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What Can America Learn Now From Australian Gun Laws?

I wrote a post in December of 2016 which asked “What Can America Learn From Australian Gun Laws?”

Since then we’ve had more mass shootings in the US, most recently at least 17 have died in a high school in Florida, shot by a 19 year old with an AR-15 he purchased legally.

After the Las Vegas mass shooting I noticed that there was a call from the editors of most of the medical journals I follow for physicians to advocate for gun control.

These comments from an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine are typical:

Here’s a short list of how health care professionals can use our skills and voices to fight the threat that firearms present to health in the United States.
Educate yourself. Read the background materials and proposals for sensible firearm legislation from health care professional organizations. Make a phone call and write a letter to your local, state, and federal legislators to tell them how you feel about gun control. Now. Don’t wait. And do it again at regular intervals. Attend public meetings with these officials and speak up loudly as a health care professional. Demand answers, commitments, and follow-up. Go to rallies. Join, volunteer for, or donate to organizations fighting for sensible firearm legislation. Ask candidates for public office where they stand and vote for those with stances that mitigate firearm-related injury.
Meet with the leaders at your own institutions to discuss how to leverage your organization’s influence with local, state, and federal governments. Don’t let concerns for perceived political consequences get in the way of advocating for the well-being of your patients and the public. Let your community know where your institution stands and what you are doing. Tell the press.
Educate yourself about gun safety. Ask your patients if there are guns at home. How are they stored? Are there children or others at risk for harming themselves or others? Direct them to resources to decrease the risk for firearm injury, just as you already do for other health risks. Ask if your patients believe having guns at home makes them safer, despite evidence that they increase the risk for homicide, suicide, and accidents.
Don’t be silent. We don’t need more moments of silence to honor the memory of those who have been killed. We need to honor their memory by preventing a need for such moments. As health care professionals, we don’t throw up our hands in defeat because a disease seems to be incurable. We work to incrementally and continuously reduce its burden. That’s our job.

What follows is my original 2016 post.


In April of 1996, a 28-year old man murdered 35 people in Tasmania primarily utilizing a Colt AR-15 rifle (a lightweight, 5.56×45mm, magazine-fed, air-cooled semi-automatic rifle with a rotating bolt and a direct impingement gas-operation system.)

This event led to public outcry in Australia and  bipartisan passage of a comprehensive set of gun regulation laws (the National Firearms Agreement (NFA)).

In the 20 years since the law was put into place (1997-2016), there has not been a single fatal mass shooting in Australia.

In the 17 years prior to the NFA enactment 13 mass fatal shootings (defined as ≥5 victims, not including the perpetrator) occurred in Australia.

An analysis of this process was recently published in JAMA.

Australia’s 1996 NFA mandated:

  • the ban and buy-back of semiautomatic long guns.
  • licensing of all firearm owners and registration of firearms.
  • that  persons seeking firearm licenses  must document a “genuine need,” have no convictions for violent crimes within the past 5 years, have no restraining orders for violence, demonstrate good moral character, and pass a gun safety test.
  •  uniform standards for securing firearms to prevent theft or misuse, record-keeping for fire arms transfers, purchase permits, and minimum waiting periods of 28 days.
 I agree with the comments in an accompanying editorial written by Daniel Webster of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research(:gun-regulation.)

Research evidence should inform the way forward to advance the most effective policies to reduce violence. However, research alone will not be enough. Australian citizens, professional organizations, and academic researchers all played productive roles in developing and promoting evidence-informed policies and demanding that their lawmakers adopt measures to prevent the loss of life and terror of gun violence. Citizens in the United States should follow their lead.

-ACP

N.B. Of the 46 mass shooting since 2004, 14 featured assault rifles, including Newtown, Aurora, Orlando and San Bernardino. Apparently there are 10 million AR-15 type rifles in private hands in the USA and as Vox has pointed out

“the AR-15 is caught in a cycle. The more it’s used in high-profile mass shooting cases, the more people want to ban it. The more people want to ban it, the more AR-15s are sold. And the more AR-15s are sold, the harder it becomes to create a ban that would be able to stop the next tragedy.”

For more on assault-style rifles you can view this Washington Post video created after the Orlando shootings.
//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/28d02e8e-3118-11e6-ab9d-1da2b0f24f93

Sincerely,

-ACP

Which Kind of Baby Aspirin Should I Take To Prevent Heart Attack? Chewable Versus Enteric Coated Versus Regular

The skeptical cardiologist recently asked his Eternal Fiancée to grab a bottle of baby aspirin  while she was at the local Walgreen’s. Aspirin or acetyl salicylic acid (ASA) comes in either a 325 mg dose or in a low dose which can be between 75 to 100 mg and is often called “baby” aspirin.

However, since a link between aspirin use and a potentially lethal disease called Reye’s syndrome was identified in the 1980s, no authorities recommend aspirin in children or babies, and the low dose ASA (LDASA) is primarily marketed and used for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Although Bayer and Dr. Oz would have us believe that all individuals over the age of 55 should be taking LDASA, as I pointed out here in 2014, the FDA no longer recommends it for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The US Preventive Services Task Force, on the other hand, recognizes certain individuals without heart disease who benefit from LDASA:

The USPSTF recommends initiating low-dose aspirin use for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and colorectal cancer (CRC) in adults aged 50 to 59 years who have a 10% or greater 10-year CVD risk, are not at increased risk for bleeding, have a life expectancy of at least 10 years, and are willing to take low-dose aspirin daily for at least 10 years.
I’m 63  years old, so the USPTF recommendation for me to take LDASA is a little less enthusiastic:
The decision to initiate low-dose aspirin use for the primary prevention of CVD and CRC in adults aged 60 to 69 years who have a 10% or greater 10-year CVD risk should be an individual one. Persons who are not at increased risk for bleeding, have a life expectancy of at least 10 years, and are willing to take low-dose aspirin daily for at least 10 years are more likely to benefit. Persons who place a higher value on the potential benefits than the potential harms may choose to initiate low-dose aspirin.
Following my own advice (see here), I have started taking 81mg of aspirin regularly (well, when I remember) in order to prevent stroke and heart attack. I do have subclinical atherosclerosis with a plaque in my LAD, and I think the aspirin will make my platelets less sticky and less likely to form clots if my plaque ruptures, thereby reducing my chances of an acute heart attack.
I am willing to accept the increased risk of bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract and hemorrhagic stroke associated with LDASA use.

Previous to this I had been taking ASA from little sample bottles that Bayer sends to my office. These bottles are quite annoying as they are stuffed with cotton and contain very few pills making extrication of the tiny pills an exercise in futility (I am using this as an excuse for my lack of regularity in taking them).

There’s no reason to pay the premium for Bayer ASA despite the company’s advertising attempts to link inextricably their name with ASA.  Aspirin is aspirin, whether Bayer made it or Walgreens. In Bayer’s defense, their website has reasonable information on heart attacks and they appear to be giving aspirin away to people named Smith.

But what type of aspirin should you get? Enteric-coated, safety-coated, delayed release, chewable?

Chewable Aspirin

I asked the Eternal Fiancée to buy the cheapest baby aspirin possible.

She ended up buying a chewable formulation with orange flavoring, presumably aimed at children:

When I put one of these in my mouth I tasted the sickly sweet taste of an artificial sweetener. The ingredients are listed as: Dextrates, Ethyl Cellulose, FD&C Yellow 6 Aluminum Lake, Orange Flavor, Sodium Saccharin, Starch. Saccharine! Yikes!

The only reason to chew ASA is if you are having an acute heart attack.

In this situation, chew 4 of the LDASA or one regular 325 mg aspirin.  Chewing the aspirin makes the levels rise faster in your blood stream and can help dissolve the clot causing your heart attack more rapidly.

How do you know if you are having a heart attack? This is actually a very difficult question to answer with certainty. See here for a reasonable discussion.

Low Dose Aspirin: Enteric-Coated versus Non-coated

It is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to find low dose, non-chewable ASA that has not been “safety-coated” or “enteric-coated.” These formulations have become popular by promoting the idea that they are less likely to cause stomach pain or bleeding.

The concept is that the coating leads to delaying the aborption of the ASA until it reaches the small intestines where, presumably, it will do less damage. However, there is no good evidence to support lower bleeding risk with enteric-coasted (EC) ASA.

There is, on the other hand, very good evidence that therapeutic levels of aspirin in the bloodstream, and therefore the speed and efficacy of ASA in preventing heart attacks, is reduced by these “safety” formulations.

The most recent study showing this was published in 2017.

Volunteers were given either 325mg regular ASA or 325mg EC ASA and researchers looked at how each formulation effected platelet activity.  The onset of antiplatelet activity was determined by the rate and extent of inhibition of serum thromboxane B2(TXB2) generation.

The EC ASA took longer and was less effective at blocking platelet activity than plain ASA. Presumably, this translates into lower efficacy in preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Therefore,  if you feel like you are having a heart attack, chew ASA which is not enteric or safety-coated. Yes, you can chew a regular 325 mg ASA pill. Or you can chew 4 of the LDASA, preferably uncoated but still helpful if coated.

If it turns out you weren’t having a heart attack there is no down side to having chewed 325 mg ASA.

I just spent a fair amount of time trying to find non EC, non-chewable LDASA online and failed.

For the time being I will be swallowing daily the orange chewable LDASA and I will carry a bottle around in my satchel for emergency use.

Salicylically Yours,

-ACP

N.B. Aspirin is generally recommended in secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, ie. for those who have had heart attacks, stents or bypass surgery . For a good review of the evidence for this see here.

Exercise As Medicine: Preventing Age-Related Decline in Cardiac Stiffness

As we age our hearts and arteries become stiffer. This cardiovascular stiffening plays a key role in hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure in older individuals (1).

Age-related cardiac stiffening is worse in those who are sedentary compared to those who exercise regularly (2).

Recent studies strongly suggest that regular exercise can prevent or minimize these age-related changes, thereby hopefully reducing the high rate of heart failure, hypertension and atrial fibrillation in the elderly.

In my post on fitness as a vital sign I briefly mentioned a fascinating study from 2014 which looked at 102 healthy seniors (age>64 years) and stratified them into 1 of 4 groups based on their lifelong histories of endurance exercise training.

Consider which of these 4 categories you fall into:

Sedentary subject-exercised no more than once per week during the prior 25 years.

Casual exercisers-engaged in 2-3 sessions per week

Committed exercisers-performed 4-5 sessions per week

Competitive “Masters level” athletes-trained 6-7 times per week

Exercise sessions were defined as periods of “dynamic activity lasting at least 30 minutes.”

The participants had sophisticated measures of their exercise capacity (max VO2), the size and mass of their left ventricles (cardiac MRI) and the stiffness of their left ventricles (invasive pressure/volume curves to calculate LV compliance and distensibility.)

This graph shows the key finding of the study: a markedly different pressure/volume curve in the sedentary and casual exercisers (blue and red dots) versus the committed or master exercisers. The two curves on the left correspond to a very stiff heart, similar to curves found in patients with heart failure.

The far right curve of competitive exercisers resembles that of a young heart.

The black triangle curve of the committed exerciser is in between these extremes

F5.large-3

The study concludes:

“low doses of casual, lifelong exercise do not prevent the decreased compliance and distensibility observed with healthy, sedentary aging. In contrast, 4 to 5 exercise sessions/week throughout adulthood prevent most of these age-related changes”

It would appear we need at least 4-5 30 minute exercise session per week to forestall the age-related stiffening of the heart and lower our chances of getting heart failure, hypertension and atrial fibrillation.

Since this was an observational study there is always a chance that lack of exercise is not the causes of poor cardiac stiffness.  It is conceivable that those of us with stiffer hearts tend to be more sedentary because of the poor cardiac function.

Can You Reverse The Age-Related Changes In Cardiac Stiffness?

If you have already reached middle age there is still hope for you as these same investigators recently published a study showing that cardiac stiffness can be improved with exercise. These findings imply that lack of exercise is the cause of worsening cardiac stiffness with aging.

This study identified 61 sedentary men in their mid-fifties and randomly assigned them to either 2 years of exercise training or attention control (a combination of yoga, balance, and strength training 3 times per week for 2 years) and measured their LV stiffness and max VO2 before and after intervention.

Max VO2 increased by 18% and LV stiffness declined from .072 to .051 in the exercise group but did not change in the control group.

The exercise training arm of this study involved a mixture of continuous moderate-intensity aerobic exercise combined with high intensity training. The high intensity portion of the program involved exercising at 90-95% of HR maximum for 4 minutes followed by a 3 minute active recovery period, repeated 4 times.

Over a period of 6 months under the guidance of exercise physiologists the participants had their exercise levels gradually increased. After 6 months they were training 5-6 hours per week, including 2 of the “high intensity interval” session and 1 long (>/= 1 hour) and one 30-minute base pace session each week.

By the sixth month, participants were training 5 to 6 hours per week, including 2 interval sessions, and 1 long (at least an hour) and one 30-minute base pace session each week.

How Much Exercise Do We Need To Minimize Cardiac Aging?

This chart from recent European guidelines on lifestyle for prevention of disease describes different intensities of aerobic exercise:

 

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These guidelines suggest that if you engage in vigorous exercise such as running or jogging, cycling fast or singles tennis, you only need to achieve 75 minutes per week. Moderate exercise such as walking or elliptical work-outs requires at least  150 minutes/week.

Based on these recent studies on exercise and cardiac stiffness and the bulk of scientific literature on the overall health benefits of exercise I would advise for all individuals with or without heart disease

-If you are sedentary, become a committed exerciser.

-Committed exercise means some form of dynamic exercise 4-5 times per week

-If you are already a committed exerciser at moderate intensity levels consider adding to your routine one or two sessions of high intensity interval exercise.

-High intensity exercise will require you to get your heart rate up to 90-95% of your maximum 

-Predicted maximal HR=220 -age.  For a 60 year old this equals 160 BPM. 90% of 160 equals 144 BPM. 

Compliantly Yours,

-ACP

 

 

 

 

Do You Need To Fast Before Your Cholesterol Test?

When the skeptical cardiologist trained in medicine and cardiology in the 1980s the standard protocol for obtaining a lipid profile (LDL and HDL cholesterol plus triglycerides) involved having the patient fast for >8 hours before the blood was drawn.

Beginning in 2009, however, various national organizations began recommending the use of nonfasting lipid profiles. In 2011 the American Heart Association endorsed the fasting lipid profile and shortly thereafter I began telling my patients they did not need to fast for these tests.

Old habits and ideas are hard to kill and to this day most of my patients think that fasting is a requirement. Lab personnel seem to be stuck in the past as well and I typically instruct my patients to lie if they are asked if they have eaten.

A recent JACC article makes powerful arguments for using non fasting lipid profiles.

Rather than go through it in detail I’m going to post the “central illustration” which summarizes the authors points in graphic form.

The nonfasting profile is “evidence-driven” and also is time-efficient, patient, laboratory and physician-friendly.

So to my patients I say “you don’t need to fast before seeing me or prior to any blood work I order on you.”

To other patients whose physicians are still requiring fasting before a lipid profile I recommend challenging your doctor’s rationale.

If that doesn’t work, print out a copy of the above infographic and politely ask them to read the associated paper.

Hungrily  Yours,

-ACP

 

AliveCor’s Kardia Band Is Now Available: Mobile ECG On Your Apple Watch

AliveCor has finally gotten approval from the FDA to release its Kardia Band in the United States.

The skeptical cardiologist is quite excited to get his hands (or wrist) on one and just gave AliveCor $199 to get it.

The device incorporates a mobile ECG sensor into a wrist band that works with either 42 or 38 mm Apple watches. I’ve written extensively about AliveCor’s previous mobile ECG product (here and here) which does a good job of recording a single lead ECG rhythm strip and identifying atrial fibrillation versus normal rhythm,

Hopefully, the Kardia Band will work as well as the earlier device in accurately detecting atrial fibrillation.

According to this brief video to make a recording you tap the watch screen then put your thumb on the sensor on the band.

The app can monitor your heart rate constantly and alerts you  to make a recording if it thinks you have an abnormal rhythm.

I was alerted to the release of Kardia by Larry Husten’s excellent Cardio Brief blog and in his post he indicates that the alert service , termed Smart Rhythm,  requires a subscription of $99 per year.:

AliveCor simultaneously announced the introduction of SmartRhythm, a program for the Apple Watch that monitors the watch’s heart rate and activity sensors and provides real-time alerts to users to capture an ECG with the Kardia Band. The program, according to an AliveCor spokesperson, “leverages sophisticated artificial intelligence to detect when a user’s heart rate and physical activity are out of sync, and prompts users to take an EKG in case it’s signaling possible abnormalities like AFib.”

The Kardia Band will sell for $199. This includes the ability to record unlimited ECGs and to email the readings to anyone. The SmartRhythm program will be part of the company’s KardiaGuard membership, which costs $99 a year. KardiaGuard stores ECG recordings in the cloud and provides monthly summary reports on ECGs and other readings taken.

AliveCor tells me my Kardia Band will be shipped in 1-2 days and I hope to be able to give my evaluation of it before Christmas.

Please note that I paid for the device myself in order to avoid any bias that could be introduced by receiving largesse from AliveCor.

Proarrhythmically Yours

-ACP

N.B. Larry Husten’s article includes some perspective and warnings from two cardiologist and can be read here.

Another article on the Kardia Band release suggests that the Smart Rhythm program at $99/ year is a requirement.

Perhaps, AliveCor’s David Albert can weigh in on whether the annual subscription is a requirement for making recordings or just allows the continuous monitoring aspect.

Sigmund Freud and the Cocaine Cure For Opioid Addiction

“I sneered at the poor mortals condemned to live in this valley of tears while I, carried on the wings of two leaves of coca, went flying through the spaces of 77,438 worlds, each more splendid than the one before.
An hour later I was sufficiently calm to write these words in a steady hand: “God is unjust because he made man incapable of sustaining the effect of coca all life long. I would rather have a life span of ten years with coca than one of 1000000 … (and here I had inserted a line of zeros) centuries without coca.

These are not the words of the skeptical cardiologist nor those of his childhood hero, Sigmund Freud.

They were, we learn in the early pages of  Frederick Crews’ new book “Freud: The Making of an Illusion,” written by the earliest European coca researcher, Paolo Mantegazza, “a boisterous Italian neurologist, anthropologist, and sexual reformer.”

Sigmund Freud apparently heartily endorsed Mantegazza’s
overwhelming positive observations on coca writing in his 1884 monograph “On Coca”:

“I have carried out experiments and studied, in myself and others, the effect of coca on the healthy human body,” ; “my findings agree fundamentally with Mantegazza’s description of the effect of coca leaves.”

As a teenager I eagerly read all the Freud books I could find at my local library. I offered to interpret my friend’s dreams based on Freud’s methods in “The Interpretation of Dreams.” I was fascinated by the separation of the mind into a moral superago, a conscious ego and an unfelt and dark id. I marveled at his ability to uncover deep hidden experiences and cure his patients. I tried to use his concepts and techniques to understand literature, life and art.

Over the ensuing decades, however, I gradually came to realize that most if not all of his work was nonsense. I embraced the scientific method and left psychology and psychoanalysis far behind.

I hadn’t really thought about Freud much until the release of Crews’ “Freud” which convincingly portrays Freud as a very poor scientist but excellent liar, self-promoter and charlatan.

It is a fascinating read even if you weren’t obsessed with Freud as a teenager.

Early in the book we learn that Freud, who had primarily been working in the field of histology (basically looking at tissue under a microscope), suddenly switched fields in order to garner attention and money.

In the 1880s cocaine was not regulated in any way. In fact:

“ In the United States, low-grade cocaine was being added to soda pop, cigars, and cigarettes, consumed as a general tonic, and prescribed to ease hay fever, sinusitis, and even teething. Meanwhile, one cocaine-laced wine,

Vin Mariani, in circulation since the 1860s, was still being consumed internationally in the first years of the new century. Its devotees included President McKinley, Czar Alexander II of Russia, and Queen Victoria, and it was endorsed in advertisements by Pope Leo XIII, who was said to carry it everywhere in a hip flask.”

Freud had heard of a German physician using cocaine to energize exhausted soldiers and obtained a gram of cocaine from the German pharmaceutical company, Merck.

“On April 30, 1884—Walpurgisnacht, or the folkloric night of supposed witchcraft and trafficking with the Devil—he tasted cocaine powder and imbibed his first .05 gram solution of it, marveling at its mood-elevating capacity. And from that night forward he would regard the drug as the most precious and restorative substance on earth.”

After this, Freud became a regular user of cocaine and within two months wrote his monograph “On Coca” which gushed over the curative properties of cocaine for a whole host of ailments but glossed over the potential dangers of the drug.

The monograph was riddled with errors. For example:

“Freud was confounding “the effect of coca leaves”—the leaves that Mantegazza had been excitedly gnawing in Peru in 1858, three years before cocaine had been chemically isolated—with cocaine itself. The very title of Freud’s paper—not “On Cocaine,” as it is sometimes cited, but “On Coca”—fostered that same confusion, which was never rectified in the body of the text. The misrepresentation was as gross as if he had judged the physiology of wine consumption by citing that of grapes, or as if he had confused hashish with hemp.”

Although his letters clearly show he had only had possession of cocaine months before completing the paper, he pretends to have extensive experience in using it for therapeutic purposes.

“At various points “On Coca” hinted that its author possessed a long and judicious familiarity with cocaine and its effects. “Time and again” (zu wiederholten Malen), wrote Freud, as if looking back on many years of pharmaceutical experience, he had relieved his colleagues’ stomach problems with cocaine. Copious experience with patients could also be inferred from his endorsement of cocaine regimens to intervene against depression, heart problems, and “all diseases which involve degeneration of the tissues.”

In particular, he enthusiastically endorsed its use in curing patients suffering from morphinism, an addiction to opioids. 

“As a physician, though, Freud was most exhilarated by the many cures of morphinism that had been narrated in back numbers of the Therapeutic Gazette.* “On Coca” conveyed an impression that such cures were commonplace in America. Coca, Freud wrote (meaning cocaine), appears to have “a directly antagonistic effect on morphine.”  Moreover, it probably doesn’t get stored within the organism, and therefore “there is no danger of general damage to the body as is the case with the chronic use of morphine.” Hospitalization of the patient, then, is quite unnecessary; the whole regimen can be brought to a successful end, with only trivial complications, in a matter of days. And Freud recounted that he had personally “had occasion to observe” just such a happy outcome.

Presaging our current problems with pharmaceutical industry sponsored research (chocolate, sugar, etc.) and predatory journals, it turns out that the Therapeutic Gazette was owned and edited by Parke-Davis pharmaceutical firm which had supplied the cocaine for the miraculous cures described in its pages.

Ernst Fleisch von Marxow
Freud convinced his friend, the distinguised scientist and academic Ernst Fleischl von Marxow, to utilize cocaine to cure his (Fleischls’) morphine addiction. Fleischl had became addicted to morphine after acquiring an infection which required having his thumb amputated.

Although the experiment was a total failure (Fleischl ended up addicted to both morphine and cocaine) Freud describes the treatment in his monograph as an unmitigated success.

“When the bare facts of Freud’s relations with Ernst Fleischl are set forth, it is tempting to regard Freud as a sociopath. Before Freud offered him cocaine, Fleischl, though continually suffering, was a brilliant scientist, polymath, and man of the world. Afterward, he gradually became what Freud called “a broken man” and “a mass of eccentricities,”1 subject to insomnia, hallucinations, inability to eat, personality changes, and horrific wasting as he lapsed into invalidism and died in 1891. Freud bore a large measure of responsibility for that transformation, yet he refused to own up to it during Fleischl’s lifetime. On the contrary, he represented his prescription of cocaine against Fleischl’s morphine  have as having been proved a signal success.”

Freud would go on to repeat the lie of successful cocaine treatment for opiod addiction in subsequent presentations and papers. He would collaborate with Parke-Davis to promote cocaine usage..

These actions undoubtedly contributed to a subsequent boom in cocaine usage and the eventual discovery of the dangers of cocaine addiction.

Fleischl’s cocaine habit became so large that the magnitude of his orders for cocaine from Merck caused the company to assume that he and Freud were engaged in active research with the drug.

It appears that science has always had its miscreants. We can see in Freud’s techniques for promotion of cocaine many of the methods that current day snake oil and nutraceutical salesman utilize.

Although we have developed higher standards for scientific studies and papers, the rise of predatory journals is jeopardizing scientific credibility in a manner similar to the Therapeutic Gazette of the 1880s.

Posthanksgivingly Yours,

-ACP

 

 

 

 

Are Physicians Influenced By Pharmaceutical Gifts?

The Skeptical Cardiologist stopped giving talks for pharmaceutical companies 5 years ago and stopped accepting lunches from pharmaceutical reps because he wanted to be certain that he was not being influenced by them in his writing or patient care.

I made an exception 6 months ago and consumed panang curry provided by a pharmaceutical representative who was promoting the blood thinner Pradaxa.

He enthusiastically extolled the virtues of Pradaxa throughout the lunch and made some excellent points supporting the use of the drug. Shortly thereafter, when I was considering which of the newer blood thinners to prescribe for a patient , Pradaxa was foremost in my mind.

The scientific data that Boehringer Ingelheim wanted me to be aware of entered the crowded marketplace of ideas in my head that day but I prefer the data that enters my consciousness come from unbiased sources.

A new study from Georgetown University, published in PLOS One provides support for physicians eschewing pharmaceutical gifts.

The authors point out in their introduction that gifts are important:

Gifts, no matter their size, have a powerful effect on human relationships. Reciprocity is a strong guiding principle of human interaction. Even gifts of small value, such as “modest” industry-sponsored lunches, may foster a subconscious obligation to reciprocate through changes in prescribing practices. DeJong et al has shown that a meal with a value of less than $20 can increase the prescribing of branded statins, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and antidepressants.

The study found:

Physicians who received small gifts (less than $500 annually) had more expensive claims ($114 vs. $85) and more branded claims (30.3% vs. 25.7%) than physicians who received no gifts. Those receiving large gifts (greater than $500 annually) had the highest average costs per claim ($189) and branded claims (39.9%) than other groups. All differences were statistically significant (p<0.05).

The conclusions of the study:

Gifts from pharmaceutical companies are associated with more prescriptions per patient, more costly prescriptions, and a higher proportion of branded prescriptions with variation across specialties. Gifts of any size had an effect and larger gifts elicited a larger impact on prescribing behaviors. Our study confirms and expands on previous work showing that industry gifts are associated with more expensive prescriptions and more branded prescriptions. Industry gifts influence prescribing behavior, may have adverse public health implications, and should be banned

Michael Joyce has written a detailed and insightful analysis of this paper at the excellent website, HealthNewsReview.org.

He points out the limitations of this and all observational studies:

Although the study cannot definitively establish cause-and-effect between a provider receiving such gifts and any subsequent upturn in their prescribing, it does make a significant contribution to a growing body of literature documenting how drug company largesse is clearly linked — either consciously or otherwise — to the way in which health care providers prescribe.

And the article quotes Daniel Goldberg, an expert on bioethics:

“First, in situations when the evidence is imperfect, and the decisions are subtle, as is so often true in medicine. In these ambiguous situations the evidence clearly suggests that gifts can sway doctors in one direction, even if there’s no evidence to support that as the best decision. Second, it frames decisions in pharmaceutical terms, even when there may be other options — proven to be better — that have nothing to do with drugs.

Drugs are just one tool. But we have ‘pharmaceuticalized’ health care to a point where many patients are conditioned to equate health with access to drugs.”

Since I consumed the panang curry, I’ve gone back to bringing in my own lunch. Thus, my lunch/breakfast typically consists of Trader’s Point full fat plain yogurt with lots of blueberries and raspberries, and perhaps some ground up flaxseed and/or almonds (although today I’ll be bringing in leftover-meatloaf and roasted root vegetables.)

It’s not as tantalizing as the curry, but it leaves my crowded brain free to ponder the multitude of unbiased data from scientific papers, rather than the talking points a pharmaceutical representative would prefer I ponder.

The end result, I hope, is unbiased blogging and prescribing-better information for readers and better care for patients.

-ACP

 

Is September Really National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month (And Why Does It Matter?)

The skeptical cardiologist received an email from a woman telling him that September is atrial fibrillation awareness month and offering me the free use of an infographic given that I

“care deeply about helping people living with AF.”

Well, I do care about deeply about people living with atrial fibrillation and pretty much all cardiac diseases  (except perhaps Schuckenbuss syndrome.)

That’s the major reason I write this blog. I’ve written a lot about Afib and have a lot more i want to write (I really want to write about antiarrhythmic drugs, i.e. drugs that maintain you in normal sinus rhythm.)

But I don’t find it particularly helpful to assign a disease to a month or a day so my posts on atrial fibrillation come out randomly dependent on the mysterious machinations of my messy mind.

It turns out that September, 2009 was declared National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month (NAFAM) by Senate Resolution 262 although Stop Afib.org wants us to believe September is eternally NAFAM.

However, the email prompted me to better organize my atrial fibrillation and stroke page (now containing all that I have written on the subjects) which I have copied below.

Posts on Diagnosing Atrial fibrillation

Take your pulse and prevent a stroke

TIAs and silent atrial fibrillation. Sometimes strokes present in unusual ways, like the inability to differentiated a spade from a diamond when playing bridge and afib is often the cause.

Estimating Stroke Risk in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation You can estimate your stroke risk using an app that utilizes the CHAD2DS2-VASc score. I prefer to call the Lip score.

Posts About Using Personal Devices To Diagnose Atrial Fibrillation

Two That Work Reasonably Well

AliveCor

Using a Smart Phone Device and App To Monitor Your Pulse for Atrial Fibrillation (AliveCor)

AliveCor Is Now Kardia and It Works Well At Identifying Atrial Fibrillation At Home And In Office

AliveCor Successes and Failures.

Sustained Atrial Fibrillation or Not: The Vagaries and Inaccuracies of AliveCor/Kardia and Computer Interpretation of ECG Rhythm

AfibAlert

How Well Does The AfibAlert Remote Hand-Held Automatic ECG Device Work For Detection of Atrial Fibrillation?

AfibAlert Versus AliveCor/Kardia: Which Mobile ECG Device Is Best At Accurately Identifying Atrial Fibrillation?

And One of Several Devices To Avoid: AF Detect

Do NOT Rely on AF Detect Smartphone App To Diagnose Atrial fibrillation

Posts About Treatment Of Atrial Fibrillation

        Lifestyle Changes

How Obesity Causes Atrial Fibrillation in FatSheep and How Losing Weight helps prevent afib from coming back.

Drug Therapy: Rate Control and Anticoagulation

Foxglove Equipoise. When William Withering began treating patients suffering from dropsy in 1775 with various preparations of the foxglove plant he wasn’t sure if he would help or hurt them. After 240 years of treatment, we are still unsure if the drug obtained from foxglove is useful.

Should Digoxin Still Be Used in Atrial Fibrillation? Recent studies suggest that we should not.

Why Does the TV Tell Me Xarelto Is A BAD Drug? Anticoagulant drugs that prevent the bad clots that cause stroke also increase bleeding risk. A bleeding complication is not a valid reason to sue the manufacturer.  The lawsuit are strictly a money-making tactic for sleazy lawyers.

Cardioversion and Ablation

Cardioversion: How Many Times Can You Shock The Heart?

Ablation: Cautionary Words From Dr. John Mandrola and The Wisdom of a Team Approach

Miscellaneous Topics

What Happens If You Go Into Atrial Fibrillation On A Cruise?

Infographics

Are infographics really helpful? Someone should do a study on that. Perhaps we could use the money we spend on infographics in atrial fibrillation to research whether the left atrial appendage should be excised at the drop of a hat.

Here’s the infographic (because everyone loves an infographic!)

The first part lays out the problem of AF with patriotic bunting.

The second part uses the annoying numerical infographic approach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third part explains why I got the email. A product is being promoted. The woman who sent me the email works for MyTherapyApp.

 

 

 

Eagerly Awaiting Schuckenbuss Syndrome Day,

-ACP

 

 

 

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Now Recommends Full Fat Dairy For Your Kid’s Lunch Boxes

The skeptical cardiologist became overjoyed while reading an email from The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (THTHCSPH) which outlined  their recommendations for packing kids‘ lunch boxes.:

The Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate was created as a fun and easy guide to encourage children to eat well and keep moving. The plate guidelines emphasize variety and quality in food choices.

The majority of the recommendations were pretty straightforward and mainstream:

The formula is simple: Fill half your plate (or lunch box) with colorful fruits or vegetables(aim for two to three different types). Fill about one-quarter with whole grains like whole grain pasta, brown rice, or quinoa, and the remaining quarter with healthy proteinslike beans, nuts, fish or chicken. Healthy fatsand a small amount of dairy (if desired) round out a tasty meal that will fuel an active, healthy lifestyle.

What caught my attention was the comment about dairy.

The dreaded words skim or low-fat did not appear in the sentence!

It would appear that a highly respect and mainstream source of nutritional advice is not making the typical (and scientifically unsupported ) recommendation to consume low fat or skim dairy products!

Indeed, if we look at their expanded comments on dairy they read:

Incorporating dairy (if desired). For example: unflavored milk, plain Greek yogurt, small amounts of cheese like cottage cheese, and string cheese.

No mention of fat content. Zip. Zero. To me, if you don’t put non fat low fat or skim next to the word diary it implies full fat.

Following their yogurt link we find no reference to preferentially consuming low fat yogurt despite the fact that the vast majority of yogurt sold in the US has been processed to remove healthy dairy fat, something the THCHSPH must be painfully aware of. (My wonderful MA Jenny’s husband, Frank, until very recently was unable to find full fat yogurt at Schnuck’s.)

As I pointed out here, a huge scam was foisted on Americans when allegedly healthy non fat yogurt filled with added sugar began to be promoted as a healthy treat.

It is almost  as if the THTHCSPH  has become agnostic about dairy fat and therefore is trying not to make recommendations.

Elsewhere on the THTHCSPH site however the old unwarranted advice  to avoid dairy fat rears its ugly head. On a page devoted to calcium we read:

Many dairy products are high in saturated fats and a high saturated fat intake is a risk factor for heart disease”

Then this interesting (and ?ironic) observation:

And while it’s true that most dairy products are now available in fat-reduced or nonfat options, the saturated fat that’s removed from dairy products is inevitably consumed by someone, often in the form of premium ice cream, butter, or baked goods.

Strangely, it’s often the same people who purchase these higher fat products who also purchase the low-fat dairy products, so it’s not clear that they’re making great strides in cutting back on their saturated fat consumption.

The THTHCSPH seems conflicted, as well they should. They want to keep up the nutritional party line that they have been spouting for 30 years that all saturated fats are bad but they now realize that supporting non fat dairy products has likely worsened rather than improved the diet of millions of Americans.

Galactosely Yours,

-ACP

N.B. The overall Kid’s healthy eating plate is not likely to be a favorite of kids  and I disagree with some aspects of it.

Namely, I think it is fine to have red meat and processed meats in moderation and I wouldn’t push the pasta, rice, and bread.

 

 

 

 

Pistachios: Are Their Shells A Portal to Contamination, The Key To Weight Loss, or A Manicure Destruction Device?

The results of the “Fourth Nut” poll are in and the winner is a nut first cultivated in Bronze Age Central Asia,

Almost 60% of readers who took the time to vote selected the pistachio nut.

Coming in a distant second was the macadamia nut. One reader prized it because it only contained saturated fat and monounsaturated fats. Another bemoaned their candy-like quality which makes over-consumption an issue.

A couple of readers were strong proponents of Brazil nuts. This prompted me to enter a selenium rabbit hole from which I have yet to emerge. If I can escape with my selenoproteins intact I’ll let you know.

Pistachios are a fine choice from a health standpoint and seem to be embraced by all nutritional cults, with the exception of  the very nutty Caldwell “NO OIL” Esselstyn’s acolytes.

The Pistachio Principle PR Institute

I’m in the process of sorting through the nutritional studies on pistachios, and the hardest part is determining which data are sponsored by the pistachio industry.

For example, poorly researched online articles about pistachios will typically state that “research suggests” that “pistachios could help to reduce hypertension and promote development of beneficial gut microbes. They’re even gaining credibility as a tool for weight loss”

The first reference is an open access review article which clearly just wants to extoll any and all positive pistachio data and was paid for by the American Pistachio Growers. The second article comes directly from “The Pistachio Health Institute,” a PR voice for the pistachio industry.

To Shell or Not to Shell

My major dilemma was deciding if the pistachios should be shelled or left in-shell. (This has led me down the pistachio production rabbit hole).

I was concerned that the outsides of the pistachio shells could be contaminated in some way and the idea of mixing them in with unshelled nuts seemed a little strange.

If you Google images of mixed nuts pistachio you only see mixtures with unshelled pistachios.

Why, then, are most pistachios sold and consumed in-shell?

According to How Stuff Works Louise Ferguson, author of the Pistachio Production Manual believes:

Between 70 and 90 percent of pistachios develop a natural split in their shells during the growing process, After those pistachios are shaken off the trees by harvesting machines, they can be salted and roasted while still inside the shells as that natural crack allows heat and salt access to the nut, eliminating a step in the industrial process and saving processors some money.

The pistachio PR machine would also have us believe that eating pistachios in-shell can lead to weight loss:

Why choose any other nut?

This pistachios principle is based on 2 studies in the journal Appetite (seems to be a legitimate journal) by JE Painter of the department of “Family and Consumer Sciences” Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

I’m awaiting a full copy of the paper, but the abstract notes that students offered in-shell pistachios consumed only 125 calories, whereas those offered shelled pistachios consumed 211 calories yet “fullness and satisfaction” were similar.

My skeptical sensors were exploding when I read about this study. I doubt that it will ever be reproduced.

If we look at cost, an unofficial analysis revealed:

The pre-shelled pistachios were priced at $5.99 for 6.3 oz of nuts.

The 8 oz bag of pistachios were priced at $4.49.  After shelling he was left with 4.3 oz of nuts.

Un-shelled pistachios = $1.04 per oz.

Shelled pistachios = $0.95 per oz.

If you go the lazy route, you save $.09 per oz!

Most likely, the fourth nut will be a shelled pistachio unless readers convince me otherwise or the blather from the pistachio PR machine  annoys me too much.

The eternal fiance’e has just weighed in and tells me that women who care about their well-groomed  nails will not consume  in-shell pistachio nuts for fear of damaging their manicures.

That, my friends, is the  nail in the coffin for shelled pistachios as the fourth nut.

Pistachoprincipaly Yours,

-ACP