Saturday, March 20, 2010

Better than All the Pills

Let me tell you about my 38th birthday. It was 2007. I took a frozen dinner to my parents' house and ate it while I watched a movie; it was all the excitement I could stand. In prior years, I'd gone out on a weeknight and worn out dance partners half my age. But that year, I had a sprained neck and back and TMJ problems from a car wreck and an undiagnosed acute infection of H. pylori and esophageal ulcer. I was working a lot of hours and the helper my employer hired had the IQ of a bowl of cornflakes. Between ibuprofin, antibiotics, acid blockers and vitamins, I'd soon be taking 20 pills a day.

The relief I found didn't come from massage or acupuncture, but music. Specifically, it came from old R&B from the 40s and 50s played every Saturday night on a radio program called R&B Jukebox. (What's old R&B? Readers of a certain age may remember the cast of the Cosby Show lip synching "The Night Time is the Right Time" by Ray Charles, David Lee Roth's version of "Just a Gigolo," and Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog." The original R&B versions of the last two songs, by Louis Prima and Big Mama Thornton, are what you might hear on the program and are better by a mile--click the links if you want to hear samples.) The music put into me the verve that my body and spirit lacked. It reminded me of the home away from home where I danced. It made me forget about my back and neck and stomach and the bonehead I worked with. I needed the pills to get well, but the music helped me feel like I was already there.

At this writing, R&B Jukebox still comes on KUVO at 89.3 FM in Denver or over your computer on Saturdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Parents, note: some of the songs are about getting drunk and getting laid--yes, people did those things in the 40s and 50s. But the naughty songs do not, to my mind, degrade women, and little ones may or may not pick up on the metaphors, double entendre or 60-year-old slang. May you enjoy this music as much as I do.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Things I've Neglected Since Reducing Carbs

Back in January, I stopped eating wheat (except for a few cookies on Sundays) and in February I cut back on sugars in all forms. A few weeks ago, I cut out starchy, sugary foods like fruit, potatoes, beans, yogurt, and Odwalla protein drinks that pack 40 grams of sugar per bottle from my diet. Along with neglecting carbs, I've been neglecting a few other things:

  • Sudafed. I can't remember the last one I took.
  • Ibuprofin. I've had two tablets in the past several weeks; I used to take them almost daily.
  • Gas-X (a gas reducer).
  • Zantac (an acid reducer).
  • My chiropracter.
  • Trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour. When you can whiz through the day on seven hours' sleep, and get by on six, why go to bed early?
  • Four-hour naps on Sunday afternoons. See above.
  • Weighing myself. My sagging jeans tell me I'm losing fat.
  • Expensive skin care products. I don't know whether my skin is that much better or my priorities have changed, but buying anything fancier than drug store sunscreen or lotion seems crazy now.
  • Mascara. See above.
  • Diet drinks. The other night I bought a SoBe Lean Green Tea, which I used to love, and found it had a chemical taste and slick feel to it. And I haven't touched a diet Dr. Pepper in months.
  • Daily workouts. I still work out just as hard, but not six days a week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Controlling Diabetes: What Happened to Common Sense?

But I got it back, I'm feelin' better every day. Tell all those pencil pushers, better get out of my way.

We all know that diabetics are supposed to avoid sugar, right? And since starches are sugars that are glued together, so to speak, diabetics shouldn't be eating very much of them, either. Right? Especially since complications from diabetes include blindness, amputation and organ damage. Aren't those good reasons for sticking to a diet low in sugar and starch--in other words, a low-carb diet? I'm not giving advice, I'm just stating what I believe used to be common knowledge and common sense.

So why don't more doctors and health organizations tell diabetics to avoid carbohydrates?

My mother has had diabetes for 20 years and says she never got any advice from her doctors on what to eat. Sadly, nobody in our family knew that starches were as bad as sugars, and she continued eating bread, potatoes, and cereal. What advice might she have gotten if they had counseled her? Consider some statements on the website of the American Diabetes Association:

Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Try picking from the rainbow of colors available to maximize variety.

Choose whole grain foods over processed grain products. Try brown rice with your stir fry or whole wheat spaghetti with your favorite pasta sauce.

Include dried beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils into your meals.

Choose non-fat dairy such as skim milk, non-fat yogurt and non-fat cheese.

The American Diatetic Association advises diabetics that "If you have diabetes, a healthy daily meal plan includes...starchy foods like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, other grains, and starchy vegetables such as beans, corn and peas...."

The web is likewise full of advice for feeding your diabetic dog:

"Diabetic dogs should be fed a diet high in complex carbohydrates and containing adequate fiber." The site's owner, Intervet/Schering Plough Animal Health, has some insulin to sell you if your diabetic dog puts on the pounds and deteriorates from that high-carb diet.

Other sites hedge their bets with language like, "No foods are off-limits, as long as you watch carbohydrates! Eat plenty of fruit, beans and whole grains!"

A Japanese doctor I had an online conversation with said she recommended that her American patients eat 130 grams of carbs per day because that's what the American Diabetes Association recommends. (This is an M.D. with a subspecialty in diabetes, not a doctor of funk.) She added that the surge in diabetes in her country was attributed to a western diet of high protein and fat. (A typical western diet might have included daily bacon, burgers and full-fat milkshakes a few generations ago, but we're in high-carb, low-fat mode now.)

What isn't as commonly known as the effect of sugar on a diabetic's blood sugar level is the effect of fat. I checked my own blood sugar last Sunday: fasting blood glucose (BG) was 85; one hour after I ate two strips of bacon and some cauliflower and cheese fried in bacon grease, it was 69--a drop of 14 points. I'm not metabolically unique, others report that fat blunts their sugar spikes. Yet the American Diabetes Association recommends skim milk, non-fat yogurt and non-fat cheese. The hoax that fat makes you fat was long ago debunked by Atkins, Michael Eades and others, but it still persists.

An oasis of common sense is It's run by diabetics who vigilantly manage their illness, study medical literature, and chat online with other diabetics about foods, medications, side effects, supplies, and setting and achieving BG goals. In other words, it's run by bright people with skin in the game. Their position on carbohydrates is that diabetics should test, test, test to see what they can tolerate and stay within healthy BG limits. Scroll down on their page to find simple instructions for doing this.

With this information, I've spent the past few weeks pestering my mother to do what most doctors tell you not to do: eat a low-carb, moderate-fat diet. After learning what foods were high in carbs, measuring her BG after eating them, and finally understanding what was causing her BG to go up and down, my mother started eating low-carb in earnest about a week ago. She typically eats eggs, sausage, cheese, mushrooms, etc. for breakfast, and some meat and vegetables for dinner. Results:

BG after a carbohydrate bender a few weeks ago: 268--a potentially damaging level.

Fasting BG a week ago: in the 160s. Still not good.

Fasting BG today: 126. There's room for improvement, but that's below levels generally thought to be damaging to most tissues and organs. But the good news is that her fasting BG level is dropping like a rock. With the low-carb foods she's eating, she's unlikely to have blood sugar spikes. Her quality of life is improving, too: I've never seen her so energetic and upbeat. My mother has broken lifelong bad eating habits and is regaining her health. I'm proud of her.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My GERD is Cured! Low-carb Hits the Mark

It's a good day for paying your bills
And it's a good day for curing your ills
So take a deep breath and throw away the pills
'Cause it's a good day from mornin' til night

A low-carb diet has cured me of GERD! Thanks to the work of Dr. Norm Robillard, author of Heartburn Cured, I no longer have acid reflux--and I don't have to avoid "trigger foods" like onions, caffeine, chocolate (in the form of baking cocoa), mint, tomatoes and fat.

This is a big change from the Body-for-Life program I was on just a few months ago. Body-for-Life involves eating (among other things) six small servings of "authorized" carbs like whole-wheat bread, pasta, fruit, beans, brown rice and winter squash per day. Now I mostly eat meat, eggs, nuts and non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and green beans.

Low-carb diets defy just about every official dietary guideline out there. How often do you hear "eat plenty of healthy whole grains," "drink milk" and "eat plenty of fruits and vegetables"? Grains, milk and fruit are high-carb foods. What's the long-term result of such a diet?

One of my relatives grew up eating biscuits, having gravy at every meal, and potatoes every night and continued the high-carb theme through her adult life. She has been obese over half her life, even though I always observed her to eat in moderation. She has type 2 diabetes. Her GERD is as bad as mine was, even though she takes a proton pump inhibitor. She's suffered from a number of other health problems.

To use a local historical example for contrast, the Plains Indians traditionally ate bison, wild game, and native plants. My educated guess is that they ate mostly meat. Plants here on the Colorado plains are dormant six months out of the year. Summers are hot and dry and fruits are small and only briefly in season. But bison, antelope, rabbit and other game were plentiful. According to a study done at Ohio State University,

Equestrian Indian tribes on the American Plains in the late 1800s were the tallest people in the world, suggesting that they were surprisingly well-nourished given disease and their lifestyle, a new study found.

Average height is a good way of measuring health in populations...especially nutritional status, as determined by diet minus claims on the diet made by work and disease.

...the Plains Indians ate a varied diet that included a variety of native plants, as well as buffalo and other game that typically roamed the Great Plains...

I know these facts don't prove that a high-carb diet is bad. After all, my relative's husband eats far more starchy, sugary carbs than she does and is in better health. (Part of the reason for his health is that he takes a lot of medications.) And I have a slim, healthy friend in her 50s who can frequently eat pasta without gaining weight. Nevertheless, I've been encouraging this member of my family to avoid starchy, sugary carbs. She finds that when she avoids them, her blood glucose level stays down and her stomach acid stays where it belongs. It only takes a little bit of bagel, a few bites of apple sauce, a bowl of oatmeal, to send her blood glucose sky-high and bring up the stomach acid.

This tells me that for some people (to borrow a phrase from Dr. Robillard), eating more than a little carbohydrate is like putting gasoline in a diesel engine.