Roto Rooter for plaque

Joe, a machinist, was frightened and frustrated.

With a heart scan score of 1644 at age 61, his eyes bulged when I advised him that, if preventive efforts weren't instituted right away, his risk for heart attack was a high as 25% per year. Joe had "passed" a stress test, thus suggesting that, while coronary plaque was present--oodles of it, in fact--coronary blood flow was normal. Thus, there would be no benefit to inserting three stents, say, or a bypass operation.

(Illustration courtesy Wikipedia)

"I don't get it, doc. Why can't you just take it out? You know, like Roto-Rooter it out? Or give me something to dissolve it!"

Of course, if there were such a thing, I'd give it to him. But, of course, there is not. It doesn't mean that there haven't been efforts in this direction over the years. Among the various attempts made to "Roto-Rooter" atherosclerotic plaque have included:

Coronary endarterectomy
This is a drastic procedure rarely performed anymore but enjoyed some popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Coronary endarterectomy was performed during coronary bypass surgery, but few thoracic surgeons performed it. Milwaukee's Dr. Dudley Johnson was the foremost practitioner of this procedure (retired a few years ago after his own bypass operation) with a mortality in excess of 25%. A very dangerous procedure, indeed. The technical hurdle, beyond the tedium and length of time required to remove plaque that had a tendency to fragment, was blood clot formation after tissue was exposed upon plaque removal. I saw many lengthy hospital stays and deaths following this procedure.

Coronary atherectomy
This is an angioplasty-type procedure that has gone through several variations over the years.

In the early 1990s, transluminal extraction atherectomy (TEC) was a technique involving low-rpm drill bits with a suction apparatus that was used to clear soft debris, usually from large coronary arteries or, more commonly, bypass grafts. Then came direction atherectomy, in which a steel housing contained a sharp drill bit that captured atherosclerotic plaque in an aperture along the housing length and stuffed it into a nosecone, retrieved once the device was removed.

Then came high-speed rotational atherectomy in which a diamond-tipped drill bit rotated up to 200,000 rpm and essentially pulverized plaque to flow downstream and, presumably, eventually captured by the liver for disposal. Rotational atherectomy is still in use on occasion. Laser angioplasty, usually using the excimer wavelength, vaporizes plaque. I did plenty of all of these back in the early and mid-1990s.

While all atherectomy procedures sound clever, they are all plagued by the same problem: vigorous return of plaque. Remove plaque, it grows back. There are few instances today in which atherectomy is still performed.

This involves a metal-binding, or "chelating," agent like EDTA normally used in conventional practice for lead poisoning. Usually administered IV, some have also advocated oral use. People who use chelation also tend to believe in faith healing and other practices based on faith, not science. There is an international trial that is nearing completion that should provide the final word on whether there is any role to intravenous chelation.

There are numerous other oral treatments that claim a Roto-Rooter-like effect. Nattokinase, for example--an outright, unadulterated, and unqualified scam.

Unfortunately, the helpless, ignorant, and gullible are many. When frightened by the specter of heart disease, there are plenty of people who will willingly pay for the hope provided by clever ads, fast-talking salespeople, and unscrupulous practitioners.

So, Joe, there is no Roto-Rooter for coronary atherosclerotic plaque, at least one that is safe, doesn't involve a life-threatening effort, provides results that endure beyond a few months, and truly works.

The Track Your Plaque program may not be easy. There are obvious common hurdles to adhering to these concepts: obtaining lipoprotein testing, getting intelligent interepretation of the results, persuading your doctor to measure vitamin D blood levels, battling the onslaught of prevailing food propaganda that confuses and misleads. The Track Your Plaque program also requires time, at least a year.

But it's the best program there is. Do you know of anything better?

Comments (4) -

  • jpatti

    11/4/2007 8:32:00 PM |

    I find this post amusing because it was my exact question after my bypass... how do you *reduce* arterial blockages?  Looking for an answer to that question is what led me to this blog, your book, and the TYP site.

    Personally, modifying my diet and swallowing a few pills of fish oil, vitamin-D and niacin is a heck of a lot preferable to a bypass!  By my scale, this program is *easy*.

  • Anonymous

    11/5/2007 4:26:00 AM |

    Doc, would like your opinion on the efficacy of carotid IMT test measuring plaque?

  • Dr. Davis

    11/5/2007 4:33:00 AM |

    Please see numerous prior posts about this question.

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