Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
There's an old saw about why the Israelites wandered around in the desert for 40 years: even then, guys wouldn't ask for directions. Things haven't changed much in a couple of thousand years, especially when it comes to staying heart-healthy. There's a glut of information that everyone has access to, but not many people ask. The tragedy is that a quarter-million people - a little more than half of them male - die of sudden cardiac arrest every year, usually due to a heart attack. About 50 percent of these victims have no prior symptoms; their first heart attack is their last. An even greater tragedy is that almost all these deaths are avoidable with simple measures.
Heart disease a complex issue. Preventing heart disease is not. In the most primitive societies, that of hunter-gatherers, heart disease is rare, and not because those folks don't live long enough. About 20 percent of modern hunter-gatherers live beyond the age of 60. Yet you will find no coronary artery disease among them. How can such unenlightened people, without modern medications, avoid the number one killer in modern society?
These 'backward' folks have got it right. With no labor saving devices they are physically active for several hours each day. Most of them have no access to beef cattle or dairy cows, so they are deprived of the animal fat that makes up roughly 40 percent of the calorie intake of the average American. No farming means no wheat, corn, oats or rice, so they make do with leafy green vegetables, roots, nuts and berries. They somehow get by without vegetable oils or salt - or alcohol or sugar. And if were not for accidents and infections they would outlive us by at least a decade, without arthritis or osteoporosis, but most of all, without heart disease.
Can we imitate the Stone Age lifestyle without Stone Age deprivation? In all the things that matter, we can. It doesn't take any great leap of imagination to come up with a lifestyle that has nearly all the health benefits and none of the discomforts of life in the prehistoric era.
Saturated animal fat should be our first target. There's no shortage of lean beef in any supermarket and it has only a little more fat than the deer that fed our ancestors. The omega-3 fatty acids in four servings of fish each week could protect us from sudden death during a heart attack We can limit our intake of dairy products to non-fat versions.
Living without table salt, sugar and trans fat (found in almost all baked goods) isn't as intolerable as it sounds. Most people lose their taste for the first two after just a few weeks, and food manufacturers are already finding substitutes for trans fats.
The least expensive way to reduce heart disease is to become more active. The human body is designed for movement and it doesn't take intensive exercise to lower the risk of heart disease. Thirty minutes a day of brisk walking pays enormous dividends and it doesn't even have to be done all at once.
If you're discouraged because you're 40 years behind on a healthy lifestyle program, take heart from the Israelites. That's when they finally arrived at the Promised Land.
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.