I came across an article in the associated press today about how so many young people are taking medication to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. There has been a 68% increase in the number of people between the ages 0f 20 - 44 taking drugs to lower their cholesterol over the past 6 years.
I made a video blog in which I discuss the article. Send me your comments.
The first really chilly fall weather blew through our coastal New England town a few days ago. It was a good chill, the kind that makes me feel giddy and full of energy. I had an irresistible urge to pull on a sweater and go for a walk outside, and maybe afterwards have a cup of coffee and a conversation at the kitchen table.
I followed Old Dock Road to the harbor where a few boats are still waiting for one last chance to go out into the bay before being pulled out of the water for dry storage until next summer. Ducks were paddling around in the water and seagulls were waddling around on the boat ramp. It isn’t much of a ramp, just a narrow concrete driveway that slopes down into the water. On either side of the boat ramp there is wet, squishy sand where trailers get stuck if their wheels veer off the side.
Scallops were dangerously exposed on the muddy banks of the harbor because of the low tide. Seagulls love scallops.
I’ve seen the occasional seagull eat a scallop before, but this evening there were lots of seagulls eating scallops – it was a feast in progress.
Before a seagull can eat a scallop it has to open the shell, and that is what makes watching the whole thing so fascinating. It would seem that the only way a seagull could eat a scallop is if it happened to come across one that had already been opened by another animal with nimble fingers and maybe a pocketknife. But they don’t need any help at all. They have figured out a way to open the scallops all by themselves.
The birds have recognized the difference between the hardness of the concrete boat ramp and the squishy sand on either side of it. The first time I saw a seagull drop a scallop on the boat ramp I thought it was just a quirky chance event. After all, it’s just a dumb seagull, how could it know that a boat ramp would be a better place to drop a scallop than the squishy sand?
But, this evening the seagulls were dropping scallops on the boat ramp over and over until finally the shells popped open and the birds could get at the prize inside. They never dropped a scallop on the squishy sand.
The seagulls have figured out how to use the concrete to their advantage. A real biologist would probably have a different explanation for this behavior, but to me it is clear that they are thinking at a level that is higher than what I had given them credit for being able to do.
Seagulls were flying in over the water clutching a scallop in their beaks. As they approached the boat ramp they would swoop up high and circle around making sure there were no other birds nearby that could steal their cargo and then with laser guided precision they would drop the scallop on the concrete and chase it down to the ground to see if it had cracked. They repeated this process as long as it took.
We humans live in our artificial world and scarcely even acknowledge the millions of other creatures with whom we are sharing this planet and this life. It is to their detriment that we behave so arrogantly, and to ours as well.
If a seagull can figure out how to open a scallop what else might it be thinking about? Do seagulls feel giddy and full of energy on brisk fall days, like me? Because we can’t speak to them we assume they have nothing to say, and no stake in the future of this planet.
Turn off the television that is streaming nonstop garbage into your brain and go outside for a walk. If you look around you will almost certainly be amazed at what you see.
In medical school a professor once told me that I would forget half of what I was being taught, and the other half would ultimately be discovered to be untrue. It was a bleak and discouraging perspective. Hopefully, it was an exaggeration.
But, since I started medical school in 1981 there have been some big changes in the way we think about a lot of important issues. One of these is heart disease.
Back in the day, we believed that coronary heart disease was a consequence of eating too much cholesterol with all of the excess cholesterol being deposited onto or into the inner lining of the arteries to our heart. The metaphor often used to describe the process was “corrosion accumulating inside a pipe.” It was an overly simplistic point-of-view that led to the “obvious” mechanical solution of coronary artery bypass surgery – “putting in new plumbing” as a heart surgeon once joked to me and my peers while on rounds one day.
Coronary artery bypass surgery has extended the lives of many patients, but bypassing the clogged blood vessels does absolutely nothing to change the underlying disease process that got the patient into trouble in the first place.
We used to think that a heart attack was a consequence of a coronary artery getting progressively more narrow because of cholesterol accumulating in the artery wall until it was finally swollen shut, thereby obstructing blood flow to the heart muscle. Now we think that a non-obstructing plaque inside the lining of a coronary artery breaks open and causes a blood clot to form inside the coronary artery, thus acutely obstructing blood flow and causing a heart attack.
We are beginning to recognize that our fundamental understanding of what causes coronary artery disease was not exactly right. It is more complicated than corroding pipes and globs of fat accumulating inside blood vessels. Now we are talking about “oxidative stress” and “chronic systemic inflammation” as the underlying causes of heart disease.
The phenomenon of oxidative stress and chronic systemic inflammation are consequences of our modern, unhealthy lifestyle. And, these phenomena cause more than just heart disease. It’s beginning to look like oxidative stress and chronic systemic inflammation play a role in most of the chronic diseases that afflict us today.
Here’s the good news – oxidative stress and chronic systemic inflammation can be largely prevented or reversed with a healthy lifestyle.
I’m not even going to pretend that I understand the nuances of oxidative stress and chronic systemic inflammation. The more I read about them, the more confused I become. But, I am fascinated by the cellular biology involved. Over the next few weeks on the Fitness Rocks Podcast I will be sharing my efforts to understand these complex processes that are at the origin of so much sickness.
While you’re waiting for me to get a handle on this stuff you should be eating your fruits and vegetables and exercising every day. And, if you smoke – quit.