Category Archives: Food

Vegetarian and Vegan Diet and Cardiovascular Risk

 

spinach salad 2017

This past year, several people I love and care about were beset with illness. They are vegetarians or eat very little meat. One friend switched to a vegetarian diet for religious reasons and saw her energy level drop substantially and she was no longer able to adhere to her normal exercise routine. When she added meat back to her diet, her energy returned.  Of course, not everyone experiences adverse effects from cutting meat out of their diet, nor do they have such sudden symptoms. Different people thrive on different types of diets (except, Michael Pollan argues in In Defense of Food on the typical American diet.) Other vegetarians I love and care about have experienced cerebrovascular accidents (CVA), otherwise known as strokes.

Is Vitamin B12 deficiency a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in vegetarians? :

There is an inverse relationship between homocysteine levels and some B vitamins, namely Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6. Because Vitamin B12 is found mainly in meat (it is also found in eggs), vegetarians and vegans are at risk of being Vitamin B12 deficient. This can correlate with a high blood homocysteine level, which has been associated with cardiovascular consequences. Homocysteine levels can be lowered by getting enough vitamin B12 and folate in your diet, or by supplementing these B vitamins. More work needs to be done; I’d love to see more studies related to the relationship between nutrients and health. I’d also like to see routine testing for Vitamin B12 levels in the blood.

In my own experience, doctors have recently been more regularly checking their patients’ serum Vitamin D levels. This is great since Vitamin D is a stem-cell-regulating hormone and good for so many body systems. I’d love to see the same trend happen with Vitamin B12. In my case, only two doctors, out of 20 or more, tested my Vitamin B12 level, despite classic B12 deficiency symptoms. Because my Vitamin B12 level was “low normal,” between 200 – 400 pmol/L, the deficiency diagnosis was initially missed. However, some people at this “low normal” level are actually deficient. I should of had follow-up testing back in 2008, but it wasn’t until late 2011, when a doctors’ office used a scale where their “normal” started at 400 pmol/L of Vitamin B12 and, subsequently, Dr. Joe diagnosed me with a Vitamin B12 deficiency (and later pernicious anemia).

I know a lot of people who are vegetarian or vegan. I am not trying to lure anyone back to being a meat-eater, but am concerned about long-term health effects from a diet often chosen for its health benefits (of which there are many). I have an auto-immune disease that, due to lack of Vitamin B12 in my system, has caused neurological damage from which I am still recovering. Because this has had such a devastating effect on my health and lifestyle, I tend to see the world with my “B12 goggles” on. Because the liver stores Vitamin B12, it can take many years before a deficiency manifests. When it does manifest, symptoms can be sudden and severe. I have good friends who are vegetarians. I admire them for their choice: I take it as a sign of their wanting to live healthfully, mindfully, and with an intentional awareness of their impact in the world.

To my vegetarian and vegan friends:

I love you. I admire you. I want you to be healthy and thrive so you can continue to make amazing, positive contributions to this world. Consider supplementing with Vitamin B12 for your long-term wellness.

Be well and B12.

 

Photo: Organic peanut butter on celery:

celery PB 2017

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METHYLATION MAZE: MTHFR Diagnosis

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I was tested for MTHFR gene defect in November. MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase and is an enzyme. My test came back positive (+) for the MTHFR gene mutation, specifically, I have two copies of the C677T variation (C677T/ C677T). My friend tells me this is “the worst” diagnosis. I don’t know if it’s “the worst,” but am focusing on what it means and what I can do to help my body deal with this abnormality.

I am still sorting through information on the Internet. What seems to be consistent is that it is a fairly common gene mutation and it can adversely affect the homocysteine levels in the bloodstream, thereby having cardiovascular implications , such as stroke and cardiovascular disease. It also seems to have a role to play in the risk for colon cancer, as well as possibly for depression and other health problems.

I found the Ben Lynch’s MTHFR.net Web site to be helpful, but a bit complicated. Joe Leech’s YouTube videos provide more accessible information on implications of an MTHFR gene mutation.

I tried adding a MTHFR-5 (methylfolate) supplement to my diet and did not tolerate it well. I experienced a lot of anxiety, agitation, and insomnia with a methylfolate supplementation. I reduced the dose, but continued to have side effects. What has worked best, so far, is to add folate-rich foods to my diet. MTHFR Living site gives a summation of natural sources of nutrients that are good for people with an MTHFR defect, but it seems like a sensible list for everyone to follow.

I suspected I would test positive for the genetic mutation because I do not seem to metabolize well the B12 (methylcobalamin) injections I take for pernicious anemia (Pernicious anemia is an inability to absorb the Vitamin B12 in food because of an autoimmune disease.). Although my serum (blood) levels show high levels of B12, I feel like I don’t metabolize the injections very well, and I seem to need them more often than a PA diagnosis would indicate. My body also reacts strangely to the numbing agent used during dental procedures. The last time I had dental work, much to the surprise of my dentist, I had to have more numbing agent injected about halfway through the procedure. I suspect this might be related to the MTHFR mutation.

There is conflicting information on whether folic acid or folate is recommended to treat this variation. This medical source implies there is no difference between folic acid and folate (both are Vitamin B9).  Other sources recommend avoiding folic acid in favor of more bio-available folate.

I have a lot of learning to do, but am starting to get a sense of what will work best for me. The good news is perhaps not surprising: some of the most folate-rich foods are ones I crave the most, such as spinach, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, mangos, and romaine lettuce. I keep a list of folate-rich foods on my fridge and make it a point to enjoy food with folate every day.

Be well!

cruciferous

Famous People with Pernicious Anemia

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A friend of mine sent me a link to the New York Times article: ” Was Mary Todd Lincoln Driven ‘Mad’ by a Vitamin Deficiency? ” It turns out she had a lot of the physical and psychological symptoms that fit with pernicious anemia.

In 2012, shortly after my diagnosis of pernicious anemia, a friend in Chicago said she thought Annie Oakley died from pernicious anemia. A quick search online seems to bear this out.

The article about Mary Todd Lincoln states “Severe cases are not often seen now because blood tests can diagnose the disease early and doctors can treat it. But that was not so in Mrs. Lincoln’s day.”

This was an unsettling statement because, although pernicious anemia is now an easily diagnosed disease, it is not always readily diagnosed. I think much of this is due to doctors not being aware of the symptoms and are mistakenly looking at red blood cell enlargement on a CBC (complete blood count) as the indicator of whether to test a patient’s serum vitamin B12 level.

A woman I know has symptoms of orthostatic intolerance and many symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. She is not quite vegetarian–but she eats very little meat (vitamin B12 is mostly found in meat and eggs), so is squarely in the risk group for low B12 levels. Yet, her physician refused to check a baseline vitamin B12 level because her other labwork results didn’t warrant it. My guess is that the doctor didn’t see the enlarged red blood cells that indicate severe and late-stage B12 deficiency. This doctor apparently doesn’t know that B12 levels on the low side of normal are sometimes an indicator of vitamin B12 deficiency. Without visible blood cell changes, there can be severe nervous system damage taking place.

This lack of knowledge will continue to be detrimental and, in some cases, devastating to the lives of people with undiagnosed/ misdiagnosed vitamin B12 deficiencies.  Medical schools need to start teaching about the damage that can be done in the human body with “low-normal” vitamin B12 levels and health care practitioners need to start sharing this information.

The Big POTS Study

I recently ran across the Big POTS Study questionnaire on the Dysautonomia International Facebook site. They also have a link to the survey on their Web site. Dysautonomia International can also be found on Twitter at @Dysautonomia. The Big POTS Study is sponsored by Vanderbilt University and Dysautonomia International and means to study the impact of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

The survey took an hour or two to complete. The questions brought up a lot of emotion; it was a bit like picking at the scab of a wound I thought had healed. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that there is a question that asks what you think caused your POTS. According to the doctor who finally diagnosed my pernicious anemia, the autoimmune disease pernicious anemia was the cause of all of my POTS symptoms. Pernicious anemia blocks the uptake of vitamin B12, which is critical for myelin sheath formation, so it makes sense that, if someone is not getting enough vitamin B12, their autonomic nervous system is not going to be happy. My blog post POTS vs. Vitamin B12: a Venn Diagram, explains this further.

To complete the survey was a time and emotional commitment, but my hope is that my input will help others. If you have received a diagnosis of POTS, I encourage you to complete the 29-page survey.

October is Dysautonomia Awareness Month.

Be Well & B12!

 

The Goiter Belt and the Importance of Iodine

rural bettendorf

Here in the Midwest (of the United States), we live in “the Goiter Belt.” A goiter is “an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland.” The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, is an extremely important gland and can affect mood and body functions. The Mayo Clinic lists common signs and symptoms of hyper- (“high”) and hypothyroid (“low”) imbalances. This list is by no means exhaustive.

“Although goiters are usually painless, a large goiter can cause a cough and make it difficult for you to swallow or breathe.The most common cause of goiter worldwide is a lack of iodine in the diet.”

According to WH Foods, “iodine is a key component of the hormones made in the thyroid gland. These hormones are absolutely critical to human health, helping to control energy production and utilization in nearly every cell of the body.

The balance of iodine in the thyroid gland is tricky, and both too much and too little iodine can slow down the production of hormones. This is not a situation where more is always better.”
Also according to WH Foods, “the risk of iodine deficiency is substantial in the United States and has been on the rise. The average urinary iodine level—a good measure of recent dietary iodine intake—has dropped by more than half since the 1970s. …
…The reason iodine levels  are dropping in the population is two-fold. One is that within the world of commercial baking, many bread manufacturers have moved away from iodine-containing compounds to keep dough fresh. But a bigger change is that the average U.S. household is doing less and less home cooking and resorting more and more often to prepackaged foods, ready-to-eat foods, and restaurant eating (including fast food eating). …even though many prepackaged foods are high in sodium, the salt added to these foods has not necessarily been fortified with iodine…There is a good bit of unpredictability in the iodine content of prepackaged and ready-to-eat foods.”
“There are compounds called thiocyanates in some commonly consumed foods. At high concentrations, these chemicals can interfere with the uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland, making a person seem like they have iodine deficiency, when they may not. The common thiocyanate containing foods include cassava, soy, and Brassica Family vegetables “(commonly known as cruciferous vegetables). “Tobacco smoke also contains thiocyanates.”
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The proper intake of iodine–not too much, and not too little– is critical for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. If there is not enough iodine taken in with natural foods and foods supplemented with iodine, goiter can result. Luckily, iodine is easy to find. One of the easiest ways to get it is to make sure you are using iodized salt. When I was growing up, Morton iodized salt seemed like the only type of salt to buy. Today there are myriad salt choices: sea salts, including Sel de Mer and Fleur de Sel ,have gained popularity. It’s important to realize that not all salt has iodine in it. Check the packaging for iodine content, or “iodized”on the packaging.

Here’s a handy chart of natural iodine sources and a great explanation of the importance of iodine in the diet. As you can see, sea vegetables provide the most iodine.

So, if your landscape looks like this…

rural landscape

…you might be deficient in iodine.

Of course, if you are having symptoms of goiter, hypothryoidism, or hyperthyroidism, please investigate further with your medical practitioner.

The Wahls Protocol

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Look at this beautiful, unusual eggplant on the vine. Yum!

I recently heard an amazing interview on IPR (Iowa Public Radio). The interview was with Dr. Terry Wahls, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). She started having symptoms of MS during medical school.

The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine” is now available. It’s a fascinating, and encouraging story of recovery for anyone suffering from auto-immune disorders.

Dr. Terry Wahls had a very successful TED talk a few years ago. Dr. Wahls also has a Web site where you can read other success stories from other people who have changed their diet.

My hope is that her message will help you who are suffering from auto-immune disorders to regain your health.

Be well!

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants

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“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” is Michael Pollan’s credo from his New York Times’ bestseller, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. It is a follow-up to his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I, admittedly, have not read… yet. In Defense of Food is a thoroughly-researched and cogent cry for changing our dietary habits back to what our grandparents practiced. Pollan argues so much of what we are eating now does not meet the criteria for food. The emphasis on “nutritionism” has robbed us of the wisdom contained in whole foods. The American diet is heavily based on three over-hybridized crops: wheat, soybeans, and corn, which are not nutritionally dense. He points out that by consuming the American diet, we can be both overfed and undernourished. Michael Pollan also makes a good case for returning to the joy of eating food.

Here, praise for In Defense of Food.

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Chefs like Dan Barber also advocate bringing pleasure back to eating. During an interview on November 5, 2010, at Beth-El Zedeck synagogue, Chef Barber speaks about the pleasure of eating. Krista Tippett radio host of On Being, speaks to him at length about his gastronomic evolution. Chef Barber stresses that what tastes best is also the most nutritious, and is the most sustainable way of growing food. He continues to keep clear the trail blazed by Alice Waters, and her “California Cuisine” movement of the 1970s.

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You can bring more pleasure to your eating experience and become more healthy at the same time. You can take part in the Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs). As your budget allows, you can buy organic food from local sources, at farmers’ markets, and grocery stores. You can grow your own food in your own garden or, if you live in an apartment, you can grow herbs and some vegetables in containers. More and more urban environments have community gardens; an amazing example is Will Allen’s, Growing Power, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

So please be kind to your body by eating nutrient-dense, healthy, real food. It will make for a healthier communit, and your taste buds will be happier.

Bon appetit!

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Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees. ~Joni Mitchell, from her song,”Big Yellow Taxi.”