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  The wonderful blog posts of Dr. John Mandrola (physician, blogger, and columnist at Medscape) are always thoughtful, and this latest points out things a number of studies have pointed out for a while. Which is to stop obsessing or focusing on "preventive tests" and screenings and numbers, and instead focus on a healthy lifestyle - which means getting regular exercise or physical activity, don't smoke cigarettes, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes (think Mediterranean-style diet). Don't want overdiagnosis and overtreatment (here, here, here, and here). Excerpts from Dr. John M:

I am changing…

The main thing that has changed about me is my views as a doctor, especially when it comes to dealing with people who complain of nothing. Medicine is most pure when we treat people with illness. The infirmed come to us with a problem and we use our intelligence, experience and procedural skills to help them. It’s immensely gratifying. The joy of helping people still negates the stifling burden of administrative nonsense. I’ll do your damn corporate safety modules one more year because helping sick people get well feels so good.

But when people complain of nothing, our first job is to do no harm. I know prevention of disease is better than treating it, but the process of prevention gets dicey. When we prescribe things (screening tests, statins, aspirin, diabetes drugs etc) to people who complain of nothing, we should have the highest evidence these therapies deliver benefit. Too often, we cite eminence rather than evidence.

I’ve come to believe the medical profession is too paternalistic, too arrogant. I fear the medicalization of the human condition. These days, I order fewer tests. Medical tests put people into the “system,” on the metaphorical train of healthcare. This train accelerates quickly, and it’s often hard to get off. Even a simple echo scares me. I could tell you stories.

More often than not, I tell patients to stop checking their “numbers.” If they insist on health numbers, I favor three–the scale, the belt size and a Timex to measure walking speed.

A 2002 article from Dr. David Sackett (a pioneer of evidence-based medicine) perfectly captures my views on preventive medicine. It’s called The Arrogance of Preventive Medicine. It’s worth a look, now more than ever.

 Image result for human heart in human body wikipedia Heart attacks run in the family? Does this mean you are doomed to also have a heart attack? Well, the good news from a large study is that a healthy lifestyle (with at least 3 of these 4 behaviors: not currently smoking, not being obese, regular physical activity at least once per week, and eating a good diet)  lowers the risk of a heart attack by nearly 50% even in those with a high genetic risk for heart attacks. (This is compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle, which is none or only one healthy behavior.)  In this study a healthy diet was one with lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and dairy products, and a reduced amount of refined grains, processed meats, red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fats.

The researchers also reversed the question and asked: "If you happen to inherit good genes, can a bad lifestyle offset that? We actually found yes." The risk of heart attack is also reduced nearly 50% in those people with good genes and a good lifestyle. BOTTOM LINE: Healthy lifestyle counts, no matter whether heart disease and heart attacks run in the family or not. There is an interaction between the two, From Science Daily:

Following a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce genetic heart attack risk

It is well known that following a healthy lifestyle -- not smoking, avoiding excess weight and getting regular exercise -- can reduce the risk of heart disease. But what about people who have inherited gene variants known to increase risk? A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has found that, even among those at high genetic risk, following a healthy lifestyle can cut in half the probability of a heart attack or similar event

"The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny," says Sekar Kathiresan, MD...."Many individuals -- both physicians and members of the general public -- have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case."  

In order to investigate whether a healthy lifestyle can mitigate genetic risk, the multi-institutional research team analyzed genetic and clinical data from more than 55,000 participants in four large-scale studies. Three of these studies....followed participants for up to 20 years. Each participant in the current analysis was assigned a genetic risk score....The investigators used four AHA-defined lifestyle factors -- no current smoking; lack of obesity (defined as a body mass index less than 30); physical exercise at least once a week; and a healthy dietary pattern -- to determine a lifestyle score, whether participants had a favorable (three or four healthy factors), intermediate (two factors) or unfavorable (one or no healthy factors) lifestyle.

Across all three prospective studies, a higher genetic risk score significantly increased the incidence of coronary events -- as much as 90 percent in those at highest risk. While known risk factors such as a family history and elevated LDL cholesterol were also associated with an elevated genetic risk score, genetic risk was the most powerful contributor to cardiac risk. Similarly, each healthy lifestyle factor reduced risk, and the unfavorable lifestyle group also had higher levels of hypertension, diabetes and other known risk factors upon entering the studies.

Within each genetic risk category, the presence of lifestyle factors significantly altered the risk of coronary events to such an extent that following a favorable lifestyle could reduce the incidence of coronary events by 50 percent in those with the highest genetic risk scores. Among participants in the BioImage study, both genetic and lifestyle factors were independently associated with levels of calcium-containing plaque in the coronary arteries, and healthy lifestyle factors were associated with less extensive plaque within each genetic risk group. [Original study]

What if a doctor said you could avoid years of taking medication (and all their side effects and cost), better heart health, and avoid a heart attack by adopting some lifestyle changes. Could you do it? Would you? How to avoid 4 out 5 heart attacks, from Medical Xpress:

Healthy lifestyle choices may dramatically reduce risk of heart attack in men

Following a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercise, not smoking and moderating alcohol intake, could prevent four out of five coronary events in men, according to a new study publishing today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

While mortality from heart disease has declined in recent decades, with much of the reduction attributed to medical therapies, the authors said prevention through a healthy lifestyle avoids potential side effects of medication and is more cost effective for population-wide reductions in coronary heart disease. 

For the study, researchers examined a population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men aged 45-79 years of age and followed them for 11 years. Lifestyle choices were assessed through a questionnaire exploring diet, alcohol consumption, smoking status, level of physical activity and abdominal adiposity (belly fat). Men in the study with the lowest risk were non-smokers, walked or cycled for at least 40 minutes per day, exercised at least one hour per week, had a waist circumference below 95 centimeters, consumed moderate amounts of alcohol, and followed a healthy diet with a regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish.

The researchers found a clear reduction in risk for heart attack for each individual lifestyle factor the participants practiced. For instance having a low-risk diet together with a moderate alcohol consumption led to an estimated 35 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to the high-risk group, those who practice none of the low-risk factors.

Men who combined the low-risk diet and moderate alcohol consumption with not smoking, being physically active and having a low amount of abdominal fat, had 86 percent lower risk. Researchers found similar results in men with hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

The burden of cardiovascular disease could be significantly reduced through programs targeted to men and promoting low-risk lifestyle choices. Even in those who take medication, an additional reduction in risk for chronic heart disease has been observed in those with a healthy lifestyle.

From John M., a cardiac electrophysiologist, who expressed his frustration with unnecessary heart disease, and commented on this study on

Let’s stop the unnecessary treatment of heart disease

There are many reasons doctors suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue. One of the least-mentioned of these reasons is that much of what we do is so damn unnecessary. In the US, the land of excess everything, caregivers, especially cardiologists, spend most of our time treating human beings that didn’t need to have disease.

Let’s be clear and honest: Lifestyle-related disease is largely unnecessary.

These days, there is so much unnecessary disease that caregivers, especially cardiologists, rarely see it. We look past the obesity right to the cholesterol number and ECG. And then we pull out the prescription pad for the guideline-directed pills. Just typing that causes me angst.