2014 Lab Results

Lipid-panelPrior to changing to a plant based lifestyle I never really paid attention to the lab results at my yearly physical. My doctor never showed me the results, rarely did I inquire, but he always focused on one number, total cholesterol (TC). So it came as no surprise when he prescribed me a statin in 2011 to control my increasing TC. Thankfully I was able to control and lower it rather than experiencing the negative side effects from statin use. Diet and an increase in exercise saw my number drop from 264 mg/dL to 130 mg/dL. An amazing 130 points in just a year! This after  my doctor told me I would never have “normal” cholesterol level again with medication.

The July, 2012 the lipid panel results were the best I had every experience. I was dedicated to a plant based lifestyle and had introduced weight training and cardio to my exercise regime. By October, 2013 and my yearly physical, the TC had increased to 152 mg/dL, yet nothing had changed in my eating habits. I was continuing to follow a strength training program and I was running 5 times a week. I couldn’t finger the change that resulted in my lipid panel results increasing.

Yesterday I received the results of my most current lipid panel online. The great part with this, it now charts your results with previous results and you can see how you are trending. Much to my dismay my TC had jump again, bordering on similar results I received in 2011. The total cholesterol had increased to 193 mg/dL. Frustrated, I turned to the Protective Diet support group in search of answers.

In my mind I have this lifestyle well in control and my blood results would confirm I was healthy and thriving. Unfortunately it felt like I walked into a wall when I saw the results. Maybe I should place blame on my physician for focusing so much on a single number, cholesterol.

The lipid panel is much more than just a single number. Comparing numbers with my 2012 results reveal an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) by 11 points (now 49). Triglycerides, which I have been struggling with since the start continued to trend down, now 136 (decrease of 11 points). Yet the LDL number continued to increase, now 117 (up from 85). A new number was introduced, ‘Very Low Density Lipoprotein C’ with a value of 27 (normal range 5-40 mg/dL). What those results mean are yet to be determined by the physician. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) it won’t be my regular doctor, who is still out due to back surgery. I am seeing another doctor in the office, which could be a positive experience. I will know tomorrow.

Now that the waiting it over and I have my blood results just what do they mean? As I mentioned, I am a bit frustrated that my TC didn’t stay around the 150 level, sometimes termed “heart attack proof” even if that is more of a mind set than a reality. Regardless of health everyone is at risk, some higher than others, of a heart attack. It may sound funny, but I take pride in my lipid panel results, as it gives me confirmation that the changes I have made in my lifestyle have been successful.

Looking back over the last 12 months and examining my diet just what have I changed? Eating habits haven’t changed, introducing “animal byproducts” as my friend Susan calls them, hasn’t happened. Neither has adding oil or dairy back into my diet. At this point I would call myself about 90% compliant when it comes to following Julie Marie’s Protective Diet. While I continue to maintain a plant based lifestyle, there have been times where I made the decision to eat a meal that contained oil. Yet those times can be counted on two hands over the course of the last 12 months.

So where does the problem lie? I believe it’s a combination of lack of exercise and that 10% of non compliance. The longer I follow a plant based lifestyle, the easier it gets. The desire for cheese is gone, the smell of BBQ is still wonderful, but I don’t miss the feeling of raw chicken or having to pick up a slab of meat. Oil (it’s a junk food) is not an ingredient I cook with, regardless of properties many claim oils have. Yet that last 10% could be causing the strife I am dealing with.

As for running, yes, I love to run long distances, but time has not been something I have been afforded the last 6 months. I have too many responsibilities and priorities and don’t not enough time for myself to take an hour and run. The combination of those two factors lead me to conclude I need to focus a bit more on eating healthier, making better decisions and to set some time aside to exercise.

Julie from Protective Diet said, “don’t be alarmed. As long as you are eating a PD you are eating a Protective Diet. Meaning you are diligently eating on plan and doing everything in your power to lower your risks of heart disease and all disease in generalI wouldn’t worry about it. You are on track and the poster of health!” These are some wonderful words of wisdom to remember as I move forward. I am eating “on plan” and very pleased with the progress I have made since setting my 2014 Resolutions and continue to minimize and eliminate foods that are addictive and unhealthy.

Midlife Crisis

keep-calm-it-s-only-a-mid-life-crisisAfter reading this article in the Daily Mail, I guess I am struggling with a midlife crisis that I never knew I was in the midst of. The “poll of 2,000 adults found that taking part in extreme sports and investing in high-tech gadgets were also indicators of reaching middle-age.” I agree with the quarter that called the term cliché, but at age 42 I did decide to change my lifestyle and improve my health, but not because of a midlife crisis.

With the exception of my family, my health is the most important thing to take care of. At age 42 I realized I was being fed more and more medication for my ailments and after two knee surgeries I could no longer stay active playing soccer. I was feeling lethargic, sick and my weight had started to balloon to 216 pounds, tipping the scale at over 220 pounds at my heaviest. Something had to change, as I struggled with migraine headaches, joint and side pains with no relevant cause, Plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Age had started to take its toll and I was feeling terrible every time I threw back a handful of medication that wasn’t the answer.

More than a crisis, this was a period of enlightenment and I feel very fortunate that something inside me clicked and told me, “this is the right thing to do.” My doctor called my decision “extreme” and my wife thought it would just be temporary. Believe me, I would have killed to have this change happen in my mid-20s rather than my 40s, but I am thrilled it happened and I have embraced it for all it’s worth.

Now, two and a half years later after changing my diet, adopting a whole foods, plant based lifestyle I no longer rely on medication or my family doctor. My health is through the roof, so to speak and the blood work results support positive change in my life. It took just 10 months to shed 44 unwanted pounds, losing nearly 4 inches in my waist! More importantly my total cholesterol( TC), which was peaking at 264 in July, 2011 decreased to 130 just a year later. That’s a drop of 134 points, something my doctor had no answer for, especially when I told him it was accomplished without his medication.

Now, nearly two and a half years later I am more active than I have ever been because I have more energy and want to experience more things. I took up running last year and accomplished a half marathon under 2 hours in August, 2013. That race was a personal challenge to confirm everything I was doing. Yet that didn’t satisfy me. One month later I participated in my first Tough Mudder event. Talk about a great time and challenging yourself, while supporting an entire team. To date, nothing like it has compared!

After the half marathon my training was derailed due to shoulder surgery and I was not able to run the California International Marathon, which would have been my first. I decided to “think big” and go ultra. Just 2 months ago I participated in my first ultra event, running 31.7 miles across Mt Diablo in Northern California. What am amazing high, one that has me yearning to run longer and achieve greater.

Who needs a new sports car? I’d rather buy that for me wife, I am truly experiencing the best life has to offer now that I control my health and continue to push my body to new limits. I am living life as never before, setting new goals to achieve. At no time did midlife crisis ever enter my mind. If this is what one feels like it, then I am loving life.

Measure My Health

measure-healthHow does one measure healthy? If you are skinny, you might consider yourself healthy. Some who claim to “eat clean” seem to think they are health. Eating low carbo or low fat, selecting “lean” or “grass fed” animals possibly makes one believe they are healthy. I now measure my health in terms of my blood work results. I have been doing this since I changed my diet back in 2011.

No doctor, diet or article can replace the evidence for changing my lifestyle to a plant-based, whole foods diet. The results have been nothing short of amazing! Some individuals I communicate with claim any change in my diet would have shown positive results in my blood work. Maybe they are true to a degree, but I don’t believe I would be at the same level of health if I were still eating a diet that consisted of animal products, dairy and oil.

When I was 39 years old I decided to start getting yearly physicals, as I had a myriad of ailments that were causing my problems. Along with an ACL replacement in my right knee I had abdominal pains, as yet undiagnosed Plantar Fasciitis, constant migraine headaches, what was thought to be arthritis in my left hand and lateral epicondylitis or “Tennis elbow.” It wasn’t until I was 41 that I realized I was sick, overweight and in considerable pain.

Previous blood work results revealed I was not seeing any improvement in my health. My weight, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol continued to rise. No longer was diet the solution. Enter statins (Read LDL is Bad). These were short lived, as I suffered leg cramps, which is a common side effect along with headaches (possibly related to the continual migraines), gas, heartburn and stomach problems. Who knows what else this medication was doing to me! Without consulting my doctor I stopped taking simvastatin and attempted to make further changes in my diet, but found myself feeling hungry.

As I continued to look for alternatives to medication, I started to change how I cooked. Just one month after my physical in July, 2011 I wrote, “Since my physical I am reevaluating how I eat. I’ll be honest, my diet is not good, but it’s not too terribly bad. I know, I don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and probably drink a bit too much beer on my days off. But I really avoid sweets and don’t over eat, which seems to be a common problem in the U.S.

While changing what I ate helped, seeing some early success (dropping 4 pounds) was really nothing but a facade, as I continue to use cheese and oils, while looking for vegetarian offerings that my wife would enjoy. I had limited success with a few casseroles, pasta dishes and soup. They were “lighter” but honestly not much healthier than how I had been eating. It would be 3 months later before viewing Forks Over Knives and making radical changes in my diet that would change my lifestyle forever.

Now some 19 months later I continue to reap the benefits of a plant-based whole foods lifestyle as taught by Dr. John McDougall. This journey of “enlightenment” has been nothing short of amazing on the road to health. I probably overstate this every time I speak about the improvements in my health. Every day I feel better than the last, no longer eating to live, but living to eat.

Blood work still plays a major part in my health, as it does many like-minded individuals I communicate with in certain plant-based circles. Since changing my diet I look forward to getting blood drawn and more important wait like a kid on Christmas Eve to get the results and see how my numbers have changed, hopefully for the better.  I haven’t had much luck getting my physician to sign off on blood work other than my physical. Thankfully he has wanted to follow up on a few other numbers (Vitamin D) and I had a few additional tests outside my yearly physical.

Last month, at the insistence of my wife I finally decided to look into life insurance. Being in good health it was something that I figure I did not need, but she wanted the reassurance that IF something went wrong (not health related) that she and my son would be taken care of. I guess that is something I take for granted and don’t really think of. So I started researching life insurance and the companies that offered it. When I settled on a company I called and spoke with a representative, who provided me with the details on term life insurance.

After a series of health and lifestyle questions, she informed me I would be required to get blood work done. Excellent! Another opportunity to check the “health” of my blood. I was excited at the prospect. I received the results yesterday and have started reading through them and comparing them to previous results. Based on my July 31, 2012 results my numbers were trending down. This was the last blood test I had taken. Results from that test:

July 31, 2012
Weight: 172 pounds
Chol: 130 mg/dL
Trig: 162 mg/dL
HDLC: 35 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.7 H
LDL: 63 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 95 mg/dL

The only number last July that was still a concern was the Triglycerides level at 162 mg/dL. It was also the only number my doctor commented on telling me to cut back on carbohydrates, specifically potatoes. Uh, okay doc. Needless to say I did not follow his “recommendation” and continued to eat a starch based diet, as promoted by Dr. McDougall. The big change between July, 2012 and now is the level of exercise. I had gone from 3 days a week with some cardio work to lifting weights 3 days a week and running 3-4 days week. The level of weight lifting has increased greatly since October and running has been routine for the last 2 months.

May 8, 2013
Weight: 175 pounds
Chol: 146 mg/dL (+16)
Trig: 136 mg/dL (-26)
HDLC: 44 mg/dL (+7)
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.3 H (-0.4)
LDL: 63 mg/dL (+11)
Non-HDLC: not measured

Starting with weight, it’s no surprise I have seen an increase from my low of 172 pounds. My goal weight was 175 pounds and I have been within a few pounds of that since hitting my goal weight. With any luck I will see an increase in weight as I continue to add muscle to my body, while reducing my body fat. The hydrostatic test is scheduled for June 20.

My total cholesterol increased from my all time low of 130 to 146. I am not sure why or how this number increased over the last 9 months since my diet does not include meat or dairy. The only answer I can come up with is the fact I use nuts and nut butters on a regular basis. Knowing these both contain oils and fats, I do use them in moderation (with my cheese sauces), but have found an acceptable alternative (white beans). Avocados would be the only other culprit of a high saturated fat food. Those are used more infrequent and usually as guacamole.

I am pleased with the drop in Triglycerides by 26 points (now 136), this appears to be well under control. In my assessment it was the amount of alcohol I was drinking that led this number to remain elevated. While I haven’t cut the beer out completely, I no longer drink a 6 or 12 pack while working around the house and finding alternatives, such as Crystal Geyser or La Croix to quench my thirst. I will need to look at the “normal range” provided by my doctor, not quite sure when 136 would fall, but based on the Mayo Clinic anything under 150 is normal. The Chol/HDLC Ratio dropped as well, which indicates a lower risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Overall, I a continue to be pleased with the progress I am making. I continue to follow the plant-based, whole foods way of eating with very little cheating or straying too far away from what got to me this level of health. Like life, there is always room for improvement and I will continue to work towards making myself “heart attack proof” as Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn talks about in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

Both HDL and LDL increased in the past 9 months. I am not trying to get stuck on the LDL (or bad) being increased, as the overall total cholesterol number is still below 150 (146). Interesting to note that even with the 11 point increase in the LDL it is reflected as “LOW” on the results

64 Point Drop!

The first sign of progress I had came 31 days after I resolved to change my diet from the “standard American diet” (or SAD, how fitting), which typically contains meats, dairy and oils. After watching a few documentaries and finding out about Dr. John McDougall I set out “get healthy!” Like many before me I am sure I was a bit skeptical that so many of the Star McDougallers had experienced so many positives changes as it related to their health. Even those who’s story wasn’t highlighted had positive stories to tell about how bad their health was and what Dr. McDougall’s program did for them.

On December 1 my weight went to 199 pounds, that was 17 pounds lighter than I weighed on October 29 when I resolved to change my eating habits, doing away with meat, dairy and oils and basing my diet on whole plants, including grains. The weight loss was just part of the total picture for me. What I had been looking to do was improve myself on the inside.

I was worried last year when my father had a stint put into his chest. Heart disease is not prominent in my family, but I had a few of the potential symptoms as my blood work revealed a very striking number. Add to it I had gained some 15 pounds since taking my job in Oakland, some 5 years earlier. Located very close to Chinatown it was all to easy to go grab something for lunch and most of the time is was NOT healthy and usually friend.

So my weight of 216 pounds at the time of my physical coupled with a total cholesterol of 263 mg/dL was an ugly sign that left unchecked would only get worse and lead to more plaque possible clogging my arteries leading to heart disease. A year earlier my doctor had told me to change my diet and outlined a simple way to figure out if the food was good or not. Needless to say it didn’t last long and I was back to eating the same crap. None of my n numbers were better than the previous year and that had my doctor concerned.

After the physical he prescribed a Statin to help control my cholesterol level. He told me diet alone would not cut my cholesterol number enough and that medication would be required. Great, here I was at 41 years old and already on my first medication I would be taking for the rest of my life. Although it would be another 3 months before I was introduced to Forks Over Knives, it would be better late, than never.

The idea of move to a whole-plant diet as suggest by Dr. McDougall could be considered “extreme” by many Americans. I have gotten very comfortable since the end of October, as I am in my “transition phase” (as I call it) learning more about the lifestyle, Dr. McDougall and the positive effects this lifestyle can have, especially when it comes to longevity and health.

Of course it’s not for everyone, making the decision to give up how I thought about food and cooking wasn’t easy. I cut out meats, which included chicken and pork (which my doctor said were better for me). I cut way back on dairy, namely cheese since I loved to cook with it. I also had to find a new way to cook without using oil or butter, such as sauteing vegetables or frying whatever we were having for dinner. In sort I was a “SAD” abuser when it came to how I ate, so it’s no wonder my blood numbers went from bad to worse in the matter of 1 year.

I had the requisition to get a second blood test in the months follow my doctor putting me on the Statin. Aside from some nasty side effects he wanted to make sure the medication was not going to destroy my liver. Lovely thought, huh? A medication to improve one area of my health while destroying my liver. This blood test was supposed to be taken at the end of October (3 months after my physical). I procrastinated a bit and it wasn’t until last Tuesday I got the blood taken.

Today I picked up my results and while I had anticipated some of the improvements I was blown away by just how good they were. The main number I was interested in was my total cholestrol (Chol). In July it was at 263 mg/dL or very unhealthy considering a normal range is between 140-199. The results were shocking as my cholesterol came in at 199 mg/dL. That my friends is a 64 point drop! Sudden I go from an unhealthy concern to just on the upper scale of normal. What would my doctor say?

I won’t lay claim to it being the medication since I made the decision to stop taking the Statin about 30 days into being prescribed it due to my legs hurting, which is one of the problems. I should have contacted his office and told him of the problems, but I didn’t. That is on me and I don’t claim to know more than my doctor, but I could not fathom taking medication the rest of my life. There had to be a better way.

While my body is on the “road to recovery” I still have much more work to do. Now that my weight and cholesterol is heading the right direction I need to incorporate more exercise into the plan. Currently my exercise is about 20 minutes of walking a day while at work. Come next month it will include 30 minutes (to start) on our Bowflex Revolution, as I work to increase the amount or exercise to 1 hour a day, 3 times a week.

January 9th is the target date I have set to start Dr. McDougall’s 12-day program. My transition period has allowed me to learn more about the lifestyle, how to cook, what not to eat and acceptable substitutes when it comes to flavors or foods I desire. Along with cutting out the last bit of cheese I still eat is giving up the alcohol for 12 days. I usually favor beer on my days off from work. This might be more challenging than giving up meat, dairy or oils. Only time will tell. After my 12 days I will see just how far I have progressed and evaluate my health and where I want to take this lifestyle change.

Surprisingly enough my aunt told me last night she wants to get the whole-plant diet another attempt. She had been vegetarian for about 15 years until recently. So I will have at least one companion on this journey with me. My wife’s best friend and her husband have claimed to be interested in it as well. Both are overweight, her from her recent bout, beating cancer and he is a walking where health is concerned. In my opinion he would be a prime candidate for Dr. McDougall’s clinic in Santa Rosa, where he could learn about nutrition, cooking and improving his health. Currently along with the weight condition, he smokes, drinks (probably as much as I do), is diabetic, eats terrible favoring very fatty foods and living off energy drink. I would guess his blood numbers worse than I. He is a prime candidate for a heart attack unfortunately. So it would do him good to give it 12 days and see what this diet could do for him.

Unfortunately the determination and willpower comes from an individual, not a book or doctor of a 10 day program. You must WANT to make the change in your health. I have already had that “Aha!” moment today seeing my cholesterol down 64 points to know I have made the right decision for myself and my family. Hopefully other people interested in my changes will take note and make that determination for themselves.