Here is the full transcript of biochemistry professor Dr. Wendy Pogozelski’s TEDx Talk: How Knowledge is Power in Nutrition at TEDxSUNYGeneseo conference. This event happened on April 4, 2015 at Geneseo, New York.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: How Knowledge is Power in Nutrition by Dr. Wendy Pogozelski at TEDxSUNYGeneseo
Dr. Wendy Pogozelski – Professor of Biochemistry
Good evening. It’s a privilege to be here.
I would like to thank the organizers for doing a great job. And I’m very happy to begin sharing with you some of my experiences, and I really want to emphasize the point that knowledge is power.
So when I came to Geneseo, I had to teach a course in metabolism. And this is metabolism. So talk about needing some memory techniques.
If you’re learning all these reaction pathways, the students really had to pull out some memory links. But also, as a teacher, I felt that I was being deathly dull in teaching this. So I knew that I had to find some ways to make this interesting and memorable for the students.
So I thought, well, everybody eats, right? The obvious thing would be to link biochemistry with nutrition. You’d think that the biochemistry textbooks would do this, but they don’t do it.
So I said, let’s look at some of these controversial diets that are out there, and maybe I can compare these diets and bring this information into class, and make it a little more exciting for the students to learn. I especially began focusing on some of these low-carb diets, there are even ones in Russia and France, Australia and across the United States.
And these diets were very useful because they illuminated many of the things about metabolism and about insulin in particular. The approach was very good in my classes. The students really liked the approach of linking biochemistry with nutrition.
And since I’d read a couple billion papers, I thought, why don’t I just write this up in a paper and save some other biochemistry professors the trouble? But I never expected all of this work to actually benefit me personally.
But then in February of 2007, I began experiencing some strange symptoms. I had raging thirst, debilitating fatigue, and I’m not being overly melodramatic, this is really the case, blurry vision, I couldn’t even distinguish the people in the front row of my freshman chemistry class. And then crazy, overnight weight loss, which for all my life had been impossible, but was suddenly possible.
So I had this diagnosis, “You have type 1 diabetes”. And I was very surprised by this, and devastated, of course. But it was unusual because I was age 40, and usually type 1 diabetes is the autoimmune attack on the pancreatic beta cells that make insulin, and usually that affects people in adolescence. That’s why it’s usually called juvenile diabetes. But in fact, about ten percent of the newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics are in adulthood.
Since I had spent three of four years studying the metabolic effects of various diets, I thought I knew just what to do.
So I, of course, began taking insulin, but I also began reducing the carbohydrates in my diet, and I did that partly because I knew that carbohydrate is the biggest dietary contributor to high glucose. And I also know that it’s difficult to estimate the amount of carbohydrate and then match that with estimating the amount of insulin needed.
So you just minimize your errors with a low carbohydrate approach. And I had very nice, flat, normal blood sugars. My doctor said that I had the blood sugars of a non-diabetic, basically, on this approach, and that I was his best patient ever.
And being an academic, I’m addicted to gold stars, and so I was very pleased with that. So, then my endocrinologist insisted that I visit a dietician, and the dietician did not give me a gold star, not at all. She was, in fact, appalled by my diet. And what she told me is that you have to eat a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates a day. I was eating, maybe 30-50 grams per day.
So I tried to protest. She said, “No, the brain needs 130 grams of glucose.” And of course, as a biochemistry professor, and someone who had been teaching about metabolism for a long time, I said, “Well, what about gluconeogenesis?”
Gluconeogenesis is the body’s making its own sugar. Usually the brain survives quite nicely on that. Well, she said, “The American Diabetes Association, the ADA, gives me these guidelines, so I have to give these guidelines to you.” And again I still tried to fight a little bit. And what she did was she got the rest of the health team to enforce her position, and one of the nurse practitioners said, “I want you to eat chocolate; I want you to live.”
Now who can resist medical advice to eat chocolate, right? And, I kind of do understand the link between chocolate and living, but, in any case, I was in a quandary as to whether I should accept this or not. So here is the American Diabetes Association diet. In the guidelines that are published by the ADA, the authors, of course, say that carbohydrates turn to glucose.
The more carbs you eat, the higher your blood glucose goes. But then they bring up the food pyramid, the USDA food pyramid, and say, at the bottom of the food pyramid is bread, cereal, rice and pasta, and you need six-eight servings of these per day. So it’s pretty much a very similar diet to the actual food pyramid. And then, of course, those carbohydrates will then need to be covered with insulin or with drugs. So, I was in this quandary.
Which pathway should I trust? I’d already had some good effects with a low carbohydrate diet, but here was the medical establishment giving me some opposition. So what would you do?
Well, I was actually trained to respond well to authority, and any anti-authoritative impulses were kind of squelched. Also, I’m not somebody who distrusts the medical establishment. I’m not someone who tells cancer patients that they should just use essential oils, or that kale smoothies are going to cure everything. So I really believe in knowledge and training.
So my tendency was to really trust the medical establishment, to assume that they knew more than I did. But I also had my own training. And so as a bench chemist, I feel that I’d really been trained in recognizing a good experiment, and I felt that I was trained in understanding the basis for some of these recommendations. And so that’s what I am going to do here.