Protecting Your Heart (& Brain): The One Lecture You Must Watch
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When I heard Dr. Steven Nissen's lecture two months ago I was stunned. I couldn't stop talking about it to anyone who would listen.
Nissen's eye-opening talk on intravasclar ultrasound, atherosclerosis, and reversing heart disease with high-dose statins didn't spend too much time discussing diet or lifestyle changes. But it certainly convinced me that I was on the right path--to keep on eating a plant-based no-added-oil diet, and to keep on exercising.
Why? Because, the inarguable evidence we now have from intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) demonstrates how very low LDL levels can absolutely make a difference in stopping the progression of atherosclerosis--ultimately reversing it.
Nissen, who is the chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, is one of the top & most respected cardiologists in the country. When reporters want an opinion about anything related to heart disease, he is the go-to expert.
What he has to say--and what his power points demonstrate--will convince you that our diet & lifestyle is highly atherogenic--that most of us already have coronary (and/or cerebrovascular) atherosclerosis--in spite of the fact that the majority of us would probably pass a stress test or have normal angiograms.
- 68% of men & 42% of women who have myocardial infarctions will have less than a 50% stenosis (narrowing) in their coronary arteries--and have no prior symptoms, until an atherosclerotic plaque ruptures from within their arterial wall. To understand how this can happen, click here.
- Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS), is a diagnostic technique that's able to measure the arterial plaque within the arterial wall, as well as the opening (lumen) of the artery. It's used primarily in clinical studies, not for "regular" patients--because it's costly, time-consuming--and involves risk. But, it has completely changed our understanding of how coronary artery disease occurs--and more importantly, how its progression can be stopped, reversed, and prevented.
- Cardiovascular disease (as well as carotid & renal vascular disease) is NOT a disease caused by the narrowing of the arteries.
The opening (lumen) of an artery can even look perfectly normal--because this isn't a disease of the lumen--it's a disease of the vessel wall--and angiograms & stress tests cannot pick up what's going on inside the artery's wall. It's all about that ever-present atherosclerotic plaque embedded inside of our vessel walls.
I'll say it again! Over half of the time this "Tim-Russert-kind-of-disease" of the vascular wall will not show up on a stress test or be seen on an angiogram--and often it won't cause angina or any other symptoms. Your cholesterol numbers might even be in the normal or high normal range--not high enough to warrant more than a low or medium dose of statins.
With standard diagnostic tools you won't have a clue about what's going on inside of your blood vessels. And besides, if you don't have angina or serious symptoms--you're never going to have a diagnostic test, anyway.
- Stents & bypasses won't stop the disease--they'll just get you out of a crisis. And the typical normal dose of statins can only reduce cardiovascular disease by one-third.
- How did we get into this mess? Blame can be placed squarely on our diet and lifestyle.
Sorry that the video of Dr. Nissen's lecture is no longer available. If it were, I'm certain you would come to one of three conclusions:
- You'll want to take the highest dose of statins your body can tolerate in order to prevent heart disease or stroke--which isn't going to be an easy thing to do, because no physician would likely prescribe such a high-dose of statins just for primary prevention. And evidence continues to mount of increased side effects the higher the dosage, the longer one is on statins, & the older one's age.
And after watching the lecture, if you're now wondering about the possible side effects of taking high-dose statins, read "What the Experts Say About the Side Effects of Statins. What are They? What Causes Them? Who is Most at Risk? How are They Treated"
- You'll just give up thinking about all this prevention, plaque, heart disease & stroke stuff--eat whatever you want to eat, take what the doc prescribes, and let the chips fall where they may. You'll probably end up with some level of heart disease, peripheral artery disease, vascular dementia, or renal artery disease, because the cure seems worse than the disease.
- You'll decide to change your diet from one that's atherogenic & slowly killing you, to one that's plant-based-with-no-added oil, because it will do exactly what the highest doses of statins will do without the side effects.
If by now I've convinced you to listen to what Dr. Steven Nissen has to say, just click here, and plan on spending one hour learning something that many physicians might not be aware of. And please get back to me--let me know what you think, and what you plan to do about it. You all know what I've decided to do!
Protecting the Brain & the Soul. Unplugging with a Shot of Nature
Son #2 doesn't spend much time surfing the net--and he rarely forwards articles.
So, when he sent me this one last summer I definitely paid attention: Your Brain on Computers: Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain. It's no coincidence that he also loves to backpack & spend as much free time as he can outdoors. And since my kid knows that I'm fascinated with brain science--this article was right up both of our alleys!
Here's the story:
Last May five neuroscientists headed into a remote canyon region of southern Utah for a rafting trip and some hands-on evidence-based brain research--on themselves. They wanted to find out what happens to your brain when you completely unplug from the world. No phones, no computers, no watches, no devices of any kind.
What the wanted to find out first-hand: Would you notice any changes to your brain or thought processes if you could immerse yourself in nature, really disconnecting from distractions, technology, constant interruptions, and your work, of course.
Would your focus and attention improve & sharpen without the usual distractions?
Would thoughts deepen, if noise & interruptions could disappear?
Is nature & silence restorative?
Or would you just feel even more anxious if you're cut off from your work, your techno gadgets--and your everyday world?
Starting out, two of the group were believers in the value of escaping into nature--unplugging--and resting the brain. The other three were skeptics--joined at the hip to their digital devices--and doubtful that the trip would affect them personally or scientifically.
"It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.
It is a trip into the heart of silence--increasingly rare now that people can get online even in far-flung vacation spots.
By extension, some scientists believe heavy multi-tasking fatigues the brain, draining it of the ability to focus.
As they head down the tight curves the San Juan has carved from ancient sandstone, the travelers will, not surprisingly, unwind, sleep better and lose the nagging feeling to check for a phone in the pocket.
[Dr.] David Strayer, the trip's organizer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says that studying what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains--in particular, how attention, memory, and learning are affected--is important science.
"Attention is the holy grail," says Strayer.
"Everything that you're conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it."
[Just the expectation of email or receiving new information seems to be taking up our working memory.]
Working memory is a precious resource in the brain. The scientists hypothesize that a fraction of brain power is tied up in anticipating email and other new information...
"To the extent you have less working memory, you have less space for storing and integrating ideas and therefore, less to do the reasoning you need to do," says [Dr.] Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois.
"There's a real mental freedom in knowing no one or nothing can interrupt you," says [Dr.] Todd Braver of Washington University.
When he gets back to St. Louis, Braver plans to focus more on understanding what happens to the brain as it rests. He wants to use imaging technology to see whether the effect of nature on the brain can be measured and whether there are the other ways to reproduce it, say through meditation.
--Your Brain on Computers: Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain, by Matt Richtel, New York Times, August 15, 2010--
On Wednesday I'm starting out on my own journey that will disconnect me from my computer and cellphone.
Neither will get plugged back in until almost mid-June.
It's not exactly a backpacking trip or a silent meditation retreat--but I'll be visiting far-flung places. The first leg starts with a 20 hour road trip to celebrate & attend son #2's graduation--and then my husband & I will embark on multi-leg journey that's a pre-celebration of our 40th anniversary.
As soon as we return home, three of our favorite houseguests will have already arrived at our house--our #1 grandson, son #1, and daughter-in-law #1. Oops--I better thoroughly clean the house & get the bedrooms ready before I leave.
So...I've made the executive decision to leave my computer, my phone, and my blog behind for 3+ weeks and enjoy every moment of this wonderful month with my full attention--minus any distraction.
Learning to Let Go of "Crazy Busy"
I'm great at making myself crazy when I think I have too much to do.
You know what I mean. All that planning in your head that goes into preparing for a long trip. I'm not a "just show up & fly by the seat-of-my-pants kind of gal". I wish I was.
I'm the worst combo: a procrastinator who is also an "over-preparer"--who doesn't want to miss out on anything. Ugh! Turning easy into complicated is not a good thing--but I'm so good at it! I think too much--and then try to do it all at the last minute.
- Researching the destinations--planning what I'm going to see & how to get there.
- Buying the luggage (the old ones are too heavy), the comfortable walking shoes, the bathing suit (the old one is now too big), figuring out what to pack for every possible circumstance, the foreign currency, and all those little details necessary for travel
- Planning a celebration-graduation-Friday-night dinner for son #2--Thanks to Eli, this one's going to be easy and amazing!
- Fitting in all the pre-trip chores into my all-ready jammed-packed schedule
- While also planning summer visits to North Carolina, Chautauqua, Boston, a family trip to Kentucky, and a July wedding shower. It's going to be a very busy summer! OK, I admit it--these all turned out to be easy-to-plan-events and I had plenty of help from others. It was just the "thinking about them"--and the procrastinating that made them seem so much harder than they were--and drove me crazy.
So it was perfect timing as I tried to fit in one last "before I leave" blog post that thoughts of Norman Fischer serendipitously flew into my head. Really.
I reread (and you can, too!) my October 25, 2008 Norman Fischer post about how to calm down when you think your too darn busy. And honestly, it worked.
First Posted: October 25, 2008
Serendipitous Saturday--Finding Norman Fischer's Simple Yet Astounding Ways to Calm Down
Photo: Olaf Gunderson
The Definition of Serendipity: A Seeming Gift for Finding Something Good Accidentally
This morning, through a circuitous route I accidentally found my way to a blog that linked to Norman Fischer, the very wise Jewish Zen master from whom I learned to meditate over 3 years ago.
Norman is the person who gave me: The Best Advice You Can Ever Give Your Grown-up Kids. It was the subject of one of my earliest posts. You can read that post here. And he was the one who taught me a Meditation for Dummies technique I blogged about here.
So here's the serendipity part. I always have things I want to write about--too many. The problem is, it takes a lot of time to put thoughts to paper (or rather--to computer) and frankly, I've got lots of other stuff to do today. Like plant flower bulbs, put away my laundry, call my aunt, go for a walk, bake cookies for the new neighbors and hang-out with my husband. I've been mulling over writing posts on multi-tasking; strategies from positive psychology to get through tough economic times; yoga as medicine; and lessons from cultures with lots of centenarians & so on.
So, to continue. I get to the Norman Fischer link. It takes me to his newsletter where I learned that Norman not only has a new book out: Sailing Home, but he wrote an article in the September 2008 issue of O Magazine (as in Oprah), called "Simple Yet Astounding Ways to Calm Down".
As with everything related to Norman, the article is wise, kind, thoughtful, and easy to read.
Forget about reading anything I have to say about multi-tasking, getting through tough times, yoga & longevity. Read Norman's article! It's all right there.
And by the way, even though Norman advises against giving advice to grown-up kids, in this case I disagree. So, Son #1, Son #2, Daughter-in-law #1, if you are reading this, I know you guys are crazy busy. I hope you have a chance to read Norman! It will serve you well.
appearing in O Magazine, September 2008
"If you're so crazed that you have to pencil in time for a deep breath, here's how to become more relaxed—and efficient—in less than a minute. All together now: Ahhhhh…You keep a to-do list, but you can't get through it by the end of the day, and you're frustrated because you feel like you haven't been able to get enough done. You find that things take longer than you thought they would. And when people ask how you are, "Fine" has been replaced by "Too busy."
Welcome to the "too busy" club.
In this technology-driven world, we can do more, so we do—and we love it. We feel effective and powerful as we check items off our lists and use our cell phones, BlackBerrys, and computers, sometimes all at once. We're multitasking, doing as much as we can in the least amount of time. We're active, creative, and engaged! In demand! Being too busy makes us feel as though we're making an impact.
On the other hand, feeling too busy drives us crazy. Falling ever further behind as the to-do list relentlessly grows (each item generating many more items almost as fast as we can think of them) is nerve-racking and stressful. We begin to feel like prisoners of the list, prisoners of our lives and our desires, prisoners of time. There just aren't enough hours in the day. It's as if we're doing battle with time—and losing.
But the point is not how many things we have done or will do in a given amount of time; the point is how we do what we do. If we're rushed and frantic, we're too busy. If we move through our tasks with equanimity, patient and composed, we're not.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition that I've been practicing for many years, there's a story that illustrates this point: A monk is sweeping the temple grounds. Another monk comes by and says, "Too busy!" The first monk replies, "You should know there is one who is not too busy."
Our sweeping monk may have been moving quickly, and so he looked "too busy" to his brother monk. But inside—in his mind—he wasn't busy. In the midst of his vigorous activity, he was in touch with "the one who is not busy."
Most of us judge how busy we are by how much we have to do. When there are too many things to do, we think we're busy, and when there isn't much to do, it feels like we're not busy at all. But in fact, we can feel busy when there isn't that much to do, and we can feel relaxed even when there's a lot going on. The states of "busy" and "not busy" aren't defined by how many things there are to do. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as multitasking; the brain can tend to only one thing at a time. Being too busy or not being busy is an interpretation of our activity. Busy-ness is a state of mind, not a fact. No matter how much or how little we're doing, we're always just doing what we're doing, simply living this one moment of our lives.
That moment may seem long or short. Time is an internal, not external, reality. Have you noticed that half an hour in the dentist's chair lasts longer than half an hour at a fun dinner party with friends? And five minutes waiting on hold on the phone passes more slowly than five minutes watching a movie. Time is how we live it, not what's measured by the clock (after all, the watch was invented fairly recently, in the 16th century). To be sure, our world operates on clock time, which is convenient and necessary; how else would we make it to that dentist's appointment or dinner party? But the clock is supposed to be working for us, not the other way around. If we feel too busy, we've mistaken a feeling for an objective reality and are held captive to that reality. It needn't be that way.
Okay, you say, good theory: We think we're busy, but we're not—we're just doing one thing after another. But the habit of being convinced we're too busy is hard to shake. What can we do about this persistent mania of feeling task- and time-driven?
Understanding something differently is only a beginning. To change the way we live, we have to practice what we've come to understand until it becomes a natural part of us, a habit of thought, feeling, and body. There are many simple techniques that can help us with this. Take three conscious breaths (try it now, as you're reading). This will change your mind. Whatever you're feeling will become less compulsive, less driven. There's a measure of detachment and equanimity even after the first breath. You become more present to your surroundings, to the basic awareness of being alive. Try it the next time you're feeling overwhelmed; it doesn't take much time, and it will help you remember "the one who is not busy," the part of you that's always right there, even when it looks or feels like you're too busy.
Walking meditation—intentionally bringing awareness to your body as you move—can lift you out of a busy-ness-induced, semiconscious funk. If you can become conscious of the way you're moving and the sensation of each movement, you'll feel refreshed instead of rushed. I know what you're thinking: "I'm too busy to go for a walk." But this is something you can do on your way to and from the bathroom. (And if you're really feeling busy, you're probably overdue for a trip there anyway.)
Sometimes just a phrase can help: "Not busy." Remembering our two monks, you can say this softly to yourself when you feel overwhelmed. I do this when I feel crazed; with the repetition of the words, I immediately recognize that it is my feelings and my thoughts that make me feel pressured, not the tasks I have to do. They will get done—or not, and the world and I will survive. Even if I do have a crucial deadline, I'll have a much better chance of making it if I feel "not busy" and can proceed with a calm mind. Feeling frantic doesn't make me more efficient. Quite the contrary, it makes mistakes and glitches more likely.
It goes without saying that if you've bitten off more than you can chew in a day, or in a lifetime, you'd better step back and change your circumstances, if at all possible. Let go of a few activities: Peace of mind is more important, and healthier, than those few extra accomplishments. But if you can't or don't want to change your circumstances, you need to find the most serene and beautiful way to live the life you have.In the end, if you persistently and unpleasantly feel too busy, remember this: It's not a fact; it's a choice. There is one who is not busy. That one is you."
Don't Forget! I'll Be Back Sometime in June!
PS: Don't miss John Tierney's wonderful new article about Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, in the May 16, 2011 issue of the New York Times, "Findings: A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness".
"[T]he five crucial elements of well-being, each pursued for its own sake: positive emotion, engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.
“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head,” Martin Seligman writes.
“Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”'