If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you are a sitting duck waiting for a dreaded disease to strike. You may be fine now, or at least think you are. But the degenerative and damaging processes are already happening inside your body, increasing your risk as time goes by. The more yes’s you have answered to these questions, the greater your risk is, because with each affirmative answer comes an increased risk of all four of the biggest killers among South Africans – heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
Taking prescription medicines won’t help you reduce your risk at all, because they are only useful after you already have a disease. For example, cancer medicines only help after you have been diagnosed with cancer – and even then research shows that they prolong lifespan by an average of only three months. There is no prescription medicine you can take if you are a sitting duck, to reduce your risk, or prevent you getting cancer, before it manifests.
The same applies to heart disease. Prescription medicines are only prescribed after you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, only after your cholesterol and blood pressure are elevated. Other than low-dose aspirin, no prescription medicine reduces your risk of heart disease, or prevents heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure or high cholesterol from developing in the first place.
However, there is a new paradigm of medicine known as preventive medicine, which focuses on reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases and preventing them from ever developing in the first place. Key to this type of medicine is to start early, long before you have actually developed any disease. Preventive medicine is much like servicing a car – you should service it regularly, even though there is nothing overtly wrong with your car. If you fail to do so then your car will become a sitting duck for a seized engine, failed brakes, or broken gearbox. Well, the same applies to your body; begin early, while you’re healthy, to prevent health problems later. Prevention is always better than cure.
Preventive medicines are also known as nutraceuticals because they are generally nutrients like omega-3 fats, antioxidants, or plant components that have a pharmaceutical-like effect. Their main pharmaceutical effect however, is something that prescription medicines can’t achieve, namely to reduce the risk of disease and prevent it from ever occurring, before the disease even begins to manifest.
For example, omega-3 fats from fish oil reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by 30 to 40%. Yet there is no prescription medicine that does this. Similarly, there are powerful cancer-protecting nutrients such as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) extracted from broccoli, and curcumin, extracted from turmeric spice, that significantly reduce the risk of all types of cancer. Once again, no prescription medicine can do this.
Unfortunately, most people don’t consume enough oily fish to obtain the levels of heart-protecting omega-3 fats needed. They also don’t consume enough broccoli and turmeric to reduce cancer risk. This means that regular consumption of fish oil supplements is an essential preventive approach to avoiding heart attack and stroke. Similarly, it’s also a good idea to take a general cancer risk-reducing supplement that includes not only I3C and turmeric, but also other cancer-protective nutrients, like quercetin and selenium.
Vitamin D is also an amazing disease-preventing nutraceutical. Not only does it help prevent brittle bone disease (osteoporosis), but it also helps prevent heart attack, stroke, most cancers, and diabetes, four of the biggest killers! Yet most South Africans don’t get enough vitamin D because although it is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight, one needs to expose almost the entire body to sun, without sunscreen on, every day. Furthermore, glass windows filter out the UV rays needed to produce vitamin D. The result is that up to 80% of South Africans are deficient in vitamin D. Therefore, as a preventive health measure, all South Africans should be supplementing with at least 1 000 IU of vitamin D daily.
The damage that stress causes is another preventable killer. Stress increases the risk of deadly heart attack by 300 to 600%, according to a December 2004 report in the New Scientist magazine.1
So then, what over-the-counter nutraceutical supplements should South Africans be taking on a daily basis to help stop them being sitting ducks for heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes?
MY FIVE RECOMMENDATIONS
- Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids: Take 3 x 1 000 mg capsules after supper. Don’t take an omega-6 or 9 supplement, since we get excessive amounts of these in our diet anyway (an excess of omega-6 and 9 actually causes health problems). Find a fish oil supplement that is filtered to remove heavy metal toxins, and that is obtained from wild fish, not farmed fish (farmed fish have a lower omega-3 content). Fish oil omega-3s reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by up to 40%. They also reduce cancer and diabetes risk, and have mood-boosting effects. Omega-3s are also essential for proper brain function. Flaxseed oil is also a source of omega-3 fats, but it doesn’t offer nearly the same protection for the heart as the omega-3s found in fish oil.2
- Vitamin D3: Take at least one 1 000 IU tablet every day after a meal. Vitamin D is a powerful anti-cancer protector. It also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by keeping calcium in the bones, and out of the arteries, where it causes damage and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Vitamin D also reduces the risk of diabetes. Ensure that you buy a vitamin D product with at least 1 000 IU per tablet of the D3 form, not vitamin D1 or D2.
- Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwagandha: These are herbal extracts that help to protect the heart and brain against the 300 to 600% increased risk of fatal heart attack and stroke that stress causes. Since they are not usually found in the diet, it is essential to supplement with them. They can be purchased separately or are available combined into a single product. It is important to look for capsules or tablets that contain extracts of these herbs because they are many times more effective than the non-extract herb powders. So look for the word ‘extract’ on the label. Take 1 to 2 capsules of a combination of these every day, after breakfast.
- Anti-cancer phytonutrients: Taking a combination of cancer-fighting nutrients and plant extracts is one of the most important preventive interventions available. These include two phytonutrients known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and di-indole-methane (DIM) extracted from broccoli sprouts. Other important cancer fighters are curcumin from turmeric spice, quercetin, selenium and EGCG extracted from green tea. These can be purchased separately or combined into one product. Take one capsule twice daily of a combined product. Taking these nutrients is particularly important, since a report published in the medical journal Toxicology Letters, in March 2008, reported that a chemical called bisphenol-A, found in many of the plastics that we are exposed to (such as the plastic coating on the inside of tinned foods), increases the risk of breast cancer in women, as well as prostate cancer in men.3,4
- Ubiquinol co-enzyme Q10: Take one capsule twice daily after meals. Co-enzyme Q10 is probably the most important heart-protector after fish oil omega-3. It keeps the heart muscle strong, and helps prevent heart failure and elevated blood pressure. There are two types of co-enzyme Q10, ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Both are good, but the ubiquinol form is better because it is eight times better absorbed and is 66% better at protecting the heart than the ubiquinone form.5,6
Preventing disease is much like preventing a glass vase from falling and shattering on the floor. Conventional medicine waits until the glass has fallen and shattered and then tries to glue the pieces together again. But the result is never as good as if you had prevented the vase from falling in the first place, no matter how well it has been glued together. Similarly, waiting until you develop a disease, then trying to fix it with conventional medicine may be helpful, but it can never be as successful as preventing the disease from manifesting in the first place. The advantage of preventive medicines is that they intervene early on, by protecting the body before the disease manifests – thereby preventing the disease from ever occurring.
- Davis K. Stressful deadlines boost heart attack risk. New Scientist, 14 December 2004.
- Wilkinson C, et al. Influence of linolenic acid and fish-oil on markers of cardiovascular risk in subjects with an atherogenic lipoprotein phenotype. Atherosclerosis 181(1) : 115 – 124.
- Le HH, et al. Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons. Toxicology Letters 2008; 176: 149-156.
- Maragou NC, et al. Migration of bisphenol A from polycarbonate baby bottles under real use conditions. Food Additives and Contaminants 2008; 25: 373-383.
- Hosoe K, et al. Study on safety and bioavailability of ubiquinol (Kaneka QHTM) after single and 4-week multiple oral administration to healthy volunteers. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 2007; 47(1): 19-28.
- Kurowska EM, et al. Relative bioavailability and antioxidant potential of two coenzyme q10 preparations. Ann Nutr Metab 2003; 47(1): 16-21