Following on from a recent article in the Daily Mail, it is fair to say that we judge people to be healthy if they look good on the outside. However the outer beauty whether faked or real rarely hides or makes up for what is really going on inside the body.
An example of this arrived at my door last year – a family of four all came to me for a complete health MOT – a few basic blood tests, cholesterol, thyroid, full blood count, diet etc. On sight they were the healthiest four people I had seen in a long time – very good looking, great skin, good hair, sparkling eyes, great BMI’s, all with no health problems. Alarmingly the parents blood tests came back and all was not well. The father had dangerously raised cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and his homocysteine was the highest I had seen for a while – it seemed he was a walking time bomb. The mother came back as having an underactive thyroid, low B12 and anaemia and also raised cholesterol. What was concerning was that they displayed no symptoms whatsoever. Even with anaemia the mother looked well. This just goes to show that you just cannot judge the inside by the outside.
I think it’s even more relevant today with botox, hair extensions, whitened teeth, fake tan – its not difficult to make ourselves look better but do remember that it is fake, and will never reflect the rising liver damage or hardened arteries inside us!
After a week seeing patients who are trying to avoid statins and bring their cholesterol down naturally, I am reminding you all to read “The Great Cholesterol Con”. This book has been about for several years and will give you a balanced view about what exactly is going on with the cholesterol “story”.
Did you know that when sticky arterial plaque has been examined, only about 20% of it is actual cholesterol, the other 80% is due to inflammation caused by high insulin and high homocysteine. Did you also know that cholesterol is there in the body to heal and often goes to sites of damage? Mmmm that’s made you think hasn’t it…
Further and further the optimum levels of cholesterol have come down. From 6, to 5, now under 4. Where next, 3, 2, no cholesterol? I had a male patient last year who’s cholesterol was 2.3 and he had to have a quadruple bypass. Something’s not quite right is it, and 6 million of us in the UK are taking statins every day.
I see in the papers today a suggestion to ban butter. I really think its time to leave poor old butter alone. I was bought up to believe a scrape of butter was better for you than hydrogenated margarine. In fact in the 1970’s my father worked for a very large company that made a lot of margarine. On visiting the factories and getting inside no-how he always used to joke to us that it was made of gorilla fat and not to touch it!
My grandmother and great grandmother always had butter in their diet and in their cooking. What they didnt have and what my family dont eat now is REFINED WHITE SUGAR. We need to look at our overall insulin load with heart disease and not just cholesterol, but homocysteine as well.
Heart disease has boomed since the increase in processed food and decrease in exercise. Also with this comes the increase in statin prescriptions. If you don’t want to take statins, do try changing your diet first but do get the right advice because you will be wasting your time otherwise. Many people try and lower their cholesterol by themselves and generally fail as you do need to know what you are doing – so many cut out fat and wonder why their cholesterol has stayed the same. The best cholesterol drop to date I have seen through diet change was in 2008 when a man came to see me terrified after some blood test results showed very high cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol). He also had high blood pressure. He knew he was a walking time bomb and had an appointment with a cardiologist about six weeks after he saw me. He was also terrified of taking drugs. After our consultation I had no idea whether he could do what I suggested. It was a tough regime as he had only weeks to get his levels under control. I wasnt convinced of a good enough outcome for the consultant not to put him on several drugs. Six weeks later he called me and said he had been so scared that he had followed what I suggested to the letter and done even more than I asked. His results were astonishing. All his blood tests came back in the normal range, except his LDL although it was lower and his blood pressure was also normal. (His cholesterol dropped from 10 to 4.8 – his triglycerides from 5 to 2, his blood pressure from 170/94 to 130/70, his homocysteine from 15 to 4, he raised his HDL from 1 to 3). Not bad going – its amazing what fear will make someone do!
If you would like to try and reduce your cholesterol naturally, do get in touch.
If you know what your cholesterol levels are, and the ratio of HDL/LDL – how about knowing what your homocysteine levels are?
WHAT IS IT?
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced in the body in the course of methionine metabolism. This amino acid has been the focus of increasing attention in recent years because high levels in the blood are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
It has a toxic effect on cells lining the arteries making blood more prone to clot and promotes the oxidation of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) which makes it more likely that cholesterol will be deposited as plaque in the blood vessels. Like many amino acids it does perform a necessary function in the body, however a genetic defect or more commonly, deficiencies of vitamins B6 and B12 and folate (folic acid) can prevent it from converting rapidly enough. Vitamins B6 and B12 and folate work together to help the breakdown of homocysteine.
WHAT DO HIGH LEVELS MEAN?
Homocysteine is an excellent indicator in assessing cardiovascular disease with research showing that a three point decrease in levels (umol/L) reduces the risk of:
Heart attacks by 16%
Strokes by 24%
Deep Vein Thrombosis by 25%
It is now used as a clear indicator of future troubles for all manner of disease and is linked to more than 100 other serious medical conditions including: arthritis, diabetes, some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, problem pregnancies and birth defects.
There are high risk groups and low risk groups and the only way to find out is to have a test. High risk groups include people who don’t exercise, are overweight, diabetes sufferers, smokers, those on a poor diet and people who drink too much alcohol and coffee. Even those with active healthy lifestyles may still be at risk if there is a family history of high homocysteine levels. Levels also increase with age, oestrogen deficiency, and on some medications e.g. corticosteroids and some cancer treatment drugs. Strict vegetarians and vegans can also be at risk and stress can be an aggravating factor too.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT IT?
1) Get your levels tested – some GP’s now offer this, or consult a nutritionist
2)If your levels are found to be raised, supplement your diet with folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12
4)Maintain a healthy diet – high in garlic, onions and apples (which lower cholesterol) and fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and the essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6) inc. fish, nuts and seeds
6) Drink alcohol in moderation
If you’d like your homocysteine tested please contact me on 01323 737814.
Good news for the humble egg this week. They are officially good for your heart! The cholesterol in eggs has a minimal effect on serum cholesterol levels according to the British Nutrition Foundation and scientists have proved that eggs produce proteins that mimic the action of blood pressure-lowering drugs. Eggs may in fact be good for your heart by lowering blood pressure in the same way as Ace inhibitors, taken by millions around the world. These drugs lower blood pressure by stopping the hormone angiotensin narrowing the body’s blood vessels.
Researcher Professor Bruce Griffin, of the University of Surrey, said: ‘The ingrained misconception linking egg consumption to high blood cholesterol and heart disease must be corrected.’
As I’m forever correcting my patients about their fear over egg consumption – this is great news and one that will hopefully filter through to the nation. One of the most sustaining and healthy breakfasts is scrambled eggs on toast. Not only is it a brilliant low GI meal, but it will prevent any hunger pangs mid morning. People rely far too much on sugary based cereals and toast every morning and forget about the importance of protein.
Many of my clients are still very confused about cholesterol and what foods make it worse or better. The most common misconception is that all fat is bad for you. That simply isn’t the case, and its important to keep eating essential fatty acids i.e. omega 3 and 6 in the diet. Essential Fatty Acids reduce your ldl (bad cholesterol) and thin the blood. Many of the eggs we buy are fed on Omega 3 rich feed.
It is important after 40 to know what your cholesterol levels are and particularly the ratio of good (HDL) to bad (LDL). If you have just had your cholesterol tested and its slightly raised and you would like to try diet and exercise before statins here is my advice. Give yourself eight weeks and then get it tested again.
Top tips to help lower cholesterol
Avoid all saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet – choose chicken, fish, tofu and pulses over red meat. Particularly avoid pork and pork products, fried and fatty food.
Avoid all hydrogenated fats – this means you will need to start reading labels.
Use a scrape of butter or margarines that contain plant sterols,
Cut out all alcohol, cakes, carbonated drinks, coffee, refined food (white flour and white sugar.
Take regular exercise and avoid stress where possible.
Do not eliminate all good fat from the diet so do include oily fish, nuts and seeds in your diet.
When eating nuts make sure they are raw rather than dry roasted etc and almonds are especially good as they are high in arginine.
Use cold pressed oil to cook with e.g. olive, soybean, flaxseed that have never been heated over 110oF.
Increase your fibre in the forms of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains as this can reduce serum cholesterol. Choose brown rice and psyllium husks, oats, and barley.
Garlic is amazing for reducing cholesterol, and can be taken raw (do be careful though!) stir fried, roasted or in supplements. Other foods known to reduce cholesterol include apples, carrots, oily fish, pulses, grapefruit and olive oil.