Q & A WITH DR. McDOUGALL – Low Cholesterol

When I attended the Healthy Lifestyle Expo back in October, I had the opportunity to ask Dr. McDougall a question.  I thought you might enjoy reading his response.  My friend Sirica taped the response for me with my iPhone, so I have written it word for word.

GRETCHEN – My doctor is really supportive of my vegan diet, however with my latest blood work my cholesterol was 130.  My doctor was telling me that she was concerned that my cholesterol was too low (Audience laughed).  How do you approach your doctor when they want you to raise your cholesterol?  She said she has seen problems with cholesterol that is so low.

Dr. McDougall (Smiling ear to ear) – Well, has she really?!?!?!  I would ask where those problems are because I have been at this for 43 years and I have never seen any.  Certainly sick people, say you have cancer, you don’t eat, your cholesterol goes low, but, the cause and effect is clear there.  

Unfortunately your doctor, although probably well meaning, has no experience or education on the effect of diet and cholesterol and I really know this from her statement.  As I said, I have been at this for 43 years, and now people who get sick, say you get cancer or severe heart failure, you get so sick you don’t eat, and when you don’t eat your blood cholesterol will go down just because you don’t eat, and that is where the association comes from…sick people don’t eat and their cholesterol goes low.

If you eat a healthy diet and your cholesterol goes low, that is a completely different relationship, and that is ALWAYS helpful.  I generally recommend a cholesterol less than 150 mg/dl, but I RARELY put somebody on cholesterol lowering medication if they can’t achieve that by diet alone.  

So, I think that is something you can look at as a big “A” on your report card if you have a cholesterol of 150 or less.  

I wouldn’t change doctors because of this one error in understanding.  This doctor probably has a lot to offer.  I would make a small attempt to educate the doctor, just see if she is interested, if not, ya know.  Use professionals for what they do well.  If you are going to have a baby, you want a doctor who is a good catch (laughs), you want a surgeon who is an artist.  You don’t really care if that person smoked a cigar a 1/2 hour before they walked into the operating room, you want somebody who is an artist.  

It looks like you are not looking for a doctor who will tell you to eat a healthy diet or what that diet is, because you already know that, you don’t need to hear it from a doctor.  You just need them for the services that they will provide and doctors have some really specialized skills that you ought to take advantage of, but the skills of knowing what a human being ought to eat have somehow never gotten into the curriculum.  That just never happened and it just blows me away.

My son is finishing his last year of internal medicine residency and some of you may know I am a professor at Touro University Medical School and the student don’t know, they have no idea and neither do the professors.  The students care, the professors are threatened by the fact that they may not know something as crucial as what a human being eats.  I mean, what a question (he is giggling)?  

Anyway, did I answer your question?

Yep…he did.  It was amazing to be able to ask Dr. McDougall this question and hear his answer.  I had a pretty good idea from reading the literature that I was healthy with a cholesterol of 130, but I wanted to have some more facts and specifics to be able to go off of.  Hearing that the low cholesterol / unhealthy connection was usually a factor of being REALLY sick and not eating made me feel a lot better.

I have so much respect for Dr. McDougall.  I think I first read one of his books when I was in high school, so being able to personally ask him a question was an absolute thrill.

Photo of Dr. McDougall courtesy of Processed People.

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5 Comments

Filed under Cholesterol, Education, Events, Heart Health, Vegan, Vegetarian

5 responses to “Q & A WITH DR. McDOUGALL – Low Cholesterol

  1. Marge

    Thank you for this. Dr. McDougall is really good at explaining things. I have had the same question myself.

    • You are very welcome Marge. I was super excited to ask him the question directly…he is definitely an expert in the arena of cholesterol (and so many other areas), so I really respect his answer and it put my mind at ease.

  2. Suzanne Talbert

    Dr. McDougall, I recently attended your Skype-in Q&A at Folsom Physical Therapy last month. I have read your book, Starch Solutions, and have been enjoying the recipes as well as all your information. Thank you! My husband and I decided to have our cholesterol checked recently. I have been eating mainly plant based foods for quite some time but went 100% on Jan 1st. My total cholesterol level came back 73 with a HDL of 28 and LDL at 42. I have had great energy and exercise regularly. I work as a Physical Therapist at Folsom PT and promote your book and Esselstyn’s for helping patients lower their cholesterol levels in order to help them have a healthier circulatory system and improved healing rate. My question is, is my cholesterol too low? I saw your response above, but thinking mine would be around 130 and finding out it was 73 took me by surprise. First I was thrilled until another PT questioned is it okay to be that low? If it is too low, how can I increase it and still be eating a healthy diet? I am BRCA 2 (+), so I have tried to be preventative through nutrition (instead of surgeries) for the last five years. I strongly believe in nutrition for health and wellbeing. I just don’t want to be missing something.
    Thank you.

  3. Mark T

    I have Dr. Mc’s first 3 books and have found him a source of inspiration as I have had to swim against the tide my entire adult life–plagued with a greasy skin condition (imagine arguing with dermatologists over whether they would call it “seborrhea”) I had to find my way onto a quite extreme vegan program that would still support my health. I have however found that under conditions of immune stress (like getting sprayed with little kid germs while working in classrooms) there might be a point where you really do need some animal protein foods (recovering from injury is another). My MD convinced me to add some eggs and fish and prescribed me Retin-A topical to cope with the effects of the dietary fat on my skin. This seemed to stabilized me at a time when I seemed to be catching every bug in the air.

    Now along comes another medical heretic, Joel Wallach whose videos can be viewed on YouTube (Dead Doctors Don’t Lie, Somebody Needs to Go to Jail). He sells a line of supplements and claims to nearly live on eggs. He insists that low cholesterol diets are hazardous! He’s in his 70s and seems to be quite the busy bee. I would would love to see a debate between him and Dr. McDougall!

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