I just want to know if anyone who has been Primal for some time had any trouble with cognition in the first few weeks. I can hardly think straight, especially after eating, and I am also low on energy. Will this pass??? Besides that, my body feels great!Ē _________________________________ First off, I should mention that some folks experience the low carb flu, and others donít. Overall, those who have been lower carb for some time seem to have fewer problems with the transition taking their carb intake down a notch. As rational as it sounds, this trend still isnít a hard and fast rule. I know a number of Primal adherents who fit this profile and then went on to experience the symptoms Jessica describes. Others I know went from sky high sugars to low carb cold turkey and felt great from day one. Go figure. It might be due to the ďsliding range of genetic variationsĒ Iíll be discussing in an upcoming post.
Although the low carb flu isnít universal, that doesnít mean itís abnormal. For many people, it takes about two to three weeks to move beyond the temporary fog and fatigue. Studies following the physical performance of low carbers showed that initial disadvantages were erased after this window of time. If your body is used to employing easy glucose carbs and now must create glucose from fats and protein (a slightly more complex but entirely natural mode of operation), it can take some time to get up to speed. Rest assured that our bodies can and are doing the job. It simply takes time to work efficiently. The transition actually shifts metabolic related gene expression, increasing fat oxidation pathways and decreasing fat storage pathways. (Thatís nothing to shake a stick at!) Within a few weeks, the body should be fairly efficient at converting protein and fat for the liverís glycogen stores, which provide all the glucose we need for the brain, red blood cells, muscles, etc. under regular circumstances.
The small amount of specifically targeted research on low carb diets and cognition are small and shoddy at best. A recent study, for example, showed minor memory delay during the first week of strict carbohydrate elimination (as opposed to reduction), but further measures were not taken until carbs were reintroduced. By the same token, those on a traditional American Dietetic Association diet exhibited more confusion during the study tests. I donít think this study offers any legitimate, useful assessment on either diet.
Nonetheless, thereís the sense that weíre stressing the brain and causing damage by not bathing it in a steady supply of glucose. In fact, we may be doing our brains the ultimate favor. Recent research has pegged Alzheimerís as a kind of ďtype 3Ē diabetes, a disease related to insulin resistance. Truth be told, our brains can function on ketones, fat-metabolism byproducts and key energy sources in low to very low carb diets, which some say may be even healthier yet for our noggins. Check out Jimmy Mooreís interview with Dr. Larry McCleary, a respected neurosurgeon and author of The Brain Trust Program: A Scientifically Based Three-Part Plan to Improve Memory, Elevate Mood, Enhance Attention, Alleviate Migraine and Menopausal Symptoms, and Boost Mental Energy.
Keep in mind also that people in low carb transition can genuinely shortchange their physical needs when they arenít eating enough fat or when theyíre pursuing high intensity exercise routines lasting over an hour, which send the bodyís glycogen stores into a nosedive to the ground. I hear this from CrossFitters and P90Xers who insist on maintaining their daily high intensity while transitioning to Primal eating. This isnít to say that you canít exercise more intensely for longer on a Primal Blueprint diet (although thereís no real need to for perfectly solid fitness), but more than an hourís time for most folks requires some extra carbs when glycogen is depleted. If youíre bothered by the mental fog even without intensive exercise, ease up on your carb restriction by adding 25 grams or so to see if it makes a difference. Listen to your body and gauge your sensitivity. Rome wasnít built in a day, and youíre not going to compromise your overall benefit by taking it slowly.
As any Primal buff would attest, this temporary setback pales in comparison to the benefits once the transition has passed. Without the persistent carb-induced peaks and crashes, you should enjoy a measurable boost in energy Ė steady and stable Ė in no time. Hang tight, and know youíll be on the other side of the hill soon! In the meantime, take good care of yourself with a little extra shuteye and maybe some well-timed green tea for a modest boost when you really need it.
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