Sunday, November 27, 2011

This is me without the B

I mentioned a few days ago I'd stopped taking my new multivitamins with megadoses of vitamin B. I haven't resumed taking the GNC Hair, Skin & Nails vitamins, which also have vitamin B but in a moderate amount. Based on a few incidents, I believe that added vitamin B was making me lethargic and depressed. I don't believe added vitamin B has those effects on most people, but I may be sensitive to it.

I don't know if the change in my vitamin regimen had anything to do with it, but today I got up at 3:30 a.m. (couldn't sleep), washed the clothes, washed the curtains, cleaned the refrigerator, finished painting the living room and entry (a project I started in April and resumed yesterday), cleaned, repaired and painted the heat registers, dropped off a bunch of items at Goodwill, did the grocery shopping, skipped dinner, and watched a movie at my parents' house. (Except for the painting, that's typically what I might get done in a week, outside my job.) It's 10:47 p.m., and only my eyes are tired. The rest of me could go dancing.

I wasn't fueled by a Thanksgiving leftover carbohydrate bender. Breakfast was sausage and a poached egg with decaf coffee and cream; lunch was prosciutto, half an avocado, olives, mushrooms, cheese, and low-carb ice cream; and I snacked on about two-thirds of a high-cocoa chocolate bar, and a spoon of almond butter before going to my parents' house, where I had some pork rinds with cream cheese and a few chocolates. If nothing else, it refutes the old "gotta have carbs for energy" chestnut. Funny how all those carbs at a typical Thanksgiving dinner don't make anyone energetic. It must be all those tryptophans from eating two slices of turkey.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unifying Theory of Holiday Dinners

You've probably attended a family holiday dinner like this: the dinner is served a few hours late, the adults are slumped in front of the TV, and the kids run around the house screaming. What can account for these different behaviors?

It could be what I've heard called sugar hangover, and when I say sugar, I mean carbohydrates in general. Consider a typical Thanksgiving Day: breakfast is some combination of cereal, juice, toast, jam, fruit, waffles, granola bars, pastries, yogurt, smoothies, and so on. It's all high carb food. Four hours later, everyone's blood sugar has crashed. For most adults, this means feeling tired and hungry. They won't snack because they don't want to ruin their appetite for dinner. For kids, though, some research has shown that they get a big adrenaline rush when their blood sugar crashes. Adrenaline is the fight-or-flight hormone--the one that sends them screaming around the house while their parents are too tired to send them outside to play.

As for the dinner being late, putting on a big dinner takes prep work, timing, planning, and skill, and it's a project that most people do once a year at most. Getting the dinner on the table on time when you're focused, energetic and organized isn't easy; doing it when you're tired and foggy headed from falling blood sugar is a tall order.

How to have a happier Thanksgiving: do as much prep work as possible the day before. On the big day, have a light breakfast of eggs, cheese, or a slice of ham--just enough so you're not hungry. Find something to occupy the kids or send them outside to play. At dinner, take a little more meat, olives and green beans, and a little less potato, stuffing and cranberries. Have a sliver of pie and some coffee or chai tea with heavy cream, or skip the pie altogether. Your mood, stomach, and waistline will be the better for it.

"Health: New Data on Sugar and Child Behavior," by Jane E. Brody, New York Times, May 10, 1990.

"Study Sees a Sugar-Adrenaline Link in Children," by Jane E. Brody, New York Times, March 15, 1995.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vitamin B Run Amok; Vitamin D on Target

Although it's been some time since I got over my sinus infection (after three rounds of antibiotics, the last of which ended a month ago), I haven't felt quite right: lethargic, unmotivated, and painfully bored. As I took my new multi-vitamin pill Friday morning, I thought, "It's just like that time I had those drinks with the B vitamins." (See Feb. 13 comment in linked post.) Indeed, the vitamin pill label showed B vitamins in amounts 25 to 33 times the recommended daily allowances. This was for three tablets, and was taking only one, but that's still way over the top. Even a 100-gram serving of liver has B vitamins in the low single milligrams, or less, not the 50-gram doses of B-1, B-2 and B-6 and the 200 microgram dose of B-12 per three tablets of the vitamin. The bottle recommends taking three to six pills daily. Of course, I stopped taking the vitamins, and today I felt peppy enough to try a new hairdo, buy some clothes and take my dog to the dog park.

This may be another reason I feel better not eating wheat: wheat flour is enriched with B vitamins. Not in the amounts contained in the vitamins, but still several times the amount in a piece of meat, I see from looking around on Apparently, I get all I need from eating meat. Last week, I had a wonderful balsamic vinegar glazed lamb dish at a restaurant, and I've gotten a few new cookbooks. One is called The Odd Bits by Jennifer McLagan; the other is French Cooking in Ten Minutes by Edouard de Pomaine. Both gave me great new ways of cooking cuts of meat I was tepid about. More on that in a future post.

I've had good results with some other vitamins: my vitamin D level is now 52, just within the ideal range of 50-80. Using some information from the Heart Scan blog, I took 3,000 IUs per day. I also used less sunscreen this summer (I have to use some to keep from burning).

Just to be clear, your results may vary with different vitamin dosages. I seem to have an odd sensitivity to B vitamins in anything but very moderate amounts. Some people require B supplements.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fodmaps Diet: Why Not DIY?

The Wall Street Journal has, for once, run a useful health article: "When Everyday Foods are Hard to Digest" by Melinda Beck, November 8, 2011. The article says what some of us have known for awhile: certain carbohydrates can cause digestive problems for some people.

Now, a small but growing contingent of specialists is focusing on food intolerances as a possible culprit—and a new dietary approach, called the low-Fodmaps diet, is gaining attention around the world.
The theory is that many people with IBS have trouble absorbing certain carbohydrates in their small intestines. Large molecules of those foods travel to the colon, where they are attacked by bacteria and ferment, creating the telltale IBS symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.
A long list of foods—including dairy products, some fruits and vegetables, wheat, rye, corn syrup and artificial sweeteners—can potentially create such problems in susceptible people. Collectively, they're known as Fodmaps, an acronym that for stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.

I didn't have IBS, but I did have GERD so bad that it gave me an esophageal ulcer. Apples and wheat in particular--two foods on the article's eliminate list--were among the worst for giving me gas and bloating. An illustration in the article is a handy guide for which foods to eliminate and what to replace them with. But don't try this on your own!

For now, he [Dr. William Chey, director of the Gastrointestinal Physiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan Health System] and other experts say that because so many foods have Fodmap components and that reintroducing them can be tricky, IBS sufferers shouldn't try the diet on their own. But a growing number of dieticians are being trained in it— has started a registry—and academic medical centers are starting to offer it, too.

I know most of the public hasn't gone to medical school, but how tricky can it be to eliminate foods on a list for awhile and then slowly add them to see if they cause a problem? Given that it can take months to get an appointment with a gastroenterologist, people suffering from digestive problems might cure themselves while they're waiting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sybil: Multiple Personality, Hoax, or Vitamin Deficiency?

After [Dr. Connie Wilbur's] presentation a Q & A followed, and someone asked how [recovered multiple personality disorder patient] Sybil was doing. Connie's answer was brief, almost throwaway. Sybil had lived for a long time without much energy, she said, because in addition to everything else that was wrong with her, she had suffered for years from a disease called pernicious anemia.

Another audience member followed with an unrelated question, and that was the end of pernicious anemia and Sybil. No one stopped to think about the bombshell Connie had just revealed. -from the book Sybil Exposed(1)

My, how times have changed. In days of old, people who acted strangely enough were said to be possessed and put through bizarre and dangerous rituals to cure them.

Wait, we're still living in that era. Change "possessed" to "multiple personality disorder" (or "dissociative identity disorder" as it's called now) and you have the story of Sybil, a woman whose 16 separate personalities were brought on by child abuse, which shattered her life. Psychiatrist Connie Wilbur treated her for 11 years, integrated the personalities, and Sybil, free of her demons, got on with her life. So say the book Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber and a TV movie of the same title.

A new book called Sybil Exposed claims the story is mostly fiction. Author Debbie Nathan cites interviews of Sybil's friends and family by freelance investigators who uncovered Sybil's identity, records that have recently been unsealed, and a letter written by Sybil herself recanting the accusations of abuse and her other personalities.

How did a nice but troubled church-going girl get caught up in this? Possibly, Sybil's doctor was interested in multiple personality disorder and wanted to make a name for herself. Perhaps neither was aware that some "confessions" made under "truth serum" (sodium pentothal) and barbituates, which the doctor liberally prescribed, are fantasies. Perhaps she was unaware that "recovered memories" (now largely discredited) are often false as well. Add loneliness, ambition and financial need of Sybil, Dr. Wilbur and Ms. Schreiber, and Sybil, Inc. became the result, says Ms. Nathan.

Nevertheless, Sybil was troubled enough to seek a psychiatrist. She was extremely thin, depressed, withdrawn, and walked into walls. As a child, she was diagnosed with pernicious anemia, which we now know is a lack of vitamin B-12. Injections of hog liver helped her. The National Institute of Health says,

The body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. To provide vitamin B12 to your blood cells, you need to eat enough foods containing vitamin B12, such as meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products...typical symptoms of B-12 deficiency include...fatigue...loss of appetite...confusion or change in mental status...problems concentrating...depression [and] loss of balance...(2) 

Pernicious anemia can be caused by an inability to process vitamin B-12, but Sybil's case may have had another cause: she was brought up as a Seventh Day Adventist, a religion that prescribes a vegetarian diet. Sybil was devout. Sybil Exposed describes the fake meat made by Sybil's mother, who suffered some of the symptoms of pernicious anemia as well.

Following the recipes in Adventist cookbooks, she kneaded dough from wheat flour, then washed and washed it until the starch was rinsed out, leaving a wad of glutinous plant protein. She mixed the gluten with ground peanuts and tomato sauce, pressed it into tin cans, baked it, and sliced it into rounds of substitute meat.(3)
No meat, poultry, shellfish, or even egg or dairy (or B-12) in any of that.(4)

Some are taking away from Sybil Exposed the message that multiple personality disorder, or dissociative personality disorder, aren't real. I don't know if they are or not. What I take away are two things.

  • Many of Sybil's original problems were related to diet. (This applies to a lot of emotional problems. See my post Lousy Mood? It Could be the Food.) 
  • Don't depend on a guru.  Remember that even a well-meaning doctor might have motives that aren't obvious: Sybil and her doctor became far too close, even by the professional standards of the day. Look to various sources for information, and see if your n=1 experiments are working for you. Stop and think about whether what you're hearing has the ring of truth.

1. Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan, 2011, p. 218.
2. "Pernicious Anemia." Accessed November 2, 2011.
3. Sybil Exposed, p. 11.
4. entries for wheat flour, peanuts and tomato sauce. Accessed November 2, 2011.