Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine Physician Gives Tips on Heart Health

March 15, 2011 by  
Filed under VIDEO

I just found this health related video on YouTube … and thought you might enjoy it!

Dr. Mimi Guarneri, medical director of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, gave tips on women and heart health. Dr. Guarneri discusses the risk factors for heart disease in women and how to minimize them through a healthy lifestyle and stress management. The clip was originally aired on KSWB in San Diego.

Tell us what you think about this video in the comments below, or in the Battling For Health Community Forum!

Secret of cardiovascular benefits of alcohol unravelled

January 13, 2011 by  

At least in southern Europe, it is believed, that a glass of wine a day, keeps the doctor away.  Wine is an integral part of the supposedly healthy Mediterranean diet. Many studies also support this statement when it comes to cardiovascular health.  Population studies have shown that light to moderate drinkers have 20 to 40 percent lower heart disease and cardiac-related death compared to people who don’t drink. The secret has been unraveled.

Scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered that the molecule Notch may be the reason for alcohol’s “protective” properites.  They found that drinking alcohol moderately, say one to three drinks per day, inhibits Notch, which previous research has shown, influences vascular smooth muscle cell development. The growth and movement of smooth muscle cells in blood vessels can lead to the hardening and narrowing of arteries, known as atherosclerosis, or in the other case, the re-narrowing of arteries, or restenosis.  Atherosclerosis and restenosis are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. 

The researchers found in mice and humans that “regular, limited amounts of alcohol decreased Notch, which in turn decreased the production and growth of smooth muscle cells, leaving vessels open and relatively free of blockages or build-up – a desirable state for a healthy heart.

In the study, when human smooth muscle cells were treated with moderate levels of alcohol,  the expression of the Notch 1 receptor significantly decreased and this inhibited Notch signaling, resulting to decreased growth of smooth muscle cells. Artificially switching the Notch pathway in these cells reversed the inhibitory effect of moderate alcohol on smooth muscle cell growth.   Reduced vessel thickening was also observed in a group of mice which received alcohol in a mouse model of vessel remodeling (which occurs when vessels change their shapes in response to injury). 

By identifying Notch as the signalling pathway regulated by alcohol, the benefits of moderate drinking to cardiovascular diseases were finally identified at a molecular level.  The next step is to find out how alcohol inhibits Notch in smooth muscle cells and this is going to be a really challenging task, according to the Notch experts. 

Meanwhile, those with coronary diseases can enjoy and raise a glass.  Cheers!

Men’s Health Tips – What a Relief!

November 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Video: Health Tips for Men

I just found this health related video on YouTube … and thought you might enjoy it!

Amanda McQuade Crawford, medicinal herbalist and host of Veria TV’s What a Relief! Discusses natural, healthy ways to prevent an enlarged prostrate, erectile dysfunction and more. Learn more insightful tips and healthy recipes on:

What do you think?

Time change and heart health

November 4, 2010 by  

We Europeans have reset our clocks to winter time last Sunday.  The Americans haven’t shifted to Daylight Savings Time (DST) yet but will next week. No wonder people are a bit confused. Not only people but machines as well. Take my iPhone. My alarm sounds an hour late since Monday morning despite setting the new time. If machines get into trouble with all these time change, how much more the human body. It is already Thursday, 5 days after time change but I still feel disoriented. Yes, time change can affect our health. Below I give you a previous post on how time change can affect your sleep and waking hours – and your heart health.

How does time transition affect our health?

According to this latest study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, these transitions in time are linked to higher incidence of acute heart attacks. The Swedish study shows that the number of heart attacks increases significantly during the first 3 weekdays after the transition to daylight saving time (DST) in springtime. The effects of turning back the time in autumn is not so strong but still evident during the first weekday. Furthermore, there are some differences observed in the time transition effects which are dependent on gender and age.

The effect of the spring transition to daylight saving time on the incidence of acute myocardial infarction was somewhat more pronounced in women than in men, and the autumn effect was more pronounced in men than in women… The effects of transitions were consistently more pronounced for people under 65 years of age than for those 65 years of age or older.

Time change interferes with our biological rhythm and our daily routine especially our sleep. The most plausible explanation for the increase in heart attacks is sleep deprivation, which can badly affect cardiovascular health.

Because of its dependence of daylight hours, DST has also an effect on health conditions such as depression, vitamin D insufficiency, and night blindness.

 Who are most likely to be affected?

As the abovementioned study above suggests, those with heart problems and but also adults below 65 are more likely to feel the adverse effects of time change. Babies and little children will also feel it and get restless, adding to the woes of the poor parents.

Depending on each individual, the effects can last between 1 day and two weeks!

In addition, the severity and the duration of the effect vary from person to person. In general, however, “owl types” tend to suffer more at springtime.

Night owls” or “evening types” are people who have a natural tendency to stay up later at night. This puts them at risk for delayed sleep phase disorder, which occurs when their usual bedtime and wake time are much later than the social norms.

Since night owls have a hard time falling asleep when they go to bed early, they may be unable to compensate for the time change. As a result they may go to bed even later than normal, depriving themselves of needed sleep.

Those who are “morning types” among us however, will experience more problems this autumn (November 2) when we go back to Standard Time

How can we minimize the effect of time change?

The American Academy on Sleep Medicine (AASM) gives us the following tips to counteract the effects of time change:

 Why change time at all?

If it is bad for our health, then why do it?

Switching to DST is something we have to put up with because we are living in higher altitudes and have therefore varying day lengths depending on the season. People living close to the equator don’t need to bother with this.

Adjustment for DST in spring aims to optimally use the daylight hours, with the following results:

  • It makes us start work earlier in the morning when the sun rises early, and then leave us enough daylight hours in the evening for outdoor leisure activities.
  • It reduces energy consumption because we tend to use less indoor lighting.
  • Business benefits from DST because it encourages people to shop longer in the evenings.
  • It also aims to reduce traffic accidents and crime that usually tend to happen in the dark hours.

However, it does not benefit everybody, e.g. people who work in shifts (hospital staff, for example), those who frequently have to cross time zones (airline personnel, for example). The shift in time can create havoc with time-dependent machines and computer systems. International businesses get disrupted. For years, the time change on the two sides of the Atlantic happened on the same weekend – the last Sunday of March for DST and the last Sunday of October for going back to standard time. This has changed since 2007. In the US and Canada, it now happens on the second Sunday of March and the first Sunday of November. This asynchrony even complicates things and brings confusion to people working on intercontinental projects.

World Heart Day 2010

September 30, 2010 by  

September 26 was World Heart Day. This year’s observance spearheaded by World Heart Federation focuses on Workplace Wellness: Take responsibility for your own heart health, with the slogan “I work with Heart.” The Workplace Wellness program outlines 10 simple steps on how we can live a healthy lifestyle and make our workplace a healthy place:

1. Healthy food intake – Eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day and avoid saturated fat. Beware of processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt.

2. Get active & take heart – Even 30 minutes of activity can help to prevent heart attacks and strokes and your work will benefit too.

3. Say no to tobacco – Your risk of coronary heart disease will be halved within a year and will return to a normal level over time.

4. Maintain a healthy weight – Weight loss, especially together with lowered salt intake, leads to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major factor for approximately half of all heart disease and stroke.

5. Know your numbers – Visit a healthcare professional who can measure your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, together with waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index (BMI). Once you know your overall risk, you can develop a specific plan of action to improve your heart health.

6. Limit your alcohol intake – Restrict the amount of alcoholic drinks that you consume. Excessive alcohol intake can cause your blood pressure to rise and your weight to increase.

7. Insist on a smoke-free environment. Demand a tobacco ban – ensure your workplace is 100% smoke-free. Support the adoption of smoking – cessation services encourage your employer to provide help to those wanting to quit tobacco

8. Bring exercise to the workplace – Include physical activity in your working schedule – cycle to work if this is possible, take the stairs, exercise or go for a walk during your lunch breaks, and encourage others to do so too. Have regular breaks during the day – try stretching or exercising for 5 minutes twice a day.

9. Choose healthy food options- Ask for healthy food at your work canteen, or find nearby cafes or restaurants that serve healthy meals

10. Encourage stress-free moments -whilst stress has not been shown to be a direct risk factor for heart disease and stroke, it is related to smoking, excessive drinking and unhealthy eating, which are risk factors for heart disease. Take time for lunch away from your workplace to get some fresh air.

Don’t let the heat stop you from being active

July 21, 2010 by  

Heart health and extreme heat do not go well together. And this summer, we are experiencing a heat wave. Under such circumstances, we cannot blame people if they’d rather stay at home and stay sedentary. However, do not let the summer heat beat us. We still need physical exercise regardless of the heat outside. Here are some tips on how to stay active this summer. I compiled this from recommendations of the American Heart Association (AHA) as well as from my own experience.

Here is what the AHA recommends:

Here are the things that I do to keep active:

Go for a walk or run early in the mornings or evenings. I normally jog during my lunch break. But in this summer heat, this isn’t possible anymore. I now go early mornings, just before 8 am, as soon as my kids go off to school. Even though I’d rather get an early start with my work, I rearranged my schedule to accommodate a 30-minute run each morning. Luckily, as a self-employed, I can be flexible.

Last April, while on holidays in tropical Asia, a morning jog on the beach and an evening stroll under stars were a great way to beat the tropical heat.

Take the stairs. When I had to go on client visits or shop at a mall, I try to take two to three flights of stairs rather than take the lift or the escalator.

Go to the forest or up the mountains. There was a day last week when an early run wasn’t possible. So I did my run at noon – in the forest. You would be surprised how trees and their shade can make a difference. On the weekends, we go hike in areas of higher altitude (thus cooler temperatures) but also in wooded areas. Last week we had this beautiful walk at 800 m above sea level, which is still low by Swiss standards but was cool enough. We aim to go higher this weekend.

Swim in the lakes and rivers. After the walk last weekend, we ended up bathing in the nearest river. The cold water flowing down from the mountains were so refreshing and would beat water from any pool anytime. We are lucky that Swiss lakes and rivers are so clean!

Take note that there are some indoor skiing areas in some countries. If you live in one of these countries (example: Dubai), then this is your chance to start learning how to ski.

Go to the gym. When everything else fails, the gym is still your best bet. Again, in tropical Asia a couple of months ago, this was the only option to stay active while staying in the big cities. And I almost invariably go for the treadmill and the pedometer.

Heat is not an excuse for being sedentary. Let’s get moving, no matter what.

Easter chocolate: small and dark is healthy

April 2, 2010 by  

Just in time for Easter!

Researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition say it is okay –actually healthy – to eat chocolate this Easter – as long as they are small and dark.

How small?

7.5 g which is just about a small square from a 100-gram chocolate bar or a very small chocolate egg.

How dark?

The more cacao the better, at least 70% of cocoa is advisable. The researchers looked at the effects of chocolate consumption for over a decade on the health of 19,300 people. Those who ate the most chocolate experienced more cardiovascular benefits such us lower blood pressure  and 39% lower risk for stroke heart attack than those who ate less.

This might sound like great news for chocoholics and chocolate manufacturers. But before you stuff yourself with sweet dark Easter goodies, take note that the highest consumption – 7.5 g – isn’t really much. There is no data showing whether higher chocolate consumption brings more benefits.

According to researcher Gary Buijsse

“Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable.”

So what is it in dark chocolate that benefits our heart health?

Antioxidants, specifically flavonols, also found in red grapes and berries and vegetables.

Flavanols appear to be … responsible for improving the bioavailability of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inner wall of blood vessels. Nitric oxide is a gas that, once released, causes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen, [and] that this may contribute to lower blood pressure.

So why can’t we just eat as much chocolate as we want to avoid cardiovascular problems? Well, the chocolate that we get from the supermarket is a processed product which contains sugar, milk, and other additives. A 100-g chocolate bar contains about 500 calories. The beneficial decrease in blood pressure will be cancelled by the adverse effect of weight gain.

Like most things in life, moderation is the key word. Chocolate is good for you, but too much of a good thing can turn bad. Happy Easter!

Coffee and your heart rhyhtm

March 23, 2010 by  

Over the years, a lot of research studies have been conducted to assess the effect of caffeine on heart health. This is a highly relevant topic considering that

  • Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, hot or cold.
  • Energy drink consumption which contains high amounts of caffeine has become a very popular soft drink among the young and even used as performance enhancer.

Many of those studies report inconclusive or contradictory results about the effect of caffeine on heart health.

A latest research study at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, Oakland, CA explored the common belief that coffee causes palpitations, e.g. irregularity in the heartbeat when the heart literally “skips a beat.”

According to Dr Arthur Klatsky, who is leading the study:

“A lot of people think they have palpitations from coffee, and doctors commonly tell people not to drink it, but there are very few actual data, and the data that are available suggest no relationship. We went into this study thinking there would be no association, but to our surprise, there was actually an inverse relationship. It could be protective, although one observational study doesn’t prove anything yet.”

The researchers looked at 130,054 members of the Kaisers Permanente health plan and asked them to complete questionnaires on coffee drinking habits and other lifestyle factors.

The study results indicate that coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk for hospitalizations for arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). In addition, the effect seems to be additive, e.g. the more coffee you drink, the lesser is the risk. As an example, those who drink more than 4 cups of coffee per day have an 18% less likelihood to have arrhythmia-induced hospitalization. The effect of caffeine consumption did not vary regardless of gender, ethnicity and smoking habits.

Is it really the caffeine?

Well, those who drank only decaf coffee did not have this protective effect so the evidence points to caffeine as the protective substance. However, the authors are quick to point out that coffee” is a complex substance and that it includes other ingredients that might be at work, including antioxidants, in reducing the risk of arrhythmias” which might have been drastically reduced during the decaffeinating process.

So what does caffeine do?

Dr. Klatsky and colleagues say the mechanisms behind the cardioprotective properties of caffeine are not fully understood but it may have something to do with caffeine competing with the compound adenosine in the brain. They speculate that the same competition might occur in the heart where adenosine is involved in the conduction and recovery of heart muscle cells after depolarization. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings, including studies that will look into incidence of less sever arrhythmias that do not result in hospitalization.

However, the authors think it might be tricky to find subjects willing to cooperate with such studies.

It might be a little tricky to get people to give up their coffee, and for those who aren’t coffee drinkers, it might be tough to get them to start drinking four cups per day.”

Either you are a coffee drinker or you are not. I’m partial to lattes and mochas myself. Which one are you?

Heart health defined: AHA’s Life’s Simple 7

February 2, 2010 by  

What is cardiovascular health? What are the criteria to meet in order to be considered as “heart-healthy?” At last, the American Heart Association (AHA) has sought to answer these questions. The health group has defined poor, intermediate, and ideal cardiovascular health status based on 7 simple measures.

Why do we need such measures? Because what we believe about our health is not necessarily the reality. An AHA survey, for example, found that 39% (almost 4 out of 10) Americans believe that they have an ideal heart health status. However, 54% of these people had been assesses as having at least 1 risk factor for heart disease. Thus, AHA decided once and for all to try and define clear criteria that tell the truth about our health.

The seven health measures (Life’s Simple 7) as defined by AHA are:

And most, if not all of these measures can actually be met through lifestyle and behaviour changes.

This is one of the first steps in AHA’s efforts to achieve a new goal for 2020, that is, improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.

According to Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, AHA president:

“To date, there has been great success in reducing disability and death from heart disease and stroke in part through aggressive improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases and in limited uptake of measures to prevent heart disease and stroke. We achieved our 2010 goal of reducing death by heart disease and stroke by 25 percent — earlier and by a wider margin than we had targeted. However, too many people continue to have unrelenting exposure to known important risk factors for heart disease and stroke to the point that we are likely to begin seeing an increase in these diseases — and at an earlier age. That is a cause for alarm and a trend we need to stop now.”

In the AHA site, you can access Life’s Simple 7 (Seven Simple Steps to Live Better) and take the following steps:


Photo credit: stock.xchng

Does Yoga benefit your heart?

November 16, 2009 by  

yoga_vectorsMany people practice yoga for many different reasons. Yoga has been shown to help manage stress, pain, and anxiety. But what about heart health? Results from several studies suggest that yoga might also have some cardiovascular benefits. There have been anecdotal reports that yoga, through breathing exercises, stretching, postures, relaxation, and meditation, can improve general health. However, these have been poorly documented.

The heart is regulated by autonomic nervous system via two routes – the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate whereas the parasympathetic system slows it down. In order for the heart rate to be steady, these two systems should be well-coordinated to work together. However, in times when changes to the heart is necessary, e.g. due to stress, flight response, etc., the two systems should also be ready to regulate the heart rate as needed. The result is the ongoing variation in heart rate called heart rate variability or HRV. HRV is the beat-to-beat changes in the heart rate and is high in people with health hearts. In cases of cardiac abnormalities, HRV goes down.

This recent study by Indian scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology looked at the benefits of yoga by measuring HRV. They looked at the HRV “spectra” in the electrocardiograms (ECG) of 84 healthy individuals aged between 18 and 48 years, all male. Forty two of these individuals were non-yogic practitioners, and 42 were experienced yoga practitioners.

According to the researchers:

“The spectral analysis of HRV is… an important tool in exploring heart health and the mechanisms of heart rate regulation. The power represented by various spectral bands in short-term HRV is indicative of how well the heart responds to changes in the body controlled by the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.”

The results of the spectral analysis revealed HRV seems to be higher in people practicing yoga regularly. This could be mainly due to the strengthening of the parasympathetic or vagal control through yoga.  A strong vagal control would also mean better control over heart rate by the autonomic nervous system, and indicative of a healthier heart. The results will be published in the next issue of the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics.

Check your heart health IQ!

July 30, 2009 by  

heartsHow good is your knowledge of your heart health? Want to know more but doesn’t have the time to read up and do research? Or you just want to do something fun and learn at the same time? How about taking one of the Healthy Heart Quizzes at the American Heart Association site? Or all of them, for that matter? They’re easy to do online and would just take a few minutes of your time.

Or do you think you know it all? Well, that’s what I thought. And look how I did on the quizzes. Hmm…

Cholesterol Quiz
10 questions on cholesterol and I got nine of them right. Ok, so one is a bit tricky, “hidden”, so to speak. But hey, one can’t always perfect the test, right?

Diabetes Quiz
I got five out six questions right. Ah well, the sweetest is always the most difficult. But I did learn something.

High Blood Pressure Quiz
My blood pressure IQ? A dismal 8 out of 10 correct answers. Uh-uh. Thanks goodness I am not suffering from hypertension.

Test Your Fats IQ
Are you facing the facts of your fats? Whew! This is finally something I got right. Still some of the questions are rather difficult and I really had to pause and think hard.

Physical Activity Heart Health Quiz
Just eight little questions and I have to get the gender question wrong. What a bummer!

Workout Quiz
Well, this one’s rather easy and I got all 9 questions right. I guess I get to be luck at some stage.

And guess what? I did all these in less than an hour!

So are you ready to check out your heart health IQ? Hey, come on. It’s for free. And not having enough time is the most overused excuse in the whole world.

And while you’re at it, tell me how you did and whether you learned something new. Come on, take up the challenge and beat my scores!

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Heart health strategies should be personalized

February 24, 2009 by  

It is not just enough to tell somebody to live a healthy life. It is not enough to know one’s risk profile for cardiovascular (CV) disease. Prevention strategies should be personalized, according the health experts at the University of Exeter in the UK.

Different people will respond differently upon the news of their CV risk. Some of the responses would be:

  • Fear and shpck
  • Downplaying the risk in one’s own mind by benchmarking against others of the same age
  • Behavioral and lifestyle changes

The response may depend on many factors, including age, gender, and sociocultural factors.

The goal is to produce interventions which are sensitive to the lives and social position of those who find themselves at ‘high risk’ of coronary heart disease (CHD) in later-middle age, and which inspire change rather than inhibit it,” say researchers, from Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society at the University of Exeter.

Previous primary care strategies include scaring people and boosting their vulnerability. However, the fear factor can actually hinder the desired behavioural changes.

Currently, it is a common practice in primary health care to conduct screening for certain health risks. In particular, people with family histories of certain diseases are urged to know their risk profile.

The study by the University of Exeter researchers investigated how people responded to the bad news of high risk diagnosis following coronary heart disease screening. The study participants included 38 people interviewed right after screening.

According to lead author Dr. Hannah Farrimond:

“We found that patients struggled to maintain their sense of being ‘healthy’ in the face of their new ‘high risk’ status. The older they were, the more patients treated the risk of CHD as a normal part of getting older. They would downplay their sense of vulnerability by, for example, comparing their own weight and diet favourably with that of their friends.”

Most study participants already believe that they eat a healthy and balanced diet, or that their lifestyle is relatively “heart-healthier” than those of their peers. The standard dietary and physical activity rules may not be therefore acceptable or applicable in these cases.

The study results suggest that intervention and prevention programs should take into account the “social environment and age of the target group.” In addition, lifestyle change strategies should be customized to the patient’s needs.

Photo credit: Stock.xchng

Diabetic Heart Health

January 18, 2008 by  
Filed under DIABETES

Tell me something I didn’t know, please.

This morning I read an article on the elevated risk of cardiovascular disease in women with diabetes. I would hate to have to point out to the scientists that discovered this that diabetic women already knew this. My mother has had two heart catheter procedures in the past few years, I do not know about her cholesterol, but I would guess it is not a pretty number.

Lower the pressure.

Blood pressure is always an issue with diabetics. Before being diagnosed with diabetes, my mother lived with low blood pressure, much like my own. In the years following the progression of the disease, her blood pressure steadily rose. Today she is on medication to control it and aspirin therapy. I have been incorporating better whole foods into her diet, which seems to have helped bring her sugar levels to a more controlled plateau.

At least the vampires will go away.

How do you control your cholesterol, though? Many people endorse garlic as a cure-all, the best thing for cholesterol ever. I have seen the effects of fresh garlic work on cholesterol in the past. My oldest daughter’s father took garlic supplements and ate roasted garlic spread on toast with every evening meal for a month. His cholesterol levels dropped 80 points in a month. Will that work for everyone? I cannot say that it will. Unless you have an allergy to garlic, it certainly will not hurt you to add a bit to your diet.

Caring for your heart is easy, all you need to do is exercise more and eat a diet with whole grains, plenty of fiber, and cut the junk out of your life. Ok, maybe it sounds easier than it actually is. I can guarantee you will feel much better if you talk to your doctor about the proper way to care for your heart, then follow his or her advice.

Want a heart healthy quick breakfast? With these muffins, you can prepare them the night before and grab one on the way out the door in the morning!

Blue Berry Muffins

* 2 eggs
* ½ cup soymilk
* ¼ cup vegetable oil
* 1 cup flour
* ½ cup wheat flour
* ½ cup soy flour
* ½ cup Sucralose( splenda)
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1 ½ cup blue berries (frozen is fine)

Mix all ingredients except blueberries. Shake the blueberries in a zip top bag with a bit of flour. Flour helps the blue berries be suspended in the muffins instead of sinking. Add to batter, mix.

Pour into a greased or papered muffing tin. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes. (12 muffins)

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.