June 2013 Experiments

When I’ve done experiments in the past, I focus on one thing. For June 2013, I’m going to mix some past experiments together to see if I can get a synergistic effect. I’m also going to try a new idea, which I couldn’t previously test.

My goals this month:

  1. Reduce headache frequency and intensity.
  2. Drop 5-7 pounds.

First the headaches. My past experiments have turned up 3 ideas that measurably help.

  1. No grains, except white rice. Corn seems to be OK, but I will minimize it as well this month. Although I am excellent at avoiding gluten, this month I will be just as diligent avoiding what I call the secondary grains (sorghum, millet, etc). This means no Gluten-Free treats or anything that even looks grain dominant. I learned last year that I have a secondary grain intolerance, which I posted about in Results From My 30 Days Without Grain Experiment. Because the effects are less severe than gluten and random, I haven’t initiated a no grain policy. For June I will. 
  2. Reduce caffeine levels, especially coffee. The data is clear. When I went an entire month without coffee, my headache intensity dropped considerably. When I added coffee back, it increased lock and step with consumption.
  3. Minimize AM caffeine. I have noticed that my sleep is better when I have a single coffee post lunch or early afternoon. Having the coffee post meal should be better for my body than slamming coffee in the AM on an empty stomach. Plus I am a natural morning person. I jump out of bed with no alarm by 6 AM most mornings.

So in summary, avoid most grains, have some tea in the AM and a single coffee post meal in the early PM. This might be the secret sauce. It combines results from 3 previous experiments. By the way, I am not looking for new ideas at this time or yet another request that I see a doctor. Those comments will be ignored.

headache-coffee

For the fat loss, I have 3 ideas.

  1. Return to IF (Intermittent Fasting). I’m going to stop screwing around with trying to increase my body temperature by eating early in the AM. All it does is make me hungry all day long. Plus it isn’t working. I have more thoughts on that, which I’ll save for a future post. For the IF, my target will be 12 hours minimum, with most days between 14-16 and a random 20-22. In the past, I’ve used excessive caffeine to blast through IF, but I can’t do that this time (see above), so this will take some adjustment. 
  2. Only consume sugar rich foods on days where I lift weights or hike at least 2 hours. Those foods would be ice cream and pudding. On days over 80 F, maybe a single Mexican cola.
  3. Back in 2011, I reviewed the book The Shangri-La Diet in the post Flavor Signaling and The Shangri-La Diet, but I could try the ideas because I was already an optimal weight. I also was eating a super clean diet that had none of the foods that are considered hyper palatable. Well after a year of eating ice cream, I developed a sweet tooth, which I never had prior. So I will play with his ideas to consume foods with calories and no taste, such as Extra Light Olive Oil or diluted sugar water.

Exercise will stay the same. One to two machine based brief weight lifting sessions using a combination or slow movements and static holds. I’ll also continue urban hiking through Seattle.

The challenge for June will be the morning. Dealing with hunger with low caffeine is going to be tough.

Kefir, Caffeine and Trigger Point Therapy

I’ve got three health items on my mind today.

Is Dairy Kefir Anabolic?

About a month ago I started making dairy kefir again. I stopped making kefir a year ago when I started getting a reaction to water kefir. Then I learned about the high level of histamines, which may have been triggering some of my headaches. I started The Low Histamine Diet last May and did it for over a month. Seems I didn’t post a follow-up. The results were that greatly reducing histamine levels did not help with my headaches. I forgot all about kefir.

Then a friend of mine started making kefir. He offered grains to me. My initial thought was the headaches I got from kefir, but that was water kefir. I never had an issue with dairy kefir, so I started making the dairy ferment once again. And I am loving it. My kefir tastes great and I’m even mixing in a little half and half to get a thicker texture.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed in the last month is that I may have gained some muscle. This was unexpected, as my workouts have not been that intense recently. I’ve often read how milk is anabolic, but I haven’t really drank much since I was a child. Kefir should be equally anabolic. Who knows? I’ll keep drinking it.

Caffeine Might Be Making Me Jittery

It appears I am going to have to really cut back on caffeine again. My plan was to survive on a lower level until spring and then do a longer detox. Even though I’m consuming half the caffeine I did prior to my October 2012 detox, I am finding myself feeling jittery. I’ve never felt jittery on caffeine before.

The good new is cutting back on caffeine should be much easier than the last time.

Unsure about Trigger Point Therapy

In the post Help Me Fix My Neck and Shoulders, one of the ideas in the comments was Trigger Point Therapy. I am new to this topic, so I got a few books from the library. The books showed me where I could apply pressure to relieve tightness in my neck and shoulders. Although my neck and shoulders weren’t in terrible shape, I had been interested in loosening up that area to provide more free movement.

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition
The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition by Clair Davies

Using the books, I was able to locate the points, apply pressure and feel what felt like knots loosening up. So at first, it appears this stuff was working. The problem I experienced was the tightness kept returning and it felt like it was getting worse. The more time I spent doing Trigger Point Therapy, the better I felt in the short term, but the tighter I felt later. This is when I thought about Dr. John Sarno and and my battle with back pain.

I posted on Dr. Sarno in The Psychology of Back Pain.

Dr. John Sarno specializes in patients that deal with chronic back pain. He believes that stress is the major cause of back pain. When we go through periods of chronic stress, the brain uses a diversion tactic to protect us emotionally. That diversion is to manifest REAL PHYSICAL pain, often in the lower back region. The pain is real. It is not in our head. The roots however are psychological.

One of recommendations Dr. Sarno tells his patients is to stop all forms of treatment, because that treatment is validating the physical manifestation of the pain. It does nothing to address its roots. When I began to suspect that Trigger Point Therapy was making my neck worse in the same manner, I stopped it. Within a few days, my neck felt better on its own. Not perfect, but back where I started.

I can see where Trigger Point Therapy might help with injuries. See Foam Rolling & Trigger Point Activation on Biohacks for one example.

Last Words

So I’m loving the dairy kefir, cutting back on caffeine and stopping the Trigger Point Therapy. Love to hear your thoughts.

Sarno, Back Pain and Coffee?

It has been a while since I did a post on Back Pain. Honestly, I thought I said everything I needed to say on the topic. For those new to the site, let me quickly recap my background with back pain. For many years I suffered with episodes of lower back pain. Then in 2009, I decided to make ending my back pain my number one health priority. Unlike prior attempts that all failed, I took the assumption that I knew nothing about back pain and did some serious research to discover the cause of my back pain.

My investigation took me to Dr. Sarno, whom I rediscovered over on Conditioning Research. Dr. Sarno believes the root cause of most back pain is psychological. This is a difficult concept to understand at first. The pain is real, but the root causes are based in stress. The back pain is a diversion tactic used by our brain to redirect our attention away from what it perceives as the greater psychological pain. For those interested in that topic, I did a more in detail post titled The Psychology of Back Pain.

With that long background out of the way, I want to bring up a topic I was unaware until a few weeks ago. There appears to be a link between excessive coffee drinking and lower back pain. At my local Farmers Market I was introduced to an acupuncturist. He was interested in my coffee detox experience. Then he volunteered that he tells all his patients with lower back pain to stop drinking coffee. I was puzzled. He explained that the adrenal glands are located in the lower back region. Stress the adrenals and you could trigger lower back pain. He had been an acupuncturist for many years and had a long track record of success with this advice. He himself only drinks a single coffee a day and believes tea is much easier on the adrenals and doesn’t trigger back pain.

When I got home I read Is Caffeine Causing Your Back Pain? on The Healthy Home Economist. From that post:

Here’s what happens as explained to me by a chiropractor friend.  Stressing out the adrenals all the time with an unchecked caffeine habit weakens not only the adrenal glands but the entire area around them which includes the lower back.   Weak adrenals also suck vital nutrients away from the ligaments and tendons as keeping an important organ like the adrenals happy is more important that strong connective tissue.

The body is very good at sending nutrients to the area that needs them most.   Trouble is, the less vital areas that get shortchanged in favor of the adrenals – such as the ligaments and tendons – suffer and over time, the first ligaments to go are typically the ones that support the sacroiliac joint which supports the weight of the entire body.

Fascinating. I instantly thought back to the times in my life when I had the most back pain. Sure enough it was the periods I was drinking the most coffee. So does the caffeine theory invalidate the Sarno theory? I actually think they are complementary. Sarno explains that people with control issues have the most back pain. The need to feel in control is very common with back pain suffers. This morning the idea popped in my head that one of the reasons I drink coffee and tea all day is to control my mood. Being below baseline is an uncomfortable feeling, because it represents a loss of control. But one coffee later and I’m back in control. The problem is this goes on all day long without breaks for years or decades.

In my post Medicating Mood With Caffeine, I refer to my caffeine breaks as pockets of joy. There is no doubt that caffeine can elevate mood, but it comes at a cost. Not only are you potentially causing lower back pain, but you might be masking the fact you feel out of control without stimulants. At least that is the thought that came to me this morning.

Did It! A Month Without Coffee!

I completed my most challenging health experiment to date. I went the entire month of October 2012 without coffee. No decaf either or any food that used coffee for flavoring, such as ice cream. For 21 days of that month, I went 100% caffeine free. My prior record was 100 hours set back in 1997. Despite having added an additional 15 years of caffeine addiction, I crushed my old record.

For someone who owns a website called INeedCoffee, this is quite the victory.

This morning I had my first espresso and boy has it made me jittery. Over two hours later and I can still feel it. This is what I experienced when I had my first green tea after 21 days without caffeine. Before the coffee cheerleaders and fear mongers add their opinion, I want to remind them that this experiment was primarily about developing caffeinated resiliency, not for health reasons. An ideal state is being able to perform at a high level with or without coffee. And this experiment is ongoing. I’m now in the caffeine resumption phase. I’ll be monitoring how I feel over the next few weeks as I dial in a new optimal espresso level.

The final write up of this experiment will be on INeedCoffee, probably in mid November. Once that article is ready, I’ll announce it here. Until then I’m just going to enjoy this win. Thanks to everyone that encouraged me during those times when I was ready to give up. And thanks to those who tried to get me to quit by testing my resolve. It was the perfect balance.

Welcome back old friend!

Wide Awake at 3 AM

I ended my no caffeine experiment yesterday exactly 21 days after it began. Around Noon I had a single cup of green tea. And then around 4 PM, I had about 1/3 cup more tea. The good news is I beat my goal by 6 days. Now for the bad news. By around 9 PM, I felt jittery, but I was still able to fall asleep easily around 10:30 PM. At 3 AM, I woke up still feeling jittery unable to return to sleep.

Uggh, I think I broke my caffeine metabolism. This isn’t good. Maybe I’m panicking, because I’m so tired and I can’t think straight. Now what?