Reprinted with the kind permission of Life Extension Magazine May 2014
By William Faloon
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deserve a level of respect that does not exist with most bureaucracies.
When the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States in 1981, the CDC knew this country faced a contagious disease crisis and took action.
Despite interference by other government agencies, the CDC persisted with meticulous research. Within 18 months the CDC identified all the major risk factors for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).1
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on the other hand, responded by organizing armed raids against those who sought novel ways to prevent the immune deficits that were ravaging AIDS patients.2
Life Extension ® was one victim of these police-state actions. We were fortunate that our early recommendations were vindicated before the FDA could incarcerate us.3-5
In 2013, the CDC released a report estimating that nearly 200,000 avoidable deaths occur each year in the United States from heart disease, stroke, and hypertensive disorders.6
According to the CDC, prevention of vascular disease can be as simple as following the “ABCS”, which stands for: “aspirin, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation.”7
Life Extension does not question the accuracy of this CDC report. We in fact believe it to be understated. Our concern is that the CDC report contains omissions about other preventable causes of vascular disease overlooked by hurried physicians.
This article will show why the number of needless deaths is higher than the CDC estimates and how you can avoid being a victim.
Atherosclerosis is the term used to describe damage and obstruction to the linings of our arteries.8 When arterial blood flow is impeded or blocked, the result can be death or disability from a stroke or heart attack.8
A misconception about atherosclerosis is that it is a modern day scourge caused by unhealthy habits. I’ve heard so-called experts’ claim that people didn’t suffer coronary artery disease in the past because their diets were so natural.
These “experts” had no basis to claim that atherosclerosis is a modern day phenomenon. All they could cite was that few people developed heart disease in the past compared to today. The reason more people weren’t having heart attacks back then was that most died before age 50 from diseases that are now preventable/curable.
A study on this topic published in The Lancet last year attracted worldwide media attention. It documented that mummified human bodies dating back 4,000 years and spanning multiple geographic locations/cultures suffered from clogged arteries.9
As Life Extension has long argued, atherosclerosis is a disease of aging that has always been prevalent. It took MRI imaging to document clear signs of heart disease in 34% of mummified humans whose estimated mean age at death was 43 years. Those who died at an estimated mean age of 32 years were less likely to show signs of atherosclerosis.9
According to the lead investigator of The Lancet study:
“The fact that we found similar levels of atherosclerosis in all of the different cultures we studied, all of whom had very different lifestyles and diets, suggests that atherosclerosis may have been far more common in the ancient world than previously thought,”10
—Randall Thompson, MD
These findings help confirm that atherosclerosis has always been widespread. The encouraging news is that methods to prevent and even reverse it have been validated in modern clinical studies.
WHAT CAUSED ATHEROSCLEROSIS IN THE MUMMIFIED BODIES?
In seeking to identify what caused atherosclerosis in the mummified bodies, The Lancet researchers speculated that it could have been the high levels of inflammation these primitive people were exposed to from constant infections and a non-hygienic environment.10
People with severe inflammatory conditions (like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) suffer accelerated atherosclerosis.11-13Multiple studies on normal modern people link chronic inflammation as an independent risk factor for stroke and heart attack.14-16
A study published in late 2013 corroborate this. The investigators reported on a large group of older individuals who were followed for 17 years. Those with the highest levels of inflammatoryblood markers were over 3 times as likely to suffer sudden cardiac death as those with the lowest levels.17
The recent CDC report did not factor in chronic inflammation as an “avoidable” cause of vascular-related death.1 That’s just one reason why the CDC’s number of avoidable deaths is an underestimate of how many lives could be spared.
It’s comforting to live in an era where chronic inflammation can be identified with blood tests and corrective actions taken to suppress elevated inflammatory markers.
WHY IS ATHEROSCLEROSIS SO COMMON?
We know that excess dietary intake of the wrong kinds of fats and sugars damages our arterial lining, as does tobacco smoke.18-23 Overlooked is the continuous toxic exposure arteries bear to cellular waste products that are released into our bloodstream for filtration and excretion primarily through the kidneys.24
Most of us are born with a flawlessly intact endothelium that lines our arteries and protects against formation of atherosclerosis. As we age, our arterial lining endures chronic insult from internal and external factors that results in loss of blood flow to the heart, kidneys, and brain. This is the leading reason why most aging people today become disabled and then prematurely die.
Those who understand the many causes of atherosclerosis should not be surprised it is so common. What’s appalling is the number of people who continue to succumb to atherosclerotic diseases because of widespread physician apathy and ignorance.
ENDOTHELIAL DYSFUNCTION: THE VILLAIN BEHIND ATHEROSCLEROSIS
Multiple culprits initiate and promote atherosclerosis. They share in common an ability to damage the delicate endothelium that lines our vascular systems.25
An early step in the initiation of atherosclerosis is often reduced nitric oxide bioavailability that initiates endothelial dysfunction.26 Aging results in further impairment in the ability to synthesize endothelial nitric oxide that markedly acceleratesatherosclerosis.27,28
We are grateful to the many scientists who have conducted research showing that consumption of plant polyphenol concentrates (such as those found in pomegranate,29-31 green tea,32-34 and red grapes)35-39 protect nitric oxide production, thus helping to restore youthful function and structure to our endothelial arterial linings.
It is somewhat contradictory, however, for one to gobble down capsule concentrates of pomegranate, green tea, berries, and grapes and then ignore other proven factors that silently destroy endothelial function.
Elevated glucose,40-42 insulin,43-45 triglycerides,46,47 LDL,48-50 homocysteine,51-53 C-reactive protein,54-56 oxidative stress,57-59 along with low HDL60-62 and low testosterone63,64 (in men) inflict their own unique forms of endothelial damage. It is thus critical to have one’s blood tested annually to ensure that none of these destroyers of endothelial integrity get out of safe ranges.
VASCULAR TOXICITY OF HOMOCYSTEINE
Elevated homocysteine has been linked to atherosclerosis via several toxic mechanisms.65-69 A few years ago, some studies questioned whether modestly-elevated homocysteine was really a health concern. Life Extension has published extensive information on the dangers of homocysteine as well as rebuttals to studies that the media portrayed in a highly misleading way.70-74
There is now a controversy in the mainstream as to what blood level of homocysteine really poses a vascular disease risk. Children who have a genetic defect that causes extremely high homocysteine levels show signs of impaired endothelial function as early as age 4.75
The question is what blood level of homocysteine should typical aging people strive for. The mainstream defines elevated homocysteine (called hyperhomocysteinemia) as greater than 15micromoles per liter of blood.76 Other studies suggest that keeping homocysteine far below 15 is advisable.76
High homocysteine is associated with increasing age, consumption of animal protein, smoking, postmenopausal state, sedentary lifestyle, decreased kidney function, deficiencies of B-vitamins or with certain genetic abnormalities.77-83
Failure to test homocysteine blood levels can leave one vulnerable to silent vascular damage and increased dementia risks.76
When one understands the mechanisms by which homocysteine inflicts cellular damage, the importance of keeping it in lower ranges becomes abundantly clear.
HOW TO SLOW AND REVERSE ATHEROSCLEROSIS
Scientists long ago documented the ability of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) to remove cholesterol affixed to arterial walls and transport it to the liver for safe disposal.
This is why it is so important to maintain HDL levels above 50mg/dL of blood and follow steps Life Extension has outlined to ensure optimal reverse cholesterol transport of lipids away from the arterial wall.124
HDL does more than just cleanse arterial walls of plaque. It also protects LDL against oxidation, while inhibiting chronic inflammation, vascular adhesion molecules, and platelet activation—all factors that can lead to atherosclerosis. 125-130
For HDL to perform its vital functions, an enzyme called paraoxonase-1 (PON-1) is attached to its surface.130,131
Aging and poor diet result in a marked decline in PON-1 levels, thereby reducing the ability of HDL to protect against heart attack and stroke.132,133 This phenomenon helps explain the onset of accelerated atherosclerosis; where within a period of only a few years, an aging person’s healthy arteries rapidly occlude with plaque.
The age-related reduction in PON-1 may also explain studies showing that statin drugs lose their benefit in certain aging populations, since the effects of statins are no longer sufficient to protect against the multiple factors involved in the development of atherosclerosis in the elderly.134,135
PON-1 is anchored to the surface of HDL and is emerging as a formidable defense againstatherosclerosis.130,136,137
Pharmaceutical companies would pay a king’s ransom for a drug that elevates PON-1 levels in the body. Fortunately, scientists have discovered low-cost natural methods (such as pomegranate and resveratrol) to elevate PON-1 and unleash its full antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power.138-142
In studying the effects of pomegranate alone over a one-year period, studies using human serum revealed an 83% increase in PON-1 activity and a 90% decrease in oxidized LDL. These same patients showed reversal in clinical measurements of atherosclerosis such as carotid artery narrowing.143
HOMOCYSTEINE DAMAGES THE BRAIN
Solid evidence connects the reduced cerebral blood flow with higher Alzheimer’s risk as well as its rapid progression.84-86
A study published in 2013 showed that people with homocysteine levels of 25.5 micromoles/Land higher were almost 4 times as likely to have severe shrinkage of the brain’s temporal lobe and had almost 5 times the risk for a severe brain white matter abnormality.87 This brain damage places people at increased risk of stroke, dementia, and death.88 This study is corroborated by previous studies showing brain benefits when B-vitamins are used to suppress homocysteine.89
The devastating impact that elevated homocysteine has on the brain alone should motivate maturing individuals to check their homocysteine blood level and take appropriate actions to suppress it if elevated.
Fortunately, most people can reduce elevated homocysteine levels by ensuring proper intake of folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6.90-92
A fatal assumption we have observed in people taking multivitamins is they assume their homocysteine levels are being adequately suppressed. Only a blood test can verify thathomocysteine levels are in the safe ranges.
Some individuals, for instance, don’t absorb vitamin B12 well and require a sublingual or injectable route of administration. Others need to take extra vitamin B6 or the more metabolically active L-methylfolate form of folic acid to effectively suppress elevated homocysteine.
LOW TESTOSTERONE ASSOCIATED WITH HIGHER VASCULAR RISK
Testosterone levels are high in young men, but plummet during aging.
Low testosterone in men is associated with excess abdominal fat,93,94 loss of insulin sensitivity,95,96 atherosclerosis,97,98 and increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.99
A review of data gathered between 1970 and 2013 provided further evidence that low testosterone in men may be linked to a higher risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease.100
Another 2013 study confirmed the increase of metabolic syndrome in men that are testosterone deficient.101 Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors that include insulin resistance, hypertension, elevated triglycerides/LDL and low HDL.102 This study found that men treated with testosterone showed across the board improvements as indicated by:101
- Reduced LDL.
- Reduced triglycerides.
- Reduced glucose.
- Reduced C-reactive protein.
- Reduced measures of liver damage.
- Reduced blood pressure.
- Reduced hemoglobin A1c.
- Increased HDL (removes cholesterol buildup from arterial walls).
This stream of favorable data is causing testosterone prescriptions to surge. From 1994 to 2004, prescription sales of testosterone increased by 500%.103 We believe they have grown substantially more than that since then, especially when considering that sales of low-cost compounded testosterone creams are not easily counted in the official statistics.
It is regrettable that despite compelling findings of profound efficacy, some conventional doctors still question the value of testosterone replacement in maturing men. This oversight is causing too many needless heart attacks.
For nearly 20 years, Life Extension has urged its male members to restore testosterone levels to youthful ranges. We have written meticulous rebuttal to media attacks that question the value of properly-prescribed natural testosterone.
GEORGE W. BUSH’S BLOCKED CORONARY ARTERY
George W. Bush (the younger Bush) may have been the first President to describe his daily health routine that included regular exercise along with a multivitamin, low-dose aspirin, and possibly some fish oil. Former President Bush had annual physical exams by the government’s best doctors.
In August 2013, doctors discovered that a vital coronary artery in George W. Bush was 95% blocked. An emergency stent was inserted to restore blood flow through the occluded artery. According to medical sources, the location and severity of the coronary artery blockage usually causes sudden death and the former President was lucky his doctors caught it in time.105
We are seeking the medical records of President Bush through the Freedom of Information Act, but we are confident that his annual “Presidential” exams did not include the comprehensive blood testing that Life Extension members take each year. As we long ago documented, all it takes is for one independent vascular risk factor to be out of safe range for a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure to ensue.106-108
Vascular disease was the cause of death of former Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Eisenhower suffered horrifically from heart disease for over a decade before dying from congestive heart failure.109,110
In 2004, Bill Clinton underwent open heart surgery to bypass multiple blocked arteries in his heart that would have likely killed him in a few months if not treated.111 He had to undergo follow-up surgery in 2005 to correct a complication caused by his first bypass surgery.112
In 2010, Clinton was rushed to the hospital complaining of chest pains and had two stents implanted to open two new occluded coronary arteries. Clinton regularly exercised, but did little else other than what his conventional doctors prescribed. Clinton’s program obviously failed to protect him from severe and recurring coronary atherosclerosis.113
DICK CHENEY’S MULTIPLE HEART ATTACKS
Cheney was known for eating outrageous quantities of artery-clogging foods and smoking heavily for 20 years.
Dick Cheney suffered his first heart attack in 1978, when he was only37. He suffered his second in 1984 and a third in 1988 before undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery to unblock his clogged arteries. His fourth heart attack occurred in 2000. At that time, doctors inserted a stent to open a re-occluded coronary artery.
In 2001, doctors implanted a device to track and control Cheney’s heart rhythm. In 2008, he underwent a procedure to restore his heart to a normal rhythm after doctors found that he was experiencing a recurrence of atrial fibrillation. Despite all this, Cheney suffered his fifth heart attack in February 2010.
Dick Cheney has reportedly taken statin drugs for nearly two decades. In June 2001, his LDL was an excellent 72 mg/dL, indicating he was taking a high-dose statin drug. This did not, however, prevent him from suffering another heart attack.
The former Vice President has had access to the best that conventional cardiology can offer, yet his chronic heart ailments did not abate until he received a heart transplant in 2012.
DON’T BE VICTIMIZED BY OVERWHELMED DOCTORS
Standard blood panels today look at lipids (cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides) and glucose. If levels of these vascular risk markers are within conventional “reference ranges,” then the patient is told they are fine.
One big mistake that people make is thinking that being in the “reference range” means they are safe. For instance, a doctor may look at your fasting glucose reading of 97 mg/dL and say you have no diabetic problems. If you happen to be over-secreting large amounts of insulin that keeps your glucose suppressed, then you are facing diabetic complications that can adversely impact every part of your body. A hemoglobin A1c test is a far more accurate measure of glucose control. Fasting glucose levels should be below 86 mg/dL and hemoglobin A1c below5.6%.)122,123
With restrictions being placed on healthcare expenditures, aging Americans are being denied the opportunity to protect their circulatory system against atherosclerosis. Doctors facing a surge of newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act are less able to spend the time to evaluate comprehensive blood test results. It is up to the individual to take charge of their health and longevity by having annual blood tests and following up on any reading that is out of optimal range.
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