1. Hidden risks of heart scans

    Diagnostic heart scans such as CT angiograms can lead to cancer, kidney damage, false positives and overtreatment -- and they don't even improve outcomes in healthy patients.

    If that's not enough to scare you away from any doc who orders up a scan "just in case," consider this: These tests can also cause lasting or even permanent damage to the very gland that helps control everything from weight and blood pressure to heart health and sexual function.

    The scans use iodide dye, and not just a little bit. They use hundreds of times the daily limit for iodide -- and the reason there's a limit at all is that iodide can knock your thyroid gland down for the count.

    Now, a new study of 1,800 Boston-area heart patients lays out the risk in black and white: Patients with thyroid problems are up to three times more likely to have had a scan involving iodide dye than those without.

    Out in the real world, that adds up to one extra patient battling an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) for every 33 given the dye, and one extra patient with an underactive one (hypothyroidism) for every 36 given the dye.

    That's nearly six out of every 100 patients with one form of thyroid problem or another, according to the study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

    That's a risk you don't have to face -- because there are much better, safer and far more accurate ways to check on your cardiovascular health.

    One leading naturopath, Dr. Mark Stengler, recommends a simple blood test to measure levels of an enzyme that shows up whenever your arteries are battling the ravages of inflammation.

    The enzyme is called lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2, or Lp-PLA2, but don't worry about trying to memorize any of that. The only name you need to remember is PLAC, which is the test that checks for those levels -- and you don't even have to "go alternative" to get it.

    The PLAC test is actually approved by the FDA as a means of testing both heart and stroke risk -- but you might have to point that out to your own doc if he still wants to pump you full of dye and blast you with radiation.

    If your Lp-PLA2 levels top 235 ng/mL, you're at risk. Some docs will tell you to take statins, but who wants to face all the risks of those meds? Dr. Stengler offers a much better solution: antioxidant vitamins and a sensible Mediterranean-style diet.

    Sounds like a good plan to me even if you're not facing heart risk.

  2. Synthetic thyroid linked to bone breaks

    Tens of millions of Americans are battling thyroid problems - but most of them are losing the war, and they might not even know it.

    A new study finds that one of the main drugs used to treat hypothyroidism, aka underactive thyroid, can more than triple the risk of fractures in seniors - and the higher the dose, the greater that risk.

    And that means even if your drug is "working," it could be quietly laying the groundwork for a potentially life-wrecking bone break down the road.

    The researchers looked at data on more than 200,000 seniors - mostly women - who were at least 70 years old when they were given levothyroxin, a synthetic version of the thyroid hormone, between April 2002 and March 2007.

    Ten percent suffered at least one fracture, and researchers say those on the highest dose of the drug had 3.5 times the risk of those on the lowest, according to the study in BMJ Online First.

    And that's just frightening, because not many conditions can ruin a senior's life more quickly and completely than a bone break. One recent study even found that hip fractures double the five-year death risk in women and triple it in men.

    The researchers behind the new study say docs need to pay careful attention to dosages - and lower the dose, if possible, as time goes on to lower the risk of bone breaks.

    But there's a much easier way, and that's with natural thyroid hormone - or what should be more accurately called "thyroid hormones," because there are two: T3 and T4.

    The synthetic stuff contains only T4, which has to be converted to T3 by the body - but for many patients, that's actually part of the problem. They can't do it, and that makes the synthetic hormone practically useless.

    The natural stuff, called desiccated thyroid, contains both T3 and T4 - and that's why many seniors who make the switch can feel the difference almost immediately.

    Don't expect your typical mainstream doctor to understand or appreciate the difference - to him, thyroid is thyroid.

    See an experienced naturopathic physician instead.

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