Ask anyone about AAA and they will immediately think of the American Automobile Association. But in this case it stands for abdominal aortic aneurysm. Sir William Osler once remarked, “There is no disease more conducive to clinical humility than aneurysm of the aorta.” He could have added that it’s a lethal disease, so prevention is better than cure.
Every year over 20,000 North Americans die from a ruptured aorta. Albert Einstein, the physicist who expounded the Theory of Relativity, and Lucille Ball, the TV star that made us laugh, both died of AAA.
So, what causes the aorta — about the size of a garden hose, the largest artery in the body — to rupture?
Getting a little stiff in various parts of our body is one of the problems of aging. But arterial stiffness, known as hardening of arteries, is particularly hazardous when it happens to the abdominal aorta. A sudden rupture can result in death in a few minutes. And studies show that about 5 percent of men over age 65 have some degree of AAA. It’s also five times more common in males than females.
Sir William Osler, Professor of Medicine at McGill, John’s Hopkins, and Oxford University, remarked that, “It’s good to be born with good rubber.” In effect, to have soft, elastic, arteries that expand and contract with each beat of the heart.
But as we age arteries often become rigid, resulting in hypertension, heart attack, stroke and rupture due to an aneurysm. The cause is arterial calcification, which can affect the aorta, coronary arteries and valves of the heart.
To reduce the risk of calcification it’s important to block its penetration into arteries as soon as possible. Several studies show that people with a higher intake of vitamin K2 have less risk of arterial calcification.But calcium is also an essential mineral to sustain life. In fact, without sufficient calcium we could not maintain the electrolyte balance needed for the normal rhythm of the heart.
In a healthy body, 99 percent of calcium is stored in bone, where it provides structural support. The amount of calcium allowed into the bloodstream is strictly controlled.
Dr. Dennis Goodman, cardiologist and Director of Integrative Medicine at New York University, says, “Ignoring vitamin K2 is dangerous. Few are aware of how K2 aids bone health, but even fewer know how it helps cardiovascular health.”
The great risk is that a deficiency of K2 increases the risk that calcium will be deposited in the aorta. These calcium deposits weaken the wall, increasing the risk of rupture and sudden death.
A Dutch study of 4,600 men aged 55 and older showed that a high intake of vitamin K2 decreased the risk of aortic calcification by an amazing 52 percent.
Since K2 is not easy to obtain in the diet, various supplements are available. For instance, K2 drops also contain vitamin A and D as all three are needed for bone health. And as we age, vitamin A also helps to improve night vision.
What is not mentioned in most studies is that a combination of vitamin C and lysine also strengthens the wall of the aorta and other arteries. This helps to decrease the risk of aortic rupture, coronary attack and stroke. Pills of vitamin C and lysine are effective. But for those who dislike swallowing large numbers of pills, Medi-C Plus and other brands of powdered C along with vitamin K2 Plus A and D drops are available at health food stores.
Pathologists have known for years that arteries are soft and flexible in youth. But with age, calcification occurs in the soft tissues of the body, particularly arteries. So one secret for longevity is to keep calcium in bone where it belongs, and out of the aorta, coronary arteries and those in the brain where it can prematurely end life.
Osler was right. It’s good to be born with good rubber. But if this doesn’t happen, vitamin K2, along with high amounts of vitamin C and lysine, is the way to keep arteries elastic and increase longevity.
Dr. Ken Walker (Gifford-Jones) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and The Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in gynecology at Harvard. He has also been a general practitioner, ship’s surgeon and hotel doctor. See www.docgiff.com for past columns. For comments: email@example.com.