Hold the carbs

Complex problems sometimes call for simple solutions

The battle of the bulge and clogging arteries are staples in many of our lives; nothing new about that. The orthodox approach: saturated fat restriction, lots of veggies and whole grains, exercise and statins. The unorthodox approach: carbohydrate restriction.

One of the most consistently vocal of the unorthodox: Dr. Michael Eades. In a blog entry on January 12, he tells his readers how it all started. For those who missed it in the 1980s, or were too young to care, or like me forgot about it with time, or just finally gave in to both the sweetness of breads and cereals, and the idea we need them to be well, here's how Dr. Eades got on an unorthodox path of treating excess weight and high blood fats.

Back then, he was busy practising general medicine. Some of his patients needed to lose weight and improve their cholesterol and blood fat numbers. He'd had his own experience with that goal, and had done what most people do with diets: lose a few pounds and then put them back on. Then he started thinking seriously about obesity as a medical problem, and turned to his medical school biochemistry and physiology textbooks to trace out the pathways of fat storage. He found insulin was a common denominator, assumed his on-again off-again battle of the bulge was the result of high insulin levels and set out fix the problem by sharply restricting his carbohydrate intake. It worked.

But he'd been taught well in medical school: dietary cholesterol and saturated fats lead to heart disease. Not wanting to bring harm to his patients, he wasn't sure about sharing the path of his success with his patients. Then came a 32-year-old patient he calls Angie. Her total cholesterol was 374, her triglycerides 2080. But as a young pre-menopausal female, she would have been considered low risk for heart disease, so, somewhat nervously, he put her on a sharply reduced carbohydrate diet and gave her his beeper number. Three weeks later, her abdominal pain and nausea were gone, she'd lost nine pounds, and her total cholesterol was down to 292, her triglycerides to 149.

A few more similar experiences, some even more dramatic than Angie's, and Protein Power was born. And then heavily criticized. But it was too effective to go away.

Had Dr. Eades been dependent on research funding for his work, I'm guessing he would have, like so many with hypotheses that run counter to the orthodoxy, disappeared from view. But he was in private practice and too many of his patients were finally succeeding in winning their health back. So despite the opposition, his practice thrived, his books continued to sell and those who learn about metabolic syndrome through his writings continue to find hope, and health.

Most of us though—either unaware of another option, or not convinced of its safety, or under pressure from our doctors to avoid dietary saturated fats, or unwilling to radically alter eating habits—resign ourselves to middle-aged middles, and to the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs to deal with heart disease risk factors. And despite our interventions, our collective weight, heart disease casualties and statin-induced vitamin D deficiencies (and their accompanying bone and muscle deterioration, compromised immune function, cancers and heart disease) continue to rise.
All of which seems senseless when you consider that cholesterol is vital to good health, that mortality risk with a cholesterol reading below 140 is as great a risk as one above 240, that the range blood cholesterol naturally falls into on diets high in proteins and saturated fats and low in carbohydrates is the range that presents the lowest risk for heart disease, and that blood cholesterol becomes dangerous to our arteries only when it is oxidized by a shortage of antioxidants or an excess of insulin.

Excess weight and/or heart disease aren't always the result of eating poorly and being prone to lying on the couch. They are conditions very often present in active, diet-conscious people living by the Canada Food Guide.  And the underlying metabolic condition is one that tends to respond beautifully to carbohydrate restriction. Thank-you Dr. Eades, for permitting your patients to teach you, and for caring enough to go back to the drawing board. V

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