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A Mystery, A Warning, and a Solution

If this were a short story, it would be full of foreshadowing. But like a good mystery, it's hard to connect the dots until the end. If you can't, don't worry--I'll tie it together at the end.

  • I follow a mostly lacto-paleo diet and live pretty cleanly. But I've had a sinus infection for a month, and it's survived one and a half rounds of antibiotics. 
  • I normally eat liver once a week, but haven't had the stomach for it lately. (Even when I'm well, I'm not a liver lover.)
  • A few months ago, I started buying those big, dark chocolate bars--the 70% cocoa ones--and eating one per weekend. (I know what I said last night about hating sweets. It seems to be fruity sweets that I hate; maybe they remind me of medicine.)
  • I started dreading my breakfast smoothie of butter, hot water, pumpkin pie spice and vitamins, even though I like the taste. I sometimes skipped it on the weekend. The vitamins included large doses of zinc and magnesium, a middling dose of potassium, and some GNC Hair, Skin & Nail vitamins. 
  • A few weeks ago, I started watching the video "Mello's Chocolate Party" about 10 times a day. (No link--the naughty bits aren't suitable for a family web site.) I even ordered a CD with the song "Chocolate (Choco Choco)."
  • The other night, I ate all the nuts I'd had around the house for months. Yesterday I raided the cashew jar at work.

Patterns: Large doses of zinc and magnesium. Cravings for the chocolate and nuts, aversions to fruity sugar and the vitamin drink. (Butter and spices still appealed to me, though.) No big change regarding liver, except that I didn't eat it as much. And a persistent infection. Get it? Neither did I. So I went to Dr. Michael Eades's Protein Power blog, searched for "infection" and got my answer, which I should have done a month ago.

Dr. Eades read about a young doctor, Lisa Pastel, whose patient developed a severe, seemingly intractable infection.

In going over the patient’s list of supplements [the patient's] doctor noted that along with his multivitamin that patient was taking extra vitamin A and zinc. In fact, he had been taking 10 times the recommended amount of vitamin A and 15 times the recommended amount of zinc. His doctor read up on these supplements and learned that excess zinc could cause all the problems that her patient was suffering, not because of the excess zinc itself, but because of the copper deficiency the excess zinc causes.

The doctor suspended the vitamin regimen and within days, the patient's white blood cell count was normal. (As you know, white blood cells fight infections.)

Dr. Eades cautions low-carbers:

We modern humans typically eat the muscle meats of animals. We eat steak and ham and chicken and lamb chops and pork chops....All the organ meats, especially liver, are rich sources of copper. Other foods our ancient ancestors would have eaten–seeds, nuts, and shellfish–are also rich sources. If you eat a lot of these as part of your ‘modern’ low-carb diet, you probably get plenty of copper. If you stick mainly with the muscle meats and low-carb fruits and veggies, you’ll be getting a lot of zinc, but may be walking the low-copper tightrope.

What to do?

One bright spot is that dark chocolate and cocoa are rich sources of copper, so if you can make your chocolate-coated nuts and/or your hot chocolate low-carb, you’re in business.

Chocolate-coated nuts for my health: hooray! I also ordered some sweetbreads (thymus glands, high in copper and vitamin C) from my butcher and had homemade hot cocoa for dinner. (1/2 c water, 1/2 c cream, heated in a pan, add 1T cocoa and 1t Splenda, stir and serve.) It tasted good on this cold, rainy night. I think I'll have it tomorrow for breakfast, too. Sans vitamins, except for D. I've been taking a large dose of zinc for a long time, seemingly without ill effect. Perhaps this means I'm no longer deficient in zinc.

"Low Carb Diets and Copper" by Michael Eades, MD. November 13, 2006.

"The Healing Problem" by Lisa Sanders, MD. New York Times. November 12, 2006.


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