The Nation's Health + Nutrition

Heart disease prevention: Is health the absence of disease?

It sounds like a word game, but is health the absence of disease?

In other words, if you're not sick, you must be well. If you don't have cancer, heart disease (overtly, that is, like angina and heart attack), the flu, diarrhea, fevers, pain someplace . . . well then, you must be well.

Of course, most of us would disagree. You can be quite unhealthy yet have no overt, explicit disease. Yet this is the philosophy followed in conventional medicine when it comes to many aspects of health.

With regards to heart disease, if you have no chest pain or breathlessness, you don't have heart disease. "Oh, all right, we'll perform a stress test to be sure." Track Your Plaque followers, as well as former President Bill Clinton, recognize the enormous pitfalls of this approach: It fails to identify the vast majority of hidden heart disease. In heart disease, the apparent lack of overt, sympatomatic "disease" does NOT equal the true absence of disease, even life-threatening.

How about nutritional supplements? Vitamin D is a perfect example. Blood levels of vitamin D of 10 ng/ml--profound deficiency--are common, yet people feel fine. Beneath the surface, blood sugar rises because of poor insulin response, hidden inflammatory responses are magnified, HDL is lower and triglycerides are higher, coronary plaque grows at an accelerated rate, colon cancer activity is heightened . . . Though you feel fine.

Can an abnormal "endothelial response" be present while you feel fine? You bet it can. This refers to the abnormal constrictive behavior of arteries that is present in many people who have hidden coronary plaque or risk for coronary plaque, but is entirely beneath consciousness.

How about a triglyceride level of 200 mg/dl, fatally high from the Track Your Plaque experience? (We aim for <60 mg/dl.) This is typical in people who follow the diets endorsed by agencies like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, organizations too eager to keep the money flowing from corporate sponsors and thereby offer us their advice based more on politics and less on health. Triglyceride levels of 200 mg/dl cause no symptoms.

At so many levels, the absence of disease is NOT the same as health. Health is something that is expressed by, yes, feeling good, but it's also measured by so many other factors hidden beneath the surface. An annual physical is one lame effort to address this aspect of "health." But it needs to go farther, much farther.

Heart scan, lipoprotein testing, vitamin D blood level--those are the basic requirements to go beyond the shortsighted practice of the conventional approach in the world of heart disease.

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