But My Cholesterol is Fine

Written by Dr. Fuhrman's colleague Dr. Steven Acocella, MS, D.C., DACBN, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist, and a Diplomat of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition.

Excess weight, especially in middle age dramatically increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and other morbid conditions even in the absence of more established indicators of risk such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concludes that excess weight itself puts people at greater risk for significant health problems. This massive study followed over 17,000 men and women ages 31 to 64 over an average of 32 years. Each participant was assigned to one of 5 groups based upon risk factors independent of weight that included past or present tobacco use, elevated blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. The low-risk group never smoked and had normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The moderate-risk group didn't smoke but had either slight elevations in cholesterol or blood pressure. The intermediate-risk group had either high cholesterol, high blood pressure or currently smoked. The elevated-risk group and high-risk group had any 2 or all 3 three of these risk factors, respectively. The results were alarming.

The incidence of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attacks and diabetes were observed as well as hospitalizations and deaths related to these conditions. The body mass index (height to weight ratio) was calculated for each participant and compared health status to BMI for each group. The study evidenced that individuals with no cardiovascular risk factors as well as for those with 1 or more risk factors who were overweight in middle age had a significantly higher risk of hospitalization and mortality from heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes than those who were of normal weight. In fact, the risk of death from heart disease was an ominous 43 percent higher within the low-risk group (no risk factors) for overweight and obese individuals as compared to those of normal weight.

I often hear overweight people proudly stating that their cholesterol numbers and blood pressure readings are normal intimating that in some way their weight is less of a problem. I have literally had patients say that although they know they're overweight it's "OK" because their cholesterol is fine. Not fine. This perception may grant some overweight people a false sense of security when it comes to their health. This fool's paradise is often fostered by the barrage of drug commercials, other media messages and even uninformed health professionals that overemphasize some risk factors while understating the importance of attaining a healthy weight, especially in middle age.

This important study clearly demonstrates that just because those lab results are great, excess weight alone puts you at almost double the risk for an untimely death.

Vegetarian Diets are Not All Created Equal: An Example

From Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live:

A patient came in for his yearly checkup. He was not overweight and had been following a vegetarian diet for years. I did a dietary review of what he ate regulary. He was eating "healthy" flaxseed waffles for breakfast, lots of pasta, whole-wheat bread, and vegan (no animal products) prepared frozen meals on a regular basis.

I spent about thirty minutes pointing out that he was certainly not following my dietary recommendations for excellent health and presented him with some menu suggestions and an outline of my nutritional prescription for superior health, which he agreed to follow.

Twelve weeks later, he had lost about eight pounds and I rechecked his lipid profile, because I didn't like the results we received from the blood test taken the day of his checkup.

The results speak for themselves:

2/1/2001

Cholesterol 230
Triglycerides 226
HDL 55
LDL 130
Cholesterol/HDL Ratio 4.18

5/2/2001

Cholesterol 174
Triglycerides 57
HDL 78
LDL 84
Cholesterol/HDL Ratio 2.23