I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Genetics and numbers

The Sixlings, March 2011
I was going to write more about travels in China, but that's not what I've been thinking about this week, so here it is: numbers. Cholesterol and lipid numbers, to be exact. Our parents are possibly at fault, but I've simply got to find out how to get my cholesterol under control. This is a picture of my siblings, with me as the oldest on the left, then Norma Jean, PJ, my only brother Buz, and baby sisters Markee and Fia. (Baby Markee just turned fifty.)

Last week Norma Jean had gone to get her cholesterol checked and was disappointed with the results. Both of us had read a book positing that higher doses of vitamin C and lysine would help to lower these numbers (along with good diet, of course) and we both began a regimen that we hoped was the answer to the genetic predisposition our parents gave us. Since both my mother and father didn't have statins available to them, they both had high cholesterol when they died (very high, in the 400-500 range) and heart disease is rampant in our family. Every single one of the six of us are on statins for high cholesterol.

Back in January when I went to the doctor's office and found that my cholesterol was elevated (total 246), I decided to go on a diet to lose the ten pounds I had gained since the previous checkup. I was very successful, losing fifteen pounds, to be exact, and feeling better than I have in years. I get more exercise than many seniors, I'd say, and on Thursday I went to see my doctor, confident that my numbers would have improved. Friday I had my blood drawn while fasting.

Thanks to the miracle of the PeaceHealth online connection, that very afternoon I got an email saying that my test results were available, and I pulled up the page with confidence — and was crushed when I saw the numbers. Total cholesterol is UP to 259, with my good cholesterol (HDLs) have dropped from 77 to 65. That's still good, of course, but I've been exercising more this past summer than I have in years, having added swimming and getting in extra hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. And to top it off, my triglycerides have doubled from 79 to 141! I don't eat ANY simple carbohydrates and that just floored me. Granted, I had never had such low triglycerides before, as they usually run right around 100.

So, color me disappointed too. I spent Friday night waking up, tossing and turning and wondering what I have been doing wrong. The doctor's notation was also on the test results, and I saw that he will be suggesting to me that I double my dose of simvastatin (Zocor) from 20 to 40. He wrote that I should just take two tablets instead of one every evening until they are gone, and then he'll give me a prescription. He hasn't called me yet, then again that was just two days ago, but I immediately began to take two and will have my blood drawn again in three months to see how I'm tolerating the higher dose.

Genetics is probably the reason for all these numbers being elevated, but I remembered that years ago I decided to try the Dean Ornish diet for heart disease. He wrote a book in 1992 called Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease and I jumped on the bandwagon, following everything to the letter. The short version of the diet is to limit simple carbohydrates completely, concentrating on complex carbs, with small amounts of protein and fat. I lost weight then, too, but when I had my blood drawn, my numbers were sky high, and I was twenty years younger, too. My doctor at the time told me that some people have a strong genetic predisposition to what she called "hyperlipidemia" and that statins would lower my numbers, and she was right. So I'm now doubling my statin drugs and hoping for the best.

The actual diet that helped me the most is the South Beach diet, which is what I follow pretty closely. The way I lost the weight I had gained last year is to start to count my calorie intake, as I had gotten more and more cavalier about portion size and the weight just crept up. I knew I had stashed my favorite pants had in the back of my closet since they no longer fit, but I figured it was simple aging. I'm proudly wearing them again, though, and I'd like to keep the weight from coming back.

My genetics is probably the reason I've got these numbers, but I will never stop trying to find a natural way to lower them. I feel stronger and better with the vitamin C and lysine, so I'll keep on doing that, but striving to find the diet that will keep these numbers all within normal parameters without drugs... maybe it's possible. So far, the statins are my only hope to avoid heart disease.


Far Side of Fifty said...

It is really hard to fight genetics. I believe you will be at the dosage limit with the Zocor too..do not miss that blood test in three months.
In my opinion you are doing the best you can..and there are some things you just cannot control.
My cholesterol went down along with my blood pressure when I stopped drinking coffee:)

Rubye Jack said...

I don't know why but my cholesterol is always quite low. The only thing out of the ordinary I do is, I don't eat meat, eat tofu and drinks lots of non-fat organic milk. I am overweight and get little exercise and so think it indeed has much to do with genetics.

Grandmother Mary said...

My husband does it all well and his genetics are against him too, necessitating statins which now keep his numbers good. My cholesterol is high because my good cholesterol is 110, so I don't have to do anything about it. My 95 year old Dad has the same pattern. Still, doing all those good things for yourself and controlling your weight is an excellent idea for many other reasons. So keep it up.

Anonymous said...

DJan, the number you should focus on is your LDL, which should be less than 100.

Also, your LDL/HDL Risk Factor (RCHDR) should be less than 3.5.

I don't see why you should stress over your Triglyceride. Your score should be less than 150, which it is.

My doctor told me he does not consider the Total Cholesterol important, because the score could be affected by a high HDL score, which yours is. HDL is supposed to be higher than 39.

Doctor said he is more concerned about LDL. What is your score for LDL? You didn't say.

It is too bad your test scores did not also show the standard range for each test. Mine did.

DJan said...

Well, Gigi, I didn't, did I? But it's 171, up from 156 last January. My ratio is less than 3.5, but not by much. Triglycerides are lipids, too, and a high number is an indication of incipient heart disease.

Anonymous said...

Wow, 171. And the standard score for LDL is supposed to be less than 100. I can see why you are concerned, especially after deliberately increasing exercise and losing weight. Life is so unfair. Hope you have better results with the increased dosage for statins.

Rita said...

You are doing everything you can with the diet and exercise. Sometimes genetics are just against you-true. I know you'd rather do it naturally, but if you have to take the pills, so be it. I hope they work for you.

Remember--just think how high your parents numbers were! You are nowhere near those levels. So you are ahead of the game. And all the other things you do are positive in so many other ways you aren't counting. The hiking and swimming and walking make your heart stronger in the first place and help your body in numerous other ways. You have said how much stronger you have felt and how just plain good you have been feeling. Don't let the numbers get you down, lady! :):)

Red said...

I really admire how you stick to the diet and keep the weight off. It's the pits when genetic factors dish out high choesterol. My wife is one of the 100lbs soaking wet types and has high cholesterol. I have some extra pounds and my cholesterol is in the normal range. She says not fair!

Linda Myers said...

I have a stepdaughter who runs marathons. When she was 37 her cholesterol was very high. Statins were the only solution for her. It's about genetics.

CiCi said...

All I can say is why don't you read the book Wheat Belly by Dr. Davis?

CrazyCris said...

Cholesterol runs rampant in my family as well, but I don't think that badly. I've been on a low-cholesterol diet since a pre-teen because that was how my dad cooked! Sadly living on my own and no logner thinking aout it means the levels are up (but within limits). You remind me that I should start taking it more seriously given the family history.

Hope your doctor has some insight into why your numbers have increased this year!

LilliStJohn said...

Very Interesting Post D-Jan
One cannot fight genetics. You are in great shape, coming and going with a few pounds here n there. You exercise like nobody's business and it's not what you are eating or drinking - it's just genetics. I hope the doubling of your prescription works - you have tried so hard and I certainly can understand the disappointment - just know you are doing everything you are supposed to do.
You are the healthiest senior I know anywhere, with all your activity, etc
Don't allow yourself to be upset with the cholesterol being high, or allow yourself to get stressed out, cause that alone will contribute to "things going up the chart". Keep doing what you are doing and take it from there. BOL
p.s. you are right, Past Halloweens; I did add the footnote after receiving your note. Thanks kiddo - :)

Sally Wessely said...

I think you have much to be very happy about. You have lost weight and feel healthy. That is a good thing. You pursue healthy activities. You have not had any serious health incidents. You don't ever complain of arthritis or other joint problems.

On the other hand, I can imagine how the test results on the cholesterol really must have taken the wind out of your sails. Thankfully, cholesterol is not one of my issues. (Although, it has been high when my thyroid is off.) It just seems that this is an inherited trait. In my family, it is diabetes. I am currently fight a slide into numbers that were not good.

Hopefully, the Zocor will work and those numbers will really come down.

Bragger said...

I am also frustrated with the whole cholesterol thing. The two times I've been told I had high cholesterol were both following significant weight loss. Bah.

Have you heard of the DASH Diet? It's supposed to lower both BP and cholesterol naturally.

Gigi said...

Considering the heart disease and my poor diet I should be more concerned. It sounds like you are doing everything you can - just keep doing it.

Don't let the numbers get you down. Focus on how great you feel.

Trish said...

DJan - my husband has genetically high cholesterol and was able to lower his by 40 points by eating black beans at least once a day.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I just heard today that hawthorne products are supposed to help with those numbers. One can buy capsules at the usual places, but a good herbalist would know a lot more about how to use them, or tea, or whatever else there is.

Friko said...

Problems, problems.

Cheese is a great culprit, as are beef and pork. I try to limit my meat intake and eat lots more oily fish instead, but I love a good steak.

Luckily I am lactose intolerant, so no dairy for me. My readings are a little higher than I'd like but I can't take statins. They don't agree with me.

I try not to worry too much, try to keep my weight within normal/ish limits. My downfall are chocolates and biscuits. I dread Christmas, I tend to overeat for a whole month.

Good luck to all of us.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Five or six years ago I was diagnosed with some outrageous numbers. Some of us just produce the gummy stuff. I refused to go on medication.

I spent my summer vacation workin' my mmmmm off and changed my diet. I added tons of fiber, used Promise Take Control spread, fish oil tabs and used the heart association diet as a guideline. Before I returned to the classroom I had my numbers under control. Droppin' 25 pounds was just the icin' on the cake!

Hubs used the fish oil and added Read Yeast Rice tables from the Health Food Store to get his down. Oh yeah...I'm pretty strict with what he puts in his mouth too! Heeeeehhehe!

God bless ya and have an extraordinary day sweetie!!!

California Girl said...

Jan that is so frustrating especially with all the healthy things you do. I don't know much about cholesterol issues although I just read the first comment by Far Side of Fifty and she mentions discontinuing coffee. I have heard that helps. Course, if you aren't drinking it already, well...

Sandi said...

Djan, I can't add anything to the numerous comments you have received that would be helpful! But, I do hope the meds work wonders and you are feeling more balanced with the cholesterol issue.

You certainly live right, eat right and by golly, those numbers should be down!

Thanks for your words of encouragement today!

Mom On The Edge said...

It is so good to be aware of genetics. It gives us information about our possibilities to developig certain things. I always remind myself I don't HAVE to follow the same path. First woman in generations to NOT get migraines!!! Now if I could just will myself to be a little taller...