Wine, Coconut Milk, or CrossFit? One Biohacker’s Quest to Improve His Cholesterol

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Lukáš Jirovský

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Lukáš Jirovský

Meet William Green

williamI’m a 44 year old father of two, husband of one and director of the E. O. Smith High School Depot Campus, a Big Picture school (www.bigpicture.org). I’m a former high school science teacher, research scientist, consultant, and entrepreneur working towards a better fit between education, life, and human nature. I enjoy exercise, hiking, beekeeping, winemaking, and blogging at depthofengagement.com.

[William’s testing results, health outcomes, and biochemical changes he shared here are unique to William, influenced through a number of factors. Through diagnostics, we know that our biochemistry is unique and health and wellness is not  “one-size-fits-all.” To receive recommendations based on your unique biomarkers, consult your PCP or book a consultation with any of our nutritionists, registered dietitians or physicians.]

The Why Behind the Experiment 

I’d had my cholesterol checked a few times before last year, and it was a bit high, but I wasn’t really concerned. True, I’d started the high fat “paleo/primal” diet in 2012, and I’d been wondering if all that meat and fat might affect my heart, but I also knew the research was mixed (see here and here, for example). So, I ignored it and kept eating as much bacon as I could.

Then, in July 2015, my total cholesterol was up to 218, and my doctor mentioned the unmentionable: “We should probably take a look at statins,” he said, “or if you want, you could try changing your diet first.”

I didn’t want to change my diet, which had lost me 30 pounds and had me feeling very good, but I also didn’t want to take statins, with their potential muscle and liver damage.

I decided to do my own experiments.

I found WellnessFX.com. It’s a site where you can order blood tests, get your blood drawn at Quest Diagnostics, and get the results the next day online*.

My plan: Get baseline data, and then every month change one variable (diet, lifestyle, etc.), and see if it changed my cholesterol.

The First Results That Came Back

I ordered the basic “E-Check Up” package. My baseline LDL (the bad cholesterol) was 163 mg/dL–in the “high risk” category. Since then, I’ve done four separate, controlled experiments on my body–one per month.

William’s Plan of Action

November: Reduced saturated fats. I quit coconut milk (used in my smoothies and curries), bacon, and bacon grease (used for cooking).

December:  Supplements. I decided to start taking my old supplement regime, which included some supplements that I thought might help lower my cholesterol (Phosphatidyl choline and EPA/DHA complex). I added back the coconut milk and bacon so I could be sure I knew exactly which change had the effect.

January: Wine. I quit the supplements, kept the fats, and increased my wine intake to every day instead of just the weekends. I know, it was tough, but my health was worth it. 🙂 But seriously, red wine has been shown to have a beneficial effect on LDL and HDL (see here and here).

February: Exercise. Cut back to weekends-only with the wine, keep the fats, and add more exercise. For this, I started doing CrossFit at CrossFit Storrs three times a week for a month (in addition to my normal, much milder workout regime).

March: Double down on the saturated fat reduction. I kept doing CrossFit, eliminated the coconut milk, bacon grease again and also quit red meat and cut down on eggs. I replaced red meat in my meal plan with fish, and reduced my egg intake from about a dozen per week to two.

What William Learned

The graphs speak for themselves.
(Data is beautiful, and science is so awesome!)
Reducing saturated fat  lowered my LDL.
This particular supplement regime had no beneficial effect for me.

LDL

Shared with permission from William Green

And wine… wow! This is your HDL on wine:

Shared with permission from William Green

Shared with permission from William Green

After a month of a couple of glasses of homemade Cabernet per night (with beer on my Saturday cheat days), my HDL went from 51 mg/dL to a whopping 60, and LDL went down as well!

And then there was CrossFit… Boom! After a month of CrossFit, my LDL was a full 24 mg lower than baseline–almost out of the red zone, and HDL was up again.

But to see the real power of these last two experiments, let’s take a look at the total to HDL ratio. Because HDL counteracts LDL, this ratio may be the best way to assess risk, and the CrossFit drove the ratio down to 3.4, a full unit below the highest it had been.

Shared with permission from William Green

Shared with permission from William Green

For March, I didn’t want to stop CrossFit, but doubled down on the saturated fat reduction, and… Boom! Slammed that LDL down into the moderate zone!

Shared with permission from William Green

Shared with permission from William Green

What’s Next For William?

Finally, this month I’m putting it all together: reduced fats, increased wine, and CrossFit. I’m hoping to push that LDL into the green zone, that ratio right through the floor of that graph, and those statins right out of the realm of possibilities!

But there’s something else I have to do. My son is a data scientist, and when I told him about this experiment, he asked if I could get my blood taken every day. I asked him why, and he said so that I could get a feeling for the day-to-day variation. So just to be sure all these effects aren’t just random variation, I’m going to run a few more tests this month a week apart to get a feel for the natural variation.

Final Thoughts From William

It’s been so much fun doing science again, especially on my own body! It’s a great example of the power of the scientific method for solving real problems. And it would not have been possible without the WellnessFX system! Thanks!

Avoiding statins is huge, but discovering CrossFit has been a major added bonus! The people are awesome, the workouts kick my butt, I feel great, I’m learning all sorts of new skills, and I’m getting stronger.

*Delivery of results vary depending on the size of the draw package ordered. 

How WellnessFX Can Help

WellnessFX, in addition to providing customized blood tests and access to personalized clinical advice, is a secure web-based platform that guarantees our members’ medical records remain safe and confidential.

If you want to get started by testing and monitoring your own biomarkers, check out the package William used. Regular blood testing empowers you to understand and improve your underlying health by combining advanced biomarker analysis with an intuitive health dashboard to track your results. Include a 20-minute nutritionist consultation for personalized recommendations you can implement immediately. Cheers to being on the road to a healthier you, with you in the driver’s seat.

See the Test William Used

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.