I prefer less disappointment with my doctor appointments.
This one started as a simple med check, which I now realize is code for, “As much as you’re doing right, your family history’s got its big, fat thumb on the scale.”
Though the visit was about my blood pressure – which is under control, thank you very much – my labs showed my LDL/HDL ratios were creeping in the wrong direction.
I never thought I’d be flirting with a prescription solution. Besides the active lifestyle I described in my first newsletter, my diet consists of:
- Lean poultry
- High fiber, including multigrain breads
I eat these weekly, and in the case of the high fiber and oatmeal, daily. To keep it real and be transparent, I’ll also talk about my guilty pleasures.
- Gourmet donuts and cake. These are a once every month or two indulgence when I’m going well. When I’m not, between my friend and former neighbor, who’s an amazing baker, and my sweet tooth, my body has its work cut out for it.
- An organic cinnamon roll I get at the grocery store once every couple of months.
- I enjoy a gourmet lamb burger roughly three times per year.
- A top shelf Long Island Iced Tea that I prepare at home using a ½ ounce of each liquor. I’d been having one per week, but realizing how tired they’re making me feel now, I’m going to take a sabbatical and see how it goes.
Whether that sounds like Mardi Gras or a monastery to you, I can only say it’s decadent to my primitive palate.
My fast food preferences are Panera Bread and Chick Fil A. I haven’t eaten beef in at least a decade, and I don’t miss it. I’ve had many people comment on how healthy I eat over the years.
Well, it seems my diet isn’t moving the needle the way it used to. And my friendly neighborhood pharmacist could hold the solution.
Not so fast.
Because as legendary New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
You and I are here to break generational patterns. While I’ll take a pill if I must, I’d much prefer to achieve my goal through lifestyle changes. We’re in this for longevity, too.
Many people are on medications because they’re unwilling to make the lifestyle changes that could make a difference. No judgment here, it’s just not for me at first blush. I’d like to trial the lifestyle changes before I decide.
As long as it doesn’t involve Brussel sprouts or mushrooms. I say that knowing how good mushrooms are for you. Okay, I’ll… blend them to get them down if I must.
You may already know cholesterol rises in men as they age and in women, postmenopause. The precision of postmenopause was news to me.
I’ve also learned a couple of things recently that may surprise you. They sure surprised me:
- The liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs.
- For most people, the cholesterol you consume through your diet is likely to have little or no impact on your cholesterol levels.
Those two seem to be at odds with each other to me: If the liver is making all it needs and I find out ’m lucky enough to not have my diet impact my cholesterol levels, then that raises an important question:
I won’t get any more ahead of myself than that. I’m sure there are tests that can determine if I’m in Camp You Lucky Bastard or Camp Cholesterol’s My Daddy.
What is cholesterol, anyway?
Cholesterol sounds nasty, but it’s necessary
Tastes great, artery filling.
Cholesterol is an anti-hero of sorts. When I think of the waxy, fat-like substance, I picture the scene in the movie Fight Club where Tyler Durden dumpster-dives for sealed bags of human body fat from the liposuction clinic.
Cholesterol may not look glamorous, but it performs critical functions in our body such as helping to build cells, produce hormones, and aid digestion.
To your body as a whole, it’s a superhero. A 24/7 construction crew with no union drama.
To many people and their medical providers, it’s a nemesis that, left unchecked, causes severe medical conditions and death.
Cholesterol moves through your bloodstream as spherical particles known as lipoproteins. There are two types:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
LDLs deposit cholesterol in your arteries, leading to blockages.
I don’t know if LDLs are assassins or just lazy, but they’re on my list.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
HDL helps to remove excess cholesterol from your arteries.
I like a lipoprotein that appreciates a clean house.
Conditions that cause unhealthy cholesterol levels
The big G, genetics.
From what I’ve gathered about my ancestors’ health habits, they weren’t much for exercise and didn’t eat what’d be considered a healthy diet today.
Conditions that worsen cholesterol levels
Might as well pile on, here.
Conditions like diabetes and hypothyroidism can influence your cholesterol metabolism, neither of which I have.
Liver and kidney diseases can also knock your cholesterol levels off balance.
I have neither.
Risk factors that worsen cholesterol levels
Yup, cholesterol has minions. And not the nice cartoonish ones.
Obesity elevates your cholesterol production and messes with your metabolism.
A double whammy.
Smoking isn’t joking: It reduces your HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
Age and gender
Cholesterol rises in men as they age and in women, postmenopause.
Tell me about it.
Complications from high cholesterol
High cholesterol levels can cause plaque buildup in your arteries, clogging them like a drain and slowing or stopped blood flow. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and even strokes.
Treatments for high cholesterol
There are ways to tame your cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle changes are numero uno: Eating a heart-healthy diet, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight can work wonders. When that isn’t enough, a pharmacological fix can help you watch your six.
Either way, regular check-ups and monitoring are crucial to stay on top of your cholesterol game.
My preliminary plan
I’ve got my annual physical in a couple of months. That should give me enough time to produce results that pause the prescription conversation.
Here’s what I’ve sketched out so far:
- I’m going to continue working out at least five days per week. That’s walking and strength training.
- I’m going to continue eating the foods that help with cholesterol management: flaxseed, almonds, walnuts, multigrains, vegetables, fruits. Work some hummus in there, too. I’ll even sneak in as much avocado as my palate can stand.
- I’m going to increase my seafood intake, targeting high Omega-3 choices like salmon, trout, and mackerel.
- I’m going to decrease my lean poultry intake. Though it has less saturated fat than red meat, it still has it.
- I’m going to find healthy substitutes for my sweet tooth more often.
- I’m going to work some smoothies with whey protein into the mix using nondairy yogurt. Whey protein is supposed to help manage cholesterol levels.
Will these lifestyle changes matter?
There’s only one way to find out.
- American Heart Association. “Cholesterol: The Basics.” www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine > Cholesterol in the Blood
- Mayo Clinic. “Cholesterol: Top Foods to Improve Your Numbers.” www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know.” www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-cholesterol.
- Mayo Clinic > Healthy lifestyle > Nutrition and healthy eating