Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Being Metabolically and Psychologically Flexible

As a doctor that focuses on the early detection of diabetes and heart attack risk, I see risk where a lot of other doctors might not. It comes back to that “ounce of prevention pound of cure” thing. It amazes me to see how many patients come through my door that have been in a state of insulin resistance for such a long time without knowing it and more importantly without an action plan. See this study and this one if you don’t believe me.

Patients need to have something tangible they can leave my office to change their lives (and get inspired). Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” solution. We can talk about metabolic flexibility in regards of how the body uses energy; well how about diet flexibility for patients.

I offer an array of options for patients, like Robb Wolf"s Paleo Solution, Steven Gundry's Diet Evolution, or Dave Asprey's Bulletproof Diet.  (can you tell I was an Anthropology-Zoology major in undergrad?)

Those struggling with their weight have to be in it for the long haul or else it is just a set up for failure, both metabolically and psychologically. This is something I see over and over again in the low calorie, “Weight Watchers” mentality. Short term weight loss with long term rebound weight gain.

For my patients with “metabolic risk”, a lower carbohydrate approach is the starting point. Some are more eager than others to get on their way. For those patients that want to grab the bull by the horns, my go to is Kiefer’s plan/book: The Carb Nite Solution (CNS).  It is the plan I recommend to most of my diabetics who are looking for a way to improve how they feel and get off that wheelbarrow full of medicine they are on. 

One of the reasons I like the plan is that it offers flexibility for patients. Knowing they can have one Carb Nite (CN) a week, makes it easier for them to plan for that work party, family get together, or special event.  I believe also that psychologically, there is not that constant denial of food you get with most standard low calorie plans, not to mention it adds a little fun to making lifestyle changes.

I would like to share 2 patient stories, both are women (I have their permission) who have struggled with diabetes for the last 7-10 years. One is on oral medications and the other is on oral medication plus insulin. They both had hemoglobin A1C’s that were elevated (8.3 and 10.1 respectively) and have always struggled with there weight. Both went on CNS and have now successfully have lost weight (15 lbs and 20 lbs respectively) and have lowered their hemoglobin A1C at or under 7.0. That is as good as or better than any multimillion dollar drug.  Their cost: about $20 investing in a book.

They are both a work in progress, but these changes have had a big impact, both metabolically and psychologically for both women. Both patients had improvement in markers of inflammation (i.e. hs-CRP, PLAC2). They also now exude a bit of confidence in moving forward instead of previous desperation.

I have had many other patient success stories, but these two stick out the most to me because it made such a large impact on both of their lives.

There is a lot of “psychology” that goes along with making changes, you know that little voice in your head that you have that constant dialogue with (common, it’s not just me). So the following is what I talk to my patients about:

1.      Throw your scale away, you don’t need it, really.
2.      Relax, do not stress, especially when you fall off the wagon (yes it is going to happen), just get back on. High cortisol is bad, ummmkay (in the voice from the teacher on South Park)
3.      Go with the flow and do not over analyze things. Enjoy the foods that you get to eat on ultra low carb days (ie bacon) and on carb nites (ie cherry turnovers ;-) ).
4.      If the CNS is not right for you, than be flexible and modify the program (ie initially start with lesser carb restriction)
5.      Have a short and long term goal. Reward yourself for every short-term goal you meet.
6.      Be prepared. Have your food options planned out ahead of time and have a back up “emergency” plan in place.
7.      Don’t be afraid of eating fat
8.      Did I say relax?
9.      Manage your expectations. The weight did not come on in 1 month and it will not all come off in 1 month.
10.  Eat real food. Avoid or limit shakes and smoothies (or at least only keep them to post resistance training time only)
11.  You are in it for the long haul. If it is something that you do not think you can do, then stop and let’s find something that will.

12.  When in doubt, rub some bacon on it.

If you want to learn more about Kiefer, check out his website at

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Does LDL-P Matter?

(Note: Please consult with your healthcare provider for any personal health issues)

Now that I have your attention, the question above is certainly rhetorical and one could easily substitute ApoB or Non-HDL cholesterol, so I am not singling out LDL-P (or picking on NMR technology). 

It has been a several weeks since AHS 2012 occurred and unfortunately I was unable to attend. From the twittersphere, I read about some good presentations including Peter Attia’s discussion on cholesterol (if you have not checked out The Eating Academy, you really should).

I fell down the low carb rabbit hole several years ago and have never felt better, both physically and mentally. As that rabbit hole goes deeper (read: greater carb restriction), there have been some inherent “problems”. There are numerous reports of low carbers having their cholesterol go thru the roof when they restrict their carbs (for definition let’s say less than 50 grams a day). Food quality is good, exercise is good, they feel good, but their lipids look horrible.

I would like to share my story, my n=1 case. I started a lower carb Paleolithic diet over 2 years ago after I had read Steven Gundry’s Diet Evolution (also see books by Cordain, DeVany, Wolf, Taubes, among others). I have progressed in my personal views and have progressed to where currently I eat a form of a cyclic ketogenic diet (CarbNiteSolution (CNS) by Kiefer). There are many reasons, but I am a fat kid at heart and it allows me some flexibility with my “re-feeds”.

Last fall I had a NMR LipoProfile done which showed a LDL-P of 2700 (less than 1000 is optimal). For a physician who focuses on heart attack prevention, this was quite horrifying. What should I do? My initial thought was to slug down 20 mg of Crestor daily. The only thing was that I was losing weight (more precisely, fat via body composition testing) and I felt better than ever. My energy was amazing. So I continued and eventually started Kiefer’s protocol described in CNS earlier this year. There was one problem, my LDL-P was not changing and as of this writing the last value was over 3000.

Well, as I do with my patients, I always want to know if a patient has disease or not. That really is the question, not how high is the cholesterol. I know from my practice that risk factor assessment means very little without actually knowing if disease exists.  Using standard risk assessment tools can miss people who really are at risk (3). By looking at risk assessment models  (like Framingham Risk Score) we can over- or under-estimate risk greatly. My workhorse disease detection is Carotid Intima Media Thickness (CIMT). This test simply put, measures the “lining” of the carotid artery via ultrasound. The thicker the lining is, the greater the risk. It is also a way to assess for plaque (atherosclerosis) of the artery. Having plaque means you have atherosclerosis. I believe it is a significantly better way of looking at risk because we are looking for the actual pathology (1,2).

I had my CIMT done in 2006 on the Standard American “heart healthy diet” eating low fat, higher carb. You know those espoused by the ADA and AHA. My lipids were “normal” at this time. My thickness was 0.6 mm (about the 50th percentile). I also had two small “road bumps “ (minimal plaques) at my left carotid bulb both measuring 1.2 mm. I was not happy. I also had similar findings on a study in 1/2010.

Flash-forward to June 2012, about 4 months into CNS, my CIMT showed a thickness of 0.445 mm (13th percentile) and I had the vascular age of a 16 year old! And oh by the way, the “road bumps” were gone. All the while carrying an LDL-P of over 2500 consistently for over a year. I have also had a CT Coronary Calcium score that was zero.

Epidemiology tells us that high LDL-P is associated with greater CVD risk (4,5). Where is mine?

Lets address the high LDL-P issue on low carb diets first. Unfortunately, I do not have the complete answer. The literature does not reveal much. The work of Paul Jaminet/Chris Masterjohn proves interesting (6). To sum, high cholesterol on a low carb diet could be due to:

            1. Thyroid dysfunction (my TSH, T4, T3, rT3 were normal)
            2. Micronutrient deficiency (none noted via testing)
            3. Toxin/Infectious exposure (no periodontal disease or other sources of infection)
            4. Active weight loss (check, but does not explain why others with active weight loss have better/normal lipids)

Let’s take a 50000 ft. view. My hypothesis is that insulin signaling is playing a huge role. We know that the root cause of atherosclerosis in 80% of people is due to insulin resistance (7).  Insulin is an anabolic hormone (ask bodybuilders). Unfortunately it is not very discriminatory. Meaning: subcutaneous areas, the liver and the arteries can be storage depots for fat in the setting of insulin resistance. I see insulin resistance as “loading the gun” for initial heart attack risk/event.

Inflammation is the second part. If insulin resistance loads the gun, then inflammation pulls the trigger. Inflammation has a role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis AND in the rupture/destabilization of plaques (8). In addition, to complicate matters, the majority of plaque rupture/erosions do not cause events.

So what does one due to mitigate all of this disease? Well, that would be to minimize the effects of insulin. That can be done by a carbohydrate-restricted diet. In the largest extreme that would be a ketogenic diet.

What does a ketogenic diet do? Well simply put, it minimizes the effect of insulin from the dietary component. This mitigation can be a reason for fat efflux (ala LPL and HSL activity).  Could one also hypothesize that fat is being effluxed not only from the subcutaneous tissue, but also the liver, hence a potential treatment of nonalcoholic hepatitis (NASH)? By this same thought process, could this be a mechanism to efflux “fat” out of arteries, which may be one mechanism of action which may account for disease in patients with high HDL-C cholesterol in the presence of insulin resistance?

Although not widely studied, Ketogenic diets (which remove agents of Neolithic disease) can minimize inflammation. I have seen this clinically in my practice and in myself. My hs-CRP is not detectable (all my other markers of inflammation are normal as well, Lp-PLA2 and Myeloperoxidase). Inflammation IS the key component to events (ie plaque rupture) as stated above.

So if LDL-P is high but inflammation is very low and there is no insulin resistance, does it matter? This, of course, does not preclude the possibility of atherosclerosis to progress in the setting of insulin resistance and no/low inflammation (think the 78 yr old that needs a stent but never had the event).  So if one is eating low carb, one would think these metabolic issues should take care of themselves.

I definitely think in the Standard American Diet (SAD), high LDL-P is a huge problem. Primarily due to the significant insulin resistance associated with the discordance of LDL-C to LDL-P in the setting of inflammation. It is a recipe for disaster. It also represents nearly 80% of patients coming thru my door.  Yes, 80%, it is that high! (9,10)

I propose diet DOES matter (shocking, I know). In particular, those that minimize carbohydrate exposure and thus insulin signaling; will have difficulty developing atherosclerosis, inflammation and thus events and potentially reverse it. What are the diets that do this? A ketogenic diet,  low carb/LC Paleo diet AND as much as it pains me to say, the plant based diet.

This is a very complex issue and one that warrants further investigation and for now most of my answers are “it depends”. But we must always remember to treat the patient/disease and not the number.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Eating a Dangerously Bulletproof meal

As many people close to me know, I have struggled with my weight over the last decade. I have come a long way, losing over 85 lbs in my quest to be a healthier Dad and doctor. Lead by example. In my journey over the last year I have become a fan of several bloggers. Two of my favorites are Dave Asprey’s Bulletproofexec and John Kiefer’s Dangerously Hardcore.

I find it amazing when an internet geek and a physicist/bodybuilder can come to common ideas based on differing reasons. Anyways, I have coined a term I would like to take dibs on: “Dangerously Bulletproof”. Basically a mash of both mechanism’s to improve function, both physically and mentally. One of my office staff suggested I use the term “Pateleo” (Patel and Paleo), which I like, but Dangerously Bulletproof just sounds sexier. I plan to write more on this in a future blog posts. Today, I thought I would offer up a “Dangerously Bulletproof” meal. I know it’s not very original and I am sure @nomnompaleo probably has this on her site somewhere (i just have not had time to look over there), but as for now I claim it.

Pasta and spaghetti dinners with garlic bread are something I tend  to miss, so here is a substitute I find satisfying: Pateleo “Spaghetti”

4-6 oz grassfed beef
4 slices bacon (good source like from US Wellness Meats)
1 oz shredded spinach
1-2 oz asparagus, chopped
½ cup Lower carb tomato sauce (I used Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce from Monte Bene Farm Fresh)

1.    Place Bacon in fry pan and cook until crispy but not burnt, at the same time place beef in sauce pan or skillet and brown.
2.    While bacon/beef are cooking, shred spinach and chop up asparagus in 1/2 to 3/4  inch pieces
3.    Once bacon is cooked, set aside and add the veggies to the left over bacon grease and cook until spinach wilts slightly. Pour this on a plate and this will be your “spaghetti”.
4.    Mix the sauce with the ground beef and pour on top of the veggies.
5.    Add bacon to the side, and this will be your substitute for garlic bread. A nice salty alternative, besides bacon makes it better!.
6.    Enjoy with a bottle of San Pellegrino!

“Vital Signs”: Total Calories 459; Fat grams 32; Total Carbs 14grams;Dietary Fiber 6 grams; Total “usable” Carbs 8 grams; Total Protein 30.  62%of cals from Fat, 25% cals from protein, and 12% cals from carbs
If you want more fiber, add a tbsp of chia seeds over the top.