Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gout and the Wheat Free Diet

After a series of gout attacks in Hilo five years ago, I now carefully avoid foods I know cause my gout.  I do not eat canola oil because of its uric acid content; corn-fed and rape-seed fed meats and fish; and sugars because they are all highly acidic and can bring on gout attacks.   I also make sure my drinking water is not acidic.   So, I was really surprised when I had another gout attack a week ago, after not having problems for so long.

Surprisingly, my last two gout attacks followed eating a lot of bread.   The first episode happened after I ate pizza and bread with olive oil at a restaurant.  I assumed at the time that the olive oil had been substituted with canola oil and was the cause of the attack.   However, my most recent gout attack happened after I ate a lot of English muffins and French bread.  I normally do not eat much bread and prefer rice and rice pasta with my meals.  However, I tend to eat wheat when I am restricting my calories.   Even though bread has never shown up on any list as a cause for gout, I am beginning to think it may be another food that is contributing to my gout attacks.  

When we started researching the negative health effects of bread, we found that there is a “modern” wheat controversy.  We did not realize that wheat today is very different than what we ate as kids, the result of intensive crossbreeding to make it shorter and hardier.   Doctor Davis, author of “Wheat Belly”, claims this new dwarf wheat has a different protein structure and contains the starch amylopectin A which is absorbed in the body like a super sugar.  According to Doctor Davis, eating wheat products, even organic whole-grain wheat makes you hungry, fat, and results in other side effects like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.  

We are skeptical of miraculous health claims from diets, especially by doctors, however after reflecting on what we were eating during the times we felt really healthy over the past 30 years, it seems like it was when we had very little wheat in our diet.   With the agony of my recent gout attack fresh in my mind, we were very willing to  start on a no-wheat diet.  Another motivation is that weight-loss, in particular belly fat, is a reported result of getting this starch and gluten out of the diet.  Even on our restricted calorie diet, we have 10 stubborn pounds of fat that we can not keep off.

We found studies on the negative health effects of eating amylopectin starch. This type of starch is absorbed so rapidly into the blood stream that it causes a huge spike in insulin which causes calories to be stored as fat, even when eating a low calorie diet. This may explain why we are not losing weight eating low calorie breads and tortillas.   Amylopectin  also causes an increase in production of LDL cholesterol and inflammation in the body, similar to the effects of eating high fructose corn syrup.  

We have been on a wheat-free diet for ten days now and we noticed right away that we felt much less hungry, but we haven’t had any weight loss yet.  The relief from hunger may be due to taking gluten out of our diet, but since rice and potatoes have as much amylopectin starch as wheat, we may have to forego those foods to get the weight loss benefit.  While contemplating that, we plan to remain wheat-free and see if we get some of the health benefits others are claiming just by removing wheat from their diet.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Health in Hawaii

Every year Hawaii is in the headlines for having a low obesity rate; only Colorado has a slightly lower rate.   Visitors to Hawaii often tell us how great they feel here.  Their aches and pains disappear and they find themselves walking more and feeling energized.   We had the same experience during our visits to Hawaii and it motivated us to come more and more often to recreate the feeling.  We wondered if the health benefits we had during our 3-week vacations would subside if we lived in Hawaii full-time or would keep getting better every year.

In the five years we have lived here we have seen dozens of people with very serious health problems have huge improvements in their health. People who could barely walk were able to take long daily walks after a year or more of living in Hawaii.  We have also had consistent improvement in our health, with slow weight loss and improved fitness.  The changes have not been spectacular or quick, but we have answered the question about whether living in Hawaii full-time would result in our health getting better and better.

We believe the year-round warm weather and access to fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and meats is a major part of the reason for our improved health.  However, studies have shown the effect of location on health and that you are more likely to be obese if your neighbors are obese.

Communities with lower obesity rates have been shown to have similar physical characteristics including paths and sidewalks,  local parks, and playgrounds. 
A study at Columbia University showed that healthy food outlets nearby and farmer’s markets in the neighborhood also are related to lower obesity. 
Another study found that having four or more businesses like a grocery store, pharmacy, restaurant or other stores within walking distance significantly increased the amount of walking among residents in a neighborhood.  Four-way intersections were also associated with more walking. The age of the neighborhood and availability of parking were not associated with more walking.

We have lived in three communities on Hawaii Island in Hilo, Kona and Kohala and they all have stores within walking distance, nearby beaches and parks, pools, and farmer’s markets.   In each community we watched our neighbors go on daily walks or runs.   They shared the bounty from their gardens and fish they caught with us.

Before we moved to Hawaii, no matter how hard we exercised and restricted our diet, we got fatter and more out of shape every year.  Every year we live in Hawaii, we feel better and are closer to our fitness and weight goals. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ironman Championships 2013 : Extreme racing in Kona

Once again, it is Ironman World Championships time in Kona and the athletes and their entourages have taken over the highways, roads, and pier in Kona practicing for the big race on Saturday.  We marvel at the extreme and dangerous workouts of the Ironman athletes in Hawaii’s hot, tropical sun.  They bicycle for a hundred miles next to fast moving traffic on a highway carved into a lava field with 100 degree temperatures and winds up to 45 miles a hour. 

Observing the athletes pushing themselves so hard has interested us in the recent controversy over whether being an Ironman is good for your health or not.  Until recently, it has been considered an undisputed fact that an Ironman-type training was good for your health.

Last year a cardiac specialist, Dr. John M, wrote in his blog that it was not healthy for the middle-aged heart to run in Ironman competitions and doing so causes inflammation, coronary calcium, and atrial fibrillation. His blog got a lot of comments from athletes with strong opinions about their Ironman status and extreme workouts and other blogs agreeing with the increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) and scarring in the heart from training and competing in marathons and events like the Ironman.

In June of this year Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study on marathon runners that reported that 12% of apparently healthy marathon runners showed signs of heart damage called Phidippides cardiomyopathy (named after an ancient Greek messenger who died after a long run) related to their extreme conditioning. The study found that repeated, long distance racing can cause premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and coronary artery calcification.

It makes a lot of sense to us that the Ironman competition is not healthy.  The athletes in Kona look and act injured for days after completing the Ironman race and after observing the event over the past years, the participants act more like the event is a challenge they are trying to survive rather than something they are doing for good health.

Most studies state that daily exercise for 30 minutes to an hour is best for health and this seems about right to us. We feel really good after we walk and swim for 45 minutes to an hour. Any more than that and we are really sore the next day and the times we have exercised for many hours has often resulted in injuries that prevented us from exercising for days.

Though we find it inspiring to watch the world’s top endurance athletes compete in harsh conditions in Kona, unlike previous years we are more than satisfied with our 45 minute workouts after reading about the health risks of extreme exercise regimes.