So in the comment section of my last post, Katie asked about the references I’ve made to restricting my sugar and caffeine intake. I’ve explained it in the comments section on other peoples’ blogs before, but never really explained it here. So, before you think I’m dying of heart disease or something awful, let me tell you a little story…
As most of you know, my teen years were spent in China. Around 16 I realized that I was having some pretty serious chest pain at night time. I could remember having had it on the random occasion before, but not like I was having it at this point. We are talking pain-so-bad-I-would-writhe-in-bed.
Now, here’s the deal. I didn’t tell anyone for two reasons. 1. I’m not much of a complainer. And 2. (this is so embarrassing) I had heard of this phrase “growing pains” and I thought that’s what I was experiencing (remember: didn’t live in the States to compare this with my buddies or anything). And since my “growing pains” were in my chest I thought…*blush*…I thought it was a certain part of my anatomy *cough* growing. So awkward…
So then I graduated high school and moved to the States where I was introduced to Dr Pepper and Granitas (basically sugar and coffee). The chest pain was no longer just at night time and it got worse. I still didn’t know what it was and mostly just brushed it off.
Freshman year of college began and I got sick with something or other so I went to the doctor. For the first time in years. He prescribed me with meds for whatever was wrong with me at the time and then did the typical-doctor-with-the-stethoscope-listening-to-your-heart thing. However, as he listened to my heart he kept mumbling. The only thing I could make out was, “Well that’s odd.”
“Eh? Say what?”
“Rach, I think you may have mitral valve prolapse.”
“It’s a heart condition in which your…” He went on to explain it. You can read about it here if you’re interested. Summed up: basically one of the valves in my heart doesn’t work properly. It’s not life threatening and lots of people have it and never even know it. There are more serious cases, however… like me.
So then the doc asks, “Have you noticed any chest pain? Dizziness? Heart palpitations?”
He asked me the extent of my symptoms and after telling him he informed me of this, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you really need to eliminate caffeine and reduce sugar from your diet.”
“Say wha??” I’m a college student. A freshman at that. I stay up till 4am laughing with my newly found girlfriends while pumping myself full of caffeine and sugar. It keeps me awake. Surely he is mistaken. Is it even possible to go through college with caffeine and sugar??
So I left the doctor’s office and went back to my dorm. I picked up the phone and called my parents (who were in China).
“I went to the doctor today and he said I have my-pro-val-lapse or something…”
“You mean, ‘mitral valve prolapse’?” my mom asked, pronouncing the name correctly
“Huh?? How did you know that? I’ve never even heard of it before today!”
“Oh, well, it runs in our family…”
“Say what?!” Oh the things I had yet to learn…
So turns out my grandfather and my auntie both have MVP as well and also have to live by diet restrictions. Sheesh, the things people don’t tell you. Really it was mostly because it’s not that serious of a condition if the diet is followed. I learned this the hard way. Despite the doctor’s orders, I did my own thing. I would be really good for two weeks but then have a test that I just HAD to stay up to study for. So I’d pump in the caffeine and pay heavily for it later.
Then it was summer time. I was working at Camp Wyldewood and they ask each counselor to fast from something for the summer. I chose caffeine and sugar. I didn’t touch the stuff for three months and when August rolled around, I tried my first sip of Dr Pepper. It was awful. I drank it anyway, haha! And I definitely had chest pain that night. I did go back and forth a bit that following semester, but not near as much. The next summer when I worked at Wyldewood again I decided to give up sugar and caffeine again and this time it stuck.
So since the summer of 2006 I’ve taken such good care of my heart. And my heart has thanked me for it. 🙂
As for a word about artificial sweeteners. I know many are very against them, but for me they are the only way I get to enjoy sweets. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not pumping my body full of fake sugars all the time. I believe in moderation. But if I’m craving something sweet, I’m going to let myself have it… just the Splenda-version of it. 🙂
So I hope that clears up some of the questions about my elusive heart condition. Know that I’m fine and very healthy simply because I do take such good care of my heart. 🙂
EDIT: Holly asked what specific sugars I can/can’t have. It’s a great question so I decided to add my answer here: The sugars in fruit are a-okay. However, granulated sugar and honey are out. There is added sugar in pretty much every processed food from condiments to bread to soy milk. So it’s really just a matter of reducing my intake. Okies, now I’m ending this for real! 🙂