Another "Health Nut" Dies Young

The death of Monkee Davy Jones is a melancholy thing for this Baby Boomer. Davy was my first celebrity crush; I was mad for him. I plastered my room with pin-ups from Sixteen and Tiger Beat magazines. My sister and I watched every episode of The Monkees, played their albums endlessly while singing along, pretending to be onstage. For me, before there was Bobby Sherman, there was Davy Jones. (All the dinosaurs are nodding their heads re Bobby. All of the youngsters are thinking "Who?")

As everyone who doesn't live in a cave (and we assume that, having internet access, you do not live in a cave) now knows, Davy died two days ago of a heart attack at the age of 66. What has received less attention has been the mentions I have seen from those who knew him that Davy was a strict vegetarian, a devoted runner and "didn't have an ounce of fat on him." They're shocked that someone with such healthy habits could have died this way.

I've seen various explanations invoked: Davy may have been a vegetarian and a runner, one person said, but he also drank heavily. That explains it. Davy was a bitter man, his attitude caused sufficient stress to kill him, said another. Others simply point out that genes make a difference, too, and perhaps Davy had less-than-optimal gene structure. All of this is entirely possible. Heavy drinking is bad for you, stress is a killer, and we are all subject to our heredity.

Notably absent from the discussions I've seen, however, is another, very simple possibility: Neither vegetarianism nor running is particularly healthful.

I have zero information on what sort of vegetarian diet Davy ate -- whether he was a vegan or a lacto-ovo vegetarian, whether he ate largely salads, nuts and seeds, and other fairly low carb foods, or based his diet on whole grains and soy. I simply do not know, and certainly there are versions of vegetarianism that are reasonably healthful, while others are a disaster-with-fireworks. I do suspect that, on the average, vegetarians are more likely to load up on carbs and limit fats than your average Joe, much less your average low carber. It is no secret that I feel this is unhealthful, actually increasing the risk of many diseases, including heart disease.

But it may shock you to learn that serious running is bad for the heart. Marathoners have a higher rate of heart attack than the general population, not a lower one. Endurance running sets off a cascade of inflammatory substances in the body. There is also some evidence that endurance running can cause stiffness in the aorta, and increased blood pressure in the major arteries of the heart. As a massage therapist, I have known for a couple of decades that serious running is hard on the body -- of all the non-contact sports, it has the highest injury rate. Still, the information about heart damage surprised me.

Indeed, serious "cardio" -- the elevating of heart rate for long periods of time -- is drawing more and more fire. I know that my trainer friend Fred Hahn considers it a stress, rather than of any benefit, as do Dr. Mary Vernon and Dr. Michael Fox, both of whom have spoken on the Low Carb Cruise. Primal Fitness guru, Mark Sisson, a former competitive runner, now refers scornfully to "chronic cardio," blaming it for years of struggling with his health, despite (or, it appears, because) of being a professional athlete.*

In short, it may be that my childhood heart throb died early because of, rather than in spite of, his "healthy" lifestyle.

Rest in peace, Davy. A generation of women will always love you.

* Please note that these various professionals are speaking of serious cardio -- distance running, elliptical, stair-climber machines, anything designed to get your heart rate up into your "aerobic zone" and keep it there for concerted periods of time. They are not against going for a walk, or a hike, or an evening of dancing, things that fit Sisson's primal exercise directive to move around slowly a great deal. A walk is still better than sitting on the couch staring at the tube.

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Baby We Were Born To Run!

As far as heart attacks and running go, let’s consider that heart disease is America’s number one killer and most Americans don’t run. On the day that Jim Fixx passed away, around 1,000 other people also died of heart attacks. Most of them were sedentary, television watching, potato chip munching types.

Our bodies evolved for running:
I watch a lot of documentaries and several of them describe how running was critical to our evolution. There’s Doctor Alice Roberts in The Incredible Human Journey and Origins of Us. Her specialty is anatomy so she often describes how human anatomy is related to the topic at hand. She mentioned these adaptations for running: We have spring arches in our feet which store and release energy as we run, we can sweat, other mammals can only pant, we have long legs (Chimpanzees have short legs), we have narrow waists (Well, people who exercise have narrow waists.) so we can twist to counteract the tendency to be thrown left or right as we run, and we all have a ligament called the nuchal ligament at the back of our heads. The nuchal ligament keeps our heads from pitching forward as we run. Homo Erectus also had a nuchal ligament. The other apes do not have a nuchal ligament and they don’t run.

We have big butts and I can not lie. You barely use your gluteus maximus muscles when you walk, but it really comes into play when you run. You need strong gluteus maximus muscles to be a runner.

Running for their lunch!
A very old form of hunting is persistence hunting, practiced by Homo Erectus from (best estimate) 1.5 million to 500,000 years ago, and possibly longer. Since Homo Erectus men could not run faster than an antelope, they chased the antelope until he overheated and he had to stop from heat exhaustion. In Becoming Human the camera crew followed 2 Kalahari bushmen as they chased down a kudu (a type of antelope). It took them just over 4 hours to catch the kudu!

Without Running:
Compare us to chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans who still live in trees and don’t run. They are adapted for a life in the trees. Our walking and running ancestors adapted to a life on the savanna.

Running, making and using stone tools, eating fatty meat, cooperation and larger brains all go together. Without running we would still be Homo Habilis, living and sleeping in trees, with a brain size of around 800 cubic centimeters.

Doughnut Fixx:
I read an article about Jim Fixx several years ago, written by a friend of his. His friend said even when Jim was running hot and heavy, he never gave up his junk food diet. They were going for a run one morning. On the way out, Jim scooped up 3 glazed doughnuts and said he would run them off. It was not running that killed Jim; it was his junk food diet.

Heart Disease:
What causes heart disease? It’s not high cholesterol. That’s a scam to sell statin drugs. Doctor Joseph Mercola has treated well over 20,000 patients and he has prescribed statin drugs only 5 times! For people with a genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia. Half the people who have heart attacks have moderate or low cholesterol. Cholesterol is a major antioxidant; people with high cholesterol live the longest. Bears typically have cholesterol levels of 600 milligrams per deciliter! This is yet another example of people thinking they know better than nature. If your cholesterol is high, it’s because it needs to be high! It’s doing important repair work. Blaming cholesterol for a heart attack is like blaming the firefighters who show up to put out the fire.

Two actual markers for heart disease are homocysteine and C-reactive protein.

Here is a short video with Doctor Malcolm Kendrick, a British cardiologist, showing there is NO relationship between cholesterol and heart disease.

Cholesterol and heart disease, Doctor Malcolm Kendrick

If you want to avoid heart disease, don’t take statin drugs! (Unless you have familial hypercholesterolemia.) That’s like taking firefighters away from a blazing inferno! Stop eating the junk foods that cause heart disease! Don’t smoke tobacco and go easy on the alcohol.

What really causes heart disease?
Anything that damages the endothelium; that’s the innermost layer of your arteries.

Here’s the short list: Sugar, corn syrup, trans fats, vegetable oils (They’re made with high heat, high pressure and chemical solvents such as hexane. They cause massive free radical damage. Except for cold pressed vegetable oils), alcohol, too much stress and possibly grains. I haven’t done enough reading yet to sort out grains and heart disease.

For more intel, watch the video The Oiling of America by Sally Fallon, president of The Weston A Price Foundation. It’s 2 hours long and well worth the time.

Sugar and corn syrup are highly refined, much in the way that cocaine is refined. These days no one would argue that cocaine is perfectly safe but that’s exactly what happened in the late 1800s. Cocaine was considered perfectly safe in reasonable quantities. Sigmund Freud was a cocaine addict.

These days lots of people who stand to make a dollar from your ignorance are saying that sugar is perfectly safe and that statin drugs are necessary to bring your cholesterol level down. Then how on Earth did we survive for 2.6 million years, eating as much fatty meat, laden with saturated fats as possible? And why don’t carnivores die of heart disease? It’s because organic meats are very healthy. It’s junk food and fast food that will trash your health.

As Mark Twain wrote, “History does not repeat but it does rhyme.”

A Study in Nutrition:
The companies that make junk food and the drug companies fund studies that deliver the results they want. The studies say - Saturated fats are bad for you. High cholesterol is bad for you. So eat our cheap, processed foods and take our drugs. - Crisco came on the market in 1911 and they immediately began bashing natural fats. In the 1960s and 70s, tobacco companies funded studies that said tobacco did not cause cancer. “History does not repeat but it does rhyme.”

The Lesson, Grasshopper:
The lesson here is not that running, in and of itself, is bad for you, unless you push yourself too hard and eat a lot of carbs! Sure, lots of people hurt themselves from running too far, too fast. As Dana mentioned, running has a very high injury rate. But we’re talking about people who are eating the standard American junk food diet and who think more is better. People in poor shape, who eat a lot of junk food that is already narrowing their arteries, and then race 3, 6, 13 or 26 miles, running at top speed, pushing their heart and lungs far beyond what they are usually asked to do are asking for trouble. It’s not surprising that a few of them blow a gasket.

So the lesson is not that running is, all by itself, bad for you, as long as you don’t over do it. The lesson is that if you are eating the junk foods and fast foods that contribute to heart disease, or smoking or drinking lots of alcohol or some of each, you will not be able to outrun a heart attack.

Happy Spring, Anthony

Did donuts Fixx Jim?

Great post Anthony, especially on the evolution of Savanna Man. Lots of new info there for me. I love running too, but only do about 5k three times a week. It changes my life though.

On this comment:
"Doughnut Fixx:
I read an article about Jim Fixx several years ago, written by a friend of his. His friend said even when Jim was running hot and heavy, he never gave up his junk food diet. They were going for a run one morning. On the way out, Jim scooped up 3 glazed doughnuts and said he would run them off."

If he was that heavy a donut eater, i'd suspect trans fats as a cause of his demise. I have yet to find a donut made without them, and their role in heart disease is no longer questioned.

Running and Good Health

Please don't condemn running because of Jim Fixx (bad family history and ignored symptoms) and Davy Jones (effect of running unknown). Any athletic endeavor can be hard on the body; both benefits and risks should be honestly assessed by each individual. For me, as well as for many others, running enhances mental, physical and spiritual health.

There was also a runner by

There was also a runner by the name of Foote in the 70s who also died of a heart attack.

As a low carb marathon runner...

Jan 2012 NEJM goes into the danger of marathon running, and in short they found it to be minimal. (
"The crucial question is whether long-distance running really is associated with an increased risk of cardiac arrest. The short answer: not really. The investigators created a registry of data from the last decade of long-distance races in the US, including both marathons and half marathons. To be counted as an event, cardiac arrest had to occur during the race, or within one hour of completion. Of 10.9 million race participants, there were 59 cardiac arrests."

The risk for those in 4th quartile of race entrants' pace was 2x higher in the survivors to 7x higher in the non-survivors. In short, it was the people who ran slower, potentially less fit, and spent more time running that had a higher incidents of cardiac events. Additionally, the younger non-surviving runners were dx'ed with either genetic conditions or released plaque. ( One of the current theories is high caffeine (sugary caffeinated sport beans) is causing these plaque releases.

The study that "proved" a correlation of aorta stiffening in 2010 had 50 participants and indicated hypertension as a precursor. Many runners I know have the opposite low blood pressure -- mine is 100/60.

The current thinking is that while running distances like marathons does increase one's inflammation markers (CRP), but within 24-48 hours those markers of inflammations returned to normal. Another study demonstrated these athletes were better able to react to stress and their C-Reactive Proteins were typically less than non-runners due to acute events.

Should everyone run marathons? No, especially if you don't have annual physicals with your doctor. If you already have a problem, stressing your body voluntarily with a marathon is only going to exacerbate the problem. If you don't have a problem or medical condition, train responsibly, and don't over-caffeinate pre-race (more than 3 cups coffee), you should be fine.

Jim Fixx

Another runner who comes to mind is Jim Fixx: he died of a heart attack at 52.