Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Me and my cholesterol

In consideration of the hyperlitigiousness of many in our society, I am NOT suggesting that you or anyone else go fiddling with their blood chemistry outside of the close supervision of their doctor. My only intent in this particular post is to relate a personal anecdote.

Cholesterol and triglycerides are fatty substances that exist in the body. They are used by the body for several vital functions: cell building, myelin-sheaths for your nerves, body metabolism, and so on. They're supposed to be there.

The problem is when there is too much there. In short, excess cholesterol and triglycerides make a mess of things, and can lead to heart attack and stroke. These fats come from two sources: the food we eat, and the body itself.

Some of us, like well, me, tend to run high on these numbers, despite halfway decent eating habits. I knew I had a tendency to high cholesterol and high triglycerides on account of my parents. When my 40-year-old cousin suffered a stroke, I decided to get my blood checked. The results were not good:

Total cholesterol: 212
HDL: 36
LDL: 121
Triglycerides: 311

Yikes. Time to do something.

I tend to be cautious of brand-name pharmaceuticals in general, especially heavily-marketed brand-name pharmaceuticals. If I had a chronic condition, I would prefer to try to control the condition with diet and exercise, then OTC offerings, then generic pharmaceuticals, then brand-name. (Perhaps I'll try to explain that in a blog post someday). I was doing most of the right things pertaining to diet and exercise. The doctor I had at the time (note on the past tense of the verb) said I basically didn't have much choice, and signed me up for a heavy dose of a particular prescription. I wasn't comfortable with this, and decided to see if there was something else I could do.

I did a little digging and discovered research involving Niacin, and discovered it has been used for decades as a heart medication, and I also found studies examining its effects on hyperlipidemia. The studies I read referred to tests of dosages from 1500mg/day up to 3000mg/day, and so I figured if I tried it at 1000mg/day, I'd be below even the minimum dosage seen in the tests.

I discovered that straight niacin causes a temporary, though unpleasant, reaction called "the flush" similar to a sunburn. I also found that "slo-release niacin" really wasn't recommended because of its effects on the liver. I found reference to "Inositol Hexanicotinate" (also called "No-flush") is a type of niacin which doesn't cause the flush, and doesn't irritate the liver. I found 500mg capsules at the local supermarket, and started taking one at breakfast, and one at dinner.

I started going to a new doctor, and told him what I was up to. He sent me to get a blood profile to see how I was faring.

Total cholesterol: 217
HDL: 52
LDL: 118
Triglycerides: 233.

Nice. About a 40% increase in my HDL, and a 30% decrease in my triglycerides.

I had my blood checked again a few months ago, and I'm still doing pretty good:

Total: 197
HDL: 53
LDL: 102
Triglycerides: 210.

The triglycerides could still spare to come down a couple of notches, but I'm working on that.

I don't know why I feel compelled to tell you all about me and my cholesterol, but there you go.

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