Friday, February 1, 2013

Vegans with High Cholesterol

My cholesterol has always been high - around 233 – even after 12 years on a vegan diet.  How can a 12-year vegan have such high cholesterol?  Genetics, of course. 

We love to use genetics as an excuse.  We blame so many things on genetics, yet most of us have never actually had a genetic test done to solidify our excuse!  So I did. I flew to Denver, and went to Dr. Ian Levenson who tested me for the Apolipoprotein E (often called “Apo-E”) genotype.  Sure enough, I tested positive for the ApoE 4 allele.  The ApoE 4 genotype, which 14% of the population has, puts me at a high risk of heart disease and early dementia, and I certainly don’t want to be getting coloring books for Christmas when I’m 50.

Having this genotype makes the body hyper-respond to fat.  Thus, my cholesterol is sky-high, even though I don’t eat any; my body takes the fat I have eaten and over-produces cholesterol.  While having this genotype puts me at a higher risk for heart disease and dementias, the good news is that I should respond very well to a very, very low-fat diet. 

Although I know fatty diets are bad – and in a vegan diet, most fat comes from oil – I have procrastinated going completely low-fat, only because it is soooo hard when I’m traveling!!  Being on the road every week makes it very hard to eat vegan with no oil.  But I certainly have no intention of taking cholesterol-lowering medications for the rest of my life, so I decided to suck it up and do it.  I’m only 3 weeks in, so I can’t claim long-term success yet, but today was a motivating day: My company offered a free health screening today, and (drum roll) the results after just three weeks of vegan-no-oil? 

Decrease in Total Cholesterol:  -67
Decrease in LDL (bad) Cholesterol:  -67
Decrease in Triglycerides:  -79

So, the moral of the story is that sometimes we have to make a commitment, and do what’s best for our health, even if it’s hard.  The payoff, although hard to imagine, could be life or death!


  1. Totally aweseome Sarah! Numbers don't lie . . . .what an amazing and drastic discovery in such a short amount of time.

    Keep up the great job!

  2. Oh, man, did I ever need to read this post. I've been working on becoming vegan, on my cardiologist's advice and been very frustrated when my cholesterol numbers didn't change. Although mine were not all that high, I was still advised to bring the numbers down and six month of vegan hadn't move anything a BIT. What I learned was that I'd simply substituted vegetable oils for animal oils - olive oil, Earth Balance, avocado & guacamole, peanut butter.... you get the picture. So, I've been facing the no-oil, low-low-fat vegan regimens (Engine 2, Esselstyne, Ornish) and trying to do better. Please do post on how you are doing and what kinds of recipes, sources and experiences you're encountering! I look forward to reading your posts. - Sybil