Sourdough for mood and hyperglycemia

Not all carbs are equal. Several months ago I made a discovery of gluten-free sourdough recipes and now I eat it almost daily. I obtained a sourdough starter, and now that I have one, it can live on forever, as long as it gets fed. It can definitely outlive me! Feeding the starter is very simple and requires only two ingredients – brown rice flour and warm water. After being on a strict AIP diet for almost a year (a lot of food group exclusions, including grains), it was very exciting to once again eat bread, burritos, and blueberry muffins. I no longer follow the strict AIP diet since it did not turn out to be a magical cure for me. I did improve a bit, but that does not mean that every food group exclusion contributed to my improvement. One person (me) trying the AIP diet is not a clinical trial with test and control groups.

I do see strong correlation between my psychotic episodes and consumption of gluten/cow’s dairy/corn/chocolate/nightshades (bell peppers are fine, small amounts of tomatoes are also OK)/ high-glycemic foods. I haven’t found issues with eating gluten-free whole grains and also found no evidence that grains are inflammatory. I don’t consider any blog post evidence. If a blog post refers to a research paper, then I will consider their claim. I do agree that anecdotal evidence is also useful, it was other people’s stories that helped me to obtain the right diagnosis after being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia by my psychiatrist. Only we can’t know from anecdotes what actually helped, if someone did the AIP diet and they got better – was it because they eliminated all the foods the diet suggests to exclude, or they could have improved just as well if they only avoided refined carbohydrates?

The evidence that I found so far indicated that whole grains are actually anti-inflammatory. For example, whole grain intake was found to be inversely related with inflammatory protein concentrations, while refined grain intake was positively related with the inflammatory markers. “In summary, whole grain intake was inversely related to PAI-1 and CRP plasma concentrations, but these relationships were attenuated by the addition of metabolic variables to the model. Refined grain intake was positively independently related to plasma PAI-1 concentrations.

Whole and Refined Grain Intakes Are Related to Inflammatory Protein Concentrations in Human Plasma

I introduced whole grains after a year of strict AIP diet with no problem. I find that consumption of whole grains puts me in a more relaxed state of mind, I actually consume half a cup of rolled oats with green banana flour in the evening for better sleep. Sourdough is great because the baked goods end up with a low glycemic index after the fermentation process. I have a glucometer that I use to determine my blood glucose response to different food products. The standard test is a two-hour glucose test. Two slices of gluten-free bread increased my blood sugar to over 11 mmol/L two hours after consumption, which is a sign of high blood sugar. I did the same test with sourdough bread and sourdough muffins and my blood sugar was back to under 6 mmol/L two hours after consumption, which is a big difference. Short grain brown rice is also a high glycemic index food, while long grain brown rice was found to have lower glycemic index.

Sourdough allows me to eat the foods that I missed out on for so long, at the same time it does not cause a blood glucose spike for me. I have used sourdough to make pizza crust, tortillas, bread, and muffins. Currently I am learning to use fermented batter to cook dosas, an Indian dish. Controlling blood sugar for me means also stabilizing my mood. A glucose spike and then crash turns me lethargic and weepy, it takes away my energy, I definitely want to avoid that. Sourdough allows me to have blueberry muffins for breakfast, goat cheese toast, burritos – all without the consequences of an emotional roller coaster. High glycemic foods may also promote inflammation and given my diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis, that is something that I definitely want to avoid as well.

Hyperglycemia can cause inflammation through varying mechanisms that result in the production of free radicals and pro-inflammatory cytokines (19, 24). Thus, high glycemic index and glycemic load diets may stimulate inflammation. Glycemic index is the blood glucose-raising potential of the carbohydrates in different foods. A more accurate indicator of the relative glycemic response to dietary carbohydrates, however, is glycemic load. Glycemic load incorporates the relative quality of carbohydrates characterized by the glycemic index. Consumption of high-glycemic index foods results in higher and more rapid increases in blood glucose levels than the consumption of low-glycemic index foods. Rapid increases in blood glucose are potent signals to the β-cells of the pancreas to increase insulin secretion, which can cause a sharp decrease in glucose levels and lead to hypoglycemia (25). In contrast, the consumption of low-glycemic index foods results in lower but more sustained increases in blood glucose and lower insulin demands on pancreatic β-cells (26).

Dietary carbohydrates and inflammation

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Bacteria, yeast, stinky tofu, desire?

It has been now about three weeks that I started experimenting with kefir and fermented foods. I’ve been drinking kefir almost every day. Fermenting it every two days in a two-liter jar. I can easily drink one liter a day. I also made yougurt, using store-bought yougurt as a starter. Kefir and yougurt both from goat milk, as I mentioned previously – I don’t tolerate cow milk. What does it mean not tolerate? Well it gives me bad thoughts. Thoughts about people dying, about the meaninglessness of life. I don’t want those thoughts. Yes, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but I have this observed this increase in the intensity of negative thoughts after consuming milk so many times that it’s definitely worth it avoiding it. Also there are studies suggesting that there is a link between casein and immune response. Immune response could mean brain inflammation, it could mean psychosis. That is what I observe.

“Multiple studies have documented immune activation in individuals with schizophrenia. One antigen capable of inducing a prolonged immune response is bovine casein derived from ingested milk products. Increased levels of casein antibodies have been found in individuals with schizophrenia after diagnosis.”

Association between bovine casein antibody and new onset schizophrenia among US military personnel

So I have been consuming homemade kefir and yougurt. Currently brewing kombucha in a jar on my kitchen counter. I have also made a jar of probiotic apples and fermented a mango with yeast. I purchased an active dried yeast supplement, saccharomyces boulardii. I am trying to include all sorts of probiotics, yeasts too, not only bacteria. Bacteria and yeast are both single-celled organisms, both have cytoplasm and a membrane surrounded by a cell wall – that is what Google says. Yeast cells have a nucleus, while bacterial cells do not. Certain types of bacteria and yeast can survive in the human gut. There has been some research, and saccharomyces boulardii is supposedly one of those yeasts. It has been found to benefit patients with gastrointestinal diseases, it might improve the gut microflora. I took it in capsules that it is provided in, as well as opened one capsule into my mango jar and let it stand for two days. The taste has come out quite strong, but I don’t think it has gone bad, I did not get any stomach ache after consuming the fermented mango. Was not great for my taste buds, I might try adding some honey next time for fermentation, but my combination of consuming yeasts and bacteria from kefir, yougurt, kombucha, and fermented foods, I think had a positive effect on my mind.

One change that occurred was after two weeks of daily kefir consumption. I suddenly had a desire to play my violin, which I haven’t touched in six years. Ever since moving to Waterloo for grad school in 2012 and later on becoming depressed, I have abandoned my violin practice. After I was already out of school and had free time after work, I just had no desire to play. All music was emotionally painful for me. Also I felt that it was pointless  – I started learning at 19 years of age, that it top late, I thought, I would never learn to play well. Therefore the violin had been abandoned and was lying silently in its case at my parents’ house.

Last week though, when the desire to play occurred,  I did not have any of these doubting thoughts such as what is the point of playing,  would I be able to learn. I just wanted to play again and that is what I did. And that is beautiful,  this experience of undoubting desire, this is something that depression completely takes away from you. Depression is not wanting things that are part of this world, not enjoying them, having no desire. Only the wish for your experience in this world yo end. So was that occurrence a coincidence? I don’t think so. I don’t think desire suddenly appears after six years of absence without any chemical changes. I think the bacteria and the yeast in kefir had something to do with it.

“It’s been known for some time that one’s gastrointestinal tract functions in essence as one’s “second brain”, lined with hundreds of millions of neurons. In fact, the gut manufactures more dopamine and serotonin, important neurotransmitters that powerfully influence mood and motivation, than does the “head” brain.”

A Gut Feeling: Probiotics and Changes in Brain Activity

On Sunday there was a second event. I have to mentioned that ever since I got severely depressed, I gradually lost desire for anything. Playing violin was one of activities that I stopped. I stopped reading for please. Stopped writing in my livejournal. Everything seemed pointless, all activities fruitless. We are all going to die anyways and become nothing. I think last time I had my own idea was in summer of 2015 – I was very frustrated with Toronto’s public transit system and I decided to make an electric longboard. I succeed and it actually still works. After that I don’t remember pursuing any interests, my days were overwhelmed with feelings of intense fear, loneliness, sadness. Probably my brain inflammation intensified at that time, that is when I first got involuntarily hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. So having something to be exited about, a longing for an activity – I find that a dramatic improvement. No desire for me means no interest in life, desire is willingness to live.

The event then was that I suddenly found someone attractive. That hasn’t happened to me in years. Depression is loss of all pleasures. A loss of pleasure in reading, in traveling, in sex – in whatever you used to do. Attraction is the opposite,  attraction is desire. So yes, for me it was a big deal. It felt like waking up from darkness.

Probiotics, biome restoration, could it helps with psychiatric issues?

Of course I am hoping that it could. As I have written in my previous posts, I went through a lot of conventional psychiatric treatments with no success. Mirtazapine, Olanzapine, Wellbutrin, Latuda, Cymbalta, Sertraline… you name an antidepressant or an antipsychotic, and I probably tried it. Also benzodiazapines – Lorazepam and Clonazepam. Dangerous little pills, doctors themselves say that you should not be taking benzos for longer than two weeks. Later on, after being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Encephalitis, I was treated with IV Solu-Medrol and oral prednisone – glucocorticoids for suppressing the immune system. This was in December and I think I am better now, but I cannot say that I have no unwanted or obsessive thoughts. Since the treatment, and selecting that I eat very carefully, my physical symptoms did reduce, these thoughts are the main thing that tortures me. I could not stay on prednisone as it can itself cause psychosis and I experienced violent mood swings, migraines, and severe insomnia. For this reason I continue to look for ways to improve my brain. Or is it my stomach? I am more inclined to think that my main brain is in my stomach, given how sensitive my mood is to ingredients that I eat.

I have experimented a lot with probiotics, but did not find benefits from capsules. Maybe they don’t contain enough organisms or not many of them end up alive in the gut? My gastroenterologist recommended Align brand,  but the capsules contain casein from cow’s milk. I did try it for a while, but did not notice any improvements. After feeling somewhat better since receiving the steroid treatment, I decided to let go of the strict AIP diet and to introduce some foods. I had a craving for black tea with milk and yogurt, so I thought that maybe dairy is what I need. In fact I found it quite difficult to get enough calcium on AIP diet, probably I was lacking some. AIP followers do advise that you can obtain calcium from fish bones and kale, but you would really need to eat large amounts of very salty canned salmon or a whole salad bowl of steamed kale. I found it to be not feasible in practice. Also I have not tried goat milk before so there was no evidence that I would have an adverse reaction to it. I did not find that I do after consuming it. I have been adding goat milk to black tea and I actually found that this way the tea was smoother and felt less acidic, drinking black tea on its own often caused me gastric pain. I have started buying goat and sheep yogurt, turns out it’s now available in plain form at many stores in Toronto. In general, since adding the milk and the yogurt, I have experienced less frequent gastric problems. I have only experienced gastric pain when I ate a lot of bacon (maybe that was too much saturated fat at once?), and when I took naproxen. Gastric/stomach discomfort is a common side effect of naproxen, but unfortunately taking it during my period is unavoidable for me.

I have found several studies indicating positive benefits of goat milk, which also adds a benefit for me when drinking it, even if only a placebo effect.

Anxiety behavior is reduced, and physical growth is improved in the progeny of rat dams that consumed lipids from goat milk

Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties of donkey’s and goat’s milk

I have been reading on the idea that human gut biome depletion could be causing many diseases, included neuropsychiatric ones. With the invention of clean water, sewage systems, hygiene practices, the rate of infections has been greatly reduced in developed countries, but it also led to lower diversity of bacteria and parasites in our intestines. The theory states that we evolved to co-live with these organisms and part of the rise in the number of autoimmune diseases in developed world could be caused by this gut biome depletion. In terms of restoring the biome, fermented milk and vegetable products are advised. There is also an experimental helminthic therapy, but I will post about that later. Kefir is said to be a fermented product that contains a great diversity of bacteria, more than yogurt.

What’s the difference between yogurt and kefir?

About three weeks ago I purchased live kefir grains on Kijiji for $5 and this was a great investment. Making kefir is even easier than buying kefir, it really doesn’t require much action. Place kefir grains into a clean glass jar. Pour milk over the grains, leave one inch at the top. Cover the jar with a coffee filter and tighten with an elastic. Leave it at room temperature for 24 hours and there you go, you’ve got kefir. Then you strain out the grains and drink the resulting liquid, repeat the process.

“The evidence for probiotics alleviating depressive symptoms is compelling but additional double-blind randomized control trials in clinical populations are warranted to further assess efficacy.”

The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review

How do I feel after three weeks? I think I am calmer. I am hoping this is more than a temporary placebo effect and that there are actually material changes. A few days ago I had a sudden desire to pick up my violin again, which I haven’t touched in years. At the most acute stages of encephalitis I could not stand hearing any music, it all would cause me a feeling of unbearable nostalgia and grief. Since the steroids treatment I have gotten back to creating playlists for workouts and now I even wanted to play music again. That feels like waking up from the dead. I vividly remember a day in the fall of 2015. At that point I had already quit my PhD and I was trying to apply for jobs, sitting in Starbucks. I tried to focus on sending out my resume, but I became overwhelmed with a feeling of grief. It was as if all sounds coming out from the speakers in the corner were trying to cause me pain on purpose, they were reminding me of someone who died, each note was screaming at me. I couldn’t stand it, I packed my laptop and left home. That was when I started to think that I really wanted to die.

I am at Starbucks now again, two and a half years later. I am typing this on my laptop and music is playing from the speakers, as usual. Right now I don’t have a sudden urge to run out, the sounds are not unbearable. I think my brain is healing, knowing that healing is possible gives me a lot of hope.

Autoimmune Encephalitis and Diet

This post will be mostly based on anecdotal evidence , but I believe this information is still useful and there is not much harm in the suggested diets. In the worst case, the diet won’t help with autoimmune symptoms,  and you’ll just end up eating more vegetables. I don’t think that’s a terrible outcome.

The most popular diet for autoimmune diseases is the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP). Most popular doesn’t mean it has the most evidence to back it up, but for whatever reason, it got around the internet. The AIP diet excludes many foods that are considered to be inflammatory and claims to reduce levels of thyroid antibodies. I cannot claim that his mechanism is true as there are almost no scientific papers on this, only anecdotal evidence. On the other hand, this diet is not unhealthy, so I doubt someone would be worse off by trying it. Usually bloggers/naturopaths recommending the diet suggest to try it for at least thirty days. Food groups that are excluded are gluten, all grains, pseudo-grains, dairy, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, nightshades, eggs, vegetable oils, processed foods, and sugar. I might be forgetting something because there are so many items that get excluded, but if you are interested, you can read about the diet below.

Autoimmune Protocol Diet

What evidence is there? Well when I googled “AIP diet evidence”, I found one paper. You can try the same Google search. This particular study found that following the AIP diet, 6 weeks elimination phase and 5 weeks maintenance phase, improved endoscopic inflammation in patients with IBD (irritable bowel disease). Only 18 patients were enrolled in the study, so that is a very small sample size. Also such a study does not tell us whether it was necessary for all these food groups to be eliminated, maybe the results would be the same if only gluten and processed foods were eliminated. So it is some evidence that the diet helps but it is only one study and it doesn’t tell us about the mechanism of action of this dietary intervention.

Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Personally I did follow the AIP diet for about a year. When I found out in June 2016 that I had high levels of thyroid antibodies, I finally started to have some hope that maybe I have an autoimmune disease that can be treated instead of treatment resistant schizophrenia and psychotic depression. My mom googled a lot at that time, I didn’t have the energy or motivation to do it, and she convinced me to start trying dietary changes. I started by excluding gluten and dairy and later on went on the AIP diet and stayed on it until December 2017. In June 2016 my Anti-Tg antibodies were over 1000, Anti-TPO was 40 something. Comparing to spring/summer 2016, I did improve by fall 2017, and my Anti-Tg antibodies reduced to about 500. Anti-TPO stayed the same. Was this improvement directly related to the AIP diet and was it necessary for me to eliminate all the food groups? I don’t know the answer to that question. I did go to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with chronic gastrointestinal inflammation and advised me to go on a low FODMAP diet. AIP diet overlaps with low FODMAP diet, therefore it could be that it was the elimination of high FODMAP foods that helped me.

The low FODMAP diet is based on the idea that certain foods contain compounds that contribute to gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS. FODMAPS are short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols, such as fructose, fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides, lactose, and polyols. Research indicates that some people might not be able to digest these compounds well and this could lead to inflammation in the intestines and gas produced by bacteria as they break down undigested carbohydrates.

Below is a list of high and low FODMAP foods (for those that are FODMAP intolerant it is advised to avoid high FODMAP foods, this can be discussed with a gastrointerologist).

High and Low FODMAP Foods

Could a bad diet cause brain inflammation and psychotic depression? Could a change in diet reduce symptoms if there is inflammation? I don’t think at this point we have a concrete answer, there have been studies though which indicate that a specific diet could improve your mood and physical health. Autoimmune encephalitis is quite rare and I haven’t seen studies on AE patients and diet changes, but I still encourage you to consider whether you are eating healthy and to consider making changes. In general, from what I’ve read, many doctors consider the Mediterranean Diet. This diet includes whole grains, a lot of vegetables,  yogurt , nuts and seeds, and more fish instead of meat (increasing Omega 3 content). There has been a study with positive results, indicating that Mediterranean diet can help patients with depression.

Mediterranean Diet Depression Article

So which diet is best, should you try a specific diet, which one? There is no medical test for this at the moment, only trial and error. As I mentioned, I was on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for about a year and I did see an improvement in symptoms and reduction in Anti-Tg antibodies . My gastroenterologist also advised me to stick to a low FODMAP diet due to my abdominal issues and I have been following this advice. After I received the IV steroids treatment in December 2017, I relaxed my AIP dietary restrictions and tested several items. I stick to eating gluten-free free and cow dairy free, also I felt that I had skin/abdominal issues become aggravated by potatoes, peanuts, and hot peppers. I avoid processed foods and vegetable oils.

It sounds restrictive but I found this diet to be working for me and I feel that I have enough variety. I eat a lot of goat/sheep/buffalo plain yogurt with nuts and seeds, tea with goat milk, quail eggs, poultry , seafood. In terms of vegetables – zucchini, carrots, squash, plantains, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, bell peppers, etc. Grains – black rice,  quinoa, buckwheat, oatmeal. For bread I eat sourdough version and sometimes I make cassava flour tortillas. I don’t eat beans and legumes much because they are high FODMAP, sometimes I add canned chickpeas or sprouted mung beans. For cooking I use olive, avocado , and coconut oils.