Thursday, October 2, 2014

Food Intolerances, Allergies, and Stress: An Overview

Of all the stimuli that we’re constantly adapting to, whether well or not so well, food is without question the most significant.  Think about it: There’s nothing that we’re exposed to as frequently, as intimately, as long as, or as much as in shear bulk as food.  What’s more, food, namely natural food, is highly complex chemically.  As such, food, like any other potential stressor, can elicit reactions that are “maladaptive” and chronic exposure to a food to which a person is sensitive can cause the same conditions that are caused by chronic stress — rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalances, ulcers, headaches, obesity, hypoglycemia.

It’s no surprise that food sensitivities have been linked to and blamed for causing virtually every symptom in the books.  It’s also no surprise that a diagnosis is so difficult to make, and why there is so much controversy amid its existence.  I think the controversy surrounding the existence of food sensitivities was made famous by the work of the pediatric allergist Ben Feingold.

Feingold was sure that hyperactivity in children was caused by sensitivities to contaminants and additives in foods.  His diet for hyperactive children was free of all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, propellants, nutritional supplements, etc., and though his idea was met with aggressive skepticism, there were/are sound reasons to argue for his theory, the most important of which was that many children benefited from the diet.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Health Challenges: A Glance Back at the Past 10 Years

In college, I made it a routine to take as many credits as possible every semester.  On top of working and volunteering, I was consistently burdened with a schedule fit for two students because, well, I’m Asian and that’s what Asians are supposed to do.  I was never complacent and I never allowed myself to live in the moment to stop to enjoy my achievements and successes.  I was crazy obsessed with productivity and always looking towards the next rung in the academic/professional ladder to climb — often at the expense of a ‘normal’ social life.

It’s not a surprise that, even though I made it a priority to take care of my physical health, by the second semester of my junior year, my health collapsed — unbeknownst to anyone else.  I still managed to achieve all of my goals, pushing through the pain the entire way, and at the same time managing to keep all of my options open for life after college. 

Yet, I knew I had done irreversible damage to myself.  I think I was too ashamed and embarrassed to share what I was going through with anyone else.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to me — after all, I was the person who had it all figured out.  Personality and behavioral changes were the most distressing symptoms I experienced, and continued to experience in graduate school.  Bouts of anxiety began to strike, alongside indigestion, insomnia, and crippling tension headaches.  Worst of all, I was nearly emotionless.  I was well informed on physiology and pathophysiology back then and I’d even hazard to say that I offered sound advice to friends who came to me with nondescript health issues.  But the only person I couldn’t help was myself, and this thought would make me even worse.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Essential Fatty Acids: Should We Be Concerned About Them?

Because people can build up large stores of (essential) nutrients — enough to maintain proper physiological functioning for as long as years — diseases arising from dietary deficiencies should be expected to develop slowly and a long time after a deficient diet was imposed.  But for the same reason, it’s extremely difficult to determine the essentiality of a particular nutrient, especially when the requirement for the nutrient is relatively low, as well as the fact that foods contain an array of nutrients in varying proportions.

However, two scientists, husband and wife, working in the Botany Department of the University of Minnesota, crafted a clever and sophisticated (but not full proof) way to test the idea as to whether certain fatty acids were “essential” or not.

Although the idea that the fat-soluble vitamins were essential to good health were proven beyond a doubt by the mid-1920s, when George and Mildred Burr suggested that certain fatty acids – in particular, linoleic acid – were not only merely fuel and vehicles for absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins, but also essential nutrients in themselves, they came up against skepticism from other scientists.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

'Smart Drugs' Are Stupid

Smart drugs, or “nootropics,” are a topic I’ve stayed cleared of until now because, well, the idea of using them was stupid.  Not only is the research on those so-called smart drugs severely deficient and inadequate; but also the evidence on which people make their decision to use them or not derive largely from anecdotes found on Internet forums, which are fishy to me and notoriously unreliable. 

There are a few problems as to why the situation on the topic of smart drugs is in disarray.  The first is that a distinction between simple arousal and stimulation versus true learning is often sloppily made or passed over.  The second is that there is too much emphasis placed on manipulating neurotransmitters, namely choline, serotonin, histamine, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  And the third is that there is a tendency to deemphasize (or to gloss over altogether) the availability and metabolism of glucose, as well as the hormones that govern and interact with these processes, such as insulin, thyroid hormone, and cortisol.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Unsung Hero of Thyroid Replacement Therapy: ATP

ATP and thyroid are closely related in that the thyroid hormone is essential for the rapid turnover of ATP, both inside and outside of cells.  ATP, in turn, affects processes as diverse as pain, inflammation, blood clotting, bone formation, cognition, blood pressure, and insulin secretion – among many others.

Considering the intensive research currently underway to develop compounds with specificity for ATP receptors in various tissues, and the wide range of disorders these compounds could, when it is all said and done, treat, it is obvious that ATP, in particular its turnover, has a wide range of drug-like effects that are independent of its role in energy metabolism.  All of the conditions that have been linked with hypothyroidism – most comprehensively by Broda Barnes – can, in my estimation, be traced back to the impact of thyroid hormone on ATP. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Straight Talk on Fats, Metabolism, and Body Temperature

It’s popular to talk about certain foods that stimulate thermogenesis, or heat production, as a means to aid in weight loss – the most fashionable of which is probably coconut oil.   While that’s all good and desirable, the heat generated upon eating makes a relatively small contribution when compared to all the heat generated by all the reactions in the body, including the process of keeping the gut in a state of continuous readiness to digest and assimilate the next meal. 

All metabolic processes in the body generate heat.  In other words, metabolism is unavoidably heat-generating.  The minimum amount of heat generation is set by the resting metabolic rate,[*] which is, in turn, set by the thyroid hormone, among other ancillary factors.  The heat generated from eating – directly related to the energy costs of digesting, absorbing, and converting the myriad of components of food into their appropriate storage forms – adds to the heat generated by the resting metabolic rate.  As far as diet-related heat generation is concerned, of all the macronutrients, protein has the greatest effect.  Carbohydrate has a lesser effect than protein, and fat has a negligible effect.