subjects felt better after using this product.
Now, about raising your girlfriend’s or wife’s libido without her knowing, well there is a sneaky way of doing it but you did not hear it from me. Theoretically, if a man was to apply some testosterone cream to his body and while it’s fresh, hop into bed and give his partner a great big hug (and maybe hold onto her a few seconds longer than normal), there’s a good chance that a small amount may (accidentally) rub off on her. In fact, they have studied this in real life with Androgel, believe it or not, and it did significantly raise the partner’s testosterone levels in no time!
JP: Wow, talk about 2 for 1! I’ve heard of females applying a small amount of testosterone cream to the clitoris to boost libido, but this one has some serious potential… umm, I mean that is very unethical. Shame on you!
While we’re on the vagina (so to speak), is there any way to increase your chances of conceiving a male? As I understand it, the more alkaline the environment, the better your chances for male conception. Is that true?
ES: Yes, that is true somewhat but there are other factors involved. For instance, the male Y chromosome is faster and weaker; whereas, the female X chromosome is stronger and slower and thus will stay around longer with a better chance for survival. That is why there are more female conceptions. To better your chances of continuing the family name, have sex as close to ovulation as possible. The environment is more alkaline at that point and it will improve the chances of the Y chromosome making it through.
JP: I know you will be presenting a seminar on this topic soon, but can you briefly describe the diagnostic methods you use to evaluate hormones?
ES: Well, you have urine, saliva and blood. As I mentioned previously, if I have a choice, I prefer urine because it gives you the breakdown of metabolites over the past 24 hours. Blood will only give you a snapshot of that particular time and it is not always truly indicative of what’s happening in your system. If you were watching a football game, for example, and your team lost, your blood work would show elevated cortisol and depressed testosterone values for that particular time. So how do you know if this a normal reading or not? Urine is more accurate in this manner.
JP: Let’s discuss the thyroid gland for a second. If TSH levels are high, how do you go about improving thyroid function by natural means? And just for a review, what about if TSH levels are low? Also, do you feel that the morning body temperature test is valid to gauge thyroid function? It’s been criticized quite a bit lately.
ES: You know, I’ve played around with this quite a bit, but if someone comes along with high TSH, I don’t fool around. It’s just too important. I place them on Armour Thyroid which is actually a natural thyroid source – no supplement is as effective. In fact, if it is very high, I will use Thyrolar first which is a synthetic version of T4/T3, and then introduce Armour Thyroid once their levels normalize. And I’ve had some cases in my office where I have been able to wean patients off of Armour Thyroid after 6-9 months of use so they are not on it forever. They just needed a bit of nutrition (i.e. raw material) to feed the thyroid gland to get it working again!
If TSH levels are very low, you need to find out why they are hyperthyroid, e.g. Is it Graves disease? Do they have cysts? Etc.
Actually, many people can present with normal TSH levels but their thyroid can still be out of whack. Many drugs/medications are culprits for this.
Here’s another aspect that you may not have thought of. Why do people gain weight when they quite smoking? One of the primary reasons is that nicotine increases the conversion of T4 to T3. Well, when nicotine is no longer there, T3 levels begin to drop!
Regarding the morning body temperature test, in order for it to be accurate, you must test it at the exact time, place, etc. If you do not standardize the test properly, it will affect the results and that’s why it has been criticized so much.
JP: Okay, how about the adrenals? You’ve mentioned in the past using a product like Standard Process Drenamin to regenerate the adrenals. What is the exact protocol that you use in this case?
ES: If I have someone that is highly stressed, I will start them on hydrocortisone (60 mg for a male, 40 mg for a female) and they do great! This works extremely well for patients with fibromyalgia as well. Remember, these individuals are working their adrenals so hard to make cortisol that the hydrocortisone will literally and figuratively ease the stress! It will help the adrenals rest. There afterward, I may prescribe a product like Drenamin.
I don’t really use protocols in my office because as soon as I say I have a protocol, someone is going to come around and mess it up. My theories will go down the drain and one patient can throw everything out the window! It’s always different for everyone. I may say out of hundred people, 50 or 60 can use this protocol. That is a safer approach.
I generally check the adrenal gland function by measuring DHEAS, cortisol (urine cortisol if possible), T4, T3, TSH, estrogen, progesterone, and (total & free) testosterone. I would then screen for symptoms.
JP: What about using something like licorice root to extend the half life of cortisol?
ES: Ohhh, I have some beautiful info for you. Okay, oral licorice will extend the half life of cortisol but at the expense of what? Your androgenic hormones – that means lower testosterone! However, if you topically apply licorice cream to an area, guess what happens? You lose fat in that area! I’m not making this stuff up – it has been confirmed through ultrasound measurements.
JP: Speaking of losing fat, I’ve heard you mention that females have higher intramuscular triglyceride levels and because of this, their training should be slightly different than that of males for body composition. You recommend that they follow their high-intensity interval work with lower intensity activity. Can you discuss this further?
ES: There are two types of triglycerides – one in the plasma and the other in the muscle. My theory is that you start females on a 5-10 minute warm-up, for example a jog, not only to lower blood sugar but also plasma triglycerides. Then you introduce high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I have discovered that the optimal time for HIIT is 12 minutes of 6-12 seconds high intervals followed by 9-15 seconds of low intervals. Keep in mind that you might start a beginner at only 3 minutes total duration and then gradually ramp them up from there. Then, you can end with a 5-10 minute cool-down. You can extend this a little longer for females but maximum duration of time should not exceed 42 minutes – after this point, you start eating away your muscles!
JP: Sounds reasonable. I’m curious, what type of prescription do you use to detoxify the liver? And how often?
ES: In my office, I have access to IV administration which is the route I would take if a patient has a drastic liver condition such as hepatitis. However, for a simple detox, there are a few requirements:
- Fix the diet. Make sure they are eating properly.
- Give them enzymes because the liver, believe it or not, will make enzymes as well so that will ease the burden.
JP: Let me interject for one second, Eric. When you prescribe digestive enzymes, when the hell should you take them? Before the meal? During the meal? After? Everyone seems to have a different recommendation!
ES: Okay, first of all, as soon as you start chewing something, your system begins to make enzymes. Now if you have someone that has problems producing [stomach] acid, then give them HCL at the beginning of the meal and digestive enzymes half an hour after the meal to aid digestion. For those individuals who do not have acid-related problems, they can take a broad-spectrum enzyme during their meal.
There are generally three reasons that people would take enzymes in supplement form:
- As an anti-inflammatory agent (in which case, you would take them on an empty stomach between meals),
- For digestive purposes (see above), or
- To ease the stress on the liver and pancreas.
If it is for the latter purpose, then take your enzymes half an hour before you eat to get them into your system thereby reducing the stress on the liver and pancreas when you do eat. You see, so timing of enzymes (or any supplement for that matter) really depends on the purpose!
JP: Ahhh, understood. Glad I asked. Let’s get back to the liver!
ES: Yes, by the way, anyone that works out will have elevated liver enzymes. The liver will work harder if you are training. There’s no doubt about that. I would prescribe enzymes as I just mentioned, as well as glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, high doses of Vitamin C (at least 3 grams orally), and co-enzyme Q-10. Why co-Q10? Because the liver is one of the most metabolically active organs in the body! It is always working and there are plenty of mitochondria to support.
Also, make sure that they stay away from casein products. Casein is a ³cheesy² protein that will form a glob in your stomach and many people have a hard time digesting it. It is a major allergen in most people, and thus, the liver is forced to make antibodies which in turn, can overwork it.
Whey, on the other hand, is okay to use preferably hydrolysed whey. In general, I am a fan of quality whey protein concentrate, but in this case, it may not be beneficial due to higher lactose levels, and as you know, many people are lactose intolerant.
However, if I had only one choice for a protein though, then I would have to go back to breast milk! What does breast milk give that no other protein source can deliver? Colostrum, IGGs, IGMs, Lactoferrin, etc. Basically, all the growth properties for human development. There is no other source of protein that quite compares to breast milk. Period.
There’s a product out there called 80-40 which is a combination of lactoferrin and colostrum but no one knows about it yet (until now, of course!) We’ve tested it with great results! In six weeks of using this product (15 grams taken three times a day between meals for a total of 45 grams per day), subjects gained 11-12 pounds of muscle. They did not change their lifestyle at all and there was no drug involvement. Everything else remained constant. Ultimately, this product is trying to replicate the growth properties found in mother’s milk, and let me tell you, it is awesome! It really works! I’ll send you some to try out.
JP: I guess you can look at this product as tit for tat! Please do send me some when you get a chance – I just ran out of my supply of “breast” milk! My youngest is too old now for the so-called “fountain of youth!” Oh well.
How we went from one of the most under-appreciated organs to one of the most appreciated organs (at least for males, that is), I don’t know but let’s get back to that subject.
How do you feel about cleansing diets? What about cleansing supplements? RenewLife, for instance, has heavy metal, parasite, liver and colon cleansing kits. Would these be good to take periodically, say one every 3-4 months? And if so, would you enhance any of them?
ES: First of all, I would not consider these as cleansing products, but rather, therapeutic products because you are treating a condition. As far as cleansing is concerned, I would never advocate a complete fast where you eat no food for several days, nor would I recommend a juice fast. These are very unhealthy practices. I would, on the other hand, encourage increase fluid intake (i.e. water, soups, etc.) and I always include enzymes for this purpose.
JP: Not to belabor this point, but when would you use enzymes here? With meals? Between meals?
ES: Both times.
JP: Now, is it possible to take too many enzymes in day? I mean, is it detrimental to take them too often? Will they shut down your own production due to overconsumption?
ES: No, they will not because the enzymes will start working but they will also break each other down. In other words, the enzymes you consume will form a complex with those in the body, and this complex, will slowly be broken down (i.e. digested) over time.
In 1962, there was an interesting study where they took different organs, chopped them up and traced them in the body using a radioactive marker. Using chopped up heart, for example, they found that 71% of the tracer ended up in the heart! Chopped liver ended up in the liver, etc. Why this occurs, no one knows. Only God knows.
Take the animal kingdom for example, when a lion kills its prey, the King of the litter will come and eat the liver first. Then everyone else can have the rest. No one can touch that liver except for the King. Why? Something is going on but we don’t really know the answer.
Also, North America is the only culture that does not routinely consume these internal organs. Where I come from, we eat everything – tongue, heart, lungs – you name it. Back in Puerto Rico, there was a time when boxers would recommend that you eat the internal organs to improve performance.
JP: Really! In that case, is it better to use bovine or porcine concentrates in supplements?
ES: If it is organic, favor bovine. If not, then use porcine. You don’t want to mess with mad cow disease.
JP: Never thought of that. Okay, what can you tell me about hydrogen peroxide IV drips?
ES: This is very controversial, actually. There is a big lawsuit right now where a lady in Florida died from hydrogen peroxide therapy and the family is suing the physician. The American College of Advanced Medicine is going to battle to try to protect this guy.
Now, if you asked me if this stuff will kill you, I’d say no way! It’s a great way to kill bacteria in the body, but it won’t kill you if administered properly. I have many colleagues that swear by it.
Keep in mind that infections in the 1950’s and 60’s were treated with IV acid and it worked great!
[Traumeel injected straight into an injured muscle is very effective. Within 24 hours, you will notice a considerable difference. People who could not lift their arm, for instance, had full mobility the next day after being injected with Traumeel. It’s quite impressive.]
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