The Heart

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What are the health benefits of lemons vs. limes?

Lemons and limes are types of citrus fruit with very similar nutritional profiles and health benefits. However, there are also some differences between them.

Lemons come from a small evergreen tree native to South Asia.

Several types of citrus tree can produce limes, such as the key lime tree, which is native to Southeast Asia.

This article will discuss the similarities and differences between these fruits, including their health benefits, nutritional contents, and uses.

Health benefits Lemons and limes
Lemons and limes contain lots of vitamin C, flavonoids, and antioxidants.

Both lemons and limes have a long history of use in traditional medicine. They each contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and provide a range of health benefits.

People also make claims about the health benefits of lemon water and the potential benefits of drinking lime juice.

Lemons and limes have several shared health benefits because they share the following properties:

They contain lots of vitamin C

Both lemons and limes are high in vitamin C, an important antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.

Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron from foods and supports the immune system.

The body also uses vitamin C in the production of collagen, an important substance for healing wounds.

They contain flavonoids

Lemons and limes both contain flavonoids. Flavonoids are phytochemicals that may have several health benefits, such as for heart disease and metabolic disorders.

Animal and cell studies have suggested that flavonoids have anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, cancer-fighting, and neuroprotective properties. However, more research is needed to fully understand their effects in humans.

Research into flavonoids is still in its early stages, but the initial findings are promising.

They contain antioxidants

Along with vitamin C, lemons and limes also contain other antioxidants.

Antioxidants help protect the body from cell damage, which appears to play a role in a range of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

It is possible that antioxidants also help prevent these conditions from developing. However, again, research into this area is ongoing.

They may aid weight loss over time

Some sources claim that consuming lemon, or lemon-based products, can help with weight loss. For example, lemon water is a mixture of fresh lemon juice and water and is a part of some weight loss diets.

However, there is currently no scientific evidence to prove that lemon, or any lemon-based product, can result in weight loss above what adequate hydration promotes. Learn more about the lemon detox diet here.

Lemons can form part of a healthful diet that eventually leads to weight loss, but this is likely to be as a result of a reduced calorie intake, regular exercise, and other more substantial lifestyle improvements.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Nutrition Lemons and limes share a similar nutritional profile, as we detail in the table below. These nutrients reflect what is present in a whole lemon or lime, not in the juice. 1 lemon, 84 g 1 lime, 67 g Macronutrients Calories 24.4 20.1 Protein 0.92 g 0.47 g Fat 0.25 g 0.13 g Carbohydrates (total) 7.83 g 7.06 g Sugars 2.1 g 1.13 g Fiber 2.35 g 1.88 g Vitamins and minerals Calcium 21.8 mg 22.1 mg Potassium 116 mg 68.3 mg Vitamin C 44.5 mg 19.5 mg Folate 9.24 mcg 5.36 mcg The nutritional benefits of lemons and limes are the same. Although lemons have slightly more of some vitamins and minerals, the difference is too small to have any effect. Acidity Both lemons and limes are high in citric acid. This means that they are acidic compared with many other foods. Lemons and limes have very similar citric acid content, though lemons may have slightly more on average: Lemon juice contains around 48 grams of citric acid per liter (g/L). Lime juice contains around 45.8 g/L. Uses Lemon rind
Lemon and lime rinds are popular in cooking. Many foods and drinks contain lemons or limes due to their strong, sour flavours. This might be in the form of premade or freshly squeezed juice, or as chunks or slices of the fruit. The fruits' rinds have unique bitter flavors that make them popular in cooking. For example, people can use the juice or peel from both fruits for flavoring sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Also, lemon and thyme is a good combination for marinating chicken and fish. Lime works well with garlic, as well as with chilli powder for marinating meats. Lemons and limes are good additions to many hot or cold drinks. For example, a person can add chunks of lemon or lime to water to make citrus water, or they can use lemon or lime to flavor teas. Due to their high acidity, these citrus fruits are also effective at killing bacteria. Because of this, a range of citrus-based cleaning products are available, from bleaches to surface cleaners. Also, some studies have shown that the essential oil of lemon and other citrus fruits can enhance mental state through inhalation and aromatherapy, exert antimicrobial properties, and reduce skin inflammation through the topical application of the peel. Risks Consuming lemons or limes in moderate amounts is generally safe. However, the fruits can cause a stinging pain when in contact with open wounds, such as a cut lip or a mouth ulcer. Their high acidity also means that they may worsen heartburn or digestive issues in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In large amounts, citric fruits can erode tooth enamel and cause cavities over time. When using cleaning products that contain citrus or other irritating chemicals, use gloves and avoid contact with the skin. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Summary Lemons and limes are citric fruits with very similar nutritional profiles. They are rich in vitamin C and contain other antioxidants and flavonoids that are beneficial to health. Both fruits are common ingredients in a variety of foods and drinks. Their acidity also makes them good for use in cleaning products. Both fruits are safe to consume in moderate amounts, but they can cause minor issues in some people, such as worsening the symptoms of GERD due to their acidity.
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What to know about nitroglycerin

When something restricts blood flow to the heart muscle, a person can experience intense chest pain that doctors call angina. People often use the drug nitroglycerin to relieve chest pain that angina causes.

Most often, the reason for the decrease in blood flow is plaque formation and narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the heart.

Nitroglycerin helps to open up the blood vessels and allow blood to flow. People also use nitroglycerin to treat chronic anal fissures.

In this article, we provide an overview of nitroglycerin, including its uses, how it works, and the possible side effects, interactions, and warnings.

What is nitroglycerin, and how does it work? senior man using nitroglycerin spray
A person can use nitroglycerin to relieve angina symptoms.

Nitroglycerin is a medication that treats angina and chronic anal fissures. It works by promoting blood flow.

The body breaks nitroglycerin down into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes the smooth muscle within the blood vessels to relax. This allows the arteries and veins to open up, allowing more blood to flow through. Healthcare professionals call this action vasodilation.

During an angina attack, a person will experience intense chest pain. Nitroglycerin will start working within 1 to 3 minutes, but its maximal effect occurs after 5 minutes.

When people use nitroglycerin for anal fissures, the ointment will relax the anal sphincter, which is the muscle tissue around the anus, and lower the pressure in the anus. This promotes blood flow to the area and helps heal the fissure.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Uses Doctors usually use nitroglycerin to treat the pain that angina causes. Narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart with blood is what causes unstable angina. Doctors call this condition coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is the most common type of heart disease. More than 370,000 people in the United States die every year because of CAD. Nitroglycerin allows the blood vessels to open up, which lets oxygen and nutrient-rich blood feed the heart muscle. This action offers immediate relief from chest pain. People can also use nitroglycerin to treat anal fissures. Anal fissures are tears in the skin of the anus. People can get anal fissures from passing hard stools. Similarly to its effects for angina, nitroglycerin as a rectal ointment helps the healing process by stimulating blood flow to the affected area. How to take it The following table lists the different formulations of nitroglycerin. Form of nitroglycerin How to use aerosol solution
tablet dissolve under the tongue ointment
24-hour patch apply to the skin rectal ointment rectal use only Angina When someone is having intense chest pain, it is vitalto resolve this symptom as quickly as possible. People can also take fast-acting nitroglycerin formulations 5 to 10 minutes before doing an activity that may cause an angina attack. The aerosol spray, pumpspray, packet, and tablet are all fast-acting forms of nitroglycerin. Aerosol spray and pumpspray People can use these devices by giving one or two sprays on or under the tongue once a person feels angina pains. They should not inhale the spray. Packet A sublingual packet of nitroglycerin contains 400 micrograms (mcg) of nitroglycerin powder. A person places the contents of the packet under their tongue when angina pains begin. Tablet At the first signs of angina pains, a person should place the tablet under their tongue or between the gums and the cheek. The tablet will dissolve and absorb through the tissues of the mouth. People who use the aerosol spray, pumpspray, packet, or tablet should not swallow the drug. Nitroglycerin will absorb through the mouth tissues. This provides faster relief than swallowing the medicine. People should also avoid rinsing or spitting for 5 minutes after administering the dose. A person can take each of these forms of fast-acting nitroglycerin at 5-minute intervals. If they do not feel relief from the intense chest pain, they can take two more doses 5 minutes apart. If someone has taken three doses of either fast-acting formulations and does not experience any pain relief, they should seek medical attention immediately. There are also two other formulations of nitroglycerin that can prevent angina attacks. These are not fast-acting, and people should not use them to stop an attack when it is happening. Patch Nitroglycerin patches come in doses ranging from 0.1 milligrams per hour (mg/hr) to 0.8 mg/hr. A person places the patch on their skin anywhere except the areas below the knee and elbow. Most people place the patch on their chest. The area should be clean, dry, and hairless to allow the nitroglycerin to absorb across the skin. A person should leave the patch on the skin for 12 to 14 hours and remove it for 10 to 12 hours. People will usually have the patch on during the day and remove it during sleep. Ointment close up of hands with tube of ointment
A person can apply nitroglycerin ointment to the skin twice a day. People can apply nitroglycerin ointment to their skin using a dose-measuring applicator that comes with the tube. A person will measure the desired dose onto the measuring applicator and then place the applicator ointment side down on the skin. They then spread the ointment across the skin. The person should not rub the medicine in but allow the ointment to absorb across the skin. Finally, they tape the applicator to the skin. People take two doses of ointment each day. Doctors will tell people to use the ointment first thing in the morning and then reapply it 6 hours later. Anal fissures The rectal ointment for anal fissures contains 0.4% nitroglycerin. A person will insert the ointment into their anus every 12 hours for up to 3 weeks. To apply the rectal ointment, a person will cover their finger with plastic wrap and squeeze out 1 inch of ointment along the finger. They then insert the finger into the anal canal up to the first finger joint. The person will then smear the ointment around the area. If this is too painful, the person may apply the ointment to the outside of the anus instead. Side effects People may experience many side effects when using nitroglycerin, including: When people take nitroglycerin for relieving angina, they should be in a relaxed, seated position. An individual's blood pressure can drop significantly after using nitroglycerin. If they stand up too quickly after administering the dose, their blood pressure may drop even lower and put them at risk of fainting. The most common side effect of long-acting nitroglycerin is headaches, but this side effect decreases with use. Although the rectal ointment is only put in the anus, a person may still experience headache and dizziness. Precautions and risks Some people may be allergic to nitroglycerin, and doctors do not recommend that people use it if they have a history of allergic reactions to nitroglycerin. Doctors will not prescribe nitroglycerin to anyone with a history of severe anemia, heart attack occurring on the right side of the heart, or increased pressure in the brain. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Interactions Nitroglycerin may interact with certain other medications. PDE-5 inhibitors are drugs that doctors give to treat erectile dysfunction in males. Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are PDE-5 inhibitors. As with nitroglycerin, these drugs also cause increased blood flow and can lower blood pressure. Doctors do not recommend that people use nitroglycerin with PDE-5 inhibitors, as they can cause fainting if someone is taking them together. Males should avoid using nitroglycerin if they have taken Viagra or Levitra within the last 24 hours or Cialis within the previous 48 hours. Any person using long-acting nitroglycerin cannot take PDE-5 inhibitors. Overdose senior lady holding head in pain
Throbbing headaches can be a sign of a nitroglycerin overdose. An overdose of nitroglycerin may occur when people use PDE-5 inhibitors with nitroglycerin or if they use too much nitroglycerin during an attack. Severe side effects that healthcare professionals associate with a nitroglycerin overdose include: a sudden drop in blood pressure increased heart rate increased blood flow and pressure in the brain throbbing headaches confusion dizziness disturbances in vision Currently, no drug can reverse a nitroglycerin overdose. Doctors can provide care to people experiencing an overdose by giving intravenous fluids and elevating their legs. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Summary Using nitroglycerin in the appropriate way can delay the serious complications of angina that can include heart attack, stroke, and even death. People may experience side effects with nitroglycerin and should remain seated while the drug is having its effect. Nitroglycerin can interact with medications for erectile dysfunction. Males with angina should report the use of Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra to their doctor because the use of both drugs together may be dangerous. People can also treat anal fissures with nitroglycerin rectal ointment. Side effects and interactions can also occur with topical use of nitroglycerin.
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Supplement for joint pain linked to lower heart disease risk

Glucosamine, a dietary supplement that people commonly take to ease joint pain and reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis, may lower the risk of cardiovascular problems, according to a study analyzing health data from over 400,000 participants.
small jar of white capsules
Does glucosamine, a popular dietary supplement, have a preventive effect against heart disease?

Information from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows that about 2.6% of adults in the United States — which equates to 6.5 million people — take glucosamine, chondroitin, or both. These two dietary supplements treat joint pain and strengthen cartilage, respectively.

This statistic makes glucosamine one of the most popular supplements among the U.S. adult population.

Now, researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, have carried out a large observational study and found that people who take glucosamine may also have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and adverse health events relating to the heart or the vascular system, such as stroke.

The research team, which Prof. Lu Qi from Tulane led, accessed the U.K. Biobank study database to use available data from 466,039 participants. None of these participants had cardiovascular disease at baseline, and they all submitted information on their use of dietary supplements.

Among these participants, 19.3% — or about one in five — said that they took glucosamine when they joined the study.

The study's findings, which appear in the BMJ, suggest that taking glucosamine on a regular basis may help prevent cardiovascular problems. However, the current study is observational, and the authors warn that further trials should test whether there is a causal relationship behind this association.

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Prof. Qi and team looked at the participants' hospital records and, when necessary, their death records over an average follow-up period of 7 years. They noted whether each participant developed cardiovascular disease, experienced any cardiovascular problems — including coronary heart disease and stroke — or died due to cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found that people who had reported using this supplement had a 15% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular disease-related event compared with participants who did not take glucosamine. They also had a 9–22% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, experiencing a stroke, and dying from cardiovascular-related causes.

These associations were independent of modifying factors, such as a person's age, biological sex, body mass index (BMI), lifestyle and diet, and medication and supplement use, for which the researchers accounted.

At the same time, Prof. Qi and colleagues also noted that these associations were stronger in current smokers, who saw a 37% lower risk of heart disease with glucosamine supplementation, than in former smokers and never-smokers, whose risk was 18% and 12% lower respectively.

The researchers hypothesize that if there is a causal explanation, it may lie in certain biological mechanisms that relate to inflammation. For instance, they note that there is an association between glucosamine use and lower levels of C-reactive protein in the body.

Researchers have linked this protein to heightened inflammation. Therefore, glucosamine may actually help reduce that inflammation, which is present at higher levels in smokers than in never-smokers and former smokers.

Another hypothesis is that taking glucosamine may have similar effects to following a diet low in carbohydrates, which studies have also tied to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study authors conclude their paper by saying:

"Habitual use of glucosamine supplement to relieve osteoarthritis pain might also be related to lower risks of [cardiovascular disease] events."

However, they also caution that, due to the observational nature of this study, "[f]urther clinical trials are needed to test this hypothesis."

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What to know about raisins

In general, and when people consume them in moderation, raisins are a healthful, tasty food to add to the diet. Raisins are a good source of essential nutrients, minerals, and energy in the form of calories and sugars.

Raisins themselves make a quick and simple snack throughout the day. People can use them as a topping for yogurt or cereals, and they can also include them in many other products, such as baked goods, trail mix, and granola.

Benefits Raisins on a wooden spoon
Raisins can aid digestion and fight cancer cells.

Raisins can be a helpful and beneficial addition to the diet.

Aid in digestion

Raisins may be a simple way to help keep the digestive system healthy. Raisins contain helpful soluble fibers, which give body to the stool and help it pass through the intestines easier. This may help improve digestion and promote regularity.

Prevent anemia

Raisins may play a part in preventing anemia. They contain good amounts of iron, copper, and vitamins that are essential for making red blood cells and carrying oxygen throughout the body.

Prevent too much acidity

Raisins contain substantial amounts of beneficial minerals, such as iron, copper, magnesium, and potassium. These are alkaline, or basic, minerals on the pH scale and may help balance acidity levels in the stomach.

Lower risk of heart disease risk factors

A study posted to Postgraduate Medicine noted that regularly eating raisins may help reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure rate, when compared to other snacks. This is because raisins are a low sodium food that also contains a good source of potassium, which helps the blood vessels relax.

Fight against cancer cells

Raisins are also a good source of antioxidant compounds.

Dietary antioxidants are essential, as they may protect the body from oxidative damage and free radicals. Oxidative damage and free radicals are risk factors in many types of cancer, tumor growth, and aging.

Protect eye health

Raisins contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants that may protect the cells in the eyes from free radical damage. This may in turn help protect the eyes from eye disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Improve skin health

Antioxidants may help keep the skin cells young and prevent damage from aging cells. Raisins also contain valuable nutrients, such as vitamin C, selenium, and zinc. This combination of nutrients and antioxidants may be a helpful addition to a diet that focuses on creating good skin health.

Lower blood sugar

The Postgraduate Medicine study also noted that compared to eating other snacks, regularly eating raisins may help lower a person's blood sugar. Even though raisins contain a more concentrated amount of sugars than fresh fruit, raisin intake compared to processed snacks decreased hemoglobin a1c, which is a marker of blood sugar management.

This means that a serving of raisins may be an excellent way to satisfy a sweet craving.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Are there risks of eating raisins? While raisins are generally beneficial, there are some times when raisins may not be the best snack. For instance, people looking to reduce their calorie intake may want to be careful about eating large amounts of raisins. While a single raisin contains the same number of calories as a single grape, raisins are much smaller. This can easily lead to eating too many calories. Another concern about eating too many raisins is the increase in soluble fiber. Too much fiber may cause gastrointestinal upset, such as cramps, gas, and bloating. Some people may even develop diarrhea. However, it is important to note that this would only result from eating a significant amount of raisins since they do not contain excessively high amounts of fiber. Lastly, because of their small size, people prone to choking and small children may need to avoid raisins and opt for fresh fruit instead. However, enjoying raisins in moderation is generally safe. Nutrition of raisins Raisins and grapes
A typical serving of raisins contains 129 calories and 1.42 g of protein. Raisins are dried grapes, which are the fruit from the Vitis vinifera plant. Because of this, their nutritional content will be similar to that of grapes. There are some exceptions, however. For instance, while both are good sources of certain antioxidants, raisins may contain higher levels than grapes. This is because the drying process preserves the antioxidants. The drying also significantly decreases the vitamin C content. A typical serving size of raisins is about 1 ounce (oz), a small box, or about 40–50 grams (g). According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the nutritional facts for a serving around this size are: Calories – 129 Protein – 1.42 g Fats – 0.11 g Carbohydrates – 34.11 g Sugars – 28.03 g Dietary fiber – 1.9 g The same serving size also contains some valuable vitamins and minerals, including: Vitamin C – 1 milligram (mg) Calcium – 27 mg Iron – 0.77 mg Magnesium – 15 mg Potassium – 320 mg Phosphorous – 42 mg Sodium – 11 mg As a study posted to the Journal of Nutritional Health notes, raisins have very high antioxidant levels and phenol content compared to other popular dried fruits. Specifically, raisins are a good source of antioxidants called flavonol glycosides and phenolic acids, and they have an ORAC value of about 3,400. ORAC stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity and reflects the antioxidant value of a food. It is worth noting that while the types of antioxidants and ORAC score of a fruit are important, it is crucial that these antioxidants are bioavailable, meaning the body can use them easily. The review notes that the body can use antioxidants in raisins efficiently, which may make them a simple and effective source of dietary antioxidants. Can you make your own raisins? Raisins are the result of removing the moisture from a grape. Standard raisins typically derive from seedless grapes, though it is possible to produce raisins from most grapes. While store-bought raisins are generally all natural, and inexpensive, with organic options available, some people prefer making their own. Luckily, making raisins is simple and straightforward using either a food dehydrator or oven. Follow these steps to make raisins in a dehydrator or oven: Thoroughly wash the grapes, picking out any damaged grapes. Strain the extra water in a colander. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the grapes for a minute or so, just long enough to soften the skin. Strain the grapes again and remove all excess moisture. Add the grapes to an oiled baking tray or clean dehydrator tray. For ovens, cook the grapes at 225°F for about 3 hours. For dehydrators, set the temperature to 135°F and dehydrate for about 24 hours or until the excess moisture is gone. Store uneaten raisins in an airtight container. Raisins make a great addition to many diets. Eat them alone or enjoy them in a variety of other ways, such as: sprinkled on a fresh green salad added to a cooked broccoli salad or coleslaw sprinkled on oatmeal or other breakfast cereals added to some curries or spiced rice dishes added to baked goods or pancakes to add sweetness without refined sugar Summary Raisins can be a simple way to add fruit, healthful nutrients and antioxidants to the diet. Regularly eating raisins may help keep the body healthy and prevent some disorders. However, it is essential to eat raisins in moderation as they are high in sugars and calories, which may be an important factor for people to consider if they are trying to lose weight. Overall, raisins are a healthful food and make a great addition to many diets.
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Does soy protein reduce 'bad' cholesterol? The debate continues

There is an ongoing debate surrounding soy protein and its influence on cholesterol. A new meta-analysis digs into the existing data and concludes that the protein does, indeed, reduce levels of "bad" cholesterol.
Edamame soy beans
Soy protein and cholesterol: The debate rages on.

Soy protein is derived from soybeans. It is high in protein but contains no cholesterol and only low levels of saturated fat.

Soybeans are among the few vegetable-based foods that contain all of the essential amino acids.

As it stands, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes soy protein in its list of foods that can lower cholesterol.

However, they are considering removing it from this list because studies have provided inconsistent results.

If the FDA do remove it, manufacturers who market products that include soy would no longer be able to label them as heart-healthy. The FDA are basing their potential change in stance on the findings of 46 trials.

Recently, researchers — many from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada — decided to revisit the data and run a meta-analysis on the papers in question.

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Revisiting the soy debate

Of the 46 studies that the FDA had chosen, 43 provided enough data to be added to the scientists' analysis. In total, 41 studies looked specifically at low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly called bad cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol earns its bad name because, when it builds up in arteries, it increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Any food that can reduce this risk is of great interest.

The authors recently published the results of their analysis in The Journal of Nutrition. They conclude:

"Soy protein significantly reduced LDL cholesterol by approximately 3–4% in adults. Our data support the advice given to the general public internationally to increase plant protein intake."

Although the effect size seems small, the results are significant. The authors also believe that, in the real world, the effect may be stronger. They argue that when someone adds soy protein to their diet, in most cases, it will replace other sources of protein that have high levels of LDL cholesterol, such as meat and dairy.

Dr. David Jenkins, who led the study, explains, "When one adds the displacement of high saturated fat and cholesterol-rich meats to a diet that includes soy, the reduction of cholesterol could be greater."

A study published in 2010 examines this displacement. The authors concluded that when combining direct LDL reduction from soy protein with displacement, overall, LDL cholesterol would be reduced by 3.6–6.0%.

Limitations and high hopes

As the authors of the recent investigation explain, a significant limitation of their research is that it only looked at a small subset of relevant studies. However, the purpose of this study was to test the strength of the FDA's conclusions using the very data that they had used to draw their conclusions.

The authors write that "These data were extracted by the FDA as representing those trials on which a final decision would be made concerning the soy protein health claim. Because we are addressing the question raised by the FDA, our inclusion criteria included only those trials selected by the FDA."

It is also worth noting that the studies that the scientists analyzed only used a total of 2,607 participants; of these, only 37% were men. Also, the majority of women that were involved in these trials were postmenopausal. In other words, the demographics of the studies do not match the demographics of the public at large.

However, to reiterate, the main thrust of this study was not to collate all relevant data; it was specifically designed to test the FDA's change in stance.

Dr. Jenkins concludes simply, "The existing data and our analysis of it suggest soy protein contributes to heart health."

Other official bodies, including Heart UK, the European Atherosclerosis Society, the National Cholesterol Education Program, and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society include soy protein as a heart-healthy food.

The authors hope that the FDA will consider their meta-analysis when discussing whether to keep soy protein in their heart-healthy category.

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Natural ways to lower cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that the liver produces. It is also present in animal-based foods. Cholesterol supports many essential bodily functions, but high levels can lead to health issues.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), unhealthful lifestyle choices are the leading cause of high cholesterol. However, genetics, certain medical conditions, and medications can also contribute to high cholesterol.

Having high cholesterol does not cause symptoms, but it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Doctors can prescribe statins to help lower a person's cholesterol levels, but these medications can cause side effects, such as headaches, muscle cramps, and nausea.

In this article, we explore some natural ways to lower cholesterol without medication. We also discuss what cholesterol is and why high levels can be harmful.

Avoid trans fats girl eating fried breakfast
Eating fried food can raise a person's LDL cholesterol.

Trans unsaturated fatty acids, which people commonly refer to as trans fats, are unsaturated vegetable fats that have undergone an industrial process called hydrogenation, which makes them solid at room temperature. Food manufacturers use trans fats because they are relatively inexpensive and long-lasting.

Sources of trans fats include:

margarine vegetable shortening partially hydrogenated vegetable oils fried foods certain processed and prepackaged foods

Bacteria in the stomachs of cows, sheep, and goats produce natural trans fats. Cheese, milk, and other dairy products may contain modest amounts of natural trans fats.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), consuming trans fats can negatively affect a person's health in two different ways:

they can raise blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad cholesterol" they can reduce blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or "good cholesterol"

LDL cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

According to a 2019 review, low levels of HDL cholesterol are common in people with type 2 diabetes, which increases their risk of heart disease. The authors suggest that treatment should focus on lowering LDL cholesterol levels to reduce this risk.

In a 2017 study, researchers used cell cultures to show that a trans fat called elaidic acid had toxic effects in neuron-like cells. Elaidic acid led to cell death and increased markers of oxidative stress.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Consume fewer saturated fats Saturated fats generally stay solid at room temperature whereas unsaturated fats are usually liquid. Dietary sources of saturated fats include: red meat pork chicken with the skin on butter cheese and other dairy products cooking oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil The AHA recommend that saturated fat should only represent about 5–6% of a person's daily calorie intake. A diet high in saturated fats may raise a person's LDL cholesterol levels. Excess LDL cholesterol can accumulate and form hard deposits in the arteries, which may lead to a condition called atherosclerosis. A 2018 study examined how different dietary fats affected blood levels of cholesterol. The 4-week study involved 96 healthy adults who consumed 50 grams (g) daily of either: extra virgin coconut oil butter extra virgin olive oil Coconut oil and butter predominately contain saturated fat, whereas olive oil contains mostly monounsaturated fat. According to the results, the participants who consumed butter had significantly higher levels of LDL cholesterol than those in the coconut oil and olive oil groups. The study also showed that different types of saturated fat can vary in their effects on cholesterol levels. For example, coconut oil significantly increased the participants' levels of HDL cholesterol whereas butter significantly raised LDL cholesterol levels. However, a 2015 systematic review did not find a direct association between saturated fat intake and risk of death, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes. Consume more monounsaturated fats Vegetables, nuts, and fish are rich in monounsaturated fats. These fats take the form of liquids at room temperature. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include: avocados nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and Brazil nuts seeds vegetable oils, such as olive, peanut, sesame, and sunflower oils In a 2019 study involving 119 adults with a high waist circumference, consuming a diet high in a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid resulted in lower LDL and total cholesterol levels than a diet that was higher in saturated fats and lower in monounsaturated fats. Oleic acid had no effect on the levels of triglycerides or HDL cholesterol in the blood of the participants. Eat more polyunsaturated fats lower cholesterol naturally by eating salmon and avocado
Eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats can reduce LDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Consuming these fats in moderation can reduce LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol levels. Dietary sources of polyunsaturated fats include: walnuts fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout plant oils, such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oils A 2017 review found evidence suggesting that diets rich in polyunsaturated fats from fish oil may prevent some mechanisms of arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat, and promote overall heart health. It is important to balance the intake of omega-6 fatty acids with that of omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids may cause adverse health effects. In a 2018 study, mice that consumed a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids had low-grade chronic inflammation that was due to oxidative stress. Eat more soluble fiber Soluble fiber absorbs water to create a thick, gel-like paste in a person's digestive tract. Soluble fiber not only supports digestive health but also lowers levels of LDL cholesterol and promotes overall heart health. A 2017 study investigated the benefits of a high-fiber diet in 69 Asian Indians with higher-than-normal cholesterol levels. The participants who consumed 70 g per day of soluble fiber had lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels than those who ate their usual diet. Foods rich in soluble fiber include: vegetables fruits whole grains, such as oatmeal and brown rice legumes beans Soluble fiber lowers LDL cholesterol levels but does not affect HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Consuming too much soluble fiber can lead to constipation, bloating, and stomach pain. People should try to increase their soluble fiber intake gradually over time. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Exercise regularly group of men jogging
Regularly exercising can help lower bad cholesterol. Studies show that regular exercise can help lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good cholesterol levels. For example, the results of a 2019 study involving 425 older adults showed that moderate and vigorous physical activity lowered blood pressure, reduced blood sugar levels, and increased HDL cholesterol levels. In a 2015 study involving 40 adult women, participants who followed a 12-week resistance training program had reduced total cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol levels compared with those who did not follow the program. The Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity a week for substantial health benefits. A person can spread this activity throughout the week. People new to exercise may want to start with lower intensity activities and gradually build the intensity of their workouts. Performing high-intensity exercises without proper training or supervision can lead to injuries. People can incorporate regular exercise into their lives by walking, jogging, cycling, or doing resistance exercises with light weights. People with cardiovascular disease or other heart problems should consult a doctor before participating in intense physical activities. What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is present in every cell in the body. Although having too much cholesterol can increase the risk of adverse health effects, the body needs cholesterol to build cell membranes and to produce: The liver naturally produces all of the cholesterol that the body needs. However, certain foods contain cholesterol, and other foods can trigger the liver to produce more cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits building up on the walls of arteries, which increases a person's risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. HDL cholesterol collects LDL cholesterol and other fats from the arteries and transports them back to the liver. The liver disposes of excess cholesterol by converting it into a digestive fluid called bile. Although people should aim to have more HDL cholesterol than LDL cholesterol, the NHLBI recommend that adults keep their blood levels of total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Summary Cholesterol supports many essential bodily functions, such as cell membrane formation and hormone production. However, having high levels of LDL cholesterol can increase a person's risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. People can naturally lower their cholesterol levels through dietary and lifestyle changes. Replacing trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower levels of LDL cholesterol and raise levels of HDL cholesterol. Other ways to naturally lower cholesterol include eating more soluble fiber and exercising regularly.
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Cancer treatments: Patients need to know heart risks

Recent research on the health risks that people undergoing cancer treatment face warns that there is a lack of awareness about the risks that some of these therapies can pose to heart health.
doctor speaking to patients
Not enough cancer patients are aware of the potential adverse effects of cancer treatment on their heart.

Investigators from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia have found that many people who receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer risk their heart health by having these treatments.

At the same time, the new research shows that most of these people have limited or no knowledge about the cardiovascular risks because their doctors never tell them.

The authors recently presented their findings at EuroHeartCare 2019, a congress of the European Society of Cardiology, which took place at the start of May in Milan, Italy.

"Depending on the type of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, between 1% and 25% [of] cancer patients may develop heart failure due to cancer treatment," warns study author Prof. Robyn Clark.

"Risk," she adds, "also depends on cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking and obesity. Better monitoring of the heart and intervention before, during, and after treatment can prevent or lessen the impact of this cardiotoxicity."

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Cancer patients unaware of risks

The study authors explain that people who experience heart problems following cancer treatment may not do so immediately.

In fact, according to research investigating heart failure risk in people who have undergone cancer treatment, therapy-related heart failure can develop up to 20 years after the treatment has concluded.

In the current study, the researchers looked at the medical records of 46 people who had received cancer treatment at one of three hospitals between 1979 and 2015. All of these people had cardiotoxicity (damage to the heart muscle), and the research team selected them at random.

The investigators found that of these 46 patients, only 11% had received a referral to a specialized cardiologist before beginning chemotherapy, and medical professionals had only referred 48% of them to a heart failure clinic following their treatment.

Prof. Clark and colleagues also note that among the individuals whose records they studied, about 40% were overweight or had obesity, 41% had smoked or were still smoking, 24% used alcohol regularly, 48% had high blood pressure, and 26% lived with diabetes.

Patients miss crucial self-care information

The researchers then looked at the provision of care received by subsets of cancer patients during two different periods: 1994–2011 and 2012–2015. They selected these dates so that they could look at the effect of the publication of the European Society for Medical Oncology's Clinical Practice Guidelines, which appeared for the first time in 2012.

When they compared the provision of care in the two periods, the investigators found that the rate of appropriate heart care did actually increase.

The percentage of people who received a referral to a cardiologist before starting chemotherapy went from 0% to 23%, while the percentage of patients receiving a baseline echocardiogram — a scan that allows doctors to assess heart function — rose from 57% to 77%.

Moreover, the researchers went on to interview 11 cancer patients, of whom seven also belonged to the randomly selected group of 46 people whose medical records the investigators initially analyzed.

None of these individuals were aware of their heart health needs, and while more than half of the interviewees reported developing more healthful eating habits following their diagnosis, none of them had a solid understanding of what a balanced diet should entail.

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Doctors should issue more referrals

Based on all of these findings, the study authors stress the importance of monitoring heart health in people about to undergo cancer treatment and adjusting care to meet each person's needs.

"Monitoring the heart throughout the cancer journey can ensure it is protected. Cardiotoxicity can occur even in people without cardiovascular risk factors since drugs like anthracyclines and trastuzumab are toxic to the heart, so it is an innocent bystander."

Prof. Robyn Clark

Prof. Clark and team also note that doctors should explicitly tell cancer patients about the risks that their recommended cancer treatments carry and advise them on the best ways to minimize heart risks — for instance, by working to improve relevant lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and diet.

However, if a cancer patient does develop heart failure, they can still access helpful therapies as long as doctors keep a close eye on the condition, says Prof. Clark.

The researchers explain that healthcare professionals can identify cardiotoxicity either by using echocardiograms or cardiac imaging or by looking for specific biomarkers. People who may develop or already have heart failure could receive angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or beta-blockers as a treatment.

At the same time, people whose cancer treatments are damaging their heart health could benefit from modified cancer therapies that minimize this harm, if their doctors closely monitor any cardiovascular developments.

"For cancer patients who do develop heart failure, there are clinics that will improve their quality of life, but our study shows many are not referred," Prof. Clark points out.

"Telephone calls to support and monitor those with cancer and heart failure would reduce the burden of hospital appointments, which patients said was a priority," she emphasizes.

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Atherosclerosis: Research reveals new mechanism and therapeutic target

New research offers fresh insights into how a type of immune cell can destabilize the fatty deposits, or plaques, that form in arteries during atherosclerosis.
illustration of a heart on black background
Healthy arteries keep the heart healthy. A new study may help prevent atherosclerosis — a disease that affects our blood vessels.

Atherosclerosis is a persistent, inflammatory condition in which plaques build up inside arteries, causing them to narrow and restrict blood flow.

When an atherosclerotic plaque bursts or breaks, it can trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Neutrophils are an abundant type of leukocyte (white blood cell) that defend against infection by attacking microbes. They also serve "many roles in inflammation."

The new international study reveals that neutrophils can aggravate atherosclerosis by triggering a previously unknown type of cell death that destabilizes arterial plaques.

A recent Nature paper describes how neutrophils can induce a series of molecular events that also kills the smooth muscle cells that help to retain the plaques in the artery wall.

"Every inflammatory reaction," says co-corresponding study author Prof. Oliver Söhnlein, who is the director of the Institute for Cardiovascular Prevention at the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich in Germany, "results in some collateral damage, because neutrophils also attack healthy cells."

He and his colleagues have also designed and made a "tailored peptide" that could potentially target and block the cell-death process.

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Atherosclerosis and its consequences

Arteries are vessels that supply the heart and other parts of the body with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, which cells need to function and live.

Atherosclerosis develops when various materials, such as cholesterol, fat, and cellular waste, deposit in the tissue lining the arteries. The deposits, or plaques, build up slowly over time causing the arteries to narrow and harden.

When arteries narrow, they impede blood flow and restrict the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells. Depending on where it occurs, the restricted blood flow can result in heart disease, angina, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and chronic kidney disease.

The plaques themselves are also a risk. They can rupture, or pieces can break off, causing blockages. In addition, blockages can arise from blood clots that stick to the inner walls of narrowed arteries.

If the blockage is in an artery that supplies blood to the brain or the heart, it can result in a stroke or heart attack. Blockages in arteries that supply the legs can lead to tissue death, or gangrene.

According to statistics that the American Heart Association publish online, cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attack and stroke, were the primary cause of 840,678 deaths in 2016 in the United States.

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Neutrophils help plaques become unstable

Another feature of atherosclerosis is that it triggers signals that prompt the immune system to send neutrophils and other immune cells through the bloodstream to the plaques.

When they reach a plaque site, the immune cells slip between the endothelial tissue cells of the artery lining. At the same time, they release chemicals that signal to the immune system to send even more immune cells.

This can set up a cycle that turns the initial inflammation response into persistent, or chronic, inflammation. Once the inflammation becomes chronic, it raises the risk that the plaque will grow, rupture, and cause a blockage.

Using mouse models of atherosclerosis to investigate what goes on at cell level, the researchers discovered that neutrophils can play a particularly destructive role in destabilizing plaques.

"They bind to the smooth muscle cells that underlie the vessel wall, and are activated," Prof. Söhnlein explains.

Once active, the neutrophils release "chromosomal DNA and its associated histones, which are highly charged and [toxic to cells]," he continues, adding: "Free histones kill nearby cells – in the case of atherosclerosis, smooth muscle cells."

Histones are proteins that help to package DNA tightly inside chromosomes.

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Peptide could block toxic histones

The histones kill the smooth muscle cells by causing pores to form in their walls. This allows extracellular fluids to seep through the pores into the cells, causing them to burst.

Because smooth muscle cells help to retain the plaques in the artery wall, their destruction causes the fatty deposits to become unstable and more likely to rupture and break.

In another part of the study, the team used molecular modeling to design a small protein molecule, or peptide, that could block the toxic effect of the free histones.

The authors suggest that the "histone-inhibitory peptide" could disrupt the histones by binding to them so that they cannot create pores in the cell membranes.

Prof. Söhnlein says that the synthetic peptide could have a similar effect on other conditions that involve chronic inflammation, such as chronic bowel inflammation and arthritis.

He and his co-authors conclude:

"Our data identify a form of cell death found at the core of chronic vascular disease that is instigated by leukocytes and can be targeted therapeutically."
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'A Viagra-like drug could reverse heart failure'

New research in sheep shows that a drug that doctors usually prescribe for the treatment of erectile dysfunction can also treat heart failure.
man taking pills
A drug that treats erectile dysfunction could also reverse heart failure, according to an animal study.

In people with heart failure, the heart muscle becomes unable to pump out blood efficiently, meaning that some organs may not receive the amount of oxygen that they need to function properly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure and that approximately half of the people with this condition die within about 5 years of receiving their diagnosis.

Moreover, research that Cardiac Failure Review published in 2017 argued that there is a "global pandemic" of heart failure, with this condition affecting an estimated 26 million people worldwide.

Such numbers suggest that finding new ways to treat heart failure is a priority for specialists who study this condition.

Recently, Prof. Andrew Trafford led a team of researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom who found that a drug that doctors typically use to treat erectile dysfunction could also treat systolic heart failure, in which the heart's left ventricle loses the ability to contract as normal.

The findings of the new study, which the researchers conducted in sheep, appeared today in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Tadalafil brings significant improvements

Prof. Trafford and team decided to focus on tadalafil, which is available under the brand name Cialis among others. This drug falls under the same category as sildenafil, which people commonly refer to by the brand name Viagra.

"We do have limited evidence from human trials and epidemiological studies that show tadalafil can be effective in treating heart failure," Prof. Trafford says.

The researchers studied the effects of the drug in sheep, whose hearts are very similar to those of humans. The team treated the sheep with tadalafil once they had developed heart failure symptoms that were serious enough to require intervention.

Prof. Trafford and colleagues induced heart failure in the animals through the use of a pacemaker, and when they treated them with tadalafil, they gave them doses consistent with what a human patient would usually receive for erectile dysfunction.

After just 3 weeks of tadalafil treatment, the researchers began to notice improvements in the animals that received this drug.

The drug improved the heart's contraction and almost completely restored its ability to respond to epinephrine. It is a lack of response to this hormone that causes breathlessness in heart failure.

Although so far, the researchers have only tested the effects of this drug in sheep, Prof. Trafford maintains that humans are likely to experience the same benefits.

"This study provides further confirmation, adds mechanistic details, and demonstrates that tadalafil could now be a possible therapy for heart failure," the researcher notes, adding, "It's entirely possible that some patients taking it for erectile dysfunction have also unwittingly enjoyed a protective effect on their heart."

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'We need safe and effective new treatments'

So, why does this drug have a therapeutic effect on heart failure? The scientists explain that tadalafil helps treat erectile dysfunction by acting on a particular enzyme called phosphodiesterase 5. This enzyme plays a key role in determining how different types of tissue interact with hormones, including epinephrine.

In the case of heart failure, the research team notes, tadalafil allows the heart to start responding to epinephrine once more, which means that the heart muscle regains its ability to pump out blood effectively.

These findings are promising because, as Prof. Trafford says, tadalafil "is a widely used and very safe drug with minimal side effects," but the researcher nevertheless cautions against self-prescription.

"[W]e would not advise the public to treat themselves with the drug, and [they] should always [speak] to their doctor if they have any concerns or questions," Prof. Trafford emphasizes.

"Tadalafil is only suitable as a treatment for systolic heart failure — when the heart is not able to pump properly — and there may be interactions with other drugs patients are taking," he warns.

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Prof. Metin Avkiran, who is Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the current study, expresses hope that these findings might lead to a better treatment that could not only reduce the symptoms of heart failure but also potentially reverse the condition entirely.

"We need safe and effective new treatments for heart failure [...]. The evidence from this study — that a Viagra-like drug could reverse heart failure — should encourage further research in humans to determine if such drugs may help to save and improve lives."

Prof. Metin Avkiran

"Viagra-type drugs were initially developed as potential treatments for heart disease before they were found to have unexpected benefits in the treatment of erectile dysfunction," Prof. Avkiran notes.

"We seem to have gone full circle," he continues, "with findings from recent studies suggesting that they may be effective in the treatment of some forms of heart disease — in this case, heart failure."

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Blood test may predict cardiovascular disease

New research suggests that a simple blood test, which doctors currently use to diagnose heart attacks, may be useful in predicting the risk of cardiovascular disease.
scientist looking at blood sample
New research suggests a simple blood test could accurately predict who will go on to develop cardiovascular disease.

According to the latest statistics from the American Heart Association (AHA), almost half of the people living in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease.

In fact, according to 2016 figures, 121.5 million U.S. adults, or 48 percent of the entire population, have cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is a cluster of conditions that includes hypertension. Doctors often call hypertension the "silent killer" because it does not show any visible symptoms until it is too late.

The same AHA report predicts that by 2035, over 130 million adults will have a form of CVD that could bring costs in the U.S. to 1.1 trillion dollars.

Currently, heart disease is the top leading cause of death in the U.S., while stroke is the fifth.

But what if there was a blood test that could accurately predict whether a person will have heart disease or a stroke?

New research suggests that such a test may already exist. By detecting the blood levels of specific proteins that heart muscles release when they are injured, scientists may be able to predict a person's risk of eventually developing CVD.

Dr. Christie Ballantyne, who is the cardiology chief at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, and his team, detail this idea in a new study that appears in the AHA journal Circulation.

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Troponins are proteins that signal heart muscle damage, and in the new research, Dr. Ballantyne and his colleagues wanted to see if detecting troponin in the blood of healthy middle-aged adults or seniors could predict CVD risk.

Dr. Ballantyne and colleagues analyzed a group of 8,121 people aged 54–74 who participated in the "Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities" study. None of the participants had a history of cardiovascular disease.

The scientists identified troponin levels in 85% of the participants and applied Cox proportional hazards models to examine the links between these levels and cardiovascular disease.

Namely, they studied correlations with coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, heart failure hospitalization, global cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.

The research found that high levels of troponin correlated strongly with "increased global CVD incidence in the general population independent of traditional risk factors."

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High-sensitivity troponin tests, therefore, proved to be an accurate way of predicting CVD risk, especially when combined with a standard method of calculating a person's 10-year cardiovascular risk.

"What we're finding out is that these tests can be used in the general population to give us information as to who is most likely to have a future problem, whether it be a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure," says Dr. Ballantyne.

"If you can treat someone much earlier, before {they] have symptoms, you will be far more effective in preventing events," continues the researcher, who adds, "Our major problem is that we do too little too late."

"If the first time you find out that you're at risk for heart failure is when you actually start getting short of breath and you end up in the hospital, you probably have advanced heart disease already, and it is going to be harder to treat than if that person took steps years earlier."

Dr. C. Ballantyne

Instead, knowing the risk in advance can prompt people to take preventive measures, such as exercising more and watching their blood pressure.

However, the scientists explain that although doctors currently use troponin tests to diagnose a heart attack, they do not yet accept them as a tool for predicting risk. Scientists need to do more research before using these tests to evaluate risk.

"Research in this area is leading us toward individualized care more and more, so we can better predict who's at risk for developing adverse cardiovascular outcomes," comments Dr. Rebecca Vigen, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who did not participate in the research.

"This study is a step in the direction of personalizing care," Dr. Vigen says.

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Patterns of antibiotic use may predict cardiovascular risk

A new study that analyzed the health information of thousands of women found that prolonged antibiotic use is correlated with a higher risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
woman taking medicine
Women may wish to consider limiting their use of antibiotics to prevent cardiovascular issues.

Scientists at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, Harvard Medical School and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Fudan University in Shanghai, China investigated how antibiotic use is linked to women's risk of experiencing cardiovascular problems.

They were interested in the link between antibiotics and cardiovascular health because, they explain, antibiotics can have an important impact on gut microbiota, which, in turn, can affect various other aspects of health.

"Antibiotic use is the most critical factor in altering the balance of microorganisms in the gut," says study co-author Prof. Lu Qi.

"Previous studies have shown a link between alterations in the microbiotic environment of the gut and inflammation and narrowing of the blood vessels, stroke, and heart disease," he adds.

The study — the findings of which appear in the European Heart Journal — analyzes information the scientists collected from a cohort of 36,429 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study.

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Specifically, the researchers examined data from 2004–2012; at the beginning of this period, all the women in the cohort were 60 or older.

All the participants reported how often they used antibiotics and other relevant information during three periods of their lives: ages 20–39, ages 40–59, and ages 60 and over.

Based on the antibiotic use patterns that the women reported, the scientists split them into four groups:

those who had never used antibiotics those who took antibiotics for fewer than 15 consecutive days at a time those who used antibiotics for between 15 days and 2 months those who took antibiotics for over 2 months
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'A cumulative effect' of antibiotic use?

Over a follow-up period of almost 8 years, on average, 1,056 participants developed cardiovascular problems.

Throughout this period, the women continued to offer information about their antibiotic use every couple of years.

The scientists analyzed the data they took throughout this time, adjusting the results for potentially confounding factors. These included age, race, dietary choices, lifestyle habits, medical conditions, and overall drug use.

Women who took antibiotics for very long periods of time (for 2 months or longer) at age 60 or over had a 32% higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease compared with those who had never taken antibiotics.

Those who took antibiotics for 2 months or longer at ages 40–59 were 28% more likely to develop cardiovascular problems than women who did not take antibiotics at that age. However, the team found no correlation between prolonged antibiotic use at ages 20–39 and cardiovascular risk.

"By investigating the duration of antibiotic use in various stages of adulthood," points out first study author Yoriko Heianza, Ph.D., "we have found an association between long-term use in middle age and later life and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease during the following 8 years."

"As these women grew older they were more likely to need more antibiotics, and sometimes for longer periods of time, which suggests a cumulative effect may be the reason for the stronger link in older age between antibiotic use and cardiovascular disease."

Yoriko Heianza, Ph.D.

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'The shorter time of use, the better'

The researchers also note that some of the most common reasons women cited for their antibiotic use included infections — respiratory and pertaining to the urinary tract — and oral health conditions.

Though this is the largest prospective study to date that has looked at the correlation between the use of antibiotics for long periods of time and cardiovascular risk, the research was not without its limitations.

For example, the researchers admit that the main problem they faced in this study was the fact that the participants self-reported their use of antibiotics, which tends to leave room for inaccuracies.

However, they also argue that the participants were likely to report fairly precise information, being healthcare professionals themselves.

The scientists are quite confident in their findings, but they explain that the study was observational and cannot, as yet, speak to cause and effect.

"This is an observational study," notes Prof. Qi, "and so it cannot show that antibiotics cause heart disease and stroke, only that there is a link between them."

"It's possible that women who reported more antibiotic use might be sicker in other ways that we were unable to measure, or there may be other factors that could affect the results that we have not been able [to] take account of," he goes on.

Despite these points, Prof. Qi concludes: "Our study suggests that antibiotics should be used only when they are absolutely needed. Considering the potentially cumulative adverse effects, the shorter time of antibiotic use the better."

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Innovative patch may reduce muscle damage after a heart attack

A recent study in rats shows that an innovative patch prevented the stretching of the heart muscle common after a heart attack.
heart illustration with stethoscope
An innovative new patch limits heart muscle damage after a heart attack.

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that provides the heart muscle with oxygen is significantly reduced or blocked.

The heart muscle is injured in the process, and the amount of damage usually depends on the size of the area supplied by the blocked artery.

It can take about 8 weeks for the heart muscle to heal. Despite the damage, the rest of the heart has to keep on pumping blood.

Scar tissue may form in the injured area and have an impact on the amount of blood that the heart is able to pump.

Most people who survive a heart attack have some degree of coronary artery disease. This occurs when arteries become hardened and narrowed. Usually, survivors have to make crucial lifestyle changes and may have to take medication to prevent a future heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 700,000 people in the United States have a heart attack every year. Of these, more than 500,000 experience their first heart attack and about 200,000 have already had one.

Signs of a heart attack include chest pain and shortness of breath. Half of U.S. individuals have at least one of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking.

Diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use also increase the risk of a heart attack.

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Testing a new type of adhesive heart patch

Scientists at Brown University in Providence, RI, Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and Soochow University in Suzhou, China have collaborated to create and test a new type of adhesive heart patch on rats.

The study was an interdisciplinary effort among researchers in computer modeling and mechanics, material scientists, and cardiology. The scientists published their findings in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The scientists created this adhesive patch using a water-based hydrogel material and developed it using computer simulations. The patch can sit directly on the heart, and the results of the study show that it may help limit the muscle damage that often occurs after a heart attack.

"The idea here," explains study co-author Prof. Huajian Gao, from Brown University, "is to provide mechanical support for damaged tissue, which hopefully gives it a chance to heal."

Prof. Gao goes on to say that past studies had shown that mechanical patches could be effective, but no research had attempted to identify the "optimum mechanical properties." Getting those properties right is crucial to ensuring that the patch can work properly.

"If the material is too hard or stiff," he adds, "then you could confine the movement of the heart so that it can't expand to the volume it needs to. But, if the material is too soft, then it won't provide enough support. So, we needed some mechanical principles to guide us."

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Creating right mechanical properties is key

The researchers developed a computer model focused on two key components, one of which was the expanding and contracting of the heart and the impact the patch had on these functions.

The other was to model the injuries that occur after a heart attack. In this way, the team could look at how much mechanical support would be necessary to limit the damage.

Following the results of the computer model, the researchers — led by Prof. Lei Yang, of Soochow University — created a hydrogel material using food-sourced starch. This material is inexpensive, easy to make, and viscoelastic, which means that "it combines fluid and solid properties."

The study in rats showed that this new type of adhesive patch was effective in reducing muscle damage after a heart attack.

"[It] maintained a better cardiac output and thus greatly reduced the overload of those remaining cardiomyocytes and adverse cardiac remodeling," says study co-author Ning Sun, a cardiology researcher at Fudan University.

Their research found that the patch can reduce cell death, the accumulation of scar tissue, and oxidative stress. The researchers believe that more testing is required, but the results are promising.

"It remains to be seen if it will work in humans, but it's very promising."

Prof. Huajian Gao

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Using small molecules to regenerate heart tissue

New research, which appears in the journal Nature Communications, shows that delivering two small molecules to mice helps their hearts regenerate after a heart attack.
3d illustration of a heart
New research may pave the way for regenerating the heart muscle after a heart attack.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and responsible for almost 1 in 4 deaths in the country.

An adverse cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, typically damages the cells that make up the heart muscle.

These cells are called cardiomyocytes, and losing them puts people at risk of heart failure — a condition wherein the heart cannot pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.

The scientific consensus is that adult hearts can no longer create new cardiomyocytes. This inability is why the heart cannot regenerate itself after a heart attack when huge numbers of cardiomyocytes are lost.

New research, however, renews hope of protecting damaged heart tissue by using small molecules called microRNAs.

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Why microRNAs are important for the heart

MicroRNAs control gene function and they can be found in abundance when the heart is developing.

Past research has identified a cluster of microRNAs called miR-17-92 that controls how cardiomyocytes proliferate. Da-Zhi Wang, Ph.D., a cardiology researcher at Boston Children's Hospital and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, led this previous research.

Now, Prof. Wang and his colleagues have zoomed in on two members of this microRNA family: miR-19a and miR-19b.

In the new study, Prof. Wang and his colleagues show how these two microRNA molecules can drive heart regeneration after myocardial infarction.

The findings could help prevent heart failure following a heart attack, which is, according to the researchers, "the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in humans."

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The short- and long-term effect of microRNAs

Prof. Wang and team used a mouse model of a heart attack and delivered the microRNAs in two different ways.

Firstly, they administered the lipid-coated molecules directly to the mice. Secondly, the researchers placed the microRNAs in an adeno-associated virus — that is, a gene therapy vector that targeted the heart.

With both delivery methods, the results were promising, both in the long term and in the short term.

Namely, in the first 10 days after a heart attack, the microRNAs reduced cell death and stopped the inflammatory reaction that typically damages the heart muscle during a heart attack.

The researchers also carried out a genome-wide transcriptome analysis that revealed how miR-19a/19b repressed the genes that controlled the inflammatory response and acute cell death.

Over time, the hearts of the mice that received the molecules had more healthy tissue, less damaged tissue, better heart muscle contractility, and reduced dilated cardiomyopathy — a condition in which the heart muscle thins, which, ultimately, weakens the heart.

"The initial purpose is to rescue and protect the heart from long-term damage," explains Prof. Wang. "In the second phase, we believe microRNAs help with cardiomyocyte proliferation."

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The advantages of microRNA therapy

The researchers go on to explain the benefits of microRNA therapy. Unlike gene therapy, they say, the microRNA molecules do not stay in the heart after they have fulfilled their purpose.

"They go in very fast and do not last long, but they have a lasting effect in repairing damaged hearts," explains one of the corresponding authors of the study, Jinghai Chen, Ph.D.

"We gave mice only one shot when the heart needed the most help, then [...] we kept checking expression level of miRNA19a/b post-injection," adds Chen. "After one week, expression decreased to a normal level, but the protection lasted for more than one year."

"MicroRNAs hold tremendous promise to become powerful tools to battle cardiovascular disease," write the researchers, who are next planning to test the treatment in a larger mammal before moving on to human studies. Prof. Wang and colleagues conclude:

"[M]iR-19a/19b-mediated early cardiac protection could open a window to the development of effective therapy for heart attack and bring great benefits to heart failure patients."

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Is this chest pain from GERD or a heart attack?

Chest pain can be a sign that a person is having a heart attack. However, chest pain is also a common symptom of other, less serious conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Doctors refer to pain from heart attacks and other conditions that affect the cardiovascular system as cardiac chest pain. Pain that does not come from the cardiovascular system is called noncardiac chest pain.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause heartburn, which is a common type of noncardiac chest pain.

While heart attacks are a life-threatening medical emergency, heartburn is not. Therefore, being able to recognize the difference between cardiac and noncardiac chest pain is essential.

In this article, we discuss the symptoms of GERD and heart attacks along with the differences between cardiac and noncardiac chest pain. We also cover other causes of both types of chest pain.

Is it GERD? Person holding hands over chest in pain because of gerd or heart attack
Many conditions can cause chest pain, including acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when acid from the stomach leaks up into the food pipe, or esophagus. One of the most common symptoms of acid reflux is heartburn, which is a painful burning sensation in the center of the chest just behind the breastbone, or sternum.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a person who experiences acid reflux more than twice a week for a few weeks may have GERD. Close to 20 percent of people in the United States have GERD.

Other symptoms of acid reflux and GERD can include:

People with persistent symptoms of acid reflux or GERD should see a doctor.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Is it a heart attack? Heart attacks occur when the blood supply to the heart muscles becomes completely blocked. If a person does not receive immediate treatment, part of the heart muscle can die. A common symptom of a heart attack is pain or discomfort that typically occurs in the center or left side of the chest. This pain may come and go, and its severity can range from mild to severe. It can also sometimes feel like heartburn or indigestion. However, not everyone who has a heart attack experiences chest pain. The symptoms of a heart attack can vary considerably from person to person, and they may come on slowly or very suddenly. Other symptoms of a heart attack might include: intense pressure or tightness in the center of the chest a feeling of heaviness or weakness in one or both arms pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation in the arms, neck, jaw, lips, or stomach difficulty breathing or shortness of breath nausea and vomiting dizziness or lightheadedness fatigue breaking out in a cold sweat Anyone who suspects that they or someone else is having a heart attack should immediately call 911 or go to the emergency room. Cardiac vs. noncardiac chest pain A person experiencing recurring or severe chest pain should speak to a doctor.
A person experiencing recurring or severe chest pain should speak to a doctor. When trying to distinguish between cardiac and noncardiac chest pain, a person needs to consider the following three factors: the location of the pain how the pain feels the accompanying symptoms We discuss each of these in more detail below: Location of chest pain Both cardiac and noncardiac chest pain can occur in the center of the chest behind the breastbone. However, cardiac chest pain can spread across the chest and even affect other parts of the body, such as the: arms back shoulders neck or throat jaw teeth Noncardiac chest pain, such as heartburn, tends to remain localized, meaning that it does not spread to other areas. Heartburn typically develops behind or underneath the breastbone. How the pain feels Some of the words that people use to describe cardiac chest pain are: pressure squeezing heaviness fullness tightening aching burning In contrast, noncardiac chest pain tends to feel like an intense stabbing or burning sensation just beneath the surface of the skin. Coughing, breathing, or moving can affect the intensity of noncardiac chest pain, while the severity of cardiac chest pain usually remains stable, even when resting. Accompanying symptoms The symptoms accompanying chest pain can be an important indication of whether it is cardiac or noncardiac. The symptoms that can occur along with cardiac chest pain may include: shortness of breath irregular heartbeat dizziness or lightheadedness numbness pain or discomfort in other parts of the body, such as the arms, neck, jaw, shoulders, and back Symptoms that indicate that the chest pain is from heartburn or GERD can include: Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Other causes of cardiac chest pain Causes of cardiac chest pain can include: Angina Coronary artery disease (CAD), also called ischemic heart disease or coronary heart disease, occurs when fatty deposits build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. Over time, these deposits can restrict blood flow, which can cause a type of chest pain called angina. CAD can also lead to heart attacks and heart failure. People often describe angina as a feeling of pressure, squeezing, burning, or tightness behind the breastbone. This pain can spread to other parts of the body, including the arms, jaw, neck, and shoulders. Angina often occurs during physical activity, and stress can also bring it on. If the pain continues after rest, this can be a sign of a heart attack. People who are unsure whether they are experiencing angina or a heart attack should call 911 immediately or go to the emergency room. Myocarditis Myocarditis is a rare form of cardiovascular disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. This inflammation can lead to chest pain, heart failure, or sudden death. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, myocarditis commonly develops without an identifiable cause. However, doctors often diagnose people with myocarditis following a viral or bacterial infection. Myocarditis produces symptoms similar to those of other heart conditions, such as chest tightness and fatigue. Leaning forward can help relieve chest pain resulting from myocarditis. Other symptoms of myocarditis include: slow heart rate irregular heartbeat dizziness or lightheadedness loss of consciousness Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a thickening of the muscle wall in the heart. People can inherit genes from their parents that increase their risk of developing HCM. However, HCM can also occur as a result of high blood pressure, diabetes, or thyroid disease. The symptoms of HCM include: chest pain that often results from exercise shortness of breath fainting fluttering heartbeat or heart palpitations Pulmonary hypertension Pulmonary hypertension refers to high blood pressure in the arteries that supply the lungs. Common symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain, which may occur or worsen with physical activity. Over time, symptoms may become more frequent as the disease progresses. People with pulmonary hypertension may also experience: fatigue and weakness fainting, lightheadedness, or dizziness irregular heartbeat a dry cough that may bring up blood swelling of the legs or feet that results from fluid buildup Other causes of noncardiac chest pain Causes of noncardiac chest pain can include: Pneumonia Pneumonia can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.
Pneumonia can cause shortness of breath and chest pain. Pneumonia is a chest infection that causes the tiny air sacs inside the lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid. A common symptom of pneumonia is chest pain that typically worsens when a person inhales deeply or coughs. The chest pain can range from mild to severe. Other symptoms of pneumonia can include: Peptic ulcer A peptic ulcer is an open sore in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. Bacterial infections and long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers can cause a painful burning sensation that starts in the abdomen and extends to the chest. This pain can come and go and may get better when a person eats or takes an antacid. Other symptoms of peptic ulcers can include: bloating belching nausea and vomiting dark stools unexplained weight loss loss of appetite lightheadedness However, not everyone with peptic ulcers experiences symptoms. Costochondritis Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage around the breastbone. This inflammation can cause tenderness and sharp chest pain that may feel similar to the pain of a heart attack. The pain from costochondritis usually affects the left side of the chest, but it can sometimes affect both sides. Deep breathing, coughing, and physical activity may make the pain worse. Possible causes of costochondritis include severe coughing, chest injuries, infections, and overexertion. Esophageal spasms Involuntary spasms or contractions of the food pipe can cause intense chest pain. These spasms can come on suddenly and sometimes last for several hours. Other symptoms of esophageal spasms may include: intense pain or tightness in the chest feeling as though something has become stuck in the throat stomach contents coming up the food pipe difficulty swallowing It is not always clear why esophageal spasms occur, but risk factors include GERD, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Panic attack A panic attack refers to a sudden attack of intense anxiety and fear. These attacks can last for between a few minutes and several hours, and a person may feel as though they are having a heart attack. Symptoms of a panic attack can include: chest pain pounding, rapid, or irregular heartbeat trembling or shaking shortness of breath a sensation of choking or suffocating nausea dizziness or lightheadedness numbness sweating feelings of doom, loss of control, or unreality A person may have a panic attack in response to a stressful event, but an attack can also occur unexpectedly. Recurrent panic attacks are a symptom of panic disorder. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Summary Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD that causes a painful burning sensation in the center of the chest. This sensation can sometimes feel similar to the chest pain that people experience during a heart attack or attacks of angina. A heart attack is a medical emergency, so being able to tell the difference between heartburn and cardiac chest pain is crucial. If chest pain spreads to other areas of the body, such as the arms or jaw, or occurs alongside symptoms such as shortness of breath and a feeling of tightness in the chest, it might be a sign of a heart attack. If chest pain lasts for more than a few minutes, call 911 immediately. A person who suspects that they or someone else is having a heart attack should immediately call 911 or go straight to the emergency room. It is also advisable to see a doctor about any unexplained chest pain, even if it goes away on its own.
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Plant-based diet cuts heart failure risk by over 40 percent

New research finds that sticking to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish can slash heart failure risk by 41 percent. By contrast, a diet rich in fats, fried foods, processed meat, and sugary drinks can raise the risk of this condition.
male hands eating tomato salad
Adding more vegetables to our plate could keep heart failure at bay.

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot supply enough blood and oxygen to the main organs in the body.

The condition affects about 5.7 million people in the United States and approximately 26 million people worldwide.

Some experts predict that heart failure will become more and more prevalent worldwide, which has led them to refer to it as a "global pandemic."

However, emerging evidence suggests that a diet consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables can prevent cardiovascular disease. Now, a new study strengthens this idea.

Dr. Kyla Lara, a cardiology fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and her colleagues, have examined the associations between five major dietary patterns and the risk of heart failure among people without any known history of heart disease.

Dr. Lara and her team published the results of their study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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The effect of diets on heart failure

The researchers examined data available from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. Namely, they looked at the dietary patterns among 16,068 black and white people who were 45 years old, on average.

The participants answered a 150-item survey, which included 107 food items. The researchers grouped the foods into five dietary patterns:

"convenience" diets, which consisted of meat-heavy dishes, pasta, pizza, and fast food "plant-based" diets, consisting mainly of vegetables, fruit, beans, and fish "Southern" diets, which comprised a significant amount of fried foods, processed meat, eggs, added fats, and sugary drinks "alcohol/salads" diets, which included lots of wine, liquor, beer, leafy greens, and salad dressing.

Dr. Lara and team followed the participants for 8.7 years on average, during which time, 363 people spent time in the hospital for heart failure for the first time.

Of these, 133 people had heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, and 157 had heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. The former refers to a form of heart failure in which the ejection fraction — a measure of how well the heart is pumping blood — is "normal," or "preserved."

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Plant-based diets slash heart failure risk

Overall, the researchers found that adhering to the Southern diet increased the risk of hospitalization due to heart failure by 72 percent.

But when the researchers adjusted for body mass index (BMI), "waist circumference, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, atrial fibrillation, and chronic kidney disease," this association became no longer statistically significant.

This could mean that the Southern diet raises heart failure risk by increasing obesity and abdominal fat, explain the researchers.

Importantly, the researchers found that the risk of heart failure hospitalizations was 41 percent lower among people who adhered to the plant-based diet.

Finally, the researchers found no statistically significant associations among heart failure risk and the other three dietary patterns.

"Adherence to a plant-based dietary pattern was inversely associated with incident [heart failure] risk, whereas the Southern dietary pattern was positively associated with incident [heart failure] risk," conclude the researchers, who also outline some strengths and limitations to their study.

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The researchers say that the socio-economically and demographically diverse study sample made the associations stronger. However, the study participants may have wrongly estimated their dietary intakes, which may have biased the results.

Also, the researchers examined the participants' diets only at the beginning of the study, and these dietary habits may have changed throughout the study period.

In a linked editorial, Dr. Dong Wang, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, comments on the significance of the findings, "This study represents an important step forward in establishing a robust evidence base for the dietary prevention of heart failure."

"The need for population-based preventive strategies for heart failure is critical [...] These findings support a population-based dietary strategy for lowering the risk of incident heart failure."

Dr. Kyla Lara

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Replacing red meat with plant protein reduces heart disease risk

A meta-analysis of trials comparing the health effects of red meat consumption with those of other diets found that substituting healthful plant protein for red meat helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Spelt, broccoli, savoy cabbage with chargrilled tofu with sriracha as plant protein
Eating plant proteins, such as tofu, may benefit cardiovascular health.

Many studies throughout the years have linked the consumption of red meat to cardiovascular disease and cancer, but the results have been inconsistent.

A 2015 study comparing the effects of plant protein and animal protein on the risk of cardiovascular disease found that the evidence was inconclusive.

Recent studies further investigated the link between red meat consumption and heart disease and found that red meat does not significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease when a person sticks to the recommended intake. Most of these studies focused on the potential harms of red meat, but they did not include an analysis of other specific diets.

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, conducted the first meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials analyzing the effects of red meat by replacing it with other types of food. The results feature in the journal Circulation.

Red meat consumption in the United States

This new approach allowed researchers to examine a different side of the issue. Red meat consumption remains a very controversial topic, especially in the U.S., where the consumption of red meat per capita was more than 200 pounds in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Although red meat consumption in the U.S. is still high, chicken production and consumption have been increasing. The U.S. per capita beef consumption is down from its peak, but it is still remarkable — it is four times as high as the global average, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A recent survey showed that many people in the U.S. might be open to reducing their meat consumption in the future because they are becoming more aware of the associations that red meat has with nutritional and environmental health harms. The researchers suggested that education campaigns are necessary to accelerate the shift to a more sustainable diet.

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Asking 'Is red meat good or bad?' is useless

In this latest study, the researchers analyzed data from 36 randomized controlled trials, which included a total of 1,803 participants. The team looked at blood pressure and blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins in people who ate diets with red meat. They then compared these values with those of people who ate more of other foods, such as chicken, fish, carbohydrates, legumes, soy, or nuts.

"Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent," says Marta Guasch-Ferré, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"But, our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors."

The findings showed that there were no significant differences in total cholesterol, lipoproteins, or blood pressure between those who ate red meat and those who ate more of other types of food. However, diets high in red meat did cause an increase in triglyceride concentrations. Conversely, diets rich in high-quality plant protein lowered the levels of bad cholesterol.

"Asking 'Is red meat good or bad?' is useless," says Meir Stampfer, senior author of the study and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan. "It has to be 'Compared to what?'"

"If you replace burgers with cookies or fries, you don't get healthier. But, if you replace red meat with healthy plant protein sources, like nuts and beans, you get a health benefit."

Prof. Meir Stampfer

The authors recommend that people follow healthful vegetarian and Mediterranean-style diets that provide plenty of high-quality plant protein because they offer excellent health benefits and promote environmental sustainability.

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Scientists 'print' 3D heart using patient's tissue

Although 3D printing has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past few years, using it to print functioning human organs is still a far-flung dream. Recently, however, scientists have brought this dream one step closer.
3D printed heart
A 3D-printed heart engineered from the patient's own tissues and cells.
Image credit: Advanced Science 2019 The Authors

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 610,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease each year.

Once it has progressed to its final stages, the only treatment option is a heart transplant.

Because there are too few heart donors, the wait for a life-saving transplant is long.

Scientists are keen to find ways of patching up existing heart tissue to remove or postpone the need for a transplant.

For instance, if surgeons could impant a material into the heart, it could form a temporary scaffold to support cells and boost cellular reorganization.

This so-called cardiac tissue engineering has a number of problems; primarily, scientists need to find a type of material that the body would not reject. Researchers have already tried a range of materials and methods, but the perfect candidates are cells from the body of the patient.

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Bioink and stem cells

During recent years, researchers have made some progress toward artificially replicating human tissue.

A group of scientists from Tel Aviv University in Israel has taken this work one step further and moved cardiac tissue engineering to the next stage.

"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers."

Lead researcher Prof. Tal Dvir

The scientists have designed a groundbreaking approach that allows them to create the closest thing to an artificial heart to date.

Their first step was to take a biopsy of fatty tissue from the patient; then, they separated cellular material from noncellular material.

The researchers reprogrammed the cells of the fatty tissue to become pluripotent stem cells, which can develop into the range of cell types necessary to grow a heart.

The noncellular material consists of structural components, such as glycoproteins and collagen; the scientists modified these to turn them into a "bioink."

Then, they mixed this bioink with the stem cells. The cells differentiated into cardiac or endothelial cells (which line blood vessels), which the scientists could use to create cardiac patches, including blood vessels.

They describe their methods in detail in a recent paper published in the journal Advanced Science.

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'The size of a rabbit's heart'

"This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. In our process these materials serve as the bioinks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3D printing of complex tissue models," says Prof. Dvir.

He goes on to say: "People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels. Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future."

To demonstrate the potential of their technique, the scientists created a small but anatomically precise heart, complete with blood vessels and cells.

"At this stage, our 3D heart is small, the size of a rabbit's heart," says Prof. Dvir. "But larger human hearts require the same technology."

It is worth noting that this technology is still very far from being able to replace heart transplants. This is just another step along the path — albeit a rather large step.

The crucial next task, as Prof. Dvir says, is to teach them to behave like hearts; he explains that they "need to develop the printed heart further. The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together."

"Our hope," he goes on, "is that we will succeed and prove our method's efficacy and usefulness."

There is still a long road ahead, but the researchers are excited about how far they have come.

"Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely."

Prof. Tal Dvir

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5-minute breathing 'workout' may benefit heart and brain health

Preliminary research reveals that a technique called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training can boost cognitive and physical performance, as well as cardiovascular health.
nurse taking woman's blood pressure
New research adds another tool in the toolbox for preventing high blood pressure.

Most of us know that exercising and eating right are good for us.

However, putting in the effort to do so can often require more willpower than we have.

What if there was a way to reap all the benefits of a workout without having to lift a finger?

New research introduces a 5-minute technique that might improve blood pressure, lower heart attack risk, boost cognitive ability, and enhance sports performance — all while barely having to move.

The technique is called Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), and researchers led by Daniel Craighead — a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Colorado Boulder's Department of Integrative Physiology — have tested the technique in a clinical trial.

"IMST is basically strength-training for the muscles you breathe in with," explains Craighead. The researcher and his colleagues presented the preliminary results of their research at the annual Experimental Biology conference, which this year takes place in Orlando, FL.

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Why study the benefits of IMST?

IMST involves inhaling through a resistive hand-held device called an inspiratory muscle trainer. Its creators initially developed it for people with respiratory problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, or cystic fibrosis, or to wean people off ventilators.

Craighead and team explain that in 2016, a 6-week trial on the effects of IMST on obstructive sleep apnea — during which participants performed 30 inhalations per day — revealed that using the device also lowered systolic blood pressure by 12 millimeters of mercury.

Exercising for the same amount of time usually only lowers blood pressure by half that amount, and the benefits seem to exceed those normally achieved with hypertension medication.

This trial piqued the researchers' interest, so they set out to study the possible benefits of IMST for the vascular, cognitive, and physical health of 50 middle-aged adults.

"Our goal is to develop time-efficient, evidence-based interventions that [...] busy midlife adults will actually perform," explains senior investigator Prof. Doug Seals, the director of the University of Colorado Boulder's Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.

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Lowers blood pressure and boosts cognition

The researchers compared participants who tried IMST with people who used a sham device that provided no resistance on inhalation. They found that the blood pressure was significantly lower among IMST participants and that the function of their large arteries had improved considerably.

IMST participants also performed better on cognitive tests and treadmill tests. In the treadmill tests, they were able to run for longer and keep their heart rate and oxygen consumption low.

"[IMST is] something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance."

Daniel Craighead

"High blood pressure," claims Craighead, "is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in America. Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory."

However, the study authors caution that their results are preliminary, and that people interested in the technique should consult their physician first.

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What causes an abnormal EKG result?

An electrocardiogram, or EKG, is a simple test that doctors use to measure the electrical activity of the heart. This helps them look for underlying heart conditions.

Sometimes, an abnormal EKG reading is actually just a normal variation in a person's heart rhythm. In other cases, it may be due to an underlying condition of the heart or a reaction to a medication the person is taking.

An EKG reading is a helpful diagnostic tool. Once a doctor has identified the underlying condition, they can suggest appropriate treatment.

EKG results EKG results being held by person
An EKG can help visualize the electrical activity of the heart.

To many people, an EKG is just a series of lines. However, each line corresponds to an electrical signal sent from the heart.

Doctors know how to read and interpret these lines, which gives them a sense of the overall state of the heart.

The administering doctor or healthcare professional will attach electrodes to a person's skin, typically at 10 different points around their chest and on the limbs.

Each heartbeat sends out an electrical impulse. These electrodes pick up this impulse and record the activity in a wave form on a graph.

All of this happens in the blink of an eye, which is why an EKG is so important. An EKG can catch all of these tiny details and record them for a doctor to analyze.

Thank you for supporting Medical News Today What causes an abnormal EKG? An abnormal EKG means that there is something unexpected in the EKG reading. This is not always a sign of an unhealthy heart. For instance, in 2015, researchers found that competitive sports athletes regularly had abnormal EKG readings. The researchers indicated that the majority of these results were harmless and due to the person's adaptation to exercise. However, they still called for thorough screening to check for any other risk factors. With this in mind, an abnormal EKG reading could appear for many reasons, including: Irregular heart rate An EKG will pick up any irregularities in a person's heart rate. The human heart typically beats at around 60–100 beats per minute. A heart that beats any faster or slower than this may indicate an underlying issue. A doctor will want to run additional tests to find the underlying cause. Irregular heart rhythm Although it may vary slightly between each person, each heart keeps a steady rhythm. A person may physically feel changes in this rhythm, such as skipped heartbeats or feeling as though the heart is fluttering. An EKG will help doctors see how and where the heart is beating out of rhythm but will only be able to record the irregularity if it happens during the test. Since this is unlikely, doctors may recommend using a Holter monitor, which monitors the heart's activity for 24 hours or longer. This gives doctors a better opportunity to catch the irregularity. Abnormalities in the shape of the heart An EKG gives doctors an idea of how hard the heart is working in each specific area. An abnormal EKG result can be a sign that one region or section of the heart is larger or thicker than the others. A thickened heart could mean that the heart is working too hard to pump blood. This may be due to a congenital or acquired heart condition. Electrolyte imbalances Electrolyte minerals are important for overall health, but they also play a role in heart health and may even cause an abnormal EKG. Electrolytes conduct electricity in the body and help keep the heart rate and rhythm consistent. An imbalance in electrolyte minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium, or magnesium may cause an abnormal EKG reading. Medication side effects Taking certain medication may cause abnormal EKG results.
Taking certain medications may cause abnormal EKG results. Some medications may cause an abnormal EKG reading. Anyone who is getting an EKG should discuss any medications they are taking with a doctor. It may also help to check the list of side effects provided on the packaging. Some medications that help balance the heart rhythm may actually cause abnormal heart rhythms in some people. Such medications include certain beta-blockers and sodium channel blockers. If a doctor thinks that the type of medication a person is taking may be causing their symptoms, they may suggest alternatives and then do a follow-up EKG to see how the person responds to the new medication. High blood pressure Other aspects of heart disease may lead to an abnormal EKG. For example, people with high blood pressure are more likely to have an abnormal EKG reading. Heart attack Sometimes, an abnormal EKG result may be a sign of a serious issue, such as a heart attack. When a person has a heart attack, the heart can lose its fresh supply of blood, which can cause tissue damage and even cell death. Damaged tissue will not conduct electricity as well as healthy tissue, which could cause the abnormal EKG reading. Treatments Treatment for an abnormal EKG depends on the underlying issue. If the doctor suspects the abnormal EKG is a result of normal variances in the human heart, they may recommend no treatment at all. If a certain medication is causing the abnormal readings, they may recommend an alternative. If the doctor suspects that a person has an electrolyte imbalance, they may suggest fluids or medications that contain electrolytes. Other issues may require more individualized treatments. An arrhythmia may or may not require treatment. Most arrhythmias pose little to no risk to the person, as they may not cause symptoms or interfere with the heart's function. On the other hand, some arrhythmias may interfere with the heart's ability to pump blood. If a heart is having trouble keeping a steady rhythm, a doctor may recommend medications or ask the person to wear a pacemaker to help restore the heart's rhythm. Anyone having a heart attack will need emergency medical treatment. The person may also need to undergo surgeries such as angioplasty to keep the blood flowing and reduce damage to the tissues. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today When do you need an EKG? Man having an electrocardiogram or EKG in hospital
A doctor may recommend an EKG to diagnose or monitor heart conditions. Many people will get an EKG reading at some point in their lives, often due to experiencing common symptoms such as chronic chest pain, shortness of breath, or a rapid pulse. Doctors may also regularly use EKGs to check on people with diagnosed heart disease. Another reason to get an EKG is experiencing heart palpitations or arrhythmia. A person may feel as though their heart skips a beat, that their heart is fluttering, or that it is beating very strongly. Doctors may recommend an EKG here to check for any underlying issues. They may order additional tests depending on the results. Summary An EKG is a risk-free and noninvasive procedure. It does not send electricity into the body and will not cause any pain. It is an important tool for diagnosing conditions affecting the heart. Most people will undergo an EKG at some point. Although having an abnormal EKG can seem scary, it is important to understand that it is just one part of a proper diagnosis. Many things can cause an abnormal EKG, and not all of them are dangerous. A doctor can recommend further tests to diagnose the underlying cause of a person's symptoms and EKG results.
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Atherosclerosis: Scans spot inflammation in arteries before they harden

By the time plaques have formed in arteries, the process of atherosclerosis, a condition that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, is already well underway. Now, by using advanced imaging technology to spot artery inflammation, scientists have for the first time found a way to track the condition before the plaques develop.
older man about to have mri scan
Scientists are using advanced PET/MRI to predict atherosclerosis.

The finding, which appears in a recent Journal of the American College of Cardiology paper, should lead to better, earlier diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis, say the study's researchers, who work at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) in Spain.

Although scientists now understand atherosclerosis to be a persistent, inflammatory disease, it is not clear how much inflammation exists, and how it develops, in the early stages of the condition.

The recent study addresses this shortfall by using an advanced form of positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance imaging (PET/MRI) to detect the beginnings of artery inflammation in people who already had some atherosclerotic plaques in some of their arteries.

The study is part of the Progression of Early Subclinical Atherosclerosis (PESA) trial that is evaluating the pre-symptom stages of atherosclerosis in more than 4,000 middle-aged employees of the Banco de Santander Group in Madrid, Spain.

Study author Dr. Valentín Fuster, director of the CNIC, is the lead investigator of the PESA trial, which is the first to use PET/MRI techniques on such a large cohort of people.

He explains that it was not very long ago that all the knowledge of how atherosclerosis developed came only from autopsies.

"Today for the first time," he adds, "we present, with very advanced imaging technology, how atherosclerotic disease develops in people."

He remarks that while the individuals may appear to be healthy, "we can already see how different aspects of the atherosclerotic process are evolving."

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Arteries and atherosclerosis

Arteries are the vessels that carry nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the heart and the rest of the body.

Atherosclerosis happens when fat, calcium, cholesterol, and other materials deposit inside artery walls to form plaques. The plaques can build up inside any artery, including those that carry blood to the heart, brain, limbs, kidneys, and pelvic area.

As time goes on, the plaques harden. Hardening plaques stiffen and narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow and the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues.

This process can lead to potentially fatal cardiovascular consequences, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

According to figures that the American Heart Association help to compile, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions were the "underlying cause" of 840,678 deaths in the United States in 2016, accounting for around 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. that year.

"We are talking about the number one killer today in the world," says Dr. Fuster.

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Potential predictor of atherosclerotic plaques

Dr. Fuster and his colleagues demonstrated that inflammation of the arteries "is highly prevalent in middle-aged individuals with known subclinical atherosclerosis." This was particularly apparent in artery regions that had not yet developed plaques.

They suggest that "an arterial inflammatory state" could be a predictor for the later development of plaques and atherosclerotic disease.

The investigation involved analyzing advanced PET/MRI imaging results for 755 participants in the PESA trial. Their average age was 49 years, and they had all undergone exams that had revealed the presence of calcium buildup or plaques in some arteries.

First study author Leticia Fernández-Friera, who is a cardiologist at CNIC and the University Hospital HM Monteprincipe Madrid, says that they examined three main types of artery — "the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head; the aorta, the body's largest artery; and the iliofemoral arteries, which supply blood to the legs."

Using the advanced imaging technology, the team found inflammation was evident in only around 10 percent of plaques that had already formed.

Most of the inflammation was in artery regions with no atherosclerotic plaques at all. More than half of individuals had this type of plaque-free inflammation, with most of it occurring in femoral arteries.

Where plaques did show signs of inflammation, they tended to be larger, contained more cholesterol, and were more likely to be in the branches of the femoral arteries.

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Inflammation linked to more risk factors

Dr. Fernández-Friera says that they also found that "inflammation was associated with the presence of more risk factors; obesity and smoking, in particular, were independent predictors of the presence of arterial inflammation."

Dr. Fuster explains that the findings show how, because of the power of the technology, it is now possible to have "live images" of inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis as it is happening.

This should help to diagnose the condition sooner and to identify people who are most likely to reap the benefits of early treatment.

Dr. Fuster proposes that further research should now "investigate whether inflammation precedes the development of the plaque and assess how the quantification of inflammation might contribute to the evaluation of cardiovascular risk."

He and his team are already looking in more detail at the process of arterial inflammation, and how it might contribute to plaque formation. They hope that this will result in an improvement in the anti-inflammatory treatment of atherosclerosis.

"Thanks to the PET/MRI technology, inflammation could be visualized at earlier stages of atherosclerosis disease, especially in regions free of atherosclerotic plaques."

Dr. Leticia Fernández-Friera

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