Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Low-carb Halloween Plans

Chocolate is rich, chocolate is now
Beans from Brazil and the milk from a cow.
Stephany's Chocolates, bah do bah do wah.
Please don't mention the chemical connection
That chocolate makes in my head.
It's chocolate mints I'm saying
It's a chocolate fix I'm cravin'
If I can't be in love, I'll have Stephany's instead.

-1990s radio ad for a Denver chocolatier

Chocolate is, to me, a food group unto itself. Since going low-carb, I'm no longer face-down in it, but still partake of it. It's hard for me to resist. I ate some little cookies last week at a wine store because they were coated with chocolate, knowing what wheat does to me. Even as I write this, I'm on my second dish of low-carb chocolate ice cream, knowing it will likely give me an upset stomach later. The past few Sundays, I've gone out dancing having forgotten to eat dinner. My party place conveniently had gluten-free chocolate desserts--was it really an accident that I forgot dinner?

I'm thinking it would be a bad idea to have Halloween candy at my house. My main concern isn't weight gain, but being walloped with acid reflux brought on by too much sugar. Therefore, my plan this year is to give away something people like even more than chocolate: money. This weekend, I'm going to the credit union to get some rolls of quarters. The trick-or-treaters can buy whatever candy they want, and I can stay out of the sugar bowl.

Update: It's 7 p.m., Halloween night. The kids are going away from my door shouting "Money!" This seems to be a win-win.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How I Beat a Cold in Three Days

Three nights ago, I was having a normal Sunday evening dancing at my favorite club. Except for the afternoon nap I took, the tickle in my throat, and being completely motionless when I sat down, nothing was unusual. Maybe those should have been clues that within a few hours, I would go home early (!) and consider having my doctor check for strep throat the next day--my throat was that sore.

Once I got home, I took all the vitamin D3 I had and went to bed. I’d read of colds being stopped by large doses of the sunshine vitamin, but the next morning, I felt velcroed to the bed. I still had a sore throat. I called my employer and croaked that I wouldn't be at work. Being a cheapskate, I decided to try to get well on my own before seeing a doctor.

It’s Wednesday night, and I’m well again. Tuesday wasn’t bad, either--I did a boatload of work since I took Monday off. I had very little nasal congestion during this cold.

My strategies:

  • Vitamin D3 in 10,000 IU doses, two per day for two and a half days. I took two 5,000 IU doses today. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so take the oil form or eat something fatty with it.
  • Umcka Cold Care chewable tablets, three to five doses per day. It clears congestion without drying you out. Today I gave a tablet to a coworker who said she’d had a cold for a week, and within an hour, she said she was able to breathe again. It’s non-drowsy, too.
  • Carmex. I apply this just inside my nose; I think the menthol helps break up congestion. It’s not indicated for this use, so use your own judgment.
  • Ibuprofin. Three doses on Monday for my headache.
  • Chicken soup. Actually, homemade egg drop soup with garlic. Free range chicken broth, eggs, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, instructions from the book 500 Low-Carb Recipes and a few minutes over the stove were all it took to make the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.
  • No noodles! I find wheat very congesting. In fact, I was more congested last week on the day after I ate a few little cookies than I was during this cold.
  • Rest. Both Sunday and Monday, I went to bed when I was tired. Unless you absolutely have to keep going, there’s nothing stoic about trudging on when you’re tired and ill.
  • Nourishment. I had my usual protein shake and battery of vitamins for breakfast. Hungry or not, resting or not, your body needs nourishment to fight illness.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trouble Swallowing? Read This

Some of the most frightening experiences I've ever had were when food got stuck in my throat and I couldn't breathe. I've had the Heimlich Maneuver done to me a few times and have had to go to the hospital once I could breathe, but couldn't get the food to go up or down. The doctors injected me with Valium; when that didn't work on one occasion, they had to mechanically push down the calcium pill that was stuck. (Calcium causes muscle contraction; that may have had something to do with it being stuck so badly.) Since I seem to have found something that has ended my trouble swallowing food, I'm sure you'll understand why I feel like I've found the holy grail.

A few years ago, my swallowing problem got to the point that food was getting stuck in my throat a couple of times a week. A gastroenterologist did an endoscopy and found an esophageal ulcer, or hole in the lining of my throat. Food and phlegm were getting stuck there. I also had an acute infection of H. pylori, the bacteria that causes most stomach ulcers, and acid reflux. For some people, an esophageal ulcer or damage from acid reflux may be the cause of their trouble swallowing.

When I asked the gastroenterologists' nurse what caused someone like me, a thin person who ate small, low-fat meals, to have such bad reflux, she said, "Nobody knows." That's not true. Back in 1972, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution stated, "Nothing clears up on this diet [the Atkins Diet] more predictably than does heartburn."(1) Indeed, a low-carb diet cured my GERD, or heartburn, this year.

Nevertheless, I was still left with trouble swallowing even after the ulcer healed. Then I tried taking epsom salts for, ahem, a condition at the other end of the GI tract. Sausage, lettuce, fish, bacon--foods that used to get stuck regularly--all went down smoothly when I used the epsom salts. When I stopped, food got stuck again.

According to some abstracts of medical papers I've read, epsom salts reduce or even stop peristalsis, the muscle action involved in swallowing. It seems counterintuitive that epsom salts would help swallowing--unless the muscles in the throat are too tight. Magnesium, which along with sulfer is part of epsom salts, is a natural muscle relaxant. A case report similar to my situation was published in the journal Mineral and Electrolyte Metabolism(2):

Esophagography evidenced a disorder of esophagus motility [ability to move food] with diffuse multiple spasm, reminiscent of the ‘corkscrew esophagus’. A link with the severe hypomagnesemia (Mg 1.1 mEq/l, normal range 1.6–2.1) was suspected, and a therapy with oral pidolate of Mg (1.5 g/twice a day) was started and continued for 4 months. This was associated with a slow progressive normalization of the Mg plasma level and reverted radiographic esophageal findings with disappearance of dysphagia [trouble swallowing].
I'd been taking a magnesium supplement, but at 250 mg per day, it might not have been enough. I now take 500 mg per day of magnesium oxide/magnesium gluconate and 1/2 teaspoon of epsom salts per day. To make the epsom salts palatable, I mix about 8 oz water, a big pinch of Splenda, a few squirts of lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon of epsom salts and stir vigorously for a minute. If you want to use epsom salts, try a small dose at first--too much can upset your stomach and have a laxative effect.

UPDATE, December 3, 2010: This week, I had something get stuck, and this is what worked for me: I put some epsom salts under my tongue and squeezed the muscles on the back of my neck (it's an acupressure relaxation technique). It took a minute, but the bite went down, and I had no trouble during the rest of the meal. For emergencies, I've taken some empty capsules and filled them with epsom salts and carry them with me in a little pill box.


(1) Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution by Dr. Robert Atkins, 1972, p. 284.
(2) "Hypomagnesemia and Smooth Muscle Contractility: Diffuse Esophageal Spasm in an Old Female Patient" by Silvia Iannello, Maurizio Spina, Paolo Leotta, Marcella Prestipino, Sebastiano Spina, Nunziato Ricciardi, Francesco Belfiore, Mineral and Electrolyte Metabolism, 1998;24:348-356.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Turf Toe

The second most painful thing that ever happened to me was turf toe. (The worst was an infected tooth.) It's a common injury in football, wrestling and rugby; I managed to get it while dancing in my dining room. I was practicing a Charleston move called hacksaws when my right foot didn't clear the floor. It was like pounding my fist into the floor, except it was my foot. Basically, I sprained the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint of my big toe. For the next few weeks that winter, I shuffled around in my sandals, the only shoes I could get on my swollen foot. At least it wasn't snowing.

A few things helped my foot feel better. My doctor gave me a shot in my foot and put a dressing on it. (The dressing was another reason I could wear nothing but sandals that adjusted across the toes.) The shot took away some of the pain and swelling. Another thing that helped was acupressure. After a few minutes pressing points K3 and K6, especially, I could walk without pain. (I used the book Acupressure's Potent Points as a guide.) Getting my feet out of the way every time I heard my dog get ready to climb onto the bed became a reflex that lasted for months after I healed. I never noticed it until my bout with turf toe, but she often walked on my feet when she climbed on the bed.

I was able to run after a few weeks and could dance without pain after a month. (Of course, I didn't wait that long to dance again.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dance Class Lessons on Diet and Exercise

What would you expect to learn in a day of dance workshops? In four hours of dance classes today, I learned new rhythms, ironed out a few glitches of the lindy basic step, and got some valuable pointers for following. As a bonus, I saw some theories about diet and exercise illustrated.

The classmates I had lunch with were physically fit dancers who brought sandwiches or got a burger. The sandwiches had the grainy nuts-and-twigs style bread. Some of the sandwich and burger eaters remarked after lunch that it would be a good time for a nap. I'd had a low-carb lunch of coffee, sausage, egg and cheese and some raw, home-grown vegetables kindly shared by some classmates. Earlier, I'd had a homemade protein shake with olive oil and a piece of low-carb pumpkin pie. I felt relaxed and alert after lunch--very different from how tired I felt towards the end of a day of balboa classes in 2003 and a day of Charleston classes in 2007. The difference is, I think, because I didn't have any blood sugar crash this time. I went straight to the grocery store after the workshops and had to stop myself from bouncing through the aisles.

An observation on exercise: Even though I'd planned to go to the dance tonight, and I'm still not tired, I stayed home. I sat in front of the TV for 20 or 30 minutes after dinner, completely still, watching--wait for it--the main menu of Death Note--something I normally wouldn't do for more than 20 or 30 seconds. I might still be there if my dog hadn't barked at me to get her a snack. I don't feel tired or sore, I just don't have any desire to move. To me, this goes to show what some researchers say about exercise: it may cause you to burn fewer calories when you're not exercising. (Part of my lack of desire for tonight's dance is mental: all my partners today were wonderful, and I enjoyed them very much, but I just spent four hours dancing with them today, four hours dancing with them last night, and I'm going to be dancing with them again tomorrow. That's enough.)

A surprise today: my pants, which I couldn't zip back in January, were slightly loose. So much for a high-fat diet making you fat.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"It Makes my Teeth Hurt"

My sister Connie used to make green chili that was so hot you wouldn't have wanted to walk barefoot through it. Even our father couldn't eat it, and he likes spicy food. Our mom, on the other hand, can't tolerate anything remotely spicy.

For some reason, my mom's mouth recently became so sensitive that it was hard for her to eat anything. When she tried gargling with sesame oil, it helped her mouth feel better--even though she says it tastes awful.

I also had sensitive gums a few years ago--I think I was brushing too hard. Anything hot, cold or acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) really made them hurt. Avoiding these things helped, and so did brushing more gently with Sensodyne toothpaste. (I hadn't yet read about the benefits of sesame oil.)

Possibly, taking more zinc eating more fat has helped also. These are both good for your skin; they may be good for your gums also. And now that I no longer eat a starchy, sugary diet, I don't feel any need to brush hard, just normally and gently.

If your mouth hurts, try avoiding cinnamon, too: it's an irritant. Remember the bee-stung lips fad from a few years ago? Some of those plumpers used cinnamon as an active ingredient. For those who use cinnamon to slow gastric emptying, it's available in capsule form.

If it hurts to chew anything, let me share my protein shake recipe with you. This is what I have every morning; the supplements are optional.

1-1/2 cups water
1 heaping tablespoon rice protein powder (chocolate)
1 heaping tablespoon nut butter (without sugar or cinnamon)
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
2 GNC Hair, Skin & Nails Formula vitamins (optional)
250 mg magnesium (optional)
100 mg zinc (optional)
18 mg iron (optional)
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (required)

Put everything but the xanthan gum in a blender and blend until smooth. Add xanthan gum (or some other thickener) and blend again.