13 March 2009

Nothing but a heartache

Went up to Belfast this week to see a few friends, one over from the UK to run an international workshop drawing lessons from Ulster on conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation (great timing), and the other from Dublin who has been living in the North for a while now working on his PhD. It was good to see them both, the only downside being that we didn't spend nearly enough time with either.

On the train up there I got a call from my Doctor with some follow up results from a few blood tests I had. I woke up three weeks ago and thought to myself, "now that you are in your mid thirties, maybe you should start getting regular checkups", and so that very day I did. Everything came back normal, except that is for my cholesterol.

This was a surprise.

I went out yesterday and picked up "Controlling Cholesterol for Dummies", surprised that the largest bookshop in Dublin had scores of books on diabetes, but of the three they had on cholesterol the Dummies book was actually the best. Unfortunately the book really isn't going to help me, containing as it does many useful tips including cutting down on fatty meats and full-fat dairy products, stopping smoking and reducing your alcohol intake. Great general advice but unfortunately I am a) a vegetarian and have been for eight years, b) lactose-intolerant, c) have never smoked and d) would average less than three units of alcohol in any given two week period.

The book recommends eating lots of vegetables, raw, steamed or boiled, or if fried then in a rapeseed or safflower oil, again, this is pretty much my day-to-day diet. It advises that "continually drinking five cups of press-brewed coffee or 15 espressos a day may raise your cholesterol", but unfortunately I have one cappuccino in the morning with soy-milk and if I drank 15 espressos every day high cholesterol would be the least of my problems. My Body Mass Index is fine (admittedly at the upper limit of fine) and my blood pressure today was 120/82.

All of this and yet my total cholesterol is still 6.9, my HDL is 1.3 and my LDL is astonishingly 4.69. These are levels normally found only in chain smoking obese alcoholic pensioners*.

I went to the internet to find out about what vegetarians can do to lower their cholesterol, and all that came back was a number of unanswered questions posted to forums and Answers sites along the lines of, "hey, I just got back from the doctor and found out I have high cholesterol, but I'm a vegetarian - what can I do about that?".


The problem is that only 20% of cholesterol comes from your food, and 80% is produced by the liver. You can substantially effect the cholesterol intake from your food, but there is not much outside of medication that you can do to reduce what your liver produces. If, like me, you already live a low-cholesterol lifestyle, then basically the problem is all the fault of your parents and their crappy genes.

While a worse diet would certainly speed me towards the pearly gates, there is little more that I could do by changing my current behavior. I have almost nothing left to give up. I can try and reduce my cholesterol intake through taking stanols that soak up the cholesterol in your intestine before it gets absorbed by the body (the stuff in Benecol), or through taking oils high in Omega 3,6 and 9 that break down deposited saturated fat. But aside from getting more exercise, and unless I'm willing to start taking Lipitor for the rest of my life, apparently there's really nothing more that can be done.

Which is poo.

While on the scale of genuine problems that my friends have faced in recent years, this is really quiet minor, it still is freaking me out a bit.**

* okay, not quite, but they are dangerously high and indicate a 2% chance of a heart attack within the next ten years, which is not nice.

** especially that 2% thing.

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At 12:47 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

That is so completely rancid. I was sorry to hear.
Well done for going and getting it all checked out - I think that is fantastic. But facing possibly taking drugs forever is nasty.
Regarding diet change and stuff - we have some books on low cholesterol cooking - if you would like I can bring them up to loan you. The big difference I found was in amounts of oil and butter (obviously eggs and cheese and stuff too) but in terms of my everyday dinner-making - there was a big difference in the amount of oil you can use, which I found hard to adjust to - I obviously use a lot more! One recommendation was to make your own oil spray - instead of buying one - mix 7 parts water with 1 part oil in a sprayer bottle to use for frying and roasting and stuff.
I was trying to cook low-cholesterol meals for dad and by doing that realised I eat quite a lot of fats...not just in lemon cakes but in what I would have thought of as totally healthy vegetarian wholefood dinners too!
Obviously your body is just not dealing with cholesterol well, but I wouldn't give up hope on dietary changes making a difference - if your diet is anything like mine.

At 11:35 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

good to see ya too bruv! woo, i'm famous...on yer blog.
an shit one bout the cholesterol..all that whiskey prolly didn't help much either :D

on a totally unrelated note this might be interesting:


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