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July 1997

Known for Over Two Decades

How SuperNutrients Can Protect You

By Paul Frankel, Ph.D. and Terri Mitchell

None of this suprises Dr. Kilmer McCully. In 1969, while doing research at Harvard, McCully noticed that children with elevated levels of homocysteine (in a genetic condition known as homocystinuria) showed vascular degeneration similar to that which occurs in middle-aged people with heart disease. Children with homocystinuria often die of thromboembolism. Because this condition causes high levels of homocysteine to build up, McCully theorized that homocysteine might be a causal factor in heart disease. He then proceeded to prove that his theory was, in fact, correct.His work was not met with applause in the scientific community, which coalesced in a herd mentality around the concept of cholesterol. McCully was denied tenure, and soon left Harvard. In 1995, Meir Stampfer of Harvard recalled for NBC's Tom Brokaw what McCully went through for daring a different idea. Now, almost 30 years after he made his discovery, the scientific community has finally acknowledged that homocysteine is a strong predictor of heart disease. Today, McCully is continuing his homocysteine research at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. His long-standing theory has finally been confirmed and accepted by the medical community.

Dr. Kilmer McCully In 1969, Dr. Kilmer McCully examined the records of an
8-year-old boy who had died of a stroke. Strangely, the boy's arteries looked like the arteries of grown men who die of heart attacks. The only clue to what had gone wrong was that the boy had been diagnosed with "homocystinuria". Homocystinuria is a condition of enzyme deficiency that allows homocysteine to accumulate. Homocysteine is a by-product of methionine metabolism, which becomes toxic if allowed to accumulate. While the boy's case and others were dismised as medical oddities, McCully was astute enough to realize that homocysteine might be connected to cardiovascular disease. In 1969, he published his theory in the American Journal of Pathology. In order to test his theory, McCully experimented with cells in culture-his hypothesis held up. He then went to animals. Within 20 days of being fed a high protein diet rich in methionine, the animals developed heart disease. The amount of protein was equivalent to typical human protein intake. After seeing what homocysteine did in cell culture and animals, McCully was convinced that heart disease could be caused by homocysteine.One would think that discovering what could be the cause of the biggest health problem in North America would garner McCully some praise. For his efforts, McCully was effectively fired from Harvard. He subsequently went to the VA Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, and continued his studies. He is still there.In 1988, he published a study showing that men with homocysteine levels only 12% higher than average have a 3.4 time greater risk of having a heart attack. Four years later, researchers at Harvard published data from a large study (the Physicians' Health Study) verifying what McCully had been saying since 1969. Today, McCully has refined his theories and moved on to study other effects of homocysteine in the human body. He has published papers about homocysteine's role in cancer and aging. His new book, The Homocysteine Revolution: Medicine for the New Millennium, will be released shortly.