“Trying to heal my broken brain”

Bev SS

When Bev suddenly suffered two strokes that initially put her in a coma, she tried her best to recover. She listened to her doctors which only made her feel worse. She got a tip from another stroke victim to add healthy fats to her diet which later led her to the keto diet. That’s when she began to notice significant change. Read on to get Bev’s full story.

In 2016, aged 36, I started a journey that I believed was healthy. I was unfit, obese, having fecal incontinence issues. So I took up running and thought I had cut sugar out of my diet e.g. no lollies, cakes, no sugar in my tea etc. I chose low-fat, sugar-free options, lots of whole grains. Normal standard advice that’s been ingrained in our modern society. I now know I was still consuming 40-60 teaspoons of sugar a day in my food – they were hidden in the “healthy” foods. I began running 2-5 km (1.2–3.1 miles) almost every day. In six months, I felt great, well, so I thought. Didn’t fix my issues however, but I’d lost 15 kg (33 lbs). I looked healthier but I was still inflamed. I’d hate to think exactly how much sugar I ate on a daily bases before I started running.

On October 30th 2016, my world turned upside down. I had a stroke. I had another stroke the next day, which left me with locked in syndrome, unable to move nor breathe. I was put into a coma on life support. I had a brainstem stroke.

I spent the next two months in hospital learning how to move, talk, eat, toilet, write, pretty much everything again. Turns out I had a hole in my heart which I had no idea until the strokes.

I was tube fed for a month. Though I couldn’t move I could hear the medical staff in the hospital crack open a can of soft drink which made me crave for the sweet sugary fizzy drink. I’d watch the lolly trolley go past my ward in the mornings. As soon as I was able to eat and use a wheelchair, I’d make my way to the vending machines to buy sugar-loaded drink or food in the hospital. I was somewhat angry at the world thinking I was ‘healthy” but ended up in hospital anyway. So I ate a lot of junk food. Feeling deflated, ‘why me?’ I was comfort eating.

Once I left the hospital, I was left with left-sided weakness, fatigue and a whole lot of mental issues, mainly depression, anxiety, brain fog, slow processing and horrible fatigue. It was the mental issues that was the worst.

Bev at the hospital

Every time I had a stroke check up, one of the first things they would say to me was if they need to adjust my cholesterol lowering drugs. I was never put on them in the first place and feel like I have dodged a massive bullet. The side effects from statins going by the stories of other stroke survivors are horrible. It’s so common for stroke survivors to be put on statins.

I’d made a pretty good recovery, considering. But in December 2017 I started to go backwards. My muscles began to harden on my weak side. My left hand became like a claw. It was a constant battle to control what was going on inside my head.

I was supposed to lose another 10 kg (22 lbs) for my medical team but I was putting on weight because I continued to eat sugary foods. On the advice of my medical team I started going to the gym more, using two apps to count my calories. I was to eat no more than 1,500 calories a day. I lost a couple of kilos in a couple of months but I was miserable and hungry all the time. I was eating often only 1,000–1,200 calories per day. Desperate to achieve a goal set by my medical team. The food I’d choose weren’t often what I would consider “healthy” calories. I’d reached for a biscuit or something similar because I was under my daily calorie count. I believed back then all calories were equal. I ended up putting on 14 kg (31 lbs). I was doomed to fail. Pretty much all the weight I’d lost through running had piled back on. I was blaming myself because I could no longer exercise like I used to, to why I could not shift weight.

In Feb 2018, a fellow stroke survivor put me onto hemp seed oil for pain relief. It helped a lot as well as for other things. I was thinking more clearly, I think it was all the healthy fats contained in the oil that my poor brain was crying out for. Not long after that, I watched Dr. Hyman’s Broken Brain series. I learned about neurogenesis, how sugar inhibits this. It gave me hope that I could possibly heal my brain. I learned about the ketogenic diet and how I actually need fat to heal my brain. Learning that calories are not all equal. The calorie in minus calorie out did not equal weight loss.

My calorie counters would go into the red because of all the healthy fat I was consuming but I was easily losing weight. Best of all, I was never hungry and miserable.

My stroke was caused by a “plumbing” issue, but I can’t help but think that all the sugar I was eating contributed to my body not dissolving my blood clots naturally. Sugar inhibits so many natural processes in the human body.

I find it amusing and interesting that my friends and family are worried for me to give up bread and sugar, eat ketogenically or low-carb healthy fat, I’m suddenly endangering my health. I’m crazy. I’m going to become sick. Have a heart attack. I’ve read enough modern independent studies now to realise I’m going to be ok. It’s just eating real natural food. How can natural unprocessed food be dangerous?

That has to be the biggest challenge for me doing LCHF, others opinions. I know they are just concerned about me.

I’m fairly certain I must be insulin resistant. A few years ago we had a scare with one of our children that she was a type 1 diabetic. We had to measure her blood glucose before and after meals for a few weeks. I’d always prick my finger first to try and make it easier for my then 4-year-old. Occasionally, my blood glucose was 9 mmol/l or 11 mmol/l. It should have always been between 4-8 mmol/l. I never investigated back then but I believe now I was probably heading towards pre-diabetes.

Thanks to keto/LCHF I’ve got a somewhat working left hand again, my muscles are soft, fairly pain free, my mental health is so much better. I think clearer, process faster, depression and anxiety no longer runs riot in my head. I no longer need to take daily naps. I can handle loud noises, crowds of people.

Not that weight was the main reason to try keto, (I actually didn’t know at the start) but I’ve lost 21 kg (46 lbs) in eight months with little exercise, just by trying to heal my brain with healthy natural food and limiting sugars whether they are natural or not. I can no longer run but maybe one day I can again. I can amazingly ride a bike now!

People who ask me about how I found out about LCHF, I always refer them to Diet Doctor. I like the fact it has input from real life doctors from all around the world. It has the science behind LCHF. The many real life success stories.

Not that I can prove that my recovery has been because of eating real food and cutting out grains and sugar, I’ve got youth on my side, I may have been just lucky with time. I’m 38 now but I truly believe I would not be where I am had I continued the “food pyramid” diet. LCHF is my way of life now. I feel amazing.

People who know me see that I have lost a lot of weight ask me what my secret is. When I tell them, they tend to automatically place it in the too-hard box.

The few that have also tried are amazed by how easy it actually is. The energy they gain and the positive mental side effects such as thinking clearer. They have all lost weight as well. Some quite a bit of weight like myself.

We all love the fact we are no longer hungry. Food no longer runs our lives.

I’m currently trying intermittent fasting next to see if I can heal more of my brain and get new networks forming.

I started this journey 16 months post strokes and may have lost 21 kg (46 lbs) but the fact I feel like I’ve got my mind back and can once again contribute back to society, is so much more important to me.

Bev Robertson,
New Zealand


Congratulations, Bev on all your success!

As you write, we don’t know for sure whether the keto diet has helped your brain – maybe it would have improved anyway. There are no studies that have investigated the effect for this purpose.

However, a keto diet has been proven to be an effective way to lose weight, compared to other diets. It also helps to lower elevated blood pressure, and high blood pressure is probably the largest risk factor for stroke. So there are several ways it could be helpful.

/ Andreas Eenfeldt, MD

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