The NPR Health Blog contacted me, as they were interested in learning more about health strategies and tools that are being used by individuals without their doctors. The Track Your Plaque website and program came up in their quest, as it is the only program available for self-empowerment in heart disease.
Several Track Your Plaque Members spoke up to add their insights. The full text of the article can be viewed here.
How’s Your Cholesterol? The Crowd Wants To Know
Mainstream medicine isn’t in favor of self-analysis, or seeking advice from non-professionals, of course. And anyone who does so is running a risk.
But there are folks who want to change the course of their heart health with a combination of professional and peer support. Some are bent on tackling the plaque that forms in arteries that can lead to heart disease. They gather online at Track Your Plaque, or “TYP” to the initiates.
“We test, test, test … and basically experiment on ourselves and have through trial and error came up with the TYP program, which is tailored to the individual,” Patrick Theut, a veteran of the site who tells Shots he has watched his plaque slow, stop and regress.
The site was created in 2004 by Bill Davis, a preventive cardiologist in Milwaukee, Wisc. Davis is also the author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, which argues that wheat is addictive and bad for most people’s health. Davis recommends eliminating wheat from the diet to most new members of Track Your Plaque.
“The heart is one of the hardest things to self-manage but when you let people take the reins of control, you get far better results and far fewer catastrophes like heart attacks,” Davis tells Shots.
Doctors typically give patients diagnosed with heart disease two options: take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, or make lifestyle changes, like diet. It’s usually far easier for both parties — the doctor and the patient — to go with the drugs than manage the much more difficult lifestyle changes, Davis says.
“Doctors say take the Lipitor, cut the fat and call me if you have chest pain,” he explains. “But that’s an awful way to manage care.”
TYP has members submit their scores from heart CT scans, cholesterol values, lipoproteins and other heart health factors to a panel of doctors, nutritionists and exercise specialists. Then they receive advice in the form of an individualized plaque-control program. But the online forum, where users share their results with other members and exchange tips, is where most of the TYP action happens.
The community currently has about 2,400 members who pay $39.95 for a quarterly membership, or $89.75 for a yearly membership. Davis says all proceeds go towards maintaining the website.
Ilaine Upton is a 60-year-old bankruptcy lawyer from Fairfax, Va., and a TYP member. At a friend’s suggestion, Upton decided to get a heart CT scan in July. Her score was higher than it should have been (22 instead of 0), so she decided to get her blood lipids and cholesterol tested, too, and sent a sample off to MyMedLabs.com.
She learned that her LDL particle count was over 2,000 (“crazy high,” she says), and she posted her results on TYP. Davis advised her that a low-carb diet would reduce it, so she decided to try it.
Since July, she says she has had “excellent results” with the program, and her LDL counts are coming down.
“It would be nice to have a [personal] physician involved in this, but [my insurer] Blue Cross won’t pay if you are not symptomatic, and I am trying to prevent becoming symptomatic,” says Upton. “I feel very empowered by this knowledge and the ability to take better control of my health by getting feedback on the decisions I make.”
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