Heart Health

The NorthStar blog on heart and cardiovascular health covers the latest news on these important topics, including the best natural options for keeping your ticker strong and healthy for a lifetime.

  1. Even MORE health benefits of green tea

    Green tea has proven itself to be aces at multi-tasking. I could swear that every time I turn around, there’s yet another health benefit of green tea being confirmed.

    Brimming with antioxidants, green tea and green tea extract reportedly may...

    And Korean researchers say it looks like we can officially add “reduces high blood pressure and insulin resistance” to that already impressive list of health benefits of green tea.

    To find out how a green tea extract affects blood pressure and insulin resistance, scientists divided twenty rats into an extract group and a control group. At the end of the study, the extract group had significantly lower blood pressure, plasma glucose and insulin levels. And that means that green tea could be a natural for fighting metabolic syndrome… the precursor to full-blown diabetes.

    Now the naysayers will say you have to wait for human studies, but they’re full of hot air. We already know that green tea is great for us, so there’s really no reason at all to wait for more studies on the health benefits of green tea to give the green light to get started. A delicious daily cup of green tea… or a supplement that contains green tree extract… is just what the doctor ordered.

  2. Health risks of sugar--it could turn you into the walking dead

    Ah, Halloween, the unofficial kickoff to what I like to call Sugar Fest.

    Sure, it all starts out innocently enough when you sneak a couple pieces of the candy you’ve set aside for the Trick-Or-Treaters tonight. But that’s just the start to an out-of-control sugar binge that doesn’t end until you come up gasping for air at the end of the Christmas season.

    Now if it was just packing on a few pounds that you needed to worry about, I might share my best advice about not over-indulging over the holidays and call it a day. But the health risks of sugar are much more dangerous than you might realize. In fact, weight gain could turn out to be the least of your worries.

     Sugar habit could be deadly

    According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, sugar… in supposedly “safe” doses… may in fact be toxic.

    Researchers found that male mice fed a diet with 25 percent extra sugar… about what you’d find in three sodas or a couple handfuls of Candy Corn… turned into lazy lumps with no libido. They stopped defending their territory and didn’t show the least bit of interest in the girl mice anymore.

    But far worse than that, the female mice who were hopped up on sugar died at twice the rate of the female mice fed a normal diet. About 35 percent of the females on the high sugar diet died during the study, while only 17 percent of those in the control group kicked the bucket.

    That means that if you have a full-blown sugar habit, you may already be suffering from the dangerous health risks of sugar, and not even know it. And if you continue to suck down the sugar, one day soon you could find yourself six feet under and pushing up daisies, according to the study conducted at the University of Utah.

    (Speaking of the health risks of sugar, did you know that downing just one measly can of soda a day could spike your diabetes risk by 22 percent?! Read the rest of the sickening story on the NorthStar blog.)

    Drowning in a sea of sugar

    Now if you’re not carrying around a bunch of extra pounds, it’s easy to dismiss these findings thinking that the health risks of sugar don’t apply to you. But that would be a big mistake.

    The mice in the study weren’t fat, either. And their diets were regular, healthy mouse diets besides that added sugar.  In fact, according to researchers the sugar eaters would even have passed physicals. Yet the added sugar still had major and even deadly consequences.

    And it’s a lot easier to hit the 25 percent mark than you probably imagine. A stop at Starbucks for a Cafè Mocha in the morning, a soda with lunch, and a handful of Candy Corn for a snack in the afternoon and you’re already there.

    Conservative estimates are that an astounding 18 to 25 percent of Americans are already getting a quarter (or more!) of their calories from added sugars. And the picture is getting worse by the day.

    An easy way to get an idea of how much sugar you’re eating is to keep a food diary for a couple of weeks. Jot down everything you eat, and record the sugar content next to it. There are a number of websites that can help you figure out the approximate sugar content for both restaurant, and home-cooked meals.

    Let’s face it, we’re drowning in a sea of sugar, and it’s time to grab hold of the life ring and climb out. Start by saying no thanks to the Halloween candy tonight and keep saying no through the entire holiday season and beyond, to really bypass the negative health risks of sugar.

    Oh, and while you’re working on cutting down on the sugar in your diet, don’t fall into the artificial sweetener trap. Fake sugars are not a solution. In fact, diet sodas have been linked to diabetes.  And for an explanation of how the diet stuff can send your diabetes risk rocketing visit the NorthStar blog.

    Now don’t get me wrong, an occasional treat’s not going to kill you, but a regular sugar habit very well could. And, at the very least, it could make life not worth living.

  3. How a low-fat diet is making you fat

    Eating fat does not make you fat. Yeah, I said it. And what’s more, I meant it, too. I can practically hear the howls coming out of the halls of the USDA… and the boardrooms of their best buds in Big Food… at such heresy. How DARE I deviate from the script! But it’s the plain God’s honest truth, and I’d shout it from the darn rooftops if I thought there was a snowball’s chance in Hades that it would drown out the low-fat diet propaganda they’ve been shoving down our throats… and into our ballooning bellies… for years. But to be honest, I must admit that I’m a bit baffled.

    Go on a low-fat diet, get sicker and fatter

    You see, in my opinion it’s practically a miracle that the ridiculous notion that good animal-based saturated fats… like the kind you’ll find in a delicious steak or some tasty full-fat dairy… are bad for you has even survived this long. You only have to take a look around at our super-sized nation to figure out that a low-fat diet is bogus. Here we are, living in the land of skim milk, Egg Beaters, and soy burgers, and yet we’re getting sicker and fatter by the day. Our grocery store shelves are brimming with nothing-but-junk foods that are stamped “LOW-FAT!” and “FAT-FREE!” … but meanwhile heart disease is killing us by the hundreds of thousands every year. Yet 100 years back—when you’d have been hard pressed to find a doctor who had ever treated a case of heart disease and medical books barely even mentioned the condition—we were fit as fiddles while we chowed down on real butter and real meat (cooked in lard or bacon drippings), and washed it down with real, farm-fresh, whole-fat milk. The fact is a diet high in animal fats… and the proteins that naturally go with them… induces weight LOSS. And not only that, scientists believe that dairy proteins in particular are insulinotropic, which simply means that they stimulate the production of insulin. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Higher insulin levels are bad, right?” But in this case they can be a good thing, helping to balance out high glycemic meals that can send your blood sugar soaring. (Nature’s kind of funny like that, giving us exactly what we need to be healthy, if we’d just quit thinking we know better.) But the buffoons in charge… and those holding their purse strings… insist that it’s our fault that the Emperor has grown way too big for his britches. We’re simply lazy, and eat too much fat. If we’d just adopt Meatless Mondays and switch to skim milk and a low-fat diet, we’d be skinny as rakes with hearts as healthy as a herd of horses. Yeah, right. Well, they might have a lot more cash and power than I do, but I’ve got something they don’t have… and that’s the truth AND the research to back it up.

    Stop fearing the fat

    For example, the huge study involving 49,000 women that proved in no uncertain terms that a tasteless low-fat diet didn’t do a thing to prevent heart disease. In fact, the sad sacks who were forcing down low-fat meals didn’t have any less strokes or heart attacks than their satisfied counterparts who ate more fat. And then there’s the Australian study from a few years ago that found that people who were eating the most full-fat dairy had 70 percent less risk of dying of heart disease or stroke. Or the study last year that found that overweight adolescents given skim milk every day for 12 weeks got fatter. Uh, oh, Big Gov and Big Food you better fire up your propaganda machine, your house of cards is really starting to crumble. But wait, I’m not even done yet…

    Low-fat milk may mean a high-fat you

    Now there’s a brand new study, just published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, which found that watery, tasteless, skim and low-fat milks are associated with higher weight. Researchers, led by Dr. Mark DeBoar from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, looked at 10,700 U.S. kids between the ages of 2 and 4 and found that children downing one percent milk had higher body fat percentages. And both the skim and one percent milk drinkers were more likely to be overweight or obese than their whole-milk drinking peers. The brainwashed researchers seemed a bit surprised by their findings. A clearly puzzled DeBoar’s said, “In isolation, if you keep everything else the same, skim milk is still fewer calories.” The good doctor might have forgotten a bit of his basic biology, so let me help him out here. Skim milk is about 5 points higher on the glycemic index than whole milk. The higher a food’s glycemic index the more quickly it breaks down and enters your blood stream as glucose. And soaring blood-sugar levels quickly convert to body blubber. Besides, the fat you find in certain foods is there for a reason. The fats in whole milk and meat slow down the absorption rate of glucose, so that it enters your blood stream slower (nature balancing things out again). Not to mention that meats are high in the vitamins we need to stay healthy, like omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins C, E and B12… and skimming milk strips away important nutrients including fat-soluble vitamins A, E, K, and D. (Did you know one of the best things you can do to prevent brain shrinkage in your retirement years is eat more steak? Visit the NorthStar blog to learn more.) And, of course, let’s not forget that fat helps to make us feel full and satisfied. And when we’re left feeling hungry and grumpy from the supposedly “healthy” low-fat diet we’re consuming, it’s only natural that we tackle those hungries by eating more. Starting to see the picture? Let’s hope those boobs “in charge” of this nation’s health start to see it, also.
  4. Lower your risk of falling with more dairy

    We already know that dairy (the full-fat kind, please) is chock full of protein and important vitamins and minerals, including bone- and muscle-friendly calcium. But now a study, recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has found that milk-based products (milk, yogurt, and cheese) could reduce your risk of falling in your golden years. Researchers say that the ladies in the study who ate more dairy products (over 2.2 servings a day) were leaner, stronger, and had a lower risk of falling than their dairy-shunning counterparts. And while the study only included women, there’s really no reason to think dairy won’t do the same for men, too. Hm, I bet the Dutch are starting to feel just a tad silly about that “fat tax” of theirs. (If you missed that ridiculous tale, prepare to be outraged and then click here to catch up on the NorthStar blog.) Let’s just hope it hasn’t stopped their citizens from eating dairy or Dutch emergency rooms and nursing homes may be seeing a lot more action these days.
  5. Does winter increase your risk of heart attack?

    Researchers from Belgium have given us one more reason to wish the winter away. And this one is a whole lot more serious that the typical winter blahs. It turns out that Old Man Winter may be trying to kill us by raising our risk of heart attack. According to the new study—presented last month at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in the Netherlands—when the temperature goes down, our heart attack risk goes up.

    When temps drop, risk of heart attack rises

    The large study compiled the data from 10 population based studies across seven countries. In the end, heart-related data on 107,090 patients between the ages of 35 to 80 had been crunched. And what they found could have you packing your bags and turning into a snowbird. For every 10-degree Celsius drop in temperature (that’s an 18-degree Fahrenheit drop), the risk of heart attack shot up by seven percent. Now I know that on the surface seven percent may not seem like a huge number. But if you’re IN that heart attack group all of a sudden seven percent seems very significant. Besides, when I did a little number crunching of my own I found that if you take the number of people involved in this study alone, seven percent works out to 7,496 heart attacks, which I think by anyone’s standards is a lot. And remember, that seven percent rise was tied to a 10 degree drop in temperature. A drop of 20 degrees Celsius (or centigrade) could mean a 14 percent bump in heart attacks. And although it looks like an acute heart attack is by far the worst thing Old Man Winter is hiding up his chilly sleeves, it’s not the only thing. Other cardiovascular risks rise during winter too, according to the Belgian researchers. Systolic blood pressure levels were, on average, 3.5 mm HG lower in the summer months than the winter ones. And not surprisingly, since so many of us end up hiding indoors in the cold weather, waistlines were on average around 1 cm smaller during the warmer months. Even total cholesterol levels took a dip during those sunny summer days, down on average about 0.24 mmol/L. The research team isn’t sure exactly what’s causing the increased risk of heart attack, but they have a theory that cold receptors located in our skin may get triggered by the dropping temperatures. This in turn may cause our sympathetic nervous system to dump extra hormones known as catecholamines into our system. Typically catecholamines such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are released into our blood stream during times of physical or emotional stress. And as anyone who lives in a part of the country that gets particularly cold, stepping out into bitterly cold temperatures can sure feel stressful alright. And, of course the cold simply makes our blood thicker meaning that blood clots are more likely to form.

    Work on “winter proofing” your heart

    This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a connection made between dropping temps and heart attacks. A couple of years ago a British study, published in the journal BMJ, found that for every one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) drop in temperature in the UK, there were around 200 additional heart attacks.And, just as worrisome, the jump in the risk of heart attack hung around for 28 days after the exposure. So, besides hopping a plane to the nearest warm locale, you may be wondering what you can do. Hibernating is out of the question and hiding inside all winter isn’t the answer either. In fact, this would likely make things worse because inactivity will surely cause your other risk factors to go up. Instead it’s time to “winter proof” your heart! Keeping up with your regular exercise program and making some changes to how you’re eating can help. I know it’s tempting to reach for the comfort foods during winter but, as I explained before on the NorthStar blog, opting for the healthy (and still ridiculously delicious) Mediterranean diet can dramatically lower your risk of heart attack. Next, add in some heart-healthy supplements like vitamin D, CoQ10, magnesium  and omega-3 fatty acids to name a few. (Despite what the mainstream media smear campaign last year would have you believe, fish oil is still tops for your ticker, as I explained here on the NorthStar blog.) A doctor skilled in natural medicine can help you decide which supplements are right for you. Oh, and don’t forgot to snack on some berries… shown to slash heart risks… for good measure. And the next time someone complains “This cold weather is killing me!” feel free to tell them it very well could be true.
  6. Stealth health from the candy aisle

    Truth be told I like to sneak a bit of chocolate every once in a while. But, as I explained on the NorthStar blog, there’s really no need to feel guilty about an occasional chocolaty treat… especially when it’s the dark chocolate variety. You’ve heard from me before about the blood pressure and cholesterol benefits of dark chocolate. And now a new study, published in the International Journal of Hypertension, is going to have chocolate lovers breathing a contented sigh of happiness. According to Brazilian researchers, after just one week of eating 75 grams of 70-percent cocoa dark chocolate a day, a group of hypertensive men and women saw their high-blood pressure drop. Yes, in just 7 days! Talk about a sweet reward! Now, even for a chocolate lover, chowing down on 75 grams of chocolate every single day of the week may be a bit much. (I know, I know…speak for myself.) A couple of squares of your favorite dark chocolate bar, or a handful of pure chocolate bean nibs, might be a more reasonable goal. And if you add in a supplement that contains cocoa you’ll be covering all your chocolaty bases.
  7. Heart surgeries done during full moon are more successful

    Ask for the (full) moon

    According to a new study, if you're having heart surgery you might want to consider scheduling it during the next full moon.

    The study, conducted at a Rhode Island Hospital, found that patients who had an aortic dissection during the waning full moon were less likely to die and spent less time in the hospital than others who had the same surgery at different times of the month.

    Is there really anything to this? Who knows? Some researchers believe that the gravitational forces exerted by the moon might actually have some sort of an effect on our health. And I do seem to recall reading somewhere once that more births occur during a full moon.

    It's certainly interesting to ponder, but I wouldn't reschedule a surgery based on this kind of evidence. We need to know more first. But if you have a choice of dates why not go ahead and ask for the full moon? It can't hurt.

  8. Help reduce heart failure from hypertension with antioxidants

    The cure for heart-failure found hanging on a vine

    If you’re living with risk of heart failure from hypertension, this scenario might sound frighteningly familiar… Just walking from the parking lot has you huffing and puffing like a freight train as you try to catch your breath. When you sit down for more than a minute, you're in danger of dozing off from sheer exhaustion. And perhaps worst of all, your legs are starting to blow up like circus balloons, and even your most comfortable shoes don't seem to fit well anymore. If you're not there yet, but are already battling high blood pressure, then you could have just gotten a glimpse into your gloomy future. Hypertension increases your risk of heart failure two to three fold. But help may have just arrived from an unexpected source -- the humble grape. It turns out grapes are much more than just tasty, they appear to be able to reduce the risk of , heart failure from hypertension (high blood pressure), , according to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

    Grapes fight free radicals

    Of course, this isn't the first time I've sung the praises of the grape. It was over four years ago that I shared the news about the cancer-fighting power packed into those teeny-tiny little grape seeds. And just like back then, the focus of these new findings is trained on the antioxidants and polyphenols crammed into the delicious fruit. Researchers believe these natural nutrients have the ability to light a fire under several key genes, bumping up their defense against the disease-linked oxidized molecules known as free radicals. (Free radicals are associated with at least fifty different diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and are essentially responsible for the process of aging. But that's a story for another time.)

    "Master antioxidant" wards off heart failure

    In the eighteen-week animal study, rats with high blood pressure--and who were at high risk for heart failure--were fed a grape-enriched diet. The results were impressive to say the least. The grape diet reduced both heart-muscle enlargement, and fibrosis, and improved the diastolic function (the lower number on your blood-pressure readings) of the heart. Just as exciting, the scientists were able to pinpoint just how it is the grapes accomplished these impressive feats. The key turns out to be something we've talked about before in the Guide to Good Health, and that's glutathione. Over three years ago, when I first introduced you to the "master antioxidant," I explained how it can help keep your skin looking fresh and young from the inside out. But glutathione can do a heck of a lot more than just bring the telltale signs of aging to a standstill. This powerful protector works to neutralize free-radicals before they can cause lasting damage. And this means it can be a potent weapon against all kinds of diseases, including--it turns out--heart failure. Now, the thing is grapes aren't actually full of glutathione themselves. Instead they bump up the activity of the genes that are responsible for producing the antioxidant, reducing the risk of heart failure from hypertension. And of course, don't forget, grapes ARE full of all kinds of other disease-fighting antioxidants and polyphenols. The University of Michigan scientists plan to do more testing to find out even more about how the grapes make such great heart-helpers. But there's no need to wait around for those results, you can start snacking on heart-healthy grapes right away. But one word of caution: you should make sure that the grapes you choose are organic. They'll cost a few cents more, but the investment is well worth it. Grapes routinely end up on the "Dirty Dozen" list for pesticide contamination. And the last thing you want to do is trade one health problem for another. And although whole foods are usually best, when grapes aren't an option you may be able to also reap many of the same grape benefits with a high-quality supplement.
  9. Fish oil is good for your heart

    We already knew our old friend fish oil was good for your heart. But new research finds that fish oil helps protect your heart in stressful situations, too. A group of 67 healthy volunteers were given either olive oil or fish oil supplements for two months. When the fish-oil participants were introduced to a stressful situation both their heart-rate reactions and muscle responses to the stress were reduced, according to the study published in the journal American Journal of Physiology. By working to lower the participants stress response, fish oil appears to be good for the heart. And, of course, it's not just hearts that can benefit from this deep-sea supplement. As I've told you before, omega-3-rich fish and fish oil may help ward off Alzheimer's disease, add years to your life, and even reduce breast cancer risk. You can find fish oil supplements in most drugs stores, health food stores, and online.
  10. A new study finds that vitamin D may help lower blood pressure

    Lower your blood pressure with vitamin D?

    Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the many healing powers of vitamin D. And here’s even more good news for this vital vitamin --   vitamin D may help lower blood pressure. A quick search on our blog  shows dozens of articles singing the praises of this powerhouse...and for good reason. Studies have found that vitamin D may help protect us against a list of ailments long enough to make your jaw drop. Including: Now, a new study published in the journal Hypertension is making it likely that we'll soon be adding hypertension to the list. Vitamin D has long been associated with a healthy heart. But now, according to research done at Brigham and Women's Hospital, vitamin D supplements may also be associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure.

    Vitamin D lowered blood pressure

    In the small double-blind study, researchers randomly divided a group of about 250 African-American adults (African-American's were chosen because they're at a higher risk for HBP) into four groups. Group one was given 1,000 IUs of D a day, group two was given 2,000 IUs, group three received 4,000 IUs, and group four... the control... received a placebo. They found that the supplements of vitamin D lowered blood pressure. In fact, at the highest dosage...4,000 IUs...participants had a full four-point drop in their all-important systolic (top number) blood pressure! Those volunteers who took lower doses of D benefitted also, seeing smaller, but still measurable drops of 0.66 and 3.4 points, in their blood pressure as well. The unfortunate souls who got the placebo on the other hand, actually had their systolic pressure climb by 1.7 points.

    The heart of the issue

    I'm honestly not surprised that vitamin D is once again in the spotlight, or even that it's been linked with lowering blood pressure. After all, just last year a European study showed that supplements of vitamin D su lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients with low D levels during the winter months. And other studies have found associations between low levels of the vitamin and raised blood pressure. But what we don't know yet is exactly how D helps you maintain--and perhaps even lower--your blood pressure numbers. But the answer may be linked to stiff and clogged arteries. A number of studies have connected low vitamin D levels with stiffer arteries. And stiff arteries, which make your heart work harder to pump blood, lead to raised blood pressure levels. And, as I explained in an earlier GTGH, Columbia University researchers confirmed a strong association between D deficiency and the buildup of plaque in your arteries. (If you missed that earlier GTGH click here to catch up.)

    D deficiency is common

    Of course, if vitamin D deficiency was rare, all of this would only be mildly interesting. However, study after study has found that huge segments of the world's population are indeed deficient. For example, one study last year concluded that 70 percent of Europeans are running low on this vitamin. And another study, this one published in the journal Nutrition Research in 2011, concluded that at least 41.6 percent of the U.S. population is deficient. That number skyrockets to 69.2 percent in Hispanics and 82.1 percent in African Americans. With today's indoor lifestyle...and with many of us on one or more D-robbing prescription drugs...chances are good that you, too, are running low on this important vitamin. The simplest way to top off your levels is to spend more time in the sun without sunscreen. But many of us still need more D than we're getting, and that's when a D supplement could come in handy. Your doctor can run a simple blood test to determine if your levels are low. I generally recommend taking 2,000 to 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily. Try to take your D with a meal containing healthy fats, such as olive or fish oil (or with a fish oil supplement) to help your body absorb the nutrient. And if you're interested in using vitamin D to help with hypertension, talk with your doc about this new study, and how vitamin D may help lower your blood pressure.
  11. How to reduce risk of stroke with coffee and tea

    A hot mug of stroke prevention

    Want to learn how to reduce your risk of stroke? It could be as easy as downing a couple of hot steaming mugs of green tea or coffee a day. I've shared some of the benefits of a regular tea or black coffee habit with you over the years...from potentially lowering your risk of breast cancer to helping fight off the nasty superbug MRSA. Black tea drinking has even been linked to lower blood pressure. But now, Japanese researchers are saying that drinking either green tea or coffee as part of your regular routine, may be how to reduce your risk of stroke. According to the study published in the journal Stroke, people who drink at least one cup of coffee a day may have a 20 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those that rarely indulge in a cup of java. Those who drink two to three cups of green tea have a 14 percent potential lower risk than those who seldom indulge. And if you have a four cup a day green-tea habit, your stroke risk may be 20 percent lower than your non-tea drinking friends. Care to join me in a mug?
  12. Mediterranean diet can lower heart attack risk or your risk for a stroke

    "Right fat" diet dramatically lowers heart risk

    There's this old joke where a guy sits down in a restaurant and orders a hearty palate-pleasing meal. The waitress yells back to the cook in the kitchen "That'll be one heart attack on a plate, Mel!" What if she yelled for a heart-attack CURE or stroke REMEDY on a plate instead? Sure it might not be nearly as funny, but, a new study of specific diet plans working to lower heart attack risk finds that, it's probably a heck of a lot more accurate. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, might just allow us to update that old joke after all. Researchers took a closer look at the effects of a diet that I've already recommended to you for heart health before, and concluded that it could significantly lower heart attack risk or your risk for a stroke.

    Low fat versus the right fat

    The diet, which is rich in delicious extra-virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, and nuts--along with a moderate amount of fish and poultry--is known as the Mediterranean diet. And in a five-year study involving 7,447 volunteers, Spanish researchers compared it to the often-praised low-fat diet. Their conclusion? Well, let's just say that if the mainstream has convinced you to embrace the low-fat lifestyle, you've been barking up the wrong tree. The low-fat diet just isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, it's getting MORE of the right fat--like those found in abundance in the Mediterranean diet--that's the REAL key to keeping your ticker healthy. And unlike some earlier studies that hinted at the same healthy-fat findings--but that suffered the fatal flaw of relying on people's memory of what they ate--these results are rock solid.

    30 percent lower heart risk

    Researchers assigned specific diet plans to the volunteers, and then for the next five years followed the participants, tracking incidents of stroke, heart attack, or heart disease-related deaths. One of the diets was a clear winner leaving the low-fat approach in the dust. The lucky participants who ended up in the Mediterranean Diet group not only got to eat delicious full-flavored foods for almost five years, they’ve also enjoyed a 30 percent lower risk of  heart attack, stroke, or dying from heart disease, when compared to the low-fat dieters. A third group--also on the Mediterranean diet, but with more nuts--had a 28 percent lower risk of the same heart complications. And when looking at stroke risk alone, the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of having a stroke by 33 percent--but, with the addition of extra nuts that risk dropped by a stunning 46 percent overall. In fact, the overall difference in heart risk between the bland, tasteless low-fat diet, and the mouthwatering Mediterranean diet, was so vast that the researchers decided to stop the study early. (Something I'm sure those low-fat dieters were VERY grateful for.) If you want to mimic the Mediterranean dieter's success and lower your heart attack risk, replace some of the red meat in your diet with white meat like chicken. Plus eat three or more servings of fish a week. In addition, have three or more servings of fruit and two or more servings of vegetables every day. And, to raise your stroke protection, you can add in the 30 g of almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts daily that the nut group ate. Also...and this is very important...be sure to add at least four tablespoons of nutrient-rich extra-virgin olive oil to your diet each day. The bottom line is that with the Mediterranean diet we have an easy-to-stick-to, heart-protecting diet, that's all about indulgence and flavor, with none of the denial and blandness that the mainstream is so fond of. What's not to love? I'll have the heart-attack cure special, please!
  13. Berries may lower heart attack risk

    Slash your risk of heart attack by a third with this fruit

    It's the kind of "prescription" I love to write. "Eat a bowl of these and you won't need to call an ambulance tonight...or me in the morning." If you guessed that the bowl was chock full of statins, well, I’m actually not talking about a drug at all, I’m talking about berries. A new study published in the journal Circulation has found that eating at least three servings of strawberries and blueberries a week can lower heart attack risk in women by an astounding one third!

    32 percent lower heart attack risk!

    Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia in the U.K. teamed up for a study involving 93,600 women ages 25 to 42 who were registered with the Nurses' Health Study II. Every four years for 18 years, the women completed detailed questionnaires about what they ate. It turns out that the ladies who had a fondness for blueberries and strawberries...eating at least three servings a week...had a 32 percent lower risk of heart attack when compared to the women who ate the berries just once a month or less. And before you ask, the answer is "yes," they did indeed take into account other risk factors that could have affected the results, like exercise, age, family history, smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and high blood pressure. And even then the findings still stood strong. In fact, the difference in risk was still there even when the light- and non-berry eaters ate lots of other kinds of fruits and vegetables...making the argument for berry-eating an even stronger one.

    Flavonoids fight heart disease

    Now, we don't need to dig too deeply to figure out how those berries likely accomplished this impressive feat. As I've told you before, berries are brimming with heart-friendly compounds including healthy flavonoids. And, as you know, flavonoids are antioxidants that protect our cells against damage. Berries are particularly rich in a special flavonoid called anthocyanins. If you've ever heard of the "French Paradox," these are the flavonoids that are often credited with this phenomenon. According to researchers, heart-friendly anthocyanins may be the real key to the berries' abilities. It's believed that these special anti-inflammatory flavonoids help dilate arteries, reduce artery stiffness, and fight plaque buildup, making them a natural to lower heart attack risk. If you don't happen to be a blueberry or strawberry fan, don't despair; there are other foods that are rich in anthocyanins. The list includes cherries, concord grapes, cranberries, bilberry, red onions, plums, black raspberry, muscadine grapes, red raspberry, red cabbage, blackberry, açaí fruit, red wine, blackcurrant, eggplant, black rice, and, for the more adventurous, purple corn and violet petals. Oh, and if you're a guy, although this study was conducted on women, there's no reason to not believe the same or similar findings would apply to you as well. And since berries are good for all of us, regardless of our gender, we should all make them a part of our regular diet anyway. Just be sure the ones you pick are organic!
  14. Curcumin for heart health

    The benefits of exercise in a spice bottle?

    I've told you before about the healing properties of the powerful Indian spice turmeric. Or rather the extract from the spice known as curcumin that gives turmeric its bright yellow color. Turns out, curcumin is great for your heart as well as your brain. Curcumin has shown great promise, standing up to the rigors of a variety of scientific testing that have found the spice extract to be a good candidate for protecting the brain, helping to rebuild brain cells after a stroke, and fighting the plaques and tangles that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. The spice apparently works this little bit of "brain magic" by targeting inflammation and oxidative stress. And it's these same actions that also make it an excellent candidate for reducing joint pain, preventing insulin resistance, and even fighting cancer. And let's face it, if curcumin's healing promise stopped there that would already be an incredibly impressive resume...and more than enough for it to earn a spot in our top must-have supplements. But, it turns out the extract has at least one more trick up its golden-yellow sleeve.

    Blood vessel benefits

    According to a Japanese study of curcumin and heart health, published in the American journal Nutrition Research, curcumin could very well be a heart-healthy powerhouse, too. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba...backed by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (important to note because this means there wasn't a turmeric product maker bankrolling it and causing a conflict of interest)...recruited thirty two women who had already gone through menopause. The volunteers were divided into three groups...a control, an aerobic exercise group, and a curcumin supplement group. For eight weeks the "group two" women kept up their aerobic exercises and the "group three" women took their 25 milligrams of curcumin. The researchers then took a common measurement of vascular heart health called flow-mediated dilation (FMD) in all of the volunteers. Surprisingly, the supplement takers saw improvements in FMD that were exactly on par with the exercisers. In just eight short weeks both the exercisers and the supplement takers had increased their FMD by about 1.5% while the control group saw no changes. Now, I know you're probably thinking that 1.5% doesn't seem like all that much of an improvement. But the number is more significant than you might imagine. And another recent study of curcumin, heart health and FMD, this one in the British Journal of Nutrition, illustrated just how significant. According to the findings of that BJN study, a 1.5 percent decrease in FMD would be associated with about an 18 percent increase in risk. And since FMD is a predictor of future heart problems, when you flip that figure and see that you're looking at a potential 18 percent decrease in risk in just 8 weeks, it suddenly becomes crystal clear just how incredible curcumin's heart-protecting potential is.

    Powerful health protection

    The Japanese research team isn't sure yet why curcumin appears to improve blood vessel function. They believe it has something to do with the same anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant actions that make the extract a friend to your brain and joints, as well as a potential tool for fighting insulin resistance and cancer. The team is calling for more research to confirm their educated hunch. But there's really no reason to wait for those results to come in. With so much power packed into this spice why not make it a part of your routine now? Turmeric is delicious, and I encourage you to add more of it to your favorite dishes. But to get the real impact that was seen in this study, unless you're a huge curry fanatic, you're likely going to need to take a heart-healthy curcumin supplement too.
  15. The produce solution to lowering stroke risk

    Try tomatoes to lower stroke risk

    I've sung the praises of tomatoes to you before. I told you how the heart-healthy antioxidant lycopene, found in tomatoes, can help keep your arteries young. Now, in a study published in the journal Neurology, the unassuming fruit has been linked with a lower stroke risk. Researchers in Finland found people with the highest amount of lycopene in their blood had a 55 percent lower stroke risk than people with the lowest amounts of lycopene. And it gets even better. When the researchers honed in specifically on strokes due to blood clots that percentage shot up to 59 percent!
  16. Omega-7 fatty acids and cholesterol levels

    Clobber cholesterol with this natural "mystery oil"?

    Chances are you never have even heard of omega-7's before. And I'm not surprised. As the most overlooked of the omega fatty acids, they haven't enjoyed the limelight that their much more popular cousins the omega-3's and the omega-6's have. But some exciting emerging research on Omega-7 fatty acids and cholesterol is about to change all that. I'll tell you more about that research, and omega-7's, in just a moment. However, first let me refresh your memory about the other omega fatty acids. Your body can't produce the essential omega fatty acids...omega-3 and omega-6... on its own. Instead, it has to rely on food to get them. You can get your omega-3's from fatty fish, including salmon and tuna, as well as from walnuts and flaxseed. And omega-6's are found mostly in plant oils like sunflower oil and in nuts and seeds. , fatty acids and cholesterol Omega-7 fatty acids are one of those healthy forms of trans-fats found naturally in meat, dairy, fish, some nuts, and some plants. And like their more popular cousins, omega-3 and omega-6, preliminary animal research of fatty acids and cholesterol suggests the 7's may help your body maintain a healthy inflammatory response and may even help keep your cholesterol healthy. In fact, emerging science is starting to point towards these relatively unknown fatty acids being the next heart-health superstar.

    Combat cholesterol with omega-7's

    When scientists at the University of Alberta fed one form of omega-7's...vaccenic acid...to lab rats for 16 weeks they watched as their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels improved. And researchers at the Cleveland Clinic took things one step further. In a randomized, controlled study (you know...the really good kind) they took mice and divided them into two groups. The first group got nothing beyond their regular diet for 12 weeks. The second group was given a form of omega-7's called Palmitoleic acid. At the end of the 12 weeks the results were nothing short of stunning. The mice that received the omega-7's had much healthier arteries when they were compared to the control mice. In addition, the treated mice had a huge leap in their HDL...or "good"...cholesterol. Now, of course that's a mouse study and more research is needed to see if the same results hold true for humans. But the findings were quite dramatic and there's a heck of a lot to be excited about here.

    Skip the Sea Buckthorn

    It's becoming clear that although omega-7's were never the most popular belle at the Omega Ball we should have been asking them to dance all along. All signs point to them being a powerful tool that we ALL should have in our healthy-heart arsenal. But before you rush out and buy an old omega-7 supplement a word to the wise. The source of the fatty acid and cholesterol fighter can make all the difference in the world, and finding the right one could be a challenge. You see the Palmitoleic acid used in that stunning Cleveland Clinic mouse study I spoke about earlier has an evil twin... the unhealthy saturated fat called Palmitic acid. And the vast majority of omega-7 supplements on the market come from a plant called Sea Buckthorn that's practically dripping in the stuff. So you need to be sure to get your omega-7's from a supplement maker you trust. Look for one that's described as "highly purified," and if you can find one that comes from a different source than Sea Buckthorn...like from fish, for example... go ahead and grab it. Allan Spreen, M.D. NorthStar Nutritionals PS -- Oh, and I'm not done singing the praises of omega fatty acids today. Our old pal omega-3 might be adding a new line to its already impressive resume of benefits. It turns out this inflammation-fighting superstar may also help you hold on to your youth a little longer. Click here to find out more.
  17. Why you should keep taking your Omega-3’s for heart health

    Are omega-3's really good for your heart?

    Here we go again. Just last week I explained why meta-analysis studies are so often full of holes. (If you missed it, I debunked the study that found that organics are no better than conventional foods. Now it's another meta-analysis that has the mainstream media all atwitter. This time, it's omega-3 fatty acids that are under attack. The research testing the effects of omega-3 for the heart, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that omega-3's aren't doing a thing to help your heart. It wasn't long after the press release hit that we started seeing a flurry of headlines like U.S News & World Report's "Fish Oil and Omega-3's Don't Prevent Heart Attacks" and Reuters' "For heart health, omega-3 pills are not the answer." But don't go tossing out your fish oil pills or taking fish off your shopping list just yet. It turns out the holes in this study are so big you could ride a whale through them.

    The meta-analysis trap

    As I explained last week, a meta-analysis deals with averages and overall trends. That means that some of the studies picked by the researchers (yes, PICKED...more on that gaping hole in a moment) found that omega-3's ARE good for your heart, other's did not. But when rolled up together there isn't a "statistically significant association" between the omega-3's and heart health. Now does this invalidate all those studies that DID find an association? Of course not! But there wasn't a single mention of those positive studies in all the mainstream reporting on this new "finding." Because, let's be honest, if it's not in the press release they're parroting, it's not likely to be in the story, either. Which brings me to yet another problem I have with the meta-analysis as a form of research: they are incomplete, which can sometimes (okay, often) make their conclusions shaky at best. Take this analysis, for example. By no means did it contain ALL of the studies on omega-3 for the heart. No, instead the researchers cherry-picked just twenty studies to include in their review. Naturally, when you lump together a bunch of different studies all using different standards and measurements you're going to end up with more questions than answers. For example, how much omega-3 did participants take? In what form was the omega-3? What about the subjects' overall diets? And what was their overall health condition? And, of course, we also have no idea how many of those who were taking fish oil were also taking vitamin E. Based on my experience I'll go out on a limb here and say probably not very many. But as a reader of Guide to Good Health you know that taking a mixed tocopherol vitamin E is important to keep the fish oil from breaking down (oxidizing) too quickly in the body. I could go on and on. But the point is we're talking about a LOT of variables here.

    Say "yes" to omega-3's for your heart

    So are you starting to see why this "conclusive conclusion" on omega-3 for heart health just doesn't hold a whole heck of a lot of water? The fact is there's plenty of research pointing to a link between heart health and omega-3 fatty acids. For example, only two days before this study was released, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published another study linking omega-3's with a lower risk of heart failure. Or there's the article published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation that found "The addition of omega-3 fatty acids to the diet lowers triglyceride levels, an effect that is pronounced in those with marked hypertriglyceridemia," meaning omega-3's can help naturally reduce your blood fats. And then there was the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002. It showed that women who eat more fish, and have a higher intake of omega-3s, have a lower risk of coronary heart disease and death from CHD. In other words, using omega-3s for heart health is not even an alternative health approach anymore...it went "mainstream" LONG ago. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (and, let's face it, you can't get much more mainstream than that) there's evidence that omega-3 fatty acids DO have beneficial effects on people with heart disease as well as healthy people. Heck, even the folks over at the National Institutes of Health are fans of fish oil. According to NIH, "The scientific evidence suggests that fish oil really does lower high triglycerides, and it also seems to help prevent heart disease and stroke when taken in the recommended amounts." Oh, and I should mention that omega-3's have also been linked with everything from fighting inflammation, to battling depression, to slashing breast cancer risk. So there are lots of good reasons to be taking them besides heart health. Remember...ignore the hype and look past the headlines when it comes to anything related to your health. Dig just a little deeper. It's surprising what you'll find.
  18. The dangers of triclosan threatening heart health

    Dangers of triclosan -- the slippery slope of antibacterial soap

    By now I'm sure you know all about the dangers of the nasty chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) that's hidden in everything from our food supply to the cash register receipts you're handed at the grocery store. But there’s a lesser-known hidden chemical  that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much. But the dangers of triclosan can be just as threatening to your health. While you might not be familiar with the dangers of the chemical pesticide triclosan, unfortunately your body is very likely way too familiar with it. Triclosan is the chemical used in most household products marked "antibacterial" or "antiseptic" including soaps, lotions, toothpastes, cleaning products, clothing, and bedding, to name just a few. This stuff is literally almost everywhere these days. That's a problem because research had already linked this chemical with thyroid problems and now a new mouse study of the dangers of triclosan has implicated it as a culprit in a critical breakdown between the brain and muscles. Of course, since your heart is a muscle this could mean that the chemical is threatening your heart health as well. And, in fact, researchers found in one experiment that triclosan indeed dropped heart function by 25 percent within just 20 minutes of being exposed. And grip strength dropped by 18 percent for up to an hour. Now, while most of us already have triclosan circulating through our systems, we can make a conscious decision to reduce our exposure. That means cutting back on all those antibacterial products in your home and choosing plain good old fashioned soap and water which does a fine job without all the frightening dangers of triclosan.
  19. Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure and cholesterol

    Cocoa tops for hearts

    An Australian study, published in the most recent British Medical Journal, crunched the numbers on dark chocolate and cardiovascular health, more specifically testing if dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. And if you're a chocolate lover, what they found is going to be music to your ears. The data showed that cocoa is a boon for your heart health. You see, the flavonols in dark chocolate have been found to be effective at lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. In fact, according to the researchers if you are "high risk"... meaning you have metabolic syndrome or hypertension... they say dark chocolate is an effective, affordable, natural prevention strategy for cardiovascular troubles. Now, I'll never be one to recommend a sugar-loaded chocolate bar in place of a good diet, exercise, and heart healthy supplements. But I'm not against an occasional small piece of dark chocolate. Or, even better yet, look for a pure chocolate bean product... usually referred to as chocolate nibs...to snack on instead.
  20. Slash your heart attack risk with a smile

    Worried about your stroke or heart attack risk? Well chin up! According to a Harvard School of Public Health review a positive attitude can go a long way towards warding off a heart attack or a stroke. And we’re not talking about a little heart attack risk reduction here. Those with the sunniest dispositions had a stunning 50 percent reduced chance of having a heart issue when compared to sour pusses. We've known for some time that bad moods like depression, anger, and anxiety can harm your heart. But this Harvard research, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin in April, confirms the other side of the coin... that being a happy optimist is linked with good heart health. So join me in putting on a happy face!

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