A Personal Story: Susan Fairlie

My career as a nurse spans several decades and many different settings – from front line through to national leadership roles. When my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack, I became very interested in Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). At the time, I was working in General Practice and set up clinics to help patients to prevent their risk of developing CHD (primary prevention) or for those who already had CHD, to prevent further deterioration (secondary prevention).

I duly followed NHS guidance and promoted various lifestyle interventions – helping patients to stop smoking, lose weight, lower their blood pressure (when appropriate) and if they met certain criteria to prescribe a statin. This then entailed, regular blood tests to monitor their liver function (as statins can cause liver damage). I also set up group consultations (very novel in those days) which were very popular as patients began to support each other during and after these clinics. Suffice to say, the clinics had some patient success stories and the practice won various awards in recognition of this work. This then led me to be appointed the National Lead for the Secondary Prevention of CHD – encouraging all clinicians working in General Practice in England to adhere to the CHD National Service Framework. Their success was in turn linked to the Quality Outcomes Framework which determined the level of remuneration each practice would receive.

Professor Susan Fairlie

Wind forward several years and as part of a routine blood test, I found out that my cholesterol was alarmingly high. I applied all my previous knowledge and amended my diet – ate more porridge and less fat… this didn’t help and so rather reluctantly, I took the advice to start taking a statin. In parallel, I began researching other options (I now had skin in the game) and came across a community of like-minded healthcare professionals who were advocating a low-carbohydrate diet to help reduce the risk of developing CHD (my main concern at that time) as well as prevent Type 2 Diabetes. I was initially rather sceptical as this was the antithesis of all the advice I had previously thought to be true and had been giving to my patients. The more research I did however, the more I understood the mechanics and physiology of a low-carb diet and the amazing health benefits associated with it such as supporting metabolic flexibility and reducing insulin resistance. I also began to recognise that as I didn’t have any other risk factors, having a high cholesterol was not something I needed to worry about and indeed there are even some health benefits!

Before I finally had the confidence to stop taking the statin (which had lowered my cholesterol), I decided to seek a Coronary Artery Calcium (CAC) scan – a non-invasive x-ray that detects the amount of calcium deposits in the walls of the arteries of the heart which could lead to future heart attacks. I was reassured that I had minimal calcium deposits and my risk was very low. During this time, I also invested in several Continuous Glucose Monitor devices (CGMs) to start to track how my body responded to various foods and exercise and how long it took to return to normal after a spike. This provided such rich information and showed me that I had good metabolic flexibility.  Armed with all this information, I informed my GP that I would be stopping the statin!

What started out as a personal health interest, has now become my passion and a way of life – once you know, you know! I have now undertaken a health coaching qualification and become a Trustee of a Charity (the Public Health Collaboration) that promotes metabolic health and encourages us all to eat real food. Most recently, I am very excited to have joined the clinical team at Prolongevity and look forward to sharing my experience and supporting others with their own health journey.

A Personal Story: Susan Fairlie

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