About two weeks ago, I was introduced to Dr. Greger by way of my doctor. He gave me a website to look at, and told me to do a search on Parkinson's and see what foods it suggest one should eat and not eat to benefit Parkinson's.
This action on his part was due to a comment I had made earlier in the visit. We had been discussing my toenail fungus. It is pretty much controlled, but I have to keep treating it and I've tried several treatments, some helped more than others. He suggested I try putting coconut oil on it. He said it has antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. (I have to say, it has done better so far than anything else.)
Upon hearing his suggestion, I blurted out that I have plenty of coconut oil because I use it in my bullet-proof coffee every morning. I had also told his assistant earlier that I was on a ketogenic diet. He immediately indicated that using coconut oil is one of the worst foods I could eat. He didn't expound on that and I didn't want to get into a debate, realizing that he was obviously in the camp that saturated fats of any kind were bad for you.
So when he gave me this website to look at, I was pretty sure it was going to tell me that coconut oil was evil and that the ketogenic diet was not a good diet for long-term health. I would not be disappointed.
While I felt I had researched this topic on saturated fats, especially as it relates to coconut oil, I was open to find out if there was information I didn't know. So once I came home, I started researching what Dr. Greger had to say on the subject. The bottom line is I certainly did run across new information on this topic that has forced me to reevaluate my conclusions. I had seen other people try to make the case that saturated fats were intrinsically bad, but they rarely dealt with the arguments for coconut oil being good for you put forth by their advocates other than to say that they're wrong, don't listen to them.
Instead, Dr. Greger took a different approach. He reads and studies all the hundreds of studies on nutrition put out in medical journals each year, and uses them to address all sorts of nutrition topics. As it relates to coconut oil, he demonstrated that the study or two advocates for coconut oil use are taken out of context (the Pacific island study where residents ate a lot of coconut and were healthy also ate a healthy plant-based diet which would help offset the negative effects of the saturated oil, as well as the fact they were eating coconuts, not drinking coconut oil, so the fiber in the coconuts also aided in processing the saturated fats), and in studies where populations did eat a lot of coconut but did not have a plant-based diet, there were high instances of heart disease and plague in the arteries. Also not often mentioned is that coconut oil is only around 10% MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) which is a main reason given for using it because it is said to convert immediately to energy your body can use. But there is still much of the troublesome short-chain triglycerides, much more than there are MCTs.
I have to admit, he was pretty convincing. I'm not totally convinced that coconut oil and saturated fats are bad in and of themselves. Mainly because of Dr. Greger's own admission that the diet of those islanders was good enough to offset the negative effects of coconut's high saturated fat content. He is drawing a conclusion here that appears logical based upon some assumptions. What if instead of a healthy diet offsetting the effects of saturated fats, it actually aids the body in processing and using those fats in a healthy manner?
I also don't think he's taking into account the fact that a ketogenic diet is using that fat to generate energy for the body. So even saturated fats serve the purpose of providing fuel for the body instead of having nothing else to do but play hide-n-seek in the arteries. When a body is not in ketosis (the state of burning fat for energy instead of carbs), that excess fat can be a big problem. It isn't needed for energy, so your body stores it in case it is needed, and a bunch of it floats around in your blood, causing problems like high cholesterol, forming plaque on artery walls, leading to hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
This appears to be what has happened with me. I've been on a ketogenic diet since February of this year. My intake of coconut oil really wasn't that big. Mainly amounted to around two tablespoons of it in my morning coffee. Occasionally I'd cook with it. I ate a lot more saturated fats by using heavy whipping cream and eating meat. I'm sure I also had a "healthy" serving of cholesterol each day, as I often ate anywhere from 3 to 8 eggs a day.
Despite all that saturated fat and evil cholesterol, my blood pressure readings before going on the ketogenic diet were on the high side. Not in red alert status, but it wasn't ideal. It had come down a good bit by the time I started the keto diet. However, based upon what Dr. Greger said, and no doubt what my doctor would think, all the fat I was eating to keep my weight up should have been clogging my arteries and causing a higher blood pressure readings. Here is the readings over a period of more than two years done by my neurologist.
As you can see, at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 I had a couple of high readings. Possible the one in Feb. 2016 was a fluke or something. By Nov., however it was down to a respectable 118/72. Not ideal according to Dr. Greger, which would be closer to 110/60 (or pretty close to that, I don't recall for sure).
Yet the two readings my neurologist took after being on the ketogenic diet, both show blood pressure readings well within the doctor's ideal range. My blood pressure improved while on the ketogenic diet in the same way that he claims it would on a plant-based diet (or more commonly known as vegan, but I guess he's trying not to scare anyone from taking a serious look at it).
Of course, my experience doesn't prove anything. But I believe the reason it did improve as it would on a plant-based diet is because: one, I was avoiding processed foods for the most part and eating healthy foods, and the fat wasn't sitting around in my body, but was being burned almost as fast as I could shove it in my mouth. I had to eat around 3000 calories a day to keep my weight from falling below 145 lbs. So as Dr. Greger would say, there needs to be more studies done on that so we can know whether saturated fats are processed in a positive manner in the body that is in ketosis. Maybe he knows of one or two.
But obviously if you're not in ketosis, not eating healthy--eating lots of processed foods, sugar, eating out a lot--sucking in saturated fats like I was could be deadly.
That said, he made a convincing case for using a plant-based diet, all backed by scientific studies, to help with many conditions, including Parkinson's Disease. Western cultures that have a high meat content tend to have ultra-high rates of heart disease and attacks. In the USA, it is our number one killer. But in other cultures where they rarely eat meat but rely upon plants for the bulk of their food, the incident of heart disease and attacks are practically non-existent.
I got on the Ketogenic diet primarily because it was indicated in a small study that it could help with Parkinson's symptoms, and there was indication in some petri dish studies that it could slow the progression of Parkinson's. So I gave it a try. As I noted in my last post on Parkinson's and the Ketogenic diet, I had not experience any noticeable improvement in symptoms since being on it. And while it might slow the progression of the disease, how much and will it work on humans? We simply don't know yet. But I was sticking with it in the hopes it would and plus my wife was successfully losing weight on it so I had no real reason to go off it.
Dr. Greger did convince me that giving the plant-based diet a try to see if it would help with my symptoms was worthwhile. So for the past two weeks, I've gone off the ketogenic diet and am now on a plant-based diet. I'm hoping to determine before my DBS surgery takes place, which will change the baseline significantly, whether this diet can help or not. I'll try and report back to you before the surgery and use that time to provide a baseline of symptoms in order to evaluate how much the DBS surgery helps me.
If you want to check out his site, it is entertaining, informative, and most everything is backed by scientific studies. It's worth your time to visit and watch some of his over 1000 videos on various subjects. The URL is: http://www.nutritionfacts.org
I have more to talk about, but I need to get some sleep. I'm sure there are studies out there that show getting a good night's sleep is key to helping minimize symptoms too, and I'm not very good at getting a full night's sleep.
So, until next time, live your life to the fullest, cause it's the only one you've got!
PS: Forgive any typos. I've not had a chance to edit this yet. I'll be back to do that later.