Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:12 PM on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Changes lead to results for CHIP grads

By Lindsay Johnson

Staff Writer

A long table loaded with colorful dishes and flowers occupied the foyer of the Seventh Day Adventist Church last Sunday afternoon. Fresh baked bread, ratatouille, three different kinds of rice, five different salads, polenta, pie, cookies. It could be almost any potluck, except you wouldn't find any cream of mushroom soup hidden in the casserole or potato chips to dip in ranch sauce.

And you wouldn't find a cholesterol level more than 195.

A dozen of the attendees just completed a four-week intensive course on shopping, cooking, eating and living for optimal heart health called the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP). CHIP graduates are walking examples of how a commitment to lifestyle adjustment can boost health.

Lab tests Jan. 20 and Feb. 18 showed the group lost an average of more than 18 percent cholesterol. Incidentally, the average weight loss was 7 pounds.

"The results speak for themselves," said Judith James, who has been leading CHIP courses in Homer for five years.

She and a number of CHIP alumni attended a presentation by Dr. George Rhyneer, one of the state's leading cardiologists, Feb. 23. Afterward, she showed him their group results.

"When I showed him the spreadsheet, his eyes got real big and he said, "That is remarkable. Four weeks, that's amazing,'" James said.

Exercise and a more simple, plant-based diet.

"I thought that was really encouraging to see someone of Dr. Rhyneer's stature and experience come out and say lifestyle is where it's at," James said.

The class's poster child is Tom Bursch, who dropped his cholesterol level by 44 percent in 4 weeks. In January, his cholesterol was more than 260, bordering on "dangerously high." By changing his diet and exercise habits, Bursch's 145 cholesterol level is now well within the "ideal range."

Bursch also was at Rhyneer's talk, and thought the doctor's message was right on.

"Unless you're willing to take some action, why bother?" he asked.

Bursch, like other CHIP participants with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, understood that action was the way to solution.

"We're raised in this country to understand that coronary artery disease is a factor of old age. And if you're 70 you're going to have it. But it's really — the studies they've done with developing countries and lifelong vegetarians — a factor of diet and you can have arteries that look like a 14 year old when you're 80 if you're not ingesting the cholesterol," Bursch said.

"I was sort of surprised how good the food was. There's a lot of really good food out there. We're just constantly exposed to new ideas for food," Bursch said.

"You think it's just going to be beans and rice, it's not that at all. There's all kinds of stuff you can eat," Barbara Deal said.

"The other thing too is you really feel good. Mobs of energy," Deal said.

She said there are a lot of good things about the program. What it boils down to is making the choice and taking action to live well.

"We can make choices that greatly reduce our risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, stroke, high blood pressure, and many cancers. In many cases these conditions can even be reversed," James said.

"Many of the diseases we die from are directly related to lifestyle: smoking, diet, exercise. This connection is well-substantiated by large-population studies, migration studies, and carefully controlled clinical studies around the world."

While it doesn't have to take a month of classes to start living healthier, for the 12 CHIP graduates, the combined effects of science, knowledge and support jumpstarted the process.

"Stick with it, increase your exercise and in the next weeks and months you're going to see more dramatic results," James told the new graduates, before encouraging them to go back for seconds or thirds from the table.