I found something interesting recently when browsing over Gary Taubes’s bloodwork that he recently posted. I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about carbon dioxide, but it jumped out at me right away that his carbon dioxide levels, on a prolonged low-carbohydrate diet, were below the normal ranges.
This caught the attention of Chris Masterjohn as well, and he made a note of it ? and even went so far as to suggest that low carbon dioxide levels were invariably a result of eating a low-carbohydrate diet. Knowing the basics about carbon dioxide ? its role as a powerful anti-stress substance in the body, and also something that, when exiting the body at a rapid rate, triggers an asthma attack, I found this all quite interesting. Of course, I looked back with my own adventures with asthma to try to understand this mysterious asthma beast.
When I was in the depths of my asthma blues ? roughly the age of 22, I couldn’t even walk to the bus stop in winter without having an asthma attack. Spending the night in a house with a dog or cat? Fuhgeddaboudit!!! One winter I actually slept in a tent in my girlfriend’s back yard in sub-zero temps while the cats and dog and gf slept soundly indoors. Ouch. I was all nature boy back then though. It was cool.
But anyway, this asthma thing is really interesting. My asthma re-emerged at about the age of 18. I first noticed it while running up a huge mountain (that sounds better, it was really just a small hill) just up from my house. I would take off like a mad man and by the time I got to the top my breathing would be quite constricted. Back then I didn’t know any better though. You just ignore it. You don’t think anything of it or begin to take notes on how your diet and lifestyle affect the amount of bronchoconstriction you experience. Ya just carry on. Eye of the tiger. No mercy. Sweep the leg. Push it to the limit. If he dies, he dies. 100% pure adrenaline.
Speaking of adrenaline, at the age of 22 when things were at their worst, I went to the doc. I was a punk back then same as I am now. The doc gave me Claritin to deal with the allergic triggers of my asthma (genius move Einstein!) and gave me an inhaler ? some Albuterol, which is basically like an ephedrine/adrenaline mist that dilates the ol? bronchs and makes your hands tremble and shake ? sort of a quasi-Elvis meets Michael J. Fox type deal, as it is basically adrenaline you are inserting into your bloodstream via the lungs. Anyway, it of course worked, and made me sick at the same time, and sparked me to give my doc some grief about how I wasn’t looking for a way to medicate my health problems for life, but to figure out the cause and cure and be able to breathe like a real boy. He was mystified by such a wild idea, ran a few tests to determine my serum Patchouli levels, and had the nurses search me for communist reading materials and Peyote.
It was this Albuterol experience, and the instant relief it gave me, coupled with the fact that doing a lot of exercise and/or a low-carb diet was a temporary miracle cure for my asthma, that led me to know, fully, that the adrenal cortex was highly involved in keeping asthma symptoms at bay.
There was a funny thing about both exercise and low-carb though. When I was on a low-carb diet for example (same could be said for exercise), my asthma went away. Like, entirely. 100% gone ? both allergy and exercise-induced asthma. But the funny thing was that, over time, this effect started to wear out. After a couple of years of low-carb eating, the asthma returned somewhat, and when I did eat something like ice cream or even a glass of orange juice, I would instantly suffer from bronchoconstriction. Within seconds I would start to wheeze slightly. I remember in 2009 I had eaten a bunch of ice cream for the first time in ages and then stayed the night in a house with one cat. Not good. I barely made it through that one. I was ill for days with a severe upper respiratory infection, fever ? the works.
I had noticed this type of effect many times in the past with exercise. I would exercise hard and consistently for weeks and months. My asthma would completely disappear. Then I would stop exercising and not only did the asthma return ? it returned with greater severity than before. It, like low-carb, was a bit of a Catch-22. Like albuterol, it helped the symptoms, but over time the effect wore off and actually caused a worsening of the condition and greater hypersensitivity to allergens, benign things like eating an apple, and so on.
This makes perfect sense when you think of the basic catecholamine honeymoon that I’ve written about at great length. Low-carb and jumping on a rigorous exercise program (or intermittent fasting, or stimulant use) cause a temporary surge in the adrenal hormones. This is medication for asthma, and I’m sure many inflammatory conditions and other problems, but not necessarily a cure. What medicates, often exacerbates (huh huh). In my case, the stress of these practices seemed to just wear me down and bury me another foot deeper with each repetition ? despite the temporary illusions of improvement.
I think a good short-term parallel to understanding this Catch-22 is insufficient sleep. If you sleep for 5 hours a night for several nights you start to feel pretty wired. At first you may feel sleepy and run down but after a while your adrenaline kicks on and you feel good, manic, focused, alert, elated, and abuzz with energy as if on a caffeine high. And then, when you finally get a good night’s sleep and sleep in, what happens? You wake up feeling like you have a complete hangover. No more mental clarity. Nope. Total brain fog. No more manic energy. Nope. You can barely move.
Another great parallel, and this is an important thing to think about, is the brain fog, extreme tiredness and sluggishness, etc. that comes with eating a huge meal or eating carbohydrates when you haven’t eaten them in a long while. When you are strung out on adrenaline and do something that allows the adrenal glands to rest, they crash and crash hard. Continue eating big or eating carbohydrates with every meal and within a week or two almost everyone gets past this effect – like what?most see when following the?guidelines in how to RAISE YOUR METABOLISM.
Further still is exercise. Keep those adrenal hormones up through lots and lots of exercise and you feel great. Then when you take a break you are likely to suffer from the Dean Karnazes effect ? getting depressed, sick, irritable, and extremely tired, lethargic, and lazy. Or, just have a huge feast after a really hard workout. It’s virtually impossible to stay awake afterward.
Anyway, I pound this into you because, when eating a low-carb diet and strung out on adrenaline, when I would eat carbohydrates, something sweet in particular causing adrenal power outage to the max, I would instantly suffer asthma symptoms. The adrenaline, which medicated the asthma, was immediately shut off. ?Wow, carbs really do cause asthma attacks ? sugar in particular! Los carbos son el Diablo!
Fast forward to today ? the mo carb era. When I started upping sugar to the maximum, it was only a matter of days before I went out for some hard sprints and noticed MUCH better bronchodilation. No wheezing at all, even though I ran sprints cold ? which usually trigger some constriction for me and had been for months. Pet allergies are reduced as well, and I have suffered no bronchoconstriction in the presence of dogs or cats (although I haven’t had that long of exposure recently, such as spending the night in a house of a pet owner ? the true test). And of course, I can eat sugary foods, juice, fruit, and so forth without the slightest bit of constriction ? very different from the low-carb days.
The final tidbit on adrenaline is that, as the resting metabolic rate falls, you become less responsive to adrenaline. Some people feel like their adrenal glands are burned out and no longer are producing adrenal hormones. In some cases, you do see true hypoadrenia or ?adrenal fatigue. But in some cases your adrenal hormones are carrying on as normal, but you are unresponsive. Although you probably won’t hear much about this effect anywhere else, I did come across this fascinating insight while reading The Biology of Human Starvation by Ancel Keys. In the starved state they injected men with adrenaline and it had virtually no effect on them like it would a normal person. They saw very little elevation in pulse, energy, etc. So for some, low resting metabolic rate may be at the core of someone’s apparent shortage of adrenaline and appearance of asthma and other inflammatory disorders.
Well, that’s the adrenal bit for you. Yes, you can do several things to raise your adrenal hormone production such as fasting, taking amphetamines or lots of caffeine, taking albuterol, or eating a low-carbohydrate diet. And yes, these things may, for a while, give you relief. But relief, and ?medicating? a condition in this manner does not equate to ?cure? or problem solved. Over time, you may be right back where you started or in even worse shape ? especially when you consider the anti-thyroid property of excessive exposure to adrenal hormones ? making you increasingly unresponsive to your adrenal hormones the more you abuse them.
On to carbon dioxide?
Two researchers that have a strong following amongst 180DegreeHealth fans are Ray Peat and Buteyko ? that breathing guy. Ray Peat is very pro-carbon dioxide as you can read about in these fascinating but notoriously hard-to-grasp articles?
Buteyko is a researcher that felt that modern man, with his jacked up nostrils and facial formation, was having greater and greater difficulty breathing correctly ? which is gently through the nose and not sucking air through an open mouth like you see a large percentage of the customers at Wal Mart doing. The problem, as he saw it, was hyperventilation ? or breathing too much. The more you exhale, the more carbon dioxide escapes from the body, which is why, when an asthmatic has a sudden burst of exercise and begins breathing rapidly, he or she can often trigger a strong asthma attack. I know personally that nothing triggers a good asthma attack like running hard without a warmup, in cold weather.
The constriction in the lungs is to prevent carbon dioxide loss. Sure, an asthma attack feels like an oxygen shortage, but that is really just a byproduct of the body trying to minimize the escape of carbon dioxide. By teaching people to breathe less frequently, stop their hyperventilating, and in turn raise CO2 levels ? which supposedly has far-reaching physiological benefits, Buteyko has been very successful in helping people overcome various health problems. Asthmatics, if you believe the hype, seem to respond very well to this type of therapy.
Interestingly, when you eat fat as your primary fuel source, your carbon dioxide levels tend to fall ? as burning fat for fuel does not yield carbon dioxide as a byproduct the way that cleaving a molecule like sucrose does. Eat a higher sugar diet and your carbon dioxide levels are bound to increase. Although it’s hard to believe something could be so straightforward without exception, it’s certainly something to consider.
Once again, this is an example of the complexity of human health, and why I’ve gone so far as to annoy people recently by proclaiming that ‘traditional diets are irrelevant. We are not traditional people. We don’t look the same, we don’t even breathe the same. We have different fats in our tissues. We produce more inflammation and have a lower body temperature. To get to the same physiological state as a primitive healthy human could very well require highly specific plans of action to get there ? or to even move an inch in that direction.
For someone with a history of asthma and many inflammatory conditions like myself, eating a diet that lowers carbon dioxide levels can be highly counterproductive ? not to mention if I eat more than a half pound or so of animal protein in a day my nostrils will become further plugged and my breathing during sleep converting to mouth-breathing. This leads us to the last segment of this already-long-winded (no pun intended) post.
Several years ago I learned that hoarseness of voice was a symptom of hypothyroidism. I thought it interesting when I heard Gary Taubes speaking for the first time, that he sounded as if he had something stuck in his throat and couldn’t get it out. His voice sounded raspy. I’ve seen other speeches where he didn’t sound so bad, but it was my first impression nonetheless. Thyroid and carbon dioxide are very inter-related. Carbon dioxide increases thyroid activity, and I imagine thyroid activity may increase carbon dioxide as well ? swinging in both directions.
One thing I had noticed over the past winter was that my nostrils were really plugging up at night when I slept (a recent conversation topic in the comments) ? which I’ve been troubled with for many years in cold climates but never in a warm and moist place like Florida where I’ve been this winter. Actually, the only time I’ve had a plugged nose in a warm climate ? barring my milk diet experience which caused excessive mucous production and a different cause of nose pluggage, was doing zero carb for a month in Maui. Holy cow! My nose, even with virtually no mucous secretion or nasal drip at all, felt like someone had stuck a clothespin on it and left it there for the entire 30 days. Of course, when I stopped and hit the nearest Jamba Juice they immediately re-opened. I actually had a half gallon of fresh juice with about 5 date snack bars ? that’s not something you forget after a month straight of steak and eggs.
I also had noticed over the past few years that I was having some difficulty speaking. It wasn’t major, it was just that I would start to feel a little tickle in the back of my throat, would cough to try to clear it, and get nowhere with it.
Anyway, over the past two months, assuming that I don’t eat too much meat (all-you-can-eat ribs on three occasions got me a little) or fat (when ice cream and cookies replace my juice and fruit it doesn’t go as well), my nostrils are completely clear, I have no exercise-induced asthma, I can talk for an hour straight without even clearing my voice a single time, and a couple of people have even commented on the change in my voice. This is all very fascinating, and just a short list of some of the positives I’ve experienced from returning to my all-time favorite foods (like orange juice and fruit ? I have aspirations of once again becoming a cereal killa too).
While some suggest that this is just another catecholamine honeymoon that will catch up to me in the future, and the thought certainly crosses my mind, there is something poetic about removing my mind from the picture and truly eating intuitively. Plus, I have none of the signs of being in a high-adrenaline, sympathetic nervous system-dominant state. I can sleep. Take naps. Am happy and relaxed. Fry eggs on my hands and feet. Don’t have funky body odor like I get when under stress. Don’t have dark circles under my eyes. Don’t have ominous signs like erectile problems or other issues that crept in after prolonged low-carb eating or endurance exercise.
It’s all been, ahem, a sweet surprise. And the carbon dioxide connection is plenty interesting ? if you’re a nerd. If you’re still reading this, after 2,650 words of my babble, you ARE DEFINITELY A NERD (or my dad). For more nerd candy,?read?Diet Recovery about how to RAISE YOUR METABOLISM.