Pleased but pissed about my cholestersol blood test results


I’m pleased and also pissed with my cholesterol (lipid profile) results that came in just yesterday.

I have a family history of cardiac disease. My father, Chester, died at age 72 from heart failure after several cardiac attacks severely compromised the last six years of his life. His father died when my father was a baby. My maternal grandfather died at age 57 when I was three. On the positive side, my mother, Isabel, is 88 years old, on no meds, is very independent, and had bought herself two tons of beach stones on her last birthday. She spread them around her gardens herself, with a shovel and wheelbarrow.

To date, I have chosen to be closely monitored for signs of the disease, with thirty year list of figures in columns than I keep in a manila file.

Last fall I became concerned when daily morning readings of my pulse rate were recording results between the high 40’s to low 50’s. I was asymptomatic, not having any fainting experiences. I had also recorded the highest LDL cholesterol level on a previous blood test, one that was taken right after I had returned from a 2500 mile 5 month hike over the Rockies on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. I had suspected that the high reading was due to the fact that I was eating a raft of total junk food for months on end: potato chips, french fries cheese, and fats, fats, fats.

My physician was not that concerned. She did not suggest a Statin, nor was she concerned about my low heart rate, which she felt was an aspect of a high level of fitness for my age. Nevertheless she suggested that I get a second opinion from a cardiologist, and made the referral which I followed up on.

The tech in the cardiologist’s office was doing the intake before I saw the doctor. She turned to me after reading my data and asked me, “ Why aren’t you on a statin?” At the time I didn’t want to retort with the fact that I knew that statins have quickly become most successful class of drugs in history, generating more money in the United States every year than all professional sports combined, or that in the less than 20 years that Statins have been around, over 1,000 publications have discussed their toxicity.

By the time I was out of there, the cardiologist told me I had a 15% risk of having CDV (cardiovascular disease). He had even noted a small fold line in my right earlobe as a factor. Although I was unwilling to make a final decision at the time, he handed me a prescription for Lipitor, and encouraged me to go right out and put it on my shelf for later (implying after I had smartened up). He told me my risk should be 7.4% or lower.

I asked the doctor about any non-drug options, and he handed me single sheet that listed a raft of dietary changes and supplements. He claimed that some of his clients had reduced their LDL reading by 40% by following this protocol.
It leaned heavily on reducing dietary sources of cholesterol: red meat, cheese, trans fats, potatoes, sugar, and increasing the consumption of plants, especially soy products, and nuts. I was encouraged to ingest fish oils, a small bar of chocolate, and a red yeast extract.
He also recommended that I eat Quorn three times a week at least. Quorn is mostly made of mushrooms. Quorn is a highly processed product that includes Textured Vegetable Protein as an ingredient. TVP is composed of artificial and natural flavors, MSG, colorings, emulsifiers and thickening agents, including nitrosamine, which is a carcinogen. I wondered why actual mushrooms were not listed as a food to consume rather than Quorn.
He also gave me another sheet that had listed several pharmaceutical products, like Smart Balance butter, that I should start eating. There were several pills suggested in this category as well. At the same pharmacy where I bought the Lipitor, I asked the pharmacist what shelves held these “ healthy heart” products. He told me they didn’t carry any, and when he volunteered to order me what I needed, he got on the computer and informed me that several of the items on the cardiologist’s list were no longer available. He then remembered reading that they didn’t pan out, that the principle behind those products didn’t hold up, and that he thought that the FDA had some role to play in it.

My lipid numbers have always gone up and down. However, this new set is the best I’ve ever recorded. My Total cholesterol reading dropped under the magic 200 number for the first time of my life. My HDL Cholesterol is safely planted at 68 mg/dl, as is my Triglycerides reading of 65. All three figures are listed as within the Standard Range on the message I just received from the hospital. The sole outlier is my LDL Cholesterol Direct reading of 123, which is over the 57-99 Standard Range.

Here’s what I am pissed about:
1) If I enter my figures and calculate my chances of being alive in 10 years with the newly updated Cardiac Risk Assistant, then it’s 7.4%. However, if I calculate it tomorrow, on my birthday, it goes up to 8.4%. What changed about me at 12:00 AM when I turned 65, in addition to picking up Medicare?

2) A search on the NYTImes website indicates that my 123 HDL reading fall within the Near Optimal (100 – 129 mg/dL) range on their summary table.

3) My cardiologist’s recommendations now appear to go against the latest info that just came out.
From February 12, 2015-Patrick J. Skerrett, Executive Editor, Harvard Health
“Warnings against eating foods high in cholesterol, like eggs or shrimp, have been a mainstay of dietary recommendations for decades. That could change if the scientific advisory panel for the 2015 iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has its say.
A summary of the committee’s December 2014 meeting says, ‘Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.’ Translation: You don’t need to worry about cholesterol in your food.
Why not? There’s a growing consensus among nutrition scientists that cholesterol in food has little effect on the amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. And that’s the cholesterol that matters.”

4) If was living in my homeland, Poland, or any other European country. I’d be considered healthy.
Here’s what I picked up from a web search for: “What do European doctors say about our guidelines for statins?”
“About 1 in 5 people who take them develop some problem, often just muscle pains and weakness but sometimes diabetes and probably thinking and memory problems. The new recommendations released in 2013 by the American Heart Association would have us encourage the majority of people over the age of 65 to take these drugs, as well as quite a few health younger people.
Since drug companies are major players in funding research on statins, we may never get truly unbiased information about their risks and benefits. Healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking are far more powerful ways to reduce risk of heart attack and overall death and disability due to all causes, but advertising this makes nobody any money. It is possible that guidelines which increase the use of statins will also make us just a little weaker, achier, stupid and diabetic.”
Medical procedures are now politically influenced.

Fast Walking: Know Pain, Know Gain – take 2

In 2013, I reblogged a health article about the benefits of fast walking.
”The most encouraging news embedded in the new study is that longevity rises with small improvements in pace. The walkers in Category 3, for instance, moved at a speed only a minute or so faster per mile than some of those in the slowest group, but they enjoyed a significant reduction in their risk of dying prematurely.”

It’s now 2015, where chapter two in the book, The Brain That Change Itself, discusses updated research and clinical applications of more rapid walking. index

In 1998, Frederik Gage discovered that fast walking produced new cells in the human hippocampus, the area of the brain that play a key role in producing new cells to replace those that had died, just as the liver, skin, blood, and other organs are able to do. The theory put forth made perfect sense to me. From Doidge’s book:” Growth happens because in a natural setting, extensive fast walking occurs when an animal is venturing into a new, different environment requiring exploration and new learning, sparking what Gage calls “anticipatory proliferation.”

Months of my own long-distance, often rapid walking lead me to believe that my own theory of fast walking is on track with this current information base. I view rapid walking as an activity that triggers a form of mammilian “flight or fight” response. In this enhanced state, our fretting minds are quieted by the biological electro-mechinations that accompany a gait that produces these remarkable surges of cell growth that can only occur when we move from sauntering to speeding up our pace.

Winter Into Spring

I’m blessed by having friends who walk outside in the winter. The picture below illustrates just how varied the modes of outdoor travel become this time of year: bikes, skis, snowshoes, toboggans, boots, and traction devices.

Comrades on the winter trails

Comrades on the winter trails

Three successive days of walking on local trails just culminated with exiting the Camden Hills State Park. IMG_4468 It’s the warmest morning in over a month, finally above freezing, and instead of the anticipated 6-10 inches of new snow from this weekends storm, it’s raining now.

Rime snow obscures  blue blazes

Rime snow obscures blue blazes

Who cares ? I sure don’t, because after a mere two miles of slopping over the snow pack, I’ll be heading home to dry myself out by the glowing coals of the wood fire.

In 2015, I’m orienting my outdoor life to align with several goals I set for myself: hiking 1,000 miles in Maine, and walking or biking 365 hours. An hour a day average.

I’m also working on snowshoeing all 30 miles of trail here in the Camden Hills. I’m now down to just five miles more.

Surprise! Did you know that Tanglewood 4-H Camp is located on Camden Hills State Park land ? I didn’t. So I need to strap on the snowshoes and walk or ski 8 miles of trail over there, where the stunning 1.1 Ducktrap River Trail is the featured attraction.

Conflict emerges.

I want to focus on winter biking more than snowshoeing. It’s March 15th today, and when this almost-spring sunlight beams loud and clear the snow melts quickly. We lost six inches of snow cover on one of the few bright, sunny days that unfolded last week.

I need to make like a sugar maple and hope for below freezing nights and warm sunny days in order to keep my personal force flowing.

I dream of riding over frozen snow and skittering down the Cameron Mountain descent just one more time. IMG_0022

Where To Play Outdoors in Midcoast Maine This Week


What's up for today?

What’s up for today?

The yearly ritual of turning back of clocks today came with the a clear turn toward Spring, which officially arrives this year at 6:45 pm March 20. The light is different now. It’s clearer, warmer as the longer days arrive, and still below freezing every single night.

It’s a banner year for cold, school storm days, and especially for snow accumulation. There is thee to four feet of snow on local trails, and even higher depths at elevation.

Bruce Bicknell storming up the Ridge Trail

Bruce Bicknell storming up the Ridge Trail

While struggling up the steepest sections of Ridge Trail in Camden Hills State Park on Saturday, my extended Leki trekking poles went all the way up to the hand grips before the connected with solid ground.

I was able to do it all this week: snowshoe hikes, bike rides on the snow and ice, and even a run on a clear tar road where I didn’t have to fear a slip or fall on the ice, which had finally melted.

High Street toward Levensellar Mountain

High Street toward Levensellar Mountain

Several places are really prime right now. For skiers and snowshoe fans, you can’t beat the conditions in Camden Hills State park.   Regular snowmobile grooming on the Multipurpose/ Ski Lodge trail has put a packed surface of deep snow down for foot ( and bike) traffic.

The sheer number of people out and about has also packed down several of the side trails.

On Saturday, Bruce and I were able to walk without snowshoes all the way up the Carriage and then Tableland Trails to the intersection of Jack Williams where we donned snowshoes to break the untraveled 1.7 miles of that route. A slight inconvenience that is not a problem in the summer is the nearly constant pushing aside of small branches from my face. it’s because there is so much snow on the trails that you are actually elevated three to four feet above into a canopy that’s normally overhead.

Here’s a Google map rendition of a sixteen mile winter mountain biking route that I took yesterday, with this graphic provided by John Anders, a local bike trail building force. AndersGoogle

To orient, the blue line intersecting Route 173 is at the Stevens Corner parking lot.  Frohock Mountain is just to the left, Bald Rock Mountain is to the right, with the largest mass of Megunticook touching Penobscot Bay below.  The  blue line is all trail. Most of the traveling that we did in the foreground is impossible in any season but winter, unless you have a canoe, or an amphibious vehicle, as it is Swamp Thing country.

Pace line over Coleman Pond

Pace line over Coleman Pond: Eric, Andre, and Buck

Maiden’s Cliff is packed down, especially the left turn route up to the Millerite Ledges.

Maiden's Cliff  overlooking Megunticook Lake

Maiden’s Cliff overlooking Megunticook Lake

The road walk up to the top of 800′ Mount Battie from the Route 1 parking lot is plowed and the pavement is almost 100% clear right now.

Cameron Mountain is really easy to get to,  and serviced by many snowmobiles each day, packing that trail solid.

Descending Cameron Mtn.

Descending Cameron Mtn.

Drive on up to Tanglewood 4- H camp and ski the Road in from the parking lot/kiosk.  it’s groomed and packed solid.  The Ducktrap River trail, starting at the suspension bridge, looks great for skiing.


If you decide to head out into the woods this week in Lincolnville, do remember that’s it’s still pretty wild out there. Bring a day pack that can keep you going ( food and water), keep you warm ( dry extra clothes), keep you on track ( map, compass, and GPS), and keep you alive if you run out of daylight (warm clothing, fire starting devices, bivy sack).

Check out what’s in my present winter day pack, if you need some ideas.

If you exhaust the possibilities in and around the Camden Hills, you can also head up to Acadia, which now has it’s own Guthook’s Hiking Guide app for the iPhone/iPad available within his New England Hiker app.

Screen shot

Screen shot

You Think Your Winter Was Rough?

These guys are the real deal. They just completed the first winter traverse of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Nick Kristof sometimes writes about his own hikes on the PCT. I was surprised to see the Pacific Crest Trail showing up strong in the New York Times.

Trauma is sporting the exact same Granite Gear pack that I have decided is the best for my own backpacking.

You Think Your Winter Was Rough? – <<—–

Be carrying these things! Snow/Winter Day Hike Packing List

After taking advice from some readers, I put together some much needed items for my next winter day hikes. With four feet of snow and more coming, It’s serious business out there, especially on trails that have not been packed down. Thanks to Bruce Bicknell, Blaine Curtis, Andre LeBlond, Rick Fowles, Craig Macintosh, Eric Olds, and Jason Buck for contributing useful suggestions.

What's in my winter day pack

What’s in my winter day pack

Snow/Winter Day Packing Checklist

( wearing and in pack)
Golite light wind jacket
Patagonia Puffball insulated pullover
Frostline down vest
Patagonia midweight wool hoodie
wool hat
boiled wool mittens
Softshell hiking pants
silk tights
midweight gloves
synthetic liner gloves
spare wool socks

ULA Catalyst

Food, including electrolytes

insulated sit pad
SOL Escape Bivy Sack
trekking poles
3 fire sources: lighter, waterproof matches, magnesium striker
Mora knife in sheath w/ lanyard
headlamp w/extra batteries and bulb
32 oz. water bottle with insulated cover
compass with neck lanyard
Maine Yearly Parks Pass
eTrex 30 GPS  with fresh/spare batteries
sunglasses with retainers ( Chums, etc.)
first-aid kit
chemical heat packs
stuff sacks
assorted zipper-lock bags
sunscreen (SPF 15+)
lip balm (SPF 15+)
toilet paper
loud whistle
extra reading glasses
magnesium/ potassium tablets in case of cramping
iPhone, Lightning/USB cable, Anker external battery

Total weight:  9 pounds (without food or water).

Dark Night on Snowshoes

I just spent much more time snowshoeing than I cared to.  I planned to walk for about two and a half, but ended up putting in 5 hours in Camden Hills State Park, where unusually deep snow obscured the Sky Blue Trail.

I knew the snow was deep out there.

Outside my bathroom window

Outside my bathroom window

Last week, by friend Bruce and I spent some collective trail finding out on the Park’s Frohock Trail, and now there’s at least another 15” of snow on top of the record breaking 4 feet of pack.  Here’s the view out my bathroom window right now.

I wanted to get going by 2 pm, but misadventures in the Steven’s Corner lot pushed my start time back close to an hour.  The lot was not plowed, with only a lonely Subaru wagon that had pushed it’s way in there when I arrived.  I tried to get in with my Voyager, but almost got stuck and quickly backed out back to Youngtown Road.  Then I grabbed my shovel and went at it, removing snow quickly with my shovel-the snow was light and fluffy still. I cleared out a parking spot for myself and was all set to try and get in there where then occupant of the Subaru skied over to his car, and then promptly got it stuck. He had no shovel, so over I went, in the true helpful spirit of my Maine Guide status. His tires were almost bald, and he was not experienced at rocking a car on snow.  I had to push him out, and it took us a while. Just as I was getting into my car to get it in the lot, another car came right in, using my work, and taking my shoveled out parking space.  At this point I decided to just park out on Youngtown Road, moving over as far over as  could.  It was now close to 3 PM.

I was carrying minimal day gear, a big mistake. I strapped on my trusty MSR Lightening Ascents, slipped my hands into my Leki poles and made great time on the first 1.2 miles. I was the second person to get in there. Heading onto the Cameron Mountain trail, I had a fresh snowmobile track.

Snowmobile tracks on Cameron Mountain

Snowmobile tracks on Cameron Mountain

The left turn after passing Cameron itself onto the lesser traveled Cameron Mt. Trail was a bit depressed, and untraveled recently.  Not too bad.

Starting up

Starting up

I was now 4 miles in and the sun was still shining when I started onto the 1.7 mile Sky Blue Trail, which had vestiges of prior use written on it that soon petered out to unbroken trail.  Unfortunately, I spent the next couple of hours weaving around, breaking through spruce traps, and even plunging into some hidden open water, until I stumbled out onto the Ski Lodge Trail in the dark, around 7:30 PM. My boots were soaked with ice water, and I had lost two mitten shells. I was hungry, and both legs were cramping, which also slowed my progress.

I was saved by my iPhone and eTrex GPS.  I was able to successfully move in the right direction  by following my forward progress on the Sky Blue Trail using Guthook’s Camden Hills Hiker App, that is until the cold locked down the iPhone.  The main problem that I had was that I was also trying to read blue blazes to ensure I was on the trail. There is so much snow at the higher elevations in Camden Hills that the snow is now up over the blazes, obscuring them in places.  Unfortunately, the same deep snow took me over deep, loose areas where I sometimes plunged in up to my chest, wallowing around, and using up valuable energy in trying to extract my snowshoes from entanglements way down where my arms barely reached.  I was thankful that I had poles to lean on and push against.

I made all the classic mistakes you read about tonight-walking in circles, moving around too much, and exercising fuzzy thinking.  I had a weak little micro flashlight ( with new batteries), and no headlamp. Dumb.

I made a phone call to Marcia that I’d be late. Then the phone died, and soon it was dark night.  I was able to maintain calm enough to haul out my GPS. I decided to forgo sticking close to the trail and bushwhack may way out. Thank God there was moonlight, and reflective snow, so I was able to see enough to discern white spaces between trees.   I set myself up a “GoTo” to a way point that I established at the closest point of the easterly Multipurpose Trail, and knew all was right with the world when I made it out, where I turned left and skittered my way back down the Ski Lodge trail to my car.  I was humbled, and stunned.

Tomorrow I’m assembling a permanent winter day pack.  I am enlisting the help of Auntie Mame to help me do this. I must smarten up and carry lots of gear in the event that I get off track again in subfreezing conditions, in the dark,  where there is no trail.

I have to make it home every time I go out. Now, I’ll be better prepared for the next possible disaster.

[Future Post:  What’s in my winter day pack ?

I’m taking suggestions! ]