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.

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.

I’m Hungry!

On the heels of being told my LDL (bad) cholesterol is high by my doctor I am rethinking how I cook. Gone, but not completely forgotten are some of the recipes that taste wonderful, but are extremely high in cholesterol. My problem really doesn’t stem my cooking habits. I am conscience of what I use when I cook, but I believe the problem is when I eat at work.

Being located in downtown Oakland, next to Chinatown it’s been real tempting to not pack a lunch and take a walk to the many sidewalk restaurants that make up the district. Of course some of the favorite foods I eat are fried. Not sure I really want to know just how bad many of these foods are, but they are delightful.

As I sit here typing, the stomach is rumbling just thinking about some of the foods I will have to eat less of. Anything in moderation is okay, the doctor even said, make these foods the exception now, not the norm. While easier said than done it will take few weeks to start working on new dishes that will delight and taste good, while cutting down (and out) some of the things I should not be eating.

Even flipping through a magazine like Cooking Light many recipes may be low in certain nutritional values , like calories or fat, but I have noticed “cooking light” does not necessarily mean low cholesterol. A vegan lifestyle is highly unlikely, but taking the occasional recipe from this form of food preparation is a possibility. I found an entire list of healthy vegetarian Curried recipes at Cooking Light for starters. I’ll start preparing more fish, along with skinless chicken and some pork. Hopefully in 8 weeks I will see a drop in the LDL count.

LDL is Bad.

Ever have those days where you need to go somewhere, but you dread the results because you know they are going to be bad, not matter what? That is how it’s been for me that last 3 years (wow since I turned 40) for me as it relates going to my family doctor for my yearly physical.

I made it a point at age 39 to start going every year. So far I have been very healthy with no real issue to concern myself or my wife with. Minor problems, but nothing that cannot be cured or remedied. It’s not the “jelly finger” I fear feeling for an enlarged prostate, it’s the LDL levels (bad cholesterol) in my blood work results.

As expected this number had increased since my last two physicals, which is now a concern for the physician. We discussed factors relating to cholesterol, my eating habits (which pretty much suck) and what we needed to go in order to control the increasing levels. At 41, this number was still to high and something that could lead to heart disease if not brought under control.

Now with my enjoyment of cooking I must throw caution to wind and pay closer attention to what ingredients I use and the style of preparation. I usually pay attention to what I cook and to a lesser degree how I prepare it, but now it will be a bit more crucial as we move forward from today. Exceptions to the rule can no longer be the norm for me. Breaking the rules can happen on occasion, but paying attention to labels and cholesterol is more important.

I have already been looking at what I should be eating or how I should be preparing food. While the two are close, I will need them to become even closer as we move forward. I also start a medicine regiment tomorrow taking simvastatin, one 40mg tablet a day. Of course no drug comes without a side effect and hopefully I won’t be a recipient of any of the negative side affects associated with this medication such as Rhabdomyolysis or muscle pain.