Doctors exist to fix stuff, so I wasn’t too surprised last week when The Guy In The White Coat greeted me with a worried expression and a list of health risks I should be worried about at least as much as he is. The occasion was a follow-up appointment to review the “CardioMetabolic Risk Assessment” he and the clinic’s nutritionist put together based on lab results and other random findings from my visits earlier this spring. The upshot: I’m apparently suffering from metabolic syndrome. Or not.
According to the risk assessment, “Metabolic syndrome is confirmed if any three of the following five traits exist”:
- High triglycerides (mine were normal)
- High glucose (mine was “mildly elevated”)
- Low HDL (mine was normal)
- High blood pressure (depends on who puts on the cuff and where)
- High waist circumference (32 inches apparently wasn’t large enough to signal disaster, so TGITWC pointed out that my VAT, aka Visceral Adipose Tissue, was high)
This led to a lively discussion of risk factors, testing methods, “white-coat syndrome,” and treatment options. TGITWC wanted to waste no time and get me started on statins, since cardiac arrest seemed to be looming. I politely declined. Yes, my cholesterol numbers were higher than recommended, but even he agreed that those numbers don’t tell the whole story. That’s when I started to pay more attention.
He pointed out that my “good” (HDL) cholesterol was doing its job, clearing out the excess cholesterol in my blood vessels, but cautioned that my “bad” (LDL) cholesterol tended toward the smaller, denser type, which are more likely to penetrate and damage my vessel walls. And he then pointed to my CRP (C-Reactive Protein), which was well over the recommended level. CRP is “an acute phase protein that occurs in response to inflammation.” I’m leaving out the part in the assessment document that refers to “cardiac arrest/death” because I wouldn’t want to make you think that TGITWC was trying to scare me.
Still, I know enough about the effects of chronic inflammation on the aging process (you can read more about them here) that I ended up drinking nearly the whole pitcher of TGITWC’s Kool-Aid and left his office with a bagful of nutritional supplements, vitamins, and a 30-day elimination diet plan that prohibits (in order of expected despair) alcohol, sugar, wheat, dairy, and caffeine. In my weakest moment, I apparently also agreed to some sort of male hormone test and committed to taking my blood pressure twice a day and recording it for posterity.
To be completely honest, part of me feels like I’ve been duped by some traveling medicine show. I mean, I’m pretty healthy for an old guy — annoyingly so, given my predilection for dispensing unrequested health advice. If I need this sort of routine to stave off an early demise, I can’t imagine what the rest of my cohort must be dealing with. At the same time, the other part of me looks forward to shaking up my routine just to see how annoyingly healthy I can get.
I’ll bet TGITWC is thinking the same thing.