"Flying in the fog"

I received this wonderful response to The Heart Scan Blog post Hammers and Nails:

I am 65 years old. I had a stent inserted in the "widow-maker" artery (80% blockage) a year ago. I had passed out a couple of times (heart rate dangerously low - 30s). I rode to the hospital in an ambulance. Tests revealed short LBBB episodes; mild mitral regurgitation, mild tricuspid regurgitation. Catherization showed 3 vessel CAD. I was told that a medicated stent was absolutely necessary given the situation; regardless, I have to accept that. A pacemaker was installed to prevent bradycardia and keeps heart rate from dropping below 60. I have 20% L distal main blockage and 90% lesion of the high first obtuse marginal at the takeoff. The right coronary had 60% posterior lateral branch stenosis.

Since then I have reduced TG from 360 to 60, LDL from 89 to 82 (although a few months ago it was in the mid-70s), and increased HDL from 30 to 46. I went from 265lbs to 190lbs and hope to eventually get to 180lb this Spring. I did it by progressing from walking to trotting (slow run) and dietstyle changes (low-GI veggies, fruits, etc.) .

On a recent visit the cardiologist said the the LDL needs to be 70 or below to "freeze" the 90% blockage and gave me a prescription for Lipitor. I asked if there were alternatives, like diet, supplements, etc. He admitted that he did not know about those alternative but did know Lipitor. When the only tool you have is a hammer then everything is a nail. I understand that the 90% blockage is important but will not take the Lipitor to achieve the 12 points reduction. Seems like an overkill.

I asked him if there was a way to evaluate my current condition. I was told there was no way. Basically, if I have no symptoms, good. If I have symptoms then it will have to be evaluated. Death could be the only symptom. I swear he was about to say bypass surgery ($$$$$$!) was inevitable. Something is wrong with this "fly-in-the-fog-and-hope-you-don't- hit-a-mountain" approach. Hope is not a strategy!

I am confident that I can reduce LDL to below 70 based on eliminating wheat-products in my diet plus increasing oat bran in my diet. I also take fish oil daily (EPA/DHA-2g). I am looking for a new cardiologist. I just recently purchased your book and find it very instructive. In the meantime I have an appointment with my primary care physician to discuss implementing the Track Your Plaque program. I realize that the one stent will skew the scan numbers but can be used as a baseline number.

Phenomenal weight loss! That alone has likely cut this man's risk in half. But is that it? Is the cardiologist correct--take Lipitor and hope for the best?

Of course not. There are many additional strategies to employ. Eliminating wheat from the diet is an excellent idea: HDL will skyrocket, triglycerides drop even further, small LDL will drop like a stone, blood sugar and blood pressure will drop. He will have more energy, get rid of afternoon energy slumps, sleep better.

He has already added fish oil. If his cardiologist did not mention this, I would say he was guilty of malpractice. The data supporting the addition of fish oil to the treatment program of anyone with heart disease is overhwelming. GISSI Prevenzione: 11,000 participants--28% reduction in heart attack, 45% reduction in death from heart attack. The Japanese JELIS trial of 18,645 participants--19% reduction in dangerous heart events. It's also clear that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil also compound the benefits of statin agents, should this man choose to begin Lipitor.

Vitamin D brought to normal blood levels is his next "secret weapon" that will further boost his lipids and lipoproteins further into not just "normal" territory, but beyond belief. Even though we aim for 60-60-60 for LDL-HDL-triglycerides in the Track Your Plaque program, adding vitamin D can yield numbers you've never seen before. It's not uncommon, for instance, to see a 10 or 20 mg/dl jump in HDL.

Identify all other hidden causes of coronary plaque. If all the causes have not been fully identified, how can anyone hope to gain full control over coronary plaque growth?

Re: LDL cholesterol of 89 mg/dl at the start. Of course, this is a calculated value, not measured. Because HDL was low and triglycerides high at the start of his program, this means that true LDL--if actually measured--was probably more like 180 to 250 mg/dl, and it was probably nearly all small. So his cardiologist might have advised a helpful treatment, though for the wrong reasons.

Our reader has gone a long way on his own in creating his own prevention program. But there's yet more to do, particularly if the goal is reversal. It is shocking to me that a man like our reader, clearly articulate and motivated, gets virtually no advice beyond "take Lipitor" after all the procedural benefits have been reaped.

Even though one artery can no longer be "scored" due to the presence of the metallic stent, a heart scan would still be invaluable for long-term tracking purposes, just as we advocate in the Track Your Plaque program.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

Comments (3) -

  • Anonymous

    3/2/2008 6:04:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis -

    I am the "anonymous" reader who posted the "flying in the fog" comment.  Thank you for commenting on my adventure!  However, there is one correction I would like to point out and that is my weight.  I typed "365" and that is a typo; it should be 265.  

    Here is before-after pix.  'Before' was about 5 years ago; complete with wheat-belly.  'After' is recent after playing catch with my adult son.  Note the shirt is the SAME.   http://s88082351.onlinehome.us/oldnew.png

    I have to say that after the stent was inserted the only advice I received was to walk daily for at least 45 minutes and follow AMA recommend diet.   I asked how this kind of thing can be prevented from happening again and was told that the walking and exercise would help -- that was IT.  If not for an acquaintance in California who completely reversed his plaque growth I would have been left to think that it was hopeless and just wait for a disaster.  I had the occasion to visit the man in California last June.  It was absolutely mind-boggling learning experience.  He is my age and was overweight when he began his program 5 years ago that he and his cardiologist developed.  What struck me was that he did not look his age but 20 years younger!  

    I am very, very grateful that you have this blog.  I discovered your blog by accident and, as I mentioned, purchased your book.  I plan to join your forum site as well.  Where does one go when a cardiologist does not offer or volunteer information or when trying to get answers to questions seem like trying to chisel granite for a response?   Horrific.  This blog serves as a beacon especially to those like me that discover they have been abandoned -- left in the desert to fend for themselves with no place to go.  

    Thank you, Dr. Davis!  

    Have a great week.

  • Dr. Davis

    3/3/2008 11:51:00 PM |

    Thanks for you wonderful story. I've gone back and added your photo directly into the post.