My journey as an integrative cardiologist has been an exciting period of my life and it has brought me endless moments of satisfaction and joy. Yes, it is joy when you can reduce human suffering and improve the quality of life for someone else.
Pharmaceutical drugs, bypass surgery, angioplasty, stent placements, pacemakers, and implantable defibrillators all have their place, and many lives would have been lost without these high-tech interventions. Cardiologists face a daily dilemma concerning the best diagnostic procedures to refer for their patients and then, based on these test results, which surgical and/or pharmaceutical intervention to select. To complicate the choice, the evaluations we order and the treatments we select may actually create unnecessary risk for patients. Continuing technological advances, although necessary, add to the complexity of the decision-making process.
Cardiologists have gone reliant on these sophisticated medical processes, but somewhere along the way something has gone awry. There has been much mistrust of the conventional medical model among the public recently. Starving for new information, massive numbers of patients are consulting alternative therapy practitioners like myself. They are visiting health food stores and reading new books.
What is driving even our most conservative patients to look at new forms of therapy? There are many reasons for the increased popularity of alternative, complementary medicine. These include patient dissatisfaction with ineffective conventional treatments, pharmacological drug side effects, and the high price of medications.
Perhaps most important is the fact that traditional medicine has become too impersonal with the involvement of high-tech modalities and sometimes limited office visits. Obviously, the medical consumer is searching for less invasive, safer, and low-cost interventions. Most patients are now questioning the need for potentially life-threatening drugs and invasive interventions that carry considerable risk of side effects, complications, and even death.
Recent research has suggested that two million lives are lost each year as a result of complications from standard of care interventions, medical errors, and complications. When we consider that the fourth leading cause of death in the United States is properly prescribed medication in a hospital setting, something has got to change! Even in 2005, coronary artery bypass surgeries are performed on the basis of clogged arteries alone, with no regard to quality of life issues. This is not smart medicine. Rates of complication include heart attack, infection, stroke, and central nervous system dysfunction, like memory loss. It is important to note that central nervous system symptoms of memory loss were observed in an alarming 61% of patients six months after bypass surgery. People are looking for less risky and fewer surgical alternatives in lieu of downsizing. During my 32 years of practicing cardiology.
I have seen a slow paradigm shift regarding the perceived availability of effective natural alternatives to treatment of a wide range of cardiovascular disorders, including angina, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. More physicians are now expanding their scope and recommending complementary therapies. However, invasive surgery is a sound approach to improve quality of life and possibly advance longevity when alternative therapies fail to correct the patient’s symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. I am an integrative cardiologist and attempt to bring conventional methods to the table and also offer complementary and alternative methods that can boost the patient to even better quality of life. Integrative cardiologists are as comfortable prescribing diet and lifestyle changes and a vast array of nutritional therapies for mind and body as they are scheduling a stress test, recommending angioplasty, and handing out medications. They integrate the best of both worlds when caring for their patients.
I feel that the most important things in avoiding heart problems are lifestyle changes as well as supplementation.
Without a doubt, prevention is easier than cure. For example, can patients improve heart failure or heart health without prescription drugs by modifying lifestyle, improving nutrition, and taking an active role in their health? The answer is yes, absolutely yes! Most, if not all, pharmaceutical drugs have some degree of mitochondrial toxicity. This means they poison the environment within a cell where cellular energy is generated. It makes sense to reduce pharmacological dependency as much as medically warranted.
For most of my patients who have had coronary events, hypertension, and even arrhythmia, I was able to wean them off their medication so long as they continued to be asymptomatic. However, some patients are more compromised than others, and they need some degree of pharmaceutical support. This is where integrative cardiology has tremendous merit.
An integrative cardiologist can complement conventual cardiology care with targeted Nutritionals and healthy lifestyle and thus reduce the dependency on pharmacologic drugs. The lifestyle and nutritional strategies can often boost the quality of life beyond what can be done with drugs alone. Moreover, the fewer drugs that come into play, the less potential there is for side effects.
Cardiology has made dramatic advances, particularly in the area of emergency and crisis intervention. I am disturbed, for example, by the excess utilization of coronary artery bypass surgery or stent angioplasty intervention for the treatment of coronary artery disease in the absence of symptoms. I have been gratified to see increased entrance and greater implementation of alternative methods in the treatment of heart disease.
For example, incorporation of ribose, Q10, and carnitine for heart failure as well as diastolic dysfunction has been enormous over the last couple of years. I have been using these Nutritionals, along with Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, for years, and this has now become the standard of care. Recently, new cholesterol testing medicines, including cholesterol particle size, have been shown to be extremely important in prevention as well as treatment.
Many cardiologists are now questioning the impact cholesterol really has as a major risk factor and the newer tests can help sort this out beyond mere and often meaningless numbers, whether cholesterol particles are inflammatory and dangerous or benign. There are also other risk factors that are extremely important. These include a vast array of blood tests that I perform on all my patients, which include homocysteine, lipoprotein A, cardiac CRP, fibrinogen, ferritin, myeloperoxidase, Omega-3 levels, Omega-6 AND transfats, and saturated fat levels.
After initial review of the blood tests, additional cardiac testing to check for endothelial dysfunction as well as central aortic pressure is performed. The patient is then started on a program tailored to his or her needs, including vitamins, detoxification, natural hormones, and stress reduction.