How Low of a Low Carb Diet is Correct for You?

As most of you know, I am a strong proponent of the Paleo lifestyle. My practice is very Paleo focused. Paleo eating leans heavily on vegies, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs and grass fed protein. It strongly suggests a very limited consumption of grains, simple carbs and little dairy. Having said that, there is an important place for carbohydrates in your diet. They play are critical roles in many aspects of our health and metabolism. So the real questions is “What is the correct about of carbs you should be consuming?” This is the first of two news letters that will examine living a truly healthy life in relationship to the role carbs play in our diet.

Chances are, you have, at least once, been solicited to buy into some sort of miracle diet touting low-carb high protein intake as a fast and painless way of losing weight, such as Atkins or Southbeach. Many of you may even have entertained trying out this kind of extreme diet for yourself.  What most people don’t realize is that carb-intake can affect everything from your gut to your brain. Have your been feeling sluggish, anxious, or depressed? Having problems with digestion? These issues and more can all be influenced by carb-intake. When you choose to go low-carb, you are actually inviting a host of risks upon yourself. Let’s explore how to clarify the low-carb myth:

Let’s begin with the basics. For the sake of simplicity, carbohydrates are sugars, fibers, and starches. They can be found in a huge variety of foods including bread, potatoes, beans, milk, vegetables, pasta, and fruits, with the unhealthiest carbs being found in highly processed, refined foods like white bread, pastries and soda. When you eat any carb-containing food your body is provided with glucose, which is converted to energy. Our bodies need this energy to support daily bodily functions and physical activity. However, choosing unhealthy and too easily digested carbs (like white bread and soda) is a proven cause of weight gain, diabetes, and even heart disease (Harvard). In light of this new-age plague of obesity and heart disease that has stricken the country, it is no surprise that low-carb diets have been thrown into the spotlight in the past decade or so.

Low-carb diets are, obviously, based on limiting carbohydrate intake, while also encouraging consumption of foods high in protein and fat, like meat, eggs, and cheese. Most diets will give you a certain percentage of your daily calorie intake that should come from carbs. A diet low in carbohydrates would typically require somewhere around 10-20% of your daily calories to come from carbs (whereas the typical American will consume 45%-65% of calories a day from carbs) (Mayoclinic). These diets can be quite tricky, as avoiding carbs is surprisingly hard to do for most people. Imagine going to the grocery store and having to walk past all the grains, beans, nuts, fruits, pastas and starchy vegetables!

However, ad campaigns and the media will have you believe that managing to attain the sort of excessive discipline a low-carb diet requires can have great pay-offs. Carbs, particularly refined ones, can cause a quick rise in blood sugar and subsequently an increase in insulin, which can then lead to an increase in hunger and naturally, weight gain (UMM). Therefore avoiding carbs supposedly forces the body to burn stored fat for energy due to lower insulin levels, which in turn encourages weight loss (Mayoclinic). Some people have reported shedding up to 15 pounds in two weeks on the Atkins diet. However, it would be a fallacy to judge diets based on only the first few weeks of trials, for a lot can change—and reverse—when held to the test of time (US News). That being said, if a low-carb diet sounds a little too good to be true to you, you’re absolutely right! The following is a carefully researched list of what really takes place when you make the choice to go low-carb:

-As I hinted at before, low-carb diets seem a bit less promising when evaluated over long periods of time. In the short term, much of what’s shed on low-carb diets is actually just water-weight (US news). Most studies find that, after 12-24 months, low-carb diets don’t produce significantly more weight-loss when compared to diets based on mere increases in protein-intake unaccompanied by a carb decrease (Mayoclinic).

-A sudden and drastic decrease in carb-intake can inspire some pretty bad side effects including weakness, fatigue, bad breath, and headache. Severely restricted carb-intake has also been shown to result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies and/or bone loss over time (Mayoclinic). Further, carbohydrates contain valuable probiotics that help keep our guts healthy, so avoiding them could lead to an alteration of gut-flora, which often manifests as diarrhea or constipation. (Kresser).

-If you engage in moderate exercise several times a week, restricting your carb-intake can lead to severely damaging conditions, including but not limited to: decreased thyroid output, decreased testosterone, impaired cognitive function, suppressed immune function, and slowed metabolism. In other words, depriving your body of one of its main sources of energy is likely to make you feel sick and sluggish, and inspire more than just your average bad mood.

-Women are particularly prone to experiencing the negative side effects of carb deficiencies. Unbeknownst to many, low-carb diets can disrupt hormone production, leading to a stopped or irregular menstrual cycle, more body fat, and, more gravely, lowered fertility, hypoglycemia, anxiety, and depression (Precision Nutrition). 

-And finally, while low-carb diets almost always promise you heart-healthy benefits, a report from the American Heart Association concluded that there is not enough evidence to say whether or not diets low in carbohydrates are, in fact, good for the heart (Mayoclinic).

Given the evidence, it is safe to say that low-carb diets are not a good choice for most people, despite all that jazz you may hear about the Paleo diet and carb-free diets being “man’s original way of eating.” 

I would like to stress that, regardless of whether you need to diet or not, every one of you should be aware of the amount of carbs you are in fact ingesting. Many people who experience physical and mental ailments may not consider the possibility that the culprit is their diet; even worse, many are blissfully unaware of how skewed their diet is from the national recommendation, and how profound an effect these small divergences can have on the body. So if you find yourself suffering from any of the aforementioned symptoms (lethargy, indigestion, anxiety, etc.) please stay tuned for part two of this newsletter, which will be out in December and contain a guide on how to find your optimal carb–intake, without having to go to any extremes.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

The Adrenal Glands: The Body’s Alarm System

The Adrenal Glands: The Body’s Alarm System

Adrenal Fatigue: What is it?

With more and more stress at home and at work, it is unsurprising that adrenal fatigue is on the rise. The pressures of life put many in a constant state of “fight or flight,” leaving our adrenal glands working overtime until they can no longer keep up. Adrenal fatigue is a direct result of this overworked, stressed, and rushed lifestyle, and can result in some serious health consequences in both the short and long term. Unfortunately, some medical doctors only treat patients for adrenal fatigue when these patients exhibit symptoms of Addison’s disease (extremely little adrenal function) or Cushing’s disease (hyperactive adrenal function). Addison’s and Cushing’s disease are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and only affect 2% of the population. However, some experts believe that over 80% of the population suffers from some level of adrenal malfunction. In the following article we will describe what the adrenals are, their role in the body, and some simple methods for determining how effectively your adrenals are working for you.

What are the adrenal glands?

The adrenals glands are walnut-sized glands located above the kidneys. Each gland is composed of two separate functional entities. The outer zone, also known as the adrenal cortex, is comprised of roughly 80-90% of the glands size and secretes adrenal steroids (Cortisol, DHEA(S), estrogen, testosterone, and Aldosterone). The inner zone, or medulla, accounts for roughly 10-20% of the gland, and is responsible for secreting adrenaline. Cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline are the three main adrenal stress hormones.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol helps us meet the big challenges of the day. It converts proteins into energy and counteracts inflammation. In short bursts, it is very useful. In urgent situations, cortisol can increase heart rate, blood pressure, release energy stores for immediate use, slow digestion and non-emergency functions, and sharpen senses. Our bodies are not meant to maintain these states for very long, nor enter into them very often.

It can be very detrimental when cortisol release is sustained at high levels for long periods of time. Over-production of cortisol means the underproduction of other necessary hormones. We remain stuck in a state of overdrive while our energy levels, bone health, muscle production, mood, joints, sex drive and immunity all suffer.

The Adrenal Rhythm

The human adrenal gland releases cortisol in a cycle with the highest value released in the morning, the lowest value released in the evening. This 24-hour cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. These hormones help supply us with the necessary energy we need throughout the day.

How modern life contributes to adrenal malfunction

Unlike our ancestors, we live in a state of constant stress. Instead of sporadic, immediate demands followed by rest, we live in a world of constant communication, fast food, environmental toxins, and worry. It’s no wonder that many adults suffer from adrenal malfunction. That’s why it’s important to keep on the watch for these 7 common signs and symptoms of abnormal adrenal function.

9 Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Abnormal Adrenal Function

1.      Low energy. Abnormal adrenal function can alter the cells ability to produce the correct amount of energy for the day’s activities. People who struggle to wake up and keep themselves going through the day often have abnormal adrenal rhythms and poor blood sugar regulation. Additionally, cortisol levels control thyroid hormone production. Fatigue and low body temperature, symptoms of hypothyroidism, can be attributed to adrenal malfunction.

2.      Behavior, mood, and memory problems. Cortisol regulates the electrical activity of neurons in the brain, greatly influencing behavior, mood, and memory. Symptoms include depression, decreased tolerance, clarity of thought, memory, and memory retrieval.

3.      Muscle and joint pain. Abnormal adrenal function can compromise tissue healing, often leading to breakdowns and chronic pain.

4.      Weak bones. The adrenal rhythm determines bone health. If our cortisol levels are too high, our bones will not rebuild well and will become more susceptible to osteoporosis.

5.      Poor Immune System Health. The immune system’s white blood cells follows the cortisol cycle. If the cycle is disrupted, the immune system cells will not receive the conditioning, nourishment, and instructions necessary to protect the body. These immune system failures can be seen in the lungs, throat, urinary and intestinal tract, leading to increasing susceptibility to infection and allergy onset.

6.      Asthma, bronchitis, or chronic cough. The lungs react poorly to stress. Asthma is often considered an emotional disorder because stress can trigger attacks.

7.      Un-restful Sleep. When cortisol values are high at night, REM sleep cycles are more difficult to achieve. Chronic lack of restful sleep reduces mental vitality, bodily strength, and can induce depression.

8.      Skin problems. Human skin regenerates when we rest at night. High cortisol values during the evening reduce skin regeneration.

9.      Food allergies, specifically to gluten. Genetic intolerances to grain can inflame the gut and spur an adrenal stress response. Since almost ¼ people living in the U.S. suffer from gluten intolerances, this is a common cause of adrenal malfunction.

If you or a loved one suffers from any of the above symptoms, it is crucial to visit a health practitioner. Some medical doctors prescribe pharmaceutical hormones for issues related to adrenal malfunction. Due to the pharmaceutical hormones' side effects many medical practitioners, such as those at Digestive Health Ann Arbor, are now instead turning to changes in lifestyle and diet, as well as bio-identical hormones. It is crucial that you find a health practitioner who understands how to incorporate a variety of treatments that work for your needs.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.