Friday, April 08, 2011

This week ... it's all about your heart. Exercise good for heart and mind.

Consistent lifelong exercise preserves heart muscle in the elderly to levels that match or even exceed that of healthy young sedentary people, a surprising finding that underscores the value of regular exercise training, according to a new study.
The first study to evaluate the effects of varying levels of lifelong exercise on heart mass was presented on Saturday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.
It suggested that physical activity preserves the heart's youthful elasticity, showing that when people were sedentary, the mass of their hearts shrunk with each passing decade.
By contrast, elderly people with a documented history of exercising six to seven times a week throughout adulthood not only kept their heart mass, but built upon it -- having heart masses greater than sedentary healthy adults aged 25 to 34.
"One thing that characterizes the aging process by itself is the loss of muscle mass, particularly skeletal muscle," said Dr. Paul Bhella, a researcher from John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas who presented the study at the conference.
"But we are showing that this process is not unique to skeletal muscle, it also happens in cardiac muscle," he said. "A heart muscle that atrophies is weaker."
The study enrolled 121 healthy people with no history of heart disease. Fifty nine were sedentary subjects recruited from the Dallas Heart Study, a large multiethnic sample of Dallas County residents.
Some 62 lifelong exercisers, all over age 65, were recruited mainly from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, which had documented their exercise habits over a period of 25 years.
In the new study, exercise was assessed by the number of aerobic exercise sessions per week, rather than intensity or duration. Subjects were broken down into four groups: non-exercisers; casual exercisers (two to three times a week); committed exercisers (four to five times a week) and master athletes (six to seven times a week).
Heart mass measurements, taken using MRIs, showed that sedentary subjects had diminished heart mass as they aged, while lifelong exercisers had heart mass expansion with increasing frequency of exercise.
"The data suggest that if we can identify people in middle age, in the 45 to 60 year range, and get them to exercise four to five times a week, this may go a very long way in preventing some of the major heart conditions of old age, including heart failure," said Benjamin Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who headed the study.
Exercise preserves, builds heart muscle | Reuters

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

This week ... it's all about your heart. If depression doesn't get you, meds for depression will.

Middle-age men who use antidepressants are more likely to have a narrowing of blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, than those who do not use the medications, according to a study presented on Saturday.

A study of twins found evidence of atherosclerosis, as measured by the interior thickness of the carotid artery, regardless of the type of antidepressant taken.

Antidepressant use was found to cause a 37 micron increase in carotid artery thickness, or roughly 5 percent, according to the study of more than 500 male twins with a mean age of 55 which was presented at the American Cardiology scientific meeting in New Orleans.

In 59 sets of twins in which one brother was taking an antidepressant and the other was not, the brother taking the medication had on average a 41 micron thicker inner lining of the artery, the research found.

As each year of life has been associated with a 10 micron increase in carotid artery thickening, the brother taking the antidepressant had arteries that were essentially four years older than those of his non-medicated twin.

Previous studies have linked depression to a heightened risk of heart disease, but the condition was not deemed a significant predictor of artery thickening in the study.

"Because we didn't see an association between depression itself and a thickening of the carotid artery, it strengthens the argument that it is more likely the antidepressants than the actual depression that could be behind the association," said Dr. Amit Shah, cardiology fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, who presented the data.

"This study reminds us that medicines often have side effects we can't feel, and we should always take that into account. These drugs provide a lot of benefit, but should be considered on a case-by-case basis," Shah said.

Shah hypothesized that the raising of levels of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, through antidepressant use may cause blood vessels to constrict, leading to decreases in blood flow to organs and higher blood pressure -- a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
"Because this was a twin study, we had a very well controlled analysis comparing brothers who are anywhere from 50 to 100 percent genetically similar and were raised in the same household," Shah said.
Antidepressants linked to heart risk: twins study | Reuters

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

This week ... its all about your heart. Post-Katrina Stress a hurricane for your heart?

New Orleans residents were found to have three times the rate of heart attacks four years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina than before the storm and levee break that flooded the city, according to a study presented at a major heart meeting on Sunday.
The three-fold increase had first been observed two years after the August 2005 hurricane and, much to the surprise of researchers collecting the data, it has persisted.
"We expected a down-trend after four years," said Dr. Anand Irimpen, who presented the data at the American College of Cardiology scientific meeting and continues to collect heart attack statistics as the six-year anniversary approaches.
"We had some indication of Katrina's effect on heart health from our initial study, but it appears to be more far reaching than expected," said Irimpen, chief of cardiology of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System .
The data was based on patients admitted with heart attacks to Tulane University Hospital two years prior to Katrina, and compared with heart attack rates four years after the storm.
In the four years after the storm, 2.2 percent of hospital admissions were due to confirmed heart attacks. Prior to the storm, the rate was 0.7 percent of admissions.
Irimpen said continuing high levels of stress and psychiatric illnesses that did not appear to be a factor at the two-year mark were playing a significant role longer term.
"There might be a lag phase between the onset of psychiatric illness and it's manifestation in the form of a heart attack," he suggested.
"Many of the patients we see are not yet back to their pre-Katrina residences, have not regained employment and are less likely to comply with treatment plans that can help prevent heart attacks. The emphasis is not on health but on getting back to your home," Irimpen said.
While some parts of New Orleans are thriving, nearly six years after Katrina many neighborhoods remain in various states of disrepair, and rebuilding of homes has been agonizingly slow.
The heart health findings could have long-term implications for Japan, still reeling from the immediate devastation of a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11.
Irimpen had a message for physicians in Japan and other areas hit by large-scale disasters: "It's important to let people know that they should give health a priority, concentrate on diet and exercise, be compliant with their medications and make an appointment with your doctor."
He expects the situation in Japan will be further exasperated by long-term fears of radiation from the badly damaged Fukushima nuclear facility.
"It appears that these psychiatric illnesses -- like anxiety and depression -- all seem to be contributing, and they are known to contribute to cardiac illnesses."
Post-Katrina heart attack rate three-times higher: study | Reuters

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

This week ... It's all about your heart: Can Yoga Help? Study.

Yoga, already proven to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, can cut in half the risk of a common and potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat, according to a U.S. study released on Saturday.

The small study was the first to examine the benefits of yoga on atrial fibrillation -- a problem that is a leading cause of stroke and is most common in the elderly.

In addition to halving the episodes of atrial fibrillation, the study found that yoga also reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression related to the condition.

"These findings are important because many of the current conventional treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation include invasive procedures or medications with undesirable side effects," said Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, an associate professor with the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, who led the study.

He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology being held in New Orleans.

The study involved 49 patients with the heart rhythm disorder who had no physical limitations and no prior experience with yoga. Their episodes of irregular heartbeat were measured for a six-month period by researchers at the hospital.

During the first three months, patients were allowed to participate in any physical activity they liked.

For the remaining three months, they underwent a supervised yoga program that involved breathing exercises, yoga postures, meditation and relaxation.

Forty-five minute yoga sessions with a certified professional were held three times each week, and patients were encouraged to practice daily yoga exercises at home.

Heart monitors measured episodes of irregular heartbeat throughout the trial, and patients completed short self-administered surveys to assess their levels of anxiety, depression and overall quality of life.


On average, yoga cut episodes of the irregular heartbeat in half, while also significantly reducing depression and anxiety scores and improving scores in physical functioning, general health, vitality, social functioning and mental health, the researchers found.

"It appears yoga has a significant impact on helping to regulate patients' heartbeat and improves the overall quality of life," Lakkireddy said.

Atrial fibrillation causes blood to pool in the upper chambers of the heart, where it can clot and travel to the brain, causing strokes. Millions of patients with the condition take the blood thinner warfarin every day to lower the risk of such clots, and thereby prevent strokes.
Considering its low cost and benefits, Lakkireddy said yoga should be considered in overall treatment of atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm problems.

Yoga halves irregular-heartbeat episodes: study | Reuters

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sushi okay for your heart: Study

American adults’ exposure to mercury from sources such as fish is not linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, suggests a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Health officials have long advised consumers to balance the benefits of eating fish, and particularly omega-3 rich oily fish, with the risk of potential mercury exposure from doing so. Some fish, including swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and some shellfish, tend to store more methyl mercury in their flesh than other species.
The study’s authors, from Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that the main health concern in adults has been potential cardiovascular toxicity, as suggested by results of animal studies and limited studies in humans. But the researchers found no increased risk of cardiovascular disease in their review of two cohort studies with a total of more than 170,000 participants.
“We found no evidence of any clinically relevant adverse effects of mercury exposure on coronary heart disease, stroke, or total cardiovascular disease in US adults at the exposure levels seen in this study,” they wrote.
Pregnant women and children
However, the authors said that the current recommendation still stands that pregnant and nursing women, infants and young children should avoid eating more than two servings of fish per week, and limit intake of certain species that are higher in methyl mercury, because of a possible link between chronic, low-level methyl mercury exposure and “subtle but measurable neurodevelopmental delay in infants.”
This is largely in line with the recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which said that for the general adult population, the health benefits of eating a variety of seafood outweigh any health risks associated with methyl mercury – and that pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat at least eight ounces, but no more than 12 ounces of fish per week, from choices that are lower in methyl mercury.
Meanwhile for the general adult population, the authors of this latest study said:“Higher mercury exposures were actually associated with trends toward lower cardiovascular disease risk.”
They said this slightly lower heart disease risk said was most likely a result of other nutritional benefits of fish consumption.
The researchers examined data from two separate cohort studies involving 173,229 people about their medical history, risk factors, disease incidence, dietary habits and lifestyle. They also measured mercury concentrations in stored toenail clippings – known to accurately reflect mercury consumption – of nearly 7,000 participants, an equal number of whom had or had not suffered from cardiovascular disease or stroke during the study follow-up period.
Source: New England Journal of Medicine

Study finds no cardiovascular risk from dietary mercury for adults

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