I was going to wait with this one, but a health article in this morning's New York Times in lowering kids' cholesterol has me sputtering: Prevention Can Start Young, Studies Suggest; but How?
About eight years ago, after learning that her husband, Rod, suffered from elevated cholesterol, she started having their children's cholesterol checked, too. Bryce, at 16 their oldest child, went on a low dose of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs three years ago. Alyssa, 14, has also gone on statins. Eight-year-old Brady is not on medication, but he, too, joins the family in a diet low in fat; to the Youngquists 2 percent milk tastes like heavy cream.
. . . Dr. Daniel Bernstein, the pediatric cardiologist who treats the Youngquist children, says he uses the medication only cautiously. He put Bryce on statins only after a cholesterol test revealed a reading close to 300.
Why does this make me start muttering to myself? Lowering bad cholesterol is a reasonable enough goal, but nutritionally, the situation in much more complex than just lowering fat intake and taking the right drugs. And these people are lowering cholesterol and fat intake in kids whose brains are still growing. Cholesterol is what insulates the nerves. Fat is what most of your brain is made of. I find the description of this family's diet and medications very worrisome.
Also, if the family's on a low-fat/low-cholesterol diet in the first place and their kid comes in with a cholesterol of 300, it isn't coming from cholesterol in his diet. It's coming from his body's reaction to the mix of fats he's eating -- your body manufactures more cholesterol than you eat.
David has been on a low-cholesterol/low-fat diet for nearly two decades. (Nonetheless, he required an angioplasty in June.) Since I have for the most part seemed to require no particular diet, I have mostly eaten what he's supposed to eat. While his diet was a substantial improvement over what he ate before he changed his eating habits, I'm coming to understand that both of us are dealing with its unanticipated longterm consequences.
I should say, first, that for most of my adult life I have had a body mass index between 15 and 16. (The normal range starts at 18.5 or 20 depending on the chart.) Other than when I was pregnant, the only time when I've had something approaching a "normal" quantity of body fat was when I was sickest in my life. I have a peculiar metabolism which peculiarities clearly involve either fat storage or fat metabolism. It runs in the family, back three generations, forward one. No one in the medical profession has ever seen it necessary to probe the nature of my peculiar metabolism, beyond establishing that my weight is stable and I do not have an eating disorder. It is an extremely convenient metabolic oddity, in that I've never had to diet with the intention of losing weight in my life. The few times I've dieted with the intention of gaining weight, it hasn't worked.
I won't go into too much detail involving our health histories, but instead will cut to the chase -- where the family diet went wrong and what that means: David carefully researched cholesterol and diet two decades ago when he formulated his diet. He replaced butter with Shedd Spread margarine, stopped eating red meat, replacing it with chicken and turkey, tried to eat more coldwater fish, switched to nonfat milk, stopped eating eggs, etc.
His cholesterol dropped by a large amount. His doctor was impressed. He lost weight. He felt better, had less indigestion, etc.
At the time he did his research, the health hazards of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids were not well known. The margarine he chose, which seemed to be the most healthy one on the market at the time he did his research, carries more coronary risk than the butter it replaces.
While eliminating the kind of red meat available in the grocery store and in restaurants cut his fat intake and indeed lowered his cholesterol, it had the unintended consequence of focusing the longterm diet quite tightly on chicken and turkey, which are higher in arachidonic acid than the beef they replaced. Arachidonic acid is one of the precursors of the prostaglandins that cause inflammation. In general, chicken and turkey was a good thing, but our diet became too focused on these two foods. During my pregnanacies, I was advised to steer clear of fish because of possible mercury contamination, so we ate less fish. It is now clear to me that many of the various health problems I've had involved a depletion of Omega 3 fatty acids leaving me vulnerable to inflammation. Both of us have had problems with arthritis and joint pain.
What makes me angriest at the moment is the realization in retrospect that the reason why I had six weeks of contractions before delivering each of my children was that their growing brains had depleted my Omega 3s. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was at the end of my pregnanacies. Why didn't anybody figure this out? Why didn't anyone tell me that grass-fed beef is high in Omega 3s (that come without the mercury risk)? Pregnant women are told to take their prenatal vitamins and not to use any other dietary supplements unless instructed by their doctors. I did what I was told.
Regarding David's angioplasty, I think what set the stage for it was dropping coldwater fish from our diet during my pregnanacies. The Omega 3s offered protection against the other flaws in what we ate. If we had known that there was a wider range of sources of animal protein available to us, both of us would have been healthier.
Hence, I worry about the longterm health of the kids in the NYT article.
Elizabeth woke up, so I have to stop now and get on with my day.
For those who've been following my sunrise reports, not much color in today's sunrise. But it snowed last night, so I took a picture anyway. Maybe I'll post it later.