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Paleo Challenge Day 11: Magical Cholesterol

Wednesday January 11, 2012 – Day 11
Lunch: Chicken breast with tomato-mushroom sauce
Dinner: Chicken breast with (coconut) cream-of-spinach soup
Second Dinner: Roast turkey with squash and sun-dried tomato saute (from Whole Foods)
Future baby chickens consumed: 0 (40 total)
Sweet potatoes consumed: 0 (8 total)
Inhaler puffs: 1 (2 in last 7 days) – Cat 1, Paleo 0.

Back in medical school (in the early 2000’s), I was educated in the Golden Age of Low Cholesterol. More than one of my professors/attending physicians thought that statins should be put in the water, so amazing were they at making lipid profiles look squeaky clean. Now we know that the side effects of statins (liver failure and rhabdomyolysis a/k/a muscle damage akin to Texas summer high school football practices) may be worse than the chronic atherosclerosis itself. And slightly high blood cholesterol levels may not really correlate to the amount of damage and inflamed plaques one has on their coronary and carotid arteries.

The tide is turning, so to speak. Cholesterol is a nutrient. It’s a precursor for testosterone and other sex steroids. It builds nerve-insulating myelin that keeps brain function sharp. In steady supply, it keeps cell membranes loose and fluid instead of stiff and inviting to inflammation/scarring. And then there’s the depression link. Back in med school I once showed off my gaudy vegetarian lipid profile to my friend Alex, pointing excitedly to a serum cholesterol of 94, au naturel. His response was quick: “You know there’s a link with low cholesterol and depression, right?”

I stewed over this for a bit. I wasn’t particularly depressed, but I had my fair share of panic attacks and free-floating anxiety in my 20’s, and maybe cholesterol could be a scapegoat. I ate low-fat everything back in the day, with lots of whole grains and boatloads of tofu. What does the literature say about a potential link between mood and cholesterol?of over 4000 men shows an odds ratio for depression of over 5:1 in men who have low serum LDL.showed that low cholesterol yielded an overall mortality risk of 2:1, higher than severe depression, higher even than chronic alcohol use. Depressed patients in this study with concomitant low cholesterol had a 7x higher risk of death, indicating a multiplicative effect of having both conditions.

These are two of a dozen-or-so studies which yield similar conclusions: there is a correlation between low cholesterol and mood disorders, perhaps specifically in men. It’s unlikely that depression would cause low cholesterol (unless malnutrition were an issue), but you could make a stronger argument for low cholesterol leading to low testosterone production leading to more severe depressive symptoms, especially among those with a predisposition to mood disorders. Maybe this is the start of something big, and we’ll learn in 50-100 years that the experiment with low-fat diets was actually damaging to (male) neuropsychiatric behavior. But in the meantime, I’m going to buy my 2-3 dozen eggs per week, and when Paleo Month is over, ease the high fat dairy back into my diet. Just in case.

Or eat one of these, and be set for a week:

Desperate times call for desperate measures: I haven’t been too on-target with my cooking this week. Turns out that roasted pumpkin seeds are cheap, super-convenient, full of magnesium, and relatively high in protein, as well as being delicious. My bag says a 1/2 cup has 13g fat, 8g protein, and only 2g carbs. Buy a bag and store it in your office for when the craving strikes.

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