Brooks Robinson, Heart Disease and Prostate Cancer

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On September 26, 2023, Baltimore Orioles baseball great Brooks Robinson died from heart disease at age 86. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 72, but most men with prostate cancer do not die from their cancer, they die primarily from heart disease. Heart disease and prostate cancer have the same risk factors (Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, 2012;15(1):106–110).

In 23 seasons, from 1955 to 1977, Robinson won 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards as the American League’s best fielding third baseman. He had 2,848 hits, 268 home runs and a career batting average of .267. He also was the 1964 American League’s Most Valuable Player, the 1970 MVP in the World Series, an 18-time All-Star 3rd baseman every season from 1960 to 1974, the 1964 American League MVP and the 1970 World Series MVP. He was on four pennant-winning teams and two World Series champion teams, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Early Life and Baseball Career
Brooks Calbert Robinson, Jr., was born on May 18, 1937, in Little Rock, Arkansas. At a young age, he became a batboy for his father’s semipro baseball team. He enhanced his fielding skills by spending hours tossing and catching tennis balls from the steps of his home.

He was signed by the Baltimore Orioles right out of high school, and was sent to the York PA farm team. There the team manager noticed his superior fielding skills and sent him to the major league team at age 18. George Kell, the longtime Oriole’s third baseman who was nearing the end of his major league career, noticed that Robinson had not missed a ball hit to his backhand and said he was “already so good that there wasn’t much I could teach him.” At age 21, he had played 145 games with the Orioles and was a great fielder, but needed improvement in his hitting. He served six months in the Arkansas National Guard and then spent the next season back in the minor leagues.

In 1960, he returned to the Orioles to play third base and with Luis Aparicio at shortstop, they formed an infield that was every pitcher’s dream. He told reporters, “I used to line up a dozen balls in a row, pick one up, take another step and throw it and repeat that maneuver for all the balls.” He was called “the Human Vacuum Cleaner,” and when he retired, he held major league records for most games, most putouts, most assists and most double plays by a third baseman, and had the highest fielding percentage.

Prostate Cancer and Heart Disease
Robinson was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 72.  Virtually all men will develop prostate cancer if they live long enough, but fewer than three percent of men with prostate cancer die from that disease (N Engl J Med, April 27, 2023;388:1547-1558).

More than 50 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer have uncontrolled risk factors for heart attacks (JAMA Netw Open, Feb 24, 2021;4(2):e210070), and sadly, almost 30 percent of these high risk cancer patients receive no medication or treatment to help prevent a heart attack. Common laboratory indicators of both heart attack and prostate cancer risk include:
• blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg
• harmful LDL cholesterol higher than 130 mg/dL
• hemoglobin A1c >5.7 (an indicator of cell damage from diabetes)
Exposure to smoke and obesity are major risk factors for both heart disease and prostate cancer (J Oncol, 2015;2015:820403).

Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Rules for Prevention and Treatment of Heart Disease and Prostate Cancer
All men should be told that the American Cancer Society and the American Urological Association recommend that anyone with prostate cancer should be checked for heart attack risk factors (Circulation, 2010;121(6):833-840) and be put on a lifestyle heart attack prevention program (Circulation, 2016;133(5):537-541). This will save lots of lives because prostate cancer is usually a slowly progressive disease and men with this cancer are more likely to die from a heart attack. Ten years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, most men will survive whether they were treated with surgery, radiation, or “active surveillance” where they were followed and not treated unless their cancer progressed (New England Journal of Medicine, September 14, 2016).

Your immune system is supposed to be good for you because it prevents germs from getting into your bloodstream, and it seeks out and destroys the millions of defective cells that everybody produces every day. However, an overactive immune system (too much inflammation) can use its cells and proteins to attack and destroy the DNA in healthy cells and turn them into cancer cells.

My Recommendations
Since heart attacks and prostate cancer have the same risk factors, all men should adapt to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle at the earliest age possible:
• Eat a diet that is high in anti-inflammatory foods and low in pro-inflammatory foods
• Get enough vitamin D
• Avoid tobacco
• Restrict or avoid alcohol
• Avoid high blood sugar levels
• Avoid being overweight
• Try to exercise every day

Lifestyle Changes Do Help to Prevent Cancers and Heart Attacks
Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle to Prevent Many Diseases

Brooks Robinson
May 18, 1937 – September 26, 2023