My Wife Christine: The Perfect Example Of Why Low-Carb Isn't Just About Weight Loss
How can this beautiful face be anything but healthy?
When most people talk about the low-carb lifestyle, the subject usually centers around weight loss. And naturally so! After all, books like Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, which totally changed my life forever for the better in 2004 when I lost a total of 180 pounds that year, are marketed as "diet" books. And bookstore shelves are absolutely LOADED with author after author touting this plan and that plan to help you lose the blubber.
But when we talk about "diet" in the full context of what that word really means, we're not just referring to weight loss. The simplest definition of a "diet" in my mind refers to "the way you eat." That's it! So, for people on any of the various low-carb diets like Atkins, Protein Power, South Beach, or The Zone, for example, the focus is on the mechanism that happens inside the body when you reduce your carbohydrate intake. And that is what produces the ever-elusive weight loss.
Yes, eating low-carb does indeed result in some rather spectacular weight loss. But the thing that amazed me more than anything about livin' la vida low-carb when I first started on it were the massive improvements in my health. I was taking prescription medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and breathing problems. Within nine months of my low-carb way of eating, I no longer needed those prescription drugs. And I've never taken another pill from a pharmacist since.
People e-mail me all the time wanting to know why they haven't lost weight on low-carb because the scale hasn't moved as fast as they were hoping. My response back to them is usually to remind them that at least they are losing weight and that their first and foremost priority when livin' la vida low-carb is NOT weight loss, but rather it should be their health. This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the low-carb life that is simply ignored by people who don't think it's necessarily something they need for their life.
Take, for example, a normal weight person. Most people would look at that individual and conclude that a low-carb diet is unnecessary for them because they're not overweight or obese and, thus, are healthy, right? Welllllll, not necessarily. And the same goes for an overweight or obese person. Just because they are carrying around a few extra pounds doesn't automatically mean they are unhealthy. Of course, the extra weight can lead to health issues in the long run, but it's not a perfect indicator of current health problems.
With that said, I wanted to share with you some rather startling results from a recent physical that my dear wife Christine had at her doctor. She started on a reduced-carb dietary approach about a year ago after her triglycerides had risen to a slightly-elevated 250. Her HDL was over 50 at the time and her LDL was over 140. Of course, the doctor was very concerned about this and wanted to put her on Lipitor, but her husband (that's me!) advised against it. That's why we tried low-carb for her.
In just a few short months, Christine dropped 35 pounds and was feeling a lot better by quitting sugary sodas and eating less carbohydrates than she was. Keep in mind that she has a much higher carb tolerance than I do. I have to keep my carbs below 50g daily or I gain weight whereas Christine can eat around 150g before weight starts to creep up on her. It's the difference in our metabolism and I'm cool with it (although watching her get away with eating more carbs is a bit frustrating...but I get over it!).
Since she got her weight back down by livin' la vida low-carb, Christine has allowed a few bad habits to creep back into her diet again--eating French fries (one of her favorite foods!) when we eat out, having breaded meats, eating sandwiches with the bun, and eating her favoritest candy in the whole widey-widey world--M&M's! Yes, old habits are hard to break, but as long as her weight was in check there wasn't a reason to panic.
Or was there.
Today we got the results of her blood work and one number stuck out like a sore thumb among all the others--HER TRIGLYCERIDES!!! While Christine's HDL rose slightly to 58 and her LDL plummeted to 94 without the use of that statin drug her doctor wanted to put her on, her triglycerides actually ROSE to 293. HOLY COW!!! Needless to say, she was quite upset by this and couldn't understand why her cholesterol improved, but her triglycerides didn't. And here's the crux of why I decided to write this blog post.
Christine is the perfect example of why low-carb isn't just about weight loss. Despite all her best efforts to reduce her sugar and carbohydrate intake from the levels she used to eat and the weight loss success she experienced as a result of doing that, her health in the form of her triglycerides did not see a benefit. Sure, her lipid profile was a positive, but what happened with her triglycerides?
It's perplexing that Christine's HDL would go up, LDL would go down, but triglycerides would simultaneously rise. Dr. Mary C. Vernon has said that a rise in HDL above 50 and a reduction in triglycerides below 100 is a sure-fire way of knowing if someone is truly following a low-carb diet or not. If not, then you can tell if someone is eating something they shouldn't.
And the studies are clear: a high-carb diet lowers HDL and raises triglycerides and your HDL/triglyceride ratio is a better indicator of heart health risks than total cholesterol and LDL. University of Connecticut researcher Dr. Jeff Volek found in one of his studies that triglycerides are cut in half when following a very high-fat (85 percent), low-carb program.
Christine is looking at an anomaly of sorts. On the one hand, her cholesterol numbers are fabulous and keep her from ever having to consider the "s" word to lower them (not that she would!). But on the other hand, now her doctor wants to put her on a risky prescription drug called Lovaza to bring her triglycerides down. Christine got a big bag full of samples for her to try (HOO BOY!) and I am always curious to read the fine print about these wonder drugs.
Check out these disclaimers for Lovaza:
Before you take LOVAZA you should take these steps to control your very high triglyceride levels: modify your diet (YA THINK?!), lose weight if you are overweight, increase exercise and reduce alcohol use. Treatment with LOVAZA has not been shown to prevent heart attacks or strokes (EEEEEK! Then why would you want to take this drug in the first place?!). Burping, infection, flu-like symptoms, upset stomach, a change in your sense of taste, back pain and skin rash are LOVAZA’s most common side effects, but there are others.
Oh, is that all? Sheeez! Reading off all these potential side effects of medications designed to help improve your health is enough to make me nauseous (do they make a pill for THAT?!). As someone who has suffered with the negative side effects of statin drugs, if I can find a way to "modify" my diet to lower my triglycerides, then I will. And that's what we're gonna try with Christine instead of Lovaza.
Starting right now, she is on a strict low-carb diet. No more French fries, breaded chicken sandwiches, or M&Ms until we can get the triglycerides down (and hopefully after that, too!). It's not a weight loss thing...it's a HEALTH thing! And Christine now realizes that her lack of weight gain gave her a false sense of comfort with the way she was eating. How many others are walking around out there thinking they're okay when very clearly they are not? That's the question we should be asking about rather than what diet is good for weight loss.
Christine will go meet with a dietitian on Friday afternoon and I'll be sitting in the room with her during this conversation. We're bracing for the low-fat lecture, but I was encouraged to see on her chart that a 1600-2000 calorie diet consisting of low-glycemic foods with 35 percent fat was recommended alongside a moderate exercise routine. Considering her fasting insulin levels were also slightly elevated, this may be a plan for success. I'll be anxious to hear straight from the horse's mouth on Friday what she thinks about Christine's condition and hopefully it won't have anything to do with taking prescriptions of any kind.
We'll be meeting some of the best and brightest minds in the world of low-carb research next month in Phoenix, Arizona for a Nutrition & Metabolism symposium, so you bet we'll be asking them for their opinion about what Christine should do henceforth. But I open the floor to you my readers to share your comments about this and any personal or professional experience with what Christine is going through. I'm just surprised her cholesterol improved so much and her triglycerides did not. Any thoughts?