A person can be shaped good, but not in good shape . . .
Virtually everyone who works at WellnessFX is a health nut (as you can imagine, we love what we do). As the saying goes: we eat our own dogfood, and we eat it well! Our Wellness Network Development Director Drina Boban is no exception. She was a serious triathlete for many years and even competed in the 2004 USA National Championships. While she no longer races, Drina has maintained her commitment to living a healthy and active lifestyle. She eats well, is an avid runner and cyclist, and swims or lifts weights several times a week in addition to teaching boot camp classes on the side.
When she had her first draw at WellnessFX back in May of 2011, she expected her numbers to reflect how she felt: darn good. Her only ‘problem’ was a mild wheat allergy, but seeing as how she didn’t experience any of the common GI issues that comes with it, it was easy to forget about. She had no complaints about virtually anything. In short, she was super healthy, and her numbers were going to be super healthy.
But that wasn’t quite the case. Turns out, her total cholesterol was at 239! That’s just one point away from putting her in the ‘high-risk’ category. This was baffling. Naturally, she wanted to find out what was going on!
Cholesterol is a difficult beast to tame. A couple decades ago we discovered it’s correlation with heart disease. More recently we’ve begun to realize that’s only half the story. There’s good and bad cholesterol, each with different roles. Even further, the ratio of the two in the body is more indicative of risk for heart disease than the total number itself.
And then there’s the cause. Originally it seemed simple enough: reduce your cholesterol intake, reduce your risk. But we only get 1/4 of the cholesterol in our bodies from food: the rest is made in the liver. Clearly, though, lifestyle affects heart disease risk. That’s why measuring other indicators in the body can provide a holistic view of what, exactly, is going on.
Such was the thinking of Dr. Carpenter, a WellnessFX practitioner. When presented with Drina’s numbers earlier this year, he noted that her hs-CRP, a marker for inflammation, was also high. During their consult, Drina and Dr. Carpenter had a long Q&A session to dive deep into her diet and lifestyle. Eventually, her wheat allergies stood out as a possible culprit. The allergy itself was not news to Drina: it had never been that big of a deal. But Dr. Carpenter thought there was more to it. He remembered a recent paper on how changing the diets of people with celiac disease resulted in improved lipid panels. Not quite the same thing, but it was worth a try.
In June, Dr. Carpenter recommended Drina go off wheat completely for 6 months and then get re-tested. Here are the results (ignore October 2012 – they’re from a botched lab):
I’m absolutely shocked at how much my numbers have changed. And, I don’t feel any different than I did in May 2011.
Impressive change, huh? Her cholesterol went from borderline ‘high risk’ (the May 2011 239 reading is not shown here) to comfortably in the ‘low risk’ category. This is a great development but . . . what’s the deal? Wheat and . . . cholesterol? Something doesn’t add up.
Et Tu, Wheat-eh?
More and more than before, people are reacting negatively to wheat. Why is that? It could be something about wheat products that have changed, a result of cross-breeding to yield more productive crops. Or it could be genetic modifications. Most likely it’s a combination, resulting in a wheat very different from the kind we used to consume in the 1950s, for example. Today’s wheat is simply harder to digest.
This isn’t the first time Dr. Carpenter has come across a connection with wheat allergies and cholesterol. In fact, he’s seen it many times. Although the research in the area is very young and it’s hard to incorporate cutting edge studies into regular practice, Dr. Carpenter continually tries to see what could possibly apply to his patient’s individual needs.
“My approach is to look at the underlying cause of disease,” he says. “The typical approach is you have this disease, then you look at this medication, or this herb, or this vitamin. You’re not typically taught in medical school to take the approach to the root cause.” With the growing demands of healthcare in America, it’s not hard to see why the system is designed to provide quick solutions. But what about the people who are actively trying to prevent problems before they ever arise? For them, it can be hard to find someone knowledgeable who’s willing to commit to the same goal.
How exactly, then, did Drina’s wheat allergy lead to her high cholesterol readings? It’s actually quite straight forward: Drina is allergic to wheat. Drina ingests wheat. Wheat causes inflammation in Drina’s gut, which leads to systemic (whole-body) inflammation. Cholesterol rises in response to that inflammation.
“If she hadn’t taken out the wheat and had instead tried to fix it with a supplement, for example,” Dr. Carpenter says, “the damage would have continued occurring. Her cholesterol numbers would have continued to rise, eventually leading to heart disease.”
The Bottom Line
Let’s not take anything away from Drina. She’s fit, takes good care of her body, and is mindful of creating a healthy future for herself. But there’s only so much a person can know about their bodies on their own, especially when the ‘warning signs’ are only evident at the cellular level. “WellnessFX offers a more in-depth look inside the body,” Dr. Carpenter says, “to see if a person is actually in shape, as well as shaped good.”