Dr. James O'Keefe Jr., MD (born June 8, 1956) is an American author and cardiologist who has conducted studies in the field of cardiovascular medicine, diet and exercise. O'Keefe is a leading proponent of exercise but argues that moderate rather than extreme efforts are best for conferring longevity. He is currently a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, Director of Preventive Cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute of Saint Luke's hospital and Chief Medical Officer of the health supplement company CardioTabs.
James Henry O'Keefe Jr., MD, son of James Henry O'Keefe Sr. and Leatrice O’Keefe, was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota on June 8, 1956. He graduated from the University of North Dakota where he received an undergraduate BS in Natural Science. In 1982, he graduated with his MD from Baylor College of Medicine. Medical residency as well as a cardiovascular fellowship were done at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. He did an advanced fourth year cardiovascular fellowship in nuclear cardiac imagery and interventional cardiology. During his training he achieved multiple academic awards including Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha and graduated Summa Cum Laude from both college and medical school. He was recently named a "Clinical Innovator" by the American College of Cardiology.
At the Mid America Heart Institute, he was involved with patient care, clinical research as well as non-invasive cardiology practices. He has been board-certified in cardiology, nuclear cardiology, pacing, cholesterol management, cardiac CT imaging, and internal medicine. He has been named to many top doctors lists, both regionally and nationally,. In 1989, he became a Professor of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Dr. O’Keefe is also a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association Council of Clinical Cardiology.
Dr. O'Keefe has contributed over 328 articles to peer-reviewed medical literature that are available on PubMed. These include his studies on the potential dangers of excessive exercise, and the cardiovascular effects of vitamin D, omega-3, the anti-inflammatory diet, organic bone meal, coffee, tea, and alcohol. O'Keefe also emphasizes poor sleep, post-meal spikes in blood sugar, and fatty liver as common causes of heart disease. He has been the lead author of several books, including, the Complete Guide to ECGs, The Forever Young Diet & Lifestyle and Let Me Tell You a Story.
Dr. O'Keefe believes that a healthy lifestyle should include some features of the diet and activity patterns of our ancient ancestors. He argues that this is essential because our nutritional needs were established many centuries ago in the remote pre-historic past; thus humans have been genetically adapted to thrive in a Hunter-Gatherer type of lifestyle. O’Keefe believes this mismatch between the diet and lifestyle for which we are genetically adapted, and the very different conditions in which we are living, is the underlying cause for much disease, disability and unhappiness. Our ancestors survived on a diet high in fish, fruits, vegetables, bones and nuts. They also received a large amount of exercise from walking, bending, lifting, carrying, swimming, climbing, and other activities that were necessary to their daily routines. Dr. O’Keefe recommends beverages including water, green tea and coffee; also, red wine can be a healthy choice if used in moderation.
O'Keefe's research and publications have focused mostly on exercise, diet, omega-3, and vitamin D. Daily exercise is one of the key components of lifestyle for promoting health and longevity, and will reduce risks for heart disease, Alzheimer's, hypertension, osteoporosis, depression and diabetes dramatically. However, excessive endurance exercise may potentially cause cardiovascular damage. This work has garnered attention in both the cardiology world and the general public. The articles posit that extreme endurance exercise such as marathons, ironman distance triathlons, and long distance bicycle races may, over many years to decades, in some individuals lead to adverse structural changes in the heart and large arteries, predisposing to "cardiac overuse injury." Cardiovascular damage can include fibrosis (scarring) in the heart muscle, accelerated plaque buildup in coronary arteries and atrial fibrillation. These papers emphasize that exercise best confers benefits to longevity and cardiac health at moderate doses. O'Keefe discusses this in a TEDx Talk entitled: "Run for your life! At a comfortable pace and not too far."
O'Keefe has published papers on the cardiovascular impact of both coffee and alcohol showing evidence that supports moderate consumption of either or both substances can be potentially heart healthy. Habitual light to moderate alcohol intake (up to 1 drink per day for women and 1 or 2 drinks per day for men) is associated with decreased risks for total mortality, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, and stroke. However, higher levels of alcohol consumption are associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Coffee consumption may reduce the risk of cardiovascular death, type 2 diabetes mellitus and hypertension, as well as other conditions associated with CV risk such as obesity and depression.
O'Keefe was the lead author for other articles on the importance of omega-3, vitamin D, and vitamin K.
In 2016, he published a paper entitled Nutritional strategies for skeletal and cardiovascular health: hard bones, soft arteries, rather than vice versa. This paper showed that calcium is ideally obtained from dietary sources. The form of calcium in bones and bone meal is calcium-hydroxyapatite, which may be particularly effective for building bone. Increased consumption of calcium-rich foods such as bones, fermented dairy products (e.g. yogurt, kefir, cheese), leafy greens, almonds, and chia seeds may be effective for improving both skeletal and cardiovascular health.
Dr. O’Keefe gave a TEDx Talk in October 2016, on the natural origin of homosexuality. In this talk, he proposes a theory about the evolutionary basis of homosexuality mediated by epigenetics. This TEDx talk weaves in stories about his family and emerging science.
O'Keefe has a family history in medicine. His great grandfather, Dr. Henry O'Keefe, practiced medicine in North Dakota from 1890 to 1935. Henry's son, Emmett (James' grandfather), was also a doctor in North Dakota.
O'Keefe met his wife, Joan, while at the Mayo Clinic. The two married in October 1984 and together they have four children: James III, Evan, Kathleen, and Caroline. Evan started medical school in January 2016.
- Phi Eta Sigma (1977)
- Phi Beta Kappa (1978)
- Summa Cum Laude Honors Graduate at the University of North Dakota (1978)
- AMA Outstanding Medical Student Award: University of North Dakota (1980)
- Alpha Omega Alpha (1982)
- America’s Top Rated Physicians — Cardiology
- Kansas City Top 25 Doctors
- USA Today, Most Influential Doctors
- America's Top Doctors for Ten Consecutive Years (2006–2015)
- Kansas City Business Journal Top Doctors
- Clinical Innovator, American College of Cardiology
- America’s Top Cardiologists