Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Retrospective #111: “…the usual complaints” of aging

This topic is qualitative. I am talking about the quality of life I have experienced since I began to eat Very Low Carb (VLC) 17 years ago (2002). I began VLC at my doctor’s suggestion to lose weight. It immediately affected my Type 2 diabetes (dx 1986), requiring a severe and immediate reduction in the medications to treat my diabetes.
I am now a 78-year-old male who is still overweight…still obese, in fact (BMI = 33). In 2002 I weighed 375 pounds (BMI = 52). I now weigh 238 pounds. At one time, less that 2 years ago, I was down to 188. In 2002 I had high blood pressure with prescriptions for a “cocktail” of 3 meds. My BP is now “normal” (120/80) on 2 meds and lower doses.
In 2002 I also had low HDL and moderately high triglycerides. My HDL has since doubled and my triglycerides cut by 2/3rds. My total cholesterol and LDL have been constant, down slightly actually. And latest A1c was 5.6mg/dL. So, to an uninformed clinician, I look “non-diabetic.” Bottom line: I am a lot healthier today than I was 17 years ago.
I was at a cocktail party in 2012 in which a few old men were standing around talking about “the usual complaints” of aging. When it was my turn to share, I said to an old retired ophthalmic surgeon that I had no complaints whatsoever. In fact, I told the group, I felt much better “today” than I did 10 years before. They all looked at me in disbelief, like I was being disingenuous or just in denial, so I quickly explained to them that I had lost 140 pounds in those 10 years. Another (also a retired MD) said that that explained everything, and the subject quickly changed.
I have been thinking about their reaction to my “no complaints” comment for a while and want to explore it. For one thing, I am happier. My mood is elevated. I no longer have a fear that I will die an early death as I did when I was morbidly obese. Besides all the physiological risk factors, this fear was well founded and probably a stress generator, and stress produces inflammation.
Of course, the most common question people asked about my weight loss, especially when I was at my lowest, was “Don’t you feel ‘better’?” My response then was, in the physical sense, “Not really…although once, when I was walking across a parking lot, I had the sense that my step was ‘lighter’.” But that was all I recognized or felt, at the time. Today that different “feeling” has been lost to time and sameness.  But, looking back, I would say now that I am much happier, and that really is a big difference. Had I realized it then, I would have mentioned it.
Additionally, my doctor and I are very pleased that my health markers (BP, cholesterol, and glucose metabolism) have all improved so dramatically. My dramatic blood pressure improvement, because of the weight loss, signals an improved prognosis for both cardiovascular health and longevity. I attribute the weight loss and improvements in A1c, fasting blood glucose, in my lipid (cholesterol) panel, especially HDL and triglycerides, and in inflammation, to the Very Low Carb (VLC) diet. Taken together, they constitute a much-improved health outlook for me.
Perhaps the most remarkable (and inexplicable?) change in my health is that in my 63rd year, about a year after starting to eat Very Low Carb, I started to have arthritis in two fingers of my left hand. Anyone familiar with the symptoms will recognize it: persistent pain and swelling in the 2nd joint. It came and went for a few weeks and then mysteriously disappeared…forever. I had it, I’m sure. And it’s gone, completely gone for 15 years now. It just disappeared without a trace. This is, of course, simply an association. I do not suggest causation, but who knows. I’m just glad not to have to endure arthritis, as so many others do. It’s one of “the usual complaints” of aging.
So, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, it’s good to be happier and healthier. Happier and healthier are mutually supportive aspects of “the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body,” to borrow a phrase Gary Taubes. He uses it in his seminal 2007 book, “Good Calories-Bad Calories” (“The Diet Delusion” in the UK). It is part of one of the 10 “certain conclusions” he reached after extensively researching and writing on the subject. All 10 conclusions are listed in “Retrospective #5,” earlier in this series.

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