Monday, December 31, 2012

Paleo Low Carb Update—Beyond Just Low Carb

 Paleo Low Carb Update—Beyond Just Low Carb
December 30, 2012

Eleven years of low-carb living had, and has continued to be, a positive experience for me health-wise; but once the elephant was out of the room, I could see other issues that I had barely noticed before.  With my weight, cholesterol problems, energy, and brain fog issues under control, I began to look at other key areas:  optimal brain function, bone degeneration, eye health and digestion (which profoundly impacts the other three areas). After attending the Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 at Harvard this past August, I was determined to address these concerns.  Thus began the second phase of my nutritional overhaul—the paleo/low-carb  lifestyle.  I outlined my plan on the blog in late August, and I have been purposely silent for several months as I have wanted to see more long-term results before posting anything.

So, here is my first update on the changes I have made.  This post will deal primarily with brain function.  This is a sensitive area for me and difficult to talk about.  But, if I could help one person who has experienced this problem, the discomfort is well worth it.  Well, here it goes.

Brain Function
Prior to starting my low carb lifestyle, I was frequently plagued with brain fog which made processing information very difficult.  I would often have trouble following the line of a conversation, almost feeling as though I had Attention Deficit Disorder.  I was frustrated with my memory, more so than other people of my age, and I would often forget what I was going to say next.  Yet, there were times, when my memory functioned beautifully; I was able to listen intently, make highly intelligent mental connections, and complete a long and detailed explanation on a given subject.  There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to when the mental stalls would occur, and I could never count on my brain to function the way I needed it to.  I began to wonder, “Could I be on my way to early Alzheimer’s or dementia?”

Once I started low carb living, nearly twelve years ago, I realized that most of my brain difficulties were related to blood sugar spikes that were completely out of control.  Cutting out the sugars and starches, as well as limiting carbohydrate consumption to under 12 grams of net carbs per meal have radically improved my ability to think.  The improvement has been gradual, correlating with my effectiveness in following the plan.  I do not even want to think about what my fate might have been if I had not discovered the low carb lifestyle.  I am daily thankful for the solution!

But, even with insulin under control, and my brain processing information well, I was still having occasional lapses. For example, at times, in the middle of relating an experience, I would forget the next point that I was about to make.   And, my ability to carry on a long conversation was dependent upon the amount of sleep I received the night before as well as my current fuel supply.  After 45 years of plaque build-up on the brain from overloading my system with sugars and starch, could there still be traces of plaque that needed cleaning up?

So, 4 months ago, armed with valuable cutting-edge information from the Ancestral Health Symposium 2012, I began a series of changes to optimize my brain function.  Here is a brief synopsis of my targets and results.

A.  First Target:  Get Adequate Sleep
Rationale:  The quality and duration of sleep has a profound impact on brain function.  I was having trouble falling asleep.  I just could not get sleepy.  Then, when I would fall asleep, I would often wake up at 2:00 in the morning and be unable to fall back to sleep.

Strategy 1:  Limit coffee consumption to 2 small cups in the morning.

Implementation:  The downside was 6 days of horrific caffeine withdrawal.  Luckily, I chose to put this into effect while I was on vacation from work.

Result:  This strategy has worked extremely well.  I am now very sleepy at night, and I am able to fall asleep and get 7 ½ to 8 hours of sleep per night (with a little help from a dropper-ful of melatonin). 

Strategy 2:  Limit alcohol to 1 glass of wine per night near dinner time (not too close to bedtime). 

Implementation:  I still occasionally have 2 glasses of wine, but mostly I stick to 1 glass.  And, I have the wine with dinner, so it is not too close to bedtime.

Result:  I still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night.  But, if I take a dropper-ful of melatonin, I go right back to sleep.  I am very satisfied, so far, with my sleep makeover.   I have noticed a surge in my energy level, as well as vast improvement in brain function.

B.  Second Target:  Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids.  (an important part of Paleo living)
Rationale:  Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health. 
According to Nora Gedgaudas in the best-selling book, Primal Body, Primal Mind, our brains need omega-3 fatty acids, and if we don’t eat them, our brains will not have them.   The body is incapable of producing its own supply.
According to, omega -3 fatty acids increase HDL.
Omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy cardiovascular system by increasing HDL cholesterol, the healthy cholesterol that helps remove fat from your bloodstream, and by reducing inflammation in the arteries.
According to an article by Melody Fuller in eHow Health,
They [HDL] are thought to act like trash collectors moving throughout the body clearing away plaque and other waste as it flows through the blood stream back to the liver.
Read more: Why is HDL Good Cholestrol? |
According to BBC News on February 9, 2012, drugs are being tested that are successfully removing brain plaque from the brain’s of mice, improving cognitive function.  (So, if drugs can do this, why is there no testing on whether omega-3s can do this?)
According to an article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center, the importance of omega-3 fatty acids is vital for brain health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.
Follow us: @UMMC on Twitter | MedCenter on Facebook

Strategy:  Include sources of omega-3 fatty acids from real food sources.

Implementation:  Omega-3 fatty acids have become an important part of my diet.  Since the best sources of omega – 3 fatty acids are found in pasture-fed animals and wild caught fish, we have now placed several orders with U.S. Wellness Meats.  My husband, Joe, and I are very pleased with the flavor, convenience, and health benefits of hot dogs and sausages loaded with omega-3s!  We are also  eating lamb loin chops, beef, and chicken from pasture-fed animals.  We try to eat wild caught fish at restaurants.  I also continue to take a powerful 950 mg omega – 3 fish oil pill daily, as well as a ¼ cup of Anutra (loaded with omega 3s) in my morning concoction.    According to Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind, excessive amounts of olive oil interfere with the use of omega-3 fats and may enhance insulin resistance. So, I am now cooking with ghee and coconut oil, which is a pleasure, as they can withstand higher heat than the olive oil that I was using for sautéing.   I have also switched from olive oil to coconut oil in my breakfast concoction.  But, I still use olive oil in my salads.

Result:  What better test to see if I have increased omega-3 fatty acids, than to check my HDL cholesterol.  In 2009, my HDL was 98.  Four weeks ago, I, had my new blood work done, and my HDL is now 150!  I am thinking that the good cholesterol is eating all of the plaque from my brain because my brain is now working very well for a 57 year old!  (My LDL has remained in the average range—from 104 to 110.)

C.  Third Target:  Improve gut flora for optimal digestion.  (an important part of Paleo living)
Rationale:  Since improper digestion interferes with brain health, I have begun to look at my digestion. Bloating is often a sign of poor digestion, and I have always had this problem. 
In an excellent article on the crucial role of gut flora, Dr. Mercola states the following:
As explained by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (below), a medical doctor with a postgraduate degree in neurology, toxicity in your gut can flow throughout your body and into your brain, where it can cause symptoms of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders. She believes the epidemic of autism and other learning disorders originate in the gut, and manifest as a condition known as Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).

Strategy 1:  Take probiotics to improve good bacteria in the gut. 

Implementation:  I started with trying to make coconut yogurt with probiotics.  I did not have success with this.  Then, I was putting the probiotics into my morning concoction.  This was okay.  But, now, I have started taking Pearls IC. 

Results:  I am not sure that these are helping.  I was taking the supplement with breakfast, but I am now taking it before bed.  The jury is still out on this one.

Strategy 2:  Eat fermented vegetables.

Implementation:  We have started eating a variety of fermented vegetables available in the health food section of the grocery store. 

Result:  The brain is working great, I have less bloating, and the plumbing is working very well. 

Strategy 3:  Make sure that I have enough stomach acid to digest my food.

Implementation:  I am taking a betaine hydrochloride tablet with breakfast. 

Result:  My stomach does seem to be less bloated.

Strategy 4: Chew my food well.

Implementation:   As we chew, enzymes in our saliva aid in breaking down the food particles, and by the time the food gets to our guts, we do not require huge amounts of hydrochloric acid to break it down. Only when food is completely decomposed can its nutrients be absorbed and utilized by all of the cells in our bodies.
I am more aware of how often I am swallowing food before chewing it completely.  But, I have not made a huge commitment to this yet.

Result:  There are no noticeable results, likely due to my lack of effort.  I am sticking with the Betaine hydrochloride for now.

Strategy 5:  Avoid dairy.

Implementation:  I did not think that I could give up cream, cheese, milk in my coffee, etc...  But, I have come to realize that a lot of my bloating is  related to dairy products.  I realized that I must be sensitive to it.  And, if so, this impacts my digestion and ability to absorb nutrients from my food.  This realization has given me enough motivation to eliminate most (not all) dairy from my diet.  I am loving my morning coffee with coconut milk heated in a baby bottle.  It tastes far superior to coffee made with half and half. 

Result:  I have noticed significantly less bloating, great brain function, and fewer problems with constipation.
Overall, from the strategies I have tried thus far, my brain is functioning well, I have good energy, and I have dropped another ten pounds without even trying.  (I was really happy at 130 pounds, but on my 5’4” frame, 120 pounds actually looks better!)  Paleo low-carb is working for me.  I suspect that with my body’s increased ability to absorb the nutrients and minerals it needs, due to eating high quality, nutrient-dense food, I am not as hungry, and I am consequently eating less.  Thus far, I am very satisfied with the health benefits I am experiencing by adding these paleo strategies to my low-carb lifestyle.

Note:  I will address my progress, or lack of progress, with my other areas of concern in a later blog. I have been too inconsistent with exercise and resistance training to discuss any impact on osteoporosis, and I have a lot of research left to do in the area eye health.  For now, I am very grateful for the paleo low carb impact on my weight, my cholesterol, my energy, and my brain.

I wish you a happy and healthy new year!

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