The Nation's Health + Heart disease reversal

Study review: yet another Lipitor study

This continues a series I've begun recently that discusses studies that have emerged over the past 10 years relevant to heart scan scoring and reversal of coronary atherosclerotic plaque.

The St. Francis Heart Study from St. Francis Hospital, Roslyn, New York, was released in 2005. This was yet another study that set out to determine whether Lipitor exerted a slowing effect on coronary calcium scores. This time, Lipitor (atorvastatin), 20 mg per day, was combined with vitamin C 1 g daily, and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) 1,000 U daily , vs. placebo. A total of 1,005 asymptomatic men and women, age 50 to 70 years, with coronary calcium scores 80th percentile or higher for age and gender
participated in the study.

After four years, heart scan scores in the placebo group increased 73% , compared to 81% in the treatment group . Statistically, the cocktail of drug, vitamins C and E had no effect on heart scan scores.

Other findings included:

--Participants experiencing heart attack and other events during the study showed greater progression of scores than those not experiencing heart attack: score increase of 256 vs. increase of 120.

--While treatment did not reduce the number of heart attacks and events overall, participants with starting heart scan scores >400 did show a benefit: 8.7% with events on treatment (20 of 229) vs. 15.0% with placebo (36 of 240).

(Note what is missing from the treatment regimen: efforts to raise HDL (starting average HDL 51 mg/dl); reduce triglycerides (starting average 140 mg/dl); identify those whose LDL was false elevated by lipoprotein(a); omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil; correction of other factors like vitamin D deficiency.)

Are we pretty in agreement that just taking Lipitor and following an American Heart Association low-fat diet is an unsatisfactory answer to gain control over coronary plaque growth? No slowing of heart scan score growth seen in the St. Francis Heart Study and similar studies is consistent with the 25-30% reductions in heart attack witnessed in large clinical trials. Yes, heart attack and related events are reduced, but not eliminated--not even close.

And when you think about it, it should come as no surprise that the simple strategy studied in the St. Francis Heart Study failed to completely control plaque growth. Lipitor and statin drugs exert no effect on small LDL particles, barely raise HDL cholesterol at all, and have no effect on Lp(a), factors that increase heart scan scores substantially.

Though these discussions have frightened some people because of the suggestion that increasing heart scan scores are inevitable and unavoidable, they shouldn't. It really should not be at all shocking to learn that taking one drug all by itself should cure coronary heart disease.

Instead, findings like those of the St. Francis study should cause us to ask: What could be done better? How can we better impact on heart scan scores and how can we further reduce heart attack, particularly in people with higher heart scan scores?

My answer has been the Track Your Plaque program, a comprehensive effort to 1) address all causes of coronary plaque, and then 2) correct all the causes.

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