Family history of heart disease or cancer? Try these lifestyle changes.

The following article is for information only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult with your doctor regarding any concerns you may have regarding heart disease.

Mark is a smart, good-looking guy, so I don’t think his genetics are all that bad overall. He’s just a very open, honest guy willing to talk about problems that other men have too. If he has a family history of heart disease, then the problem might very well have a genetic component. Or for that matter, it might be a family history of certain lifestyle habits. He’s wise to accept that he might have genetic risk factors, and to be willing to avoid indulgences.

Mark often qualifies his observations with “n = 1”, meaning that it’s a single data point consisting of his own experiences; he’s not claiming that every man will have the same experience. I agree. Your mileage may vary as regards any information in this article, though it is broadly applicable and should be given due consideration.

Regardless of genetics, inflammation is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Inflammation damages tissues. Apparently your body uses cholesterol to patch up weakened arterial walls. The cholesterol was actually a symptom, not a cause, contrary to earlier beliefs about heart disease which caused a great deal of bad advice among my generation. People were avoiding negligible amounts of cholesterol in their diets while ingesting large amounts of trans fats that were advertised as “cholesterol-free.”

Even if the susceptibility to heart disease is genetic, it might very well be a case of one body’s defenses against inflammation not being as strong as someone else’s who is highly resistant to heart-disease. So, reduce the inflammation.

Inflammation also increases risk of cancer. Fight inflammation, and you reduce your risk of both diseases.

First lifestyle change: Low inflammation diet

Here is Harvard Medical School’s list of foods that cause inflammation (verbatim from their website; don’t blame me):

  • refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • margarine, shortening, and lard
I’ve already caused an uproar on Twitter for listing red meat, even though it’s Harvard Medical School listing it, not me personally, because there’s a meme going around that it’s heart-healthy because it’s “paleo”, and because many people have strong emotional associations to eating red meat.

There’s another meme going around that weak, effeminate men get that way from eating soy. I’ve observed that crowd at close range; at the risk of piling more generalities on, most of them eat about the same as the rest of you (in fact, “soy-boys” tend to have neurotic, conformist personalities that get obsessed easily, like believing that all soy is GMO (it’s not) or that they’re allergic to it (rare); their female counterparts are the type who report vegetarian parents to Child Protective Services); their hormonal problem is primarily genetic, and even to the extent that it’s exacerbated by endocrine disruptors, those are mostly byproducts of technology. That’s a story I cover elsewhere.

This is about helping men with possible genetic susceptibility to heart disease live longer. It’s not about anyone else’s emotions, conditioned beliefs, or self-image.

“Paleo”. Consider replacing some of the red meat with other sources of protein, & sugary fruits like grapes with blueberries

Not everything that’s “natural” is optimal (strychnine is natural and organic!). Not everything that’s optimal is natural. Humans have probably been eating red meat longer than they have fish (primates are usually lousy swimmers by nature, and terrified of water), but fish-eaters like the Japanese and Icelanders tend to live longer than red meat eaters. Not eating red meat probably is unnatural for humans. Regardless, it’s a fact that pescatarians and vegans average more longevity than red-meat-eaters.

There’s a reason, and it’s a strange and counter-intuitive one. Due to a mutation that happened to our ancestors around 5 million years ago, we no longer produce a chemical called Neu5Gc. It triggers our immune systems as foreign. Other mammals still produce it, so mammalian meat is at least somewhat inflammatory to us.

Processed meats are particularly bad because of their preservatives.

 

Heart-attack food. Red meat, sugary glaze, and deep-fried carbs.

In the spirit of Mark’s n = 1, I should mention that my buddy Tom gorges on red meat. He hunts deer and other game, and that’s his and his family’s prime source of protein. His dad who is also a hunter is quite robust for his age. There might be a genetic trait that goes the other way, giving that family high tolerances for red meat. Or maybe its habits like eating much less processed food than average Americans do that compensate. I do know that Tom is happy to get some of his protein from other sources, such as corn and beans which complement each other’s imbalanced protein. He enjoys meat, red or otherwise, but doesn’t have neurotic emotional reactions to the matter (or anything else).

It’s not necessary to go vegan. But what if you want to? Some of the first low-inflammation diets that were tried (which do in fact work) were vegan. I don’t think there’s anything magical about not eating any foods derived from animals as regards avoiding inflammation; more likely they loaded the diets up with vegetables knowing they were low-inflammation or even anti-inflammatory. It’s pretty easy to design heart-attack food that’s vegan! If you want to go vegan, you’ll avoid a few high-inflammation foods but you still need to avoid foods like deep-fried potatoes, sugary drinks, and too much refined carbohydrate.

Sugar-coated poison pills. Breakfasts seem prone to excessive carbs. Eat a breakfast more like lunch & dinner, or skip it entirely.

As far as carbohydrates go, the really bad one is sugar, specifically either fructose or sucrose. One of the worst ways to ingest sugar is in solution in a sugary drink, like a soda. Even particularly sweet fruit juices, like orange juice, apple juice, and grape juice are a bad idea. “Diet” soft-drinks have their own problems, including encouraging the wrong species of gut bacteria. Ironically this is why “diet” sodas can make you fat despite having no calories or negligible calories. Drink unsweetened green tea or herbal teas instead. Heating the water to brew the tea kills parasites that might be lurking in your water.

Starches are much less inflammatory than sugars. The reason it matters whether they are refined or not is because fiber slows down digestion, and therefor the degree to which blood sugar levels spike.

More of these, please

Generally it’s a good idea to get plenty of fiber. That’s one reason that a low-inflammation diet should have a high ratio of vegetables and preferably low-sugar fruits like blueberries. Another reason is because many fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants.

Notice that some fats are listed as inflammatory. The particularly bad ones are trans-fats, which are specifically fats that have been damaged through high heat, and also rancid fats, which have been oxidized. Trans fats used to be in most processed foods, but are getting less common and are regulated in some jurisdictions. They are typically made from liquid vegetable oils artificially turned into solid fats by hydroginating them. Ironically, part of the reason for doing that was to avoid the propensity for some polyunsaturated vegetable oils from going rancid, and rancidity is a health-hazard too.

The relatively healthier fats include cold-water fish oil, and stable vegetable oils such as olive oil and canola oil. Contrary to a popular meme, canola oil isn’t GMO; it was naturally bred. The stuff I buy is cold-pressed because I don’t want hexane in my diet. Olive oil is fairly stable at room temperature, but not at high heat; use it for salad dressing, not deep frying. Light sauteeing is OK. Generally high-heat frying and deep frying are not good ideas anyway. If you must indulge in deep-fried foods, preferably on rare occasions, try rice bran oil and keep the temperature down. Better yet is air-frying (coating food in oil, then frying it in a convection oven or dedicated air-fryer); it uses less fat so there is no temptation to re-use cooking oil after exposing it to heat.

Second lifestyle change: intermittent fasting

Scientists have long realized that caloric restriction prolongs the lifespans of lab rodents. It works on humans too. But it’s only necessary to fast intermittently. Intermittent fasting restores insulin effectiveness; that’s probably the part that reduces susceptibility to heart disease.  It also probably triggers some housekeeping operations in the body that scavenge damaged—and therefor potentially pre-cancerous—cells.

More lifestyle changes

Young man meditatingStress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol has a useful purpose; the problem is when you get stuck in constant “fight or flight” mode. Humans are prone to chronic stress because of our ability to run simulations of the future. It’s less of a problem for other species because their ability to anticipate future problems is much less than ours; instead they live in the moment.

  • Unwind and unplug at least an hour before bedtime, so that your mind is calm.
  • Get enough good-quality sleep.
  • Train your attention and your thought-stream so that you don’t pointlessly worry about things.
  • Take action, then stop worrying.
  • Face-time with friends and family, doing things you enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just spending time with loved ones will improve your enjoyment of living.
  • Daily time outdoors.
  • Daily exercise.

Here’s a question one of Nassim Taleb’s buddies posted, with different but comparable images:
The assumption is that all other factors are comparable. One of these builds impressive muscles, but at the cost of inflammation and cortisol production. Nassim Taleb does weightlifting, which is probably why his buddy sent him the comparison.

I do yoga, but I can’t do Vrschikasana (“scorpion pose” that the man on the right is doing). Obviously requires not only a lot of strength and balance, but control over a lot of different muscles at the same time. What I have been able to accomplish is regaining a lot of muscle tone and range of motion. I also do much more walking than average Americans. If you don’t get any other exercise in, arrange your lifestyle so that you get plenty of walking in, instead of driving everywhere and sitting down all the time.

Hatha yoga is safer than free weights overall (no risk of dropping weights on your throat while bench-pressing; NB sad story on other end of link), but there are some dangerous poses (asanas). The important thing with any type of exercise is to know your limits and find a comfortable challenge, not too hard, not too easy.

Yoga has a reputation for being something that rich old ladies do (eg what Hillary Clinton was talking about on all that email she deleted). That’s because it’s very adaptable to different needs. Men can simply change the ratio of strength-building poses to flexibility and balance-building poses, though flexibility and balance are good too. There are a number of yoga programs specifically for men.

DDP yoga is not quite classic yoga, but in any case here is a video showing Arthur Boorman’s impressive recovery of strength and range-of-motion:

Johnny Grube (wildmantraining.com) uses body-weight and isometric exercise in his own training. The benefits include lower inflammation, no need for special equipment or gym fees, and flexibility regarding where and when you work out. He likes to work out outdoors whenever possible.

Further reading:

Resources:

or

Bad news about this common over-the-counter drug you’ve probably used!

A bottle of Ibuprofen

Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen all have anti-androgenic effects. Ibuprofen is the worst.

There seem to be a lot of chemicals that disrupt male hormones. Ibuprofen is very commonly prescribed by doctors, and it’s also commonly taken without a prescription. It’s so commonly used, it makes me wonder if THIS is one of the main culprits in the war on testosterone. I will do more research and add it to the list of chemicals to beware of in my free report.

Ibuprofen linked to male infertility, study says

Original research paper here.

Highlights:

  • Ibuprofen has a negative impact on the testicles of young men. When taking ibuprofen in doses commonly used by athletes, a small sample of young men developed a hormonal condition that typically begins, if at all, during middle age. This condition is linked to reduced fertility.
  • Advil and Motrin are two brand names for ibuprofen, an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Jégou and a team of French and Danish researchers had been exploring the health effects when a mother-to-be took any one of three mild pain relievers found in medicine chests around the globe: aspirin, acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol and sold under the brand name Tylenol) and ibuprofen.
  • Their early experiments, published in several papers, showed that when taken during pregnancy, all three of these mild medicines affected the testicles of male babies. (Ibuprofen the worst)
  • For the men taking ibuprofen, within 14 days, their luteinizing hormones — which are secreted by the pituitary gland and stimulate the testicles to produce testosterone — became coordinated with the level of ibuprofen circulating in their blood. At the same time, the ratio of testosterone to luteinizing hormones decreased, a sign of dysfunctional testicles.
  • This hormonal imbalance produced compensated hypogonadism, a condition associated with impaired fertility, depression and increased risk for cardiovascular events, including heart failure and stroke.
  • …”in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro” — in the living body, outside the living body and in the test tube — …ibuprofen has a direct effect on the testicles and so testosterone
  • …of the three mild analgesics examined, ibuprofen had “the broadest endocrine-disturbing properties identified so far in men.”

What’s stealing men’s mojo?

There’s been a lot of bad news for men about plunging testosterone levels. That’s the hormone that makes them manly, and gives them a healthy appetite for sexual activity.


News headlines:

Men’s testosterone levels declined in last 20 years

JANUARY 19, 2007 / 3:32 AM
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new study has found a “substantial” drop in U.S. men’s testosterone levels since the 1980s, but the reasons for the decline remain unclear.

Modern life rough on men

August 18th, 2011 07:30 AM ET
(CNN Health) Didn’t men use to be more masculine? …studies show that testosterone levels in men have been on the decline for decades.

Today’s men are not nearly as strong as their dads were, researchers say

By Christopher Ingraham August 15, 2016
Washington Post

Why don’t Japanese men like having sex?

By Gareth May11:41AM GMT 22 Jan 2015
(The Telegraph)

The Japan Family Planning Association interviewed 3,000 subjects about their sex lives (both men and women). The study revealed that nearly 50 per cent of those quizzed didn’t have sex in the month previous to the interview. 48.3 per cent of men had not had sex for a month (an increase in 5 per cent from 2012).
Most startling of all, however, was that 20 per cent of men aged between 25 and 29 – the period of a man’s life usually dedicated to the spreading of wild oats – expressed little interest in sex at all.


There is also the probably related problem of plunging male fertility. The same organs that produce most of a man’s testosterone also produce sperm.

Male Fertility Countdown

Dec 8th 2012
Yet another study suggests sperm numbers are falling in rich countries
(The Economist)


The problem is so bad that that it may very well contribute to the demise of entire countries where birth-rates are already well below replacement level. It’s also causing pathological imbalances between the ying and yang of several cultures.

The problem has actually been going on for a long time, but it’s been getting worse at an accelerating pace in recent generations. My geeky personality is not one to let a problem go unsolved if I can help it, not if it might impact me, my sons, or anyone else I care about. So I decided to collect information, follow leads, and come up with a list of lifestyle changes to reduce exposure to the most common known and suspected endocrine disruptors.

Then I wrote up what I discovered into a report. Enter your name and email address, and an answer for the bot trap, and you’ll receive the report and a subscription to our newsletter. Don’t worry, there’s no catch, and no spam involved; the newsletter is just an occasional summary of recent articles from my online magazine. That way, you don’t have to keep visiting to find interesting articles to read; they’ll come to you by mail. If you decide it’s not for you, you can just unsubscribe.

  • Discover how something you probably do every day might be damaging your man-parts (no, not that…).
  • Learn about the class of endocrine disruptors known as phthalates, and what the biggest source of ingesting them is.
  • Find out what to do about the endocrine disruptors in your food and possibly your drinking water.

Disclaimer: this report is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. This report is about lifestyle changes designed to reduce environmental hormone disruption and promote natural hormone production. It’s not about diagnosing or treating any medical condition. Consult with a physician before starting a diet or exercise program.

Your free report should show up within an hour of submitting the form, as an attachment to an email.

Stop calling heart-attack food “paleo”

I keep seeing on social media where some guy will post photos of his ribs-and-booze supper, someone else will chime in warning him that his diet is unhealthy, and he insists that “no, no, food pyramid is all wrong, this is the way you’re supposed to eat. It’s paleo.”

The USDA food pyramid might very well be wrong, but so is the idea that prehistoric people ate “lots of meat and no carbs”. Exactly how they ate depended on where in the world they were; they ate what was available locally. Most of them would have eaten a high ratio of foraged wild vegetables.

It would have some carbs too—just not as high a ratio, not refined, not fried, and not necessarily year-round. Simple sugars—like the ones found in that barbeque sauce those ribs are drenched in—are worse than starches, because they hit the bloodstream so fast. In excess, they trigger insulin desensitization. The ratio of carbohydrates increased once humans were civilized, because carbohydrates are easy to store, and stored food is what makes predictable processes possible. Those were mostly starches; until historically fairly recently, refined sugar was a luxury reserved for the rich.

This is closer to “paleo”, but balance probably not optimal.

Carbs supported the calorie-intensive heavy-labor lifestyle associated with farming and construction. Carbs are not as calorie-dense as either fat or protein, but they burn more efficiently. Hunter-gatherers don’t do heavy labor; by definition they don’t do farming or heavy construction. They spend their work hours foraging and sneaking up on prey, and a lot of their time is spent resting and playing. As people living in urban and suburban areas have shifted into more sedentary lifestyles, their need for carbs has shifted back down again.

To put this into perspective, life is all about maintaining homeostasis, or in other word, a balance between deadly extremes. Too hot, and you die of heat-stroke. Too cold, and you die of hypothermia. Too wet and you drown. Too dry and you die of thirst. As soon as your diet starts getting extreme, suspect that you are getting too much of one thing and not enough of another. Our ancestors knew this, but fat Americans, and increasingly Europeans, are falling for food fads.

“Diet”, by the way, is a noun, not a verb. Diet is what you eat regularly, not something you do only after you get fat again. Eat sensibly all the time, instead of starving yourself or eating fake diet foods to compensate for an unhealthy diet or lifestyle.

  • Whatever else you eat, eat a high ratio of green veggies to slow down your digestion and clean out your guts.
  • That’s not a serving of veggies, it’s a garnish! Most Americans should eat about 2 or 3 times as much green veggies as they actually do.
  • Watery, quick-growing vegetables like cucumbers, zucchini, and lettuce are insubstantial. Eat hearty cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage or collards, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, daily, every meal. Generous daily servings of bok choi (and fish) are how people in Hong Kong live so long despite extreme urban stress.
  • Green veggies, not corn or potatoes, both of which are loaded with carbs. You can eat carbs but don’t count them as your serving of veggies.
  • Avoid fried carbs. Some of them are carcinogenic. Avoid potato chips and french-fries (chips in UK).
  • Favor low-sugar fruits like blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, and tomatoes over sugary fruits like grapes and pineapple.
  • Avoid processed foods and especially fast-food. Especially avoid sodas, even diet sodas.
  • Don’t eat preserved meat! It’s full of nitrates associated with heart disease and cancer. I’m looking at you, mein deutscher Junge! I’m aware that a lot of publicity has come out recently claiming that nitrates and nitrites are good for you, but I suspect that’s PR, not real science.
  • Don’t eat hydrogenated fats (“trans-fats”); your body’s mechanisms to get them out of your arteries can’t handle their broken structures. Not realizing that trans-fats were the real culprit was what triggered the anti-fat hysteria of the 1970s and 1980s. Fast foods are loaded with these; they’re created when oil is used for deep frying over and over again. Avoid deep-fried and breaded foods generally. Use coconut oil in lieu of shortening for baked goods; you’ll get used to and eventually start liking the flavor.
  • Polyunsaturated oils (like sunflower oil or safflower oil) are suspect; they go rancid easily and might be doing that in your body. Eat them in moderation and preferably in natural rather than refined forms. Use olive oil for salad dressing, and sauté in cold-pressed canola.
More of these, please

The problem with making generalities is that they obscure some important details. Diets are often grossly classified in terms of ideologies rather than in terms of optimal health.

With that qualification, “pescatarians” average the greatest longevity (all other factors being the same), followed by strict vegans. That makes sense, because pescaterians are getting more (preferably cold-water) fish oil, and therefor a more nearly optimal ratio of omega fatty acids. Eating a lot of fish is probably what contributes to Japanese longevity despite a lot of other bad habits. The vegans are probably getting more fiber, and they are probably more conscious of everything they eat; in other words, it’s probably not eschewing animal products altogether that contributes to their longevity; it’s all that brown rice, quinoa, and kale that they do eat.

If meat-eaters avoid preserved meats, the longevity gap between themselves and vegetarians narrows, which is why I am wary of preserved meats.

One of the world’s healthiest cuisines

“Vegetarian” doesn’t mean much; it’s a diet defined by what is not eaten rather than what is. It’s a diet defined by ideology, not optimal health. It could be very healthy or unhealthy. I would guess that roughly the healthiest vegetarian diet on the planet would be that of southern India; that and the relative rarity of vices among Indians (drugs and booze less common than in Europe and the Americas; satellite porn usually the worst of it) are why southern Indians live longer than most people who live at same level of poverty, and even longer than many people who are more affluent but have unhealthy habits.

Additional reading:

I’d post some cookbooks if I didn’t think they would probably be faddish, and the authors not lousy cooks. Maybe someone else can recommend one, and I’ll post it later. I think I eat healthy but my diet isn’t mainstream enough to recommend to a broad audience. You probably already know what is healthy; if you just do more of your own cooking, and stop eating processed foods and fast foods, that would be enough to get you back to the trimmer physiques of your recent ancestors.

This is worth reading to understand some of the mechanisms, even if you don’t have heart disease or cancer yet. It’s sort of like needing to buy insurance before your house burns down. It’s also worth mentioning that the author is a bit of a shady character, but that doesn’t bother me. He’s recommending a low-inflammation diet because he thinks it works, not because he’s trying to be a goody-goody.

Meditation works just fine for men

Professor Jordan Peterson tweeted a link to this article:

Mindfulness meditation helps women but not men, first study suggests

Researchers have found that mindfulness meditation doesn’t work as well to treat depression in men as it does for women.

That’s an interesting result, but it needs to be put into perspective:

Curing depression is not the primary purpose of meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been found to relieve symptoms of depression in at least some people, but that was not the purpose for which it was developed.

By the same token, it’s worth noting in passing that it wasn’t developed as a relaxation technique either. Relaxation is part of the process, but it’s a means, not an end.

A man who meditates is likely to develop something usually translated as “equanimity”उपेक्षा (upekṣā) in Sanksrit. It’s when you don’t respond to your experiences with strong (and especially negative) emotions. We know that meditation promotes equanimity in men because nearly every guru or pandit who has weighed in on the subject is a man, and that that was his experience.

Equanimity takes longer to develop than the typical short-term clinical research study. Modern medicine as a child of Modernity is  fixes that don’t require commitment: “here, take this pill”.

I would conjecture that equanimity reduces the risk of stress-induced depression.

The article conjectures that the reason that meditation “doesn’t work” (that is, doesn’t give instant gratification) for men is because men tend to deal with their problems through distraction.

I don’t think that’s universally true; back when I had problems, I never felt sufficiently in control of my life to come up with ways of distracting myself. Luckily though I have a naturally resilient personality; I sprang back quickly after falling apart.

That said, I know that a lot of my buddies do in fact distract themselves from problems. It keeps them from over-reacting to their problems long enough to keep them from doing something rash, but it also leads them into temptation to develop an addiction to whatever they’re distracting themselves with, plus problems that are not dealt with don’t usually just go away.

Meditation is a perfectly worthwhile activity for men. It has a lot of interesting side-effects, including helping you train your attention so that you’re paying attention to what is important, instead of wasting your life channel-surfing while bored when you could have been organizing your life to save time for things you really care about. It can also lead to something called “Enlightenment”, but if you don’t know what that means you’ll have to wait until I have enough bandwidth for a complicated explanation.

Meditation is also a good way for a man to learn how to stabilize his mood, as long as he understands that it’s not a quick cure for depression. Instant cures usually involve popping pills, but then you pay a high price later.