Victim of Post-Traumatic Grain Disorder

Heart Scan Blog reader, Mike, shared his story with me. He was kind enough to allow me to reprint it here (edited slightly for brevity).

Dr. Davis,

I was much intrigued to stumble onto your blog. Heart disease, nutrition, and wellness are critically important to me, because I’m a type 2 diabetic. I’m 53 and was diagnosed as diabetic about 5 years ago, though I suspect I was either diabetic or pre-diabetic 5 years before that. Even in a metropolitan area it's next-to-impossible to find doctors sympathetic to any approach beyond the standard get-the-A1c-below 6.5, get LDL <100, get your weight and blood pressure normal, and take metformin and statins.

I’m about 5’10-and-a-half and when I was young I had to stuff myself to keep weight on; it was an effort to get to 150 pounds, and as a young man, 165 was the holy grail for me. I always felt I’d look better with an extra 10-15 pounds.
I ate whatever I wanted, mostly junk, I guess, in my younger years.

When I hit about age 35, I put on 30 pounds seemingly overnight. As I moved toward middle age I became concerned with the issue of heart health, and around that time Dr. Ornish came out with his stuff. I was impressed that he’d done a
study that supposedly showed measurable decrease in atherosclerotic plaque, and had published the results of his research in peer-reviewed journals. It looked to me as though he had the evidence; who could argue with that? I tried his plan on and off, but as so many people note, an almost-vegan diet is really tough. It was for me, and I could never do it for any length of time. But given that the “evidence” said that I should, I kept trying, and kept beating up on myself when I failed. And I kept gaining weight. I got to almost 200 pounds by the time I was 40 and have a strong suspicion that that’s what caused my blood sugar to go awry, but my doctor at the time never checked my blood sugar, and as a relatively young and healthy man, I never went in very often.

I’ve had bouts of PSVT [paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, a rapid heart rhythm] every now and again since I was 12 or so. I used to convert the rhythm with Valsalva, but as I moved into my forties, occasionally my blood pressure would be elevated and it made me nervous to do the procedure because it was my understanding that it spikes your blood pressure when you do it. So I began going to the ER to have the rhythm converted, which they do quite easily with adenosine. On one of my infrequent runs to the ER to get a bout of PSVT converted, they discovered my blood glucose was 500 mg/dL, and I’d never experienced any symptoms! They put me in the hospital and gave me a shot of insulin, got it town to 80 mg/dL easily,
diagnosed me as diabetic, and put me on 500 mg. metformin a day.

I was able to get my A1c down to 7, then down to 6.6, and about that time I read a number of Dr. Agatston’s books, and began following the diet, and pretty quickly got my A1c down to 6.2, and my weight down, easily, to 158. That was fine with my doctor; he acted as though I was in good shape with those numbers. Soon I ran into Dr. Bernstein’s material, and came face to face with a body of research that suggested I needed to get the A1c down to below 5! That was both discouraging and inspiring, and frankly it’s been difficult for me to eat as lo-carb as I appear to need to, so I swing back and forth between 6.2 and 6.6. I know I need to work harder, be more diligent in my carb control, and I see with my meter that if I eat low-carb I have great postprandial and fasting blood sugars, but since I don’t particularly get any support or encouragement from
either my doctor or my wife for being so “radical,” it’s hard to pass the carbs by.

One thing that always confused me was that though I saw on my meter that BG [blood glucose] readings were better with a lo-carb diet, and though I saw the preliminary research suggesting that lo-carb could be beneficial in controlling CVD, I didn’t understand why Ornish had peer-reviewed research demonstrating reversal of atherosclerosis on a very-lowfat diet. How could two opposing approaches both help? I wondered if it were possible that one diet is good for diabetes, and the
other good for heart health. That would mean diabetics are screwed, because they always seem to end up with heart disease.

From time to time I’d look for material that explained this seeming contradiction. I was determined to try to stay lo-carb, simply because I saw how much better my blood sugars are when I eat lo-carb; but it’s hard in the face of this or that website that tells you about all the dangers of a lo-carb diet and that touts the lo-fat approach. That tends to be the conventional wisdom anyway.

Finally in one of those searches I came across your material, and saw you offer what was at last an explanation of what Ornish had discovered--it wasn’t a reversal of atherosclerotic plaques he was seeing; it was that his diet was improving endothelial dysfunction in people who had had high fat intakes.

Odd as it may seem to you, that little factlet has been enough to allow me to discard entirely the lingering ghost of a suspicion that I ought to be eating very-lowfat. In fact, I was very excited to see your claim that your approach can reverse atherosclerotic plaque.

It would be nice to find a doctor who’d be supportive of your approach. My doctor isn’t much interested in diet or
nutrition. He just wants my weight in the acceptable range, my blood pressure good, and my LDL 100 or below (which I know isn’t low enough). He’s not particularly interested in getting a detailed lipid report. I hope I can talk him into ordering one so that it’s more likely I can get it covered by my insurance.

I very much appreciated the links you gave to Jenny’s diabetes websites, and I’ve resolved to get even better control of my BG by being more diligent with my diet. I’m planning on joining your site, reading your book, and following your advice. I just have this sort of deflating feeling that it would have been better if I’d stumbled upon this before I had diabetes. Still, it’s nice to have a site that offers to laypeople the best knowledge available concerning how to take care of their heart.

Mike is yet another "victim" of the "eat healthy whole grains" national insanity, the Post-Traumatic Grain Disorder, or PTGD. The low-fat dietary mistake has left many victims in its wake, having to deal with the aftermath of corrupt high-carbohydrate diets: diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

We should all hope and pray that "low-fat, eat healthy whole grains" goes the way of Detroit gas guzzlers and sub-prime mortgages.

Comments (14) -

  • Gretchen

    6/20/2009 2:03:19 PM |

    I don't think Ornish has ever shown that his diet results in plaque regression. What he showed was that his total program, including diet, exercise, stress reduction, giving up smoking, and lots of peer support reduced plaque. Then everyone ascribes the results to the diet alone.

    This is analogous to the studies that lump red meat into a diet group that includes cold cuts, sausages (including chicken sausage) and a lot of other things and then blame the red meat for the poorer results.

    You never see headlines saying "Chicken (sausage) is bad for you."

  • Peter

    6/20/2009 3:05:10 PM |

    I appreciate that letter, because I also try to keep on current research and it's hard to know which research to believe, since there's a fair amount of research that supports whole grains and a fair amount that supports a low carbohydrate diet.  I'm not a true believer type, so I'm looking forward to better research.  I notice that in Gary Taubes's book he says there has been no trustworthy research comparing the low carb and the whole food/whole grain diets, and I'm looking forward to it when it comes out.

  • Tom

    6/20/2009 5:44:16 PM |

    Yes, my guess is that *stress reduction* is key to the Ornish plan. The other components are really just contributors to this overall result, with the exception of the vegetable diet, which probably doesn't help.

    I don't write an excellent blog or care for any patients. Perhaps I may therefore indulge my speculations, safe in the knowledge that those who wish to ignore me will feel free to do so:

    Stress is normally thought of as something unpleasant that we try to avoid. And indeed it is, partly we do try to avoid it.

    But in truth we are addicted to stress. We interpret a rapidly beating heart, high blood pressure, racing thoughts, etc, as pleasurable.

    And they are. Or at least they seem to be (hangovers aside), from the perspective of the part of us that experiences them.

    Trouble is they are damaging to the whole. For example, pleasure/stress numbs subtle feelings which might otherwise yield clues to solving our personal problems. Our immune systems our temporarily dampened (presumably an evolutionary adaptation).

    Only relaxation and meditation (which we all do to a certain extent, whether we realise it or not), allow the mind to re-integrate and experience the deeper, forgotten joy of being alive.

    I believe that here, and not in calorie burning, lies the secret benefit of exercise: diverting attention into the body and away from the frenetic mind.

    I have no evidence for this that I can share, only a limited amount of fallible personal experience. But let me say that I have *felt* my blood pressure go down after a meditation session.

    And upon standing up afterwards, I've become dizzy, which is a symptom of hypotension!

  • Anne

    6/20/2009 6:36:35 PM |

    In a totally uncontrolled study of one, here are the results.

    While on the American Heart Association diet my lipids peaked in 2003. I even tried the Ornish diet for a short time, but found it impossible.
    Total Cholesterol: 201
    Triglycerides: 263
    HDL: 62
    LDL: 86

    After I stopped eating gluten(I am very sensitive) my lipid panel improved slightly. This past year I started eating to keep my blood sugar under control by eliminating sugars and other grains. Now this is my most recent lab:
    Total Cholesterol: 162
    Triglycerides: 80
    HDL: 71
    LDL: 75

    Not perfect, but getting there. I think I had a very serious case of post traumatic grain disorder.

  • TedHutchinson

    6/20/2009 9:39:05 PM |

    Gary Taubes recent lecture
    For those who haven't yet read
    Gary Taubes Good Calories Bad Calories
    this talk is based on just a fraction of the research he discusses in greater detail in the book.
    There are earlier version of this lecture online, this version is slicker, more jokes, and you can use the thumbnail slides to move around faster.
    Slides 41~49 are the crux of the matter.
    Interesting to hear what he says right at the end of slide 48.

  • Dr. William Davis

    6/21/2009 2:24:20 AM |


    I love it!

    I'd like to post your numbers in a future Heart Scan Blog post.

    Thanks for sharing. Your experience is bound to help others also "see the light."

  • Kateryna

    6/21/2009 3:24:36 AM |

    Dr. Davis:

    I'm 59 years old, was very sick, and if I had waited as others do for scientists to come to a consensus about diet and nutrition and for studies to be done, I would have died 13 years ago.

    If you value your health a short 1 month trial of a grain free diet will tell you immediately if it's right for you especially if you have health issues. Don't be afraid to experiment.

    As I said, I'm 59 and I'm still overweight, but I have resolved almost all my health issues by eliminating all sugar, processed foods and all grains and here are my latest lipids:

    Total: 182
    LDL: 95
    HDL: 65
    Trigs: 104
    Ratio: 2.6

    Also not perfect, but I know it will only get better as it has been for years.

  • Anonymous

    6/21/2009 4:25:40 AM |

    Some of the readers of this blog should be gluten free and not just wheat free. How to find which ones?
    IMO, Mike's difficulty in keeping on weight as a younger man indicates he should consider further testing for gluten intolerance or perhaps other food intolerances.

  • Anne

    6/21/2009 12:46:12 PM |

    Dr. Davis, you have my permission to post my numbers, use my name and use my picture.

    Thank you for thinking outside the box. I have coronary artery disease and had bypass in 2000 and I don't want to do that again ever. By incorporating TYP guidelines into my life, I feel I have greatly decreased  my odds of having more heart problems.

  • Anonymous

    6/21/2009 5:33:26 PM |

    I tried moving back to meat and giving up wheat/grains.  My blood lipid chemistry did not improve and I have to remind myself, a meat based diet is how I got here in the first place (2002) and why my father and his brothers had heart attacks at relatively young ages.

    Until I see a pier reviewed study showing grains are causal to heart disease, I'm going back to what has kept me from suffering the same fate as my father. No animal products in my diet.

    I'm off to make a few seitan steaks for the bbq

  • Grandma S.

    6/22/2009 12:11:12 AM |

    I am very impressed with your results.  Having trouble getting my husband's & my LDLs that low.  Would like to know in more detail how you are doing it, can you email me? Thank You!

  • Dr. Usha C

    7/22/2009 7:02:29 PM |

    Homeopathy Diet Planning
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  • simvastatin side effects

    5/23/2011 7:41:44 AM |

    Only relaxation and meditation (which we all do to a certain extent, whether we realise it or not), allow the mind to re-integrate and experience the deeper, forgotten joy of being alive.

  • Vegan4life

    5/8/2013 10:49:01 AM |

    Well said, Anonymous!  Going VEGAN (and not merely vegetarian) is best for ones health, mind and spirit - and vital for anyone who has heart and/or weight problems, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, asthma, etc., or a family history thereof.

    "Anonymous says:

    June 21, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    I tried moving back to meat and giving up wheat/grains. My blood lipid chemistry did not improve and I have to remind myself, a meat based diet is how I got here in the first place (2002) and why my father and his brothers had heart attacks at relatively young ages.

    Until I see a pier reviewed study showing grains are causal to heart disease, I'm going back to what has kept me from suffering the same fate as my father. No animal products in my diet... "