Members of the online community Track Your Plaque get advice from a doctor and each other on how to cook low carb meals.
Our impulse to share intimate details
about our lives within our social networks (and even sometimes with
complete strangers) seems to know few bounds.
Now devices loaded with health apps let us monitor and share our sleep patterns, stress levels and physical activity,
to name a few. And it's easier than ever to get lab tests through
websites like LabCorp.com and MyMedLabs.com, should we want to share
Some people are looking
to manage their health by combining the data with the wisdom of the
crowds. Take for instance, adherents of the paleo diet.
On the website PaleoHacks,
members routinely mine the experiences of others to figure out whether
they're eating more fruit than the diet routine calls for, the meaning
of the color of their stool, and how to interpret subtle changes in
their cholesterol levels.
One user who goes by Toni posted a request
earlier this year for help hacking cholesterol results. "I'm seeing my
doctor on Friday and want to be able to give him my perspective on these
results," Toni writes. "This is my first cholesterol panel since I
began eating strict Paleo eight months ago, including no dairy." Eight
people responded. Some told Toni the numbers looked fine; others
referred Toni to other medical resources on the Web.
are now getting measurements of their cholesterol to look at what's
happening to them as they try a new diet to justify it," says Chris
Masterjohn, a nutritional scientist in the paleo community who studies
cholesterol and has a blog called The Daily Lipid.
says people routinely share their lipid results in the comment section
of his blog. And he notes blogger Jimmy Moore of Living La Vida Low-Carb
shares his latest blood ketone level, an indicator of fat metabolism.
Masterjohn says he understands why people like finding out this stuff
about themselves: "I would runs lots of tests on myself if I had the
money for it," he says.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."