Tuesday, September 24

Dr. C's Health Journey: Part I

Today's post is written by a guest blogger, Dr. Dana Christianson (read his bio here). Dr. C is a practicing Ophthalmologist and the father of my fiance, Jessie. His journey into the Paleo lifestyle by way of Whole30 is incredible, so much in fact that we wanted him to write his own post about it. Without further ado...

Dr. C's Health Journey: Part I
by Dana Christianson, M.D.

It is astonishing how much of what I used to believe was optimal for health, I have now come to believe is actually detrimental to our health.

A little background about myself...

I grew up in a family that was quite health-conscious. We made a concerted effort to eat what was felt to be a healthy diet. This included lots of fruits and vegetables and very large quantities of whole grains. The diet was also extremely low in fat and saturated fat, usually included margarine instead of butter and included some very lean meats.

When I was 17 my father passed away at work from a massive heart attack. I'm sure this contributed to my desire to focus on health and wellness throughout my life. Since graduating from Vanderbilt Medical School I've maintained a very busy ophthalmology practice. In addition I have always participated in endurance sports. I have completed a number of sprint triathlons and many century bike rides. Throughout most of my life I have continued to follow what medicine has taught us to be a "heart-healthy" diet, including lots of whole grains (the foundation of the food pyramid) with an emphasis on low saturated fat. I believe the combination of this lifestyle -- the diet, overall stress from work and created by my endurance activities -- led to my development of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. 

After a thorough heart evaluation including nuclear stress scans, the physician's recommendation was to put me on medicine that would suppress some of the abnormal electrical activity in my heart. For several years I increased the number of whole grains in my diet and continued to watch fats and saturated fats, feeling that I needed to be extra careful to protect my heart. Under this system I was having increasingly frequent bouts of fibrillation that required increasing doses of medicine. I continued to feel less well partly because of side effects of the medicine and  partly because of the inflammation being created by my diet.

Last fall I was introduced to the Whole30 program when Jess and Brian began their first 30 day cycle. I began researching the pros and cons, and given my lifelong interest in health and wellness, I was amazed at what I learned. I began to completely re-think almost everything that I had come to believe was good for me regarding diet and exercise.

Last November I started my first Whole30. To my surprise, within two or three days I noticed a significant improvement in my heart rhythm. This continued to improve over the next several weeks to the point where I began reducing the amount of my heart medicine. I also noticed significant improvement in how my G.I. tract felt, I had increased energy levels, and I was becoming physically leaner. As an aside, I will mention that weight has never been an issue for me. At age 59 I weigh the same as I did in college, although I clearly have less muscle mass and more fat tissue [equaling the same weight].

Although I know I am not completely cured, I still am pretty strict about maintaining the Whole30/Paleo approach and lifestyle. I am beyond excited to see just how much I can heal my situation. I continue to see gradual improvements and currently I'm not taking any medications to regulate my heart. I also feel that I've benefited from increased clarity of thought and improved memory probably turning back the clock 15 or 20 years!

Many thanks to Jess and Brian as well as the Whole30 program and others that they follow regularly, including Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf. Stay tuned and I will keep you posted on my journey.

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