Dr Decker Weiss is a naturopathic cardiologist with an important message about inflammation. Here, Rosie Greenaway relays some of the key messages conveyed during his 2018 retailer roadshow, and discovers why ignoring the red flags could be catastrophic for cardiovascular health
Old age is inevitable; for many people it’s not a thought they exactly relish. Among the myriad possibilities of what could go wrong – in body or mind – is the dreaded dementia. Ready for some sobering statistics about our so-called golden years? According to research conducted for the Alzheimer’s Society by King’s College London and the London School of Economics, there are 850,000 UK citizens living with dementia, with numbers expected to skyrocket to over a million by 2025, and a staggering two million by 2050.
Not only is a patient diagnosed with dementia every three minutes, but in the UK there are over 40,000 people under 65 with the condition – proof that sufferers of this cruel disease are not always as old as one might imagine.
Admittedly, these figures paint a bleak picture – but, as anyone in this sector knows, the natural market is well placed to help our ageing population protect themselves against such miserable conditions.
Omega-3, it is increasingly believed, has an important role to play in ‘maintaining and augmenting’ brain health, says Dr Emma Derbyshire, advisor to sustainable fish oils brand Equazen. “There is a lot we can do to maintain our emotional and intellectual brain power. Exercise, clinically-proven omega-3 fatty acids and a diet which is high in specific B vitamins, fruit and vegetables, will all help to support brain development and function.”
But in cases where elderly people struggle with appetite or experience intestinal problems which cause malabsorption of nutrients, does suboptimal nutrition contribute to age-related memory loss and dementia? Troy Linton, a nutritionist at the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT), says it’s not that clear cut.
“There is not a simple answer to this unfortunately,” he says. “Generally, the underlining cause to many health conditions is inflammation. There has been lots of research recently to suggest that gastrointestinal tract microbiota are directly linked to the development of dementia through the triggering of low-grade inflammation. So yes, sub-optimal nutrient intake and compromised absorption of friendly bacteria could be a cause of memory loss as a result of the damage caused by chronic inflammation. Specifically, the bacteria Lactobacillus can produce acetylcholine in the body which is associated with the proper function of memory. Unfortunately without enough Lactobacillus – or if it’s not balanced – impaired memory or dementia could be the result.”
Linton’s view that inflammation is the root cause of many ailments is shared by US-based naturopathic cardiologist Dr Decker Weiss, who in 2018 was brought to the UK by Viridian Nutrition for a roadshow about cardiovascular health aimed at retailers. Part of Viridian’s ongoing education programme, the tour saw Weiss discuss essential nutrients and lifestyle practices for a healthy heart, systematic inflammation and homocysteine effects on health, and ways to combat the side- effects of common heart medications.
In his lecture, Weiss described health as ‘a process, not a moment’ and was critical of conventional medicine for not understanding that ‘it’s a process of moving people towards health’. Weiss says that when his patients begin to feel better, they often enquire which element of their treatment was responsible. “Maybe it was the plant-based diet, maybe it was the supplements, maybe it was the fact that you got out of a really bad relationship and changed your job – I don’t care. It was all a process of trying to move you in a direction. One thing doesn’t work; it takes a collection of activities and commitments.”
Weiss believes that, on occasion, doctors say ‘very silly things’ – for example, that chest pain is a warning sign of heart disease. “No, chest pain means you are screwed! You are probably having a heart attack. That is not a warning sign.” Inflammation, he says, is one such red flag – and it shouldn’t be ignored.
The old ticker
Recent British Heart Foundation data shows that deaths from heart and circulatory diseases are on the rise among the under-75s. It’s the first time in 50 years that the figures have looked so grim, with the UK’s former ‘phenomenal progress’ in heart attack prevention now having ‘slowed to a standstill’.
The charity’s chief executive Simon Gillespie told the BBC that the present reality is troubling. “We are seeing more people die each year from heart and circulatory diseases … before they reach their 75th, or even 65th, birthday. We are deeply concerned by this reversal. We need to work in partnership with Government, the NHS and medical research community to increase research investment and accelerate innovative approaches to diagnose and support the millions of people at risk of a heart attack or stroke.”
Weiss explains how inflammation ties in with heart disease: “We look at it in two ways: loud inflammation and silent inflammation. Loud inflammation is courteous; it points to a problem and says: ‘Treat me … my back hurts, I have gas and bloating, I have chronic diarrhoea’. This is what we call loud inflammation – the beginning of reversing and preventing heart disease. Inflammation starts on the outside and then it attacks your heart and brain.”
Detection of silent inflammation is trickier. “If we don’t recognize loud inflammation properly, if we do not treat it properly, it becomes silent – and that’s when it kills us. These are all recognized chronic inflammatory conditions: cancer; autoimmune and neurological disorders (including dementia); Alzheimer’s; diabetes; and cardiovascular disease. The illusion is that we’re not getting warnings, because cardiologists … are saying stupid things … and we are ignoring these warning signs.”
Weiss encouraged retailers to ‘act as inflammation hunters’ in their stores, becoming ‘more qualified to treat loud inflammation than medical doctors’. “When a heart patient walks in … this is how you think: ‘Where is there loud inflammation? How do you feel? How’s life?’ This is where your place is in medicine. Health food stores are becoming the new primary carer – and you’re pretty good at it. A lot better than we were … we’ve done a crummy job, and that’s why we’re in this mess.”
“Heart failure is on the rise. [It] takes you a piece at a time,” says Weiss, reminding retailers to heed his warnings: that using a model which covers those red flags – for example, symptom-suppressing medication – will turn inflammation from loud to silent and ‘move you towards death’.
Weiss says his comments don’t mean that individual physicians aren’t ‘trying to do better’; he acknowledges that plenty of doctors are incorporating natural solutions into their practices, but progressive medicine is a gradual journey. “The hardest thing to change is lifestyle; we are huge creatures of habit.”
A powerful pair
Egzona Makolli, nutritionist at Kinetic, points to CBD oil as a solution to certain chronic inflammatory conditions and the behavioural off-shoots of them. “Although there are no long-term studies on the effects of CBD oil with regards to ageing and health deterioration, it is thought that CBD may help manage a few behavioural symptoms of dementia, such as agitation and aggression.”
Naturopathic cardiologist Dr Decker Weiss agrees that cannabinoids have their uses. “CBD is wonderful. I really hope that the EU does not ban it … because it’s a mistake. CBD is very good for pain. It helps bring down general inflammation as well, but it is not the best thing for it – curcumin is still the ‘home run’. The advantage of CBD is that it tends to work faster,” he says, explaining that he often prescribes the two together, in cases of serious injury, to address pain and inflammation simultaneously. “Look at the science: curcumin has over 6,000 peer reviewed journal studies. No drug comes close. Everybody is interested in it.”
Awareness of these two hero ingredients is filtering down to customers through widespread media coverage, but to increase public understanding of their combined benefits, more education may be required. In Glastonbury, Jo Wren – co-owner of Earthfare – says ‘many people have heard of the reported benefits’ of CBD. “We have had a few people enquiring about various products we stock – and whether they would help with their health. Many have read … about the claims and mostly want to know the right levels to take.” Turmeric doesn’t get the same attention from senior citizens. “Many adults have started to look at some of the products available, though not necessarily the older age groups. Many purchase fresh turmeric, and most are unaware of the levels and concentrations to take which might help support certain health claims.”
Of Earthfare’s weekly customers, approximately 20% are over 65, and soon they’ll benefit from insights gained through a customer panel the retailer is putting together. “We are looking to talk to our customers on an ongoing basis – all age groups! We want their input to help with our insights to their needs, and what we can do to serve them well.”
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