Optimizing Health through Diet

In this video from our friends on the Low Carb Down Under channel, Dr. Paul Mason , one of my Health Sherpas, covers many interesting points. Some of the highlights:

  • His personal experience with developing metabolic syndrome, and the relative lack of dietary teachings he received in medical school.
  • How medical school teaches doctors to prescribe medications, but not how to de-prescribe medications when patients begin to reverse metabolic syndrome.
  • The vegan vs. carnivore dietary controversy, and the relative strengths and drawbacks of each. Both are superior to the standard Australian (or American) diet – or SAD.
  • Limitations of nutritional research, including food frequency questionnaires that rely on faulty memories, the healthy user bias and misclassification of pizza, for example, as “red meat.”
  • Giving children in Ecuador one egg a day prevented stunted growth. Red meat, dairy and eggs provide the fat needed for brain development in children.
  • The strongest experimental design is a blinded randomized control trial (RCT). A meta-analysis gathers related RCTs and re-analyzes them as if they were one larger study. If you see the words epidemiology, association or correlation in the discussion of a study, you should be hesitant to rely too firmly on the results because of possible confounding factors.
  • At about the 24:00 mark in the video Dr. Mason discusses environmental issues related to plant and animal-based agriculture, and how grazing animals replenish the soil.
  • Cholesterol is essential to human life and is part of all cells. Lipoproteins, e.g. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) transport cholesterol through the blood. Starting at about the 40:00 mark, Dr. Mason discusses the bad science behind the saturated fat/LDL hypothesis, and a meta-analysis that showed LDL levels had an inverse relationship to all-cause mortality: the higher your LDL levels, the longer you lived.
  • Damaged LDL is the the kind that leads to atherosclerosis, and this damage occurs in two ways: glycation (due to high blood sugar levels, which come from too much sugar and carbohydrates), and oxidation. Vegetable and seed oils are more likely to become oxidized, particularly at lower temperatures.
  • The Triglyceride/HDL ratio is a good gauge of whether you have small dense LDL (the dangerous kind, which is called Pattern B), or big, fluffy LDL (Pattern A). This ratio, which you can calculate from a standard lipid panel, is a far better predictor of heart attack risk than LDL cholesterol alone.
  • The problem with laboratory test reference ranges is that they reflect results that encompass 95% of the population, so just because your lab results are in the “normal” range doesn’t mean they’re in a healthy range. Much of the population is not healthy.
  • High protein and Vitamin D are keys to bone density, and in a study of post-menopausal women and men over 65 those with the highest protein intake actually reversed bone loss.
  • Fasting or time-restricted eating are especially helpful for people who are metabolically unhealthy. Even without changing what you eat, you can improve your health by limiting when you eat. (I would add that limiting carbs and becoming fat-adapted makes it easier to limit eating windows.)

There’s lots more, so as you have time I’d encourage you to watch it all. In addition to the points I’ve highlighted above, you’ll hear him drop some truth bombs that you might find jarring because they directly challenge the low-fat, high-carbohydrate orthodoxy promoted by the U.S. government and various medical societies.

An orthodoxy for which the scientific evidence is seriously lacking.

Along with my other Health Sherpas, Dr. Mason’s perspective has helped to reorient my thinking on what is a healthy diet as Lisa and I have been on our health journey over the last few years.

We’ve each lost more than 50 lbs. and have been informally coaching others who have massively improved their health, energy and vitality, with significant weight loss as a welcome side effect.

Based on that experience, I retired in August to launch a new venture we’re developing together with a long-time friend and primary care physician who has had an interest in metabolic syndrome for decades.

We’ll be providing education, community support and coaching to people looking to turn back the clock on their health. Some also will be eligible to take advantage of a direct primary care option.

If you’re interested in learning more, send me an email and I’ll be in touch to give you opportunities for a preview.

Attacking the Axis of Illness through a Ketogenic Diet

While a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet has been increasingly recognized as an effective way to lose weight, and while weight loss may be the initial motivation for many to embrace it, the health benefits are much broader and deeper than just weight loss.

As David Harper, Ph.D. says in the video below, keto benefits beyond weight loss include:

  • Lower blood triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol
  • Reversing insulin resistance, making blood sugar and insulin more stable
  • Less systemic inflammation and pain, and
  • Improved energy, stamina and flexibility.

He also highlights several diseases for which strong evidence exists showing that a ketogenic diet is beneficial, as well as others for which the evidence is emerging.

The money quote…

I actually think that all of these chronic diseases…are all the same thing…. I think in the next 10 years you’re going to see a lot of medical research looking at the mitochondria…and that’s where we’re going to find the root cause of chronic disease.

Dr. Harper also presented an interesting graphic that illustrates how a high-carbohydrate diet drives insulin resistance, inflammation and obesity and resulting chronic disease.

Finally, he shares information about a study in which he is involved that is using a ketogenic diet in addition to customary therapies in women with breast cancer, and shows PET scans of these patients who have seen reduction in tumor size and extent.

Dr. Harper is the author of a book called BioDiet: The Scientifically Proven, Ketogenic Way to Lose Weight and Improve Health, which I ordered based on this presentation (as well as favorable reviews from two of my Health Sherpas, Nina Teicholz and Maria Emmerich) and expect to receive today.

Well worth your time to watch:

I retired in August from leading Mayo Clinic’s social media program to start a new venture with my wife Lisa and a family physician friend I’ve known since high school. 

He has been interested in metabolic syndrome for more than 20 years, and with nearly nine of ten of Americans having at least one marker of metabolic ill health, he sees this as the major health challenge we face as a society.

Our mission is to help people take control of their own health through lifestyle changes. A low-carbohydrate diet as Dr. Harper describes is one key element.

I was motivated to launch this venture by our health journey from the last few years. Lisa and I have each lost more than 50 lbs. and maintained that weight loss for 18 months (so far). 

For the last 10 months or so we’ve been coaching others in making similar changes, and they’ve experienced great results too. 

We also have medical lab test results that show significant health improvements, and we feel better than we have in 20 years. It was really rewarding to see people we were coaching turning back the clock on their health, and I found myself saying, “I’d like to do this full-time.”

As it turns out, I can.

That’s why I say my August retirement was really instead the beginning of a third career. I worked at Mayo Clinic for 21 years in health care media relations and social media, after 14 years in politics and government.

I hope my third career will be longer and have more impact than either of the first two. 

We’re currently in the Alpha phase of development, as we plan to offer educational resources, online community support and individual and group coaching.

If you’re interested in being one of our Alpha members who will help us shape and refine the services, send me an email and I’ll be in touch to give you a preview.

Challenging Seven Nutrition Myths

The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has more than tripled in the last generation.

Dittos for obesity.

Alzheimer’s disease was unknown a century ago, and now almost every family has had a loved one affected.

Cardiovascular disease is still the #1 killer of men and women, although cancer is fighting for supremacy.

All of these are related to metabolic syndrome, and almost nine of ten Americans either already have it or have at least one marker of metabolic ill health.

It’s certainly NOT a genetic problem. Our gene pool could not have changed that much in a generation.

This raises two possibilities:

  1. Americans are systematically and overwhelmingly ignoring the health and dietary advice of their doctors, the government health agencies and the health care establishment. They just don’t care or totally lack self-control. Or
  2. The conventional advice they’ve been getting, and which they’ve mostly tried to follow, is wrong or at least less than optimal. It doesn’t work.

In the video below one of my Health Sherpas, Dr. Zoe Harcombe, whose Ph.D. examined the evidence for dietary fat guidelines and found it lacking, outlines seven tenets of conventional dietary wisdom:

  1. A pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories.
  2. Creating a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories will produce a pound of fat loss.
  3. Animal fat is saturated and plant fat is unsaturated.
  4. Saturated fat causes heart disease.
  5. Cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease.
  6. Whole grains are healthy.
  7. Getting five servings of fruit and vegetable per day is essential to health.

Her conclusion:

Watch it for yourself, and then go to her website where you can see that she has the evidence to back her assertions. She’s got the receipts.

This is simultaneously maddening (because we’ve been given such bad conventional “wisdom” for more than four decades) and also extremely encouraging news, because it points to the possibility of a more enjoyable and healthier way to live.

As Lisa and I have been on our health journey over the last several years, we’ve reclaimed and restored our health and vitality by taking a path that would be much more familiar to our ancestors than what is currently recommended by the dietary establishment.

We’ve been coaching friends in these same changes for about the last 10 months, and they’ve seen great results too.

I retired from Mayo Clinic last month mainly because I wanted to start a third career, launching a new venture.

We’re joining with a friend (and my high school classmate) who has 30 years of experience as a family physician and a long-term interest in metabolic syndrome.

We’ll be providing information and education people can apply to improve their health through diet and lifestyle modifications, along with an online community and coaching support to help our members make these changes.

We plan to announce details in the coming weeks. If you’re interested in being one of our early members send me an email and I’ll be in touch to give you a preview.

Recommended Reading: Sam Apple’s Ravenous

I just finished listening to the Audible version of Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection, by Sam Apple.

It’s a fascinating story of a brilliant Jewish scientist, Nobel Prize winner Otto Warburg, whose discovery of how cancer cells rely on fermentation because of damaged respiration faded into scientific oblivion until the recent resurgence of interest in metabolic theories of cancer.

It is unfortunate for humanity that Warburg’s key work was done in Germany before and during World War II. Perhaps if he had fled the Nazis as many of his contemporaries did, his theories may have had more impact decades earlier.

I highly recommend this book, and to get a taste of it here’s a CBS This Morning segment in which the author is interviewed:

Spoiler alert: Sugar, and particularly fructose, are the major villains because of the role they play in insulin resistance by increasing insulin levels in the blood, and keeping those levels continually elevated.

Many cancers have a strong association with obesity, but as Apple notes it is not likely that obesity causes cancer, but rather that both obesity and cancer have a common underlying cause.

The Metabolic Syndrome is not only implicated in increasing cancer rates, but also cardiovascular disease, which is the leading killer of both men and women.

That’s why the work Lisa and I are looking to do in helping people overcome poor metabolic health is so exciting to us: it isn’t just or even mainly about weight loss, as welcome as that would be for many people.

It’s about affecting health at a fundamental level.

To learn more about our metabolic health progress (we’ve each lost more than 50 lbs. and have become metabolically healthy), check out My Health Journey.

My #BodyBabySteps offers a condensed version of my basic recommendations. With a physician friend we’re developing a more comprehensive program that will include online education and community support, individual and group coaching and medical care as needed.

If you’re interested in being one of our early participants to help us formulate the venture, send me an email.

The Inspirational Example of Dr. Sarah Hallberg

Thanks to the diet and lifestyle changes Lisa and I have made in the last four years, my life expectancy is now 96.

Dr. Sarah Hallberg is among my Health Sherpas who have guided us in our Health Journey.

That’s why I was looking forward to listening to this week’s episode of Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast, The Drive, when I heard she would be the guest.

Dr. Hallberg has led the Virta Health studies in reversal of Type 2 Diabetes through carbohydrate restriction and active daily counseling.

She’s a true pioneer who has developed the data that make it safe for others to experiment with and advocate for a way of eating that runs counter to prevailing dietary dogma.

In the second half of the podcast, she shifts to telling the story of her lung cancer diagnosis four years ago, and her subsequent journey and learnings. While I had heard of her diagnosis I wasn’t aware just how grim her prognosis was.

Dr. Hallberg gives us a timely reminder that while we can make changes that increase our life expectancy in general, we can’t know what unexpected challenges we will face.

This video is well worth your time, both in its explanation of how carbohydrate restriction fights metabolic disease and in Dr. Hallberg’s inspiring example of continuing to do her important work even while in a cancer battle she knows she won’t win.

She’s hoping to make seven more years, when the youngest of her three children will graduate high school.

You won’t soon forget her jarring story.

While most lung cancers occur in smokers or those who live with smokers, this wasn’t the case for Sarah. She’s done more than most to maintain her metabolic health, and yet she got this inexplicable metastatic lung cancer diagnosis.

This interview increased my already-strong commitment to our monthly #3DayCancerPreventionFast regimen. It’s not a guarantee we won’t get cancer, but it has a plausible prevention mechanism.

And if it has even a slight chance of preventing us from going through what Sarah has experienced, fasting a few consecutive days each month is worth the minor discomfort and inconvenience.

I hope you’ll find Sarah’s metabolic disease teaching as informative, and her personal story as inspiring, as I did.

See also my earlier post that features her TED talk.