The following was an e-mail sent to me by a low-carb struggler, confused by her miraculous first impressions of a low-carb diet that ended with her basically shatting her pants. My responses are in red…
I hope you don’t mind me writing directly to you but I’d really like to share my story since I see you’re wary of LC diets… and maybe while I’m at it I’ll ask for some advice as well!
I found your blog some months ago and I have to say it really opened my eyes as far as nutrition is concerned. Before that I’ve been low-carbing for about 3 years since in the beginning it really seemed to do wonders. It was very similar to testimonials of other people – the diet completely cleared my mood problems, my digestion and skin were perfect, I could tan more easily, my teeth felt clean, I stopped getting colds – in short, some pretty amazing things happened and I didn’t want to let them go. It literally felt like I found a solution to all my health problems! A few of my friends learned about my success and followed with similar great results. However, it didn’t end all that well – about 2 years into the diet I started getting digestive problems, like my digestion really slowed down and things just wouldn’t digest anymore. Also my mood wasn’t that great suddenly and my skin got worse, but I persisted because of the initial benefits. I wish now I wouldn’t, because after some more months my digestion got so bad I didn’t want to leave the house at times!
Your health problems initially were most likely a result of a low basal metabolism. This is no rare or obscure ailment. It is more common to have a low basal metabolism than a normal basal metabolism. In all my research I’ve come to the conclusion that a low basal metabolism is the most frequent underlying root cause of illness of all kind.
At first I thought that maybe I’m simply eating too much fiber, nuts, raw vegetables or something like that. But while I stopped eating all potentially problematic foods one after another, digestion just kept getting worse… I even cut out all carbs for a while to no avail! So it’s been more than a year now with horrific digestion, and I have to say, although my digestion was probably never perfect, I never experienced anything even close to this before going low-carb. Along with indigestion I got nail infections, gum inflammation, weird headaches, feeling cold all the time and other such ‘minor’ problems. Lately exhaustion set in as well, I suddenly lost my energy to the extent I now have to force myself if I want to do any kind of exercise. I think this might have something to do with my adrenal stress index, a saliva test I did a month ago – my cortisol was almost at the bottom most of the day (I’m not sure this test is 100% legitimate but results do fit my symptoms).
These are very common long-term effects of using a very low-carb (ketogenic or borderline ketogenic) diet for the treatment of a low basal metabolism. Adrenal fatigue is certainly a danger for low-carbers who have weak adrenals to begin with. Because low carb diets stimulate the adrenals more, adrenal-related things like allergies and asthma often disappear in short order while energy skyrockets. Then, when the adrenals start to wear out, you have the opposite experience. The lack of cortisol once adrenals are burned out could also potentially lead to a great deal of pain and inflammation, as cortisol is our natural suppressor of both (think cortisone).
My blood lipids are interesting as well. I have had high cholesterol for the past year or so (total and calculated LDL), while my HDL is at the very bottom of the range. When I got them measured during my first year of low-carbing, they were perfect (high HDL, normal total and LDL).
But I didn’t really connect the dots until I read through your blog a bit and until my friends (also after a few years of low carbing) started developing health problems, too. One of my friends also got indigestion, like really loud digestion and bloating, and is ill way too often with colds and flu lately, or lying in bed with chronic back pain. She’s also got HDL below the limit now. Her father, who started low-carbing at the same time, got chronic diarrhea and high cholesterol this year. Another friend who was quite extreme this winter, eating almost only meat and dairy for a while, got liver enzyme abnormalities, high CRP, high triglycerides, extremely high cholesterol (total 9 mmol/l), low HDL, mild arthritis, and can’t eat starch anymore without horrible gas… pretty scary stuff, really. (We thought it might be hemochromatosis but results for this came back negative.) It’s also interesting how at first he became really muscled on low-carb, looking almost like a bodybuilder without working out much, but then after a year or so started losing this look while still eating the same diet. After, he lost a lot of weight and became quite skinny. Last year when going carnivorous he gained some weight back but it was fat not muscles this time. So definitely some changes going on there.
Your metabolism was probably closer to normal when you started. The low-carbohydrate fare, over time, seems to have worsened the problem. Before cholesterol was the hot word of our generation, elevated levels of it were used to diagnose hypothyroidism (a low basal metabolism). All of these abnormalities ? from liver dysfunction, digestive destruction, pain/arthritis, high inflammation levels, and poor immune system function are all directly related to a low metabolism. Protein is also the most straining food type on the metabolism. The more excess you eat, the more likely you will be to eventually feel like your diet was counterproductive to your metabolic function. Ditto on the muscle gain initially. I never lost too much of it though, as I only went excessively low in carbohydrates (below 100g per day) for 30 days on the FUMP diet. Before low-carb my muscles were quite flaccid.
Lately we were measuring our basal body temperatures and they’re around 97 F, so it could be that dieting has slowed down our metabolisms (maybe here it’s relevant that none of us was ever fat so maybe carb restriction was even more harmful). But whatever the reason, bottom line is, despite all those benefits in the beginning that lasted for quite a while, it would really seem low carbing didn’t serve me or people around me that well in the long term. Or would we get worse anyway with aging? Not so sure when reading blogs of low-carbers such as these:
Low-carb diets treat the symptom of insulin resistance, which I believe to be caused by a low metabolism. Unfortunately, because low-carb diets are counter-metabolic, over the long haul they worsen the root problem ? kind of like most prescription meds. Nice links. The plant poison girl is one of the saddest cases out there ? on an endless search for what causes her problems, finding the list growing larger and larger and larger as each day passes. It’s not what you eat, it’s what your body does with what you eat, and hers appears to mismanage just about everything due to a painfully obvious case of hypothyroidism ? which she is seeking the wrong medication for.
I know they have their own explanations but it just fits so well with our stories, and of course all those things could very well be interacting somehow!
There’s one more thing I’d like to say – we got into all this trouble while eating home-cooked meals, lots of it was even organic or bought from farmers, so it’s really not the case of eating too many Atkins soy products or something like that. I was even staying away from processed meats most of the time. And while I was trying ever since I got indigestion not to eat too much protein, I have to say it seems rather impossible not to still eat quite a lot if you restrict your carbs below 100 g per day. I mean, you can only eat that much fat!
Me too. I went to great lengths to eat real, quality food, as if it were a religion. I feel much better on pizza from the local pizzeria. Canned sauce, ghetto cheese, white flour vs. a low carb diet with raw grassfed milk, butter, cheese, pastured meats, farmer’s market produce? Pizza was the clear winner.
So to cut the long story short, what I’d like to ask is, why does this happen to low-carb people? I mean, what’s the mechanism behind such great improvement that leads to decline? And if the diet really is to blame, why don’t more people explicitly warn about this? (Because they are BLINDED BY SCIENCE! Click HERE to see what I envision a visit with Michael and Mary Dan Eades to be like). It would seem to me that most studies looking at low-carb diets (or any other diet perhaps) are pretty useless then – I’m sure you first get all those benefits, but short-term studies don’t see things going wrong after a few years.
Studies are useless. Without question. Short-term and long-term are often in stark opposition ? just like one might experience on a vegan diet, a low-fat diet, a low-calorie diet and so on. It’s like I often say ? a million subjects of a thousand studies on low-calorie diets could irrefutably ?prove? that calorie restriction is a successful means of achieving weight loss. In real life, calorie restriction leads to lifelong weight problems and what comes with it ?on the side.
Like I alluded to before, if you have insulin resistance from having a low metabolism, reducing carbs instantly cures you of many glucose intolerance-related symptoms. Excess protein, lack of carbs, and reduced hunger on low-carb diets leads to a worsening of the metabolism over time though. It makes the real underlying problem worse, not better. Once again, there’s a great parallel to calorie restriction. Cutting calories treats the symptom of excess body fat in the short-term. The real underlying problem; however, is storing fat from the food that you eat. Calorie restriction increases hunger and the propensity to store fat from the food you eat. It is counterproductive long-term, which is why it is a miserable failure as a strategy for staving off obesity.
Another question now is: How to remedy the situation after getting into such trouble? I started eating quite some carbs and following your other advice a few months ago but things haven’t improved much, at least in regards to digestion as this is still a very annoying problem at the moment. Also, obviously it’s difficult to eat a lot when things don’t digest right! I’m a bit confused also when it comes to exercise since I really don’t feel like doing it, but maybe I should force myself at least a little bit. Of course I know getting back to normal after dieting is a long process and probably I’m just being impatient, but still, any suggestion or advice would be welcome (and I saw in the comments section of your blog that you helped someone called Ben S. with very similar problems in the past – did he recover?).
Fixing problems are always much more difficult, tricky, and complicated than avoiding them. That’s why I’m a writer and not a doctor!!! Many people dig themselves into a Catch-22 hole. They need to eat to get out of the hole, but their digestion is too shot to do so. Keep working on it with patience, really trying to eat as much as you can ? particularly carbs. Quality and type are less important. Even such things as Gatorade and ice cream probably will do you more good than harm in the short-term, and are easier to get down in large quantities than starch – which would otherwise be preferable. Do whatever it takes to get calories in you. Quality is important from an overall standpoint, but to a specific disorder, the calorie is the ultimate ally. My best advice would be to eat whatever you want, and as much of it as possible. Don’t even think about any of the nutritional stuff you’ve learned. Unlearn it as fast as possible. Remember it when you’ve healed a bit. If diet alone isn’t enough to bring up basal temps in a couple of months (which you should monitor daily), then it is probably time to try some dessicated thyroid.
I don’t know Ben’s current status. The most success we had working together was when I had him pounding junk food and drinking weight gainer shakes after his couple of years on raw dairy products, sauerkraut, and grass fed meat (and little else). Unfortunately, even though he felt amazing and his digestion healed up in a week or two, he became ill with candida/SIBO-type symptoms. Perhaps he’ll have the time to come by, read this, and comment for us. Maybe he’ll send a low-carb war story of his own to add to this fine installment. Last I heard he was seeking thyroid treatment combined with treatment for SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth ? the primary culprit of most cases of IBS ? but of course, the low body temperature that allowed the small intestine to be overgrown in the first place was due to a low body temperature ? the opposite of a germ-fighting fever).
Oh and there’s another thing I wanted to share with you… When I was in Poland last time I visited some dietitians who work under Jan Kwasniewski’s guidelines… and it wasn’t too nice. They were elderly but all very obese and unhealthy looking and they told me his diet can a bit dangerous to follow, that some people they know got atherosclerosis after some years of eating this way, even though it’s supposed to cure it. And that you need to take plenty of vitamin supplements with it even more so than with other diets “because the nutrient content of meat is not what it used to be”. They also said they recommend eating more carbs than Jan K. says (as far as I could understand because their English wasn’t great). It was a bit disturbing to be honest, I mean they really sounded so negative about the diet… even though it did cure one woman I met of rheumatoid arthritis, to be fair!
Jan K’s high-fat diet is not flawed in theory. There’s nothing wrong with saturated fat, just as there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrates or protein. But again, if you have a low metabolism your body does not burn fats properly (it also mismanages carbohydrates and is damaged by protein ? so you are damned no matter what you eat). Given the appropriate amount of thyroid support, fats (and carbs) would be managed in a completely different way. Cholesterol and triglycerides would not become elevated. Body fat would not accumulate. All types of food can be harmful or beneficial depending on the physical state of the person ? yet another reason why studies are useless.
Consider Robert McCarrison’s findings from one of many ways that the metabolism is harmed ? vitamin deficiency?
??in the absence of vitamins or in their inadequate supply, neither proteins nor fats nor carbohydrates nor [minerals] are properly utilized; some are largely wasted, while others yield products harmful to the organism.
Thanks for the low-carb war story!
Type and send your low-carb saga, for better or for worse, to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post that badboy on the blog. We’ll analyze this thing to death!!!