I am currently in my 3rd year of my education as a Naturopathic Physician. I am studying Naturopathic Medicine at The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, which is located in New Westminster, British Columbia and is Western Canada’s only Naturopathic Medical College.
As a student of naturopathic medicine, we learn a variety of modalities such as nutritional, herbal, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, among others. What I find most compelling about naturopathic medicine, is that it aims to treat the underlying cause of diseases in order to provide long lasting, permanent health for our patients. Ensuring that our patients have a healthy cardiovascular system is one way to establish a state of lasting health.
In addition to studying naturopathic medicine, I am a yoga instructor, and a lifelong nordic skier. My passion for nordic skiing, an endurance sport, has given me a particular interest in cardiovascular health. I would like to share with you a little about a mentor of mine, Dr. Garry “Gibber” Gibson who exemplifies how a healthy heart can lead to a high quality of life, and inspire others in the process.
Keeping up with Gibber
By: Christopher Ryan Halldorson
When I reflect on the importance of a healthy heart, my mentor Dr. Garry Gibson
comes to mind. Garry, or “Gibber,” as he is known to his friends, is a remarkable man. I
first met Gibber while I was studying at Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta.
Gibber is a retired faculty member, and an active member of the Camrose nordic ski
community. Gibber’s enthusiasm for life infects everyone around him. His limitless
energy makes you forget the fact that he is 82 years old, and, even at that age, is still
astoundingly competitive on the ski trails. This year, Gibber is training to compete in the
2013 Canadian Birkebeiner. The “Birkie” is a 55km cross country ski race through Elk
Island National Park in Northern Alberta, where each racer must carry a 5.5kg pack.
This is an event that the average Canadian could not complete, yet Gibber is one of the
race favourites for his age category! So how does he do it?
Cardiovascular-based exercise is one of four health behaviours that have been
associated with a reduction in mortality. Regular cardiovascular exercise, along with not
smoking, and a diet high in fruits and vegetables can combine to add an average of 14 extra years to one’s life (Khaw et als. 2008).
Gibber’s heart is certainly in good condition. As recently as 2003 he was challenging me
to 30km “time trials” and posting good times! He has chosen cross country skiing as his
lifetime sport, and being active helps him to maintain his cardiovascular health.
! If a healthy heart through cardiovascular exercise leads to a longer, healthier life,
then what else can be done to ensure the health of the cardiovascular system? A recent
systemic review found that taking omega-3 fatty acids reduces the rate of cardiac
mortality (Wang et als, 2006). The same study found that taking omega-3s had a
stronger effect on patients who already had a history of cardiovascular disease. How is
this achieved? Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation acts by improving specific markers
of cardiovascular health. EPA and DHA, the fats found in omega-3 oils, improve lipid
profiles by decreasing serum triglycerides while increasing the HDL to LDL ratio. They
also protect from atherosclerosis by increasing endothelial function and fibrinolysis,
while simultaneously decreasing platelet aggregability and platelet aggregation. EPA
and DHA have the added effects of lowering systolic blood pressure, and decreasing
heart rates, blood sugar levels, oxidative stress and inflammation (Vrablík et als, 2009).
Impressive cardiovascular health aside, Gibber truly inspires me through his
characteristic optimism. Knowing how active Gibber is, it came to no surprise that
cardiovascular health has been associated with a decreased incidence of depression. In
fact, it was found that 45% of patients who survived a heart attack also suffered from
some form of depression. This stands in stark contrast to the 7-9% of the general
population who are affected with depression (Grippo & Johnson, 2002). It has been
postulated that the link is due to an increased level of Epinephrine and Norepinephrine
in patients affected by cardiovascular disease. The increased levels of these
monoamine neurotransmitters can eventually lead to a deficiency in dopamine, the
neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Interestingly, this is consistent with a
Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis for depression. According to Traditional Chinese
Medicine, the heart is responsible for propelling the blood and housing the Shen, which
is a combination of the spirit and consciousness. When the heart is diseased, the
patient not only suffers from signs of poor circulation, but also endures periods of
withdrawal, melancholy or anxiety (Beinfield & Korngold, 1991). This fits into the criteria
for a Major Depressive disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders. For doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine, protecting the heart from
disease also protects the patient from depression.
Gibber is a remarkable man. His active life combined with his boyish optimism
inspires me to maintain my own health in order to maintain my quality of life. Like
Gibber, I don’t intend to slow down as I grow older. If I can reach Gibber’s age and still
be able to pursue cross country skiing, I am sure I will have an infectious smile just like
him. It is important to me to maintain the health of my heart, because as Gibber has
shown me, it lays the foundation for a long, active, and above all, happy life.
American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders 4th ed. American Psychiatric Association: Washington DC. pp.
Beinfield, H., Korngold, E. (1991) Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese
Medicine. Ballentine Wellspring: Toronto, ON. pp. 109-112.
Grippo, A. Johnson, A. (2002). Biological mechanisms in the relationship between
depression and heart disease. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews. 26
(8) pp. 941-962.
Khaw, K., Wareham, N., Bingham, S., Welch, A., Luben, R., Day, N. (2008). Combined
impact of health behaviours and mortality in men and women: The EPIC-Norfolk
prospective population study. Health behaviours and Mortality 5(1) pp. 39-47.
Vrablík, M., Prusíková, M., Šnejdrlová, M., Zlatohlávek, L. (2009). Omega-3 fatty acids
and cardiovascular disease risk: Do we understand the relationship?
Physiological Research 58(1) pp.19-26.
Wang, C., Harris, W., Chung, M., Lichtenstein, A., Balk, E., Kupelnick, B., Jordan, H.,
Lau, J. (2006). n-3 Fatty acids from fish or fish oil supplements, but not from
α-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary and
secondary prevention studies: a systemic review. American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition 84(5) pp.5-17.