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.

Go pho it! Will Vietnamese soup keep me lean and avoid statins ?

Today's spinach/ tofu pho

Today’s spinach/ tofu pho

Pho. I’m still unsure about how to pronounce this Vietnamese soup, but I am getting pretty good at whipping up a big bowl at lunchtime.

My cholesterol numbers from blood work done last October are a concern, specifically my LDL of 140. Given my family history and the new guidelines, I was prescribed Lipitor by a local cardiologist. I filled the prescription, but decided to let it sit on the shelf until April, when I’ve scheduled a visit with my primary care physician. I’ll get another lipid profile blood test and check the new numbers.

I asked for options, so the cardiologist gave me a dietary recommendations protocol to lower LDL. He told me that some of his patients had lowered their LDL by 40% by following these guidelines.
In sum, I am avoiding all deep fat fried foods (no more fried clams), and high fructose corn syrup, which pretty much eliminates most of the food sold in a supermarket.
Meat, bread, pasta, and potatoes are on my “ Reduce” list.
Let me introduce my “Include Daily” dozen: plants, psyllium powder, a handful of nuts ( mostly walnuts and pistachios), fish / fish oil capsules, a bar of dark chocolate, 1 cup v8, 1 cup yogurt, extra Virgin olive oil, red yeast extract capsules, soy/soy milk or almond milk, and a glass of red wine.
I am taking this grand nutritional experiment seriously. There are already immediate benefits-like weight loss. I have always carried 212-215 pounds on this 6’2” in winter. Right now, I’m down to 199. I like that.

I think the pho is responsible for the weight loss, and I am banking on it even helping the blood work results in April.

Pho is a traditional hot soup, primarily served with noodles, beef, and vegetables and herbs. I have tweaked it. It’s typically 500 calories for a 22 oz. bowl. More commercial bowls are prepared to yield 300-800 calories. I have kept track of the calories of the ingredients. This lunch nets me 400 calories, maybe some day as much as 500.  There is no oil in the soup-it has low carbs, and no fat, except when I occasionally make adaptations, like this kielbasa/ sweet potato pho.

kielbasa pho

kielbasa pho

Here’s my new daily lunch recipe. It’s really tasty. I vary it with different veggies, and protein. :

20 oz. well water
vegetarian broth ( powder) 30 calories
2 ounces wide rice noodles 180 calories
assorted sliced veggies- e.g., green onion, broccoli, carrot slices, mung bean sprouts 50 calories
miso 30 calories
herbs-1 slice fresh ginger, basil,
vegetarian protein source- tofu, Quorn, chickpeas 100 calories
lime juice
Lan Chi Black Bean Sauce with Chili
I have yet to add hoisin sauce, buy may work that in too.

I start eating with chopsticks and finish with a spoon.

Here are a couple more pics of my gustatory creations.

standard bowl with Quorn

standard bowl with Quorn

This lunch takes about 15 minutes to prepare. Go Pho it!

fresh mung beans in this one

fresh mung beans in this one

Resolution for 2015: Visit Maine State Parks and Public Lands

Start 2015 off by doing the right thing and purchasing your very own Maine State Parks Pass (day use).  Veterans and those that are 65 (and over) get in for free!

I just sent in my $35 , primarily for  bypassing the $3 daily fee to hike the extensive and superb trails in nearby Camden Hills State Park.

View from Ocean Lookout- from Camden Hills Park page

View from Ocean Lookout- from Camden Hills Park page

The great State of Maine has over 700,000 acres of  Parks and Public Lands, with a huge variety of locations.  Their updated web site is easy to use and very helpful in planning your encounters in the outdoors.

2015 is my year to stay local, and have #microadventures.  I am very excited about the approach taken by Alistair Humphrey in his soon-to-be-released paperback ( Feb 3, 2015)  Microadventures.  The Kindle edition is available in the USA via Amazon. The book is my favorite outdoors read for 2014.  Check it out.  It’s highly British, but the approach can be adapted anywhere.

Have fun.

Nature is the Real Gym  !


1,000 mile Maine challenge completed !

Back in February, Carey Kish laid down a challenge that I decided to embrace- walking 1,000 miles in Maine in a calendar year.

Here’s Carey’s original article about that idea. As Kish notes, ” Consider the enormous health and fitness benefits of such a sustained challenge. Regular hiking and walking are proven to help decrease the risk of all kinds of nasty stuff, like coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon and breast cancers. You’ll lose weight, and reduce stress and anxiety levels. And you might just establish a new exercise pattern for years to come.”

Carey’s right in that you do it mostly by regularly walking a 3-5 mile sessions from your home. In my case, I added close to a hundred miles in Baxter State Park this season. I added another 50 in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, hiking with the Jocomotive and G-Man. Camden Hills State Park got a fair number of sessions.   I thought I was going to add up another 42 miles via the Grafton Loop Trail up off Route 26 above Newry, but that will have to wait until 2015.  I logged a few longer days of hiking with my pal Guthook in Acadia National Park this fall.

I was thrilled to pick up 7 more miles yesterday in Acadia doing the South Ridge Trail to the summit of Cadillac Mountain ( 1,528′).  I had the pure pleasure on cranking out a fast pace with my son Lincoln and his fiancee Stephanie.

That's the Atlantic out there !

That’s the Atlantic out there !

It was one of my best Holiday presents.

Did you know that Cadillac is the highest mountain on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil (another cool fact from Carey Kish’s Maine Mountain Guide) ?


The 2014 numbers primarily came from data that I was tracking via the Strava app.  I have hit 1,094 miles to date. Strava only aggregates miles for runs, bike rides, and swims. You have to enter backpacking and walking mileages as runs.  I usually gather my data from my iPhone 5S, but sometimes log exercise using my Garmin eTex 30 GPS to gather .gpx tracks that I then download into my Macbook air and upload to Strava.

My iPhone 5s also allows me to run the free Fitbit app, without requiring the $99 wrist band.  With the launch of the M7 motion coprocessor in the iPhone 5s, Fitbit has decided to offer “basic” tracking from the phone itself.  Fitbit is fun to use, automatically counts daily steps, and also allows me to enter my daily food intake, and log body weight.

Goals are a big part of what keeps me going.  I plan trips this way- think of things I want to do and then jot them down on the calendar and they take place, as the time nears.  I tell others , and goals take firmer form- finally as actions.  Carey’s 1,000 mile goal is a welcome addition to my life.

This is also the first winter that I have dropped under 200 pounds at this time of year. I think that hiking more miles has made the difference- that and cutting out french fries.    Normally, I’ve run about 212-215 at the end of December.  This is good!

I plan to take on the 1,000 mile walking-in-Maine challenge again for 2015.

Who’s in with me for the ride, err…. the walks?


Why I am renewing my Outside magazine subscription

I just renewed my subscription to Outside magazine.   The days are long past when I have had close to a dozen magazines in my mailbox every month.  I am now down to just three:  Outside, Backpacker,  and Dirt Rag, an east coast mountain bike magazine.

Why Outside?

It’s always find at least one major article that I find interesting in each issue.  However, I just re-read the January 2013 issue.  outside-january-2013_fe

It was in an old pile of stuff. I was surprised to find four featured long articles that appealed to me.

Here’s what I’m talking about:  An article about how short-intense workout efforts might be more useful than long slow hours in the saddle ( referenced below).  And then there’s an article about James Balog’s 2014 Emmy Award Winning documentary- Chasing Ice ( check this one out on Netflix). A detailed and balanced report about the “who doesn’t have it?” App Strava follows, and there’s even a killer story about how sports psychology can make a difference in mental fitness.

With so much online right now, we really don’t need to have any print coming in the mailbox.  I still like to engage in reading a magazine now and then, and I’m still impressed with the quality of the offerings in Outside.  The twice annual Buyer’s Guides that come with a couple of the issues don’t generally offer me  anything . I  don’t keep them around, and pass them on.

May be I can pass the print copy of January 2013 on as well, as I just realized that all of the individual links that I’ve posted above can be found in one place on the Outside web site.  All the past issues are online.  I think that’s now the norm, but it’s still pretty incredible!

 Brian MacKenzie’s Controversial New Approach to Marathon Training |

How Exercise Helps us Tolerate Pain

The NYTIMES ran a health article about this admittedly small sample research project today.

How Exercise Helps Tolerate Pain

I don’t need this study to include more than a meager sample of 12 to know it’s the truth.

At this point in my life I regularly engage in a level of exercise that pushes me right to the pain zone: mountain biking, backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, or snow biking.

My wife tells other people, “Everything Tom does for sports has to have suffering in it”.
It’s pretty simple. If I am going on a challenging hike, I want to experience it as easier that other activities that I have suffered through. For example, I’m headed up to Katahdin for a week of backpacking. I have prepared by carrying a mass of iron chain that pushes to weight in my back pack to 23 pounds. I train on steep trails, where I m pushing to 3.5 mph.

Hurting helps.

The Workout – Video

I really like the looks of this workout .  I plan to take some of the exercises and work it up.  Great time to do it right now, with the full bloom of summer in Maine beckoning me to be outside. I Don’t miss the YMCA gym at all! 

The Workout | Becoming Rocky Balboa – Video ––<  Open up the brief video!  I’m not sure we’d get such a crowd up here.