Friday, October 7, 2011

Make sure you know your cholesterol numbers!

My father-in-law knows I love to read about health, so last Christmas he was kind enough to get me a copy of a book that he had read and (as a result) then went vegan. His intention was to reverse his heart disease by his diet. I had never heard of such a thing and was VERY skeptical. The book he gave me was Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.” Dr. Esselstyn, who is older than my father (but totally crush-worthy) was a surgeon, clinician and researcher at the Cleveland Clinic for more than 35 years. The guy knows hearts! And just as cool, he went vegan over 20 years ago, when most of us didn’t even know the term. His radical (but actually not so radical) philosophy is that we can abolish the heart disease epidemic by changing our diets. What an amazing notion! Who wouldn’t rather do that than undergo the pain and physical trauma of surgery, not to mention all the other health issues that go with being overweight/at risk for heart disease? The book goes into a lot of detail about this idea. When the book was given to me I thought it would be a fun read (I know I’m nerdy), but what I didn’t expect was how true to home it would hit. It got me really thinking about my own father. My dad, at 49, had quadruple open-heart surgery. At NO time did any doctor ever recommend a vegetarian/vegan diet to the man. In fact, when he had his first (of two) open heart surgeries, the staff tried to serve him a hamburger in recovery! Is it just me, or is that horrible? After reading Dr. Esselstyn’s book, I learned that if you change your diet and “follow a plant-based nutrition program to reduce your total cholesterol level to below 150mg/dl and the LDL level to less than 80 mg/dl, you cannot deposit fat and cholesterol into your coronary arteries.” In fact, Dr. Esselstyn goes on to say that “A person who maintains a blood cholesterol under 150 mg/dl for a lifetime will NOT develop coronary artery disease.” Why was this the first time I was hearing this? I mean, I thought I was pretty well read on the subject. I also just assumed I’d be one of millions of people taking Lipitor to lower my cholesterol. So, almost for kicks, I thought I would stop eating dairy and see what happened to my cholesterol. I had already been a vegetarian, so this wasn’t a big shift. I’m pleased to say that after just SEVEN weeks, my total cholesterol dropped 27 points! I laugh at myself because getting those test results were so exciting! All kidding aside, how great is THAT? Who knows how low it will go over the next year? When’s the last time you had yours tested? It’s important and takes just a few minutes. Plus, you can make corny vampire jokes to the phlebotomist.

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