Monday, May 01, 2006

Sweet sleep

I recently attended a series of lectures from the Arthritis Society designed for people destined for but not already committed to a meaningful relationship with osteoarthritis. The last talk was on diet and nutrition, and someone asked about the "Arthritis Diet" books and articles you see everywhere. The nurse giving the lecture said that these are based on studies of rheumatoid arthritis, which is tied to the immune system, not the more common osteoarthritis which has more to do with wear and tear. She conceded that we do all have sensitivities, so it may be that some foods are better/worse than others for our individual situations, but that there is no one diet that will help people with OA. That having been said, calcium, and vitamin D3 and Omega-3 fish oils which help us absorb it, are particularly important to arthritis sufferers for maintaining bones and connective tissues.

Sugar is a major irritant for a lot of arthritis sufferers, which interestingly has to do with insulin levels. As the instructor told it, if you eat sweets or drink alcohol at night before bed, you end up with higher insulin levels after the insulin has done its work processing all that sugar; like a bored teenager looking for something to do, the insulin crosses the blood/brain barrier and interferes with the release of serotonin, which means you don't sleep properly, which means your body - inflamed joints and all - do not rest either, and you all feel the worse for it in the morning.

But further readings on the subject suggest to me that doesn't appear to be what really happens. It's not insulin but tryptophan that is (we hope) crossing the blood-brain barrier, as it's needed to produce serotonin. Eating sweets and refined (white) sugars and starches are said to be bad because although they cause serotonin levels to rise, they only raise the serotonin levels for 1-2 hours, which I guess is one reason you might fall heavily asleep after drinking alcohol, and then wake up a couple of hours later. Whole grain starch (whole wheat, brown rice, oatmeal):
Triggers a slow, sustained release of insulin that lowers blood levels of most large amino acids except tryptophan, which remains in the blood and can enter the brain. As a result, serotonin levels rise gradually, and blood-sugar levels remain stable, without the rise and fall experienced with sugar or refined grains.
So... you should eat a nice bowl of - sugarless - oatmeal before bed? Or even better, write yourself a soothing little sonnet.

To Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes.
Or wait the Amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

--John Keats

I came across another sleep - or rather not sleep - poem which features dogs and which I could have written myself at 3 am last Friday, when old Prince next door was feeling sad. Though it turns out I didn't need to since Emiliano de Lucas got there first.


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