We have all known or heard about someone who is the picture of health getting very sick or even dying. He or she didn’t smoke, drank moderately, exercised, were the perfect weight, and followed a healthy diet. In those scenarios we often ask ourselves… “How can that happen, what went wrong?”
As unsatisfying as it is, in most cases we’ll probably never know the answer. The human body and its physiology are incredibly complex and things can go wrong inexplicably, just as there can be miraculous cures in healing that we’re unable to replicate or explain.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has an excellent definition of health that I like very much:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. To me, good health is the ability to maintain the World Health Organization’s definition well into old age. So the 64,000 dollar question is (I know that expression dates me)… What should you and your loved ones be doing, and how do you know it’s working? You’ve heard the following things many times before, but they cannot be repeated enough:
- Exercise – It reminds your body that you expect it to perform, and tells it to do what’s necessary so that it can perform.
- Don’t smoke – Smoking destroys cells, tissues and organs that can only lead to bad health consequences.
- Drink moderately – Consume no more than 1 to 2 alcoholic beverages a day.
- Eat healthy – What the heck does that mean? The other three items are self-explanatory, or easy to understand, but literally dozens of people and groups are pushing fervently if not adamantly a diet they feel is superior and absolutely the best way to eat.
Some well known diets or diets currently getting the most press are (in no particular order):
- Low Carb/High Fat diets. Extreme versions of these diets would be the Ketogenic diet.
- Vegetarian diets
- Mediterranean diets
- The Paleo diet
- The Dash diet
- Low Fat/High Carb diets, such as the Pritikin or Anish diets.
This is may surprise you, but I don’t have or recommend a favorite diet. The only suggestion I can give you with relative certainty is to reduce your intake of simple sugars. These are the sugars that are listed as sugar on your food label, and not carbohydrates.
Keep simple sugars to less than 20 grams per day. Some will say that other carbohydrates also will eventually become sugar so why shouldn’t I reduce or eliminate those as well? And maybe we should! As further research is done and the long-term health benefits and risks of reducing all carbohydrates are better documented, very low carb or ketogenic diets may be the way to go. But for now, as intrigued as I am by these diets, they are extreme and difficult to follow but can result in impressive weight reduction, body fat loss, improved blood sugar and cholesterol labs for some people.
If you need to lose weight and your blood sugar and cholesterol labs results are not what they should be, you can try a very low-carb or ketogenic diet. If you feel good eating this way, follow a low carb diet for a few months, and you may see excellent lab results without the need to try prescription medications. My only hesitation is about staying on this kind of diet long-term. There just isn’t enough long-term safety or evidence of this type of diet decreasing morbidity or mortality, and some people do not react well on it.
Advantages of a Short Term Low-Carbohydrate Diet
One interesting option is to go to your doctor, get your lab levels tested (of the nine panels I mention below), and if they’re off – try a very low carb or ketogenic diet for three months. Though it is not within the scope of this article to explain the total differences between a very low carb diet and a ketogenic diet suffice it to say that a very low-carb diet is less extreme than the ketogenic diet regarding the total number of net carbohydrates you can consume each day. (Net carbohydrates are easily calculated by adding up all the grams of carbs you eat in a day and subtracting your daily consumption of fiber in grams). Very low carbohydrate diets may restrict total net carbs to 100 grams a day, where a ketogenic diet usually restricts carbs to 50 grams a day or less.
It is suggested that once net carbs are restricted to 50 grams a day, or less, our bodies switch from using sugar to energize our brains and muscles to using ketones which are metabolites of fats, because we don’t have enough carbohydrates to provide the energy we need. This is referred to as nutritional ketosis.
At this point, I would like to share with you the impressive improvements that occurred on several of my 9 lab panels after going on a very low carb (but not ketogenic) diet for 3 months. In order for you to fully appreciate how powerfully fast, corrective and effective diet and other suggestions I have described can be (without using one pharmaceutical drug), let me give you some background information.
I am 69 years old, 6′ 4″ and at the time weighed around 185 pounds, with body fat around 16%. I was slim and fairly muscular. Most of my exercise is weight lifting. As many of you know, I am a chemist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition and most of my drug research involves naturally occurring compounds. I tell you this because it’s my nature to be curious, I don’t feel comfortable with status quo and I question a lot of so called “conventional wisdom” pertaining to medicines, drugs and disease. Scientists and researchers “mess with things” in an effort to learn and redefine or improve upon status quo and conventional wisdom.
The following information regarding my personal health results are included for one very important reason; I want you to see for yourself just how fast, powerful and effective dietary changes can be without using even one pharmaceutical drug. These changes can improve, cure and prevent health issues for which drugs are often needlessly prescribed!
For no reason other than curiosity and probably a touch of male ego, I decided that my current relatively healthy diet (which basically just kept sugar – not other carbs – to under 20 grams a day) would not allow me to gain the 5 pounds I had wanted to gain, to get me to 190 pounds. So I added an extra 500 calories a day from carbs, and in a month or two got to 190. I was slightly bigger all over including my waist which went from 34.5 to 35.5 inches. Prior to doing this, all of my nine labs (which are defined and explained below) were all in the normal/healthy range. After increasing my carbs, as you will see from the actual pages of my lab results, several of my 9 panels and one or two others went in the wrong direction. If they stayed there for too long – that could increase numerous health risks and even reduce life expectancy.
Please note that after increasing my carb intake my:
1. A1c level rose to 6 (this should be 5.7 or preferably lower). This is the negative impact of blood sugar on proteins in our bodies.
2. My triglycerides rose to 163 (should be 150 or lower). This is a primary type of circulating fat that can cause heart disease.
3. One of my liver enzymes ALT/SGPT was elevated. It was 50, and should be under 42.
4. My HDL cholesterol (supposedly the “good” cholesterol) dropped significantly to 37, and the recommended level is greater than 40.
5. The Apo B/Apo A-1 ratio (a predictor of heart disease) went into the unhealthy range at 1.2 (Apo B increases atherosclerosis and Apo A-1 reduces it).
Please note that “conventional wisdom” would state that my LDL-C level of 173 is way too high. I couldn’t disagree more. The 100 billion dollar pharmaceutical market, built around convincing both physicians and patients to take drugs to reduce levels of LDL to ridiculously low levels, is infuriating and shocking! In fact there are multiple clinical studies showing people aged 55-60 and above, die sooner if there LDL is too low. Another way of saying this is that those in this age range live longer as there LDL increases. You will see for yourself the amazing health-promoting changes in my blood panels that occurred without taking one drug and without reducing LDL at all – just by going on a low carbohydrate diet.*
*For the sake of complete disclosure, the only other change I made when starting the low carb diet was that I kicked up the level of a supplement called Berberine (which I had been taking when my numbers went wrong) from 1000 mg/day to 1500 mg/day.
For science’s sake I wished I hadn’t because it added a variable that theoretically could have contributed to the healthy changes that occurred, so therefore I can’t attribute all of the significant improvements that I describe below solely to the dietary carbohydrate restriction. Going from 1000 to 1500 mg/day could have helped, but I believe that the carb restriction played a much larger role.
My 3 month Diet
The diet I followed was low carb, but not ketogenic. My net daily carb consumption was around 100 grams a day of which 20 grams were sugar and 80 grams were non-sugar carbs.
My total daily calories were in the 2500 range, but if you’re smaller than me, or don’t work out very often you will need less.
About 16% of caloric intake was from net carbs (100 grams a day) including bread, fruit, vegetables, and peanut butter.
About 16% of caloric intake was from protein (100 grams a day) including organic chicken breasts, whey protein powder shakes with peanut butter and coconut oil to increase fat calories.
About 68% of caloric intake was from fats including avocados, peanut butter (which also contributed to the daily protein and carb intake), coconut oil, olive oil, mayonnaise, butter, and salmon (both a source of fat and protein).
I DID NOT CONSUME PROCESSED OR PACKAGED FOOD THAT CONTAINED VEGETABLE OILS – WHICH CAN EASILY DAMAGE BECOME RANCID AND UNHEALTHY!
The encouraging fact is that my diet was not crazy strict regarding limiting sugar and other carbs and yet it still yielded incredible improvements in the blood panels listed below:
In three months my:
1. A1c dropped from 6 to 5.3
2. Triglycerides dropped from 163 to 125
3. Liver enzyme ALT dropped from 50 to 39.
4. Low HDL went from 37 to 58. An increase of 57% which is remarkable.
5. Atherogenic risk ratio of Apo B/Apo A-1 went from 1.2 to .76. – a decrease of 37% bringing me from moderately high risk of heart disease to moderately low risk!… AND ALL WITHOUT LOWERING MY LDL!!!!!
The fact that I could reduce all of the “conventionally” accepted risk markers of heart disease without lowering my LDL highlights the scam that is the cholesterol lowering drug industry for most generally healthy people!!!!
The 9 panels I suggest you track once or twice a year are:
1. A1c – glycated hemoglobin which measures the negative effects of your blood sugar on body proteins over the past few months – should be 5.7 or less.
2. Triglycerides– blood fats that contribute to heart disease – should be under 150.
3. Apo b/Apo A-1 Ratio – measures your risk of developing atherosclerosis – should be under 1.
4. C Reactive Protein – a measure of inflammation in your body. Inflammation contributes to increased risk of most chronic, degenerative diseases – should be under 1.
5. Blood pressure – contributes to heart disease and heart failure – should be 120/80 or less.
6. Fasting blood sugar – should be under 100. Elevated blood sugar contributes to heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage and dementia/Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Homocysteine – faulty processing of the amino acid methionine. Thought to be associated with many life threatening conditions and diseases. Should be between 7-10.
8. Serum Ferritin Levels – This is the storage of iron in the body. Both too low and too high levels can be life threatening. Levels should be between 40-60.
9. Insulin Levels – In many people as we age our insulin receptors on our cells become less sensitive to insulin and initially even though our blood sugar levels may be normal, it takes way to much insulin to keep the levels normal. This can eventually burn out the insulin making cells of the pancreas and lead to full blown diabetes. Healthy insulin levels should be between 2-6.
The Bottom Line Regarding Diets
The diet or any combination of diets that you enjoy, keeps you feeling good, and keeps the 9 lab tests listed above in the healthy range is the one you should follow!
A very interesting long-term study conducted in the United Kingdom followed large groups of people for long periods of time whom were either vegetarians or meat eaters and the very surprising result was that all-causes death rate was the same in both groups. There is little doubt in my mind that vegetables are extremely healthy but the jury is out on meat consumption and this study showed no advantage in eliminating it from the diet. I mentioned this study to highlight that there is little about which we can be absolutely certain when it comes to proclaiming the healthiest way to eat, so to repeat myself, in my humble opinion… the diet to follow is the one that you feel good on, enjoy and keeps the nine lab tests stated above, in the healthy range.
What are some of the basic things you can do to keep these lab tests in the healthy range?
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t smoke.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption for reduced sugar intake as much as possible- under 20 mg per day. If this doesn’t work completely, then consider reducing other carbs in your diet.
- Reduce sugar intake as much as possible.
- Eat salmon.
- Eat all kinds of vegetables.
- Eat some fruits in moderation. In my mind, the best ones are cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and strawberries, because they don’t have a high glycemic load.
- Eat organic or grass fed when eating meat.
Though it is beyond the scope of this article, despite implementing all of these recommendations, should any of the nine lab tests still fall out of the desired range, before taking a prescription drug to correct them… check with your healthcare professional about the possibility of using supplements that have been shown to help correct these labs back to healthy levels.
Well there you have it, a road map to achieve and maintain good health including specific tests monitor along the way so you know that your healthy lifestyle and efforts are paying off.
I wish you a happy, healthy and vibrant long life.
Curt Hendrix, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.
Chief Scientific Officer, Akeso Health Sciences, LLC
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