The Affordable Care Act – Choice Still Matters

Affordable Care ActThe Affordable Health Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) has led to the purchase of physician practices as hospitals and health care systems organize narrow networks of health care providers to cash in on the influx of newly insured patients.  The insurers are contracting with the health systems at discounted rates to provide care. The insurers are requiring the newly insured to see physicians who are in their contracted network and sacrifice choice.  This week in an article published on the front pages of the NY Times insurance company executives were discussing how having a choice is over rated and unimportant. They are beginning to develop a public relations and marketing campaign to sell that idea to the public that having a choice of physicians to perform your surgery or radiation therapy is unimportant.

I have practiced adult medicine for 35 years now and let me, without reservation, tell you that is simply not true. My 85 year old golf and tennis playing patient survived replacement of two heart valves riddled with infection because he was sent to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where statistics show patients survive more often with fewer complications. I have three survivors of multiple myeloma treated at Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, University of Arkansas in Little Rock and Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. I have scores of athletic seniors dancing and running and home from the hospital in 48 hours after having their hips replaced with the minimally invasive anterior approach by surgeons with 2000 or more of these under their belts rather than just a few. Then there are the lymphoma survivors from MD Anderson and Dana Farber Cancer Center who survived multi-drug treatment regimens at places that perform these services more frequently than other places.

Some physicians and medical centers are better than others. Some are the experienced researchers and teachers who show the rest of us how to handle difficult diseases so our patients can benefit from their experience.  Choice matters! Do not let your human resources person, employer or health insurance marketing guru sell you on price over choice. It will cost you or your loved one your life or your health if you do!

New Diet Drugs Not Being Used

Diet DrugsA joint survey was conducted by the online medical news service MedPage Today, Everyday Health and The Daily Meal to evaluate physicians’ methods of treating obesity. They surveyed almost 1000 providers and found that the newer drugs such as Qsymia (phentermine/topiramate) are only being used by about 6% and Belviq (lorcaserin) in only 3.3%. Several of the survey respondents cited the high cost of the medications as barriers to use. One provider noted that “middle class (patients) and below cannot afford “these medications so he prescribes generic phentermine 37.5 mg one half tablet each morning with generic topiramate 25 mg twice a day with similar effectiveness.

Fat absorption blockers such as orlistat in it’s over the counter form “Alli” or its prescription form xenical were popular with over 20 % of respondents using those products. Generic phentermine was used alone by 16%. Other medications frequently mentioned included metformin the diabetic drug, and victoza another diabetic drug not yet approved for weight loss therapy.

The majority of the respondents prescribe diet and exercise to begin with. Weight Watchers is their favorite commercial diet with over 75% of those surveyed noting that it works steadily and safely. The South Beach Diet was the clear runner up. When the Atkins Diet was mentioned there was concern and controversy.

In our local clinical practice we are asked frequently about medication to lose weight. The survey did not look at the average age of the patients the respondents treated and their associated medical issues. Locally we have many elderly individuals using multiple medications for heart disease, elevated lipids, diabetes, heart rhythm control and other complex problems. It is much more difficult to find any oral medications for weight loss that do not adversely react with their prescribed medicines or that are not contraindicated due to their underlying medical problems.

Do We Overeat Because We Are Fat or Are We Fat Because We Overeat?

Overweight (2)In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Drs. David S. Ludwig and Mark I. Friedman present their point of view that the more fat cells you have and the fatter they are the hungrier you get. They believe we all have a genetic set point for an ideal body weight and intake and use of calories or fuel to maintain that genetically set weight. They believe that in recent years the set point in many of us has been raised leading to the current obesity crisis. Their ideas are discussed in the NY Times Sunday Review Sunday May 18, 2014.

Drs. Ludwig and Friedman believe that when energy is stored as fat , there is less energy available to the other functioning body parts obtaining fuel through nutrients in the blood stream and this leads to increased hunger. They attribute the re-setting of the set point to the introduction of refined sugars or carbohydrates into processed and produced foods to replace fats that had previously done the filler job. This was done in the mistaken attempt to reduce heart disease and vascular disease.

They also believe caloric restriction diets do not work. If they are successful in very disciplined individuals the success is very short lived. They go on to say that in fat individuals who eat more to get more fuel to the cells they actually start to gain weight. If they cut back on calories their metabolism actually slows down aggravating the situation.

Drs. Ludwig and Friedman are great believers in low glycemic and low carbohydrate foods and diets. They cite a recent study published in JAMA in which 21 overweight and obese young adults were fed either a low carbohydrate or low fat diet. Their intake and activity level were similar. They found that those on the low carbohydrate program burned up about 325 more calories per day than those on a low fat diet. Dr. Ludwig published an animal study using rats in which those fat a rapidly digestible carbohydrate diet (high glycemic index) and far fewer calories gained far more weight than rats fed a low glycemic index diet with carbohydrates that took a long time to digest.

The low glycemic index foods are the heart and soul of the meal replacement Take Shape for Life program developed by Medifast. As we move towards the summer months and bathing suit weather the interest in healthy weight loss and sustained weight loss increases.

We are currently offering the Take Shape for Life program in the office and I am a certified TSFL coach. Call us and set up an appointment if you are interested.

Aspirin for Breast Cancer?

Aspirin (2)In an observational study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2010, Drs. Michelle Holmes and Wendy Chen of the Harvard Medical School showed that women with breast cancer who took one aspirin per week had a 50% lower chance of dying from breast cancer. They have been trying to set up a randomized blinded study of 3000 women with breast cancer to test this finding using the gold standard of research but they have been unable to raise the $10,000,000 required for a five year study. Pharmaceutical companies see no profit in aspirin and prefer to use their research money on medications that are potentially more profitable. Government agencies seem to feel the same way opting to test new cancer drugs pushed by pharmaceutical companies rather than finance an inexpensive available product.

The authors believe aspirin, if proven to be effective in randomized trials, is a less expensive alternative for women who cannot afford or cannot tolerate hormonal therapy post-surgery for five years. Great Britain, through its national health service has decided to study the effects of aspirin on four cancers, with breast cancer one of them, in a study that will not be completed until 2025. Drs. Holmes and Chen believe that with proper funding their study of women with stage 2 and 3 breast cancer, would answer the question of aspirin’s efficacy within five years.

Men’s Sexual Function Tied to Statin Use

Statins v2Statin medication has been used for years to lower cholesterol and reduce an individual’s risk and chances of having a heart attack, a stroke or symptoms of peripheral arterial vascular disease. The “off label” uses of statins have been noted by many practitioners and researchers as well. The Bale and Doneen research team have for years believed that statins stabilize soft lipid plaque in the wall of blood vessels and reduce sudden heart attacks and strokes by reducing inflammation. At the American College of Cardiology meetings recently a paper was presented and appeared in the online version of the Journal of Sexual Medicine hinting that statins improved erectile dysfunction. John Kostis, MD, of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey said that statins improvement of erectile dysfunction was about 1/3 of what pills like Viagra, Levitra or Cialis can achieve but significantly better than placebo or life style improvements. He felt the improvement in erectile dysfunction was due to the medications lowering of lipid levels and to their improvement of the endothelial cells that line the inner walls of our blood vessels.

For many years erectile dysfunction was felt to be a marker for cardiovascular disease because it was felt that the ED reflected an inability to achieve adequate blood flow in the vascular tree of the genital organs. Testosterone, the male hormone, is a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism. It was originally felt that by lowering cholesterol you were indirectly lowering testosterone levels and this might affect your sexual performance. This study in 647 patients enrolled in 11 randomized studies with different statins would tend to reach a different conclusion that by lowering the lipids and maintaining the blood flow you can actually improve erectile function despite lowering the testosterone indirectly.

Dr. Kostis was quick to point out that statins should not be used as a sexual enhancing drug in men with normal or low cholesterol levels. He called for a larger study looking at multiple statins versus placebos and the current ED meds on the market.

Are Diet Sodas Unhealthy for Your Heart?

SodaI was eating lunch reading a report from the American College of Cardiology meetings stating that women who drank two or more diet sodas per day of 12 ounces or more were 29% more likely to have a cardiac event than those who consumed a lower quantity of no more than 3 diet drinks per month. The report was prepared by Ankur Vyas, MD, of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The 5% of women with the highest consumption of diet beverages in the Women’s Health Initiative also had 26 % elevated all-cause mortality. Cardiac deaths were 52% more likely with two or more diet sodas or other diet drinks per day.

Jeffey Kuvin, MD, vice chair of the program committee for the ACC meeting, called the results “provocative” but not yet compelling. Clearly these results are convincing enough to plan another study with a larger group and stricter design to determine if it is the caffeine, the artificial sweetener or some other constituent causing this increased risk? Could it be that the individuals drinking two or more diet beverages are already practicing a relatively heart unhealthy lifestyle and are overweight, less active, diabetic, hypertensive and or smokers? This all needs to be determined before we condemn diet beverages. Dr. Kurvin pointed out that sugary non diet beverages are well known to cause weight gain, diabetes and eventually coronary artery disease.

What does one drink then? I chose to have an old fashioned unhealthy sugary soda with my heart healthy lunch. While I was sipping that sweet delicious beverage, but feeling extremely guilty about it, my computer sent me a medical alert, “Soda associated with increased heart attack and stroke risk.”. The soda came flying out of my mouth and nose instantly as if had coughed and it splattered everywhere moments before I read the full message closely and noted that they were referring to cocaine not soda.

This study will surely raise questions from my patients in my practice. I will advise them to avoid diet beverages if possible, just like I advise them to avoid sugary beverages in large quantities if possible. Drink water or drink diet beverages in extreme moderation until the data is clear. Moderation would mean no more than 36 ounces per week.