It’s officially November 25th, 2011…. aka The Day After Thanksgiving…. aka Black Friday…. which means that the majority of you are already out fighting crowds to get mediocre sale prices on your Christmas gift purchases, and all of the sane people are still in bed at home, sleeping off the mound of turkey they ate yesterday. Regardless of whether you decided to hit the 12am sales, or the 4am sales, I’m sure the subject of “sleep” is prominent in your brain right now, thanks to whatever level of sleep deprivation you had to endure in order to wait in the Black Friday bargain lines.
The Paleo Diet and Narcolepsy
Getting enough sleep is very important for health, longevity, and weight maintenance, but some people get too much sleep. People with narcolepsy get so much sleep that it can negatively affect their lives in devastating ways. Narcoleptics often fall asleep randomly, and unexpectedly, which can ruin their careers, their relationships, and can take away their freedom by rendering them unable to drive. The condition is often made fun of, on TV and movies, but it’s not even remotely funny for the people who suffer with this condition. Sure, it looks hilarious when someone falls asleep in an instant at a dinner table, landing face-down in the food on the table in front of them, but can you imagine the horror of really dealing with such a possibility every day? I can’t imagine how these people cope.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder, not a mental illness. Anxiety does not cause narcolepsy.
Experts believe that narcolepsy is caused by reduced amounts of a protein called hypocretin, which is made in the brain. What causes the brain to produce less of this protein is unclear.
Narcolepsy tends to run in families.
Conditions that cause insomnia, such as disrupted work schedules, can make narcolepsy worse.
The most common symptoms of narcolepsy are:
- Periods of extreme drowsiness every 3 to 4 hours during the day. You may feel a strong urge to sleep, often followed by a short nap (sleep attack).
– These periods last for about 15 minutes each, although they can be longer.
– They often happen after eating, but may occur while driving, talking to someone, or during other situations.
– You wake up feeling refreshed.
- Dream-like hallucinations may occur during the stage between sleep and wakefulness. They involve seeing or hearing, and possibly other senses.
- Sleep paralysis is when you are unable to move when you first wake up. It may also happen when you first become drowsy.
- Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone while awake, resulting in the inability to move. Strong emotions, such as laughter or anger, will often bring on cataplexy.
– Most attacks last for less than 30 seconds and can be missed.
– Your head will suddenly fall forward, your jaw will become slack, and your knees will buckle.
– In severe cases, a person may fall and stay paralyzed for as long as several minutes.
Not all patients have all four symptoms.” – PubMed Health
Notice the common theme here? The information on PubMed says, “What causes the brain to produce less of this protein is unclear”. Many of today’s diseases and conditions have unknown, or unclear causes, but what’s more disheartening is the following statement:
“There is no known cure for narcolepsy. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms.” – PubMed Health
Again, this is something we hear with significant frequency these days. Stimulant drugs, and antidepressants are commonly used to control the symptoms, and usually work sufficiently well for many people, but as in all cases like this, wouldn’t a drug-free solution be the better one? I tend to think that the answer to this question is always “yes”, but of course some people would rather swallow a pill than make some drastic dietary changes.
I think one of the reasons that it’s so difficult for people to swear off the offending foods that are damaging everyone’s health, is that the “bad” foods, are seen as being the “norm”. Maybe if people realized that the common foods that are consumed in the Western Diet, or the S.A.D (Standard American Diet), are basically all things that we as a species, were never intended to eat. It’s a total disconnect from our ancestors, our traditional eating habits, and our heritage.
There have been numerous studies published recently (here, here, here, and here) on the effects of a ketogenic diet on epilepsy, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease, and each have found promising results. For whatever reason, a ketogenic diet seems to allow the brain to effectively “reset” and in some cases “repair” whatever it is that causes these dreadful conditions, all without the interference of harmful drugs.
A.M. Hussain, M.D. in his book “Diet therapy for Narcolepsy” concludes that a low-carb, ketogenic diet (LCKD) is beneficial for treating narcolepsy.
A ketogenic diet contains high-fat, adequate protein, and low carbohydrates. Avoid foods high in carbohydrates, like starchy fruits and vegetables, grains, bread, pasta, and sugar. Ketogenic diet has been used for curing difficult to control epilepsy in children. Ketogenic diet is a neuroprotective and disease-modifying diet. So, it benefits adult neurogenetic disorders, which include narcolepsy.
Because calcium and magnesium are beneficial for narcolepsy patients, diet should include dark green vegetables, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, salmon, and milk products. Deficiency of magnesium and calcium may result in restlessness and muscular weakness.
Tryptophan-rich food sources like chicken, cheese, eggs, and milk are generators of serotonin in the brain and considered good for patients suffering from narcolepsy. Serotonin stabilizes mood and encourages feelings of well-being.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils, which improve brain function and memory. Hence, it is advisable that they be included in the diet for someone with narcolepsy.
One must increase the consumption of foods that have a high-fat content like cream and butter. Fats breakdown to produce ketones that reach the brain through circulation and help treat narcolepsy.” – Newsmax.com
So where’s the relationship between the Paleo Diet and narcolepsy come into this whole thing? The answer is relatively simple. If we know that a standard ketogenic diet has been shown to help alleviate the effects of narcolepsy among other similar conditions, it stands to reason to think that a further refined and superior way of eating would be even better. The Paleo template completely excludes gluten containing grains, and other foods that could potentially stimulate autoimmune conditions such as this. Furthermore, since nutrient deficiencies seem to exacerbate the symptoms of all of these conditions, maximizing nutrient absorption by eliminating the grains that can cause leaky-gut, means that all consumed nutrients can be properly absorbed. Eating real food, plus proper intestinal function means no need for supplementation.
The standard ketogenic diet is by default a diet of poor food quality like the original Atkins diet, which (as the studies show us) makes it very difficult to sustain long-term. But, a very-low-carb version of the Paleo diet would encourage much higher food quality, increase gut health, and make long-term compliance far more plausible in my opinion. What do you guys think?….oh…. I’m sorry, did you fall asleep?
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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
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