Tag Archives: heart health

Go Red For Women

Heart disease kills more women than breast cancer. In fact, it kills more women than every form of cancer combined—one in four American women can expect to die of heart disease, making it the number one cause of death for women in the United States. Not only do more women die of heart disease than die of cancer, more women die of heart disease than men do, in part because people, doctors and patients alike, don’t realize that women don’t show heart disease the way men do. An estimated 42 million women have undiagnosed heart disease, and one reason it is undiagnosed is that health care professionals are looking for male symptoms women don’t have.

On top of that, the symptoms of heart disease in women are more subtle than in men, making them harder to spot as well as harder to recognize. When a woman has heart disease, it affects the main arteries, but is more likely to be in the smaller blood vessels in the chest as well than when a man does. She may experience neck or shoulder ache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, throat pain, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness and fatigue, or sweating.

The the symptoms are different, the risk factors for heart disease are largely the same in men and women, though not always to the same degree. Diabetes and stress, for example, are more strongly linked to heart disease in women. Smoking is one of the biggest controllable risk factors for heart disease in anyone, because it narrows the blood vessels, but this is particularly the case with the smaller ones that are more affected in women. The danger of smoking is also exacerbated by hormonal birth control; the hormones make the effects of smoking worse. On top of that, hormonal birth control is itself a risk factor, as are the hormonal changes wrought by menopause, both concerns unique to women.

To raise awareness of the special concerns women have for heart health, today is the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Day. Today is the day to start to take steps to lower your risk of heart disease death. That means quitting smoking. It means making the effort to get enough exercise, about 30 to 60 minutes most days. It means a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. It means maintaining a healthy weight. It means talking to your doctor about an aspirin regimen that can help prevent arterial plaque from building up. It’s never too early, and you’re never too young, to start protecting your heart.

Heart Health

The heart is the body’s motor, and when it stalls out, it can cause problems. The heart doesn’t deteriorate as its person gets older, but when heart disease strikes, it can interfere with the functioning. Heart disease is deadly, and it gets more likely with age. However, just because it is more likely doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. It is estimated that 80 percent of cardiac-related deaths could have been prevented. That would mean saving close to 650,000 people. It’s easy to keep the heart healthy with a few simple lifestyle changes.

Avoiding stress is one of the most important things a person can do to prevent heart disease, and it has a fairly large return on investment, yielding a lot of improvement for simple actions. Destressing can mean slowing down, getting enough sleep, organizing one’s life—through straightening up the home, the office, and the e-mail inbox as well as staying on top of scheduling by making to-do lists and maintaining a calendar. Taking a relaxed attitude and keeping life in perspective also helps. And some destress techniques are also good for the heart in and of themselves, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and staying active.

In fact, even simply walking can help the heart—as little as parking at the far end of the lot, or getting off the bus of subway one stop earlier than usual, will make a difference. Just 30 minutes of walking a day provides benefits. More intense workouts are even better for people who can do them. Twenty-five minutes of intense aerobic exercise a day, three days a week is a great way to build a healthy heart.

A heart-healthy diet is also important, but it doesn’t have to be bland or boring. Good menu options for heart health include oatmeal which can be dressed with fruit such as bananas; avocados, including in guacamole; soy; olive oil; and berries. These foods help lower cholesterol, cut fat, and provide protein. Potatoes, tomatoes, red wine, and green tea are all good for the heart, containing substances that actually fight heart disease , such as lycopene in tomatoes and flavonols in red wine. Flavonols are also found in dark chocolate, another indulgence that helps the heart.

Pets Are Great

More and more public health experts are recognizing the health benefits of pet ownership. People have had companion animals for thousands of years—one archaeological site from 12,000 years ago includes the remains of a person accompanied by remains of a dog. Today in the United States there are more than half as many pets as there are people, and around two in three households has at least one pet in residence. Only recently, however, have researchers begun to really understand how and why these pets are making people healthier and happier.

One thing pet ownership is good for is helping boost fitness. Walking the dog is a well-known source of exercise, to the point that veterinarians have had to warn joggers to beware of dragging their dogs faster than their four legs can carry them. However, even walking a a normal pace can help burn calories. Dog owners often have to do this to a certain extent, obviously, but beyond that, dog ownership can provide motivation to get out there, as well as alleviate the boredom that can so often dissuade people from just walking on their own.

Dog walking promotes heart health in other ways as well. Pet owners in general seem to have healthier cholesterol levels than non-owners, one study suggested. Petting a dog or cat has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Pets have a stress-lowering effect by their mere presence, to the point where certain dog breeds are trained as assistance dogs for people with PTSD and anxiety disorders. The unconditional love a dog or cat displays for its human can provide an important boost to self-esteem as well as alleviating loneliness, another way in which animals contribute to heart health. Pet owners who do have heart disease have been found to have higher survival rates.

Increasingly, animals are finding work helping people with chronic conditions, including mental health issues. "Seeing-eye dogs"—guide dogs for the visually impaired—are perhaps the most famous type of service animal, but there are actually a number of conditions for which dogs and other animals can be trained to provide assistance. Dogs have been shown to help with depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even pain.

Chocolate And Health

Possibly one of the greatest inventions in culinary history, chocolate possibly seems to have health benefits over and beyond spreading happiness. In fact, perhaps counter-intuitively, dark chocolate has he power to help fight obesity and type 2 diabetes. The key is a type of antioxidant—a compound that helps prevent certain kinds of cell damage—called a flavonol, in particular flavonols of a type referred to as "oligomeric procyanidins." In a study, these flavonols helped keep weight down even in experimental specimens given diets high in fat. Preventing obesity is an important part of avoiding type 2 diabetes, but dark chocolate has a direct effect on that as well. The same compounds were found to improve insulin utilization, meaning the body processes glucose more efficiently, avoiding type 2 diabetes.

While the compound was studied in laboratory animals, there is evidence that it works in human beings as well. In particular, teenagers who eat lots of chocolate generally have lower levels of body fat than their diets (beyond chocolate) might be expected to lead to. Adolescents in Europe who reported on surveys high levels of chocolate consumption were found to have lower BMIs and smaller waists regardless of how much exercise the were getting. An earlier study had found similar results among adults, that regular chocolate-eaters are leaner than those who indulge only rarely. The teen years, however, are where eating habits often develop, and overall health during that period often has lasting effects.

Researchers say the secret to why chocolate is so healthful is in the stomach. Humans have bacteria called gut microbiota to thank for making chocolate something so beneficial. These bacteria, which line the intestinal tract and other parts of the digestive system, play a vital role in digestion in general, and some of them eat chocolate. When they do, they ferment it, seizing on the sugars and producing anti-inflammatory chemicals. The also make it possible for the flavonols to be digested.

The anti-inflammatory compounds mean dark chocolate is also good for hear health. These chemicals make the blood vessels wider and more flexible, and preventing blood cells from adhering to the walls, lowering stroke risk.

Metabolic Syndrome And Diabetes

"Metabolic syndrome" is a medical term referring to a confluence of symptoms that may not always cause distress themselves but that do indicate poor health and a dangerously high risk of other, serious problems later on. The syndrome occurs when someone is obese and has high blood pressure, high blood glucose, or a poor cholesterol profile. In particular, "central obesity," when fat is carried in the abdomen, is a diagnostic criterion. Elevated blood glucose itself indicates a diabetes precursor called insulin resistance. The relevant factors of the cholesterol profile ae triglycerides—high in metabolic syndrome—and HDL cholesterol, low in patients with the condition.

There is strong evidence of a genetic component to the risk of metabolic syndrome, meaning someone with a family history of the condition or of any of the diseases for which it is a risk factor should be careful, but there are a number of risk factors that can be controlled. Diet and exercise are factors; people who eat poorly—foods high in sugar or fat—and a sedentary lifestyle raise the risk of the condition the latter in women especially. People with certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or sleep apnea, are especially prone to metabolic syndrome as well.

Because of the insulin connection, people with metabolic syndrome are likely to get type 2 diabetes. Many people with metabolic syndrome have what is called insulin resistance, wherein the body produces insulin normally but the cells are unable to respond to it properly, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. This is a factor in the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, but it is also a factor in the diagnosis of diabetes, the symptoms of which result from too much glucose in the blood. People with metabolic syndrome are also prone to getting heart disease.

The most common recommendation for people who have or are at risk of metabolic syndrome is to loose weight and exercise more—to address the causative factors of obesity and high blood pressure. It is particularly important for older people and people with a hereditary risk of the condition. A recent study found that eating a healthy breakfast can help avoid cravings for high fat foods later in the day, and help ward off metabolic syndrome.

Tuberculosis And The Heart

In 2012, more than one and a quarter million people died from a condition often considered a relic of the past: tuberculosis. Tuberculosis infections reached a low at the later part of the last century, but rose again with the spread of AIDS—it is one of the most common opportunistic infections—and the development of drug resistant strains of the bacterium.

Researchers estimate that one in three people in the world has the TB bacterium but does not have the disease; these people have what is known as latent TB, which is not contagious. Even when it is contagious, catching it, especially from brief contact with a stranger, is difficult. long term close contact is needed for it to spread. HIV is the biggest risk factor, with one in eight TB sufferers being HIV-positive. Smokers, malnourished people, and alcoholics are also at risk. TB susceptibility is also a side effect of certain medications.

People with tuberculosis cough up mucus or blood, get chills and fever, poor appetite and weight loss, fatigue, and night sweats Left untreated, tuberculosis can cause major complications, whether or not it ends up being fatal itself. The disease can get into the brain, resulting in meningitis, or it can spread to other organs ans disrupt their functioning. Tuberculosis that spreads from the lungs to the heart can result in a fatal condition known as cardiac tamponade, in which fluid accumulates in the area around the heart, compressing it.

Recent research has found that tuberculosis survives and spreads by taking advantage of the very mechanisms intended to shut it down and destroy it. The initial immune response to a tuberculosis infection is to isolate the bacteria in what are called granulomas. The body then extends blood vessels into these granulomas. The bacteria use these blood vessels, first, to get enough oxygen to survive, and then to escape the granulomas holding them and spread within the body. This may be what causes TB to go from latent to active. A medical approach based on preventing this blood vessel growth is being explored as a potential treatment for tuberculosis.

Preventing Heart Disease

Heart health is an important topic for people to understand. Unfortunately , many people don’t have a clear understanding of the most important things they need to know to keep themselves safe. Three fourths of people underestimate their risk of dying from the most common killer of both men and women in the United States. Worse, many people hold erroneous beliefs about so-called preventative measures that actually have no effect.

For example, fish oil is often touted as preventing heart disease, even though that is not one of the meany health benefits. Many people also have an oversimplified impression of the role family history holds in heat disease risk, believing there is a simple genetic disposition when the reality is far more complex.

Despite these misunderstandings, heart disease, while still the number one killer, has been declining over the last half century in the developed world, while on the rise in poorer countries over the same time period. In part, this increase is a result of the success that has been had in lowering infant mortality and fatal childhood diseases in those countries; as more people are living to adulthood, more people are living long enough to get heart disease, which is far more common in people over 60. However, the lifestyle factors that lead to heart disease start in childhood, and people everywhere could benefit from better education in avoiding it.

Avoiding heart disease often means lifestyle changes, but nothing that is onerous for most people. Quitting smoking is one of the healthiest things a person can do, and an ex-smoker’s risk of heart disease returns to normal in less than a year. Women on hormonal birth control need to be particularly wary of smoking. Getting regular exercise—half an hour, or even ten minutes, four or five days a week can provide enormous benefits. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding red meat and other sources of saturated fat, is another change that will improve heart health.

It is especially important for people with known risk factors for heart disease, such as being over age 60, a family history of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stress, or high blood pressure.

Stroke And Judgement

When blood carrying oxygen cannot properly get to the brain, it’s called a stroke. It is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. People who lead sedentary lifestyles, are overweight, or have high cholesterol are likely to get strokes. Stroke often affects people with type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, or cardiovascular disease. Tobacco smoke constricts the blood vessels and makes stroke more likely. Other risk factors are not about lifestyle in the same way. These fixed factors include being male, being over 55, being black, and having a family history of stroke or heart attack. People who have had a stroke already are more likely to have another, and should be especially careful.

Stroke, naturally, affects brain functioning. In particular, a stroke means a small portion of the brain is destroyed—how small a portion depends in part on how quickly someone with a stroke is able to get treatment. Often—though not always—stroke survivors experience some cognitive deficit after the incident. Now scientists have found that the reverse is also true: people with dementia or cognitive impairment may be at higher risk of stroke. The exact reason for this is unclear. It may be that both cognitive impairment and stroke are the result of cardiovascular problems. It is known that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the same risk factors as type 2 diabetes, both of which have been linked with obesity.

Another thing stroke has been shown to effect is moral judgment. This has long been suspected—the stereotype of the elderly person who shows no signs of dementia but has no filter and is uninhibited—but actual evidence has been scant. now a study has quantified that. The researchers found that people who have survived strokes are less likely to punish people for bad intentions, provided those intentions were not realized, than people who have not had strokes. Study subjects were asked to evaluate the behavior of the protagonist in each of four scenarios: not causing harm, accidentally causing harm, a failed attempt to cause harm, and intentionally causing harm. The stroke patients were more forgiving in the third scenario than patients with no damage to the brain.

Cancer Of The Heart

Although it’s not often mentioned, cancer can affect the heart. While most heart tumors, already a rare occurrence, are benign, malignant tumors can occur. The reason it isn’t often mentioned is that it isn’t often encountered. In one study, looking at more than 12,000 autopsies, only seven primary cardiac tumors were found. The Mayo Clinic, a leading medical center in Minnesota, sees about one case of heart cancer per year, and their website mentions heart cancer only in connection with its rarity. Sometimes cancer in other parts of the chest can spread to the heart, but that too is rare. It is fatal in very rare cases—it was cancer of the heart that killed one-time KISS drummer Eric Carr, as well as Catherine of Aragon some 450 years earlier.

When the heart does develop malignant tumors, whether primary or secondary, it can affect blood flow. In particular it stiffens the heart muscles, a condition called cardiac fibrosis, which means the heart has to work harder to pump blood. The tumors can also block the flow of blood through the heart or damage the heart valves. If the valves are seriously damaged by advanced-stage cardiac cancer, they may need to be replaced, but by this time, the cancer itself is likely terminal.

Because heart cancer is so rare, it is poorly studied compared to other forms of cancer. That means there’s no clear idea of risk factors specific to cardiac cancer, and know recommended course of treatment beyond those used for cancers by default. Unfortunately, treatments carry their own dangers. Radiation therapy used on or near the heart can also damage the heart muscle, and chemotherapy drugs can also be harmful. Radiotherapy also increases the risk of coronary artery disease.

Another consequence of the rarity of cardiac cancer is that it is difficult to detect. This is partly because it is so seldom diagnosed that few tests have been developed for it, and partly because it is so unusual that doctors do not typically expect to find it or think to look for it right away. However, researchers are developing universal blood tests that will enable screening for multiple forms of cancer, including the rare and unusual.

Magical Metformin?

The drug metformin is given to patients who have type 2 diabetes, but until recently, no one knew exactly how it worked. What they did know was that it doesn’t affect blood sugar directly, instead helping insulin in the body to work properly. That is, metformin does nothing to directly lower blood glucose. Rather, it interacts with insulin in a way that means the insulin gets used properly, and the insulin, restored to full function as long as the drug is effective, lowers glucose levels, as it is supposed to do. Now researchers have discovered the mechanism by which metformin performs this feat. The drug works in the liver, where it suppresses fatty tissue.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease—which occurs, as the name suggests, when fat deposits collect in the liver other than as a result of alcohol consumption—is generally caused by obesity, and has been implicated in the development of type 2 diabetes. The damaged liver is less efficient at using insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Metformin attacks these fatty deposits, eroding them and letting the liver better do its job.

In the wake of this discovery, researchers are taking a closer look at what other tricks metformin might be able to perform. In one study, metformin had a beneficial effect on the weights of obese children who ate healthy diets and followed an exercise plan. While diet and exercise played a large role. the metformin helped enhance the effectiveness of these interventions. Metformin is given to children over age ten with type 2 diabetes, but is not officially used for non-diabetic children. The study confirmed what doctors prescribing metformin off-label had already recognized, that the drug helps children lose weight, though the study found the effect was small in the long term.

Another line of investigation did not pan out at all. A research team in the Netherlands gave metformin to heart attack survivors who were not diabetic. People who have the specific sort of myocardial infarction the test subjects had experienced often develop heart dysfunction. The researchers thought metformin might have properties that could prevent this dysfunction. Sadly, in the study, patients who were taking metformin fared no better than those who were not. However, metformin is still being studied to see what else it may be able to do.