The Nation's Health + [Reversal]

Reversal: Success--Slow but sure

John is a gentleman.

At age 76, he continues to teach at a local college. He's a delight to talk to, having written several scholarly books on religious topics. He's a fountain of knowledge on religious history and the roots of faith.

John is one of those incurably optimistic people, always greeting me with a smile and a warm handshake. I can't help but linger for a hour or so to talk with John, unfortunately disrupting my office schedule miserably.

John is another Track Your Plaque success story. Though he didn't set any records in reduction of his heart scan score, he did it simply by adhering to the program over a period of two years, succeeding slowly but surely.

John's first heart scan score: 1190 , a score that carries as much as a 25% annual risk for heart attack. Among the list of causes was an LDL cholesterol in the 170 mg/dl range, along with an LDL particle number that verified the accuracy of LDL.

Among John's suggested treatments was a statin drug, since I was not confident he could reduce LDL with diet and nutritional modifications sufficiently to safely reduce both LDL and his risk for heart attack. But he proved terribly intolerant to any dose of any statin, with incapacitating and strange side-effects, like head-to-toe itching, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. It was clear: John needed to do the program without benefit of a statin drug.

I therefore asked John to maximize all efforts that reduce LDL, 70% of which were small LDL paricles despite his very slender build. He used oat bran and ground flaxseed daily, raw nuts, a soy protein smoothie every morning, and eliminated wheat and other high-glycemic index foods (including the Oreos he loved to snack on). Because the mis-adventures with statin drugs wasted nearly a year, I asked John to undergo another heart scan. Score 2: 1383 , a 16% increase.

I asked John to keep on going. Thankfully, he did manage to tolerate fish oil, niacin (though it required over a year just to get to a 1000 mg per day dose), and vitamin D. With all these efforts, he did reduce LDL to the 80-90 mg/dl range. Of course, John's unflagging optimism was crucial. He did express his occasional anxiety over his heart scan score, but dealt with it in a logical, philosophical way. He understood that there was no role for prophylactic stents or bypass, and he accepted that much of his program rested on his ability to adhere to the strategies we advised.

Another year later, a 3rd heart scan: 1210 , a 12% reduction.

I'm very proud of John and his success. When you think about it, he succeeded in conquering heart disease with some very simple tools, minus statin drugs. It can be done, but requires consistency and patience--and an optimistic outlook.