Conventional therapy vs. alternative therapy

Rose is a 75-year old woman, mother of four, grandmother of many more.

Rose's story started after a heart attack 18 months ago that resulted in two stents. She was advised to follow an American Heart Association diet and take Lipitor. However, some months later, after her fourth stent, she became disilluioned in the conventional approach to heart disease and sought alternative therapies to help reduce or reverse her heart disease.

She found an alternative health practitioner who advised chelation, antioxidant vitamins for "excessive oxidation," and several homeopathic preparations.

Nothing was said about diet or exercise. Nothing was said about the baked flour products and pastries that occupied at least two meals every day. Nothing was said about the candies she indulged in several times per day, nor the soft drinks. Nothing was said about the wildly fluctuating blood sugars, poorly controlled by an oral diabetes agent. Thirty pounds of weight gain over the past 5 years with no exercise or physical activity? No comment here, too.

In short, Rose was the "graduate" of the conventional approach, as typically offered nationwide thousands of times a week. She was also the recipient of the insight of at least one alternative health practitioner, eager to reject conventional notions of how to achieve heart health.

So I then met her. She was experiencing chest pains every day, several times per day. Blood pressure over 200. At 5 ft, 3 inches, weight: 186 lbs.

Initial laboratory results:

HDL cholesterol 42 mg/dl
LDL 132 mg/dl
Triglycerides 263 mg/dl
Blood sugar 173 mg/dl

You can fill in the rest. In short, Rose was a disaster. Despite the attentions of several professionals from both the conventional as well as alternative camps, she was careening rapidly towards failure. She'd been given various crutches, Band-Aids, and salves, none of which resulted in any possibility of long-term relief from her aggressive disease.

My point: As I've said previously, all we want is truth. We want effective, rational approaches that yield real benefit. A stent? All that provides is temporary restoration of blood flow. Statin agents? They do indeed reduce LDL cholesterol. But what if Rose has 8, 9, or 10 other causes of heart disease unaffected by the statin drug? It will do little or nothing.

Nobody had addressed many of the root causes of Rose's disease: insulin resistance, high triglycerides, inactivity, obesity, hypertension (and identifying the reasons why her blood pressure was so high), vitamin D deficiency (virtually guarantted to be severe), junk foods including the ones known as "whole grains."

My message: Success in heart disease, as well as all aspects of health for that matter, doesn't necessarily have to come from an "alternative" approach, nor a "conventional" approach. It comes from applying what is truly effective, regardless of what label someone applied to it.

I would no sooner trust my health and life to an alternative health practitioner hawking unusual herbs and remedies than I would submit to a heart catheterization, three stents, followed by a statin drug. There's small benefit in both approaches, but none are the best. You've got to look elsewhere for that.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

Comments (5) -

  • Sue

    3/10/2008 11:19:00 PM |

    I'm really dismayed that the alternative practitioner did not look at diet (most do) but if they did I'm sure they would have recommended the usual low fat. Herbs can be very useful but only if combined with appropriate diet.

  • mike V

    3/10/2008 11:53:00 PM |

    Re: Rose

    Please follow up on Rose's TYP progress from time to time.
    We can find all kinds of studies and other info. Only your blog provides us with real world practical feedback on results with real patients.


  • Danimal

    3/11/2008 12:45:00 AM |

    I hear ya, Dr. Davis. My dad just had his 2nd bypass during an aortic pseudo-aneurism operation. He had a rock the size of my thumb knuckle removed from his aorta, his chest cracked, and still has massive occlusion of his arteries. Still, my RN-having stepmadre insists on him pursuing an AHA-approved low-fat, high-carb diet, and won't even consider putting him on Vitamin D and Niacin. How can you fight against the experts of the AHA?

  • Sravana

    3/11/2008 6:51:00 PM |

    As an alternative healthcare provider (acupuncturist/herbalist), you can BET that I would be talking to her about diet and exercise. I would've taken her BP, and probably sent her to an MD immediately to get that taken care of.

    Now, given that she was a wreck, what kind of exercise program would you put her on? I'm thinking a 20 minute walk every day, at whatever pace she could manage without chest pain - but she's already *having* chest pain! I'm curious how you handle that.

  • Anonymous

    8/31/2008 12:09:00 AM |

    "There is a clear need for a rapid, simple, safe, and sensitive method of determining the type and intensity of inflammation in the gut mucosa in clinical practice. In this study, we have evaluated the potential of a new method, the mucosal patch technique, in patients with and without apparent gut inflammation, as assessed by conventional diagnostic procedures.

    "In 18 of 20 patients gluten challenge induced neutrophil activation defined as increased [myeloperoxidase] MPO release and increased NO synthesis. Ten of these 20 patients showed a similarly strong inflammatory reaction to CM challenge."

    "Molecular chlorine generated by the myeloperoxidase-hydrogen peroxide-chloride system of phagocytes converts low density lipoprotein cholesterol into a family of chlorinated sterols."

    Myeloperoxidase, a heme protein secreted by phagocytes, is a potent catalyst for LDL oxidation in vitro, and active enzyme is present in human atherosclerotic lesions. ... Our observations suggest that Cl2 generation in acidic compartments may constitute one pathway for oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the artery wall.