My Health Experience: ‘I stopped eating the wrong foods and was astonished by the results’

Diet helped me reverse my high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity

Richard Brennan, who  changed his life after having a stroke, in Trinity Capital Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Richard Brennan, who changed his life after having a stroke, in Trinity Capital Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 01:00

‘I have had reasonable good health for most of my life. I was in a car crash when I was 17 and suffered from back problems in my early 20s when I worked as a driving instructor. In fact, it was the relief I got from Alexander Technique lessons all those years ago that prompted me to train as an Alexander Technique teacher.

I trained and taught the technique in England, Greece and Spain before moving permanently to Galway in 1997. I’ve kept busy with work – running the Alexander Technique school, treating people and writing.

I had been trying to lose weight for 30 years. I tried every single diet and yet I kept gaining weight and couldn’t get rid of it.

The thing is that I’ve been a vegetarian since 1972 and I thought I was eating healthily but I snacked on sweet things. I also went out of my way to get protein in my diet by eating lots of dairy products. I walked or played tennis at the weekend but didn’t get daily exercise.

My blood pressure was slightly elevated at a health check in 1998 and since then I’ve monitored it myself. One day last year, I got a reading of 220/120 and went to have it checked out.

My GP sent me to the Emergency Department and I was kept in for a week. They couldn’t find out what caused the high blood pressure but they did discover that I had diabetes type 2.

I was put on three blood pressure medications, a drug for cholesterol and a drug to control the diabetes.

I continued to take all these medications although I had no energy and people told me I didn’t look well. I started to walk 40 minutes a day to try to get my weight down and I cut out all sugary foods.

I felt terrible and attributed feelings of lethargy and swelling in my ankles to side effects of the medication. I lost about 2kg in three months.


Flashing lights
On November 4th last, I had a stroke. I was flying back from the UK, having visited my adult son and his new baby, when I saw flashing lights. I drove myself home from the airport, went to bed and woke up at 8am, slurring my speech.

My wife, Caroline, had to tell me I’d had a stroke because I didn’t realise it myself. She took me straight to the hospital. I spent the next five days in hospital, having everything monitored.

One of my blood pressure medications was changed (I was taken off beta-blockers and put on ace-inhibitors instead). I felt really confused and didn’t know what to do.

My son researched the China Study diet, which is the diet Bill Clinton is on, and I decided to go on it too. I decided that when on this low-fat, wholefood plant-based diet, I would take myself off all my medications except the ace-inhibitors and the daily aspirin I had been prescribed since my stroke.

I monitored my blood sugar and blood pressure daily. And every two weeks, I was monitored by either my GP or my hospital consultant although I didn’t tell them initially that I had stopped taking my other medications.

Essentially, I stopped eating the wrong foods and started eating pulses, fruit and vegetables. So, for breakfast, I have porridge with fruit and a soya dessert instead of yogurt. For lunch, I have vegetable soup, wholemeal bread and a salad. For dinner, I have rice and vegetables. I cut out all processed foods and dairy.

I didn’t worry about eating too many carbohydrates or too little protein – both of which pre-occupied me for years.

I was astonished by the results. Between November 16th and January 27th, I lost 18kg. My diabetes has been reversed with readings now within the normal range. My cholesterol has reduced from 5.7 to 4.5. And my blood pressure, which was 230/120, is down to 120/70 using minimal medication.

No lasting effect
I have no lasting effect of the stroke. I feel better than I have in ages. My sleeping pattern has changed. I am awake now at 5am or 6am and I feel like getting up. Before, I couldn’t get up in the morning. I go to bed around 10pm and I do half an hour’s walking every day.

I realise that I took a risk and I don’t want people to think that they can come off their medication without expert advice. I consider that I follow the expert advice given by Dr John McDougall, prominent American heart surgeon, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn and Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, T Colin Campbell.

I also feel reassured because I monitor my blood sugar and blood pressure every day and I see a doctor every two weeks. I was back at work three weeks after the stroke, pacing myself at first but back at full tilt by January.

It was a wake-up call for me – discovering that I had high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity – especially as I have spent most of my life helping other people deal with their health problems.

So, most of all now, what I want to do is share my experience with others so that they too might be helped as I have been.

In conversation with

The China Study

What is it?

The China Study began as a comprehensive study of diet, lifestyle and disease of rural Chinese people. The research programme lasted for 27 years and subsequently captured the attention of American biochemist, T Colin Campbell. Campbell went on to study the effects of nutrition on long-term health and concluded that many Western diseases – heart disease, cancer and diabetes – could be prevented and reversed by a low-fat, wholefood, plant-based diet.

He published over 300 research papers and co-authored with his son, Dr Thomas M. Campbell, the best selling, The China Study – startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health (Benbella, 2006).

See also thechinastudy.com .