Saturday, September 10, 2011

Paleo: a chill pill?

One of the things I love best about the paleo/primal community is how smart so many of the proponents and bloggers are. These are people who put serious science behind what they do and what they choose to eat, and they generously drag those of us with high school Bio II backgrounds along with them.

One of my favorites is Dr. Emily Deans, who blogs at Psychology Today and her own site, Evolutionary Psychiatry.

I'm not going to pretend I understand the Folate Cycle, which is the topic of her latest post. However I probably should, because - like many people with an autoimmune disease - I'm taking an anti-inflammatory med that requires me to supplement with folic acid. I have learned from Dr. Deans that folic acid and folate aren't the same, but beyond that... I just remember to eat my leafy greens!

In that recent post on the folate cycle, Dr. Deans included this amazing text: "... And in the papers, there are some interesting suggestions (that the stress hormones deplete the B vitamins, thus raising homocysteine, that homocysteine is directly neurotoxic, causing anger. That homocysteine is associated with higher levels of pro-oxidants and represents an inflammatory state, also neurotoxic."

The implications from just those two sentences are mind-blowing.

Rheumatoid arthritis has run rampant in my family for at least three generations. My grandmother had one of the worst cases you will ever see. If you think I can look at what happened to her, and my mother, and my own right arm - part of which is now titanium where this nasty disease ate away my ulna - without a certain, subterranean terror, you would be wrong.

But do I also know the damaging effects of that terror on my body? You'd better believe it. And I also know that terror, and other stress emotions, destroy B complex vitamins. Even Adelle Davis back in the '60s preached of the need for extra helpings of those vitamins when stressed. Her remedy was brewer's yeast, to be sure, but the idea was still the same.

So back I come to the paleo diet. There are two reasons I've stayed on it without any deviation (besides the bar of dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds currently on my counter, and which I'm certain any self-respecting paleolithic dweller would heartily embrace) for more than 7 months now: the almost instant lessening of swelling and joint soreness in my left hand, and the clear sense of well-being I have when I eat this way.

This diet lessens my physical and subsequent emotional stress. I've no doubt about that.

Whichever pathway it takes to do that - whether through the bacteria populating my gut with a higher protein/lower carb diet, or through the kind of chemical interactions of which Dr. Deans speaks, or something else entirely - it really doesn't matter. It just works.

And if it keeps me in a more even state of mind, absent the terrors that come with sudden unpredictable swelling and joint pain, and that mellower state of mind improves my general health as well? That's a cycle I can totally appreciate.

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