Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Call me Rock God

Last summer, I went to a walk-in clinic with some issues I thought were related to bronchitis. I hardly remember what the diagnosis for that was back then, but I do remember one the other things the doctor said to me. She asked me if I was on any medications. I said no. She paused, looked at me, and said, that's pretty good not to be on any medications at your age. I remember the reflexive words that came out of my mouth (which surprised me) was, but I'm only in my 40s. She said, a lot of people your age regularly take medications and she was a bit more pointed about type 2 diabetes.

I remember being somewhat shocked and then fairly adamant that her conception had to be way off base. Ridiculous. For some reason, I could accept that my friends could take meds for mental health, like depression, in their 20s but I couldn't wrap my head around needing meds for physical health a mere 20 years later. I mean isn't that why older folks like Wilford Brimley are cast when it comes to health commercials and meds? I mean, if you want my age bracket's attention, try getting George Clooney or Sofia Vergara to push oatmeal instead.

A couple months later, I found a primary care physician and had a physical. It was a big surprise to me when the doctor said that I had high cholesterol and will probably have to go on a prescription to keep it down, like Lipitor. Ugh. The doctor at the walk-in clinic jinxed me.

Here is how she explained cholesterol to me: one is generally given a number for "cholesterol" and ideally it should be less than 200 (mine was 237). That number is a sum of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, aka "good" cholesterol) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL, aka "bad" cholesterol), though this second number is sometimes broken down with a number for very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) as well. Ideally, the HDL number is greater than 50 and the LDL number is less than 100. Mine were 66 and 171, respectively. Though the doctor liked my HDL number, my LDL number at 171 was considered high.

The doctor said she would retest in 4 months and in the meantime I could try a low-cholesterol diet. She advised avoiding fast food, heavy meats, and greasy food. I was a little discouraged given that, as a pescatarian, I don't eat those foods, but I'd do my best to cut out foods that did have cholesterol.

I did some research online to see what I was eating that I should avoid and what foods were supposed to help lower cholesterol. In general, one was supposed to avoid saturated fats (usually found in animal products like meat and dairy) and trans-fats (usually found in packaged foods like cookies). The foods I ate without much rein that had cholesterol were whole eggs, butter, 2% milk, and shrimp. I would estimate that even with the foods I ate, I was still fairly under the recommended daily cap of 200 mg of cholesterol. But I still switched to Egg Beaters, Smart Balance and olive oil, nonfat milk and almond milk, and stopped eating shrimp. Yeesh, it was hard to give up eggs--I ate them every day as a delicious, cheap, and easy source of protein for me. And well Egg Beaters? They're not exactly the same as scrambled eggs--so man, I do miss eggs. In terms of foods that would help lower cholesterol, I turned to oatmeal (I guess Wilford Brimley was talking to me after all), Omega-3 supplements, and walnuts when I remembered.

But I also learned while visiting my mom, that regardless of how I ate, I may just be genetically disposed to it. So I got next to the fact that if my cholesterol wasn't affected by my big adjustment in diet, paying for (and taking) Lipitor was cheaper and better than costs of stroke and heart issues both to the wallet, my body, and my family. But I still wanted to try my best at controlling it with diet. And with few exceptions (pretty sure that lobster roll at Super Bowl and brunch at Maharlika were so worth it), I stuck with it.

So I did a fasting lab test last week and this morning I went to the doctor to find out the results. And luckily, for now, my changes in diet paid off. I had lowered my LDL to 133.

She acknowledged that the number was still over the desired 100 but she said my elevated number of HDL helped balance it out and most importantly she said we could hold off on a prescription, for now. She was somewhat impressed and asked me what changes I made and I told her the adjustments I made. She also recommended two herbal supplements (Red Yeast Rice and Chia Seeds) that had positive results in lower cholesterol. I'll definitely look into them as it's likely to be cheaper than getting a prescription every month. But she closed our conversation with a somewhat sobering stat that the reason over 80% of folks need prescriptions to control cholesterol is hereditary and not diet. And also, whether I should I do something about the varicose veins on my legs. Let's table that till next time, Dr. Debbie Downer!

This all said, I recognize that when I go for my formal physical again next fall, my cholesterol numbers go up again despite my dietary efforts. And I should be okay with that. But I'll still keep trying, and until then, inyaface, Cholesterol!


Tom said...
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Pound said...

you know what good for getting your 3s down, but remember that being on a long term med isn't the end of the world nor does it mean you're a bad eater/person. when i was offered prozac i scoffed, why would i need it? then i fell apart at the seams 2 weeks later and got on it. i eventually "cheered up" and came off them, but sometimes we just need them. plus- better lipitor than death by heart attack right?