Five Questions With: Barbara H. Roberts

‘Doctors have often taken the bikini approach to women’s health.’

Director of the Women’s Cardiac Center at The Miriam Hospital talks about her new book, “The Truth about Statins: Risks and Alternatives to Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs.” More

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Five Questions With: Barbara H. Roberts

‘Doctors have often taken the bikini approach to women’s health.’

COURTESY THE MIRIAM HOSPITAL
"DOCTORS HAVE often taken the bikini approach to women’s health – outside of the reproductive organs, they take what works in men and then apply that in women," said Barbara H. Roberts, director of the Women’s Cardiac Center at The Miriam Hospital .
Posted 2/27/12

Dr. Barbara H. Roberts’ new book, “The Truth about Statins: Risks and Alternatives to Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs,” is the story that she insists must be told. Roberts, who is the director of the Women’s Cardiac Center at The Miriam Hospital and an associate clinical professor of medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, is aware of the risks of being seen as a pariah in the medical community. But, she believes it is her responsibility to stand up to what she calls “shoddy science,” to expose “rampant conflicts of interest,” and even take on big pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca.

Providence Business News recently interviewed Roberts about her new book – and the what she sees as the challenges for women’s health.

PBN: Why did you write this book?

ROBERTS: What prompted me to write this book was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision in February 2010 to expand the indications for statin use based on a study called the Jupiter trial.

What they didn’t say was that this was a very flawed trial. The trial was paid for by AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the drug that was used in the trials.

We know that when clinical trials are sponsored by the maker of what ever medicine is being tested, they are more likely to have positive results.

When they finally published the gender specific data, it became apparent that there was no difference with women treated with the statin drug or the placebo. Many doctors are often too busy to read the study in detail.

As a result, today, I’m seeing women in their 40s and 50s, more and more patients with statin side effects, after being put on statins by primary care providers, and

PBN: Is this an example for the need to differentiate in the way that health care is provided to men and women?

ROBERTS: Women respond differently in some areas of medicine. Statins are less efficient in women than in men. There is no evidence for use of statin for primary prevention in women.

Doctors have often taken the bikini approach to women’s health – outside of the reproductive organs, they take what works in men and then apply that in women.

In cardiac health care, we’ve shown that there are gender differences between mend and women in the symptoms and how they respond to treatment. And, with certain medications, women don’t derive the same benefits.

PBN: The recent dispute involving the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood highlighted the political differences between corporate fundraising efforts and health care prevention activities. In your book, you say that changes are needed at the American Heart Association. How do you respond when Coca-Cola was named the Association’s lead sponsor?

ROBERTS: I think it is abominable to have Coca-Cola as a sponsor. I was appalled when I saw that at the local American Heart Association luncheon.

I go into great detail in my book with my gripes about the American Heart Association.

The “heart check” is put on all kinds of processed meat, when we know that eating processed meat increases heart disease and diabetes.

More and more doctors are demanding that the American Heart Association stop putting their heart imprimatur on products that are not heart healthy.

I hope that my book will bring this knowledge to the forefront to put public pressure on the American Heart Association.

PBN: Do you see a continued growth in gender-specific medicine, with more medical practices focusing on the health needs for women? Recently, the Women’s Medicine Collaborative opened a new medical center in Providence.

ROBERTS: I’m a clinician, a teacher, a researcher. The main focus of my practice is taking care of my patients.

I am in favor of a focus on gender-specific medicine. That said, at the Women’s Cardiac Center, we see lots of male patients. It’s not that we have to have separate facilities. But when you have specialized expertise for women, that’s a good thing.

I did have a chance to visit the new Women’s Medicine Collaborative; it’s an absolutely beautiful facility.

PBN: What are your plans for media outreach for the book?

ROBERTS: Plans are still in the preliminary stages. I’m working with Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher. There will be book signings, I will be giving lectures, and I expect that I will be invite to give talks.

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