Don’t Die Early by Rocky Angelucci
Fat Head: Your passion for health began when you found yourself in the emergency room after suffering a bout of heart arrhythmia. How scared were you during that incident? Were you thinking, “Well, this is it, I’m about to die”?
Angelucci: I think a cardiac event brings much bigger implications than, say, a serious injury or an unexplained pain in the abdomen. Instead of thinking “Darn, I’m going to need stitches or maybe some surgery,” the finality of a cardiac event immediately takes us to a far more frightening place. Even though I knew what atrial fibrillation was, I had no idea why it was suddenly happening to me at such a relatively young age. My immediate thought was “What has gone so horribly wrong that my heart is doing this?” followed closely by, “Is this just the tip of the iceberg? Is my heart going to end up so damaged that I can barely climb a flight or stairs or I may never again walk faster than a decrepit shuffle?” And, yes, mixed in with all that were quite a few thoughts of “I really don’t want to die tonight.”
Fat Head: Did you any have clues before that incident that you were in bad health? Had you been warned by your doctors that your test scores weren’t so hot?
Angelucci: Nothing other than being told during my annual physicals that my cholesterol and triglycerides were “a little too high.” Thinking back on the failure of my regular physicals to reveal anything was the first step in realizing that physicians tend to treat symptoms instead of focusing on detection and prevention.
Fat Head: After a brush with heart failure, most patients are told by their well-meaning doctors to go on a low-fat diet, cut back on cholesterol, maybe take statins, etc. Is what you were told? If so, why didn’t you follow that advice?
Angelucci: Fortunately, I avoided the dreaded “statin speech” in the ER because my high triglycerides prevented them from testing my LDL. As you know, instead of measuring LDL directly, traditional cholesterol testing estimates LDL to save the insurance company a few dollars. If triglycerides are too high, the commonly used LDL estimation fails.
In the days after being released from the ER, I found a local cardiologist for follow-up care. His first suggestion was a statin and he initially seemed receptive to my first trying lifestyle changes to improve my situation. Oddly enough, during every subsequent follow-up visit I was seen by a nurse practitioner instead of the cardiologist. It’s as though the cardiologist had nothing else to offer me after recommending the statin (until it’s time to sell me a stent, that is). Even at this early point I wasn’t keen on taking a statin because I had already learned of the harm that statins cause and of the dangerously oversimplified advice that we are receiving today regarding cholesterol and the prevention of heart disease.
Fat Head: So you were recovering after the incident, determined to become healthier and you decided to educate yourself. How did you get started? Where did you go for information?
Angelucci: My first priority was learning more about the cardiac arrhythmia that took me to the ER. After noticing that one of the first things they attached to my IV was a bag of magnesium sulfate solution, a quick bit of research revealed that most of us are severely deficient in magnesium, which often causes atrial fibrillation. It didn’t take long for me to dispel the cardiologist’s claim of “once a fibber, always a fibber” by implementing a successful plan to increase my intake of magnesium.
The blogs of cardiologist Dr. William Davis dispelled the next myth: that stress tests show blockages as small as 15%. His blogs, and the Track Your Plaque online community, opened my eyes to the importance of testing, not speculating, about the presence of coronary plaque. About this same time, I discovered the Fat Headsegment on You Tube. Fat Head’sdiscussion of glucose and insulin reawakened my appreciation for the hormonal effects of the foods we eat, something I remembered from reading Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone Diet books some years ago.
All of these insights, combined with a newfound appreciation for not being dead, formed a “perfect storm” that led me to quickly consume everything I could find from writers like Gary Taubes, William Davis, Jenny Ruhl, Richard Bernstein, and their ilk. Dr. Davis’ Track Your Plaque forum is a wealth of prevention-minded cardiology enthusiasts who were, and still are, an incredible source of knowledge and inspiration. Some person-to-person exchanges during all this were also invaluable, including email discussions with Dr. James Otvos, medical school professor and CTO of LipoScience (a lipid subfraction analysis company). Dr. Otvos was kind enough to serve as a sounding board when I was crystallizing my thoughts on lipid particles and their role in the formation of cardiac plaque.
Fat Head: There’s so much conflicting advice on internet for people who want to avoid heart disease … eat low-fat, eat low-carb, go vegetarian, go paleo, etc. How did you decide which advice to follow?
Angelucci: By sticking to the fundamentals, always bringing the discussion back to “what is the effect of this advice on me?” and trusting my BS detector!
For example, once I better understood the role that glucose and insulin plays in our bodies and realized the importance of preventing my blood glucose levels from spiking, it was very clear that any foods that cause glucose spikes are unfavorable. Once I had grasped this simple concept, the claim that whole grain breads are good for reducing diabetes risk or for lowering glucose levels didn’t survive the simple effort of squeezing a drop of blood from my finger and seeing that a grain-laden, low-fat meal spiked my blood glucose to over 200 mg/dL. The understanding that excessively high glucose levels are harmful, combined with a $15 glucose meter and some test strips, allowed me to dispel an avalanche of assertions that low-fat carbohydrates are healthful.
Similarly, after learning about how lipid particles really affect the formation of cardiac plaque, it was clear that the “LDL=bad, HDL=good” model of cholesterol health is dangerously oversimplified. This allowed me to see the flaws inherent in any advice that tried to equate lifestyle with total cholesterol or LDL….
This is from part one of the interview – more here at Fat Head
And here is part two, again from Fat Head