Friday, 17 June 2011

neuropathy diary

This post is taken from the health diary of the 73 year old American, Wallace Dickson.It's called, "Life in the Fasting Lane...How I starved myself to better health" It's a personal account of his experiences with neuropathy and how he set about improving his diet to help deal with it. It's published here for no other reason than it's a shared experience and a good read. Running a 71! Hats off to that man - his optimism is inspiring!

Sorry, folks, for allowing so much time to go by without continuing my "riveting" blog. Seems I left off some weeks ago, at a point just days before I actually ran the Comcast Baltimore Marathon, in October 2002. At age 71, you will certainly understand if I tell you I wasn't the fastest runner of them all! In fact, I was probably one of the slowest out of the 15,000 or so who ran the marathon that day. But I was also one of the oldest, and I was not the last runner to hit the finish line! I ran the 26.3 mile marathon and completed it that day, and it was one of the highlights of my life. A milestone. A proud moment to remember (and brag about now and then!). Well, truth be known, the reason I decided to run the marathon was that I needed to break a barrier. I needed to find a way to lose weight and bring down my cholesterol count. Well, running a marathon is NOT the way to lose any weight! I found this out the hard way - by training and running the marathon. About all one can expect to accomplish is the redistribution of weight - lose some fat and gain some muscle, for a leaner looking body, but not any significant weight loss. However, the good news - my cholesterol dropped down to a much safer count of 140. My doctor agreed that I no longer needed to take the statin drug, and that I should "keep on running!" Which, pretty much is what I've been doing except for some complications that I'll tell you about a little later.

The worst part of the running that I did through the marathon training and the race itself was what seemed to be the aggravation of my numbness - feet, lower legs, fingers, hands and wrists were all now feeling a little numb. The pounding of my body parts while running seemed to have caused to neuropathy to advance more rapidly and become much more pronounced than ever. So back to my physician for consultation. When he recommended that I see a neurologist and get an MRI of my lower back (lumbar region) to see if there were any pinched nerves, I realized I might be in for some heavy future medical expenses. The last time I had back surgery for a herniated disc, the bill was close to $15,000, and that was about 15 years earlier before the dramatic increase in medical costs and hospital bills!

So, now without medical benefits except Medicare, I decided to register at the VA Hospital Center which was not too far from my home in Adams Morgan in downtown Washington DC, where I would be eligible for medical services as a Korean War veteran at no expense, except a small co-pay for pharmaceuticals prescribed.

Well, that was almost two years ago, following my marathon run. I've had eighteen months of thorough-going medical diagnostic testing, including MRIs, EMGs, and every other medical examination they thought might help them diagnose my neurological problem. But all tests have shown "normal" results. They tell me I am not diabetic, no HIV/AIDS, no anemia, no vitamin deficiencies, and so on. Everything normal, and they tell me I'm as healthy as a younger man. So the diagnosis now is "idiopathic peripheral neuropathy" (no cause determined) and they don't know what else they can do. They have told me to "come back a year from now and "we'll see where you are at that time." So, I've been left to my own devices - self medication - to deal with this numbness, which by now has progressed to encompass my entire body! From scalp to soles, I'm numb. I feel like I'm walking on sponges. I have the perennial "dropseys" - fingers so numb I can't hold on to bottle caps or paper clips. I have a terrible time turning pages when reading the morning paper or a book. Turning the pages of my client's tax return is always an embarrassment - must lick my fingers to moisten them and mutter constantly about how dry my fingers are "working with paper all day." Oh well.

Anyway, what I'm getting to is to explain for you, the reader of this bioblog, what propelled me into joining the Calorie Restriction Society. Perhaps by now you already have a good idea.

Since the doctors seemed to be stumped for answers, diagnosis or treatment, I had been exploring all the medical literature available on the internet, joining online support groups, and finding local support groups that hold regular meetings where I could go and mingle among others with the same condition. I found that peripheral neuropathy is common among those who suffer from diabetes, as well as among AIDS patients. Additionally, with these groups, there is a lot of pain associated with the neuropathy. So most of the literature, studies, and discussions are about pain relief, and treatment for the underlying cause (diabetes or AIDS). Not much there applicable to my situation I discovered.

But there is a lot of literature out there. And after reading a lot of it, I pretty much concluded that PN is a condition arising out of nutritional and metabolic imbalance. I decided the cause of my condition was nutritional, odds on. Then I discovered the literature on caloric restriction and the beneficial effects that this regimen can have on the health of an individual practicing CR. I decided it was worth a try in my case for two reasons: (1) restricting calories was a way to lose weight, something I still needed to do; and (2) practicing calorie restriction can enhance the body's defenses against disease and aging. Seemed to me to be the answer to my question about what should I do next now that the doctors are stumped!

For an obese individual (and I was still about 50 pounds too heavy) losing weight is doubtlessly the single, most important strategy known to medical science! Obesity is the underlying cause of many, if not most, modern health problems, from diabetes to "the gout" to heart disease and a lot of other modern diseases. One neurologist, when he found the test results were all normal and couldn't tell me what was causing my neuropathy, "start by losing some of that weight!" "You may find," he said to me at the time, "losing weight may be the only medicine you need."

So, I reasoned, losing weight by restricting caloric intake was an appropriate strategy for me. I set up a regimen restricting my intake to 1500 calories per day. Over the three or four years leading up to this time, I had already pretty much migrated to a quasi-vegetarian diet - that is, fresh raw fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans, whole wheat grains, and limited amounts of fish and chicken breast. I had almost entirely eliminated from my diet all red meats, all dairy, all refined sugars and starches, all soda pop, all alcohol, coffee and prepared foods. I drank only water and tea, and today I still follow that diet. About the only sweets I eat are occasional ice cream or sorbet, some licorice now and then, and an occasional mint to refresh my breath.

I no longer smoke cigarettes. (After 45 years of pack-a-day smoking Marlboros, I quit cold turkey 14 years ago.)

So restricting calories seemed to be not to difficult a task for me. Although I had to adjust myself to the feelings of hunger pangs at times during the day. What I found was that a cup of hot herbal tea usually takes the edge off and allows me to comfortably ride out the hours remaining until the next meal. Sometimes that is easy to do; sometimes it's no so easy. But the tea always helps me to endure.

But the most fascinating aspect of the Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition regimen for me was the potential it promised as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy. All the science on calorie restriction supports the theory that eating less leads to better health and longer life. Now I wasn't so interested in the longer life part - but I was interested in the better health part. If calorie restriction could give my health a boost at the cellular level, then maybe that would mean slowing down the advancing numbness, or even reversing it. I read all the literature voraciously and am to this day convinced that I am on the right track with this. And even if I'm not, I know I am not doing my body any harm! I have lost, so far, more than 25 pounds (down from 222 pounds to 196 pounds in 6 months) and am still losing about 2 or 3 pounds each month. My goal is to weigh 170 which is about 5 or 6 pounds more than I weighed when in my teens.

Latest developments: I am scheduled for elaborate neurological/cognition testing this autumn at the VA hospital. The neurology clinic there wants to see whether my brain is getting numb I guess! Also, I am registered for a three-part seminar in nutrition beginning in September, where I hope to learn more about how to eat smarter while losing weight and improving my health.

But now, dear friend, I must stop writing for now and move on to other tasks.

But I will come back very soon to share with you what I'm learning about good nutrition, calorie restriction, and peripheral neuropathy. See you then!

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