Apparently, I did a lousy job at choosing my parents. Sorry mom and dad, but the genes you gave me left me with a tendency to naturally develop high levels of LDL cholesterol. As we all know, this is a bad thing. My cardiologist originally recommended over and again that I should be on statins, which I dreaded because of their effect on athletic performance. Here’s what I did instead.
Despite being a miracle drug for both lowering cholesterol and raising pharmaceutical company’s stock values, statin are notorious for two unfortunate side effects. First off, they affect athletic performance. This is particularly true for the older statin drugs, which were known for causing deep muscle soreness and lower overall performance. If that wasn’t bad enough, the second bad effect is that, once a patient starts taking statins, they shouldn’t stop. There is a very weak link shown between discontinuing statin use and increased mortality. That’s a really lousy combination as it basically means that you’re potentially doomed to a lifetime of lousy workouts if you follow your doctor’s recommendation. So if your doctor recommends that you start taking statins, do a little research first and explore your alternatives.
It turns out that I happened to be seeing an acupuncturist at the same time I was seeing my cardiologist. I told my acupuncturist about my quandary and he suggested trying red yeast rice, which western medicine has subsequently proven to dramatically lower LDL cholesterol. Turns out that there is no mystery there—the main ingredient in red yeast rice happens to be a chemical closely related to a common statin drug. Red yeast rice is also a common ingredient in Asian cooking for hundreds of years—if people were dropping dead from discontinuing eating it, someone would have probably noticed by now. It also turned out to be a great screening tool for me sensitivity to statins because my workouts absolutely sucked during the 2-3 days that I was taking it. My muscles were just plain sore constantly and my running and cycling power and speed plummeted. Two days after discontinuing it (once it had washed out of my system) and my workouts were right back to normal. Sorry, doc, no statins for me.
I kept asking my cardiologist about alternatives and he finally mentioned that we “could possibly try cholestryamine instead.” Cholestryamine (aka prevalite) is an orange-flavored powder that you mix with water and gulp down. It tastes a bit like a chalky-gritty version of Tang drink mix.
Here’s how I understand cholestryamine to work. One of the ways that our bodies use cholesterol is to convert it into bile, which is excreted into the intestines to aid in the digestion of fat. Further down in the intestines, our bodies reabsorb that bile and convert it back to cholesterol. Prevalite works by absorbing the bile in our intestines and not letting our body reabsorb it. This creates a net deficit of cholesterol, which lowers our overall cholesterol values. The absolutely beautiful part of this strategy is that prevalite works by staying entirely in our intestines and never getting absorbed into our bloodstream. This means that it won’t affect our bodies in the same way that statins and other systemic medication can.
For me, Prevalite has been absolutely fantastic as my LDL’s have dropped about 40% since I started using it. It does have a minor side effect of causing some constipation but this is easily solved by mixing in a scoop of Metamucil with it. Prevalite apparently is contraindicated if you have high triglyceride values, which usually isn’t a problem for the highly-athletic readers of this awesome blog.
If your doctor warns you about your cholesterol values, one test you might be interested in is an EBT scan. This is a simple, relatively inexpensive test that can instantly evaluate how much blockage there is around your major arteries. This is crucial information because this is really the whole reason why cholesterol is thought to be so bad for us in the first place. As important as this information is, few insurance programs have the foresight to pay for it (it’s only around $300). I guess that they’d rather you simply died or be forced to pay out the $300K for coronary bypass surgery than to pay for a simple $300 test.
So medical science does have a way to help us get around the lousy cholesterol-producing genes that we got from our parents. Now, mom and dad, let’s talk about why I can’t run as fast as those Kenyan marathon runners…
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