Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pod'n Me: the Ramblings of a Paleo? Catholic

In my struggle to understand how to best help my daughter get well, I have become addicted to  alternative health podcasts.

I eagerly await each new show from "The Healthy Skeptic" by Chris Kresser.  He is far and away my favorite podcaster because of the depth of his knowledge but also because he doesn't have an agenda:  He's open minded.  I also find excellent information on several others like "Paleo Body, Paleo Mind" and Jimmy Moore's "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb".  (Chris Kresser discusses the variations in the "paleo" classification here.)    I have learned lots of things that have helped me with the choices I am confronted with in dealing with Emma's Hashimoto's/gluten intolerance/depression.  Sometimes it is helpful details.  On a "Healthy Skeptic" podcast I learned about the influence selenium has on the body's ability to handle iodine supplementation.  On a "Primal Body, Primal Mind" interview with Dr. Janet Lang, I learned about using minuscule amounts of iodine for Hashimoto's once the patient is stable--their immune system is no longer attacking the thyroid gland.  It reaffirmed my decision not to give Emma iodine in the beginning of her treatment.  I think I understand now why she crashed and burned when she took the prescription cortisol and bioidentical thyroid in December.  Her adrenals were just too weak for her body to handle it.  I shudder to think what might have happened if I had given her the prescribed iodine then.

 I hear all the time about people with Hashimoto's who just take thyroid medication and are "fine" without changing their diet or doing anything hard, the implication being that Emma is suffering needlessly by going medication-free.  It discourages me horribly.  To all those people, we tried medication.  Emma not only didn't improve, she got dramatically worse.  Listening to podcasts gives me the support I desperately need to stick with what we are doing.  She is dependent on me to help her to stay motivated as well.  She chose the path we are on when I gave her the options six months ago.  She decided that she wanted to go off the medication, and she decided that going gluten-free only wasn't enough.  She wanted to do the GAPS diet because it offers the best chance at healing the gut, thereby calming the immune system, which is the critical issue with an autoimmune disease.  GAPS, being grain-free and sugar-free, fits the paleo  ideal.

As far as the big picture goes, Chris Kresser's podcast on the Gut-Brain Connection is incredible.  I think it is basic knowledge that everyone needs but especially young women who plan to marry.  They are going to be responsible for their children's health and their husband's, and this information is foundational.  I had already read a lot about this subject, but this podcast deepened and broadened my understanding.  Plus, a lot of these topics are complicated, so the more times I hear/read about them, the more I "get it".

I have found that my Catholic faith dovetails perfectly with my better understanding of nutrition and how the body works.  It's pretty funny, as most of the podcasters I listen to are evolutionists and/or feminists.  I have learned from them that the birth control pill is a hormone disaster, rendering a woman estrogen dominant,  which is the underlying cause of many serious health problems.  And the hormone imbalance doesn't necessarily correct itself when the woman stops taking "the pill".  To eat a diet that produces health, someone needs to stay home and make everything from scratch.  You can't buy anything prepackaged or eat fast food if you want to avoid industrial seed oils, high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified food, preservatives, MSG, gluten, and sugar.  And when you do take these foods out of your diet, and eat good fats, grassfed meat, and organic vegetables, you get pregnant!  Chris Kresser and Robb Wolf (of the Paleo Solution) have both talked about this phenomenon.  Their clients are discovering fabulously increased fertility.  Robb Wolf talked about a woman who followed his diet and exercise recommendations and got pregnant for the first time when she was 48!  She had been through all kinds of fertility treatments without success.  I found support for traditional femininity in an interview with a fertility specialist who prescribes this way of eating (nutrient dense/low-carb/paleo) for his patients.  He said that fertility doctors are seeing the first wave of women who grew up playing competitive sports.  They are experiencing infertility because their hard training (stress, low body fat) caused their Hypothalamus/Pituitary/Adrenal (HPA) to become dysfunctional.  Here is an explanation of the HPA axis from the National Institutes of Health:

The Stress Circuit

The HPA axis is a feedback loop by which signals from the brain trigger the release of hormones needed to respond to stress. Because of its function, the HPA axis is also sometimes called the "stress circuit."  Briefly, in response to a stress, the brain region known as the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). In turn, CRH acts on the pituitary gland, just beneath the brain, triggering the release of another hormone, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) into the bloodstream. Next, ACTH signals the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, to release a number of hormonal compounds.

I once read that ideally, a woman needs about 28% body fat to be able to conceive,  maintain a healthy pregnancy, and nurse the baby.  I don't know what the recommendation is now, but the point is that women need stored fat to be able to do well what they are designed to do.  Low body fat and constant stress can contribute to amenorreah.  It's interesting that the fascination with women being skinny came about at the same time as the introduction of the birth control pill.

A couple of these "paleo" podcasters even promote prayer/meditation as essential to overall health.  For all these reasons, I feel like I have found the companion diet for John Senior's The Restoration of Christian Culture.  This approach to health/lifestyle is also a ringing endorsement for Fr. Vincent McNabb's The Church and The Land, as the easiest way to eat the way you should while having babies is to live in the country and raise your own meat and vegetables.


Emily G. said...

We're finding ourselves more and more motivated these days to pursue our dream of leaving the city someday so we can grow more of our own food products. We're trying to build as much knowledge and store as much information as possible now, so that when we get a place we can put it to good use right away.

I too, have read about the connection between body fat and fertility, and reflected on the correlation between the birth control pill and the popularity of unnaturally skinny women. Sometimes when I look at myself and lament the padding I have here and there, my husband kindly reminds me that I have that fat to help my body do what it needs to do as a mother. Right now when I'm both pregnant and nursing, and dont' have much of an appetite, I'm glad I have fat reserves. :)

How has Emma been feeling lately? Any better?

Mary Ashley Burton said...

I did a search for "catholic paleo" and found this post...I'm glad I did! I've been getting into paleo more and more heavily, and I agree that it reinforces aspects of my faith. On the very basic level, I feel good that I'm eating according to how my body has been designed, and taking advantage of the wonderful, natural foods God has created for us. I am also fascinated that fasting not only has spiritual benefits, but physical ones.