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.

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

Live to Thrive

Yearly Physical: Thrive to LiveThis time last year I was “fat, sick and nearly dead” taking the title from Joe Cross’s film of the same name. Judging from my blood work and discussion with my family physician, change was needed. I had tried the previous year without medical intervention, but I was not committed to make the necessary change. I know now, moderation is not the solution to taking control of your health. Now that it’s been 10 months of living plant strong, I realize it’s never too late to take your health into your own hands and live to thrive!

Today was my yearly physical, something I have been doing since I turned 39 years old, but it wasn’t until last year I really took an interest in my blood numbers and reasons I was not healthy. Last year my doctor told me that diet alone was not going to decrease my total cholesterol, which had jumped to 264 mg/dL. He prescribed Lovastatin, it was not but 4-6 weeks later I took myself off the medication because of side effects I was having.

Based on my blog from August 4, 2011 I was attempting to change how I cooked, but “a vegan lifestyle is highly unlikely, but taking the occasional recipe from this form of food preparation is a possibility.” A day later I was questioning ‘Big Pharma‘ and still looking for alternatives. It wouldn’t be until the end of October that I decided to make the change after a co-worker recommended the documentary, Forks Over Knives.

Of all the things said today, it was what went unsaid that struck me as odd. This year there was no mention of what I was eating. Maybe looking on the questionnaire and saw I add the boxes NONE as it related to meat and dairy, I don’t know, but he did not mention anything about my diet. How could he? All the blood work numbers, with the exception of triglycerides were excellent!

Speaking of the triglycerides I did mention the decrease in alcohol leading up to the blood test and he agreed that the amount of alcohol being consumed was probably the reason for the level, which hovers at 160, about 11 points high. Overall, while he didn’t come out and say it, he was pleased to see the decrease, down from 269 last July. I have no doubts that 6 months from now my triglycerides will be in the normal range.

When he got to my cholesterol numbers, he couldn’t believe the drop of 134 points, down from 264 just a year ago. He was even more happy with the fact my bad cholesterol was less than 100 (currently 68). He mentioned genetic disposition numerous times as it related to some of the numbers. The HDL, or good cholesterol was one of those numbers, which is still considered to be “low” (35) in his opinion. Learning what I have from Dr. McDougall, I don’t get caught up in the individual numbers, but am thrilled with my TC number!

He also took my off the 50,000 IU prescription of Vitamin D as my current level of 58 is normal (so he said). He does want me to supplement with 2,000 IU Vitamin D3 daily, which is an over the counter purchase. HE said, “as long as you live in Northern California you will need to supplement or your Vitamin D level will fall back under 30.” I just smiled and said “okay” but haven’t made the decision on supplementing Vitamin D further.

Early on in our discussion he talked quickly about BMI. Luckily, I came in under 25.0, which is considered obese. My number was 24.1, which left me scratching my head, since I had taken a body composition test in June which resulted in a 15.6% body fat. The doctor said lowering my BMI wouldn’t make any difference on my health. I find that statement a bit bogus,why wouldn’t I want to lose body fat and replace it with lean muscle?

He also mentioned that I was “getting too caught up in the numbers.” First was the BMI question and then I commented on the cardio, trying to keep my heart rate elevated (142 BPM). He said any elevation of the heart rate, be it from walking or jogging is just as good, you don’t have to  elevate to a “reference point” on a chart.

All in all he declared me in excellent health and sent me on my way. Being in such good health for the first time in my life, I found out there was very little for him to nitpick at. I was told to keep eating how I am and stick with the exercise. I really had no questions for him, since I don’t really respect his answers, I chose to keep those questions quiet and ask those who are a bit more educated when it comes to a plant based lifestyle.

Make Revolutionary Changes

The truth is that, to break free of the insidious hold that unhealthful foods have on us, we need to make revolutionary changes if we want revolutionary results.

Alan Goldhamer, Director TrueNorth Health Center

Just over 9 months ago I made a decision that would change my life. After viewing the documentary, Forks Over Knives I resolved to change how I viewed and ate food. No longer did I eat to live, but live to eat. “Drastic” and “extreme” are just a few words that people use to describe changes by removing dairy, meat and oil from my diet. Yesterday I received my results from my most current blood test and the results were nothing less than amazing!

While many people have criticized MY decision for changing MY diet (including my doctor), it’s hard not to see the the difference the past 9 months have made. It’s really just more of the same from people saying, “I can’t…” or “I won’t…” when it comes to trying to live healthy or make minor changes in their diet. While it took 41 years to make these changes, it has been an extraordinary 9 months of eating and exercise to get me to this point.

As I waited in anticipation for my blood results, I was hoping to see another drop in my total cholesterol (TC), from 175 mg/dL to 150 or 149 mg/dL. It was with amazement when I scanned the report to see my TC at 130 mg/dL! A drop of 45 points from March, 2012. This was made possible by eating a plant based, whole food diet while avoid foods (Western diet) that were making me unhealthy.

No longer is my focus on what I can’t or won’t eat, but what is available to me to eat, usually in abundance. Along with meat, dairy and oil, I am making a conscience effort not to cook with add sugar and salt as well. I can already hear people commenting saying my diet is going to be bland and boring, but that is not the case. Many Americans have lost the taste for food, as we are comfortable with tastes of processed foods or fast foods that are loaded with refined carbohydrates, salt and sugar.

Another number that stood out in the report was the 46 point drop in my Triglycerides (Trigs). Triglycerides “are fat in the blood and are used to provide energy to the body. If one has extra triglycerides, they are stored in different places in case they are needed later. A high triglycerides level can increase the risk of heart disease…Alcohol consumption has strong effects on triglyceride levels. Drinking more than one drink a day for women or two for men can raise triglyceride levels considerably” (WebMD).”

On July 6 I set a goal to drink no alcohol leading up to my August 7 physical and the blood test I had on July 31. While I had one 16 ounce beer, I attribute the drop in Trigs to the fact I stopped drinking beer weekly, which resulted in the decrease. Moderation is not a word Americans love to throw around when it comes to foods like olive oil, meat,cheese and even alcohol. Now that I have seen and experienced the difference opting for LaCroix Sparkling Water over a Corona, it was the beer that has been holding my triglycerides prison. Drinking will now be done in moderation. No longer will it be 6 or more beers during my days off, but I don’t plan on giving up beer or Scotch. I can live a heart healthy life with alcohol on occasion.

Here are some blood test snapshots since July, 2011 of how my health has improved by changing my diet. Until January, the weight loss was strictly diet based, with no exercise included.

July 26, 2011
Weight: 216 pounds
Chol: 263 mg/dL
Trig: 269 mg/dL
HDLC: 37 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 7.1 H
LDL: 172 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 225 mg/dL

When I started in October I was on 5 medications with ongoing migraine headaches, a stabbing pain in my right side, foot problems, knee problems and high cholesterol.

December 20, 2011
Weight 193 pounds
Chol: 199 mg/dL
Trig: 210 mg/dL
HDLC: 37 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 5.4 H
LDL: 120 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 162 mg/dL

In just 2 months, I stopped taking my cholesterol medication, the migraines subsided, the pains in my side were decreasing and my cholesterol was down 64 points. With the weight loss, some of the pain in the foot went away.

March 26, 2012
Weight 183 pounds
Chol: 175 mg/dL
Trig: 208 mg/dL
HDLC: 34 mg/dL
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 5.1 H
LDL: 99 mg/dL
Non-HDLC: 141 mg/dL

By March I was fully committed to this way of eating as a lifestyle. I had made the necessary changes to my diet with the exception of cutting down beer, even though I had resolved to. All numbers continued to show improvement.

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

Now, just days ago I confirmed the presence of alcohol was the last fact that was keeping my triglycerides elevated. All numbers indicate I am healthy, now at my goal weight (actually below by 3 pounds), I have achieved a TC of lower than 150 (another goal) and my triglycerides are trending down.

Even with all the negative comments and banter about MY decision when I started this journey I have made great progress over 9 months. I cannot remember a time I have ever been healthier in my life. Even when I was playing collegiate sports I wasn’t eating and exercising like I am now at 42. It has taken time and from reading other comments I know there are others who were sicker than I, on more medication and heavier than when I started. I am here to say YOU CAN DO IT!

Just one more drink…

Overall I am very pleased with the state of my health, as I wrote yesterday, “I’ve probably never been healthier.” Based on three blood tests between July, 2011 and March, 2012 my health continues to improve. LDL levels are down, HDL is up, total cholesterol is down and most recently my Vitamin D now falls in the “optimum” range. Unfortunately my triglycerides are still elevated.

Triglycerides are the fats in the blood.  To visualize their appearance, think of chicken soup left overnight in the refrigerator.  The next morning you find an upper layer of yellowish fat, which has formed over the brownish liquid below,” from the January 2003 McDougall Newsletter.

I began tracking my food intake on January 23 to see what I ate and how it was broken down into calories, fat, carbohydrates and proteins. Along with this data I can track RDI or recommended daily intake and daily value as it relates to the nutrients. I had no intentions of using this to monitor the amount of food I was eating, since this way of eating allows you to eat until full and still be able to see weight loss. Tracking my food has given me a better picture of how and what I eat.

Unfortunately my picture of health still has a blemish, my triglycerides, which started out at 269 saw a 59 point drop when I had a blood test in December, 2011. Now 3 months later I was hoping to see a similar drop, but it was only a 2 point drop from 210 to 208. What could be causing this number to lag behind the other improvements?

There are two common dietary sources of these blood fats.  They can be derived directly from the fats in the foods we eat or the body can make them by turning carbohydrates into new fats (primarily in the liver) by a process called de novo lipogenesis,” says Dr. McDougall.

Based on the numbers I have I eat approximately 10% fat daily. By way of comparison, the American Heart Association recommends (source):

  • Eating between 25-35 percent of your total daily calories as fats, including fats in oils and fats in foods.
  • Limiting the amount of saturated fats you eat to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories.  That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, less than 140 calories (or 16 grams) should come from saturated fats.
  • Limiting the amount of trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.  That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, less than 20 calories (or 2 grams) should come from trans fats.
  • Limiting cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams a day for people without coronary heart disease (CHD) and to less than 200 milligrams a day for people with CHD.
  • For good health, the majority of fats you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

I am well below the “recommended” level from the AHA in all the areas listed above. The one vice I still carry with me, beer. I have not given up drinking a 6-pack on my days off, which ends up equating to a beer a day for 6 days. “Alcohol is a major source of excess calories which get turned into fat, so the triglyceride levels in the blood increase. Alcohol also has been shown to inhibit the burning of fat. A 2003 study conducted in Geneva, Switzerland found that alcohol in the bloodstream can slow down fat metabolism by more than 30%. (Journal of the American Medical Association. July 2003).

When alcohol (ethanol) is present in the blood, the liver prioritizes removing alcohol from the blood over other metabolic processes. The liver can detoxify about one ounce of alcohol (distilled spirits) per hour, which is about 1 serving of an alcoholic beverage (equivalent to 12 ounces of beer or 4 ounces of wine). In the meantime, however, glucose tends to be further processed into triglycerides which raises their blood levels” (source).

Without consulting my doctor, who didn’t seem too concerned back in January with my triglyceride level, I am attempting to draw my own conclusions based off research on the Internet, specifically articles from Dr. McDougall. Reducing alcohol consumption won’t be a major problem. With alcohol containing simple sugars, thus empty calories I am taking additional steps, such as exercise and diet to reduce my triglycerides. “According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy triglyceride level is measured as 150 mg per dL of blood or less.” With a level of 208, I have some more work to do.