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Old 05-02-07, 08:41 AM   #1
bobby c
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Cholesterol & Fitness

A couple of recent events got me thinking about cholesterol and fitness and the relationship between them. The first is my old high school tennis coach - he's now approaching 70 and still actively teaching (just a fantastic teacher and person). For the past 30+ years he's been actively training and has a high level of fitness. He ran the Boston Marathon a couple of years ago and is still doing marathons and other distance events. He was training for an upcoming event and didn't feel well so he went to the doctor. After tests they said his cholesterol was too high and they wanted to do a double bypass on him. When they performed the surgery they luckily found no heart damage but the saw a lot more blockage than expected. The result was a quadruple bypass surgery. But because of his fitness he was discharged pretty quickly and is starting to feel much better than before.

The second event is my riding buddy - same age (mid-50's) who's been on his bike since he's been in his 20's - always fit, a former bike courier, knows every racer going back to forever, etc. His latest checkup showed a higher cholesterol level than before. He had borderline cholesterol before, but stopped eating oatmeal every morning, now the doctor wants him on Lipitor. Of course like many fit people, he's resisting and will probably try to fight it for a short time through diet and suppliments.

Anyhow, it opened my eyes to the fact that fitness doesn't always go hand in hand with good health - genetics has a lot to do with it. Luckily, my cholesterol level is good, though my diet has hopefully contributed to that (I've been a vegetarian - for the most part - for the last 30+ years). Anyhow I came across this blog entry by Sally Edwards, the author of "Heart Zone Cycling" (just bought it a week ago & I really like it). Thought I'd pass it on to this crowd as cholesterol is an issue for many.

Do you have High Cholesterol Just Like Me?
By Sally Edwards
December 11th, 2006

For the past 30 years, I been tracking my blood chemistry and keeping my records. Ever so slowly, the levels of cholesterol have progressively risen. My blood chemistry records go back to 1973 when cholesterol wasn’t broken into the two parts: happy high (good) and lousy low (bad). At that time, at the age of 26 my reading was 135 mg/dL. During the intervening years, I trained and raced some of the hardest races in the world – winning the Western States 100 Miler, the American River 50, the Iditashoe 100 miler and the women’s team division in Race Across America. And, my cholesterol kept rising. When I passed through menopause at the age of 50, my cholesterol kept rising. When it hit 260 mg/dL my Kaiser doctor said I want you, Sally, to take medication for your high cholesterol and I said, “Dr. Gonzales, you are right that I need to do something to reverse this, but taking a prescription drug isn’t the right thing to do for me or for Americans. I can figure this out and fix it.” He disagreed with me saying, “I expected that answer from you.”

I took Dr. Gonzales reliance on medication as a challenge. I extend it to you as a challenge. There are many ways to lower cholesterol and I challenged myself to find one that worked for me. I started by asking my friends how they succeeded at lowering their cholesterol. My sister-in-law, Kathleen Edwards said that she ate oatmeal every morning for a year and her cholesterol which was slightly over 300 mg/dL dropped down to 207 mg/dL. Another friend took grapeseed extract (GSE) which is made from small seeds of red grapes – the same kind of grapes used to make wine. It worked for him. I choose another track – drop my body weight by 10% and cut out all animal fats. According to my reading of the literature, reducing all saturated fats from your diet and lowering your percent body fat were the two most aggressive acts that I could take. What happened with my weight loss and nutritional changes? I dropped 14 pounds of weight didn’t eat cheese or other animal products for eight months and went back to have my cholesterol checked. I was expecting great results but I soon discovered that I had failed to make a difference. My cholesterol dropped 5 mg/dL, a measly5 points. All of that effort for a 1% improvement is failure.

What next? Another 8 months this time with a new treatment strategy that I created – large doses of vitamins and minerals especially niacin and red rice yeast, both known to help with cholesterol. Daily, I took my cocktail of vitamins and minerals like a religious practice. Niacin was hard on me and caused flushing so I cut back the dose. I returned to eating some dairy products and gained 5 pounds back during the next 8-month trial period. With great anticipation, I headed back to Kaiser leaving my blood sample behind and my hopes high. This time the results came as an email – go on line and check out the results rather than receiving the results in the postal mail. I won. The new total cholesterol number: 217 mg/dL. This is a 25% improvement in 8 months.

The take away lesson from this is for me is that we are all different. My body did not respond to removing saturated fats from my diet or decreasing my body fat. Your body may respond to this or to grapeseeds or oatmeal. My body responded to vitamins and minerals including an emphasis on niacin (a vitamin B) and red rice yeast.

What next? You guessed it right – another 8 months of the same vitamin cocktail to see if I can break through 200 mg/dL without any pharmaceutical solutions. I challenge you to get regular check ups and to explore health solutions that work for you. Don’t give up if your solution doesn’t at first work. Rather, continue to explore your physiology and find what does work for you.

Note: My Kaiser Dr. Gonzales just emailed me the following, “Sally, You did well. You will notice that your lipoprotein A is elevated, this is an independent risk factor, and it will not vary much. I know your feelings about medications, but I hope you are at least on one baby aspirin per day.” And my answer to Dr. Gonzales is that I’ll now start to work on a strategy to lower my lipoprotein A. Aspirin seems harmless enough but I don’t want to take it for the rest of my life. Thanks, Dr. Gonzales, we make a good team!
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Old 05-02-07, 09:36 AM   #2
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You use red rice yeast but I heard that this sequence had to change for some legal reason. Now its Red Yeast Rice. I use the NOW brand which includes CoQ10, Milk Thistle, and Alpha Lipoic Acid. They come in 600 mg vcaps. I take one in the morning and one before dinner in conjunction to Zetia which does not harm the liver as does Lipitor.
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Old 05-02-07, 09:36 AM   #3
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I have never had a reasonable cholesterol reading. This despite seriously throwing myself at cycling for the past 10 years. Some doctors have said - gee whiz, you're so active, don't worry about it, others have been concerned. My current doc is recommending statins and I'm reluctant (currently about to start treating hypothyroidism which is known to elevate the cholesterol readings.)

When I received my most recent test, I went back and looked at my diet. I doubt I surpass the total daily recommendation in a full week of eating. So it's almost certainly genetic, especially when you look at my triglycerides which are in the range of elite performance athletes (which I am far from in actuality.)

You're right - everyone is different. Some can eat poorly, live on the couch and never see a bit of problem. Others can exercise like mad, eat properly, take all the correct supplements and still end up on medication. It seems to be the genetic hand you're dealt.
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Old 05-02-07, 04:02 PM   #4
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Count me in.

When I was 35 my cholesterol was 275. I have the family history of heart disease on both sides of the family, plus I'd just started driving truck over-the-road. If you think your diet is iffy, imagine what it would be like if you ate 4 meals a day at a truck stop.

About this time, Dr. Dean Ornish had his first program on NOVA on his approach to reversing heart disease by combining three different methodologies, all proven to reduce the risk of CHD individually: 1) a vegetarian diet of no more than 10% calories from fat 2) exercise and 3) meditation to reduce stress.

I went for the Ornish program in a big way. I carried all of my food, started running, and meditated daily. In 6 months my cholesterol had dropped to 165, my weight dropped to what I weighed when I graduated from high school, and I felt fantastic.

So skip ahead 15 years. A badly broken leg stopped my running and although I'm still a vegetarian, I was eating a diet closer to 30% fat. I hadn't had my cholesterol checked in a while, so when I started a new job with real insurance, I made an appointment. To my shock, my total cholesterol was back to 235, and the ratio was way off.

I decided to get back on the Ornish plan and did quite well with it. I re-found my bike and started riding a lot. I went back to the ultra lowfat diet, and between it and my cycling my weight dropped right off again to 150. After 6 months I went in for the re-check. Total was 203, ratio was better. I dug in for another 3 months, thinking this would put me below 200, and I could slack off the lowfat diet a little. (My diet raised major headaches with my partner who can apparently eat anything and never have her cholesterol move up.)

My total actually went up during that last three months to 209. The ratio was fantastic and my CRP and homocysteine levels were not really measurable they were both so low.

My doctor. also a cyclist, (and others including Dr. Weil) are beginning to take a more holistic approach to the whole cholesterol problem. Weil especially in his Eight Weeks book suggests that CRP and homocysteine levels are a far more important measure of overall cardiac health than an arbitrary set of cholesterol numbers because they measure the amount of inflammation present.

So, I've switched off the Ornish plan. I'm eating a little more fat but I'm concentrating more on good fats and Omega3s. I'm taking flax seed oil, 2 baby aspirin, CoQ10, vitamin C daily because they all are important inflammation fighters. Stress is also reduced because Terry and I aren't battling about my diet as much and I'm hammering out a lot of miles--like the 200K I did last Sunday.

My next check is in the fall, so I'll know more then about where the anti-inflammation diet is taking my heart health.
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Old 05-02-07, 04:35 PM   #5
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Awesome, Jeff. Way to take control.
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Old 05-02-07, 06:09 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Garfield Cat
You use red rice yeast but I heard that this sequence had to change for some legal reason. Now its Red Yeast Rice. I use the NOW brand which includes CoQ10, Milk Thistle, and Alpha Lipoic Acid. They come in 600 mg vcaps. I take one in the morning and one before dinner in conjunction to Zetia which does not harm the liver as does Lipitor.
Amen, Brother. +1 to Red Yeast Rice and CoQ10!
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Old 05-02-07, 07:45 PM   #7
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I can understand your concern about cholesterol. Mine runs about 280-300. And I was on medication for about 20 years to control it - which it did if you mean by that kept it at the currently accepted range as stated by the "heart health" experts. However, please at least look into the other side of the story on the subject. I recommend two good books which I have and have read and re-read and wholeheartedly endorse because as with most issues there is more than one side to examine to be truly informed. Please consider "The Great Cholesterol Con" by Anthony Colpo and "The Cholesterol Myths" by Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD. as a start. And check out During the period that my cholesterol was 'controlled' I withstood common and painful medication side effects (because I was first of all not informed about them, then was told they 'were not associated with the life saving, safe medication' and essentially told it's better to endure small discomforts than have a heart attack) and had my first heart attack resulting in bypass surgery at age 51 then while it was still where the heart health crowd wanted it I had four more heart attacks resulting in three stents. I am no longer suffering the statin side effects and my cholesterol is where it wants to be without medication. I'm focusing now on 'real' risk factors rather than those promoted by the multi-billion dollar statin drug industry. My stress is down, I'm cycling for exercise and eating healthy foods. See the sidebar on under Credible Evidence for links with more information.
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Old 05-03-07, 01:42 PM   #8
Time for a change.
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We measure differently over here but they do like to see Heart problem sufferers with a cholesterol of below 5. When I had my Angina and bypass- I was 5.1 so not something to be concerned about. It now runs at 4.4 so better.

The fitness I had at the time did nothing to stop the problem. But the surgeon did say that it had probably saved my life. And then he was amazed at the speed of recovery compared to the rest of his patients.

So keep riding- Keep fit and IF the problem arises- it will not be major.
How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.

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Old 05-10-07, 05:46 AM   #9
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lipitor does more than lower cholesterol

it may not be a good idea to fight the use of lipitor. In studies it produces less heart attacks and longer life than the drop in cholesterol alone can explain. Current thinking is that it has some antinflammatory effect in the athersclerotic plaque. Cholesterol alone is not considered the major determinant in heart attacks, it is just something that can be lowered and helps somewhat.
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