The New York Times recently published some very interesting statistics. Over the last half-century, from 1958 to 2010, the annual U.S. death rate from heart disease declined by a monumental 68 percent. And, during that same time period, the death rate from strokes fell even more—79 percent.1
So, looking at it a different way, back in 1958, 56 out of every 10,000 Americans died from heart disease. In 2010, that number plummeted to just 18 people.
And in 1958, 18 out of every 10,000 Americans died from strokes—compared to only 4 out of 10,000 in 2010.
Why the dramatic reduction?
Well, in 1978, 20 years into this trend, a nationwide conference of experts was convened by the National Institutes of Health to answer that very question.
The experts noted that the decline in deaths from heart disease and stroke was evident before the government’s misguided dietary recommendations and major anti-tobacco campaigns and lawsuits went into effect, and long before any drugs were available to address the myth of “killer cholesterol.” So, faulty dietary advice, smoking cessation and prevention, and anti-cholesterol drugs could not be responsible for this early decline.
The experts looked at other potential factors. In 1978, there had already been some favorable trends in physical activity. Plus, more intensive and effective hospital management and treatment of heart disease and stroke would have been expected to help reduce mortality. But at the same time, Americans were eating more fat and meat, and gaining more weight.
So the experts were flummoxed. They couldn’t identify a probable cause for why so many fewer people were dying of heart disease and stroke.
Nonetheless, the government-industrial-medical complex embarked on its faulty campaign to reduce consumption of meat, saturated fats, and salts, and to push cholesterol-lowering drugs. None of which had anything to do with the actual decline of heart disease and stroke that had already occurred.
But I and my colleague, Dr. Kilmer McCully, think we have the answer. And it’s a simple one.
We believe the reduction in heart disease and stroke is because Americans are consuming more of three simple nutrients: vitamins B6 (pyridoxal), B12, and folate/folic acid (B9).
What B can do for you
These B vitamins are required for normal metabolism of an amino acid called homocysteine. And high levels of homocysteine in the blood can result in cardiovascular disease.
Dr. McCully is a pioneer in B vitamin/homocysteine/heart disease research. He also introduced the “homocysteine hypothesis” way back in 1969. At the heart of this hypothesis is the belief that introduction of highly processed foods during the early 20th century caused lower B vitamin intakes and higher heart disease rates during the 1940s to 1960s.
Food processing involves heating, chemical treatment, extraction of purified carbohydrates and oils, and milling of grains—all of which strip foods of their naturally occurring B vitamins.
In fact, in the rice-dependent populations of Asia, it has been observed that removing the B vitamin-rich bran layer to convert brown rice to white rice leads to beriberi, a vitamin B (thiamine)-deficiency disease.
Along with unprocessed foods, B vitamins are also found in meat, eggs, dairy products, and whole grains. That’s why vegans and vegetarians can have difficulty getting enough Bs to keep them—and their hearts—healthy.
For example, in the country of Chad in Sub-Saharan Africa, the population subsists on beans, cassava, ground nuts, millet, and sweet potatoes. The semi-arid climate and poor soil results in poorly nourished livestock, with fewer dairy foods and rare consumption of meat.
Dr. McCully and a colleague conducted a study in which they found that even though people in Chad eat very little saturated fat and have low cholesterol levels, they have high homocysteine levels. And even more tellingly, they have more cardiovascular disease than people in other African countries who get more protein and B vitamins in their diets.2
Need more convincing? In the U.S., the famous Framingham Heart Study found that the participants who were between the ages of 67 and 96 had major nutritional deficiencies during the 1950s, which led to them having low vitamin B status for years.3 Consumption of vitamin B6 rose from 0.23 mg a day in 1955 to 3.5 mg a day in the 1970s.
Likewise, folic acid intakes increased beginning in the 1960s, and in 1998, the FDA mandated fortification of processed grains with folic acid. The Framingham Heart Study demonstrated that folate blood levels doubled after this fortification began. And homocysteine levels decreased by 15 percent.
In addition to this compelling research, several large-scale studies conducted in the 1990s and 2000s evaluated whether supplementing with vitamins B6, B12, and folate could prevent heart attacks or strokes.
In the HOPE 2 trial, people who supplemented with B vitamins had a notably significant 27 percent reduction in strokes.4 And in the VISP trial, people who had the highest blood levels of vitamin B12 had a 21 percent reduction in heart disease, stroke, or death.5
Why mainstream medicine is B-fuddled about heart disease
You’d think this research would convince doctors that low B vitamin intake and high homocysteine levels are real risk factors for heart disease. So why is the medical profession and the general public so uninformed about this key finding.
One answer has to do with what happened to Dr. McCully after his pioneering B vitamin/homocysteine/heart disease studies.
Since then, over 17,500 scientific studies have shown that high homocysteine levels can also lead to blood clots, cancer, dementia, kidney disease, low thyroid levels, osteoporosis, retinal degeneration of the eyes, and mental illness.
But while some of these studies were underway, the mainstream was marginalizing Dr. McCully’s research linking homocysteine levels with heart disease.
He says there was a “violent” reaction against his findings on homocysteine from the “cholesterol cartel,” and he consequently was denied promotions and tenure and was blackballed within the research community and industry.
In fact, after a decade of groundbreaking research on this subject at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. McCully was exiled to try to continue his work at the VA Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
Dr. McCully believes his findings were not a threat to the multibillion-dollar food or pharma industries. But many of his colleagues disagreed. In fact, in the late 1990s I received funding from a private, non-medical foundation to bring Dr. McCully to speak at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a bastion of traditional biomedicine. But I was quickly reminded about the Biblical story of trying to “bring pearls before swine.”
Dr. McCully’s expulsion from Harvard came just at the time that big pharma was getting ready to launch its new “blockbuster” cholesterol drugs. And therein lies the conflict. If you can prevent heart disease by taking a simple B vitamin supplement, why bother with the dangerous and expensive new drugs?
The fact is, this simple, inexpensive, safe, natural approach should be the very first recommendation made by every cardiologist and general physician to any patient at risk of heart attack or stroke.
In his 2014 book , Homocysteine: Biosynthesis and Health Implications, Dr. McCully notes that “it is significant that the 80-year history of the cholesterol/dietary fat approach has yet to provide a coherent and comprehensive scientific theory which explains how cholesterol, a normal constituent of the body, or excess dietary fat in the diet of susceptible populations, produces arteriosclerotic plaques,” which is the cause of heart disease and stroke. You can read more about the scandalous, deadly history of statins and cholesterol in my new report, The Insider’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy and Statin-Free Life.
And in the meantime, for optimum heart health and overall good health, I recommend taking a high-quality vitamin B complex that contains at least the following dosages: 50 mg each of thiamine, riboflavin (B2), niacin/niacinamide, B6, and pantothenic acid, plus 400 micrograms of folic acid/folate, 12 mcg of B12, and 100 mcg of biotin.
But beware—you must get started with B supplementation early. Once you have well-established cardiovascular disease, B6, B12, and folic acid supplementation may not be enough alone to reverse the disease.
1The New York Times. Declining Lethality. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/01/05/sunday-review/declining-lethality.html?_r=0. Accessed January 24, 2015.
3Selhub J, et al. Vitamin status and intake as primary determinants of homocysteinemia in an elderly population. JAMA 1993;270:2693–8.
4Saposnik G, et al. Homocysteine-lowering therapy and stroke risk, severity, and disability: additional findings from the HOPE 2 trial. Stroke. 2009 Apr;40(4):1365-72. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.108.529503. Epub 2009 Feb 19.
5Spence JD, et al. Vitamin Intervention For Stroke Prevention trial: an efficacy analysis. Stroke. 2005 Nov;36(11):2404-9. Epub 2005 Oct 20.