Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape

14Nov/1011

“You’re having a heart attack”

Heart attack / Art attack

My pulse was dropping fast … 55…50…45…44…43…42. Slower, and slower. Am I dying? The colour drained from my face, and my skin went clammy.

I turned a disturbing shade of grey, and I sank to my knees, in absolute agony. I relented and called for help. Five minutes later, an entirely unqualified but disturbingly chipper northern girl from NHS Direct was calmly talking to me as if my IQ was near fatal and permanent collapse.

“I believe YOU ARE HAVING A HEART ATTACK,” she slowly articulated like the words were difficult to understand.

“Nope, no. I’m not”.

“You ARE. I’m SENDING FOR AN AM-BU-LANCE”. She said ambulance like she was warming up for a singing lesson.

“Will you be OK while you wait for the AM-BU-LANCE?”.

“I’m not getting in it. I’ll pretend I’m not in. In fact, you can send around an entire army of paramedics but you’re not taking me to hospital. I’m not even dressed”.

This didn’t make a lot of sense, given I was the one calling for help. And if you were to go to hospital, an ambulance is probably the sanest form of transport. But in spite of the feeling of sharp knives in my chest, relentless nausea and a pulse that felt distinctly wrong, the reason I knew I wasn’t having a heart attack was because it had happened to me twice before. That and the fact that even if you’re ringing to find out your local surgery opening hours, NHS Direct will happily inform you you’re having a heart attack, because it’s better safe than sorry and all that.

The first time it happened was on an overnight trip to my parents. After feeling a sharp pain in my chest, I did what anyone sane would do and googled hard. Indigestion maybe? I hobbled downstairs in the dark, looking for some Rennie. My foot landed in a fresh dog shit, laid especially by my sister’s dog. She (the dog, not my sister) had chosen that night to launch a dirty protest about being sent on holiday to the Midlands without her express permission. That was probably the only time I’ve ever said “shitty little bitch” and meant it completely literally. Anyway – to cut a long story short, several hours later on the advice of NHS Direct, I checked myself into A&E and awaited the results of a number of blood tests.

“You have the heart of an athlete,” said the nurse. “Do you work out?” she asked prodding my stomach muscles.

This sounds a lot more exciting than it suggests, given I looked like I’d had a run in with a ghost, and she was about five teeth shy of a full set, and more concerned with getting the sensors to stick properly to my chest.

BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP.

I set off the low pulse alarm for about the sixth time that morning.

“Don’t worry about that, you’re not dying,” she laughed.

It was a bit disconcerting. I was tired, I hadn’t slept all night. But sure enough, the results had come back and there was nothing wrong with me. Food poisoning they reckoned.

Figuring it all out

After the third time it happened, I was sent for an ultrasound, and I was diagnosed with gallstones. And how do you get gallstones? No-one’s entirely sure, but being fat, female, fair and forty are risk factors. Fat – well, I was (past tense) a couple of stones overweight. Fair – OK, I’ll give you that. Female – not last time I looked. Forty – nowhere close. The gallstones can cause inflammation of the gallbladder, but if they start working their way through the bile ducts, they can get stuck causing enormous pain. It’s like a having a hot screwdriver run riot in your innards, but the pain can move around to feel much like a heart attack (apparently). A lot of people have gallstones but with no pain, but once they start giving you jip, the answer’s the same world over – have your gallbladder removed.

What was strange though was that every time it happened it followed the same pattern:

-          1 x long run for 16+ miles (I’m training for a marathon at the end of this month)
-          1 x good night’s drinking, the same day or the night after

Nothing to do with it, said the GP, the consultant, the nurse, the hospital cardiologist, the gastroenterologist. As I then suspected and now know, this had everything to do with it.

As I started researching on why gallstones form, it all started pointing to a problem with regulation of the cholesterol levels in the bile in the gallbladder, along with the gallbladder holding onto the bile for too long, allowing the bile to stagnate and crystalise, causing the stones. This I believe is due to a chronic lack of nutrients, particularly the minerals manganese and magnesium, caused by not eating enough, not absorbing themp properly and the obvious one at least in my case - sweating them out. Correct these nutrient deficits and not only does the bile begin to regulate the cholesterol levels properly, but your body can metabolise fat properly.

That’s why gallstones and obesity are often seen hand in hand

Both are caused by a lack of nutrients.

Action stations

So was I simply not eating enough foods containing minerals? Maybe, but there was another obvious culprit. I ate a lot of wheat-based foods. And sure enough I was right - flour was causing most of the problems. Not only does flour contain anti-nutrients, which prevent absorption of minerals, but gluten can have serious side effects too. Gluten is the the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and can cause malabsorption of minerals by disruption of the lining on the gastrointestinal tract. This is known more commonly as celiac disease. While true tested celiac disease affects only around 1 in 100 people in the UK, I believe that there is a spectrum of sensitivity to gluten that determines to what degree it disrupts your digestive system and that noone’s totally immune to the effects of gluten. Am I celiac? I have no idea, but I figured I had little to lose.

So I gave up all gluten containing products. No more baguettes for lunch. No more pasta. Not even the whiff of focaccia  I studiously ignored my GPs advice to get my gallbladder removed asap, and instead am following my own devised recovery plan which is essentially eat more saturated fat and don’t eat grains.

Boy am I glad I did. I wasn’t intending to lose weight, but I did, almost instantly, leaving me in better shape than I’ve ever been, right in time for my marathon in 2 weeks time. And more importantly since then, I haven’t had anything like the three serious attacks. It’s not been entirely without event, and by no means can I say I am 'cured' but I am absolutely convinced that gallstones and obesity are both about nutrients. And rather than sitting in my armchair hypothesising about that, I decided to prove the point publically. The ticking timer on the right is for Diagnosis Day, when I’m going to get a scan to see if what I'm doing has made any significant difference at all. And if I’ve been successful, I'll have done what is virtually unheard of – dissolving gallstones through nutrition.

The fat connection

The real reason for this site is not about me getting rid of gallstones or losing weight by cutting out sandwiches. The reason for this site is figuring out why the world is getting so fat and what can be done about it. Where gallstones are found, so is obesity (see the Pima Indians post for more), because they’re part and parcel of the same problem.

Look at this graph from the OECD. Doesn’t it strike you as a little odd?

Globally there are an estimated 1.6 million people overweight. 400 million clinically obese. By 2050, it’s estimated that over 60% of the UK will be obese. Obesity has the hallmarks of a contagious disease that’s ripping the world apart, and unless you buy the idea we’ve suddenly become lazy and greedy, you are left with the ominous idea that something’s entered into or been removed from the food-chain that’s screwing up our ability to burn our own fat as an energy source. Obesity is virtually non-existent in wild animals, even when food sources are incredibly abundant so what’s happening to us?

I no longer think the idea that obesity (and gallstones) is caused by a lack of nutrients is simply a plausible explanation. I think it’s the only explanation as to why we’re running head first into a massive Darwinian selection exercise that’s cutting the lives short of millions of people.

The root cause of the obesity epidemic are the two foods which are stripping body’s of nutrients, in turn driving up hunger and calorie consumption – white flour and sugar. In combination with many diets already low in nutrients (junk food, processed food etc), it provides the perfect conditions for excessive weight gain.

But given white flour and sugar are not entirely new to the food-chain, why now? What was the tipping point for the whole epidemic? Here’s a clue. I don’t know what he’s smiling about either…

Heart photo from CarbonNYC.

Comments (11) Trackbacks (1)
  1. My father had his gallbladder out after having pain for about a year. It was full of gangrene.

    When I was researching magnesium, I saw some abstracts about alcoholics being very deficient in Mg. I know you aren’t an alcoholic, but maybe having some alcohol is enough, in some people, to bring about a deficiency.

    BTW, re: wheat, I also noticed a sharp reduction in my appetite when I stopped eating it.

    • Hi Lori, thanks for dropping by. I’m guessing by the time it gets to your dad’s state, that *is* the last resort so there’s no choice but surgery by then.
      Well spotted on the magnesium front, and no sure not an alcoholic, but it all adds up – white flour, alcohol, sweating it out, lack of intake, lack of absorption etc.
      As for wheat and appetite, it’s odd to say the least. I’m fairly confident it’s the nutrient stripping qualities of wheat combined with already low mineral levels that causes the body to trigger the hunger response. Either that, or the candida theory but none too sure about that, as it always crops up on flaky homeopathy sites.

      • Mike, it seems pretty well established that grains inhibit mineral absorption. In addition, there might be a hormonal element in wheat and appetite. Personally, I think I’m disciplined in most areas of life, but I can’t stop eating cookies or brownies made with wheat once I start. And I can’t stop at one bowl of cereal. (I simply don’t eat them at all anymore.) This post at Spark of Reason lays out a hypothesis for the role of leptin and lectin in appetite and wheat: http://sparkofreason.blogspot.com/search?q=wheat

        In some people, grains really spike their blood sugar, then it comes crashing down, making them hungry as well.

        • Thanks for the link Lori – absolutely spot on to what I’m doing at the moment!
          Grains do inhibit true, which is why I think that wheat is driving the obesity epidemic, not carbs. You’ve got the inhibition effect of all grains combined with the damage to the small intestine reducing ability to absorb the fat soluble vits and minerals too. Combination of which = deficiency = increased hunger = weight gain.
          I’ve also been wondering about the role of pesticides in wheat too, and if they might be hormonally messing with us.
          Funny about your personal experience too – I’m identical. Don’t touch gluten now.

  2. Mike, you might have seen this already, but Dr. William Davis has many posts on wheat here: http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Wheat

    Denise Minger has a statistical take on wheat, and the comments are just as good: http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/09/02/the-china-study-wheat-and-heart-disease-oh-my/

  3. Hi Mike,

    I was a ‘true believer’ in the low-fat/healthy-grains way of eating back when the lipid hypothesis of heart disease was being heavily promoted. If I ate meat at all, I carefully drained away any fat, or trimmed visible fat from larger cuts. The result? My gall bladder was rarely called upon to release bile. Stones formed. “Attacks” occurred occasionally. What could be causing them? Wait a minute! On the rare occasion when I ate a meal with a large amount of fat, like the big seafood meal with melted butter for dipping shrimp and lobster for my birthday… I paid dearly. In fact that meal landed me in the hospital when the attack didn’t end. I told the Dr I was having a gall bladder attack. Five days later, he solemnly intoned, “you have gallstones and you’re having a gall bladder attack”. Seriously.

    If I had not been such a lipophobe, it probably never would have happened.

    Thanks for posting your Top 10 list and including Paul Jaminet. I agree with you about Richard N.

    • Ah Jim, must be something about the date – I was in A&E the first time on my birthday too. Many happy returns eh? Thanks for sharing, all sounds very familiar. What’s astonishing to me is how quickly the motto of fat=bad seems to have been formed but how long it takes to unravel.
      As for the top 10, I hope Richard N takes it in the spirit it was intended!

  4. I am officially obsessed with your blog. So much to read! But I need to be a good mommy and wife now and leave the computer. But I will be back tomorrow!

  5. Do you drink enough water generally, and particularly during or following activities likely to dehydrate e.g. going out for a long run, going out for a long drink?


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