Supplements Help the Cardiovascular System and Extend Life
Now You Can Add 9.5 Years to Your Life
ow, boys and girls, you've been very good these last few decades. You've stopped smoking and you've watched your diet and taken dietary supplements. So you will be rewarded with a bonus of up to 10 years of extra life - to use as you see fit. But remember, the better you are, the more time you'll get in the end - or should we say before the end. So be really good, and use your extra years wisely.
A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association1 found something that we supplement takers have believed all along, and hoped was true, i.e., that there would be a big payoff for our efforts, a millennium-size bonus of longer life. Deaths from heart disease have fallen dramatically in young (18 to 39 years) and middle-aged individuals (40 to 55) who were followed for periods lasting up to 22 years, in a study ending in 1997. Cancer rates have been lowered in low-risk (healthy) men and women, and overall, the risk of death from all causes has been 50% to 58% lower in the healthy men, and 40% lower in the healthy women, compared to all others in the study. Healthy is defined as having serum cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl, blood pressure less than or equal to 120/80, not a current smoker, no history of diabetes or stroke, and no heart (ECG) abnormalities.
The core of the findings is that both men and women who have normal blood pressure and low cholesterol levels and who don't smoke can expect to live up to 9.5 years longer than those who have problems in these areas.
Ominously, the study suggests that the great improvement in the death rate from heart disease is now waning and that unhealthy lifestyles resulting in increased obesity are primarily to blame (see Melt Fat Away with Ephedrine and Caffeine, and Stay Healthy - Feb. 2000).
CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE TAKES CREDIT FOR LONGER LIFE
What wasn't clear from the study, involving more than 367,000 people who were observed over a period of 16 to 22 years (from 1975 to 1997), was why some of them had lower cholesterol and better blood pressure. Here, for the first time, were mortality data on low-risk populations, along with long-term follow-up. After attributing the achievement of better health to conventional medicine, Dr. Claude Lenfant, in a Journal editorial,2 implores us to steady our course as we continue the conquest of cardiovascular disease.
Despite 26 references cited in Dr. Lenfant's two-page editorial, there is not a single mention of nutrients or dietary supplements - not even anything about folic acid or homocysteine.* Nothing. All there is is talk about the need in the new millennium "to strike an appropriate balance between the pursuit of exciting new knowledge and the full application of strategies that already are known to be extremely effective, but considerably under used." Such as what?
* Homocysteine is an amino acid that accumulates in the cardiovascular system and causes damage that leads to atherosclerosis. The vitamin folic acid is able to control homocysteine and help prevent atherosclerosis.
Contrary to popular belief - at least among journal editors and publishers - the answers to longer life will not be found through the usual diagnosis and treatment, advocacies championed by conventional medicine, as long as the conclusions from these protocols are subject to political tainting. Coronary bypass surgery and chemotherapy are not the champions of longevity. Many such implemented advances have made little difference, and some have been retrograde.
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINT
In a letter to the editor of The New York Times last August 12, the pioneer of the homocysteine theory of cardiovascular disease, Dr. Kilmer McCully, disagreed with the notion that heart disease mortality had declined because of conventional medicine:
The recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the decline in heart disease mortality in the last three decades offers inadequate reasons for this spectacular success (news article, Aug. 6). The improvements in smoking cessation, treatment of hypertension, and lower blood cholesterol levels cited by the CDC are more recent than the onset of the decline in heart disease.
A better explanation is the introduction of synthetic folic acid and vitamin B6 into the American food supply beginning in the 1960s. Increased amounts of these vitamins are consumed through voluntary fortification of breakfast cereals and supplements. Major studies, including the Nurses' Health Study, the Framingham Heart Study, and the Physicians' Health Study, have demonstrated that dietary deficiencies of these vitamins lead to increased blood homocysteine levels and increased mortality from heart disease.
After many years of struggling to promote nutritional medicine, Dr. McCully and others like his have been joined by those of many more individuals of foresight and integrity. If we are to continue moving forward, it is important to give credit where it is due. Speaking of which, the leading medical journals, such as JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and others, have begun to publish large-scale studies on the benefits of vitamins and nutritional supplements - to their credit. However, there is still a great deal of resistance to the "nutrient-as-medicine" concept. It is an idea whose time has come and one that promotes self-education and self-responsibility rather than the traditional "just-take-this-pill" approach of the "doctor-knows-best" school of health.
In an era of falling financial expectations for the medical profession, organizations such as the AMA should not try to prohibit the direct selling of supplements by physicians who are aware of the supporting scientific literature.
Of the three factors most responsible for extended life cited by the JAMA report - cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter, blood pressure below 120 over 80, and abstention from smoking - two are clearly attainable, or significantly attainable, though nutritional supplementation. Much of the data supporting this conclusion has appeared in the conventional medical press. There is even a strong argument, substantiated in the literature, that it is possible to increase mental determination through the use of supplements - and that is one of the keys to kicking the smoking habit.**
Of the three factors most responsible
for extended life cited by the JAMA
report, two are clearly attainable,
or significantly attainable, though
Although genetics play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other major causes of death (these factors are the targets of an avalanche of current research), successes in reducing lifestyle-associated risk factors through nutritional supplementation have shown that bad genes are not necessarily a barrier to further improvement. But whatever the Old Guard of medicine decides to do, the advent of the Internet and the availability of more and better biomedical information means that the future is rosy. It offers us high hopes for better and longer life through enlightened self-education and access to an ever-growing cornucopia of nutritional supplements.
** See Exclusive Interview with Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw - May 1998.
- Stamler J, Stamler R, Neaton JD, et al. Low risk-factor profile and long-term cardiovascular and noncardiovascular mortality and life expectancy findings for 5 large cohorts of young adult and middle-aged men and women. JAMA 1999;282:2012-8.
- Lenfant C. Conquering cardiovascular disease: progress and promise. JAMA 1999:282:2068-70.