Silent Killers: Five Life-Threatening Diseases

Which life-threatening diseases have no symptoms?

What do high blood pressure, human papilloma virus (HPV), pancreatic cancer, diabetes, and sleep apnea have in common?

They’re all potentially life-threatening diseases or conditions that usually have no initial symptoms. And while treatments are available, none are recognized as a cure. However, lifestyle improvements can go a long way toward prevention.

Find out more as Life Extension’s Michael A. Smith, M.D., interviews Christine Horner, M.D., the award-winning author of Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer and Radiant Health, Ageless BeautyDownload this Live Foreverish podcast episode for FREE!

Ignorance isn’t bliss

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to your health, according to nationally known surgeon, author, and professional speaker Christine Horner, M.D.

“Most people don’t go to their doctor unless they’re having symptoms,” Dr. Horner told Life Extension’s Michael A. Smith, M.D. “There’s a real reason why you want to go in for your regular check-up at least once a year, because some of the things that are the top killers of Americans start out with absolutely no symptoms.”

When asked about the importance of diet and lifestyle in prevention, Dr. Horner couldn’t be more adamant. “Tragically, I didn’t have a single nutrition course in medical school,” she lamented. “This is why I stopped being a surgeon and went into teaching people how to avoid the knife. Most of these things are completely preventable.”

The Big Five

What is HPV?

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, with roughly 80 million currently infected Americans. Of the many strains of the virus, only a few are considered a significant health risk. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is linked with a majority of cervical, anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile, and oropharyngeal (back of the throat) cancers.1

The good news is that many individuals who acquire HPV infections clear them on their own. The key is a healthy immune system supported by a good diet, regular physical activity, stress management, and sound sleep. On the other hand, poor lifestyle choices may be associated with diminished immune strength, which could decrease the body’s ability to clear the viral infection.

Exciting research conducted by Judith A. Smith at the University of Texas Health Science Center suggests that a compound known as AHCC®, which is found in shitake mushrooms, may eradicate the virus if supplemented for longer than six months.2 Its action may be the result of improved immune function.3 In 2015, Dr. Smith began a phase 2 randomized clinical trial to test AHCC efficacy in HPV treatment, and the results of the trial should be released in the near future.

“The silent killer”

How many people have undiagnosed high blood pressure?

Nearly 50% of all U.S. adults have hypertension as determined by the latest guidelines that classify high blood pressure as 130 over 80 mmHg or higher.4 According to Dr. Horner, half of this group doesn’t know they have the condition.

Hypertension is well-known to be diet and lifestyle-related. Processed foods, high amounts of salt, sugar and alcohol, smoking, not exercising, and unmanaged stress are all factors in the development of the condition.

“How important is magnesium in blood pressure?” Dr. Smith inquired.

There are many nutrients that are depleted in the food we consume today, and magnesium is just one of them, Dr. Horner replied. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) also support healthy blood pressure levels.

“There are core foundational building blocks of just being a healthy human,” Dr. Smith observed. “And if we get more of those basic building blocks, a lot of these things that we’re talking about can be completely prevented.”

The diabetes epidemic

A quarter of the population over the age of 65 has diabetes and nearly one in four adults living with the disease don’t know that they have it.5 Once again, the disease is related to lifestyle, particularly to being overweight. As with hypertension, vitamin D is also important, but many people are unaware that they are deficient. Testing for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D can help guide appropriate supplementation with the vitamin.

What is a healthy vitamin D level?

A recent meta-analysis showed that serum vitamin D levels of 50 to 60 ng/mL were associated with a significant reduction in diabetes risk.6 Levels of 50 to 80 ng/mL may be optimal.

Is sleep apnea a man’s problem?

Sleep apnea, which is characterized by frequent episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep, is indeed more prevalent in men, but is also present in a significant number of women. People who experience daytime sleepiness, which is a common complaint, may not suspect that they have sleep apnea.

Unfortunately, the condition is more than an annoyance. Sleep apnea has been linked with cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, and increased accidents.7

Obesity, heavy evening meals, and sleeping pills can contribute to sleep apnea. The only way to determine with certainty if one has the condition is to be evaluated at a sleep lab.

Pancreatic cancer: silent and deadly

It used to be thought that nothing could be done to prevent cancer of the pancreas, which is usually diagnosed during late stages because of the absence of early symptoms. We now know, as with the other Big Five that have been discussed, that pancreatic cancer is associated with some of the same poor lifestyle factors: smoking, being overweight, poor diet, and excessive alcohol consumption.8

These often-silent diseases and conditions, while seemingly diverse, may all have their roots in an unhealthy lifestyle. Don’t dismiss the cumulative value of not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet that is high in fruit and vegetables and low in processed food and sugar, engaging in regular physical activity, learning to manage stress, and getting a good night’s sleep.

If you’re interested in obtaining more information about preventing these five diseases and more, visit the Life Extension Disease Prevention and Treatment Protocols page.

  1. “Cancers Associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV).” Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 August 2018,
  2. “An Unexpected Threat to HPV.” Texas Medical Center News, 3 December 2014,
  3. Terakawa N et al. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(5):643-51.
  4. “More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, AHA says.” American Heart Association, Inc., 2018,
  5. “New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 July 2017,
  6. Ekmekcioglu C et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Jan 28;14(2).
  7. Lin CM et al. Sleep Med Rev. 2008;12(6):481-496.
  8. Ilic M and Ilic I. World J Gastroenterol. 2016 Nov 28;22(44):9694-9705.


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