Heart Health In The News

Adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern improves heart health, with or without reducing red meat intake, if the red meat consumed is lean and unprocessed, according to a new Purdue University nutrition study. "This study is important because it shows that red meat can be part of a heart-healthy eating pattern like a Mediterranean-style eating pattern," said Wayne W. Campbell, professor of nutrition science. "This study was not designed to promote red meat intake, and we are not encouraging people who otherwise consume a vegetarian-style eating pattern to begin consuming red meat."

The study - published online at theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition - assessed the health-promoting effects of a Mediterranean-style eating pattern, without intended weight loss, for adults who are overweight and at risk for developing heart disease. All 41 study participants - 28 females and 13 males - completed three study phases. The phases included a five-week period of consuming a Mediterranean-style eating pattern containing three ounces per day of lean, unprocessed red meat, an amount of red meat the typical United States resident consumes; a five-week return to their regular eating pattern; and a five-week period of consuming a Mediterranean-style eating pattern with less red meat, three ounces twice weekly, which is commonly recommended for heart health. The order of the typical and lower red meat interventions were randomly assigned among participants.

"Most healthy eating pattern recommendations include a broad statement to reduce red meat intake,'" said Lauren E. O'Connor, lead author and recent doctoral degree recipient. "Our study compared Mediterranean-style eating patterns with red meat intake that is typical in the United States, about three ounces per day, versus a commonly recommended intake amount that is three ounces twice per week. Overall, heart health indicators improved with both Mediterranean-style eating patterns. Interestingly, though, participants' LDL cholesterol, which is one of the strongest predictors we have to predict the development of cardiovascular disease, improved with typical but not lower red meat intake."

"It's also very encouraging that the improvements these people experienced, which included improvements in blood pressure, blood lipids and lipoproteins, were noticeable in five weeks," Campbell added. A Mediterranean-style eating pattern has clinically proven effects on health especially related to heart health and risks for heart disease such as heart attack or stroke. The composition of a Mediterranean-style eating pattern varies across countries and cultures. What is common across most Mediterranean regions is consumption of olive oil, fruits, vegetables and legumes, but protein sources depend on country and geographic region. If they live on the coast, they will eat more seafood, but if they live inland they will eat more red meat."

Is Heart Function Reduced At High Altitude?

For over a century, we have known that high altitude reduces the amount of blood the heart pumps around the body with each beat. New research published inThe Journal of Physiology has unearthed why this is the case and the findings will be important for people who live, travel and exercise at high altitudes. Over the years, several theories have been proposed to explain the reduction in the amount of blood the heart can pump; this was even of interest to the scientists involved in the first summit of Mt. Everest in the 1950s. It has now been shown that this is because at high altitudes - over 3,000 meters - the lower amount of oxygen in the air leads to a decrease in the volume of blood circulating around the body, and an increase in blood pressure in the lungs.

The researchers found that both of these factors play a role in the reduction in the volume of blood the heart can pump with each beat, but importantly neither of these factors affects our ability to perform maximal exercise. This research is important because it improves our understanding of how the human body adapts to high-altitude areas. This will help us make exploration and tourism of Earth's mountainous regions safer, and may also help facilitate exercise performance in a wide range of sporting events that take place at high altitude.

The research conducted by Cardiff Metropolitan University, in conjunction with the University of British Columbia Okanagan and Loma Linda University School of Medicine, involved collecting data on how the heart and pulmonary blood vessels adapt to life with less oxygen. It is important to note that the sample size of this study was small and the effects of these mechanisms were only compared in individuals of European descent. Furthermore, echocardiography was used to assess cardiac and pulmonary vascular function which is non-invasive and indirect.

"Currently, several members of the research team are ready to depart for an expedition that will focus on high-altitude natives who live and work in the industrial mines of the Andean mountains, says Michael Stembridge, chief investigator on the project. Unfortunately, a third of these individuals experience long-term ill health due to their residence at high altitude, a condition termed 'Chronic Mountain Sickness.' We hope to apply the findings of this work to help improve the health and well-being of these populations by furthering our understanding of the condition and exploring therapeutic targets."

Is There A Link Between Eczema And Cardiovascular Disease?

For the roughly seven percent of adults who live with atopic dermatitis, a common form of eczema, a new study reports a little good news: Despite recent findings to the contrary, the skin condition is likely not associated with an increase in cardiovascular risk factors or diseases. "In our study, people who reported having atopic dermatitis were not at any increased risk for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks or strokes," says lead author Dr. Aaron Drucker, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a physician with the Lifespan Physicians Group.

Drucker and a team of co-authors made the findings - in theBritish Journal of Dermatology - by analyzing the records of 259,119 adults aged 30 to 74 in the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project. Drucker led the data analysis with the hypothesis, suggested by two recent studies, that people with atopic dermatitis would be significantly more likely to have various cardiovascular problems. Instead, he found that the opposite was the case. A diagnosis of AD was associated with somewhat reduced risk of stroke (0.79 times the odds), hypertension (0.87 times), diabetes (0.78 times) and heart attack (0.87 times). Drucker emphasized, however, that he does not believe that AD is protective - given the mixed evidence accumulated by researchers, the best conclusion is that AD is likely not positively associated with cardiovascular disease.

The findings are based on a statistical analysis that accounted for confounders including age, gender, ethnic background, body-mass index, smoking, alcohol consumption, sleep, physical activity and asthma. The suspicion that AD might be associated with cardiovascular disease has likely arisen from the better-substantiated association researchers have found between the skin condition psoriasis and cardiovascular disease. But while the two inflammatory skin ailments share some clinical similarities, they work differently at the molecular level, which might explain why only one may be associated with cardiovascular disease.

"It's important to make this clear so it doesn't get misinterpreted: Even though we found lower rates of these outcomes with atopic dermatitis, we are not interpreting that as atopic dermatitis decreasing the risk," Drucker said. "In response to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease discovered for psoriasis, clinicians and psoriasis patients have been encouraged to more actively screen for and manage cardiovascular disease. It appears that similar measures may not be warranted for atopic dermatitis." Drucker acknowledged that the study could not answer the question of whether AD severity might correlate with cardiovascular disease. He said he is pursuing that question in new research, though there are datasets that include both severity information and cardiovascular disease diagnoses.

Link Between Alcohol, Genes And Heart Failure

Researchers investigated faulty versions of a gene called titin which are carried by one in 100 people or 600,000 people in the United Kingdom. Titin is crucial for maintaining the elasticity of the heart muscle, and faulty versions are linked to a type of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy. New research suggests the faulty gene may interact with alcohol to accelerate heart failure in some patients with the gene, even if they only drink moderate amounts of alcohol. The research was carried out by scientists from Imperial College London, Royal Brompton Hospital, and MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, and published in theJournal of the American College of Cardiology.

In the first part of the study, the team analyzed 141 patients with a type of heart failure called alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM). This condition is triggered by drinking more than 70 units a week - roughly seven bottles of wine - for five years or more. In severe cases the condition can be fatal, or leave patients requiring a heart transplant. The team found that the faulty titin gene may also play a role in the condition. In the study 13.5 percent of patients were found to carry the mutation - much higher than the proportion of people who carry them in the general population.

These results suggest this condition is not simply the result of alcohol poisoning, but arises from a genetic predisposition and that other family members may be at risk too, explained Dr. James Ware, study author from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial. "Our research strongly suggests alcohol and genetics are interacting and genetic predisposition and alcohol consumption can act together to lead to heart failure. At the moment this condition is assumed to be simply due to too much alcohol. But this research suggests these patients should also be checked for a genetic cause by asking about a family history and considering testing for a faulty titin gene, as well as other genes linked to heart failure," he said. He added that relatives of patients with ACM should receive assessment and heart scans and in some cases have genetic tests to see if they unknowingly carry the faulty gene.

In a second part of the study, the researchers investigated whether alcohol may play a role in another type of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This condition causes the heart muscle to become stretched and thin, and has a number of causes including viral infections and certain medications. The condition can also be genetic, and around 12 percent of cases of DCM are thought to be linked to a faulty titin gene. In the study the team asked 716 patients with dilated cardiomyopathy how much alcohol they consumed. None of the patients consumed the high levels of alcohol needed to cause ACM. But the team found that in patients whose DCM was caused by the faulty titin gene, even moderately increased alcohol intake - defined as drinking above the weekly recommended limit of 14 units - affected the heart's pumping power.

Compared to DCM patients who didn't consume excess alcohol - and whose condition wasn't caused by the faulty titin gene - excess alcohol was linked to reduction in heart output of 30 percent. More research is now needed to investigate how alcohol may affect people who carry the faulty titin gene, but do not have heart problems. "Alcohol and the heart have a complicated relationship, says Dr. Paul Barton, study co-author from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial. While moderate levels may have benefits for heart health, too much can cause serious cardiac problems. This research suggests that in people with titin-related heart failure, alcohol may worsen the condition. An important wider question is also raised by the study: do mutations in titin predispose people to heart failure when exposed to other things that stress the heart, such as cancer drugs or certain viral infections? This is something we are actively seeking to address."

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