Help Yourself to a Healthy Heart
( Originally Published 1956 )
WHAT is the best way to take care of your heart? Take care of your general health!
Included in your health regimen should be:
1. Food for health—protein, minerals, vitamins, and lecithin
2. Proper rest
4. Suitable and regular exercise
5. Prevention of infections or prompt treatment if you get them
6. Emotional adjustment
We now know many of the things that invite artery dam-age: overweight, overeating, meals rich in fats, worry, tension, and overfatigue. Avoid them! Desist, cease, and, in brief —cut them out!
Good nutrition is important to the health of your heart and blood vessels. Good nutrition means adequate amounts of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, seed cereal, and honey, all in variety. It also means, for most of us, fewer calories and less fat.
At one time red meat was thought to be a factor in high blood pressure. But now the American Heart Association says: "There is no evidence that red meat has any adverse influence on blood pressure."
There are a relatively small number of persons who have inherited the abnormal amounts of fat in their blood stream. But there are countless more who insist on clogging up their arteries with a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet!
Dr. Paul Dudley White says that prevention of coronary thrombosis is a major medical problem. He points out that there are possibly two groups of factors contributing to this disease. The first group involves basic factors which are, in the main, unalterable. These factors include:
1. Race—certain races are affected more than others.
2. Age—coronaries occur more frequently after forty-five, although the conditions which presage an attack are apparent much earlier.
3. Sex—it occurs about four times more frequently among men than it does among women.
4. Body build—the mesomorph, or broad, muscular type, is more predisposed to it.
5. Personality and heredity—certain hereditary factors influence your blood chemistry.
Dr. Franz Alexander, director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, reported recently on the findings of a research project which showed a definite correlation between the stress caused by personality problems and actual heart disease.
Executives suffering from heart ailments quite often possess what has come to be known as a coronary personality, which grows out of their attitude toward authority. Advanced cases acquire a promotion neurosis. "I haven't had a vacation in years" is the boast of these coronary personalities.
The second group of factors contributing to coronary difficulties is largely environmental—and, therefore, more easily controlled. Dr. White points to stress and strain as real enemies of the heart. In commenting on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's heart attack, he said of the President's responsibilities: "The strain is well-nigh intolerable, both physically and mentally, I am sure."
Emotional stress can bring on a heart attack if the arteries are constricted. John Hunter, the famous medical scientist who first demonstrated blood pressure, suffered from coronary disease. One time he remarked, "My life will probably be at the mercy of the first rascal who makes me angry." He fulfilled his gloomy prediction by dying suddenly during a fit of rage.
Epidemiology is the study of various environmental factors or ways of life, and their contribution to epidemics. The epidemiology of coronary heart disease is still in its infancy.
However, the most important, and the most adjustable factor in our environment is our diet. Dr. John W. Gofman, of Berkeley, California, has shown that the physician can estimate the number of cholesterol molecules in the blood, and if there is an excess, warn the patient that there is a likelihood he may suffer a heart attack. The patient can then reduce the molecules in his blood through a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
Some 85 per cent of the American people have a calcium deficiency. The results are loss of strength, decalcified bone structure, tooth decay—and, medical research indicates, there is more tendency to heart trouble when the body is deficient in calcium.
There seems to be a close relationship between the action of calcium on the heart and that of digitalis. Dr. Alfred S. Rogen, writing for the Glasgow Medical Journal, says: "The use of calcium in the treatment of cardiac failure dates as far back as 1907. .. .
Patients with congestive heart failure have shown marked improvement with the use of calcium in their treatment. Calcium has proved beneficial in any form of circulatory weakness which is manifested by a high excitability of the heart and general fatigue.
Dr. Rogen, in his article, gives many clinical histories of patients with heart conditions who responded to calcium medication. One notation is brief but significant: "Response to calcium after failure with digitalis."
Since there seems to be a definite relationship between calcium and the health of your heart, why not use it as a preventive measure?
Perhaps you are the exceptional man who can say, rather smugly: "But I drink a lot of milk! How could I have a calcium deficiency?"
Unfortunately sweet milk is not the answer. For one thing the pasteurization of milk makes the calcium less absorbable into our bones and tissues. Buttermilk is a much better source of calcium, and is far more easily assimilated.
Other sources of calcium are: oranges, lemons, figs, almonds, walnuts, coconuts, raw cabbage, carrots, celery, string beans, dandelion greens, kale, asparagus, celery, endive, water-cress, okra, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, dried navy beans, brown rice, millet, berries, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cheese, lean meats, egg yolk, clams, and bone meal tablets.
Most of these, you see, are everyday foods that make for an adequate diet. All are available at your nearest grocery store, with the possible exception of millet, bone meal tablets, and sunflower and sesame seeds, which may be purchased at any health-food store.
Thiamine is one of the B complex vitamins. Because it is so essential to nerve health, it is called the morale vitamin. It aids in the digestion and assimilation of sugars and starches. But these carbohydrates revolve in a vicious circle, and if eaten excessively, destroy the thiamine which aids in their digestion.
Do you eat white sugar every day? If so, you may expect to suffer from a thiamine deficiency. Your body will be forced to borrow thiamine from its storage places: the liver, kidney, and heart.
If you are a heart patient this may be disastrous. In his book, Nutrition and Diet in Health and Disease, Dr. James S. McLester says: "A thiamine deficiency causes a degeneration in the heart muscles." In experimental studies, animals fed on a thiamine-free diet showed a scarring in the right side of the heart.
Dr. G. L. Brinkman, in The New Zealand Medical Journal, describes four forms of heart failure due to faulty nutrition, particularly a lack of thiamine.
Deficiencies in thiamine and other B vitamins are a fairly recent development. When industrial processing of food began on a huge scale, great amounts of the B vitamins, which we formerly consumed, were lost—and so was our natural safeguard.
How can you protect yourself from such a deficiency? First, by recognizing the enemies which destroy the B vitamins—thiamine, in particular—and eliminating them from your diet. They are: white sugar and the products which contain it—pastries, candy, ice cream, and soft drinks—white flour, prepared., cereals, raw oysters and clams (cooked are all right), alcohol, and sleeping pills. As to the last, these pills block the progress of carbohydrate metabolism.
Next, for reinforcement: Eat an abundance of the foods which contain the B complex vitamins. These vitamins are all found in green vegetables, meats—both muscular and glandular—legumes, potatoes, whole grains, skim milk, eggs, brewers' yeast, desiccated liver, millet, and sunflower seeds.
We know that a lack of vitamin C can cause lesions in the artery walls, and that an abundance of it strengthens them. It is also an important agent in reducing high blood pressure. Dr. James C. Paterson of London, Ontario, says: "Pressure between capillary walls plays an important role in the causing of hemorrhages of such walls and in coronary thrombosis."
There are other ill effects of a vitamin C deficiency, but here I am concerned with those of special interest to the heart patient.
Be sure you get vitamin C every day as an aid in strengthening the artery walls and reducing blood pressure. The body cannot store this vitamin, and it must be replenished daily. Unless you can eat freshly picked raw fruits and vegetables, it is advisable to supplement your diet with vitamin C in concentrated form.
The advantages of vitamin E have already been disclosed to you.
My original statement on a planned diet still stands: (1) high-grade proteins in abundance, (2) minerals without fail, (3) vitamins in their rightful place, and (4) lecithin every day.
Now, let me take you behind the scenes with a prominent American—Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas.
Senator Johnson is 6 feet 3 inches tall. His weight formerly stayed around 220 pounds; his waistline, 42 inches. A rugged, hard-driving man of forty-six, he considered himself in excellent physical condition.
Suddenly, without warning, Senator Johnson suffered a coronary thrombosis, with myocardial infarction—injury to a heart muscle. Let him describe the experience to you: "The pain in my chest felt as though I had jacked up a truck .. . the jack slipped and the truck crushed my chest in."
For several days the doctors gave Senator Johnson only a 50—50 chance to live.
In the first stages of coronary recovery, cells labeled "wrecker cells" cart off damaged tissue. In this crucial period of "cleaning up," the Senator had to remain as quiet as possible. The next step was the formation and setting of the scar. Only when the physician decided that the scar tissue was sufficiently strong was he allowed to sit up. Later on, he could walk a little. (This procedure will vary with individual patients—and the attending physician is, of course, governed by these variants.)
Senator Johnson says that his heart attack saved his life. It slowed his pace and taught him to live more sensibly. The following heart-guarding rules, which the Senator's doctors gave him, might have prevented his heart attack—if he had followed them earlier:
1. Keep your weight on the lean side of normal.
How every pound of excess weight subjects the heart to strain has already been mentioned. Senator Johnson now weighs 170 pounds—a loss of 50 pounds—and his waistline is 36 inches. He keeps his calories down to 1,500 daily, and fights off every excess pound as if it were a political opponent.
Mrs. Johnson helps her husband by measuring the 50 grams of fat allowed in his daily ration. And while helping the Senator with his diet, she received the unexpected dividend of losing 14 pounds herself.
2. Get plenty of rest.
Always a man-in-a-hurry, Senator Johnson ate irregularly and slept only when it was absolutely necessary. Rest and relaxation—what were they? Vacations? Never heard of them!
Vacations are needed during the months when deaths from heart failure are at their peak: December, January, and February. The Senator recently took two winter vacations, one in Miami and another ten days on his ranch in Texas. He has learned to rest at least eight hours at night, and an hour in the afternoon.
3. Work is all right, but not overwork.
Many of the senators who have watched Senator Johnson in action will tell you that it was his indefatigable work as Majority Leader that caused his heart attack.
He had been discussing atomic energy problems with Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri on the Thursday night preceding his attack. His customary working day averaged around fifteen hours. Quitting time was never before 10 or 11 P.M. It was then that he would eat a heavy meal—perhaps his first since a hurried breakfast or a hastily grabbed ham-burger.
Now he stops work when he feels tired or becomes short of breath, and his meals are regular and carefully planned.
4. Cut down your tensions and temper.
Heart attacks have a tendency to occur more frequently in tension-ridden persons. Senator Johnson was a high-strung, hard-driving perfectionist, who used to get a rash on his hands if he couldn't accomplish all the work he had planned. He has learned to take a calm, sensible, rational approach to his work.
5. Exercise at your own pace.
We know that Dr. Paul Dudley White believes in moderate activity for the heart patient. Exercise keeps the circulation active by maintaining good muscle tone throughout the en-tire body. Dr. White himself frequently takes an eight-mile walk over a hill. He highly endorses bicycle riding. He says: "It is quite probable that a muscular person needs more exercise to maintain proper health than does one with less muscle to start with. Vigorous exercise not only helps the general health, but also may actually aid a healthy person in delaying the onset of serious coronary atherosclerosis."
Don't, however, engage in vigorous exercise to which you have not been conditioned, particularly if you are muscularly soft. Moderation and regularity, in exercise as well as food, will pay you definite health dividends.
6. Shed your bad habits.
Senator Johnson had been a two-to-three-pack-a-day cigarette smoker. What does he do now? He sucks a hard, fruit-flavored, low-calorie candy ball. He leads a regular, normal, well-balanced family life. No longer does he work such long hours that he can't find time for his wife and their two daughters. He plans to take his wife on a second honeymoon to Europe.
Mrs. Johnson deserves that honeymoon.
She helped her husband's psychological recovery by giving him all the love and attention he needed, by making his home a haven of peace and quiet, by always remaining calm and cheerful, even during those first nightmarish days when it would have been so easy to go to pieces.
Now, by taking reasonable care of himself, Senator John-son can be one of the 8o to 90 per cent of heart patients who lead long and productive lives.
And here is a word of encouragement from Mrs. Johnson to the sixty-four million people now living in the United States who, according to Dr. Norman Joliffe, director of the Bureau of Nutrition in New York City's Department of Health, will succumb to cardiovascular disease:
"My husband has learned," she says, "that common sense is still the best way to guard against a heart attack—as well as to recover from it!"