At a social gathering this weekend, as we humans like to do, someone asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a cardiologist.

"What hospital do you work at?" he asked.

This is invariably the response I get whenever I tell people what I do. I wouldn't make much of it except that it happens just about every time.

This indicates to me just how successful hospitals, my colleagues, cardiac device manufacturers, and others supporting the status quo in heart care, have been in persuading us that the place for heart disease is the hospital--period.

Tense families, drama, high-tech...It all takes place in the hospital.

Yet the people destined to be the fodder for hospital heart care are presently well, mostly unaware of what the future holds. Also unaware that heart disease is readily, easily, inexpensively, and accurately identifiable. Ask anyone in the Track Your Plaque program who's had a CT heart scan.

We all need to rid ourselves of the idea that the hospital is the place for heart disease. If the coronary plaque behind heart attack is easy to detect and controllable, there's little or no need for the hospital for the vast majority of us.

In the majority of instances of coronary disease, the hospital should be the place for the non-compliant and the ill-informed, and not for those of us sufficiently motivated to know and do better. The formula is simple: 1) Quantify plaque with a CT heart scan, 2) Identify the causes, then 3) Correct the causes.

The Fanatic Cook: A fabulous Blog about food and nutrition

I came across this Blog authored by a nutritionist when it was highlighted on Blogger as an interesting site:

The Fanatic Cook at

I was thoroughly impressed with the insightful and entertaining commentary. I'd highly recommend this site to you for reading on nutrition. In particular, her coenzyme Q10 column was exceptionally well written and clear.(

Also read her column, Super NonFoods at

There's also oodles of recipes, all for the taking.

Eggs: Good, bad, or indifferent?

Eggs have been in the center of the cholesterol controversy almost from the very start.

The traditional argument against eggs went that eggs, high in cholesterol (210-275 mg per egg)and with some saturated fat (1.5-2.5 grams per egg), raised blood cholesterol (and LDL). Out went the daily fried, scrambled, poached eggs that many Americans indulged in most mornings. (We replaced it with more breakfast cereals and other carbohydrate conveniences, then got enormously overweight.)

A large Harvard epidemiologic study in 1999 called this observation into question. They tracked the fate of 117,000 thousand people and then compared the rate of heart attack, death, and other cardiovascular events among various people correlated to the "dose" of eggs they ate. Egg intake varied from none to 7 or more per week. Lo and behold, people who ate more eggs appeared to not suffer more events.

This study, large and well-conducted by an internationally respected group of investigators, seem to reopen the gates for more egg consumption, though most Americans still consume eggs cautiously.

Deeper down in this study, however, was another observation: People with diabetes who ate 1 egg per day had double the risk of heart attack. Because this study was observational, no specific conclusion as to why could be drawn.

A new study conducted by a Brazilian group may shed some light. Healthy (non-diabetic) men were fed an emulsion of several eggs. Inclusion of plentiful yolks caused a dramatic slowing of fat clearance from the blood. Specifically, "chylomicron remnants" were abnormally persistent in the blood. Chylomicron remnants are potent causes of coronary plaque. (Chylomicron remnants can be measured fairly well by intermediate-density lipoprotein and VLDL by NMR, or IDL by VAP.)

Diabetics are know to have substantial disorders of after-meal fat clearance, including an excess of chylomicron remnants. Could the Brazilian observation be the explanation for the increased event rate in diabetics in the Harvard study? Interesting to speculate.

We continue to tell our patients that eating eggs in moderation is probably safe. After all, there are good things in eggs: the high protein in the egg white, lecithin in the yolk. It is the yolk's contents that are in question, not the white. Thus, you and I can eat all the egg whites (e.g., Egg Beaters) we want. It's the safety of yolks that are uncertain.

The abnormal after-eating effect suggested by the Brazilians opens up some very interesting questions and confirms that we should still be cautious in our intake of egg yolks. One yolk per day is clearly too much. What is safe? The exisitng information would suggest that, if you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or a postprandial disorder (IDL, VLDL), you should minimize your egg yolk use, perhaps no more than 3 or so per week, preferably not all at one but spaced out to avoid the after-eating effect.

Others without postprandial disorders may safely eat more, perhaps 5 per week, but also not all at one but spaced out.

Track Your Plaque Members: Be sure to read our upcoming Special Report on Postprandial Disorders. It contains lots of info on what this important pattern is all about. Postprandial disorders are largely unexplored territory that hold great promise for tools to inhibit coronary plaque growth and drop your heart scan score. The Brazilian study is just one of many future studies that are likely to be released in future about this very fascinating area.

Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Ascherio A, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Spiegelman D, Speizer FE, Sacks FM, Hennekens CH, Willett WC.A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1387-94.

Cesar TB, Oliveira MR, Mesquita CH, Maranhao RC. High cholesterol intake modifies chylomicron metabolism in normolipidemic young men. J Nutr. 2006 Apr;136(4):971-6.

Diabetes is Track Your Plaque's Kryptonite!

If there's one thing I truly fear from a heart scan score reduction/coronary plaque regression standpoint, it's diabetes.

I saw a graphic illustration of this today. Roy came into the office after his 2nd heart scan. His first scan 14 months ago showed a score of 162. Roy started out weighing well over 300 lbs and with newly-diagnosed adult diabetes.

Roy put extraordinary effort into his program. He lost nearly 70 lbs by walking; cutting processed carbohydrates, greasy foods, and slashing overall calories. His lipoproteins, disastrous in the beginning, were falling into line, though HDL was still lagging in the low 40s, as Roy remains around 60 lbs overweight, even after the initial 70 lb loss.

Unfortunately, despite the huge loss in weight, Roy remains diabetic. On a drug called Actos, which enhances sensitivity to insulin, along with vitamin D to also enhance insulin response, his blood sugars remained in the overtly diabetic range.

Roy's repeat heart scan showed a score of 482--a tripling of his original score.

Obviously, major changes in Roy's program are going to be required to keep this rate of growth from continuing. But I tell Roy's story to illustrate the frightening power of diabetes to trigger coronary plaque growth.

Like Kryptonite to Superman (remember George Reeves crumbling and falling to his knees when the bad guys got a hold of some?), diabetes is the one thing I fear greatly when it comes to reducing your heart scan score. As you see with Roy's case, diabetes can be responsible for explosive plaque growth, more than anything else I know.

The best protection from diabetes is to never get it in the first place. (See my earlier Blog, "Diabetes is a choice you make".)

Boy, was I wrong!

Around 10 years ago, I was talking to a balloon and stent manufacturer's representative, who was raving about some new device that was due for release to the market. Back then, the sky seemed the limit to cardiac device manufacturers, who were falling over themselves scrambling to design and market the next new device.

The angioplasty market then had ballooned (no pun intended) from nothing to a multi-billion dollar industry. Stents were just getting underway but clearly had potential for being at least as large.

But this was a time when preventive therapies were also beginning to get quite powerful. We had just gotten started doing CT heart scans and were excited about the possibilities, statin drugs were gaining evidence through clinical trials, and the power of many nutritional supplements was finally achieving validation. We were even learning the error of our prior low-fat ways.

So I broadly pronounced to the enthusiastic product representative, "In 10 years, balloons, angioplasty, and stents will occupy this little corner of cardiac care because prevention will have become so powerful. We won't talk about heart procedures. We'll talk about coronary plaque regression!"

I even advised the representative that he should consider a career change in anticipation of the coming wave of preventive strategies.

Was I ever wrong. Despite the power of heart disease prevention--which is indeed true--cardiac device and procedure technology has boomed, both in popularity as well as in revenue success. Device manufacturing and sales are hugely successful. Implanting devices into people is a hugely profitable enterprise.

Since my ill-timed comments to the salesman, Boston Scientific, a major manufacturer of stents and other cardiac devices, reported revenues of $6.2 billiondollars in 2005, a 12% increase over the prior year. Medtronic reported 2005 revenues of $11.3 billion, growing at 15% per year. Clearly, cardiac procedures are still quite popular--and profitable.

My timing was off, but not for long. The huge crest of change in preventive therapies is upon us. That's the premise behind the Track Your Plaque concept: heart disease prevention can't be found in a hospital, is not supported by cardiac device manufacturers, and is not being advocated by most cardiologists or primary care physicians. Yet the tools are getting better and better every day.

Those of you who succeed in halting or reducing your heart scan score are extremely unlikely to add to Boston Scientific's or Medtronic's revenues. Help me spread the word.

Don't forget how dangerous heart disease can be

Sometimes it's easy to get smug when coronary plaque is a reversible process.

When you see people day in, day out, week in, week out, drop their heart scan scores, reversing what could be a dangerous disease, you can sometimes lose sight of just how dangerous coronary disease can be.

Whether I like it or not, I maintain a reasonably active role in hospitals out of necessity. I do need their services occasionally for people with advanced heart disease when I meet them (when regression is not the initial conversation for safety reasons), or valve disease is diagnosed, or someone shows up with congenital or heart muscle diseases. In other words, although we focus on coronary issues, there's more to heart disease than just coronary disease.

This unfortunate case just served to remind me how powerful coronary disease can be. Elizabeth, an active 67-year old, finally came to the hospital after suffering 6 months of chest pain and increasing breathlessness. She hated hospitals and hadn't seen a doctor in 30 years since she was successfully treated for cancer.

In those 30 years, she'd been quite active with family and a small business. But she also smoked 2 packs of cigarettes most of those years.

After she was admitted to the hospital, it became clear that Elizabeth had experienced one, if not several, heart attacks along the way. The entire front 2/3 of her heart was non-functional. If that wasn't bad enough, two of her heart valves were severely diseased and dysfunctional: Her aortic valve barely opened (aortic valve "stenosis", or stiffness) and the mitral valve leaked severely (mitral valve "insufficiency", or leakiness). All of this was confirmed with conventional testing in the hospital, including a heart catheterization.

Elizabeth ended up in emergency surgery--very unusual, by the way, for valve surgery of the sort she had--but died in the first few hours after her procedure. Her heart had simply been too damaged from her heart attacks, and the extraordinary stress of surgery that included two valves was too much. She died on the ventilator.

Coronary disease is a very serious matter. When I see cases like Elizabeth, it boosts my commitment to tell everyone that heart disease--when identified early enough--is a controllable, preventable, even reversible process. For poor Elizabeth, she was much too far down the path of severe, irreversible disease that control or reversal was simply not an option. She was in imminent danger of dying even upon arrival.

It's exciting yet sometimes frightening to know what you have in your hands: The means to control this monster called coronary disease. Use it wisely. But don't lose sight of what it can do it you permit it to grow, fester, and explode.

How many ways can you disguise sugar?

I came across this shockingly silly report on AOL, who obtained their info courtesy Health Magazine:

The Best New Healthy Foods for Busy People
from Health

The foods on their list:

Kettle Brand Bakes Hickory Honey BBQ--the healthy claim is based on the lack of trans-fatty acids and low-fat.

Post Healthy Classics Raisin Bran Cereal Bars, Cranberry--Likewise, low-fat, sweet, and addictive means healthy to these people.

Amy’s Mediterranean Pizza With Cornmeal Crust --Please!!

Horizon Organic Colby Cheese Sticks --Because it's made by cattle without use of growth hormone or antibiotics, they declare this healthy. I guess we can ignore the saturated fat content and high total fat content.

100% Whole Grain Chips Ahoy! Cookies --You mean we can add the bran back to wheat products and make it healthy?!

This kind of mass-market marketing trickery leaves me incredulous. Don't believe it for a moment. This is typical of the food industry: Take one aspect of nutrition that is truly healthy, such as high-fiber, or low-fat, or organic. Then add undesirable, unhealthy ingredients. The current fad is to add lots of sugar and or sugar-equivalents (usually flour and other wheat products). Because there's one healthy ingredient, they'll call the end-product healthy, too.

If you want to see what health looks like if you indulge in "healthy" products like this, just look up and down the grocery aisles at your neighborhood grocery store. You're likely to see the results: Gross obesity, diabetes, and arthritis.

You won't, of course, see the huge acceleration of growth in coronary plaque, but it's there, ticking away.

To remind us what ideal body weight is: Watch an old movie!

Jack was skeptical. At 273 lbs, 5 ft 11 inches, he felt that he was "just right".

"I feel fine. I don't see why you think I should lose weight," he declared. "In fact, when I lost 25 lbs a couple of years ago, everyone said I was too skinny!"

I showed Jack why: He had an HDL of 35 mg/dl, small LDL (over 90% of all LDL particles), an elevated blood sugar of 123 mg/dl (diabetes is officially 126 mg/dl or greater), high blood pressure, and increased inflammation (C-reactive protein). These were all manifestations that his body weight was too much for it to handle.

So I told Jack that we've all forgotten what ideal weight should look like. Our perception of "normal" has been so utterly and dramatically distorted by the appearance of our friends, family, co-workers, and other people around us that we've all lost a sense of what a desirable weight for health should be.

So I suggested to Jack that, if he wanted to rememember what ideal weight is and what people are supposed to look like, just watch old movies.

Old movies, like the 1942 production of Casablanca, or the 1952 production of Singin' in the Rain, show the body build that was prevalent in those days. Look at Humphrey Bogart or Gene Kelly--men with average builds, weighing 140-160 lbs--that's how humans were meant to look.

A report this morning on the Today Show showed the "after" photos of several people following bariatric (weight reduction) surgery. The "after" pictures, from the perspective of ideal weight and ideal health, remain hugely overweight.

We need to readjust our perceptions of weight. The average woman in the U.S. now weighs 172 lbs(!!!). Don't confuse average with desirable.

Diabetes is a choice you make

Tim had heart disease identified as a young man. He had his first heart attack followed by a quadruple bypass surgery at age 38. Recurrent anginal chest pain and another small heart attack led to several stents over three procedures in the first four years after bypass.

Tim finally came to us, interested in improving his prevention program. You name it, he had it: small LDL, low HDL (28 mg/dl), lipoprotein(a), etc. The problem was that Tim was also clearly pre-diabetic. At 5 ft 10 inches, he weighed 272 lbs--easily 80 or more pounds overweight.

Tim was willing to make the medication and nutritional supplement changes to gain control over his seeminglly relentless disease. He even turned up his exercise program and lost 28 lbs in the beginning. But as time passed and no symptoms recurred, he became lax.

Tim regained all the weight he'd lost and some more. Now Tim was diabetic.

"I don't get it. I eat good foods that shouldn't raise my insulin. I almost never eat sweets."

I stressed to Tim that diabetes and pre-diabetes, while provoked acutely by sugar-equivalent foods (wheat products, breads, breakfast cereals, crackers, etc.), is caused chronically by excess weight. If Tim wants to regain control over his heart disease, he needed to lost the weight.

Unlike, say, leukemia, an unfortunate disease that has little to do with lifestyle choices, diabetes is a choice you make over 90% of the time. In other words, if you become diabetic (adult variety, not children's variety) as an adult, that's because you've chosen to follow that path. You've neglected physical activity, or indulged in too many calories or poor food choices, or simply allowed weight to balloon out of control.

But diabetes is also a path most people can choose not to take. And it is a painfully common choice: Nearly two-thirds of the adults in my office have patterns of pre-diabetes or diabetes when I first meet them.

Let me stress this: For the vast majority of adults, diabetes is a choice, not an inevitability.

I'll call the doctor when I feel bad!

Max just had his heart scan. He sat down with the x-ray technologist at the work console while she pointed out the white areas in his coronary arteries that represented plaque.

"It looks like you're going to have a fairly high score," the technologist commented. "The final report will be available after one of our cardiologists reviews your images."

Max shrugged. "Well, I don't feel anything. I'm always running around with work, with my kids, stuff like that. That's better than any stress test. I guess I'll worry about it if it starts to bother me."

You'd be surprised how common this view remains: If it's not bothering you, then just forget about it. It's easy to do, since you have no symptoms, nothing to impair your physical activities. But what are the potential consequences of ignoring your heart scan? Here's a few:

--Prevention and plaque reversal efforts are most effective the earlier you start. From a heart scan score viewpoint, the lower your starting score, the easier it is to gain control over it. More people will succeed in reducing their score when the starting score is lower.

--The role of prevention of heart disease instantly crystallizes when you know your score. Your LDL cholesterol of 142 mg/dl or HDL of 41 mg/dl no longer seem like just numbers of borderline signficance. Instead, they become useful tools to gain control over plaque. They cast your numbers in a new and clear light.

--Knowing your heart scan score today gives you a basis for comparison in future. Your score of, say 250, today, can be 220 in one year. Without your preventive efforts, it will be 30% higher: 325. That's a big difference!

--Sudden death or heart attack--can occur in up to 35-40% of people with hidden heart disease--without warning.

Don't even bother getting a heart scan if you're going to ignore it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: A heart scan is the most important health test you can get--but only if you do something about it.