Cardiovascular research is fraught with words. Dr. James DiNicolantonio, research scientist and doctor of pharmacy at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, has written tens of thousands of words.
He’s authored or coauthored more than 300 publications in medical literature, plus eight bestselling books including “The Obesity Fix,” “The Salt Fix,” and “The Immunity Fix.”
Dr. DiNicolantonio published 11 research papers about COVID-19 and turned his findings into the 2020 book, “The Immunity Fix,” which summarized his research with protocols and practical data on how to support the immune system.
But it’s his short-form writing that makes his wisdom so reachable and relatable. From social media, Dr. DiNicolantonio has shared nuggets like: “Friendly reminder that you don’t need the most expensive things in life. You need sun, exercise, healthy food, and a life-supporting partner.” “Food is the most abused anxiety drug. Fasting is the most forgotten cure. Exercise is the most underused antidepressant.”
For American Essence, he provided answers to some pressing questions about nutrition and lifestyle changes to improve cardiovascular and overall health.
American Essence: What has been the driving factor for the subjects that you’ve chosen to write about in your books? Is there a book that’s gotten the most attention and any ideas why that might be?
Dr. James DiNicolantonio: I have always been curious and love to learn. So, it’s really my love of learning and research for why I continue to write books.
“The Salt Fix” because no one had ever really written a book about salt before—at least from the standpoint of covering the historical perspective and also the key players in the salt wars, as well as summarizing 50 years of salt research into one book. And it went against the traditional view that salt is bad for us. My research found that around 80 percent of people with normal blood pressure are not salt-sensitive, 75 percent with pre-hypertension are not salt-sensitive and around 55 percent of people with hypertension are not salt-sensitive. Additionally, most salt sensitivity is driven by insulin resistance (caused by over-consuming refined carbs or sugars) or a low intake of magnesium or potassium.
AE: As a cardiovascular researcher, what has motivated your emphasis on nutrition and lifestyle habits?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: I was originally interested in publishing on medications. However, the older and wiser I got, the more I realized it’s diet and lifestyle that matter the most regarding our health. From that point on, I focused my attention on nutrition, exercise, and hydration.
AE: What was the most surprising thing you learned researching “The Immunity Fix”?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: That individuals who are more obese or metabolically sick take longer to clear viruses in general, including COVID-19, which gives the virus a longer time to mutate and infect others. In other words, someone else’s poor health can affect another person’s health by putting out more virus, for a longer time, that’s more virulent.
AE: Do you have any insights on why people don’t seem to prioritize their immune systems until they are in crisis? Has the pandemic taught us any lessons in this regard?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: Most people are reactive, not proactive. It’s human nature. However, it’s the people who are prepared before a disaster occurs, who usually live through the storm. The pandemic has taught us that the healthier we are, the better chance we have of having less severe viral infections and a better chance at surviving them.
AE: What are the top things we can do to prepare and prevent illness during cold and flu season?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: It’s hard to prevent getting infected. What we can do is optimize our overall metabolic and immune health by leading a healthy lifestyle, such as getting eight hours of sleep, staying hydrated, getting sunlight, exercising, and eating a whole, nutritious diet.
AE: What can you do when you get sick? Are there ways to tamp down the symptoms right away?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: There are published studies showing benefits of the supplements vitamin D, vitamin C, glutathione, lipoic acid, black seed oil, selenium, zinc, and elderberry.
Glutathione and black seed oil are major antioxidants; lipoic acid is immunoregulatory and plays a role in lowering blood sugar; selenium is used for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; vitamin D is a hormone that helps the immune system fight off viruses and bacteria; and zinc and vitamin C have a long history of boosting the immune system.
AE: Are there lessons in that book for people who are not obese? Can you share one or two?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: Yes. Two lessons would be that protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and secondly, that restricting calories longer than two weeks can be counter productive. For example, more than two weeks on a calorie restriction can lead to adaptive thermogenesis (starvation mode) causing metabolism to slow and hunger to increase.
AE: When it comes to diet, is there any standard advice that works for just about everyone?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: Eat whole foods 90 percent of the time.
AE: What are three simple things anyone can do to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease?
Dr. DiNicolantonio: Limit refined carbs like bread, refined sugars including table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and refined seed oils such as canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower.