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Give It Up, Turn It Loose: Fear of a Statin

Yours truly has been on vacation. The time away from work has been good for me and given me a new perspective and greater focus. Thanks, dear readers, for your patience with my absence. I also wanted to continue to use my little postage stamp of cyberspace here to promote the Angie Stone "Black is Beautiful" concert this Friday in Atlanta that will be supporting the 100 Black Men's "Project Success" to get more underserved kids to college.

That said, I had somewhat of a health shake-up while on vacation, and I figured I would share it with you in hopes that you might have your own health epiphany.

While on vacation, I finally got some blood work done that I needed to complete for my annual physical. My doctor emailed me and said that my results were "spectacular" except for one thing:

My cholesterol level.

Seems it's been on the rise for years now, and for the second time, she has suggested that I start a light dose of statins.

And for the second time, I resisted. "No, please, " I responded. "Once you start taking high blood pressure medication or statins, you're stuck taking that stuff for the rest of your life. Give me the chance to reduce it through diet and exercise. I've already lost 14 pounds this year, " I pleaded in an email. My doctor informed me that taking statins doesn't always last forever, and taking them is a faster way to reduce one's cholesterol than just diet and exercise, although improvements in diet and exercise are highly recommended, too.

I know she's a scientist, but my experience has taught me this: No one in my family has ever gotten off statins.

On my maternal grandmother's side, every woman of my mother's generation to whom I am biologically related had a heart attack. My mother had two, starting in her early fifties, both my maternal aunts died of heart attacks, and even my maternal grandmother had a heart attack. Now, there are some caveats. My mom and her sisters were all smokers. My maternal grandmother, however, was not.

Simply put, heart disease runs in my family, and it is an assassin of women.

But my cholesterol level wasn't always high. In fact, in my late twenties and early thirties, my cholesterol level AND my blood pressure were abnormally low. Even my doctor couldn't understand it given my family history. I could.

When my mother had her first heart attack in her early fifties, it jolted me into making lifestyle changes quick, fast, and in a hurry. I was in my twenties and I quickly gave up red meat and caffeine. I also got in the habit of running on a semi-regular basis. I didn't drink a lot of soda, and I did a lot of heart-healthy cooking instead of eating out. By my early thirties, when I was living in Oakland, I took up running around Lake Merritt for my health and -- I'll admit it -- to ogle hot black men in short shorts. Call me hopelessly heterosexual, but I was a healthy heterosexual. It was at this time when I had abnormally low cholesterol and blood pressure. Even when I later moved to Mississippi, I engaged in a failed attempt to give up meat altogether and tried being a vegetarian. In Mississippi, no less, where even the corn is fried. Yeah, call me stupid, but I was still healthier back then.

Fast forward to my late thirties through my forties. Not only did I start eating meat, but I started eating red meat. I loved me some In-N-Out Burger, The Habit, and any burger barbecued on an outdoor grill during the summer. My affection for dairy got out of hand to the point that I preferred cheese to chocolate and couldn't imagine a mocha without whipped cream. And the only running I had been doing had been to beat my local baristas from locking the doors at Starbucks at closing times.

Even without being a smoker, genetics are not on my side. After my email conversation with my doctor, I realized that there were some things I was going to have give up and turn loose if I didn't want to suffer the fate of my mom, her sisters, and her mother.

So I've given up red meat, milk, and cheese. I eat scrambled egg whites, not whole eggs, for breakfast. I've reduced my consumption of simple carbs -- waffles, breads, and the buttermilk pancakes that my nieces and nephews adore me for -- for whole grains, oatmeal in particular. I was already taking a multivitamin, fish oil pills, calcium with vitamin D, and iron. I've given up caffeine. I've almost eliminated fried foods. I'd already been walking for a half hour daily during lunch hour at work, but I know I've got to increase my activity level, too. I've got to get back to basics and do what used to work for me when I was healthier if I want to be healthy again.

I've learned to embrace low-fat vanilla soy milk in my oatmeal and in my decaffeinated coffee spiked with Splenda. I snack on almonds and apples. And when I treat myself, it's a soy decaf Caramel Macchiato.

In six months I will be re-tested. If my cholesterol level hasn't dropped or hasn't dropped sufficiently, I will give in and start the statins, but not without a fight. The fate of my maternal grandmother, maternal aunts and mother doesn't have to be my fate. Diet and exercise are within my control.

My doctor gave me one piece of advice that I want to share with everyone: If you do only one thing to improve your health and decrease your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it's exercise. Her recommendation is walking because it's the safest exercise and you can do it anywhere. Just 30 minutes of walking at least three to five times a week will pay dividends because of the consistency with which you do it. Her advice is any exercise is better than none at all.

So I'll let you know six months from now how this has all turned out. I share this with you, dear readers, to encourage you to make whatever changes you need to make in your lifestyle so that you may have a healthy future ahead of you. Let's make a liar of genetics, shall we?

To your health, dear readers. And to mine.


Gezuar said…
Hey I didn't realize that you had spent time in MS - that's my home state :). I hope that things get better with your health. This blog post has inspired me to get on top of things with my own. Keep doing what you do BWB!

Thanks! I spent about a year in Oxford. I always tell people that Mississippians are the most hospitable people on the planet. My grandmother was born in Indianola, so my family has roots there.

Good luck with your good health journey. So far I'm doing pretty well, but I sure do miss me some cheese.


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