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The Villages
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

What killed President Van Buren?

Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren

By Dr. Gabe Mirkin

The eighth President of the United States was such a trusting person that he never locked the doors of the White House. One night a drunk came into the White House, slept all night in the living room and was not discovered until the next morning.

Born in 1782 near Albany, New York, Martin Van Buren was the first president who was a native of the United States (the previous presidents were born before the American Revolution). Van Buren was elected President in 1836, and his term in office is remembered for the economic  “Panic of 1837,” a five-year economic depression which ended his chances for reelection in 1840. He was only about five feet tall, asthmatic, weak, bald and poorly dressed. He ran for re-election against William Henry Harrison, who was taller, better-looking, very athletic and a great war hero. Harrison was the famous general who defeated the British and Indians at Tippecanoe. When you were in high school, you probably heard Harrison’s campaign slogan: “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”  The “and Tyler too” referred to his vice president, John Tyler, who was to become the tenth president of the United States when Harrison died of pneumonia 30 days after his inauguration. Harrison mocked Van Buren in a campaign song:

“Old Tip, he wears a homespun suit,
He has no ruffled shirt;
But Mat he has the golden pate,
And he’s a little squirt.”

Van Buren never had a chance in the election because he was overwhelmed by the powerful heroic image of General Harrison.

Failing Health
At age 40, Martin Van Buren developed a cough and progressive shortness of breath that would be diagnosed today as “late-onset asthma”. In those days, his physician diagnosed “malignant catarrh.” He suffered from it for nearly 40 years, eventually dying from his disease in 1862 at age 79. At his request, no bells rang at his funeral.

Current Treatment of Late-Onset Asthma
Today, almost 150 years later, doctors still have not found a cause or cure for late-onset asthma and the most common treatments can actually shorten life. Asthma that starts in childhood can often be caused by allergies to pollen and mold, and asthmatic children often outgrow harm from their disease. However, asthma that starts in adulthood is almost never caused by allergies and almost never improves with allergy injections.

Research from the Mayo Clinic, the University of Wisconsin, National Jewish Hospital and Johns Hopkins shows that some cases of late-onset asthma are caused by intracellular bacteria or fungi, but in most cases no germ is ever found. When doctors cannot find a cause for a disease, they often call it an “autoimmune disease”. This means that they don’t have the foggiest idea of the cause.

The so-called “autoimmune diseases” are usually treated with drugs to suppress immunity, such as prednisone, methotrexate or Imuran. These drugs do help relieve suffering and make the patient feel better in the short run, but over time, they block the patient’s ability to kill germs. Since there is considerable evidence that some cases of late-onset asthma may be caused by an infection that doctors have not yet found, giving drugs such as prednisone that suppress a person’s immunity may increase the spread of infection. Suppressing a person’s immunity can also increase risk for cancer.

President Van Buren suffered from and died of what we now call late-onset asthma. Today he would have been treated with the cortisone-type drug called prednisone and would have been more comfortable than he was in the 1800′s, but he probably would have died at a much earlier age.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a resident of The Villages. Read more at www.drmirkin.com

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