Looking for health in all the wrong places 12. February 2008 William Davis (11) The American public now has unprecedented freedom to explore new directions in health. Never before have we had the enormous resources now available to add to our health experience: nutritional supplements, endless books on health and diet, the internet, online discussion groups, insurance products to permit spending on self-directed health services like medical savings accounts and flex-spending. The Track Your Plaque program is just one facet of this emerging and exciting area of self-empowerment in health. Compare what you can achieve with such a program with the situation of just 25 years ago, when the most you might get to reduce your risk for heart disease was to take the (largely ineffective) drug cholestyramine, probucol, and a low-cholesterol, low-fat diet. Unfortunately, it also means that people have unrestrained potential to be tripped up, to be misled down some dead end of health that fails to accomplish desired goals, maybe even dangerous. The more freedom we have, the greater the choices, the more room we have to screw up. Among the unproductive strategies I've witnessed recently:--Nattokinase--The staying power of this scam continues to shock me. There is no rational basis for its use. A woman today declared that she would like to stop the warfarin that she was taking to prevent stroke from atrial fibrillation by taking nattokinase. This would be a mistake that could cost her a major and disabling, even fatal, stroke. Though warfarin is far from perfect, it at least achieves its goal of reducing stroke risk. Nattokinase does not. Nattokinase does nothing but make money for the people who sell it. --Poly-nutritional supplements. You've heard of polypharmacy, the phenomenon of taking numerous medications with overlapping effects and side-effects, usually because of multiple doctors, each prescribing drugs without knowledge or interest in what colleagues are prescribing. I'm seeing the same phenomenon with supplements: 20,30, or more supplements per day, all in the hopes of heightening health. A focused few supplements is, in my view, superior to a shotgun approach of trying to improve health by taking hawthorne, silymarin, chrysin, calcium, Chinese herbs, and 25 other supplements. --Chelation--Based on the notion that heavy metal toxicity causes heart disease; removal of heavy metals cures it. I've read some of the books on chelation, in addition to the slim scientific data, to decide whether there was anything to it. In my view, it is a complete and utter scam. It does make money for its practitioners, however. That's not to say that heavy-metal chelation doesn't have a role in health--it does. But it serves no purpose in coronary disease prevention and control. --Colonic purges--Achieved by a number of routes, some oral, others via enema. Promotions for purging are often accompanied by a pile of scum that apparently lined somebody's intestinal tract. Purges purportedly, well, purge it from the intestine. This is also plain nonsense. There is no such toxic scum lining anybody's intestinal tract. However, if calorie restriction or a fast results inadvertently from the effort, perhaps some good comes from it. --Statin drug alternatives--The unprecedented $27 billion dollar a year success of the statin drug industry, accompanied by the enormous marketing push by their manufacturers, has spawned an entire industry of statin alternatives. They range from red yeast rice, to guggulipid, to various concoctions of sterol esters, Chinese herbs, chitosan, and a variety of others. Some actually do reduce cholesterol a few points. Preparations like red yeast rice even pose a side-effect profile not too different from the prescription statin agents. Unfortunately, even among those agents that work, the effects tend to be small to trivial. While I am no lover of statin drugs nor the statin drug industry, I find these preparations to be anemic imitators. You'd be better off with raw nuts and ground flaxseed than wasting your money on these cheap imitations. --Worries about liver toxicity--A day doesn't go by that I don't have at least several questions about suffering toxic liver effects from niacin, vitamin D, statin drugs, etc. I have treated thousands of patients for heart disease in its various stages and forms and have used many different strategies. How many times have I seen serious liver toxicity? A handful of times and usually from either mis-use of the agent or drug, or in a person with several other coexisting diseases. (Other serious health conditions, like kidney failure, raise the toxicity of drugs and supplements.) Liver toxicity in the vast majority of otherwise healthy people is close to being a non-concern. Readers of The Heart Scan Blog and of the Track Your Plaque website know that I celebrate expansion of knowledge and information access to the public. However, I am concerned that the flip side of this growing self-empowerment is expanding potential for mistakes. It reminds me of an attorney friend, who, when diagnosed with prostate cancer, explored all manner of alternative treatments, from laetrile to heavy metal chelation to high-dose lycopene tablets. At the initial stage of diagnosis, his cancer was readily treatable. He now has widely metastatic cancer. Maintain an open mind, but think before you commit to some crazed claim of cure, some "secret" to health, somebody's brazen but concealed attempt at steering profits in their direction. With freedom comes responsibility. Otherwise, you might be looking for love . . .oops, I mean health . . . in all the wrong places.