Jerry experienced a peculiar sensation in his chest one evening while watching TV with his wife and kids. He squirmed in his chair and experienced a little breathelessness. But he kept it to himself and didn't say anything to his wife.
Fortunately, the feeling passed. But it concerned Jerry enough that he called a local heart scan center and scheduled a CT heart scan.* Minutes later, Jerry had a heart scan score of 112. At 46 years old, this placed him in the 90th percentile compared to other men in his age group.
Jerry came to my office for consultation. Among the first steps we took was to perform lipoprotein testing. Jerry showed striking abnormalities that included an HDL cholesterol of 38 mg, triglycerides of 210 mg, an unimpressive LDL of 133 mg but comprised of 99%small LDL, and excessive IDL (meaning that he was unable to clear dietary fats after eating).
At 5 feet 10 inches, Jerry weighed 190 lbs. He showed a slight excess bulge at the tummy, but hardly obese.
Jerry's history was remarkable, however, for the amount of carbohydrates he ate. "I'm addicted to bread. I love it! If I smell a loaf of fresh baked bread, I sometimes eat the whole loaf!"
Jerry also admitted to over-indulging in bagels (whole wheat), pretzels, low-fat snack chips, Raisin Bran cereal, Cheerios, and noodles. In fact, many days he'd have 5 or 6 servings of any of these foods. He also complained of an extraordinary amount of bowel gas and cramping. "Sometimes, I'm afraid to go to a group function. I might embarass myself."
I suggested an experiment: For a 4 week period, completely eliminate wheat-containing products--breads, pretzels, breakfast cereals, pasta, etc. In their place, increase intake of protein foods like eggs, raw almonds and walnuts, low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken, fish, and use healthy oils (olive, canola, grapeseed, flaxseed) more liberally.
Just four weeks later, Jerry came to the office a new man: 8 lbs lighter, brighter, with bursts of energy he hadn't had in years. And no gas!
Lesson: Wheat-based carbohydrates can be the culprit behind many lipoprotein patterns, especially low HDL, high triglycerides, small LDL, and others. Wheat can also be responsible for a myriad of abdominal symptoms, even joint pains and rashes. In its most extreme form, it's called "celiac disease". But experiences like Jerry's are quite common--not as obvious and dramatic as full-blown celliac disease, but smouldering and destructive, nonetheless.
Track Your Plaque expert, Dr. Loren Cordain of Colorado State University, tells us that, in his reconstruction of the history of human illness, there was an extraodinary surge in disease just about the time when humans began cultivating wheat around 8000 B.C. (Track Your Plaque members: Read Dr. Cordain's fascinating interview at http://www.trackyourplaque.com/library/fl_04-005cordaininterview.asp.)
Do you need to eliminate wheat products entirely from your diet? It's something to think about, particularly if you share any of the difficulties that Jerry had.
*In general, I do not recommend heart scanning as a self-prescribed tool for chest pain or other symptoms. Symptoms should always be discussed with your doctor.