Rather than answering a question today, I’d like to pose one. What is the common underlying process putting pilot at risk for strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes? Airplane food? Time zone changes? High altitude radiation? Prolonged sitting? Genetics? Rotten customers? Close. All of these challenges stress our bodies. However, there's something more basic involved.
Here's a hint: I recently attended a seminar sponsored by the Cleveland Heart Labs titled, “Where Inflammation Meets Lipids.” If you said inflammation, congratulations! You are one of a small percentage who understands what causes our arteries to become damaged and vulnerable to plaque buildup.
The Cleveland Heart Lab, along with a number of other outstanding research centers, is on the forefront of defining new biomarkers, which helps us recognize when arteries are inflamed and at risk. Without inflammation, it's harder for disease to occur.
Certain biomarkers are currently available. Unfortunately, a number of them are not part of “the standard of care” for assessing cardiovascular disease. Insurance companies might not cover them or doctors might believe they are not necessary. Living by the standard of care paradigm often explains why people who appear fit can have a sudden heart attack or stroke when they least expect it.
We’ve all heard about “healthy” women and men, who’ve had a complete physical or stress test, told they have excellent performance with terrific cholesterol levels and then wham, they're in the hospital having a stent or bypass or rehab. Scary stuff!
Why does this happen?
A coronary or brain artery can have adequate flow even with a significant quantity of plaque. Unlike a fuel line, it takes at least 70% to 80% blockage of a coronary artery before a person will feel the effects, such as exertional shortness of breath, fatigue or chest pain with exercise. However, if inflammation is present even in a small sized plaque, say “only” 20% to 50% of the vessel’s diameter, the plaque can rupture, like a little volcano into the artery, leading to a sudden clot and complete blockage. No warning. Boom. In fact, HALF these people have been told their unhealthy LDL cholesterol was in a good range!
If FIFTY percent of all heart attacks present with normal LDL cholesterol levels, which has been the standard of care for the past decade, something else must be going on. More recently, the news has touted healthy HDL cholesterol levels with the pharmaceutical industry pouring big bucks into creating a super HDL boosting medication with some success. Yet we don’t want to count on another medication to fix a problem after the fact. By the time plaque has developed and become inflamed, it's a snowball destined to get bigger and possibly rupture.
Can this be prevented? Absolutely and it will take a shift in our thinking to do so. We must uncover the presence of disease and inflammation and base our evaluations on the individual, not big population studies, since we are all different.
Two leaders in their field I have been fortunate to study with have proven it can be done. Brad Bales, MD and Amy Doneen, ARNP, run the Heart and Stroke Prevention Clinic in Spokane, WA, and Lubbock, TX. They have developed the Bales/Doneen method with results so far ahead of anyone else, they teach and lecture both nationally and internationally. Their nearly 100% success rate in preventing heart and stroke attacks are numbers that are unheard of in cardiology offices!! Imagine how many stents and bypasses could be prevented. Imagine how this could reverse the growing health care debt!
Yes, it is a preventable and stoppable process, probably even reversible and that’s the message. Next time you talk to your doctor, tell them you want to know if you have 1) evidence of disease and 2) evidence of vascular inflammation. Be prepared for resistance, and if you don’t get the answers you are seeking, find someone who will work with you to give you the BEST chance of never having something that can curtail your flying career!
To your good health,
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Enjoy the Journey!