Thursday, February 4, 2010

Putting Some Cracks in the Myth of Cholesterol - With a Word on Grains

Had an interesting series of conversations on Reddit today.  (If you're interested in joining in, go here [guess which one is me].)

In the Fitness sub-Reddit, someone asked:
I'm trying to get stronger by lifting weights and eating all the time. My dad says he has never seen anyone in his life eating like I do and is concerned that I am causing irreversible damage to my body. I don't intend to eat 6 eggs a day for the rest of my life.. just until I gain 20 pounds or so of muscle... So what should I tell him, or should I listen to my old man and have maybe 1 egg a day?
To which I responded:

Most people that have heart attacks do not have high levels of blood cholesterol. ACTUALLY, as the amount of serum cholesterol lowers, mortality increases.  From the Framingham Study (longest running cohort study, ever - since 1948): There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years."

Cholesterol is good. Saturated fat is great. (Saturated fat increases serum cholesterol, but this is actually a good thing). They do not CAUSE heart attacks. Cholesterol oxidation DOES, however. Cholesterol is oxidized by the presence of blood glucose and trans fatty acids. They interact with LDL (which are necessary for proper body function) and turn them into... DLDL (yes, silly, I know) dense low-density lipoprotein. It's not HDL, but an entirely different beast. One that gets stuck in arterial walls. This in turn can cause oxidation of the surrounding tissue, creating inflammation that if left unchecked will cause lesions which will eventually 'scab over' with more cholesterol. Cholesterol that will be in your blood regardless of how much you eat because a healthy liver makes it, as it is a prerequisite for cellular life and function.

The "experts" that tout this cholesterol myths are doctors or, worse, dieticians that either do not have a degree in physiology or a solid understanding of these underlying processes, or are under the thumb of Big Pharma and would love NOTHING more than to get you hooked on statins instead of altering your lifestyle and preventing heart disease without having to pay them.

This went back and forth a while - eventually the topic of grain became a focus:
I agree with your original post and what came out of that, but you can't say that all of these health problems that we face today were caused by grains. Your use of "Civilization" has to assume that either ancient civilizations (like the Sumerians and Chinese, which had cultivated grain and pulse crops over 10,000 years ago) were rife with obesity and heart disease, or that these crops are new in our diet. True, the composition of what we refer to as "grains" has changed a lot with processing, but you can't argue that, for example, Africans who live primarily off grains like sorghum and pulses/beans are diabetic or obese.
And my response:

These Africans are also eating far less than we are, and are extremely active.  Apples and oranges comparison - they do not really live in a "land of plenty" scenario.  That does not say that these foods are necessarily good for them - just because you're not overweight does not mean your body isn't suffering from the inflammatory and oxidative effects of the phytates, lectins and gluten in grains.

A problem with agriculture is that it allows for more people to survive on less - you have explosions of populations of people that can subsist on nearly nothing because they do not have to work as hard physically for our food.  This leads us to the massive slum populations in places like India andmany places in Africa, where agriculture was introduced, populations exploded, famine becomes the norm.

And grains are very new to our diet.  Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for 200,000 year, possible more.  Most evidence points to agriculture being around 10,000 years old, making grain, at most, a part of diet for 5% of our history.

An unfortunate byproduct of agriculture is that it has disassociated reproductive fitness from physical fitness and dietary adaptations - how healthy someone is and/or able to adapt to the world around them becomes 
less a factor of whether or not they will reproduce, completely derailing evolution as we have known it.

What has happened is that we've added a new food source and have not really had selective pressure to adapt to it.  So we don't, really.  This is why 1/3 of the population has more-than-baseline reaction to gluten, though really everyone has some measure of sensitivity to it.

There may be some cultures more adapted to eat grains, similar to how Northern Europeans and the Masai are more lactose tolerant than the general populace (though both cultures are VERY fond of ingesting FERMENTED dairy, in which lactose reaction is less prevalent anyway).   I am not aware of them, though rice as a grain is relatively innocuous (still far from ideal as a food), and perhaps Asians have adapted somewhat.

So I am wondering what you guys think?  Please add your thoughts here, and I encourage you to participate in the linked conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you could also point out the archaeologial studies on skeletons and the abnormalities in the bones of the people who ate grains vs those who did not? Dr. Guyenet from WholeHeathSource posted several of these that were fascinating.


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Man vs World by Aaron M Fraser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.