#107 7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at Age 90

June 9th, 2015 by

7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at Age 90

Odds are that you will be medically disabled by age 69 according to data from the World Health Organization.  As the current life expectancy is now 79 in the U.S., this means that you will likely spend the last 10 years of your life with chronic medical conditions, on lots of medications, and with many doctor visits.  Is this really how you want to spend your “golden years?”

Research shows that if you can do all 7 things discussed in this article, you will likely be able to do everything you now enjoy doing right up until your 90th birthday.  Don’t leave 21 high quality years “on the table.”  Read on to understand the science of how our bodies were genetically designed to function well until age 90.

Our Distorted Concept of Aging

Many people are afraid to live a long life.  Some even have the mistaken idea that the reason why they make poor lifestyle choices is because they don’t want to live very long.  What they don’t realize is that these poor lifestyle choices are much more likely to cause premature medical disabilities rather than a premature death.

Sadly, I often hear the following from patients.  “If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”

The key message of this article is that you don’t have to “grow old” in the traditional sense of the word.  You can continue to do everything you now enjoy doing until age 90.  For most people, your genes will allow you to enjoy great health at age 90 if you are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Men vs. Women, Disability and Longevity

In general, men become medically disabled and die several years younger than women.  The only exception seems to be “Sardinia’s Mysterious Male Methuselahs.” For some strange reason, the Sardinia men seem to outlive the women.

Despite these grim odds for men, there is one group that does surprisingly well in the U.S.  This one group of men that seem to thrive in the U.S. are male physicians.  What can we learn from these long lived male physicians that can help all of us to live to 90 without medical disabilities?

If you are a woman, even better, as your chances of hitting 90 in great health are even higher than men.  This is true even among U.S. physicians.

The Physician’s Study

The Physician’s Health Study was launched in 1982 at Harvard University to test the role of aspirin and beta-carotene in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Now, 33 years later, we have learned far more than the health effects of aspirin and beta-carotene.

Surprisingly, many of these male physicians have lived healthy lives, doing everything they have always enjoyed, until their 90th birthday and beyond.  Indeed, researchers found that if these physicians did all of the things described in this article, most of them would still be alive at age 90.

I should point out that if physicians even missed just one of the following things, then they probably would not make it to age 90.  Even more striking is that most of these physicians, living to age 90, reported excellent health.  Below are the 7 things you must do for great health at age 90.

7 Things You Must Do For Great Health at Age 90

1. Don’t Smoke

Every cigarette smoked takes 11 minutes off your life.   This adds up to dying 10 years too early.  It also causes rapid aging and premature medical disability.  Indeed, for physicians to make it to age 90 with excellent health meant absolutely no smoking.

If you smoke it is never too late to change.  The sooner you can quit the sooner you can gain back these lost years of quality life.

2. Prevent or Reverse Diabetes

Diabetes is a tragic disease causing premature medical disability and death.  In one study, diabetes took away up to 9 years of life and caused people to become medically disabled 20 years earlier.

According to a study performed by my former classmate, Harvard researcher Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, 90% of diabetes is completely preventable.  Even if it is genetically impossible to reverse your diabetes, do everything possible to keep your hemoglobin A1C in the normal range or at least as close to the normal range as possible.

3. Keep Your Blood Pressure in Check

High blood pressure not only wears out your heart but also your arteries and other organs.  The goal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg.  Anything above this is prematurely aging the body.  Indeed, studies show that people with high blood pressure lose 5 years of high quality life to heart attacks and other heart problems.

As with diabetes, I have seen hundreds of my patients reverse their high blood pressure and get off of medications with an unwavering commitment to a healthy lifestyle.  To learn more about how to reverse high blood pressure without medications, please read this article I wrote.

4. Physically Active

Studies show that every hour spent sitting watching TV takes 22 minutes off your life.  This could be any form of sitting.

The physicians living to age 90 and beyond with excellent health, in the Physician’s Health Study, were physically active their entire lives.  At the cellular level, studies show that if we spend too much time sitting then we give up 10 years of life.

5. Maintain a Lean Body Weight

These physicians living to 90 with great health were not obese.  They were a lean group.  The average body mass index (BMI) of these physicians was 24.  A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight.  To determine your own BMI, click on this link.

Studies show that obesity will rob you of up to 9 years of life.  Like diabetes, it can cause you to become medically disabled 20 years before your time.

6. College Education

When reviewing the findings of the Physician’s Health Study, it is important to note that this was a very homogenous group.  They were all physicians.  Thus, we also have to understand what makes a physician a physician.

To begin with, to become a physician means you have to go to school for a long time.  Countless studies have shown that the more education you achieve the more likely you are to avoid medical disabilities and live a long life.

According to this 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people did not finish high school gave up 9 years of life.  Even those who may have attended college, but did not finish their degree, lost out on 5 years of life.

If you did not go to college, or did not finish your degree, it is never too late.  Most colleges offer night courses or online courses to help you get your degree.  Spending the time now to get your degree may also help you to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease later in life.

7. Calling in Life

Many physicians I know feel that being a physician is their calling in life.  There is no separation between work and personal life.  As a physician, you are driven by your desire to help other people.  This calling in life, or sense of purpose, has been shown to improve health and longevity.

Based on my calculations of studies done, those without a strong sense of purpose give up 4 years of life.  People without a perceived calling in life also develop Alzheimer’s Disease at a young age.

If you don’t yet have a purpose or mission driving your life, now is the time for you to explore why you are on this Earth.  What legacy do you want to leave?

Surprising Factors Not Associated with Health and Longevity

Interestingly, there were certain factors not associated with health and longevity in physicians.  The following were not shown to improve the health and longevity of physicians in the Physician’s Health Study:

1. Social connection

2. Wine consumption

3. Cholesterol numbers

Of these three, the most surprising to me was that social connection was not a predictor of health and longevity in physicians.  Perhaps this is because, by nature, physicians tend to feel very needed and connected to their communities.  For example, every week I go to church, at least several neighbors will come up to me asking for help regarding a medical situation.

Also of interest was that as you get older cholesterol numbers don’t seem to matter as much.  Other studies have shown similar findings.  One other factor that should be considered is that most of these physicians were in good health when they first enrolled in the Physician’s Health Study in 1992.

It Is Not Just Physicians Who Make It To 90

You don’t have to be a physician to enjoy great health at age 90.  With strict adherence to a healthy lifestyle, studies show that most Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and Okinawans can also live to age 90.

Making It Work For You

The key message of the Physician’s Health Study is that aging does not need to mean medical disabilities, lots of medications, and frequent visits to the doctor.  You can continue to enjoy excellent health to age 90 and possibly beyond.

Are unhealthy lifestyle choices worth becoming medically disabled 20 years younger?

#029 Is the Low Sodium Diet Out? New Recommendations for Daily Sodium Intake

August 24th, 2014 by

More than half of us here in America have high blood pressure. In fact, 56% of us are above the ideal blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg, as established by the American Heart Association (AHA). High blood pressure leads to heart attacks, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, strokes, and kidney failure.

For years, we have been told to eat a low sodium diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended 1,500 mg, which is substantially less than one teaspoon per day. One teaspoon of salt has 2,300mg of sodium.

Despite these recommendations, the average American kept on eating an average of 3,400 mg of sodium each day. In fact, less than 1% of Americans could ever achieve the AHA goal.

Based on emerging new medical studies, it appears that following these AHA guidelines would not have helped us reduce our blood pressure as much as one might think. Also, new data indicates that perhaps this ultra low sodium diet is not the best for our long-term health either.

Sodium and High Blood Pressure

While medical studies do support that we can reduce our blood pressure with a low sodium diet, the results are not that impressive. The average person can drop their blood pressure only by about 5 mmHg with a low sodium diet.

As one who has suffered from high blood pressure and wanted to get off the medications, I thought the answer to lowering my blood pressure was to dramatically reduce my sodium. I reduced my sodium so much that all of my food tasted incredibly bland. In fact, it just was not pleasurable anymore.

Over time, I found that the answer to reducing my blood pressure came through significant weight loss, eating real food rather than processed food, reducing and managing my stress, and moving throughout the day. By doing these things, I was able to dramatically drop my blood pressure to 110/70 mmHg without medications.

Asian Paradox

Having been taught that a low sodium diet was critical to good cardiovascular health, I was always amazed at how many Asian cultures, such as Japan or China, could eat high salt diets, yet have much lower rates of heart disease. From my perspective, it did not add up.

Having spent time in Asia nearly every year of my adult life, I have made it a point to learn more about what they eat. On our last trip to China, my wife, Jane, spent the day with Mrs. Huang and her daughter-in-law cooking meals.

According to Mrs. Huang, the secret to making Chinese food taste great involved three simple ingredients: the right cooking oil, fresh garlic, and salt in one form or another.

Although I have preached a low sodium diet to my cardiology patients for years, I could never reconcile how the Japanese and Chinese can take in so much sodium through soy sauce and salt, in one form or another, but yet seem to avoid heart disease. I knew from medical studies that after Asians immigrate to the U.S., their rates of heart disease gradually approach those of other Americans.

Could it be possible that their diets, high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish, in their native countries protect them from heart disease? Could it be possible that salt is not so harmful if it is added to real foods rather than eaten with processed foods?

I suspect that the real problem is not salt but rather processed foods. Interestingly, as more and more Asians are adopting the Western diet with processed foods, their rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are now dramatically increasing.

Medical Societies Can’t Agree on Daily Sodium Intake

The salt controversy really heated up in May of 2013 when the prestigious Institute of Medicine published their daily sodium intake recommendation. They specifically stated the following:

1. There was no compelling data to recommend less than 2,300 mg daily of sodium even in higher risk patients (those patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease).

2. They even raised the question that the AHA’s ultra low sodium recommendations may even cause harm.

The 2014 Sodium Controversy

The August 14,2014 issue of the most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, there were three published articles all questioning the optimal daily sodium intake.

It is interesting to note that all three articles came to different conclusions. Amongst these data, I believe there is a middle ground when it comes to how much sodium per day is optimal. Moderation, not dramatic reduction, is the answer when it comes to daily sodium intake.

Take Home Message on Daily Sodium Intake

1. The ultra low sodium diet is out.

Most experts now recommend a more moderate approach to daily sodium intake. Even though the data seems to be mounting against the AHA’s ultra low sodium recommendations of 1,500 mg/day, the AHA holds strong to their current guidelines. I project that, in time, they will adjust their sodium guidelines, as they did with their ultra low-fat, high-carb diet recommendations.

2. The right amount of daily sodium seems to be about 2,300 mg

Approximately 2,300 mg per day seems to provide the right balance between health and good tasting food. I have carefully tracked my own daily sodium intake. As long as I steer clear of processed foods, fast foods, or most restaurant foods, I find that I can add the desired amount of salt to real food and stay at about 2,300 mg per day.

3. Minimize eating out and processed foods

For most Americans, achieving the moderate sodium recommendations will require significantly cutting back on eating out and processed foods, as 50% of what we eat is processed or restaurant-prepared. The problem is not the saltshaker itself, but rather, who is adding the salt to the food you eat.

Indeed, 80% of the sodium we consume each day is from eating out or from processed foods. Only 20% of our daily sodium intake comes from the salt shaker.

Do you know how much sodium you are getting?

Take back your control. Start today and for one week, do these two things:

1) Read food labels.

It is easy to verify the appropriate sodium percentages, as 2,300 mg is the recommended daily allowance listed on the food labels.

2) Return to real foods.

Make it a point to eat out less and prepare real food at home more. Preparing your own simple, real foods could easily drop your average daily sodium intake of 3,400 mg to 2,300 mg, improving your overall health.

What has worked for you in maintaining a healthy blood pressure? We’d love to hear from you.

#027 Do You Have These 12 Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?

August 11th, 2014 by

Do you have these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Chances are that you suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.  Indeed, up to 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient.

Most people have no idea they are missing this critical micronutrient.  Read on to find out if you may be suffering from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Jill’s Experience

Early in my career as a cardiologist, I worked with a 48 year old nurse from Wyoming who suffered from palpitations, anxiety, and weight gain.  She was tired during the day and couldn’t sleep at night.  She had seen many doctors and nothing seemed to help.

As part of her work up for palpitations, I put her on a 24-hour heart monitor (Holter monitor).  The heart monitor showed frequent premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

I also checked her lab work.  Everything was normal, including her serum magnesium level.  Fortunately, her stress echocardiogram was also normal so we didn’t have to worry about any other heart issues.

To help with her palpitations, I prescribed a beta-blocker medication.  Unfortunately, beta-blockers only caused more fatigue and only marginally decreased her palpitations.  What followed were a series of different medications, all with intolerable side effects.

Finally, I encouraged her to eat a high magnesium diet.  I also prescribed magnesium supplements.  Even though her serum magnesium level was “normal”, I was running out of options.

Miraculously, all of her symptoms went away.  Not only were her palpitations gone, but her anxiety resolved, she had more energy and she was now sleeping at night.  She even lost 10 pounds in the process.

Can you test for magnesium deficiency?

Unfortunately, there is no good test for magnesium deficiency.  This is why it is so important to recognize the magnesium deficiency symptoms.

While it is easy to test for magnesium in your blood (serum magnesium levels), less than 1% of the magnesium in your body can be found in your blood.  Thus, serum magnesium levels are a poor indicator of magnesium deficiency.  Most of your magnesium is stored in your bones or your cells.

Who is at highest risk for magnesium deficiency?

If you are under a lot of stress you likely are not absorbing much magnesium from your food.  If you drink filtered or bottled water, you are getting minimal magnesium in your water.  If spinach and other green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are not on your plate every day, you probably suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

If you are overweight, diabetic, or over age 60, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if you take diuretics, calcium supplements, or stomach acid blocking medications you are also probably deficient in magnesium.

Do you have these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Below are 12 of the most common magnesium deficiency symptoms.  Chances are that you probably suffer from one of these 12 conditions.

1. Weight Gain or Diabetes

When you don’t get enough magnesium in your food and water, it can cause glucose and insulin levels to rise.  When insulin levels are high, you may suffer from food cravings.  Unfortunately, these food cravings are generally for processed carbohydrates which lead to further weight gain.

2. Fatigue and Muscle Weakness

Magnesium is a critical component of energy production in the body.  In fact, the body’s energy molecule, ATP, is created through magnesium dependent chemical reactions.

If you are tired all the time, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if your muscles are weak, you may also not be getting enough magnesium.

3. Anxiety

People under high levels of mental or physical stress, poorly absorb magnesium from the gastrointestinal tract.  To make matters worse, magnesium deficiency is an important cause of anxiety.  Fortunately, studies show that restoring the magnesium may help in the treatment of anxiety.

4. Insomnia

Having enough magnesium balances out your stress hormones.  Magnesium also helps the body maintain sufficient melatonin and other sleep hormones.  Indeed, magnesium supplementation has been shown to help with sleep.

5. Depression

For over 100 years now, magnesium deficiency has been associated with depression.  It is also well known, that people with depression are more likely to eat a diet low in magnesium.

6. Dental Cavities or Osteoporosis

If you’ve had a lot of cavities, or been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you probably have magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium deficiency has long been associated with dental cavities.  Magnesium deficiency may also affect vitamin D metabolism and osteocalcin which play a key role in bone turnover and formation.

Ironically, if you are taking calcium supplements for osteoporosis, you may be making matters worse. Calcium supplementation can throw off your calcium/magnesium balance.

7. Constipation

If you suffer from constipation you probably are magnesium deficient.  Magnesium has long been used as a laxative.

8. Muscle Cramps or Migraine Headaches

Do you suffer from leg cramps, eye twitches, or muscle spasms?  Do you get frequent headaches? These may all be magnesium deficiency symptoms.

9. Inflammation, Arthritis, or Autoimmune Diseases

If you suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or autoimmune diseases, you may be magnesium deficient.  Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to arthritis and elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) blood tests.

10. Palpitations, Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, or Cardiac Arrest

Most forms of heart disease have been linked with magnesium deficiency.  This mineral is critical to optimal cardiac function.

11. Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems are very common in the U.S.  Research suggests that many thyroid issues can be traced back to a magnesium deficiency.

12. Cancer

An often overlooked cause of cancer is magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium is a critical nutrient for many DNA repair mechanisms.   As new cancer cells are created every day in your body, you need your DNA repair mechanism functioning optimally.

Magnesium in Our Water

Our ancestors used to get large amounts of magnesium just from their drinking water.  Mountain spring water is naturally high in magnesium.  Unfortunately, many municipalities remove magnesium as part of their water treatment process.

If you want to see how much magnesium is in your drinking water, click here.  In general, the “harder” your water, the more magnesium you are getting.

Interestingly, drinking hard water may lower your risk of heart disease.  If you happen to live in a city with naturally hard water, you can get up to 30% of the magnesium you need each day from water.

Unfortunately, water softeners, water filters, reverse osmosis devices, and bottled water are generally all depleted of magnesium.  If you drink any of these magnesium depleted water types, you have to get 100% of your magnesium from food.

Magnesium in Our Food

Once upon a time, our soil contained much more magnesium.  Unfortunately, modern agriculture has stripped this essential mineral from the ground.

To make matters worse, the foods most often eaten in the U.S, namely wheat, dairy, meat, sugar, and other processed foods, do not contain much magnesium.

Fortunately, organically grown produce has been shown to have up to 29% more magnesium.  To get enough magnesium in your diet, make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day.  To see a breakdown of which foods contain the most magnesium click here.

Can you get too much magnesium?

In general, it is very difficult to get too much magnesium from your food and water unless you have kidney disease.  Certainly, it is possible to get too much magnesium if you are taking supplements.

How much magnesium do you need each day?

In general, adults need about 400 mg of magnesium each day.  Rather than trying to calculate the magnesium content of your food, just eat a heaping green salad each day.  If your heaping salad includes plenty of spinach, seeds, nuts, or beans you are there.  A heaping salad with the right toppings will get you 100% of the magnesium you need for the day.  This is especially true if the seeds on top are pumpkin seeds.

Magnesium in China’s Longevity Village

As you know, we have been studying the residents of China’s Longevity Village for many years.  We have found that these people do not suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

The mountain spring water they drink is extremely hard and packed full of essential minerals.  Researchers suggest that these people get up to 50% of their magnesium just from the water.

Also, modern agriculture has yet to put a stake in the ground in this rural area of China.  Thus, the soil is extremely high in magnesium and other minerals.

Their diet, which is very high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, only further augments the magnesium they are getting every day.  We suspect that the magnesium in their food and water may be an important reason why heart disease is very uncommon and people live to old ages free of chronic medical conditions.

How can you correct magnesium deficiency?

Let me give you five simple steps to correct magnesium deficiency.

1. Drink hard water.

2. Eat a heaping salad with spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes daily. 

3. Reduce Stress.

4. Talk with your doctor about magnesium supplements.

5. Talk with your doctor about diuretics, acid reducing medications, or calcium supplements.

Final Thoughts

Up to 89% of Americans suffer from magnesium deficiency.  Chances are that you may already be suffering from one of magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Fortunately, magnesium deficiency is easy to correct.  Talk with your doctor if you suspect that you have any of the above magnesium deficiency symptoms.

If you have any thoughts or experiences with magnesium deficiency, please leave your comments below.  Also, if you have any questions about what you have just read, leave your questions in the comments section below.  I will do my best to answer every question.

#015 How to Find Your “Why”

June 23rd, 2014 by

Do you have a plan for your life?  Why are you committed to reclaiming or maintaining your health?

Finding your purpose or your “why” power is what gets us out of bed each morning.  If we don’t have a reason for living, the entire day becomes a chore and we lose site of our goal.  Over time, we can fall into a trap of a negative downward spiral. We stop investing in ourselves.  We stop investing in the relationships with family members or others within our social networks.  We may stop eating the foods that give us health and energy.  We may even stop exercising or moving altogether.

I have found that my patients who have successfully reversed their medical conditions have a very strong answer to “Why are you committed to regaining your health?”  They also have an answer to the follow up question, “What will happen if you cannot regain your health?”

We have to visualize our goal.  We also need to visualize what will happen if we cannot stick to our goal.  Every day I review my life’s goals and purpose.  It gives me much greater focus and clarity with all of the distractions and temptations in our modern life.

My Experience

In my mid 40s I had lost my health and lost my “Why”.  I was working long and crazy hours at the hospital.  I had lost my connection to my family, myself, and even my spirituality.

I would not take vacation time. Each day I would start working at 5 or 6 am and often would not come home from the hospital until 8 pm or later at night.  I definitely was not happy at that time either.

I had this crazy idea that if I just worked hard enough and we saved our money that we could retire early and start enjoying life.  I fell victim to the trap of once this happens (fill in the blank), I will be happy.  You cannot put off your happiness. The key is to be happy in the moment, happy in whatever stage of life you are in.

In the end, my body just gave out.  It hurt to move or do anything.  I wound up on 5 different medications and had developed an autoimmune disease, severe esophagitis, degenerative disk disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, horrible insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

I always felt tired and would try to compensate by eating plenty of donuts, bagels, pizza, and Diet Coke each day.  Finally, I realized how far off course my life had become.  I also realized that my answer to the second question, “what will happen if you cannot regain your health” was that I would become a decrepit, arthritic, and sickly overweight man and would likely wind up in one of those Jazzy scooters before age 60!

The first step for me to regain my health was to develop a strong life’s purpose.  My purpose required me to have excellent health so that I could fulfill my role in this life.  The purpose also had to be strong enough to resist all of the temptations of modern life.

The Power of Purpose and Risk of Heart Disease

Does having a sense of purpose matter with regards to health?  The answer is a resounding yes!  I learned this first hand.

One of the largest studies looking at the role of a life purpose and survival was done in Japan.  In this study, they had a total of 43,391 people that they followed for 7 years.  They found that those who did not have a sense of purpose for their lives were 50% more likely to die during the 7 years of the study.

Interestingly, in this same study the risk of dying from a heart related cause was 60% higher if you lacked a sense of purpose in your life.

The researchers offered several explanations for their findings.  They cited other studies which have shown that people without purpose or hope are more likely to develop blood clots, have increased levels of inflammation, and are more likely to have the dangerous forms of cholesterol.

Having a Purpose Can Protect Against Alzheimer Disease

An equally fascinating study was recently published on 246 individuals from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.  In this study, they found that having a life mission or purpose could help to prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease.  It makes sense to me, if you have a purpose you have passion.  If you have a passion for life you will live in a way that promotes health and wellbeing.  To read this study click here.

Lack of Purpose and Poor Health

This is something that I have seen many times in my career.  The most dangerous day in the life of a man is the day he retires.  For many men, their sense of purpose seems to come from their job or career.  So often, when men retire their health quickly crashes over the next 1 to 2 years.

Does this mean we can never retire?  Of course, not.  However, instead of turning retirement into lounging on the chair, it could be an opportunity to move from a “for profit” to a “non-profit” career.

Volunteering can be so incredibly therapeutic and health promoting.  Many studies have shown that those who volunteer gain remarkable health benefits.  We all need to feel needed and valued for optimal health.

How to Develop Your Life’s Purpose

How can we develop our own life purpose as this is the first step to reclaiming our health?  This is something that is very personal and will vary from person to person.  You must be sure that your purpose and goals are your own rather than “should’s” that may be placed on us externally.

For me, what seemed to give me the greatest clarity of my life’s purpose was to imagine what I would want people to say of me at my funeral.  What do I want my life to stand for and what legacy do I want to leave?  What mark will I leave on the world so that my posterity will know that I once lived here.  I hope that I can live my life so that on my gravestone my family will have carved my life’s purpose which is “He served God, loved his family, and healed the sick”.

To fulfill my life’s purpose I must have good health.  I now know that I can never take this for granted again!  This strong sense of purpose keeps me motivated and helps me each day to live in a way that promotes health.  It gets me out of bed, it motivates me to move each day, and it inspires me to resist foods that will take me away from this purpose.

What is your “Why”?  Does a strong sense of purpose give you the power to resist the temptations of modern life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#014 Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps

June 23rd, 2014 by

Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps

I recently performed an ablation for a patient who was suffering from atrial fibrillation following the recent death of her husband of 50 years.  She and her husband did everything together.  It was the kind of marriage that everyone dreams about.

Unfortunately, last summer her husband died suddenly.  She was left heart broken.  She was so devastated she could not leave her home for months until she became too short of breath to even walk inside her home.

Her daughters brought her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure from the Broken Heart Syndrome.   After she was treated with the appropriate medications, her heart failure improved. However, it was not until she was no longer grieving her husband that her heart failure completely resolved.  Unfortunately, she was left with atrial fibrillation…

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy or the Broken Heart Syndrome in My Practice

This is something that I have seen many times in my career.  While it is often from the death of a loved one, I have also seen it from other forms of stress such as family conflict, natural disaster, a lawsuit, losing a job, losing a house, etc. Fortunately, most cases resolve once people are able to manage their stressful experience.

Stress and Our Health

Stress is everywhere!  In fact, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work according to Everest College’s 2012 study. Another study showed that chronic stress has a similar damaging effect on the body as smoking 5 cigarettes a day  Even just thinking you are “stressed” is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%.

Stress shortens our lives and leads to premature aging.  The stress we are feeling now predicts our health 10 years down the road.  Stress is part of the human experience.  We cannot avoid it.  The key is how do we process and manage stress?

Eliminate Stress

What are the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system?  

For years, I have seen how people with high anxiety levels seem to be very prone to a dangerous heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation or Afib.  It always seems that when these people are most stressed they have an episode of Afib.  In addition to Afib, stress can trigger may other cardiovascular problems.  If you want to read more just click on each condition.

1. Stress can trigger arrhythmias

2. Stress can cause strokes

3. Just one episode of mental stress can cause heart cells to die. (here is a more layperson’s report of this study)

4. When we are stressed out we eat heart damaging foods.

What can we do?

Unfortunately, studies have shown that we can even inherit stress from our parents.  But, like everything else we have learned, our DNA is not our destiny.  We can change our lives and change the lives of those who will follow us.

7 Ways to Manage Stress and Avoid the Broken Heart Syndrome

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Be grateful for whatever you have.  Studies show that if we have an “attitude of gratitude” stress becomes much more manageable.

2. Get Enough Sleep

When it gets dark at night it is time to start winding down our day.  If we are sleep deprived we cannot manage anything very well.  Get your sleep and your stress will be much easier to manage.

3. Keep Physically Active

Physical activity allows us to diffuse the toxic stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin.  If you are stressed, go on a long strenuous walk.  Exercise really does reduce stress!

4. Eat Right

If we eat the right foods, especially fruits and vegetables  it gives our bodies the right nutrients to keep everything working properly.

5. Meditate

Meditation can quiet the mind and reduce stress.  Meditation can come in many different forms.  For some it can be prayer for others it could mean yoga.

6. Connect With Others

Too often, when we are stressed, we turn inward.  This is especially true for men.  When we are stressed out is when we need to reach out to others the most.  We need to find ways to help others when we are stressed the most.  It seems counter intuitive but when we focus on others rather than ourselves our stress will magically resolve.

7. Accept What You Cannot Change

At the end of the day, there are just things that are beyond our control. We simply can’t fix everything.

What do you think?  Is stress affecting your health? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#013 How to Get Rid of Atrial Fibrillation Once and For All

June 23rd, 2014 by

Do you or someone you love suffer from atrial fibrillation (A-fib)?  If so, you are not alone.  One in four Americans will have at least one episode of A-fib in their lives.  In this article, I share how to get rid of atrial fibrillation.

Many of my patients feel horrible when A-fib strikes.  Their hearts race chaotically and they often feel short of breath, fatigued, dizzy, lightheaded, or may even have chest pain.

The effects of A-fib can be devastating.  A-fib is one of the major causes of stroke.  It can also put people on a number of different medications, all with serious side effects.

This is something you definitely want to avoid, if possible…

If you are like most patients with this condition, you have already been put on a heavy duty blood thinner for life.  You may also be on a medicine to slow your heart down or hold you in rhythm.

Do you want to live this way for the rest of your life?  There are other options.

If aggressive lifestyle changes are made soon enough, the A-fib may completely go away.  I have seen many patients “beat” A-fib just by making significant lifestyle changes.  For others, the A-fib attacks may significantly decrease.  Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough.  If this is the case, all is not lost.  These lifestyle changes will double your chances of successfully beating A-fib with a minimally invasive procedure called an A-fib ablation.

If we are going to beat A-fib, we need to know everything that may be contributing to this condition.  If we can aggressively attack each of these 10 items early enough there is an excellent chance that you can get rid of A-fib once and for all!

1. Get Rid of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is one of the main causes of A-fib.  It puts a big strain on the heart which can cause the lower chambers of the heart to thicken and the upper chambers of the heart to enlarge.

If you have high blood pressure you are not alone.  Studies show that half of all Americans have a blood pressure above the goal of 120/80 mmHg as established by the American Heart Association.  As with A-fib, if significant lifestyle changes are made early enough, high blood pressure is completely reversible.

I have seen this with many of my patients.  In fact, after just a few weeks of making major lifestyle changes, under the direction of their physicians they can start getting off of their high blood pressure medications.  I personally dropped my blood pressure which could go as high as 150/90 mmHg down to 110/70 mmHg without medications.

For more information on how to reverse high blood pressure, please read my article “How to Get Off Your Blood Pressure Medications: Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps.

Until you can reverse your high blood pressure with lifestyle modification, you may need to work with your physician on getting this under control.  For my patients with A-fib, I tend to be aggressive on getting the blood pressure under control.  I usually shoot for a target of less than 135/85 mmHg.

2. Reverse Your Biologic Age

Unfortunately, getting older is a big risk factor for developing A-fib.  Even though you are getting older year-by-year (your chronological age), you can reverse your biologic age now!  Your biologic age can be 10-20 years younger than how “old” you are.  You can regain your youth, feel great, and reverse the effects of aging on your heart.

How do you reverse your biologic age?  Please read my recent article “We Can Reverse the Aging Process“.

3. Keep Stress in Check

It seems like we are all stressed out.  According to a study from Everest College, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work.  One study showed that our chronic stress is the equivalent of smoking 5 cigarettes a day!  Even if you just think you are stressed is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%!

When we are stressed our bodies release cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream.  These substances are toxic to the heart if it continues long enough.

What can we do to get our stress under control?  Make it a priority to do something every day to get your stress levels under control.  We will never be able to completely avoid stress.  It is part of the human experience.

Even something as simple as yoga to calm your nerves has been shown to decrease your risk of A-fib by 50%!  The key is to recognize your stress and do something actively every day to bring your stress levels down.  For some people this could be exercising, spending time in nature, reading a good book, getting a good night of sleep, or just hanging out with your friends.

For more information on this, please read my article “Seven Ways to Manage Stress”. http://drjohnday.com/?p=779

4. Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is like stress, it can be helpful to the body for short periods of time. However, when inflammation never turns off it can damage the heart and the rest of the body as well as result in premature aging.

It has been recognized for quite some time that inflammation is an important cause of A-fib.  The good news is that if we can turn off the inflammation for our heart it will help the rest of our body to recover as well.

Did you know there is a simple blood test your doctor can order for you to check your inflammation level?  This test is called C Reactive Protein or CRP for short.  The goal is to have a CRP of less than 1 mg/L.  If you can get your CRP to less than one you can dramatically reduce your risk of A-fib, heart attacks, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

How can we reduce inflammation?  Please read the article I wrote on this subject entitled “Six Strategies to Reduce Inflammation and Chronic Pain“.

5. Get Your Weight in Line

Did you know that being overweight is one of the biggest causes of A-fib today?  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, showed how important weight loss is with reversing A-fib.  In this study, if overweight people could lose just 32 pounds, they could reduce their A-fib attacks nearly three-fold.

This is something I have seen time and time again in my practice.  Overweight people with A-fib who can lose the weight can often make their A-fib go away.

6. Eat the Right Foods

Did you know the rates of A-fib are several times higher in North America than anywhere else in the world?  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is like pouring gasoline on the A-fib fire.  The right foods can reverse most of the factors, discussed in this article, driving A-fib.

For my patients with A-fib I recommend the following:

-Nine servings of fruits or vegetables daily

-At least one serving of nuts or seeds daily

-At least one serving of legumes daily

-Two servings of a low mercury oily fish, like salmon, weekly

For many of my patients, they need to learn how to eat vegetables.  Vegetables can be the most wonderful tasting food if prepared right.  These foods can heal our hearts and our bodies.

To go along with these must eat healing foods, I recommend that my A-fib patients minimize or avoid the following three foods.

-Processed or prepared foods

-Animal meat, especially processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats) and red meat

-Sugar, including foods that are immediately turned to sugar like wheat flour, white rice, or potatoes

The goal is to eat real food.  To get back to cooking and sharing meals with friends and families!

7. Rejuvenating Sleep

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get rejuvenating sleep if we are to beat A-fib.  For most people this means at least seven hours of sleep.  It also means sleep free from sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?  That is where people stop breathing while sleeping.  These big drops in oxygen levels when people are not breathing can lead not only to A-fib but also to heart attacks, sudden death, heart failure, or high blood pressure.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?  Generally I find that the spouse or sleeping partner can easily make this diagnosis.  People with sleep apnea usually snore like a train and then will stop breathing for 20 or 30 seconds.

Fortunately, for most people, sleep apnea is totally reversible. It is a complication of being overweight.  With weight loss the sleep apnea usually goes away.

Until the weight can be lost, I recommend that my patients with sleep apnea get treated.  Studies show that you can cut the numbers of A-fib episodes by about 50% with getting the sleep apnea treated.

8. Get Moving

Did you know that people with the least amount of physical activity are at high risk of developing A-fib?  The key is to get moving!  The first thing I recommend for my patients is to get a pedometer.

Studies show that just the mere act of tracking your steps will increase the number of steps you take each day by 2,500.  That is the equivalent of walking more than one extra mile each day just by tracking your steps!

The pedometer is so helpful because people overestimate their activity.  In fact, based on pedometer data, less than 5% of Americans get enough physical activity.

I have found that in my practice, most of my A-fib patients only get 2,000 to 3,000 steps each day.  The average American gets 5,000 steps each day.  The average European, where A-fib is much less common, often gets about 10,000 steps each day.  The goal is to get at least 10,000 steps a day.

While this may seem hard to achieve, most of my patients can easily get to this goal.  You just have to be creative. Can you walk somewhere instead of driving? Can you add an evening walk to your day?  The possibilities are endless.

In addition to 10,000 steps daily, I recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day.  I am often asked, what exercises should I do.  My answer is simple, do what you enjoy.  Anything counts.  Gardening, dancing, skiing, hiking, etc. are all great.  The most important thing is that you are consistent and do something each day.

I do recommend varying your daily exercise to keep it fun, work different muscle groups, and to prevent overuse injuries.  Depending on what you choose to do, you may also need to incorporate a couple days of strength training into your routine.

9. Get Rid of the Vices

Tobacco, alcohol, and any stimulants, including caffeine, can be a trigger for A-fib.  Did you know there is even a condition called Holiday Heart?  This is when someone drinks a lot of alcohol and then goes into A-fib.

For many of my patients, just getting rid of these vices can eliminate A-fib episodes.  Other stimulant medications, including Sudafed, Ritalin, or other attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications can also trigger A-fib.

To learn more about the effect of caffeine to heart arrhythmias, please read this article I wrote.

10. When All Else Fails Get it Ablated

For most of my patients, aggressive lifestyle modification can drive A-fib into remission.  Unfortunately, there will always be some cases that just don’t seem to resolved with lifestyle modification.  What should be done in these cases?

For these patients, blood thinners, medications to slow the heart, and rhythm controlling medications are often prescribed.  Unfortunately, for most patients, rhythm drugs only work for a few years at most.

When medications are no longer effective in controlling the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, an ablation is the next step. This is also an excellent option for patients who have side effects from the medications or just do not want to be on life-long medications.

Fortunately, the lifestyle changes we have discussed in this article can double the chances of a successful procedure if an ablation is ultimately required to control the symptoms.

With an ablation, we go into the heart through an IV in the leg, map where the A-fib is coming from in the heart, and then ablate those areas.  The entire procedure takes about three hours and patients will typically spend the night in the hospital following the procedure.  The following day patients will go home with just a band aid.

I have personally done nearly 4,000 of these A-fib ablation procedures.  In experienced hands, most patients can ultimately be free of atrial fibrillation.  There are certainly risks associated with this procedure but these can largely be avoided by physicians with the most experience in performing these procedures.  Please discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of A-fib ablations with your physician.

Here is a link to see more that I have written about atrial fibrillation.  Also, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter or subscribe to my podcast.

Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

#012 Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps

June 19th, 2014 by

Did you know that half of all American adults have a blood pressure above what the American Heart Association recommends?  Of the 70% of Americans on prescription medications, a large percentage of these take medications for high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of atrial fibrillation, stroke, and coronary heart disease.  If we are going to reverse or prevent those conditions, we need to get our blood pressure under control.

For many of my patients, these medications often leave them feeling tired, groggy, or lightheaded.  Some even report weight gain with these medications.  Do so many Americans really need to take all of these high blood pressure medications?  Is there another way?

Welcome to the foods that lower blood pressure.  These are the natural ways to lower blood pressure.

My Experience with High Blood Pressure

The first time I saw a high blood pressure reading was at about age 30.  I had a routine check up at the doctor’s office and they told me my blood pressure was 150/100 mmHg.  At the time I thought I was just “stressed” and did not pay it much attention.

For years, even as a physician I just pushed it to the back of my mind.  I was young and healthy.  Why should I worry about my blood pressure?  I couldn’t possibly have high blood pressure.

Of course, as a physician, I knew all of the long-term complications of high blood pressure.  I knew that high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, heart attacks, arrhythmias, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, and other problems.  Somehow, this all seemed “academic” or something that did not apply to me.

By age 40 my blood pressure consistently ranged anywhere from 135-150/85-90 mmHg.  Once I hit my 40s I knew I could no longer ignore it.  I decided to try a medication.

As I had Cozaar samples (losartan) at my medical practice, I decided to give this a try.  I put myself on 50 mg a day of Cozaar and it brought my blood pressure down by about 10 mmHg.

Fortunately, I did not have too many noticeable side effects.  I was a bit fatigued from the medication.  The hardest part was remembering to take it every day.

At the time, it never crossed my mind if there was another way.  Like most of my patients at the time, I also took my daily medications.

By my mid-40s, my health had hit rock bottom.  I was on 5 medications and felt horrible.  Not only did I have high blood pressure but I also was overweight, had high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, esophageal problems, and an autoimmune disease.

After learning of a small remote mountainous village in Southwest China where people live very long lives free of medical problems, medications, and surgeries, I knew this was a place we had to visit.  We had to learn their secrets to optimal health.  We spent several years studying the villagers and learning from them.

After completely changing my diet and lifestyle, the weight naturally dropped off and my blood pressure came way down.  Today, my blood pressure averages 110/70 mmHg.  I am also off of all medications.  I feel better now than I have ever felt.

Most of my patients who follow this same lifestyle can also drop their blood pressure 20-40 mmHg and get off of their high blood pressure medications.  This is far more than what most doctors think is even possible from making lifestyle changes.  It is not easy, but you will feel so much better if you can faithfully follow the 8 steps below and get off your medications!

A word of caution.  These eight steps will drop your blood pressure very fast and very significantly.  Please work very closely with your physician in lifestyle changes to treat high blood pressure and never stop any prescribed medications without first discussing it with your physician.

Eight Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

1. Eat Less Sodium

When physicians talk to patients about lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure, this is probably the number one piece of advice we give.  Unfortunately, this is often the only advice patients receive about how to lower their blood pressure naturally.

There is some controversy, even with physician organizations, on how low we should go.  The most aggressive recommendations are from the American Heart Association who recommend keeping sodium (salt) below 1,500 mg per day.  Some studies indicate potential harm with this ultra low sodium diet.

I now recommend eating approximately 2,300 mg of sodium each day for my patients.  Considering that the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium each day, this will require some significant sodium reduction.

When I discuss this with my patients they generally tell me, “I never salt my food”.  While that may be true, that is not where we are getting our salt overload.  For the typical American, 80% of their daily salt intake comes from processed foods.

If you are going to get to 2,300 mg/day of sodium you have no choice but to minimize processed foods and be very careful when eating out.  You have to eat real food to reach this goal.

2. Stay Physically Active

Did you know that exercising daily can lower your blood pressure?  Just as important as exercising daily is to keep moving throughout the day.  For my patients, I recommend 30 minutes daily of at least moderate intensity exercise AND 10,000 steps per day as recorded by a pedometer.

Studies show that even if we faithfully go to the gym each day, if we sit the rest of the day we negate the beneficial effects.  We need to find ways to keep moving throughout the day.

Too often we are confined to “desk sentences”.  This is not real living.  Our bodies were genetically designed to move. The old adage is true.  Use it or lose it.

3. Get Plenty of Potassium and Magnesium in Your Diet

A diet high in potassium and magnesium has been shown to also lower blood pressure.  You don’t typically find these important electrolytes in processed foods or sports drinks.  Rather, these electrolytes are found in certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.  These are the foods that lower blood pressure. Once again, to lower your blood pressure you need to eat real food!

4. Eat Animal Meat Sparingly

While I am not advocating a vegetarian diet, I am suggesting that animal meats, especially processed and red meats, may raise our blood pressure.  The processed meats, like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and deli meats, can be especially detrimental to our health and blood pressure.

For my patients, I recommend that animal meat should be a special treat eaten one or two times a week rather than something that is eaten several times a day.  For those who do enjoy animal meats, I recommend lean and organic cuts.

Fish, on the other hand, may lower blood pressure and has many other beneficial effects.  The key to selecting fish is to find a fish low in mercury and other contaminants.  My favorite fish for nutrition is Wild Alaskan Salmon.  While this can be quite pricy, places like Costco offer very affordable Wild Alaskan Salmon.  I personally eat Wild Alaskan Salmon twice a week.

5. Minimize Stress

When we are stressed out our bodies release chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenalin, which both raise blood pressure.  Not only will stress raise our blood pressure but stress is also an important cause of coronary heart disease. With our fast paced, hectic lives, we need to do something each day specifically to release our stress.

For me, I find that exercising in the mountains has a powerful effect on lowering my stress levels.  Regardless of what I may be feeling at the time, just spending some time exercising in the mountains seems to make it all go away.

For others, it could be meditation, yoga, spending time with friends, or reading that help with stress.  Find what works for you and do something each day to reduce your stress.

6. Minimize Processed Foods and Sugar

This recommendation goes without saying.  Our processed food and high sugar diet in the U.S. is a big cause of high blood pressure.  It also raises our blood pressure through weight gain.   These simple or hunger causing carbs also cause us to retain fluids which only further raise our blood pressure.  We have to return to real foods.

With regards to added sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends keeping added sugars to 25 grams/day or lower.  As there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, that works out to be a little more than 6 teaspoons a day.  That really is not much if you consider that a 12 oz can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar!

7. Eat Primarily a Plant Based Diet

Eating primarily unprocessed real foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes with fish, is the key to a healthy diet.  These are the foods that lower blood pressure.  It is always better to first try natural ways to lower blood pressure.  These foods heal us.  These foods not only lower our blood pressure but can also reverse many other medical conditions.

8. Keep Your Weight in Check

High blood pressure and being overweight generally go hand-in-hand.  Being overweight is also an important cause of atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.

I saved this for number 8, as if you are doing numbers 1-7 then weight loss will occur naturally.  Most of my patients report dramatic weight loss without feeling hungry by following numbers 1-7.

One of the biggest challenges I have had in working with my patients is in teaching them how to prepare healthy foods. It seems that as a society we have forgotten how to cook.  Instead we have outsourced food preparation to the processed food and fast food corporations who often do not care about the long-term health of their customers.

If we can focus on eating real foods and real living then the weight will come off naturally.  We won’t need to count the calories.  We can live the way we were genetically designed to live!

One point to remember.  When lowering your blood pressure naturally it is important to work with your physician very closely.  Your blood pressure can drop very fast when you make healthy lifestyle changes.  Never stop medications on your own.

How is your blood pressure? What have you found that helps to keep your blood pressure in check? You can leave a comment by clicking here.