I have super-high cholesterol. Wanna know my total cholesterol number? Brace yourself… It is usually around 410. Gasp! I know, I know, when nurses call to give me my lab results, they often tell me to sit down before they give me the news. Cardiologists get very grave and serious when they see me. Oh wait, are cardiologists always grave and serious? Maybe. 😉
Anyways, I first found out that I had genetic hypercholesterolemia when I was eight. My mom was prompted to get my blood work done because her father had died of a heart attack at age forty. She had been tested, and inherited high cholesterol. It turns out that I did too. So, we did what everyone did in the eighties. We went low-fat. I ate fat-free cheese and fat-free ice cream. We tried to limit our egg intake each week. We used margarine instead of butter and avoided mayo like the plague.
Thank God, oh, thank God, I was not put on a statin. At that time they were too new and hadn’t been tested on children. Instead, we had to take Questran in applesauce or orange juice to avoid absorbing dietary fat. The biggest feeling when I think back to that time was shame. I felt like there was something wrong with me that none of my peers had to think about. If I ate something high in fat, I felt guilty. If I broke a food rule, I knew I had just increased my chance of having a heart attack when I was fifty. It warped me a bit.
But, the years continued to pass, I got married, and life went on. I had a heart scan at 24. No calcification. I began the rounds of statin drugs and frequent liver function tests. Just before I try to get pregnant for the first time, I read about the dangers of statins to a developing fetus so I stop taking them. And, I wondered, “If they are so bad for a fetus, wouldn’t they be bad for me too?”
After a couple more years I began to research. I discovered differing views about the causes of heart disease. I learned about the side effects of statins. I decided that there was more to this story and strengthened my convictions until finally I was at the “Come hell or high water, I am not taking a statin again!” stage. It felt a bit risky.
Last year I met with a doctor in my area who was willing to work with me. I did the Berkeley Heart Study. Although my total cholesterol number was high, there were many signs of good health. My LDL cholesterol was primarily “large and fluffy”. My inflammatory markers were low. My HDL cholesterol number was excellent.
But, there was one test that I was waiting to have. The CIMT (Carotid Intima Media Thickness test). It is an ultrasound of your neck arteries that measures the thickness of the arterial walls. This thickness is strongly correlated to heart disease risk. Basically, the CIMT gives your arteries an age. You hope that the age of your arteries matches your actually age. If it is much older, you are clearly aging internally and at higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. An age match is good. Younger arteries are even better.
So, yesterday I went in to get my test results. The doctor starts with this comment: “I don’t think I can recommend a statin to you in good conscience.” (Good, since I don’t plan on taking one!) And, then she reviews my results. My actual age: almost 33. My CIMT vascular age: 21! Woot! Woot!
The whole drive home I couldn’t believe it. I felt relieved. Vindicated. Like there wasn’t “something wrong with me.” Supposedly, the CIMT is the most accurate assessor of heart disease risk available currently. And, it says I am fine! More than fine! I am grateful.
So, please ask away if you need resources for you or a loved one with high cholesterol. I hope I can help. And, as always, thanks for reading! ~ Crunchy
(photos: sti.nasa.gov, yourimt.com, kasamim.com)