I've always been interested in monitoring my cholesterol ever since my mother died from a heart attack aged just 45. I was 13 years old at the time. Watching your mother drop dead in front of you is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. So I knew that I had to look after my health and most importantly my heart. I would occasionally get my blood tested, and there never seemed to be a problem. It did spike once in 2006 up to 6.2*
In 2007 the reading was a great 4.4 so I let my guard down. I think this might have been a mistake. I believe now that this was a false reading and my cholesterol has been over 6 for a long time. The reason I believe this is it takes a LONG time to change your cholesterol levels. In fact there is evidence that you don't even need to fast for a cholesterol test, even thought they tell you too. Because the cholesterol from food, which might be in your blood, is different to the cholesterol that you need to worry about. The cholesterol we are concerned with is made in your liver. In fact eating foods high in cholesterol have virtually no effect on how much your liver produces, because your liver uses saturated fat to make the cholesterol your body needs. And your body does need it!
Cholesterol is vital for cell growth and repair. It does make me wonder if the reason people on statins suffer from muscle cramps and pain, is because their body isn't able to carry out the normal repairs to your cells due to the sudden drop in the cholesterol it needs. In fact if your cholesterol is too low it can actually cause major heart problems! It really is a balancing act.
So the reason why I think my reading in 2007 was wrong is because it dropped from 6.2 to 4.3 in just 6 months which is too fast. The next reading I had was in 2012. It was 6.2 again. So I have a feeling that it was always 6.2 and never went down. The moral is to test once a year at least. Every six months if you are actively trying to change it.
I picked up the regular testing again when my father died from vascular dementia. AKA lots of tiny strokes over a long period of time. Yet another reason to keep an eye on my health.
So in 2012 my doctor confirmed I was back at 6.2 but he didn't want to put me on statins. He feels that there are many side effects that could be worse than the cholesterol. And in his words "well we all have to die of something". He never did have a great bedside manner. But I was determined to make a difference and do something about it. With or without my doctors help.
My weight certainly wasn't and issue. I've never really been over weight. But in 2012 I did lose about 6kgs doing the Slow Carb diet as recommended by Tim Ferris. It got the weight off, but it didn't seem to be affecting my cholesterol. Admittedly I wasn't taking the supplements that he recommended, so that might be one of the reasons. It was also about this time I heard about the program on the BBC, horizon's "Eat, Fast and live longer". To be honest I didn't think much of it when my friend told me about it. But then I watched the program myself and was very interested. Not in the promises of weight loss, or reducing your chances of cancer, but that it has a strong effect on your cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL or bad cholesterol.
January 2013 I started the 5:2 fast diet**. Lets just say this up front, the first 6-8 weeks of doing this are REALLY HARD!!! The only thing that kept me doing it was, it was just twice a week, on split days. So I always knew, "Tomorrow I can eat pretty much what ever I want". That mantra is what kept me going.
I was already due to have another blood test in Feburary, so I only had about 4 weeks on the diet before I was tested again. The results came back 6.0. It had dropped a very small amount, but it had dropped. And don't forget cholesterol in your body takes a long time to adjust, so I was cautiously hopeful. So the game was really on now. I fact I wanted to step it up a little. My doctor wasn't going to give me any statins, they now look like they can cause diabetes too, so I was going to have to find other ways. He recommended yoghurt drinks, Benecol or Flora are the two most easily available in the supermarket. But I was sure that the was more I could do.
I re-read the sections on cholesterol in Tim Ferris' book the 4 Hour Body, and found that he puts most of the cholesterol lowering success down to just one supplement. So I bought 6 months supply of Policosanol. This isn't proved to be cholesterol lowering, but Tim thinks that this is because it wasn't used or tested correctly. He thinks that if you take just 20mg before bed it slows down the production of LDL in your liver over night. He says that most of the production happens over night so this is when the supplement is most effective. I'm not sure, but it didn't cost a fortune and apart from it giving me a bit of acid indigestion, it doesn't seem to have any side effects.
I'm already going to the gym 3 times a week so there wasn't much I could do there. Admittedly I wasn't doing much cardio, but nobody's perfect! I wouldn't even include this in my list of things to do to lower my cholesterol as in 2012 I was actually going to the gym 5 days a week! So that was clearly not changing anything for me.
My Cholesterol Graph
So drum roll please! I've just got the latest results back from the doctor......
- Total cholesterol - 5.6 down from 6.2 (recommended below 5.0)
- LDL bad - 3.51 down from 3.9 (recommended below 3.0)
- HDL good - 1.7 see below (recommended 0.9-2.0)
- Triglycerides - 0.9 up from 0.7 (recommended below 1.0)
My HDL went from 1.8 down to 1.55 but is now going back up 1.7, higher is generally better so I was a bit worried about the drop, but it's back on track now. Both HDL and Triglycerides are in the good range. Total and LDL are certainly going in the right direction!
So it does indeed seem like the steps I've taken to correct my levels are having the right effect, lowering my total and LDL cholesterol. Whilst increasing my HDL good cholesterol. I'll need to keep and eye on the triglycerides though and make sure they don't get too high.
These are the three main changes I made to get these results:-
- Fasting Mondays and Thursdays. Just 600 cals (sorry 500 for ladies!). Now consisting of just a small skinny latte for breakfast, then nothing but black coffee or green tea until dinner. At about 6pm I have half a carton of soup with extra ham or chicken added, a decent sized salad and maybe 2 small squares of chocolate. The rest of the week I just eat normally, which means healthy choices, mostly.
- Flora Proactive yogurts. Once a day with my main meal, when I remember!
- 20mg Policosanol at bed time.
There are a few of other smaller things that I did. These might have helped, but they weren't really significant changes in what I was doing already.
- Regular gym
- Using coconut oil occasionally for frying and scrambled eggs
- Larger potions of mixed nuts in my breakfast cereal 2-3 times a week
- No alcohol on fast days. I normally have at least one vodka and diet coke a day.
*6.2 will mean nothing to people in the USA as you measure your cholesterol on a different scale. (6.2 mmol/l = 239.75251 mg/dl) Suffice it to say that the NHS want you to have a level below 5.0 (5 mmol/l = 193.3488 mg/dl)
**You can often find the documentary online, but you might need to do a bit of googling if you can't get it to work.