You probably realize that back pain is one of the most ubiquitous complaints, provoking more doctor visits than any other symptom. I have been asked to comment about the role of diet and nutrition in back pain. But first, I want to emphasize the major role of biomechanics in the origin of back pain. The spinal column is a machine, a very complex machine, and like all machines, it has to be used correctly.  Unfortunately, there is very little awareness of the proper use of the back, even among health care professionals.  I was fortunate to be introduced to the Alexander Technique when I was in my 30s, and I feel that it has helped me greatly in my life. I am now 60, and I have no back problems at all- not the slightest bit of pain.  And I am very active, exerting myself in both work and play. So, getting the biomechanics right is the first requirement for a healthy back, and I know of nothing better than the Alexander Technique.

But in regard to diet and nutrition, there are two effects to consider. First is the whole issue of weight.  It’s easy to see how excess body weight can strain the knee joints and lead to premature degeneration of that joint. Well, it’s the same for the back. So, the role of a healthy diet in maintaining a healthy weight becomes paramount.

And the second issue relating to diet pertains to the quality of the circulation. Intervertebral disc degeneration is very common. We hear about “slipped discs” but that is a euphemism. There is no way for a disc to slip out of place. It doesn't slip, rather, it crumbles, much how a rotten tree stump crumbles. It “slips” only because its tissues have degenerated.  You might say that the disc is dying. Why is it dying? It relates to the fact that there is very poor circulation in a spinal disc. It gets most of its nutrition and drainage by diffusion.  The number of blood vessels is so few that as soon as arterial disease sets in, nutrition to the discs suffers greatly.  What I am saying is that just as it is said that impotence may be the first sign of heart disease in a man (even though it is far removed from the heart), likewise intervertebral disc disease may be a sign of cardiovascular disease as well.  It’s easy to see why smokers have a very high incidence of spinal disc disease that is 3X greater than non-smokers.  They choke off the circulation to their discs with every drag of their cigarettes.

So, if you want to avoid back problems, first, learn how to use your back correctly, and the state-of-the-art method for doing that is the Alexander Technique. Second, get lean and stay lean because it reduces pressure on your back. Third, don’t smoke. Fourth, eat a diet that keeps your arteries clear and your blood flowing, which, to my mind, means a plant-based diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, and not much of anything else.  And let’s face it: if you eat an ample amount of all of the above-mentioned foods, you are not going to have much room left (in your stomach) for anything else.  After all, how much food can you eat?  Maybe occasionally eat a good piece of fish- if you can get it. Maybe, occasionally, have a free-range, organic egg.  But these, and all other animal foods, should be limited. Make plant foods the vast bulk of what you eat.  That’s what I do.  And my back is strong. Strong like bull.     

This time I will complete my review of Dr. Donald Miller’s personal supplement program.

Vinpocetine- This is an herbal extract that increases cerebral blood flow. It also has other protective effects on the brain.  Typically, people take 20 mg/day. Dr. Miller takes 40 mg/day. I have not been taking any lately, but only because of C&T. I don’t dispute that it is beneficial.

Chlorella- Dr. Miller takes 1000 mg/day. I have taken green products in the past, including Blue Green Algae and Chlorella, but lately I have not been taking any, and it’s partly because I have fresh greens from my own garden.

IP-6- It’s interesting that he takes this because it is actually a form of phytic acid that occurs in whole grains and legumes.  Some pundits, such as Dr. Mercola, condemn soy because it is high in phytic acid, and here Dr. Miller is taking phytic acid (1020 mg/day) as a supplement. I don’t take it, but I do eat whole grains and legumes without fear.

Curcumin- This is the active ingredient from turmeric, and Dr. Miller takes 1500 mg/day. I take 500 mg of our optimized turmeric supplement called Longvida.  Turmeric may be the most broadly beneficial herbal substance in the world.  It has vast, proven benefits to prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, brain aging, and more. That’s why it’s on my Daily Supplements page.

Quercetin- This is a valuable bioflavinoid that occurs in fresh produce. Besides having powerful antioxidant effects, it strongly inhibits allergic reactions without any adverse effects. Dr. Miller takes 500 mg/day. I am not taking any quercetin at this time, but only because of C&T. I am all for quercetin.  Note that white-fleshed foods are high in it, such as apples and white onions.

Grapefruit seed extract – Dr. Miller takes 125 mg/day for its anti-microbial properties. I do not take it.  I suppose I might if I had microbial issues.

Horsetail- Dr. Miller takes 440 mg/day.  I know we put it in our Vein Support Formula because it helps build collagen and strengthen the walls of blood vessels. I don’t take it only because I don't particularly need it.

Hesperidin- Dr. Miller takes 250 mg/day to increase capillary strength.  I don’t take it.  It’s abundant in citrus, and I eat plenty of citrus.

Goldenseal- Dr. Miller takes 470 mg a day for its immune-boosting effect.  I do not take it.  Again, you can’t take everything.

Saw Palmetto and other prostate herbs- Dr. Miller takes them and so do I. I take our ProstaCol formula which was designed by Dr. Ward Dean.

Probiotics- These, of course, are the beneficial intestinal bacteria.  Dr. Miller takes them every day- a 20 billion cell formula. I only take them occasionally, perhaps once or twice a week. I don’t think I need to take it every single day because I’m not doing anything to hurt my intestinal flora, such as eating refined carbs or drinking alcohol.

Fucodin-This is a brown seaweed which is taken mainly as an immune booster. It has other health benefits, and we do offer it, but I have not been taking it. Dr. Miller takes it in liquid form, 1 oz daily.

Lithium-  Dr. Miller takes lithium aspartate in an amount that delivers 20 mg of elemental lithium. Lithium, a mineral, is a mood elevator and nerve stabilizer.  And it’s very possible that lithium is a required mineral for humans. We offer it in the form of lithium orotate, which is very safe and effective, but I have not been taking it.

Amygdalin or Laetrele- This is so-called Vitamin B-17 derived from apricot pits. It has a small dose of cyanide, which supposedly targets cancer cells.  Despite the cyanide, it is not known to be harmful to humans, and I believe that. Cyanide occurs in other foods as well, particularly lima beans. An apricot kernel is like a bitter almond, to which it is related. Dr. Miller takes 100 mg/day. I don’t take it.

Melatonin- Dr. Miller takes 6 mg/night of this nighttime hormone. I typically take 1.5 mg/night, by taking two of VRP’s .75 capsules.  The health benefits of melatonin go far beyond helping with sleep.

And that does it! Thank you for your patience.  You can see that Dr. Miller is most definitely a nutritional supplement enthusiast.  I realize that it’s more than most people would be willing to take, and not just because of cost but because it’s a lot of pills and capsules to swallow. But, believe it or not, there is actually one supplement that I take that Dr. Miller does not take, and that is benfotiamine. Benfotiamine is the fat-soluble form of thiamine, which is Vitamin B-1.  Benfotiamine is known for being an anti-glycation agent. For at least 20 years, it has been used widely in Europe to both treat and prevent diabetes. Diabetes runs on both sides of my family. My paternal grandfather had it so bad that before dying in his 60s, he went completely blind and lost both his legs.  So, I take one benfotiamine capsule a day. But, it’s the only thing I take that is not also on Dr. Miller’s list.

Thank you again for reading this. We will go on to a new subject next time, which will be by reader’s request: back pain.

We continue our review of Dr. Donald Miller’s personal supplement program. I must admit, he takes a lot of supplements.

Vitamin E- Dr. Miller takes 800 IUs a day of full-spectrum Vitamin E, which includes alpha tocopherol, mixed tocopherols, and the tocotrienols.  I take a similar product from VRP called E Team, which provides 240 IUs/day, also full-spectrum.  Again, I will point out that my personal supplement decisions are affected by cost and tolerance for taking pills, and I’m sure that’s true for most people.

B-Complex- Dr. Miller takes a “B-Complex 50” which provides 50 mgs each of the various B vitamins, that is, most of them.  My Extend Core Multi provides B vitamins in much smaller doses, but still multiples of the RDA. His B-Complex formula also contains 400 mcg of standard Folic Acid, but in addition, he takes 1 mg of methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF).  I prefer to take just MTHF because it is the only truly natural form of folic acid.  It’s found in my Extend Core Multi in the amount of 400 mcg.

Vitamin B-12- Dr. Miller takes 1000 mcg of Sublingual Methylcobalamin every day. I use the exact same product, but not every day.  I take it, on average, about 3X a week. Methylcobalamin is definitely the best form of Vitamin B12 because it is better utilized by the brain than any other form.

Vitamin C- Dr. Miller takes 3000 mgs/day in buffered form. I take only 400 mg as contained in my Extend Core multi. However, I also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I figure that between diet and supplements, I am getting  at least 1000 mg/day of Vitamin C, which is still over 10X the RDA.  I’m content to get that much Vitamin C on a regular basis, and I am confident that it’s giving me the lion’s share of the benefits from Vitamin C.   

Calcium - Dr. Miller takes 562 mg calcium per day from coral calcium.  I am getting just 150 mgs from my Extend Core multi. And that’s all I want in supplement form.  I’m wary of taking too much calcium. For one thing, we know that calcium turns off the activation of Vitamin D, and I want my Vitamin D activated. For two, we know that calcium often winds up in the wrong places, such as in the joints and in the arteries.  It’s calcium that makes hardened arteries hard. Of course, I do want strong bones. But, I assume I am doing well enough in that respect, and I base that on two observations: 1) I’m doing well with my teeth, which are just specialized bones, and 2) I’m retaining my height. If I’ve lost any height at all, it’s no more than a small fraction of an inch, and that’s not bad for a 60 year old. And, I would rather err on the side of less then more when it comes to calcium.  Of course, I am a strong, solidly built man. If I were a tiny, petite little woman, I’d be inclined to take somewhat more calcium, perhaps up to 500 mg/day.    

Potassium- Dr. Miller takes 2 grams of potassium a day, but I don’t take any, and I don’t get any from my Extend Core Multi either. I presume I am getting enough potassium from the plethora of fruits and vegetables that I eat.

Strontium- Dr. Miller takes a 340 mg tablet of the mineral strontium every day. I have never done that although I have suggested it to women concerned about osteoporosis.  For myself, I just haven’t been that worried about it.  But strontium is safe, and it does strengthen bones. And if osteoporosis becomes a concern of mine in the future, I will definitely take strontium.

Zinc- Dr. Miller takes 30 mg/day of zinc. I get just 15 mg from my Extend Core Multi.  However, I also make a point of eating zinc-rich foods, particularly pecans, which I eat almost daily. It’s interesting how nuts are such extraordinary sources of minerals: brazil nuts for selenium, almonds for calcium and magnesium, and pecans for zinc.  Pecans are my zinc fix, and what a delicious way to get it.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)- NAC is a powerful detoxicant and precursor to glutathione.  Dr. Miller takes 1000 to 2000 mg of NAC daily.  For me, NAC is something that I take sporadically.  I keep it around, and I take 600 mg/day about twice a week.

Idebenone- This is an analog of CoQ10 which enters the brain more readily than regular CoQ10. Idebenone is a powerful antioxidant. When they extract organs for transplanting, they soak them in Idebenone to preserve them. Dr. Miller takes 90 mg of Idebenone every day. I have taken Idebenone at times in the past, but I have not been taking it lately, and mainly just due to C&T (cost and tolerance).

Arginine- This is the vasodilating amino acid that is abundant in nuts. Because of its ability to dilate blood vessels through nitric oxide release, it is often included in male potency formulas. Dr. Miller takes 2000 mgs of arginine daily. I don’t take any, but I do eat plenty of nuts.

Conjugated linoleic acid- Linoleic acid is abundant in plants, but the conjugated form of linoleic acid occurs only in animal products.  CLA is alleged to have an anti-cancer effect, but most people take it to lose weight, as it is supposed to help reduce bodily fat deposits.  I have never taken CLA as a supplement, but Dr. Miller takes 2000 mgs a day.

Gingko biloba – Dr. Miller takes 240 mg/ day. I have taken it at times in the past, but I am not currently taking any.

Pycnogenol- This is the trade name for the proanthocyanidine in grape seed and pine bark. It is a powerful antioxidant. Dr. Miller takes 200 mg/day of Pycnogenol, and I take 100 mg of Grape Seed Extract.

Silymarin- Dr. Miller takes 1000 mg of Silymarin from milk thistle. I don’t take any, but I would if I thought I had liver problems.

Aged Garlic- Dr. Miller takes 600 mg of aged garlic daily. I don’t take any garlic, but I do use garlic in my cooking quite regularly.

Lycopene- Dr. Miller takes 10 mg Lycopene daily. I have not been taking any, but I do make a point of eating watermelon, tomatoes, and red grapefruit.

Mushroom Blend- Dr. Miller takes 2 capsules a day of a mushroom blend containing Cordyceps, Reishi, Shiitake, Tremella, and Maitake, among others. I have not been taking any mushrooms in supplement form, but, I do like eating Shiitake mushrooms.

Well, that does it for today, but we’re not finished yet. As I said, Dr. Miller takes a lot of supplements, and we’re working through the list. So stay tuned.  

Let’s continue our analysis of Dr. Donald Miller’s personal supplement program.

Lipoic  Acid- Dr. Miller takes 600 mgs of Alpha Lipoic Acid and 400 mgs of R-Lipoic Acid. I only take R-Lipoic Acid. My understanding is that Alpha Lipoic Acid consists of S-Lipoic and R-Lipoic in equal amounts, but that only the R portion is usable by the human body. If that’s true, what then is the point of taking Alpha? Perhaps there is more to this than I know, but I will point out that the Life Extension Foundation, which used to recommend A-LA, now recommends only R-LA.   For a long time, there was no stable form of R-Lipoic Acid, but now there is. I honestly do not know why Dr. Miller, or anyone else, continues to take Alpha Lipoic Acid.


Coenzyme Q10- Dr. Miller takes 400 mgs of the Ubiquinol form of CoQ10, also known as CoQ10-H2. I also take the Ubiquinol form, but I have generally only been taking 100 mg a day.  Sometimes, I’ll take 200 mg in a day, but that is as high as I’ve gone. But, I’m all for higher dosing when there is a specific indication for it, such as with heart failure or Parkinson’s disease.  CoQ10 has become one of the most popular supplements in the world, and for good reason.  Nothing revs up your mitochondria like CoQ10.


Carnitine- Dr. Millers takes 660 mg of L-Carnitine and 2000 mg of Acetyl-L-Carnitine every day. I have only been taking Acetyl-L-Carnitine, 1000 mg. The difference is that the acetylated form of L-Carnitine gets into the brain more readily. Carnitine, like CoQ10, is very important to the heart, although the standard L-Carntine is just as effective there, Again, regarding dosing, it comes down to what you can afford and what your tolerance is for swallowing pills and capsules. There are no safety issues that I know of.  


Omega 3 fatty acids-  Dr. Miller is taking about 1000 mg each of EPA and DHA from fish oil. I have been taking about 2/3 as much, also from fish oil.  However, it’s interesting that Dr. Miller takes his in the form of Cod Liver Oil. CLO is different from standard fish  oil in that it is high in Vitamin A.  He is getting 23,000 IUs of Vitamin A from that cod liver oil, which is considered a very high dose. He is also getting 2500 IUs of Vitamin D, which brings his total Vitamin D intake to 7500 IUs. Dr. Miller says that in the form of Cod Liver Oil, and in combination with Vitamin D, that amount of Vitamin A is perfectly safe. There has been concern in recent years about toxicity from Vitamin A, and most vitamin companies have reduced the amount of pre-formed Vitamin A in their multis, including VRP. You probably know that the orange pigment beta-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A. The body seems to be able to convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A without difficulty. Some have questioned whether we need any pre-formed Vitamin A at all, which is strictly an animal product. But, Dr. Miller believes that Vitamin A is safe and beneficial, but only when derived from cod liver oil.

We will continue looking at Dr. Miller’s program next time.

Let’s begin our analysis of Dr. Donald Miller's Optimum Supplements Program, which are the supplements that he takes, himself, every day. I will address them in the same order that he does.

Vitamin D 5000 IUs- It was Dr. Miller who prompted me to increase my Vitamin D intake to 5000 IUs. I had heard about others taking that much (over 10X the RDA), but I didn’t start doing it myself (which was a couple years ago) until I read what he had to say about it. He spoke of the immune support, the heart disease prevention (and remember, he is a cardiologist), cancer prevention, flu prevention, and more. Dr. Miller specifically recommended taking high-dose Vitamin D in lieu of a flu shot. It has worked out great for me. I sailed through the swine flu pandemic last year without so much as the sniffles. And now when they talk about it, it’s pretty much pure theater to me. I don’t worry the least bit about the flu.      

Iodine 12.5 mgs-There is much controversy about iodine.  The RDA of 150 micrograms is based entirely on the needs of the thyroid gland, but many doctors, including Dr. Miller, believe that the extra-thyroid functions of iodine in the body are just as important. These relate to immune support, breast health in women, prostate health in men, cancer prevention, and much more. Average iodine intake in Japan is 13 mgs, which is derived from all the seafood and seaweeds they eat. Dr. Miller takes one of the 12.5 mg Iodoral tablets each day. But, it’s a scored tablet, and I have been taking just half a day, hence 6.25 mgs.  Maybe it would be better to take 12.5 mg, but taking half is what I am doing right now because it suits my comfort level.   

Selenium as Selenomethionine 200 mcg- Dr. Miller has written extensively about selenium as an antioxidant, cancer preventive, glutathione precursor, immune booster, prostate protector, and more. I have not been taking selenium as a separate supplement, as he does, but the Extend Core Multi that I take from VRP provides 70 mcg of selenium, which is the current RDA. Also, I make a point of eating brazil nuts regularly. Each individual brazil nut provides about 25 mcg of selenium as selenomethionine. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating just 2 brazil nuts a day raised serum selenium and serum glutathione levels better than a 100 mcg selenium supplement.

Vitamin K2 as Menaquinone7-There is really no reason to take Vitamin K1 because it’s very abundant in vegetables. But, K2 is absent from vegetables and all other plant foods. Bacteria in our intestines manufacture some K2, but how reliable is it as a source? I don’t know, but it probably isn’t optimal. And K2 is very important because it controls the direction of calcium in the body- driving it into bone and keeping out of arteries and other soft tissues. Dr. Miller take 90 mcg of the highly potent MK-7 form of Vitamin K2. I have been taking VRP’s Vitamin K which provides 1 mg of K2- over 10X as much. However, it’s the weaker MK-4 form of K2, which Dr. Miller says is less effective. He may well be right because MK-7 is the most natural form of K2.  Bacteria in the gut make MK-7, not MK-4. As of now, VRP only offers MK-4, which is why I have been taking it. But, I am going to write to the head of VRP, Robert Watson, and ask him to carry MK-7.

Magnesium 900 mgs- This is a whopping dose of magnesium that he takes- about twice the RDA. From supplements, I have been getting just 150 mgs from my Extend Core Multi. Magnesium intake from food varies widely among people depending on diet. When you eat a lot of green vegetables (which have the magnesium in the green chlorophyll) plus nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, as I do, you get a lot of magnesium. The main issue about taking 900 mgs is that it may have a laxative effect in some people. “Milk of Magnesia” is a magnesium laxative. So, as this point, I am not going to match what he is doing with magnesium. However, I am fully aware of its importance, and I do recommend high-dose magnesium to some people, for instance, those with high blood pressure.

That does it for now, but we’ll continue with Dr. Miller’s supplement list next time. Stay tuned.

Dr. Donald Miller M.D. has just issued his annual list of nutritional supplements for optimum health. These are the supplements that he, himself, takes, every day.  I would like to go through his list, compare it to mine, and make comments along the way.

I have long been a fan of Dr. Miller. He is in a very unique position: He has one foot firmly planted in the conventional medical world and at the highest level of it, and he has another foot firmly planted in the alternative medical world.

Dr. Miller is a cardiac surgeon and a Professor of Surgery at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.  He is also affiliated with the Seattle VA Medical Center.  He is also involved with Doctors for Disaster Preparedness.  He is also a prolific writer, including a book on philosophy, metaphysics,  and morality entitled Heart in Hand.  Besides two textbooks on cardiac surgery, he is the author of a treatise on the management of gunshot and stab wounds of the heart which is considered state-of-the-art.  

But, in Alternative Medicine, he has been active in fighting the use of statin drugs, flu shots, vaccines in general, fluoridation, and even many of the practices and policies concerning AIDS.  And obviously, preventing heart disease is an impassioned interest of his, being a cardiac surgeon, and he has been fighting orthodoxy every step of the way.

I have never met Dr. Miller, but considering his diverse interests, vast knowledge, and his devotion to the cause of health truth "though the Heavens fall," he is someone I would prize meeting.  

But, before presenting Dr. Miller’s personal supplement list, I want to make some general comments about the use of nutritional supplements. We take supplements for several distinct reasons.

First, there are supplements we take because we know- for a fact- that we are not getting enough of them from our food alone.  Two such examples are Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.  There is no Vitamin B12 at all in plant foods, and there are only small, variable amounts in animal foods, and there is simply no way to get an optimal amount of Vitamin B12 from diet alone.   And likewise, Vitamin D is absent from plants, and only minimally present in animal foods, and unless you live in place like Panama (or similar equatorial place) you can’t count on the sun for it either.  So you need these supplements like flowers need the rain.  And there are other supplements that, under some conditions, can come under this category.  For instance, a person with severe iron-deficiency anemia really needs iron supplements. It would take forever to get the blood count up relying on foods alone, and it may not be at all possible. But paradoxically, if you are not anemic, you have no need for iron supplements at all.     

Second, there are supplements that people take for therapeutic reasons: to get a specific and often rapid therapeutic effect.  Examples would be herbs for the prostate, melatonin for sleep, Vitamin C to fight infection, green tea to boost metabolism, and SAM-e to relieve depression.   

However, there are also many supplements that people take, and that I take, on a speculative basis.  We take them in the hope that they will help prevent disease and increase our lifespan.  There may be no immediate effect that we can discern from taking them, and we are, in fact, acting on faith. However, there is, presumably, a scientific rational for taking them that persuades us to do it. And evaluating that rational is where knowledge and judgment are needed. And that’s why I pay close attention to doctors like Dr. Miller.

Finally, I’ll point out that what we decide to take depends on several other factors besides our knowledge and judgment about what is good for us.  For instance, it depends on a thing called MONEY. Supplements cost money, and when you decide to take something on an ongoing basis, it becomes an added, ongoing expense.  There is also the factor of TOLERANCE. It’s not the most pleasant thing to swallow supplements.  As a practice, it is no different than taking drugs (although, it is, in fact, a lot safer than taking drugs).  But, a lot of people don’t like the act of swallowing pills and capsules- of any kind.  I have never heard  of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet being supplement enthusiasts, although obviously, money would not be a factor for them. But, I know that for myself, like most people, there is a limit on how much I can spend on supplements, and there is also a limit to how many I can take each day without feeling overwhelmed, and I operate within those limits.  And that is how it is for everybody.  To people who don’t take supplements at all, the amount that I take must seem like an awful lot. Yet, there are people like Dr. Miller who take much more than I do.

So, we are going to discuss all of this within the context of Dr. Miller’s recommendations, and I hope you find it interesting and valuable.  My next entry will start analyzing Dr. Miller’s list, and I suspect it will take 4 or 5 entries to cover it all. Maybe more. So stay tuned.    

I recently read: James Dean: Little Boy Lost, by his close friend, Hollywood columnist Joe Hyams.  My interest in James Dean stemmed not so much from his life, but his afterlife. He really had only one year in the spotlight, the last year of his life, 1955. That was the year he completed his three movies: East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, and Giant.  Yet, it has been said that his enduring afterlife has been exceeded by only two other stars: Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. James Dean has become a cult hero: the undying personification of rebellious youth.

James Dean certainly did affect people. When news of his sudden and untimely death reached Elizabeth Taylor, one of his co-stars in Giant, she collapsed and had to be hospitalized for 5 days.  And she barely knew him.

As I have done before in reviewing biographies, I want to focus on the health aspects of his life, since this is a health blog.  But, I want to start by sharing some amazing parallels between his life and that of another Hollywood legend, Clark Gable.  Both were an only child, born on a farm in rural Indiana.  Both had adoring mothers who died when they were young boys.  Both had fathers who gave them up to relatives who became their surrogate parents.  Both remained largely estranged from their fathers for life. Both were mediocre students in school, but both caught the acting bug from participating in school plays.  

However, there was one thing that distinguished James Dean’s early life from that of Clark Gable:  In high school, James Dean was molested by a trusted family friend, the local minister, Reverend James DeWeerd.  It was a sexual relationship that lasted for several years. If James Dean was traumatized by it, he never said so. And sporadically, he had other homosexual affairs after that, including a recurring one with Hollywood producer Rogers Brackett.  However, James Dean was also a ladies man, coveting some of the great beauties of his day, including Natalie Wood, Ursula Andress, and Pier Angeli.  And his romantic, emotional attachments were always with women, not men.  The times that he fell “in love” (and there were many) always involved women.  However, it does seem that bisexuality was deeply rooted in his nature.

After graduating from high school, James Dean moved to Southern California to live with father and step-mother. The plan was that he would study pre-law at Santa Monica City College, but he only did well in his theater classes. He switched to UCLA so as to major in theater, and there he did Shakespeare, taking on the role of Malcolm in Macbeth.  After that, he dropped out, hired an agent, and began his professional acting career.  

At first, he mainly did commercials (starting with a Pepsi commercial) and bit parts on television. He also got bit parts in movies, including a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy and a John Wayne war movie. However, none of these gigs paid very well, and he struggled to get by.  Then, his friend and fellow-actor James Whitmore urged him to move to New York to study at the Actors Studio, which he did. At first, he continued to be limited to television commercials and bit parts, but eventually, he starred in two Broadway shows: See the Jaguar and The Immortalist. Neither was a tremendous hit, but he, personally, received rave reviews.  

His big break came when Elia Kazan, the head of the Actors Studio, was chosen in 1954 to direct the movie, East of Eden, based on the celebrated novel by John Steinbeck. Kazan knew instantly that James Dean was perfect for the role of Cal Trask, and upon meeting him, John Steinbeck agreed.  Dean was, indeed, brilliant in it. You can’t watch that movie without reacting to the emotions of the troubled relationship between Cal and his father, and eerily, it very much resembled the relationship Dean had with his own father.  After that, Dean was a shoo-in for the role of Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause, his signature movie.   I, actually, did not appreciate Rebel very much. I thought his acting was fine, but I found the script and the dialogue to be cheesy and unrealistic, and the story was downright depressing.  Then came Giant, his last movie, which was still filming at the time of his death (although his scenes had been completed).  All of that happened in 1955, ending in a fatal collision on California Highway 466 on September 30.  Although James Dean was famous for his wild, reckless driving and received a speeding ticket earlier in the day, reports that he was speeding  at the time of the accident were later retracted.

But now, let’s take a look at the health aspects of James Dean’s life. First, he had good physical proportions, and he was actually very athletic.  Just think: he made the basketball team at Santa Monica College at a height of less than 5’8”.   In high school, he also played baseball and ran track. However, it was always a struggle for him to maintain his weight.  And the problem only got worse over time.  During the making of East of Eden, they had him drinking heavy cream by the quart in order to bolster his weight.  Why did he stay so thin? There were times, early in his career, that he missed meals  because of a lack of money, but that had little to do with it in the long run. And usually, there were people helping him, fronting him, and from what I can gather, he did most of his eating in restaurants.  And it was typical American food: steaks, burgers, spaghetti, etc.  So, why did his weight keep slipping?

For one, James Dean was a heavy smoker. He smoked unfiltered Chesterfields, which are up there with unfiltered Camels as the strongest American cigarettes.  Elia Kazan said that during the 9 hour flight from New York to Los Angeles in 1954 to begin work on East of Eden, James Dean chain-smoked the entire 9 hours.  Smoking does a number on your digestion.  It chokes off circulation to the digestive tract; it dries up digestive secretions, including saliva; and it indurates the membranes where digestion takes place. I realize there are smokers who are overweight, however, James Dean was the classic “ectomorph,” meaning that he was, by nature, slender, slim-waisted, long-limbed, and generally delicate and fragile.  Ectomorphs have “short guts,” meaning that they have less surface area from which to absorb food.  When ectomorphs smoke, and heavily at that, they are bound to lose weight.

For two, James Dean drank alcohol, which interferes with and retards digestion.  I know that many people believe that drinking wine with a meal aids digestion, but that is a complete myth. It has the opposite effect.  I believe that in today’s medical world, James Dean would have been diagnosed with bipolar depression. He was subject to very erratic behavior and severe mood swings, both before and after he became a star.  He was never treated medically for this condition, but he did treat himself- with alcohol.  He often got drunk. He often drove drunk, and it scared people. And when he was under stress, which was often, he relied even more heavily on alcohol.

Regarding other drugs, there are no reports of his ample usage of anything else. He probably smoked marijuana occasionally and may have done other drugs sporadically at parties, etc. But clearly, tobacco and alcohol were his drugs of choice.  And really, it’s amazing that he never got started on medical drugs because he suffered with severe insomnia.  This was during the same period that Marilyn Monroe was wrestling with her terrible insomnia and taking heavy-duty barbiturates for it.  But when James Dean couldn’t sleep, he just got up.  And I don’t mean to read, or watch TV, or listen to music.  I mean that he got up and got dressed and went speeding off on his motorcycle looking for all-night taverns, diners, and speakeasies.  And that brings us to our first health lesson from his life: Is it better to treat insomnia with drugs or to just live with it? And I think that, clearly, it’s better to just live with it. James Dean did better than Marilyn Monroe in that respect.  And the reason is that as your sleep debt builds, eventually, it pushes through the resistance, and you “crash” and do find sleep.  Of course, it isn’t an ideal way to live. But, I think it’s better to fluctuate between good nights and bad, which is likely to happen, than to condition yourself to taking sleeping pills.  There are a few things you can take to bolster sleep which are safe, such as melatonin, L-Theanine (from green tea) and certain herbs, such as Lemon Balm.  But none of the prescription drugs for sleep, then or now, are any good, in my opinion.  So, don’t go down that road; you are bound to regret it.

Another thing James Dean had in common with Marilyn Monroe was a penchant for Freudian Psychoanalysis.  And it sounds like it did him about as much good as it did her, which is to say, not much. By the way, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe did meet- at the Actors Studio in New York.

And granted, James Dean had plenty to stress about. Until his last year, life was a real, hand-to-mouth struggle for him. And even when he died, his estate was only worth $96,000, which went to his father. However, that included a $100,000 life insurance policy, which meant that he must have had net liabilities of $4000 at the time of his death, not counting the insurance policy, which would have been worthless had he lived. He had many friends and many lovers, but many of his relationships ended badly. His greatest stress may have come from his love affair with actress Pier Angeli, considered to be the love of his life. While he was filming East of Eden, she was working at another set at the Warner Brothers studio, and that is how they met.  It was love at first sight for both of them, but her mother did not approve of James Dean, partly because he was not Catholic, and also because of his reputation.  So, Pier wound up marrying actor/singer Vic Damone, who was Catholic.  James Dean never got over that, and apparently, neither did Pier Angeli.

In closing, I think James Dean was a great actor.  But perhaps because of his bipolar depression, he lived very self-destructively. It’s amazing that Warner Brothers didn’t try harder to protect their valuable asset- from himself.  They did try to limit and control his dangerous driving but not his smoking or drinking.  But then again, it was a time during which almost everybody smoked and drank, and especially Hollywood types.  But, the most amazing thing to me is what all he did accomplish, despite his dysfunctionality and self-abuse. Besides his acting, he found time to seriously delve into art, music, literature, and photography. He learned enough about bull-fighting to get paid to teach it to other actors. And he competed in car races against seasoned professional drivers, finishing as high as 2nd.  It’s simply amazing to me how much abuse the human body can withstand.   

Jack LaLanne has died of pneumonia at age 96. I was as impressed with him as everyone else was. At age 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed, with his legs shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat. I'm 60 now. Could I do that? Well, I might be able to handle the swim, but that cold 58 degree water? Forget about it. I could not tolerate the cold.

As you know, 96 is a very long life. It's about 20 years beyond the lifespan of the average American man. However, increasingly, we are hearing of people who reach that age- and beyond. Centenarians are becoming ever more common. And when we hear about centenarians, they are often just regular people- not lifelong fitness fanatics and health food nuts, like Jack LaLanne and Yours Truly. So what does it mean? Should we take a cynical attitude? If little old ladies in nursing homes can sometimes reach 103 without doing anything special, should we take any of this health stuff seriously?

I think we should. You can't just look at the raw numbers. You have to look at the quality of the life behind the number. Yes, Jack LaLanne, died at an age that increasingly more people are reaching. However, he reached that age in much better condition- physically and mentally- than most people reach it (if they reach it at all). And that's an important distinction because life is more about quality than quantity, in my opinion.

And we should not overlook the role that luck plays. Jack LaLanne did not die of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, which are the three biggest killers of people in modern life. He died of complications from pneumonia. However, there was a certain amount of bad luck in his getting pneumonia because it is something that depends, among other things, on exposure. What if he had decided to spend the winter in Bermuda? Maybe he would not have gotten pneumonia. Or maybe he would have gotten it, but a milder case of it, from which he could have, and would have, recovered. And if he had recovered, maybe it would have been smooth sailing for him all the way to 100 and beyond. We hear a lot about centenarians and usually at times that they are doing well, but we don't always hear about the close calls they may have had that could have taken them out years before. They were lucky. I don't care who you are: if you make it to 100, there's got to be some luck involved. Think of all the ways and times you could have been killed in an accident over the course of 100 years.

So, Jack LaLanne has nothing to explain for cashing in his chips at 96. I wish he could have lived longer- for his sake, and for the sake of additional others he would have inspired and helped. However, the superb condition in which he lived the final years of his life was proof-positive that his system works.