By Eric Braverman, MD
We are shocked and surprised at the untimely deaths of celebrities, such as Tim Russert. And we all know someone who seemed to be the picture of health but suddenly died or developed a serious, fatal illness. Yet every one of these tragedies could have been prevented if the victim only knew that they were suffering from a silent disease. The truth is that disease is rarely silent, and illness is rarely isolated. In fact, most illnesses quietly begin an avalanche of health problems.
As we get older, one or more of our organs will start to fail before we are even aware of it. You may have found your first gray hairs, or have had a momentary lapse when trying to remember a phone number or someone's name. These clues aren't really the first signs of aging: by the time they occur, you're already well into the process. Inside your body greater changes have already started, and may be affecting your health in a number of ways. For example, if you are diagnosed with diabetes, your elevated sugar levels are also damaging your blood circulation, your kidneys, your skin, your eyes, your heart, and even the neurons of your brain. These issues used to be considered as "independent yet related symptoms of disease or comorbidity." But they all comprise the body's aging code.
The key to prolonging good health and continuing to lead a vibrant and active life is the ability to identify the aging parts of your body that may already be experiencing the ravages of silent diseases, and treating them at the earliest possible opportunity. By doing so, you are literally reversing the aging process by breaking the aging code. The goal is to intimately know your health status so that you can predict and prevent all forms of silent disease, including heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes. The single most effective way to do this is by combining early diagnosis with preventive anti-aging treatment.The New Annual Check-Up
Many diseases are asymptomatic, or silent, until they have progressed to their advanced stages.1-3 For example, Alzheimer's disease doesn't occur overnight.4 Just like heart disease, it's a condition that begins slowly and silently and progresses over the years. That's why a proactive approach to health care begins with a thorough annual check-up. This is critically important, especially if you do not have any medical symptoms or conditions Yet, an annual examination not only allows you the peace of mind knowing that you are in excellent health, it also creates a health baseline so that you can compare your exam results year after year.
Physicians are not trained to think of aging as the first stage of disease. Even enlightened doctors are unlikely to detect some of the most aggressive silent diseases via a regular physical exam. In my office, annual exams feature diagnostic testing that can pinpoint the aging code of every organ in the body, so I can take care of my patients by treating their oldest parts first. With these tools, most silent diseases can be detected early—and early detection allows for early treatment.Talk to Your Doctor About These Testing Options:
The Point of Prevention
- Ankle-brachial index: Finds early and debilitating peripheral vascular disease, which is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Brain electrical activity map (BEAM): Includes quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG), which is a computerized measurement of electrical patterns that reflect cortical activity or brain waves. It also measures the brain's speed, voltage, rhythm, and synchrony. The BEAM is considered the stress test of the brain, and it helps us identify disease by examining the brain's electrical chemistry. BEAM testing can help to detect Alzheimer's and memory loss even before symptoms are present. It can also diagnose the imbalances associated with depression, insomnia, and schizophrenia.5-12 The procedure is painless and non-invasive.
- Head-to-toe ultrasound: Provides a comprehensive view of the entire body better than a physical exam using ultrasound to help identify the underlying basis of age-related disease.
- Transcranial (brain) ultrasound: Measures blood flow in eye blood vessels and middle cerebral arteries and detects aneurysm.
- Carotid ultrasound: Helps detect carotid plaque that precedes stroke and functions as a surrogate marker for underlying coronary artery disease.
- Echocardiogram and sometimes EKG: Detects damaged heart valves, and changes/enlargements in ventricles and atria. It can predict early atrial fibrillation and forecast heart failure.
- Abdominal/pancreas/kidney/thyroid ultrasound: Finds stones, nodules, cancer, fatty liver disease, and more.
- Quantitative computerized tomography (QCT). These scans can detect the beginning stages of osteoporosis even in young individuals. This is superior to the DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) used in most medical settings.
- DEXA Body Fat Scan: identifies thin but still obese patients.
- Female breast/pelvic ultrasound: Detects cysts, cancer/pre-cancer, dense breast tissue,uterine enlargement, bladder size and function, fibroids, changes in ovaries, prominent endometrium, endometrial cancers, cervical changes, sarcomas, myosarcomas, and fluid collection due to advancing ovarian cancer.
- Prostate ultrasound (male): Measures the size of the prostate, its nodules, calcifications, masses, bladder size and function, enlarged prostate, and abnormal growth in prostate/bladder.
- Scrotal ultrasound (male): Measures the size of testicles and epididymis, water in testicles, and provides information regarding infertility, cancer, hormonal changes, or calcifications.
So many health care professionals still focus on treating disease once it is diagnosed. They're still not getting the big picture and miss 90% of silent disease. While early detection is key, prevention is equally important in guaranteeing a longer, healthier life. By focusing on preventive treatment, my patients don't experience unexpected illnesses or surprise deaths.Preventing Heart Attack and Stroke
We can now conclusively predict who is most likely to become the victim of a stroke or heart attack, even though the majority of patients who die of a sudden heart attack have few or no symptoms.13,14 For example, a major study of 28,000 women at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital provided conclusive evidence that painless inflammation of heart and blood vessels is a major trigger of heart attacks—even more so than high cholesterol. Women with high levels of inflammation are twice as likely as those with high cholesterol to die from heart attacks and strokes.13
The collective condition known as "cardiovascular disease" refers to disorders of the heart as well as the vascular system: the internal network of blood vessels through which the heart pushes blood. Be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms, and if they occur, talk to your doctor immediately. A C-reactive protein blood test is one of the simplest ways to identify chronic inflammation that may be smoldering in your body. Coronary computed tomography angiography (CTA) is another useful technique for identifying heart disease risk and may replace stress thallium and angiogram test.Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
- A sudden onset of sharp pain in an arm, shoulder, the back, stomach, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Sudden dizzy spells
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
What You Need to Know: Detecting Silent Diseases
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, which may affect only one side of the body
- Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking
- Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- Loss of balance or coordination, dizziness, or trouble walking
- Severe, sudden headache of unknown cause.
Your Waistline Predicts Your Heart Health
- The key to living a long, active life is detecting adverse health conditions and taking corrective action as soon as possible.
- Even if symptoms are not present, pathological processes such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis may be underway in the body.
- Advanced diagnostic techniques and blood analysis can detect changes in the body before they manifest as full-blown disease processes.
- At age 40 many people are declining in health, so even if you feel fine you probably have as many as 10 chronic illnesses beginning that can be treated with supplements, hormones, and lifestyle changes.
- Integrative therapies such as dietary supplements, healthy food selections, bioidentical hormones, and prescription drugs can be combined to prevent and reverse the degenerative diseases associated with aging.
You can never start a cardiovascular program soon enough. In assessing your heart attack risk, simply look at the notches on your belt buckle. An increasing waistline measurement is a reliable risk indicator of heart disease.15 Comprehensive annual blood testing is most important, along with ankle-brachial index and carotid ultrasound testing in higher-risk individuals. While no tests are foolproof, these tests greatly improve your odds of catching heart or cardiovascular disease in the early stages and preventing premature death.Bioidentical Hormones
Potential heart disease patients may benefit from preventive hormone therapy, especially testosterone therapy (in men).16,17 Testosterone and other hormones strengthen the heart muscle, which will aid in heart contraction and improve the heart's pumping ability. DHEA may help protect against atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.18,19
A report from JAMA suggests that the hormone erythropoietin may have a beneficial impact on chronic congestive heart failure.20 It helps prevent inflammation, and studies show it can prevent cell injury and maintain cell integrity. Erythropoietin may improve blood flow to ischemic cells starved of oxygen and nutrients, decreasing the amount of neuronal damage. Drugs such as Procrit® as well as beta-2-agonists such as fenoterol21 can increase erythropoietin concentrations in humans.Natural Supplements For a Younger Heart
To prevent and treat heart disease, I recommend a variety of supplements, including:
Dietary Modifications For a Healthy Heart
- Fish oil 22
- Niacin 23
- Taurine 24,25
- Inositol 26
- Melatonin 27
- B-complex vitamins 28,29
- Policosanol 30,31
- Coenzyme Q10 24
- Vitamin D3 2
- Vitamin K 33,34
- Amla (Indian gooseberry) 35
- Pomegranate 36
- Irvingia 37
- Dietary fiber 38
By following a healthy lifestyle including exercise and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy whole grains, and plenty of low-fat protein, you may lose some of the extra weight that can contribute to heart disease. You also need to eat foods that are low in sodium, which will naturally reduce internal swelling and water retention. Eggs used to be off-limits because of their high cholesterol content. However, eggs do not significantly raise blood cholesterol levels when consumed as part of a healthy and conscientious dietary plan.39 Better still, they are a perfect protein source because they are rich in amino acids, increasing your feeling of fullness so that you won't overeat. Soy is another important food source you can focus on. When used as a part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, soy lowers your total cholesterol and LDL levels without changing your HDL levels.40Preventing Cancer
Every organ of the body can become cancerous, including bones and skin. Cancer can be compared to an autoimmune response in which good cells are "turned" bad, which then multiply and invade both organs and entire systems of the body. These bad cells represent cancer. Cancer can also be considered as a condition of immune dysfunction/suppression, in which cancer cells escape immune surveillance, invading the body.
While it is difficult for you to predict whether or not you will have cancer, there are certain universalities that you can become familiar with. Many in the medical community now believe that infections may be one cause of cancer. Some evidence suggests that milder antibiotics used to treat low-grade infections (such as doxycycline) could play a role in preventing cancer.41 This relationship shows why it is so important to protect your immune system: not just for fighting infection, but for modulating your overall risk for cancer.
Like almost every other disease group, cancer seems to favor individuals who are obese, sleep-deprived, depressed, or suffer from brain chemical imbalances. Some cancers are mostly related to genetic factors, and others are activated by lifestyle and the environment. The classic environmental cancer was first associated with chimney sweeps. These men were heavily exposed to carbon and charcoal and developed testicular cancer. Today we still have environmental cancers of all types, and avoiding environmental carcinogens is an important part of a cancer-prevention strategy. The following pollutants have been directly associated with cancer:
Catch Cancers Early
- Air pollutants from factories, power plants, dry cleaners, cars, buses, trucks, dust, and wildfires 42,43 (antioxidants are protective)
- Polluted air leads to more toxic UV exposure because of limited ozone coverage44 (antioxidants are protective)
- Asbestos in old buildings45 (antioxidants are protective)
- Lead in paint46 (zinc is protective)
- Mercury, often found in consumable fish, especially tuna47 (selenium and NAC are protective)
- Mold found in damp places especially basements48 (antioxidants are protective)
- Pesticides sprayed on produce and used in our backyards49 (antioxidants are protective)
- Swimming pool chemicals50 (antioxidants are protective)
- Waste, e.g. medical waste, garbage, scrap tires, yard scraps51 (antioxidants are protective)
- Water contaminants that are even found in bottled spring water. 52 (antioxidants are protective)
There are many types of tests that can effectively identify early cancers. I believe that a combination of the positron emission tomography (PET) scan, blood tests, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can find virtually every type of cancer.
To my mind, three images can break the cancer code: a PET scan lights up with hypermetabolic activity; the MRI gives more detail of anatomy; and an ultrasound gives a good first-pass assessment of all nodules, lumps, and bumps. Ultimately, a great cancer exam is a head-to-toe ultrasound with all the blood testing markers. It's also important to get periodic heavy metal testing and appropriate cancer screening if you are at high risk due to genetic or environmental factors.Bioidentical Hormones and Cancer
It is now well established that most of our hormone levels decrease with aging, while cancer risk increases with age.53,54 Many people getting cancer have low detectable hormone levels. While the main cause of cancer is aging, not natural hormone loss, restoring youthful hormone levels using bioidentical hormone replacement therapy may confer life-enhancing benefits for older adults.Blood Tests For Specific Cancers and Toxins
Nutrients That Prevent Cancer
|Prostate-specific antigen (PSA)
||For prostate cancer
||For ovarian cancer
||For colon, endometrial, and possibly pancreatic cancer
|Free erythrocyte protoporphyrin
||Helps determine cause of anemia; marker of lead
|Lead, aluminum, mercury, cadmium
||Measures level of toxic metals in blood
||Chemistry test: measures electrolytes, proteins, kidney and liver function
|Complete blood count (CBC) w/differential
||Blood count: checks for anemia, infection, platelet count
Increasing your vitamin D intake may help lower the risk of breast, colon, skin, prostate, and ovarian cancer by as much as 50%, according to a recent article in The American Journal of Public Health.55 You should also check your multivitamin for its iron content. Iron is necessary for the body's functioning, but too much iron can be lethal, since excess iron can be associated with heart disease and increased malignancy.56,57 Controlling inflammation and oxidative stress may play an even greater role in cancer prevention.58 Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant supplements that may help protect against cancer include curcumin, green tea, and gamma tocopherol.59-62Preventing Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis refers to loss of bone density leading to weakening of the bones. Bone is living tissue that is composed of a soft, porous center encased in a hard outer surface. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose their strength and density, become fragile, weak, and brittle due to calcium loss, and the bone literally collapses on itself. When this occurs, the bones throughout the body—but primarily within the spinal column—begin to weaken. Any change in your height or bone deterioration is considered abnormal, and certainly nothing that you should just "live with."
Your aging bones are affected by a host of variables, including hormone loss, vitamins, and minerals, as well as age, weight, drug use, and genetics. Yet your future does not have to include a hip fracture, because osteoporosis and osteopenia are preventable and reversible.Bioidentical Hormones For Younger Bones
Foods and Nutrients Support Healthy BonesTestosterone crystal: male sex hormone 5-alpha-dihydro-testosterone.
- Growth Hormone
- Parathyroid Hormone
You need to eat plenty of calcium-rich food to keep your bones strong. But did you know that some of the healthiest food choices may be working against you? A diet that is too high in animal protein washes calcium out of your blood so your bones don't get the chance to absorb this important nutrient. A purely vegetarian, high-fiber diet isn't the answer either. Too much fiber and not enough protein can bind important nutrients so that they are excreted before they get absorbed.
Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds may contain anti-inflammatory phytochemicals; certain vegetables, beans and nuts, and fish are fairly good sources of calcium, and dairy products are rich in calcium. You also need to choose foods that support bone growth, which include foods that are high in magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamins K and D.
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, parsley, mustard greens, and escarole are good sources of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K. Tofu (if produced with a calcium-based coagulant), chickpeas, black-eyed peas, other legumes, most nuts, and many grains are also fairly good sources of calcium. Acidic foods such as lemon juice and vinegar help the body absorb calcium. Omega-3 essential fatty acids (found in fish oil and flax oil) increase calcium absorption from the gut, reduce urinary calcium excretion, increase calcium deposits in bone, and improve bone strength.63Dr. Braverman's Four Principles For Ending "Silent" Diseases
- Deliver health care HEAD FIRST: Interpret all medical conditions with respect to the brain and nervous system for a total brain health and anti-aging program. Effective, long-lasting treatments are those that incorporate the brain in both diagnosis and restorative recommendations. Being aware of the brain-based symptoms that are related to specific anatomic/functional areas—and the biochemicals related to them—enables us to look at health in a completely new light.
- Non-invasive and high-tech diagnostics: For the assessment of early breakdown of health.
- Multi-modal/synergistic treatments: Incorporate nutrient and non-drug alternatives with drug therapies.
- Take brain dominoes into account: The body is known to react to many illnesses with a domino effect, in which one small change can affect the workings of the entire body. In most instances, I see that first domino falling as a symptom of brain imbalance. For example, a simple change in the brain chemical dopamine can cause feelings of hostility and anger to increase. As your stress levels go up, your cardiac status changes and your blood pressure increases as well.
Diabetes is probably the easiest of the silent diseases for you to predict. A sedentary lifestyle paired with excess weight and the overconsumption of high-glycemic-index foods is a recipe for disaster that can lead to Type II diabetes. Careful monitoring of your weight and your food choices will help you prevent diabetes.
Focus on lean proteins at each meal, and restrict your sugar and starch intake. You also need to choose fiber-rich whole grains to release glucose in a steady stream to moderate blood sugar levels. Good food choices include:
- Dietary fibers
- Flaxseed oil
- Lean beef
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Nuts and seeds (raw): almonds, sesame seeds, hazelnuts, cashews
- Soy products
- Cold-water fish
Dietary supplements such as chromium, cinnamon, and alpha-amylase inhibitors (such as white kidney bean extract) may also help promote healthy blood sugar levels.64,65 Optimal levels of DHEA and testosterone also help support healthy blood sugar control.66,6710 Most Missed Medical Messages
Am I Diabetic?
- Most medical problems are preventable.
- An early, thorough assessment of one's health is crucial.
- There is a brain-body connection in illnesses; an imbalance in one area accelerates illness in another.
- You may have many untreated co-morbidities.
- There is a broader spectrum of illnesses related to and accelerated by menopause.
- Multi-modal treatment is more successful than any single treatment.
- Close follow-up and regular reevaluation are key to maintaining great health.
- Head-to-toe scanning with ultrasound is superior to a standard physical exam.
- Disease is a form of accelerated aging.
- You are only as young as your oldest part.
Diabetes is easily confirmed by measuring your blood glucose levels. A more accurate measurement of underlying glucose impairment is the hemo-globin A1C blood test. But be on the look out for these symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Increased urination
- Increased fatigue
- Numbness/tingling in fingers and toes
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight gain
Even if you feel vibrant and healthy, disease processes like heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes may be silently underway, threatening to rob you of your future health. The key to living a long life unencumbered by disease is to identify aging parts of your body that may be experiencing decline before disease strikes and then take action to treat them. This can be accomplished with comprehensive annual check-ups that include advanced screening methods and thorough blood testing. By taking action early utilizing an integrative program of healthy diet, targeted nutrients, bioidentical hormones, and prescription therapies (as needed), you can ensure a bright healthy future free from the silent diseases that rob aging adults of their healthful vigor.
About Eric R. Braverman, MD
Dr. Eric Braverman is director of PATH Medical and the clinical assistant professor of neurological surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in the Department of Neurosurgery. He has conducted extensive research in anti-aging medicine and in brain trauma and health. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Edge Effect (Sterling, 2005); Younger You (McGraw-Hill, 2008); and most recently, The Younger (Thinner) You Diet (Rodale, 2008).References
. . .
Related Products and Information