The Heart

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Could grilling your meat raise blood pressure?

A new study urges caution when cooking, after finding that a regular intake of grilled and well-done meat or fish could increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Grilled beef steaks
Researchers suggest that how we cook our meat may influence our hypertension risk.

The new research was led by Gang Liu, Ph.D., of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, will occur when the force of blood that pushes against the wall of the arteries becomes too high. This can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

Since updated blood pressure guidelines came into play in the United States last year, it is now estimated that almost half of adults across the country have hypertension.

An unhealthful diet is known to be a major risk factor for hypertension. The new study, however, suggests that it's not just the type of food that we eat that influences blood pressure; how we prepare our food can also play a part.

Previous studies have documented the many potential harms of consuming meats cooked at high temperatures. One study reported by Medical News Today last year, for example, linked a high intake of grilled, smoked, or barbecued meats to a 23 percent greater risk of death for breast cancer survivors.

Research has also associated foods cooked at high temperatures with a greater risk of heart disease.

For this latest study, Liu and colleagues sought to determine whether the cooking temperature or doneness of meat and fish — that is, how well they are cooked through — might influence blood pressure.

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Cooking methods and blood pressure

To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the data of 32,925 women who were a part of the Nurses' Health Study, 53,852 women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study II, and 17,104 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

For each study, information was collected on how much meat and fish the subjects consumed each month, as well as how these foods were cooked and their levels of doneness.

At baseline, none of the participants had high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer. Over an average follow-up period of 12–16 years, a total of 37,123 participants developed hypertension.

The team found that subjects who ate grilled, broiled, or roasted beef, chicken, or fish at least 15 times each month were 17 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who consumed these foods fewer than four times per month.

Among participants who reported preferring their meat well-done, the risk of hypertension was increased by 15 percent, compared with those who preferred their meat rarer.

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HAAs and hypertension

The scientists also estimated the levels of heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) consumed by each subject. HAAs are potentially harmful compounds that are produced when meats are cooked at high temperatures.

The study reveals that participants who consumed higher levels of HAAs were at 17 percent greater risk of high blood pressure, compared with those who consumed lower levels of the compounds.

Notably, the study revealed that the links between hypertension, cooking method and temperature of cooking, and doneness of meat were independent of the type of foods that subjects consumed and how much they ate.

Explaining the possible mechanisms behind their findings, Liu says that HAAs and other chemicals produced by high-temperature cooking may lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance, which can raise the risk of hypertension.

While this research cannot prove cause and effect, the team says that to lower blood pressure, it might be worth revising our cooking methods for meat and fish.

"Our findings suggest that it may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure if you don't eat these foods cooked well-done and avoid the use of open-flame and/or high-temperature cooking methods, including grilling/barbecuing and broiling."

Gang Liu, Ph.D.

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These plant-based fats could help you live longer

A diet that is rich in plant-based monounsaturated fats is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes. In contrast, if the monounsaturated fats come from animal sources, the link is to a higher risk of death from heart disease and other causes.
plant based oils
Opt for plant-based monounsaturated fats instead of animal-based ones to prolong your life.

These were the preliminary results of an analysis of two large studies that collected information from more than 93,000 men and women over an average of 22 years.

The research — which was led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA — featured at the American Heart Association's 2018 scientific sessions on Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health, held in New Orleans, LA.

You can read an abstract on the study in the journal Circulation.

Monounsaturated fats are unsaturated fats that have only one carbon-carbon double bond in their hydrocarbon backbone. At room temperature, they usually remain liquid and only become solid when refrigerated.

There are two sources of monounsaturated fat in the human diet: plant foods such as avocados, nuts, peanut butter, olive oil, sesame oil, and other vegetable oils; and animal foods, including red meat, fish, eggs, and full-fat dairy products.

Guidelines in the United States recommend that no more than 30 percent of the calories in our diet should come from fats, most of which should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

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Detailed information about food sources

Dr. Marta Guasch-Ferré, who is a research associate in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues carried out their study because previous research about monounsaturated fats and mortality has yielded inconsistent results.

Because monounsaturated fats are present in both animal- and plant-based foods — and contain "divergent nutrient components" — they decided to investigate whether the source of the fats might be significant or not.

They combined and analyzed data from two studies. One dataset was collected in 1990–2012 from 63,412 females in the Nurses' Health Study. The other dataset, which was drawn from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, included data collected in 1990–2010 on 29,966 males.

The records from these studies had detailed, validated information about diet that was collected every 4 years from food frequency questionnaires filled in by the participants.

From these records, and by consulting scientific sources to note changes in food composition that might have occurred over the follow-up, the researchers were able to calculate and differentiate among the different fat types in the participants' diets, the food sources they came from, and exactly how they changed over time.

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Plant-based fats tied to lower risk of death

Over an average follow-up period of 22 years, 20,672 of the subjects died — including 4,588 from heart disease. Using this information and that of fat consumption, the researchers found that:

Having a diet higher in plant-based monounsaturated fats was linked to a 16 percent lower risk of dying from any cause over the follow-up compared with having a diet that was low in these fats. Replacing 2–5 percent of calories derived from saturated fats, simple sugars, and other refined carbohydrates with the same amount of calories from plant-based monounsaturated fats was linked to a 10–15 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and any other cause. Substituting 5 percent of total calories sourced from animal-based monounsaturated fats with plant-based ones was tied to 24–26 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and any other cause.

It should be noted that these results came from an analysis of observational data that is only able to determine links between types of monounsaturated fats and risk of death.

Therefore, while the findings do not actually prove that eating plant-based monounsaturated fats — as opposed to animal-based ones — reduces the risk of premature death, they do not contradict that assertion.

"Our results emphasize the importance of the source and quantity of monounsaturated fatty acids in the diet — we should eat more monounsaturated fatty acids from plant sources and less monounsaturated fatty acids from animal sources."

Dr. Marta Guasch-Ferré

The study was part-funded by Unilever, and three of the seven study authors disclosed either being in receipt of a research grant or being employed by the company. Unilever own many well-known household brands, including some food products based on plant oils.

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Booze may make the heart beat faster

A few years back, I was in a bar one Saturday night celebrating a friend's birthday. Drinks were flowing — down my neck, mainly — and I made a bit of a fool of myself on karaoke, belting out my special rendition of "Groove is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite.
A glass of wine and a heart graph
A study of Munich Oktoberfest attendees discovered that drinking can increase heart rate.

As I showcased my amazing vocal talent (move over, Mariah) and some excellent dance moves to match, I lost my footing and tumbled off the stage.

Needless to say, I felt quite fragile the next day, and every time I hear that song, it takes me back to that fun, yet embarrassing, night.

Let's face it — most of us have been in a similar situation at one time or another (please, humor me).

More than half of us have had a drink in the past month, and over a quarter of us have engaged in "binge drinking."

When you drink large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time — typically at least five drinks for men and four drinks for women in the space of 2 hours — this is considered binge drinking.

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Binge drinking is not deemed an alcohol use disorder in itself, but research shows that it can be a risk factor.

One study also linked binge drinking to irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. Admittedly, the study I'm referring to was conducted in the 1970s, but it seems that the evidence was strong enough to coin this phenomenon "holiday heart syndrome," inspired by the notion that we're more likely to binge drink during the holidays, vacations, and social events.

Researchers have since strengthened the link between binge drinking and arrhythmia, and I've come across a new study that adds fuel to the fire.

From studying adults who attended the Munich Oktoberfest in 2015, researchers found that the more alcohol we drink, the higher our heart rate becomes, and a heart that beats too fast — clinically known as tachycardia — can be harmful. I took a closer look at the research.

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For those of you who aren't familiar with Oktoberfest, it's an annual folk festival — held in Munich, Germany — that primarily involves drinking beer. In fact, more than 6 million liters of the stuff are expected to be consumed at this year's event.

So, what better place to gather subjects and measure the effects of binge drinking on heart rate?

This is precisely what Dr. Moritz Sinner, from the University Hospital Munich in Germany, and his research team did: using electrocardiography, they measured the heart rate of 3,012 Munich Oktoberfest attendees, and they also measured their breath alcohol concentrations.

They found that the heart rates of these adults increased with the amount of alcohol they drank. In fact, for more than 25 percent of them, increasing breath alcohol concentrations were associated with sinus tachycardia greater than 100 beats per minute.

Sinus tachycardia is defined by the American Heart Association (AHA) as a "normal increase in the heart rate." So is this finding really something to be worried about?

"We cannot yet conclude that a higher heart rate induced by alcohol is harmful," says Dr. Sinner. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

"[...] people with heart conditions already have a higher heart rate, which in many cases triggers arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation. So it is plausible that the higher heart rate following alcohol consumption could lead to arrhythmias."

Dr. Moritz Sinner

Dr. Sinner points out that the people they included in this study were young — just an average age of 35 years — and healthy.

"If we conducted the same study in older people or heart patients," he reasons, "we might have found an association between drinking alcohol and arrhythmias."

Although this article is unlikely to put you off having a few drinks during your next night out, it's certainly worth being mindful of the effects a binge drinking session could have on your heart health — and your singing abilities.

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Could omega-6 fatty acids help us live longer?

New research from Finland supports the idea that a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids may protect us from premature death.
oils and nuts
Omega-6 fatty acids — found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, among other things — may prolong our lives.

Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland analyzed data from a study that followed nearly 2,500 men for over 20 years.

It was revealed that higher blood levels of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid were tied to both a lower risk of death and death from cardiovascular disease.

"Linoleic acid," claims first author Jyrki Virtanen, an adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology, "is the most common polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid."

He and his colleagues report their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Omega-6 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are present in plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, beans, and grains.

They get their name from the fact that their first double bond occurs at the sixth carbon-carbon bond counting from the methyl end (CH3) of their hydrocarbon backbone.

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The debate about the benefits of omega-6

There is currently much debate about the health benefits of omega-6 fatty acids. Although widely praised for their effect on cholesterol levels, they have come under fire because it is thought that they may also do harm — such as promote low-level inflammation, which is associated with cardiovascular disease.

The reason behind this thinking lies in the fact that our bodies convert dietary linoleic acid into another omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which, in turn, is used to make certain pro-inflammatory compounds.

Unlike linoleic acid, blood levels of arachidonic acid are not diet-dependent.

However, the notion that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid raises disease risk by promoting inflammation ignores the fact that omega-6 fatty acids also promote anti-inflammatory compounds.

Prof. Virtanen and colleagues suggest that the controversy highlights the sorts of problems that arise when scientists focus only on the links between diet and disease risk.

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Higher blood linoleic acid, lower death risk

For their research, the scientists used data from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study.

The KIHD Study is a large, ongoing study of cardiovascular risk that follows a population of middle-aged men living in eastern Finland. Men in this region have high recorded rates of coronary heart disease.

The study data include the blood levels of fatty acids in 2,480 men who were 42–60 years of age when they joined the cohort in 1984–1989.

The men were followed for an average of 22 years, during which 1,143 of them died from causes that were disease-related. The analysis excluded men who had died from other causes such as accidents.

For their analysis, the researchers put the men in five groups ranked according to their blood level of linoleic acid, and they then compared the rates of death in the five groups.

They found that the group with the highest blood levels of linoleic acid had a 43 percent lower risk of death than the group with the lowest levels.

A more in-depth analysis revealed a similar pattern for deaths that were caused by cardiovascular disease, and also for deaths due to causes other than cardiovascular disease or cancer.

However, no such pattern was found for deaths due to cancer alone.

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Similar, weaker pattern for arachidonic acid

These findings are consistent with those of other studies that followed large groups and found links between high dietary and blood levels of linoleic acid and reduced risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while not raising the risk of cancer.

When they ran their analyses again, this time using only blood levels of arachidonic acid, Prof. Virtanen and colleagues found similar but weaker patterns.

This result is a new and unique contribution of their study, they note, and they now call for further studies to confirm that higher blood arachidonic acid is linked to a lower risk of death.

The researchers also note another important finding: this was that, regardless of whether the men that they studied had cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease when they enrolled in the study, the results were largely the same.

"We discovered that the higher the blood linoleic acid level, the smaller the risk of premature death."

Prof. Jyrki Virtanen

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What is a left atrial enlargement?

The left atrium is one of four chambers in the heart and is located on the upper left-hand side. The lower chambers are known as ventricles.

The right side of the heart is responsible for pumping blood to the lungs to collect oxygen in a process called oxygenation, while the left side pumps blood to the rest of the body.

Several heart problems can cause the left atrium to swell. When this happens, it is called left atrial enlargement. It is linked to several conditions, including atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

In this article, learn about the causes and symptoms of left atrial enlargement, as well as the treatment options.

Symptoms digital illustration of heart
The left atrium is located on the upper left-hand side of the heart.

Left atrial enlargement does not always cause symptoms, and someone may only discover it during a test for another problem.

In some cases, however, it can cause symptoms associated with other heart conditions. These symptoms include:

breathlessness or shortness of breath fatigue rapid or irregular heartbeats (palpitations) lack of appetite or nausea dizziness or light-headedness fluid buildup and swelling weight gain chest pain fainting Causes The size of the left atrium depends on the size of the individual and may change as a person ages. Conditions that may cause left atrial enlargement include: High blood pressure doctor taking female patients blood pressure
Research has shown there is a link between high blood pressure and left atrial enlargement. Left atrial enlargement can help doctors predict cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks. Research has found a link between left atrial enlargement and both treated and untreated high blood pressure or hypertension. Diagnosing left atrial enlargement can help doctors determine the risk of a heart attack in people with high blood pressure. Problems with the mitral valve Oxygenated blood passes through the mitral valve from the left atrium to the left ventricle. Problems with the mitral valve can lead to left atrial enlargement. Possible conditions include: Mitral stenosis, which is when the valve narrows and makes it difficult for blood to pass from the atrium to the ventricle. Mitral regurgitation, which is when the blood leaks from the left ventricle back into the left atrium. In healthy people, the mitral valve only flows one way, passing from the atrium to the ventricle. If mitral stenosis or regurgitation is severe, it may be difficult for the blood to pass to the ventricle. The left atrium will enlarge to compensate for the increased pressure it is under. Left ventricle dysfunction Problems with the left ventricle may mean it is unable to take the blood passed from the left atrium. Again, the increased pressure that this creates in the left atrium can cause it to enlarge. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Diagnosis A doctor will use an echocardiogram to look for left atrial enlargement. This test uses high-frequency sound waves or ultrasound to produce pictures of the heart. To do this test, a person will lie on a table, and a specially trained technician will attach small metal disks called electrodes to their chest. The technician will pass a small probe over the chest that produces sound waves. These sound waves bounce off the heart and echo back to the probe, making images. An echocardiogram does not hurt, causes no internal harm, and has no side effects. A doctor may also recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan for diagnosis. Complications Left atrial enlargement may indicate one of the following complications: Atrial fibrillation Atrial fibrillation or A-fib refers to frequent irregular heartbeats, which is called arrhythmia. It affects around 2.7 million Americans. A-fib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart problems. Several studies have identified the link between left atrial enlargement and atrial fibrillation. In general, the larger the left atrium grows, the higher a person's chances are of experiencing A-fib. Stroke Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. It can also cause severe complications and disability. While the link between left atrial enlargement and stroke is complex, having A-fib increases someone's chance of having a stroke. There is also some evidence of an enlarged left atrium being a predictive marker of stroke without any signs of A-fib. Heart failure When someone has left atrial enlargement, it can also be a sign of congestive heart failure. Heart failure occurs when a person's heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. It can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and a buildup of fluid in the lungs, liver, and the legs. As it progresses, it can cause shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat. Treatment healthy food in heart shape with stethoscope
A healthful diet will be beneficial to those with high blood pressure. Treatment for left atrial enlargement will focus on identifying and treating the underlying cause. Treatment for hypertension may include: taking medication, including beta-blockers, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers eating a healthful diet low in salt limiting alcohol exercising regularly managing stress levels maintaining a healthy weight quitting smoking Treatment for mitral stenosis may include: taking diuretics to reduce fluid buildup using blood thinners to prevent clots taking anti-arrhythmic drugs for an irregular heartbeat having surgery to replace or repair the mitral valve Treatment for mitral regurgitation may include: taking anticoagulant medication to reduce the risk of clots having surgery to repair or replace the mitral valve Treatment for left ventricle dysfunction may include: taking angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors taking beta-blockers using an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) An ICD is a battery-powered device implanted under the skin with thin wires to the heart. It tracks a person's heart rate and uses an electric shock to correct any dangerous heart rhythms. Thank you for supporting Medical News Today Prevention Some lifestyle changes may lower the risk of developing conditions that cause left atrial enlargement. These include: managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol eating a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables reducing or eliminating alcohol quitting smoking exercising regularly losing weight if overweight practicing good stress management Outlook While many people who have left atrial enlargement experience no symptoms, it may be a sign of an underlying heart condition. Treatment can vary from simple lifestyle changes to surgery, so it is essential to receive a proper diagnosis.
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