after hearing more and more about the growing interest in eastern medicine, we figured it had something to do with taoism, pet crystals and random hippie crap. i'll take my lipitor deep-fried. next stop, the surgeon's table, for a supple new chimp heart! nothing can stop me!
then the economy tanked, our insurer went bankrupt and suddenly this whole idea of "preventive medicine"-its own sort of free health care-didn't seem so absurd. thankfully, the recession comes at a time when holistic medicine, after years of building a loyal indie following, is being absorbed into the mainstream.
take patrick fratellone, doctor of cardiology and the only certified practitioner of "integrative medicine," as it can now be called, in new york city. he's also the author of "you're on the air with dr. fratellone": answers to questions most frequently asked about supplements and herbs for the heart. fratellone believes there are three major tributaries feeding the pool of good heart health: regular exercise, a peaceful mind and a diverse diet hinging on fruits and vegetables.
"yes, i still prescribe medications," he says. "yes, i still believe in bypass operations. but i practice preventive medicine. i tell people, the younger kids, 'listen. you don't have to get a bypass like your father did. let's discuss these issues.'"
fratellone himself was born with two congenital valves. his parents eschewed surgery and instead treated him with selected herbs. when he was 49, his condition became dire, and he went under the knife. he says he's glad he waited-childhood surgery might have damaged or killed him.
of egg yolks, hemp milk and blunder-bread "if you see the way food stores are set up, most people go to the middle because that's where they have sales on sodas, crackers, cookies. people go to the periphery next, and that's where the vegetables, the produce are, the fruit."
the fundamentals of a heart-healthy diet, according to fratellone, are fruits and veggies that are high in antioxidants and low in sugar. apples, berries and avocadoes are all good. pineapples worry him. and refined sugars and carbohydrates are the most evil of all foodstuffs. prior to the 1920s, he says, when america discovered wonder bread, no one was dying of heart disease.
these are the basics, and they're part of the mainstream conversation about nutrition. but fratellone was able to bust some myths, as well. take eggs. fratellone once ate 24 eggs a week. he slowed down only because he was developing a mild food allergy. egg yolks, he says, actually contain a supplement shown to lower cholesterol. it's eating them with home fries and toast that will raise your cholesterol level.
"it's not about cholesterol food choice," fratellone says. "it's about food combining. don't combine foods that are high in cholesterol with refined carbohydrates.
"people stop eating shrimp," he adds. "but if you don't eat it with the white rice, it's ok." brown rice or millet would be a fine substitute for the fluffier stuff.
allow him to guide you through the dairy aisle, as well. cow's milk is acidic, and pasteurization robs it of helpful enzymes. so unless you're tapped into the raw milk underground, like fratellone was as a child, he advises that you stick with goat's milk, hemp milk or unsweetened soymilk. and choose soft cheeses over hard ones.
it's not all back-to-the-land nostalgia with fratellone, though. he recognizes the potential of food science. one of its most important inventions for heart health, he says, is a supplement called coenzyme q-10. by aiding in the kreb's cycle of metabolism, it energizes every cell in the body.
take a hike "the medicine that i practice is based on body, mind and spirit. it's not about writing a prescription. someone comes here and wants a prescription, i'll give them a prescription for exercise."
to prevent cardiovascular death, fratellone recommends three 30-minute episodes of exercise per week. two days should be spent on aerobic activities, and the third should be spent using weights. if you can't lift a dumbbell, he says, attach weights to your ankles and take a walk through the park. exercising with weights improves the pacing of one's heart rate, keeps it steady.
"people don't want to go to the gym because it costs money, but does it cost money to walk in central park every day?" fratellone says. "people would rather hop in a cab than walk 10 blocks."
meerkat manor, cardiac cure "the last part of [a visit to my office] is about them. what's bothering them? what do you want to discuss? some of them, they get shocked. they say, doctors never ask me these kinds of questions."
most of us have an intuitive understanding of the way our emotional lives can affect our cardiac muscles. my heart was pounding ... my heart skipped a beat ... change those clothes. are you trying to give your mother a heart attack? we believe in these sorts of effects as they pertain to immediate trauma, but when you stretch the events out over time, or turn down their volume, the connection seems more tenuous.
fratellone says that everything you think, everything you feel, even what you watch or read, affects the long-term health of your heart. if you bear a grudge against your father, if you're ridden with malaise and self-doubt, if you're hooked on csi, your heart is at risk. stress raises the body's level of epinephrine, squeezing arteries and increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.
"people read murder mysteries. i ask them, have they ever read harry potter?" says fratellone, who does not watch the news. "why can't they go back to watching a fun movie? what do they call them? chick flicks."
to counter the inner frenzy incited in us by city life, he recommends regular meditation, self-appreciation and the practicing of a hobby or art form.
fratellone can't treat a patient without a thorough understanding of that person's diet, physical activity and psychological welfare. what does he eat for breakfast? what's going on in her love life? he sits for about an hour with each patient. to rest and prepare for the next one, he spends 15 minutes doing needlework or meditating in his office. the duration of each visit is draining, he says, but necessary.
"i can't imagine an 80-year-old woman going to a cardiologist," he says, "and getting all of her questions answered in 10 or 20 minutes."