How to Lower Your Cholesterol Without Drugs
Growing up, my
cholesterol was very low. On entering medical school it was only about 100. My
triglycerides were also very low. Back on the farm we ate at least 14 high-fat meals
a week. But hard farm work obviously kept it low. When I entered Medical School, my
cholesterol was edging up towards 150. However,
in the 1960s, a cholesterol level of 300 mg percent was considered normal. In the
1970s, the normal levels were reduced to 260 or so. In the 1980s, the normal levels
were reduced to 230. In the 1990s, the normal levels were reduced to 200. Now in the
21st century, the goal is 150 to 175 or as low as you can get it. It is
established that high cholesterol dramatically increases coronary artery disease,
cerebral vascular strokes and peripheral vascular disease.
After 20 years of
practice, my life became more sedentary and my cholesterol edged upwards to 200. When
it reached 210, my doctor, an endocrine and metabolic specialist, felt I should go on
a statin drug. After about nine months, my muscles ached and became weak and my
creatine phospho-kinase (CPK) levels increased indicating muscle deterioration. It
reversed in about three months preserving my renal function. It could have been a
close call to renal shutdown and subsequent dialysis if the myoglobin from muscle
breakdown had clogged my renal tubules. A trial of another statin caused similar
problems within one week and was immediately stopped.
He then had me
try niacin. This caused flushing which I blocked by taking aspirin half an hour
before taking the SloNiacin. However, after a few months, I again developed muscle
aches, pains and weakness with similar findings of an elevated CPK. The niacin was
immediately stopped before catastrophic events could develop.
It was then I decided
to get serious about reducing my fat intake. Although I had been avoiding red meat, I
totally eliminated it from my diet as well as yellow cheese which is loaded with
cholesterol. I reduced my eggs to one a week and eliminated butter which is animal
fat. Our milk was already 1% instead of 4%. My doctor also had me place two ounces of
ground flax grain on top of my cereal. Just buy flax grain and run it through your
coffee grinder or you can now purchase ready ground flax which makes it convenient.
This reduced my cholesterol about 75 points to 150. Thus, the meats have to be
turkey, chicken, fish, and when I crave a steak, it is a pork steak, which has half
the fat of beef or lamb.
Many of my patients
claim that they eat almost no red meat. However, on completing a food diary, it is
amazing how many beef hamburgers, beef tacos, beef burritos, sausages or bread with
butter they eat. The goal must be zero if youíre serious about reducing your
cholesterol and avoiding statin treatment.
Of course eating a lot
of vegetables also helps. Vegetables or plant food never has any cholesterol. Using
olive oil instead of butter reduces this animal product from high cholesterol to a
plant product with zero cholesterol.
We no longer have to
live with a high cholesterol risk for heart attacks and strokes. Start today to
eliminate these animal fats: beef/lamb; yellow cheese, eggs, whole milk and butter.
About four years ago, my doctor told me I had to
lose 30 pounds if I wanted to live. Although I was healthy, my mother had diabetes
late in life. So I knew I had one diabetic gene. It takes two to have diabetes; what
if my father had one diabetic gene? I could have diabetes and not know about it until
itís too late. One is born with the disease and a doctor can only diagnose it when
about half of the pancreas is dead and it cannot make enough insulin. Thatís when
the blood sugars rise and the doctor can diagnose it.
Hence, I had great impetus to lose those thirty
pounds. So, I started off with two basic principles. How do I estimate how many
calories I am now eating and how many I have to take off of my plate each day to lose
those 30 pounds?
How many calories am I eating?
Iíve been to two dieticians and they came up
with two widely varying estimates of how many calories I was eating. The Weight
Watchers do it very simply: they have everyone multiply their weight by 10 to get a
rough estimate. Actually, a man requires about 10-12 calories per pound to maintain
his weight. In other words, if he eats less that that, he will lose weight. If he
eats more than that, he will gain weight. When I discuss this with a patient, I use
11 calories per pound as an average. My weight was 220 pounds at that time so I knew
I was eating an average of 2400 calories per day. The dieticians got within 500
calories of that number. Perhaps I didnít spend enough time with them.
A woman requires about 8-10 calories per pound to
maintain her weight. In other words, it will take an average of 9 calories per pound
to maintain the weight they now have. If they eat less, they will lose weight. If
they eat more than 9 (8-10) calories per pound, they will gain weight.
How many calories do I have to take off my plate each day?
It is generally assumed that one pound of fat
contains about 3500 calories, even though the actual calculations may be somewhat
higher. (One pound is about 450 grams times 9 calories per gram.) Thus, I decided
that I would remove about 500 calories from my plate each day, which would be 3500
calories per week. Using my estimated intake of 2400 calories, I decided to reduce
the size of food on my plate by one-fourth, which is about as close an estimate as is
The patients always ask me, ďHow can you do
So I draw a circle on my white board in my office
and divide it into thirds. This is basically the Zone diet (after Barry Sears, PhD).
There are three zones on the plate and one zone on a side plate or dish. The three
zones are 1) meat, 2) vegetable, and 3) your salad, potato or rice. The dessert zone
(4) is fresh fruit Ė never a pie or pastry or cake (unless itís a Thanksgiving,
Christmas or Easter dinner when you must be kind to your host or your cook. Three
indiscretions a year will not harm you. Three a week and you should be reading
something else. Youíre not interested in losing weight.)
The first or MEAT Zone is a piece of meat that is
the size of the palm of your hand. For most women this is about 3 or 4 ounces and for
most men this is about 5 or 6 ounces. So, I tell my patients that at the hospital
buffet where I eat they have large pieces, like a thigh-drumstick combination. I just
cut that in half. Same with a large piece of fish.
The second or VEGETABLE Zone is not limited. You
can have all the peas, carrots, spinach, beans, squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts or
whatever vegetable they are serving.
The third Zone is your rice or POTATO or salad.
At the hospital buffet, they have these humungous baked potatoes. I just cut one in
As for the DESSERT Zone, the buffet always
includes melon or fresh fruit. Many of the salads have a lot of fruit and nuts in
them. I sometimes use one of those salads for my dessert zone.
So, did I lose a pound a week?
After two months or eight weeks, I should have
lost eight pounds. However, I had lost 12 pounds. Hence, I must have taken about 750
calories off my plate each day or about 50 percent over estimate.
After four months or 16 weeks, I should have lost
16 pounds. However, I lost 20 pounds. Hence, I must have been taking about 625
calories off my plate or 25 percent more than my estimate. I canít count calories,
you canít count calories, the dieticians come up with different numbers for
calories, and all my patients that count calories are not losing weight. Hence, these
estimates are more workable.
After six months or 24 weeks, I should have lost
24 pounds. However, I lost the entire thirty pounds, still averaging 625 calories off
my plate or 25 percent more than my estimate.
During these six months, I never felt hungry and
ate the food that I liked.
There is a book by Schwartz, Diets Donít Work.
As I recall, he was on more than 100 diets and had lost 2000 pounds. Unfortunately,
he regained about 2001 pounds. He stated that most diets are so awful, that patients
canít wait to get off of them and resume their old dietary habits. The Zone diet is
a new way of living. Donít ever plan to stop since youíre eating the things you
are use to eatingójust less.
There is a book, Portion Savvy by Carrie Latt
Wiatt. A review of this book as well as the Zone Diet can be found in the diet
section at www.healthcarecom.net/bkrev_Health.htm
In our Weight Loss plan, you initially eat what
you like. After losing the weight to a healthy level, one can then fine-tune it for
other healthy goals such as fat and cholesterol lowering. See the MedInfo Health
article on ďHow to lower your cholesterol without drugs.Ē
Another caveat is that one never takes a second
helping. There is no point in my spending time discussing with patients what should
be on their plate if they are going to eat second helpings.
In my experience, getting patients to eliminate
second helpings is really the first step. Most men can lose about 40-50 pounds in one
year by eliminating second helpings and between-meal and bedtime snacks. Most women
can lose about 20-25 pounds in a year on a similar schedule.
I always get the question: what about exercise?
Well, no. I maintained my same activity level.
There is no way that I could have exercised 500 calories of weight off per day. I am
unable to run the several miles a day it would take. By exercising more, I would
build up more muscle mass, which would then replace the lost fat mass. Certainly this
is healthy. But the weight generally remains the same: fat loss generally equals
muscle gain. There is only one way to lose weightóeat less. Then fat lost equals
weight loss. Exercise is important and will make you feel better. But it doesnít
reduce your weight significantly, especially at the age that most people become
concerned and exercise is less vigorous. Many of my patients pay lip homage to more
exercise, but are unable to even climb a flight of stairs.
Obesity is the largest epidemic this country has
ever seen. It increases your chances for heart disease, hypertension, strokes,
diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and many others by at least 100 percent. There
is no time like the present to start getting healthy. Eat less and yes, exercise
more. The latter for health reasons, not weight-loss reasons.