The Nation's Health + power

Heart disease reversal: High-tech heart attack proofing


I was reminiscing the other day about what I was taught about heart disease in medical school some 20 years ago.

In the 1980s, the world was still (and remains) fascinated with this (then) novel "solution" to heart disease called coronary bypass surgery. As medical students, we all fought for a chance to watch a bypass operation being performed. And there was lots of opportunity. I was a medical student at St. Louis University School of Medicine, a center that boasted of a busy thoracic surgery service, performing up to 10 bypass operations every day.

Back then, coronary angioplasty was just a twinkle in Andreas Gruentzig's eye, still contemplating whether it was possible to put an inflatable device in the blockages of coronary arteries to re-establish blood flow. Risk detection for heart disease consisted of EKGs, screening for symptoms, detection of heart failure, and tests that are long forgotten in the dust bin of medical curiosities, tests like systolic-time intervals, phonocardiography (using amplified sound to detect abnormal heart sounds), and detailed physical examination. Treatment for heart attack involved nitroglycerin and extended bedrest. Bypass surgery would come after you recovered.

In other words, NONE of the tools we now use in the Track Your Plaque program for heart disease control and reversal were available just twenty years ago. There was no lipoprotein testing, no CT heart scans. Nobody recognized the power of omega-3 fatty acids (although epidemiologic observations were just beginning to suggest that eating fish might be the source of reduced risk for heart attack and cardiovascular death). Vitamin D? Why, that's in your milk so your babies don't get rickets.

So much of what we do today was not available then, nor were they even in the crystal ball of forward-looking people. I certainly had no idea whatsoever that I'd be talking and obsessing today about reversal of heart disease based on what I saw and learned back then.

Things have certainly come a long way and all for the better. The problem is that much of the world is stuck in 1985 and haven't yet heard that coronary disease is a manageable and reversible process. They've been sidetracked by the fiction propagated by the likes of Dr. Dean Ornish, the nonsense of low-fat diets aided and abetted by the food manufacturing industry and the USDA, the extravagant claims of some practitioners and the supplement industry. They haven't yet stumbled on the real-life experiences that are chronicled here in this Blog and the accompanying Track Your Plaque website.

Our program has been criticized for being too "high-tech," involving too many sophisticated measures like small LDL, lipoprotein(a) treatment, vitamin D blood levels. But when you see a woman reduce her heart scan score 63%, or a school principal's score plummet 51%, then that's reward in itself.

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