Addressing underlying causes of disease instead of medicating symptoms

Dr. Jay Wortman is a descendant of one of the aboriginal populations of northern Canada.

Both of his maternal grandparents developed Type 2 diabetes and died from the complications.

All nine of their children developed Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or both. At the time of his presentation in the video below, his mother was the only remaining survivor of that generation.

Dr. Wortman and two of his three siblings also have developed Type 2 diabetes.

He diagnosed himself in 2007. He recognized that this would dramatically reduce his life expectancy, so he immediately began investigating what would be the best drug treatment. But to buy time as he was starting that search, he says…

“I knew enough about diabetes to know that when blood sugar is high, that’s not good, and carbohydrates make your blood sugar go up. So I thought, ‘I’ll buy some time by right now, from this moment on, not eating any carbohydrates.’ Now I knew nothing about diet; I had the typical medical education – we get no training on nutrition…and I had no knowledge of the low-carb diet….

“So what happened over the next few days is I had basically a miraculous recovery. All the signs and symptoms went away quickly. My blood sugar normalized, and I started losing about a pound a day of weight, which went on for about a month….So something very dramatic happened, and something I had never encountered in my medical training or in my years of medical practice.”

Dr. Jay Wortman

In the rest of the video, Dr. Wortman describes how that discovery changed both his life and his career trajectory as he works with public health.

He has studied the diets of indigenous populations not only in Canada but also in other parts of the world, and has come to believe that changing from a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet to an industrialized diet high in carbohydrates (and particularly processed carbs) has massively increased the prevalence of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

While I think you would find the whole video enlightening and interesting, I have cued it above to start at the 27:30 mark, where Dr. Wortman makes a compelling case that the various chronic disease epidemics “aren’t a bunch of distinct and different diseases. We’re talking about a problem that is linked together in one huge epidemic of chronic disease…. What we have is a continuum of disease, the underpinning of which appears to be insulin resistance.”

As he says, the point at which diabetes is formally diagnosed is fairly arbitrary. Insulin resistance, which can progress for a decade or more “under the radar,” puts patients on a path to develop a constellation of diseases and conditions.

And of course metabolic syndrome is strongly related to cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, stroke and heart attacks.

Altogether, metabolic syndrome is a cause – if not the cause – of diseases that consume more than 70% of health care spending in the U.S. each year.

As it did for Dr. Wortman, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet can help many people significantly improve health and prevent or even reverse many of these diseases and conditions.

Helping people turn back the clock on their health is the focus of what Lisa and I are planning as I start my third career following my retirement from Mayo Clinic. We’ve been doing this informally over the last 11 months, and soon we will be launching a venture that we hope will help many more.

We’re working with a long-time physician friend who has been interested in metabolic syndrome for decades.

Our venture is not a weight-loss program: as Dr. Wortman said, the reason for his personal change was to “buy time” and prevent diabetic damage.

But weight loss is typically a welcome side effect. Dr. Wortman reported losing about a pound a day for a month. Lisa and I have each lost 50 pounds. Your mileage will vary.

We’re developing educational resources, a community support platform and coaching services and expect to launch the new website next month.

If you would like to learn more and get a no-cost preview, send me an email and I’ll be in touch.

Attacking the Axis of Illness through a Ketogenic Diet

While a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet has been increasingly recognized as an effective way to lose weight, and while weight loss may be the initial motivation for many to embrace it, the health benefits are much broader and deeper than just weight loss.

As David Harper, Ph.D. says in the video below, keto benefits beyond weight loss include:

  • Lower blood triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol
  • Reversing insulin resistance, making blood sugar and insulin more stable
  • Less systemic inflammation and pain, and
  • Improved energy, stamina and flexibility.

He also highlights several diseases for which strong evidence exists showing that a ketogenic diet is beneficial, as well as others for which the evidence is emerging.

The money quote…

I actually think that all of these chronic diseases…are all the same thing…. I think in the next 10 years you’re going to see a lot of medical research looking at the mitochondria…and that’s where we’re going to find the root cause of chronic disease.

Dr. Harper also presented an interesting graphic that illustrates how a high-carbohydrate diet drives insulin resistance, inflammation and obesity and resulting chronic disease.

Finally, he shares information about a study in which he is involved that is using a ketogenic diet in addition to customary therapies in women with breast cancer, and shows PET scans of these patients who have seen reduction in tumor size and extent.

Dr. Harper is the author of a book called BioDiet: The Scientifically Proven, Ketogenic Way to Lose Weight and Improve Health, which I ordered based on this presentation (as well as favorable reviews from two of my Health Sherpas, Nina Teicholz and Maria Emmerich) and expect to receive today.

Well worth your time to watch:

I retired in August from leading Mayo Clinic’s social media program to start a new venture with my wife Lisa and a family physician friend I’ve known since high school. 

He has been interested in metabolic syndrome for more than 20 years, and with nearly nine of ten of Americans having at least one marker of metabolic ill health, he sees this as the major health challenge we face as a society.

Our mission is to help people take control of their own health through lifestyle changes. A low-carbohydrate diet as Dr. Harper describes is one key element.

I was motivated to launch this venture by our health journey from the last few years. Lisa and I have each lost more than 50 lbs. and maintained that weight loss for 18 months (so far). 

For the last 10 months or so we’ve been coaching others in making similar changes, and they’ve experienced great results too. 

We also have medical lab test results that show significant health improvements, and we feel better than we have in 20 years. It was really rewarding to see people we were coaching turning back the clock on their health, and I found myself saying, “I’d like to do this full-time.”

As it turns out, I can.

That’s why I say my August retirement was really instead the beginning of a third career. I worked at Mayo Clinic for 21 years in health care media relations and social media, after 14 years in politics and government.

I hope my third career will be longer and have more impact than either of the first two. 

We’re currently in the Alpha phase of development, as we plan to offer educational resources, online community support and individual and group coaching.

If you’re interested in being one of our Alpha members who will help us shape and refine the services, send me an email and I’ll be in touch to give you a preview.

Rebecca Williams: Then and Now

I began telling the story of my health journey about 13 months ago on this blog to share what my wife Lisa and I had learned over the previous three years about getting metabolically healthy and losing weight.

We told Lisa’s story of losing at least 40 pounds in July, and followed up in November with her amazing achievement of fitting into her wedding dress for the first time in 36 years. We’re now both down 50 pounds or more from our respective peaks.

Along the way several readers have told us how we had helped to inspire them to try low-carb eating and intermittent fasting. That’s been really gratifying for us, because it’s exactly why we shared our stories in the first place.

So we were particularly happy John Bishop agreed to share his story in August, and that now Rebecca Williams, a colleague at Mayo Clinic, is doing likewise.

Below is Rebecca’s story in her own words. She’s living proof that the standard “eat less, move more” advice is simplistic and ineffective for weight loss in the real world.

And that there is a better way. Here’s what she sent me:

10 years ago, at the age of 41, I ran my first mile with the goal of finishing a marathon. Like many, I really thought that I would lose a tremendous amount of weight by running.

I was wrong. I lost a little, but I was still 60 pounds overweight when I crossed the marathon finish line a year and a half after I ran that first mile. Why was that? I thought I did everything I was supposed to do when running long distance. I carb loaded, I fueled with gels every 30-60 minutes, and since I was burning a tremendous number of calories, I rewarded myself afterwards with pancakes and ice cream.

However, when I step back and objectively assess what I did, I see where I went wrong. 

Rebecca at mile 25 of her 2012 marathon (left), and in a workout earlier this month.

On average, runners burn 100 calories per mile. So, let’s say I’m out for a 15-mile-long run. That means I’m burning 1,500 calories. However, carrying 60 extra pounds meant that 15 miles took me 3-4 hours, and if I was ingesting a 100 calorie gel every 30 minutes, I was taking in at least 600 calories. Then if I rewarded myself with pancakes and ice cream afterwards, that would quickly surpass the additional 900 calories I burned while running. No wonder I didn’t lose weight!

Over the past 10 years I continued running and finished a 200-mile relay, nine half marathons, and countless 5K’s. The weight hung on.

In March of 2020, my husband, Bruce, discovered Dr. Annette Bosworth (a.k.a. Dr. Boz), an internal medicine physician from South Dakota. He purchased her book Anyway You Can, and after reading it he was inspired. The book tells the story of how she saved her mother’s life. Her mother was battling stage IV Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Facing another round of chemo, her mother decided that she would rather die. Dr. Boz had been studying the science behind the ketogenic diet and was convinced that it would help her mother. The book is the full story of how the ketogenic diet helped her mother achieve optimal health while still battling this chronic cancer. Throughout the book she also explains the benefits of the ketogenic diet.

At the time I was reading this book, Lee Aase started posting stories about his and his wife, Lisa’s, health journey, and I was inspired by them. When I finished Dr. Boz’ book, I was convinced that this is what I needed to do. 

Bruce and I took Dr. Boz’ online course, Consistently Keto, and on September 7, 2020 we started our ketogenic journey.

  • We reduced our total (TOTAL not net) carbs to <20g per day.
  • We measure our urine ketones each morning and use the Chronometer app to track our food and activity.
  • I began my day with a bulletproof coffee using a tablespoon of salted ghee and a tablespoon of Brain Octane Oil (MCT). This would keep me satiated until Noon when I at two eggs and 3-4 strips of bacon. I had a half cup of mixed nuts and cheese for an afternoon snack, and dinner was a ribeye steak with creamed spinach.
  • As the weeks progressed, I started to incorporate 18:6 intermittent fasting. I dropped the bulletproof coffee and now drink it plain and black. My eating window is from Noon to 6pm. 

Since beginning this keto journey, I am rarely hungry, and the sugar/carb cravings are gone. I lost 25 pounds, and I am continuing to run. However, I now run in a fasted state as my body is using my fat for fuel.

I still have 35 pounds to lose in order to reach my goal weight, but I have to say that the ketogenic diet is by far the easiest thing I have ever done and the only thing that has ever worked to help me drop the weight. 

I feel amazing! So amazing, in fact, that I am training for my second marathon. In January 2021 I started a couch to marathon training program. The first 12 weeks is training for a 5K, the next 12 weeks are training for a 10K, the next 12 weeks are training for a half marathon, and then the final 12 weeks are training for the Walt Disney World marathon in January 2022. I’m looking forward to this experience allowing my body to burn fat for fuel rather than depend on carbs.

The hardest part of this was making the decision to do it. The easiest part is doing it.

If you have been considering trying low-carb living with intermittent fasting, I hope Rebecca’s story will be that extra nudge that gets you started.

If you have questions about keto or fasting, feel free to ask in the comments below or in my social feeds on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

If like John and Rebecca you have a story you’re willing to share to help inspire others, send me an email.

I hope you’ll pass along Rebecca’s story with your friends using the sharing buttons below.

Improving Endurance and Performance through Keto-Adaptation

Dr. Robert Atkins scandalized the medical, public health and dietary community in 1972 when he published Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, in which he advocated a significantly carbohydrate-limited diet that promoted consumption of most calories from protein and fat.

Dr. Stephen Phinney is one of the courageous pioneers who was open to studying the effects of a low-carb, high-fat diet in the 1970s instead of just dismissing it.

As he relates the story in the video below, several of his patients who had gone on the Atkins diet reported feeling fine and with plenty of energy, which was contrary to what Dr. Phinney had personally experienced in “bonking” on mountainous bicycle rides from lack of carbohydrates.

I’ve cued the video to where he begins telling this story, and how he was able to demonstrate that the previous studies comparing high and low-carbohydrate diets that led to the practice of “carb loading” in athletes were too short in duration, and consequently had missed the phenomenon of ketogenic adaptation.

My summary of his main points:

  • If you consistently have abundant carbohydrates in your system, your body will use those for fuel and will not access the energy you’re carrying in your fat stores.
  • It takes at least several weeks of a low-carb diet (50g/day maximum) to convert your body to fat-burning. For elite athletes it can take six months to a year to fully adapt and reach previous levels of performance.
  • Once you have become keto-adapted, instead of being limited to the 2,000 or so calories of carbohydrate energy your muscles and liver can store, you have access to 20-100 times as much energy stored in your body fat.
  • For sprinters and those whose contests are over quickly, keto-adaptation is likely not a high-performance strategy. Carbohydrates can supply what they need more quickly.
  • The biggest athletic performance benefits accrue to endurance athletes. Several ultramarathoners have set performance records when keto-adapted, because they don’t need to consume sugar-laden gels for energy as their competitors do. Instead of having blood supply diverted to digestion, they continue getting energy from fat.
  • Adapting to a ketogenic diet leads to better performance and higher sustained energy levels, even for people who aren’t interested in running marathons or participating in even more extreme athletic contests.

This really hit home for Lisa and me when we were helping our son and daughter-in-law move into their third-floor apartment several months ago, in a building with no elevator.

We made scores of trips up and down the stairs carrying furniture and boxes of various sizes, and were struck by how good we felt.

We were able to bound up and down the stairs without getting tired and we worked right through lunch without hunger. We surprised ourselves with our stamina.

Certainly it made a difference that we each were carrying 30 pounds less fat than we had been a year earlier, but as you’ll see from the results of the first experiment Dr. Phinney describes in the video below, the bigger issue was that we were able to access the energy in our remaining body fat to move both ourselves and the furniture.

After an initial decline, obese study subjects’ stqmina increased above baseline following 6 weeks adaptation to a ketogenic diet.

You may have heard of the so-called “Keto Flu” or “Atkins Flu” that often accompanies a change to a low-carb diet. It’s a real but short-lived phenomenon, and you can mitigate the effects on daily activities to some extent through adequate salt intake.

I hope you’ll take 28 minutes to watch this last part of Dr. Phinney’s presentation, to learn how adapting to a ketogenic, low-carb healthy high fat diet can help you lose weight while gaining significant energy for everyday activities.

If you’re interested in the background on how carb-loading became standard practice in sports training, hit the play button below and then scroll back to watch the whole video from the beginning.

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Check out My Health Journey for the full story of our health improvements, and my #BodyBabySteps for an approach to how I would do it if I were starting today, based on what I’ve learned.