Not All Obese People are at Risk for Heart Disease

Carrying extra pounds is one of the risk factors for heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are encouraged by their loved ones and their doctor to get and maintain a healthy weight to improve heart health, but does everyone who is carrying excess pounds need to do so?

Not necessarily, according to the results of a study conducted by Dutch researchers. The University Medical Center in Groningen’s Dr. Andre van Beek stated that overweight people who are “metabolically healthy” are not at a higher risk for heart disease.

Metabolically Healthy

A metabolically healthy obese person is an individual whose medical history doesn’t include any of the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Stroke

They are in the minority, though, making up less than seven percent of the 1,325 obese people whose medical records were examined as part of the study.
Lowering Risk for Heart Disease

Since the majority of people who are overweight are at a higher risk of heart disease, losing weight can be part of a plan to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular issues. Rather than trying to do so by going on a crash diet, a much better (and healthier) approach is to make a plan for slow, steady weight loss.

The weight didn’t go on overnight, and it’s not realistic to expect that it will come off that quickly. Following a balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in fat can help to get to and maintain a healthy weight. Along with a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise should be part of the plan, too.

Before starting an exercise program, a person should see a doctor. Starting off slowly will help to make being more physically active part of a lifestyle change, as opposed to a temporary measure designed to get the weight off only. If an individual goes back to his or her original eating habits after losing weight, the weight is likely to creep back up again.

Watching World Cup Can Increase Risk of Heart Attack

All you World Cup soccer fans (and those who love them) take note: getting heavily involved following the action on the field can lead to heart attack. A study conducted during the last World Cup competition found that rates for heart attacks doubled during the competition.

According to Dr. Gal Dubnov, chief of sports medicine at Sheba Medical Center, the problem stems from a combination of lack of physical activity and eating more snack foods during the tournament. Getting stressed out because your team isn’t doing well or celebrating because it is may be bad for your heart.

The results of a survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine shared details about the number of heart attacks experienced by World Cup viewers in Germany in 2006. During the tournament when the German national team was on the field, heart attack rates more than tripled for men. Female soccer fans were 1.8 times more likely to have cardiac issues. Most of the heart attacks noted in the study took place within two hours of the game.

Interestingly enough, only about half of the people who had a heart attack after watching soccer had a history of heart disease.

What conclusions can we draw from these results? If you have a history of heart issues, take some time to relax and do make a point of eating a heart-healthy diet and getting some exercise while the tournament is going on. If your heart condition is severe, you may need to refrain from watching the games. In any case, there will be enough people coaching from their living rooms that you should try to just watch the action unfold without getting too involved in it. (The players and coaches on the field can’t hear you, anyway.)

Over the Counter Pain Meds Linked to Heart Disease

Taking readily available pain medications can increase the risk of heart disease in healthy people, according to Danish researchers. Ibuprofen is commonly used for headaches, reducing fever, muscle aches, menstrual cramps and other kinds of pain. The packaging warns against stomach upset for people who take it, but perhaps the manufacturer should be indicating that more serious health problems can result from its use.

These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDS, are also available as prescription-strength drugs used to treat mild to moderate pain, as well as arthritis. The Danish study looked at medical records of more than one million people between 1997 and 2005. The average age of the patients studied was 39 years of age.

People who took high does of ibuprofen (which was defined as more than two or three pills per day) were at increased risk of developing heart disease. One prescription strength NSAID, Diclofenac, was found to increase the risk of cardiovascular issues by over 90 percent.cardiovascular stress photo

Used in moderation, these medications may lower the risk of heart disease. One brand that is commonly available in drug stores, Aleve, seems to do just that.

The American Heart Association linked NSAIDS to cardiac issues in 2007. At that time, doctors were advised to consider other options for pain relief for patients who are at risk for developing heart disease.

If you need to take medications for pain relief regularly, do discuss what you are taking with your doctor. There may be better options that don’t increase your risk of cardiac problems.

Brush Your Teeth; Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

As a child, you were probably told that you should brush your teeth at least twice a day. Not only will doing to give you a nice smile, but it can lower your risk of developing heart disease.

Researchers have already connected the dots between gum disease and inflammation in other parts of the body, including the heart. The results of study published in the online version of the British Medical Journal points to good oral hygiene as a way to lower the risk of heart disease.

The researchers collected data from 1,100 adults in Scotland for analysis. The participants who reported brushing their teeth less often than twice a day had a 70 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who brushed more often. The risk factor was adjusted after taking other risk factors for the disease, including being overweight or obese, family history of coronary problems and smoking.

Gum Disease and Risk of Heart Disease

The link between gum disease and the likelihood of developing heart disease was discovered in the late 1980s. There are a couple of theories about why this may be the case. One of them is that bacteria in the mouth attaches itself to plaque in the coronary arteries. A buildup of plaque can block off the coronary artery, resulting in a heart attack.

The second theory about heart disease and dental issues concerns the swelling that accompanies periodontal disease. The inflammation may lead to a buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, which causes the arteries to swell. If the blood flow to the heart is restricted by the swelling, the affected individual is at risk of having a heart attack.

See Your Dentist Regularly

To lower your risk of heart disease from gum disease, get a dental checkup every six months. Brush and floss your teeth as your dentist advises. If your dentist recommends follow-up care, make sure you keep your appointments and get appropriate treatment as suggested.

Cutting Saturated Fats Alone Will Not Protect Against Heart Disease

Lowering consumption of saturated fats is supposed to help protect against heart disease. Saturated fats are animal fats, and are found in red meat, bacon, butter, cheese and other foods. If your goal is to lower your risk of heart disease by cutting back on saturated fats, be careful what you replace them with.

If you replace saturated fats in your diet with carbohydrates, you will not significantly lower your risk of developing heart disease. A much better, and healthier, strategy is to make a point of eating more polyunsaturated fats by increasing your intake of fish, vegetable oils and nuts.

This strategy can help to lower your risk by up to a very impressive 19 percent.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, explains: “Saturated fat is not so bad for you that you can replace it with anything and get [a] benefit. The replacement matters.”
nuts and heart health
Dr. Mozaffarian and his team of researchers analyzed data collected from eight clinical trials involving 13,000 participants who replaced the saturated fat they were consuming with polyunsaturated fat. For every five percent in total calories the participants increased their consumption of polyunsaturated fats, their risk of heart disease decreased by 10 percent.

According to Dr. Mozaffarian, “With all the focus on fat and saturated fat and cholesterol, we’ve put a lot of junk in our diet instead. What a person needs to do is to eat the appropriate amount of calories, and eat a healthy, balanced diet.”

Increase Vitamin D to Lower Heart Disease Risk

Could something as simple as taking a vitamin lower or even eliminate your risk of heart disease? The results of two research studies indicate that the answer is “Yes.”

In the first study, researchers followed 9,400 patients for a year. The participants had low Vitamin D levels at the beginning of the 12-month period. By the end of the study, 47 percent of the group who had increased their Vitamin D levels had also lowered their risk of heart disease.

The second study was much larger in scale, with 31,000 patients participating. They were divided into three groups for tracking purposes. In each of the groups, the patients who increased their levels of Vitamin D to 43 nanograms/mL of blood had lower rates for the following health conditions:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure

A “normal” level of Vitamin D in the blood was considered 30 nanograms/mL. Now, researchers have discovered that this level is too low. Heidi May, Ph.D., a cardiovascular clinical epidemiologist at Murray, Utah’s Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, the study’s author, stated, “Giving physicians a higher level to look for gives them one more tool in identifying patients at-risk and offering them better treatment.”vitamins and diet supplements

A person who is concerned about his or her Vitamin D levels can see their doctor for a blood test to measure the current level. If the results show the levels are low, Vitamin D supplements can be taken. Since Vitamin D is also known as the “Sunshine Vitamin,” increasing time spent out of doors can give the levels a boost. Sunscreen should always be worn before going outside, especially during times when the sun’s rays are at their most intense. This is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is positioned directly overhead in the sky.

Low IQ Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Does the amount of gray matter that a person has influence their risk of  heart disease? According to the results of a study conducted by Britain’s Medical Research Council (BMRC), having a low IQ is strongly linked to heart disease. Surprisingly, the results indicate that a person’s level of intelligence is second only to smoking when it comes to risk factors for the No. 1 killer of North Americans.

The study, which was published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention, followed 1,145 men and women over a 20-year period. All of the participants are currently in their mid-fifties. According to the BMRC study, the top five risk factors for heart disease are:

  1. Smoking
  2. IQ
  3. Low Income
  4. High Blood Pressure
  5. Lack of Physical Activity

These results are very interesting, to say the least. It’s possible that a person with a lower IQ may not fully understand the steps they should be taking to stay healthy. Another explanation for the results of the study is that individuals who perform better in school have better employment prospects. There is a link between income levels and overall health, with more affluent people having fewer health issues than those who have limited means.

Lack of access to health care may explain why people who have lower incomes are at higher risk for heart disease. Not all employers offer health insurance, and the cost of getting coverage may be a barrier to seeing a doctor for preventive care. Chronic stress and depression may be more common for this segment of the population. Processed foods may be less expensive for those who must stick to a strict budget at the grocery store, and consuming items that are higher in sugar, salt and fat are not the most healthy choices in our diet.

Ex-Smokers Putting Their Health at Risk Through Weight Gain

We all know by now that smoking increases the risk of heart disease. Despite the warnings that we have heard, kicking the cigarette habit can be challenging for many people. It’s not a question of lack of will power; the problem stems from the fact that nicotine is a highly-addictive substance.

The cravings that a person who tries to quit smoking goes through are very real, and many people who manage to give up cigarettes find that they gain weight afterward. This may be caused by the fact that food tastes better after giving up the habit or perhaps the ex-smoker eats more in an effort to keep their mouth busy without lighting up again. Whatever the reason, gaining weight after giving up smoking may mean trading one risk factor for heart disease for another.

Being overweight increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, so the person who is planning to quit smoking needs to have a plan for keeping his or her weight under control.
fruits, vegetables, fiber
One way to do so is to plan meals and snacks carefully after butting out.

A person who is hungry can learn to think about whether they want to eat something sweet, crunchy, or chewy and then having healthy options readily available. When the craving is for something sweet, look to fresh fruits or low-fat yogurt to satisfy the craving. Carrot and celery sticks can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator for times when something crunchy would hit the spot. Raisins or prunes are chewy, and add fiber to the diet.

A person who has decided to quit smoking has already made a very positive decision about his or her health. It needs to be followed up with another one about making a strategy to avoid weight gain afterward.

Urine Test for Heart Disease Successful in Small Trial

Can you imagine going to see your doctor and being screened for heart disease by providing a urine sample? German researchers have discovered that when a person has heart disease, their body produces higher levels of collagen. Collagen attaches to the lining of the arteries. When it does so, fragments of the protein break off.

The collagen fragments, called proteomes, can be detected in urine. High concentrations may indicate atherosclerosis, which is a risk factor for heart attack. Atherosclerosis is commonly referred to as “hardening of the arteries.”

In a study conducted on 67 participants who had symptoms of coronary artery disease, the urine test had a very impressive 84 percent accuracy rate. More research will be needed before the urine test becomes standard for detecting heart disease, but this is a very encouraging development.

Small Changes Count in Preventing Heart Disease

By now, you have probably read or heard about how your lifestyle choices can increase your risk of heart disease. Here are some suggestions that will help lower your risk:

While it’s wonderful that you want to start taking better care of yourself, here’s a word of caution. People don’t like change; they really don’t. If you decide to make a whole bunch of major changes at once, you may not able to sustain them over the long term. It takes time for a change to become a habit, and you are far better off starting small and making changes that you can live with rather than a complete overhaul that won’t last.

Let’s look at the tips one at a time and talk about how you can incorporate them slowly into your life.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Eating well is a great goal to strive for, but if you vow that fries or chocolate will never cross your lips again for the rest of your life, you probably won’t be able to keep it. In a balanced diet, there is room for everything, even the occasional treat. (Notice that I said, “occasional” there.)

Start by substituting jam or jelly on your toast for butter. Substitute a salad for fries or onion rings when you order a hamburger. Eat dessert if you want to, but have a small serving. Over time, these habits will become automatic and you will have lowered your risk of heart disease.

Exercise Regularly

Have you ever noticed that a lot of people decide to hit the gym as their New Year’s resolution? They start off all gung-ho about getting fit, and then lose interest relatively quickly. By March or April, the gym is deserted again.

Instead, start off by increasing your daily activities, whether you decide to go to the gym or not. Start by going for a brisk walk for 15 or 20 minutes every other day. Start taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Work up to longer walks or start taking an exercise class when your overall fitness improves.

Quit Smoking

When it comes to quitting smoking, you have a number of options. For some people, quitting cold turkey is the way to go. Others use a nicotine patch or go on medication to help them get over their cravings. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your plans to quit and get advice about which approach would work best for you.

Alcohol in Moderation

If you enjoy a drink of alcohol, you don’t need to suddenly become a teetotaler. You can be aware of how often you drink and how much, and start to cut back.

Keep Records of Your Progress

Once you start making positive changes in your life, it may be helpful for you to keep a journal of the changes you are making. It will help you to stay on track as you reduce your risk of heart disease….one small change at a time.