As with many aspects of life, extremes can be a challenge. Balance of nutrients is an important key for vibrant health. There is no question that those who have grown up on a diet high in refined carbohydrates experience tremendous benefits from eliminating them and adopting a diet high in animal fat and moderate amounts of protein, with a wide variety of vegetables and some fruits.
At the other extreme is a diet very low in carbohydrates, often promoted for weight loss and immune disorders. However, problems result for many when complex carbohydrates are avoided long term. The result is often seen in conditions related to low thyroid and adrenal function.
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?
• Are your hands and feet typically cold?
• Is excess weight creeping up on you?
• Has your average body temperature dropped?
• Is your ability to handle stressful situations not what it used to be?
• Do you have symptoms of osteoarthritis?
• Are you experiencing hearing loss?
• Appearance of xanthomas (lipid deposits under the skin)?
• Eyelids dropping?
• Sluggish reflexes?
• Low libido?
• Challenged by infertility?
A SHIFT IN METABOLISM
The best explanation for the appearance of these symptoms is that as we age—we begin aging around age twenty-one—we shift from being fast oxidizers to slow oxidizers. In a nutshell this means that our ability to burn fuel slows down a bit and requires a little prodding. The result is a shift toward hypothyroidism, although often it is only sub-clinical, meaning thyroid hormone levels appear to be “normal.” Nonetheless, the symptoms are ever present.
The body’s metabolism is like a fireplace fueled by three critical components: fat, protein and carbohydrates. Fat, which provides longer burning, sustaining energy, is the body’s preferred fuel. Protein is secondary and carbohydrates come next—carbs are critical for creating quick energy. Fat represents the large logs in the fireplace; protein represents the smaller logs; and carbohydrates can be seen as the twigs and kindling. When we are young and healthy, we have so much vitality that we easily function on a very high-fat diet, effortlessly breaking down and efficiently utilizing fats such as butter, cream, egg yolks, animal fats and fatty meats.
This is due to being in a state of fast oxidation. As the aging process takes place and we find ourselves under more environmental stress, we shift into slow oxidation. Being in a state of slow oxidation requires more glucose to stoke the metabolic fire. It is for this reason most people after childhood (and even older children) require greater amounts of complex carbohydrates.1
NOT TOO SLOW BUT NOT TOO FAST
As a person grows older, his or her oxidation rate typically begins to slow down. These days it is rare for even young adults to be fast oxidizers. Factors that slow oxidation rate include aging, nutritional deficiencies and overconsumption of refined carbohydrates. Additional causes of slow oxidation are toxic metal accumulation, lack of regular sleep, exposure to medications and vaccines, chronic emotional and mental stress, as well as inadequate exercise or excessive exercise. Stimulants such as caffeine, loud music, EMFs (electromagnetic fields) and stimulatory drugs also propel the body toward slow oxidation prematurely by straining adrenal function.
It is possible to be in a healthy state of slow oxidation just as one can be in an unhealthy state of fast oxidization. The goal is always to be in a balanced state of oxidation and overall health. One’s oxidative level is easily assessed using hair analysis. Slow oxidation is defined via a hair mineral analysis as a calcium/potassium ratio greater than 4 and a sodium/magnesium ratio less than 4.17. The higher the calcium-potassium ratio or the lower the sodium-magnesium ratio, the slower the oxidation rate.
Indications that one is in an unhealthy slow oxidation state include sluggish adrenal and thyroid activity, constipation, gut dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome, depression, difficulty digesting fats and vertigo, while those in a less-than-optimal state of fast oxidation often experience high blood pressure, a tendency to have diarrhea, anxiety and excessive perspiration. A slow oxidizer has decreased activity of the thyroid and adrenal glands. The hormone levels of these endocrine glands may be indicated by low levels on blood or salivary tests but it is not unusual to see ratios in hair analysis decline months to years before measurable declining levels are detectable via blood or saliva.
The adrenal and thyroid glands are typically depleted of nutrients, especially minerals, due to prolonged states of stress. Chronic stress can leave a person’s sympathetic nervous system in what Hans Selye, MD, described as the exhaustion stage of stress. The sympathetic nervous system is what allows us to enter a state of “fight or flight.” Unfortunately, due to hectic lifestyles, unresolved emotional conflicts, unrealistic paces of living, environmental toxic exposures (chemicals, pesticides, glyphosate, vaccines, toxic metals, toxic personal care products, etc.) and nutritional deficiencies, many individuals live in a state of sympathetic dominance of the autonomic nervous system, rather than parasympathetic dominance, and the average person living in this modern world enters Dr. Selye’s exhaustion stage early in life.
Using hair analysis, in addition to assessing one’s oxidation rate, we can see patterns of low or high thyroid and adrenal function at the cellular level. Thyroid activity is assessed using the calcium-to-potassium ratio, with 6.67 being ideal. Adrenal status is determined by sodium to magnesium (4.17 is the ideal ratio) and sodium to potassium (2.5 is perfect). Once these levels are understood, along with oxidation rate, a food plan and nutritional protocol can be created. Thankfully, we have access to a wide range of unrefined carbohydrates that can be prepared in a manner that is easily digestible and beneficial to humans.
While low-carbohydrate diets may be useful initially to balance blood sugar dysregulation and insulin resistance, as well as promote weight loss, prolonged avoidance of complex carbohydrates can push one to a state of extreme slow oxidation, adversely affecting thyroid and adrenal functions even further, and may interfere with the production of hormones, especially progesterone and thyroid hormones. Initially many people on a low-carb diet experience weight loss after eliminating refined carbohydrates but soon find that their metabolism declines, leading to more challenges with weight management, lethargy and decreased energy.
In my own practice, my colleagues and I see many young women struggling with infertility after going on a prolonged diet very low in carbohydrates. Central to most cases of infertility is clinically or sub-clinically low thyroid function. Research indicates that a low-carb diet can cause free T3 thyroid hormone to decrease and reverse T3 thyroid hormone to increase, blocking biologically active thyroid hormones.2,3 The result is lower levels of free T3, which results in lower metabolism. Symptoms occur such as fatigue, cold extremities, constipation, depression and many of those mentioned previously.
In an effort to compensate for low thyroid hormone levels, your body will increase its production of stress-handling hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Initially, you’ll feel fantastic. And then comes the depletion of these hormones, followed by a metabolic crash.
DON’T FORGET YOUR LIVER
A main role of the liver is storage of sugar in the form of glycogen. Glycogen provides quick energy when needed. It also helps stabilize blood sugar levels between meals. In order for the liver to have adequate stores of glycogen, carbohydrates must be consumed on a regular basis. This is especially important for those under stress. One of the consequences of a long-term low-carb diet is that the liver suffers from a lack of glucose, diminishing its ability to regulate blood sugar.
As a result of poor blood sugar regulation, the body produces more stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones break down muscle to create more glucose for brain function. Additionally, cortisol interferes with the liver’s ability to convert free T4 to free T3, thus compounding this already existing problem. As stress hormones rise, they create reverse T3, which further drives thyroid hormones low. The end result is a vicious cycle that ends in fatigue, weight gain, low sex hormones, disrupted sleep patterns, premature aging and physical degeneration.
One last point about the liver: the liver not only plays a key role in blood sugar regulation but it also is responsible for detoxification of excess estrogen, which is suppressive to the thyroid hormones. In order to detoxify excess estrogen effectively, the liver needs glucuronic acid. Glucuronic acid is formed from glycogen. This gives one more reason to have carbohydrates in the diet. Estrogen is metabolized ideally by the liver via the 2-hydroxy estrone pathway and eliminated through the colon. When this pathway is overloaded or damaged, the liver will use two other pathways via bile to eliminate estrogen. When estrogen passes in this way through the colon, it is likely to be re-absorbed. For this reason, Raymond Peat, PhD, recommends eating one to two grated raw carrots daily. Raw carrots have been found to absorb estrogen efficiently.4
Remember, chronic stress leads to constant production of the stress-handling hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. This disrupts the production of the calming hormone progesterone and interferes with the production of thyroid hormones, particularly free T3, and the clearance of estrogen, setting the stage for estrogen dominance and increasing the risk for developing autoimmune Hashimoto’s, just one more reason for including healthy, properly-prepared unrefined carbohydrates in the diet.
STOKE YOUR METABOLIC FIRE
The first step in reversing the vicious cycle brought on by a diet too low in carbohydrates is to add a little kindling to your metabolic fire. This is best done by introducing properly prepared complex carbohydrates with each meal. This includes root vegetables, winter squashes, soaked legumes and grains. Those who are truly gluten-intolerant should stick with brown rice and quinoa.
Begin with one-fourth to one-half cup of complex carbohydrates with each meal. Always include a generous serving of animal fat or coconut oil with the carbohydrates. Coconut oil is especially beneficial to the thyroid gland. Pay special attention to grain and legume preparation. In addition to speeding up one’s slow oxidation rate, grains offer the benefits of many valuable nutrients, provided grains are prepared in a manner that makes those nutrients available for absorption.
Traditionally grains were consumed whole and after soaking or fermentation. Modern science has been able to discover the importance of this ancient practice. All grains contain phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound). Unreleased phytic acid binds to certain minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc preventing their absorption in the intestinal tract. Over time this can lead to conditions such as irritable bowel and leaky gut syndromes, and eventually much more serious disorders. Soaking allows enzymes and probiotic organisms to break down and neutralize phytic acid. Soaking also neutralizes digestion-blocking enzyme inhibitors, breaks down irritating lectins and helps digest difficult-to-digest complex starches.
It is important that soaking occur in warm acidulated water. This can be accomplished through the use of real yogurt, homemade whey, lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar. Likewise, legumes like beans and lentils require careful preparation.
DON’T FORGET THE BUTTER
Butter and ghee (clarified butter) contain high concentrations of butyric acid. Butyric acid in butter is known to increase the number of thyroid hormone receptors on cells, allowing for delivery and utilization of more thyroid hormones.5 Include one or two teaspoons of butter or ghee or more at each meal, and especially at breakfast. Butyric acid will help deliver thyroid hormones to every receptor site throughout the body, including the brain. The addition of daily coconut oil is highly recommended.
VITAMIN A’S ROLE
The liver and thyroid gland need vitamin A in order to convert cholesterol into the anabolic (anti-aging) hormones pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA. Vitamin A is found only in animal fats, including raw cream, butter, liver and egg yolks, as well as unrefined fish liver oils. Daily inclusion of these fats is imperative to recover from the ill effects of a diet too low in carbohydrates. In my practice we use Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil to address hormonal challenges.
FRESH ORANGE JUICE
I do not typically recommend fruit juices; however, the use of fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning is advocated by Raymond Peat for those recovering from hypothyroidism and has proven to be very reparative for those recovering from low thyroid and adrenal function. Orange juice, an excellent source of magnesium, supports the liver’s ability to convert free T4 to the biologically active form, free T3. Orange juice should be fresh squeezed and organic, as commercial oranges are subjected to high levels of pesticides, many of which are endocrine disruptors.
CELTIC SEA SALT
As fatigue from prolonged stress sets in, cell function decreases tremendously. Nutrient depletion robs the body of precious electrolytes.6 The use of Celtic sea salt supports low thyroid, adrenals and progesterone while helping increase metabolic rate. Celtic sea salt should be used at each meal. In addition, add one-fourth teaspoon Celtic sea salt to one pint spring or purified water and consume two to three times daily.
CARBOHYDRATES: HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
One benefit of hair analysis is that the mineral ratios allow for a clearer understanding of a person’s ideal amount of carbohydrates. Without the use of hair analysis, we must keep in mind that we are all metabolically unique. Also, portion sizes will vary depending upon one’s size and activity level.
A typical plate will look like this: one portion animal protein (meat, seafood, poultry, always with the fat or skin); one or two portions of non-starchy vegetables; one portion of a starchy vegetable (grains, legumes, tubers or roots); and at least one tablespoon of healthy fats in the form of butter or other fat on the vegetables, or a sauce containing butter, egg yolks or cream. Observe energy level, sleep, elimination, body temperature, mental outlook and adaptability to stress. Then make dietary adjustments accordingly.
Graphing one’s temperature daily is an easy way to understand one’s metabolic status. By charting or graphing one’s temperature along with a food diary, it is much easier to notice the metabolic effects your diet is having. To learn more about temperature graphing, visit my website at biodynamicwellness.com.
Carbohydrates offer excellent sources for minerals and energy, fuel for the brain and support for the liver’s important task of blood sugar regulation and estrogen detoxification. Carbohydrates are indeed beneficial when they are carefully grown, properly prepared and accompanied by adequate protein and a variety of other nutrient-dense foods high in vitamins A, D, K2 and a wide range of minerals—all in accordance with the principles established by Weston A. Price.
PROPER PREPARATION OF GRAINS
Soak 1 cup grain in 2-3 cups warm filtered water plus 2 tablespoons yogurt, whey, fresh lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar for seven to twenty-four hours. For whole grains, prior to cooking drain water and proceed to cook per recipe. For rolled or cut grains (such as rolled or steel cut oats), you don’t need to pour off the water as it will be completely absorbed. Rice and millet are the lowest in phytic acid and therefore their soaking times are lowest. However, millet is suppressive to the thyroid and not recommended for those with signs of hypothyroidism. Cooking in bone broth will also help neutralize the mineral-binding effects of phytic acid. Quinoa contains saponins, which can be extremely irritating to the gut, so be sure to rinse quinoa at least once during its twenty-four-hour soaking time. Unsoaked grains in the form of commercial breads, pastries, granola and dry cereal are never recommended. True sourdough breads are a nice alternative to homemade bread. Gruels and porridges made from properly soaked grains provide a healthy replacement for boxed dry cereals. Don’t forget the butter!
Rice and millet: 7 hours minimum Quinoa: 24 hours minimum and rinse at least once All other grains: 12-24 hours
NEUTRALIZER AND WATER AMOUNT:
For most grains, use a 1:2 ratio grain:water and 2 tablespoons acidulator. For quinoa, use a ratio of 1:3 and 1 tablespoon acidulator
Whole (intact) grains: 45 to 60 minutes Rolled grains: about 20 minutes Cracked or steel cut grains: about 30 minutes
PREPARATION OF LEGUMES
Legumes such as lentils and beans, are a rich source of minerals; they should be soaked for seven to twenty-four hours, changing the water every seven hours. Soak in a neutralizer (also known as a “deactivator”) such as homemade whey, lemon juice, raw apple cider vinegar or baking soda.
Lentils and garbanzos: Use whey, raw apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice. Add 2 tablespoons of neutralizer to one cup of lentils or garbanzos. Kidney-shaped beans (kidney beans, pintos, Anasazi, navy, white, black bean): Use baking soda; a pinch of baking soda for one cup of kidney-shaped beans.
1. Do not use cold water for soaking legumes. Bring purified water to a simmer so that you begin with room temperature or slightly warm water.
2. Rinse legumes in a colander every seven hours and at least one to three times during the soaking process when soaking more than seven hours. Each time you rinse, add newly simmered water and another dose of the neutralizer.
3. The longer you soak your legumes, the shorter your cooking time.
4. Avoid using a pressure cooker. The extremely high temperature and pressure will denature the protein and can destroy other nutrients in the legumes.
5. Be sure to skim and discard the scum that may appear after beans are first brought to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer. Do not boil beans. This will cause them to become tougher and more difficult to digest. A slow cooker is perfect for cooking beans at a simmer.
6. Do not add salt to the cooking water as it will toughen the beans.
7. A strip or two of kombu seaweed can be added to the cooking water, especially for kidney-shaped beans; this will help break down the oligosaccharides, minimizing gastric distress. Kombu also adds minerals to your legumes.
Lentils: soak for 7 hours or more Kidney-shaped beans: 18-24 hours Garbanzos: 24-48 hours
All legumes should be cooked until very soft Lentils: cook 45-60 minutes Kidney-shaped beans: cook at least 4 hours or until very soft Garbanzos (also known as chickpeas): cook 4-6 hours or until very soft
REFERENCES 1. Lawrence Wilson, M.D.; Nutritional Balancing and Hair Analysis. Prescott: The Center for Development, Inc., 2010; pgs. 119-134.
2. Fery F, Bourdoux P, Christophe J, Balasse EO. Hormonal and metabolic changes induced by an isocaloric isoproteinic ketogenic diet in healthy subjects. Diabete Metab. 1982 Dec;8(4):299-305. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6761185
3. Hendler, RG, Walesky M, Sherwin, RS. Sucrose substitution in prevention and reversal of the fall in metabolic rate accompanying hypocaloric diets. Am J Med. 1986 Aug;81(2):280-4. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3740086
4. Peat, Raymond. Natural Estrogens. raypeat.com/articles/articles/natural-estrogens.shtml
5. Nishii, Y. “n-Butyrate enhances induction of thyroid hormone-responsive nuclear proteins.” Endocrine Journal. 1993 Oct;40(5):515-21.
6. Wilson, ND, James. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma. Smart Publications. 2001; p. 291.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2016