Often times, without routine screening, the first sign of high cholesterol is a heart attack or a stroke. Luckily for Ashley, standard blood work prevented that and her first real scare came by way of the documentary, Forks Over Knives. The documentary examines diet and disease, and the idea that many of our most troublesome health concerns - like diabetes, cancer, and stroke - could be prevented or reversed with a whole-food, plant-based diet.
Ashley saw the film the year that it was released, 2011, but even six years later, you can see the disgust and fear that she felt as she recalls watching it. Ashley immediately quit all animal products aside from fish - she gave up meat and dairy, cold turkey. Ashley laughs at the experience now, explaining “I didn’t even know there were vegan alternatives..” At the time, Ashley didn’t swap out ground beef for a veggie burger, or add tofu to her diet. Instead, she just stopped eating everything she knew could affect her cholesterol.
As you can imagine, that type of a diet change is rarely sustainable and eventually, Ashley slipped back to eating a normal Western diet. In retrospect, she notes that it would have been helpful to have her cholesterol rechecked at that time, to see the true effects of her diet changes.
It wasn’t until 2016, at 29, with prodding from friends, that Ashley went back to the doctor for a routine physical. Her friend, Natalie, had told Ashley that “you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself” and Ashley realized that she was right. When she mentioned the high cholesterol result from nearly a decade earlier, and that she likely still had high cholesterol the doctor brushed it aside. Ashley recalls, “she said we’’ll see. Sure enough, she called me the next day.”
Without long term diet and lifestyle changes, the results were exactly what Ashley expected - her cholesterol levels remained dangerously high. Ashley nearly laughs as she recounts her doctor telling her to start Lipitor, a statin medication that lowers cholesterol levels, that very night. I asked Ashley what’s it like being on a serious daily medication, and she admitted that sometimes she forgets to take it but that it’s mostly okay. She explained, “sometimes you have like leg pains from Lipitor. You can’t have grapefruit juice, or grapefruits.”