My battle with Cholesterol

How could this happen to me, a doctor? I felt that my body had betrayed me. I had no symptoms, no pain, no signs.

Zeba Ansari November 22, 2012
Three years ago, I went in for what was supposed to be a routine yearly physical. I walked into the doctor’s office full of confidence waiting for full marks on my blood test results. Instead, he gave me the grim news that my cholesterol numbers were elevated.

I couldn't believe this.

How could this happen to me, a doctor?

I felt that my body had betrayed me. I had no symptoms, no pain, no signs.
“I feel fine,” I insisted.

He looked at me and said,
“You know, that is why it is called the ‘silent killer’”.

He said that the only way to discover high cholesterol before any symptoms manifest was with yearly physicals. My diligence was probably going to save my life.


The very word makes you feel a little ill, a little heavy in the arteries, and a tiny bit achy in the heart. My doctor said that he didn’t want to me to start medication right away, and recommended a “wait and watch” strategy for a year - but only if my levels did not go up. He also said that I should educate myself on treatments other than medications.

Being a medical doctor I had an inherent distrust of any remedy that wasn’t manufactured by a pharmaceutical company and didn’t come with an entire scroll of side effects. But I didn’t want to wage chemical warfare on my body until I was sure that it was the only way to go. I knew that I had to start working out more -- a resolution that I reserved for the new year, ‘every year’. I had to make healthier choices concerning what I ate, so basically I had to let go of most things I ate; as it turned out, I consumed only one type of food--fried.

But I was looking for more information.

Somewhere out there was cholesterol’s Achilles heel, and I was going to find it and deal it a deathly blow before it took me down.

As with all great searches, the way to go was the internet. I sat at that computer for countless hours bookmarking pages, joining web groups and e-mailing purveyors of miracle cures for more information on their products. And after hours of squinting at a screen I found something that finally made sense.

The main line of defence against high cholesterol is a healthy diet. Grease and oils have to be eliminated as much as possible substituted with foods high in dietary fibre and nutrients. The following are a few choices:

  • Foods high in dietary fibre should be preferred, like legumes, beans, daals and psyllium husk commonly known as Isapghol.

  • Switching to fat-free milk and dairy products eliminates fat from the diet while holding on to all the wonderful calcium and other nutrients.

  • Garlic has been shown to lower cholesterol. This can be taken raw or cooked and is also available as a capsule.

  • Grains and cereals are an excellent source of dietary fibre especially oats. Baked products containing whole grains are also a wonderful way of getting fibre and essential nutrients into the body.

  • Substituting olive oil wherever you can in your diet has great benefits. The monounsaturated fatty acids in the olive oil lower the bad cholesterol and elevate the good cholesterol levels.

  • All nuts, fruits and vegetable are a chock full of phytosterols which block the uptake of cholesterol in the intestines.

Long story short - it’s been three years since my diagnosis and my numbers are the same. I am still not taking any medications, yet, but I go in and have my levels checked every year religiously. I take Ispaghol once a day and try to incorporate fruits, vegetables and nuts in my diet as much as I can. I work out, I choose water instead of Coke and I pray.

Hopefully this combination will work for me.

For some of us this will be enough and others will need to add cholesterol lowering medications to their arsenal. But whichever group you may fall into, give cholesterol a good fight.

Read more by Zeba here or follow her on Twitter @zebansari

Zeba Ansari A graduate of Bolan Medical College, Zeba has been researching and writing for various organizations and websites. She writes from the perspective of the common man and tweets as @zebansari
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Ed T | 11 years ago | Reply @Insaan: Since every man in my family has had a significant heart attack or stroke before the age of 50, I am obsessed with it, especially since most doctors are completely ignorant about nutrition. Since the medical field offers only treatment options and not prevention, I'm part of a growing group of people who will not let their doctor make all the decisions. I realize that most doctors are well-intentioned and don't have the time to commit to specialized research. I also realize my health and well-being is far too important to be left to well-intentioned, but ignorant doctors. Having taken a nutrition course or two hardly prepares anybody to understand the complexity of biochemistry, thermodynamics, pharmacology and basic chemistry. Most of the published research on nutrition and heart disease is wrong. All of it is based upon the premise that lots of carbohydrates are healthy. Take any research article and study the introduction. There is where the researcher's biases and prejudices are stated. Examine the materials and methods to see if the results are based upon solid science. Most important of all, examine the conclusions in the study. Most conclusions are based upon the validity of the assumptions. If the assumptions are invalid, the study results are also invalid. Since the medical community has such a myopic view of medicine and nutrition, I do not consider any recommendations, however well-intentioned, useful. Most recommendation are actually harmful. I do collect data on my biomarkers because it helps me understand how my body reacts to different foods. I'll close with a quote for Lord Kelvin, a noted physicist and engineer, "In physical science a first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be."
Insaan | 11 years ago | Reply @Ed T: I have a non-fasting lipid panel every couple of months and a fasting lipid panel twice a year, one of which is an NMR lipoprotein lipid panel which also measures LDL particle count and LDL directly. My caloric intake is in the 3400 to 3800 calorie a day range. My friend I feel you seemed to be obsessed with your heart health. Why are you doing all this? You may suffer from OCD like problems.
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