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Any Ideas For a Fellow Traveller?

I got this email the other day, most of which is a fascinating and fantastic success story, but with a bit of disappointment at the end. Jeff and I (along with some input from Dr. B.G of Animal Pharm) have tossed around a few ideas, but I'm wondering if there's any out there who might offer their own ideas.

~~~

Hi Richard. I hope that you can please bear with me as this is going to be a rather long winded post, but it is currently 3am, and after several recent sleepless nights I am having a difficult time coping!

Background information: male, 46 yrs of age. High caliber athlete my whole life – top level ice hockey player until 20yrs of age; national flatwater kayaker after that; then ironman triathlete for 7 yrs until 2001.

Nutritional and health background: ate a typical North American diet until about 1992, at which time became interested in diet in terms of health and performance improvement. Result: strict vegan from 1985-2001. However, despite 20+ hrs of intense training per week could never lose abdominal fat, had a blood pressure of 140/100, and developed exercise induced cardiac problems (supraventricular tachycardia) and an irregular heartbeat at rest (PAC’s). Other than these problems though (which I just “lived with”) I never had any of the “energy crash” or “foggy” problems with an extremely high carb diet. In fact, I felt great eating grains and high carb.

In 2003 though my hypertension and increasingly “annoying” exercise induced SVT (now up to 100 ten minute episodes a year) were really starting to bother me. So I sought medical advice. By now though, I had become increasingly disillusioned with the mainstream medical establishment. So I went to see Dr. Mercola (yes, THE Dr. Mercola!).

Since then, and for the last 6 yrs, I have been eating 100% strict paleo foods. And by 100% strict, I mean 100% strict!!!! Not one speck of sugar, chemicals, crap, grains of any kind, or dairy – NOTHING, other than fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish. NOTHING!!! And drinking only water.

What I found was that my health improved dramatically. I felt great, I never got sick, and I lost some weight, despite exercising very little (although admittedly, I only had about 10 lbs of fat to lose with my previous high carb, exercise fanatic lifestyle).

However, I did note one thing. Despite my strict paleo diet, I was not eating low carb. In fact, I was probably eating upwards of 20 pieces of fruit a day!! Like my pre-paleo days though, I never felt bad, nor did I experience any energy crash eating higher carb. My blood pressure improved slightly (maybe 130/90), but my heart rate was still irregular (PAC’s) and I had fewer, but still present episodes of SVT.

So, 6 months ago, after reading hours and hours of you, DeVany, Eades, Sears, Davis, Colpo, Lyle McDonald, MDA, TTP, Hyperlipid, Whole Health Source, Animal Pharm, etc, etc, etc, I decided to go TRUE low carb paleo. Shouldn’t be too hard I thought, since it didn’t require changing ANY of the foods that I was currently eating, only the ratios.

Result: absolutely astounding……almost!!! For 6 months now, blood pressure perfect (118/78), heartbeat absolutely regular. Not one irregular heartbeat – no PAC’s, no SVT. All of this sustained for the past 6 months. Leaned right out too – very low % bodyfat, and this on no exercise at all!! However, this has come at a cost, and hence the requirement of this post.

For the past 6 months I have restricted my carbs to 40 grams a day, eating only pure clean paleo foods as previously mentioned. And while my heartbeat regularity, blood pressure, and physical appearance have been great, my energy is now non-existent. I am overcome with immense, excruciating fatigue. Something that sleep cannot overcome, and something that I have never felt before in my life. I have also had a headache and brain ”fog” for approximately 4 out of the last 6 months. A low grade headache, but debilitating nonetheless, and I hadn’t had a headache previous to this since 1985.

I have tried reducing carbs down to 20g for a few weeks, and even upping them to 75g for a few weeks, but neither has had an impact on the headaches or fatigue. As far as I know, I am eating perfect. Plenty of calories. High fat, med protein, low carb. Pure, organic food. Strict paleo. Plenty of fresh, clean water. No other beverages at all except water. Fish oil and vitamin D.

I know Lyle McDonald has written that some individuals who are not overly insulin sensitive (FYI – my fasting insulin was < 2 when I saw Mercola when I was a high carb vegan) never fully overcome the fatigue of LC and actually require a minimum of 110-150g of carbs a day. Still LC I guess, but I am having trouble “seeing this” given all else that I have read regarding no actual requirement for carbs etc, etc.

I feel that I am 95% of the way there to finding my perfect diet. I have to be. The improvement in blood pressure, heartbeat, and body composition cannot be ignored. But the fatigue and headaches……..HELP!!!! I am having an increasingly difficult time coping, and the frustration is truly depressing.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.

~~~

I'm sure Jeff will appreciate any and all comments that help him toward fixing this single disappointment in an otherwise terrific story.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

25 Comments

  1. Tom on March 15, 2009 at 21:13

    I'd suggest that he investigate to find out if he might be hypothyroid. AFAIK, the carbs can cause an adrenal response to the inflammation. Removing the inflammation reduces the adrenaline, which is healthy, but unmasks the low thyroid response.

    Note that hypothyroidism is rampant and un/mis-diagnosed (and woefully mistreated, with, natch, profitable, proprietary Franken-hormones). Dr. Davis describes his own adventures in hypothyroidism on his blog:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20101203210222/http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/my-personal-experience-with-low-thyroid.html

    https://web.archive.org/web/20101203205502/http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/low-thyroid-what-to-do.html

  2. Scott Miller on March 15, 2009 at 17:44

    This shouldn't be difficult to figure out, but it will need a 15-minute call with him to really dig deep and find out exactly what he is eating. I suspect he's making some mistakes and is unaware. For example, what types of oils is he using? Is he getting enough saturated fat? He needs to be asked a one or two dozens questions like this, and only then can this case be solved.

    I've personally solved numerous problems for friends and co-workers like this. It's almost always an oversight of significant magnitude by the paleo practitioner.

  3. Robert M. on March 15, 2009 at 18:04

    Chronic fatigue/headaches sounds like something auto-immune related to me.

    Based on the symptoms of abdominal fat and excessive sugar consumption in the form of fruit, I'd have to guess it's fructose related. Many vegans are sugar addicts and Jeff sounds similar. I would think a more gradual withdrawal from fructose might be better.

    Another experiment to run would be to eat just glucose, 120-150 grams/day and compare that to 120-150 grams/day of glucose/fructose.

    Just how much protein is he getting?

  4. Scott on March 15, 2009 at 18:28

    Richard,
    I have been meaning to send this info along. What happens when you go paleo/low-carb and your skin doesn't glow and you don't feel 100% on the inside…

    Going very low-carb can start a Candida overgrowth die-off. Years of eating grains/high-carbs can fuel a candida overgrowth, and cause issues with your immune system and gene expression (the list goes on and on!)

    Please visit Bee Wilder's site, she has a wealth of information, a true low-carb lifestyle, which vitamins you should take, which fats, and lots of recipes. The entire FREE site is devoted to getting your immune system back up into tiptop shape. She has been researching "caveman" diets for a very long time!

    http://www.healingnaturallybybee.com/

    Fatigue is definitely a big sign that candida may be involved. Jeff should take a look through her site, there is so much helpful information.

    Take Care,
    Scott

  5. Lute Nikoley on March 15, 2009 at 18:41

    You mentioned you had trouble sleeping, I had that problem including the fatigue a few years ago. Was diagnosed with sleep apnea, got a CPAP, no more problems. It's worth checking out.

  6. Paleo Newbie on March 15, 2009 at 19:11

    maybe time to see your medical doc, not the naturopathic.

  7. Pam Maltzman on March 15, 2009 at 19:30

    Wow… I'm jealous… he actually got to see THE Dr. Mercola.

    BTW, Dr. Mercola is a medical doctor, just not an establishment one, and definitely not a statin pusher.

    I'd be curious to see what the solution to this guy's problems turns out to be.

  8. Pam Maltzman on March 15, 2009 at 19:50

    Mercola IS a medical doctor, but he may be a DO instead of an MD (don't have his book right in front of me).

  9. Pam Maltzman on March 15, 2009 at 19:52

    Had heard before that some folks starting low-carb experience a drop in energy, but didn't know exactly why, other than that I had been told (by someone who didn't like low-carb) that if she didn't drink enough water with low-carb, she got tired, cranky, and depressed. (She had been a chemist before becoming an accountant.)

  10. Pam Maltzman on March 15, 2009 at 19:54

    Scott… Thank you for posting the URL to Bee's website. Just browsed it, but will read more later when I have time. I remember reading Dr. Crook's book "The Yeast Connection" some years ago. However, Bee seems to have a pretty comprehensive website.

  11. Richard Nikoley on March 15, 2009 at 17:56

    I am most certain he will be happy to call you (he's currently living in Australia). Jeff, please email Scott to make arrangements.

    And Scott, thanks very much.

  12. Richard Nikoley on March 15, 2009 at 17:57

    Oh, and Jeff, please check out Scott's comments on part 4 of my vitamin supplement post. You'll see you're dealing with someone of great depth.

    https://freetheanimal.com/root/2009/03/vitamin-supplements-part-four.html

  13. Anonymous on March 16, 2009 at 09:11

    Dr Eades @ Protein Power frequently mentions the need for potassium supplementation after starting low carb. Search his site for explanations and recommendations.

    Good luck.

  14. Anonymous on March 16, 2009 at 09:12

    Oops. forgot to mention that Eades recommends potassium because of frequent complaints of fatigue after starting low carb.

  15. Scott on March 16, 2009 at 10:59

    Pam, you are welcome. It is a very comprehensive site, she has definitely done her research! I mentioned this to Richard in a email today, but once there is a real imbalance in the few pounds of bacteria living inside us, it can take years of very strict paleo eating to get that gut flora back to normal (ie paleolithic era flora), this strict eating helps our immune system get back to strength. Doing this can combat all sorts of ailments, chronic fatigue being one of them.

  16. Jeff on March 16, 2009 at 12:18

    Thanks to everyone for their input. Here are a few of my responses to your Q's:

    Scott Miller: EVOO and EVCO only. Plenty of sat fat (lamb, beef, dark chicken with skin on). Butter doesn't agree with me GI wise.

    Robert M: I don't believe their is anything auto-immune. I am OK if I take in 150+g of carbs. That is what I find theoretically puzzling, and why I wondered whether or not Lyle McDonald was right when he says some individuals just don;t seem to be able to handle less than 150g of carbs even after months of trying.
    The fructose issue may be a valid one though. Dr Ron Rosedale states that some paleo people compensate the loss of grains with a massive over consumption of fruit. While I have been 100% strict paleo for 6 yrs now I am definitely one of these prople!! I am addicted to fruit. Eating 20-30 pieces a day is no problem !! I have had no problem switching to paleo 6 yrs ago in terms of cravings. However, since attempting to go LC paleo six months ago I have found it very hard. I am definitely addicted to fruit!! Limiting carbs to 20-40g a day essentially eliminates fruit (except maybe a few strawberries). Very hard for me pshychologically!! Of note, I think I ended up getting most of my carbs from cherry tomatoes when I did…and boy, its funny how they now tasted sweet!! When I stopped the fruit though I would say my headaches improved 75% (but not totally). As for protein intake…plenty. Probably 150-200g a day.

    Scott: thanks for the link to Bee Wilder's site. Hadn't thought about possible candida. Wondering though…why would fatigue and headache symptoms disapper when eating strict paleo but not LC (lots of fruit), but return when eating LC paleo?

    Lute: sleep is not a problem. I sleep like a rock. Recent sleepless nights have been due to stress thinking about this. The hard part is that this HAS to be the right way of eating. How can my blood pressure, and heart rate regularity all become perfect if it was not? Its just the **##@@ headaches and fatigue!!

    Paleo newbie: I have never seen a naturopath. Not sure where you got this idea from. As for seeing a medical doctor about this, for the sake of not opening up a can of worms, I would like to graciously say "no". It's kind of like discussing religion and politics I believe!! Not saying that there are not any excellent MD's out there, but finding Osama might be easier!

    Pam: Yes, saw "the" Dr Mercola. One of the last pt's he saw. He no longer sees any. As for water, its the only beverage I drink (for past 6 yrs) and I take in plenty. And remember, I am not "starting" LC. I have been strict paleo for 6 yrs, and have been LC paleo for 6 months now.

    Tom: Always wondered about the thyroid. My tests have always come back normal though (which I know may not be indicative). Not sure if I should just try a supplement and see (ala Davis). Still makes me wonder, why only symptoms with LC paleo vs plenty of fruit paleo??

    Anonymous: Tried a K+ supplement for about 3 months while LC. Had no impact on the fatigue/headaches. I feel no different with or without the potassium.

    Thanks again to everyone for your responses. Perhaps it is as simple as just eating 150g of carbs a day instead of 40g. Something inside me says "no" though!! Besides, I "want" to eat 40g a day. I believe it is much more optimal in terms of all markers of health, longevity and disease prevention. Cheers.

  17. Robert M. on March 16, 2009 at 15:02

    It's not carbohydrates themselves that are the problem but the body's reaction to them. If your insulin remains stable on 150 grams of potatoes/yams/squash a day then I think that's no big deal, health wise. Obviously you have the trade off, chronic fatigue versus heart troubles, which is why I suggested dropping the fructose as a self-experiment.

    Let's say hypothetically, eating 40 grams of carbohydrate a day versus 150 g/day increases your lifespan by 3 months (probably a great exaggeration). Is it worth it going through life miserable? Quality of life is what matters.

    P.S. I suffer from chronic tension headaches, and I can tell you they are 80 % caused by lack of adequate sleep and 19 % by inadequate stretching of the back of my body, typically starting with my hamstrings and progressing up to my neck. Headaches can generate a positive feedback loop in this case, where a bad headache prevents you from getting adequate sleep, making the headaches the next day worse, etc. Break the cycle with a sleep aid and some good yoga lessons that are centered around pigeon pose and the various twists from it.

  18. Peter on March 16, 2009 at 19:30

    These symptoms could indicate a food sensitivity. If so, it would likely be to a food(s) eaten every day. A clue here is your mention of being sensitive to butter.

    An elimination diet might be in order — but try eliminating supplements first. In my experience, chocolate (cacao) and concentrated tomato products are two of the most obvious when it comes to bad headaches, as they contain high levels of amines and salycilates, respectively.

    Obviously, it would have to be something you didn't eat much of (or at all) before the problem arose.

    Good luck!

  19. Pauline on March 17, 2009 at 02:28

    Milk /cheese is also connected to headaches or dairy products in general. I have allergy to both but I get skin rashes instead of a headache. I wonder if you are not insulin resistant, not so much in the body as in the brain. Its a strange thing to suggest. But I find it very hard to give up carbs because my brain seems to function best on having SOME of them in my diet daily. Having eaten so much fruit over the past few years your body has adjusted to the sugar/fructose in the fruit and the fatigue is from the brain not being able to access the sugar if its not at a certain level or when your carb intake is too low. (I think Art de Vany talks about this). A strange thought, but something many women find, they function better on some carbs in the diet. I have never really got to low carb as suggested, but if I manage my carb intake over the day so it is reasonably low, I feel better mentally and physically – and still experience slow weight loss. Any thoughts any one on brain insulin resistance.

  20. Katelyn on March 17, 2009 at 16:42

    Go zerocarb like I do. Check out Zeroing in on Health Blog.

  21. Pam Maltzman on March 23, 2009 at 20:07

    Chronic fatigue is a big problem for me, as well. It's the worst part, for me, of having gone over the edge into type II diabetes.

    I'm going through her website a little bit at a time. At one time Twinkies and other such junk foods were my best friends, so I'm sure I have a lot of work to do in that area.

    I kind of wish the information was in a book format.

    Well, thanks again for posting that website here.

  22. Michael on March 25, 2009 at 20:57

    I would check your thyroid following the advice and methods of someone like Broda Barnes. Outstanding stuff and you may get a diagnosis that has been missed by "normal" channels. Beyond that there is nothing wrong with higher carb consumption, it just depends on the carbs and your response to them. Sometimes Paleos forget folks like the Kitavans, Toukeluans, the Bantu and others who thrive/thrived just fine on high starch (not high fruit) high saturated fat diets.

  23. James on March 30, 2009 at 13:20

    Jeff,
    Depending on the amount of animal protein you took in before, you may want to reduce your intake of protein for a while before building it back up. I don't think I'd have to explain to you the way protein is metabolized, but it is not an uncommon phenomenon that some people can become headachy because of the overabundance of uric acid in the blood. Many people forget that high protein intake requires extra water intake too. As I understand it, the Paleo diet goes for the fat, lean meat means starvation.
    Furthermore I agree with the mentioning of the fructose

  24. Arto_S on September 26, 2009 at 12:29

    Here's my input, I hope this is useful to Jeff:

    I've been doing Paleo & Intermittent fasting for a couple of months now thanks to Richard's and Brad Pilon's blogs. I've had a bit similar problems but I have been able to get rid of most of the problems. Altogether, I can't in any way deny the health benefits.

    One example: Before this I had a nail fungus for 10+ years and it showed no indication of going away although I was trying to force it go away through will power…I didn't want to go into using drugs to kill the fungus. Now the fungus is going away as fast as my nails grow. Pretty amazing!

    Now, about Jeff's problem:

    I've found out that one very important thing while doing Paleo and low carbs is to remember eat enough when you are not fasting. Going on Paleo has the interesting effect that you can go rather long times without feeling hungry. I did the mistake of not eating enough and developed a strange jaded feeling. After I started doing a small scale force feeding during the nonfasting days things started going a lot better. Weight has now been coming down faster and I feel more energetic. I just make sure that I am getting at least 2500 kcal/day on nonfasting days. I do two 30 hour fasts every week until I get to my goal.

    I think that Jeff may be feeling tired also due to thyroid problems. Thyroid is very important gland and it can cause serious problems.

    Has Jeff had his thyroid hormones tested?

    Has Jeff made sure that he is taking his daily dose of coconut oil, as coconut oil can support healthy thyroid function?

    It is also a fact that thyroid needs iodine to work properly. Adding a moderate amount of sea vegetables (=algae) to the diet may help his thyroid. The japanese eat sea vegetables almost daily and I think lots of westerners could benefit from using more sea vegetables.

  25. martin svendsen on March 20, 2010 at 22:28

    maybe a bit late to comment on this post but :

    Has Jeff tried supplementing with magnesium ? It is one of the most common recommendations for both sleepless nights and persistent headache on a national forum for low-carb.(I’m in Norway) Recommended doses varies greatly but the most common are between 200 and 400 mg, 30 minutes before bed, as magnesium will make you drowsy.

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