Two articles that changed my life

Two days ago, on October 23, I turned 40. For me, it feels different than every other birthday I have had: it feels like the marker of the transition between what can be considered young adulthood from 20 to 40, and middle adulthood from 40 to 70, which is then simply followed by old age. Maybe this is also linked to the fact that from the time I started competing, first in running track and field, then in road cycling, duathlon (running and cycling), off-road cycling and eventually in long distance running, I have always been in the normal, standard 18-40 category (like almost everyone else, I thought). And now, starting with my first race in the first level Seniors from 40 to 50 a couple of weekends ago in Bordeaux at the Ariane Cross 2012, I am definitely, and will be for the next 10 years, in the over 40 category. So, I have been reflecting a little on the past and the future: What is really important to me, what have I done and accomplished, what do I want to do in the future and how can I get there? Simple questions whose answers are not so simple.

In this context, I want to share two articles that completely changed my life, and completely changed my state of health, in some respects, rather suddenly, and in others, gradually over the years. Interestingly, I stumbled upon and read them both in the same week almost exactly five years ago. I won’t summarise, discuss their contents, nor describe the positive effects the simple but radical changes in dietary habits they prompted me to instil have had on me, on my wife Kristin and on our son Laurent. I simply encourage you to read them for yourself, and sincerely hope they will benefit you as much as they have us, and, I am sure, everyone who has ever read and applied the information they contain to their diet.

What is clear to me now much more than it has in the past, is that no matter what information we are presented, its impact depends entirely on how receptive we are to it. And this depends on all of what we know and think we know, on how we understand the connections between everything we have been exposed to, on our habits and tendencies, on previous experiences throughout our life, and very importantly, on the circumstances that form the context in which the information is brought to our attention. Thus, let me hope that these two articles come at a time that is ripe for you to appreciate their importance in regards to your own health, that of the people you care about, and everyone else for that matter.

The two articles are Insulin and Its Metabolic Effects by Ron Rosedale, MD, and The Skinny on Fats by Mary Enig, PhD. After reading them, please consider sending this link to those you know will or even might possibly appreciate it. As you will see from the few case histories at the start of Rosedale’s presentation, it is really a matter of life or death.

Healthy and lucid from childhood to old age

So you’ve been around for 70 years, and you’re still well enough to read this. Have you actually made it past 75, 80 or even 85? This is really great! Through a combination of different factors, various reasons, personal habits and choices, you have made this far.

Maybe because of your genetic makeup: Your parents and grand-parents all lived well into their 80’s or 90’s by following a kind of innate, traditional wisdom based on the understanding that we really are what we eat, in a very real sense, and you’ve done more or less the same, following in their footsteps.

Maybe because you have always been moderate in your eating habits: You’ve never been overweight; you’ve never eaten much sweets or deserts; you’ve never eaten much preserved meats and canned foods; you’ve never drank much alcohol; you’ve never drank sweetened soft drinks, juice or milk—mostly just water, always paying attention not to drink too much coffee or strongly caffeinated tea.

Maybe you have made it this far because you have also been moderately active throughout your life, never exercising too much or too intensely, but always quite regularly: Walking; doing light exercises for your joints (rotations of the arms for your shoulders, stretches for your neck and back, and exercises for your knees); riding a bike a couple times a week in the good season, not getting off the bike but instead riding up those hills; maybe you went skiing a week or two most years; went for long walks or even hikes in the mountains during holidays; or did a little swimming in the sea or in lakes when the occasion presented itself.

The golden middleas my grand-father called it: everything is moderation. And he almost made it to 90 years of age! But no matter what the reason is, it is truly wonderful that you have indeed made it this far. Then again, you might be young or middle aged, but interested—maybe somewhat, maybe highly, but nonetheless interested—in being healthy and lucid for as long as possible, and hopefully well into your old age.

Either way, young or old, you live in this modern world like most of us. You live in a city, you drive a car, you work in an office, you fly or flew often on business trips, maybe even several times per week. You eat meat and fish; bread, potatoes, rice and pasta; fruits and vegetables, all from the supermarket.  And so you have, throughout your life, been continuously exposed to increasing amounts of chemicals, heavy metals and various other toxins in our environment, most of which have been accumulating in your tissues. You live in the modern world like most of us, and so you have taken medication on various occasions during your life: antibiotics a few times, maybe some pain killers, maybe some sleeping pills, maybe simple anti-histamines when you had a cold. Maybe you are and have even been taking medication on a daily basis for some “minor” but “chronic” condition.

You live in this modern world and so you have been told to drink plenty of fluids and that salt is bad and should be avoided. You’ve been told that fat in general, but especially saturated fats and cholesterol, are bad because they cause heart disease: they cause your arteries to clog up with fatty plaques that eventually block them to give you a heart attack. You’ve been told to avoid them as much as you can, and instead to consume polyunsaturated vegetable oils, plenty of whole grains and cereal products, legumes, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and so you have done that: you have decreased or almost eliminated your intake of butter, eggs, fatty cheese, fatty yoghurt, red meat—never ever eating the fatty trimmings, and also of the fatty skin on chicken or fish.

Consequently, you have increased your intake of morning cereal—but only sugar-free whole grain cereal like muesli; increased your intake of bread—but usually whole grain bread; increased your intake of rice—but usually brown rice; increased your intake of pasta—but usually also whole grain pasta; and increased you intake of potatoes—but never fried, only baked, steamed or boiled potatoes.

Maybe your total lipoprotein levels are around 220 or 240 mg/dl, and you have been told that this is too high, and for this reason you have tried to further reduce your fat intake, and are even taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs, every day, just like hundreds of millions of other people in this modern world.

Unfortunately, you have not been told that you should be drinking water; not fluids in general, and that there are many reasons water, ageing and disease are intimately connected—the lack of water, that is. In addition to that, you have not been told that it is not enough to drink some water sometimes: it is essential to drink water before meals. Unfortunately, you have not been told that sodium is one of the most important minerals for health: why else would the kidneys, without which we cannot live for more than a few days, go to such great lengths to prevent its excretion in the urine, and keep it in the blood if it wasn’t? But even more unfortunately, you have not been told that minerals in general, are essential for health, and that unrefined sea salt contains all naturally occurring trace minerals is proportions that closely match those of several of our bodily fluids. And that furthermore, proper bodily function depends intimately on the balance of the minerals available, and that our salt-phobic and calcium-phillic society has led to most of us becoming completely over-calcified while growing more and more deficient in the rest of the trace minerals, and in particular magnesium. The link between generalised magnesium deficiency and minerals, ageing and disease are now everywhere painfully obvious.

Unfortunately—and indeed very sadly—you have not been told that cholesterol is absolutely vital for life and good health: that it forms the membrane of every single cell in your body and in that of every animal, that your entire nervous system and especially your brain are built using cholesterol and depend intimately on the availability of plenty of cholesterol, that your hormonal system relies completely on cholesterol for building hormones, and that your best defences against infectious and inflammatory pathogens are in fact the lipoproteins carrying around the precious cholesterol throughout your body. You have not been told that cholesterol is so important that it is manufactured continuously by our liver to keep up with the body’s needs, and that therefore, the cholesterol we eat does not in any ways raise lipoprotein concentrations. You have not been told that in addition to cholesterol, fat is also essential for building hormones, essential for absorbing minerals from the intestines into our bloodstream, essential for the binding of these minerals into the bones and teeth, essential for energy production in every cell of our body.

Furthermore, you have not been told that saturated fats like those found in animal products and coconut oil are molecularly stable, whereas unsaturated and particularly polyunsaturated oils such as those that make up all vegetable oils are molecularly unstable, some more than others, for the double bonds between carbon atoms in the chain that forms the fat molecule are weak and readily broken to permit some other unstable molecule seeking a free electron to attach in order to make the final molecular configuration stable. But that those unstable compounds are actually scavenging around for any electron to bind to, and unfortunately most of the time if not always, these free-radicals will attach themselves to healthy tissue without proper enzymatic action to guide them in the proper place and position, thus damaging our tissues.

In fact, you have not been told that all large studies that have been conducted to evaluate the “health-promoting” properties of polyunsaturated fats have not only failed to do so, but instead have shown that the more polyunsaturated oils we consume, the more atherosclerotic plaques develop in our arteries, and therefore the more likely we are to suffer a heart attack or stroke. And that on the contrary, the more saturated fats we consume, the less plaques we have, and consequently, the less likely we are to have a heart attack or a stroke (see any of the books about cholesterol in Further readings).

You have not been told, that for millions of years our species has evolved consuming most of its calories in the form of saturated fats from meat and animal products—in some cases exclusively from these, from coconut and palm oil (where these grow), and to a much lesser extent from polyunsaturated fats, and this only in whole foods such as fish, nuts and seeds—never concentrated into vegetable oils.

Unfortunately—and indeed very sadly—you have not been told that we were never meant to eat simple or starchy carbohydrates: that eating such carbohydrates always triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin in order to clear the bloodstream of the damaging glucose in circulation, that chronically elevated glucose levels lead to chronically elevated insulin levels that in turn lead to insulin resistance—first in our muscles, then in our liver, and finally in our fat cells—which leads to type II diabetes, to heart disease from the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries and vessels, and to Alzheimer’s and cognitive degradation from the buildup of plaque in the cerebral arteries and vessels.

Unfortunately—and indeed very sadly—you have not been told and have not considered that all the multitude of chemicals and heavy metals that we are exposed to in the medications we take, in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, in the food we eat, in the soaps and shampoos we use, and in the household products we employ to keep our house sparkling clean and bacteria-free, accumulate in our bodies. They accumulate in our fat cells, in our tissues, in our organs, in our brains. They burden, disrupt and damage our digestive system, our immune system, our hormonal system, our organs, tissues and cells. Sometimes they reach such concentrations that we become gravely ill, but none of the doctors we visit in seeking a solution and relief understand why. Most often, however, we don’t get gravely ill but instead start developing different kinds of little problems: we get colds more often and take longer to recover, we get mild but regular digestive upsets that we can’t explain and that seem to get worse with time, we get headaches and have trouble sleeping, we feel depressed, tired, alone, helpless, not acutely but enough to disturb us enough that we notice it.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, you have not been told how truly essential vitamin B12 really is, but how, for a variety of different reasons, blood concentrations B12 decrease with age, and eventually dwindle to very low levels. That B12 is essential most crucially to preserve the myelin sheath that covers all of our nerves healthy, and thus crucially important for everything that takes place throughout the nervous system, which means, everything in the body and brain. Levels of B12 should never go below 450 pg/ml, and ideally should be maintained at 800 pg/ml throughout life, from childhood to old age hood.

Can we do anything about all this?

The most fundamental point to understand is that everything about your health depends on the state of health of your digestive system. All absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste happens in the digestive system. Since our health depends on proper absorption and efficient elimination, the digestive system should be our first as well as our main concern.

The first step is to rebuild and establish a healthy intestinal flora of beneficial bacteria (breakdown and absorption), and at the same time begin to detoxify the body and clean out the intestines (elimination). This is done by taking high quality probiotics to supply beneficial bacteria on a daily basis, high quality chlorella to both supply a lot of micronutrients and pull out heavy metals, and water-soluble fibre like psyllium husks to clean out the intestines by pushing out toxins and waste products. If you are not already taking these, read Probiotics, chlorella and psyllium husks.

The second step is by far the most important, and in fact, crucial dietary change necessary to achieve optimal metabolic health. It is to eliminate simple and starchy carbohydrates from you diet, and replace them with more raw vegetables—especially green and leafy salads and colourful vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, more nuts and seeds—especially raw and soaked, more good and efficiently absorbed protein—especially eggs, fish and raw cheeses, and much more saturated fats—especially coconut oil (at least 3 tablespoons per day) and butter. Doing this is  essential for the systemic detoxification, rebuilding and then maintaining a healthy digestive system. Everything should be organic: you obviously don’t want to be adding to your toxic load while trying to detoxify.

And the third step is to supplement our now-excellent, health-promoting diet with a few essential and very important nutrients that are, for most of us, difficult to obtain. The only such supplements that I believe to be essential, and that my family and I take daily, are: Vitamin B12 and vitamin D3—the most important supplements to take for overall health, but in which we are almost all deficient; Krill oil—a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat with its own natural anti-oxidants, highly absorbable, and particularly important for proper brain function; Ubiquinol—the reduced and thus useable form of coenzyme Q10, critical for cellular energy production, and a powerful lipid-soluble anti-oxidant that protects our cells from oxidative damage, but both of whose synthesis as CoQ10 and conversion from CoQ10 to ubiquinol drop dramatically after about age 30-40; Vitamin K2—essential for healthy bones but very hard to get other than from fermented foods, which we typically eat little of.

In addition to these, we usually always take Astaxanthin and turmeric—very powerful antioxidants with amazing general and specific anti-ageing health benefits, and also sometimes take a whole-foods-multi—basically dehydrated vegetables and berries made into a powder and compressed into a pill for extra micronutrients. (You can read about all of these supplements on Wikipedia or any other page you will find by doing an internet search.)

I tend to buy our supplements from Dr Joseph Mercola, (whose website also provides a lot of info about these and other supplements, as well as about a multitude of other health-related issues and conditions), because I trust that his are among if not the best on the market: there’s really no point in buying cheap supplements at the pharmacy, and risking doing yourself more harm than good, as would happen with a rancid omega-3 supplement, or a synthetic Vitamin D, for example.

Staying healthy and lucid is, in reality, quite easy and simple. Unfortunately, most of us, including, and maybe especially our medical doctors, just don’t know how. And so, medical diagnostic and high-tech treatment technologies continue to improve and develop, and medical expenditures continue to rise throughout the modern world, but we are sicker than ever: more obesity, more diabetes, more strokes, more heart attacks, more cancers, more Alzheimer’s, more leaky guts, more ulcers, more liver failures, more kidney failures, and on and on. There is more disease, more pain, more suffering and more premature deaths. And all of it is completely unnecessary and avoidable by such simple and inexpensive means as those outlined herein. The only critical point is that only you can do it; nobody else can do it for you.

We were never meant to eat simple or starchy carbohydrates

The transition between hunting-gathering and farming took place over a period of about 1000 years between 11000 and 10000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a crescent-like shape of land that stretches across parts of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The first people to settle were hunter-gatherers that built villages in places they found provided enough food to sustain them without having to move around. At first, these were “seasonal” villages located in different areas, to which they returned in a seasonal cycle. Finding ways to store the grain from the large seeded grasses like barley and emmer wheat growing wild but in large quantities, allowed them to settle permanently. This most likely led to a rapid growth of the population, that was matched with a proportionally rapid growth in the demand for food. The response was the development of agriculture.

The gradual decimation of the wild game over the course of about 2000 years led to the domestication of the most easily domesticable, large mammals to inhabit the region, the sheep, goat and pig, all about 8000 years ago, followed by the cow about 6000 years ago. It is very interesting and important to point out, from an anthropological point of view, that the Fertile Crescent—the seat of civilisation—is the region in the world where there were the greatest number of large-seeded grasses, as well as the greatest number of large, easily domesticable animals, by far.

The cultivation of cereal crops allowed our ancestors, some 10000 years ago, to have, for the first time in our evolutionary history, enough spare time to develop tools and technologies, as well as arts and music. For the first time in evolutionary history, a handful of people could sow, tend to, and harvest enough cereal grain to feed hundreds or even thousands of people who were, therefore, free to do a multitude of other things. Without agriculture and this shift from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of spending most of our waking hours hunting and rummaging around looking for food, we would not have developed much of anything because we simply never would have had the time to do so.

Now, although it is well known to most anthropologists, it is not a well appreciated fact that the cultivation and eating of cereal crops as an important source of calories, is possibly the most negatively impacting evolutionary mistake to have been made in regards to the health and robustness of our species as a whole. There was, indeed, plenty of free time, and we did develop technologies extremely quickly considering how slowly things had changed before then. But the price to pay was high.

Within as little as one or two generations, our powerful stature shrank markedly, our strong teeth rotted, our massive bones became thin and brittle, our thick hair grew thin and fell out at an early age. In fact, evidence indicates that while our hunter-gatherer ancestors were tall, strong, robust, with hard teeth and bones, and apparently healthy to their death—usually of a violent nature instead of progressive degradation through “ageing” as later became the norm, our oldest cereal-eating ancestors in contrast, were the exact opposite: small, weak, fragile, with rotten teeth, and advanced osteoporosis in their bones at the time of their death in their early 50’s. (For a lot more details about all the points discussed up to here, I strongly recommend Jared Diamond’s fascinating books: The Third Chimpanzee; Guns, Germs and Steel; and Collapse).

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century some 10000 years later, we know exactly why we were never meant to consume carbohydrates on a regular basis, let alone in large quantities as we do today, such that they provide a significant part of our daily calories—sometimes even the majority! We know exactly why because we have pretty clearly understood the primary effect of phytic acids or phytates, the importance of dietary fats, and the insulin mechanism.

Phytates are compounds that exist in all grains and legumes—where they are found in the greatest concentration—as well as in all nuts and seeds. Some animals like rats, for example, have evolved the necessary digestive mechanisms to break down phytates, but humans have not. The consequence is these bind to minerals in the gut and in so doing prevent their absorption into the bloodstream. The regular consumption of grains and legumes—and we believe that many of our first agrarian ancestors lived almost exclusively from grains—leads to severe mineral deficiencies that result in demineralisation of the teeth and bones, exactly as is seen in the remains of these ancestors.

Moreover, any diet consisting primarily of grains (and legumes) as was theirs, will also inevitably be extremely deficient in fat, that is now know to be essential for the proper function of every cell, tissue and organ in the body (especially the brain), but also crucial in the absorption of minerals. So, the combination of a high concentration of phytates together with an almost complete absence of fat, made for an extremely effective demineralisation, which is indeed seen in the smaller statures, weakened bones and teeth, and considerably shortened lifespan of our agrarian ancestors. This obviously still applies today: the more phytates, the faster the demineralisation; and the less fat; the faster the demineralisation.

Finally, insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. There is always a certain concentration of glucose in the blood, and there is also always a certain concentration of insulin. If there isn’t a major metabolic disorder, then the higher the glucose concentration, the higher the insulin concentration. And conversely, the lower the glucose concentration, the lower the insulin concentration. But since the body is programmed to always keep glucose concentrations to a minimum, as soon as there is a simple carbohydrate in our mouth, insulin is secreted into the bloodstream. As the glucose—either from the simple carbohydrates or from the breakdown of starches—enters the bloodstream through the intestinal wall, and as its concentration continues to rise, the pancreas continues to secrete insulin to match the concentration of glucose; but always a little more, just to be on the safe side.

Why? If glucose were good for us, then why should we have this highly sensitive mechanism to always try to get rid of it?

Insulin’s primary role is storage of “excess” nutrients, and regulation of fat storage and fat burning: when insulin is high, there is fat storage; when insulin is low, there is fat burning. It’s very simple. This, in turn, means that insulin is the primary regulator of energy balance, and therefore of metabolism. From an evolutionary perspective, the importance of insulin is perfectly clear. Firstly, it is a mechanism that is common to almost if not all living creatures, from the simplest to the most complex, because all living creatures depend for their survival on a mechanism that allows them to store nutrients when they are available for consumption but not needed by their metabolism, in order to live through periods where food is not available. This is why the role of insulin is so fundamental and why it is a master hormone around which most others adjust themselves. But when glucose levels are higher than a minimum functional threshold, what insulin is trying to do, in fact, is to clear away the glucose circulating in our bloodstream.

Why? Because the body simply does not want large amounts of glucose in circulation. In fact, it wants blood glucose to be low, very low, as low as possible. And beyond this very low threshold of glucose concentration between 60 and 80 mg/dl, it always tries to store it away, to clear it from the bloodstream, to make it go away. It tries to store as much as possible in the muscles and the liver as glycogen, and converts the rest to fat stored away in fat cells. That the body does not want glucose in circulation is most certainly related to the fact that the insulin mechanism even exists: very small amounts of glucose in the bloodstream is essential for life, but large amounts of glucose in the bloodstream is toxic. And all simple and starchy carbohydrates stimulate the secretion of insulin from the pancreas.

Keep in mind that the presence of insulin promotes the storage of glucose, but also of proteins as well as fats. Once more, its role is to store away and deplete the “excess” nutrients in the bloodstream for later times of food scarcity. Once the insulin molecule has delivered its load (glucose, protein or fat) through the receptor on the cell, it can either be released back into circulation or degraded by the cell. Degradation of circulating insulin is done by the liver and kidneys, and a single molecule will circulate for about 1 hour from the time it was released into the bloodstream by the pancreas until it is broken down.

It is important to add that stress stimulates the secretion of stress hormones that in turn stimulates the release from and production of glucose by the liver, just in case we need to sprint or jump on someone to save ourselves. Obviously, the presence of glucose—now not from ingested carbohydrates but from the liver itself—will trigger the secretion of insulin in exactly the same way as if we had eaten sugar. This means that stress mimics the physiological effects of a high sugar diet. And that’s not good. In fact, it’s pretty bad.

Chronically elevated glucose levels lead to chronically elevated insulin levels. And this is much worse. Like for any kind of messenger mechanism—as is insulin, if there are too many messengers repeating the same message over and over again, very soon they are not heard well because their efforts at passing on the message becomes more like background noise. Frustrated that they are not taken seriously, the messengers seek reinforcements in numbers to be able to pass on their message more forcefully. This, however, leads to even more annoyance on the part of the listeners—the message recipients—that now start to simply ignore the message and the messengers. This process continues to gradually escalate up to the point where the terrain is completely flooded by messengers yelling the same thing, but there is no one at all that is listening because they have insulated their windows and doors, and closed them tightly shut.

Here, the messengers are the insulin hormone molecules secreted by the pancreas and coursing throughout the body in our veins and arteries; the message recipients are our cells: muscle tissue, liver and fat cells; and the message itself is “Take this sugar from the bloodstream, and store it away. We don’t want this stuff circulating around.” The desensitisation—the not-listening—to different, progressively higher degrees with time, is called insulin resistance. Finally, the complete ignoring by the cells of the message and the messengers is called type II diabetes.

Furthermore, insulin resistance—not in the muscle, liver and fats cells, but in the brain cells—clearly leads to neurological degradation identified as cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s or whatever other terms are used. Because beyond the fact that type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are both increasing together at an alarming rate in the US and other western countries, and beyond the fact that diabetics are at least twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to non-diabetics, the basic condition of insulin resistance inevitably leads to chronically elevated glucose concentrations simply because the cells do not allow the glucose to enter. And it is well known that glucose in the blood simply and straight forwardly damages to the lining of the blood vessels, which then leads to plaque formation—the body’s repair mechanism for the damaged cells underneath. Thus, as are the coronary arteries of advanced atherosclerotic heart disease sufferers (and diabetics): riddled with plaques, so are the arteries and blood vessels in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers (and diabetics).

Now, although many claim that these and other issues related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of neurological degradation are still relatively poorly understood, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all the evidence I need: Do you want the vessels supplying blood to the brain fill up with plaque in response to the damage caused by glucose circulating in the bloodstream? Do you want the coronary arteries fill up with plaque in response from the damage caused by glucose circulating in the bloodstream? I certainly don’t. How could anyone?

What do we need to do? Very simple: just eliminate  simple and starchy carbohydrates from the diet. Concentrate on eating a lot of green vegetables, tons of green leafy salad greens; plenty of fat from coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts and seed of all kinds; and a little animal protein from eggs, raw cheese, wild fish and meat (if you chose to do so). Blood sugar will drop to its minimum, insulin will follow suit, and the body’s own repair and maintenance mechanisms will clear out the plaques, repair damaged tissues, degraded unneeded scar tissues and small tumours and recycle these proteins into useful muscle tissue, and many, many more amazing things will happen to the body that it will gradually look and feel younger and stronger as time passes. Sounds too good to be true? Just try it, and you’ll see for yourself. I guarantee it.

What about concentration

Concentration is a complex topic. As with many other things, because we use a single word for it, we can be tricked into believing that it is, in fact, one thing even though it is not. In addition to that, different people will likely mean different things when they use the term “concentration”.

For me, “concentration” means focusing attention onto something, and in the process, excluding as much as we can of everything else that is going on in the field of present experience, deeming them distractions. To concentrate on trying to hear a particular sound, for example, a very faint sound way off in the distance, implies directing our attention towards it with all our mental might. And somehow by doing this it is implied that we have to exclude everything else that is happening, and the better we can exclude everything else the more concentrated we can be.

But focused attention tends to be very fast moving, spontaneously jumping from this thing to that thing to the other thing, continuously and restlessly. This happens so quickly and so continuously that most of us hardly notice it at all. Therefore concentrating requires a great deal of effort and energy. This is why it is so exhausting, and this is also why it cannot possibly be sustained for very long. In fact, there may come a time when we notice that concentrating is becoming harder and harder, or even that we are simply unable to do it for any length of time. And then we start to worry because we feel that we cannot get anything done as we are totally distracted and scattered, continuously and incessantly.

Naturally, our first strategy should be to minimise our own stimulating of this jumping from one thing to another by restricting ourselves to doing the task we have at hand whole heartedly, without interrupting ourselves every few minutes or even seconds to check this last email that just came in to our inbox, or lookup something with Google. For most of us, this kind of scattered multi-tasking will only exacerbate the scattering of attention and gradually prevent us from doing any one thing for longer than a few minutes, if that. To minimise mental jumpiness we should minimise jumpiness in the way we work and function. Just turn off that email notifier, close your inbox, close your web browser, and work on your document or the problem you are trying to solve.

Beyond this basic strategy of minimising scattering behaviours, what if instead of concentrating we simply paid attention. The essential difference is that although paying attention does require a certain kind of effort, it does not require excluding anything at all, it does not require the straining effort of continuously pushing things away to re-focus attention. In fact, the more facets of our immediate experience we include in paying attention—the more we open our attention—the more we can indeed pay close attention to what we are attending to. Since we tend to focus on the thoughts, images, memories and run-on stories and commentaries that we continuously tell ourselves throughout the day and night, since we tend to live in our head, looking out through the eyes as if they were our windows onto this world outside that surrounds and often threatens us in various ways, the means to bring in balance is to spread attention to the body.

Feel the breath in the belly filling our inner cavity with air and keeping us alive in this very moment, and feel it in the belly with the belly, not just once, but breath after breath after breath. Feel the feet on the floor with the feet and toes, whether we are sitting, standing or walking: feeling the weight of the body rolling from the heel to the front of the foot, first on the right foot, then on the left, step after step. Feel the hands holding a cold glass of water, holding a hot cut of tea, holding a book, holding a baby: feeling the weight, the texture, the temperature. Feeling the water running on the skin when we wash the hands over the sink, the body in the shower. Really feel the body with the body. Don’t talk about it to yourself, don’t comment: just feel it.

Doing this—feeling the life of this body with this living body—will gradually and naturally bring our attention into balance, allowing us to function more freely, more easily, and more efficiently, no matter what we are doing. However, on the most basic level, our emotions, moods, tendencies, states and thus the general configurations of attention, are regulated by hormones: messengers coursing through the blood carrying all sorts of signals to organs and tissues. And as it cannot possibly be otherwise because the same blood circulates everywhere, all of these hormones have some influence on our brain. Therefore, for the brain to function properly, and our moods to be stable, and our attitude positive, there is no other way than to re-establish and maintain proper hormonal balance. Hormones, in turn, are primarily regulated by what we eat and what we drink: hormonal balance is rooted in our diet.

One of, if not the most important hormone—the one that has both the greatest direct and indirect influence on the other hormones—is insulin. For this reason, the only way to establish and maintain proper hormonal balance is to make sure that insulin is balanced—that it is by natural means as low as possible.  When insulin is low, everything else naturally falls into place: appetite, energy levels, mood, mental function and sleep. Naturally, it should be needless to say that all chemical stimulants, be it coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs (prescription or not) should be eliminated, as these are all potent hormonal disruptors.

Fortunately, it is very easy to lower insulin levels and keep them low: as insulin levels mirror blood glucose levels, we need simply eliminate refined and starchy carbohydrates from your diet. Unfortunately, for most of us today this is not so easy because we are plainly addicted to carbohydrates.

I use “addicted” with the same strong, negative connotation as it is used in the context of drug use, because it really is so in the sense that our entire hormonal system is regulated by glucose levels and insulin, and although we may think somewhat differently of the powerful urge to smoke a cigarette or have a cup of coffee, an intense craving for chocolate or plain old hunger, all of these are regulated by our hormones whose overall profile is shaped, (distorted rather), by the presence of sugar and insulin. So, we do need to get over our addition to carbohydrates in order to function smoothly and efficiently as stable and balanced individuals. This is done by gradually reducing refined and starchy carbs as much as possible. And there is no minimum: the less of them we consume, the better off we’ll be.

Eliminating these carbohydrates from our diet will most likely lead to the elimination of at least half, if not three quarters of our daily calories. Considering the multitude of detrimental effects carbs have on our health—on our body and mind—this is indeed quite sad, but for most of us it is true. So what do we replace these empty calories with? Fats, and mineral and enzyme rich foods.

Fat is not only the constituent of every membrane of every cell in our body, but it is also the cellular fuel of choice. Therefore, fat should rightly be our main source of calories—at least 50% of them (I personally aim for 70% of my calories from fat). What kinds of fats? Lots of natural, unprocessed, chemically stable saturated fats from coconut oil, butter, eggs and cheese—preferably all organic to minimise the ingestion of toxic substances; monounsaturated fats from olive oil for salad dressings—choose a flavourful, unfiltered, fresh and cold pressed oil; polyunsaturated plant-based omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fats with Vitamin E complex from many different kinds of whole, raw nuts and seeds every day—buy only the best and freshest organic or wild harvested nuts and seeds; and polyunsaturated animal-based omega-3 fats with the vital Vitamins A and D from eggs, fish (for those who eat some), and krill oil supplements—these are absolutely essential for optimal health. Omega-3 fats are really important but needed only in small amounts. They should also be consumed in small amounts because they are very easily oxidised into free radicals. The animal omega-3 fats are particularly important for proper brain function.

Cholesterol is essential, especially for optimal brain and nerve function because synapses—the connections that allow electrical impulses to travel from one nerve cell to another—are almost entirely made of cholesterol. Moreover, most hormones are also made from it as cholesterol is used as their building block. Therefore, we must consume plenty of cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs, as well as plenty of cholesterol synthesis-promoting foods such as the good saturated fats mentioned above.

Minerals basically make up the solids of the body, and in this respect, it is vital to replenish them on a daily basis through the foods we eat: nuts, seeds and vegetables, (sea vegetable are the richest of all). And for vegetables, the greener and darker the better. Furthermore, eaten raw these nuts, seeds and vegetables provide plenty of enzymes and anti-oxidants that offer a wide spectrum of remarkable health benefits. It is crucial to keep in mind that all minerals and anti-oxidants are much better absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream when there is plenty of fat in the digestive system. In fact, in some cases, the absence of fat prevents the absorption of both minerals and anti-oxidants. I have not included fruit in this discussion because fruits are basically just simple sugars: glucose and fructose, and offer very little in terms of minerals, and phytonutrients compared to most vegetables. All berries, however, fresh or dried, are excellent as they are usually low in sugar, and often very high in anti-oxidant and healthful compounds.

Sometimes, allergies and toxicities such as heavy metal accumulation in the tissues, are at the root of what may appear to be either a mood or neurological disorder. The best way to detoxify and cleanse the body of heavy metals such as mercury is to take chlorella and spirulina supplements on a daily basis, on an empty stomach with plenty of water at least 30 minutes before meals. These have the ability to bind to heavy metals and flush them out of the body through the stools. And as for allergenic compounds, this needs to be investigated be each person individually.

Finally, water is vital for life and health. We must therefore have plenty of it, and drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and before meals.

There is no way to address what we may call “concentration problems” without addressing everything about what we eat and drink. Everything relating to brain function is also related to bodily functions and vice versa. Whether we like it or not, and whether we recognise it or not, this bodymind is whole, and mind and body are seamless. This is therefore how it must be taken care of and treated.

But what about cholesterol?

Cholesterol is nothing less than vital for life. It is vital for development. It is vital for growth. It is vital for reproduction. It is ultimately vital for both life to emerge, and for life to sustain itself. This is not a personal opinion—it is a fact.

Why? Because every membrane of every single cell in your body relies on cholesterol to give it structural integrity. Because every single nerve cell in your brain and every synapse through which nerve impulses are transmitted are mostly made of cholesterol. Because every sex hormone of every woman, man and child is constructed from cholesterol. Simply put: without cholesterol, animal life is impossible. There is not a single person in the world that can or would dispute this—it is simply so.

Does it even make sense to say that cholesterol is important for health, when our very existence and that of every animal life form depend on it? And how in the world can anyone in their right mind even formulate the notion that cholesterol is bad in any way, let alone the cause of a disease, and go as far as suggesting that we should avoid it as much as possible, as well as try to minimise and even suppress our body’s production of it as if it were some kind of poisonous substance whose purpose is to kill us? This is nothing less then absurd—totally and completely absurd.

I wish it were enough to say only this to immediately dispel all false, but firmly held beliefs we hold ‘on the dangers that cholesterol poses to our health’ because they have been given to us, forced upon us over the years, and now ingrained in our conscious mind. But unfortunately, although those few fundamental points about cholesterol mentioned above are more than enough to convince me that the entire anti-cholesterol campaign is at best a huge misunderstand, and at worse the biggest and most lucrative scam in human history, I fear that for most of us who have been thoroughly brainwashed by decades of misinformation campaigns, it will not suffice. So let’s look at this a little more closely, starting with the very basics, so that once you have read this article, you will be a lot better informed than you were, and in fact, almost surely better informed than your family doctor, as medical doctors tend to be pretty ignorant (I’m being lenient) of most things that relate to your health.

No such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol

Firstly, cholesterol comes in only one form: there is no such thing as good and bad cholesterol. Whether it is the cholesterol contained in the dark orange yolk of a fresh, free range, organic egg, whether it is the cholesterol synthesised by your liver through a complicated chain of steps that we still do not understand completely, or whether it is the cholesterol produced by the individual cells like the glial cells in the brain, or in any other tissue or organ other than the liver. And yes, this is yet something else that should make us clue in to the fact that cholesterol is vital for survival: unlike almost any other molecule, cholesterol is maybe the only one that probably every cell in every tissue can produce. Amazing, isn’t it? Why would most if not all cells be endowed with this ability, if cholesterol was not of vital importance to their survival as a living entity?

Anyway, there is only one form of cholesterol, and although I am repeating myself, it is very important to make the point as clear as possible: cholesterol is beyond good or bad—it is absolutely vital.

What are LDL and HDL?

Secondly, what is usually referred to as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol (the result of a marketing scheme by the pharmaceutical industry), are in fact molecules called lipoproteins. They are proteins that transport lipids in the bloodstream (hence lipo-protein), and in particular cholesterol, to and from tissues in different parts of the body. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is not soluble in water and therefore cannot flow in the bloodstream that is mostly water. For this reason it needs to be transported where it is needed by some other molecules: the lipoproteins. It is indeed most unfortunate that we hear about LDL as the ‘bad’, and HDL as the ‘good’ cholesterol. This is not only false, but completely absurd:

LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein, and HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. The reason why this erroneous association and misguided use of these terms came about—beyond that marketing scheme intent on making us believe that there is some bad agent in our blood that we need to get rid of by taking drugs—is based on the fact that one of the functions of LDL molecules is to transport cholesterol from the liver, where most of it is manufactured, to cells and tissues that need it for repair and regeneration. Since LDL helps to carry cholesterol out from the liver and into the bloodstream to tissues, in thinking that cholesterol in the blood should be minimised, then this is clearly a terrible thing. Hence LDL was dubbed the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Does this makes any sense? Not the slightest.

Why does the liver produce this complex cholesterol molecule, and why is there LDL to carry it from the liver to the organs and tissues of our body? Because cholesterol is necessary for the manufacture, maintenance and repair of the membrane of every single one of the 50 trillion cells in the body.

Naturally, for a molecule as important, as complex to synthesise, and therefore as precious as cholesterol, the organism has evolved a way to collect and reuse it: obviously, the three R’s, Reduce (the need for synthesis), Reuse and Recycle (everything you can). One of the roles of the HDL carrier molecules is to scavenge around for unneeded or surplus cholesterol and bring it back to the liver. Once more, in the mindset that cholesterol in the blood should be minimised—beyond the clever trick to introduce the essential protagonist to counter the bad LDL, for if there is a bad guy there naturally must be a good guy—since HDL helps to carry cholesterol from the bloodstream back to liver, this must be a good thing. Hence HDL was dubbed the ‘good’ cholesterol. Does this makes any sense? Not the slightest.

So we know that one of the the roles of LDL and HDL molecules—certainly the most obvious one—is to transport cholesterol from the liver to cells and tissues, and back to it for reuse and recycling or breakdown into other molecules. LDL and HDL work together as essential partners in the cholesterol transport system. But do these lipoproteins have other roles in the complex biochemistry of the human body? Indeed they do.

HDL and LDL: beyond cholesterol transport

As incredible as this may possibly sound to you if you are still brain-washed by the anti-cholesterol campaigns intended to convince you to eat more highly processed, tasteless, odourless, chemically altered and typically rancid vegetable oils, as well as to start taking ‘life-saving’ statin drugs, compiling all the data we have from studies that measured lipoprotein levels in the blood and death rates, we find that the lowest mortality from all diseases occurs in people with total lipoprotein levels between 200 and 240, centred on 220 mg/dl. These are age-corrected data, so as we age levels should gradually rise. But that’s not the only thing we find from looking at this graph of compiled data: there is an inverse relationship between lipoprotein levels and mortality such that the lower the lipoprotein levels are, the higher the death rate! and this for all diseases—infectious, parasitic and cardiovascular. To those who know what HDL and LDL molecules do, this is not surprising at all. It is, in fact, perfectly sensible.

As much as some may believe that the main role of LDL and HDL molecules is to carry cholesterol to and from tissues for cellular maintenance and repair, some would argue that their main role is not simple transport of cholesterol, but in fact, it is to protect the organism from bacterial and viral pathogens. It is firmly established that lipoproteins bind to endotoxins to inactivate them and protect against their toxic effects that include arterial wall inflammation. Endotoxins are part of the outer membrane of the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Pseudomonas, Neisseria, Haemophilus influenzae, Bordetella pertussis and Vibrio cholerae, all of which can cause severe, well known diseases. In addition, lipoproteins also protect against viruses like hepatitis B, and consequently in this case, against cancer and other diseases of the liver as reported here. There are many scientific publications on this and related topics, but most are quite complicated. (If you are interested in this kind of thing, you can look at this article, and browse through the long list of references. For those interested in bacteriology, I found a great free online textbook by Kenneth Todar of the University of Wisconsin.)

The essential point to remember, however, is that the lipoproteins LDL and HDL play a very important role in our immune system by neutralising harmful toxins released from the activity of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, thus protecting us from infectious diseases and the related chronic inflammation. This is why people with higher levels of lipoproteins LDL and HDL live longer and healthier lives.

Cholesterol and the brain

Although all cell membranes rely on cholesterol for structural integrity, neurons or brain cells are highly enriched in cholesterol that makes up more than 20% of their dry weight. The importance of this enrichment can be appreciated when we consider that our brain accounts for about 2% of our body weight, but it contains about 25% of the cholesterol in the body. This means that the concentration of cholesterol in the brain is 12.5 times higher than the average bodily concentration. Isn’t this enough to convince you of the extreme importance of cholesterol for proper brain functions?

As elsewhere in the body, cholesterol is found in the cell membrane—for brain cells this is the myelin sheaths that insulate them. But in addition, and maybe more importantly, cholesterol is the main constituent of the synapses through which nerve impulses are transmitted from one neurons to another. And contrary to common wisdom that lipoproteins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and therefore brain cholesterol must be synthesised in the brain, it has been shown that if something prevents brain cells from synthesising the precious cholesterol, then they use whatever they can get from the lipoproteins circulating in the blood.

With all of this in mind, is it surprising that when cholesterol synthesis is partially or completely de-activated using statin drugs, some of the most common symptoms seen are memory loss, dizziness, mental fog, slowing reflexes, etc., all of which are obviously related to brain function? Is it surprising that Alzheimer’s patients tend to have lower cholesterol levels both in the blood and in the brain? Well, no. It’s not.

For me, there is no need to go further: I want to have a brain that is provided with all the fat and cholesterol is needs to function to best of its abilities for as long as I am alive. If you want to learn more about the incredibly detrimental effects of cholesterol-reducing drugs, you should read any or all of Dr Duane Graveline‘s books: Lipitor: Thief of Memory, Statin Drugs Side Effect and the Misguided War on Cholesterol, and Statin Damage Crisis. I also stumbled upon this article in the Wall Street Journal (out of all places), that describes how important cholesterol is for the brain, and hence, how damaging cholesterol-lowering drugs can be.

Cholesterol and hormones

What more needs to be said to emphasise the importance of cholesterol for healthy hormonal function than that all steroid hormones are made from it. Steroid hormones, as the names suggests, are steroids that act as hormones. Hormones are messenger molecules that tell cells what to do and when to do it. To carry out their function—to pass on their message—they must reach the nucleus of the cell. But to reach the well protected nucleus and bind to specific receptors in it, hormones must pass through the fatty cellular membrane. For this reason, hormones are made of fat: they are lipids. Since lipids are not water soluble, as is the case of cholesterol, hormones rely on specialised proteins to transport them in the bloodstream throughout the body.

There are 5 groups of steroid hormones: glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens, oestrogens and progestogens, as well the closely related hormones that we refer to as Vitamin D. Each one of these is a family of hormones responsible for regulating the metabolism related to a specific group of substances.

Glucocorticoids are steroids produced in the adrenal gland, and responsible for glucose metabolism. Cortisol is maybe the most important of glucocorticoids as it is absolutely essential for life, regulating or supporting a variety of important cardiovascular, metabolic, immunologic, and homeostatic functions.

Mineralocorticoids are responsible for the regulation minerals, the most important of which are sodium and potassium. The primary such hormone is aldosterone that acts on the kidneys to regulate reabsorption of sodium and water from the blood, as well as secretion of potassium. These two minerals are required in the well known sodium-potassium pump that continuously, for every single cell, work to ensure that the concentration of sodium stays higher outside, while the concentration of potassium stays higher inside the cell. This is crucial for its proper function. In addition, it is through the sodium-potassium pump that glucose is transported from the bloodstream into the cell.

Androgens, oestrogens and progestogens are sex hormones. It is needless to say that they must all be in good balance for proper development and physiological function, as well as psychological health in both males and females. It is important to emphasise that although we typically associate the main androgen, testosterone, with men, this hormone plays a very important role in muscle development and inhibition of fat deposition, both of which are clearly of great value to women as well. There are also several psychological factors regulated by the concentration and relative balance of male and female sex hormones such as assertiveness, motivation, self-confidence, on the one hand, and calm, caring and compassion, on the other. Interestingly, the most important oestrogens are derived from androgens through the action of enzymes. Therefore a deficiency in androgens will naturally lead to a corresponding deficiency in oestrogenic hormones. As is well known, oestrogens regulate all aspects of the reproductive system in women. Phychologically, low oestrogen levels are associated with depression and hyper-sensitivity in females, and insecurity and obsessive compulsive type of behaviours in males. Progestogens are most important in their role in maintaining pregnancy (pro-gestation) and are therefore most important for women. They are, however, rather special hormones because progestogens are precursors to all other steroids. All steroid producing tissues such as the adrenals, ovaries and testes, must therefore be able to produce progestogens.

To learn more about hormones, their importance, their effects and how to bring them into balance through diet, I recommend the Hormone Solution (english) or Le regime hormone (french) by Thierry Hertoghe, MD.

Too much cholesterol?

There is no such thing as too much cholesterol. The body produces exactly what it needs depending on the conditions, and as such, the amount in circulation is a consequence of other factors. Lipoprotein levels, reflecting the amount of cholesterol in circulation, are a function of genetics and of the state of the body. Genetic tendencies are what they are. The state of the body, as far as cholesterol is concerned, means primarily the condition of the tissues. And the condition of the tissues reflects the amount of damage they sustain in relation to the amount of repair that takes place: in other words, the rate of ageing. Since cholesterol gives cell membranes strength and integrity, it is needed to repair and rebuild cells: the more cellular reproduction as in growing children, the more cholesterol is needed; the more damage to cells, the more cholesterol is needed. The damage sustained by tissues is mostly from glycation, free-radicals and chronic inflammation, all of which are intimately related because blood sugar triggers both free-radical production and inflammatory processes, but inflammation also arises from the action of toxins and infectious agents like viruses and bacteria.

Refined and starchy carbohydates and chemically unstable polyunsaturated vegetable oils both directly cause glycation, free-radical damage and chronic inflammation. They should be eliminated from the diet—from everyone’s diet. Doing this is the only truly effective way to minimise tissue damage and ageing, maximise repairing and rebuilding, and as a consequence, minimise risks of degenerative diseases. It will also normalise cholesterol synthesis and usage, and bring lipoprotein levels into their optimal range, completely naturally because, once more: cholesterol needs and lipoprotein concentrations are always a consequence of other factors. They should never be tampered with and manipulated, because intervention of this kind can only and will inevitably lead to problems.

Further readings on cholesterol

If you want to learn more about cholesterol, I recommend to first read the short and light-hearted book by Malcolm Kendrick, MD, entitled The Great Cholesterol Con subtitled The truth about what really causes heart disease and how to avoid it. Beyond showing that cholesterol and saturated fat are not in any way causes of heart disease, this author presents convincing evidence that, in fact, it is psychological stress that is surely one of the main causes of heart disease.

After reading this, if you want to read a complete analysis of all the studies related in some way to heart disease that is also very accessible to a general readership, you should read the much longer but very thorough book by Anthony Colpo, revealingly also entitled The Great Cholesterol Con, but subtitled Why everything you’ve been told about cholesterol, diet and heart disease is wrong! Beyond the thorough review of the literature and clearly explained conclusions, the author looks at all major factors demonstrably linked to the causes of heart disease.

For a shorter but more technical review and close look at the cholesterol and saturated fat related scientific literature, you should read Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You by Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD. Beyond also showing that cholesterol and saturated fats are not in any way the cause of heart disease, this author makes a case for infectious disease as the root cause of arterial inflammation, buildup of plaque, and eventually heart disease. His line of arguments is also quite convincing.

The excellent book by Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories, is a thorough review of 150 years of diet-related medical history, especially in what relates to obesity and diabetes, but also heart disease. The writing style is that of a good science writer, as is the author. There is a full analysis of the lipid hypothesis of heart disease, followed by a full analysis of the carbohydrate hypothesis of heart disease. And although there more of an emphasis on the detrimental effects of eating carbohydrates, there is naturally considerable discussion of all points that relate to cholesterol and saturated fats.

Lastly, this is an excellent web site on cholesterol, full of interesting and well-researched articles: and an excellent interview here.

Why Oh Why?

Why is it then, that most of us believe cholesterol is bad? Why do most of us believe we should, not sometimes, but always avoid foods that contain cholesterol or saturated fats that seem to help the body manufacture cholesterol? Because we have been told that it is. Nothing more complicated than that. We have been told this absurd, unfounded and outright dangerous story that is in fact a lie, and we believe it. Why have we been made to believe this? The answer is two-fold: bad science, bad scientists and egos, on the one hand, and on the other, money: lots and lots of money. In fact, more than 29 000 000 000 dollars worth of money.

For the ‘bad science’ part I will only say this: It is true that the accumulation of plaque can lead to heart disease. It is also true that plaque is very cholesterol-rich. However, the reason why plaque is formed is because the arterial tissue is damaged and needs to be repaired. The cholesterol-rich plaque is like a scab whose role is to allow the damaged tissue to heal. And just as a scab, once the tissue is healed, it ‘falls off’ and is brought back to the liver for recycling. The cholesterol is part of the healing agent: the cure, so to speak. The damage to the tissue comes from other things, wether it is inflammatory endotoxins released from pathogenic bacteria, cigarette smoking-related chemicals, or maybe most importantly glucose sticking haphazardly to proteins, damaging the arterial walls and forming advanced glycation end-products or AGEs for short, cholesterol is the bandage meant to help the tissue heal—not the cause of the problem.

For the ‘money’ part, I will have to write a few more paragraphs. In the 1950s the vegetable oil industry found a way to hydrogenate inexpensive liquid vegetable oil made from soy and corn into firm shortening. This gave them the perfect means to compete for, and indeed takeover a large share of the market that had traditionally been held by the dairy (butter), meat (lard) or coconut and palm oil producers to which they did not have a way to tap into. With hydrogenation, they were able to produce butter substitutes (margarines), as well as lard and tropical oil substitutes (shortenings), and offer them at a mere fraction of the price of the original products with the potential of making enormous profits with their sale on a national and in some cases international scales. Therefore, unfortunately, but not so surprisingly, many of the large scale trials in the field of dietary science carried out in the 60s, 70s and 80s were funded by the vegetable oil industry.

The money that the vegetable oil industry must have made and still makes the world over, however, is probably nothing in comparison to the billions raked in every year by a handful of pharmaceutical manufacturers that produce and sell the cholesterol-lowering statins. In 2003, the best selling prescription drug in the world was Pfizer’s Lipitor with sales of 9.2 billion dollars (that’s more than 25 million per day). And in 2009 statin sales generated a staggering 25 billion dollars in revenues, and this figure has been rising since the very beginning of statin sales in the 1990s.

But doctors don’t have anything to gain from this, do they? Well, no, not really. But for one thing, doctors are usually not research scientist, and thus they are generally not only very poorly informed about health-related matters, but also unable or simply uninterested in reading books written by specialists on various health topics, let alone in reading the often technical and complicated scientific literature.

To make matters worse, 75% of clinical trials are funded by pharmaceutical companies, and therefore about 75% of all published medical papers also derive from pharmaceutical funding. Finally, the vast majority of conferences and workshops that doctors are invited to attend, all expenses paid of course, to keep them informed of the latest and greatest developments in medical science are also usually fully funded by the pharmaceutical. It goes without saying that what is presented at these conferences naturally serves their interests that are obviously purely financial.

I think you get the picture, but if you want to read more about this, all of the independent researchers and authors mentioned above: Malcolm Kendrick (The Great Cholesterol Con) and Uffe Ravnskov (Cholesterol and Fat are Good for You) who both practice medicine and have thus experienced this first hand, as well as Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories) and Anthony Colpo (a different The Great Cholesterol Con) have some things to say about corporate involvement in clinical trials. Obviously, you can also search the internet to your heart’s content.

Final words

I certainly hope I have succeeded in convincing you that cholesterol is not in the least harmful, and that it is, in fact, absolutely vital to your health: vital for your hormonal system, vital for your immune system, vital for your brain, and vital for every cell in your body.

I also hope I have convinced you that it is not only the case that everything you have been told that incriminates either cholesterol or LDL as causing heart disease or any other ailment is wrong, but that you should actually do whatever you can to maintain optimal lipoprotein levels around 220 mg/dl, and supply your body with ample amounts of health-promoting fats, increasing your intake of coconut oil (the most healthful of all fats), as well as fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol from organic eggs from free range, grass-and-insect eating hens (preferably raw in smoothies in order not to damage any of the fats or proteins), butter and fatty cheeses (highly preferably made from unpasteurized milk to maximise digestibility), and grass-fed meats if you are not vegetarian or vegan. But here, and as always, the most important and fundamental health-promoting thing to do is to eliminate insulin-stimulating carbohydrates.

What to eat: four basic rules

Without air, we die within a few minutes. On the whole, we have a limited influence on the quality of the air we breathe at home and even less at the office. There are many things we can do to minimise the pollutants released in the air from the building materials and the things we buy and use, but the outside air quality is as it is. Nonetheless, it has been shown that the concentration of harmful pollutants in the air is always greater indoors than outdoors, sometimes remarkably so: 100 times or more, (mostly for chemicals found in “cleaning” products). Therefore, as a general rule we should always maximise ventilation of our indoor spaces with fresh, outside air.

Without water, we die within a few days. And although it would be ideal to drink fresh, highly oxygenated and molecularly ordered, living water from a deep mineral spring in pristinely pure mountains unexposed to industrial pollutants, this is rarely possible. However, with a high quality water filter, preferably without synthetic materials, we can ensure proper hydration of the bodymind, and at the very least, not increase its toxic load by the addition of heavy metals, or industrial, agricultural, and pharmaceutical chemicals contained in unfiltered tap water.

Without food, we can live for a several weeks and maybe even months. Nonetheless, food provides the raw materials to build, renew and repairs all cells that constitute the bodymind. And for most of us, we freely decide what we put in our mouths and in those of our children. Therefore, we can pay particular attention to what we eat, mouthful after mouthful, and day after day. Here are four basic rules for healthy eating.

Rule 1: No Carbs

The consumption of sugars and starches is extremely detrimental to our health. It is more than well established that it is exactly this—the regular consumption of refined and easily digestible carbs—that causes the wide spectrum of disorders sometimes referred to as the diseases of civilisation: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc…

Basically, we could say that the body wants only the necessary minimum glucose in its bloodstream. This is why there is the insulin mechanism: if glucose circulates, the pancreas releases insulin to rid the blood of it by storing it away. Insulin is one of the most important hormones, and its message to the liver, muscle and fat cells is clear and always the same: “take that glucose and store it away”.

A small amount of glucose can be stored as glycogen in the liver (about 70 g) and in the muscles (a total of 250 g in skeletal muscles). How much is stored depends on muscle mass, physical training, metabolism and eating habits, but under normal circumstances, this will not exceed more than a few tens of grams after any given meal. The rest of the glucose in the bloodstream is converted to fat, and packed in the fat cells.

While the glycogen in the liver is used for moment to moment adjustment of blood glucose concentrations, muscle glycogen is only for usage in the specific muscle, and can only be accessed by using that muscle. Fat will never be released from the fat cells while there are even relatively small amounts of either glucose or insulin in the bloodstream.

As we eat simple or starchy carbs, all of which end up as glucose in the bloodstream, more or less quickly depending on the level of refinement (on the fibre content), insulin is secreted. The more carbs we eat, the more insulin is produced, and the longer the sugar and the insulin circulate in the bloodstream. This is really bad for two reasons:

  1. The longer and more often insulin circulates in the bloodstream, the longer and more often all the tissues are exposed to it, and the more they grow resistant to its presence and its message. As the liver, muscles and fatty tissues gradually become more resistant, the pancreas needs to secrete more insulin to get its message across and successfully rid the bloodstream of the glucose. This, in turn, leads to increased insulin resistance, which leads to the glucose and insulin circulating even longer, and thus even more insulin secretion—the perfect example of a viscous circle. Eventually, the liver and muscle tissues become fully insulin resistant, and when the fat cells also finally reach that stage, glucose has nowhere to go: this marks the beginning of type II diabetes.
  2. The longer glucose circulates in the bloodstream, the more the probability of glycation increases. Glycation is the haphazard binding of glucose onto a protein or fat molecule without the control of an enzyme, and thus results in damage to the tissue. Glycation is the first step in a process that leads to the production of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs), and although the body has a mechanism to clear out the usually highly damaging AGEs, long-lived cells like nerves and neurons, and long-lasting proteins like eye crystalline and collagen in the blood vessels and skin, tend to accumulate the most damage over time. The accumulation of AGEs in the vessels leads to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the accumulation in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease—the diabetes of the brain, and other brain disorders.

Of all carbohydrates, fructose is probably the most damaging. Unlike any other sugar, fructose cannot be metabolised, and for this reason, goes directly to the liver, as do all other toxins circulating in our bloodstream. There, the fructose temporarily monopolises the liver, preventing it from doing anything else while being converted to fat. To find out how terrible fructose truly is, listen to this lecture by Professor Robert Lustig.

Conclusion: “No Carbs” means no simple sugars like table sugar of any colour, no honey, and no syrups of any king, especially not agave or corn syrup as they are full of fructose. It also means basically nothing sweet and obviously no deserts. “No Carbs” means no cookies, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, and especially not fried starches like chips or fries as they are full of AGEs. And “No Carbs” also means no sweet fruit of any kind. Berries and grapefruits are fine; lemons are excellent.

Rule 2: Water 30 Minutes Before Meals

When we eat, the stomach secretes gastric acid in order to activate digestive enzymes, and break down proteins. Gastric acid is composed of 0.5% of hydrochloric acid (HCl), and lots of potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). It has a pH between 1 and 2, and is therefore an extremely corrosive acid. The only thing that protects the lining of the stomach from the powerful gastric acid is a layer of mucus. Since mucus is more than 90% water, it is essential to ensure that the gastric mucus is well hydrated before eating. Once food has been pre-digested in the stomach for 3-4 hours, it moves into the small intestine for the digestion and extraction of nutrients. In order to neutralise the gastric acid, the pancreas secretes a watery, sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) solution. This also requires adequate amounts of water to be available before eating. I discuss this point in greater detail in Why we should drink water before meals, and other issues related to water in Water, ageing and disease.

Conclusion: Drink half a litre (two big glasses or three small ones) of water 30 minutes before every meal, and no water during or within 2 hours after the meal to ensure optimal digestion of all nutrients. A single glass 2-3 hours after the meal is good. Drink as much as you want on an empty stomach, and wait 30 minutes before eating anything.

Rule 3: Maximise Nutritional, Mineral and Enzyme Content

If we were to stick to a single principle in choosing what to eat, it should be this:  Maximise nutrient density. This is very simple: If a food is rich in nutrients and minerals, then eat it; if it is not, leave it. And since we are by mass 60-70% water and thus 30-40% of solids composed of all the naturally occurring elements, maximising nutrient density implies maximising mineral content.

The highest concentration of minerals is found in unrefined sea or rock salt, sea vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, and green vegetables, all of which you should try to eat as much of as possible. And it is really important to have a salt intake balanced with water intake: at least 2 litres of water and 1 teaspoons of salt per day.

Enzymes are plentiful in all raw foods. Enzymes are essential to extract the nutrients from the foods. Eating fresh, raw foods that come with their own enzymes is the best way to maximise digestibility and absorption. The enzymes in nuts and seeds must be activated by soaking them in water for 12 hours. Doing this makes them a super-healthy source of easily digestible protein.

Good quality protein is found in animal products that also contain good saturated fats. Animal protein should in general always be taken in moderation because it is insulinogenic and acidifying. Anything that is not used for building and repairing tissues will be converted to glucose, and anything that is not properly digested may putrefy, and will definitely create toxins, produce acidity, and stimulate negative immune system reactions from the presence of undigested proteins in the bloodstream. Nevertheless, you have to make sure you consume enough for your needs based on body mass and amount/type of exercise.

Conclusion: Eat as many raw vegetables as you can, especially dark green lettuces and salad greens, soaked nuts and seeds, and smaller amounts of eggs and un-pasteurized or fermented milk products like raw cheese and plain, full fat yogurt. Eat sea vegetables whenever you can. Keep animal protein consumption small (less than 1g/kg of lean body mass).

Rule 4: Lots of Fat

Fat is the perfect cellular fuel for many reasons. I think that the two most important are that it provides large amounts of very efficiently stored but readily useable energy, and that its metabolic usage does not trigger any insulin response. Fat is not only the perfect metabolic fuel when we are at rest, but also we are active. Stored triglycerides are released into the bloodstream as free fatty acids that are then transported by proteins to wherever energy expenditure is taking place. Given the compact energy storage of 7-9 calories per gram of fat, even the smallest stores in the leanest individuals can provide energy literally for days on end.

In addition to the multitude of negative effects it can have on the metabolism and hormonal system as a whole, insulin is a potent inhibitor to lipolysis (fat burning). It means that the presence of insulin inhibits the release of stored fats for energy needs. Conversely, when lipolysis is initiated and sustained, there is an accompanying decrease in plasma levels of insulin, with all the benefits that this brings. This also explains why fat suppresses hunger, because the presence of insulin stimulates it.

The best kinds of fats are those that are closest to their most natural and unrefined state. This mean the least processed. Furthermore, the best kinds of fats are those that are least likely to oxidise and form free radicals. This means the most stable and therefore the most saturated. The very best of all fats is extra virgin coconut oil. It is truly a miraculous substance, and I will write about it in greater details on another occasion. It is highly saturated (96%), incredibly stable (several years at room temperature will not turn it rancid), and the most heat resistant of all fats (smoke point of 138 C). Organic butter, and in general milk fat, is the second best choice for a primary source of fat in the diet; raw, unpasteurized butter is far better, but hard to find in some places.

Otherwise, olive oil for salad dressings is the only other vegetable oil I use daily, and recommend using, because it is the most stable (monounsaturated) and thus least harmful of all the vegetable oils, which are all composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids (contain more than one double bond in the carbon chain), and thus very unstable. Eating a lot of seeds and nuts in the whole natural state will provide a lot of polyunsaturated fats, but together with the whole food; this keeps the oil fresh and much less likely to form free radicals. One trick that I use is to try to eat saturated fats when I eat nuts and seeds, which further decreases the probability of oxidation of the polyunsaturated fats; coconut oil in particular has proven, powerful anti-oxidant properties.

Conclusion: Eat lots of fat to provide you with a lot of energy and suppress hunger. The best fats are coconut oil and butter. For salads use the freshest olive oil. Avoid all other vegetable oils, especially those that have been heated or hydrogenated as these become toxic trans fats.