Robb Wolf can explain. Robb, a former research biochemist, has functioned as a review editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism and is co-owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning, one of the Men’s Health “top 30 gyms in America.” He’s also a former California State Powerlifting Champion with a competition 565 lb. squat, 345 lb. bench, 565 lb. deadlift…
I have known of Robb for several years, but I only met him through a friend a week ago. Several weeks earlier, that same friend had sent me a copy of Robb’s book, The Paleo Solution, which I ended up devouring in a few sittings. The chapters on digestion and improving digestion where particularly fascinating to me, and, for that reason, this post is a book excerpt. It details a particular problem and specific solutions. Enjoy.
Enter Robb Wolf.
A Common Problem
Below I describe several people who at first glance appear different, but in fact they all share a common problem. They had significant health issues with no apparent cause or solution and assumed they had no treatment options, as their doctors were stumped and could offer few solutions.
For you, this chapter may represent the “missing link” in your quest for improved performance and health.
Alex, Age Five
I first learned of Alex from my friend Kelly. She related a story of a little boy who was very sick, underweight, and suffering from constant digestive problems. If you like kids and other small, scurrying critters, Alex’s features and symptoms were literally heartbreaking. He had painfully skinny arms and legs, attached seemingly at random to a torso dominated by a prominently distended belly. At night Alex thrashed and turned in his bed, wracked by diffuse pain in his arms, legs and, especially, his belly. Alex had severe lethargy and a “failure to thrive.” His doctors ran extensive tests but found nothing conclusive. They recommended a bland diet of toast, rice puddings, and yogurt, but with no benefit to the little guy.
Kelly contacted me on behalf of the family and asked if I had any ideas that might help Alex. I made a few specific recommendations, which the parents enacted immediately. Within ten days, Alex’s perpetually distended belly was flat and normal. He gained six pounds in a little over two weeks and was noticeably more muscular in the arms and legs. His sleep shifted from the thrashing, restless bouts that left him listless and tired, to the sleep all kids should have: restful, unbroken, and filled with dreams. Alex’s energy improved to such a degree that the other kids and parents could hardly imagine he was the same kid. He was healthy and happy, all because of a simple adjustment he and his family made to his eating.
Sally, Age Sixty-One
Sally was referred to us by her family physician. Sally’s doctor had worked with her on a variety of issues: low thyroid, osteoporosis, gall bladder problems, depression, and high blood pressure. It was an impressive and ever-growing list of ailments that both Sally and her doctor attributed to “normal” aging. Her doc was pretty forward thinking, however, in that she recommended that Sally perform “weight bearing exercise” to help slow the progression of the osteoporosis and muscle wasting that been accelerating in the past four to five years.
When this recommendation brought Sally to us, she was a bit reluctant to get started with a strength-training program and was very reluctant to modify or change her nutrition. We were gentle but persistent.
Our recommendations focused on specific changes to her nutrition and lifestyle. Within two months Sally was off her thyroid medications, her gall bladder issues were gone, she was four pants sizes smaller, while her symptoms of depression had disappeared. After six months of training with us and following our nutrition recommendations, it was discovered that she was no longer osteoporotic.
Of all the improvements, Sally’s doctor was most impressed with the increased bone density. She asked Sally what she had modified to affect this change. When Sally told her doctor how she had changed her nutrition, her doctor pondered things for a moment, then said, “Well, it must be something else! Food can’t do all that.”
Jorge, Age Forty
Jorge started working with us primarily to lose weight. At five feet nine inches and 325 pounds, Jorge was heading down a path of significant illness stemming from type 2 diabetes and obesity. Compounding Jorge’s situation was a condition neither he nor his doctors could figure out. Nearly every time Jorge ate, he would break out in a rash and his tongue would swell. Like really swell. Jorge had to keep an epi-pen on his person at all times, similar to someone who has a severe allergy to bee stings or peanuts.
Jorge is a practicing attorney and several times a week he would dash out of the courtroom on a mad trip to the emergency room, where he would receive antihistamines to bring his tongue swelling under control. His doctors were (again) stumped. His blood work did not show a specific allergy, nor did he appear to have a full-blown autoimmune disease. Certain immune cells were obviously overactive, but in an atypical fashion that left the allergists and rheumatologists scratching their heads.
We recommended a nutritional change for Jorge, which he fought tooth and nail. God has never made a person more appropriate to be an argumentative lawyer! Part begging, part threatening, we finally won Jorge over and told him, “Just do this for a month. If it does not work, what have you lost? If it does work, what will you have gained?”
Jorge gave things a shot and his tongue swelling disappeared. Now a year later, Jorge is down to 255 pounds and making headway toward his goal of a lean, strong 225 pounds. Thankfully, Jorge now argues for us instead of against us! Not to beat up on the physicians too much, but when Jorge told his docs what he changed, they too did not believe the cause and effect staring them straight in the face.
So, What Did We Do?
It will come as a surprise for most people that the underlying cause of all the issues described above, in these very different people, was the same thing—a common component in nearly everyone’s diet. Gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye oats, and barley. Other grains such as corn and rice have similar, but less problematic proteins (we will talk about that later).
OK, calm down, I get it. Bread, pasta, and cookies are yummy. They are also likely killing you. The other sections of this book I’m willing to give you a “pass” on understanding the technical points. Most people kinda get the insulin/high-carb issue. People are slowly realizing there are “good fats.” So, I’ll not hold you responsible for that material. However, I insist you read this grain issue, ponder it, and then do what I recommend.
We are going to learn the whole story about gluten, grains, and their roles in disease. I’ll then give you quantifiable measures for determining how much healthier you are without them. Then it’s all up to you. If you want to be healthy, you will find some level of compliance that works for you.
We have all seen pictures or videos of smokers dying from lung cancer, yet they’re still smoking through tracheotomy holes in their throats. Amazing, right? How can people do that? Well, gluten consumption is on par with a pack-a-day smoking habit.