A few important caveats before getting started:
- This is very preliminary. While it’s true I’ve both produced and reproduced these results, it’s still very early to draw significant conclusions, which I detail further below.
- This does not constitute medical advice. I realize many may read this and act on it, but I urge you to consult with your doctor and/or trusted medical professional — particularly if you are diabetic or insulin resistant.
Going Low Carb / Keto
Before I started the ketogenic diet, my carb intake was probably north of 250g a day and my fat intake was likely around 75g. After going keto, I brought my carbs down to around 20g with my fat shooting up to around 220g. (My protein remained relatively constant at 25% of my calories.)
To illustrate this, I’ll be using this simple graphic to show a sliding scale from left to right as 100% carbs & 0% fat to 0% carbs & 100% fat.
So let’s overlay the quantities of my carbs and fat both before and during the diet.
Sure enough, after adopting this lifestyle, I felt better than I ever have before it.
But then I got my cholesterol scores seven months after starting which showed an extraordinary jump in both total (TC) and LDL cholesterol (LDL-C). And this is where I learned I was one of the fraction of those going low carb who see a dramatic rise in total and LDL cholesterol known as a hyper-responder.
To be sure, my HDL going higher is presumed good and my triglycerides going lower is presumed good. But the doctors care much more about LDL-C and will insist my higher levels on a low carb diet should be of great concern.
The Assumed Solution
Up to this point I’ve given the same advice to fellow hyper-responders as I’ve read from doctors and researchers: If you want the one surefire method for reducing your cholesterol, you will likely have to give up being low carb.
Let’s look at that graphic again and apply this to myself:
If we assume at least a rough linear relationship with fat and cholesterol, then I’d pretty much have to go almost entirely back to where I was before starting keto. By some basic calculations, I could estimate a total cholesterol of around 200, LDL of 140, HDL of 42, and TG of 130 if I get back to about a 50/50 mix of carbs and fat (as shown by the “Best Goal?” overlay above).
This makes perfect mechanistic sense, given how the lipid system works. If eating more fat means my body is trafficking more fatty acids for energy, then necessarily it must traffic more cholesterol in these same lipoproteins.
Weighing the Choice
Let me illustrate this another way to get across the relationship:
As fat rises, so does Total, LDL and HDL, with Triglycerides falling. Total and LDL-C going up is supposedly bad (red), HDL going up and Triglycerides going down is supposedly good (green).
Reversed, we see Total, LDL and HDL drop with Triglycerides rising. Total and LDL-C going down is supposedly good (green), HDL going down and Triglycerides going up is supposedly bad (red).
So given this assumption, I expected my own data would likewise reveal this as well. When taking my blood tests, I’ll always have some variations of carbs, even if they are generally low. Moreover, I’ve had some variation in the ratio of carbs-to-fat. Yet while these were tiny shifts, there wasn’t a linear relationship appearing.
I didn’t put too much thought into it until a series of recent experiments and what it revealed to me. Let’s revisit everything I’ve done to date, excluding only the “extreme” experiments (such as the Extreme Drop I did that spawned the protocol).
As usual, I’ll be flipping the left axis so you can better see the inverse relationship between three day dietary fat and LDL-C. Past this point, all graphs will have this same inversion with the left axis.
Above, the darkened lines of orange and blue lines show where I did the distance running and thus lowered my LDL-C marginally. Just after that, I’m going to take the blue highlighted area at the far right and break it down further.
From here, I’ll highlight each of the experiments I did over this period of time. This is further detailed on my Experiments List page.
During first major experiment I had eaten only eggs and cheese for 10 days, changing the quantity in the middle. But unlike other experiments, I had moved it from a moderate quantity to a low quantity. This yielded a sustained gap like I hadn’t ever seen before in my series. I also felt general malaise; didn’t enjoy it much for the second half. But the big first clue came in the form of my fasting blood glucose being unusually correlative with my mood. Lower FBG = worse mood.
The second major experiment was with fasting, which I posted on recently. This too yielded a major clue given it coupled tightly as would otherwise be expected with LDL-C.
The third clue came from the two experiments to follow. In the first, I had one cup (250 ml) of whole milk with each meal, in the second it was a single slice of bread. What astonished me was how tightly the Inversion Pattern held even going up to 78g of carbs / day. This proved the biggest clue of all as I’d have expected the gap between between the three day average and LDL-C to have widened.
There’s a big part of this story I can’t fill in yet. It’s how each of these clues along with a theory I’ve been working on for a long time led me to the next major experiment. I’ll detail it in a future post once it has been tested against, which will take several more experiments to achieve.
I’ll just say that the theory + these clues led me to calculate a range of 90 to 130g of carbs needed to hit this mythical “Sweet Spot”.
The Shakes and Bread Experiment
With this calculation in hand, I wanted to devise an extremely controlled experiment. Indeed, this would be one of the most intensive I’ve ever done.
I wanted to:
- Have a keto ratio of food that was nutritionally complete, yet somehow very consistent and quantifiable
- Have a common carbohydrate food as the intervention variable, but likewise as simple as reasonably possible
I figured out I could achieve (1) by having a ketogenic meal replacement drink, and for (2) I would just have simple slices of bread. I managed to find one that was both 100 calories a slice and allowed me to get within the net carb range I was looking for at 5 slices a day.
I would do five days of the shakes alone, then five days replacing 500 calories of the shakes with 500 calories of the bread. The first five days I’d be at around 30g of net carbs, with the second five at around 95g. This way I could really hit that target range while being extremely controlled on exactly what I ate.
To further ensure control, I ate to a very specific schedule of 11am, 3pm, and 8am in all but the first two days.
A Striking Result
Before getting to what happened, it’s worth noting the data advantage I enjoy coming into this experiment. If you’ve been following my work for a while, you are already aware. But if you’re just joining us, you should know I’ve done 63 blood draws in 18 months and effectively have my own Inversion Pattern mapped now. So unlike anyone else I’m aware of, I’ll know when one or more variables are having an impact on my lipid system given the anticipated coupling you see in my graphs. Even in the outliers, there is little significant deviation from the mean, and until this graph below, no repeating patterns of a gap.
Below I highlight the blood test I took following the 5 days of keto shakes, which couples as we’d expect to the Inversion Pattern. Then, a clear gap forms between the higher expected LDL-C and the actual resulting LDL-C.
In other words, swapping out 500 calories of the keto shake for 500 calories of the whole wheat bread resulted in a lower LDL cholesterol than we’d expect.
Best of Both Worlds?!?
Right about now you’re probably thinking, “Sure, but isn’t this what you took so much time to explain at the beginning? That increasing carbs will result in better cholesterol numbers?”
Actually, there’s a huge number of differences here between the assumption above and this outcome. Let’s start with a closer look at the other lipid numbers.
Not only was my total and LDL cholesterol the lowest I’ve ever had while on keto at 220 and 140, respectively — but my triglycerides were an impressively low 46, and my HDL was an extremely high at 71. Which is to say, this is the best looking cholesterol lab I’ve ever had.
(As an aside, I’m extremely thankful I did three full tests inside this five day intervention period to help rule out a lab error. Indeed, had this been the only test I performed, I’d have had a hard time reconciling it.)
After getting this final lab test four days later on 4/21, I immediately had a blood draw and attempted to reproduce it. However, I ate my “normal” keto diet instead of the shakes, but while likewise adding the bread with each meal to target nearly the same macros as I had on the shake-based diet.
Sure enough, the reproduction appeared to work as well.
I ended up getting the particle count data late from the lab. There’s some analysis I’d have covered here regarding 3/23 and 4/7, but I’ll have to save that for a future post.
Like LDL-C above, LDL-P clearly shows the same divergence on its own inversion pattern (three days, with a two day gap).
Revisiting the Assumption
Let’s look to the relationship graphic we had above, but with the new results added.
Clearly we can see only a small change in total dietary carbs got me the “Sweet Spot” I highlight above. But again — and this is important to emphasize — it didn’t appear until I passed a certain threshold. Remember, just before this experiment I had done another (“One Slice of Bread”) experiment where I averaged 78g of carbs with no diversion in the Inversion Pattern.
In other words, this strongly suggests there is a threshold, a tipping point, a drop off with regard to my lipid numbers. That’s the reason I wanted to illustrate this analog relationship as I do above, because this strongly suggests it may be wrong.
Here I’m illustrating how the shape of this cholesterol relationship appears different. With a sudden drop off point, it implies I can get the best looking lipid numbers by getting to the other side of this threshold.
Again, this is still very preliminary, but the testing so far supports it.
Naturally there’s much more to share about what happened than my changing lipid numbers. These are just the highlight while at 95-97g of carbs:
- No Ketosis (of course). Ketone levels (BHB) were around 0.1-0.2 throughout, including morning (Keto average 1.2)
- Very high postprandial glucose often 110-150 MG/DL two hours following a meal
- Higher fasting glucose at 102 MG/DL (Keto average 92)
- Slightly more tired following meals
- Insulin averaged 5 UIU/ML (Keto average 3.8)
None of these came as a surprise to me given the higher carbs save the fasting insulin, which I expected to be higher.
What This Means
This may be the start of a solution for hyper-responders who seek a better lipid profile, while still staying low carb.
Instead of adding back hundred of daily carbs, I was able to stay just under 100g even if I was giving up ketosis. But again, I have a more distinct advantage than most due to knowing my own lipid patterns so well, so I can more easily identify where this carb threshold is and isolate it.
As far as the theory that led me here, that will have to wait for a later post.
However, while I’m happy if this may ultimately provide hyper-responders like myself with a new choice, not much has changed for me personally with regard to the risk assessment. I don’t know for sure that this lipid profile is a lower risk for all cause mortality today anymore than I would have a month ago. In short, I’m more interested in what this means on a system-wide level for the body’s regulation and control than I am for its personal impact on my life… at least, for now.
- I’ll be pausing for a little while as I ramp up some contract work to rebuild my research funds. Up to this point I’ve been paying for the last 18 months of blood, medical, and technology expenses from my savings — save a few generous contributions from individuals through my donate button on the site. Thanks for the support!
- I’m currently back to my “normal” keto ratio and expect to do another blood test following the pause to confirm my numbers have returned to the original Inversion Pattern. If so, we’ll know these changes were indeed transient.
- Following that, I plan to experiment with other sources of carbs (fructose, lactose again, etc) to determine if the ratios hold regardless of the type of sugar.
- I’m also tempted to do more lopsided intake of carbs where the same general macros are hit, but with a single meal being carb-heavy where the others are generally keto.