Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New Tricks for an Old Dog

My triglycerides have climbed much too high just as my 85-year-old mother’s have most of her life.  By my age, they are high in one out of every three of four people.

So, nudged by my doctor, over the last month or more I’ve cut my intake of beef or pork to once a week, more than doubled my intake of chicken, and tripled consumption of fish and chicken combined.

I’ve also cut my wine intake by half, switching to red only, and increased my exercise to no less than five days a week.  I’ve tried to drop a few pounds and may soon weigh less than I did in high school, although on a reduced frame.

That’s a lot of change for an Idaho boy with several generations of cattle rancher in his genes.

It may turn out to be a false reading caused by a supplement or medication I am taking as it turned out to be for me in the mid-1980s. Even if it does, these changes were long overdue and have already become ingrained habits.

The concern was triggered when a screening of my carotid arteries, first by Life Line Screening, then immediately followed up more in-depth by my doctor, revealed the first sign of a very thin layer of plaque build up on the left side.

By the way, both the tech who did the imaging and my doctor were very complimentary of Life Line’s service.

My dad died of a stroke when he was age 77 so my doctor has always been on the lookout during the thirteen years since then.  We caught it at the first sign detectable.

According to my blood type, O-Negative, and research by biogeneticists, eating lots of red meat is in my genes.  But so is eating lots of vegetables and whole fruits.

That’s probably because because I sensed at a young age that sugar and foods that quickly convert to sugar were poison to me.  Eventually I was diagnosed as reactive (to certain foods) hypoglycemic more than 4 decades ago.

I metabolize sugar, juices and processed carbs far too rapidly, and this sets off a very unpleasant chain reaction.  Mine is not related to diabetes, which is much more serious, but it still involves insulin.

The sugar surges far too quickly through my system and into my blood stream where high blood sugar triggers a surge of insulin from my pancreas to clear the blood of the excess.

But it does far too good a job and as the blood sugar plummets, huge amounts of adrenalin are triggered because the reactions are similar to the threat of dying, which is exactly what it feels like.

One morning in late 1970, I hopped out of bed for an insanely early accounting class at BYU.  That was the last thing I remembered for some time.

I awoke on the floor and immediately went to the university infirmary where the doctor admitted me to the local hospital.

Student nurses gathered around and took practice inserting a tube through my nose down into my stomach and started pumping ice cold water there.

I had a serious bleeding ulcer.

The thing about a bleeding ulcer is that the blood masks the pain so you don’t realize until you detect other symptoms of ulcer disease.

Back then they sent you home with a drug developed a decade earlier to suppress your nervous system because that’s what many still believed was the cause.

But at the time researchers at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) were fast closing in on a revolutionary class of drugs called Histamine H2-receptor antagonists that would revolutionize the treatment of ulcer disease.

Researchers had been working on this since I was in high school, the same year the Rolling Stones were founded and charted their first hit in America, Not Fade Away - a song written by Buddy Holly seven years earlier.

During the time of my diagnosis, clinicians such as those who treated me were only just learning that ulcer disease didn’t have anything to do with being nervous, it had to do with secreting too much acid.

New studies were also being circulated that identified a link between a hypoglycemic reactions and hyperacidity.

It turns out that the vagus nerve that runs from our brains down behind our the carotid artery and jugular vein in our neck runs down between our trachea and esophagus to the stomach.

This nerve is the one that stimulates the over secretion of insulin during a hypoglycemic reaction to certain foods.  But it is also the one that simultaneously floods the stomach of anyone with this condition with way too much acid.

Researchers were in a conundrum as to whether to dial down the insulin or the acid so I was stuck for a few years with a bland diet and a suppressed nervous system.

To be fair, my nervous system is pretty intense to begin with, so no one knew the difference but me.

In 1976, a few years into my first community marketing startup, the dilemma was resolved when the new class of drugs which dial down or partially block the secretion of acid became available, enabling my nervous system to fully express itself again (smile.)

This has been the treatment I have used for nearly 40 years now and probably will the rest of my life.  Newer options have come along but don’t work as well for me, along with triggering that earlier false Tri reading.

And while never bland, I even more rigorously held to a lifelong diet of high protein and fiber, few carbohydrates and absolutely no sugar to prevent or slow down any metabolistic chain reaction.

Coincidentally, a few years after the launch of that drug, GSK opened its North American research facility in Durham, North Carolina, a few years before I would begin the last half of my now concluded career in community marketing and where I still live in retirement.

In the book Inheritance, the author, who is a neurogenticist, explains that genes also explain while I metabolize caffeine from coffee so slowly while others can’t even tolerate a bit of chocolate.

For me eating lots of red meat during my life was not only an expression of my genes but because my body told me very early that a healthy dose of protein and staying away from sugar would prevent blood sugar issues.

It was a habit I inherited but no longer needed in the quantities my ancestors did. 

For me, breaking the beef habit pretty much followed the process New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg describes in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do In Life And Business.

I changed the cue or reminder that triggered eating too much beef by realizing it was a default.  My work always involved huge amounts of decision-making, so others such as menu decisions went on auto-pilot.

I retained a bit of the reward from the old habit with  weekly “steak nights” but lately that has become every two weeks.

An added reward may be living longer.  You never know.

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