Excessive Heart Procedures Makes New York Times Headline

One example of flagrant cardiac procedure excess has made New York Times headlines:

Heart Procedure Is Off the Charts in an Ohio City
The number of angioplasties performed in Elyria is so high that Medicare is starting to ask questions.

(The full article can be accessed through the New York Times website at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/18/business/18stent.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=b81be5f43f98a99b&hp&ex=1155960000&partner=homepage)

Cardiologists in little Elyria, Ohio, about a 30-minute drive west of Cleveland, do more coronary angioplasties and insert more stents than any other location in the U.S.--four times more than the national average, three times more than the Cleveland average. They perform even more than the recently-indicted cardiologist in Louisiana, who performed twice the national average of procedures.

The Times article, part of a series about financial incentives in medical care, provides a responsible and incredibly balanced report on the situation in Elyria. I have to give them credit, because from the eyes of a colleague (myself), this looks like blatant and extreme profiteering: "cathing for dollars".

I find it outrageous that this group of cardiologists claims that they have some special insight into heart care that justifies this extraordinary reliance on heart procedures. There's bound to be variation in practice patterns, but this is so outside the norm that I believe criminal behavior will be exposed. In fact, I believe that even the "norm", or average, rate of procedures is also excessive.

This is symptomatic of the perverse equation in heart disease care. If there's money to be made in major heart procedures, who wants to bother with prevention? Programs like the Track Your Plaque program present real potential to stop coronary heart disease in its tracks for many, if not most, participants--but don't expect to hear about it from your cardiologist. Don't expect to hear about it from the increasingly hospital-employed primary care physician.

Hopefully, media exposure like that in the New York Times is just the beginning of a public re-analysis of not only what's wrong with medicine today, but recognition of the tremendous power in preventive strategies when everyone stops being so enamored with hospital-based procedures. CT-based heart scanning that ignites your heart disease prevention program is your way to dodge the mainstream obsession with procedures.

More on "Bio-identical hormones" and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals

In October 2005, Wyeth petitioned the FDA, requesting that it completely ban the bioidentical alternatives that women have been using in ever-increasing numbers to achieve optimal hormone balance. With bioidentical replacement therapy clearly reducing its market share, Wyeth asked the FDA to outlaw all compounded bioidentical hormone formulations that compete with its own discredited drugs. If Wyeth is successful, then menopausal women will have no choice other than to take potentially life-threatening hormone drugs or to forgo hormone replacement therapy altogether, thus enduring the physically and emotionally debilitating effects of menopause-induced hormone depletion.

Dave Tuttle
Life Extension Magazine
August, 2006

For more commentary on Wyeth Pharmaceutical's outrageous and brazen petition to the FDA to bar prescription "bio-identical" hormones, i.e., hormones that are identical to natural human forms, read Life Extension's article, Health Freedom Under Attack!
Drugmaker Seeks to Deny Access to Bioidentical Hormones

This well-researched article is in the August, 2006 issue of Life Extension Magazine. The article can also be accessed online at http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2006/aug2006_cover_attack_01.htm

or go to www.lef.org and click on the August, 2006 issue.

The author, Dave Tuttle, details the baseless arguments raised by Wyeth, a pathetic and amazingly selfish act in the name of protecting profits for Premarin, their prescription agent. It's bad enough to be selling this worthless drug. It's even worse--criminal, in my mind--to try to stamp out our right to have a physician write a prescription for a pharmacy to mix up hormones identical to that humans produce, individualized to our needs.

If you are as angry about this as I am, please go to the Life Extension online reprint that provides access to the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists website to send the FDA an e-mail describing your opinion, or go to www.iacprx.org.

How accurate is LDL cholesterol?

Watch TV and you'd get the impression that the world revolves around LDL cholesterol: Commercials for Lipitor, Zetia, Vytorin, etc., all drugs to reduce cholesterol (total and LDL). Your doctor looks first and often only at LDL cholesterol.

If there's so much attention paid to LDL, how accurate is it? 100%? 90%? 80%?

Well, it varies widely. Occasionally, it's truly accurate, but most of the time it's miserably inaccurate . Every single day, I see people with LDL cholesterols that underestimates true (measured) LDL by 40%, 50%, and even over 100%. In other words, LDL cholesterol might be 120 mg/dl by the conventional method, but the genuine measured value might be 160 mg/dl, or even 240 mg/dl. It can be that far off--and it's not rare.

The converse can occasionally be true, though rarely in my experience: that conventional LDL overestimates true LDL. I saw someone in the office today like this, with a conventional LDL of 142 mg/dl but a true measured LDL of 115 mg/dl. I may see one or two more people like this the rest of this year.

Why is LDL so inaccurate? Several reasons:

--LDL in most labs is calculated, not measured. The "Friedewald calculation" derives LDL by substracting HDL and triglycerides (divided by 5) from total cholesterol. The higher triglycerides are, especially above 150 mg/dl, the more inaccurate the calculation becomes. As HDL drops below 50 mg/dl, this also introduces greater and greater inaccuracy.

--LDL particles vary in size. A more accurate representation and measure of LDL's dangers are therefore found in measures of LDL particle number , rather than a weight-based measure or calculation. LDL particle number can be measure as just that, LDL particle number (NMR), or as apoprotein B, the protein in LDL that occurs one apoB per LDL.

I liken conventionally calculated LDL cholesterol to a broken speedometer. You simply won't have an accurate measure of how fast you're going, though you may have a ballpark sense. But try telling that to the state patrol.

Or, as a cardiologist colleague said to me in a similar conversation about LDL: "Well, it's better than nothing!"

The lesson: If you're interested in plaque control, and control or reduction of heart scan score, you need a measured LDL, preferably LDL particle number by NMR or an apoprotein B. Another option is "direct" LDL.

Green tea: friend or faux?

The www.HealthCastle.com website is a helpful website on healthy eating that sends out a free newsletter. The content is all produced by licensed dietitions and nutritionists. Although I don't agree with everything said on the site, there's still some good information.

I'm a fan of green tea. Although I believe the effects are relatively modest (weight reduction, cholesterol reduction, anti-oxidation, etc., with theaflavin and/or green tea as a beverage,) they alerted me to the fact that the Lipton Green Tea product is one you should steer clear of. Here are their comments:

"More like Soft drink than Green Tea!With 200 calories, 13 teaspoons of added sugar and a long list of artificial ingredients, Lipton Iced Green Tea is more like a bottle of soft drink than tea, in our opinion."

The Lipton website lists the ingredients:

Water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, green tea, sodium hexametaphosphate, ascorbic acid (to protect flavor), honey, natural flavors, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (preserves freshness), potassium sorbate (preserves freshness), calcium disodium edta (to protect flavor), caramel color, tallow 5, blue1.

An 8 oz serving yields 21 grams of sugar. If you drink the full 20 oz. bottle (not hard to do!), that yields 52.5 grams of sugar! You will also notice that the second ingredient listed after water is high fructose corn syrup. This ingredient, you may recall, causes triglycerides to skyrocket, causes an insatiable sweet tooth, and is a probable contributor to obesity and diabetes.

In their defense, the Lipton people do also offer a sugar-free alternative without the excessive sweeteners and empty calories.

Do the Lipton products offer the same kind of benefits from green tea catechins (flavonoids) offered by freshly brewed teas? This product has not been formally tested by an independent lab to my knowledge, though, in general, commercially prepared and bottled teas tend to have dramatically less catechin/flavonoid content compared to brewed. (The USDA website provides access to an extraordinary collection of flavonoid food content at their USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods - 2003. You'll find it at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=6231.)

I think the HealthCastle people got it right: Brew your own, making sure to steep for at least 3 minutes. Alternatively, a green tea or theaflavin supplement provides many of the benefits. (Theaflavin has been used in trials at doses of 375 to 900 mg per day.) An in-depth report on green tea will be coming in a future Special Report on the www.cureality.com Membership website.

The Track Your Plaque guide to getting grotesquely overweight

If you'd like to gain huge quantities of weight, here's a number of helpful tips:

1) Follow the advice of food manufacturers and eat the products they label "healthy", or "heart healthy", or "part of a nutritious breakfast" etc., like Shredded Wheat cereal, pretzels ("a low-fat snack"!), low- or non-fat salad dressings.

2) Cut your morning calorie intake by skipping breakfast.

3) Hang around with other heavy people. They will confirm that it's okay to be overweight.

4) Call walking your dog "exercise".

5) Get a sedentary desk job. Use your swivel desk chair to scoot about whenever possible, rather than getting up to do things.

6) Say "I've worked hard all week long. Weekends are for relaxing, not for physical activities. I deserve a rest."

7) Eat foods without thinking about it: Eat chips while watching football, eat while on the phone, daydream over the sink.

8) Eat to provide comfort when stressed.

9) Eat foods that have sentimental value, whether or not they're good for you: Freshly-baked cakes that remind you of Mom, Pop Tarts that you used to carry in your lunchbox when you were a kid, hot dogs just like Dad would buy at the baseball stadium.

10) Cut back on sleep and generate insatiable starch cravings.

11) Stack your shelves at home with great variety. That way, you'll always have something to suit your mood.

12) Say to your spouse: "It's none of your damn business what I eat! I'm a grown man/woman!" Prove it by over-indulging in obviously unhealthy foods.

13) Tell yourself that you're just too busy to pay attention to food choices. Just grab whatever you can out of a convenience store or vending machine.

See, it's easy! And that just a start.

Of course, I don't really want you to do any of these things. But if you see yourself in any of the above, and you're struggling with weight, you should seriously rethink your approach.

Your heart scan is just a "false positive"

I've seen this happen many times. Despite the great media exposure and the growing acceptance of my colleagues, heart scans still trigger wrong advice. I had another example in the office today.

Henry got a CT heart scan in 2004. His score: 574. In his mid-50s, this placed him in the 90th percentile, with a heart attack risk of 4% per year. Henry was advised to see a cardiologist.

The cardiologist advised Henry, "Oh, that's just a 'false positive'. It's not true. You don't have any heart disease. Sometimes calcium just accumulates on the outside of the arteries and gives you these misleading tests. I wish they'd stop doing them." He then proceeded to advise Henry that he needed a nuclear stress test every two years ($4000 each time, by the way). No attempt was made to question why his heart scan score was high, since the entire process was outright dismissed as nonsense.

I'm still shocked when I hear this, despite having heard these inane responses for the past decade. Of course, Henry's heart scan was not a false positive, it was a completely true positive. I'm grateful that nothing bad happened to Henry through two years of negligence, though his heart scan score is likely around 970, given the expected, untreated rate of increase of 30%.

The cardiologist did a grave disservice to Henry: He misled him due to his ignorance and lack of understanding. I wish Henry had asked the cardiologist whether he had read any of the thousands of studies now available validating CT heart scans. I doubt he's bothered to read more than the title. The cardiologist is lucky (as is Henry) that nothing bad happened in those two years.

Do false positives occur as the cardiologist suggested? They do, but they're very rare. There's a rare phenomenon of "medial calcification" that occurs in smokers and others, but it is quite unusual. >99% of the time, coronary calcium means you have coronary plaque--even if the doctor is too poorly informed to recognize it.

What's better than a heart scan?

Do you know what's better than a heart scan?

Two heart scans. No other method can provide better feedback on the results of your program.

Say you've made efforts to correct high LDL; lost weight to raise HDL and reduce small LDL; added soluble fibers, nuts, and dramatically reduced wheat products; take fish oil, vitamin D, and follow a flavonoid-rich diet. Has it worked?

After a year or so of your program, that's when another heart scan can give you invaluable feedback on whether it's been successful. I tell my patients that it's relatively easy to correct lipid and lipoprotein abnormalities. The difficult part is to know when it's good enough. Is your LDL of 67 mg/dl and HDL of 50 mg/dl good enough? Another heart scan score is the best way I know of to find out.

Variation in plaque growth differs hugely from one person to another, even at equivalent lipoprotein values. Why? Lots of reasons. Humans are inconsistent day to day. Lipoproteins, being a snapshot in time and not a cumulative value, change somewhat from day to day. There's also the possibility of unmeasured, unrecognized factors that influence coronary plaque growth. We may not be smart enough to identify these hidden factors yet. But your heart scan score will incorporate the effects of these hidden factors.

Ideally, we aim for zero growth in plaque (no change in score) or a reduction. But, particularly in the first year, 10% or less plaque growth is still a good result that predicts much reduced risk of heart attack. More than 20% per year and your program needs more work--or else you know what's ahead.

Lipids are snapshots in time; heart scans are cumulative

Let me paint a picture. It's fictional, though a very real portrait of how things truly happen in life.

Michael is an unsuspecting 40-year old man. He hasn't undergone any testing: no heart scan, no lipids or lipoproteins. But we have x-ray vision, and we can see what's going on inside of him. (We can't, of course, but we're just pretending.) Average build, average lifestyle habits, nothing extraordinary about him. His lipids/lipoproteins at age 40:

--LDL cholesterol 150 mg/dl
--HDL cholesterol 38 mg/dl
--Triglycerides 160 mg/dl
--Small LDL 70% of all LDL

At age 40, with this panel, his heart scan score is 100. That's high for a 40-year old male.

Fast forward 10 years. Michael is now 50 years old. Michael prides himself on the fact that, over the past 10 years, he's felt fine, hasn't gained a single pound, and remains as active at 50 as he did in 40. In other words, nothing has changed except that he's 10 years older. His lipids and lipoproteins:

--LDL cholesterol 150 mg/dl
--HDL cholesterol 38 mg/dl
--Triglycerides 160 mg/dl
--Small LDL 70% of all LDL

Some of you might correctly point out that just simple aging can cause some deterioration in lipids and lipoproteins, but we're going to ignore these relatively modest issues for now.)

Lipids and lipoproteins are, therefore, unchanged. Michael's heart scan score: 1380, or an approximate 30% annual increase in score. (Since Michael didn't know about his score, he took no corrective/preventive action.)

My point: If we were to make our judgment about Michael's heart disease risk by looking at lipids or lipoproteins, they would'nt tell us where he stood with regards to heart disease risk. His lipids and lipoproteins were, in fact, the same at age 50 as they were at age 40. That's because measures of risk like this are snapshots in time.

In contrast, the heart scan score reflects the cumulative effects of life and lipids/lipoproteins up until the day you got your scan.

Which measure do you think is a better gauge of heart attack risk? I think the answer's obvious.

The recognition of the metabolic syndrome as a distinct collection of factors that raise heart disease risk has been a great step forward in helping us understand many of the causes behind heart disease.

Curiously, there's not complete agreement on precisely how to define metabolic syndrome. The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute issued a concensus statement in 2005 that "defined" metabolic syndrome as anyone having any 3 of the 5 following signs:

Waist size 40 inches or greater in men; 35 inches or greater in women

Triglycerides 150 mg/dL or greater (or treatment for high triglycerides)

HDL-C <40 mg/dL in men; <50 mg/dL in women (or treatment for reduced HDL-C)

Blood Pressure >130 mmHg systolic; or >85 mmHg diastolic (or drug treatment for hypertension)

Glucose (fasting) >100 mg/dL (or drug treatment for elevated glucose)

Using this definition, it has become clear that meeting these criteria triple your risk of heart attack.

But can you have the risk of metabolic syndrome even without meeting the criteria? What if your waste size (male) is, 36 inches, not the 40 inches required to meet that criterion; and your triglycerides are 160, but you meet none of the other requirements?

In our experience, you certainly can carry the same risk. Why? The crude criteria developed for the primary practitioner tries to employ pedestrian, everyday measures.

We see people every day who do not meet the criteria of the metabolic syndrome yet have hidden factors that still confer the same risk. This includes small LDL; a lack of healthy large HDL despite a normal total HDL; postprandial IDL; exercise-induced high blood pressure; and inflammation. These are all associated with the metabolic syndrome, too, but they are not part of the standard definition.

I take issue in particular with the waist requirement. This one measure has, in fact, gotten lots of press lately. Some people have even claimed that waist size is the only requirement necessary to diagnose metabolic syndrome.

Our experience is that features of the metabolic syndrome can occur at any waist size, though it increases in likelihood and severity the larger the waist size. I have seen hundreds of instances in which waist size was 32-38 inches in a male, far less than 35 inches in a female, yet small LDL is wildly out of control, IDL is sky high, and C-reactive protein is markedly increased. These people obtain substantial risk from these patterns, though they don't meet the standard definition.

To me, having to meet the waist requirement for recogition of metabolic syndrome is like finally accepting that you have breast cancer when you feel the two-inch mass in your breast--it's too late.

Recognize that the standard definition when you seen it is a crude tool meant for broad consumption. You and I can do far better.

What role DHEA?

DHEA, the adrenal gland hormone, has suffered its share of ups and downs over the years.

Initially, DHEA was held up as the fountain of youth with hopes of turning back the clock 20 years. Such extravagant dreams have not held up. But DHEA can still be helpful for your program.

All of us had oodles of DHEA in our bodies when we were in our 20s and 30s. Gradually diminishing levels usually reach nearly blood levels of around zero by age 70.

In our heart disease prevention program, of course, we aim to stop or reduce your CT heart scan score. Does DHEA reduce your score? No, it most certainly does not. But it can be helpful for gaining control over some of the causes behind coronary plaque.

For instance, DHEA can:

--Help reduce abdominal fat and increase muscle mass (slightly)
--Provide more physical stamina.
--Boost mood.
--It may modestly reduce some of the phenomena associated with the metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high insulin, low HDL, small LDL, etc.)

In my experience, people who feel better do better on their overall program. If you're always tired and run down and run out of steam by 3 pm, I won't see you riding your bicycle outdoors or at the aerobics class. But if you're bursting with energy until you put your head on the pillow, you're more inclined to walk, bike, dance, play with the kids, dance, take Tai Chi, etc.

Some downsides to DHEA: Some people experience aggression. Backing off on the dose usually relieves it. Also, sleeplessness. Taking your DHEA in the morning usually fixes it.

The dose is best tailored to your age and blood levels. People less than 40 years old should not take DHEA. The older you are, the higher the dose, though we rarely ever have to exceed 50 mg per day. If you've never had a blood level and your doctor refuses to obtain one, 25 mg per day is a reasonable dose (10-15 mg in women 40-50 years old). It's always best to discuss your supplement use, particularly agents like DHEA, with your doctor.

Track Your Plaque Members: Stay tuned to the www.cureality.com website for a Special Report more completely detailing the hows and whys behind DHEA.