What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Cholesterol: The Latest Natural Treatments and Scientific Advances in One Breakthrough Program
By Stephen R. Devries, M.D., Winifred Conkling
My belief in integrative medicine has been affirmed by my experiences with the heart disease prevention program at the University of Illinois. When we launched this program, my colleagues and I first focused on reducing cholesterol with medication. Over time, the same patients returned with ongoing symptoms of heart disease despite our best efforts. It became clear that our approach to treatment - however valuable in some circumstances - was woefully incomplete. Although the powerful medications we relied upon did a great job at lowering LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), we were not addressing a host of other (often inherited) risk factors. There was more to the story.
I was able to explore these other risk factors when I opened the Healthy Heart Center, a suburban satellite of the University of Illinois in Deerfield, Illinois, dedicated exclusively to heart disease prevention, one of the first such sites in the nation. Many of my patients in this Deerfield site were very interested in exploring more natural approaches to heart health. They often asked me: "I am willing to use medicine as a last resort, but can't we first try something else before a prescription?"
My interest in seeking natural treatment options led me to embark on a new path, one that eventually led me to additional training in integrative medicine in a two-year program led by Dr. Andrew Weil. This amazing experience was like entering medical school a second time, allowing me to appreciate an expanded approach to wellness and healing.
In my role as a prevention specialist, I try to provide a link between conventional and alternative approaches to heart health, a rare combination, especially in academic centers.
Some patients feel comfortable working with me because I am a conventionally trained cardiologist perfectly willing to use prescription medications and recommend cardiac procedures when necessary. Other patients choose to see me because I am an enthusiastic advocate for the use of natural approaches to disease prevention and management when appropriate. My goal is to provide optimal treatment for all of my patients, and, in turn, to introduce a broader philosophy of healing to patients who may have been using only half the resources available to them.
My patients are also my teachers, often educating me about new natural treatment possibilities. I believe that many alternative treatments can provide important benefits for prevention of heart disease, although I do believe that all methods - both traditional and complementary - need to be carefully reviewed and used under the supervision of a doctor overseeing total patient care.
Unfortunately, too many doctors discourage patients from exploring alternative treatments. One patient who came to see me had been advised by a chiropractor to take nutritional supplements to aid in her mild depression. The treatment worked beautifully; she reported that she "never felt better." Her internist, a man she had trusted with her health concerns for ten years, declared that he would no longer be her physician if she continued to use the supplements. She reported feeling manipulated and insulted by his lack of respect for her health choices, so she left his practice. I wish I could say that this is an isolated incident, but there are too many stories of patients who are treated similarly. The negativity and ridicule that some patients face from their physicians when they discuss natural treatments help explain why a majority of patients who use alternative treatments choose not to tell their physicians about these treatments.
Of course, I strongly recommend that you discuss your entire medical history with your doctor. To prevent side effects or drug interactions, it is especially important that you review any special diet programs or supplements you are considering. If your doctor is concerned about the specific risks of a complementary treatment you are receiving or feels that more traditional therapy is urgently needed, I encourage you to listen carefully to his or her recommended changes. If, on the other hand, your physician ridicules your choices or discounts your treatment without a specific reason, I would consider looking for a more open-minded doctor.
Natural Treatments Work
The majority of patients who come to see me want to avoid prescription drugs when possible. They tend to be goaloriented people who are willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to improve their overall health. If you can manage your cardiovascular risk factors naturally, so much the better. I write plenty of prescriptions for statins and other cholesterol medications, but I also recommend that my patients use natural treatments. In my experience, patients who do need medications - and use natural treatments as well - tend to need lower doses and have much better control of their condition than those who use prescription medications alone.
It typically takes several months to note a measurable change in cholesterol levels using lifestyle and natural treatments. For patients with moderately elevated cholesterol, I monitor them every two to three months to determine whether the problem is responding to lifestyle changes and complementary treatments. Of course, the higher a patient's cholesterol level, the greater my concern about lowering it quickly; in patients with very high cholesterol, I may recommend both lifestyle changes and the use of prescription medications until the problem is brought under control.
This book will help you identify your risk of having a heart attack (part 1) and help you take steps to minimize those risk factors using natural methods (part 2). Part 2 also includes a discussion of the safe and effective use of prescription medications, which may be an essential part of your treatment program.
Before I tell you how to lower your cholesterol levels, it is important for you to understand what cholesterol is and the role it plays in your overall health. Chapter 2 describes the role of inflammation and cardiovascular disease, and provides a summary of the evidence linking cholesterol and heart disease. Chapter 3 explains the various types of cholesterol and its role in the body, followed by a detailed explanation of traditional cholesterol testing.
Take This to Heart
The routine cholesterol profile is an important, but incomplete, measure of cardiac risk.
In my view, the optimal approach to wellness and healing is integrative medicine, a combination of conventional medicine and natural approaches, including dietary changes, exercise, vitamins, supplements, and mind-body relaxation techniques.
Your doctor should be aware of all the treatments you receive, from both conventional and alternative providers.