Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Triglyceride Story

So there I was, toiling away in my office at work, when the phone rings. It's my wife, Kasia.

Kasia: "The doctor called."
Me: "You mean someone from his office called?"
Kasia: "No, the doctor called himself."
Me: "This can't be good."
Kasia: "He wants to see you about your blood test results right away. ASAP. NOW!"
Me: "Uhh... OK, I'll make an appointment."

The day before the phone call, I had blood drawn at a local lab for my first-ever complete blood test, including full lipid panel. The day after the call, we're sitting in an exam room at the doctor's office, and he's explaining the test results. Needless to say, he didn't drag us in urgently to congratulate me on the wonderful numbers.

The results were a bit of good news, mostly neutral-to-not-so-bad news, and one point of very bad news.

Some of the good news: My total blood cholesterol was elevated, but not terrible. I don't remember the actual number, but my doctor didn't seem concerned.

Some of the neutral-to-not-so-bad news: My vitamin D level was low -- duh, we live in the Pacific NorthWET. Time for vitamin D supplements. Big surprise.

The very bad news: My triglycerides were off the scale. In theory, 150 is considered the upper range of normal. Mine were 660. Only six more points and I could claim "Triglycerides of the Beast".

The doctor told me some of the consequences of such highly-elevated triglycerides (none of them good) and strongly encouraged me to begin taking Tricor regularly to get them under control.

I eventually agreed to the Tricor, but not before consulting with Mom. I called her that weekend to discuss the results. This was not a "I received bad news, let's call mom" phone call (OK, it wasn't only that). My mom is a retired nurse with more than 45 years experience. She may not be up-to-speed on all of the latest developments (she's been retired for about 20 years) but she's always a straight shooter when it comes to health issues.

I called her, and after a bit of chit-chat, I told her the triglyceride numbers. I'll never forget her response: "Really? I didn't know they could go that high!"

Gee, thanks mom.

Unlike in my blood pressure story, I was much more amenable to taking prescription drugs for this issue. Maybe blood pressure control seemed more attainable and transparent, as opposed to the mysteries of the human metabolic processes that lead to elevated triglycerides. Maybe it was my mom's reaction. Maybe it was just old age. In any case, I followed my doctor's advice, and starting taking Tricor as instructed.

About a year later, I repeated the lipid panel. My triglycerides had dropped to the low 300's. The good news is that was about half their pre-Tricor values. The bad news is they were still more than double what the should be. My doctor advised me to continue with the Tricor; getting them down all the way would take some time.

A few months later, an old friend introduced me to Mark Sisson's book The Primal Blueprint. I have struggled with weight most of my life, as has my friend -- yet he lost about 100 pounds following Sisson's advice. I thought it was worth a shot, so I bought a copy.

The more I read Sisson's book, the more I got interested in human metabolism (at least from a layman's perspective). One of the most mind-blowing facts I learned was that triglyceride levels, despite being lumped into the "serum cholesterol" family of ills, is unrelated to dietary fat intake. Triglycerides are produced primarily by the liver in response to carbohydrate digestion.

Naturally, I wondered how a low-carb primal-style diet would effect my triglyceride numbers. To find out, I conducted a very simple (and very informal) experiment. Changes to my diet included:
  • No grains.
  • No refined sugars.
  • No processed food (a.k.a. "crap").
  • Minimal dairy.
  • Lots of animal protein, including grass-fed beef, wild fish, organic chicken & eggs.
  • Lots of healthy plant fats, including coconut oil and avocados.
  • Lots of green leafy & colorful vegetables.
  • Lots of berries, less high-carb sweet fruits.
  • No Tricor.
I wanted to see if such a diet could have positive results without resorting to drugs. Of course, I didn't tell my doctor; I don't think he would have been supportive of my little experiment.

After about 6 months on this diet (during which time I lost about 30 pounds) I had my blood tested at an independent lab (one not associated with my doctor's office). The results:

Triglycerides = 112

If the results of my (N=1) experiment can be believed, then eliminating gratuitous carbohydrates had, for me, greater effect on my triglycerides than Tricor.

Diet 1
Pharmaceuticals 0

1 comment:

Valerie said...

I also have vitamin d deficiency before but when my doctor recommended a vitamin d supplement and I take it daily, my immune system become stronger.