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Cardiac Care Beyond Pills and Procedures

New book gives doctors scientifically proven approaches to integrative cardiology

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September 8, 2010 | by Erin White

CHICAGO --- Stephen Devries, M.D., a preventive cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, is taking sides in the decades-long debate over the merits of traditional medicine versus alternative treatment for cardiac care---both sides!

A new breed of cardiologist, Devries shares an approach to heart health that is gaining popularity in the book “Integrative Cardiology” (Oxford Press, October 2010), co-authored by James E. Dalen, M.D., of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Like most cardiologists, Devries prescribes prescription cholesterol and blood pressure medications and surgical procedures to his patients. But he also recommends red yeast rice supplements, the Mediterranean diet and daily yoga sessions to some patients, too.

His new book offers a comprehensive compilation of scientifically validated information on integrative cardiology -- the combination of modern medicine and alternative therapies -- in one place. “This is an emerging field and we wanted to demonstrate the science that supports it,” he said.

At Northwestern, Devries is researching how over-the-counter supplements, such as red yeast rice, have helped lower cholesterol in patients who can’t tolerate the side effects of prescription cholesterol medication.

“I have seen people who have had nowhere else to go,” said Devries. “They’ve had problems with other medicines, their cholesterol is very high and they or their doctors have given up because they can’t seem to find anything that works. We often are able to find a solution by going down a different road. That is very gratifying.”

Nutrition and diet are number one in promoting heart health, Devries stressed. He is a big proponent of the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on vegetables, fruit and fish, the use of canola and olive oil, and the reduction of refined carbohydrates and red meat.

Devries spoke with Erin White, broadcast editor at Northwestern University, about the book and the field of integrative cardiology.

How did you become interested in integrative cardiology?

In the course of my preventive cardiology practice, I began to see patients who were using supplements, meditation and acupuncture as ways treat their heart conditions. I didn’t know much about this approach, but I was intrigued. I started to do some reading on supplements and the mind/body connection, and then, 17 years after my formal cardiology training, I completed a fellowship in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona in 2005.

What integrative treatments work best for heart patients?

Nutrition and dietary changes by far. Also, intelligent combinations of both prescription pills and over-the-counter products, as well as awareness of mind/body connections are a powerful combination in promoting heart health. Patient empowerment is also a focus of integrative care. The idea is to be really aware of the patient’s philosophy toward their health care and the type of approaches they are interested in and to try to integrate them as much as is medically appropriate.

Why is nutrition so important?

I don’t think people recognize the importance of nutrition as an intervention. A big part of my counseling focuses on the Mediterranean diet. In the Lyon Diet Heart study, for example, the Mediterranean diet showed a 72 percent reduction in the risk of a second heart---a striking benefit unmatched by other types of interventions. But most unfortunately, nutrition is often largely ignored in medical encounters---a real lost opportunity. 

Why was it important to write this book?

More than ever before, patients are coming in and asking their doctors about alternative therapies. Until now, health care professionals interested in learning more about the integrative approaches in cardiology had no single authoritative reference. This book offers reliable scientific information about nutritional strategies, scientifically validated supplements, and the potential for mind/body approaches to promote heart health.

Co-author Jim Dalen and I chose contributing authors who are both university-based academicians as well as active clinicians. The idea was to identify the most clinically useful, scientifically based integrative practices in cardiology.

Do you think integrative medicine is the future of medicine?

Absolutely. I think the approaches now called integrative medicine are really just good medicine. Integrative medicine has a label now because all of the components are not a major part of current medical practice. It is in its early stages, and there undoubtedly will be more science relating to more of these techniques, because the interest is huge and growing.

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