Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Getting Rid of your Pain in the Neck

What if you had severe, chronic neck pain and your doctor didn't have a clue what to do for you? That was the place I was in during my early 30s: typing was agony, I couldn't press the Dictaphone buttons with my left hand hard enough to engage them, and I was too stiff to shimmy in dance class. Most of what I recall of an outdoor performance of a Shakespeare play of that time (the one where they were stuck on an island) regards squirming around trying to get comfortable. (If you were sitting behind me, I apologize.)

A friend referred me to a chiropractor, who diagnosed two pinched nerves in my neck and between my shoulders. Nothing was torn or fractured, and IME, when that's the case, doctors who practice traditional Western medicine won't be able to diagnose anything. That's not to say you shouldn't see an M.D. If something is torn or broken, they can help where a chiropractor and the treatments I'm going to talk about cannot.

After several chiropractic treatments, my neck and shoulder recovered, but I still had niggling pain and occasional flare-ups. Over the years, I've found three ways of dealing with this--and I'm happy to say my neck and shoulder pain are gone. Here's what I've tried and the results I've gotten.

It's especially helpful for me when I have tension. My mom loves getting acupressure when her neck, shoulders and arms hurt. For most of us, this is easy to do for yourself and it can bring relief within a few minutes. All you do is press your fingertips into appropriate pressure points. A book like Acupressure's Potent Points can show you how.

Yoga. When I had continual neck pain, I did yoga neck exercises every morning, and it really helped. The exercises came from the 1959 edition of Yoga for Americans. I ignored the advice on coffee enemas and did the neck exercises daily. Every morning, I did each one five times, slowly, and didn't stretch to the point of discomfort. The exercises were moving my head side to side in a big NO motion, nodding in a big YES motion, moving my ear closer to my shoulder moving only my head, moving my head forward without tilting it (imagine a turtle poking its head out of its shell), and gently rolling my head around each direction. Often, my neck would pop and feel better when I moved my ear towards my shoulder. But if it didn't, I gave up after a few tries. Continuing to stretch just made it worse, so I waited and tried later.

I don't do this every day anymore, but it's helpful if I've had my neck in a strange position, like yesterday when a complete stranger in the seat behind me on the bus talked my ear off about the squirrel under her couch, her three dogs, two cats, guinea pigs, aquarium and colostomy bag.

Strength Training. Last year I started doing some abdominal exercises that involved keeping your head just off the floor for a few minutes. It was hard to do, but some weeks after I'd started, my neck pain was gone--surprise! My neck was stronger and free of pain. I used a video called Ballet Conditioning; now I use the Slow Burn system. (And I no longer need the yoga every day. But it's there in case I see the menagerie lady again.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

No Shoulder Pain: This Calls for a New Handbag

A new job and a svelte new figure: what could be a better reason to buy some new togs?

How about a shoulder that's as strong and free of pain as it was at age 18?

When I was that age, I carried around 20 pounds of photo equipment for a job that lasted three years. After that, I carried 20 pounds of textbooks around a large campus for four and a half years. By my early 30s, I had chronic neck and shoulder pain, sometimes severe, sometimes niggling. I took to carrying a backpack instead of a purse to lighten the load on the shoulder.

Besides seeing a chiropractor, which helped a lot, I learned yoga neck stretches from the book Yoga for Americans written in 1959 by Indra Devi. I learned to pop my neck--loudly--at will. Without the exercises, I'd have needed a lot more trips to the chiropractor.

In the past few weeks, without thinking about it, I've been carrying my backpack on my left shoulder--the one that bore the textbooks and the photo equipment for seven and a half years. I haven't had a twinge of pain or fatigue from it. No popping in my neck either, and no real need for the yoga exercises. Possibly, this is because of months of strength training and a wheat-free diet. I don't know of any studies to cite, but I've noted several comments on other blogs from people whose joint pains went away when they gave up wheat. Now, I don't believe these measures would cure someone whose cartilage is gone or tendons are torn. If you have a shoulder injury, you should see a doctor about it. In any case, though, giving up wheat won't hurt you and might bring some relief. I also believe that good muscle tone can help protect you from injury and fatigue.

My canvas and leather backpack has been great, but it's cracked and stained, and I no longer need it to carry my lunch, wallet, sunglasses and a book to work and back. It was time for a change, so today I bought a big silver nylon purse with black patent leather straps and a pink lining. (Sorry, vintage enthusiasts, but a cute little Bakelite pocketbook won't hold my lunch--and I wouldn't want to ruin a vintage treasure forever by spilling salad dressing in it.) The new bag matches my new black sandals and makes me look the way I feel.

Gas Bloating: The Incredible Shrinking Waistband and Exploding Intestines

If you've been through it, you know the feeling: you get dressed in the morning and all is well. You have breakfast, and maybe a mid-morning snack, and then your pants don't fit. Surely you didn't put on five pounds in two hours, you think. (I had one tweed skirt in particular that became uncomfortable around 10 a.m.) Some days, you even look like you're pregnant. (That was when my big lavender shirt-dress came in handy.) It's gas bloating--but what causes it? Can you stop it?

The short answer is that I got the bloating to go away without medication or supplements--and I had tried several. My understanding of the causes of bloating is that certain foods naturally lead to gas, and it's hard for some people to digest various foods. (There may be other causes, but these are the two I'll talk about here.)

Which foods lead to gas? According to Heartburn Cured (1) by Norm Robillard, a microbiologist, it's mostly carbohydrates. Fat and protein don't lead to much, if any, gas production. Some carbs lead to bloating more than others. Some people have had so much gas they even exploded during surgery--no kidding. Here are links to the medical journal abstracts he cites: International Journal of Clinical Practice, Gastroenterology, and Gut. (Don't worry--intestinal explosions seem rare.) Robillard says,

Fats produce little, if any, gas in the intestine due to the way they are metabolized by gut microbes...Because proteins are broken down more slowly and the amino acids used selectively by gut microbes, less gas is produced and it is produced in the more distal regions of the large intestines (further from the stomach).

As microbes metabolize carbohydrates, they rapidly produce significant amounts of acid and gas earlier in the digestive track [sic], closer to the stomach....It is known with certainty that a significant amount of gas is produced by bacteria in our intestines in response to carbohydrate metabolism. In fact, there have been explosions during intestinal surgery due to high amounts of hydrogen and methane gas production.

[Ed. - See text for endnotes.]

One of the biggest things that gave me problems was whole wheat. Time was when cooks and Mother Nature gave us a little help in this department, according to Nourishing Traditions(2) by Sally Fallon:

According to enzyme specialist Dr. Edward Howell, in the past we ate most of our grains in partially germinated form. Grain standing in sheaves and stacks in pen fields often began to sprout before it was brought into storage. Modern farming techniques prevent grains from germinating before they reach our tables.

...sprouting also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors present in all seeds. These inhibitors can neutralize our own precious enzymes in the digestive tract. Complex sugars responsible for intestinal gas are broken down during sprouting, and a portion of the starch in grain is transformed into sugar...Finally, numerous enzymes that help digestion are produced during the germination process.

Nourishing Traditions goes on to recommend eating sprouted grains, but my solution has been to stop eating wheat.

Another problem for me turned out to be apples. Jack Sparrow's nemesis Capt. Barbosa might have been able to eat apples all day without a problem--but he was actually dead, wasn't he?

Others say they get gas from cruciferous vegetables: cauliflower and broccoli. Could be, but how are cauliflower and broccoli usually prepared? With milky cheese sauce or ranch dressing, which are bad for the lactose intolerant.

Dairy is a problem for a lot of people. Some dairy products (especially milk) contain lactose, which is a sugar that's broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Yes, milk is full of sugar. It's common and normal for people to stop making lactase, and without lactase, certain dairy products aren't digested. You could try taking a lactase pill when you eat dairy, or look for low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products. According to this Wikipedia page(3), traditionally made cheese has little or no lactose, and traditional yogurt has its own lactase. And foods you don't think of as dairy can have lactose, too, like whey (which is in low-carb ice cream that I love but can't eat). Some other foods, according to Wikipedia:

Lactose (also present when labels state lactoserum, whey, milk solids, modified milk ingredients, etc.) is a commercial food additive used for its texture, flavour and adhesive qualities, and is found in foods such as processed meats (sausages/hot dogs, sliced meats, pâtés), gravy stock powder, margarines sliced breads, breakfast cereals, potato chips, processed foods, medications, pre-prepared meals, meal replacement (powders and bars), and protein supplements (powders and bars).
[Ed. - See link for footnotes.]
My suggestion to you is, if you have uncomfortable bloating, try giving up certain carbohydrate foods for awhile, maybe a day or so, and see if it helps. Re-introduce the foods, one by one, and see what happens.

UPDATE 6/27/2012: Carrageenan can also cause bloating. It's an additive in some processed meat, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, chocolate milk, infant formula, many dairy products, and other foods. In research it's used to induce inflammation and sensitivity to pain in laboratory animals. My summary post on it is here.


1. Heartburn Cured by Norm Robillard, Ph.D., pp. 65-68.
2. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, p. 112.
3. "Lactose Intolerance," Wikipedia,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Healthier, Whiter Teeth

One of my goals is to die with all 32 teeth in my head. So far, I've met the all-32-teeth part. Up until around age 35, I'd had only one cavity. It was so small that the dentist, with my permission, drilled without anesthetic. I brushed twice a day, and usually didn't floss. Being without insurance and low on funds during many of my younger days, I'd go years without seeing a dentist, and have only a tiny bit of tartar on the rare visit. And no, I didn't drink lots of milk. Yuck!

At 34, I started on a low-fat, high-carb diet plan that I followed for six years. (At around 180 grams per day, it was high-carb compared to what I'd been eating.) In those six years, I got eight cavities. I had lots of plaque. I got an electric toothbrush, brushed for two and a half minutes morning and night and flossed every day. The cavities and the plaque kept forming--and my teeth were becoming dingy-colored. Around Christmas last year, I found myself in the worst pain of my life: one of my teeth was infected. A root canal followed.

I was eating what many consider a healthy diet: lots of fruit, yogurt, and complex carbohydrates. But what are those full of? Sugar! Starch! And when my blood sugar came crashing down an hour later, what did I eat? More sugar and starch!

I got off the sugar train in February and started a low-carb diet. (As you probably know, a low-carb diet is, by definition, low in sugar and starch--in my case, less than 50 grams a day.) Results: I have very little plaque on my teeth. When I floss, there's little or no gunk to clean out. My teeth are whiter. And on my last visit to the dentist a few weeks ago, I didn't have any cavities. It was one of the few experiences from my younger days I was happy to repeat.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Less Sit and Scoot

"Poop Van Scoop. We pick up where your dog leaves off. Number one in the number two business." -A long-running ad for backyard sanitation services.

Readers, if a post about canine gastrointestinal problems (read: pooping problems) isn't your cup of tea, why don't you read this post about how music made me feel better than the 20 pills a day I was taking at one point in my life.

I've always had dogs, but I never had one who would sit and scoot, until Molly. Dogs do this when their anal glands are too full; conventional wisdom says that hard, small stools cause the problem by not pressing on the anal glands enough to empty them. I just knew that every so often, I had to take Molly to the vet to have them drained. Sometimes they even became infected, or "full and stinky" in veterinary terms.

For the past few years, I've been fiddling with Molly's diet to help her poop be less like jawbreakers. From what I'd read about digestion, I thought the answer involved fat and fiber. I wanted to keep non-fiber carbs low because Molly puts on weight easily. (She was once stray and on a starvation diet for who knows how long--that surely didn't help her metabolism.) I know a person (and a dog, I presume) can have a few extra pounds and be healthy. But Molly has two congenital heart defects and really doesn't need blood sugar spikes or extra fat around her organs.

I finally created a diet that allows Molly to poop easily, doesn't spike her blood sugar (I've checked it), and hasn't made her fat. (My vet thinks she's fat; I think she's stocky and furry.) She does sit and scoot now and then, but not nearly as much as she used to, and I haven't had to take her to the vet since I got back from vacation in early June (when her diet was changed). Here's what Molly eats:

3/4 cup Taste of the Wild dog food (usually bison flavor; the salmon works well, too)

3/4 cup Taste of the Wild dog food
1/2 cup broccoli slaw

Late night:
2 tablespoons flaked coconut, no sugar added

A few times a week:
bacon grease from two or three strips of bacon

Taste of the Wild is grain-free dog food that's made mostly of meat. It's around $2 a pound. It isn't sold at the big chains, but a search on their web site shows there must be thousands of smaller stores in the U.S. and Canada that sell it. It's available online, too.

I give Molly broccoli slaw (which is mostly fiber) with her dog food because you need fat (from the dog food) to absorb certain vitamins (from the broccoli slaw). (At least, humans require fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, and I assume dogs do also. In any event, I don't see any reason the combination would be harmful to her.) I wait a few hours to give her coconut because it has phytic acid, which can inhibit mineral absorption. (This post has some info on vitamin and mineral absorption.) On days when I didn't give her coconut, she'd sit and scoot, and she sat and scooted more before I started the coconut, so this seems to play an important role.

One last benefit from this diet: I can't remember the last time Molly had smelly gas.

ETA 9/25/10: I'm beginning to think that it's important not to feed Molly too much. When I was on vacation, my neighbor fed her leftover hamburger in addition to her regular diet (and Molly's glands got infected), and whenever I feed her a little extra because she's worked up an appetite at the dog park, she ends up sitting and scooting more. If Molly is extra hungry, I'll try giving her a few spoonfuls of olive oil.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cardio: A Waste of Valuable Dance Time

"I'd rather hold a girl in my arms than a football." -Joe DeCicco, friend and dancing fanatic

Have you heard that it takes a woman 77 hours of exercise to lose a kilogram of fat? (For us Americans, that's half a pound.) That's according to a study cited by Dr. John Briffa.(1) The women who huffed and puffed three hours a week for a year ended up 4.4 pounds lighter than the sedentary women. That doesn't surprise me: my own weight loss involved a lot less exercise than what I'd been doing. I did no cardio workouts, just strength training. I had more time and energy for dancing, which is a stress reliever, helps keep me in shape, and it's a ton of fun.

It's not expensive to dance (as long as you stay away from the studios). I've found excellent lessons at clubs where the teachers really care about the students getting it. Here in Denver, there are dancing clubs that are run by nonprofit organizations, where the prices are reasonable and the clientele is focused on dancing, not drinking or hooking up. In fact, the places where I go are open to all ages, and I'd have no problem taking my 11-year-old niece to them. (If you're not sure about a certain club, ask the doorman to let you look in for five minutes to see if you want to stay.)

Here's a thread that will help you get started dancing--finding a teacher, preparing for the class, practicing, and getting the most out of your lessons. The most useful info is in the first post.

Dancing comes in a wide variety of flavors--from elegant to hip, mild to grueling, and amusing to thrilling. Here are the dances I'm familiar with.

Swing. This is my passion. It's danced to big band, early jazz, post-war combos, old R&B and early rock n roll. Dances include east coast (a good introduction to partner dancing), Charleston, balboa and lindy. Even if you're athletic, lindy and Charleston will put you through the paces. Those two are mentally challenging, too: there are many variations you can do to Charleston; lindy involves a constantly changing frame that takes months to nail down. (An aside: I was doing the Charleston at the People's Fair a few years ago and people asked me what the dance was. The Charleston is so old that you can do it in a modern context and almost nobody will be any the wiser.) The dress and atmosphere are casual. Put some duct tape on the bottom of an old pair of tennis shoes and you'll be ready to start.

Ballroom. Did you know that the waltz was scandalous when it was introduced 200 years ago? Up until then, dancers only held one another by the fingertips. Besides the waltz, ballroom dancers also do the fox trot and quick step. IME, ballroom dancers expect you to know the basics before you go to one of their dances. You don't need to be especially fit to waltz or fox trot. People dress up, but if you're looking for an ermine-and-pearls scene, I'm afraid you'll have to find a way back to the 1930s.

Latin. Rhumba, tango, salsa and cha-cha are the most common Latin dances at clubs. Hip action and attitude are important in most of these. As in ballroom, people dress up and they expect you to know the basics when you come out to dance with them, but you needn't be an athlete.

Ballet. How can something that looks so light and fluffy and pretty be so grueling? I took a ballet course a few years ago at age 37. They say ballet increases strength and flexibility, but brother, you'd better have both before you start. I finished the course, though, and it made my dancing more graceful. I've had lindy partners who could tell I'd studied ballet.

Belly Dance. I only had one belly dance class--but I got a lot of mileage out of it. It focuses on hip action that's useful for certain dances, but may not be the focus of, say, a cha-cha class. If you want to have fun and learn to move gracefully but don't want to take ballet, this might be the dance for you.

Jazz. All the jazz classes I've taken were about old solo jazz movements based on sailor dances, African dances, and mockery of white overlords. It's very different from the way people normally move nowadays, and the moves take a lot of practice to get down pat. Having learned these, though, I have a good repertoire of African-based dance movement that I can use almost anywhere. Like the Charleston, the moves are so old that practically nobody will recognize them--and you can do them in a modern context. The classes are for the energetic with a lot of time and patience.

1. Friedenreich CM, et al. Adiposity changes after a 1-year aerobic exercise intervention among postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Sep 7.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm a Six-Gallon Donor

"That poor soul."

That's what I think when Bonfils Blood Center sends me a letter telling me where my donated blood went. One pint of my blood--one of several from many donors--went to a woman who had a childbirth that would have killed her in times past. Bonfils invited her and all the donors to a party to meet each other. A few dozen donors divided by eight pints per gallon means she lost half or more of her blood. A friend and employee of Bonfils told me about another patient--just a kid--who needed over 100 units of blood.

Today, I'm feeling a bit puffed up because I got my six-gallon donor pin. (Not too puffed up, though--my father has donated over 20 gallons and a man named Ned Habich has donated 60.) I went to the bloodmobile parked in front of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Denver this afternoon. I answered a questionnaire and Bonfils tested my iron, pulse and blood pressure. At 118 pounds and with an iron level of 42 (yay!), I barely met their thresholds for weight and hematocrit. Nevertheless, they put me on a bed and scrubbed my inside elbow, and I squeezed a foam heart as Paula, the phlebotomist, put in the needle. Of course it hurt, but what is a poke in the arm compared to a difficult childbirth or a major tragedy--the life and death struggles that transfusions are there to help?

Kind, generous people will stand in a long line to donate blood when there's a mass tragedy. But it's important to know that blood has to be transported and put through many tests before it can go in a patient. People who are bleeding to death can't wait that long--they get blood that's ready and waiting. When the major crisis is over, extra blood from an outpouring of donations can go to waste. There are always people who need blood, but you'll rarely see them on the news.

In five minutes, the bag was full. Paula took some samples from the tube, put a purple bandage on my arm, and I went in the Marriott for refreshments. On my way back to the office, I saw several big, strong, fit looking men, and wondered why not even one of them had a bandaged arm--the sign of having donated blood.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vitamin and Mineral Absorption: Stop Shooting yourself in the Foot

Do you take vitamins and minerals? I do, and I can see a difference when I take them. When I don't, my skin breaks out and generally doesn't look up to par. I had nosebleeds before taking a big dose of zinc every day, and was mildly anemic before taking iron. But I said to myself, I eat a healthy diet. I don't smoke or drink much alcohol. Why don't I absorb more of the vitamins and minerals I eat?

Vitamin and mineral absorption is the problem I'm going to address in this post. There are a lot of everyday foods, drinks, diets and medicines that can make vitamins and minerals pass right through you. I don't want you to give up all your favorite foods and beverages, but consider making some small changes to make the most of your vitamins.

Coffee and Tea. I wrote in my last post that coffee and tea interfere with iron absorption. (By "tea," I'm sure that means camellia sinensis, like black tea or green tea or white tea, not apple-cinnamon-vanilla or peppermint-spearmint tea.) I used to drink tea constantly when I was a kid. I'd have taken in the bottle if it had been offered. My solution now is to wait a few hours after taking my vitamins to have tea or coffee. Next summer, I'll cut back on the iced tea during meals.

Low-Fat Meals. Salad with grilled chicken breast and fat-free dressing is on just about every restaurant menu out there. The problem with this kind of meal is that nutrients like carotene and lycopene don't have any fat to glom onto, and you can't absorb them(1). Likewise, "Fat-soluble vitamins--vitamins A, D, E and K," says Colorado State University,(2) "dissolve in fat before they are absorbed in the bloodstream to carry out their functions." In other words, if you're eating super-vitamin enriched cereal with fat-free milk, or chicken breast salad, you'll pee away all those wonderful vitamins, besides getting a dose of phytic acid with the cereal (see below). The solution is easy: just go ahead and have the full-fat dressing or milk.

Nuts, Grains, Legumes and Other Seeds.
This includes beans, soy, bread, cereals, tortillas, oats, and all those "healthy whole grains" we're encouraged to eat. These foods, which are all basically seeds or beans, contain phytic acid. Phytic acid gloms onto iron(3), calcium, zinc(4) and magnesium (5) and prevents you from absorbing them. Yes, phytic acid is an antioxidant, but if it's leaching minerals from you, its benefits come at a high price. What to do? The Weston A. Price Foundation says that soaking, fermenting and/or roasting(6) these foods reduces the phytic acid. The Foundation adds (7) that a little phytic acid won't hurt you:
Daily consumption of one or two slices of genuine sourdough bread, a handful of nuts, and one serving of properly prepared oatmeal, pancakes, brown rice or beans should not pose any problems in the context of a nutrient-dense diet. Problems arise when whole grains and beans become the major dietary sources of calories— when every meal contains more than one whole grain product or when over-reliance is placed on nuts or legumes. Unfermented soy products, extruded whole grain cereals, rice cakes, baked granola, raw muesli and other high-phytate foods should be strictly avoided.
I make a protein shake every morning with nut butter, rice protein powder and vitamins. I won't worry about it, though, because I'm using just a tablespoon each of the protein powder and nut butter.

Antacids. Acid indigestion is an oxymoron. Think about it: acid breaks down food, which helps you digest it. If you have less acid, you have less digestion. This may explain greater risk of hip fracture(9) (due to possible calcium malabsorption), reduction in Vitamin C(10), and possible magnesium loss(11) all associated with long-term proton-pump inhibitor use. Besides, stomach acid is part of your immune system: most germs die in that acid bath--if you haven't neutralized the acid. I know acid reflux is miserable--I had GERD so bad that it gave me an esophageal ulcer. Going off the PPIs gave me a miserable bout with acid rebound. Adopting a low-carb lifestyle allowed me to stay off the acid blockers and avoid acid reflux.

Given popular notions about what makes for a healthy diet, you might read this and wonder what's left to eat. It's possible to make it out to be harder than it really is. Breakfast especially seems difficult for people. Eggs are a good standby, but so are leftovers, vegetables with homemade ranch dip (sour cream with herbs and spices like Mrs. Dash), bacon, ham, sausage, string cheese, leftovers, or a rice protein powder shake. Have a sandwich with lettuce in place of bread. Eat a naked burrito or make a pizza without the crust (I put the toppings on a plate and microwave them). And there's always soup. Diehard grain and bean lovers can try soaking, roasting and fermenting foods that have phytic acids.


(1) "Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection." Melody J Brown, Mario G Ferruzzi, Minhthy L Nguyen, Dale A Cooper, Alison L Eldridge, Steven J Schwartz and Wendy S White, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 2, 396-403, August 2004.

(2) "Water-Soluble Vitamins" by J. Anderson and L. Young1 (Revised 8/08). Colorado State University Extension website.

(3) "Iron absorption in man: ascorbic acid and dose-dependent inhibition by phytate" by L Hallberg, M Brune and L Rossander, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 49, 140-144, Copyright © 1989.

(4) "Calcium binding to phytic acid" by Ernst Graf Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 1983, 31 (4), pp 851–85.

(5) "Phytic acid added to white-wheat bread inhibits fractional apparent magnesium absorption in humans" by Torsten Bohn, Lena Davidsson, Thomas Walczyk and Richard F Hurrell, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 3, 418-423, March 2004

(7) "Living with Phytic Acid" by Ramiel Nagel, Friday, 26 March 2010. Weston A. Price Foundation web site.

(8) Ibid.

(9) "Long-term Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy and Risk of Hip Fracture." By Yu-Xiao Yang, MD, MSCE; James D. Lewis, MD, MSCE; Solomon Epstein, MD; David C. Metz, MD, Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 296 No. 24, December 27, 2006.

(10) "Proton pump inhibitors reduce the bioavailability of dietary vitamin C" by
E. B. HENRY, A. CARSWELL, A. WIRZ, V. FYFFE, K. E. L. MCCOLL Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics Volume 22, Issue 6, pages 539–545, September 2005.

(11) Hypomagnesaemia due to use of proton pump inhibitors – a review M.T. Kuipers1, H.D. Thang, A.B. Arntzenius. The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, May 2009, Vol. 67, No. 5, p. 169.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Iron Deficiency: Possible Cause

A few weeks ago, I had a mystery to solve: I'd been taking iron and zinc pills, and an iron test done when I gave blood showed the highest iron reading I'd ever had. But in late August, my full blood workup showed iron deficiency. My nosebleeds had returned, too. "Your iron level is low," said the letter from my doctor, "and an over the counter vitamin will help. A low iron level needs to be worked up with a colonoscopy or other GI screening." That sounded not only uncomfortable, but expensive. I looked elsewhere for clues.

A search on Google Scholar turned up a study* involving coffee. "A cup of coffee reduced iron absorption from a hamburger meal by 39%..." I downloaded the full text. The study was done on humans, it stated what the subjects ate, and didn't sound like the researchers had any agenda. I'd been drinking more coffee--maybe that was my problem. Seeing if it made me feel any different wouldn't cost anything. So every day last week, I waited until two hours after breakfast to have coffee or tea (the study showed tea inhibited iron absorption even more than coffee). Within a few days, I felt like I had fresh gust of wind in my sails, and my nosebleeds mostly stopped. (Maybe coffee inhibits absorption of zinc as well.)

This seems to have worked well; I'll have another iron test in a few weeks when I donate blood. I don't even miss having coffee first thing in the morning.

"Inhibition of food iron absorption by coffee" by TA Morck, SR Lynch and JD Cook. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 37, 416-420.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Intermittent Fasting: My Foray into Binge Eating

I've long thought that eating as our ancient ancestors did has some keys to health. The latest research in paleontology suggests that they didn't have a constant supply of food, they might have gone for short periods (like a day or so) without eating. Having read the benefits of intermittent fasting, I decided to give it a try. Today, I put off eating until 6 p.m., consuming nothing but water.

The upsides:
My blood sugar was in the 70s during the fast(that's the low end of normal). And I had no nasal congestion.

The downsides:
I was hungry all day! If one of the points of fasting is to avoid thinking about food, it didn't work. I took a nap in the afternoon and dreamed about food. Then I got up, prepared a feast, and ate for two hours. I had two plates of sausage and vegetables, eggplant with cheese, tossed salad and goat cheese. Then a tablespoon of honey, low-carb hot cocoa, low-carb ice cream, and coffee. After taking a break to talk on the phone, I went to the grocery store and got some more food, even though I was full: two nut/coconut bars. My day from 4:30 to 9 p.m. was devoted to cooking and eating--no time saved there. This, even though I've never, ever been a binge eater.

An hour after I finally stopped eating, my blood sugar was 146--the highest reading I've ever had. Since starting low-carb, I've never had a triple-digit reading until now. So if the point is to control blood sugar, it didn't work out. And I ate more today than I do on a typical day. Normally, I stop eating when I'm full; even now, I could put away another bowl of ice cream. So if another point is to eat less, that didn't work out either.

I also had a headache during the late afternoon.

Even though I wasn't trying to lose weight, for me, it was true what they say: you can't starve off weight. I ended up eating more than I would have.

However, I've read several comments on various blogs that people have had good experiences doing this. As for me, I find it easy to stop eating when full if I don't start out ravenously hungry.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Vintage Starvation Diet is Still Around

Some readers know I love the Golden Era (c. 1920-1963): I swing dance, live in a hundred-year-old house, and grow old garden roses. A recent acquaintance even asked me if I drove a Studebaker. I just finished a book that combined my interests in history and health: The Great Starvation Experiment by Todd Tucker. In 1944-45, a group of 36 American men, all conscientious objectors, volunteered for a year-long study on starvation. Ancel Keys (of lipid hypothesis fame) ran the tightly controlled experiment.

Dr. Michael Eades blogged about the book awhile back and noted the macronutrient balance of a typical subject:
The men in this study consumed macronutrients in the following amounts daily: protein 100 gm, fat 30 gm, and carbohydrate 225 gm. If you express these intakes as percentages, you come up with 25.5% protein, 17.2% fat and 57.3% carbohydrate.

Average energy intake of the subjects in the experiment: 1570 calories per day. (emphasis mine)

The men also had to walk 22 miles each week. The experiment was designed to simulate conditions in famine areas of Europe, with foods like cabbage, pea soup, potatoes, whole wheat bread, and very little meat. Indeed, the men looked like concentration camp victims at the end of the starvation phase. They lost some of their coordination, concentration, interest in anything but food, and of course much of their strength, energy and spirit. At one point, two of the pacifists got into a fistfight over a piece of macaroni in the lunch line. Yet even the end of the war in Europe--an event that had Americans literally dancing in the street--didn't excite them. Their lack of reaction reminded me of pictures of the thin, solemn prisoners at liberated concentration camps.

Is it fair to say this isn't a good diet for health and fitness, both mental and physical? Can I get an amen?

I'd heard that after the war, the information on concentration camp diets--the diet that kept prisoners alive and working but hungry and weary--was for sale and became the basis for modern diet programs. (The starvation study wasn't fully written up and published until 1950.) I don't know if that's true, but out of curiosity, I checked a few popular diet plans of today. The following quotes are from (who doesn't necessarily endorse the diets). Compare the calories and carb, protein and fat composition with the starvation diet, noted above.

Jenny Craig
Nutritionally, they reflect the 2005 federal guidelines and USDA food pyramid, and contain 50% to 60% carbohydrate, 20% to 25% protein, and 20% to 25% fat.
The article also mentions "tiny portions" and "physical activity."

Women follow a 1,200-calorie plan and men are allowed 1,500 calories per day....The diet is made up of 55% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 20% fat....Exercise is recommended.
LA Weight Loss:
The LA Weight Loss Centers plan is in line with national recommendations of approximately 50%-55% carbohydrates, 25%-30% protein, and 20%-25% fat. Emphasis is on moderation and portion control.

Here's a sample meal plan for a 1,500-calorie diet...
Dr. Andrew Weil:
Eat less, exercise more....Carbohydrates...50-60% of your calories...Fats up to 30%...Protein...should be limited to 10-20%.
These plans look a lot like the Great Starvation Experiment. And note that LA Weight Loss and Jenny Craig state that they follow the USDA food pyramid (our national guidelines. Did anyone in the USDA read the study the government funded?) As you might guess, the USDA recommends that for losing fewer calories.