Heart Scan Blog reader, Mike, shared his story with me. He was kind enough to allow me to reprint it here (edited slightly for brevity).
I was much intrigued to stumble onto your blog. Heart disease, nutrition, and wellness are critically important to me, because I’m a type 2 diabetic. I’m 53 and was diagnosed as diabetic about 5 years ago, though I suspect I was either diabetic or pre-diabetic 5 years before that. Even in a metropolitan area it’s next-to-impossible to find doctors sympathetic to any approach beyond the standard get-the-A1c-below 6.5, get LDL <100, get your weight and blood pressure normal, and take metformin and statins.
I’m about 5’10-and-a-half and when I was young I had to stuff myself to keep weight on; it was an effort to get to 150 pounds, and as a young man, 165 was the holy grail for me. I always felt I’d look better with an extra 10-15 pounds.
I ate whatever I wanted, mostly junk, I guess, in my younger years.
When I hit about age 35, I put on 30 pounds seemingly overnight. As I moved toward middle age I became concerned with the issue of heart health, and around that time Dr. Ornish came out with his stuff. I was impressed that he’d done a
study that supposedly showed measurable decrease in atherosclerotic plaque, and had published the results of his research in peer-reviewed journals. It looked to me as though he had the evidence; who could argue with that? I tried his plan on and off, but as so many people note, an almost-vegan diet is really tough. It was for me, and I could never do it for any length of time. But given that the “evidence” said that I should, I kept trying, and kept beating up on myself when I failed. And I kept gaining weight. I got to almost 200 pounds by the time I was 40 and have a strong suspicion that that’s what caused my blood sugar to go awry, but my doctor at the time never checked my blood sugar, and as a relatively young and healthy man, I never went in very often.
I’ve had bouts of PSVT [paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, a rapid heart rhythm] every now and again since I was 12 or so. I used to convert the rhythm with Valsalva, but as I moved into my forties, occasionally my blood pressure would be elevated and it made me nervous to do the procedure because it was my understanding that it spikes your blood pressure when you do it. So I began going to the ER to have the rhythm converted, which they do quite easily with adenosine. On one of my infrequent runs to the ER to get a bout of PSVT converted, they discovered my blood glucose was 500 mg/dL, and I’d never experienced any symptoms! They put me in the hospital and gave me a shot of insulin, got it town to 80 mg/dL easily,
diagnosed me as diabetic, and put me on 500 mg. metformin a day.
I was able to get my A1c down to 7, then down to 6.6, and about that time I read a number of Dr. Agatston’s books, and began following the diet, and pretty quickly got my A1c down to 6.2, and my weight down, easily, to 158. That was fine with my doctor; he acted as though I was in good shape with those numbers. Soon I ran into Dr. Bernstein’s material, and came face to face with a body of research that suggested I needed to get the A1c down to below 5! That was both discouraging and inspiring, and frankly it’s been difficult for me to eat as lo-carb as I appear to need to, so I swing back and forth between 6.2 and 6.6. I know I need to work harder, be more diligent in my carb control, and I see with my meter that if I eat low-carb I have great postprandial and fasting blood sugars, but since I don’t particularly get any support or encouragement from
either my doctor or my wife for being so “radical,” it’s hard to pass the carbs by.
One thing that always confused me was that though I saw on my meter that BG [blood glucose] readings were better with a lo-carb diet, and though I saw the preliminary research suggesting that lo-carb could be beneficial in controlling CVD, I didn’t understand why Ornish had peer-reviewed research demonstrating reversal of atherosclerosis on a very-lowfat diet. How could two opposing approaches both help? I wondered if it were possible that one diet is good for diabetes, and the
other good for heart health. That would mean diabetics are screwed, because they always seem to end up with heart disease.
From time to time I’d look for material that explained this seeming contradiction. I was determined to try to stay lo-carb, simply because I saw how much better my blood sugars are when I eat lo-carb; but it’s hard in the face of this or that website that tells you about all the dangers of a lo-carb diet and that touts the lo-fat approach. That tends to be the conventional wisdom anyway.
Finally in one of those searches I came across your material, and saw you offer what was at last an explanation of what Ornish had discovered–it wasn’t a reversal of atherosclerotic plaques he was seeing; it was that his diet was improving endothelial dysfunction in people who had had high fat intakes.
Odd as it may seem to you, that little factlet has been enough to allow me to discard entirely the lingering ghost of a suspicion that I ought to be eating very-lowfat. In fact, I was very excited to see your claim that your approach can reverse atherosclerotic plaque.
It would be nice to find a doctor who’d be supportive of your approach. My doctor isn’t much interested in diet or
nutrition. He just wants my weight in the acceptable range, my blood pressure good, and my LDL 100 or below (which I know isn’t low enough). He’s not particularly interested in getting a detailed lipid report. I hope I can talk him into ordering one so that it’s more likely I can get it covered by my insurance.
I very much appreciated the links you gave to Jenny’s diabetes websites, and I’ve resolved to get even better control of my BG by being more diligent with my diet. I’m planning on joining your site, reading your book, and following your advice. I just have this sort of deflating feeling that it would have been better if I’d stumbled upon this before I had diabetes. Still, it’s nice to have a site that offers to laypeople the best knowledge available concerning how to take care of their heart.
Mike is yet another “victim” of the “eat healthy whole grains” national insanity, the Post-Traumatic Grain Disorder, or PTGD. The low-fat dietary mistake has left many victims in its wake, having to deal with the aftermath of corrupt high-carbohydrate diets: diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
We should all hope and pray that “low-fat, eat healthy whole grains” goes the way of Detroit gas guzzlers and sub-prime mortgages.
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