While alternative medicine for heart health can be extremely powerful—and is usually my first choice—there are times I wear my “conventional hat.” These are instances where conventional medicine can do a far better job than alternative medicine for promoting heart health, and can truly be lifesaving.
3 Times I Don't Recommend Alternative Medicine
1. In any male patient with a history of heart attack, stent, bypass, or angioplasty, and even in male patients who have a high degree of stress with high C-reactive protein levels or those with high coronary calcium scores, statin medications may prove to be a reasonable intervention regardless of one’s cholesterol level.
The reason you hear me beef about the over-prescription of statin medications for heart health is that physicians tend to pull out the prescription pad too often. Many doctors order statin medications for healthy men and women who have high cholesterol levels but no history of heart disease, coronary events, or high coronary calcium scores (greater than 200).
In my opinion, physicians who treat patients with statin medications on the basis of high cholesterol levels alone (without a history of coronary events, diabetes, or high C-reactive protein numbers) are not practicing smart medicine. Although the use of statin medications in high-risk coronary patients—especially those with inflammatory markers—is good medicine, the prescribing of these potent pharmacological agents with known and unknown side effects for long-term use in otherwise healthy people is not justifiable.
But for people in the high-risk categories I mentioned above, the benefits of statin medications can far outweigh the risks—and even prove lifesaving.
2. If you have a prosthetic heart valve or atrial fibrillation with a leaky valve or enlarged left atrium, you must take a blood thinner. There is no adequate blood-thinning substitute if you have those conditions.
I wish I had a nickel for every person who has asked me for natural blood thinner alternatives, reminding me that it’s “rat poison.” But the fact is, in many cases, there isn’t an adequate substitute for prescription blood thinners in alternative medicine.
The primary condition prescription blood thinners are prescribed for is atrial fibrillation (A-fib). For patients with A-fib, instead of contracting regularly and forcefully, the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) quiver or vibrate rapidly, and thus with less strength. The two lower chambers, the ventricles, continue to contract forcefully, but may not always be completely full without the forceful contribution of the atria pumping blood into them. When the atria "fibrillate," instead of contracting energetically, then there is a risk for the blood to pool there in the atria, and form blood clots. So, taking a medication to thin the blood is not only necessary—but lifesaving!
The only A-fib patients who can consider blood thinner alternatives are those with “lone” atrial fibrillation. These patients have a normal heart size and valve function, putting them at lower risk for blood clots, so they’re good candidates for alternative medicine—including natural blood thinners such as nattokinase (100 mg daily) and omega-3 oil (2 g daily). But, remember to talk to your doctor before stopping, or starting, any medications or supplements.
3. If you have a drug-eluting stent you need to take a blood-thinning drug.
Many people who have drug-eluting stents will ask me if it’s okay to substitute nattokinase for a prescription blood thinner, thinking that alternative medicine is better. Unfortunately, for the best heart health, the answer is no.
Stent protocol calls for using blood thinners for at least a year, so it's important to discuss your options with your doctor. If your doctor takes you off of your blood thinners, you could consider taking 50 mg of nattokinase a day but you need to discuss that with your doctor first.