When I was first diagnosed with high cholesterol, it came as a real surprise. Having grown up eating mostly a Mediterranean diet and having been an athlete for most of my life, I was taken aback that my cholesterol level was 280. While my doctor immediately prescribed statins to bring down the levels quickly, he did emphasize that I pay more attention to my eating habits and to combine regular exercise, especially as I entered my forties.
I was prescribed 10 mg of Lipitor daily and scheduled for another blood screen the following month. My goal was to have my cholesterol under 200 by that time, meaning that I would have to cut at least 80 points off it in less than 30 days. From research that I had done I knew that Lipitor can help lower overall cholesterol by approximately 30 percentage points, which would have been enough to get me right under the 200 mark. But I decided that I wanted to try out a little experiment to see if I could do even better.
Adding the exercise portion wasn’t too hard. We had a Siberian Husky at the time, who loved to walk, so two healthy 45-minute walks every day would take care of the exercise part for that month (in addition to the occasional hike and game of tennis). Additionally, I cut out red meat, anything “white” (white rice, white bread, refined sugar…or as surfer Laird Hamilton likes to call them “white poison”), things such as croissants and other sweets made with butter and loaded with sugar. Lastly, I completely went on the wagon for a whole month, which wasn’t horrible but a bit difficult given my fondness for the occasional chocolate martini and glass of single malt scotch.
What seemed to make a big difference was the fact that I added certain foods that have been proven to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad twin) and increase HDL cholesterol (the good twin). First, I alternated having oatmeal with berries one day and shredded wheat the next. Oatmeal has proven to lower LDL levels and shredded wheat helps in controlling blood pressure levels. I also added fish to my diet at least twice a week, if not more. Luckily, I love fish so this part was rather easy. Adding things such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines is key to lowering triglyceride levels as well as blood pressure. These types of fish are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids which benefit the heart of healthy people, and those at high risk of - or who have - cardiovascular disease. Lastly, I added nuts (especially walnuts and almonds) and grapes as a daily snack rather than the usual bag of Doritos or chocolate chip cookies. According to the Mayo Clinic, walnuts and almonds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids which help keep blood vessels healthy and elastic. And, in a study done by the American Chemical Society in 2004 grapes contain a compound called pterostilbene that may reduce cholesterol and triglycerides just as effectively as a prescription drug.
A month later, my latest blood test results told the story and my overall cholesterol numbers were down to near 160…a whooping 120 points lower than a month before. Additionally, my HDL levels had increased by 15 percent and my LDL levels had dropped by 17 percent. While I am sure that the statins played a big part in that improvement, I know that the changes in diet and exercise contributed a significant chunk to that drop.