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Heart Health Examined

Welcome to my blog post #3 describing my foray into the world at the intersection of medicine, genetics and technology.

In this post, I’d like to cover my tryst with heart disease and why and how it helped me focus on things that I didn’t take as seriously as I should have. This is especially important as the world has (justifiably) been consumed by Covid-19 but unfortunately at the expense of all the other aspects of their health. Regular habits like exercise, keeping an eye on our food intake, getting regular check-ups done have all become that much harder to do, but hopefully this post will remind you of the importance of prioritizing them high again.

If you would prefer to watch a video than read, the following is a 6 minute video of the keynote speech I delivered at the South Asian Heart Center Gala in March 2016 where I talk about both discovering that I had coronary heart disease as well as the changes I made to my lifestyle in the 6 months after that, in order to take more control of my heart health.

 

The work done by the South Asian Heart Center, under the able leadership of Ashish Mathur, truly saved my life as it has the lives of hundreds others, as it awakened me to the impact that Meditation, Exercise, Diet and Sleep (MEDS) had on diabetes and heart attacks. I had been someone who never smoked and hardly drank alcohol (2-3 glasses of wine a month), didn’t drink tea or coffee, exercised regularly (soccer twice a week, gym thrice a week), and wasn’t overweight (my BMI was at the lowest possible end for my height). So, in my mind I was doing all the right things and yet, I didn’t truly appreciate the impact that the diet part of MEDS had on my body. My mistaken belief was that if I exercised enough, I could undo the evils that any consumption of sugar and carbs would have on my health; something that I realized through this experience, just isn’t true. Not only was I diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD) but I was at the 99th percentile of calcification of my arteries for someone my age. Although the calcification is considered irreversible, I was put onto a light dose of statins to stabilize the plaque buildup and it was recommended I make some immediate lifestyle changes.

I started by making the most fundamental modifications to my diet, such as reducing my sugar intake significantly and reducing my carbohydrate inputs by about half, while increasing my protein, fiber and fat intake. This improved my key markers quite significantly, with my triglycerides dropping from 237 to 62 mg/dL (recommended levels < 150 mg/dL), my LDL-C dropping from 125 to 57 mg/dL (recommended level < 70 for people with CAD, my TC/HDL ratio dropping from 6.1 to 2.5 (recommended < 3.5). In addition, I lost about 22 lbs or 10 kgs through the loss of the visceral fat that had collected around my organs due to all the surplus sugar consumption over the years. The lack of any new sugar consumption, once I put my new diet into effect, began to consume all that fat as an alternative source of energy. I am glad to report that I have been able to keep all my markers close to what they were after the initial changes almost 6 years ago.

With the rapid advances in medicine and technology, a number of new and potentially game-changing approaches have emerged, that can provide meaningful insight into what foods are optimal for each of us, based on their impact on our blood sugar levels. A notable one that I ran into was the Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), a device that track one’s blood sugar level continuously in order to provide feedback on the impact that our food has on our blood sugar. I spent 2 months keeping it on my body 24 hours a day and learnt some very interesting lessons in this area.

In the next post, I will share a summary of my observations from the CGM that hopefully you will find helpful. I am not a medical doctor but I work at a company where many of my colleagues are scientists, geneticists and medical doctors, so I try to provide an explanation for each of my observations, wherever possible. I would also love to hear your inputs and comments where you may have a better explanation for my observations. 

Nickhil