Sunday, 19 February 2012

What is inflammation?

In the paleo/primal world, "inflammation" is thrown around everywhere. Don't eat this because it can cause inflammation. Eat this to prevent inflammation. Take these supplements to help inflammation. Auto-immune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can all be caused by inflammation in the body.

Whenever I get someone who is intrigued by my odd eating habits who let me explain why I don't eat grains, legumes and dairy is because of the inflammation it can cause in the body, they seem to just smile and nod and let me keep going. But did they actually understand?

The first thought that comes into my mind, and probably the general public's, when I hear "inflammation", is some kind of acute injury that has become swollen and inflamed. But I'm not sure if people really understand what kind of "inflammation" I'm talking about and what it can do to your body and health. I guess I need to be more specific and that I'm talking about chronic inflammation and left unaddressed, chronic inflammation can cause serious long-term damage.

So what is inflammation?
Inflammation is an immune response. When a person experiences pain, injury or illness the immune system is activated causing inflammation. It occurs when blood cells, antibodies and other immune system components are directed to the site that’s under stress in an attempt to repair the damage.

Acute inflammation to some kind of injury or pathogen is a healthy response to a harmful condition. It is short-term and may last several days, but is necessary for proper healing.

Chronic inflammation is a constant low-level reaction that can spread damage throughout the body. Researchers from a variety of medical areas repeatedly conclude that inflammation plays a major role in a variety of illnesses.  The the body's defense system -- the immune system -- triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign substances to fight off. The body's normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal. 

What can result from chronic inflammation

Some not mentioned: insulin resistance, depression, obesity, chronic pain

Some major contributors to chronic inflammation:
High sugar, high carbohydrate, low-fat diets (i.e. a diet high in omega -6 fatty acids)
Lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet
Not enough sleep
Lack of exercise

So to reduce chronic inflammation it basically comes down to eating real, whole foods (that means fresh food, nothing from a package or plastic/cardboard box Mom), getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night, reducing your stressors and being active. 

Mark's Daily Apple had a good article about inflammation.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Leaky gut/Digestive health

One of the most noticeable changes I've seen after switching to a paleo diet is that I no longer get stomach cramps, bloating or gas after eating. I grew up seeing my mom consistently having the same kind of symptoms, and supposedly my grandpa had a "sensitive" stomach too, so I just thought that I was destined to have the same unhappy stomach. These symptoms all went away within a couple days of switching over, and now only when I sway from paleo do they return.

I also noticed this past December that eating too many high carbohydrate foods caused my face to become inflamed and puffy and I also get very irritable and cranky. These could very well be related to my sugar cane allergy too.

I think it is true to say that I do have a sensitive stomach because I always had an upset stomach, and some people I talk to can't even relate because they've just never experienced stomach discomfort. From all of the research I've been doing, healing my gut should be my number one priority because all of my symptoms appear to be related to a leaky gut.

Research is suggesting that health and illness is predicated on the health of the intestine. Our gut is filled with about 5-7 pounds of microflora, both pathogenic and beneficial. The beneficial microflora are extremely important for our immune system and maintaining the integrity of the gut wall. But there are ways that the pathogenic microflora can take over. Poor diet with refined foods and carbs feed the pathogenic microflora but also antibiotics, hormones and birth control imbalance these microflora.

The digestive track is a barrier that determines what gets in the body and what comes out.  We want good nutrients that nourish and fuel cellular processes in, and toxins and waste to stay out. The gut makes this discernment of the good things we ingest and filters them through the bloodstream, making sure the waste is excreted. A build up of toxins can damage the intestinal track making it permeable, that is leaky gut. What happens is when these particles cross the gut barrier and move out into the blood stream, the body thinks they're toxins and start making anti-bodies to attack them.

Basically anything that damages the gut lining, be it bacteria, virus, grains or dairy, can predispose you to neurological and autoimmune conditions, psychiatric symptoms, allergies, depression and more.

Two great podcasts about digestion and gut health:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Raynaud's Phenomenon

I uncommonly have Raynaud's Phenomenon only in my feet. Normally people have it in their hands, and might have it in their feet too. But when I spoke with a specialist they were at first unsure how to diagnose it since symptoms only occurred in my feet. Fortunately, I do not have Raynaud's Syndrome, which means it could be a symptom of an autoimmune disease like Lupus.

Raynaud's Phenomenon is a blood vessel spasm disorder that occurs in the fingers or toes, which decreases blood supply to the respective regions. Stress and cold are common triggers that set off the spasms. Now I have a more mild case, and only have complete loss of colour and numbness in my feet when they have been exposed to severe cold (like riding my bike to the gym in -15 degree weather). When this happens, there is a distinct line across my toes where the circulation is cut off. However, my feet are usually always cold, even when I have wool socks on. Sitting and standing tend to be a stress that sets off the spasms, but my feet look nice and pretty when I get out of bed in the morning.

This is what my feet look like on a regular basis (No, I don't think a pedicure would help make them look any better)

This is my foot after giving it a 15 second massage to improve the circulation

Now I can't exactly remember how long ago I started getting symptoms. The earliest I recall, is when I was a lifeguarding in grade 12, my friend and I were sitting on a table during our break talking about how disgusting my feet looked. I remember rubbing one foot to show that it had something to do with my circulation and that my feet were cold, and then we watched the discolouration creep back in to my feet. Even on a 30 degree summer day, walking around in flip-flops my feet will be cold. Really, the only time they feel pretty normal (if I even know what that is) is when I'm sleeping/lying down under lots of blankets or when I'm exercising.

Knowing this is something I've had for some time now, probably means that it will take a long time to heal. Hopefully signs that my rosacea have already reduced means that I'm heading in the right direction.

Interestingly, Robb Wolf has talked about Raynaud's Phenomenon on his show and has seen family members symptoms drastically improve by changing to a paleo diet.  Check out the podcast here:

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Week 2 Progress

The first week I didn't notice much improvement since I was just trying to get in the swing of things. I've eaten this way before so it wasn't too difficult for me to cut out all of the things that I'm not allowed to eat. I am however, supposed to reduce the amount of pork I'm eating, so I have missed my indulgences in my favorite Rowe Farms bacon.

I have been keeping track of my symptoms in a daily feeling log, where I note changes in my symptoms, energy levels, and how much sleep I'm getting. I've definitely been getting plenty of sleep, which is really important for getting over adrenal fatigue. Most nights I get at least 8 hours or more and I think that has been helping with my energy levels. They seem higher than normal and I feel more energized and focused. Not only that, I'm getting amazing results in my strength gain program and recovery extremely well from workouts. Saturday I did a 5 rep deadlift at 195lbs and my 1 rep max a few months ago was 198!

One other significant improvement had been in my rosacea. Last week I maybe had one flare-up after eating some spicy food but that's it! The first week I was still getting them everyday, but the frequency has noticeably decreased.

I've been trying to make super nutrient dense foods too, and last night I made turkey neck and lamb heart soup! I made chicken broth earlier on in the week and had thawed turkey necks and lamb heart in the fridge that needed to be cooked. I just threw them all together with some celery, sweet potato and herbs de provence and it turned out great! I know you're thinking (mom) eewww heart, but it was way better than you would imagine. If I fed it to you, you wouldn't even question it.

Turkey necks and lamb heart! Cheap and delicious!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Tinea versicolor

For the past seven years my Tinea versicolor rash has been spreading. When it first appeared one summer, I went to the doctors who prescribed me anti-fungal cream and medication which seemed to work temporarily for about a year and repeated a few years later. This past year it's been spreading rampantly and has reached new places, like my upper arms and neck. I'm tired of having these spots all over me! I'm out in the sun in the summer because I row so it's hard to avoid getting a tan, which makes the spots even more visible.

I am now self-conscious wearing tank tops...

Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection caused by the imbalance of a yeast on the skin. Mine has just gone hay-wire and its linked to my Candida overgrowth. Knowing the source of the problem makes me more frustrated about how doctors approach symptoms. All my doctor has ever tried to do for my symptoms was to give me some kind of pill or cream to fix it. They never address how I got it in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again. What annoys me even more was when I try to ask my doctor about advice about changing my diet to fix the problem she just tells me that it's not "western medicine" and she can't help me with that because there's not enough clinically studies to support it and that it's "alternative medicine"...This is why I've started seeing a naturopath and I wish I had have been able to go earlier. Just in my two appointments, I've learned more about my body and health than all the years of visiting my family doctor. It's been an eye-opening experience and I have to thank my boyfriend for taking me!

Hopefully I will begin to see the red parts of my rash begin to fade soon as I continue my current eating patterns, but it will take some for the spots to fade since my tan will have to fade as well. I can't wait for smooth even toned skin again!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Candida albicans

Based on my own research of my symptoms, I believe that they are possibly all related to Candida overgrowth.

Candida albicans is a yeast organism that is part of the gut flora that everyone has in their mouth and intestine. The Candida normally lives in symbiosis with other healthy bacteria. It helps detect and destroy pathogenic bacteria that can enter the body, but when your immune system is under stress the Candida can take over quickly and multiply. As the Candida multiplies it produces toxic by-products that cause damage to your body tissues and organs and compromises your immune system. The Candida can permeate the intestinal wall creating microscopic holes that cause leaky gut syndrome and food allergies when toxins enter the blood stream.

Candida can cause a number of debilitating symptoms and the range and severity is unique to each person. It can often go undiagnosed because the symptoms may all apear unrelated. These are my symptoms:

  • allergies - sugar cane specifically
  • fatigue, never feeling well rested even after lots of sleep
  • poor digestion - diarrhea, bloating
  • carbohydrate cravings
  • irritability, mood swings
  • brain fog, difficulty concentrating/mind wandering
  • skin rash - Tinea versicolor, cheeks flushing 
  • cold extremities
I also was tested for Candida in my allergy testing which showed I am having an immunological response to the bacteria. 
Blood sample taken December 7, 2011

So how did my immune system get so stressed?! 
I think it was a combination of multiple things. When I was 14 I started taking birth control and antibiotics to clear my skin of acne. I was willing to do anything and it really did help. I took birth control all throughout high school and a few years in University. So far I've been off birth control for 3 years. 

Also, I'm a big sugar addict and love eating muffins, cookies and of course chocolate. I probably at at least one of those three things everyday since middle school up until I found the paleo diet. 

Lastly, I am a "worrier". Although it may seem like I handle stressful situations well on the outside and that I'm fairly calm, I often feel "stressed out" even over the smallest things. I really should have read the book "Don't sweat the small stuff" when my mom gave it to me one of my teenage years. 

Not only do I have to change my diet to overcome the candida overgrowth, I also need to de-stress. I tend to take on too many things at once and overload myself. I'm one of those people who have a hard time saying no when I'm asked a favor, or to help out with something. I am now aware of this and that it is causing a problem to my health so I'm working on avoiding stressful situations and also looking at things in a different perspective. My first change was for the month of December, I bought a metro pass instead of riding my bike to work. When I bike, I leave at the very last minute I can to make it to work on time, which would lead to me riding as fast as I could, getting all sweaty, and worrying about being late. 

Following a sugar-restricted diet mainly of fresh vegetables, chicken, wild game, fish and eggs will clear the overgrowth of Candida and reduce inflammation in the gut so that it has a chance to heal.  These foods are also not taxing on the liver, promoting optimal digestion and detoxification.  

So far the sugar/carb restriction has been going well, I haven't had any big cravings and my new treat is having a spoonful (or two...) of coconut oil. I just let it melt in my mouth and it's the most delicious thing ever! (I use the brand Nutiva). My energy levels seem to be improving and I've been less irritable this week. 

More to come about details of my symptoms!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

So this year of 2012, my main goal is to fix a number of health problems I have. Although they may seem minor and non-lifethreatening to some people, I am taking them very seriously. It bothers me that I have them and that they are all controllable by my diet and lifestyle but I haven't been able to get rid of any of them.

Here is a list of my diagnosed health problems by my GP and Naturopath:

  • High sensitivity to Sugar Cane (result of IgG food intolerance test)
  • Raynauds Phenomenon (in my feet)
  • Poor blood circulation to my extremities (my hands and feet are usually always cold)
  • Adrenal Fatigue
  • Tinea Versicolor (a.k.a Pitryasis versicolor), on my back, chest and arms
  • Variation of Rosacea on my cheeks 
  • Candida Yeast overgrowth
I've been put on a Eubiotic Diet by my naturopath that I started today, which is basically the candida diet. I exercise 5-6 days a week so I will be including some sweet potato in my diet, but definitely no grains or legumes including rice or buckwheat which both diets say are fine to eat (but not Paleo!). I see the sweet potato as a substitute for the brown rice or buckwheat. Anyone looking for a good guideline, WholeApproach has an excellent PDF food list!