The Nation's Health + Nutrition

Cholesterol effects of carbohydrates

Let's take a hypothetical person, say, a 50-year old male. 5 ft 10 inches, 160 lbs, BMI 23.0. He's slender and in good health.

Our hypothetical man eats a simple diet of vegetables, some fruit, nuts, and meats but avoids processed industrial foods. By macronutrient composition, his diet is approximately 30% protein, 40-50% fat, 20-30% carbohydrate. His starting lipid panel:

Total cholesterol 149 mg/dl
LDL cholesterol 80 mg/dl
HDL 60 mg/dl
Triglycerides 45 mg/dl

His starting lipids are quite favorable (though I don't often see this kind of starting panel nowadays except in athletes). We begin here because this hypothetical man is going to serve as our test subject.

We ask our hypothetical man to load his diet up on "healthy whole grains." He complies by eating whole grain cereals for breakfast, whole wheat toast; sandwiches made with whole grain bread; dinners of whole wheat pasta; snacks of granola bars, whole wheat pretzels and crackers.

Three months later, his lipids show:

Total cholesterol 175 mg/dl
LDL cholesterol 130 mg/dl
HDL 45 mg/dl
Triglycerides 150 mg/dl

You can see that LDL cholesterol has increased, HDL has dropped, and triglycerides have increased. This wave of change is the hallmark of carbohydrate excess, but more specifically of overreliance on wheat products. Beyond his lipid panel, the man has gained 10 lbs, all concentrated in a soft roll around his abdomen, his blood sugar is now in the "borderline range" of between 110 and 126 mg/dl, i.e., pre-diabetic.

If we were to examine this man's advanced lipoproteins (e.g., NMR from Liposcience, or VAP from Atherotech), we would see that there has been an explosive increase in small LDL particles, along with a shift of large HDL to small, and the appearance of multiple abnormal classes of particles called VLDL and IDL (signalling abnormally slowed clearance of dietary by-products from the blood).

Familiar scenario? The "after-carbohydrate" situation is the rule among the people who I first meet who claim to be eating a "healthy" diet, though their patterns are usually much worse, with higher LDL, lower HDL, and much higher triglycerides, an exaggeration of our hypothetical man's abnormalities.

What if our hypothetical man now goes to his conventionally thinking (read "taught medicine by the pharmaceutical industry") physician? What will likely be the advice he receives? Reduce his saturated fat intake, eat plenty of healthy whole grains, take a statin drug.

Although my illustrative man is hypothetical, I've seen this scenario play out many thousands of times. It happens in real life all the time. It is predictable, it is highly manipulable. Sadly, it is rarely recognized for what it is: the result of excess carbohydrates, or what I call "Carbohydrate Intolerance Syndrome."

The misinterpretation of this condition has created 1) an epidemic of diabetes and pre-diabetes, 2) a nation of frustrated obese Americans, 3) a $27 billion per year statin industry, 4) another growth opportunity for the drug industry in diabetes drugs.

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