International Panel Questions the Wisdom of Strict Sodium Guidelines

A technical paper published in the online version of the European Heart Journal suggested that individuals should strive to keep their sodium intake to less than 5 grams per day. This is in marked contrast to the recommendations of the American Heart Association of 1.5 grams per day and American College of Cardiology recommendations of 2.3 grams per day. The authors of the papers included some of the world’s experts on the topic of hypertension including Giuseppe Mancia, MD, Suzanne Oparil, MD and Paul Whelton, MD.  They agreed that consuming more than five grams per day was associated with an increased cardiovascular risk. They believe there is no firm evidence that lowering the sodium intake to below 2.3 or 1.5 grams per day reduces cardiovascular disease without putting you at risk of developing other health issues from having too little sodium.

The report triggered a firestorm of controversy in the hypertension and cardiovascular field with proponents on each side of the issue. Both sides agreed that we need more meticulous research to determine the best lower end of daily sodium intake because current information makes recommending one level or another a guess at best with little data to back you up. That leaves clinicians and patients scrambling for clarity and the media reporting this paper in a manner threatening to further erode the public’s confidence in the scientific method and physicians in general.

As a practicing physician I will continue to recommend a common sense approach to salt intake. Those patients who have a history of congestive heart failure or hypertension which is volume related will still be encouraged to read the sodium content of the foods they are purchasing and try to avoid cooking with or adding sodium chloride to their food at the table. This will be especially important for patients with cardiomyopathies and kidney disease who are following their daily weights closely. For the rest of my patient population I will ask them to use salt judiciously and in moderation only. I will suggest not adding salt at the table and if they do to please add it in moderation. I will allow more salt intake in those patients who work outside all day and are exposed to our high temperatures and humidity.

Like everyone else, I will wait for the meticulous research studies to be performed over time to determine how low and high our sodium chloride consumption should be without hurting ourselves.

Flu Activity at Its Local Height. Flu Shot Effectiveness Set at 48%.

The most recent epidemiologic data from the Center for Disease Control states that this year’s flu shots reduced a patients chance of catching the flu by 48% compared to no vaccine at all. The party line is that those individuals who were vaccinated and still contract Influenza A or B get a milder version. In this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Brandon Flannery, PhD, of the CDC and associates believe the flu vaccine is about 43% effective against influenza A and 73% versus Influenza B. Most flu infections this season have been caused by Influenza A (H3N2). This particular virus has the ability to change its genetic composition frequently thus making updates to vaccines necessary more frequently than current manufacturing methods can accommodate.

We are heading into the peak weeks of Influenza A infection in Palm Beach County, Florida. Individuals with flu and upper respiratory tract infection type symptoms should see their doctor. An Influenza Nasal swab test can determine if you have the flu. It takes about fifteen minutes to learn the test result after obtaining a nasal swab. If you have the flu we can place you on a dose of Tamiflu to cut the duration and symptom spectrum of the infection. We can also recommend a ten day course for family members and intimate partners as an effective prevention against the disease. Call the office if you have any questions.

Hospitalized Seniors Say No One Coordinates Their Care

Anthem Healthcare had a survey conducted of over 1,000 senior citizens older than 65 years of age in the hospital between September 26 and October 13, 2016. This Harris Poll found that 85% of the participants had a real medical issue. The poll also indicated:

Sixty-four (64%) percent said they had at least three different health care providers (at one time these were called doctors.)

  • Sixty-nine (69%) percent rely on a family member or themselves to organize and coordinate their care.
  • Sixty-four percent (64%) of those recently hospitalized said no one helped coordinate their care after their hospital discharge for months at a time.
  • Less than half of those surveyed (<50%) said that they were asked about medications or treatments provided by other physicians that might impact their current care. With no one checking drugs and drug interactions this raises major safety issues.

The findings are not surprising to me and reinforce why I limited my practice size and leave sufficient time to learn about who else is caring for my patients and what, and why, they are recommending their specific care plan. It requires reviewing medication lists painstakingly including accessing pharmaceutical data bases and asking patients and their caregivers to bring all their medications and supplements to the office in their original pill bottles. For instance, you can’t tell how much potentially dangerous fat soluble vitamins your patients are ingesting without reading the labels. You need to run the drug-drug interaction software to insure that medicine combinations are not making your patient ill

It’s important to know who else is providing care to this patient and why. As their primary care physician, you need to ask patients to request old medical records and request a consult summary from their other doctors.   You then need to invest the time necessary to review these documents.  It’s a two-way street; providing your patients’ other physicians with your office notes as well as lab and test results. Sometimes a phone call to another doctor is necessary to clarify treatment recommendations and to then assist and educate your patient concerning the reasoning and goals of the treatments.

Often, family conferences in person or by phone are needed to inform caring relatives about what support and assistance the patient requires and how they can be of help. It takes time listening to your patients’ concerns, advocating on their behalf and preventing well-meaning treatment from others from causing harm because they are unaware of the patient’s medication or problem list.

In today’s world, concierge and direct pay primary care practices are providing these services while polls sponsored by mega-health entities confirm those organizations are falling far short in doing so!

Non Invasive CT Angiography Preferable To Stress Testing

Coronary CT Angiography appears to be a better tool than stress testing alone for identifying patients with chest pain requiring invasive angiography. The SCOT-HEART investigators showed that patients showing disease on CT Angiography were less likely to show normal coronary arteries when they had the subsequent cardiac catheterization or angiogram. The SCOT-HEART study included 4146 patients who were randomized to receive standard care with or without coronary CT Angiography. David E Newby, MD, of the University of Edinburgh in the UK and associates concluded in the April on line edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology “in patients with suspected angina due to coronary heart disease, coronary CT angiography leads to more appropriate use of invasive angiography and alterations in preventative therapies that were associated with a halving of fatal and non-fatal myocardial infarction(s).” Reviewers of the study in editorial comments said that CT angiography had an edge over stress testing because of,” The ability to identify, quantify and characterize atherosclerosis.” CT angiography allows measurement non- invasively of fractional flow reserve providing a clear advantage to traditional stress testing. The major draw backs to CT angiography include cost of about $460 more than stress testing and exposure to ionizing radiation. A traditional CT scan exposes you to about 10 years’ worth of Chest X Ray level radiation.

For the practicing community physician this data will result in our patients with chest pain being sent for Coronary CT Angiography in the Emergency Department when presenting with chest pain, risk factors for heart disease and no clear cut diagnostic EKG changes instead of waiting for a cardiologist and technical team to be available to perform a stress test.

Legalization of Medical Marijuana and Traffic Fatalities

The State of Florida has legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Marijuana has now been legalized for medical use in 28 states.

We know that marijuana and or alcohol impairs ones driving ability. Surprisingly, the traffic fatality rate dropped by an average of 11% in states that have legalized medical marijuana since 1996. At the moment researchers have no explanation for this finding. They believe marijuana users stay home off the road and use their medication while individuals drinking alcohol are more likely to drive to or from an establishment serving alcohol.

The state of Colorado has legalized marijuana for general recreational use. They do not yet have data on traffic fatalities and marijuana usage.

Red Meat May Not Increase The Risk For Vascular Disease But Is It Healthy?

A study published in the online version of Consultant 360 magazine looked at the relationship between eating red meat and cardiovascular risk factors. The study was performed at the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University. Researchers reviewed 24 studies on the topic listed on PubMed, Cocrane Library and Scopus databases. These studies examined individuals 19 years old or older who consumed at least 35 grams of red meat per day and whom listed at least 1 cardiovascular risk factor. They then examined the study participants blood total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides plus systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

They found that red meat at these quantities did not increase lipids, lipoproteins or blood pressure. This led them to conclude that the risk for cardiovascular disease did not increase in individuals consuming more than the recommended daily amount of red meat.

While this study gives hope to meat lovers, cardiovascular disease is not the only cause of illness or death. High consumption of red meat has been implicated in a greater risk of developing colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and an overall increased risk of death from all other causes. Some individuals seem to believe that you can counteract this negative effect of red meat by eating large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately a Swedish study published this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition disproved this theory. For men, the more red meat they ate the more likely they were to develop diabetes. For both women and men, those who ate the most red meat had a 21% greater risk of all – cause mortality than those who ate the least. This higher risk did not change when the authors took into account fruit and vegetable intake. Interestingly it was processed meat that caused the rise in health risk with unprocessed meats only being associated with a slightly increased death risk even at high consumption levels.

I believe the take home advice is that consumption of unprocessed red meat in moderation with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables doesn’t impair your risk of dying. Processed meats are to be avoided if you wish to avoid multiple illnesses and disease. Give up the bologna and salami and other processed meat products except on limited occasions.

New Common Cold, Alzheimer’s and Influenza Vaccines on the Horizon

On a regular basis I see patients miserable with symptoms from a viral upper respiratory tract infection or common cold. They run fevers, are chilled, ache all over, have painful burning throats, runny noses, sinus congestion and just feel miserable. Our therapeutic options include only rest, warm fluids, throat lozenges, cough medicines and aspirin type medications. Antibiotics do not work against viral illnesses.

Researchers at Emory University have developed a vaccine for the common cold. It contains 50- 100 of inactivated Rhinoviruses. Rhinoviruses cause 60-80% of our common colds. Rhinovirus is the most common pathogen exacerbating infections in patients with asthma and emphysema.

The initial work on this vaccine began 60 years ago but the sheer number of different Rhinoviruses, coupled with the limited technology of that time period, prevented progress. With today’s technology researchers have been able to administer 50 or more inactivated Rhinovirus variants to mice and monkeys producing neutralizing antibodies and preventing these infections. Human trials are scheduled to begin shortly with the expectation that a vaccine may be available in two years. The initial recipients will be high risk patients with COPD and asthma but all others will be able to receive the vaccine as well. They believe the immunity will last for two years and then a booster will be required.

There is a new vaccine for influenza prevention in adults 65 years or older being produced which will cover all four of the common viral influenza variants. Currently Fluzone is the senior high dose vaccine recommended to prevent the three most common A viruses. There is a B1 virus seen in the spring that is not in that product. Younger adults receive a Quadrivalent flu vaccine that includes the B1 virus. Within the last four weeks Flublok has been approved by the FDA and released as a high dose vaccine which contains the three A viruses in inactivated form plus the B virus. It will be the vaccine of choice in the 2017 fall flu season. This new vaccine was produced with new DNA technology which allows it to be egg free and received by individuals allergic to egg products. Most other vaccines are grown in egg cultures and individuals with egg sensitivity cannot receive them.

Researchers in the United States and Australia have developed a vaccine to prevent and treat early and late Alzheimer’s disease. It targets the proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease in the early and late stages. The vaccine has met with success in early animal studies and is beginning formal Phase I studies this winter. They believe this vaccine can reverse some of the symptoms seen with the disease. While the early results are encouraging, this product is a minimum of seven to eight years from being available as a commercial product.