Dr Joel Kahn: Heart Health & Tips to Living Long and Well
While today’s “to do” list might have completion of a corporate project, planning a family vacation, picking up the dry cleaning, and making an evening Pilates class, I suggest you add one more item: taking steps to live long and well. Indeed, the possibility of living longer than our parents without the chronic diseases, medications, and surgeries that many of them endured is within our grasp and the key is to keep your body as young as possible while medical advances are progressing year after year. There are 4 things you can do starting today to maximize your odds of living long and well. None of them take much time or expenses.
1) Know Your “Arterial Age”
Over 400 years ago the leading English physician, Thomas Sydenham, wrote that “we are as old as our arteries” and he has proven to be on target all these centuries later. The #1 killer worldwide, atherosclerosis, is not typically tested for at annual physicals but it can be screened for in a highly accurate, safe, and available manner that reveals whether your arteries are younger or older than your birth year. The heart gives no warnings until arteries are badly blocked, and the first symptoms may be a heart attack or even death. Put on your “to do” list scheduling a coronary artery calcium score (CACS). A CACS is a CT scan of the heart that takes under 1 minute, uses no dye or needles, exposes you to very low dose radiation, and costs about $100. The CACS score should be zero and anything higher should prompt a thorough evaluation with a preventive cardiologist who can do an advanced lab evaluation (including advanced cholesterol measures, lipoprotein (a), homocysteine, genetic markers, and tests for inflammation) and assess risks for heart aging like diet, fitness, sleep, stress, and smoking. A plan can be made to halt and even reverse the aging process early in its course.
2) Increase Your P to A Ratio
The single most important health decision you make daily, other than abstaining from smoking, is take exquisite care in choosing your diet with a heavy “plant slant”. How do we know this? In Okinawa, Japan, home of the longest-lived persons on the planet, the traditional diet was largely complex plant foods like whole grains and legumes with a strong preference for sweet potatoes. Altogether, the calories from fat and protein combined added up to only 15% with the rest being plant derived complex carbohydrates. Okinawans have enjoyed rates of heart disease 80% lower compared to those in the US as well as rates of breast and prostate cancer 75% lower. Put on your to do list: Increase your calories from plants and decrease calories from animals — the P/A ratio (“plant to animal”).
3) Take a Break from Eating
Putting “fasting day” on your to do list may seem odd right after you have focused on increasing your P/A ratio, but the latest science indicates that reducing calories, at least a few days in a row, may have the best basis for all current anti-aging strategies. There’s a lot of misconception around what “fasting” actually means. The common definition of fasting is the abstinence from all or some kinds of food or drink. Scientific studies indicate that true fasting occurs about 48 hours after the last meal.
Fasting induces protective responses and fasting for a few days in a row actually triggers the body to reduce inflammation and remove and replace damaged and dysfunctional cells. This process is called autophagy and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2016. One way to enjoy some longevity benefits is to use time restricted feeding on a daily basis. This plan is to not eat 12-14 hours every day to allow the body to repair and regenerate from the days stressors.
Currently, the easiest program to offer even more health benefits of fasting is called the fasting mimicking diet (FMD) and sold as Prolon. Prolon is the result of several decades of work by Dr. Valter Longo and his team at the University of Southern California. Dr. Longo is recognized as a leading expert on longevity and has done extensive research describing the basic biochemical pathways by which cells age. The program is a box of real food, requiring only hot water for soups and teas, that is used for 5 days in a row once a month at most. The published results document health improvements, and a patent was recently awarded to Prolon for extending healthy lifespan (healthspan). Put the FMD using Prolon on your “to do” list.
4) The Best Anti-Aging Pill is Your Pillow
When I trained in medical school over 3 decades ago, little was taught about the importance of sleep. This has changed dramatically in the past decade with several large population studies indicating that getting less than 6 hours of sleep night after night raise the risk of heart disease, obesity and other chronic conditions. Sleep quantity is not the only factor for maximizing your health. Sleep quality is important too. Waking up over and over or snoring and stopping breathing, known as sleep apnea, are important factors that combat optimal health. While not all cases of poor sleep duration and quality are due to sleep apnea, the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea cannot be overstated. Home sleep apnea testing in the comfort of your own bed is now routine and something to pursue if your sleep is not optimal.
Many people can improve their sleep by making sure the room is quiet, cool, and dark, wearing blue light blocking glasses while using lamps or electronics for an hour before bed, and having natural sleep aids like magnesium and melatonin available. Essential oil diffusers (try lavender), white noise, and meditation apps on the phone may also be helpful. Put consistent quality sleep on your wellness “to do” list.