Can Diet Beat Surgery in Protecting the Heart?

In 2008 alone, more than a million Americans underwent various coronary procedures, including balloon angioplasty and coronary artery bypass surgery. However, while these expensive measures can be lifesaving for some, they do not necessarily do a better job at protecting most people’s hearts than a heart-healthy lifestyle would, Jane Brody writes in the New York Times. Essentially, the surgeries are like “‘doing cosmetic surgery on coronary arteries, making them look pretty, but it’s not treating the underlying biology of these arteries,'” Brody quotes the Miami cardiologist and author, Dr. Michael Ozner.

Dr. Ozner is an advocate of preventive coronary care, which he believes is safer, less costly, and more effective than intervention. Interventional cardiology that involves invasive coronary procedures has become lucrative for hospitals and doctors, costing $60 billion a year in the U.S. But such procedures have not been proven to “prevent heart attacks or coronary mortality in most patients.” Worse, they may even be harmful; Brody quotes a 2006 report revealing that the stents inserted in angioplasty can elevate the chance that “a dangerous clot will form in a coronary artery.”

So how do patients find out whether they are candidates for invasive coronary procedures? Dr. Ozner, who authored “The Great American Heart Hoax,” urges patients to seek an independent second opinion if their doctors recommend surgery to them. He said that “unstable patients” who have symptoms that really warrant surgical interventions are those who are in the middle of a heart attack or those with severe chest pain from minimal exertion. If you do not experience any chest pains or cardiac symptoms, you likely do not need surgery on your heart.

Brody writes in the second of her two columns on coronary care about the alternative treatments of the heart. Many of these preventive measures have been well-established and are widely known: selecting foods that are found in the Mediterranean diet (rich in fish oil, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits), maintaining good dental hygiene (gum diseases are linked to chronic inflammation), reducing chronic stress (with adequate sleep and regular relaxation activities), and exercising regularly (only 15 minutes of exercise a day for five days a week can make a lot of difference).

People who follow these tips can reduce their risks for heart problems by up to 50%, while avoiding the costly and risky surgeries that have yet to be proven to prevent coronary deaths.

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