When Will Modern Medicine Give Up Its Cholesterol Cash-Cow?

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Centuries ago the priest was the only one who had access to a Bible.  Parishioners relied upon the priest to deliver and interpret the scriptures as they could not be examined directly and many people were frankly not even literate.  But then came Martin Luther who nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  It called for direct rather than indirect contact with God for forgiveness of sins rather than the purchase of indulgences from the priesthood.

Today the masses have direct access via the internet to the body of knowledge in medical journals.  However, that knowledge is cloaked in medical and statistical terminology that is not only difficult to interpret but easily manipulated.  For the most part the masses must rely upon the priesthood of doctors to advise what is best for them.

Today more people than ever take statin cholesterol lowering drugs at the suggestion of their doctor.  A news report says statins are widely prescribed “because they are so successful,” yet there is little evidence to draw that conclusion.  The news media also blindly parrots what the priesthood of medicine disseminates.  Now there is even a call to prescribe statins to all from the age of 50.

But as you will learn below, a new study reveals 40 years of statin drug use has led modern medicine to the realization they are not an effective weapon against coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in western countries.

Doctors follow the money, not the science

A growing body of scientific evidence has not been enough to force modern medicine to back away from the reigning cholesterol paradigm of heart disease.  In fact, in the face of mounting contrary evidence, cardiologists now suggest more Americans with risk factors for heart disease be placed on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs regardless of their circulating cholesterol levels.

But a recently published study in the European Heart Journal indicates this is another misdirection.  It is not anticipated that cardiologists and pharmacologists will admit to this 40-year misdirection given the huge financial consequences of backing away from $30 billion in sales of statin drugs and billions of dollars of other inappropriate and needless treatment.

Conclusions drawn from the recent study are striking.  Using traditional risk factors (cholesterol, blood pressure, current tobacco use and diabetes) misses 15% of people believed to be at very low risk and over-treats 35% with needless aspirin and statin drug therapy.

The new paradigm for what causes coronary arteries, which supply the heart with oxygenated blood, to clog up and result in heart attacks is calcification.  Just on cursory analysis, it has never seemed plausible that soft and waxy cholesterol, produced naturally by the liver throughout life, would be the cause of coronary artery disease.  In fact, it just may be a marker rather than a cause of what really promotes mortal heart attacks – artery stiffening calcifications.

This landmark study is published in the European Heart Journal and involved over 7000 subjects over a period of about 7 years.

On cardiologist says “the results (of this study) may encourage a major paradigm shift in how physicians estimate heart disease risk for their patients.”

Instead of submitting blood samples for cholesterol analysis this study suggests cardiologists now perform coronary artery scans (CT-scans) which score the severity of calcification from zero-to-several thousand, though most subjects fall under 300.  Any calcium artery score above zero increases risk for a mortal heart attack.

Cholesterol vs. calcium

This is in the face of long-standing data showing over half of the subjects who experience a heart attack have circulating cholesterol levels that fall into the normal range.  Seventy-five percent of all heart emergencies occur in the quarter of patients with the highest calcium scores.

An analysis published in 2009 reveals less than 1% (0.56%) of individuals with a coronary calcium score of zero will incur a heart attack over a 10-year period.  It seems totally inappropriate to treat these individuals with drugs like statins that would simply cause more side effects than health benefits.

While there is non-calcium plaque found in coronary arteries, investigators says it is minimal among individuals with a coronary calcium score of zero and of little impact. Another published study shows prevalence of non-calcium plaque in coronary arteries was 7% among individuals with a zero calcium score and no heart attacks occurred.

To scan or not to scan

A coronary artery scan with an Agatston calcification score (named after cardiologist Arthur Agatston) subjects patients to radiation comparable with that of a bilateral mammogram.  So these tests should not be conducted on low-risk individuals.  It will be tempting for cardiologists to begin large-scale coronary calcium scans to obtain baseline data over time.  But such a large percentage of healthy individuals have a calcium Agatston score of zero that this would represent additional cost with not even an imagined benefit.

While the European Heart Journal investigators suggest “that doctors consider offering a coronary artery calcium scan to their patients to markedly improve risk prediction if they are unsure whether they should be on lifelong statin and aspirin therapy,” healthy adults should probably skip the calcium scan and just limit sources of calcium in their diet (cow’s milk) and take dietary supplements that inhibit calcifications (see below for list).  There are no good anti-calcifying prescription drugs.

Researchers appear to be trying to head off the direction of science away from the cholesterol paradigm.  A recent study concludes that statin drugs do reduce coronary artery calcium scores, but the question remains: why use statins when they are more problematic, less effective and more costly than available dietary supplements?

Study results

Among the 7000 subjects in the study, 1067 (16%) had zero risk factors (high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes) while 1205 (18%) had three or more risk factors.  Among those patients with zero risk factors, 68% had a coronary artery calcium score of zero, 12% had a score over 100 and 5% over 300.  So if this patient group is representative of other healthy populations, then nearly 7 in 10 calcium artery scans would be needless.

During the 7-year duration of the study there were 339 heart attacks.  Patients with zero risk factors and coronary calcium scores exceeding 300 had a heart attack rate 3.5 times (350%) higher than individuals with 3 or more risk factors but a zero calcium score.

In another study among diabetics, 38% had no detectable coronary artery calcium and minimal heart attacks over a 6-year period.  Diabetics are more subject to cardiomyopathy where the heart fails and dies rather than a blockage of circulation to the heart.

Among individuals with a coronary artery calcium score of zero, only 66 need to be screened to prevent one mortal or non-mortal heart attack, which is far lower than that 200 that need to be screened for elevated cholesterol to prevent a single non-mortal heart attack among healthy adults.  (The reason so many individuals need to be screened to prevent a single heart attack is that maybe only 3-5 heart attacks occur over a 5-year period in 1000 adults.)

There is far less needless care when the coronary artery calcium test is employed.

Can’t kick their prescribing habit

But despite all this convincing data, the cardiologists who wrote the report just couldn’t abandon their cholesterol drug prescribing habit.  Even among healthy adults with a calcium score of zero but some risk factors, the researchers said they favor “moderate dose statin therapy over high-dose” and that they don’t recommend “cessation of statins for patients with risk factors,” despite the fact cholesterol comprises a small amount of arterial plaque and does not appear to be a causal factor for heart attacks!

They did concede that aspirin therapy poses more risk (bleeding) than benefit among individuals with zero coronary calcium and some risk factors.

Fish oil study points to strong antidote

And right on the heels of this monumental study implicating calcium rather than cholesterol as the chief culprit in coronary artery disease, another breakthrough study points to high consumption and blood levels of omega-3 fish oil as an effective way to keep coronary calcium scores and heart attack rates low.

The study, published in the journal HEART, showed men in Japan who consume more fish and have blood levels of omega-3 oils more than 100% greater than US males (9.08 Japan vs. 3.84 USA) exhibit significantly lower calcium artery scores.

Researchers write that: “coronary heart disease mortality in Japan is much lower than in the USA despite a less favorable or similar profile of many cardiovascular risk factors in the Japanese (blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, smoking, and adult onset diabetes).”  This again speaks for cholesterol reduction as misdirection in modern medicine.

Due to fish consumption the Japanese population has notably higher dietary intake of omega-3 oils compared to other populations.  For example, 1000 milligrams/day in Japan versus <100 mg/day in typical western diets, including the USA.

Other anti-calcifying agents

Magnesium has also recently been identified as a mineral that inhibits coronary artery calcification.  Every 50-milligram/day incremental increase in self-reported total magnesium intake is associated with 22% lower calcium artery score.

Vitamin K from green leafy vegetables or dietary supplements may also be a good anti-calcifying agent for coronary arteries.

IP6 phytate, a calcium chelator (key lay tor) was identified as an anti-calcifying agent in 1972.  IP6 is available as a dietary extract from rice bran.  Soy is a good natural source of phytate, as are nuts.

Calcification and the aorta

The most severe accumulation of calcium appears in the aorta, the first blood vessel outside the heart.  It was Dr. Stephen Seely in 1991 who explained that calcification of arteries occurs more frequently in prosperous countries that consume excesses of calcium, largely from dairy products.  Failing the ability to trim calcium intake from adult populations in developed countries, Dr. Seely recommended an increase of IP6 phytate in the daily diet.

Dr. Seely later explained that excessive calcium intake via milk consumption causes the heart to pump harder against a stiffened aorta, resulting in elevated systolic blood pressure (1st blood pressure number) and a lower diastolic pressure (2nd blood pressure number), and the aorta eventually becomes so stiff from calcification that the heart dies.

Calcium and sudden mortal heart attacks

The cause of sudden mortal heart attacks is attributed to the development of an unstable calcium cap on top of arterial plaque.  Lipoprotein(a) has been identified as the causal factor in this form of unstable plaque as well as in calcified arteries in general.  Statin drugs raise lipoprotein(a) levels as does iron, largely consumed from red meat.  The documented antidote for this deadly form of arterial plaque is vitamin C.  To learn more about unstable arterial plaque and sudden mortal heart attacks, read my report Something Huge Is Going On In The Cholesterol World.

Time passes, nothing changes

I first wrote that coronary artery disease was caused by calcium and not cholesterol in 2007.  Use of cholesterol-lowering drugs has risen over that time.

Where is the doctor who will pen his “95 theses” to the door of Johns Hopkins University, considered the nation’s leading health institution, in protest against this egregious plundering of insurance pools and betrayal of the public’s trust?

That doctor may be cardiologist Dr. Tom Levy who has just published a new book entitled Death By Calcium (MedFox Publishing, 429 pages, 2013).

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