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CARDIOVASCULAR RISK FACTORS 101: ARTERIOSCLEROSIS
As cardiovascular disease is the number one disease process in the United States, I am going to review some of the risk factors that you can reduce yourself. Last month I pointed out that cholesterol and blood pressure levels together can be a guide to determining the goals for lowering cholesterol ratios and blood pressure. Another factor that contributes to cardiovascular disease is a thickening and stiffening of the blood vessel walls known as arteriosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”. Flexible arteries are less likely to form clots, tear, or build up atherosclerotic obstructions to flow.
One measurement of this process occurs whenever you have your blood pressure checked. The difference between the systolic (higher) and diastolic (lower) numbers in the blood pressure reading is the “pulse pressure”. If this number is increased, it can be a sign of stiffening of the arteries. Desirable values for the pulse pressure are 40 or less.
There is no proof that pharmaceuticals reduce pulse pressure, but one simple dietary intervention has had considerable impact. Multiple Israeli studies have shown that drinking pomegranate juice at a dose of 250 ml a day (just a little over 8 ounces) progressively reduced the thickness of the carotid artery. The benefit was 13% at 3 months, and gradually increased until at one year the improvement was 35%. This improvement was maintained during the three years of the study. In the placebo group, the arterial wall thickness increased continuously over this period. It is likely that other arteries in the body respond in a similar way.
In addition, juice intake reduced systolic blood pressure, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease; and oxidation of LDL cholesterol was reduced, possibly reducing atherosclerosis as well. The Israeli studies have been confirmed by studies at three medical centers in California in patients who had decreased blood flow to the heart. In these studies, after 3 months of pomegranate juice intake, blood flow to the heart was increased by 17% in the juice group whereas it worsened by 18% in the control group.
Stress also reduces blood flow to the heart and the researchers found that this did not happen in the pomegranate group but still did in the controls.
For all these reasons, I recommend you consider adding pomegranate juice to your diet. A whole juice concentrate is available at the office. The dose is 2 tablespoons a day or it can be reconstituted into juice and 8 ounces taken. Until studies show the benefits are comparable, I am not recommending any other type of pomegranate supplement except the whole juice. (L.B. Grotte, 2006)
VINEGAR REDUCES APPETITE AND BLOOD SUGAR
At the September 2005 meeting of the American College of Nutrition held in Kiawah Island, S.C., Arizona State University researchers presented a study that indicated that a small amount of cider vinegar reduced the increase in blood sugar that follows a meal. In addition, those who added vinegar to their diet were less hungry and consumed 300 fewer calories a day when compared to a control group. One and a half to two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar was mixed with water and sweetened with saccharine. This was drunk after a test meal. I would recommend instead Dr. Jarvis’ formula of two tablespoons of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar with two tablespoons raw honey in hot water consumed before or after a meal.
GUINNNESS ACTUALLY IS GOOD FOR YOU
The darker the beer you drink, the greater its ability to prevent blood clotting, and thus potentially heart disease, according to a study presented to the American Heart Association annual meeting. In a comparison of Guinness Stout (a dark beer), and Heineken, a light beer, the Guinness proved to be about twice as effective at preventing the blood platelets from clumping. The researchers from Wisconsin University, whose experiments were carried out on dogs, believe it is the antioxidant compounds in the Guinness that are responsible for the effect. Guinness was banned from using its famous slogan (“Guinness is good for you“) many years ago, although it is still prescribed by Irish doctors to prevent anemia after surgery, due to its high iron content.
DIET & KIDNEY STONES
Eating calcium rich foods may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones. Whole grains and vegetables, dairy products and a high fluid intake all appear to lower the risk, while a high sugar intake may increase it, say researchers who analyzed data from 96,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Calcium supplements had no apparent effect, whether positive or negative. (American Society of Nephrology annual meeting, November 2003).
DIETARY FAT AND STROKE
A US study has failed to find any association between the intake of dietary fat and the risk of stroke. They analyzed data from nearly 44,000 men enrolled in a long-term study of male US health care professionals. All men in the study were free from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes when the study began in 1986. After adjustment for age, smoking, and other potential influences, no evidence was found that the amount or type of dietary fat affects the risk of developing ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. Intakes of red meats, high fat dairy products, nuts, and eggs were also not appreciably related to risk of stroke. (BMJ 2003;327:777-782).
LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE
A study carried out at Indiana State University randomly divided 33 healthy adult women into an experimental group who were shown a humorous video, and a comparison group who sat through a tourism video. All subjects were assessed for self-reported stress and arousal, laughter and immune function (NK cell activity). The results showed that stress decreased in the laughter group compared to the comparison group, and that stress decreased and immune function increased in the laughter group proportionately to the amount they had laughed whilst watching the video. (Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45).
FRUITS, VEGETABLES & BREAST CANCER
A study of over 1400 women in Shanghai has found that those who ate at least four servings of fruits and vegetables a day had a 50% lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate two or less portions. (American Association for Cancer Research conference, October 2003).
TEENAGERS HEALTH ‘TIME BOMB’
A report from the British Medical Association has warned that teenagers who increasingly consume high amounts of alcohol, drugs and junk food, and are sexually promiscuous, risk becoming the most obese and infertile generation of adults in the history of mankind, generating a public health time bomb. 20% of UK 13-16 year olds are overweight, 25% of 15-16 year olds smoke, and 10% of females aged 16-19 have chlamydia, potentially leading to infertility. 11-15 year olds now drink twice as much as they did a decade ago, with nearly a fifth of them drinking at least once a week, whilst cirrhosis of the liver is killing an increasing number of young people. The report also says that up to 20% of children and young adults suffer from some form of mental distress, from depression to eating disorders. The report’s authors call their findings “an extraordinary threat to an entire generation”.
EXERCISE, DIET & HEART DISEASE
An analysis of the data from nearly 9,800 people who enrolled in a large health and nutrition study between 1971 and 1975 has found the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease (less than half of the highest risk) in those who both exercised and ate more. They were leaner than those with higher risks, who tended to exercise less, eat less, and be overweight. The conclusion appears to be that to prevent cardiovascular disease, the key factor is exercise and that total caloric intake is relatively less important. (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2003;25(4):283-289).
The Old Order Amish, who live a 19th century lifestyle and practice traditional agricultural techniques, engage on average in six times more physical activity than the average citizen in a ‘modern’ nation. Amish men take on average over 18 thousand steps a day, compared to the US average of two to three thousand. Only 4% of the Amish studied were obese (compared to a 31% US average) whilst 26% were classified as overweight (compared to a US average of 64.5%), despite the fact that the Amish diet is high in calories, fat and refined sugar. (Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, 2004;36:79-85).
HIGH HEELS & KNEE OSTEOARTHRITIS
Wearing high heels does not appear to be a contributory factor to the development of osteoarthritis of the knee in women, although women over the age of 65 are twice as likely as men to suffer from this disease. The researchers interviewed 111 women who were waiting for knee replacement surgery, and 82 women with no knee problems, and asked about their lifetime history of wearing one inch, two inch and three inch heels. None of the measures of high heel wearing were significantly associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. It is obviously time now to consider the hypothesis that Chinese medicine would make i.e. that the greater exposure of women’s knees to wind, cold and damp due to insufficient clothing, could be a factor. (Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health [2003;57:823-30]).
ASTHMATIC BREATHING, EXERCISE & FISH OILS
A small study has found that otherwise healthy experienced athletes who normally experience asthma-like symptoms following exercise (exercise-induced bronchoconstriction/EIB) had 80% less severe symptoms after taking fish oil capsules for three weeks. The study also found that athletes who did not usually experience EIB showed no change in lung function after taking the fish oil. (Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. 2003; 168: 1181-1189).
Research carried out at St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London, England has confirmed that an extract derived from the Chinese herb Qing Hao (Herba Artemisiae Apiaceae) is effective in the treatment of malaria. Qing Hao extract works by disabling a vital enzyme in the malaria parasite (Plasmodium flaciparum) causing it to die within hours. It is expected that improved versions of the extract will cure malaria in 3-4 days. (New Scientist, August 23, 2003).