Don’t trust the doctor

I’m going to share with you a minor but private battle I’ve had for the last 18 months. There is so much I want to talk about on this subject, but I’m going to keep this post light on ideas and focused more on my experience, which I hope can help you.

Back in January 2014, I went to get a blood test, specifically to test for high cholesterol. Previous tests (years back) said I didn’t have it, but a sibling, one of my parents and that parent’s side of the family have it. It ended up being a general check-up where the doctor spent more time talking to build rapport and he forgot to test my cholesterol levels. When I reminded him, he tried to talk me out of it to rush me out, knowing he had another patient waiting, but I insisted on getting another blood withdrawal for this specific issue that he has missed. He actually said, “don’t worry, you can go another 5 years before getting tested given you had a test a few years ago” and, “you only need to get a blood test once every 5-10 years”.

Lo and behold: when I received the results, I had high cholesterol. Moderate-risk total cholesterol, high risk LDL, high risk HDL, high risk triglycerides.

So this same doctor, already in my bad books for his bad judgement, said some people could do things with diet but my levels were so high that it wasn’t even worth considering. He said to not worry, as he had the same issue. “Just take statins and you’ll be fine”.

I didn’t like that answer so I did a separate test almost immediately. This time it was going direct to a blood testing centre, which also had the added benefits of being cheaper and faster (process and results) than going to at least this doctor. My total cholesterol was down to low risk, LDL to moderate risk, but everything was still high risk. But the change was huge, and I knew it was totally impacted by diet and lifestyle. I had been skipping breakfast, been under major stress in all factors of life, and I wasn’t committing to exercise. I also paid no consideration to my diet. So I took it on me to prove that I could change this without a drug.

I did another test 8 months later with a plan to review it with a nutritionist. The results showed that things were consistent with February, slightly worse even. This was despite taking fish oil tablets (albeit, incredibly inconsistently). However, despite the results being disappointing, I was now “aware” since my initial shock earlier that year. I had done research and was now checking the labels of what I ate so I was a lot more educated. I knew that stress mattered, breakfast mattered, and dietary supplements helped — but these tests proved to me that was not enough if I wanted real improvements.

So I finally got around to speaking to the nutritionist 4 months later (February 2015) to review my previous results. She suggested to drink more water every day, get fish oil tablets, increase vegetable and legume intake (the latter especially as they absorb cholesterol), reduce processed foods (the common factor to all health problems in society), eat vitamin E-rich foods (like spinach), eat protein with every meal (for triglycerides), not skip breakfast and exercise more (and specifically not do things that stressed my body, like rugby and weights that I have done most of my life).

This year, I’ve had to travel for two months of the year already. Not ideal for health improvements, but I made some big changes specifically around my diet. Things like cutting my meat intake (your body needs 1-2 portions per week to get the benefit it needs before costing you), eating more vegetables (up until dinner I eat fruit and vegetables only), eating more fish, and drinking a lot more water. Only now am I getting back into exercise (though it’s still the weights and rugby kind so shh don’t tell the nutritionist).
And the results? Not perfect, but in all the areas I was worried — total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides — I was now low risk in all but LDL where I am now ‘moderate’ risk. I am sharing my results so you can see what a dramatic difference there is.

A comparison of my results over 18 months

A comparison of my results over 18 months

Whilst I could do better, and I will — I’ve now invalidated the advice of this doctor who prescribed me to go on what would be a lifetime of pills. More importantly, this new knowledge  I’ve acquired has now been tested successfully against real results where I can measure progress going forward. And having long controlled the cravings that pulled me down in past (my theory is that it takes a few hard weeks for your gut bacteria which processes food — the source of your cravings — to adapt to your new diet), I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Statins are a life-saving drug for some, however the fact that this was pushed on me as the only option highlights several fundamental flaws in the health sector that need to change. Without going into how this is a growing problem (in short: government regulations and society’s pace of developing new clinical knowledge is overwhelming doctors), the relevant point I want to make is that it was an option that could have led to other health problems.

As I now, officially, recover from my anger at the medical system that treats symptoms instead of causes and pushes drugs, all I will say is this: before making a life-changing decision, get a second opinion. And always question your doctor; they know a lot things about your body when it breaks and it involves therapy, but they also don’t know nutrition or how to manage your health as an interconnected concept.

Update 20 August 2015: In response to the comments on my Facebook account, let me be clear this is a casestudy about being proactive about your health and getting second opinions, not about ignoring universal medical advice nor is it meant to disregard the modern marvel of medicine. Dealing with a chronic health issue is different from terminal as well.

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