Wednesday, June 21, 2017

EECP: There's a Natural Way to Deal with Clogged Arteries That Really Works

EECP at Poona Preventive Cardiology
Natural health gurus like to tell us that you can bypass bypass. You can melt cholesterol away, they say. You can bring your arteries back to the healthy state you had as an 18-year-old. Just buy my book. Take my supplements. Come to my clinic in Tijuana.

Actually, you can't use natural medicine to unclog blocked arteries. (Not even chelation, although I have had success with chelation for a related issue.) But you can do the next best thing. You can grow new arteries with a method called EECP. I would know. I've had it and it worked. My cardiologist prescribed it, and my insurance paid for it.

EECP is an acronym for a trademarked method of cardiovascular treatment called enhanced extracorporeal counterpulsation therapy. I'll just refer to it as EECP.

I got into EECP when I had a heart attack. This was after I had an earlier heart attack, and half a dozen heart attacks before that. Every time I had a heart attack, well, for the first half dozen or so, I'd be rushed into the cath lab and get a new stent.

The problem was, I kept getting blockages in the same place in the same artery. I got to the point I had a stent inside a stent inside a stent inside a stent. That was when I decided no more stents.

Fortunately I went to a doctor who is open to alternative methods. He referred me for EECP.

What Is EECP?

I compare EECP treatment to "getting pumped." You lie down on a bed. A technician hooks you up to an EKG. The EKG is tied into a computer that runs five pressure cuffs. They look something like really large blood pressure cuffs. However, they don't squeeze as hard as a regular blood pressure cuff.

The "enhanced" system uses your EKG to time the inflation and deflation of the cuffs. They send blood back toward your heart between beats. The result is that your heart has about 90 percent more oxygen than usual. And it turns out that blood that flows backwards triggers an amazing process.

How Does EECP Make a Difference?

When you have blood flowing backward, your body reworks its plumbing. For instance, if you have a coronary artery that's blocked by cholesterol deposits, your heart will attempt to create a collateral blood vessel to channel blood where it needs to go but can't go because of the blockage.

That's how you can live long enough to discover that you have a coronary artery that's 100 percent blocked. Think about it. You have a heart attack. The doctor sends you to the cath lab. The diagnosis is dire. Your artery is 100 percent blocked.

OK. How did you function before your heart attack? Your artery was blocked before your heart attack. A week before that. A month before that. A year or five or ten or twenty years before that. Your body had already dealt with the problem, just not well enough to keep you from having a heart attack.

When blood encountered the atherosclerotic plaque that was blocking your artery, it triggered a hormonal reaction that:
  • Activated an enzyme called telomerase that enabled your heart muscle cells to divide.
  • Activated "angiogenic factors" that encouraged a blood vessel to "sprout" at the last point you had good circulation.
  • Activated enzymes in your red blood cells that keep their DNA healthier, too.
EECP sends a lot more blood backwards into your heart than normal flow around an atherosclerotic clot. But because it does this between your heartbeats, your body continues to get all the oxygen it needs. In just a few weeks of treatment, you can develop an entirely new coronary artery that performs the same function as angioplasty, stent, or bypass.

How Do I Know That EECP Works, Anyway?

In 2015, after the, as my mother might have put it in one of her folksy moments, umpety-jillionth time I was in the OR for unstable angina, my cardiologist decided to defer catheterization and stenting for EECP. I had never heard of it. I was skeptical. But I was also pretty tired of making trips to the cath lab.

I had 10 EECP treatments. Then I (1) somehow got an itty bitty cut on my big toe that (2) got infected with some kind of particularly nasty bacteria when I had to wade through flood waters. I developed an infection, sepsis, and septic shock over the space of one weekend (when I wasn't taking EECP). That infection kept me in the hospital for 52 days. After three months I had other things on my mind besides EECP.

But no doctor had ever treated the clotting disorder that was causing me to have heart attack after heart attack after heart attack. Sure enough, in 2017 I had another heart attack. And before I could object, I was in the cath lab getting that stent inside a stent inside a stent inside a stent. However, the angiogram showed that I had grown a new coronary artery around an old blockage. In fact, I had four collateral blood vessels in addition to those with which I was born.
Collateral arteries formed by exercise
At that point I was sold on EECP. I also raised a fuss about getting the treatment I needed for my clotting disorder so finally I have normal clotting factors. But I've never felt so good as I have since the second time I got EECP. The second time I was able to get the full 35 treatments.

Is EECP For Real?

EECP isn't exactly a new therapy. It's been FDA-approved since 1995. Insurance pays for it. Essentially every cardiologist has at least heard of it. There have been at least 240 studies of EECP published in the medical journals. There are EECP centers all over the United States.

And there's enough to be said about EECP that I have an entire website devoted to the topic, and I wrote the first patient-oriented book on the subject, Getting Pumped.

The main thing to know about EECP other than that it works, is that it's surgery-free, drug-free, has no side effects, and only costs about $125 a treatment, which insurance will pay for. It has a success rate equal to angioplasty or stenting--only without any need for invasive therapy--and it works with any medication regimen your doctor prescribes. Most people have less or even no angina after treatment, and some people literally take up their bed and walk. They feel totally rejuvenated. I was in that category the second go round. That's why I am making an effort to get the word out.

EECP doesn't work for absolutely everybody. There are people who need more than 35 treatments. There are people who just can't get off an hour a day to get to treatment. And there are a few people who for whatever reason just don't respond. But if you have stable angina and you don't need a stent or a bypass right away, ask your cardiologist about EECP. It just might make your life tremendously better.

Medical literature:

Agarwal M, Singh S, Narayan J, Pandey S, Tiwari S, Sharma P. Cardiovascular Response and Serum Interleukin-6 Level in Concentric Vs. Eccentric Exercise.J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Apr;11(4):CC04-CC08. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2017/25281.9703. Epub 2017 Apr 1. PMID: 28571132. 

Möbius-Winkler S, Uhlemann M, Adams V, Sandri M, Erbs S, Lenk K, Mangner N, Mueller U, Adam J, Grunze M, Brunner S, Hilberg T, Mende M, Linke AP, Schuler G. Coronary Collateral Growth Induced by Physical Exercise: Results of the Impact of Intensive Exercise Training on Coronary Collateral Circulation in Patients With Stable Coronary Artery Disease (EXCITE) Trial.
Circulation. 2016 Apr 12;133(15):1438-48; discussion 1448. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.016442. Epub 2016 Mar 15. PMID: 26979085. 

Zietzer A, Buschmann EE, Janke D, Li L, Brix M, Meyborg H, Stawowy P, Jungk C, Buschmann I, Hillmeister P. Acute physical exercise and long-term individual shear rate therapy increase telomerase activity in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2017 Jun;220(2):251-262. doi: 10.1111/apha.12820. Epub 2016 Nov 22.PMID: 27770498.

Photo credits:

Image of EECP treatment adapted from a photo from Pune Preventative Cardiology Clinic.

Image of collateral arteries adapated from:

Heaps CL, Parker JL.  Effects of exercise training on coronary collateralization and control of collateral resistance. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Aug;111(2):587-98. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00338.2011. Epub 2011 May 12. Review.
PMID: 21565987. 

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