Cholesterol : Woman Battles High Cholesterol With Diet Changes

Caroline Klapper, The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.

At the age of 13, Eileen Corbin lost her 47-year-old father to heart disease. Soon after, her uncle died from a heart attack at 53, then it was her brother who succumbed at age 47 and finally her mother at age 66.

Now age 68, Corbin has lived beyond the age of most of her immediate family, and she has done well maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and plenty of exercise. She thought she was dodging the heart disease bullet that had claimed so many of her loved ones, but a visit to her doctor in November 2012 was a real wake up call.

She was shocked when her doctor said her cholesterol was 262 mg/dL, much higher than the 200 mg/dL range that is considered healthy.

"I got really scared," Corbin recalled.

Fearing that her doctor would put her on medication, she asked him if she could try improving her cholesterol levels through diet.

"I've talked to so many people, and (the cholesterol medication) has so many side effects. I was just really scared of it," she said.

Her doctor agreed to give her six months to improve her cholesterol levels through changes in her diet.

"My doctor has been really very patient," she said.

Corbin started out with research. She began reading "The China Study" by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Thomas M. Campbell. That book led her to read another titled, "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease" by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., which advocates following a plant-based, oil-free diet to prevent and even reverse heart disease.

"The book just threw me into an 'aha moment,'" Corbin said, explaining she realized she needed to cut oils and fats from her diet to see if that could get her cholesterol under control.

After consulting with her doctor, Corbin began following the plant-based, oil-free diet recommended in the book, and she quickly began seeing results.

Already within a healthy weight range, Corbin slimmed down even further, losing about 10 pounds, but more importantly, within two months, her cholesterol levels had dropped from 262 to 190.

While the results were impressive, Corbin admits that changing her diet so dramatically has not been easy.

"It's been one huge challenge," she said. "It wasn't easy and I won't say that it was."

The diet meant getting protein through plant-based sources, while cutting out all butter, meats and oils, including olive oil. The only exception Corbin makes is a glass of skim milk a day to add more protein and calcium to her diet.

"I never thought I could do without all of the fat, but I found out how," she said.

Using recipes for ways to create tasty foods with no fat from Esselstyn's book and paying close attention to food labels, Corbin keeps her levels of fat intake down to less than 10 grams a day.

While Corbin admits she has found giving up some of her favorite foods has been hard, she said she knew she had to go into her new diet with an "all or nothing" attitude or she would never be able to stick with it.

"I also praise God every day for each healthy day," Corbin added.

In addition to the diet changes, Corbin has also stepped up her exercising. She goes to a personal trainer twice a week with her husband, Dan, and walks around her neighborhood almost every day. Since beginning this new lifestyle change, Corbin said she is able to climb the steepest hills on her walks without losing her breath.

"I don't know if I'm out of the woods with everything with my heart, but the labs are great," Corbin said. "I feel great."

In sharing her story, Corbin said she hopes to help others who face health problems similar to hers.

"I think people can really help themselves, but you have to really be willing to do it," she said, adding that before making serious lifestyle changes, everyone should consult with their doctor. "Make sure your doctor knows what is going on."

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