Don’t Let Your Genes Define You

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I have a personal triumph story to share, and I hope it inspires you when you think that your genes define you.

The first time I had my cholesterol levels tested, it was shockingly on the high side.  At that point, I was twenty-one years old, relatively thin, and fairly active.  I was actually working as a research associate in a nutrition and heart disease laboratory at the time, and I was learning quite a bit about genetic predisposition for a number of cardiovascular diseases—and if changes to diet could in fact help a person avoid these diseases.

I kept an eye on my cholesterol for the next several years and even though I knew more on the topic than the average person my age, I stupidly did not make any modifications to my diet to keep the numbers in check.  I’m sure laziness was a key factor, in addition to coming off of the starving student years and thrilled to be able to afford more than bagels and bananas at the grocery store!

About three years ago, I made a huge leap and became a pescetarian.  I figured that by giving up meat, I was not only saving animals lives but potentially my own by avoiding the huge amounts of fat and cholesterol in meats.  A year into this semi-vegetarian lifestyle, I couldn’t wait to go for my annual cholesterol check.  I was shocked and seriously disappointed when the numbers had in fact not gone down... but up by about 30 points!!!  After a little thinking, I realized it must be all of the cheese I was eating to compensate for the lack of meat in my diet.  I had also started to get much more regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training during this time.  Something else had to be done, and I needed to get smart about it if I wanted to avoid starting statin therapy in my thirties.

I began to do research and planned to start a sort of “food detox,” where I avoided several foods for about two weeks to encourage myself to make new food choices rather than those upon which I have forever relied (I had still been lazy up until this point, often choosing foods that were quick and easy versus good for me).  For a week, I ditched foods such as dairy, soy, wheat, and anything processed.  Instead of cold cereal or non-fat flavored yogurts for breakfast, I tried apple slices with almond butter and fruit smoothies.  I felt really good after the detox period was over, and have continued to avoid most processed foods.  I also discovered Pu erh tea, which is known to have cholesterol-reducing properties.  Instead of having an afternoon cappuccino, I substituted a cup of tea. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I went in for my yearly cholesterol screening.  I was actually really nervous!  I was still exercising regularly, and my cheese consumption had dropped dramatically after being introduced to more protein-containing, whole foods.  But the truth was, in all of the years I had been getting my cholesterol checked it had NEVER once gone down and had ALWAYS gone up. 

The next day, I got a ping on my iPhone when a new test result from my doctor’s office was posted.  I was shocked and THRILLED to see that for the first time ever, my total cholesterol had gone down!  I still have some work to do on my LDL (bad cholesterol), but my trigylcerides had gone down by over 30 points!  I considered that a huge success and know that saying goodbye to sugar and artificial sweeteners had a lot to do with this accomplishment. 

If this isn’t proof that lifestyle changes DO make a difference, then I don’t know what is!  I continue to drink my Pu erh tea every day, as well as include fiber-rich foods and vegetables into my diet.  You can see this isn’t something that I was able to change overnight, but your strength lies in perseverance. 

I challenge you to set a life-changing goal today!  You CAN achieve it if you set your mind to it and get a little encouragement along the way.

In a rapidly changing health care landscape, Karen Morse is a leading Wellness Scientist who develops personalized wellness plans for women and writes a weekly blog, The Wellness Scientist, imparting cutting-edge solutions for healthy living.