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LIVE LONGER

Why can't we live longer? Everyone wants to live longer. As we grow older, we look forward even more anxiously to increasing our lifespan. We want time to enjoy our achievements. By the time we reach 60 we realize with the great French painter Gauguin that "life is a split second." We begin to think about all the things we still want to do before we reach our seventieth year. If we are fortunate enough to pass our seventieth birth¬day, we wonder whether we can't live even longer—perhaps to be 80. Well, why can't we? We are living much longer than did our ancestors a century ago. We have added 20 years to the average life expectancy in America since 1900.

The 20th Century epidemic: A single, fundamental dis¬ease of the human body can now be held accountable for much of the illness and more than half of all deaths occurring each year in the United States It is a disorder known by the general term of "arteriosclerosis," which means a hardening and thick¬ening of the arteries. It is now so widespread that Dr. Paul Dudley White, the noted heart specialist, recently described it as "a modern epi¬demic."As the disease progresses—sometimes over a long period of time—the vessels that carry the blood from the heart to the body's tissues become stiff, and their inner surfaces roughened and thick. These conditions lay the groundwork for the three most common causes of death and disablement in America: heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

What is the cause of this new epidemic: Of the changes that may occur in the arteries as a result of disease, there are two types which concern us here. Both kinds have traditionally been known by the general term, "arterio¬sclerosis," which means hardening or thickening of the arteries. Actually, however, there are two kinds of hardening of the arteries. One occurs when calcium deposits in the middle layer of the artery cause it to become brittle and hard. The other type of change, on the other hand—and it is the more frequent one—has serious consequences. It consists of a thickening of the inner wall of the artery by deposits of fats: cholesterol (a fatty alcohol), fatty acids, and the like, together with calcium.

As these deposits grow, the passageways or canals of the arteries become narrower, much in the same way as the drain from your kitchen sink becomes clogged with grease deposits. The result is that less and less blood can flow through the nar¬rowed opening to the tissues or organs that depend on it for life. Your "pipes" have become clogged. If the blockage is complete in vital arteries that feed the heart muscle, a heart attack—or as we physicians call it, a coronary thrombosis—occurs. If this dis¬aster occurs in the cerebral arteries of the brain, a "stroke," sometimes called a heart attack in the head, results. When the small arteries of the kidneys are affected, Bright's disease, formerly called "dropsy," and other diseases ensue. In the heart, head, or kidneys, it is essentially the same.



 
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