Elvis Presley was called the King of Rock and Roll, but he was, arguably, the biggest, most successful entertainer of the 20th century, and therefore, of all time. Fortunate Son by Charles L. Ponce De Leon is an excellent biography of Elvis. Since this is a health blog, I will focus mainly on the health aspects of Elvis's life. But first, I am going to indulge myself a little and discuss his music.
For many people, including me, Elvis will always be remembered mainly for the pivotal role he played in the emergence of Rock and Roll. It is the Elvis of the 1950s who is immortal to us. His first recording That's All Right was a remake of the Arthur Crudup R&B standard, and that was in 1954. However, the term "Rock and Roll" did not come into common usage until 1956, reportedly started by Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed. So, how was Elvis' music perceived during the first two years of his career? It was considered an amalgam of White Southern Country and Black Rhythm and Blues, with an emphasis on the latter. In Memphis, where he started as a local phenom, Elvis was known as "The Hillbilly Cat." He was considered a white guy singing black music, and that was his whole schtick.
How talented was Elvis? Each person can judge his vocal ability for themselves. Like many, I think he was an excellent singer with an incredibly wide range of musical styles. He could sing anything. However, he liked to disparage his own guitar playing. For instance, he would often say onstage that he only learned three chords on the guitar, and two of them he forgot. But other musicians, including prominent ones such as the Beatles, would visit him to pay their respects, and they would jam together, and many said that he was, indeed, a very good guitarist and a natural at it.
But, where did his talent come from? He was the only child of young, dirt-poor parents from Tupelo, Mississippi. The house in which Elvis was born in 1935 had no electricity and no indoor plumbing. He had an identical twin brother, Jesse, who was stillborn. His mother, Gladys, was a seamstress, and his father, Vernon, did various odd jobs. It was the Great Depression, and life was difficult. Once, out of desperation, Vernon got involved in some petty larceny which landed him in prison for 9 months. Although life was a struggle, Gladys and Vernon were always able to provide Elvis the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, even a few toys. Elvis never went hungry. And they were very religious- Pentecostals. It was at church that Elvis' passion for music began. Gospel music was his first love, and it stayed with him for life. His family attended those old-time religious revivals under the tents, filled with song, and Elvis really got into it. They also enjoyed going to an amateur broadcast radio show, the Saturday Jamboree, in Tupelo, where Elvis took his turn at the mic.
On his 11th birthday, Elvis received a guitar from his mother, and he started getting informal instruction from relatives. However, through the Saturday Jamboree, he got noticed by a prominent local musician, Mississippi Slim, who peformed hillbilly music. Mississippi Slim started tutoring Elvis in guitar, and he was Elvis' first significant musical mentor.
In 1948, for economic reasons, the family moved to Memphis. During high school, Elvis worked various odd jobs to help support the family, but, his passion for music only deepened. It was in Memphis that his appreciation for black music got started, particularly R&B. Before graduating, Elvis performed at the annual Minstrel Show in Memphis in 1953, and he was a big hit.. After graduating, he took a job at an electrical parts distributor with the intent of becoming an electrician. However, in the summer of 1953, he started hanging around the Memphis Recording Studio of Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Sam let Elvis attempt a few songs, and he was moderately impressed. However, it was nearly a year later, in June 1954, when Elvis performed That's All Right that Sam realized that he had finally found what he was looking for: a white guy who could sing black music. And the rest, as they say, is history.
But now, let's focus on Elvis' health because he died at age 42, and it's important to understand why. As a child, Elvis was, apparently, quite healthy. There were no major health issues that I know of. He always looked slim and well-proportioned in his childhood photos. He was never really a jock, but he stayed active. Diet-wise, he was brought up on a typical Southern diet, which meant lots of fried foods, barbecue, sausages, breaded fried catfish, sweet potato pie, cream sauces, rich gravies, etc. They did eat vegetables, and his mother enjoyed vegetable gardening, both in Tupelo and during the rich years at Graceland. But in Southern cooking, vegetables are usually fried and cooked to death. And fruits are made into pies and cobblers and rarely eaten out of hand. It's often said that, health-wise, Southern cooking is the worst of the regional diets in the US.
So that's how Elvis was brought up, but he stayed thin as a child in spite of it. And that's the first important lesson: Some people can eat that way as children without getting fat, but as adults they can't. It catches up with them. Their immunity to fatness expires, and it expired for Elvis earlier than most people realize: in his mid-20s. He began having weight problems by the early 1960s. Most people were unaware of it because he was mostly involved with making movies then, and what he would do is go on a crash diet before and during production, and then after production he would return to his old ways. So, his weight would yo-yo, which is harmful in itself.
One of his favorite dishes was a peanut butter and banana sandwich, which doesn't sound too terribly bad, except that he had it deep-fried. Elvis liked to eat. He was definitely a foodie. And there are reports of his prodigious caloric consumption.
Regarding physical activity, he became a karate enthusiast, and he and his buddies (known as the Memphis Mafia) played touch football. However, that was sporadic. There were many periods in which he would spend all his free time lying around, watching tv, and binge-eating.
But, Elvis never had much affinity for alcohol. At the start of his career, he didn't drink at all because of his religious upbringing, and he didn't want his companions drinking either. However, when he started spending a lot of time in California making movies, he learned to drink some. But, he was never an alcoholic, and alcohol was never a major factor in his life. The same is true for illegal drugs. He smoked marijuana a few times, but he was no pothead. And if he ever used any other illegal drugs such as cocaine, it must have been extremely rare, and it may have been none at all.
However, it was during his two-year military stint that he started taking amphetamines. Other soldiers introduced him to it. This was during the height of the Cold War, and they were patrolling along the Czech border, and it involved long hours and long marches, and he, like the others, took uppers to keep going. And when you take uppers, it invariably leads to the need for downers, and so he got started taking sleeping pills. And this continued after he returned to the States.
Elvis had a peculiar attitude about drugs. He was against street drugs. He was against the whole drug culture. But, he was cavalier about medical drugs. He viewed them in a totally different light (which is unjustified). In reality, there is a lot of overlap between street drugs and medical drugs. Most street drugs started as medical drugs, including heroin and cocaine. And many medical drugs are sold on the street today, including tranquilizers and painkillers. Elvis did not have to buy drugs on the street. He got doctors to prescribe them. But, he also got pharmacists to provide them, which is not strictly-speaking legal, but it was close enough for Elvis. In his mind, there was no parallel between what he was doing and what common drug addicts do.
Regarding smoking, Elvis was known to occasionally smoke cigars, but if he ever smoked cigarettes, it was extremely rare. He definitely was not addicted to tobacco.
Elvis was very nocturnal. It started with the swinging nightclub scene in Memphis, but it went way beyond that. Once he became famous, being active at night was his ticket to freedom. He could go out and do things under cover of darkness that he could not do during the day without being mobbed. So, he did everything at night. He got store owners to open at night just for him so he could shop. He got amusement places to open for him at night, including movie theaters. And he adjusted his eating schedule accordingly. For instance, he'd have breakfast at 5 pm, consisting of eggs, bacon, sausage, and buttermilk biscuits with jam. Of course, sometimes he had to adjust to daytime schedules, such as when he was making movies, and it was difficult for him. It only increased his reliance on drugs to sleep, wake, and function.
As an aside, I'll point out that anyone living at night is obviously not getting Vitamin D from the sun, and I have never heard anything about Elvis taking vitamin supplements. So, imagine how deficient in Vitamin D Elvis must have been.
Elvis' mother suffered from depression, and she died during his military service when he was only 22. He took it very hard. And he went on to suffer with depression himself, and some have suggested it was genetically based, but that seems doubtful to me. He had a very bizarre, chaotic, and destructive lifestyle, and it was enough to make anyone depressed. And, without question, drug abuse was at the center of his deterioration. He developed severe intestinal problems, and I mean constipation of a magnitude that is almost unimaginable. It was the result of his faulty diet but also the drugs. The downers in use at that time were heavy-duty barbiturates which practically paralyze the intestines. He suffered liver damage from the drugs, and he became chronically bloated. He became almost completely impotent. It's sad that after the birth of his daughter Lisa Marie, he could no longer have sex with his wife, Priscilla. And after they divorced, he did play around with women sexually but without having intercourse with them because he just wasn't "up" for it.
And he suffered at times from paranoia and delusions. He became a gun nut over it. During his famous visit to the White House in which Nixon made him an honorary marshall in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, Elvis was high as a kite and half out of his mind. Toward the end, Elvis was taking Dilaidid, which is a form of morphine, Percodan, which has the narcotic painkiller hydrocodone combined with aspirin, and Demerol, a synthetic opiod. Other drugs that he took regularly included Placidyl, Dexedrine, Biphetamine, Tiunal, Desbutal, Escatrol, Amytal, Quaaludes, Carbrital, Seconal, Methadone, and Ritalin.
His first brush with death was in October 1973 when he was rushed to the hospital nearly comatose. After that, his staff tried to control his drug intake, but they just couldn't. His Dr. Nichopoulos even tried sneaking placeboes into the mix, but Elvis figured out which ones to discard. In August 1975, he was hospitalized again for physical and mental problems. Elvis went back on the road in 1976, but by then, he was grossly fat, having gait problems, memory problems, and more. He was a sad spectacle. At the end, he was agonizing over the release of Elvis, What Happened?, a tell-all book by two former confidantes.
Elvis died on August 16, 1977. He collapsed in his bathroom at Graceland. At least 15 drugs were found in his system, some at concentrations considered high enough to kill if taken alone. It took two decades of lawsuits before the truth came out publically about his death. Morphine, Demerol, Chloropheniramine, Placidyl, Valium, Codeine, Ethinamate, Quaaludes, Amytal, Nembutal, Carbrital, Sinutab, Elavil, Avental, and Valmid were found in his system at the time of his death.
The 1950s were the first decade of my life, and despite the Korean War and the Cold War, it was considered a happy and prosperous decade. I, like many, think that Elvis Presley defined the youth culture of the 1950s. His rise to stardom was unparalleled. But, it's sad to say that his descent into pharmaceutical hell was equally unparalleled.
It was reported recently that a carcinogen is showing up in numerous municipal waters, from Chicago to Honolulu. The toxin is a metal: hexavalent chromium. The amount found in Chicago was 3X the upper limit of safety declared by the government.
"Hex" refers to 6, and in this case, it refers to +6, which is a measure of oxidation. Therefore, hexavalent chromium refers to chromium that is in a highly oxidized state, and there are many different forms of it. Sodium dichromate and chromium trioxide are two examples. About 150,000 tons of hexavalent chromium are produced each year. It goes into stainless steel, textile dyes, wood preservatives, anti-corrosion chemicals, electroplating, and more. It is considered genotoxic, and inhaling it (as steel workers do) is considered a leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
I’m glad the media reported this , but remember, it is the same media that repeatedly hounds us about drinking bottled water. They remind us how expensive it is (more expensive than gasoline) and that all the water bottes could circle the Earth several times, etc. etc. Some municipalities have actually proposed laws banning the sale and distribution of bottled water. Well, avoiding the likes of hexavalent chromium is exactly why we don't drink water from the tap. Besides, if you were serious about identifying unnecessary bottle-waste, wouldn't you start with soda pop rather than purified water?
I realize there is a lot of controversy about which kind of water is best. Lately, I have been drinking soft spring water which comes from Texas springs that are 800 feet below the ground. It is purified and tested before being sold. For many years, I drank distilled water, and I am still not opposed to distilled water. I don't think it is harmful or dangerous, as some Internet pundits declare. Remember that rain water is essentially distilled water, except to the extent that it picks up dust from the atmosphere. So, if Nature is making distilled water, how bad can it be? However, I like the taste of spring water better, and that’s why I drink it. However, I avoid tap water as much as I possibly can. If I’m out somewhere, and I don’t have water with me and I’m thirsty, I may drink from a fountain. But, that is rare, and it is the only time I ingest tap water.
Men's Health magazine just came out with their list of 18 best supplements for men, and I thought it would be interesting to compare their list to mine. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of overlap, but also a few differences. Let's go through them one by one, working off their list:
1. Acetyl l Carnitine: Check. They note the energy support, the brain protection, and that it elevates mood. I consider it the most important brain-protecting nutrient. The Italian research shows a huge protective effect against Alzheimer's. If you're only going to take one brain nutrient, take this one. Yes, it's on my Daily Program list.
2. Korean Red Panax Ginseng: Buzz. They note the benefit for Erectile Dysfunction. but it's not like all men need help with that. It didn't make my list because I don't consider it a universal supplement. I don't have a problem with gingseng. It has been around for a long time, and the safety of it is well established. I am not taking it, although I have tried it, and I am not against taking it. But, it's definitely not something all men need to take.
3. Coenzyme Q10: Check. It's on both our lists, and I consider it a true core supplement for men who are middle-aged or older. Unfortunately, they didn't mention the importance of taking the CoQ10-H2 form of it known as Ubiquinol. Ubiquinol really is superior. It absorbs much better. And it's the only form of CoQ10 that I take and recommend.
4. VItamin D: Check. It is surely a spot-on recommendation, but they should have emphasized the importance of taking Vitamin D3, which is the only natural form of it. Also, they only recommended 1000 IUs, and for many people that is insufficient. This being wintertime, I am taking 5000 IUs daily.
5. Fish Oil: Check. It's interesting that we both recommend fish oil, and they even recommend the same brand that I take, which is Nordic Naturals. NN is unsurpassed in purity and quality. It's a Norwegian company, but we offer their products here on this website. I take the ProOmega softgels.
6: Magnesium: Check. This is a qualified check. They recommend 250 mgs a day besides what you get from your food, and I don't have any problem with it. However, I get just 150 mgs magesium from my Extend Core multi, and I think that's enough for me because I'm very diligent about eating magnesium-rich plant foods. But, in some circumstances, such as high blood pressure, I will recommend a separate magnesium supplement. I'm pro-magnesium, for sure.
7. Psyllium seed husk: Buzz! They recommend it to all men? Unbelievable! I certainly don't take it because I don't need it. Basically, it's Metamucil. What do I need that for? My bowels move fine. And hey, it's just a form of fiber. The way I eat, with all the fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and beans? I certainly don't need to be taking fiber in pill form. So thanks, but no thanks.
8. Probiotics: Buzz. Well, I'm a believer in probiotics, but I don't say that every man in the world needs to take them. I think probiotics are valuable in some situations, for instance, with antibiotic use. And with some digestive problems, it's worthwhile to take them. But, I don't take them as part of my daily regimen, and I don't think they should be considered a universal supplement for all men.
9. Quercetin: Buzz. This is a flavinoid antioxidant which occurs widely in fruits and vegetables. It's interesting that white foods tend to be high in it, such as apples (whose flesh is white) and white onions. Quercetin also has an anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine effect, which is why we put it into our allergy formulas. I'm not taking it, but I do eat a lot of high-quercetin foods. I do recognize its value and importance, but as I've said before, you can't take everything.
10. Pycnogenol: Check. This is a qualified check. Pycnogenol is the trade name of the proanthocyanidin derived from pine bark. But, I am getting the same thing by taking grape seed extract. To me, it seems more natural and appropriate for a human to consume a fruit seed rather than pine bark, and that's why I prefer it.
11. Glucosamine: Buzz. I don't take glucosamine because I don't have arthritis, at least not that I know of. I suppose that if I had x-rays taken, it might show some, since I'm 60. But if so, it's not causing me any trouble. And I am not at all interested in taking glucosamine preventively. However, if I had osteoarthritis, I would take it.
12. Vitamin C: Half-Check. They recommend 1000 mgs/day in supplement form, while I get just 400 mgs from my Extend Core multi. However, I do eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, so my total daily consumption is in excess of 1000 mgs, for sure. I think that's enough for me on a regular basis, but if I were struggling with a cold or flu, I would take more. But so far, I am staying well this winter.
13. EGCG: Check. It is essentially green tea extract, which I do take. They want you to take 340 mg, while I'm getting just 250 mg from VRP's Green Tea Extract. But, I think it's enough. It's potent stuff.
14. Lycopene: Check. They want men to take 15 mgs a day to protect the prostate. I'm getting that much exactly in my ProstaCol formula from VRP. I'm also very keen on eating high-lycopene foods, such as tomatoes, watermelon, and red grapefruit.
15. Red Yeast Extract: Buzz! I am totally opposed to listing this as a universal supplement for all men. What if your cholesterol is low? Why would you need to take it? My lipids are fine, and I have no need or desire to take it.
16. Resveratrol: Check. I agree with them that resveratrol is a core supplement that all men should be taking. It fights heart disease, cancer, and aging itself. And it's hard to get enough of it from food alone, and I certainly don't think that men should deliberately drink alcohol, as in red wine, to get it. High-grade, imported Japanese resveratrol extracted from knotwood is the way to go. That's what VRP uses, and that is what I take.
17. SAMe: Half-Check. I am not taking SAMe at this time, but I would never buzz off SAMe. I don't say that it is a core supplement for everyone, but I think the world of SAMe. It is truly a wonder supplement for depression, for the liver, and for cartilage repair. Plus, it boosts glutathione levels. It's a bit pricey, but the price has come down lately, and it may continue to fall, and I hope so. Keep in mind that SAMe is not a supplement that you should just buy off the shelf anywhere. It's a delicate substance that requires precise manufacturing. VRP imports research-grade SAMe from Italy, which is the finest in the world. Of course, there are other good brands, but be very selective about sourcing SAMe.
18. Saw Palmetto: Check. This is obviously another prostate support supplement, and I get it from our ProstaCol formula, which also has the Pygeum, Beta-sitosterol, and Nettle. These are the heavy hitters in the world of natural prostate care, and every good prostate formula should have them. Of course, young men shouldn't need it.
So that's it, and I have to say that Men's Health did a fairly good job coming up with their list of supplements for men. As you can see, I only took exception with a few of them. However, they overlooked Carnosine, Turmeric, and Lipoic Acid, which are on my list, and for good reasons.
Nothing is Impossible was the second book written by Christopher Reeve after his catastrophic equestrian accident in 1995 that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. The first was his highly acclaimed autobiography, Still Me, which I have not read. Nothing is Impossible is a compilation of speeches he gave from his wheelchair after the accident.
The book is well written and easy to read, and very inspiring. He admits that upon awaking from his coma and realizing what condition he was in, he immediately contemplated suicide. But, his wife Dana pleaded with him not to, and so he didn't. Instead, he fought valiantly for 9 years to regain his life, his purpose, and his productivity, which he did. It was an amazing display of courage and perseverance and hard work, and I say that realizing that I would not have done it. I am very sure that I would have directed them to cease my life support and let me go-although hopefully in a way that spared me additional pain. I would not have had the will to go on living after that. But, I am still very moved by his willingness to try to cope with it all, and cope he did.
I have the feeling that this book is going to remain in my consciousness- always. Anytime I start feeling overwhelmed by anything, I will remember what he went through, and instantly, I'll snap out of it.
We should take inspiration from what he did as a person- and also from what his body did as an organism. His spinal cord was completely severed at the level of the 2nd cervical vertebra. That means that his body, including his muscles, his organs, his skin- it was all cut off from cerebral control. No signals from the brain would ever get past the injury site again. But to everyone's surprise, they did. Five years later, he began moving his right index finger, then his other fingers, and eventually, he was able to move his whole hand. It could only mean one thing: the nerves, the connections within the spinal cord, must have grown back to some extent. Also, he eventually regained his ability to breathe without the ventilator for as long as 30 minutes.
Through it all, he tried to live as normal a life as possible. He described how, from his wheelchair, he taught his 6 year old son, Will, how to ride a bicycle. This really piqued my interest because I recalled what I went through teaching my son how to ride, and then years later, teaching two of my grandchildren. Christopher Reeve did it from a wheelchair using only words. It was the boy, the bike, and Christopher's verbal instructions, and nothing else. And he succeeded. And when I read the instructions he gave to the boy, I realized that they were the most concise, efficient, and perfect instructions that he could possibly have communicated. It was better than what I would have thought to say myself, and I have been an avid rider my whole life. It's amazing that he did it, and it is equally amazing that he even thought that he could do it.
There is also an interesting section in the book on the Mind-Body. He recounts how he developed a pressure wound on his ankle. Even though they turned him over every two hours every night to prevent such wounds from forming, sometimes they occurred anyway. And this one was bad. It went deep- all the way to the bone- and it became badly infected. The doctors wanted to amputate above the knee to save his life. But, he said no to that. It took a long time, but eventually, it did heal- completely. And he believed that his thought processes and his will, i.e. his "mind over matter," played a crucial role in that recovery. However, the paradox is that there was no connection between his mind (i.e. his brain) and his ankle. Or was there?
There is also an interesting chapter on his experience with Scientology, which happened long before his catastrophic accident. Let's just say that his reaction to Scientology was very different from that of Tom Cruise. It was the Unitarian Church that gave Christopher Reeve solace.
There was also a chapter on his advocacy for stem cell research which I found to be both highly impassioned and very logical and convincing.
In the end, it was a pressure wound that defeated Christopher Reeve. As had happened many times before, he was given a very powerful antibiotic to treat the sepsis from a pressure wound, and it was the adverse reaction to that very strong antibiotic that caused him to go into cardiac arrest and die. That was on October 10, 2004, and he was 52 years old.
But one thing is for sure: Christopher Reeve endured. He was Superman.
Now I am responding to questions from a reader about bodybuilding. He asks tf bodybuilding mitigates the harmful effects of a high-protein diet. I think it does to some extent- if you are gaining new muscle, because if one is building new muscle, then obviously the protein is going somewhere; it is being stored. But,when you eat a high-protein diet without laying new muscle, then the excess protein has to be broken down, and that's burdensome. And it raises an important question about proper goals. I am 60 years old, and I am definitely not trying to gain new muscle. I would very much like to hold on to the muscles that I have. My goal is to cruise through my 60s and reach 70 without atrophying at all. That is actually a very ambitious goal because the vast majority or people, both men and women, lose muscle during that decade of life. But, I am not trying to grow my muscles larger, because in order to do so, I would have to lift a lot heavier weights, with all the risk of injury that that entails, and I would have to increase my food and my protein consumption to levels that I consider undesirable for health. We have to keep our eyes on the ball, and the ball is health. Strength is a part of health, but there is no health advantage going from strong to very strong. So, my plan is to keep exercising and very persistently, but only at the level that I am accustomed, and to keep eating healthily but without protein loading, which I have never done, and also to maintain my hormones at youthful levels, which I think is very important. And that's how I plan to reach 70 as strong as I am today. I think I can do it.
The reader asked about whey protein powders. I am not interested in them because they are made from milk. However, I admit that if you are going to take milk at all, whey is probably the best form of it. At least it avoids dairy fat.
He asked about taking creatine. Creatine can definitely improve workout results, however I am not tempted to take it because it is a nitrogenous compound, and I am wary of increasing my body's nitrogen load. And for the same reason, I don't take branched chain amino acids, which are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, even though I am impressed with the research. Recently, for instance, it was reported that rats given branched chain amino acids in their water lived significantly longer than controls. That is certainly impressive, but we can't assume that the same thing would happen if it were done to humans. Maybe it would, but we just can't assume it.
I realize that there are a lot of supplements I could take which could potentially help me. But, I can't take all of them, and it's partly because of financial limitations, and partly because of limitations in how many pills and capsules I can swallow in a day without it becoming too cumbersome. And people have different tolerances that way. To those who don't take supplements at all, the number that I take must seem like quite a lot. However, there are plenty of enthusiasts who take many more than I do. So, there is discrimination involved, and none of us can jump at every bright idea. To see the list of supplements I currently take, you can click on the Daily Program tab in the top menu bar.
Finally, he asked about ideal body fat percentage and getting it down to the single digits. Obviously, single digits would be too low for a woman. She just wouldn't look good, and it would not be healthy for her. For instance, she wouldn't ovulate. But even for men, I think high single digits is OK, but not low single digits. You hear about guys who are 3%, but to me, that's just a form of emaciation- muscular emaciation. Body fat does have a purpose: it insulates us, keeps us warm, protects our organs, and it also constitutes a reserve. Who is to say which of us is going to get mangled in a car wreck next week? To me, as a man, being tight and lean is important. My body fat is probably about 10%. I wouldn't mind if it were a point or two lower, but not lower than that.