Tag Archives: Paleo

The Wheat Series- Part 4: Wheat and Your Mind

In the other blog posts in this series (read Part 1, 2, and 3) , we have seen how wheat can affect our blood sugar, metabolism, and immune system. In this post I wanted to discuss something that was VERY surprising to me when I first learned about it, how much gluten can affect our minds.

I was a psychology major in college (before I went back to school to become a dietitian) and my interest in psychology and health remains (I even thought about doing a PhD in health  psychology). I have seen that many patients struggling with mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, etc), who also had issues with diet and weight. I would say that when I worked with the pre-gastric bypass population about 50% (or maybe even more ) of those patients struggled at some point with anxiety, depression, or other psychological disorders. I always thought that the mental issue was affecting the diet (overeating, under eating, binges, sugar cravings, etc), and never really thought that maybe the diet was contributing to the mental illness. That is until I heard Nora Gedgaudas speak at the Ancestral Health Symposium. Nora’s talk discussed how blood sugar regulation is key regulating the endocrine and nervous system, controlling our hormones, emotions and behavior. Surges in blood sugar are destabilizing because of the effect it has on insulin, leptin, and other hormones, stimulating over-arousal and exacerbating anxiety-related issues. Remember the effect that wheat has on our blood sugar due to its high content of amylopectin?

But, its not just the blood sugar surges that contribute to the mood swings, depression, anxiety, etc, its the actual gluten itself. Gluten polypeptides have been found to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Once gluten is in the brain, it attaches to morphine receptors, the same as opiates. It has also been found that the drug naloxone (used to reverse the action of heroin and other opiates) blocks the binding of gluten to the brain’s morphine receptors. When naloxone was given to “normal” subjects (blocking the opiate effect of gluten), they consumed approximately 400 fewer calories from carbohydrate sources. Consumption of wheat can therefore lead to a mild feeling of euphoria and  when it is not consumed, people can experience withdrawal.

Nora, in her practice, has seen significant improvement in mental illnesses by using a gluten-free, Paleo diet approach in combination with therapy and biofeedback. If you are struggling with depression/anxiety or other mental issues, it may be worth a shot. For more information, there are several testimonials about anxiety, depression, and the Paleo diet on Robb Wolf’s site.

Paleo Day 9

Its been 9 days since I started the “strict” Paleo diet. Here’s what I learned so far:
1. Staying away from grains is not that hard. I just need to plan my meals/restaurant choices. If worst comes to worst there is always salad at most restaurants.
2. Staying away from cheese 100% is a completely different story. Most of the salads at work have some feta or other cheese on them. I had a little emotional issue on monday and felt like I “deserved” some expensive French cheese…I ate it with apples, improvement right? I am going to work harder on this part of it this week.
3. I am not seeing any “miraculous” results yet. My Raynaud’s is bad and my joints are a little achy. Maybe if I try harder on the cheese thing I might see a little improvement.
4. I have been doing great on the supplements. All it takes is a little planning to make sure I have the supplements I need. I don’t even notice the fish oil burps anymore!
5. My performance at Crossfit has really declined. This is the most frustrating part. Robb Wolf says that it should take 3 weeks to fully adapt. Right now I am about 1.5 weeks in…I guess I have another 1.5 weeks to really see improvement. It is frustrating now because I am exhausted during the workouts and am not used to it. Its really been a struggle.
6. I think I need to eat more protein. It is so easy for me to eat veggies and fruit. For the next week I am going to try to get rid of some of the fruit and increase the protein. I am going to get some recipes that include more protein so that I will get motivated to eat more.
7. I have lost about 2-3 lbs..weight kinda fluctuates. I think that is pretty good for me in 9 days.
8. My occasional digestive issues are gone. I do love that about eating more fiber.
9. I really don’t feel hungry. I don’t really want to munch at night. I feel satisfied after my meals.

I think I am going to continue what I have been doing with a few tweaks. There are always things one could do better and be stricter about. Hopefully in another week or so I will start seeing the results I am looking for…weight loss, less joint pain, improvement in Crossfit…for now I will just have to wait it out.

Autoimmune Disease Rant

I’m sorry, I try to be positive. I try to look for solutions instead of focusing on problems, but today I feel like just ranting a little…for one day. So, here goes…

As many readers know, I have an autoimmune condition that has not been given an official diagnosis. Currently they call it “mixed” or “undifferentiated” autoimmune disease. Basically, we are waiting for more symptoms, so that we can give it an “official” name. Lupus? Scleroderma? Who knows? “We” (doctors) are just waiting to see where else in your body this is going to pop up so we can put a label on it. After a bout with pleurisy about 2 years ago, I finally agreed to take the medication Plaquenil. Its an anti-malaria medication that is shown to decrease inflammation levels. The problem is that after the doctor tried to convince me the medication was “mild”, he then said, ”oh and you need a yearly eye exam to make sure you don’t go blind from it”. Really? So the side effect is blindness? Great. I was desperate at the time, so I took it. I have been on it for about 2 years now.

A little over a month ago, I stopped taking it.  I decided to do trial run to see if I could stay off the medication. I have been pretty good with my exercise, Paleo diet, stress management, etc so I felt like maybe I didn’t need it anymore. It takes about 6-8 weeks to get out of your system, so I have been feeling the same for the last few weeks. Until maybe the last 3-4 days. Today its my knee that is aching. Last night it was the bottom of my feet. Over the weekend it was my wrists. I am afraid that my illness is going to come back full-blown. I am afraid I am going to have to get back on my medications. Or medications that are worse than the Plaquenil.  I am afraid that this knee pain is going to go back to how it used to be where I didnt even want to stand-up to walk my patients to the door. I am afraid my lungs or kidneys will spontaneously fail. I want off the meds, but I am so afraid right now.

I went to see an alternative doctor yesterday that put me on an even sticter diet plan. No granis, no dairy, no alcohol. I already knew that that is what I needed to do. The problem is that I think 100% compliance is unrealistic. For example, I was not pefect with my diet over the weekend, I ate Mexican food on saturday and some crackers and cheese at an Oscar party on sunday. BUT, that is not even two full meals of cheating. All my other meals were Paleo meals.   I feel that is as compliant as I am going to get.  Sometimes I want some spaghetti or Mexican food. I can’t live on 100% paleo all the time, I have a real social life. I can’t constantly live in this place of deprivation, eating salads and meat only. Never enjoying a glass of wine, cheesecake, or a delicious Italian dinner. Feeling guilty over too much fruit. I desperately want to get better, but I desperately want a balance. I want to eat a good diet, be at a healthy weight, feel good about my health and my life, and enjoy foods that I like from time to time and not be so afraid. I don’t know where that balance is….

My boyfriend says, that if I really feel that way, I should get back on the medications. That way I don’t have to be 100% compliant all the time (although I probably still will eat mostly Paleo, just because its better for me) AND I won’t have any pain. I just don’t know if I want to take that risk of getting back on the meds. I also can’t live with this diet forever, always trying to be more and more compliant, and never feeling good enough.

So, thats my rant for today. I am tired of thinking about it all the time. I am tired of reading the blogs, feeling my diet doesn’t add up, feeling that my results are not good enough or dramatic enough. My body is struggling with inflammation. I don’t know definitively why. Some say diet, environmental toxins, genetics, stress. I think its all of those factors. Just a big combination of things making my body freak out and attack itself. The solution as I see it today are 2 things: take the meds that could have side effects; or follow a diet that makes me feel sad and deprived that I will never be able to be 100% compliant with.  What would you choose?