High-tech heart attack proofing

I was reminiscing the other day about what I was taught about heart disease in medical school some 20 years ago.

In the 1980s, the world was still (and remains) fascinated with this (then) novel "solution" to heart disease called coronary bypass surgery. As medical students, we all fought for a chance to watch a bypass operation being performed. And there was lots of opportunity. I was a medical student at St. Louis University School of Medicine, a center that boasted of a busy thoracic surgery service, performing up to 10 bypass operations every day.

Back then, coronary angioplasty was just a twinkle in Andreas Gruentzig's eye, still contemplating whether it was possible to put an inflatable device in the blockages of coronary arteries to re-establish blood flow. Risk detection for heart disease consisted of EKGs, screening for symptoms, detection of heart failure, and tests that are long forgotten in the dust bin of medical curiosities, tests like systolic-time intervals, phonocardiography (using amplified sound to detect abnormal heart sounds), and detailed physical examination. Treatment for heart attack involved nitroglycerin and extended bedrest. Bypass surgery would come after you recovered.

In other words, NONE of the tools we now use in the Track Your Plaque program for heart disease control and reversal were available just twenty years ago. There was no lipoprotein testing, no CT heart scans. Nobody recognized the power of omega-3 fatty acids (although epidemiologic observations were just beginning to suggest that eating fish might be the source of reduced risk for heart attack and cardiovascular death). Vitamin D? Why, that's in your milk so your babies don't get rickets.

So much of what we do today was not available then, nor were they even in the crystal ball of forward-looking people. I certainly had no idea whatsoever that I'd be talking and obsessing today about reversal of heart disease based on what I saw and learned back then.

Things have certainly come a long way and all for the better. The problem is that much of the world is stuck in 1985 and haven't yet heard that coronary disease is a manageable and reversible process. They've been sidetracked by the fiction propagated by the likes of Dr. Dean Ornish, the nonsense of low-fat diets aided and abetted by the food manufacturing industry and the USDA, the extravagant claims of some practitioners and the supplement industry. They haven't yet stumbled on the real-life experiences that are chronicled here in this Blog and the accompanying Track Your Plaque website.

Our program has been criticized for being too "high-tech," involving too many sophisticated measures like small LDL, lipoprotein(a) treatment, vitamin D blood levels. But when you see a woman reduce her heart scan score 63%, or a school principal's score plummet 51%, then that's reward in itself.

Comments (7) -

  • DietKing2

    9/5/2007 3:04:00 PM |

    Great post, and painfully true for me; my father had to undergo his 2nd coronary bypass operation this past April 2007, and despite the strangely 'status-quo' or 'business as usual' attitude of both the surgeons and assisting doctors and nurses involved in my dad's procedure (yes, the whole thing seemed like such a regular day at the beach to them because Holy Cross in Fort Lauderdale performs so many of these operations on a daily basis, with success, of course) did nothing really to quell my family's fears of the severity of this operation; this is still a monstrous operation that not only takes a heavy toll on the patient, but on the family sitting in that waiting room as well.
    I still cry at the memory of having to tell my dad, "hey Pop, you need another CABG" after an invasive angiogram revealed disaster after disaster in his arteries.
    And this is why your message is so important, and why it needs to get out every day, and loudly.

    I'm rooting for you. And I'm thankful you're here.

  • ethyl d

    9/5/2007 4:51:00 PM |

    A few thoughts about this post:
    The first is a question. What do you think about ultrasound screenings for carotid artery plaque, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and peripheral arterial disease? A company called Life Line offers these, saying that they show evidence of plaque build-up in the arteries. Are they useful in conjunction with a heart scan, or can they indicate risk similar to a heart scan? It sounds like they are intended to be early detectors of stroke risk. Are they worth the investment?

    The second comment is an observation. Those of us not in the medical field tend to assume that anyone who is knows what he or she is talking about on the subject of the human body and illness. However it is apparent that those with M.D.'s can come to very different conclusions about what causes us to get sick and what we should do to prevent illness. Dr. Dean Ornish is an M.D. You are an M.D. Dr. Atkins was an M.D. Yet the dietary advice differs noticeably, so how do we know who is right and who to listen to? I've learned not to believe something just because a doctor says so, because when I followed the low-fat high-carb advice I got fat and felt horrible, but now that I am following a low-carb plan with plenty of protein and fat, I've lost 25 lbs. and feel great. My bloodwork also supports your claims: low triglycerides, high HDL, and low fasting blood sugar. It's kind of sad in a way that I actually get better medical advice from doctors whose blogs I read on the internet (I'm also a Dr. Eades fan) than from my personal physician. And finally, a thank-you: since reading your advice about Vitamin D, my flower garden is in the best shape it's been in in years, since I have a new knowledge about why it's so important spend some time in the sun and a new motivation, therefore, to be outside pulling the weeds.

    And concerning your recent post  about breakfast cereals,congratulations are in order: I've broken my husband's cereal for breakfast habit. (I broke my own years ago.)

  • Dr. Davis

    9/5/2007 8:16:00 PM |

    I have had good results with the Lifeline service, but only when used in conjunction with a heart scan. It cannot replace a heart scan. This is because, while atherosclerosis is a body-wide process, this disease does not perfectly track in parallel in all arteries of the body. You can, for instance, have lots of plaque in the carotid arteries while having only a modest amount of plaque in the coronary arteries, and vice versa.

    I agree with your second comment. In fact, I have posted on this Blog about this.

    We are all swimming in a sea of information and mis-information, and blind alleys along the way to the truth. We can only educate ourselves as best as possible and then come to our own judgements about the value of this or that argument.

  • Stan

    9/5/2007 11:12:00 PM |

    I have a comment too: I think one reason there is so much confusion is because dietery connection with heart disease hasn't been sufficiently studied. We only saw some partial studies by Drs Ornish, Agatston, Atkins, Hayes but not much independent verification, AFAIK. For example there are some studies done by now on the effects of a high fat low carb nutrition in diabetes and epilepsy but virtually nothing that I know of for cardiac patients.  The only one such study I heard of was halted half way through (after showing very promising results) when the funding was cancelled, 27 years ago.
    Stan (Heretic)

  • Thomas

    9/6/2007 2:01:00 AM |

    A somewhat updated comparison of old care versus new care: I was on American Airlines this week, and looked through their magazine. There was a full page ad from the Cooper Clinic in Texas; a 46 year old woman pictured said "I had no idea I had heart disease, but had a family history...an EBT scan and four stents later, with some lifestyle changes, I'm a new woman".

    I understand you can't generalize from one case, and while this seems to represent cutting edge treatment, it also gives me the creeps thinking about the obvious drive for revenue here. Couldn't they have tried your approach for awhile before invading? Thanks.

  • Dr. Davis

    9/6/2007 12:12:00 PM |

    I think that they tell the stories that have a "WOW!" factor. The Cooper Clinic does indeed engage in a low-level grade of preventive care (AKA Lipitor, etc.)

    But I really hate those stories, too.

  • Anonymous

    3/29/2009 5:07:00 AM |

    Saw a lady at shul today, she is convinced of Dr. Esselstein's more carbs- is- better method. Ornish, Esselstein.....hard to refute the drumbeat of eat carbs, cut meat and fat.