At age 40, Dwayne Nill considered himself to be in perfect health — until he applied for life insurance. “They did a blood test, and when I showed the results to my doctor, he was astounded that I qualified for the policy because my cholesterol was through the roof,” he recalls. Further testing at the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center, performed in 2002, showed that Dwayne had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders that triples risk for heart attack and stroke and quadruples it for type 2 diabetes. This condition affects nearly 50 million Americans, many of whom are undiagnosed and unaware of their peril.
The tests also showed that he had cardiovascular disease (CVD) and high levels of inflammation, the “fire” in the arteries that can spark a heart attack or stroke in people with CVD. “Finding this out was scary because my mom had a long battle with cardiovascular problems, including high cholesterol and a stroke — and passed away at age 64,” says Dwayne, who turned out to be a carrier of the 9P21 “heart attack gene.” However, he was relieved to learn that with the optimal medical care advised by the BaleDoneen Method and certain lifestyle changes, all of his disorders were highly treatable, despite his genetic risk.
The Habit Helps Beat the Heart Attack Gene
As discussed more fully in the BaleDoneen book, Beat the Heart Attack Gene, about 50% of Americans carry genes that raise their risk for heart attacks and strokes, such as the 9P21 gene. About 25% of the U.S. population, including Dwayne, is homozygous for this gene, meaning that they have inherited it from both their mother and father. Large studies show that this genetic profile doubles risk for suffering a heart attack or developing coronary artery disease (CAD) at an early age, compared to non-carriers of this gene.
The good news, as we recently reported, is that people with genetic risk for heart attacks and CAD (the leading killer of Americans) can slash it by about 50% if they are physically fit, according to a study of nearly 500,000 people. Another new study found that regular exercise helps prevent or manage more than 40 other diseases, including cancer, diabetes, depression, arthritis and obesity. The researchers also reported that physical inactivity kills 5.3 million people prematurely each year — more than the toll from smoking!
Keeping fit used to be a challenge for Dwayne. “For 15 years,” he says, “I was a truck driver, sitting all day, and didn’t get a whole lot of exercise.” Despite his efforts to eat a healthy diet on the road, and to increase his physical activity, his weight climbed to 285 pounds on his 5’11” frame. Like nearly 40% of Americans — about 100 million people — Dwayne was obese (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher), further magnifying his risk for heart attacks, as well as diabetes, several forms of cancer and a host of other chronic or life-threatening conditions.
A Dangerous Gang of 5 Cardiovascular Thugs
Eighty-five percent of Americans have never heard of metabolic syndrome and only 0.6% think they have it themselves, a national health survey reported. In reality, this cluster of five cardiovascular risk factors that often strike in tandem affects 26% of US adults, multiplying their risk for heart attacks, strokes and type 2 diabetes. It’s so easy to tell if you have this prediabetic disorder that you can even diagnose yourself, using a few basic numbers every patient should know. To qualify for this diagnosis, you must have three or more of the disorders listed below:
- High triglycerides (a level of 150 mg/dL or above)
- High blood pressure (130/90 or above)
- Low HDL “good” cholesterol (below 40 mg/dL for a man or below 50 mg/dL for a woman)
- A large waist (above 40 inches for a man or above 35 inches for a woman)
- High fasting blood sugar (a level of 100 mg/dL or above)
Although Dwayne’s level of heart-protective HDL was in the healthy range, he was under attack by the other four of these cardiovascular villains. Like everyone else with metabolic syndrome, he also had insulin resistance, the root cause of 70% of heart attacks and almost all cases of type 2 diabetes. “During my initial evaluation with the BaleDoneen Method, my level of triglycerides was so high [412 mg/dL] that it sounded like more fat than blood was flowing through my arteries,” he recalls.
Moreover, along with struggling with his weight, he had a long history of high blood pressure, the leading risk factor for stroke. “I’d always passed the Department of Transportation physical, which says the top number [systolic pressure] has to be below 160, so I didn’t see it as a big issue,” he recalls. Actually, even mildly elevated blood pressure has been shown to double risk for fatal cardiovascular disease and triple it for heart attack, compared to pressure in the normal range, defined as below 120/80 in new blood pressure guidelines.
An Astonishing Health Turnaround
Now 65 and retired, Dwayne has dramatically changed his lifestyle. Three years ago, he started exercising daily, while also following a diet based on his DNA, as advised by the BaleDoneen Method. “I was inspired by my doctor, Amy Doneen, DNP, because she runs marathons, and I thought, ’If she can do it, I can certainly go to the gym every day.’ I work out for 35 to 45 minutes a day, running on the treadmill, lifting weights, boxing and using the elliptical machine.
“I used to love barbecued ribs, but I’ve cut out red meat, simple carbs like rice and potatoes, and all sweets and desserts completely,” adds the grandfather of three. Instead, he eats a low-carb diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish with moderate amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil. Thanks to these lifestyle changes, he’s lost 45 pounds. “When I went to have my Department of Transportation physical this year,” he says, “I was in such good shape that the doctor told me that physically, I was like a 55-year-old man — ten years younger than my actual age!”
“The BaleDoneen Method Saved My Life!”
Recent tests at the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center confirm that Dwayne’s hard work to turn his health around has paid off. His triglycerides levels, which were nearly triple the normal number in 2002, are now in the healthy range, as are all of his cholesterol numbers. His blood pressure has improved so much that he’s gone from needing three medications to control it to just one, and inflammation testing revealed that his arteries are no longer on fire.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that without the BaleDoneen Method, I wouldn’t be here today, given my genetic predisposition for heart attacks and strokes,” says Dwayne. “I found out what was killing me and got the guidance I needed to take action that has saved my life. Instead of being a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen, I can walk into a room with other 65-year-olds and feel confident that nobody else is in as great shape as I am.”