Remembering the heart health pioneer who lived to 102

Dr Jeremiah Stamler got it right more than 70 years ago

He took a global approach to heart health and his findings changed the world. Dr Jeremiah Stamler was among the first to understand what makes the heart tick. His research helped establish known risk factors such as cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity. But his science wasn’t always popular.

“He truly was a person you just couldn’t get enough of him,” Northwestern Medicine Professor of Preventive Linda Van Horn Ph.D. said.

Stamler’s family and colleagues got 102 years! The preventive medicine pioneer, who passed away in January, was ahead of his time when it came to matters of the heart.

“At the time Dr. Stamler launched his work, which was back in the 60s really even in the 50s, at that time there was really no awareness of any differentiation for why certain people developed heart disease and others didn’t,” Van Horn said.  

Stamler wondered, why did some countries, such as Finland and the United States, have higher rates of cardiovascular mortality compared to other parts of the world, like China, Japan and Italy? His answer? Diet.

“Absolutely there were differences and the biggest one that stood out very clearly was the intake of total fat and saturated fat,” Van Horn said.

His science was met with skepticism in an era when meat, eggs and dairy were mainstays on the kitchen table.

“Diet is one of the key factors in the contemporary epidemic and end this epidemic we must do something about the diet,” Stamler once said.

He pressed on and let the growing data support his theory. All the while practicing what he published in medical journals.

“He absolutely recognized early on there was something better about a diet that had more plant-based protein and more plant-based fat intake as opposed to the animal product emphasis that we had in this country,” Van Horn said. “And that mentality has sustained us over these last three, four decades.”

Long before it became widely recognized for its heart benefits, Stamler adopted a Mediterranean Diet.

“Fish and veggies and fruits and whole grains became a major staple in his diet,” Van Horn said. “And as he continued forward, it was not only diet it was not smoking, being more physically active and not gaining weight.”

It wasn’t just about food and exercise. He spoke about the role of connection and community – other factors he believed helped him live a long and healthy life.

“It’s almost impossible to research, very difficult, but I’m convinced it’s important,” he said.

So, want to live to 102 like Stamler? Try a few of his habits.

“A little dark chocolate was a treat that he indulged in almost on a regular daily basis and recognized that a glass of red wine now and then wasn’t a bad idea either,” Van Horn said.

The abundance of information Stamler provided helped lead to the very cardiovascular guidelines in place today. In the last year he published a major paper on dietary factors and blood pressure, working right up until the end of his life.