A few weeks ago a friend asked me If I had an opinion on a story he’d seen about low cholesterol being linked to high suicide rates. As it happens I DID have an opinion on this, none of it complimentary about low cholesterol diets or Statins, the cholesterol lowering drugs.
But it got me thinking, you see I don’t believe the “Dietary Cholesterol Hypothesis” which simply states that cholesterol levels in your blood are raised by eating a diet that’s high in cholesterol. Such a simple theory is so easy to understand, it’s almost obviously true, it’s just a shame it’s not.
So here’s the thing, by all accounts I’ve been eating a diet very high in cholesterol and saturated fat. We’re talking steak, fatty mince meat (ground beef), pork of all forms including roasts with crackling, and bacon, oh yes plenty of bacon! Add to that cholesterol laden eggs, hard cheese, full fat soft cream cheese, sausages, fatty lamb (both leg and shoulder) and whole (full fat) milk, not to mention glorious double cream! You can almost hear my arteries hardening.
But wait, there’s more, we’re not talking eating this kind of once a day for my evening meal, but for lunch too. Oh, and breakfast, let’s not forget breakfast. Plus I typically have 1 or 2 snacks a day as well, which is more of the same (e.g. includes a block cheese, or a sausage, or hunk of meat).
I’ve been this way, 5 times a day for 4 years now, having a high cholesterol and saturated fat laden meal for breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner and an evening snack before bed… perhaps I should just book myself straight into hospital now for that heart bypass and not waste my poor GPs time. It’s just a shame that I’m the thinnest and healthiest I’ve ever been.
But like I said, I don’t believe in the dietary cholesterol theory. So much so, that my daughter now eats just like I do and when my friend asked me about low cholesterol issues, I resolved to get myself tested to prove that I was right, so I did and the results are back. First, here are my cholesterol levels as they were back in 2000 when I was not quite 30, just for comparison:
- HDL = 1.6 mmol/L or 62 mg/dl. This is meant to be the good cholesterol and by current thinking, should be more than 1.0
- LDL = 1.7 mmol/L or 66 mg/dl. This is the so called “bad” cholesterol and should be between 2.2 and 4.9
- TG = 1.2 mmol/L or 106 mg/dl. Triglycerides are apparently very bad, and should be less than 1.8
- Resting heart rate was 84 beats per minute, with the normal range being 60-80
Barry Sear’s excellent book Toxic Fat on p76 suggests that a very good indicator of what he calls Toxic Fat Syndrome (otherwise known as Syndrome X or “Why current Western children might be the first generation in centuries to live shorter lives than their parents”) is to divide TG by HDL. If this ratio is more than 4.0 you’re in trouble, obviously the lower the better. My TG/HDL was 106/62 = 1.7
So you can see that back in 2000 I wasn’t doing too badly and everything was in the right range, except resting heart rate which was on the high side and bizarrely LDL cholesterol was a little low! I was starting to put weight on though on my fairly typical western diet of cereal for breakfast, sandwiches and crisps for lunch, and typically meat and 2 veg type dinner (or pasta, pizza, curry, Chinese etc), with an occasional desert.
Fast forward to 2007 and I was quite over weight, was 30% body fat with a 43″ (128 cm) waist and my combined cholesterol had risen to 4.3 (sorry, no break down figures). CrossFit got me exercising and onto the Zone Diet and then with heavy Paleo Diet influences + dairy. I lost 2.5st (35lbs / 16kg), half my body fat (15%) and 10 inches (25cm) off my waist. But I realised I hadn’t got my blood worked up since starting my new way of eating and so I did.
I must confess to some trepidation. What if it came back terribly high? What would that mean for my health and my family and daughter’s health?!? What if I’d been wrong all this time and was eating myself to death, however enjoyable it was doing so? But I’m an engineer at heart and data matters. So without further ado, here are my results after 4 years of my high cholesterol food five times a day:
- HDL = 2.4 mmol/L or 93 mg/dl (a 50% increase)
- LDL = 2.1 mmol/L or 81 mg/dl (a 24% increase)
- TG = 0.8 mmol/L or 71 mg/dl (a 33% decrease)
- TG/HDL = 0.76 (a 56% reduction)
- Resting heart rate = 62 beats per minute (26% reduction)
- Blood Pressure = 125 / 77 (at 38 years old)
EDIT July: I’ve added the US mg/dl numbers to the above stats and as I’ve realised that cholesterol conversion is not linear with the triglyceride conversion, I’ve recalculated Barry Sear’s ratios.
Well that looks pretty good to me. Experts don’t seem to agree on whether there should be a lower LDL figure it seems, but my test from 10 years ago said it was too low, so a small increase seems ok. It’s well below ideal max range though. But I’m not used to interpreting cholesterol test results every day, so here are some examples of what they had to say at the Doctor’s:
- “The good HDL cholesterol is very high. That’s one of the best results I’ve ever seen.”
- “Triglycerides are very low, that’s very good.”
- “Keep up the good work, whatever you are doing is obviously working.“
Wow! Even I was seriously impressed with how much gushing was going on. I have to say, it’s a real vindication of everything I’ve learnt over the last 4 years about diet, and of course exercise, and proof positive that I’m doing the right thing, not only for myself but also my wife and daughter (and everyone who’s had to put up with my bleating over the last 4 years!).
What is perhaps most interesting, is that last year I really went off the rails and put a load of weight on. My head was not in a good place at all. This year I’ve sorted myself out and in 3 months have lost the weight I put on last year. So I might have thought that my bloods would be worse. It just goes to show, it’s not too late to sort yourself out. But perhaps that’s a story for another day.
If you want to read up on why the dietary cholesterol hypothesis is a load of old bolox, this is the very easy to read and entertaining book I recommend: The Great Cholesterol Con by Dr Malcolm Kendrick (unusually for this field, he’s an English Doctor!)