Tag Archives: cholesterol

Acid vs. Alkaline

I often find that comparing our bodies to cars works really well: we’ve got intake systems, and output systems, and we require fuel to keep ourselves going. Fuel intake depends on the size of the model, and different fuels have different effects, etc. I’m not really very good at the mechanics or the engineering side of cars, though, so I’m going to have to find another analogy for this particular post.

Our bodies are a little bit like water…and given that we’re made up largely of water, that shouldn’t really be too far left field. Water has pH levels, dictating its acidity of alkaline levels – acid, sour; alkaline, er…not-sour? Help me out here, chemistry majors – and so do our bodies. One of the most acidic materials we produce as human beings is bile and stomach acid, which help us digest our food by breaking the substances we consume down into absorbable bits. Fairly straight forward.

For most healthy people, that’s a simple fact of life: you eat, your body digests, you go to the bathroom. Simple. For those of us struggling with health issues – whether it’s migraines, diabetes, PCOS, gall/kidney issues – this gets a little trickier. We might be on a variety of medications that can upset our digestion, or we might be on a particular diet that isn’t necessarily easy to digest, or both. For example: I’ve written about how I had my gallbladder removed in 2012 here, and have subsequently gone on to talk about the agonizing ‘phantom gallbladder attacks’ – a.k.a. bile-dumping – which still occasionally cause me great discomfort and pain. No fun. Lately, I’ve had very few issues with it, a fact which I attribute to switching to this LC diet I’m on: less processed food/sugar to digest has made it a lot easier for my body to regulate its bile production.

Every now and then, however, I do get an attack. They usually happen when I’ve consumed a particularly fatty meal for dinner – not exactly unheard of in an LCHF (Low-Carb High-Fat) diet! – and gone to bed before it’s had a good chance to digest. It starts off like heartburn and escalates to the feeling of someone driving a red hot knife up through my ribcage. Agony. For you girls who, like me, suffer(ed) from menstrual pain, this is worse. Usually rolling over to lie on my left side – not my preferred side – helps, otherwise I need to reach for the Quick-Eze or antacid meds, which usually knock me out of ketosis >.<.

A week ago, this was happening more and more, and I was getting more and more confused. After all, I’d had no trouble since I’d switched my eating habits, so what was the problem now? Turns out all the protein I’d been eating that week – primarily red meat and yes, cheese – was raising the acidity levels in my system to the point where the bile that my body produced to deal with the protein I’d consumed was so highly acidic that it was just agonizing in even small amounts.

Once I’d figured that out – thanks to Google and my GP – I immediately took action. This meant adding hot-water with lemon to my morning regime, and drinking water with apple cider vinegar in it throughout the day. For whatever reason, drinking these diluted acid compounds will raise your alkaline levels. Go figure. I’m sure there’s some sort of sciencey math in about it, but I haven’t got a head for that sort of thing… It’s meant to be really good for your overall health too, not just digestive.

What I’m getting at is that it’s important to maintain your body’s internal balances, especially when you’ve changed your eating habits or had some sort of digestive intervention.

If anyone finds any good sources for this, let me know? I’m keen to add to my reading list!

Clear skies,

Vee

PCOS

I promised at the start of this blog that I would be discussing PCOS as well as an LC diet. If this doesn’t interest you, then that’s fine, just skip this entry. 🙂 This is just the introductory entry, we’ll look at the diet in a PCOS light a little later on.

PCOS affects 1 in 8 women all over the world. In Australia, that’s 12% of all child-bearing women, and around 12 million women in the United States. More or less. That means that if you’re on a bus with twelve women, likelihood is that at least 2 women have it. Some of them won’t even know that that’s what’s causing some of their issues. Maybe they’re trying to get pregnant and have had no luck so far; maybe the lady sitting next to you is wearing those long sleeves because she’s embarrassed by the excessive arm hair she’s got – man hair, her friends might have teased in high school. And the girl sitting down the aisle to the left? Maybe she’s that fat not because she overeats but because she’s got high insulin resistance because her body’s hormonal balances are shot the hell.

For a very long time, PCOS was not considered a single illness: instead it had a host of other names, practically each symptom being addressed as an individual diagnosis. In 1935 a Drs. Irving Stein and Michael Leventhal first described the condition we now call PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  It went through a few phases, carrying a variety of different names.

So let’s take a look at what it actually is…

PCOS is complicated, and for such a common disease it’s actually relatively unheard of. Until I was diagnosed with it I’d certainly never heard of it; hell, for a long time even after the diagnosis I couldn’t figure out what it was. The GP who had diagnosed me wasn’t the best of the best, and she simply gave me the verdict and then left me to my own devices. I hope that isn’t the case with the rest of you, but I figure it depends on who you get – some GPs aren’t 100% familiar with PCOS, and as a result aren’t comfortable to get into the nitty gritty details. That said, I have a great respect for the medical profession, but if you’re not getting the information you need – even after asking several times – it’s time to move on, find a specialist or try a different GP. Gynaecologists are a safe bet for specialist information, or of course, you could hop onto the Internet and try your luck.

In a nutshell, the PCOS is all about insulin resistance – which we’ve covered here –, hormonal imbalances, infertility issues, and irregular periods. We’re not sure how or why PCOS takes hold; there’s plenty of theories with some heavy evidence weighing towards genetic factors. I suppose one of the big problems is that the diagnoses of the syndrome is still so young; it’s really a modern thing, and because of that a lot of women from before the 1990s didn’t know that’s what they had. For example, a woman in the 80s or 70s struggling to get pregnant or perhaps enduring several miscarriages with no apparent reason, might have had PCOS. In fact, it’s likely. But she’d never have been diagnosed with it because the terminology wasn’t widely used. Any daughters she might have run the risk of inheriting the genes prone to high insulin resistance but because she doesn’t know she has it she has no way of monitoring or forewarning her children. Sucky. Luckily we now can diagnose it, so those daughters at least know what they’ve got if they start having the same issues, and with any luck they can help their own kids prevent, avoid or deal with the syndrome themselves. We’ve come a long way since 1721 when the first suspected case was recorded.

This progress is largely due to the sharp development in medical technology and, of course, a deeper insight into female reproduction and women’s health – you’ve got to remember that for the longest time, women couldn’t become doctors, which must have had an impact on the study and diagnoses of women’s health issues.

The symptoms of PCOS, for those unfamiliar with the syndrome, are anovulation – when the ovaries don’t release the egg so ovulation doesn’t occur -, excessive androgens – male hormones -, and, of course, insulin resistance. These can lead to irregular periods, flawed ovulation, acne, hirutism, infertility, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes – especially type II -, and certain types of cancer. Mind you, apparently not all women develop polycystic ovaries and these symptoms vary from woman to woman, I don’t suffer from acne, for example, and only have minor trouble with hirutism compared to other women with PCOS.

Diagnosis tends to be made clinically, meaning that if a woman shows certain symptoms the GP assumes it’s PCOS and may or may not run a few blood test. To know for sure, ask your GP to run more thorough tests, such as a pelvic ultrasound that might show up any cysts growing on ovaries. Other tests they might run is a glucose test, which involves fasting, having blood drawn, drinking a sugary solution, and then having blood drawn at regular intervals. This helps them narrow down how high – if any – insulin resistance you have and how at risk you are for diabetes.

When I was first diagnosed, I was simply told to ‘lose weight’, without being given any advice on why or how. No one told me it would be difficult to lose weight, because no one told me what was causing the weight gain to start with. I’d been put onto a contraceptive pill to control my irregular periods, but further information about why any of this was happening to me didn’t occur until my regular GP happened to be away and I landed a different one. My new GP drew me some pictures and explained it to me in a way that I could understand, writing out some key terms for me to go home and research in my own time. She’s the one who explained about the weight loss – the fact that you’ve got too many male hormones in your system means your body is producing female ones to counter them, and that’s part of what’s causing the trouble. Your body’s storing those hormones rather than flushing them from your system. Remember that Breakthrough Bleeding post? Yeah, that’s where this comes in again, all that estrogen that you’ve been storing in your fat cells because you’ve got too much testosterone floating around in your system is causing a spike in your androgen levels. And round and round and round it goes until suddenly you’re suffering from crippling menstrual cramps, migraines, and worse.

Getting this under control is no easy feat, but the important thing to keep in mind is that it can be done. There’s no cure yet for PCOS, but there are ways of dealing with it, of coping and working around the symptoms in such a way that you can live a happy and full life, and yes, with a little bit of patience, effort and careful diet managing, you can conceive and carry a child to term quite easily. I don’t have any children, so I’m not speaking from experience in that regard, but studies have shown that even a small loss of weight can help remedy the hormonal imbalances that are blocking your way to motherhood. I’ll do some more research in that regard and write about it later since I don’t have any real world experience to back it up with.

I’ll leave it there for now, if you have any questions or whatnot, you know how to reach me.

Clear Skies,

Vee

A few Sites and Articles to look at for more information:
http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1069067/
http://www.webmd.com/women/tc/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-exams-and-tests (this one is a little…um, mundane. I don’t usually site or use WebMD as a source, but it gives you a good place to start)
http://www.womhealth.org.au/conditions-and-treatments/95-polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-pcos
http://www.healthyfoodguide.com.au/articles/2009/february/food-and-pcos-how-diet-can-help
http://www.pcosdietsupport.com/ (This one’s particularly good)

A Word About: Cholesterol

You’ve just had your cholesterol checked, you get back a bunch of numbers and letters and you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking at. Your doctor says it’s a little high, but why? What is ‘high’ cholesterol? Your best friend mutters something about good cholesterol vs. bad cholesterol, and some guy on the bus is up on a soapbox about how cholesterol medication is uber bad for you.

Cholesterol is confusing. It has become a dirty word that people don’t entirely understand so let’s demystify it a little.

I first found out it could be ‘bad’ when my father came home, told he was going to have to ‘watch it’ or take some pills for it. I wasn’t the researching-addict that I am today, otherwise I would’ve figured things out a little sooner but when I asked what this meant I was informed it meant we were going to have to regulate our familial intake of saturated fats.

“Yay! Sure, great! Um…what’s saturated fat?”  was my next question.

It’s a good question actually.

We’ve talked about transfats already, now we’ve got saturated, unsaturated, mono unsaturated, and polyunsaturated. It’s enough to do your head in. Here’s a website that’ll explain all the science stuff about what these fats actually do and how they react with hydrogen and stuff, but, let’s break it down into simple talk so we’re all on the same page:

Saturated Fats: usually in dairy and meat, because of its chemical structure it leads to a rise in bad cholesterol (LDL).

Unsaturated Fats: come in two forms, mono and poly, depending on their structure. They lower LDL and raise good cholesterol (HDL) by bringing the LDL to the liver to be broken down. You need to get poly unsaturated fats through your diet because your body can’t produce it.

So basically, saturated –bad, unsaturated – good. Simpler right? Good.

I’ve been tossing around HDL LDL, so many LLLLL! Let me explanify. It’s all cholesterol, and it tends to be split into two camps: good (HDL) and bad (LDL). Ideally, you’re going to be keeping all your numbers low, with your HDL higher than your LDL. Cholesterol is used by the body to, among other things, build cell membranes, make hormones (like estrogen, testosterone, and adrenalin), helps produce vitamin D and maintain a healthy metabolism.

LDL cholesterol stands for Low-density lipoprotein. This is the stuff that can potentially clog your arteries if you’ve got too much of it.

HDL cholesterol is High-density liprotein and acts a little like a clean up crew, removing LDL from your bloodstream.

Now, you don’t need to eat foods with cholesterol in them to get your poly unsaturated fats. Poly unsaturated fats contain Omega 3 and 6 which you can take either as supplements; it’s important that you limit your cholesterol intake, especially since high cholesterol foods often contain high saturated fats, and we’re avoiding those!

Hope that helps a little, if you need more information – or haven’t understood a word I’ve written (fair enough) check out this.

Clear Skies,

Vee

Going for the Good Things

“Alright, Vee, you’ve bored us to bits with the potential bad effects of being on one of these things. I’m not sure I can cope with that whole carb flu business. Why should I be doing this? I want to lose weight but…”

“I get it,” I say calmly, “don’t worry, there’s other side effects, you know, apart from weight loss.”

“Yay for side effects!” you grumble sarcastically.

“No, really! I’m talking about the good kind!”

Most people seem to think that the side effects only refer to the negative ones, which we’ve already been through: carb flu, dizziness, nausea, headaches, etc. But! There are also good ones! So while you’re primary goal is to lose weight you’re going to be reaping a whole lot of benefits, not only from the actual weight loss, but also from the fact that you’re not blindly consuming all that sugar!

One of the first things I noticed after I got over my initial withdrawals was a clear headedness I’d never experienced before. I looked it up, as I do, and realised that people refer to the cloudiness as ‘carb fog’, which after cutting back on processed foods and sugars, lifts and lets you think clearly. It’s an amazing feeling really, one that I can’t really explain to you unless you already know what I’m talking about: it’s like a veil is pulled off your brain and you can suddenly think on your feet. It really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

The other thing that I became aware of was an increase in energy levels. Honestly, I thought I’d been drinking caffeinated tea all day instead of herbal: I felt like I was buzzing on a caffeine high, only without the customary agitation I experience during one of those. I felt rested, relaxed, and I noticed that I didn’t need to sleep the full ten hours a night that I’d so desperately needed for the past decade and a half.

I’ve also found that I have no ‘phantom gall-bladder’ attacks anymore (see the post where I talk about that here) and no more migraines. I’m also not getting sick every time I pass someone in the street with the sniffles: definite boost to my immune system, for the win!

In more medical terms, I had another blood test done in May to check if my ‘fatty liver’ was a little less fatty after all these months of dieting. Turns out, it’s doing pretty great! Still needs a little work, but already it’s doing much better. My already good cholesterol showed increases in HDL (good) and drops in LDL (bad) which is the right way to go; it’s often a concern with LC diets that by eating more fat you’re increasing your cholesterol but keep in mind that you should be eating the right kinds of fat, and that that will increase your HDL and drop your LDL, which is what mine’s doing.

Whether all this is universal, I don’t know, but having poked around online a little bit, they’re certainly not unheard of!

Other benefits you can reap from changing to an LC lifestyle is lowering of high blood pressure, steadier insulin/blood sugar levels (like I banged on about the other day!), boosts in your metabolism (yay, energy boost!), and a loss of appetite – in a good way, it basically stops you from craving food when you’re not actually hungry, leaving you more satisfied with what you do eat!

From that small list, I have noticed that I’m not hungry all the time anymore; I don’t find myself standing in front of the fridge an hour after a meal wondering what I can eat. I do get ‘real’ hungry about 2-3 hours after I’ve had a meal, but that’s because I’m grazing and it’s normal.

I suggest that if you’re going to start an LC diet, or if you’re on one, that you go talk to GP – which you should be doing anyway! – and maybe look into seeing how the diet’s improving certain things like a fatty liver or your cholesterol levels. I found that actually looking at these numbers really helped focus myself on what I was achieving here: it’s not just weight loss, it’s a whole host of other health benefits.

A Word About: Transfats

The use of transfats has spiked in the last decade. You’ll find it in almost every convenience food, snack, and prepacked product you might feel like buying. But what the heck is it?

Transfat is a type of unsaturated fat that has been chemically altered to act like saturated fat. I think it’s done because it supposedly improves the flavour of the products they’re in, thus increasing the sales. The danger with transfats is that they raise your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good ones. (Bad Cholesterol = LDL, Good Cholesterol = HDL; so next time you get your cholesterol checked, ask your GP to talk to you about which one you’re higher in!). High LDL cholesterol levels raise the risk for heart diseases; it clogs up your blood vessels and can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and all sorts of other issues, check out this video for a good visual: http://www.heartattackfacts.org.au/heart-attack-facts/what-is-a-heart-attack/

If you want to know more, have a look at the Transfat and the Cholesterol entries on the Heart Foundation Australia website, they have excellent information available on what the trouble is and how to avoid them. In general, look for a Heart Foundation tick, but don’t forget to actually read the labels – stickers with ticks on them are great, but not all ticks are 100% reliable! Check your sources before you eat!