Defying the doctors orders about cholesterol

Disagreeing with your doctor can be tricky business.

Now I’m a bacon and eggs man. Love them and where I work they’re on tap. I’ve always been able to eat pretty much whatever I like without any problems and at nearly 60 years old, I considered myself to be in okay shape.

My favourite breakfast to cook up every morning for about the last year or so consisted of a slab of sourdough bread with a good lashing of butter, two fried eggs, topped with cheese, bacon, avocado and a cappuccino. For lunch I’d always have a tuna salad or vegetables I’d pre-prepared thinking I was balancing out the bacon and eggs. Along with that as the day went on I’d probably also have another cappuccino or two, a piece of cake, chocolate or chips or all three.

For dinner, because I work away from home, I’d usually head down to the local seafood restaurant for my favourite crumbed prawn cutlets and chips washed down with a beer. All in all, not a really bad diet but not all that good either.

My job doesn’t allow me the opportunity to get much exercise and working 12-15 hours a day takes its toll. On my days off though I try and surf whenever I can and am not overweight by any means, so I look healthy enough. Just over two months ago, I went for my annual checkup to a relatively new doctor I’d seen only once before. He checked my blood pressure exclaiming that it was unbelievable and that I have the blood pressure of a child, then took it again just to double check.

After all the regular checks were done he gave me a clean bill of health and sent me off for blood tests saying he will only call me if anything unusual turns up in the bloods, but that he doesn’t expect anything to show.

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So it was unexpected that one week later I got a call from the receptionist asking me to come in ASAP for an appointment with the doctor. As I sat down he pulled up my results and informed me that my cholesterol was through the roof, (cholesterol 7.4 triglyceride 2.2 HDL 1.34 LDL 5.1 Chol/HDL Ratio 5.5), which I must admit came as a shock as I’d never had any major health issues before whatsoever.

His next statement was just as disturbing. He said: “I am going to prescribe you some drugs, which you are going to have to take for the rest of your life”. Then, “I take them and can’t survive without them and if you take them I guarantee you will live longer. ”

Now I’m sure this guy is a good doctor in many ways and has helped a lot of people over the years but I walked out of there, my new prescription in hand, thinking, hang on, shouldn’t he be asking questions like ‘what’s your diet like?’ or ‘do you exercise?’.

The thought of having to take drugs for the rest of my life just isn’t me and I had a pretty good idea of what was causing my cholesterol levels to spike. I did some research, asked around, got some advice, which pretty much boiled down to the two extremes: “Take the drugs it’s easier and If you don’t take the drugs you’ll die” and “Your body is a temple, treat it like one”. For me it was a no brainer and so for the next two months till my follow up blood test, I decided to make a change.

I cut out all dairy, sugar and processed food of any kind. The bacon and eggs were replaced with porridge topped with berries, banana and one long black coffee. Lunch was salad or vegetables with salmon or sardines, sometimes in a wholemeal wrap.

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Dinner consisted of salad or lightly sautéd vegetables with lots of garlic, ginger, coriander and lime juice and maybe a small piece of fish and a glass of red wine. If I ever got hungry in between meals, I’d usually snack on some roasted nuts or avocado and tomato on rice crackers, or fruit.

I also substituted butter for a healthier margarine, which I used for cooking as well. I also started exercising regularly, sometimes for just 15 minutes per day but longer if possible; just basic stuff like push-ups, squats and sit ups. On my days off, I’d walk more and do more intense exercise if I wasn’t surfing.

I must admit though during this whole process, I did allow myself the odd treat, like a beer at a party or a small lean steak if eating out for dinner, but found after I wished I’d had a glass of red or the fish instead. 

So two months later, I go back in for a follow up blood test. I hand the nurse my form, she looks at it and says: “So you’ve been taking 20mg of Crestor for the last two months”. I look up at her and a bit sheepishly say, “Well … No”. “So your doing it with diet and exercise,” she replied. “Good on you. So many people are on this drug that don’t need to be.”

A week later after the follow up blood test, I’m back at the doctor’s surgery with a nasty cold. He’s giving me a prescription when I ask: “By the way, what were the results of my blood test?” He looks them up and tells me, “All good. Your levels are back to normal”. He then continues to say the drugs are working fine and that to achieve these kind of levels just through diet would be some kind of super-human feat and almost impossible.

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He then wrote me a new prescription for double the dose of cholesterol drugs I was supposed to be taking. I decided not to bother telling him I haven’t taken the drugs he prescribed as he was so adamant that it was the only way to go and I didn’t feel like getting into an argument with him. I also understand that for some people the reality is that drugs are the only option.

Now I’m not one to knock the medical profession at all and God knows they come in handy when you need them most. My own daughter is a highly-regarded critical care nurse and we should all appreciate what they do for us a little more than we do.

Suffice to say though, I think I might change doctors. 

After two months of what may seem to some as a strict diet and exercise regime, I can honestly say I feel a lot better and healthier (apart from my current cold) and the diet and exercise has become a normal part of my daily routine. The exercise is a lot easier than it was at the start and the meals take me literally no more than 10 minutes to prepare. This has worked for me and I hope my story may inspire others who have to deal with the issue of high cholesterol at some stage of their lives.