How to Prevent Premature Death

How to Prevent Premature Death

Julian Whitaker, MD

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in this country, and most of these deaths occur without warning in individuals who are seemingly healthy. Sudden cardiac death (SCD) kills approximately 325,000 Americans every year and claims more lives than automobile accidents, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer combined.

SCDs are not massive heart attacks as they are often described. Rather, they are severe, abrupt, and usually fatal rhythm disturbances that interrupt the heartbeat. The heart goes into ventricular fibrillation and cannot pump blood. If it is not defibrillated with an electrical charge or thump on the chest, the brain quickly succumbs from lack of oxygen and death occurs within three to five minutes.

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which you see in airports, schools, and other public places, are designed for emergency use by inexperienced laypeople. To me, they’re simply a reminder that SCD is a rhythm disturbance and that you can protect yourself by taking two safe and inexpensive nutritional supplements.

Arrest Arrhythmias With Magnesium…

It’s well known that cardiovascular deaths occur far less frequently in areas that have hard water, which contains a lot of minerals, compared to areas with soft water, which is relatively mineral-free. British researchers took a close look at this data a couple of years ago and narrowed the protective effects to one specific mineral: magnesium. 

Magnesium plays key roles in several aspects of cardiovascular health, and deficiencies are linked to an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack. heart failure and death. Subpar levels also promote electrical instability in the heart and are associated with a variety of rhythm disturbances, including ventricular arrhythmia and sudden cardiac arrest.

Harvard researchers published a study in which they followed more than 88,000 women who were initially free of heart disease for an average of 26 years. They compared the magnesium intake and blood levels of the women who died of sudden cardiac arrest with those of a control group and found that a high blood level of this mineral reduced risk by 41 percent. Other large studies have found similar associations with men, revealing that low magnesium status is an important predictor of SCD and increasing intake reduces risk.

According to a recent large government health survey, nearly half of all Americans and two-thirds of teens and people over age 70 don’t even get the RDA of 300-400 mg of magnesium. With paltry numbers like these, it’s no wonder SCD kills so many. That’s why I recommend that everyone, regardless of health status, take supplemental magnesium.

…And Fish Oil

Omega-3 fats also have broad cardiovascular benefits. Studies published as early as 1980 demonstrate that the Inuit people in Greenland and other populations that eat a lot of omega-3-rich fish have a lower incidence of death from heart disease. We now know that this is due in large part to the effects of these essential fatty acids on the heart’s electrical activity—they stabilize cardiac rhythm and reduce risk of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia.

The protective effects of supplemental fish oil against SCD have been demonstrated in numerous clinical trials, involving both high-risk patients with a recent history of heart attack and healthy people, and its importance is underscored in a paper by Harvard professor Dariush Mozaffarian: “Because more than one-half of all CHD [coronary heart disease] deaths and two-thirds of SCD occur among individuals without recognized heart disease, modest consumption of fish or fish oil…should be among the first-line treatments for prevention ….”

Fish and fish oil are perennial favorites at the Whitaker Wellness Institute. We serve salmon at several meals during our Back to Health Program, and our doctors prescribe high-quality supplemental fish oil to virtually every patient.

Additional Protective Measures

History of heart attack, heart failure, other cardiovascular diseases, and sleep apnea significantly increase risk of SCD, so we help our patients get a handle on these and other risk factors. We start them on a good diet and exercise program, a comprehensive nutritional supplement regimen, and, if appropriate, noninvasive therapies such as EECP. (See page X for more on this powerful therapy.)

If you’re at very high risk of SCD, your cardiologist may recommend an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). Do your homework before consenting. A 2011 review of the records of 11,107 patients who received ICDs suggests that nearly a quarter of them were inappropriately implanted. Like all expensive cardiovascular procedures, such as bypass and angioplasty, a primary motive on the physician’s part may well be money. In any case, if you do have an ICD, you should still be taking supplemental magnesium and fish oil. It’s far better to prevent arrhythmias, rather than waiting for your ICD to kick in.

Although sudden cardiac death may appear to be a random event that could happen to anyone at any time, as you can see, that is not the case. Take these suggestions to heart, do what you can to protect yourself, and enjoy better health and a longer life.


  • For optimal protection, I recommend taking 500-1,000 mg of supplemental magnesium and a minimum of 2-4 g of high-quality fish oil per day. If you have an absorption problem, diabetes, or take diuretics or tetracycline antibiotics—all of which may reduce magnesium status—I suggest that you increase your magnesium dose to 1,000-1,500 mg. (Be aware that high doses may cause loose stools; this can be eliminated by reducing your dose.) People with heart disease and other cardiovascular concerns should also boost their dose of fish oil to 4-8 g daily.
  • If you are interested in the Whitaker Wellness Institute’s safe, noninvasive approach to preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, call (866) 944-8253.


  • Al-Khatib SM, et al. Non–evidence-based ICD implantations in the United States. JAMA. 2011;305(1):43-49.
  • Catling LA, et al. A systematic review of analytical observational studies investigating the association between cardiovascular disease and drinking water hardness. J Water Health. 2008 Dec;6(4):433-442.
  • Chiuve SE, et al. Plasma and dietary magnesium and risk of sudden cardiac death in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):253-260.
  • Mozaffarian D. Fish and n-3 fatty acids for the prevention of fatal coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jun;87(6):1991S-6S.
  • Shechter M. Magnesium and cardiovascular system. Magnes Res. 2010 Jun;23(2):60-72.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.

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