Why ATP-3 is B--- S---

A Heart Scan Blog reader posted the link to this very excellent presentation by Dr. David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida.

ATP-3, or Adult Treatment Panel-3, is the set of cholesterol treatment guidelines as established by the National Cholesterol Education Panel, the guidelines used by practicing physicians nationwide. They are also the metric by which the "quality" of care is being judged by agencies like Medicare, health insurers, and other parties interested in policing healthcare. Dr. Diamond ably recounts how we ended up in this mess, the conflagration of "cut your fat, reduce cholesterol, and take a statin drug."

I was very impressed that, in his closing comments, he briefly discusses the pivotal role of glycation in heart disease causation. You will see in coming conversations how important an understanding of glycation is to create a healthy diet and lifestyle.

How far wrong can cholesterol be?

Conventional thinking is that high LDL cholesterol causes heart disease. In this line of thinking, reducing cholesterol by cutting fat and taking statin drugs thereby reduces or eliminates risk for heart disease.

Here's an (extreme) example of just how far wrong this simpleminded way of thinking can take you. At age 63, Michael had been told for the last 20 years that he was in great health, including "perfect" cholesterol values of LDL 73 mg/dl, HDL 61 mg/dl, triglycerides 102 mg/dl, total cholesterol 144 mg/dl. "Your [total] cholesterol is way below 200. You're in great shape!" his doctor told him.

Being skeptical because of the heart disease in his family, had a CT heart scan. His coronary calcium score: 4390. Needless to say, this is high . . . extremely high.

Extremely high coronary calcium scores like this carry high likelihood of death and heart attack, as high as 15-20% per year. So Michael was on borrowed time. It was damn lucky he hadn't yet experienced any cardiovascular events.

That's when Michael found our Track Your Plaque program that showed him how to 1) identify the causes of the extensive coronary atherosclerosis signified by his high calcium score, then 2) correct the causes.

The solutions, Michael learned, are relatively simple:

--Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation at a dose sufficient to yield substantial reductions in heart attack.
--"Normalization" of vitamin D blood levels (We aim for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml)
--Iodine supplementation and thyroid normalization
--A diet in which all wheat products are eliminated--whole wheat, white, it makes no difference--followed by carbohydrate restriction.
--Identification and correction of all hidden causes of coronary plaque such as small LDL particles and lipoprotein(a)

Yes, indeed: The information and online tools for health can handily exceed the limited "wisdom" dispensed by John Q. Primary Care doctor.

The best artificial sweeteners

Our new recipes, such as New York Style Cheesecake and Chocolate Coconut Bread, are wheat-free and low- or no-carbohydrate. They fit perfectly into the New Track Your Plaque Diet for gaining control over coronary atherosclerotic plaque, not to mention diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension, small LDL particles, high triglycerides, high inflammation (c-reactive protein) and other distortions of metabolism.

However, there's one compromise: We include use of non-nutritive sweeteners. It's therefore important to know that artificial sweeteners are not all created equal.

One common tripping point: maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin is composed of polymers (repeating subunits) of glucose, as few as 3 or as many as 20 or more glucose subunits. So maltodextrin is glucose sugar. While it lacks the especially destructive pentose sugar, fructose, maltodextrin is metabolized to glucose and thereby increases blood sugar substantially.

Many artificial sweeteners are bulked up with maltodextrin. For instance, granulated Splenda and Stevia in the Raw, two sweeteners billed as low-calorie and sugar-free that is used on a cup-for-cup basis like sugar, are primarily maltodextrin--with only a teensy bit of Splenda or stevia.

The best artificial sweeteners, i.e., the most benign without a load of maltodextrin, are:

Liquid stevia--Just the extract from stevia leaves and water. It can be a bit pricey, e.g., $10 for a 2 oz bottle, but a little goes a long way.

Truvia--While I'm not too fond of the manufacturer (Cargill), I believe that Truvia is among the better sweeteners around. It is a mixture of the natural sugar, erythritol, that generates little to no blood sugar effects and rebiana (rebaudioside), an isolate of stevia. Some people aren't too fond of the mild menthol-like cooling effect of the erythritol nor the slight aftertaste. I find it works pretty well in most recipes.

Be aware that, no matter which artificial sweetener you use, it has the potential to stimulate appetite. I therefore like to not eat foods sweetened with liquid stevia or Truvia in isolation but as part of a meal. That way, any appetite stimulation that results is substantially quelled by the proteins and fats ingested.

Sugar Nation

Former Men's Health editor, Jeff O'Connell, has just released his new book, Sugar Nation.

Back in 2009, Jeff contacted me to obtain some background insights into diabetes and its relationship with diet. He recently sent me a copy of his new book that contains some brief quotes from me.

Jeff is a writer, not a physician nor scientist. But I think that you will find his grasp of diabetes and the nutritional and lifestyle events that led him there far exceed the insights held by most practicing physicians. Like many of us, Jeff discovered how to find his way back from pre-diabetes through lessons he had to learn on his own, but not from his doctor.

Jeff tells this story as reporter, son of an estranged diabetic father with whom he reconnects as he approaches the end of his life, and as fellow sufferer of the pre-diabetic/diabetic mess that modern habits and "official" dietary advice have given us. Jeff's book is worth a read to see yet another dimension of the human stories that are emerging from this incredible nutritional tangle we find ourselves in.

Here's a unique YouTube video about Jeff's story.

Track Your Plaque makes Consumer Reports!

. . . but not in a good way.

The September, 2011 issue of Consumer Reports showcases their Protect Your Heart discussion. Third paragraph: "The website Track Your Plaque warns, 'The old tests for heart disease were wrong--dead wrong.' It says heart scans are 'the most important health test you can get.'"

They go on to expose the overuse of heart procedures like angioplasty and stent implantation and offer their advice on how to manage heart disease risk: lower BP, reduce LDL cholesterol, lose weight, stop smoking, take aspirin. They quote Dr. Paul Ridker who declares heart scans are not useful because the "deposits cardiologists worry about are the less stable plaques that CT scans routinely miss."

I thought I'd been transported back to 1995. Not only is it clear that the Consumer Report writers never looked beyond the homepage of Track Your Plaque, but somehow saw our heart disease prevention and reversal program as promoting heart procedures. Incredible.

Of course, the Track Your Plaque program does the exact opposite: Advocates an approach that virtually eliminates the need for procedures and returns control over heart disease to the participant. That's a critical difference.

And, as I've had to remind my colleagues time and time again, what we are really after is an index of total coronary atherosclerotic plaque. Even in 2011, that index remains the simple coronary calcium score, a gauge of total plaque, not just of "hard," stable plaque. Perhaps in 10 years we will be using a better tool to gauge progression and regression of all the components of coronary atherosclerotic plaque, but today it remains the simple, accessible, mammogram-like coronary calcium score.

Consumer Reports does for the idea of heart disease prevention what food manufacturers do for health and weight loss: Echo conventional wisdom of the sort that generally makes us fatter, more diabetic, leads us to more heart procedures and needless deaths. I might use Consumer Reports to rate MP-3 devices or toasters, but I certainly would not rely on them for insightful health advice.

Paging Dr. Basedow

A 23-year old man came to my office having experienced weeks of extreme anxiety, palpitations, and 19 pounds of weight loss triggered by an overactive thyroid.

It all happened because of a large dose of iodine received during a CT scan using iodine-containing x-ray dye. (X-ray dyes are made visible on x-ray due to the iodine content.) This is a reaction first described in the 19th century by German physician, Karl Adolph von Basedow. (Jod is German for iodine.)[caption id="attachment_4313" align="alignleft" width="217" caption="Dr. von Basedow. Image courtesy Wikipedia"][/caption]

Now, here's the kicker: Jod-Basedow only occurs when there is pre-existing iodine deficiency. Indeed, this young man had an enlarged thyroid, signaling longstanding iodine deficiency (a goiter).

This example is among the more flagrant examples of something I have been witnessing: the return of iodine deficiency. As Americans cut back on their intake of iodized salt and fail to obtain iodine in sufficient quantities from seafood, seaweed, or supplementation, goiters and iodine deficiency are making a return in all its glory, reminiscent of the early 20th century, pre-iodized salt.

This young man's frightening experience is yet another way iodine deficiency can show itself, by the overenthusiastic thyroid response to a large dose of iodine when iodine deficiency has been present for a prolonged period.

Iodine deficiency and goiters have been lost to memory for most people. Even the FDA, in its advice for Americans to reduce salt and sodium intake, have forgotten to remind everyone to obtain iodine from an alternative source. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Get your iodine.

Carb counting

In the recent Heart Scan Blog post, Can I eat quinoa, I discussed how non-wheat carbohydrate sources like quinoa, amaranth, black beans, brown rice, fruit, etc. do not exert the inflammation-provoking, appetite-increasing effects of wheat (since gliadin and gluten are not present), nor do they increase blood glucose as enthusiastically as the amylopectin A of wheat--but non-wheat grains can still increase blood sugar quite substantially.

Of course, any food that triggers blood sugar also trigger hepatic de novo lipogenesis, thereby increasing triglyceride levels and postprandial particles (e.g., chylomicron remnants), which, in turn, triggers formation of small LDL particles.

So these non-wheat carbohydrates, or what I call "intermediate carbohydrates" (for lack of a better term; low-glycemic index is falsely reassuring) still trigger all the carbohydrate phenomena of table sugar. Is it possible to obtain the fiber, B-vitamin, flavonoid benefits of these intermediate carbohydrates without triggering the undesirable carbohydrate consequences?

Yes, by using small portions. Small portions are tolerated by most people without triggering all these phenomena. Problem: Individual sensitivity varies widely. One person's perfectly safe portion size is another person's deadly dose. For instance, I've witnessed many extreme differences, such as 1-hour blood sugar after 6 oz unsweetened yogurt of 250 mg/dl in one person, 105 mg/dl in another. So checking 1-hour blood sugars is a confident means of assessing individual sensitivity to carbs.

Some people don't like the idea of checking blood sugars, however. Or, there might be times when it's inconvenient or unavailable. A useful alternative: Count carbohydrate grams. (Count "net" carbohydrate grams, of course, i.e., carbohydrates minus indigestible fiber grams to yield "net" carbs.) Most people can tolerate around 40-50 grams carbohydrates per day and deal with them effectively, provided they are spaced out throughout the day and not all at once. Only the most sensitive, e.g., diabetics, apo E2 people, those with familial hypertriglyceridemia, are intolerant to even this amount and do better with less than 30 grams per day. Then there are the genetically gifted from a carbohydrate perspective, people who can tolerate 50-60 grams, occasionally somewhat more.

People will sometimes say things like "You don't know what the hell you're talking about because I eat 200 grams carbohydrate per day and I'm normal weight and have perfect blood sugar and lipids." As in many things, the crude measures made are falsely reassuring. Glycation, for instance, from postprandial blood sugars of "only" 140 mg/dl--typical after, say, unsweetened oatmeal--still works its unhealthy magic and will lead long-term to cataracts, arthritis, and other conditions.

Humans were not meant to consume an endless supply of readily-digestible carbohydrates. Counting carbohydrates is another way to "tighten up" a carbohydrate restriction.

One hour blood sugar: Key to carbohydrate control and reversing diabetes

Diabetics are instructed to monitor blood glucose first thing in the morning and two hours after eating. This helps determine whether blood sugar is controlled with medications like metformin, Januvia, Byetta injections, or insulin.

But that's not how you use blood sugar to use to prevent or reverse diabetes. Two-hour blood sugars are also of no help in deciding whether you have halted glycation, or glucose modification of proteins the process that leads to cataracts, brittle cartilage and arthritis, oxidation of small LDL particles, atherosclerosis, kidney disease, etc.

So the key is to check one-hour after-eating (postprandial) blood sugars, a time when blood glucose peaks after consumption of carbohydrates. (It may peak somewhat sooner or later, depending on factors such as how much fluid was in the meal; protein, fat, and fiber content; presence of foods like vinegar that slow gastric emptying; the form of carbohydrate such as amylopectin A vs. amylopectin B, amylose, fructose, along with other factors. Once in a while, you might consider constructing your own postprandial glucose curve by doing fingersticks every 15 minutes to determine when your peak occurs.)

I reject the insane notion that after-eating blood sugars of less than 200 mg/dl are acceptable, the value accepted widely as the cutoff for health. Blood sugars this high occurring with any regularity ensure cataracts, arthritis, and all the other consequences of cumulative glycation. I therefore aim to keep one-hour after-eating glucoses 100 mg/dl or less. If you start in a pre-diabetic or diabetic range of, say, 120 mg/dl, then I advise people to not allow blood glucose to go any higher. A pre-meal blood glucose of 120 mg/dl would therefore be followed by an after-eating blood glucose of no higher than 120 mg/dl.

No doubt: This is strict. But people who do this:

--Lose weight from visceral fat
--Heighten insulin sensitivity
--Drop blood pressure
--Drop HbA1c and fasting glucose over time
--Reduce small LDL and other carbohydrate-sensitive measures

By the way, if you inadvertently trigger a high blood sugar like I did when I took my kids to the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, go for a walk, bike, or burn the sugar off with a 30-minute or longer physical effort. Check your blood sugar again and it should be back in desirable range. But then learn from your lesson: Eliminate or reduce portion size of the culprit carbohydrate food.

Wheat Belly coming to bookstores!

Anyone following the conversations on these pages know that I have some very serious concerns about this thing being sold to us called "wheat"--cause it ain't wheat! It is the result of incredible genetics shenanigans inflicted on this plant, mostly in the name of increased yield per acre.

I now classify wheat as "Public Enemy #1," the prime nutritional culprit underlying obesity, heart disease, "cholesterol" abnormalities, hypertension, arthritis, psychiatric illness, and on and on. Once you read the full story, I believe that you will agree: Modern Triticum aestivum, the plant that now serves as the source for virtually all the wheat flour products now consumed--organic, whole grain, multigrain, sprouted . . . it makes no difference--does not belong in the human diet. So many people, searching for solutions for their fatigue, weight gain, leg edema, incurable rashes, joint pain, etc., will find their answers here.

Wheat Belly: Lose the wheat, lose the weight and find your path back to health will be on bookstore shelves including Barnes and Noble August 30, 2011 or is available for preorder here at Amazon. Wheat Belly will also be available as a downloadable Kindle book and as unabridged audio CDs.

You can also follow the Wheat Belly conversations on my Wheat Belly Blog. One of my recent posts discusses the herbicide-resistant semi-dwarf wheat strain, Clearfield, that is now making its way to more and more supermarket shelves.

You'll also find more conversation on the Wheat Belly Facebook pages.

The exception to low-carb

I witness spectacular results restricting carbohydrates, both in the office as well as in my online experiences, such as those in Track Your Plaque. Of course, the diet I advocate is not just low-carb; it starts with elimination of wheat (for a long list of reasons). So the diet is wheat-free in the setting of low-carbohydrate.

What does this accomplish? Here's a partial list:

--Weight loss-Specifically, loss of visceral fat, the kind hinted at on the surface as "love handles" or what I call "wheat belly."
--Reduced blood sugar and HbA1c (reflecting prior 60-90 days glucose)
--Marked reduction in small LDL and triglycerides, increased HDL
--Reduced inflammatory measures like c-reactive protein
--Reduced leptin and leptin resistance, increased adiponectin
--Reduced estrogen and prolactin in men, accompanied by shrinkage or loss of enlarged breasts ("man boobs"); reduced estrogen in females accompanied by reduced risk for breast cancer

Pretty impressive. But there's one group of people who can experience unexpected effects with this diet: The 25% of people with apoprotein E4.

Everybody has two genes for apo E; the most common type is apo E 3/3. Around 1 in 4 people have 1, less commonly 2, genes for apo E4.

I hate apo E4. I hate apo E4 because it means I've got to dust off the nonsense I used to tell patients about cutting their fat, cutting their saturated fat. But that's what apo E4 people have to do. But it doesn't end there.

Apo E4 people also typically have plenty of small LDL particles triggered by carbohydrates. Put fats and carbohydrates together and you get an explosion of small LDL particles. Remove fats, small LDL goes down a little bit, if at all. Remove carbohydrates, small LDL goes down but total LDL (mostly large) goes up. The large LDL in apo E4 does seem to be atherogenic (plaque-causing), though the data are fairly skimpy.

So apo E4 creates a nutritional rock and a hard place: To extract full advantage from diet, people with apo E4 have to 1) go wheat-free, low-carb, then 2) not overdo fats, especially saturated fat.

It still gives me the creeps to tell an apo E4 person that they've got to watch their fats, worse than watching Starsky and Hutch reruns.