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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Veganism Cures Diabetes?

Originally posted 8-26-2006

A study came out recently touting the benefits of a low-fat vegan diet over the diet promoted by the American Diabetes Association. I love the headline: “Vegan diet best for diabetes” [emphasis added], as if it has been compared to every diet out there. This vegan diet was a plant-based diet, void of animal products, and low in fat and sugar. The ADA diet is a grain-based diet, which allows some animal products (4-6oz per day), some fat (~30% of calories), and some sugar. Food choices on the ADA diet are relatively unrestricted other than sticking to the pyramid. A few other headlines reporting this same study are:
- Vegan diet offers diabetics a carb bonanza (talk about hyperbole)
- Vegan diet reverses diabetes symptoms, study finds
- Vegan diet found to markedly improve health of diabetes patients

The vegan diet study is being promoted by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, which some say is a front for PETA. Regardless of whether PCRM is PETA or just has a lot of ties to PETA, if a group with any ties to the beef or pork industry put out a study showing a diet high in beef or pork to be better than any other diet, it would be attacked and scrutinized. However, since it is politically correct to talk about vegetarians and vegans as being the healthiest humans on earth and showing us gluttonous meat-eaters to be on the fast-track to a heart attack, this study raises no eyebrows. Pointing out the ties between PCRM and PETA probably amounts to an ad hominem logical fallacy, but oh well. The point remains that ties to a group with a certain agenda automatically weakens your stance.

So where should we begin? First, the ADA diet is identical to the old Food Guide Pyramid with a focus on carbohydrates, especially processed carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and other grains. Since diabetes is a disease where the body doesn’t properly process carbohydrates, it seems rather odd to prescribe a diet that is based on carbohydrates, especially one based on high glycemic load carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, and starchy vegetables. The point is that one diet (the vegan diet) is based on low glycemic fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and provides a great load of vitamins and minerals, while the other is based on processed grains, with a small amount of fruits, vegetables, meat, and other vitamin-containing foods.

Participants also said that the vegan diet was easier to follow, which means that compliance was quite likely higher. Considering that the vegan dieters were less likely to eat high-sugar, trans fatty junk foods, it should come as little surprise that these diabetics exhibited better glucose control. However, let’s take a quick look at a result that was glossed over: “43 percent of those on the vegan diet and 26 percent of those on the standard diet were either able to stop taking some of their drugs such as insulin or glucose-control medications, or were able to control their condition with lower doses.” So apparently to be considered a good diet, it doesn’t even need to improve the condition of half of the test population. Let’s consider that again; the vegan diet that is being touted as “best for diabetes” doesn’t even allow 50% of the people following it to lower their medication dosage.

There is no denying that a vegan diet is better than the diet of a great majority of America, in terms of nutrient content and quality of foods consumed. Anytime you eliminate the bulk of processed foods that most people call dinner, you will see a prodigious improvement in health. However, it appears that the study authors and the media are setting up a false dichotomy whereby the two choices are “vegan” or “not vegan” and choosing a poor candidate for “not vegan”. To truly test the effectiveness of the vegan diet, we need to see studies pitting it against a well-designed omnivorous diet based on grass-fed meats, nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and no sugar. My car is fast if I compare it to a Yugo or even a Honda Civic, but the real test of whether my car is fast is to compare it to a Corvette or some other truly fast car.

Regina Wilshire points out that other markers of glucose control fall short of the National Institutes of Health standards, such as fasting glucose and HbA1c. Both groups had fasting glucose above the diabetic threshold. HbA1c, a marker of glucose control over time that is considered the critical marker of diabetes control, and both groups came in above the 7% standard, denoting “poor glucose control.” Basically, to paraphrase Ms. Wilshire, one diet that produced substandard results is being touted over another diet that produced substandard results. My car sure is fast when compared to a Yugo.

One has to wonder why there was no media blitz when a study of equal length (22 months) showed even greater improvements from a low-carbohydrate diet. Subjects following a 20% carbohydrate diet had HbA1c of 6.6%, 7.0%, and 6.9% at 6, 12, and 22 months, respectively. All three readings are within the standard of glucose control, yet we heard nothing of this study. Even more interesting, seven of the subjects in the low-fat group saw the results that the low-carb group was achieving and switched to the low-carb diet! The ADA says that they won’t promote the low-carb diet because “patients find it restrictive,” yet they readily acknowledge that the diet helps patients control their blood glucose. So the ADA is making decisions that should best be left to the patient, that of what lifestyle one finds most beneficial. While some would certainly prefer to take drugs over changing their lifestyle, there are surely some diabetics motivated enough be the promise of health to follow a low-carb diet, were it offered as an option by their doctors.

We can also examine the drawbacks of a strict vegan diet. Because of shunning all animal products, the vegan diet is markedly void of certain vitamins and minerals only found in meat, such as vitamin B12, conjugated linoleic acid, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. B12 deficiency is linked to Alzheimer’s and nervous system disorders. The low-fat and low-protein nature of the diet means that vitamins A, D, E, and K, the fat-soluble vitamins, are poorly absorbed. Further, vitamin D intake is necessary for uptake of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Vegan literature will tell you that protein needs can be met from vegetable sources, such as soy, but those have their own issues, from poor protein quality to numerous antinutrients. Also, many people turn to flax seeds and oil to increase their omega-3 intake, but the omega-3 fatty acids in flax are short-chain acids which must be converted to long-chain acids, a process which is highly inefficient, converting generally less than 5% of the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to the long-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Basically, yet again, the evidence doesn’t support what is commonly shown to be “the way to health.” The ADA refuses to provide its patients with the materials that they can use to decide what avenues they should pursue to regain their health. The ADA continues to promote a diet based on carbohydrates for people that cannot effectively process carbohydrates, while promoting a low fat and protein intake, the two nutrients that slow the rate of absorption of carbohydrates. And once again, we’re told how great a vegan or vegetarian diet is for us, when studies show a low-carb, meat-eating diet to produce even better results. I’m off to find a Yugo to race.

The Tropical Oils

Originally posted 8-6-2006

A week or so ago, someone noticed my jar of palm oil in the pantry and made a comment about how palm oil is supposed to be bad for you. Next to that was my jar of coconut oil, which is also supposed to be bad for you. So I thought I’d touch on the many health benefits of consuming palm and coconut oils and show why they are not detrimental to health, and are in fact, good for your health.

First, how did palm and coconut oils come to be “unhealthy”? That one is simple: they are both saturated oils. And as we all “know”, saturated fat is the unhealthy fat that will cause you to gain weight, have high cholesterol, and lead to a heart attack. That all of that is bunk is irrelevant (Lenin stated “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”…seems to hold in this case).

Ray Peat has an excellent article about the benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil is made up of mostly short- and medium-chain fatty acids. What this means is that they are immediately available to the body as energy without the use of the carnitine transport system, being absorbed directly through the stomach instead. If you consume coconut milk or oil, you can actually feel your body temperature rise, owing to coconut oil’s effects on metabolism (half a can of coconut milk has actually made me sweat). Coconut oil also supports thyroid function, another driver of metabolism. Coconut oil is rich in butyric, lauric and myristic acids, which are variously being used to treat cancer and infection.

When I talk about palm oil, I’m talking about the unmodified red palm oil like that sold by Tropical Traditions (where I buy my palm and coconut oils). Palm kernel oil and any clear palm oils are not going to have the health benefits of red palm oil due to refining, deodorization, and bleaching. Palm oil is an excellent source of numerous vitamins, including Coenzyme Q10 which supports healthy heart function. It contains all eight forms of vitamin E – 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols – along with high levels of vitamin A, mainly in the form of alpha- and beta-carotene, which provide the rich red color. Palm oil actually has fifteen times the beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) content of a carrot and 300 times that of a tomato. Palm oil is the second most widely consumed oil in the world, behind soybean oil. However, if we remove the United States from the equation, palm oil is the number one oil. For some reason, we’d rather hydrogenate soybean oil than use natural palm oil for baking.

Polyunsaturated oils, on the other hand, are powerfully immunosuppressive. Concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids have been administered intravenously to skin graft and organ transplant patients to suppress the immune system, reducing the chances of rejection. Unfortunately, these patients also quickly developed cancer. Dr. Peat mentions that "An excess of the polyunsaturated fats (PUFA's) is central to the development of degenerative diseases: cancer, heart disease, arthritis, immunodeficiency, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, connective tissue disease, and calcification." Intake of polyunsaturated fats is also positively correlated with susceptibility to oxidative damage from ultraviolet rays, which could explain why my ability to endure time in the sun has improved with the addition of coconut and palm oils to my diet (along with the added antioxidants from my fruit and vegetable intake).

Saturated oils are nearly impervious to oxidation and degradation. Basically, there are four types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans. Trans fats are just bad news altogether, so I’m not even going to touch on them. Every fat molecule consists of a glycerol molecule joined to three fatty acids, as this image shows. The degree of saturation refers to the number of double bonds between carbon atoms on a single fatty acid. So looking at the top two fatty acids, you see that no carbons are double bonded; all are bonded to hydrogen molecules, hence this fatty acid is “saturated” with hydrogen. The bottom fatty acid has a single double bond, meaning that it is monounsaturated. A fatty acid with two or more double bonds is polyunsaturated. These double bonds are susceptible to attack from free radicals, which degrades the fats, both inside and outside of your body. Obviously more double bonds equals more bonds available for attack. Heat, light, and oxygen all cause damage to fats in proportion to their degree of unsaturation. Therefore, polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable, with monounsaturated and saturated fats falling next in line. Coconut oil is so stable that after a year on the shelf at room temperature, it has been shown to have no measurable rancidity. Polyunsaturated oils are so unstable that they must undergo a great deal of processing to be made relatively shelf stable, including deodorization and bleaching. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your polyunsaturated cooking oils are stable, merely that there are few components left in it that will have an off taste or smell to warn you of its rancidity. Polyunsaturated processing also removes pretty much any trace of vitamins, a step which is not needed with saturated oils.

The great irony was that the Center for Science in the Public Interest, many years ago sued fast food makers for frying their fries in lard and other saturated fats. The fast food companies switched to hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in trans fats, the one fat that has no natural place in your body. Now, the CSPI is suing fast food makers for using oils containing trans fats; I guess it gives them a reason to exist. As it turns out, saturated fats are the healthiest oil to deep fry in (healthiest being a relative term when discussing deep frying) due to their ability to tolerate high temperatures. Cooking, especially deep frying, in polyunsaturated oils is bad news.

Palm and coconut oils have been vilified needlessly. These are two of the healthiest oils you could be eating, but because they are saturated, the makers of our “wonderful” polyunsaturated oils will keep telling us how bad they are for us. And political correctness won’t allow anyone to state that any oil could be better for you than olive oil. Olive oil, while good for you, is not the health panacea of the Mediterranean diet that it’s made out to be. It is merely a good oil that is relatively stable and quite tasty.

Vilification of these two oils was relatively easy though. At room temperature, they are both solid, resembling the “arterial plaques” that we are constantly shown (note: arterial plaques do not resemble saturated fats). Of course, at 98.6 degrees, the internal temperature of the body, both would be liquid, but why hymn and haw over facts? And as this picture shows, very little of our cell walls are made up of polyunsaturated fats. Is that saturated fat that makes
up some 40% of human fat and cell walls? That saturated and monounsaturated fats make up our cell walls make sense; they provide stability and rigidity that polyunsaturated fats cannot.

So let’s run up the tally here:
Coconut oil: very stable for cooking, no need for refining, no need for hydrogenation, improves metabolism, rich in fatty acids which support the immune system
Palm oil: also very stable for cooking, no need for refining, no need for hydrogenation, rich in vitamins A and E, high in CoQ10
Polyunsaturated oils: very unstable for cooking, very short shelf life, must be highly processed to avoid tasting and smelling awful, contain no vitamins due to processing, suppress the immune system

It looks like saturated tropical oils in a landslide. I know that my consumption of palm and coconut oils has improved my skin, my energy levels, and my body composition. Given the scientific facts and my own experience, I’ll stick with cooking in palm and coconut oils and adding olive oil (monounsaturated) to my salad dressings and vegetables. And if you’re worried about cholesterol or saturated fat’s effects on cholesterol, check out my review of The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo.

Book Review: The Great Cholesterol Con

Originally posted 7-28-2006

“About almost any subject, there are the facts ‘everyone knows’ and then there are the real ones.” – Ernest G. Ross

This quote pretty much sums up everything about The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo. After finishing this book, readers will realize that the vendetta against cholesterol and saturated fat is misguided and has diverted important resources away from finding the real causes of heart disease. Granted, I was skeptical about the cholesterol hypothesis before reading this book, but Colpo’s book could turn a believer of the “lower is better” cholesterol theory into a disbeliever, assuming that individual is capable of thinking past everything that they already “know” and examining with an open mind.

In The Great Cholesterol Con, Mr. Colpo pores through every study examining the cholesterol-heart disease links to show that very few of them have shown even a weak association. In fact, some have shown higher cholesterol levels to be beneficial when it comes to overall mortality. Naturally, our media never tells us about these studies and the pharmaceutical companies, with billions at stake on cholesterol-lowering statins, are very adept at keeping these studies from seeing the light of day. Researchers that have tried to bring forth non-cholesterol hypotheses as the causes of heart disease are ridiculed and shut down. Rest assured, the pharmaceutical companies are doing everything they can to protect their “magic bullets” (statins), which, according to Colpo, have failed to lower the incidence of coronary heart disease one iota.

So who is this Colpo guy? He’s a personal trainer that lives in Australia. WHAT?!?!!!? You mean he’s not a doctor?!? How can I believe a word he says?” Contrary to popular belief, doctors are not the most well-versed in all aspects of health. Further, doctors have an interest in staying with the status quo. To paraphrase Colpo, any doctor straying from the flock is risking his livelihood. Along with that, very few doctors are out there performing research. Most are too busy performing surgeries and routine checkups to even read all of the available research. In fact, I’d view his lack of medical schooling as a benefit rather than a hindrance. He hasn’t been indoctrinated into the “medical world” where 99% of doctors think alike and exhibit a “follow the herd” mentality. Colpo questions everything he reads and implores you to do the same (he even tells you to go to a library and read the same studies he has rather than just taking his word for it).

Colpo reads all of the available research with an incredible eye for detail (I wonder if he does anything other than read medical journals…just kidding Anthony). I’m sure you’re thinking about how boring it must be to read about cholesterol, but Colpo somehow keeps that from becoming mundane. It doesn’t read like a medical journal, a testament to his excellent, accessible writing style, with a bit of humor to boot. Once I was able to sit down and read the book, it took me about 4 days to pore through it. It is really an enjoyable read and one that doesn’t feel like a workout. Now, I haven’t read any other books about cholesterol, so I can’t compare it in terms of readability, but I do know that the average reader won’t have trouble with this book.

The Great Cholesterol Con explores the real reasons for coronary heart disease: stress, inflammation, high blood sugar (high-carb, low-fat anyone?), lack of dietary fruits and vegetables (and consequently lack of antioxidants), high polyunsaturated fat intake, and a handful of others. He even breaks down the proper nutrients needed for heart health and gives a “good-better-best” of which foods to find them in…now that’s service with a smile! Colpo analyses and critiques every study to date that has tried to link saturated fat to coronary heart disease. However, only 4 of 26 studies have shown any link, and those links are weak at best (and a few are illogical). Why haven’t we heard about the 22 studies that don’t show a link? I’m sure it’s not because they’ve been overlooked.

So is it a conspiracy? That’s hard to say. It is clear that the food and drug companies make billions of dollars selling low-fat, fat-free, and “heart-healthy” foods, along with drugs that fix the ailments high fat intake is purported to cause. It is also clear that the influence and money from these companies go all the way to the top of the National Institute of Health and the FDA. However, I am loathe to say that most of our doctors are in on it. I think most doctors truly care about our health, but unfortunately, the people passing on the information are giving them the wrong stuff (purposely or not). And doctors are only human; every person on this planet finds it hard to unlearn something and learn something new, especially something so important to one’s livelihood. Since most doctors aren’t performing the research, they are relying on the findings of those that are, who the drug and food companies make sure to pass a few (hundred thousand) bucks to.

What The Great Cholesterol Con boils down to is that the cholesterol hypothesis is too simple a solution for a very complicated disease. Every substance in the body has an optimal range; low blood sugar is harmful as is high blood sugar, too much iron is damaging as is too little iron. Cholesterol is no different, but the companies hawking statins are pushing for lower and lower recommendations for cholesterol, even when these lower levels of cholesterol are associated with higher rates of mortality. That’s right – in certain populations (such as the elderly), cholesterol seems to be protective against diseases such as cancer. Who wants to be protected from heart disease, only to die of something else? Colpo will show you how, once again, it boils down to lifestyle factors – diet, exercise, and stress – which can cause arterial inflammation and damage. He even shows you how to put together a healthy diet and exercise plan to decrease the likelihood of heart disease without resorting to statins and all of their accompanying side effects (such as joint and muscle pain, temporary memory loss, and rhabdomyolysis).

The Great Cholesterol Con contains a ton of other useful information, such as detailed discussion of why saturated fat is not only not bad for you, but actually a nutrient essential to proper health. And of course, Colpo examines the much-maligned low-carb diet to show that, even though the media won’t showcase these studies, it is continually proven to be a healthy and safe way to manage both weight and health – much healthier than a low-fat diet will ever be. There’s a reason for that; certain amino acids (protein) and fatty acids are essential. They are even called essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. There’s no such thing as an essential carbohydrate (nice to have, yes; essential, no).

I hope that one day, The Great Cholesterol Con is required reading for medical school students. I hope that Anthony Colpo keeps researching and keeps writing; we need more books that explore all sides of a story rather than just the side the moneymaking stakeholders want you to get. It is going to take a long time, but hopefully with people like Anthony Colpo leading the charge (with backup from the great thinkers at The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics), we can get some attention focused on real health issues. In the meantime, Colpo is going to face the ire of the companies that stake their profits on the falsity of cholesterol and low-fat. Unfortunately, Mr. Colpo’s website, The Omnivore, has been taken down due to personal reasons. This website was one of the best free resources on the net for finding information on cholesterol, saturated fat, low carb diets, soy, and any number of other health topics. We can only hope that the articles Colpo has already written return.

So read the book. You can pick it up at Amazon or Lulu for an excellent price, especially considering the time and effort that had to go into reading all of those medical journals and putting this work together. Whether you decide to believe what Colpo has written or not is up to you, but at least you’ll have considered both sides of the story and be armed
with all of the available research.

The Cholesterol Hype

Originally posted 6-13-2006

We are constantly told that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol intake are the causes of high lipid (blood) cholesterol and that high cholesterol is the cause of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Of course, this means that we should subsist on a diet relatively devoid of animal fat and possibly replace some of your protein intake with soy for a “good low fat choice.” You also have to cut down on eggs, eat lots of grains for starch and fiber, and replace that “nutritional devil” saturated fat with some mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

So if we assume that the premise that saturated fats and dietary cholesterol are bad and lots of grains and polyunsaturated fats are good, is the War on Cholesterol justified? Does lowering the level of lipid cholesterol reduce the prevalence of heart disease and atherosclerosis? Should we seek to lower lipid cholesterol levels to the lowest level possible? Is there really such a thing as “bad” and “good” cholesterol? Hmmm. What if the establishment has been inadvertently wrong or possibly advertently misleading?

Oops, I guess I gave away the premise right there at the end of the second paragraph. The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics is a group of doctors and scientists that seeks to set the record straight regarding the role of animal fat and high lipid cholesterol in heart disease. One of these doctors is Uffe Ravnskov, author of The Cholesterol Myths. Dr. Ravnskov makes the point that high cholesterol doesn’t contribute to the hardening of arteries because studies show that people with low cholesterol are just as atherosclerotic as people with high cholesterol.

In fact, it appears that there may be benefits to having high cholesterol levels. Dr. Ravnskov asks us to “consider the finding of Dr. Harlan Krumholz of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Yale University, who reported in 1994 that old people with low cholesterol died twice as often from a heart attack as did old people with a high cholesterol.” In fact, low cholesterol increases one’s risk of all-cause mortality; numerous studies show that high cholesterol protects against infection. Plain and simple, cholesterol is the building block of many structures in the body, including all steroid hormones and cell membranes, and plays a key role in regulating blood sugar, building strong bones and muscles, and repairing tissue damage.

So it appears that high cholesterol isn’t really a risk factor for much of anything. However, high cholesterol may be indicative of a situation that is a risk factor. For instance, high cholesterol is not a risk factor for women or old people, but is for young and middle-aged men. Now that sounds like an odd hypothesis.

To quote this summary of Dr. Ravnskov’s book:
“If we were to believe that a correlation between high cholesterol and heart disease proved that cholesterol causes heart disease, using the data from the major studies used to support this idea, we would have to believe:
•cholesterol causes heart disease in men, but not in women
•cholesterol causes heart disease in Americans, but not in Canadians, and protects against heart disease in Russians
•cholesterol causes heart disease if you are between the ages of 30 and 47, but stops causing heart disease once you turn 48”

Essentially, cholesterol is dangerous, but only if you have a Y chromosome and are a certain age. Logic dictates that it isn’t the high cholesterol levels in these young and middle-aged men that is causing their problems since high cholesterol levels in all other populations are protective. Remember folks, correlation does not prove causation. Basically, high cholesterol could be a symptom of something risky or it may just be an innocent bystander, flexing its protective muscle in your blood system. Dr. Thomas Cowan found that a woman that was a lifetime golfer had high cholesterol. Once put on statins, her cholesterol dropped and she started showing symptoms of toxicity from the pesticides on the golf course, so it looks like the cholesterol was allowing her body to detoxify the large amount of pesticides she was taking in.

Oh and don’t be so concerned about that “bad” LDL either. I’ll leave you with that thought and move onto the role of diet in this farce. So now let’s assume that high cholesterol is something to worry about and look at how we should go about “fixing” that.

Dr. Malcolm Kendrick will tell you that neither dietary cholesterol nor dietary saturated fat intake causes any change in lipid cholesterol levels (as he provides further systematic dismantling of the cholesterol hypothesis). To summarize: saturated fat is NEVER turned into cholesterol. The liver makes cholesterol and it doesn’t make cholesterol from fat, saturated or not. In fact, it has been shown that saturated fat is protective against arterial narrowing, while (drumroll!) grains and polyunsaturated fats have been found to be harmful. Now that makes sense! Before the cholesterol can attach to form a plaque, the artery needs to be damaged. High levels of circulating glucose and insulin damage the lining of arteries. And polyunsaturated fats are highly susceptible to oxidation, while saturated fats are nearly impervious, with mono’s falling somewhere in the middle.

Quick primer on oxidation: when it happens to iron it’s called rusting, when it happens to fruit it’s called ripening, when it happens to our bodies it’s called aging. Oxidation is a bad thing, hence why ANTI-oxidants are such a good thing. So cooking should be done with saturated fats such as palm and coconut oils, rather than with polyunsaturated fats like corn and peanut oils, since heat increases oxidation in fats.

Given the multitude of studies showing that cholesterol isn’t a risk factor for heart disease, and may even be beneficial in the protection against other infections, why isn’t it common knowledge? That one’s simple. You don’t have to be the CEO of Pfizer to recognize that statins, the only truly effective way to lower cholesterol, are a multi-billion dollar “wonder drug.” The more diseases that can be pinned on cholesterol, and the more doctors purchased, the more profits the pharmaceutical giants stand to rake in. Late last year, cholesterol was “linked” to Alzheimer’s – chalk up another disease that can be treated with statins. Unfortunately for the cholesterol hypothesis, it appears that insulin resistance (Type II diabetes) is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s, not cholesterol. Don’t worry, Big Pharma won’t let a little thing like truth keep them from pumping millions more Americans full of statins. They will keep pushing for new lower limits of “healthy” cholesterol and doctors in the know will continue to oppose them, to no avail.

The part that I find exceptionally ironic is that when most people take their car to the mechanic, a $500 repair raises eyebrows. “Hey, is this guy taking me to the cleaners?” A doctor tells them they have high cholesterol and are going to be taking statins for the rest of their life. “Oh…ok.” And statins are going to cost upwards of $1000 per year. So people are more than willing to take drugs that can cause birth defects, pancreatic disorders, Coenzyme Q10 depletion (extremely ironic considering CoQ10 is necessary for proper heart function), and a whole host of other known issues, yet they question a guy that wants to put new brakes on their car. Even better, statins cause depression in many people. How’s that for a double-whammy for the pharmaceutical companies? They can put you on lifetime statins and lifetime depression meds.

So putting it all together, it appears that neither saturated fat intake nor cholesterol intake have a measurable effect on lipid cholesterol. Further, it appears that lipid cholesterol may have the opposite effect of what we’re told. That is, high cholesterol seems to be protective rather than detrimental. So if you go to the doctor and he tells you that you have “high cholesterol”, rest assured that you’re probably ok. Or at the very least, it isn’t the cholesterol that you need to be worried about, it’s whatever underlying issue your body is trying to protect itself against by producing cholesterol. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, full-fat grassfed meats, and wild-caught fish, and low in polyunsaturated fats and grains. And don’t take statins.

Other Links:
Much more reading courtesy of Cholesterol and
Cholesterol levels not linked to cardiovascular disease
Potential side effects of statins
More on carbohydrates and atherosclerotic progression
Lack of scientific evidence for saturated fat connection to cholesterol


Originally posted 5-25-2006

A few months ago, I read an article that discussed epigenetics. A Medline search defines epigenetics as: epigenetic “factors refer to modifications of DNA and chromatin that ‘orchestrate’ the activity of the genome, including regulation of gene expression.” According to Wikipedia, “Epigenetics is the study of reversible heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the sequence of nuclear DNA.” In layman’s terms, it’s the study of why two people with the same DNA can look, feel, and perform so much differently.
It studies why those same two people with the same DNA can be in such different states of health.

So after reading this article, I set out doing some reading to find out just what is going on in the field of epigenetics. Until very recently, it was thought that changes to the DNA structure (insertions, deletions, and mutations) were the only cause of genetic variation. These structural changes to DNA are the very thing that has driven evolution. Epigenetics is the next layer of the onion. Epigenetic modificaitions, or “marks”, can turn a gene on or off, determining whether or not the gene can be used to make a protein. Basically, DNA determines protein structure while epigenetic modifications can determine which proteins are expressed.

These “marks” are passed from parent to child and, since they generally turn genes on or off, can cause diseases by abnormally suppressing or promoting certain genes. In the 1940’s, Dr. Francis M. Pottenger conducted a 10-year study using 900 cats to determine the effects of food on the body. What Dr. Pottenger noticed was that over the course of four generations, cats on a cooked food diet became progressively more diseased over three generations to the point that no fourth generation was ever born. Cats following a raw food diet continued to produce healthy, vibrant kittens. Few pretend to draw a parallel between human nutrition and cat nutrition, but the results of this study are striking, showing that epigenetic changes can cause detriment to the offspring of an organism, as they are also handed down from mother and father to child. These epigenetic changes are often owing to deficient diets, such as those that the unhealthy group of cats followed.

It appears that what we’re talking about is gene expression. Gene expression is what keeps people that are “genetically susceptible” to a disease from actually getting the disease. Most diseases are not inherited; rather a tendency for that disease is passed from parent to child. For instance, many people that have a family history of diabetes, heart disease, or cancer never develop those diseases. The development of the disease is dependent on gene expression. So what drives gene expression? Environmental factors. And what are the environmental factors that can be most easily controlled? Nutrition and exercise! Basically, even though someone may be susceptible to something due to epigenetic inheritance from their parents or epigenetic markers placed throughout their life, by taking care of themselves, they can overcome these diseases.

So there should be some interesting stuff coming down the pipe as scientists work to map the epigenome. Johns Hopkins has recently opened a center dedicated to the study of epigenetics. Of course, epigenetics will probably be rejected by the mainstream as it will require people to take responsibility for their lives. Epigenetics means that people’s actions can not only affect them, but can also determine the health of their children and grandchildren years down the line. People prefer to blame their genes rather than their own lifestyle for all of their ills. If you weren’t born with a disease (such as Downs Syndrome or Type I Diabetes), it is most likely your fault if you develop it. However, for all people that plan to have kids in the future, know that your actions, your lifestyle, the things you eat (and things you don’t eat), and your exercise (or lack thereof) may unnecessarily make your offspring more susceptible to certain diseases.

There is good news though: epigenetic modifications are reversible. While you can’t go back to your childhood and make your parents treat you better or un-experience a tragic event, you can manage your stress, diet, and exercise regimens to correct genes that have been altered. So follow a good exercise program, maintain a healthy diet, supplement with some Cod Liver Oil or Fish Oil, and limit your exposure to environmental toxins and stress as much as possible. If you don’t care about yourself, at least care about those (unborn) that will share your DNA for years to come.

Backgrounder: Epigenetics and Imprinted Genes
More on Pottenger’s Cats

Soft Drinks

Originally posted 4-30-2006

I was recently turned onto an article via Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website. Basically, a twelve year-old did a science project comparing the bacteria levels in ice from fast food ice machines and drive-thrus to bacteria levels of the water from the toilets at those same fast food establishments. The delicious findings were that 70% of the time the water from the toilets had less bacteria than the fast food ice.

Another recent scary finding is the presence of higher-than-allowed levels of benzene, a known carcinogen. In fact, benzene has been found in levels up to 8 times the acceptable level of benzene in drinking water. It seems that the combination of sodium benzoate (a preservative) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can produce benzene. Vitamin C is added to soft drinks to make them seem healthier than they really are. Benzene has been linked to leukemia and other cancers of the blood.

So combine the above with the high levels of sugar in soft drinks and it’s amazing that people continue to drink them in such quantities, contributing over $60 billion per year to junk food manufacturers. Sugar-laden soft drinks are the number one source of calories in America. There is no denying the links between soda consumption and obesity. The sad news is that 65% of teenage girls and 74% of teenage boys drink soda daily, contributing 36.2 and 57.7 grams of daily sugar, respectively.

My family never really kept soft drinks around, so eliminating them from my diet was no problem. Several of my friends had soft drinks at hand constantly, and I used to be a bit jealous. I wanted to have that sugary sweetness around any time I wanted it, but soft drinks were pretty much reserved for family gatherings and dinners away from home. Of course, now I am so happy that soft drinks weren’t a mainstay of my diet as a kid. In fact, other than the rare occasions that I drink whiskey, I haven’t
had a soft drink in years.

Unfortunately, for those trying to cut sugar from their diets, the only true safe method appears to be eliminating them entirely rather than switching to diet drinks. Artificial sweeteners are nearly as likely to contribute to obesity as is regular sugar (or rather high-fructose corn syrup). It appears that artificial sweeteners may actually degrade the ability of the body to determine it’s calorie intake. Further, aspartame is a known neurotoxin and Splenda is made with chlorine (which may be a toxic compound).

The bottom line: Cut soft drinks except for special occasions and spend your day drinking water, green, white, and herbal teas, and coffee. Do not drink your calories, even in the form of fruit juice. Fruit juice is far inferior to fruit in that it has the fiber removed and, because of its liquid form, is absorbed by the body very quickly, causing an insulin spike. Calories should come from whole food sources. Tea, coffee, and water are all calorie-free, assuming you don’t add sugar, cream, and milk. Furthermore, tea and coffee contain plenty of antioxidants which your body will appreciate. And while you’re at it, avoid the fast food establishments too.

Other links:
Fast food beverages might be worse than toilet water
Yes, Aspartame is a Carcinogen