Return of the Prodigal Son - Part 2

An Interview with Charles Poliquin


In part 1 of this interview, we caught up with what Charles Poliquin's been doing since he last appeared at T-Nation some four years ago. We discussed his prestigious certification program, in addition to some of the new discoveries or insights he's had in the world of weight training.

This time, we're going to zoom off into the stratosphere with some nutritional modalities and, for lack of a better word, treatments that are new, wild and downright exciting.

TC: We left off last week talking about how strength athletes, paradoxically, often have low Testosterone levels. Isn't that true Charles? If you take an assay of most powerlifters and strength athletes, don't they typically test low in Testosterone? I think they have more receptors for T or something, but the low readings–at least compared to the general population–seem almost epidemic.

CP: Yes, they all test low when they start showing up here, but at the end of the training cycle, we retest them and it goes up.

Polquin Coaching

TC: Do you think it's a matter of finding the type of training that works for them, that doesn't overtax their adrenals?

CP: Yes, AND, you have to manage their cortisol, and you have to manage their insulin. I think we've only had one guy show up here who had high Testosterone, but he had low free Testosterone. However, if you run an ion panel, we found that every one of those guys [who tested low] is zinc deficient.

TC: So Victor Conte was right?

CP: In that aspect, yes. Also, of the guys we've had who have tried to conceive a child with their wives, they get their wives pregnant the summers they train here! Once we correct their zinc deficiency, they become fertile.

TC: I know you've been using licorice cream to elevate Testosterone levels. Most of the sports science guys say that licorice is bad news, a strong estrogen agonist, so how did you come up with the idea of using it to elevate T levels?

CP: Most of the studies on licorice being an estrogen agonist were done on women. What was shown was that the licorice cream aggravated PMS symptoms in women already showing estrogen dominance.

TC: Well that's a hell of a good model for athletes!

CP: Yes! It's like saying boron increases Testosterone, yes, in women going through menopause who are also magnesium deficient. So, here's the rationale: the reason some people are Testosterone deficient has to do with acetyl coenzyme A, which changes into pregnenolone, and pregnenolone is the mother of hormones. Pregnenolone has two choices in life: it can become cortisol or DHEA.

When a guy has a shitty diet, a poor lifestyle, useless training programs, he forms a preferential pathway so his pregnenolone turns into cortisol and what happens is that there's less raw material to turn into DHEA. If you don't have enough DHEA, you're basically castrating yourself.

The function of licorice root is to do two things; one is to prolong the half-life or cortisol. Now there are actually 7 mathematical permutations of what can happen to the Testosterone/cortisol ratio, depending on time of day, so what you have to do is give licorice cream when the guy's cortisol is low.

By the way, only one patient out every 250 comes up well in circadian Testosterone/cortisol tests.

Now, if an athlete's been under stress for too long a time, you actually get to the point where he does not make cortisol or DHEA, and that's when you start running on adrenaline. The worst scores most always come from people living in the Northeast part of the USA. A symptom of that is you start waking up in the middle of the night because cortisol, if you remember, is low-grade adrenaline.

So, if a guy tests with low Testosterone and low cortisol in the morning and also low DHEA, we give him licorice extract. It prolongs the half-life of the cortisol and it fools the body into thinking, "Okay, now when I next have the opportunity to make cortisol or DHEA, I'm going to go the way of DHEA because my cortisol is elevated. Then, of course, DHEA is preferentially converted to Testosterone.

Licorice root also has the advantage of lowering LDL and triglycerides; including helping convert T4 to T3. You can also put it on the abs and your fat levels will go down.

But you can't give it to everybody every time; you can only use it to increase T in guys who have low cortisol and low DHEA.

By the way, another way to fool the body is to give it a stable form of Vitamin B5 in very large quantities, and since the B5 is the precursor to acetyl Coenzyme A, it leads to more pregnenolone, which ultimately leads to higher Testosterone.

TC: That's damn interesting.

CP: Of course, the forgotten element in Testosterone modulation is insulin management. If you want to increase your Testosterone, you have to decrease your insulin and make yourself more insulin sensitive. I think if someone came to my office and said, "I only want to manipulate one hormone that will have the greatest effect on my health, it would be insulin. It has a whole cascade effect; it affects thyroid, it affects cortisol, it affects Testosterone. In fact, there are women who actually virilize themselves because of insulin. You see that often in waitresses at Denny's. They have receding hairlines and the Arnold Schwarzenegger jaws and more muscle than a line backer.

I attended one 16-hour seminar that talked about effects of insulin, especially on females, and that's why you have these women with moustaches that are more aggressive than Ken Shamrock on PCP with a bad toothache.

TC: HA! Yep, I've noticed that! Hey, what were you telling me the other day about intravenous Vitamin C and insulin sensitivity and hyperbaric chambers?

CP: Well, I got bit in the ass by a brown recluse spider and I got mono-like symptoms, and I never felt so bad in my life. I talked to one of my reps, and she referred me to a doctor in Denver and I went to see this guy who treated me with Vitamin C. First they confirmed that it was a brown recluse spider bite, and I was in danger, basically, of losing my butt cheek.

I got treated with the Vitamin C and put in a hyperbaric chamber, and within 36 hours I was asymptomatic. I still had a lump of venom in there, and I kept doing the treatments and I got rid of the venom and all the effects.

When you get bit by a brown recluse, you get necrotic fasciaitis, so people who get bit in the nose can lose their nose, people who get bit in the arm can lose their arm, etc, so by doing the super-high dose of Vitamin C–I was getting 180 grams twice a day–by IV, I was able to save my tissue.

However, interestingly, the guy told me that he had to monitor my blood sugar every 20 minutes. He said that such a high dose of Vitamin C has a considerable glycemic response, so I actually had to drink a gallon of grape juice while getting this Vitamin C treatment because my blood sugar levels were just falling,

However, after doing the Vitamin C, and despite ingesting so many carbs, I was actually leaner when I left the clinic!

Then I went on-line and found the research that intravenous Vitamin C changes insulin sensitivity, so I started experimenting on myself. I was at 6% body fat when I started to do 180 grams of Vitamin C twice a week for a month, and I got down to 2.8% body fat without changing anything else. I asked the doctors on my staff to start using the procedure on my athletes and we figured out that in 4 weeks, we could get body composition changes in 4 weeks that we normally get in 10 weeks.

TC: How did this tie in with the hyperbaric chamber?

CP: The hyperbaric chamber was to treat the brown recluse bite, so if you do the IV while in the chamber, the IV is more efficient.

For example, a while back, Milos Sarcev burned himself severely while making a movie. He had 3rd degree burns and looked like burned steak! He was supposed to have a skin graft and stay in the hospital a month, but one of my patients is the director of the burn center at Harvard, so he called the burn center in Arizona and told them to let me do whatever I want, so I gave Milos a shitload of antioxidants including Vitamin C and put him in the hyperbaric chamber. Two days after the treatment, he no longer needed a skin graft and he was released a week after.

I now use it with athletes to improve recovery. It even improves brain function. I was amazed at how mentally sharp I was every time I did an IV in the chamber.

TC: Hey, you learned that from Michael Jackson, didn't you? I bet you got the Elephant Man's skeleton in your closet, don't you? Alright, alright, I'll shut up. Let's talk a little about wide receiver David Boston. Obviously, a phenomenal physical specimen, but you hear some traditional-style coaches now saying, "All show and no go now." What didn't these traditional-style coaches get?

CP: Well, let's back up a bit. He came here, he trained, and he had an excellent season and made the Pro Bowl. He went from 209 pounds to 248–and he fattened his contract dramatically. If you call that all show and no go...

After that, he went to the San Diego Chargers, and had a bit of a problem with the coaches there. They didn't agree on things, but by that time, Ian Danny, who used to work for me, was taking care of him. Well, and Ian was telling me what the Chargers wanted to do and it was ridiculous. So, they had what you call a falling out.

Charles and David Boston
Charles and David Boston

TC: This guy obviously loved what you were doing for him, but fell in love, more or less, with bodybuilding. As I understand it, he would spend one day working his arms, which leads me to wonder, why would this wide receiver need to work his arms that hard?

CP: One of the things that was said about him was that no cornerback or safety wanted to approach him, because when David straight-armed them, they'd go down.

But I think things started to go wrong when they started to make a case out of it. In Arizona when he was big and strong, no one complained, but what happened in San Diego was that he broke his scapula and still played. That was never reported in the media. Then, when he was traded to Miami, he stepped into a hole and blew his knee. There's no weight training that's going to prevent that.

Of course, David's best playing weight is 248, not 260 [which became his playing weight after his Pro Bowl season]. That extra 12 pounds makes a difference, because the problem with a wide receiver is that he can still run fast at 260 in one direction, but you have to allow the ankle muscles some time to get used to that extra weight. I don't think that was taken into consideration after he left my facility.

TC: Are you working with any other football players?

CP: Yes, I have worked with both Thomas and Julius Jones to name a few. In February, the strength coaching staff of Green Bay is interning with me, based on the results they have seen on Na'il Diggs. Before coming here, Na'il used to be plagued with injuries. The staff was quite impressed with how promptly we rehabbed him after his shoulder injury.

TC: I bet. Listen, I think we've both got appointments in the next few minutes, so let's hang it up here. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, and I hope we hear from you again real soon.

CP: My pleasure.