Better Start Flexing
A study that tracked the health of nearly 140,000 people across 17 diverse countries found that measuring the strength of one's hand grip is a simple and inexpensive way to predict one's chances of dying from cardiovascular and other diseases. The study, published in The Lancet, found that for every 11-pound decrease in grip strength there is a corresponding nine percent increase in stroke, a seven percent increase in heart attack, a 17 percent increase in death due to cardiovascular disease, and a 16 percent increase in death overall. Grip strength was also linked to the likelihood of pneumonia and cancer patients dying from their illness. Researchers were unable to explain the association between grip strength and cardiovascular health and mortality.
Healthy Folks Don't Need It
The FDA is warning that the daily use of aspirin to ward off heart attacks and stroke can be dangerous for some patients and should only be done in consultation with a physician. Aspirin has become a popular self-administered treatment because of studies that should it lowers heart attack risk. But the FDA cautions that there are potential side effects: As a blood thinner aspirin is not appropriate if you take prescription blood thinners like warfarin, dabigatran (Pradaxa), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto). In addition, aspirin used on a daily basis may cause or aggravate stomach and duodenal ulcers. In general health professionals do not recommend prophylactic use of aspirin for those in otherwise good health.
It's Not Weird Science
Four lifestyle changes contribute to heart health and longevity finds a large, multi-center study led by Johns Hopkins University. They are: not smoking, regular exercise, eating a Mediterranean-style diet and maintaining a healthy weight with a BMI of less than 25. Adopting these four behaviors reduced the chance of death from not only heart disease but all causes by 80% over an 8-year period, say researchers who evaluated data on more than 6,200 men and women, ages 44-84. "While there are risk factors that people can't control, such as their family history and age," says lead author Haitham Ahmed, M.D., M.P.H, "these lifestyle measures are things that people can change and consequently make a big difference in their health. That's why we think this is so important."
Lycopene's the Key
Tomatoes, which contain the antioxidant lycopene, may contribute to brain health and lower the risk of stroke, says a new study. “Daily intake of tomatoes may give better protection” than eating them a few times a week, says lead author Jouni Karppi, U of Eastern Finland. Lycopene, which acts like a sponge in the body, soaks up free radicals that can damage cells. Researchers tested lycopene levels in more than 1,000 Finnish men, ages 46-65, over a 10 year period and found that those with the highest blood levels of the antioxidant were 55% less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest amount. Researchers not involved with the study say that other factors, including age and general health, may have influenced outcomes, although study scientists tried to take these into account.
Do the Right Thing
Healthy lifestyle choices made in young adulthood benefit heart health in middle age, says a new Northwestern Medicine study. In the 1st year of the study, with 24 as the average age of participants, almost half had a low cardiovascular disease risk profile. Twenty years later, 1/4 of participants had a low cv disease risk. Researchers say 60% of those who followed 5 healthy lifestyle factors - maintaining a lean BMI, healthy diet, regular exercise, non-smoker and only moderate alcohol intake - had a low cv disease risk in middle age, despite family history, compared with 5% of participants who followed none of the factors. If young people adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles, they will be heart healthy and have a better quality of life overall, say researchers.
Love Is in the Air
While there is always the risk of overindulgence, most of the tenets of Valentine’s Day are truly good for your heart health. Dark chocolate and a glass of red wine contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that are good for your coronary arteries. Chocolate as well causes the body to release endorphins which are neurotransmitters that can help you feel good – and may even work as an aphrodisiac. Love overall is often good for your health. Studies often show that those in positive relationships live longer partly because there tends to be less stress and anger. But as with everything, keep moderation in mind by eating only a small amount of chocolate a day as a treat and sticking to only one or two glasses of wine.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
While previous research has shown that normal vitamin D levels are linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular inflammation, atherosclerosis and death due to heart disease, higher levels may actually increase the risk of heart problems. Information from surveys of over 15,000 adults in the U.S. was gathered and it was noted that the blood marker for cardiovascular inflammation, c-reactive protein (CRP), was higher in individuals when vitamin D levels go above the low end of the normal range. Increased CRP elevates the risk of heart problems. The relationship between high vitamin D and heart problems is not known at this time, but researchers want people to make sure that they know the potential risks and take vitamin D supplements only if it is necessary.
Supersizing the US
Most adults in the US will be overweight by the year 2020 and more than half will suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes project researchers at the Am. Heart Assn. which has set a target to help Americans improve their heart health by 20%. But the prognosis is grim. If current trends continue, Americans can expect only small improvements in heart health by 2020. The stats: In 2020, 83% of men and 72% of women will be obese or overweight. Now, 72% of men and 63% of women are overweight or obese. In 2020, 77% of men and 53% of women will have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Today, 62% of men and 43% of women have those conditions. Achieving a healthy weight through diet and exercise is the best way to improve heart health, say AHA spokespeople who also stress the importance of not smoking.
Heart Health Vs. Cancer Risk
A new study has revealed that women who routinely have 3 to 6 drinks a week increase the chance of breast cancer by 15%, but the risk may not be enough to outweigh the heart-healthy benefits of drinking in moderation. “We’re not recommending that women stop drinking altogether,” says Dr. Wendy Y. Chen, who admits the decision should be based on breast cancer risk factors, as well as on cardiovascular risk factors. Things to consider when weighing the risks include family history of heart disease and cancer, and any use of hormones because high levels of estrogen could increase the risk of breast cancer. “If you do drink, you have to weigh the risks and benefits,” says Dr. Susan Love. “But obviously if you don’t drink and you’re worried about breast cancer, don’t start.”
Just One or Two Bites Will Do It
Certain nutrients in dark chocolate have been linked to heart health especially lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of stroke. New research indicates that epicatechin, the chief beneficial compound in cacao, may also help boost exercise performance. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, gave mice a purified liquid form of the flavonol twice a day. These mice outperformed control mice in a treadmill test, becoming tired less quickly and covering a greater distance. The team also biopsied the animals’ back leg muscles and found that they contained new capillaries and cells were making new mitochondria, the part of the cell responsible for optimal functioning. For humans, the researchers stress that it only takes a bite or two of chocolate to get the beneficial results.
Supplement with Omega-3s and B12
Vegans may be at risk for developing blood clots and atherosclerosis, conditions that can lead to stroke and heart attacks. This is according to a new review of articles published over the past 30 years on the biochemistry of vegetarianism that appears in the ACS’ Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Although meat eaters are known for having more cardiovascular risks than vegetarians, vegans’ diets may be lacking in key nutrients including iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Vegans may have a higher level of homocysteine in their blood as well as lower levels of LDL, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. The review recommends that vegetarians and vegans consume salmon, eggs, nuts and fortified milk and to use dietary supplements.
But Don’t Give Up Food Yet
Routine periodic fasting is good for heart health - and for health in general, finds a new study that recorded reactions in the body’s biological mechanisms during fasting. Research cardiologists report that fasting lowers the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes and also changes blood cholesterol levels. In addition, fasting was found to reduce weight, blood sugar levels and triglycerides. Participants fasted for a period of 24 hours during which time they consumed nothing but water and were monitored throughout. Researchers say more studies are needed to fully determine the body’s reaction to fasting and its effects on health. Principal investigator Dr. Benjamin D. Home believes that fasting may one day be prescribed to prevent diabetes and coronary heart disease.
Thanks to Antioxidants
Antioxidants found in pecans may contribute to heart health and disease prevention says a new research study from Loma Linda U. Pecans are particularly rich in gamma-tocopherols, a form of the antioxidant vitamin E and that after eating pecans, study participants’ levels of gamma-tocopherols doubled while unhealthy oxidation of LDL cholesterol in their blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. "This protective effect is important in helping to prevent development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease," says researcher Ella Haddad. Participants ate test meals containing about three ounces of the nuts for the study. Following consumption, oxidized LDL cholesterol decreased by 30 percent, after 2 hours; by 33 percent after 3 hours, and by 26 percent after 8 hours.
Heart Healthy Nut
Not only is February National Heart Health Month, the 16th is also dedicated to a heart-healthy nut – the almond. According to the Almond Board of California, a one-ounce handful of almonds a day may be good for your heart and help maintain a healthy cholesterol level. A serving, which is about 23 almonds, contains only 1 gram of saturated fat but 13 grams of heart-friendly unsaturated fat. Other heart healthy nutrients found in the nuts are fiber, potassium, calcium, and iron. Almonds are also a satisfying snack because they contain protein. The Almond Board of California is offering convenient single-serving tins to hold almonds at their website www.almondsarein.com.
Lower Cholesterol and BP Too
Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to stroke, heart attack and early death, says a new study published in the European Heart Journal. "If you sleep less than six hours per night and have disturbed sleep you stand a 48 per cent greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 per cent greater chance of developing or dying of a stroke,” says co-author Francesco Cappuccio. The study followed up evidence from seven to 25 years from more than 470,000 participants in the US, UK, Japan and Sweden. "Chronic short sleep produces hormones and chemicals in the body which increase the risk of developing heart disease and strokes, and other conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and obesity,” says co-author Dr. Michelle Miller.
Reinforces Good Habits
For people at high risk for heart disease, making lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular physical exercise, are recommended. However, it is clear that not everyone is making those changes, as heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the US. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology finds that group counseling sessions via telephone can help more patients stick to it and eat more fruits and vegetables, lower sodium intake, exercise more, and quit smoking. During the study, all participants received a risk assessment and discussion about healthy changes, but the half that received additional phone counseling six times over the course of two months had made more significant changes in their health, including lowered blood pressure.
Traditional Feast Good for You
Thanksgiving is a time when everyone tends to worry about their waistline, but it’s not all about the calories. The traditional meal is good for you, too. In addition to being a lean and flavorful source of protein, turkey also provides the zinc and selenium that are needed for the repair and growth of cells and tissue. Cranberries protect the body from free radicals and improve heart health. In liquid form, they can prevent urinary tract infections. Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene and high in potassium. Heart-friendly green beans are low on calories. There’s no need to fear dessert, either. Pumpkin is another low calorie item that’s also a good source of vitamins A and C. Watch that second or third helping but enjoy your holiday meal. Happy Thanksgiving!
From Hair to Eternity
Health experts proclaim the dangers of chronic stress on heart health but, until now, there hadn’t been a biological marker to measure it. Recently researchers at the U of Western Ontario developed a method to measure cortisol levels in hair. The research provides an accurate assessment of stress levels and predicted acute events, including heart attacks, in the months preceding them. The “stress hormone” cortisol has previously been measured in blood and urine but, because it’s secreted at the time of stress, measuring it was not an accurate predictor of acute events to come. However, cortisol is stored in hair. “... if we take a sample six cm long, we can determine stress levels for six months by measuring the cortisol level in the hair,” says researcher Dr. Gideon Koren.
Triathletes with Amazing Hearts
A study of triathletes shows that combining resistance and endurance training is best for heart health. Researchers used MRI to study effects of triathlon training on the heart. They found that triathletes who participated in multi-sport events like swimming, cycling and running had larger right and left ventricles, as well as larger left atria. The triathletes' ventricles also displayed greater muscle mass and wall thickness, say researchers. The findings, published in Radiology, reveal that the resting heart rates of triathletes were 17 percent lower than the control group. A lower resting heart rate means more cardiac blood supply. "The hearts of the triathletes ... are stronger and able to manage the same workload with less effort," says lead researcher Michael M. Lell, M.D.
Next Benefit: Tummy Friendly?
European researchers studying why coffee irritates the stomach have ironically discovered that one of the chemicals in coffee actually stops acid production. Most of the ingredients and chemicals within coffee do just the opposite — increase acid production. This discovery has lead to the question — can we make coffee truly stomach friendly, or more importantly, can we create a coffee that actually prevents heartburn? If you're worried this concept won't get enough study time, have no fear. In the United States alone, an estimated 40 million people avoid coffee because of the ill effects it has on them. This idea is sure to be top notch on the to do list for coffee creators.
The Next Superfood?
The American diet is about to get healthier as farmers employ biotechnology to enhance the production of soybeans that contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are known for heart health and may also help prevent cancer. Currently, fish and fish oil supplements are the main source of Omega 3s in most American diets, however, that may change as engineered soybean oil products make their way to American dining tables. The FDA recently confirmed that enhanced soybean oil can be used in foods and beverages and American farmers are responding by planting more crops of the bean. Initially, biotechnology helped farmers grow crops with fewer weeds, allowing them to reduce the use of pesticides. Now, with the addition of increased Omega 3s, soybeans could become the next superfood.