Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Eat Gluten-Free

Most food is just trash. -My mother

Go to a nice restaurant and first thing, they bring out a basket of bread.

Go to the grocery store and you'll find aisles and aisles of wheat products: cereal, cake mix, cookies, crackers, batter coated meat, noodles, baked goods, bread, and so on.

My mother, who loves pre-packaged food, tells me most of the rest of the packaged stuff has wheat, too.

And is there an office left that doesn't serve birthday cake at least once a month?

How do you avoid wheat or gluten for a month? (Why should you try? Read this--the benefits I've seen from a wheat-free diet.) A suggestion: if you find it hard to stop eating it once you start, then don't start. Let me tell you about my results with moderation and total elimination.

Moderation. In the late 90s, I saw a nutritionist for my acne and she said I should avoid eating wheat. I cut down on the wheat, but didn't quit it entirely. My skin saw some improvement, but that was about all as far as I can remember. Over the next several years, I see-sawed between avoiding and indulging.

In January this year, I again cut down on eating wheat to one day a week--usually, I had a few chocolate chip cookies. Doing so brought a lot of improvement. (I was eating "real food"--more about that later.) However, in the past, cheat day food had ended up creeping into other days. (Cheat creep?)

Total elimination. In February this year, I cut out wheat entirely. I've fallen off the wagon a few times since then, but it made me so miserable--think sinus congestion, reflux, stomach ache, water weight gain--that cheating carried its own punishment. The punishment was so effective that I still have frozen chocolate chip cookie dough from a year ago. I won't touch it.

Total elimination worked better for me than cutting down, or "moderation." Moderation works for some things and some people, but how often do people cut down on something and then indulge as much as before? It's like a dreadful on-again, off-again relationship. Like someone you shouldn't be with but keep going back to, wheat acts as an opiate. Some people even go through withdrawal when they quit. I also find wheat to be an appetite stimulant: I can't stop at one cookie, even though I'm disciplined in other respects. These things make it hard to eat wheat in moderation.

What to Eat Instead of Wheat
There are two general routes you can go: gluten-free junk food or "real food." When I cut back on gluten in the 90s, I went for the gluten-free junk like bread, pasta and frozen dinners and saw a little benefit, but not enough to make me sit up, take notice, and throw out the wheat forever. Gluten-free junk food will give you some benefits if your problem is strictly wheat or gluten intolerance. But if you're gluten intolerant (and maybe even if you're not(1)) and you've been eating the stuff, you have intestinal damage that prevents you from absorbing nutrients. You have deficiencies to make up for as your gut heals. Gluten-free versions of cookies, crackers, noodles and so on may not be any more nutritious than what you just quit. Look at the nutritional information for rice noodles. "The good," says "This food is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium." I'll add the bad: This food is low in everything but starch. And without preparation like soaking and sprouting, other grains that the junk food is made of have anti-nutrients, just like wheat. They may not provoke a reaction or damage your gut, for instance, but they'll bind to iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc, preventing you from absorbing them.

Gluten-free junk food might also spike your blood sugar. If you're often tired, especially an hour or two after a meal, if you get sugar cravings, if you're gaining weight, your blood sugar may be wonky. You can check with a blood glucose meter, available for $10 at Walgreens, or you can borrow one if you know a diabetic. Click here to see how to test your blood sugar. Note--even if a fasting blood sugar test at the doctor's office showed normal blood sugar, keep in mind that it's post-meal spikes that cause the problems.

Then there's the real food route: nutritious food like meat (the original superfood), eggs, fish, veg, cheese, nuts, and, I'll concede, some good carbs like certain fruits and starchy vegetables for people who can tolerate them. Boring? Yes, in the way that my die-hard Toyota always starts right up and gets me where I want to go in comfort and without incident. I admit a skateboard might be more exciting. Unlike the gluten-free junk food, the diet of real food and no wheat did make me sit up, take notice, and throw out the wheat forever because, at age 41, I had more energy than I did in my 20s. On this diet, I'm consistently energetic, in good shape and well cared for--like the Toyota. I don't want to be a skateboard. They take too much abuse.

I use 500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender and The Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson to keep my diet from getting monotonous. If you're a die-hard grain and bean lover and you can tolerate carbs, try Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon; it has instructions for processing grains and beans to neutralize anti-nutrients.

I don't feel like I'm missing anything without wheat. My tastes changed and I literally don't recognize a lot of grainy junk food anymore. I tried some peanut and M&M mix the other day, and it didn't taste like food. I looked at another jar of junk for a minute and still couldn't tell what was in it. I can't identify what some of my coworkers eat for lunch. That's not to say I eat perfectly, just that I don't miss wheat products.

Is a diet of "real food" expensive? I can tell you that switching to a low-carb diet raised my grocery spending only $13 per month and saved me $958.36 per year when I accounted for health care and skin care spending. If you're living on cereal, pasta and sandwiches, your grocery bill will go up a lot more--but your spending on doctor visits, skin creams, pain relievers and stomach medicines and even lost wages from sick days may drop like a rock.

Does it take a lot of time to prepare real food? I don't think so. Grocery shopping is quick and easy when you shop the meat counter, produce section and dairy section instead of trolling the aisles of pre-packaged food. Reading labels doesn't take long when there are only four or five ingredients. And I can pack a lunch faster than I can go out and buy one (it takes practice).

Want to take the plunge? You'll have a lot of company. Matt Lentzner has challenged people to try a gluten-free January and as of December 22, 120 people had signed up. Good luck!

(1) "Gluten can cause intestinal damage in celiacs AND non-celiacs," Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, Volume 41, Number 4, March 2006 , pp. 408-419(12)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Try Gluten-Free?

I'm not into giving up foods without good reason. I've given up certain foods because, through trial and error, I've learned they make me feel lousy. Some people preach moderation, but I don't want to feel well in moderation. I want to feel fantastic, preferably all the time. For me, that's required giving up wheat, which contains gluten. When I gave up wheat, I lost weight, my appetite ratcheted way down, most of my bloating disappeared, I had more energy, and my chronic sinus congestion eventually went away, among other benefits.

Your own reaction to a food is a great reason to eat it or not, but there are some iffy reasons people more or less permanently give up or moderate certain foods:

  • An observational study stating A is associated with B isn't a good reason. (See this, this, this and this.)
  • "Because my doctor said so" isn't necessarily a good reason, either: doctors aren't required to know anything useful about nutrition. I'm related to two doctors--one with a specialty in nutrition--and neither one can control his own weight. When I asked a gastroenterologist how to relieve my bloating, he looked clueless and--I swear I'm not making this up--said a lot of ladies found relief by eating yogurt. (The link is to a TV ad for yogurt that was around at the time, stating the same thing.) Never mind that the lactose in yogurt gives some people bloating. Nor did he know a diet that would relieve my acid reflux.
  • Because a "health" organization said so isn't a good reason: "nonprofit" doesn't mean free from corruption. See this, this, this, and this.
  • Even other people's success on a certain eating plan isn't necessarily a good reason to follow that plan. Some people do well as vegetarians; for others, it's an epic fail. Some people feel great when they give up caffeine, dairy, or nightshades; that doesn't mean you or I would, too. I was on an eating plan that made me lose weight, and a few years later, gain it back.
  • Conventional wisdom: take a look around and see what it's done for the majority of people.

To my mind, the best reason to give up a food is because it makes you sick.

I gave up wheat and fruit permanently because fruit gave me acid reflux and wheat because it gave me a long list of ailments. Looking back at my blog entries on wheat, here's what happened when I stopped eating it:

...the bloating is gone. My clothes fit a little better. My belly is flatter. I immediately felt a little thinner. Much of the urge to snack [and] stuff myself [are gone].

  • My cravings for junk food have disappeared. I've stopped snacking on caramel corn, chocolate and diet soda on my non-free days. I eat two tiny pieces of chocolate per day, at most.
  • My hair stays clean longer.
  • Certain foods taste better. Coconut chai tea tastes like a candy bar in a cup (yes, I drink it straight) and even sardines taste better.
  • Since I got a scale ten days ago, I've lost two pounds. I even had to tighten the straps on my backpack today.
  • Three happy words: no menstrual pain.
  • I have more energy. If I were a horse, my name would be Secretariat.
Sunday, April 4, 2010, I wrote about falling off the wagon.

But eating that cookie [made with wheat] gave me a stomach ache, acid reflux for two days and painful nasal congestion--the viscous, sticky kind that won't move--for four days.

I didn't record this on my blog, but I recall it because it was remarkable. On February 7, 2010 (my birthday), a friend and I went out for lunch and shared a small piece of bread pudding. The next day, I was three pounds heavier. It was just water weight that went away the next day--but who wants to carry around three extra pounds of water?

I don't promise that giving up wheat in general or gluten in particular will do these things for you. But if you'd like to try eliminating gluten for, say, the month of January to see if your health, weight, congestion or energy improve, here is some food for thought:

  • There's no requirement for wheat in the human diet. We haven't consumed wheat for the vast majority of our existence.
  • Yes, we've been eating wheat for some 10,000 years or more, but the wheat that people eat now is very, very different from what was consumed in the days of old. See this. (Dr. Davis and some of his friends sampled some bread made of ancient wheat, and found it didn't provoke certain reactions like high blood sugar and stomach pain that modern wheat gives them. Posts are here; go to June 2010.)
  • Some wheat products are fortified with vitamins and minerals that are stripped out during processing, but you'll get even more nutrients from foods like meat, fish, eggs and non-starchy veg (think salads).
  • Wheat, unless it's prepared in a specific way, contains antinutrients that bind to iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc, preventing you from absorbing them. See this post.

In my next post, I'll share some strategies for avoiding wheat--and satisfying your appetite.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What a Difference a Year Made

Merry Christmas! In a little while, I'll be with my family, celebrating with a low-carb Christmas dinner. We'll be snacking on the low-carb goodies I made for them yesterday: low-carb chocolate peanut butter cookies, pate, roasted almonds, and some goat cheese I bought. Why low-carb? Because in the past year, cutting down on carbs has solved so many problems for me and my mother.

A year ago today when I started this blog, I was eating a high-carb (~180 grams per day), low-fat, adequate protein diet. I was scheduled for a root canal. I needed acid blockers, four-hour naps every weekend, frequent meals, and visits to the chiropractor. I was also anemic and putting on weight. This, even though I ate so-called "good carbs" and worked out six days a week.

In January, I cut out wheat and began slowly losing weight and feeling less bloated. In February, I cut way, way down on all carbs (to around 50 grams per day) and the fat fell off fast. My need for the naps, frequent meals and back cracking evaporated. My chronic congestion and acid reflux went away and my shoulder stopped hurting. (One of my dance teachers made the same comment about her knee: sugar makes it hurt.) My teeth are whiter and healthier, too. Those so-called "good carbs" or "complex carbohydrates" are, except for fiber, just starch. They're sugar molecules holding hands. When you eat starch, it turns into sugar.

My mother is diabetic, so it's extremely important for her to limit carbs. She, too, eliminated wheat--even though she once said she never would. She understands what raises her blood sugar, and has gotten it into a range that shouldn't cause organ and tissue damage. (It was 99 this morning.)

But the biggest change I've seen in both of us is that our spirits and energy have risen. My hairstylist remarked that I'd gotten in touch with my inner 12-year-old; my mom has never been so happy. Was that the hole in our souls--too much sugar and a lack of dietary fat?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Last-minute gifts are usually crummy--but they don't have to be. Pretty much everybody likes treats, and a lot of people prefer homemade gifts (if only for the spirit of the thing).

Think about giving some delicious, homemade low-carb goodies. Just note that some people are sensitive to artificial sweeteners. Let them know if you've used that or any ingredients they might not expect.

No hidden carb fudge. I've made this, and it's fantastic. Easy, too. Recipe courtesy of the Blood Sugar 101 site, so this should be appropriate for diabetic loved ones, or anyone who absolutely has to watch their blood sugar.

Cinnamon-Roasted Almonds. This sounds awesome, and it's highly rated. Substitute Splenda for sugar, 1:1. I just might make this tonight.

Homemade mayonnaise. An unusual gift, but my mother actually requested this. She needs a few spoonfuls of the good stuff because she doesn't want to use the lumpy, clumpy stuff from the store. She'll be pleasantly surprised to get a whole jar. Note--use extra light olive oil. If you use the extra virgin olive oil, it'll taste a little off. And I make mayonnaise in the blender, covering the top of it as best I can while it's mixing. It takes me about five minutes to make it. If you don't have lemon or lime juice, you can use vinegar, but to me, it's not quite as good.

Strawberry cups. I haven't tried this, but it sounds good, and it's by Dana Carpender. The recipe calls for putting it in cups, but you could put it all in one dish.

Cheese and wine. OK, not homemade, but easy, generally welcome, and in good taste. One of the best cheeses I've tried is raw goat milk smoked mild cheddar cheese made by Mt. Sterling. Some good wines: Mark West or La Crema pinot noir; white wine enthusiasts might enjoy Bex reisling from Germany, my favorite at a recent wine tasting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Want Easy Meals? Don't Light the Oven

I've just figured out why I've never found it hard to cook for one person, or to make everything from scratch. It's not cooking talent--I've never invented a recipe. It's not fancy equipment--I have a basic stove, a 30-year-old microwave, a one-speed blender, a hand-crank food processor, and very basic pots, pans, cutlery and utensils--nothing else. It's not that I have a lot of time, either, being gone 11 hours a day.

Here's my secret: Don't light the oven.

Why this works: food that can be steamed, boiled, fried or cooked in a pressure cooker (that is, cooked on the stove top) tends to be fast and easy to prepare. Food that doesn't need to be cooked at all tends to be even easier. Baking and roasting, on the other hand, take a long time, and the recipes tend to involve a lot of steps. It heats up the house, too. Living in a house without central air conditioning, I'm opposed to lighting the oven in the summer. Baked and roasted recipes often make a lot of food, too. If you cook just for yourself, you might not be able to eat all the leftovers in time. Stove top cooking lends itself to individual portions.

This rule also helps steer you away from making bread, cookies, cake, brownies, lasagna, pie, pizza, noodle casseroles, baked potatoes, and other high-carb junk.

Food I make using this rule: omelets, deviled eggs, sausage, bacon, burgers, steamed veg, cheese sauce, fried chicken, salad, salad dressing, a small roast (cook it in the pressure cooker--a good dish if you have company), liver, braised oxtail, kelp chips, steamed veg, ranch dip, fried cabbage, sauteed mushrooms, no-hidden-carb fudge, pate (for special occasions--it involves a lot of steps), a veg/olive/cheese plate, and any kind of soup.

Once in a while, I make exceptions to the don't-light-the-oven rule. I make low-carb pumpkin pie a few times a year, I soak and roast nuts (which is really easy), I broil meat now and then (which is fast), and I'll bake something if I really have a craving for it. But 95% of the time, I don't light the oven.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nose Job Healed after Eleven Short Years

Eleven years after my nose job, my nose has finally healed.

Back in 1999, I had septoplasty to straighten the inside of my nose. My doctor told me it would help me prevent my frequent sinus infections. (It didn't.) For the first time, I could breathe through both sides of my nose at once, but at the cost of constant nosebleeds. The septum (the cartilage inside the center of the nose) didn't heal until a few weeks ago.

Last May--seven months ago--I started taking megadoses of zinc. The nosebleeds mostly stopped. Then a few weeks ago after reading an abstract(1) on iron interfering with zinc absorption, I began taking iron at night and zinc in the morning. (According to the article, the interference applies only to non-food sources of the minerals. Go ahead and have your surf and turf without worry.)

An aside: since taking my iron and zinc at different times, I've been able to cut down on the magnesium. I went from 750 mg to 500 mg per day.

Over the past year, I've taken some other steps to improve my vitamin and mineral absorption: I eat very little grain (it's full of antinutrients), I soak and roast nuts and pumpkin seeds before eating them to neutralize their antinutrients, I stopped taking acid blockers (made possible through a low-carb diet), and I eat a good deal of fat with every meal. I don't drink coffee or tea within a few hours of taking an iron pill. I didn't do all these things to end my nosebleeds--but that's been one of the benefits. (I'm planning a post on all the health improvements I've seen on Christmas day, this blog's one-year anniversary.)

At long last, I've healed. The nosebleeds have all but stopped, even though this has been one of the driest winters I can remember.

What I Should have Done Instead of Septoplasty
  • I should have stopped eating wheat, and really, any other grains. I find wheat very congesting. The congestion gives germs a place to get a foothold and cause an infection.
  • I should have left the engineering field years sooner than I did. How can something that's so unstable be so dull? I work for an old, conservative, stable CPA firm now. Compared to the engineering field, it's like Animal House. I had constant sinus infections in college and for five years afterward bouncing around the job market. (However, I spent the first year out of college working on a loading dock where the air was so dirty my snot was gray. No sinus infections, though.) I left the field ten years ago and haven't had a sinus infection since.

Thinking about Having a Nose Job (Rhinoplasty)?
Unless you're knocking things over with your nose, or you're planning to trade on your good looks, don't. If you think it'll improve your chances of finding a mate, have you seen some of the married uggos out there? If my experience is any indication, plastic surgery is real surgery with real risks, blood, temporary splints sewn into your nose, drainage, vomiting, and a number of days of mouth-breathing and precious vacation days spent recovering. Fix everything else about your looks before thinking about surgery--you might change your mind.

What Not do Do
Don't take Flonase (an inhaled steroid). It doesn't help much, may make you worse, and increases your risk for diabetes.

(1) "Studies on the bioavailability of zinc in humans: effects of heme and nonheme iron on the absorption of zinc" by NW Solomons and RA Jacob. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 1981 vol. 34 no. 4 475-482.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Braised Oxtail Deliciousness

I wrote a few days ago that oxtail might be an acquired taste--but found that to be mostly wrong tonight when I had braised oxtail for dinner. It looked just as good as the picture on Steffen's Dinners blog, whose recipe I used, even though I made a few changes to reduce the carbs. More on that in a minute.

The meat had the texture of ribs, the flavor of a beef roast, and was fatty-oily like duck. The bigger pieces tasted better than the small piece, which was a little gamey.

I omitted the turnips (mostly because I don't like them), used only one tomato, and served it with mushrooms instead of pasta. That was another new food tonight--some mushrooms that looked and felt like little white sponges. I sliced one and sauteed it in butter--wonderful!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Avoiding Sugar: Lessons from a Diabetic in a Sugar Shack

"It's the most fattening time of the year." -Bob Rivers

My mother enjoys telling people she lives in a crack house. That's true, metaphorically speaking: she has a raging case of diabetes and a husband who lives on sweets and starch and offers them to her every day. (He's diabetic too--he just doesn't care.)

The junk food temptations people deal with at holidays are part of everyday life for my mother. Her stakes are high: an average person might gain ten or fifteen pounds over a month of indulgence, but two bites of healthywholegrainoatmeal sends my mom's blood sugar over 200--the definition of diabetes. Blood sugars at that level can cause tissue and organ damage.

I asked Mom what her strategies were for resisting starchy food--which she loves. Her answer:

I just don't eat it.

Why not?

It raises my blood sugar.


About an hour later.

What happens?

I don't feel good. I get nervous and shaky and I can't write.

I've seen my mother when her blood sugar is jacked up. She gets so tired she can't stay awake. Since she's the bookkeeper and writes all the Christmas cards in the household, and does these things by hand, it's not good if she can't write.

Any other strategies?

I have some sugar-free candy, and I eat cereal about three times a year.

Breakfast cereal is the food she misses most.

A few other observations: my mother cut way back on the carbs because she was desperate to get well. She was in a rehab center for back surgery and ensuing complications from neglect and an assault. She'd been there so long she started to forget what her own house looked like. Laying off the carbs brought her fasting blood sugar from the mid-200s to the low 100s. (Yes, that was her fasting blood sugar after she came home and went on a carbohydrate bender. Her own records show some fasting blood sugars in the 300s. Her blood sugar level takes a long time to come down, just like mine.)

Even if you don't have diabetes, it's not a bad idea to avoid overindulging. I've noticed that even healthy young people tend to get tired an hour or two after a carby meal. Just today, the building's management had a free chocolate fest in the lobby at 2:00. Most of my coworkers rushed down there like--well, like there was free chocolate in the lobby. Just over an hour later, one of them said "God, I'm so tired." Someone else said she didn't feel good. (Does that sound familiar--feeling lousy and tired an hour after eating a bunch of sugar?) I didn't go to the chocolatorium because I knew my self control would have folded and I'd have felt lousy along with them.

A strategy I used to avoid the chocolate orgy was to bring a big lunch. I was full from chicken, veg with ranch dip, cheese and olives and wasn't hungry for dessert.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Buying Nutrients by the Pound

There's a food group that seems to be getting some much deserved love. It's inexpensive, full of nutrients, all natural, it's been eaten for millennia, and it's easy to prepare. It's variety meat--liver, oxtail, and various organ meats. (The downside is that some of these are an acquired taste.)

Vitamin Cottage was out of beef liver today, so I went to Denver Urban Homesteaders. Bill Flentje at the Ranch Direct Foods counter said he's been selling cuts that are normally unpopular, like the oxtail and liver I bought. (Salmon was selling well, too, and someone bought five pounds of liverwurst.) But the t-bone steaks weren't moving.

Are people buying nutrients by the pound? I don't know, but check the vitamin and mineral content of beef liver here (set the serving size to 100g). (Notice you'd have to eat seven cups of spinach to get that much iron.) Now look at the nutrients in a t-bone (set the serving size to 100 grams to compare). It doesn't even come close to liver on iron and B vitamins. And for any lipophobes out there, liver has little fat, and only 1 gram of saturated fat in a 100-gram serving.

I couldn't find nutritional data on oxtail, but a large part of the portions are bone and marrow. Since calcium and magnesium are stored mostly in the bone, it seems likely that this cut would have a lot of those minerals.

The cost of the different cuts, according to my receipt and the Ranch Foods Direct web site:
Calf liver: $2.69 per pound
Oxtail: $3.99 per pound
T-bone: $15.69 per pound.

I'll let readers decide whether it's worth their while to develop a taste for liver and oxtail. (Hint: cook liver at a low temperature in butter--don't overcook it.)

UPDATE: I found information on oxtail here. It's higher in protein, calcium and iron than t-bone, lower in fat and has no saturated fat. In most other respects, its nutrition is similar to the t-bone.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Traumatic Brain Injury Afflicts How Many Vets?

Have you seen or heard the ads for a nonprofit that aids veterans? "One in five returning vets has a traumatic brain injury." I pictured thousands of troops returning from duty, unable to perform everyday tasks--and the image didn't seem realistic. What does the statistic on the radio ad really mean?

First, the image of severe brain damage doesn't apply to every case. According to the Mayo Clinic,

Traumatic brain injury is usually the result of a sudden, violent blow to the head — which launches the brain on a collision course with the inside of the skull. This collision can bruise the brain, tear nerve fibers and cause bleeding.

Traumatic brain injury may also be caused by objects such as bullets or even a shattered piece of the skull entering brain tissue.

The severity of traumatic brain injury can vary greatly, depending on the part of the brain affected and the extent of the damage. A mild traumatic brain injury may cause temporary confusion and headache, but a serious one can be fatal.
It sounds like what used to be called a concussion, and that there's a wide variation in the severity of injury.

Now, where does the one-in-five figure come from?

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine(1) reports,

According to the Joint Theater Trauma Registry, compiled by the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, 22 percent of the wounded soldiers from these conflicts [in Iraq and Afghanistan] who have passed through the military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany had injuries to the head, face, or neck. This percentage can serve as a rough estimate of the fraction who have TBI, according to Deborah L. Warden, a neurologist and psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who is the national director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). Warden said the true proportion is probably higher, since some cases of closed brain injury are not diagnosed promptly. (emphasis mine)
In 2006, another group of doctors did an "anonymous survey of 2714 soldiers from two U.S. Army combat infantry brigades — one Active Component and one Reserve Component (Army National Guard) — 3 to 4 months after their return from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. The units saw high levels of combat, similar to those of other infantry units." Of those who responded, 15% had suffered injuries and symptoms defined as "mild traumatic brain injury."(2) (The survey didn't seem to be looking at those who had more severe brain injuries.) What did they consider a mild brain injury?

A soldier was considered to have had a mild traumatic brain injury if any of three questions — regarding “losing consciousness (knocked out),” “being dazed, confused, or `seeing stars,'” or “not remembering the injury” — elicited a positive response.
This raises the question, What portion of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are combat infantry? An article in the New York Times(3) reads, "According to Pentagon statistics, about 23 percent of the troops currently assigned to the Iraq mission conduct primarily combat jobs."

In other words, perhaps 15% of combat infantrymen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan sustain mild brain injuries (probably, fewer of them sustain more serious brain injuries) and around 22% of badly wounded troops have traumatic brain injuries.

If we assume that non-combat troops are a lot less likely to be wounded, and that most troops aren't wounded at all, and that many troops are assigned to places other than Iraq and Afghanistan, the one-in-five vets having traumatic brain injuries sounds unrealistically high.

(1) "Traumatic Brain Injury in the War Zone," New England Journal of Medicine, May 19, 2005

(2) "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in U.S. Soldiers Returning from Iraq" by Charles W. Hoge, M.D., Dennis McGurk, Ph.D., Jeffrey L. Thomas, Ph.D., Anthony L. Cox, M.S.W., Charles C. Engel, M.D., M.P.H., and Carl A. Castro, Ph.D. New England Journal of Medicine, January 31, 2008

(3) Pulling Out Combat Troops Would Still Leave Most Forces in Iraq by By THOM SHANKER, New York Times, Published: December 10, 2006.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Got Gallstones?

If you have gallstones, you must check out the Fat Fiction blog at Mike W., who writes the blog, started researching medical literature after suffering from gallstone attacks. Based on this, he has developed a theory of how gallstones form and how they can be eliminated. The short answer for eliminating them: you need sufficient minerals (especially magnesium), you must eliminate gluten (an antinutrient) from your diet, reduce other antinutrients such as grains, legumes and sugar, avoid trigger foods, and take certain supplements. (Hmmm, this sounds familiar--kind of like this post on absorbing vitamins and minerals.)

I believe Mike is also planning to show before and after pictures of his gallbladder in five months to show how much the stones have dissolved. God speed!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Low-cost, Highly Effective Exercise

Want to exercise without spending a lot of money? If you're self-motivated and don't have health problems like a touchy back or a heart condition, consider working out at home. I've worked out at home for years and prefer it to going to a gym. When you work out at home, there are no dues, no commute, no public shower, and no pressure to buy expensive workout clothes and puffy, high-tech shoes. I exercise barefoot in the summer and in basic canvas tennis shoes in the winter. I work out on my own schedule to my own music or enjoy the quiet. There's no pressure to keep up with others.

I use Fred Hahn’s Slow Burn method of weightlifting (see Exercise without Joint Pain). All I need are four sets of free weights, a yoga mat, a fan, a timer and a metronome. The last two items are free online (links are in the Exercise without Joint Pain post). I do this workout twice a week.

Keep safety in mind, especially if you work out alone. Get familiar with any machines you use so you don’t, for instance, do a face plant on your treadmill. My dog loves the treadmill, and accidentally got on from the front once. If she hadn’t been quick enough to jump off, she’d have been conveyed smack into the door. Weightlifting can be hazardous, too. When I was in an engineering design class, one group designed a device to lift a bench press barbell so that the weightlifter wouldn’t need a spotter. The discussion moved to the on-off switch, and a wiseguy in the class suggested the Clapper. Kidding aside, an acquaintance believes that she ruined her knee doing aerobics (which included pivoting on her foot) on a carpeted floor, which twisted her knee. If your workout involves pivoting on your foot, I suggest using a hard, smooth floor and dance shoes, ballet slippers or sueded tennis shoes. Your knee isn’t meant to be torqued. And if you're bouncing around, trust a dancer on this: you need padded shoes AND good landing technique, although even that might not be enough to prevent injuries.

Cardio exercise is fine if you enjoy it, but I haven't observed it to be a good means of weight loss. A recent study bears this out. I've taken cardio classes, and I've been a swing dancer for eight years. I can't think of one person in either scene who slimmed down; I can think of a few who gained weight. (See my posts on weight loss if that's what you're interested in.)

Common sense suggests starting out moderately to learn what your limits are, then building in intensity. Think about progress, not perfection.