Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Cholesterol Experiment: Case Study, Preliminary Results

(cross-posted at Journey to Badwater)
I seem to have survived running hard yesterday at the Houska Houska without any ill effects. So far...

This morning I had to forego my morning coffee and go over to the lab to get my blood drawn after a 12 hour fast. I was getting my lipids re-checked, and my TSH too. I went into the Express lab at 6:40 am and it was hopping in there. Everyone must have waited until after the holiday.

After that I went back home and had my coffee, and felt much happier. I took Iris for a brief run, and then went up to Horsetooth. It was my first hill workout in way too long. Can't even remember the last time I purposely ran hills. I'm slower than a snail, but at least I got up there and did it.

On my way home my phone rang and I didn't recognize the number, so I just let it ring. Plus I don't talk on the phone and drive, I have a hard enough time just talking on a cell phone...add driving to that and it would be a disaster.

When I got home I listened to the voicemail, it was my doctor's office calling with my lab results. Only 4 hours went by since I got the blood drawn. I was amazed, I thought I'd be able to see my results at work tomorrow before they'd ever call me. Then I thought, must be something really off, to call me back that fast.

But when I talked to the nurse who works with my physician, she told me my cholesterol was in the normal range now. I couldn't believe my ears. I asked her what it was. She said, "192." And that my triglycerides, LDL, and HDL had also dropped. The HDL I can understand because I haven't been running much, and that is very sensitive to exercise, but it's still 70.

When I had my labs drawn in March, my total cholesterol was something like 257. I remember the triglycerides were normal and the LDL was high-normal at that time. My TSH has actually dropped slightly, I thought maybe it went up because of the way I've been tired in the afternoons and gained weight so easily. Having a lower TSH might have something to do with the lowered cholesterol, but I sort of doubt it because I've been more on the hyper end of things before and never had my cholesterol anywhere near that low. So I'm pretty convinced it's dietary.

When I got my lab results back in March, my doctor mentioned that going gluten free had produced some dramatic results for other patients, and she knew I didn't have much room for improvements in my diet in general. I really do eat well, and I allow myself to indulge in bad things occasionally, but not regularly. Over the past 5 weeks I've been off the wagon somewhat, and over the last week I was extra bad with the sweets and ice cream, so I was a little surprised when today's labs showed what they did.

As we talked on the phone, I told her that I had only made two dietary modifications over the past 3 months: one was no longer putting half and half in my coffee and switching to soy creamer, and the other thing is that I've been avoiding gluten. I haven't been completely gluten-free, but I have been mostly avoiding wheat and sticking to corn and rice for the majority of my carbohydrates.

What I've done is avoid eating wheat. I'm not so strict about it that I scan labels of things like soy sauce, which I know has wheat in it, and I drink beer, which is not gluten-free either. I just avoid things that are made with wheat flour and have wheat as a major ingredient.

By avoiding things made with wheat I've found that helps me avoid the bloated feeling I get when I eat things like bread and pasta, and it also helps me eliminate a lot of bad foods from my diet: baked things, cookies, and other crap that I shouldn't be eating anyway.

I do eat dairy products, but not very much. I eat cheese and yogurt occasionally, and I do eat lean red meat more often than dairy. I eat a good amount of fat, but other than the infrequent red meat and dairy sources, almost all of my dietary fat comes from olive oil, avocados, and fish. Salads and fish are probably the most frequent things you'll find on our dinner table.

This is all really interesting. I'm curious to see what happens by next year when I get my annual labs drawn again.

It has never been my intention to promote a gluten-free diet, because if you're not celiac, and not gluten-sensitive, it can be an awfully inconvenient and expensive way to feed yourself. I think I might be a little sensitive to gluten, because I've noticed that when I eat certain things I get bloated.

Pizza and bagels are the worst offenders for me. I think they are often made with high gluten flour products. I don't know if it's wheat itself that's the problem, I haven't tried a lot of the other grains simply because I'm not a big fan of flour and baked things anymore.

I also have never been one to jump on the bandwagon with the latest dietary trends like Paleo or Atkins or whatever. I do like the concept of Paleo, and there are a lot of things wrong with the commercially prepared, processed foods abundant in the American food landscape. I probably eat closer to Paleo than anything, but I'm not strict about that, either.

One thing I want to avoid is going on medications for anything unless I absolutely need them. I already take two thyroid meds and I don't buy into the statin thing, being an athlete I don't want to cause muscular problems. Some drugs, for some people, are worth taking, but I'm not into tithing for Big Pharma when I don't need to.

But I was absolutely shocked and amazed at the results of my labs this morning. Time will tell if this is a lasting change, I probably won't have another lipid panel drawn until next spring. If this is a lasting change for me, worrying about cholesterol-lowering medications is not going to be an issue.

Time will tell and this case study will go on. I intend to stick to the dietary changes I've made, and see where that goes. Dropping my cholesterol by 65 points in 3 months without drugs, hell I should write a book...


  1. Hi there, I follow your blog and appreciate you sharing your experience with hypothyroid and running. I went gluten free shortly after I was diagnoised because my thyroid antibodies were high and Dr said to go gluten free. I have noticed that I feel much better and lose weight easier. My thyroid antibodies normalized. I am still trying to find the right combination of thyroid meds to normal TSH and T3. I am glad to read your insights on how your perform at different TSH levels :-) Thanks so much!

    1. I was amazed by what happened when I went gluten free. Makes me wonder what other kinds of things are in our food supply that can throw our bodies off. Good luck to you, I hope you find success with getting the thyroid balanced.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I found your blog shortly after I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism; the balanced view you take helped to calm my concerns about what that diagnosis meant for me.

    I'm training for my 2nd marathon and find myself pretty tired after my long run, even when they're not that long (8 or 10 miles). I'd taken a break from longer runs for about 3 months to get my IT band feeling better (it is).

    Hopefully, I'll adapt as I increase my mileage and long runs. In the meantime, I'm looking for ideas for recovery after long runs. I'd appreciate any ideas you can share : )

  3. Patty, what kinds of ideas are you looking for? What works for me is sleep, staying hydrated, eating enough- eat a small meal right after a long run, it helps- and listening to your fatigue. As you increase your fitness you'll adapt. You can push yourself to increase your miles but make sure you give yourself plenty of rest between those increases. Don't listen to the people who say you need a long run every week. That's a sure way to burnout, get injured, or set yourself back with fatigue.

  4. I have hashimotos and found it interesting the connection between hypothyroidism and cholesterol levels, in particular low t3 levels coinciding with high cholesterol. I currently take synthroid and cytomel. I read In your profile that you take t4 and a small amount of t3 med, and that the added t3 helped you. I'm curious, how much t3 do you take? I can't seem to find the right balance and want to feel energy like I used to. I really appreciate you blog, you have a lot of great common sense advice:)

    1. Thanks for reading the blog. I personally take 100 mcg of Levoxyl and 5 mcg of Cytomel daily. That's what my body needs based on how I feel and my labs. Yours will be different from mine based on what your body needs. The important thing with balancing them is to remember that T3 is shorter acting but more potent than T4. If you increase T3, you might have to back off on T4. Some people take a higher proportion of T3:T4 than I do, but I find if I take more than 5 mcg I get palpitations. It's very much a trial and error process if your doctor is willing to experiment with you. Most important: Don't do it without your doctor's guidance. An overdose of T3 can be especially dangerous.

  5. Thank you. I take 100 synthroid and 5mcg of cytomel twice a day. I have experimented with cytomel one a day, twice a day and three times a day. I feel like I need a boost in the afternoon but sometimes I end up feeling ore fatique and bad brain fog with a sleepiness in my eyes and head that is very overwhelming. I tried 5 MCG once per day and felt okay for a while but again felt like I needed the boost in the afternoon, so took a second 5 MCG cytomel. The brain fog and sleepy feeling is the worst. I have never had palpitations as a result of cytomel,but I did get them.when I had low t3 and too night freet4 levels.


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