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Life Extension Magazine

Just Say No to X-Rays!

October 2005

By William Faloon

The Fragile Arterial Wall

A popular medical website describes arteries as “hollow tubes” that are “smooth and elastic, allowing blood to flow freely.”33 This is how healthy arteries look to the naked eye.

Under a microscope, however, you see what the illustration on this page shows: that the inner arterial wall comprises a thin layer of cells called the endothelium that acts as a barrier to keep the smooth muscle in the artery from direct contact with the blood. This barrier is important because many blood components are highly toxic to arterial smooth muscle that lies directly beneath the endothelium. When these damaging blood components attack the smooth muscle of the artery, the process of atherosclerosis is initiated.

Among the blood components that are damaging to the inner lining of arteries are glucose, homocysteine, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), free radicals, and pro-inflammatory cytokines.34-50 To protect the artery’s elastic smooth muscle against these damaging agents, it is critical to maintain an intact and properly functioning endothelium (or endothelial lining).

The endothelium can become dysfunctional at an early age because of poor health habits such as cigarette smoking, bad diet, and nutritional deficiencies.51-57 The resulting disorder is called endothelial dysfunction, in which the cells that line the blood vessels fail to respond normally to increases in blood flow.

The most important term that you may ever learn in your life is endothelial dysfunction. It is the pathological condition that causes more Americans to suffer disability and death than any other phenomenon.

Atherosclerosis is both initiated and accelerated via the destructive process of endothelial dysfunction. Endothelial dysfunction can also be initiated by hypertension, free radical activity, chronic inflammation, and elevated homocysteine.37-44,58-77 Even those who practice a healthy lifestyle develop endothelial dysfunction if they live long enough.

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The endothelium is the barrier that guards the smooth muscles of the arteries against toxic components in the blood.

Once the endothelium is damaged, the smooth muscle of the artery becomes infiltrated with cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and platelets. A damaged endothelium is attacked by immune cells such as monocytes and macrophages, barraged by chronic inflammation associated with high levels of C-reactive protein and cytokines, and further injured by free radical and glycation reactions.35,78-81 Based on the many factors that contribute to endothelial dysfunction and subsequent atherosclerosis, it is obvious that statin drugs can at most be only partially effective over the long term.

Endothelial dysfunction is the initial event that starts the atherosclerosis process. As the endothelium becomes increasingly dysfunctional (and even denuded), the process of arterial occlusion and degradation occurs rapidly. Age-associated endothelial dysfunction can cause people in their seventies with relatively clean arterial walls to require “stents” or bypass surgeries when they reach their eighties.

Most cardiologists fail to treat their patients for endothelial dysfunction. The result is progressive occlusion of blood vessels in the heart, brain, kidneys, genitals, and other areas. This is accompanied by an increase in blood pressure, as the arteries lose their ability to youthfully expand and contract because the elastic smooth muscle has been damaged through the destructive process of endothelial dysfunction.

Protecting Against Endothelial Dysfunction

Until now, aging people could slow the breakdown of the delicate endothelium, but could not adequately prevent it.

Folic acid, vitamin C, fish oil, and R-lipoic acid are just a few of the nutrients that help to maintain healthy endothelial function.82-117 It is no coincidence that these same nutrients have been shown to reduce cardiovascular incidence in both animals and humans.118-122 Statin drugs and agents that suppress chronic inflammation also help protect the endothelium.

The most significant breakthrough in preventing and treating atherosclerosis may be the discovery of a nutrient combination that maintains healthy endothelial function.

What This Means to Aging Humans

People who lead a healthy lifestyle often develop a false sense of security that they will not suffer from circulatory disorders. One reason for this optimism is that sudden-death heart attack rates have declined dramatically since the mid-1960s.123 Much of this can be attributed to declining tobacco use, improved diets, better control of hypertension, and increased use of supplements and drugs that lower heart attack risk.123,124

What is happening is that people who would have suffered from blocked coronary arteries or a heart attack at the age of 50 are delaying this problem until later in life.

Atherosclerosis is usually associated with heart attack risk, but the scientific literature reveals that many disorders of aging are also related to circulatory disorders, including kidney impairment and memory loss.125-127 Sales of sex-enhancing drugs are spiraling mainly because so many men suffer from endothelial dysfunction that causes erectile dysfunction.128-131

In this issue of Life Extension, we introduce the first multi-modal therapy designed to help prevent or partially reverse endothelial dysfunction. Cardiologists may initially reject this approach, as they did 22 years ago when we first recommended the use of low-dose aspirin, folic acid, and coenzyme Q10 to help prevent heart attacks.

The science behind this new concept of protecting against endothelial dysfunction is compelling. We predict that in the future, cardiologists will prescribe this novel therapy to a greater extent than they now do aspirin.

The Value of Information

When a cardiologist told me that I needed an angiogram at the age of 27, there was no one to turn to for guidance. Conventional medicine ruled in that era, and doctors were seldom challenged. If I could have just called an organization like the Life Extension Foundation back then, I would have been told that the ultrasound diagnostic procedure was far safer.

As a Life Extension member, you are armed with cutting-edge information that can enable you to make medical choices based on hard science—not on antiquated dogma or financial bias.

While some medical X-rays are unavoidable, you should inquire as to whether an ultrasound (sonogram), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) might provide alternative imaging. You might also question whether a particular X-ray is necessary, as doctors often prescribe them merely to protect themselves from liability. This may be good for doctors as it confirms their diagnosis, but bad for you as your DNA can sustain irreversible damage.

Heart scans, CT scans, whole body scans, PET scans, and virtual colonoscopies all emit tremendous amounts of radiation and should not be used for routine screening. Even MRIs and MRAs emit electromagnetic radiation, but this may not be as dangerous as the ionizing radiation emitted by CT scans. Ultrasounds are completely safe.

Most people have never heard the term “endothelial dysfunction,” yet it is the leading cause of disability and death in the Western world. In this month’s issue, you will be the first to learn about specific steps you can take to mitigate this epidemic of arterial occlusive disease.

For longer life,

William Faloon