Tag Archives: cardiovascular

Unprocessed plant-based food keeps your heart healthier at any age

Basing your meals on unprocessed plant-based foods is healthy for your heart at any age, according to a duo of studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Image credits Arek Socha.

Eating meals rich in unprocessed plants, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils, is a good way to keep your heart healthy all throughout your life. New research says that eating such diets in young adulthood is associated with lower risks of developing cardiovascular disease in midlife.

Eat your veggies

“Earlier research was focused on single nutrients or single foods, yet there is little data about a plant-centered diet and the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Yuni Choi, Ph.D., lead author of one of the studies and a postdoctoral researcher in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.

The paper looked at the occurrence of heart disease in 4,946 adults, all of whom were enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. All participants were aged 18 to 30 at the time of enrollment in the study, were free of cardiovascular disease, and were also analyzed by education level (equivalent to more than high school vs. high school or less). The sample included 2,509 black adults and 2,437 white adults, and 54.9% of participants were women.

Each participant had eight follow-up exams between the enrollment period (1985-1986) and the study’s end (2015-16), which included lab tests, physical measurements, as well as assessments of their medical histories and lifestyle factors. The participants were not instructed to change their habits in any way, such as being told to include or exclude certain items from their diets, and were not told their scores on the diet measures during the trial, so as not to influence the outcome.

The quality of each participant’s diet was scored based on the A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS) composed of 46 food groups at years 0, 7 and 20 of the study. The food groups were classified into beneficial (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains), neutral (such as potatoes, refined grains, lean meats, and shellfish), and adverse (fried potatoes, high-fat red meat, salty snacks, pastries, and soft drinks) based on what we know of their relationship to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Under this methodology, higher scores were indicative of diets that more heavily revolved around nutritionally rich plant-based items.

Based on the data from this study, two papers measured how healthy plant food consumption influences cardiovascular health, in young adults or postmenopausal women. Both of these groups saw benefits, the papers report, as members of both were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease when they ate more healthy plant foods.

During the 32-year follow-up period, 289 participants developed cardiovascular disease (including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, heart-related chest pain or clogged arteries anywhere in the body). However, those who scored in the top 20% on the long-term diet quality score were 52% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, after controlling for factors such as age, sex, education, and a host of other relevant factors. Those who improved their diet score the most between 25 to 50 years old were 61% less likely to develop subsequent cardiovascular disease compared to those whose quality of diet declined between the same ages.

The team notes that the study included very few participants who were vegetarians, so the study didn’t record the effects of strict vegetarianism (which excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs) on cardiovascular health, but are representative of general dietary habits.

“A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian,” Choi said. “People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs and low-fat dairy.”

That being said, the study is observational. In other words, it can show that certain dietary habits are correlated to certain health outcomes, but it can’t say for sure that one causes the the other. Still, the findings are relevant for all of us, and it’s better to err on the side of caution. So maybe help yourself to some extra veggies and greens during your next lunch break.

The first paper “Relationship Between a Plant‐Based Dietary Portfolio and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Findings From the Women’s Health Initiative Prospective Cohort Study” has been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The second paper “Plant‐Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease During Young to Middle Adulthood” has been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Better diets could save billions in U.S. health care costs

Healthier diets could save the US around $50 billion in healthcare costs annually, according to a new study.

Image credits Ylanite Koppens.

Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of poor health, as they promote the development of cardiometabolic diseases (CMDs) such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. A new study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers estimates that unhealthy diets can account for 45% of all CMD-related deaths in the US, leading to a national healthcare burden of around $50 billion nationally.

Fooding the bill

“There is a lot to be gained in terms of reducing risk and cost associated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by making relatively simple changes to one’s diet,” said corresponding author Thomas Gaziano, MD, MSc, of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Brigham. “Our study indicates that the foods we purchase at the grocery store can have a big impact. I was surprised to see a reduction of as much as 20 percent of the costs associated with these cardiometabolic diseases.”

In collaboration with researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the team looked at the impact of 10 dietary factors — fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, polyunsaturated fats, seafood omega-3 fats, and sodium — on one’s diet on annual CMD-related health costs.

Towards this end, they used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), to create a representative U.S. population sample of individuals aged between 35 and 85 years old. Then, using a model they developed, the team analyzed how the individual risk of CMDs shift based on the dietary patterns of respondents to the NHANES study. Finally, they calculated what the overall CMD-related costs would be if everyone followed an optimal diet in relation to the 10 factors.

They conclude that suboptimal diets cost around $301 per person per year, for a total of over $50 billion nationally. The team explains that this sum represents 18% of all heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes costs in the United States. Costs were highest for those with Medicare ($481/person) and those who were eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid ($536/person).

The consumption of processed meats and low consumption of nuts, seeds, and omega-3 fat foodstuffs (such as seafood) were the highest drivers of CMD risks and additional costs, the team explains.

“We have accumulating evidence […] to support policy changes focused on improving health at a population level. One driver for those changes is identifying the exorbitant economic burden associated with chronic disease caused by our poor diets,” said co-senior author Renata Micha of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.

“This study provides additional evidence that those costs are unacceptable. While individuals can and do make changes, we need innovative new solutions — incorporating policy makers, the agricultural and food industry, healthcare organizations, and advocacy/non-profit organizations — to implement changes to improve the health of all Americans.”

The results of this study may underestimate the total cost of unhealthy diets, the team explains, as it can contribute to other health complications aside from CMDs. Additionally, other factors beyond the 10 used in this study could drive health risks and costs, they add. Finally, the NHANES study relied on self-reported data — participants were asked to recall what they ate in the past 24 hours — which isn’t very reliable.

The paper “Cardiometabolic disease costs associated with suboptimal diet in the United States: A cost analysis based on a microsimulation model” has been published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

People aged 70 and over who exercise regularly have the bodies of 40-year-olds

Working out really is the fountain of youth, a new study finds.

It’s been shown time and time again that working out regularly does wonders for your health, as well as your mind. It’s good for your heart, your weight, your mood, for pretty much your entire body. Yet, even so, the scale of the difference that exercising can make is still surprising. Case in point, a recent study has found that exercising regularly can make your body 30 years younger.

The study compared active 70-year-olds to sedentary people aged around 40. The first group exercised about five days a week for about seven hours in total. In terms of heart, lung and muscle fitness — the two groups were quite similar in most regards.

“‘Exercise wins’ is the take-home message,” said Scott Trappe, director of Ball State’s Human Performance Laboratory and leader of the 11-person research team. “We saw that people who exercise regularly year after year have better overall health. These 75-year-olds—men and women—have similar cardiovascular health to a 40- to 45-year-old.”

The results were so impressive they even took researchers by surprise. It’s estimated that on average, VO2 max, the ability to process oxygen (one of the key indices of overall fitness, which was analyzed in the study) declines by about 10% per decade. The two studied groups were three decades apart, so the contrast should have been quite sizeable — but it wasn’t.

However, it should be noted that the 70-year-old group was comprised of lifelong exercisers — people who have, more or less, maintained an active lifestyle all throughout their life. Researchers were quite worried that they wouldn’t be able to find sufficient participants.

“When we started this project, I didn’t know if we’d find enough of these lifelong exercisers, and once we got into it, I was signing up for local races and introducing myself,” he said. “But then what would happen is they would recruit—they’d bring in their training buddies. We had a husband and wife team who rode a tandem bicycle together. They’ve ridden 4,000 to 5,000 miles together outdoors since the mid-1980s. There’s tons of people like this out there.”

Still, it’s never too late to start exercising, researchers emphasize — it always makes a difference. Even something as simple as walking or trekking can be very rewarding, Trappe says. But while younger adults can easily handle more intense exercise, older people should be a bit more careful with what they choose to do.

“If you want to put 30 to 45 minutes of walking in one day, the amount of health benefit you are going to get from that is going to be significant and substantial,” he said. “Will it equal the person training for competitive performances? No. But, it will outdo the couch potato. In basic terms, 30 to 45 minutes of any type of exercise a day is beneficial.”

Journal Reference: Kevin J. Gries et al. Cardiovascular and skeletal muscle health with lifelong exercise, Journal of Applied Physiology (2018). DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00174.2018


3 out of 4 black adults have cardiovascular problems by the age of 55

Cardiovascular health problems continue to disproportionately affect black people — a new study found that over 75% of black people aged 55 and more develop high blood pressure.

Researchers first identified 3,890 participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study who enrolled in the study between the ages of 18 to 30 years without high blood pressure. They tracked these people until they were 55 and over, finding that:

  • 75.5 percent of black men,
  • 75.7 percent of black women,
  • 54.5 percent of white men, and
  • 40.0 percent of white women developed high blood pressure.

The racial disparity is very significant and is consistent with what previous studies have found — black people, both men and women, suffer from heart problems much more than whites.

“Regardless of blood pressure levels in young adulthood, blacks have a substantially higher risk for developing high blood pressure compared with whites through 55 years of age,” said S. Justin Thomas, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It is urgent that healthcare providers counsel young patients, particularly blacks, about eating a healthy diet, being physically active and controlling body weight. The risk of high blood pressure can be significantly reduced with a healthy lifestyle.”

As expected, one of the main factors contributing to high blood pressure was higher body weight. Regardless of race and gender, people with a higher Body Mass Index are more likely to develop cardiovascular problems. Researchers also found that study participants who opted for a DASH-style diet were much less likely to suffer from this type of health issue.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”DASH Diet” footer=””]DASH is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life, increasingly recommended by medical bodies.

The DASH diet is more a set of guidelines than a diet. It recommends:

– Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
– Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils;
– Limiting foods that are high in saturated fats, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and palm oils
– Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.[/panel]

But it’s not all bad. The most important takeaway, researchers say, is that cardiovascular risk can be reduced dramatically through healthy lifestyle changes. It’s important to encourage people of all races to consume healthier foods and be more physically active, but researchers emphasize that these shifts are particularly important in black people.

“It is important to note that most high blood pressure is preventable through lifestyle changes,” said Willie E. Lawrence, Jr. M.D., a spokesman for the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri. “We need to encourage all young people, and especially our young African Americans who are at highest risk, to think about their future health and make choices that will change these statistics.”

Journal Reference: Thomas et al. “Cumulative Incidence of Hypertension by 55 Years of Age in Blacks and Whites: The CARDIA Study.” https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.117.007988

Lead exposure might be responsible for 10 times more premature deaths than previously thought

A new study suggests that lead exposure may be responsible for nearly 10 times more deaths in the United States than previously thought.

Credit: Wikipedia.

Scientists have discovered that nearly 412,000 deaths each year in the US can be attributed to lead contamination. That number is ten times higher than the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle had previously reported.

“Today, lead exposure is much lower because of regulations banning the use of lead in petrol, paints and other consumer products, so the number of deaths from lead exposure will be lower in younger generations. Still, lead represents a leading cause of disease and death, and it is important to continue our efforts to reduce environmental lead exposure,” explained Professor Bruce Lanphear, from Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Lanphear and colleagues estimated that 28.7% of heart disease-related premature deaths in the US could be caused by lead exposure, which comes to a total of 256,000 deaths annually. 

Researchers used data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which monitored 14,289 US adults for 20 years. Of the 4,422 participants who died by 2011, approximately 18% of them could have been saved by reducing blood lead concentrations to 1.0 micrograms per deciliter.

Compared to those with low lead blood concentrations, people with high lead levels (over 6.7 micrograms) had the risk of premature death from any cause increased by 37%, the risk of cardiovascular death increased by 70%, and double the risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

“Our study calls into question the assumption that specific toxicants, like lead, have ‘safe levels’, and suggests that low-level environmental lead exposure is a leading risk factor for premature death in the USA, particularly from cardiovascular disease,” Professor Lanphear said in a statement.

Lead exposure can contribute to cardiovascular disease by various pathways. Lead affects the epithelial cells of the blood vessels, which increases the chances of developing plaques that can then cause a heart attack. Lead contamination also leads to kidney damage, which causes high blood pressure and probably acts synergistically with plaque formation.
Also, if you live near an airport, your blood lead levels will be a little higher than if you live farther away due to the lead found in the aviation gas used in single piston jets.

“Estimating the contribution of low-level lead exposure is essential to understanding trends in cardiovascular disease mortality and developing comprehensive strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease. Currently, low levels of lead exposure are an important, but largely ignored risk factor for deaths from cardiovascular disease,” said Professor Lanphear.

The team admits that the study’s principal limitation is that the research relied heavily on one blood concentration measurement taken at the beginning of the study period, almost 20 years ago.
“Our reliance on a single blood test as opposed to serial blood tests means that we have underestimated the impact of lead exposure on cardiovascular disease,” Lanphear said. “There are some things in the study design itself that we really couldn’t change.”

The team urges the retirement of lead-contaminated housing, lead-laden jet fuels, lead water pipes, and the reduction of emissions from smelters and lead battery facilities.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in reducing these exposures in the past four to five decades,” Lanphear added. “But our blood levels are still 10 to 100 times higher than our pre-industrial ancestors,” Lanphear concludes.

Scientific reference: Bruce Lanphear , Stephen Rauch, Peggy Auinger, Ryan W Allen , Richard W Hornung. Low-level lead exposure and mortality in US adults: a population-based cohort studyThe Lancet Public Health, 2018 DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30025-2

Buy art not cocaine.

Scientists successfully undo cocaine-induced cardiovascular damage in mice

Researchers at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, discovered a potential new pathway to treat the devastating effect of cocaine on the cardiovascular system. They found out that excess levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), molecules known to be found in the aortas of hypertensive animals and humans, are also involved in cocaine-related cardiovascular disease.

Buy art not cocaine.

Image credits Dave O / Flickr.

ROS are a type of unstable molecules that contain oxygen and rapidly react with other chemical molecules in a cell. An excess of reactive oxygen species inside cells may cause DNA, RNA, and protein damage, and can lead to cell death.

Scientists discovered that cocaine activates the molecule microRNA (miR)-30c-5p, increasing ROS levels in the circulatory system. The team also found that by blocking the activation of miR-30c-5p, they could dramatically reduce damage to the cardiovascular system.

“The biggest surprise to us was that the modulation of a single miRNA-mRNA pathway could have such a profound effect on cardiovascular function,” says Chunming Dong, M.D., study senior author and professor of medicine at the University of Miami.

“This also suggests that targeting this one pathway may have significant therapeutic benefit, which is an exciting possibility.”

The team performed their research using mice. They injected the animals with cocaine and assessed their circulatory health: the mice had high blood pressure, excess levels of ROS, and stiff blood vessels. All these are markers of cardiovascular disease. Researchers also observed a buildup in the miR-30c-5p molecule. When scientists administered cocaine but treated the mice with antioxidants, they managed to inhibit the excessive accumulation of miR-30c-5p and the mice showed no changes in blood pressure, vessel elasticity, or ROS levels.

Doctor Dong says that this is the first study to identify the role of miR-30c-5p in cocaine-related cardiovascular disease. He also notes that the study has some limitations due to the fact that the experiments were only conducted on mice. His research team plans to examine human patients as well, to see if this targeted pathway is viable.

The paper was published in the journal Hypertension, on February 26, 2018.

Eating food rich in protein can boost cardiovascular health as much as exercise or quitting smoking

A new study from researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) looks at how eating foods rich in amino acids could benefit your cardiovascular health and finds surprising link between protein intake and cardiovascular health.

Several amino acids from animal protein were found to reduce blood vessel stiffness.
Image via nutritionstudies

“This research shows a protective effect of several amino acids on cardiovascular health,” said lead researcher Dr Amy Jennings, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

The results reveal that people who eat high levels of certain amino acids found in meat and plant-based protein have lower blood pressure and show less arterial stiffness, directly translating to higher levels of cardiovascular health. The magnitude of the association is similar to those previously reported for lifestyle risk factors including salt intake, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking.

“The really surprising thing that we found is that amino acid intake has as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as salt intake, physical activity and alcohol consumption. For arterial stiffness, the association was similar to the magnitude of change previously associated with not smoking,” she added.

Researchers investigated the effect of seven different amino acids on levels of cardiovascular health among almost 2,000 women with a healthy BMI. Data came from TwinsUK — the biggest UK adult twin registry of 12,000 twins which is used to study the genetic and environmental causes of age related disease. Researchers also looked at their diet and compared it to clinical measures of blood pressure and blood vessel thickness and rigidity or stiffness.

The findings strongly suggest that those who consumed the highest amounts of amino acids had lower measures of both.

And those found in plant proteins led to healthier levels of blood pressure.
Image via samaengineering

Researchers also concluded that the food source was important – it seems that a higher intake of amino acids from plant protein resulted in lower blood pressure, while those from animal sources led to lower levels of arterial stiffness.

“We studied seven amino acids — arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine, and tyrosine. Glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine are found in animal sources, and a higher intake was associated with lower levels of arterial stiffness. All seven amino acids, and particularly those from plant-based sources, were associated with lower blood pressure.”

The team strongly advises that we include these beneficial sources of protein in our diet – just as long as we don’t overdo it.

“High blood pressure is one of the most potent risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. A reduction in blood pressure leads to a reduction in mortality caused by stroke or coronary heart disease — so changing your diet could help both prevent and treat the condition.”

“Increasing intake from protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy produce, beans, lentils, broccoli and spinach could be an important and readily achievable way to reduce people’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Beneficial daily amounts equate to a 75g portion of steak, a 100g salmon fillet or a 500ml glass of skimmed milk,” she added.


Red meat might be passport to untimely death

A major study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, which involved 110.000 people, concluded that eating as little as two pieces of pork per day or one hot dog can raise the mortality rates of mortality by 20%, while showing that substituting red meat with other sources of protein, such as fish, chicken or vegetables can lower mortality rates.

“Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies,” said lead author An Pan, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.

Just one daily serving of unprocessed red meat (no bigger than a deck of cards) was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, while one daily serving of processed meat (like a hot dog or 2 strips of bacon) raised that risk to 20%. The study also took into consideration the age, body mass index, physical activity, and family history of heart disease or major cancers of the patients and includes them in calculating the increase in mortality rates.

Replacing one serving of meat with one source of healthier protein would lower the mortality rates as follows: 7 percent for fish, 14 percent for poultry, 19 percent for nuts, 10 percent for legumes, 10 percent for low-fat dairy products, and 14 percent for whole grains. Researchers estimated that 9.3 percent of male deaths and 7.6 percent of female deaths could have been prevented if they had consumed less than 0.5 servings of red meat per day.

“This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” said Hu. “On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality.”

Via The Harvard Gazette

Picturing yourself aging well may change your life

As you probably know (but may very well choose to ignore), ageism is going rampant throughout virtually every civilized country in the world, and this is by no means a casual thing, but it’s quite systematic, regardless of sex. What’s even worse, even old people think the least about themselves in terms of intelligence, competence and overall abilities. It’s hard to say if this is because of the world around them or because when they were younger, they believed it too.

But as a recent study conducted by Becca Levy and Martin D. Slade of the Yale School of Public Health, along with Alan B. Zonderman and Luigi Ferrucci from the National Institute on Aging Intramural Research Program pointed out, those who believe in those stereotypes tend to fulfill them, and this doesn’t affect just the elder. As it turns out, young, healthy, “ageist” people have an increased risk of heart disease along the years.

They analyzed several hundreds of people who have been studied for decades; when these volunteers signed up more than 40 years ago, they were required to give out informations about themselves and share some thought on several topics. Researchers found a striking link between ageism at a younger age and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and this diseases could not be explained by any risk factors (that include smoking, depression, genetic traits, cholesterol, etc).

When scientists drew the line and added, what they found out was quite simple: embracing stereotypes about old people at a young age could have far reached implications for your health. This is the first study about people growing into the same people they have disdain for.