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My health

 

Although this image has the title Monday Morning Run, it's actually a hike...

I'll begin with a question: Is it bordering on narcissism to share one's health data online? My own answer is I'm not certain. Why I'm uncertain is because what I intend to share here may be helpful to someone else, in terms of their own health, which I would consider a good thing. I also understand that what I am going to share is about me, hence the narcissism concerns. I'll take that risk.

In January of this year I visited my doctor for my annual ritual of standing on the scale, being cuffed for blood pressure results, and jabbed by needles to gather cholesterol levels. A few days later I received an alarming note; something had changed and not for the better. I had gained weight (that was obvious to me of course,) more importantly my blood pressure and cholesterol readings had risen. My doctor made it very clear that action was required.

And then I took a step back. Action required by a doctor often means prescription drugs. I'm somewhat averse to the idea that prescription drugs are the panacea for all of our ailments. In many cases people would die without certain medicines, that I am very clear about, but in my case, although death wasn't on the cards in my near future, it certainly could be if I didn't take action.

Before I moved to the Unites States 25 years ago, I had never had my blood tested. I always felt I was in good health. My first doctor's visit in the USA put paid to my complacency; I was diagnosed with Familial Hyper-Cholesterol. If you follow that link you will surely be alarmed at what you read there, as was I eventually. I say eventually, because prior to the advent of the internet I only knew what I was told by the doctor. And it sounded awful. 

Here's the paradox though, and it's somewhat akin to the French paradox; no one in my family, as far as I can tell, has died of heart disease or a heart attack. As the French paradox Wiki page explains:

The French paradox is a catchphrase, first used in the late 1980s, which summarizes the apparently paradoxical epidemiological observation that French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), while having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats,[1] in apparent contradiction to the widely held belief that the high consumption of such fats is a risk factor for CHD. The paradox is that if the thesis linking saturated fats to CHD is valid, the French ought to have a higher rate of CHD than comparable countries where the per capita consumption of such fats is lower.

The French paradox implies two important possibilities. The first is that the hypothesis linking saturated fats to CHD is not completely valid (or, at the extreme, is entirely invalid). The second possibility is that the link between saturated fats and CHD is valid, but that some additional factor in the French diet or lifestyle mitigates this risk—presumably with the implication that if this factor can be identified, it can be incorporated into the diet and lifestyle of other countries, with the same lifesaving implications observed in France. Both possibilities have generated considerable media interest, as well as some scientific research.

Could I, as a male with Northern European ancestry, survive without medical intervention to be 91 year's old as my grandfather was when he died? Are the desired levels of cholesterol in my bloodstream as determined by health professionals, a one-size fits all determination, or are there outliers like myself, having taken regular ECG tests on treadmills searching for signs of heart disease where none existed, who are able to ignore the numbers?

I decided the numbers couldn't be ignored but I was determined to fix them without medical intervention. I changed my lifestyle.

In mid-January I weighed 208 pounds, the heaviest that I"d ever been. My HDL cholesterol, the so-called good stuff, was too low, and the bad stuff, LDL, too high. I had a fatty liver. My blood pressure, although not alarming, had risen. Three months later I have lost 30 pounds, my cholesterol levels and blood pressure are now at or below 'normal,' (again, does one-size fit all?) I no longer have a fatty liver.

How did I do it?

Like I said, I changed my lifestyle:

I eat 5 small meals a day. I very rarely eat meat. I eat lots of fish. I eat only low glycemic carbohydrates. I don't eat any fast foods or processed foods. I don't eat bread. I do eat fats. I snack on almonds and dates. I drink plenty of water and avoid all 'sports' drinks, the one's with electrolytes added - you don't need those electrolytes, they make you hold water in your bloodstream leading to higher blood pressure. I consume fewer calories than I burn. I arise each day at 6AM when I'm home, and I hike on average 5 miles a day, on a mix of trails and pavement - an elevated rise of 893 feet. The image above is a screen cap from this morning's hike.

I have 'cured' myself. I have my doctor to thank too; she wasn't convinced that my plan would work, so she had me check in each month just in case. She was incredibly supportive as she saw the monthly improvements in my health, and she was thrilled with my outcome. She doesn't need to see me now for at least 6 months. She hopes that sharing my data, anonymously of course, will help some of her other patients.

So this is it for the rest of my life, one I hope to extend. And every day now my new 'trainer,' my Apple Watch with its Haptic taps and nagging Apps, spurs me on.

 

Christopher Hitchens, Oriana Fallaci and Jorge Ramos

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