COURAGE to do better

The results of the long-awaited COURAGE Trial were announced today at the American College of Cardiology meetings in New Orleans.

In this trial, 2200 participants with stable coronary disease (i.e., not unstable, in which heart attack or death is imminent) were randomly assigned ("randomized") to either angioplassty/stent or "maximal medical therapy." Medical therapy means such things as aspirin, beta blocker drugs, and statin cholesterol drugs. There was virtually no difference between the groups in rate of heart attack and death from heart disease over a period of up to 7 years.

These results have caused a stir in the media and my colleagues, trying to sort out of the implications. However, I think there's one observation in particular worth making for those of us who tend to scoff at the conventional approach to coronary disease. That is, 1 of 5 people had a heart attack or died from heart disease in both groups. That's a lot. Even more ended up with a procedure (angioplasty, stent, or bypass). In other words, the "maximal medical therapy" instituted in participants was hardly a success. Though angioplasty and stenting failed to prove superiority, both really stunk. Both permitted a lot of catastrophes to occur.

"Maximal medical therapy," in other words, is a laughable concept. It doesn't include raising HDL, suppressing small LDL, reducing Lipoprotein(a), addressing inflammatory issues. It does not include omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, nor does it address the severe degrees of vitamin D deficiency that are proving, in the Track Your Plaque experience, to be among the most potent causes of atherosclerotic plaque known. It includes a sad attempt at diet, as advocated by the American Heart Association, a diet that, in my view, causes heart disease and is distorted by the powerful political and financial influence of food manufacturers.

If the trial were to be done again, I'd like to see the "maximal medical therapy" arm be represented by a more effective program like the Track Your Plaque approach.