Archive for cholesterol

“All these amazing physical blessings began to unfold”

Erik and Wendy Jensen Before and AfterBy: Erik Jensen

Three years ago I was feeling that my health was beginning to slowly decline. I was not happy with the way I felt but accepted that it was probably part of growing older and that there was probably nothing that could be done. I was 60 lbs overweight, cholesterol was about 220, blood pressure 140/90, and I was taking drugs for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. My feet developed neuropathy, painful arthritis was spreading in my fingers, and I had restless leg syndrome for years (about every 15 seconds during sleep my leg would twitch). I also had an autoimmune disease in my eye that would flair up regularly, my knees and ankles would begin to hurt if I ran or hiked regularly, and every morning I woke up exhausted. I had a scary episode hiking in the Sierras when my body just quit.

My wife Wendy has suffered for years with fibromyalgia symptoms. She also suffered with terrible acid reflux, diverticulosis, kidney stones, and allergies. The only way she could control the acid reflux was to take a calcium blocker that would eventually weaken her bones. Her blood sugar was at pre-diabetic level, and she had difficulty with exercise and knee problems.

We were discussing the new stage of life we were entering as our children are growing up and will soon be on their own. We began to include in our prayers our desires to prepare ourselves spiritually, financially, and physically so that we could serve missions and be useful as we enter into the last third of our lives. The answer to our prayers for physical preparation began at Costco one day as we were looking at a product called a Nutribullet. A lady next to us remarked that her brother had bought one and had been able to lose a lot of weight. We bought it and for the next few weeks it sat on our kitchen floor unopened until two of our sons decided to unpack it and see how it worked. We read the smoothie recipes and started to have them for breakfast. Our energy levels increased, we lost a little weight and found that our appetites were somewhat decreased during the morning. I continued to occasionally read about nutrition on the Internet, but it was difficult to figure out what to do since there are so many opinions.

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“I walked out of the doctor’s office completely crushed”

olga-maletina-and-dan-almeidaBy: Olga Maletina

I’m from Russia; my husband is from Brazil. We were attending BYU-Provo when our health reached its lowest point. I had started getting alarmed a few years prior to that when we were getting our first life insurance and my husband was placed in the “smoker” category due to his high cholesterol even though he had never smoked in his life. We knew he had a history of heart disease in his family, but at that time we didn’t know what to do about it and just continued our lives as usual, hoping for the best. We didn’t know that it was the food we were eating that was making us sick.

Since our arrival to the United States, we had gradually moved away from the simpler, mostly homemade foods we had in our home countries (mainly rice and beans for my husband, and buckwheat, potatoes and vegetables for me). Years went by and our blood test results were coming out worse and worse. Our weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar were gradually going up, while our energy levels and the quality of life was slowly going down. Finally, my husband’s cholesterol reached an alarming 263 points when he was only 26!

My cholesterol was not as high as my husband’s, but I started having other health issues that were even scarier. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and was put on thyroid medication. Aside from my hypothyroidism symptoms (terrible night sweats, lack of energy, loss of hair), I also had ovarian cysts and an overactive bladder. I was overweight and started wearing prescription glasses. Time was passing by, and my health was not getting much better. The thyroid medication helped with the night sweats and constant chills, but my energy and the other symptoms still remained.

I cut out the soda and decided I’d try to watch what I eat: count calories, switch to low-fat dairy foods, and try to eat less carbs. In order to lose weight, I tried the low calorie diet, the hCG diet, exercise, the Paleo diet and the Jorge Cruise diet. I even met with a dietitian, but nothing helped my symptoms and the weight kept going up. I remember feeling so powerless. Why couldn’t I get any results? I was trying so hard!

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“I love food and it loves me back!”

Kurt DeGrawBy: Kurt DeGraw

I have never really enjoyed meat too much. I grew up on a small family farm. We raised chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and the occasional sheep or cow, and I was the main person to feed most of these animals. Without many other youth my age living near us, the animals became my friends. I had funny names for them based on how they looked or the quirks they had.

Two experiences really sealed my dislike for meat at an early age. The first experience was when we killed the chickens. We hung them upside down on the swing set using twine around their legs. There they were hanging and flapping occasionally when a knife to the throat let the blood run out. After a LOT of flapping and squawking, in about 5 minutes they were all still. I still remember not wanting to play on the swing set for a while after that, but more importantly to me, these were animals I had fed and spent time with. That night, we had chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy and corn. I just could not eat the chicken.

My second experience a few years later was when our pig was butchered. A mobile butcher drove to our house and took our pig from the pen—where I had fed, watered and named him—and took him into the back of his truck and an hour later out popped all these white butcher-paper packages with labels. For dinner that night we had pork chops and rice. Again, I just could not eat the pork chops.

We were a large family living on a public school teacher’s salary and whatever came from the small farm and the animals we raised was definitely needed to feed our family, but after those two experiences my desire for meat decreased dramatically.

My healthy journey started when I was in my mid 30’s. I had started to gain weight from a sedentary office work life style. I did (and continue to) mountain bike and walk multiple times a week and even lifted weights on occasion. But unlike when I was younger, the weight just kept sticking around and more of it started to stick around. I started to do my own research and started to use less white flour and white sugar in my cooking. This worked for a decade or so, but by my early 40’s, I was considered obese by national standards.

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“The most horrible, wonderful experiences of our lives”

Randy and Olga CamporaBy: Randy Campora

Dat, dat…, da dat dat dat – dat daa dat dat dat daaaa dat.

That is the opening phrase of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. As the bass trombonist in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the past thirty years I have heard those violin notes hundreds of times, and in December 2014, the notes were the same as always. We were playing in the orchestra pit of the Lyric Theater in Baltimore for an entire week of Nutcrackers with the ballet corps of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

But this year, those notes did not sound the same. Or I should say, my mind as it heard those notes was not the same.

This year, I had cancer. My mind struggled to focus, though the familiar music and setting were a nice distraction for me. But as soon as the music stopped the thought came immediately back: I had esophageal cancer, stage yet to be determined.

I was fifty-three years old, at least a hundred pounds overweight, a recent inductee of the Type II Diabetes Club. I was also the possessor of more blessings from God than I knew what to do with: Olga, my wonderful yoga teaching wife; Dominik, our trumpet playing oldest son on a mission in Poland; and Raffi, our math wiz youngest son with the dry sense of humor. I was a member of the best ward in the church. I had a job I liked, with great health insurance. The complete list would assault you with its length.

That September I had choked on a piece of food at dinner. My wife had just completed a CPR course, so she successfully executed the Heimlich two-step and I could breathe. But a few minutes later I realized that something was stuck down near the stomach because I could not drink or eat anything. A trip to the ER took care of the problem: Dr. Solaiman removed the piece of chicken stuck in the valve at the top of the stomach.

He was surprised to find Barrett’s Esophagus—a pre-cancerous condition usually caused by chronic acid reflux that changes the tissue to something more resembling an intestine. He performed biopsies, which came back clear. He wanted to be sure nothing was hiding there, so another round of biopsies was done three months later. This time the cancer cells were found, along with some aggressive markers.

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“The doctor was giddy about my results.”

Dave and Petra HansenBy: Dave Hansen

Having been raised in Idaho in a family that has always been very active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was taught about the Word of Wisdom. I was taught that the use of tobacco, drinking of alcoholic beverages as well as coffee and black tea was prohibited. I was aware that other substances were ordained for the use of man by God including fruits in their season, vegetables, and grains. I had been raised to believe that since meat was ordained for the use of man, it was also good to consume. In addition our family took pride in the dairy business that they were involved in, even though my father chose another path of employment shortly after my birth. We believed the commercials that milk “does a body good.”

After getting married and being on my own, I never allowed margarine on my dinner table, only the finest butter. Ice cream was purchased by the gallons and always readily available, as well as cheese. I reveled in some of my specialty dishes; my three egg ham and cheese omelets were a favorite of my family, as well as my pecan pie, grilled New York Steak, and my award winning chili (which was always more carne than beans). In the United States, the LDS culture is immersed in the Western diet that I was so accustomed to. Potlucks, barbeques, funerals, ice cream socials, and all other social gatherings within the Church are centered on a diet of meat and dairy.

On a Sunday morning in the spring of 2013 I woke to a nagging pressure in my chest with radiating pain in my neck and left arm, deep inside. This is a symptom that had been slowly getting worse over the previous two years. At first it was only noticeable when I was involved in extreme exercise, but it gradually showed up when I simply walked up a flight of stairs. This morning I was not doing anything, but it was there. I thought about skipping Church that day and resting, thinking that I may have just overdid it the day before on our motorcycle ride. I was reminded of a talk that I had heard at some conference in the past that if we didn’t want to do something the Lord wanted us to do, then we should really do it because there was something that we were supposed to learn from it, so I got ready for Church with my wife and we went.

During Sacrament meeting one of the speakers relayed a recent experience he had endured when he had a heart attack, so afterward I felt inspired to ask him about the symptoms. He asked me why, and I relayed to him what I was feeling. He told me to go immediately to the emergency room, and to not attend the following Sunday School or Priesthood meetings. Well I, being the stubborn soul that I am, attended Sunday School anyways; however, the pressure in my chest was not getting better, so afterward I told my wife that maybe we should go to the emergency room so they could rule out my heart as the culprit.

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“As a radiologist, I had seen fatty plaque clogging critical arteries”

Chad Harston familyBy: Chad Harston, MD

Our C-130 transport plane touched down in the middle of the night at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. It was 2010, and I had been deployed to Iraq to take part in Operation New Dawn ordered by President Obama. I was part of the crew responsible to keep the base hospital operational during the orderly withdrawal of US Forces. After a few hours of sleep I rolled out of my bunk, put on my battle dress uniform and made my way to the hospital in the 120 degree July heat for my first day of work. An NCO issued me a firearm and another checked my gas mask and chemical protection gear. I sat down to start reading radiographs, CT scans, and ultrasounds generated from combat traumas as well as routine cases like twisted ankles, kidney stones, and pneumonias. At first I only had to work 12 hour shifts 7 days per week. The base was large with over 30,000 military troops and contractors when I arrived, but most of the soldiers were healthy and combat injuries were diminishing every month as more and more troops were sent home.

When the trauma work was light in the middle of the night I finally had time to myself. The frantic demands on my time that I had been dealing with for nearly 20 years came to a sudden halt. After all those years of working and studying 80 – 100+ hours per week, suddenly I found that I had time to ponder life and study whatever interested me. I also wanted to use some of my free time to get in better shape. Fortunately, the Iraqi army had left a swimming pool when they turned over the base to the US Air Force, and the base commander had made it a priority to acquire gym equipment for the troops. After a night shift I enjoyed going to pool or the gym for a morning workout. The only inconvenience was the frequent C-RAM siren indicating incoming rockets and mortars. This required us to jump out of the pool and run for cover. I planned out an ambitious exercise regimen, but as the weeks went on I didn’t lose weight or feel stronger. In fact, I felt progressively worse. I was following the usual fitness precepts: alternating weight lifting and cardio while eating large amounts of protein — mostly meat, eggs, and dairy. Yet somehow my weight was going up while my stamina was going down.

Finally, my frustration reached a peak one night when I couldn’t even jog a slow mile on the lonely treadmill in the hospital basement without feeling exhausted. I walked back through the dark empty halls to my office and opened my scriptures to a well-known passage: Doctrine and Covenants Section 89. Read More→

“Even the least of us can do it!”

Jim and Carol LindseyBy: Carol Lindsey

When I was 12 years old, we went to visit my grandparents. As we were traveling, just before our stop for dinner, I realized it had been days since I’d felt hunger pangs. This was a memorable “ah-ha” moment. It was the first of many times over the next 50 plus years that I noticed I was eating for reasons other than hunger.

I’ve always loved food, and I loved to eat, especially sweets. Weight was never a problem . . . until I had my first baby. After my daughter was born, my son came one year later, and for the next 47 years I carried more than 50 extra pounds on my 5’4″ frame. That’s not to say I didn’t try to lose the weight, and sometimes I was even successful, but it never stayed off. No matter how hard I tried, the weight would always creep back on. You could probably say in my whole adult life I was either dieting or gaining weight. Rarely did I ever maintain my weight, and if I did, it was for a very short period of time. My food choices were anything sweet, salty, fried or on a bun. Chocolate, butter and ice cream were their own food groups in my book, and least I leave out the meat, I loved rare steak, prime rib, and any seafood you could dip in butter.

I was so obsessed with my weight that to this day I can tell you how much I weighed at every important event that ever occurred in my life. Food was a drug to me. I used it to dull emotional pain and feelings of failure. In the first nine months after our son passed away, I tried to deal with the grief by stuffing myself. It didn’t work. Once again I went on a diet. This time I lost 30 pounds and figured that was the best I could do . . . after all a woman in her 60’s can’t expect to be skinny. I managed to maintain that weight loss for about a year, but then, just like all the other times, the weight began to creep on again.

We left home in March of 2014 to serve an 18-month mission for the LDS Church. We spent the first six months at Martin’s Cove, Wyoming. Next we were given a six-month assignment to Rosebud, South Dakota where we lived on the Sioux Indian Reservation and taught an addiction recovery program. In April of 2015 we were transferred from Rosebud back to Martin’s Cove.

I had assumed that because the work we did on our mission was very physical that I would easily lose weight, but instead once again I found myself gaining. We missionaries had a funny saying: “No one has starved at Martin’s Cove since 1856.” We made sure of that with wonderful dinners, desserts, and movie nights with treats and BBQ’s and trough dinners and the list goes on. With all that great food, I decided I was through with deprivation. No more diets for me! I’d eat what I wanted and just be happy. After all there are more important things in life than the size of your body!

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“I believe that health is our birthright.”

Lara Johnson 1

My Russian father and Venezuelan mother on the day of my Russian Orthodox christening.

By: Lara Johnson

I was raised eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). I was often sick with colds and flus and constipation. As a teenager I suffered from acne and depression, and I struggled to manage my weight, which led to bulimia.

Lara Johnson 2

My face covered in acne on my wedding day.

When I got married I wanted to be a good wife and homemaker so I would make all kinds of delicious SAD meals for my husband. We had dessert every night. I developed painful ovarian cysts and frequent urinary tract infections (UTI’s). They were very painful and when I would have one I would have to miss work because I could not get off of the toilet because of the discomforting urge to urinate.

In this 3-year anniversary photo I was barely pregnant and didn’t know it yet.

In this 3-year anniversary photo I was barely pregnant and didn’t know it yet.

When I became pregnant with my first child, I developed a UTI that would just not go away. One of my best friends, Joylene Scott, told me about a health book entitled Fit For Life that promoted a vegan lifestyle. She said that everyone in her mission had been following it. She came home vibrant and healthy and fifty pounds lighter. I on the other hand had put on twenty-five pounds and was miserable. Read More→

“I can’t really explain the excitement I felt”

Alena JohnsonBy: Alena Johnson

For the past 10 years or so, I have had a hard time maintaining or losing weight. I tried a lot of different methods, but didn’t have much success. I have always been good about exercising, but I couldn’t seem to find the right eating plan. In January of 2013, my sister found a diet that seemed fairly healthy, so my husband and I tried it. We were both able to lose weight, but we didn’t feel like we could live that way. Also, I didn’t like eating the amount of meat that it included, and I always felt less than satisfied because of the lower carb content.

Once in a while I would look through the Word of Wisdom to see if I could pick out something that I had missed before. When I would do this, I would often end up feeling discouraged. I could see that it said to eat meat sparingly and that grains should be the main part of our diets. But I felt like I had to choose between eating that way and being in a healthy weight range. It made me sad. Also, I felt like I didn’t know what to cook for meals that would fit into those guidelines.

In December of 2013 my husband and I were looking at returning to the diet that my sister found that had worked for us. I’m sure my husband wasn’t looking forward to it and started looking online for alternatives. On December 23, he sent me a link to an article by Jane Birch with the words, “This seems like the right approach.”

I read the article and immediately wanted to learn more. I can’t really explain the excitement I felt over learning how I could possibly eat like the Word of Wisdom suggests, lose weight, and avoid a wide range of disease, all at the same time! I didn’t want to wait to get Jane’s book in the mail so I ordered the ebook version of Discovering the Word of Wisdom. I couldn’t put it down. My husband and I decided to give it a try. Through the holidays we tried a few recipes here and there. On January 14, 2015, we went 100% (at least as far as we had learned at that point).

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“I planted the seed to see what fruits it would yield”

Maria FarleyBy: Maria Farley

My family has a history of high cholesterol. My father passed away in 1990 at age 54 of heart disease, and all six of my brothers are on cholesterol lowering medications. My cholesterol was also high, and I was on cholesterol, pre-diabetic and hypothyroid medications.

I’m a mother of five children and part of a blended family that added three more children to the picture. Though I was a dancer in college, I now work full time outside the home in an office sitting at a desk. In addition to family and work, I’ve always had busy church callings. I was tired and my body ached all the time. I slept poorly and was frequently constipated so I took sleeping aids and extra fiber. I wasn’t very happy and dealt with depression despite my “push through it” attitude. In 2010 I started visiting doctors more frequently to try to address this general “not feeling well” cloud that was hanging over me. I tried eating better, walking for exercise again, and started all those medications.

Despite the things I tried to get healthier, it didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. After four years, I had come to an “I don’t care, it doesn’t seem to make a difference” frame of mind, which included my eating patterns. Then in July 2014 a brother who is four years younger than I had a mild stroke. That really shook me up. I realized I was on the same health path that he was. I was 47 years old at the time, and at 5′ 11″ I weighed 215 pounds.

Shortly after my brother’s stroke, because of my expressed concerns, a son-in-law invited me to watch the DVD Forks Over Knives, and my daughter gave me a copy of the book Discovering the Word of Wisdom by Jane Birch. They were living with us at the time and had wanted to adopt a whole food, plant-based way of eating, but had not successfully converted fully over.

After watching and reading this information and being introduced to additional scientific evidence from Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn, the enlightenment of the truths found in the Word of Wisdom (that I had not paid any attention to previously) came to life for me. This whole food, plant-based diet lined up in my mind so well with the counsel given in the Word of Wisdom that I decided to put my faith to work and give it a try for 30 days. You could say I planted the seed and was testing it out to see what kind of fruits it would yield. I was blessed to have my daughter and son-in-law joining me in this “experiment upon [His] words” (Alma 32:27).

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