By: Katherine Marple
Ten years ago, I was asked by my endocrinologist to begin using statins to lower my cholesterol. I was barely over 20 years of age and was afraid of possible side or long-term effects. I was nervous about adding yet another drug to my list of daily medications, so I told him I would consider it and went home feeling like a medical disaster. Hello, diabetes complications: We meet again.
At the time, I had limited knowledge of statins. I was very young and didn’t believe I would even be on the high-cholesterol spectrum until I was much closer to middle-aged. In my limited research, I had read on numerous websites that once you begin using statins, you should never come off of them. Since I hadn’t bore any children yet and the use of statins during pregnancy is linked to birth defects, I was completely against starting the cholesterol-reducing regimen. In honesty, I was likely looking for any excuse to say no to the prescription. Instead, I tried to lower my LDL through exercise and dietary changes, but my efforts didn’t seem to make a difference.
I cut out processed foods, added whole grains, increased my vegetable intake, and exercised as often as I could manage. I strictly limited alcohol and tried to lower my stress. Despite this, every six months my blood panels returned results that were less than great. Here I am today, 29 years of age and fighting off LDL readings close to 200. Doctors are again asking me to begin using statins. And, once again, I am fighting to face this.
During a recent blood pressure check, my pharmacist informed me that he was using prescription statins, even though his cholesterol was merely “above optimal levels.” Multiple other doctors I’ve spoken with over the years have stated that all people with diabetes should be using statins, even if their cholesterol isn’t high, because it will lower their risk of heart disease and stroke. But, is the usage of these drugs increasing because of their glorious results or have the pharmaceutical companies trained our nation into simply becoming repeat customers?
For these past 12 months, I’ve put my health front and center, right next to raising my kids. I’m exercising every single day, with two or three days per week at high intensities through rigorous Zumba toning with quick-stepped dancing and weights. My blood pressure has dropped, my heart palpitations have subsided, and I feel stronger and healthier. But, my last lab showed that darned cholesterol just hanging in there, refusing to give up its course in my blood.
A month ago, I hired a dietitian to help me assess what I’m eating that could be contributing to my high cholesterol. But, after documenting an honest layout of everything I ate during a typical three day stint, there was little that needed to be changed. I don’t do processed foods, no fried foods, no oils or dressings, lots of veggies, some organics, low carbohydrates, very little sugar, etc. Based off this, there wasn’t much in my diet that I needed to address.
We decided to make very incremental adjustments. We increased leafy greens to include bok choy and more Brussels sprouts, and added chia and flax seeds. We also replaced eggs with egg whites and added more salmon. I do have a very strong love of coffee, which includes a cream or two per cup. Something as tiny as that dollop of cream adds 2g of saturated fat per tablespoon. A couple of weeks later, I’ve significantly cut my coffee intake altogether.
The only noticeable dietary change seems to be coming from the addition of chia seeds. Every time I drink my 32 oz cup of water, mixed with 3 tablespoons of chia seeds, I feel better almost immediately. This especially helps after an intense cardio session, because chia helps to repair muscles. But, are these magical little seeds really helping to lower my bad cholesterol, or am I just fighting a losing battle of the genes?
I have to consider the confusing results on whether saturated fat versus sugar intake is to blame for elevated cholesterol. I figure since we haven’t been able to decide for the past 50 years, why not severely reduce both to cut risks as much as possible either way. I’m not really sure what else to do.
A family member, working as a nutritionist and whole health coach, stated that cholesterol has a lot to do with hormone balancing. Since insulin is a hormone and type 1s don’t produce it on our own, our hormones are generally out of balance on a chronic basis. She suggested getting my hormones checked through another blood panel and begin working my cholesterol levels from that aspect, focusing on cleaning my liver. This is an idea I hadn’t considered beforehand and I’m researching to find what are available practices to help me achieve my goals.
I don’t really know if any of this is making a change to my blood results. My next lab test is scheduled for mid-May. If all of this effort doesn’t work, I’m not sure what else I can add or change to lower my cholesterol. I realize I sound like a pouting toddler, stamping my feet, but I simply don’t want to add another medication to my day. But I also don’t want to continue to increase my risk of heart disease, when diabetes has already checked that box on the list of complications. It’s been a long journey and I’m ready to say goodbye to those LDLs. Where is that clean bill of health, and where do I sign?
Katherine Marple was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14 in 1998. The mother of two small children, she has battled insulin resistance, pre-eclampsia, and pump failures, leading to insulin therapy via MDI using Levemir and Apidra, and sometimes metformin and CGM. She is the author of two diabete- related novels, “Wretched (this is my sorry)” and “Deathly Sweet.”