My severe reduction in cholesterol with NO DRUGS
4 months, 15 lbs., 73 point reduction in cholesterol and no drugs later...
Into my 20s and older, I started to become aware of the journey to a healthier lifestyle while witnessing the effects of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer on my family and loved ones. I had been vegetarian since my early 20s, started visiting the gym on a semi-regular basis and became vegan over 8 years ago. I was relatively healthy but, what confounded me was the fact that I had NOT seen a dramatic increase in health or positive change in my blood numbers like many vegans experience. What was I doing wrong? My total cholesterol hovered above 200 regularly and while the statin drugs could get those numbers under control, they also caused severe depression and countless other unwelcome side effects. New studies even question the effectiveness of statins with a possible link to heart damage. I re-tested many times, trying different combinations in my diet, getting rid of the excess peanut butter, cutting down on oils and nuts, increasing my gym visits etc. Still, my visit to the doctor in May was sobering with a total cholesterol of 279, the highest its ever been. My triglycerides were also at 226 with the ideal being under 150.
Enter, the culprit. Since childhood, I have had a whirlwind love affair with processed sugar. I was a connoisseur of cookies, ice cream, pastry, cakes and anything Hostess, Freihofer's, Drake's or Little Debbie. By the time I became vegan, I was a regular 'user' but, I didn't think it was doing any damage. I could quit any time I wanted - really. Besides, if it didn't have animal fat in it, what harm could it do? I tracked down the best vegan cookies I could find (organic sugars and all), sorted out the best vegan cookbooks and became an expert in making chocolate-peanut-butter torte, cupcakes and cookies. I would not be deprived. When this last blood test came back, I had already began reading articles that indicated sugar in high cholesterol. ::: GULP ::: During the course of a day, I would normally snack on a handful of chocolate covered almonds, a 'stack' of cookies (did you know one serving is just TWO cookies?) and a dish of ice cream. That was nearly EVERY day! Now it was time for a change. At the same time I would attempt to rid my diet of sugar and eat only whole grain breads and pastas, I tried some supplements that had the same reported effects as statins. I began taking fenugreek and red yeast rice. Quickly, I experienced troubling stomach issues and side effects from both and discontinued just as fast. This would be a test to see just how much the sugar, alone, was effecting me. Honestly, the first couple of weeks was a white-knuckle ride. It was just as bad as withdrawing from any drug, no lie there. I supplemented by eating whole fruits like a madman. Half of a honeydew would be devoured every day with several apples and servings of cherries and various other fruits. Think of how many times you may mindlessly snack during the day and those were the times I was gorging on fruit. I also ate a low-sugar raisin bran for a while but, the stomach distress manifested in lovely ways with that. After I was through the initial withdrawal, I allowed myself a treat if a craving got too much. The good thing was, my palate had changed and the sweets were now too sweet. I was enjoying better sleep and when I cheated, I would feel more hung over and this overall 'blah' feeling. It was easier to say "no thank you." During this time, I noticed clothes fitting better. I wasn't doing anything super different at the gym, I was just eating quality, whole foods and skipping the sugared crack.
I got my blood test last week and had my appointment with the doctor today. She had no idea I stopped the supplements and I could read the excitement in her mood when she greeted me. I weighed in at 166, down from 181 in May. My cholesterol was at 206, down from 279 and my triglycerides were at 152 from 226. She was as astounded as I was that I did this without drugs and just by eliminating unhealthy, refined foods from my diet. I can only encourage others that when you change your eating habits, your palate will eventually change with you. For me, it's not a sacrifice at all and when I absolutely need a little binge, I will but, I had to stop the mentality that it was ok to binge every day. A word of caution for others, there is too much speculation over sugar substitutes having links to cancer and other diseases. I would recommend the healthy approach with REAL foods that have REAL phytonutrients and fiber. If I have to, I will find a vegan dessert made with agave which releases into the blood system slower than refined sugar. I get enough of my vitamins from the whole fruit I eat so, I even stopped the orange juice in the morning and have my oatmeal with whole fruit or apple sauce. If I'm climbing the walls in that evening, after-dinner snack-time, I will opt for another bowl of oatmeal to fill me up. Eating an apple a couple hours before bed is usually the last thing I'll consume. I keep hydrated with water constantly and I enjoy a large salad with fresh lemon juice for lunch. I may throw in a healthy burrito on my gym days. I understand this isn't for 'everyone' - emotionally, it can feel like a lot. I have a love affair with fruits and vegetables and my healthy lifestyle so, it works for me. I wish everyone peace and happiness in their own journey. I hope the insight into mine will help someone.