Tag Archives: heart health

Safe and Natural ways to Prevent Heart Disease

Yesterday we brought you a blog on which cholesterol tests you should add to the standard lipid panel.  Today we tell you what to do about them.  The best part?  The solutions are natural, safe and effective.  Enjoy!

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Protecting Yourself from Heart Disease – Video blog

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans.  Find out how to properly assess your risk and what tests you should be having done.

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Activity or Exercise? Do you know the difference?

Spacious Gym Floor Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs

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Exercise is the key to staying healthy.  Studies show that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle because it reduces heart disease, cancer, depression, stroke and dementia to name just a few.  However, I find that most people do not know what exercise really is.  All too often they confuse it with activity.  Exercise and activity are cousins, but they are not the same thing.

In all of my new patient appointments I ask each person about their exercise habits.  Some people truly exercise, but the vast majority get no regular exercise. Still others think they exercise when in fact they are just active.  What’s the difference?

First, let me say that being active is without a doubt better than being a couch potato. However, it does not substitute for regular exercise.

So what exactly do I mean? Doesn’t being active mean I exercise? Not necessarily.

Here are the two scenarios I hear in my office the most.

The first is the busy mother of a small child.  Routinely they tell me, “I don’t need to exercise, I chase my small child around all day and pick him up and put him down.  That’s plenty of exercise.” Unfortunately that’s incorrect.  This person is active, but does not exercise and cannot possibly gain the benefits of exercise by looking after a small child.  Unless this mother is repeatedly picking up and putting down their child and squatting down over and over in a short period of time to do so and their heart rate is significantly elevated while doing so, they are not exercising.

Now, I understand that caring for a small child is tiring, but so is sitting at the library and doing research. Activities that make us tired do not always qualify as exercise.

The second scenario I hear most often in response to my question of exercise habits is actually one of two things; people will say, “I walk a few times per week,” or “I like to garden on the weekend.” Both of these again, are activities.  Very few people walk fast enough or the distances required for walking to be considered exercise.  I have one patient in particular who actually does walk far and fast enough for it to be exercise, but that’s a rarity.  Gardening will never be considered exercise.  Again, it may be tiring but two things disqualify it as exercise.  First, it does not increase the heart rate enough and second it is not done with enough regularity to be exercise.

Again, I want to stress that being active is a great start and is far superior to sitting on the couch and watching television.  But it’s just that – a start.

Exercise is something that drives heart rate, builds muscle and changes body composition. It should be done with regularity – at least 3 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

I would ask you to consider this question; If you are a person who falls into one of the above scenarios and believe your lifestyle creates an environment in which you do not need to exercise because you are active consider this.

Are you happy with the results?

Are you tired and/or overweight despite chasing your small child around all day or gardening on the weekend?

If you answered no to the first question and yes to the second you should consider changing your point of view on what you consider exercise.

Remember, activity is a good thing. However, it is not exercise and cannot be used as a substitute.  I would encourage you to make time to exercise even if you are busy and active.  It will only help you in the end.

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Mummies had heart disease

An Egyptian mummy kept in the Vatican Museums.

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Even the ancient Egyptians had heart disease.  I’m not sure why this is such a surprise, but the researchers who conducted the study seemed to be very surprised.

Traditional medical thinking on heart disease goes like this; heart disease is caused by eating too much fat, mainly from meat, and a sedentary lifestyle.  That’s basically it.  Yes, there are other risk factors to take into consideration like smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc, but talk to your average medical doctor and they will tell you that eating high levels of animal fat coupled with too much TV is a recipe for disaster.

I couldn’t disagree more and this new study confirms my thoughts.  I agree that lack of exercise is a big issue with heart health.  That one is not debatable.  I also agree that smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes are big players.  I disagree that eating too much animal fat is a problem.

Dr. Greg Thomas is part of a team of scientists that recently discovered the earliest known case of atherosclerosis — clogged arteries — in ancient Egyptian mummies.

Dr. Thomas said, “Our hypothesis was that they wouldn’t have [heart disease], because they were active, their diet was much different, they didn’t have tobacco.”

One of the mummies the team scanned was a princess in her 40s, who presumably ate fresh food and wasn’t sedentary. “That she would have atherosclerosis,” Thomas says, “I think we’re missing a risk factor.”

According to scientists the ancient Egyptians had access to meat, but not a lot of it.  Their diet consisted mainly of fruits, vegetables and grain.

Perhaps the problem isn’t meat.  I would contend that a diet high in grains, as is the case with the pharaohs, could lead to atherosclerosis.  Grains are high in the inflammatory group of fatty acids called omega-6.  Meats are also high in omega-6s.  The difference? When grains are consumed the hormone insulin is secreted which funnels all of the omega-6s in that meal into a very potent pro-inflammatory pathway.  It is this inflammation that leads to heart disease.  When one consumes animal fat no insulin is secreted thereby allowing those omega-6s to actually be driven into a protective and anti-inflammatory pathway.

I also have a problem with the assumption that a princess in ancient Egypt was not sedentary.  If you look throughout history, the upper class has been historically, well, lazy.  They’ve had slaves, servants and serfs to do everything for them.

The combination of low activity levels and a diet high in grain leads people to be unhealthy.  A person does not need to be overweight to be unhealthy either.  There are plenty of people in this country who are considered to be ‘healthy’ in terms of body weight but are actually not very healthy at all.

In my opinion, the fact that an ancient Egyptian princess had atherosclerosis is not earth shattering.  Human physiology has not changed over the last 2,000+ years.  A diet that is high in grains, whole or otherwise, will lead to a pro-inflammatory state.  This pro-inflammatory state will lead to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s to name a few.

If you want to avoid heart disease, or any other inflammatory disease for that matter, make sure grains are a smaller part of your diet.  Get your carbohydrates from fruits like berries and eat plenty of vegetables.  Make sure you consume plenty of protein as well.  Eat the diet of our ancestors from 10,000 years ago not 2,000.  That’s before human beings learned to cultivate grain, mill it and refine it.  Once that happened, as was the case in ancient Egypt, inflammatory diseases began to rise including atherosclerosis.

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Genes, Alzheimer’s Disease and Your Choice

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

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New genes have been discovered that seem to be linked to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).  AD currently affects over 5 million Americans and that number is expected to increase substantially by the year 2029.

This year the first baby boomers will reach their 65th birthdays. By 2029, all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old.  Ninety-five percent of all AD is in people 65 and older.

The discovery of new genes linked to AD is a step in the right direction.  Every bit of information that help scientists unlock the mystery of why this occurs puts us closer to being able to effectively treat AD.

Let’s pretend that we know every gene that is involved in the production of AD.  Let’s also pretend a test that exists to specifically detect all of these genes in you.  Would you want to find out?  What would you do if you had all of the genes linked to AD?

The truth of it is, there is nothing you could do to change your genes.  Your genes are your genes.  They are there and you can’t remove them.  What you can do, however, is change how they are expressed.  Just because a person has a specific gene does not mean it has to be expressed.  The expression of many of our genes is closely related to our environment.  Diet, exercise, smoking, pollution and stress are just a few things that can negatively or positively affect the expression of our genes.

So back to my first question.  What would you do if you had all the genes linked to AD?  You can’t change your genes, but you can change your risk factors.

There are many known risk factor that increase the risk of AD, independent of your genetic potential.  The number one risk is aging.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about that.  We are all going to get older which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is much better than the alternative!

Known risk factors for AD that are controllable are as follows:

You will notice that these risk factors significantly overlap with one another.  You will also notice that when you control one risk factor you will impact another.  If you can control these risk factors in your life you will significantly reduce your risk of developing AD regardless of your genetic potential.
Cardiovascular health is perhaps the most important.  Cardiovascular disease causes a chronic, low grade reduction in blood delivery to the brain.  This is known as hypoperfusion.  This hypoperfusion is responsible for protein synthesis defects that later result in the classic AD neurodegenerative lesions.

To keep your cardiovascular system as healthy as possible make sure you eat an anti-inflammatory diet and exercise.  Fish oil is also something you should consider.  Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality better than any other substance known.

Reduction of high blood pressure is also very important.  When blood pressure is too high it fuels a kind of scarring linked to later development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.  Controlling your blood pressure is actually very simple.  You must maintain a healthy weight first and foremost.  This, of course, means diet and exercise.  Increasing waistlines mean more tissue and blood vessels for your heart to push blood through. This puts a strain on the heart and increases the resistance the heart must push against.

Keeping a healthy cholesterol profile is essential.  However, the traditional tests from your doctor are probably not enough to tell whether you are at risk or not.  Traditional tests examine total cholesterol, HDL (“good”), LDL (“bad”) and triglycerides.  These are of some value, but they don’t tell the whole story.  What you must find out is the particle size.  In a nut shell, large and buoyant molecules of cholesterol are not as problematic as small and dense particles.  Your traditional test does not distinguish between the two.  Your traditional test might look very good, but a more advanced test may show that you are still very much at risk.  See my blog entry from last summer for more detailed information.

Diabetes is also extremely important to control.  Some references are referring to Alzheimer’s as Type III diabetes because of the biochemical similarities. Even being borderline diabetic raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia by 70%!  Diabetes’ hallmark is high blood sugar.  This high blood sugar leads to a phenomenon called advanced glycation end products or AGEs.  AGEs adversely affect the structure and function of proteins. In combination with oxidative stress brain function is easily affected.  Advanced glycation end products have been found to be much more prevalent in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients than in healthy controls. This process begins early on in the course of Alzheimer’s and there is also evidence that AGEs assist in the formation of plaques seen in AD.  Diet and exercise are the best ways to prevent diabetes and reduce your risk of AD.

While the study for a purely genetic link to AD will continue, a cure is likely many years away if one can even be found.  What we can control, however, are our lifestyle choices that activate our genes.  If we choose poorly, we are much more likely to activate unfavorable genes that cause disease.  If we choose wisely, we are more likely to activate genes that are favorable and reduce our risk of further disease.  The choice is yours.  Make the right one.

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Common Pain Killers Increase Stroke Risk

Medicine Drug Pills on Plate

The news on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs just keeps getting worse and worse.  Just a month ago I posted about how this class of drugs was associated with an increased risk of heart problems.  Now a Danish study has found that these drugs are associated with an increased risk of stroke.

This class of drugs known as NSAIDs are used mainly as pain killers.  They are also used to effectively reduce fevers.  They are available over the counter and are used by millions upon millions of Americans every day.  This new

study finds that even short-term use of these drugs leads to an increased risk of having a stroke in the future.  What’s even scarier is that they studied a healthy population.

In many instances these types of studies are done on people with already existing conditions that make it difficult to assess whether the increased risk is associated with a person’s previously existing condition or the medication.  Not this time.

Over 500,000 healthy Danish people were included in this study.  The authors used a prescription registry to track which of these people were prescribed an NSAID.  About 45% of them took an NSAID from 1997-2005.  They then used stroke data from further hospitalization and death registries and estimated the risk of fatal and nonfatal stroke associated with the use of NSAIDs.

Results showed that NSAID use was associated with an increased risk of stroke. This increased risk ranged from about 30% with ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) to 86% with diclofenac (Voltaren). The data were controlled for age, gender, and socioeconomic status.

They noted that there was a dose dependent relationship as well.  With doses over 200mg of ibuprofen the risk increased by a staggering 90%!  This is quite problematic as the base dose for over the counter ibuprofen is 200mg.  Millions of Americans take much more than that on a daily basis.

The authors of the study were not terribly surprised by the data considering the recent studies that have surfaced regarding the negative effects these medications seem to have on the cardiovascular system.  They did say it is hard to make absolute conclusions because no randomized controlled studies exist to date.  In light of this most recent evidence I doubt you will ever get an institutional review board to approve such a study because the risk seems to be too high.

The author also stated that in Denmark the availability of NSAIDs over the counter is relatively low compared to the United States. He stressed the need for closer monitoring of these drugs.

He also said, “If half the population takes these drugs, even on an occasional basis, then this could be responsible for a 50% to 100% increase in stroke risk. It is an enormous effect.”

In my opinion, we need to regulate these drugs as closely as possible.  If one were to watch the evening news you would see these drugs being advertised as health food practically.  It is studies like these that make it abundantly clear  they are not without risk.

Options abound for people who take these on a regular basis for mild to moderate pain.  Exercise and diet are a great start.  Reducing the use of NSAIDs would likely have a very positive effect on the cost of health care in the U.S. We need all the help we can get in that department.

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Coca-Cola and Heart Health? Precisely why America is the least healthy industrialized country.

Coca-Cola has partnered with The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to sponsor a heart health awareness program.  The main sponsor happens to be Diet Coke which on the surface looks to make sense.  Most people know that regular Coke is loaded with sugar and contributes significantly to heart disease.  The fact that the sponsor is Diet Coke is irrelevant.  This is a marketing stunt by Coke designed to get more press for the entire Coca-Cola brand.  When people leave an event sponsored by Coca-Cola they hope you leave, go to the store and remember the name Coca-Cola.  There won’t be a Coca-Cola representative with you to make sure you buy the “heart healthy” Diet Coke.  And Diet Coke is hardly healthy by the way.  It is loaded with an artificial sweetener called aspartame which has serious health consequences by itself.  Read below for information about aspartame.

Aspartame is the technical name for the brand names NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. It was discovered by accident in 1965 when James Schlatter, a chemist of G.D. Searle Company, was testing an anti-ulcer drug.

Aspartame was approved for dry goods in 1981 and for carbonated beverages in 1983. It was originally approved for dry goods on July 26, 1974, but objections filed by neuroscience researcher Dr John W. Olney and Consumer attorney James Turner in August 1974 as well as investigations of G.D. Searle’s research practices caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put approval of aspartame on hold (December 5, 1974). In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle and made Searle Pharmaceuticals and The NutraSweet Company separate subsidiaries.

Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious including seizures and death. A few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame include: Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain. (From http://www.mercola.com/articles/aspartame)

I have highlighted several side effects which are clearly not heart healthy
that are associated with aspartame, the main sweetener in Diet Coke.

Coca-Cola is a major reason there is an obesity epidemic in this country.  They have partnered with this health initiative to position themselves as health conscious and that hopefully the public will view soda, not just Diet Coke, as “not that bad.”  This is, of course, designed to sell more soda which will continue to contribute to the poor health of America.  Think about this; there are 39 grams of sugar in one 12 oz. Coke.  That’s equal to 8 teaspoons of sugar! And this brand is promoting heart health?  It makes absolutely no sense.

If Coca-Cola were truly concerned about health, they wouldn’t make their product.  Now I am not so naive that I believe Coca-Cola will just stop making soda.  My fundamental problem is that they align themselves with health initiatives in the hopes that people will view their products more favorably.  Many people can see through the smoke screen, but there are people who don’t.  These are the people that Coke is trying to reach in the hopes that it will create bigger sales.  However, the bigger sales are at the expense of their health.

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