This is the third blog in the series about my long-term battle with high cholesterol. The first blog goes into great detail about the question, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?” and looks at my own diet and lifestyle as contributors to my high cholesterol. The second blog, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #1” takes a look at my progress after 1 month of dietary changes. And in this blog post, we’ll look at my progress after 3 months.
If you haven’t yet, you might want to take a look at the first two blog posts for more detail, background and the reasoning for my dietary changes. You may also like to peruse our Best Plant Based Books for the basis behind these changes.
Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Weight after Three Months of Dietary Intervention
First, let’s look at the results from my 3 different blood tests at the start, after 1 month and after 3 months:
|Start July 4||Month 1||Month 3||Total Drop|
|LDL (Bad) Cholesterol||128||107||116||12|
|Body Weight (LBS)||180||171||166||14|
Not so good, huh? While still lower than the start, my total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides all went back up a little despite losing another 5 pounds of body weight.
I’ve lost a total of 14 pounds, but all of that came in the first two months of the low-fat diet. I lost nearly 2 pounds per week for two months just by cutting out the oil, chocolate and avocados. I also reduced my alcohol (beer and wine) consumption by about 80%, from several times per week to one drink every week or two.
I’m now an even bigger believe in Dr. John McDougall’s quote, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.”
Last month, we took a 10 day trip to the coast of Ecuador so my eating wasn’t as clean. In fact, I gained 3 pounds over that 10 days from eating out and drinking more beer and wine than usual. However, I lost that 3 pounds within the first 2 weeks of being back in Cuenca.
Originally, I thought that my ideal weight would be 170, but I’m now 166 and still have a few more pounds to lose. Those stubborn fat pockets around the middle just don’t seem to want to go away. I’m guessing 160 is my ideal weight now. Six more pounds should rid me off my already much smaller spare tire.
Thoughts About My High Cholesterol and Triglycerides
I have to admit that these latest test results are a bit disheartening. I thought for sure that my numbers would be lower, not higher.
We have been eating out a little more than we were during the first two months of this experiment, but still not much, and our favorite restaurants cook without oil for me.
We’re eating a hearty breakfast every day of Raw Rolled Oats with ground flax and chia, which are high in fat, but also high in omega-3’s. Since we don’t eat seafood or take omega-3 supplements, we need to get omega-3’s from somewhere so we’ve selected flax and chia. We’re eating an Easy Garden Salad every day, as well as about 5 servings of fruit per day.
Except for an occasional piece of sourdough bread, we’re eating a truly whole-food plant-based no-oil (WFPBNO) diet, so what gives? This is by FAR the healthiest I’ve ever eaten in my life! There isn’t much left for me to eliminate!
My goal, based on recommendations from the plant-based doctors, is to get my total cholesterol under 150, my LDL cholesterol under 70 and my triglycerides under 100. At these ranges, heart disease is unheard of in populations around the world.
However, this may not be possible for me. It’s obvious that my body is super sensitive to saturated fat. Since I don’t consume cholesterol or trans fats, those two common sources that increase blood serum cholesterol in most people can’t be blamed for my high cholesterol.
Additionally, it appears that my body produces more cholesterol than the average person, making it much harder for me to lower my stats to the optimal ranges. However, some studies show that my risk of heart disease and stroke are already substantially lower simply by not consuming cholesterol, animal protein or trans fats.
In his book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Ornish explains that some of his test subjects were never able to get their cholesterol into the heart attack proof range, but several other biomarkers for heart disease substantially improved anyway.
I’m still not ready to give up though…
Degenerative Disc Disease
Before I go into the next steps that I’m going to take to lower my cholesterol, there’s some new information that I’ve learned since writing the first blog post in this series. Some research suggests that the Degenerative Disc Disease, which significantly contributed to my two spinal surgeries, may be caused by clogged spinal arteries. By age 20, 10% of people have advanced spinal artery blockages.
I’ve had high cholesterol for at least 13 years. That’s when I first discovered it as part of a routine blood test for life insurance. At 33 years old, my cholesterol was already close to 250 and my life insurance premiums were significantly higher as a result. The insurance company seemed pretty concerned that I might die prematurely so they doubled my rate. I went to the doctor that week and he put me on a statin after several months of diet and exercise improvements failed to significantly lower my cholesterol levels.
Given how high my cholesterol was at 33, I think it’s safe to assume it has been high for quite some time. Perhaps since I was in college or even high school. We now know heart disease starts in childhood among those eating the western diet that’s high in animal products and processed foods.
So heart disease isn’t the only concern in lowering my cholesterol levels. I would also like to avoid future surgeries on my neck and back, which means I need to clean out the arteries that feed my spinal discs so they get all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Next Steps to Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides
From a dietary elimination perspective, there’s only one change that might make a difference: no more sourdough bread. I don’t eat very much bread anyway, but I’ve reduced total bread consumption even more and I’m limiting it to only whole grain bread.
We’ve also reintroduced walnuts back into our diet since they have been shown to lower cholesterol, as well as total heart disease related mortality.
A lot of the phytonutrients in our Easy Garden Salad are fat soluble, which means we need some fat along with the greens for our bodies to extract more of the beneficial phytonutrients. Walnuts may help lower my cholesterol or at least my chance of developing heart disease, and adding them to my salad may help my body get more bang for my salad buck.
In addition to walnuts, we’ve started adding amla powder to our breakfast oats. In a head-to-head test, amla powder did just as well at lowering cholesterol as simvastatin.
Coincidentally, simvastatin was the cholesterol lowering drug I took for several years back in my 30’s (about 10 years ago). However, the side effects of muscle loss, weakness and general fatigue became too great and I eventually stopped taking it, which resulted in my total cholesterol creeping back up to a high of 270 before we switched to WFPB diet.
Amla powder is made from Indian gooseberries and is the most antioxidant rich food on the planet with more than 100 times more antioxidants than blueberries. It has been used in India for thousands of years to treat everything from fevers to diabetes. “Indian gooseberries have also been found to have cholesterol-lowering and cough-, fever-, pain-, stress-, and diarrhea-suppressing effects.”
We brought a bag of organic amla powder back with us from the states on our last trip, but I wanted to wait and see how low my cholesterol would go with only dietary changes before I started using it.
Now that it appears I’ve reached the lowest attainable point without an intervention, I think it’s time to try this supposed magic powder. Since I’m so sensitive to everything else, maybe this will work wonders for me. I’m skeptical, but it’s worth a try. Fingers crossed.
Clinical trials show that just 1/8th of a teaspoon a day can significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol to normal ranges in just 3 weeks. We’ve decided to use 1/2 a teaspoon in our breakfast oats for good measure, and since it’s just the powdered remains of dried Indian gooseberries, there are no side effects other than potentially better health.
In case you’re wondering, we can’t taste it in our oats. I even drank a glass of water with 1/2 a teaspoon of the amla powder mixed in. I can’t say I liked it, but it wasn’t bad. It tasted similar to an unflavored fiber powder supplement, if you’ve ever had a glass of that.
Never Give Up. Never Surrender.
After I got these latest test results, it pretty much ruined my day. It’s very disappointing to have a body that seems to be fighting its own existence, but my brain isn’t giving up.
After discussing the test results with Amelia, I told her the steps I planned to take next. She told me she was proud of me for not giving up. She said that most people would stop trying under the same circumstances, but that didn’t cross my mind. I’m determined to coax my body into the heart attack proof realm with natural methods, not statins. Maybe it’ll help my aching back, too.
Stay tuned for next month’s update. Let’s see if amla powder lives up to the claims.Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.