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.

Can I eat quinoa?

. . . or beans, or brown rice, or sweet potatoes? Or how about amaranth, sorghum, oats, and buckwheat? Surely corn on the cob is okay!

These are, of course, non-wheat carbohydrates. They lack several crucial undesirable ingredients found in our old friend, wheat, including no:

Gliadin--The protein that degrades to exorphins, the compound from wheat digestion that exerts mind effects and stimulates appetite to the tune of 400 additional calories (on average) per day.
Gluten--The family of proteins that trigger immune diseases and neurologic impairment.
Amylopectin A--The highly-digestible "complex" carbohydrate that is no better--worse, in fact--than table sugar.

So why not eat these non-wheat grains all you want? If they don't cause appetite stimulation, behavioral outbursts in children with ADHD, addictive consumption of foods, dementia (i.e., gluten encephalopathy), etc., why not just eat them willy nilly?

Because they still increase blood sugar. Conventional wisdom is that these foods trend towards having a lower glycemic index than, say, table sugar, meaning it raises blood glucose less.

That's true . . . but very misleading. Oats, for instance, with a glycemic index of 55 compared to table sugar's 59, still sends blood sugar through the roof. Likewise, quinoa with a glycemic index of 53, will send blood sugar to, say, 150 mg/dl compared to 158 mg/dl for table sugar--yeah, sure, it's better, but it still stinks. And that's in non-diabetics. It's worse in diabetics.

Of course, John Q. Internist will tell you that, provided your blood sugars after eating don't exceed 200 mg/dl, you'll be okay. What he's really saying is "There's no need for diabetes medication, so you're okay. You will still be exposed to the many adverse health consequences of high blood sugar similar to, though less quickly than, a full diabetic, but that's not my problem."

In reality, most people can get away with consuming some of these non-wheat grains . . . provided portion size is limited. Beyond limiting portion size, there are two ways to better manage your carbohydrate sensitivity to ensure that metabolic distortions, such as high blood sugar, glycation, and small LDL particles, are not triggered.

More on that in the future.

Lipoproteins . . . zero!

With the recent refinements in our approach to correction of the lipoprotein abnormalities that lead to coronary plaque and heart disease risk, I have been witnessing more and more people achieve:

Small LDL particles 0 nmol/L
Lipoprotein(a) 0 nmol/L

For instance, Ted, a 58-year old man I saw in the office today started with:

Small LDL 1673 nmol/L
Lipoprotein(a) 219 nmol/L

In other words, both small LDL particles and lipoprotein(a) are being knocked down to zero values.

Incidentally, the combination of lipoprotein(a) with small LDL is among the most atherogenic (atherosclerotic plaque-causing) patterns known. Despite his athletic, slender build and avoidance of unhealthy habits, Ted's heart scan score was 922--very high.

So Ted followed the diet I advocate, i.e., wheat elimination followed by elimination of cornstarch, oats, and sugars; high-dose fish oil (total daily EPA + DHA of 6000 mg/day); vitamin D supplementation sufficient to achieve a 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml; iodine supplementation; and thyroid normalization which, in Ted's case, required supplementation with the T3 thyroid hormone, liothyronine, at a small dose.

The result:

Small LDL particles 0 nmol/L
Lipoprotein(a) 0 nmol/L

Not everybody, of course, is achieving these incredible--and previously impossible--results. But the numbers are growing. Ted is the third person to achieve zeroes all around, in fact, over the past 10 days.

Heart disease prevention is getting better and more powerful every day. And it ain't all about Lipitor and low-fat.

Chocolate almond biscotti

Biscotti are twice-baked biscuits or cookies that are perfect for dipping into coffee, latté, or espresso. These wheat-free, low-carb biscotti are rich with the taste of chocolate and almonds.

Yield: approximately 15 biscotti


2 cups almond meal
½ cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder (undutched)
½ cup dark chocolate chips
Sweetener equivalent to ½ cup sugar (e.g., liquid stevia, Truvia)
½ cup ricotta cheese, room temperature (replace with coconut milk if lactose intolerant)
4 tablespoons butter, melted (replace with coconut oil if lactose intolerant)
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk, unsweetened almond milk, or soy milk
¼ cup almond, peanut, or sunflower seed butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Mix almond meal, walnuts, sweetener, cocoa powder, and chocolate chips in bowl. Mix in ricotta, butter, eggs, milk, and nut butter and blend by hand thoroughly.

Pour mix onto baking pan lined with parchment paper or greased with coconut oil or other oil. Shape into loaf approximately 1 inch deep and 3½ to 4 inches in width. Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Remove loaf and allow to cool 15 minutes. Slice into approximately ¾-inch widths and lay each biscotto on its side on baking pan. Put back in oven for 10 minutes.

Remove pan and flip biscotti over. Place back in oven and bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove and cool.

Optional: For a little dark chocolate "icing":
Melt 3-4 oz semisweet or dark chocolate in microwave (in 15 second increments until melted) or in metal bowl placed in heated water. Stir in 1-2 teaspoons butter.
Dip each biscotti into melted chocolate mix or drizzle chocolate mixture over top of each biscotto.

Sun green tea

Here's a great way to enjoy the health benefits of green tea during the summer: sun green tea.

I dropped two green tea bags into approximately one-half gallon of cold water in a clear glass jar. I placed the jar in the sun (with top on) for four hours, then brought it into the kitchen. I served it as iced tea with a slice of lemon and mint leaf.

The sun green tea was a smoother than standard green tea brewed with hot water. Ordinarily, if you brew hot green tea for more than 3-5 minutes, it becomes more bitter or tannic. This sun green tea, despite steeping for four hours, was not the least bit bitter or tannic.

The green tea lasted well for about 48 hours, more than enough to enjoy several glasses per day.