The Heart of the Matter (Part II)

The purpose of this post is to explain in relatively simple terms how excessive carbohydrate consumption increases triglyceride (fat) and blood pressure levels (aka the risk factors for developing heart disease). I will preface this by making clear that this is a complex process that I will not pretend to understand in its entirety; however, there are some basic concepts behind the process of arterial plaque formation that I’m aiming to outline.

For the sake of clarity, I will start off with an obvious but crucial fact: all carbohydrates we consume (e.g. candy, white flour, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, pasta, legumes, high sugar fruits, agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, quinoa, etc)  are broken down into sugar, or glucose.

Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, so they cause a more gradual (and consequently less damaging) spike in our blood sugar; unfortunately, in the end, they all become blood sugar which triggers the need for insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas that manages our blood sugar levels. This leads into a discussion of the variables in developing heart disease: 

1. Insulin Resistance:  When you ingest sugar, blood sugar rises, and the pancreas releases the amount of insulin needed to take the excess glucose and store it in the liver and muscles as glycogen. This is certainly useful for having energy reserves stored for later if need be.

But if your  glycogen reserves are already filled up (depending your activeness and the amount of sugar you ate), then there is no room for that excess glucose in the liver or muscles. This begins the process of insulin resistance: the pancreas needs to pump out more insulin to get the same effect, the excess glucose and insulin remain in the blood stream for longer, and and the sugar is eventually stored in fat cells.

2. Glycation: Glucose should not be present in the bloodstream for longer than necessary; the longer it floats in the bloodstream, the higher the risk of glycation. Glycation occurs when a sugar molecule like glucose or fructose  binds to a protein  or fat molecule without the protective help of an enzyme. Without an enzyme to moderate the reaction that protein or fat molecule gets damaged.

More importantly, this reaction leads to advanced glycated end-products (AGEs). AGEs can degrade any cell in the body, and the accumulation of their destruction signals an inflammatory response.

3.Inflammation: Generally speaking, inflammation is defined as the immune system’s response to damaged cells, foreign invaders, toxins, etc. If you hurt your leg, it might swell and bruise. While it hurts, this is the immune system initiating the healing process. This is an example of a straightforward case of acute inflammation.

Chronic, low-level inflammation, on the other hand, keeps your body in a state of alarm: the immune system is waging a constant battle that is neither significantly traumatic nor ignorable. This battle often requires the expenditure of cytokines and various types of  infection-fighting white blood cells like monocytes and macrophages. The longer the inflammation goes on, the higher the risk of tissue damage.  In short, regular, excessive carb/sugar consumption leads to chronic AGEs which lead to chronic inflammation.

Below is an image of a glucose molecule binding to a protein molecule to produce an AGE that triggers an immune response from a macrophage:

Luckily, there are ways to quantify inflammation and blood glucose levels. Inflammation is often measured via a white blood cell count (WBC) and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) level. A 1-h plasma glucose test measures short-term (one hour to be exact) blood sugar levels, and Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) measures long-term blood glucose levels. Knowing this, let’s tie the evidence together:

  • There is a link between inflammation and insulin resistance: this study establishes a connection between insulin resistance and inflammation, again, in nondiabetic people. Inflammatory markers like CRP and white blood cell counters were associated with insulin resistance, and CRP levels were positively correlated to weight.
  • High blood sugar levels have been studied as a risk factor for heart disease. Another study also finds a connection between HbA1c levels (long-term blood glucose) and heart disease.
  • AGEs are correlated to to inflammation and atherosclerosis in diabetics.
  • Chronic inflammation is also strongly correlated to heart disease. One study observed a higher incidence of aortic inflammation with people who have inflammatory rheumatic disease than those with no inflammatory diseases.

So if atherosclerosis isn’t the mere accumulation of dietary fat and cholesterol, then how does it form?

To be continued….


The Heart of the Matter (Part I)

Learning about my own symptoms, blood test result history, and state of health has helped me to learn about the variables that contribute to being healthy. They aren’t always what they seem to be.

I want to expound on the fact that my triglycerides ( the amount of fat in my blood) have decreased over the past six years in spite of all of the butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and  mac nut oil  I’ve been eating almost daily for about a year now.  Triglycerides are the best predictor of nascent heart disease:  higher triglyceride levels increase chances of that excess fat hardening in and clogging up your arteries.

So I’ve been eating more fat, and less fat is showing up in my blood.  Why would that be? Let’s take some general “before” and “after” pictures of my diet and lifestyle:

  • When I was 21, I ate Larabars, Stonyfield farm yogurt, Natural Ovens bagels, dark chocolate, peanut butter, walnuts,  tofu, fake soy meat,  fruit, wheat pasta, POM juice, broccoli, and carrots. My triglycerides were 65 mg/dL.
  • When I was 25, I started to decrease my sugar intake when I figured out I had Candida. I didn’t give up sugar or grains entirely (I still ate oatmeal, apples, cheerios, dark chocolate, etc) but I definitely started to transition into a low carb and high fat diet. My triglycerides were 54 mg/dL.
  • I am 26, and I eat  3-5 daily servings of vegetables along with 2-4 eggs, nuts, and the fats mentioned above. I will have the occasional starchy acorn squash or sweet potato about twice a month. My triglycerides are 45 mg/dL.
  • It should also be noted that when I was 21 I did more exercise than I do now. (And, to add to the irony further, my current weight is 10 pounds less than my weight then).

So then what’s the difference? I have switched from grain-based carbs to vegetable-based carbs, removed the sugar, and replaced carbs/sugar with fat for my energy source.

My experience is not an isolated incident. There are several other studies manipulating the same variables that yield similar results:

  • In a low carb/high-fat vs. low fat/high carb study, the low carb/high fat group had a significant reduction in triglycerides, blood pressure, and VLDL (the worst of the bad cholesterol) after six months.
  • This study links carbohydrate restriction with reduced body weight, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
  • A meta-study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition summarized data from 21 cardiovascular disease studies entailing 350,000 people over a span of 14 years and the results are in: saturated fat does not cause heart disease.
  • Given all the mainstream emphasis on low-fat diets, I was surprised to read that even the American Heart Association says that a diet composed of 60% or more of carbohydrates is at a higher risk of developing unhealthy triglyceride levels.

Wow. My understanding of excessive sugar consumption is expanding: it isn’t just about managing a predominately female issue like Candida (although men can are not exempt); it’s about preventing cumulative and fatal illnesses like heart disease.

The key question is why does excessive carbohydrate consumption increase triglyceride and blood pressure levels? And why doesn’t saturated fat consumption increase triglyceride levels?

It certainly makes sense to think that eating foods with saturated fat and cholesterol would contribute to heart disease: the plaque that hardens in the arteries is composed of fat and cholesterol.

However, the development of heart disease is a consequence of interdependent factors: chronically increased insulin levels feed into inflammatory and oxidation responses which create a breeding ground for raised triglycerides, blood pressure, weight, etc.

To be continued…

Even Flow

I’ve had an insatiable desire to learn these past few days. I don’t want them to remain abstract concepts that are too complicated; I want the confidence that comes with clarity, and I want to know more about self-healing. I even think I want to order a copy of this book. And I’ve grasped a bit about some interesting topics:

1. Acupuncture. As someone who received some benefits from acupuncture, I was curious to read this series of articles. I learned that acupuncture essentially stimulates the body into healing itself and channeling blood flow to ailing areas. Blood flow is essential to healing because the blood carries everything: oxygen, white blood cells, natural pain-killers and anti-inflammatories, etc.  It’s obviously a more detailed, complex process than that, but that sums it up.

2.Thyroid Function. With the help of The Healthy Skeptic/Chris Kresser and this website, I finally have a basic understanding of thyroid function: the pituitary gland secretes TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) which tells the thyroid to secrete T4, the inactive form of the thyroid hormone (thryoxine). T4 is then converted to its active form (T3) in the liver. TBG (Thyroid binding globulin) is a protein that carries thyroid hormone (both T3 and T4) through the blood.

I find it important to note that if the pituitary sees little T4, then it sends more TSH to tell the thyroid to make more T4. The pituitary stops producing TSH when the amount of T4 circulating through blood reaches a certain optimal level. T4 circulates in two ways: 1) as bound to proteins that block it from entering parts that need it and 2) as free T4, which does enter and affect tissues in need.

According to Chris Kresser, my TSH (1.17) is below the functional range (although within range according to Quest Diagnostics).  My Free T4 is also on the lower end of the lab’s range (2.2). My total T4 is on the lower end of Quest’s Range (2.2). My T3 uptake, however, is at the top of Quest’s range (35%). A high T3 uptake indicates that there are plenty of free proteins to carry T3 to my cells.

After reading this post, I’ve concluded (thus far) all of this information potentially indicates that the underlying problem is with my pituitary: it should be making more TSH because T4 levels are low. Or perhaps there isn’t enough conversion from T4 to T3 going on. That happens in the liver, and I know my liver’s had a lot to deal with.

It should be noted that my TSH was 0.5 in February, when I was experiencing the peak of Candida’s wrath and the most debilitating of insomnia. It has been steadily increasing since I started the Candida diet.

3. Synthroid. Would my doctor’s prescription of Synthroid help? Since it is a synthetic form of T4,  I’m guessing it would create more T4, so my pituitary wouldn’t make TSH. While more T4 might lead to more thyroid hormone getting around in my body, it wouldn’t help my pituitary do its job or treat the source of the problem. In principal, I am opposed to merely treating symptoms. And in practicality, this could create a dependence; the Synthroid web site even says that thyroid medications are to be taken for life. 

For life? I don’t think so.

So then what should I do?

  • Reduce stress/cortisol. I tried to ask my doctor to order a cortisol saliva test yesterday, but he said that the results don’t necessarily offer definitive information. Regardless, two doctors have told my I have symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and I do feel stressed often. So it’s safe to assume I could stand to manage myself better with deep breaths and shifting my attitude.
  • Keep my blood sugar stable. I need to have food with me or prepared before my blood sugar starts to drop.
  • Find an acupuncturist. I need to find one as good as or better than the one I was seeing before I moved.
  • Laugh. I’ve been making a point to watch/read amusing things daily as if it’s part of my diet.
  • Encourage blood flow through walking and yoga.
  • Prepare my body for handling more protein through bone broths, fermented foods, digestive enzymes, etc
  • Be more disciplined about going to sleep on time and being in a relaxed state of mind at bed time
  • Continue to eat a grain, sugar, lectin, and dairy-free diet.

In some ways, giving up sugar is easier than giving up stress; it’s a more tangible process. I underwent a transformation when I gave up grains, dairy, and sugar. I no longer believe in unnecessary sugar, and that is what allows me to keep going. I don’t want to believe in stress any more either. In truth, stress is likely to be the most predominant and destructive form of collective and individual auto-immunity.


Soft, Sweet, Simple

I have a weakness for breakfast food: I love pancakes, waffles,  hash browns, and omelets. I remember feeling tortured by these foods when I first realized that I’d have to give up grains. I just wanted something soft and fluffy to bite into—damn you, gluten!  This was before I discovered coconut and almond flour, of course. I recently made some pretty photogenic coconut cinnamon pancakes:


They are simple to make. Here are the proportions I use:

  • 1 tablespoon of coconut flour with 1 egg and 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil = 1 pancake
  • a pinch of baking soda for every two pancakes
  • 1 packet of Sweet Leaf stevia for every two pancakes (optional)
  • liberal amounts of cinnamon

Bob’s Red Mill also has good coconut flour. They definitely do not need stevia to taste good, but sometimes I like a bit of sweetness. Top them off with plenty of butter and remember to keep them small (no bigger than the size of a CD). The result is filling, delicious, grain-free pancakes that don’t feel like a rock in your stomach or an assault on your blood sugar. Enjoy!


  • I got myself a copy of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back by Esther Gokhale. She traveled to places where back pain is scarce (guh?) and studied how they move in their daily lives: it turns out they had no cultural influences encouraging slouching, tucking the pelvis in, or exaggerating the lumbar curvature of the spine. After reading the intro and skimming it, I already feel much more aware of the ways in which I involuntarily misplace my spine, neck, and shoulders. It’s a detailed, compelling, and relevant book to anyone with a spine. There are many pictures, but luckily there are some videos on youtube and free online classes that should help me develop an important habit.
  • Also, in an attempt to stimulate my Vagus nerve and reduce the physical and hormonal effects of stress, I’ve been trying to get in the habit of doing some deep breathing every day.  It feels like I’m un-learning/re-learning all those basic things you’re supposed to learn as a child: how to eat, sit, lie, stand, breathe, etc. It also feels like I didn’t learn much of value in school.
  • I discovered kohlrabi: it’s a nutritious, delicious vegetable that you don’t see often in recipes or on shelves. It’s like a green beet, but only mildly sweet with a hint of a broccoli and potato-type of a flavor. It’s dense, but not excessively starchy. It’s also said to be helpful against Candida. I chop it, steam it, peel it, and flavor it with butter, salt, and pepper. It’s great. I’d bet I could make them like mashed “potatoes.” too.
  • I finally made an appointment with a doctor, who, based on my gut instinct, would be somewhat less “by the book” when it comes to interpreting lab results. We went over my symptoms, and he said that people with hypothyroidism often have all the manifestations of it while still testing in range. I was glad to hear this; it shows that he has some understanding of the complexity of hormonal function.
  • Consequently, I should be getting detailed blood test results in the near future, and he said he might put me on a low dosage of hormones to see what helps. Hopefully the blood tests, his intelligence, and my reading up on websites like this will help me ascertain the root cause and move in the right direction.

Giving Thanks

In the spirit of today’s holiday, I’d like to take my moment to express some gratitute:

I’m truly grateful for the supportive people in my life who have shown me varying forms of help during this past year of struggling to get better. I’m also grateful for being exposed to new, healthier, and more authentic perceptions of food and the virtual and 3D communities of people advocating such paradigms. Lastly, I’m grateful for my body’s ability to heal. Sometimes it feels like I’m just a chronically dysfunctional person, but I know that my body isn’t something to take for granted, and that I am lucky to have as much of it working as well as it does.

I personally have never been a big fan of a holiday celebrating cruelty and overindulgence; I’ve always felt that Thanksgiving should be a time when people eat less and give more to reverb some gratitute to the universe. Regardless, in spite of my body’s fluctuating ability to properly digest food, I wanted to be able to eat Thanksgiving-esque foods within the parameters of my diet. Here’s what I ate:

On the right is mashed cauliflower. It is pleasantly and surprisingly close to mashed potatoes in both taste and texture. I sauted onions, garlic, scallions in safflower oil. Then I  steamed the cauliflower for 5 minutes. I mashed the cauliflower and spices in a blender with the help of  a bit of water. I topped it with plenty o’ butter, salt, and pepper at the end. It was delicious.

In the middle is a twice baked sweet potato. The sweet potato is a gem of a treat that I hadn’t had in several weeks; I was saving it for Thanksgiving. My boyfriend and I got a good deal on some beautiful organic ones, and we picked them out based on which shapes would lend themselves best for the twice-baked recipe.

We put them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour until they were tender. After cutting off the top, we scooped out the insides to form a bowl. The insides were blended with butter and cinnamon in the food processor. Then they were put back into the ‘bowls’ which were put back in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. They were great.

And on the left is some plain old yummy baby spinach. I ended my meal with a few pecans and some soaked fennel seeds. Yum!

I would have eaten some turkey, but I don’t feel physically or psychologically ready for it. I have some work to do before my body can handle meat: this topic can be discussed further in another post. But I had a bunch of eggs for breakfast, so the day had some protein in it too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Let Them Eat Cake?

A few months ago I had learned about a so-called magical sweetener called Lakanto. It is advertised to have zero calories, zero glycemic impact, be good for baking, and, most importantly, not feed Candida.


I was too skeptical to order it right away. But my curiosity got the best of me, and eventually I gave in. It would make my life less torturous, right? It definitely tastes good and works well in baked goods. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t in the best place when I tried it, so I couldn’t accurately assert whether or not its claims are true.

But a part of me doesn’t think the alternative sweeteners are the best idea, even if they don’t physically exacerbate one’s healing. Mentally, I found that I was brought back into the sugar-craving mindset. And being in the best of mental states is really what motivates you to stick to any sort of elimination diet in the long-term

I’m all for moderation and allowing oneself to have treat, but I’ve also  found I’m thriving when I don’t feel mired by desires for sugar; it’s an aggravating state of constant dissatisfaction. Wanting what is bad for me is an unhappiness that I just can’t be stuck in anymore.  But that’s just me.