Through nearly 20 years of writing about the nation’s health care crisis, I didn’t always practice what so many of the pundits preached to me about how critical good nutrition was in helping improve outcomes and reduce cost. My lifelong fondness for red meat and dairy products, coupled with a serious sweet tooth, finally caught up with me.
In May 2006, I began taking Lovastatin, a drug class of so-called statins used for lowering cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular disease, both of which run in my family. It’s also worth noting that my father was in the meat business, and I remember the entire family being carnivores around the dinner table at least a few times a week growing up in the 1960s at a time when the public wasn’t cautioned about overdoing the consumption of cows as it is today.
At the tender age of 45, it seemed far too soon for me to throw in the towel on lifestyle changes aimed at normalizing elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. But I decided to let modern medicine do the hard work, sit back and wait for the results, which for the most part were okay – just not great.
Total cholesterol fell to 164 in April 2007 from a high in recent years of 240 (many of us have become educated enough to know anything higher than 200 is considered elevated).Missionaccomplished, right? Not exactly.
There were some gray areas in the blood work, and I can only imagine how common this dilemma must be for millions of fellow Americans who live in a nation whose fast-food and sedentary culture has left two-thirds of the population overweight and at risk for developing heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
My HDL (“good” cholesterol) was still on the low side at 36 when it should have been 40 or higher, while my LDL (“bad” cholesterol) was good but not great at 96 (less than 130 is considered normal). My triglycerides, which the American Heart Association defines as “the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body,” was too high at 159 when it should have been 150 or lower.
The chief culprits for me have been over-consumption of “comfort” foods and beverages high in fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sugar. You’d never know it from my appearance. I’ve always enjoyed a fast-burning metabolism thanks in large part to my maternal grandfather’s genetic makeup but also years of physical workouts. But on the inside, my blood stream had been riddled with a level of toxicity that eventually would weaken my heart and possibly cut short my life.
To make matters worse, I’ve long been an insomniac and restless sleeper who tested about six years ago for sleep apnea because I had a few of the key symptoms. Apart from an over-active mind, I place most of the blame on years of ingesting chocolate and candy as though every day of my life was Halloween. I can remember as a young boy stuffing my face with Mounds, Almond Joy and Charleston Chew bars that my dad used to so lovingly pick up for me from a factory near his place of business. While I was never a huge consumer of alcohol, which can cause a spike in triglycerides, I probably should have been
more careful to drink in moderation.
Sometimes we all require a push to try harder, and for me, it was a dear new knowledgeable friend in whom I found inspiration and motivation to eat and drink more mindfully. So now I’m in the midst of a three-month experiment to determine whether my quest to significantly lower or eliminate these toxins from my diet will pay off the next time my blood work is drawn.
Regardless of the outcome, I have a new-found appreciation for health food stores and the art of nutritional label reading. Next time I interview of few more pundits, which at any time now could include controversial filmmaker Michael Moore about his upcoming documentary, “Sicko,” for an article about the nation’s health care system, I’ll take great comfort knowing that I’ve made a serious effort to practice whatever they might be preaching.