Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nosebleeds and Recommended Daily Allowances are out of my Life

Until recently, I'd been having bad nosebleeds for a while. Specifically, since November 1999 when I had septoplasty surgery. My otolaryngologist recommended it because I had a deviated septum (that's the stiff middle part of the inside of the nose) and enlarged turbinates. I had frequent sinus infections and supposedly, this surgery would help prevent them. (It didn't. But it was nice to be able to breath through both sides of my nose at the same time.)

About a month ago, I read the following in Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution p. 126, published in 1972:

About vitamins in general, I don't believe in minimum daily requirements. I believe in optimum dosage. I have used vitamins in megadoses in my practice with great success.
You cannot safely increase the standard dosage of Vitamin A (5,000 international units) nor of Vitamin D (400 international units). But so-called overdoses of the other vitamins are simply flushed away by the kidneys. And the mineral and vitamin needs of individuals vary widely--on or off any diet. What may be an overdose for somebody else may be barely enough for your body's needs, depending on various factors: your age, the stress you are under, and your past history of diet and of previous medications. [emphasis in original]
But what about the fact that the book is almost 40 years old, and what about the recommended daily allowance? That the book is old doesn't make it wrong. But if age is important to you, the recommended daily allowances are much older: according to Wikipedia, they were created in 1941 and took wartime rationing into account. Wikipedia doesn't say what studies the guidelines were based on, and I haven't found that information on the 'net. The earliest recommendation I can find for zinc--a mineral I was considering--is from 1968. The highest recommended value hasn't changed since. (In fairness, some of the other recommendations might have changed since Glenn Miller or the McGuire Sisters were on the Hit Parade. I didn't bother to check.) Other sources I've read state the 1941 allowances were merely supposed to prevent deficiencies.

So both pieces of advice that apply to zinc are about the same age. However, Dr. Atkins' observation that people have different needs makes more sense than one set of recommendation for millions, and he stated where his knowledge came from: his practice successfully treating thousands of patients. And the government recommendations were just minimums that didn't address larger doses.

I knew that zinc was good for the skin--it had helped me before with chapped lips and acne. Could it heal the inside surface of my nose if I took more of it? I started taking two zinc tables a day in addition to the vitamins I took. In all, I started taking 115 mg a day plus the zinc in the food I ate. That's over six times the recommended daily allowance. Result: I'm almost ready to say my nosebleeds are gone. I have not felt any ill effects.

As for sinus infections, the last one I had was in 2001. That was right before I quit working in an industry that was sucking the life out of me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'll lay me down to bleed awhile, then get back up again

Let me tell you about the time I woke up on the sidewalk.

It was Tuesday, December 14, 2004. I had donated blood and was in a hurry to get back to the office and finish the stack of work on my desk. When I left the bloodmobile, I didn't bother going back into the Marriott to rest up by the fire with some cookies and juice; I ran for the shuttle instead. In the course of my life, I had donated gallons of blood without trouble.

After I got on the shuttle, I was in trouble. It was as if I was suddenly infected with a virus: I was sick to my stomach and felt terrible and weak. Being on a moving vehicle made it worse, but I saw no place to get off and sit down. I wondered if this was what it felt like to bleed to death; if this was how soldiers felt when they were wounded. A group of Latina girls looked at me with worry.

The shuttle pulled up to the Adam's Mark Hotel where there was a dormant flower bed in a low wall by the sidewalk. Finally--a place to get off and sit down. I got up and walked towards it.

I opened my eyes and saw blue sky, treetops, clouds, and buildings: I was lying on the sidewalk. A woman who wore a silver ring and called herself Suzanne held my hand and said she wouldn't leave me. A young businessman who stood very straight stopped talking on his cell phone to ask me how old I was; I told him thirty-five. A white-haired man handed me my hat. The Latina girls looked on from a respectful distance. I hoped my new coat hadn't gotten too dirty. I told everyone I was OK; I had just given blood and gotten up and started moving around too soon. But for weeks afterwards, I was weak. Later, on the rare occasion I donated blood, I felt weak and tired for days after.

I went back to the bloodmobile two days ago and didn't miss the pint of blood I gave. I could dig post holes if I had to--just like in my twenties. What changed?

I've been taking iron pills, and my iron level was 41 on Tuesday. In the past, it's always been borderline--around 38. I don't exert myself as much as I did in 2004. Back then, I was working out hard six days a week and went dancing more often. I don't have as much stress as I used to; my workload is about the same, but it doesn't bother me as much. My diet changed dramatically--low-carb versus six servings of "good" carbs every day.

In a nutshell, I believe I'm better able to donate blood due to better diet, iron pills, more rest, and less stress. Oh--and I believe that downtown Denver is one of the most polite places on earth.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

You Bet your Life

The more I read, the more I realize that people have to be their own advocates concerning their health. There's a lot of information out there, but a lot of it is contradictory--even information that comes from doctors. Without medical training, how do you sort it out?

Lately I've been reading The Power of Logical Thinking by Marilyn vos Savant. Readers of a certain age may remember the Monty Hall dilemma from her column in Parade magazine in 1990. She correctly answered a reader's question about probability. The problem was so simple that grade-school age children could--and did--test it for themselves. Yet vos Savant got mountains of mail from professors and Ph.D.s telling her she was wrong.

There's a section in her book about averages. "You can drown in a river with an average depth of two feet," she observes. This reminded me of a woman I met last weekend. As she and I talked, the conversation turned to health. She was quite a bit overweight and said she had fibromyalgia, suffered from depression sometimes, was often tired, and was beginning to get peripheral neuropathy. Sounded like diabetes to me. I asked her if she was diabetic, and she said no, her A1c was too low for that. (A1c is blood glucose average over the past three months or so.) I asked her about blood glucose levels an hour after a meal, and she said that it sometimes got up to 190, but that was fine because of her good A1c.

With all due respect to this nice lady, let's examine the fallacies. I've named them as best I can.

  1. Using the wrong tool for the task. Is an average is a good measure of blood glucose? It depends on your purpose. According to Jenny Ruhl, "The A1c might be a helpful screening tool for finding people with full fledged diabetes who are unaware that they have it." But if your purpose is to avoid diabetes-induced damage, Ruhl says you need to avoid high blood glucose levels, which cause the damage--not just have a good average.
  2. Not accounting for testing limitations. If your highest post-meal blood glucose reading is below 200, could you still have diabetes? The official definition of diabetes is, in fact, having a reading of 200 or more. My acquaintance's highest reading was 190. However, all instruments have a margin of error. If her meter was accurate within 5%, her real level was between 181 and 200. If her meter was accurate within 10%, her real level was between 171 and 209.
  3. Appeal to authority and improperly hedging your bets. Without an official diagnosis, do you have a condition? Diabetes isn't like pregnancy, where you either are or you aren't. Blood sugars beyond a certain level--around 140 an hour after blood sugar challenge--indicate possible pre-diabetes. Damage can occur at this level. I suppose that either waiting for your family doctor to say "you have diabetes" or using the researchers' criteria and a BG meter is appealing to authority, but to my mind, the bigger downside comes with waiting around when one can take safe, simple measures to avoid high blood glucose levels.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

These Blogs are Some Awesome Blogs!

I'd like to share some really outstanding health-related blogs with you. All of these bloggers struggled with the health problems they write about. All of them go by science and results, not the dogma that is common in some areas of medicine. All of these authors have helped me and my family in some way: Dr. Eades' blog informed me that excess carbs were the cause of my acid reflux; Dr. Davis's blog has been a lifesaver for my diabetic mother; Tom Naughton's blog usually makes me laugh. If you like their messages, most of them have books or movies (in some cases, free e-books and newsletters) for your reference or that of friends and family who aren't on the Internet. Happy reading!

Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist, focuses on preventive medicine. He writes quite a bit about diabetes as well. If you'd rather make lifestyle changes than have heart surgery, this blog may interest you.
Dr. Michael Eades, co-author of Protein Power, writes about low-carb living.
Across the pond, Dr. John Briffa blogs about a wide variety of health topics. His focus is on good diet and holistic remedies.
Jenny Ruhl, a diabetic and technical writer, blogs about diabetic treatment, diet, and medical studies. The blog gets very technical, but the take-home message is that most information on diabetes given by doctors and health organizations is a lot of baloney.
Speaking of baloney, Tom Naughton, a computer programmer, writes a laugh-out-loud funny blog about diet and related public policy. He made an independent film called Fat Head: You've Been Fed a Lot of Bologna in which he lost weight by eating nothing but fast food and using his functioning brain. See clips here--they're priceless.
Sami Paju, a business student in Finland, writes about diet and fitness, among other things. He has a way of making complicated subjects easy to understand, and he doesn't have anything to sell you.