This month, Dr Uffe Ravnskov's cover story and Annemarie Colbin's Second Opinion (p 12) both offer potent evidence that the real cause of all the heart disease in the West may have little to do with diet. Dr Ravnskov's trawl through the medical literature shows serious flaws, contradictions and omissions in the theory that cholesterol and high fat diets are the cause of heart disease, and that statins 'work' by lowering cholesterol. Certainly, Annemarie, who made her name as a natural foods advocate, writer and teacher, has what most of us would consider an exemplary diet, and yet suddenly, apparently inexplicably, she developed a dangerously high blood pressure almost overnight.
An American doctor, who postulates that blood pressure has to do with repressed pain, struck a chord as Annemarie remembered some traumatic experiences she had gone through as a child during the Second World War. Once she allowed herself to feel the pain and terror she'd felt as a child, her blood pressure immediately fell to normal.
The most potent message to come through both stories is the role that emotion and spiritual connection play in heart disease. Dr Ravnskov came across a little known study of Japanese immigrants living in the US and the effect of this move on their risk of heart disease. Earlier studies of native populations who move to America show that healthy people start dropping like flies as soon as they emigrate to the US. The assumption has always been that the killer is the American diet.
What this British study suggests, however, is that the cause of heart disease is the American lifestyle, more than its food. Those Japanese who kept their traditional cultural ways had far less heart disease, even on a diet of American fries and Burger King. The Japanese who were more prone to develop heart disease might have strictly adhered to the Japanese low fat diet, but they bought the American way of life, lock, stock and barrel. They'd given up their community life that was rich in connections, and shared goals and values, for an upwardly mobile, success oriented and ultimately isolated life.
This accords with another study our panel member Dr Leo Galland wrote about Roseto, an Italian American community in Pennsylvania. Roseto had virtually no heart disease despite all the supposed risky behaviour of its citizens high fat diet, smoking until the community abandoned its close knit traditional ways in favour of the modern day 'every man for himself' (see WDDTY vol 8 no 7). Studies have shown that people who are lonely and isolated socially are two to three times more likely to die from heart disease even with a perfect diet than those who do all the wrong things, but stay close and connected to others.
The message for all of us is not to start wolfing down burgers. What we must understand is that heart disease may be primarily a spiritual issue, a crisis of isolation, of unresolved pain. To die of heart disease is literally to die of a broken heart.
This, of course, presents much more of a challenge for us in attempting to fend off heart disease. Instead of simply moderating our diet, we have to also examine our lives. We may have to look to how happy we are, how connected and supportive of others, how open we are in expressing our feelings. We may have to review our lives and quit stressful jobs or marriages,and radically shift gears. We may have to do all the things that we have, for whatever reason, put off doing. We may have to forgive other people who have hurt us. We may just have to change, to finally take control of lives and our selves.
But most of all, in order to live, it seems now vital that we have to connect.