I can’t recall ever being this eager (and anxious) about my annual physical and blood tests, but this year is different. My last check-up was in June, shortly after I began changing my diet and exercising on a regular basis. My blood sugar (A1C) was hovering around pre-diabetic levels, I was taking medicine (a statin) to lower my cholesterol, I was overweight at 180 pounds and I knew I had to do something about it. And so I did.
My expectations were pretty high this time around. I took myself off the statin about a month into the new regime. That was a pretty risky bet on my part because the numbers showed it was clearly doing a great job, with my cholesterol coming in lower than ever before. But I wanted to test the theory that I could control it with diet and exercise without exposing myself to potential side effects of a statin. I had worked into my diet pretty much every food identified as raising HDL (good cholesterol) and lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and I was exercising an average of 60 minutes per day, 6 days per week. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had lost a shit-ton of weight!
The first thing I did in my new diet was to eliminate all added sugars. No more coffee with 2 teaspoons of sugar in the morning for me; I switched to tea. I carefully read labels on everything I bought and rejected anything with added sugar. By the time I finished, there were only 2 items I was eating with added sugar: herring in wine sauce and seaweed salad, but I figured the benefits they provided far outweighed the costs of ingesting the trace amounts of sugar I was getting in the quantities I was eating. When I did need to sweeten something, I used stevia, but that happened infrequently because I soon discovered that the natural sugars in the foods I was eating satisfied any cravings I had for sweets.
I also eliminated all refined flours which are quickly converted to sugar in your bloodstream. I was convinced that my glucose and A1C numbers would show significant improvement.
All these dietary changes did not come without a modicum of anxiety. Was it possible that I wasn’t getting enough of some essential vitamins or nutrients? I had no idea, so I was looking forward to seeing if things like my calcium and protein levels were holding up.
I had my physical last week and the results were good. My blood pressure was 116/64, my pulse was 57, my BMI (body-mass index) was 22.8 (down from the overweight range and squarely planted in the ‘normal’ zone), and my oxygen saturation level was 99%. I don’t recall ever having a resting heart rate below 60 beats/minute, and that oxygen reading is as good as it gets (also a personal best for me). I took all this to mean that my exercise program was working. In terms of brain health, it meant I was getting plenty of oxygen and my heart was supplying it with ease. I could scratch high blood pressure, anoxia and obesity/belly fat off my ‘eliminating dementia risk factors’ to-do list.
The results of my blood work came in on Wednesday. Logging in to my account and clicking through to the report felt like opening a present on Christmas morning!
I made a beeline for the glucose and A1C page…and wasn’t disappointed. My sugar numbers showed a dramatic drop, so much so that I had exited the pre-diabetic zone and entered the normal range for the first time in several years. The diet was working!
Next I checked my cholesterol numbers. The good news was that they were all in the normal range, albeit at the high end. I was disappointed, though, to see a noticeable spike in my LDL without the medication. My HDL showed a substantial rise, too, which is a good thing. I was a bit befuddled, to say the least.
I did a little googling and found that the more meaningful metric is the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, in which higher HDL generates a lower ratio and a lower ratio is better for you. Mine was not that much different from the one I recorded when I was taking the statin, and better than prior years’ readings. So something good was apparently coming from my lifestyle changes. Nonetheless, I decided right then and there to add oats back into my granola to try to knock down that LDL number.
I scratched off my list diabetes and high cholesterol as dementia risk factors. 😀
Finally, I looked at a variety of other indicators to see if I was lacking in anything. Potassium, protein and calcium were all fine. So were all the other readings, but to be honest, I have no idea what they measure. Bottom line: I’m not depriving myself of anything important.
The icing on the cake, though, arrived yesterday when my doctor followed up with this message:
I received your lab results…Overall, your labs are good…Your cholesterol and A1C were all within normal range…No indication to initiate any medications at this time…Keep up the great work!”
What a nice present.
Merry Christmas, everyone!