Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heart Ache

Courtesy of indianapublicmedia.org
My father died of heart failure. Well, sort of. I'm not really sure what is written on his death certificate. It could have been one of many things, or maybe it was from complications of our health industry.

In 1986, my dad was diagnosed with "heart disease" after his first attack at the age of 60. All the signs were there. An otherwise thin man, he had a classic "beer belly" that had been forming for years. A lot of stress in his life with a managerial position which required some travel and a strained relationship with my mother. And then, after breakfast one morning, he experienced a heart attack that sent him to the hospital and on to the operating room for a quadruple bypass which saved his life.

My parents were educated on the changes that were recommended for those post heart surgery. They were told Dad was producing too much cholesterol, in addition to the amount he was getting in his diet. They were given the American Heart Association recommended diet based on "The Framingham Study".

Framingham, NY, late 1940s, a group of scientists and researchers gathered to study the cause of heart disease - the results of which would hopefully lead to a cure. In 1961, "The Framingham Study" had made some discoveries including the cholesterol connection. The resulting theory linked saturated fat in the diet, elevated cholesterol levels in the blood stream, and Coronary Heart Disease. Soon after, dietary recommendations for heart disease patients restricted saturated fat intake, primarily in the form of red meats and eggs. This was naturally followed with a host of manufactured foods claiming to be low in saturated fats and aimed at this new market.

My parents fully got on the low-fat bandwagon. They bought low fat foods of all kinds - full of sugars, and starches - along with egg substitutes, better butters, and cooking oils full of transfats, all substituting for saturated fats. My dad began a regimen of medications including the statin Lipator to lower his cholesterol, the blood thinner coumodin and later Plavix, Losartan for elevated blood pressure, Meloprolol tartrate as a diuretic, Isosorbide mononitrate for angina. They purchased equipment to begin an exercise program.

God bless him, he was religious about taking his meds. He did some research and put himself on vitamin E and C as well a other supplements he thought would be beneficial. He praised his medical insurance for covering his expenses that allowed him access to this great medical care and affordable medication. Every year he met with his cardiologist and took a "stress test" which he always passed with great pride.

In the ensueing years my parents fell off the diet, often eating at McDonalds for breakfast and later in the day stopping in again for a hamburger and strawberry sundae. The excersise program never really took shape, although they did learn to dance and had great fun doing it, and Dad continued with his medication. Some years later there was another problem with his heart and a stint was placed. Later, having a bout with a respiratory infection, he landed  in the hospital where he contracted a chronic lung disease. Still, his belief in the American medical system, the insurance system, and pharmacological system never wavered.

I've been reading about changes in the assertion that cholesterol is the culprit in heart disease. There is a book out called The Great Cholesterol Myth that calls into question whether using statin drugs is appropriate except in the heart disease population of men in their 40s and never for women. In fact, recently The Food and Drug Administration raised safety concerns about statins, warning that patients taking the drugs may face a "small increased risk" of higher blood sugar levels and of being diagnosed with diabetes.

Statins and all Coranary Heart Disease associated medications, are big business for the pharmacological industry as well as the doctors who prescribe them. In returning to see your medical specialist in order to continue to receive prescriptions for your drugs, a fee for the office visit is triggered. It is not just the AMA in bed with big pharma. Dr. Barbara Roberts, M.D., director of the Women's Cardiac Center at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I. asserts, "But you have to remember that medical journals depend upon Big Pharma for their ads and reprint orders just as medical centers and medical professionals rely on Big Pharma for funding. It is a round robin situation that probably won't change until the patients, doctors and the public demand change."

Another voice rising in support of a new view of heart disease and cholesterol is Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a practicing cardiologist for over 30 years and the author of The Great Cholesterol Myth. "You know cholesterol is found at the scene of the crime for heart disease, but it's not the perpetrator," he contends. Sinatra is among a growing number of physicians who point the finger at inflammation, which is caused by a number of things. Eating too much sugar is at the top of the list. He admits a small percentage of LDL cholesterol is bad because it's inflammatory. But he said, for the most part, it's good for you. "Cholesterol many times can be a gift in disguise," he said.

Even so, the American Heart Association still states on their website, "Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood.  High levels of blood cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Be aware, too, that many foods high in saturated fats are also high in cholesterol – which raises your blood cholesterol even higher."

Courtesy of bryanking.net
I have come to believe that it is inflammation that is at the root of heart disease and for that matter many diseases. I believe that sugar in it's many forms is one cause of this inflammation as well as the damage to the coronary vessel walls. I believed that cholesterol is the body's method of patching the damage and in doing so causes the blockages that lead to heart attacks. I believe that the food we ingest is all the medication we need to give us vitality and good health.

All this is too late for my dad. He lived  twenty-six years after his first heart attack. His last years after contracting the chronic lung disease while hospitalized were not easy ones. His last year was especially painful. I pray that we continue to be enlightened by those medical professionals among us who are courageous enough to stand up and contradict prevailing wisdom. I also pray that those of us who are brave and vigilant enough to ask the difficult questions - keep asking - until our nation and her people are given the truth about what is required for us to get and remain healthy.


For further information

The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics: Malcolm Kendirck
Barbara Roberts: Do You Really Need That Statin? This Expert Says No
Stephen Sinatra: The Great Cholesterol Myth
Stephen Sinatra: Cholesterol Myth: What Really Causes Heart Disease? 
Fox News: FDA issues new warning on Lipitor, Zocor, other statins


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