Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Wheat Experiment - Blood Test Update

A week ago I received the results of my latest blood test. I had been eating wheat-based products for two weeks prior to the test, to test the theory that my supposedly abnormal readings were only considered abnormal compared to a population that eats a different diet.

In Doctors and Nutrition Part 2 - My Wheat Experiment, I explained why I thought this might make a difference based on a chapter in Dr Eades' The Protein Power Life Plan. In fact I contacted Dr Eades via his blog and he kindly gave his opinion, which you can also see in the post. Since then I have started reading Dangerous Grains, where there is even more compelling detail about the impact grains can have on the immune systems of those sensitive to its proteins.

Here's what I was eating for the first 14 days in January:

With lunch - a large tablespoon of wheatgerm.
With dinner - a slice of bread.
On the final evening before the test - a gigantic naan bread.

If my hypothesis was correct, my reversion to a diet that included wheat should have produced a significant change in the readings.
Wheezing Throng
My test was just over a week ago on Thursday. Having offered up several vials of blood and waited for over an hour amongst the jaundiced, wheezing throng of the oncolgoy waiting room, I was called to see my specialist. I mean no offence to sick people, by the way - but it's only natural to feel a little out of place when, like me, you consider yourself a well person being treated like a sick one.

My specialist's opening gambit was how pleased he was to see an increase in the neutrophil count. As a result of this, he said, we could wait 4 months until the next test (this time it had been 2.) I left the consulting room a few minutes later, happily clutching my freshly printed results.
I am sure the irony of our mutual pleasure is not lost on you - he thinks it's good news because my counts are closer t0 'normal' which means I am healthier, whereas I think it's good news because my raised counts indicate I have forced my immune system to respond to a substance that is doing me harm, thus proving his perspective is flawed.

Since then I have dug out my test results from the last 3 years and plotted them on the graphs you see below and at the bottom, When I first looked at these, I was disappointed. My initial pleasure at learning there had been an increase in neutrophils was tempered by the context of that increase. The count may have gone up by 10% in 2 months, but that's not a lot when you consider they had fallen by over 30% in the preceding 6 months. It could simply be natural variation.

Drunken Rampages
Then I looked again at the white cell and neutrophil charts again and thought about what I had been doing over that period - at which point it hit me: I went Paleo in November 2007. So I added a marker on the chart to show where this happened. Notice, by the way, that the white cell and neutrophil counts pretty much follow each other, which I am told is not unusual because neutrophils are basically a type of white cell.

As I said in the other post, I was never a big bread eater: but I did eat it on occasion, and since it is in my nature to binge, I suspect that on those occasions I consumed a lot. I must confess to hazy recollections of drunken rampages through London cake shops in 2006 and 2007. Only when I went Paleo did this stop abruptly - until the first two weeks of January this year.

Now the readings make more sense: you could argue that the two successive declines in 2008 were a result of my entirely bread-free diet taking effect. The small reversal in direction seen in the latest results for neutrophils and white cells could be a result of the two weeks of wheat consumption.
As a footnote, the specialist also told me he had sent away my most recent sample for some additional tests - one to look at the nutrient profile and another to look at something called PNH.

The nutrient profile test was no doubt his response to our conversation at the previous appointment when I did some gentle probing to assess his receptiveness to the outlandish idea that diet may somehow affect the way our bodies function and therefore be impacting my results. We'll see what comes back from that, but if it's anything like the conversations I have had with other specialists and doctors, he will simply tell me my vitamin profiles look fine, so diet is not the issue.

PNH I don't know much about, but I gather it can potentially confirm the diagnosis of aplastic anemia, something which, as I've said before, I consider to be a euphemism for low blood counts we can't explain. Perhaps there is a subset of people with unexplained low blood counts who genuinely have a problem - and perhaps this PNH test would be positive for such people. When I get the results from this I will dig a little more to understand its significance.

Also of interest might be the sudden jump in platelets (see chart at the bottom) - I have no idea what connection, if any, there might be there, but in any case I will ping Dr E and (if he has time) get his view on the readings.
So what will I do in April? I will probably remain 100% strict with my diet until then to see whether my readings come back down. If they do, no doubt my specialist will be less happy and I will be summoned for another test 2 months later, leading up to which I will guzzle even more wheat than last time to see if I can play my readings like a piano.

Clearly there is little scientific substance to my experiments - my conclusions are surely a result of rampant confirmation bias and have little or no statistical value; but in the context of a medical profession with an almost willful lack of interest in how diet affects disease, I can't see I have much to lose...

See Also:
High Carb Feasts Could Help You Sleep
Doctors and Nutrition Part 1: My Yellow Skin Mystery
Doctors and Nutrition Part 2 - My Wheat Experiment
Doctors and their Good Intentions: the Blood Test Fiasco Continues
[Blood Test Update in Post on Weight Loss]
High Carb Feasts and Sleep - a Failed Attempt


Asclepius said...

Fascinating stuff. Would it be worth pulling together a solid year of paleo living to establish a baseline? From this you could account to some degree for seasonal hormonal changes and illness (colds etc...).

As for 'specialists' listening to you - and especially from a paleo perspective, unless you are seeing Dr J Briffa or Dr M Eades I reckon you are (sadly) wasting your time explaining your lifestyle/diet.

Oh well, at least with paleo it would seem you are less likely to need a doctor at any point in your life.

Anonymous said...

very interesting! Would like to hear about the nutrient profile too, even the "borderline" nutrients.

Dr. B G said...


What a great n=1 experiment!

Do you have glucose and lipoprotein/chol data too? HDLs I'm sure you are aware are related to longevity, which will undoubtedly be stunning after 6-8mos of Paleo.


Methuselah said...

Dr BG - I'm afraid not - there are a bunch of other things I'd love to get measured, but they only measure the things they think are relevant to my case... that said, if you don't ask, you don't get, so perhaps next time I should try my luck and get some baseline readings for comparison on future experiments!

Dave said...

I wonder if Vitamin D could be affecting your neutrophil counts? Are you getting Vitamin D tested along with these other things?

Methuselah said...

Dave - I didn't know vitamin D might have an effect on the neutrophil count. It's not something I have tested. But I have certainly been paying a lot more attention to getting dietary vitamin D since around November last year. I have been consuming lots of eggs, sardines, herring and mackerel. What effect on the neutrophil count would you expect?

Dave said...

I think it's going to depend on how much D you're getting, how sensitive you are to it, etc. I suspect it would be difficult for most people to get enough D from foods alone.

I believe Vitamin D deficiency is linked to low neutrophil counts, see e.g. this article. It's worth having tested, regardless. Vitamin D is important for many biological functions, e.g. activates over 1000 genes.

Methuselah said...

Dave - thanks for the link. You have inspired me to get my levels tested. Of course it will be interesting to see whether the summer months make a difference. This will be the first summer when I have deliberately (but carefully) sought sun exposure. Being fair-skinned, I have always covered up totally or used lots of sun block. Now I know how wide of the mark that strategy was...

Methuselah said...

Dave - I have received my test results and am indeed vitamin D decicient - I am going to post about this in the next week or so. I am about to start supplememting with D3 and by coincidence have just had another blood test (neutrophil etc), with all the levels being found to be roughly the same. So my next test, in 4 months, will be an interesting one.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin