Weekend Bonus: Grains and Arthritis

I’ve mentioned in several posts that back in my grain-eating days, I developed arthritis –- especially in my left shoulder, which eventually required surgery to remove a bone spur the surgeon described as “tremendous.”  (He wasn’t paying the spur a compliment.)

At dinner one night on the low-carb cruise, I spoke with a fellow blogger named Howard Harkness (above, with his wife Georgene and Dana Carpender) who recounted a similar experience …  all the more harrowing in his case, since he plays and teaches violin, as he explained recently on his blog:

I had a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, poor night vision, chronic acne, almost constant heartburn — and a mysterious pain in my hands and knees. That “arthritis” started back in the mid-90′s, and had gradually worsened to the point where I was forced to quit playing my violin in public because I was unable to practice enough to preserve my skill — it hurt too much. I had complained to several doctors about it, and none of them could find anything wrong. One gave me some medication which had side-effects even worse than the arthritis (and, as I discovered when I quit taking it, it was highly addictive!). I decided to simply quit complaining and just live with it after one doctor suggested that I see a shrink.

… A little less than a week into the diet, I cut out the grains completely. No more bread. No more raisin bran with skim milk. No more rice, no more oatmeal. At that point, my wife and I went through the kitchen throwing out stuff.

It was almost as traumatic as going through a divorce, throwing out all those boxes of cereal, loaves of bread, bags of flour (we baked our own bread in those days, because we thought it was ‘healthier’ that way…), canned colas, popcorn (along with the air-popper) and other items we decided we weren’t going to eat anymore.

Two days after I had cut out all grains, something amazing happened. I woke up that morning with no hand pain!

You read the full story here.

Just imagine how many cases of arthritis could be avoided if more doctors made the connection between grains and auto-immune disorders.  Then they’d prescribe a gluten-free diet instead of a visit to a shrink.

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78 thoughts on “Weekend Bonus: Grains and Arthritis

  1. Mark. Gooley

    Breadings… I’m not quite satisfied with any non-bread ones really. Some people use crushed pork rinds and say they like that, I’ve tried cutting bread crumbs heavily with the Kraft pre-grated Parmesan but not replacing the crumbs entirely… next I try that partly de-fatted coconut flour (haven’t done that yet).

    Reply
  2. HealthyPickyEater.com

    Giving up grains is one of the best things I’ve ever done regarding my health.

    I used to have trouble sleeping at night. I would get a stuffy nose and have trouble breathing. I would usually have to get up several times and use my ‘snot medicine’, even though I didn’t have a cold and felt fine during the day.

    I gave up the wheat and grains, including corn (it’s a grain, not a vegetable) to lose some weight, especially after reading books by Dr. Eades, Mark Sisson and watching Fat Head.

    Not only did I lose weight (without really exercising), but I also noticed that I was no longer having trouble breathing at night. I’ll never again go back to eating anything wheat related.

    Same here. I’ve experienced too many improvements to ever willingly give them up just to eat bread again.

    Reply
  3. Roger

    How enjoyable to see Howard’s story featured on your blog. His wife is my sister, and the transformation in their lives subsequent to their radical dietary changes has amazed us all. I was educated about the evils of sugar and grains via a couple of newsletters several years ago. The chronic pain I’d been experiencing in some joints vanished once I began the VLC dietary approach, and I’m able to maintain my weight with no problem. I’ve always liked eggs, cheese, meat, fresh veggies and nuts, and had eschewed many of those things, or severely limited them, in the past. The VLC diet has enabled me to stop worrying about my blood glucose as well as my weight. Thanks for all you do, Tom.

    Your sister and brother-in-law were a pleasure to meet. Hard to believe they both weighed around 150 pounds more at one time.

    Reply
  4. Debbie

    Howard, sorry I never had a chance to interact with you on the cruise. I felt like this year I had a lot fewer chances to meet my fellow low carbers than I did on last year’s cruise. I also had many aches and pains and asthma-like symptoms go away when I gave up wheat and grains. What a great feeling. But I can understand why people have trouble believing it – when it goes completely against your belief engine.

    For example, I have a friend I met on an online LC group who began following a Ray Peat eating plan – which involves, among other things, eating potatoes and other starches daily, and eating sugar daily – usually in the form of ice cream. She has potatoes with her meals and ice cream every night – and says that for the first time in years her blood panels are all normal, her elevated liver enzymes have normalized, her blood glucose has stabilized, and her health has improved in every measurable way.

    And improving your health and diabetes by eating potatoes and ice cream just goes so against *my* belief engine that I admit I can’t wrap my head about that either! So I probably feel about her eating plan the way grain-eaters feel about ours.

    Reply
  5. WSB

    What about a gluten free pizza night? California Pizza Kitchen is adding one soon.

    I’m not sure there’s one near me.

    Reply
  6. Mark. Gooley

    Breadings… I’m not quite satisfied with any non-bread ones really. Some people use crushed pork rinds and say they like that, I’ve tried cutting bread crumbs heavily with the Kraft pre-grated Parmesan but not replacing the crumbs entirely… next I try that partly de-fatted coconut flour (haven’t done that yet).

    Reply
  7. Angel

    I completely cut out wheat from my diet for a month in the fall of 2007, a few months after I started low-carb. I noticed absolutely no difference in how I felt, before, during, or after, so I resumed eating wheat.

    Sometime in 2009, I started developing muscle problems – I would get sore really easily, and it was extremely easy to pull or strain my muscles. This was especially a problem at my work (only a part-time job) because I couldn’t use the computer for very long without getting sore in my lower arms and hands.

    February 2010, my chiropractor determined via muscle-testing that I was gluten-sensitive. I cut out all gluten, and the muscle problems eventually cleared up. I ate gluten once or twice later that year, and the next day – the muscle problems came back. So no more gluten for me, ever. If I get it now, it’s accidental.

    My husband cut out gluten a few months after I did. His chronic headaches went away. He used to have to buy the family-sized bottles of aspirin, but he says now that the only time he gets headaches is when he eats gluten. It doesn’t take much, either – he ate some leftover BBQ pork from a church dinner for a few days in a row, that had a gluten-containing BBQ sauce, and he got a headache.

    I wish gluten weren’t in so many foods! I always have to research now before I eat someplace, to see if they have items that they advertise as gluten-free. Just because I’m not eating any obvious wheat products, doesn’t mean it’s not there! Food manufacturers use gluten like it’s pixie dust or something. 🙁

    I’ve heard from people with Celiac disease that the stuff shows up in all kinds of foods. Fortunately, those trace amounts don’t seem to bother me. I guess the more we prepare our own food, the easier it is to avoid gluten.

    Reply
  8. Debbie

    Howard, sorry I never had a chance to interact with you on the cruise. I felt like this year I had a lot fewer chances to meet my fellow low carbers than I did on last year’s cruise. I also had many aches and pains and asthma-like symptoms go away when I gave up wheat and grains. What a great feeling. But I can understand why people have trouble believing it – when it goes completely against your belief engine.

    For example, I have a friend I met on an online LC group who began following a Ray Peat eating plan – which involves, among other things, eating potatoes and other starches daily, and eating sugar daily – usually in the form of ice cream. She has potatoes with her meals and ice cream every night – and says that for the first time in years her blood panels are all normal, her elevated liver enzymes have normalized, her blood glucose has stabilized, and her health has improved in every measurable way.

    And improving your health and diabetes by eating potatoes and ice cream just goes so against *my* belief engine that I admit I can’t wrap my head about that either! So I probably feel about her eating plan the way grain-eaters feel about ours.

    Reply
  9. Angel

    I completely cut out wheat from my diet for a month in the fall of 2007, a few months after I started low-carb. I noticed absolutely no difference in how I felt, before, during, or after, so I resumed eating wheat.

    Sometime in 2009, I started developing muscle problems – I would get sore really easily, and it was extremely easy to pull or strain my muscles. This was especially a problem at my work (only a part-time job) because I couldn’t use the computer for very long without getting sore in my lower arms and hands.

    February 2010, my chiropractor determined via muscle-testing that I was gluten-sensitive. I cut out all gluten, and the muscle problems eventually cleared up. I ate gluten once or twice later that year, and the next day – the muscle problems came back. So no more gluten for me, ever. If I get it now, it’s accidental.

    My husband cut out gluten a few months after I did. His chronic headaches went away. He used to have to buy the family-sized bottles of aspirin, but he says now that the only time he gets headaches is when he eats gluten. It doesn’t take much, either – he ate some leftover BBQ pork from a church dinner for a few days in a row, that had a gluten-containing BBQ sauce, and he got a headache.

    I wish gluten weren’t in so many foods! I always have to research now before I eat someplace, to see if they have items that they advertise as gluten-free. Just because I’m not eating any obvious wheat products, doesn’t mean it’s not there! Food manufacturers use gluten like it’s pixie dust or something. 🙁

    I’ve heard from people with Celiac disease that the stuff shows up in all kinds of foods. Fortunately, those trace amounts don’t seem to bother me. I guess the more we prepare our own food, the easier it is to avoid gluten.

    Reply
  10. TR

    I wish this was true for my auto-immune diseases(psoriasis.) Its gotten worse since I started the low carb diet, but all of the benefits outweigh the psoriasis. My boyfriend’s asthma has improved dramatically, which is amazing! One interesting side effect I’ve experienced since changing my diet is that my finger nails are no longer brittle or break. They are currently longer than they have every been! That was a nice bonus!

    Sorry to hear the psoriasis is still bothering you. Any chance you have allergies to some food you’re still eating?

    Reply
  11. PHK

    “…used to always pack Pepto-Bismal when I traveled”

    haha. i remember my travel “survival kit” was growing bigger & bigger (aspirin, anti-histamine, OTC digestive aids, supplements, sleep aid, etc).
    now like you, i dont’ remember last time i needed those.

    except i just pack some Omega 3 + small bottle of ghee, some cheese. fat is the only thing i’m not sure when eating out. cause even high end restaurants & Whole Foods use Canola or soy oil.

    Fred Hahn told a funny story during the cruise about asking for real butter in restaurant. The waiter couldn’t quite grasp that margarine isn’t actually butter.

    Reply
  12. The Older Brother

    Great story, but whatever amount Mr. Harkness is demanding to replace that picture of you on his blog, I’d recommend paying it!

    Cheers!

    I do look rather surprised in that one. Someone else posted a picture of me talking to Fred Hahn, and it looks like I just insulted him and he’s inviting me to step outside.

    Reply
  13. gharkness

    I agree with Older Brother. I asked Howard why he looked so hard to find such an unflattering photo, because it made you look really strange. He said it was because only “strange” people are interesting. I guess that tells you what he thinks of me….

    We have lots of much better photos of you, Tom, and one in particular with Chareva in which you positively glow (she does too, but SHE glows anyway)! I’ll see if I can’t “make” Howard behave and put up something nicer!

    Well, I certainly look interesting in that photo, then. Yup, Chareva tends to glow in photos, and I tend to glow when she’s nearby.

    Reply
  14. Milton

    The Pepto-Bismol line struck a chord with me as well. I’m still learning and adjusting my diet as I go, but one thing is for certain now, and that is the effect of grains on my body. Twice in the past three weeks, I’ve had a couple of slices of bread (white bread on one occasion, whole wheat yesterday). Each time, I have a stomach-ache the next morning. Three weeks ago I tried a bowl of a ‘healthy’ grain cereal and the stomach-ache began before I was even finished! So for me, even occasionally indulging in grains is no longer an option.

    Some improvements are easy to measure. Aside from those occasions mentioned above, I do not suffer stomach-aches or upset stomach anymore. I don’t suffer heartburn. I don’t suffer acid reflux. Arthritis and asthma are more difficult to quantify, as both have traditionally been mild and I had already cut back considerably on refined sugar about a year ago. Lately I’ve all but eliminated it and have had fewer starchy foods as well.

    I guess I’m stuck eating eggs, bacon, sausage, and ham for breakfast and beef, pork, fish, fruits and vegetables for lunch and dinner. Which would be tragic if I didn’t find all of those foods absolutely delicious. I find that I don’t miss the foods that I’ve had to give up, mostly because I feel great. That’s the kind of compromise I can live with… literally.

    The real tragedy was when I avoided the bacon and eggs, thinking they were bad for me.

    Reply
  15. dlm

    Don’t give up on giving advice. I remember someone telling me that my quitting smoking would be best for my husband who did not smoke. A few year later, I did, and it was. Advice may sink in; it may take time to see any results.

    It’s a balancing act. With friends who are committed vegetarians, continuing to point out that their ailments are likely grain-related would probably just result in having fewer friends.

    Reply
  16. Firebird

    I actually had a woman in the gym this morning tell me that the reason for my nausea and stomach issues is because, being on a low-carb diet, that my immune system has weakened.

    What I think is happening (according to my mom, a retired nurse) is the mucus drip in my throat. When too much gets into the stomach, it causes all the bloating, constipation and nausea that I experience. I get this several times a year and it lasts three-five days.

    I wish there was something out there to rid myself of that drip. The all natural stuff — Fenugreek, Stinging Nettles, etc. do not seem to work.

    That’s hilarious. My immune system was so weakened by giving up grains and sugars, I’m never sick anymore.

    Reply
  17. Ali

    TR – as the skin is the biggest detox organ it is likely that you may continue to suffer with the psoriasis until your body has finished detoxing from the grains and any other toxic crud you may have consumed prior to going LC. what we put in, the body has to get out, one way or another, and different bodies detox in different ways.

    Personally, I picked up the gluten link over three years ago and dumped it along with most dairy (apart from butter and occasional heavy cream) and my restless legs, burning feet, IBS, muscle pains and many other things went away, including fungal issues (I was a walking fungus-factory). My Hub also dumped it too (to keep me company!) and was amazed when his depression, extreme irritability and chronic brain-fog went away (if he gets ‘glutened’ now, he turns into Attila the Hun for the best part of a week!).

    Is it the grain, or is it what has been done to it? Most of it is highly processed, and hybridization has changed it beyond recognition from the ancient wheat. It is far higher in gluten and far lower in nutrition, and without enough of the right nutrition the body can’t process it properly, so it becomes toxic. The processing also removes much of the nutrition. People have eaten bread for thousands of years, yet it is only in modern times that it has become a problem.

    This ain’t your great-grandfather’s bread … although the ancient Egyptians apparently suffered from their wheat-and-honey diets as well.

    Reply
  18. Mom Naughton

    I agree with your big brother! You are better looking that! Love you, Mom

    As a comedian, I don’t object to pictures where I look … uh … interesting.

    Reply
  19. Jane

    I’ve been decent at staying away from grains lately. Not perfect, but decent. Except this week. This has been a week of grains from pizza to taco hell. Not easy to stay away from when you are out and about and need to grab something on the go.

    Burgers without buns. That’s my go-to meal if I’m out and about and fast food is all that’s easily available.

    Reply
  20. Linda

    So, without getting too technical, can someone explain what it is about gluten that causes so many problems for so many folks? Gluten is a protein, right? Not a carb, but it is found in flours, therefore in all baked goods. [Color me confused!]

    Briefly as I can state it, gluten is a protein that can damage the intestinal wall, seep into the bloodstream, and provoke a number of auto-immune reactions. Gluten isn’t the only problems with grains, either. Lectins, another proteins found in grains, can also produce inflammation and auto-immune reactions.

    Reply
  21. Lori

    So many of these comments hold true for me, too. Although I tested negative for celiac disease and minor exposure to gluten doesn’t bother me (think chicken breast rolled in flour and grilled), eating as little as one cookie made of wheat gives me a stomach ache, water weight gain, acid reflux and horrible sinus congestion. Having other grains on a rare occasion doesn’t bother me.

    @Linda, grains in general (and beans, nuts and other seeds) have phytic acid, which gloms onto minerals like calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium, preventing you from absorbing them. Soaking, roasting, and sprouting (i.e., traditional preparation methods barely in practice today) help reduce the phytic acid and makes these foods more digestible, but the Weston A. Price Foundation warns that the human diet shouldn’t be based on these foods.

    Readers of the Heart Scan Blog are probably aware that the mutant wheat now in commerce is genetically very different from what was around just 30 years ago.

    This raises the question of what to eat in place of wheat. My answer is bacon.

    I’m with you on the bacon, which I now dip in egg yolks instead of toast.

    Reply
  22. Amber

    I have been anemic my entire life, even as a child. Doctors could never tell my mother why. Every 2 to 3 months (since I was little) I have been sick with something… a cold, the flu, strep throat… you name it. In September, I was put into the hospital because I was in Atrial Fibrillation with a heart rate of 180 for over 12 hours. (I am 33.) Doctors, tests and labwork could find nothing wrong except I was very anemic (which of course suprised them, because I am overweight.) With the help of my PCP we decided to try a gluten free approach to life… 9 months later… I have not been sick with anything since… I have not had any episodes of A-fib… and I am no longer anemic…

    I could get the celiac’s/gluten testing done… but I would have to submit myself to wheat again and quite frankly it’s not worth it. My whole life I have lived with stomach aches and weird bowel problems… I just thought everyone got a stomach ache every time they ate… It’s all gone… When I tried to explain all of this to the cardiologist he replied that he didn’t know anything about all of that. I am supposed to take Cardizem for this one day problem (might I add, my blood pressures are in the one teens over eighties). The pill made me feel terrible. I no longer see that doctor and I refuse to take a medication because the Doctor simply does not want to take the time to listen to me. Throwing pills at a problem doesn’t always fix it.

    I should add… I am an RN… I work in a surgical ICU… I work with doctors who routinely prescribe low fat, high grain diets for their post op heart patients… along with (of course) their “cholesterol lowering” statin drugs… When I look at that patient’s pre op cholesterol levels… they are often times not elevated… hmmmm What am I supposed to tell my patient’s when they ask me, “oh… well if my cholesterol isn’t high, why am I taking this?” I’ll tell you what I tell them… “Ask your doctor.”

    Incidentally, I started on a low carb diet in February, (along with the GF) I have lost almost 60 lbs… in 4 months… Had my lipid panel drawn the other day… triglycerides were 105, HDL 59, LDL 93, total cholesterol 171. I eat a big ole KC strip about 5 times a week… fried in butter… or olive oil… or even lard.

    They have it wrong… when are they going to open their eyes?

    I’m hoping what “everyone knows” is slowly starting to change. More on that in tonight’s post. In the meantime, we have to keep our own eyes open.

    Reply
  23. Howard

    Ok, ok, ok… I found a better photo in my collection, and put it up instead. Georgene is still not satisfied with the cropping job I did, so I may end up editing it some more.

    I wasn’t complaining, but my mother thanks you. I like that little glow over my head. Looks like I just came up with a great idea.

    Reply
  24. Elenor

    Oh how cool! Your movie-star mother actually reads your blog!! That’s super!

    A reluctant movie star.

    Reply
  25. Caroline

    I tried to tell my friend, who was only 27 when she got arthritis in her wrist (and she was paying for ridiculously expensive medication), that she should stop eating grains, potatoes, corn, etc. I found this information in “Live Right For Your Type” a few years ago. She wasn’t buying it, so I just sent her this link and apologized for being a pest (but a pest who cared about her wrist and wallet) 😛

    I hope she gives the grain-free diet a try.

    Reply

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