The Nation's Health + [Heart disease reversal]

Take this survey: I DOUBLE-DARE YOU

In a previous post I entitled Heart disease reversal a big "No No", I posed a challenge--a dare--to readers to ask their doctors if coronary heart could be reversed.

Here's what I said:

I dare you: Ask your doctor whether coronary heart disease can be reversed.

My prediction is that the answer will be a flat "NO." Or, something like "rarely, in extraordinary cases," kind of like spontaneous cure of cancer.

There are indeed discussions that have developed over the years in the conventional scientific and medical literature about reversal of heart disease, like Dean Ornish's Lifestyle Heart Trial, the REVERSAL Trial of atorvastatin (Lipitor) and the ASTEROID Trial of rosuvastatin (Crestor). Reversal of atherosclerotic plaque in these trials tends to be small in scale and sporadic.

The concept of reversal of heart disease has simply not gained a foothold in the lexicon nor in the thinking of practicing physicians. Heart disease is a relentlessly, unavoidably, and helplessly progressive disease in their way of thinking. Perhaps we can reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular events like heart attack and death with statin drugs and beta blockers. But reverse heart disease? In your dreams!

We need to change this mentality. Heart disease is a reversible phenomenon. Atherosclerosis in other territories like the carotid arteries is also a reversible pheneomenon. Rather than throwing medicines and (ineffective) diets at you (like the ridiculous American Heart Association program), what if your doctor set out from the start not just to reduce events, but to purposefully reduce your heart's plaque? While it might not succeed in everyone, it would certainly change the focus dramatically.

After all, isn't this the theme followed in cancer treatment? If you had a tumor, isn't cure the goal? Would we accept an oncologist's advice to simply reduce the likelihood of death from cancer but ignore the idea of ridding yourself completely of the disease? I don't think so.

Then why accept "event reduction" as a goal in heart disease? We shouldn't have to. Heart disease reversal--elimination--should be the goal.

I know of one person who actually followed through on this challenge and asked his cardiologist whether his heart disease could be reduced or reversed. As predicted, the answer was no. No explanation followed.

But allow me to reiterate: Heart disease is 1) detectable, 2) quantifiable, 3) controllable, and, in many cases 4) reversible.

What if there was a big payoff to your doctor if heart disease was reversed, say $100,000? That's enough to dwarf the payoff from procedures. Guess what? You'd have doctors fighting for your business, a chance to reverse your disease, ads to that effect, champions of reversal emerging. No new tools would be necessary. They could use the tools already available. Then why hasn't this happened? Is the technology unavailable? Are the treatments ineffective?

No, heart disease is a controllable and reversible process with tools that are available today. But there is, of course, no big payoff for doing it. So the financial incentive remains to do procedures, not to reverse the disease.

But I'd like to re-pose this challenge. Ask your doctor if heart disease can be reversed, or at least reduced. I've even posted a Survey at the top left for anyone who tries.

Again, my prediction: Nobody will try it and nobody will post survey results. Why? Despite my rantings (and those of a few others) about the concept of heart disease being a reversible process, in the public's consciousness it remains a death sentence and the only solution is hospital procedures. My colleagues continue to cultivate this attitude and it serves them well financially.

I'll be disappointed if I prove to be right. I hope that I am wrong. But I don't think that I am.

Copyright 2008 House, MD