Bait and switch

When banks compete, you win.”

The TV ad opens with a 60-something man sitting in his living room, talking to a three-piece suit-clad, 30-something banker. The older man is explaining to the dismayed younger man why he’s going to use Lending Tree loan service for a home loan.

“But Dad, I’m you’re son!” the younger whines.

Many of Lending Tree’s clients have collaborated in filing a multi-million dollar class action suit against the company, claiming “bait and switch” tactics. They claim that home buyers are lured by low interest rates or low closing costs on a home loan. Once the buyer concludes the hassle of filling out numerous forms, the suit accuses Lending Tree of making a switch to a costlier loan.

Bait and switch is among the oldest con games around. If you’ve ever bought a car from a car dealer, chances are you’ve had your own little brush with this deception. The ad promises the SUV you’ve wanted for only $299 per month. Only, once you get there, the salesman informs you that only a limited number of special deals were available and they’ve run out. But he’s still got a really good deal right over here!

Most of us recognize that we’ve been hookwinked. Yet we still go along and buy a car from the dealer.

What if it’s not a sleazy salesman behind the pitch, but a physician. If it’s hard to resist the sales pitch at the car dealership, it can be near impossible to ignore the advice of your doctor. But the truth is often loud and clear: in many instances, it is a genuine, bona fide, and fully-certified scam.

Among the most common bait-and-switch heart scams: Your cholesterol is high. The sequence of subsequent testing is well-rehearsed. “Gee, Bob, I’m worried about your risk for heart disease. Let’s schedule you for a nuclear stress test.” The stress test, like 20% or more of them, is “falsely positive,” meaning abnormal even though there’s nothing wrong with you. Another 30% are equivocal, not clearly abnormal but also not clearly normal. Now up to 50% of people tested “need” a heart catheterization in the hospital to clarify this frightening uncertainty. You might end up with a stent or two, even bypass surgery. Your simple $20 cholesterol panel has metamorphosed into $100,000 in hospital procedures. That familiar sequence is followed thousands of times, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

There are times when these heart tests are valuable and provide meaningful answers. Then there's the other half of the time when they provide murky information that can be used for a practitioner's economic advantage.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

A fictional tale of medical economics in heart disease

Dr. Robert Connors is the hospital’s most prized cardiologist.

Practically a fixture in the cath lab, he generates more revenues for the hospital than any of his colleagues. Last year alone, he performed over 1500 procedures, bringing in $18 million dollars to the cath lab, $27 million to the hospital. Dr. Connors is very good at what he does: 55-years old, he has been involved in high-tech heart care since the “early days,” 25 years ago, when hospital procedures really began to take off.

Over his career, he has personally performed over 25,000 heart procedures and has built a reputation as a skilled operator of complex coronary procedures. Because of his skills, he enjoys a vigorous flow of referrals for procedures from dozens of primary care physicians. His skill has also earned him referrals from cardiologist colleagues who seek his abilities for difficult cases.

On any day, Dr. Connors typically schedules up to 12 procedures. His entire day is spent in the cath lab, usually from 7 am until 6 pm. He meets many patients for the first time on the catheterization laboratory table as staff shave their groin, preparing for the procedure. Much of the procedure itself is not even performed by Dr. Connors, but by one or another cardiologists-in-training, a “fellow,” or member of the fellowship the hospital proudly maintains as a clinical teaching institution. Nor will Dr. Connors talk to most patients at the close of the procedure. He leaves that to either the fellow or a nurse. Dr. Connors views himself as a procedural specialist, not someone who has to take care of patients. He gave up seeing patients in his office over 10 years ago.

Dr. Connors’ procedural enthusiasm gained him the attention of drug and medical device manufacturers. Because Dr. Connors lectures widely and advises colleagues, his comments can dramatically alter perceptions of the value of a technology. He has, on many occasions, catapulted an unpopular device to most-asked-for among colleagues, bringing millions of dollars in revenues to the manufacturer. One particularly lucrative arrangement he made around 10 years ago involved a “closure” device, a $400 single-use plug used to close the access site made during heart catheterizations. By swaying his colleagues at _______ Hospital, 50 orders per day (one per procedure) tallied $20,000 every day, $7.1 million dollars per year for the manufacturer. Although he’d used other devices on the market, the 5,000 shares of stock he was offered encouraged him to issue glowing comments to colleagues on the superiority of this specific brand of closure device. Now over 90% of all catheterizations at _______ Hospital conclude with the device manufactured by the company in which Dr. Connors maintains partial ownership.

Negative comments, on the other hand, topple other products when Dr. Connors sees fit to pan them. For this reason, device and drug manufacturers run straight to Dr. Connors to gain his good graces as soon as possible after a product is released into the market. Because the competition is just as likely to do the same, it has often come down to a bidding war, the company providing the most lucrative arrangement most likely to win.

Thus, Dr. Connors proudly boasts of how many times he has flown to Hawaii, Europe, and other exotic locations at industry expense. He also boasts of how, for $100,000 paid to him for a “consulting fee,” he can overturn the choice of products lining hospital shelves. As the hospital’s annual budget for coronary devices will top $84,000,000 this year, device manufacturers regard the sum paid Connors as a profitable investment.

Despite his lofty status in the hospital, Dr. Connors has long expressed a love-hate relationship with ________ Hospital. While he enjoys his work and has made a more than comfortable income, he has long felt that the hospital administration didn’t truly appreciate his contributions. Five years ago, he therefore demanded that he be made “Director of Research.” After all, he had hired a nurse to help him coordinate enrollment of patients into several device trials brought to him by medical device manufacturers. When he encountered an initial lukewarm response from hospital administrators, he threatened to take his “business” elsewhere to a competing hospital. Hospital administrators gave in. They provided him with the title he wanted, along with $100,000 annual “stipend.”

Just fiction? Make no bones about it: Cardiac care is business, big business. And there's money to be made, lots of it.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

Disease engineering

Imagine you catch pneumonia.

You have a fever of 103, you’re coughing up thick, yellow sputum. Breathing is getting difficult. You hobble to the doctor, who then fails to prescribe you antibiotics. You get some kind of explanation about unnecessary exposure to antibiotics to avoid creating resistant organisms, yadda yadda. So you make do with some Tylenol®, cough syrup, and resign yourself to a few lousy days of suffering.

Five days into your illness, you’ve not shown up for work, you’re having trouble breathing, and you’re getting delirious. An emergency trip to the hospital follows, where a bronchoscopy is performed (an imaging scope threaded down your airway) and organisms recovered for diagnosis. You’re put on a ventilator through a tube in your throat to support your breathing and treated with intravenous antibiotics. Delayed treatment permits infection to escape into the fluid around your lungs, creating an “empyema,” an extension of the infection that requires insertion of a tube into your chest through an incision to drain the infection. You require feeding through a tube in your nose, since the ventilator prevents you from eating through your mouth. After 10 days, several healing incisions, and a hospital bill totaling $75,000, you’re discharged only to be face eights weeks of rehabilitation because of the extreme toll your illness extracted. Your doctor also advises you that, given the damage incurred to your lungs and airways, you will be prone to more lung infections in the future, and similar situations could recur whenever a cold or virus comes long.

A disease treatable by taking a 10-day, $20 course of oral antibiotics at home was converted into a lengthy hospital stay that generated extravagant professional fees, testing, and costly supportive care. You’ve lost several weeks of income. You’re weak and demoralized, frightened that the next flu or virus could mean another trip to the hospital. You are susceptible to repeated bouts of such episodes in future.

Such a scenario would be unimaginable with a common infection like pneumonia, or it would be grounds for filing a malpractice lawsuit. But, as horrific as it sounds in another sphere of health care, it is, in effect, analogous to how heart disease is managed in current medical practice.

First, you’re permitted to develop the condition. It may require years of ignoring telltale signs, it may require your unwitting participation in unhealthy lifestyle practices, like low-fat diets, "eat more whole grains," and "know your numbers."

It then eventuates in some catastrophe like heart attack or similar unstable heart situation, at which point you no longer have a choice but to submit to major heart procedures. That’s when you receive your heart catheterization, coronary stents, bypass, defibrillators, etc.

Of course, none of these procedural treatments cures the disease, no more than a Band Aid® heals the gash in your leg. The conditions that were present that created heart disease continue, allowing a progressive disease to worsen. At some point, you will need to return to the hospital for yet more procedures when trouble recurs, which it inevitably does.

A coronary bypass operation costs, on average $67,823. That includes the cost for the heart catheterization performed by a cardiologist to provide the surgical roadmap of your coronary arteries, the surgeon’s fees, the hospital charges. If there are any complications of your procedure, then your hospital bill may total a substantially higher figure.

$67,823 is just the upfront financial pay-off. Over the long run, your life is actually worth far more to the cardiovascular health care system because no heart procedure yields a permanent fix. In fact, repeated reliance on the system is the rule.

In fact, over 90% of people who enter the American cardiovascular health care system do so through a revolving door of multiple procedures over several years. It is truly a rare person, for instance, who undergoes a coronary bypass operation, never to be seen again the wards of the hospital because he remains healthy and free of catastrophe. A much more familiar scenario is the man or woman who undergoes two or three heart catheterizations, receives 3,4, or 6 stents, followed a few years later by a heart bypass, pacemaker, defibrillator, as well as the tests performed for catastrophe management, such as nuclear stress test, echocardiogram, laboratory blood analysis, and consultation with several specialists. The total revenue opportunity is many-fold higher than the initial 60-some thousand dollars, but instead totals hundreds of thousands of dollars per person.

A heart attack alone is a $100,000 revenue opportunity (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2004).

Of all coronary bypass procedures performed, 25% are “re-do’s”, or bypasses in people who’ve had a previous one, two, or three bypass procedures.

Perhaps it's excessively cynical to label it "disease engineering." But, whether from benign neglect or purposeful failure to diagnose, the fact remains: Heart disease is, all too often by the standard path, undiagnosed and neglected for years until the procedural payoff strikes.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

Free checking, auto shows, low-cost hotel rooms, and bypass surgery

Of the three major highways that lace the city of Milwaukee, there are at least five, and sometimes as many as ten, billboards that prominently feature one hospital heart program or another.

The passing of former First Lady, Ladybird Johnson in July, 2007, reminds us that, just 30 years ago, billboards were a far more common feature (many called them eyesores), proliferating like a dense forest of trees competing for a sliver of sunlight. Ladybird Johnson played a pivotal role in helping to dramatically reduce the number of billboards permissible on the nation’s highways. Of the relative few that remain today, a premium must be paid to post an advertisement. It costs several thousands dollars every month to maintain these highway commercials. But it’s not just an expense; it’s an investment.

The tens of thousands of eyes that view these billboards every day are potential customers, insured Milwaukeeans who carry health insurance and represent a major heart procedure just waiting to happen. They “need” to be directed to the right place. The billboards don’t feature health and wellness, heart disease prevention, or nutritional advice. They feature surgeons proudly wearing scrubs and masks, nurses, and declarations of the advantages of each hospital program. In effect, they invite you to have your heart attack, heart catheterization, bypass surgery, or other major heart procedure at their hospital. High-tech, high-ticket hospital heart care has become the subject of mainstream marketing, the stuff of flyers, brochures, and billboards.

The excesses of “big heart disease” have created a system that makes procedural heart disease “repair” far more profitable than heart disease prevention. Unfortunately, “repair” has disastrous financial, physical, and emotional consequences for everyone save the “repairman.”

While great good has been achieved by the American health care system, this gargantuan and inefficient system has also cultivated a culture of excess that has made many of its participants—physicians, hospitals, drug and device manufacturers—rich. And at our expense.

This approach was, to a degree, justifiable at a time when nothing better was available. But that's no longer true.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

No-flush niacin kills

Gwen was miserable and defeated.

No wonder. After a bypass operation failed just 12 months earlier with closure of 3 out of 4 bypass grafts, she has since undergone 9 heart catheterization procedures and received umpteen stents. She presented to me for an opinion on why she had such aggressive coronary disease (despite Lipitor).

No surprise, several new causes of heart disease were identified, including a very severe small LDL pattern: 100% of LDL particles were small.

Given her stormy procedural history, I urged Gwen to immediately drop all processed carbohydrates from her diet, including any food made from wheat or corn starch. (She and her husband were shocked by this, by the way, since she'd been urged repeatedly to increase her whole grains by the hospital dietitians.) I also urged her to begin to lose the 30 lbs of weight that she'd gained following the hospital dietitians' advice. She also added fish oil at a higher-than-usual dose.

I asked her to add niacin, among our most effective agents for reduction of small LDL particles, not to mention reduction of the likelihood of future cardiovascular events.

Although I instructed Gwen on where and how to obtain niacin, she went to a health food store and bought "no-flush niacin," or inositol hexaniacinate. She was curious why she experienced none of the hot flush I told her about.

When she came back to the office some weeks later to review her treatment program, she told me that chest pains had returned. On questioning her about what she had changed specifically, the problem became clear: She'd been taking no-flush niacin, rather than the Slo-Niacin I had recommended.

What is no-flush niacin? It is inositol hexaniacinate, a molecule that indeed carries six niacin molecules attached to an inositol backbone. Unfortunately, it exerts virtually no effect in humans. It is a scam. Though I love nutritional supplements in general, it pains me to know that supplement distributors and health food stores persist in selling this outright scam product that not only fails to exert any of the benefits of real niacin, it also puts people like Gwen in real danger because of its failure to provide the effects she needed.

So, if niacin saves lives, no-flush niacin in effect could kill you. Avoid this scam like the plague.

No-flush niacin does not work. Period.

Disclosure: I have no financial or other relationship with Upsher Smith, the manufacturer of Slo-Niacin.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

Breakfast comments

I received some wonderful comments to the What's for breakfast blog post.

Even though comments are viewable by clicking on them, I wanted to be sure these were readily visible, since they were so helpful and augmented the few suggestions I made. I'm impressed with the variety of foods people are willing to introduce into breakfast, particularly foods not traditionally thought to be part of standard American breakfast choices.

I normally eat a handful of almonds, some raw cashews, and occasionally an orange for breakfast. I used to eat cheese with breakfast also, but found once I began eating cheese it was hard for me to stop at one or two pieces.


My favorite breakfast is often left over Thai curry. I omit the rice. I also like making a thai omelet which is simply 2 eggs and some fish sauce and water and serving it with Sirachi sauce or Thai peanut sauce. It is street vendor food in Thailand I hear. Here's a recipe.

I find left over dinners are quite wonderful for breakfast. You just have to get past this notion that you have to eat certain foods at certain times in the day. Where'd that idea come from anyway?


I’ve tried eating oatmeal throughout my life, really wanting to like it. Until now the mere taste or smell of it made my stomach queasy. The key for me was toasting the oatmeal. Here’s what I generally do:

For Steel-cut oatmeal with the taste and texture of rice pudding-

In a frypan:
Toss 1 TBS of butter or so into a hot pan.
Add 1 cup of steel-cut oatmeal until toasted.
--few minutes
In a saucepan:
Boil 2-1/2 cups water
Add 1 cinnamon stick (or equivalent)
Add toasted Steel-cut oatmeal and cook for 15-20 minutes or so

Add 1-1/2 cups of low-fat milk, yogurt, or some combination, etc…
-Optional- Wisk an egg yolk into the milk.
-Optional- Add ¼ tsp salt.
-Optional- 2 TBS honey or Brown sugar. I use one 1 TBS of each.
Add some lemon or orange zest

Return to a boil for 10-15 minutes and then chill before eating. The oatmeal will congeal, resembling rice pudding.
Sprinkle more cinnamon/sugar on top
Add what you like: raisins, nuts, etc...

Use the cinnamon stick if you can, it really makes the difference. I’m constantly refining this recipe.


Once I decided to give up my (former) love affair with breakfast cereals, I was in a quandary about what to do for breakfast. I don't have much time in the morning to get creative and don't have the inclination at that time of the day to do so either.

I've settled on a routine of 2 hard-boiled (organic free-range) eggs (I boil them up a week in advance and leave them, shells-on, in the fridge), and a home-made protein-berry smoothie (frozen organic unsweetened berries, water-based).

This 8 am combo is easy, fast and tasty (I vary the berries and sometimes add natural flavour extracts for variety). It keeps my blood sugar flat and me full until my 1pm lunchtime. And I don't miss the cereals one bit!


I met an out-of-town friend for breakfast the other morning at a French-style bakery cafe. I ordered the goat cheese and herb omelet, but said I didn't want the potatoes or bread with it. They offered extra fruit or a salad instead. I chose the salad, with olive oil and vinegar. My friend wondered how I could eat a salad so early. Why not?

At home I usually eat 2 or 3 eggs over easy cooked in butter for breakfast most mornings and I am comfortably hungry for lunch about 3-4 hours later. But after my nicely filling cheese omelet and generous romaine salad (with a tiny bit of fruit - I ate the berries/melon and left the super-sweet pineapple), I wasn't hungry again until very late in the afternoon so had a small snack (cheese and half an apple) to hold me off and ate my next meal at dinner time. And it was a slow-developing comfortable hunger, not the powerful, "gotta eat something, anything" hunger that follows carb-heavy food.

Breakfast food, indeed!


You are absolutely right - breakfast is the most difficult meal to change. When I gave up wheat, I started using brown rice or potatoes mixed with anything interesting - nuts or meat or veges. I have now learned that these carbs make my blood glucose skyrocket. I have dropped the rice and potatoes and my BG has dropped nicely.

My favorite breakfast is sauteed veggies with some leftover meat or even an omelette. Soups are great in the AM. Nuts are for the days I am in a hurry.

Would be a little easier if I were not dairy intolerant.


Here in South India,it is 'Idli' - steam-cooked Lentil-rice (predominantly lentil) droppings, and 'Dosa' - lentil-rice pancakes. We have altered it a bit by increasing lentil ratio and dropping the rice to a minimum. Tastes good and fills you nice, for 4-5 hours.


I have two or three eggs, usually scrambled, but sunny-side-up and over-easy get thrown in for variety. I cook them using butter made from grass-fed cows. I also make my scrambled eggs using whipping cream instead of the more typical water or milk. I'll put a spoonful of fresh-made salsa over the top for some zing, some sliced cheese on the side and a cup of whole, organic milk to drink.

I'm completely sold on the "high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb" diet and especially the admonition to start the day with a strong breakfast. My overall energy levels are fantastic, running performance is as good as high-school, and my belly hasn't looked this tight in decades.


What's for breakfast?

Breakfast, for some reason, seems to be the toughest meal of the day for many people.

I think it's because the quest for sweet has dominated the American breakfast for so long, with its half-century legacy of cartoon character-festooned breakfast cereals; baked flour products like pancakes, waffles, and English muffins; more recently, "healthy" alternatives like bran muffins and oat waffles.

This breakfast lifestyle has also contributed to the obesity and diabetes ("diabesity") epidemic. Breakfasts of wheat- or corn-based cereals, even those labeled "heart healthy," fruit, and whole grain breads are guaranteed paths to low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, flagrant small LDL, increased inflammatory responses, high blood pressure, and higher blood sugar. Such foods also make you tired, make your abdominal fat grow (wheat belly), and increase appetite so that you want more.

So what can you eat for breakfast that doesn't provoke these patterns?

I will never pretend to be terribly clever in creating meal menus, but I can tell you what has worked for me and many of my patients. Be warned: It may require you to suspend your previous notions of what "should" be included in a list of breakfast foods.

Here are some examples that you may find helpful:

--Raw nuts--one or several handfuls of raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios
--Cheeses--the real, traditional sorts like gouda, goat, Swiss, edam, etc. (not Velveeta, Cheez Whiz, etc.)
--Eggs, Egg Beaters--and "spice" them up with sun-dried tomatoes, salsa, olives, tapenades, olive oil, onions, green peppers, etc.
--Yogurt (real, of course), cottage cheese
--Ground flaxseed, oat bran--as hot cereals or added to yogurt, cottage, or other foods. Esp. helpful for reducing both total LDL and the proportion of small LDL.
--Oatmeal--slow-cooked, not the instant nonsense.
--Soups--great for winter.
--Dinner foods--chicken, beef, fish, green beans, asparagus, tomatoes, etc., most easily added by saving left-overs from dinner. You'll be surprised how filling dinner foods eaten at breakfast can be.

It's really not that tough. It just means selecting from an entirely different list of foods than you might be accustomed to.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

The first lawsuit?

The closing arguments in actor John Ritter's wrongful death lawsuit are over and the two doctors charged with negligence cleared, five years after his death from a dissection (tear of the inner lining) of the thoracic aorta. The family sought $67 million in damages, claiming that the aortic dissection was misdiagnosed as a heart attack and that the enlarged aorta should have been reported to Mr. Ritter two years earlier during a full body scan.

The AP story can be viewed at

Well, perhaps this is the start of a trend. Up until now, it has been commonplace for doctors to ignore many of the important findings on heart scans, full body scans, and similar direct-to-the-public imaging services. For instance, similar to John Ritter's case, enlarged thoracic aortas are commonly ignored. I'd even say that as a rule they are ignored. I have seen many patients in consultation who have had large aortas identified on heart scans, yet nothing--not a thing--was done about it. While the doctors escaped a lawsuit this time, it might not happen a second time.

I truly hope that Mr. Ritter's unfortunate experience and the consequent lawsuit do not trigger the usual defensive medicine response of resorting to major procedural "solutions."

A better response would be to 1) identify the problem--enlarged aorta in this case, 2) identify the causes, then 3) correct the causes. It does not necessarily mean that a major procedure like replacing the aorta (a horrendous surgery, by the way) needs to be pursued each and every time.

It is possible that Mr. Ritter's lawsuit is just the first. Over the next several years, it could trigger an avalanche of lawsuits for all the neglected findings on tests like heart scans, body scans, and other imaging methods that are gaining expanded direct-to-consumer access.

Images courtesy Wikipedia.

The origins of heart catheterization: Part II

On the afternoon of October 30th, 1958, nearly 30 years after Werner Forssmann’s fumbling attempts, Dr. Mason Sones, a 5 foot 5 inch, plain-talking, cuss-every-few-words, cigarette-wielding radiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, was performing a routine angiogram of a patient’s aorta (the large vessel emerging from the heart) in a dark basement laboratory. (In Sones’ day, imaging methods remained primitive, disease diagnosis relying more than anything else on the physician’s powers of observation and crude diagnostic procedures. Abdominal pain was assessed with exploratory laparotomy, headaches with air injected into the brain and nervous system (“pneumoencephalography”), an excruciatingly painful ordeal. Being able to track the course of x-ray dye injected into specific internal organs, whether liver, biliary tree, aorta, lungs, or coronary arteries, represented a huge advance in diagnostic tools for human disease.)

In 1958, no one had yet injected dye directly into the coronary artery of a living human.

Just as the dye injector was triggered, Dr. Sones’ eyes widened in horror when the black and white monitor showed that the catheter had inadvertently jumped into the right coronary artery. The injection pump, already triggered to release its load, proceeded to pump 30 cc of X-ray dye straight into the artery. (Modern techniques usually require only 5–10 cc of dye.) Dr. Sones recounts the incident:

“It was late in the day and we were tired. I hit the switch to rev up the x-ray generator so I could see. As the picture came on, I could see that the damn catheter was in the guy’s right coronary artery. And there I was, down in the hole [a recess to shield him from radiation]. I yelled, “Pull it out! Pull it out!”*? By that time, about 30 cc of the dye had gone into the coronary artery. I climbed out of the hole and I grabbed a knife. I thought that his heart would fibrillate and I would have to open his chest and shock his heart. [In Sones’ day, modern CPR hadn’t yet been developed as a method of resuscitation.] But he didn’t fibrillate—his heart stopped. I demanded he cough. He coughed three times and his heart began to beat again. I knew at once that if the heart could tolerate 30 cc of dye, we would be able to safely inject small amounts directly into the coronary artery. I knew that night that we would have a tool to define the anatomic nature of coronary disease.”

*An observer, Dr. Julio Sosa, reported that Dr. Sones, in his shock, also blurted, “We’ve killed him!” After all, conventional wisdom of that era, based on observations from dye injections into the coronary arteries of dogs, was that injecting x-ray dye into human coronary arteries would result in immediate death from the electrical imbalance provoked in heart muscle momentarily deprived of oxygen-carrying blood.

Thus it was established that it was indeed possible to directly inject x-ray dye into human coronary arteries and reveal its internal contours. That’s not to say that the x-ray dyes of 1958 were innocuous. Far from it. In addition to briefly interrupting heart rhythm, as happened with Sones’ first accidental attempt, the dyes used then typically caused dizziness and the sudden urge to vomit. During the first 30 years of direct coronary catheterizations, it was common for hospital staff to run to the patient’s side, bucket in hand to catch the inevitable vomit, once the heart was jump-started by coughing.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Sones’ discovery set off both an avalanche of criticism and bold predictions of how the new technique might change the course of diagnosis in heart disease.

Over the subsequent weeks and months, Dr. Sones proceeded to purposefully insert catheters into coronary arteries and create angiograms that revealed the extent of coronary atherosclerosis. He learned how to fashion new catheter shapes to facilitate access to the arteries. Sones developed an impressive experience in the new technique. For the first time, clear images of the coronary arteries were routinely obtainable for the confident diagnosis of coronary atherosclerosis before death. Dr. Sones became an unlikely celebrity in Cleveland, entertaining physicians from around the world eager to learn about his methods, politicians and celebrities, even Middle Eastern nobility complete with bodyguards and food testers.

Dr. Sones continued to work in Cleveland, furthering the techniques of heart catheterization after his fortuitous error. He died of lung cancer in 1985, 17 years after his discovery.

Thus was born the modern age of heart catheterization.

Today, over 10,000 heart procedures are performed in the U.S. every day, 365 days a year, the vast majority of which involve heart catheterization or begin with a heart catheterization. Dr. Sones' fortuitous blunder was followed by 30 years of productive refinement and development before the blatant excesses of this technique really began to be exploited.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD

The origins of heart catheterization: Part I

The modern era of heart disease care was born from an accident, quirky personalities, and even a little daring.

The notion of heart catheterization to visualize the human heart began rather ignominiously in 1929 at the Auguste-Viktoria Hospital in Eberswalde, Germany, a technological backwater of the day. Inspired by descriptions of a French physician who inserted a tube into the jugular vein of a horse and felt transmitted heart impulses outside the body, Dr. Werner Forssmann, an eager 25-year old physician-in-training, was intent on proving that access to the human heart could be safely gained through a surface blood vessel. No one knew if passing a catheter into the human heart would be safe, or whether it would become tangled in the heart’s chambers and cause it to stop beating. On voicing his intentions, Forssmann was ordered by superiors not to proceed. But he was determined to settle the question, especially since his ambitions captured the interest of nurse Gerda Ditzen, who willingly even offered to become the first human subject of his little experiment.

Secretly gathering the necessary supplies, he made his first attempt in private. After applying a local anesthetic, he used a scalpel to make an incision in his left elbow. He then inserted a hollow tube, a catheter intended for the bladder, into the vein exposed under the skin. After passing the catheter 14 inches into his arm, however, he experienced cold feet and pulled it out.

One week later, Forssman regained his resolve and repeated the process. Nurse Ditzen begged to be the subject, but Forssmann, in order to allow himself to be the first subject, tricked her into being strapped down and proceeded to work on himself while she helplessly watched. After stanching the oozing blood from the wound, he threaded the catheter slowly and painfully into the cephalic vein, up through the bicep, past the shoulder and subclavian vein, then down towards the heart. He knew that simply nudging the rubber catheter forward would be sufficient to direct it to the heart, since all veins of the body lead there. With the catheter buried 25 inches into his body, Forssmann untied the fuming Ditzen. Both then ran to the hospital’s basement x-ray department and injected x-ray dye into the catheter, yielding an image of the right side of his heart, the first made in a living human.

Thus, the very first catheterization of the heart was performed.

An x-ray image was made to document the accomplishment. Upon hearing of the experiment, Forssmann was promptly fired by superiors for his brazen act of self-experimentation. Deflated, Forssmann abandoned his experimentation and went on to practice urology. He became a member of the Nazi party in World War II Germany and served in the German army. Though condemned as crazy by some, physicians in Europe and the U.S., after hearing of his experience, furthered the effort and continued to explore the potential of the technique. Forssmann himself was never invited to speak of his experiences outside of Germany, as he had been labeled a Nazi.

Many years after his furtive experiments, the once intrepid Dr. Forssmann was living a quiet life practicing small town medicine. He received an unexpected phone call informing him that he was one of three physicians chosen to receive the 1956 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his pioneering work performing the world’s first heart catheterization, along with Drs. André Cournand and Dickinson W. Richards, both of whom had furthered Forssmann’s early work. Forssmann remarked to a reporter that he felt like a village pastor who was made a cardinal.

Strange, but true.

Copyright 2008 William Davis, MD
Chocolate . . . for adults only

Chocolate . . . for adults only

If you've got a serious chocolate addiction and you'd like to make it as healthy as possible, give this X-rated dark chocolate a try.
I call it X-rated because it is certain to not satisfy young, sugar-craving palates, but is appropriate for only the most serious chocolate craver. This is a way to obtain the rich flavors and textures of cocoa, the health benefits (e.g., blood pressure reduction, antioxidation) of cocoa flavonoids, while obtaining none of the sugars/carbohydrates . . . and certainly no wheat!

It is easy to make, requiring just a few ingredients, a few steps, and a few minutes. Set aside and save for an indulgence, e.g., dip into natural peanut or almond butter.

8 ounces 100% unsweetened cocoa
5 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup dry roasted pistachios
1/4 cup whole flaxseeds or chia seeds
Truvia or other non-aqueous sweetener

Using double-boiler method, melt cocoa. Alternatively, melt cocoa in microwave in 15-20 second increments. Stir in coconut oil, pistachios, and flaxseeds or chia seeds. Stir in sweetener, mixing thoroughly. (Note that the sweetener must be non-aqueous, as water-based sweeteners will separate in the oils.)

Lay a sheet of parchment paper out on a large baking pan. Pour chocolate mixture slowly onto paper, tilting pan carefully to spread evenly until thickness of thick cardboard obtained. Place pan in refrigerator or freezer for 20 minutes.

Remove chocolate and break by hand into pieces of desired size.

Comments (22) -

  • Geoffrey Levens

    11/30/2011 4:43:44 PM |

    If you substitute Fair Trade cacao for the cocoa you will avoid being party to child slave labor. Also, there are a lot of nutritionally beneficial compounds in raw cacao that are lost in the "Dutching" process used to make most cocoa.

  • Buckaroo Banzai

    11/30/2011 6:12:45 PM |

    Just tried it with a little Truvia.  The granules did not dissolve.  I've added some stevia which seems to mix in just fine.  Agree on fair trade/organic if you can find it.

  • Dee

    11/30/2011 7:12:30 PM |

    Truiva is maltodextos and stevia, not a true product.

  • cancerclasses

    11/30/2011 9:10:59 PM |

    As an alternate to the pan & parchment paper (too fussy, extra equipment & cost) you can pour the stuff into quart or gallon size regular or freezer zippy bags then lay the bag flat in your freezer.  Been doing this long time now with coconut oil & coco candy, works good & it's already in a bag for storage.  To eat just break it up in the bag before opening, no muss, no fuss.

  • Thomas Moore

    12/1/2011 12:40:24 AM |

    loved reading your various blog's, lot's of stuff to get my teeth into.  Don't worry I'll get through it slowly..........very slowly!!!!!!!!

  • Laura

    12/1/2011 12:52:03 AM |

    Actually Truvia is stevia and erythritol (not sure of that spelling) and it is a sugar alcohol that has very little if any impact on blood sugar and consequently insulin.  
    If you add the Truvia into the coconut oil and then melt and warm the coconut oil (stir the truvia occassionally) it will dissolve better.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/1/2011 4:18:52 AM |

    Thanks, again, Cancerclasses! I also saw your wonderful suggestion on the Wheat Belly Blog.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/1/2011 4:19:31 AM |

    Yes, while I am not a fan of the manufacturer, Cargill, I believe they have a good product in Truvia, which is erythritol and rebiana.

  • Lindas

    12/1/2011 6:58:39 PM |

    May seem silly, but how much would be a serving?
    AND  Is coconut really OK, I have read that most of the concern was with Hydrogenated processed coconut oil, not  organic?     How much is ok per day if eating coconut oil?

  • Lindas

    12/1/2011 7:00:13 PM |

    Sorry for being SO serious about the comment above....but just wondered!

  • Geoffrey Levens

    12/1/2011 7:04:26 PM |

    "Actually Truvia is stevia and erythritol (not sure of that spelling) and it is a sugar alcohol that has very little if any impact on blood sugar and consequently insulin."

    I am pretty sure that ANY sweet taste, including zero calories stevia and the nasty chem ones will all provoke an insulin response. Here's one study to that effect
    Br J Nutr. 2010 Nov;104(10):1415-20. Epub 2010 Jul 12.
    Sweet-taste receptors, low-energy sweeteners, glucose absorption and insulin release.
    Renwick AG, Molinary SV.

  • Laura

    12/2/2011 1:10:00 AM |

    That most likely is an accurate observation.  I know that if I indulge in too much no-calorie sweetened food (even if very low carb) it can stall my weight loss.  An occassional indulgence or a little sweetner in my coffee with real cream in the morning doesn't seem to be a problem.  
    My BS doesn't seem to change but if that is because the insulin is kicking in that would explain the problem.

  • STG

    12/2/2011 3:09:00 AM |

    This chocolate sounds great! However, I found when I was eating dark chocolate my HbA1c was too high. Also, a little chocolate was good but more was better (carb creep). Since I have restricted fruit, eliminated "safe carbs" (e.g., potatoes and sweet potatoes) and eliminated dark chocolate, I have my HBA1c in a normal range.  For me that has meant retraining my relationship with food and not seeking out sweetness. At this point in time, almonds and plain cocoa powder actually taste sweet to me. I don't want to set-off the sweet cravings, so it is best for me to avoid anything sweet. That said, I am sure many of you can eat this chocolate with joy and health--go for it!

  • Jeanne

    12/3/2011 4:04:49 PM |

    This is the first time I've made anything like this, and it was wonderful. I used macadamina nuts, instead.

  • SkyKing

    12/5/2011 1:52:47 AM |

    Dr. Mercola advises to avoid Truvia and Purevia brands since they've undergone a ton of processing.

    I personally prefer to use the NuStevia brand.

  • Hans Keer

    12/5/2011 4:42:30 PM |

    Beware of the negative effects of theobromine in chocolate doc.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/6/2011 5:22:39 PM |

    Eat all you want, Lindas, of the non-hydrogenated organic coconut oil and dark chocolate.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/6/2011 5:23:47 PM |

    Yes, agreed. But I am skeptical that, with removal of wheat and limiting other carbohydrates, followed by substantial weight loss and return to ideal weight, that it has much practical significance.

  • Allison

    12/10/2011 11:10:25 PM |

    Do you mean unsweetened cocoa powder or do you mean unsweetened chocolate?  How do you melt cocoa powder?  I'm confused.

  • Dr. William Davis

    12/14/2011 2:51:37 AM |

    Sorry for the confusion, Allison. 100% chocolate or unsweetened baking chocolate, not the powder.

  • Al

    1/17/2012 6:27:21 PM |

    Can one use undutched cocoa powder, such as hershey's, and dissolve in the melted coconut oil? Is it ok to add some good quality 2x vanilla, and cinnamon to it? If the cocoa powder is ok to use, is the quantity the same as the baking chocolate of 8 oz?

  • Rmm0117

    2/4/2012 9:05:41 PM |

    What amount of sweetener?