What's important, what's not in your plaque-control program

Sometimes it's hard to know what is really important in your plaque-control or plaque-reducing efforts.

There are, indeed, crucial make-it-or-break-it factors that are necessary to gain control over plaque. If you hope to stack the odds of reducing your heart scan score as much as possible in your favor, then fish oil, vitamin D, 60-60-60 in the way of standard lipids, elimination of small LDL, etc. -- all the elements of the Track Your Plaque program--are necessary.

But there's lots of things that sidetrack people. I spend much of my day fielding questions from patients about all the things that either provide very little benefit for plaque control, or provide none at all.

Among the things that we have found to be too weak or useless for plaque control, or are "non-issues", include:

--Caffeine--Go ahead and enjoy a couple cups a day (though not a pot). The effect is too trivial to make much difference.

--Hawthorne--Yes, it may dilate coronary arteries modestly, but not enough to make any difference.

--Garlic--with the possible exception of a specific preparation called Aged Garlic Extract (an acqueous, non-oil-based, extract from Kyolic), garlic's effects are too tiny to help, e.g., drop in blood pressure 1-2 points. Use it, but don't expect much. Aged Garlic Extract may be an exception, in that a single study from UCLA suggested specific effects on slowing coronary plaque growth. We await more info on this.

--Anti-oxidants--There is no shortage of extravagant claims about the benefits of anti-oxidants. Unfortunately, there's very little human exerience with pine bark extract, pycnogenol, grapeseed extract, and so on. Is the purported benefit from anti-oxidation or through some other means, e.g., enhancement of nitric oxide synthase? No data.

--Policosanol--If you've followed the Track Your Plaque Special Reports, you already know what a disappointment this agent has been, despite the too-good-to-be-true clinical data. It doesn't work.

--"No-flush niacin"--Unfortunately, no flush, no effect. This high-priced supplement is still sold widely in the U.S. despite its complete lack of efficacy. It does not work in humans. (It works great in rats!)

Track Your Plaque continues to try to be the arbiter of truth in what works, what doesn't in truly stopping or reversing your coronary plaque. The proof positive? Stopping or dropping your heart scan score.