The Ups and Downs of Managing my Own Health

I learned about the importance of diet and health very early in life as my Dad had his first heart attack when I was 12, and subsequently, my Mom made dramatic changes to our 1960’s diet at home.  Since my college years, I’ve always been a bit of a health nut — careful with my diet and disciplined about working out.   During my 30’s and 40’s, I relied on my supposedly high degree of exercise/fitness to manage my cholesterol levels…while my older brothers started on statins in their late 30’s.  One of my brothers warned me that everything gets harder after 50, so I focused on continuing to make a combination of subtle shifts in diet, stress and exercise, which have led to my chart below — from the Mayo Clinic Health Manager


Just about Christmas time last year, the trend wasn’t looking good, so my doctor strongly suggested starting on statins (he’d been suggesting it regularly in the past but had left it up to me).  I’d heard a lot about taking them versus not — but I thought the pros and cons were especially well summarized at a panel on which I spoke at the Partners’ Connected Health Conference in Boston.  John Halamka, John Glaser, and I were on the panel, and an audience member posed a question about tools to do research and manage one’s health — I can’t quite remember it specifically — but I do remember the specifics of the answers from the two John’s — two distinctly different answers.  John Halamka talked about how his doc had suggested statins, but after doing some research, he decided to pursue a difficult personal course of action — to shift his behaviors, change his eating habits, lose weight, and exercise more.  He actually became a vegan — quite a dramatic shift!  John Glaser, on the other hand, didn’t want to give up his burger, so he chose the med route.  And BOTH are doing well! 


For me, I decided to try the Halamka route.  For the past three months, I’ve aggressively modified my diet — cutting out eggs and red meat, eating oatmeal every morning, eating lots of green vegetables, salads and chicken for dinner.  My doctor and I had agreed on a three month retest, and I just got my results back, which are reflected in the chart below.  While I have reversed the trend and have bent the curves in the right direction, I still need to work on improving my LDL levels, which are not yet where they need to be to lower my risk levels.  However, I am still not yet prepared to start a statin regimen.  It seems clear that my DNA and biology create higher than ‘recommended’ cholesterol levels — the question though — is this fact creating a potential health problem or not?  I wish the genetic understanding and testing had reached a point where it could definitively answer this question!


Peters cholesterol tracker


Comments (3)

  1. Gempel says:

    Good post Peter.  Diet can change the body better than medications.  Your chart shows a nice decrease in just 3 months of a modified diet.  Why can’t we have incentives for people to manage their own health through proper diet rather than paying for continued medication?  By the way, read the China Study when you get a chance.  Congrats on your progress.

  2. Nick Duncan says:

    Very interesting. I would be concerned about the drop in HDL. Exercise, red wine and garlic might help. Congrats on great strength of mind.

  3. Offbeatmammal says:

    nice work – and a bit of inspiration.

    it would be great to see tools like HealthVault become more commonplace and everyday so individuals can track all aspects of "wellness" (not just the traditional health measures) and use that to make recommendations to fend off potential issues not just track problems that have occurred.

    link that to doctors and healthcare providers (incl insurance companies) and other professionals so they can see aggregate data in time to spot trends and run  education campaigns etc and health care reform might just have a chance of making a real difference