December 16, 2009
Podcast #73 from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2009/12/podcast-episode-73-what-your-doctor-doesnt-tell-you-about-cholesterol/
Introduction: In this podcast episode: organic food labeling, low blood sugar in athletes, buffering lactic acid, and what your doctor may not tell you about cholesterol.
Ben: The first question for this week comes from Listener David.
David asks: I listened to podcast number 52 and I recently viewed the film Food, Inc. My question is around the labeling of “organic”. In food stores many products are labeled organic with a USDA certification stamp. I am a little cautious of government certifications. For example, I am aware of how you have spoken about how food manufacturers manipulate the serving size and such which allows them to claim that there is no trans fat in a product, when in fact there actually is trans fat. Being able to claim something and manipulate rules is common when dealing with any government agency, such as the USDA. How accurate is “organic” labeling in our food supply? Could there really be GMO and other bad ingredients in the organic labeled food that has been hidden due to rules which allow not reporting of such ingredients and methods of farming not considered organic in the true sense of the term? Thanks.
Ben answers: That is a great question David. I have been very exposed to the organic labeling rules because my wife actually has an organic baby food business. So the deal with the organic label is it’s actually recently come under fire from members of congress and from consumer groups because there was a report in the Washington Post that basically says that federal standards grew way too lax and that foods and products that carry the organic label don’t actually deserve the organic label. So, one of the examples they cited was that the USDA – about three years ago – determined that synthetic additives in organic baby food formula violated federal standards and that organic baby food needed to be banned from carrying the federal organic label – that USDA certified organic label that you talked about. Today, you can find those same synthetic additives in about 90% of any organic baby formula on the market and most of them are saying that it boosts brain power and vision, but it is synthetic. It’s nor organic. And there are actually quite a few organic products on the market that are allowed to have synthetic non-organic ingredients including GMO that you referred to, which stands for – those of you listening in, that’s Genetically Modified Organisms. So under the current law 5% of a USDA certified organic product can have non-organic substances in them. But the non-organic substances that are in those organic products – they have to actually be approved by what’s called the National Organic Standards Board. So right now, there are 245 different synthetic substances that can be allowed in a food that’s labeled organic. So when you buy organic milk at the grocery store, 205 different synthetic ingredients or chemicals could be in that and it could still be labeled organic and 5% of it could still be non-organic compounds. So to give you an example of that, when you get grated organic cheese, they put wood starch in that to keep the cheese from clumping together. You can make organic beer from completely non-organic beer hops. There’s even organic meat on the market that they add synthetic ingredients to, to change up the texture basically. A lot of times that’s the synthetic meats like the imitation crab or the imitation duck and that type of thing. So essentially, there is quite a bit that can actually be added to an organic food and it can still be allowed to be labeled organic. Now there are other certification agencies as organic food becomes more popular, that are popping up. Specifically most of these are companies that are regulating the amount of genetically modified ingredients in food. So usually, they’re private label organizations and they’re smaller and a lot of times, they’re local. But your best bet if you want to eat organically and you want to still ensure that it’s not just kind of a mass marketed organic food that’s really technically not organic – we’re talking about the type of organic food that you might find at, say, Wal-Mart. Then buy locally as much as you can. Get stuff from your farmer’s market. Get stuff from a local CSA which is basically a community supported agriculture and it allows you to sign a contract with a farmer to send you x number of product per year. A lot of both large cities and rural areas have CSAs. They have farmer’s markets. They have ways for you to buy locally. That’s what we – in my family – try to do as much as possible, is if we are getting something that we want to be organic, we try and get it locally as much as possible. In the spring and summer, we even try to grow it ourselves. So, that’s the deal with the organic labeling. It’s a great question.
The next question is from Listener Payam who says… and I thought this was an interesting question.
Payam asks: Hey Ben, I have a question regarding low blood sugar. I am a 23 year old male. I recently went to my doctor and took a blood test. It wasn’t for any particular reason, but my parents just suggested that it would be good to get some data on file because of family history. Anyways, I gave some blood samples and was waiting for the doc in the room. All of a sudden, a nurse comes into the room and looks at me and asks if I am okay. She looked very worried, and I told her that I am fine. She said that my blood sugar is dangerously low. I believe it was like 35 or so. I told her that I feel normal. She asked what I had for breakfast and I told her that I had an omelet with onions, peppers, and tomatoes. She asked me if I would drink an orange juice because it would “make her feel much better” which I agreed to. Anyways, I would assume that this low blood sugar wasn’t some sort of fluke because I honestly felt totally normal. I generally eat almost no sugar. My diet consists of lots of vegetables, grass fed beef, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and nut butters, grass fed dairy. The only grains I really eat are Ezekiel breads and cereals, quinoa, and steel cut
oats. I am a marathon runner and have had no problems with low energy. I don’t eat that much fruit although probably a few servings a week. Usually when I do eat fruit, I eat it only around workouts. When I do have dessert for a special occasion, it is usually after dinner when more fat and fiber has been consumed so it probably has a minimum effect on blood sugar anyways. I never really thought about this, and it’s not like I am trying to minimize my sugar intake. I just try to eat healthy and unprocessed foods that I enjoy. However, am I doing more harm than good? What are the dangers of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar?
Ben answers: First of all, Payam, let me say that I am not a physician and that any advice or any input that I give on you this question should not be considered medical advice. You should definitely – if you have any type of medical symptoms, you should be consulting with a physician about that . Now, a couple of thoughts about your question. The first thing that comes to mind is if you felt just great and you didn’t have any symptoms of hypoglycemia, and most people could tell when they have hypoglycemia. When their blood sugar is too low, you get cold sweats, confusion, you can go into a coma, you can have seizures, blurry vision, headache, you’re very irritable, you can get a rapid heart rate, trembling. Your body definitely starts screaming at you when your blood sugar gets too low. So my first thought is was your blood sugar really that low and was the actual measurement that was taken effective? Not only can blood glucose monitors – depending on the type that you use – be inaccurate by up to 15%, but especially if she let your blood sample sit for too long before actually running the blood glucose test on it, what happens is you can have metabolism of the glucose that’s in your blood even while it’s sitting in that tube so it can actually lower your blood sugar as it’s waiting to be tested, okay? So you could have gotten an inaccurate sample. But let’s just say that it was an accurate sample and your blood sugar was at 35, that’s incredibly low for you not to be feeling anything so I’d question whether it really was that low. I would definitely go back and check. Usually once people drop below about 50 or 55, they start to really notice it. Now if you did have hypoglycemia like that, typically something that’s acute like that, that’s just low blood sugar levels, it wouldn’t have something to do with something you ate a week ago or having a healthy diet three days ago. Typically it would be a function of having not eaten anything – and especially not taken any carbohydrates for a fairly long period of time. For instance, if you fasted overnight, you got up, you spent two hours tooling around the house and then you went to the doctor’s office and about an hour later you got your blood sugar taken, it could have been low but again you would have had symptoms. So some of the things that could cause hypoglycemia like this – one of the things that you’d really want to look into is any type of insulin problems. Specifically the thing I would be most concerned about is that there are actually tumors you can get in your pancreas that essentially secrete insulin which is something your pancreas makes normally to lower your blood sugar levels, but if you had a tumor that was doing that, it could actually get your blood sugar levels to that point without you having to go out and exercise in a fasted state or something like that. So I would maybe get screened, get a look at your pancreas. There is a disease called Addison’s disease which is a hormonal disease. It’s a deficiency in certain hormones that can be secrete that help to regulate blood sugar levels. That’s another thing to look for – and then the last thing, and I really doubt based off your description of yourself that this would be the case but this would be something called sepsis, which is essentially just an inflammatory condition in your entire body typically from some sort of infection. And sepsis could also cause hypoglycemia. But again, any of those things that would cause hypoglycemia would still cause you to have the symptoms that you do not appear to have had. So again, I would question the accuracy of that blood sugar measurement. And then the final thing is you say that you don’t eat any sugar, but I want to set you straight, that anything… grain, cereals, quinoa, steel cut oats, fruit, even dairy… all of that is sugar. What you need to be careful with is processed sugar. And obviously this is just a case of semantics, but when people come to me and they say, “Oh you’ve got me on a low carb diet, Ben. Your meal plan doesn’t really have any potato chips and French fries and licorice in it.” Then I point out to them that they’re getting tablespoons and tablespoons and tablespoons of sugar from things like nuts and dairies and whole grain breads, and cereal. All that’s sugar. It’s just got longer chains of sugar than the very, very short chains of sugar that you get from processed foods. So I wouldn’t even say you’re on a low carbohydrate diet, Payam. And that’s a good thing. Obviously as an athlete, you want to get carbohydrate on board for a variety of reasons including energy and the health of your kidney and your liver. So, I would ask to have that nurse or whoever gave you that initial blood sugar test give you another one and check for accuracy and insist upon accuracy.
Eric asks: Ben, I have read and heard a lot about ‘pills’ that you can take during an endurance race that are supposed to help keep your PH levels alkaline. Obviously, keeping Ph levels more on the alkaline side is good for endurance racing, but do any of them really do what they claim to? I’ve seen something called “PhIT Pills”, Race Caps by Hammer, Beta Alanine products, etc….do any of them really work?
Ben answers: Well first let let’s talk about this whole acid buffering thing and whether or not it’s something that you actually want to do. The idea behind this is that lactic acid builds up in your muscle tissue especially during intense exercise and that can cause part of that burn that tends to make you uncomfortable and maybe even stop exercise earlier than you normally would. Now don’t get me wrong. Lactic acid is a good thing because what happens is that in a well-trained athlete, that lactic acid that their body is producing is actually re-circulated back up into the liver and then burned for fuel. It can get re-converted into glucose. So as you produce that lactic acid, your body utilizes it. The problem is if you produce a whole bunch all at once, it can be very uncomfortable. And the idea behind a lot of these supplements that are out there, whether they be like a magnesium or a potassium based supplement – what’s called a phosphate buffer, there are protein buffers in some supplements – is that they are allowing you to correct that acidic environment that’s created by all the little hydrogen ions that come off of lactic acid. The most popular supplement would almost be like a Tums type of supplement called a bicarbonate buffer. That’s the one the most studies have been done on. And essentially it just allows your body to be able to buffer all those hydrogen ions a little more quickly. So even though you’re still producing a bunch of lactic acid and even though all that lactic acid or a lot of it is still getting converted into blood glucose that you can use, part of the byproducts of that lactic acid is getting buffered so you don’t experience that burn quite as much. So, in terms of the studies that have been done on these, there have been a lot and a lot of them have been good studies and they have shown that people have a lower rating of exertion or a lower amount of pain during exercise when they’re taking any of these aids. For example there was a study in 2005 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that looked at sodium bicarbonate citrate – essentially like what you get in a baking soda to be effective in activities that have a long enough duration to produce a lot of these hydrogen ions. And typically those are higher intensity, like 800 meter efforts or 400 meter efforts. Typically anything from about 1 up to 3 minutes in length that are producing a lot of lactic acid. For that reason, sodium bicarbonate or baking soda, that’s not even allowed in the Olympics. An athlete isn’t allowed to take it. In a lot of these studies that have been done – there was another one in Medicine and Science and Sports and Exercise – same thing. Had very conclusive results that this stuff actually helps. The problem was that a lot of athletes got stomach aches when they took the amount that was necessary to actually buffer lactic acid. And so, the question is whether or not you can actually tolerate lactic acid buffers without getting GI distress. Most of them are going to buffer lactic acid to a limited extent, although I’ve seen very limited research on some of these buffers that aren’t just like the baking soda bicarbonate type of buffers. There’s a lot of different types of buffers, like I said and not a lot of research has been done on some of the ones you mentioned like the beta alanine buffers in terms of the actual lactic acid production. So you can try this stuff and it will probably help, but if you get a stomach ache, obviously it’s not worth it. So take it in the amount that’s recommended and then just tolerate what your gastrointestinal tract does and if you feel alright with it then I would consider actually continuing its use and it will help reduce some of that burn, especially during any of the higher intensity efforts if you’re doing, for example, a sprint or an Olympic distance triathlon, it could help quite a bit. At the rate at which you produce lactic acid during something like an Ironman or a real, real long event… it might not even be worth taking. So, great question Eric.
And the last question today – and there will be a little bit of a longer response to this question and I also would really, really like to hear you as the listener’s opinion on this question. It’s about cholesterol. And well, I’ll ask the question first. This is from one of the triathletes that I coach and she wrote in to me and she said…
Ben’s triathlete asks: Have just recently gone for my “WELCOME TO MEDICARE” physical and the doctor wants me to check out LDL lowering as a preventive measurement since there’s a family history of high cholesterol. Your most recent recommendations are for more animal products (red meat) and unfortunately I’ll have to try to avoid them. I will have to find a “fine line” where I can get a naturally occurring protein and at the same time provide good energy/muscle building sources in order to move forward in my training. Since I am one of your “SENIOR ATHLETES”, it may be of help to you to have me struggling with these little “roadblocks” so that you can remain open to training baby boomers in the future.
Ben answers: Rather than me talking for too long about this subject, I am going to play you guys an audio clip that I’ll tell you about in a second. But essentially the issue here is whether or not cholesterol is really as bad as we have been led to believe that it is. And whether or not animal products such as butter or red meat are as big a problem as some of the other producers of more dangerous forms of cholesterol such as processed sugars, processed carbohydrates and other packaged foods with things like free radical producing trans fats or synthetic fats in them, okay? And there’s a lot of reasons for that and this could probably fill up an entire podcast. We talked about a little last week in Dr. Cohen’s interview about essential fatty acids – if you didn’t get a chance to listen to that – go listen to it and then also check out the Shownotes, that was podcast number 72. Because there’s kind of a big discussion going on in the Shownotes right now about that, and about whether or not fats are really as bad as we think they are. So when you listen to the audio clip that I’m going to play as a response to this question, I would like to hear your thoughts on it because it’s a little bit controversial and I’m sure that for some of you, it’s really going to be something that raises some red flags and makes you think a little bit. So let’s go ahead and have a discussion about this in the Shownotes to podcast number 73. I want to know what you think about red meat, about butter, especially about whether or not it is as big a problem for high cholesterol as much as some other things might be and whether or not we even need to be worried that much about high cholesterol. At least the traditional form of high cholesterol that is maybe not as big of a deal as we used to think it was. The audio I’m going to play is by a fellow named Roger Drummer. And he’s a nutritionist. I have a couple of his CDs. And I thought this was a really interesting clip from a talk that Roger recently gave.
Roger Drummer: I’m one of those people who have low cholesterol. I’ve fought my whole life to get my cholesterol to go up. It’s been a 25 year battle for me. In fact, I finally nailed it. The last time I had my cholesterol back – it went up 30 points. I was so happy, I can’t hardly tell you, because my cholesterol for years when I first started getting it checked was 100. Doctors go, “Wow, that’s amazing.” But 100 is terrible for cholesterol. It’s really bad for you. Your body doesn’t make hormones properly, it doesn’t protect your system. There are so many things that go on when you have low cholesterol and just so you might want to know about this, they’ve had studies that show that if you have cholesterol around 100, by the time you get into your 60s, you have a 10% chance of having a little burst in your brain and falling over dead. So, it’s not a good thing. I tried for a long time to get it up. I got it up to 125. And then I got it up to 140. And then last year, I finally nailed it up to 175. So, I have to tell you something really fascinating which all the men here should really love to hear, when my cholesterol went up 30 points – by the way, my HDL went up 30 points, the one they call the good one – my testosterone went up 225. Wow. Whoa. You know? Because your body uses those substances to make hormones and if you run it down way too low, then your hormones start to suffer and your system goes off. There’s a delicate balance between all these things and how they operate in your system. But again, driving down your cholesterol is not the key to health because you can take someone’s cholesterol down really low with a drug, but they still have the basic problem going on with their health – why they created so much of it in the first place. And that’s only something you can take care of through your diet and through taking certain supplements. It’s not like you have to take a supplement that’s for cholesterol. You have to take a supplement that’s good for your general overall health, because it’s just a sign that something’s imbalanced. It’s not a sign that you need one particular thing that’s just for cholesterol. When I told my doctor, I was really upset that I got 130 reading back on my cholesterol and he just could not understand why anybody would care that you would want it lower than that. Again, I’m not against people taking Lipator or anything else if you actually need it, but most heart specialists will tell you that only 20% of the people that actually take it really need it. Again, if you have to, there are so many ways that you can actually change your diet and supplement certain things that will change the way your body reacts to everything that you do. I know eggs aren’t the problem for most people. If you’re exercising and you’re healthy and eating well, eggs will not raise your cholesterol. I happen to be one of those people that just loves to experiment with things with my own body. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But usually it doesn’t hurt me for too long most of the time. But I did an experiment once when I had my cholesterol down to 100, I went in and I knew I was going to have it checked eight days later. So I decided, well I’m going to check out this egg thing and I went home and I ate a dozen eggs a day for seven days in a row. Then I went in to have my cholesterol checked and it was 100. I’ll admit I was exercising a lot, but the reality is you would think 84 eggs in 7 days would kind of raise your cholesterol a bit. Besides that, you probably suspect this but once you eat 6 eggs for breakfast, the only way to get another 6 down is with mayonnaise. It just doesn’t work any other way. So, I think anyway, my cholesterol didn’t go up. But the reality is that it’s about the whole balance of your entire diet that determines how you actually are affected by things in your food and how you’re actually affected with inflammation and how your cells react to every single thing. It all goes back to homeostasis because remember, to be healthy, to keep this regulation going on within a certain parameter – it depends on nutrients and it depends on energy. I love these stories about people sleeping on mattresses and having all these amazing things happen within an hour like Dave was talking. I’d listen because I’ve traveled all over North America giving talks for Nikken and I have heard some of the most amazing stories just about sleeping on a bed. People who had chronic illnesses, that they went to 15 doctors for and nothing worked, and they ran into somebody in an elevator that loaned them a mattress. They went home and slept on it and two weeks later, everything was gone. Why is that? You hear all these scientific things. Nikken has this amazing new ram technology and they have this EQL technology which basically is just improving their magnets and have a full range of energy fields around it. For most people, talking about energy fields is really weird and all this woo-woo stuff, but the reality is that the entire planet is surrounded by an energy field. You’re affected by energy fields all the time. I had somebody tell me once, “You know I don’t believe that stuff. If you can’t see it, feel it…” I said really? Can I have your cell phone. I said did you listen to your radio? Do you see the electricity going into your house? All these different things. But the reality is, if you studied healing at all – energetic healing at all – all it is, is about changing your energy field and adding something to it so it returns to homeostasis. You have a homeostasis, a regulating energy to your energy body. Sometimes it gets whacked out by excessive emotional stress and nutritional stress – whacks it out and it develops a pattern where it’s not regulating its own energy anymore. When you do that, the safest easiest way to bring it back into balance is to lay down on a mattress and go to sleep. Because you’re no longer interfering with how the body operates because you’re asleep. You’re no longer thinking about what’s going on through the day and that gentle bringing of your energy field back into balance not only corrects that but it actually allows your physical body to heal and to accept nutrition better and accept everything that you put into it better. Because everything’s now gone back into a synergy. And that’s really the whole secret of magnets. You can listen to all the science about it and what’s going on, and it’s just really bringing you back to your natural state of energy in a very gentle way at a period of time when you don’t have to think about it and you’re not interfering with it with your own emotional energy because emotional energy is what interferes with the flow of energy around your entire body. Chinese medicine is all about energy flow and basically how they describe you getting sick is you have stagnant energy or a block of energy and it’s all due to emotional issues that go on. The way you’re thinking stops all your energy from flowing around. So it’s no big secret how magnets work and how all of a sudden, you just feel better and things start to click and you have a realization that you can do something about your health.
Ben: So, what do you think? Obviously that’s some very interesting thoughts on cholesterol. Go to the Shownotes and leave a comment. Let’s start a discussion on this and please be respectful, but I’d like to hear what your thoughts are on this whole cholesterol issue. So, that’s the Shownotes to podcast number 73.
For personal nutrition, fitness or triathlon consulting, supplements, books or DVD’s from Ben Greenfield, please visit Pacific Elite Fitness at http://www.pacificfit.net