Your faithful correspondent is up for just about anything healthy that involves no inconvenience or discomfort, and so when he found out that for $550 he could lie down fully clothed for 90 seconds and discover the state of his arteries – with no more radiation exposure than the equivalent of a single chest x-ray – out came his credit card. Three of his four arteries, the Ultra-Fast CT Scan color photos and report showed a few days later, were as clear as Colorado mountain air – spectacular, really – the kind of pipes used in the finest organ. The fourth, however, had some calcium build-up. This could conceivably have been related to the tuna fish salad sandwiches ‘on a buttered role with extra mayonnaise’ that decades ago were his staple.

‘There’s mayonnaise in the tuna salad,’ the counterman would explain. ‘I know,’ I would say, ‘but please – butter the roll, and then slap on extra mayonnaise.’

That fourth pipe wasn’t 90% blocked or anything, but my doctor showed how, oddly, it’s the 20% blockages that often surprise you the worst – he drew pictures of lipids escaping from plaque nodules and doing terrible things – and so we drew blood to check my cholesterol and he gave me a prescription for a little pill called Lipitor, at the lowest 10mg dosage, that you take each night before you go to sleep. I’d take it for a month, eat a bunch of salmon to get my good cholesterol up, and see what effect that had on my ‘bloods.’

(If this is vastly more than you ever cared to know about me, the point is that this is ultimately about you, and your loved ones, so hang on.)

For a long time my cholesterol had been around 210, but heavy on the HDLs – the good cholesterol you get from shrimp cocktail and olive oil, as opposed to the bad cholesterol you get from French fries and pig lard. But have you ever had Charles’s cooking? No? Who can resist? It is to die for. So there were my new scores, pre-Lipitor: 253 overall cholesterol, with 40 HDLs (the barely acceptable minimum) and 289 for the triglycerides, which I believe are a family of trolls who live in rocks and you want to have as few of them as possible.

A month later, I went for a second blood test. And now the results are in. With more salmon but (just to see what I could get away with) no slavish dietary sacrifices . . . the only big change being these little Lipitor tablets once a day . . . it seems that the overall cholesterol, 253 last month, has dropped to 144; the 40 HDLs, which you want high, have climbed to 48; and the 289 rock trolls are now 96.

I am astonished. And I am . . . heartened. And my point is simply this: even more practical than buying a gas mask or Cipro these days may be to check out your pipes (there can be blockage even if cholesterol is low) and your ‘bloods.’ Or, if you’re 26, to get your folks to do it. And then, if need be, toss a Lipitor down your throat each night.

Better living through chemistry.

 

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