The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an amazing window into how we view life and death in America. We pretty much shut down the entire country over COVID-19. By the time it is over we will have 500,000 deaths or more (note: with COVID not from COVID). We’ll have acquired over $5 trillion in goverment debt, and wiped out more than $20 trillion in economic value. There will be tends of thousands of business failures and hundreds of thousands of personal and business bankruptcies. We may have a very long run of high unemployment. Literally millions of Americans will be caught in a long, hard slog to fully recover financially.
That is an amazing level of financial commitment to saving lives.
For the first time in history, we’ve closed our entire economy, imposing severe limitations on social, family, and virtually all other kinds of interactive engagement between people. Doing so was, and is, an expression of caring about peoples’ lives and deaths. That’s unquestionably good, but let’s look at some history:
- In 1968 Hong Kong flu killed about 100,000 Americans.
- In 1957 Asian flu killed 116,000.
- Over the recent years we’ve seen MERS, SARS, Ebola, and other infectious diseases emerge as threats.
- Over 75 million people worldwide have been infected by Human Immunodeficiency Virus, with over 32 million dying of the resulting AIDS illness.
Now, we’ve been hit by SARS-COV-2, the corona virus that is causing COVID-19 disease.
Sometimes these new infectious diseases hit children and infants more than adults. We consider this more tragic because these are young lives lost, not lives that have mostly been lived already. Yet in the case of COVID-19, most of the deaths are in the elderly and those with compromised health due to other conditions (referred to as co-morbidities). Few infants, children, and young adults are succumbing.
In effect, we made the financial commitment and compromised the quality of our daily lives to save mostly elderly and already ill Americans.
Again, that is a stunning and truly heroic demonstration of how we view the value of lives.
But our view of what we can and should do to save lives is very distorted. Let’s compare what we’re doing with COVID-19 with what we’re doing with deaths that we seem to believe are normal, ordinary, or fated. If you think COVID-19 is scary and dangerous, consider this.
Some perspective: Death from cardiovascular disease
- Nearly half (48%, or 121.5 million in 2016) of all adults in the United States have some type of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association’s Heart and Stroke Statistics — 2019 Update.
- Approximately 80 million adults have significant heart disease.
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was listed as the underlying cause of death for 859,125 deaths in the US in 2017.
- Depending on how you count, every year, 750,000-900,000 Americans die of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)—most of them prematurely and unnecessarily.
- In addition to the deaths, many millions are disabled or live compromised lives due to CVD.
That’s 2,000-2,500 per day, every day, and every year, not just one year. That means in the last 20 years, more than 10 million Americans died prematurely and unnecessarily from cardiovascular disease. COVID-19 is a serious short-term problem that will resolve. Cardiovascular disease is a chronic catastrophic problem, out-killing COVID-19 every single year.
In percentages, 33% of Americans’ lives end due to heart disease.
That percentage SHOULD BE 5% or less.
Dying of heart disease means unnecessarily losing your life before you should.
Why? Because CVD is preventable, stoppable, and often reversible
The real pandemic?
If we want to compare cardiovascular disease to a pandemic, AIDS is the closest one. The first cases of AIDS in America were in 1981. We’ve now lived with AIDS for 40 years, resulting in over 75 million infected worldwide and 32 million deaths, or roughly 800,000 deaths per year. That’s truly a catastrophic plague. In order to compare CVD in America with the AIDS plague, we need to use worldwide AIDS numbers to get to roughly the same numbers for the U.S.
80 million American adults are “infected” with CVD (heart disease), and roughly 800,000 die per year from it. Worldwide, over 18 million people die of heart disease every year, dwarfing the 800,000 who die from AIDS worldwide.
Another example of how our view of death from disease is distorted: Women are 7 times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. We encourage women—quite rightly—to get mammograms, perhaps every year. But we don’t encourage them to get screened for heart disease, which is so much more likely to kill them. And more women than men die of heart disease, in sheer numbers and in percentage.
We are not diminishing the dangers of COVID-19, breast cancer, or any other serious disease, but we are saying that we are neglecting the most obvious way to stop millions of premature deaths.
The total premature deaths from CVD was about 2.5x higher than COVID-19 in 2020
CVD is a modern plague of staggering impact. Somehow we’ve decided—astonishingly—that this plague is acceptable, but death from COVID is not. Well, it’s not acceptable. It’s crazy, senseless, and unacceptable. How extreme is this situation? This extreme: Over 90% of the time someone drops of a heart attack or stroke, it’s just dumb. It’s stupid. This outcome was preventable most of the time.
Compared to COVID, if we truly cared about people’s lives and deaths, wouldn’t we address this unnecessary catastrophe? If I cared about my own life, wouldn’t I focus more on this risk? Why on earth don’t we? Well, let’s just say there are reasons, and leave it at that for now.
People sometimes say, “Well, I have to die of something.” They sometimes ask me, “What’s the death rate?” My answer: In life, it’s 1 per person. Everybody dies, no one gets out alive, and everyone dies of something. One joke is that life is a sexually transmitted terminal condition. All true. But timing is everything. A later death is preferable to an earlier death, and the quality of my life and health matters.
Most of us favor long lives, very long health-spans, vitality throughout our lifetimes, and death as a short process at the end of a wonderfully long and rich life. We should not be fatalistic or complacent about heart disease.
You can opt out
What’s important: We don’t need to go along with this avoidable plague. Death from heart disease is optional. We can opt out.
If we are sincere in wanting to save lives (which we are), and sensible, we would focus much more attention on heart disease. To save large numbers of lives, the most obvious candidate is cardiovascular disease. It is an unnecessary tragedy that so many people are losing their lives prematurely to this fixable disease.
“Why should I get serious about my risk of heart disease?”
You can stop wondering if (or when) a heart attack is going to get you and gain peace of mind.
Many who get a heart scan (coronary calcium score) will learn that they have a zero calcium score, meaning they are showing no measurable evidence of heart disease and are in the group that has an annualized risk of only 0.1%. This is real peace of mind! Keep your score at zero and you have a tiny, tiny risk of a cardiovascular event throughout your life.
Knowing your score can help you take charge.
Gain the peace of mind that comes with having a solution. If you learn that you have progressive CVD, you get peace of mind knowing that you can stop or even reverse it. You get the peace of mind that your risk of dying of heart attack or stroke can be lowered to the same level as someone your age having a zero score: 0.10%-0.50%. This will reduce your probability of coronary event by about 95%.
You aren’t powerless. Your health is not up to fate.
It is possible to bring YOUR heart disease in YOUR body under permanent lifetime control. There are specific, customized protocols that can stop the progression of YOUR heart disease. Are these protocols burdensome? Not really. You do not have to become vegan, learn to meditate, skip red meat, avoid alcohol, chew your food 100 times, drink 60 ounces of hibiscus tea per day, or do yoga 5 times a week. Life can be rather normal, whatever normal may be for you. It’s worth it find someone who knows how to help you.
Lifespan isn’t everything.
You can dramatically increase the likelihood that you will have real vitality—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength—during the last 20-30 years of your life. It is worth it to have spring in your step and a sound mind and body when you’re 90 years old. The goal should be a long life span and a health span equal to it. If being elderly means endless doctor appointments and 11 medications, life is not so good.
Addressing heart disease addresses many other diseases…
This is a big one. All modern, non-communicable, chronic diseases are driven by systemic inflammation in the body. When you lower systemic inflammation to address heart disease, you dramatically lower your risk of all the other chronic diseases that are driven by inflammation. This includes cancers, dementias, lung diseases, dysregulated sugar metabolism, various autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases, and such.
… and more.
Every cell in our body depends upon a healthy cardiovascular system. When we improve our CV system, we positively affect brain, kidneys, liver, bones, muscles, and every system in the body. Preserving the integrity of the tiniest blood vessels is crucial as we age. None of us wants dementia or the progressive failure of capillaries in our brains. Altogether, the gaining of benefits and the lowering of risks are huge.
“So what do I do now?”
It’s challenging to find a doctor who knows how to guide you in preventing, stopping, or reversing CVD. It’s simply not their normal area of knowledge and expertise. Given that the means exist to halt this killing disease, this is unfortunate. What happens when you take your scan results to your doctor? Far too many times you get bad advice, referred out to a cardiologist, or put on such drugs. Many times doctors either misunderstand or discount the significance of the calcium score, or over-react to it. In fact, these responses are dangerous for their patients. It’s depressing to see someone put on a statin drug and sent on their way, believing they are now safe.
It’s important to remember: All these people dying prematurely of heart disease are under the care of our present medical system. Something is seriously wrong with this picture. What we’re doing is not working. Seek and find a better solution for yourself and your loved ones.