The dark comedy of cholesterol

It’s amazing what the medical community can find once they stick a needle in your arm and suck a out a little blood. Turns out there’s a lot of pretty radical stuff flowing around our bodies.

white-blood-cell-amungst-redLet’s start with white blood cells. Because given the state of the current social dialogue in America, one has to ask: Do only white people have white blood cells? There are a few guys wearing white sheets who want you to think so.

Of course all human beings have white blood cells. There are red blood cells too. But they aren’t confined to just Red States either. Blood is the ultimate common denominator of humanity. There are subtle differences and blood types as well. But that’s all encompassed in the grand scheme of evolution. We’re all one species with blood so similar we tend to spill it just to prove the point.

More about blood

The list of bloody features goes on. Hemoglobin sounds like something from the world of ebonics, but in actuality it is (according to “the  protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.”

Now that’s some important stuff right there. Your ideal hemoglobin content is between 13.2 and 18.0. Mine is 13.9. Is that low? Should I know more?

“Each globulin chain contains an important central structure called the heme molecule. Embedded within the heme molecule is iron that is vital in transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. The iron contained in hemoglobin is also responsible for the red color of blood.”

Iron carries our blood around? Who really knew. And isn’t that ironic somehow?

Talk about art imitating life imitating art…ironic.

Wait, there’s more

By the time I got down to reading about Neutrophils, Lymphocytes, Monocytes and Basophils, my head started getting dizzy. The echo from all those terms sounded like I was wandering around a dark cave inside my body where the stalagmite and stalactites of existence all hung from the inner ceiling or stuck up from the very foundations of my being.

oxygen_hemoglobinIndeed, all that thinking must have sucked the oxygen out of my blood. I recalled telling the nurse that extracted the blood sample that I always fainted when giving blood. “It’s likely a volume issue,” she told me.

Volume? Is my blood turned up too high?

Thankfully my thyroid levels were good. That’s the measure of the output of the gland that helps regulate your metabolism.

I know my metabolism has slowed from when I was a hyper little monkey boy in my twenties. Back then I was so thin you could see right through me from the chest to the back. Big guys at the bar used to hold me up in front of Miller Lite signs to see my heart thumping inside my chest. They’d even place bar bets making me eat beer nuts and then counting how long it took for the food to go from throat to stomach. That’s how skinny I once was.

Blood lines

Now I’m not quite as skinny, and sitting at an age somewhere between middle-aged and dead. But I’m reasonably fit for a man my age, and can still get it up. Which means that my blood volume is good enough to accomplish that without fainting. So I think that nurse was just fucking with me about the whole blood volume thing.

But then came news from the doctor about my bad cholesterol count. It turns out that’s a little high. My family has a history in that category, and the multi-photocopied sheet the doctor gave me says that cholesterol comes from two sources, and: “Your bad cholesterol also has a lot to do with your family history.”

Hornet-vespaI have a theory about that family history thing. I believe my high cholesterol count probably started at about the age of six. That’s how old I was the night a hornet landed on the back of my neck at the dinner table. I felt a tickle and reached behind my head to scratch it and the hornet stung me so hard I let loose a wild howl.

That startled my father who pounded the table, which shook all the glasses and knocked a few over. One brother reached to stop a water glass from falling and instead knocked a glass of milk clear across the table, soaking my mother’s lap, who stood up in a panic and pulled the entire table cloth off, upsetting the casserole dishes, making my father even angrier. The whole family started hitting each other while I sat there bawling about the hornet sting.

Actually none of that happened all at once. I simply compressed a long series of family incidents into one dinner table scene that symbolizes the family history of most people who grew up in the 1960s. It was fucking chaos back then. Hornets were everywhere, for one thing. And you also never knew when your father might haul off and smack you with a butter knife covered with mustard. That really, really did happen to me. So I think that perhaps that incident was the start of the rise of my cholesterol, or maybe that was the start of anxiety and depression. It’s hard to tell some of our afflictions apart at times.


Life became a battle and a trauma growing up with three brothers and two parents who were all trying to figure out their own shit in real time. But some things were simple. We ate what we wanted. And when I turned into a distance runner (it happened overnight, I swear) I continued to naively believe that I could eat anything I wanted, and lots of it, with no ill effects.

Eating habits like that come back to haunt you sooner or later. Your red blood cells get tired as shit carrying all that extra stuff around. Finally a pack of them say “Fuck It” and Hoardingdump off a sticky, smelly load of bad cholesterol at some sudden turn in your arteries. Before you know it, there’s a wall of slime building up inside your veins.

It’s like the house of a hoarder. The bad junk piles up like there’s no tomorrow. Cholesterol is like all that stored shit in your house that seems to mean something in your life but really doesn’t. Who really needs their report cards from third grade? Wouldn’t your life be better off if those embarrassing pictures of you in cut-off shorts from 7th grade did not exist?

Our bodies are cholesterol hoarders. If your particular “family history” shows a propensity to store too much of the bad shit and not enough of the good shit in your blood, your cholesterol goes up.

The joke’s on you

It’s like a dark comedy, you see. If you have a tendency to store bad cholesterol in your body, the jokes on you. Even if you eat well by many measures you can still have high cholesterol.

So then they tell you to make “lifestyle changes.” Eat better. Exercise more.

runnersworld_oct_2009_cover1For example, if you read a typical issue of Runner’s World (or is it Runners’ World, isn’t that better?) the cover will always say the same thing about your diet. “Eat Better. Run Faster!”

And then you open up the cover and it’s always the same advice rearranged for the umpteenth time since 1976 when the first running diet article came out. Seriously, nothing’s changed much in 40 years. Eat less carbs. That’s about it.

That so-called “balanced diet” containing vegetables, meats, some carbohydrates and plenty of fruit you’ve been lectured about? That’s not really safe either. Because here is where the Dark Comedy of Cholesterol really begins. This is what the sheet the doctor gave me said:


Meats, Fish: Marbled beef, pork, bacon, sausage and other pork products. Fatty fowl (duck, goose) skin and fat of turkey and chicken; processed meats, luncheon meats (salami, bologna) frankfurters and fast-food hamburgers (they’re loaded with fat) organ meats (kidney, livers) canned fish packed in oil. And you’re not supposed to eat coconuts, either.

Nor should you touch avocados. Potatoes, corn, lima beans, dried peas and beans are out too. What the fuck? I mean seriously! What the fuck? Corn? We’re supposed to avoid corn?

Watch out for nuts

It also tells us to avoid nuts. Well, that could mean a lot of things and have ramifications for both sexes depending on your sexual orientation. That’s kind of sad, because in the scheme of awkward body parts, nuts are pretty funny. We all need a good laugh now and then, but especially if you have high cholesterol and low-hanging nuts. Sometimes that means you’re getting older, fellas. It happens.

mixednuts_nosaltBut it shouldn’t be that hard to avoid the kind of nuts you eat. They’re so expensive no one can afford to actually eat them. It used to be that you could stop at a fast food store and buy a decent-sized packet of Planter’s Peanuts (honey-roasted, thank you) for $.99. Now that same packet has shot up to $1.49 and the number of nuts you get in the packet has shrunk to about 15, total. Try to buy an entire container of nuts and it will cost you $15.99. At prices like that, it might be time to take up smoking because it’s cheaper than dying from high cholesterol.

The gift that keeps on giving

This whole bad cholesterol think really is a dark comedy of surprising magnitude. It turns out the best thing you can do to manage your cholesterol is to exercise, but even that doesn’t really help. So the joke’s on me in this case. I can’t even read the exercise recommendations on my over-photo-copied sheet because the screen behind the text has turned into something like an ominous grey cloud. I think the last part says “Vary your routine.” Yeah, fuck you too. My routine is so varied my blood should be composed of pure gold mixed with frankincense and myrrh.

chicken and egg

It seems like this cholesterol sheet was produced by the companies that manufacture cholesterol-reducing medicines. Their information sheet stacks the odds against you so badly with their indictments of normal dietary practices there seems like no hope for those of us with bad family histories and mustard still sticking to our faces because of that bout with dad and the butter knife.

The sheet concludes this way:


“When diet and exercise alone are not enough, several types of cholesterol-lowering medications are available. Remember that medicines need to be taken as directed by your doctor.”

Which is where the Dark Comedy of Cholesterol gets a little scary. There are quite a few doctors on the dole from Big Pharma in this world. The medical and insurance world can’t keep up with good old-fashioned bribery, and so there are doctors who prescribe medications that aren’t even necessary for millions of people. Certainly that’s how certain anti-depressant pills got their own movie deals. The real star of this Dark Comedy of Cholesterol might turn out to be Lipitor, which sounds more like one of Godzilla’s genetically altered lizard enemies than a cholesterol medication.

The creature named Lipitor emerges from the ocean to terrorize the world.

The creature named Lipitor emerges from the ocean to terrorize the world.

Coming to a theater near you! “LIPITOR, CREATURE FROM THE DEEP!”

Actually, I don’t think I should go to the doctor anymore. My imagination tends to run away from me. I’ll just stop eating altogether and see how that affects my blood levels and cholesterol. Sure, I may die in a week or two. But at least my LDLs will be looking good on the next blood test.



About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at, and at Online portfolio:
This entry was posted in Christopher Cudworth, We Run and Ride Every Day and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s