Del Meyer, MD, Pulmonary Medicine

MedInfo Health Line

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2006

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.


How To Lose Weight Without Dieting or How I Lost My Thirty Pounds

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?

1.         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.

2.         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 reasonable.

The patients always ask me, ďHow can you do that?Ē

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 half.

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 or www.healthcarecom.net/Diets.htm#The%20Ultimate%20Fit%20or%20Fat.

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? Didnít you?

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.