The World’s Most Expensive Band-Aid

Surgical treatment of heart disease is a “poster child” for the kinds of abuses and excesses I told you about in the Dispatch titled “Less is more.”

Dr. Bernard Lown discovered that the “modern” treatment approach of that time was all wrong 60 years ago. He found that patients did much better when they didn’t follow the standard protocol. At the time, that standard involved being hospitalized and bed-ridden for weeks and months. But in fact, the sooner heart patients resumed normal activity following heart surgery, the better they fared—both mentally and physically. Which is actually a very Natural approach. Our bodies are designed to function and move. Not to vegetate.

But despite the fact that Dr. Lown pointed out this tremendous shortcoming back in 1952, the problem of overtreatment grew exponentially for the next 50+ years. Driven, in large part by the Cleveland Clinic’s discovery of bypass surgery. (During which patients are literally killed, and then brought back to life. Which would have to qualify as the most impressive “placebo effect” performed since 33 AD). This was followed by angioplasty. And, later, stenting.

Another technology, coronary angiography (where patients are bombarded with x-rays to take pictures of their “blocked” coronary arteries), became a new means of funneling patients into heart surgery.

And within 30 years, the number of heart revascularizations exceeded a million.

But no real science guided this onrush. 

Finally in 1986, scientists published the Coronary Artery Surgery Study (CASS). It was the first randomized “gold standard” investigation on bypass surgery. And it provided no proof that this intervention has any benefits. But instead of being a wake up call, heart surgery continued to escalate.

Justification for revascularization is based on claims of increased survival, reduced heart attacks, and improved quality of life. But even by the late 1960’s Dr. Lown had discovered the truth. That, in most patients, heart disease is largely a “stable condition.” One that does not warrant rushing into surgery.

During the ensuing 35 years, Dr. Lown published four studies in prestigious medical journals. His research involved 1,000 patients. None of whom underwent coronary angiography. Or coronary artery bypass surgery. Yet heart attacks were extraordinarily low. In fact, they accounted for only about 1 percent of annual mortality rates. That’s pretty impressive when you take into account that everyone ultimately has to die of something–and fully half of everyone ultimately dies of  heart disease.

The vast majority of patients never needed heart surgery.   

But Dr. Lown, real science, and common sense were again ignored. (And eventually, Dr. Lown’s study clinic was shut down. Thanks to the handiwork of cardiologists and surgeons fresh out of modern medical schools. Who used fear tactics to convince patients that they were in “imminent danger” of a heart attack without bypass surgery.)

Today, the majority of newly minted cardiologists are adept at technological interventions to open heart vessels. But what did they learn about nutritional approaches for keeping your heart healthy? (See “The RDA to Nowhere.”)

In a “rational” healthcare system, preventive medicine would have been the focus of dollars and physician concentration. Instead, the medical establishment has made extraordinary investments in halfway, expensive, dangerous technologies for heart disease. Making these treatments the world’s most expensive Band-Aids.® Which cover up the problem. And do nothing to actually cure it.