Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vitamin D May Not Help a Cold. Maybe Avoiding Sugar Does.

I just found this from the Vitamin D Council:

Also, readers should be aware (if they are not already) that vitamin D does not prevent all viral respiratory infections. As we noted in correspondence to our first influenza paper, rhinoviruses, the most common cause of the common cold, are not seasonal; that is, they are just as common in the summer as in the winter, and they do not have a lipoprotein coat for antimicrobial peptides to destroy....If you are already taking 5,000 IU a day and you get a cold, chances are that more vitamin D will not help much. No one should take large doses for more than a few days and then only if the infection is severe(1)

However, vitamin D levels are inversely associated with upper respiratory tract infections.(2) If you haven't been taking any vitamin D, a moderate dose might help.

Nevertheless, I have (mostly) gotten over my cold faster than some acquaintances, who came down with colds before I did and are still sick. (One coworker sounded like a one-man sick ward. Same kind of cold as mine, too--lots of mucus and a sore throat.)  Maybe it was the fat fast; maybe it's because I don't knock back any orange juice or lozenges. If you drink three cups of orange juice and take four lozenges, that's 100 grams of sugar. Sugar may suppress your immune system (3) and the vitamin C in the orange juice may or may not help a cold.(4) During an illness, your blood glucose level is already higher than normal; adding another hundred grams of sugar a day could push some people's BG to a toxic level. Going from 100 to 140, for instance, isn't a big leap. In diabetics, infection is more likely to occur with high blood sugar; perhaps that applies to the rest of us, too.

Since people generally don't have an appetite when they have a cold, it's a good time to go on a short fat fast or intermittent fast to reduce inflammation in general, anyway. (My fat fast was a whole lot easier than it was last time. I didn't keep track of calories or fat content, but I didn't eat much, and everything was high in fat. The ketostick today showed light ketones.) I can't say whether the fat fast reduced inflammation or not. But in spite of having a lot of mucus, I wasn't congested after Sunday night, so my nasal passages might not have been very inflamed. (I know the Mucinex helped.)

Anecdotally, low-carbers have few colds and get over them faster than their acquaintances. This may be from taking adequate vitamin D, eating a high-nutrient diet and having normal blood sugar levels.

  1. Newsletter: Even More Vitamin D Questions and Answers by John Cannell, MD. April 1, 2010. 
  2. "Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level and Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey."Adit A. Ginde, MD, MPH; Jonathan M. Mansbach, MD; Carlos A. Camargo Jr, MD, DrPH Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(4):384-390. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.560. 
  3. "Dear Mark: Sugar as an Immune Suppressant." by Mark Sisson. Mark's Daily Apple, March 29, 2010. 
  4. "Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold" by Harri Hemilä, Elizabeth Chalker and Bob Douglas. The Cochrane Library, July 18, 2007.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Thinking Person's Halloween Movies

As much as I love movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, Moonlight, and The Dresden Files, it's refreshing to watch a suspenseful movie without ghoulies or ghosties or long-legged beasties, where the dead stay dead and the most rational person in the room stays alive. I bring this up since low-carbers tend to be thinkers and rationalists who might enjoy these movies as much as I do. A few of my favorites:

Call Northside 777. Based on a true story about a man wrongly convicted of killing a policeman. For reference, the $5,000 reward that the man's mother earned scrubbing floors is worth almost $50,000 today.

Gaslight. Paula is innocent, too, but her conniving husband wants her to think she's losing her mind. If you've ever heard the term "being gaslighted," this is the movie where it comes from.

Coma. Afraid of doctors or hospitals? This movie should give you a good scare.

Nancy Drew. Something lighter: a smart, nerdy young heroine solves an old mystery.

Zodiac. Another smart, nerdy young person is on the case! Based on the true story of a private citizen's long hunt for a serial killer.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fat Fast for a Cold?

Inflamed: this is how my nasal passages felt yesterday evening after a few days of sinus congestion. Even though I was well enough that day to take part in a round table discussion on where morality comes from (where I mentioned the story of 1808, a Homo erectus who was taken care of for months or weeks through an illness), and walk to the grocery store and back, by bedtime, I felt like I was going to drown in mucus. It was 9:30 a.m. before I could rouse myself from bed to call in sick.

I already have way of dealing with sinus infections: SWAMP (sinuses with a mucus problem). I take 100,000 IU of vitamin D, Mucinex, and salt as needed. But last summer, I had such good results getting rid of gastritis with the fat fast that I've decided to add that. The fat fast (book here) involves eating 1,000 calories per day, with 90% of the calories coming from fat. (My lack of appetite is helping me stick to it.) So far, I've eaten some dark chocolate, a cup of broth with a bit of butter, and a slice of coconut-flax bread with butter. I'm tired, but feeling better.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Catalyst Program on Cholesterol and Saturated Fat: What to Believe?

Regular Janes and Joes who watched the TV program Catalyst: Heart of the Matter on saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease are probably confused now. What is this idea that saturated fat is good for you and that sugar and inflammation may cause heart disease? Everybody knows that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad, right?

Regular Janes and Joes don't need to be doctors or scientists to consider some of the evidence for themselves. Or in this case, the lack of evidence. For forty years, and using hundreds of thousands of people, researchers have been trying to prove that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. The result, according to Dr. Robert Grenfell of the National Heart Foundation of Australia:

When you ask that question of 'Do dietary fats increase heart disease?', you're sort of trying to negate all the other risk factors that, in fact, actually also cause heart disease. So, to imagine creating a study that would prove that conclusively is virtually impossible.

To see this answer for what it is, let's ask a slightly different question: if someone sticks pins in your voodoo doll, will it give you heart disease? The answer would be,

When you ask that question of 'Do voodoo dolls increase heart disease?', you're sort of trying to negate all the other risk factors that, in fact, actually also cause heart disease. So, to imagine creating a study that would prove that conclusively is virtually impossible.
No, you're not trying to negate anything, you're asking a question you can put to a test. If you'd tested the effects of voodoo doll curses for forty years and the results were mixed and inconclusive, why not just say no, play with voodoo dolls all you want if it floats your boat. Australia's leading lipid expert, Associate Professor David Sullivan, is ready with an answer:

I think there are some very telling pieces of evidence which have been used to establish the importance of avoiding voodoo dolls saturated fat. If saturated fat is completely benign, if it's actually beneficial, where's the evidence in support of that? Where's the evidence of an alternative cause? We are particularly keen to get some dietary advice, because otherwise what do we offer people?

How about avoiding those things that Dr. Grenfell says "actually also cause heart disease," like smoking and diabetes. But what about saturated fat? Is it really harmless or beneficial? A little knowledge of metabolism is helpful here. The three macronutrients in the human diet are protein, fat and carbohydrate. You need protein for repairs and maintenance of your body, but you can't burn it (much) for energy. You can run on fat or carbohydrate.

For most of human history, going back 2.5 million years, our ancestors ran mostly on fat. Until 10,000 years ago, the climate was generally colder and drier than it is now, fruit was seasonal, and the technology to gather and cook grains in any meaningful amount was unknown. Only babies drank milk. What did humans and our ancestors eat? According to paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and his colleagues, a substantial part of the human diet was meat. (See this, this and this.) For 2.5 million years, our digestive system, pancreas, teeth and especially our brain have adapted to running on fat. Why would one organ--the heart--be adapted to running on something else?

If you're still not sure about fat vs. carbohydrate, just consider how much fatter and sicker English-speaking populations have gotten since we reduced the fat in our diets from forty years ago. It's not only common observation, but the effect of carbohydrate on metabolism is in medical textbooks. For some people, running on carbohydrate is more like putting gasoline in a diesel engine because we know, from medical textbooks on hormones, that too much carbohydrate can lead to weight gain and diabetes. (See this and this.) Unlike cholesterol levels, diabetes is a well established risk factor for heart disease. It's also common sense (at least it used to be) that diabetics shouldn't eat sugar. All those carbolicious foods that heart organizations put their stamp of approval on (for a fee) quickly break down into glucose, which diabetics already have too much of.

Certain vitamins require dietary fat for good absorption--vitamins A, K2, E and D--and the term "essential fatty acids" is well known. These are good indications that fat is an important part of the human diet. But it's not up to skeptics to prove an idea wrong. The fat-phobes have been trying to prove for forty years that fat is bad for us, and they've failed. They've told us to eat less fat (i.e., more carbohydrate) and our collective health is failing. But they'll never admit their "science" is nothing more than voodoo. It's time to ditch the low-fat diet for common sense, real science, and for the win.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween without Sugar, without Weight Gain

Once again, I'm planning a Halloween without candy, temptation or weight gain. Instead of turning off the lights and ignoring the doorbell, I'll be giving the kids money. I'll put my spare change in a big bowl and throw a few coins into their bags. The kids love it and so do I.

My hairstylist has her own way of avoiding eating leftover candy: she buys the same candy she puts out for her clients, and puts leftovers in the dishes in her salon. She remarked today that if you give kids fruit, they'll probably throw it away. We saw this with changes in school lunches, and even if a kid does like fruit, it can be hard to eat if they wear braces.

Meantime, here are a few videos to get you in the mood for Halloween.

Above: "Gus Fring, Hiding in Plain Sight." Scenes from Breaking Bad. Warning: violent scenes.

Scenes from Death Note. Song: "This is Halloween" by Marilyn Manson.

The Orphanage trailer. Creepiest movie I've ever seen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Can You Afford an Accident?

Regular readers know that I'm fully healed from an accident that happened a year ago. After a month with my arm in a sling, nine months in braces, and surgeries to remove and replace a broken tooth, I'm back to normal. And as of this month, so is my emergency fund.

Readers may not know that the accident set me back $7,000. Most of my injuries involved my teeth, and American dental insurance generally doesn't cover braces for adults or dental implants for anyone. Now that the cost of health insurance has dramatically gone up for some people to the point that they can't afford it, having some savings has become even more important. Having savings gives you some security. It'll also save you money over having to get a loan or using credit cards.

I thought about offering some money-saving tips, but those are easy to find, and my tips may not apply to everyone. Besides, it's not useful if you take the savings and spend it on something else. The real question is how to start saving money if you're not inclined to. It's not as hard as it sounds--as long as you're not truly in over your head with your bills, you can do this. Here are some things I've done to make it easy.

You don't need a budget. I've never had a budget because it doesn't make any sense to me. Even in a stable life, there's variation--one month, there might be several events you want to go to and the next month none. You might stay out of the stores in December, then pick up bargains in January. A monthly budget doesn't allow for this. What I use is...

The False Scarcity Method, aka the Pay Yourself First Method. First thing, you sock away some money into savings (or have your bank do it for you automatically), then pay your bills (automatically, if possible), then buy what you need (like gas and groceries), and enjoy whatever's left free of guilt. I also have an account I contribute to monthly for large occasional expenses like car and homeowner's insurance and property tax. This doesn't count as savings because for all intents and purposes, it's already spent. I contribute to my retirement plan as well.

What this gives you is an honest accounting of what you can spend on clothes, entertainment, restaurants, and so on instead of the wishful thinking that can make up a budget. Maybe you wish you could spend more. But consider the things you had to have a few years ago--do they still excite you every day, or do you want something new again? Even if you upgraded your phone or car or house more than a year ago, the excitement has probably worn off by now. It's called hedonic adaptation. In other words, every upgrade becomes the new normal.

Your peers who live more luxuriously than you may be using credit or getting gifts from family. If you're envious, stop and think: are you impressed with their stuff or their presumed accomplishments? Whom do you admire more, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who probably spends most of her money on personal protection) or lottery winners (some of whom end up broke)? Maybe I have a odd sense of humor, but I'm amused on the rare occasion when someone finds out I have more than they thought. (One coworker thought I didn't have a car because I ride the bus.) I get a kick out of finding bargains and repairing things I own and watching others plunk down more money than I ever would on products made by companies I own stock in. But struggling to pay medical bills or even putting off care because you didn't save a few dollars every day is no joke. I've been there.

Maybe you think you deserve a new outfit or a night out (or a vacation or a new car). There's nothing wrong with those if you can afford them, but I prefer to think that I deserve a feeling of security and money in the bank.

Further reading: The Richest Man in Babylon

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elderly, Disabled Parents? Just Pony Up!

That’s what a social worker and one of my parents’ neighbors say I ought to be doing. “Pony up” is the term the busybody neighbor used--the one who brings high-carb dishes to my diabetic parents. Let’s see how this might work in real life.

My parents live out in the suburbs; I work downtown and live halfway in between. I have a full-time job and a 45-minute commute each way. Certain times of the year (like last week), I work long hours to meet deadlines. I have 138 hours of paid time off I need to take. There’s also my house, yard and dog to take care of.

So every morning, I’ll jump in my car at 6:00, get my parents’ breakfast and make sure they’ve taken all their pills. Oh wait, they’re not up then. I’ll just water their yard.

At 7:00, I’ll leave to go downtown, park, and walk to the office. At 10, I’ll call my parents and ask what pills they’ve taken. If they’re out of something, I’ll get their prescription at lunch, fix their meal, drive back downtown, pay for another parking space, and walk back to the office, half an hour late. After work, I’ll do whatever they need help with (laundry, bathing, cooking, errands, etc.), check their pills, and put them to bed. Then I’ll go to McDonald’s for my first meal of the day. All of this is in addition to taking them to appointments in the middle of the day and jumping out of bed to help my parents with any midnight emergencies.I might as well sell my house and quit my job. I’d never be home except to sleep and shower and I’d miss too much work to stay employed.

Or I could just stick them in a nursing home. That’s the phrase most people use-- “stick them in a nursing home--” as if you can make someone go there, free of charge. Every dollar of my take-home pay wouldn’t cover the cost of one of my parents to live in a nursing home. You know, one of those places where my mother was assaulted and my father was put on statins.

Maybe I exaggerate about what some people expect, but what am I supposed to do about my parents keeping their medical appointments and taking their pills? Or falling during a midnight trip to the bathroom? My mother doles out the pills, and she knows what they’re supposed to take. I don’t. They hire help to mow the lawn, bathe them and run errands. I can take them to some medical appointments, but I need advance notice, and I’ve told my mother she needs to plan ahead now that they depend on others for a ride. I also advise my mother on diet and diabetes medications, which is more than her doctor has done. Following my advice, my mother has healed enough to resume taking metformin, reduce her dosage of insulin, lose weight, and see more normal blood sugars. Where were all the do-gooders all the times my mother was slumped over in a carb coma? (Their busybody neighbor probably brought over the carb-bomb that did it.)

And what about my parents’ wishes? They want to stay in their home as long as they can. My mother was in a nursing home for a long time while she recuperated from back surgery and she doesn’t want to go back and my father feels the same way. They don’t want me to get in trouble at work or spend my life’s savings supporting them. My parents aren’t senile and they’re not hurting anyone. The best course of action I can think of is to help them as I’m able in ways they want to be helped.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Prana on a Plate!

Check out the little red symbol in the ad for ground beef. I didn't see it with any ads for hearthealthywholegrain products. Click to enlarge.

Sprouts sale flyer. Not Photoshopped.
Sticker shock? Ask the butcher for some grass-fed fat to add to your burger.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Carb Creep, Thanksgiving, Dogs, Chickens and Worms

Carb Control Works Again
Something that just happened makes me wonder how often low carb diets "stop working" for people because they don't realize the extent of their carb creep. The scale and the clothes-o-meter told me last week that I was gaining weight. I had to face the idea that I can't eat peanut M&Ms without gaining. weight. Just by cutting out my few handfuls of M&Ms every day, I'm down four pounds. That doesn't sound like much, but on me, it makes the difference between having a flat belly and having the beginning of a pot belly.

What really struck me, though, was how much better I felt. Once again, I can run on six hours' sleep. My head feels clearer and I've started on projects I meant to do months ago. A coworker happened to give up the M&Ms at the same time and noticed how much better she felt, too. As she put it, you know all that sugar has to be bad for you if you feel so much better without it.

Who Says Thanksgiving is a Fat Fest?
My orthodontist is hosting a charity drive to collect Thanksgiving food. I've taken the list of food he's requested and made a table showing fat and carbohydrate content. Note that the list doesn't include desserts or rolls (or gravy, in all fairness), but, with the exception of the mac & cheese and cranberry sauce, things generally regarded as real food.

Uploaded at

A Dog Walks in to a Chicken Swap
I took my dog, Molly, to the chicken swap yesterday to see how she'd act around the birds. She was curious but well-behaved. It was the chickens that got excited--except for the naked neck chickens, who hardly noticed her when she put her face up to their cage. They were ugly as vultures, and I wanted beautiful birds, but I want harmony in my home even more. The owner said that despite their bare necks, they do well in cold weather and they have little combs that don't frostbite. They're not flighty, either.

Turkens, or naked-neck chickens. They keep calm and carry on. When you look like this, you have to have something going for you. Image from Braided Bower Farm.
Molly did get excited by a rooster fleeing its owner. When the rooster saw Molly, he unfurled his wings and ran faster than I ever thought a chicken could go. But Molly didn't strain on the leash, and she got in the car without much trouble. It was the chicken that gave its owner a lot of trouble.

Drama in the Worm Bin
The worms are growing and possibly reproducing. At least, I don't remember any of the worms being that big when I dug the out of the ground--and some of the other worms are tinier than what I remember digging up. A few are no longer with us. The rest favor cucumbers.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bowling Alone? Yes, Thank You

I just spent five hours playing video games, by myself, and I don't regret it. I don't want my five hours back to sit on a bar stool, talk about Breaking Bad, watch whatever game is on with other fans, or do something, anything, else with another person. Constant company for a good life is one more piece of conventional wisdom I've scuttled. I like going home and bolting the door. I like to read, think, watch Netflix, play with my dog, and putter around the yard. None of this requires another person. I don't keep up with the Joneses and nobody gives me a hard time about much of anything.

I've read that being alone is as bad for you as smoking, but as we like to say, correlation isn't causation. Even if it is in this case, I'll take my own company and take my chances.

If you're lonely, I empathize. I've been there. But not all of us loners want company. If togetherness is so good, why have houses gotten so much bigger and households so much smaller? People used to raise four kids in a two-bedroom bungalow; now that we can afford it, it's two kids in a McMansion. The parents stay on even after the kids (and perhaps the spouse) have left. Come to think of it, when human ancestors became meat eaters, they spread out and became thinner on the ground. They were vulnerable to predators, and without a fire during the day, or while they hunted, constant yammering wouldn't have done. We may be social animals, but we aren't herd animals.

As Susan Cain put it, there's a name for such people: thinkers.