The increase in heart and blood vessel diseases presents us with a challenge of major proportions, a challenge that must be met if millions of lives are to be saved from premature extinction. To highlight the seriousness of the situation, it should be sufficient to mention that well over ten million persons in the United States suffer from these diseases and that in i960, 921,540 died from them‚ an all-time high.
One of the great tragedies in connection with this situation is that so many of those who suffer or die from heart disease are those in the younger age groups or in the very prime of life.
What is even more tragic is the fact that the number of sufferers from these diseases and the fatalities resulting from them have been mounting from year to year and are now at a peak, with no hope for relief in sight.
That the situation is critical is well known. The New York Times pointed out in an editorial (January 13, 1948) how serious the situation has become when it mentioned that while at the beginning of the century the mortality from the diseases of the heart and arteries in New York City amounted to 118-1 persons per 100,000 population, the number has risen steadily to the point where by 1947 it was 400-2 deaths per hundred thousand population.
In other words, mortality from diseases of the heart and arteries has multiplied almost fourfold in the City of New York in the last half century.
Dealing with another aspect of the problem, the Mutual Life Insurance Company in a report based upon a study of one million policy holders said that we have reached the point where 57 per cent of all deaths in all age groups result from diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
Scientists have long been aware of the seriousness of this problem and have been baffled by it. In the 1920s Dr. Haven Emerson, Commissioner of Health of New York City, voiced his concern about the situation and wondered what could be done about it.
Only a few years later Dr. Donald H. Armstrong, Vice President of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, referred to the enormity of the problem when he pointed out that the mortality from these diseases in the whole of the United States had risen from m-2 per hundred thousand population in 1900 to 184 per hundred thousand population in 1933.1
It was at about the same time that Dr. Jonathan C. Meakins, of Montreal, Canada, President of the College of Physicians, stated that 33 per cent of deaths of all ages and about One half of deaths at the age of 45 or beyond were due to the disease of the heart and blood vessels.2
The problem has been growing more formidable with each year and has reached a state where, unless a solution is found, it will assume the nature of a major catastrophe.
That most of our health authorities are unable to tell how the inroads of heart disease may be checked or brought under control is apparent. We are only at the beginning of advances in knowledge in the field of cardiovascular diseases, stated by Dr. Robert L. Levy, President of the New York Heart Association, only a few years ago,3 while Dr. Alfred E. Cohen, after discussing some of the theories advanced to explain the reason for the rise in these diseases, concluded that pitifully little is known.4 Dr. Irving H. Page, one of our leading heart specialists, and President of the American Heart Association, pointed out how far we were from a solution of the problem when he stated that Medicine is still getting nowhere in its attack on heart and artery diseases (which cause more than half of all U.S. deaths).5 He also said that when it comes to arteriosclerosis knowledge lags fifty years behind the medical times.6
Dr. Paul Dudley White, noted heart specialist, was the latest to acknowledge that we are losing ground in our fight against heart disease. He pointed out that coronary thrombosis in the United States almost amounted to an epidemic.‚7 seems grim, there is no reason for despair, since more and more authorities are finally awakening to the realisation that only by acquiring a clearer understanding of the underlying causes of these diseases can we come close to a solution for them.
When The New York Times in an editorial mentioned that there is no certain information on the relation of occupation, stress and strain, diet, habits, the use of alcohol and tobacco to coronary thrombosis, and referred to the statement of Dr. White that nobody as yet has made an adequate study of these various underlying factors, it indicated that our authorities are now finally beginning to realise the direction in which research has to be channeled if these diseases are to be brought under control.
While this involves a radical departure from the conventional approach, it should be of interest to learn that many authorities are now recognising that only by a change in our habits of living can an adequate solution to this problem be found.
Dr. Edward L. Bortz,8 Philadelphias leading heart specialist and past President of the American Medical Association, has stressed the importance of these factors for a long time. He mentioned some time ago that the average person eats too much of the wrong foods and generally overstuffs, passes up exercise and doesnt bother to relax and that as a result wears out his body thirty years too soon.
He continued by stating that by correct living man could live to be 100 easily.
That a change in our mode of living could save many lives and prolong the lives of others by many years is now being recognised to an ever greater extent. When Dr. A. A. Bogomoletz9 of longevity serum fame stated that a man of sixty or seventy is still young, he has lived only half of his natural life, it was not mere conjecture on his part. His statement conformed to the observations of many scientists who, in search of a guide to what our life span could be, noted that animals in their natural state attain a life span of five to seven times the period required to reach maturity.
Since man reaches maturity at the age of twenty to twenty-five years, it seemed obvious that if we lived in accordance with the laws of nature our life span, too, could be extended to five to seven times our age of maturity, thus giving us a life span of from 100 to 150 years.
While Dr. Bogomoletz serum failed to live up to its original promise and has long been forgotten (Bogomoletz himself died at the age of sixty-five from hardening of the arteries), the idea that our present-day life span of fifty to eighty is not Natures limit, and could be considerably prolonged, should act as a challenge to all of us.
We are far from this goal. While we continue to boast of the progress we are making, we know that a great many of our people do not even reach the proverbial three score and ten, but die in their early forties, fifties, or sixties. What is even more tragic is that many of those who die prematurely suffer for many years from one or more of the many serious metabolic or degenerative diseases that play havoc with our lives. Heart diseases and high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, the various degenerative diseases of the nervous system, the diseases of the kidneys and the liver are found rampant, causing untold suffering and shortening the lives of millions of people.
While some of our readers may be skeptical as to whether our life span could really be extended to between one hundred and one hundred and fifty years, we are certain that most of us would be interested if, by making a few simple readjustments in our habits of living, premature breakdown could be avoided and life could be prolonged.
It is unfortunate that the beginning of diseases are in most instances not easily recognised, and that we become aware that we are ill only when pain or othei symptoms of discomfort set in. It is for this reason that the clear relationship between our habits of living and the diseased condition that ultimately makes its appearance is often overlooked. We fail to realise that these diseases are the outgrowth of abuses extending over a period of time, and that only when the abuses that have given rise to them are eliminated can these diseases be checked or modified.
The precious gift of life free from disease and pain is within our reach, but can only be attained when we learn to follow a sound program of living.
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