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My Heart Journey: Navigating Heart Health and Statin Therapy

Introduction: Dad-Bod Unveiled!

When I was in my mid-late 30s, back in the 90’s, I embarked on a new adventure: performing in musical theater. Little did I know that this experience would serve as a wake-up call for my health journey. After seeing a video of myself in a role that required me to be shirtless, I was confronted with the reality of my own 'dad-bod'—a result of years spent focusing on family and work life rather than my own well-being.

It was also around this time that I began undergoing annual wellness checks and blood tests, revealing slightly elevated cholesterol as well as a family history of high blood pressure.  This, along with being overweight prompted me to reevaluate my lifestyle. As I approached my 40s, I made a commitment to prioritize my health by embracing regular exercise, starting with a marathon and eventually venturing into Ironman competitions and triathlons and races of all distances. With my newfound passion for fitness, I assumed I could eat anything and everything to fuel my active lifestyle. 

However, it wasn't until 2005 when we opened Good Harvest —a natural food store dedicated to providing our community with access to wholesome, organic foods—that I truly began to understand the power of nutrition in shaping our health. Over the years, I've continued to exercise regularly and maintain a diet rich in whole foods, which has resulted in stabilized wellness reports and improved health markers.

Unexpected Discovery – What???!!!:

Recently, however, my health journey took an unexpected turn when a routine pre-op electrocardiogram (ECG) for a torn meniscus in my knee revealed a potential small heart attack in my past.  Whether it was a matter of genetics or decades of poor diet, and despite my commitment to exercise and healthy eating, I found myself grappling with the reality of heart disease, which is America’s number one cause of death. 

The first thing I did was assume that this test must have been erroneous.  I have never had symptoms of heart issues and this just couldn’t be right.   While my total cholesterol count of about 200 is on the border of what some doctors watch for, my ratio of good to bad cholesterol is very good.  The test result must be wrong!  So the next step was meeting the very next day with a cardiologist to shed some light on this and get a second opinion. 

After consulting with the cardiologist and undergoing a calcium heart scan (just $45!), I found out I do in fact have plaque in my blood stream and in a portion of my heart and I have a moderate risk of heart issues in the future.  I now was faced with a difficult decision: whether or not to start a low-dose statin medication to reduce the risk of future heart issues. 

Navigating Statin Therapy:

As someone who has long championed the power of food as medicine, the idea of relying on a prescription medication felt contradictory to my beliefs – almost like cheating! Yet, after extensive research and discussions with my healthcare team, I came to realize that pride should not stand in the way of prioritizing my health.    I've learned that statins, a class of medications commonly used to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, have been instrumental in managing heart disease for millions of Americans since the late 1980’s, and an estimated 40+ million people are on the drug. While diet alone might not eliminate existing plaque, combining healthy eating with statin therapy can stabilize it and reduce future risks.

Here are some additional key points about statins:

Statins effectively lower LDL cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

They can slow or halt the progression of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the arteries.

Statins have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by about 30% in individuals with, or at risk for, heart disease.

While generally well-tolerated, statins may cause side effects such as muscle pain, liver enzyme abnormalities, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Regular monitoring of liver function and muscle enzymes may be necessary, especially when starting or changing doses.

Looking Ahead – Statin Forever?:

While I will continue to exercise and improve my diet, I have chosen to use the benefits of statin therapy as part of a comprehensive approach to heart health. However, my hope is that once the plaque in my bloodstream has stabilized, I will be able to eliminate the need for the statin and rely strictly on healthy foods to keep my cholesterol at bay.  This will obviously be done with the guidance of my medical professionals.  I will let you know as we move on!

Closing Thoughts:

As I navigate this new chapter in my health journey, I am reminded of the importance of humility and adaptability in the face of change. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to take proactive steps towards their own well-being, whether through exercise, nutrition, medication, or a combination of approaches. Listen to your body and have regular checkups as you age.  Together, we can empower ourselves to prioritize heart health and live our fullest, healthiest lives.

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Please Note: While I share my personal journey and the choices I've made regarding my heart health, it's crucial to remember that everyone's health situation is unique. This story is not intended as medical advice. I strongly encourage you to consult with your healthcare provider for guidance tailored to your specific health needs and conditions. Together, you can make informed decisions that best support your well-being.

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Joe Nolan


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