Monday, February 27, 2012

McDonald's v. School Lunches: Which is Healthier?

Proposed elementary school lunch, courtesy of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010:

Chef Salad
(1 cup romaine, .5 oz low-fat mozzarella,
1.5 oz grilled chicken) with Whole Wheat
Soft Pretzel (2.5 oz)
Corn, cooked (1/2 cup)
Baby Carrots, raw (1/4 cup)
Skim Chocolate Milk (8 oz)
Low Fat Ranch Dressing (1.5 oz)
Low Fat Italian Dressing (1.5 oz)

The nutrient composition of this lunch (info from

Carbohydrate: 138g
Fat: 16g
Protein: 37g
Fiber: 10g
Net carbohydrate (ie., digestible): 128g
Calories: 886
CPF composition by calories: approximately 62:17:16

Assumptions: 1 slice commercially prepared whole wheat bread, 1 oz carrots, low fat ranch dressing

Let's look at the nutrient composition of a McDonald's quarter pounder with cheese, small fries and a diet drink or water:
Carbohydrate: 69g
Fat: 37g
Protein: 32 g
Fiber: 6g
Net carbohydrate: 63g
Calories: 740
CPF composition by calories: 37:17:45

To be sure, neither of these meals is health food. Nevertheless, if I had a child, I'd rather he eat the McDonald's meal. Why?


"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.

The Thirty-Day Low-Carb Diet Solution by Michael Eades, MD and Mary Dan Eades, MD. 2003.

Fat: It's Not What you Think by Connie Leas. 2008.

"Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines" by Sandro Drago et al, Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, March 2006.

"Children, Parents and Obesity" by Julie Gunlock, National Affairs, Winter 2011.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vitamin D: Prana in a Pill?

Do people forget what it feels like to be well? I think so. While I was sick with a sinus infection, I remembered running around with my best friend last year, going dancing two or three times a week, and wondered how I ever had the energy to do all that. This morning, I woke up feeling healthy (even though I'm still coughing a little, and still taking Mucinex since I'm really afraid of a relapse). I got up at 6:30 (can't remember the last time I was up that early on a weekend), did some laundry, cleaned out the refrigerator, loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, changed the sheets, took out the trash, bought some groceries and got to work around 10. Concentrating on my work was so much easier than it was when I was sick. (That it was Saturday helped, too.)

I still have some symptoms of vitamin D toxicity. No vomiting, but I've had some momentary but severe acid reflux. I'd forgotten how painful that is. Nevertheless, I'm feeling better than I have in months.

My mother felt a cold coming on yesterday and started taking 50,000 IU of vitamin D per the SWAMP treatment plan. She'd felt listless for quite some time due to an infection, but it's been cleared up for awhile now. When she took a vitamin D test a few months ago, her level was 40--the low end of normal, and below optimal. For reasons I don't understand, her get-up-and-go returned when she took the high dose of vitamin D.

ETA: Dr. Davis noticed octagenarians, like my mother, renewing their energy with vitamin D back in 2007.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I May Have Vitamin D Toxicity, But I Feel Better

Having taken megadoses of vitamin D for the past few weeks (think 10,000 to 50,000 IU per day), I now have some symptoms of vitamin D toxicity: muscle weakness, a little fatigue, and constipation. (I wondered last night why I found it so difficult to shovel a few inches of wet snow.) Overall, I feel pretty good, certainly better than when I was sick with a sinus infection and way better than when I was suffering from side effects and an allergic reaction to Benzonatate. A few people have remarked that I sound better and the pink is back in my cheeks. Without a test, it's not possible to know for certain that these symptoms are caused by too much vitamin D, but I'm going to stop taking it for now. The vitamin is stored in the fat, so it's going to be in my system for awhile, fighting any microbes left in my sinuses. Researcher Michael Holick says in The Vitamin D Solution,
Most humans obtain from sun exposure their vitamin D requirements between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. and mainly in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Because vitamin D is fat soluble, it's stored in body fat and released throughout the winter months, allowing you to be vitamin D sufficient throughout the year.
So it looks like I'm set for vitamin D for awhile.

(Why was a taking so much vitamin D? It's my SWAMP treatment for a sinus infection. See this, this and this.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

SWAMP: Treating Sinus Infections without Antibiotics

Note: I've made some edits regarding the safety of taking vitamin D. Please read this post for further details on taking a large dose of vitamin D.

SWAMP (sinuses with a mucus problem) is my hypothesis of treating sinus infections and other upper respiratory infections without antibiotics: to get rid of the bug infestation, you need to drain the swamp and activate some natural predators. You also need to restore the habitat's salinity.

Who this is for:
  • People with no access to medical care
  • People who prefer over-the-counter medicines
  • People who can't tolerate antibiotics, steroids and other medications
  • Eccentrics who like to self-experiment
If you have a serious respiratory illness, you can still do this, but please see a doctor as well--the sooner, the better.  My next door neighbor died of the flu; people die every day of pneumonia. If you need to save money, keep in mind that a serious case of pneumonia can put you in the hospital for several days. A sinus infection put me in the hospital for a week when I was a child.

SWAMP involves taking a large dose of vitamin D. According to what I've read in various books and medical journals, most people can safely take a one-time (say, three to four times per year) 100,000 IU dose of vitamin D. But there are some people who shouldn't do this; read this post for further details. See a doctor if you have any concerns about taking such a high dose.

While there is clinical and observational evidence to support vitamin D helping respiratory illnesses, this is just a hypothesis, and I'm not a medical professional. I'm just a regular gal who has done a lot of reading and had a lot of sinus problems. At this writing, I'm 99% better from a cold/sinus infection that has lasted over a month and didn't go away after a course of antibiotics. I've been doing the SWAMP protocol, more or less, since Sunday (four days ago). Without further adieu, here's the protocol.

What to take:
  • 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 for two days
  • Mucinex or other mucus thinner of your choice, as needed to keep your sinuses clear
  • A few teaspoons of salt
  • Extra fluids as needed
Vitamin D is a natural anti-inflammatory that should help open your sinus passages. It's also an immune cell activator that helps you fight viruses and microbes. It's the part that unblocks the swamp and activates the natural predators. According to what I've read, most Americans and Europeans are deficient in vitamin D. Although I had a normal level according to a test, I still ended up ill. I've been taking 20,000 to 50,000 IU for the past four days without any symptoms of toxicity. (Vitamin D toxicity symptoms include constipation, decreased appetite, dehydration, fatigue, muscle weakness and vomiting.) 50,000 IU of vitamin D is considered a high dose, so use some discretion and pay attention to how you feel. (Of course, it's possible to reach a toxic level with any substance.) Read the page linked to above.

A mucus thinner will help clear your sinuses of thick, sticky mucus. With most of the mucus gone, your sinuses shouldn't be able to support a big colony of bacteria (so the SWAMP hypothesis goes). It will also help relieve pressure that can cause headaches, toothaches, and facial pain. Don't wait until your sinus pain becomes intolerable--get the extra mucus cleared out.

With the mucus flowing, your body is using more fluids and more salt. Your nasal mucus is full of salt: I've made thousands of batches of saline solution to irrigate my nose. You need to replenish not only the fluids, but the salt, too. "Salt deprivation leads to lightheadedness, fatigue, headache, and malaise," say Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney in The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. This is probably why broth is such a popular cold treatment: it's full of salt.

For further reading:
"Sinus Infections: The Swamp Hypothesis" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain, Go Away! blog. February 22, 2012.
"Vitamin D for a Respiratory Infection" by Lori Miller. Pain, Pain Go Away! blog. February 19, 2012.
"Vitamin D and Influenza" by Michael Eades MD. Protein Power blog, May 16, 2009.
"Avoiding the Swine Flu" by Michael Eades MD. Protein Power blog, May 4, 2009.
The Vitamin D Solution by Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD. Penguin Group, 2010.
The Vitamin D Revolution by Soram Khalsa, MD. Hay House, 2009.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sinus Infections: The Swamp Hypothesis

Imagine that your sinuses are a stream. When all is well, the water (or mucus) flows along. There are some bugs here and there, but not too many.

If the stream becomes blocked, the water backs up, sits still, and the bugs multiply. The stream becomes a swamp. Current thinking is to annihilate the bugs with antibiotics. My idea is to drain the swamp and activate some natural predators.

As I understand it, inflammation causes your sinuses to become blocked. The mucus builds up, making a habitat for bacteria overgrowth. Thus infected, white blood cells enter the mucus, making it thick and less able to be moved along.

A substance that's both an anti-inflammatory and immune cell activator is vitamin D. My thinking is that it should enable the body's immune cells to kill most of the bugs and un-inflame the sinus passages to allow mucus to flow. There's clinical and observational evidence that vitamin D is helpful in preventing and fighting respiratory infections. I've been taking 20,000 to 50,000 units per day for the past few days. I've also been taking Mucinex DM (guaifinesesin + a cough suppressant) as a mucus thinner. My father came down with a cold last week, and has been taking around 10,000 IU of vitamin D along with Mucinex DM.

Results: My father normally takes Mucinex DM with a cold; he believes the addition of vitamin D has helped. He's brutally honest about this sort of thing--if he didn't think it did any good, he'd have said so. He felt mostly better (but not completely well) within a few days.

As for me, I've been ill with a cold and/or sinus infection for over a month. I've had a course of antibiotics, which helped but didn't cure me. This morning, I woke up feeling better than I have since January. The pain in my wisdom tooth is mostly gone. I don't feel any sinus pressure, didn't need any aspirin today, and took only one Mucinex (I'd been taking three per day). My taste is less delicate: last week, I didn't want to cook, so I ate lunch at McDonald's (bunless burger and side salad) or elsewhere. Lately, I've gone back to liver and sardines, among my other usual fare. I'm coughing less. However, the swamp draining has created a river of post-nasal drip down my throat, making it hurt. Two teaspoons of black elderberry syrup made it feel better.

Downsides: too much vitamin D can be toxic. The doses mentioned here are medicinal, and not what I take when I'm well. However, antibiotics, steroids and cough suppressants can have their own side effects--I recently spent a miserable day suffering the side effects and an allergic reaction to Benzonatate.

Correspondence John F. Aloia and Melissa Li-Ng, Epidemiology and Infection, October 2007.
Vitamin D and Influenza by Michael Eades MD., Protein Power Blog, May 16, 2009.
Healing Your Sinuses by Ralph B. Metson MD with Steven Mardon. McGraw-Hill, 2005.
"Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level and Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey," Archives of Internal Medicine, February 23, 2009, Adit A. Ginde, MD, MPH; Jonathan M. Mansbach, MD; Carlos A. Camargo Jr, MD, DrPH.
The Vitamin D Solution by Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD. Penguin Group, 2010.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Good News about a Binge Eater

Last month I blogged about my friend's grandson "James," a ten-year-old binge eater who was nearly 40 pounds overweight. James's grandmother is a force to be reckoned with; I've been whispering in her ear. She's been reading books from my health collection, and then some: Why We Get Fat, The New Atkins for a New You, Heartburn Cured, The Vegetarian Myth, and Slow Burn. I also mentioned Dr. Atkins' advice for binge eating, which he treated: binge on protein and fat. Disabused of the notion that fat is bad and eating less is good, she's gotten James some snacks like Crystal Light (a no-calorie drink), boiled eggs, celery and peanut butter and apples and yogurt, and labeled them with his name. It seems he's caught on to low-carbing: his grandmother saw that when he fixed a plate for himself, he skipped the hamburger bun and just took meat and salad. She said he played outside all day Sunday (he didn't have that energy before) and looks well. He thanked her for what he called the "good snacks" and said he felt good. No word of any more pop cans or candy wrappers in James's room.

That's not all. Even though James's brothers can have cookies and Pop-Tarts, they've asked for the snacks James is having. His father mentioned he needed to do something about his own weight as well, so the whole family may soon be on the low-carb (or at least reduced carb) train.

There's more. James's grandmother convinced a friend of the family to cut out the sugary sodas and fruit punch for the sake of his health. Over the past few weeks, this friend has lost 13 pounds, reduced his need for acid reflux medication, and had to tell a couple of ladies he was already spoken for.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vitamin D for a Respiratory Infection

I'm 90% better from my sinus infection...and have been so for a week. A nine-hour nap followed by a good night's sleep helped last weekend; so has Mucinex. But last Monday, the day the antibiotics were out of my system, the glands in my neck were swollen. That's when I decided to use a trick from a year and a half ago when I had a cold: a megadose of vitamin D. There's some compelling evidence that vitamin D helps prevent colds and flu. In one study,

After 3 years, a total of 34 patients reported cold and influenza symptoms, eight in the vitamin D3 group vs. 26 in the placebo group (P<0·002). When we examined the seasonality of the symptoms, we found that the placebo group had cold/influenza symptoms mostly in the winter. The vitamin D group had symptoms throughout the year while on 20 μg/d [800 IU per day], whereas only one subject had a cold/influenza while on 50 μg/d [2,000 IU per day].(1) 

For what it's worth, John Cannell M.D. of the Vitamin D Council recommends keeping a stock of 50,000 IU vitamin D pills as a medicine (not a supplement) in case of flu. "...if you get this flu [H1N1], take 2,000 IU per kg of body weight per day for a week.  As I weigh 220 pounds, I would take 200,000 IU per day for seven days if I thought I had an infection with a 1918-like influenza virus."(2)

Of course, I don't have a 1918-like flu (nothing like that going around, and if it were, I'm sure it would kill me), but influenza is a respiratory infection, which I have. Among other things, vitamin D reduces inflammation, which is part of the problem of a sinus infection. Ear, nose and throat specialist Ralph Metson MD writes,

Remember the OMC from Chapter 2? That's the turnstile--the narrow area in the middle meatus through which the mucus drains from the sinuses into the nose. When the OMC gets blocked, in short order the mucus backs up and the doors from the sinuses (the ostia) become blocked as well, as shown in Figure 3.1. The cilia [they're like tiny fingers in your sinuses that move the mucus along] stop beating effectively, and drainage from the sinuses stops or is severely curtailed.(3)

How does the OMC become blocked? The caption for Figure 3.1 states,

The right side [infected] shows what happens when mucosa lining the sinuses becomes inflamed and blocks the OMC. Mucus trapped within the maxillary and frontal sinuses leads to bacterial overgrowth and sinusitis.(4)

If one could reduce the inflammation enough to let the mucus pass, it would give less quarter to bacteria. (Bacteria are normally in the sinuses--it's overgrowth that's the problem.(5))  When I saw the PA a few weeks ago, she gave me a steroid to reduce inflammation; I will try a higher dose of vitamin D to do so.

1. Correspondence from John F. Aloia and Melissa Li-Ng, Epidemiology and Infection, October 2007.
2. "Vitamin D and Influenza" by Michael Eades MD., Protein Power Blog, May 16, 2009.
3. Healing Your Sinuses by Ralph B. Metson MD with Steven Mardon. McGraw-Hill, 2005, p. 26.
4. Ibid, p. 27.
5. Ibid. p. 28.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Test Your Diagnostic Skills Contest

The Problem: Sharp, intermittent pain in my upper left wisdom tooth and a persistent cough. A dental examination showed no problem with the tooth. The x-ray showed that the wisdom tooth had longer roots than  the other molars.  The diagram below may help you. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Benzonatate Side Effects

Readers may know I'm trying to get over a persistent cough. The PA I saw on Saturday prescribed benzonatate, which I've been taking since then. Last night, I started thinking, "I don't remember breathing being this difficult." Nor did I recall a shower feeling like a mild beating. It was like my 38th birthday--the one where I was recovering from a car wreck. I see that these are some of the side effects of benzonatate:

SIDE EFFECTS that may occur while taking this medicine include constipation; dizziness; drowsiness; headache; nasal congestion; nausea; or upset stomach...Symptoms of an allergic reaction include rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; or swelling of the face, lips or tongue. 

I'd take something for the pain that's in every joint in my upper body, but my stomach is too upset. At least I didn't take a full dose of this stuff.

Note to self: take Mucinex or Umcka instead. No side effects for me, and it's actually cheaper.

Wheat-Free: Why Not DIY?

Once again, the Wall Street Journal has run a (sort of) helpful article(1) on digestive issues--this time, on gluten intolerance, or what they should have called "wheat intolerance":

You've got abdominal pains, bloating, fatigue and foggy thinking. You feel worse after eating wheat or other foods with gluten, and better when you avoid them.

Add weight gain and rampant appetite to that, and that was me before I cut out wheat a few years ago, even though a previous medical test showed no signs of celiac. I stopped eating wheat to lose the 20 pounds I'd put on within a few years after I went back to eating the stuff. Indeed, I started slowly losing weight and feeling better. Wheat is an appetite stimulant. Later, I found out that humans have gone practically our entire existence without eating grains: there's no need in our diet for them. For millions of years, we lived on meat, roots, greens, eggs, fruits and nuts. But don't try this on your own! According to the article,

Experts urge people who suspect they have problems with gluten to be tested for celiac disease before going gluten-free on their own. Otherwise, with no gluten to react to, their blood tests will show false negatives.

That, and the experts won't collect their money:

The blood tests cost about $100; the gene test about $300, and the biopsy $600 or more.

According to the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, a lot of people who do better on a wheat-free diet have negative tests for celiac--those expensive tests would have simply sent them down a blind alley.

Having been wheat-free for almost two years now, the commotion about medical tests and the hardships of cutting out one food leaves me scratching my head. My own experience has been that it was easier to cut out wheat entirely than to cut back: I got more benefits from complete elimination, had no wheat products around the house to cheat with, and my desire for it is gone.

1. "New Guide to Who Really Shouldn't Eat Gluten" by Melinda Beck. Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2012.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is this a Record?

I think I may now hold the record for most illnesses in a six-month period for someone on a mostly lacto-paleo diet: I still have a cough hanging on from when I got sick in January. I don't feel horrible, but coughing and spending 12 hours a day in bed aren't things I normally do. I've just started the fourth round of antibiotics in six months. The PA also gave me prescriptions for a cough suppressant and a steroid to calm my bronchial tubes, saying it shouldn't mess up my blood sugar if I'm not diabetic, but if I didn't feel well on it, I could stop taking it.

A nearby restaurant, Spicy Basil, offered coconut curry chicken soup that hit the spot. I don't normally eat out, but I was on the bus today with my car stuck in the garage because of the snow. They also had seaweed salad, which I'll try when the weather is warmer.

EDITED TO ADD: By sheer coincidence, Sami Paju and his girlfriend had chicken coconut curry soup as well last weekend, and they kindly posted the recipe in the comments of this article: