I hope you all had a lovely holiday season … enjoy these latest medical news highlights!
Women’s blood vessels age more rapidly than previously believed
Interesting new research brings into question the conventional notion that men develop cardiovascular disease more rapidly than women. The study, which was recently published in JAMA Cardiology, found that increases in blood pressure begin to appear earlier and progress more rapidly in women than in men. The authors believe that these findings could explain why women exhibit unique patterns of cardiovascular disease and provide impetus to begin monitoring and optimizing blood pressure in women earlier and more aggressively, thereby reducing arterial stiffness and lifetime cardiovascular risk. It behooves us all to keep a close eye on our blood pressure over the course of our lifetimes… and based on these new findings, this may be especially true for women.
Omega 3s and inflammation
Recent studies have challenged the long-held belief that using over-the-counter (OTC) doses of fish oil and other Omega 3 supplements can improve cardiovascular health. However, a recent large analysis of multiple studies (called a meta-analysis) of over 120,000 subjects published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that risk for heart attack or death from cardiovascular disease is reduced in those to take a daily Omega 3 or fish oil supplement, with the risk reduction being greater in those who use higher doses. In addition, the American Heart Association just released this interesting report which suggests that prescription-strength Omega 3 agents can in fact provide heart benefits by reducing inflammation which might otherwise cause damage to blood vessels. Prior studies have found that molecules derived from Omega 3 fatty acids- known as specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs)- help to resolve (rather than prevent) inflammation, thereby reducing the risk for a great number of chronic inflammatory conditions- such as rheumatoid arthritis- via a unique set of chemical pathways.
Omega 3 fats, which fall into the category of polyunsaturated fats, can positively impact our health via a number of mechanisms. Many believe that the health benefits derived from a Mediterranean style diet are due in large part (though not exclusively) to the high content of Omega 3 fats in these dietary patterns. And for the record, I do use a daily OTC algae-based Omega 3 supplement.
The increasing prevalence of adult obesity
According to a recent analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine, half of Americans will be obese by the year 2030. In 29 states, over 50% of residents will be considered obese, and the prevalence of obesity will not be below 35% in any state. Additionally, the prevalence of severe obesity (defined as a BMI of 35 or greater) will exceed 25% in 25 states. The first link above includes some national maps which help to illustrate this worrisome trend. Incidentally, Connecticut is #42 on the list- a relatively reassuring ranking- although the rate of obesity here is still way too high. The biggest (sorry) offender is Mississippi, with a projected obesity rate exceeding 50%.
We know that obesity can impact an individual’s health and quality of life, but this also represents a major public health crisis, in that obesity is associated with an increased rate of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and different types of cancers, which represent major cost burdens to our healthcare system.
In women who are successful in losing weight in midlife- and keeping it off- there is a significantly reduced rate of breast cancer, according to this research recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
You can have rhythm without the alcohol
For those who have been diagnosed with a particular heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation, reducing (and preferably eliminating) alcohol intake can confer significant benefits. Atrial fibrillation- a relatively common heart rhythm disturbance that typically presents with an irregular and sometimes excessively rapid heart rhythm and which impacts up to 6 million Americans-can lead to problems such as blood clots and strokes, as well as heart failure. Many patients with this condition required blood-thinning medications in order to help prevent the formation of blood clots in the atria- the upper chambers in the heart. The results from this small but interesting study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine confirm previous findings of a relationship between alcohol intake and atrial fibrillation. Not music to the ears of some, I’m sure… but please don’t shoot the messenger!
Walnuts and heart health
If you happen to enjoy walnuts, you’re in luck! This recent small study found a reduced heart disease risk in those who ate walnuts, possibly as a result of a favorable shift in the population of bacteria that live within our intestines… so dig in!
A major conflict of interest
Some of you may recall a well-publicized but highly controversial study published last fall in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicating that eating red meat has little-to-no negative impact on heart health or cancer risk. The study was flawed in its methodology and its findings were contrary to the preponderance of solid preexisting evidence, which led many in the fields of medicine and nutrition to aggressively push back. And as it turns out, we’ve since learned that Bradley C. Johnston, the chief author of the article, omitted a critical detail from his disclosure form. Not surprisingly- and not for the first time– he failed to mention that he had received outside research funding from the red meat industry- this time over $75,000 from AgriLife Research– an organization with economic ties to big beef. The lesson here: be careful what you read (and what you eat)!
I just read this and it made me mad
Once again, politics are trumping our kids’ health. The USDA has just proposed a change to school menus in order to permit more fries and fewer vegetables.
As printed in The Washington Post: “critics say the changes, which roll back a Michelle Obama initiative, would make eating at school less healthy and serve industry interests. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken another whack at former first lady Michelle Obama’s signature achievement: Establishing stricter nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches. And on her birthday. On Friday, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps announced new proposals for the Food and Nutrition Service that would allow schools to cut the amount of vegetables and fruits required at lunch and breakfasts while giving them the ability to sell more pizza, burgers and fries to students. The agency is responsible for administering nutritional programs that feed nearly 30 million students at 99,000 schools. Lipps said the changes will help address what he described as unintended issues that developed as a result of the regulations put in place during the Obama administration.”
Although I wouldn’t infer anything from it, this amusing end-of-year report published by the British Medical Journal found that, of all medical specialists, rates of extreme speeding on the roads were highest among psychiatrists. An additional finding: cardiologists were the most likely among medical specialists to be found driving luxury cars when ticketed by police. And anesthesiologists were deemed most likely to fall asleep behind the wheel (just kidding).
That’s all for this installment… stay warm!