I recently visited my GP – fortunately a rare occurrence for me these days. I went to get some blood tests just to check that I was not on course for heart disease or diabetes because of my ‘high-risk’ diet (see previous blog It’s only my hardened arteries that keep me standing). These tests check levels of blood lipids (fats) and blood sugar.
Since I had nothing overtly ‘wrong’, I was afraid my GP would think I was one of those annoying ‘worried well’ patients; but he was very happy to do a check given my age (59) and the fact that it had been 10 years since my last cholesterol test. Well, in those 10 years, my diet has been turned on its head – out with the ‘healthy whole grains’, lots of fruit and low-fat yoghurts, and in with plenty of green vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, butter, coconut oil, nuts and a relatively small amount of fruit.
So would my ‘bad’ cholesterol’ be sky-high, as the NHS and British Heart Association would have me believe?
The results are
- Blood pressure = normal. (High blood pressure is a risk for stroke and heart attacks)
- Fasting blood glucose = normal (5.4). Above 6.9 indicates diabetes.
- Blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) = normal.
Since the cholesterol printout said ‘HI’ (assume this is medic-speak for ‘high’) just out of curiosity I checked the results with a cardiologist, who said the reading was ‘high’ because my ‘good cholesterol’ was so high.
The cholesterol myth
Not that I am actually interested in cholesterol readings – I fear they are a terrible waste of time and money, based on a never-tested ‘diet-heart’ hypothesis that says high cholesterol and saturated fat are linked to heart disease. This hypothesis is increasingly being called into question by brave members of the medical community who are prepared to speak out against public health orthodoxy and the might of the $29 billion global statins industry.
Inflammation is more important
I was more interested in the triglycerides and blood sugar readings. These, together with blood pressure, level of inflammation (indicated by C-reactive protein in the blood) and levels of anti-oxidants, are much better ways to check your health risks. Anti-oxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E mop up the ‘free radicals’ which do actually cause damage to your arteries.
My triglycerides count (fats in the blood which might cause health problems) was well below the recommended ceiling of 1.7 mmol/L (my reading was 0.5 mmol/L). High triglycerides are a risk for heart disease and stroke.
Ironically, high triglycerides and inflammation are now known to be linked not to the foods which conventional wisdom has cautioned us against – eggs, meat, butter, coconut – but to refined carbohydrates and sugar, which until recently have been given a ‘free pass’ in our diets.
Diet, while hugely important, is of course only part of the picture – reducing stress, taking exercise and getting enough sunshine are all crucial to our good health. But for as long as I continue to feel healthy and full of energy – and my blood tests don’t scare my GP – I’ll carry on enjoying the butter, thanks.