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Sweet tooth and male ego hinder heart health

Cran never dreamed he could be a candidate for heart disease at 47, being physically active and healthy. But little did he know his diet was playing havoc with his cholesterol levels and his self-confessed male ego was stopping him from seeking help.

Approximately six years ago, Cran was experiencing occasional chest pains so he decided to have a full medical health check. A few days later the GP asked him to come back and talk about the blood results. 

“He explained to me that the chest pains could be caused by a very high cholesterol level of 8.5,” recalls Cran. 

“I had no idea what cholesterol was or the implications of having overly high levels.” 

He even laughed at the doctor and became very defensive, going straight into denial. The doctor stated that he would refer Cran to a nurse for regular blood tests. 

“I just laughed and went home. The nurse rang and made appointments to see me after work, but I never went to any of them. 

“I remained in denial for approximately six months and continued my active life.” 

One night, Cran’s chest started to hurt severely, and even though it passed, he got frightened.  

“The next day I made an appointment to see the doctor. This time I was prepared to listen.”  

His results were not good, showing high levels of triglycerides (another type of fat in his blood), most likely from the food he had eaten his whole life. 

“I had always had sugar with everything – my favourite was cream with sugar and strawberry jam soaked in bread. 

“On my way to work I would have two pies, then I’d have cakes and biscuits for morning tea. Afterwards, takeaways for lunch, and that was my typical daily cycle.” 

Cran was brought up on a farm where eating foods high in saturated fats was the norm. When he finally consulted with a nurse, she advised changing his diet and lifestyle and if that didn’t work, it was likely cholesterol lowering medications would be needed. 

Changing his eating habits was overwhelming for Cran and he felt down for the first month due to the drastic alteration, such as having brown bread, salad and trim milk. 

“I persevered for a month without chest pain and went back to the nurse for follow-up blood tests, which indicated my triglyceride levels were starting to decrease.  

“I felt a real sense of achievement that I was finally doing something.” 

Cran has now cut all junk food from his diet and replaced it with fresh fruit and vegetables. He also cooks differently – grilling, steaming and poaching instead of frying.  

“I cut all the fat off meat and do a lot of preparation for meal planning.” 

After a six-monthly-check, Cran’s doctor prescribed a cholesterol lowering medication as his blood tests had started to increase again.  

“I contacted my sister and my four brothers and discovered that we all have high cholesterol and there is a genetic predisposition in our family.”  

Since Cran went on medication his triglycerides have stabilised and he feels good again. His advice to others is to overcome the denial and our ego that stops us from making a change. 

“Male ego is a huge issue, particularly for Māori men. We shouldn’t let denial hinder our health. If we do, we’re hurting not only ourselves but also those who are closest to us.” 

He adds that, “Men are the very last to seek help for any medical issue. Often, we minimise the issue or haven't got the ability and courage to make a change. We need to adjust our thinking to accept our internal issues and deal with them.”