Tag Archives: cholesterol

Heart Attacks Hinge on LDL Cholesterol Particle Number (LDL-P)

medical clearance, treadmill stress test

This treadmill stress test is looking for hidden heart disease

…according to Drs. Thomas Dayspring and James Underberg. I don’t know if these guys are right or not. I bet it’s more complicated than LDL particle number. I’m always skeptical of grand unification theories.

People with diabetes tend to have shorter life spans than average. One reason is a predisposition to heart disease, specifically coronary artery disease that leads to heart attacks.

Most heart attacks (aka myocardial infarctions) do indeed seem to be caused by acute rupture of an atherosclerotic plaque that’s been present for years. Two key questions are:

  1. What causes the plaque?
  2. Why causes it to rupture?

Underberg and Dayspring write:

The only absolute requirement for plaque development is the presence of cholesterol in the artery: although there are additional heart risk factors like smoking, hypertension, obesity, family history, diabetes, kidney disease, etc., none of those need to be present. Unfortunately, measuring cholesterol in the blood, where it cannot cause plaque, until recently has been the standard of risk-testing. That belief was erroneous and we now have much better biomarkers to use for CV risk-assessment. The graveyard and coronary care units are filled with individuals whose pre-death cholesterol levels were perfect. We now understand that the major way cholesterol gets into the arteries is as a passenger, in protein-enwrapped particles, called lipoproteins.

Particle entry into the artery wall is driven by the amount of particles (particle number) not by how much cholesterol they contain. Coronary heart disease is very often found in those with normal total or LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) levels in the presence of a high LDL particle number (LDL-P). By far, the most common underlying condition that increases LDL particle concentration is insulin resistance, or prediabetes, a state where the body actually resists the action of the sugar controlling hormone insulin. This is the most common scenario where patients have significant heart attack risk with perfectly normal cholesterol levels. The good news is that we can easily fix this, sometimes without medication. The key to understanding how comes with the knowledge that the driving forces are dietary carbohydrates, especially fructose and high-fructose corn syrup. In the past, we’ve often been told that elimination of saturated fats from the diet would help solve the problem. That was bad advice. The fact is that until those predisposed to insulin resistance drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake, sudden deaths from coronary heart disease and the exploding diabetes epidemic will continue to prematurely kill those so afflicted.


 And for goodness’ sake, if you want to live longer, start reducing the amount of dietary carbohydrates, including bread, potatoes, rice, soda and sweetened beverages (including fruit juices), cereal, candy – the list is large).

Read the whole enchilada.

Offhand, I don’t recall any clinical study looking at LDL cholesterol particle number in folks who switched to a paleo diet. Given the prominence of coronary heart disease, I’m sure Dayspring and Underberg would favor a low-carb version of the paleo diet for anyone going the paleo route. Here’s my version of low-carb paleo.

Underberg and Dayspring don’t mention LDL particle size, such as small/dense and large/fluffy; the former are thought by many to be much more highly atherogenic, while the latter may not be at all. Is this idea outdated?

Whoever figures out the immediate cause of plaque rupture and how to reliably prevent it will win a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Steve Parker, M.D.

About Dayspring and Underberg:

Thomas Dayspring MD, FACP, FNLA   Director of Cardiovascular Education, The Foundation for Health Improvement and Technology, Richmond, VA. Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School.

James Underberg MD, FACP, FNLA   Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at NYU Medical School and the NYU Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention . Director of the Bellevue Hospital Primary Care Lipid Management Clinic.

h/t Dr. Axel Sigurdsson

Metabolic Improvements From a Paleolithic Diet in San Francisco

A Paleolithic diet improved metabolic status with respect to cardiovascular and carbohydrate physiology, according to a 2009 study at the University of California San Francisco.

Here are the specific changes, all statistically significant unless otherwise noted:

  • total cholesterol decreased by 16%
  • LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) decreased by 22% (no change in HDL)
  • triglycerides decreased by 35%
  • strong trend toward reduced fasting insulin (P=0.07)
  • average diastolic blood pressure down by 3 mmHg (no change in systolic pressure)
  • improved insulin sensitivity and reduced insulin resistance; i.e., improved glucose tolerance


This was a small, preliminary study: only 11 participants (six male, three female, all healthy (non-diabetic), average age 38, average BMI 28, sedentary, mixed Black/Caucasian/Asian).

Baseline diet characteristics were determined by dietitians, then all participants were placed on a paleo diet, starting with a 7-day ramp-up (increasing fiber and potassium gradually), then a 10-day paleo diet.

The paleo diet: meat, fish, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, canola oil, mayonnaise, and honey.  No dairy legumes, cereals, grains, potatoes.  Alcohol not mentioned ever.  Caloric intake was adjusted to avoid weight change during the study, and participants were told to remain sedentary.  They ate one meal daily at the research center and were sent home with the other meals and snacks pre-packed.

Compared with baseline diets, the paleo diet reduced salt consumption by half while doubling potassium and magnesium intake.  Baseline diet macronutrient calories were 17% from protein, 44% carbohydrate, 38% fat.  Paleo diet macronutrients were 30% protein, 38% carb, 32% fat.  Fiber content wasn’t reported. 

I’m guessing there were no adverse effects.


This study sounds like fun, easy, basic science: “Hey, let’s do this and see what happens!”

I don’t know a lot about canola oil, but it’s considered one of the healthy oils by folks like Walter Willett.  It sounds more appealing than rapeseed, from whence it comes.

I agree with the investigators that this tiny preliminary study is promising; the paleo diet (aka Stone Age or caveman diet) has potential benefits for prevention and treatment for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke.

The researchers mentioned their plans to study the paleo diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.  Any results yet?

Are you working with a physician on a medical issue that may improve or resolve with the paleo diet?  Most doctors don’t know much about the paleo diet yet.  You may convince yours to be open-minded by trying the diet yourself—not always a safe way to go—and showing her your improved clinical results.  Or show her studies such as this.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclaimer:  All matters regarding your health require supervision by a personal physician or other appropriate health professional familiar with your current health status.  Always consult your personal physician before making any dietary or exercise changes.

Reference:  Frassetto, L.A., et al.  Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type dietEuropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition, advance online publication, February 11, 2009.   doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.4