On Tuesday of this week (4/29/14), I was on the Katie Couric Show to discuss Integrative Medicine.
Somewhat ironically, I returned from Manhattan that same day to a waiting email from a colleague, forwarding me a rather excoriating critique of integrative medicine on The Health Care Blog, and asking me for my opinion.
The juxtaposition, it turns out, was something other than happenstance. The Cleveland Clinic has recently introduced the use of herbal medicines as an option for its patients, generating considerable media attention.
Some of it, as in the case of the Katie Couric Show, is of the kinder, gentler variety. Some, like The Health Care Blog — is rather less so. Which is the right response?
One might argue, from the perspective of evidence based medicine, that harsh treatment is warranted for everything operating under the banner of “alternative” medicine, or any of the nomenclature alternative to “alternative” — such as complementary, holistic, traditional, or integrative.
One might argue, conversely, for a warm embrace from the perspective of patient-centered care, in which patient preference is a primary driver.
I tend to argue both ways, and land in the middle. I’ll elaborate.
A recent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that coenzyme Q10 is of benefit in congestive heart failure. For those who like the idea that food and nutrients can be excellent medicine, this paper is interesting at the very least. But there is a case to be made that it is far more than that. There is a case to be made that it is, in a word, miraculous.
For resurrection, after all, is a miracle. And according to a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April of 2000, coenzyme Q10 for heart failure was a dead concept. The authors reported 13 years ago that “coenzyme Q10 has been studied in randomized, blinded, and controlled studies and … these studies have found no detectable benefit” and that “coenzyme Q10 should not be recommended for treatment of heart failure.”
The final nail had been driven into the CoQ10-for-heart-failure hypothesis 13 years ago — and yet now, it’s back. If that’s not a miracle — then what is going on?
First, a bit of relevant orientation. The condition in question here, congestive heart failure, occurs in particular in the aftermath of one or more heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) which cause portions of the heart muscle to die for want of oxygen. Those areas stop pumping, of course, and the whole heart does its job less well.
The pumping efficiency of the heart is routinely measured using ultrasound as the “left ventricular ejection fraction” (LVEF), which, as the name suggests, is the proportion of blood the left ventricle is able to pump out of itself when it contracts. Roughly 55 to 70 percent is considered normal. High values can occur when the heart is stiff and muscle-bound, and tend to mean the heart empties well, but fills poorly. Congestive heart failure is associated with low values.
Twenty years ago, in order to keep presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s campaign on message, James Carville hung a sign in their “war room” that read:
- Change vs. more of the same
- The economy, stupid
- Don’t forget health care
While point number two swiftly entered the national vernacular, the other two slogans have equally influenced the U.S. political landscape, especially since 2008. Four years ago, the country was on the precipice of transformation. Meaningful change was promised, and opportunities for significant, long-lasting reforms were abundant. Americans, particularly the millennial generation, turned out in record numbers to vote, and hope for the future was palpable. America, like a patient suffering from a debilitating chronic disease, seemed finally ready to put in the time and do the hard work to get healthy before that fatal heart attack occurred. After decades of procrastination, we heeded Carville and health care system overhaul became a top priority.
Pause: The State of America’s Health
Obesity prevalence increased 137 percent over 20 years, from 11.6 percent to 27.5 percent of the population. In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. The medical care costs of obesity in the U.S. totaled about $147 billion in 2008 dollars.
Diabetes has almost doubled in prevalence since 1996, rising from 4.4 percent to 8.7 percent of the adult population. For children, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes increased 21 percent from 2001-2009, while Type 1 diabetes rose 23 percent. Estimated total diabetes costs in the U.S. were $174 billion in 2007.
Asthma diagnoses grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009, and 9.4 percent of children currently have asthma. Asthma costs in the U.S. grew from about $53 billion in 2002 to about $56 billion in 2007.
Developmental Disabilities prevalence increased 17.1 percent over the last 12 years. The prevalence of autism increased 289.5 percent, and the prevalence of ADHD increased 33 percent. Autism alone is estimated to cost the U.S. $137 billion per year.