A Different Take on Heart Disease: Reviewing cholesterol, modern medications and the evils of coffee!

The following is a reproduction of a Millennium Health Centre editorial article which appeared in the Seaway News newspaper in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. The content is shortened to accommodate a newspaper space allotment. As such, it is not academically cited with references. These are available, so please feel free to email your questions.


Dr. Stephen F. Jones B.Comm., N.D.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Most readers probably know someone who is suffering from a heart-related condition. The reason is that cardio-vascular disease is still one of the most prevalent conditions in North American society.

Now, while the conditions can be deadly, the conventional treatments are no walk in the park. Popular medications include what are known as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, statin drugs, diuretics and even digoxin. Popular side effects / adverse effects of these combined medications include serious liver damage (Lipitor, Zocor, Pravacol etc.), dizziness, sexual dysfunction and cognitive impairment (beta-blockers), heart rate irregularities and edema. Often, patients wonder which is worse, the disease or the 'cure'. This frustration drives many to consider other treatment options, of which many exist.

The popular challenge to many 'alternative' treatments is that proof of their efficacy via clinical trials does not exist. Unfortunately, this opinion reflect a misunderstanding of the noted clinical trials in existence which support alternative treatments. As such, the following reviews options in the treatment of heart disease and examines the clinical proof their treatment value.

When examining high cholesterol, many considerations are important and often ignored by conventional treatment. To start, a New England Journal of Medicine trial published in 1990 noted that even one cup of coffee can increase cholesterol levels. Drinking this brew while on cholesterol lowering medication would obviously be somewhat defeating. Its overall use with heart problems is a further issue of relevance. Next, herbs known as Guggulsterones have been shown to decrease cholesterol production, decrease oxidation of cholesterol (associated with plaque formation inside arteries) and increase cholesterol removal from the body. These findings were published in the medical journal 'Cardiovascular Drug Therpay' in 1994. Finally, a product know as Red Yeast Rice extract has been shown to decrease the production of cholesterol in the liver by the same means as such common drugs as Lipitor and Lovastatin, without the harmful liver side effects. These products were endorsed at the 39th annual conference of the American Heart Association and are described in such medical journals as 'Current Therapeutic Research' (1997).

With respect to heart disease in general, a helpful investigative tool which is only recently being integrated into routine practice is testing for a protein called Homocysteine. This protein is known to be associated an increased risk of developing heart disease. High levels are easily treated with Vitamin B6, B12 and folate in therapeutic dosages (requiring the care of a trained practioner in natural products), reducing the risk of heart disease. Any patient with a family or personal history should have been tested for this protein.

Likewise, C Reactive Protein, Fibrinogen and Lipoproteins A and B are all blood products which are known to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, many high risk patients are not screened for their presence, delaying the diagnosis of an underlying heart pathology and increasing the long term risk of developing a heart condition.

So, heart disease is a complicated health matter which requires attentive medical care. The good news is that many natural options do exist and these options are supported by clinical study. Make sure you or those you love have all their options explained to them and all the necessary blood work completed before starting treatment. Should natural products be of interest, seek the counsel of licensed practitioners, such as a Naturopathic Doctor, alongside your medical doctor. Knowing your options puts you in control of your health.