Optimal medical therapy 9. April 2007 William Davis (6) I was re-reading some of the details behind the recently announced COURAGE Trial comparing angioplasty/stent in 1100 people compared to "optimal" medical therapy in another 1100. You'll recall that no difference was found. In particular, over approximately 5 years, 20% of participants in each group died, experienced heart attacks, or strokes. Of those treated with "timal" medical therapy, 32% ended up getting a procedure like stents or bypass anyway due to deteriorating symptoms. What is "optimal" medical therapy? I bring this up again because the study investigators in COURAGE, as well as in similar trials, say this with a straight face. Optimal medical therapy means aspirin and/or Plavix (the anti-platelet, aspirin-like blood thinner); "aggressive" statin drug therapy to reduce LDL cholesterol to 60-85 mg/dl; and "anti-ischemic" therapy (that reduces angina and the phenomena of poor coronary blood flow) using nitroglycerin preparations, beta blockers, and other drugs. I do give credit to the investigators for having the courage to perform this trial in a world hell bent on doing procedures and still reporting the neutral outcome. But the notion of "optimal" medical therapy begs for comment. Indeed, this is regarded as optimal by most practitioners. Some would even argue excessive, based on the low LDL target achieved. Would you be satisfied with a 20% likelihood of heart attack, stroke, or death or 5 years, a 1 in 5 roll of the dice? I would not. Recall that we aim for near-total elimination of risk. What could have been further "optimized"? Plenty. For instance:--What is the real LDL, not the fabricated, calculated LDL? The two can be commonly 100 mg/dl different. --How about raising HDL to 60 mgd/? --What about reducing the proportion of small LDL particles? After all, small LDL is the number one cause of heart disease in the U.S., not high LDL.--What is Lp(a)? If you treat LDL with a statin drug, Lp(a) is unaffected and continues to trigger huge plaque growth. You will fail if this is not identified and corrected. --What is vitamin D3? One of the most powerful facilitators of plaque reversal I know of. --What are triglycerides? Triglycerides create hidden particles in the blood like intermediate-density lipoprotein, potent triggers for coronary plaque growth. Speaking of intermediate-density lipoprotein, that's another very important pattern to identify, the after-eating persistence of dietary fats. --Why aren't they taking fish oil? With a 28% reduction in heart attack and 45% reduction in sudden death from heart attack, this alone would have halved the number of "events" in the "optimal" medical treatment group. Of course, there's more. But the idea that aspirin, statins, and anti-ischemic therapy is somehow optimal is silly and sad at the same time. But that's the bias. The COURAGE Trial does represent a step forward, a step away from the "stent everyone and everything" mentality that motivates my colleagues, aided and abetted by their co-conspirators, the hospitals. But you and I know better. "Optimal" medical therapy, in truth, can mean a far better approach that can dramatically reduce, perhaps eliminate, risks for events like heart attack. The conventional "optimal" medical therapy will suffice only if you're content with a 20% likelihood of heart attack, death or stroke, or a 32% likelihood of an urgent procedure in your future.