The Heart

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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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Sugary drinks can be a factor in cardiovascular disease

Recent research uncovers an association between sugar-sweetened drinks and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
2 Soft drinks on a table in a restaurant
Sugary drinks seem to be linked with higher mortality rates from CVD.

The new study appeared in the journal Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).

The results showed that when people consumed more sugary drinks, their risk of death rose accordingly.

To understand this association, the researchers looked at data from 37,716 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and 80,647 women in the Nurses' Health Study.

After controlling for other dietary factors, physical activity, and BMI, the team determined that these sugary drinks were associated with higher mortality rates from cardiovascular disease (CVD), as well as higher cancer rates.

They also looked at the connection between artificially sweetened drinks and death.

The researchers found that replacing a sugary drink with an artificially sweetened beverage lowered the risk of death somewhat; however, drinking four or more artificially sweetened beverages was associated with a higher risk of death among women.

"Drinking water in place of sugary drinks is a healthy choice that could contribute to longevity," says Vasanti Malik, the study's lead author and a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA. She continues:

"Diet soda may be used to help frequent consumers of sugary drinks cut back their consumption, but water is the best and healthiest choice."

Vasanti Malik

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The prevalence of CVD

In the United States, CVD, when listed as the underlying cause of death, accounts for around 1 out of every 3 deaths. CVD is responsible for more deaths each year than all the types of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, and it is the leading cause of death worldwide.

A number of risk factors are associated with CVD. Smoking tobacco is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease, as are a lack of physical activity and poor nutrition.

A healthy lifestyle is a factor that people can directly control when it comes to CVD, and the AHA have several suggestions about improving overall health and reducing the onset of the disease.

The AHA recommend that adults focus on getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. It is also important to avoid tobacco in any form, including vaping, cigarettes, and nicotine products.

Nutrition is another key component of cardiovascular health. The AHA suggest consuming plenty of produce, fiber-rich whole grains, poultry, and fish. For other meat, look for lean cuts and prepare them without added fats or excess sodium. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, and add foods that are rich in "good" fats, such as salmon and avocado.

Another vital goal, nutrition-wise, is avoiding added sugars. This not only includes sugar-sweetened beverages but foods as well, as added sugar can really add up over the course of a day and lead to unwanted effects.

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Unintended consequences

It can be difficult, the researchers say, to give up a long-ingrained habit of enjoying sugar-sweetened beverages.

Substituting an artificially sweetened drink for one laden in sugar can be a good idea, but for those who consume four or more per day, it might not be as safe as most people believe.

Water can not only take the place of beverages that carry health risks, it is crucial for good health, as it helps regulate temperature, keeps joints in good shape, and helps rid the body of waste.

Drinking water can also reduce a person's overall caloric intake as well as save money. Some people enjoy fruit-infused water, which contains some flavor without all the extra sugar.

"These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death," explains Dr. Walter Willett, who co-authored the study.

He continues, "The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences."

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What are the health benefits of dark chocolate?

Dark chocolate is rich in minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. The cocoa in dark chocolate also contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which may provide several health benefits.

Chocolate comes from cacao, which is a plant with high levels of minerals and antioxidants. Commercial milk chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and small quantities of cacao. In contrast, dark chocolate has much larger amounts of cacao and less sugar than milk chocolate.

In this article, we explore some of the potential health benefits of dark chocolate. We also cover nutritional information, risks and considerations, and how much to eat.

Antioxidants dark chocolate benefits
Dark chocolate contains compounds with antioxidant properties.

Dark chocolate contains several compounds that possess antioxidant properties, such as flavanols and polyphenols. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress refers to the damage that excessive amounts of free radicals can inflict on cells and tissues in the body.

Oxidative stress contributes to the natural aging process. Over time, the effects of oxidative stress may also contribute to the development of a variety of diseases, such as:

Heart disease risk Regularly eating dark chocolate may help reduce a person's likelihood of developing heart disease. Some of the compounds in dark chocolate, specifically flavanols, affect two major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We discuss the potential benefits of dark chocolate for these two risk factors and others below: Blood pressure The flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate, or widen, which improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. A 2015 study investigated the effects of chocolate consumption in 60 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. The researchers found that participants who ate 25 grams (g) of dark chocolate daily for 8 weeks had significantly lower blood pressure than those who ate the same quantity of white chocolate. The findings of a 2017 review showed that the beneficial effects of dark chocolate on blood pressure might be more significant in older people and those with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, as opposed to younger, healthy individuals. Cholesterol Dark chocolate also contains certain compounds, such as polyphenols and theobromine, that may lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the body and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Doctors often refer to LDL cholesterol as "good cholesterol" and HDL cholesterol as "bad cholesterol." A 2017 study reported that eating dark chocolate for 15 days raised HDL cholesterol levels in people living with HIV. However, dark chocolate consumption did not affect LDL cholesterol levels in the study participants. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Anti-inflammatory effects dark chocolate benefits for arthritis
Eating dark chocolate may help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is part of the body's natural immune response to germs and other harmful substances. However, chronic inflammation can damage cells and tissues and may increase the risk of some health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and certain types of cancer. Dark chocolate contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the body. A small pilot study from 2018 involving five healthy people examined the effects of dark chocolate on the immune system. The results suggested that consuming large amounts of 70-percent dark chocolate affects the activity of genes that regulate the immune response. However, it remains unclear how this study will be of practical significance. In another study from 2018, researchers found that eating 30 g of 84-percent dark chocolate each day for 8 weeks significantly reduced inflammatory biomarkers in people with type 2 diabetes. The authors of the study concluded that there is a need for additional studies to evaluate the optimal amounts of dark chocolate to use to treat those with diabetes. Insulin resistance Insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells stop responding to the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance can cause abnormally high levels of blood glucose, which can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. A 6-month study from 2018 examined the relationship between regular dark chocolate consumption and blood glucose levels among Hispanic individuals. The research findings suggest that eating 2 g of 70-percent dark chocolate each day may help lower fasting glucose levels and reduce insulin resistance. Brain function Eating dark chocolate may improve brain function and help prevent neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The findings of a small 2018 study suggest that the flavanols present in dark chocolate may enhance neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to reorganize itself, particularly in response to injury and disease. A study from 2016 identified a positive association between regular chocolate consumption and cognitive performance. However, the researchers collected data from surveys and had to rely on self-reported chocolate intake, so they were unable to draw any definitive conclusions from the findings. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Nutritional information dark chocolate benefits bar
Dark chocolate with 70–85 percent cocoa is a good source of magnesium, zinc, and iron. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a 101-g bar of dark chocolate with 70–85 percent cocoa solids provides: 604 calories 7.87 g of protein 43.06 g of fat 46.36 g of carbohydrates 11.00 g of dietary fiber 24.23 g of sugar 12.02 milligrams (mg) of iron 230.00 mg of magnesium 3.34 mg of zinc Risks and considerations The health benefits of dark chocolate come primarily from the flavanols present in the cacao solids. However, flavanol content varies among dark chocolate products. Processing methods also differ between manufacturers, and this can affect the flavanol content of the chocolate. There is no legal requirement for chocolate manufacturers to report the flavanol content in their products. However, dark chocolate products with a higher percentage of cacao solids should generally contain more flavanols. Although dark chocolate contains beneficial antioxidants and minerals, it is usually also high in sugar and fat, which makes it a very calorie-dense food. Dark chocolate contains fat in the form of cocoa butter, which mainly consists of unhealthful saturated fats. People should, therefore, try to limit their consumption of dark chocolate to avoid consuming too many calories, fats, and sugars. In general, dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate and white chocolate. Dark chocolate with higher percentages of cacao solids typically contains even less sugar. Sugar content varies among chocolate manufacturers, so it is advisable to check the nutrition label. How much to eat? Chocolate manufacturers do not have to report the flavanol content of their products. As a result, it is difficult to know how much dark chocolate a person would need to eat to maximize its health benefits. The studies in this article generally used 20–30 g of dark chocolate per day. Dark chocolate with higher percentages of cacao solids typically contains less sugar but more fat. More cacao also means more flavanols, so it is best to choose dark chocolate that includes at least 70 percent cacao solids. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Summary Dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants and minerals, and it generally contains less sugar than milk chocolate. Some research suggests that dark chocolate may help lower the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation and insulin resistance, and improve brain function. People who are interested in adding dark chocolate to their diet should keep in mind that it is high in fat and calories, so moderation is key.
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Heart disease and depression: Scientists find missing link

Researchers already recognized the link between depression and heart disease. However, until recently, the mechanisms explaining it remained a mystery. A new study reveals that stress-induced inflammation may explain why mental and cardiovascular health are so intimately related.
senior man having his heart examined by doctor
Why are people with depression more likely to have heart disease?

Heart disease is now the leading cause of death both in the United States and worldwide.

Depression, meanwhile, is the "leading cause of disability worldwide," as well as one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S.

A significant body of research has established a connection between the two conditions.

For example, reviews of existing studies have shown that people with cardiovascular disease are more likely to have depression, and people with depression have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Also, those with depression and heart disease are more likely to die from the latter than those who only have heart disease. This relationship is also proportional, meaning that the more severe the depression, the more likely it is that a person will develop heart disease or die from it.

What explains this link? Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom set out to investigate. Golam Khandaker, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge, led the new research with his colleague Stephen Burgess.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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Studying heart disease and depression risk

The team examined data on almost 370,000 people aged 40–69. The data were readily available in the UK Biobank database.

They first wanted to see whether having a family history of coronary heart disease also increased the risk of major depression, and they found that it did.

In fact, people who had lost at least one parent to heart disease had a 20 percent higher risk of depression.

Next, the scientists wondered whether genes determined this link. They calculated the genetic risk score for coronary heart disease but found no connection between the genetic predisposition to develop heart disease and the risk of depression.

This suggested to the scientists that depression and heart disease do not share a common genetic predisposition. Instead, they wondered whether there were any environmental factors that may raise the risk of developing both conditions.

To find out, they applied a statistical tool called Mendelian randomization to examine 15 biological markers, or biomarkers, that may affect heart disease risk.

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Scientists use this technique "to assess the causality of an observed association between a [...] risk factor and a clinically relevant outcome."

Their analysis revealed three biomarkers for the risk of heart disease that were also depression risk factors: triglycerides and the inflammation-related proteins IL-6 and CRP.

The scientists explain that our bodies produce the inflammation proteins IL-6 and CRP in response to physiological factors such as infections and lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, and physical inactivity, as well as in response to psychological stress.

High inflammation markers are often present in treatment-resistant depression, and high levels of IL-6 and CRP in particular often characterize acute depressive episodes.

Also, previous studies the researchers cited have shown that people with high levels of IL-6 and CRP are more likely to develop depression.

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Inflammation may explain link

"It is possible," Khandaker points out, "that heart disease and depression share common underlying biological mechanisms, which manifest as two different conditions in two different organs — the cardiovascular system and the brain."

"Our work suggests that inflammation could be a shared mechanism for these conditions."

Golam Khandaker

However, the researchers caution that more work is now necessary. They also note that the role of triglycerides in depression risk has yet to be understood.

"Although we don't know what the shared mechanisms between these diseases are, we now have clues to work with that point toward the involvement of the immune system," says Burgess.

"Identifying genetic variants that regulate modifiable risk factors," he goes on, "helps to find what is actually driving disease risk."

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Higher cholesterol, egg consumption linked to heart disease

A recent study has linked higher consumption of eggs or dietary cholesterol to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. The finding is likely to rekindle the debate on eggs and heart health.
close-up of hands preparing eggs in a pan
New research suggests that people should restrict their daily egg intake as part of a healthful diet.

For example, the new study seems to contradict the decision in the United States to omit specific limits on daily intakes of dietary cholesterol and eggs from official advice on healthful eating.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, and other institutions pooled and analyzed data from six U.S. cohort studies covering a total of 29,615 people. Of these, 45 percent were male and 31 percent were black.

They compared eating patterns at baseline, when the average participant age was 52 years, with cardiovascular diseases and deaths that occurred during a follow-up that lasted up to 31 years and whose midpoint was 17 years.

The team describes the findings in a JAMA paper.

Co-corresponding study author Norrina B. Allen Ph.D., an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern, says that the "take-home message" of the study "is really about cholesterol, which happens to be high in eggs and specifically yolks."

"People who consume less cholesterol have a lower risk of heart disease," she adds.

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Guidelines do not limit cholesterol or eggs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the "leading cause of death" in the U.S.

For decades there has been a debate about whether consumption of eggs or dietary cholesterol raises the risk of heart disease and early death.

The official recommendation in the U.S. before 2015 was that people should limit their daily egg consumption to no more than 300 milligrams (mg), which is less than two large eggs.

The more recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, however, no longer provide limits on dietary cholesterol and egg intake. They include weekly intake of eggs as part of a healthful diet.

"Adequate evidence," they claim, "is not available for a quantitative limit for dietary cholesterol specific to the Dietary Guidelines."

The revised guidelines do, however, retain the message that the choice to drop specific limits does "not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building health[ful] eating patterns."

Only foods of animal origin — including dairy products, eggs, shellfish, poultry, and meat — contain dietary cholesterol.

Of the foods most typical of the U.S. diet, eggs contain the most cholesterol. There are around 186 mg of cholesterol in the yolk of a large egg.

The average U.S. adult consumes about 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day and about three or four eggs per week.

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Higher risk of heart disease and death

Dr. Allen believes that the problem with studies that have found no links between egg consumption and higher risk of cardiovascular disease is that they used less diverse samples and shorter follow-ups, and that they were less able to adjust for other items in the diet.

"Our study," she notes, "showed if two people had [the] exact same diet and the only difference in diet was eggs, then you could directly measure the effect of the egg consumption on heart disease."

The dietary data for the new study came either from completion of questionnaires or interviews that took place during a single visit. These yielded details of what each person had eaten either in the previous year or month.

Around 5,400 cardiovascular events and 6,132 deaths from all causes occurred over the follow-up period. Examples of cardiovascular events include diagnoses of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure.

The scientists found that for "each additional" intake of 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day, there was a significant 17 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 percent higher risk of death from any cause.

The team also calculated the "absolute risk differences" for these results. These were 3.24 percent and 4.43 percent, respectively.

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In other words, for every 1,000 participants in their study, there were 32 additional diagnoses of cardiovascular disease and 4 deaths for every extra 300 mg of cholesterol consumed per day.

The analysis also showed that for each additional half egg eaten per day, there was a 6 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent higher risk of all-cause death.

The overall quality of people's diet, the type and amount of fat that they ate, and the amount of exercise that they undertook appeared to have no effect on these links.

"These results," explain the study authors, "should be considered in the development of dietary guidelines and updates."

Single snapshot of diet pattern

Among the study's strengths are the fact that it used a large and diverse sample of people from the U.S., and that there was a long follow-up period.

However, one limitation worth noting is that it only used a single snapshot of egg and cholesterol consumption, and that was at the beginning of the follow-up. People can change their eating habits, and 17–31 years offers plenty of opportunity to do so.

Commenting on the findings, Tom Sanders — who is a professor of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London in the United Kingdom — points out that because the study is prospective, it cannot establish cause and effect; it can only suggest links.

"However," he adds, "the take-home message supported by the accompanying editorial would support the view that a typical [U.S.] diet, which contains lots of meat and plenty of eggs, is associated with poor cardiovascular health and that the [country's] dietary guidelines should reinstate its recommendation that cholesterol intake should not exceed 300 mg per day."

"As part of a healthy diet, people need to consume lower amounts of cholesterol."

Norrina B. Allen Ph.D.

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Common blood pressure drug may increase cardiac arrest risk

A preliminary study concludes that a drug that doctors commonly prescribe to treat angina and blood pressure might increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Woman with chest pain sitting on a bench
A recent study looked at the risk factors behind cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body. If a person does not receive treatment, cardiac arrest can be lethal within minutes.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), in the United States, around 475,000 people die from cardiac arrest each year.

It claims more lives than colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, pneumonia, influenza, vehicle accidents, firearms, HIV, and house fires combined.

The AHA describe cardiac arrest "as one of the most lethal public health problems in the U.S." So, because cardiac arrest is both serious and common, understanding the risk factors involved is essential.

To this end, the European Resuscitation Council set up a project that collects data on cardiac arrest, called the European Sudden Cardiac Arrest network (ESCAPE-NET).

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A new risk factor?

A recent study using ESCAPE-NET data investigated whether a common group of drugs might play a role in cardiac arrest.

Healthcare providers use dihydropyridines to treat high blood pressure and angina, which is chest pain related to reduced blood flow to the heart. The project focused on two dihydropyridines: nifedipine and amlodipine.

The scientists had access to data from the Dutch Amsterdam Resuscitation Studies registry and the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry, both of which form part of ESCAPE-NET.

The researchers presented their findings at EHRA 2019, the annual congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association, which is taking place in Lisbon, Portugal.

In total, they had access to data from more than 10,000 people who were taking dihydropyridines and 50,000 controls.

Their analysis showed that those who took high-dose nifedipine were significantly more likely to have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest than those who were not taking dihydropyridines or who were taking amlodipine.

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Why might this be happening?

The scientists moved into the laboratory to examine why the actions of the two drugs differed. Both use the same mechanism, so why does one increase the risk of cardiac arrest while the other appears to make no difference?

Dihydropyridines work by blocking L-type calcium channels. When these channels are blocked, the action potential of cardiac cells becomes shorter.

The phrase "action potential" describes a change in the charge of a membrane associated with the transmission of an impulse. They occur in nerves and muscle cells.

This change could, potentially, drive the arrhythmias that lead to cardiac arrests.

Interestingly, these in vitro experiments matched the findings of the population study. High doses of nifedipine shortened action potentials significantly more than high-dose amlodipine.

"Nifedipine and amlodipine are often used by many cardiologists and other physicians, and the choice often depends on the prescriber's preference and personal experience."

ESCAPE-NET project leader Dr. Hanno Tan

Dr. Tan adds, "Both drugs are generally considered to be equally effective and safe and neither has been associated with sudden cardiac arrest."

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"This study suggests that high-dose nifedipine may increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest due to fatal cardiac arrhythmia while amlodipine does not."

It is important to note that because this is a new line of investigation, it will be vital to replicate the findings using more participants and other demographics.

As Dr. Tan concludes, "If these findings are confirmed in other studies, they may have to be taken into account when the use of either drug is considered."

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Heart failure: New drug could halt disease and improve heart function

Heart failure occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively. Current treatments can slow or stop the disease getting worse, but they can't regress it. Now, scientists have designed a molecule that could not only curb heart failure but also improve the heart's blood pumping ability.
a scientist designs a new molecule to treat heart failure
A new molecule could help prevent heart failure.

The researchers in Brazil and the United States who developed and tested the experimental drug have named it "SAMβA," which is short for "selective antagonist of mitofusin 1-β2PKC association."

When the researchers gave it to rats with heart failure, the molecule not only stopped the disease from progressing but also reduced its severity by improving the ability of heart muscle to contract.

The journal Nature Communications has now published a paper on how the researchers developed SAMβA and tested it on heart cells and rodent models of heart failure.

"The drugs in current use," says first study author Julio C. B. Ferreira, who is a professor in the Biomedical Science Institute at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, "halt [the] progression of the disease but never make it regress."

SAMβA works by blocking a specific interaction between the proteins mitofusin 1 (Mfn1) and beta II protein kinase C (β2PKC) whose association impairs mitochondria in heart muscle cells, causing the cells to die. Mitochondria are tiny compartments inside cell bodies that make the chemical energy cells need to function and live.

"We showed that by regulating this specific interaction, we could both halt [the] progression and make the disease regress to a less severe stage," Prof. Ferreira explains.

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Heart failure and causes

According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016 there were around 5.7 million people in the United States living with heart failure.

The body's organs and tissues require a constant supply of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to function and stay in good health.

Heart failure arises when the heart's ability to pump blood does not match the body's needs.

In a healthy heart, the heart muscle contracts and pumps freshly oxygenated blood into the aorta from where it travels to the rest of the body.

In a person with heart failure, the heart muscle is weak or damaged and does not fully contract, leaving some blood left to pool inside the organ.

People with heart failure often feel tired and fatigued and may experience shortness of breath as they go about their everyday lives. They can also struggle to breathe when they lie down, and they can put on weight due to swelling in the stomach, ankles, feet, or legs.

The most common causes of heart failure are diseases and conditions that weaken or damage the heart. These include coronary artery disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

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SAMβA 'is selective'

Failing hearts overproduce the protein β2PKC. Previous work by some of the researchers in Brazil had shown that blocking the protein improved heart function in people with heart failure.

However, while the β2PKC inhibitor that they used improved heart function, it also stopped the protein from doing other things that help the heart.

What the new study shows is that SAMβA "is more selective." It only blocks one specific interaction, and that is the one that β2PKC has with Mfn1 — the one that affects the function of mitochondria. It does not affect β2PKC's other interactions.

To show this, the team carried out a series of tests in cells, rodents, and samples of heart tissue from people with heart failure.

It reveals that β2PKC builds up on the outer wall of mitochondria and chemically alters the function of Mfn1 by adding a phosphate group to it. This leads to "buildup of fragmented and dysfunctional mitochondria in heart failure," note the study authors.

Scientists call the process through which β2PKC alters Mfn1 phosphorylation, and it is one of the "most common" mechanisms in cells for altering the function of proteins.

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The team experimented with various compounds to find candidate molecules that could block this interaction between β2PKC and Mfn1 to prevent the ensuing damage to mitochondria.

They identified six molecules that could block the β2PKC-Mfn1 interaction, but of these, only SAMβA did it in a way that did not affect β2PKC's other interactions.

Tests using human heart cells showed that, like the drugs already in use for the treatment of heart failure, SAMβA could curb the progression of the disease.

However, unlike conventional treatments, many of which have been around since the 1980s, SAMβA went a step further: it enhanced the ability of heart cells to contract, which is essential for effective pumping of blood.

The researchers observed that SAMβA also reduced a marker of oxidative stress in the heart cells. Oxidative stress can trigger cell death if the cell cannot defend itself against it.

In a final set of tests, the team induced heart failure in rats by provoking a heart attack. Unlike the rats that received a placebo, those that received SAMβA stopped showing signs of heart failure and showed improvement in heart function.

To make progress toward a clinical treatment, other teams now need to test the molecule independently. There is also a need to check its compatibility with other heart failure drugs.

"Validation and reproduction of our findings by other groups are critical to the process of developing SAMβA for use in treating heart failure. We will be seeking partners in the private and public sectors for this purpose."

Prof. Julio C. B. Ferreira

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New drug limits damage to heart muscle from heart attack

An experimental drug has shown great promise in limiting the damage that a heart attack can inflict on the heart. It targets a protein that plays a central role in the death of heart muscle cells.
medical illustration of a heart
New experiments in mice find that a small molecule can restrict the damage to heart muscle that a heart attack can cause.

Tests on mice have revealed that the drug could markedly reduce heart injury from a heart attack.

The small-molecule drug blocks the protein MAP4K4, which relays the oxidative stress signals that cause the death of heart muscle cells and damage to tissue.

"There are no existing therapies," says lead investigator Dr. Michael D. Schneider, from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, "that directly address the problem of muscle cell death, and this would be a revolution in the treatment of heart attacks."

Schneider and the team report their findings in a paper that now appears in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

There, they also describe how they grew heart tissue from human stem cells and developed a way of modeling a "heart attack in a dish" for testing the drug.

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Heart attack and heart failure

Heart attack is the common name for myocardial infarction, which means the death of heart muscle tissue due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients. It occurs when a clot obstructs one of the arteries that bring nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

When they don't get enough oxygen and nutrients, the heart cells become stressed, generate stress signals, and eventually die.

Loss of cells damages the heart muscle, causing the heart to pump less efficiently. This leads to heart failure, which is a condition wherein the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure.

People with heart failure struggle with everyday activities and get out of breath easily. They feel weak and tired nearly all the time and have trouble breathing when they lie down. Other symptoms include weight gain and swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, and stomach.

Thanks to treatments such as drugs that break up blood clots and stents that keep arteries open, an increasing number of people are surviving heart attacks. This means that the number living with heart failure is also increasing.

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Reducing cell death from oxidative stress

The stress signals that a heart attack induces in heart muscle also occur following blood flow restoration.

So, while it is crucial to restore blood flow following a heart attack, there is also a need to add treatments that limit this "reperfusion injury." Scientists have been searching for such treatments for some time.

Dr. Schneider and his team are the first to uncover the role of MAP4K4 in the process through which a heart attack, by inducing oxidative stress, kills heart muscle cells.

In their investigation, they revealed that MAP4K4 is active in heart tissue of people with heart failure, and also in mice, following a heart attack.

They then devised a number of "highly selective" small-molecule blockers of MAP4K4 and demonstrated that their use can effectively protect human heart muscle cells from "lethal experimental injury."

They used chemicals to induce oxidative stress in heart cells and human heart muscle tissue that they had grown from human induced pluripotent stem cells.

The team observed how oxidative stress activated MAP4K4 and how raising levels of the protein also made heart muscle cells more sensitive to it. Blocking the protein, on the other hand, protected the cells from stress-induced death.

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First to test drug on human cells

Following the cell experiments, the scientists selected one candidate small molecule and took it forward "into further proof-of-concept studies in mice."

The team found that giving mice the drug 1 hour after restoring blood flow to the heart reduced reperfusion injury "by more than 50 percent."

The researchers hope that their findings will lead to an injection that doctors can give to people about to undergo balloon angioplasty to open a blocked artery following a heart attack.

Another possibility is that such a drug could also help limit heart muscle damage from heart attacks in regions with no rapid access to treatments that restore blood flow.

The team believes that, because they tested the drug in a model that they had developed using human stem cells, it should stand a good chance of succeeding in human clinical trials.

"One reason why many heart drugs have failed in clinical trials may be that they have not been tested in human cells before the clinic. Using both human cells and animals allows us to be more confident about the molecules we take forward."

Dr. Michael D. Schneider

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How yo-yo dieting impacts women's heart health

New research reveals worrying associations between yo-yo dieting and seven well-established markers of cardiovascular health.
woman eating breakfast
New research looks into how yo-yo dieting may affect a woman's cardiovascular health.

As if losing weight wasn't hard enough, up to 80 percent of people who manage to lose more than 10 percent of their body weight end up regaining the weight within a year.

Losing weight for a short period and then regaining it bears the name of yo-yo dieting, which some people refer to as "weight cycling."

Previous research has pointed out the potentially damaging effects of these repeated cycles of weight loss and weight gain.

Some studies have suggested that yo-yo dieting raises the risk of mortality from any cause, while others have pointed to an increased risk of death from heart disease in particular.

Another study suggested that yo-yo dieting can lead to a cardiometabolic "roller coaster" in which cardiovascular health remarkably improves with just a few weeks of healthful dieting, but the negative cardiovascular effects are immediate once the individual abandons the diet.

Now, scientists have turned their attention to the cardiovascular effects of yo-yo dieting in women.

Dr. Brooke Aggarwal, who is an assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, led a team examining the effects of weight cycling on seven heart disease risk factors.

Dr. Aggarwal and her colleagues presented their findings at the American Heart Association's (AHA) Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2019 Scientific Sessions, which took place in Houston, TX.

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The researchers examined 485 women who had an average age of 37 years and a median body mass index (BMI) of 26.

The study participants reported how often in their lives they had lost at least 10 pounds and then regained the weight within a year.

The researchers assessed the women's health using "Life's Simple 7" — the risk factors that the AHA use to define ideal cardiovascular health.

"Life's Simple 7" uses seven modifiable risk factors to measure a person's heart health. These factors are: "smoking status, physical activity, weight, diet, blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure."

Overall, 73 percent of the women in the study said that they had experienced at least one episode of weight cycling. These women were 82 percent less likely to have a healthy BMI, which the medical community defines as being between 18.5 and 25, than the women who had not had any episodes of yo-yo weight loss.

These women were also 65 percent less likely to fall within the "optimal" range of "Life's Simple 7." The AHA note that people in the optimal range have a much lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who fall in the "poor" ranges.

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In the current study, the negative effects of yo-yo dieting were more noticeable in the women who had never been pregnant.

"The women without a pregnancy history were likely younger and might be those who started weight cycling at an earlier age," explains Dr. Aggarwal.

"We need to identify critical periods for the effect of weight fluctuation on heart disease risk over the life course to find out whether it is worse when women start on a dieting roller coaster at an early age," she continues.

However, the senior author emphasizes that the study cannot establish causality. The team was unable to determine whether yo-yo dieting negatively affects a person's ability to adhere to "Life's Simple 7" or whether the reverse is true.

"We hope to extend the study 5 to 10 years to confirm these results and look at long-term effects," Dr. Aggarwal says.

Although the current findings are not generalizable to men, "there has been prior research that showed similar results in men, with those who weight cycled having twice the risk of cardiovascular death in middle age," the author explains.

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How TV and breakfast may impact heart health

Leading a sedentary lifestyle can be bad for our health. However, how much TV do we have to watch to negatively impact our cardiovascular health? Does eating a high-energy breakfast every morning affect our heart health? New research explores.
a tray with breakfast foods seen from above
Eating a breakfast rich in calories may keep heart disease at bay.

Previous studies have linked sedentarism with a range of adverse health effects.

These include obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and premature death.

Scientists suggest that sitting for long periods can impair the body's ability to regulate blood pressure and reduce blood flow.

They also argue that it can affect blood sugar metabolism and increase inflammation and oxidative stress, which scientists have linked to aging and disease. However, there are some ways to counter the negative effects of sedentarism.

New research has found that reducing the amount of time we spend watching TV and making sure we eat an energy-rich breakfast lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke. They can also reduce the amount of plaque that tends to build up in the arteries over time.

Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris — who is a cardiologist at the First Cardiology Clinic at the National and Kapodistrian University in Athens, Greece — led the new study, which consisted of two parts.

The researchers presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology's 68th Annual Scientific Session, which this year takes place in New Orleans, LA.

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How watching TV affects heart health

In the first part of the study, Dr. Tsalamandris and his colleagues evaluated the various markers of cardiovascular health and lifestyle habits of 2,000 people, aged 40–99, from Greece.

The study participants included people who were at risk of developing heart disease or who had already developed the condition, as well as healthy individuals.

The cardiovascular markers that the researchers examined included carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (which detects atherosclerosis) and the thickness of the arterial walls (which indicates plaque buildup and stroke risk).

Based on the participants' TV-watching habits, the researchers divided them into three groups:

the low group, wherein people watched TV for 7 hours or under per week the moderate group, wherein people watched TV for 7–21 hours per week the high group, wherein people watched TV for more than 21 hours per week

The research found that people in the high group had almost double the chances of plaque buildup in their arteries compared with those in the low group.

Also, watching more TV correlated with a higher risk of hypertension and diabetes. People in the high TV-watching group were 68 percent more likely to have hypertension and 50 percent more likely to have diabetes than those who watched TV for 7 hours or under per week.

Dr. Tsalamandris says, "Our results emphasize the importance of avoiding prolonged periods of sedentary behavior."

"These findings suggest a clear message to hit the 'off' button on your TV and abandon your sofa. Even activities of low energy expenditure, such as socializing with friends or housekeeping activities, may have a substantial benefit to your health compared [with] time spent sitting and watching TV."

Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris

"[P]erforming recreational activities, weight lifting, stretching bands, or treadmill exercise while watching TV may be a health[ful] alternative," he adds.

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The importance of a high-energy breakfast

For the second part of the study, the researchers grouped the participants according to how many calories they took from their breakfast:

Individuals in the high-energy breakfast group took over 20 percent of their daily calories from their breakfast. Participants in this group tended to consume milk, cheese, cereals, bread, and honey for the first meal of the day. Those in the low-energy group derived 5–20 percent of their daily calorie intake from their breakfast, usually by consuming coffee or low-fat milk along with bread with butter, honey, olives, or fruit. One group consisted of people who did not have breakfast at all.

Overall, the participants who ate a high-energy breakfast on a regular basis were more likely to have more healthful arteries than people in the other two groups. "A high-energy breakfast should be part of a health[ful] lifestyle," says Dr. Tsalamandris.

"Eating a breakfast constituting more than 20 percent of the total daily caloric intake may be of equal or even greater importance than a person's specific dietary pattern, such as whether they follow the Mediterranean diet, a low-fat diet, or other dietary pattern[s]."

Dr. Sotirios Tsalamandris

However, the authors caution that because almost all of the participants followed a Mediterranean diet, the results may not be generalizable to a wider population.

They also speculate on the possible mechanisms behind their observational findings. One possible explanation, they say, could be that people who do not skip breakfast tend to have more healthful dietary habits overall, as well as more healthful lifestyles.

A second explanation could be that the foods eaten by those in the high-energy breakfast group, such as dairy, may in themselves have cardioprotective effects.

In the future, Dr. Tsalamandris and colleagues plan on following these participants for at least a decade to assess whether any environmental exposures also affect the results.

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Study ties arthritis pain reliever to heart valve disease

A recent study has linked a common prescription drug that people with arthritis use to relieve pain and inflammation to a heart valve problem.
senior taking painkillers
New research suggests that the pain reliever celecoxib may raise the risk of heart valve disease.

The drug, which has the generic name celecoxib and the brand name Celebrex, belongs to a category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) known as COX-2 inhibitors.

After analyzing thousands of electronic medical records, scientists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, found a link between using celecoxib specifically and a higher chance of having aortic stenosis.

Aortic stenosis is a condition that narrows the aortic valve in the heart and restricts blood flow through it. It commonly results from scarring and calcification, or calcium buildup, during aging.

In laboratory tests, the researchers also found that treating aortic valve cells with celecoxib increased calcification of the cells.

These findings, now published in JACC: Basic to Translational Science, appear to contradict a 2016 NEJM study that declared that celecoxib was no riskier for the heart than the older NSAIDs naproxen and ibuprofen.

However, the authors note that the earlier study focused "on acute, relatively short-term, and thrombotic events," and did not examine outcomes related to valve disease, which takes longer to develop.

"In this study," says first author Meghan A. Bowler, Ph.D., who worked on the investigation in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, "we're adding a long-term perspective on celecoxib use."

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Aortic stenosis and aging

Aortic stenosis is a stiffening of the valve that sits between the aorta and the left ventricle of the heart. The stiffening causes blood to pass less easily from the heart into the aorta, from which it then flows to the rest of the body.

While some people have aortic stenosis because of a birth defect, the most common cause is the buildup of calcium deposits and scarring during aging.

In their study paper, the authors note that more than 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 in the United States have the type of aortic stenosis that develops from calcium buildup.

The disease is progressive and, due to the lack of suitable drugs, the only effective treatment is to replace the valve surgically.

It was concern about the lack of effective drugs that spurred the researchers to investigate the already-approved celecoxib as a treatment for aortic stenosis.

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Celecoxib increased calcification

They chose celecoxib because previous studies had suggested that it might be effective against a protein called cadherin-11 that is active in calcific aortic valve disease. These studies showed that celecoxib binds to the protein.

However, when they tested the effect of celecoxib on valve cells, the investigators found that it had the opposite result; it appeared to increase calcification and other markers of tissue stiffening.

"Unexpectedly," they note, "celecoxib treatment led to hallmarks of myofibroblast activation and calcific nodule formation in vitro."

Having established the laboratory result, the researchers then looked for clinical evidence. They analyzed 8,600 long-term electronic medical records for links between diagnosis of heart valve disease and use of celecoxib, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

The analysis revealed that taking celecoxib was tied to 20 percent increased odds of developing aortic stenosis. It found no links between aortic stenosis and ibuprofen or naproxen.

The authors conclude that "Overall, these data suggest that celecoxib use is associated with the development of [calcific aortic valve disease]."

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Dimethyl celecoxib could be safer

In a discussion of the study's limitations, the scientists highlight the fact that they used heart valves from pigs in their laboratory tests.

This is standard practice because pig heart valves tend to be healthier than human heart cells, which usually come from donors with health conditions that could influence the results.

They suggest that further studies should now seek to confirm these findings in human or a variety of mouse models of heart valves.

The researchers also tested dimethyl celecoxib, which is an inactive form of celecoxib. They found that this drug could be a safer option than celecoxib for people with aortic stenosis and intend to continue researching it.

"Calcification in the aortic valve can take many years. So, if you're at a higher risk for it, you might want to consider taking a different [pain reliever] or rheumatoid arthritis treatment."

Meghan A. Bowler, Ph.D.

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What causes a heavy feeling in the chest?

Feeling heaviness in the chest can result from various mental and physical health conditions.

People often associate a heavy feeling in the chest with heart problems, but this discomfort can be a sign of anxiety or depression.

A feeling of heaviness is one way that a person may describe chest pain or discomfort. Other sensations that a person with chest pain may experience include:

tightening crushing squeezing aching burning stabbing

This article explores 13 causes of a heavy feeling in the chest and ways to treat them.

1. Anxiety Stressed and worried man looking at laptop screen in cafe
Anxiety can cause a number of physical symptoms, including a heavy feeling in the chest.

Anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to feel worried, apprehensive, and tense. It can also cause many physical symptoms.

Experiencing anxiety can lead to a heavy or tight feeling in the chest. Other physical symptoms of anxiety include:

muscle tension sweating shaking a rapid heartbeat fast breathing dizziness nausea pins and needles

A panic attack involves experiencing many of these symptoms at once. Panic attack symptoms feel intense and overwhelming.

If a person has not had a panic attack before, they may mistake their symptoms for those of a heart attack.

Experiencing a panic attack can make a person feel like they are in physical danger, but these attacks are not physically harmful. Symptoms usually pass after 10–20 minutes.

If a person has panic attacks often, they may have a type of anxiety disorder called panic disorder.

2. Depression Depression is another psychological cause of a heavy feeling in the chest. A 2017 study found a link between having depression and experiencing recurrent chest pain. A person with depression may experience physical symptoms because depression affects how people feel pain. One theory is that this is because depression affects the neurotransmitters that govern both pain and mood. People with depression may also experience chest heaviness due to an increase in perceived stress. Unexplained aches and pains accompanied by feeling low, hopeless, guilty, or worthless may be a sign of depression. 3. Muscle strain Chest pain may result from intercostal muscle strain, which can happen when a person overstretches and pulls the muscle that holds the ribs in place. Straining the intercostal muscles may put pressure on the ribs and cause a heavy feeling in the chest. 4. GERD Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can cause chest pain. GERD occurs when stomach acid comes back up into a person's throat. As well as chest pain, it may cause: Thank you for supporting Medical News Today 5. Pericarditis Man lying on sofa looking at phone
Pericarditis pain may get worse if a person lies down. Pericarditis is a heart problem that may cause chest pain. The pericardium is the name of the layers of tissue surrounding the heart. Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium becomes infected and swells. When swollen, the pericardium may rub against the heart, causing chest pain. The pain typically gets better when a person sits upright and worse when they lie down. 6. Angina Angina can cause a feeling of pressure in the chest. It happens when the heart muscle does not get enough blood, and it is a symptom of coronary artery disease. As well as chest pain, angina may cause pain in the: back neck arms shoulders jaw 7. Heart attack Chest discomfort is one symptom of a heart attack. During a heart attack, a person's chest may feel: heavy pressurized squeezed full painful Other heart attack symptoms include: pain in the neck, jaw, arms, back, or stomach shortness of breath a cold sweat dizziness nausea A heart attack is a medical emergency, so anyone who suspects that they are having one should seek immediate medical care. 8. Pneumonia Pneumonia can cause chest pain that worsens when a person coughs or breathes deeply. It is a complication of the flu and other respiratory infections. Other symptoms of pneumonia include: shortness of breath a cough fever chills 9. Collapsed lung A partial or completely collapsed lung may cause a person's chest to feel heavy and painful. Known as pneumothorax, a collapsed lung happens when air collects in the space between the lungs and chest wall. Pneumothorax can occur on its own or as a complication of lung disease. As well as chest pain, a person with a collapsed lung may experience shortness of breath. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today 10. Pulmonary embolism Woman holding hands to chest in pain while outdoors in running clothes
A pulmonary embolism requires immediate medical treatment. A heavy or painful feeling in the chest may be a sign of a pulmonary embolism. This is when a blockage occurs in the pulmonary artery, or the artery in the lung. The blockage is usually a blood clot, but in rare cases, it can be made up of other substances, such as fat. The blockage will cause other symptoms, such as: lightheadedness severe difficulty breathing a fast heartbeat passing out A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening without treatment. 11. Costochondritis If a person has pain where their breastbone meets their ribs, they may have costochondritis. Also known as chest wall pain, costochondritis occurs when the cartilage between the rib and the breastbone becomes inflamed. The pain may feel worse when a person touches the area. 12. Gallstones A buildup of cholesterol or bilirubin can form masses, known as gallstones, in the gallbladder. Gallstones do not always cause symptoms, but if they block a person's bile ducts, they can cause chest pain. Doctors refer to this as a gallbladder attack. A person usually feels gallbladder attack pain in the upper right abdomen. The pain is often sharp and sudden, but it can feel like dull, heavy cramping. 13. Aortic dissection Sudden chest pain may result from an aortic dissection. The aorta is the main artery that comes from the heart. An aortic dissection occurs when the wall of the aorta tears. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. Treatment The treatment for a heavy-feeling chest varies, depending on the cause. We explore treatments for the mental and physical causes of chest pain below. Treating psychological causes When chest heaviness or tightness is a symptom of anxiety or depression, it is important to get help for the underlying condition. People can often manage depression and anxiety through a combination of medication and talk therapy. Lifestyle changes and stress-management techniques can also help. These include: regular exercise yoga, mindfulness, or meditation eating a healthful, balanced diet getting enough sleep journaling seeking emotional support from family and friends Treating physical causes Each of the following causes of chest heaviness or pain may have a different treatment: Muscle strain: Pain-relieving medication, rest, and compresses can heal the strain over time. GERD: Lifestyle and dietary changes can often prevent symptoms. Pericarditis: A doctor may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation. Angina: Medication and lifestyle changes can often reduce symptoms. Sometimes surgery is necessary. Heart attack: This requires emergency treatment, which may include medication and surgery. Pneumonia: Rest and medication can help treat the infection. A person may require hospital treatment if symptoms are severe. Collapsed lung: Treatment focuses on releasing the trapped air Pulmonary embolism: A person may receive blood-thinning drugs, oxygen, and pain relief in the hospital. Costochondritis: Pain-relieving medication, compresses, and rest can relieve symptoms. Gallstones: Gallbladder attacks may require hospital treatment. Aortic dissection: This may require emergency surgery. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today When to see a doctor People who have anxiety or depression may recognize a heavy feeling in the chest as a symptom of their condition. In this case, it is not usually necessary to see a doctor every time symptoms occur. However, as chest heaviness and pain have many causes, it is best to see a doctor when new symptoms happen for the first time. Anyone experiencing sudden, unexplained, severe chest pain should contact emergency services.
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Pulled muscle in chest: Symptoms and treatment

The terms pulled muscle and muscle strain refer to an injury that involves an overstretched or torn muscle. A person with a muscle strain in the chest may experience sudden, sharp pain in this area.

Although uncomfortable, a strained chest muscle is usually a minor injury that tends to heal within days or weeks.

In this article, we outline the causes of a strained chest muscle, along with possible treatments. We also explain how to differentiate the symptoms from those of other causes of chest pain.

Causes People in a warehouse lifting boxes
Heavy lifting can cause a person to pull a muscle in their chest.

Intercostal muscle strains are the most common cause of musculoskeletal chest pain, which people often refer to as a pulled muscle.

The intercostal muscles are a muscle group that sits between the ribs and makes up the chest wall.

This muscle group comprises three layers: the external, internal, and innermost intercostal muscles. Together, they stabilize the rib cage and assist with breathing.

Possible causes of chest wall strains include:

sports injuries from overstretching, muscle fatigue, or performing repetitive and forceful motions contact injuries inadequate warmup before exercise heavy lifting poor flexibility twisting the torso beyond its normal range reaching overhead for extended periods overuse of the muscles chronic poor posture falling a severe cough Symptoms People who injure the muscles in the chest wall may experience: pain that increases with movement of the chest or upper spine pain that worsens when breathing deeply, sneezing, or coughing an area of soreness or tenderness within the chest wall upper back pain Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Other causes of chest pain A pulled muscle in the chest wall may feel similar to a more serious problem with the heart or lungs. Knowing the difference between these types of pain can help people seek emergency treatment when necessary. Other causes of chest pain include: Heart attack A person having a heart attack may experience shortness of breath.
A person having a heart attack may experience shortness of breath. The pain of a heart attack differs from that of a strained chest muscle. A heart attack may cause a dull pain or an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest. Usually, the pain begins in the center of the chest, and it may radiate outward to one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Pain may last for several minutes, and it may disappear and return in some cases. Other symptoms of a heart attack include: shortness of breath breaking out in a cold sweat nausea lightheadedness A heart attack is a medical emergency. A person should call 911 or their local emergency number if they experience symptoms of a heart attack. Angina pectoris Angina pectoris, or stable angina, is chest pain resulting from coronary heart disease. Angina pectoris occurs when there is not enough blood getting to the heart due to the narrowing or blockage of the arteries. The symptoms of stable angina are similar to those of a heart attack but may be shorter in duration, typically disappearing within 5 minutes. These symptoms usually occur after physical exertion and go away after resting or taking medication. Pleuritis Pleuritis, or pleurisy, refers to inflammation of the lining of the lungs. A bacterial or viral infection is the most common cause. Pleuritis can cause pain that feels like a pulled chest muscle. It is generally sharp, sudden, and increases in severity when taking a breath. Unlike a strained muscle, pleuritis may cause additional symptoms, such as fever and muscle aches. A person who suspects that they have pleuritis should visit a doctor, who will listen to their lungs using a stethoscope to make a diagnosis. Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection that causes the air sacs within the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause pneumonia. A person with pneumonia may experience a sharp or stabbing pain in the chest, which worsens when coughing or breathing deeply. Other symptoms of pneumonia include: a cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus shortness of breath fever chills excessive sweating and clammy skin appetite loss confusion fatigue Pulmonary embolism A pulmonary embolism (PE) refers to a blockage of the blood vessels within the lungs. The most common cause is a blood clot. A PE stops blood from getting to the lungs and is, therefore, a medical emergency. A PE may also cause the following symptoms: shortness of breath a cough that may produce blood feeling faint, dizzy, or lightheaded rapid heart rate Diagnosis People who are concerned about a pulled muscle in the chest or other chest pain should visit their doctor, particularly if they are unsure of the cause. A doctor will ask about their symptoms and medical history as well as any activities that may have caused or contributed to the pain. If a muscle strain is the cause, a doctor will categorize the injury according to one of the following three grades, depending on its severity: Grade 1 (mild damage): There is damage to fewer than 5 percent of the individual muscle fibers. Strength and motion are minimally impaired. Recovery generally takes between 2 and 3 weeks. Grade 2 (more extensive damage): The injury has affected more of the individual muscle fibers, but the muscle is not completely ruptured. There is a significant loss of strength and motion. The injury may take between 2 and 3 months to heal fully. Grade 3 (complete rupture of the muscle): A doctor may be able to feel a defect within the muscle during a physical examination. In some cases, a person may need surgery to reattach the damaged muscle. Treatment and recovery Treatment for a pulled chest muscle depends on the severity or grade of the injury. Treatment options include the following: RICE MAn sitting on sofa or couch on lapatop
Avoiding physical activity can help aid recovery. The usual treatment for a chest muscle strain is to reduce pain and swelling by following the "RICE" method: Rest: Avoid strenuous activities, especially those that caused or contributed to the muscle strain. Ice: Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply it to the affected area for up to 20 minutes. Repeat several times a day. Compression: Wrap a compression bandage around the torso. Ask a doctor or pharmacist for advice on how to wrap the bandage to prevent further injury. Elevation: Try to sit upright. Use extra pillows when sleeping to keep the chest elevated. A doctor may recommend following the RICE procedure for the first 24–48 hours following the injury. Medication Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and inflammation. For severe or persistent pain, a doctor may prescribe stronger analgesics, muscle relaxants, or both to reduce painful muscle spasms. Sometimes, a pulled muscle in the chest is due to a persistent cough. Taking cough medicine can help stop coughing fits, minimizing further strain on the intercostal muscles. Surgery In cases where the muscle has become completely ruptured, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair the tear. Rehabilitation A doctor may prescribe a tailored exercise plan to help restore and maintain muscle function, strength, and flexibility. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today When to see a doctor People should see a doctor if they believe that their chest pain is due to an alternative illness or if they experience: fast or labored breathing pain that worsens over time or does not respond to pain medication severe pain or numbness that lasts longer than 1 hour difficulty moving weakness or lethargy redness or inflammation of the affected area a "popping" sound when the injury occurs Summary The symptoms of a pulled muscle in the chest are commonly due to an intercostal muscle strain. A variety of home treatment methods, including RICE and pain relievers, can provide symptom relief. If the pain is not manageable at home, a person should speak to a doctor. Mild strains usually heal within a few weeks, but severe strains can take 2 to 3 months or longer to resolve.
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Why sleep is good for your arteries

Fresh evidence suggests that sleep regulates a mechanism that can help to protect arteries from hardening. The finding reinforces the notion that good-quality sleep is important for cardiovascular health.
woman sleeping
Sleep is integral to good health, and a new study delves into how it keeps our cardiovascular system healthy.

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA, together with colleagues from other research centers, studied the development of atherosclerosis in mice.

Atherosclerosis is the process through which plaques, or fatty deposits, build up inside arteries, causing them to narrow and stiffen. It is a common reason for disease.

The researchers found that sleep-disturbed mice developed larger plaques in their arteries than mice that slept well.

The sleep-disturbed mice also had higher amounts of circulating, inflammatory cells and produced lower amounts of hypocretin, which is a brain hormone that controls wakefulness.

The researchers also saw a reduction in atherosclerosis and inflammatory cells in these mice after they received hypocretin supplementation.

Subject to confirmation in humans, the findings demonstrate that sleep influences cardiovascular health by regulating hypocretin production in the brain.

The journal Nature has recently published a paper about the study.

"We've identified a mechanism," says senior study author Filip K. Swirski, Ph.D., who is an associate professor at MGH and Harvard Medical School, also in Boston, "by which a brain hormone controls production of inflammatory cells in the bone marrow in a way that helps protect the blood vessels from damage."

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Sleep, health, and atherosclerosis

"Sleep is integral to life," note the authors, and yet insufficient or disturbed sleep is a significant public health issue that affects millions of people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 35 percent of adults in the United States were regularly sleeping less than 7 hours per 24-hour period in 2014.

Studies have linked lack of sleep to long-term health conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, and heart disease. However, they have not shed much light on the underlying biological mechanisms.

So, Dr. Swirski and his colleagues decided to investigate how sleep might help to protect cardiovascular health by focusing on the development of atherosclerosis.

The plaques that arise in atherosclerosis can take years to form and consist of calcium, fat molecules, cholesterol, and other substances. As they accumulate, they lessen the flow of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood.

Atherosclerosis can lead to various other conditions, including coronary heart disease, which develops when plaques build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

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Disturbed sleep increased atherosclerosis

Using mice that were genetically predisposed to develop atherosclerosis, the researchers allowed half of them to sleep well and disrupted the sleep of the other half.

Comparing them with the mice that slept well, the team found that the disrupted-sleep mice developed arterial plaques that were up to one third larger.

The sleep-disrupted mice also produced twice the amount of a certain type of inflammatory white blood cell in their bone marrow, and "the lateral hypothalamus" of their brains produced less hypocretin.

Atherosclerosis developed more slowly in sleep-disrupted mice that had hypocretin supplementation compared with those that did not.

The authors note that hypocretin controls blood cell production in bone marrow by regulating CSF1, which is a type of signaling protein.

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They conclude that the rise in white blood cells and acceleration of atherosclerosis in the sleep-disturbed mice were due to the reduction of hypocretin and increase in CSF1.

They suggest that undisturbed sleep protects blood vessels from atherosclerotic damage by regulating hypocretin production in the hypothalamus.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), funded the research.

Michael Twery, Ph.D., who is director of NHLBI's National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, says that the study "appears to be the most direct demonstration yet of the molecular connections linking blood and cardiovascular risk factors to sleep health."

"This anti-inflammatory mechanism is regulated by sleep, and it breaks down when you frequently disrupt sleep or experience poor sleep quality."

Filip K. Swirski, Ph.D.

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Hipertensión: Causas, síntomas y tratamientos

La hipertensión es una forma alternativa de denominar a la presión arterial elevada. Puede derivar en complicaciones graves e incrementar el riesgo de sufrir una cardiopatía, un accidente cerebrovascular y la muerte.

La presión arterial se define como la fuerza que ejerce la sangre contra las paredes de los vasos sanguíneos. Esta presión depende del trabajo que realiza el corazón y de la resistencia de los vasos sanguíneos.

La hipertensión y la cardiopatía representan las mayores preocupaciones a nivel global. La Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) sugiere que, debido al crecimiento en la industria de los alimentos procesados, ha aumentado la cantidad de sal que llevan las comidas en todo el mundo, lo que juega un papel muy importante en la hipertensión.

Datos rápidos sobre la hipertensión:

A continuación, presentamos algunos puntos clave sobre la hipertensión: Puede encontrar más información en el artículo principal.

La presión arterial normal es de 120/80 mm de mercurio (mm Hg), pero la hipertensión es superior a 130/80 mm Hg. Las causas graves de la presión arterial elevada incluyen el estrés, pero puede aparecer por sí sola o como consecuencia de una enfermedad subyacente, como la insuficiencia renal. La hipertensión mal gestionada puede derivar en un ataque al corazón, un infarto cerebrovascular y otros problemas. Los factores del estilo de vida son la mejor manera de abordar la presión arterial elevada.
¿Qué es la hipertensión? Regular health checks are the best way to monitor your blood pressure.
Las revisiones de salud de forma regular son la mejor manera de monitorizar la presión arterial.

La hipertensión es el término médico para referirse a la presión arterial elevada.

Esto significa que la sangre hace demasiada fuerza contra las paredes de los vasos sanguíneos.

Alrededor de 85 millones de personas en Estados Unidos tienen la presión arterial elevada.

Según las pautas utilizadas por la Asociación Estadounidense del Corazón (AEC) en noviembre del 2017, las directrices de los médicos definen la presión arterial elevada en 130 sobre 80 milímetros de mercurio (mm Hg).

Tratamiento Aunque la mejor opción es regular la presión arterial a través de la dieta antes de que alcance la fase de hipertensión, existe una gran variedad de opciones para tratarla. Los cambios en el estilo de vida representan el tratamiento estándar de primera línea para la hipertensión. Ejercicio físico regular Los médicos recomiendan que los pacientes con hipertensión se comprometan a realizar 30 minutos de ejercicio aeróbico y dinámico con intensidad moderada. Esto puede incluir caminar, correr, pasear en bicicleta o nadar unos 5 o 7 días a la semana. Reducción del estrés Es muy importante evitar el estrés o desarrollar estrategias para gestionar el estrés inevitable, ya que puede ayudar a controlar la presión arterial. El consumo de alcohol, drogas y tabaco, junto a la alimentación no saludable para hacer frente al estrés, añadirá problemas hipertensivos, por lo que deberían evitarse. El tabaco puede aumentar la presión arterial, por lo que, si deja de fumar, podrá reducir el riesgo de sufrir hipertensión, enfermedades del corazón y otros problemas de salud. Medicamentos Las personas con presión arterial alta, por encima de 130/80 podrían utilizar medicamentos para tratar la hipertensión. Normalmente, los fármacos se empiezan de uno en uno con una dosis pequeña. Los efectos secundarios que se asocian con los medicamentos antihipertensivos suelen ser insignificantes. De forma eventual, se suele requerir una combinación de al menos 2 medicamentos antihipertensivos. Existen varios tipos de medicamentos que están disponibles para ayudar a reducir la presión arterial, como: Diuréticos, como las tiazidas, la clortalidona y la indapamida Bloqueadores alfa y beta Bloqueadores de los canales de calcio Agonistas centrales Inhibidor adrenérgico periférico Vasodilatadores Inhibidores de la enzima convertidora de angiotensina (ECA) Bloqueadores de los receptores de angiotensina La elección del medicamento depende del individuo y de cualquier otra enfermedad que éste pueda padecer. Cualquier persona que tome medicamentos antihipertensivos debería asegurarse de leer las instrucciones de forma cuidadosa, sobre todo, antes de ingerir fármacos sin receta, como los descongestionantes. Estos podrían interactuar con los medicamentos utilizados para disminuir la presión arterial. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Causas Las causas de la hipertensión suelen ser desconocidas. 1 de cada 20 casos de hipertensión surge a consecuencia de una enfermedad subyacente o medicamento. La insuficiencia renal crónica (IRC) es la causa más común de la presión arterial alta, ya que los riñones no filtran los fluidos. Este exceso de líquido deriva en hipertensión. Factores de riesgo Un número de factores de riesgo incrementan las posibilidades de sufrir hipertensión. Edad: La hipertensión suele ser más común en personas mayores de 60 años. Con la edad, la presión arterial puede incrementar de forma paulatina, ya que las arterias se vuelven más rígidas y estrechas debido a la formación de placa. Etnia: Algunos grupos étnicos son más propensos a sufrir hipertensión. Altura y peso: La obesidad o sobrepeso representan un factor de riesgo clave. Consumo de alcohol y tabaco: El consumo de grandes cantidades de alcohol de forma regular puede incrementar la presión arterial de una persona, al igual que el tabaco. Sexo: El riesgo vitalicio es el mismo para hombres y mujeres, pero los hombres son más propensos a sufrirla a una edad más temprana. La frecuencia suele ser superior en las mujeres mayores. Enfermedades de salud existentes: Las enfermedades cardiovasculares, la diabetes, la enfermedad renal crónica y los niveles de colesterol elevados pueden derivar en hipertensión, sobre todo cuando la gente envejece. Otros factores que también contribuyen son: La inactividad física Una dieta rica en sal asociada a los alimentos procesados y grasos Bajos niveles de potasio en la dieta El consumo de alcohol y tabaco Algunas enfermedades y medicamentos Un historial familiar de presión arterial elevada y estrés mal gestionado también puede contribuir. A continuación, presentamos un modelo 3D sobre la hipertensión, totalmente interactivo. Explore el modelo con el ratón o la pantalla táctil para descubrir más detalles sobre la hipertensión. Signos La presión arterial puede medirse con un tensiómetro o un monitor específico. La presión arterial elevada durante un corto periodo de tiempo puede suponer una respuesta normal a muchas situaciones. El estrés agudo y el ejercicio intenso, por ejemplo, pueden elevarla por poco tiempo en una persona saludable. Por esta razón, un diagnóstico de hipertensión suele requerir varias lecturas que muestren presión arterial elevada durante mucho tiempo. La lectura de presión sistólica de 130 mm Hg es la presión que realiza el corazón para bombear sangre por todo el cuerpo. La diastólica de 80 mm Hg es la que lleva a cabo el corazón cuando se relaja y se recarga de sangre. Las directrices de la AEC definen los siguientes rangos de presión arterial: Sistólica (mmHg) Diastólica (mmHg) Presión arterial normal Inferior a 120 Inferior a 80 Elevada Entre 120 y 129 Inferior a 80 Fase 1 hipertensión Entre 130 y 139 Entre 80 y 89 Fase 2 hipertensión Al menos 140 Al menos 90 Crisis hipertensiva Superior a 180 Superior a 120 Si la lectura muestra una crisis hipertensiva cuando miden la presión arterial, espere 2 o 3 minutos y repita el análisis. Si la lectura es la misma o superior, se trata de una urgencia médica. La persona debería buscar atención inmediata en el hospital más cercano. Síntomas High blood pressure raises the risk of a number of health problems, including a heart attack.
La presión arterial elevada aumenta el riesgo de sufrir grandes problemas en el corazón, como un infarto. Una persona con hipertensión podría no experimentar ningún síntoma, de hecho, esta enfermedad es conocida como "el asesino silencioso". Aunque sea indetectable, puede causar daños en el sistema cardiovascular y los órganos internos, como los riñones. Las revisiones regulares de la presión arterial es vital, ya que generalmente no habrá síntomas que le avisen de la enfermedad. Se sabe que la presión arterial suele provocar sudores, ansiedad, problemas de sueño y enrojecimiento. Sin embargo, en la mayoría de los casos, no aparecerá ningún síntoma. Si la presión arterial alcanza el nivel de una crisis hipertensiva, el paciente podría experimentar cefaleas y hemorragias nasales. Complicaciones La hipertensión a largo plazo puede provocar complicaciones como la aterosclerosis, en la que la formación de la placa provoca el estrechamiento de los vasos sanguíneos. Esto provoca el empeoramiento de la hipertensión, ya que el corazón debe bombear más rápido para transportar la sangre al cuerpo. La aterosclerosis relacionada con la hipertensión puede derivar en: Fallo y ataque cardíaco. Un aneurisma, es decir, una protuberancia anómala en las paredes de la arteria que puede provocar quemazón, lo que causa un grave sangrado y, en algunos casos, la muerte. Insuficiencia renal. Accidente cardiovascular. Amputación. Retinopatías hipertensivas en el ojo, lo que puede provocar una ceguera. Los análisis regulares para medir la presión arterial pueden ayudar a las personas para evitar complicaciones más graves. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Dieta Algunos tipos de hipertensión pueden gestionarse con cambios en el estilo de vida y la alimentación, como con la práctica del ejercicio físico, la reducción del alcohol y el tabaco, o la eliminación de dietas bajas en sodio. Reducción en la cantidad de sal La media en la ingesta de sal se encuentra entre 9 gramos (g) y 12 g al día en la mayoría de países de todo el mundo. La OMS recomienda reducir la ingesta por debajo de los 5 g al día para ayudar a disminuir el riesgo de hipertensión y los problemas relacionados con la salud. Esto puede beneficiar a las personas con y sin hipertensión, pero los que más se beneficiarán son los individuos con la presión arterial elevada. Moderación en el consumo de alcohol La moderación en el consumo de alcohol excesivo está relacionado con la presión arterial elevada y con un mayor riesgo de sufrir un ACV. La Asociación Estadounidense del Corazón (AEC) recomienda un máximo de 2 bebidas al día para los hombres y 1 para las mujeres: 355 ml de cerveza 118 ml de vino 44 ml de bebidas alcohólicas con 80 grados 30 ml de bebidas alcohólicas con 100 grados El médico puede ayudar a las personas que tengan dificultades para reducir el consumo de alcohol. Más frutas y verduras, menos grasa Se recomienda a las personas que tienen o que están en riesgo de sufrir presión arterial alta que coman la menor cantidad posible de grasas saturadas y totales. En su lugar, recomendamos: Alimentos ricos en fibras y cereales integrales Gran variedad de frutas y verduras Alubias, legumbres y nueces Pescado rico en omega 3 dos veces a la semana Aceites vegetales no tropicales, como el aceite de oliva Pescado y aves sin piel Productos lácteos bajos en grasas Es importante evitar las grasas trans, los aceites vegetales hidrogenados y las grasas animales. Coma porciones de tamaño moderado. Control del peso corporal La hipertensión está estrechamente relacionada con el exceso de peso y la reducción del mismo viene normalmente acompañada con una disminución en la presión arterial. Una dieta saludable y equilibrada, junta a una ingesta calórica que coincida con el tamaño de la persona, el sexo y el nivel de actividad, le ayudará a reducir la enfermedad. La dieta DASH El Instituto Estadounidense del Corazón, el Pulmón y la Sangre (NHLBI) recomienda la dieta DASH para las personas con presión arterial elevada. DASH, por sus siglas en inglés, significa "métodos dietéticos para detener la hipertensión" y se ha diseñado especialmente para ayudar a que las personas reduzcan su presión arterial. Se trata de un plan de alimentación flexible y equilibrado que se basa en los estudios de investigación patrocinados por el Instituto. Aseguran que la dieta:
Disminuye la presión arterial elevada Mejora los niveles de grasas en la flujo sanguíneo Reduce el riesgo de desarrollar enfermedades cardiovasculares Existe un libro de cocina escrito por el NHLBI llamado "Keep the Beat Recipes" (Recetas frescas, caseras y naturales) con ideas culinarias para obtener estos resultados. Algunas evidencias sugieren que el uso de suplementos probióticos durante 8 semanas o más podrían beneficiar a las personas con hipertensión. Tipos La presión arterial elevada que no es causada por otra enfermedad se llama primaria o hipertensión esencial. Si aparece como resultado de otra enfermedad, se denomina secundaria. La hipertensión primaria puede aparecer debido a múltiples factores, como la cantidad de plasma en sangre y la actividad de las hormonas que regulan el volumen y la presión sanguínea. También está influenciada por factores medioambientales, como el estrés y la falta de ejercicio. La hipertensión secundaria tiene causas específicas y suele ser una complicación de otro problema. Puede aparecer debido a: La diabetes, por problemas en los riñones o daños en los nervios La insuficiencia renal La feocromocitoma, una forma extraña de cáncer que aparece en una glándula suprarrenal El síndrome de Cushing, causado por los corticosteroides La hiperplasia suprarrenal congénita, una enfermedad de las glándulas suprarrenales que producen cortisol El hipertiroidismo o a hiperactividad de una glándula tiroidea El hiperparatiroidismo, que afecta a los niveles de calcio y fósforo El embarazo La apnea del sueño La obesidad La insuficiencia renal crónica El tratamiento de la enfermedad subyacente debería mejorar la presión sanguínea. Traducido por Carmen María González Morales Revisado por Brenda Carreras Leer el artículo en Inglés
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Ability to do pushups may predict cardiovascular risk

A new study suggests that the more pushups a man is able to complete, the lower his cardiovascular risk and vice versa. These findings may establish a new measure of risk assessment that is simple and does not require costly specialized equipment.
man doing pushups
Being able to do more pushups may correlate with a lower cardiovascular risk in men, a new study shows.

World Health Organization (WHO) data indicate that every year there are 17.9 million deaths due to cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), accounting for approximately 31 percent of global deaths.

Many of the factors that increase the risk of CVD are modifiable, chiefly an unhealthful diet, a lack of physical activity, smoking, or frequent consumption of alcohol.

The link between exercise — particularly physical fitness — and CVD, therefore, is not a new one.

Yet current methods of correctly assessing physical fitness in relation to cardiovascular risk, such as the cardiac exercise stress test (or submaximal treadmill exercise test), are costly and can take a fair amount of time to conduct.

Now, the findings of a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, may allow physicians to estimate risk more easily, based simply on a person's capacity to complete multiple pushups.

The results, which appear in JAMA Network Open and are accessible online, indicate that physically active men who are able to do more than 40 pushups may have a lower CVD risk than peers who can complete fewer pushups.

"Our findings provide evidence that pushup capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting," says first author Justin Yang, M.D.

"Surprisingly, pushup capacity was more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk than the results of submaximal treadmill tests," he adds.

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In the current study — which is probably the first of its kind — the research team collected and analyzed the health information of 1,104 active male firefighters with a mean age of 39.6 and mean BMI of 28.7. These data covered a period of 10 years, between 2000 and 2010.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers measured both the pushup capacity and the submaximal treadmill exercise tolerance of each participant.

The investigators gathered the remaining relevant data through the participants' yearly physical exams and by asking them to fill in a series of medical questionnaires.

Throughout the 10-year period, the researchers registered 37 CVD-related events in the cohort of volunteers. Notably, all but one of these outcomes happened in men who had been able to do 40 or fewer pushups at the beginning of the study.

The investigators' analysis revealed that participants who had been able to complete over 40 pushups to begin with had a 96 percent lower cardiovascular risk than men who had completed 10 or fewer pushups.

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Moreover, the team notes, pushup capacity had a stronger link with lower CVD risk even than aerobic capacity, which is measured through the submaximal treadmill exercise test.

However, the researchers warn that because their cohort of participants was made up of individuals in a specific group — active men in their 30s and 40s — the findings may not apply to women, or to men who are older, younger, or less physically active than those in the cohort.

Still, the current findings remain important in establishing the link between cardiovascular health and exercise, the investigators maintain.

"This study emphasizes the importance of physical fitness on health and why clinicians should assess fitness during clinical encounters."

Senior author Prof. Stefanos Kales, M.D.

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