Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cholesterol: What the Drug Companies Don't Want You to Know

I want to write about something that is near and dear to my heart.  Last January, after completing my Whole 30, I went to my doctor for my annual exam and bloodwork.  I had just finished reading Robb Wolf's The Paleo Solution and I asked my doc if he could some additional tests.  Instead of just the basic cholesterol profile (total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides), I wanted the full monty (breaks down HDL and LDL into small dense and large fluffy particles, C reactive protein, homocysteine, A1C, and tons of other useful info).

Highly recommend reading this.

After giving what seemed like a liter of blood, I anxiously awaited the results.  Three weeks later, I had a 6 page report in my hand.  My doctor said my total cholesterol was high and suggested I go on a statin drug.  What the heck?  I had just finished up the best "diet" ever, was feeling awesome, was staying on a Paleo diet at this point, and my total cholesterol was 267!  Sure, my HDL was at a very healthy 129, but my LDL was 112.  The report did have a lot more info such as Apo A-1, Apo B, Lp(a), etc., but to me, this was Greek!

The last time I listened to a doctor's recommendation, I had my gall bladder unneccesarily removed and prescribed a pill for inflammatory bowel disease.  So I politely declined the statin script and vowed to learn Greek.  I poured over the web searching for truthful info, but kept striking out.  It seemed like every site supported the use of statin drugs.

Eight months later, I found The Great Cholesterol Myth by Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra while Carly and I were in Books A Million.

A must read, if you value your life.

After reading this book, almost non-stop, I finally could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My first thought was, "F--- you drug companies and your statin drugs!"  The sentence that immediately captured my attention was, "When the National Cholesterol Education Program lowered the 'optimal' cholesterol levels in 2004, eight out of nine people on the panel had financial ties to the pharmaceutical company."  Nice!

After reading the book, I now understood my test report and all those letters and numbers made sense.  Here are a few key take home points from the book.

The easiest way to know if you are at risk for cardiovascular disease is to walk (shoulders/back straight, chest out) towards a wall.  If your belly hits the wall before any other body part, you are probably at risk.  Pregnant women are the exemption :)

Not all HDL's are good, and not all LDL's are bad.  They can be broken down into the bad small, dense particles and the good large, fluffy particles.  Needless to say I had a ratio of small dense to large fluffies of 0.27.  I got an A+ on that test!

The most important colesterol particle of all, which conventional tests do not focus on, is Lp(a).  Lp(a) is a very small, highly inflammatory particle that is thrombogenic (blood clotting). It is the foundation of plaque.  Once again, I received an A+, as mine was 17 (optimal levels are <30 p="">
Saturated fat raises cholesterol, but it raises the overall HDLcholesterol and the good part of LDL cholesterol far more than it raises the bad part of LDL.  And that would go along with my increase in numbers since I had become Paleo.

As far as conventional cholesterol tests go, the triglycerides are the most important risk factor for heart disease.  And it is sugar and processed carbohydrates that raise triglyceride levels.  My triglycerides went from 84 (pre-Paleo) to 46.  A+ once again, as optimal levels are less than 150. If your insurance only covers the conventional cholesterol testing, then the better way to predict heart disease is to calculate the ratio of your triglycerides to your HDL.  For example mine is 46/129 = 0.36.  If you have a ratio < 2, you ought to be happy, regardless of what your total cholesterol is.  Just to make a point, my husband's total cholesterol is 188, but his ratio is 3.6.  Anything > 5 is problematic.  I really need to talk to him about his convenience store eating habits.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation.  Optimally you want to be < 0.8.  Mine was 0.3.

Homocysteine is an amino acid by product that causes your body to lay down sticky platelets in blood vessels.  Normal is < 11; mine was 7.  If this number is high, taking folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6.

You can change your LDL levels; it is not all genetic.

Lowering cholesterol has a very limited benefit in populations other than middle aged men with a history of heart disease.

Cholesterol levels are poor predictors of heart attacks.  Cholesterol is the buiding block of sex hormones.  It is needed to make Vitamin D.  It is used to make bile acids needed for digestion.  Brain cells need cholesterol to communicate.  Cholesterol is used to fight infection.  And the list of good things that cholesterol does goes on ...

Cholesterol is not the bad guy:  SUGAR is.  Inflammation is at the "heart" of heart disease.  Sugar is highly inflammatory.  Factor in chronic stress and you have a recipe for disaster.

So, after deciphering my lab work, I now feel comfortable with my "high" total cholesterol.  I will continue to eat grass fed red meat, grass fed clarified butter, pastured bacon, and and free range eggs.  I will continue to stay the hell away from food in a box and sugar!  After all, I have no family history of cardiovascular disease; the Williams clan does have pretty good tickers!

And no, I will not be taking any statin drugs just to lower a number that is insignificant to begin with.  Just in case you do not know, statin drugs can cause muscle pain, memory loss, liver failure, and deplete your body's stores of CoQ10 (which is vital to muscle function, including your heart!).  The drug companies will tell you how statins reduce your risk of heart attacks, but what they don't tell you is that it is relative risk and not absolute risk.  Absolute risk is the true reduction in risk whereas relative risk is a big smokescreen that obscures what you really want to know.  It is their way of making their numbers sound really good.  And remember, most drug companies fund their own studies. Fuzzy math, I tell ya!

So maybe these authors are just full of crap, have some vendetta against the drug companies or are wanting to make a buck or two off their book.  Well, I don't think so.  They have a 14 page bibliography of research articles that are not linked to drug companies.

I encourage you to think long and hard before taking any drug.  You have got to be pro active about your health.  A number is just a number; you must factor in history, genetics, environment, and clinical signs.  Unfortunately today, too many doctors just want to focus on numbers.  And drug companies will concoct pills to "fix" those numbers, regardless of what additional problems those drugs will cause.

Screw you Lipitor!  Food is my medicine.

A good website to go to that discusses advanced testing is Health Diagnostic Laboratory.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Double Dare Race Report: Day 2

Total Time:  9:30
Moving Time:  7:35
Mileage:  60
Elevation Gain:  8500ft
Hi Temp:  65
Lo Temp:  21
Food Consumed:  4 strips bacon, 5 Larabars, 4 dates
Fluid Intake:  150 ounces Scratch, 1 5 Hour Energy

5 am came quickly.  After a few hours of fitful sleep, I slowly wormed my way out of the sleeping bag, started the engine, and began the arduous task of putting cold clothes on.  At least I was in my vehicle and within 10 minutes, I was quite toasty.  The advantage to only getting 3 hours sleep was that my body did not have enough time to seize up.

Breakfast consisted of 2 hard boiled eggs, a sweet potato, and a Red Bull.  Then I stumbled out of the car, and grabbed my Camelbak (damn, it seemed to have gotten heavier overnite) and bike, and made my way to the fire.  At 6 am, Eric told us to ride up to Pilot Mountain (Farlow Gap).  There we would receive our passports.  However, teams would be sent off every 30 seconds in reverse order of how they placed on Day 1.  Kym's and Kaysee's team started ahead of us; good to know as I was unsure of where we were after the first day.

As we began our journey up FS 475, my legs woke up surprisingly well.  I had started out in a heavy base layer, jersey, rain jacket, and winter tights.  Halfway up I shed my jacket.  As we approached the top, we noticed bikes without riders.  The volunteer instructed us to ditch our bikes and hike up to the shelter where we would receive our passports.  Legs were NOT happy about that; they wanted to keep spinning.  Mountain goat Lisa went on ahead while I argued with my feet.  By the time I got there she had the passport and map opened.  I love this part of the game.  It is like opening up a Christmas gift from your best friend.  You have a general idea of what you might be getting, but then SURPRISE!

I wanted a smile, but got a "Just take the damn picture," from the Princess.

After 10 minutes, we had the first half of our route dialed in.  We went back to our bikes and then back tracked to the intersection of Farlow Gap and the FS 229 for our first CP.  Then we turned back around to head down the gravel roads to Daniel Ridge.  On our way back up FS 229 (we were climbing), we had to yield to more than I care to count downhill riders.  Ahem, but I DON'T think that is proper trail etiquette.  Any other day, it would have not irritated me so much, but after 85 miles, ???? feet of climbing, and at 7:30 am, my blood began to boil.

Going back down the gravel roads, I made the mistake of not putting my jacket back on.  By the time we turned off to begin the climb up to the intersection of Daniel Ridge and Farlow, I was a popsicle.  Rookie mistake.  It took me 30 minutes to thaw out and made even the flattish section of Daniel Ridge miserable.

The Queen of time management at CP #2.

Warm again, we motored down to the fish hatchery.  We did an out and back on Cat Gap to Butter to gain our third CP at the intersection of Long Branch and Butter.  It was the climb up Butter that my legs died.  I did not even have the power to lift the front end over the water bars and so had to push most of it.  This was about 3 hours into our journey.

My legs were happy to see this CP!

The ride back down to the fish hatchery was fast and furious.  This was a much needed break for my thrashed legs.  We locked our bikes at the hatchery and ran up to John Rock to get our 2 CP bonus.  Run is a relative term.  I started out that way, but then digressed to a shuffle, walk, crawl, and even a hobble.  My foot neuropathy reared its ugly head in the form of electrical type pain in my left foot and then my right IT band joined in the "pain-fest."  Chris Brown, his team mate, and Garth caught up to us.  They did not want to take the lead, so this forced me to keep the pace up ... which was a good thing.

John Rock ... the fish hatchery is right where my left elbow is, 1500 feet straight down!

Lisa and I let the guys go on the way back down.  After what seemed like an eternity, we were back at our bikes, rummaging around for food, when somebody said to us, "Do we know you?"  It was Andrew and Kate ... of Mulberry Gap fame!  They were on their honeymoon and just happened to stroll into the parking lot.  That was cool!  We chatted a bit while changing shoes and base layers, eating, and filling Camelbaks at the fountain (which, BTW, is not near as good tasting as the creek at the bottom of Pilot).

The ride up Hwy 276 to Pink Beds was my low point of the day.  This was, by far, the hardest part of the journery for me.  My batteries were at 5% and Lisa had to slow down as I kept popping off her wheel.  I used this time to eat and drink some more.  I did note that we were at the 6 hour mark and from the days of my racing "hundies,"  I would always seem to have a lull around 6 hours in.

The Pink Beds Trail was new to me and my legs welcomed the flats.  This was the mandatory CP and our 6th CP (including the 2 point John Rock bonus).  We had the opportunity to earn an additional 1/2 CP by hitting a target with a BB gun or each eating 2  pickled eggs or sausages.


Either shoot a piece of shit and hope Lady Luck is on my side ... or die a slow, horrible death.  I took the BB gun.

Maybe if I was cross-eyed, I could have hit the target.

Needless to say, I failed the special test.  However, while I was taking a 5 Hour Energy shot, Lisa tried her hand at the BB gun ... and failed miserably, too.   The section of Pink Beds over to South Mills was tight, twisty, and rooty.  That was NOT what the map said.  It was rather slow-going and arduous ... for a flat trail.  However, while I was negotiating the twists and turns, little did I know that the 5 Hour was slowly rekindling the fire in my legs.  By the time we hit South Mills, I was "go-go gadget" legs!  I flew up South Mills and Buckhorn.  Lisa said it was all she could do to hang on!  Red Bull may give you wings, but 5 Hour Energy gives you rocket engines!

CP #7:  Buckhorn Gap shelter

After grabbing CP #7, Lisa was all about hiking over the Black Mountain Trail to Pressley Gap.  Whoa, Nellie!  I had to reign her in; I told her that would take us AT LEAST 1:15.  I don't think she believed me.  At this point in the game, I was done with pushing my bike.  My left ankle was killing me and my feet were about to go on strike.  Lisa finally relented and we began to make our way down Clawhammer and up Maxwell Cove.  Whoo hoo!  The forest service had recently graded these fire roads and they were uber fast!  I was smiling so much my face almost cramped.  It was here we hooked up with Brad and Matt and rode their wheels up to CP #8 at Pressley Gap on the Black Mountain Trail.  Total time to this CP was 42 minutes

Pressley Gap, 26 hours into our adventure.

We flew down to the horse stables and made our way over to the Bennett Gap Trail. The climb up Bennett was tougher than I had imagined.  Not only was I dealing with a sore ankle, heavy legs, and water bars, but we had to dodge a couple groups of downhillers that were bombing down the trail at breakneck speeds on their big travel bikes.  I don't even think they saw us, and if they did, probably thought we were a mirage.  Who would push their bikes up Bennett anyway?

We grabbed our final CP, #9, at the intersection of Bennett and Coontree.  Once again, we descended Coontree, this time during daylight, and were able to make much better time.  As we began heading back up Hwy 276 to FS 475 to Cove Creek campground, I began doing the math in my head.  We might, just might, be able to go back up and snag the CP at the top of Butter.  A little battle in my mind began to play out:  the competitve side said "hell yea!" while the rational, tired side said "hell, no, I wanna eat the 16 ounce T-Bone that awaits!"

We actually stopped at the entrance to Cove Creek, pulled out the map, and spent a few minutes comtemplating.  The rational side won.  Lisa gave me the biggest hug ever!  And we pedaled up the gravel to complete our soul lifting journey.

17 CP's in 20:30 netted us a 10th place and secured my Queen of Pisgah title.

Smiles, not grimaces!

It took 5 years and plenty of heckling from certain individuals who will be nameless, to get me to compete in this huge undertaking.  My excuse:  I had to wait for the right partner.  This was, by far, my favorite race of the season.  The weather did play a big role, but it was a combination of my fitness, the terrain, the adversity, Eric's evil scheme, and team mate that made for an epic journey.  After 7 days, I am still riding a high.  And looking forward to P36, I think.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Double Dare Race Report, Day 1

Total time:  10:40
Moving time:  8:44
Mileage:  75
Elevation gain:  11,000 ft
Hi temp:  55
Lo temp:  30
Food consumed:  4 strips bacon, 5 Larabars, 4 dates, 1 gel
Fluid intake:  130 ounces Scratch, orange flavor + 1/2 can Red Bull
Creek crossings (wet feet):  0
CP's:  8

Lisa looking at the map one last time before the start.

I worried myself into a mental mess in the two weeks leading up to this final race in the King/Queen of Pisgah series.  The biggest fear, especially after the Wilkes 100K was getting miserably cold ... and wet.  After that it was fretting about the fears of bike mechanicals and not meeting my partner's expectations.  Lisa Randall is the queen of adventure racing.  I knew she would see me through, but I did not want to be a burden to her.  We have been team mates before (2008 TransRockies and 2013 PMBAR), but this was a 30 hour race in what could be brutal conditions.

Saturday morning we rolled into the Cove Creek campground with plenty of time to get ready.  The weather could not have been better ... for Pisgah in November.  Yes, it was cold, but dry.  We readied our gear, checked in, and then prepared our vehicles for the overnighter.

At 11:50am, the soul crushing Eric Wever, began the pre-race meeting.  At 11:57 am, he said that our passports would be awaiting us at Bent Creek Gap.  My mind tried to figure out where that was in the forest.  And then it hit me!  That was at the other end of the map!  Then Eric said that this was a time trial and the first 3 teams would get time bonuses.  We immediately knew we were not in the running.

At noon, the race commenced.  As we began pedaling out of the campground, a bunch of front runners took the Cove Creek trail.  For a moment I contemplated turning around and heading that way, but decided that FS475 to Hwy 276 would be about the same time and a much easier warm up for the long day.

As we began our journey, Lisa casually asked how long was this time trial (read:  slog) going to be.  Oh, about 25 miles.  I wish I could have seen the look on her face!  We hooked up with Kym and Jason and rode their coattails up to FS 1206.  I will take a free pull any day.  Kym was currently 2nd in the Queen of Pisgah; this time spent behind her allowed me a chance to assess their strengths and weaknesses (if any).  As we passed the intersection of Hwy 276 and FS 475B, we saw Sam Koerber and Zack Morrey turning onto the pavement.  I was much reassured as I had picked the most efficient route.

Once on FS 1206, we decided to let Kym and Jason go, as their pace was unsustainable for an all day adventure.  No sense blowing up in the first couple hours of a 30 hour race.  It took us 2:12 to ride up to the gap.  Sam Evans and David Wood made it up in 1:42.  It was great to see Shanna's face as she handed up the passport.

Within 12 minutes and without too much disagreement, we had a general idea of our route.  Lisa had visions of grabbing 6-7 (not including the special tests).  Being a little more familiar with the forest, I was realistic with 5.

1st CP:  intersection of Spencer Gap and Trace Ridge Trails

We both put our rain jackets on for the chilly descent back down FS 5000.  The climb up to our first CP went by pretty quickly and we were off to our next.  We went back down FS 5000 to FS 5001.  We had to dismount and walk our bikes past a group of horses.  Dodging poop piles we made our way up to our second CP.  Lisa gets an A+ on time management.  Every time we stopped she was whipping out the map and plotting, even if it was for only a minute or two.

2nd CP:  intersection of FS 5001 and Bear Branch Trail

Back down FS 5001, we had to bushwhack around the horses.  I managed to get a small pine limb wrapped around my rear derailleur pulleys.  Had it not been for Lisa mentioning this danger, our day could have ended there, 4 hours in.

From there, we decided to go hit the mandatory.  The leaves were thick on Laurel Mountain Trail, making the hike a bike sections very slippery.  Dry leaves + rocks + cycling shoes = potential ankle/knee buster.  This section took us about 1:15 to reach the checkpoint (intersection of Laurel Mountain and Pilot Rock connector).  With darkness approaching it made Special Test #1 quite entertaining.  We chose the hackey sack over eating the jalepeno.

We made the hackey sack toss on the fifth and final try ... at dusk.  We also made the video:  see our 5 seconds of fame around the 2 minute mark.  I am glad we opted NOT to eat the jalapeno, as we had only 12 ounces of water between us.

We opted to do Special Test # 2 as well.  This consisted of running up to Mount Pisgah, 2 miles up, 2 miles down, with a elevation gain of 1700 feet.  The last mile I will call "stairway to heaven."  I felt like I was on a stairmaster; nothing but rock ledge after rock ledge.  However, it was pretty cool to be doing this in the dark.  At the top, I quickly snapped a picture of the tower, as the winds were heinous.  Including the time to change into and out of our running shoes, it took us about 2 hours to grab this bonus.  It wasn't until the end of this run that my feet started to get painful

Mt. Pisgah:  worth 2 CP's

On the way back down, I developed a pretty serious headache, most likely from dehydration.  Luckily, Lisa had some Vitamin I in her first aid kit.  I forgot I had stashed a Red Bull in my pack, so Lisa and I split that little burst of energy.  At this point we were completely out of water, but figured we could fill up at the creek at the bottom of Pilot.  Once I was back on the bike, my foot pain subsided.

Descending Pilot is difficult enough during the day, but take away light and add a ton of leaves and it gets quite interesting.  I checked my ego at the top; after 8 hours and 50+ miles of racing, now was not the time to make a mistake.  Once at the bottom, we took a break to eat and refill our Camelbaks from the creek.  Damn, that was some great tasting water!

It was now 8:30.  Time to buckle down and grab 2 more CP's before heading back to camp.  The ride along FS 1206 went by quickly.  Lisa had let me borrow one of her Lupine Piko's.  What with 1200 lumens, 4+ hour burn time, and ultra light weight, I was really enjoying the night riding.

While on this stretch of gravel, I was able to reflect upon how blessed I was to be able to do what I love to do, despite the hiccups in my path the last few years.  This is what life is about:  living, not just existing.  Fulfilling the passion, testing the mind, pushing the body.  Being able to share the adventure with Lisa just takes it to the next level.  We fed off each other's positive energy.  And when one of us was having a tough moment, the other was able to step up and be that "crutch" to lean upon.

CP # 4:  intersection of Club Gap and Black Mountain Trail

The push up Club Gap was definitely more pushing than riding.  The leaves were DEEP and with all the loose cat head rocks, we both kept spinning out.  Better to conserve energy by walking; this also allowed us an opportunity to eat again.  From there we set out on Buckwheat Knob.  I had not ridden this trail since the inaugural Pisgah Stage Race, but I did not forget the gnarly descent.  By this time I was so tired of walking, I just wanted to let it go on the descent.  Luckily my brain was still functioning and won the battle.  Back to walking ...  Slowly but surely we made our way over to the next CP.

CP # 5:  Saddle Gap on the Bennet Gap Trail

Notice that there is a theme to our checkpoint acquisitions.  I take the pictures while Lisa stuffs her face with food.  Her hummingbird metabolism was having a hard time keeping up with our efforts.  Towards the end she had a hard time taking in enough calories.  I was doing very well with my nutrition.  I am pretty sure that being Paleo while off the bike has allowed me to utilize the diesel (fat-burning) engine to a greater extent so that during hard efforts, I still burn more fat than carbs.  In years' past, when I was a carb junkie, I had to maintain 250 calories/hour to maintain, but this year I have noticed I can race just as hard on 175-200 calories/hour.

Once we acquired our 5th CP, we headed down Coontree and back to Cove Creek camp.  We arrived to cheers and bells and a warm campfire.  After checking in, we headed back to our vehicles to eat and get ready for the midnight special test and Day 2.

This last special test was worth a 1/2 CP.  It involved a 1 mile race around the campground.  All we had to do was participate.  While I was waiting for midnight to roll around, I changed clothing and managed to eat an 8 ounce hamburger, a banana, a sweet potato, and a 1/2 bag of potato chips.  I chased it down with 16 ounces of chocolate almond milk.  Where did it all go?  It did not hamper me one bit during the midnight race.

I managed to get to bed at 1 am for a few fitful hours of sleep.

The weak choose not to suffer. The strong choose pain, trading it as currency for moments of exquisite conquest.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sponsor Highlight: Cane Creek

Whenever we get a new bike, it is always the wheels, suspension, cranks, brakes, etc. that gets talked about.  No one ever mentions the poor little headset.  This little beast of burden takes alot of torture:  it is in a direct line of fire from everything that gets thrown off the front wheel and are subject to regular jet wash abuse.

Cane Creek invented the threadless head set.

I have been a Cane Creek user since the beginning of my weekend warrior bike racing passion.  My shop told me Cane Creek is the best, this is what I need, and I said o.k.  As the years have gone by, I have seen it first hand:  I would buy a complete bike with a non Cane Creek headset, and within a few months, I would have to replace it ... with a Cane Creek.

The quality is immeasurable, the warranty is unbelievable, and the feel is buttery smooth.  Yep, the bearings do need replacement, but with much less frequency than the other brand I have used.  The company is located in Fletcher, NC

Proof I have them on my other bikes, too.

I am very thankful that Cane Creek is on board for all my head set needs in 2014.  I am using the 110 series in my Cysco single speed and "soon to be" CX gravel grinder.

Cane Creek's engineers were tasked with developing a no-compromise, best-in-class premium headset.  With the introduction of our 110-Series, they did just that — choosing optimal materials, engineering the most effective internals and designing the best aesthetics available in a headset.
The 110-Series offers the widest array of configurations available in a premium headset. With the flexibility to purchase complete assemblies or separate Tops and Bottoms, the 110-Series offers a premium solution for nearly all straight and tapered configurations on the market today. From Integrated (IS) Tops to External Cup (EC) Conversion Bottoms and everything in between, you can mix and match your headset purchase to best meet your needs.
Cane Creek ensures that whatever your headset requirement, we have a premium solution for you, backed by our 110-year warranty. 

Nevermind the 110 year warranty,  you can get them in super cool colors:  blue, red, silver, and black.

I chose silver.