There are two quotes that I find quite thought provoking by Dr. Kim Allan Williams, 2015 President of the American College of Cardiology and Chief of Cardiology, Rush University in Chicago:
- There are two kinds of cardiologists, vegans and those who haven’t read the data.
- I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want it to be my fault.
With those statements in mind, let me share with you my story: I’ve always eaten healthfully…..or so I thought. Lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I ate little fast food, no sodas, no fried foods, no packaged foods from the store (chips, cookies, baked goods like muffins, donuts, etc), and little red meat. Fish and skinless chicken breasts were my main animal protein sources, along with skim milk. So, I was surprised to have a total cholesterol (TC) over 200 when I was 25 years old. I was nursing my first child at the time, so the doctor attributed it to that.
Over the years though, my TC has always been somewhere around 200 (or 20 points higher) with my LDL somewhere between 110 and 130. This was annoying to me because I certainly didn’t eat junk food, and my husband, who routinely eats chips, cheese, cookies and red meat has a total cholesterol of 150 – 160.
In October 2015, I was eating a lot of fish (including salmon), macadamia nuts and olive oil. The last two foods were for calories, because my diet was still pretty limited due to food intolerance issues. At that time, I had a TC of 229 and a LDL of 139, which caused my cardiologist to frown and it is never a good thing to have a cardiologist frown; especially my cardiologist! So, it was time to cut out the salmon (my mercury levels were high anyway so fish had to be drastically reduced or eliminated.) (See my post on Seafood, Mercury and Me if interested on my mercury journey.) I dropped the macadamia nuts and essentially stopped using olive oil except for very small amounts on rare occasions.
As a result, in March 2016, I had a TC of 166 (lowest ever) and a LDL of 99 (also lowest ever). I was essentially following a vegan diet with little to no olive oil and no other added fats (eg nuts or avocado). It was interesting to see my TC and LDL go from their highest to lowest levels ever in 5 months time.
In April 2016, I had to eat a low fiber diet (then a clear liquid diet) for a colonoscopy. In order to keep my calories up, I chose to eat some cheese (4 ounces total of string cheese), some cream cheese, salmon and some olive oil. I ate these foods for two days. Ten or so days after eating those foods, I had a lipid panel run and the TC had bumped up to 175 and the LDL to 111! It is shocking to me how eating such a small amount of fat can raise my lipid levels! I guess I’m one of the really sensitive people….. meaning I have to eat a fairly strict vegan, low / no added oil diet to have healthy lipid levels!
If you are like me and want to change your diet, here are some resources to get you started:
- American Heart Association
- A Way to Reverse CAD? (journal article)
- Dr. Fuhrman’s website (mostly vegetarian)
- Dr. McDougall’s website (vegan-starch based)
- Dr. Ornish’s website (mostly vegetarian)
- Dr. Kim Williams, president of the American College of Cardiology (2015), recommends a plant based diet for heart health. See the Heal Thyself article in the University of Chicago Magazine, the Forks over Knives article, the Medpage Today article and the NY Times article
- Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
If you are interested in success stories of people who have turned their health around by changing their diet, check out the links below. One thing stands out: it is never too late to start a heart healthy diet! And while you may be prone to high cholesterol readings (like I am) your genes don’t have to dictate your labs. Your diet can make a difference!!
- Dr. Esselstyn’s website
- Dr. McDougall’s online discussion board
- Dr. Ornish’s website
- Forks over Knive’s website
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s website
Most people do have success improving their lipid levels by changing their diet. The bottom line is you’ll never know if it will work for you unless you try it! Some (like me) have to be more strict (really strict) to get reasonable lab readings, but for me it is totally worth it! My cardiologist is smiling again and that makes me smile! 🙂
High lipid levels aren’t my only health concern….Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a real drag (literally), as are food intolerance issues. But if I can manage my lipid levels via diet, that is one less health concern for me!
Some laboratories offer patient ordered tests (which are not covered by insurance). My local Sonora Quest lab offers such testing. This can be helpful if you want to track your progress or you want lab results before your doctor visit. Check with your local lab to see if they offer this service.
How about you? Are you ready to follow Dr. Williams advice and see how a dietary change can affect your lipid levels? You’ll never know unless you try. I encourage you to do it! Let your doctor know your plans and go for it!