A Vegan with Hyperlipidemia: Part II

The saga begins one year ago with a young, health-conscious, 3-year veteran vegan finding out, accidentally, that her total cholesterol level was 279. The details are in the original post, but here is a quick recap: my understanding of heart disease and cholesterol were challenged upon learning that my levels were so high. This forced me to consider how my genetics and biology had a stronger hold on my health in this regard than did my diet and lifestyle.

After confirming the results with my doctor I was left to deal with the decision to either immediately begin taking a prescription statin or following more natural remedies, in this case red yeast rice extract. I took the recommended dosage of RYRE for one month and had my levels re-tested and found that my total cholesterol had dropped 50 points. This was very encouraging and I agreed to have more bloodwork done in three months.

I continued taking RYRE and began a rather challenging fitness routine in hopes that I could also lower my LDL levels in the process. After three months, my results read as follows: my total cholesterol had climbed 20 points. I was devastated. What was I doing wrong? I was doing everything right, for chrissakes! My doctor reminded me that we could continue trying natural options, but I needed to start considering taking a prescription drug to lower the numbers. As mentioned in my first post, my parents both take statins for their levels and my father has reported significant muscle pains as a side effect of one drug. I wasn't done trying.

So I continued with my fitness routine, ate healthier meals, and increased the amount of RYRE I was taking by 50%. This was no easy task because, while it boasts a more natural interaction, RYRE is considerably more expensive than the popular $4 generic Rx drugs available. I hoped, hoped, hoped that this would cause my levels to plunge into a safe range.

Three months later: the levels hardly changed at all. My doctor warned me that if they did not change by the next time I had bloodwork he would seriously push for prescribing a statin. Part of me had resigned to that fate, yet another part wondered if there was more I could be doing. Because of course: vegan doesn't automatically equate with the pinnacle of health. I felt pretty damn helpless.

So I continued to do more research on how to lower cholesterol levels, yet much of the information encouraged limiting or eliminating meat, egg, and dairy products from one's diet (uh, duh). Well, shoot. What else is there to do? Originally my doctor had wanted to prescribe fish oil supplements, until I reminded him of my ethics. Are omega-3's really that important in the fight to lower cholesterol?

Apparently, yes. These are touted as one of the top nutrients to assist in lowering cholesterol. I was not taking any supplements or paying much attention to my omega-3 intake during this time - so I kicked my ass into high gear. For the past few months I have been preparing a refreshing green smoothie in the morning at least 5 days a week containing a combination of the following:

Along with these changes I am trying to be more aware of how much fat I ingest throughout the day. Fat, especially in the oh-so-popular "trans" form, can contribute to high cholesterol levels. That shit's bad for you all around. Even though it is a huuuuuuuuuge challenge for me (love my fatty foods), I am making efforts to commit more seriously to this task because I know it will help.

In March I had my levels tested again and they had dropped 20 points, back down to the original reduced level of 227. My LDL levels remain about the same (136) and I hope to see some improvement in 6 months when I will be re-re-re-re-re-re-tested. Success!

Some things I have learned during this struggle:
  1. Don't assume that your blood and nutrient levels are in the safe range, despite an overwhelmingly healthy lifestyle. Get a full work-up regularly.
  2. Educate yourself on your family history of diseases and health risks.
  3. Just like a diet change or exercising cannot, by themselves, change something as complex as cholesterol: neither can a pill. Not a fancy pharmaceutical. Not an overpriced natural remedy. Recovery and maintenance of a physical health condition extends to all areas of one's health.
So I will continue to exercise regularly and keep my heart pumping. I will continue to take my RYRE, yet only at the recommended dose. I will continue to enjoy a heart-conscious, low-fat, green smoothie packed with omega-3's most mornings. I will monitor my blood pressure regularly. I will cut out trans and other fats when and where I can from my diet. I will follow up with my bloodwork. I will prove to myself, my genetics, my doctor, my friends, my community that - despite the challenges my liver presents - I can fight these numbers and create a globally healthy lifestyle for myself.

And so can you. If you have symptoms of or have been diagnosed with a physical condition, despite your honest efforts to live a holistically healthy life - you are not alone. And you should feel no shame. There are some battles that require more ammunition than we realize and, usually, it can be provided in the form healthy, nutrient-rich food in the correct formula for your body. Be weary of a physician who is quick to whip out their prescription pad and feel confident in exploring lifestyle tweaks and alterations to achieve your desired state of being. You are worth it.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Amber of Almost Vegan, who is currently facing the challenge of being diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease, Hashimoto's disease. Please consider donating what you can to assist her in handling her finances associated with treatment. <3