Aspirin, Lipitor, and a low-fat diet

Despite all the hoopla heart disease receives in the media, I continue to marvel at how many people I meet who still think that aspirin, Lipitor, and a low-fat diet constitute an effective heart attack prevention program.

It doesn't. No more than washing your hands prevents all human infections. It helps, but it is a sad substitute for a real prevention program.

Of course, aspirin, Lipitor, and a low-fat diet is the same recipe followed by the unfortunate Tim Russert and his doctors. You know how that turned out. Mr. Russert's experience is far from unique.

What is so magical about aspirin, Lipitor and a low-fat diet?

There is a simple rationale behind this approach. Aspirin doesn't reduce atherosclerotic plaque growth, but it inhibits the propagation of a blood clot on top of a coronary plaque that has "ruptured," thereby reducing likelihood of heart attack (which occurs when the clot fills the artery). So aspirin only provides benefit if and when a plaque ruptures.

Lipitor and other statin drugs reduce LDL cholesterol, promote a modest relaxation of constricted plaque-filled arteries (normalization of endothelial dysfunction), and exerts other effects, such as inflammation suppression.

A low-fat diet is intended to reduce saturated fat that triggers LDL cholesterol formation and to encourage intake of whole grains that reduce cardiovascular events and LDL cholesterol.

If that is the extent of your heart disease prevention program, you will have a heart attack, bypass surgery, or stent--period. It may not be tomorrow or next Friday, or even next month. Aspirin, Lipitor, and a low-fat diet may delay your heart attack or procedure for a few years, but it will not stop it.

Some flaws in the aspirin, Lipitor, low-fat program:

--Aspirin can only exert so much blood clot-blocking effect. It can be overwhelmed by many other factors, such as increased blood viscosity, increased fibrinogen (a blood clotting protein that also triggers plaque), and plaque inflammation.
--Lipitor reduces LDL, but does not discriminate between the relatively harmless large LDL and the truly plaque-triggering small LDL--it reduces all LDL, but small LDL can still persist, even at extravagant levels since neither aspirin nor Lipitor specifically reduces small LDL, while a low-fat diet increases small LDL.
--Low-fat diet--A diet reduced in fat and loaded with plenty of "healthy whole grains" will trigger increased small LDL (an enormous effect), c-reactive protein, high blood sugar, resistance to insulin, high blood pressure, and an expanding abdomen ("wheat belly").

Aspirin, Lipitor and a low-fat diet do not address:

--Vitamin D deficiency
--Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and the eicosanoid path to inflammation
--High triglycerides
--Small LDL particles
--Distortions of HDL "architecture"
--Lipoprotein(a)--the worst coronary risk factor nobody's heard of
--Thyroid status

In other words, the simple-minded, though hugely financially successful, conventional model of heart disease prevention is woefully inadequate.

Don't fall for it.