BILL GORDON came to me, still half-dazed from the shock he had received.
“The Company picked me for the executive training program,” he said. “I took the physical and passed it fine until the doctor examined the blood vessels at the back of my eyes. What do you think he found?”
“Atherosclerosis?” I asked.
“How did you know?” Bill demanded.
“It’s my business to know, remember?” I said.
“But that’s an old man’s disease,” said Bill indignantly. “You know how old I am? Twenty-eight! It doesn’t make sense.”
“Bill, do you know the average age of the G.I.’s who were in Korea?” I asked.
“Well, sure,” he said. “About twenty-one or twenty-two. Why?”
“A study of these boys, whose age averaged twenty-two revealed a high incidence of atherosclerosis. Doctors have even found instances of it in youngsters still in their teens,” I told him.
“But why?” Bill asked bitterly. “Why? Why did it have to happen to me? To these kids? What’s the reason for it?”
Let’s see what the experts have to say. Dr. Paul Dudley White, the prominent heart specialist whose name became well known to us as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s physician, says: “Coronary troubles have now reached the epidemic stage. More people are now killed or crippled every year by cardiovascular difficulties than by any other disease. Coronary disease is being produced in perhaps as many as 77 per cent of America’s young men before they reach the age of thirty.” An old man’s disease? Not any more. Not in this age of hurry, worry, and overeating.
Dr. Irvine H. Page, president of the American Heart Association, explains it this way: “A heart attack, as it is ordinarily considered by the public, is basically arteriosclerosis of the coronary vessels.” In other words, hardening of the arteries.
Coronary thrombosis is no respecter of time or persons. It generally cuts down its victims during their most productive years. Unfortunately, the disease that leads up to it is not the kind that gives advance notice, that rings a warning bell and says, “StopLookListen. Slow Upheart at work.”
Coronary thrombosis strikes quickly and dangerously. Its sudden occurrence is the result of atherosclerosis.
Bill had reason for concern over his diagnosis. In atherosclerosis, the arteries become thick and clogged with fatty deposits. The blood flow to the heart is cut down, and a heart attack may be imminent.
Atherosclerosis is a killer. In post-mortems on victims of coronary disease, researchers found that go per cent had suffered from atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries.
For many, survival itself may well depend on a changed way of living.
“Briefly, Bill,” I told him, “you’re suffering from what is
often called a grease-trap. disease. You’re using your arteries as a grease trap for your body’s plumbing system.” “Go on,” said Bill. “I want to hear about this.”
“We begin our lives with blood vessels like smooth elastic, and as resilient as rubber tubing. But each illness and each year of life injures the flexibility and the smoothness of these vessels. They used to start showing signs of wear and tear around the age of thirty-five. They became thicker and less elastic, and their smooth walls began to take on deposits of tiny, pinhead-size patches of lime and fat.”
“You said used to,” said Bill.
“That’s right. Clogging of the arteries was formerly considered a badge of many birthdays. But not today. Today, for some men of thirty-five, it’s already too late.”
“What’s the reason for this?” asked Bill.
“There are two medically cited reasons: our American diets, which are heavy in fats, and our race-the-motor pace of living. That’s why Americans suffer most of any peoples from arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. That’s why our coronaries have become epidemic.”
During early investigations of the different kinds of hardening of the blood-vessel walls, I went on to explain, Dr. J. G. Lobstein, a noted Parisian pathologist, coined the name “arteriosclerosis” for the condition in which extensive chalk-like deposits of calcium harden the soft and pliable arterial walls. Dr. Lobstein derived his term from the Greek words arteria, meaning “artery,” and sclerosis, meaning “hard.”
The most common type of arterial hardening, however, is characterized by mushlike deposits of fat and cholesterol. Dr. J. Vogel and Dr. Rudolf Virchow pioneered in research on this type of arterial change during the nineteenth century. But their term for and conception of the condition were con-fused with arteriosclerosis until 1904.
In that year F. Marchand gave such a clear analysis and description of the arterial disease involving drops of fat in the blood stream that he opened the way for further research. Marchand found that in this diseasewhich he dubbed “atherosclerosis”a mushy, fatlike pearly substance fastens itself onto the arterial walls and crystallizes into a needlelike form.
“We allow cholesterol to crystallize because we stop exercising too soon,” I continued. “Remember that Dr. Paul Dudley White said President Eisenhower’s golfing probably kept him from having a heart attack earlier than he did.”
“Sure,” said Bill, “and before he said that nearly everybody thought maybe golf was what brought it on.”
“We eat too much, sit too much, and exercise too little. There was an experiment in England on the incidence of coronary in bus drivers and conductors. Morris, the investigator, found a much lower incidence in the fellows who were running around in the bus collecting tickets than in the ones who sat all day driving the bus. We must keep all the fat-forming cholesterol in circulation. We must walk more!”
“Where do people like meand even those younger fellows get so much of this cholesterol?” asked Bill.
“You eat it in your foods. You eat either too many of the foods containing cholesterol or too many of the fatty foods from which your body can manufacture it.”
“Why doesn’t some bright young chemist find a way to get rid of cholesterol in the body?” asked Bill.
“Because, paradoxically enough, it’s a valuable adjunct to good health. We don’t know yet in just how many ways cholesterol is necessary to us. We do know of a few significant functions:
“1. It prevents destruction of red blood cells.
“2. It is important to nerve tissues.
“3. It’s partly responsible for the semisolid consistency of living cells.”
“That’s really throwing us a curve,” said Bill. “Something that’s necessary to health but, like James Whitcomb Riley’s goblins, ‘will get you if you don’t watch out.’ Well, what’s the answer? or is there one?”
“Yes, Bill, there is an answer. There is one substance that seems to protect us from accumulations of cholesterol, that emulsifies the deposits on artery walls. That substance is lecithin.”
Lecithin, I explained, is found most abundantly in egg yolk; but cheese, butter, and unpasteurized milk contain lecithin in their fat. It is also available in concentrated granular form.
Dr. Francis M. Pottenger of Pasadena, California, discussing the use of lecithin, says: “The effect of processing cereals with the accompanying loss of minerals and the vitamin B complex has received much attention. However, the loss of the important fats would appear to be as deleterious as the removal of the water-soluble parts of the germ.”
He goes on to tell us that the lecithin in the best commercial sources is obtained from soybeans.
Almost everything you eat today, whether at home or in a restaurant, contains dangerous amounts of cholesteroland too little of the lecithin which helps to emulsify the fatty deposits and keep them finely divided so they can circulate through your body.
That salad you atewas the dressing made of refined oil? The fried foods cooked with hydrogenated shortening, the margarine processed many times at high heat, the bread and pastries from commercial bakeriesthe lecithin and vitamins so essential to health have-been removed from them all.
Since it is difficult to obtain completely natural fats, I strongly urge every man to supplement his diet with concentrated lecithin.
Dr. Norman H. Joliffe, director of the Bureau of Nutrition in the City of New York Department of Health, predicts that of the 165 million Americans alive today, 64 million will succumb to cardiovascular disease.
The clot, or thrombus, of a coronary occlusion may form in just a few minutes, but the actual clogging of the arteries is a slow process which begins far earlier. Each of us is likely to have a few fatty deposits on the walls of some arteries. These very early in life may have lost that smooth, glistening lining which allows the blood to move smoothly and rapidly through the arterial system.
Diet is the biggest contributing factor in hastening certain changes in the body which come with the years. A sudden heart pain can be induced in a person suffering from coronary heart trouble simply by feeding him a meal containing foods rich in fats. Drs. Peter Te Kuo and Claude R. Joyner, Jr., of Philadelphia, demonstrated this fact in a group of patients with this condition. The patients, all of whom were free of coronary pain at the start of the test, were fed a meal consisting of 40 per cent cream. The doctors recorded the fat content of the blood at regular intervals during the digestive process.
In each patient, there was a rise in the blood-fat level over a five-hour period, the rise following a regular pattern. As was expected, some of the patients had coronary pain, and invariably the pain stabbed just as the fat content of the blood reached peak level.
How much fat tolerance the patients had was of course, variant. But, for those with little fat tolerance, the doctors proved that one meal rich in fats could produce coronary disturbances.
“Have you any idea how many ounces of fat you eat a day?” I asked Bill.
“No,” he said, “I never thought much about it.”
“The average American consumes at least four and seven-tenths ounces of fat a day. That’s a real health hazard, Bill. A potential danger to any man. More than 50 per cent of this fat is visible fat that you could cut out of your diet.”
“Who, me?” asked Bill with a pained expression.
“Yes, youand get that look off your face. You’ll still have plenty to eat. Another 30 per cent is hidden fat.”
“Where’s it hiding?” asked Bill.
“Do you eat much gravy, Bill? Rich sauces, chocolate, cakes, pies, and other pastries?”
“Sure,” said Bill. “Who doesn’t?”
“That,” I said, “is just what’s wrongwho doesn’t? And it’s in those very items that the hidden fats are lurking. You were in the Army, weren’t you, Bill?”
“Yes,” he said, “but you couldn’t get all that stuff to eat there!”
“Maybe you remember a dramatic wartime story that showed there was a high correlation between fat consumption and heart disease?”
“Seems to me I do,” Bill said. “Something about the Scandinavian countries and Germany, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, the nations in which the use of fats was restricted by war blockades. Records kept in Norway showed that during the lean years 1939 to 1944, the heart deaths diminished by 50 per cent. Austria, Sweden, Holland, and Finland have records telling the same story.”
“What do you know!” said Bill.
“The same thing happened during World War I. Due to the British blockade, the Germans were unable to get their ordinary amount of dietary fat. German doctors noticed that the number of deaths from coronary disease, apoplexy, and other end results of atherosclerosis fell sharply during those war years. That caused the first heavy suspicion to be directed toward the excessive eating of dietary fats as a possible cause of atherosclerosis. When the Germans began once more to get their customary amounts of dietary fat, the illness and deaths from atherosclerosis climbed back to the prewar levels. You see, Bill, fat isn’t like sugar or protein”
“I know.” Bill grinned. “For one thing, it’s fatter.”
He was feeling better already. The fear that grips a man when he doesn’t know what to expect or what to do was diminishing.
Wasn’t it Hemingway who said that he always felt better if he could make a little joke about something, that gaiety achieves for us a sort of immortality while we live!
“Fat is the only food that can’t be broken down into sub-stances soluble in water. That’s why your body has such a tough time handling fat, Bill, especially the fatty alcohol we know as cholesterol.”
Cholesterol and fats are processed by your digestive tractlike all your foodand passed on into your blood for trans-port to the tissues for the nourishment of the cells. But some-thing goes wrong. Through some defect in the process of cell building and cell destruction, in some manner, the cholesterol detaches itself from your blood stream and settles on the arterial wall. There it sets up an irritation. The injured lining defends itself by forming hard fibers, like the scar tissue that seals a healed wound.
Thus, as the cholesterol crystallizes, the inner wall of the artery loses its elasticity, grows wrinkled and thick, and the blood has to pressure its way through.
For a time a little trickle of blood can still pass through the clogged artery. But what happens if a moving blood clot, which may form anywhere in the blood stream, gets lodged in one of these tight spots filled up by cholesterol deposits?
The answer to that means the difference between life and death. Your lifeor death!