Four years ago, Rick Merizon received a startling diagnosis: He had prediabetes. “My doctor was as shocked as I was because I don’t have the typical risk factors, such as being overweight and sedentary,” recalls the then 45-year-old wildlife biologist from Chugiak, Alaska. “He said I was likely to become a type 2 diabetic in the next few years — and in his opinion, there wasn’t much I could do to prevent it. I already led a very active life that included long-distance running and sea kayaking, ate a low-fat diet, and was teased about being underweight.”
Along with prediabetes, he also had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “I knew that these three things together put me at high risk for heart disease — and that terrified me,” recalls Rick. On Nov. 4, 2022, he’ll be sharing the remarkable story of how he avoided a lifetime of chronic illness at the BaleDoneen Annual Reunion in the Woodlands, Texas. Here’s a look at his journey to wellness and peace of mind, using our unique, precision-medicine approach to protect and enhance arterial health at every age: the BaleDoneen Method.
Seeking a Disease Detective
During Rick’s initial assessment at The Prevention Center for Heart & Brain Health in 2019, we posed a question we always ask new patients: “What are your goals for optimal health — and which health threats might challenge your ability to achieve them?” He told us that as the father of three young children, his top priority was to remain an active participant in their lives — without any limitations.
Because his work often took him to remote locations in the Alaskan wilderness, his greatest fear was that he’d suffer a heart attack or stroke and be unable to get medical help. Along with seeking a treatment-and-prevention plan to help him avoid that scary scenario — and ward off diabetes — he also hoped that we could solve the medical mystery of WHY he had so many health problems, despite being a lifelong nonsmoker who followed an excellent lifestyle.
Fire in the Arteries
Our state-of-the-art imaging and laboratory tests confirmed that Rick has insulin resistance (IR), a prediabetic condition that is the root cause of 70 percent of heart attacks, many strokes and almost all cases of type 2 diabetes. In addition, there is such a strong link between abnormal blood sugar levels and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that some experts have proposed that AD be renamed type 3 diabetes. In addition, Rick was shocked when a 15-minute, FDA-approved ultrasound test showed that at age 45, he had the arteries of a man in his late 50s.
Most importantly, our testing revealed that Rick had atherosclerosis (plaque inside the artery wall) and high levels of inflammation — the one-two punch that can lead to potentially life-threatening cardiovascular events. Think of plaque as kindling. Inflammation, which we call fire, lights the match. The result can be a plaque rupture or erosion, followed by the formation of a blood clot. If the clot obstructs flow to the heart, the result can be a heart attack. If the blockage occurs in the brain, it can trigger a stroke.
Rising Rates of Cardiometabolic Disease in Younger Adults
Rick’s case is not unusual. It’s become increasingly common for younger adults (those under age 55) to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (CVD) AND metabolic disorders, such as IR, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome: a cluster of heart attack and diabetes risk factors that’s been called “the other deadly global pandemic,” because it now affects 1 billion people worldwide, including 66 million Americans, many of whom are undiagnosed.
Soaring rates of metabolic disorders — and CVD fatalities — among younger Americans have prompted experts from the Johns Hopkins Ciccarrone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease to call for a new medical specialty to address this alarming trend. Indeed, only one in eight US adults is metabolically healthy, a recent study found. The researchers defined optimal cardiometabolic health as meeting guideline-recommended targets for five factors — blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides, HDL (good) cholesterol and waist circumference — and not taking any medications related to these factors.
A Plan That’s Guaranteed to Prevent Heart Attacks and Strokes
To help save lives, hearts and brains, the BaleDoneen Method has pioneered a new evidence-based medical specialty called “Arteriology,” which is designed to optimize the health of the more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels in our bodies and help people avoid heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, heart failure, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many other chronic conditions.
Two recent peer-reviewed studies have shown that our arteriology-based approach is highly effective at halting CVD — and shrinking arterial plaque, helping our patients avoid heart attacks and strokes. Since 2008, we have offered all our patients a written guarantee stating that if they experience one of these events, we will refund 100 percent of all fees paid during that year. To date, we have had to give only three refunds, despite treating hundreds of high-risk patients, including people who have survived heart attacks and strokes while under the care of different providers, past and current smokers, and people weighing up to 400 pounds.
Harnessing Genetic Insights to Optimize Arterial Health
Although the increasingly unhealthy Western lifestyle and the U.S. obesity epidemic are the major culprits in rising rates of cardiometabolic disease in younger adults, genes can also play a role, as turned out to be the case for Rick. Not only does he have a family history of diabetes, which affected his father, but our testing revealed that he was also at high genetic risk for CVD. He’s a carrier of the 9P21 “heart attack gene,” which more than doubles risk for suffering a heart attack or developing CVD at an early age, compared to noncarriers.
The good news, however, is that our genetically guided approach to treatment offers a proven strategy to combat these health threats. As described more fully in the new BaleDoneen book, Healthy Heart, Healthy Brain: The Personalized Path to Protect Your Memory, Prevent Heart Attacks and Strokes, and Avoid Chronic Illness, our method uses comprehensive, individualized therapies to optimize arterial wellness, ranging from lifestyle changes to medications, supplements and a diet based on the patient’s DNA. We also use a genetic test to identify the most effective medications and supplements — at the optimal dose — for people who need them.
The Habit that Helps Beat the Heart Attack Gene
Along with prescribing medications and supplements to help stabilize and reverse Rick’s atherosclerosis, reduce his inflammation and manage his blood pressure and cholesterol issues, we also recommended that he add high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to his already vigorous workout. Research suggests that HIIT — alternating bursts of high-intensity exercise with intervals of lighter activity — is one of the most effective ways to reduce heart attack risk in people with IR or metabolic syndrome.
In addition, a very large study recently found that among carriers of high-risk genes, such as 9P21, those who got the most cardiovascular exercise (such as jogging, biking, running, brisk walking or other aerobic workouts) had a 50 percent lower risk for heart attacks and strokes, as compared to those who got the least exercise! Always check with your health provider before starting a new workout routine to make sure it’s right for you.
Living Well — Without Fear of a Heart Attack, Stroke or Dementia
Rick’s genetic test results also indicated that he’d benefit from following a gluten-free diet as part of his heart attack and stroke prevention plan. We also recommended intermittent fasting (IF) — not for weight loss, but because it’s one of the best anti-inflammatory diets. Moreover, many studies have shown that IF can significantly improve — or even reverse — insulin resistance.
By narrowing the window in which one consumes his or her daily calories, IF reduces insulin spikes, demands on the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells and the body’s overall insulin levels. In effect, this eating plan helps reprogram our metabolism by resetting how our bodies respond to insulin, which in turn improves insulin resistance and helps us use this hormone more efficiently.
“Over the past three years, I feel so much better with this treatment plan,” says Rick. “My stamina has increased, I’m mentally sharper, and in the morning, I wake up right away, instead of struggling to get out of bed. What’s been fascinating to me as my treatment has progressed is that I feel better now, at age 49, than I did in my 20s and 30s. For years, I constantly had the nagging feeling that something was very wrong — and now I feel very positive about my future. Unquestionably, the BaleDoneen Method has saved my life — and has also greatly enhanced it!”