Dear Matt Bevin – 11/10/15

pollution-444668_1920 Dear Matt:
I read with interest in your wikipedia entry that you have 6 Biological children (5 surviving) and 4 adopted children. I commend your interest in the next generation. I am puzzled, however, by your seeming lack of concern for the future that they will inherit. For example, why are you so vehemently opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency, the ones charged with making the environment our children have to live in is suitable for humans after our generation has passed from the scene? I even read that you told the EPA to “Pound Sand”. Please consider that your decisions as governor may have a horrific impact on your children, my children, and the entire coming generation. Could it be that you, with all your intellect and proven ability to make money, have a terrific blind spot when it comes to the environment?

 

Peace

Tom

Dear Matt Bevin – 11/9/15

Dear Matt:

You were elected by the “Christian Voters” of the state. You make a big deal of your faith. Meanwhile, your policy proposals will favor the well off at the expense of the poor. I assume you believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. So how do you explain Proverbs 14:30 which says “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God”

Sincerely,

Tom

Dear Matt Bevin – 11/8/15

MattBevinPraying

Dear Matt:
I recently saw a photo of you and your entourage holding a very public prayer after you were elected governor. I had two responses:
1) I hope you pray for all the people you plan to kick off Medicaid.
2) I am reminded of Matthew 6:5 – “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Sincerely,

Tom

The Democrats Mistake

The Democrats in congress made a huge mistake in drafting the Affordable Care Act. They called for a penalty for people who are not insured. Instead, they should have given a tax deduction to people who are insured. This way, nobody could say that the government is forcing me to buy health insurance. Today, we don’t have a groundswell of complaint about “the government is forcing me to buy a house”. That is because we get a tax deduction on mortgage interest that helps people buy homes. If instead, we had a penalty for people who don’t buy a house, there would be no end to the howling.
However, the net effect of having a tax deduction for those who do something and a penalty for those who don’t do something could be exactly the same.
Next time someone complains that people shouldn’t be forced to buy health insurance, ask them if they should be forced to buy a house. Then explain to them that the net effect of the penalty for not buying insurance is the same as if we had come up with a revenue neutral tax deduction for those who buy health insurance, and that there are multiple precedents for tax deductions.

How’s that been going for ya?

While I was in the corporate world, I took a lot of Six Sigma courses. One of the mantras that Six Sigmites use is “Show me the data.” When you adopt a new, radical lifestyle change to improve your health, you want to have evidence that it is working. In my last post, I revealed that I had “gone off the deep end”  and adopted a whole foods plant based (WFPB) diet. Today, I’ll discuss the results achieved thus far — I will show you the data.

How we began

Although I don’t recall the exact day we changed our way of eating, it was probably sometime in late April or early May of 2013. I do know that it was before we went to Australia to see our daughter Alexandra Morris. Fortunately, Stephanie was willing to go along with this crazy diet idea, which made it a lot easier than it otherwise would have been. We actually kinda did it gradually, because we were pretty new at this stuff and were starting before we quite knew what it all entailed. It was pretty weird.

Initially, we referred to our diet as a Vegan diet, but that that is not really accurate. The WFPB diet is Vegan++! (Geeks will get the joke). You see, vegans can eat doughnuts and Rice Krispees.  They can have lots of oily salad dressing and fried okra and Cheetos. Not so for the WFPB diet. As we kept learning more, we kept finding more stuff that was not really allowed. For example, there are some yummy Indian dishes that are classified as Vegan, but if they are cooked with lots of oil and served with white rice, they are not allowed. It is frustrating at times, especially when you have to eat out and the selection of foods is limited.

Australia/New Zealand

Just as we were getting into the diet, we traveled to Australia. Of course, I had not thought to tell the airlines about our diet, so on the plane, we had to avoid about half the food on our plate. We probably broke some rules, but we were just learning, so we did the best we could. Upon arriving, we spent time with Alex and Patrick. They were very accommodating. It helped that Alex has been a vegetarian for years, and one of her best friends is a vegan. The only thing I can say for sure is that we did a good job of avoiding meat and dairy on our trip, and when we cooked at home, we did better than when we ate out. We went for a side trip to New Zealand, where we stayed at a condo with a kitchen. There we were able to cook our own food and do pretty well. We also found a few restaurants that we felt were pretty good, although it is hard to know about their ingredients. Back in Australia, we did find a few places where we could get a “make your own salad” and a few asian places where we could get brown rice, but even there, the oil content may have been too high.  I am going to write another blog about what I would like to see in restaurants to help people like me. We spent a few days in Canberra with Patrick’s parents. They were extremely gracious and understanding, going way beyond the call of duty to accommodate our diet. It really helps when people try to understand.

Back Stateside – checking early results

Once we returned to the US (and got over our jetlag), I began thinking about how I could determine if the WFPB diet was having the desired results. The overall goal of the diet is to halt and reverse (if possible) my heart disease (actually arteriosclerosis) and to become healthier overall. Some possible measures that would indicate I was on my way might include:

  1. A better result on calcium scoring
  2. Lower Blood pressure
  3. Weight loss
  4. Cholesterol reduction
  5. No heart attacks or strokes

Calcium Score

The calcium score may or may not show the impact of my dietary change. Calcified plaque may not disappear quickly even though new plaques stop forming. Also, due to the radiation exposure required to do the test, it is probably not wise to have the test frequently. Therefore, I don’t plan to have another scoring soon.  I do not rule out the possibility of having another test in the future. My goal there is to see no increase, indicating that the progression of my disease has been halted.

Blood Pressure

Fortunately, I have been recording my blood pressure at various intervals since 1999. It appears that my blood pressure has been trending lower since adopting the WGPB diet — I’ll continue to monitor this. One positive sign: I have had the lowest readings I have ever recorded at times during the past month. Hopefully, after some time, I can stop taking blood pressure medicine. Time will tell. Click this link for the gory details: Blood Pressure 2013-08-14

Weight Loss

A little background on my weight:   Although I dieted by restricting calories and had  dropped my weight to 150 by 2004, I had subsequently resumed my old eating ways and begun to gain weight. In 2009, we experienced a family tragedy, and with the ensuing stress, I had begun to put on the pounds rapidly. I finally conceded to wearing a larger waist size, and, although I had made a couple of attempts at dieting, but I found it difficult to resist the lure of Barbecue and Mexican food.  By mid 2012, I tipped the scales at an unhealthy 190 pounds.  I hid it well, however, and most people would have never imagined that I had ballooned by 40 pounds in the last 6 years.

Although the goal of the WFPB diet is not to just lose weight, the proponents claim that it will often occur. By mid June, I began to notice that my clothes seemed to be fitting looser. I stepped on the scales … 165 pounds! I was able to get into my “skinny” pants again. In August, my weight was sometimes dipping  to 160. If nothing else, I had found a way to lose weight without counting calories or starving. (As hard as it is to believe, I really eat all I want, so long as I stick to the guidelines.) I was pleased.

 Weight 2013-08-14

 Cholesterol Reduction

One claimed benefit of the WFPB Diet is that total and LDL Cholesterol should drop. The goal should be 150 and 100 or lower, according to Dr Esselstyn, Again, being the data nerd, I have kept my cholesterol numbers since 1998, although not very frequently. My Numbers at last check (2012) were: LDL 104, HDL 51, overall 168. As of this writing, I have not checked my cholesterol again. I expect to see a lower number. I will check in again when I know this data.

Absence of “Attacks”

I am glad to report that I have had no known heart attacks or strokes since embarking on the WFPB diet :). What does this mean? Not much. You see, the absence of such an event is unremarkable. You never hear people say “Did you hear about so-and-so, he avoided a heart attack all year!” However, if by reducing the formation of plaque I can reduce or eliminate the risk of a heart attack or stroke, I will consider this experiment to have been successful. How will I know? Well, if I do experience an “attack”, the experiment will have failed. Otherwise, it will really be impossible to know with certainty. I can, however, have a high degree of confidence that my risk has been reduced if 1) My calcium score remains the same or reduces, 2) my blood pressure drops, 3) my weight remains under control, and 4) my cholesterol drops below 150.

 

Going off the Deep End

When someone does something crazy, something that nobody understands, they sometimes say they “went off the deep end”. Many of you reading this will probably think that this is what has happened to me in regards to diet. That’s OK. I would have been right there with you up until recently.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I had reached a crisis in regards to my health. I had some new knowledge that I needed to deal with. Knowing for sure that plaque was accumulating in my cardiovascular system (Calcium score of 148) was quite different from knowing intellectually that I was at risk for heart disease. The question I faced was: “What am I going to do with this knowledge?”

Deciding

For the past several years, I have found the words of the serenity prayer to be helpful in guiding my decisions. It goes like this:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, unconsciously, I applied these words to my current situation. Was this something I cannot change? I certainly cannot change my genetic makeup, I cannot change my age, or my past. Obviously, I cannot change the fact that I can be seemingly in good physical condition and still have heart disease. So I should stop worrying about those things.

So what can I change? I began to think, and I did recall a video I had watched called “Forks over Knives”. In it, a man who was suffering with advanced heart disease had adopted a plant based diet and seen an amazing  improvement. When I watched the video, I thought that this was remarkable, and afterward, we changed from having one meatless day a week to two. However, I really loved Barbecue and Pizza, and we had a lots of cheese in our diet, and I was really quite happy with the way we ate. At the time, I had concluded that eating a vegan diet was too extreme for me. Besides, I did not have heart disease, I thought.

However, now the situation had changed. No longer can I deny that I have a life threatening condition. I decided to do some more research. I looked into the two doctors featured in the video, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Colin Campbell. Both had written books. I ordered the books. The first book I read was “The China Study” by Dr Campbell. In it, he explains how he had analyzed health patterns around the world, especially in China, and found that the instance of Heart disease and cancer in areas of China where they followed a plant based diet was much lower. He also discovered that casein, the animal protein in dairy products, was highly correlated with the instance of certain types of cancer. Since I had grown up on a dairy farm, this did not set well with me. Could it be that our beloved diet was making us sick? Is the government actually recommending a diet that causes heart disease and cancer? Why am I even considering such radical notions? Well, there was evidence to back up his claims, so I decided to read the book by Dr Esselstyn. His book focuses on Heart Disease. In it, he claims that one can prevent and reverse heart disease by adopting a “whole foods, plant based diet”. He did a small study with remarkable results. All of the participants, who had previously had a heart attack, or a stint or bypass, and who stuck with a whole foods,  plant based diet, did not have another cardiac event. Some people dropped out of the study, and reverted to a typical western diet, and they all had further heart issues.

The Diet

Well, I decided, what do I have to lose? There are lots of people who criticize the “Forks over Knives” diet. The criticism, for the most part, does not dispute that it works, but rather,  they say it is too hard to follow, and that we cannot expect large numbers of people to adopt such a radical approach. And radical it is! The approach  condenses down to these rules.

  1. Eat nothing with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, fish or eggs).
  2. Eat no dairy products.
  3. No oil of any kind. Not even “heart healthy” oils such as canola and olive oil (Later writings relax this a bit to allow cooking spray).
  4. Avoid most nuts and avacados. (Again, later slightly relaxed)
  5. Avoid refined grains and sugars (no white flour, no white rice) .
  6. Eat all the other fruits, vegetables and whole grains you want. The more colorful the better.

Note that these rules are essentially the ones used to reverse heart disease during Dr. Esselstyn’s study. I know that there are questions about whether the diet has to be SO radical. Some say that sugar and carbs are really the problem, and that fats don’t matter. Some say that a little fat free dairy is OK. Some say that you need omega 3 fatty acids and to avoid omega 6 fats. The debate is still raging. New discoveries are being made every day. I don’t know. What does seem clear is that the above diet did work for the participants in the study. Could it work for me too?

The Decision

Maybe there was something I could do. Maybe, even though heart disease runs in my family, and I am approaching 60, maybe I can do something to improve my odds of staying healthy through my 50s, 60’s and 70’s.  I really do have some things I would like to before I check out.

I decided to try it. I was going off the deep end.

In the next entry, I will give an update on how it’s gone so far.

My Health Pilgrimage

BVM Summer 1991

Billy Morris, Summer 1991

My dad, Billy Morris, would be 96 this year, were he still alive. He died of heart disease in 1991 at the age of 74. He had his first heart attack in 1982, at the age of 65. As a result, he underwent bypass surgery, and for several years his symptoms subsided. At the doctor’s recommendation, he changed his diet, cutting out eggs and other sources of cholesterol, and began an exercise program. However, the angina symptoms eventually returned and in November 1991, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

I am now 57, approaching the age at which my dad had his first heart problems. I have had “borderline” blood pressure since the mid 90’s. I worked in a high stress (but rewarding) job  in the computer industry for over 30 years. Although I had recently let my weight creep up a bit, for at least 20 years, I had exercised at least 5 days a week, didn’t smoke or drink, and tried to live a healthy lifestyle.

Within the last few months, several of my friends have experienced heart attacks. Two did not make it. Two were “healthy” guys – exercise nuts even!  Like my dad, they were near their ideal body weight at the time of their attack.

Facing the music

Being aware of my family history and following these events, I talked to my doctor and told him that I was concerned about the fact that some seemingly healthy friends were having heart issues.Was there  anything I could do to learn if I was at risk? He suggested that I consider a “Calcium Scoring”. He warned that insurance would not cover this test, but it could give me an idea of my risk of Atherosclerosis.  The test was a very reasonable $75.00 and could be done very quickly. I figured I didn’t have too much to lose, so I signed up for the test.

On April 25,2013, I went to Greenview Hospital for the procedure. The test, also known as a High Resolution CT Scan, is actually a specialized X Ray, in which they take various photos of various slices of your heart and lungs. Through computer analysis, they can determine a “Calcium Score” also known as the  Agatston Score,  indicating the level of calcium identified in your coronary arteries. Calcium is found in calcified plaque, which is deposited when you have coronary artery disease. The presence of calcium means that you have plaque built up. However, not all plaque is calcified, and the presence of plaque does not indicate that you have a blockage or even predict that you will have a heart attack in the near future. That is the reason that insurance companies do not cover it. 

The procedure itself is really quite easy. Other than the small amount of radiation you are exposed to from the X Ray, there is no risk. You simply sit on a table and a device moves around your chest. You must simply follow instructions to repeatedly breathe in, hold your breath and breathe out. It is done in under an hour.

The best possible score you can get on the test is 0,indicating that you have no calcification.  A score of over 400 indicates that you have at least a 50% chance of a stenosis (Blockage). You probably should make sure your life insurance is paid up if you are in this category. Having any score above 0 is still not good, as this indicates you do have plaque accumulating. The higher the value the worse, although the “normal” state is zero, and it is actually possible to attain such a score.

The Verdict

A few days after the procedure, I got a letter from the hospital. My score was 148, which is in the upper 50% of males my age. Not what I wanted to hear. The interpretation of the scoring was “Moderate plaque burden, moderate non-obstructive heart disease highly likely.” In other words, I do have heart disease (as do most Americans). The good news is that it probably has not blocked any arteries (yet).See the graphic below.

Agatston Score - 4-13

The dark marks signify the areas of calcification in the coronary arteries. This does not mean that the arteries are blocked, but certainly they are risk areas where blockages can form in the future.

According to Dean Ornish, 30% of the people with heart disease die of it without ever knowing they have the disease! So, I am fortunate. At least I know I have it!  But … what good is it to know you have a problem unless you can do something about it? After all, you can exercise and stay fit and trim and still have heart disease. In the next post, I will discuss how I addressed this question.