Boy, I’ve had a real problem lately with headaches. Seems like all day, every day, I have a headache. And it’s not as if I don’t know how to get rid of them. I have, in fact, been writing about headache prevention for years, so I did exactly what I’ve always instructed my readers to do: hit myself in the head with a hammer.
I began with a fairly conservative treatment: two daily hammer-whacks to the temples for two weeks. But when I next checked my headache status – which means I sit still for a minute and ask myself, “Does my head hurt right now?” – I was stunned: instead of being diminished, my headache had gotten worse.
Frustrated, I tried three hammer-whacks per day for another two weeks. But once again, my headaches only got worse. So I tried four hammer-whacks per day combined with a stronger dose – namely, a big old sledgehammer I nicknamed “Slammin’ Sammy,” the kind used to knock down walls.
Amazingly, my headaches grew worse.
There was only one conclusion I could draw from the results: my condition is hereditary. Despite all the studies recommending them, simple hammer-whacks will not do the trick in my case. (And I must confess that this whole affair is a bit embarrassing, considering how many articles I’ve written praising head-bonk therapy.)
And so, much as I don’t like the idea, I’m considering undergoing the admittedly drastic step of having my head removed. There are some known side effects from the procedure, such as forgetting the names of your children and expecting the Cubs to win the World Series this year, but they’re not as big a threat to my overall well-being as a constant headache would be. I will have my head removed and report the results in a month or two.
Does this all make sense? Or do I sound unbelievably dense? Because if you substitute “cholesterol” for headache and “low-fat diet” for hammer, I could be an influential health writer for the New York Times. This is pretty much the experience Jane Brody had trying to treat her “high” cholesterol with a low-fat diet … i.e., the very diet she’s been promoting for decades.
There were many interesting topics that came up while I was researching Fat Head that didn’t quite fit into the film. Ms. Brody’s campaign to lower her cholesterol was one of them. If you watch the bonus interview track, you’ll see that Dr. Mary Dan Eades mentions Ms. Brody as an example of someone who simply can’t bear to admit she’s been wrong all these years, in spite of the evidence.
Ms. Brody’s cholesterol panic began when a routine test revealed her total cholesterol to be 222. (So much for a low-fat diet keeping cholesterol down.) Since she just knows that a “heart healthy” level should be below 200, Ms. Brody dutifully stopped eating cheese and went on a diet to lose a few pounds.
But – horrors! – when she underwent another test a few months later, her cholesterol had risen to 236, and her LDL had gone up, not down. Now, you’d think someone with a functioning brain would pause at this point and wonder if perhaps the whole low-fat diet theory is load of bologna. But not Ms. Brody. After all, she’s been telling her readers for decades to cut the fat, cut the fat, cut the fat.
So she cut the fat. She stopped eating red meat, switched to low-fat ice cream, took fish oil, and increased her fiber intake. In other words, she did just about everything she’s been telling her readers they must do to prevent heart disease.
And boy, what wondrous results! Her next test revealed that her cholesterol had risen to 248, and her LDL was up yet again.
If this were a horror movie, we’d all be screaming at the screen, “Don’t go through that door, you freakin’ idiot! Everyone who went through that door ended up hanging on a meat hook!”
But Ms. Brody went through the door. Mere paragraphs after recounting how her low-fat diet failed utterly to bring down her cholesterol, she reminded her readers how important it is to exercise more and cut the saturated fat from their diets. She even informed us that a former roommate lowered her cholesterol by becoming a vegetarian. (“See, this diet made my cholesterol worse, but I know someone who had good results, so you should do exactly what didn’t work for me. Okay?”)
Yup … hitting myself with a hammer didn’t cure my headaches, but I know a guy who knocked his head clean off and never has a headache anymore, so I still recommend the treatment. Talk about grasping at straws.
Finally, Ms. Brody reported that despite having some reservations, she began taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. And lo and behold, her cholesterol went down! (At this point in the story, you are allowed to scream, “Of course your cholesterol went down! That’s why it’s called a cholesterol-lowering drug!)
Now, here are a few no-bologna facts that Ms. Brody either doesn’t know or can’t bring herself to admit:
- For women of all ages and men over age 50, there is zero statistical relationship between high cholesterol and heart disease. (In other words, the relationship only shows up in men under 50 – and even then, it’s weak.)
- The Swiss have an average cholesterol level of around 240. Russians have an average cholesterol below 200. But the Swiss have a low rate of heart disease, and the Russians have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. If you check cholesterol levels and heart-disease rates around the world, you’ll see this pattern (or non-pattern) repeated over and over.
- There’s never been a single study that offers any evidence whatsoever that cholesterol-lowering drugs prevent heart attacks in women.
- Cutting carbohydrates reduces your triglycerides, and eating more fat raises your HDL, or “good cholesterol.” Both effects are good for the health of your heart.
So despite her enthusiasm over her new and improved cholesterol reading, all Ms. Brody actually accomplished was to produce a drug-induced test score that made her feel better about the miserable results of her low-fat diet. This is equivalent to darkening your gray hair with some Grecian Formula, then telling yourself that you’ve reversed the aging process. If you have gray hair and you feel old and tired, go ahead and give that a try.
And then whack that newly-darkened hair with a hammer. Maybe your headache will go away.