Ejo #136 – It’s My Body, And I’ll Cry If I Want To (Part 1)

On the 14th April I celebrated one full year without my period.  This means that I am now officially in menopause.  Yay!  The period (haha) leading up to this momentous occasion is known as peri-menopause and can last anywhere between a few months and ten years!  Mine lasted about three years and the first time I became aware of it was when my period, which has always had atomic-clock precision regularity, was three months late.  Even then, it wasn’t the first thing I suspected.  I bought a home pregnancy kit, not for the first time but hopefully for the last, and was surprised and enormously relieved that it was negative.  But my period remained conspicuously absent, so I went to the doctor to get some answers about what was going on down there. 

When the lab test came back negative as well, the doctor said to me, somewhat tenderly, “Well, you are 46.”  Of course!!!  It was a lightbulb moment.  And one of mixed emotions.  “Yay”, I’m not preggers.  “Boo”, I’m getting old.  And “Duh”, because menopause is genetic and my Mum was also in her forties when she went through it.  I’m a woman of a certain age, so menopause was always kind of hovering in the background.  I had just been so preoccupied with the horrific notion of baby fixin’s growing inside of me that I’d forgotten to consider it. 

After that my periods started fucking around even more.  They went from being super light to super heavy.  From regular as clockwork to extremely unpredictable (once every three months, once every six days, whenever it goddamn felt like it).  And they went from lasting just two or three days to dragging out over a week, ten days, more.  Worst of all, they became excruciatingly painful.  There were several days I couldn’t go to work because I was physically unable to unfurl myself from a foetal position.  And I wouldn’t have been able to work a two hour stint in the tower without bleeding all over myself and the furniture anyway.

So when my period stopped coming, it was a welcome respite from all the bloody drama.  The last twelve months have passed without a single drop of blood being shed from my uterus.  That’s one of the perks of menopause.  Some of the downsides?  Insomnia, physical and mental exhaustion, having to go to the toilet all the time, itchy skin (it’s called formication – no, FORMICATION), a pudgy belly and intense joint discomfort in my entire skeleton.  I do feel pretty lucky to not suffer any of the emotional and depressive symptoms which are pretty common in menopausal women.  And so far I’ve also managed to dodge the vaginal dryness and sexy-time problems.  Can I get a high five!! 

Good times.

The hot flushes though.  Fuck me, they are not a joke.  They come on like an actual volcanic eruption.  From somewhere very deep inside my body, from my very core, an intense heat starts radiating out like rising lava until my organs, my muscles, my bones and my skin are all ablaze.  It feels like I’m actually heating the air around me.  I’ve never experienced anything like it.  It is a total body clusterfuck, and it’s extraordinarily uncomfortable.  During particularly intense flushes my skin breaks out in sweat, rivulets of which pour down my face and upper body.  And the night sweats are even worse.  We’re talking full body saturation and drenched sheets.  This happens almost every night while David sleeps beside me, shivering because I need to have the air-conditioning set to cold.   

So, why am I telling you all this?  Let me try to explain.  When it comes to being a woman, sometimes it can feel like we are all alone.  We’re made to feel shame for our bodies and what happens to them, especially as we get older.  It might seem that there are no more taboos left, and that we can talk about almost anything these days.  But watch what happens when women want to talk about having miscarriages or abortions, or being raped.  Watch what happens when women want to talk about sex work or birth control or incontinence or sexual harrassment.  Watch what happens when women want to breastfeed in public.  Or when we talk about menopause or periods or vaginal discharges or the other (somehow worse) taboo of vaginal dryness.  We’re made to feel disgusting, and that talking about our bodies is dirty.  That it’s wrong to talk about the things that happen in between our legs.  That it’s Too Much Information and we should keep it to ourselves. 

I’m not thrilled to be discussing this shit with you.  Why not?  Because it feels wrong, and somehow dirty.  Do you see what I mean??  And that, precisely, is the reason that I am writing about it.  The concept of privacy here can be a double-edged sword.  It can be protective, sure, but it can also be used as a means of repression or censorship.  I’m prepared to sacrifice my right to “privacy” in the hope of making some positive impact.  Every woman’s experience of this stuff is different, but if I can do something to smash the taboo (or at least chip away at it, even just a little bit) by putting my private bits out there, then I’mma do it.  If one woman reads this and feels seen, I’m cool with whatever stigma comes along for the ride.  If one woman reads this and feels less alone, then it’s totally worth it. 

So, if for some reason you feel uncomfortable reading this, then of course feel free to drop out here.  But I do urge you to confront your discomfort and keep on reading.  It certainly wasn’t easy or comfortable for me to write it, but I pushed through.  Because I sincerely feel that it’s important to have this conversation.  To make it OK to talk about it.  Whether you decide to keep reading or not is completely up to you.  But you’ve been warned.  Shit’s about to get real. 

The first time I became pregnant I was living in the US, working as an au pair.  The upper age limit for the job was 26, and I barely scraped in, turning 27 three days after starting work.  So I was “old” for an au pair.  But in many ways I was still very innocent, naïve and young.  I was not a worldly 27 year old.  I was a baby.  Before starting the job I had held some loosely conceived, vague notions of one day becoming a mother.  Nothing that I would call an urge, though.  More like a pre-programmed setting that hazily loomed in the far distance.  I always used to say that my biological clock must have been digital, because I never heard it tick.  But during my time away in the US, I came face to face with motherhood.  And I realised I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. 

At the airport on my way to the USA to be an au pair. Definitely not mother material.

Long story short.  The year was 1998, and I was a wide-eyed ingénue, living in a small town in Connecticut.  I met a guy, I liked him, we had a lot of sex, the condom broke, I got pregnant.  I did not enjoy being impregnated.  I was absolutely appalled that my body had allowed itself to be implanted with the ingredients of a human being.  I physically hated it too.  The embryo would only have grown to the size of a kidney bean (I’ve blown out boogers that were bigger), but it physically felt as if my body had been occupied by some powerfully evil force.  I was relentlessly unsettled and nauseous.  I felt consumed, colonised, like my life was being sucked out of my body by a greedy parasite.  I hated this creature growing inside of me, using me, without my permission.  I punched myself in my stomach 15 times a day, hoping to dislodge my unwanted passenger.  Every morning I’d walk Daniel and Holly to the bottom of the driveway to wait for the school bus.  After waving them off, I would climb up a large boulder near the mailbox and jump off repeatedly in the hopes of jarring the little fucker out of my uterus.  I nearly broke my ankle slipping on the frozen ground.  When my period still didn’t come I scheduled an abortion. 

Afterwards, my boyfriend and I went out for lunch.  Even though I was fuzzy from the sedative, I can still remember feeling absolutely fucking great.  A malignant growth had been excised from my body, and I was reborn.  I had escaped a future I was incapable of living, and everything around me seemed beautiful.  I felt peace for the first time in ten weeks.  That night I had a babysitting job with the family across the street.  As I patiently tucked the clingy little girl into bed and soothed the whiny toddler to sleep, I knew I had made the right decision.  I waited for the regret to come, I was ready to face it.  But it never did.  And it never has.

People have asked me why I never wanted children.  They’ve wondered if perhaps there was some trauma in my childhood that prevented me from wanting to create a family of my own.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  My childhood was idyllic.  There were ups and downs, of course, but I look back on those years as being as close to a perfect childhood as you can get.  I don’t mind being asked why I haven’t had kids.  But the more pertinent question to me is why people do choose to have them.  To be brutally honest, I’m confused by all the babymaking.  I don’t understand the urge to breed.  Maybe I’m missing a gene, or something. 

Nearly all my friends have had kids, and I love (most of) them.  So I don’t want to offend anyone here, but having children seems like the most basic thing you can do.  Algae reproduces sexually.  Having offspring feels like the default evolutionary option.  Like a stage in a life cycle that people go through without stopping to question why they’re doing it.  Why they want it so much.  The instinct to procreate, to reproduce, to spawn is a primitive one.  It is an animalistic drive.  Is it judgemental to feel that I am above that primal urge?  I guess it is (sorry, not sorry).  Pardon me, but I’m proud of the fact that I haven’t mindlessly added another human being to an already overpopulated world.  I’m proud of the fact that I chose the road less travelled.  That I didn’t have children simply because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do in order to be fulfilled.

So am I a more complete human being, for not having the imperative to pass on my DNA?  Or am I incomplete?  Nature designed us to survive and multiply.  Does my choice make me superior to nature?  Or am I one of nature’s mistakes?  Thinking of myself as being more evolved, because I’ve chosen not to have kids is actually fucking hilarious.  Because my “evolved” genes are gonna die with me.  Nature wins.  Nature always wins.  Brava nature.  Fucking slow clap, bitch. 

My next two abortions (minor wins against nature) were performed in Australia.  I feel very lucky to have had such easy access to terminations when I desperately needed them.  I always had a safe and legal way to exercise my right to choose what happens to my body.  All three of my abortions were excellent decisions.  I wouldn’t say I’m proud of them, but I’m certainly not ashamed.  And if I were to become pregnant today, I would have another abortion.  Because, when I tell you that I don’t want to be a mother, when I say that I don’t want children, I really mean it.  I’m thankful to be childless, and I love my life just the way it is.  Nearly three months before my 50th birthday, I am thrilled to not have to worry about any more “accidents”.  No longer being so goddamn fertile is definitely a perk of menopause and almost makes the rest of the shitshow worth it.  But, I’ll be getting David to pop on a condom for a little while longer.  Just in case. 

Ejo #135 – Promises

This one’s about my Mum.  As many of you know, her life as a girl in Greece was difficult.  At the age of four, she fell down a well and broke almost every bone in her body.  She was forced to work as a shepherdess from the age of eight and unceremoniously yanked out of school when she was 12.  She was beaten, berated and told that she’d been born only to provide an extra pair of hands, while at the same time castigated for being an extra mouth to feed.  Her parents never told her they loved her.  And when, at the tender age of 16, she resisted their attempt to sell her off to a man three times her age in an arranged marriage, she was shipped off to a country she’d barely even heard of, in order to work and send back her earnings. 

My Mum’s resilience was remarkable.  She may have been scarred by her formative years, but her ability to rise above her past was something I’ve always admired.  A wonderful example of her courage was when, at the age of 44, she enrolled to study a course in natural medicine at the local college.  The year was 1991 and, after years of dreaming about it, and talking about it, and thinking about it, she finally just did it.  She went to school and learned, academically, the healing properties of plants.  She overcame a lack of confidence in her English, a lack of formal education, overwhelming social anxiety and a damaged self-esteem in order to pursue her passion.  Like I said, remarkable. 

Nerd. ❤️

Being a self-absorbed, 19 year old asshole at the time, I can’t remember what gave her the courage to finally take the plunge.  I know that my Dad would have supported her unconditionally.  Had it been a new year’s resolution?  Had someone challenged her?  Did she just wake up one day and decide to do it?  I’ll never know.  Of course my Mum was an exemplary pupil, and I remember her spending hours studying every day (while I, in my misspent second year of university, wasted my hours drinking copious amounts of beer and playing cards in the university common room).   Mum graduated, and then spent the next several years continuing to study, continuing to learn, reading books, posting on forums, asking questions – always striving to know more about her craft.  Thirsty for more knowledge.  She grew her own plants, her own garden laboratory, and constantly experimented with them (OK, fine, sometimes on us kids).  She made tinctures and creams, oils and poultices.  She was always concocting something for someone, always drying herb cuttings, always fermenting, infusing, mixing, soaking, powdering.  Always. 

A few of my Mum’s thousands of handwritten labels. She literally had a remedy for everything, always within arm’s reach.

In 1999, my Mum took all the knowledge she’d acquired over the years and actually wrote a goddamn book, a compendium of plants and their uses.  Years of study and personal experience finally culminated in her life’s work.  My parents spent a shitload of money to self-publish thousands of copies of the book in Greek.  She actually wrote most of it in English, but because she felt her English wasn’t great she hired a translator to transcribe her notes to Greek.  I kind of wish she hadn’t done that.  Over the years she sold a few copies here, a few copies there.  But selling books on consignment is a real bitch, and it’s hard to make money in Australia from a niche book written in a minority language.  Not that getting rich was ever my Mum’s goal.  Her goal was to heal people.  To help them.  My Mum was driven.  Single minded. 

The title loosely translates as, “A Family Guide: Herbal Remedies”.

Perhaps that’s something I inherited from her.  Growing up, I was rather goal oriented.  I wasn’t necessarily great at achieving the goals, but boy did I like setting them.  I used to be quite the new year’s resolution queen.  I’ve come a long way since my very first attempt at new year’s resolutions, possibly inspired by my Mum but, let’s be honest, also possibly inspired by Dolly magazine.  I was a 16 year old maniac cultivating an elaborate and detailed sub-world inside the four walls of my bedroom.  Here, lifted straight out of my handwritten diaries, is a taster of the chaos and mayhem that emanated from my addled teenage brain that first day of 1987:

  1. Learn to dance and sing like Madonna
  2. Fill my wall with Madonna posters
  3. Meet five new, gorgeous guys
  4. Lose weight (still at it, 34 years later)
  5. Become a good photographer and create a portfolio of self-portraits.
  6. Get mostly As and some Bs in my half-year report
  7. Buy lots of cool, trendy clothes
  8. Enter, and win, the Dolly covergirl competition (I’m so embarrassed)
  9. Get some really good disco tapes
  10. Become the biggest flirt – watch out guys, here comes Chryss Stathopoulos!!!!  (I actually wrote these words in my diary, and I am now crying from shame)

OK, so I sucked.  Big time.  The only one of these I achieved was having a wall full of Madonna posters.  And even today, I still have no idea how to flirt.  Jump forward two years to January, 1989, and I’d somewhat figured this shit out: 

  1. Kiss at least one guy.
  2. Don’t eat any chips.

Definitely more attainable.  I easily ticked both of these off and got a taste for how good it felt to achieve annual goals (also: how good it felt to kiss boys).  In 1990, ten years before I’d even heard of Dr. Atkins, I gave up bread for the year.  Just because!  And yeah, I totally got off on people’s reactions when I told them about it.  I liked the incredulous attention.  Yes, I was a weirdo.  But I was doing me, and for an angsty teenager with low self-esteem, that actually felt really good.

The next year I went without chocolate for 12 whole months.  Sounds impossible, but it was pretty easy once I decided that it was going to be a “no matter what” situation.  I simply wouldn’t put chocolate in my mouth.  You don’t even realise how ubiquitous chocolate is until you decide to give it up.  That shit is socially difficult to say no to.  Especially at easter.  People are always like, c’mon just have a little bite.  But I resisted and it felt like a great achievement.  I learned the value of not always giving into your impulses.  And for a young teenage girl who’d regularly polish off a family sized block of Cadbury’s Snack chocolate in my bedroom whenever I felt sad, I reckon that’s pretty impressive.  For the next two decades, I alternated between not eating chocolate for a whole year, and not eating bread for a whole year.  It was just something I did for discipline.  To prove to myself that I could. 

I think the reason that I stopped, in the end, was age.  Just getting older, wiser.  You could say I became more mature.  Doing something for the sake of it held less appeal than when I’d been younger.  I gave myself free rein to eat chocolate and bread whenever I wanted, at around the same time that my friend Nicole introduced me to her version of new year’s resolutions.  Her unique selling point was that she’d set the same number of goals as the number of the year itself.  So in 2009, she had nine goals.  And in 2010, she had 10 goals.  I loved this concept and immediately started planning my 11 goals for 2011.  To me, a resolution veteran, this felt revolutionary.  It was a fresh new take and I was totally onboard.  I can’t remember all of my goals for that year, but I definitely remember one of them.  And it was to write an ejo a month.  As you can see, ten years later, this is a goal that I am very proud to still be fulfilling.  I can’t imagine not writing these ejos.  They have become part of who I am, in a far healthier way than being known as the girl who doesn’t eat chocolate. 

Some of my 15 for ‘15 goals included making my Mum a photo calendar of her and my Dad (which she loved) and taking a self-portrait every single day of the year (which was an incredibly rewarding challenge in terms of how I saw myself, and also with the improvement of my photography and editing skills).  I also set myself the goals of running in a 10km race (didn’t do it), doing yoga three times a month (didn’t do it), attending a writer’s group once a month (didn’t do it), studying a photography course (didn’t do it), having a massage once a month (I couldn’t even do this one) and losing 7kg (sound familiar? didn’t do it).

As you can see, my goals were becoming more difficult to achieve.  And I’d regressed back to the kind of bullshit nonsense I’d been mindlessly slapping together as a 16 years old.  Also, the fact that I wasn’t able to tick off so many of them was actually starting to tick me off.  And really, I was just finding it more and more difficult to think of so many goals as the years went on.  Eleven goals was no problem.  But coming up with 16 new goals for 2016 was tedious. It wasn’t fun anymore and I wasn’t really getting much out of it. So, when 2017 rolled around I simply decided to give it all up.  For the first time in 30 years, I was resolution and goal-free.  And it was so liberating.  Just “being” was a luxury.  Just living my life was a treat.  I somehow continued to achieve things that I wanted to do.  And I didn’t go crazy on bread or chocolate or ice-cream or chips.  I was just kind of a grown up about it all.  Ha, imagine that.  Me, adulting!

Since then, I haven’t really missed “doing” new year’s resolutions.  I live my life as best I can.  I do yoga every day, I try to eat well (shoutout carnivore), and I try to be a good person.  I meditate every day in the shower.  I give to charity.  I read a lot.  I have therapy.  I think about how my actions and words affect other people, and I strive to be the best version of myself on a daily basis.  Without pressure.  I no longer need the gimmick of a yearly goal in order to “improve” myself.  I just aim to do that in every moment.  I am proud of myself for that, and I know my Mum was proud of the woman I turned out to be. 

My beautiful Mum died two years ago today.  Nothing will bring her back, but I have thought of one way in which I can keep her spirit and memory alive.  I have decided (resolved?) to do something this year to honour her.  And, along with three other projects, I’ve set myself a target date of the end of this year.  I’m not calling them new year’s resolutions, because they’re not.  They’re just things I want to do. 

So, what are they?  OK, first up I want to learn the lyrics so I can sing along to the 1980 song “The New Rap Language” by Spoonie Gee and The Treacherous Three.  Yep, I am a 49 year old white woman.  Who gives a shit?  I love the idea of the mental and linguistic challenge of learning this eight minute, densely-worded rap.  Studies have shown that mental exercise, things like learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument, can stave off degenerative, neurological conditions.  So this is my fun way of fighting dementia.  Yay!

Next, I want to learn how to pick a lock.  I’m not talking about using a bobby pin to jimmy open a flimsy suitcase fastening.  No, no, I mean using a lockpick toolkit to open a serious padlock or door-lock, secret agent style.  I promise I’m not planning on using this skill for any nefarious reasons.  I just reckon it’d be a pretty fucking cool skill to have.  And, once again, learning a new skill, learning how to use my fingers in new, dexterous ways, creating new neural networks; it all has to be good for my brain, right?

My third goal of the year is to plan my funeral.  Nope, I’m not intending on dying any time soon, so don’t worry about that.  I’ve just been thinking about this one for a while.  Planning my Mum’s funeral brought my sisters and I together, giving us something to focus on other than our excruciating grief.  It was all-consuming and helped to fill our days.  But it was hard, man.  It was fucking hard.  You’re making big decisions at a time you’re barely capable of getting out of bed in the morning.  When I die, I don’t want David and my sisters to have to go through that.  Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of my parties, but bitches, I throw down an epic event!  I don’t mean to brag, but we’re talking about the kind of party people talk about for years afterwards.  People are still talking about the 7am cucumbers in the jacuzzi from the first house party David and I threw in 2011.  Living in Dubai has always been hard for me, because I haven’t made many friends.  So whenever we visit Melbourne, it’s become a tradition to throw a massive shindig, get everyone I love together and go a little crazy.  Drink, dance, carouse!  Over the years, I’ve honed my skills as a party planner and I’m pretty proud of some of the bashes we’ve thrown. 

There was the gorgeous garden party at Madame Brussels, the 80s party complete with awesome tunes, daggy fluoro outfits and plenty of jello shots.  There was the picnic in the park with bottles of rosé, yummy finger food and a crazy thunderstorm.  In 2016 we held a weekend-long, ten year anniversary party at a log cabin in the mountains, and most recently, we celebrated David’s 50th birthday with a wild Studio 54 party.  Yes, there was a white horse.  Yes, the police were called.  I guess what I’m saying is that I like planning the details, I like creating the invitations, making the music video teaser, getting my creative juices flowing.  And most of all, I love all my friends gathering in one place to celebrate an occasion.  So why wouldn’t I want to plan the biggest, best, and most amazing party of all to celebrate my own life.  I know exactly what music I want played, and I want to make the video.  I don’t need eulogies. I won’t be able to hear what you say anyway, coz I’ll be dead. Instead, I want to tell you, my friends, how I feel about you. And what you mean to me. I’m gonna turn the whole fucken funeral thing on its head.  I’m going to do it my way.  And you’re all invited.

And finally, my passion project.  The goal that has the most meaning to me this year.  I want to translate my Mum’s book into English.  I want her knowledge, her work, her sweat and tears and inspiration to reach a larger audience than it currently has.  Hundreds of copies of my Mum’s book are sitting in a storage facility in Glen Waverley, gathering dust.  That’s not what she intended, it’s not what she wanted.  And it’s not what I want.  Maria Stathopoulos, the author, deserves to be read.  She deserves to be recognised and lauded and celebrated for her work and for her small, but worthy, contribution to humanity.  She wanted everyone to have access to the world of natural medicine, the healing properties of plants and herbs.  She wanted everyone to share her joy and enthusiasm and love of the natural world.  Her own personal antidote to our industrially, and corporately, manipulated existences.  And I will help her to fulfill that desire.  I will honour her. 

I’ve already started working on it.  Last year I commissioned my talented artist friend Anka to illustrate the plants that my Mum had photographed for her book.  There were 36 in total so it was a huge undertaking.  Each illustration took her between two to five days to complete, working with archival inks on heavyweight cartridge paper.  The project happened over five months, from May until October 2020, a period during which Anka, who is London based and works in hospitality to support her art, was locked down and not earning an income.  The assignment gave her some breathing space, a small, regular income and the opportunity to focus on her work.  I am so grateful that my Mum’s book was able to facilitate that.  I love every single one of Anka’s illustrations, and I know my Mum would have too. 

Anka’s beautiful drawings of my Mum’s dandelion, echinacea, rosemary and horseradish root.

I also asked my sisters to check if we kept any of Mum’s records or notes that might help me to translate the book, and Pieta actually found a bunch of floppy disks labelled “Mum’s book”.  Perfect.  Except who the hell has a floppy disk reader?!  No-one.  Pieta had to buy a FDD to USB drive and then convert the text to word documents.  I’ve been practicing my Greek too, so that I can fine-tune the translation (because google translate can only do so much).  Last year I picked up a few Greek magazines and I’ve spent hours just reading the words, not even understanding most of what I’m reading, in an attempt to re-familiarise my brain with the language that is actually my mother tongue. Three of my goals this year are just silly promises to myself. The last one is a very serious promise to my Mum. It’s not easy. None of this is easy, but I’m driven. Single minded.

#134 – Cholesterol Countdown for WHAT??!!

Remember late last year when I had my annual medical exam for work after a month of eating carnivore, and the doctor was absolutely appalled at my cholesterol results?  They were the highest figures he had ever seen, and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that he was absolutely terrified for me, urging me on the phone to please start taking statins immediately so that I wouldn’t drop dead on the spot.  I objected.  I am extremely reluctant to willingly go down the slippery slope of a lifetime course of medication unless there is absolutely no other option.  And I knew that in this case, I could lower my cholesterol with diet.  So I asked him for the chance to do that, and I was given two months to prove that I could.  

To be honest, I may be a little bit proud of how ridiculously high these numbers are, especially the ones in red.
For reference, here are the average recommended cholesterol levels.

So why was my doctor so distraught for me?  He’s a super lovely guy, who’s been practicing medicine for more than 40 years and is very good at his job.  He’s a very caring doctor.  But, he’s old school and he’s operating on old information.  Doctors are incredible.  They study for many years to learn about the extraordinarily complex ways in which the body works, and I have a great deal of respect for them.  But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that it’s not a GPs job to keep up with all the latest medical research.  In my experience, doctors are generally useful for one of two things: issuing sick leave certificates and prescribing medication.  Actual treatment for an ailment is what referrals to specialists are for.  In Dubai particularly, you can’t see a doctor without walking away with a prescription for at least one medication.  Even if it’s just Panadol, docs be peddlin’. 

I’m glad that I resisted taking the statins.  After our appointment, I took a much deeper dive into the world of cholesterol research, and the role that statins play.  What I found, particularly pertaining to women, was eye-opening.  Author Nina Teicholz says, “In 1992, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute expert panel reviewed all the heart disease data on women and found that total mortality was actually higher for women with low cholesterol than it was for women with high cholesterol, regardless of age.”  Hmm!  And that was nearly 30 years ago.  Not coincidentally, it also turns out that there is absolutely no benefit to women of any age taking statins, and this report, published by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, supports that. 

Dr. Kendrick is a well known author of several books about nutrition, one of which is called The Great Cholesterol Con.  The dude knows cholesterol.  And this is what he says about it for people of my age, “As you get older, the higher your cholesterol is, the longer you will live.  This is a fact.  People with lower cholesterol are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and other neuro-degenerative diseases.” 

If that’s the case, then how is it that we just “know” that cholesterol is bad?  How do we “know” that LDL cholesterol is even worse (it’s even called “bad cholesterol”).  No really, how do we “know” this stuff?  Spoiler alert: we don’t.  We are conditioned to believe it.  We are indoctrinated.  How on earth can something that our own body produces, be bad for us?  Around 30% of all our cell membranes are composed of the stuff.  And approximately 25% of the dry weight of the brain is cholesterol.  It’s so vital to its functioning that the brain actually makes its own.  We need it, or we will die.  Lierre Keith, author of the amazing book, The Vegetarian Myth, points out, “One of the main functions of the liver is to make cholesterol because life isn’t possible without cholesterol.”  So why would anyone want to reduce it?  

Probably because we are still being told that we have to.  Doctors use an algorithm to predict a person’s risk of developing heart disease based on factors like age, sex, ethnicity, blood pressure, LDL and history of illness.  If you get a score of 10, doctors prescribe you statins.  But, check this out.  According to the algorithm, once you hit 60, that’s an automatic score of 10, and doctors will prescribe you statins anyway.  Even if you are in perfect health, even if you have perfect blood pressure and optimal LDL.  WTAF!  It’s a huge double dip for the pharmaceutical companies.  You get the statins if your cholesterol is high.  And if you’re “old”, you get the statins anyway.  Which is absurd considering that there’s a proven, inverse association between LDL cholesterol and mortality in people over the age of 60. 

That cholesterol is even considered a risk factor for heart disease is sheer dogma.  The Lipid (or Cholesterol) Hypothesis, developed by Ancel Keys over 65 years ago (more on this mofo later), posits that high cholesterol causes vascular damage and/or dysfunction which leads to a build up of plaque on your artery walls, restricting blood flow, triggering a clot and ultimately leading to a heart attack.  It has been taught in medical school for over half a century, and most doctors (including mine) act on that information for the rest of their careers because they simply don’t know any better.  They never seek out clarification, and they never look for evidence to support the hypothesis.  If they did, they would discover that there is none.  In fact, there has never been a clinical study that has proven that cholesterol causes heart disease. Ever.

So let’s look at an alternative theory of correlation between cholesterol in the body and atherosclerosis.  It’s called the Response to Injury Hypothesis and it views the high level of cholesterol found in an atherosclerotic artery as the body’s way of responding to an artery that’s already been damaged.  Let’s say the artery was damaged by a high level of glucose in the blood, caused by insulin resistance.  The LDL rushes to the site as a protective “response to injury”, but unfortunately it is damaged when it becomes oxidised due to the presence of that high blood sugar.  This is when LDL actually does turn into bad cholesterol.  Oxidation takes a protective molecule (LDL) and turns it into something that contributes to harm.  LDL doesn’t cause heart disease, unless it becomes oxidised.  And, as long as you’re not a smoker, your cholesterol will never oxidise on a high fat, low carb diet.  It’s impossible. 

If you want to know how the medical profession became so trapped in an abusive marriage to the unfounded notion that saturated fat and high cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease, follow me down this rabbit hole.  The villain of the story is Ancel Keys, an American scientist whose dubious beliefs about saturated fat determined the dietary guidelines of an entire country which, more than sixty years later, is full of overweight diabetics dying of heart disease.  In 1956, Keys undertook the world’s first multi-country epidemiological trial (known as the Seven Countries Study), in order to prove his Lipid (or Cholesterol) Hypothesis.  By the time the massive study was published in 1970, he had become a master at cherry-picking through the copious amounts of data and fudging them to suit his hypothesis, leaving out all the data that didn’t support his theory.  For instance, data was actually collected from more than a dozen countries, but it was only the seven that proved his beliefs that were included in the final published paper. 

The study was flawed from the very beginning because Keys’ theory was one that he wanted to prove, desperately.  And that’s not how science works (or at least, not how it should work).  The study was never peer reviewed, and it was never replicated.  It was a shoddy paper that, despite never actually demonstrating causality at all, was framed as though it had.  Years after it was published, Alessandro Menotti, the lead Italian researcher in the trial, reviewed the data and discovered that, lo and behold, sugar was more strongly correlated to heart disease fatalities than saturated fat or cholesterol. 

But, due to a number of influencing factors at the time, Keys’ study was accepted as gospel, and subsequently adopted by the US government.  This happened despite prominent scientists protesting the study’s legitimacy at a congressional hearing.  And despite several other studies proving the exact opposite to be true.  Ancel Keys was an asshole and a bully, and he had powerful friends in the US government.  He had become so influential in the political and scientific worlds that he was able to quash any dissenting voices, ruining the careers of many promising scientists along the way. 

And so, from Keys’ study, the egregious USDA food pyramid was created and shoved down consumer’s throats.  The food manufacturers got on board the low-fat bandwagon and started producing items that were low in fat but, in order for them to be palatable, had to be high in sugar.  Funnily enough, the agricultural industry also suddenly became very keen to promote, and protect, the grain-heavy food pyramid, which shockingly still looks like this.  And here we are today with supermarket shelves packed full of products that our bodies don’t even recognise as food.  And people keep on getting fatter and sicker, and more dead. 

Flip this shit upside down, then we’ll talk.

It actually really boggles my brain that one man could have yielded so much power, and with such a profoundly fucked up result.  The idea that science should be pure and objective is a beautiful one.  When I studied Science at Monash University, we would conduct experiments with no bias, no agenda and with the truth as our ultimate goal.  Unfortunately, science in the real world is driven less by the urge to impress your professor, and more by inflated egos, frenzied publishing, heated competition and of course the influence of billions of dollars.  Of course there are many studies that are scientifically and objectively conducted.  But a large chunk of trials are funded by industry.  One such example is Coca Cola funding a study “proving” that Diet Coke is healthier than water.  Pharmaceutical companies funding studies “proving” that statins reduce the risk of heart disease, with little or no side effects, is another. 

There were several other studies from Keys’ time that clearly showed an inverse relationship between cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, but for some reason most of them were unpublished.  Buried, literally gathering dust in garages for decades, and only recently coming to light (did anyone say Minnesota Coronary Experiment?).  Now why would this be the case? 

I believe it’s because there’s too much money to be made from statins.  In the course of my research, I was shocked to learn that statins are the most prescribed medicine in the world, with over 200,000,000 people taking them every single day.  And the kicker is, once you start taking these meds you are stuck with them for the rest of your goddamn life.  So, statin prescriptions are increasing exponentially, cholesterol levels are plummeting.  And we’re all eating from the food pyramid, right?  But somehow heart disease is still the leading cause of death everywhere on the planet.  According to WHO, “The world’s biggest killer is ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16% of the world’s total deaths.  Since 2000, the largest increase in deaths has been for this disease.”

So, if millions of people are taking statins, and heart disease is still the biggest killer on the planet, who is actually benefiting from all those little pills?  Is it the patient?  Sure doesn’t look like it.  Is it the doctor?  Well, they might be getting a little kickback.  Nope, the big winner here is Big Pharma.  And they have absolutely no incentive to disavow us (or doctors) of the idea that we all need statins to survive.  And, of course, they encourage us to keep eating from that crappy food pyramid. And they’ll just keep handing out pills like candy (which, incidentally come with their own smörgåsbord of significant, negative side effects).  Shockingly, in 2010 a cardiologist published a paper suggesting that statins be handed out with Original Recipe Chicken Buckets and Big Macs.  Let. That. Sink. In. It’s absolutely diabolical. 

Pharmaceutical companies are famous for obfuscating the data from their in-house clinical trials.  Transparency is not in any of their mission statements.  And so, most of us are simply uninformed, or worse, misinformed.  And most of us don’t ever question the authority of our doctors.  Which is why people are so happy to commit to a lifetime of taking statins when a doctor prescribes them.  They are under the impression that the pill will save them from heart disease, and extend their life.  Isn’t that what we all want?  To live a long and healthy life?  A study, however, has shown that for those with a history of heart disease, taking statins extended their lives (on average) by only five days!!  And for those with no history of heart disease, their life expectancy was increased by an average of three days.  THREE FUCKING DAYS!!!!!  That’s the reward you get at the end of a lifetime sentence of daily pill popping (never mind the cost, never mind the side effects).  No thanks, you can count me out. 

And look, it’s not as if the medical profession hasn’t got it wrong before.  As Lierre Keith elegantly argues in her book, lobotomies, leeching, hormone replacement therapy, thalidomide, electric shock therapy etc. were all once considered fine medical treatments.  We know better now, and I have a feeling that one day we’ll know better about statins too.

So, while I am vehemently opposed to reducing my cholesterol, unfortunately we had to do it to keep our jobs.  So, the cholesterol had to come down.  And it had to come down a shit-tonne. So, how did we do it?  Every day, before lunch we’d start with a tablespoon of chia seeds that had been soaked in a cup of water for an hour.  This is fibre, and it scrapes out your gut.  We did intermittent fasting, meaning we skipped breakfast.  Every day for five weeks lunch was oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, cinnamon, blueberries, almonds and walnuts, all known to reduce cholesterol.  We used almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  It’s absolutely horrendous for the environment, but hey, it’s fat free.  When we were peckish (which was often) we would snack on nuts and kiwi fruit.  And for dinner we mostly alternated between salmon, pan-fried in little bit of olive oil, which is an unsaturated fat, and soup with lentils, lemon and spinach.  Lentils, again, are rich in fibre, so we were shitting five times a day (and I’ve gotta admit, that part was pretty satisfying).  This sounds like a relatively “healthy” diet right?  But, knowing what I know, I literally felt like I was poisoning my body.  My joints started aching again, my stomach was constantly cramping and bloated, I was gassy as hell and I gained back the inches that I’d lost from around my waist, despite losing a couple of kilos. 

We needed to throw everything at this problem, so that we could pass our cholesterol tests and go back to eating food that’s actually healthy for us, and the environment: pasture-raised meat, eggs, yoghurt, cheese and butter.  So, we levelled up with supplements.  Every day we took milk thistle, plant sterols and stanols, and red yeast rice extract (and, because red yeast rice blocks the body’s own production of CoQ10, which is essential for heart and muscle health, we also had to take CoQ10 supplements).  Like I said, we were in this to win.  Neither one of us wanted to have to go back for another check-up in two months.  So we gave it 100%. 

And it worked.  Here are the results after five weeks of eating a diet which I am passionately, and diametrically, opposed to.  My total cholesterol reduced by an astonishing 60%.  And my “bad” cholesterol, LDL, went down by a pretty fucking crazy 73%. Was I healthier?  No.  But my doctor thought I was.  Was I less at risk of dying of heart disease than I’d been eight weeks before?  Absolutely not, but my doctor was delighted.  He signed our medicals, gave us both a figurative pat on the head and sent us on our way. We went out and had steak for lunch.

I’m no doctor, and this is no medical advice, but cop an eyeful of those number. David’s end results were even better.