Tag Archives: migraines

A Word About: Falling off the Wagon

I’ve had a very naughty week. September is a hard month for me, full of birthdays (including my own) and Father’s Day all of which tend to involve either eating out and cake or just high carb meals at hone….and cake. Usually I make the cake, and usually I’ve got the willpower to withstand the temptation. This last week, however, started with our little holiday. I behaved mostly, save for on our last night when I ate that bloody cake. It was awesome cake and you’ve got to be able to indulge yourself every once in a while or you’re bound to go crazy. Unfortunately for me, it also broke down my willpower for the next few days: my brother-in-law’s birthday was on Friday and I made the most awesome cake. I was actually extremely impressed with myself; so impressed I had two pieces. Again, I felt I needed to let off some steam, and in all honesty I didn’t/don’t feel guilty about it at all, but the physical reaction was quite impressive as well.

I could barely sleep that night: too much caffeine from the chocolate frosting and way too much sugar. Basically, I’d overloaded my system with carbs that it was no longer really equipped to handle. The next morning, my skin was gross – okay, not ‘gross’ but definitely not as pretty as it has been since I started LCing – and my hair was having a bad day. I also noticed that my lymphnodes were swollen and actually quite painful. In other words, all that bloody sugar had instantly compromised my immune system and my body was doing its best to fight off whatever I’d picked up from the Cafe that week. Yay, much fun.

Next problem: birthday cakes tend not to get completely eaten at parties right? And you can only send so much home with your guests. So that meant that there was left over cake in the fridge just begging to be eaten. And guess what? I did. Not all of it, luckily it was such good cake that my non-sweet-tooth husband ate most of it! Phew!

My point is, there’s going to be a week here or there where you fall off the LC wagon. I’ve done it before and I’ve done it again; I’m back on it now, but I know I’ll fall off again. This isn’t always an easy lifestyle decision we’ve made, and I think we all know that by now. We’re going to face temptation, whether it’s at a private birthday party or just at work when someone’s bought everyone coffee with cream and sugar just because. You’re not going to be able to plan the unforeseeable. The only thing we can do, as humans, is navigate those temptations as best as we can and if you fail once or twice that’s okay. I’ve been saying it a lot lately, and I’m not just trying to justify my week of bad eating here; we’re not just looking after our bodies here, people, but we’ve got to look after our minds too and if that means that once in a while you’ve got to eat that cookie: then eat the damned cookie. Just try to hold back and not devour the whole pack okay? And once we’ve had our little day(s) off, we have to climb back on that horse and get back to where we we were heading. Yes, it means you’ll likely have to face a little bit of carb flu again, and yes it means you’ll have cravings, but ask yourself this: isn’t it worth it? Remember where you’re going, not where you fell off your pony.

Clear Skies,

Vee

Advertisements

Low Carb and PMS

Firstly, welcome to all the new followers! Thanks for sifting through everything and tuning into LCO. 🙂

Today I want to briefly touch base with all you women out there who go through the irritation that is PMS. (Guys, clearly you don’t have to read along here, but hey, you never know when this information might come in useful to help your significant other!)

So, then: what is PMS and how might LC effect it? The first thing we should clear up before we dive into that is that not all women will ever experience PMS, some of us may suffer through some symptoms of it, while others get the full whammy. So, PMS: Pre-Menstrual Syndrome describes the symptoms prior, during, or even after a women’s monthly period arrives. Generally speaking these symptoms can include things like bloating, water retention, cravings, abdominal cramping, muscle pain, back and neck aches, headaches, gas, and/or migraines. Some of us might have all of them, others none! I tend to trade potential muscle aches for breast tenderness, no fun. Another thing many women.experience are mood swings, crankiness and depression.

Most of us assume that all this is due to hormonal swings as our body goes into its cycle. That’s not entirely accurate; hormones are certainly a piece of the puzzle, especially for women with PCOS – estrogen excess and progesterone deficiency can definitely be a factor. Other possible causes are a lack in Vitamin B6, abnormal glucose metabolism – i.e. high insulin resistance – and electrolyte misbalances. In addition, you’re more at risk of developing PMS symptoms if you smoke and/or have a BMI of over 30.

And this is where the LC comes in. Some of us may have gone to the doctor to ask about these things we go through around out period, and we might have been told that weight was a factor. So we troll the Internet and decided to try an LC diet since it seems to be the current thing to be doing. Great. Just be mindful that weight loss will initially mess around with all your internal settings, so make sure you’re taking the appropriate minerals and vitamins and keeping your electrolytes up. Cutting out foods you’ve been eating your whole life can lead to a sudden deficiency in certain essentials, so just be mindful of that.

Something else to keep an eye on is that some people appear to get worse PMS symptoms while on LC I honestly don’t know why – and I’ll try to find out, so stayed tuned!  – but it can get pretty bad. My advice is, if you’re one of these people, to up your carb count when you feel it start to get bad. If you do find that your PMS gets worse while on an LC, I would love to get your pointers and opinions.

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)

Migraines, Caffeine and the Low Carb Dream

This morning, I rolled out of bed, had my shower, got dressed and made myself the customary green tea – the only caffeine I allow myself now barring the occasional dark chocolate. I get one cup a day. That’s it. And today I really want more – I want to be on a caffeine high! Forget the fact that the crash at the end is worse than a hangover, I miss my university days where night and day blurred together without margins. It was a poetic time that; I remember watching the dawn on several occasions, struggling to finish the essay due at 9am that day.

“I can only abide mornings from the right way in,” I used to say.

Ah, good times. Then of course came the migraines. Inevitably after a couple of days stoked up on caffeinated beverages – not just coffee, I was a bad, bad girl and mainlined Red Bull, Rockstars, Mothers, and V –  my brain would decide to set itself on fire, release a herd of around a 10,000 mustangs, and rev up the migraine engine. The result was that I’d be forced to spend three days in a dark room, sick to my stomach, doped up on over-the-counter painkillers that made me feel only half connected to the world. When  I first moved in with my then-just-friends-later-husband the first thing he did was put all the coffee out of reach – not hard since I’m literally 5 foot nothing. I remember the first week without coffee being agony, I had shakes, headaches, bouts of anger and depression. It really was kind of pathetic to tell the truth, I mean, it’s not like I’d been on heroin or cocaine…seriously.

After the week of hell and a gentle reintroduction to caffeine through black tea – consumed in moderation! – my migraines became less frequent. Where before I’d have been having them at least twice a month, I was now down to once every two or three months with a few random flair ups in between, but those were minor and manageable. I don’t know how many of you suffer through migraines, but for those of you who don’t, I would like to elaborate a little bit on what it’s like to have them:

Think about an anvil. You know, like in a blacksmith shop. It gets worked over as the blacksmith goes about his business, bending metals to his will. The pressures an anvil faces – not just heat, but physical pressure – is the only thing I can compare having a migraine too. It’s like someone’s taken the inside of your head, compressed it in some sort of vicious vice, and then started hammering down on it over and over and over again with no relief. I used to describe the pain to my brother as a white hot knot of the worse pain you could experience sealed in a pressure cooker that just happens to be your skull. Sometimes I’d experience auras with my migraines: bright lights, spots of colour. Think eyestrain only with shards of broken glass being driven into your eye sockets. Sounds like fun right? And mine aren’t even the worse ones. A friend of mine was telling me that her cousin is literally crippled by migraines – she does not function as a human being because of the pain. I’d always considered myself lucky because I’d only ever experience mine a couple of times a month at most – I’d lose a week, maybe, out of every month – but other people lose entire months, completely unable to do anything.

“Isn’t there any medication out there for this stuff?” you ask, worried.

Of course there is, the trouble is the diagnosis: migraines are not chronic headaches; they have different triggers and medical science hasn’t quite been able to work out just what exactly sets them off. So while for some people a prescription of beta-blockers or blood thinners help combat the symptoms and the triggers, for others it makes absolutely no difference. My only recourse, for example, was the cut out things in my diet that I believed to be the triggers, and number one on that list was caffeine.

Caffeine does funny things to our bodies. It ups our energy levels in one quick burst, almost mimicking a sugar rush. After having cut it out, I now get a racing heart and feel anxious when I have a cup of full strength coffee. That’s because caffeine speeds up our metabolism – albeit temporarily – by causing a release of adrenalin. This makes the liver burn up any and all glycogen (sugar) it’s got in one burst, causing a spike in blood sugar, causing a rise in insulin levels aaaand basically messing with the LC balance you’ve been working on. That said, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone – people who are prone to unstable blood sugar or insulin levels should be wary of their caffeine consumption while on an LC diet, but others seem to be able to drink as normal.  It’s a funny old world, this.

After I started my LC diet I realised that my migraines became a thing of the past and it wasn’t just the lack of caffeine – like I said, only having one cup of green tea, I rarely drink decaf coffee now and hardly ever have black tea of any kind – but also the processed sugars I’d obviously been consuming. The beauty of an LC lifestyle is that you don’t realise how much crap you’re cutting out of your diet until you notice that you’re feeling so much better, your skin’s looking great, and not only are you losing weight but you’re getting some serious muscle definition. The best part, I find, is that people notice and compliment you! Now for me, hopelessly introverted when it comes to face to face meetings – yes, I know…I work in hospitality, don’t ask – the fact that people tell me I look ‘great’ or ‘wow, have you lost weight?’ makes a big difference and gives my self esteem a well deserved boost. It’s important to take those compliments on board: you’re doing this for yourself, but it never hurts to get a little help along the way!

Clear Skies,

Vee