Hormones, Theatrical Events, and Even More Thoughts on Human Health
“'If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,' Ma considered. 'We didn't lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.'
“'That's so,' said Pa. 'These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves--they're good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on 'em.'”
--“The Long Winter,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Looking down at his new-to-him, just-taken-down-from-the-hand-me-down-bin, button-down blue denim shirt: “Am I gonna grow out of this one? I _really_ don't want to!”
This week you're going to get to hear all about Me for a change.
But that's because people have actually been asking, thus ostensibly wanting to know: “GAPS sounds like a good idea for Ben...but you know that _you_ don't need it, right? And what about Jeff and Jem? Different People are Different! Why should all of you have to eat like this when it's so 'restrictive'?”
Last April, when I realized that GAPS was going to essentially turn our diet upside down (not to mention turn me into a carnivore for the first time in my entire life), I was still thinking in these terms: We'll just eat this way for two or three years, all of us in solidarity to Get Ben Better, and then...well, then, I imagined, we'd go back to our old, lower fat, whole-grain-based, “healthy” way of eating. Right about at this point, I went into serious compensation mode, as (overnight!) I forced myself to start shoving large quantities of animal flesh into my mouth on a daily basis. This was enough to traumatize my thinking skills for many months, and I didn't do much besides try to survive the ride last spring.
But gradually, over the summer, I couldn't help wondering:
--Leading health authorities tell us to eat Low-Fat and -Cholesterol Everything (and at the very _least_ cut out saturated fats). So...how come GAPS, an exceptionally-clinically-effective, healing dietary protocol for people of all types suffering from all sorts of illnesses, is full of animal fat and cholesterol, and excludes all the polyunsaturated vegetable oils that I was always told are so good for us? Are different people _really_ that different? Could a healthy diet for sick kids like Ben really be actively _unhealthy_ for most other people? And if so, why on earth would people have evolved such drastically different dietary requirements?
--Americans are actively following Official dietary guidelines, and have been doing so ever more religiously for the past half-century: “we” have cut down on fat (including saturated fat) consumption as well as cholesterol, increased vegetable oil (while reducing butter) consumption, begun eating _more_ vegetables and fruits and low-fat dairy, and have increased our fiber consumption. So...why are we as a population getting fatter and sicker and more prone to heart attacks, etc. etc. than ever before--even significantly more than we were before the whole war-on-heart-disease, everything-low-fat paradigm got started in the '50s? Could it be...could it have anything to do...with carbohydrates?? (When you cut out fat, you gotta eat something--and sugar and starch is something that Americans consume voraciously these days, more than ever before.) And what about all those fake-butter spreads and “cold pressed” vegetable oils, food-like products that humans _never ate_ before very recently in our evolution?
--If it's true, as I now believe it is, that unfermented/unsprouted grains (even whole grains) can chelete (remove) minerals and other nutrients from our bodies...and if people in industrialized countries display such widespread symptoms of malnutrition (like obesity, tooth decay, jaw malformation, chronic disease, et al)...then why is our Food Pyramid based on some of the emptiest calories we have available to us?
--If it's true, as I now believe it is, that starch and sugar are two of the most challenging things for a body to digest...then why do we give these to sick people? And along the same lines: how could it possibly be advisable for people in general to eat added sugars, modern refined grains, and vegetable oil “in moderation”?
--Could it be true, as I heard someone put it recently, that most “vegetarians” should more accurately be termed “starchitarians”? If my family's former, Mediterranean-style vegetarian diet--which was obsessively well-balanced, with very little added sugar, and lots of vegetables, fruit, olive oil, beans, and whole grains--is the diet to aspire to...than why was my family eating this way and getting sicker by the day?
This last question, of course, is the one that is most selfishly of interest to me.
And yet, last spring, even while Ben was getting so sick that he seemed to be slipping away, I couldn't help thinking: Maybe this GAPS diet is what he needs, but _I'm_ doing just fine! I decided to be as strict with GAPS diet as Ben was going to have to be, because how could I possibly be encouraging my child to eat food that I wouldn't consume myself? But still, I was sure: I'm slim and trim and very happy with my beans and grains, thank you very much! I couldn't wait to go back to eating the way I always had. I wanted to eat lots of fruit again, and bake bread, and stop consuming all this repulsive fat.
But now it's been nearly a year. And I'm still very strictly on GAPS. People ask: Do you want to go back to how you were eating, Before? Gradually, my answer has morphed into a definite NO. I can't go back now, even though consuming animals still sometimes gives me the creeps, and even though a complete dietary turnaround has been more emotionally draining than just about anything I've ever attempted. With the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight, I sincerely wish that I had questioned my vegetarian religion prior to conceiving Ben and Jem--both for their health, and for my own.
The questions of whether eating meat is ethical or environmentally sustainable are good ones--but as Gary Taubes says, they are entirely different questions than the main question of all: What _is_ an ideal diet(s) for maintaining human health (and sustaining it through countless generations), and what did people used to eat, before supermarkets and cheap flour and subsidized corn and table grapes in December?
The harder I search, the more true it seems: humans have been eating animals for a Really Really Really Long Time, probably since the very beginning of humans. I can find _no_ evidence of traditionally vegan societies--and the very few vegetarian cultures I have learned of depended quite heavily on copious amounts of very high-quality and high-fat dairy. I no longer believe that pure veganism can support healthy human development two or three generations down the line. (Nor do I think a Standard American Diet can support that many healthy generations, consisting as it does of inferior, factory-farmed animal products and lots of fake fats and sugar and starch.) Healthy diets for humans are, I am now pretty sure, a sum total of not only what gets eaten, but also and equally important, what doesn't.
In a way, while I am obsessed by the meat-eating component of our new diet, it is just one tiny piece in this complex matrix of issues surrounding dietary healing and health. Bottom line is, my family and I are consuming nutrients these days that we never, ever consumed in our lives prior to last April. And good nutrition isn't only for autism or ADHD or Irritable Bowel or Celiac--it's for the rest of us, too!
Therefore, I am going to discuss my own health for a change, rather than my child's...
Here's what I ate before GAPS (eliminate the animal products entirely, and up the soy tremendously, if you want to know what I consumed during my several-year stint of veganism, and also while pregnant with Ben):
--Whole grains and beans at practically every meal (I'd started fermenting/sprouting them in the past year before GAPS).
--Lots and lots of veggies, cooked and raw. Lots of salads.
--Very little added sugars/honey/maple syrup, but _many_ daily servings of fruit and dried fruit and jam (maybe 5-7/day).
--I cooked with copious amounts of olive oil, except when I used canola or sesame or sunflower, etc.
--After about 2009, I didn't eat soy more than once a week or so, and I tried not to eat much dairy, either; I ate eggs often, and nuts every day.
Here's what I eat now:
--Daily cups of bone broth.
--Soups made with broth, veggies, meats, soft tissues/cartilage/etc.
--Raw liver, some days.
--Fermented cod liver oil as a supplemental source of Vitamins D and A, etc.
--Lots of (exclusively non-starchy, and mostly non-sweet) veggies, cooked, raw, juiced, and fermented.
--Lots of long-fermented raw dairy yogurt and kefir and butter, and some raw cheese.
--1 serving or less of fruit per day, eaten with ferments; occasional garnishes of soaked nuts.
--Meats and fish of every type we can find, and I'm trying to increase my consumption of organ meats.
--I currently eat no added sugars of any type.
--And...I eat incredibly large quantities of fat, probably many tablespoons per meal. There's a big difference in the types of fats I use these days: I no longer cook with any vegetable oil at all besides coconut; I eat as much animal fat as I can; I only use olive oil as a dressing (unheated); and I hope never again to regularly consume even the so-called “cold pressed” “vegetable oils” like canola, soy, corn, safflower, etc.
So...why do I want to keep on this current path? Because from my research, and my own personal experience over the past year, I now believe that GAPS is much closer to a healthy dietary ideal than was my previous vegetarian (and often vegan) diet. Because the more I learn, the more likely it seems that I might, by eating this way, avoid cancer and other chronic diseases in the future. And most importantly, because I'm feeling better, on average, than I've felt in years.
Even though my symptoms were not nearly as dramatic as Ben's, my own improvements are taking a similarly non-linear path--sometimes I feel way better, sometimes for months at a time, and then a setback occurs before a step forward is noted. But I am extremely encouraged by the _overall trends_: here's a short list of interesting symptoms which have improved over the past 11 months. (NOTE to brothers and others: Please do not read the list if you are squeamish, or prefer not read about Female Conditions.)
--Right away, like in the first week (as I've noted in an earlier post), I started having better poops. Wasn't expecting this, and I hadn't even noticed that mine had deteriorated...but gosh, on GAPS they sure got better and remain so now.
--Also right away (but pooh pooh pooh kunnehura knock on wood just-to-be-sure...) I started sleeping better. For many years, I blamed my chronic exhaustion on my children's wakefulness, and sleep deprivation, but now I think this was only part of the picture. For nearly a year, I've slept better and more soundly and restfully than since well before Ben's birth. For this I am supremely thankful.
--On GAPS I have more energy than I used to. Might be connected with the better sleep.
--Over the past months, my teeth and gums are showing slight but definite improvements. My dentist said the gums look a mite less receded. And my teeth shift around less, and feel more solidly rooted (mostly as determined by how much food gets stuck between them after meals).
--Since having Ben, it seemed like I got sick every month or so--sometimes severely and for weeks on end, other times just an annoying cold. On GAPS, I have had only two or three mild illnesses. I hope this is not just coincidental, and that it turns out to be causation in the long term, and that I won't jinx things by mentioning that at this very moment I am currently experiencing a small cold... :)
--For a long time, every winter I would get the driest, sandpaperiest skin ever, especially on my hands. This year, even though I wash dishes constantly and (now in the winter) live with the same dry indoor air quality as always, my skin is much more supple even with no moisturizer.
--My eyes are much less dry, as gauged by contact lense comfort. I used to be able to wear my lenses for an average of 8-10 hours before I'd have to remove them. Now (even though I try not to wear them this long), I can comfortably wear them for twelve hours or longer.
--My muscles get a lot less sore after vigorous exercise (hardly any Charley horse the next day; I used to get quite sore).
--At the beginning of GAPS, I got these interesting patches of darker skin (mostly on my arms) that seemed to come and stay for awhile before disappearing--like bruises that didn't hurt. Then they stopped--plus, my facial pimples cleared up, and my skin, with few exceptions, has been clearer ever since.
--Instead of having to pee constantly (and 2-3 times per night), I now only have to pee often (and once per night). Also, I am much less thirsty than I used to be, prior to GAPS.
--My digestion is WAY better. Not to be gross, but Before, I was truly a farting machine. I thought this was just normal. Except that now, I know that it doesn't have to be, because I no longer produce enough to power a small village with methane.
--Before GAPS, I weighed between 130-135 pounds. I used to think that it was normal and inevitable for my “speedy metabolism” to make me feel starving if I hadn't eaten in two hours, and to have regular blood sugar crashes, and to crave sweets (and crave food in general), and to feel really Overfull and bloated after eating (due, I thought, to overeating). Now, I am amazed to report, I can go many hours between meals and maintain an even keel. I rarely have hypoglycemic “attacks” during which I feel as though the world might end if I don't eat IMMEDIATELY. I don't even feel tempted to overeat, because my body easily stops when I'm full. I honestly and truly do not crave sweets, even fruit, except in rare moments of stress. I cannot explain how freeing this is!! I didn't have an eating disorder before, like I sometimes imagined: I was just feeding my body a near-constant infusion of sugar and starch, which burns like kindling and can make many, many people have a “high metabolism” like mine was. Fat-as-fuel burns long and strong and even... Incidentally, after 11 months on GAPS, I weigh between 130-135 pounds.
--Here's one of the best side effects: I am much, much less depressed. I wasn't always depressed before, or even chronically so, but the Black Cloud was definitely subject to descend, without warning, at nearly any point in my day, and not because of any particular life even, but just...Because. I can't pretend I'm Pollyanna now, but even despite the absolute craziness of this past year, complete with our super-challenging kid and his screaming fits et al, I am possibly happier (with fewer depressive episodes) than I have ever been.
--And now, a topic which fascinates me: hormones. For as long as I can remember, I've listened to people yammer and joke and discuss the weaknesses of Females, as noted by the crazy behaviors they display during their Monthly Cycles. As a youthful feminist, I used to bristle and say, Hey! Watch Your Chauvinistic Mouth--These are Qualities to Be Understood and Appreciated! Now, I bristle because people accept that these symptoms are Normal to such an extent that it's uncommon that you meet a woman who _doesn't_ suffer from cyclical events that range from annoying to debilitating. Record numbers of young girls are being put on synthetic hormones (birth control pills) to deal with these issues. Many women take serious drugs to try to ameliorate the pain and misery. And this just doesn't make sense: why would humans have evolved so that one of every two in the species would be fully or semi-incapacitated for one or more days each month?? (That women used to get pregnant early and often does not answer this question to my satisfaction, because there's actually quite a bit of evidence that humans have been practicing intentional child spacing for a REALLY long time, meaning that women did indeed have long stretches during which they had many menstrual cycles.)
So, my symptoms. Ever since I started getting my period 16+ years ago, I have had:
--Heavy periods that last for five days.
--Extremely irregular and usually long (35-45 days) cycles.
--Irregular luteal phases ranging from 7-14 days.
--Moodiness and weepiness before my period (PMS), and skin breakouts.
--Anxious depression and sometimes severe abdominal pain around ovulation.
--Lower-than-normal basal body temperatures.
--Often, a temporary temperature drop after ovulation.
--And, really really really awful, debilitating cramps, which (I can now speak from experience) are worse than childbirth.
Other hormonal issues included post-partum depression after Ben was born, as well as mysterious, super-painful pelvic-muscle spasms (for months after Ben's birth, but also after Jem's), a diagnosis of “vulvodynia,” and various soft-tissue/muscular problems that were acutely painful and slow-to-resolve after Ben's birth.
Based on a bit of googling, I could self-diagnose myself as “estrogen dominant,” or suffering from either excess estrogen, too little progesterone, or both. Many, many women and medical professionals are trying to figure out what to do about these imbalances and many others, because they're not exactly fun for the millions of women who currently suffer from them--even in less-than-acute cases like mine. And even without the common additional symptom that many women experience along with all those on my list (plus others): infertility.
Here's what is happening to me, after eleven months on GAPS (and bear in mind, again, that these are _averages_, and I hope to see more improvements after several more years with no sugar or vegetable oils and lots of animal fats and probiotic foods in my diet):
--My basal body temperature is, on average, rising: nearly a full degree.
--My luteal phases seem to be stabilizing and lengthening (more like 13 days than 9).
--I have had three cycles of 27-28 days (before GAPS, I only once in my life had a cycle that short).
--My cramps are WAY better; I have had some periods that were entirely pain-free, so much so that I could actually exercise during them.
--My skin breakouts, with few exceptions, have been much less noticeable.
--I bleed for two full days fewer each month (a total of 3 rather than 5), with less clotting and less blood overall.
--I have _much_ less PMS; this is slightly exaggerating my mid-cycle “mittel schmertz” pain and moodiness, which I am hoping will eventually resolve also.
--Much less depression overall, as noted above.
And there you have it--all you ever wanted to know about my health, and then some. But if you're still reading, I hope you're as fascinated by all this as I am, and I hope you'll share your stories with others, if and when you are moved. The more we talk about “taboo” topics like these, the closer we might get to a collective understanding of What's Going On in our bodies, and how we can help them be as healthy and thriving as possible...
Not much news this week, except: We went to a play! “Running To Places,” a youth theatre company that puts on really top-notch productions, did “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I trepidatiously bought tickets. And last Saturday night, we went with Graham and Otto...and had a BLAST. Ben was having a good day; Jem liked “the fast songs and the dancing”; Ben liked “everything.” And I was SO THRILLED to be out, and to make it through the whole two hours with no explosions, to have a Fun Family Outing all together... It was just really worth the price of admission, if you know what I mean.
Books We've Recently Enjoyed:
Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, As told and illustrated by Iza Trapani – An anthem to accompany the organic gardeners' arms race.
“Stand Back, Said the Elephant, “I'm Going to Sneeze!”, by Patricia Thomas – Jeff loved this book when he was just a boy, and so now do his boys.
Life On Earth: The Story of Evolution, By Steve Jenkins – Fantastic cut- and torn-paper collage illustrations, with as complex or simple a storyline as you choose to read.
Courage to Fly, by Troon Harrison – a lovely metaphorical tale about a little girl, new to the neighborhood, who helps a little bird learn to leave the nest.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson– this turned out to be The Book that introduced the topic of Human Slavery to our boys. Ben said: “Slavery is not okay!” Jem said, “I wanna go back then, and hit those people who had slaves!” I read the whole book out loud, and then actually burst into tears at the very end, when the little girl has escaped to go back to her momma. What Happened? Ben and Jem asked in alarm, looking at my face. “I'm just...” I said, sobbing, “...crying because of how mean people can be to each other.” (“You should lean your head down there,” Jem advised me, pointing under the table, “So you don't have to see the pictures.”)
Wild Fibonacci: Nature's Secret Code Revealed, by Joy N. Hulme – a neat introduction to some fascinating concepts, and no one even needs to be interested in Fibonacci in order to enjoy the drawings and the rhymes.
The Sea Serpent and Me, by Dashka Slater – The first draft of this book was written when the author was ten years old.
The Obvious Elephant, by Bruce Robinson – a funny tale about a boy named Eric and (obviously) an elephant.
All the books about “Mole,” by Jonathan Emmett.
Wolves, by Emily Gravett – This is not a good book for a GAPS-type literalist, which my eldest son currently is, but _I_ really liked it.
White Snow Bright Snow, by Alvin Tresselt – I read this book when I was a girl, and although my kids said Ho Hum, it really brought back Memories.
The Bus for Us, by Suzanne Bloom – Fun partly-rhyming text that borders on the Ridiculous.
And that's all the news for now.
Lots of love (and thankfulness that Athena and Ruth had an uneventful airplane-landing on their way home from Barcelona),