October - December 2009

Heart disease news summaries:

Champagne is good for the heart. In research, to be published in the British Journal of Nutrition, a team led by Dr Jeremy Spencer of Reading University, found that champagne has the same health benefits as found in red wine.

It contains polyphenol antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the effects of cell-damaging free radicals in the body. These antioxidants slow down the removal of nitric oxide from the blood, lowering blood pressure, and therefore reducing the risk of heart problems and strokes.

Dr Spencer said, "We have found that a couple of glasses a day has a beneficial effect on the walls of blood vessels – which suggests champagne has the potential to reduce strokes and heart disease.

The research was undertaken to determine polyphenol levels in champagne. The antioxidant was known to be present in red wine and absent from white wine, but as champagne contains both red and white grapes there was uncertainty over polyphenol levels.

Champagne is made from a mixture of two black grape varieties, pinot noir and pinot meunier, and one white grape variety, chardonnay.

Telegraph.co.uk (December 14, 2009)

Drinking up to bottle of wine a day can cut heart disease risk in men by half, according to controversial new research published in the journal Heart.

The study confirmed that low levels of alcohol protect against heart disease but it also found that high levels of consumption still reduced the risk of developing the condition.

Experts warned that the protective effect against heart disease was not greater the more people drank, but the risk of cancer, accidents, mental health problems, and liver cirrhosis do increase with high consumption.

The authors found that drinking alcohol(less than a glass to a full glass of wine a day) reduced the risk of developing heart disease by half. The protective effect did not increase significantly the more people drank and those with the highest consumption, up to over one bottle of red wine a day – still had a 50% lower chance of heart disease.

The effects were seen for all forms of alcohol and were not limited to red wine, which previous research suggested was especially protective for the heart due to substances in the skins of red grapes.

The results for women were not significant because relatively few women in the study developed heart disease so the data could not be relied upon to be accurate.

The study was conducted by a team of doctors and epidemiologists across Spain, and involved questioning more than 41,000 people aged between 29 and 69, who did not have heart disease when enrolled and who were followed for an average of ten years.

Prof Mark Bellis, director of the centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, said: "The message from this study is that the coronary protective effect of alcohol begins at a relatively low level of consumption and does not significantly increase the more people drink. The protective effect is in place at around one quarter of a normal glass of wine daily."

The danger is of this study is that people will interpret that there are no health harms from drinking large amounts of alcohol but the risk of many diseases increases with high consumption of alcohol, particularly cancers.

The validity of this new study is questioned as it was based on self-reported information in which those drinking more stated they had less heart disease, but those drinking more would probably be less likely to see doctors and have heart disease identified.

Telegraph.co.uk (November 19, 2009)

Risks of daily aspirin may outweigh the benefits Taking a low-dose aspirin every day can help prevent heart attacks in people who've already had one, but if you've never had a heart attack, the risks of taking a daily low-dose aspirin outweigh the benefits, according to a UK report published in Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.

About 50 million Americans take low-dose (325 milligrams per day or less) aspirin to prevent cardiovascular problems. Some do so even though they don't have heart disease or a history of heart attack or stroke, an approach known as primary prevention.

Although aspirin thins the blood and helps prevent clots, it is not risk free, according to the UK review. Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other problems - some serious. People who take aspirin daily are two to four times as likely to have upper gastrointestinal problems, such as an ulcer with complications, than those not taking aspirin (even if the aspirin has a protective coating).

Although aspirin can prevent clots, which cause about 80 percent of strokes, it may increase the risk of hemorrhagic strokes, which are caused by bleeding in the brain.

The American Heart Association recommends daily low-dose aspirin for people who have had a heart attack, for those with heart disease, related chest pain known as unstable angina, or those who have had a clot-related stroke (or those who have had ministrokes, episodes that suggest a stroke is imminent). In general, the risk of heart attack has to be 10 percent within the next decade to warrant daily aspirin use, the group says.

In 2004, a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel rejected the idea of using aspirin for primary prevention.

"If you have had a heart attack, bypass surgery, or a history of coronary artery disease, the benefits of daily aspirin therapy do outweigh the risks," Dr. Steven E.Nissen says. "If you never had a heart attack or heart disease, you need to be at very high risk to benefit from daily low-dose aspirin therapy."

According to Nissen, the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, "the right person would likely have a cluster of risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure," he says. "Once you have a cluster of risk factors, you start to look like someone who has already had a heart attack."

Editors Note: Do not start or stop taking daily aspirin therapy without talking to your health care provider.

CNN Health (November 5, 2009)

Many teens already have at least one major risk factor for heart disease according to a 7-year study of the heart health of 20,000 Canadian teenagers. The findings, presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in October 2009, showed that rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity among a sampling of the country's 14- and 15-year-olds are shockingly high and appear to be on the upswing.

The most disturbing news was the rise in the number of teens with high cholesterol: from 9% to 16%.

In addition, 13 percent of Canadian teens are obese (meaning they have a body mass index of 30 or greater). And it's not just a Canadian issue. Among American adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 17 percent are obese. That's more than triple the number of obese teens in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 7 in 10 obese US teens already have at least one risk factor for heart disease.

Time.com (October 28, 2009)

Lifestyle may trump genetics when it comes to heart disease a Canadian researcher suggests.

Dr. Robert Hegele of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says for about 5 percent of heart patients, the effect of genetics is so strong there is little than can be done in terms of prevention through lifestyle, but that 95 percent can override genes by following a healthy lifestyle.

"Even if you've been dealt a bad hand of genes, it's not a life sentence for most people," Hegele, director of the Martha G. Blackburn Cardiovascular Genetics Laboratory at Robarts Research Institute in Edmonton, Alberta, says in a statement.

"Simple actions -- basic things like smoking cessation, following a healthy diet and physical activity -- are the key to overturning genetic predisposition."

United Press International (October 23, 2009)

Get a flu shot. As many as half of unexpected flu deaths are among patients with pre-existing heart disease, according to a recent study published in the Lancet. Those researchers urged everyone with heart disease to be sure to be vaccinated against H1N1.

If you have doubts about the vaccine, discuss the question with your family physician or someone at your health clinic.

Montreal Gazette (October 23, 2009)

Bans on smoking can reduce heart attacks among smokers and nonsmokers according to a report issued by the Institute of Medicine.

The report provides strong support for the anti-smoking laws in 21 states and the District of Columbia and is likely to bolster efforts to pass such laws elsewhere.

The study "confirms that eliminating smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars, and other public places is an effective way to protect Americans from the health effects of secondhand smoke," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which commissioned the study.

Nearly 440,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses, more than a third of them heart disease, according to the American Heart Assn. About 38,000 of those deaths are related to secondhand smoke.

The panel examined 11 studies of heart attacks in areas where bans were implemented and found a decrease in heart attacks in every study, ranging from 6% to 47%, depending on how the study was conducted.

"Such consistent data confirms for the committee that smoking bans do, in fact, decrease the rate of heart attacks," they wrote. One study found that hospitalizations for heart attacks in Pueblo, Colo., dropped 41% in the three years after the city banned smoking in the workplace.

The committee also surveyed evidence from laboratory studies in animals and concluded that results also supported smoking bans. The studies show that toxins in cigarette smoke can trigger heart attacks in people who have heart disease and may not know it, providing the final shove that pushes them into cardiac arrest.

The Los Angeles Times (October 16, 2009)

South Africa's health department says it will draft regulations aimed at reducing trans fats. Health officials said in a statement that they are concerned about a rise in lifestyle illnesses such as heart disease and strokes as some South Africans grow wealthier. The new burden of disease hits a system already struggling to care for an estimated 5.5 million South Africans living with the virus that causes AIDS — the highest total of any country.

They are following the lead of New York and countries like Denmark and Canada in trying to limit trans fats in processed and prepared foods. They did not say what the South African regulations would say or when thy would take effect.

The Associated Press (October 15, 2009)

High blood pressure is the biggest preventable cause of early death in China. More than 20 percent of all deaths in China were due to high blood pressure in 2005, and about 60 percent were linked to heart disease, a study of almost 170,000 people published in the latest edition of the medical journal The Lancet found. More than half of those fatalities were premature, said researchers led by Jiang He at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Encouraging China’s people to consume less salt should be a priority for health authorities, the authors wrote. More than a quarter of the world’s adults had high blood pressure in 2000, a number that may increase 60 percent by 2025, a previous study showed.

Researchers studied 169,871 people aged 40 years and older between 1991 and 2005. Almost 20,000 of the subjects died, including 11,000 who died prematurely. Based on those figures, the researchers said that more than 2.3 million deaths in China were attributable to high blood pressure in 2005, including 1.3 million premature deaths.

The research was funded by the American Heart Association, the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the US National Institutes of Health, China’s Ministry of Health, and the nation’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Bloomberg (October 6, 2009)

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