Why Mary Jo Ashby includes CGM in her cancer-prevention plan

Mary Jo monitors her blood sugar as one of her lifestyle habits that decrease her risk of developing diseases that run in her family.

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Member Profile

Who: Mary Jo Ashby, 60
Where: Orinda, California
Time with Levels: Six months
Most Useful Takeaway: “I told myself to simply focus on high-quality proteins, lots of non-starchy veggies, and healthy fats. And that’s what turned things around.”

1. What was your health like before Levels?

In the last two years, I felt a shift in my health. I was gaining some weight and feeling fatigued. But in reality, I was becoming less active. When COVID hit, I gained an additional 12 pounds. My stress level went up, and I was trying to comfort my anxiety with food and wine.

When I went to the doctor, my BMI was 22.8. That’s in the normal, or healthy, weight range, but other health measures told a different story. I was what some term “skinny fat.” Most of my weight was being stored around my belly. My waist-to-hip ratio was 0.88. (Optimal for women is 0.8 or less.) My bloodwork showed that my fasting glucose was 87 mg/dL, fasting insulin was 10.7 mIU/L, and my A1C was 5.7%. I was on my way to becoming prediabetic.

And the way I felt was reflective of that. I was so fatigued. My sleep was poor, and I was operating with a lot of anxiety. I knew something was off with my body.

2. What made you want to put a CGM on your arm?

I have a strong family history of cancer. My mom had breast cancer in her 40s and died of colon cancer at age 60, the age I am now. Her brother had pancreatic cancer. My sister and two of my brothers also had cancer. I had genetic testing done and it confirmed that I have a gene that increases my risk of breast and pancreatic cancer.

After reading The Metabolic Approach to Cancer by Dr. Nasha Winters, I knew I needed to make lifestyle adjustments to create a healthy environment to lower my risk of cancer. And that started with improving my metabolic health.

So, I needed to monitor my blood sugar levels. While I tried finger sticking, the results were random, erratic, and didn’t make sense. I knew that method wasn’t working for me. That’s why I wanted to try a CGM.

3. What foods consistently kept you stable? What spiked you?

In the beginning, this was hard to tease out. I wasn’t sleeping well and was under a lot of stress. Everything was spiking me. I ate some white rice that I had cooled (so it would contain more resistant starch), and that still sent my blood sugar up to 160 mg/dL. Two pieces of pizza spiked me to 200 mg/dL.

So I told myself to simply focus on high-quality proteins, lots of non-starchy veggies, and healthy fats. And that’s what turned things around. My sleep improved, and my stress decreased. Finally, my body felt like it was healing.

Months later, I can finally add small amounts of beans or starchy vegetables without getting wild spikes. That suggested to me that I was gaining some metabolic flexibility. Sure, I probably can’t eat cookies and pies, but I don’t crave that anymore. Intuitively, I now gravitate towards whole, nutrient-dense foods. As long as I eat enough healthy fats, I don’t crave sweets.

Healthy fats are huge for my metabolic health. I focus on olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, olives, nuts, and seeds. Recently, I drank a protein shake, and I saw a bit of a glucose spike. Next time, I added half of an avocado, and it made a huge difference. Not only did I feel completely satiated, but my blood sugar stayed at 74 mg/dL and did not budge.

4. How have non-diet factors affected your blood sugar levels?

If I have a poor night’s sleep, my readings for the day will probably be up 15 to 20 points. Stress also affects my glucose readings. Recently, we took a trip and had that rush of going to the airport. I checked my levels, and though I hadn’t eaten anything, my blood sugar shot up 70 points.

It made me realize how sensitive I am to stress. When I am well-rested and relaxed, my baseline blood sugar level is between 70 to 85 mg/dL. That’s where I notice my greatest energy levels, and I feel my best. 

If I eat something that spikes my blood glucose, I notice I feel anxious, restless, and generally not good. There’s a correlation between what I see on Levels and how I feel. If that’s the case, the best thing for me is to take a 20-minute walk outside. An after-meal walk can lower my blood sugar up to 30 points.

5. How has your health improved since starting Levels six months ago?

 I just had recent bloodwork done. My A1C is 5.6%, and my fasting insulin is 5.5. My weight is down 15 pounds, and my waist-to-hip ratio is 0.75.

I can feel these changes in my increased energy levels, which enables me to be more active. I now get 45 – 60 minutes of daily exercise, including strenuous hiking and resistance training.

I will continue to undergo cancer screenings, which are vital for early detection, but I now have more confidence in my ability to prevent cancer through the lifestyle changes I’m making. It’s my goal to create a healthy environment in my body so that cancer is less likely to develop and grow. And improving my metabolic health, in my opinion, is as important as getting my MRIs and mammograms in reducing my risk of cancer.

Read more: The ultimate guide to metabolic health and cancer