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Antibiotics for Heart Disease?

By Sean Henahan, Access Excellence 

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (August 28, 1997) Take an antibiotic for heart disease? This seemingly absurd suggestion is gaining support following a remarkable finding linking infection with the Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria and coronary heart disease.

Researchers from Argentina, noting reports of an association between high serum levels of C. pneumoniae and heart disease, conducted the first double-blind, randomized clinical study to test whether administering an antibiotic to patients considered at high risk for heart attack would proffer any benefit. 

Two hundred patients with a condition known as unstable angina, a disease with a very high risk for heart attack, were given either a placebo or an antibiotic in the macrolide class twice a day for 30 days. They were then observed for six months.

Surprisingly, the patients who had received the antibiotic had a significantly lower incidence of sever angina and/or heart attack, than did patients receiving placebo. While slightly more than five percent of patients on placebo developed problems, only one percent of those taking the antibiotic did.

What is the mechanism for this effect? Chlamydia organisms have been found in the hard atherosclerotic plaque tissue in the heart muscle.  When this plaque ruptures, heart attack can result. The researchers believe that the Chlamydia is involved in an inflammation process in these plaques that both promotes the hardening of the arteries and predisposes them to rupture. It appears that treatment with the antibiotic stabilizes the situation in the vessel walls. Other antinflammatory drugs such as aspirin, steroids and ibuprofen have been tested and found ineffective

"These findings suggest that antichlamydial antibiotics may be useful in therapeutic intervention in addition to standard medication in patients with coronary artery disease," reported Enrique Gurfinkel, M.D., Favaloro Foundation, Buenos Aires, Argentina, at this year's meeting of the European Society of Cardiology . "Additional, larger scale clinical trials will be needed to confirm these preliminary observations."

Unstable angina is among the most common forms of heart disease and is the primary cause of cardiac death and hospitalization. The new finding is particularly welcome because the treatment options for unstable angina are limited to risky blood thinning drugs like heparin and/or more aggressive surgical interventions. 

"It may be that we are seeing the beginning of a new era in the treatment of symptomatic atherosclerosis. Looking ahead, this approach might lead to new ways of intervening earlier in the process of artery hardening, possibly even a preventive vaccine," Gurfinkel told AE.

The new finding has an interesting parallel in the field of gastroenterology. When a researchers proposed about ten years ago that stomach ulcers might be caused by a bacteria, the medical establishment was not impressed. Since that time the researchers has been vindicated, and antibiotic treatment is now used to treat ulcers. 

Related information on the Internet
AE: Nutrition Interview
AE: Heart Interview 
AE: Ulcer Genome

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