I fight heart disease with lifestyle, not statins, a one year report

One year ago, following a coronary artery calcium (CAC) scan that revealed “severe coronary artery calcification,” I felt threatened. It motivated me to learn all I could about coronary artery disease and possible treatment tactics. You can read my account that I posted to TuD back then.

After reviewing the medical literature and interacting with other heart patients on the Undoctored Inner Circle forum, I decided that the statin my cardiologist was strongly pushing was not an effective path. Instead, encouraged by other patients, I chose to embark on a series of lifestyle changes that held more hope for me.

My intent was to give these new lifestyle habits a one year trial, get another CAC scan and see if lifestyle could affect positive change. I learned that coronary artery plaque usually progresses at a frightening 25-30% per year pace.

Several sources asserted that simply stabilizing that number would greatly diminish by risk of an adverse heart event going forward. I remain asymptomatic at this point and have not experienced any chest pain or heart attack.

So, I committed myself a year ago to adopt a list of lifestyle changes that would stop, even reverse, or at least slow down this disease progression. I decided against the insistence of my cardiologist that I needed to begin taking a statin if I had any hope of changing the troubling heart health trajectory I was on. I think this frustrated him.

What changes did I make? The list is lengthy, so I’ll just touch on the main ones.

  • Eliminate all grains from my diet. That includes wheat, rice, and soybean products.

  • Eliminate all added sugars, except, of course, for hypoglycemia treatments.

  • Work on getting good, consistent, and restful sleep.

  • Work on improving my digestion.

  • Work on improving my thyroid labs to optimal, not just “in range.” I live with hypothyroidism.

  • Add daily nutritional supplements including vitamin D3, Omega 3, magnesium, and vitamin K2.

  • Maintain my daily walking exercise, averaging 2-4 miles/day.

  • Adopt a daily meditation practice to enhance mindfulness and tamp down my natural disposition toward the sympathetic (fight vs. flight) nervous system and encourage more of a parasympathetic (rest and digest) disposition.

Cutting out all grains was not very difficult for me as I had been limiting carbs since 2012. This had an immediate and positive effect on my blood glucose. My time in range went up and glucose variability went down. My A1c dropped about a half point and my total daily dose of insulin went down as well.

I lost 10 pounds and that helped reduce my blood pressure. I still take a med but now am only taking one half my former dose with better numbers. My heart rate also dropped from 80s and 90s down to the 60s and 70s. I still take my beta-blocker med to control my heart rate.

A year ago, my CAC score was 489 indicating severe calcification. My goal over the last year was to at least slow down the typical 25-30% annual progression, if not reverse it.

Last week, I underwent another CAC scan one year following the previous scan. My score?

A score of 482 showed that I stopped my coronary artery disease progression and my risk of an adverse heart event plummeted!

I am thrilled with this result and I will continue with most of my lifestyle changes as I now see concrete proof that what I am doing is working. As I’m sure your know, heart disease is a major complication of diabetes, both T1D and T2D.

I’ve been aware of this fact for many years but my CAC scan last year was my first indication that heart disease threatened my life. I consider stopping that plaque progression a significant success.

I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments. Today is a good day for me! Thank-you for your interest.

21 Likes

Good for you. I read all of your posts. You are so helpful to share what you have and are learning

3 Likes

Great news Terry, and a worthy result after all the hard work you’ve done over the past year.

I’m sure you’ll outlive most of us :smiley:

Thanks for that sentiment, Jim. My biggest motivator, however, is a long health span.

1 Like

Hi Terry,

I don’t know a lot about the test you had last year, but I remembered your post from Oct 2018. I just went back and re-read it tonight. What strikes me is that following the CAC, you stayed present, you had a significant part in developing your plan, you committed to it, are interested in it and you seem to like it. This makes such a difference. It may not be the way others go, but it’s the way you go.

I would be interested in further updates on your thinking about that test.

The only thing I would add is - have you heard of Peter Attia? I think others have mentioned him on this site. About the CAC, he writes“The way I think of calcification is, it tells you how many times you’ve been broken into and what kind of repair you’ve done. . . A biomarker tells you how bad a neighborhood you live in.” Lots more to it than that, that’s just an intro.

https://peterattiamd.com/ama05/

Wow and wow, Terry. It sure is a good day! So happy for you.
We chatted awhile back about my carotid artery disease. After the T1D diagnosis five years ago at age 55, I was struggling with the automatic statin rx. I’d had the carotid artery disease dx awhile prior to T1D and no MD ever mentioned it until T1D. I was scared with suddenly having diabetes and took the doctors advise, but had terrible muscle cramping. After a bit of research and consulting with people like you, I discontinued the statin. Well. Same result as you. A follow-up scan of my carotid arteries showed a bit less occlusion five or more years later. No statin. I had continued my relatively healthy life style, but had decreased carbohydrates to accommodate T1D. Granted there is variability in reading scans, but at a minimum, there was no change.
What are we to think of these situations? If a scan noticed carotid artery disease at age 55, was it there at age 45… age 35…? Maybe that is normal for me and not a “disease” at all. What is normal? Who do we believe?

Glad to hear everything you did worked! I don’t eat any grains either, they spike me like crazy apart from the gf issue. But I have read that people with celiac should avoid all grains, not just gluten.

Hi, what’s the rationale for that? Can I ask where you read it? Thanks.

I can’t believe that it’s already been a year since you initial CAC test. I guess time flies by when you’re having fun… But congrats on the good results and for having made a difference in your health.

Fantastic news, @Terry4! Well done! Thanks for sharing all this with us.

Congrats Terry! The way you have chosen to live is very much like the path I have chosen, although I now eat some grains.

Right now I need to pull books off my shelves and remind myself of my meditation years.

I think living this way is what made all of the arteries in my heart appear to be working working well 9 yrs after stents.

I would love to not worry about statins etc, but no matter what I eat or do I have higher than recommended LDL levels. I severely disagree with the statement “you are what you eat”. Most folks on a low fat plant based diet can stop taking high blood pressure meds and cholesterol lowering meds because their levels drop so much. Mine didn’t change much. If I quit eating altogether I would have higher than desired LDL.

I think genetics play a huge part in all of this. That would explain why so many older folks who are quite over weight and have never watched their weight live until they are 90. Some even smoke and drink.

Others of us have to eat clean and well, exercise, and constantly work to understand our minds and bodies to avoid running into problems. And sometimes the problems still appear.

This was the first time I can remember the arteries in my neck being scanned. I hope mine will look as good in 6 months.

Enjoy your success.

1 Like

@The_Senator_From_Glu - Thanks for your comments. I’ve familiar with Peter Attia’s work but I am not a subscriber to his premium content. I like the way he thinks.

I only hold a basic understanding of the CAC test. It can only reflect back from the calcium content of the plaque and the amount of the other soft components is inferred and deduced using a mathematical formula. This test is not absolute as to the risk going forward but it is far better than trying to infer risk using cholesterol as an indicator.

I am committed to mitigating my heart health risk and in the end realize that science has yet to learn the full story. What I’ve chosen to rely on, however, is not the outdated diet-heart hypothesis as well as the cholesterol-heart hypothesis. I see both of these as remnants of a system corrupted by Big Pharma, Big Food, and the beneficiaries of the medical business status quo. I don’t make these personal judgments lightly as I am the one with skin in the game.

I appreciate your interest in my story.

These situations are hard for the patient to make informed decisions about their health. I don’t reflexively trust doctors and their advice because I’ve been personally harmed with reliance on advice that I should have seen in a more skeptical light. On the other hand, doctors can be the best source of advice in some situations.

I’m starting to think that their advice is generally more trustworthy if it concerns acute care, like emergency situations. My 36 years of T1D has taught me that my docs generally don’t understand my disease the way that I do and are often hampered by following outdated standards of care often simply motivated by fear of legal consequences.

Good to read that you’ve experienced no increase in carotid plaque. I’d like to think that your change in eating habits had something to do with that.

Who should we believe? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer and in the end we should make the best call we can while we listen to our docs but do so at least with a skeptical attitude. As long was we remain cognitively capable, we should learn as much as we can about any medical situation before we move to any decision.

@meee - I agree with your take on grains. I don’t think that they are essential nutrients and human evolution has not yet figured out to adapt to grain consumption. With only 10,000 year of experience eating grains, that is a small percentage of our evolution.

I’ve read about anthrpological studies that examine the bones of humans before and after the adoption of agriculture. The studies revealed that the average height of pre-agricultural humans was taller than post-agricultural humans. Dental health also degraded when agriculture was introduced. And the bone cell structure of pre-agricultural humans was stronger.

Thanks for stopping by, @Laddie. The years do go by quickly! This last year was punctuated by more health habit changes than I’ve ever done before. It’s amazing how motivating an existential threat can be. I’ve learned a lot.

When I lived in Minnesota as a young man, I did a lot a canoeing up north. I worked at a summer camp and became acquainted with using a sauna. I’ve noticed in my constant review of heart health medical literature, I came across some serious and persuasive studies that suggest regular sauna usage is good for circulation and the heart. So, I’ve joined a gym just so I can sauna every day. It’s a wonderful habit that makes me feel good!

@Lorraine - I appreciate your comments. With the advent of the internet and social media, I think future writers/historians looking at culture and health, I suspect that they will note the influence and rise of the informed and activist patient as exerting an important effect during this period in history. We do live in interesting times.

@Marilyn6, your head must be spinning trying to absorb all the health issues raised during the last few weeks. I share your skepticism of doctor advice as well as the interest to dig in and find credible information that will help your choice of health habits going forward.

As long as you have good cognitive function, you will be well served by gathering as much knowledge as you can about your health. I wish you the best going forward. I know it’s tough when you’re now required to make important health decisions without knowing all the facts. But then again, the doctors don’t know all the facts either.

I think retracing your earlier history with meditation could help you feel more relaxed and clarify your thinking. I encourage you to make time for quiet and contemplation. Our brains are amazing and mindfulness helps us maximize this asset.

3 Likes

@Terry4 That’s awesome you were able to keep the disease from progressing. You made a lot of changes to make that happen and I’m sure they weren’t all easy. I should mimic your fruitful actions!

Can you point me to the source you mentioned about “the typical 25-30% annual progression”? I’d like to read more about this.

Thank you for sharing!

I can’t put my finger on the exact source but I know Dr. William Davis, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly and Undoctored has made this claim before. He probably references another source in the literature.

Google should provide some leads to this number.

1 Like

Thanks for the leads! I’ll check out Dr. William Davis and see what I can find.

Google, without Dr. Davis, wasn’t much of a help, given my search criteria, something like “CAC 25-30% annual progression” and other similar variations.

@Terry4 Thank you! :revolving_hearts::revolving_hearts::revolving_hearts::revolving_hearts:

Also, I joined Dr. Davis’ blog - the free version, to learn more!

1 Like

Congratulations, Terry. Could you tell me what your vita d level is presently? What brand of vitamin d do you use?

Thank-you, @v_prediabetic.

My last Vitamin D 25 level was tested in January of 2019. It was measured at 97 ng/mL, above the lab range of 35-80 ng/mL.

I’ve used various brands of Vitamin D3 and currently take the Vital Nutrients K2 + D3 combo. Each capsule has 2000 Iu units of D3 cholecalciferol and I usually take two per day.

The Dr. Davis program for slowing down, stopping, or even reducing coronary artery plaque build-up was the primary influence in constructing lifestyle tactics to manage my coronary artery disease. I participate in his subscription Innercircle forum.

I’ve also followed the many YouTube videos produced by Ivor Cummins. He works for the Irish Heart Disease Awareness nonprofit. They produced a documentary about heart disease and it promotes the use of coronary artery calcium scans to detect non-symptomatic heart disease so as to provide an opportunity to act to prevent an adverse event.

1 Like

I tend to agree. And epigenetics, too. The role of epigenetics in how each of us ages is only recently being explored. And this article discusses their role in diabetic cardiovascular disease.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049125/

2 Likes