Well this title seems quite exaggerated me being only 26 years old – but yet it holds true. Just one year back and I would have never considered a vegan diet.
High blood pressure runs in my family, just as diabetes does and this was always excuse enough for me to tell myself that a tiny deviation from the norm (120/80mmHg = norm) is just about okay. I’m living a healthy lifestyle, I’m eating clean, I‘m doing tons of sports…so yeah, I’m living a healthy lifestyle – Or am I?!
How it all started
Giving a little background, my story goes like this. I am a medical student and therefore always had access to devices and friends that are able to check my blood pressure. Knowing that the disease of Essential Hypertension (medical term for high blood pressure) runs in my family, I always wanted to keep an eye on it. It’s funny though, how even close observation didn’t make me take action.
Dating 4 or maybe even 5 years back I first noticed that my blood pressure wasn’t really perfect. I was working an internship in the hospital at the time and used the same device on me I would use on the patients every single morning.
But what do I mean by „not really perfect“? – We’re speaking numbers like 138/88mmHg. It was enough to raise questions, but not quite enough to take action.
First I eliminated coffee in the mornings before measuring – don’t be fooled though, I had it straight afterwards – doing nothing but tricking myself. It didn’t have any effect anyways. Following that, I diagnosed myself with having „White Coat Hypertension“. It refers to high blood pressure that only arises, when being faced with going to the doctor. The thought about getting the blood pressure measured and worrying about it causes it to spike and delivers false measurements – I used to constantly worry about things in my past, so this seemed like a plausible explanation.
I tried to trick myself measuring not regularly in the mornings where I would have time to worry about the numbers, but whenever I passed the device later during the day. The numbers stayed the same so another possibility was out the window.
It’s almost funny how I put that much thought into it until this point but just let it slip once my internship came to its end.
I went home and didn’t think of my blood pressure all that much, after all I was living as healthy as one could be right?! I’m not overweighted, still doing tons of sports and eating almost no carbs in my close to carnivore „paleo“ diet. (High Fats, Low Carbs – eating like a cave men. It wasn’t there 10.000 B.C., it doesn’t touch my plate)
Here and there I would still get a little measurement in, when I had the chance to keep an eye on it. The numbers stayed the same…but I didn’t do anything.
The rough Awakening
Fasting forward to January 2019 I hade one insanely high measurement at 178/91mmHg. It freaked me out and had me worried – like a lot! This was too much to take. I had to see a doctor and have it checked. I tried to calm myself, telling me that the device is near the end of its days and probably just wrong.
The horrific number proved true when tested manually and I was given one of those devices that measures your blood pressure throughout 24 hours every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes during the night. It was the most horrible day of my life, as I constantly checked the latest value and they only went higher and higher.
I had an afternoon nap that day trying to correct the numbers sleeping and medium quality sleep that night, considering the machine that went off every 30 minutes on my right arm.
The results when I went back to the doctors office the next day were crushing. My average number was at 173/81mmHg. AVERAGE!!! You can see the average in the photograph below. Systolic the first number and diastolic the second number.
That’s freakishly high. Even during sleeping hours, when the blood pressure is supposed to take a dip, it went up instead. It was high to a number, where a secondary cause to the problem couldn’t be ruled out, so I got an appointment with a specialist. Checking my blood works and my kidneys as well as my heart via sonography. The only downside to it – I had to wait 32 days.
Being just 26 years old I was facing a diagnosis – that at best – being essential Hypertension and therefore primary, would have me on a lifetime medication. Or finally finding out, that cutting all that weight through massively dehydrating myself back in the Karate-Nationalteam-time of my life, had fucked up my kidneys and I was slowly going down the road of kidney failure.
It would have made sense too, eating all that protein and never really drinking enough water throughout the day. I had to re-learn to drink enough. All those years of cutting weight though dehydration took my urge to drink water. I never felt thirsty during everyday life.
All those thoughts and theories spiraling in my head and even though I knew I wasn’t even close to dying looking at it objectively – that’s just what it felt like that day.
Interestingly I just heard the Rich Roll Podcast a few days earlier. They talked about a man who reversed Hypertension within roughly 60 days of eating a vegan diet.
I was in damage control mode and all the joy of eating meat I had before – or more so – the habit of eating animal products didn’t stand a chance. I decided to radically change to a vegan diet.
Going cold turkey – NO animal products whatsoever. No meat, no milk and no eggs. I had thirty days and research using PubMed (a database for medical studies) gave me reason enough to believe that 30 days of eating a vegan diet could very well make a difference. I didn’t aim for „normal“ blood pressure – just a decline of the outrageous numbers would’ve been enough for me. To my mind it was about saving my life after all.
It proved that there could not have been a better motivation to stay on track with the vegan regimen. I still had urges to buy and eat meat but just reminding myself of all that fear I felt that day in the doctors office was more than enough to re-wire myself.
I needed new recipes and new habits. Almost everything I was eating before was out of the picture now. I read blogs, online articles, a book and listened to more podcasts on vegan diet. And once I got settled in, it transformed my whole lifestyle and how I approach food. I started cooking more, which made me more intentional of what and how I was eating. Stopped buying ready-made dishes, which stopped me from eating processed foods. Stopped eating Fast-Food, which saved me tons of money. And I started looking more into the whole vegan lifestyle, which made me question certain aspects of life – Questions I have never asked before – but more on that in another article.
Eventually the day of my appointment came and to say I was nervous doesn‘t do the horrible anxiety I felt any justice. I was terrified. The thought that all my nervousness would make my numbers spike even further, just maximized my anxiousness.
I was put in a lying position and waited for 5 minutes to get measured. Those 5 minutes felt like an eternity. When the doctor wrapped the thing around my arm I tried to breath calmly. Steadily in and out. He looked irritated as he was done. I‘ve seen this face before – the face that can‘t believe a 26 year old man has this high of blood pressure. He inhaled to start talking and it felt like another eternity just passed. Finally he said, “I really don’t know why you’re here at all.“
To conclude this – He checked again after seeing the results of the 24 hour test and couldn’t find an explanation.
My heart and kidneys where in good condition under the sonography check as well. My blood works were all fine and even the ergometer test (riding a bike) was just perfect.
I couldn’t believe it myself. Did I really just do that by eating a vegan diet?! Did the vegan diet save my life?! Am I alright and allowed to finally ease my mind
Vegan for Life
Well to this day I‘m still sticking to the vegan diet, although I rather call it a whole food plant-based diet these days because it is very easy to eat vegan foods and still be super unhealthy in doing so. There is so much vegan junk food out there that is just as processed and bad for you as processed animal products are.
I don’t have any plans on changing my diet any time soon and I hope this might serve as an eye opener or a way out for somebody reading it.
Medical Student, Semiprofessional American Football Player and Surfer. Trying to bring valuable lessons to you in writing inspiring stories about people who touched my personal journey through life.
If you can take away one single thing from every story, I reached my goal.