Remembering Paavo Airola

Paavo Airola, author, columnist and a noted health authority, died May 23rd of a stroke. His death took everyone by surprise. Until his final day, Dr. Airola seemed to be in very good health.

Shortly after the news, we started getting phone calls at the magazine's offices. Nearly everyone expressed a deep sense of loss. In the three years that he wrote a regular column for this magazine, Dr. Airola had gained a large and loyal following. He tried, as best he could, to answer most of the correspondence and had developed a kind of personal relationship with many readers.

Nevertheless, the personal sense of grief most people felt was also often accompanied with a sense of shock, even betrayal, that a man who had earned a fortune advising people on health and diet should come to such a sudden end at the relatively young age of 64.

Did it mean, they wondered, that all of Dr. Airola's advice was wrong? How could this natural foods authority, a man who had sold more than a million books, suddenly be the victim of a cardiovascular accident when older men like George Burns are still smoking cigars, drinking brandy and chasing women?

It's not an easy question to face upon learning of the death of a friend - and I would hasten to add that few would similarly question the cause of death of their more orthodox personal physician but considering Dr. Airola's outspokenness and notoriety, the question is understandable.

In medical jargon, a stroke is described as a "cerebral vascular accident" (CVA). Cerebral vascular refers to the fact that the blood vessels in your brain are involved, while accident refers to the sudden and unforeseeable nature of the event. What usually happens in a CVA is that there is a weak area in the wall of a blood vessel. After many years, the weak area gives way to the pressure of the blood. The weakness is commonly likened to a garden hose which, after many years, starts to bulge and eventually springs a leak.

Certain factors, such as high blood pressure may hasten a rupture, but the weak vessel is something one is born with.

While Dr. Airola did not have high blood pressure, he did have a cerebral artery which apparently was weak. After 64 years, it finally gave way.

In recent years, there has been serious medical attention given to the relationship between diet, exercise, lifestyle factors, and disease. Numerous tests and empirical studies have given overwhelming support to the thesis that such factors play a significant role in heart disease, diabetes and, to a lesser extent, cancer.

Although the conventional medical world is now coming to appreciate the relationship between diet and disease, Dr. Airola was one of the early pioneers in this field.

He began to study the relationship between health, longevity and lifestyle factors after he suffered a serious injury in World War II. After the war, he earned advanced degrees in naturopathic medicine and biochemistry in Europe. Upon completion of his formal education, Dr. Airola spent years studying native cultures around the world, seeking to uncover the natural secrets of good health and longevity. Perhaps more than anything else, it was this anthropological approach to studying nutrition and health that separated Dr. Airola from other health practitioners and led to the development of his "Optimum Diet" and other health principles. (See Vegetarian Times, November 1982 for Dr. Airola's explanation of the Optimum Diet and his studies.)

It is somewhat ironic that after decades of study, the cornerstones of Airola's teachings turned out to be surprisingly simple: eat a well-balanced, grain-centered vegetarian diet, get sufficient exercise, and have a healthy, positive mental attitude.

It is often the case that the works and teachings of great individuals outlive them. Such will be the case with Paavo Airola. His outspoken views on health and his tirades against the faddish health food gimmickry so prevalent today will be sorely missed.

Throughout his life, Dr. Airola has inspired millions and given them advice on how to live and eat better. He may have left us, but his teachings and influence will live on for generations. - Paul Obis