My Beginnings with Holistic Medicine
Holistic medicine is everything that lies outside of Western conventional allopathic medicine. I can't possibly write on such a breadth of alternative health, nor am I qualified. My background and training is as a logical rational trained research scientist, a world where anything of value must be proven by double blind experimentally sound scientific studies.
In 1991, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This is quite unusual to have at age 50, as this disease, or Manic Depression as it is also called, usually doesn't strike past the age of 40. I was in clinical depression when my wife Marcia dragged me into Manhattan from our home on Long Island about an hour and a quarter drive by car. A friend of hers, our insurance agent Jerry, suggested that the Atkins Center could help. Robert Atkins M.D. died a few years ago, but back in 1991 he had a five or six storied building that was devoted to what he termed Complementary Medicine. Complementary meant that the good Dr. Atkins was adding certain holistic medical approaches to his internal medicine cardiology traditional training. Upon arrival early in the morning, I was given a 5 hour blood glucose tolerance to determine whether I was either hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemic (possibly diabetic), blood was withdrawn for a variety of analyses, stool samples were collected, and food and other allergies were tested.
By the end of the day I had a bag full of vitamins, was told that I had yeast in my intestinal tract, and I went on the Atkins high protein, low carbohydrate diet. In that same year Marcia also dragged me to our first alternative medical conference in Manhattan. None of the approaches offered, even the orthomolecular psychiatry at the Atkins Center, relieved the clinical depression but it did start me on a journey with holistic medicine. Today, I practice my own brand of complementary medicine strictly for myself and for anyone else who wants to listen. Back in 1991 I didn't know that when I returned to Stony Brook University in August of 2000 to once again take up my professorial duties after a five year long term disability leave of absence from Bipolar Disorder that I would offer an eight hour course on nutritional medicine for the dental students. Much of what I have gleaned I put into this course on nutrition. I discuss a tiny bit of it here.
Sugar and Migraines
When I was twenty-seven and returned to Toronto from Israel with my Ph.D. in Biophysics, my headaches that I had all my life turned into migraines that I thought I would now have all my life. The migraines were much worse and my pain took on a new dimension of intensity. I had learned to tolerate pain since age four but this pain was excruciating. Migraine headaches are vascular in nature where one first triggers the vasoconstriction or squeezing of blood vessels in the head and neck followed by the vasodilation or expansion of blood vessels. During the second vascular phase, the blood vessels expand way past where they originally started and the poor migraine sufferer feels the horrific throbbing of the migraine. I don't know about giving birth but you can't imagine what the pain is like unless you are a migraine sufferer yourself.
After years of living with this physical pain, I read a book by a South American doctor in the early eighties on the relationship of sugar to migraines. I can't remember his name or the name of the book, but I do remember what the doctor wrote. He said that sugar triggered a migraine in certain individuals who were susceptible to the biochemical changes initiated by sugar. My science background allowed me to understand what the doctor was suggesting and I was looking for any explanation for my migraines as I was desperate. I had gone to the Headache Clinic at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, New York and no such explanation was offered. Basically, table sugar or the disaccharide sucrose gets broken down to the monosaccharides, glucose and fructose, in the body and causes insulin to be secreted by the pancreas.
The insulin is needed to transport the glucose breakdown sugar of the sucrose into our cells for energy, for work in our muscles, and for making triglycerides in our fat cells. A complex biochemical process takes place and there is an exchange of certain ions like magnesium and calcium across cell membranes that cause changes in the bioelectric character of the cells. If too much sucrose is broken down to glucose, the pancreas will secrete an overabundance of insulin. The insulin action can actually reduce the blood sugar levels to even lower levels than normally found in a person's bloodstream, sometimes to a level which is considered hypoglycemic. The decrease in blood glucose triggers the body to secrete the hormones, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), to cause the breakdown of glycogen stored in our cells in order to raise and rebalance our blood glucose levels. Blood glucose levels are actually our blood sugar levels but use of the word sugar is actually a misnomer because when we say sugar, we usually mean sucrose but it is the breakdown product of sucrose which is glucose. In any event, the secretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine can be a problem in some migraine sufferers whose blood vessels are sensitive and susceptible because these hormones or neurotransmitters, in addition to breaking down glycogen which is a string of glucose molecules, cause vasoconstriction of the skin blood vessels in the head, neck and shoulders. The consequence is that the migraine will commence and becomes difficult to arrest.
The South American doctor noted that shortly after taking sweets, the migraine began in individuals. Anywhere from forty-five to ninety minutes after the sweets would do it. I noted his findings in the early 1980s in my head but never attempted to carefully watch my foods. That is until the Atkins Center in 1991. I weighed 175 pounds at the beginning of my treatment at the Atkins Center. A couple of months later on a carbohydrate-restricted diet I was 150 pounds. Miraculously the migraines disappeared at the lower weight. When I gained the weight back, the migraines returned. Not a double blind study for a scientist although it convinced me that there was some validity to the relationship of sucrose to migraines. I still haven't seen any writings on this subject; however, I suggest you try it to see if there is a relationship of sugar to your migraines. There may not be. Migraines have other causes such as food allergies and genetics but it may be worth a try.
As a corollary to this story, my migraines had an additional component. I have done regression therapy, Primal Therapy, back to my mother's womb and have eliminated the emotional component of my migraines. I was able to feel my repressed rage in the womb. I no longer suffer from migraines though if I don't watch the sugar, and even if I do, I still get muscle pain. In Florida, I get pain that localizes in my temples which may be an entirely different kettle of fish or a horse of a different color. Thank God, the migraines have left. A lot of supermarket foods have sucrose or glucose in them, so you need to read labels. You are trying to keep all sugar containing products to a minimum. Let's move on to a related topic.
Sugar and Why You Can Gain Weight
Low carbohydrate was the whole premise for the Atkins diet to lose weight and it does work if you restrict your diet according to his suggestions. There has been a lot of controversy over the Atkins diet that you can read about elsewhere. With Dr. Atkin's death, the diet has lost some traction although there are still quite a few successful imitations out there. Some argue that the diet is not a healthy one and it is a truism that there is risk with everything. I'm back to my 175 pound weight but I do watch the sugar. The truth is that only about twenty-five percent of us can adequately metabolize sugar and get it out of our bodies quickly so that it doesn't cause weight gain. The rest of us can be affected by ingesting carbohydrates. It's also a fact that although total daily calories are important, you can reach a state when you are older when it's not how much you eat but what you eat. You probably ask yourself why you are gaining weight when you are hardly eating, or so you believe. The whole weight loss syndrome is like making your way through a mine field.
I don't want to get too technical or give you scientific explanations that I don't myself have at my fingertips, but have you ever heard of insulin resistance. Holistic doctors talk about insulin resistance in relation to becoming pre-diabetic and eventually diabetic and the relationship to being overweight. But why are some skinnier people diabetic while some overweight people do not have the illness?
When sugar is broken down, we said above that through a complex biochemical process the glucose gets transported into our cells. This happens not only for table sugar but also for a starch like a potato that gets broken down into glucose or any simple carbohydrate like too much popcorn at the movies. We need that glucose for all our cells to provide energy in the form of ATP when the glucose reacts with oxygen inside our cells. The brain needs lots of energy and requires about 20% of our blood glucose. In addition to energy our muscles need the glucose to convert to lactic acid so that they can function for example in throwing a punch or in exercise. Finally the glucose gets transported into our fat cells and initially forms triglycerides which can be assimilated, with the components of the triglyceride being converted into other lipids inside our fat cells. It is all of these lipids that form which can put on weight, especially if we are storing more fat than we are burning. In the Atkins diet, the low carbohydrate-high protein diet forces the body to burn fat and thus Atkins saw the weight loss in his patients. If the weight loss is dramatic as in a very overweight person then if you have Type 2 diabetes, and you may not, the diabetes can be partially or fully reversed since the pancreas still has the potential to produce insulin. At the higher weight with so much sugar in the bloodstream, it is necessary for your doctor to prescribe insulin for you. At the lower weight your own insulin can do the job in controlling the blood glucose.
Insulin resistance first happens for the energy in our cells and brain although we usually have enough to function. There is a slowing down of the rate of glucose transport (thus the amount of glucose removed from the bloodstream is also decreased) which can be increased through medications such as Metformin or a nutritional supplement known as alpha lipoic acid. Now the glucose has accelerated more into our muscles and fat cells than into our cells and brain. This can happen at 150 pounds or 275 pounds depending on the person and his or her biochemistry. Next the muscles slow down in the insulin transport of glucose, so the best option for the body turns out to be transporting the glucose into fat cells. The muscle cells in addition to our other body cells have become more insulin resistant. The last to become insulin resistant are the fat cells, so if we are susceptible, we will gain weight until our fat cells become insulin resistant. We may weigh 350 pounds but we may still not be that bad in terms of insulin resistance in the fat cell systems. We keep gaining weight because we haven't reached insulin resistance with our fat cells. Or we can be that 175 pounds and already be insulin resistant everywhere. Once all three systems become significantly insulin resistant, the blood sugar (blood glucose) levels may rise to the point where we are considered pre-diabetic. The insulin from the pancreas responding to the glucose in the bloodstream can no longer do its job. When levels of glucose go even higher in the bloodstream, diabetes can occur irrespective of whether you are fat or skinny. There is however more of a correlation between diabetes and being overweight for other biochemical reasons.
A Tip in Preventing Intestinal Yeast Infections
Sugar can have detrimental effects on aggravating heart disease and cancer. It also can be a problem in some of us if we acquire an intestinal yeast infection because yeast such as Candida albicans love sugar. I should warn you that traditional allopathic medical doctors don't believe in intestinal yeast infections even though they do accept oral and vaginal yeast infections. As a scientist having experienced the effects of yeast, I am a believer. It's a lot more difficult to get rid of something than to acquire something. Some people say that about their marriages. Yeast in your large intestine can wreak havoc on you in similar ways that heavy metal contamination with mercury can. Or yeast can cause similar symptoms as a low thyroid or having the low blood sugar levels of hypoglycemia. A couple of the telling signs of yeast are bloating and brain fog but stool cultures and blood tests are needed to confirm an intestinal yeast infection. Mine was confirmed in 1991 at the Atkins Center. Yeast are very difficult to eliminate and a doctor who knows what he is doing is required. Intermixed with all of this is yeast allergy and the possibility of what I call yeast psychiatry. You may suffer clinical depression from the yeast and your family doctor may tell you that you need a psychiatrist. Chances are that you will need to go on a restricted carbohydrate diet.
While you are killing off the yeast and building your immune system to attack the yeast from the inside of your body outwards, you need to replace your intestinal tract with what we call good bacteria. When the yeast take over they replace all your good bacteria. Back in the early nineties, we compared a bunch of commercial products for their good bacteria. It turned out that many of the commercial products had no live bacteria or were contaminated. We never published this work but you do need a product with live bacteria like that found in some organic yogurts in order for the bacteria to attach and adhere to the intestinal wall. I still use one of these products today. It's called Kyo-Dophilus. I assure you that I have no stock in the company. There are others and you can ask your Health Food Store to recommend a product.
My tip is for prevention of yeast. The use of broad spectrum antibiotics that kill a wide variety of bacteria (both gram positive and gram negative bacteria) can alter the bacterial flora composition in the intestinal tract making it easier for yeast to take hold. Every time you take a pill of your broad spectrum antibiotic, you need to follow that one and a half hours to two hours later with two Kyo-Doplilus capsules or a similar product. You let the antibiotic first go through your digestive system and then follow a couple of hours later with the good bacteria. The antibiotic each time you take it is destroying good bacteria and you need to replace it with new good bacteria. The use of good bacteria seems also to help with vaginal yeast infections.
Many years ago before we all were born, the sweet taste was satisfied by the berries that our ancestors picked in the wild. Today sugar has become a staple of the American diet and our children love it. The refinement of white sugar from sugar cane is the culprit and we have gotten accustomed to the sweet taste. Food producers place sucrose or glucose or sugar derivatives like corn syrup into a majority of the products found on supermarket shelves. You might ask the question, "What is it about sugar that we like?" I'll leave you with a brief badly designed experiment that was conducted with baby rats. researchers placed the rat pups on a hotplate and the pups only lasted a few seconds before jumping off the hot plate. If the scientists pre-fed the pups sugared-water, the pups were able to stay on the hotplate significantly longer. The conclusion was that sugar stimulates the rat and presumably our endorphin system which distracts us from the pain. Anything in life that gives us an endorphin high in life makes us feel good. Yet every action has a reaction and their our costs for pursuing the good life.