Saturday, September 10, 2011

I Dropped My Total Cholesterol Nearly 300 mg By Diet Alone

Our medical system has morphed into a huge one-size-fits-all top-down system where frontline care providers are rewarded for pushing drugs.  Doctors are increasingly herded into large conglomerates where treatments are guided by orthodoxies developed by an oligarchy and where punishment is meted out for operating outside of ‘guidelines’ that have become inviolable rules.

Physicians are not permitted to think outside the box.  Is it any wonder that the alternative medicine industry in the U.S. continues to expand and flourish?  What this tells us is that many feel ill served by the mainstream medical system.

A year and a half ago, I decided that I needed to do something different with my diet.  Although I had eaten a challengingly healthy diet for years, I found my girth expanding.  I had added nearly three inches around my waistline in as many years.

After being introduced to the low-carb lifestyle by a family member, I decided to give it a try.  I described my efforts in four posts last summer (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).  I had read horror stories about low-carb diets, but I found that the plan described in these posts allowed me to cut visceral fat rapidly.  Not only that, after the first two weeks the plan was tasty and satisfying.  Frankly, I can’t say that about my previous healthy dietary approaches.

All went well for about a year until I went in for my annual checkup.  My cholesterol level had always been in the healthy range.  I expected that total cholesterol might have risen 20-30 mg, since I had read that low-carb diets can increase the size of the LDL particles (without actually increasing their number).  Large LDL particles don’t seem to cause much in the way of negative heart outcomes.  Small LDL particles do.

Imagine my surprise when my total cholesterol came back at a whopping 446, with LDL at 383!  My doctor couldn’t believe the results.  He said that he didn’t think it was humanly possible for total cholesterol to jump 300 mg in one year.  So he had me redo the test.  The result was the same.

While low-carb proponents suggest that a rise in blood serum cholesterol is not dangerous, none of them are talking about a 300 mg rise.  At most, they are talking about one-tenth of that.  I’ve done a fair amount of study on cholesterol.  By itself, it isn’t that strong of an indicator of imminent heart problems.  But I figured that an outlandishly high reading can’t be good and  I decided to do something about it.

I wasn’t about to go on cholesterol lowering drugs.  I figured that my cholesterol had gone through the roof via diet alone, so it stood to reason that it could be lowered through diet alone.  So I started doing some research.

Harkening back to the first paragraph in this post, I note that most frontline physicians don’t know squat about diet.  The oligarchy has fed them the official line about what is healthy and what isn’t.  They are required to promote that line.  But few of them really have much clue about health management via diet.

I think part of the reason for this is that it is extraordinarily difficult to isolate diet as a factor in medical outcomes.  A few very broad statements can somewhat safely be made, but diet simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair.  We respond genetically differently to the same thing and diet is deeply intertwined with psychological and emotional responses that vary by person.  The average low-carb dieter doesn’t experience a 300 mg increase in total cholesterol.  But that obviously matters little to me because I did.

After some research, I found several diet variants that promised to lower cholesterol with a high fat diet.  It would still be a low carb diet.  Most of the fat would come from olives, olive oil, and tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans.  The nuts had to be mostly raw, although, some dry roasted nuts were acceptable.  Most of the carbs would come from the nuts too, but one could also eat green leafy vegetables in abundance.  Chicken breast, salmon, and tuna were among the staples as far as protein goes.

So I once again overhauled my diet.  I didn’t give up on eggs.  I usually had two boiled eggs daily.  But the diet was overall much less satisfying than my previous diet.  Basically, eating became somewhat of a utilitarian thing for me over the next two months.  Frankly, there were a few times that I skipped meals because I preferred hunger to eating what was on my diet plan.

After two months of very strict eating, my weight stayed about the same but I added about an inch in waist girth.  I was able to lift more weight in my regular weightlifting exercises in pretty much every muscle group, but I added no measurable bulk to my muscles.  Finally the day arrived to do the fasting lipid panel once again.  When the lab results came back, my total cholesterol was 164.  My HDL, LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides were all in the optimum range.

Most doctors will tell you that the results I achieved are simply not possible without drug supplementation.  Let me put this as succinctly as possible.  THEY ARE WRONG!  I have proven that one can drastically cut blood serum cholesterol in a relatively short period of time with diet alone.  But it comes at a cost.

Thus, I am still left wondering what to do about my diet.  I certainly don’t want to add any waist girth.  I was more slender when I was eating tastier but higher cholesterol foods.  I was also more psychologically and physically satisfied.  But I’m not about to return to a 400+ total cholesterol reading.

Maybe I am stuck with the unpleasant fact that Mark Twain was right when he quipped, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.”

It’s stuff like this that makes the eternal world look increasingly appealing.


Ashish said...

Hi... came to your blog via a google search. I find your results amazing. I am 32 years old, pretty active and fit.. yet my total cholesterol is touching 300. I am loathe to go on meds full time... so am hoping to lower the numbers through diet and exercise. I hope you will share your diet plan with us too... it gives people like me a lot of hope !

Scott Hinrichs said...

Ashish, I pulled together information from several sources to develop my diet. But the Rosedale plan is fairly close to what I have done. I suggest you check it out.

Dr. Rosedale has a two-week initial period where you have to be quite strict. This is to wean your body from some of the addictive carbohydrates that are common in the average diet.

After that introductory period, I made sure to include a couple of tablespoons of steel-cut oats in my daily diet, as such oats have proven to be effective in controlling blood serum cholesterol.

In addition, many studies have shown that regular exercise helps control cholesterol. I have followed a fairly rigorous workout regimen six days per week. However, even moderate regular exercise helps.

One more thing that I have done is to take a magnesium supplement to make sure I'm getting close to the US RDA of the mineral. Some studies suggest that taking magnesium before bedtime provides somewhat better rest. Also, adequate magnesium helps control cholesterol. 'Adequate' is the key word here. I experienced some abdominal discomfort the times that I tried taking higher doses of magnesium. Just because some is good doesn't mean that a lot is better.

I hope this is helpful. I'm not a medical professional. All I can say is that this worked for me.