Day 171: How I Lowered My Cholesterol by 46 Points in 6 Months

I have successfully lowered my cholesterol from 243 to 197 in an span of 6 months, and I can’t help but be a little proud.

The Backstory: “You’re at a high risk.”

That’s what my doctor told me one year ago when I went in for a check-in and some blood work. This fact was not new to me. I’ve always had high cholesterol for as long as I can remember, and until now, I thought I was too young to care. Meals were almost designed around meat. Eggs were often a steady part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Manliness comes at a price.

The Ngos have quite a history of cardiovascular-related illnesses. At least five members of my family have had some kind of an infarction (stroke). Combined with the stress of daily life, the intake of stimulants (tobacco, caffeine), and the sprinkling of high-blood pressure triggers (salt, soy sauce, etc.) — I could keel over at any moment.

I promised my doctor that I would make changes — exercise more, eat less, etc. Six months later, I went back in and confessed that I did little to nothing to improve my situation. My doctor insisted that we consider an alternative treatment — medication — and I declined. I knew that if I started that route, there would be no going back.

It was time for me to make a serious change.

How I Did It: The Ascetic Life

Over 100 days ago, I wrote about some of the big modifications I’ve made in my consumption practices towards cleaner, healthier living. I admit, I haven’t been completely perfect on any of them, but I’ve certainly made some dramatic cuts to the following:

  • Land-based meats (poultry, beef, pork, etc. — all pretty bad)
  • Dairy (also, I’m pretty sure I’m lactose intolerant now)
  • Eggs (so much cholesterol, it’s a shame how nutritious they are)
  • Sea-based meats (although fish is good, and shellfish is okay sparingly)

I generally do go “vegan when possible” — cholesterol comes from animals, so by abstaining, it makes sense that my levels would also change over time.

In addition, my six-year teetotalism and reduction in caffeine consumption to about one cup a day helped to lower my blood pressure and sitting heart rate to healthy ranges. Things are looking up.

Still a ways to go

Even though my total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL levels are now within optimal ranges, I’d still like to see if I can drop those numbers another 50 points by the end of the year. That means staying consistent, but it also means focusing on some other areas of concern.

I still don’t exercise consistently
I know I’m fairly active, and I move around constantly while at work or on the go, but I can’t play sports as well as I once did or even run a few blocks without feeling winded.

I have terrible balance and core strength, and I’ve decided to address it by getting more involved in yoga. I like the tranquility and focus that yoga brings to my body and mind compared to other higher impact methods of exercise (and yes, I stopped doing Insanity for now.)

My triglycerides are still too high. 
I still have a sweet tooth, and I find myself eating more rice and starch than normal to compensate for my hunger. That’s a bad habit. Maybe I’m not as much of a risk for heart disease, but diabetes also runs in my family. It doesn’t help that American food is loaded with gratuitously added sugar or carbs, so one must be pretty vigilant to avoid such traps.

Knowing that I have the discipline to change my health in a way I once thought impossible — I feel empowered to do much, much more. I want to thank a lot of people for getting me this far, especially Claire Kes, Wesley Lloyd Carter, and of course Sharon Quinsaat.

— Lee