Wednesday, February 2, 2011

B Vitamins and Omega 3 Fatty Acids vs. Heart Disease

We are always looking for ways to prevent heart disease, the number one killer in the United States. As we gain technology, we are able to look at more and more components in our blood that lead to clot formation and heart attacks. You'd have to be hiding under a rock to not have heard about cholesterol levels, right?

Well, the trick in medicine today is to make sure that we are focusing on PATIENT OUTCOMES more than LAB VALUES. This is the premise behind evidence-based medicine, where we try to look at specific outcomes (did he have a heart attack or stroke) versus did we lower his cholesterol numbers. My patients hear me whine that so many people are willing to spend money on vitamins, supplements and prescription medicines to "lower their numbers" but are NOT willing to change their behavior to eat more fruits and vegetables and to exercise daily. Why do I complain? Because we DO have evidence-based medical data that shows convincingly more exercise and healthier diets not only lower weight, blood sugars and cholesterol numbers, but they decrease the number of heart attacks, strokes and deaths- and isn't that what we're looking for?

Along those lines, a study was published last month in the British Medical Journal that looked at whether or not giving B Vitamins and Omega 3's to patients who had already had a cardiovascular event (heart attack, stroke, or unstable chest pains) would reduce their subsequent numbers of additional cardiovascular events. What they found was that although the supplements worked better than placebo to change some blood tests, there was no difference in actual heart attacks and strokes.

What is the take home message here? Am I saying B Vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids are useless? NO, I am not. It does appear that they don't have great benefit when started AFTER you've already had a heart attack or stroke. Might they help prevent disease in a healthy person? Maybe.

BOTTOM LINE: Let's focus on the common sense changes that we KNOW benefit our health (MORE fruits and vegetables and exercise) and spend less time, money and energy chasing down lab values.

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