‘Super-Sticky’ Cholesterol and Diabetics

About a month ago, a new study warning about the dangers of  “super-sticky cholesterol” made a bit of a splash in the media.  I ignored it at the time, but thought about it today when I received an email from a Fat Head viewer who’s raising a diabetic child.  We’ll come back to that in a minute.

The study, in case you missed it, produced headlines like this:

Super-Sticky ‘Ultra-Bad’ Cholesterol Revealed in People at High Risk of Heart Disease

When I was in journalism school, we were taught that many people don’t read much more than the headline and the first few paragraphs of a news story.  That’s why student journalists are taught to write in reverse-pyramid style:  get the important ideas in those first few paragraphs, then expand on the details.  Here are the first few paragraphs of a Science Daily article about the study:

Scientists from the University of Warwick have discovered why a newly found form of cholesterol seems to be ‘ultra-bad’, leading to increased risk of heart disease. The discovery could lead to new treatments to prevent heart disease particularly in people with type 2 diabetes and the elderly.

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), found that ‘ultra-bad’ cholesterol, called MGmin-low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is more common in people with type 2 diabetes and the elderly, appears to be ‘stickier’ than normal LDL. This makes it more likely to attach to the walls of arteries. When LDL attaches to artery walls it helps form the dangerous ‘fatty’ plaques’ that cause coronary heart disease (CHD).

CHD is the condition behind heart attacks, claiming 88,000 lives in the UK every year (1).

If you stop there, the takeaway message is that evil ol’ cholesterol also comes in an especially evil form that’s even more likely to cause heart disease.  Yikes!   Better go on a low-fat diet and get your cholesterol down, maybe even take a statin just to be safe.  You have to read further to spot the true villain:

The researchers made the discovery by creating human MGmin-LDL in the laboratory, then studying its characteristics and interactions with other important molecules in the body.

They found that MGmin-LDL is created by the addition of sugar groups to ‘normal’ LDL — a process called glycation — making LDL smaller and denser. By changing its shape, the sugar groups expose new regions on the surface of the LDL. These exposed regions are more likely to stick to artery walls, helping to build fatty plaques. As fatty plaques grow they narrow arteries — reducing blood flow — and they can eventually rupture, triggering a blood clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.

What turns cholesterol into “sticky” cholesterol?  Sugar.

In 1976 a prominent researcher named Peter Cleave told the McGovern committee that if anything in our diets causes heart disease, it’s probably sugar.  McGovern sided with the researchers who blamed dietary fat, perhaps because he couldn’t imagine how sugar could produce fatty streaks in our arteries.  This study describes a plausible (and likely, in my opinion) mechanism:  high blood sugar produces small, dense LDL through glycation.

Glycation is what happens when sugars bind to proteins.  I’ve heard various descriptions, but the one that stuck with me (pun intended) is that glycation “caramelizes” your tissues.  The Wikipedia entry on glycation gives a good description of why you want to avoid being caramelized:

Endogenous (inside the body) glycations occur mainly in the bloodstream to a small proportion of the absorbed simple sugars: glucose, fructose, and galactose. It appears that fructose and galactose have approximately ten times the glycation activity of glucose, the primary body fuel. Glycation is the first step in the evolution of these molecules through a complex series of very slow reactions in the body … all lead to advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs).

Some AGEs are benign, but others are more reactive than the sugars they are derived from, and are implicated in many age-related chronic diseases such as: cardiovascular diseases (the endothelium, fibrinogen, and collagen are damaged), Alzheimer’s disease (amyloid proteins are side-products of the reactions progressing to AGEs), cancer (acrylamide and other side-products are released), peripheral neuropathy (the myelin is attacked), and other sensory losses such as deafness (due to demyelination).

Quite a horror show, eh?  As the article in Science Daily notes, pharmaceutical companies may use this information to develop drugs that help prevent heart disease by reducing glucose levels.

Yes, yes, I know … you’re probably sitting there, dangerously close to banging your head on your desk, wondering why doctors don’t just tell people to stop jacking up their blood sugar with too many carbohydrates.  Well, heck, they can’t do that because everybody just knows we need those carbohydrates –- which brings me back to the email I received today:


Our son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a year ago this August. Doctors told us that we should feed him whatever he wanted, even after I pushed to speak with their staff nutritionist and nailed her about their suggested carb intake. Their response to our concerns was, “He needs to grow healthier and stronger and the only way to do this is to feed him more carbs and give him more insulin injections.”

This would be to any Fat Head unsatisfactory as best. Three months after beginning our son’s insulin regimen, we noticed he began to show signs of symptoms he had never had before.  The doctors again explained that he was fine in their opinion and his symptoms (while major and included loss of sight, balance, headaches, ear aches, and loss of cognitive function) were nothing more then simple effects of his disease and we would have to manage by continuing with their recommended treatment plan:  injections and carb counting.

We did some research — as good Fat Head parents tend to — and found that the insulin prescribed for our two year old son was only approved by the FDA for children age six and over. We stopped use and contacted his doctor’s office. After two days all our son’s symptoms vanished and he began to function normally again. When we confronted the doctor about this issue they claimed that this drug is being used world-wide among the same age group as our son and it wasn’t uncommon or irregular.

Then about two weeks ago we found Fat Head. I have been doing research to that (fat) end for months, but I was missing the key component that Fat Head was able to deliver:  Fat.  In all the information I’ve pored over, it is always the same story.  Stay away from sugar, carbs, processed foods, etc.  But no one said anything about adding animal fat.

Just as a kind of experimental joke my husband and I took the information in Fat Head literally and began to cut out two-thirds of the carbs from our family diet. In only two days our son’s sugar levels went from spiking randomly at 480-600 and fell to 140-160. Our daughter also began to show signs of improved health — which for us meant more trips to the time-out chair. Having more energy evidently means more Fat Head mischief. You might want to make that a disclaimer for unsuspecting parents *wink* … just a thought.


Most doctors still believe high-fat diets cause heart disease, and diabetics are three times more likely to eventually develop heart disease.  Put those together, and you get the standard advice for diabetics:  go on a low-fat diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates, then take insulin to control your blood sugar.  Following that advice, this poor kid was getting glucose spikes of 600.  That’s major glycation territory.

Ignoring the standard advice, the same kid dropped his glucose to almost-normal levels.  Given more time on a low-carb / high-fat diet, he may even reach normal levels.  I certainly hope so.

Cholesterol isn’t the villain; “super-sticky cholesterol” resulting from too many carbohydrates is.  And by recommending low-fat / high-carbohydrate diets, doctors are putting diabetics and other people prone to heart disease in a sticky situation indeed.


55 thoughts on “‘Super-Sticky’ Cholesterol and Diabetics

  1. Stacie

    There are two things that I have been saying for years that I will never eat: liver and lima beans. They are just disgusting. However, I have had to eat some of my words. I do eat liver now. I buy my raw milk(yummy), fresh eggs, and liver at a local dairy farm. The liver is calf liver, and is much better than what you would buy in a store. The smell isn’t even as bad. I cook bacon and onions with the liver. I am not saying I like it, but I can tolerate it and I love how good it is for us. Even the grass fed ground beef that I buy there tastes much better than regular store bought. Next week they will be making ice cream, can’t wait. Oh, if my husband’s cardiologist only knew what I feed him, he would have a heart attack. I still cannot come to terms with the fact that most in the medical field are just so fundamentally wrong when it comes to health, disease, and nutrition. If we fatheads have been able to learn and educate ourselves,(without years of medical school) what, really is the problem?? Why are some doctors(the ones on our side) able to comprehend the truth and treat patients accordingly, while the vast majority are still in the Dark Ages?

    Most doctors are taught next to nothing about nutrition in medical school. They’re taught how to diagnose illness and prescribe drugs. As one doctor said in an interview, their belief that dietary fat causes heart diseases comes mostly from reading media articles, just like everyone else.

  2. Peggy Cihocki

    @Jason, my sympathies. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to be a type 1 who is also insulin resistant. My son is lucky (?)–he wasn’t diagnosed (with type 1) until he was 26 and already had a well established eating pattern that doesn’t include a lot of carbs–starchy ones, anyway. He also knows that the more carbs he eats, the more insulin he needs, so he tends to limit the starch and almost never eats sugar. I’m interested in more information about that vaccine you mentioned–more curiosity than hope that it will actually come to pass. I am trying to figure out how a vaccine can reverse type 1, since the Beta cells are already toast–at least that is how I understand type 1. It could stop the progression, of course, but… It would have to actually bring back Beta cells to reverse it and I’m not understanding how that is possible. There is hope along other lines, however–stem cell research. Let’s hope for breakthroughs in your and my son’s lifetimes!

  3. Roberto

    “Cholesterol isn’t the villain; “super-sticky cholesterol” resulting from too many carbohydrates is. ”

    Reference please??

    The references already exist in the post.

  4. gollum

    Eh, Wikipedia science says choline can be made out of amino acids, and one of them, serine, is not even essential?

    Is it different in rodents?

    Comes all down to getting enough protein – there we go again. They claim high-protein is bad for the kidneys but how are the intestines to recover in the first place without protein? I really would not want to have my kidneys shot and be in this kind of dilemma.

    Try frying the liver dead (small pieces) then drowning it in onions. Or liver sausage.

  5. Saira

    Hey Tom.

    As I read through your blog, each post has been tearing me further apart. I REALLY want to join the Marine Corps and use foreign languages, but the stupidity I hear from my dad’s work and about doctors and researchers has been starting to consider joining the Navy as a doctor JUST to argue during the short nutrition part of class. XP Maybe I’ll find a local nutrition class at each duty station and start asking questions all the time, like ‘If this is supposed to be good for us, why does it shoot my mum’s blood sugar sky high?! I now this for sure because she gets cranky!’

    I’ve been tempted to start my own nutrition blog to show how different my family’s diet is and how we each do well on our own. Only problem is, my schools didn’t teach me how to research well-must have been due to the fact that we were either too hyper to sit still or too tired to pay attention from all the sugar at breakfast or lunch. Any tips for looking up research papers on either side of the debate? I can never seem to word anything right for Google. XP

    What’s dihydrogen monoxide? I’d normally go look it up myself, but with packing the house to move back home, I’m afraid I won’t find a source that will explain it clearly and then I’ll forget by the time we settle down. You have a way of making things simple and easy to remember. 😀

    Thanks for everything!

    Dihydrogen monoxide is tossed around as a bit of a joke, as when Penn & Teller got hundreds of environmentalists (including one pretty high up in one of the green movements) to sign a petition to ban it. Chemically, it would be written H20 … water.


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