Since changing to a paleo/primal/hunter gatherer diet (and therefore ditching the juicing,) my skin has returned to its former glory - but the low blood counts identified by the doctors when trying to explain the skin colour, remain. The low counts turned out to have nothing to do with the skin colour, yet were a concern to the doctors, who referred me to various haematology doctors.
Here is where we pick up the story. Every 6 months or so, I am obliged to visit the oncology department at my local hospital, yield half a dozen vials of blood, wait while these are analysed, then have an amiable, but ultimately unrewarding conversation with a well-meaning haematologist.
Blood Counts we can't ExplainThe condition with which I have been diagnosed is aplastic anemia. You can be diagnosed with this on the basis of your blood counts alone, regardless of whether there are any further symptoms. When I looked into the possible causes I discovered a whole variety, to the extent that one gets the impression aplastic anemia is a euphemism for low blood counts we can't explain.
Since climbing aboard the specialist merry-go-round I have spoken to at least three different consultants, had countless blood tests and, in one memorable episode, been subjected to a bone marrow biopsy. This was necessary to establish whether my low blood counts stemmed from something more sinister in my bones (such as the big C), which as it turned out, it did not.
Laurel and HardyIn case you are ever in a position where a bone marrow biopsy is necessary, be aware that the clinician-to-patient lexicon is never further from reality than when you have the experience described to you. You know how doctors often talk about a little scratch when they mean the sensation of a needle being pushed into your skin? In this case I was told that it might be a little uncomfortable - which I soon learned translates into you will endure 20 minutes of teeth-clenching pain while the Laurel and Hardy of the haematology world good-humouredly blunder their way through the process of trying to drive a frighteningly large needle into your hip bone.
I am quite sure that in the context of the pain endured daily by many, less fortunate people, this was a walk in the park - but I still chuckle now when I think about the well-intentioned fraud practised by my consultant on that occasion. The icing on the cake was when, on my next visit, I explained how extraordinarily unpleasant the whole ordeal had, in reality, been. Well, it is one of the most painful procedures we do, was her response. As I recall, I was practically stuck mute by the chutzpah of this descriptive u-turn, and therefore unable to make my feelings known.
Protein PowerI am just coming to the end of The Protein Power Life Plan by Drs Michael and Mary Eades. It's a great book, and I will review it in due course. In the chapter The Leak Gut: Diet and the Autoimmune Response, the doctors discuss the theory that proteins called lectins found in grains are able to force their way through the protective barrier of the gut wall, whereupon they are attacked by the cells of our immune system, which see them as foreign. The likeness these lectins bear to other cells in our body lead our immune system, which of course is a fast learner, to turn on itself, causing, over the long term, autoimmune diseases like arthritis.
Bread-Guzzling PopulationWhen I read this I had something of an epiphany. Even though I have only been on a hunter gatherer diet for a little over 12 months, I have not been eating bread in significant amounts for several years. Never really like it. More of a porridge/oatmeal guy.
If the normal ranges against which my blood counts are being evaluated are based on the bread-guzzling general population, then my counts might appear relatively low because in the general population, immune systems are more active.
On my most recent visit to the hospital, I raised the question of diet with my current specialist. Experience has taught me that the direct approach does not tend to work - unless the specialist already has an inkling about a theory, coming right out with it will elicit an expression of benevolent disinterest. So I told him about my diet, being careful to make clear my avoidance of bread, pasta, rice and beans. Ironically, it was the absence of dairy in which he showed any kind of interest and there was certainly no hint that he might be aware of the lectin connection.
So I thought: what if guzzled wheat-based food for 2 weeks prior to my next blood test. Since my counts have been consistently at the same level for a few years, might this be a perfect opportunity to prove or disprove my theory?
Asking Dr EadesLacking confidence in my own knowledge and knowing that my theory was probably grossly simplistic, I put it to Dr Michael Eades via a comment on his blog. He kindly responded:
I really don’t know. You may be one of those people who are walking proof of the idea of biologic variability. Most people have blood counts within a certain range (considered normal). You may be one who has low-counts that, while abnormal for others, may be fine for you. Especially since the bone marrow (Ouch! indeed) and the other battery of tests was negative. And you may well be correct about the grains. Since ‘normal’ people consume a ton of grains, and since the ‘normal’ ranges were set by looking at zillions of blood counts from ‘normal’ people, it may be that those on no-grain diets have different counts.
I don’t want to recommend that you load up on bread before your next test because it’s against my religion, but I would be really interested in learning the results of your tests if you do. I’m not sure because I don’t eat much bread and we don’t keep it around the house so I don’t have a loaf to look at, but I think most bread is fortified with folic acid, which could affect blood counts. You could always bake your own to avoid this variable.
So there you have it - my potential wheat experiment. The question is, do I care enough about proving my theory to subject my body to two weeks of gut-bloating wheat guzzling? I had an opportunity to do it last month, but did not dare. I know this may sound strange to someone who has not experienced eating the hunter gatherer diet. Perhaps I will do it early next year.
Doctors and NutritionSo, once again, I am staggered by the conspicuous absence of knowledge about nutrition in the medical profession. You would expect, given there are strong links between aplastic anemia and autoimmune disease, that a haematology specialist would be aware of the dietary lectins theory - which is, incidentally, widely documented beyond the Eades book.
I know I am on shaky ground here - I have little or no medical knowledge of my own and yes, the specialist might have read Eades' book from cover to cover and dismissed the theory out of hand. Thus, by not mentioning it, maybe he was merely giving me the benefit of his own, expert assessment. But I doubt it. Given that he spent 25 minutes talking about various - by his own admission - tenuous reasons why not eating dairy could be the cause, it would have been odd not to mention other theories.
There's only one way to find out: watch this space next year for an update on the wheat experiment...
Doctors and Nutrition Part 1: My Yellow Skin Mystery
My Wheat Experiment Blood Test Update
Doctors and their Good Intentions: the Blood Test Fiasco Continues
[Blood Test Update in Post on Weight Loss]